"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:17-18)
There are so many Bible verses I could have used to start this piece, but since it has to do with God supernaturally intervening in the lives of very ordinary people, I chose those words from Acts chapter two. One of the hardest aspects of being a "Spirit-filled, Bible-believing Christian who believes in the dramatic and dynamic interventions of the Holy Spirit, and that absolutely nothing is impossible with God" is also coping with things when life is difficult, confusing, and seemingly unfair. We sing a song entitled, Blessed Be Your Name, which has a line about, "when there's pain in the offering". Yes, that's what I'm talking about. The Israelites in the time of the exodus from Egypt got very angry with God and with Moses. Many of them became so angry, despondent and faithless that they seriously desired to return to Egypt, ask the Egyptians' forgiveness, and just volunteer to be slaves again! Yet, these were the people who'd experienced the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, and God miraculously sending free food [i.e. manna] on a regular basis. They became so obsessed with their problems and difficulties that they [apparently] forgot about His miracles done to bless and help them! I'm so embarrassed to admit that I'm so much like them! I can focus on my immediate situation with its problems, perplexities, and difficulties and completely forget about great things God has done for me. In fact, God has done many great things for me, although I'm in one of those "dry" and challenging periods of life right now. Today is Saturday, and on this Saturday I've found myself thinking about a great intervention of God in my past.
The year was 1988. It seems like only about eleven years ago; I can't believe it was over twenty-eight years ago! It was mid-June. Our family was leaving for a one week vacation on Cape Cod. We would be staying at a cottage owned by a family who attended the church we pastored in Framingham. In those days, we had only one car. (We did not become a two car family until 1993.) Our car was a 1982 AMC Concord station wagon. (Some people called it a "Rambler" which is fine because the name of the Rambler make was changed to AMC some years prior to 1982.) We bought the AMC used in 1985. For the most part, it was a terrible car. It leaked oil- lots and lots of oil every day in any location in which it was parked! Our driveway was covered with oil stains and looked horrible. It "broke down" a lot! There were many vacuum leak problems with that car, there were many radiator problems with that car, and from time to time, there were carburetor problems with that car. Frankly, I spent a number of very sad and frustrating days because of that 1982 AMC station wagon! On that mid-June Saturday morning, we packed the car and I attempted to start the car. There's no way the car was going to start! I telephoned Bill Lincoln, a member of our church, and one of the finest mechanics I've ever known. Bill came over, literally took out the carburetor, took it apart, cleaned it, put it back, and the car started. What a way to start a vacation!
Driving to Cape Cod during that morning, I experienced something mystical and supernatural. I did not hear an audible voice, but it was so real and so definite that it might as well have been an audible voice. Deep inside my spirit was a silent yet very real and very powerful impression. The message I was getting was this: "You will leave this car on Cape Cod. One week from today you will drive off Cape Cod in another car which you will buy while you're on vacation on Cape Cod."
I didn't say anything to Mary Ann. I thought she might think I was nuts. And I felt like maybe I was nuts! You'd have to know me well to understand this, but I can be a very rigid and inflexible person. Shopping for a car while on vacation on Cape Cod (or anywhere else) is something I would never, ever do for many reasons. I was totally puzzled. There was no way I was going to shop for a car or buy a car while on vacation, so how could that inner impression be correct? Yet, I knew I received that message, and I knew it was real, it was powerful, it was supernatural, and dare I say it: It was God.
The very next day we were at the home of Fred and Shelley, friends of ours, in Mashpee. Shelley asked what was happening in our lives and how things were going. I mentioned that we were having a lot of problems with our car. Shelley suddenly became both very still and very happy and excited. She said with conviction and enthusiasm, "I believe God is going to have you buy a car and it's going to be very soon. It's going to be a little scary, but the whole situation is going to be of God and you're to buy that car!"
Wow! I don't remember what I said at that point. We went through a normal few days of vacation on Cape Cod. On Thursday afternoon, we stopped to visit the Sandwich Fish Hatchery. I'm not sure why we even went there, but when I was a kid our family had visited the fish hatchery, and I thought our kids just might like it. About fifteen minutes after we'd started walking around, I looked and to my shock, a guy named Tom that we knew [who was both a fellow Assemblies of God minister and a car salesman] strolled onto the grounds of the fish hatchery with his daughter. Tom walked right up to me and almost on cue asked, "Are you looking to buy a car?"
"Well," I replied, "in the flesh, no; but in the Spirit, maybe!"
Tom said he thought he had the perfect car for us. He asked us to stop into the dealership in Hyannis on Friday morning, and we agreed to that. The next day, Tom told me he'd been driving by the Sandwich Fish Hatchery and [similar to my own experience while driving to Cape Cod] he got a strong inner impression from God to drive into the fish hatchery and begin walking around. He said he'd thought, "But I've already been to the fish hatchery!" Instantly, that inner impression replied, "Yes, but your daughter hasn't seen it." When Tom saw me he said he knew God was up to something and believed a very desirable used car on their lot was probably for the Barils.
On Friday morning, we test drove a 1986 Plymouth Caravelle. (That was a mid-sized model, also marketed by Chrysler Corporation as the Dodge 600. ) We still were making payments on the AMC. The payments on the Plymouth would be for four and a half years, and would be almost double what we were paying for the AMC, and frankly couldn't afford. Yet, Mary Ann and I knew this was of God. We said "Yes". We signed the appropriate paperwork. We were told this would all be processed through the local Registry of Motor Vehicles branch and that the Plymouth would be ready to pick up on Saturday morning.
After we made the deal, we went out for Chinese food. In the parking lot of the Chinese restaurant, we smelled an unpleasant odor, and noticed green anti-freeze fluid pouring onto the parking lot. I had to call AAA to come and help us! Had we made the right decision to get rid of the AMC and buy the Plymouth? It sure seemed like we did!
I'll never forget that shortly after we got home and showed the "new" car to a couple from the church, the wife gave me one of the dirtiest looks I've ever received from anyone! "How did you possibly buy that car?" she'd asked. "I financed it!" I'd excitedly announced, and that's what brought the dirty look! During the 1980s there were many evangelical Christians who taught it was always wrong and always out of the will of God to finance an automobile. I think she believed that. And, frankly, we couldn't afford the car. Well, we made the car payment every month for four and a half years, and we had that car for two and a half years beyond the payment book. Mary Ann has an expression that we, "drive our cars into the ground". Usually, we do exactly that! On a late summer day in 1995, a flatbed truck pulled up to 40 Harrison Street in Framingham, loaded up the 1986 Plymouth Caravelle and hauled it away.
This is only one of probably scores of similar stories of God's intervention in my life that I've experienced. Honestly, I don't know why sometimes God seems very silent and very distant. I know He's not. I also know at times I've cried myself to sleep wondering why a prayer went unanswered or a terrible disappointment took place, and wondering why God seemed to be not there. I want Him to be as present and as real and as dramatic and even as cool and mystical as He was to me in that situation involving the purchase of the '86 Plymouth. And, yes, this is why we teach "new Believers" that we "don't go by feelings". I guess if those "mountaintop" kind of things always happened, we'd take God for granted. A true story such as this one about the two Saturdays in 1988 keeps me on track, praying, reading my Bible, "witnessing for Christ", going to church services, and hoping for the future. I needed to be reminded of it this week, and if it was helpful to you in any way, I'm glad, and I hope you'll give the glory to God!