The past week was one of the most exhilarating and one of the most exhausting that I’ve had this year. Last week my local church, First Pentecostal of London, KY, and our missions’ organization, Goodnews Outreach, held its annual missions’ conference. I heard so many incredible messages during the three-day event, but one was especially challenging and I think it might have forever altered my mindset. The message preached was focused on the story of Lazarus and his death and miraculous resurrection. I won’t try to “re-preach” the message, but for those of you who would love to hear/watch two amazing messages from the conference, here’s the link:
Both messages heard through this link are tremendous, although the second message is the one I’m referring to in this blog. The speaker, Rev. Todd Sloggett, during his retelling of the story of Lazarus, recounted the illustration of a journey through an unsavory part of town in order to find a high-end restaurant. I was reminded of a trip my mother and I took to Chicago last summer. My mother is over 80-years-old and I’m no “spring chicken,” but we had made the plan to visit her cousins in the Chicago area and then spend some time with my son and daughter-in-law who live in downtown, Historic Chicago. It seemed like an excellent plan at the time and we thought it would be simple to follow my GPS from Hammond, Ind., to a Hyatt Resort where we had reservations. Both our cousins and my son were not very convinced that this was a good plan and kept saying, “Just don’t go through South Chicago! It’s one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America!”
But I kept saying, “No problem. I’ll follow the GPS.”
So that’s what we did…just followed the step-by-step instructions of my iPhone GPS. But, lo and behold, while following the turn-by-turn instructions of the GPS, we found ourselves right smack in the middle of South Chicago! I called the resort and spoke to the concierge who assured me that, “Yes, you are coming the right direction–You just need to keep driving.” When I asked him how much further, he answered, “About 42 more blocks!” When my son found out that we were driving through this dangerous area, he nearly fainted. Long story shortened….we made it through and arrived safely and had a great story to tell. In fact, the resort management was so apologetic about our harrowing experience; they upgraded us and changed our room to one on the 17th floor with a riverfront view! Our GPS hadn’t actually made a mistake…it just took us the quickest, straightest route from where we were to where we wanted to go.
I heard the message last week about the experience of Lazarus and the preacher’s insight that what that family endured was a difficult journey through the sickness and death of Lazarus, and the feeling of betrayal they felt when Jesus didn’t arrive in time to heal him. But God knew that the most efficient and quickest way for them to learn deep spiritual truth was to go through that terrible experience. And it was made clear to me that I have experienced that in my life. Over 20 years ago when I, and my children, saw our family break up and our home and ministry forever changed, it seemed like the worst possible situation. But God brought such tremendous spiritual blessings to me and to my children as we experienced His continual provision, security, and comfort. I can never look at what happened without thanking God for it all. And God brought development and growth to my life, and to the lives of my children that would never have been otherwise achieved.
Today I read the story of the Wright Brothers who, as we all know, invented the airplane. They were the sons of a minister and most of their formative years were spent in Dayton, Ohio. The older brother was Wilbur, and he showed much academic promise, so the plan was made for him to attend Yale and all his prospects were bright. But at the age of 19, while playing hockey, he was accidentally hit in the face with a hockey stick, knocking out his upper teeth. It was not an especially serious injury, but it caused disfigurement, as this was in 1885 and dental work in those days was not advanced as it is now. From that time on Wilbur began to withdraw and suffer from depression…and what would now be called anxiety attacks, so he wasn’t able to attend Yale University. For four long years he struggled with depression and mostly just stayed secluded and studied at home. But then he and his younger brother, Orville, began to work together on some interesting projects. They built a printing press and began printing a newspaper. And they opened a bicycle shop, all the while tinkering around with their secret dream…a flying machine. Well, the rest, as you know–is history. In 1903, the Wright Brothers, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, made the first successful flight of a motor-powered airplane. But when looking at the details of this story we can clearly see that history was changed due to a seemingly tragic accident. Wilbur Wright was injured, he couldn’t attend Yale, he stayed home and secluded himself, but he began to focus on a dream and eventually he saw the fulfillment of his dream and that realization of his vision actually changed the world.
It’s my strong belief that life is filled with so-called accidents, or even tragedies, that can cause us to take paths we never planned and go in directions we never would have chosen. But God knows best. He knows that often the most efficient and most direct route to His purpose for us is through a arduous and difficult struggle. And although our GPS can sometimes be wrong, God is never wrong.