Experiences with God – Part Two

My call to the ministry happened like this. It was about a week before I graduated from Macalester College with a B.A. in history and a minor in psychology. I was at Ken Beitler’s apartment and he said, “I only have two weeks left before it’s too late to sign up for seminary.” As he uttered these words, my life flashed before my eyes. I recalled climbing trees as a boy and looking toward the sky through the leaves, contemplating God and His Creation. I remembered all the incidents between God and me over the years. I said to Ken, “You just saw me decide to go to seminary.” It was a really arrogant thing to say, because I didn’t consult with God at all. It was more like He had just shown me my life, granted; and it’s true that He didn’t demand I do it. It was more like an offer. Still, looking back, I wish I had spent more time discussing it with Him, even though the outcome would have probably been the same.
The next major encounter happened after the year spent in Bolivia. I’ve already told you about Bolivia. What I didn’t tell you was that I was totally defeated afterwards. I was angry with God. The main reason was my immaturity. When I asked God for something in prayer, I thought He should just hop to and do my bidding. When things went poorly in Ancoraimes, my feelings got hurt. I felt that God had not played fair with me. When I got back home, instead of taking my final year of classes at seminary, I got a full time job at Jacob Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota. However, I was ambivalent about quitting seminary. I took some Clinical Pastoral Education courses from my seminary on the side. I worked as a street pastor in West St. Paul on my own time, taking troublemaker teenage boys on sightseeing trips and visiting young delinquent men in their 20’s to try and help them turn their lives around.
My job at the brewery was on the bottle house side. It was boring work, but I was used to that from my days as a cowhand when I was a teenager myself. After a year, however, I woke up to realize that I was not being fair to God. One night I was riding my bicycle home at 3:30 in the morning. It was misting rain, but I didn’t mind as I zoomed along under the streetlights. The streets were empty. I had been reading the New Testament during my time off in the brewery. I had had my usual beer at first break, two beers at second break, and a final beer at third break – four beers. I began singing to God. I don’t think I even realized how much I had let God down.
Innocently, I said, “Lord, I’ve messed up my life.” Silence. “Do You have a better plan for my life than this?” Came the answer, “Yes.” I said, “Well, what is it, then?” He said, “I’m not going to tell you.” Hm. Curious. “Why not?” “Because you’d just mess it up again.” That made total sense. I remembered that Milton Robinson, district superintendent of the Lake District of the Methodist Church in Bolivia, had offered me a full time job pastoring a rural church. I had turned him down because I felt my Spanish was not up to it. It began to dawn on me that I had been disobedient, that my spirit was arrogant and presumptuous toward God, and that God had really been patient with me during the past year in the brewery.
I became very aware of my sinfulness. I said, “God, I want to give myself totally to You, but I’m sinful from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet.” Something I had heard Oral Roberts say. I continued, “I’m not worth anything.” He replied, “You are to Me.” “Well, for what I’m worth, here I am, Lord. I’m yours. Please be my boss. If You have to drag me kicking and screaming, please just let me have Your plan for my life.” I felt the Lord’s assent to that.
I was flooded with joy. The beer odor left my clothes, and I realized I was totally sober. I felt as if a 100-lb. monkey had been torn off my back. I asked, “Lord, what would You have me do? Quit the brewery? Tomorrow?” “No,” the Lord said. “Give them a month’s notice. I want you to testify to your co-workers that you have given your life to Me.” I said, “Okay, then what?” He said, “Go to Puerto Rico with the Campus Church students.” God was referring to a group of Christians at Campus Church, a body of believers at the U. of M. My wife and I had been helping them with their Spanish in preparation for a two month trip to witness for Christ in the plazas of several towns in Puerto Rico.
That is exactly what I did. My wife was all for it. The students told me they had been praying for us to go with them and for me to quit smoking. I quit smoking during my last month in the brewery. And I witnessed to just about every single person I worked with. They would ask, “Why are you quitting this fabulous job, you’re getting paid so much!” I said, “I love Jesus more than money.” If only they knew how glad I was to be right with God again. I was no longer God’s boss; He was mine.
     While in Puerto Rico, I met someone who also had encountered God. His name was José Figueroa Millón, and he had been a drunk most of his life. The nuns in his little mountain village of Aguas Buenas could do nothing with him, though they tried mightily. José wanted to quit drinking but he didn’t have to will power. One night a hurricane was hitting Puerto Rico with great force. José went out into the rain, the wind, and the lightning and stood in a field. He tore off his shirt and shouted to God, “Lord, I can’t stand being a drunk any longer! Either take it from me or take my life!” He went straight to a bar and ordered a drink. He had been sitting there for a half hour, not touching the drink, when one of the nuns came running into the bar. “Oh, José, not again!” she cried. José said, “Don’t worry, Sister. God has taken it away from me. I just had to come see if it was true.” José began to work, bought a house, and one by one he found other alcoholics in the gutters of Aguas Buenas. That was in the summer of 1972. If he is still alive, I suppose José is still inviting drunks to sober up and come to his house, where he prays with them, feeds them, gives them a place to sleep, and helps them get free of alcohol.

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