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We're Not Tomatoes

Buy the ticket, and give God the chance to provide for you.

Doug’s brotherly counsel in July 1979 was more than an exhortation for me to act. Looking back, it was also the grand opening of an eight-month-long learning laboratory of trust.

I believed that spending part of a semester in Europe would be a valuable component of my seminary education. But in the weeks leading up to our conversation, my dream was slowly  dispersing like a coastal fog. My well-paying summer job plans had unraveled. Buying the airfare and a two-month train pass would leave me with insufficient funds for daily expenses.  

Doug’s words were a well-timed reminder. Claims of trusting God are worthless unless we take a step forward.

That’s how faith works: First we act on his promise and our belief, and then – only then – God provides. He guides. He works behind the scenes and surprises us. He gives us more than we can imagine.  We find him faithful, which causes us to trust him again. And again.

My short summary will attest to each of those divine actions. God desires to be – and is – active in the lives of those who have a simple desire: to learn to trust God every day.

God provides for our needs

I bought the ticket. And a few weeks later, I canceled my airline reservation and received a full refund.  

Why? Because I had a free round-trip ticket to London.

Yes, you read that right. God can drop gifts into our lives, but not if we’re passively waiting on him to do all the work. He gave us brains, and it’s our role in the relationship to engage them.   

At the time, Doug’s best friend was working as an international airline courier for Loomis. I called Steve and asked if his company ever needed one-time couriers. He said no, but encouraged me to call one of their competitors, DHL.

On July 31, after a five-minute conversation – where and when did I want to travel?; did I have a passport? – I contracted with DHL to be a courier.  I was expected to show up at the airport for my commercial flight and rendezvous with a DHL representative. I would receive a ticket as well as dozens of baggage claim checks for parcels and packages. I would deliver them to their agent at Heathrow Airport in London. Two months later, I would fly back to the USA with the same arrangement.*

Wow! I was blown away, and on August 12 I flew away to London , and took the train to Brussels, my first destination.

God did something I thought was impossible, but that’s exactly what Jesus promised about our God. ** I acted in faith, and he acted in provision. That’s one of the foundational steps in learning to trust God, and gives rise to the honest question – what else can he do?  

Plenty, as it turned out. God has promised that when we seek his guidance, he will direct our paths.

God guides our choices

In late August, I found myself stumped in Sweden, peering at a map in the Malmö train station. I had been staying at the home of Karin (Lolo) Lindgren, a friend and former exchange student. On Thursday she and her family asked me to make alternate plans for the weekend and return on Monday.  I already had firm dates in September to visit my Swedish relatives in Stockholm, so that wasn’t an option.

Hmmm. The bench on which I sat became a prayer altar. Where to, Lord? 

The city names on the map meant nothing to me, until I saw Jönköping. That sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember why. A train for that destination would be leaving soon. Sure, why not?

A couple of hours later in the Jönköping train station I looked for a phonebook (remember those)? To my delight there was a Covenant church in town – Svenska Missionsförbundet – so I called the Pastor, Sven Moresby. Fortunately, he spoke English well, and I asked if someone in the church could host a Covenant pastor-in-training for three nights?

I imagine he was smiling as he responded: you picked a great weekend to come. He reminded me that Jönköping was the home of the Covenant’s sister college in Sweden. (No wonder the name of the city sounded familiar). The students from North Park University in Chicago had just arrived for their semester abroad. I could stay in the dormitory along with them, and meals would be provided for the weekend. Plus, the Sunday worship service for his congregation would be in English.

As you can imagine, it was a delightful weekend. Since I had just completed my year of Covenant orientation at North Park Seminary, I knew a few of the American students. I was also  grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in Swedish culture.

Well, not fully. Unlike my Scandinavian brothers and sisters, my swim trunks remained on in the sauna.  Tack så mycket. (Thank you very much).

My solo trek around ten countries for two months connected my prayers with God’s goodness and generosity – including a few nights at Schloss Mittersill, a 16th century castle in Austria owned by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

But I was given much more than flights, free housing and friendships. Blessed with a larger view of the world, it also sparked an insatiable desire to learn and to think, traits I never truly practiced in seven years of academic life.

God works behind the scenes and surprises us

In early October I returned to my parents’ home in Northern California, knowing that in January I would go back to Pasadena to complete the last two quarters of seminary. But I had given no thought to the issue of employment.

No plans? No problem.

The day after I returned home, Doug asked if I was interested in conducting some demographic research for McMasters and Westland, the commercial real estate company where he worked.

Was I interested? Are you kidding me?  I immediately answered yes, but not just for the promise of the paychecks. Pastors commonly become cloistered off from the real-life struggles of the people they shepherd. I was thrilled to gain some experience in the corporate world following three years of waiting tables at restaurants during seminary.

I can’t call this provision an answer to prayer, for my mind hadn’t even begun to explore the thought of job hunting. But I learned something wonderful – Jesus words from the Sermon on  the Mount are true: your Father knows what you need before you ask him.*** This is an incredible revelation: when we are in a daily partnership with him, he anticipates our needs and works to meet them. Wow!

He gives us more than we can imagine. 

The final lesson in the laboratory of trust came as I returned to Pasadena in January. I had no place to live. I could have done the natural and normal thing: go to the housing office and find the best place for the best price.

But emboldened by God’s faithfulness through the previous months, I asked him for another big gift – free room and board for the next six months.

Was I dreaming? No. I knew that special opportunities came up now and then as a help to seminary students. For most of my first two years in seminary, two friends and I lived for free in a three-bedroom home. The owner was trying to sell a senior-living facility next door; we were required to conduct daily walk-a-rounds.

In January I drove to Pasadena and spent a night on my former roommate Curt Johnson’s couch. The next morning, the first day of the new semester, I shared my bold request with the receptionist at the seminary housing office.

That’s remarkable, she said. Someone had just dropped off a notice: a family was looking for someone to live in the home of their elderly parents in exchange for cooking dinner every day.

From the next seven months I lived with Lee and Elise Prentice in Arcadia, California, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. I lived in a large and secluded wing of their home. Lee accompanied me to the grocery store and paid for all our weekly needs. For our evening meal I drew on years of cooking experience, and even learned a few things. Who knew that octogenarians can’t handle Texas Style Chili? Oops.


It was a sweet deal. With thanks to my Heavenly Father, I graduated from seminary with no student loans.

And … because I didn’t need a high-paying job, I accepted the call to serve as part-time Youth Pastor at Eagle Rock Covenant Church in Los Angeles. On that first Sunday, February 3, 1980, I was introduced to Linda Magnuson. We were married a year later, on the first day of spring, 1981. Linda’s love, support, and friendship is the best gift I have ever received.

We’re not tomatoes

I hope this string of personal stories will be more than inspiring nuggets for you to enjoy. They point to a process of learning to trust God for the real decisions of life, of entering into a new way of living: an active partnership with him in every dimension.

Let’s make this extremely practical.

We know we need to have faith, so like the disciples, we call out to Jesus: Increase our faith!*** Great request, but how does he give us what we want?  How do we grow in faith?

Linda and I have a tomato plant in our backyard. When it looks parched on hot days, we pour water on it, and presto -- it returns to vitality. That’s due to a process called osmosis.

Here’s the hard truth: growing in our ability to trust God doesn’t happen by osmosis.  We don’t wake up one morning and feel more faith-y, more trusting, just because we’ve been hanging out with Jesus.  

We’re not tomatoes. We’re human beings who are given a choice: will we make decisions based upon our smarts, social skills and secret instincts and motives? 

Or will we take God at his word and trust him as the way to thrive? **** Will we do that today? And when we do, we will find him faithful.

And then we do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And we learn to trust him. That’s how we grow in faith. And oh, how God smiles with delight in his children.

My eight-month learning laboratory of trust started when I was twenty-four years old. I’m turning seventy this year, and I’m still learning.

How about you? How old are you now? There’s no time like the present, and there’s still time to learn!


Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:8-10)


Benediction of Blessing

  • May you be emboldened to ask God to provide for your deepest needs.

  • May God direct your path in a decision you have to make, and may you honor his name.

  • May God surprise you with a gift that will reveal new possibilities, beyond your ability to imagine.

* I shared this arrangement with my cousin Bruce and two friends, who also benefited from this bonanza over the next couple of years. No surprise – DHL doesn’t operate that way anymore. This was the 70’s. Now they fly their own planes.

** Matthew 19:26. While you’re at it, check out Ephesians 3:20-21.

*** Matthew 6:8

**** No, we’re not tomatoes. But the analogy of thriving like a plant is one of God’s lessons for us as we learn to trust in him. See Jeremiah 17:5-8


Note from Brian: This post is a rewrite of one from February 4, 2022.



Airplane: United Airlines

Schloss Mittersill: By WOKRIE - Own work, CC BY-SA


You can have the Blue Spigot delivered directly to your email address by subscribing on the contact page, where you can also comment or ask questions.  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM


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