My congregation loves to make fun of how little I know about sports.
“Hey Pastor, it’s baseball season now! How many touchdowns do you think your team will make next game?”
Snickering ensues, and I usually play along.
“Baseball, huh?” I ask. “Is that the big orangy ball or the brown ovally one?”
My limited knowledge of the game includes one play I find interesting–the sacrifice fly. All my sportsy friends tell me this happens when a batter hits a fly ball he knows will most likely be caught for an out. But he does so in order for another player to score a run.
Impressed? If you knew me, you would be!
I would think the batter would have at least a bit of disappointment that his opportunity to shine has actually been traded for someone else’s moment of glory. But to try not to give your team a win would make you an incredible jerk, right?
We take on life so differently.
My email box is filled with invitations for seminars, webcast, and online courses all focused on making me a “winner.” Every one promises me a sure-fire way to “get the most out of life”.
Almost none of them give me the opportunity to “give the most of myself away.” I’d love to see how many people sign up for that webcast!
I remember a time in my life when I was frustrated with my job and ministry (okay, honestly, that’s been most of my life). I argued against the place God had put me by saying, “But Lord, I want to do something GREAT for you, not this small-time stuff!” I know, pastors are not supposed to think like this, much less pray like it. But the truth is we have just as much ambition as anyone, sometimes more.
As I continued praying, something completely unexpected happened…God answered me! From deep in the depths of my soul, I heard God’s answer ringing back to me…
“Son, I know you want to do something great for me. But what if I want you to do something small?”
I’m pretty sure I didn’t ask God anything else for quite some time.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but God may one day allow you to be humiliated in order to bring himself glory. I realize this sounds like the opposite of the prosperity most TV preachers teach today. And that’s because it is.
Of all the things I’d ever thought God would ask me to do, I never expected being fired would give him the most glory…
I was called as worship pastor to a prestigious church in order to “turn things around.” Their services were a little sleepy, and they thought my contemporary style of worship would help them gain more members. For me, it was my ministerial “ticket to the big time.” The prominence of the church would get me noticed by my peers, and there also would be a big pay raise in it as well.
But after two years there, my senior pastor decided he was tired of dealing with the criticism my less-traditional music was creating. I was suddenly called into his office and told that I was either being fired that day or could resign with a nice severance package. I had not been immoral or unethical in any way—what I’d been was inconvenient. It was stipulated that if I wanted to keep my severance, I was to leave the church immediately. Attempting to see my church friends would only “cause trouble.”
So, in one short meeting, I lost my job, my church, and my whole support system.
I’d never considered I would ever be fired. In my mind, ministers were fired for running off with the church secretary, not for too much electric guitar in the mix! I was stunned, and my wife and kids were devastated.
But worse than that, when I looked around for help, I found that most of my minister friends abandoned me. Several of them had jumped on the news and were thrilled to pass it along to others who knew me. With mock sadness, they asked folks to “pray for me,” since being fired probably meant my ministry was over.
I found myself now hiding at home with my family, wondering how I didn’t see that Mack Truck heading right at me.
But then, out of nowhere came God’s big plot twist. It arrived in the form of a middle-aged Jewish man named Lewis with a rather corny sense of humor. He was the husband of one of my choir members at my now former church. We’d gone out to eat together a couple of times, my motive being to get him into the church, and then to faith in Christ. Unfortunately, he didn’t really like our church and found it rather fake. He only showed up for our special productions or for the occasional Easter service to make his wife happy.
Lewis and Jill Rudolph
The day after I was fired, the phone rang and it was Lewis. He said he wanted to help me clean out my church office, and then move the boxes back to my house. I was wallowing in self-pity and didn’t want to talk to anyone. So I thanked him, but told him no thanks, I could handle it myself.
Lewis countered, saying that wouldn’t be smart. I should have a witness around while cleaning out my office, just in case. I could tell from his insistent tone he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. So since no one else was lining up to help, I took him up on his offer.
The oddness of this circumstance didn’t hit me until later. Here I was, a Christian minister who had led a major ministry in a large church. I’d been abruptly fired, and had my ministry and my family’s whole support system yanked out from under me. I had no prospects, no idea what to do. And worst of all, I had little support from my Christian friends. Most of them quickly went on with life, walking past me on the other side of the road….
…most of them, except one—my new best friend, Lewis. Who wasn’t even a Christian. The one I had been reaching out to help was now reaching out to help me.
I guess God really loves irony.
During the next couple of months, my wife and I spent a lot of time with this couple, partly because few others wanted to be around us anymore. Eventually, we moved to another city to help start a new church. When we got there, this Jewish non-Christian actually contributed money to help buy some greatly needed equipment for me to use.
Over time, we developed an online email “bromance” of sorts.
Occasionally, his emails would include comments or questions about Christianity. Some questions were awkward at first, like “Why do so many Christians seem to hate Jews?” He had experienced enough to keep anyone else at a safe distance from church people, and yet he stayed open to what I had to say. Later, I heard from his wife he was reading the Bible quite often. As his questions increased, it became clear he was now in fact studying the Bible, including the New Testament.
Then one beautiful day, just a few years later, I got to return to that town I’d left in disgrace and participate in Lewis’ baptismal service. What I’d set out to do up front – lead Lewis to Christ—had indeed happened. But God didn’t do it by putting me on a pedestal to condescend to Lewis. He dropped me unceremoniously onto the ground so that when Lewis came to Christ, it wouldn’t be coming from just one more Christian with all the answers talking down to him.
My termination was the “sacrifice fly” God used so Lewis could win the game.
No, I can’t take any credit for Lewis coming to Christ. I guess you could say my life going up in flames was the “burning bush” that caught Lewis’ attention. Then God drew Lewis to himself, while I managed not to screw it up along the way. When you think of it, I was just the real-life “train wreck” God used to get his attention.
Today, Lewis teaches an in-depth Bible class on a weekly basis. In fact, I’m the one who asks him questions now—he has immersed himself in the Word to that extent, and has an incredible mind for theology. I am in awe of how God works, and how one of the worst times in my life led to finding such a great friend in such an unlikely way.
ARE YOU WILLING TO GO TO THE BACK OF THE LINE?
Are you willing for God to put you in a position of weakness if it will bring him glory? What if your humiliation brings someone to Christ as mine did? Will you let him do his refining work within you even if it means taking you down a peg in the eyes of others?
If you demand God use you in convenient, easy ways, you may be missing his perfect plan. But if you’re willing for your life to hit the sacrifice fly for someone else, you’ll find out that, in the end, you both win.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.