Guest blog by William Palmer
My Lost Decade is part of my personal testimony; it’s riddled with disobedience, and a great example of what not to do. My Lost Decade began when I went off to college. I all but severed my relationship with God. I stopped attending church, stopped reading the bible, didn’t attend bible study, and ultimately stopped having prayerful conversations talking with God.
But for over a decade, He never gave up on me, and I practically had to go out of my way to avoid the incredibly special people and amazing opportunities God threw at me.
One of my best friends in college was president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. For four years we hung out and studied together. My friend constantly invited me to Christian events, Bible studies…but I always seemed to have better things to do.
For about three years after college, I lived in a two family home, downstairs from a pastor! He did his job by inviting me into his home, to his church, to bible studies, and even said he was praying for me. And for three years I ignored him and threw God out of my house – quite literally. On one occasion, the pastor asked if I could please try to turn my stereo down on Friday nights because last week his group had to move their bible study to another location.
Over the next three years, I found myself back in Texas and working in Houston. My boss at the time called me, “the homeless guy.” He was referring to the fact that I didn’t have a church home. I vividly remember one day coming into work and finding a care package sitting on my desk. Immediately, I recognized it as one of those packages I’d seen my boss gave out to homeless people at highway intersections. I remember eating the sandwich and drinking the bottle of water. And I remember tossing the Bible into the wastepaper basket next to my desk.
My boss also invited me to his church on several occasions, but I never went – again, I had had more important things to do. I found out later he’s an elder at church with a congregation of over 25,000.
My disobedience followed me to San Antonio, where a Baptist Temple deacon invited me to worship service on a few occasions.
I must really just be hard of hearing. Believe it or not, what finally got me through the doors of a church again, are the church’s ministries. It was the first Thursday of February, 2012. I was driving by Baptist Temple around 6:00 PM, and saw a line of people circling the building in the parking lot. I couldn’t believe it – it was the middle of the week – a Thursday evening, and the place was packed. I had to do a double take. I drove around the block, and saw signs for a daycare and charter school.
What got my attention was not hearsay and conjecture…it was not bumping into someone at the grocery store and listening to them talk at me about how great their church is, how many people attend, or how awesome the pastor’s message was last week. It was seeing the physical manifestation of God’s will at work: it was the church’s ministries in action. It told me that this place actually cares about the community, and cares about spreading God’s message. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was also a promise to me that any financial contribution I make to Baptist Temple will be put to good use obeying and spreading God’s word.
The stewardship portion of my message is pretty short and simple. It’s about putting needs ahead of wants. For the past few years, I’ve been saving for some home improvements. I’ve been wanting a new floor downstairs, and a new deck for the back yard. But my church home needs a new roof, so that will come first.
By now, Baptist Temple has heard about a dozen remarkable stewardship testimonies. I certainly don’t want to trivialize any of them – but hearing all these terrific stories of sacrifice can make it tempting to travel down that road of disobedience. For example, it might be easy to think about sitting the campaign out because the rest of your church family has your back. Well guess what? A dozen stewardship testimonies does not a campaign make. Each and every member of the church’s family, including probably some folks who aren’t, will be required to obey for this campaign to be successful.
I’d like to leave you with two frames of references on obedience; two different perspectives.
My disobedience didn’t just suddenly fall by the wayside after My Lost Decade ended. It didn’t suddenly stop after I walked through Baptist Temple’s doors. I still sometimes head down the wrong path when I know another one is correct.
To give me inspiration to obey, I like to look to the book of Acts, and some of the things Paul went through as his personal transformation brought him from persecuting Christians in his early years, to becoming obedient to God’s word. It’s such an inspiration to hear how Paul ultimately ending up building the first Christian Church.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. (Acts 13:45)
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison... (Acts 16:22-23)
I’m not sure if you have ever – out of obedience to God’s word – been falsely accused of crimes by friends and neighbors, or been physically beaten and thrown into prison because you were obeying. If you have, I’d love to hear your story.
We have it relatively easy obeying God’s word today.
The second frame of reference I want to leave you with is called seeing the forest from the trees. The tree Paul planted when he built that first Christian Church grew big and strong, with deep roots. But I can’t even begin to wrap my tiny little brain around the forest created by Jesus Christ. I can’t begin to understand the weight of the sins of mankind throughout time, borne on the back of one man. Sins you and I haven’t even committed yet are paid for out of the obedience of one Man to His Father, and His Father keeping a promise you and me.
Please, I urge you just to keep those frames of reference in mind the next time you find it difficult to obey.