“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Jesus, Luke 12:13-21 ESV).
“Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology… Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increase in subjective well-being… The accumulation of material goods is at an all-time high, but so is the number of people who feel an emptiness in their lives” (David G. Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty).
Some twenty years ago I stepped off the corporate ladder and answered the call to ministry. I quit my middle management job, attended seminary and planted a church. These decisions did not make financial sense, nor were they driven by a desire for worldly success. I had a sense of God’s call accompanied by a kind of holy discontent with my life’s purpose. I decided to focus on eternal rather than temporal goals. And that has made all the difference.
But not at first. When I was making the decision to follow God’s call, I told Him, “Lord, I don’t care if I lose everything, I just want to follow You.” However, I didn’t think He would take me up on it. I was hoping that He would see my willingness without my actually having to give up everything.
When the phone starting ringing with credit card collectors wanting their money, when we emptied our savings, went 14 months with no income, struggled putting groceries on the table and we got the letter that the bank was foreclosing on our house… I started doubting. I questioned God’s call on my life. I had led not only myself, but my wife and our three young children on this journey. And now we were all suffering the consequences of my poor leadership.
At least, that’s the way it felt at the time. But things began to change. The church that started in our living room with seven people had grown to seventy. We started receiving a salary. I phoned all our creditors and the bank and they miraculously worked with us to catch up. We not only didn’t lose our house, but it served as our church meeting place for the first two years on Wednesdays. We converted our upstairs guestroom into the church office. I answered the home phone with “Hello, this is Wilson Community Church, Pastor Gary speaking” for the first four years until we could afford to rent an office. The youth met in our garage for the first eight years of the church.
In the past week I’ve been reflecting on all that God has done in my life, in the life of my family, and in the life of our church, since we decided to pursue God’s call. Instead of being a liability to us, following God has been an amazing asset!
Just in the last week, I’ve seen my son, Stephen leading our church as its worship pastor. Calling people to stand and lift their hands to their Heavenly Father. What a bold and passionate heart of worship God has put in my eldest son!
This past Sunday evening, we laid hands on my son, Jonathan and ordained him into the Gospel ministry. He wore his “dress blues” and stood at attention and said, “I do,” when we charged him to fulfill the call to preach the Gospel “in season and out.” How committed to study and preach this middle boy of mine has become.
Tomorrow, my daughter Erin, having led a team in the past few days to prepare flyers and bags, will lead our church in collecting food for the hungry. Where did she get this servant’s heart and desire for helping the helpless and encouraging the elderly?
And my wife Robin, who has been not only my wife and the mother of our children, but in the past 20 years: the church’s nursery director, children’s teacher, set-up team member, meal ministry leader, women’s ministry speaker, church janitor, secretary, worship team leader, keyboard player, vocalist, etc. She has gracefully and joyfully been my helpmate and a servant of God. Who am I to have such a wife as this?
Then there’s our WCC family… what servants they are, what lovers of God and of His Word. They are so authentic and true. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else’s pastor. Why would God give me such blessing?
I guess it all boils down to one little decision I made twenty some years ago to go counter to the world’s culture of pursuing success and materialism. One little decision to follow God instead.
I’m so glad I did.