Sunday, January 4, 2009

Patmos: A Look Back

I don't really talk about my real life struggles that often, primarily because it is often hard to stop once I get started, and the talk can turn into gossip. But, this time, I'm going to try.

People keep asking how I am doing since I've been back. I've been elated. Calvary Chapel St Pete is my home church, and the people here love me, like I never knew before.

I kind of got a hint of it at the party that JT insisted on throwing for me before I left, and the numerous people who agreed to become prayer partners for me during my time in the Bahamas, and the number of people who showed up at the party. So I was unprepared for the friction that took place between me and nearly everyone I was associated with in the Bahamas at Patmos.

I don't think I realized it until I had been home for a couple of weeks, but I react to people that way all the time. Most of the time, they don't get to be offended by it because they don't see it. Then the Lord talks some sense into me, and everything is okay. But I couldn't really hide it from anybody, because someone was always around. So, before the Lord could have His way with me, someone would ask me about something, and the wrong thing would be said, or the right thing with the wrong attitude, or even the right thing but they just didn't like it, and hostilities ensued.

Toward the end, most of it got corrected, as I made a concerted effort to win the team back over, once it was brought to my attention how much people actually hated me there. (Imagine that.) Most people here who know me are stunned that any Christian would hate me, and I do get along with most of the unsaved people I know, too, but it happened. I didn't really pay it too much attention, because, something most people may not know, I don't live for other people's approval, so I didn't really care. So Pastor Chet had to make me see that I really was an island and that it wasn't a good thing. And he had a hard job, because I have done a lot of things as the only person willing to actually do it, so I don't mind working alone, and sometimes even prefer it--but God called us all to be a part of His body, not a bacterium all by ourselves.

To be sure, the pursuit unity has its own problems: when do you drop a disagreement for the sake of unity, and when do you just stand because the Word of God is more important? That question alone will drive anyone nuts, and it did me for the rest of my time, as I made blunder after blunder on both sides. This was definitely a learning experience for me, and it didn't come without its casualties. I actually still have a bad taste in my mouth regarding Patmos, if only for the memories alone.

Now that's not to say that I was not blessed. I got about 35 new friends out of it, I got to preach to about 200 people in one day, I was able to be a part of various evangelistic outreaches for longer periods of time, etc. But it was hard. I even got vindicated on several decisions that didn't go my way, but it was hard waiting for it to happen, and even harder not to rub it in the faces of those who had stood on other side (I could say, "those who opposed me," but that wouldn't be accurate, because they were just trying to help). Your prayers really carried me. I can't thank you enough for every time you just prayed for me.

Since I've been home, I have an even greater appreciation for CC St Pete. We visited about a dozen churches during my time away, as a way for us to experience the different kinds of churches that there are out there, and, honestly, I was starving. Many of the churches had false teaching mixed in, some of them had just shallow sermon material, and the one sermon that I thought was really good ... the preacher made it sound like John Piper was his authority.

Now, I did like the music at most of the churches, but not all. Some of them even took me back to my days in the Baptist church, with the old hymns that were sung. Actually, I wish that we did more hymns at Calvary Chapel, because I realize just how spiritual they are. But I observed there and here that most people don't listen very closely to the words that they sing. They just like how it sounds. So when the preaching and the music didn't line up, most people don't seem to notice. Nor if their lives don't match the commitments they were singing to the Lord.

One of those songs that sounds so spiritual, but we can easily miss the meaning, goes something like this: "Please take from me my life/When I don't have the strength/To give it away to You/Please take from me my life/When I don't have the strength/To give it away to You, Jesus" (Third Day). Oh, really?

You see, I think the Lord got tired of the way I griped about people behind their backs to Him, and so He put me in a position where I couldn't hide my feelings from them anymore. Is that really a song we want to sing? It doesn't just mean death. I mean, my life was certainly taken away from me!

I regretted singing that song. Now that I know what it means for real, I don't sing it so loudly. I had thought that I was being careful about what songs I sang until Patmos. Then I knew: I wasn't that careful!

So if you ask me why I'm glad to be home, this is the report that I give you.

Now, you could read this and think that I have had no problems since I've been home. That's just not true.

I arrived with only $2.58 in the bank. Someone had sent me a $50 money order, so I deposited it once I got back to St Pete. I stayed with a couple in Seminole, but that's almost 8 miles from the church, and I don't have my car back (I gave it away when I left, because there was no need for it to just sit around for four months, and I could not afford to renew the insurance on it anyway). The next day, the couple actually gave me $20 so I could catch the bus, so that helped. The next day, a friend gave me five dollars for lunch, and I found a $20 bill in my luggage. I don't know if the lady who picked it up for me did that, or if it was the couple that drove me to Seminole that night.

The next day, Pastor Art came down the hall at church and handed me an envelope containing $150 which he said came in anonymously (of course, there was no handwriting sample for me to track down, either; nice card, though). I used that money to get the phone I have now, so that I could actually get the job I have now (I work at CC St Pete's preschool, Calvary Kids Care), and still had money left over. Then I sold the two phones I had had before for about $5 the next day. So that, everyday my first week back, I had more money than the day before.

But buses cost money. I, unwisely, did not invest in a 31-day pass, and paid for it by running out of money for the bus while I was staying at a friend's place in Clearwater. I know that Clearwater is still in Pinellas County, but it is a loooooong way from Pinellas Park!!! The Lord is good, so a coworker from my days here in the maintenance department took me in for a couple days. His place was much closer to the church, but it was also kind of small, and I did not want to over burden him, so I moved in with another family...yes, in North St Pete, but only 1st Ave. For those of you who don't know, Calvary Chapel is 8900 North. And I don't have bus money.

Now, that doesn't mean that I'm walking, because the bicycle I had before was given back to me by a friend, so things haven't been impossible. In fact, the bicycle just might be the only thing that keeps off the 20 lbs I lost while at Patmos (yet another benefit).

Now, I'm not asking for donations. I am going to get paid at the end of this week. But it has been an adventure, to say the least. Fortunately, blessedly, I have friends at every turn. I think that every tenth person knows me at CC St Pete, and most of them like me. So the Lord has really been good to me, even though I have had a hard financial time. But this is what goes on behind the scenes of the great evangelism happenings of my life. Wild things. I'm blown away by it all.

One thing that has really helped during this transition time: the online sermons. I've said to several people: We are spoiled at Calvary Chapel St Pete. Absolutely spoiled. The quality of teaching is second to none. I actually know what to change in my life when I listen, I don't have to search for it. i actually learn from the passages things I never would have noticed, or things that I haven't noticed even with many readings! We are blessed. Let us not forget that.

Please pray for my friends I made in the Bahamas as they make their own transitions with their own stories and changes and twists. They are just as lovable as most of you think I am ... even if we did butt heads for the first ... ten weeks? So, bless them!

UPDATE: I will have a bus pass today. They were able to loan me the money for the monthly pass, and I will repay them at the end of the week. All my needs are covered. I don't deserve this! God is so good!!!

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