On February 20, 1962, John Glenn sat atop a ninety-five-foot-tall intercontinental ballistic missile at Cape Canaveral. After eleven delays capsule communicator Scott Carpenter finally uttered the famous phrase “Godspeed, John Glenn,” and the Mercury-Atlas 6 blasted off from Launch Complex 14. It reached a velocity of 17,544 miles per hour, traveled 75,677 statute miles, orbited Earth three times, and splashed down four hours, fifty-five minutes, and twenty-three seconds later, eight hundred miles southeast of Bermuda.
John Glenn became an instant hero. The first American to orbit Earth, but even heroes need help. Sensational stories often have even better backstories.
The greatest challenge facing NASA wasn’t getting a man into space, it was returning him safely to Earth. This is where Katherine Johnson entered the equation. Calculating Glenn’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere required the brightest mathematical minds, and Katherine was chief among them.
When it came to calculating trajectories and computing launch windows, no one was better than Katherine Johnson. NASA had purchased their first IBM computer a few years earlier, but Glenn trusted human computers more than the machine version. In fact, he wasn’t willing to take off until Katherine checked the numbers. So, John Glenn made a special request, “Get the girl to check the numbers.”
This story brings home the reality that there are people who have changed the course of history of whom we are totally unaware. I call these people the “Obscure Partners.” We would not be who we are, nor would we have accomplished so much without these obscure partners.
This is not only true in our present lives, but we see throughout Scripture. Behind, Moses was Aaron. Behind David was Jonathan. Behind Esther was Mordecai. Behind Elijah was Elisha. Behind Paul there is obedient and courageous, Ananias. Behind Apollos there is Priscilla and Aquila. Behind Jesus and His disciples as they traveled sharing the Good News, there is the obscure women supporters named, Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and many others.
In the words of English poet John Donne, “No man is an island entire of itself,” taken from his famous meditation 17.
However, I like the words of the Apostle Paul better: “How strange a body would be if it had only one part!.” In his listing of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 he expands on those spiritual capacities by using the human body as an illustration.
“19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.” – 1 Corinthians 12:19-22 NLT
For a season Rolling Hills Community Church was one of several anchor churches that were Biblically based in greater Portland. This did not happen in a vacuum—God used hundreds of “Obscure Partners,” to accomplish His purposes.
Below are just thirteen:
• Steve and Debbie Liepe and Rich and Karen Hanson who were instrumental in creating the atmosphere that “Truth flows best through meaningful relationships.”
• Wayne Slovick, who brought financial and accounting acumen into the daily operations.
• Clint Beard, who instituted accountability in our giving to the needy.
• Clink Davis, who shaped the Discipleship DNA.
• Al and Marliss Witt who, in the early stages, doubled the attendance of our High School ministry with the addition of their 6 kids. ☺
• The late Jerry Beres who was the original youth pastor who fostered a thriving student ministry.
• Richard Ebel who helped infuse the mission’s ministry with “productive verification”—are our missionaries producing spiritual results?
• Ted and Wendy Carlson who aided the church in becoming casual regarding protecting the life of the unborn.
The point is that we all need each other. God never meant for us to travel this world alone.
Avoiding Solitary Dogmatism
In Mark Batterson’s book, Whisper, he writes a few interesting comments about C.S. Lewis:
Do you know why C.S. Lewis went to church? It’s not because he loved the songs, he thought they were “fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate-music.” It’s not because he loved the sermons. And it’s not that he liked the people. He didn’t. Lewis went to church because he believed that if he didn’t, he would fall into something he called “solitary conceit.” He knew that we aren’t designed to make it on our own.” – Whisper, p. 130
This truth resonated with me especially since I have left the pastorate. I find it easier to become isolated and develop what Lewis called, “solitary conceit.” I also realize that when we move away from people it can lead to “solitary dogmatism” which eventually leads to “solitary confinement.” We think we don’t need others and, before long, we are alone. We can so narrow our doctrine that it is impossible for anyone to function with us because we think we are right about everything. In the article I wrote: Run To The Roar, I mentioned what I needed to run to, and I would add this to the list—I am running to the Roar by confronting the danger of solitary dogmatism!
Perusing Solid Dogma with Others
There always seems to be a need for balance. The Essenes, who lived at the time of Christ, were a separatist religious group who lived in their isolated community by the dead sea. They meticulously copied the text of Scripture and devoted themselves to purity, prayer and preserving the scared writings of the Hebrew Bible. We have the Dead Sea Scrolls because of their austere devotion and extreme dogmatism in obeying the Scriptures (the Hebrew Bible). So sometimes isolation and being solitary is beneficial.
For me the upside of being isolated from the institutional church has been that I have been able to assess and critique what I did not see when I was enmeshed in the daily responsibilities of leading a church. As a result, a significant paradigm shift has occurred regarding the way I see church being done, how the democratized church is organized, the temptation to conform and compromise, and the doctrinal adjustments and justifications churches make in order to fit the culture.
Being enmeshed in the organization, I contributed to my own blindness, partly because I was receiving pay from the church. It’s amazing what we might think or say when our income is attached. This present paradigm shift has allowed me to assess more accurately the evangelical church, in comparison to the churches of the New Testament. I have not discovered these things on my own, but have also read extensively from a variety of profound thinkers and authors. This would not have happened had I never stepped away for a period of time.
It is relatively easy to celebrate righteous obscure partners who have helped shape us, but to be honest we also have people in our lives who have resisted and opposed us, and they are not so easy to celebrate. However, they also have been used by God to shape us, for better or worse, to be who we are today.
Years ago, when I was pastoring, I would teach on Mother’s Day about godly mothers and the positive impact they have had on the lives of many. I almost placed them at the right-hand of Christ ☹ until women in the congregation came up to me after the services and poured out their hearts of hurt, anger, and disappointment about their moms. After being jolted out of my naivety by these women I read the profound book, The Mom Factor by Henry Cloud. He gave descriptions of dysfunctional mothers and the impact they have on their children. From that day forward I taught a balance between righteous mothers and the not-so-righteous mothers. The point is — I needed several women from Rolling Hills to help me see more clearly. They also helped me discover that there are people in our lives who are extremely difficult and can shape our lives for good or bad, depending upon our response.
The Bible is replete with who I call, resisters. These are people who are opposed to the message of God, and subsequently to you, because you choose to stand on Truth.
Here are a few examples from Scripture and the response of the righteous:
• In Nehemiah 4, Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, and the Ammonites opposed Nehemiah and the Jewish families, while they were building and repairing the wall around Jerusalem. The “resisters” were profuse with derogatory slurs demeaning their work and character. Nehemiah responded with a rather righteous and aggressive prayer appealing to God to judge them:
“4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.” – Nehemiah 4:4,5 ESV
• Jews opposed Paul because he was proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ (Messiah).
His physical response and words were biting and condemning:
“But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.“– Acts 18:6 NIV
• Paul records the names of those who opposed the truth in Moses’ time as he was experiencing opposition from men. The Apostle Paul is quite specific as to their future punishment and the nature of their opposition—they had “depraved minds,” were “rejected,” and their “folly” would become evident. Paul also was not afraid to name names. He called out the people who opposed him and the message of the Kingdom of God. He calls out Demas, for “loving the world,” and Alexander the metalworker for doing him harm (2 Timothy 4:10,14).
Today in view of the famous pastors who have gone woke, it is sobering and enlightening to hear other solid believers call them out by name like the Apostle Paul did.
“8 These teachers oppose the truth just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. They have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith. 9 But they won’t get away with this for long. Someday everyone will recognize what fools they are, just as with Jannes and Jambres.” – 2 Timothy 3:8-9 NLT
Stimulate One Another to Love and Good Deeds
God places people in our lives to keep us humble and to draw out our potential. Sometimes God uses those relational encounters to get us where he wants us to be. Each of us is a link in the chain of “begats” that started with Adam and Eve. The chain is filled with heroes, partners, famous and obscure figures. These figures are our family and friends, coaches, teachers, pastors, counselors, disciplers, and authors. Many of these obscure partners won the day for us, and the truth is we all stand on one another’s shoulders. To believe that any of these people were or are in our lives by happenstance is to grossly underestimate the sovereignty of God. He wants to use them to speak into our lives, and He wants to use us to speak into their lives.
What can we do in view of these truths?
- Write a personal, handwritten note to some of these unsung partners, expressing your gratefulness to them for the impact they have had on your life. Be specific!
- Please refresh your memory and read Luke 17:11-19, the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. Gratefulness is important to our LORD!
- Assess weather you are tempted to move toward “solitary conceit,” or are you living with the balance of “selective solitude” and pursuing with others “solid dogma”?
- If there are “resisters” in your life who are clearly opposed to the Truth, pray an aggressive prayer for judgment. For many sincere Christians this is a huge challenge. We must develop a tough outside and a tender inside. Also, there are times when we ought to offer a prayer of blessing on those who are resisters. The Holy Spirit will show you what to do and how to pray. “If someone is persecuted, you pray a prayer of blessing and reward on their lives.”– Romans 12:14.
- Please look for the backstories behind every epic story. There are many Obscure Partners who we ought to celebrate.
- Make a point to thank the Lord God for the “obscure partners,” and pray a prayer of blessing for those “irritating resisters.” Please pray out loud as this reinforces your intentions and gratefulness.