“Clear!” the nurse shouted to the array of other medical personnel who had rushed into the room where they had been performing a “routine” arteriogram on me. It was May 11, 2018, and she would yell that echoing word two more times, followed each time by what can only be described as feeling like my body was being exploded – internally detonated. I honestly still don’t know a year later, whether they had 10 more tricks up their sleeve to try and get my heart back going, or only one more. But, the doctor was able to figure out it was a blood flow issue and not just an electrical rhythm problem, and thankfully that approach proved successful. The doctors don’t have a good answer for why I had blockage there to begin with, in only one artery, somewhat unusually shaped, in a man of my age and health, but I’m thankful for the stint they were able to insert, and for good reports that I’m an otherwise healthy dude.
(If you would like to know more about all that happened last year, go here.)
KISS THE WAVE – A book my wife, Patience, has been reading to us, bit by bit, the last 6-7 months, quotes Charles Spurgeon, the preacher of the 1800s in London, who endured personal chronic suffering, as well as tragedies in his congregation. He said, “They who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.” The same man said, “I have learned to kiss the wave, that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I have thought a lot and prayed a lot through those statements, which I recognize are absolutely in line with Biblical teaching, despite what the TV preachers might try to tell us. God uses struggle in our lives.
(For my messages from last fall on this theme, begin with Aug 12 in our sermon archive, here)
RARE PEARLS – In the weeks following my incident last year, I wrote a good bit, not necessarily to share with anyone but just to process and record what I sensed the Lord was teaching me. I’m thankful to be able to write some more, now one year later, and hope the Lord plans to give me a good number more years. As I recovered, some good friends from our church came by and the husband said that I would not believe this at the time, but I would one day see the whole experience as a gift. I’m still sorting through that for sure. But in my clear moments, I am seeing his point. The Lord has given me some “rare pearls.”
HEAVENLY MINDED? – One of those pearls is seeing that one can be worldly, even as a pastor. Pastors, like everyone else, have sin patterns that hound us daily. But in general I’d say most of us are a bit less likely than others to chase after the material things of this life. It kinda comes with the job description. But one can be worldly in other ways. This past year it has definitely been no fun to have a heightened, sometimes overly acute, sense of my mortality. Yet this has really helped me to see that I had preached to others about the blessings of living “heavenly minded” but I had not progressed very far toward that myself. I might not have been worldly in trying to stockpile material stuff in this life, or acquire the latest sportscar, but my attention, my focus, my hopes in many areas, were rooted in the here and now, not in the life to come.
TRUST IN THE LORD – When I came to faith in Christ during my high school years the passage that resonated so mightily in my soul was Prov 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your path.” Fact is, I like my own understanding. I like thinking I can plan out the next 40 years of my life and I have control over it. I don’t like James 4:13 “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” I like trusting in myself. I don’t like losing my life to save it. I don’t know all that the Lord is doing in my life and those around me through the struggles I faced, and their continued effect on me, but I know that even if I have made some progress in applying these passages the last 27 years since I first began my spiritual journey, I still have a long way to go.
CHRIST THE SUFFERING ONE – Another spiritual lesson the Lord gave me, especially right after my struggles, was the contrast between the struggle I faced and that of Jesus. I’m not sure why this particular reality of my situation has stood out to me, but maybe it will help someone, somehow to read and consider it. Without Christ, I deserve God’s wrath and separation from Him. Jesus does not deserve any pain or separation. Yet he accepted it for us. A year ago today, I was surrounded by people trying to help me and the pain they inflicted was momentary and for my restoration. The people around Jesus were trying to hurt him, badly…so badly…and his pain was ongoing, comprehensive.
CHRIST THE RESURRECTED ONE – My heart will one day sputter again, and then stop completely, unless Jesus returns sooner. And so will yours, and your spouse’s and your children’s. But Jesus has a resurrected heart, and he will give you and me such a heart one day, if we are found in him, by faith and repentance. I’m more excited about that than I have ever been. And I hoped to be used in God’s hands to help others discover that resurrected life in Christ.
SUSTAINED BY GOD’S WORD – As I mentioned, my wife and I have been carving out time weekly, or close to it, for us to read a book together. I like listening to her read to me. As a preacher I’m always speaking stuff, and when folks speak to me, I’m sure like other professions, it is often because they are looking for something from me. My wife just reads to me, to help me…to help us. We’ve worked through an excellent book Kiss the Wave, by David Furman. He has suffered immensely and chronically. Others around me have as well. The book has been an invitation to dive deeper into the truths of God’s word about struggles and his grace to be found in them. Whatever challenges we face, certainly all are opportunities to live more dependent on the Rock of Ages.
THE WAY FORWARD – Thanks for taking time to read this far and let me share these matters with you. Maybe it will bless or challenge others in some God-glorifying way. Pray for me when you can. And redeem the time. Not in an anxious way, but in a heaven-focused way. Get yourself ready for heaven, not just by professing Christ as some kind of fire insurance but by plunging fully into the local body of Christ, a bit of heaven here on earth. Seek help from that body for your journey and offer what help you can to others along the path. Pray. Hug your wife or kids or friend. Pray. Embrace the first catechism question…what is the chief end of man…to glorify and enjoy God forever. And tell others the way to finding that “end.” And pray…