The following was written and sent to a number of friends, but I think it may be an appropriate addition to my Berlin blog--which has been silent for a very long time. I hope this post will help you all to understand....
GOD, your God, has blessed you in everything you have done. He has guarded you in your travels through this immense wilderness. For forty years now, GOD, your God, has been right here with you. You haven’t lacked one thing.
(Deut 2:7 THE MESSAGE)
Well, not quite 40, but 38 is getting awfully close. And it has been quite a journey. I’ve worked for one of the agencies of the church since 1971 when I first joined that illustrious set known as the “basement workers” of the Board of Christian Education—certainly one of the most exclusive sets I’ve ever been part of. Since then I’ve served in a variety of ways at Warner Pacific College and here in Anderson—Warner Press, the Board of Christian Education, and, since the merger, Church of God Ministries. I’ve taught a few classes at Anderson University and the School of Theology. I even had the glorious opportunity to participate in the larger, ecumenical church through the National Council of Churches, its commissions, and program committees.
The first time I experienced God’s call on my life was in Red Bluff, California. Jay Barber was my pastor. Red Bluff was (still is) a ranching and farming community near the northern end of the Sacramento Valley, along the Sacramento River. When we lived there the population hovered around 10,000. The latest report is that it is a little over 26,000 but largely through annexation. Then, I think, it had two stoplights. Its big claim to fame, then, was “The home of the world’s largest two-day rodeo.” It appears to have increased by a day but is still going strong.
The point of this is not to promote tourism for Red Bluff but to note it as the point in the journey when God said I have something else in mind for you; it is time to leave this place—a place of deep joy and great pleasure--and journey with me. That’s the reason for the scripture at the top of the page. As I have worked with pastors in SHAPE, I’ve been impressed again and again by how strong and visceral the memory of that first call is. Mine happened at Diamond Arrow Family Camp; even as I write it the whole scene plays out before my mind’s eye. I also remember, as if it were yesterday, the Sunday I stood in the pulpit of the church in Red Bluff to say good-bye. My text was:
God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family,
and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.”
(Genesis 12:1 THE MESSAGE, emphasis mine)
I remember it as a highly tearful and joyful time—and highly formative: There are many ways I could describe my life but, since Red Bluff, none seem to fit as well as journey and few journeys are more inspiring and troublesome as Abraham’s and the wilderness wanderings of Israel. That “for-a-land-that-I-will-show-you” speaks so powerfully to this formational understanding of my life—it is the journey that matters far more than the destination.
You have been an important part of that journey--some of you for a very long time, even most or more than the “40.” You have held me accountable, cared for me when I was struggling, demanded more of me than I thought I had to give, and laughed and cried with me. Some of you were students of mine who have gone on to become my wise elders. A few of you have dragged me kicking and screaming into places I really would rather not have gone and I want to thank you for that as well, even if I do it with a grimace more than a smile... A few of my greatest teachers are no longer with us, although their memory and their teaching live on in me. Some of you are older than I and some are much younger—yet you have all been my teachers, a title I hold in highest esteem. After all, it was the title Jesus was often given.
Journey is an important theme in my life although recently I’ve begun talking more about pilgrimage. Maybe that’s a reflection on a growing sense of ultimate destination created by approaching my “three score and ten.” Yet life is not over; the journey is not yet complete; and the pleasure of your company is not exhausted. Thank you for your life and for your contribution to mine.
In light of all this, I thought it appropriate to send out a notice to you of another significant corner Judy and I are turning. You may have heard the rumors, but just in case you haven’t: I am retiring from Church of God Ministries and am currently in a time of discernment about the future. While there are already some opportunities (for example, I may be teaching a class at Anderson University and will be working on a big curriculum project for another denomination), I will be retired from full time work beginning August 1, 2009.
It will be the first time since Red Bluff that I have left one assignment without another clearly in place. That is a bit unnerving and creates some anxiety but also anticipation for what God might have in mind for the next stage of the pilgrimage. There are some pretty important decisions yet to make, including putting our house on the market, and still some discussion about where we are going regarding Germany. (For those of you who know about our plans to be part of Gateway Berlin, it might be helpful to know that we have not given up hope that it will happen. Funds simply have not come in at the level needed to meet the original plan. We decided to put that off and regroup to decide how best to assist in the exciting venture in Germany. I hope you’ll hear more of that in the near future.)
You are all gifts. You have made significant and largely incalculable contributions to Judy’s and my life and ministry. As our lives have intersected and for a while flowed together, you have brought deep challenge and great joy and we are (mostly) deeply grateful. Some of you have come into our lives in times of great emptiness and fear and filled a sometimes very great hollowness. I hope we took the time, then, to tell you just how meaningful your presence was—and how grateful we were. I’m sorry if we didn’t and plan to make amends about that as we have the opportunity.
Well, enough. Although I am ready to get my garden in order and spend some time on the porch, I am not quite ready for the rocking chair. Please continue to pray for us as we discern meaningful directions that would grow out of our gifts and abilities. And, please, do not give up the journey: there are far too few pilgrims and the road can be lonely without you.
You are loved and deeply appreciated.