This fall I celebrated 20 years of being a full-time, vocational minister. That blows my mind! Me a minister. I still don’t get it.
I have been thinking deeply about that for the past three months. It amazes me that 20 years have gone by since I literally loaded up my 1986 powder blue Volvo in Macon, GA. and drove west. I have been trying to capture the right words to describe what I have learned, as if I could reduce 20 years into a nice little list such as, “3 things I have learned” or “5 Thoughts for People Going into Ministry”, blah, blah, blah……
I Can’t do that. The past 20 years represent so much more than catchy principles.
One of the thousands of things I think about is my very first day of ministry in August of 1996. That day was not the beginning of the story. It was more like the middle, or the beginning of Star Wars IV, A New Hope, when the world was brought into a story that was already in motion. There was already great drama, interesting characters, unexpected events, tension, excitement, unknown adventures, fear, hope, and desperation happening in a galaxy far far away. And there were all those things already happening in my life. Then, one day I was somewhat minding my own business and then “BOOM”, I was embarking on an adventure that I was not prepared for. Unlike Luke in Star Wars though, I didn’t get a light saber or a space ship… that was a bummer. I did get to borrow my mom’s “bag phone” (who else remembers those?) for the drive and (no joke) the night before I had just saved on my car insurance by switching to Geico….That was kinda cool.
The journey landed me on the campus of University of Arkansas, Little Rock where I served in a campus ministry with my friend Tim (my personal Obiwon Kenobi). A year later I met my wife, Shelley, and convinced her to follow me on my “idealistic crusade”.
At this point in the story, there are about billion details that I could share. Those details journey through Texas, Arkansas, Boston, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia…but, who has time for details….isn’t that where the devil is anyway?
Fast forward 20 years to today in Dalton, GA where the journey has taken us. There two words that best describe the last 20 years.
Grace and Privilege.
I think of grace because when the journey jumped into hyperspace in 1996, I was in a moment that needed an eternal amount of grace. That year, my life was less than stellar. It was pretty much unholy. Maybe I will share some of that later….but, for now, trust me. I was much closer to being on the “dark side” than being a Jedi. There was nothing about my life that deserved to be thrust into the the world of helping people know and live for Jesus. That is where GRACE jumped in and grabbed me like a giant hug from God and He whispered in my ear, “I have so much more for you.” GRACE
I think of privilege because, the truth is, everything I have been able to be a part of in ministry has been a HUGE privilege. Don’t get me wrong, It has been hard and I wanted to quit more than once and do something else for a job. But, what I think of most is people that God has given me the privilege to know and walk along side of in some way. I wish I could list all their names! There are so many! I can see their faces in my mind as a write. I think I understand a little of what Paul was feeling when he wrote, “For you are our glory and joy”. To have the privilege to sit with someone the first time they receive the gift of salvation. To walk with someone as they overcome fear and takes steps of faith. To walk with someone through the loss of a family member. To see the lightbulb of God’s Word turn on in someone’s heart. To help someone find God in the midst of a personal battle. To lead people to go on mission to the nations. To rejoice with people through baptism. To be trusted by people to speak truth into their life….All of it, PRIVILEGE.
Who am I to deserve to be a part of any of that? Wow.
God is too kind to me.
I love the story of the transfiguration in Matthew 17 when Peter, James and John are taken by Jesus up on the mountain. They had no task in the moment. They were just there with Jesus witnessing some crazy stuff. I love their response as they realized what a privileged moment it was. Peter said, “Lord, it is good to be here.”
That is how I feel today after so much grace and privilege that covers the 20 years.
Lord, It is good to be here. Thank you for the grace and privilege of the past 20 years.