I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need (Philippians 2:25 NLT).
Sometimes, life is like a boat in a river going nowhere and helplessly drifting downstream with the current.
My brother, Don, had spent hours cleaning up his boat, checking it, and making it ready for an afternoon excursion on the Savannah River to make sure it was ready for a run on Lake Thurmond later in the summer.
It had been two years since his boat had been in the water.
Saturday, July 17, was a beautiful, perfect Georgia summer day to test it out. Don was confident enough about his boat to take me, his eight year old son, Joseph, and my dog, Maggie, for a trip down the lazy river.
After a few false starts, the motor finally roared and away we went joining the many others having fun on the river.
We passed under the Fifteenth Street bridge and headed to the beautiful riverfront developments on the levy in Augusta.
This was my first time on the river, and Don wanted to take me to historic Beech Island which is many miles downriver.
We came to the old railroad trestle just past where General James Oglethorpe landed in 1735 to establish the settlement of Augusta.
Don watched carefully as a boat ahead of us went under the old train trestle.
You never know what lurks just under the water on the river, and he knew unseen hazards like old logs can lurk in the tight spaces between the piers of a bridge.
The boat ahead of us made it under the trestle without a problem. Logic said that we could too.
Don slowed to “no wake” and carefully started under the trestle.
You guessed it! Wham! Wham! We hit a submerged log. The engine howled, but the boat went no where.
“We’re dead in the water,” Don groaned. “I don’t understand how the boat ahead of us made it through and we didn’t. I followed in his wake.”
Don stopped the engine, pulled up the motor, and yep, the blades on the propeller were ruined.
Dead in the water! And, several miles down stream from the boat ramp. At least we had two paddles.
A day full of promise and fun were ruined by a hidden torpedo. We drifted helplessly downstream with the current.
Has your journey ever been ruined by a hidden snare? Mine certainly has.
Just the time I was ready to cruise down the river of life, a gut-wrenching “thud” ended my trip. Dead in the water.
In my thirty nine years in the pastoral ministry, I have served eight churches. The deacons of two of those churches asked me to resign - one after nine years of service. A denominational bureaucrat fired me from another church. That’s three out of eight or a 38% forced termination rate.
I had to leave another church due to personal family issues. Dead in the water in ministry.
My first marriage ended in divorce. Dead in the water.
I was a Southern Baptist pastor for thirty years. Most Southern Baptist churches that can provide full time support aren’t particularly eager to hire a divorced and remarried pastor.
Just when I would get my hopes up for securing a full time pastorate, “thud,” dead in the water. “We don’t really want our pastor to be divorced and remarried.” I heard that over and over from pastor search committees.
I left the Southern Baptist Convention dead in the water.
I was fired from a secular job. I tried selling cars and found out that I couldn’t sell a heater to an Eskimo. I can’t blame the dealership for firing me.
So, I went back to college to earn my teaching certificate. Seven years of post high school education wasn’t enough. I needed about two more for certification.
A Christian school hired me. I thought I knew everything about teaching. After all, how hard could it be instructing Christian kids?
I had elected not to take the semester of student teaching to learn classroom management since the school hired me without requiring it.
My classroom management was horrible. Christian kids can be very un-Christian at times.
Plus, I had to prepare for six different subjects each day. I was the public address announcer for home football and basketball games and coached baseball. And, I was serving as a part time pastor of a church. Lesson preparation took a back seat.
At the end of the year, I was fired - dead in the water again.
I’ve heard people say that you haven’t lived until you’ve been fired. In that case, I’ve lived a full and meaningful life!
Needless to say, I re-enrolled in college and took the semester of student teaching.
I went on to have many good years teaching in the public schools. But, I almost had a nervous breakdown in my last job where I taught in an inner city public school. I couldn’t even finish out my contractual obligation.
After some counseling for depression brought about by that colossal failure, I felt ready to go back into public education but not in an inner city school.
My references must have been unflattering because I applied and applied and couldn’t even get an interview with a principal.
Never mind that I have the highest level of teacher certification that Georgia offers outside of a doctor’s degree. Never mind that I have thirteen years experience in education. Never mind that all of my teacher evaluations were excellent. Well, there was one time that I received “needs improvement” in classroom management. But, thirteen years with only one “F” isn’t too bad not withstanding my disastrous first year in the Christian school.
Not one to give up easily, I decided to substitute teach. I couldn’t even do that right. I wrote my Facebook address (the social networking site) on the whiteboard for students to “friend” me. There was nothing in the orientation or in the substitute handbook that forbade that.
I just like kids and keep up with many of my former students through Facebook. It was an innocent mistake. I found out after the fact that social networking with students was not allowed.
I got a letter of reprimand from the central office and gave up on substitute teaching.
So, here I am. Fifty-nine years old with a valid teaching certificate and no job or prospects for one. Dead in the water.
Then there is my little congregation that I founded. My little church was established just over three years ago by me, my wife, my mother-in-law, and some wonderful Christians who, like me, didn’t fit into a “normal” church.
I really thought by now, after three years, that we would have twenty-five or thirty attending. Last Sunday, ten came to worship, and three of those were family!
Dead in the water.
But, I’m not alone. I think a lot of us know the experience of being dead in the water.
If so, take consolation in what an employer’s review of the Apostle Paul’s résumé might have been like. Listen to Paul in his job interview.
Employer: I see here that you have a prison record.
Paul: Yes, sir. Been in prison several times.
Employer: You also have been judged by the courts to be stoned and flogged.
Paul: Yes sir. Five times I’ve received thirty-nine lashes, I’ve been beaten with rods, and stoned and left for dead once. In fact, I escaped from the authorities in Damascus by being lowered down the city wall with a rope and a basket.
Employer: Humm, I see. You are a real renegade, aren’t you?
Paul: Well, I guess some would consider me a no good, trouble-making, misfit.
Employer: In our want ad, we specifically stated to “dress appropriately.” Your clothes are quite ragged. Dirty. Didn’t you read the entire ad?
Paul: Yes sir, I read the ad. But times have been hard for me lately. This is all I have to wear. I haven’t had much to eat lately either. I really need this job.
Employer: I am really out to hire the most qualified person. I have several other applicants to interview. I’ll let you know something soon.
Paul: Thank you, sir. I appreciate your kindness in granting me this interview.
Three weeks later, Paul received his “Dear John” letter notifying him that he didn’t get the job. Dead in the water!
However, it’s been my experience that “dead in the water” is always a temporary condition.
Don, Joseph, Maggie, and I were not “dead in the water” for long. A nice family in a pontoon boat saw our distress and towed us safely back to the landing.
And, the day was not a loss either for we enjoyed simply being together on the river. There is timeless value in relationships with family while you are dead in the water waiting for help.
And besides, Don will fix the propeller, and we will give it another try to go down river to Beech Island. Maybe we will make it next time.
Dead in the water is never a permanent situation. Never!
Israel was “dead in the water,” but not for long. Pharaoh's army was bearing down on Israel. The Red Sea was before them. But, God made a way through, and the people saw the great work the Lord did and feared Him.
Peter was “dead in the water” in jail awaiting execution by Herod. But, God sent an angel in answer to the prayers of the church. He walked away and into the church meeting. The church was astonished.
Take my “dead in the water” experiences.
In ministry, God’s pontoon boat landed me as pastor of my small congregation. My church is everything I’ve ever dreamed of and wanted as a pastor. No business meetings. No budget fights. No begging for money to meet the budget needs. No building or cemetery to worry about. No programs to administer. No meetings every night of the week.
I thank God that He landed me safely on the shore of my small congregation. We are like the New Testament house churches in the book of Acts. Lots of love shared. Lots of caring. Lots of fellowship. Relationships instead of programs. The way church should be. Plus, we have a small international mission ministry to Ukraine and Kenya with the help of our newsletter readers and our church.
Maybe one day the Lord will choose to add some more to our church. It’s His church after all. And I pray that if He does choose to grow our little congregation that those whom He adds through salvation or transfer from another church will be of the sweet, sweet spirit that is in our midst when we come together.
How about my “dead in the water” teaching career?
The Lord fixed my propeller and got me going down a different river. I have been able to write for the Augusta Chronicle once a month. 250,000 people have an opportunity to read my Christian writings in a secular newspaper. My largest congregation ever. Almost everywhere I am introduced, people say they read my column and are blessed. I have great joy in getting the gospel out through this medium.
I also post articles on the internet at www.faithwriters.com. At last count, these articles have been accessed a total of 6,194 times. I have received many messages from people all across our nation about how the articles have helped them in their Christian walk. My heart and call is to serve the Lord and help people grow in faith. I am grateful that the Lord has sent me down this new river of ministry opportunity.
Moreover, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with Terri Gibbs over this past year. Blinded since birth, Terri’s story of fame and success in the music business inspires me. She was nominated for two Grammys. Even more is her testimony of how she turned her back on all of the glitz, glamour, fame, and fortune, and devoted her life to singing for Christ.
When I enter Terri’s home and sit down with her, I feel as though I’ve entered the presence of the Lord. I am blessed beyond measure.
And through Terri, I have met and developed a relationship with her son, David Daughtry. He has greatly enriched my life, and like his mother, he is a tremendous talent.
And one day, soon I hope, I will finish her book, find a publisher or a sponsor who will help us publish her story, and send it out as her testimony to the Lord. That is Terri’s great desire and mine too. If we are able to make a little money from the book, so be it. But, that is not our goal. Our goal is to show people Terri’s faith, courage, perseverance, grace, and love.
There are many “dead in the water” due to a handicap like blindness. Her story will inspire and encourage all to believe and know that Christ loves them and can make them useful for His service.
I would have never been able to work with Terri had I been teaching school and pastoring a church. I wouldn’t have had enough time to do all three.
And then there is the failed marriage. “Dead in the water.”
Well, the Lord towed my boat to Joyce and tied us up together. Last month, she earned her 26th star in her heavenly crown for putting up with me for 26 years. It’s been a wonderful journey down the river of life with her.
My résumé may not look too good to a prospective employer. There’s a lot of failures and firings in it. I’ve not been successful as far as success is defined by our culture.
My boat has hit a lot of hidden snares. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and bad choices too. But, I’ve never remained “dead in the water” for long. The Lord always sends those friendly people in the pontoon boat to pull me back to shore, help me in my need, and send me down the river again.
Those people in the pontoon boat are the good, kind, Christian people that the Lord sends like He sent Epaphroditus to Paul in his time of need.
That is God’s grace and mercy at work in my life.
That is the power of Christ to take me from being dead in the water to drinking from the fountain of Living Water.
And along the journey down the river, I’ve found that success is not in prosperity, power, the prestige of a large church, or a perfect résumé.
I have expended a lot of wasted energy over the years in trying to be successful. I now expend my energy to be faithful - faithful to my calling, to my Lord, to my wife, to my church, and to my new ministries that the Lord has given me. I have found faithfulness alone is success, and in that faithfulness I’ve learned to embrace those “dead in the water” times as teachable moments from the Lord to fix me up and show me a new river full of great adventures.
So, if you are dead in the water right now, look back to your past and take heart for you will see with your spiritual eyes how the Lord has towed you back to the landing, fixed you up, and sent you on your way again - stronger in grace and mercy, stronger in faith and courage with a humility and thankfulness that you would have never known otherwise.
From those past experiences and from the testimony of God’s Word, know that God will send that pontoon boat filled with kind-hearted Christians to take you back to the landing, fix you up, and send you out again.
“Temptations, hidden snares, often take us unawares, but he guides us with his eye, and we'll follow till we die.”
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