On May 18, 2016, my incredible dad and friend graduated for eternity. We will certainly miss him this Father's Day. But this wonderful man left behind an incredible family and spiritual legacy that will carry on for generations to come.
Throughout the years, I watched my dad, James William Davis, expand and enlarge himself in order to make the shifts necessary for compounding spiritual growth in everyone he came in contact with, as well as those he served with through the decades.
Here are seven shifts for fathers to embrace for a successful, spiritual journey:
1. A personal shift that moves us from self to God – Dad knew the difference between busyness and business, and between activity and accomplishment. Sooner or later, if we're ever going to become greater than ourselves, we have to make a personal shift, moving from selfishness to selflessness. My dad's business career moved him from Laurel, Mississippi (the place of his birth) to New York City. It was here that he became a manager of a Kress Store on Fifth Avenue, New York City.
When I was born in Brooklyn, he was taking the subway to work and back everyday. From 1961 to 1975, due to Dad's career moves in the corporate world, he moved his family to Brooklyn, New York; Newark, New Jersey; Vineland, New Jersey; Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi; Morgan City, Louisiana; Hammond, Louisiana; Montgomery, Alabama; and Mobile, Alabama.
2. A priority shift that moves us from in-reach to outreach – Dad got it! He knew that one will never take a U-Haul truck containing life's possessions to the cemetery. His great ambition in life was to see souls saved, churches planted and the kingdom of God advanced throughout the earth. In 1966, Dad chose to leave the Kress Corporation to join T. G. & Y. At that time, T. G. & Y was a going and growing company nationwide. As a result of this career change, he moved his family from Vineland, New Jersey (we moved to this town from Newark, New Jersey) to Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. From 1966 to 1975, Dad continued to climb the company ladder and was eventually given one of the largest stores to manage in the T. G. & Y chain.
Yet there came a time when he refused to climb the corporate ladder any further because the time required needed meant he would no longer have time for his wife and two sons. He determined he was not going to miss out on the most important opportunities in life. In 1975, he left T. G. & Y to launch his own nursery business in Mobile, Alabama, for the dual purpose of serving his family and saving the world. Dad was determined to give more to missions and to equip his two sons for the work of God.
3. A potential shift that moves us from events to relationships – I could share many life-changing and life-threatening events that took place in our family through the course of time. Yet, our family did not see only the events by themselves, but also the relationships that would be formed and built up through the events. In 1979, Hurricane Frederick blasted through Mobile Bay and over the top of our home with a sustained wind of 155 mph. We lost nearly everything! For approximately one month we did not have running water or electricity.
The day after Hurricane Fredrick blasted its way through our lives, destroying our business, Dad got his sons (James L. Davis & James O. Davis) up early and marched us up to the nursery business. We could not drive from our home to the business due to the uprooted trees strewed across the road. As we walked to our nursery business, we could see the devastation left from Hurricane Fredrick. We had a very successful plant nursery company. During the peak season, we grew an average of 30,000 fern and flower baskets, plus thousands of shrubs and trees. As we walked throughout the acres of land that comprised the nursery, we saw all of the greenhouses had been destroyed. It was a most devastating time for us!
I will never forget what took place next. I heard Dad say, "Sons, let's start cleaning up this business today and save as many plants as possible." I said, "Why do we have to do it today? It seems like this is a waste of time. Nearly everything has been destroyed." My dad responded, "Just because a storm comes, it doesn't mean that God has changed His mind or His will for our family. We will begin rebuilding our business today to do the will of God." It's not about the events; it's about the relationships that are formed and built up through the events. Potential is built on the peaks of problems!
4. A people shift that moves us from adding to multiplying – If we're going to have lasting impact, we have to be able to move from addition to multiplication and from production to reproduction. Dad always had time for his sons, his wife and people. I can tell you incident after incident when Dad found a down and outer and turned him or her into an up and outer. His compassion for people was exemplified in the small and big things he did for them. It is not about buildings and money; ultimately, it is about people! He understood how people thought and knew how to connect with them.
Even though he never had a course in marketing, he was one of the best marketers I have ever seen. He knew how to create a dynamic idea, build magnetism around it and reach out to the marketplace. In 1974, Dad was the manager of the Montgomery, Alabama store (the second largest T. G. & Y. store in America). As a young man, I watched Dad coach his 50 plus employees and prepare the advertising, both in paper and on television.
When it came time to launch the grand opening of the store, people began showing up at 6:00 a.m. for the store opening at 10:00 a.m.! The crowd was so large and intense, they pushed against the very tall, front glass walls to the point the glass shattered everywhere as people made their way into the store. I watched the people as they were literally climbing over one another, racing to get into the store to grab their bargain before someone got it before them. There was a moment in time, while the people were stampeding into the store, when a large icicle-like piece of glass dangled at the top just above the people. Then, suddenly, this icicle piece of glass fell quickly into the crowd.
Thankfully, people were not killed or impaled by the glass falling upon them. Yet, fire trucks and ambulances filled with firemen and medics were deployed to the scene. Can you just imagine this moment in time? If we are going to make a significant impact, we will have to know people.
5. A provision shift from consumers to contributors – It seems that most Christians in the Western world have developed a consumer mentality instead of a contributing mentality. They actually believe the local church is there to serve them. I could not tell you how many times I have heard pastors say Dad was one of the most generous men they ever met. I remember, time after time, our pastor becoming the best friend of my dad, and my dad adding value to the man of God's work, regardless of the nature of the effort.
For example, in 1985, when Knollwood Assembly of God was opening a new church facility in Mobile, Alabama, the plan was to have a number of gorgeous palm trees along the front of the beautiful sanctuary. Dad drove his nursery truck to South Florida, secured scores of palm trees, brought them back on his truck and helped to install every one of them free of charge! When pastors or leaders came by the nursery business, he always made sure they left with a car full of plants and shrubs. For nearly nine years, Dad volunteered his time in the Billion Soul Network. He was on call 24/7.
Over the years, I have observed leaders who have the innate ability to "sense or smell God's provision" in their lives. In other words, as they walked forward, they knew somehow God would provide for them along the way, even though they did not know how at the time.
When we moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Mobile, Alabama, to launch our nursery business, Dad formed a partnership with another nurseryman. However, nine months later, Dad was deceived by his partner and forced out of the business. When Dad came home after his heart-wrenching meeting with this crooked businessman, he pulled his wife and two sons together in the family room. He told us exactly what had happened to him and the immediate impact it would have on the family. Then we developed a simple plan to move forward with the dream of having our own business and providing for the family at the same time.
During these early months, we built one small greenhouse in the backyard, with the dream of having scores of greenhouses in the future. I knew what it was during those days to go to the grocery store with Mom and watch her use food stamps (government subsidy) to pay for it.
Yet, as the months went by, we laid the business blocks necessary to build a strong, sustainable business. We worked very hard, but God provided for us! Dad took the steps of faith required and the rest is history. The other nurseryman, who swindled Dad out of money and threw him out on the curb of life, later went completely out of business and had to sell everything!
6. A perspective shift from a church mentality to a kingdom mentality – When my brother and I were 15 years old, on one particular afternoon, we had been arguing and fussing with each other. I remember Dad walking into the family room and demanding that we sit down on the sofa. He looked at both of his sons and with tears he said, "If you boys would ever quit fussing and fighting with each other, you have the potential of helping to change the world!"
I never forgot that moment. He was inspiring us to be great men of God. In the day in which we live, it is no longer "the West going to the Rest," but the "Best around the world going to the Rest of the world." We will have to move from traditional missions to global missions in order to finish the Great Commission. My Dad understood this. He never settled for average Christian life.
Whether it was in a prayer meeting or a Bible study in the local church he attended, sooner or later he would bring up the Great Commission. He had taken ownership of the Great Commission for his personal life. I heard Dad articulate that he was doing all he could to add as many new chairs as possible to the table of the marriage supper of the Lamb.
7. A process shift from the older to the younger – Throughout the global church today, we are witnessing a huge generational shift taking place. The older generation is graduating for glory and the younger generation is stepping up for such a time as this. I live 15 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and 45 minutes from the Orlando International Airport. Some of my friends say, "James, you should move closer to the airport." My response is, "I am only 15 minutes from the ocean. I did it on purpose." I love taking a walk along the beach and listening to the waves in the water. And while I am walking, there are two waves constantly in motion and, at times, at odds with one another. There is the new wave coming in and the old wave going out. At some point, these two waves will find themselves at odds with one another.
However, 10 times out of 10 the new wave comes in and the old wave goes out. In other words, the new wave takes the place of the old wave.
Dad made sure to create opportunities for his sons to go further than he ever did. He did not hold us back or tell us we would never be successful or call us derogatory names. I hope and pray that I can help my daughters, Olivia and Priscilla, to go further than I have ever gone and to create opportunities for their personal and spiritual growth so they also can be mightily used by the King of the universe.
We are witnessing an older generation going to glory and the newer generation stepping into fresh and vibrant leadership roles. Sometimes I hear church leaders express concern about the generation that is coming behind them. Yet, I am quite confident that the generation that is going on ahead of us at one point was worried and concerned about us!
The last time I checked, it is the Lord's church, not our church. Christ is building His church and He knows exactly what He is doing in order to advance the kingdom of God and fulfill the Great Commission in this century. While my dad has now taken his rightful place in the grandstands of glory, I have to strive to finish my God-given race and make it harder for someone to live on this planet and not hear the gospel!
Dr. James O. Davis is the co-founder of Billion Soul Network (Billion.tv Cutting Edge International (JamesODavis.com), both located in the greater Orlando area. The Billion Soul Network comprises more than 2,400 organizations and more than 500,000 churches in every nation.
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