“God has a plan for you, to give you a future and a hope,” belted an older bearded man from the window of a black Buick Reatta cruising past as I stood on the concrete stairway of the First United Methodist Church smoking a cigarette waiting to go into the afternoon Narcotics Anonymous meeting. As I finished smoking my cigarette and watched the tail lights of the Buick cruise off into the distance, and I thought, “weird!” I was provoked to think of “Gods plan” and went in for my daily dose of Narcotics Anonymous.
Recently coming off of a seven year hiatus from reality, my life had been halted in its tracks, and through a series of providential events, the party was officially over. I had come to know the Christ through a faithful minister visiting the County Jail and preaching a faithful message of repentance, trust, and forgiveness. I had experienced a glimpse of reconciliation with the Creator, and I wanted to know more. But, I had only been able to get glimpses through the doors that were open, and ultimately through the ones I had walked through.
I had very little exposure to the organized Church at large, and even less exposure to genuine expressions of Christianity in general. The one thing I currently had in common with the First United Methodist Church (FUMC) at the time was that it was host to several twelve-step meetings throughout the week. As a matter of fact, the rumor in the recovering community was that the pastor of this church was very friendly towards those who called themselves addicts and alcoholics, and encouraged them to meet in the FUMC. He was even known to make appearances at the meetings. Quintessentially, he had already shattered many typical paradigms.
By all definitions of the practice, and the tendency of, this man was unique as a “pastor.” Comparing him to the stereotypes most would have of pastors was difficult, and only added to my interest in this particular church. He did not proselytize, pressure, or encourage church attendance. But, he did foster relationships with those who were coming to the NA/AA meetings. Of which, a few had already begun attending services and serving in the assembly in some fashion. At that time, relationships were what I craved, and genuine people were what I was looking for in my life, as at that point, all my past affiliations had suffered a major purging.
As it turns out, that bearded man yelling from the Buick Reatta was that same man who was pastor at the FUMC. As unconventional the approach seemed, it worked to grab my attention. But most importantly, it demonstrated a characteristic of a pastor that I had not known would become so important to me. This man, was a shepherd, with a shepherd’s heart, and he went after stray sheep. Tragically, he was not as appreciated by the majority as he was the minority. But, his deeds can be seen manifest in several people’s lives, of which a lasting impression of the love of Christ has been left. It may be safe to say, that a lost sheep is generally grateful to its retriever, and thus demonstrates gratitude. That gratitude can even be extended to the shepherd’s faults. It is even easier to extend that grace when that shepherd is also known as brother, servant, and friend.
This would be the advent of my journey into Methodism. Brief as it was, laden with trials, and chock full of surprises, disappointment, and malcontent it served as kindling to set a fire that has not dampened since. In large part, there is a core group of people in that old steeple house at 3 Town Square that showed an old sinner like me how to be loved. They also showed me how to love in return. Christ manifest in the life of a believer is a genuine outpouring of His characteristics, and in keeping with His commandments, loving God, and loving one’s neighbor. I didn’t live very close to any of those folks, but they made me their neighbor. As for the shepherd? He was one of a few men who stood in places I shouldn’t go, prodded me in the proper directions, was faithful to the Scripture by pointing me to them when we disagreed and in showing me the Words of the Good Shepherd ultimately, submitting to the Christ.
That man was, and is, a godly example toward me. Most notably, toward others, which proved more reputable. I write this as a bit of biography, but in part as a tribute to him, and by proxy, his wonderful wife. Dave and Ellen, you have both proved worthy of the office bestowed to all true genuine Christians, Saint. The wonderful plan (Jer 29:11), I would soon come to realize as a proof text well out of place Biblically, would prove to be a fulfilled word of knowledge from that rascally pastor, Dave. And today, there is evidence of a true wonderful plan at work in my life, in spite of tragedy or prosperity. There is a much larger story than me.
next: Coming up Methodist: Fire in the bones