Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tales from the Tummy

 As I mentioned in "Why I Call Myself ModernEzra", I've been wrestling with a call to vocational ministry for almost a decade. And a wrestling match it has been. I might as well have changed my name to Israel. But I have one prelude: If during the course of reading this post, you find yourself getting angry or offended at myself or any other entity mentioned, you're MISSING the POINT. Let it go and keep on reading, please.

The first person to ever suggest that I would be in the ministry was my maternal grandmother. I lived with my grandparents during college, and we were talking in the kitchen one night. I had just decided to give up pharmacy as a major, and told her that I didn't know what I was supposed to do with my life. She almost immediately replied, "I know what you're supposed to do, you're going to be a preacher." At that point in my life, I had hair 6" past my shoulders, spent most of my time either playing or listening to rock & heavy metal. In my mind, she might as well have suggested that I was going to be elected president.

The second person to mention it hardly knew me. During the time that my bride and I were separated, I lived with my mother and step-father for a few months. Mom was talking to her best friend on the phone about the situation and they prayed before ending the call. Mom's friend prayed, and before saying "amen", she basically said "and Lord, if you call Mike into the ministry..." After finishing the prayer, she told Mom that she had no idea where that thought came from, or why she said it. Again, God was not even on my radar at that time. She might as well have prayed "and Lord, if you make Mike the president of Guatemala..."

After going through the twenty-two week study of Psalm 119 with my pastor and two friends, the men of my church went through a twenty-eight week study of the book of Genesis. As I spent day after day and week after week studying the Bible, I fell in love with God's Word. Then as we began our men's ministry and had our first prayer breakfast, I stood still while the other men in my study group took a silent step backwards! And since I was in charge, I was told that I had to speak too. God put a message on my heart, and I stumbled through my first sermon. If studying as a student was great, studying to teach a class was phenomenal. And if studying to teach was phenomenal, then studying to preach was extacy.

During this time, I was spending time on a fairly frequent basis with our associate pastor. While I do not recall either of us specifically referring to our time as mentoring, I've always viewed it through that lens. His standard question to me was "What is God doing in your life?" He pushed me, encouraged me, explained background and cross-references in Scripture and basically just loved on me. As far as I remember, he was the first person with whom I ever shared the possibility of a call. He asked his question, and I replied "I think He might be calling me into the ministry", and inquired what would be required for me to enroll at the seminary in the area. His response was not said in anything other than compassion, but he told me that they would not even accept my invitation. You see, my bride had been previously married and divorced before we met. And this seminary takes the strictest interpretation of the qualifications for being a pastor. Which means that they do not accept students if either husband or wife have a divorce in their past, regardless of circumstances. (This is the first possible time to remember the prelude.)

He immediately told me that while THAT seminary wouldn't accept my application, there were at least four other good conservative seminaries that accepted students with divorce in their background on a case by case basis. This is when the wrestling began. Why would God call me to do something that I couldn't do right where I was at the moment? Why did it matter that I'd married a woman that was divorced? Why this? Why that? I'm not much of a traveler, so the idea of moving to another city didn't set well. I couldn't imagine living in any of the four cities, but one in particular was out of the question. It's a city known for being corrupt in a state known for being corrupt. It's a city where voodoo is openly practiced and celebrated. It's a city where they have a massive party every year, at which women are encouraged to expose themselves in return for cheap plastic beads. It's a city known for sin and decadence. You know the city that I'm talking about. (If you like this city, this might be the second possible time to remember the prelude.)

As days and weeks went by, I got to the point where I told God "No. I'm not answering this call if I can't do it here, and especially not if I have to go to a city of sinners and reprobates." And so the matter was closed, or so I thought. Of course, my relationship with God and love for His Word diminished.

During the past two years, I've had two spiritual experiences that brought revival into my heart. The first was a weekend spent at an event called a Discipleship Walk. It's three days of being exposed to and/or reminded of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. A year later, our church hosted a Life Action Summit, a two week focus on personal revival. Both cracked and breached the walls that I'd carefully built to silence the full voice of the call that God had placed on my heart. Finally, a few months after the Summit, I made a public profession of a call to vocational ministry.

My secular career has been a fiasco for many years. Every time I got a job that seemed to be one that would last, it would blow up or fall apart within a year. While I'm a capable engineer and manager, I keep having "bad luck". Almost like my plans for worldly success were being thwarted.

So now I was back to looking at where to pursue my seminary education. Of course, online schools are much more common than a decade ago, but actual classroom education is still viewed as preferable to online degrees. But of course, that seminary in that city was my absolute last choice.

All that to backstop what happened to me this morning. We held our monthly men's breakfast, and instead of me preaching, our new education minister shared the message that God had placed on his heart. He spoke from Acts 9, where God called Ananias to go to see Saul after he met Jesus on the Damascus road. About how Ananias was obedient to go where his LORD told him to go. Great message. Passionate preaching.

Before I took prayer requests, I reminded the men to pray for our nation and our leaders. I voiced my position that I don't ask God to replace our current president, but I do ask Him to CHANGE our current president. About how that individual is no less deserving of salvation and repentance than I am. We shared other requests, prayed and went our separate ways.

As I went through the next few hours, the Holy Spirit kept bringing the sermon back to my mind. That and my comment about how this individual wasn't less deserving of salvation. Oh yeah, me and my big mouth. Then I started remembering a story from the Bible about another guy that told God "no".... Even tried to go in the opposite direction from the reprobates and sinners that HE was supposed to go preach to. THAT didn't work out so well for him, now did it?

Am I positive that I've been "in the belly" for the past few years? Not enough to stake my life on it, but there's a definite fishy smell in the air. I have one verse from the book of Jonah memorized, verse 2:8, which says "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs." My pride is an idol. My sense of entitlement is an idol. So if God tells me to go to "Nineveh" when I start seminary, load up the camels. I'm taking the land route, I think I've spent enough time on and under the water!

Again, if you're offended, you missed it. If you're convicted, then the Holy Spirit did it, not me. If nothing else, I hope that you make sure to not imitate my disobedience.

Ezra 7:10
Prepare, Study, Practice, Teach

1 comment:

  1. Well, look at the bright side... you'll always be able to get your fix for Cajun food! :-)

    I have had that Jonah-conviction myself - when they asked me to be an elder and I turned them down. Six months later God whacked me upside the head, I repented and they made me elder. And like Jonah, I found it was everything I was afraid it would be. Hope that doesn't scare you. I can tell you that I am starting to see how God is using all that to mold me and shape me for future things. When my wife was at the DWalk last month, she felt that God told her the last five years we had been in training. So there is purpose to it all. Still waiting to see how it all plays out.

    I don't think my "secular" career is over yet, but I keep wondering if that day will come.


Comments are always welcomed, but I seek to carry on respectful discourse.