THINKING BACK

Our church’s senior pastor covered the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our summer series this past weekend and prompted me to do some thinking back with one of his suggested applications.

In the greeting to what many call his “favorite church” Paul writes in verse 3, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (NIV). Another rendering “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God” (NLT). Underscoring Paul’s example, our pastor encouraged us to “remember the people who have given you joyful memories.”

Last night and today I have spent some time thinking back with joy about the many people who impacted me in terms of my Christian life and over 45 years of vocational ministry. There’s no way I can remember and list all of them, but I would like to list several whom God used to make a significant impact upon me.

Charles Carter, a young minister of a small church who welcomed my brother and me and baptized us into Christ.

John Russell, our first and only youth minister at that same church until I graduated from high school. No one has had a greater impact on me than John.

Most of the elders at Forest Dale Church of Christ during my junior high and senior high years; and Harvey Bream who was a member at our church and later president of Cincinnati Christian University.

Royce Cheeseman and Paul Lowry, elders at Northeast Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio, where I served as a youth minister intern the summer of 1970.

Jim Irby, minister, and the elders of Bridgetown Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I served for almost five years as youth minister.

Jim Smith and Jack Cottrell, professors at Cincinnati Christian Seminary.

Charly Williams, Jerry Finnie, and Jim Tyler who served as elders during my nine years as minister of Delaware Valley Church of Christ in the Philadelphia area, and Hugh Thomson who was a great friend and father figure to me.

Bruce Metzger, who was Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and one of the smartest and kindest teachers I ever sat under.

Floyd Strater, Ralph Dornette, LeRoy Lawson, Ben Merold, Larry Winger, and Joe Grana – all area leaders in Southern California who welcomed me and encouraged me during my 30 years there.

Max Whiteman, Don Funkhouser, Greg Miller, Joe Anderson, Joe Bunker, Greg Flannery, Dave Hahn and other Vision Planning Team Members and elders who served in leadership with me during my 30 years at Discovery Christian Church.

As I continue to think back I know others will come to mind, but this list is a good beginning point of those who made a difference in my life and ministry and whom I remember today with great joy and gratitude.

As I review this list I am aware that I have not included any women. It isn’t because I don’t remember any women with joy or that I am a chauvinist. My life and ministry would not have been as joyful, productive, and enriched as it has been without the support of and care from many wonderful Christian women who made a difference in my life. I thank God for them, the men I have listed, and many others God has used to bless my life.

Following Paul’s example, and taking our pastor’s challenge, as I think about these and remember them with joy I thank God. Maybe this will encourage you to do some reflecting as well.

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MOVING ON AND MEMORIES

Can we move on and hold on to our memories at the same time? It’s a challenge, isn’t it?

Even if we don’t know the lyrics of the song, the title makes the point: Precious Memories. Obviously not all our memories are precious, but many of them are. We have precious memories of days gone by, of loved ones who have died, of places where we once lived, of friends with whom we have lost touch, of pets that added to our lives, and so much more.

A couple of Sundays ago at church I spoke with a man whose wife of many years recently died. I suggested the holidays had to be hard for him and he agreed saying something about his many memories. As with many similar situations, I told him he would never get over it, but it would get better.

As painful as it is, the death of a loved one is not the only way we experience loss. And when we deal with a loss, we eventually have to move on. We can’t do it immediately and we can’t skip the necessary grieving of our loss. But when we do move forward it does not mean we cannot hold on to our memories. Of course we can and do.

What sparked my thinking about this matter was an accidental coming across of a YouTube video last this week. It was the video of my “Talking about Transition” message the next to last week of my tenure as Senior Pastor at Discovery Christian Church in September, 2014. Watching it brought back many memories of my 30 years of enjoyable and fulfilling ministry at this church. (Here is the link for those who may be interested in watching it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgL2X7HVGl0.)

That was over three years ago, and both the church body and I have moved on. But moving on does not mean we don’t still hold on to our memories. Nor does moving on take anything away from the appreciation or love we had for one another during all those years.

At the age of 66 I’ve experienced all the losses I mentioned above and more, but up to this point I haven’t experienced many of the losses others have endured. My sense is that among the hardest losses would be the death of a child or a spouse. During my years as a pastor I’ve been present with many who have grieved such a loss, and their pain always impacts me. I pray my words are helpful: that they would never get over it, but it would get better.

Can we move on and hold on to our memories at the same time? With God’s help, yes.

(The above photo is of Jan and me with her parents in April of 2017; one passed away in June, the other in October.)

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NOSTALGIA?

For the past several years while on road trips and listening to oldies but goodies on the radio, the music has taken me back to my time in high school. Up until recently I would tell my wife the songs made me melancholy, but I don’t think that is the best word to describe my feelings. Last week I watched a video on Facebook posted by a guy I went to high school with of Simon and Garfunkel singing “The Sounds of Silence” and commented on the post: “listening to this takes me back and impacts me in ways I don’t fully understand.”

As I reflected on my comment, I wondered if nostalgic was a better word to describe my feelings. I looked the word up and the dictionary definition of nostalgia gets close to describing what listening to the music instills in me: “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” While I do not have a “sentimental longing” to return, I do have a “wistful affection” for my years of high school and college as well as “happy personal associations.” As happy and excited as I was to graduate from high and college, I clearly remember those were not the only feelings I had the night I graduated from high school and the day I graduated from college.

So much was going on not only in my life, but in our nation and the world during those eight years from 1965-1973. I’m sure readers who experienced those years remember the seismic changes, the progress, the unrest, and the tragedies. There certainly was a mixture of “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I would guess those who are younger have heard reports and stories about what were tumultuous years.

As I write this post I am back in Cincinnati where I grew up and lived until 1975. This afternoon I drove back to my hometown, through the neighborhood in which I grew up, past where my high school used to be, and by a variety of other places. I had dinner with a high school friend I haven’t seen in 48 years. Tomorrow I’m having lunch with two long time friends from my youth ministry while I was in college. I am not feeling melancholic, but I do have a lot of wistful affection.

Even though it can be cruel at times, memory is a precious gift. It’s not just the music of my high school and college years that make me nostalgic, but lots of other things as well that remind of the life I have lived to this point. I am grateful as I look back, and optimistic as I look forward. And I am reminded of the truth of three trite phrases I have often heard and repeated myself: “things will never be the same,” “we can’t go back,” and “life goes on.” But that does not mean we cannot remember the past with wishful affection.

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photo credit: Steve.Bernacki <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/50194260@N00/3856900987″>Simon & G-funk</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;