I was thinking this morning, on my way to church, about the significance of one decision in my life. Not that there aren’t countless decisions that have been important in my life, but this is the one that came to mind today. It was a Tuesday night back in 1999. I remember it was a Tuesday because I titled my journal entry for that specific night as “Black Tuesday”. I was the pastor of Lone Pine Christian Church, where I had been for about six months as I worked toward ordination.
It was a very typical country church in Western Pennsylvania. An aging congregation in an aging building in a town that had seen better days. I had come to the church for two reasons. First, I needed to serve a congregation for one year in order to be ordained by the Elders of that congregation. Second, they were without a pastor because their pastor had to retire due to a needed a hip replacement. The relationship started with a time frame and clearly defined parameters. Basically, if I didn’t cause any problems the Elders would ordain me and I could move on to start my career as a pastor. The thought of staying at this church had never crossed my mind. I saw it as the final hoop that I needed to jump through in order to be ordained.
Well, time and relationships changed all of that. The place grew on me. I saw the needs of the congregation and the community and I believed that we could do big things for the Lord. Also, the church was only seven miles away from my home. Thus, I started to toy with the idea of staying on as their pastor after the initial year agreement. One thing prevented me from pulling the trigger. The church had a major issue with which they needed to resolve. If this issue wasn’t resolved, nothing else would matter because the church would never be functional for the long term.
I consulted with my Regional Minister about my thoughts and he told me of a successful program that the denomination offered. We both felt the program would help this little congregation overcome their issues. I invited him to meet with the leadership of the church to explain the benefits of going through this program. The meeting happened on, you guessed it, a Tuesday evening. I never made it official with anyone, but I knew that if the church agreed to work through this program I would stay on, past our one-year agreement, to see it through.
That Tuesday night the Regional Minister came to the church to meet with the leadership. He made a wonderful presentation explaining all of the benefits that this program held for this little church. I was even more sold on the program after he was done. Then it happened. When he was done presenting he asked the leadership if they had any questions. A matriarch of the church raised her hand and when she had the floor she asked this question: “Concerning the consultant who will be assigned to us, will they be someone who was born and raised in the country or in the city?” I don’t remember much else about that Black Tuesday because I knew that this plan was over before it ever began. It didn’t take much longer until the leadership voted to reject the proposal. I left the church that night knowing for sure that I was not going to stay there past our one-year agreement. I opened my search to the whole country and less than a year later I found myself in Venice, Florida as the pastor of First Christian Church. A ministry that I served in for fourteen years.
Now, here is where it gets interesting. Because of our move to Venice, within a couple of years, my parents, Michelle’s mother, sister and brother, along with their families, all followed and relocated to this area. Today, we enjoy the benefit of time with our family here in Florida because, in a round-about way, of Black Tuesday. If the leadership of that little church had made a different decision we would have never moved. Thus, nobody else would have moved. Who knows where we all would have ended up? Like the Butterfly Effect, you never know what one simple, seemingly random, decision will cause.
Oh, and this next reality will never lose any traction in my life. If Black Tuesday didn’t happen I would have never lived close to Tampa General Hospital. Do I believe that God caused that church to reject the proposal that was made to them that Tuesday night in 1999? Of course not. They rejected that proposal because they didn’t believe that they needed to go through any program. I doubt that God was even a part of their decision-making process. Do I believe that God knew that Venice, Florida was where I was going to end up and that nineteen years later I was going to receive a new heart from Tampa General Hospital? I sure do. Since I believe this I must also believe that God knows where I am going to be nineteen years from now.
So, what did this little trip down memory lane, as I was driving to church on a random Thursday morning, teach me? God is always up to something. My one and only job is to live my life, as best as I can, following God’s lead. Things happen for a reason, but I won’t always immediately understand the reason. Better yet, I might think I know the reason, just to later realize that I was wrong. God’s got it, whatever the “it” might be.