At some point in life when the future looks brief, it is a wise thing to take stock of one’s own life. With that in mind, it dawned on me that my life is really made up of the people I have known. Each of them has put something into my life. These days I am attempting to say thank-you to as many of them as I can. It has turned out to be a slow process, so let me turn to the Shepherd’s Staff to reach as many of you as I can. If you know me to any degree, you are one of those individuals. Our contact may have been brief, but you left something with me when our paths intersected.
Counting negatives is a waste of time, so let me major on the positives. I am thankful for a father, and also his father, who taught me how to work. Some of my employers added to that gift, and today I can say that I love to work. That is why at eighty-one years of age I am still working. This is the kind of gift we can pass on to our children, and our family of five have all exhibited a strong work ethic. My parents were products of the Depression. They had learned some hard lessons, and I inherited them. If we didn’t cut firewood, we would have frozen to death. If we hadn’t raised our own food, we would have starved to death. In my youth, I was angry about this, but now I thank God for those hard days.
My mother exhibited genuine Christianity. Instead of being bitter over the circumstances of life, she used them to minister to others. Even in her advanced age, she was ever the servant. It was her patience and love that drew me to her Savior. Many of her positive traits were a gift to me, and I am thankful for those qualities. They often say that it is the woman in a marriage who makes the man what he is. I confess that that is true in my life. Ruth’s remarkable patience has made all the difference. Mother-in-law jokes never worked for me. God gave me a great one, and I loved her dearly. There were many other family members who had a part in my growth, but these are just a few.
No one could have had a better pastor than I did. He loved his people and especially the teens. He was steady and firm. As a result, I came to Christ under his ministry, was baptized, licensed to preach, ordained, and married. (He threatened to do my funeral, too, but I conducted his instead!) I fondly remember a few adults in the church who set a high standard by the way they lived. It was in this same ministry that some of my fellow teens ministered to me, and some of those friendships are still alive today.
OTHERS WHO ADDED TO MY LIFE
There were also those who taught me in the classroom. Some whose names I remember from the early years have passed from this life, but their influence remains. The years in Bible college brought onto my path more people who marked my life. The same is true of graduate and post-graduate work – too many names to remember. Thirty-seven years in the pastorate added some unbelievable people who helped to turn my life in the right direction. Many of those friends are still in touch.
Then came the years of education and missionary ministry. You will note that I have not mentioned many names so far. Recently, however, a great friend and theologian, Dr. Hoyle Bowman, moved to his heavenly residence. His passing was what started my effort to make a record of those people who have impacted my life in a special way. It also sent me on a journey to thank those who are still living. In every area of my life there were special people, but those peers in academics and ministry are especially on my mind. Please forgive me if I have missed you with this summary. I am thankful for your investment in my life.
I have just returned from a journey to the Middle East, where I have been ministering off and on for seventeen years. Our youngest son, Kraig, and Pastor Frankie Matthews were along for the ride. It would have been good if we could have visited all the countries we worked in, but time did not allow. Some of you who read this have blessed my life, and I would have loved to see your face one more time. In Egypt, we did see many of you. This allowed me to embrace you and say thank-you for what you put into my life. Thirty years in the pastorate was the center of ministry for me, but the last seventeen years as a missionary and educator in the heart of the Middle East was the capstone. The students there, and our fellow servants, poured their lives into mine, and I send you a collective package of gratitude.
A NEW DAY
Now it is early morning, and I have another day to say thank-you; and I will continue to work on this project of thanks for as long as I can. Today I can say thanks for loving pastors who have been a great source of encouragement to me. My wife, five children, fifteen grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren have also enriched my life. The members of my Sunday School class make another long list. Add to this a few men who are helping me with research for writing projects. Then there is the lady who edits my diatribes before they go to print. To list friends would be impossible, but they all have made an impact on my life. That would include a good group of couples who reside at Maranatha Village. This may sound strange, but I am thankful for those folks who are willing to bring me up short when I am “off base” – you know who you are. Perhaps you are now able to see why I used the Shepherd’s Staff to say how thankful I am for the hundreds of people who added something to my life to help make it worthwhile.
A LONG WAY TO GO BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
While I stop here and there to say a word of gratitude to many more folks, I still have some things to do. There are two books I have authored that have been in constant print for well over twenty years. Those are The Weeping Church: Observations on Church Polity and The Conflict: The Separation of Church and State. Both are available at FaithfullLifePublishers.com. There are three more in the works, but the most important one is The Normal Hermeneutic: The One Biblical Hermeneutic. This has become the centerpiece of our ministry. It has also been the core of the tremendously effective ministry in the Middle East. I can only ask that you pray that I will have the time and energy to finish it. Hani Hana, my spiritual son, is co-author; and the book will be published in both English and Arabic.
And so, to all of you I say thank-you for what you have put into my life that has helped to make it worthwhile.