64 Years in Ministry and Counting….

I have been privileged to be a pastor for about 9 years. In the first church I served at, my tenure lasted about 4 years. The second tenure lasted about 3.5 years and now I am serving as pastor of a third local church. Surprisingly, my experience as a pastor is not unique. It does seem short, but statistics tell us that the average pastoral tenure lasts about 3.6 years. To state the obvious, that’s not very long and this illustrates the unfortunate state of pastoral longevity today.

 

It was not always this way. One of my hero’s of the faith, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), grew up during a time where long pastorates were the norm. His grandfather Solomon Stoddard pastored the same church for over 55 years. His father Timothy Edwards pastored the same church for over 60 years. And had he not been forced to resign from his church after (only) 23 years, it’s safe to assume Jonathan Edwards would have served till the time of his death, just like his father and grandfather and the majority of pastors in Puritan New England. The relationship between pastor and church was kind of like a marriage – “till death do us part” was the idea. That is not to say there was never conflict, but there was a long-term commitment that was virtually unbreakable. In the three centuries since, the pastoral landscape has changed dramatically.

 

Over the past few months I have gotten to know a man by the name of Dave Lewis. Dave is a kind and humble man who loves to golf and I am told is quite competitive. Dave is a fellow pastor and when we met one morning at a local MacDonald’s I asked Dave, “How long have you served at your church?” I knew he was an older gentleman but his answer still blew me away…. 64 years! Dave started serving at Bald Eagle Alliance Church in Osceola Mills, PA way back in 1953, not long after he had graduated from Bible College. While a lot has changed during that time, and countless pastors (including me) have transitioned to other churches, Dave has stayed put. From what I can tell, he doesn’t have any retirement plans, even though he is now 87 years old.

 

I was curious so I asked Dave what the secret of his longevity was. He answered, “the grace of God and the will of God.” His simple answer hints at a profound truth. It is not God’s will for every pastor to spend his entire ministry at one church. However, in the case of Dave, God ordained that he would have a lifetime ministry at one local church. Such a long ministry was only possible through the sustaining grace of God.

 

As we continued to talk, Dave spoke to the need of every pastor to read good books and even mentioned a few authors by name. “Read Bunyan, Newton, Spurgeon, and above all Tozer” he said. Dave talked about the early days of his ministry when he heard A.W. Tozer preach on several occasions. Ever since Tozer’s death in the 1960’s, he has drunk deeply of Tozer’s works and it was almost as if he knew Tozer like a close friend. Pastor Dave is a voracious reader of Christian classics and he encouraged me in that same direction.

 

There were a few other things that pastor Dave counseled me on that are worth mentioning. Prayer for him is the “power house” of the ministry. Of course, he was simply echoing what Charles Spurgeon and many others have said before him. Having a focus on prayer is absolutely vital when it comes to maintaining a long and fruitful ministry. He also spoke to the need of every pastor to immerse himself in Scripture. While there are plenty of good titles and good authors (such as the above mentioned), there is no substitute for the Word of God.

 

When I asked Dave to tell me about his church, he had nothing but good things to say about his people. “They are the most loving and gracious people a pastor could ever ask for,” he said. Even after all these years, there was still a love affair between the pastor and his people. I have been around long enough to know that this is unique and I found Dave’s words concerning his congregation to be refreshing and encouraging. Perhaps the thing that I found most remarkable about Pastor Dave is that there is still a fire in his belly that drives him. As he shared about what he was preaching and teaching on in the coming week, there was clearly a passion and excitement. It seemed as though he couldn’t wait to share the riches that he had discovered from his study of God’s word. Even after 64 years of preaching the Word and shepherding the flock, the fire has not dimmed.

 

If you tried to look up Dave on the internet, you would find that he does not have a web presence of any sort. His church doesn’t have a website, he does not have a blog, nor does he have a twitter following. Dave is what we would call “old school” but I believe he is a model worth following and one that is all but lost in our day and age. Pease understand I am not here to put Dave on a pedestal. When I asked him about doing a little write-up on him, he was very hesitant to agree, not just because he is a humble man, but because he is aware of his own sin and shortcomings. Dave doesn’t want anyone to look to him or to any other man. Rather he would have us look to Christ (Isaiah 45:22) and His power to save. As the psalmist puts it, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).

 

Far too many pastors start off wanting to be the next John Piper or Tim Keller or some other famous pastor. It’s fine to have good models in pastoral ministry but it is unhelpful and even detrimental to aim for ministry success from a worldly perspective. This is kingdom building of the wrong kind and it happens all the time. God is simply calling pastors to be faithful (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-4, John 21:15-17, 2 Timothy 4:2) and diligent (2 Timothy 1:11-12) and to serve with endurance (2 Timothy 4:6-8) knowing that one day the Lord of glory will reward them for their labors.

 

Few pastors will ever spend the entirety of their ministry at one church. Obviously, Dave Lewis is unique and I praise God for his life and ministry and the example that he has given us. Many others have served well over the years, and perhaps you have heard of them and are aware of their ministries, but it is a safe bet that most are unknown to the world, except for the people and communities they serve. We can praise God for these faithful men, however, if you are looking for the best model to follow, look no further that the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate “good shepherd” (John 10:11) who lays his life down for the sheep. Every pastor should strive to emulate him and serve in the grace and wisdom that only He can give.

 

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The Not So Hidden Treasure That Is Christ

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A couple weeks ago, our family vacationed at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and of course, we had a great time. One morning, Steph and I up were up early doing devotions and enjoying a spectacular sunrise when we saw a funny sight. A guy with a metal detector was walking very slowly and was clearly searching for treasure on the beach. If you are a beach-goer, you will know that seeing that kind of thing on the beach is not out of the ordinary. It’s pretty common actually, but what struck me was that he was headed in the direction of the rising sun. Now, anytime you can see a sunrise, it is amazing (see Psalm 19:4b-6). We often take it for granted, but it is even more amazing when you see it rising over the ocean, like we did that morning. We had a most remarkable backdrop, but it was almost as if he missed it. He was searching for little gadgets and trinkets that might be worth something, but missed something truly priceless.

 

Now, if you are one of those people who like to use your metal detector to find hidden treasure, don’t hear me the wrong way. Don’t give up your hobby. Keep enjoying what you do and maybe you will strike it rich some day….lol. There is obviously nothing wrong with what that guy on the beach was doing. It is just a hobby that he (along with thousands of other people) does and enjoys. But for me this served as an illustration pertaining to our value system. We all have values. There are things that we value greatly while there are other things we don’t value at all. You have heard the saying, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” I’ve said to people before, “why would you spent that much money on that thing?” I’ve had other people say the same to me. In the study of economics, this is called “The Subjective Theory of Value.” That is a fancy title but it has to do with a rather simple concept – values are subjective and not objective. In other words, one person places more value on certain things than another person and vice versa.

 

As Christians, however, we recognize that there values that are beyond the category of subjective. As we study the Scriptures, we come to see that we must align our value system with God’s value system. We must love the things He loves and hate the things He hates. We must treasure what He treasures and forsake what He forsakes. The apostle Paul wrote, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10). What this tells us is that not everything is subjective. There is an objective value system that is beyond question. It’s not about – I like this and you like that. No, it is more like – God values this and therefore, that trumps our subjective opinions. Just like that, we have moved from a subjective value system to an objective value system and that transition happens through Holy Scripture. God’s word shows us what is truly valuable, excellent, praiseworthy, lovely, commendable, etc (see Philippians 4:8).

 

In the gospels, there are a couple of short parables that illustrate what I am saying. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46). In the ancient world, there weren’t banks like we have today. Often people would gather up their treasures and valuables, dig a hole, and leave them there for safekeeping. Eventually, they would go the way of the world and die, with no one knowing where the buried treasure lay. Fast forward a few decades or even centuries later, and perhaps someone would be working in the field, planting their crops when….you guessed it….they stumble upon the buried treasure. That is the basic idea with the first parable and the second is related.

 

Friend, if you knew the secret of hidden treasure what would you do to acquire it? What lengths would you go in order to lay claim to that treasure? I want you to know that the greatest treasure in all the world is the Lord Jesus Christ. To find Him is to find life itself (John 14:6). What is so amazing is that Jesus has not hid himself from us (Romans 10:6-13) but has revealed himself in a most remarkable way. He has made Himself available to all who would call upon His name.

 

Getting back to my opening illustration, the sun serves as a pointer to the Son – the Son of Righteousness. How sad to think that there are scores of people who are searching for treasure in this world when the greatest treasure is right there in front of them – the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

 

We live in a world with a very skewed value system. We value and treasure the things of the world (what the Bible calls transient and passing away), while laying aside that which is of infinite value, namely Christ Himself. Like the sun rising over the ocean, Christ is in no way hiding himself from us. Through His spoken Word and through the created world, God has revealed Himself most clearly and unmistakably. The question is, do we have eyes to see and hearts that are willing to receive the One who is more beautiful, more glorious, more excellent than anyone or anything? Of course, that question remains to be answered.

 

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).

A Word to Pastors….Read Good Books!

Last week I had the privilege of leading a group of 20-25 pastors and their wives in a time of learning and fellowship. The topic I chose to speak on was that of Reading Good Books. Typically, most pastors have a reputation for reading a lot, as well we should. But more often than not, our busy schedules tend to crowd out time for reading. This should not be. No doubt ministry can be demanding and challenging, but pastors must find time to read good books.

Let me say up front that first and foremost, the pastor is a man of one book – the Bible. There is no substitute for immersing yourself in Scripture and drinking deeply from the fountain of God’s Word. As the Psalmist puts it, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Day and night, night and day, the pastor feeds and nourishes his soul with the manna of God’s Word. He does so not simply for his own relationship with the Lord, but also that he might feed the flock of God (John 21:15-17, 1 Peter 5:2) and supply them with the nourishment they so desperately need. Just to reiterate, the pastor is a man of the Book – God’s Book.

Having said that, it is vital for the pastor to surround himself with other books that aid him in better understanding God’s word. I have in mind books like biblical commentaries and books on biblical theology and such. Obviously, those are not the only books you should read, but they should make up an important part of your reading diet. We are all going to gravitate towards different kinds of books, but strive to ensure that the books you read challenge you, point you to Christ and His glory, and broaden your understanding of Scripture.

Reading is perhaps not as difficult as we think. John Piper breaks it down this way: “Suppose you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do). This means that in twenty minutes you can read about five thousand words. An average book has about four hundred words to a page. So you could read about twelve-and-a-half pages in twenty minutes. Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year. That would be 312 times 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages. Assume that an average book is 250 pages long. This means you could read fifteen books like that in one year.”Later on Piper quotes John Stott, who suggests a minimum of one hour per day. “Many will achieve more. But the minimum would amount to this: every day at least one hour; every week one morning, afternoon or evening; every month a full day; every year a week. Set out like this, it sounds very little. Indeed, it is too little. Yet everybody who tries it is surprised to discover how much reading can be done within such a disciplined framework. It tots up to nearly six hundred hours in the course of a year.” (both quotations from: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, 2002)

Let me also suggest that is not so much about the quantity that you read, as it is the quality of books that you read. As Piper and Stott tell us, read as much as you can, but strive to read the best of the best – what we would call “the classics.” Strive to read those books that have proven themselves to be of tremendous help to their readers. The logic goes something like this – if we are already short on time (which all pastors seem to be) then why not read what is going to be most edifying and beneficial to yourself and to your people. This approach is admittedly pragmatic, but Scripture calls us to “make the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

The other day I met a man by the name of Dave Lewis. Pastor Lewis has been a minister of the gospel for several decades now and he noted that he was a ‘friend’ of Tozer. A.W. Tozer died back in the 60’s so at first I was a little confused, but then I quickly realized what he meant. Having read so much of the writings of Tozer, he considered him a friend. As pastors, we should all have those trusted friends, whether dead or alive (often the dead friends are the best), that we often consult. There are a lot of great books out there and we must be disciplined enough to read some of them. Better yet, many of them. As the saying goes…leaders are readers. Truly, reading is an absolute must for the preacher of the gospel and therefore we must endeavor to set aside time every day for this important practice. Happy reading!

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The Same Old Glorious Message

Ever since Christmas, we have been slowly working our way through Matthew’s gospel as a congregation. Let me tell you, this has been a lot of fun for me. After spending much of my early ministry jumping around from passage to passage and doing one mini-series after another, I have greatly enjoyed digging deep into Matthew’s gospel. This past week, while preaching from 4:12-17, I noticed a similarity between Jesus and John the Baptist. Matthew tells us in 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’” This was the exact same message that John preached (see Matthew 3:2).

 

Granted, while this is nothing mind-blowing, it offers us a simple, yet power lesson. Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul and all the apostles, and the great saints of old all preached the same message. Of course, Jesus would expand on this message, but from the beginning of His ministry to the very end, He had one theme – repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! As preachers and Christian leaders, we must let this be our theme too.

 

The apostle Paul puts it this way in Galatians 2:6-7: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” This reminds us that there is only one gospel, and those who are faithful to the truth preach that same message. To distort the gospel is to deny the gospel.

 

There is a push today in our modern world to be innovative and flashy and cutting-edge. I know of one pastor who said that every three years they had a “new church” because he was constantly innovating and trying to appeal to our ever-changing world. I am not going to deny that in some ways, change can be helpful and even necessary (ie: how we use technology), but if the change involves compromising the message, then you have a serious problem. Pastors can be tempted to scratch those “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) all around us, but we must always resist that temptation and be true to our Lord and Master.

 

All around the world, the Church of Jesus Christ is vast and varied, and pastors serve in countless ministry contexts. How remarkable to think that in the midst of such diversity we all preach the same message….the gospel. May we be faithful to proclaim that glorious message till our dying breath. Like Paul, may we be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown or righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8

 

“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:17

 

The Hardest Year of My Life

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The last year has been a tough one to say the least. It has been hard in a number of different ways, but especially when it comes to my health. Over the past year, I have been to the emergency room 7 times (8 if you include my lime’s disease visit). I have had 4 overnight hospital stays in 3 different hospitals along with 2 surgical ablations on my heart. Along the way we moved our family of 6 to a different state as I transitioned to a new pastorate. This may sound like a lot to handle (and it was), but God’s grace has been with us every step of the way. As I tell our story of the last year, I will try to avoid getting too caught up in minutia and give you more of a big picture overview should you decide to continue reading.

 

By this time last year, we had already candidated at Mountaintop Alliance Church and had a pretty good feeling it was where God wanted us to go. I had already put in my resignation at our previous church and was scheduled to finish off December 27th, 2015. That was the plan, but things didn’t quite work out that way. On December 13th I was going through my regular Sunday morning routine when I noticed that my heart was racing. In the months leading up to this, I had noticed minor episodes where my heart rate would pick up, but it would always slow down after that. But this time was very different. I knew it was going extremely fast because it felt like my heart was beating through my chest. I laid down, hoping it would slow down, but it didn’t. Finally, I went downstairs and told Steph that she needed to take me to the emergency room. When we got there and they put me on a heart monitor, we discovered that my heart was racing at 265 beats per minute! The doctors were eventually able to get it slowed down. I ended up staying 4 days at the hospital and had an ablation done to my heart. As I talked to the doctors, they were quite confident that they had fixed the problem. I was relieved that this was behind me, and now we could focus on getting ready for our move.

 

Back in the Hospital

 

Originally, we had planned to move in early January, but after my surgery, Steph and I decided to postpone it to January 23rd instead, just to give us more time as I recovered. In the days following my surgery, I quickly realized that something was still off with my heart. Though not as serious, it was clearly racing again in a way that it shouldn’t be. Once again, this was quite scary for Steph and I. We knew that having an ablation was never a sure thing, but from what the doctors told us, we had been hopeful. Finally on January 8th, after doing everything I could to avoid going back to the emergency room, Steph took me in once again. This time my heart was (only!) racing around 200 beats per minute. The doctors were able to get it slowed down and back in rhythm. But instead of admitting me to the hospital (which is probably what they should have done in hindsight) they sent me home with a heart monitor. I was skeptical and sure enough, the next day my heart was racing again. I hoped and prayed that I wouldn’t have to go back in, but after several hours, I couldn’t take it any more and my dear wife took me into the hospital….again. This time it took quite a while (around 2 hours) for the doctors to get my heart slowed down. Not surprisingly, it was not a fun time for me, but I will never forget how I got a call from David Linn, our District Superintendent at the time. I am not sure how he heard so quickly that I was in the hospital, but Steph took the call in the emergency room because I was not in a state to talk. I praise God for his timely call. Thankfully, the doctors decided to admit me and I ended up staying a couple more days. The head doctor that performed my ablation was on vacation, so another ablation was out of the equation. The other factor that prevented anything further from happening was that we were planning on moving in less than two weeks. The doctors decided to put me on some more meds to hopefully get me through the move.

 

The Move to Central PA

 

It is amazing to think back on this time in our lives. Every moment of every day, we are dependent upon the grace of God to sustain us. Of course we know this as Christians, but during certain seasons of life, we are more keenly aware of God’s grace and this was one of them for our family. I am not quite sure how our move came together, but it did. We got a ton of help from lots of different people and we are so grateful to them. Around noon on January 23rd, we had our moving truck all packed up, but that was the weekend of the big blizzard that hit all over the country. We decided to postpone our move another day in order to get some rest and wait for better travel weather. The next day the move went really well and my health seemed to be holding up, praise God.

 

Settling Down in our New Digs

 

For the next 5 months, things went fairly well. With me now on medication, my heart seemed to be staying in rhythm and I was able to function in a manner that allowed me to continue to serve as a pastor. I was definitely not back to full strength, but God gave me what I needed to get by – His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). We started to settle down in our new town of Snow Shoe, PA and our new church and have really fallen in love with the place. In April we started to look for a new home (we had been renting) and by the end of May we had an agreement in place that would have us closing on our new home July 20th. We would be homeowners for the first time. The other event that is worth mentioning is that my new specialist in State College decided to take me off my meds. After a couple months of being weaned off, by June I was drug free and optimistic that my heart problem was now gone, and that I could finally focus on ministry and family and serving the Lord. Of course, I was quite wrong.

 

Another “Episode”

 

In mid-July we vacationed at our favorite family destination – Virginia Beach. We had a great time and I was definitely more active that I had been over the past several months, but my health seemed to be holding up. Then on the last day I had another “episode.” We were packing up and getting ready to leave when I noticed my heart racing. I tried to relax and see if it would slow down, but it was to no avail. I tried “bearing down” like the doctors had taught me to do, but it was met with the same result. Steph and I had a decision to make. Either we could go to an ER in Virginia Beach, knowing there would be a good chance I would be admitted. Or, we could try to make the 8-hour trip back home. I knew it would be hard on our family if we stayed, especially my dear wife, so I didn’t let on how bad I was feeling. Instead, I told her we should try to make it back home. I admit, it was kind of crazy, but what was even crazier is that I insisted on driving! I reasoned that it would keep my mind off of how lousy I felt.

 

About 9 hours later, by God grace, we made it back to State College and I checked into the ER. As I told the doctors what had happened that day, they were amazed at what they heard. During the whole trip home, my heart was racing, and when I got to the ER, it was still in the low 200’s. I discovered that day that I had a strong heart…..that was just messed up. They told me that most people would have passed out after a few hours or even less, but I had lasted 10 hours! This time, I did not get admitted but was sent home and told to set up another appointment with the specialist.

 

Another Move

 

Just two days later, on July 20th, we closed on our new home. We were officially homeowners, but our “new” 50-year-old home, needed some updates. For the next month we worked very hard to get it move-in-ready. Again, it was only by the grace of God that I was able to do what I did in terms of physical labor. With the help of several people from our church and some friends from New York, we moved into our new home on August 20th. Although this house has required a lot of work and investment, we have really grown to love our new home – such a blessing from the Lord. It was also during this time that I met with my cardiologist. He laid out three options for me – Another ablation, Get back on meds (likely for the rest of my life), or….. Nothing at all. Ever the optimist, I opted for #3. I was feeling good, doing lots of physical labor, and was confident things were on the up and up.

 

Another Episode

 

In late September, about a month after our move, I ended up back in the hospital. The day before, my heart had started to race, but on its own I came out of it. Once again, this gave me hope that I could get through this without either meds or surgery. But this hope was short lived as the very next day after several hours in tachycardia (racing heartbeat), Stephane took me into the ER. The doctors got my heart back in rhythm, but I was admitted and spent a couple more days in the hospital. It was now clear that something further had to be done. I didn’t want to be on meds for the rest of my life so we decided to go ahead with the ablation. For that I would have to travel 2 hours away to the Hershey Medical Center. They scheduled me for the earliest date available, which was November 10th. More waiting would be required, but I knew God was in this and that His timing was perfect.

 

The Lead up to Surgery

 

For the next few weeks, things went pretty smoothly. Once again I was feeling good and we even hosted my parents who had travelled all the way from Saskatchewan for a visit. Then on October 27th, it happened all over again. This was becoming an all too familiar pattern. We had been hoping that I could just make it to surgery without any other episodes, but it was not meant to be. Out of all my ER visits, this was the worst. One of our elders drove me to the hospital and during our half hour drive I started vomiting pretty bad, but at least I didn’t pass out. The doctors were able to get me down from 220 to about 110. However, like I had been for the past month (since my last hospital visit), I was not in sinus rhythm. In other words, my heartbeat was more of a “flutter” than anything, and the chambers of my heart were not working together like they should be. They sent me home that day, and later on we found out that my surgery got bumped up a few days to November 7th.

 

As I look back on this season of uncertainty in our lives, it is amazing how God gave us His peace, “the peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). No doubt we had our moments of doubt, but God always encouraged our hearts. We were also blessed with a loving and incredibly supportive church family, along with many dear friends that God provided during this difficult time. On November 6th, after peaching a sermon titled “Making Sense of the Election,” Steph and I were loading up the kids to head back home when, you guessed it, my heart started to race again. It felt like I was so close to the finish line, but I was not going to make it there without one more ER visit (If you count them up, this was #7). Steph and I decided that rather than going in to Mount Nitany Hospital in State College, we would just go all the way to Hershey, seeing as my surgery was scheduled for the next day. It was a beautiful drive down, but as you can imagine, very uncomfortable for me. When we got to the ER, I had to answer the same old questions for the umpteenth time, but it was kind of funny how I was able to tell the doctors something along the lines of… “that medication doesn’t work for me, but this one does.” Such was my knowledge of my heart condition, I guess. After getting my heart slowed down, I was admitted and it was just a matter of waiting until my surgery.

 

Surgery

 

The next day, right before they took me down for my operation, Steph handed me a card. It was an encouragement card from our church family and as I read through all the names and the little messages, I got a little teary eyed. I am not an emotional kind of guy, but God used this card to encourage my heart at just the right time. A minute later I was headed down to the operating room confident this surgery would do the trick. In addition to our church family, I knew there were people praying for us all over the place. People we didn’t even know were praying for us. One verse that the Lord continually brought to mind for me was 1 Peter 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Even though I was putting myself in the hands of the surgeons, I knew in an ultimate sense that Christ was my healer, and that He would be the one to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish me.

 

The surgery ended up being a lot longer than the first ablation I had back in December of 2015. This one clocked in at about 4.5 hours. It turns out the doctors had a really hard time finding the problem area in order to ablate it. But their persistence paid off, as they were eventually able to take care of the problem. As you can imagine, I was wore out when I got back to my hospital room. I spent the next almost 24 hours resting and recovering, before Steph and I headed back home late afternoon on election day. I spent the next week or so recovering and by God’s grace, I was back in the pulpit on November 20th. Our prayers and the prayer’s of friends and family had been heard.

 

Follow-up

 

If you are wondering how I am feeling now, the answer is….great. It took me a few weeks to get my strength back and I am probably still not back to full strength, but I am feeling a lot better and my heart has not given me any problems. I know that our health is never a guarantee and that it is very possible that I could have recurring heart or health problems in the future. But I know that God is sovereign in the affairs of this world, including every detail of our lives, and this brings me great comfort and assurance. He will not give us more than we can bear.

 

In early December, I preached a 2-week sermon series on “suffering” that was well received. I praise God that when He takes us through the valley He often uses those experiences to minister to others. God doesn’t waste our suffering, not at all. As I reflect on the past year, it has been a hard year no doubt. But in many ways the hardest year of my life was also the best year of my life. Praise God for His grace and mercy in our lives. What an awesome God that we serve!

 

Romans 5:3-4: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” James 1:2-4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials or various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”1 Peter 1:6-7: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

God Fixed It!

Our family recently had an experience that reminded us of the power of prayer. It was a Monday morning and I was trying to get off to work when we discovered that the water wasn’t working in our home. Now, to some of you, this probably sounds like a minor problem. But we felt pretty fragile at the time. We had just moved into a new home and had already dealt with a lot of repair issues and we felt like the last thing we needed was another problem to deal with. To make matters worse, you don’t realize how much you rely upon water until you go without it.

 

I won’t go into all the details but I will say it ended up being a long morning. First, I went to the township building, then they suggested going to an auto-body shop (the water guy works there), and finally I came back home. Along the way I made some phone calls and bought some water at the grocery store. Nobody seemed to be able to give us any answers as to why the water was not working. After Steph and I talked things over for a while and I tested out a few more things, I had an idea. I called our little family up to the kitchen and we held hands and we prayed. We had done pretty much everything we could think of, and now all we could do was to leave it in God’s hands. Probably around half an hour later, Steph came up from downstairs and asked, “Did you try anything more with the water?” I said, “No honey, nothing.” She proceeded to walk over to the sink and turn the faucet on. Of course, I was skeptical given the amount of times we had tried without success, but low and behold, it worked! We were shocked!

 

The best line, without a doubt, came from our 4-year-old son John. “God fixed it!” I love how little minds are so logical. He had heard the prayer, he had seen the result, and there was no doubt in his mind what had taken place – God had fixed our water problem! I said to Steph, why did you all of a sudden want to test the water again? She told me, “I just felt like God was saying, ‘trust me and try it.’”

 

To be honest with you, we have had a few of these faith-building experiences over the past year. God has come through for us time and time again. I feel kind of silly that I am so prone to doubt when God has taken care of us and provided in a million different ways, but I often do. What was so memorable about this one was that our kids got a first hand experience in the power of prayer. Only God could have ordained and ordered things in this manner, and it’s safe to say our kids won’t soon forget this experience.

 

The words of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” This is a simple verse but it is oh so powerful. If you are a child of the King, you have the privilege of asking your loving heavenly Father for literally anything. You may not get exactly what you asked for, but you can trust that God will answer your prayer according to His will. 1 John 5:14-15 puts it this way: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

 

Before I forget, let me tell you the rest of the story. Later on that afternoon, one of the water guys finally showed up. As it turns out, they had been doing some work in our area and had to turn off the water. They had told everyone else about it, but had neglected to tell us, perhaps because we were the new kids on the block. But Steph and I were not bitter at all about what had transpired that morning. God had given our family a powerful lesson that we won’t soon forget.

Bored With Jesus?

During my senior year of High School (way back in April of 2001), I was part of a group of students in our school that went to France. It was an amazing experience, although I can safely say I would appreciate it much more now than I did back then. I will never forget going to the Louvre museum in Paris, one of the largest and most famous museums in the world. We were given 2-3 hours to browse around, but you could easily spend many more there if you had the time. The first thing my friends and I did was to locate where the Mona Lisa was on the map, and then go check it out. We had all heard about this famous painting and so we figured we would go and see it. I will never forget walking into that room with all those people crowded in and being totally underwhelmed by the “ordinariness” of the painting. It was not a large painting and in my opinion at the time, not very impressive. I didn’t know what made for a good piece of art nor did I really care. Apparently, my friends thought the same because after a couple minutes, we moved on to something else (I think the Venice De Milo) and then after that we plopped ourselves down at the cafeteria and hung out for a couple hours before it was time to leave. In other words, we weren’t impressed by what the Louvre had to offer. Like me, my buds were more interested in sports and other things than “the arts” at the time.

 

There are probably a lot of people all over the world who would jump at the chance to go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa and other great works of art. They would probably think that my friends and I wasted an opportunity. Obviously, everyone is different and we all have different tastes and interests, and I am certain that High School boys do not make up the biggest demographic of museum visitors. But as I pondered this all, it made me wonder, why is it that Christians often seem to be bored with Jesus? We know that Jesus is the most amazing, wonderful, wise, compelling, loving, gracious, powerful, glorious, perfect and compassionate person to ever live, and yet it seems as though the world has all our affection. We tend to be captivated by the things of the world and we fix our eyes upon ourselves rather than the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. How can this be?

 

To be completely honest with you, all too often I find that this is true of me. Even though I desire to set my mind on things that are above (Colossians 3:1-3), I find that my thoughts are set on earthly things. I can relate to the struggle that the apostle Paul talks about in his letter to the Romans. He writes, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). Frankly, this battle is real and it is something that every Christian must deal with. God’s will for us is to be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and mature (James 1:2-4) in Christ. Therefore, we must fight for holiness, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

 

Real quick, let me share a few things that I have found helpful in my struggle against sin. First, remember that this is a spiritual battle and that Satan is out to destroy you and to keep you from the light of Christ. The antidote is fairly simple….resist him, firm in your faith (1 Peter 5:9). Second, meditate on the glories of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20 and many more in the gospels) and remember that He has already won the victory over sin, death, and Satan. The Bible says, “Greater is He that is in you that he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Third, remember that “beholding is becoming.” I got that from John Piper, but He got it from 2 Corinthians 3:18 and the apostle Paul: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” In other words, as we gaze upon the risen Christ, we can’t help but be transformed. Fourth, remember that this is a work of God in the soul of the believer. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts” (Zachariah 4:6). We can’t live the Christian life in our own strength. No, we need all God’s spiritual resources that come by way of the Holy Spirit. Fifth, our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and this world is not our true home. We are simply passing through on our way to a better place. How silly to live as if this world were our permanent home.

 

Friends, when you have your eyes fixed upon the world and all that it has to offer, I can pretty much guarantee that you are not going to grow spiritually. But when you have you eyes fixed upon Jesus – His glory, His beauty, His majesty, then I can pretty much guarantee you that you will grow. You will experience growth and sanctification in your life. And you won’t find Jesus boring. Far from it, you will find Jesus exciting, compelling, wonderful, and He will change your life. God’s Word reminds us that this world is transient and is passing away (1 John 2:17). But Jesus is eternal and one day He will return to this earth to reign and rule. Praise God!