Posts Tagged ‘pivotal decisions in life’

Deuteronomy 1:6-8

The Command to Leave Sinai


There are certain pivotal events in a person’s life. These are the game changer moments. Like in a football game where there is usually one seminal play in a game that is the play that controls everything that happens after it. It is a play that changes the course of the game. So too, we each have those game changing moments in life. Those fateful decisions that change the course, the trajectory of our lives. What is your game changing moment? For me, as I mentioned yesterday, that game changing moment was when I moved to Travelers Rest, SC from Anderson, SC at age 14 right before going into the 9th grade. Everything else in my life is somehow affected by that decision. If you can trace back to that seminal moment in your life, what would that be?


For me, all the other moves that I made growing up as the son of a United Methodist Church preacher were just insignificant as to the formation of who I am today. Oh sure, the other stops along the way had their moments where significant events happened in my growing up, but none compare to the life-altering momentousness of the move to Travelers Rest (or TR as people in the Upstate call it). Before the move to TR, I was living in Anderson, SC. I went to Lakeside Middle School. I was in the eighth grade before the move so if we had stayed in Anderson another year I would have been a freshman at Westside High School the following school year. At Lakeside, I had become a big man on campus. I was popular. I looked forward to going to school every day because I was part of the in-crowd. One of the cool kids. It was great time to be alive for me. All the girls thought I was cute and I flirted with them all. I was in my element.


It was Anderson where I figured out the politics of fitting in. It was there that I felt connected. It was there that I finally felt at home. I was, as the saying goes, “a big man on campus”, at Lakeside Middle School. But, of course, all of that was to be short-lived. The Methodist Church in South Carolina in its wisdom decided to move us again. We learned of this in the Spring of 1976. I was crushed. Had not the move come along, I would have been going to Westside High School the next year with all of my buddies from the middle school. Why now, God? Why now? That was my cry. It was the lowest of low moments of my life to that point. Finally, I had turned the corner and belonged. Now, it was all being ripped away from me. I was so angry at my dad that I told him that I was going to stay in Anderson and live with my best friend, Donnie. I was very serious about it. That was how important it was to me to live where I felt as though I belonged – for once. But, of course, I was a kid and my desires were not an option.


It was on to Travelers Rest, SC with my parents. My world was over. I lost the life I had developed in Anderson. In Travelers Rest, I was a nobody again. No friends. No connections. Just another new town. Little did I know that it was this town that would control my future for years to come far beyond June 1980 when my parents moved to Charleston, SC. In 1976 though, I needed to rebuild and get connected. I was desperate for the acceptance I had in Anderson.


My dad was assigned to be the pastor of the Travelers Rest Charge, as they call such things in Methodism. It’s when you have multiple churches served by one pastor. My dad served charges for most of his pastoral career except in his later years when he was able to serve what the Methodists call station churches (i.e., a pastor serving a single church). In Travelers Rest, dad was the pastor of Travelers Rest and Jackson Grove United Methodist Churches. Travelers Rest United Methodist was the in-town church and Jackson Grove was the out-in-the-country church. Big difference in those two churches. One was professional families and the other was farmer families. It was there in the smaller church that the direction of my life would be imprinted for a long time. The smaller church actually had the larger more vibrant youth group. So, I ended up deciding to attend more regularly there than at the bigger in-town church. It was there that I met Lisa McDowell.


The first couple of months I was there, including the first two months of school, I was a fish out of water. Didn’t know anybody at school and the girls were not impressed with me as far as I could tell. I only thought I was low emotionally during those summer months in Travelers Rest before school started. Being a nobody again after being a big man on campus in Anderson was devastating and I desperately craved acceptance. It was when Lisa began taking an interest in me that things started to change. She opened doors to all kinds of new people. It made me dependent on Lisa in ways that would affect our relationship for years to come. The mold for any relationship is formed early on and is hard to change once the mold is set. Although I became popular eventually in my own right at Travelers Rest High School. Lisa was the key to it all. She opened all the doors. I became very tied to her approval of me. It would crush me when I did not have her approval. Lisa and I were deeply in love, or so we thought at that age. We dated all through high school. Even after she graduated, a year before me, we stuck with the relationship. It was good in those days. Lots of fun, sex, and parties. We got engaged right after I graduated high school in 1979 and planned a wedding for the next summer in July 1980.


We had a great time together, but I was the lesser in the relationship. Lisa had a very dominating personality. When you combine that with my “why can’t we all just get along” personality and the fact that I was an approval seeker, it allowed Lisa to step into the controls of the relationship. All I did was to please her and to gain her approval. She defined how I felt about myself. When she was happy with me, I was a happy person. When she was unhappy with me, I was an unhappy person. But while all that was going on during our dating years from 1976-1980, we were inseparable and we had great times.


If I had never gotten into that relationship, I often sit and wonder what my life would have been like. There would have most likely been no wedding at age 18. There would have most likely been no Furman University but rather Clemson. There would have been no being tied to Travelers Rest because having to care for a handicapped mother in law. There would have been dealing with the death of her brother in a car accident. There would have been no dealing with Lisa’s violent temper. There would have been no dealing with her drug addiction for eight years after her brother’s death. There would have been no dealing with her affair during her drug addiction. There would have been no raging despair and anger toward her that led me to have an affair of my own that ended the marriage to Lisa and began the marriage to Trena. That marriage was just a repeat of the first with no drug addiction and wacked out behavior but with my kids vs. your kids issue, a new ingredient in the recipe of marriage. The patterns of behavior of approval/disapproval, doing whatever it took to keep a woman happy and have access to sex was the same though. That same pattern of approval and disapproval eventually led to rebellion on my part of saying enough is enough to my entire previous life since moving to Travelers Rest in 1976.


I imagine that my life would be so completely different right now if it had not been for that move to Travelers Rest in 1976. I most likely would not be sitting on my couch right now in Lyman, SC typing this blog as a decoy from beginning the Christmas decoration operation. I do wonder though if I would have met my wife now of almost 7 years, Elena. How would I have met her, the calming influence on my life, the normalcy that she brought to my life. She took this raging, angry horse and whispered to him and settled him down. She calmed the beast in me. She was able to bring the un-ride-able horse into a sense of calm and peace. Would I have met her if it were not for the changed trajectory?


Sometimes when I ponder the thought, I think of that movie, The Family Man (with Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni), where Nicolas Cage’s character finds out what his life would have been like if he had made a different decision at his critical moment. That decision point was whether to go to London to pursue an internship after college or to stay with Tea Leoni’s character. He gets to see what his life would have been like if he had not gone to London. He ends up longing for the life that he missed. I too sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I had not moved to Travelers Rest in 1976. It was there that the path of my life turned down this road that has led me to Lyman, SC in 2016, some forty years later.


It was that seminal moment in life that changes everything that I thought of this morning when I read through the passage for today, Deuteronomy 1:6-8:


6 The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. 8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”


The first thing that you notice here is that Moses’ summary of Israel’s 40 year journey begins at Mount Sinai – not in Egypt. Why did Moses leave out the first part of the Exodus? He was summarizing the development of the nation of Israel. They were not a nation before that point. In Moses’ mind, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the nation of Israel began at the foot of Mount Sinai. For it was at the foot of Mount Sinai that God gave His covenant to the people (Exodus 19-20). Along with the covenant came the knowledge and responsibility of being God’s chosen people. After the people chose to follow God, they had to know how to follow Him. Therefore, God gave them a comprehensive set of laws and guidelines that stated how He wanted them to live. The people could no longer say they didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Now that the people had promised to follow God and knew how to follow Him, they had a responsibility to do it. It all goes back to Sinai. All the wanderings and meanderings of the past 40 years hinged upon Sinai. It was there that everything changed. The Israelites would be a wandering rabble of nomadic people if it were not for the God moment at Sinai. That’s where God made them His people. The entire future of Israel and of us as Christians points back to this seminal moment in the Sinai wilderness at Mt. Sinai.


What is your seminal moment? What is that one point in life where everything changed? What is that moment where you can go back to and say, this was the moment that changed the course of my life? It was Travelers Rest in 1976 for me. Everything goes back to that moment. It was out of that move to Travelers Rest in 1976 that my entire current life flows, forty years of it. It is all actions and reactions resulting from that moment the moving van pulled out of the parsonage driveway in Anderson on its way to Travelers Rest parsonage. However, as I said yesterday, that game changing moment was necessary for the life that God has placed before me. I would not know the joy of my daughters without that move. I would not know the joy of my life right now with these daughters grown and the addition of a wonderful stepdaughter. I would not know the joy of the wife that I have now without that seminal moment of the move to Travelers Rest. Without the twists and turns of my life, I would not know Elena and the peace, joy, and stability that she has brought to my life. I would not know her without all the stuff that I went through without moving to Travelers Rest and living the life that I have lived since then.


Sure, you wonder what your life would be like if the seminal moment would have been different. But it would not be your life. It would be some other man’s life. Not this Mark Bowling’s life. I would not appreciate what I have now if it were not for what came before. The move to Travelers Rest and everything that came after it were necessary for me to appreciate the high, dry ground that I stand on now. It makes me appreciate and honor and love and respect and praise my God more than ever. Without the toils and trials since that seminal moment of moving to Travelers Rest, I maybe would not love the Lord the way that I do now. Maybe, I would be all caught up in the corporate ladder life and living an empty life of things and trinkets.


But without the move to Travelers Rest, I would not know the wonders of the blessings that belong to me now. It makes the words of the old hymn that is just so beautiful that it brings tears to my eyes when it is played straight up (non-contemporary) in the original arrangement:


Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see.


’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!


Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come;

’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.


The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures;

He will my Shield and Portion be,

As long as life endures.


Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess, within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.


The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.


When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’d first begun.


Amen and Amen.

Matthew 16:13-20 (Part 2)
Peter Says Jesus Is the Messiah

Who do you say that I am? This is the question about Jesus Christ that we must answer. It seems on this side of eternity that you answer to the question does not have any impact at all. However, when it comes time to meet our Maker or when Jesus returns to wrap things up here on earth, the answer has eternal implications. Peter’s reply to the question is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. It is upon this profession of faith that Jesus will build his church. The faith of Peter and the faith of the disciples were the building blocks of what we know now as Christianity. On their faith profession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Jesus built his church. After his ascension, their faith created a firestorm of faith that spread quickly through the Roman Empire. So impactful these guys were, the Christian faith became the official religion of the Roman Empire within 3 centuries of Jesus’ ascension.

It reminds you that decisions that we make about Jesus are eternally impactful, but there are also decisions that we make here on earth that have far-reaching implications. I think of my own life in this regard. There were a series of pivotal events during 1976-1980 which forged the course of my future more than any others. Outside of my accepting Christ as my Savior in December 2000, the pivotal decisions of Travelers Rest on the future of my life cannot be understated. Even the timing of my acceptance of Christ as my Savior is, in part, affected by 1976-80. What if my dad had not been moved by the SC Methodist Church from Anderson to Travelers Rest in the summer of 1976? What would my life look like now? It was in Travelers Rest that met my first wife, married her, had children with her. What would my life look like now if the Methodist Church had moved us to another town? It boggles the mind to think about it at times. It makes you wonder if you would have had the same heartaches, pains, choices, results, etc. had we moved to another town. I loved my situation in Anderson when I was 13 going on 14 and I got yanked out of it for a new town. What would life have been like? Another pivotal decision was about college a few years later. Because of my relationship with Lisa, who would become my first wife, I chose to stay in Travelers Rest and go to nearby Furman University for college. What if I had chosen to go to one of the other two colleges that had given me acceptance letters, Clemson University and University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV)? What if I had decided to go to Clemson, just an hour away from home, but far enough away where I would have had to live on campus or in an apartment in Clemson. How would that decision have changed my life? I am certain Lisa and I would not have gotten married after my freshman year in college. I am even more certain that we probably would have drifted apart as I would have begun immersing myself in the college life. What if I had the guts to have decided to venture out to UNLV, across the continent from Travelers Rest? What would my life be like now? These thoughts boggle the mind sometimes. The what if’s of life. It is amazing how there are those pressure points in life where a decision not only affects your immediate future but has a profound impact on the rest of your life. The decisions that I made between 1976 and 1980 still affect me to this day. Everything that has happened since that time has been a result of, a reaction to, or the consequences of that time frame. What if I had chosen Clemson instead of Furman? What if I had chosen UNLV over Furman? Where would I be today? Would I be sitting here in a house in Duncan, SC at age 53 writing this blog? Our lives right now are the culmination of the major decisions of life and in small part to the little decisions as well, too. Where we are right now can be traced back to a few pivotal events.

Just as we have a few pivotal events in our own lives, this moment in Caesarea Philippi is a pivotal moment for Peter and the disciples. Everything hinges on this moment. Peter and the disciples probably looked back at this moment as the moment that changed everything. It changed the course of their lives. No, they were not just hanging out with the coolest, newest, latest prophet to come along in Judaism, they were hanging out with Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the living God. That’s a whole lot different from hanging out with the latest rage in prophet-dom. Pivotal events that change everything. Pivotal events that send us down a road chosen that cannot be undone. No turning back after such events. The choice to choose one road over another often has long-ranging, overarching impact. So, today we look at what the results Peter’s revelation did for the disciples and what our same decision about Jesus Christ does for us.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[c] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[d] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Here Peter and the disciples are in a pagan town hanging out with their mentor and teacher, Jesus Christ. Up to now, they have seen a lot of things and witnessed miracles and listened to Jesus mesmerize crowds with His eloquence and with His understanding of Scripture. But til now, they have been on the sidelines. They have not been confronted with the head-on question from Jesus that they have surely pondered in their mind but have refused to answer to themselves. Here, Jesus forces the issue. What say you about Jesus? He asks them point blank, “who do you say that I am?”. Not what other people say. What do you say? It is Peter’s response that profoundly changes everything for the disciples. Peter says it. He verbalizes it. He says what the others were afraid to say. He says that Jesus is the Son of the living God, the Messiah. It is from this point forward (with a whole bunch of mistakes and errors along the way) that these guys changed the world. It is these bumbling, clueless fools who become the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ. It is this faith statement by this one man and subsequently but these other men upon which Jesus built his church and continues to build it today. It is through this faith statement by Peter than Jesus grants Peter and the disciples the authority to build His church on earth after He returns to heaven. It is from this point that they will begin to understand who Jesus is and why things happened the way they did. It is from this faith statement that they were willing to die for the sake of Jesus Christ. The gates of hell could stop them from living a life of faith in Jesus Christ and made them willing to die some gruesome deaths to expand the kingdom of God. Pivotal moment. Road chosen. Life changed forever. Each one of these guys I bet when sitting around campfires years later pointed back to this moment as being the one that changed everything.

It is the same for you and for me. When we see Jesus as just one of many options, just another in a long line of prophets, it does not really change anything. We are still in control. We can pick and choose, as we said yesterday, from what we want from Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Confuscianism, and Christianity among others. It is our menu driven spirituality where we are in control. Jesus is just another prophet to us. He is just a radical rabbi, a political revolutionary, a great philosopher, an accepter of all people and behaviors. That way we don’t really have to address the issue of who He is when we make Him just one of the boys, one of the greats in spiritual history. But He will ask you at some point in your life or when He returns in His glory, “who do YOU say that I am?” That’s the question. That’s the one question that changes everything. We will have to answer to Him one day. He is God in the flesh and won’t a lot of people be surprised when they find out that this thing was for real! It takes faith to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. It changes everything. When we finally see Jesus as the Savior that He is, He sends the Holy Spirit to live in us. Through the Holy Spirit we learn of the sins that we commit that grieve the heart of God. We submit to His authority and begin turning away from our sins one by one as we mature through the Holy Spirit. We are not perfect. We are works in progress. But the decision to see Jesus as the One and Only Messiah, the Son of the one and only True God opens our eyes. We see Him as having died for our sins on the cross so as to reconcile us the Father in heaven. A Father in heaven that by His nature cannot allow sin and imperfection to be in His presence which then counts us out because we are stained by our first sin and any sins after that. We need rescue and that comes in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We see that without Jesus’ sacrifice that we are lost in sin. Without his covering, we are ugly, stained, sinful beings. When we see Jesus as who He says He is, we see that we are no longer in control. We see that we depend on his grace and not our effort. It is the most pivotal moment in our lives. It changes everything. Nothing is the same after that moment of salvation, that moment when we proclaim Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, that moment when we proclaim Him to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Just as the decisions of Travelers Rest from 1976-1980 are the pivotal juncture in history upon which everything after it in my life hinges and just as Peter admission of Jesus’ identity is the moment at which everything after it hinges for him and the disciples, so it is in our lives when we finally answer the question that Jesus asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” Everything hinges on that moment and how you answer that one simple question.

Amen and Amen.