In March of 1998 I found a wallet on a street in Bellevue, Nebraska.
That moment led by twists and turns to this Sunday morning’s service, where I have the opportunity to play for the Bellevue Christian Center worship team. I am nervous, but my fears are overwhelmed by excitement at the prospect of being a part of this.
I was at Offutt AFB for a short training TDY from my home station, and we were staying in a beat up little hotel room on Fort Crook Road. I had never been here before, and this is long before the days of Google maps. So I tried my navigational skills by using the map in the telephone book to figure out where the nearest shopping center might be. And I started walking up the road to see if I could find it.
Not far into my stroll, I was crossing a street and found a wallet laying in the middle of the road.
Full disclosure, my first thought was maybe there’s money in it!
Thankfully, that thought was quickly replaced with maybe I can return it–with any money still inside–to be a witness of the love of Christ to whoever lost their wallet.
So I gingerly opened the wallet to see whose it might be.
The first form of identification I found was a card certifying ordination as a pastor in the Assemblies of God.
So much for witnessing. I think this guy’s good to go.
This was special for me. I grew up in an AoG church, and I had been across the States or overseas, far away from home, for a few years now.
I took the wallet and continued on my way. When I got back to the hotel, I sought out a pay phone (remember those? We all didn’t have cell phones back then) and called Pastor Petey Tellez to let him know I’d found his wallet.
Pastor Tellez was of course very grateful. He came out to meet me and treated me to a breakfast. We chatted for a bit, and I told him my thought process when I found the wallet. We had a good laugh.
He told me, “Hey, do you have a car or anything? Do you need a ride to church? Or anywhere else?”
And so that Sunday, during the short one-and-a-half weeks we were at Offutt, I got to attend the church where Pastor Tellez served as an associate pastor of some position or other that I honestly can’t remember.
I walked into Bellevue Christian Center and was surprised by the size right off the bat. I’d never been in a church that could fit more than about 200 people.
The service was great. The speaker was dynamic, but he didn’t just present a pretty sermon that barely touched on Scripture. He also performed an object lesson that sticks out in my mind to this day… climbing a tall ladder probably 15 feet into the air.
(The point, if I recall correctly, was that no one just goes to the peaks and the best of circumstances in life or in personal holiness without taking one step after another to climb there. You have to keep working at it, and suddenly you find yourself looking from a much different perspective.)
What I loved most was the worship team. I was just starting to play piano for my local church, and I was just starting to write songs for worship. I paid close attention to how they were ministering, and I was impressed. It wasn’t a show about them or a performance to command attention.
They were pointing a huge sanctuary full of people to God, and they were getting out of the way.
I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be up there… not because I’m so important or special, but because what they were doing resonates with my heart.
But we were leaving in a few days.
I came back on another TDY to Offutt in 2005, and attended one service. And then I was gone again.
In 2008, I was sent here for yet another training course, and I knew I’d be here for anywhere from six weeks to six months. I showed up at BCC and hung out after the service to ask if they had a need for a pianist, since I had not much else to do while I was there.
The leaders pointed me in the direction of Pastor Herbie Thompson, who was running the young adult ministry Pergo Deus. I showed up to the Friday night Pergo meeting and was surprised at the genuine welcome and sincere care I felt from the young adults there.
You know the way greetings sometimes go in church. There’s the head-nodding conversation that says “I really don’t care what you’re saying, but I want to welcome you for your first time here… so I’ll keep listening and muttering an ‘mm-hmm’ now and then.”
That’s not what I experienced.
Pergo was the real deal.
I know this, because the same people were happy to see me the next week. And they remembered my name. And they remembered the concerns I’d mentioned.
Pastor Gary Hoyt, the lead pastor at BCC, is the same way.
I chatted with him briefly one Sunday after the service in 2008. Then I left, because (Surprise!) I only had to stay for the six week TDY, not six months.
I came back for training in 2009 about a year and a half later. Pastor Gary remembered my face, my home station, my family, our previous conversation, and several aspects of my job in the military. (He did need confirmation of my name, because he didn’t want to call me “Brother” or “Hey you” or something random. All in all, I was impressed.)
Once again, I started playing for Pergo as often as they’d have me, and I attended Sunday mornings. Just like Pastor Gary’s Sunday messages, Pastor Herbie’s sermons on Friday night were clear, powerful, and heartfelt.
But the worship team on Sundays didn’t seem to need a piano player, so I never thought to ask.
Turns out, when you have a large church, you usually have a lot of musicians… enough to allow people to rotate on the schedule and not play every single week. That’s something I’ve always wanted to see happen where I’ve led worship in the past, but it was never an option.
I realized later I probably should have asked about playing long ago.
So when we finally moved to Offutt AFB as a family early in 2012, I did not want to miss the opportunity. Once we knew that BCC was the right place not just for me but for my whole family–and thankfully that did not take long!–Jami and I approached the Worship Pastor and asked about joining in the ministry.
It’s not some great achievement to be a part of a worship team, I know. People do that all the time. But it matters a lot to me that I get to be a part of this one, finally, after all this time of being blessed by their ministry.
The ladder lesson is right. Our spirituality and our ministry takes time. It requires taking one step after another. You don’t just walk up and jump up to the top to see what’s up there.
But once you reach the goal at the top of the ladder — in this case, looking out as a room full of people are abandoning themselves to give praise and honor to the God that you’re abandoning yourself in music to praise and honor —
The view is worth it.