That’s My Story and I’m Stickin’ to It
So, over these eight postings you’ve had a chance to get to know a little of what’s behind me in my experience—where I’ve come from. In the twenty years that I’ve been a Southern Baptist and involved in ministry I’ve lived the adventure of a lifetime. Some of what I have endured has been very difficult and there have been nights of weeping and praying that have seen me through. Other times I didn’t believe it could ever get better than it was only to be proven wrong time after time.
Obviously there are many more things I could write about, but I want to close this series out now with a few final thoughts. I’m sure more and more of my life will be shared as I write, since I find some of the richest lessons come from my own experiences.
Christian By Birth
The difference in my life is and has always been Jesus Christ. Having a relationship with God through faith made all the difference. Walking with Him I have found hope, strength, joy, and most of all love. I can’t even conceive of my life without Him. This same life is available to anyone who would become a follower of Christ. It’s as simple as these three steps of faith.
- Come to Him – He invites all who are willing to come to Him
- Believe in Him – Faith is believing what can’t be seen, trusting what can’t be touched.
- Live with Him – Each and every day faith is what sustains me. Live with Him daily.
I would love to tell you more about how you can begin this relationship of faith and to help you walk through the daily steps of living with Jesus Christ. Just get in touch with me by email or visit Find It Here to learn more about it. I assure you it will be the best and greatest decision of your life. I’m not saying it makes life easier or your circumstances better. I’m saying that for the first time you will know what real life can be, and you will truly live.
Baptist by Choice
People ask me all the time why I am a Baptist. Having grown up in a different denomination, what made me change. I hope I’ve revealed a little of that through these writings. I also hope that I have not lead anyone to believe that I am disrespecting or dismissing the church where I grew up. I love that church and the denomination. I pray for them all the time, and hope that they will be a light in the darkness and lead people to faith in Christ. Every church in every denomination has the potential—and the responsibility—to proclaim the Gospel to the world.
For me the decision to become a Baptist was based on a few simple criteria or statements of faith that I adhere to. This isn’t as fancy as some of the more eloquent statements or creeds that I’ve read, this is just what I believe and why I am Southern Baptist.
- I Believe that God is the creator and Sustainer of Everything
- I Believe that God is Three in One (Father, Son, Spirit)
- I Believe that Jesus Christ was, is, and will always be.
- He was born of a virgin through the Holy Spirit, just as Scripture states
- He became the supreme and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of mankind on the cross
- He rose after three days, resurrected from the grave
- He will come again and receive all who have believed into eternal life
- I Believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to Salvation.
- Forgiveness of our Sins is only found in Christ
- No one is immune to the effects of Sin in our lives
- No one is removed from the reach of Salvation in Christ
- Salvation is offered freely to all who will come to Christ and believe.
- I Believe that the Bible is the Word of God and is Without Error
- It was given to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
- It is as applicable and relevant today as it was when it was given.
- I believe that its teachings hold the key to experiencing the life God intends for us
- I Believe that the Church has a Commission from Christ to Proclaim the Gospel to the world, beginning in our homes and communities and stretching around the globe..until the whole world hears.
Obviously there is much more, but these are some of the foundational elements of faith for me. If you would like to learn more about the beliefs of Southern Baptists you can get in touch with me or look online at THE BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE.
Like Sands Through the Hourglass So are the Days of our Lives
I love serving the Lord in my life. It’s been the greatest reward I could ever imagine. Financially we don’t have much. In the eyes of much of the world we are probably miserable failures. But I look forward to the hope that is before me in Christ, that one day I will hear my Lord say to me, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.” The rest of the world may jeer and laugh, it will all be worth it in the end.
Each day that comes brings a new adventure and new opportunities as well as challenges. Each day come with trials that stretch my faith and blessings that strengthen my faith. If I had it all to do over again I am sure there are things I would like to change and do differently, but I wouldn’t want to change anything if it would in anyway interfere with the faith I’ve found, or my relationship with the Lord I love and who loves me so amazingly. As the great theologian Garth Brooks sang, “I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” My life with the Lord, my wife, kids, and now grandkids, is a dance I would never want to miss.
Thanks for Taking the Time to Read My Story.
Watch for Future Postings from BigDBentley
God, I’ll Go Anywhere…Anywhere but Florida that is.
The more opportunities God provided for me to preach and teach the more I became aware of my need for continued schooling. As I prayed and searched through this with my pastor and my wife one choice became the clear front runner. Clear Creek Bible College in Pineville, KY. I liked everything about the school and had heard good things about it. Everything I found about it made it the logical choice. So we started the process of applying and getting ready to go.
At the same time there was another college that I had become aware of as well. It was a solid college and I liked almost everything about it as well. Almost… See there was a slight problem. Location…location…location. I didn’t like the location. Most people I knew wanted to live in Florida to escape the winter’s cold and snow. I , on the other hand, had spent all the time I ever wanted to in Florida years ago. In fact, shortly after that I had determined that I would never go back to Florida. (Did you know that God has a sense of humor…and sometimes I don’t think it’s very funny.)
As much as I didn’t want to go to Florida, God continued to bring Florida Baptist Theological College into my heart. This small college in the panhandle of Florida had a lot going for it. A little while before I had actually been able to meet the president of the college as he taught a study in West Virginia. Even though it was in Florida it had appeal. Andie and I decided to apply there as well. Secretly I was still holding out for Kentucky.
Within a few weeks we had our answer from FBTC. In an AMAZING confirmation, Ed, my pastor and closest friend and his family were also moving to attend FBTC and complete his degree. In spring of that year I got to help him and his family move and spend a few weeks in Graceville getting to know the area and the school. By the time I boarded the Greyhound to come home I knew without a doubt that we were Florida-bound.
It still amazes me to think about how God confirmed this path over and over again once we made the final decision. We were being totally crazy, but it was alright. We didn’t have jobs waiting for us…we didn’t have any kind of savings to rely on…the money we were able to put together and the scholarship I had been offered for the summer term would allow us a little over a month of living. Beyond that it was completely up to God. It was at once terrifying and exhilarating.
Loving and well-meaning people tried really hard to talk us out of it. Fellow believers pulled me aside to tell me how nuts all this was. But every time there was a negative comment or remark something inside of us grew even stronger and more determined. God kept bringing me back to Genesis 12 where He called Abram to follow him to an undisclosed place. He never promised that it would be an easy road to travel, just that he would be with him and would bless him. I claimed that promise as my own…If I would follow Him then God would bless.
On June 15, 1994, in a green 1976 Buick Electra and towing a 12 foot U-Haul trailer that contained all we owned our little family of four pulled out of the parking lot of the church, waving good-bye to our family and friends and headed south. I am convinced that angels surrounded our car. For example, the trailer hitch was only inches off the ground as we pulled out that evening, but we only dragged a couple of times pulling into or out of service stations.
God was calling…we were following…and it was thrilling.
We arrived in Florida in the late evening of the following day. We drove to the town of Chipley and got a room in a motel where my wife encountered some of the insects of Florida for the first time. I think she did finally fall asleep, but it was out of exhaustion not comfort. The next day we went to our new home and unloaded all of our many wonderful possessions into the student housing. It was not much, but it was home, and we were loving it.
I mentioned that my friend and pastor had already moved down before us. He was serving as pastor of a church there. So we had supper with him and his family that night. it was nice being together. I realize that God had been incredibly merciful in allowing things to happen the way they did and in keeping us close with Ed and his family. Many people have come and gone in our lives over the years, but Ed, Suzanne, and their children will always be very precious to us.
Classes began for the summer term on the following Monday, so we had to move quick in unpacking (not that we had much to unpack) and getting settled in. In addition there was the job-hunting that had to be done…we were going to have to eat and pay rent just like before, so someone needed a job. Grocery shopping introduced us to Piggly Wiggly…I only include that ‘cause it’s fun to say. My son was introduced to Florida Fire Ants when he sat down on an ant mound and was covered with the vicious critters.
I was reminded of how difficult college could be too. The summer term was a crammed together semester. The amount of work you would normally take a full semester to accomplish now had to be done in five weeks. I took a full load too—12 hours—because that was how I received the scholarship that covered our rent that first month. So I was in class from early morning until mid afternoon, and then I was locked in my room for hours of reading and homework. Before when a paper had to be written I would have a couple of weeks to put it together, now that was truncated to days. However, as difficult as it was academically, we were riding a spiritual high that just can’t be described. Knowing we were following the Lord was incredible.
Ironically, two weeks after I started classes in Florida I received my acceptance letter from the college in Kentucky. Needless to say, we stayed where we were.
In one of my classes I met and became friends with a fellow Vermonter. Glenn Hatch had been transplanted by God for school at FBTC and would be graduating soon and returning to Vermont as a church planter and manager of a radio station. He lived in Dothan, Alabama which was just above the Florida line and was serving as an interim pastor of a church a little over an hour away. We hit it off quick. My wife and I connected with Glenn and his wife.
A few weeks after we met, and about a month after we had started at the school Glenn asked if I would like to consider becoming pastor of the church where he was interim because he would soon be graduating. You could have knocked me over with a feather. There was no way that I was ready for something like that. Those old feelings of insecurity leapt on me from the past. Gulping hard and putting on a brave front I said, sure. I put together a quick resume’ and gave it to him to take to the church. I really didn’t think I would hear anything more about it.
Andie, in the mean-time had been able to find a job with a local day-care. She would be starting the next week. We could see the plan coming together right in front of our eyes. She would work at the day-care, and the kids could attend there as well. I would focus on school. That seemed like a really good plan. It had my stamp of approval.
And then my pastor and friend preached a message that…well, let’s just say it was a good thing that he is my friend and I love him. On Sunday morning he preached out of the book of Ruth about the famines that drive us from God’s plan for us. It was a really good sermon. I still have the notes I took. I liked the sermon, until my wife told me that she felt like God was telling her through that message that she was not supposed to take the job at the day-care because He had another plan for providing for us, if we would trust Him. I didn’t hear any of that in the sermon, and I thought I was listening pretty good.
As she told me this I pictured a few things. I pictured our food cupboard that, aside from a couple cans of pork and beans, was virtually empty. I pictured our bank account that looked a lot like the cupboard. At this point I had already been doing any printing I needed to for homework at the library or a friends computer because we were out of ink and couldn’t afford it. I knew in my heart that there was no way God could be telling her not to take that job—which she was scheduled to start the next day.
We argued, discussed, debated, figured, and tried to stretch my limited mind around this, but it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t see it working and I certainly hadn’t heard anything that crazy. I mean, this was the PERFECT job. She loved kids, our kids could attend with her, it was just two blocks away from the college. We could not have designed a more perfect scenario if we had tried. How could it be God’s will to pass that up when He had to be the one who put it together so perfectly.
Without reaching any sort of agreement we made our way back to church Sunday night. Ed was continuing his message from Sunday morning in his series on Ruth. I listened carefully, if not even a little cautiously. He spoke again about the things that move us from the place of God to the place away from God. He shared about how subtly these things happen and how gradually the drift occurs. In that message that night I heard what Andie had that morning. We went home from church Sunday night and she called her soon to be employer to tell her that she could not take the job.
That phone call was easily as difficult to make and surrender to as the whole move from West Virginia to Florida had been. We were both wondering what God had in store for us, because that just didn’t make any sense, but we both knew we had heard from the Lord, and He was going to take care of everything.
DON’T MISS THIS NEXT PART…
Fifteen – that’s 15 – minutes later the phone rang and James Gachet, the chairman of the search committee of Clio Baptist Church in Clio Alabama called to set up a meeting with me and the committee because they wanted to talk to me about becoming their pastor. Over the next two and a half years God would provide for us in incredible was as I served that church as pastor. I am convinced—and no one will ever change my mind on this—that our following the Lord in turning down that job was rewarded by the opportunity to become pastor of that church.
Clio Baptist Church, Clio, Alabama
(to be continued)
It Was Simply the Best of Times
Do you know how you can sometimes look back on life and say that those were the best of times. Those years in that tiny apartment were some of what I consider the best years of our lives. We had nearly nothing, but we were extremely content with the Lord and with each other. The things that the world around us places such enormous value and importance on meant nothing to us, and we were happy. It didn’t mean things were easy, but in the difficulties we faced, incredibly, we had incredible peace.
In addition to each other we had been adopted into an amazing church family. To this day many of those people I consider dear and close friends. Even though the years and following God’s call in our lives has put miles between us they continue to be precious in our hearts.
People like Doug Murray who spent countless hours keeping my car running and charged me nothing more than the fellowship of time spent together. Although there was a lunch, I recall, once at a pizza place, that produced some memorable conversation and chuckles. Then there was also one of the funniest of memories we share when my wife found a bag of soiled undergarments and, wanting to be helpful, secretly laundered and folded them, then returned them to him. He is probably still laughing about getting those nice, bleached white, underpants that he had been using as shop rags in the garage.
There are dozens of names and faces that I remember with great fondness. We were only there for a few short years, but the lessons and love we experienced at Freedom Southern Baptist Church in Nutter Fort built the foundation for our lives in ministry.
Another benefit was that I spent a lot of time talking with and serving along side of the pastor. We made visits, went to lunch, studied scripture, and occasionally I would fill-in for him to preach. Our families played games together and watched movies. The more I got to experience the closer I became to following Christ in ministry.
Pastors are People Too
More than anything, getting to know Ed and his family (the good, the bad, and the…well you get the picture) made me realize that serving Christ and being a minister wasn’t about whether I was perfect or worthy, it was about the fact that Christ was worthy of my service, and through His death and resurrection I had been made perfect. Unlike my perception of the ministers I had known before Ed was real…he had bad days sometimes; he and his wife squabbled at times; His kids weren’t perfect—almost, but just shy (right Sam and Amy). We grew close, and God in His grace and wisdom would keep us close for the next several years.
Stretching and Seeking and Growing
One of the things that God did shortly after we surrendered to ministry was to lead us in starting a weekly ministry at a nursing home. We would go every Saturday morning and lead the residents in singing and I would share a message. It gave me a chance to stretch my ministry wings, and it provided an opportunity to study, prepare, and preach sermons every week.
We had many opportunities to have our faith tested and stretched. To be honest there were times when our faith was shaken. The interesting thing about that was that when my faith was struggling Andie’s seemed the strongest, and when she was struggling my faith was greater. We were learning to depend on Him and on each other.
God provided for us in simple, yet miraculous ways. With very little of our own we were incredibly dependent on God. One day when we were not sure how we would eat or pay our rent a surprise package was delivered to our door with enough groceries for a week or two and a check that was exactly what we needed for our rent. Another time I was about to check out at the grocery store when one of the men from the church and his son got in line with me and told me that the Lord had told them to pay for my groceries. It was incredible because we were having to choose between food to eat or gas for our car.
The simplicity of those days is something I continually long for, but I know that they were days of preparation. In the Scripture there is a story of God telling Elijah to go and stay out in the wilderness at the Brook of Cherith. God miraculously provided for Elijah’s needs there, and I just imagine that being a time of preparation in his life for the things God had in store for him. (1 Kings 17.2-4)
If you had told me at that point what the next fifteen years would hold I might have turned and run like a scalded dog, or told you that you were crazy. It’s for that reason that God doesn’t give us all the details, He simply calls us to follow Him. If we will trust Him and follow Him we can live the adventure with Him. I can’t imagine now, looking back, ever wanting to miss this journey, potholes, curves, and all.
More to Come Soon
I will take you on the adventure of moving yet again as we kept following God in the next step on our journey in the next post. He’s about to show us again that He has a strange sense of humor and that He is sovereign over all things, and worthy of our obedience and worship.
Keep Checking In
Backing up a Few Steps
I realized after posting the last entry that I had forgotten to include an important aspect and detail of where my life had returned to. See, in the frustration that I had been struggling with in my marriage, family, search, and the soul-hunger of my Christian life I had returned to doing the religious things and focusing on the ritual and routine of things. In part I think this was out of comfort, and also in response to the conflict I was feeling.
Sometimes doing Spiritual things is like taking medicine that tastes bad. I had to do it, but I didn’t have to like it. In the confusion over how to reconcile the point of view of the church and people who had been key in my spiritual and what I had read in the Bible In my frustration I was becoming increasingly irritable and aggravated.
I was taking a lot out on Andie. A big part of our move from New York to West Virginia was out of her desperation for something more and better in our life together. She pretty much told me that we were going to move there or we were going to go our separate ways. I have never regretted choosing to go with her and know that this move really helped to save our marriage and our family.
Slowing Down and Settling In
Things in West Virginia moved slower. The pace of life that I had been living was difficult to change from. I remember walking with my dad up a sidewalk in town one day and he stopped, looked me in the eyes and said, “Boy, you need to slow down.”
He wasn’t just talking about how fast I was racing up the sidewalk. I needed to slow down and really notice and appreciate the things around me. Looking back now I know that part of the race I was running and the speed I was living at was an effort to bury that internal spiritual conflict I had been facing. Everything was an effort to cover up the call in my life so I didn’t have to respond to it, and I could just live my own life.
We started attending a Southern Baptist Church. Andie will tell you in her life story that on the first Sunday we were there she learned more about the Bible then in all of her life to that point. They had Sunday school…FOR ADULTS!! We attended class and then worship. In that first church service the pastor, Ed Taylor—to this day a very important person in my life, preached from the Bible. He didn’t refer to it as if it were some ancient literary text, but as if what it said was directly relevant in life right then.
We left church that day with a mix of emotions and feelings. Well, actually, I left that way, Andie had her mind made up on that very first Sunday. She wanted to be part of that church. I struggled because I felt a sense of loyalty to the denomination I had grown up in. I attempted to get connected with a different church a few times, but nothing compared to what I had experienced in that single service in the Baptist church.
One day Ed, the pastor, called me up and invited me to lunch with him. We ate at a little restaurant in Nutter Fort. We talked a lot about what life had been like. I felt very comfortable with him. I told him some about my earlier struggles, and how I had been wrestling with the possibility that God had called me to ministry. I can’t remember the details of the conversation or the meal, but what I do remember is how Ed prayed with me and for me. As when he had been preaching on that Sunday we visited the church, there was something uncommon in the way he prayed. It occurred to me that his connection with the Lord was something very real and vital to him. What he had I wanted to experience. I was “sold” at that point, but little did I know it was going to get really real in a big way in a short time.
The Best Choice and The Hardest Realization
As always, music was a big part of our lives, and in church. We got involved pretty quickly with the choir and singing specials in worship. It was great, and everyone was very warm and welcoming. We felt incredibly loved and accepted by people who barely knew us. We would go home from church talking about the service. Then we went back to Sunday night service and came home again talking about all we had learned and liked about the day. Later in the week we attended the Wednesday night service which was for prayer and Bible study. We thought we had been immersed in the activities and things at church before. We didn’t have a clue. When we told people how often we were at the church they would look at us like we were crazy. We loved it.
Then, one weekend a couple months after we started, Andie was invited to attend a choir workshop with our choir director, Lisa. It was an overnight trip. Loving music and worship as she did it wasn’t a hard choice to make. The only thing that would keep her from going is that it was a sixty dollar trip and we had absolutely no money. I made a decision, and it was a choice that I had no way of knowing would have a significant impact on the rest of our marriage and life together. In the town there was a place that paid for plasma. A half hour of time and I could walk out with twenty five dollars. So, without letting Andie know I went and got together the money for her trip so she could go. When I gave her the money she was ecstatic.
The significance of that weekend has never been lost in my memory. She went on the trip and while there Lisa asked her whether she had ever asked Jesus Christ to be the Lord of her life. Well, as I’ve shared, we did all the religious stuff. She, like me had grown up in church, but she realized that weekend that she had never really come to that place of faith in Christ. Lisa prayed with her and Andie was saved in the motel room that weekend.
When Andie returned home with the news of her salvation I was grateful, but at the same time something in me was really disturbed. People she told were very excited for her, praising the Lord for her decision. I was all these things as well, but there was a nagging sorrow that I was harboring in my heart. I realized that this woman who I was deeply in love with, and had been together with for six years by this point, had not really been a child of God. The thought that continued to come into my heart was that she could have died anywhere along the way and she would have been separated for me and from the Lord forever.
Over the next few weeks I wrestled with and prayed over all of this. I returned back to God’s word and read it again—feasting on it as I had before. I stayed up until the wee hours of the night. I wept in prayer some of these nights. My heart was broken, and at some point of the course of these times of reading and praying I confessed my rebellion against God in running from His call in my life. I gave up fighting and committed to the Lord that I would go wherever He wanted me to go and do whatever He asked of me.
We will Abandon it All for the Sake of the Call
A couple weeks later Andie and I were baptized together and embarked on an amazing adventure as together we surrendered to ministry and God’s call in our lives. We knew we would be in ministry together, and we were going to always be a team in ministry. Over the next two years God would chisel…mold…sharpen…stretch and solidify our faith in Him.
(to be continued)
It’s Amazing How God’s Word Makes Things Clearer
Moving back home and returning to the church where I grew up was at once comforting and disconcerting. I love that church (I mean still to this day) , and they were there in some very formative times in my life. At the same time I was struggling with truths that I read in the Scriptures and the directions of not just the church, but the denomination as a whole.
When we arrived we got deeply involved in the ministry of the church, and it was great for a while. There was a young man there who was the pastor and he and I had a number of good discussions. One of these discussions would, without my realizing, set the course for a major shift in my life in the next few years.
I was still struggling with whether God could seriously be calling me to ministry. My wife and I had two wonderful children, and we—like most young families—had our fair share of struggles. Looking back I see how the Lord was moving us in His plan—but at the time I totally unaware of it. In fact, I had settled that I would be a good church member and teach high school English. When I started attending college that was my intention. Beginning college really seemed to help me settle on the course I HAD CHOSEN for my life.
At the same time I was starting college I was also seeking how my relationship with the Lord was going to function. Determined at this point that ministry wasn’t a reality, I struggled to make the best of my life of compromise. At the same time there was an aching and hunger in my life that I couldn’t figure out. I thought I was doing all the right stuff, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing the most important thing.
Our marriage was ok, but it wasn’t awesome. It wasn’t what I knew it could be, but I didn’t really know why. We went to church every Sunday, taught Sunday School, sang in worship, did all the “church” stuff. Occasionally I got to fill-in when the minister was away. We were immersed in church as much as possible, but we were spiritually dry.
Almost a decade earlier I had been given a Bible as a gift by Rev. Jasper Steele. He gave it to me after completing the Lay Speaker Course, commenting that I had been one of the youngest to be certified. He had also told me that he was proud of the choice I made to follow God’s calling in my life. I was honored, and it was (and still is) something that I treasure.
Unfortunately that Bible had spent most of the past several years on my shelf. But now, in desperation and out of hunger I took it and started reading. I had read a lot of the Bible in bits and pieces…passages here and there, but never cover to cover. This time I was determined to do that. I began with the Gospel of John and read from there to the end and then restarted at Genesis.
I had anticipated it taking me months to completely read through. What shocked me then—and still—is that once I started I couldn’t stop. I read through the entire Bible in about eight days. I stayed up long after everyone else went to bed and got up before anyone else just to read the Bible. To this day I will pull that Bible down and read from it when I sense that I’m getting that “dryness” in my spirit. It’s not some radically different translation or super-special version. It’s a reminder of how I found that amazing soul-satisfaction in those pages. It’s marked, written, and worn, but I love it, and I love what that time meant.
Now, as soul-satisfying as those hours and days in the Bible were for me, they also opened up some pretty uncomfortable things for me, and forced me to wrestle and struggle with areas in my life, marriage, parenting, and church that I had not had to face because I was largely ignorant before God’s Word started bringing clarity into my world, and more specifically my world-view. The way I saw things to that point was being challenged by what I read.
When I asked my pastor about this I received what to this date has been among the most heart-breaking of things I’ve ever heard. He basically replied that the Bible had been written so long ago that much of it didn’t apply any longer to life in the world. Something inside of me cringed—and still cringes—at that thought. If the Bible doesn’t apply, then the promises that we claim can’t be trusted.
As I voiced my concern to other people they essentially gave me a kind of knowing nod and assumed I would “come out of the phase.” It’s been twenty years, and by God’s grace and in the power of His spirit I pray I will never “come out of this phase!”
Through a series of turning points and trials Andie and I sought whatever it was that we were missing in our marriage, in our spirits, in our lives. In a surprise decision and move we packed up everything we owned, which wasn’t very much, loaded it into the back of an Overnite Freight Truck and sent it ahead of us from Rensselaer, New York to Clarksburg, West Virginia. A move away from our family and all that was familiar, we would later discover was a move into the cadence of the Holy Spirit as God drew us into the greatest adventure of our lives.
We left the expanse and comfort of my grandmother’s three bedroom house and moved our family of four into a—tiny would be a very generous description—one bedroom apartment on top of a garage. Even the address sounded a little fishy at first. 122 1/2 Tuna Street. Looking back across the years, however, those few years in that tiny apartment were some of the best years in the life of our little family. I wouldn’t trade them for anything, and often wish we could return to the simplicity of our little home.
Learn why in the next edition. (to be continued…)
Could God Have Made a Mistake?
To this point you have read –
- How I was searching for something in my life that I was missing.
- How I Began a Relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ
- How God got my Attention and began calling me into Ministry
If you have not read these earlier stories it would be a good idea to go back and read that before you read this one. You will understand better by reading those earlier experiences.
The thing is that I was still a teenager, and as most of you will remember looking back, and others will know because you are right in the middle of those experiences, being a teenager comes with a variety of challenges and trouble. Some of the choices that I made, even after God’s call to me, were not what most would consider very godly. There are some people out there that could probably provide you with a laundry list—a dirty laundry list—of my misdeeds and mistakes. I was then—and still at times—prompted to wonder if God had made a mistake in choosing to call me to ministry.
See, to that point the only minister I had really known was our former pastor, Rev. Thomas Riston. He was an older man with a booming bass voice who wore robes on Sunday and those pastor shirts with the white thing in the front. He had been our minister for most of my life. I believed that the hierarchy was God…Jesus…then Rev. Riston. I believed there was no way I could live up to that kind of expectation if that was what it meant to be a minister. I had only known our current minister, following Rev. Riston’s retirement, for a short time. He was a younger man, David Lockwood, and he wasn’t quite as “holy” as Rev. Riston, but he still wore robes, and with his beard he looked more like those pictures we see of Jesus.
Ultimately, the people I knew who were ministers and my choices, actions, and thoughts all seemed to declare that I was delusional to think that the Lord would seriously be interested in having me as a minister. He must have made a mistake. He loved me, and He had forgiven me of my sins, and continued to as I confessed them to him, I was sure of that, but I wasn’t—nor would I ever be—holy enough to be Reverend Bentley.
It gets Colder when you are Stepping away from the Fire
So, I stepped back from the fire. I still believed that God wanted me to be a pastor, but I wasn’t sure how…when…or where. Perhaps when I was older with grey hair—like most of those I knew in ministry. I didn’t think it was going to be anytime soon. So, I put following God on hold.
Thing is, I guess God didn’t get the memo. He kept calling and leading and moving in my life. He started revealing different things that He was doing in my life. Things like a developing love for reading, the ability to write, and a blossoming love for music. He started really stretching me in areas of my life and peeling back some of the protective layers I had been hiding under.
Then There Was Her…and I Moved Back a Little Closer to the Fire
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on how I met the woman who would become my wife—that will be a story for a different series. Suffice it to say that I had no idea how meeting this fiery brown-eyed girl at a youth retreat was going to impact my life.
She seemed to know from the moment we got together (June 25, 1985) who I was and what I was going to be. She will tell how she could see us in ministry together even way back then. For the next three years and one week—that’s when we married—we were wrapped up in each other’s lives. When I would falter and fail her faith and strength upheld me and kept me going.
Married at such a young age, there were many challenges, but we did our best to keep church as a priority and stay involved. Work schedules and the other stresses of life brought new difficulties into our lives which made this more difficult. We both kept the thought of ministry in the “back of our minds,” but for the time being we had work, bill, and all the things that flood into the lives of newly weds.
Changes of Address
My mom lamented once about the number of entries she had for me in her address book because we moved so often in those early years. In the first few years of our marriage and family we lived in 8 different places. One of those moves was back to the town I grew up in, and by default back to the church I grew up in.
(Oh…I just realized I never told you that shortly after Andie and I got together I moved up to her home town in Vermont. It’s hard to keep up when I don’t give you the details.)
It’s this move back home that leads to the next big transition and challenge in my life and God’s call. It would also be the time in my life where some of the most significant—and at times painful—choices of my life would be made.
(to be continued)
What Happened Next –
So you have read the story of how I became a believer in Christ. (See my earlier blog posting with this same title.) The next part of the journey includes some of the struggles that shaped my journey in the early days.
God Begins Moving Me in His Direction
From the beginning I was excited about what I had discovered in this new relationship with God. I wanted everyone to know about it, and I tended to go “overboard” with some of my family and friends. I struggled with figuring out why not everyone was as excited to know God as I was. As a result it strained relationships in a variety of areas in my life. But, something told me that I was going to be telling people about God for the rest of my life.
Delmar, New York – God Rang My Bell
You know how people can remember where they were when significant events took place. The assassination of John F. Kennedy. The explosion of the shuttle in January 1986. A sunny Tuesday morning on September 11, 2001. The exact dates and times might become blurred over time, but where they were and what they were doing is forever etched in their mind.
For me, one of those pivotal memories was at the Delmar United Methodist Church during a youth retreat with our district youth ministry. It was a big event, and one of the first that our church youth group had participated in for some time. I don’t remember how many kids were there, what the lessons were, what activities we participated in. I don’t remember much of the details. What I do remember is a young lady who was there crying in a stair well.
She was a senior in high school, a couple years older than me. I walked past and caught sight of her out of the corner of my eye. Weird that she would be crying here all alone at this great event. I kept walking a few steps, but felt strangely pulled back to her. It was an incredibly uncomfortable thing for me, but I went back and asked what was wrong. She looked up and then unloaded. Her boyfriend…her parents…her grades…everything. I mean I got the jumbo-sized portion of her troubles. Then she said, “I just want to kill myself.”
Have you ever had someone unexpectedly stomp on the brakes and send you hurtling forward. That’s what that moment was like for me. I knew that pain and sorrow and heart-break. She stood up, looking very determined, and she started up the stairs. I followed behind not sure what the heck I was going to do. She turned around as we neared the top of the stairs and said, “Just leave me alone.”
I replied, “I can’t. I can’t let you do this.”
She reached for the exit door that lead onto the roof and I lunged at her and held on. I hollered down the stairs to a couple people I saw passing for help, but they ignored me. Even one of the other adult youth leaders only gave us a passing glance as I struggled to keep her from going onto the roof. I pleaded with her to stay inside and talk. Fortunately, while I was younger I was also stronger, and probably in my panic was running on heavy doses of adrenaline.
She gave in and came back in and sat down continuing her crying. I don’t know how long I sat there listening to her, but it was probably not as long as it seemed. Eventually she calmed down as we sat on the stairs. People passed by and took little interest in us as we talked there. When she finally laughed a little I felt pretty secure that the worst was over. A little while later her youth leader came by and she went with him to join the group. For several minutes I sat on the stairs. I started to shake—I know now that was a latent reaction to the very stressful situation I had been in. However, as stressful as that situation had been, moments later I would be confronted with an even scarier and more stressful situation.
Is God Calling?
I wrote earlier that I didn’t remember what the lessons were at the Delmar event. I was referring to what the speakers or leaders were teaching the group. I do, however, remember what the lesson was that I was being taught. God put before me a brochure with the title on it, “Is God Calling?” It was information about how God calls people into the ministry and what to do if you think God is calling you. When I picked that up and read it I immediately sensed that God was saying “This is what I want for you” in my heart. I realized at that moment in that location that God was calling me to be a minister!
To say God got my attention would be an understatement. It was as though someone pulled the fire alarm in my life. I was flooded with a mix of terror and excitement. I felt at once overjoyed and overwhelmed. I knew so little at that time about God and how He worked, and I understood even less.
I got mixed responses from the people I started sharing my revelation with. Some people—mostly church people and some family—were proud, happy, supportive of my decision to enter ministry. Reaction from others in my family and from friends outside of the church was often the opposite. Some of them would just laugh, mention something that I had done or said that proved I couldn’t possibly be a minister. Others would just scoff at the idea and, in essence, tell me that I needed to get a real job.
Two people, however, were very supportive and in review I owe much of my ultimate decision to follow-through on God’s calling to these men. Chester “Chet” Vanderbilt and Ralph Thompson. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would fully grasp the impact these men had in those early years, but I can never express the gratitude I feel for their encouragement and support in those begin steps. Ralph encouraged me to attend a Lay Speaker’s course with him where I became one of the youngest certified Lay Speakers in our denomination. Chet took me to conference meetings spending hours on the road and encouraging me in following through on serving God in the church.
The support of these faithful men was crucial and enabled me to stay the course in some pretty difficult and challenging stages of my adolescent life. At the same time it would also make the shift in my life over the years of my early adulthood some of the most heartrending and difficult I have ever faced.
(to be continued)