33 years ago on the first Sunday of December I delivered my first message as the newly installed Pastor of First Baptist Church, Allyn WA (later they changed their name to Allyn Baptist Church, and within the past few years the church disbanded and sold their property). In many ways I am as uncertain today as I was then. I was not uncertain about the call to serve as a pastor. I was – and continue to be – uncertain if I am worthy of the great responsibility God has entrusted to me. I remain uncertain about my skills. Am I able to lead my family, my congregation, my community through the turbulent times in which we live?
Significant changes have occurred. While pastoring in Allyn Cindy and I had two children (Josh, born in 1982; Megan, born in 1986). The advent of the computer has changed the way I communicate and the process of preparing for messages. During those years I was attending seminary part time (I ultimately received my M.Div from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in 1987 and a Doctor of Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2009). Our children have grown and moved away from home into their own careers and lives (Josh, a Master Sgt in the USAF, married in 2002, but alas, no grandchildren…yet; Meg is single and living in Washington DC). Family members have passed away (Cindy’s dad passed away unexpectedly five years ago; my brother, Phil, died 8 years ago at the too young age of 46.) We own (or better: we and the bank) our home. We have settled in Winston OR since Community Baptist Church heard God’s call to them and us in 1991.
The future looks radically different from my vantage point today than it did in 1981. Wars, terrorism, significant increases in acts of violence, a rapid descent into immorality, and other challenges have changed how I view the future. Can we not just survive as a body of believers, but can we thrive, grow, and continue to impact our families, neighborhoods, community, and world with the Good News of Jesus Christ?
This morning I was reading one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Advent sermons and this passage caught my attention:
All of us, wherever we stand ideologically, are aware that during the world events of recent years something has happened which can only be called a turning point in world history…. Technology and commerce have become a law unto themselves, which threatens to destroy the human person. They raise themselves up and their demons populate the heavens, as the gods of our time. The great changes among the people drive them down and down, while no one appears strong enough to halt this inevitable fate for humankind. The artist simply reproduces what is going on around him. Expressing this, we have shrill, toneless music and loud colors on canvas. Even religions refuse to take more than one tiny step ahead of the accepted norms. And in the knowledge of such degradation of the human person, there comes a great hope for a new kind of person, for a rebirth, for the future…This is a waiting within us for nothing less than that this world will be redeemed through and through— not by this or that political means, but by God.
This Advent season, as I wait for the approaching celebration of the birth of Jesus, I wait as one seasoned by time, but one caught in the unending hope that comes with the arrival of Jesus Christ – The Redeemer!
*Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons (p. 48,49,51). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.