Thursday, February 05, 2009

Extravagant - To the Rising Sun with The Risen SON (Part 2)

Two Japanese women in traditional clothingI am sitting here at my computer, drinking some lovely Japanese tea (the only word I can read anywhere on it is Suntory the rest is in Japanese), and pondering just how much of a show-off my God is.

I think that we (especially in America) tend to think of God in deistic terms: that God is up there and He created everything and set everything in motion and then got bored and left it to its own devices. This seems to be borne out by the wickedness and brokenness that we see all around us. We don't often see the miracles of the Bible in operation around us. We don't often hear His voice. This is even true of many Christians (although we don't want to admit it) and is a great source of vexation for us. We see the great disconnect between the stories in the Bible and our experience here in this life.

Such a view couldn't be further from the truth. God is still quite involved in our world and in our lives. The problem is with us and not with Him. We have allowed the weeds of the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the lure of entertainment to so distract us that we cannot hear the voice of the Lord.

We also do not actually trust the Lord to do anything. We believe that our provision and success comes from our ingenuity and hard work. We believe that our health comes from doctors and medicine. We believe that our security comes from a good job and lots of stuff. We believe that knowledge comes from our scientists. And we believe that our safety comes from our strong military, intelligence community, and law enforcement agencies. This even happens in our churches! Whether God's Spirit shows up for the service on any given week or not, we'll still have a pretty good show.

Why would God do anything dramatic for people that aren't humble enough to recognize that they need His help? This is the reason that we don't often see God at work among us.

We have grown accustomed to getting everything right when we want it and just how we want it. We are not used to thinking of anyone actually ruling over us - that anyone actually has the right to tell us what to do or to tell us no. So when we pray and things don't go just exactly as we think that they should or exactly when we think that they should or if the cost is too painful or too great, we go off in a huff and quit praying and quit believing and accuse God of not caring about us.

We really don't know God. What little bit we do know about Him is so often tainted by the lies of the enemy. But I want to reiterate to you today that God is a bit of a show off.

God was showing off when he sent the plagues against Egypt to set His people free. He was showing off when He parted the waters of the sea for His people to escape. He was showing off when He allowed the enemy to kill Him through evil people and then rose again from the grave three days later. And God is still showing off today.

To prove my point let me tell you a true story.

Not too long ago, right here in America, there was a man who loved God, but his life seemed to be cursed. He loved to give to other people but found that he really never had the resources to do so as he wished. He had changed careers three times, but had never found a vocation - something that was more than a job to him. It seemed like everything he tried just came crashing down in failure.

After leaving his last job he had been unemployed for two years. He had looked for jobs in a field that he was well-qualified in, but couldn't get any responses to his job applications. For a while the Lord miraculously sent him financial provision; for over 6 months the Lord brought him the money that he needed to live on without having to ask anyone for help. But by the end of the first year of unemployment the assistance had dwindled to the point that he had to depend on the help of his family to get by.

During this time the Lord was working on his heart, healing old wounds and correcting incorrect views that the man had about Him. The Lord began to break the power of fear over the man's life and caused him to recognize that God is good and trustworthy - even in the midst of hardship and even when His provision did not come in a way that was preferable or comfortable. God stripped away many of the man's distractions and took away his desire to be constantly entertained. He helped him to become used to quiet and solitude, and in that environment began to speak to the man more clearly than the man had ever heard before.

The Lord began to teach the man and explain to him why this extended period of leanness had come. He began to tell the man that the time of leanness was nearly over and that the major pruning that He had been doing in his life was nearly finished. The man wanted to believe these messages, but honestly had difficulty hoping that such a wonderful promise was true and that it was coming to him soon.

The hard times had taught him how to survive emotionally through a teeth-gritted perseverance that did not look for the struggle to end (though he often cried out to God that it would) any time in the foreseeable future. In fact, out of a desire to never EVER go through such a trial again, the man sometimes prayed that the Lord wouldn't end the trial until the message was so thoroughly learned that he would NEVER have to go through such a trial ever again.

One day the man was praying for a friend of his who has a heart for Japan. His friend had visited the nation before and the Lord had showed him amazing things about the spiritual climate of that nation. God had begun to stir in his heart that it was time for him to return to Japan.

Well, the man was praying for his friend about him going to Japan and asked the Lord, "Please give my friend wisdom about the next step with Japan. Please help him to hear Your voice clearly." When he had finished his prayers the man went to check his email. He had a message from the friend that he had just finished praying for that said, "Wanna go to Tokyo with me? My plan right now is to go Feb. 14-Feb. 25. I'll give you more details later. Maybe we can get together one weekend for prayer and hanging out."

Sensing the significance of the fact that he had just been praying for his friend and a trip to Japan and that he had felt an enthusiastic yes in his heart to the invitation the man wrote back, "Hmmm. Funny you should mention that. I just got done praying for you and your mission to Japan! I am definitely interested, although there is much that would have to be worked out (passport, money, etc...) I look forward to talking to you about it."

That night the man prayed to the Lord, "Father, I know that this is not difficult for You, but I have some questions. How am I to go about getting the money to go? My friend says it will probably be about $2,500. How am I supposed to justify spending that much money on a non-necessity when I can't pay my own bills?"

The Lord answered and said, "Who says it is a non-necessity?"

The man agreed, "If You want me to go then it is necessary, but please help me to be able to justify this. I have no money for a passport, and that will need to be started now or very soon at least. There are still bills to be paid here. How can I ask for the money to go on this trip without the money to pay my bills?"

God said, "Perhaps you will have the money for both?"

"Yes, this is possible," the man agreed. "In my heart I want to go. I feel that You want me to go. I need some confirmation, and I am either going to need a plan or a windfall. I am willing, send me. Give me the grace and the faith to see it through. I know You can do it. I must admit that I am struggling with believing that You will do it though. Please help my unbelief."

The Lord advised him, "Son, spend some time praying about this and I will make things clearer."

The man traveled two hours away to visit his friend that weekend. They talked about the trip and prayed about it. They agreed to seek the Lord about whether they were supposed to go on the trip together. They determined that one way that they would know that the Lord had ordained the trip was if the money came in for the man's passport in time for him to get one before the trip. (The scheduled departure for the friend was only 5 weeks away.)

While he was there the man began to think, "There's no way that I could get that kind of money together in that short amount of time. Besides that, how can I justify spending that kind of money when I'm not even able to pay my own bills? I think that I am not actually supposed to go on the trip but that I am supposed to just support my friend in prayer and availability here." To him the matter was more or less settled in his mind.

When he came back home the man avoided bringing up the topic in prayer. In fact, he got very busy with many other things and quite distracted, for he was afraid of what the Lord would tell him. He was both afraid to be told yes and afraid to be told no. (Unfortunately, fear isn't something that is easily conquered....)

The man was pretty much convinced then that he wasn't to go and had allowed himself to think that for the two weeks that he was running from hearing God's voice about the matter. Then one Sunday night three weeks before they were supposed to depart his friend called him back up and told him, "I spoke at my church tonight about the trip and afterward someone gave me $100 for your passport. So now you have the money for your passport, and that's what we said would be our sign that you are supposed to go."

Oh boy. This definitely created a situation. Now the man had to admit that he had not been operating in faith at all about whether he was supposed to go or stay. He had only been looking to the natural and his ability and hadn't believed that God would possibly make a way for him to go on this trip.

The man and his friend had agreed to fast and pray about the trip on Tuesday of that week. They were going to seek a clear and final answer over whether the man was supposed to go.

Tuesday came and they fasted, but the man struggled to pray about the trip. He was still running and afraid of what he would hear. He finally managed to sit down to pray and said, "Father, my doubt and unbelief when it comes to money is so incredibly strong. I know You have provided for my needs for months now, and yet when it comes to a large (to me) sum of money that is needed I tend to shrink away and not believe. It isn't that I don't believe that You can do it, it is that I rather doubt that You will do it. Forgive me for my unbelief. There is so much that seems to be pointing to me going on this trip with my friend, but my doubt and unbelief - especially about money - has caused me to hesitate to even talk to You about it."

"Father, my needs have been so great for so long, and I have just learned to cope and not think about it too much. And yet I know that eventually the bills will come due and nothing will be able to stop it then. I need the money to pay my bills. I need the money to pay those taxes. I need the money for food and clothing. These needs are real and present and urgent. And yet I find that You ask me to go to Japan at what seems a great expense to me. How can this be when there are so many other needs?"

"I feel overwhelmed. And here I am fasting today, and I don't feel like I have even done what I should be doing for that. I haven't even done my prayers today. And I haven't spent time in concentrated prayer in over a week. How do I bring balance to all of this?"

"I need direction, Lord. I need You to speak to me. Open my ears. I bind the devil from being able to cover them. Angels please do warfare on my behalf. Father, I must be able to hear."

The Lord answered him and said, "Calm down."

"I'm trying," the man replied, "but I feel anything but calm. This is change, and it is radical change, and I don't feel like I have assurances that everything is being covered. Something about this trip has triggered a fear response in me that I don't understand."

"Well, you are not much of one to draw attention to yourself, and you are afraid that you will be doing that on this trip," said the Lord.

"True," he answered. "And I don't know the language. And I don't have the money. And I don't want mom and dad to be offended. Plus when I have gone out on limbs like this before I have often come back disappointed."

God asked the man, "Son, how often have you really gone out on the limb?" (OUCH!)

"I did with the mission trip to Scotland after college."

"And the money was there, wasn't it?"

"Yes," the man had to admit.

"I've made provision for you every time you have responded to My call," said the Lord. (OUCH again.)

The man asked, "Why does it seem like You haven't?"

"Because I didn't do it the way you thought I would," God replied, "and because the enemy is a liar."

"That's true enough," agreed the man. "He's a pain in the butt too."

The Lord said, "You want to stick it to him? Then you need to go on this trip. What you and your friend will be doing will rock his kingdom to its core. You will help to set a whole people free."

"Wow. Really?" the man replied. "OK. I believe that You want me to go. What must I do for that to happen?"

About that time the man's friend called. The man told him, "Well, I believe that the Lord wants me to go."

His friend was excited, "Well, we need to order your plane ticket now before the plane gets filled up. I'll put it on my card and you can pay me back when the money comes in."

Panic seized the heart of the man. "Uh, you sure you want to do that?"

And his friend said, "I'm willing to loan the money to the Lord for a little while. If He wants you to go He'll bring it in."

Later that night the man prayed, "I know You are generous of heart. I have heard that Your name means 'the God of more than enough.' You aren't pinching pennies in heaven. Everything in all of creation belongs to You. Finances are not a problem to You."

"Father, I am still scared - especially with my friend fronting the money for my plane ticket. I'm sorry I am doubting. But it doesn't pay to try to pretend. I must confess this sin and ask You for Your help. Please forgive my unbelief. Help me to trust You. Please give me grace to believe. Please give me the grace to trust."

The Lord replied, "Son, I will demonstrate My ability to make this happen. Follow My direction and watch and see what happens. This is the beginning for you."

Excited, the man asked, "The beginning? Does this mean that the leanness is finished for now?"

"It means that I am beginning to open the door to your destiny," God answered. "You won't walk in the fullness of it yet, but it is beginning. You need some time to get used to this and to learn the ropes. The leanness is about to start paying dividends."

One day the man decided that he would see if God would provide for the trip through a windfall from the lottery. He spent the money for the ticket and scratched it off only to come up empty. God showed him that He wasn't going to provide for him that way. He showed him that if he won the lottery that no glory would come to God. The Lord showed him that the lottery was man's solution to things. It was the best that a lost person could hope for - but not the answer for a child of God. God could take much better care of him than that.

That night he prayed, "Please forgive me for seeking the world's way to pay for this trip. Please forgive me for my lack of faith and unbelief. Help me to trust You to bring the finances for this trip in. I believe that I am supposed to go. I believe that You are sending me. I believe that You will provide. If You do not provide I cannot go. I need the money for my passport. That really needs to happen today or at the very latest tomorrow. Please help me to get it."

Well, it was evident that the next step was for the man to get his passport. The only problem was that he had no cash on hand with which to do it. By now there were over $300 that had come in to help pay for the trip, but all of it was with his friend. The man prepared his application and then planned to travel to visit his friend again to get the money and order his passport.

Not surprisingly there were some hurdles to be overcome. Most of the Post Offices where his friend lived were overbooked with appointments for passports. The earliest appointments for most of them was a week after they were supposed to leave! However, the friend found a location that only allowed walk-ins. The man left that night to go there so that he would have plenty of time the next day to apply in the event that there might be some delay or unforeseen obstacle.

He had about ¾ of a tank of gas and about $13 cash. If he didn't spend any money on anything else he should have the money for gas to get back home. So instead of asking his dad for money, he left, trusting God to get him there and back.

The next day he went to the Post Office. There was hardly a line. Within 30 minutes he had completed his application. The real danger though was that the projected turn around time for the passport was only one day before he was supposed to be leaving on the trip. The agent suggested that if he wanted to be sure that he would get the passport in time that he should get an appointment and drive to Washington, DC where he could get the passport that same day. In a flash of faith the man determined that he wasn't going to be afraid, but would trust that if God wanted him to go on this trip then He was more than capable of getting the passport there on time.

The trip home was a real test of faith. Gas prices were higher than he expected and he wasn't able to purchase as much as he had anticipated. He drove home, praying hard that the Lord would help him to make it. He did with about a gallon or so to spare.

Six days later the man's passport arrived. Over the course of that week without asking one person for money, God brought the man $210.

This story is true. And if you haven't figured it out yet, I am that man.

Does it make sense at all that God would take a man who has no income and has plenty of debt and would send him to Japan on a mission trip that will cost almost as much as 3 months' expenses? Would anyone believe that you could get a passport in less than a week? We are talking about a government agency in the midst of an administration change! What are the chances? How often do people make contributions without being asked? God's hand is all over this. God is showing off. He is proving that there is absolutely no excuse for not obeying Him. He is doing something miraculous through a very unlikely vessel. If he can take someone as beaten up as I am in so many ways and make a way for them to go to the other side of the world, then He can do anything. It's kind of his MO.

Grab your popcorn, folks. This story is starting to get good. I can't wait to see what happens next!


Learner said...

Oh my Jonathan! I am so excited for you about all this! :) I can't wait to hear the rest of the story.

Jonathan said...

Tomorrow's post will make you holler!