I wanted to mention that we are now offering 'Visions and Dreams 2', which is part of a 3 part series. It's a very good study of spiritual dreams, visions, the types and the how and why - a valuable teaching!
The Lord's testing
Last week I mentioned John 6:5-6 where Jesus asked Philip upon seeing 5,000 men plus women and children before them: "Where are we going to buy enough bread to feed all these people?" The very next line says "This He said to test him, for He knew what He was going to do."
James 1:2, 13, 16-18 says, "Count it all joy when you fall into various tests, trials, and temptations...but let no one say when he is tempted, tested, or tried that God is doing it to him. For God is not tempted by evil and neither does He tempt, test, or try anyone with evil. Do not err my beloved brethren; Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness nor changing of His character. Of His own will he birthed us with the Word of Truth, that we would be a kind of first fruits of His creation."
So the Lord doesn't test us with evil, but He does test us. He tests us with good. His testing would be better understood as 'proving', for He knows us and our potential and our destiny, so He places us in situations which provide us the opportunity to prove what is in our hearts.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:19; 'Wisdom is known by her children', which means a decision of wisdom is usually not openly obvious that it is wisdom, but that decision's "children", the results of the decision, will reveal that the decision made back then, was in fact the right one.
People who jump off spiritual cliffs with the rest of the crowd don't make wise decisions. They can't look down the time line of their lives to see that paying the price now to make the hard decision will yield dividends later. They have a hard time believing the Holy Spirit would be leading them to make a very difficult decision. They don't want the Spirit to lead them through painful transitions, but He does.
How are we going to get enough money?
If we examine what Jesus asked Philip we will see it was a perfectly normal, 'natural' question to ask. "Where are we going to buy enough bread to feed these people?" The question gave no hint to the supernatural provision that was a few moments away. Opportunities to move in the supernatural provision rarely present themselves as supernatural, and much of the kingdom works by 'according to your faith be it to you.'
We cannot fault Philip for responding to a natural question with a natural answer. Yet the Lord was testing him to see how he would respond. Philip had no way of knowing Jesus would multiply a boy's lunch for he had never done that before. Jesus has never changed, He still asks questions of us to see what we will do. He still asks us to think about what could be, to think outside the box.
Chris was dying
After his first 24 years of living at home, our oldest and handicapped son, Chris, moved to a group home nearly 2 hours away. His little brothers had graduated high school and moved out of the house and got on with their lives, and Barb and I realized we needed to make a decision for the long term. It was the hardest decision we've ever made and we felt like the worst parents and people in the world.
Chris is mentally about 4 years old. He loves the Lord, but ever since he turned 4 he has remained 4. How do you tell a 4 year old he can't live at home anymore, and has to live 2 hours away, suddenly seeing mom and dad only once every 4-8 weeks (due to ministry travel and that 2 hour drive)?
For years he thought he had done something wrong. He would ask the staff to call home, and on the phone would start crying, sobbing through his tears "I'm sorry for what I did wrong, maybe you can let me come home, I'm sorry what I did wrong!" Because he is mentally retarded, it took 2 years just to get it through to him that he did nothing wrong, but as Jason and Brian had gone off to 'school' so did he now have to go to 'school', just like them.
The staff battled temper explosions, common to those suffering from brain injury, whether Cerebral Palsy (a term describing any brain injury incurred in labor or delivery) or from a later head wound - unexpected loud noises, changes to routine - anything could set him off on a destructive tirade. Then once the wrath was expressed, he would become meek and docile and apologize.
But by the summer of 2008 Chris had lost the will to live. At home with mom's good cooking he weighed about 175 pounds (79kg), but he refused to eat at the group home, dropping to 138 pounds (62kg). His lowest healthy weight was calculated to be 135 (61kg) and he was nearing that quickly. He then refused to get out of bed, refusing food, even using the bathroom in his bed, having totally lost the will to live.
The House Manager and nurse told me he was at the point they needed to discharge him to a nursing home to be allowed to die. I recoiled in horror, the seriousness of what was happening slapping me in the face like a cold washcloth, and was so thankful Barb wasn't there at that meeting.
Jump off the cliff or believe for a miracle?
There is a philosophy in ministry that says if a minister will tend to God's people and work, even neglecting of his own family, God will take care of everything. That thinking is why Preacher's Kids (PK's) have the reputation and hurt they do - dad was taking care of everyone else's family but his own.
This manifests by the minister dad taking a ministry call while the family is around the dinner table, even if his child is in the middle of telling her story about school. It means when the minister's child has a school play on Wednesday night, dad won't let someone else lead the service that night so he can see the play, he feels he has to be the one to do the service. A PK grows up realizing they are 2nd place behind God, and how can they compete with Him?
Barb and I have never held to that belief. We believe if we take care of our family first in God then it will all work together. So I refused (refuse even now) to take calls at the dinner table. If one of my son's had an event that I needed to be there for, I delegated out to others that I might attend. Even now when I am with Chris I won't take a ministry call. The same if Barb and I are having time together and so on.
Chris was dying, but he lived 2 hours away. Immediately I began taking 2 days each week to drive up the turnpike to be with Chris. Sometimes Barb and I would both go, sometimes just me. I'd get Chris out of bed, give him a shower and shave, take him to McDonald's or for a drive - anything to get him out of bed and to try to get him to want to live once again. In fact, those weekly visits were what he lived for, and soon his emotional well being became dependent on me coming to see him.
Soon, we were spending as much as a mortgage on a house in time, fuel, tolls, meals just visiting him twice a week. I didn't have time off because those 2 days had to be like clock work. Would we jump off a cliff with the rest of the crowd - just let Chris die and say 'What we are doing in the Lord is more important than your life', or would we believe God for something totally outside our 'box'.
It was summer of 2008. The economy was imploding, loans were drying up as everyone waited to see what Congress would do. AIG, Lehman Brothers, various large banks were all going under - in the natural there was no solution.
We decided in spite of our core house churches in Tulsa, Chris would have to come first, meaning we'd move to be near him. Barb and I were 50 years old that year. We didn't want to rent an apartment as Chris needed a permanent home. We didn't want to rent a home which was paying someone else's mortgage, and we realized the small town where his group home was located wasn't exactly the jewel of Oklahoma's cities.
I concluded that we needed to be within a 30 minute drive of Chris, and if we had a home on a nearby lake, Grand Lake, that we could buy, it would be a home that could save his life. It would hold value against a down economy, and be ours. We would need a wheelchair ramp at the front door however, for his home visits, and we would need a flat and level yard as many lake properties were on bluff high above the water.
And what do you do for money?
After we had established our priorities, that we would not let Chris die so that we might continue in ministry unhindered, but that we would rearrange our lives to save his, and when we had worked through the rent/buy and where issue to conclude we would need to buy a place on the lake, THEN we went to the Father in prayer.
We were very much like Philip needing a miracle to feed the crowd. We had no cash, I tried a mortgage broker but at every turn was told they were waiting to see what Congress would do, so we were totally helpless. At that point I went back to the Father and said 'Father, we will need the owner to carry a note because no one is lending right now, at least not to us'.
This was all outside the box thinking. Normal thinking would have continued running up the turnpike weekly, every increasing the stress on us which meant other things that needed to get done weren't getting done, or normal preacher thinking would have let him die...that wasn't us.
AFTER putting all that to the Father, I suddenly felt a peace about it, and saw a mini-vision of Grand Lake, with an oval drawn around the north and west shore, like an invisible hand drawing an oval with a pen on a paper map. I knew that was the area the Father had provision.
So immediately I stuck the GPS to the windshield, and spent 2 days driving around the entire lake going to everywhere EXCEPT where I had seen the hand of the Lord draw that oval. I wanted to educate myself on what was available, what a reasonable price was, and so on. When He gave me that peace, He also gave me a price, $127,000, so I needed to see what that kind of place would be like. He had also given me a picture of it at the time as well - a small home surrounded by trees, white with black shutters, and a ramp going up to the front door.
On the 3rd day I felt I had learned enough, and zeroed in on the area I had seen drawn. I entered a neighborhood of mostly double wide manufactured homes and other small homes, driving to the end of the road where I saw the house in the vision. Plus, there was a 'for sale by owner' sign in the front yard. The owner was a Baptist pastor and his wife who needed to be closer to their church on the other side of the lake. They carried the note and we moved in, and Chris immediately turned around, gaining weight, deciding 'Dad, I like this house'. And here we are today.
But it never would have happened unless we had understood that God does test us with good things - difficult decisions, decisions that require 'outside the box' thinking and believing, moved by principle and right priorities - the Holy Spirit leading as we indicated we would take a step toward the impossible.
Next week, more about the Lord's testing of us with good, other not so obvious ways He leads, and more!