Thankful and Hopeful

This is the season par excellence of thankfulness. Scripture exhorts us: “Give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). That’s often a tall order, but at least at this time of year we try.

I am thankful for my wife, Carol and my children, Clare and Micah. I am thankful for my father, in good health at age 97, and for my siblings, with whom I’ve had unbroken positive relations over the years, though we have lived far apart.

These all represent the godly family of origin which launched me in faith, and has consistently lived out the Faith. I am thankful for the good health I have enjoyed, and for almost forty years of opportunity to exercise vocationally the gifts God has given me, and make a living doing it. I have had enough “success” and fulfillment to avoid too much discouragement, and not so much that I become a captive of pride. I am thankful for this beautiful blue-green jewel called Earth, which God has sown with teeming life, and has made the launch site for the life everlasting. I could continue, but let me pause and ask: for whom or for what are you thankful?

As I survey 2013 in the life of First Baptist Church, there is also much reason to be thankful. We just finished hosting the annual gathering of our newly reconfigured region, the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast, comprising more than 70 churches in Oregon, northern California and southern Washington. First Baptist Church staff and volunteers stepped forward to provide welcome, meals, transport and the use of multiple beautiful spaces for worship, workshops and networking for over 200 guests. First Baptist Church musicians, including the Temple Choir and the Worship Band, gave leadership. Our Cambodian dancers interpreted the Gospel in graceful movement. Young people and adults welcomed our visitors to a host of shared activities.

We heard testimony from international missionaries Kim Kushner Dominguez, Miriam Noyes and the newly appointed Kyle and Krista Williams, reminding us that we are part of the global Christian movement. At the same time, keynote speaker Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins III, executive director of the American Baptist Home Missions Societies, spoke highly to me of the vitality he experienced in our local congregation. This is important for us to hear, because sometimes those of us with long memories think of the “glory days” of a generation ago, and judge our present reality unfavorably.

Recently these feelings have come into focus because of our conversations with Solid Rock Church, who have shared space in our facilities these past five years. They are larger than we are, and appeal to a young demographic, universally coveted by churches.

There’s no denying we have become smaller in recent years; it’s hard to fight actuarial tables. But we have some qualities that are rare among American Christian congregations. Every Sunday we have participants ranging in age from infants in the nursery to senior saints in their nineties. Every Sunday we have students, business and professional people, and people living on or close to the streets participating in worship and Bible study. As I stand to proclaim the Word Sunday by Sunday, I am often humbled by the challenge of speaking to such a diversity of experiences and viewpoints. But this is our gift at First Baptist Church, Portland, and for this I am thankful.

Did you know that Sunday by Sunday there are four different worship experiences offered at First Baptist: the 9 AM informal service, the 11 AM traditional service, the young peoples’ worship experience, and the Cambodian worship service? And that there are five regularly scheduled music groups: the Temple Choir, the Voices in Praise, the Worship Band, Jazz for Jesus and the Cambodian Worship Band? For this I am thankful. And did you know that Sunday by Sunday the two largest demographics are the Christian Homemakers — couples, widows and singles who have gathered and sustained since World War II — and the 13-24 year old demographic, at its largest point in my almost seven years here, and growing? What a rich range of participants! For this I am thankful and hopeful.

Also, this has been a strong year for First Baptist Church financially. We have surpassed budget projections. Part of this has come from bequests, but current giving has been strong also. We are working to sow thankfulness for the church and good stewardship habits in all of our participants, especially our younger ones. God continues to resource us. For this I am thankful and hopeful. What will your role be in God’s sustaining and resourcing plan for this congregation going forward? Dare to be thankful and hopeful.

— Dr. David L. Wheeler