Supreme Ambition Ministries

To Know Christ and to Make Him Known – Philippians 3:10

MY JOURNEY 5

THE SCHOOL OF BROKENNESS

Now that I was graduated from Southwestern Baptist Seminary, I was ready to begin my ministry in a nice urban church, or so I thought. I had my Master of Divinity degree…three and one-half years of intense learning. Surely now I could begin shepherding a group of people. I was so excited to get started, but Kathi and I had no direction from the Lord, and few churches were contacting me to candidate. One day the phone rang and it was our mentor, Dr. Dan Light. He was the minister under whom I was called to preach, and who married Kathi and me. It was he, who encouraged me to attend Southwestern, since that is where he had gone to school. He was then, and has been now for over forty (40) years a dear friend and Spiritual Guide. When I answered the phone, I heard his beautiful, baritone voice say, “Brother, come on home to West Virginia. We need you!” On that word we loaded up an EZ-Haul truck, and with Kathi’s father’s help, made our way back home to West Virginia with two (2) children in tow.

We unloaded our few belongings in my parents’ garage, and drove to Huntington to live temporarily with some friends from college days at Marshall. They had a brand new baby. We had Chad (18 months old) and Stacye (2months old). Did I mention this house was about 800 square feet in size? We slept on a, rollaway bed no bigger than a twin size, which was just about right for a young married couple. Since I had no church in which to minister, I had to get a job. I got a position on a construction crew, swinging a sledge-hammer, knocking down walls inside a building to make ready some exclusive apartments. I remember one day in particular I swung that sledge and failed to let my hand slide down the handle. One of my fingers jammed into the wall. I yelled…No bad words; you understand…just “ouch!” or something permissible for a ‘man of the cloth’. My finger was cut open and I was bleeding. I guess I had a lot of pent up anger, because I remember feeling as though this was just as good of an opportunity as any to have a long overdue conversation with the Lord. So I said, “OK, I went to Texas and went to school, something I didn’t want to do, just because you wanted me to. I graduated. I got this precious Masters degree, and what good is it doing me?” I’m stuck here in this old hotel doing a job I could have done with no education.” Fortunately for me God does not seem to get upset quickly. Unfortunately for me God seldom talks to me when I get like that. So, I spent 2 months in that job before being called by the First Southern Baptist Church of Fairmont, WV as their first full-time pastor. In the late spring of 1973 Kathi, the children, and I made our way to Fairmont to begin our ministry.

As I look back on that humble beginning there were a lot of firsts. I had my first Sunday in our new church. I had my ordination in our new church…and…let’s see…There was something else. What was it? Oh yeah…I ran off my first deacon. Not any deacon, mind you. This one was the Chairman of the Board. Can you believe it? I actually ran off the Chairman of the Board of Deacons on my first Sunday in ministry. Boy! What a gift! In my defense, he got mad because he thought I was trying to do his job as devotional leader of the Sunday school. It was a ‘rookie’ mistake on my part, but he would not be consoled. Some of the people said we were probably better off without him, but I felt like a dog.

Interestingly, throughout my ministry I have run into these situations on numerous occasions. Each time a situation occurred I would question my ‘call’ or think about resigning…but I never did. It was not long before I began to realize that when I graduated from seminary I enrolled in another school, THE SCHOOL OF BROKENNESS. I was to discover that I would not graduate from this school in weeks or months…but in years. In fact, after being a student in this school for 40 years I’m not sure I have even left kindergarten. When one walks onto the campus of The School of Brokenness and finds the main classroom building, a discovery is made. The steps to the building go ‘down’ not ‘up’. There are few enrollees in this school and fewer seem to ever graduate. The mascot is a Lamb. The symbol is a Cross.

I was confused, when I would run headlong into struggles, tests, trials and battles. I was one of the ‘good guys’. This stuff is not supposed to happen to ‘good guys’. Right? A closer inspection of the Bible reveals, however, that God’s people have always been people, who suffered. Apparently there is a maturing process that must take place, and interestingly, suffering plays an important role in all that. Paul said in Philippians 3:10, “That I might know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings…” A few years ago I was privileged to spend some time in a car with Gene Edwards, the chief proponent of the House Church in America, and a prolific author. Gene asked me to share my testimony with him. I did, giving him the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version. My friend, Steve Coder said, “Gene he’s not telling you everything.’ Gene then looked at us and gave us one of the most pregnant statements ever uttered, at least to me. He said, “Until a man of God suffers, the Church does not need to hear from him.” I have had several years now to meditate upon that statement and around forty (40) years of preaching and ministry upon which to test it. Something happens to a person, when he suffers. There are spiritual qualities of humility, and a depth of love, which cannot be known apart from joining in “the fellowship of his sufferings”. In fact, Paul gives quite an insight to this mystery saying, “…we are…fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him…” (Romans 8:17). I still don’t like suffering. I try to get out of just as much of it as I can. But, after all these years I think I have a little understanding of what it all might mean. I’m not the same man I was on that ‘first’ Sunday in 1973. That young preacher boy was to have several more run-ins with ‘Deacons’ and the like. I’m still in The School of Brokenness. There are no signs of graduation and no one is fitting me for a cap and gown just yet. But…well…something has happened to me. I think I actually know Jesus a little. I mean really know him. I do know that I love him more deeply and my fellowship with him is sweeter than it was in those early days.

Could I share a precious experience with you from those days as Pastor of First Southern Baptist of Fairmont? Kathi, the children and I were only there about fourteen months. During that time I was very zealous for the Lord. I would walk the streets of Fairmont and go ‘door to door’ taking ‘Religious Surveys’. I even trained my flock in personal evangelism and showed them how to do the surveys and lead into the ‘plan of salvation’. Well, one of the young ladies in the church was the only ‘saved’ person in a very large family. She had a brother, whom they called Bo (Pronounced ‘Bow’). He was an alcoholic. I visited in their home and got acquainted with Bo. Shortly, I began to receive calls from Bo on Saturday night, when he had drunk just enough beer to loosen his tongue. He would ask me to come pick him up at the local bar, which I did. We would either come back to my house or drive around and he would want to talk about Jesus and being saved. Then he would ask me to take him back to the bar and drop him off, which I did. Once in a while Bo would show up at a Church service with just enough beer in him to give him courage to be there. However, on one special Sunday evening service Bo came…and he hadn’t had a drop to drink. I preached and gave the invitation. Down the aisle Bo came, staggering like a drunken man, who had had nothing to drink. He gave his life to Jesus and the Lord took away his desire for alcohol.

Well, Bo was one of my new disciples so I trained him in personal evangelism and the taking of the ‘Religious Survey’. A part of that survey was the question, “Of which of the following religious founders do you know the most about: (1) Moses, (2) Buddha, or (3) Jesus Christ.” Bo had never learned to read very well. One day he and I were out going door to door, when we came upon a home where both the man and woman were outside working in the yard. I asked Bo to take the survey with the man, while I surveyed the lady. I could overhear Bo struggling with the survey. When he got to the question about the founders of religion, instead of saying “Buddha”, he said, “BUBBA”. The man with whom he was sharing said, “Buddy, what in the world are you doing out here?” Bo responded, “Let me tell you what I’m doing out here.” Bo then put away the survey and told the man how Jesus saved him, and delivered him from alcoholism. I left that Church after only fourteen months and after I left, Bo Simmons became a deacon in the Church. Isn’t God good?

More to come…Whew!

August 14th, 2008 Posted by | Biographical | 6 comments