Every week I have a front row seat to the stories of life. Stories of grace, redemption, change and lots of surprises. Perhaps you know, but you really do not know all you need to know about someone until you hear their story. We make assumptions by mere observation and believe we have everyone figured out. Listen to the stories people tell and you will be surprised. Everyone has a story. Hearing the stories is one of the delights of life. Often, my impressions and thoughts about individuals change after hearing their story.
You may wonder about how I hear so many stories. Well, I just listen and with a little nudging most will reveal the story of their life. Often times I come away from the telling of stories having had my heart touched and mind amazed. Some of the stories are sad and some heroic. Some just simply astound. Astonishment comes from having my pre-conceived impressions proven inaccurate.
While pastoring in Detroit, we were a part of something called two word testimony. Yard signs were placed all over metro Detroit with these two-word testimonies. Today if I were to give you words that would describe how I got from where I started to where I am today, I would have to use three words. After all I am a preacher, what others can say in two I would need at least a third more. One of the side-effects of traveling the road of life for awhile, is you are given to moments of reflection. Three persons/entities changed my life. Oh, I know that there have been more and I will leave out some significant persons and places, but remember I started out trying to limit it to two, and I settled on three.
Here are my three words that form my testimony.
3 The church
Jesus made the difference by becoming my Lord and Savior. I learned to trust him as child and teenager. I did not always follow Him perfectly, but I kept seeking to know Him and be known by Him. He redeemed me and and filled me with His Spirit. Everything I am or have is all because of Him. In addition to all of that He called me into the ministry. Again, it has been a journey marked with tears and laughter, highs and lows, ups and downs but all sprinkled with grace and the goodness of the Lord. Jesus is not just the reason for the season, He is the reason for everything.
Grandma made a difference in my life. She loved me, believed in me and encouraged me. In ways I can’t describe today she saved my life. Much of what I know about life and living I learned from her. She was an overcomer, and a devoted Christ follower. She was both wise and kind. I will never forget the impact she had on my life. My life would be totally different today had she not been there. My desire is to make a difference in the lives of others.
The church made a difference in my life. Specifically I am not talking about the Church universal, but a local congregation of believers. With all of the criticism the church receives and some of it deserved, I want to say thank you for the difference my home church made in my life. You loved me, nurtured me, corrected me, and gave me a chance. No one would have ever given me a chance to be a leader, yet the church allowed me to exercise my gifts and talents. Pastors and lay people alike are carried around to this day in my heart. They shaped me and made me want to be a part of the Family of God.
Now, I am sure I have over my lifetime disappointed Jesus, grandma and the my local church. Yet it was from each that I received love and that unconditionally. If you have been loved, it is a lot easier to love others.
Jesus, grandma and the church each offered me a hand to pull me up to where I should be, all have offered me a shoulder to cry on as well. Today I must look around me and see who needs my hand to help steady them? Who needs a shoulder to cry on? Who needs someone to encourage and believe in them? Here am I send me!