Today (December 15, 2016) is my 80th birthday. I stand amazed at how God has taken care of me through the years and allowed me to continue serving Him. My early years, as many of you know, were played out the way to which many a P.K. (preacher’s kid) could testify, with good times and troubled. But God saw fit to call me to pastoral ministry, and I was absolutely blessed to serve as pastor of three churches over the next 31 years in California and Oregon ─ some of the hardest, yet most wonderful and fulfilling times anyone could imagine. I was then honored by an opportunity to serve beside my brother-like cousin, Dr. James Dobson, at Focus on the Family and to create a special ministry to pastoral families that lasted some 20 years. After “retirement,” I was continually asked to speak to pastors and their spouses at conferences and seminars through the fledgling H.B. London Ministries. And, now, the circle has come around and I again get to do what I love — pastor a small church in Palm Desert, California.
Over my 80 years, I have made more friends than anyone has a right to. Many of them have sent cards and greetings this week. It has been wonderful. There is a mix of both birthday and Christmas cards, and Beverley and I love sorting them out. I am a blessed man.
I think one point I would like to make this month is that, in the hurry of the Christmas season, you can easily overlook the significance of each greeting you open. You see, every card represents a person or family that you have influenced in some way.
Some of the first Christmas cards I read this week were from former church members I had helped through difficult times. As I read their letters, I rejoiced with them for the many blessings received over the past year. From others, I could read between the lines and find loss and pain.
I have lived long enough to recognize that each card has a very special nuance to it. These folks have invested their time and money to remember our family. I am thankful for that. In my last pastorate, there were so many people and so many cards that I took a lot of them for granted.
A suggestion: As you open your cards, take a moment to read the printed message, then visualize the family who took time to remember you. Pray for them and thank God for the privilege of having a small part in their Christian journey. Then, place the card in a basket or box with all of the others you receive. Later in the year, go back to that container and reread the cards and repray for those people. You will be amazed at the difference it makes in you.
Christmas cards in many ways echo the beautiful message of the angels so long ago: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). May this Christmas season fill you with the joy of that announcement.
A second point I would like to make here pertains to relationships. In so many ways, the gospel message is about relationships — especially that unique one God offers through Christ to each man and woman to belong to Him, to have sins redeemed, and to live eternally in His presence.
The Christmas season not only makes us think about family past and present, but also brings to mind friends who have touched our lives through the years. We do not see them as often as we would like, but when we are together, they seem like relationships that have always been. There will come a time in your life when you realize the most lasting and valuable things we have on this earth are the relationships we have nurtured over the years.
I am positive that, as you read this, you can think of a colleague who has gone through tough times. Perhaps there has been a failure of some sort in his or her ministry. Maybe their family is struggling. There might even be a pastor in your circle who has been forced to step away from his assignment because of a conflict within the congregation.
Likewise, think of all the people you have met in your ministry ─ those in your congregations, those in your communities, those in your denominations, those in your neighborhoods. Cherish those relationships.
My point is a simple one: The Christmas season can be very lonely for those of us who are away from our roots. The moves we have made have taken us out of our comfort zones. What might it mean to your clergy friends or others if you made a call, sent an e-mail, or initiated some contact that would help them realize they are not alone, that they matter? I urge you to take a few minutes and “do the friend thing.”
“A man that hath friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24, KJV).