Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: A Spiritual Odyssey

As I glance back across 2010 I am first and foremost stunned that it’s over. The year has been a time of joy and frustration, highs and lows, good and bad. Overall, it will go down as one of the most amazing years of my life.

I can vividly recall ministry frustrations early in the year. I remember sitting on one of the furthest back rows of church one Sunday morning, hidden in a crowd of over 800 worshippers and suddenly feeling like the preacher was right up in my face. His message had taken a turn to discussing forgiveness and I felt like he’d written the entire thing for me. His sermon ripped off the scab of an old wound and revealed I’d been harboring some bitterness, anger and resentment in my own heart over past hurts.

At one point I just wanted to shout, “Okay, okay! I get it big guy! Back off!” I wanted to run away, hide and cry. Well I stayed, but I still shed some tears. I went down to the altar and confessed my un-forgiveness to God. Suddenly I realized one of the biggest stumbling blocks to my ministry was this stuff I’d been holding in my heart. I told my wife all about it and felt like I’d unloaded a 100 pound weight from my back.

Just a few weeks later as I sat in that same seat, I felt God relating a message to me. I strongly felt it would be one of my last weeks at my home church. Depression seized me, especially because worship time had such power that particular morning. I shared the feeling with my wife and told her I could feel God working, I just didn’t know where it was all going. I felt like I was on the threshold of something.

It had been since 2006 that I had surrendered to preach. I had served from 2007-2008 as associate pastor at my first church, but it had afforded few opportunities to fill the pulpit. Most of my preaching was done inside the local adult and juvenile detention centers as a volunteer and for 2009 as assistant chaplain to the local jail ministry. I’m not sure why God gave me such a heart for inmates, but I loved bringing the Gospel message to them. However, I still felt I had not reached God’s destination he had set for me.

I felt unfulfilled spiritually despite the great opportunities in jail and the blessing of co-teaching a wonderful group of 9th grade boys for Sunday school. Back pain became a constant throughout the year and I was deep in the midst of it by spring. We took a trip to Arizona and I was privileged to walk my oldest girl down the aisle. She made a beautiful bride. The 19 hour trip there then back wreaked a little more havoc on my back.

My wife had encouraged me to send out my resume to several local churches looking for a pastor, but honestly, I had become discouraged that anything would ever come out of it. I seemed to keep finding closed doors and disappointments at every turn. She called me with excitement while I was at work one day to tell me a little church named Lee Chapel Baptist Church just outside of town had called expressing interest in meeting with me. I drove by it at lunch that day, and I felt something odd in my heart, a longing, a desire, and the seeds of some sort of peace.

A few weeks went by with no further word from them. I felt disappointment settling in like a heavy weight again. It had been over 6 months since I had stood in a pulpit although I still had a semi-regular opportunity to preach in jail. I remember taking a dose of vicodin to dull my backpain and sitting down to watch one of my daughters play “Red Dead Redemption.” I’d had it that day, and I expressed a great deal of frustration to God in prayer. I felt drained and depressed. The medicine helped with the physical pain but not with what I can only describe as the spiritual pain.

Suddenly I heard my cell phone ring. It was the ringtone for a call from somebody that was not in my directory. I felt my heart leap at the thought that it might be from that little church, but then I tried to prepare myself for disappointment as well. The voice on the other end was that of the search team leader, and they wanted me to come preach in view of a call. I think I just about exploded in excitement.

A few weeks later, under God’s divine direction and provision, I found myself called to be the pastor of Lee Chapel Baptist Church. I always wondered how I would know when the right church called me, but I had such a peace about it that I knew it was God’s absolute direction.

The excitement was not over as my previous home church arranged to ordain me and two other younger men into the ministry. It was such a powerful and emotional experience, and I was thrilled that the chaplain was able to come and participate, laying his hands on me and praying for God to bless my ministry.

Wow, that’s a lot about that event, but I must confess, it is the most important event for me in 2010 and one of the most important in my life. I am a bi-vocational pastor, but I can say I have one of the greatest blessings of any person – I get to do a job every week that I love. God put a dream in my heart to be a pastor, and I am living out that dream right now.

My second grandchild was born in 2010, baby Abi, coming a bit prematurely but progressing miraculously. My youngest girl started kindergarten and one of her older sisters started her senior year, the next sister moved out to a place on her own, and the aforementioned oldest girl was wed. These ladies keep me busy!

God brought some great people into my life as friends. One of my best friends came on board with our church as the worship leader, and for me it has been a match made by God. I am just stunned as I look over the past few years how God brought us together and how he works out his perfect plan beyond any ability of us to fathom. I even got to perform the first baptism at my new church, and I’m ready for more!

I fought through some challenges and frustrations in my secular job, but everything took a turn for the better towards the end of the year. We suffered some heavy turn over, but I am blessed to have my two team members still with me, and they are the finest folks I have ever had the opportunity to work beside.

I experienced one of the most excruciating bouts with tooth pain ever as I battled an abscessed tooth that had to be extracted. I guess it’s been a year with a good deal of physical pain but a greater deal of spiritual joy. We had some family bumps in the road as one of our girls moved out, but thankfully we all are a unified family at this point.

One of my big disappointments came when PepsiCo decided to discontinue my favorite energy drink on the planet – Sobe No Fear. That happened back in April, and I finally came to terms on drinking Monster Energy. My friend and co-worker scored me one of the last cases of No Fear, and I have a total of three cans left in my inventory now. The last three cans on earth…I think I’ll celebrate the New Year with one.

AS for the resolutions I made at the beginning of 2010? All of them have fallen by the wayside save one: floss daily. I suppose that is a noteworthy accomplishment, especially in view of my dental run-ins over the past couple of years. My dental hygenist was certainly proud of me.

2010 has been a year of turning points. Again, I cannot believe it is over. It’s been a wild ride – exciting and exhilarating. The bad has been more than outweighed by the good. I can’t wait to see what 2011 holds. I pray I’ll see some good and exciting times, and I pray for strength, endurance and wisdom during the bad times.

Happy New Year!
Randy Alan

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