by Lindy Jacobs, OCW Summer Conference Director
We’re so excited to welcome Ed Underwood as our 2015 Summer Conference Keynote Speaker
The Ed Underwood Interview
“That you may believe.” (John 11:15)
Fifteen years ago this passionate teacher of the Bible was living his dream of serving Jesus at his church in Southern California when he hit a wall . . .
Over the years, Ed Underwood had prayed at bedsides and emergency rooms with members of his congregation. But when this senior pastor of the historic Church of the Open Door in Southern California, a former firefighter, officer in the US Army, and graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary got a diagnosis that amounted to a death sentence, chronic leukemia, he began a journey of despair that led to deeper prayer and hope—and eventually to his first book.
Ed is the author of When God Breaks Your Heart, Reborn to Be Wild (David C. Cook), and his latest, The Trail (Tyndale House, 2014). He is also a popular speaker at conferences and seminaries.
Conference Director Lindy Jacobs caught up with Ed between busy speaking engagements for this interview.
How did you begin writing?
In 2000 I almost died, and in the process I was diagnosed with this disease. The malaise of my particular problem is severe. While I was suffering through those dark months of diagnosis, treatments, hospitalization, disappointments, and fears, I sent desperate emails to our congregation and to friends who were praying for me. One of those friends was Bruce Wilkinson (author of The Prayer of Jabez).
Bruce encouraged me to put these thoughts into a book. “This could be used by God to encourage those who are suffering.” Eventually, he introduced me to Don Jacobson, who became my agent and one of my closest brothers in Christ. The basic content of When God Breaks Your Heart came out of those emails.
Reviewers called your book life-changing for those facing “Why God?” moments. Joni Eareckson Tada praised it as “exceptional and filled with hard-fought wisdom” in her foreword. But those were some extreme circumstances to embrace the arduous task of writing your first book.
In many ways my suffering actually enhanced the process. Of course, there were days when I was so sick I couldn’t do much. Those who have fought this battle know that your days are preoccupied with staying alive and keeping your mind focused on the Lord Jesus and His care. It’s usually daily, but sometimes the suffering was so intense that it was hourly. However, when the doctors tell you that you have only months to live, it brings a focus to your life. During that season I had nothing else to do except stay alive, commune with Jesus, and write. Though I wouldn’t want to go through that again, there’s no doubt that God used it to make the book better because He had a lot of readers in mind that only He knew would need those words.
And you discovered you loved writing?
Yes! I love the discipline, creativity, and challenge. As a pastor and teacher at seminaries—and even my careers as a fireman and soldier—I’d written enough studies, manuals, and communiqués to fill a room with hard copies. But I was intimidated by the thought, Who am I to be an author? I believe God intervened by giving me this disease, and I realized something important. It wasn’t that I became an author. It was that I had to write, whether I published books or not. Writing When God Breaks Your Heart changed me in ways that I want to be changed. It was in writing that my thoughts about the Lord’s tender care, my shallow fleshly attitudes, and His rescue of not only my health but a part of me that I didn’t even know needed to be rescued occurred.
I’m not sure I’m doing a good job communicating this. What I know is that I have to write. These sentences come from deep places in my soul that I often didn’t know were there before I crafted the words. If that sounds mysterious, it’s because it is. The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I realize how mysterious He is. He’s the Friend of sinners who draws close to us. But He will not be tamed.
You’ve now published three books. How do you work now? Do you show your writing to others?
My community begins with Judy Underwood, and then it expands to my children. Once they agree that there’s some merit and honesty to what I’m working on, I expand to a band of four closest friends who are also in the process of all things writing and publishing. We “talk” through one another’s pieces by email, texts, and phone. We also meet every year for a week to process what the Lord’s doing in our lives and our writing. It gets pretty brutal, but it’s redemptive in every way. After that comes the usual vetting process through DCJ. This is a vital step for me, and that extends the community to DCJ’s insightful experts and readers.
Your work as pastor continues to be a big part of your life. What is the best thing about being senior pastor at Church of the Open Door?
The absolute best part of being a pastor is having a ringside seat to the powerful work of God in a life He is rescuing. This is why I’m so committed to discipleship. What a privilege to get paid for doing what I’d do for free if it weren’t my job. Sometimes, when the pressures of pastoring get me down, the Holy Spirit reminds me of this privilege. My “job” is to study the Word of God, to disciple men, to build community, and to launch everyday Christians into lives of eternal significance.
We are looking forward to welcoming you to Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference and hearing more about your writing and ministry.
I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I’m already praying for those who will be there. I’m sure we’ll learn from one another. My passion for this conference is to remind all of us of the difference between being a writer and being a Christian writer. The awesome advantage we have as Christian writers is the gospel’s healing power. That’s my primary focus. We’ll journey through the Book of Romans considering the gospel’s deliverance from shame, fear, disappointment, and the weirdness of how writing messes with us. I always say that being a writer will mess with your head, but being a Christian writer messes with your heart. The title of my talks will be “Writing as Worship.”
Ed Underwood is the much-loved senior pastor of the historic Church of the Open Door (http://www.churchoftheopendoor.com/) in Southern California and the author of three nonfiction books. In addition to his writing and speaking, Ed enjoys teaching the Bible for life-change, training and equipping leaders, and leading a church with the faith to ask God for big things. Ed is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. You can find out more about him at http://www.churchoftheopendoor.com/about-us/our-pastors/ed-underwood.html.