Life in the Fast Lane
A little bit about my life, but before we do that, we need to go back and start at the beginning. My grandfather, Louigi, was his name, came to Canada from Italy in 1903 and my father, whose name was Luke or Luca, everybody called him Tony, however, was the first of five sons all born in Montreal. He was the first one, he was born in 1910. My dad had only a fourth grade education, barely knew how to read and write, but growing up in Montreal's little Italy, made him tough and streetwise. He made a reputation for himself as a club fighter going by the nickname of battling Meza Longo, five foot six of boxing fury. He once told me that he quit after 26 pro fights when his nose was broken for the second time. He told me he didn't want to lose his looks.
From there, from boxing, he went on to cash in on his local. He was a kind of a local celebrity at the time and he cashed in on his local celebrity by opening dance studios. Now you have to remember it was the 30s and the 1940s and Hollywood was cranking out the dance musicals with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly. Ballroom dancing was the rage. We think today dancing with the stars, it's a new thing, but it's not a new thing. It's an old thing that's been brought back. It was a craze in the 30s and in the 40s.
My mother spoke of dance marathons. I don't know if today's generation knows what a dance marathon is, but it is exactly what it says. You dance for hours and days and sometimes weeks. Last couple standing won the trophy and my mother spoke of dance marathons, as I say, which were another fad of those days, that my father competed in. And one particular marathon went on for so long that one of the contestants died from exhaustion. This marathon was finally forced to stop by the McGill University Humane Society because it posed too great a threat to human health. My mother told me that my dad spent a week in the hospital after that particular marathon because his feet were so badly injured because of the length of time that he had to stay on his feet. We're not talking hours, we're talking weeks and weeks. And this is why for the rest of his life, he only wore white cotton socks with whatever other clothes that he had on because of his foot injuries.
So Tony opened restaurants, he ignored doctor's orders, he continued the fast life, gambling, nightclubs, cigarettes, alcohol. And my dad continued in the fast lane and he consequently burned out from heart failure at the relatively young age of 53. I was 15 years old at the time of his death. My father taught me about life in the fast lane so this was the kind of life that I chose to live. I didn't know any other life.
I started working when I was 12 years old, delivering dry cleaning on my bike. And by the time I was 16, I also like my father was operating dance halls. At 19 years of age, I had two jobs. I was a clothing salesman at a high end men's store. It was called A Goldman and Sons and I was a singer in a local band at night. I worked days at the store and then went home for supper and changed and then from nine o'clock in the evening till 2:00 a.m in the morning, would sing with the band in night clubs and other venues and then get home at three or four o'clock and sleep for four hours and then get up and go back to work at the men's store and just repeat that thing over and over again.
By the time I was 21 years old, my family, which actually consisted of just my mother and I, had moved 23 times. After my 21st birthday, there was never a time when I wasn't doing two or three things at the same time. School in the daytime, work at night, job in the daytime, college at night. Main job plus a sideline plus school. Not to mention the kind of active social life that my dad had pursued before me. I simply followed in his footsteps. By the time I became a Christian at the age of 30, I had moved 30 times. Is a nice even number, 30 years old, 30 moves.
All these moves wasn't because I was a vagrant or a criminal or I didn't pay my rent, it was because the speed of my life and changes that took place made moving necessary. Since I became a Christian and married Lise 40 years that we've been married. Our present house in Spencer Oklahoma is the house and the place that we've lived in the longest since we've been married and we've lived in this house five years, so it's a record for us.
When you become a Christian, your status changes with God immediately from condemned sinner to saved saint, but how fast you live your life, that takes time to change. That doesn't just happen after you come out of the water. You see, when I became a Christian, I simply revved up my engines and decided to live my Christian life at the same speed that I had lived my former life. Of course I was doing different things now. This time I was speeding in the fast lane for the Lord. I thought that so long as I was speeding for God, there would be no limit to how fast that I could go.
It took me several more years to learn differently. The beginning of my life as a Christian was exhilarating. At first, I discovered an important person and an important idea. Of course, the important person was the Lord Jesus. Through him, I discovered the joy of forgiveness, the assurance of care, insight into what life was really about, comfort in the holy spirit and the joy of fellowship and worship with other believers. Not to mention the satisfaction that comes from serving the Lord. I had finally found a worthy purpose for my energy and my talents. The church was something I could give myself to without reservation in the ministry of preaching and teaching. And of course the important idea I also discovered was that the gospel of salvation does not necessarily get you out of the fast lane mentality. My life as a Christian is proof of this. Let me explain.
After having been a Christian for only two years, I took on the responsibility of preaching for the congregation where Lise and I had been converted. The missionary who taught me and baptized me and encouraged me, he left to go to another work.
And because I had experience as a school teacher, I felt I could do the job and I would just teach myself the Bible. And so in that congregation we had 60 or 70 members that he left me with, but we had no elders.
So I simply studied my way through the problems. A problem would arise, I would just study about it and preach about it the following Sunday and I worked 50, 60 hours a week every week, doing all the teaching, all the preaching, all the administration, all the benevolence, as well as the outreach work and a lot of the maintenance.
I know that it's only by the grace of God, but the church grew. 19 baptisms in that first year alone. That is the grace of God working my brothers and sisters. I guarantee you the grace of God working. We had campaigns, we had meetings, we had building renovations, you name it, we did it. And after three years of this nonstop ride, I realized that I needed help and training because I was running out of gas. Through a meeting with and encouragement from Dr. Bailey McBride, I was invited to attend OC in order to complete my training for ministry. And so at the age of 35, we, Lise and I and three children, Paul, William hadn't been born yet. We packed up the U-haul and we moved to Oklahoma so that I could finish my degree in ministry. I learned a lot about the Bible, the Church and ministry during my time at college. Of course, I was still in the fast lane completing three years of college in 20 months.
Aside from this study load, we managed to have another baby and I preached for several congregations. I also worked at the radio station as part of my media training and I found also the time to write a 50 parts series on the life of Jesus, producing a regular column also for the local newspaper, the Edmond Son and also organizing an evangelistic campaign back to Montreal. Like I said, living in the fast lane is a very hard habit to break. After graduating from OC and without skipping a beat, Lise and I returned to Montreal and immediately we set up a French congregation in our home. I then began producing a television program, purchased and renovated a church building to house our French congregation. Then began training a young dynamic convert for ministry while still doing the counseling, the preaching, the teaching, the administration work for the church. Oh yes, I also traveled and spoke to raise money for the television program that we produced that was at that time called Bible Talk.
While all of this was going on, Lise and I were in the process of raising four small children ranging in age from one year to five years. After a time, we moved back to Oklahoma because I had been recruited by Dr. Stafford North to serve as the associate dean of students at OC and then eventually served as the dean of students when I was there. And yet while there, I had a second job preaching for churches who were seeking a full time pulpit minister. This is while I'm having a full time job at OC. I'm preaching every weekend at other churches who are in between preachers.
The idea was that I would preach Sunday mornings and Sunday nights while they conducted a preacher search and then when they found a successful candidate, then my full time part time assignment would end. And I did this for several congregations. For example, I did it for the Mac Arthur Park Church in San Antonio, Texas. I did this for six months. On Saturday afternoon, I would fly to San Antonio and I would stay with the branches, the Charles and Silvia branch. I would preach Sunday morning at the Mac Arthur Church and I would preach Sunday night and then have supper and then board a plane that night and fly back to Oklahoma City in time to be back to work on Monday at 8:00 a.m. And I did this every weekend for six months. I then did the very same thing for another six months in Stillwater for the Duck Street Church while they were looking for a preacher. And as soon as I finished that six months, believe it or not, there was a church in Choctaw, Oklahoma that was looking for a preacher and they just wanted somebody to come and preach every Sunday to kind of hold the pulpits still while they looked for a preacher. And after a while, they offered me the job and I accepted that job and that was in July of 1993. And so I preached here for seven years and shortly after we completed our extensive expansion and remodeled in 1999 which Dave Roberts designed and worked as the church's contractor and I served as the fundraiser and administrator.
That was two years of very hard work. After this was completed, Lise and I pulled up stakes and we moved to San Diego, California to work with a church that needed our help there. After a busy and successful time there, we returned to the mission field in Montreal and supervised the sale of the over done building that we had bought and renovated way back when and the purchase and renovation of a new church building in the villa marred area.
This also was a demanding seven more years in the mission field, rebuilding and strengthening a congregation that had nearly become extinct. The Choctaw congregation, by the way, supported us in this work.
I went from being a popup minister for this church to being a missionary for this congregation. In 2010, our work was done in Montreal and Marty and the elders opened up a ministry opportunity for me here in Choctaw so that I could return and serve as the education minister and also bring the Bible Talk Internet ministry that had been started in Montreal to bring it here to the United States and use the Choctaw congregation as the kind of the base or the home for that particular ministry.
Well, it's been quite a ride in this 40 years in the fast lane. Certainly, many high points and successes blessed by the Lord, but living and ministering in the fast lane has also had a physical, financial, emotional and spiritual cost for every member of our family.
Every member of our family has paid the price for what I did, for the pace that I set for our family. You cannot move kids from place to place and school to school without it affecting them. We're only thankful that they are all here, here in Choctaw and all faithful at this present time, but it has not been easy for any of them. And today, everybody knows about anxiety disorder or panic attacks. Everybody knows about that, but Lise who had to raise her children in 18 different homes suffered from this disease long before even the doctors knew what it was, let alone how to effectively treat it.
As for me, three complete burnouts was the price that I've paid for living in the fast lane, both as a sinner and as a believer. What saved me however, was the fact that I burned out over and over again trying to do good and not evil, so that my body was not ravaged or destroyed by drugs or alcohol, only wear and tear and you can more easily come back from that kind of damage than you can from evil activity.
Rules for Surviving Life in the Fast Lane as a Christian
You may be wondering where is the Bible lesson in all of this? Well, I had to explain what life in the fast lane, especially a Christian in the fast lane is like because this lesson is about surviving the fast lane life, not quitting it. So the Bible lesson, the spiritual lesson is more about rules for surviving life in the fast lane as a Christian.
Rule #1 - It's okay to live in the fast lane
You might've thought, I would say to you after all of this, you don't ever try to live in the fast lane, but you know it's okay. If that's what you have done or if that's what you want to do, don't feel guilty about it. Why is it that we never try to force calm, slow moving people to speed up their lives, but we're always trying to get high energy people to slow theirs down? It's okay to drive in the fast lane. Some people just can't drive in the slow lane and they make themselves sick and nervous and guilty because they can't change the way they are to suit other people. Most of the anxiety suffered is caused by the feeling that living like this is not okay somehow.
We need to understand that people are in the fast lane because they like the ride. They enjoy the pressure and the challenges of this kind of lifestyle. I'm not talking about compulsive or driven or neurotic people, those people are trapped and forced to drive in the fast lane by outside influences. I'm talking about high energy, ambitious people who choose to live this way because they like it. Without being self serving for the purpose of this lesson, I believe Jesus lived in the fast lane. I mean, look at his life and ministry, full of activity and traveling and pressure and demands of a public life and a very close personal ministry to his disciples.
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.
- John 21:25
Does this sound like a man who just sat around and didn't do much? I don't think so. Imagine, it says if everything he did was written about, the world couldn't contain all the books, that means he was a busy guy. Lots of things were going on.
The world needs people who drive and push and scale new heights, one to work harder, think deeper, go first into new areas. They're the ones that open up new horizons for the rest of us. If you like being in the fast lane, stop feeling guilty, you have a lot of company, a lot of people like living in the fast lane. It's okay.
Rule #2 - Learn to read the road signs
I mean, it's okay to be in the fast lane, but if you're going to survive (and many don't) you need to be able to read the vital signs of where you're at because it's not a straight road. There are a lot of twists and turns. I have learned that there are definite pattern to this life. And with practice, you can begin to read the signs that tell you which part of the cycle or the pattern that you're in so you know when to slow down and when to speed up. Let me tell you about the road signs.
Road Sign #1 - Inspiration point
Inspiration is the moment of the great idea, the vision that gives the burst of energy that is created by it. It's the catharsis experience that gets the juices flowing. The mind explodes in a thousand different directions. I've discovered that it happens anytime at any place, you can't force it because it's God's gift. Many times you wake up with a complete poem or a song for example, or a project or a sermon and the task is to be able to find a piece of paper and write it down as quickly as you can before it disappears.
I remember once waking up in the middle of the night and I got an idea not just for a sermon, not just for a sermon, but I got an idea for an entire series. I mean, I saw it all, it was complete and I said to myself, oh man, Lord, I spoke to the Lord. I said, Lord, I'm really tired. I'll tell you what? How about you let me remember this when I get up tomorrow morning and then I'll write it down then when I'm fresh after breakfast. But you know what happened, right? Yeah, to this day, I can't even remember what the title was. Nevermind what it was about. Yeah, a lot of nights, Lise can testify to that. A lot of nights she'd wake up and where's Michael? Michael's down and he's in the living room today or on the dining room table, writing stuff down that just pop into his mind.
I have more ideas. I have more sermon titles. I have more outlines that I'll ever be able to use in my lifetime. I can't live long enough to be able to use all this stuff that I have. Inspiration is the catalyst that produces a rush of activity and effort that tries to convert an idea into reality, but I've also learned that you cannot act upon and change your life every time you get a terrific idea.
You usually have more inspiration than time, energy or money. You have to choose. The key is to have confidence that it will continue to come. Learn to pick and choose and I'll explain how to do that a little bit later. When at the point of inspiration, it's time to mobilize, it's time to get to work, it's time to get the job done, it's time to step on the gas. That's what's supposed to be happening at that moment.
Road Sign #2 - Peak moment
Peaks are the shortest parts of the road, but the most spectacular. When the job is done, when the idea becomes reality, when you see how your completed piece fits into the entire puzzle of life or work. Peaks are dangerous. It's when we are most vulnerable to lust or to pry. For example, Peter not wanting to leave the peak as a witness of the transfiguration. He quickly became a pawn of the devil by trying to discourage Jesus from his mission to go to the cross and was severely rebuked by the Lord.
In other words, Peter was overwhelmed by the peak and he fell into pride. And what about the 70 disciples who were filled with pride at the fact that the demons were subject to them on their first preaching tour in Luke 10:1-23. What did Jesus do? But he needed to remind them that their true cause for joy should be their salvation, not the power that they exercise through him. You see, the rush at the peak made them lose perspective as to what was truly important.
Peaks are great, they satisfy our need to see the panorama of life and accomplishment. But there, the times when the greatest care needs to be given against false pride and greed and these other types of sin.
And so one road sign is inspiration. Step on the gas, get going. Another road sign is you've reached the peak. Slow down, pay attention, take it in, enjoy it. One other road sign I want to talk about:
Road Sign #3 - Valleys ahead
Valleys are a regular part of the road. They naturally precede and follow the peaks. It's where we spend most of our time. There are the times for recharging or study or prayer or rest or waiting upon the Lord or doing the little things in life. Jesus often took his disciples to a secluded place for rest and personal ministry and recharging. Valleys, and I can't emphasize this enough, valleys are a must. Valleys are a must, but some drivers hate to go through them, they don't want a lull in the action.
For people who live in the fast lane, valleys are where they make their worst mistakes. They become angry and depressed and impatient. They try to create a peak experience while they're in the valley. Entertainers, singers and performers, entertainers who's peak experience is on stage. Many times can't handle the valley in between the peaks. They're good on stage for those two hours and they don't know what to do with themselves afterwards and many of them turned to drugs and elicit sex to try to maintain the high that comes naturally with their performance and their profession.
The biggest lesson I ever had to learn about the fast lane was to read the signs. I needed to accept that the job was complete at times, that I had reached the peak, that it was time to let go and travel the valley road for a while. You see, burnout happens when we don't know how to read the signs. We don't know where we are in the road. We want a peak, but we're in the valley. We don't want to take the time to enjoy the view when we're on the top or we try to force the inspiration starter when the battery is not ready for that charge.
Rule #3 - Keep salvation as your number one priority
Fast lane people, usually allow the urgent things to take over the important things. They love speed for its own sake rather than as a tool for accomplishment. They become hooked on activity, on the ride and they forget that they have a destination. The parable of the rich fool is a great instructor for the one who's on this road. In Luke 12, very briefly, Luke writes that Jesus is telling a parable and says, and he told them a parable saying the land of a rich man was very productive and he began reasoning to himself saying, what shall I do since I have no place to store my crops? Then he said, this is what I will do, I will tear down my barns and build larger ones and there I will store all my grain and my goods and I will say to my soul, soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come.
Take your ease, eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, you fool, this very night, your soul is required of you and now who will own what you have prepared? So is the man who stores up treasures for himself and is not rich towards God. Here's a man at the point of inspiration, contemplating a peak, but forgetting that the road end suddenly and being ready for the end is what it's all about, not What you have in your barn. Fast lane or slow lane, eventually you have to come to Christ and he will judge you.
Not on which route you took, but if he was the destination or not. So it's okay to go fast, but don't go so fast that you get reckless with the care of your soul. Don't forget that in the saving of our souls, it's not how fast we go, but if we finish, that's important.
We will never be able to finish if we don't keep obedience to Jesus Christ as our number one priority. And so to summarize, each one of us travels through life at a certain speed. Some kind of stroll through life at a leisurely pace and others barrel down the highway with the windows down and the radio blasting away.
To these people in the fast lane, I say the following, it's okay to be in the fast lane. Stop apologizing for what you are and the speed at which you live your life. God loves you the way you are. I also say to those in the fast lane, recognize however, that if you want to survive in the fast lane, you'll have to learn to read the road signs and drive accordingly. Inspiration ahead, this is for decision making and hard work, changing gears, adjustment or speeding up. When at this point of inspiration, these are the things required to navigate successfully.
The other sign is peak lookout or peek ahead. Peaks or for rejoicing and realizing and soaking in and enjoying the view. When you're there, take the time to enjoy the view because it doesn't last very long. Make sure you give God the glory when you're at the peak. And then the third sign, valley entrance. Valleys are for contemplation and prayer and learning and healing and reequipping and recharging. Valleys are important. Don't try to avoid them or take a shortcut.
Each part of the road has its turn and its purpose. You can't replace one section for another. You have to learn how to navigate and make the best of each turn in the road, whether you go slow or you go fast. And then the final thing for those in the fast lane, don't forget that saving your own soul and that of your family are the most important things that you have to do in this life. It's what the ride is all about, whether you go fast or slow, don't neglect the safety belt of sincere obedience and regular worship if you want to arrive alive.
My earthly father is gone now many many years. I had him for only a short time and I loved them very much while he was here. He was a genuinely good guy. He taught me how to live in the fast lane of life here on earth.
Since his death, I've come to know and love my heavenly father and I thank him that through Jesus Christ, my Lord, he has transformed this fast lane into a highway that will lead me to heaven. And so no matter what lane you're in, fast or slow, make sure you're on the highway to heaven. You know that you're doing that if you've repented and you've been baptized, that's how you get onto the highway to heaven. And if you need prayer, if you perhaps have taken a wrong turn or if you've stalled on the highway to heaven, then the church may pray for you and help you and encourage you to get back on the highway and get going again.
I've tried to manage all the similarities here. In any case, should anyone need the prayers of the church at this time, we do encourage you to come forward now as Harold leads us in a word of encouragement.