We’ve been exploring what the Bible has to say about suffering and right in the middle of this series of blog posts, God did something for Steve Mays, the pastor of Calvary Chapel South Bay, that I just have to share.
An Improbable Life Of Suffering
Steve’s life was often heavy with suffering. He battled drug addiction as a teenager which led to a series of strange and destructive events while he was still living at home with his father and mother. One time when Steve’s parents came home, as they opened their front door, water gushed out. Steve turned their house into a swimming pool by stuffing towels under the exterior doors and filling the place up with water. They found him in the living room smoking a pencil. He was completely oblivious. Instead of acknowledging the damage he’d done, he talked to them about the show he was watching on TV–but the TV was turned off.
Another time Steve’s parents arrived home to find him fixing a meal for a friend who lived inside the clock hanging on the kitchen wall.
Another time he terrorized his parents by angrily pacing around the house while swinging a machete.
The bewildering thing about Steve’s behavior was that he was a normal kid until junior high school. His parents didn’t know it but during that time in junior high he was molested by one of his teachers. After that his personality went through a dramatic change. He struggled with anger and resentment toward any authority figure, including his parents. But he didn’t feel safe sharing about the abuse he suffered.
His parents did the best they could, but Steve was so crazy they often had to call the police for help. Eventually Steve’s parents lost hope, and they asked him to move out.
But where could a teenager in Steve’s condition go? Where could he live? He eventually found a motorcycle gang willing to take him in. They were much older, in their thirties, and even badder than Steve.
One of the gang members really had it in for him. One time he stuffed a twelve gauge shotgun in Steve’s mouth while other gang members held him down. Another time this same man fired three shots from his 38 pistol at a gas can Steve was sitting on. Luckily, it didn’t explode. Then another time he blew a hole in Steve’s calf. Steve lost blood. He passed out. He woke up in a field. Someone had stuffed rags inside the gaping wound in his leg. The pain was excruciating.
After they shot up his leg, he didn’t return to live with the gang. Instead he slept on the street, in the gutter, literally. One day when he was asleep in the gutter a couple picked him up. They took him in. They gave him a shower. They fed him. And the woman said something to Steve almost as strange as the rest of his story, she told him she saw Jesus in his eyes. This couple was part of the Calvary Chapel family and through them Steve went to live in a house called Mansion Messiah where he accepted Christ. Immediately Steve’s life changed. He flushed his drugs and threw his gun into the ocean. He really was a new creature in Christ.
Steve went on to become the lead pastor at Calvary Chapel South Bay in Southern California.
More Pain And Suffering (times 5)
He pastored there for years but then a series of back surgeries took him from God’s work for long periods. These back surgeries were brutally painful. I read about them in an excellent book written by Steve about suffering called Overwhelmed by God. He endured the first agonizingly painful back surgery but then was told some screws holding things in place had backed out, so he had to have surgery again. Then after that agonizing surgery it happened again. Then after the third surgery it happened again! And this is just a small part of the story. Over his lifetime Steve has had twenty-seven surgeries in all. Surgery after surgery the pain dragged on and on throughout the years.
God Intervenes Again
Last Monday, September 29, Steve went in for a fifth back surgery. Everything seemed to go according to plan (humanly speaking) and then, at 6:30 AM, Thursday, October 2, Steve Mays died, because of a blood clot.
So what does all this have to do with suffering?
The apostle Paul also led a life of suffering. He was beaten and scourged and shipwrecked and imprisoned, and he was even stoned and left for dead. And this is what Paul said about his life of suffering: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I know many people prayed for God to heal Steve, but you know what? When Steve died he gained. He gained his healing. The ultimate healing any of us can have occurs when we pass over to the other side. Steve Mays will never have another agonizingly painful back surgery for all eternity. Those screws will never back out or break again, because there are no screws. His body will never let him down again. And best of all he lives in the presence of his Savior. Sometimes that’s how God’s healing works. That’s how God worked for Steve.
God did heal Steve Mays, through his death.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23)
Edit: I originally learned that Steve’s passing was caused by heart failure at 4:30 AM but later found out that was wrong information. He passed away at 6:30 AM because of a blood clot.
Light of the Word, Pastor Steve’s Testimony
Chuck Smith, Harvest, The Word for Today, 2010
Image via Quinn Dombrowski – Creative Commons