The only reason that plane ride in the T-38 was so much fun is that I survived it, then looked back and remembered it with pleasure. Columbus AFB Wing Commander Chet Griffin arranged it. He said, “You’ve been ministering to these student pilots all these years; you ought to learn something of what they go through.” As I say, it was great fun–in retrospect. (smiley-face goes here)
The 1977 trip to Singapore (via Chicago, Anchorage, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and finally my destination) and back was part of a long, long process of drawing an evangelistic comic book for the missionaries there, then coloring each of the many pages (with acrylic and tiny brushes!), and printing up 10,000 copies for their use. It was a job! And fun mainly in retrospect because we did it, it was most unusual, we would never be doing anything like that again, and we survived it.
That deacons meeting that went on for four hours with me as its subject (“to fire or not to fire, that is the question”) was exhilarating only in looking back after we saw how God used it and what He did with it. At the time, no fun.
In fact, I have an admission to make.
There are no times in my 52-plus year ministry that I can say were sheer fun. Well, other than the times of silliness sitting around with the staff in someone’s home, opening gifts we were sharing and acting crazy, that sort of thing. But in actual ministry, I can’t think of a time when it was total enjoyment.
It was usually hard work, demanding of me more than I could produce at the moment, thus throwing me on the mercy of the Lord for strength, and it required total commitment.
The joy came in looking back, knowing we did it, we survived, and that something good was accomplished.
Such as the trip to the Holy Land in 1984. I had to delay my departure 24 hours due to a funeral, so took the same route as our group (and my wife) one day later. A taxi driver held up a card with my name in the Tel Aviv airport and whisked me to the Intercontinental Hotel on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, arriving around midnight. The next morning when I walked into the breakfast room, one entire wall was a window overlooking the city. It was the most magnificent thing I’d ever seen. Several times that week, I “bowed on my knees and cried holy,” as the song goes. And wept.
But fun? That’s not the word for it.
There was the time in the summer of 1982 we took our youth choir to England for two weeks and stayed in people’s homes, performing at night and seeing the sights in the day. Wilson Henderson, our minister of music, had done this numerous times before (an exchange with British Pastor David Beer) but it was a first for me. As I recall, we had 55 in the choir and took along another 30 or so adults. It was as memorable as anything I’ve ever done.
Going back farther, however, there was the Delta-wide Crusade for Christ with Bill Glass in the summer of 1969, held in the high school stadium. We ran into a world of obstacles (the school board had a policy against such religious gatherings on the football field; so we asked them to make an exception, and they did!) and met them head-on and saw the Lord do some wonderful things. Margaret ran the office for the crusade from a house trailer in a shopping center–she did that for six months!–while I was pastoring our church and heading up the crusade effort. Bill Glass preached and Doug Oldham sang, and we brought in various celebs for testimonies. The attendance on the two Sunday afternoons reached 5,000 and we averaged 3,000 each evening. Several hundred people responded to the invitation to come to Christ.
Was it fun? It was exhilarating, educational, wonderful in a hundred aspects, and a great deal of hard work. The fun part came when we stopped to look back.
There are lots of mountain peaks across over a half-century of ministry. And more valleys than I care to remember.
The main thing I can say about the “fun” part is what Scripture says of our Lord as He looked at the cross:
“Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).
The cross was no fun, but on the other side of it was endless joy and eternal satisfaction. Some things you just have to get through because you know they’re right, they come with the territory, and you were put here for that purpose.
Ministry is such a thing.
I cannot leave this subject without making one important observation: As far as sheer fun goes, I’m having more of it now in retirement than I ever had in pastoring and denominational work. I did love pastoring churches–if you know me, you do not question that!–and the five years of denominational service was very hard (think: Hurricane Katrina) but I would not have been anywhere else.
But the fun part is now.
Once again, the Lord saves the best part for the last, doesn’t He?
My friend Mary Ellen Logan (member of our church, widow of one of the finest deacons ever, and board member of our Global Maritime Ministries) said last week, “You have more fun than anyone I know.” I didn’t deny it. In fact, I (ahem) humbly said, “I tell people that if I wasn’t me, I’d be envying me.”
How come? No business meetings, no deacons meetings, no administration, no committees, no budgets to deal with, and no headaches at all. I go to schools and churches and sketch people, I get up and preach, and I go somewhere else and do it again!
What’s not to like about that!