Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Key to George Is ...

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This may be my final post (at least for now) in my series on miraculous answers to prayer in my life. Perhaps I'll remember something else later that might be instructive and uplifting. But this particular post deals with how God has miraculously answered my prayers ... through other people.

As lay pastors, young adults often ask my wife and I, "How can I know for sure what God's will is for my life?" Often they are struggling with an important life decision ... What should my major be? Where should I work? Who should I marry? Etc.

But when we sit down and talk together about knowing God's will, I try to emphasize that the most important things are not simply seeking God in the big decisions. Knowing God's will is a matter of understanding at any given moment what His best is for you (and those around you). I think it's as important (or more important) for us to hear His voice in the "plain and simple" ways, as it is in the big decisions.

Like simply sitting down and reading our Bible each day, or lifting our frustrations up in prayer and coming to understand through the resulting conviction how He wants us to be focused less on our own needs and more on the needs of others.

God's Word and prayer are two key ways He speaks to us. But I also believe God speaks to us through the people around us, assuming the Body of Christ is working more or less the way it is supposed to work, and those people consider themselves our brothers or sisters for the sake of stimulating us to love and good deeds (per Heb. 10:24).

Darlene and I have grown a great deal through participation in small groups at the three churches we have attended since we were married. One of the great things about small groups is that they are a laboratory for practicing the "one anothers" of Scripture, for speaking truth into each others' lives.

One of the young couples in a group we led at a church in Southern California had just come out of the Mormon church. We loved them dearly, but they presented a number of challenges, particularly the husband, who had received a seminary education from the LDS and had achieved a position of priest in that church's hierarchy. He was an extremely intelligent young man and had left the Mormon church upon receiving Christ as a result of a journey that began we he started questioning the various inconsistencies in Mormon theology he had learned during his education.

But despite turning to Christ, this couple experienced a number of struggles. The young man (whom I'll call George to protect his true identity) was having difficulty committing to his newfound faith. He had a tendency to keep one foot in the LDS world, and one in ours. In addition, he and his wife were struggling relationally.

We spent a lot of time and energy trying to understand how we could help them, as group leaders. One evening in particular, due to some things I had learned were going on in his life, I felt very burdened for George. I happened to be at a twice-monthly Monday evening gathering of small group leaders which our church called "Ministry Community." This meeting always started out with worship and prayer, and we were just getting settled down and ready to sing. I was sitting in the front row, with my head in my hands, and praying silently, "Lord, please help me understand what's going on with George. What does he need? What are the keys to George?"

Sitting behind me was an older brother in Christ named Bob. I admired Bob and often looked to him for wisdom and guidance. He had a casual way of speaking truth that always seemed to hit the mark.

At the beginning of the evening I had spoken with Bob briefly, exchanging pleasantries, but now both of us were preparing to worship. But no sooner had I asked the Lord, "What are the keys to George?" ... that Bob leaned over behind me and whispered in my ear: "The keys to George are ...."

At that very moment the music began and drowned out what he said next. He then leaned back and began to sing with gusto. I turned around and stared at him, dumbfounded. I knew that I had prayed silently and there was no way Bob could have heard what I asked God.

After the song ended I leaned back and whispered to Bob: "What did you say? You said something about George?"

"Yes," he said. "I was just thinking about George, the young man in your group. And I felt the Lord wanted me to share something with you.

"The keys to George are two-fold," he said. "He needs to take an irrevocable step of faith, to tell the world that he has staked his claim with Christ. He also needs to ask someone very close to him for forgiveness, and start anew."

I thanked Bob, convinced that he had truly spoken a word from God to me. But it wasn't the whole picture that I needed to see, before I could challenge George. I knew somehow I needed more.

That night I couldn't sleep at all. I stayed up, praying and studying Scripture and asking God to reveal more detail to me so I could deliver a clearer message to George.

It wasn't until early the next morning, nearly 4 a.m., that I suddenly felt I had the keys I needed. I was reading the book of Acts and realized the powerful an impact water baptism had on the early Christians. New believers were baptized to make a statement to the world that they were irrevocably identified with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection. And I also came to realize that George needed to humble himself and ask forgiveness of his wife, to "start fresh" in his relationship with her.

I was so excited, once I felt I had the answer, that I simply couldn't wait to call George and meet with him. He had given me his number at the office, but I didn't have his home number. He had an ordinary 9 to 5 job and I knew there was little chance he would be there at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, but I thought perhaps I could at least reach voicemail and unload my burden. So I dialed his office. To my surprise, George answered immediately: "Hello?"

"George, it's Larry. What are you doing there so early?"

"Well, I've never actually done this before," he confessed. "But I couldn't sleep at all, and all I could think of was this problem at work. I thought I'd better come in and get an early start, so I did.

"But why on earth are you calling here so early?" he asked me.

"Can I come down and talk with you, face to face?" I asked. "I will tell you then."

"Sure," he said, and gave me directions.

After arriving, I got right to the point and shared my burden. I told George I was concerned about him and felt certain God wanted to use me as his brother in Christ to challenge him in a certain way. I shared how I had struggled all evening to figure out what that was, before I finally felt God had spoken, both through Bob and through my prayers and search of the Scriptures earlier that morning.

So I laid out my two challenges to him, but I could tell by his face that I was asking him to do something very difficult. "It's not a small thing for someone from the Mormon tradition to get baptized out of the religion," he told me. "My Mormon friends won't be happy about that at all. It might even put me in some danger." He didn't elaborate on that.

"So I'll really have to think about it," he concluded.

I agreed, having gotten what I felt I needed to get off my chest. "But please don't take too long to think about it," I warned him. "I really am convinced this is something God wants you to do, and soon. I'm afraid for what might happen if you put it off too long, or neglect to do it at all."

George agreed to pray about it and get back to me before too long. But I noticed, as we parted, that he hadn't said much about the second part of my challenge.

A week later, I had my answer. Or partially, anyway. George agreed to be baptized! (I baptized him soon after, in a joyous celebration in the back yard of one of our group members who had a swimming pool.) However, he said he wasn't quite ready yet to do the second part of my request -- to humble himself, to ask forgiveness of his wife for how he had misled the family and treated her, and to commit himself to being a godly leader in his family.

The church was very excited about George's baptism, and he continued to participate in our group, but some time later I could tell he was still struggling. One evening, as the two of us were meeting together, he confessed in tears that he had violated the sanctity of his marriage relationship with another woman. He was in pain and sorrowful, but it didn't take long to realize that despite his sorrow he was not truly repentant. He remained full of pride and excused his behavior by talking about the way his wife had treated him. It was really her fault, he insisted; she had driven him to do what he had done.

"George, it's not yet too late for you," I warned him once more, "but it will get harder and harder to do the right thing, the longer you wait. Remember that the kindness of God leads us to repentance, but the longer you wait the harder it will become to turn around, and the consequences for your sin will be severe. You can see already how much more difficult it will be to confess and make it right now, than it would have been a few months ago when we first discussed this."

George agreed with me -- but still couldn't bring himself to repent. He continued his downward slide, and eventually he and his wife were divorced, and the family torn apart. The effect on their beautiful children was devastating, as divorce always is. How I wish he had heeded the second part of God's message to him, and repented!

Today is the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg Door, an act of faith and truth-telling which gave rise to the Protestant Reformation. One of those key principles he taught is called "Sola Scriptura," or "Scripture alone." Unlike our Mormon friends, authentic Christians believe that Scripture alone is the basis for God speaking His truth into our lives. Had the message that Bob delivered to me, or that I in turn delivered to George, contradicted Scripture in any way, we would have been guilty of more than simply speaking out of turn. But as Christians we do believe that God uses other members of the Body to challenge and speak truth to us in ways that, if consistent with Scripture, can provide guidance and direction that helps us to fulfill His purposes and function more effectively together as the Body of Christ.

I appreciate being surrounded by brothers and sisters who seek to speak God's truth into my life, and are open as I seek to do the same for them. We have the grave responsibility of representing Christ to each other, and we need each other desperately as we seek together to become more like Jesus.

How have you heard God speak into your life through brothers and sisters in Christ?

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