How I Learned To Tithe, Part 1
Part 1 Is Biographical
Part 2 Is Technical
Proceed to Part 2
I was 21 years old and had recently recommitted my life to Christ. As a result, my career path changed, my life was motivated by a different purpose and I was deaf to any advice to the contrary. My commitment was unshakable.
I had gotten to this place through a series of circumstances too involved to share in detail but suffice it to say that I had been flitting from one attraction to another for many years and had learned to numb the pain of aimlessness by engaging in selfish pursuits and questionable pleasures. It was all about me.
So, at 21 and with a renewed sense of commitment, having previously experienced things that did not fulfill, I was determined not to waste another second being self absorbed. I was willing to do anything required to follow Christ. Anything!
The problem was I didn’t really know what to do next. I got baptized, sure, and I attended church, even when there was no service, but other than that I was ignorant.
One afternoon in the early stages of my recommitted journey, however, I was hit with a sledgehammer of guilt. I was doing what I often did when not in church, visiting Christian friends, and on this particular day I was visiting with Nancy, a friend I had known for many years.
Nancy and I grew up in the same neighborhood and her brother, Richard, had led both of us to salvation in Christ, along with several other kids in the neighborhood. We were 13 at the time but it still seems like yesterday.
The first few weeks following that conversion were exhilarating!
Richard got us kids together almost daily, sang Christian choruses and taught short Bible lessons. We didn’t worry about getting into trouble. It didn’t occur to us to cause any. We had a new outlook and everything seemed great! We were headed in a new direction.
Nancy and I were only 13 but during that time both of us made commitments to serve Christ in some full time capacity. Everyone thought we were crazy, except Richard, but as it turned out, God was behind it.
I’m not sure what ministry Nancy committed to specifically but I committed to missionary work in Africa. I didn’t know where in Africa but at the time it wasn’t an issue. I wasn’t packing my bags to leave the next day. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Africa, other than it was a big place and was home ground to large ferocious beasts, but I was certain in my heart that God wanted me somewhere in Africa.
I remember the moment I made the commitment vividly. We kids gathered next to a big tree in Richard’s front yard where we sang a couple of choruses and listened to Richard teach a lesson on missions. At the end of the lesson Richard said God was looking for men, women, boys and girls who would commit their lives to preaching the gospel in other countries.
I was sitting in the back of the group. That was where I felt most comfortable but I could hear Richard clearly and it was like he was talking directly to me.
And that was the moment!
I knew right then that God wanted me in Africa and in my heart I stood up and said I’ll go.
The difference between Nancy and me was she remained steadfast and I fell off the wagon. Instead of attending church, Sunday school and Bible study and eventually enrolling in Bible college – the route Nancy took – I did what misdirected kids do at that age. Whatever I wanted, which often happened to be whatever the crowd was doing. You know: smoking, drinking (not too much for me – I lived with alcoholics), taking drugs (also not too much for me – the stuff scared the heck out of me) and thinking about sex or engaging it when possible (in my case a dream that never materialized).
You’re probably wondering why, after such a great start, I didn’t also walk the straight and narrow. There is a reason.
On the single occasion I did attend church with Richard, before I fell off the wagon, I had the bahooge scared out of me. I was full of anticipation on the way to church and Richard encouraged this. We sang choruses on the drive so when we got out of the car I was all smiles. That changed, however, when Sunday School started.
As I walked into my Sunday School classroom I peered into the room across the hall and who did I see? The school bullies! Not one but the whole gang. They were the ones who regularly started fights at my school – with several of my friends – just because they could. They usually won too. Not always but usually and they always drew blood.
I couldn’t figure out why they were there. These weren’t nice church kids and they knew I was one of the “other” guys. Looking back I’m sure they were probably visiting like me and it just happened to be on the day I showed up but I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and I didn’t make plans to go back.
So church wasn’t on my social calendar. I had a Bible, I didn’t read it.
For the most part, my life went no where. After barely graduating from High School, I attended one year of junior college, which didn’t go so well. In fact, I botched everything I touched even romance.
One of my friends discovered I was still a virgin and offered to set me up with a willing chick. And he did! He even made the plans. I, of course, knew the girl but had no idea she was willing. Apparently she was interested in me at a distance and I wasn’t aware. I had no idea!
She and I met at a local dance, danced a while and then she said, “did Rob tell you what we talked about?” I said, “yes, that thing” – I couldn’t even mention it. And she said, “shall we go then?”
If she hadn’t spoken up we would probably have danced all night.
Well, I couldn’t believe my good fortune but I also couldn’t follow through. The deed was never done. I was willing, mind you, and she was an attractive girl but the situation wasn’t right. Forget romance, a car seat just doesn’t do it for me and I wasn’t resourceful enough to figure out how to change that.
After a few more failed opportunities I began to think there must be something wrong with me. It seemed like I was the only one missing out.
The point, of course, is my junior college experience was a dead end. I didn’t do well in or out of class. The few good experiences I had were short lived and made little difference in my future.
But something really nice happened toward the end of that year. I discovered a marine engineering school that was just up my alley. They offered free room, board and tuition and even paid students a small monthly stipend if they kept their grades up.
To say I was interested was an understatement.
Growing up in the port city of Jacksonville helped me develop an intense fascination for ships and sea travel. My Dad and I fished many weekends and we passed by ships often on the way out of the river.
Our little boat was dwarfed by these mega floaters cruising by with water spouting from the sides, upper deck levels towering over us, masts reaching up to the sky and adorned all over with chains, anchors and hoses. Intriguing! I was hooked, so to speak.
So, I applied, was accepted, enrolled and worked overtime to keep my grades healthy. Studying marine engineering was a dream come true and I did well.
Even though many of my peers were failing badly, I excelled. I was an honor roll student, much to my father’s delight, and I loved it. But, while the studies were working on my head, God was working on my heart.
The course was broken into three segments: classroom/shop, hands on and then back to classroom/shop.
The second segment, hands on, was accomplished by placing cadets (students) on board commercial vessels for one full year. During that time they traveled the world, experienced the daily operation of the engine room and completed a series of assignments which were sent back to the school for grading.
The work was interesting and sailing was an adventure. Again, I loved it. The sea is mysterious, majestic, unpredictable, inviting and, like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get from one day to the next.
Imagine going to bed at night with the stars reflecting off an endless blanket of ocean from a cloudless sky and waking up covered in fog and surrounded by ice bergs. That really happened! It was just one more experience I couldn’t believe and I didn’t get one picture. We were escorted by an Coast Guard ice breaker but even then we couldn’t avoid some slight hull damage caused by brushes with a few bergs.
The traveling was great! We went places National Geographic hadn’t discovered yet.
I spent time in several ports along the east coast of the US, visited ten different countries (some more than once), was surrounded by very foreign cultures more than once, sailed through the Panama Canal, traveled through war zones, ate fresh flounder right out of the fjords of Iceland, got to visit on a US Coast Guard Cutter (icebreaker) and actually caught game fish off the coast of Kenya. Exciting stuff and all of that in less than one year.
The bonus was, I was doing work I enjoyed the whole time: studying the mechanical wonders of an engine room. There was only one negative. I didn’t enjoy fixing problems as much as I enjoyed discovering them. Engine rooms are a mysterious maze of pipes, motors, generators and other machinery all designed to work in unison to provide propulsion to the vessel and maintain life on the ship. Problems can occur at any time and aren’t always obvious. Locating these problems is where I thrived.
There is a reason I am telling you all this.
Although I enjoyed the experience, it was during this time that God impressed on me that I was going in the wrong direction. I always had the nagging sense that it was all a diversion. Everything was going great on the outside but I can’t describe what I thought and felt on the inside. I couldn’t make peace with the idea that this was the real purpose of my life. I was often troubled.
It’s also interesting that my journey at sea took me to Africa twice and what a surprise! There was no jungle to be found or at least not of the Discovery Channel version. It was more a hybrid between vegetation and asphalt, the best of both worlds. They had tangled bush and sophisticated buildings both. I actually went to a movie in Cape Town and fished from a motorized launch in Kenya.
But more to the point it was in Africa that I remembered the commitment I made years before, to be a missionary. It made me wonder if that original commitment could be reengaged. Was it too late? Could I recover? If I could, changes would have to be made, one of which was a new career.
I was ready for this but it wasn’t an easy change to contemplate. I had great success in engineering and enjoyed it very much. One of the two chief engineers I worked with rated me the best cadet he had worked with from my school and he wasn’t easy to please. One of my strong points was I was always willing to do what others wouldn’t. On one occasion I crawled inside the mud drum of a boiler to tighten up a couple of water tubes. Very confining. Barely enough room to crawl into. Creepy!
On another occasion I climbed to the top of the stack to get pictures of the inner stack’s corrosion. It was very high and because I needed both hands to manage the camera I was tethered by a flimsy rope (more like string). Scary!
I don’t enjoy confined spaces or heights any more than anyone else but the jobs needed to be done and I was willing. It bought me lots of engineering cred.
Bottom line. I was doing so well in this career path that many people argued against me leaving and the respect I had for them coupled with the success I was experiencing made the decision difficult but long-story-short, my direction changed and I have never looked back.
So, back to my dilemma. Please continue reading in Part 2.