Maybe not 'cool', but Amazing Grace would fit!
I was born into a loving family, to a mother and father that loved Jesus, each other, their family, and literally everyone they seemed to come in contact with. Sounds like the perfect situation to be a child growing up. It was! Perhaps just a bit too much so, as despite being well grounded in love and understanding, as I evolved into a young man and an adult I held no concept of the world or the evil in it.
We didn’t have a lot of money or fancy cars, but there was always food on the table (at times nothing more than bread and milk, but we always were fed). Mom was the disciplinarian, however there wasn’t much of that necessary because we kids would rather have belt taken to us than to disappoint our parents. When we’d really stepped out of line mom always delegated the task of discipline to daddy who would reluctantly apply the punishment appropriately but as gently as possible. (Sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it?)
I’m daddy’s namesake; well sort of. I say this because when my older brother Al was born they wanted to name Al after a dear family friend to honor him, but also gave all daddy’s middle name Kieth.
As a result, when I was born they gave me dad’s name Kenneth, but because dad’s middle name had been given to my brother Al, they feel it was right for us both have the same middle name so I ended up with simply the letter K as my middle name.
Growing up, that name left an impression on me. I shortly after my introduction into the world was given the nickname of Kip which to this day many refer to me as, but understand the importance of carrying my daddy’s name has been a truly formative influence in my life. I’ve always sought to be an echo of him in as many aspect as I could.
Our family was a consistent presence at our church. Sunday mornings, evening services, Wednesday night prayer meetings, and any other time that body was called together, the Carter’s were expected to show up and we did.
I don’t recall the exact date; I do know it was during one of those Sunday night services, during warm weather, as there was a thunderstorm growing outside.
I am thinking Pastor Fuller was our pastor at the time. Normally as an 8 year old boy I was more interested in the gum someone had left on the underside of the pew we routinely sat in, right up front. I love singing, however ‘adults talking’ was far from interesting. But that wasn’t the case this evening.
Somewhere shortly after the last song before pastors sermon, I became fixated on pastor and his message. I felt like the room had disappeared. I couldn’t hear the storm outside. There was only pastor and me, but he was the only one saying anything.
It was as if the air was a weight crushing me as he guided me through God’s Word to make clear for the first time that I was a sinner! Not just the folks that didn’t bother with church, ME, I was a sinner!
This was so much stronger than the guilt I felt when I disappointed mom or dad! When pastor got to the altar call, it was almost instantaneous, I was on my knees right there in the pews. Crying profusely. After more than 50 years have passed, I can’t really recall pastor words or mine, only that when I asked Jesus forgiveness and to come into my life.
As I pleaded with Jesus to forgive me. All that weight was lifted and a state of pure joy overwhelmed me. I asked Him to come into my heart that night, I became one of God’s prized possessions, His child.
It would be nice if this story had consistent path to this day, however we are going to take some twists and turns.
Things changed changed for me. I was baptized a short time later, I remember being concerned about how Jesus felt about my actions.
We traveled when I was 12 years old to the mission field in Sierra Leone, West Africa. We returned when I was 15 because mom required critical surgery, that couldn’t be performed ‘in country’. This resulted in the mission board cutting my families term short a few months and returning to the states.
Our church at that time established a Christian School. I attended my Junior and Senior years of High School at New Hope Christian School. It was a wonderful time scholastically as well as spiritually for me. I found myself engaged with others in God’s word everyday and my fascination with music had brought me to a fondness of the guitar and I was writing numerous songs of worship and praise.
I felt towards the end of my junior year God calling me into ministry. It wasn’t long before everyone knew my intent to become a pastor. I even competed in preaching competitions to groom my skills at the pulpit and dove head long into debate class to overcome a fear of public speaking.
Then off to college, when my college career came to an abrupt halt as news of an accident that landed my dad in the hospital body crushed from his car being literally wrapped around him in a collision with another vehicle.
Daddy recovered to the amazement of all. What should have paralyzed him only was a bump in the road as God had other plans for him.
It wasn’t long after he was fully recovered that I decided it was time for me to move out of our family home and start out on my own.
This would prove to be the point at which it became abundantly obvious that I was not prepared for the world I was venturing out into. Not prepared one bit!
I soon found myself buying into a lie the devil himself fed me that ‘I could worship without the trappings of the church. Not making excuses, but I was a bit disillusioned with the church, this ”manmade creation to do nothing more than control people”.
That’s when I started running. And run I did for nearly 35 years. There were, what I thought at the time, ‘Good Times’ and bad times, but consistently the bad outweighed the what I perceived as good.
After a long series of wrong roads and missteps, I came to the realization that something had to give. My life was a shambles. I was tired, battered, no longer able to clearly decern between right and wrong. All I could clearly comprehend was that I had miserably taken every wrong path I could to only find pain and desperation.
Exhausted I began to as the prodigal son, make my way back. Starting with prayer, which I had neglected for years. While I experienced an uneasy peace beginning to take root. Something just didn’t make sense. Nothing seemed any better. Even in the middle of my self imposed prison the light was trickling in. I experienced so many things that jolted memories of days when I was walking the path that God had chosen for me.
I started reading my Bible and meditating on God’s word in secret from my wife. Then I happened upon Isaiah 6:8
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Not sure what I was agreeing to, I whispered inside “Here am I Lord, send me. I’m tired of running, whatever you would have me do I will do, where ever you would have me go I will go. I surrender!”
The music that had left me years ago returned to my heart. At the time severe arthritis in my shoulder prevented me from raising my left arm more than a few inches from my side on its own power. To type on the computer I had to lift my left arm with my right, in order to set it on the edge of the desk and type.
Physical therapy and injections didn’t seem to help! Praying and telling Jesus that I wanted His healing hand on my shoulder and committing that should He see fit to miraculously heal me, I would use that arm to once again play my guitar for His Glory as I did so many years before. Over the course of just a few weeks the pain up and down my arm was dispelled and the strength returned. He healed the lame and now had healed the prodigal.
I wasn’t sure of what I needed to do but it seemed obvious to me that I should be back to church. Running away from God’s will was over. I selected a church that was big enough I could hide in it. Intentionally I had targeted a church that wouldn’t ask more of me than I thought I wanted to give at the time.
I enjoyed that first church. The felt a closeness with the people and began to grow closer and closer to my Lord and Savior. But I found myself being troubled by the words of that verse in Isaiah…Who will go? Here am I. Send me. This simply wasn’t where God wanted me.
God what are you trying to tell me? Am I not doing what you want me to? I’m going to church, I’m reading my bible. I’m even singing with the praise team! What more do I need to do?
The answer came back forcefully and without question. The immediate answer came from my years as a youth. Impressed with memories of my home church back in Camden, MI, where I had grown so as a young man.
This was not the church where I belonged, God clearly was showing me. So I began to search for a new church. Utilizing the three service times my current church had every Sunday morning to make it possible for me to visit other churches in the area. I thought I was in a search for carbon copy of my old home church back Michigan.
Time and time each church I visited came up lacking something and even though many seemed to be exactly what I thought I was looking for, the Holy Spirit was telling me no. There simply was no peace with any of the ones I visited.
It happened one day that I needed to drive into Hoover to pick up something on a Saturday. My wife was not feeling well at all so she stayed at home. I picked up what I needed and headed back towards the house. Something was going on that caused the main road to be a traffic jam, so I opted to take the back way through Helena to the house. I had taken this route out of Hoover many times when the traffic was too dense on US 31. It’s a nice drive and quiet. Nothing remarkable about it and that was why I liked going that way from time to time.
As I was nearing the outskirts of Helena suddenly my head was snapped to the side of the road to see the sign for a church I had no idea was even there! My heart raced inside my chest as I felt drawn to that narrow turn off from the main road. (Later I came to know that narrow path as Starkey Rd.)
I turned around and drove back, following the road up to that church in the woods. It’s indescribable what was going on inside of me. I was compelled to find out more about this church and sooner rather than later.
I went back to the house with some notes I had made for myself about the name and location of the church in the woods. Then searched the web to see if they had a web site. They did and from it I found the email address to send a message to the pastors. Pastors??? That lil church had more than one?
As I later discovered after joining that church they not only had more than one they had no fewer than 5 ministers and several lay ministers as well.
With the email addresses for ‘the pastors’ in hand I began writing an email that took up several printed pages and well into the night to compose. When I had completed my list of objectives in finding a new church home and my doctrinal background I hit send.
A few days later the reply came from one of the pastors. As I read it I became more and more excited and eager to visit first hand. He had included an invitation to visit but it really wasn’t necessary because I was ready to go.
I wrote back and told the pastor that I would be there the following Sunday.
That day came and and I will never forget the moment I walked through the doors after being greeted by a couple of friendly gentlemen. My search was over at that point in my mind but I still wanted to hear the message before making a final determination.
After church I talked with both of the pastors and the words that came from my heart was “I’m home if you will have me!” and that was exactly the case.
God has bless me so since then. That isn’t to say that everything has been smooth sailing, it hasn’t. I developed a chronic condition where migraine headaches plagued me day and night for over a year and a half. Could not find the issue. Eventually started taking anti-seizure medication to minimize the episodes. Several other issues have placed challenges in the path but God has sustained me through the valleys and daily he makes his love for me known without question.
To this day the words of Isaiah 6:8 remain ever present in my mind and my heart ‘Here I am Lord, Send me!’ And another verse in Jeremiah has come to be a constant reminder of His Grace and love. That found in 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.
Hope where there was none and a future from the darkness of running from a relentless God.
I can’t be sure right now just where the next step in my journey will be. I know that He’s given me tasks right now that I’m doing all I can to fulfill.
I also am certain that he has those plans and I’ve made the commitment that where he sends I will go. Because the Lord is my hope and my salvation! Safe in the arms of a loving Lord who suffered and died on my behalf to redeem first a lost boy of 8 years old and then later to reclaim His own with His abounding Grace.
1. I was lost and Jesus found me as a young boy of 8.
2. While I was still a teenager God was making it clear to me that he had plans for me.
3. To this day I don't know why I ran. The only thing that I can perhaps affix it to, was the fact that while my parents were loving and nurturing. They made it look easy. When my life was up against the world, I wasn't prepared and bolted, challenging all that I knew. This resulted in years of floundering.
4. God NEVER let go of me. Though my life could and perhaps should have met an end many times, His protection of me and providence always gave me a means of pulling though. Looking back it wasn't me, it was Him that preserved me.
5. When I finally repented, God welcomed me back with open arms. So much so that the story of the prodigal son makes me tremble inside because that is me.
6. I returned to my place in the the family of God. I'm humbled and thankful for the Grace that exceeded my failure. I'm blessed by the love of a Lord and Savior that refused to give up on you even if you do.
7. He's not finished with me yet
What remains? Simply this...
2 Corinthians 2:15 (HCSB)
For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
His Grace is sufficient for me.