Sometimes dates can sneak up on you and smack you on the behind. This week I had two red-letter days and both of them hit me at the last possible moment; ironically, they each represent similar scenarios. Well, sort of. Let me explain.
On Wednesday I had chatted it up with a ministry friend who was taking his wife out for their anniversary that evening. (No, don’t get ahead of me…it’s not what you think…well, sort of) I hung up from that conversation happy as you please and not a clue in my head. A bit later another friend called me up to tell me he had tickets to a Derek Webb concert on the other side of Atlanta for that very night. I asked him to give me thirty minutes to see if I could clear my calendar, check with Sandy, etc. (and not in that order, either) Still, no clue. I’m obviously hitting the snooze button on my mental alarms that were relentlessly going off trying to get me to remember. Think, Scott. This is vital to your relationship. It’s why you have a relationship.
My friend calls back to tell me that the concert, it turns out, is not in an accessible location for wheelchairs, so, no dice. Bummer. Oh, well, I didn’t think it would work out for us at the last minute anyhow. Welp, thanks for the thought, and all that. Not a clue. The mice in my head are taking a siesta ’cause it still hasn’t hit me…but wait…wasn’t there something?…hmmm…now, what is it that is trying to come up for air in my noggin?…I return to the work on my desk and rifle through a couple letters when—finally—a light bulb goes on over my head. I quickly reach for my cell phone and dial the all-too-familiar number.
“Hi. What’s up?”
“Do you know what happened twenty-four years ago today?” I put it suavely as if it had been my plan all along.
Sandy brightened at once. “I was hoping you’d remember!”
Yes, it was our anniversary, but, no, it wasn’t the anniversary of our wedding. It was the anniversary of my asking for Mr. Summerford’s permission to marry his daughter. We were in college and Sandy was bringing me to her home in Florida for the weekend so her parents could meet me. Thaaat’s right. Hello, Mr. Summerford. Nice to meet you. May I marry your number two daughter? I know her Dad knew something was up but he made me chase him around the house all weekend because every time he found himself in a room alone with me, he would find something else to do and out he went. That’s disconcerting when wheelchairs don’t chase very well and the clock is ticking away before the weekend is over and we return to campus ten hours away.
He didn’t leave all the time. Sometimes he stayed and talked about work and stuff ad nauseum without so much as taking a breath, making certain I couldn’t get a breath in edgewise. When there was a lull, ever so slight, I would take a deep breath and begin forming the words. It’s like he knew. As I was drawing a breath to speak, he would rise from his chair and gallop out of the room leaving me sucking air.
Cutting to the chase now (pun intended), Sandy’s mom could feel my frustration so she made sure I could make my play one afternoon with the four of us in their Florida room. He was caught and he knew it. Sandy’s mom just smiled the sweetest smile when I cleared my throat and began: “Mr. Summerford, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you…”
The other red-letter date this week was just today. Thirty-two years ago today I surrendered my life for the ministry. It was the punctiliar moment that brought to an end a long, harrowing season of begging God to select me for service. I had done a poor job of “selling” myself to the Lord over the previous weeks, sort of like an enigmatic used car salesman giving you every reason not to buy a car.
Lord, I probably don’t have a shot, but…
Lord, I don’t have much to offer…(well, that’s true of any of us!)
Lord, I’d probably blow it big time…
You know, the full gamut of excuses. Odd, but it was a lot like the Moses thing, only in reverse. God calls Moses and Moses says, I don’t think you have the right man. For me, I started off with my sad-sack of excuses, then God said to my glorious delight, you’re just the man I’m looking for…
For those who dare stay with me in this long post, I’ve described that March night in 1975 elsewhere: “…from my earliest memories I wanted to be a preacher. As little kids, my two sisters and I would hold mock church services in the girls’ bedroom, complete with hymn-singing and a fire-and-brimstone sermon from the young reverend. So a few years later when the Lord saw the possibilities and took me up on it, I answered the call.
Not that it was that clean and easy. To play pretend-parson in a bedroom is one thing but to have a definitive calling to do it for real was quite another. The preachers I knew sauntered in rarified air. They dressed well and spoke with parchment voices and were famous and terribly gifted. I, on the other hand, was a certifiable nobody with a sad dearth of discernible talents. Never popular, I didn’t have a following so how in heaven’s sweet name, could I command a flock?
Mostly overlooked in life, mine was a face in a sea of faces and little more.As a youth, my nightly regimen was to kneel by the bedside and open a well-worn, marked-up Bible to Isaiah 61:1 and beg God to call me, all the while knowing He probably wouldn’t. Why would He? I was convinced God was searching for a certain someone that would never be me, but even still my begging found no rest.
That would change in March of 1975 when I felt pulled to the altar following a message by a guest speaker in our Decatur, Georgia church. All the way down the aisle I couldn’t get a fix on what the pounding in my heart was all about. Perhaps a sin needing confessing or a recommitment to some dusty vow; but whatever it was I just knew I had to beat a path to the altar and get on my face before God. Many others had responded to the speaker’s appeal so by the time I got to the front, I had to climb the orange-carpeted steps, adroitly averting some of the pentitent before finding an unclaimed patch of carpet–right at the feet of the speaker.
As I cried out to the Lord, giving myself to him wholly and humbly, some audible words began to rise about my pleas. The speaker was saying,
“I believe God is dealing with a young man here at this altar. Young man, whoever you are, God wants you to know that He sees your heart, He has heard your cries and wants to assure you that you are His man.”
I cocked my head in the direction of that Sinaic voice and wondered if its owner was looking at me. He wasn’t. His eyes were searching elsewhere, out into the audience, but I am certain to this day that those very words were put into his heart to speak over me. When I went back to my seat that night, the issue of my preaching was finally put to rest and the Lord has since confirmed His call on me that night multiplied times over.
I settled into the pew with the conviction that if I was to be God’s man for my generation then so be it and, come hell or high water, the fire that was blazing in my heart would be sufficient to withstand the onslaught of man or devil.
I was a nobody but God called me out anyway. Others may have raised their eyebrows or pondered wonderingly, but I had something no potential detractor had: God’s calling and His anointing. Truly, in my case, the man with an argument was at the mercy of a man with experience.
“The Lord has anointed me to preach…”
Amazing. What was really cool was that I was getting to do on my anniversary exactly what my life has been called for: preaching on the tough demands of commitment to Christ to the people of Christ. Well, sir, I had to chase God down and tell Him every reason not to call me, but, in the end, I got what I wanted. Or is it, He got what He wanted.
Now that’s just doubly amazing.