Well surprise! This seems like an episode of the surreal life...
It's hard to believe I've been doing music and leading worship in church for 25 years! When I started doing this on June 2, 1985 as an interim, I had no idea my life would take this crazy 25 year journey.
All I know to say is that I'm very humbled and so appreciative of your presence on this occasion - so many of you have traveled great distances to be here. Am I surprised? I have to say that I did find out last week from someone via email who obviously didn't know this was to be a surprise... BUT I am surprised so many of you would come to be present today!
I have to thank some people specifically, and I'll try to make this quick, but you only celebrate 25 years in the ministry once, right?
A special thanks to each of you... from each 4 of the different churches I've served
First Baptist Church of Callahan, FL - my home church - where I started as an interim and ended up staying for 12 years. For most church members to have known you since you were born, and still follow your leadership for 12 years - is nothing short of amazing. I thank each of you, and Pastor Lynn Hyatt for believing in me and seeing something that I didn't even see myself. For going along with some of my grandiose ideas back when I was young and stupid and didn't know some of the things we DID "couldn't be done", and for helping me grow up - I'm grateful. Also want to recognize my good friend, Steven Clifton, who served as our children's pastor, and got me started hacking around on repairing/upgrading computers! (He adopted my mom & dad, and they call him "son" as well)
Mabel White Memorial Baptist Church in Macon and Pastor Steve Johnson. Probably the most gifted "large" choir I ever had the honor of directing... and an amazing group of soloists! I learned so much about leadership and team building from Steve. We really had some incredible times of corporate worship there - made the first CD ever released by the choir there - relocated from the old church on Eisenhower to the new location on Bass Rd. It's there that I met David Duncan who became and has remained one of my closest friends, through thick and thin, and so many ups and downs. Thank you, David, for being here today, and for being a friend, like Jesus, who sticks closer than a brother!
I'm also very thankful for my time at Rehoboth Baptist Church. That statement is probably hard for some of you to fathom, but I have always and still firmly believe in the sovereignty of God, and that each assignment God gives you is in some way preparing your for your next assignment. Had I not been called to Atlanta by Pastor Bobby Atkins, I would not be here today. Even though there were some very dark days there, there was a remnant of people who really wanted the freedom in worship that Pastor Bobby and I attempted to facilitate. ..... Another reason I'm thankful for Rehoboth, is because without Rehoboth and everything that some of us experienced there, there would be no Truth Tabernacle of Praise. Romans 8:28 is true... ALL things work together for our good.
What can I say about Truth Tabernacle of Praise (affectionately known around here as TTOP)? This IS a place of freedom... a place for broken and wounded people... where ANYone is welcome, and in the spirit of adoption, invited to become a part of this family of believers, which truly is like a family. The people that make up this body have shown me what the kindness of God looks like. Although small and few in numbers compared to many churches, they have the biggest heart of compassion I've ever known. Thank you for sticking in there through thick and thin, and for making this a safe place of rest, refuge, and restoration for everyone - even pastors! After leaving my home church, I feel that I'm finally back at a place I can call home - Truth Tabernacle of Praise!
Yvette & all of her "helpers". My family. One of the reasons I'm not surprised today is that my wife is one of those people who just cannot let a special occasion go by without some sort of celebration, so in my mind it was really not a matter of IF but of WHEN. Honestly, this celebration really should be about her - someone who really had no interest in being in the ministry 25 years ago, but was willing to go along with the idea to be with me. Why she would agree to be a ministry wife or marry me is still a mystery, but I feel like SHE has become the REAL minister in our family. I think at least a few of the churches we served tolerated me so they could keep her! Anyway, thanks so much, dear, for standing beside me and working as hard if not harder than I do every day - I love you for it.
Needless to say I am very humbled by it all. Your part in my 25 years of ministry celebration will not ever be forgotten.
So, what have I learned in 25 years? Many things, but I'd like to share just a short list of what I feel are the most significant things.
- never say never
- you can't make anyone do anything; you can try to manipulate, but it only makes you and the other person miserable
- you never REALLY know what someone has gone through or is going through unless you've walked in their shoes
- God's grace is big enough for everyone, and can cover whatever you've done or will do
- God can use you in spite of yourself - he has done that most of my 25 years ministry...
- finally, and most importantly; the story of the prodigal son is for all of us, and applies to each of us... I've been the brother who stayed home, resentful of the other brother who went out and enjoyed the wild life. I've had my years of being the prodigal - drifting further and further away from God in my own selfishness. And now it's my turn to be the father in the story... one who sees both sons, and can offer a place of safety to come home.
Why do I worship the way I do? ...seems crazy and out of control to some along the years... I guess it's because I've always really known me, and knew that God even knew me better than that, but still He loved me anyway. That can't help but make a messed up, imperfect sinner (turned saint by His grace and mercy) sing out loud, shout, dance, kneel, or fall on the floor in His presence.
I’m just one beggar, trying to point other beggars to bread, really. One who is still discovering the freedom God desires for us in worship and that wants to encourage others toward the same. Thank you for your love and support over these last 25 years. I would definitely not be the person that I am today without each of you. Keep worshiping God with all your heart, with all your mind, soul and strength!!