I remember sitting in the back of a dark people-mover. The twenty or so adults in front of me were all asleep while I lounged on the pile of luggage unable to sleep as we returned from a 3-day ski trip. My mind was racing. God was speaking. My soul was wrestling. It was in that moment 3 1/2 years ago that I decided to become a church-planter. The words of wisdom that my dad had said to me years before, once again, was proving true, “Sometimes God gives us a choice between two paths. And He’ll bless us either way, but He leaves the decision up to you which one you will take.” I could continue doing what Jaclyn and I were doing, or we could adventure down a new path that God was opening up before us. We chose the new one.

We decided to help plant Journey Church in Denton, TX. For over a year the city was burning a whole in my heart and we made the leap to leave our position at a church in OK. We put our house on the market in the summer of 2008. It wasn’t on the market for a week and a half when we got a phone call while on a Mexico Missions Trip that we had a cash buyer, our neighbor. When it was all said and done, we would make about $10k on our house. A pretty nice nest egg for any church planter to have in their back pocket, right? That’s what we thought too.

Jaclyn was in Denton and I remained in OK, finishing up my remaining weeks on staff and waiting to close on our house. The day I was leaving town for good, I received a phone call from our realtor. When I stopped by her office she said those words, “Your buyer backed out.” A mere days separated us from closing, and he backed out. No cash buyer. No $10k to sit on. No release from our house. No easy move.

As you may realize, within a matter of months, the housing market crashed, the stock market fell 777 pts in one day and our country fell into the worst economic state since the Great Depression. Our house, remained on the market. That was in September and by December, we ran out of money. We also became pregnant with our second child and my wife’s grandfather passed away. Somehow we managed to make it to March 2009 when we received a phone call. Someone wanted to wire us some money and when it came in, it was $10,000. Wow! I’ve never been given that much in my life! Before that miracle came in, it was a hard time of testing in my life.

Our house remained on the market until December of 2009 when  I told God, “If you’re okay with the bank foreclosing, I’m okay with it.” We simply weren’t fiscally capable of maintaining it. The last day of 2009 I got a call from someone wanting to rent the home and would pay exactly what we needed to make the mortgage payment. Another wow! Thank you Lord.

Fast forward 9 months to September 2010. Our renter decides to marry his girlfriend and move in with her. His aunt and uncle wish to take up the lease and move from Iowa. Not a problem, right? After health issues and other things they pushed their move-in date to late January of 2011. Several months of keeping the house afloat was taking it’s toll on us. After moving in, the complaints started rolling. In one day alone I received 12 phone calls, while Jaclyn received her own. Our tenants simply became unreasonable, asking for things that were simply absurd, and eventually refused to pay rent which eventually led to their eviction. I knew that we were in the right, both morally and by the law, but I must admit to sleepless nights knowing that these people were going to be forced out. It wasn’t easy.

January through April of 2011 has been some of the toughest months of my life. I’ve never known people to take advantage of others as much as our tenants did. I’ve always been an optimist and given people the benefit of the doubt – it bit me in the rear really hard with these folks. I’ve learned to forgive how they spoke to my wife, how they treated my family, and what they did during those months. It has truly been a journey. But with the lack of rent, and us being unable to make the payment, again I spoke with the Lord that if He was alright with it foreclosing, I was too. At this point, two and a half years after moving out, I had had enough and simply didn’t care. However, God’s patience hadn’t even begun to wear thin.

So I received a phone call and a meeting was set up. A person told me that the Lord was speaking to them the words “Mortgage, mortgage, mortgage” regarding my wife and me. With that, we received a check for $5,000 to help with the mortgage this person previously knew nothing about. Wow! And with that, the story picks up. We were able to get out of default, did a few repair jobs to the house, set it on the market, and within a month, had the offer that led to us finally closing on our house last Wednesday. What…a journey the last three years has been. With this in mind, let me share some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Following God’s Call Isn’t Always Easy & Smooth: Once word got out that our house hadn’t sold, someone asked me, “Are you sure it’s God’s will for you to go to Denton?” Now, that person had demonstrated to me what they really thought about God’s will. For them, everything had to go smoothly and simply. Read Hebrews 11:32-40. Notice anything? Some of the faithful turned away lions and armies – others were sawed in two and put to death by the sword. All in all, they were all faithful and not even one of them received what they had been promised. Talk about feeling “ripped off by God” right? But not for these folks. I’ve learned to change my perspectives while enduring difficulties and trials. James 1:2-4 has become a verse I quote often b/c I’m reminded to take joy in my trials trusting God is at work, even when I can’t see it.

2. Faith Is Trusting and Having Confidence In God: I’ve learned over the last three years that faith is not a blind leap. That the Christian faith has always been a faith, or trust, or confidence, based on knowledge. And it is precisely that knowledge of God that kept me going. God has proven himself to be trustworthy. He has demonstrated Himself as reliable. He has proven that you can put your confidence in Him. It has been in these last three years that this understanding of faith has rung true, not just on paper, but in experience and reality. Through everything we went through, we could trust, rely upon, and have confidence in God. Some say theology is too heavy to be taught in churches. That it’s reserved for scholars in ivory towers. The truth, is that it was my understanding of theology that helped me with some of the most practical struggles of the last three years. So pastors: teach people to think theologically!

3. Everyone’s Story Is Different: Our lead pastor and his wife sold their house in OK pretty quickly. Things happened fast for them, at least from my perspective. But what I’ve learned is to not expect my story to be the same as someone elses. I think we all have this “picture” in our mind of how God ought to do things and when it deviates from that plan, somehow, God isn’t at work. But if everyone had the same story, life would be boring, wouldn’t it? Your story may not end up like ours. And that’s okay; as long as you remember that God may be leading and guiding you down a path that you have never noticed because you were too interested in making your story just like someone else’s story.

I hope our story has encouraged you. I hope it challenges you to not give up. I hope you’re inspired by the fact that God is at work, even when we don’t think He is. I hope you begin to study so that you too can think theologically and realize that the more you grow in the knowledge of God, the more prepared you’ll be to face the realities of this life.