Tag Archive for called

Turning Points

Sometimes God’s hand is only visible in the rearview mirror. Life’s major turning points may masquerade as the small and ordinary. They only loom large when seen in retrospect.

I was 22 and in my first and only year of graduate school, pursuing a master’s degree in music composition at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. My life plan was to compose classical music and teach at the university level.

The course was “Introduction to Graduate Studies”, designed to teach us some of the basics of graduate-level study. The instructor had assigned us to prepare an annotated bibliography—a bibliography with brief descriptions for each book entry. Any subject would do.

I was also minister of music and youth director at a small church in Cincinnati. Killing time before an appointment, I was sitting alone in my pastor’s study, idly looking over the books on his shelf. One caught my eye. It was a thin, black, clothbound book with “Wesley Hymnbook” on the spine. I began reading the introductory material, and it caught my interest. Methodist hymnody seemed as good a subject as any for my assignment.

Of course, to prepare the bibliography, I had to find and familiarize myself with other books on Methodist hymnody. Up to this point my interest had been classical music, not church music. But the more I read about Methodist hymns, the more I got hooked. Soon I was haunting local used bookstores, hunting for old hymnals. (Side note: nearly 15 years later, having built up a collection of about 1,000 hymnals, I sold them to friend and composer Tom Fettke and purchased my first computer.) In addition to old hymnals, I bought newer collections of hymns and Christian songs and hungrily perused them. I even went to the rare book room at the University library and photocopied entire old hymnals for study.

When that school year ended, so did my classical music studies. Instead, I accepted a job as college music instructor at God’s Bible School there in Cincinnati. Among the courses I taught were hymnology and the history of church music, with my personal study as my only preparation.

After two years teaching, I decided to apply to Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City. I was driven by a strong interest, not in pastoring, but in biblical languages and theology. Some at the seminary saw my application and connected me with Nazarene Publishing House, which was looking for a music editor at the time. I started work there in June, 1975, and stayed until the end of 2009. I never went to seminary, except to audit a course now and again.

Soon after starting at NPH, I learned that Wesley Hymnbook had been one of their biggest flops ever. My pastor had a copy in his study only because NPH had given them as gifts to graduating seniors at Nazarene Theological Seminary.

But that terrible publishing investment got them a music editor, director, and product developer for 34 years. And it ignited in me a lifelong enthusiasm for hymns.

Our magnificent, incomprehensible God changes and redirects lives every day. Sometimes He reveals Himself through a dramatic divine encounter. We are struck down by a brilliant light like Saul on the road to Damascus, or we suddenly find ourselves on holy ground, standing before a burning bush. But sometimes God’s hand is artfully subtle. He lights a tiny fire deep in the heart of a young person—a fire that in time becomes an all-consuming passion.

What Could You Do If Nothing Else Mattered?

I had worked for a denominational publisher for many years. The work was challenging, and the Lord was blessing it.

But in my worst moments, I saw the denomination as a big machine that was more concerned with itself than it was with the massive world outside. And I saw myself as a mechanic that spent my life just servicing the machine, keeping it running. I didn’t feel I was doing all I should do or wanted to do or needed to do in the human world in which I lived.

The more meaningful and satisfying my own relationship with Christ became on a moment-by-moment basis, the more I realized that Christ could bring a perfectly satisfying life to absolutely everyone around me. Age didn’t matter. Intelligence and educational level didn’t matter. Personality didn’t matter. Culture, financial status, none of that mattered. Christ could be personally, completely fulfilling to each and every individual around me.

I would go out in public, to shopping malls, sporting events, and craft shows, and realize that Christ could bring peace and meaning to absolutely everyone there. Yet I had no way to tell them, and I was repeatedly frustrated.

Then one Saturday in February, 1995, my wife, Gloria, and I went shopping on Metcalf, a main thoroughfare in Johnson County, Kansas, one of the wealthier areas in the Kansas City metro. I left her at a home decorating show. It was crammed wall-to-wall, elbow-to-elbow with people shopping for nothing but ways to make their homes more pleasing.

As I drove out, I passed a huge store on the right—nothing but sporting goods; people seeking leisure for the physical body.

On the left was an electronics super-store; nothing but electronic entertainment.

I drove north to a large bookstore, overflowing with people looking for intellectual stimulation.

And the road in-between was crowded with people as well, all looking, all shopping, all willing to spend their living for things to make their lives better. The frustration returned, but on this day, something happened.

I’ve never heard God speak audibly. Usually He speaks to me through impressions on my mind and heart. But on this occasion, as I pulled into a parking lot, it seemed like God was speaking to me in my mind, using these very words: “What could you do if nothing else mattered?”

That question stopped me short. I didn’t know the answer. Still, I felt that because God asked the question, He was getting ready to do something. A seed of anticipation was planted.

More next time.

Doubting Your Call

Some of us, though not all, know that we are called of God to a specific type of ministry. At some point we became unmistakably aware that He was asking us to follow Him into that work.

But over the years, have you ever come to doubt that call? The witness of scripture and the experience of many testify that following God’s call is not easy. Struggles, failures, frustrations, and financial pressures may drag on for years. Some friends and family don’t understand. Those closest to you are forced to share your hardship, and that increases the strain. You get weary of feeling out of step and swimming upstream. At some point you begin to fear that your call was nothing but a personal delusion. You suspect that it came from your own mind or heart, not from God.

How do you respond to such doubts? Here are some things that have helped me.

1.       Realize that long-term struggle and suffering are common to all God’s servants. You are not alone! The Bible teaches that patient endurance is one of the most precious Christ-like virtues, and it can only be acquired one way: by having to patiently endure. When the difficulty absolutely MUST stop but doesn’t, patiently endure!

2.       Realize that you will never graduate from God’s school of dependence. You might as well get comfortable there.

3.       Remember! Intentionally call to mind your past experiences with God, His leading, His providing, and His faithfulness. The Psalms consistently remind us that when we can’t see or feel God’s deliverance, we need to remember it from the past and continue trusting it.

4.       Recommit yourself to following God anywhere He leads you. Make yourself completely available to Him. Specifically, focus on following Him day by day, step by step. Our turning points, our “important” decisions, are actually part of the fabric of life. If you are following Him day by day, you’ll be following Him when the crisis points come.

5.       God has given you that specific ministry as your unique opportunity to glorify Him. It’s your best chance to help people know and feel how wonderful He is. Thank Him for your task and treat it as a great privilege, as a personal gift from Him, for that’s exactly what it is!

Don’t Pick the Fruit Too Soon

When I was in my late ‘20s, Dr. Morris Weigelt, then Professor of New Testament at the local seminary, asked me to team-teach an adult Sunday School class with him. That experience was an eye-opener and a beginning point for me in many ways. It awakened in me a burning desire to be more involved in communicating scripture, whether through teaching or writing.

I talked to Dr. Weigelt about my desires, and he gave me great advice: Don’t pick the fruit too soon. Don’t be in a hurry to write for publication when you’re young. Too many have to spend their later years apologizing for what they wrote when their thinking was not yet fully mature. We feel ready long, LONG before we are.

But when God calls us into His service, aren’t the call and the need urgent?

Though I’ve never been a pastor, I am unmistakably called into full-time Christian service. I am called into writing and publishing. And I’ve learned that our calling, that deep, burning desire, comes early in the process. It is part of the preparation and direction-setting, not a promise of immediate fulfillment. We want to scratch an itch the minute we feel it. But God’s tasks take far more preparation than we realize. Though Jesus’ work was so vitally important, God waited centuries before finally sending Him to us. And when He came, He was a growing youth and a blue-collar worker for 30 years. He was an itinerant preacher for only three.

Now in my 60s, I’m still learning to be patient and follow God one step at a time. I’m not the leader, I’m the follower, the servant. A servant doesn’t choose his task. A servant goes where his master sends him and does whatever He asks him to do, when He asks him to do it.

So what do we do while we’re waiting?

During my years as product developer for a major church music publisher, I worked closely with lots of excellent writers. Their educational background in music varied widely, from nearly nothing to earned doctorates in music. But there’s one thing every successful writer had in common. Every one had written for their own local situation sometime early in their career. They had written for real, live people, and had learned from hands-on experience.

That’s why I pass along the wisdom I was given, which has proven so very true: Don’t pick the fruit too soon. I advise young writers not to focus on writing for publication. If opportunity knocks, open the door, but focus on writing for your local situation. Write for real people with real needs.

God’s preparation is lengthy, but it is always wise and thorough.