How did I get here?
Sometime, I ask myself the same question! When God called me to preach, I was three days shy of my tenth birthday. Through junior high and high school, my final destination in life never wavered. It was in a pulpit that I saw myself. In high school, I began to prepare for life as a student at Albion College. Then, Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.
After that—well,….. I PLANNED on a pulpit in a LARGE membership church… counseller at a church camp…then DEAN of a church camp. Moving on, I would be a District Superintendent…AND then the first female BISHOP!! I had my destination planned—MY highlighted road-map in hand. Then (like Paul), I ran into the risen Christ. He changed my “check-list”…threw up detours… challenged me to seek out alternate paths.
My Dad suggested a different seminary—based on a “dream” he had one night about an arched stone gateway that read “Asbury”. I got my first…second…third…now fourth pulpits—none in a MEGA-membership church like I envisioned. I was a camp counselor—twice…..but never a Dean. I never made DS…and Marjorie Matthews beat me to first female Bishop. I even stepped away from full-time pastoring for over two decades. As I ran a die-cast machine in a factory in Fort Custer and lived in a single-wide mobile home, I frequently wondered—HOW DID I GET HERE?
Paul asked the same question! Organized, legal-mind that he was, I’m pretty sure he, too, had his life all mapped out. He had probably planned to be a Pharisee while he was still in diapers! He had probably already decided where he would hang out his lawyer shingle, the type of woman he would marry, even how many children they would have. When the new religious movement sprang up after the death of a Nazarene carpenter-turned-prophet, he took on the persecution of its followers as his sacred duty. It was just a momentary “detour” in HIS plan.
But then he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and Paul’s plan came to a screeching halt. After that, life became a roller coaster where he must have often asked—“How did I get HERE?”
Paul asked it—a LOT. He went from the center of the Hebrew world to the large cities (and small villages) of the Greek and Roman world. He moved from well-to-do “digs” to the dark and dank squalor of Roman prison cells. His best friends were no longer ranked among the rich and famous of Jerusalem. Now he hung out with former fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, lepers and prostitutes. Instead of the high courts of the Jewish temple, Saul-turned-Paul argued his case on street corners, wave-tossed ships,in gardens and living areas in small homes.He defended himself before Roman and Greek jailers, skeptical believers in Jerusalem, even the Emperor of the Roman Empire–Caesar Augustus himself! His life had NOT turned out the way he had it planned—and yet it was precisely what God had in mind for him all along.
To the Corinthians, as he laid out his case, he wrote—”Whatever any one dares to boast of…I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one. (I am talking like a madman). Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:21-27)
This was NOT the picture-perfect life that Paul had planned. But as he recalled his privileged beginnings and recounted his impressive pedigree…as he listed all the trials and challenges he had faced, he realized that he was where he was because of his encounter with life-changing meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus those many years ago.
In the first chapter of Galatians, he reminded them—You have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the Church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my father. But… God, who…called me by his grace…was pleased to reveal his son in me so that I might preach him among the gentiles. (Galatians 1:13-16)
Our “reminder” from Galatians today is Paul’s answer to the question—“How did I get here?” We are—ALL OF US—HERE by the grace of God. He planned even before we were even a twinkle in our father’s eye exactly where He wanted us to be, what He wanted us to do, and how HE planned for us to get there. The choices we have faced, the decisions we have made as we approached the various forks in the road and detours in our path, have put us exactly where we are today.
Charlie Chaplin, English comic and silent film star of a century ago, pinpointed it well—“We are all tourists. God is our travel agent … He has already identified our routes, bookings and destinations… Trust Him….and enjoy life.”
The apostle Paul—and the Word of God—would agree.