The year 2011 was a rollercoaster ride for me and my family. We started out with plans…big plans…very, very big plans…most of which came crashing down at 11:08 p.m. on April 30. It was at that moment that Lynette had what is called a mini-stroke, or a TIA. We didn’t know what it was so I took her straight to the emergency room and less than 5 minutes after we arrived she had a second, more powerful, stroke from a blood clot in her brain. For 2 hours she was tested and scanned and poked and tested again and again as they did “head to toe” tests to see how the stroke was progressing. At 2:05 a.m. on May 1 Lynette consented to a drug call TPA, known as the clot buster. It helps 1/3 and kills 1 out of 16… but if it works the results are truly miraculous. Forty minutes after they began to administer the drug she began to have migrane symptoms, a sign of bleeding in the brain, caused by the drug TPA. At 2:45 a.m. the doctor removed her again from the ER and sent her for her 3rd CT scan and I walked out of the emergency room in shock because her doctor told me he suspected she was bleeding in her brain… I was supposed to get myself “ready” for what was about to come. How do you respond to that? What was I supposed to do? How could I help my wife? I hated blood clots at the moment and hated the word, stroke. I was exhausted, in shock and didn’t know what to do – I thought at that time we had made the wrong decision for her to have the drug… I was not mad, I was numb.
I did the only thing I could do, I sat down at the computer terminal and began to send emails. I was desperate and didn’t know where to turn. Facebook, email, everything and anything that would get word out to my supporting churches and friends without calling them at 2:45 a.m.. People were still awake in California, they were already in church in Europe and home from church in Asia. And responses began to flood in and people began to pray. My brother-in-law and sister were at the hospital with my neice, they were the only other ones from Minnesota who knew, so we had a prayer meeting. Twenty minutes later I walked back into the ER, still numb, still with my mind reeling as I thought of the last words from the ER doctor… bleeding in the brain…nothing they could do. I got back to her room and there she was, laying on the bed, and she smiled a 1/2 smile at me (the left side was paralyzed)… she was “ok.” I asked the doctor what happened? He said that when they got her to the CT scan room all of the symptoms of the migrane/drug reaction just disappeared as fast as they came! I was so relieved as I stood there and cried like a baby for happiness. In 20 minutes I was drawn through a minefield of emotions from the personally unthinkable event of my wife succumbing to a stroke, to utter and complete relief.
At that moment, when I realized that it was going to “be ok” I began to go into recovery mode. I thought only of my wife and my family. I would’ve done anything, at that moment, to see that she had whatever she needed to recover. I would’ve sold everything I owned and started over again if that is what it would’ve taken. I did not yet know about the hole in her heart, I found that out on Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know about the ulcers she would develop and the long road to recovery she would begin to experience in all areas of her life. I didn’t know that she would not be able to sing again for a long time but what I did know was that our miracle was already happening and I had already been placed into God’s school. For 45 years I had driven my life. Oh, I yielded to God’s will and drove down the roads he wanted me to drive down, but for the first time in my life I learned that nothing lasts forever, except the grace of God. God’s message to me was a resounding, “Take your hands off the wheel, I’m driving from now on.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I was being rebellious for all of these years, I had yielded to God’s will and become a preacher and then a missionary, but all along the way I was planning my work and working my plan… and I believe that is biblical. PROVERBS 16:9 SAYS: A MAN’S HEART DEVISETH HIS WAY, BUT THE LORD DIRECTETH HIS STEPS. God had allowed me to devise my own way, he was directing, but I was devising… that is, until May 1, 2011. At that moment, all of my devising came crashing down and God took the wheel from me. I had no idea where I was heading….
Romans 5:2 says: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.. I never understood that verse until the events began to unfold in my life in 2011. Let me explain….
Luke 18 has a famous passage about the unjust judge and the widow woman. She needed help, she needed someone to plead her case. The analogy is that if an unjust man will finally yield to the pleas of a helpless widow woman, how much more will God speedily avenge his own? Much more, praise the Lord. But the teaching does not stop with that conclusion. It continues on and Jesus made a statement that I never really understood. He said: ” Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
What? Why in the world would Jesus say that? When the Son of man comes back, will he even find faith left on the earth? Jesus gave a parable about the help that God the Father was going to give to his children. It was a promise that they would not be left without someone who will truly help. Yet, in spite of the fact that we are promised by God that all things will work out and he will be our avenger, the end result is a lack of faith in the earth? What in the world does that mean?
God knows us and he knows that our attention span is as long as our current circumstances. He knows that we are mountain top dwellers and we are valley sloggers. He knows that a victory today may mean we allow ourselves into deep disappointment and disallusionment soon after. How many times have people had a great spiritual victory, only to follow it up soon after with a statement of unfaithfulness or actions that scream that they have forgotten everything that God just did for them? How often have you done that? I know I have. Why is that? Well, I do think it is quite basic; we convince ourselves that our faith is the reason God has worked and we convince ourselves that our faith is the reason for our success and we convince ourselves that proof of our godliness is found in the blessings we have received from obeying the commandments of the Lord. We have convinced ourselves that our faith is the reason for all that is right in our lives because we have obeyed God and he was obligated to bless us. We have convinced ourselves that the reason we were able to stand through adversity is because of our faith. But, herein lies the conundrum.
Your faith is not the end of all things. It is simply the vehicle by which you have access into the true reason that you stand. One verse says we stand by faith, two verses say we stand by grace. Our faith, which is given to us by the Word of God, is there to give us access to the true peace and joy, the grace of God. Nobody understands the grace of God. Nobody knows how or why or when God gives it. But we know that we need it and we ask for it much to casually.
When someone experiences a “disaster” in his or her life we pray for God to give “extra grace.” What that means, I do not know, other than we want God to take extra good care of them at this time.
Paul asked God three times to remove a thorn in his flesh. And three times God said, No, I will not do that, my GRACE is sufficient for you. He did not tell Paul to suck it up and have more faith, he told Paul to not worry because he was driving…. God’s grace would work when Paul’s faith was not able to understand…
So, what does this have to do with priorities and options? In May, 2011 I learned a lesson that was incredibly valuable to me and was a slap in my ever aging face. I learned that I had a bunch of wrong priorities in my life. I was making things a priority that were treating me as an option. I did this with people, I did this with work, I did this with my life. I would often major on things that didn’t matter and wonder why I was disappointed by the results. I would let things that did not consider me important to draw me in, and then they would rub me out when I served their purpose. I was living my life trying to win the approval of people and things that would never give me their approval. I was trying to plan my work and work my plan, but my end goal was much too often only results orientated. I knew the law of sowing and reaping, but what I forgot about was the growing season. In fact, I forgot about the breaking of the fallow ground, the planting of the seeds, the watering, the care and the time needed to bring the “fruit.” I was working to get microwavable results in my ministry, my personal life and my friendships with other pastors and churches.
I said all of that to say this. If you are still reading this epistle, here is the reason for it. We need to understand to whom we are a priority. If we seek to please man, instead of God, we will ultimately try and forge relationships that just will not work because they are not in God’s plan. When we make the wrong things and people a priority in our lives, they will treat us as we deserve, we will be treated like options. The result will be disappointment and discouragement. God has called me to do something and as long as I do what he called me to do, as long as I make God the priority in my life, I will never be optionalized. You see, God has called us to do something, and he has made us his priority. We fail when we let other things draw us away from God’s plan. Those other things will use us, abuse us and then rub us out when our purpose has been accomplished. The world will do this to you every time. The world will tempt you and then taunt you. It will show you a fast result and then it will use the talents God gave you and then place you aside when your purpose has made it fat and happy. Your end result is emptiness and lonliness and frustration. Do not get away from what the Lord has called you to do. As long as you prioritize the will of God in your life, he can take the wheel and it will be all right. You may have devised everything up to a point, but the time will come when God will just flat out take over. And the reason for this is you are his priority. He wants you to set aside the options in your life and let him drive. He will never optionalize you. He will never allow you to fall and break. His grace is above your faith. Oh, you still need your faith, it is how you gain access to the grace. Because only a man living a life of faith will get to the point when he must rely on God’s grace… or he has nothing.
It is the Christmas season when I am writing this. 2011 has come and gone. I have taken so many detours in 2011 and my plans have fallen flat on their face. God put me in a situation where I was laid bare before him. Oh, it hurt… it hurt badly… but it was a lesson to me in my priorities. May I never lose sight of the fact that God has made me his priority and that what happens is not happenstance or coincidence… it is the Lord saying to me, “Son, my grace is sufficient, and it is by my grace that you will ultimately stand.”