As a college senior, I had sat in Ehrhardt Lang’s office conflicted. The leader of my campus Bible study had taught on the need for immersion baptism. I had only been sprinkled as an infant. Ehrhardt listened with care, talked to me about the theology of baptism, how God made it valid even when I was an infant. But said, “Here’s what I want you to do. Don’t stress but pray and listen for God. If you sense great joy in the idea of immersion baptism, then do it. And consider that you are reaffirming your baptism thereby.”
What grace-filled counsel. I did experience deep joy and peace in the thought, so chose to reaffirm my baptism with immersion. I came out of the water deepened in my relationship with Jesus.
Ehrhardt Lang was this remarkable, deeply spiritual, joyful man, born and raised by German missionary parents in Japan. He’d grown up there during WWII. He had come to the states as a college student. Because of this background, and the suffering he had experienced, he brought a wealth of spirit to his leadership. Prior to Ehrhardt’s arrival, our congregation had had a tough year with our previous pastor, Pastor Jack. That pastor had followed the departure of an amazing pastor, and we’d never adjusted. On Ehrhardt’s first Sunday he preached on the centrality of Jesus and uplifted the cross, quoting Paul, “I determined to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified.” That Sunday felt like a revival!
After God called me over a three-month period in 1983 encompassing my 24th birthday, I met with Ehrhardt to describe what had happened and he was overjoyed. As I pursued this call in the United Methodist Church, he drove me to interviews, encouraged me, prayed for me, gave me opportunities to preach, and championed this call upon my life. The church offered prayer and financial support to Karen and me when we left for seminary.
It was April 14, 1988, one month before graduating from seminary, Karen and I with our 3-year-old Anna and our infant daughter, Grace, visited friends in Louisiana. David Dietzel was another of the many seminary friends, who put Jesus on display before me. He had graduated the previous May and begun pastoring a church in a small town. David made life in Christ look easy
One morning as we adults talked up a storm, Anna, unusually quiet, had moved from the puzzle which had absorbed her attention, discovered the toy cupboard, and pulled out puzzles, games, and decks of cards. A moment later, we checked on her and found the proud girl sitting in front of a mountain of jigsaw puzzles and toy pieces, monopoly money, cards, etc., reaching above her head. We laughed and laughed as we spent the next three hours sorting!
Tuesday morning, I joined David for his clergy prayer group. We sat in plush, dark leather, high-backed chairs on the thick, round, Persian carpet in front of Pastor Lee Lambry’s desk at the Word of Life Fellowship. The room was brightly lit, with windows facing the street, while the walls were paneled in a wood matching the dark color of the chairs. David and I sat next to Pastor Tommy from Cornerstone Ministries, Mark, a youth pastor, and another man leading a youth rally in the community. First, these guys shared openly and offered bold rebukes: “Man, you need to get away with God!” and “You’ve got to put more emphasis on family, brother.” For me, meeting with these guys was like I had come from the foothills and was now standing in the spiritual Alps.
Tommy was training his leaders at his church, looking for qualifications in them, etc. I listened, and wrote into my datebook, “What if I’d been trained in that kind of church? Would I have become a leader or a follower?”
God spoke to my heart, “What does it matter, Brian?”
“I just wondered. I wanted to understand my potential,” I wrote.
The conversation around me turned to faith, their walks, claiming our identity, and believing. I drew an arrow from “potential,” as I heard God speak again speak within me,
“Be weak, my child; I’ll be your strength. Your potential is in Me alone!”
It was a word of such grace to my heart filled with troubled waters. After the conversation, we rose to pray. I had never experienced a prayer time like it before. It was so living. They erupted with thanksgivings, joyous praise, free and loving communication with the One who was there with us listening.
“It was awesome,” I later wrote. Then, there was a pause. We stood bathing in the presence of God’s Spirit in the room. Lee spoke into the quiet, “Brian, I’d like us to lay hands on you and pray for you. The Lord laid it on my heart that He has set you apart for a special ministry. He has called you. He has been working his call since you were 5 years old. He has a place for you. I don’t know you in the flesh, but in the Spirit, the Lord has shown me this so if it’s ok, we’d like to do this.”
With this, I sat in the chair they placed in the middle of the room. They laid hands on my shoulders and began to pray and proclaim over me such words of grace and testimony. I was powerfully reaffirmed in my call that day. But one thing had stood out and surprised me in Lee’s words: “God has been working his call since you were 5 years old.” At those words, during the rest of the day, my mind whirled. I could remember nothing of that early season of life.
I thought it was the year I turned 24 that God began to work on me. I had been a travel agent when God moved on my life https://wordpress.com/post/caminowalk2016.com/4661 and aligned me with his purposes. God began revealing the memories while we lived in San Jacinto awakening the deep, long-buried pain. Then, as I hearkened back to Lee’s words, I found how God had begun moving at the start of the abuse to redeem my life from it and even through it. He wastes nothing. Pastor Lee’s words brought a deep comfort.
In June 1994, God moved us from San Jacinto to Banks, Oregon. We drove into this small, small community, which the District Superintendent had told us was a town of around 5000. We were surprised when the population sign said: 522 people. For miles we had been wondering how we would find the church or parsonage. Seeing this, we looked at one another, laughing, “Guess that’s why no one gave us directions!”
Driving down Main Street that first day, the Holy Spirit laid a vision on my heart. Having come from the revival in Hemet and San Jacinto, I saw this image of a great division, like a building split in two or a canyon in the earth. I looked and heard, “There is a great split over this community.”
I had no idea what this meant, as we turned down Depot Street. This street was only one block long, and there was this crowd of joyful people in the driveway of the newest house on the block. That house became our home for fifteen years. With that house, God answered every prayer the girls and Karen had requested — it had stairs, an apple tree in the backyard, a separate laundry room, and a fireplace. We were blessed.
Nancy and Dexter, and their 18-year-old twin boys, Leola, Dianne, Sally, Kathy, and so many others applauded as we pulled into the driveway. Getting out, they shook hands, hugged, and enveloped us. They busily put all the bed frames together and made the beds, carrying boxes and furniture to the various rooms so that the house was ready for us. They had even stocked the refrigerator and cupboards with food.
The next day I met Skip Heiney. He had married Carol just that spring during worship on a Sunday morning. Both had previously lost spouses to cancer. Carol was a former member of my new congregation. She and her first husband had been among the many who had left 13 years before. That group had started the church Skip had begun to pastor five years earlier. As I began to hear the stories of the split and saw the bleeding spiritual wounds, I knew I had found the division over this community. This church split had rocked my congregation’s world and likewise had impacted those who had left. It had left a mark in the spiritual realm.
Over the next years, Skip and I joined efforts to bring forgiveness and healing. We helped the people unite. We spoke from one another’s pulpits, led, prayed, worked in joint mission projects, and saw God move. Our joint youth ministry, at one time, had over 80 kids in it.
Skip exuded Jesus. He was (and still is) a beacon of light to me, while I kept struggling with interior darkness. He bolstered me up and was constant in encouragement. Skip and I met for coffee in January 2014 and planted the idea for me to walk the Camino de Santiago de la Compostela. He and his wife had walked it in 2013 and experienced a life-transforming journey. This 2016 journey changed my life as well, hence the name of my blog.
None of these guys would recognize how God used them. They were simply themselves, listening and following Jesus in their own unique ways. But they each strengthened my own heart, prayed me one more step toward wholeness, and established my steps. They were men whose embrace of my life subsequently changed my life.