one very grateful human being trying to make a difference
"I'm just trying to make a difference."
According to Reese Witherspoon, during her Academy Award acceptance speech for playing June Carter Cash, she informed us that whenever anybody would ask June, "What's up, How ya doing?" she would answer, "I'm Just trying to make a difference." Me too.
Seeing whereas my highest grade completed in traditional education is eighth grade; I'm a person that lives with a lot of gratitude. I'm very thankful. I live as one that has had their life given back to them. I did have the opportunity to enroll in college when I was 28. I finished.
I haven't gone too far. I was born in the city of New London, Connecticut and I still live in the city of New London about four blocks from where I grew up. But that is further than the last place I lived for ten years. Previously my family lived right next door to the house I grew up in. Great adventure huh?
I don't always stay home. I've been invited to speak, teach, help and learn all over the United States and the world. I've had the privilege of 'doing ministry' on five continents and I'm not sure exactly how many countries, some places more than once.
They say the essence of ministry is that Jesus gives you something and you give it to others. I honestly know that I have nothing to give, except that which has been given. I'm just amazed that I've been given so much to give away to others. I have to say that the greatest joy I have in ministry life is giving away opporunitites to serve to others. I can't believe Jesus has given ministry to me and I'm so grateful to those that have trusted me and gave me room to learn, fail and serve. I LOVE helping others find a place where their life "can make a difference." And imagine "I" am one of those that gets to give those opporutnities away. Too weird. God is just too great.
So I've had the priviledge of spreading this love of God aroud the world, but home is where I belong. I came to know Christ in 1975 through the testimony and teaching ministry of Steve Gregg, author of Revelation: Four Views. I was discipled by the "Through the Bible" teaching ministry of Chuck Smith. I've had the pleasure of working out that discipleship by having taught through the entire Bible to others. I'm not the only one that owes a great debt to Chuck. But back to staying at home.
It's not why do I stay in New London, but why did I come back to New London. I had moved to Arizona and through a series of events was homeless when I found Christ through the testimony and teaching of Steve. The moment Christ came into my heart, I knew I was changed, I knew I was full and I knew I needed to go back to New London to tell the folks there about Jesus. I began immediately to tell people about Jesus as I started on my journey back. When you are homeless and hitch-hiking it takes a long time to get anywhere, but I was on my way home to Connecticut to let people know that Jesus is the Answer. For everything.
I found myself in a little church and I started tracking down old friends to tell them about the love of God. I opened a Christian bookstore, worked with a ministry running a coffeehouse and teaching center. I hooked up with Reverend Rogers from the local Church of God in Christ doing prison ministry. I bought a guitar for $60 from a demon possessed guy and started leading worship wherever anybody would let me. I still have the guitar. I'm pretty sure it's sanctified.
I met my wife while leading worship and doing prison ministry. My wife, Debbie, had a different background than me. She grew up in the Pentecostal church and went to a Christian college. In 1979 we were both kicked out of a church we were leading worship in. It is interesting that we got kicked out of the church because we were going to go and work with Keith Green at about the same time, Steve Gregg who lead me to Christ, turned down being an elder in Keith's ministry. It's weird to think that we both almost ended up in the same ministry, but God obviously was doing something different than that.
We've got one son, Stefan, whom we adopted. His story is miraculous. I'll have to post the whole story some time, but it is one of dreams, visions, the voice and leading of God. I tell him all the time he a 'son of choice.' Adoption ceremonies can be pretty cool. When we adopted him, Judge Birken in Fort Lauderdale Florida asked us, "Do you desire to take him home and be his parents?" We answered, "We do." Then he asked Stefan, "Do you desire to listen to them and go home with them?" To which he aswered, "Yes, I do." Pretty cool stuff!
We started a church in New London in 1979 that went verse by verse through the Bible. Within a year or so the church grew to about 30 people and shortly thereafter we shut it down and went to a Calvary Chapel Bible School. I know "there's no use hoping for a perfect future, or worrying about a troubled past" but I still wonder if shutting that church down wasn't a mistake.
No sooner did we end up out of state in Bible School than both of us felt that New London was where we really needed to be. I grew up in that town and never heard the Gospel. Now I was in a town that had maybe 600 people in it and probably the same number of people attending church there every weekend.
We headed back to Connecticut right around the time a new movement was growing out of Calvary Chapel. The Vineyard. The church I was part of had some connections with some the main Calvary leaders that were forming the movement. John Wimber flew us out to California to tell us about his vision to see 10,000 churches planted, mostly along the coastlines of the United States. He invited us in if we "wanted to play." John's words.
We went back to Connecticut with the intention of starting a Calvary Chapel, but soon found ourselves with our relationships and in the Vineyard. It was a wild, but good ride. Yet it was good for us get out too. Except for the relationships we left behind. We've tried to keep most of those in tact. Whatever else anybody can say about the Vineyard, nobody can say that don't have some of the nicest people in the world. They do. The love levels ride high in the Vineyard. Maybe it's their emphasis on mercy. There could have been no more gracious parting, than the way Bill Elander, then the regional Vineyard guy, used to gently walk us out. Bill is a hero to me. It's not that being out of the Vineyard is what's so great for us, as much as being where you're supposed be is.
I learned a lot from John Wimber. He was very gracious to my wife and I and one of the most generous people I've ever met. John taught me, "We've got to love the things God loves and He loves the whole church." That one stuck for me. But we didn't fit and it would become evident and even stressful. The stress wasn't the good people of the Vineyard, but it was stressful none the less. Thankfully things bent before they broke. I feel like Bruce Cockburn when he said, "I've been through the wringer, but I'm OK." We came out, but we still have our friends and all we learned from being together during those years. I know I'm much richer because of it all. But as Wimber knows, there is only one Body anyway. We're just expressing or emphasizing it a little different than the rest of our relatives.
So home is where the heart is. For me, it's New London and for now this local church. I just want to finish what we've believe God has for us. God can use anybody. We can all play, we just need to 'play nice.' Honestly that's been about the hardest part of all of this for me. I don't think I was prepared for what goes on in the Christian community. My thought was you sit down, play the guitar, read out of the Bible, tell your story, people get saved and they want to pass the love on to others. At least that's what I observed watching Steve Gregg and Chuck Smith. But people are people and people are broken. You can't come to Christ without admitting your brokenness, so what do we really expect from broken people anyway?
People often ask me and have asked me again recently, "What are your goals?" I don't have any. I just want to be found faithful. I should be dead by now, I came into this with nothing to contribute. Now I've got a lot. What?!? No goals?!? Only be found faithful? I dunno. Stick with me on this one for minute... I want to be found faithful to the dream God has for me. The Bible tells me that is "exceedingly more than I could ever ask or imagine." God has great things for us and the daily walk is about discovering those. (You know "Seek and you'll find" "Knock and it wil be opened.") Sticking to old orders and having no goals of my own isn't the same as being satisfied with the status quo. I'm not satisfied with that for even a moment! It would be inappropiate to have goals, dreams or hopes that are smaller than the need. The need is huge. God has invited us to work with Him. I'm expecting big things! But I'm satisfied with what I've got!
I think the key to accomplishing the dreams God has for us is seeking Him and getting involved in what He is doing. I've got to believe God is more interested in people than I am. Yet He let's us play. I hear my friends saying things like, "I'd like to reach 500 more people with the Gospel this year." Cool, but I hear God saying He "doesn't desire that any should perish." That's a lot more than 500! So you keep your ear to the train track and listen to what He is saying and doing. I think He lets us get creative as we work with Him. My father always used to say, "The best is yet to come." I agree. Bring it on, I'm ready to do what God is doing!
My goal is to align myself with the purposes God has for my life and to see what He can do if I give my life over to Him. Exceedingly more than I could ever think or ask. Wow! Maybe the question should be, "What are your expectations?" My expectations are that God is going to use me until the day I die. And then I expect he will use me even after I'm gone. My expectation is that God is going to move radically in my life and in the life of the people around me. My expectation is more will be accomplished than books can contain.
My expectation is that God will give me even more resources and opportunities and I hope I can give most of those away. I'd like to keep giving it away and helping others find their place. Perhaps doing that imperfectly, but why stop now?
My biggest fear is at this point is that I'm going to get stopped by religion, by the draw to become more and more 'conservative.' I don't mean that in the political sense or the way people view the scriptures. I have a conservative morailty and believe the Scriptures are the Word of God. But I've been a child of spiritual priviledge. I've been in a lot of different churches and a lot of different circles. I've seen a lot of things. I recognize the temptation is to circle the wagons, draw a circle around our accomplishments and draw away from the world and become good 'churchmen.' It scares me. I wonder about the possibility of staying in a state of perpetual revival and renewal.
I like the new movements that talk about being 'missional.' But missional is no new thing either. A few decades ago people referred to this as being 'incarnational.' It's how Jesus met us. Not by drawing away from the sinful world, but coming into the sinful world to seek us and find us.
The church exists for the glory of God. Yes. But the church exists for the world too. We're not just a seminary or counseling center helping educate and putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. There is a power in love and a power in the Word of God that is everything that human beings need to be full, complete, changed and transformed. The church micmics Jesus when we go looking for that which is lost. The church finishes her task when she teaches those that have been found the whole Bible and gets them involved in loving and serving others.. I'm fond of saying, "It takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian."
I like being alive, I like being in the world. I like teaching people about Jesus and His love. I like living in New London. I'm going to love heaven.
I hope the blog gives you stuff that will help you interact with your friends and family everyday as we share the love of Jesus and the greatness of this new life in Christ. I hope it gives you some courage, some laughs and some stamina for another day.
For now I'll stick wth June Carter Cash and try to make a difference while I still have some breath.
Thanks for listening to my story.