Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Grieving and Remembering

This is my first time blogging in a while. (I really hate how I have to mention this every time I blog! lol) Since the previous post, a lot has happened. About a month after that, my grandfather passed away. Before he died, I had never lost anyone so close. So the grieving process is a new experience for me.

Immediately after my grandfather died, I felt relief. He had gone through so much pain, and it was good to know that he would no longer feel pain. But an hour or so after I heard the news --almost in a wave -- I felt the punch of the loss. It almost took the air out of me. What was also weird about it was that I was at home alone. Nothing is so horrible as receiving such news alone. When/if I get such news again about someone else, I'm going to find some people. (Fortunately, my good friend Amy talked with me on the phone about it -- that certainly helped!)

Many people have a hard time accepting loss, but I was able to accept it rather quickly. I knew, almost immediately, what I would miss: my grandfather's letters on my birthday, his "Hello, you!" greetings, his smile, his voice, and most of all, his reassuring presence. You know, it's really crazy how that last one gets you. I mean, I live in Oklahoma, which is hundreds of miles from where my grandfather once lived. So, really, I didn't experience the day-to-day joys of living near him. That said, Grandpa was always someone you could count on being there: a pillar. And now that pillar is gone. I'd like to be all-spiritual about it and say that his pillar was Christ, and that that foundation remains. It is true; it does. Yet, somehow, it does not remove the sting of it.

Almost a year later now, the sting has lessened some. But Grief's pang still comes up at the oddest times. I was on a cruise (to Alaska) with a friend of mine this summer, and while were whale watching, we talked to an older gentleman who was standing next to us on the deck. He regaled us with tales of his days as a factory worker, his family, and -- I forget the rest, but he just had a feel about him that hearkened times long past. At some point during the conversation, I thought, "This is a man Grandpa would have loved to talk to!" My heart hurt as I remembered he was no longer around.

Then there are the times that I'm laying in bed, waiting to sleep (the rule these days). I'll remember him, and my heart hurts again. I miss him so much. I know that he is with the Lord now, and he doesn't miss it here, but I'm still here, and I hurt. It makes me long for the day when I'll see him again -- when Death is swallowed up in victory.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Grandfather, the Walking Miracle

Well, since I'm suffering from an episode of insomnia now, I figured I'd take the time to write a little bit (no sense in torturing myself trying to get to sleep!).

Of late, God has really impressed on me the idea that He is wholly sovereign. That's not a new concept by any means, but I guess God is really helping me to "explore the space" of that a bit. I've known of the theoretical idea for some time, and I've even had some personal experience with His immutable power. But really, as with all issues of sanctification, this process of understanding takes time to develop. I have come to know that our God is an awesome God, who does as He very well pleases whenever it pleases Him. And He is good.

In particular, I wanted to share with you a story about my grandfather, Larry Garfield. Approximately a month ago, he slipped in his bedroom and hit his head on the floor. He was barely conscious after the fall, but he had enough presence of mind to use the emergency call device that connected him with my aunt who lives next door. My aunt and uncle came into his double-wide trailer and discovered him on the floor. They rushed him to the hospital where he was immediately prepared for emergency brain surgery. The doctors were fairly convinced that, even if he survived the surgery, he would probably be a "vegetable" for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, the doctors went ahead with the surgery, at the urging of my family. All of us prayed like crazy that God would do a miracle. Now, my grandfather's advanced directive indicated that he would rather leave this earth than live in a nursing home, so the doctors were somewhat perturbed that they performed a surgery in (what seemed to them a) direct contradiction to so clear an instruction. Well, my grandfather beat the odds and survived the surgery, but he remained in a quasi-coma for the next week.

After about a week, my grandfather began to show some signs of life, like twitching and making sounds. Eventually, he opened his eyes and began to follow people around the room with them. This was extremely encouraging to us all: Grandpa might make it after all! We continued to pray fervently, hoping that God would yet heal him. But then, my grandfather began to develop pneumonia. The doctors became very concerned, considering the difficulty of fighting the affliction from a hospital bed. They began to give my grandfather antibiotics. First, they gave him relatively weak antibiotics to see if his body would respond. It did not. Then, they gave him stronger and stronger antibiotics until they had exhausted the possibilities. Still, my grandfather's pneumonia would not go away. It was then that the doctors indicated that his chance of survival was very remote, and that the best tack -- in view of my grandfather's advanced directive -- was to take him off life support. After much prayer and thought, my family decided that that was the best course -- the course that Grandpa would have wanted us to take.

That weekend was filled with so many tears. I remembered how many good times I had had with Grandpa: the rafting trips, the fishing, the rock collecting, the "Hello you!"s and so much more. What a great, godly man he had been. But then, I got word that my grandfather was actually starting to improve! Now, he had been sent to "Comfort Care" -- a euphemism for a place where people are allowed to die comfortably. And yet, not only was he was still alive, he was getting better! According to the nurses there, only about one patient a year is upgraded from Comfort Care. Well, by God's amazing grace, the 2010 Patient of the Year is my grandfather, Larry Garfield. Yet, with so many encouraging signs, there was still no guarantee that my grandfather would ever enjoy anything remotely close to a quality life.

And yet, for the Garfield Family and Grandpa's Immediate Family of God (i.e., the local church), there remained persistent hope that God did not save Grandpa just to leave him a vegetable. While the doctors remained skeptical of any further recovery, we prayed all the more steadfastly that God would heal him completely. Well, God has been answering our prayer. In the few days following his removal from life support, Grandpa began to talk again. Only a word at a time, but discernible words nonetheless. And he began to move some of his limbs. And after a while, he began to form whole sentences. God was healing Grandpa! My family (who were present) began to note his personality coming back. He had a twinkle in his eye again, and even told the nurses "The pleasure is mine!" when they introduced themselves. What a dear, sweet man! :)

Next came the feeding test. Could he eat on his own? Yes! Grandpa passed with flying colors. He was now able to eat on his own again, sans feeding tube. We have recently gotten word that the doctors (finally) consider him an excellent candidate for living at home again! Just yesterday, Grandpa took his first steps since the fall last month. And what a story it is! Here is an excerpt from an email my aunt wrote yesterday:
Of course you all knew that Dad has always been a determined man. Perhaps it has never been more so evident than today at PT. Casually Marc, the PT said, "Let's see what you can do at the parallel bars Larry." Pleasantly surprised by Dad's "minimal assist" walk while holding on to the bars, Marc and Beth, the OT decided to have Dad try a walker. Sitting in his chair with the walker in front of him, Marc and Beth encourage Dad on the count of three to stand. Up he goes, then step after step until 24 steps later he sits back down. Ha-rah! Shall we go again? "Sure," replies Grandpa. This time Dad stands up with his own oomph and starts out for another 12 steps before he is forced to stop by the doorway in front of him. Rest. "Shall we try a different walking surface? Can you go further?" "Yeah" with a confident nod, responds Dad. So out to the carpeted hallway we go for a final 30 foot walk before sitting down to the well deserved applaud of us on-lookers! Both therapists were clearly amazed and were adjusting their expectations for Grandpa on the spot. Of course Grandpa gave his sheepish grin that makes him so endearing.

So Dad is clearly on the road to recovery. But, like every other step of this journey we are still witnessing the grace of the Father powering his progress. What a wonderful place to be. It is a privilege for me to see so many of the characteristics and mannerisms of Dad return one by one: from that sheepish grin, to his winking at me, to that momentary grimace he makes when he doubts what your saying is so, he's coming back and it's a joy to observe. TGBTG!

What more can I say? To God, indeed, be the glory!

John 11:25-26
And Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Time Well-Wasted: People Matter

Well, I haven't written as much as I thought I would, owing mostly to social priorities and a full-time job. But I have come to believe that spending time ministering to people is never a waste. Honestly, though, there are times when I feel like I should be spending more time developing useful skills for the Kingdom or honing my talents or something. Now, I think there is a time and a place for that, but it's evident from the Gospels that Jesus put a premium on personal time with people. The best example of this (that I know) is in Mark 6, where Jesus neglects his own need and the disciples' need for rest to preach to the people. It's actually kind of funny the way the story unfolds.

The disciples of Christ had just finished their town-to-town ministry -- you know, the "don't bring your swords or a change of clothes and preach the Good News" charge they had received from Jesus. They had gone to many towns and preached the Word, healed the sick, and cast out demons -- a pretty wild and eventful trip, to be sure. They had walked dozens of miles without a change of clothes, and hadn't stayed in their own beds for a long, long time. Mark reports that they were so busy doing ministry they didn't even have time to eat. So, it's really no surprise when Jesus suggests that they get away from the people and get some rest. So Jesus and the disciples hop in in a boat and set sail across the Sea of Galilee toward a quiet, secret destination. Only problem is, Jesus was so attractive to the locals that they literally ran around the rim of the Lake to meet him once more. (Oh, that I would desire Him as much!) If I had been one of the disciples, I'm sure I would have been ticked. I mean, really, you've devoted a good chunk of time and energy to spread the Gospel: is it too much to ask for a little free time? But here is Jesus' response:

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" "How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see." When they found out, they said, "Fiveā€”and two fish." --Mark 6:34-38

Not only does Jesus teach them for a long time, but He tells the disciples -- all of whom are incredibly tired -- to give the crowd something to eat! From this context, it's not hard to understand why the disciples responded the way they did! But Jesus shows Himself, once again, as the perfect example of true servanthood, as alluded to later in the 2nd chapter of Philippians. Of course, you know the rest: the disciples find 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and Jesus multiplies it and feeds at least 5 thousand people. Eventually, Jesus breaks away from the disciples and the crowd, and catches up with the disciples on the water! Such was the attractiveness of Christ. Would it be that the Church were always so desirable!

The bottom line I read out of this is that God wants us to pursue souls, first and foremost. Jesus had compassion on the people: not just for the sake of their physical bodies, but also for their starved souls. Just as Jesus, we need to place the interests of others above our own and empty ourselves. Sometimes we will be tired...sometimes we will be hungry...sometimes we will be dirty...but God wants us to lay ourselves down all the same.

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. --1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Few Words and 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

I realize that I'm a very poor blogger, but I think I need to pick up the consistency here for two reasons. One, because I don't often write down what I learn from the Lord during my daily Bible reading, I usually forget. And two -- related to one -- I would love to share these insights with you, the reader (if you care).

1 Corinthians 8:1-3

In the first section of this chapter, Paul addresses the subject of food sacrificed to idols. Apparently, this was a hot-button issue during the time of Paul, perhaps like the subject of alcohol now (see a great essay on the topic by Chris Krycho). Now, before beginning any sort of arguments, Paul says "We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (v. 1). It's almost as if Paul is saying, "Before we get started, let's get something straight. I know some of you are proud of yourselves, because you possess some knowledge. Big whup. We all do. But love is the only thing that matters." I know, for my part, that I tend toward this type of pride. If I know something I didn't know before, I become proud, for I am advancing in my knowledge. However, I may be knowledgeable of many godly things, yet not a doer of good.

Is Paul saying that knowledge is worthless? I don't think so. In the same way that James says that "faith without works is dead", I believe Paul says that knowledge without love is useless. Let me give you an analogy. At work, my current job is to read manuals until I get up to speed with everyone else at work. I have spent many hours pouring over every detail of our data system. Recently, it dawned on me that I wasn't learning anything, because all I was doing was reading. I hadn't really done a thing, and none of what I read stuck. After this, I endeavored to find small tasks that I could do to learn. I found some, and I've learned a ton in the short time since. In the same way, I believe that we will only grow in godliness when we learn to do what God says. As Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey my commands" (Jn. 14:15). And Paul says in verse 3, "But the man who loves God is known by God." Isn't that interesting? The pinnacle of our existence is not in knowing, but in being known by God.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Heart-rending Story from Hudson Taylor's Biography

From The Spiritual Secret of Hudson Taylor:

But the meeting was drawing to a close; the "foreign teacher" had ceased speaking. Looking round upon the audience with the instinct of one accustomed to leading in such matters, Nyi rose in his place and said with simple directness: "I have long sought the Truth, as did my father before me, but without finding it. I have traveled far and near but have never searched it out. In Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, I have found no rest, but I do find rest in what we have heard tonight. Henceforward I am a believer in Jesus."

The effect of this declaration was profound, for Nyi was well-known and respected. But no one present was more moved than the young missionary to who he especially addressed himself. Many interviews followed, and Hudson Taylor experienced the joy no words can expresss as he saw the Lord working with him and claiming this soul for His own.

Shortly after his conversion...
He it was who, talking with Mr. Taylor, unexpectedly raised a question, the pain of which was not easily forgotten.

"How long have you had the Glad Tidings in England?" he asked all unsuspectingly.

The young missionary was ashamed to tell him and vaguely replied that it was several hundreds of years.

"What," exclaimed Nyi in astonishment, "several hundreds of years! Is it possible that you have known about Jesus so long, and only now have come to tell us? My father sought the truth for more than twenty years" he continued sadly, "and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Proverbs 5

My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight,that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For
the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.

Proverbs 5:1-5

In Proverbs 5, the Teacher warns his son about the dangers that surround the adulteress. What is interesting to me is that the Teacher doesn't just briefly warn His son -- He enumerates all the pitfalls of entrapment. I find it particularly interesting that the Teacher speaks to His son in order for his son to "maintain discretion" and "preserve knowledge." The son, it seems, has already done well to listen to his father. Perhaps, a Christian man might think he is doing well in his walk with God. But, the Teacher sternly warns that all that his son has gained will come to naught if he entertains the notion of trifling with an adulteress. As Paul wrote, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Cor. 10:12).

Some defining characteristics of the adulteress are as follows:

1. "The lips of an adulteress drip honey" (v. 3a.)

I believe that the Teacher is referring to the locus of physical attraction. In this case, it is the lips. In modern times, it would proably be a woman's figure or pretty face. In any case, this is the first hook that the adulteress casts toward the man. This woman is a very tantalizing sort -- she is very easy on the eyes. As we all know, physical attraction can be very powerful in a man. So how does a man escape this first step in the attempted seduction? By following the Teacher's advice: "Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you" (Prov. 4:25). If a man disciplines himself to put a guard over his eyes, he will be saved. If he does not, he risks nothing less than utter destruction.

2. "Her speech is smoother than oil" (v. 3b).
This is the next step in the attempted seduction. Perhaps a man is wise enough to avoid pursuing a good-looking woman to whom he is not married. However, an adulteress knows the leverage that she possesses in her beauty, and she will use it to full advantage. She will use just the right words to hook him: she will tell him how great he is...how he deserves someone better than his wife...how she has always needed a man like him. This is exactly what the man needs to hear to move toward her -- and she knows it. He doesn't have the nerve or the courage to step out on his own; but if she calls, he will find it impossible to ignore her flattery. The only thing he can do to avoid entanglement is to "keep to a path far from her," to " not go near the door of her house" (v. 8).

3. "She gives no thought to the way of life" (v. 6a).

This is pretty simple: an adulteress doesn't care about the things that pertain to life. Her primary concern is her own satisfaction, and she has no desire to seek the Lord.

4. "Her paths are crooked, but she knows it not" (v. 6b).

This is very similar to the last characteristic. A woman who is not walking with God is, by default, walking in the flesh. And "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8). So, then, it is no surprise when the adulteress follows crooked paths. She does not possess wisdom, for wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.

Proverbs provides us with the ear-markings of an adulteress in order to give us the ability to recognize danger when we encounter it. Further, God gives us widsom on how to deal with it once a problem is identified. The reasons to avoid adultery are also outlined. I'll go over these in a future post.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Because I Felt Like Writing

I don't think anyone reads this much, but that's okay. I'm back from surgery, breathing well, and ready to get back to life.

The Lord has been teaching me a whole lot lately -- and I do mean a WHOLE lot. I suppose in large part, this is due to my health issues of late. Really, there isn't anything like contemplating your own mortality to get you thinking about the things that matter. I'd like to share a few of these things.

First, I learned that I wasn't prepared as I thought I was to face my own death. There were a few times through this ordeal where I really began to wonder: Is this it? It was really scary. I'd like to say I was at peace with the whole thing, but I can't.

Right before my first collapse, I guess you could say I was experiencing as spiritual "renaissance." I really felt like my walk was going really well. Well, perhaps that was just in comparison with where I had been because I can tell you, I was not trusting God completely. And really, that's where the rubber meets the road. Do you really trust God? Do you really believe that He has your best in mind? Ostensibly, the answer we give is "Yes, of course." The reality is, God puts you through the fire. The Bible says He does this to refine us, to make us perfect and complete.

On my worst night, I remember one thing very vividly. I was really struggling with pain and breathing, when I remembered the verse: "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." Then I thought: "I have breath! I can still praise Him." And it was very comforting. I really felt the presence of the Lord then. I felt as though He were right next to me. Even though my suffering was not ameliorated at the time, God gave me a sense of peace that overcame it. And that is what He does. He doesn't necessarily take us out of our suffering, but He is with us all the way through.

The second thing I learned is that I have only one purpose in my life: to please the One who created me. While this might seem obvious, how many of us live our lives intent on this purpose? I know I haven't. I constantly live for myself. It's almost a rarity that I pause to say, "Your will be done." But the reality is that my ambitions will die, along with those of everyone in the world. The only thing that remains is the Lord. "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord remains forever."

The implications of a true realization of this principle are far-reaching. No longer can you live to please yourself; you must live with the sole focus of glorifying the Lord. To be honest, this sounded kind of cold and dutiful. I struggled with this for several days. Our only purpose is to glorify God? I suppose my reaction was something akin to the notion of us spending an eternity playing a harp on a puffy cloud. Really? That sounds pretty -- dull. Then the Holy Spirit revealed it to me: the love of God makes it grand!

Serving God isn't gray and emotionless, it's vibrant and joyful! It's not synthetic and stoic, it's organic and visceral! God really loves us! He gave His only Son to die for us; He gave up everything so that we could live. God really feels great affection for us. He longs for us; He pines for us; He yearns for us. He loves you so much! Think of the person you love the most. Think of the things you've done for them because of your love. It caused you to go great lengths, did it not? But God's love is far more persistent, further reaching, and longer lasting than any love the world has ever known! And His love is directed toward you. So why not live for Him? He's done everything for you!

For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. --1 Corinthians 5:14-15