Near lunchtime on Friday one of our church ladies stepped into my office. I looked up. “Have a seat, Carmen. Good to see you. What’s on your mind this morning?”
The women’s bible team had been going through the Major Prophets and I knew this one liked to dig a bit deeper than most.
“Pastor, how may a person avoid the slippery slope of pride that precipitated Lucifer’s fall from heaven?”
Her question startled and disturbed me. I blurted out an evasive answer: “I don’t think we should peer into the workings of Satan’s mind. It’s unhealthy.”
Before day’s end, I would be reminded of our conversation and how total can be our self-deception.
I guess my testimony varies little from those of many others. I gave my life to Christ one evening at an evangelistic crusade, falling to my knees under a canopy of stars and before hundreds of people. Follow-up counsel was offered, but I declined. I did however join a church located near my bachelor pad apartment.
I mark this place, for it is here my story takes a divergent path.
Right from the start, the pastor of the church seemed to take special interest in me. Pastor Michael assured me he could always discern leadership and speaking gifts in an individual. He urged me to consider the ministry. I felt flattered and yet at the same time wary of being pushed into something about which I knew so little.
But he said it would be wrong for me to bury my talent. “God intends our gifts for the benefit of the body, does He not?” Put in that light, how could I refuse?
No sooner had I enrolled in a local bible college than Pastor Michael began to share space at his pulpit. At first it was announcements, song leading or scripture readings. But within a few months he had assigned me to a full-fledged sermon. One of our sister churches required him to preach the funeral service of a deceased, cherished member. If I would agree to fill the home slot that Sunday, God would be pleased and my fellow members well served.
The day of doom came down the pike with amazing alacrity. As I walked toward the podium I wondered what I would do with the tennis ball lodged in my gullet. But once I attached myself to the sound system, a transformation took place. I still find it hard to believe. Only a few minutes into my sermon, marvelous words rolled from my lips.
I don’t know who was most surprised at this turn of events: the young guy on the dais, or folk sitting on the edges of their pews, mesmerized by my voice. After services, many in the congregation rushed over for a hug and to congratulate me on my ‘wonderful’ talk. Never had I experienced such feelings of elation, such piquant joy.
As in church, events at seminary gathered momentum. Because of my exceptional ability to process and memorize information, I excelled in class and on exams. The fact that several of their top professors took a personal liking to me didn’t slow the process.
Because of this, I would have expected my classmates to shun me. But that wasn’t how it happened. Everyone seemed to be in my corner, including the prettiest girl on campus. Paula and I became engaged during our senior terms. By fall of the next year we were married and ensconced in our first pastorate.
From this point the ride up only gained speed and became more absurd. At thirty-one I had it all: stunning wife on my arm; house to knock your eyes out; a following from Pastor Michael’s church; the biggest head. In fact I often reflect on God’s mercy in His timing. Had He allowed it to go further, I think I may never have recovered from my tumble down the mountainside.
The beginning of the end, or maybe I should say the end of a bad beginning, commenced with the ringing of the telephone. It was Friday evening, seven fifteen by the clock. I found nothing remarkable about our dinner being interrupted by a call; but I had a dour feeling about this one, and with good reason.
“David?” At the familiar honey-throated voice, my chest constricted. For a time I heard uncontrolled sobbing, and then: “I can’t take the guilt any longer. I’m going to the church elders.”
I felt a stone dislodge and my slide begin.
Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. I Timothy 3:6 KJV
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