Pastor's Blog

Most of the times God has gotten “personal” with me – or at least where it has felt like He has done so – it has involved providences regarding His Word, the Scriptures.

I have been teaching and preaching publicly for almost 40 years now and have spoken well over 2,000 times.  I have not kept track of the times where, while preaching, an illustration or a particular passage popped into my head uninvited and diverted the sermon.  Some in the congregation well remember me stopping after such a rabbit trail and saying “Now how did I get all the way out here?” -- because I lost my train of thought.  But often after I have wandered down a rabbit trail, a person will contact me and say “That particular verse hit me” or “That illustration was exactly what I needed” or “Were you a fly on the wall in my home this week?”.  That experience is not unique to me.  All Christian speakers experience it.  I take it as a confirmation that the Spirit of God is at work through me in others.  It is a reminder that God is involved with me personally and I find such providences wonderfully encouraging.

Though usually I’m giving the message, on some occasions God works providentially through other speakers so that I receive a message.  A few of those situations have punched so pointedly into my exact circumstances that I can’t help but feel God’s personal touch in them.

I never attended seminary chapel service during my seminary career.  Chapel attendance was not required, and I was too busy to attend.  But one day, I decided to attend instead of studying in the library.  A local pastor was addressing the topic of adultery from the story of Potiphar’s wife attempting to seduce Joseph and was pointing out that adultery is usually driven far more by emotional deficits than by sexual desire.  I thought it was an odd message to preach in a seminary chapel service.

At the end of that same week my wife and I were cleaning the church with another man from the church (In the old church we didn’t have a janitor; people signed up in teams to clean the building!).  As we worked, the man confessed to me that he was cheating on his wife.  That was the first case of adultery I ever had to deal with as a young pastor.  Suddenly the sermon from seminary chapel wasn’t odd; it was completely relevant!  My conversation with him became the first step in the eventual restoration of his marriage.

A second situation where God got providentially up close and personal took place when some folks in the church that I thought were friends had listened to some false gossip about me, and instead of coming to me with what they had heard, they spread it and started a brushfire that led to split in the church, resulting in even more friends turning on me.  I tried to resolve the issues, but people had already made their minds up based on the gossip. 

I felt terribly betrayed and downright angry that “friends” turned so easily and so quickly on me, that they were willing to believe horrific lies about me and didn’t even bother to ask for my side.  I was judged and condemned without a hearing.

Amidst the conflict my wife and I decided to get away to recompose ourselves.  We attended the annual Bible conference of our college alma mater.  We walked into the first session of the conference and the speaker (whom I did not know) announced his subject:  betrayal in ministry. He laid out how Jesus knew Judas would betray him but still served his betrayer by washing Judas’ feet.

That was not a message I wanted to hear.  But the unplanned convergence of my life situation and that message was too coincidental to be mere coincidence.  It was a hard pill to swallow, but the amazing providence of the situation let me know that I was being attended to very personally.

There were no heavenly voices or visions in the situations I’ve related, but in these occasional providences I have felt God’s personal touch and I know that I am loved and cared for.  Such providences become benchmarks that I use to remind myself of God's love for me when He seems to be engaged elsewhere, ignorant of my own plight-of-the-moment.

When we were still in the old building and we still had prayer meeting on a Wednesday evening, Mel Zohe (one of our elders) and I were the only ones at prayer meeting one evening.  We were in the old auditorium and Mel was praying, when I heard the door into the building slam.  Someone had come into the foyer.  I waited to see if the guest would come into the sanctuary.  They didn’t.  So I went out to see who it was.

There in the foyer was a somewhat dowdily dressed unkempt older gentleman.  I asked if I could help him with something.

“Don’t you recognize me, Chris?” he said.

I told him I didn’t, and he seemed perplexed.

“Are you sure you don’t recognize me?” he repeated.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “Where would I know you from?”

“From Mountain View Chapel.  I’m here every week.  I’ve been here almost every week since you started pastoring here.  Don’t you recognize me?”

I was really taken aback, as I’m usually good with remembering names and faces – especially of those who come to church regularly.

“I didn’t catch your name,” I replied, trying to find something to jar my memory.

The old man looked at the floor, seemingly discouraged.  “My name doesn’t matter,” he said.  “You’re sure you don’t recognize me?”

I apologized and said I didn’t.  Then he said, “Well, that’s okay.  I was just coming to check up on you and be sure you’re all right.”  And with that, he turned and went out the door.

I went inside and Mel looked up.  “Is everything okay?” he said.  I related the story of the old man in the foyer.  Mel came with me and we went outside to try to find the man.  He wasn’t anywhere to be found.  There hadn’t been a car in the parking lot, so I assumed he had walked to the church.  But there was no one walking on the road.  He had just disappeared.

A few years later – after the new church was built and I had my office – late one afternoon after my secretary had gone home, the old man appeared again.  He was peering in the door just outside of my office.  I jumped up and invited him in.

“So you remember me, do you?” he asked.

“Well, I remember the last time you were here,” I said.

“I’m here every Sunday,” he insisted with a smile.

We sat down at my table and he asked me how things were going, and I told him about the Lord’s blessing on our church.  He smiled and nodded his head.  And then he began to tell me about his life, his involvement in World War II, and trivia about his upbringing.  I asked him his name again, and again he brushed me off.

“You don’t need to know my name,” he replied.  “I was just checking to be sure you were all right.”  And then he invited me to come visit him at his home in Pottstown.  He told me to write down the address as he gave it to me.  And then he got up and left.  There was a car in the parking lot waiting for him this time.

A few weeks later I decided to pop in on him.  The street address was down in Pottstown, near the middle school.  I found the street and began following door numbers.  I don’t recall the exact address today, but when I was looking for the house number, I discovered that it didn’t exist!  The house number was something like “124”.  The number “122” ended one block and then there was a crossroad.  I expected the next house would be “124”.  It wasn’t.  It was “126”.

I got out of my car and looked around, thinking maybe there was a rear apartment or an upstairs apartment that I had missed.  But there wasn’t.  The address didn’t exist.

It was an odd experience.  Maybe it was just an old man who was entering dementia.  But how had he known my name?  And why would he come all the way up to our church from Pottstown?  He said he was there every week, but I had never seen him at church in my life.

Or was he at church every week – an angel in our midst of whom we were all unaware?  If that’s who he really was, the thought that he was checking on me to be sure that I was all right was quite comforting.

I’ve never seen him again.  But who knows?  Maybe he’s still out there checking on me…

I am very sold on the importance of covenant relationship (as opposed to personal relationship) with God.  I see God’s work as more oriented toward the church as group than I do toward me personally.

However, there are times where things have happened in my life – things that seemed to coincidental to be merely coincidence – and I’ve chalked them up to providence and God’s comforting and affirming hand in my life.

One of the most vivid was when were trying to raise money either to purchase the property on which the present chapel sits or for the building itself (the exact detail escapes me).  But the board had set a goal of raising a certain amount by a target date.

We were a week away from the target date and we were still about $12,500 short, so I announced in church that we needed to raise that amount by the following Sunday if we were to move forward with our development plan.  I was very discouraged as that seemed an astronomical amount to raise in a week.  We had been trying to raise the funds for several months and everyone’s resources seemed to have been exhausted.

There was a visitor there on the Sunday that I announced what we needed to reach the goal the following week.  I knew who he was but didn’t know him very well.  He had shown up periodically at our services over the years.  Never seemed to react to the service or the message.  Always sat there with a seemingly cold, straight face.  Never gave any feedback.  Just sat through the service and left immediately when it was over.  Then I wouldn’t see him again for a few years.

This visitor showed up the following week and caught me in the parking lot before the service.  Stern faced, he handed me a little envelope and said, “I want you to read this after church.”  All I could think of was “Oh great.  What did I say to offend THIS guy last week?”  I put the envelope in my pocket.

We were in double services at the time, so I preached both services.  The special offerings that we received trying to reach the $12,500 didn’t even get close to the target.  I think we took in something like $200.  I remember thinking that we were NEVER going to get out of our tiny building. 

In the days of double services, my wife and children would attend the first service and go home.  So I was alone after the second service.  I was disheartened and discouraged.  I got in the car and remembered that the visitor had given me something to read.  I figured it was criticism of the previous week’s message, and since I was already down, reading a little criticism wouldn’t make it much worse.

So I ripped open the envelope…and inside there was a check for $12,500.

It wasn’t a miracle.  The man had heard the need the previous week.  But it was an amazing providence that this particular man was at that service to hear that announcement and that he had the money and decided to give it to a church which he only visited occasionally.  His demeanor had led me to expect a criticism;  instead I received an enormous blessing and an emotional boost. 

I guess any pastor would have been excited to receive such a gift – but it was the way the entire situation unfolded, the way the circumstances molded my emotions, and the way the gift healed the little wound in my heart that made me sense a providence directed pointedly and personally at me.

I don’t expect that to happen every day.  I don’t need it to happen every day.  Just remembering that providence is enough to remind me that God knows my life and my situation and cares about me – even when I’m not experiencing direct and pointed providential intervention.

 

 

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