People expect pastors to be generous souls, detached from material things, and not greedy for money. That may be true, but everybody has to eat, even pastors.
Being a small congregation Lantana Road was only able to provide me with a small salary. Fortunately my parents blessed me by paying my college tuition. I paid cash for my one semester of seminary, so I had no college loans to repay. Upon moving to Crossville I rented a small two bedroom duplex that wasn’t too unreasonable. I had a red Nissan pickup truck with a payment of less than $150. I paid on that truck for 48 months and drove it for 156. I sold it only a few years ago. I had a 19” television, but no cable. My Uncle Roy loaned me a VHS copy of Tombstone. I watched it almost every morning while eating pop-tarts. It is one of my favorite movies and outside of Raising Arizona probably the one I can quote the most.
“I’m your huckleberry.”
After rent, truck, and pop tarts there was not much money left for anything else. The pastor search committee encouraged me to find a part time job to supplement my income. I gave it a shot. I went to numerous businesses in the area but one genre of employment I marked off the list. I would not mow grass at a golf course. I lived less than a mile from the Lake Tansi golf course, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again. I looked for work at funeral homes. Though we were not married at the time the thought of me working at a funeral home disturbed Shannon, but I was fine with it. I was just so burnt out on mowing I had rather hang out with the dead than return to grass.
I searched for a couple of weeks with no results. I was overqualified for most part time jobs in a little town. I was under-qualified for any job that required a skill other than translating Greek. I was quickly frustrated. Late one afternoon I pulled up to yet another funeral home and walked inside. A group of men, all employees, stood at the door. I introduced myself, “My name is Brian Branam, I am the new pastor of Lantana Road Baptist Church . . .” Before I could get anything related to inquiring if they had any part time work available they began to laugh. Very quickly they spouted out a few negative things about the church and recited a few episodes of their troubled history. Nothing they said to me was encouraging or well received. I politely retreated to my Nissan and prayed, “Lord, in your Word you have promised to provide my needs. As long as you provide I will work as hard as I possibly can to bring souls to Christ.” With that prayer the part time job search was over. I would be a full time pastor with bi-vo pay. I trusted that God would take care of the rest.
I learned the lesson of living in simplicity and trust from my grandmother. She had little to nothing but remained one of the most generous people I have ever met. Her soul was a deep well of wisdom, but her financial plan was like a shallow, tilted saucer. She would trust God to pour in and He could trust her to quickly overflow and pour out. She lived on enough. She gave away the excess. She was remarkable and content. She was penniless and generous. On paper she was worth nothing, but to those who knew her she was a woman of incalculable worth. It was now my turn to live the tilted saucer life I learned from her.
I could create another set of chronicles about all the miraculous ways God has met my needs through the years. Over and over, God has always out given me. Each time it is miraculous. I remember a time that Shannon and I determined to give a donation to the church. We had specified a Sunday in which all those who wished to participate would put their donation in a sealed envelope and lay it at the alter at the close of the service. We laid our gift down, prayed over it and turned to walk to the back of the church to greet people as they exited. Before we could get to the door three couples gave us cards, also in sealed envelopes. The season was nearing Christmas so there was nothing unusual about receiving cards after service. When we returned home to open them we found that we were given twice what we gave; to the penny. Neither of those who gave us cards knew what the other had given. None of them knew what we had laid at the altar, yet they gave us two-fold what we had just given. God blesses tilted saucers.
True to my prayer, I worked as hard as I possibly could to bring souls to Christ. True to His Word, God met my needs. A generous family that became more to me than merely church members invited me over to eat with them most every night. Jeff and Debbie were masters of applesauce and catfish with some sort of lemon seasoning. I appreciated their support and loved having meals with them. I still count those meals as one of the favorite memories of my first 15.
If I ever went to the grocery store it was for things like milk, toiletries, and bread (not necessarily in that order). Almost every week I would open my door only to find an anonymous bag of groceries. Often it was something someone had grown and canned. When I went home for Thanksgiving my refrigerator was full of things I had not bought. In my freezer were two turkeys I had no idea how to cook.
When Joshua crossed the Jordan he told the people to gather stones from the riverbed and stack them on the other side as memorial to what God had done. The memory of that miraculously filled refrigerator is an early pile of memorial stones in my first 15. It stands there ever to remind me that God is good and that He overflows tilted saucers.
We liked having you over because you'd always teach us fun games to play: Frisbee golf, etc.