I am enjoying God, the process of getting to know Him better and the opportunity to point others to Him as well. What an amazing God who allows human beings to get up close and know Him. Just knowing Him turns everything upside down. He is bigger than anyone else. He lasts longer than everybody and everything. He is the creator of angels and anteaters. He allowed me to be trained and serve as a pastor so I know God enjoys comic relief.
After high school I came into contact with a man who was leading a Bible study on campus at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He was connected with an organization called The Navigators which disciples people on military bases and college campuses as well as in communities. It was great to me. Learning about Jesus and the Christian life was awesome. By that summer I had found out about a Christian event being held in Dallas, Texas called Expo '72. I attended along with tens of thousands of others. More training and encouragement in evangelism and living for Christ came during that week.
Getting home that summer and very excited about Christ and the life available in Him I wanted to let everyone in Chouteau know how they could know Him too. I contacted some Christian folks I met at college and others from Jesus meetings in Tulsa and we had a one day door to door blitz. Went to every door and talked to as many as we could about Jesus. Ended that day with a rally at the local park followed by a car wreck on the way home. Memorable in many ways.
The end of that summer instead of returning to college I was serving in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany after training. The Navigators were expanding into the area where I was stationed and I was privileged to be part of those early days of ministry there with Don and Sue Hankins. After separating from the Army I lived in the upstairs apartment of their home near Nurnberg and was discipled by them and had the opportunity of discipling others on the local Army posts. That was a time of incredible learning in Bible study and ministry. I learned more about faith and going deeper in relationship with God in prayer. I had the opportunity to teach workshops on prayer in Germany, England and Switzerland which created even more interest for me in the subject. God invited the prayers and He showed Himself in touching lives, providing resources, giving guidance and deepening relationship.
Returning to America I attended Oklahoma State University where I received a B.A. in Philosophy. There isn't much interest in philosophers. I was impressed with the writings of Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, and Josh McDowell and thought with that kind of training from a secular university I might be of help to people who had questions about Christianity. During my time at OSU I was part of The Navigator collegiate ministry and had an opportunity to serve with Louis Hill and Stacy Rinehart in that disciplemaking ministry. I made so many great friends and was stretched by their faith and enthusiasm for Christ.
Here is an answered prayer story from that time. I was in culture shock. Returning to America and college after being in Germany working and ministering I was lost on the cliches, the TV references, and even the process at college. I made it through the gigantic line to get books for class. Got back to the dorm room and realized the book I had for U.S. History was for the other section. Going back to the line to exchange was not a pleasant thought. My sister who was in the next dorm was at the bookstore with a friend. They had the other section of history. So I asked the Lord to have one of them pick up the wrong history book and we could exchange. I called when they returned from the bookstore so we could meet and they were surprised to find one of them had picked up the other section's, my sections, book. The Lord helped me get through college in so many ways, and that book was one of them.
He not only helped my with college, but with a wife. While at OSU a friend asked if I would lead a Bible study for she and a friend. I added a friend and we began meeting. Along the way something began to stir regarding the friend. I went to God about that. I was headed for Dallas Theological Seminary and wanted to give my attention to the Lord. I went looking for closure to these feelings and asked the Lord to bring the friend over on a specific night and to say a specific thing without any leading from me. I told no one about this. She had never visited on her own before. We had never dated. She came on the night and said the thing. We got parents permission that weekend and we were engaged to be married that summer. Good things happen at OSU.
After graduation from OSU that summer Cass and I married and then went straight to Dallas Theological Seminary. A blessing in so many ways just to attend. Cass' mother was in the last stages of cancer and we were often returning to be with her and the family. She died six months after we married. I transferred later to Denver Seminary and completed a Masters of Divinity at that wonderful school. We served in a local church, First Presbyterian Church of Brighton, while attending seminary. The Senior Pastor was a man of many talents and was gifted at hospitality. I was stretched as I learned pastoral ministry there, but also supported by a loving community of people. After seminary I went with The Navigator ministry to serve at the University of Arizona which allowed Cass and I to enter a new area, make new friends, renew old ones and to grow in faith.
Serving with The Navigators requires raising support from churches and individuals to pay one's salary, pay the rent, pay for insurance and all those things. We were surprised by a sudden crash to the support we had raised. I resigned from Nav staff. So while in Tucson we continued with the ministry for a year where we could. Friends came alongside in many ways. And without our making known our need each month by the 5th of the month a check, money order or cash came in to our post office box in the amount needed for rent due on the 5th. And then it stopped and it was time to move to California.
By then we had twin babies and a two year old. Working construction with the company my folks started kept us going until I was brought on to a church staff in Palmdale, California. It was a learning experience and a place for building some lifelong friendships. But it ended with difficulty and we were headed back to Orange County and back to roofing. We decided to move to Fullerton and attend First Evangelical Free Church. The church to us looked like a healthy church and we longed to see how that worked. I worked roofing and various construction jobs and participated in various ministries of the church. During a meal at the church Paul Sailhamer, the Executive Pastor at the time, asked if I had attended seminary. I told him I had. He asked why we were there at FEFC. I told him we wanted to see how a healthy church worked. The next day I received a call asking if I would be interested in a Pastoral Internship at FEFC which included learning about the church and ministry from the inside with Senior Pastor Charles R. Swindoll and the other great staff to which I said I would. The opportunity was unbelievable. The people were remarkable.
The following summer after the Internship Pastor Swindoll asked if I would be interested in another internship opportunity, but this one was at Insight for Living. I would be working with the Pastoral Counselors of his radio ministry. I joined them and was blessed to be exposed to exceptional pastors, writers, staff people. It was a daily joy to be part of that ministry. I stayed on for another year after the internship and soaked up as much as I could. While part of FEFC I served in various pastoral roles, started an Adult Fellowship, taught in the theology classes and was involved in missions. Cass joined the staff in the Children's Ministry department and ran the mid week boys and girls ministries. We made a difficult decision after leaving Insight for Living to return to Oklahoma where we would venture out and strive to make develop a ministry of grace and truth for the folks near the area we were raised.
I launched a business to take care of our finances rather than raise support and God was good to us in that. We started a church in Claremore, Oklahoma. It was a thrill to share in that adventure with my wife and children. Everyone doing something. We had hymnals and an overhead projector and eventually someone to play and lead music. People came. People grew. My business would also take me out of town on some Sundays so some of the folks were willing and able to step up and teach. We were part of the Evangelical Free Church of America which in our part of the country seemed like a foreign invasion. After nearly three years the church was not self-supporting so we closed it down and we all moved into other local ministries for a week. I received a call from an elder at Grace Bible Church in Pryor whose pastor had just resigned. I was asked to preach. I was asked to stay on. And, yes, I am still at GBC.
The grace of God and the goodness of many people have made this ministry a remarkable adventure. It is an adventure in faith, hope and love. This is a place of spiritual awakening. God showed up while we were still trying to do ministry in expected ways and said, "Come, follow Me. I have something better for you. It's Me." For those who have embraced Him, well...they have yet to recover, and, I suspect, hope they never do.