I remember the months I agonized over whether to stay on the farm or pastor. My prayer was a constant, “What do I do?” Since those days there have been many more sleepless nights as I pondered a decision that had to be made, and I had no clue what was right, what was best, or what was God’s will. Almost all of those really big ones had to do with JBC as I pastored over the years. The good and right decisions usually resulted in growth and unity, the not so good ones usually ended up in disunity that often lingered for years, and made life generally miserable. Over the last 42years JBC has been my life, almost every waking moment I was thinking about the church, the health of the church, the growth, the programs, what I could do better, different, what was good, what was bad. In my mind and heart, the church was the Body and Bride of Christ, He gave His life for the church, and I was determined to give mine as well, my love for Jesus was manifested in my love for His Bride, in my life that meant JBC. My total devotion to my church didn’t detract from my marriage, in fact I think it made it better, I don’t think it negatively affected my parenting, I think it made it better. Now at 70 years of age I often sit and reminisce about the good old days, or the not so good days, and my part in them.
Of all the decisions that I have ever made as the Pastor of JBC, the hardest, by far, was stepping back and giving the bulk of the weekend preaching to my associate pastor, Mike Dedera. I had been the “Preaching Pastor” for 40 years. It was my spiritual gift, it was who I was, it was the primary source of joy and fulfillment in my life, I never felt more alive than when I was preaching, I never sensed the pleasure of God in my life as strongly as when I was preaching, the most spiritual experiences of my life happened while I was preaching. But I am not going to live forever, somebody else is going to have to take that role sooner or later, either by my choice or by the fact that I have died or gotten so senile I don’t know Genesis from Revelation. On the bicycle trip that we took from San Diego to St Augustine, Florida, I had a very close call with a pickup nicking the side mirror on my bicycle. It was a bit nerve wracking thinking about what I would look and feel like if he had been half an inch closer. Because I do think about the church most of the time I began thinking what would happen to JBC if I had gotten killed. I know Jesus can build his church, but I also know what has happened to many churches at the end of a long pastorate, the next guy gets crucified, he can do nothing right no matter how hard he tries. Part of me thought, what happens after I am gone isn’t my problem, just enjoy life until that day, but another part of me thought, you have given to much not to care about what happens in the next 30 years. The first 10 years of pastoring I was a mediocre preacher at best, but I worked constantly on my gift and my passion, always being my own worst critic. It just took lots of pulpit time for me to grow and learn how to speak so that people learned, grew, and experienced God by hearing His word taught well. I knew it was going to take the same for Mike, time, practice, experience, agony over bombs, and hopefully being coached well. I went back and forth on it a thousand times, constantly asking God, “What do I do?” By the time we were home I had made up my mind, and later that week had the discussion with Mike before I changed my mind. I have seconded guessed that decision hundreds of times over the last 2 years, but tonight as I sat listening to Mike preach from the book of Proverbs on Wisdom I had a wonderful gift from God as He filled me with a great sense of peace and joy and anticipation for the days and years ahead. Many of my decisions and choices over the last 42 years were bad, but this one was a good one.