God Takes a Hand

Do you ever watch movies over and over again? Sleepless in Seattle is one of our go-to movies when we want to relax with something that is heartwarming and tension-free. A recurrent theme throughout this charming story is that destiny controls our lives. Whether it grandmother’s wedding dress that rips when Annie tries it on (and her mother says, “It’s a sign.”) or the windows of the Empire State Building that light up in a heart shape at just the right moment (and Annie murmurs, “It’s a sign.”), many in this film seem to believe that an impersonal force, fate is running their lives.

It is fascinating that many people assign control of their destiny to fate, or even Mother Nature, but have trouble believing that God could take interest in them. Or that there even is a God.

I throw my lot in with those who see God everywhere. We see His diverse and ingenious handiwork in the lavish color of butterflies, the unique perfection of snowflakes, and the amazing precision of our solar system’s orbiting planets. We see his love of beauty in the majestic vistas of Sedona and the glittering desert skies.

Most of all, however, we see his love for each of us in his intense interest in every detail in our lives. One man named Abraham dared to believe, thousands of years ago, that God was talking to him, and today, in 2017, millions believe that God talks to us. Of course, we regularly turn to the Bible for instruction; but I’m talking about the amazing and intensely personal ways he orchestrates things to help and guide us.

Through our lifetimes—Karon’s and mine—we have witnessed it repeatedly. Come with me as I recall a few of the amazing ways God has taken a hand.

Guidance

  • I grew up in a home that witnessed God at work. So right from the beginning I asked God to guide my life. When I wondered which elective to choose in high school, I asked my mother how to find God’s direction in prayer. She told me about her prayers for direction, including marrying my dad, and said she would pray with me. I chose Spanish. Years later this choice would become very important in my life.

 

  • God answered my prayers about whom I should marry. Even in grade school I started praying that, when the time would come, I would know who the girl was for me. (I thought that Midge. Moose’s girlfriend in the “Archie” comic strip, was pretty cute.) Years later as I made plans to attend Warner Pacific College (WPC), a Christian school in Portland, Oregon, I felt I perhaps would meet someone there. Interestingly, Karon Neal, a pastor’s daughter from California, was also praying about her eventual husband. She wasn’t planning to go to college since a high school counselor had told her she wasn’t college material. (Can you imagine?) However, a young man she occasionally dated disagreed with the counselor, telling her that she was great college material. So, with her Dad’s help, she applied to two colleges. He suggested that they pray for God’s direction by asking him to arrange for the right college to accept her first. She received her acceptance from WPC on Friday and left that weekend for Portland. Monday, her acceptance came from Anderson College! Yours truly was at WPC. We were both given jobs in the school cafeteria, and that’s where lightning struck.

 

  • Many people, including me, assumed that I would follow in my parents’ missionary footsteps. After Karon and I were married, I began to question this idea. In fact, I began to realize it wasn’t my idea at all. Thoroughly confused about my future in my senior year at college, I dropped out until I could decide what might be next. I looked for jobs in fields I thought would interest me, and worked several for short periods of time in display (decorating windows back in the day when department stores did that), in interior design, and then selling custom draperies and carpeting. During these months Karon had our first little girl and we moved to Salem, Oregon where the last job offer was. Karon’s parents just happened to live in Salem, too. Hmmmm. Months later we were staying at their house with Karon’s two younger brothers for a week or so and the phone rang. It was Cliff Tierney, a pastor in Southern California who was good friends with Karon and her family. He was calling to ask Karon’s Dad about what he thought was my potential of serving as his Minister of Music and Youth. But Karon’s folks were out of town, and I answered the phone. And so, without even getting an opinion from them, Cliff invited us to become his associates and gave us a couple of weeks to think and pray about it.  And that’s how we moved to southern California. Being a youth and music minister was not on my radar, but God took a hand, launching us into a career that would last forty-three years.

 

  • Fast forward fifteen years. Karon and I had three children and both worked full-time jobs. She was between jobs, a period of over six months, and finances were tight. We told no one, of course.

I was doing a lot of speaking at conventions and camp meetings that summer, and was at Warner Camp in Michigan, preparing to preach the evening’s message. I felt the keen gaze of a woman about halfway back, maybe twenty rows. It was very intense and rather unusual. After the service, she came forward and asked to speak with me. She said, “I have a word from the Lord for you.” The phrasing was unusual in my circles and her prophetic mannerism and piercing eyes made me nervous. She continued kindly, “As I prayed for you before the service began, God told me that you and your wife are concerned about finances. He wants you to know that He’s got this. Don’t worry.” With a smile, she added, “that’s all.”

Months later after she found work, God reminded Karon that, during this six-month period that she was at home, all three of our kids recommitted their lives to God.

Assistance

  • When the girls were little and before Jon was born, we moved from Oregon to Southern California to begin our very first solo pastorate. For those unfamiliar with this highway, I-5 travels through some breathtaking scenery with vistas of snow-capped mountain peaks amid soaring Douglas fir trees. It’s possible to drive it all at once, but even back then Karon and I were not ones for driving through the night. We had decided to stop about halfway, making it a two-day trip. Karon drove the car with the girls in it and I piloted a U-Haul truck jam packed with our belongings. Just before we pulled out of Portland, a friend brought over a little gray kitten as a gift to the girls. It was in a little box with a food and water dish and they were delighted. Karon and I exchanged baleful looks, but we were trapped. There was absolutely no room in the car, and so Dusty, the recently christened kitten, joined the furniture in the truck. She was securely settled and we checked on her every time we stopped.

As we approached the town of Yreka the truck began to make menacing groans and finally wheezed to a stop along the town’s icy roads at a gas station that also rented and repaired U Haul trucks: the only one in town, we discovered. Karon scouted around for a motel while I waited for the mechanic to look at the truck. We gingerly opened the back of the truck to check on Dusty. She was carsick and her cage had become dislodged. Her frantic little form was soon cuddled into the girls’ arms and we decided the mess would have to be cleaned up later. We were all freezing and Karon and the girls retreated to the car. The mechanic had examined the truck and now shook his head mournfully. “Fuel pump,” he muttered. “Totally destroyed.” It’ll probably be at least two days before we can get a replacement.”  My shoulders sagged. Have you noticed that bad news is always worse when you’re cold, hungry, and tired? After a moment, he snapped his fingers and said, “Wait a minute. I have one fuel pump I took off another truck that might get you there. It’s a long shot and so you’re probably out of luck. But let me check.”

He trundled off into the warmth of the garage and closed the door. I shivered over to Karon and told her that we might have to bunk here in this frozen paradise for a while. We looked at the girls, who were happily playing with Dusty. Could even this cat have been part of God’s strategy?

“Hey!” It was the mechanic. “What are the chances? I never would have believed it! This is exactly the fuel pump you need. Somebody is certainly looking out for you. Tell you what. I’ll work on this late and should be able to get you on the road by 10 a.m.” And he did.

What were the chances that a small-town mechanic would have just one fuel pump in his shop, and that it would work on our truck? God took a hand.

Finances, with guidance thrown in for free

  • In 1972, we drove from California to Indiana so I could attend seminary. Another long drive. We still had two girls, but no cat. (Sadly, Dusty had died in L.A.) Karon was pregnant with our third child. A benefactor had paid my first year’s tuition and we had sent ahead one month’s deposit on a rental house. Besides that, we were pretty much broke. However, we felt God was leading us and we firmly believed that He would take care of us. I had a part-time job as an associate pastor lined up that might just pay for food and rent. After that? We trusted God to handle it.

As the baby grew, Karon lined up an obstetrician. The appointment was $10. We knew the delivery would be by Caesarian section, which would be several days in the hospital and surgical expenses. Of course, we had no health insurance and few resources. One day a cashier’s check for $500 appeared anonymously in our church mail box. We’re still not sure who did it, but God knows. Two weeks before the delivery date, the doctor examined Karon and pronounced her in fine shape. He was going on vacation but would be back in plenty of time.

The next night Karon went into hard labor! That big baby was not going to endure two more weeks in his cramped quarters. With our obstetrician out of town, we drove to the hospital. Some doctor would surely be on duty. It so happened that the doctor on call at Community Hospital was Dr. Robert McCurdy, the finest surgeon in Anderson. We had not met him; however, he had served as a missionary doctor in Kenya when my parents were there and he held them in high regard. He delivered our son, Jonathan, who, at 8 lbs., 11 oz. was presented to us by a smiling nurse as a “big, fat boy.” For over a year our little girls had been praying for a brother.

Interestingly, we never got a bill from Dr. McCurdy’s office. After a couple of months, we inquired, only to be told that Dr. McCurdy had written off the bill for his services, including surgery, as a gift to my parents in appreciation for their influence on his life. God takes a hand.

Even with these generous gifts, many other bills had accumulated. Around that time Dr. Sid Guillén, head of the language department of Anderson College, called to ask me if I would teach two units of beginning Spanish for second semester. He was in a bind. He certainly must have been desperate to ask me. I’m not sure where he heard that I had a Spanish minor with my undergraduate degree, but he had, and I said yes. Remember earlier I mentioned that God had directed me to choose Spanish as my elective in high school? Do I even need to mention that the income from those two classes paid every outstanding balance we had, and in full?

Were these all just coincidences?

Some people will choose to believe these were all just happy coincidences. Not us! All of our lives we have asked God to help us, to save us, and to direct us. At the wedding altar we committed our lives not only to each other, but to him, until death do us part. And because of His generous love, deep commitment to people, and because He always keeps his word, we have not once lacked for any true need. No one leads a charmed life and many problems and difficulties have come our way. But God promises to be with us always, night and day.

Not everyone has the guarantee of this marvelous protection, and we don’t have it because we earned it or deserve it. God gives it to those who follow him and put him first. If you do that, you, too, will experience this extraordinary kind of living. This is the promise: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear….  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:25,33).

William Cullen Bryant summarized it in his classic poem, “To a Waterfowl:”

He, who, from zone to zone, 

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, 

In the long way that I must trace alone, 

Will lead my steps aright.

 

 

Why you should believe in angels

Most everyone, it seems, believes in angels. Popular American culture has encouraged this view with classic Christmas films like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “The Bishop’s Wife.” Today in 2017 scores of current television shows and series have angels as their primary theme. An ABC news poll in 2008 found that more than half of all adults, including one in five of those who say they are not religious, believe that they have been protected by a guardian angel during their life.[1] An AP poll in 2011 found that 77 percent of adults believe that angels are real.

Do you believe in angels? I do.

Angel Number One

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Our girls  in 1971.

In 1970 Karon, I, and our two girls were attending the Oregon State camp meeting. We had borrowed a large and luxurious Oldsmobile from Karon’s Dad so we could pull a small trailer we borrowed from L. T. and Helen Flynt. (We were always borrowing things in those days.) One afternoon we were on the way from the somewhat isolated camp ground to town and the car died. Nothing we could do helped and all of my mechanical knowledge could fit onto the head of a pin. We sat by the road for quite a while, now and then trying to start the engine again. No luck. Interestingly no traffic went by at all. We were getting increasingly frustrated when Mimi, our four-year old, suggested that we pray about it. Of course! For some reason, I said, “Good idea, Mimi. Why don’t you pray?” And she promptly prayed a simple, faith-filled prayer that, as I remember, went something like this, “Dear God, please fix this car and don’t let it stop any more. Amen.” That was it.

Shortly thereafter we noticed a man walking towards us down the road, the first person we had seen. He walked over to my open window and asked what was wrong. I told him. He offered that he was a retired GM mechanic and if I would release the hood, he’d take a look. In a few moments, the engine was running, and “it didn’t stop any more.” The man laughingly refused any compensation and walked away. We were able to take our outing, finish the camp meeting, and return the car and trailer without incident. Who was the man? No one at the camp ground knew of a retired GM mechanic. What are the odds of such a person showing up at just the right time? Karon and I are sure that he was an angel who came in answer to a child’s simple prayer of faith.

Angel Number Two

Our first pastorate began one year later in Culver City, California. We were young and inexperienced, but we never doubted that God had called us to that church or that he was working among us. Our church building was on the corner of two busy four-lane boulevards. A KFC, gas station, and a Jack in the Box drive-in sat on the other three corners. Fire engines often roared screaming by during worship services. Our congregation was made up of two main groups: longtime Christians and baby Christians. We never knew what was going to happen. We even had an encounter with a demon-possessed woman. However, before she started attending, we had a much more wonderful visitor.

When you entered the church, stairs led you either up to the sanctuary or down to the basement where there were classrooms and a kitchen. Sunday services took place in the sanctuary. Wednesday evening prayer meeting and Bible study was held in the basement and was a much smaller, more intimate group. After a short Bible study, we spent our time sharing prayer requests, holding hands, and praying aloud. Our eyes were shut when we heard someone open the door upstairs, come down to the basement, and take a seat in our circle. When there was a break in praying, our unknown visitor began praying for us. It was a beautiful, powerful, and altogether heavenly prayer prayed by someone who knew us intimately but also knew that God was at work. His words were filled with power, hope, and strength. He prayed that God would anoint us, use us, and protect us in our fledgling ministry. When he said amen, someone else began to pray. Later, when we opened our eyes, he was gone.

It’s only as I write this, forty-six years later, that I realize that this unseen visitor, this angel, prayed for us before the demon-possessed woman arrived. Her stay among us was brief, maybe six months, but when she was present, worship was interrupted, hymnals dropped, babies cried, and a chilly spirit settled over us like a pall. Karon and I visited in her home one day—I think to pray with her as she had been ill—and as we prayed for God’s Spirit to heal her, Karon opened her eyes to see the woman glaring at us with uncanny, deep hatred. That was our confirmation of the demon possession, which explained so many things. Thank God she never returned, nor did the chill she brought to worship. Our heavenly visitor prepared us for that experience with his powerful prayers. Karon and I are sure that he was an angel.

Angel Number Three

Ten years later we were living in Anderson, Indiana. I was doing a lot of traveling and speaking at missions’ conventions. It was mid-March and normally tulips and daffodils would have been pushing up through the soil by then. But it had been an unusually cold and snowy winter, and a freak blizzard had almost stranded me on the way home from the Indianapolis airport at 2:00 am one morning a week earlier. This week I was driving back and forth to North Webster, Indiana for nightly meetings. The last night as I left the church for home, a two-hour drive, I heard ice hitting the windshield. For the most part, however, the roads were passable, and I continued home without incident until the last thirty minutes or so. Just south of Marion I hit a patch of black ice and my car began sliding sideways across the road at about 40 mph. Thankfully, there was no traffic at this late hour. The two-lane road fell away on both sides and was lined by huge trees and the occasional billboard. As I slid out of control I saw the large iron posts of a billboard careening toward my window and I braced for the inevitable crash. The car lurched to a stop, spilling the hot coffee I had just bought at a Marion drive-in. I quickly realized that I was okay. I jumped out to see if the car was damaged. It was not, having stopped less than six inches from the huge iron post supporting the billboard. Immediately I had a vision of an angel standing between me and the billboard pole as he stopped the car in safety. There could be no other explanation as the ground was slick with mud not yet frozen with no boulders or trees to break the onward rush of my car. I believe that angel saved me. (However, he did not help me find a telephone or summon a tow truck.)

Angel Number Four

My parents, Clair and Retha Shultz, recount the following experience in their book, Tracks of God.[2]  They were in Africa, far from home, having traveled to see a doctor. Before returning home, they spent the night in a guest house. “During the night a hard, lingering rain came down. Roads in the country are usually just dirt roads. When the roads are dry they are very dusty, and rain turns them into very slippery mud. The next morning we saw the road was bad, but thought we could go on, so we started. Soon we started up a slight incline and the car began to skid sideways and even turn around. When we had come to a complete stop we saw a man walking a short distance ahead of us, coming toward us. He came over and spoke to us saying there was no way we could drive on the road. He reminded us that there was another way that would take us to the highway, but it was a tricky road to follow, and we might get lost. He said, ‘If you want me to, I will get in the car with you and direct you so you can reach the highway. When we get there, I will walk back and finish my own journey.’

“He helped me turn the car around, traveled with us, told us to turn here and there, with no road signs to guide us and finally, with his help, we saw the paved road just ahead. When we stopped the car, he got out, said goodbye and started walking back to his former place on the road. Who was he? We had no idea. Did he ask for a tip or money? No! It was a bit strange that he happened to be right there when we were sliding off the road, even helps reverse the car, so it slid over where it should be, and then acted as our guide to the highway.”

I believe that man was an angel.

angel-protecting-daniel-in-the-lions-den

What does the Bible say about angels and their interaction with us? They…

  • deliver divine messages (Daniel 8:15-18; Luke 1:11, 9, 26; Acts 8:26)
  • help and serve Christians (Hebrews 1:14).
  • interact with us without our recognizing them (Hebrews 13:2).
  • are used to help answer prayer (Acts 12:7).
  • observe Christians in our lives (1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Timothy 5:21).
  • are curious about Jesus’ intervention for us (1 Peter 1:12).
  • encourage Christians in dangerous times (Acts 27:23-24).
  • are interested in the human mission to spread the truth about Jesus (Luke 15:10); and
  • they care for Christians at death (Luke 16:22; Jude 9).

The following two references bring me great encouragement, and not only in times of trouble.

Hebrews 1:14

14 Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

thomas-blackshear-african-american-painter-watcher-in-the-nightPsalm 91:11

If you make the Lord your refuge,

if you make the Most High your shelter,

10 no evil will conquer you;

no plague will come near your home.

11 For he will order his angels

to protect you wherever you go.

My brief but unforgettable encounters with angels—and those of others—remind me time after time that God is aware of my needs and takes the initiative to provide for me and my family. It comforts me to remember this because sometimes I forget that God is always with me.

I’m thinking that you, too, have had angelic encounters. Why don’t you share them with me and with others? These stories can only bring encouragement and hope.

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=5833399

[2] Pp. 92-93, Tracks of God, ©2006 by Clair and Retha Shultz, Chinaberry House, Anderson, IN.