I left the Methodist church in Dallas under an enormous cloud of embarrassment. Not forced, mind you. We had only been there for a little over 8 months. This had become a habit. Stupid-stupid-stupid! I lost control of my life. It seems that I always get right to the point of success and then make a stupid decision or, more particularly, allow others to make a decision for me. Does this go back to that horrible day when I was taken advantage of as a five or six year old? These stupid decisions always reminded me of the quicksand when Daddy and Harold had to take that limb and rescue me from sinking in the Rio Grande. It was almost as though I was dying; scared, ready to give up. On top of this was that thing in my nose and relentless bullying because of my size and weight.
Just getting by won’t do anymore. Barely surviving was not enough at my age of twenty-six. Keeping my nose above the water was not going to bring life. Had I been out there sinning my head off? No! Had I been stupid again? Maybe. In fact, it seemed that I was on my road to success by moving to Dallas in the first place. Now, by leaving, it seemed I was going right back – this time willingly or being pushed – into the quicksand.
Friends and family thought I had lost it for going to the Methodists. Now here I was sinking down to where I belonged because I didn’t deserve any better. Before Dallas, dirt roads had become normal. Didn’t all these people who were pushing me back realize they were pushing me down? Didn’t they know I had exulted in the applause of hundreds upon hundreds? Didn’t they know I preached to thousands in Dallas? Didn’t they know I was driving a new car? Didn’t they know past trauma was holding my spiritual legs crushing me beneath my insecurities, my hurts, my loneliness, and my uncertainties? I was being pressured by others to accept my infirmities and I was letting them do it! This had nothing to do, for all practical purposes, with Methodism as far as I was concerned. This sinking down had to do with my pathology!
Daddy and Mama came again from Cisco with an old trailer. Once again, Daddy packed our things. This is becoming a habit. No big truck from Global Van Lines arrived. No money came in the mail to pay for the gasoline. No money arrived to pay for Whataburgers. O God, I cried, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:12) I wasn’t backslid. I got over that stuff. I didn’t need to go to the altar every Sunday night. No, I was just confused; change, marriage, money, and children who needed me. Yes, I think I had grown accustomed to my “poor me” attitude.
Oh, I was hungry! No. I was starving for hope. I was heading for the desert and my tongue was parched with an abject loneliness. And yes, I know God watches over little children and sometimes the stupid. It didn’t matter. I didn’t know it, but the great God of heaven was preparing a river of living water that began to flow from deep within. There was a Fountain! (Psalms 46:4) Old Belial, that worthless serpent, that deceiver, told me my own immaturities and stupidities caused all of this disruption, and things would never change. I was accused and abused by Satan as I drove across the barren land of west Texas and eastern New Mexico with the old trailer hot on my tail piled high with our junk. One would think a bunch of dust bowl Okies were heading west to Bakersfield. Deep, deep down in my heart of hearts something began to happen to my psyche. I had always been one to excel when pushed against the wall. God was there. I didn’t fully realize it, but sure as shootin’ He was there.
We finally arrived in Albuquerque. Yep. Dirt road. Just my style. Teeny, tiny lil ol’ parsonage. At first I started to hear Belial say, “This is what you deserve.” But then that Some One, that Rock, spoke, “You know what? I brought you here for a purpose.” “OK. I’ll accept that. Show me what it is.” “Why don’t you just take this assignment step at a time and quit telling me what to do? It’s about time you left your little pity-party. I’ve got it all planned out so quit whining. Just do your job.” Does God talk like that? He did this time. All of a sudden that scripture came to mind from Jeremiah 33:3. Did God put it there? Was it an epiphany? Or was it just wishful thinking? Was I trying to force-feed my starving psyche? Nope, not this time. I heard it!
“Call unto me, and I will answer thee,
And show thee great and mighty things,
Which thou knowest not.”
Am I beginning to really find out what being on solid rock is all about? It seemed to me that I came to realize The Solid Rock was not prestige, power, being liked, nice things or money. In the grand scheme of things there is absolutely no substitute for The Solid Rock.
“On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.”
My predecessor was a guy totally focused on building the church and looked to the next generation, young people, as the center-point of his ministry. I think he had three sons who were good kids and they started bringing friends from school. Before long they had 40 or 50 teenagers in church. I followed him at just the right time, God’s timing.
My precious children made the sacrifice, too.
The church property was badly in need of repair and upgrade. This was an easy target to mobilize the congregation because they could see the fruit of their labor. Rather than lick my wounds facing the embarrassment of leaving Dallas, I jumped in and worked hard to clean up-fix up things around the church. Coinciding with this was my desire to utilize this marvelous group of young people. Being young and only about 10 years older than the teens in the church, I took a survey of the talents they possessed. Many if not most could sing. Some could play instruments. A few of the church adults were musicians as well. More importantly, they were excited to do things.
When I laid out a vision of a teen choir it caught fire. We started out with approximately thirty kids in the choir and four or five adults with guitars, horns, piano and organ. A few songs were chosen and off we went into the wild blue yonder. The congregation was amazed and thrilled. This teenage choir became our launching pad for growth and soon we had approximately forty kids plus some adult musicians and helper/sponsors.
The former pastor built the congregation from almost nothing to a gathering of wonderfully unified people who were ready to push through the gate like race horses at the Kentucky Derby. The property needed help although they had completed a small classroom area just prior to our coming. While the church was getting larger and larger we were steadily making improvements.
My parents were planning to move to Albuquerque and the day before they were to move, my dad passed away. I was looking forward to his assistance. It had been almost ten years since I had spent an extended period of time with him. Now he was gone. When will this ever end? Seems as though I get knock around all the time. Things were supposed to get easy, I thought. I was convinced that I could ask anything in Jesus’ name and presto, suddenly a genie would pop up before me and say, “What would you like, Sir?” Am I this nuts after being reared in the church, after going to a Christian college, after attending seminary, after all the experiences I had accumulated?
When anyone follows in the footsteps of Jesus, I’m going to guarantee you that Satan the accuser, Satan the deceiver, Satan the liar, Satan the adversary, Satan who transforms himself into an angel of light, will be there to create chaos in any and all ways. There are times when you don’t feel like you are following in Christ’s footsteps. Your feelings deceive you. When you are going through the desert of hard times, you may not have air conditioning. But your “light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for [you] a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (II Corinthians 4:17) Choosing “to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” and “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than treasures” may, require you to blindly surrender to the One who has promised to “never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) It’s called “faith!” (Hebrews 11:1)
Members pooled their funds and purchased a school bus. We had it painted blue and white. Others put a luggage rack on top. We had a vision! The choir, The Melody Makers, was really getting good. With youthful vigor I directed them, prayed, preached and had the time of my life. These kids were not only good, but they were excitedly Christian. We were ready to go on the road.
We mapped out something like a 2500 mile trip to various churches through Texas and sang at the original Astrodome in Houston. I think this may have been the highlight experience of most of our lives to that point. Was this an experience of crass enthusiasm or God’s guidance? I chose to think God had His hand in it. Well what if I had stayed in Dallas? I don’t know. [I can tell you this: those people at the Methodist church were some of the most wonderful people I had ever met!]
“It may be in the valley,
Where countless dangers hide;
It may be in the sunshine
That I, in peace, abide.
But this one thing I know –
If it be dark or fair,
If Jesus is with me, I’ll go anywhere.”
It was time for me to lay aside those hurts of childhood, stupidities of high school and college, and-and-and memories of the past. It was time for me to forget “those things which are behind, and [reach] forth to those things which are before, [and] press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:13-14) God hadn’t taken away my immaturities, stupidities, insecurities, inferiorities and mistakes … yet!
God hadn’t removed that “thing” in my nose, either. He wanted me to get off my seat and do it myself. So I called Dr. Sadok. He agreed to restructure my nose at no charge. The nurse gave me a shot and suddenly I couldn’t move a muscle. I had no feeling, but I knew what was going on. I felt the pressure of him cutting the base of my nose, peeling back the skin and said to his surgical nurse, “Give me the saw (only he didn’t call it that).” Buzzzz, he sawed the bone in my nose. Then he said, “Hit it here.” The nurse took the hammer and hit my nose. A few more buzzes, pushes and hits with the hammer and I went to sleep. I think a day later I woke up with ropes up both nostrils and sick as a horse. The next day, Dr. Sadok came in and pulled something like 15 feet of bloody rope out while Lottie Houts watched and provided comfort. I could never again use that “thing” in my nose as an excuse for my inferiorities. All along God was working on my character through my pain and uncertainties.
The church grew – packed out. There is more than I can possibly recall. Let it be said that out of that church came over 30, maybe 35 young people who were called by God into Christian service; some in missionary work, others in pastoral ministry and some as spouses. Many others are serving to this very day as faithful lay members of their local church.
After steady growth at the church, it was time to move on. Crying and sobbing I went to the DS’s house and he said, “Let me make a call.” This wonderful man called Sacramento.
I packed, well … normal.
Driving into Albuquerque going east on I-40 a few years ago I was shaken by the barrenness of the New Mexican desert. It still had a certain charm with Sandia Mountain looking from its perch down on the valley floor with the tram lifting high up to 10,000 feet. Driving off the freeway onto Wyoming Blvd., I noticed I no longer knew my way around. I knew where Central was so I found my way to Moon Street. I drove by the old parsonage behind the church and turned the corner onto Erbbe.
It was on that corner where my precious children were playing – dirt streets, of course – when a car wheeled off Central onto the dirt street making a complete circle churning up a cloud of dust. Gunning, it made another furious circle in the dirt. A cloud of dirt boiled up exactly where my children were playing and for 10-15 seconds all I could see was a thick, angry cloud knowing that I had lost both of my children under the car as it suddenly stopped. Screaming and crying I ran toward the murderous scene while I heard Apollyon, the destroyer, ridiculing me. It was real. Finding my precious ones, I then ran to the car where three men were sitting. Grabbing the door, I yanked it open and noticed all three men were catatonic. I didn’t care how big they were or if they had a gun. I was willing to gouge, hit, bite and give it all, pastor or no pastor. Suddenly I noticed that there were some strange instruments on the steering wheel. The young man behind the wheel began to cry. He had no legs. His car was built especially for him. Through his crying out he said that the instruments had stuck and he couldn’t get them loose in order to stop so he turned off on the dirt road hoping he wouldn’t run into anyone on busy Central Avenue.
Now, seeing where I had left my blood, sweat and tears almost took my breath away. Up high on the tower constructed while I was there, the front part of the church and at the back of the sanctuary was the 650 pound bell that Mama had in her back yard, a bell Daddy had as a keepsake. A member of the church and I hoisted it up on a trailer and pulled it all the way from Cisco, Texas. There it stood high on the tower and no one would ever know the story behind the bell or how it got there. I cried.