“Mr. and Mrs. Maddox, we need for you to come to the school office, Zach got into a fight again during recess.” By the time I was finishing second grade, I had spent most of my first and second grade recess time in fights with others.
In Kindergarten, a couple of years before this incident, I had found a way to hide out on the playground as a way to extend my play time. The tunnel slide proved an effective place to hide while the rest of my class went in for their naps. Napping just wasn’t my thing at the age of 6. Kindergarten teachers, I recommend counting your kids when you return from recess :-).
When my parents came to the school that day, for what became my last school fight, I waited outside in the hallway thinking about the day’s events.
I’m not sure why I wanted to fight with other kids. I wasn’t a bully, I only fought with other boys who thought they were tougher than I. My parents were kind and loving, I can’t remember a time they ever yelled at me. There simply was something inside of me that wanted to fight.
But God saw fit to show me in second grade the power of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life.
After the school administrator finished talking with my parents, we went home and talked about what had happened and my parents prayed with me. They prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to mature the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in my life. They prayed for more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self-control. There was nothing unusual about that prayer. They had prayed it many times. I didn’t feel a tingling sensation throughout my body. They simply prayed, I went on about my day, returned to school the next day, and never got into a fight again. Never.
In fact, by the time I was playing high school football, my sophomore coaches were trying to get me angry, thinking that might make me even more aggressive than I already was on the playing field. Their efforts were useless. In response to my parent’s prayer eight years before, God had taken away any desire I previously had for physical altercations. That did not mean I didn’t enjoy sacking quarterbacks as a defensive end, but that was all in sport.
I continued to have encounters with God throughout my childhood, teen and young adult years. Those encounters continue today. Many of those early encounters with God occurred within the confines a church building because I grew up in a minister’s home. I am a product of the American church and am grateful for my experiences within it. My life as a pastor’s kid was a rich one. Times spent at Sunday evening altars, youth camps and mission trips all shaped who I am today.
By the time I was a freshman in college, my faith was firm. I chose to attend Northern Illinois University on a ROTC scholarship and enjoyed my first semester of classes while getting to know the guys on my floor. The first week of classes, they invited me to attend a party. I shared with them that I didn’t drink, and they assured me others would be at the party who didn’t drink either. So I went.
As we walked into the house where the party was being held, I was handed a cup of beer and encouraged to go in. I held the cup and wandered around the house. I listened to the band playing loudly in the packed living room. Eventually, I got bored, set down the full cup, and walked out. I went back to my dorm room and simply went to bed. The guys saw me the next morning. When they asked how the party was, I told them I left early and wasn’t otherwise interested in attending parties where beer would be given to minors but would be happy to hang out in other ways.
Within a couple of months, those same guys asked on a Saturday night if they could attend church with me the next morning. I told them they’d be welcome. Sunday morning, we all piled up and flooded the Sunday school room with a bunch of guys curious about who Jesus was.
In the spring, I decided to work through the devotional, Experiencing God. Through it, God showed me that instead of consulting Him with my future, I had made my own plans. Weeks later, as I was stretching after a late afternoon run, God spoke to my heart about becoming a pastor instead of a navigator with the United States Air Force.
I was excited and nervous at the same time.
I wasn’t convinced I wanted to become a pastor, so I took a half-step in the right direction by transferring to Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida to pursue a teaching degree, along with classes in Bible and theology. I found out God can even use half-steps in the right direction for His purposes.
During my third year in college, while serving as an RA, I wound up frequently taking trips to the hospital as one of the guys on my floor had several serious medical issues that required him to receive ongoing care. During one of those middle-of-the-night ER runs, I was sitting in the waiting room and God spoke to my heart again, this time about serving overseas. God dropped in my heart a desire to use my teaching degree in an overseas setting for His glory among the unreached. But what about the pastoring thing, Lord? He’d eventually answer that question.
Shortly after that encounter with God in the ER, I met a beautiful 5-foot-4-inch fireball named Shellie. I hadn’t dated in a while, but I liked the fight in this one. I’d sure like to get to know this girl, but what would she think about living overseas?
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