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!

Sharpen the Saw

This has been an exciting year for our family. After moving down to Snow Shoe, PA back in January, we purchased a home (our first!) over the summer and moved in about a month ago. Before moving in we spent a month fixing up our new place. One of the lessons that was reinforced several times over was the importance of having the right tools. Let’s just say the previous owners loved wallpaper. Steph and I opted for paint rather than 80’s wallpaper so that meant we had to get the old stuff off. I was very thankful that we had a “steamer” to aid in the process and let me tell you, that tool saved me a lot of time. As I neared completion of this job, however, there was a lot of wallpaper in small spaces. These spaces were too small for the steamer head to fit over and create the necessary seal for it to work effectively. This slowed the job down considerably. What I didn’t realize, however, was that there was a smaller tool that helps precisely in those small spaces. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I knew we had that tool (I guess next time I should look in the box). The funny thing is, right before I finished up, Steph and I found the smaller head!!! Needless to say I was a little irked, but I got over it pretty quickly.

This little lesson reminded me of a verse from the book of Ecclesiastes: “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed” (Ecclesiastes 10:10). In other words, if the blade gets dull, sharpen it. Simple proverb, but it can be enormously helpful and useful.

Did you know that in our Christian walk, God has given us all the tools we need? That’s right, God has given us all the spiritual resources we need to grow and be more like Jesus. He has given us means of grace such as the Word, prayer, the fellowship of believers, and service. All of these are gifts that God has given us for our benefit and to bring glory to His great name. But, here’s the key – we need to use them! Let me take a few moments to run through these spiritual resources.

The Word: The Bible says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In short, God’s word is powerful! The Bible is a great gift to the church as it offers us the means to know God and to grow in Christ-likeness. We should strive to follow the example of the Berean believers in Acts 17:11: “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily.” Dear friends may we follow their example and be a people of the Book.

Prayer: Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 7:7-8). All too often, we know the power of prayer and our need for prayer, but we allow our busy lives to get in the way. May it never be! The Bible says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3). If you truly love the Lord, there will be a desire in your heart to commune with Him and call upon His name. God has given us this invitation, and we must take Him up on it.

Fellowship: The Bible says, “And let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). It’s easy to drift away from the church, isn’t it? In fact, it happens all the time to professing believers. But God has designed things in such a way that we need one another, within the Body of Christ. We need one another’s prayers, encouragement, love, and support. This is what the Church is all about. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Service: Jesus set the example for us in this regard: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We are servants of the Most High God, and we must do all that we can to be faithful servants. In our own pride, we often approach relationships from the perspective of “what have you done for me lately?” rather than the “what can I do for you?” approach. However, every Christian should have a burning desire to “spend and be spent” (2 Corinthians 12:15) for King Jesus. We must desire to use our spiritual gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4) in service to God and for the good of the church.

Just to summarize, God has given us all the tools we need to succeed in our Christian walk. We have these amazing spiritual resources at our disposal, but we need to take advantage of them! Brethren, may God find us faithful.

Growing to Christian Maturity

When Steph and I first got married, we planned on taking the slow approach to growing our family. We wanted to have kids, but we also wanted to wait a few years before we got the ball rolling, so to speak. Well, lo and behold, God had other plans. If you know anything about our family, you will know that we now have 4 kids all under the age of 6. Having kids has been a wonderful blessing for Steph and I and we are grateful to God that “the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

 

One of the many blessings of having children is that you get to watch them grow and develop simultaneously. Our youngest, Jeremiah, is just started walking. Our middle-man John just started to ride his bike. And our twin daughters have both started to read. Steph and I are thrilled with each of these new developments, but it’s also a reminder that kids grow up fast. It wasn’t all that long ago that John was at the stage Jeremiah is at. So too, it seems like yesterday that the girls were at John’s stage. Children grow and develop rapidly and we know it won’t be long before the kidlets are all grown up and leaving home.

 

I believe that just as God gave us marriage to be a picture of Christ’s love for his bride, the church, so too, God has given us children to be a picture of our need for growth in Christian maturity. For believer’s, our growth in godliness and Christ-likeness should mimic the rapid development of our kids. That is not to say we won’t have setbacks along the way, but it is to say that growth over the long haul will be steady and consistent. One of the things that I lament over is the swell of professing Christian’s who are stagnant – they never seem to grow in sanctification. What they looked like in 1995 is not all that different from what they look like now. Dear friends, may it never be! The desire of every true believer should be to grow and mature, and look more and more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). I could marshal 100 more verses that speak to this truth, but suffice it to say that God never intends us to stay at the same level of spiritual maturity. He intends for us to grow as he prepares us for heaven. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

 

What about you – are you growing in your Christian walk? Do you look more like Jesus each and every day? Don’t be content with a nominal faith that produces little (if any) growth. Strive with all you might to add to your faith (2 Peter 1:5-11). Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). And like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it your may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

The Suffering Son

I can’t imagine anything harder than watching your child suffer. A couple years ago our son John got a serious case of the hives and Steph and I were forced to watch John suffer in agony for several days. There was little we could do to relieve his itch and pain, except to pray for him and let it run its course. That was a hard time for us, but God brought us through and I am sure many parents can relate to our feeling of helplessness as we watched our son suffer.

Sickness, sorrow, and death all part of living in a Genesis 3 fallen world. Life is downright hard at times. But we can take comfort in knowing that as sin and death entered into the world, the living God did not sit back and let things simply play out. No, the Triune God launched a rescue plan. Remarkably, this plan involved the Son of God suffering in an unthinkable manner on the cross. Centuries before the time of Christ, the prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uttered these words found in Isaiah 53:

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;

 

This past Easter we were reminded of the costliness of the cross. We were reminded of the immense sufferings of Christ that were required in order to purchase redemption for all God’s people. Without question, it must have been horrific for God the Father to watch the Son suffer and die on the cross. As He heard the Son cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we can only imagine how hard that must have been. What is even more remarkable, however, is that all along, this was the Father’s plan. “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him.”

 

Earlier on, before his arrest and trial, Jesus knew what awaited Him. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). If there had been any possible alternative to the cross, no doubt the Father would have taken it. He would have removed “the cup” so that His precious Son would not have had to suffer in such a manner. But there was no alternative. Jesus would have to walk the Calvary road in order to complete the atonement. As 1 Peter 2:24 explains it, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Friends, we have now moved beyond the season of Easter, but may we ever keep ourselves near the cross. May we never lose sight of the love of God and the costliness of salvation and may we “live to righteousness.”

 

Of Passports and Faith

Last summer, we made a last minute decision to visit my family in Saskatchewan. For most people, taking a summer trip (even if it involves crossing international borders) is not that big of a deal, but for us it was. Our twin daughters were almost 4 at the time and our son John was almost 2, not to mention that Steph was at the midpoint of her pregnancy with Jeremiah. Needless to say, we felt strongly that God was leading us to make the 2000-mile trip to visit my family.

 

Forgive me for going into so many details, but you need to have this background in order for this post to make sense. For the better part of a year, Steph and I had wanted to get John a passport but for several reasons, it had been put off. Finally, at the end of May 2014, we sent away for John’s passport and were told it would arrive in 4-6 weeks. Not long after that (around mid-June), we made our decision and booked our flights.

 

Having booked flights to Saskatchewan without yet having John’s passport, we knew we were taking a bit of a risk. We knew that our mid-July trip was beyond the 4-6 week range that it takes for them to process passports, but there was no guarantee. For 2-3 weeks as we waited for the passport, Steph and I fretted over the situation. We asked ourselves, what do we do if the passport doesn’t come in time? Do we cancel our trip? That didn’t seem right because God had impressed it upon our hearts that we needed to make this trip. Finally, after praying about it and asking God to come through for about the millionth time, it hit me that my faith was lacking. Did I think that if I just prayed enough times, that finally when I got to the magic number of ???, that would be enough and God would come through? I don’t know, but it kind of seemed that way.

 

Like most everything, the Bible has something to say about this. In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and the one who knocks it will be opened.” Or consider James 1:6: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”

 

As a pastor, I often encourage our people to pray and to make prayer a way of life. The true Christian is someone who communes frequently with God and has hunger to increasingly know the Savior. But is it possible to be good “prayers” and have our approach all wrong? You bet it is! Like my illustration above, we can find ourselves going frequently to God in prayer, but not praying “the prayer of faith” (James 5:15). Sometimes as Christians, we tend to hope God comes through instead of truly believing and trusting that we have what we have asked for. Let me give you one more passage of Scripture: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him (Christ), 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” (1 John 5:14-15).

 

When we ask anything according to God’s will, the Apostle John tells us we already have it. It’s as good as done. This is not “name it and claim it” prosperity theology. It is simply what the Bible teaches us. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). I fear that far too much of our praying is not done in faith and this needs to change.

 

So what about the rest of the story? The passport arrived about 5 weeks after we had sent it off to be processed, and well over a week before our trip. By that time God had already convicted me and the lesson had been learned. But as write this, almost a year later, the faith lessons continue. I praise God that Steph and I have grown so much in the area of faith and trust in Christ, but we still have a long ways to go. Lord increase our faith!