On my previous blog I described how we had hit the health care wall. It looked like, with my rheumatoid arthritis, our inability to find affordable health care might knock my husband right out of what was looking like two job offers for senior pastoral positions, perhaps ending his professional ministry. Two weeks later we are breathless at what God has done. We went to Iron Man 2 Sunday night but I drifted in and out of all the action thinking, What is happening in our lives right now is far more exciting. It's God. And it's real. Now for Part 2 of our story…
On Friday, April 30th, we awaited a phone call from John, the elder in charge of finances at a church in Columbia, South Carolina. After six months of correspondence, interviews and a ten day visit things were moving forward. While we were drawn to ministry at another church as well our hearts were increasingly inclined to the South Carolina church. John had been working our insurance problem all week and as he worked we prayed. He is a much sought after financial consultant for both individuals and Christian ministries so we felt confident he would find a solution. When he reached us on Friday his voice sounded flat. "I have hit the wall," he told us. "I don’t know what else to do."
Fresh out of seminary we had moved to Costa Rica with a view to Jack eventually training pastors in Latin America. My diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis had demolished a dream. I couldn’t believe this was happening again. My eyes welled up as we listened to John.
The price tag for our insurance was going to be well over $30,000 a year and the church could not afford it. If we backed it out of our salary it would leave half as much as our previous salary to live on. We could feel the disappointment in John’s voice mirroring our own. When someone with that measure of expertise says we've hit the wall it speaks to the true dimensions of the wall and the gravity of our insurance situation. Maybe Wal Mart needs more greeters.
Afterwards Jack wrote to our close friends and prayer partners: "We have hit an obstacle that only God can overcome. We know that is not a bad place to be but we do not know how to move forward. So we want to tell you the issue and ask you to pray for God to show us the way."
I emailed a friend, "Actually I am in good spirits, looking to Jesus. Here’s the thing: if we slid nicely from our severance into a good fit with a church, prayers are answered and God gets glory, but not nearly as much as if he delivers us from what now looks like such a precarious situation. I want him to write a meaningful, astonishing story through our lives. That means mighty deliverance from real danger. We indeed feel the danger. So we are cast upon God our rock. A solid place to be."
We desire deliverance. God desires transformation: The relief of holiness. Rich relationships. Fruitful lives. As we walk with him he always accomplishes the greater deliverance of transformation. The deliverance from circumstances is more dicey. I can’t imagine the complexity God navigates as he protects us from some things, allows others, so that in the process we truly grow and change without losing heart.
Independently six people had suggested that we think about raising support to cover our health insurance. We considered it as a possibility and mentioned it to John. He didn’t say "Go for it" right then but that the elders would meet on Wed, May 5th, to decide what to do .On Sunday they announced to the church that our need for insurance was looking like more than the church could meet. John wrote that "there was sadness, confusion and much prayer." The elders announced they would meet on Wednesday and asked the people to pray.
The church prayed. We prayed. Our friends prayed.
In the middle of that same night a friend of ours woke up and could not get Jack off his mind. He is not a close friend, had not been on our update list, was completely unaware of our need and described himself with a wink as "not one of Jack’s better parishioners"—attending church occasionally. Now, over a year after Jack’s resignation he was prompted to call and encourage Jack, telling him how much he had appreciated his ministry. (Thankfully he waited until after 8:00 am.)
Jack told him that he really needed encouragement because of the insurance roadblock. Over the next couple of days our friend made contact with a few people suggesting that they find 25-30 people to commit $1000 a year to cover our health insurance costs. Another friend, Chip, had thought of the same idea.
This began to take on a life of its own. Two days later we called John on the Wed afternoon before the SC elders met telling him what was happening and how many people were buzzing about this, verbally committing almost half of the needed financial support. We thought that at the meeting the elders might green light the fund raising and see what God might do. But no!
On Wednesday night after the meeting, Rick, the board chairman in SC, called. He told us the elders believed God was in this thing and offered Jack the job as their Senior Pastor. We delightedly accepted what we called a "provisional contract" on the pastorate, provided that God raised up our support. Here in Texas our friend Chip began to organize the effort in earnest. There in South Carolina John worked out a way for the church to set up an IRS approved tax deductible account.
On Mothers’ Day Sunday morning, in a bold step of faith, the elders in SC announced to the church: "We have a new pastor!" Five hours later Chip emailed the appeal letter. Within four days people committed to cover $30+000 premiums for five years. Back in 1980 when we raised support to go to Costa Rica it took months to raise much less money to cover our entire salary.
For the year of our transition to a new ministry Jack and I had prayed Jehoshaphat’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 20 – "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you [Lord]." I didn't even remember the rest of the passage, but Jack dug it up this week. In answer God told Jehoshaphat, "You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf…."
Literally, we stood by as God orchestrated this through other people who decided they were going to take this challenge on themselves. We simply watched God’s bold stroke of deliverance unfold in ways that are so characteristically his own:
- shattering a humanly insurmaountable wall
- in the nick of time
- with consequences that roll out in uniquely powerful ways into many different lives
Here are a few examples and we are hearing so many more:
God, our Father, has lifted our souls showing he had not forgotten us, that people deeply cared about us, and that they valued our ministry. In over a year of looking doubts had crept into our hearts that were washed away.
God has blessed, used, and encouraged a man who was not deeply involved in church and had no idea of our need.
God has energized people who responded from ten different churches spread over several states.
And from what we hear about the Mother’s Day service, God has energized our new church! The elders in South Carolina report that since the announcement that Jack will be the new pastor they have not seen this much excitement in a long time. Is there anything more exciting than to see God at work demolishing a wall that seems insurmountable?
Our hearts echo the praises of Psalm 107: Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever…Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things…He shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.