Thursday, January 5, 2017

40, 30, 20, 15, Hike!

"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."  (Psalm 90:12)

No this is not about football, but you've got to admit Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would probably like the title!  Rather, it's about 2017 marking some important anniversaries and memories of my life.  When I was a kid, we would think of "the year 2000" as being so futuristic!  We'd imagine people routinely flying off to other planets, and self-driving cars.  (Well, wait a minute, now I'm told there are a few self-driving cars on our roadways!)  I mention that because as a kid I couldn't even conceive of 2000 as being seventeen years in the past!   Yes, in this January of 2017 I wonder where all the years have gone and I'm in a reflective mood.  I suppose being in a reflective mood at the start of the year is probably a good thing.  I hope it will help me to be more committed to "stay the course" in my Christian life and to make the very most of this year.  Now, about those anniversaries and memories:

Forty years ago this month, in early January of 1977, I began as a student at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.  (The school closed in 2013 and was "merged" into Evangel University, which is my daughter Amy's alma mater.)  I already had a B.A. in History from Stonehill College, but I felt the call to "full time ministry".  It's all a very long story, but I arrived on campus several days into that semester.  I'd never been to Springfield, Missouri before 1977.  In fact, I don't think I'd been much further west than Elmira, New York at that time.  I was quite a "home body".  I loved New England, and I was the type who wasn't keen on venturing much more than a hundred miles from home.  So, this was a really big thing for me!  It was my first time flying on a jet plane.  The plane took off from Boston's Logan Airport during a snowstorm.  I later found out from my parents that they closed down the runways (not allowing any take-offs or landings) just thirty minutes after that American Airlines plane departed!  I got a 1977 C.B.C. yearbook, but my picture is nowhere to be found inside.  There is a photo of the "new mid-year transfer students" but it was taken a couple of days before my arrival!  Those guys and gals also got a campus tour and a lot of helpful information.  I arrived late so I did not benefit from any of that!  I lugged one big old-fashioned suitcase with me.  (Following my parents' deaths in 2000, I donated that and some other old suitcases to the theater department at Framingham's Marian High School!)  I must have been a sight as I walked through the Springfield, Missouri airport lugging my big ugly (circa 1940s) suitcase and had no idea where I was going!  I hailed a cab to take me to the school and proceeded to find my way to the school offices.  It would take pages and pages to describe that whole "adventure".  I thank God for C.B.C student Ed Duddy who really "took me under his wing" during those first few days because otherwise I might have panicked and decided to go back to New England!  Over two years later, I graduated from C.B.C. with a B.A. in Bible.  Some years ago, an independent Pentecostal pastor I know told me I have a "forerunner's anointing".  I don't want to get too theologically deep here, but that's the same anointing that was on John the Baptist and on Elijah the prophet.  Honestly, I think I do walk in that anointing.  One of the "challenges" of having a "forerunner's anointing" is being given to extremes of emotion and being subject to great despair.  (That was true of both John the Baptist and Elijah.)  Yet, the person with the "forerunner's anointing" who may not necessarily be brave or bold or confident will at times be led to step out as a "first" at whatever the calling is, and pave the way for many to follow.  Ironically, I've been told I'm, "not a leader", and yet as far as I can tell I was the first one "saved" in our family, and that includes scads of relatives on both my mother's and father's side. Ironically, today my daughter Amy and her husband and kids live in Springfield, Missouri and they've been appointed "Assemblies of God Missionary Associates" with the "Sustain Hope" ministry!

Thirty years ago this month, I began as pastor of First Assembly of God of Framingham.  That sounds like an impressive name, but the church was tiny.  The little white wooden building (which had no parking lot) seated fifty people.  The church often "ran" far fewer in attendance than fifty.  When I arrived they were using rotary dial phones and had a circa 1965 electric typewriter.  They were saving twenty dollars a month to buy a photocopier.  At that rate, they'd probably have gotten the copier around the time the church closed in 2010! Despite "not being a leader" I helped direct the leadership to initially ask for the gift of an older copier that another church was no longer using, and within a year we were leasing a brand-new photocopier!  We also got new touch-tone phones pretty quickly!  I wrote (by hand) a weekly report about the church's activities every week from January 1987 to the church's closing in March 2010!  (I still have all of those reports!)  I made a lot of mistakes as a pastor.  Except for a couple of very brief growth spurts followed by declines, the church really never grew.  It was never regarded as very much or as very important, but one of our congregants in the early days, Christina Powell, sensed a big calling on her life.  Today, she's a highly regarded and published Christian medical ethicist.  Dr. Powell has told me I encouraged her and had an impact on her life.  There were many other stories of lives touched, and although there are many sad and painful memories about that pastorate, there were a number of victories and there are a number of happy memories.  Our kids loved growing up in Framingham.  One of the reasons I stayed there (possibly too long) was for the benefit of my kids- to give them the stability of growing up in a single community.  I don't regret that.

Twenty years ago, my wife Mary Ann decided she wanted us to have a big open house for New Year's Day 1997!  We went "all out"!  We sent out invitations and bought lots of food.  We were so excited about the open house!  We wondered how many would come?  Forty?  Fifty?  Sixty?  In fact, two people came!  The two were our friends Suzanne Fay and her nine-year-old daughter Erika.  We had a nice visit with Suzanne and Erika, and we ate like pigs, but we were very disappointed.  Later our relatives told us they didn't come because they thought the open house was for our church, and our church people told us they didn't come because they thought the open house was for our relatives!  All had been invited!  My son Jon and I did not take seriously the warnings about not eating chicken that was left at room temperature for over two hours.   We munched on chicken wings that were "out" all afternoon.  The next day Jon was very sick and I was moderately sick.  Well, that was twenty years ago and it's hard to believe!

Fifteen years ago, on the night of Dec. 31, 2001 going into Jan. 1, 2002 there were heating system problems at the church building.  It's not your "normal" way to spend New Year's Eve but Bob Gill, Bill Lincoln and I were at the church building dealing with a heating system leak all night!  Later that morning, I came to the church building to discover that the exterior of the facility had been covered with graffiti!  That was a tough way to start a year, but I remember 2002 as one of the very best of my life.  During that year, Mary Ann and I traveled to both Alaska and Prince Edward Island.  Yes, that timidity I'd had about traveling more than a hundred miles from home was long gone!

I look in the mirror and see a 62-year-old guy.  Honestly, I don't like it!  In many ways, I feel much more like the nerdy, naive 32-year-old who was the new pastor in 1987.  Sometimes I feel like I'd give anything to go back to those years, but I know we really aren't to look backward as much as we're to move forward.

What have I learned from my crazy life?  Well, I've learned to be a risk taker!  I've learned to step out and face a new adventure when you're scared to death!  I've learned to take the lead even when you're not a natural born leader or a dominant personality.  I've learned to humble yourself and do manual labor when necessary.  I've learned to make the best of a bad situation (i.e. the poor turnout at the open house); and that even if you suffer with some ill effects of that bad situation (i.e. getting sick from bad chicken) it will pass and things will get better!

So, after all that reflecting and writing, I'm ready to move forward and see what the Lord has for me in 2017!  How about you?!
AND, for more thoughts about the New Year, please watch this video: