The desert surrounding the holy city of Jerusalem sounds like a romantic place to get a call from God, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. The ground is hard and unforgiving, full of deep and deadly crevices, as if a giant creature had carved the land with massive fingernails to trap unsuspecting travelers–much like the Path of Surrender we followed to obey that call. But here is where my husband, Marcus, and I began the journey that brought us through “crevices” deeper than any we saw in the Sinai Desert as we traveled through Egypt.
We had only been in the Bedouin region for a short time, when Marcus noticed something unusual: a satellite antenna poked up from the top of each tent in this dry and barren landscape. It seemed incongruous, this modern technology in so simple and harsh a land. Marcus realized that God had been planting a vision in his heart and mind, telling him that television is a tool for spreading the Lord’s teachings to a vast audience–anywhere in the world, day and night.
God had come up with a very tall order for us in the Holy Land. At that point, in March 1983, we were newly married. We were on the road constantly, preaching and ministering with revivals in twenty states. We knew nothing about operating a television station, Christian or otherwise. So when the Lord spoke to Marcus while standing on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem about moving to Montgomery, Alabama, he said three things to God.1. Why would You ask me to stop doing something You were blessing–evangelism!–in order to go and build a Christian TV station?
2. Lord, I don’t know how to build a Christian TV station.
3. Lord, I don’t have a million dollars to build a Christian TV station!
You might think that God would respond with a lengthy dialogue to answer all those questions after giving Marcus such a tall order. But all He did was repeat the assignment: Go to Montgomery and build a Christian television station.
Marcus and I were excited by this, but we were also flustered and more than a little clueless about how to get started. We puzzled over it for several months. Then, in the fall of 1983, Marcus decided that we needed to seriously focus on it. He suggested that we go on a three-day fast to make sure we were clear on what the Lord wanted us to do.
Like most other women, I’d done my share of dieting, even back when I really didn’t need to diet. But I’d never gone on a three-day fast where you didn’t eat even a carrot stick or a bran muffin. Let me tell you, it is no walk in the park. I thought I was going to die! After the first day, the headaches were excruciating. But we both persevered through prayer, and when it was over, Marcus felt the Lord had made it very clear that we were to find a way to start a Christian television station.
By the following January, we were in Montgomery.
A few years before, Marcus had been helping a Montgomery minister in his efforts to build a television station–long before we had any thoughts of doing it ourselves. This minister, whom Marcus and I had preached for, had gotten a permit for a broadcast license. He’d raised quite a bit of money, but the Federal Communications Commission sets a time limit when it issues permits and the funds weren’t coming in fast enough for him to make the deadline. If you don’t build your station within the allotted time, you lose your permit. Our friend was facing that predicament, so he’d decided to sell his permit.
Again, at that point, we were ministering around the country and not at all thinking about starting a television station. So Marcus had helped our Montgomery friend sell his permit to another group of Christians we knew from Kentucky who’d been looking for a broadcast license. It was strange because Marcus kept getting pulled back into this deal, investing money into the project, even though he wasn’t part of the ownership. It was as if we were being prepared for a role that we could not foresee.
As it turned out, the Kentucky group couldn’t get their deal put together to build a station in Montgomery. By the time they went looking for a buyer, God had clued us in on His plan for us. Suddenly, we were ready to take on the mission ourselves. We entered into an agreement to buy the Montgomery permit. The FCC gave us the same deadline, which was about eighteen months, to get the station up and running.
We gave it our best shot, but we were a couple of newlywed evangelists, still in our twenties. We weren’t venture capitalists. Neither of us even knew what venture capitalists were. Back then, we’d seen our share of church bake sales, but we’d never had to raise such serious capital. Initially we borrowed money from family members. We borrowed against our home. We took money out of savings and sold investments. I’m not sure, but Marcus may have taken a paper route and sold lemonade on street corners, trying to make it happen. As the deadline approached, the vultures were circling. Other groups were trying to buy the permit out from under us because they didn’t think we could pull it off. And we had doubts about it too.
We’d surrendered it to God and did the best we could to follow His plan for us, but as that deadline loomed it sure seemed like we were going to come up short. Marcus told me we were running out of time and money. Finally one day in exasperation he asked me: “Joni, are you willing to lose all that we have and everything our friends and family have given us because we believe God wants us to build this Christian television station?”
I was still new at the wife thing, but I stood by my man as best as I could, and I really believed we had a mandate from God as well. “Whatever you think we should do, Marcus, I’m with you,” I said. At that point, we realized that we could lose everything, but we were willing to take that risk because we knew God had spoken to us.
Marcus felt God had called us to start this Christian station in Montgomery and that we had to do whatever it took to fulfill that mission. “The money belongs to Him, not us. And if I have to work a secular job the rest of my life to pay it back, I’m willing to do that,” he said.
And so we surrendered our finances to the Lord. We risked it all, and we very easily could have lost it all.Community Effort
As a first grader, Marcus got fifty cents a week for allowance, which covered his recess Popsicle habit since they were only ten cents back then. But then Marcus learned about tithing 10 percent, which meant that he should give a nickel to the collection box at church. He did the math and figured he’d be a nickel short one day a week at Popsicle time. It was one of his first big challenges of faith. Did he tithe or did he keep the nickel so he could continue having a Popsicle at recess every day?
“Even as a little boy, the Devil tried to challenge me about finances,” Marcus says. “He said that a nickel wouldn’t make any difference to our church. The Devil tried to reason that it probably cost the church five cents just to provide an envelope for the tithe. But I put God first then and I always have, especially when it comes to finances.”
Marcus and I have seen, both in our personal finances and in the ministry’s finances, that if we put God first and surrender our finances to the Lord, then He will take care of us. And God was certainly working on our behalf once we surrendered our finances to Him. A miracle occurred. When we fully committed ourselves to God’s will, others invested in that commitment with their own money.
One Sunday afternoon, a man drove by and saw the bumper sticker on our car that said WMCF-TV “45 Alive!” We couldn’t have felt more that the opposite–“45 Dead!”–was true. Curious about what “45 Alive!” was about, the man stopped and came into our studio to see what we doing. I was seven months pregnant with our first child, pushing Marcus around on double-decker scaffolding so he could work on raising the drop ceiling for TV lights. We had the air conditioning turned off to save money, even though it was summer and more than 100 degrees in the room. Seeing our dedication and realizing we were working in this hot building all alone, this man’s heart was touched. He wrote a check for $1,000, and said he would be back the next morning with his pickup truck and tools to help us do the work. We were like little kids building a tree house out of scrap lumber, but eventually others caught the vision for Christian television and joined in to help us.
We built our first television station with borrowed money, baling wire, duct tape, and papier-mâché. I’m serious about that. We got the station up and running and on the air thanks largely to the fact that two other local stations were updating their equipment. They were throwing out all of their old electronics, including a transmitter made for black-and-white television that was being sent to the dump. Whatever they put on the curb, including that transmitter, we took. We had three cameras that looked like they’d been part of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory; our castoff transmitter was the oldest model in the country. I’m surprised it didn’t have a handcrank starter.
But we had the Lord on our broadcast team. His plan–and a whole lot of duct tape and silicone–got WMCF-TV 45 on the air on October 12, 1985 as the first full-power Christian television station ever built in Alabama. Someone told us we were the youngest couple ever to build a television station in the United States, but we knew better. We knew that it was the Lord’s station and the result of His work through us and the many, many other people who pitched in with their money, skills, time, prayers, and support.
Even though Marcus and I believed our new television station was God’s plan, that didn’t mean God stepped in and made every production something heavenly. We were definitely Christian broadcasters-in-training for a long, long time. Once the station was on the air, we somehow kept it going, but it was amateur hour. And it wasn’t always pretty to watch. Our part-time accountant made a mistake and our check to the power company bounced–so the studio’s electricity was cut off during one show. Our three very old rummage sale cameras had lenses that somehow made Marcus’s eyes look like a raccoon’s. It may have been an act of God when all three cameras blew up on the same day.
While we were struggling to get our seat-of-the-pants Christian broadcast operation going with only one paid engineer and a bunch of volunteers, we didn’t have any income to speak of, so we had to surrender our personal financial situation to God too. We needed a second car for Marcus, so he bought an old rust-bucket Datsun for $400. (There was no extra charge for the hole in the floorboard.) The car was such a junker that its engine once burst into flames while he was driving it on the highway.
Our vehicles and broadcast equipment weren’t the only problems in the early days of WMCF-TV. When I first started appearing on the air with Marcus, I was so nervous I’d get nauseous before every show and my mouth would dry up so much that I could hardly talk. As a result I didn’t say much at first. Finally, one afternoon when I was getting ready, the Holy Spirit said, “Just go and be yourself, and I’ll go with you. I’ll tell you what to say and even give you the questions to ask.” I still follow His guidance today. I am totally dependent on Him. He has been my teacher.
Thanks to another blessing, I also became quite adept at multitasking at our first television station. Our son Jonathan was born in the early days of WMCF-TV, and I often kept him in a baby carrier just off the studio set after I joined Marcus on the air. If Jonathan started crying, I would walk off the set, feed him, rock him to sleep, or change his diaper. God showed us that we had to nurture, love, and protect our newborn TV station just like our newborn son.
Of course, just as we began to feel like we knew what we were doing in Montgomery, the Lord came a-knocking with a new plan for us. He began to deal with Marcus about going to Dallas and acquiring a broadcast license there, which set off a bit of a mad scramble as we tried to figure out how to pull off that new mission. God’s goal for us was to reach ten times as many people with the good news of the gospel. We couldn’t see how to accomplish that while also keeping the station in Montgomery, so we decided to sell WMCF.
It quickly became apparent that the wisest money move would be to sell the station to one of the secular groups bidding to buy it from us for big sums of cash so they could turn it into a network affiliate. We could have justified that move easily enough by saying that the additional dollars from the sale would give us more funds to reach a bigger audience in Dallas. But God let Marcus know that He wanted the Montgomery station to remain a voice for Christian broadcasting. He told Marcus that even if we sell our station to a Christian group for less money that He would make up for every lost dollar after we got to Dallas. In 1990 we sold the Montgomery station for just the debt owed on it, ensuring that it would continue to broadcast Christian content twenty-four hours a day just as God wanted. Basically, we sold that station for about one fourth of what we could have gotten from a secular group.
But the biggest act of financial surrender came in the fact that we had to sign a no-compete clause with the buyers. The deal demanded that for at least five years we could not have a program on television or build another Christian television station within a hundred miles. That was a great surrender because we had been doing the daily program in Montgomery for almost seven years. People had watched our children and our ministry grow up over that time.
We were torn about giving up the daily ministry program and television station in order to follow the Lord’s plan in Dallas. Marcus said he felt like King Solomon confronted with the two women who both claimed the baby was theirs. But the true mother was willing to give up her baby to ensure its survival. Marcus only hoped that we’d made as wise a decision in giving up our “baby” in Montgomery for the unknown undertaking awaiting us in Dallas. We gave up a great deal in Montgomery. Plus, the Christian buyers required us to do seller financing, so we struggled for several years to pay off all our creditors. We also surrendered the daily ministry program and the pulpit it provided for reaching so many people with God’s Word.
When Marcus first told me about the Lord’s plan for us in Dallas, I was willing to do it; but neither of us had any idea where we would get the financing that such a move would require, especially since we’d made no money on the Montgomery sale. It seemed impossible at first. We had the faith, but the bankers needed more than that.
We learned that there was a permit for a station in the Dallas area for sale, but it was priced at over a million dollars. We needed $10,000 just to bind the contract to purchase the permit–and we didn’t have that either. To add to the pressure, we had only a week to come up with the $10,000 because the guy selling the permit said he had another potential buyer.
Again we surrendered this grand plan and all of the financial requirements to the Lord, figuring He was going to lead us to this station in Dallas in His own good time, through His own means. It seemed a little crazy then to enter into a contract for more than a million dollars when we didn’t even have the $10,000 for the earnest money, and it still does today. But Marcus knew the Lord would guide us penny by penny. We prayed and the answer came. The Lord reminded Marcus that, as a college graduation present from his parents, he had been given five acres of rural land that was a part of his family’s homestead outside Macon, Georgia. Marcus had never dreamed of selling the land because it was part of his family’s heritage. There was even a road named Marcus Road that cut through it. But the Lord had His own road in mind.
We talked about selling the land to raise the earnest money, but it didn’t seem possible to pull off a transaction quickly enough to meet the one-week deadline. It takes time to survey the land, list with a Realtor, and all the other steps involved in getting property on the market. Even if we could quickly find a buyer, he or she would have to get approval for a loan and set up a closing, which usually takes more than a month.
But when you surrender your finances to the Lord’s plan, some amazing things can happen. Marcus learned that his parents’ neighbor had expressed an interest in adding to her property. He called her and asked if she would be interested in buying his five acres for $10,000.
“I’ll buy it,” she said.
Amazingly, she wrote a check for the full amount, and the deal was done in just a few days.
Ten thousand dollars was a lot of money for us to have in 1986, but there was no talk of doing anything but putting it toward the purchase of the station permit in Dallas. This was a surrender not only of that money, but of Marcus’s portion of the family homestead. The $10,000 allowed us to secure the permit to buy the station in Dallas that became the foundation of the Daystar Television Network. If we hadn’t been willing to surrender the family land and the money that came from it, we might never have built what we have today.Obstacles
We had to sell our house in Montgomery before we could move to Dallas and start building a television station there. We needed the money from that sale to finance a home in Dallas. We had a nice house in a good neighborhood, and we felt sad about leaving it. Still, we gladly followed the Lord’s direction and put up a For Sale sign. We found a buyer and prepared to close. But on the very day we were supposed to close, the Alabama Department of Revenue garnished the equity from the sale of our home.
Several weeks before this closing, a man and woman came knocking on our door. Marcus greeted them, only to be informed that they were agents from the Alabama Department of Revenue, the state’s version of the federal Internal Revenue Service. The revenue agents later informed Marcus that they were putting a lien on our house for $22,000 because they claimed we owed that much in back taxes. Marcus said it was one of the most difficult moments of his life when he had to tell me about the state’s allegations. He was afraid I’d feel he had failed us somehow. But I know my husband. I had faith that Marcus always took care of business in an honest and upright manner.
The investigation meant we couldn’t receive the proceeds from the sale of our own house until we got the matter straightened out. It also meant that we had to prove our innocence–that we did not owe any back taxes. We had received no prior warning of this. A letter giving notice came in the mail a few days after the revenue agents showed up on our doorstep. We had to wonder if the Enemy wasn’t trying to block us from following the Lord’s plan in Dallas, especially when the revenue agents informed us that they planned to audit all of our finances for the past five years.
It was embarrassing, frustrating, and scary, but we knew we had nothing to hide. So once again, we surrendered to God’s will–and a very good accountant. The accountant told us that the state’s revenue agents weren’t even following their own tax laws in their claims against us. Apparently, they arbitrarily had disallowed exemptions that were legally ours to claim under state and federal laws. The accountant was outraged. He felt that we had been singled out because we were on Christian television.
While the accountants and lawyers fought it out, we struggled with what to do. We sold our home, but we couldn’t collect our equity until this mess was straightened out. We had to get to Dallas where God had called us. So we ended up renting a U-Haul because we didn’t have the money to hire a moving company. We drove to Dallas, pulling the U-Haul trailer behind our Honda Accord with our two kids in the back seat. Once there, we rented a two-bedroom apartment in Euless, outside Dallas, as a temporary home. It was tough because we were basically starting all over again, and this time we would be farther away from our families in South Carolina and Georgia; but we committed ourselves to the surrender, trusting that the Lord would work it out for us.
In the meantime, we had no money coming in, which was a real challenge. We got through that difficult time by remembering God’s promise to Marcus: we would be blessed for selling our Montgomery station to the Christian buyers for the debt that was owed on it versus selling it for more money to a secular businessman, who would have turned it into a secular TV station. We kept the faith even as we struggled in the first few years in the Dallas area.God Provides
In a God-ordained turn of events, our Alabama accountant became so incensed with the state’s disregard for its own laws and regulations that he called the state tax commissioner and informed him that he would do whatever it took to see justice in our case and would not be charging us further for his services. Furthermore, he went to state officials with the evidence and all of our documentation. In the end the state agreed we had done nothing wrong. Marcus had always prepared all of our taxes, and the state found that he’d done them honestly and correctly. We didn’t owe them a dollar. As a result, the Alabama Department of Revenue sent us a check for 100 percent of the money they garnished, plus interest.
Once our tax troubles were cleared up, we were able to start looking for a home and focus on our new life in suburban Dallas. Again, we had a struggle to get our new station, KMPX-TV 29, on the air. Our biggest challenge was getting a broadcast tower; but finally, after three years, we began broadcasting in 1993, from a leased studio in the Dallas Communications Complex.
God had sent us into the broadcast world at a time of great change in the industry. We bought KMPX just as federal deregulation was making more channels available in the market. The increased number of stations on the market resulted in lower prices. Just as the Lord guided us into Christian broadcasting, it became far less expensive to get into the market. At the same time, ownership restrictions were eased and UHF stations were made more equal to other broadcast entities. Another factor worked in our favor–cable television companies were required to carry local stations, giving us access to their subscribers. Even though it took us years to see it, the Lord’s plan was working.
In August of 1997, our Dallas area ministry moved into a new 32,000-square-foot office facility. Then, on New Year’s Eve, we officially launched the Daystar Television Network with our first live broadcast featuring Bishop T. D. Jakes preaching from The Potter’s House in Dallas. With our success in Dallas, we were able to purchase a UHF station in Macon–Marcus’s hometown–and then a noncommercial station in Denver. Those three stations were the foundation for Daystar.
In the year 2000, the FCC allowed twenty-four-hour religious programming on noncommercial television stations that could not sell advertising. Such stations are not as expensive to purchase, which made it possible for us to keep growing our network in major markets, gaining access to more viewers for the Lord’s work. By late 2001 Daystar had grown to include eighteen television stations. By the end of 2002, we were broadcasting nationally on Direct TV and the Dish Network.
In March of 2003, Daystar launched on the Hot Bird 6 satellite, broadcasting into seventy-four countries, and on the Thaicom 3 satellite, broadcasting into fifty-nine countries. That December, we moved our headquarters into a new 90,000-square-foot International Ministry Center with two state-of-the-art production studios. Our new facility was located on a major freeway near the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
By 2004 our broadcast ministry had become a network with TV stations in thirty-six cities around the country. Our satellite broadcasts also beamed into Europe and Asia. It took nearly ten years of challenging times, but God’s plan finally began to work for us in amazing and wondrous ways. That same year, after a long period of negotiation and some brilliant decisions that Marcus made with the Lord’s guidance, we did a simultaneous transaction that proved to be the blessing that God had promised us back in Montgomery.
KMPX-TV 29 was a full power UHF commercial station with a limited broadcast range, so it wasn’t exactly the perfect fit to cover all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. But the Lord showed Marcus how to leverage KMPX to buy what was a much better station for us. We sold KMPX for $37 million and then used just $19.5 million of those proceeds to purchase KDTN, a more powerful noncommercial VHF station that could broadcast to a half million more viewers. It even came with the perfect call letters, KDTN, for the Daystar Television Network. Plus we were able to bank the $17.5 million difference, which funded our efforts to reach even more people with God’s Word.
One of the challenges of surrender is that you have to be patient and wait for God to work His plan on His schedule. Often, as mere mortals, we cannot understand His ways. We grow impatient and confused and even angry when we lack understanding. But many times Marcus and I have been blessed when we have trusted and waited.
In our efforts to reach more people with Christian programming, we filed with the FCC in September of 1996 for a permit to build another television station in a high-growth area, Phoenix, Arizona. It took more than three years for that process to unfold. We finally got the permit in December of 1999. This noncommercial station, which had strong coverage in the market, came to us at a bargain. It cost us only a few thousand dollars to apply and less than $1 million to build the station. (Isn’t it funny how our perspectives change?)
Within a few short years, we were approached by several groups about selling that station because of the explosive growth in Phoenix. We didn’t want to leave the Phoenix market because we felt it needed a voice for Christian broadcasting, so we ended up doing a deal with NBC, which is owned by General Electric, one of the five largest companies in the world! NBC, which was eager to reach more Hispanic viewers, needed a bigger broadcast presence in the booming region. In June of 2006, NBC traded us three smaller television stations in the Phoenix area for our single, larger, noncommercial station. It worked out well for both sides since we each obtained the stations that were best suited to our needs. Financially, it was an even better deal. They gave us $50 million plus the three TV stations for a combined value of $76 million, which was a pretty nice trade for our station, in which we’d only invested about $1 million.
As Marcus says, there is no way that we were ever smart enough or talented enough to pull off that kind of deal on our own. It was God’s hand. He rewarded us for our faith and our surrender in financial matters to His will.
Marcus and I believe that all of the ministry’s money and all of our personal money belongs to God and that we have to be good stewards with what the Lord has given us. We had many lean years when we lived as traveling evangelists, totally dependent on the Lord to meet our needs. And we have had many fruitful years. We have learned, in either case, to surrender all of our financial matters to His will and to always be above board in our dealings. We are open about our finances and have our books audited by an independent accounting firm yearly. We always stress that our mission is not to make money; it is to do good works, to minister to people as an extension of the church, and to spread the good news of the gospel.
Now that we have more money coming in, we consider it our responsibility to give more away or to spend it in ways that honor and glorify the Lord and add to His kingdom. Daystar has given more than $21 million over the last few years to help people across America and around the world, including victims of 9/11, the tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina. We encourage our viewers to tithe to their local churches, not to send tithes to us. If they want to make a freewill and faith offering to us, then we will use that money to try to reach more people with God’s Word. We want donations to Daystar to come from the heart, not out of compulsion or need. We have already been given so much from God; we want people to give only if they wish to partner with us and join in reaching others for Christ.
The process of financial surrender never ends. It only grows greater with the more blessings you have. Financial surrender can’t be for your own glory. It must be for His. Some people believe that as they prosper they don’t need to lean on God anymore, but He always wants us to be dependent upon Him. He always wants us to look to Him as our source. Isaiah 1:19 tells us, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.”From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Surrender All by Joni Lamb. Copyright © 2008 by Joni Lamb. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.