God Gave It All Back

In 1994, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Africa. I was working for Word Records as a sales representative. I had 3 weeks vacation a year, but they rarely allowed us to take all 3 weeks at one time. We had sales conferences 3 times a year. These were big events with information about our upcoming product releases. Missing one was unheard of. The mission trip would be 3 weeks long, and would overlap a major sales conference. My supervisor was doubtful, but said he would present my request to the VP of sales.

Meanwhile, I had a dream. Here’s the short version: My wife, Trish, and I were in the sky over the east coast of the United States. There was a disturbance in the water down below. We moved down low to see what it was. It was like a bubbling. I touched one of the bubbles, and suddenly, I was flying across the ocean. I quickly came to the coast of Africa. As I neared the coast, the words “I want Africa” burst from within me. As I set foot just beyond the beach, I looked up the coastline and saw the skeletal remains of an old sailing ship. I was in a village with people milling around, going about their daily lives. My heart ached to do something for them, “to improve their lives and give them hope.”

When I shared this with Jimmy Hodges, the organizer of the mission trip, the first thing he said was, “Have you ever been shipwrecked in your life?”

preaching in Malawi

preaching in Malawi

As I mentioned yesterday, as a youth I felt a call to the ministry and thought that for me that meant foreign missions. Right after that experience, I was riding home from church with my Mom. She asked, “What would you do if God sent you to Africa? You’d be a long way from family.” I said, “I would go. If that’s what God wanted He’d take care of me.”

Just before college, the Lord spoke to my heart about staying in this country. I would still be in the ministry, just not overseas. I went to Louisiana College and majored in religion, minored in Greek.

I met a girl. She played the piano, had a nice voice. We sang together. She was “called to be a pastor’s wife.” We thought we had a lot in common. We got engaged our freshman year at college. Married the next summer.

Through college, I worked in churches doing music and youth ministry and interim pastorates. My senior year, I was also Chaplain’s Assistant at a mental hospital. I finished college a semester ahead of schedule. Over Christmas break, we loaded up a U-Haul and moved into a simple little white frame house a few blocks from seminary in Ft. Worth.

All was good. I had a good reputation. I had the respect of my peers, and my relatives were proud of me. I knew what I was going to do with my life. I had a wife who shared in those plans. I was working on a masters degree. It was all “gain,” as Paul put it in Philippians.

Our parents had advised against our getting married so young. “At least wait until after college.” Most of our college friends had questioned our plans. “You guys argue all the time. Are you sure you want to get married?” We didn’t see it. “We don’t argue that much.”

Yes, we did.

It didn’t take long after we were married for us to admit it. Within a year or two, the “d” word was being tossed around. But, I was in the ministry. Divorce just wasn’t an option. Eventually, it was. She decided she had never loved me. She didn’t want to have my children. She just married me to get away from her alcoholic parents. She wanted out. Most of her reasons sounded like quotes from the soap operas she watched, or from Barry Manilow’s music. However, she was afraid God would punish her if she actually divorced me. Still, she wanted out. I let her go – hoping to somehow, someday win her back. Then, when I found out there was another man, I gave up and filed for divorce myself.

I had been raised to believe a divorced person could not be in the ministry. In my mind, I was done. Everything I had considered good about my life seemed to slip through my fingers like sand.

Return to Africa. – Word did approve my missing the sales conference and going on the trip.
After a week of training local church leaders we began a series of open air meetings in local villages. Our first night preaching in the villages, we saw 3,000 people accept the Lord. The African pastors who were with us were celebrating and rejoicing and singing. Their joy enhanced ours. It was the most amazing time of worship and thanksgiving I’ve ever experienced.

Jimmy commented, “Most ministers work their entire life-time pastoring churches, and never experience in their whole careers what we saw tonight.”
The Lord spoke to my heart, “Those 20 years you’ve been out of the ministry, I just gave them all back to you.”

Have you ever had a time of major loss or deep hurt? How did you move on from there? Have you experienced healing and restoration?

What Have You Lost?

Have you ever been sure of something, but then, it didn’t happen like you thought?

You were just sure he’d ask you to the prom. He didn’t. You were sure your team would beat your rival school from across town. They won. You were sure you’d get that key promotion. It went to the new guy. You were sure he was the man of your dreams. The marriage ended in divorce.

IMG_8792

In high school ROTC, we had inspection every Friday during class. Best-Dressed competition was voluntary.

You arrived an hour before school started for an intense inspection. Uniforms were checked down to the minutest detail. Creases had to be perfect, and shirts wrinkle free. Ribbons were attached and patches sown the exact regulation distance from pockets or seams. Shoes shone like mirrors. Brass was polished to a perfect shine – no smudges, and no left over traces of Brasso Polish. The smallest “cable” (loose thread) was a demerit. You had to be able to answer any question over anything you had been taught regarding military science from chain of command, to weapons, to first aid…. I won.

On awards day, I even received the Brigade’s highest honors, Senior Army Instructor’s Ribbon, the Military Excellence ribbon, and the District Army Instructor’s ribbon. Whoever won Best-Dressed their junior year, was a shoo-in for Lieutenant Colonel, Battalion Commander, as a senior. The winner of the Military Excellence award sometimes even made full Colonel, Brigade Commander, over all the schools in the district.

Senior year came and promotions were announced. Battalion commander went to someone else. He hadn’t even placed 3rd in Best-dressed. Everyone was shocked. I was promoted to Major, S-2, third in command of the battalion. After class, I asked the instructor why. He said it went to the guy with the highest overall GPA. No one had ever said anything about that to us before. We thought it went to the guy who was the best in ROTC. I was disappointed.

I didn’t let it bother me too much, though. ROTC was something for high school, but as a youth, Africa seemed to be in my future. I was going to be a missionary. But, that’s a whole ‘nother plan. Over the next few posts, I’ll share some other unexpected turns in my life and look at how we can deal with those events in the light of God’s Word (if everything works according to plan).

Sometimes things just don’t turn out the way we expect. It may be something simple. Or it may be something that seems to alter the course of our entire life.

Can you relate? What plans have you had that didn’t work out the way you expected? Small or large, can you share a time when it seemed your best plans and dreams were ship-wrecked?

Welcome

I grew up going to church. The church I attended was a good one. Well attended, growing, reaching out to the community. The preaching was good. We had a good youth program. Choir, etc., I think you get the idea.

At an early age I felt called to the ministry. I thought it was going to be foreign missions. I think God let me think that because He had a lesson He knew I needed to learn later on. (Someday I’ll share that story).

Right after I graduated high school, I led singing at revival services at a little church in Shreveport. The Levy Street Mission was in an area my sociology professor would call a “zone in transition.” It was in a run down neighborhood that was well on its way changing from residential to industrial. It was a poor part of town. Some of the members were elderly, and had lived in that neighborhood many years. Others just couldn’t afford nicer homes than the raggedy little houses that remained in that neighborhood. Still others lived in nearby apartments or government housing projects.

As I stood before that little congregation each night and led the singing, I was struck by the big smiles on their faces. When they sang the hymns, they really meant what they were singing. There was joy in their hearts that showed on their faces.

The next Sunday, back at my church, standing with the congregation as we sang, I felt the urge to look around. I was struck by the blank looks on the faces. Everyone seemed to just be mouthing the familiar words of the hymns. It was like their minds were somewhere else and the hymns meant nothing.

A thought hit me. It was a strange thought in that it wasn’t like I came up with it. It wasn’t like “I need to do this.” It was more like I was being spoken to. “I don’t need you in foreign missions. I have plenty for you to do in this country.”

That’s the reason for this blog. Over the years I have learned God is (He exists), and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. He is faithful. When others aren’t, He is. When I’m not, He is. When life gets hard, He is still faithful. Because He is, I have a basis for faith, joy, and even thanksgiving, no matter what. And, I have come to see that one of the key lessons the church needs to learn, in order to put the joy back in their hearts and the smile back on their faces, is giving thanks. It’s about faith. It’s about God’s faithfulness. It’s about God’s purposes. It’s about being thankful, always for all things.

Eventually, I’ll be posting probably two or three times per week. I don’t want to overload your inbox. I invite you to subscribe so that you don’t miss out on the conversation. And yes, I hope it will be a conversation. I invite you to comment on the posts, and on other people’s comments. You can check my comment guidelines if you’d like.

So, how about you? Have you ever felt like you were in the “church of the frigidaire?” Have you ever had a time when you felt like God truly spoke to you? And most importantly, what do you have to be thankful for?