“God wants me here! I’m not going home!”
There are a few moments that sets your life, heart, and faith in a certain direction. A direction in which you never turn back. One of these moments took place in 1983 when I was 19 years old.
I knew the year before that God wanted me to attend Liberty University. Although I had a basketball scholarship at a college in my home state of California, God made it evident that he wanted me to attend Liberty that was 3000 miles away in Virginia. I had no idea at the time that I would meet my wife, Candy, there. But God did. I had no idea at the time that God would change my major from a History degree to being called to be a pastor. But God did.
Money was always extremely tight living in a very large family. At the age of fourteen, I got my first job and started paying for my own clothes, eating money, and sports gear. At sixteen, I started working for my next door neighbors as a painter. As a result, I paid for my first car, bought our family a TV so we could watch the San Francisco 49ers, and just about everything else a sixteen year old needed. Then I started saving up for college. Although my parents wanted to help, if I was going to go to college, I needed to pay for it. Thankfully I had enough money saved to pay for my freshman year, so I set out for Lynchburg, Virginia in August of 1982.
It was at Liberty that I started to seriously pursue Candy and God. In that order. In doing so, I learned that Candy was like no other girl I had ever met. I also learned that God was a whole lot bigger than I had ever known. During one of the first chapels at Liberty, our schools founder asked us to pray. He said, “We need to ask God to provide $1 million by Friday to keep the school doors open.” I didn’t pray. I figured it wasn’t going to happen because that was too much money to come in before the end of the week. On Friday, we were told, “Praise God! $2.5 million came in!” My God got a little bigger that day. A month later, we were told we needed to pray again. “We need $5 million by Friday to keep the doors of Liberty open!” This time I prayed. I asked my bigger God to show up once again. The next week in chapel we heard, “Praise God! Over $5 million came in!” My God became even bigger. By the end of my freshman year, my God was HUGE! In my 18 year old eyes at least.
I didn’t have two years to save for my sophomore year at Liberty. I only had what I had earned that summer of 1983. I talked with a friend about my nervousness of not having enough for college. I remember being asked, “Does God want you to go back to Liberty?” The answer was obvious to me – Yes! He then said, “Then go. Trust God. You’ll never know what God has in store for you if you don’t go.” So I went. By faith. Without having enough to pay for college.
The lines were long at registration.. Registering online hadn’t been invented yet. At the first table, I gave them all the money I had earned that summer. I still had thousands of dollars left on the balance. I was asked, “So how much are you able to pay each month for the remainder?” I said, “Nothing. That’s all I have.” Then I was asked, “Well, how much will your parents be paying per month?” I replied, “Nothing. They want to help but they don’t have it. They don’t make much and still have 5 kids at home.” After a concerned look, I was sent to another table to explain my situation. Then to another table. Then another.
I finally arrived at the last possible table with my sophomore year in the balance. I kept praying for a miracle and someone to have mercy. I was then asked, “Son, you have to have more money in order to attend. What are you going to do?” Then I couldn’t believe what I said. Bold words of faith came out of my mouth like I’ve never experienced before. I looked directly at the man at the table and said, “Last year my faith grew like never before. I went from believing in a little God to a God who could do anything. My parents don’t have any money. I gave you all the money I earned this summer. I flew all the way across the country because God wants me here at Liberty! I’m NOT going home!” He gave me an interesting look and said, “Ok, then. But you won’t be able to take your finals until your bill is paid for.” That’s how my sophomore year started.
During the semester I heard of multiple on-campus job openings. Whether it was dishwashing in the cafeteria or mow lawns, I didn’t care. I was willing to work to pay my college bill. However, every single time I went in to apply I heard the same thing, “I’m sorry. We just filled that position right before you came in.” I began to get irritated with God. “Come on God! I’m trying to do my part here!” I didn’t realize that God wanted to show me His part. The part that only He could do.
A week before my finals I received a notice about my unpaid bill. It didn’t register to me that it was only $520.To this day I have no idea how the rest of it was paid for. But I failed to see that blessing because all I saw was the $520 that I didn’t have. So I began to pray. And prayed specifically. And prayed boldly. “God, I need exactly $520. No wait, I actually need $530. I could use $10 to take Candy out for dinner at McDonald’s.” I actually prayed this. A real big date spender, I know. But this is what I asked for. By faith.
The day before finals arrived I was down. God hadn’t come through. My sophomore classes and grades were going to be wasted. My dad called me that morning and asked if I had gotten my mail yet. I said no but would check. Candy and I went to the campus post office after chapel. She went to one side of the building and I went to the other. I opened my mailbox and found an envelope from my home church. I opened it and I looked with stunned amazement. It was a check for $530. Exactly what I needed. Exactly what had been praying for. I yelled so loud and said, “Candy! God did it!! God did it!!! He answered my prayers!!”
In talking with my father afterwards, I learned that on the exact day I started praying specifically for $530, a man from my church came up to dad and said, “For some reason, your son has been on my heart and God wants me to send him this amount of money.” He had no idea. My father had no idea. But God did.
Although it’s been many year since that day, the emotions of that experience come flooding back. I literally have tears in my eyes as I am writing this. Why? Because my faith in God grew that moment. Not only could God provide in the millions for my college, God wanted me to see Him work in my life in a very personal and practical way. He wanted my trust to grow. He wanted my faith muscles to increase. And they did.
We just finished a 3-week series at GracePoint called, This Is What We Do. Because of what He did, this is what we do. It was all about irrational generosity and obeying God with our tithes and offerings. I loved sharing other people’s tithe/faith stories in this series and but failed to remember this experience back when I was 19 years old. God brought back this faith memory as I met with a lady after the service. With tears trickling down her cheeks, she shared that her and her husband were convicted all through this series and that God was telling them to trust Him by starting to tithe for the first time. They wanted to obey but were scared. That’s when God reminded me of my faith story and remembering being scared. I shared my story. Now both of us had tears in our eyes. You see, obedience doesn’t mean there is an absence of fear. It means we still do what God wants, regardless of fear. And then watching God work.
To the 70 individuals/couples who have stepped out in faith to take God’s tithe challenge from Malachi 3:10… Go for it. Keep taking your steps of faith. One step at a time. And then watch your faith muscles grow. I am praying for each of you and asking God to show Himself to you in ways you have not yet experienced! In tangible ways, I want you to witness that the Lord is indeed the Lord Almighty. May you see your God “grow” before your eyes. If you do, you may never be the same again!