JULY 2022

Hard Work, God’s Abundance, and a Scarcity Mindset

I am a second career pastor.   What that means is that I started my career doing other work based on an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration.   After school I did a short stent in restaurant management before transitioning into banking.   

As a schoolteacher and a banker, Linda and I built a home in Gastonia, NC and started a family.   Life was moving along until January 2, 1992.   That's the day I was laid off.   That's the day that I was given a 90-day severance package.    That's the day I suddenly felt the full weight of a mortgage payment, two car payments, and doing my part to provide for our family.   That's also the day I was called to the only rational, logical, most well-planned thing I could do ... I would go to seminary and become a pastor.  

In the summer of 1992, at the age of 31, I started Summer Greek at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  We moved from a new 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath split level house to an old 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment.   We had shifted from 2 incomes to 1 as Linda continued to teach and I attended class.   

Over the next 4 years, on more than one occasion, I would lie awake at night wondering "how long is the grace period" in seminary housing when someone can't pay the rent on time because we didn't have the money for both rent and food.   

It's a wonder I don't have ulcers. 

Yet on more than one occasion, with rent due / past due and bank account empty, the Administrative Office would call.   As soon as I heard the voice (this was before caller ID) on the other end, my heart would skip a beat (we paid rent at the Administrative Office).    However, each and every time, the call was to tell me that a check had arrived to help cover my expenses.    It would be $2,000 from my home congregation, $2,500 from the NC Synod, or even $500 from an individual member of my home congregation.    

Those phone calls "saved" me.  

Countless times, God's abundance, God's grace, God's abiding presence poured out in unexpected and undeserved ways, saved me from financial disaster and emotional carnage.  

It wasn't an "easy" time in our lives.   We worked hard and still often fell behind.   Yet those unexpected gifts of grace kept us afloat, kept us fed, and kept us sane.   Little did we know, things were soon to feel much, much worse, and even more stressful.   

While on internship in remote central Montana (Malta), making $600/month, with Linda pregnant and NOT working, she went into pre-term and spent a week in the hospital racking up THOUSANDS of dollars of hospital bills that we COULD NOT PAY.  

Yet, once again, the phone rang.   First it was the Council President of the Dodson congregation (1 of 4 that I served).   He wanted to come by for a visit.   After his visit we were holding a check that covered thousands of our outstanding hospital bill.   Then my supervising pastor called me into a meeting with the President of the Malta congregation, and again I was holding a check covering thousands of our outstanding hospital bill.  Before the week was over, most of our outstanding hospital bills had been covered by those 4 small congregations in remote central Montana.   

Those checks "saved" me.  

Truth is, fact of the matter is, that those checks were expressions of God's abundance delivered by the generosity of God's people from Gastonia to Malta.   

God's abundance saved me.

And God's abundance wasn't finished with me just yet.  

On graduation day in 1996, I held $32,000 in student loan debt (5 years at 5% = $604/month), had been called to a congregation paying only $19,500 a year, had 3 children to provide for, and a $285/month car payment, leaving us $736/month (before taxes) to live on.    Linda wasn't working.  

However, also on Graduation Day, to my surprise, I was awarded an $18,000 "retroactive scholarship" payable directly to student loans!   From $32,000 in the morning to $14,000 by afternoon, my debt was reduced.

My scarcity mindset, my unwillingness to trust, my own stubbornness insisting on being in control impacted my stress, my health, and my family.   Yet, God's abundant gifts and abiding grace never failed my family or me.   Things were still often hard, and struggles would still arise, but God has always carried us through.  

As God's people, in ministry at this time and in this place, we are reminded that we are called to the only rational, logical, most well planned thing we can do...to Grow Grace.  Live Hope.  Serve Love.  trusting the God of abundance to provide the way.   

Often our scarcity mindset leaves us working hard, fighting against the forces that defy our efforts, and failing to recognize the gifts given to us.   Strengths go overlooked or taken for granted.   Challenges gain a life and fear of their own.   Opportunities can be seen as unwanted strain on already tight resources.   Threats send the fear of demise coursing through our veins.  

But the God of abundance is with us, providing all that we need to answer God's call, so that we might abound in every good thing, for the sake of the Gospel and God's work of salvation and deliverance.   So that God's gifts of grace, hope, and love in Jesus might bring healing, hope, and peace to a hurting and suffering world.   

May the God of abundance bless our congregation and our ministry with the power and gifts to be who and what God desires.   May the God of abundance grow in us a spirit of trust and humility as we move into God's future.   May the God of abundance bind us as the body of Christ for the sake of the World, sent forth in the power of God's Holy Spirit to Grow Grace.   Live Hope.  Serve Love.  for and with all people.   Amen.