It still seems like only yesterday to me that I walked into the church building for the first time. But it wasn’t.

It was April 6, 1997, when Rae Anne and I first came down to First Baptist Church in Linton. I had been invited to preach in the Sunday evening service. I was just “filling the pulpit” as a guest speaker during the time when the church was searching for a new pastor.

The deacons invited me back to fill the pulpit a few more times. Then the deacons asked if I would be the interim pastor, and preach both Sunday mornings and evenings until a new pastor was called. Then they asked if I would allow them to put my name before the church as a candidate for the position of Senior Pastor.

Then on Wednesday, August 6, 1997, four months after I had first come down to preach for you, the church voted to call me as the new Senior Pastor. The vote was 140 to 7, a 95% call. I had asked God that, if He really wanted us there, the vote would be an overwhelming majority, so there wouldn’t be any doubts. There weren’t. The chairman of deacons called me and said, “Well, you’re our new pastor.”

Not long after that I visited somebody in the hospital, and for the first time I got to introduce myself by saying, “I’m the pastor of First Baptist Church in Linton.” It felt like such a privilege to be able to say that, and I was so grateful.

I’m still grateful. Outside of my relationship with the Lord Jesus, and my relationships with my family, the truth is that being the pastor of First Baptist Church of Linton has been, and is, the greatest privilege of my life. It’s also been the greatest challenge…a series of challenges, really. My family and I have experienced some of the greatest frustrations and heartaches in our lives here at First Baptist. We have also experienced some of our greatest joys here.

The story of our time together hasn’t turned out the way I expected. I bet you can say that, too. But the truth is, that’s pretty much the way life is: it never turns out quite the way you expected. There’s an old Jewish proverb: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

Now, having said all that, I’m through looking back. And I think our church should be through looking back, too.

There is great value in remembering what God has done for us. There is great value in remembering the lessons God has taught us, often through many tears and hard experiences. There is a time for remembering, in the right way.

But there is a time for forgetting, too.

When I was a teenager, my family lived on property out in the country that was 100 feet wide and an acre deep. Once after a heavy rain I thought it would be fun to put on rubber boots and go walking around in the mud out in our back yard. So, one of my buddies and I sloshed and slopped and stomped around for a while at the back of our property. (I know, it was a dumb teenage thing to do. But, hey, we weren’t out knocking over convenience stores.) We laughed at each other, because our feet sank down about six inches or so in the mud, and it was all we could do to lift our feet to take another step. Once I even pulled my foot right out of my boot, which remained stuck in the mud. Let me tell you, you can’t make any progress that way.

Sometimes, remembering can be like that.

Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” And God told Isaiah the prophet, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19) Looking back and dwelling on the past in the wrong way can make you miss what God is doing right now.

And looking back and dwelling on the past in the wrong way can make you bitter. The writer of Hebrews warns us, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…” (Hebrews 12:15)

I used to think that God couldn’t bless our church again until everyone who was bitter had either repented, left, or died. And I always thought it was someone else who was bitter. Well, let me make a confession: I’ve been bitter. In fact, I might have been the most bitter one of all.

I repent.

Sometimes I’ve asked God to remove any obstacles that might be hindering our church. One time I prayed that with another man, and within a week someone who had been “stirring the pot” unexpectedly died. So, after that, when I prayed that prayer, I added: “And Lord, please don’t let it be me!”

We can look back, and play the “what if” game. But there’s no profit in it. I don’t know why this person did that, or another person said this. I don’t know why this happened, or that didn’t happen. It’s all way above my pay grade. But I’m done with it. I’m done with looking back like that.

I also don’t know why so many people have done so many wonderful things for me and my family. I don’t know why we’ve had so many unexpected blessings. I don’t know why so many wonderful people have come to our church. I don’t know why God has given us so many faithful friends, and so many wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ. Rae Anne and I can’t imagine our lives without you. I am so grateful for the sweet spirit of fellowship we are experiencing in our church right now, and I am so grateful for the privilege of still serving as your pastor.

I can’t believe it’s been twenty-five years! Rae Anne and I are so grateful for the wonderful “Pastor Appreciation” dinner you had for us last Sunday, and the wonderful cards and gifts you gave us. I’m especially grateful for the gift certificate the church gave me to the Open Door Christian Bookstore in Terre Haute. I have special plans for that. I’ll tell you about it soon.

But for now…we’re alive. We’re together. We get to worship God together, and search His Word together. (The older I get, the more simple worship means to me.) And we get to trust God together to face the times we live in, find His path forward for our church, and serve God in our generation.

By the way, my younger brother Steve has been pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Coal City for thirty-two years! He’s one of my heroes in the ministry. Wonder if I can make it that long? (…Did I just hear somebody groan?)

It will be as God wills. One more verse: “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8)

Well, Amen! And may it all be…

Soli Deo Gloria! (To the glory of God alone!)

Pastor David