I tried a number of summer jobs growing up. My first was cutting grass for persons in our neighborhood—mostly with a hand push mower ($2 and $3 a pop!). In my senior year in high school, I supplemented my summer “income” by dipping skyscraper ice cream cones in a Pittsburgh tradition store known as Isaly’s—for a whopping 65 cents per hour. (All of this while delivering the morning Post-Gazette six days a week.) Those combinations of jobs allowed me to save enough to buy my first used car a few years later. These various employments kept me busy, but left me mostly unfulfilled.
While in college (and supposedly preparing for some kind of job in engineering), I worked for three summers in civil and metallurgical testing labs—both settings carefully arranged by my father who himself was a civil engineer. In those days, everybody who was anybody was probably going to be an engineer. What I learned in those two positions was that I did NOT want to be an engineer!
Somewhere during my junior year in college (at Lehigh University—a good engineering school) I began to feel a nudge toward something totally different. If all I had learned about God and Jesus growing up was true and real, perhaps I should give the ordained ministry a try. That conviction grew rapidly, and I entered theological school right after college—almost failing the required college graduate record exams in the process. I just wasn’t into engineering and mathematics anymore! Slowly, but clearly, I began to believe that if God was real and if Jesus was the image of God (Colossians 1:15), then I needed to make that proclamation and interpretation my life story. Nothing else really mattered quite as much. I still remember my “call to ministry” being solidified in a first semester seminary class in systematic theology.
I remember a story from the life of E. Stanley Jones. He was talking one day with a brilliant young Hindu. The Hindu said to Dr. Jones, “Tell me about this Jesus about whom you teach and preach.” E. Stanley Jones—never hesitant to talk about his Master—spent about 15 minutes telling the other man about his faith. When he finished, the young Hindu man was silent for a few moments. He then said, “You know, Dr. Jones, if what you say isn’t true, it doesn’t matter. But if what you say is true, nothing else matters.”
That story has sustained my ministry for over 50 years. The exact shape and content of the message has shifted and grown significantly. But the central conviction has never wavered. I am absolutely convinced that the God revealed in Jesus is the truth that matters in my life. “In him, all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)
What is your defining conviction? What sustains and propels you on this journey? What or Who matters most?