It is three and a half years later and I’m finally able to speak openly about it. The image to the right is a scan of my journal from February 5, 2007. God woke me up and said, “Steve, move to Minnesota and get your PhD.” I know it sounds crazy. Most people would write it off as an auditory hallucination generated by my own subconscious desires. Maybe it was. Maybe that is how God produces visions. I’m really not sure.
What I do know is that this event triggered a series of events that has dramatically changed my family’s life. We put our house on the market in Vegas just before the housing market crashed. We listed it at $375,000. Today, it still has not sold and was appraised at $195,000 ($10,000 less than we owe on it). Really, God? You asked us to do this? Yep.
Out of obedience, and desperation, we went to Minnesota and moved in with my parents so that our kids could get into school and not move in the middle of the school year. All of our possessions sat in a storage unit, while my house in Vegas sat empty, and I slept on the hide-a-bed in my parents basement. Again, really, God?
As I told this story to people over the years, I never mentioned the “get your PhD” part. it was so confusing to me, that I just left it out of the equation. Part of the problem was that I was resistant to entering into full time ministry again. Resistant is a soft word for how I felt when we first moved here. I vowed “Never again!” After getting black-listed at a Mega-church and then watching my house church die a slow painful death, I thought it would be insane to willingly walk back into the potentially painful place called the church.
Through the loving care of my parents, the process of meeting pastor Mark from Grace Lutheran in Andover, and the slow healing process of time and the Holy Spirit, God began to change my heart and mind.
In January of 2010 I agreed – tentatively – to give ten hours per week in “consulting” work to Grace to help them develop a Spiritual Formation plan. Pastor Mark asked me to preach and to teach an adult class on Sunday nights. By the end of March the Spirit had taken back control of my identity and I surrendered. I went to Pastor Mark and said, “I give up. I get it now. God has given me gifts. I need to use them. I need to not be afraid. I am completely open to whatever God wants me to do. If I’m supposed to be a freelance illustrator and part time pastor, great. If I’m supposed to be a fully ordained Lutheran pastor, then I’ll do it. Whatever, God, just show me.”
That was on a Friday. On Monday Pastor Mark received an email from someone out of state that donated a large sum of money for the specific purpose of allowing me to work more at the church. On Wednesday I received notice that the IRS was giving me a huge tax credit. Between these two miraculous events I was able to reduce my monthly expenses substantially and afford to step up to part time status at the church.
In the process of exploring more involvement and possible ordination, Pastor Mark suggested that I pursue my PhD at Luther Seminary. What?!? Luther Seminary has a PhD program? Oh yes they do. Not only that, the program there is called Congregational Missional Leadership and is exactly what I’m interested in.
Let’s look again at the journal page. February 5, 2007. That was three and a half years ago. When I left Vegas I had no idea where or how I would get a PhD. I didn’t even want to be a pastor. Now, I am about to enter into full-time ministry and begin the application process to the PhD program.
God is obviously at work in all of this. It was a scary journey. Stepping off the cliff into the darkness usually is. It’s like the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy had to take the “step of faith” across the chasm. From his perspective there was nothing there. When he abandoned everything and stepped out he found that there was a bridge there all the time.
I know this journey is not over. But, we are definitely turning the page to a new chapter. I’m thankful for the last chapter. I’m a different person now because of it. However, I am really excited to see what the new chapter holds.
Further up, and further in!