Why Me? #69

Why was I raised in the United States by well-educated Christian parents, never having known un-treatable disease, hunger, war or persecution – when others are born into Christian families and seem to continually know disease, hunger, war and persecution? Why do I have so much – when the vast majority of His children have so little? This question challenges my theology. Life is not fair!

My response to the inequities of life has been to take what the Lord has given me, to take who I am and accept the challenge of Dwight L. Moody’s words: “The world has yet to see what God can do through a man fully dedicated to him. By God’s grace, I will be that man.” I have worked at living In Partnership With God. This is where my heart has been, where it is.

So what did God have to work with? Certainly not the brightest kid on the block! Certainly not the person with the most charismatic personality – that everyone enjoyed being around. And not a great athlete – a good right guard on the football team, but a person that is no good at basketball, tennis, or baseball. A reasonably good singer, but not a musician. Not a great leader – I was not elected to lead anything. My big mouth and boldness continually got me into minor trouble. My driving habits and dating conduct were not always “above reproach”. Why am I the way I am, given the advantages that have always been a part of my life? I can blame it on Satan, but in reality I know that the decisions I make are my own choice.

I remain before Jesus Christ and others, a very sinful person. James 3 describes me well: “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. Ephesians 5 does not describe me well: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” My mouth combined with my lack of patience, gentleness, and self-control have always gotten me into difficult situations – and though I desperately try to change, this combination of my sinful nature still spills out, causing myself and others considerable pain! Where is the evidence of the fruit of the spirit in my life?

So why has God chosen to give me the experiences of His reality, to impact the lives of hundreds of young people, often in measurable ways? I could say it is a mystery, and to some degree it is. To stop here is easy, but may not be the most helpful. I believe the following is also true:

  • God knows my heart – and knows that, deep down, I hate my sin. I live frustrated with the fact that I continue to sin in my thinking, in what I say, in what I do. I do work at confessing my specific sins to Him realizing that Jesus Christ died for my sins. I am living proof that Psalm 103 is true: “for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
  • God knows my heart – and knows that I really want to please Him – to serve Him however He chooses. To me this includes working at being honest and open, at not being timid when I feel He has a job for me to do, be it seemingly small or large. Sometimes this job seems to be to share the experiences God has given me to encourage others.

An Awareness of God’s Presence #68

If someone told me this story, I would be very skeptical of either their integrity, or their sanity. What I share with you happened to me about 35 years ago – yet I remember the experience very vividly.

It was on a Sunday evening, at the end of a very full day. I had led the two Sunday morning worship services, preached at the evening service, and then led career group, which met in a large room adjacent to the sanctuary. My last responsibility of the evening was to turn off the lights and check the sanctuary to be sure the P. A. system and lights were turned off.

When I looked into sanctuary, it was dark, except for some light that filtered in through windows – and the pulpit light. I must have left it on. I was not happy.

Please take a minute to picture the front of the sanctuary. The pulpit was on the right, about 4’ above the floor level. In the center front of the sanctuary was a large table, behind which was a beautiful stained glass window – a collage of color. Before each communion service 12 elders, symbolically representing the 12 apostles came up to the table and sat down, six on each side. At the far end of the table there were three chairs. The center chair was always left empty, to represent the presence of Jesus at the last supper. The senior minister sat to the right of this chair, I sat on the left.

As I walked down the center aisle that night, I suddenly became aware of the presence of the Lord standing at the place of that center chair. I did not see his face, or a bright light. I just became overwhelmed with an awareness of his presence. I was stunned, very frightened. Quickly I went as far as I could out around the table, turned off the pulpit light, and got out of there.

As I stood alone in the foyer, I immediately thought of Moses: “the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5 I left the building, shaken to the core.

When Jesus made his presence real to me, I guarantee I was not expecting it – any more than Moses expected to see a burning bush. Prior to this experience I had often told people that I would like to sit down at a table with our Lord, for I had lots of questions. I have not said this since that evening. Sitting down in the presence of The Almighty God for a chat is not an option.

Moses and I are in very different leagues. I know this. But we did have somewhat similar experiences. God healed my back, and used me to be his agent of healing for Susan Sea, the young lady who had spent the previous 7 years in a wheel chair. God used the disciples, and others, as his agents of healing. We too are in very different leagues. I know this. Thus my hesitation in sharing these personal experiences.

Little did I know how much I would need these, and other experiences of the reality of the living God, in the months and years ahead. Living In Partnership With God is a sobering experience.

God Healed My Back #67

Two weeks before Christmas I planned to play handball with Jim McCue. When I woke up I did a sit-up in bed. My back felt stiff and sore, so I did another. Immediately I had pain in my back, a little in my right leg. My back had given me some trouble since playing football in college, but nothing like this. Still, I thought, in a couple days I will be much better.

That night my dad was taking the entire family to see the Chinese Acrobats. I called my dad, an MD, told him about my back and that I still wanted to go. He said that he would bring pills that should relax my muscles and reduce the pain. Upon arrival I took the pills – and remained in such pain I had to stand through the program. I did not sleep very much that night, but was determined to keep an appointment with a high school student heading for serious trouble. I managed to drive the few blocks to his home and spent my time with him lying on the floor. When it was time to leave I called my dad, asked him to make an appointment with a back specialist, and Sally Jo, asking her to pick me up and take me to the specialist. I rode lying in the back of the station wagon. Doctor’s visit: three extruded discs. He told me to try bed rest, but to plan on surgery. Christmas I spent lying on the floor. I made enough progress to return to work, but my back was very painful, my right leg felt like it was in a vise, and sometimes excruciating sciatic pain shot down my leg. I soon went to Dr. Frank Ogren, a general practioner and good friend. He suggested I try traction at home. After a few days I was reasonably functional, but the back, calf and the intense sciatic nerve pain continued.

In June we went to Sally Jo’s parent’s cabin on a lake in Wisconsin. To get from lying down to standing up I had to roll off the deck into the water, or to pull myself up on anything I could find. I was miserable!!! Late afternoon on July 4th I had to return to Oak Brook. When I left we were both in tears. As I drove home that night I gave God a piece of my mind! I could care for everyone else’s kids, but not my own. Physically, emotionally and spiritually I was a mess.

I managed two rehearsals and weddings. On Sunday morning I led two worship services, spoke at the evening service, and then met with the “Career Group.” I was exhausted when I got home, but could not sleep. My back hurt, my leg hurt and I was not happy. After several hours, I rolled out of bed – surely a hot shower would help me relax and get some sleep. I emptied the hot water tank and headed for bed.

Why I knelt by my bed, I do not know. I told the Lord that if he could put Jacob’s hip out of joint (Genesis 32:25), I knew he could heal my back, and that I was going to pray until He did. I was desperate. About twenty minutes later I felt a movement in my back. I stood up – the squeeze on my calf was gone, the sciatic pain was gone. As I got into bed, I realized my back itself was sore, but not bad. I remember saying to the Lord,” If you were going to heal me, why didn’t you finish the job” (Gall!) I soon learned that if I did daily trunk strengthening exercises, my back functioned quite normally. This has forced me to continue these exercises almost daily for 32 years.

Why did I kneel down and pray that night? Why did I tell God I would not stop praying until He healed me? What would I have done if God had not healed my back that night, or the next day? I remembered Jesus parable: “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. Luke 11:5-13 But what would I have done if he had not healed me?

I have many unanswered questions as the result of that night. What I do know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is that God has proved to me he can do whatever he wants to do. There are times that I feel God has gone on vacation, yet I cannot deny the reality of a personal, living God, one who hears and responds, but often in ways I do not understand, sometimes in ways I do not recognize. Because I know God is real, I have chosen to live In Partnership With God.

Gifts and Limitations #66

The strikingly beautiful Christ Church of Oak Brook facility stands boldly on the corner of 31st and York road. During my three years on the CCOB staff, every Sunday morning Henry Van Balen stood at the center door of the sanctuary and welcomed, by name, each person who had attended on a previous Sunday morning. As the number worshiping grew from a few to over 2000, Henry remained at his post welcoming each person by name. How did he do this? I have no clue…and I am not sure he did. It was his gift.

Every Sunday morning, at both services, Debbie Hoffman’s beautiful organ music welcomed people into the sanctuary. Every Sunday morning the call to worship and liturgy were crisp, the pastoral prayer carefully prepared to encourage those present to be honest with God. These were my responsibilities. Every Sunday morning Hughes Hoffman directed the choir – outstanding music to lead us in reflection, thanksgiving and praise.

Every Sunday morning the senior minister, Art DeKruyter, opened up the contents of God’s Word. He came across as God’s man, not afraid to proclaim the whole counsel of God. His sermons were clear, challenging, and informative.

Consistent excellence was the objective, not just on Sunday morning, but throughout the week. Take a moment to check their website: christchurchofoakbrook.org This church, which began in a school room in 1964 with six families, now has well over 5,000 members who worship at the five weekly services.

I was responsible for the Christian education program, all of the small and large groups, with specific leadership responsibility of the Career Group. I was the person people called during off hours if a person had a particular need. In the spring and early summer I would often be the officiating minister for two weddings on a weekend, having previously worked to help prepare the couple for marriage and plan their wedding ceremonies. Sally Jo and I led the one week family camp. And I preached every Sunday evening. During my three years on staff, two were added to the pastoral staff, but my responsibilities did not seem to decrease. I knew I was giving 110% day after day. Looking back I realize that my plate was just too full.

God has gifted me in the area of administration: given me the ability to plan, to lead, to inspire…and to lead worship. I am comfortable with, and enjoy using, each of these gifts, these abilities. I feel comfortable in writing this in the context of Paul’s words to the members of the church at Rome: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…” Romans 12:4.

When pastor of the struggling church in Bakerville, I enjoyed my preaching responsibilities – and the church again became a healthy, growing body of believers. And I enjoyed regularly speaking on Sunday mornings to a variety of congregations during my two years as Presbyterian Minister to Students at Middle Tennessee State. But as I have developed and utilized the other gifts God has given to me, the satisfaction and joy of speaking on Sunday mornings has diminished. I now seldom accept invitations to supply preach.

Looking back to my years at CCOB, the area I could most easily have “given up” was speaking at the Sunday evening service. My preparation for this responsibility was often near the bottom of my “to do” list. I am certain this lack of preparation, and probably inconsistent delivery, was obvious to many, particularly the Senior Minister. As the pastoral staff grew, I could have easily relinquished this responsibility to a minister with more time to focus on, and more gifted in, this area. Why did I not step aside, I do not know. Blindness to this reality? Pride? Stubbornness? I truly believe the church, God’s gathered people, would have been better off – and I, and particularly our family, would have benefited.

When living In Partnership With God, I do not believe God gives us more to do than we can do well. Is our plate too full? It can be difficult to recognize this truth, and to take appropriate action.