Picture of Pastor Gettys

Sermon delivered December 31, 2011 by Pastor Don Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Thank You

Romans 13:11-14

(RealAudio available)

Thank you for the Kleenex that was brought up here.  I might need that. 

You know, I have dreaded this painfully beautiful moment.  The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that everything under heaven has it's time.  It's time to put on glasses.  It's time to retire, for me.  'Goodbye' is a difficult word to say.  Even though it's been 25 wonderful years, the time has just flown by so quickly.  25 years is just a tick in God's clock.  His eternal clock.  It's hard to believe that my official ministry is ending. 

They say that love begins with a smile.  It grows with each hug, and it ends with a tear.  When you were born you were crying and everybody around you was smiling.  This should be reversed at the other end of life.  You end it with a smile on your face while most others around you are crying.  It's going to be difficult for me not to join the tears.  I remind myself, don't cry because it's over.  Smile because it happened. 

How lucky I am to have a church that is so hard to say goodbye to.  Too often, a pastor leaves a church under extremely difficult circumstances.  It could be a forced termination.  It could be a resignation in the midst of unfulfilled expectations or moral failure.  God has given me a happy ending, and for that I thank him.  I always wanted to finish strong, and I praise him for the finish that he has given me. 

My wife and I are not saying goodbye today, because in fact, Christians never say goodbye.  Isn't that true?  Because we will see each other again.  We will be together forever as far as that goes.  25 years is a drop in the bucket. 

So I want to express my deep thanks to each of you.  You have more than met my expectations at being what a pastor would call a perfect church.  You have done that.  It has been good, here in this beautiful place in southern Tennessee.  You are a wonderful church.  Many times people have asked me, how can you stay at one church for so long?  What is the secret?  Well the secret is not in me.  The secret is in you.  You're very forgiving, very amiable, very kind and tender hearted. 

We've been on the same path now for 25 years.  Our separate paths have become one path.  I remember backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.  We were going on a 20 mile hike, my wife and I.  Each carrying 40 or 50 pound backpacks.  We were with church members.  As you well know the Appalachian Trail is marked with little white markers.  White paint marks.  Either on a tree or a post or the rocks along the trail, and as we walked I saw another trail come and join ours.  Of a different color.  For a while the two trails went together.  All the way to the top.  That kind of pictures what has happened here.  Our trails have merged and we will go to the top. 

Today is a time of junction.  For these 25 years our paths have journeyed together.  It has been unexpectedly enjoyable.  I have just climbed out of bed every Sabbath morning in anticipation of coming and being here and seeing each of you.  But now we have reached a parting cross roads.  It's now time for your senior pastor and wife to say so long.  We're leaving you. 

It's been my privilege to dedicate some of you as babies.  Do any of you remember me dedicating you as a baby?  Don't you raise your hand.  You don't remember, but I did dedicate a lot of you as babies.  I've baptized a lot of those same babies when they grew up.  And married some of those babies.  Performed your wedding.  We have shared together at groundbreakings.  We've gathered around backhoes.  We've had shovels going into the ground.  We've gathered together at tornadoes.  Under broken water pipes.  I remember coming to church one Sabbath morning and we were all pulling insulation out of the walls.  The water pipes had frozen.  What a mess.  We have had corresponding deluges upon our carpet.  Super storms of snow.  Floods.  Funerals.  We've cried together.  We've laughed together.  We've grown together.  We've spent hours at boring board meetings, and we've been pleasant about it.  We've poured our energy and our hearts, you and I, into this place.  God has blessed.  The church is full this morning.  I've never had the curse of preaching to an empty church.  You have rewarded our efforts. 

Anything that I have accomplished in my ministry I owe to two beautiful women.  My mother and my wife.  I would like for my wife to come up and join me.  My beautiful wife.  We were married in 1965 at the Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs.  We have been together in ministry. Partners. Lovers.  Every successful pastor has an involved wife, and Cindy has attended.  She has taught.  She has counseled.  She has worked.  She has cried, and like most pastor's wives she drove a second car to church on Sabbath mornings.  Single-handedly she got those three kids ready for church every Sabbath and out the door on time herself.  Drove them to the church and sat alone for the church congregation to inspect our family.  It was hard.  She has been a Sabbath widow for 25 years here.  46 years altogether, and sweetheart, I love you.  I thank God for such a godly partner in ministry. 

Today I give thanks to each of you for 25 years of joy.  For tears and hugs.  I hope I have hugged all of you.  I love you.  For the sweet, sweet spirit in this place.  For pews that are overflowing.  For our own godly Margaret Halverson and her devoted ladies who have prayed and ministered in this place and done so well and made me so proud.  I praise God for our crowded hallways.  For the diligent Sheryl Baker and her ministries here in this church.  For the brilliantly creative Sabbath school departments that we have.  The finest in the denomination, bar none.  You have done so well.  For our parking lot full of cars.  It just gives you a feeling of momentum that something is happening. 

I praise the Lord for Nat Halverson, our faithful early morning leaf sweeper.  Have you ever noticed when you come into this church on Sabbath morning the parking lot is full of leaves.  There are no leaves around the church.  Swept up by Nat Halverson out there breathing the frost, in the darkness, cleaning the church.  A doorkeeper in the house of God.  A man of prayer.  A man who has been up here at this pulpit hundreds of hours praying for me.  I thank you for that, Nat. 

I thank you for our church janitors who have kept this place clean.  For each of you, for happy, glowing people.  I want to express my gratitude for that bearded Santa Claus, Bob Rempher, and his greeters.  Wonderful saintly man. 

I praise God for the quiet times in my chair in my office that was back here and now it's back over here. 

I thank each of our saintly head elders.  We have had wonderful elders in this church.  I have never had to work with a bad elder.  Sometimes they get to be dominating, they tell me, but they've been so sweet here. 

I praise the Lord for Greg Keller and his team of fine deacons.  Whenever the chainsaws are needed, they're here and I appreciate that. 

And Dean Saunders right up there in that booth.  Dean, thank you for making everything work.  Dean has been here.  For instance, we have a baptism tomorrow morning, here at this place, at 12:01 in the morning.  You know who's going to be here to let them in.  Dean Saunders.  Dean is here.  I thank Dean for that and for all you do.  He's surely a minister here with me. 

And I thank the Lord for each church secretary that we have had.  Holding the fort down, answering the phone, trying to be polite, trying to deal with the circumstances.  Do you know that the most painful part of ministry and the most joyful part of ministry is the same thing.  People.  Church secretaries tell me that.  If it weren't for the people this would be an easy job. 

I praise the Lord for Pam Tuttle and her Pathfinders.  I love the Pathfinders.  And I praise the Lord for Carl and Linda, the Adventurers.  What a great thing.  Jamie Delay for these wonderful, welcoming lunches.  Where do I stop?  I see each of you, I praise the Lord for each one of you.  Our beautiful music department.  Everything has worked so well in this church. 

I praise God, who allowed me to be in this place.  I thank Jesus, who spoke through me and beyond my sermons to your heart's.  I am thankful for each family represented here today.  I humbly thank you and I thank God so much.  For all of these great memories I can only say, wow!  And let me say that backwards.  Wow!  It has been awesome.  God has blessed me beyond my deservedness. 

Now thankfully, today is not a 'period' in our life.  Today is a 'comma'.  Pastor Fred Fuller is coming here to be your new senior pastor.  Several times people had said, who do you want to take your place, and always, Fred Fuller had been on that list.  I had a list of about three people.  He will do well.  He's a wonderful godly man.  I like Fred Fuller, and he does welcome us to come back, and we will be so supportive of him. 

For those who love God there will always be another time of ministry, so it's never a goodbye.  We should say, I'll see you later.  Or I'll see you at the feet of Jesus.  My wife and I have such a store of precious memories here.  We will never forget you and that love that you have shared will flavor our memory forever. 

Well I miss being senior pastor?  Absolutely.  I spoke with one of our retired pastors who is a member of this congregation.  I said, tell me what it's like when you retire.  I said, how did you feel after quitting such a long successful ministry that you have had.  He shocked me.  He said, you know, I cried every day, every day for the first six weeks.  I just cried after retiring.  And you know, it's hard to stop something that's been running at full throttle for 46 years and then you cut it off.  I know that's going to be hard, and when you see me down here at the store with my shopping cart full of kleenex, you will know that I am zealously fighting it.  i'm doing it.  Just come over and put your arm around me and say it's okay.  I'm praying for you. 

We interviewed here in the spring of 1987, and we expected to stay, maybe five or six years.  Seven years probably.  My wife and I drove into the parking lot out here.  We remember that day.  We were driving a red Camaro.  I had red hair.  Don Crook was at that interview.  And as we leave, I drive a silver car and have a few silver hairs left.  Little did I realize how connected we would be at such a warm community of saints.  Because you have been so saintly.  Numerous times I have been humbled by the kindness of your hearts.  And when I look at this plaque which will hang right beside my rolltop desk, I will remember you and your love.  Or maybe I will hang the plaque above my South Bend lathe, or maybe I'll hang it above my milling machine as I crank out steam engines and do various things in my retirement. 

Tomorrow I will wake up to my new life.  Full of yet to be realized opportunities.  But I will be mourning the emptiness of our unique relationship.  It will be quizzical.  I will no longer be the Donald of McDonald's.  Today will be one of the fond memories of yesteryear. 

Our goal during my tenure here has been verbalized well in The Message Bible.  I want to read to you and I want to quote this.  I love The Message Bible.  Here in Second Timothy.  In a well furnished kitchen there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters but waste cans and compost buckets.  Some containers are used to serve fine meals.  Others to take out the garbage.  Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing.  Isn't that beautiful?  That's Second Timothy 2:20 and 21.  I have tried to be a purveyor or container of heavenly blessings to you.  I have tried to preach the word.  I have tried to uplift Jesus Christ in this pulpit. 

A man's life is judged by many factors and I want my life to be judged by the friends that I have chosen.  Jesus is my best friend.  Cindy is my best earthly friend.  You are my best friends.  We chose to come to this place, and to see you here in front of me from the vantage point of this pulpit, our last time together.  It will be a memory that I will treasure for a very long time.  No longer will I be here.  Today will be my last Sabbath in this pulpit where I have stood for a quarter of a century, right here. 

To this place and to your kindness I owe so much.  Here I have spent over half of my ministry of 46 years.  Way over half, right here.  Right here I have passed from a young man to an old man.  Here in this beautiful place, my children have grown, graduated, and married, and one is buried in the Collegedale Cemetery.  I know that our God will go with you and with us and that his love will remain in us. 

Have you ever picked up a Review and Herald or a Junior Guide and gotten involved in reading a really good story only to get to the end of the story and see these words, "to be continued".  Have you done that?  I hate that.  And this is how I feel right now.  I hate the feeling that I have.  I like to be in charge of my life.  I don't like to be near tears, but our unique relationship will be ended today.  But it will eventually continue, in heaven.  Forever.  We will never part again.  But on this day I am ceasing to be your senior pastor.  I am ceasing to be a conference employee.  I'm ceasing my full-time ministry.  My time has come. 

My wife and I do plan on returning here after an appropriate length of time to give the new man a good start as the Lord directs.  But already there are members here of another church who are wanting us to come and sit with them.  Thank you for coming.  I thank you deeply for your love, your prayers, your friendship. 

Let's continue to uplift Jesus.  Back in 1987 I tried to model my ministry after Paul's, and I'm going to read you his philosophy here in First Thessalonians 2.  Several verses.  First Thessalonians 2, starting with verse 7.  As apostles of Christ, so this has been my philosophy and it was Paul's.  As apostles of Christ we could've been a burden to you but we were gentle among you.  Like a mother caring for her little children.  We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you, not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you have become so dear to us.  Surely you remember, brothers, our toil, our hardship.  We worked day and night in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  You are our witnesses, and so is God, of how holy and righteous and blameless we were among you who believed, for you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,  encouraging, comforting, urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory. 

I have tried to fight a good fight.  To fight the good fight of faith.  I've done my best to keep the course.  I ask you to forgive me for my blunders.  My blunders on the board.  My blunders in the pulpit, or who knows where else. 

I urge you to keep in contact with us.  Clarence Merritt usually comes by and aggravates me and then we end up laughing and it's such a joy to see him come in my door.  I'm going to miss you doing that.  You come over.  I have a house, you know.  Come over to our home.  I'm going to continue being friends with all of you. 

We've got to work together, because the night is coming.  First Thessalonians 2:19 continues on.  Who is our hope, our joy, our prize, that we could bring about in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes.  Isn't it you?  You are our prize.  You are the joy of a pastor.  Verse 20.  You are our glory and our joy. 

No matter how painful to me, it is time to say farewell.  And this is not a final goodbye, of course.  Our paths will cross another day at the soon coming, at the top of the hill, we will be there.  It will be a glorious day.  Right now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over, the day is almost here, so let us clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and not think about how to gratify the pleasures of the flesh. 

H. M. S. Richards, my hero.  I loved H. M. S. Richards.  He used to be at those great Michigan camp meetings up there in Grand Ledge.  What a godly man, and he concluded each of his Voice of Prophecy radio sermons in a way similar to this.  Have faith in God, thy ways he doth amend.  Have faith in God, his Word and name defend.  Have faith in God and trust him to the end.  Have faith dear friend in God.  Keep faithful friends.  We're almost home. 

If you can honestly sing a simple little song, then you've got hope in your heart, and that song is, Jesus loves me this I know.  If you can sing that and you know that Jesus loves you, then you're going to be okay.  Ellen White's last words were Second Timothy 1:12.  I know in whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 

Dear Father.  Guard this congregation.  Continue to bless them.  I entrust them into your hands and your love and your care.  Bless Pastor Dave, Pastor Paul and Pastor Fuller.  Speak through Fred Fuller.  May we all be neighbors in heaven soon.  Bless us, I ask in Jesus' name, Amen. 

So now I bid my church an affectionate farewell.  It's been a great pleasure to serve you.  May God bless you and keep you faithful. 

Back in that little wooden church in Hartford City, Indiana, where I grew up, each family sat on their hard painted bench.  Oh, those benches were hard.  Old Mrs. Blanche Cady, with her gnarled hands full of arthritis, played that old, often out of tune piano, and she played the same closing hymn every Sabbath.  During my entire boyhood life.  And somehow that song is more pertinent to me today, at this moment.  Let's sing that song as our closing hymn.  Number 65.  God Be With You Til We Meet Again.

I'd like to give you a blessing at this moment.  May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the road of life rise to meet you.  May the wind always be at your back.  May the sun shine warm on your face.  May his rain fall softly upon your gardens.  May the path that you walk be gentle.  May you always have walls for the wind, a strong roof for the rain.  May you have laughter to cheer you.  May you have those you love near you, and may God hold you in the palm of his hand and may we all meet again at Jesus' feet.  God bless you,  amen.  And I love you.

Hymn of Praise: #140, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
Scripture: Romans 13:11-14
Hymn of Response: #65, God Be With You
Sermon Notes:  Sermon notes available as PDF

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 1/17/12