I walked into Shiloh for the first time in March of 1988 as I approached the sanctuary for my first service; one of the ministries was standing at the podium declaring over the worshiping congregation, “Reach into God! There is more! Go Higher! Touch Him!” It was the sound of raw, earnest hunger for God and it echoed the cry that had been in my own heart from my earliest memories.
I knew at that moment that God had a purpose for me in Shiloh and within a few months of that first visit I had sold most of what I owned and relocated from California to Iowa.
That move was 27 years in the making!
I don’t come from a particularly religious background, but I grew up with a sense that there was more to life than met the eye, and a hunger to find out what was behind it all. That hunger produced an inner dissatisfaction that only intensified as I grew older. A friend once said to me, “At some point you just have to be comfortable with things.” I knew I could not do that, but I also knew I was not finding satisfaction in the world around me so I decided to try something different; I began to ask God into my life. That decision gave a focus to my hunger and I began to pray.
During one of those times of prayer a simple phrase came to me, “Worry about the inner man, not the outer.” It was the first time I had felt any response to my prayers and the words came through with a force that intensified my hunger. I knew God was there; He could be experienced and He could guide me. I had to come closer to Him. I made the decision to take an early graduation from school and look for work, thinking the change would help.
I was still without solid direction and at times wandered perilously close to destructive ends, but God was always there pushing me along and at one of the places I worked I befriended the people that He would use to bring me closer to His purpose for me.
The friends I met attended a Living Word Fellowship church in Campbell, California, but it was not their church attendance that intrigued me. What I noticed was how engaged they were with God and His Word. They expressed their relationship to the Lord in a plain language that had application to their daily lives and their continued seeking of the Lord.
Occasionally I would listen to my friends read from “This Week” messages; printed sermons by John Robert Stevens published by The Living Word. I did not fully understand what I was hearing, but the words spoke to my heart. They were not inspirational, they carried an authority like God Himself drawing me closer to Him, urging me toward some purpose that I could not quite grasp. Neither I nor my friends realized it then, but God was planting the seeds of a destiny that would bring me to serve as a pastor in The Living Word Fellowship.
But I was like the man healed by Jesus who saw men walking as trees (Mark 8:22-24). The reality of a daily relationship to the Lord was like a shadow of something I knew was there, but could not clearly grasp.
Eventually, I left that job, taking with me a stack of printed material from The Living Word and a hunger that was beginning to border on despair. I continued to pray, “Lord there must be more.” He had to be more than theory and doctrine! But it was becoming increasingly difficult to express thankfulness to a God who seemed content to remain a distant entity.
I was coming to the place of travail for His Presence.
Finally one morning on my way to work I’d had enough. I could not pretend things were fine when they were not. I drove to a nearby beach, pulled a tiny King James New Testament Bible from the glove compartment of my car, sat down by a rock and began reading at Matthew 1.
Matthew 1 was a rough place to start for someone as unversed in the Word as I was. “So and so begat so and so who begat so and so…” Who were these people! Why did I care! Where was God? In tears I threw the Bible across the sand and yelled, “God if you are here I need you to meet me.”
And nothing happened.
Something inside me finally gave in. I realized I was not going to find God by throwing a tantrum. I knew that I needed input from outside of my own view of the world. I needed to find others with whom I could seek God, someone who could help me.
I had gathered a lot of material from a lot of groups over the years and I drove home determined to communicate with a few of them looking for answers. When I opened up my drawer of booklets and papers, on top was one of the This Week messages from The Living Word I had picked up a year before. I opened it and began reading.
The message was titled, Not For But With. It spoke about the yearning that we have for the Lord; that we are not looking to do works for Jesus, but we are looking for Him to indwell us so that He is with us in everything we do. And as I read the message, Christ came flooding into my awareness.
It took me a long time to read that message through the tears.
I had found the reality I was looking for. I felt a powerful sense of acceptance and forgiveness – the mistakes, the frustrations I had expressed toward God, none of that mattered. Jesus Christ had received me; He had come into my life and I sensed that He had been there all along, leading and guiding me to Himself.
And in that experience, I heard the words, “Be a support to this man.” I felt instantly connected to the ministry of John Robert Stevens, a man I had never met except through some printed words that had leapt off a page and made a personal relationship with Jesus Christ a reality in my life. But I knew that God had placed me in the body as it pleased Him (1 Cor 12:18); John Stevens and The Living Word Fellowship were where my hunger for God would be expressed.
During that initial experience with the Lord, I wrote a letter to my friends from The Living Word asking to attend their church. While I waited for a reply I poured over The Living Word materials I had collected, reading them again and again, reading every scripture referenced in them. I could not get enough of it because I felt the Lord speaking to me in every word I read. When my friends reply came welcoming me to any service I literally fell to my knees in thankfulness to the Lord for the way and the destination He had brought me to.
But what I thought was a destination was really a door to an even greater challenge.
In the beginning I attended every service that I could. I lived around 30 miles from two different churches so I would drive back and forth to five or six services a week including a Sunday night elders meeting. The beginning of my relationship with church leadership was caring for the elder’s children during that meeting. After a few months, someone informed me that the Sunday evening meeting was an elder’s meeting and it would be best if I did not attend every time, but in those few months I had managed to be blessed by laying on of hands on several occasions. I felt like Jacob; I would do anything for the blessing and presence of the Lord.
Over time what had been a hunger to know the Lord began growing into a hunger to serve Him. I could not attend a service just to listen, I had to walk into the sanctuary filled with faith and ready to speak out of my own heart the Word that God was writing there. And the Word that He was writing, what I was hearing from John Robert Stevens and other ministries in The Living Word Fellowship, was a constant challenge for me to grow, to become. Like Peter wrote – I was intent on paying attention to those who would cause the day star to arise in my own heart (2 Pe 1:19).
One of the ministries who passed through the San Francisco area churches regularly was a man named John Miller, an Apostolic ministry in The Living Word Fellowship, ministering in the Church of His Kingdom in San Diego. John Miller had spent time serving under John Stevens as one of the lead ministries in Shiloh during the late 70’s. John would come through and stir the churches into intense times of seeking God, but when he was there it was as though God were again entreating me, “Come on, you can grow! Don’t settle!” His love for the Lord and for the one who was fathering and training him was overpowering and infectious – I listened, I learned, and I knew that I was going to be at Shiloh one day.
But there were decisions to be made before that happened…
The church I was in had been through a rough time before I arrived. There had been disputes over leadership, sides had been chosen and many people had drifted away. Some left angry at the direction things were going and some were simply hurt or confused by the struggle. I believe the Lord placed me in that situation to allow the enthusiasm and intensity of my new relationship with Him to minister encouragement to those who had born the heat of the day.
Some who had left felt that the ministry of a man had too much focus in the church. As a young believer I wanted to be sure I was walking correctly and I looked into my own heart. I knew it was the Lord who had led me to this fellowship and to the fathering ministry in John Robert Stevens. To me it was simple, as Paul told the Thessalonians, “you received our word as it was, the word of God” (1 Thess 2:13). I was following the Lord and He had led me to a relationship that opened my eyes to the Scriptures in a way I had never imagined, like Philip did for the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). I was still seeking God as I had done my entire life, but now there were those who were keeping watch over my soul (Heb 13:17), as I grew and matured in to what Christ was calling me to.
My confidence in that relationship was about to be tested.
In 1983, John Stevens had become ill and was ministering much less. The Word that had taught me so much was still coming, but the strength to stand in the Word I had heard was not yet in me and in May of that year I found myself drifting away. I lived with some friends and continued to pray, but the Lord seemed to be distant. I learned later that summer that John Stevens had passed away and after that I did not know if I would even return to church. It was a dark moment personally, but the Lord did not let go and in the summer of 1984 I again found myself in a time of crying out to Jesus Christ. One afternoon, in a time of prayer, He met my heart again, this time with more conviction than before. I felt Him saying to me, “Everyone and everything you love is where I placed you, why aren’t you there?”
That evening I wrote a letter to the pastors telling them I wanted to attend the Feast of Tabernacles celebration. I soon found myself sitting in the Church of The Living Word in Los Angeles, California listening to Gary Hargrave, one of the young ministries who had loved and served John Robert Stevens. The word was titled Nothing Can Separate Us, and it spoke of reconnecting with our first-love and living in the intensity of that love for the Lord and for those around us; a love which will not tolerate separation by life, death or any other created thing. As I heard the words I felt the Lord loving me, shaking me out of where I had settled and challenging me – it was time to take another step.
I returned to my church in Campbell, but over the next few years I felt a growing sense of decision – I knew that I had to make a choice about my walk with the Lord and how closely I was willing to follow Him. Finally in late 1987 I began talking with my pastor about visiting Shiloh. I had heard about it for so many years, but I had never seen it myself and I knew it was time.
It took a while to arrange things, but in March of 1988, the Lord had brought me to Shiloh. And as I walked to the sanctuary for my first service, I heard the Lord welcoming me through the voice of one of His prophets who was proclaiming over the crowd of worshipers, “Reach into God! There is more! Go Higher! Touch Him!”
I was home, and I am still here!
In the years since I have arrived at Shiloh many things have happened; I married and with my wife Phyllis raised a wonderful son, Philip, and I became pastor. But often times when the stirring of the Lord awakens me early in the morning, I find that I still view myself as that young man sitting on a beach crying out for a meeting with God.
I know that by His grace, His Spirit is coming to dwell in me and that in His anointing He ministers to people through me in a real and living way, but my eyes are not on the ministry. My eyes are on my Lord, the bread of life, the only one who can satisfy the gnawing hunger that I seem to feel eternally. This seems normal to me; after all He is eternal, the one who is, who was and who is coming (Rev 1:8) – and God forbid that anything in me ever begins to think I have “arrived.”
I would not have it any other way.
Shiloh is a fellowship of people who live knowing there is more of God to be entered into and who are prepared to give all of their heart and strength to press into the Kingdom of God. As a shepherd, I am driven to see each person find their destiny in the Lord, but in my heart I know that what I will ultimately impart is the recognition that God’s destiny is not a destination; God’s destiny is a life lived with a burning desire to walk with Him and do His will today.
This is what I am, and what I am doing, today, in Shiloh.