In my lifetime, I have broken every one of the original ten commandments as well as Christ’s second commandment, some more than once, and a few of them daily. I would hazard that you could include most of the other 609 Old Testament laws, too. My life until about eight to ten years ago was a whirlwind of bad ideas and mostly bad decisions.
From young adulthood through middle age, I made the Woman at the Well with her five paramours look like an amateur. I was racist, Islamophobic, and homophobic. I was angry, hostile, a poor employee, an inconsistent parent, and dishonest with others and myself. I was hateful, spiteful, vengeful and quick to blame. I was constantly seeking love, wanting to be loved and accepted, and oblivious to how unlovable I was to everyone but God.
I now know why, for so many, many years, I didn’t understand the relationships between God, Jesus and the Spirit, or my relationship with Christ or the Spirit. For years, I knew who God was, I knew Jesus was this guy who was born late in December, managed to age 33 years in just 3-4 months, performed a lot of miracles, was arrested and crucified, He died, was buried and He rose three days later, only to disappear until the next Christmas season. At least, that’s all I heard him mentioned unless someone was praying out loud. They always prayed in His name.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I accepted Jesus as being real instead of a story in the Bible, it wasn’t until my late-thirties that I understood that He died for me, and it wasn’t until about four years ago that I understood the Trinity or the Holy Spirit.
It has only been in the last two years, though, that I’ve come to understand the relationship Jesus wants to have with me. Not just as my Lord, but as my friend, my redeemer, my protector, my rock. Not just here with me when I call Him or when I want Him, but always, even when I don’t deserve him. I wasn’t ready to know and understand who Jesus was before the last two years. I didn’t know how to be a true friend because I wasn’t a good friend to anyone, not even myself. I didn’t know how to forgive. Not even myself.
Forgiveness is something I still have to work at, but not nearly as hard. I’m still not the best example of the kind of friend to Him I should be, but I’m working on it and I’m willing to go wherever He leads me to do whatever He needs me to do if it means I can get closer to becoming that kind of friend for Him. He is who I follow and will follow for the rest of my life, and it’s His gospel that I am committed to carrying out into the world.
I know that God led me to and through all of this for a purpose greater than myself. One would think someone my age would question and even doubt a calling to pastoral ministry this late in life, especially with all that’s going on in the country and the world. But it’s like I told my Mom just the other day. I understand now why it took this long for me to hear God, to know Jesus fully, and to learn to listen for the Spirit, why I couldn’t hear God’s Spirit over my own noise until such a relatively short time ago.
Now is my time. Now is full of people who are where I’ve already been, people out there who are searching and seeking and blaming and angry and becoming frustrated and walking away and coming back and going in and out. I’ve walked in their shoes, I’ve made their mistakes, I’ve sinned many of their sins, I’ve had their doubts, their frustrations, their fears and their failures. Their excuses and justifications are not new to me. I’ve already used all those excuses.
God needs people like me now. People who believe that, to be Christian, you must learn, know and follow the teachings of Christ first and foremost; not clobber one another with passages from Moses and the other prophets, and then justify your clobbering as Christ-like because you add “in Jesus name, amen” when you’re done.
God needs people who will challenge a congregation to think outside the physical church, to go and do, to be the hands and feet, and to be unafraid to sit among today’s lepers, prostitutes, unclean and tax collectors. People who understand and remember that God so loved the World, not the world except. God needs people who know that God the Father never forces or bullies or coerces or legislates anyone on this planet into believing in Him or following God the Son. He needs people who are willing to stand up for the bullied, the coerced, the excluded, or the persecuted, and who will teach others to do the same.
- I was called into ministry when I was baptized as an infant.
- I was called into pastoral ministry at the age of 57 at Mountain View UMC in Knoxville, TN.
- I was called for this time of division, this time of strife, this time of re-marginalization, this time of exclusion and this time of chaos to reach both those who are the victims and those who victimize because I have been a divider and been through division, have caused and suffered strife, have marginalized and been marginalized, have excluded and been excluded, have cast out and been outcast, and have created chaos and survived chaos.
- I was called to teach God’s people about God’s peace through Christ, about Christ’s message to serve the least among us, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the prisoner, the stranger, to teach them that peace is not pacification or submission to oppression, that it is not exclusive, that there are no “exceptions”.
- I was called to strive to become a peacemaker, and to teach others to be peacemakers, to stand in the gap and to teach others to stand with me for Christ.
- I was called to gather the seeds that have fallen on barren or rocky ground and replant them in fertile soil.
- I was called to deliver the Gospel of Christ, the Good News, to all God’s children.
That list sounds grandiose, arrogant, rebellious and somewhat radical, even to me. However, I wrote this statement following significant prayer, and have maintained an ongoing conversation with God while I wrote, edited, re-wrote, started over, and wrote again. My final bullet list above was written at the behest of the voice of the Spirit talking forcefully in my right brain. Right or wrong in the eyes of those who read this, it is the calling I have been given.
My statement of calling was completed on January 26, 2017. I began the candidate certification process for Licensed Local Pastor through the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church earlier that month.