Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Job Didn't Have Much on Me

First, I write today’s piece with a little laughter and a smile, really! You may not think so when you read it, but I really am, it is not a complaint piece, but a reality piece. In fact, it had my wife and I talking and laughing yesterday, telling the Devil, “We ain’t coming down so leave us alone.”

Do you remember the old television show, He-Haw? It had Roy Clark, Buck Owens and a number of other country stars. There are a lot of long stories I can tell about my association with that show, but I’ll leave those for another time. One of the funny things I loved on that particular show was the tribute song recognizing a small community, and what I came to know of as the hard luck or fart song. You have maybe heard it or are familiar with it, it had a line that went like this, “If it weren’t for hard luck I’d have no luck at all, gloom despair, and agony on me.”

One might call that the Job song, named after the character Job in the Bible who lost everything, as a form of temptation from the Devil in trying to get him to deny God. With a lot of things that has gone on in our lives over the years, my wife and I are beginning to wonder if we aren’t in many ways like Job.

Here are the hard core facts. My wife comes from a family of 5 siblings, while I come from a family of only 2 which is kind of deceiving because my grandparents did what raising there was in my family, and there were 9 in that family, 11 counting my sister and I. Now among all of those children, parents, grandparents, nieces, nephews and others, to our knowledge, my wife and I are the only couple where both the husband and wife have a college degree, even our daughter is working on her masters, and have both had “professional” careers. My wife as a teacher now for around 30 years, and me prior to what I am doing now, as a Mental Health Executive. I have to tell you, a teacher, at least not in our experience, really makes that much money. There was a time that I was making pretty good money with a pretty good career. Our daughter, who is now married, and lives outside of the home is making more money with her and her husbands’ income than her mother and I ever have, with the possible exception of a few years. Yet, since we decided to get back into ministry, if looking at finance and that type of thing, things have gone way down hill. Of course that is if you look at those things and those things only. Otherwise, despite having college degrees, my wife and I make less money than any of our families.

If looking at my life based just on income and that type of thing, it has been horrible. Let me digress to illustrate my point.

In 2001 I had enough money and investments to volunteer at a church after I left my job for a faith restriction that in my opinion was illegally and inappropriately placed on me by my former employer. I have never been one to actively try to convert people. I believe in building relationships, and if someone asks, fine. If not in a church setting I have issues for me to do this, note I said for me, not others. I had money put back to live on, then September 11, 2001 hit. That should be a date most of us remember. I will never forget, I was on a phone interview regarding unemployment, (I was trying to let the company I worked for and resigned from know they couldn’t tell people what to do with their faith on their own time,) when the tragic events of 9/11 hit. I didn’t know the impact of the day until some weeks later when my financial reserves went from being enough to live on for about a year and a half to being enough to live on for about 6 months.

I was volunteering at a church, a church where the pastor wanted to eventually bring me on full-time as an evangelism and outreach pastor, some things ended up happening where that pastor ended up leaving and taking another pastor job in another state. My hopes for the future, just vanished when this happened.

I ended up taking a job as a pastor in Kansas where things went well for about 3 years. Not to say there weren’t problems, with the type of church it was, there was certainly going to be problems. Anyone who has seen the movie Second Chances with Michael W. Smith produced by Steve Taylor can see a perfect example of what was going on. One of the unique things I possess is an ability to see things, specifically as related to urban life styles and urban needs. Many have stated that I am a visionary and I can accept that. I am gifted in this area, but I realize a part of that is from growing up in the environment I did. From early on, I requested help and assistance in not only finance for the church, but also mature believers to help. Two organizations refused to listen and along the way, yes; I a new pastor who had never done this, but was seeking some help, made some mistakes. I will assure you, if I had it all to do over again, I would do some things much differently, including the appointment of some in positions where they didn’t understand the needs of the church, and in one situation, another I could have been much stricter on, and been there much more for. That said, it would have also been nice to have had the support from some on the Elder board who knew of some of the things going on, but wouldn’t provide appropriate supervision. Long story made short, this whole scenario was the beginning of the end for the church.

Along the way, we had 2 different sets of “Christian” renters in our house in Oklahoma, one doing about $3000 worth of damage to the house, and owing us 3 months of rent. We tried to recoup some of these costs, in various ways before taking legal action. After taking action we had some within the church that were critical of us taking these actions. Some from a church where I made $15,000 a year, and no reimbursement, and lived in a parsonage where our utility bills were on average $400 a month. I am not complaining, just stating facts and illustrating of how tough it was. We had even donated thousands of dollars worth of items, whether food or mileage forms because I knew the church couldn’t afford it. I struggled long and hard with it, but went through various things to try and do what we felt was Biblical. Needless to say, we never recouped our losses.

Then another Christian decided to skip out owing us 2 ½ months rent. Why? So they could go on a mission’s trip. In all, we were out $5,000 in damages to the house, plus 5 ½ months rent for a total of another $5,000. Simply put; we couldn’t afford to catch up the mortgage, and as a result, even though we finally had good renters, that house sold short for $30,000 less than we had invested in it last Friday. The response of the Christians in the house when they knew this was going to happen? “That’s not our problem!” Even though they had caused the problem, this was the attitude we experienced, once again, from Christians.

Now back to the church, there were all kinds of actions being taken by some prior to the closing of the church. I will say openly and honestly, before God, I know I did nothing wrong in this process. Although some will say that airing dirty laundry about the church is wrong. I disagree; I say it is honest, especially when Christians are at part a cause for much of the dishonesty, and falsehoods that were stated and the hardships caused by that dishonesty. I could get into a lot of detail here, but won’t other than to say, thankfully, there are several Christian friends who know the truth because they were there. That said, there are those who have taken actions whom will ultimately have to answer to Christ. I can still hold my head high, and know I have maintained my integrity. I’ll be honest; it hurt with a passion to see that church close because I know God had a purpose for it. I refuse to say God controls all situations all of the time. To say that is to deny and ignore the premise of free-will. The truth is people have a free choice to do stupid things, whether that is an abortion, driving a car while drunk that kills someone, lying about a situation in a church, or even pretending that they are following the directives of God as outlined in Scripture.

Eventually we had to move from the parsonage after the church closed, no big deal, things were going well, when I started experiencing a level of pain I couldn’t take any more. As a result, emergency surgery had to be done, the week the move was supposed to take place. Bottom line, I couldn’t help, but we had to move, after all we had received a one week notice that the property was being auctioned. It would have been nice to have had more of a notice, but looking back I don’t know why it shouldn’t have been expected.

The parsonage was 1/3 the size of our old house in Oklahoma that we lost last week. The new house is 1/3 the size of the parsonage. It is in Derby, a bedroom community of Wichita, where our son goes to school, where we promised him he could finish from. The house does costs more than a larger house in Wichita but we are only renting at this point in time. We were reminded yesterday that our son is learning the value of keeping a promise. One can’t place a dollar amount on that lesson. We were at the point we couldn’t pay the difference in the mortgage in Oklahoma, plus pay rent, and catch up on the $10,000 we were behind. Now you know how we lost the house in Oklahoma, at least it sold short though, meaning we didn’t have to go into foreclosure or file bankruptcy.

In the year we have been in Derby, many know of the mistake our son made at the Garden City Wrestling tournament, of course blown way out of proportion, and being called out on public internet message boards, where many exaggerations and lies stated. You may also know of the struggle we went through where he was given a gift in my presence when it was later discovered, unknown to me and my son that the gift was stolen. Nate went to return it after he found out, but it was too late. Long story made short, another event happened, and we begin to see some serious issues where we needed to get medical help. That has been better, but I will tell you, as a dad, it sucks to see someone make an example of your son for something he didn’t do. I know this as I was present when the said actions took place. To say the least, the struggle of this, and the medical issues was something which we didn’t know if we could bare. Our son eventually had to have surgery due to a part of the pressure he was feeling from the psychological perspective, which was enhanced by the teasing and peer pressure at school that involved racial slanders, and sexual comments. Believe me, you want to know the damage teasing can do, ask me, we almost lost our son.

Things didn’t end there, financially it has remained tough, God provides, but I know we have taken a vow of poverty, (unknowingly) when we decided to enter ministry. We don’t have much, don’t get to eat out much, don’t get to go to movies much, but as long as we have beans and rice, we will eat. I am staying busy as usual, as you can tell from each of these crazy things I write, but I also see more ministry than ever, from all walks of life, in the lives of real, breathing people.

Things still aren’t easy, yesterday we went in for an IRS audit. Guess what? The church, the denomination, the people who were supposed to do certain things, never did the appropriate paperwork with the state or federal government. Important paperwork like showing I am exempt from paying Social Security Tax, registration with the state, filing my W2 forms which they gave me, took out taxes on, but, never filed. Of course, I have made calls, sent emails and other things to the powers that be. See my comment last week about trying to make things right with some folks. Of course they haven’t responded, in fact I haven’t heard from a single pastor from within my denomination, the denomination other than once or twice in the last year and a half, but nothing regarding the promise of follow up on things they were going to do for me, neither have I heard from another organization which helped plant the church in this time. Not a word, even after making numerous efforts, making personal visits, sending numerous emails, and so forth, not a single response in over a year now, and then I get the wonderful news from the IRS yesterday, that just like in the past, I am paying for the mistakes, and inappropriate actions from guess who? Christians!

I’ll be honest, with a week faith; I can understand why people blame God. I want to be clear though, I don’t, my wife doesn’t nor does my family blame God for the inappropriate actions of Christians. Truth is I know everyone makes mistakes, it is when the mistakes carry on to the point that peoples lives are affected, and some who say they are Christians, who are commanded to love, choose to ignore. That is exactly how we feel, those we have made the efforts to see, visit, and solicit appropriate action from, has chosen to ignore as opposed to love.

On the above point, what is my responsibility? I think it is really quite simple; I am to love my Lord and my God with all of my mind, heart, strength, and soul, and love my neighbor (fellow human being) as myself. Truth is I don’t blame God; I blame an enemy who seeks to tear down and destroy.

Now I don’t want any sympathy emails or anything like that, that isn’t what this is about. Today is a day that I can say; “Yea let me tell you how I also know life sucks!” I can say, “I know God is good and loving, and nothing will turn me from my love of God.” I can say this, because I haven’t forgotten where God has brought me from. I have never forgotten who I was before Christ, and who I am after Christ. That is part of the problem for some who continue to ignore. They have been in church, with Christ, with other Christians so long, and so much, they don’t really know what it is like when they ignore, or they don’t really know the impact of their actions or lack thereof. It is a challenge I make to some of who will read this, some may get upset, and share with others that “Mike is singling us out.” To those I say; “You know wrong has been done, do what you need to see that what is right is done.” Of course I shared that message for years and few chose to listen. I guess those are the same ones that try to do ministry, without having ever taken seriously the totality of the call Christ makes on our lives when he told us to Love Him, Love Them! Maybe one day they will realize this is why they aren’t effective in “ministry.”

To those who struggle today, I really do sit here with a smile, and a love for God I can’t explain, despite all of the crap that has happened, and continues to happen in my life, and the life of my family, when we have done no wrong. Believe me; I have only shared a small portion of it. I don’t need the Job haters placing the blame on us, we know the story, and we know where you fit in. We continue to praise God, live for him, and serve him by loving and serving others. My challenge is to learn from that, learn from Job, learn that God is good, not based on what has happened to us, but based on who he is. I have said for years, Christ is our example, guess what? He still is.

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