Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
When I was 32, I had a $10 million grocery business with nearly 100 employees. Life was going well. I was getting ready to buy several other businesses. But on March 1, 1997, there was severe flood in my town. I was away at a John Maxwell conference at the time. I couldn’t get back to try to protect my business because of the weather. The next day, when I finally got back to the store, I couldn’t get near it because of the flood. There were boxes of Zesta crackers floating all over. A man near me said, “Man, somebody lost a lot of inventory.” The person who lost a lot of inventory was me.
I called my insurance company to explain what had happened, “Hey we have a flood here,” I said. Some profanity came out of my agent’s mouth, then he said, “You have every type of insurance except flood insurance.” He said there hadn’t been a flood in my town for 89 years, and no one in my town had flood insurance.
I found myself in $2 million of debt overnight. We were one of the largest employers in town, and I felt such a responsibility to get my employees back to work. I was unable to get to my house because of the flood. I spent the night with my sister. I was flipping channels and landed on a channel where John Maxwell was speaking. His sermon title, “Do you need a miracle?” got my attention. After that sermon I thought, “God, You can do a miracle!”
The councilman for our district contacted our state representative. He helped to push through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) loan for my business. In a miraculous 21 days we re-opened. I used a lot of information from the John Maxwell conference I had attended to help me rebuild my business. One of the main principles I learned was, “It’s not what happens to me, it’s what happens inside me.” The next year I was recognized by the town’s Chamber of Commerce as businessperson of the year.
The next time John Maxwell came to speak near my town, I went to his conference. After he spoke, I had an opportunity to speak with him and tell him how his words and principles had helped me recover after the flood. “I just wanted to say thank you,” I told him. He looked at me and pointed across the table. He said, “Charlie, I want you to write this story for my new book, Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success.” I shared my story for the book. The title of my chapter is “It’s not what happens to me, it’s what happens inside me.”
The business recovered well. Then another grocery came to town, and there wasn’t room for two groceries. I had to file for bankruptcy. I still had around $2 million in debt. I went home that night and told my wife about filing bankruptcy. She said, “I hate to add to a bad day, but I don’t love you anymore and I want a divorce.” I had to put my home up for collateral for the flood disaster loan. So, I lost my business, home and marriage within 24-hours.
I had suicidal thoughts. I was angry at God. “Lord I have loved you. I have gone to Sunday school, done Bible studies and listened to Christian radio. I’m going to find out if all this stuff in the Bible is real.” I started reading the Bible, seeing a Christian counselor, and exercising regularly. My family was wonderful. The Bible became real to me. Verses started to jump off the page and speak directly to me.
A pastor I respected wrote me a letter in which he said, “I hurt because you hurt.” He cited Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.He wanted me to know, “I don’t know how, but God will work this out.” I saved his letter.
While going through the divorce, I couldn’t find the key to my safe deposit box at the bank. While the locksmith was working on it, we were making small talk. He told me that his pastor had resigned. I can’t believe this came out of my mouth. “If you need someone to fill in someday, I would be happy to do that.” Here I am a divorced, bankrupt man offering to preach at his church. Two weeks later he called to tell me his church wanted to take me up on my offer to preach.
For my first sermon in this small rural church, there were about 15 people in attendance. They asked me to come back the following week. The church started growing. It was up to 45 people. “Bring a Friend” Sunday was coming up, and I felt like God was saying, “Let’s see if we can get 100 to come on “Bring a Friend” day. I challenged each person in the congregation to bring at least one visitor to the service. On the big day just two weeks later, I pulled up to church and there were cars everywhere. I wondered if all the other churches around were having something going on. I walked in our church and it was standing-room only. We had 156 people in attendance. I immediately start to cry. I heard the Lord speak to me, “This is not about you. It’s about me. If you will surrender to me, I can take a bankrupt, divorced guy and use him for my glory.” The elders came to me and said, “It’s obvious God’s hand is on your life. We would like you to be our full-time pastor.”
I was getting ready to accept their offer, when I received an offer from another church to become their associate pastor to lead small groups, men’s ministry, sports ministry and singles ministry. I visited this church and could feel the Holy Spirit there. I felt that was where I was supposed to be. But the salary was only $21,900, and it was a full-time job. I couldn’t live on that salary. I talked to my brother about it. He told me that it was obvious that God had his hand on my life and had opened this door for me.” I stepped out in faith and God blessed everything I did. I started in August 2003. My first office was an electrical closet with no ventilation. In the summer the circuit breakers were tripping and the sweat would roll down my back, but I loved the job. The church doubled in size and they needed an executive pastor. I became their executive pastor two years after becoming associate pastor.
I got remarried and, on my first anniversary, we learned that the senior pastor at our church was involved in an affair. The next year was very difficult. People were hurting. In 2008 my wife said she wanted a divorce. I was shocked as I thought things had been going well. As a twice divorced man, I pressed into my faith. I got out of ministry in 2013 to take a break and do some healing.
I started a sports radio program and did that for about three years. In August 2017 I got a call from a friend telling me a mutual friend had taken his life by suicide. I had presided over this man’s wedding. No one saw his suicide coming. I couldn’t get his little daughters out of my mind. A couple more of my friends died by suicide around the same time. All three were men of faith. I thought, “Someone has to do something about this suicide thing.” About that time, I got a call from a radio station and they said, “We have a 15-minute radio program open. Would you be interested?” I thought this could be an opportunity to share hope that might prevent suicide. This quote from Hal Lindsey is a reminder of the importance of hope, “A person can live about 40 days without food, about 3 days without water, about 8 minutes without air, but only for 1 second without hope.”
I came up with a name for the radio program: “Hope Is Here.” I asked God for His help. “I am going to step out and do this, but God you will have to help me.” I started in December 2017. We have had almost 800 programs to date. We make a podcast of the radio program, and by the end of 2020, the podcast will have had 40,000 downloads.
I have learned life is about continuing to ‘fail forward.’ God will be with you every step of the way. What the enemy has meant for evil, God will use for good. God will restore what the locusts have eaten. I have learned that my scars become someone else’s stars. It is really about surrender, daily surrender. It’s about God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Romans 8:28 was true when the flood happened in my small town 23 years ago, and it’s still true today. I believe that everyone has a purpose. My purpose is to be an agent of hope. Because of Jesus, there is always hope.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)