This may be the quietest birthday I have spend in many years. I was thinking about what it means to have a birthday. Well, obviously, it means that I am still alive. You only have birhtdays if you are living. The dead don’t have birthdays. I am grateful to still be here.
Having another birthday also means that my time of life is growing less. There are many more birthdays behind me than are likely to be in front of me. None of us know how long we will be here, but birthdays have a way of slipping up on us as a reminder that another part of life is passing.
Having a birthday also causes me to stop and ask what my legacy will be. What have I done with life that will make a difference for those who come after me? How have I lived and expressed my faith in God in this time? What have I done out of Christlike compassion for others?
Here I am, a day older which makes me a year older. I was born on this day, but having a birthday is not the essence of life. Living is the essence, and I want my life to count.; No, at best I might get a footnote or a single line in someone’s history of the places I have been. I will not be featured in some tome of Western Civilzation, but being here is enough. I’m thankful to share another birthday.
Today, I simply want to stop to pay tribute to my dad. He died just over 14 years ago at the age of 88. I feel blessed that I had him that long and am thankful for all the good things we shared. He could say “Yes” to me with hopefulness, but he could say “No” and make it stick. Some of our best days were sitting in an old fishing boat in the middle of the river together. He taught me fishing and taught me life.
I am thankful also that my dad was a Christian who tried to live his faith. He was not sanctimonious soul who pretended to be something he was not. He was a genuine person for whom faith was essential in his way of living.
Thanks, Dad, for all you meant to me and still do. And, thank you God for supplying me with my dad.
Our son will soon reach his twenty-sixth birthday. It has been a fascinating joureny from the time we learned my wife was pregnant until we have reached this point in our family journey. There are great memories of getting to hold a small bundle in the hospital deliver room and then to hand him to his mother for the first time. His first Christmas, we placed him under the Christmas tree to acknowledge he was the best present of all, and by the second Christmas we considered putting the tree in the playpen to keep him from pulling it over on himself.
From that point, we watched the adventure develop through the experiences of playmates, friends, tee-ball, recreation baseball, basketball, and swimming. He and I fished together and shared at times the joys of catching something. I observed as a faith in Christ began to grow in his life and shared in the privilege (as pastor) of baptizing him into the church.
Life moved quickly through education with his high school, college, and seminary graduations. Now he is six hours away working in a church he loves and fishing from his first canoe. To my son, I say “Thank you for the privileges of sharing in your journey.
I am in western North Carolina to participate in the ordination of our son to the ministry. It’s an exciting reality filled with prospects and apprehensions. I pray for him and hope that things will turn out well. Ministry is not an easy place these days. I know after 40 years of ministry. Join me in prayers for him.
Yesterday, I learned of the death of another friend. Kenneth Michael was a member of a church I pastored for eight years. In those years, he was my son’s first guitar teacher, was willing to take vacations to travel for camps and mission trips with young people, and worked with troubled young people who had entered the juvenile justice system of Virginia.
Kenny’s life had known more tragedy than most of us want to ever know. He and his wife had twin sons, both born with heart defects. The first lived less than a year, and the second died before his eighteenth birthday. Divorce had left him without a spouse to share his journey. Yet, his testimony was always one of gratitude that God had helped him to cope with the unimaginable realities that had come.
I loved to argue politics with him and often to play the devil’s advocate. Ken loved to defend conservative causes. As an independent, it was fun to sometimes poke holes in some of the theories and ways. Laughing together sometimes was good therapy for both of us.
As I shall miss other friends gone to be with Christ, I shall miss Kenny. He is with his boys now, and those of us who are left behind need the spirit of God for our journeys as well.
I just came back from a youth-sponsored pancake supper at church. It’s an interesting concept to indulge in one last excess before Ash Wednesday and then move into the season of abstinence and spiritual reflection. What is even more interesting is that this supper was aimed at supporting the summer ministries of the youth of the church. We need to consider our ways in these moments, but even more we need to support young people who want to accomplish something for Christ.
Today is the one month anniversary of being the Interim Pastor of Hampton Baptist Church. Being an interim pastor is a new career move one can only risk when you know you are eligible for Social Security if you need it, but I am loving every minute of this.
I get to be in a church in a time when everything is not solidly nailed down. There is uncertainty, creativity, anxiety, and an openness to the future that is refreshing. I am welcomed as one who will be there for a little while, but it is an intense time for them and for me. It’s good to do this.
It is refreshing to be respected as an elder statesman in the church who has no longterm stake in the congregation and at the same time being one who is invested in even the smallest decision. I love the hopefulness around this time.
I am grateful to God for this opportunity and grateful to the folks at Hampton Baptist for treating me so well. I feel reborn in ministry in this cycle of events.
Here on January 6th, the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, the temperature is 61 degrees, and the day seems surprisingly nice for this time of year. My experiences may include that such days often precede cold and stormy weather, but I choose to enjoy this day. I need to enjoy the beauty of the day.
The hymn writer offered a fitting word:
This is my father’s world,
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees,
Of skies and seas
His hand the wonders wrought.
Life is about the journey. We only reach destinations by taking on the adventure of the journey. My own life is in another period of transition. Transitions seem to abound along the way. Every time I have life figured out as to how I think it will be going, there is a surprise. I’ve never figured out which of my friends was right. One told me, “God’s other name is Surprise.” The second one offered his wisdom, “God has a sense of humor.” Whatever the twistings and turnings of life, both seem true. So, it’s on to the next transition, knowing full well that as soon as something seems fixed, it will change.
I am here on the third day of this new year. Every year begins with its fanfare and fireworks, its hopes and dreams, its doomsayers and gloom providers, and with the mixture of all our human emotions. Across my six plus decades of welcoming new years what I have observed is that few of our years realize all the hopes that some may express nor do most of them live up to the gloom some predict. There are even those predicting the end of the world for 2012. How many times in my lifetime have I head that?
Two things seem essential for meaningful transitions in life. The first is faith. As I look to the shifting of the numbers and a new number for the year, I am reminded that we are always moving beyond the known into the unknown. I do not have a crystal ball for the future, but my faith in God leads me to believe that he can bring more blessings into the year than I may ever deserve. Trust in God in the unknown of the future makes sense, but not as blind faith or fatalistic surrender to whatever may come. Rather, faith is a commitment of trust toward one who has proven himself in the journey of life.
Yet, faith for the future demands an accompanying faithfulness. That means that I strive to keep my promises–promises to God, to my family, to my church family, and to the community in which I live. Faithfulness is a step of trying to be positive in the journey to impact the world in ways that make a difference. I may not be able to make the whole world a better place, but I can strive to live faithfully in the little corner that I inhabit.
May God grant you a rich start to 2012 so that you can make a contribution to this year of life’s journey for Him.