Surprised by a Sweet and Smiling Providence of God

I’m just ecstatic as I write these words!  Ecstatic is not an adjective I had even considered in some months!  But ecstatic I am.   If she would have called even three weeks ago I think I would have said “No, but thanks anyway.”  As Providence would have it she called just yesterday.  You see, someone called to cancel their place among 18 men who will gather together for nine days, at Gordon Conwell Seminary, as a part of the Ockenga Institute’s Spurgeon Sabbatical (in Boston, MA).  Psalm 16:6 says “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”  This is fast becoming yet another of my favorite verses in the Bible.

Yes, I am well aware of the fact that for some 2000 years Jesus has been working hard at preparing a place for me in glory….but He must have some more finishing work to do before He calls me to my eternal home.  Jesus said in John 14: 1-2 “Do not let your hearts be troubled…for I go to prepare a place for you.”  “Do not let you hearts be troubled…for I go to prepare a place for you.”  The reason given in this text for why we are not to let our hearts be troubled is because Jesus is preparing a place for every one who is a child of God…and there’s nothing that you or I can do to change the timetable of when we will die.

Perhaps I need to back up and begin in the early part of 2008, when I applied for a $40,000 grant from a foundation to take (receive) a sabbatical of four months.  The process of applying for this grant was tedious.  We had to account for every penny and every day.  The process was a good one for my church to go through as we had to demonstrate objective evidence of overwhelming congregational support.  We had it.

So Karla began in earnest the planning of the nearly impossibe logistics for transporting a family of seven to Europe for five weeks.  Just imagine!

The sabbatical committee was a joy to work with.  We had planned to take the whole family to Europe and trace the trail of the Reformation and see some sights.  There were numerous other things scheduled over this four month period that were designed to refresh me and give me a new perspective on my ministry here.

Well, on Friday October 17th, 2008 I found out that my grant had not been accepted.  After putting so much effort into the application process it was a huge disappointment to receive that diminutive letter in the mail, for I knew what it contained.   

Two days later on Sunday October 19th, 2008, I announced to the church, with a lump in my throat, that my application had not been accepted.  I specifically remember stating something to the effect that “I think that over the course of the next year we will come to understand why this was not accepted.”  

There are no accidents.  Just four days later on Thursday October 23, 2008 I awakened to a bedroom filled with medical personnel after having a seizure.  Tests would reveal an AVM in my brain the size of a peach.  I suspected that this was merely the beginning of a story whereby God would be glorified in a massive way.  And so the blog was born.  And so He was.   Anyone who has given birth to a blog knows that they can be massive time robbers.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get to is that I had planned on going to the Spurgeon Sabbatical but it was already full, so they put me on the waiting list.   But, my grant was not accepted so I refused to let myself even think of it again…mostly.

From the website I have copied and pasted the following description of the purpose of the Spurgeon Sabbatical. 

“The purpose of the Spurgeon Sabbatical for Pastors is to offer renewal for those who are called to carry the ‘weight of souls.’ The conviction that drives the Spurgeon Sabbatical is that the best way to gain new perspectives and power for the pastoral ministry is through serious study of the Scriptures within a community context of worship, prayer, discussion and fellowship. If you are interested in such a ‘counter-cultural’ pastor’s retreat, we invite you to come away this summer with a small group of pastors for an intense time of study, worship, reflection, prayer and conversation about what it means in our day and age to “exhaust our lives for Jesus.” 

“The community begins and ends each day with worship. In between you will join with the other pastors to strengthen community – gathering for times around the table, times at play and times of hearty conversation. This is an excellent opportunity to be renewed and to gain new perspective on your ministry.”

Other than taking the whole family to Europe the Spurgeon Sabbatical was the thing I was looking forward to the most…and there was no way it was going to work out.  But then God always has a unique way of doing things both for His glory and also for our joy.

As Karla and I have written these blogs we have consistently held these things to be true.  As my friend and former pastor, John Piper, always says “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”, and something to the effect that God’s glory and our joy are not at odds with one another.  I heartily agree and so it is that hardly a day passes now that I don’t consider these Biblical truths in a visceral manner. 

The vascular doctor at Mayo questioned, with tears in his eyes, why God would take away the voice of a preaching pastor (I have now regained much).   I conveyed to him that somehow this was going to result in more glory for God.  And it has, but now I get to receive some joy! 

On a follow up visit to Mayo two weeks ago this same doctor, a committed Christian I believe, said that my “case” had caused him to delve much more deeply in his devotional times on the relationship between suffering and the sovereignty of God as related to our sanctification.  I don’t think he had ever given it much thought.   

From last November through June 20, 2009 we have had just over 116,000 page views on this blog.  I guess God has received much glory by walking us through the fires and not letting us get burned, and through the waters without drowning. 

 The second thing I was  most looking forward to regarding my sabbatical that never materialized, was this…the Spurgeon Sabbatical.  But it would not have happened unless God were in control of all things…asking me (us) to trust Him, testing me (us) with fire, disciplining me (us) [for mygood], expressing His love for me (us) in countless ways, and taking this pastor to the very precipice of eternity.   

So, when I received a call Thursday morning telling me that a spot had opened up for me,  I said “Yes, I believe that spot is for me but let me run it by the church chairman (an elder).”  It begins Monday June 22nd.  This Monday….as in two days from now!  With just four day’s notice I now get to participate in what I trust will be a rich time of interacting with other pastors.  Can you say “irony?”  One of the on-line dictionaries  defines irony as “an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.” 

My good friend and fellow pastor, Randy Anderson will also be among the 18 pastors attending.   Randy is the man who became the blog’s pastor, and more importantly to me, the pastor to my dear wife Karla.  His powerful insights offered on this blog were penetrating mini sermons/devotionals. 

I wonder why a pastor would cancel at the last minute?  Even if this man is entering into some life altering event I pray that he too might prove God faithful.

All things for good.  God causes all things for good.  This is not some kind of a  “hands off” platonic deity.  This is a God who has an exceedingly high view of Himself, as well He should.  All things for good.  This is His story and it has become mine as well. Romans 8:28 says it and I’m sticking with it.  “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” 

It’s true. “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” Psalm 16:6.

Still in awe of this smiling Providence,

Mike

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8 thoughts on “Surprised by a Sweet and Smiling Providence of God”

  1. What can one say except, “Wow! We serve an amazing God!”

    May you be blessed beyond your expectations and in all things, may God receive His due glory.

    Lynne and Dale

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  2. Isaiah 55:8-9 (English Standard Version)

    8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
    9(A) For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts

    Who du thunk it that you would be headed to Spurgeon Sabbatical for an incredible 9 days of deep enrichment of the soul. A time to quite your heart and mind to reflect on God and His word with other men that share your passion.

    Enjoy this time soak it all in as the Lord preps you for the task of leading the Crossroad flock.

    Thank you God for allowing Pastor Mike this opportunity.

    Dean

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  3. I’m so happy for you. I think 3 of our Pastors have been on similar sabbaticals.

    Much blessing,
    Char

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  4. Dear Mike,
    I am the only one here on the dorm floor of the Sabbatical tonight — tomorrow night the floor will be full of pastors, and you will be among them — men coming from a year of pain and pleasure to learn and share and sing and laugh and cry in the midst of what God is doing in their lives and in the places and among the people wherein God as set them down. And your blog reminds me that the Lord has given you a story to tell — you have a remarkable story to tell. But as I read your blog tonight I am struck afresh by what a costly story you tell. A story born of disappointment, pain, fear, anxiety, despair, pressure, and perseverance all combining into a deepening faith. Most of our meaningful stories are costly ones aren’t they — most of them are stories we would never wish to be able to tell, but God gives them to us without asking permission or consulting with us — He has certainly done that in your case. And I have no doubt that part of your coming here will be for the sake of some who particularly need to hear your story — your providence grounded, God ordained story of the overwhelming circumstances that sometimes come flooding over the top of us; and yet, Lord willing there you will be in the midst of us telling it — sitting there right beside us story telling — and because we will be able to see you, as I can’t as I read your blog, it will be a sort of Divine show and tell.

    Praise God!
    See you at Logan tomorrow,

    Randy

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  5. Mike,

    What an incredible turn of events – all orchestrated by an incredible God. We are so excited for you!

    It’s been said that God rarely shows up early, but He never shows up late. That certainly applies here, which reinforces the obvious – God continues to work in your life in a mighty and powerful way.

    We look forward the hearing the stories of your experiences at the Sabbatical, which will no doubt be a blessing not only to you, but also to all of us who are following your adventures.

    Al & Vickie

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  6. Mike, your blog just blessed my heart so much early this morning. Thanks for sharing your life with us through your blog. I love you! Your sis, Bev

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  7. Mike, I have told you many times, “there are still many things for you to accomplish in this world, before you fulfill your roll in the next”. Don’t let it be said I was wrong. LOL 🙂

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