Called To The Ministry
“The Day My Life Changed”
People who are wrestling with a call into the ministry have often asked me, “How do I know whether God is calling me?” In the hopes of answering that question, I thought it would be helpful to put my own journey into words. I have talked to hundreds of people who are serving in churches. What I have discovered is that no two stories are exactly alike. I believe God has too much fun with the whole experience to let it become the least bit predictable. There is one common thread, however. Expect to be overwhelmed and overpowered. This is how that happened to me.
During the last half of my childhood, I grew up in a 14X80 Lancer mobile home at the end of a dirt road in Midland, TX. Our family struggled financially. We were not technically “poor” by any standard of measurement. By contrast, however, the vast majority of people in “The Tall City” during the 1970’s and early 80’s were riding the prosperity wave of the latest oil boom. Most of my friends had parents who either owned oil or worked in the oil industry. It was not unusual for high school teenagers to drive Porches or Corvettes to school. It seemed that money was in no short supply, except at the end of the dirt road—where we lived.
My teenage years were filled with one objective. I wanted to swim in the Olympics. I had the opportunity to swim for Midland High School and later at Texas Tech University. Most days I spent four hours in the pool pushing my body to the limits. I had the fortune of competing against world record holders and Olympic gold medallists. I was passionate about swimming and almost nothing else mattered to me. In my mind, it was my ticket to popularity in High School, a means to get accepted to a university, and an opportunity to enter the field of sports medicine after graduation. Swimming eased the embarrassment I felt from living in a trailer. It was my ride off the dirt road.
It took divine intervention for my thinking to change. God orchestrated a day in my life that caused me to take another path. At the end of my freshman year in college, I was required to have a counseling session with one of my biology professors. Since biology was my major, I believed the meeting would last a few minutes and I would hear the usual, “Study hard. . . education will open doors. . . your future will be bright, blah, blah, blah.
The professor welcomed me into his office. He began asking questions about what I wanted to do with my life after graduation. After telling him about my passion for swimming, I shared with him my desire to become a sport’s medicine doctor.
“That probably won’t happen,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I responded in disbelief.
He continued, “You have spent all of your time training instead of being a trainer. Worse, there are too many people in the trainer’s program, and you probably couldn’t get accepted this late in the game. It literally takes 1,000’s of hours to work toward this goal. If you quit the swim team today, you might have the time reach your goal and be accepted into a sport’s medicine program.”
Texas Tech Swim Team, 1982
“So what am I supposed to do with this biology degree after I’ve graduated?”
“Well,” he said, “I think you could compete for a job in a medical lab somewhere.”
“What would I be doing there?” I asked as my dreams began to crumble.
“Most of our graduates are testing blood and stool samples. They do urine analysis, check for contagious diseases, or identify viral and bacterial infections. It’s a pretty exciting life, but the pay isn’t all that great for new graduates.”
I left that office as quickly as I could. Walking back to my dorm room, I imagined an endless stream of petri dishes stretching before me as far as the eye could see. If this was to be my future, something about it unsettled me deeply.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that God designed each of us to yearn for His purpose in our lives. Some people are passionate about things that are a pain to others. I know many people who work in labs and are fulfilled by what they do. They get a thrill hovering over microscopes and examining specimens. I know other people who watch me lead a church and say, “I could never live my life like that!” God has plenty of tasks that He wants to get accomplished, so he made each of us with a different combination of gifts, talents, and interests. What was crystal clear to me from this point on was that I could not be happy forsaking God’s design for my life. My only problem was that I didn’t know what that design was.
It might burst your bubble to discover that I wasn’t born with a Bible in my hand. My life at this point was out of control in several areas. First, I was an angry young man. When the man I thought was my biological father walked out of my life at the age of eight, I allowed a root of bitterness to grow unchecked. His rejection of me was very personal, and later became an offense I could not and would not let go.
Second, I was disappointed with every church I had attended growing up. Splits, fights, and hypocrisy seemed to be the norm. People seemed selfishly concerned with their desires, and I found the whole experience to be irrelevant. Church never seemed to address my challenges and issues in a way that I could relate to.
Third, I was a pretty successful hypocrite myself. Even though I had become a Christ follower at 10 years of age, there was little growth after that. By the time I was in high school and college, I had willfully chosen to take a stroll down the dark side of life. It seemed easier to live a lie than to look for the truth. The result was that I was rude, angry, and lived with a sense of shame that became increasingly difficult to manage. In short, I was empty.
At The Crossroads
Around that time, my parents believed that God was leading them to start attending a different house of worship. Wilshire Park Baptist Church had called a fiery young preacher by the name of Chris Osborne to be their pastor. He was making quite a splash in Midland. It wasn’t long before my parents fell under his anointed preaching and discovered a new passion for their faith. I began noticing the changes in their behavior immediately. They talked about the new church they were attending every chance they got. They claimed to be praying and reading their Bibles several times a day. Quoting scripture was a normal part of their everyday conversation. I was skeptical at first, but soon realized how extremely serious they were. They even had the nerve to ask me leave Lubbock on the weekends, come home and attend church with them as a family.
It was all rather awkward for me at the time, and for months I turned them down. I really didn’t believe that I needed a church to help me be a “good Christian” anymore. The fact that I wasn’t a very good Christian didn’t sink in either. It was simply a portion of the canopy of denial I was living under at the time. It was too easy to justify my behavior by discrediting everyone else’s. I reasoned that God allowed my father to leave. God allowed my friends to make fun of me for being poor. God allowed a preacher I liked to be fired when I was in the eighth grade. Churches were filled with hypocrites, or so it seemed. Why bother?
During the summer after my Freshmen year in college, I moved back to Midland between semesters. I thought our trailer had been transformed into a mini church house. I couldn’t get away from the Christian music constantly playing in the background. Bibles were everywhere, as well as Christian books and magazines. Every toilet had some book on it that my mother claimed would be helpful to me.
My parents knew that I was slipping away. They held prayer meetings in our little trailer. They invited their friends over to ask God to change my heart and open my eyes. One evening I came in well past midnight only to step over people who were gathered to pray for me. I went to sleep that night wondering if my parents had been sucked into some kind of cult.
Most of my weekends that summer were spent traveling to and competing in swim meets across Texas. After competing in the state championship in August, my summer season was finished. I had no more excuses to miss church. My mother seized the opportunity and came on pretty strong.
“Please sit by me in church at least one Sunday before you go back to Lubbock.”
“OK, OK, I’ll go!” I gave in, or perhaps gave up under the guilt of constantly telling her “no”. It made her very happy, and that counted for something in the moment.
When Sunday arrived I put on my best clothes, not for God, but to make an impression on the girls I might meet. Since I had been backed into a corner to attend, I though, “Might as well make the best of it.” I jumped into my 1981 Citation, kicked up a lot of dust, and raced down the dirt road to Wilshire Park Baptist Church.
Upon my arrival, I had a hard time finding a parking spot near the front door. People were there early and in great number. I also noticed that many of them were young like myself. Since I was the only young person in the entire youth department at our last church, it was a bit of a culture shock. Also, the deacons weren’t smoking in the parking lot. They were actually greeting people as they walked in the entrances. Smiling faces abounded. Happy hugs were happening everywhere.
Now I’ll fast forward to the sermon. Chris Osborne was first preacher that I ever found interesting. He spoke clearly, and with great authority. You didn’t have to give him your attention. He took it away from you and held it at will. The most memorable part of his message was that it made sense. I understood it. It was even relevant and practical. I felt like I was engaged in a personal conversation with him even though I was just one of several hundred people who were listening to him that day. And no one was sleeping either. It was all too astonishing.
God allows us to take tiny steps along the path of His sovereign will for our lives. I wish I could testify that this was the day when God got a hold of me and turned me into a sold-out follower of Christ. It wasn’t. What I took home that day was a favorable impression of a man who was serving his Lord. God simply demonstrated to me that my extreme and prejudiced opinion against churches was fundamentally wrong. I didn’t understand it at the time, but on that day a compassionate God began picking up the broken pieces of my life. Since early childhood, I had been shattered by abandonment, cynicism, pain and fear. Healing began with this simple thought, “I’d like to meet Chris Osborne in person.”
I was able to attend church there a few Sundays before I went back to college. Major changes were taking place within me as a result. I became interested in reading the Bible again. Actually, I discovered that the Bible was doing a better job of reading me. I started listening to Christian music and began reading a few of those books stacked on top of the toilet. Right before I went back to college, my mother gave me a brown leather, New King James Version of the Bible. In it she wrote, “James, I am so proud of you, and I pray that God uses this book in your life to bless you.”
The Start of a New Journey
During my sophomore year at Texas Tech I was standing at the crossroads. Two paths diverged before me. I could continue the course I was on: Swim, major in biology and see where that road carried me. Or, I could open my life to explore this new thing that was happening to me. I seemed like I was hearing this wild call from above to begin a new journey. The new path seemed risky and crazy, but it felt safe all the same.
The choice became more evident as time marched on. Every day I experienced a diminishing enthusiasm for swimming. Ironically, I was getting better at it. Our first swim meet my sophomore year placed me well within the top ten at Texas Tech. Many of my teammates had begun competitive swimming when they were little children. I didn’t start until high school but was improving dramatically each year. I had three to four more years to meet my original goals. All I needed was the same level of intensity that had carried me this far, but the love was slowly slipping away.
I took refuge in reading the Bible as often as I could. What amazed me so much was how it intrigued me. Where had this book been all my life? Why had I not found it interesting before? Why was it now so relevant? Every page I turned to had some phrase or verse that spoke directly to me. I was gaining in knowledge and wisdom. My worldview was being replaced with a new perspective. The Bible even explained what was happening to me. 1 Corinthians 2:14 states that the natural man is unable to understand the truth of God’s world. Unless a man or woman’s eyes are opened by the Spirit of God, the Bible is mere foolishness. Perhaps the biggest change occurring in my life was the diminishing power that the “natural man” held over me. I was changing and it felt really good. Others began to notice the difference in me too.
All the swimmers at Texas Tech lived on the 9th floor of Weymouth Hall, a twelve story madhouse that housed fifty students per floor. After studying for several hours one evening, I decided to roam the hallways and find someone who wanted to hang out for awhile. As I made my way through the corridors, I heard some unusual sounds coming from one of my teammate’s rooms. So I knocked.
As he opened the door, I felt a rush of evil sweep over my body. Nothing like this had ever happened to me in the past. Even before I had seen anything or processed what was happening, cold chills assaulted my skin like a thousand tiny needle pricks. Something very creepy was happening in that room. My body wouldn’t move forward. It was as though a strange force kept my feet locked in place.
Stunned, I asked, “What are you doing?”
“You ought to know,” he said. “You’re a spiritual person.”
I looked past him to see two others kneeling on the floor. In a trance like state they hovered over what I would later understand to be a pentagram. The room was dark. Strange music playing in the background added to the eeriness and the feeling of being penetrated by evil. My nostrils were assaulted by a pungent odor of burning incense, a smell that has left a permanent mark on my memory even to this day.
“Yes, I’m looking for spiritual answers, but what are you doing?” I asked.
“We have gathered here in your name,” he said. “This is a Satanist worship service held in your honor. Man, you were once part of us, and now you’re not. We are praying to get you back.”
I had never seen such a chill in another man’s eyes like I did that evening. It was so surreal that I began questioning whether I was awake. “Surely, this is not happening,” I tried to convince myself. I had known this person for over a year and had never realized that he was in some kind of Satanic army.
“This is a pretty stupid joke,” I said softly.
“No it’s not. I’m dead serious.”
The words came rushing from my mouth, “You’re sick!” As I heard myself speak, the words sounded hollow, like they had been deflected or sucked into a vacuum. I turned around and rushed back to my room. Flipping the light switch off, I jumped into bed–heart still pounding, mind racing.
That night was the longest night of my life. I felt a thick oppression covering my room. My spirit seemed like it was in some kind of overcast funk. Evil had been something that I had flirted with personally, and even danced around, but I would never have considered myself to be sold into it. I was merely mischievous, a rebel rouser who liked to have a good time. But my friend was right. Even in my ignorance I had been closer to evil than I wanted to admit. Given enough time, my flirtation with the dark side would have landed me in full-blown affair.
“What was so different now?” I pondered. Something living inside of me was making me hypersensitive to manifestations of evil everywhere. I would later recognize this as the gift of discernment. “Could this be the power of the Holy Spirit?” I wondered. “Is Jesus trying to teach me something? Why am I changing so quickly?” I felt as though the malnourished spiritual part of me had been released from a dungeon and was emerging in freedom for the very first time. It was a fresh experience, but it left me curious all the same. “Where is this going? Bizarre things are happening to me.” If God was trying to get my attention, He had it.
As I stared at the ceiling above my bed that night, I heard a voice inside my troubled mind. “I have great plans for you.” Instantly, I was showered in peace. The evil presence vanished. Over and over again the voice repeated in my mind, “I have great plans for you.” It lulled me into a deep sleep. That night I had dreams of clouds suspended in the heavens that were smiling down upon me. I awoke the next morning felling better than I had in a long time.
The next morning we were up at the usual time, 5:45 a.m. My roommate and I darted to the outdoor fifty-meter pool for our two-hour workout. The physical training that most swimmers endure is pretty grueling. We often swam over 10,000 meters a day. Combined with college classes and weekend swim meets we were often at the point of exhaustion. The early morning air was cold that October morning. The whole experience of diving into an over-chlorinated pool before the sun came up and feeling the assault of frigid water was loosing it’s charm.
Then I saw him in the swimming lane next to mine. We made eye contact. I was surprised at what I saw in his eyes. He actually looked scared. Just a few hours ago he was boasting about those weird Satanic rituals that were sure to entrap my soul. Now he cowered in silence. He would never say another word to me that entire year.
Soon afterwards I decided that being a member of the Texas Tech swim team was no longer a passion of mine. I called the coach and told him that I was finished. That evening he made a surprise visit to my dorm room. I listened to him as he used every argument to persuade me otherwise. I was surprised how resolved I was in my decision. Despite his arguments that I was letting the team down and would have to live with it for the rest of my life, I held my ground. I was beginning to sense that my life was met for something different.
Ever since that conversation with my biology professor, I began searching for a meaningful career, a life goal that would prevent me from falling into a pit of boredom. I was in desperate need of giving my life to something that inspired me. I couldn’t imagine living without a sense of purpose. I began to have this vague sense that God was directing me toward the ministry. The thought of spending my life serving God’s higher calling was mind blowing. The biggest question I had was, “Why me?” Who was I that God would look upon me from the heights of heaven and single me out with His favor? Surely, others had more potential and talent to serve Him than I did. If He was dialing me up, perhaps He had transposed the numbers by mistake. Surely, I was unworthy of His favor and had not done anything to earn such an honor. If He had a job for me to do, I was certain I couldn’t do it to His satisfaction.
A Turning Point
Chris Osborne’s face kept coming to my mind. I had only heard him preach a few times at Wilshire Park Baptist Church in Midland. He was different from any other preacher I had ever met. I resolved to meet him and seek his counsel.
So with Lubbock in my rearview mirror, I set out for Midland to find the man who might be able to help me discover why I was placed on this earth. My life seemed to be a mystery, inside a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma. I prayed most of the trip home that God would give me an opportunity to find him and provide me with some direction.
Chris, like most successful pastors, was a busy man. He struck me as self-assured, spiritual, clear-minded, and outrageously funny. He was surprised by my unannounced visit, but destiny placed him exactly where I could find him that day. He invited me into his office where we exchanged the usual introductory pleasantries.
“What can I help you with?” he said to move things along.
“Something is happening to me that I don’t fully understand,” I said. “I think God is enlisting me into His service.”
I was surprised by his abruptness. “Don’t you think that is a little vague? God wants every Christian to be in His service.”
“I think that He may be calling me into the ministry,” I tried to clarify.
“The ministry is broad,” he said. “There are preachers, teachers, music leaders, administrators, education ministers, youth ministers, etc. If God is calling you into the ministry, you will know what He wants you to do. And you will not ‘think’ He’s calling you, you will be CONVINCED He’s calling you. His calling will be to a specific task. If or when you are called, it will be a very dramatic event that you will never forget. Has that happened to you?”
“No, it hasn’t.”
“Interesting,” he said. “It might. Something is happening to you. God is trying to get your attention. I wish I could tell you why and for what purpose, but that is between you and God. It’s been my experience that if you are seeking Him, He will not stay hidden. In time I believe you will have a full knowledge and understanding of what this is about. Be patient and enjoy the ride.”
As I departed I remembered thinking, “I could see myself being a preacher like Chris.” Already I had begun telling others at Tech what God was showing me in the Bible. Being a preacher intrigued me more than spending my life hovering over petri dishes. But still, I had no definitive moment where I heard a booming voice telling me to be a preacher. If God had a special task he wanted me to invest my life into, then He had to convince me of it.
The remainder of my sophomore year at Tech was spent seeking out other Christians who were growing in their faith. I quickly found myself volunteering for a variety of leadership positions. I signed up to be the fellowship director in the Baptist Student Union, a Sunday School teacher in a bilingual church, and a even a Spring Break missionary to inner city Houston.
It was in Houston that I was unexpectedly given my first opportunity to preach. Children came to the mission center to hang out after school. They were given snacks, played pool, jumped on the trampoline–all of which was intended to keep them off the streets where the gangs were recruiting. The only drawback for them was that they had to listen to the plan of salvation at the conclusion of the activities. The person who was supposed to do the preaching that day never showed up. My friends who were participating in the Spring Break mission trip looked at me and said, “We think God wants you to do it.”
I didn’t have a clue about what to do, or any time to prepare. I found an old King James Version of the Bible, front cover torn off, lying on one of the tables. Recently, I had read the dramatic story of Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road. So with fifty Hispanic preteens sitting at my feet I read the story. After reading I narrated to them what I had just read, making sure that great emphasis was added to each word and phrase.
“Every breath he took,” I told them “was an angry breath. He was quickly becoming known as the butcher of Christians. One man had already died. More would follow. He was looking for followers of Jesus Christ. Is there a follower of Jesus Christ in this room today? If so, you would have been his next victim. It looked as if nothing would stop him until he saw a bright light shinning from heaven. It was so intense that it blinded him. He heard the voice of Jesus calling to him from the light. Jesus said, you are persecuting me every time you injure one of my followers.”
“Then I reread Acts 9:5 to them. “And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (KJV) My next comments to them were a huge mistake. I asked these inner city boys if they knew what it meant to be “kicked against the pricks.” Mass snickering broke out all over the room. Bursts of laughter followed. One of my friends clutched his side, then turned around to face the wall. Next, the kids began saying things like, “Yea, I know what that means. It happened to Juan last week. He got really sick.” Another said, “I wouldn’t kick Jesus there, he might get mad and throw a lightening bolt at you.”
Up to that point they had given off expressions of boredom. For better or worse, I now had their attention. I said, “Jesus doesn’t like to be kicked around. He’s the one person you can’t bully in life. Every time you tell Him that you are not going to be a Christian, you are kicking Him. Every time you make fun of someone who becomes a Christian, you are kicking Him. Every time you cuss and swear in God’s name you are kicking Jesus Christ. But when you kick Him, it only hurts you. They even kicked Jesus into an early grave. But that didn’t matter. He’s sitting next to God in heaven right now. If you are still trying to kick Him, you must do it in front of God. God won’t tolerate you kicking His Son for too many more days. One day He’s going to find all those people who kicked Jesus and kick them into hell where they will spend forever with the Devil.”
The laughter had stopped. I painted a picture of these kids kicking Jesus from every direction and angle. They looked shocked if not sad. I continued, “If you want to stop kicking Jesus and start following Him, you can have a second chance like Saul. How many of you want to ask Him into your heart right now?” Several hands went into the air. I asked them to repeat after me as I led them in the sinner’s prayer. Then I sent them home to tell their parents what the preacher talked about at the mission center.
I finished my finals that year and returned to Midland for the summer. I was excited about spending a few months listening to Chris Osborne preach before going back for my junior year at Tech. I wasn’t happy, however, about spending my days working for my uncle at the Town And Country Phillips 66 gas station. I had been working there since the sixth grade. It seemed to me that people looked down at gas station attendants. “Check my oil,” people barked. “Get the bugs off my windshield and fill ‘er up.” The fact that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life made me insecure about what people were thinking about me. A burning desire was growing in my heart to change the world. I needed to find something to do with my life that I was passionate about. Pumping gas and fixing flats wasn’t getting me there. I wish it had. I was getting depressed about the direction of my life.
Then It Happened
One early evening, just before a spectacular West Texas sunset, I was out walking on one of the dirt roads in my neighborhood. I remember praying to God, “What do you want me to do with my life?” Little did I know that He was prepared to answer that question in a compelling way. I was about to enter into a defining moment that would determine the direction of my life.
Henry Blackaby used the phrase “spiritual marker” to describe what was about to happen. A spiritual marker is a moment in time when a person has an encounter with God. In the Bible, people stumbled into God during times of great need, desperation, and even confusion. At such moments He revealed his holy purposes and magnificent ways. A study of these encounters with God in scripture reveals to us how God interacts in our own lives and what His expectations are. Our personal spiritual markers reveal a consistent pattern of God’s dealings with us.
As the sun neared the horizon that evening, I marveled at a spectacular cumulonimbus cloud suspended in the sky. It was isolated, towering, growing toward the jet stream. It represented the power and beauty of nature. God spoke, “Look at my cloud. Do you see it?”
“Yes, Lord. It is magnificent. Bravo!”
“Do you see the plane circling the storm?”
As I was talking to God, He filled my mind with ideas and impressions. His communication with me that evening was not limited to the type of conversation one normally experiences in an exchange with another person. He spoke in my soul rather than in my ears. In fact, these words have had incredible staying power over the years. I revisit them frequently whenever I question my qualifications to be a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He continued, “That plane represents the height of man’s technological achievements.”
The plane itself was dwarfed by the thunderstorm. To this day I’m not sure what type of aircraft it was, perhaps a 737 or another type of passenger jet. It flew a course to avoid the storm, daring not to trespass in the convective forces a few miles from her wingtip.
The impressions from God continued. “Man dreamed for centuries of taking flight, worked diligently to advance his knowledge of physics, and sought to master these forces at will. The plane flies not because man invented something new; he merely harnessed a few of the fundamental principles contained within the laws by which I direct the universe. By comparison, My cloud is suspended effortlessly above the earth.”
At that moment the cloud began a transformation. As the sun set there was a metamorphosis in the spectrum of colors reflecting from the cloud. Red, deep purple, yellow and orange all filled the sky. Increasingly visible were the flashes of lightening from within the cloud, momentarily erasing the color palate with intense bursts of white light. I wondered if anyone else had stopped what they were doing to marvel at this presentation of beauty and force.
“James!” God said. “Nothing compares to Me. My power and beauty are without parallel. With one gust or blast of turbulent air from this cloud, the airplane would be sent careening to the ground. Of all the achievements of man, has he found a way to duplicate this cloud? It is enormous, and yet with all the arrogance of man, he cannot compare himself or his accomplishments to My glory.”
“Just as I made this cloud, I made you. I had a plan for you before you were born. I designed you to be preacher. I am now calling you to be a preacher. There are many people who are lost on a broad road that leads to destruction. Call out to them. Lead them to see Me as you see Me now. Rescue them. I will use you as I have used others in your life to turn people to Me. Go! Leave. Prepare yourself to serve Me.”
I have spent over twenty years reflecting on what was said to me that evening. It was the beginning of a very intimate journey with God, through the years sustained by faith, strengthened by the unshakeable experience of an undeniable encounter with my Creator. I am still in awe over His choice of me individually. I would have never chosen myself for this assignment. Sometimes I have seen within another person gifts and personality traits that far exceeded my own. I’ve wondered, “Why God, did you choose me and not them?”
There is a secret place where God makes his decrees and determines how He will design our destiny. It is the Potter’s wheel in the Artist’s studio upon which He spins the clay of our humanity. He molds and shapes us into a predetermined design. Everyone has an appointment with the Potter’s wheel. When He is finished, every vessel is singular in its function and appearance. God loves variety because He has a multitude of things that He wants to get accomplished. We honor God when we praise Him for His design. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Walking back to the trailer, I resolved to tell as many people as I could about what had just happened to me. I told my Mother first. Her eyes overflowed with tears as she listened. For reasons that I would discover seven years later, she said, “I always knew this would happen one day.” For more details on this part of the story, read my testimony about abortion published in “The Southern Baptist Texan”.
Most of my family members expressed the same belief that I would one day be called by God to be a preacher. My Dad said, “I always believed God would turn you into a preacher.” My Grandma stated that she knew as well. This was news to me. No one had every shared their convictions with me beforehand. Neither had I expressed any interest in this area. My lifestyle preceding God’s calling would have left few clues as to my future vocation.
Chris Osborne was very generous in his support of me. He allowed me to preach before Wilshire Park one Sunday evening. It was my first official sermon. To say that I was frightened would be an understatement. My hands were sweaty. My throat was dry. My blood pressure must have been at critical levels. I shared the story of how God called me on the dirt road. It was a moving service. I was touched and affirmed when several people walked down the aisle, either to join the church or rededicate their lives.
Gary, the preacher who was fired from the small church I attended in the eighth grade, happened to be there as well. He remembered observing the same cloud that evening which had so inspired me. But while I was talking to God, he was snapping photos of it. He decided that he would enlarge one of his prints, and present it to me as a gift. To his amazement, he noticed that there was a plane flying alongside the cloud. This had not been apparent until after enlarging the photograph. Both of us believe that God had him there with his camera at the precise moment to make a tangible record of my calling.
I keep the photo framed in my office. Whenever I get discouraged or think about doing something else with my life, I pick up the picture. I’m then transported back to one of my earliest spiritual markers. The sights, sounds, and words all come back in vivid detail. I sit in my chair and reflect on the day, when at age nineteen, God compelled me to speak for Him. It has sustained me.