“Me, Myself, and Eye”

In January of this year I read a book entitled, “God’s Generals, the Revivalists”. It was given to me as a Christmas present by a friend who knows I am a lover of biographies. The book gives biographical sketches from the lives of the men and women who were used mightily by God, from the Puritan era all the way up to the twentieth century. One of the guys who most intrigued me was Francis Asbury; an English borne American Methodist minister, who spent the better portion of his life, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as a circuit riding preacher. For over 40 years, he oversaw churches from New England to Kentucky and preached the gospel an average of five times a week. When the Revolutionary War broke out in 1776, the Methodist leadership in England called all of their ministers back to Britain. Francis Asbury was the only Methodist minister to remain in America. He stated flatly, “I will not leave my people.” Leave he did not, although he did have to flee into hiding for a time due to the heavy anti-British sentiment throughout the colonies.  As I read his words “I will not leave my people”, God spoke softly to my heart, “Those are words for you this year.”

Do not leave your people. I took this to mean, no extended trips, for ministry or pleasure. Stick around the Parkland. Meet the needs of the church God has privileged you to shepherd without interruption. That sounds easy enough. So, at a late February leader retreat I shared these words with my elders and deacons. One of the elders mentioned that he felt the Lord was impressing upon his heart for us to pray for boldness. I added another word that I felt I had been given to me by the Lord for our church this year, multiplication. Stay put. Be bold. Multiply. I like the sound of that. How hard could that be?

Two months later, a friend of mine, who is a missionary in Sudan, came to speak at our church. He asked me to come to Sudan in the summer and teach at the chaplaincy training school as I had the previous year. Knowing the Lord had said “don’t leave your people” I asked him about doing so next year. He said that Southern Sudan would likely be at war again by then. They were not planning on having any new classes for some time. He shared with me that my teaching had connected with the Sudanese students. I recalled the dear friends I had made there as well. There was a need. I was asked to fill it by a godly man. Surely I should go. Maybe I had misheard the Lord about staying put. A few prayers, one email, two phone calls,  and a week later, and I was scheduled to teach the books of Song of Solomon and Proverbs, from May 25-June 12, in Nimule, Sudan. My mother in-law arranged to come and stay with my wife and help with Nathaniel, our two year old, and my son on the way, Luke, who was to be a few weeks old when I would be overseas. It all worked out smoothly. I had surely misheard the Lord.

Beautiful baby Luke was born on April 23rd. Two days later, before he was to be discharged from the hospital, we found out he had two heart defects, one of which would likely reveal its severity during the time I was to be in Africa. A still small voice whispered, “I told you to stay with your people.” I hadn’t misheard. The story from 1 Kings 13–about the prophet who was given a clear command by God but instead followed the advice of another godly prophet even though the other prophet’s advice contradicted God’s command and as a result God sent a lion that killed the prophet who disobeyed–immediately flashed into my mind. I promptly picked up the phone and cancelled my trip. What a gracious God. The very day I was to leave for Sudan, baby Luke was admitted into the hospital with severe symptoms related to his Ventrical Septal Defect, and was not released until after successful open heart surgery was performed on him on June 2nd. Good thing I stayed home with my people (it was also nice not to get mauled by a lion).

I should mention that when I initially heard, and then eventually returned to, the words, “I will not leave my people”, the emphasis was on me. I will not leave them. They need me. My family needs me. My church needs me. This may have been true in small part, but it turns out, I was mostly wrong (This is usually the case when my emphasis is on me). I needed to stay with my people because I needed them. My wife and I have lived for over a month this year at either St. John’s or Children’s Hospitals. We have experienced physical, emotional and spiritual fatigue. We needed Christians to be Christ with some skin on Him. And they were. The body of Christ has overwhelmingly loved on us. People around the world have diligently prayed for us. The wonderful folks at Parkland Chapel have shown us so much love and support there are no words that can adequately express our thanks. But I also needed to stay because I needed to live for days at Children’s Hospital. I needed to see my son nearly die twice. I needed to be thankful for one day with my son; to get perspective on the fleeting nature of this life, to reconsider redeeming the time, and reevaluate what is a crisis and what is not (I am firmly convinced I have not yet experienced a crisis). I needed to trust God completely with my son and with His church, both of which He has simply made me a steward over, and I needed to know that He was the one they both needed, not me.

Earlier I mentioned that the leadership team’s prayer for our church this year was boldness. I have watched with pleasure as God has answered this prayer time and again, by taking normally timid people and giving them the courage and fit words to speak when confronted with the opportunity to give a reason for the hope that lies within them. We have seen numerous people be instrumental in the salvation or reclamation of a soul has needed a touch from the Savior. I must share that my prayer for boldness was primarily directed at others. I thanked God for answering my prayer. But, yet again, I was very near sighted. God decided to do a new work of boldness in my own life. I know. I know. We pastors are supposed to be bold. But I had an issue I had never really given to God that has forever hindered my boldness. You see, I have had poor eyesight since birth. I also have a lazy eye. On a normal day I am self conscious about it. On Sundays, when I am to be before a large group sharing, I am more so. I love people and I love the teaching the word of God, but I have always felt less than comfortable with public speaking because of this lazy eye. Six weeks ago, after an evening jog, I experienced a retinal detachment in my lazy left eye (The condition is due primarily to my lifelong severe nearsightedness). Since that time my left eye has been completely blind. Three surgeries later, I type this with one eye, while the other remains a sightless, inflamed, work in progress. The scar tissue from my eye surgeries as a kid tremendously hampers operation and recuperation. For over a month now the visionless orb has been bloodshot, increasingly lazy, and powerfully painful. The tag team duo of self consciousness and insecurity work me over in the corner each Sunday morning just before I teach. Every ounce of my flesh revolts against the idea of taking the bad eye out in front of an audience. So, when all else fails, I pray (I’m joking. Not about praying, about praying only when all else fails). And as I pray in my office before the service, the Lord grants a boldness and peacefulness that I have rarely felt. As I get my eye off of myself (pun intended), He Himself becomes my peace (2 Thess.3:16, Eph. 2:14). Truly, His strength is made perfect in my weakness. It makes me consider how insidious a thing pride is, even when it masquerades in the acceptable cloak of insecurity. How the pride of insecurity is kryptonite to boldness. How we can be made strong at the broken places when we allow His grace to be sufficient in our weakness. My prayer for boldness has been yoked together with a cry that I would decrease and He would increase. Jesus said in Matthew 18:9, “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” I really want to have my vision restored, but if I regain my sight only to refocus on myself and my weaknesses, taking my attention or the attention of others off of Him, it wouldn’t be a positive for me at this point.

Romans 12:3 says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” When I heard the word multiplication from the Lord, I, thinking mostly about me most of the time, naturally assumed that if our church was to multiply, it would mean more of me, I mean, I was to stay with my people. I must be an important piece in the equation. I bet your guessing by now, I was mostly wrong. From doctor visits to hospital stays, from blindness to painfulness, I have had less to offer, both physically and emotionally, than any year our young church has existed. Praise the Lord it is not about me. In fact, Parkland Chapel has multiplied tremendously this year, with less of me. Allow me a moment to describe a handful of the ways…The church has grown numerically considerably. Our children’s ministry is exploding. Our youth group has seen a teenager come to know the Lord each of the last two weeks. We now have more people serving the Lord, from working in the nursery, to working in children’s church, to working with the youth, than ever before! The Women’s Ministry meetings keep expanding. The Men’s Ministry keeps growing. The worship team is now playing concerts at the State Mental Hospital. We have church members volunteering and/or leading bible studies at the Department of Mental Health, the Pregnancy Resource Center, and the Farmington Manner convalescent home. Three men from our church recently began teaching a weekly Bible study at the Farmington Skate Park, a ready made outreach, full of kids that need the love of Jesus and the positive example of a Christian adult. Every missionary we support has been able to come and speak at the church this year. We are now preparing for a mission trip to India in June 2010, our first overseas mission trip as a church. Most of these things were not happening at the level they are now or were not happening at all this time last year.

It is an overwhelming pleasure to stay with my people. Thanks for staying with me. How I love doing what I do, with the people I do it with, for the God we do it for. May we be bold and may His Kingdom multiply.

Finally, a not so totally unrelated quote, passed to me last night by my lovely wife, “I have learned to love the darkness of sorrow, for it is there I see the brightness of God’s face.” (Madame Guyon)

God bless,
Pastor Mike

Comments

  1. Ronald Day says

    Hi Mike, don’t know if you remember us or not, we attended a few times before we took an interim position in bloomfield.

    I have kept up with your progress through Jeffry Speth. Have kept you in my prayers and especially that God would teach you how to function with one eye and hopefully restore the other in his timing.

    I am over six feet tall and a big man. I was raised very backward and self conscious and until I was in my thirties I could not stand and look you in the face and talk to you. Very uncomfortable. I went over and volunteered to be outreach leader at the church and God in HIS grace removed that flaw. I love being bold in witnessing.

    Your problems have been something. May God bless you.

    I buried a son in 94 that had been sick with cancer for nine years. Most of that nine years I knew that one day I would have to bury my son.

    All I can say is what you already know. “GOD’S GRACE!”

    I know you wll keep on keeping on.

    Seeking the prize!

    Ron Day

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