For a number of weeks the theme of my posts has been the biblical concept of time, and how God reveals Himself to us in the ordinary events of our lives in ordinary time, in the day to day details of our ordinary lives. Also, from time to time something extraordinary happens, something that cannot be explained apart from God. I have called such occurrences GOD-INCIDENTS. There are many people who do not believe Almighty God intervenes in our individual lives, in His created order, or in the events of our personal lives, because they think their God is too big to have such an intimate relationship with mere mortals. The truth is, their God is too small!
The God of the Bible is a “down-to Earth” God. From the dawn of creation God has been involved in His continuing creation, and in the lives of those whom He has chosen and called to be His covenant people. The God we meet in the Bible is the God of history, the God who took the initiative in creation, and who has continued to take the initiative in HIS-STORY, salvation history. Furthermore, God takes the initiative in the lives of those who truly believe (i.e. not only believe in Him, but believe Him – those who take God at His word, who trust in His promises because they trust Him! They are confident God is at work in their lives and will reward those who keep their promises to Him, who are faithful to their vows, who live in obedience to His commandments – Hebrews 11:6).
God has promised to be with us all the time. In His written Word, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, we have so many of God’s promises recorded: not only His promise to be with us, but His promise to be for us, and not against us – His promise to never forsake us, to not leave us alone in this world – His promise to guide us and guard us, to deliver us from the power and penalty of sin – His promise to provide sufficient grace for all our needs – His promise to not only forgive our sins, but to forget all those sins that have been forgiven, as a result of our good confession and genuine repentance – He has promised to finish what He began in our lives when we first make a confession of our faith, and to prepare a place for us in His everlasting kingdom.
What is a promise? It is a pledge, a vow, an oath. It is the character and trustworthiness of the one making a promise that gives any promise its value. It is often easier to make promises than to keep them. There are often flaws in our character that cause us to break our promises, to disregard our vows, which can cause great grief. Let us be grateful our God is not like that. He does not change. There is no such fickleness or unfaithfulness with God. God keeps His commitments. Even when we are unfaithful, God remains faithful to His covenant promises. The covenant He makes with His people is an everlasting covenant. He does not abandon His people. Why? Because God cannot deny Himself.
The character of God has been revealed to us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, we have found God to be trustworthy in our own spiritual experiences, in response to our own prayers. We also have the full and final revelation of God’s nature, God’s attributes, in the person of the historical Jesus, in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” WHEN WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT GOD IS LIKE, WE LOOK AT JESUS! God is good. God is love. God is righteous. God is holy. God is worthy of our trust, God cannot lie. God fulfills all of His promises. Therefore, we know God is always going before us, to make the rough places plain, to prepare the way, and to do just as He has promised, IF we are truly seeking to go where He wants us to go, and do what He “works in all things for good” (Romans 8:28). However, I confess it has not always been easy to discern God’s will, to be sure about the direction in which God wanted us to go at particular times in our journey of faith together.
Norma and I have struggled at times to discover God’s plan and purpose for our lives. We have never really wanted to relocate, for we have been happy in every place God has put us through the years. Like Jacob, there have been times when we wrestled with God in prayer, for we were seeking confirmation, some happenings that would let both of us know what God wanted us to do. We have always prayed until we were in agreement, for the Bible tells us that the place of agreement is the place of power when “two or more agree” in prayer. IF they have been praying in faith, the kind of faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), praying for God’s will to be done. This brings to my mind the time when Norma and I were struggling with the possibility of moving from Dallas to Honolulu, Hawaii. Many would say with a smile on their face, “Oh sure, I know it was really a great struggle, a very tough decision.” Yes, it actually was. We were not dazzled by the thought of moving to Hawaii, although we did have a special connection to the islands, which I will be explaining.
We were serving a great church in Dallas. It was a large church, and one that was still growing. It was a congregation blessed with some of the most committed and competent leaders I had ever served with. It was a Christ-centered church, a mission-minded congregation, a biblically based church, with a strong educational program, and exceptional youth and children’s ministries. The music ministry was also outstanding. It was a church that was involved in community ministries, a church that had adopted challenging and exciting mission objectives, both short term and long range, as well as a strategy for achieving those goals. Furthermore, we had a great staff, including gifted seminary interns. It sounds almost too good to be true. What more could any minister want, or hope for?
However, I had always had an interest in cross-cultural ministry, and several years before was participating in a so-called “Faith Renewal” week in a church in another city, when that passion was reignited. It happened during a home meeting, during a time of prayer following an evening of discussion on discovering God’s will, discerning God’s plan and purpose for our lives, being willing to leave our comfort zone, taking risks, and trusting God to guide us in the way He wants us to go. While our heads where bowed in prayer, during a time of silence, a member of the group was suddenly standing before me, placed his hands on my head and began to speak as “Thus saith the Lord.” It was a prophetic message: “My son, I have delivered you from death three times. Remember?” When I heard those words, I knew that fact had been revealed to him, that he must have been given the “gift of prophecy.” He continued: “I will call you to a ministry where you will be a pastor to people from many nations. I will open doors for you to travel to distant places, where you will minister in my name. I want you to know the plans I have for you, so wait on Me until that time comes.” I was stunned. I had never had an experience like that before. I did not know how to respond. I was speechless, and that is rare. Others in the group were wondering how I would respond. I only said that what he had said about God delivering me from death three times was true, so that must have been a word from God, and we would leave the results with Him (which we should always intentionally do whenever we pray in faith, “according to God’s will“).
Several years had passed, but I had not forgotten that prophecy. Furthermore, another person in the group that evening had recorded the entire time we had been together, and she had a copy of the tape made for me, knowing I would undoubtedly want to hear it again, and again. The church I was serving in Dallas was not a multi-racial, cross-cultural, congregation, although it was a welcoming church. I now know, from this vantage point in my retirement years, that the ministry I had there was more than a challenging and enjoyable pastoral experience. It was also a training ground for what was yet to come, in fulfillment of that prophecy. When I received that first phone call from Hawaii, asking me if I would be willing to meet with the Pastor Nominating Committee of First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, my answer was a polite no, for we had absolutely no desire to relocate. The next week I received another call, from the person who was serving as Interim Pastor, the Rev. Charlie Shedd, a well known Presbyterian Minister and respected author. We were acquainted. He told me he had given the PNC my name. Once again, I indicated that I had no interest in moving. In reply, Charlie asked if I would at least be willing to meet with the committee, to dialogue about the challenging opportunities that church offered for cross-cultural ministry, as well as opportunities to have an expanded ministry in Asian nations. Of course, I remembered that prophecy.
To make a long story longer, after a few more conversations I did finally agree to meet with the committee, but would not preach at FPC. They asked if I would be willing to preach at another church on the island, and I agreed to do so at an Episcopal church in the same part of the city. I told them my wife would not be accompanying me. Norma and I did not feel comfortable accepting two free trips to Hawaii, although both of us would have enjoyed visiting our daughter and her husband, who lived there, for he was stationed at the Marine Base on the windward side of the island of Oahu. I actually was not looking forward to the trip alone, and Norma would have flown with me at our own expense if it had not been for her reluctance to leave our other four children. Furthermore, I was only going to be gone for the weekend. During the meantime, I had told Charlie that we did have a daughter in Hawaii, which came as a great surprise to him. I would be staying with her. Norma and I had never visited the islands, and we had not told her that I had been in conversation with the PNC of First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. You can imagine how excited Jan was when we did finally tell her I would be coming to Honolulu, and why I was coming. She had never visited FPC Honolulu, on the Leeward side of the island.
My meeting with the committee was a delightful experience, and included a dinner at the church, affording me the opportunity to see the facilities, as well as the neighborhood. When I took my place at the table, I suddenly noticed that the silverware at my place was the very same pattern given to my parents when they married, which had been given to us when we married, and which we had been using ever since in our own home. The only difference was that our place settings had the letter “O” on each piece. I looked at the other place settings, and was even more surprised to see that ours was the only one with that pattern. Was that a coincidence? Following the meal and enjoyable table fellowship, I shared that with the chairman of the committee, who asked one of the women on the committee if she knew where that pattern came from. She checked the drawers in the kitchen and discovered that there were no more such place settings. She assumed someone had undoubtedly given that one place setting to the church along with other items that had been donated to help furnish the kitchen when the Fellowship Hall was built. It was a mystery. For me it was even more than that, for I felt it was God’s way of saying, “My eye is on you. I wanted you to know I am with you here, so far from home just as I am always with you. You cannot go where I am not.” I was beginning to wonder if I was there by “divine appointment.”
The day after returning to Dallas, I received a call from Hawaii. The chairman of the PNC told me, “For the first time our committee is unanimous. We want to extend a call to you to become the Senior Pastor of our church. We are convinced you are the one God has been preparing to lead our church for years to come. We are hoping you will feel called of God to accept this call as a call from God.” I now had a divided mind. I needed confirmation. As we had always done in such times, Norma and I prayed together that we would be in agreement before making a final decision. We were not in the habit of trying to strike a bargain with God, but we reached a decision. We thought of three things that would need to happen before we would be able to go to Hawaii to meet with the committee together, hoping we would be in agreement after such a meeting. We named those three things to God in prayer, and when all three happened in less than twenty-four hours, we were convinced God was confirming His will. That could not be a coincidence.
That prophecy made in 1971 had come true in 1977, and when I officially retired in 1993 we both knew God had been with us every step of the way, year after year, day after day, moment by moment – blessing us, so we would be able to be a blessing to others, not only in Hawaii, but in so many other places around the world where we were able to visit with brothers and sisters in Christ, in more than forty countries. We would never have believed it. There is no way it could have happened without God’s intervention and provision. Furthermore, in every place where we have been given the opportunity to serve in the larger Church, the worldwide Body of Christ, we have always been blessed abundantly ourselves, for ministry is always mutual. Whenever and wherever we minister, we are always ministered to, always encouraged by each other’s faith. We know all the amazing things that happened to confirm God’s will for us in 1977 were far more than coincidences. They were all GOD-INCIDENTS – as well as all the doors God opened for us during those sixteen years in Hawaii, and the doors He has continued to open during these years of retirement, in which I have completed nine interims in the states, and England.
The words of our resurrected and risen Lord to the Church at Philadelphia have special meaning for us: “I have placed before you an open door that no one will be able to shut” (Revelation 3:8). It is still happening, even in these latter years of our lives, for I did not retire from ministry. I only retired from a job in 1993. I am no longer on the staff of any church, but I am still preaching and teaching as doors are opened by the hand of God, and I am also sharing lessons gleaned from my life of ministry in posts on this blog, always with great thanksgiving (Colossians 3:16-17, I Thessalonians 5;16).