Interview with Bruce McDonald and Christian Book Previews' editor, Debra Murphy:
CBP: Could you share with us your Christian testimony?
Bruce: Sure, Debra. I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home. I grew up in Michigan on a farm outside of Rochester. My dad was an electrician at Ford Motor Company, and my mum was from England. In fact, my dad was from Montana and my mom was from England, so it was like "Green Acres." I always tell people it was fun growing up there. We lived on a farm so beside my dad working as an electrician, we had a farm with 66 acres that we farmed with animals. I was the youngest of three boys, so God showed my mom he had a sense of humor by giving her three boys. She used to say that the only things she didn't like was the outdoors and animals, so God put her there. But they both love the Lord, and took us to a great church. I trusted Christ as my Savior when I was nine years old. I had those experiences of growing up in a good church, with a good youth program. So that's my background. My mom came from a Christian background, but my dad's parents were not Christians until real late in life.
CBP: And your career?
Bruce: I went to Cedarville University, graduated from there, and while I was there God chose to allow me to have success in sports. A lot of it had to do with my dad, on the farm, he built a basketball court, a baseball field, and a football field, so it was like a Field of Dreams. That allowed me to develop, and so I started to assume that God wanted me to be a professional ball player. When I came out of college, I was actually drafted in a couple sports, and had an opportunity to go into three different sports: football, baseball, basketball. I went with baseball, and thought I would play ball for God.
But the first year I played baseball for the New York Mets in their minor league system, I was reading Matthew 6:19-21, where it says do not lay up treasures in earth, but lay up treasures in heaven. God really smote my heart, so I had the wrong priorities and I did something that was wild and dangerous and scary to me. I actually asked to be released from my contract which was -- I was the number two draft pick that year for the New York Mets, which just simply means it's a very high pick -- and was able to get released from my contract and a year later I entered the ministry. I started off as a youth pastor, and worked for about seven years as an assistant pastor, then went with missions with a missions agency called ABWE, the Association of Baptist World Evangelism, and independent group out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We were church planters in Austin, Texas, worked on a college campus, and did that for a number of years. By God's grace, saw a wonderful church started that now supports us. Then our president of ABWE asked me to transition into working with athletes because of my background. So we left Austin, Texas, and went to the Philadelphia area and began a long career working in professional sports working as a chaplain.
CBP: That was 13 years?
Bruce: Yes, it was actually 15 years that I held that position. Fourteen of those years I was active, one of those years I was on a writing sabbatical, but I still held that position. Then we left the Philadephia area to work on some writing projects, and during that year away I was asked to switch to International sports ministry. What that meant was helping our missionaries use sports overseas, because it's such a powerful tool, so effective. You can use it in so-called "closed" countries, it opens doors. So we began working as missionaries that way. I also began to coordinate special event ministries at the Summer and Winter Olympics and so forth. That's been an interesting ride.
I've been in the ministry for 35 years, and now that I'm in my late 50's, we've been asked to leave that ministry, still in ABWE, to start a new ministry called Coach Ministry. It's actually just a couple months old. It's not a sports ministry, it's actually coming alongside pastors and missionaries as a spiritual coach, building into their lives and encouraging them. For many years now, God's been giving me that ministry. I hold a lot of spiritual life conferences, and use hospitality a lot to have weary missionaries and pastors come to our place. So now it really has become the focal point of our ministry, and we're really excited about that.
My wife, she's just a wonderful person of God, we've been married for 36 years, and she loves being hospitable and she loves coming alongside people. We're excited about that. We're leaving shortly to head up to Quebec to meet with a group of missionaries to encourage them, hold meetings, and also part of our ministry is teaching principles of mentoring. This is a big part of it.
CBP: Can you share with us how you started in writing?
Bruce: I thoroughly love writing. It's going to sound strange, but it actually started with storytelling. I'm sure as a kid I had that gift in a negative way, but when I was first married and began to have children, I would tell lengthy stories, by that I mean an hour or two, and it began to grow as an audience. My children loved it, they wanted their friends to hear this. When we had family reunions, it would be larger. And out of that, I was asked if I would start writing stories down for our kids and for families. I began to do that, began writing especially around Christmas time to give to families.
Back in the mid-80's, ABWE has a publishing arm, and they came to me and asked if I would write an 85-page booklet on evangelism, sharing our experiences, which is really a lifestyle evangelism. So that was the actual first project that I attempted that was published. We really enjoyed that. We wrote that. But again, it was only 85 pages, but God used it in a great way. It was kind of before lifestyle evangelism became popular, so it was a new thing. I didn't get back to writing again, except for short stories, for quite a while. I missed it, but my lifestyle was busy. Literally 8 or 10 meetings a week.
I wanted to get back to that, so in 2001 my pastor, who is a close friend of mine, he really wanted me to write, and our executive director at ABWE really wanted me to write, so they said to take a year furlough/sabbatical. So I did that and stepped away from my schedule, cleared the calendar, and wrote a book called Real Men Pray, which was published by RBP. Really enjoyed doing that. I was in one of my meetings, and one of the directors of Moody heard me speak, and came up and said "Would you write a book on this topic, the fight of faith." So I did, and I enjoyed that. I was actually able to write two books in a little over a year. I'm currently writing a book called Reigniting the Flame, and really enjoy it. If God gives me the time, and there is an audience for it, then I really want to do it.
CBP: I think there is. At the very first of the book, you talk about pastors who shared what was going on in their ministry, some bad situations. Could you explain to us about it?
Bruce: Yes, it really is true, Debra. And I'm sure it's not a surprise to most people, but because of my ministry that in somewhat sense is itinerate, because I would be in some many meetings each year, whether I was speaking at a church, men's retreat, conference, whatever the setting may be, there would be a number of pastors, missionaries at those meetings. I'm a safe person, because I'm coming into town and I'm going out. Oftentimes pastors, missionaries, and ministry leaders do not have someone to talk to. They're at the top of the pole there. When people like myself come in, it's a really safe time for them and they can share the burden of their heart. In addition to that, God in His grace and in His sovereignty has allowed my wife and I to disciple and mentor a rather large number of people in the years we've been in the ministry, and many of these are in the ministry now. There is a natural tie in.
Actually, the man I mention at the beginning is a man that I have discipled and mentored. Whenever you have a mentoring relationship, there is again that avenue to share your heart. We have had that happen frequently, and it began to break my heart. If the body of Christ knew the extent and degree of our leaders who are hurting, it is just amazing. I've had pastors and wives tell me that they were leaving the ministry, some of them used the words, "I'm walking out on God." They're just hurting so much, and they love God. Sometimes we use the term "burned out" but there can be a lot of reasons for their feeling.
After I wrote this book, it was interesting that then I really heard from people who were willing to share. I remember one particular woman who is a missionary over in Europe who said, "I picked up your book, and remember walking out the back door over in Western Europe looking at the mountains there, and said, 'Are you even real God? I don't want to do this anymore.'" Those things ache your heart. I've been there, and I understand that. That really was one of the reasons I began to put these thoughts down.
It was at a large group of ministry leaders where I first brought this talk, where there was a Moody representative in that meeting who desired to get this out into people's hands. We all know stories, there are heroes and heroines out there who I can believe what they've gone through. Ones who's sons have committed suicide, people who have terminal illnesses, people who have gone through a variety of situations. I really believe we are going to see an increase in trials, and that's what this book is about.
CBP: It is -- a lot about trials. When talking about our leaders in ministry, that they have these feelings, our readers may have these feelings. But they're thinking even if they bail out, because I just can't take trials, the leaders will be there. But we're sharing with them that there's a crisis going on.
Bruce: There really is. My wife and I were in meetings a while ago in a particular state, and before I had spoken the pastor of this church asked my wife and I if we would join he and his wife for lunch. We did not know this couple, I was going to be speaking later that day, they were new to the church, it was a large church. Within five minutes of sitting at a table, the pastor put his head in his hands and started sobbing. My wife and I were startled, because it wasn't a part of the conversation, it was to that point. He looked up, he shared the most heart-wrenching family situation. He told us that they had not told anyone. So, you're right. I'm sure most of the people in that church just assumed that everything was fine, because he needs to be the rock, she needs to be the example for all the women.
CBP: In the Scriptures it says in later times some will abandon the faith. Is this the later times?
Bruce: Well, we certainly don't know, and the Holy Spirit hasn't whispered anything to me. But I think that most of us would certainly see events described in Scripture that are at least shadowed right now at the least, if not farther. My personal opinion, and it's not Holy Scripture, but my opinion is that I'm seeing much more stretching and trials without some real definitive answers. I remember early on in the ministry, we heard a lot of stories, wonderous stories. There were trials, but there were always such great stories attached to them. Because of my broad travel experience, and going across denominational lines, I'm hearing now great stories of trials and difficulty, and not as many stories of miraculous provisions, escapes from trials, and so forth. We see this overseas as well.
I mentioned in my book that I think there's an intentional design to all of that. I think because of the closing days, I think God is up to something. To me, the most haunting passage of Scripture in the last ten years that I've studied is Luke 18:8. That's where Jesus gives the parable of the persistent widow badgering the judge. He makes an incredible analogy at the end of that passage, saying will God keep putting off his children who cry to Him day and night? No, He will answer them speedily. The interesting part is that He acknowledges that there's going to be putting off, and extended time there. And then, at the very last part of that, He says "When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith?" And He obviously isn't talking about will He find any Christians, since it's connected with the parable. That type of faith is willing to trust God (1) when He seems indifferent, and (2) when He seems busy, and (3) when He seems angry. Those of us who know Christ the most and dearest are the ones who hurt the most.
CBP: Christians seem to say that they are believers, but do you find them to have great faith?
Bruce: That's a good question. I talk a lot about "What is faith?" and I mention the fact that I believe that faith doesn't have to do with size, when we say great faith. I believe faith has to do with focus. The greatness of our faith has to do with greatness of God. Am I fastened on God? I'm certainly not going to talk about other people's lack of faith. I know in my own life, when I stagger at the promises of God, when I am shaken, it's because I'm trying to figure out God in my own enablement and ability. I do believe in these last days we're having, not Job-like experiences, but we're having an experience Job had. Job had to trust God not knowing where his trials were coming from. When you read the book of Job, Satan is totally veiled there. That's a totally amazing thing, because all through the book of Job you have no reference to Satan by Job or his friends, so he's thinking either (1) this is happening because I'm a jerk, or (2) God is cruel. That's why his faith is so great. In his mind, there's only two options: I'm unworthy or God is a God you can't trust. But he rejects those, and makes that glorious statement, "Even if He should slay me, yet will I trust Him."
Today, we know that trials can come from a variety of ways, including Satan directed. So, at least we know who are enemy is, it's not God. In these last days, we have some similar experiences in that God may be withdrawing immediate answers because it's our last go-around at faith, it's our last chance to worship God in it's purest form. That's what faith really is--it's worshiping, it's a statement to a watching universe that says, "Even if God doesn't do something, even if God doesn't come through, I'm going to trust Him." Once we step into glory, those opportunities are all gone. It may be that those times are being compressed here, and God is saying, "I'm going to give you one last opportunity to not only bring Me glory, but to earn rewards for you in eternity."
CBP: You have a chapter that is very interesting by the title, "Going Down With God." Tell us about that.
Bruce: That phrase or thought that popped in my mind when I was talking to a pastor who was not going through what we would consider the severity of trials. He hadn't lost a loved one at that time, wasn't dealing with a great church problem, but he was dealing with, in his own words, "I get this rush when I preach, I enjoy all this, but we had this problem in our church. One of our leaders was going to divorce. We prayed for them, we counseled them, but they got divorced. We had a problem with a young man in our youth group who has godly parents, who really was getting rebellious and wild. We prayed, we interceded, we counseled. He went farther south, he went farther away from God." He named three or four of these things, and he said, "I don't know if I can trust God anymore. Where are the answers to prayer?"
I looked at this young man and saw that his heart was aching. He said, "I know I can still get up and preach and nobody knows, but I just can't trust Him anymore." I shared with him from Hebrews 10:35, it gives us an admonition. It says, "Do not cast away your confidence." If it gives us that admonition, evidently as Christians we can cast away our confidence. I don't believe that we can lose saving faith, I believe that God holds us in His hand, but I believe that we can lose faith in what God has said He's going to do. We can say that we lose confidence in God as believers, we become shaken.
I told him, "First of all, you're in a common situation. I've had those thoughts, we all have those thoughts. Can we trust God in those times?" I went back to him and asked him if he had a backup plan. In other words, if God doesn't come through, what are you going to do? He was startled. I gave him an illustration: are you willing to go down with God? He said, "What do you mean by that?" I said "What if God's wrong? What if everything you believed was wrong? Are you willing to step off that cliff and go down with him? Isn't that what Job said? He couldn't even figure out what was happening, he didn't even know about Satan. Job said, 'Even though He slays me, I'll still praise Him.' So, are you willing to trust God if He doesn't do the stuff you wanted Him to do?" It was a long pause, he looked down on the ground, then he jumped off the chair and said, "I'm going to go down with God."
Obviously, nobody's going to go down with God, because God's not going down. But we have to get to that place, because we can know the heart of God, but we can't know His mind. His ways are beyond tracing out. I have to get to the place where I say, "I don't love You and serve You because of what You can do for me, and the agenda that I have. In this life, if things don't work out the way, I'm going down with You." So that's what I mean. Obviously, God's not going down.
CBP: I have to say, because there are some really sad situations in there. There's a part of it that's not a "feel-good" book, I have to be honest, but it's an incredibly touching book. I finished it and realized the joy you can feel after reading that book. You have to hear these things. The end section in there is about heaven.
Bruce: You're right. I make a big point that I believe that the Bible teaches there's a difference between the results of faith and the rewards of faith. The results of faith are very much here on earth. You and I know people who look at someone's life and say, "Wish I could live that life. They pay all their bills, they have good health, look how good their kids are doing, their church is growing, their business is growing, whatever." We tend to think that's the result of faith. But then we also know people who are very godly, parents who are godly, who struggle with their children. We know wives who are godly, husbands who are godly, who struggle in their marriage. We know pastors who preach the Word faithfully and their church dwindles. We know people who believe God can heal them, and they get sick. The results vary, and we find that in Hebrews 11. It's a glorious chapter of the accomplishments and exploits of faith, but you get down to verse 35, and it says, "but then others..." and it gets into bad things. If I am counting on the results of faith, I'm going to get staggered in my walk with God.
But faith is about rewards. I couldn't wait to finish the book because I wanted to get to the last two chapters. It's hard for us to comprehend, we would say, "God, if I knew the rewards would be so great, let me go back. Let me have more trials and stretching." Christ makes a very interesting statement, "If you being evil know how to give good gifts, how much more your Father in heaven." We've all quoted that verse. But this is a book about hope.
CBP: What are you working on next?
Bruce: The next book is titled Reigniting the Flame. What this book was about is restoring the confidence. How is that confidence restored when we've gone through these situations and circumstances. It's through understanding what faith is, and the rewards of faith. That gives me the strength to go on, knowing it is worth it and that God will honor my faith.
The next book, once our confidence is restored, how can we turn that into a white-hot passion? These are some sad stories, but how can that confidence now move into a zeal and a passion for God. There are many ways that can take place, and certainly the chief way is really knowing and understanding who I am in Christ, and who God is.
We also have people come over to the house, and one of the things that they're asking us is in our drive to be relevant, in our drive to not offend and not Christian-speak, do we need to not use the Word of God as much? Do we need to not say things that could be confusing or offending? It's been an interesting discussion, and I'm not going to mention the books, but there are a few books out there now that these young couples are reading that are discouraging people away from the Word of God and the sufficiency of it, saying it does have truth but unsaved people aren't going to understand it, so don't use that.
We counter with this: I can tell you the effect of my words, how eternal my words will be -- today and that's it. If I want something life-changing to happen, it has to be through the Word of God, because that's what Scripture says. There's a movement today, under the guise of relevancy, and they'll site abuses how somebody uses words that don't make sense to unsaved people. I'm all for reaching people where there at. 1 Corinthians 9:22 talks about becoming all things to all men. However, the foundation always has to be the Word of God. If I start making excuses about that, that's the only thing I'd be cautious about. That made me think of this, and it's a hot topic now.