Sunday, April 28, 2013

When God Doesn't Come Through

When God doesn’t answer your prayer as you had hoped and you wind up disappointed, is that disappointment in Him or in you?  Even if we say, “I’m just disappointed that things didn’t turn out the way I wished”, we’re really saying, “God didn’t come through for me”, aren’t we?  But that goes contrary to everything we know about God.

In teaching His disciples about the need to be persistent in prayer (Luke 11:5-13), Jesus compared the heavenly Father to a good earthly father, answering the request of a child specifically and getting it right.  He said that if we ask for fish we won’t be given a snake, or if we ask for an egg He won’t give us a scorpion.  Snakes and scorpions not only are very different from what was asked for, they are harmful to our well-being.  God doesn’t operate like that.

And in that same context Jesus told His followers to not give up praying, even when it might seem like He wasn’t hearing or interested.  He does and He is.  But sometimes our persistence in not giving up proves to Him (maybe more so to us) that some things are worth the wait. 

Many of you are familiar with my daughter-in-law’s current plight to get her second double lung transplant, without which (barring a miracle) she will die.  Along with my son, she has been living in temporary quarters near Duke University Hospital for over six months, working hard to be found strong enough for placement on the transplant list.  “Strong enough”, because such a surgery exacts a tremendous strain on the body, and she’s very sick.

The setbacks over the six months have been many, with multiple disappointments.  But, last week she received the much prayed for news that she was being reactivated on the transplant list to receive new lungs.  And her current status, being as poor as it is, placed her at or near the top of the list.  Great news!  Answered prayers! 

Saturday morning they were awakened with “the call” from Duke: lungs are on their way.  They quickly drove to the hospital and waited in pre-op for the final “OK” that the lungs were suitable and the surgery would take place.  Shortly after noon they got the word: “The transplant is a ‘go’.”  In fact they told us via Skype from the pre-op room.  It seemed that prayer was being answered affirmatively as well, just days after being listed. 

But within a few minutes the transplant team found some reason why the donated lungs would not be good for her.  Who knows why, and that’s really not so important.  Their knowledge of the lungs and of Tricia’s particular needs led them to come to the conclusion, as difficult as it was, that these lungs would not be a good match for Tricia.   She would go “home” without precious lungs and continue the wait for who knows how long. 

God is that “who”.  Not only does He know, but because she is one of His children, He has a divine plan for whatever remains of her life.  Receiving new lungs on Saturday, April 27 was not part of that plan.

Disappointing?  From our human wish-list position, “Yes”.  No one wants to see her continue to suffer for every breath one more day.  Everyone wants her to be able to return home and be a full-time mommy again.  We all just want her better. 

Jesus told his disciples to keep knocking at the door.  Keep asking God to work the deal.  Keep seeking until the answer is found.  So, that’s where we picked up on Saturday.  God has something different in mind.  That won’t silence our prayers at all.  It just means we’ll continue to seek Him.  And in His time that prayer will be answered as He sees best, because He is God and we are not. 

And whether we like His answer or not, He always comes through.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"I Dare You"...Life changing words

Back in those "thrilling days of yesteryear", when I was young and foolish, for whatever reason if someone dared me to do something I would find myself unable to resist.  Most of the time I wound up doing something stupid and either got in trouble or at the least very embarrassed by following through with a dare.  And of course, the reactions of others...either in amazement that I would take the dare, or hearing their laughs when I proved to be a bozo, was worth it to me.

But one of those dares was to do something life changing and although many think it foolish, it turned out to be one of the best dares I ever accepted.

I guess it was my junior year of high school.  For me it was a time when my heart was regularly being challenged to follow Jesus all the way, and because of God's grace my heart was receptive to the Spirit's nudging in my life.  None of it was because I was so spiritually-minded on my own.  That was definitely not the case.  On my own I was selfish, and were it not for the people God put around me - teenagers and the adults who shepherded us in our church - those years would have been spiritually fruitless for me.  I know that.

One of the adults God used to inspire and push me to take risks for God was a young soldier by the name of Ricky.  He was fifteen years my senior, and at a time in his life when God was molding him, too.  Ricky volunteered to serve the youth in our church, and while I don't remember any formal programming, he spent time discipling several of us.  His life was an example of service.

Sometime that year he taught a Sunday evening class for teenagers on how to share our faith.  We called it "soul winning" and "witnessing".  He gave us the Scriptures that specifically point men and women to their need for Jesus to become their Savior.  He talked about how to answer questions about the Bible and Christ and how to engage someone in conversation about eternity.  I highlighted those verses in my Bible.  I memorized them.  My head became full of what was needed should I ever be confronted with someone needing Jesus.

That's often what happens to us as believers.  We go to church and hear sermons.  Maybe we even take good notes and underscore verses in our Bibles.  When special classes are offered we take them, knowing that the info given will be beneficial to us in some way.  And like me as a junior in high school, we get loaded up with knowledge - good knowledge - that for whatever reason stays in our heads or on paper but fails to be applied in our lives.

The Apostle Paul predicted that in the last days churches would be full of people who were "always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth."  That describes us when we soak it all in like a sponge but never get squeezed so that it comes out.  Sometimes it takes being dared to be squeezed like that.

One particular Sunday evening, as Ricky was wrapping up his lesson he looked at us and simply and bluntly said, "I dare you to go out witnessing with me".  I honestly wasn't concerned about how anyone else there responded, but the guy had hit my "dare" button, and I knew I was in.  I couldn't resist the dare.  So, I told him, "I'll go".

Over the next weeks those of us who took that dare met with Ricky in the evenings and went out to do what most would never consider doing.  We went to the city's parks and to the downtown streets at night and approached people "cold turkey", striking up a conversation with them that would lead to the big ask, "Would you like to know for sure that you'll go to heaven?".  And if they nodded or said "Yes", we would share our Scriptures and explain in a simple fashion how Jesus could become their Savior and give them eternal life.

Ricky's dare was used by God's Spirit to enable some teenaged kids in Southern California to become evangelists and apologists.  No doubt there will be men and women in heaven who listened to us talk about Jesus and then received His free gift of eternal life.  I remember a few who did so on street corners and sidewalks.  I don't remember their names, but God does, and He has their names written down.

I'm reminded about this chapter in my life because I just got word that Ricky passed away a few days ago.  We haven't seen one another for 40 years, although we have reconnected via Facebook.  I don't know if he ever realized how momentous that dare he issued was in my life and others.  But my hope is that when he stands before the Lord he'll hear those words, "Well done, Ricky", even if just for saying "I dare you".

How about you?  If you're a Christian who will be in heaven because you shared the Gospel?  I'm often reminded of the old Gospel song that asks, "Must I go and empty handed?  Must I meet my Savior so?  Not one soul with which to greet Him, must I empty handed go?".  Of course, the answer is "No".  All of us should have others with whom we've shared the Gospel, maybe through our own stories who then by faith turned to Christ.

So, to continue the legacy of the man who challenged me, I challenge you.  I dare you.  And my friend Ricky would be humbled to hear your story one day. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

No Immunity

Today's sad news that Rick and Kay Warren's son Matt (who suffered his entire 27 years with bipolar disorder) took his life is a reminder that no one is immune from the effects of sin in this world.

I guess millions of people...I'm one...have been encouraged, strengthened and challenged by Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven Life.  Our church has done several of Saddleback Church's 40 Days "campaigns".  They've made us a better church.  I've been to many PDC conferences at Saddleback and have taught Rick's material to pastors in France.  He's been a leader and in many ways a pastor to multiplied thousands of pastors around the world.

When a religious issue captures the nation's attention the networks call on Warren to give the evangelical take on the subject.  While there's no doubt about his conservatism on cultural hot potatoes, he takes the high road of being more about Jesus than about politics.  Heck, he even prayed the benediction at President Obama's first inauguration, demonstrating that he is seen as rising above partisanship.

And some might look at a pastor like Warren and think that someone so close to God, so respected and highly regarded for his faith and missionary ventures would be immune to the struggles experienced by mere commoners.  But, not so.  Pastors and their families live in the same real world as everyone else.  They get sick.  They have car wrecks.  They deal with the same trials that make life difficult for every marriage, family and career.

Losing your child, especially to suicide when you've done everything you could to find him help, has to be a pain like no other.  My prayer for Pastor Warren and his wife Kay is for their broken hearts to find comfort in the Lord they've served for all these years.  I have no doubt their church will rally around them and give them the room they need to grieve and the support they need to go on.

Your pastor, like Warren is not superman.  Don't be surprised when life in this fallen world turns sad and stormy for him.