On a mission
I don’t sit in at a computer all day with a cup of coffee steaming to my left and a mouse clicking to my right. My pursuit of writing normally occupies an hour or two in an evening, and a chunk on Saturday after the lawn is mowed or Sunday afternoon after the traditional nap. So in this space I want to share about the big picture of what my life is about. I have more than a “day job.” My wife and I are blessed to be on a mission. Let me back up and give you a bit of history….
My dad was a pastor and, along with my mother, a godly example that I always respected. There was no duplicity with my folks, hardly a crack between their words and deeds. Their obedience to God continues to be an awesome gift to me because it set a standard deeply within me to live up to. So when my dad asked for something, I was motivated to comply. (There was also the reality that dad was not one to avoid disciplining us four kids.) I was the second child so my older brother, Jack, was the first to learn of my father’s rule about college. After that, we three came along in order and came under the same guideline–which was: For your first year of college, you will go to the Bible school of your choice. After that, you can go anywhere you want. (The requirement seemed reasonable enough; however I will say in retrospect that it would have been great if our folks could have helped a bit more financially; I quickly learned about loans, grants, and scholarships.)
My interest coming out of high school was drafting and architecture. My drafting teacher at Turlock High was Mr. Joe Duarte (who incidentally was also my Sunday school teacher!) and he told me I had a gift for drafting. That was all the encouragement I needed to envision my future designing classy residences in the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition. But first came the obligatory year of Bible college.
Jack chose Biola College (now a university) in southern California and, given the fact that he paved the way and recommended the place, I followed him there. My first week of school should have been a tip-off that I was in for a transformative year. I didn’t know anyone at Biola other than my brother and I surely didn’t want to share a room with him (I was by then more than tired of his nagging me to get my homework done). So I was assigned a roommate named James. I had never met a person like James, not ever. I got on the phone to my folks one evening that first week and the conversation went something like this.
“So who is your roommate?” my mother asked.
“He is a guy named James. He’s pretty nice. Smiles a lot.”
“Good,” she replied, “I’m sure you’ll get along just great. What is he like?”
“Well, he’s a big black guy from south central LA. Oh, and he’s an ex-con. But let me tell you, he is really turned on about Jesus. He gets out of bed super early and starts praying. I can look under the desk and see him down on his knees.
You can imagine how well my mother slept that night! But James, and several other sold-out students rocked my world during that year. They demonstrated a version of following Jesus this preacher’s kid hadn’t yet encountered. So profound was the effect of the spiritual climate on that campus that it changed me. That’s right, it threw me into the most serious tailspin of my life.
REFRAMING MY FAITH
Suddenly I wasn’t as sure about Jesus as I formerly thought. I had been coasting along in the wake of my parent’s strong commitment. Midway through that year of college, I attended Urbana, a huge missions conference for college students. Powerful challenges were made to make our lives count for Christ. Small group Bible discussions in dorm rooms revealed sold-out commitment by students my age. I began to realize I was lacking by comparison. And I decided to get things sorted out. Was I willing to commit everything to Christ? Was I willing to give up my dream of architecture and become a missionary?
These questions forced me to deconstruct my faith right down to the foundation. I tried to reason whether God really existed, and whether the Bible was a special book. I reexamined the claims of Christ to be the only way of salvation, and whether the consequences of unbelief could really be hell. It was a strange season. There I was taking classes in Biblical history and theology, and not even sure if I believed any of it!
In this crucible, I determined that if Christianity proved true to me, I would alter my career plans and surrender by future to Jesus Christ. But if I did not arrive at a point of conviction, I would walk away from the Christian faith and pursue my own interests. I did not want to wander in this no-man’s-land of confusion.
Gradually a new foundation was laid as God put one piece, then another, into place. I wouldn’t say I ever came to a place of having no questions whatsoever, but God brought me a critical mass of conviction that, for me, was enough. I reached the point that faith filled in the gaps, and I desired very deeply within to know Jesus and spend my years walking with and working for Him. The decision was made. My focus had been sharpened. I had found a new purpose in life, and I was eager to explore it.
Well, there is a lot to the rest of the story, much of which I tell in my books and newsletters. All in all, God has been relentless in calling me and my family closer to His side, and I can truly say I have not regretted how God has led us. I have not always understood His ways, but I have been thankful for those who have traveled with me.
I am indebted to the fine preaching of my father for the love I have of preaching myself. Not wanting to lose just a small bit of his archived sermons, I have preserved some of them here: