Today, I was installed as the ninth pastor of St. Andrews Baptist Church. At the close of the service, which was one of the most moving spiritual experiences of my life, I shared this response with my new church family.
Thanks and Yes
A great Christian of a generation ago expressed his vision of the Christian life with these words:
For all that has been—Thanks!
For all that will be—Yes!
Those words express what I want say to all of you on this very happy and very holy day in my life and the life of my family.
I stand here, in this present moment, look to the past and say,
For all that has been—Thanks!
I thank God, that in His grace and His providence, He gave me the gift of life and has allowed me to be a part of the miracle and mystery of His creation.
I give thanks for my parents, Orin and Eunice Vaughan, my mom unable to make the trip to Columbia, my father with me in memory and in spirit, who gave me a home at 110 Griffin Drive, and also gave me a spiritual home, a Godly example, and a rich heritage of faith.
I say “thanks” for Debbie, my sister, and Barry, my brother, with whom I’ve traveled many roads, growing pains, some of our best and worst moments, and the joy of having people in your life who know your story from the start.
I give thanks today for my home church, the East Park Baptist Church in Greenville, people who, from the cradle, taught me the songs and scriptures of our faith; people who gave me opportunities to take my first stumbling steps toward finding a way to serve God with my life. If my preaching ever tastes like good cooking to you, give thanks for those who choked down my first attempts.
I give thanks for teachers who have cheered my on in the life of learning, challenged me to live with purpose, giants upon whose shoulders I’ve climbed to see farther and better into myself and into my world.
I give thanks today for my friends. I’ve learned a great deal about friendship this past year. The treasure of true friendship is revealed in the valleys of life. These are not the people of easy words and empty promises. As the Bible celebrates, true friends love at all times. I hope that I can be the kind of friend that some of the people in this place today have been to me.
I’m grateful for wonderful churches who have invited me to serve God with them and have taught me, through their flesh and blood example, what being a Christian and a minister really means.
I thank God today for my three favorite theologians, Elizabeth, Joshua, and Andrew, who have taught me so much about life, about love, and about God. Not until I saw you, my children, did I begin to understand how lovingly, how joyfully, how proudly God looks upon me as His child.
I praise God today for Liam, my grandson. I know how children come into this world, but I’ve come to understand why Liam came to us when he did. When I needed to hear it most, Liam, like every child, came into this world with the message that the world must go on. He gave me a beautiful reason to give my life to making this world a place more worthy of beautiful children.
God’s greatest gift to me, short of the gift of Himself in Christ, is Linda. When people compliment me on sermons, I often explain it by saying that the way to be a good preacher is to marry a good writer. That's not really a joke at all. Linda doesn’t write my sermons, but every day for the thirty-three years I’ve known her, she’s written upon my heart. She helps me believe in myself and my ministry without taking myself too seriously. She also saves me from taking God too lightly, as more times than I can count, her prayers have parted some Red Sea and I’ve made it to the other side. She helps me look at life and faith honestly, refusing to duck the tough questions or deny tough problems. She reminds me that life is often lost or found in the little things, a smile, a kind word, a telephone call, a surprise from the store, which taken together feed our souls like manna from heaven. I am a better preacher because I married a good writer—a woman God has used to write words of love and life upon my heart.
For all of these blessings that make me who I am, I give thanks.
As I prepared this response, I stumbled into a tough question,
Can you really give thanks for all that has been, for everything that has happened in your life?
Sometimes giving thanks is easy. Other times, answering the Bible’s call to give thanks in all things is more of a prayer for help and a promise to try.
“Thank you, God,” is sometimes a leap of faith, the confidence that God is working in ways that go far beyond our ways, that we can, as the scriptures say,
(Proverbs 3:5-6) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
But as I stand here today, just on the other side of a dark valley, I do give thanks.
I thank God for His grace that has brought me through.
I thank God for the Parisview Baptist Church, a people who, in their own time of transition, invited me to walk with them and work with them. They were, for me, the hallway in a spiritual hospital where, after the pain of surgery became real, I could get back on my feet and walk the soreness out of my soul. Some of them are here today. I want you to know that I will always cherish you as a people of
grace and a place of healing.
I can give thanks for those days when I looked into the mirror saw a man who didn’t have a big title or position—just Dee—and learned that he is a pretty good guy.
I want to show my thanks for all that has been by taking every blessing I’ve received, every lesson I’ve learned, and every wound that’s healed, and dedicate them all to God and to my ministry here as your pastor.
I also want to look to the future today and say—
For all that will be--Yes!
I want to say “yes” to all that God wants to do in my life, to deepen my understanding, to soften my heart, to sharpen my vision, to bring me to fullness of life, to make me more like Jesus.
I want to say “yes” to what God wants to do in our family, as we establish a new home in a new city, as we welcome new friends and a new church family into our hearts.
I want to say “yes” to what God wants to do here at St. Andrews Baptist Church, to dream new dreams, to experience the energy and excitement that come with God’s gift of vision, to leave this place on Sundays, not as members who’ve been to church, but as missionaries who go out to be the church, every day and everywhere.
Thank you, for giving me the great privilege and high honor of becoming the ninth pastor of this great church.
I ask you to join me in saying to each other and to God,
For all that has been—thanks!