Eight years ago, I began a new direction in my life. After graduating from Lehigh University in 1995, getting a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering in 1999, and working in the engineering field for nearly 10 years, I felt God was calling me out of it and into full-time vocational ministry. On May 30th, 2004, I was ordained into the ministry at my church in Asheville, North Carolina.
My parents and my brother had made the long trip to Asheville from Connecticut. My father preached for the service, which was such a privilege for me. When he was ordained, his uncle, Tucker, whom my second son is named after, preached at the service. My parents were proud.
Eight years, three kids, two states, and a lost mom later, things look very different than they did that day. I am approaching the end of my seminary studies and my faith and theology have become even more real to me. Although I have experienced difficulties and storms, my anchor holds. While I still maintain my engineering license in Connecticut, there are few days that I really contemplate a change back to things the way that they were.
The big joke with my father when I went off to school at Lehigh was that Jon the Baptist had gone to Bethlehem. As I told some friends a few weeks ago, it was mildly humorous the first few times, but after exhausting it, as parents are sometimes known to do, it lost its edge. When my wife and I moved away from Connecticut to North Carolina, we both kept in touch with our families on a regular basis. I probably talked to my parents on an almost daily basis, always checking in to see how things were going and how they were doing.
Amidst my many phone conversations with my mom, she quoted a verse to me. Although in my thirties at the time, I was still her baby and I think that I considered some of her doting unnecessary and probably glossed over the verse. But after hearing it a number of times, I finally asked her what the reference was and she told me Luke 1:14. It was the words of the angel to Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. The angel said, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” Shortly after I had inquired as to the verse, my mom gave me a small frame for my desk. She was gifted in calligraphy and she had written up a verse.
That framed verse still sits on my desk at the church. It’s a constant reminder to me of all of this. It’s a reminder to me of where I have come from, the journey that has brought me to the place where I am today. It’s a reminder of what’s been left behind. But more importantly, it’s a reminder to me of what’s ahead. My mom was always proud of me and she never hesitated to tell me that. She would mention it often enough that it was hard for me to forget it. In many ways, the verse is a reminder to me of her as well.
But the verse also stands as a challenge to me. I am not perfect, I make many mistakes, but this verse is a reminder to me of my calling, of my responsibility to the people that I come in contact with. I hope and pray that people can say that I have been a joy and a delight to them, I know that my parents can and could. The words of the verse are strong though, many will rejoice because of his birth. I can think of a few people who probably wish that I had never been born, but I can think of many more who have encouraged me with kind words, thoughtful notes, and incredible gifts who I would like to think have been blessed by what God has offered through me. Everyone’s got their haters, and I am no exception, but I also know that there are many people who are thankful that God has brought me into their life.
Once in a while, when I’m feeling full of myself, I’ll tell someone that everyone needs some Jon Gibson in their life. While I’m usually saying it “tongue and cheek,” I hope and pray that what I can offer to people is something that will change them for the better, not because of who I am, but because of what God has done in me and through me.
My constant prayer is that God can use me to be a joy and a delight, not only to my parents, but to anyone who God puts in my path. I pray that many will rejoice because of my birth, not because I am so wonderful, but because I serve a wonderful God who uses simple people to accomplish His will. The words from Isaiah 61 that my mom had on her nightstand when she died are appropriate here. Verse 3 ends with these words, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” That is my prayer, may God use me to be just that. Amen.