The Anatomy of A Calling
20 years behind yesterday, March 2, 1997, I got called.
Morning, afternoon, night, I don’t remember. The phone chimed out a digital sputtering sort of “ring.” Before cell phones and caller ID. Greg caught me at home.
I was mere hours into being 21. I lived at home with my Mom and Dad. My Mom was well and healthy. My Dad was sick and dying of cancer. Home needed me there.
It's likely that Greg wished me happy birthday. But I don’t remember. He knew me well enough to know when my year turned over. But the nick knacks of the dialogue escape me now. His point? An invitation.
I was getting along fine. Seven-ish months prior to Greg calling I had a grace event with Jesus that spun me around in my tracks and set me on a narrow path of salvation. Greg was part of that too.
Since fall I’d been working toward a technical degree in Engineering Technology; a vocation that had been a fancy of mine since I could stack Duplo Legos. Now, with the end of year one in view, I was preparing to move from a drawing board to a CAD station. As well, I’d begun talking to the owner of a local engineering firm about entry level support roles. My course was set.
Greg was always excited. In the years I have known him to this day there have been only two seasons of his life I recall him lacking excitement. I’m sure he would recall dozens more.
On the phone his voice pulsed with excitement: “We’re starting Young Life at Lynden High School. I think you’d be a great leader. We’re doing a sort of kickoff club, really to build excitement for Malibu. I’d like you to come, just watch and maybe pray about being involved.”
The giddy school boy in me came to life, jumping around the school yard with a note in my hand that had the yes box checked.
Who doesn’t love being called a leader? Who doesn’t love being called out of their myopic little snapshot into a bigger picture; from behind our little selfie lens into a vast landscape strewn wide with wonder and opportunity?
I played it cool. I told him I would pray about it. We’re supposed to say that because it sounds godlier. I knew the answer. I didn’t know what it would mean though.
A calling is a curious thing. Paul writes in Ephesians 4 to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
We tend to imagine calling as a job or the work we do to make a living. Like engineering technology or firefighter or pastor. Paul’s idea of calling is higher than these though; thicker and broader, over them and in and around them.
To get the fullest picture of calling according to Paul, we’d need to pick apart chapters 1 to 3 of Ephesians. Simply though, the calling is to be…
Blessed with every spiritual blessing
Chosen to be holy and blameless
Destined for adoption as sons and daughters
Bestowed with glorious grace
Lavished with redemption and forgiveness
Made to know the mystery of his will
Sealed with the Holy Spirit
…and all these to the Praise of God’s glory.
That’s the calling. See how high it is. See how it is not born from without, but from within. Jobs and work are born from without. They occupy or “occupate” our hands and minds and so on. Callings occupy our soul; the deep and mysterious whole of us that results of a seamless weaving together of body and spirit.
Calling boils up from the deepest part and floods the surface part. Calling lurches from the depths of our being. Calling sounds an inner alarm that reverberates and resounds concentrically outward. We walk worthy of it when we allow it to effect and affect our jobs and work.
Greg and I signed off. I hung up the phone. There was in the deepest part of my being a boiling and a lurching. An alarm was sounding. A calling was born.
I knew about Young Life. It was around when I was in high school. I just wasn’t around it. The kids at school who touted Young Life weren’t like me. They seemed to be who they said they were. They wore the life of Jesus on the outside. It annoyed me because I wanted it.
When I was in high school I lived differently. If the kids in my youth group saw me at school, they wouldn’t have recognized who I was. Conversely, if the kids at school saw me at youth group, they’d be floored. I suspect most kids at school would have never guessed I went to church. I lived two lives. I was two people, two parts that didn’t make a whole. Greg was my youth pastor during those years. I’m sure he knew all that about me.
I went to that first club. I sat on the stairs and paid close attention. The first and only thing I noticed that night was the smiles. I can still picture some in my mind. There was a light of joy that shot out of the smiles in the room. This I could be part of.
Three and a half months later I was on a foot passenger ferry heading up the Jervis Inlet in Canada toward Young Life’s Malibu Club with a dozen guys from Lynden High School…as a Young Life leader.
Over the next year I caught a vision for a life of ministry. I’d already pulled out of the engineering technology program before I even hit the CAD station. Now I was pulling out of my entry level support role at the local engineering firm.
The boiling rolled and the lurching heaved. The alarm increased. A calling grew stronger.
I served with Young Life for three years. I loved Young Life as a mission. Even more though I loved the young men that God placed in my life through the mission. I loved their hearts and dreams and interests. I loved investing the truth of the Kingdom of God in them.
Always high school seniors. Always guys on the narrow edge of real life. Always guys emerging into adulthood at a questioning pace.
Zach, Shawn, Sean, Matt, Philip, Steve, Ryan, Lance, Paul, Brady, Todd, Trent, Shane, Robbie, and on and on and on.
My heart was full of ministry hopes and dreams. Some I pressed into and realized. But my mind lagged behind.
When I was a senior in high school my Dad told me he would pay for my college if I went to Multnomah Bible College. Then, I wanted no part of it. Here and now though, with heart full and mind wanting, I wanted every part of it.
(My Dad had passed away shortly after that first call from Greg. The offer was not retroactive.)
I called Multnomah Bible College…and left a message.
I called a friend in Hawaii…and left a message.
For me this was a season of freedom and opportunity that wrangled with an increasingly audible calling to ministry of some kind. I was still young and rich and had lived enough life to know how fast it can spin away from you. I was anxious and conflicted. What next? Prayer seemed a reasonable option.
I was on my knees with the cordless phone in front of me like a mini god… It rang! Again a digital sputtering sort of ring. Again before caller ID, though cell phones were gaining rank.
“Whoever this is, that’s what’s next,” I uttered in a tone only God alone could hear.
It was Multnomah financial aid department. I was in with money to spare.
My experience at Multnomah was amazing. I was older than most incoming students and younger than many outgoing students. I drank deeply from the well of the waters of truth that sprang from the lips and lives of my professors.
Dr. Garry Friesen, Dr. Ray Lubeck, Dist. Prof. David Needham, Dr. Tim Aldrich, Dr. Brad Harper, Dr. Jay Held, Dr. Karl Kutz.
I would hold up in my room reading entire books of the Bible in a single sitting. Dr. John Mitchel and Dr. Bernard Sutcliffe and Dr. Willard Aldrich; hailed forefathers and founding fathers of the college, their lives stood as a challenge to me: Grow in the grace AND knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As well, those are the Apostle Peter’s closing words to the young first century church.
That’s where I was. The calling thickened. I loved Multnomah as an institution. Even more though, I loved learning and writing and reading. Peeking back over the edges of those years I notice again the young men God placed in my life. I loved their hearts and dreams and interests. And now I had even further Kingdom truth to invest in them.
Kenny, Johnny, Zack, Jake, Dave.
My season at Multnomah was interrupted in the sweetest possible way. Amy – first a YL team mate and ministry partner, then a dear friend, then my lifelong compliment – and I were married. She wrapped up her studies and in time we were back at Multnomah.
My studies deepened and narrowed…or broadened. As much as my heart and mind resonated with the calling to ministry, equally so they resonated with the things of Academia. Again, reading and writing and studying and learning together with like minds.
When my studies were wrapped up we landed across town at Seminary. A higher level. A higher challenge. A higher calling. A higher purpose. Before me in Seminary was yet the calling to ministry, but the mode was various.
Dr. Gerry Breshears, Dr. J. Carl Laney, Dr. Arturo Azurdia, Dr. Todd Miles, Prof. Jane Creswell, Prof. Linda Miller.
All voices of truth. All affirming various callings: The pastorate, Academia, Coaching and Leadership.
Greg called again. He had a job to offer me.
One of his seasons that lacked excitement saw him leaving ministry and entering the marketplace.
If I wanted it, he would hire me as a laborer for a local contractor. I said yes.
For 24 months of my life I had to wonder how I got here. On the backside of YL. On the backside of Bible college. On the backside of Seminary. Here I was shoveling asphalt and manning a dirt landfill at a BP oil refinery.
The calling, though various, surely was not this! There was in this job nary an echo of calling amidst the steaming hum of industry. I was in a machine. A part to a bigger economic monster. What’s the calling now?!
I tried to steady myself by giving time away.
A few young guys I worked with wanted a Bible study. A Sunday school class of high school grads needed some Bible teaching. A Young Life start up at the local high school needed leadership. These were my pulse. These kept the calling within earshot.
As old seasons faded and new seasons emerged the host of young adults God placed in my life grew.
The calling was slow, like a sunset. But then, also like a sunset, it happened; all of a sudden. A church, a fellowship, an affirmation of gifts and character, a full time pastor job.
Our dear faith community that held us – Amy and me and our three kids by now – hired us…me really. And the calling was clearer than ever.
Numbers grew. Hearts grew. I grew. Grace and knowledge abounded in this new season of fulltime ministry. I was born for this. This is what the calling was supposed to look like, from years past, this is what it was all working toward!
As year’s past, the calling broadened. Or maybe the job broadened. Now I wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it was filling out. Like a mature man with bright eyes, thick neck, broad shoulders. I had arrived. I have arrived?
But calling is a funny thing, especially if we view it like Paul. Calling is steady in the face of life’s twists and turns. These lives we live rise and fall, ebb and flow. These days brighten and fade. Our steps leap forward and bound backward. Our feet spin around in sweeping array. All like dancing I suppose. But our calling is steady – like our dance partner I suppose – and ought to steadily effect and affect life. Calling holds the line. Life changes course.
Here I am, now 41 years old. And just now I am struck with the reality that the calling on this life I live is the same today as it was 20 years ago. It is as the Apostle Paul exposes it to be in Ephesians 1-3. In fact, the calling may date back years prior yet, to the scattering of grace events that litter the plane of my youth, adolescence and emerging adult years. But this life I live changes…in lots of different ways.