The Garage

by | May 26, 2023

The Garage

Camarillo, California

When the Apostle Paul was detained by the Emperor Nero in Rome in AD 60, he had to wonder what God was doing. For the next two years he was under house arrest, but he continued ministering to visitors and encouraging churches through letters.

God grounded Paul, a consummate Type-A activist, compelling him to sit down and write. Paul’s four “Prison Letters” (also called epistles) were written during that period. They include letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and a little letter to Philemon—four of the most translated and influential letters in the history of the world. What Nero meant for evil, God used to advance his Gospel to the entire world, up to today.

I’m no Paul, but I identify with him. I too have a Type-A personality. And I love starting things—ministries, magazines, books—to meet new challenges and influence people to live for God.

My own activism came to an abrupt halt in March of 2020 when California went on COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. I sheltered in place, turning our guest house into an office, feeling like God put me under house arrest.

For my wife Suzanne, though, this was an opportunity to clean out our garage and sort through over fifty years of marriage and childhood memorabilia. The quarantine was a strange answer to her prayers for time. For more than a year she had been discipled online by Joshua Becker, the guru of minimalism, and this was her chance for us to conquer our Mt. Everest of accumulated history. She loved to say, “We can’t leave this mess to our children when we die. Besides, their heritage is in these boxes.”

Groaning as I looked around the garage, I knew I was cornered.
I volunteered to sort through 38 legal boxes stuffed with photographs. Suzanne tackled the numerous document and “sentimental” boxes.

You could say this book is a story inspired by minimalism—discarding the superfluous. As I sorted through decades of photos, I came to see a clearer sense of my life. But this is not about my life so much as God’s life in me, because the patterns and principles that make my life meaningful are available to anyone. This is the story of how God works in all of us when we allow him access.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The idea of sorting and, mostly, discarding a lifetime in photographs paralyzed me. Staring at the boxes, I saw nothing but chaos. But then Suzanne and I got an idea. Why not organize everything into piles based on where we lived? We had moved from California to Maine and back, with a significant tenure in the Upper Midwest.

With this approach I eliminated thousands of pictures—blurred, duplicates, or of people long forgotten. But I also identified hundreds of pictures of people and places that jogged memories of unimagined adventures and relationships, victories and defeats, joys and sorrows. The sorting process was emotionally draining at times, which surprised me. I would wake up at night dreaming of experiences from our past. Out of this troubling process, patterns emerged.

Looking back on my life at age seventy-two, I asked a fundamental question: What was the thread that connected the phases of my life? What was it that had directed me? The answer became clear. Each step was initiated by what Suzanne and I call a “Big Word.” Big Words is my way of capturing the experience of God, clearly and without doubt, speaking to me, guiding my path, in ways that have been life changing, demanding, and always for the better. The Holy Spirit is the source of Big Words, filtered through diverse means: Scripture, preaching, prayer, dreams, visions, angels, those in authority, friends, casual comments, or God’s small voice deep in the soul. They come with a promise of blessing, rooted in an intimate relationship with Christ.

Big Words usually came at life’s crossroads—those moments of choice that defined my future. They came when I was seeking God, and they came when I was running from God. Sometimes their fulfillment was delayed for years which, despite doubt, deepened my faith. “Was that really God’s voice? Yes, I know it was. What is he up to?”

Big Words were sometimes misunderstood or misinterpreted, only to be clearly understood after they were fulfilled. Some were risky and costly. They were never boring.

How do I know Big Words are God’s voice? I just know. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). I know Christ personally; he knows me intimately. He died for me; he was raised from the dead; and he is seated next to his Father, above all authority in heaven and on earth. He said, “Follow me, and I will guide you, lead you, speak to you, empower you. And you won’t do it alone, you are a member of something bigger than yourself: the body of Christ, the church.”

Big Words are the master keys to an adventure with God. Noah heard God’s voice when told to build an ark. Abraham did not question God when directed to leave everything behind and move to the land God would show him. Moses obeyed God’s Big Word at the burning bush to lead Israel out of Egyptian slavery. Mary trusted God’s Big Word when an angel told her she would be the mother of Jesus. The Twelve Apostles heard Christ’s call to “come and follow me” and they changed world history. Paul heard God’s voice on the road to Damascus and was transformed from a persecutor to the persecuted. Every outstanding leader in the Bible received Big Words—life transforming words—from God.

Big Words are never big lies. Jesus promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16–17). The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, confirms Big Words. And the Holy Spirit, working with the Word of truth—the Scriptures and confirming testimony of the church—forms a secure perimeter against falsehood and deception.

Every significant move of my life, each project or adventure, was initiated and fulfilled by God. My part was to listen to him and obey his call—not an easy task. I did not always follow through well, sometimes miscalculating and falling short, even losing courage at times. But his calls, his Big Words, were decisive, and his words trumped all other voices. I stuck with God and determined his voice and nothing else would shape my life. When I failed, he was there to lift me up.

Responding to Big Words means living an explorer’s life. While sorting through pictures of my life, I carefully traced my geographic moves, first as a child carried along by my parents, later as an adult with Suzanne, tracking a journey that Jesus had MapQuested before my birth. All he required was my cooperation, my willingness to say, “Not my will but your will be done.” That is easier said than done.

I’m inviting you to join Suzanne and me on our bumpy adventure, hoping that you discover one for yourself. There is no greater travel guide than Jesus because his destination is the City of God, the New Heavens and New Earth.

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