Sunday, December 14, 2008
He Is God of This City Whether I Like It Or Not
This is part 2 of 2
Last time, I talked about how God is so very forgiving and that we as people of God aren’t always that forgiving. That unforgiveness can cost plenty. I’ll tell you my journey to that humbling forgiveness and peace.
I’ll be honest when I say that I haven’t always loved my life here in Effingham. I’ll explain. My wife and I arrived here in May 2003 after six months of blissful marriage and craziness in the deep south of Atlanta. We wanted to make a move to a smaller town after living in the downtown of our discontent. It was so bad in downtown that we thanked God daily for living in a gated community near the Atlanta Medical Center.
We lived two blocks from Ponce de Leon which is where quite a bit of the underbelly happens in Atlanta. If you junkies and pimps and prostitution (OH MY!), you could find it there at night. The greatest story that I can tell you was the night that my wife was sick with vomiting at 3:00 am and I had to go Kroger about two miles away. I went into the Kroger and grabbed the medicine I needed. I heard a noise that I mistakenly thought was a light shattering that was in fact two guys fighting over some of the fine meats and they ended up shooting each other over it. I remember going to the checkout when this large black lady that was behind the counter said, “Don’t worry about payin’. Run, cracker, run.” I exaggerate not. It might be one of the scariest things I’ve ever been involved in.
Anyhow, on to Effingham and the promise of a new day. For six weeks, we lived in a hotel and we had thought about having to move on as we found a church for us to become involved in. I had talked to the pastor and his music minister and told them that I felt God was leading me to help out and reignite their teen ministry. Within a week, my wife was offered a permanent job with the company she works for and we decided, quite easily, to stay.
Over the next six months, the teen group went from 0 to 58 at the second overnight lockout. We averaged 25 most of the time on our Wednesday night service. Kids were growing, but room wasn’t really available for this growth. We were meeting at the pastor’s house and his wife was due with a new baby and we were wondering where to go next. In trying to get a new location and some help, I crossed over into the politics of a church that wasn’t ready for that next step quite yet. We weren’t getting any more adults to help out and that left my wife and I working with one other couple.
The other problem was politics. As we were growing, the pastor began praying with a couple that really wanted to take over the ministry. By February of 2004, we were unceremoniously removed from the equation and the other couple took over. The removal left me angry, bitter and confused. I had done everything to grow that ministry and as soon as it was thriving, it was taken from me.
After we left the church, we focused on having children. That helped bury my discontentment for a while. In April 2005, we had our daughter Megan and still had not found a church home. By this point, the only job I could get in the town was likely at our local McDonald’s. I found a four-month a year job at a national tax service. I was successful, but could not really ground into a church and I felt out. I felt abandoned by God and felt like somewhat of an outcast to the town I lived in.
After another season at the tax service as a manager, I could feel the bottom dropping out of the good tidings from management and by the end of 2006, I was unemployed yet again. This time, we were just about to give birth to our son James in January and during my wife’s time off, neither of us were working. Not only could I not find a new job, but the church we were going to was really not opening any doors to build relationships. A touch more bitterness and my family almost completely fell apart.
Finally, someone suggested to put in my licensure from teaching from my wife’s work. I put in my information and got a job as a substitute teacher for the 2007-08 school year. It was a great fit for me. I loved the kids and the kids liked me almost as much. God was giving me a voice to touch lives even though I had to be somewhat quiet about it. It was a great year, but daycare costs went up even more as we had our newest baby girl Maggie in April 2008. Simply put, the costs of daycare were going to do in the paycheck I was receiving. I felt bad, but something else happened that made life better.
We found a church. Not only that, but it was a church that wanted us. I’ll honestly admit through all the struggle that we (me moreso than my wife) became very skeptical that any church would have us, that just maybe God didn’t want us. I knew in my heart that God wants all of us to come to salvation and follow him, but there were times in the early days that I almost felt that I was looking for bad signs to run away.
And that bitterness. Oh, did I ever struggle with that. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be friends with people in this town after five years of trying to find my place here. I joke with people now that I was feeling sort of similar to Jonah for a while. For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Jonah, I’ll explain. Jonah was told by God to go to the city of Nineveh to preach and save the people of the city. The problem was that he hated them. He would rather have done anything else than save them. He got on a boat that was going in the opposite direction and when God shook things up on the boat, the people tossed him overboard.
God wanted him and he did not let Jonah just drown. He let Jonah be swallowed by a whale. Jonah stayed inside the whale for a time until the whale spit him up, you guessed it, right outside Nineveh. Jonah was tough, but he realized what God wanted and he finally relented and did what God asked of him. His preaching was fantastic and wouldn’t you know it, the people actually decided to follow God and were saved. Jonah was upset over it. He went outside the town and sat under a tree to complain about it.
If you’ve never been to Effingham, you will see an awesome sight if you come into town from the west on Interstates 57 and 70. There is a very tall cross there. Very tall. Close to 200 feet tall. No, you won’t find me underneath it lamenting that the people have Christ, even though I thought about it during the summer of 2008.
It’s kind of ironically funny that the church I go to is called New Hope, because in truth that is what I really needed, a new hope. I got involved in the men’s program during the summer and met many new friends. For the first time in a church, I made real in the trenches friends. However, I was still grabbing to hold on to some of the bitterness of the past until a fateful Sunday morning.
It was early September and if you know families with young children or teens, you realize that it is very difficult to get to church on time. We arrived just as the praise band was starting to play. The song you hear at the top of this blog, Chris Tomlin’s God of This City, was the song they started with. I remember standing and thinking about the song. I’d never heard it before. But, the song was right.
God is still God whether or not I like my circumstances. He’s still God of this city whether I like it or not. I’ve spent my whole life wanting to make a difference. As you read in the last blog, I spent a great deal of my high school and college years feeling not good enough too because others made a joke of who I was. God wasn’t laughing. God brought me here for a reason. Especially three of them. I have three lovely children that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t come here.
The other great thing about my church is that they have an awesome nursery that teaches my kids. There are many adults here, but one of the church’s primary focuses is for kids. They are the dominate force in youth ministry for the area. There may be a couple churches in the town that may argue with me, but it won’t be much of an argument.
Am I involved in it? Not yet. I think in time, I’ll find my helping spot in the church. Right now, I have three kids to focus on at home. Someone once said that you have to have your house in order before you begin to claim other territory. If I were out doing other things right now instead of focusing on my kids, my house would not be in order.
That’s what brings me to the internet. I can be a dad to my kids and still touch lives here when I have a few minutes, or an hour or two. Sometimes it is very hard to get a thought between diapers, feeding and playing (along with crying and fixing boo-boos), but God seems to know when to let me think. Mike Murdock once said that “If you make time for God’s plan, he will make time to include you in it.” He’s so right. This is my mission, for now. I love to write, I love people and if I can combine the two in presenting a true Gospel lived by a non-perfect, mistake making, fumbling, bumbling stumbling, humbling man sincerely, then it is a true gift from God to let me back in to ministry.
I love you guys!