Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8
It was a long, hard day. When my wife and I lived in Warrensburg, Missouri we were renting a home in a still developing subdivision called Valley View. We were just back from a three-year USAF stay in Germany, still newlyweds with only four years under our belt, and with a newly hatched dream. While we loved the house we were renting, we, like so many, dreamed of owning our own home. It was a crazy time economically as interest rates were running about 18 percent and inflation was at a record rate. And then a window opened.
The developer of our subdivision was a rough around the edges man named Mr. Bowlen. We bumped into him around the neighborhood as he was still building houses. He planted a thought in our minds and hearts. He said the government had a program that might allow us to build a house. They would pay half the interest. Well compared to eighteen percent, nine sounded pretty enticing. And before we knew, we were approved and a piece of land on Hilltop Drive had our name on it. He let us add a few things like a bay window and a fireplace in the basement. It added a bit to the bottom line, but they were worth it.
I’m still not sure if this was a wise financial decision for us. It ended ok, and that’s another story, but it did cause some financial tension. To help, he suggested I do some work equity and let me tell you…it was hard work. I ended up doing all the painting and staining inside and out. And for a guy who had never done anything like that—it was a challenge. That’s another story, too. There was also another opportunity to help with the financial tension.
Mr. Bowlen told me that he would be willing to let me work for him on Saturdays doing some basic labor. He then said he would pay me $15.00 per hour. Now that was good money back in 1983 so I agreed although I was way out of my comfort zone. To set the stage, I was in the Air Force, that was my day job, I was pastoring a small church for a whopping $50 a week, that was my Sunday job, and now I was going to work for Mr. Bowlen on Saturdays. Like I said…it was way out of my comfort zone. So, Saturday came.
The work site was just down from our rental house, so I just walked over. It was early in the morning and we were going to be putting up metal (as in heavy metal) forms to pour a basement for another house. We had to lift the forms in place and hammer pins in place to hold it all together. Well, besides dropping my hammer one time inside the forms, things went pretty well. We called it a day about 4:00 pm…just in time for me to get home and start trying to write a sermon for the next day. I was exhausted. I bet that was at least one short sermon!
So, the next week I bumped into Mr. Bowlen and he had a check for me. Finally, the fruit of my labor that Saturday was in my hands. Based on his comment about $15.00 per hour and eight hours of labor, I was expecting a check for around a hundred dollars. Instead, I found a check for forty dollars and some change. I was, uh, shocked. I said, “Mr. Bowlen is this right?” He assured me that it was, and I said, “I thought you were paying $15.00 an hour.” He chuckled and said, “Oh, I was only kidding about that. We pay laborers $5.00 an hour.” I wasn’t laughing. In fact, as much as I liked him, I felt betrayed—ripped off. From my view, one thing was promised, and another given. And that was my first and only Saturday working for Mr. Bowlen.
Betrayed and ripped off. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that way about another person? Have you ever felt that way…about God? Because people are broken and imperfect, just like us, there is a measure of understanding. It doesn’t make it any less painful but at least it sometimes softens the blow. But what about God? What about when it seems God doesn’t keep His Word? That’s a tough one.
What I have learned over my years as a Jesus follower, and as a pastor, that when it seems we feel betrayed or ripped off by God it is because we have misread or misapplied His Word. You see, His Word is full of promises, but we need to make sure that the promises were made to us and for us. We can’t claim promises that were made to another person or group of people. God made promises to Abraham that just aren’t ours to claim.
Too often, unfortunately, preachers, teachers, and ordinary people make promises on God’s behalf that God never intended or said. And, when they don’t come true, well, we blame God and that is not right or fair. I’ve been a Jesus follower for 45 years now, and I can tell you one thing—He has never failed me or failed to keep His Word. He is a promise keeping God—when the promise is mine. No, I’ve not always liked how things turned out or His way of working something out, but I can say I’ve never felt betrayed or ripped off. He is a good God who is good at being God. You can trust Him.
Well, Mr. Bowlen’s little joke was a hard lesson for me to learn but it was a valuable one. His heart was good, but his sense of humor was not. I’m glad my Dearest Daddy, the God I can call Father, has a perfect heart and His will and plan for me is perfect. I know no matter what I will face, His plan is for my good and His glory—and that is good enough. I can face today knowing, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne