We all have a story with a beginning and, someday, an end. My life story began over sixty-three years ago. But my real story, my pilgrimage, my new life, began forty years ago on Thanksgiving weekend. I won’t go into all the details here as I’ve written about it previously – if you have a Facebook account, you can read my note titled Beer Pills here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/358576698901013/
The key part of that story is that, after a wild weekend in Florida with some friends, I met God in a real and undeniable way. After so many months and years of trying to find the way forward, of searching for meaning, and looking for the truth, I met Him on I-95 driving a Ford Pinto (I was driving, not God). Upon returning home I immediately delved into the Bible, looking to find some theology to explain my experience. And that was my foundation, of a building not built with hands, and my beginning as a new creation.
To foster my little newfound faith, some good friends convinced their parents to start a home Bible study, a House Church. They were veteran Christians and readily agreed, so we met at their home on Wednesday night. Those were heady days for me as I discovered truths that would take me into my future and discovered things about myself that I did not know. After a time, I taught my first study, on Ephesians 6, about the armor of God. I did actual research at the library (this was before the internet) and used graphic aids to convey the message. It turns out I was gifted to teach. It was here that Violet, one of the hosts, declared me a “watchman on the wall” and I began to understand my place in this whole thing.
The House Church was a wonderful way to get started, to focus on study and personal relationships without all the trappings of a full-blown religious experience. At my hosts’ urging, I started attending their home church, Braddock Baptist Church in Annandale, Virginia. I was welcomed into the fold immediately and just as quickly found myself teaching a Sunday night class to middle school boys. It is not that the leadership recognized my great abilities, rather no one else would take the class. They were little rascals all, pastor’s kids, and deacon’s kids, and now they were my responsibility. I took great liberties with the standard teaching tools and found ways to connect and even engross them in spiritual truth. Once, during Stewardship Week, I gave them each a dollar (remember, this was 1984) and told them to do what they wanted with it but, if they brought it back as an offering the following week, I would match it. Only one of them showed up with his buck. And I got called into the Pastor’s office because the Deacons were mad, I had set the kids up. Yep, I did. But it sounded like more of a parenting problem to me.
The time at BBC was spent building on the foundation already laid. I taught College & Career class, organized activities, hosted a home fellowship for young adults at my house. It turns out that besides teaching, I was also gifted with administrative abilities and hospitality. The abundance of gifts was piling up, and then the Big Guy dropped the biggest gift yet.
In walked the most amazing and beautiful woman ever on Sunday morning. And I learned to love in ways I never imagined as I began what, as of this writing, is a thirty-seven-year love story.
A pilgrimage indicates travel, so after a time we pulled up stakes and headed to another church, The Tabernacle, in Laurel, Maryland. It was a large, non-denominational outfit firmly grounded in New Testament ideas. We both together took the discipleship classes and we both together started teaching elementary kids on Sunday morning. It was a powerful experience, the messages that were taught, the worship, the deep fellowship. To this day I have nothing but warm remembrances of that time.
But time keeps on ticking, and like the pilgrims on the Mayflower we set sail for new shores. Next stop was Charleston, South Carolina, courtesy of the US Navy. This was a big move for us, and I vividly recall the Voice telling me that it was a “land flowing with milk and honey, but there are giants there” (Numbers 13:26-29). After a year-long search for a place to hang our hats, we stumbled on a small non-denominational church, Resurrection Church. At our first visit, during a powerful worship service, I was overcome with this verse in my head:
“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7
I knew we were home, so we dived right in. Those were powerful days, as we gathered our giftings and designed, implemented, and managed a Children’s Ministry. I helped do the same with the men’s ministry, and we planned retreats for both men and women. Finally, coming full circle to my beginning, we hosted, and I taught, a small group, a House Church. By this time we had four children in tow, and they were immersed in everything we did, as this was life at its best. Some people say they are at church whenever the doors opened – we were the ones with the keys!
During this time I was approached by the head of the overseeing ministry, Resurrection Churches and Ministries (RCM), and he brought me onboard his organization. I was soon using my gifts of administration and helps to manage the member services of the network of churches. I was tasked with planning all conferences and meetings, overseeing publications, managing mission trips, and providing services to pastors and missionaries. This was the first, and only, time I was paid for ministry. My pilgrimage was now a full-time job and everything that I had experienced from that day on I-95 until that time came into play. It was hard to comprehend the road I had traveled in a short six years.
But it was soon time to weigh anchor as I woke up one morning and heard that still, small voice tell me to move to Tennessee. You see, prayer is powerful and, while it may not change things, it does change people. My wife had been yearning to return to her roots in Soddy-Daisy and prayed constantly for the Lord to make a way. He did, and we did, as we loaded up the truck and moved to Tennessee.
Along with a new job for me and college for her, we needed a new church. It just so happens in a small town it’s not hard to fit right in and we landed at Soddy Community Chapel, a very traditional, wooden pew, stained glass church filled with people that Diana had known since her school days. Scripture says that:
“A man’s gift makes room for him,
And brings him before great men.” Proverbs 18:16
And that is exactly what happened. I was elected Superintendent of Sunday School (like my little class years earlier, nobody wanted the job!), started an adult couples’ class, and soon was on the deacon board. We had some great times there, but it really wasn’t who we were as Christians. So we set sail for new shores.
And set anchor at Grace Fellowship. This was another young, fast-moving, non-denominational group and we were swept up in the activity and energy. Once again, we were tasked with building a children’s ministry. At Grace I delivered my first Sunday morning message, “Excellence Was Expected,” and went on to preach many more. We again hosted a small group, again had the keys to the church, again organized meetings and retreats. We still count many of those fine people among our friends, but as Grace evolved into a Calvary Chapel, and as we got tired (burn out is a common result of too much ministry) we ultimately went searching for a more peaceful harbor.
The Meeting was another house church, advertised as a place for those who were tired of church. We met every other Sunday evening (to give time to enjoy the day!) and I taught through Bible books, we sang songs, we prayed. And we always had a full meal with hours of fellowship, until I had to throw everybody out late. This was a grand time, with intense study, great people, weddings, baptisms, communion – we did it all, and I was the de facto pastor, although I never called myself that. For five years we hosted a revolving door of people, a place for pause on their pilgrimage, a respite from institutional religion.
By that time, in my fourth decade of following Jesus, I had developed and applied the giftings of:
- Watchman (prophet)
None of this was evident in my prior life, all had been given as I progressed along my new life path.
I believe there is One Church, One Body, One Lord. There are many expressions of that, and every opportunity I followed, every new thing I experienced, every new path I went down all are legitimate expressions of that Christian faith. The whole experience was reminiscent of my Army Brat upbringing, always moving, always a new culture, always embracing change.
I am blessed beyond measure to have experienced all this, and much more, in my forty years on the road to Heaven’s Gate. I have made many errors, experienced plenty of grief, endured painful trials, made people mad, forgave and have been forgiven, loved, and received love, gave of my time and my resources and my very being. My gain has far exceeded any cost and I have no regrets. While I won’t list my failures, this pilgrim will say this:
- 40 years without wavering
- 40 years of trials
- 40 years of joy
- 40 years of adventure
- 40 years of service
- 40 years of faith, hope, love
I would encourage you to look back on your own journey, enjoying the good, shaking your head at the bad, but smiling knowing that you were always moving forward, reaching for the prize, waiting to hear those words:
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Matthew 25:23
None of us can claim any credit for the accomplishments on our journey. All we did was follow when He called us. After forty years along the road, I will leave you with this:
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:1-3