Have you ever pondered the question; why did this happen to me? Is there a reason that one has difficulties, hurts, rejections, and sorrow in this life? As you read this book, "Vessel to Vessel”, you will find how one man coped with these issues and the lessons he learned from them.
When Pastor Hunt asked me if I would consider doing the foreword to his book, I readily agreed. The LORD impressed me with this verse found in St. John's gospel chapter 1, verse 6. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John." Notice here that God chooses a man; human instrumentality. That is not the end of the verse, however. This man is sent from God. That would be quite a recommendation! However, the verse does not end with this, but God names the man - and his name is John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer. At this moment in time I would like to take some ministerial license. Again, there was a man - God usually doesn't use angels or other heavenly beings, but He chooses to use the frailty of man or mankind. It is a wonderful thing that God today, still calls and sends men and women. Please allow me to paraphrase this verse of scripture. "There was a man sent from God whose name is Jerry". I believe that God still calls men today, and one of these men is Pastor Jerry Hunt. God has proven over and over again that Pastor Hunt has been called of God and used by God.
In keeping with the theme that Pastor Jerry has used in this book, I turn your attention to Isaiah 43:1-3a. "But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name: You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
If you would indulge me again, let me state the scripture in this manner. "But now, (today, tomorrow, and always) thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jerry, and He who formed you, O Jerry: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, Jerry. You are Mine, Jerry! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, Jerry; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you, Jerry. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, Jerry, nor shall the flame scorch you, Jerry. For I am the LORD your God, Jerry; the Holy One of Israel, your Savior, Jerry."
It has been my privilege to know Pastor Hunt for over forty years. I have followed his ministry and his life and can attest to his authenticity. My wife and I appreciate both Pastor Jerry and his good wife, Karen. Pastor Hunt has been a faithful servant of God and has been uncompromising in his zeal, enthusiasm, and integrity.
As you read this book "From Vessel to Vessel", you will get a glimpse of how these two portions of scripture come into focus. God has chosen this vessel, Pastor Jerry Hunt, to impart to each of us what God has been working out in his life. If we take these lessons seriously, we also will understand how God has guided us and transformed us into His likeness.
God will take those experiences of your life - trials and difficulties - and keep pouring you from one vessel to another until He takes out the imperfections and fills the vessel with Himself.
I commend this book to you and it is my prayer that it will impact your life in such a way, that you will never be the same again.
Pastor Robert H. Cilke
Chairman of the Music Department
North Central University
Brookdale Christian Center
Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
I want to thank Pastor Robert H. Cilke for so graciously consenting to write the foreword for this book. My friendship with Pastor Cilke goes back to the year 1976, when as a teenager, I auditioned for the Ohio Teen Tempos. Teen Tempos was a travelling youth choir of the Ohio District of the Assemblies of God. The summer of 1976 was Teen Tempos Bicentennial Tour, and I still remember the musical theme for that two-week venture. It was entitled "What Price, Freedom". I remember the Lord doing amazing things not only in my life but in the lives of so many Ohio teens who were a part of that Holy Ghost move of God. We cried, prayed and sang our hearts out for Jesus. I will never forget the service in Byesville, Ohio when the Holy Spirit came down on our choir and the church there. There was a powerful move of God as one of the team recited from the book of Revelation chapter 5 under the anointing of the Holy Ghost.
And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth…Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever. Revelation 5:9-14
It was like a waterfall when she finished quoting the text. There's power in the Word of God! There's anointing in the Word of the Lord. At 17 years old I gave my first message in tongues that night in Byesville, Ohio. Jesus changed me that summer and stamped on my heart the desire to follow through with the call of God to preach the gospel. That call led me to North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was during my time there that I was reacquainted with my friend, Pastor Robert Cilke. He had become the Senior Pastor of Brookdale Christian Center in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. I was really excited to attend his church and our friendship took up where we left off that past summer of 1976. My wife, Karen and I continued to be a part of Brookdale Christian Center until we graduated and left for ministry to serve in the great state of Michigan. Pastor Cilke has been instrumental in teaching me not only music appreciation, and choir conducting technique, but he made an investment in a young man's life which was to continue for the next 40 years. There are no self-made people. We are all the product of someone's investment and influence in our lives. I thank the Lord for those He placed in my path. My heart is full today as I reflect on this most important time in my life. I left Minneapolis after graduation and began ministry to youth in the church where my brother Larry served in Union City, Michigan. An awesome time of my life that was a foundation for the next step in my ministry. From there I proceeded to Avon, Ohio where I was on staff with a missionary named John M. Bunney. It was my brother Larry who connected me with him, and to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. You will hear about this missionary in the following chapters. But when and how did I first meet this pastor from Ohio? Ah, well, it was on a weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota while attending the church's missions convention at Pastor Cilke's church. The guest missionary/pastor for that event was John Bunney. It was Pastor Cilke who introduced me to this missionary and unbeknownst to me, this missionary/pastor would play a vital role in my ministry development. I owe a debt of gratitude to Pastor Cilke and Pastor Bunney and my brother, Doctor Larry Hunt. So, you may see resemblances of them in me from time to time. But do not be too concerned. Imitation, they say, is the highest form of flattery. But more appropriate to me are Paul's words - follow me as I follow Christ.
"Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him and his scent is not changed." Jeremiah 48:11
The first time these words gripped my heart I was in my pastor's office after having just been hired as a staff minister for youth and music. It was not the first time I had encountered these words, but the first time I came face to face with the impact they were to eventually make on my life and ministry. I was like a sponge in those days and considered myself to be privileged to sit under a pastor with such experience and personal knowledge of the Savior. I took in everything I could and let me say it was like being in bible college all over again.
The words in this verse are very arresting. These Moabites were not allowing any change to take place in them. They had settled for an existence that was stagnant. Consequently, they were unchanged and of no use. This is not what I wanted for my life. As my pastor explained this scripture to me I said to myself, and the Lord, that I did not want this to be my experience. I want to allow the Lord complete access to my inner man so He can effect a change in me that would make His heart glad. What is the process that this word picture is presenting to us? The Holy Spirit is depicting the process of winemaking and the problems encountered spiritually when we become stubborn, self-satisfied and unyielding to His will. Wine, or the juice of the grape, was put into a jar, or vessel to remain for a period of time in order for the wine to settle, after which time it was then poured into another vessel leaving behind some of the sediment, or lees. Each time the wine was emptied some of the sediment would find its way into the next vessel. The process would continue until all of the sediment was cleared away and the wine was refined, smooth, and acceptable to the winemaker. If the wine is not emptied from vessel to vessel, it will then take on the smell and taste of the sediment, or the lees, and lose much of its usefulness and desirability.
My pastor said to me that sometimes the Lord will pick up the jar and as He begins to pour, the act of lifting it alone would cause a stir, a disturbance in your soul. It may even cause us to question the Lord and His wisdom in doing such a thing to one of His beloved children. We may ask our whys and wherefores, but the Lord Jesus in His divine overruling practical providence knows what is best for each of us. What is this divine providence? The providence of God is the act of God whereby He works all events to fulfill His purpose in our lives. My pastor also went on to say that if I would make God my providence, I would never be disappointed nor would I be a victim of circumstance. Why do I continue to speak of my pastor in such a way? It is necessary in my view to do so if for no other reason than to point out that none of us are self-made people. So, why the pouring? Why the emptying? To conform us to the image of His Son.
Have you experienced the pouring? Have you felt that disturbing element in your soul? Are the dregs being stirred up and you're blaming the Lord and asking why? Listen, you are in God's hands. You can rest assured that whatever confronts you in this life is under God's control for He has a purpose for you being emptied. This process is vital to your growth and development. Do you want to remain unchanged? Do you want to give off an aroma that turns people off or do you want the Lord to refine you; to make your life a blessing to the lost? It is my prayer that these short messages of devotion will be to the praise of His glory and also encourage you to furnish the Lord full access to your inner man thereby producing a product that will bring the smile of His approval. Remember, the vessels He pours us into are the circumstances, situations, and experiences that are good and not so good. They are the many-colored trials that Peter talks about in his epistle over which we are to rejoice.
An old preacher I have studied behind once said that everyone has a testimony. And my testimony is my reaction to the truth that has been revealed to me. My reaction to that truth is based upon what kind of an attitude I bring to the table. Do I have a teachable heart, or do I feel that the Lord has dealt me a bad hand, as they say? Based upon the attitude and demeanor that I bring to the revelation (truth), that will determine how I react to that truth and will affect my testimony as well as the guiding hand of God. That goes along with what my pastor admonished me to consider many times; that the attitude of my heart towards God, establishes the basis of guidance from God. As you continue to read, ask the Lord to give you a teachable heart. Reflect on this principle of being emptied. It may be a pleasant surprise to see how the providence of God is working in your life conforming you to the image of His Son as you are emptied from vessel to vessel.
The Emptying and God's Divine Appointment
I was the pastor of a church in a small resort town on the shores of Lake Erie. It was summer time on a Saturday night and I was sitting in my study in deep thought as to the message I was to preach the next day. I had a verse of scripture the Lord had been impressing upon me that evening from the book of Isaiah chapter 49 where it states that the children of Israel had believed that God had forgotten them. To which the Lord replied that while He had not forgotten them, they certainly had forgotten Him! The Lord asked the question: “Can a mother forget her nursing child?” Of course, the answer is a resounding no! So therefore, God is not the One who forgets. God then went on to say that He could not forget them for He had graven them upon the palms of His hands. What a powerful portion of scripture that was. However, after pondering the passage and studying and poring over it, I could not come up with even an outline for a message. The only thing that kept ringing in me was, “Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven you upon the palms of my hands.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking with such a great passage like that surely you can come up with something that will “preach”! I know, but, frankly, it just wasn’t there. I was empty except for that one thing burning in me. I had found myself between a rock and a hard place. I thought, there’s no way I can step into the pulpit, stand there, and say,
“Good morning, the message today is from Isaiah chapter forty-nine verses fifteen and sixteen which tells us: “I have graven you upon the palms of my hands. We therefore conclude from this text that God is not against tattoos.”
Of course, I am being facetious when I say that, but really, that’s about the way I felt that night. To add to all the frustration, this was my first pastorate which was a new church plant that my wife and I and our two small children had entered. So, to have a verse of scripture and no message, and on a Saturday night, no less, was in fact a bit too much for me. At the age of 29, I was fearful of failing the Lord, myself, my family and the denomination of which I was a part. Could it be the Lord was picking up the vessel and the dregs were beginning to stir around on the inside? Tremendous nervousness and that awful feeling of “I think I am going to be sick” began to set in that night in my office when the church phone rang. It was eight p.m. I know, because I looked directly at the clock and thought to myself,
“It’s eight o’clock in the evening; who would be calling a church on a Saturday night knowing there is generally no one in the office?”
I picked up the phone and greeted the caller who happened to be a missionary that I had known but with whom I had not had the privilege of spending much time. I knew him to be a man of God with a love for souls and one who didn’t compromise when he preached. Calling from a phone booth, (the good old days before cell phones) he proceeded to tell me that he had a dilemma with his preaching schedule. He had been scheduled to preach a missions service in a Cleveland suburb but when he arrived there, they said he was not on the schedule and that there must be a mistake in his calendar. He now finds himself without any place to preach tomorrow morning and was wondering if we could use a missionary speaker at our church. He had called church after church and no one had an opening. One of the pastors he called had mentioned that I liked missionaries and that he should call me and proceeded to give him my phone number. Now, seeing that I was in such a condition of frustration myself, not wanting to sound too eager, I kindly told him I would pray about it, said Amen, and then asked
“How quick can you get here?”
Actually, those were not my words. Though I may have thought them, I knew that I should be a little more “pastoral” than that. I was thrilled and gave him the go ahead to come and that I would get him a room for the night. I told him I would call him back with the arrangements as soon as possible. At the time, all I could think was “saved by the bell”. The bell on the phone, that is.
Being a pastor in a resort community had its advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage was that the motel accommodations in the summer were almost always at peak capacity. This night was no exception. Of all the motels I called, only one had a vacancy. I gave no consideration as to the price of the room and immediately reserved it as I was on a mission to get this man a place to stay. I called him with the name of the motel, gave him directions and asked him to call me when he checked in, so I could be sure he arrived safely. Of course, in the back of my mind it wasn’t just his safety I was concerned about. I was being rescued from the dread of having to face a congregation with no message to preach! I got into my car and drove over to the motel to pay for the room I had just reserved by telephone. At the front desk was a very kind, tired, yet pleasant lady who I would say was in her early sixties perhaps. She was extremely nice, warm, and helpful. It seemed by her demeanor that she had lived a somewhat hard life complete with her share of trials and tribulations. Her name was Ruby, and she was the only desk employee on duty that evening. I can say that my life has been enriched because of meeting this dear lady. Did you know that the Lord knew Ruby was going to be at the front desk as the only employee that evening? Ah, yes, how great is our God! Ruby looked at the church check I had written and noticed the name of the church. “Assembly of God” was at the top of the check. Ruby remarked,
“Oh, Assemblies of God, I used to attend an Assembly of God church many years ago.”
She went on to say that she had attended summer church camp as a young girl and while she was relating to me her experience, I could see that memories were flooding back into her mind. Apparently, at one time in her life, she had been exposed to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I asked her if she still attended church. She answered that she had not been in church for years. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been in church. I asked her why she had stopped going to church. Her reply to me was nothing short of astounding and opened up a door so wide that if I missed this opportunity, I mean, God’s plan unfolding right in front of my eyes, then I needed to get out of the ministry and turn in my credential card. With tears welling up in her tired eyes, she said,
“Oh, pastor, the Lord has forgotten all about me by now.”
Can you see why I said earlier that if I missed this I needed to turn in my ministerial credentials? How clear does God have to be sometimes before we see that He has a purpose for our lives? Do you remember earlier on when I related to you about the providence of God? Well, it is so true. If we make God our providence, we will never be a victim of circumstances and never be disappointed. Well, I saw the open door. It was right then that I realized why I had not been able to get anywhere with my message that night. Had I had a message to bring I would have been home instead of at the office and would not have received the call from the missionary and had I received the call, I would have opted out on the opportunity to have the missionary. Consequently, I would not have called a motel for a reservation; would not have met Ruby and would not have witnessed a miraculous event from the Lord! Immediately and with confidence I said,
“Ruby, the Lord wants me to share with you this verse of scripture."
"But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me...yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands."
I then told her that regardless of what she had done in her life, that the Lord had appointed this exact time and day to let her know that He had not forgotten her. What are the odds that she would be the only one on duty? What are the odds that of all the motels in the city that I had called, this was the only one with a vacancy? Why was it that the verse in Isaiah was burning in my soul yet there was nothing else to go along with it? Why did she say the same thing the Israelites said in Isaiah chapter forty-nine? Why did the missionary make such a mistake in his calendar? Or did he? Sometimes the Lord doesn’t want us to preach the message we believe He’s given us. It may be that what you have burning in your heart is the beginning of an utterance in prophecy. Or maybe you will be running into a Ruby who needs to hear a verse of scripture that speaks to her heart and glorifies the Lord as the One who sets up divine appointments. Sometimes frustration sets in and we misread what is happening. But the Lord is faithful to orchestrate the events to fulfill His purpose not only in your life, but maybe in the life of someone else.
The missionary preached the next morning knowing nothing of the previous night’s interview with Ruby. He preached a salvation message and Ruby was there. As the service came to a close and the missionary gave the altar call, Ruby was the first to respond. She walked down that aisle and surrendered her life to Jesus, the One who had not forgotten her. She became a regular at our church from that day forward. As I write this, to my knowledge, Ruby is still serving the Lord Jesus, the One who has graven her upon the palms of His hands. If the Lord did that for one person in a small resort town on Lake Erie, what will He do for you? Perhaps you are reading this and saying the same thing Ruby said. Well, the same God that set up a divine appointment for a desk clerk has set up a divine appointment for you. Not only has God not forgotten you, He is waiting to pardon your sin, forgive your past, and set your life in order. Don’t delay any longer. In the words of an old song: “It is no secret what God can do. What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you. With arms wide open He’ll pardon you. It is no secret what God can do.” Yes, the Lord worked that event to fulfill His purpose not only in my life, but the life of someone needing a reminder of His great love.
A missionary’s mistaken appointment. A pastor’s frustrated sermon. A spiritually lost desk clerk who thinks God has forgotten her, and a God who works all events to fulfill His purpose. He is truly the God of divine appointments. That weekend I learned in a small way how the Lord uses the circumstances of life to empty me from one vessel to another; to get out of me what was in me, so my life would never be the same. That night the Lord poured me out and left behind some lees of self-reliance, anxiety, and a little unbelief. Are you frustrated with a situation? Is it making you nervous? Are you wondering if you missed the Lord? Remember, He allows these things to get out of you what is in you so that you will not smell the same, nor taste the same. And when you figure out what is really happening, you will be thankful that the Lord disturbed your vessel, poured you out, and left behind some lees, and dregs of the self-life. The next time that happens to me, instead of doubting and worrying, I will look forward with excitement and anticipation to the divine appointment that awaits me.
The Emptying and Divine Guidance
Have you ever wondered about the Lord's leading in your life? Did I hear from God? Does He still speak to me? It was approximately twenty-two years after I had met Ruby the desk clerk that the Lord had opened up an undeniable door to travel to Uruguay, South America to preach the dedication of a new church that had been built near the city of Montevideo. I had traveled to Uruguay eight years prior and consequently had received invitations to return but had not felt the Lord leading me to go at those times. Did I miss God? I had to deal with those feelings regarding previous invitations to travel back to Uruguay. Sometimes, the leading of the Lord may seem a bit peculiar to you, and you may be viewed by others to have missed the Lord, but in reality, you have not. Through it all, you may have to endure others disapproval, but trust in the integrity of God, for He knows what He is doing. There will be times of distrust, even fear, that man's opinions will create inside you. Times when you wonder if God took a leave of absence from you and went to a far-off country for three months. However, over the years, I have had to remember that the smiles of God's approval are to be desired over the smiles of man's approval. I remember the day very well. It was a Friday morning and I was awakened very early with a sense of His presence, around three o'clock. I went out into the living room to wait on the Lord. Many years ago, as a youth pastor, I had learned about waiting on the Lord. My pastor had many times encouraged and admonished me,
“Jerry, waiting on the Lord is a lost art in Christendom.”
The scripture says in Isaiah chapter sixty-four and verse four:
“For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, besides thee, what he hath prepared for him that waits for Him.”
God has something prepared for the one who waits for Him. What a thought. In the Hebrew it states the idea as being that God works for the one who waits for Him. It is God setting the wheels in motion to act on behalf of the one who is waiting for Him. Waiting on the Lord takes time. Waiting on the Lord is not necessarily asking Him for anything, but it is worshipping Him for who He is. Waiting is sitting in silence and listening for the still small voice and every once in a while, expressing a “Hallelujah…” or a “Praise the Lord…” Waiting on the Lord; waiting for Him, can cause one to become impatient as it may take some time for Him to speak or act. In waiting on the Lord let us be patient and not hurry Him, for, “to hurry Him is to find fault with Him.”
As I said, it was very early in the morning when I was awakened and began to wait on the Lord. In that silent moment the Lord began to show me His goodness. He took me on a journey of memories that caused me to respond in thanksgiving for how He had led me these last thirty-six years. From the call of God, to marrying my best friend, to seeing my two children brought into this world, not to mention all the years of ministry and the opening of doors to preach and teach overseas; all these came flooding into my soul. While contemplating the Lord’s goodness, His voice unmistakably spoke to me these words:
“Would you go back to Uruguay if I asked you?”
With some hesitation yet knowing in my heart there was to be no hesitation, I said that I would go if He opened the door. Well, the Lord’s timing is perfect. I made it through the weekend, and wouldn’t you know the next day, being Monday, I received a call from a friend asking me if I would consider taking a trip to Uruguay! It was the same gentleman with whom I had traveled to Uruguay eight years prior. I asked,
"Can I call you back in five minutes?"
- not because I was hesitant about going, but because we were flying out in three days and I wanted to be sure my passport was not expired! Can you imagine the thoughts that immediately came to me? I knew this was a divine leading of the Lord. Can you say Amen? Do you see that He's still speaking? Can you see any emptying going on? Having the opportunity to preach to hungry hearts the uncompromised word of God is a thrill like no other. After we arrived in Uruguay and after preaching the dedication service of a new church building, I was asked to preach in another great church in the city of Montevideo. My interpreter and friend was also the pastor of the church. He has a heart for his people and a compassion for the lost. As I stood in the pulpit with the message I believe the Lord had given me to preach, I can tell you there was a presence that came over my soul as well as the pastor’s, that witnessed in my spirit that God was indeed working that day. The pastor and I were a team being used by the Holy Spirit and what a humbling thought to know that the Lord bends down and uses human instruments for His purpose. I preached on the subject “God Has Not Forgotten You” from Isaiah 49. Three emphases of my message were, God was there, God is there, and God will be there. You have probably already guessed that I shared with the people the story of Ruby. Well, you are correct.
At the close of the service several believers came forward to seek the Lord while some came for salvation. Through my interpreter one dear lady shared this story with me. She had tried everything. Her circumstances were that her life had been such a failure, and that friends and family had basically written her off, she was at the point of suicide. Nothing mattered anymore. She decided that she would end her life by opening the oven door, turning on the gas, placing her head in the oven and then waiting. She did just that. (The oven operated by bottled gas that was connected to her stove) After turning on the gas, and placing her head in the oven, she waited…and waited. Nothing happened. As it turned out, her gas bottle was empty! To God be the glory! Isn’t the Lord wonderful? Friend, he knows who you are. He knows your desperation. He sees your heart. He has not forgotten you. When you think everyone has written you off and you feel God has forgotten you, remember this testimony. What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you! I tell you, the Lord has not forgotten you. This dear lady was invited to come to the church that week by a friend. Having been unsuccessful in her attempt to end it all, she thought she may as well come. It was her first time in church. Upon walking in to the service, she then sees that there is a special guest from the USA speaking that morning.
My subject was as I stated earlier, “God Has Not Forgotten You”. I had made the statement in the message that your family may have forgotten you, and your friends may have forsaken you, but the Lord has not! He’s always been there in the past; He’s there in the present; and He will be there in the future.
"You are not here in this church by accident", I said.
I encouraged the people to come to Him and surrender their life without hesitation and experience the unending, unceasing joy of sins forgiven and a new life of meaning and purpose. What a thing to hear your first time in church! She heard how Ruby made her way to church the next day after our meeting and surrendered her life to Christ. She heard that the same Jesus that saved Ms. Ruby can save anyone.
Could the message have been any more customized for her? She came forward, received Christ, and the kingdom of darkness was robbed of another soul! Divine providence? Yes, that act of God whereby He works all events to fulfill His purpose. Divine guidance? Yes. What are the odds that I would be in that beautiful city at that time? What are the odds that a dear lady at the end of her rope, who thought everyone had forgotten her and that life was not worth living, would come to church for the first time and hear a guest preacher from the USA?
In the words of a great song, "That's the kind of God that I serve." How I thank Him that He divinely guided my steps teaching me that as He pours me from one circumstance into another, some particles of distasteful sediment called distrust and hesitancy are left behind.
The Emptying and the Dry Brook
Have you ever experienced a time in your life when something disappointing happened unexpectedly? I am certain that if you are like me, you probably have. As I was thinking about those times in my life I was brought to the narrative in the scriptures where Elijah the prophet was commanded by the Lord to go to the brook Cherith and there the Lord would provide for him. He would bring him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening. The Lord was faithful to do just that. Can you see the Lord picking up the vessel in Elijah's life?
In the course of time, the Bible says the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land. There's nothing like going to sleep with the sound of a running brook. It was like a natural sound machine for the prophet and each night He could hear that sound less and less until finally his "sound machine" and source of refreshment ran dry. But the Lord had another plan for him when that brook dried up. And, friend, when your brook dries up, the Lord has something ready and planned for you as well. He knows when the brook in your life is going to dry up. Yes, even Christians are not exempt from drought. In fact, many believers in that time were going through dark moments because of someone else's disobedience. This was the case many times in the scriptures. Joshua and Caleb had to wander forty years because of the other spies who brought back a bad report.
So, what truths can we glean from this passage? While not new to many believers, these nuggets of truth became a source of great encouragement to me. The Lord showed them to me at a time when my own personal drought became a vessel He emptied me into. He revealed His way for me as I went through dark times. He used this vessel to get out of me the dregs that were causing an unpleasant aroma in and around my spirit. As I pondered this passage in I Kings, one thing became apparent. When the brook dries up in your life, don't blame God. The passage says that "the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land." How many times have I blamed God because my source of water had dried up? We even have a tendency to blame the devil when he, too, had nothing to do with it. Sometimes, it's just the nature of things. Remember, brooks do that.
Also, remember that good things happened at the brook, people were saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and called into the ministry. While the brook may dry up just because of the nature of things, it doesn't take away from the fact that you were sent there. Whatever was accomplished there is not lost if it was done from the right motivation and for the glory of God. I also saw that when the brook dries up it doesn't mean I missed His will. Many times, it can appear that we have missed God or that we must have done something amiss or we wouldn't be going through this darkness. I would remind us today that Paul and Silas were going through a tremendously dark period when they were placed into that dungeon in the book of Acts chapter sixteen. Why were they there? Had they done something wrong? Had they missed God? Were they out of His will? Hardly. They were not in that prison because they did something wrong. They were in that prison because they did something right! Your brook may have dried up not because you have disobeyed, but perhaps because you have obeyed! Elijah was commanded to go to that brook. God sent him there and the Lord sent you to your place of ministry or to that factory where you work. In the place of His will there will be times when the brook dries up and you are walking in darkness. Read the words of Isaiah 50:10:
"Who is there among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and stay upon his God."
You see, it is possible to fear the Lord, to be obedient to his voice, and yet walk in darkness. This verse was opened up to me several years ago as I saw that the will of God, darkness and dry brooks are not incompatible. God, in His overruling practical providence, works all events to fulfill His purpose in my life. (has that statement become familiar to you?) Isaiah 45:3 says:
"And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel."
After reading that verse I realized that the Lord has treasures in places that I try with all my might to stay away from!
"Lord, do you really use the dry times to reveal to me the treasures that you have hidden in secret places?"
I have been avoiding those like the plague! Friend, are you avoiding the vessel of darkness and drought? I realized early in my ministry that I was like the children of Israel in Exodus 20, who at Mount Sinai removed themselves and stood afar off because they were afraid of God. I didn't want that. I wanted to be like Moses of whom it says in verse 21 of that same chapter:
"Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was."
Where God was? Have I been missing out on something? Lord, are you really in the darkness? Absolutely! And He is in your darkness, sir. Oh, this vessel of dry brooks; this vessel of dark moments can be most revealing and most valuable if, instead of running from it, you embrace it. Never will I forget the joy that billowed up from within me as that scripture penetrated my dry heart. My pastor explained to me in one of our many conversations, that although I may be in the dark, the dark doesn't need to be in me. Somebody needs to hear that today. You may be in the dark, ma'am, but the dark doesn't need to be in you! God is there in your darkness. He's longing to show you the hidden riches, the treasures in your darkness if you will only draw near instead of removing yourself. What treasures? What riches? They are like the stars of the midnight sky. In fact, it's in just that time of night that you can see those gems glistening before you. In the daytime the stars are there. But you cannot see them because it is not dark enough. There are things you will never see in the day that you will only see in the night.
In Matthew chapter ten Jesus reveals a few of those treasures to us in one verse.
"What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light."
There it is! How excited can a person be when His word finds a place in your heart? Sometimes the Lord wants to show us something in His word that has eluded us for years. Perhaps we were not ready for it or if He had revealed it to us we may not have obeyed or followed through. He knows just when and where to open our understanding to understand the scriptures. The treasures the Lord helped me to see are, first, that in my darkness He's wanting to say something to me. He wants to share a word with me that I can't get anywhere else. A word from the Lord in a dark time can keep you alive and thriving spiritually. It reminds me of the verse in Psalm twenty-three,
"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
In enemy territory he has a morsel of nutriment for me to feed on that will keep me in perfect peace. It is during that time of darkness that He has something He wants to say! I must not whine, or complain about my lot, but realize that this is the time to put my ear to the ground, so to speak, and get excited about His word coming to me and finding a place in my heart. That's what we want, isn't it? His word to sustain us? His word to find a place in our hearts? His word that creates faith and will bring to pass in us a hope that is steadfast and sure? Secondly, the words of Jesus in Matthew tell me that not only does He desire to speak in those dark circumstances, but that my darkness is temporary. Yes, your darkness is temporary. "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light." In light! Did you hear that? In light! Friend, you are coming out of this thing you are in. Here is a word to sustain you in that darkness, and a word to give you hope that you are coming out of that darkness. Can somebody shout Hallelujah? Peter tells us in his first epistle,
"Wherein ye greatly rejoice though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold trials. That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ; whom having not seen ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." I Peter 1:6-9
Did you get that or didn't you? Though now for a season. A season is temporary. Dear Christian, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us when we see Christ! The word "worthy" in that verse means to "weigh the same as". The dark trial on this side of heaven does not compare, does not weigh the same as, cannot hold a candle to the glory that is on its way. Is there anyone in the house today that can say Amen? And finally, we see that not only is it temporary, but Jesus says that you will speak of it in light. That means that you will arise and testify to the goodness of the Lord. In other words, you will live to tell about it!
No, you may not have missed the Lord's will at all. Perhaps He is just taking you on a treasure hunt where you will uncover the hidden riches that will be used to create a wine that tastes good and a smell that doesn't cause the Lord to turn away. As I look back, I am thankful for those times of drought and darkness; for it is during those times that I saw His hand removing the sediment of impatience and doubt.
In the next chapter we will see how God uses the vessel of drought and dark times to show us that even in the trivial matters of our lives He is working all things together for our good and His glory.
The Emptying and the Timetable of God
There's no question Elijah was in the will of God at the brook Cherith. But when it dries up, what is the prophet to do? Perhaps he too thought he missed God at this point. As we said in the last chapter, when the brook dries up it doesn't mean we missed the Lord. Never forget, timing with the Lord is of utmost importance. God knew when this brook would dry up and He knew the precise moment to move Elijah from his country side waterfront apartment to a place in downtown Zarephath to stay with a widow and her son. God also knew when the widow was going to run out of food. The coinciding of that event with the drying up of the brook are nothing but a powerful example of God's miraculous timetable.
Do you believe in the overruling providence of God? Do you believe that He can orchestrate the disappointments, discouragements, and the dry brooks to get you to a place of His divine appointment? Is it possible the Lord is picking you up once again like that vessel of wine? Remember, the very lifting of that jar can create a violent disturbance of the dregs and sediment that need to remain after the pouring. Is it possible that when the brook dries up for whatever reason, that God has something better in store? I can say for me that it certainly is possible and not only possible, but it has been my experience not only as a Christian, but as a minister of the gospel for the last 40 years. It's been proven that when the brook dries up, God has something better on the horizon! But I have also come to see that the circumstances of my life, good or bad, are used by the Lord to keep me within His divine timetable. Sometimes the circumstances He uses are of great magnitude and sometimes they may seem to be somewhat trivial but in actuality, they are just as miraculous. I want to show you the timing of the Lord and how He used discouragement and disappointment in a somewhat trivial matter to lead me to a divine appointment.
My wife and I and our two children had just moved to Port Clinton, Ohio to pioneer our first church. We had moved into a mobile home and were so excited to be in the will of God and experience what He had for us there in that resort community on the shores of Lake Erie. We had been there for a few months and had a small congregation of eager and excited people. Since I didn't have an office, I spent my mornings at a local restaurant overlooking the lake. I reminded myself many times of how blessed I was to be in His will, not to mention having an awesome view at the same time! It was this restaurant that was to be the place where God showed me his timing as He taught me a lesson of being emptied from vessel to vessel. It all began when we had purchased a kitchen table and chairs for our mobile home to replace our old one. It was not an expensive set by any means, but it was new. Now, something new is a bit exciting and as the day approached to pick it up from the store there was anticipation in the air.
"Today, kids, we are going to pick up our new table and chairs! Can I get an amen?"
Ok, well, maybe they weren't as excited as I was. But the day came on a Friday. The kind lady on the phone told me earlier that week that I was to come on Friday before 2:00 pm and with a thrill in my voice I assured her I would be there. Friday arrived and just prior to leaving I called the store to let them know I was coming. The person on the phone said that I must have been mistaken because they are not open on Friday and that I couldn't possibly come. I assured her that I was supposed to come and that maybe she was the one who was mistaken.
Well, that didn't work. No matter how hard I tried, the wall of circumstantial restraint was not coming down. Let me pause here and say that many times in our lives a circumstantial wall of restraint will pop up, and try as we will to pull it down, it will inevitably arise to new heights of impenetrability. It may be time to cease trying to tear down the wall and admit that God has something better which is unknown to us. In my frustration I gathered the children and my wife into the car and decided to get something to eat at a local restaurant. After all, isn't that what we do as Christians when we want to, as they say, drown our sorrows? Disgruntled, disappointed, and disgusted I drove to the eating establishment and yes, it was the one that I often frequented, the one I called "my office".
Upon walking into the restaurant, I immediately noticed it was quite full and as I looked back into the kitchen area, an employee named Joe saw me and began to say to his fellow employee, as he pointed his finger in my direction,
"There he is!"
Joe was a young man who had received Christ in our church about a month before and consequently we had become friends. He came out of the kitchen right away and greeted me and said,
"Pastor Jerry, it's great to see you. I was wondering if you would talk with a friend of mine who has questions about salvation. His name is John. I have been witnessing to him about the Lord, but then I reach a point where I don't know what to say, and, so if you would, could you talk to him?"
Now, remember, I'm not a happy camper at this moment. I have just been told by the furniture saleslady that what I wanted to happen is not going to happen. I do not know if my outward demeanor was reflecting my inward disappointment, but I'm sure Joe noticed that something was amiss. In a somewhat unexcited tone I told him that I would be glad to talk with his friend. He then turned and went back to work. The waiting area for seating was full, the restaurant was crowded, and it came time for us to be seated by the hostess. Upon sitting down, here comes my friend in his kitchen apron with his friend in tow who was also in a soiled kitchen apron.
"You have to be kidding," I thought to myself.
"Does he want to talk now"?
I was in no condition to be discussing spiritual things at a time when I was frustrated, and grumbling. If only you could have seen these two young guys, no more than nineteen years old, standing in the middle of a crowded, no available seats restaurant, looking somewhat forlorn, yet somehow hopeful that they were going to get some answers to their questions. It then dawned upon me that I was in the middle of a divine appointment staring me in the face and I was beginning to get the picture. I started to feel a bit ashamed and excited at the same time. I dismissed myself from my family for a while and went to the waiting area to sit with John and using my New Testament I explained to him the plan of salvation. Tears came to his eyes as the Holy Spirit began to draw him to the Savior. With a waiting area completely full and John and I sitting there amid the guests, I asked him if he was willing to receive Christ in front of all these waiting people. With tears in his eyes he replied that he would. We prayed together with him repeating after me aloud in front of a waiting area filled with guests, all listening to a young man in a soiled kitchen apron pray the sinners prayer.
After that day at the restaurant, I ran into Joe who proceeded to explain to me what Paul Harvey would term "the rest of the story". Are you ready for the rest of the story? As I said, I ran into Joe a few days later and he told me that he was in the kitchen area working with John and as they worked he was telling him about the Savior. He told John how Jesus wanted to change his life. Joe reached an impasse in his explanation to John, and then he said:
"If only that Pastor Jerry would walk in! And as soon as those words came out of my mouth, I looked up and you were walking in at that precise moment! I couldn't believe it," he said.
The timing of the Lord! Dear reader, my heart is overflowing at this moment as I write these words. I sense His presence even now after twenty-five years or more have passed. My heart is humbled by the fact that the Lord would take me, a disgruntled, upset preacher who was disappointed because I couldn't have my way in a small trivial matter, and use me for His glory despite my selfishness. My dried brook opened up a door of hope for someone on the road to hell. Little did I know that the Lord was orchestrating all things, even my disappointment to fulfill His purpose in someone's life I had never met. I realized that the Lord arranged it all for my benefit, John's good, and God's glory! Lord, forgive my lack of vision, and my dull spiritual senses and thank you that in your overruling practical providence you used me in spite of myself. You hammered out of me what was hindering my spiritual growth and development.
You see, my disappointed Christian friend, no matter how trivial, or not so trivial, God sees your dilemma and discouragement. The next time things seem to dry up, look up! The next time you are put on hold in some trivial matter, it may be that the Lord is going to send you to a widow woman and a miracle will take place not only in her life, but your life! A grumbling pastor, a lost young man, and a Christian employee who reached an impasse while witnessing to his friend. Could anyone have planned that encounter? Could it have been any plainer to me that God had a plan that was more important than my table and chairs? Do you see God's timing is perfect? Had I been able to pick up that table and chairs, I would have missed God's plan for my life and I would not be telling this story.
Incidentally, both John and Joe later received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues. Both men became leaders in our boys ministry at the church for many years, leading young men to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. That's the kind of God that I serve. But just to let you know how awesome my Lord is, about five years or so after that event in my life, I stood behind the pulpit on a Sunday evening and shared this story with the congregation. As I was finishing a young lady raised her hand in the back of the church and exclaimed,
"Pastor Jerry, that's not the end of the story."
She began to relate to me and the congregation that she was a manager at that same restaurant and was on duty that day I led John to Christ. She said,
"I was standing there watching the whole thing without your knowledge and listened to what you were saying to John in the waiting area of the restaurant. I saw him surrender his life to Jesus Christ. It spoke to me, and today, I am saved and filled with the Holy Spirit and in this church because of that day!"
Hallelujah! Can I get a witness? Consequently, her husband received Christ as well, and they both became active leaders in our church. One never knows just who is watching or being influenced by your actions. So, "be not weary in well doing for in due season you shall reap", said the apostle Paul. After she shared that unbelievable story the congregation clapped and praised the Lord and you could sense the power and the glory of an Almighty God. But then, another young lady raised her hand and exclaimed,
"Pastor Jerry, that's not the end of the story."
Really. I couldn't wait to hear this. She said that she too was there that day and the first young lady, the manager, had brought this young lady to church. She got saved and filled with the Holy Spirit and became a leader for our girls ministry. I know you may not believe what I am about to tell you, but another person in the congregation raised her hand and said,
"And I am here because of her!"
A miracle of His grace was brought about by our heavenly Father who decided it was time that a murmuring, grumbling, disappointed preacher needed to be picked up and emptied out. He knows just what you need, sir! He knows you need to be stirred up, disappointed, and emptied. Let Him pick up the vessel.
Well, I can tell you that all in all, out of that one restaurant several waiters and waitresses and other employees found their way to our church and the Lord did wonders in their lives. How great is our God. My heart is humbled when I realize how much can come out of a trivial disappointment which is not so trivial after all. I remember the words of that great song by Andre Crouch:
"So, I thank Him for the mountains, and I thank Him for the valleys, and I thank Him for the storms He's brought me through; for if I never had a problem, I'd never know that He could solve them; I'd never know what faith in God could do. Through it all I've learned to trust in Jesus..."
So, I do not fear the emptying process as much as I used to. In fact, I look at the process as indispensable to my sanctification. So, don't fear the dried up brook. Don't fear the emptying out of the wine from one vessel to another. God planned it that way just for you.
As for my table and chairs? Well, my wife Karen and I still eat our meals at that table and it still reminds me of the day my heavenly Father picked up the vessel and disturbed my comfort zone, poured me out and left behind some of the sediment of disappointment and murmuring, and showed me the awesomeness of His timetable compared to mine.
The Emptying and the Call of God
In Jeremiah chapter one verses five through eight we find these words:
"Before I formed you in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet to the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God, behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord."
These powerful words to Jeremiah were the same words the Lord spoke to my heart when He called me into the ministry. I was in my dorm room at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, MN waiting on the Lord for a confirmation regarding His call on my life. I was in great turmoil over this because I had allowed the enemy to throw doubt into my heart and mind. At last, after a time in His presence, which seemed like an eternity, these verses of scripture flooded over me like a wave of glory. I knew I was free from the shadows of doubt that had been circling above my head. But this initial call was not the only time I had to deal with God's leading in my life. Know this, my friend, there are other calls of God you must deal with. I was to find out many years later that the Lord doesn't just pour you from one vessel into another vessel one time, but many times.
It was a cold December day in 1986 when my wife and our two small children moved into our three-bedroom, 911 square foot home just after Christmas. Everything was going well for our little family, but I was about to experience an emptying into the vessel of unusual or unexpected guidance regarding His call that would change my course for years to come. I was a youth and music minister at an Assembly of God church in a west side suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. We had been serving at this church for about seven years under an incredible pastor and his wife who mentored us and treated us as their own family.
The experience and learning from a pastor who was also a missionary/Bible school instructor was nothing short of God's providence in my life. Pastor John Bunney is one of those gems the Lord raised up at the right time who invested in my life and ministry. I often say to our congregation "my pastor used to say", and one day after quoting my pastor a gentleman in our church noticed I made use of that statement quite often and was curious about it. I explained to him that it was important for me to not only remind myself of God's blessing in allowing me to sit under a man of God of that caliber, but also because I have come to realize that no one is a self made man or woman. We are all the product of someone else's influence and investment in our lives and for that I give Jesus all the glory that He would place me at that moment in that church with that pastor who was willing to make such an investment. When I was asked to come and fill the staff position back in 1981, Pastor Bunney explained to me that the church was not bringing me in to see what I could produce, but in order to invest in my ministry. In other words, it was not what I could do for them, but what they could do for me. I had never heard of someone having that philosophy, but I saw it immediately as an opportunity I didn't want to take for granted.
My prayer is that the Lord will raise up pastors who will invest in young ministers and see it as a divine appointment from the Lord to do so. Our churches are in such dire need of truly God called men and women. In a time of "seeker friendly" mania and relevant messages that are not based upon the word but upon the felt needs of the hearers, how we need a fresh Holy Spirit anointed ministry that will call us back to the old rugged cross; the blood of Jesus that will never lose its power! We must have a Holy Ghost revival in our churches that is the result of repentance and reformation; a revival that is not surface but one that goes down deep into the very depths of our being and uproots the sloth, lasciviousness, lethargy, worldliness and mediocrity that has invaded the church and rendered it spiritually paralyzed. A revival of the Pentecostal infilling in such proportions as would cause spiritual maturity, growth, and a missionary spirit to reach untold thousands for Christ. The kind of Pentecost that would ignite the fire required for self-sacrifice. It seems many pastors and preachers want to be relevant. Is there anything wrong with being relevant, you may ask? I suppose it all depends upon one's definition of relevant. According to Webster, relevant means "germane, material, pertinent, apposite, applicable, and relating to...the matter at hand." So, if the message is to be germane, or related to the matter at hand, then what is the matter at hand?
For many ministers, the matter at hand is attendance, buildings, and cash. What will it take to bring in the biggest crowds and keep them coming? Sadly, that is to them the matter at hand. If that is true, then their message of pragmatism would be relevant. However, I must insist, that for me, based upon what I read in the Holy Bible, the issue at hand, the matter at hand, that which is of utmost urgency is that sin has infected the human race. Sin is the matter at hand. Sin has separated us from a Holy God. If that is true, then the message that many are preaching is not relevant at all. It only caters to the flesh and entertains the goats. The sheep receive no nourishment but are welcoming prey to the big bad wolf who kidnapped little red riding hood's grandma and stuck her in the closet only to devour little red at a more convenient time. Jesus said in Matthew chapter seven that we are to beware of false prophets who come in sheep's clothing. He explained that inwardly they are ravening wolves. In grade school I remember my teacher saying to us students that if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. I found that to be good logic until I read Jesus' words on the subject. He said if it looks like a sheep, walks like a sheep, baas like a sheep, it may be a wolf! I pray the sleeping church will awaken from Delilah's lap before she has a chance to cut its hair and the Holy Ghost strength is lost and the holy presence of God, that so differentiates us and separates us from the Philistines, is departed.
Moving into our first purchased home was a very exciting time for our family. A sense of permanence and having something we could call our own was a great feeling. I thought to myself,
"God has been so good to us and this is only the beginning. Look out world!"
Little did I know that the Lord Jesus was about to pick up the vessel and start pouring! Christmas was over, and the new year had just begun when on a Monday morning as I was waiting on the Lord I sensed the voice of the Lord speak to me in such a clear way that it actually took me back a few steps. I remember the words of the Lord verbatim. Isn't it something when you have an encounter with the Lord that regardless of how many years go by you can remember every detail? The Lord said,
"I want you to prepare your heart to leave this place."
"Excuse me, Lord, did you say I was to prepare my heart to leave?
I was perplexed by the words prepare your heart. Why my heart? You mean prepare my finances. No. Prepare your heart, for that is where the battle will be won or lost. Your heart, sir, is what needs the peace that passes all understanding because as Paul said to the Philippians, it's the peace of God that will keep your heart and your mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. The word "keep" in that passage means to garrison. It means to act as a sentry post guarding the wall that surrounds a city. I found in studying that scripture, it doesn't say He will take your trial or negative circumstance away. It says His peace will protect, or garrison or act like a sentry post for the heart and mind. Why my heart and mind? Because that's where the trouble is.
I was totally taken by surprise. I then began to make my case to the Lord and explain to Him why this would not be a good idea. You see, the Lord needs to be made aware of certain things that He is unfamiliar with and I must therefore enlighten Him. So I proceeded to inform the Lord that things were going well, and that I was not ready to go out on my own.
"Lord, I need to learn more; I need to learn one more thing, just one more thing before I venture out!"
As clear as you can read these words the Lord replied,
"You've been learning; if you learn one more thing, then you will say you need to learn one more, and then one more. How many "one more things" do you need to learn?"
He let me know that He was my sufficiency; He was my source. I was getting the picture that I was being weaned from my mentor and pastor and that as Elijah and Elisha eventually parted, so would my friend and I go our separate ways. However, I was not giving up. So, I proceeded to tell the Lord that if He wished me to depart, He would have to write it on the wall or else this venture was just not going to come to pass. It was approximately once or twice a month for three months that this continued. I was wearing down. I shared this encounter with no one except my wife up to this point.
The month of April arrived, and my pastor had to travel overseas on a missionary teaching/preaching engagement. This meant that I was responsible for the pulpit ministry while he was away. Completely absorbed on a Saturday afternoon in my office writing my message for the following day having no thought about my present predicament, out of the blue came the Lord's voice to me,
"Update your resume."
It was a simple command. Like that Nike commercial which says, "Just Do It!" Well, I related this experience to my wife and then I said that it was just me thinking the Lord spoke to me when He may not actually be speaking. She encouraged me to do what I believed the Lord said the first time and not doubt it. So, I updated my resume and immediately the burden lifted from me and I was free!
"Ah ha!" I said "The Lord was just trying to teach me to obey His voice! - I got this."
Now, that may have been true to a point, but it was only the beginning. With a renewed sense of confidence, I continued to do my job and serve the Lord the best I knew how. On a Tuesday morning in June of 1987 as I was waiting on the Lord, He spoke again. The call was clearer than all the other times previous.
"I want you to prepare your heart to leave this place."
This was beginning to be a regular thing with me and the Lord. So, of course I responded with my usual
What I said next was not something I would normally do. But as desperate as I was to make sure I didn't hear wrong, I said,
"Okay Lord, if you want me to leave and pioneer a new church, I want to be approached and asked by a district official."
I figured I was safe in making such a request of the Lord because the district of the denomination to which I belonged had already asked me to pastor two other churches. Since I had refused both offers they said they would not ask me again. I was safe! So, I thought. What was happening to me? I was disturbed in my heart the rest of the day because I knew the Lord was speaking, yet I had no direction. Let's just say churches were not standing in line requesting my awesome pastoral skills. Where would I go? What if I fail? Don't forget, I had just purchased a home. I was secure. I was settled. Yes, settled. Maybe too settled. I was like the Moabites in the book of Jeremiah who had settled on their lees and were not willing to be emptied from vessel to vessel and consequently they remained unchanged and ineffective. Did I want to remain unchanged? What about you, reader? Are you too settled? Perhaps like me you are settled on the lees of your own desires and agenda rather than the Lord's. Maybe insecurity and fear grip your heart and you are tempted to shrink back when change is on the horizon. Perhaps you are now opting for the security of the known rather than risk the unknown. If that is the case, the vessel is about to be lifted once again and an emptying will occur for which you will be eternally grateful in the long run.
For me, being poured into the vessel of this unexpected call and leading was to bring an understanding of just how much Jesus loved me. It was going to free me from planning my own future and, after the pouring, would leave behind the sediment of my agenda.
The Emptying and the Call of God (part 2)
Being in a staff position and living a distance from both sets of parents, my wife and I would make the journey to visit them whenever we had an opportunity. My wife's parents lived in northern Minnesota and mine just about two hours away in northwest Ohio. I remember the first time Karen took me to meet her parents. I was amazed first that it was so far north and secondly that it was so quiet. The landscape was full of pine trees, narrow roads, and of course lakes by the dozens. I heard my first Lake Loon make its captivating and mysterious sound. Karen told me the Loon was Minnesota's state bird, second only to the Mosquito!
There wasn't too much to do in that part of the country for a guy like me who is a feeble fisherman at best and definitely not a hunter at all. It took a few days for me to adjust to the slower pace, but eventually I settled in soaking up nature, watching hub caps rust, reading the National Geographic magazine, and just taking it easy.
Living so far away from Karen's parents we would usually make Minnesota our yearly vacation destination. The kids enjoyed seeing them and getting a chance to ride on the pontoon boat up the river seeing an occasional beaver, and watching grandpa catch what he called "Red Horse" fish and of course the great "Walleye" as well. We would eat the Walleye, and throw the Red Horse to the cats in the barn. Honestly, it was a great place to get away from the fast pace of ministry and the busier life. I am so grateful the Lord gave me Karen for my wife, helpmeet and best friend. She is the greatest thing that has happened to me next to receiving Christ. It is so true that he who finds a wife, finds a good thing. Young man, young lady, never settle for second best when it comes to your future spouse. Remember, you are choosing the mother of your children; the father of your children. Years ago, I was speaking with a young man who was so vexed with not having found a wife. He felt as though it may never happen and as he was getting older, the field was narrowing as to the number of possibilities available. I proceeded to ask him a few questions about the kind of a wife he was seeking. He expressed to me his desire for his future wife to be committed to the Lord, the church, and a woman of prayer. I knew the man sitting in front of me was not committed to church attendance, nor was he putting the Lord first in his life, yet he wanted his wife to be all of those things. I asked him if he believed there was a girl that exhibited those godly characteristics. He replied yes to my query. If that is true, then she is praying for a committed man. One that is seeking Christ as his top priority. I then became firm in my next question. I asked him if he was the committed man this unknown girl was praying for. He answered that he was not. So, I said, let's not worry about the kind of girl we desire, but instead be concerned that we are the kind of godly man this godly woman is praying for. I reminded him that he may have already met this person, but because of his lack of discernment and spirituality it is possible she may have already passed him on the street. So, pursue God and Him alone. He will never give you second best.
In addition to those visits to Minnesota, we made frequent trips to my parents’ home in nearby Woodville, Ohio. Many months prior to our purchasing the home (which I had mentioned in the previous chapter) we were driving back to our home in Sheffield Lake after having visited my parents. While driving along on the interstate, I was strongly drawn to exit and pass through a resort community on Lake Erie called, Port Clinton. It had the nickname of Walleye Capital of the World. It is located in the western basin and is widely known for its great fishing. Since it was late in the evening we couldn't see much of the city, but I will never forget the words I spoke to my wife.
"I wonder why there is no Assembly of God church in this city?"
I said nothing more and we proceeded on our way home. It was two months or so later that we happened to be making another visit to see my family and on the return trip, as I approached the area of the lake, I was drawn even more than the last time to make a short excursion to Port Clinton. However, this time we left early to travel home and it was still daylight. After driving through the city and stopping at the local park to let the kids play for a while, we continued our trip home and as was the case the last time we drove through, I exclaimed to Karen,
"I wonder why there is no Assembly of God church in this city."
Nothing more was said and I gave it no more thought. It is vital that I inform you of these two incidents as they play an important role in the emptying and the call of God. You see, as I stated in the last chapter, leaving my staff position for somewhere unknown created a sense of fear and apprehension as I had no idea what the Lord had planned, and I wasn't liking the fact that He didn't consult me before He told me to prepare my heart to leave. Now fast forward almost nine months from those detours to Port Clinton.
I shared with you in the last chapter that it was on this particular Tuesday morning in June 1987 when the Lord spoke so clearly once again to prepare my heart for departure, and I said,
"Ok, Lord, if your plan is for me to leave, I want to be approached by a district official and be asked to start a new church."
As I said, that was a Tuesday. Why I did that, I have no idea other than I figured it would not materialize. On Friday of that same week, I was scheduled to take my youth group of 40 teens to Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio for the annual state youth day of the Assemblies of God. I made this trip every year for the last seven years and I had never seen a district official come to that event. Especially not the senior officials. This is not to imply that they never attended, but with the crowds of people in a place like that I barely saw the people I came with, let alone a district official! The park was packed as usual and as I stood waiting on some teens, I heard a familiar voice call out to me. As I turned to see the voice that spoke with me, I was dumbfounded to see Rev. Don McManness, the district secretary/treasurer who had just taken on the role of director of home missions for the state of Ohio. He came over to me and said,
"I'm so glad I ran into you; listen, I've been wanting to ask you a question."
"Absolutely, go right ahead,” I said.
He replied, "We have a brand-new church we'd like you to consider starting. What do you think?"
Can it get any plainer than that? I had to catch my breath and look around and see how many of my youth were standing there listening! I didn't want them to hear what I was discussing with the district home missions director. To my relief they were not close enough to hear any of the conversation. After I gained my balance and composure I asked the official where it was that they were thinking of starting this new work. His answer was Port Clinton, Ohio! I almost fell over with surprise and excitement. I immediately felt an inner witness in my spirit! The rest of the day was spent in wandering around the park in deep thought as to how good God was to me, and at the same time blown away by this answer to prayer. That's the kind of God that I serve.
Brother McManness said, "If you're interested, give me a call as soon as you can."
On Monday, the following week, I gave him a call after discussing it with my pastor. He was delighted to hear of my interest in this new work and he scheduled an appointment for me and my wife to meet with the Home Missions board in just a few weeks. As he spoke with me on the telephone I immediately thought to myself,
"So much for my resume the Lord told me to update."
As soon as those words came through my mind, his next words to me were,
"Great, the first thing I need from you then, is an updated resume."
Folks, you can't make up this kind of thing! What is the Lord doing? He's letting me know that He comes down to my level of experience and helps me by confirming His word with signs following. He's indicating that He's not forgotten me, and that He's an on-time God! I'm seeing that by pouring me into this vessel of unusual and unexpected leading, my fears are beginning to subside, and courage and boldness are starting to rise. By this time, things were really moving along, and I began to look for the miraculous around every corner. I am learning that I do not have to fear the pouring; the emptying. I serve a God who is bigger than all my fears and apprehensions. The Lord is bigger than all your fears as well. Sir, let Him empty you! Yes, it is a disturbing thing and even a bit scary at times, but He is leading, and He is pouring for a purpose. So, know this dear reader, a change is on the horizon!
I put the resume in an envelope and mailed it that day. I did hear from God. He did speak to me. The Lord did answer my prayer. Is there anything too hard for the Lord? We had the interview with the committee and we were appointed to be the new pastors of a brand-new work on the shores of Lake Erie. That next Sunday arrived and we announced to the congregation the Lord's call on our lives to a new church. They were excited for us and what a time we had as we prepared for this next adventure in our lives.
The Emptying and the Call of God (part 3)
Have you heard the saying where God guides He provides? Since we had just purchased our home only seven months prior to this new appointment, we were faced with a dilemma in selling it. We had signed a rider at the time of acquisition that we would not sell the home for two years nor would anyone be allowed to assume the mortgage for that same period of time. Selling was our only desire since we didn't want to be landlords. Knowing that the Lord had brought us this far we were certain He would take care of this. Two weeks after we announced our plans to move, a newlywed couple eighteen years of age with no down payment wanted to buy our house. We hadn't even put it on the market! Well, they wanted to assume the mortgage and we told them that was an impossibility, but that we would call the mortgage company and give it a try. Nothing ventured nothing gained. I called the company and asked about loan assumptions expecting to be turned down. I was told that our loan was what they called a simple assumption and that an assumption package would be sent to me immediately. I told her about our signed rider which I was holding in my hand as we spoke. She said she didn't know about a rider but would rehearse my file and call me back. Twenty minutes later my phone rang, and she proceeded to inform me that she had no rider on file whatsoever and that I was free to have this mortgage assumed. No rider exists. Ladies and gentlemen, I still have that rider. I asked to have her findings of a nonexistent rider put in writing and sent to me express mail overnight. It arrived the next day, signed, sealed and delivered. Is there anything too hard for my God? If He did that for me, He can do it for you! Oh, it is so true that where He guides, He provides. Listen, sir, the call of God on your life must be obeyed. The dregs of doubt, apprehension and fear of failure will stick to the sides of the vessel as you are being emptied into another vessel of God's divine call and leading. Accept it, and thank the Lord He has begun a process that will affect you the rest of your life and ministry.
Nothing will stop me now, I thought. At the same time all this was taking place, my four-year-old boy, Jordan, had bronchitis that would not clear up. We took him to the doctor and he found a loud heart murmur. Not too unusual in small children, but we needed to have it checked. A pediatric cardiologist did a Doppler test on his heart and found it to be enlarged. Also, his heart rate was only 43 beats per minute and after placing a heart monitor on him, found his rate to be only 27 beats per minute during sleep. We were told a child four years old should have a heart rate of approximately 100 beats per minute. The diagnosis was a complete heart block. This, I understand, is when the electrical impulse which signals the heart to beat is blocked or doesn't exist nor do the chambers of the heart beat together in sync. The doctor explained that the body compensates and the heart pumps anyway, but that if not corrected with a pacemaker our son would eventually have fainting spells. In and of themselves, these would not be life threatening but could be, depending upon the activity he was engaged in at the time of passing out. Driving a car, or swimming would most likely be on the list of potentially dangerous situations.
As stated before, the vessels the Lord pours us into are the circumstances and trials of life that come our way. He uses them to get out of us what's in us. What's in me? I discovered there were things residing in my heart, of which I had no clue. Things such as anger, charging God with unfairness, and just an overall why me mentality. Immediately the enemy came in like a flood as he insinuated to me that we would never survive if we left our present staff position. His tactics are not new, but they are real. It is vital that we discern the source of the voice speaking to us. Is it the voice of God? Is it the voice of the devil? I began to experience a voice that was calling me to stop my plans. A voice that told me I better stay put. A voice that reminded me of the risk I was going to take if the new church plant didn't take root. Would I be able to pay my bills? Would the new church be able to pay my health insurance? What am I facing in medical bills from the doctors, and the Cleveland Clinic which would not be covered by insurance? On and on it went. I was being emptied again.
My pastor had commented to me that one must distinguish the voice of the enemy from the voice of the Lord. He told me that the voice of the devil has a sharp edge to it. It cuts, and slices and sounds like this:
"You gotta!" "You better!" "You should!" "If you don't!"
However, the voice of the Lord has a different way or tone about it. It sounds something like this:
"Won't you?" "Will you?" "How 'bout it?" "Come on!"
The voice I was hearing had that sharp edge. It accused me, demeaned me, and harangued me. This was not the Lord! It was an imposter. Someone needs to hear this today. You are being harassed by the enemy of your soul and he's informing you that you are finished, that the Lord is done with you. You've gone too far this time and have exhausted the mercy and grace of God. Friend, that is a lie from the pit and it's time to believe that His mercies are new every morning! It's time to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord as He takes us from victory to victory and glory to glory! I stand in His grace every day and I am persuaded that the battle is the Lord's. In Paul's letter to the Philippians we find these words,
"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Phil. 4:11-13
These words give an exceptional perspective on our trials and sufferings. The word for content in this verse carries the idea of being separated from circumstances. Independent, if you will. I like the word detached. Friends, we need to live a detached life. Being emptied from vessel to vessel aids in the accomplishment of that separation. It could be said that in whatever state I find myself I am independent of, detached from, my circumstances! It's not that they go away, but that I am so separated from them they do not determine my behavior. They will not run my life and make my decisions for me. Hallelujah! Friend, take a step back from your situation and get alone with the Lord and view it from a kneeling position and you may see that you've been too close to your problem all along. When I get too close to something I can't see it correctly. I need to detach, to separate, to back off and get a view from my prayer closet. When I look at my smart phone weather app and it shows the radar screen as all rain I get a bit discouraged. Yet, if I hit the zoom out button it shows me that all is clear just to the west. It's incredible when I back off, zoom out, get away from the immediate and local. What happens when I take a position of detachment? I keep a sense of the value of things. I don't allow my emotions to control me. Also, I don't run ahead of God and try to accomplish in the flesh what can only be accomplished in the spirit. In other words, I don't take matters into my own hands. Abraham did this when he gave in to Sarah's suggestion of going in to Hagar and conceiving a son. He acted in the flesh. He lost his sense of value. He got ahead of God. A preacher of yesteryear once commented that you can have an Ishmael anytime. But you can't have an Isaac whenever you choose. You must wait and then wait some more. By remaining so close and attached I have the tendency to run ahead and try to fix things.
Getting alone with God closes that flesh gap and I learn that even if I fail, Jesus never looks at me in the light of that failure but in the light of my potential. Reader, He will do the same for you. Perhaps you have felt that your failure closed the door for effective ministry. Not so. If we are honest with Him, repent of our failure and place ourselves at His disposal, He can take a broken vessel and make it again another vessel. It's clear in Isaiah chapter 42 that a smoking flax He will not quench. Haven't you heard the saying, "Where there's smoke there's fire"? There's fire in there! We all suffer from a bit of smoke, don't we? Did not Peter have a bit of smoke when he looked at the waves around him and began to sink? But was there not fire in him when he yelled to Jesus, "Save me!"? Was there not fire in the father of the demon possessed boy when he said to Jesus, "I believe"? And was there not smoke when he said, "Help thou mine unbelief"? Jesus wants someone to hear that today. Not only does Christ have a fan in His hand for purging out the chaff, but He is bending down to the discouraged heart, fanning into flame the smoking flax. Never forget, where there's smoke there's fire!
Getting alone with God helps me to understand that if indeed He works all events to fulfill His purpose in my life, whether they are good events, bad events, or failures, then regardless of the circumstances I will not live in victimhood. I can live detached from disappointing things and not allow them to rule my life or dictate my actions. In fact, as the verse in Philippians enunciates so well; I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. In other words, I can go through all things, or I am able for all things. Yes, because of the One who constantly infuses strength into my life, I am ready for anything. Friend, you have been infused with His strength! So, stand up and say, though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
And trust Him we did. My son had to undergo surgery three years later. He received a pacemaker that regulates his heart and keeps it beating in a timely rhythm. Sounds pretty routine, huh? Perhaps, except for the fact that he was only seven years old and pacemakers in children that young was a relatively new operation, not to mention that during the procedure his heart had to be defibrillated five distinct times. My son is now married with three children and actively serving the Lord. The emptying and the call of God is a life long journey for me. I am still being emptied and He is still showing me that the call of God brings with it many unexpected circumstances and trials.
In the middle of all this emptying and God's call to a new place, we had to find a home to live in. Nothing could be found that would meet our needs, so we purchased a mobile home to be positioned on a rented lot. The company we had purchased it from inquired if a ten percent down payment was possible. I answered in the affirmative not realizing the owner was going to place the order on my word alone. The month was August 1987 when we selected the home. I needed the down payment on September 21st. We absolutely had no earnest money. However, I was seeing firsthand the power of my God not only in His keeping power but also in His divine provision. I was confident that somehow the Lord would supply.
It's amazing how fast a month can go by! September 20th was our last Sunday and I preached my last sermon on that day. Up to this point, I had told no one of my need except the pastor and we kept this between us. I needed $2,700.00 by the next day and I was down to the wire. After I finished the message there was a powerful presence of the Lord that brought with it a message in tongues and interpretation that well confirmed to us His divine leading. A love offering was received for us and in the evening service the pastor asked me, in front of the congregation, how much I needed for the down payment. I was embarrassed because quite frankly, $2,700.00 was a large amount in those days. I figured there was no way I would receive anything near that. I told the pastor how much I needed and with tears welling up in his eyes he read the amount of the offering. It was $2,711.00. God always goes over and above! You need to know that God is a prodigal God! Prodigal means over the top. Above and beyond. I know it was only eleven dollars, but that's the kind of God that I serve.
God provided the exact amount down to the penny! What was God accomplishing in me? He wanted the dregs of independence and self-reliance to be left behind. I learned years ago that as we mature and develop in Christ we become more dependent upon Him. Take the example of your children when they were young. We teach them to be independent. To feed themselves. To clothe themselves. To tie their own shoes. They are excited to be able to break away from dad's help and do it all by themselves. They go from dependence to independence. That's the way it is meant to be. Yet in the spiritual, it is not so. The more we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord, the more dependent we should become. So we can say with clarity that in the Christian life we must go from independence to dependence. That's why Jesus picks up the vessel! That's why you are going through this trial, sir. Trust the winemaker for He is the way-maker. He is changing the aroma of your life. He is altering the taste of this fine essence. So, do not fear the process, but rather, embrace it! Something good is about to happen.
In addition to all that, I needed to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was in the will of God. My friend, you too need to know that you are in His will. That was as vital for me as it is for you. Why? When we know that we are walking within the confines of that will we experience security. We will be divinely sustained. We will be safe. We will be a success. (the words security, sustained, safe, and success will be dealt with in a later chapter.)
The Lord was kind and gracious to me by confirming His guiding hand time and time again because He knows I am but dust. He was letting me know that if He was doing this before I arrived in Port Clinton, what would He do after the work began? I walked out of our church the next day with a check for $2,700.00. I also walked out of another vessel, hopefully leaving behind a little more of the dregs of self-sufficiency, and independence.
The Emptying and the Confines of His Will
There is no greater feeling as a minister of the gospel than to know that you are in the will of God. I struggled with this as a young man starting out at North Central Bible College. I wondered if I had truly been called of God.
"Lord," I said, “did I miss something here?"
Have you ever been in that condition? Was there ever a time when you doubted the call of God on your life to be a minister of the gospel? Perhaps you have wondered if you were in the right church? I can imagine if you are like me, you probably have. I know that feeling of being insecure and being concerned if someone might move in and take your position. I'll never forget the cold sweat that appeared on my forehead upon hearing of another's desire for the same role to which I was appointed in the same church! Talk about insecurity. While these may be unfounded feelings of diffidence, they are nonetheless true.
My first encounter with self-doubt concerning the will of God for my life came at the end of my first year in Bible college. I was eighteen years old, and already I was plagued by an overwhelming sense of having missed the Lord regarding the ministry. I was ready to throw in the towel and make that long drive from Minneapolis to my hometown of Woodville, Ohio where all was secure. I would just call it quits. After all, home was a place of the known and predictable. It was a place of acceptance and approval. My complaint to the Lord at this time was that I couldn't stand in front of people and preach. I remember telling the Lord that I was not able to do this as I had no confidence whatsoever. Besides that, in Homiletics class I bombed out with a "D" on my first sermon. However, that was not the only time I bombed out in front of people. When I was a teenager I was asked to speak to our youth at Calvary Assembly of God in Fremont, Ohio. I preached on the end times and the fact that Jesus could come back at any moment and that we shouldn't be deceived and fall asleep like the ten virgins in Matthew twenty-five. Well, I have to say that I came out of that tragic experience believing it was definitely the "end time" for my preaching career.
Before making my final decision to exit the Bible college experience, I knew I had to take this to the Lord. As a child brought up in church I had heard of what they called "praying through". I decided to do just that. I had never before done such a thing though it was often spoken of in Christian circles. I closed the door to my dorm room, took my Bible, and sat on the floor. I decided to remain there until I heard from God. I distinctly remember saying to the Lord,
"Lord, give me a verse in the Bible I have never read before."
Now, that was quite a statement. "A verse... I have never read before." Why, that would pose no difficulty for the Lord, as I had not read very much of the Word! Oh, I knew the books of the Bible. I learned them as a child in children's church. As for reading it through cover to cover, no. I had memorized some portions of the book of James for bible quiz but that was all. Let me encourage that person today who is seeking the will of the Lord through the written word. Yes, the Lord does use His word to speak to us. However, we must be careful not to use the scriptures as something magical. We must guard against what I call the "promise box" mentality. I'm sure you are familiar with that. It is when someone, having become desperate for guidance, picks up the box of scripture promises and blindly chooses one. Slowly, almost nervously they read the verse only to respond with "that's not what I was expecting" and they dive into the box looking for another one which tells them what they desire to hear. I do know the Lord is gracious and in a rare moment a random solicitation from an earnest heart may be granted in that way, but it is the exception rather than the rule. There are three questions my pastor encouraged me to ask when seeking guidance. First, is what you are about to do contrary to His word? He will never lead away from His word. Secondly, do you have an inward witness or constraint to enter this venture? Thirdly, are the circumstances of life falling into place? For me, I had that inward desire and constraint to preach the gospel. Also, many circumstances definitely leaned in that vein. But, I needed to be clear. I wanted to be sure it was the Lord! That's where His word came into play.
You know, the Lord comes to us where we are. I knew the truth. I had a relationship with Jesus. I loved Him. I wanted His best for me. I was saved, but I was content in myself. I needed a revelation that would empty me of self-content, and lethargy. I needed something to ignite my soul with a hunger and thirst for more of Jesus. I had the truth of Christ, but it was incomplete. I needed an up-to-date experience with the Lord. I was like Phillip, one of Jesus' disciples. My testimony was limited. Do you remember this man, Phillip? He said to Nathaniel that they had found the one of whom Moses in the law and the prophets had spoken of, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
Phillip's testimony was good as far as it went, but it was limited, or incomplete. John Follette, a Bible professor of many years ago in New York State, points out that Phillip had some of his testimony correct and a portion of it incorrect. Phillip remarked to Nathaniel that they had found the one of whom Moses in the law spoke. That was correct. He said that they also found the one of whom the prophets spoke. That, too, was correct. Then he says, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. That was the part Phillip didn't get right. Jesus was not the son of Joseph. Ah, Phillip, what a misconception. Can the Lord use you now, Phillip? Some would say no. But just because a person's testimony is not one hundred percent complete or correct, doesn't mean the Lord is finished with that individual. Of course not! Proof of that is Jesus called Phillip to follow Him.
The Lord Jesus knew Phillip from the beginning. He knows all about your limited knowledge and testimony. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knew my insufficient experience before He ever called me into the ministry. Yet, despite my limitations, my incorrect testimony regarding the Lord Jesus, and my lack of Bible knowledge, He called me anyway. Jesus calls us, then He works in us and brings us into an experience with Him which, in and of itself, does not mature us spiritually. It does, however, create an avenue, an opportunity that, if responded to, will bring the necessary development and growth. The Lord is helping me to see that no experience alone, regardless how great or spiritual, turns someone into a giant for Jesus. For example, when my daughter Melody was born it was an amazing experience for her. She needed to be born. It was essential; even vital. It was a grand day when she appeared in that hospital room and the doctor informed us that she was "perfect". So, since my daughter had this great experience, maybe we could let her drive home from the hospital! Wouldn't that be the greatest thing? After all, she had an experience. No, it would not be prudent to do so. Why not? First, we would still be at the hospital! Secondly, it is not wise because the experience itself did not give her the ability or the maturity to drive a car! The picture is clear. Our encounter with Jesus is vital and paramount, yet our testimony and knowledge may be incomplete or limited. That being the case, we are not ready to teach a systematic theology class. Has not the church made a grave error when placing someone behind a pulpit who has had a great conversion experience yet does not have the necessary growth and maturity to be in a leadership position? Because this has happened many times over, sadly, many Christians and churches are still at the hospital, having made no progress. And then, in some cases, the church or individual may have driven over a spiritual cliff because the leadership was in the hands of an immature, albeit, sincere believer.
As I was waiting and praying that sticky summer evening in my dorm room, time seemed to stand still. I was just waiting, and waiting. You know, it's good to wait. Sometimes the Lord desires you and me to spend time with Him. The Lord told Moses to come up into the mount and be there. Be there. Well, he did. Moses heard nothing for six days. Then on the seventh day the Lord spoke. Hallelujah! Do you know what took place after that? Moses was on the mount for forty days and forty nights! Is there a shout in the house? Be patient, the Lord is lovingly waiting for you to wait for Him so He can be gracious in your hour of need.
Well, I thought I was never going to hear from God. About the time I assumed the Lord had forgotten I lived on planet earth, He spoke to me in my thoughts in that still small voice.
The Lord whispered, "Read Jeremiah chapter one verse six."
I replied, "I've not read that before!"
Of course, at the time, I thought that it was just my own thoughts, not the Lord speaking. Yet, the voice kept insisting I read Jeremiah chapter one verse six. I decided to open my Bible to Jeremiah and this is what it said:
"Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold I cannot speak: for I am a child." Jeremiah 1:6
I was completely taken back. I was not expecting that. What a verse! I had just been complaining to the Lord in similar terms that I was not fit for this assignment. Well, as a good Bible college student should do, I decided to read the verses before and after to get the context of what was being said.
"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord." Jeremiah 1:5-8
The overwhelming thrill to think that my Lord would bend down to my limited capacity and give me a word that confirmed to my spirit the unmistakable call of God upon my life was mind-blowing. The scriptures refer to this as His loving-kindness. Loving-kindness is a powerful word in the Old Testament. It is love that bends down in mercy. It emerges from an unlimited love to those who are lacking. The one who receives this loving-kindness is not on the same plane as the one giving it. Ah, yes, that's what Jesus did for me. He leaned over towards me and out of His great love for me and my present difficulty He opened His word. Tears streamed down my face. I sense even now that awesome presence I felt back in the summer of 1977 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The memory of that will stay with me the rest of my life.
What was the Lord trying to accomplish? Through the emptying process He was getting out the unwanted lees which, if not dealt with, would cause me more harm than good. The Lord is leaning over you as well, letting you know He's not forgotten you in your time of need. You are struggling with the will of God. He's called you, but you are hesitant. You are making excuses like Moses. It's your inability to speak, you say. You argue that the people will not believe you. I encourage you to get into your closet and wait upon the Lord. Ask Him for a word not only to confirm that call but a word that will sustain you later on when the enemy comes and tries to talk you out of that divine will. You will discover the Lord will not allow you to remain undisturbed in that jar. He will empty you from a vessel of testing and waiting into another vessel. He will use the testing and trial to get you into that closet of prayer. In that secret place you will discover His divine intention for you. You will rejoice in His loving-kindness. The sense of His presence will be overwhelming, and you may even shout with joy the greatness of our God. Then, just when you are getting used to all this bliss, He will pick up the jar and pour you into another vessel. What a disturbance and a stirring there is in your life. That joy you have been basking in seems to have come to an abrupt halt. I know what you're thinking. "Will this thing ever stop?" Actually, you are in the school of the knowledge of God and there is no diploma and no graduation ceremony. Just remember, in all this emptying the Lord Jesus is creating an instrument for His purpose and glory. The sanctifying processes of God are real and progressive but in the long run, God glorifying and self-effacing. Do you know anything about this pouring, this emptying? Do not fear it. Do not ask God to end it. Let Him have His way. Trust in His integrity that He knows what He's doing. You will not regret it. For it is in God's will you will find true security and fulfillment. Guy Duty, my dad's pastor of long ago, once said, "Find the will of God, and do it!" Let us add, "and establish yourself in it!" Put down roots in the will of the Lord.
As we consider the confines of His will for our lives; establishing ourselves in that divine purpose and putting down roots in it, we will encounter providential aftereffects that will give us undaunted courage to continue in the most unnerving circumstances. It is a fact that Christ was in His Father's will always. Never was there a time when Jesus stepped outside that fence and acted in the flesh. Unlike Abraham who was living within the confines of the will of the Lord in Canaan for a time, but when famine threatened his existence, he stepped outside the boundary of God's intention for him and traveled down to Egypt. Outside the will of God, he was an insecure man. The enemy will leave no stone unturned in an attempt to move you away from God's purpose for your life. Jonah ventured outside the will of God and found himself in an unsafe situation. Perhaps because of insecurity and fear you too have tiptoed outside the boundary of His purpose.
Stepping out of the confines of God's will can have unpleasant effects as we saw in Abraham and Jonah. In fact, I can remember many times as a young boy playing in the backyard. My mother would admonish me, or should I say, threaten me, to stay inside the fence, and not leave the appointed perimeters of the family precinct. Well, you can imagine the temptation to take a sneak excursion outside the appointed boundary, especially when my friends were not far away enjoying the cool waters at the community pool which could be seen from my backyard! The desire to furnish myself with a bit of relief from the summer heat was sometimes too much for me to handle. Other times it wasn't the enticement of my friends, but the lure of the nearby waterway calling me to come and snag a couple of carp feeding in the shallows of the riverbank. Either way, the moment I would venture outside the fence, my mother, who seemed to have eyes in the back of her head, would call out in that firm, strong voice and immediately I would receive an unrest. Does anyone know this feeling? Do you understand the point of this? It is when I begin to move outside the circumference of God's appointed purpose that He calls to me by His Holy Spirit and an unrest seizes my spirit. I know that I have stepped outside the confines of His will. I thank the Lord that this is the case. I am forever grateful that whom He loves He chastens. And today, that unrest which weighs heavy upon you could very well be the Holy Spirit saying you are pursuing a wrong path. Just come to Him and admit,
"Lord, I have ventured out on my own and I'm miserable. I repent, and by an act of my will I place myself back within the perimeters of your purpose for my life."
If you will openly and honestly confess this to Him, He will hear and answer. The Lord has done this for me. I can say I am in His will. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing I am where He wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do; albeit, not perfectly, but pressing toward the mark nonetheless. I am learning that even when I step outside the boundary, He has a way of using it to teach me; to empty me; to enhance the aroma and augment the flavor of the wine that He is producing to His glory! Hallelujah. Be encouraged. The Lord is actively pursuing you for the work He has called you to do. Though you may not have the talent or ability that others have and as a result have stepped outside the circle, you must remember that it is not your ability but your availability that is essential. I take issue with those who believe that God can't use someone; that He has abandoned them; or the person is irreparable because of having ventured outside the circle. If that were the case, David is no longer fit to be King, and Peter not suitable to preach on the day of Pentecost, nor is Jonah able to proclaim the truth in Nineveh. But the Lord did use David; the Holy Spirit anointed Peter, and the God of the second chance sent Jonah to Nineveh. Yes, He is the God of the second chance! After all, it's not what a man has done, but what he is doing right now, today! Sir, ma'am, what are you doing today? How are you living now? Read Psalm fifty-one and you will see the heart of a man who stepped outside the will of God but repented. You will see a man who is in hot pursuit of His Maker and Redeemer. A man who had the courage to come clean and plea emphatically
"...I acknowledge my transgression...wash me and I shall be whiter than snow...restore unto me the joy of thy salvation...then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." Psalm 51
Is there anything that says it better? No wonder David went on to be labeled a man after God's own heart. If that can happen to him it can happen to you. God is no respecter of persons. So, bow before Him right now, this minute. In humble adoration with thanksgiving, praise the One who in His overruling providence is using this event to fulfill His purpose in your life. The vessel is lifted, the pouring continues, and the dregs are left behind.
The Emptying and the Confines of His Will (part 2)
While it is true that we have pole vaulted over the fence of God's plan, there have been times when we took our stand within the circumference of His will and remained true. Jesus is our prime example in this area. He remained within the confines of His Father's will regardless of the enemy's efforts to drag Him away from it. The whole reason Jesus came to this world was to do the Father's will.
"I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." John 5:30
"For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." John 6:38
If we, too, remain true to the will of God as we know it, we will experience the positive fall-out of that loyalty. Here is a short list of some fruit that one can expect to harvest because of staying within the confines of His will. We mentioned four words in chapter seven to describe this fruit. The first one is, sustained. In John chapter four Jesus and His disciples were in a city of Samaria called Sychar. The disciples had gone into the city to buy bread, which left Jesus alone sitting at Jacob's well. A woman came to draw water and Jesus entered a conversation with her that left her defenseless as to the type of life she was living. Jesus then presents her with the hope of living water which, if she partakes, will spring up into everlasting life. This living water is Christ, himself. What is Jesus doing? Why is he talking with this woman? The fourth verse of this chapter says something powerful. It says that Jesus must needs go through Samaria. We must never forget that Jesus was always in the will of God. He needed to go there if He was to stay within that boundary. But Jews didn't go to Samaria. Friend, when one is in the will of God and determined to put down roots in that divine intention it doesn't matter what the majority thinks or says. Pastor, you and I must follow His will and His way even if it means being ostracized; even if the association looks down their ecumenical nose at you. He must needs go through Samaria and as God leads, so must you. The scripture says the disciples came back from town and gave Jesus the portion of bread for Him to eat. One of the greatest statements about the will of God is about to come from the lips of Jesus.
"But He said unto them, I have meat to eat that you know not of. Therefore, said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish his work." John 4:32-34
What fed Jesus? What sustained Jesus? What was like meat and bread to Him? Yes, the will of God. Allow me to ask you, have you fed Jesus lately? That question deserves some thought especially when one considers Christ's words in Revelation chapter three verse twenty. Jesus was living within the divine purpose of God and in so doing He was sustained. The Lord will sustain you and me if we will determine to put down roots within the circumference of His will. He was saying that when one is engaged in doing the will of the Lord, it will so satisfy him beyond measure that the material things of this life, right down to the food we eat, will take a second place. Your emphasis will no longer be on the material but the spiritual. You will find that the material will get absorbed, lost, in the spiritual. The things of this life will take a back seat. You will not be concerned what you will eat or drink or how you will be clothed. That's how the heathen live. We are to seek first and foremost the kingdom of God. Make His will your priority. Take care of the spiritual and He will take care of the material. The righteous have never been forsaken, nor have they become beggars for bread. Much of the church has walked away from it roots. It has stepped outside the boundary of His will; it has gone to Egypt for its sustenance and has become like Lot, Abraham's nephew, who, when given the choice, pitched his tent toward Sodom. And we know how that worked out. Therefore being lukewarm is so dangerous. Pastor, stay in the circle, and the Lord will supply all your needs according to His great storehouse of abundance. And there will be no need for the proverbial money raising masters.
While pastoring the new work in Port Clinton, my bookkeeper came to me one day with the news that we needed one thousand dollars right now, today! For some reason we had missed something in our accounts payable and we were in desperate need. When you are just starting out as a new church, every dollar is precious and a one-thousand-dollar need may as well be a one hundred thousand dollar need. So, I gathered the staff together which consisted of myself, the bookkeeper, a sweet sister who volunteered to answer the church phone and our youth pastor. We prayed together for one hour from nine in the morning until ten. At ten o'clock I proceeded to the post office to check our mail and in that box, was a check from someone who did not come to our church regularly, but only visited in the summer on vacation. The amount of the check was one thousand dollars! In the envelope was a note that went something like this:
"The Lord spoke to me to send this to you..." Short, and to the point.
What an answer to prayer! What a faith builder! I was so excited I called my dad on the phone and told him about it. He was delighted to say the least, but then proceeded to ask me a couple of questions.
"When did you receive this check?"
I said, "Today at ten o'clock".
He asked, "How long does it take mail to travel from Columbus, Ohio to Port Clinton?"
I responded, "Two days, I believe."
He then began to relate to me how the Lord had to speak to that man at least two days before. The check took two days to arrive and he reminded me that the money was sitting in the post office the entire time we were praying! I got a lesson that day in the sustaining power of God. He knew my need before I did. I sense His presence as I write this. Sir, when you are within the confines of His will, He will sustain you as you keep your eyes on the spiritual. What was the Lord doing? He was pouring me from one vessel into another leaving behind the dregs of worry and some lost priorities.
The next word describing the fruit of this harvest is success. Everyone wants to be successful in this life. But what is the definition of success? In this postmodern Christian world we live in, success, many times, is determined and defined by three words; attendance, buildings and cash. That about sums it up, in the church world, at least. Questions abound, such as: "How many people are attending your church?" "How big was the offering?" "How many were saved, healed, delivered, or set free?" Is this the criteria for success in the ministry? I will never forget when my wife and I were pioneering our first church. One of the first questions asked me was with regard to our attendance. I must admit, I was concerned about it too. In fact, the concern for numbers grabbed me for I believed that I would be judged by my peers, and my superiors, according to the number of people I had attending. This of course was the wrong approach. I was in the will of God. Of that I was absolutely certain. But how many know that peer pressure exists in the ministry as well as in the secular world? Of course, it does. In some ways it is even more powerful. After all, is not our spirituality measured by our accomplishments? At least we are prone to believe that way.
After about a year into the new work in Port Clinton, I became discouraged. Things were not happening like I would have hoped. It seemed people were not getting saved as often as they had in the beginning. In fact, it had been approximately six to eight months since someone had responded for salvation. That person was an elderly lady seventy-five years old. A retired nurse named Virginia. She had received a door hanging flyer we placed at the residence of a 90-year-old lady for whom she was the caregiver. Virginia was a member of the Lutheran church and had become dissatisfied with her life, searching for something that would fill the void in her heart. She decided to visit our church on a Sunday morning. When the altar call was given, Virginia, at the age of seventy-five walked down the center aisle and surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn't matter how old you are, there is still room at the cross for you! The elation and joy could immediately be seen on her face and especially in her eyes. She was a new creature in Christ. It was like a new youthfulness had taken hold of her and she became vibrant and clear. Virginia wanted everything the Lord had for her. I immediately told her the baptism in the Holy Ghost with the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues was now available to her. She seized upon the opportunity and believed if it was in the Bible she wanted it. She returned to church that evening, hungry for more. She walked up front, knelt down, lifted her worn hands in the air and within a few minutes was speaking in that heavenly language known only to the Lord of hosts. They that hunger shall be filled. Could ministry be any better for a new pioneer pastor? I was on cloud nine, as they say. God is truly good. I laid my head down on my pillow that night after church with an exhausted yet overflowing heart. I was in the confines of His will! I was in the vessel of a move of God!
However, it wasn't to last. Soon that jar would be picked up and the stirring begin. It was like I had walked from an oasis to the middle of the desert. It was like Virginia was the only one to respond to the Lord in almost a year.
"Lord", I said, "Is that all?"
"Am I finished here?"
Like the widow in the Old Testament who said to her sons, bring me another vessel and they said there wasn't any available. The oil stopped flowing. Lord, is that all? Is there no more supply? Have you run out of grace? Is this all there is? Have you ever felt like that in your ministry or in your everyday life? Friend, the Lord is not out of oil! If the oil had continued to flow, it would have run all over the floor and been lost. God will not waste His supply. The issue is vessels. Yes, He needs an empty vessel He can pour it through! That's why you are going through this trial. He knows that if the oil is to flow through you, the pipe, the vessel, the conduit must not be filled with debris that hinders the current or the progression of His mighty power. A favorite song we sing often in our church, written by Barbara Cilke, the wife of a dear pastor friend of mine, Rev. Robert Cilke, says:
"...flow through me, flow through me; let your Spirit of love flow through me...may my life a channel be, let your Spirit of love flow through me..."
May my life a channel be...how awesome is that? Lord, go ahead and pick up that vessel and empty me for your glory and let the oil flow in supernatural power! I want to be a vessel you can pour your love and power through.
Thank the Lord for godly men in the ministry, mentors who hear from God and know by His Spirit just when to contact you. At the height of this discouragement I received a call from my former boss and pastor. He asked me how things were going. He must have known something in the Spirit for the timing couldn't have been better. Well, that was all I needed to launch into my "woe is me" speech. How many know when you are discouraged it's possible to fall into the overemphasis stage? You see things bigger than what they are. The tendency is to overstate the case. I had become too localized in my situation. I was too close to it. I needed to back away and get into the closet of prayer and see things from God's point of view. So, I told my pastor that I felt like a failure and this work could be considered unsuccessful as it may not last beyond the next offering. Either way, I was being honest as to my feelings regarding the will of God, again! When will I ever learn? My pastor's words to me were clear and to the point. In response to my ranting about being a failure and Virginia being the only one saved in a long time, He asked me a question that jarred me.
"Jerry, are you willing to be a failure for Jesus sake?"
I was stunned. A failure? Really? I didn't come here to be a failure. I knew he was asking me if I was willing to be considered a failure in everyone's eyes for Christ's sake. I thought about it for a few seconds knowing the expected answer. Reluctantly, I answered
"Yes, I suppose I am."
He proceeded to tell me that numbers do not matter, but what is of great significance is whether or not I am doing what the Lord commanded me to do. You see, I am learning that success is not determined according to man's criteria, but by whether or not I am in the will of God! Well, Hallelujah! If Virginia was the only reason I went to Port Clinton it WAS worth it! If Jesus went to Samaria for ONE woman, it, too, was worth it. And the woman of Samaria went into the city and told all who would listen about Jesus, who when they heard, believed. Don't think for one moment that you are a failure because you didn't reach your expected quota of conversions. Success is determined by whether or not one is within the confines of His will. I was successful not because of the numbers or the money, but because I was doing the Master's will.
It's time to ask ourselves if we are trying to please men, or our heavenly Father. It's time to ask ourselves if we are in the ministry to build His Kingdom or leave a legacy of self-accomplishment. The seeker friendly movement has left out in many cases the one priority that makes all the difference in the world. The will of God over the will of man. In His will "felt" needs are not the motivation behind the method nor the determining factor deciding the message. In His will, the size of the congregation is not the priority. In Francis Schaeffer's book entitled "No Little People" he affirms the truth that in God's plan and purpose there are no little people and no little places. How true that is. But there are men and women in the will of God, obeying His call, willing to be considered in the eyes of men a failure for Jesus. In fact, Jesus would be considered a failure. The Bible says they all forsook Him and fled. Jeremiah preached for forty years and no one listened. Noah preached for 120 years and the only people saved were his family. Was Noah a failure? According to the standard of man, yes. According to the standard of God, absolutely not! God told Noah to build an ark. He did. And if you are doing what the Lord has commanded you, you too are a success in His book, regardless of the opinion of man. As I was constantly reminded by my pastor, "I would rather have the smile of God's approval and frowns of men, than to have the smile of men's approval and the frowns of God". That is still good advice.
I'm starting to see that being emptied from vessel to vessel is an experience in reduction. He's pouring me to reduce me. The process of reduction is most valuable and rewarding. Take maple syrup, for instance. A fantastic change occurs because of boiling the sap. There is nothing like it in my opinion. I watched this process many years ago in southern Ohio. It starts out as a clear water-like liquid. And after hours and hours of reducing over wood-fired vats, the moisture dissipates, the color changes, the smell is most awesome, and the taste is second to none. No wonder it sells for over forty dollars a gallon! Ah, but it is worth it. Give me pure maple syrup over the stringy stuff made of corn syrup any day. Once you've had a taste of the delicious elixir called maple syrup, you will not be satisfied with anything else. Is this not what our Lord and Savior is wanting to accomplish in us? Lord, reduce me; boil away the moisture and create a God honoring essence so people can taste and see that the Lord is good.
Our third word describing this fruit is secure. As we persevere to abide within the boundaries of His will we experience a security in Christ which no thief can break through and steal. I do know some insecurity lies in all of us just because we are made of flesh. But it's knowing that I am living within the borders of His intended purpose for my life that I do not fear. Sometimes people fear for their position at work, or in ministry, or perhaps even in the home. Husbands feel like they are in competition with their children for the love and affection of their wives and vice versa. Pastors feel like they are competing with other ministers and ministries. The mega church down the street creates a sense of inferiority which tempts pastors to take matters into their own hands and act in the flesh. They may begin to enact methods or programs in a last-ditch effort to survive. We live in a world of competitors. I have seen this countless times in the ministry and believe me, the temptation is real to succumb to all the voices vying for our attention and enticing us to jump on the proverbial band wagon. What causes this? I will call it the virus of insecurity.
I am reminded of Moses after he led the Israelites out of Egypt. They were about to go in to the promised land but after hearing the negative report of the spies decided the plan was too risky. Angry with Moses and Aaron for bringing them into such a desolate situation, they decided to stone the two brothers, choose a new leader and return to Egypt. All well and good, but they didn't take into account that Moses was God's appointed leader. What will Moses do? Should he defend his position? Instead of defending himself he took it to the Lord. That's what we should do. The Lord speaks to Moses and declares these people are no longer His people. He will wipe them off the face of the earth and start all over again! Oh, Christian, see how God defends His own! Contemplate this for a moment. God will take care of you. Really? Yes, because the Lord is the judge. As the psalmist said, "He puts one down and sets up another." Moses need not fear his position of leadership because he is following the divine purpose. He is within the confines of God's intention. By now, the phrases, "the boundary of His will"; "the confines of His will" or "the circumference of His divine intention" are becoming familiar. I hope so. My desire is to drive home the glorious actuality that God has a plan for each of us and by remaining in that plan as we know it, a positive outcome is sure to follow no matter how difficult the path is. God has arranged and anticipated a definite pathway for you and me. But never forget, He also prepares us for that highway we are to travel. Like the prophet Jeremiah, you can trust the Lord to take away your fear, be ever present with you, and prepare you by putting His words in your mouth. This will mean greater pouring; frequent emptying. Ah, yes, but it will effectuate great change and produce a Christlikeness as more and more distasteful sediment adheres to the insides of the jar.
Knowing I am in His will I do not fear for my position nor do I panic when I do not receive a majority vote from the congregation. Pastor, machinist, cashier, you have nothing to fear. At work, there is a position available and you are up for the promotion. You apply for it and find out you are passed over by the boss. You can't believe it! You are going to march into that office and take names! You defend your qualifications and years of experience as opposed to the candidate who was selected over you. Besides that, you are a Christian! Listen, you don't have to shift to survival mode and become defensive. If the Lord doesn't want you to have that position, why would you want it? If someone else gets the job instead of you, leave it in the hands of the Lord and conclude He has something better for you. Be happy for the individual who was hired to fill that vacancy. In everything give thanks! The Lord knows what may have happened had you been appointed to that position. Perhaps He rescued you from a potentially life-threatening event. It could be that the person selected for it was in great need of a raise, facing financial disaster, and this job was an answer to their prayers. Rejoice, for God is the judge. He puts one down and sets up another. Find your security in the will of God, for then you will be content in whatsoever state you find yourself.
The last word delineating the fruit resulting from staying within the boundaries of His divine purpose, is the word safe. That's a big word these days. We hear a lot about "safety first". There's "safety in numbers". "Better safe than sorry". The buzz words and phrases are many. However, stepping outside the perimeters of His divine intention can jeopardize our spiritual, even physical, safety. Just ask Abraham about that. He went to Egypt and jeopardized himself and his family. He endangered his wife, Sarah, not to mention the promised child that was to come from his loins. What causes a person to venture out like this? Fear? Greed? Perhaps both. Some church leaders see the potential for bigger crowds and greater offerings by ramping down the emphasis on the blood of Christ, the problem of sin, and even the existence of hell. After all, God is too loving to send anyone to a Christ-less eternity. Lord deliver us from these mantras being crooned from pulpits across this country, tickling the ears of the lukewarm but nauseating the Lord Jesus.
Sir, the safest place is in the will of God, though it may not be the most comfortable. Safety and comfort are not necessarily synonymous. In the ark, Noah was in the divine purpose of God yet there were all kinds of discomforts on board. Despite the conditions inside the ark, the alternative was far worse. The cross was most uncomfortable, yet it was the will of God. From the foundation of the world scripture declares that Jesus is the Lamb that was slain to receive riches and glory and honor! Therefore, Christ, in accomplishing His Father's will by enduring the cross, despising its shame, counted it all joy because He had His eyes on the reward of His suffering. That reward is His people, the blood bought, Holy Ghost baptized church of the redeemed! Sir, you are the reason He came to do His Father's will.
"...for unto us a Son is given; unto us a child is born..." Isaiah 9:6
"...unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior..." Luke 2:11
It is better to be in the will of God with only one car than out of the will of God with two. Christ realized although He was in the wilderness and hungry, it was preferable and safer by far to stay within the confines of His Father's leading. It is dwelling within that safe place you will find ultimate satisfaction. You may miss a few meals, and drive an older car, or not have the latest fashion, but you'll be happy. Many years ago I had the privilege to preach in Norwich, England. After the services I had the opportunity to sit down in the home of the founder and pastor of the church who was in his late seventies. It was an honor to be able to converse with this old English gentleman. I marveled at his library of Christian books. After discussing several authors and their viewpoints on theology, he looked at me and said,
"Son, if you keep preaching the way you do, you will not have many friends; but you'll be happy!"
He encouraged me to be relentless in preaching the whole counsel of God. Pursue the will of God. Establish yourself in it. Like Moses, refuse to enjoy the pleasures of sin, esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, (the world) and keep your eyes on Him who is invisible. How can I expect Him to reveal His guidance to my heart if I regard iniquity in it? How can I expect the Lord to guide me with His eye if I allow compromise to come between my soul and the Savior? How can I expect to know His plan; to ascertain His guiding hand if I refuse to walk in the light as He is in the light? Dear Christian, whatever there may be that is blinding your vision, renounce it. The things that derail guidance are often not the big obvious breaches or digressions of disparity but the small and seeming trivial matters of the heart. The psalmist declares,
"Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright and innocent from the great transgression." Psalm 19:12-13
Brother or sister in Christ, if you have wandered away from the special guidance of God, you need not stay outside the fence. There is no need for you to remain one minute longer in this vexation of spirit. Get into His will now! God can take up where you walked out. He can make it again another vessel as seems good to the potter to make it. He can restore all the years the locust has eaten. Don't allow this nasty grasshopper of disobedience to eat up your joy, your peace, and your assurance any longer. Give yourself up! Get back to the cross and the blood. Get out of that church where pragmatism is the rule of the day. And the sooner, the better!
Have you ever fallen asleep and awakened not able to use your arm because it "fell asleep"? It occurred without you realizing it. There's no feeling in it. Consequently, you find you are unable to grip a glass of water on the nightstand. Your arm has the sensation of a large piece of rubber flesh. The blood has receded, and circulation has come to a halt. It is in a paralyzed condition. What is one to do? We begin to rub or even slap the arm. We endeavor to motivate the blood, and soon the painful tingling begins to dart through like ten thousand needles. Not a good feeling, to be sure, but it is a sign that things are moving in the right direction. We don't quit stimulating the affected area. We don't complain and refuse to continue the procedure. We press on and soon, the pain subsides and the blood begins to course through the veins once again bringing feeling and ability to the incapacitated limb. The glass on the night stand can now be grasped and your thirst quenched. The point is obvious. Many sincere Christians have experienced this in the spiritual. Their "arm" has fallen asleep. It's been years since they heard a sermon on the blood, or the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues. They can't remember the last time an altar call was given on a Sunday morning. A spiritual numbness has set in. Before they can say "false prophet" the status quo is accepted, and the proverbial Kool-aid is on the refreshment list for fellowship night. Without realizing it they are part of what has been labeled the progressive church. Current events and societal happenings are filtered through ethnicity, culture, or politics instead of the word of God. Ergo, the result is a gradual moving away from the biblical foundation and spiritual moorings that have held them together in the past and they think all is normal. They are like a man walking in his sleep. When his friends inform him the next day he was strolling down the hall in his slumber, he reels around and accuses them of insensitivity and prejudice, denying he ever did such a thing.
Do you find these words disturbing? I understand completely. When I was in Bible school I was having issues with tithing. Whenever I heard preaching on the subject, I was bothered, even offended. Is it possible that you are irritated with these words because you have taken a trip outside the fence? When I drive the speed limit I'm not combing the area for State Troopers. It's when I'm pushing the envelope of the "legal limit" that I begin to look over my shoulder. I may even make comments as to why I think they should be looking for real thieves instead of us little guys. I get irritated when I see them sitting in a parking lot taking "pictures". However, when I'm driving within the confines of the law, I wave at the police. I give them a smile and a "thumbs up" as I pass by. My attitude is different. I have a more balanced outlook. I know there are injustices out there that must be addressed. Too many take liberties which are unlawful and out of line. But I also know we need to pray for those in authority as the Bible admonishes us. Pray for your pastor, and leadership in the church. Filter what is happening in our world through the word of Almighty God, not race, or politics or even culture. Find a church that preaches the old rugged cross. Plant yourself in the pew where the blood is preached. Yes, it may tingle and feel like ten thousand needles jabbing into your heart, but that is a sign that things are moving in the right direction and a breakthrough is about to happen. You're about to be put back into circulation! You will find yourself saying,
"This is the way it was when I was a kid!"
You may even discover that this gathering of believers reminds you of your mother's church! You will find yourself grasping the glass of truth that has evaded you for so long. Yes, it may hurt a bit, but truth does that. It may cause some discomfort, and conviction, but establishing your heart in a bible preaching, blood bought, Holy Ghost church will be safe. One of our State University students testified in a midweek service on a Thursday evening that he had no fear inviting his friends to our church. He said the reason was because "here, it is safe".
A church that endeavors to establish itself within the will and purpose of God's divine intention, (not perfect, mind you, but pressing toward the mark, to be sure) will be a safe haven for families; for students fighting the good fight of faith in a secular university; for single moms, and dads struggling to maintain their Christian faith; and for sinners to hear the gospel, the good news that Jesus saves, Jesus heals, Jesus baptizes in the Holy Ghost and Jesus is coming again! Pastor, you don't need the latest greatest gimmick. Just a return to the confines of His will is enough to set the wheels of God's providence and power in motion to work on your behalf. Why are you waiting? Are you afraid of what the lifting of the jar may stir up? Are you concerned the Lord may reveal to you those nonessential, needless, useless, dregs that have inhabited your spirit for too long? Take yourself in hand, embrace the emptying process, and the lees of prejudice, and a little animosity will be seen clinging to the insides of the jar.
The Emptying and the Wilderness Journey
There is something very exciting about taking a journey. As children, we all looked forward to the time when the family would pile into the car and go on a trip. It may be to grandma's house or just to the local shopping center to buy school clothes. Just the thought of traveling somewhere different seemed to boost morale and mitigate the boredom. For me, looking forward to the excursions was half the fun. When we would arrive at our destination, depending on just where we were going, there was a sense of either anticipation or disappointment. Friend, this life is a journey. It includes detours into the wilderness. Detours are inconvenient to say the least, yet those undesired backroads sometimes yield treasures of the rarest lot. The goal is to reach the destination victoriously and intact. I like what the Psalmist says in the opening song,
"...and he shall be like a tree planted by the waters that bringeth forth its fruit in its season; his leaf shall not wither and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Psalm 1:3
What a word that is! Especially the last phrase "and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Prosper carries the idea of being brought to a good conclusion, to advance; succeed. When gold was beaten into leaves, it was said to advance. It's interesting that in Isaiah he speaks of the word of God prospering in the thing whereto He sends it. It will succeed. It will advance and spread out over your life. In the Hebrew, Psalm 1:3 reads, "in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper". So, in the long run, it doesn't matter whether or not your action succeeds in the eyes of man. If you delight in the law of the Lord and meditate in that word, you yourself will come to the end of the journey successfully. You will advance. One day we shall come to the end of this pilgrimage to spend eternity in one of two final resting places. It is not by chance that I write this chapter today. I just received a phone call informing me that my mentor, former boss, pastor and friend, passed into the glory of Christ's presence. Pastor John Bunney was an incredible man of God. His journey was a prosperous one. Not prosperous by way of monetary gain, but in the accumulation of treasures in Heaven where moth and rust cannot corrupt. Never underestimate the influence of one man upon many men. I am a benefactor of the life he lived for Christ. For seven years, with the exception of days off, vacations and overseas missions trips, I spent every day with him. That's a great deal of personal investment and discipleship. I was hoping to have this short testimony of God's dealings in my life completed before his promotion. Is it possible this is another one of those vessels the Lord is pouring me into? The vessel of loss? The vessel of remembrance? Sometimes the Lord Jesus pours us into a vessel of loss to keep our eyes fixed upon Him. In Isaiah chapter six we read that King Uzziah died. The prophet was a friend to the monarch. I am sure that when Isaiah heard the news there was a sense of loss; a vacancy in one of the chambers of his heart. It was then Isaiah penned these words:
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord." Isaiah 6:1
Can you believe it? Being emptied has its blessings! Although Uzziah loved the Lord, he was not a perfect King. He made some mistakes, but the scripture says that as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him. He and Isaiah had been through a lot together and now, not only is there a sadness in Isaiah's heart, but the throne is empty. Isaiah learns a valuable lesson. Even though the throne of Israel is vacant, there is a throne in heaven that is never without a Sovereign. Jehovah is your source, Isaiah. Look to the ever-living God, Isaiah. Take comfort in knowing that, although life is like a vapor; like the steam that swirled around your coffee cup this morning, your heavenly Father is eternal. He sits upon the flood; yea, the Lord sits King forever! Heaven and earth will pass away, but My word will never pass away. In addition, with the passing of Uzziah, Isaiah gets a vision of that throne which is not only a Holy source of comfort, but of conviction and calling. As Isaiah sees the Lord, immediately, he sees himself.
"Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Isaiah 6:5
It is after this encounter with the Lord; the sudden eye-opening conviction as to Isaiah's unclean lips, that the Lord proceeds to cleanse those lips and call him into the ministry. Isaiah responds to the inquiry made by the God-head saying: "Here am I, send me!" What a powerful outcome from such a sad happening. Isaiah was being poured, I believe, into the vessel of loss and remembrance. Remembrance? Yes. Remember, Jehovah God is on the throne. The prophet was brought face to face with the one true reality, namely, the Almighty. I can imagine how many times Isaiah referred back to this unforgettable episode when he found himself discouraged along the way only to be reminded that he was divinely called, and the Lord was with him. I'm sure it served to uplift and encourage him to continue. Be encouraged, my Christian friend during your time of grief. Your loss is heaven's gain, but also, you will come to rely more and more on your heavenly Father. Your relationship with the God of your father is about to change. A new emptying is about to take place. Are you ready for it? Don't flee, but rather embrace the process. I am a living testimony that God has only the best intentions for you. Believe me, a higher degree of fellowship, familiarity, and awareness of His presence is about to emerge.
"Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:19
There will be journeys to the wilderness and episodes in the desert facing us around every corner. It will seem like we go from one wilderness to another. It will seem like we are taking the long way around instead of the "short cut". Never forget, in the waters and the floods; through the wilderness and the desert, God will do a new thing. It will not be new to God, but, new to you! In actuality, He does a fresh thing in your life. During the emptying process the Lord will bring an added, new dimension to your relationship with Him. You will see that it was best for Him to have His way with you. Just as the wilderness excursion was a necessary part of Israel's training and development, it is also a vital ingredient for our spiritual nurturing. The Bible says,
"God led them not by the way of the land of Philistines, although that was near...but He took them by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea." Exodus 13:17-18
This was an emptying process to be sure. In fact, Deuteronomy chapter eight reminds us of the reasons for the forty years of wandering in that desert.
"And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no...that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live...who fed thee with manna, to do thee good at thy latter end." Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 16
Ah, yes, God has a purpose in all this emptying from vessel to vessel. For some, it's to teach humility. Spiritual growth and development that enables us to walk in the Spirit is facilitated by experiencing a humiliation of sorts. A humbling that brings us down from our high horse of self-exaltation. Humbling is a necessary ingredient in the revelation of truth to the soul. Jesus said the Father reveals His secrets to babes and not to the wise and prudent. A little boy had said to his mother one day that he was nine feet tall, like Goliath! She inquired as to how he had come to that conclusion. The little boy replied with pride that he had made a little ruler of his own and measured himself! Yes, he was nine feet tall. Many people are nine feet tall spiritually because they have created their own set of standards! When one measures himself by himself, or by his own self-created standards, the result will always be in his or her favor. The problem is, whenever we measure ourselves by ourselves, we become fools. A newborn in the home is the master of the house. Isn't that right? If you walk into the house at nap time the mother insists on silence because the baby is sleeping. When you want a snack out of the refrigerator, mom says, be careful, the baby's bottles are in there! The baby is the king or queen of the family empire. All life for the moment revolves around the child. But if that little one is ever going to walk, it must have an encounter with the carpet. That youngster is going to have to be de-throned, as they say. It will have to experience bumps, bruises, scrapes and a little humiliation if it is to gain the power and ability to walk. We do not spare the child this humbling. It is necessary for growth and progress. If we are to learn to walk in the Spirit, we too are going to have to come down from our self-exalted position of king of the hill. Sadly, this is why many do not or will not keep step with the Spirit. The humiliation is just too much for them. So, they end up going from one wilderness to the next. Hopefully, they will learn the lesson of being emptied from vessel to vessel. I know, I've been there.
Others are led into this lonely landscape of desert experience, so the Lord can get out of the what's in them. Still, for others, to emphasize that man does not live by one slice of bread, but by the whole loaf of bread. It is of necessity that we be emptied from vessel to vessel in order to gain an understanding that we can't just hold up a scripture on a stick and wave it around. We must live by every word, not just a selected text which we pull down to the level of our own experience. No, we must rise to the level of its experience. Sadly, in our day, we are seeing pastors and leaders taking scripture out of context to fit a preconceived idea they acceded to because it tickled the ears of the top ten givers in the congregation. It is imperative to learn that scripture interprets scripture. But there is another observation from Deuteronomy 8:15-16 which arrested my attention.
"Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water, who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna..." Deuteronomy 8:15-16
I always seem to focus on the negative aspects of the wilderness. That's just what I do. However, it is indisputable that one can see the powerful hand of God in the wilderness as well. Amen! Look at it. "Who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint..." Notice, WHO! Did you see it? Praise the Lord Almighty! God is IN my wilderness. He led me there to prove me, to humble me, to see whether I would obey His commands. But that is not all. Look what the Lord has done FOR us in that same wilderness. He performed great mighty things for us! We have seen miracles in the wilderness. In Hosea the Lord said he would allure Israel into the wilderness and speak comfortably to her and she would sing there! Really? Yes, really! Believe it, friend. You are about to break forth in song. The wilderness is not all negative. It's in that lonely hour...yes, that precious lonely hour, Jesus lets me know that I am His own. What I would have missed had I not gone through this emptying process.
Also, in verse sixteen of this chapter, we see the climax of why the Lord led them into the wilderness in these words: "to do thee good at thy latter end." Hey, I see it! I see the providence of God once again staring me in the face! He is working in your darkness. He is there working all events to fulfill His purpose as you travel on this highway to heaven. This wilderness is emptying you, loosening the grip of this earth and generating a returning of your eyes upon Him who is invisible. He is weaning you away from this world! He wants to do you good at your latter end! There is a latter end! This world is passing away. Love not the world, said the apostle John. Why? Because this world is opposite to, contrary to the Father and because it is passing away. My journeys through the wilderness served to bring me back to a seriousness about my Christian life. Perhaps you have succumbed to a lackadaisical lifestyle as a Christian. You used to be more resolute; determined to serve the Lord. But now, you have settled for the status quo. Your luke-warmness has caught up with you, delivering you over to a mediocre mindset. The Lord will not allow you to continue in this anymore. He has brought you into the wilderness because of His great love and determination t do you good at your latter end. He wants you to end well! Do you see it? For me, the periods of emptying provoked me to once again entertain thoughts that this world is not my home! Being poured out jarred me back to reality. Let it do the same for you. Have we forgotten that we are pilgrims and strangers in this land? Someday soon, church, we are leaving this world behind. So, I thank Him for the mountains and I thank Him for the valleys, said Andre Crouch when he wrote that most powerful song. Listen, the Lord wants to do you good at your latter end! I repeat, don't forget there is a latter end. A well-known Christian author commented that it is because we don't have our minds on the next world that we are not much good in this one. May we keep our eyes on the things that are not seen, for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal. Our journey into the wilderness should drive this truth home to our hearts. God's plan included an expected end.
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." Jeremiah 29:11
These wilderness journeys are inherently vital to our growth and development. For some, the wilderness is a place to avoid. In fact, many want to get out of it as soon as they find themselves in it. Several of the Lord's saints forget that in His wisdom He allures us into the wilderness in order to deal with self, or to speak comfortably to us and give us something to sing about. The alluring is a charming of sorts. The Lord Jesus draws us, and we become fixated on Him. His allurement is so awesome we don't even realize we are being led into the wilderness until finally we look up and there we are in a desert place. We have no visa card, no cell phone reception, nor is there an ATM machine from which to withdraw a sustaining portion in our time of need. It is there that we are detached from our resources and reduced to completely leaning upon the Lord. To be so detached or separated from our circumstances is the meaning of contentment. So, a precursor to contentment is an alluring into the wilderness where one no longer has anything to call his/her own. In that wilderness the Lord says He will speak comfortably to her. This, as I understand it, means to speak heart to heart. Oh, to God be the glory! Do you see it? He longs to have a heart to heart talk with you! Sometimes the only way to achieve or accomplish this is in the wilderness. So, don't resist the wilderness. It's a place of ultimate blessing. The wilderness is a place of reduction, separation, detachment and ultimate contentment. It's a place of singing. And in the wilderness, you hear that still small voice in ways not possible in any other venue. Then - as Solomon declares in the Song of Songs - you will emerge from the wilderness leaning upon your beloved. In the Song of Songs, the church went into the wilderness under their own power. During their pilgrimage in that back country wasteland they experienced a pruning - stripping them of self-reliance, self-importance, and self-created resources. Then, at last, out they come leaning on Jesus! They came out of the shadows resting upon, reposing upon, yes, putting their full weight upon the One who died on Calvary's cross. Wow! What a phenomenal outcome! That's what the Lord is after. A reduction! They were not only delivered from that wandering, but they were developed in their character resulting in leaning on the everlasting arms. As that old song says: "finding more power than I'd ever dreamed, I'm learning to lean on Jesus!" They are now relying upon the One who attracted them there in the first place! They found that spiritual bankruptcy on the back side of the desert made them more blessed than ever before. It's a glorious exchange of their strength for His power, bringing them to the place where all heaven is now theirs. (Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven) Have you been there? Are you in the wilderness? Do you want only deliverance? Are you saying, "Lord, get me out of this", or do you see the need for spiritual development also? May our desire be not only emancipation, but expansion of our character, reinforcing our ability to go through all things because of the One who is infusing strength into us.
I recall several wilderness journeys in my life and ministry. As I look back, I would not trade these adventures for anything. It is at this point that I want to remind us of something said at the beginning of this book. The vessels we are emptied into are the situations, conditions, and trials that sometimes good and not so good. The Lord uses them to remove the lees; the sediment that hinders the augmentation of the wine into something tasteful and productive, not to mention pleasing to the winemaker. The enemy of my soul would like to see me defeated and destroyed. The good news is, though the devil means it for evil, God means it for good. It may be that all you can see in this wilderness is the hand of the enemy. I assure you, as Satan desired to have Peter that he may sift him as wheat, the same Savior who interceded for him is right now, at this moment, praying for you that your faith fail not! Hallelujah!
"Simon, Simon, behold, Stan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." Luke 22:32-33
Jesus repeats his name, Simon, Simon. Several times in the Old Testament you will see this. For instance, Jacob, Jacob, or Abraham, Abraham, and Samuel, Samuel. In each of these instances, the repetition of their name is followed by a life changing experience. Sometimes a word from the Lord is given which directly impacts the one receiving it and the one delivering the message. Has the Lord called your name? Get ready, the emptying is about to begin. Here in Luke, Jesus wants to emphasize to Peter that what is about to take place is the result of Satan asking for him. The word for desire means to ask for. Satan has asked for you! Ah, yes, and for you, too, Christian brother or sister. What a powerful statement to Peter. Never forget, there is a blessing here in these words of Jesus. Let it sink into our hearts today that Satan can do nothing but by divine authorization. God is in control! Can someone say, Amen? Notice, Jesus prays for Peter that his faith will remain intact. He does not pray that Simon will not be sifted. He doesn't pray for his deliverance out of trial. No, He prays that when it's all said and done, his faith will have found a resting place not in device nor creed. He prays that Peter will trust the ever-living God whose blood was about to be shed for him. So, with us, the Lord Jesus does not pray we will be spared the sifting, but that through it all our faith will not falter, but rather be developed and made indefatigable!
It was not long ago that I went through this wilderness of loss and grief. It seemed I was being transferred into a vessel of sorrow and remembrance. It was the month of December 2013, when my father went home to be with the Lord Jesus. He had suffered a heart attack and gone through by-pass surgery. He survived the surgery, however, complications set in; his blood pressure dropped causing him to exit this world of the dying and enter into the glorious atmosphere of the living. I was reminded of the words of a powerful preacher of long ago, John Owen. As he lay on his death bed he asked his secretary to pen a letter to a friend saying in effect, "I am still in the land of the living, but I shall soon be in the land of the dying." He stopped and told the stenographer to erase those words and begin again saying, "I am still in the land of the dying, but I shall soon be in the land of the living!" My dad is in the land of the living! Pastor John Bunney is in the land of the living! We do not sorrow as those who have no hope, and dear Christian friend, your saved loved one who has departed this life in Christ Jesus is also in the land of the living. Hallelujah!
There is more to this story of my father. It was during the visitation portion of my dad's funeral service just moments prior to the beginning of the celebration, that my dear mother, who had been greeting people as she sat next to my father's casket, suddenly passed into the everlasting arms of her dear Savior. Yes, my mom, a godly woman of no compromise, suddenly slumped back into her chair and passed into eternity. She greeted her husband of 66 years after seeing Jesus face to face. My heart plunged into a sadness. It was a flash of reality that struck the core of my being. Now what do we do? What do I do? I was in charge of the service at that point, so I immediately began to sing chorus after chorus with the 300 plus guests singing along. Without exaggeration, I submit to you there was a sweet, sweet Spirit in that auditorium. A powerful sense of the Lord's presence flooded my soul. Although I had a peace in my heart, I was also asking the Lord why. My parents had been charter members of our church, Word of Truth. I relied upon them. They were foundation stones, so to speak. They were faithful servants of the Lord any pastor would give a fortune to shepherd and glean from. In fact, in past years, my parents had the honor to be an integral part of the churches three of my brothers pastored as well. The paramedics did their job flawlessly and carried my beautifully best dressed mother out of the sanctuary. The look on her face was serene, peaceful and complete. I had never experienced anything of that nature before. As a pastor I have officiated many funerals, but this was a new, unexpected occurrence. Looking back, not only did my mom greet the folks who came to respect my father, but also, she had greeted those for her own funeral celebration. Who do you know privileged enough to have that blessing? My brothers and I caucused on the platform and decided with no hesitation to proceed with the service as planned. The Spirit of the Lord was upon the celebration of life and three days later we honored my mother by placing the emphasis upon the One who gave His life a ransom for many. After the funerals, I found myself remonstrating to the Lord, "But Lord" - I lamented - "I lost both parents in less than five days! I lost a deacon, my father, my friend and my confidant. Besides that, I lost my mother, one of my biggest fans - and my organist."
Did you notice the repetition of the personal pronouns "I" and "My"? What was I doing? I was crying in my soup, as they say. Who would I call when I needed some wisdom, or reinforcement? Without realizing it, I had leaned more heavily on my parents than I thought. While waiting on the Lord in the sanctuary a couple days later, the Lord corrected me. He asked me who my Father was. I told the Lord HE was, of course. In no uncertain terms, the Lord chiseled into my heart that as my heavenly Father, He would never leave me nor forsake me, and I was to be more committed to Jesus from now on; make no excuses, and become more dependent and less independent. At that point, it was showers of blessing and release as I paced back and forth in that church auditorium. Tears ran sown my cheeks as a torrent of Holy Ghost inspired tongues flowed out of my mouth. I announced to the Lord that HE was my Father. Then it dawned upon me. This is the way my dad raised me to be! This is exactly what my earthly father tried to instill in me all these years by his very example! It was finally penetrating my spirit. So, my earthly dad being dead, yet speaketh. Thank you, Lord, for this process.
As I stated at the beginning of this chapter, Isaiah had a great friendship with the king Uzziah. When the king died, the throne was empty. Yes, Isaiah was grieving but to his credit, he takes it to the Lord. What transpired was nothing short of amazing! The prophet of God was reminded that there was a throne which had never experienced a vacancy. Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon the throne, high and lifted up. Sometimes it takes an event like the death of a loved one to bring us to the living reality of our heavenly Father in HIs splendor. Isaiah was brought to see his own sinfulness and God's omnipotence He was also reminded that the Lord called him into the ministry, not Uzziah or anyone else. I, too, was never to forget the fact that my parents didn't call me into the ministry though they were used of the Lord greatly. Something my dad would agree with wholeheartedly. I was to take my burdens to the Lord, and as Elisha, who stared into the open heaven after Elijah was exalted to his heavenly destination, I was no longer to rely upon any Elijah anymore. I was to spend more time up on the mountain of the Lord with my heavenly Father. Exodus 24:12 found a resting place in my heart.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there..." Exodus 24:12
Did you see that? "Be there!" Just be there. Moses obeyed that command and he was there for six days before the Lord said anything to him. Six days! But on the seventh day, the Lord spoke, and Moses then stays for forty days! Is it possible the Lord will use the vessel of loss and grief to remind you that He is Lord of all? He is the One who will strengthen you, yeah, He will surround you, and He will sustain you in the time of your grief and pain. I had forgotten my strength and help had to come from the Lord. Christian, it is the same for you. Your help has always had to come from the Lord. We must not place our eyes upon the seen but upon the unseen.
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord who made heaven and Earth." Psalm 121:1
Did not the Lord encourage Joshua by reminding him that as He was with Moses, He would be with Joshua? The Lord reemphasized to Joshua that the Word of the Lord was not to depart out of his mouth. Joshua was to obey God's Word and then success would be his companion. The acquisition of your victory lies there, not in man's theory, which predicates that the end justifies the means. Some great, well meaning, Christians, pastors and leaders need to be weaned from the breasts of human machinery as well as delivered from the crutches of pragmatism. We need a return to our refuge and strength, our very present help in time of trouble.
Reflecting on this most unusual event, I had come to realize the Lord was emptying me - again! He was expanding, enhancing and amplifying the wine. In what way? By allowing me to see that not only life on this earth is uncertain, but I was being compelled to face the fact that God is my Father. He taught me to be thankful for the investment those two precious people made in my life and to never take it for granted. He used the death of my parents to lift me up, pour me out, leaving behind some lees of self-pity and self-centeredness. Self-pity? Yes, for I was feeling sorry for myself. I was thinking only of my loss, instead of their gain. Do you know this experience? In time, should Jesus tarry, you will.
The Emptying and the Way Remembered
Being emptied from vessel to vessel has been a never to be forgotten journey. In fact, I'm still being emptied. My wife and I now live in Bowling Green, Ohio and pastor a wonderful church. We began the work in 1997 and are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, 2017. Since residing in this small community, my family has experienced many an emptying. My granddaughter contracted cancer when she was 18 months old and has survived by God's mighty hand. She is now 11 years old. To God be the glory! My son and daughter-in-law have seen firsthand God's hand. By God's grace my son-in-law has survived an accidental exposure to cyanide last year which almost took his life. He and my daughter have emerged from this time of testing with praise and thanksgiving by having experienced the fourth man in the fire, Jesus the Son of God. My two children and their spouses have emerged with a testimony that proclaims the truth that I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor His seed begging bread! I have seen all the way the Lord my God has led me these forty years. Incidentally, this is our fortieth year of ministry in the work of the Lord. So, I can identify with the words of Deuteronomy 8:2-3.
"And thou shalt remember all the way the Lord thy God led thee these forty year in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee,and suffered thee to hunger,and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only,but be every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live." Deuteronomy 8:2-3
Much of my journey includes the wilderness. So, will yours. Yet, I will always be grateful for the Lord's manifest presence and His revelation during those seasons of life. He gave me songs in the night. He graciously dispensed to my thirsty soul treasures of darkness and hidden riches in secret places all along the way. From the very beginning of my life and walk with Him, I know His hand has been upon me. In the above text there is a phrase which immediately catches my attention. "And thou shalt remember all the way the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness..." I believe that is the great intention of this short essay. What you have been reading is a remembering of how the Lord has led me. He has emptied me from vessel to vessel. I have been traveling down that corridor of memory discovering time after time the hand of my Savior. Before I had any insight into the verse of scripture in Jeremiah 48, the emptying had already commenced. So it is with you, friend. He was working in your life before you were born. Does not this great prophet record the Lord's knowledge of him prior to his birth? Then rest assured He has a plan for your life even now. Allow your memory to run down the halls of time and look into those classrooms of the Holy Spirit. Can you discern Him there behind the teacher's desk tutoring, lecturing, and instructing you in the fundamentals of divine guidance? He was there all the time. Do you distinguish as you look back over that chronology of circumstances, that you, being in the way, the Lord was leading you? You have been in the classroom of the Holy Spirit and in the school of the knowledge of God. You will never graduate from this school. However, in the lecture hall you took a number of continuing education courses. The class of disappointment, and sorrow. Perhaps you found yourself in a one week intensive on the blessings of confession. Oh, yes. I've had that class. The Lord asks you a question, the answer to which He already knows. Why would the Lord do such a thing? Because based upon your true confession, the Lord will use that as a base of operation to bless you! He did it with Jacob during an all-night wrestling match. The Lord inquired, "What is your name?" He didn't ask to gain an understanding or knowledge, but to pull from his creation the truth. Jacob answered truly. "My name is Jacob". That admission gained him a change of name, and yes, an alteration of his character as well. He had just experienced the Lord God Almighty. He had an encounter with the King, who alone can change this man, Jacob, a cheater, supplanter, and thief, to Israel, one who is ruled by God. His confession served as a foundation upon which God could now bless him! So with us. God wants us to be honest with Him and come clean before His presence. He longs to bless you and open up new vistas that will allow for growth and development as you are emptied from vessel to vessel. In this school of the Holy Spirit there is no diploma and hence no graduation ceremony for we are constantly finding ourselves signed up for another class.
Yes, I have been remembering many of the classes I have taken in this school. Some of my memories are especially humbling. I want to relate to you one particular instance when the Lord emptied me (although I didn't know it at the time) into a vessel of unexpected adversity and divine appointment. It was to play a role in my future ministry. It was on a Saturday when Karen and I, two college classmates, and my wife's teenage sister, Kathy were going to spend the afternoon at an amusement park south of Minneapolis. It was June 2, 1979, six months after my wife and I were married. We were newlyweds. I was driving along the highway when I came upon a traffic jam. I remember releasing my foot from the accelerator and coasting down the hill to the Minnesota bridge where the last car of the jam-up had come to a stop. Just as I was about to break and stop behind the car in front of me, without warning, a tandem axel overloaded dump truck barreled into the right rear portion of my 1974 Plymouth Duster. The truck's brakes had failed, and I had not seen him coming behind me at 55 miles per hour. It was like an explosion in my ears. My car was upended on its side and grated into the pavement as the truck went air-born and landed in front of my vehicle. By all rights, the truck should have crushed the entire car and its passengers. It was nothing less than a divine supernatural intervention of God that stripped me of a pious attitude in which I theorized my life being indestructible, and indispensable. Well, that assumption and belief went out the window! (No pun intended) There were five occupants in that two door Duster. All survived. I believe now that the enemy was at work to destroy the plan of God not only for my life but for the others in that automobile. However, as one old preacher of long ago said, "when the devil shows up, I see God!" I do believe that. Is not God our providence? Remember, the providence of God is where He takes advantage of all events, good or bad, in order to fulfill His awesome purpose in our lives. He does this to teach us not to fall prey to a victimhood mentality every time unfortunate calamities take place. Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked for him that he may sift him as wheat. The devil had to gain permission. God had to grant concession to Satan to be able to touch Job. Certainly, the enemy is at work. But never ever forget, your heavenly Father is also at work! He overrules! As Joseph declared to his brother so succinctly, "you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."
It was one month later in July, that a young lady, who lived 700 miles away near my hometown of Woodville, Ohio, stopped by my mother's house to inquire as to how I was getting along. My mother began to share with her about my recent crisis and showed her the photos of the accident. In amazement, she questioned my mom as to the day of the catastrophe. She replied that it took place on June 2nd, one month prior. The response of this young lady who had just recently received Christ as Savior, was nothing short of astounding. She proceeded to explain to my mom how that on that exact day she had awakened in the early morning hours with a stomach ailment. She arose from her bed and went into the living room and began to pray about it. She went on to say that during her time with the Lord, a person's name, first and last, came to her mind. That name was mine! Although she didn't know anyone by that name, she prayed for me. In the morning she asked her mother about the name. Her mom then spoke of the Hunts in Woodville who had five boys and one of them is Jerry. Ladies and gentlemen, I am convinced that her prayers saved my life and those with me. Jesus told Peter, "I have prayed for you..." Listen, friend, Jesus has prayed for you also! We are here today, not because of our goodness, but because someone has lifted our names to the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ! Hallelujah! Can it get any better than this, folks? Actually, it can, and it does. I mentioned earlier that this incident was to play a part in my ministry. It was approximately ten years later while pastoring my first pioneer work, that I received a call from my mother asking me if I would minister to an unsaved man in the hospital who was not expected to live. I went immediately. As I entered the room, I could see he was struggling. I proceeded to lay out the plan of salvation and told him the Lord sent me here to present the gospel of the Lord Jesus to him. He was familiar with the truth, as he had heard it for many years. What I am about to disclose to you is God ordained. Only He can do something like this. The man I was talking to was the father of the young lady who had prayed for me ten years prior on June 2, 1979. I ask you, what are the odds that I would be spared so many years ago from a potentially deadly accident through the prayers of a newborn Christian and then find myself leading her father to Jesus ten years later? Truly, I was humbled by this experience. I know His plans for me are not for evil but for good, to give me a future and a hope. I related to this dying man how the Lord used his daughter to pray for me and told him the whole story. While I was sharing with him, tears filled his eyes as Holy Ghost conviction struck his weary heart. That man decided for Christ! Is there anything too difficult for my God? Somebody needs to shout! Somebody needs to say, "Amen!" Somebody needs to say, "look what the Lord has done! He healed my body - He touched my mind - He saved me - it was just in time!" And it was just in time. That dear man passed into eternity a few days later and is now in the sweet arms of the One who died for him. Jesus, the One who spared my life on that Saturday afternoon in June of 1979. That pouring left behind some of the dregs of an attitude that was saturated with the pious thoughts of being indispensable and indestructible. I learned that I only have this moment. I was brought back to the reality that today is the day of salvation. We are creatures of time and we are not promised tomorrow. Are you ready should your life be called in? I had to think about that. Do you think you are indestructible? The rich man thought he had plenty of time. Jesus told him he was a fool. He said, "Thou, fool. This night thy soul shall be required of thee." If you have one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom, you need to heed this word being spoken to you. Return to the Lord, confess your lazy, mediocre luke-warmness and commit yourself to be an undaunted servant of the Lord. He will hear your cry. He will answer your plea. Do it, brother, sister in the Lord. Arise O, sleeper! You are not indestructible. Our life is as the grass and the flower that fades.
After that incident, I have never ceased to be amazed how the Lord uses us. At times I have wondered if I had ever been called into the ministry. As I previously described in this book, my doubts were many. Countless times I questioned, (as did the prophet Jeremiah), God's wisdom in bringing me into this world in the first place. Have you been there? Ah, I imagine many have had those dire musings. Notwithstanding, here I am, saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost and pastoring one of the greatest churches in God's Kingdom. How blessed I am to have been raised by godly parents who took me to church and gave me every opportunity to hear the good news and surrender my life to the Lord Jesus. How blessed I am to have a wife who loves the Lord and is every inch an example to our children and our children's children, of that godly woman in the book of Proverbs. How blessed I am to have children who are saved, Spirit filled and whose spouses have the same experience. I can truly say, before He formed me, He knew me. Before I made my entrance into this world He set me apart to preach the gospel. Listen to me, friend, the Lord knew you as well. He formed you and has a plan for you! You may be thinking that you are a mistake and that you should have never been born. But my God hasn't botched a birth yet! The psalmist said,
"For I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are thy works...my substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written which in continuance were fashioned when as yet there was none of them." Psalm 139:14-16
His choosing me is one of those divine mysteries that brings a sense of humbling to my heart. I am the youngest of five sons and prior to my birth my parents were hoping and planning for a baby girl to be born. I mean, after welcoming four boys into this world, (Larry, Garry, Terry, and Harry) it was high time to be blessed with a little girl! I'm sure much excitement mounted as the day of arrival approached. The coming child's name was already chosen. Yes, the name allotted to this new bundle of expected bliss was Sherry. My mother was anticipating the day with enthusiasm to say the least. I was to learn of these details many years later from my mother and still later from other relatives who shared with me other particulars of which I was not aware. Alas - the expected female did not arrive. Instead of Sherry, Jerry bounded upon the scene full of life and enthusiasm. Disappointment followed in the wake. My mother entered a season of discouragement. Many friends and family sent her birth announcement cards to cheer her up. It was many years later that my mom shared those cards and letters with me. In fact, she gave me three which I still have in my possession. Why is that important? Do you remember the struggles I shared regarding God's call on my life? Do you recollect the confirmation I alluded to which the Lord gave me in my dorm room from Jeremiah chapter one about forming me in my mother's womb? How I had wondered if I was truly called - and - did the Lord have a plan for me? When I later learned about my mom's excitement for a girl instead of the unexpected boy, I was, to say the least, quite taken back and admittedly somewhat discouraged myself. I felt a sense of sorrow for my sweet mother. I found myself wondering what it must have been like for my dad and my mom to hear the news, "It's a boy!" How many know that the enemy can ride in on those discouragements? Absolutely! That old serpent even began to insinuate to me that I was just a gaffe; a proverbial faux pas. Then, I read those cards and letters penned to my mom. What an encouragement they were to her and ultimately, a most powerful lesson for me. There are three. Two are somewhat humorous. If you emit a laugh or two I completely understand, for I, too, couldn't help myself. The first card went like this:
"Extending a welcome that is warm and sincere, to greet the new baby who is so precious and dear."
Those are the words on the card. So far so good. But then, the sender writes her own little message of encouragement as follows:
"He is just as precious, (then as a sort of an afterthought she squeezes in the words) - I'm sure. We don't understand why, but the Lord does, so we'll just leave it in His hands. The Lord bless you both, and the new baby."
You can imagine my thoughts when I read this. Especially the “we don't understand why" segment, along with "the Lord bless you both...and the new baby." I thought to myself, "Hey, you guys know it's a boy! Why did you say, "and the new baby?" LOL. I will admit, sometimes none of us understand why things happen as they do, right?
The next one is a letter with a number of short statements from a dear friend of my mom's who had seven, I repeat seven, girls and no boys, at the time. Can you imagine? The appropriate portion reads as follows:
"Well, Esther, I'm so glad it's over for you...you disappointed everyone, but I did too, so I guess our Lord has His own ideas and knows what is best...well, I haven't a thing done, so, bye, for now. And I hope the next one is a girl, ha ha. What is the name? I called Wilma, and she was disappointed for you too."
Well, it looks like the word disappointment is the word of the day! My favorite lines are "I'm so glad it's over for you" - and - "What is the name?" Excuse me? - What is the name? Uh, why not say, "What is his name?" I'm being facetious of course. One can't help but see a bit of humor in all this. But, then, this sweet lady had to telephone Wilma. "I called Wilma..." Who's Wilma? Well, I guess she and Wilma will have to be disappointed together!
Ah, but, then there is the card sent to my mother by a dear Christian lady and her husband which immediately sent my spirit soaring into the heavenlies as I read the composition inside. What an encouragement from above for my mom. Listen to this:
"We were so happy to hear of the safe arrival of another son. In China, you would be honored above all women for having so many sons - You have such beautiful, well, healthy and full of life boys - The Lord has been oh so good again - may you all enjoy this little new life entrusted to your care by our heavenly Father. May the hand of the Lord truly be upon this new son." (emphasis mine)
This touched my heart immensely. It put everything into perspective. Even now I sense the presence of the Lord as I write these words. The lees of feeling like a typo or a default were being filtered out of my life. In fact, I was beginning to see the opposite. Joy was flooding over me. What a statement - "May the hand of the Lord truly be upon this new son." I cannot describe what those words awakened in me. They brought about a sense of destiny and divine appointment in my spirit. Tears filled my eyes that day as I recalled the moment God's call came upon my life at the age of seventeen. I was standing on a platform singing in a church choir my brother Larry was conducting, in Durand, Michigan. Standing on the platform, it was like a flash of light. The Lord spoke to me tenderly yet firmly, "I want you in the ministry." To God be the glory!
Those birth announcement cards served a powerful purpose. The Lord was emptying me from a vessel of disappointment into a vessel of divine appointment. Someone's disappointment was turned into HIS appointment. I am not a miscalculation! You are not a mistake! Somebody needs to hear this. Perhaps you have been thinking that your birth was nothing more than a blunder or fluke of nature. Nothing could be further from the truth. Listen, your thoughts of suicide are from the devil! Your discouragement and confusion are not from the Father. The devil is a traducer and the father of all lies. Satan is entering your thought process to discourage you from following the divine will of God. He's telling you that giving up is the only option. He's harassing you with impure notions and weaseling his way into your mind. He's insinuating that you were never meant to exist in the first place. "Let's face it, says the prince of demons, after all you've done, you will never be ministry material."
Well, I have news for you. Devils do not endeavor to persuade people to doubt things they themselves do not believe. They will, with all their might and subtlety, pour ambiguity and uncertainty on things they do believe. They do know you're a child of God! That is why they inundate you with condemnation. They know you are not a mistake. They are convinced of your place in God's divine plan! This is why they flood your thoughts with intimations, and misgivings trying to convince you your commencement on this earth the day you were born was a travesty; nothing more than a "typographical error" in the archives of time and history. I'm telling you in no uncertain terms, the opposite is true! You are not an error or a blunder, but quite the contrary. You being who you are in Christ is exactly why the devil is battling with you. It's because you are a threat to the adversary that he throws you into a spin with these thoughts. There must be something about you the devil is worried about. Hallelujah! I am no longer cast down! I have discovered as I walk within the confines of God's divine intention, nothing was, is, or shall be accidental, including me. When it became obvious the Lord had me planned from the beginning, it made it easier to look at all the emptying and pouring without disdain. I welcome the pouring! It is God's loving-kindness extended to me. The Lord loves me with an everlasting love and He will leave no stone unturned. He will leave no vessel undisturbed until the last dreg is clinging to the side of the jar. Therefore, all events are working towards His divine purpose which is making me a definite survivor! So, if you ever hear that I committed suicide, don't believe it! Somebody did me in! - For, you see, I have decided to follow Jesus. I've decided if none go with me, still, I will follow. How will that be affected in me? The same way it will be accomplished in you - the cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back - no turning back. Amen.
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