I still remember the moment. It was February 12, 2002. The chapel service for the guest speaker was underway. The speaker and his wife sat on the stage during introductions. The wife of the speaker kept looking in my direction; well, to put it bluntly, she continually peered right at me—likewise, the speaker glanced at me quite a bit too.
“Is the Lord speaking something to their heart about me,” I wondered, “or am I just being paranoid?”
At the conclusion of his message, he gave an invitation for students to respond. I jumped up in response. Immediately the speaker’s wife came right up to me and prayed over me.
Little did I know that the Lord had something quite remarkable in store for us all.
HEARTS KNITTED TOGETHER
That evening we had our Tuesday night chapel service. Jerry Phillips was ministering again. As head ushers at Christ For the Nations Institute (CFNI), my wife and I were in charge of ensuring the guest speaker had everything needed during the service. At the conclusion of his message, he gave an altar call. Students flooded the altar. It was packed with hungry souls.
As Aneta and I looked around, we realized that our well trained ushers were nowhere to be seen. Therefore we stepped up to assist Jerry as he prayed for each student. Aneta carried the anointing oil for him; and she fetched him a glass of water whenever needed. I stood behind each student as he prayed for them to catch them if they were overcome by the touch of the Holy Spirit. For three hours he prayed one-by-one for each student. In between, he’d stop and crack a joke or share a story with his trademark facial expression. Of course, he found a fan in Aneta whose refreshing laughter simply egged him on.
I don’t know how many hearts were touched by the Lord during those three hours. Jerry and Shara tirelessly ministered the heart of the Father to each one waiting. I’m guessing they prayed for roughly seventy-five students that night.
But I do know this: Our hearts were deeply touched by the Lord through them.
Our eyes observed them as they selflessly ministered to each eager student. We watched Jerry affectionately converse with his wife. Our hearts were warmed as Jerry divulged into humorous stories between students. We watched Shara ooze with love like a true Texan grandmother over each student. Minute by minute, our hearts were knitted with this precious couple.
At the end of the week we exchanged contact info. A divine connection was established in the Lord. It was a relationship that would transcend those initial three hours to span thirteen years (and counting).
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Our first wedding anniversary was spent in the barren desert of Hobbs, New Mexico. This is where Jerry and Shara were pastoring a church. They invited us to come and minister Sunday morning to their congregation. Two days prior I received my degree from CFNI. As a recent graduate, I was more than eager for opportunities to minister. It meant so much that Jerry would allow me to minister. During the course of that weekend, we spent hours together. We laughed, cried, and laughed some more.
Jerry and Shara continued to provide support as we traversed to the west coast to attend Fuller Theological Seminary. We were enrolled in the Graduate School of Campus Ministry. Our time was also spent on the campus of Cal State at Long Beach reaching college students.
Honestly, it was one of the hardest seasons of my life. I cracked. It was a pressure cooker of a situation; and the stress fractures were evident. I welted. Sin issues in my life that I thought I had addressed prior to getting married came back with a vengeance.
I was disillusioned. How could I permit the sin of lust to have entrance into my life as a married man? It was as if a riptide yanked me off the safe shores into the sinking vastness of shame. Shame engulfed me. Internally I felt as if I was losing the battle with no hope or help in view.
My wife was devastated. She didn’t see any of this coming. This certainly wasn’t in the script for the happily ever after marriage.
After finishing our required two semesters of our program, we were scheduled to take over a campus ministry on the east coast with several existing campus pastors. Yet I knew my heart wasn’t right. My character was lacking. I had confided to those in leadership of my struggles.
LISTEN TO WHAT SHARA SAYS
We trudged along eastward from southern California. Our hearts were heavy. We decided to visit the Grand Canyon. It was a cold morning. Our hearts were warmed by the breathtaking beauty of the Grand Canyon. In spite of our heaviness, there was always a reason to praise our Father in heaven for the splendors of His hand. After braving the bitter cold, we embarked upon our journey with warmed hearts.
Along the way I had a dream.
In the dream Shara hands me a plastic Ziploc bag. Contents in it included: a hearing aid; three gold class rings; engraved on the side of one ring was heritage. As we drove along in silence through Arizona and New Mexico, I prayerfully pondered the dream. Finally we neared Hobbs, to visit Jerry and Shara. At that point, the Lord entrenched a thought in my mind that I knew was undeniably from Him: Listen carefully to what Shara has to say.
My spiritual hearing aid was turned full tilt as we pulled into their driveway.
Throughout the day I could sense Shara was slightly restless. Finally as evening ensued, she gushed out what had been bottled up within all day:
You can’t go into full-time ministry right now! Something bad could happen. Your marriage might not make it if you continue down this path. Take six months to simply rest here and allow the Lord to do a deeper work in you before stepping into the ministry.
With the heart of a Texan grandmother, she lovingly and earnestly implored me to reconsider our plans.
Due to the dream, I knew this warning was from the heart of God. Like a Ziploc bag, she sought to protect us with transparency. Thankfully the Lord prepared me beforehand to receive His word through this loving woman.
CHANGE OF HEART
We laid down the ministry on the east coast. It was hard. But it was the right decision. I don’t think I’d be where I am today had I continued on that self-destructive path. Instead we served in an internship in the desert at the church Jerry and Shara pastored. Jerry enlisted me in apostolic training centered upon life-changing training: scrubbing toilets, washing floors, wiping windows, and other menial tasks in the large facility. It was exactly what I needed at that time and season of life. I might’ve preached twice in six months. The bulk of the focus was simply learning to serve in obscurity in the place of intimacy before the Lord.
During that season I was also able to complete my first forty day fast. This was the precursor to developing the inner fortitude of Christlikeness to walk victoriously over the bondage of lust, anger, and shame.
Once during a phone conversation, Jerry shared an insight that captured the battle at hand in the midst of the testing I was enduring.
“The essence of the test that we’re enduring is this: Whose house are we building?”
As a young man in the Lord, I was fixated on flourishing in my calling; whereas the Lord was perfectly content to see me languish in obscurity in the midst of menial tasks. He was after my heart. Was my heart set upon Him to build Him a dwelling place so that He alone was exalted and honored in my life?
The words of David in Psalm 132:4-5 aptly captures the heart posture the Lord was seeking in me through this experience: I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the mighty one of Jacob.
Was I willing to give my life to build His house or was I seeking to construct my own house of fame?
MY HERITAGE IN THE LORD
One night we were in a time of prayer with several others, including a prophetic minister from out of town.
“I feel like you have something to pray over Brian,” she said, motioning to Shara. “There are three things the Lord wants you to release into his life.”
Shara smiled, as if to say, Yes, that’s exactly what the Lord put on my heart.
What I didn’t share earlier is that when Shara first saw me at CFNI on the front row, she immediately tapped Jerry on the arm and whispered into his ear, “That young man looks just like our Jeremy!”
Jeremy was their grandson. From birth he spent a lot of time in their home. He was a delight to their hearts. He’d often travel with Jerry when he’d go minister somewhere.
However tragedy had struck just a few years prior. It devastated the whole family and those who knew this young man the best.
He took his own life.
It was a dark season for both Jerry and Shara. The pain of losing a beloved grandson runs deep. Yet the Lord faithfully ministered to their hearts during their time of enduring brokenness before Him.
My appearance had an uncanny resemblance to their deceased grandson, especially in comparable football photos from our late teen years.
As Shara stood before me that evening, she recounted the hardship of losing her grandson prematurely. She went on to share three things that were evident in Jeremy’s life that reflected God’s call on his life: (1) Even at a young age, he was an excellent communicator, a public speaker; there was certainly a call on his life to preach. (2) He clearly had a leadership calling upon his life; others were drawn to him and followed him even at a young age. (3) He had an infectious joy about him; it was a zest for life that was contagious.
“These three things that were in his life, that were a part of God’s calling upon his life,” Shara decreed. “I now release this mantle into your life!”
I was stunned.
Immediately, my mind raced back to the dream with Shara prior to our arrival. The word of the Lord to me echoed within: Listen carefully to what Shara has to say. Now the other part of the dream made perfect sense. The three rings represent my heritage in the Lord. These three rings represented areas of authority that I was to inherit in the Lord through Jerry and Shara.
A heritage is an inheritance, a birthright; it is passed along by a preceding generation to the next. The three rings represented my inheritance in Christ that Shara was to impart into my life.
As I shared that evening the details of the recent prophetic dream, everyone was astonished by the divine orchestration of the Lord. Shara was not previously aware of the details of the dream.
For me, it was a holy moment. And a sobering moment. I felt the weight of what had transpired.
SHARED LIFE TOGETHER
For six months we shared life with Jerry and Shara. They treated us as if we were one of their own. We ate their food. We used their bathroom. Simply put, we did life together. We played lots of dominoes. And lots of card games. (Of course, we had to let Jerry win most of the time so he wouldn’t kick us out of the house!) We watched a lot of basketball with Jerry as he convinced Aneta to cheer for Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
At the conclusion of the internship, we moved to Virginia as Jerry and Shara transitioned to Lubbock, Texas. Though we were no longer under the same roof as Jerry and Shara, they have remained deep in our hearts. Every few years we’ve been blessed to have them visit us in Virginia.
Words aren’t sufficient to express the depth of gratitude that we feel for Jerry and Shara. As evident by the story, their influence in our lives run deep and wide. Though we’re separated by geographical distance, our hearts are forever bonded in the love of Christ.
From the depths of our heart, we simply want to say, Thank you Jerry and Shara. We love you both with a quality of love that was demonstrated to us through your steadfast and tireless example. Thank you.
Oh … and remember, Jerry, come back! (This is our reenactment of the western classic Shane when the little boy emotionally bids farewell to his hero. Click here to watch.)