This is the second entry in a series which chronicles my call to ministry and The Master’s Seminary, and subsequent journey to Grace Bible Church Gainesville.
Running on Empty
I remember the first time it happened. I was running my usual route—about the three-quarter mile marker. My run started like it always did. I had to preach to myself to start, but as soon as I warmed up, I was raring to go. Yet, that day was different. I hit a point where my body said no, I had a burning sensation in my chest. I started to walk, and the sensation went away, so I started to run again—only to have it return. I remember wondering if I had something wrong with my lungs. Maybe I had a cold. The South Carolina springtime weather had been changing…
After my run, I wondered what was happening to me. I was accustomed to running and lifting. I was in pretty good shape and when I was at rest, I felt fine…nothing was different. This went on for several days as I tried to figure out what was going on with my body. I thought it might be heart related, but I dismissed the notion because I felt fine as I went about my normal routine. The pain only returned when I was doing something strenuous.
After these bouts began, I continued my normal activities—working at my job and lifting weights—but not running. In time, I started getting the pain with any activity including getting dressed in the morning. I remember working out in the gym. I’d finish a set, then sit down to recover so that the pain would subside.
Saying No to The Master’s Seminary
The season of life leading up to this was difficult. I had started a business which promptly failed. And, I had been considering leaving my career to attend seminary. The failed business was a disastrous attempt to finance my years in school. I had waffled trying to decide whether or not to make the leap to attend The Master’s Seminary in LA, and ultimately decided to continue to pursue my career.
The failed business proved to be a huge setback for us financially. I recall telling my pastor that I had decided not to leave for Southern California and TMS. I told him that I felt called to help him with the church in South Carolina. In my heart, I knew that my decision was driven by fear, not out of duty to help him or the church. I feared leaving the security blanket of the career and life that I had built…
Am I Called into the Ministry?
The call to full time ministry was strong even if it wasn’t clear-cut. I became a Christian and almost immediately desired to attend seminary. Yet, God had other ideas. I wasn’t ready, not even close. I didn’t understand it at that time, but I had many rough edges for the Lord to remove to be useful to Him. As my wife and friends will attest, I still have many of them—they are just more worn down.
The Lord removes those edges through many trials and suffering (James 1:2–4). I certainly didn’t understand that concept back then. I thought I was going to be a conquering hero, just like my heroes in the faith. I desired to accomplish much for the Lord! I didn’t realize that every one of those men were sent through the wringer of God’s love as their faith was tested in the crucible of trials.
Over the years, my desire for ministry waxed and waned, yet it was ever-present. When I moved to South Carolina with my family—that’s another story —I began to be drawn again to ministry. My career took a backseat, though I was fearful to leave the security of it. I started the aforementioned business to help ease those fears, but God has a funny way of showing us that He is in charge! The business was a spectacular failure, and the episode seemed to drive me further from ministry—now I had to deal with severe financial losses brought on by my poor decision making.
My Heart Issue
In the midst of all this, I began to have those phantom pains in my chest. They continued and worsened for several weeks. I made two early morning trips to the emergency room which turned up nothing. My doctor performed every test imaginable including a sonogram, to check my internal organs, and came up with nothing. I was in despair.
I recall sitting there in his office with Angie with tears in my eyes begging him to help me…I will never forget the look on his face as he shook his head and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Come back tomorrow.” He should have said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but God sure is humbling you!”
I can only imagine what was going through Angie’s mind and heart. Since nothing was turning up, we decided that it was okay for her to leave for the weekend on a scheduled trip to see friends.
The next day, there was no new information. I was devastated. Just as I was leaving, I reminded him of the stress test that he had scheduled for the following week. His face lit up and he said, “Wait a minute! I had a cancellation this morning…can you take the stress test now?”
I lasted about 45 seconds on the treadmill before my heart went into an irregular heartbeat. Immediately, they stopped the test—the problem had been found. My L.A.D. artery— one of the main arteries in the heart called “The Widow Maker”—had a 99% blockage. I was near death’s door! You could say that God had my attention…you could say that, but it wasn’t true. Now, I not only had the financial setback, but a major health setback. There was no way I was going to leave the security of my career to attend seminary…