The CO-OP sold everything. A mini Wal-Mart of sorts, they even had a gas station in the parking lot, which is where I got my first job. My dad had driven me there to apply and had assured Bill - the manager - that I was a trustworthy young man. I explained to Bill how I could easily ride my ten-speed to work and so it made "perfect sense" ...and so at the age of 15 for $5.50 an hour Canadian, I became a gas attendant.
I remember this job well; the cold nights where I was forced to either stand outside and freeze or sit in the 5ft by 10ft-heated cubicle with my two pot-smoking co-workers. They were bright fellas for potheads and to my knowledge never got caught smoking while on the job. Of course, this was the North West where people would often welcome neighbors into their community with a marijuana plant. You know, just a quick hello, a friendly welcome and a "feel free to stop by and borrow sugar anytime."
My least favorite part of the job was filling the trucks or vans that ran on propane. Bill taught me quickly and was able to instill a proper respect by a story he told. Apparently a guy he knew had once incorrectly connected the propane nozzle to the tank and the propane leaked all over his hand. His hand was immediately frozen due to the extreme temperature of propane gas and his fingers literally broke off. I don't know if the story was true or if the science would support it, but I was 15, was just learning how to play the guitar and still needed all my fingers.
Bill the manager was anything but patient. This was probably due to the fact that he was a middle-aged man managing pot smoking teenagers pumping gas. He was a frightening guy to work for seeing as he was almost always mad at someone or something and screaming was how he coped. So when the sweet old lady came in to fill up her brand new Cadillac and asked me to top off her oil, I didn't want to bother Bill with silly questions. Such as, "where does the oil go," or "how much is too much?" I had already asked him twice that day if the propane nozzle was hooked up right. Plus he had already shown me where oil goes earlier in the week and was none to happy about it the first time.
I did what any 15 year old would have done, I guessed.
About a half an hour later the sweet old lady was back and she seemed to be having steering problems. "I just don't understand it" she said, "the steering wheel is very hard to turn and it only started happening after I got gas." To which I quickly responded, "It could be bad gas."
One would think that my gas attendant carrier was over before it had even been given a fighting chance. However, four years later, I found myself again being driven by my dad to apply for a job as a gas attendant. This time I lived just south of Rochester NY where I was a freshman attending Bible College.
I went to Bible College. It was not Seminary. I feel I must make this clear as I have since run into many people who seem to take offense at my previously ignorant assumption that they are the same thing. The last thing I want to do is offend the real theology students who attend schools such as Princeton or Bob Jones and are better educated regarding matters of education.
I went to a Bible College and have since come up with at least ten reasons one might consider something else...
Our second semester had just started and my dad was visiting me. I needed to find a job to help pay for tuition and I didn't have a car. So again I found myself being driven by my dad to an interview. The gas station was within walking distance from the college, so it again made perfect sense. Omitting the oil incident, I told the manager about my qualifications and he hired me. And just like that I was back in the game.
In January, in upstate NY, it's dark by 5:00 and below freezing by 5:30. On this - my first night at the job - it was about ten degrees with a wind chill somewhere in the minus ten department. My new co-worker and I were warming up inside our little 5ft by 10ft-heated cubicle (no pot this time) and as the black Volvo pulled up to the pump he asked "is it your turn?" I had filled up the last ten cars and was positive it wasn't my turn, but I just said "no." "You go ahead and get this one anyway." He said. "That way we can be sure you know what you're doing."
Though I had filled several hundred cars with gas by now, my senior co-worker - who was "training" me - apparently thought I still needed more practice. I looked at him just long enough to let him know what we both already knew - he was an idiot - and then headed out into the frozen night, my lungs immediately icing over. The lady in the car rolled her window down an inch and said, "Fill it up please" and then quickly rolled it back up with a look of sympathy.
"This sucks," I thought as I stamped my feet to keep them warm and wiped my nose with the back of my hand, "but God wants me here"... Ok, I'm not certain I thought the second part...ok I probably didn't think the second part; at least not while I was freezing my tail off.
But later, in my bed while talking with God, I knew he wanted me at this Bible College. I knew He had a plan. And it was a huge plan with grand adventures, where I would live a life of significance, a life marked by the miraculous, filled with love and beauty and probably a little fame too.
You see at the age of five kneeling at the coffee table one sunny Tuesday with my mom, I asked Jesus into my heart. And Jesus came into my heart. I believed. And it was then that the promise was birthed. That was the day I first saw it. Just a small glimpse and it was enough. I knew that life was good and there were greater things to come.
When I gave Jesus my life, He promised He would always be with me. Through the years this promise followed me like a lovely ghost. I encountered it in a song, in a book. I dreamed it. I watched it in a movie; I heard it from the pulpit. It was a gradual unwinding, a realization of who God is, that He lived in me and that He is good. He is always good.
Also, as I read my Bible, I realized that God being in you means a life of adventure; a life marked by the miraculous.
You see, I believe that if you have made Jesus Lord of your life, then you have a promise. Even if you haven't, you still have a promise, you just have yet to embrace the promise giver. I believe the promise is there, waiting for us in the womb, salvation is just an introduction to living it. I believe this promise is unique to every individual, is discovered in our dreams and lives in our hearts. It's the thing that most excites us and oddly most terrifies us as well. It's what we were born for.
I have heard the promise referred to as a destiny or a purpose. That's fine. I believe it's those things. But I like the word promise so much more. It implies that I'm not the only one involved in its fulfillment. It suggests that there is more to it than hard work and chance. It hints at relationship...
So on that desperately cold night, while pumping gas in Western NY in order that I might earn enough money to afford a Bible College education that couldn't later be compared to a Seminary education - and while my nose was running and my feet were numbing - I knew I had a promise. And at the time, I couldn't possibly imagine it looked like pumping gas...
And so if you had asked me about my life then, I would have said "this is not my promise" and therefore I will only be pumping gas (#1) for a short season.
I was right, at least about how long I would be pumping gas.
As the years passed I waited tables (#2), delivered pizzas (#3) and played in a band (#4). I worked on an assembly line (#5). I was a painter (#6), a worship leader (#7), a mason (#8) and a carpenter (#9). I installed siding, windows and doors (#10). I crawled under houses and stood on chimney tops. I worked in freezing lake effect cold and suffocating Mississippi heat.
And there you have it; ten perfectly "sane" reasons not to go to Bible College...or...
The question that has burned in me over the years causing considerable heartache and a yearning that's bordered insanity is, "How do I attain my promise"? How many cars must I fill up? How many times must I wipe my nose? How long before I see the promise fulfilled?
You see I was born for greatness! I'm sure of it; I can feel it every time Jesus tells me He loves me. Every God encounter I have had confirms it. Its revealed in every Bible story I've read; God loves taking nobodies and making them into somebodies. Yet as the days turned to months and the months to years, my promise often weighed heavy and that lovely ghost began to haunt me. "How long have I chased the promise? How much longer must I chase it?"
Then, several years ago, God and I had a profound conversation. Late one night after my wife Karen and the kids were in bed, God asked me a question. "Do you trust me?" I thought for a moment, finally I said "Yes Lord." He responded, "Then believe."
From that point on, my perspective on life has undergone a radical shifting, as though I have come awake for the first time. All that I encountered over the first ten years of my adult life, including the jobs I just mentioned, were experienced while in pursuit of my promise. Yet since that conversation with God, I have begun to live in the revelation that I was not born into His Kingdom to chase the promise but to chase the promise giver. I've learned in regards to my promise that when the question in life shifts from how long must I chase my promise to how big will I believe, the focus shifts as well.
As I've begun to engage this revelation, I've begun to see the world through the eyes of God. The more I've lived in this revelation the more I've found that His purpose and mine are becoming one and the same. As I choose to believe, I find I am no longer chasing an ever-elusive promise but engaging it. I'm no longer waiting for my story to begin; I'm smack in the middle of it.
We all have a life story. So does God.
In the beginning God dreamed. A world became. A love story began. Since the beginning of this story, the All-Powerful Creator of the Heavens and the Earth has pursued mankind, has loved us, died for us and invited us to live within the context of His love. Since the beginning of the story, God has purposed man to rule and reign with Him over the earth. And since the beginning of the story, there has been one question that God has asked of us. It's echoed down the corridors of history.
His Story. Our Story
Will you believe?
How big, how wide, how far, how great will you believe?
I'm convinced that the answer to that question is what this journey called life is all about. That a life of purpose and fulfilled destiny; a life of engaged promise, is found when we posses believing.