Follow the Lord
August 6, 2019
by David Campbell, DDS
As you practice your faith, the words “follow the Lord” are often heard and shared. The direction of the Lord does not have a yellow brick road. The words are meant to send you to prayer and develop your sense of discernment. As a dentist, dozens of people will ask you to follow them. These requests are loud and clear and often do have a yellow brick path. Some follow their golden paths before them. God blesses each of us with guidance, and for some it is easy to determine the guidance because many of us in the dental profession can use wise counsel and success to guide our steps. There are roles in every community for successful dentists. I respect the best in my community and love all my colleagues for their shared commitment to excellence. The dangers of greed and ethical challenges are to be lifted up to the Lord likewise to turn our steps to bless those around us. We are guided by the Lord’s work in our hearts, often to avoid missteps as often as we discover blessings.
Some of us, especially those who read obscure dental blogs, may be called to more unique paths. Are you called to missions, or are you called to serve the poor in the inner city? Neither of these calls is usually associated with financial blessings, and they often include financial costs, even sacrificial giving. In my case, I was called to endure decades of financial losses. Too much power and too much blessing in one place may lead you into similar circumstances. As I look back, I am grateful for every blessing and all the losses I endured. The Lord fired my passion to stand up for quality despite a real cost, despite the risk of my kid’s financial well-being. The Lord was faithful to preserve it all, but it was on the table for the Lord. I did lose significant levels of wealth and may still have future struggles or see future struggles in my children’s lives. It was all on the table for the Lord to take. Never risked in folly, but always searching for God’s purpose for my last missteps and guidance on the next wise steps.
Here, I am standing at the end of my career, with blessings immeasurable in wonderful family and solid direction for my last years. I have a bit of advice for those who might follow. If you have been blessed immeasurably from the start, and find yourself in a place of struggle or loss, God is guiding. He is holding you closely. You are being discipled, and you may have steps that bring you identification with apostleship from the Lord’s sustaining hands. My advice? Listen and pray, test and see. Make measured commitments and reassess often.
What am I saying? I have considered every mission endeavor ever dreamed of. Years ago, I agreed to load up a station wagon and set out over the Southern Border. Days before I left, my axle broke. Praise God, I sort of knew it was wrong. I was having legality qualms and technical setbacks, and overall, I knew God saved me from a great deal of frustration and compromised results. Later, I accepted a plane trip to a dental clinic halfway down Baja. I praise God for those who enjoy these, but I was miserable, especially as I heard the gospel pressures on the poor. That led me to question the ultimate goals and the ultimate effectiveness. I praise God that so many are doing these things well and blessing Mexico and many majority world communities. But this guided me from that type of ministry.
Besides, I knew the Lord was using me in the inner city. Four years into my practice I was at a CMDA Convention during the Rodney King riots in 1992. CMDA came around me and many members gave me money. I was devastated with worry about my staff and my patients, and my practice was burned to the ground. This was the coronation of my ministry. I knew many members were praying for me and grateful that they knew I was there in the worst of Los Angeles. I hadn’t realized how unique my circumstances were. Do you have unique circumstances? Unique family history or language skills? Often these are not arbitrary. The timing of the Rodney King riots occurring just as I was being elected to national board of CDMA also validated that the Lord wanted me to champion this community. A call to serve the least, near the worst is Christ’s “method of operation.” But how or how now? We were still losing money and had lost our biggest office. The Lord somehow sustained me through a decade of losses and searching. Really, it’s been a decade of searching because it was a decade of failure. Hold your head up when suffering losses. The Lord called me to explain this to people when asked. And everyone asked, because despite our losses, we looked like the largest dental practice in the country by some measures. We looked like a pastor’s dream in terms of funding building projects, supporting missions and being a top community leader. But, the Lord’s story brought Him glory. Yes, I was losing money, and committed to losing money until the Lord guides me out of this trial. I have prayed and cried for guidance, but every step seems wrong. Ultimately, I only had time to give to charities. All these years, I have been open to serving in other inner city missions as a dentist, dental director or even helping design and raise funding for a couple of clinics. I kept busy and always offered to help, explaining that I don’t have as much money as I have time and some level of expertise.
Certainly, we knew we had to close the practices. One by one, or in one sweep, we discussed working with other large groups of brokering the practices. One could dream of a large corporation coming in and paying a large sum for this network of 10 offices. But reality always caught up with us, as the financial reports were sent over. So, it was a painfully long process of 15 years, where each of the satellite practices was marketed and sold. Some of the practices went with properties and family conflicts arose over the share of the value that went to practice and property, but ultimately the Lord brought us through with family relations intact and to God’s glory we still all love each other. Years of struggle and years of losses can’t be compared to 400 years of enslavement, but it’s close to two-thirds of my life dedicated to shedding practices that served the poor and had very little inherent value.
Where did the money come from? How can 15 or even 20 years of losses be sustained? I didn’t have it at the start, but the Lord brought glory. Personal residential home and two of the practices ended up selling at five times the value of the original sales price. Praise God. Here I am at the end of the losses, and the biggest practice around me is one of the charitable clinics. Downtown Los Angeles is now the worst skid row community in the nation. The city and county are passing bills and taxes like only California can. Here we were, with eminent domain done and blueprints in hand, as the taxes started to pile up on the politicians’ desks. They needed projects and photo ops. We were there following God’s plans to serve the worst with the best. I have a small private practice north of Los Angeles in Altadena, but my life’s success is all from God and His path working at the downtown skid row charity clinic.
See where the Lord is blessing and follow that. The Lord does not hide His blessings. You will feel it in the hearts of those you serve with as much as the bottom line. This clinic went through layoffs and financial turmoil as much as my private practices did, but I sensed clearly that the Lord was using this mission and ministry. Somehow you will know. As you pray, the Lord will guide. Blessings!