Sunday, November 29, 2015
In my capacity as an estate planning attorney, I have the honor of providing some guidance as to how remaining assets are distributed to and among family members, friends or charities following death. Recently, I worked with a client who expressed a desire to provide a certain amount of assets to the church for the purpose of saying "masses" on behalf of herself and deceased family members. This client wants to name numerous churches as the recipients of certain sums, with the hope that each of them would say a sufficient number of masses that would "save" her from enduring purgatory. Her questions prompted me to give some thought to how we are saved, and what assurance we can have for Heaven, following death. Below is an excerpt from a recent response to this client: ...Our recent conversations regarding purgatory and your hope of heaven prompted me to review the Holy Bible, and its teachings regarding how we are “saved” from purgatory and to an eternal existence with God. Since both of us share a belief in the Holy Bible as the infallible and authoritative Word of God, I pray that it may be helpful to pass along some encouragement to you from the Bible about the hope we can have for eternal life. In particular, I wanted to pass along the words from Hebrews 7:26-28. There, the author says, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a son who has been made perfect forever.” In this passage, the author of Hebrews is contrasting the sufficiency of Jesus Christ as our high priest with the “imperfect” nature of anyone but Jesus. In the Old Testament times, priests were appointed within the nation of Israel to serve as mediators between Israel and God. However, because each and every one of these priests was imperfect, so also this entire system suffered by reason of the fact that the mediators were imperfect. In some sense, the ability to be “heard” by God was dependent upon the ability (or more likely, fallibility) of the priest himself. In contrast to these Old Testament priests, as well as the imperfect ability of any of our fellow saints of the faith, now in heaven, consider the absolute perfection of our new mediator, Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews notes that, because of how perfect Christ is as our new mediator, we need no one else, even if the mediator in question has been canonized as a saint, to have the assurance of being “heard” by God. If you believe in Jesus Christ as God, if you believe that he took the penalty of death on your behalf, then His sacrifice on your behalf is already perfected. There is no need to have the church offer additional masses on your behalf. Your desire to make gifts to the church following your death is itself a laudable desire. However, neither these gifts nor your lifetime of good deeds will be sufficient to avoid purgatory. The Bible clearly teaches that no amount of good deeds cause us to gain God’s approval. (See also Ephesians 2:8-9). If these actions and deeds were sufficient, there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to be condemned as a sinner and die a terrible and agonizing death on the cross. It is Jesus Christ who will save you from punishment following death, not your good deeds or the prayers of any saints. If you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, you have a Great High Priest. If you have such a Great High Priest, then both now and in the very waning moments of your earthly existence, you can be free of any anxiety of whether you are accepted. Because Jesus now stands as your Great High Priest and ready to receive you as His child, you can have complete assurance of where you stand before Him.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
There is no end to the list of things for which we, as parents, can worry about on behalf of our children. Especially for those of us who have lost children, we seem to find every reasonable opportunity, and many unreasonable ones, to worry about our children. Whether in parenting, work, or even ministry, we can lose sight of the “big picture.” We can lose sight of our relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ, in the midst of life’s busyness. I have recently been impacted by the reconciling of two passages found adjacent to one another in Luke 10. First, Jesus give us the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus shows the person whom the audience would least consider to be a “righteous” person, the Samaritan, to be the one carrying out God’s law, and not one of the two types of people that the audience would expect (either the Levite or the priest). Specifically, the Samaritan was “good” because he was carrying out God’s law by taking action on behalf of a distressed neighbor. Second, in the very next passage in Luke 10, we are provided a glimpse of an interaction between Jesus, Martha and Mary. Martha welcomed Jesus, his disciples and perhaps numerous others into her home. While Martha was busy providing for Jesus and all the other visitors, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, enjoying fellowship with Him. In light of Jesus’ teaching on the Good Samaritan, one can easily resonate with Martha’s concerns expressed here. Like Martha, we ask Jesus, “Jesus, I am loving my neighbors and taking action by serving you and our guests. Jesus, can’t you tell her my lazy sister Mary to “take action?” In this teaching moment, Jesus unravels Martha’s motives, as well as our own. Jesus tells Martha, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” In her social and historical context, she certainly would have been expected to wait upon these guests. Mary demonstrated a love for Jesus and His presence by shunning these social pressures and seeking that one thing that is necessary—to love Jesus and commune with God. Without the centrality of Jesus Christ in our lives, our “to do” lists become so overwhelming that we lose sight of the very purpose for which we are undertaking our “lists.” The point of the story with Mary and Martha is that we are called to love God first, and then only after centering our affections in Christ leverage that affection for God into action by loving our neighbor. Like Mary, we ought to be mindful of everything that we put in our own lives to “busy” ourselves, so that we do not lost sight of that central love which should captivate our hearts—a love for Jesus. Otherwise, we will suffer from numerous and various forms of unnecessary anxiety. To name three: (1) We think we have to take certain actions, on our own, or else these tasks will not get done. But while God certainly uses us, God says that He does not need us. God is able to accomplish more than we can ask or think. Ephesians 3:20. While we think our own actions are indispensable, God’s ways are above ours. (2) We are inpatient in waiting on an answer from God, and try to take matters into our own hands. But only when we “let go” will we receive the very things that we seek from God. “We are anxious about what we will wear and eat. And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. …your father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Luke 12:29-31. (3) We push tomorrow’s problems into today. We wonder how we will pay for future expenses, for college, or deal with a spouse’s illness. Because all “these things” will be added to you whether we are anxious or not, “…do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Mathew 6:34. Are we like Martha, constantly striving to do our “duty,” as we think of it? As we do our self-perceived duties, we take on more and more, and often lose sight of relationships in our midst. In particular, we can lose sight of the fact that our loving our neighbors as ourselves only comes from and after our relationship with Jesus. Let us not lose sight of our love for Jesus and, by reason of His great love for us, our need to rest from anxiety and busyness.
Friday, October 30, 2015
Today is Micah's 7th birthday. Heather, the kids and I honored his birthday today with a trip together to the cemetery, pizza, and birthday cake. The very suffering we are experiencing precludes us from answering some important questions. When we experience health issues, or relationship issues, we can draw upon the strength of others, or the support of our community. And we can often quite easily see or experience the practical implications of God's working this suffering for good-whether within our life or the life of the person who is suffering. But with a deceased loved one, we have birthday parties without the most important person in attendance. We cannot ask, or have answered, the questions we are dying to know: Micah, how are you? Do you know about your brothers and sister? Micah, do you even celebrate your birthday in Heaven? Can you eat cake? What did you eat for your birthday? Did you have friends "over?" If so, what are their names? In general, it has been a relatively quiet day today--not a lot of singing. And yet, as my mom reminded me this morning, we are called to sing (praise) Him, even when we don't feel it. "I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me." Psalm 13:6. On Micah's 1st birthday in 2009, we were just beginning to "unwind" from the shock of his death. Now, six years later, we have begun to see how wide the waves of impact that his life and death have had on us and others. We can't sing about missing Micah, or about his death, but we can sing in the sure hope of seeing him again, and ultimately knowing about all that God accomplished through his short life.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
On Friday, October 2nd, we will hold our annual “Micah Party” celebration. As in each of the previous 6 years since our son Micah’s death, we have gathered friends and family members to remember Micah and grieve his passing. We typically hold this event on the last Saturday in October to correspond with Micah’s birth (Oct. 30). This year, we moved the date of the event up in the year to correspond with what has become another annual tradition—a spaghetti feed for the “Hope for the Mourning Running Team” and their families. In each of 2012, 2014 and again this year, we have entered a team of runners in the Twin Cities Marathon family of races. Each of the runners is asked to raise funds on behalf of Hope for the Mourning. This year, we have a total of 27 runners who have all committed to raise funds on behalf of Hope for the Mourning. We are so grateful that these runners and their families would take the time and effort to not just train for and run in the races, but also commit to raising funds on behalf of Hope for the Mourning. Those Served: Over the past few years, the traffic on our website has continued to increase. In our age of social media, website traffic can quickly increase exponentially. In our case, the number of “hits” on our website has surpassed our expectations. We are grateful for the opportunity that the website provides us to share the good news of Jesus Christ to those website visitors. We have reason to believe that most of the visitors to our website are either grieving parents or friends and family members of grieving parents who are seeking guidance as to how to help fellow grieving parents. Once on the website, these visitors find a link called “request care package.” This link allows the visitor to request a care package either for themselves, if they are the grieving parents, or on behalf of the parents they know. This care package includes three books on grief written from a Biblical perspective, two restaurant gift cards, and some additional information, depending upon the location of the recipient. We also provide a response card to allow the grieving parents to follow up with us. We ultimately want to come alongside them, even if only be phone, to grieve with them, pray with them, and try to encourage them wherever they are in their walk with our Lord Jesus Christ. The Responses: Heather and I, along with our other board members, wish that we could meet with each of these grieving parents individually. Even in the absence of face-to-face interaction, however, we have been encouraged by numerous responses that indicated that the packages are impacting families. Please allow me to quote a few of the responses we have received: “…We received the Care Package you sent after losing our son, James, at 21 months. We were so touched to receive such a kind gift. The book I found to be most comforting was “Holding on to Hope.” It came to me just when I needed it most—during a very difficult & grief-filled week…We would like to donate $500 in his memory… We are so grateful for the work you are doing in honor of your little boy, Micah.” “We received the care package…What an incredible gift and such an encouragement for our family. It’s comforting to know that there are others out there who understand our grief. We are so grateful for the books you sent along in the package. Your ministry is so incredible and we are thankful for it.” “I'm grateful to you for the books and restaurant gift cards. I am reading anything I can get my hands on that may help so I appreciate that. [I had lost faith in God after our daughter passed, but now believe that God may have allowed it for a purpose.] Also as you know, cooking is the last thing on your mind. I haven't cooked an actual meal since before [our daughter] passed. Our Financial Need: The number of families served continues to grow every year. The numbers of parents served has increased from 72 in 2013, to 116 last year (2014). Already this year, we have sent 135 care packages, which puts us on pace for more than 160 care packages. By reason of the costs of the books, the restaurant gift cards ($75 worth in every care package), and shipping costs, the average care package costs approximately $100. We therefore have an annual budget of approximately $16,000. Thanks for Financial Contributions: As it relates to our annual fundraiser, we want to thank our runners and their families. We also want to thank five different companies, whom we consider our “Corporate Sponsors” of this event. Through the generous contributions of these five companies, the costs of the annual Marathon fundraiser has been covered in full. As we finalize the collection of our individual running sponsorships, we have been blessed to be able to tell our runners that all contributions received are going directly to Hope for the Mourning. These corporate sponsors are: Strong Tower Wealth Management, Church Mutual Insurance Company, Emergent Networks, Plantscape, and Erickson & Wessman. Should you wish to make a contribution, you can do so either by paying through paypal, on our website, or by personal check. Our mailing address is 5930 Lone Lake Loop, Minnetonka, MN 55343. We continue to be so grateful for friends and family members like you. We will not know, this side of eternity, how meaningful your support has been to us. None of us will know the extent of the impact that little pea had in clogging the throat of a boy. It is with mixed emotions that we state we are so grateful for the connections we have made with many of you—friendships that have been formed and forged only by reason of the deepest human grief possible. We love you and your friendships, and look forward to the day when God will fully redeem and restore us. On that day, we will have it all, for we will have these deep and lasting friendships, and we will have our children restored to us as well. Thanks again for your support. Cory and Heather Wessman
Thursday, September 17, 2015
In the immediate aftermath of Micah's death, both Heather and I struggled with whether God was punishing us for our own past sins by taking Micah from us. The Lord used the words of our pastor to encourage us through, among many other words of scripture, the precious words of Jesus in John 9. When asked by his disciples why a certain man was born blind, Jesus responded, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." But what does it mean that God's works will be displayed through the suffering of the blind man, and through Micah's (untimely) death? Does it have anything to do with us? This past year, I have been greatly humbled by physical suffering, as I have written about previously. Through that suffering, God has shown me the degree to which I have grown self-sufficient, self-indulgent and even self-aggrandizing. Praise God, he has intervened in my life so as to keep me from a path of destruction. Physical suffering changed my course to make me dependent on God. In this matter, I have been blessed to see that God's intervention is indeed an act of love. Hebrews 12:6 says, "The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is ultimately for God's glory that God will use life circumstances to make me into a more Christ-like follower of him. I am indeed one of the many reasons why the Lord took my son Micah--but it was not for past sins, but for future glory. Our past sins have been wiped clean by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. God is not requiring an additional blood sacrifice by taking your child or my son. But one of the ways that God demonstrates his own glory is through how He uses suffering to change the day-to-day lives of those who claim Him as Lord and Savior. If you trust in Jesus, you can be assured that God will use life circumstances to make you more like him. I pray that all of us would use sufferings, large and small, to recenter our lives on the glory of God and seek to understand the works He is accomplishing through our lives.
Sunday, August 16, 2015
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Heather recently attended a women's conference with one of our favorite authors, Nancy Guthrie. Guthrie knows more than most about suffering, herself having lost two children. At the conference, Guthrie made the point that we should not be so quick to judge God's ways, and that death should be viewed as mercy to us and our children. If we believe that our children who die in Christ are bound for eternity, then isn't it merciful of God to allow them to "skip" the rest of an earthly existence filled with so much pain, heartache, cancer, bankruptcy, idolatry, and immorality? In Mark 13, Jesus makes a similar point to his disciples about the suffering surrounding the destruction of the temple that he predicted, and that would come to pass a few years later. "And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved." The implication here is that the existence or absence of earthly suffering should not be our ultimate goal. Physical, earthly death is mercy from God because it allows us to avoid eternal, spiritual death if our physical death occurs when we (or our children) are found in Christ. If our ultimate goal in life is God and a relationship with Him, the question is not why God allows for any suffering, but why he doesn't bring more? If God has allowed one of our children to die, why He has not also taken our other children or our own lives? I think the answer is that because God knows just the right "mix" between sufferings and physical comforts, that allows us to grow in our love for him without losing heart. The Apostle Peter encourages the early church to rejoice in their relationship with Christ, even through physical suffering, because through this suffering they will experience, the genuineness of their their faith will improve, just as the quality of gold improves when refined by fire. 1 Peter 1:6,7. Through the suffering we experience on earth, and which God mercifully sends, we can continually re-orient our lives around the true and ultimate goal of our lives, knowing God and being found in Jesus. In the absence of suffering in my life, I would not have the ability to refine my own love for God in the manner God has provided through suffering. "Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:8,9.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
In Revelation 1:8, Jesus says about Himself, "I am the Alpha and the Omega...who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." As the "Alpha," Jesus is claiming supremacy over the world since the beginning of time, and Lordship over all such creation. As the "Omega," Pastor Tim Keller says that Jesus is claiming supremacy over meaning and significance. Jesus is making the audacious claim that all true significance in the universe, all true meaning even in your life, starts and ends in Him. In my observation, grieving parents become angry at God, and angry at life in general, for a combination of several reasons. There is no doubt that, as demonstrated by Job, it is good and right for us to grieve, and grieve deeply, whenever we experience significant loss. ("In all this [suffering], Job did not sin." Job 1:22). It is certainly right and good to grieve the departure of a child from us. And yet, many of us grieve simply because we have centered our lives around things or circumstances, and not what ought to be our true "Omega Point," the ultimate source of our significance, who is Jesus. Pastor Keller notes that our "Omega Point," is the thing, relationship, or life circumstance that, if we lose, we would become so despondent that life would not be worth living. Jesus is making the startling claim that, ultimately, nothing outside of him will be a lasting "Omega Point." Many grieving parents are tied to the circumstance of being parents. That is, they believe they will find their ultimate meaning in life in being a parent. Or, perhaps more specifically, they disregard the control and plans of God in their lives and find significance in their lives because they are the parents of a certain number of children, send their kids to a particular school, and set aside a certain amount in their educational savings plan. But, as difficult as it is to hear, one of the innumerable blessings of suffering, even the death of a child, is to grasp whether the sources of significance in our lives are truly lasting. Parents grieve because, whether they (perhaps only subconsciously, recognize they are not "Alpha" of their own lives (that is, "in control"), and therefore cannot dictate the "Omega," the source of significance in our lives. I pray that all of us, especially myself, would lose any sense of significance in our lives apart from Jesus.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Whether we are enduring the death of a child, a long-term illness, or some other significant suffering, we long to know that our suffering is significant. In a recent sermon on Romans 8:28 and 29, Pastor Tim Keller helped me understand the significance of our sufferings, and that our sufferings are not allowed by God merely to better our earthly circumstances but to become more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes, "...And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose..." Romans 8:28. This passage does not mean that God is using our sufferings to better our earthly circumstances. As Keller points out, we should not use this verse to think that God necessarily uses the death of a child to improve hospital procedures, the dissolution of a relationship to give us a better spouse in the future or a job loss now to ultimately give a better job in the future. Instead, Keller points to the very next verse to show that God calls us to endure all suffering for the eternal purpose of shaping us into Christ. "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." Romans 8.29. What great assurance we have that our greatest sufferings will not result in just earthly improvements, in changes in our circumstances that may or may not last, and that are dependent on human effort and will. Instead, we can rest in the assurance that our sufferings are allowed to create in us an eternal weight of glory such that Jesus is considered the first of many brothers and sisters. This promise for an eternal consequence to our sufferings makes the endurance of these earthly trials far more worthwhile.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
I gained some insight through my experience in Room 314 not only into how terribly impatient I am, but why it is that I grow impatient. I become impatient when I attempt to achieve certain goals in my own strength, confuse these goals with larger, Spirit-led objectives, and then get frustrated when I cannot achieve those self-imposed goals in my own strength. Ever since beginning my law practice, I have developed a sense for the "return on investment" ("ROI") of every minute of every day. I've internally measured every endeavor, both personally and professionally, by its ROI to my practice (measured in satisfied clients and revenue) and to me and my family (how much we enjoyed a particular endeavor). But when you are flat on your back in a hospital bed for 15 days straight, 8 of which were without solid food, you gain insight into the "productivity" of life. I was expecting a 3-5 day hospital stay with few complications afterwards. My internally-set goal was to leave in no more than 5 days so that I could return to what was truly "productive" in my life. Of course, this did not occur. As it turned out, and as demonstrated by these blog posts, God used the suffering in Room 314 to teach me considerably more about Himself through this extended stay than if I had met my self-imposed deadline for a return home. There are numerous examples every day of how impatient I am: I would grow impatient at work if factors outside my control impacted a self-imposed deadline to completing a project. Ironically, I found that clients would not even review the project for months after its delivery, even after we slaved away to meet my self-imposed deadline! I grow impatient at home when my children fail to eat their meal as quickly as I would like. Ironically, I found that if I wait, they are more than happy to eat over the course of more than an hour! In contrast to exclusively filling our day with (a) tasks that we deem of utmost importance and (b) a self-imposed schedule for meeting that schedule, I have tried to use the barriers that come up throughout the day as a means to turn back to God and remind myself of His great patience for me and my dependence upon him. I can become a more patient person by focusing on the "endgame" of Christ in my life, and the Holy Spirit's developing a Christ-like character through sufferings, large and small, and not on unmet self-imposed deadlines. The Lord is perfectly patient with us. He waits upon us and responds to us when, after focusing our attention on idolatry of various types, we finally respond in urgency to Him. Paul says, "...I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:16. While I am still setting self-imposed goals for achieving a good ROI for my day, I am trying to use impediments to achieving those goals as a means to stop and think about God's great patience with me, and consider the significance of each self-imposed deadline in the scope of eternity. I pray that, as I look to Jesus when I might otherwise grow impatient, he would fill me more and more with the joy in Him and the patience necessary to forebear short-term suffering. As Paul says in Romans 5:5, the gradual development of Godly character through patience will not disappoint us eternally, even if it "costs" us unmet personal self-imposed deadlines.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
God uses the unique sufferings in our lives to remove those specific impediments in our lives that keep us from more fully treasuring Christ. My recent experience of 22 days in the hospital opened my eyes to my impatience and idolatry. In retrospect, I am trusting that it was only through this type of suffering that God could have taught me how my heart had strayed and the need for my repentance. About suffering, Paul says, "...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5. In a recent sermon, Pastor Tim Keller explains that Christians are not called to enjoy suffering in itself, but to appreciate the fruit that comes from the suffering. We should not, like the Greek Stoics, attempt to "stuff" grief or think that God calls us to become more like him by "toughing it out," pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps through suffering, and attempting to succeed in life despite our suffering. Rather, we can respond in great grief, but trust that God has ordained it for our God. For this point, Keller points to the emotional reaction of Job after learning of the death of his entire family. Job tears his rob off, shaves his head, and falls to the ground, an emotional reaction that Keller points out many in the church today might find irreligious. But Job 1:22 says that, in all this, Job did not sin. We can hate the suffering itself, and respond in emotion to the suffering, but appreciate the fact that God is using that suffering for our good. Keller points out that, while one's home furnace is obviously not powered by the cold temperatures outside, the furnace will only pick up in intensity to the degree that the thermostat shows a decrease in the outside temperature. In this sense, the furnace is "powered" by the outside temperatures, because the house relies more and more on the furnace for its warmth through colder and colder temperatures. Our sufferings do not in themselves power change in our lives, but they produce the environment in our heart by which God works. In scripture we are told repeatedly that God, going back even in His relationship with the nation of Israel, uses sufferings to "refine" us, as with metals in a furnace. Isaiah 48:10 says that God used the furnace of affliction on Israel for His Glory. While I don't need to like the suffering itself, I pray that I would recognize that God is using the unique forms of suffering in my own life to "burn off" all sorts of impurities that currently exist in my life, and make me more like Him, for His Glory.
Sunday, March 1, 2015
My recent illness has caused me to see the form of self-sufficiency upon which I have been placing my hope, and to instead more fully place my hope and joy in Jesus Christ and His sufficiency for my life. Pastor John Piper has taught that since God is sovereign (in control) over all of life, including suffering, we can be sure that God is allowing the particular form of suffering to produce in us a "particular form of glory." In other words, the suffering we are enduring is not haphazard; it is allowed by God in order to cause us to awaken from the slumber of sin and re-orient the nature of our hope. As Christians, We are not called to enjoy suffering in itself. Grieving parents are not called to rejoice in the death of their child. Christians facing health issues are not called to rejoice in their physical pain. But we can rejoice that, since God engineers our sufferings, we can be sure that if we are active in our centering our hope in Christ, then through the particular forms of suffering God allows us to endure, we will ultimately not be disappointed (be "put to shame" as Paul says in Romans 5). In Colossians 1, we are assured that our salvation is assured "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you have heard..." Colossians 1:23. In my case, the very form of suffering that I have endured has served to strengthen the source of my hope. I have this tendency to mentally check off a "to do" list in order to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day and to have a sense of control in my life. I manage a busy law practice as well as co-parent three living children at our home. Up until my recent illness, I did not realize the pride that I took in thinking that my efforts were maintaining control of my law practice and the upbringing of my children, among other aspects of my life. In Room 314, I was literally flat on my back. I was without strength to manage my children and manage my law practice. My children could not see me for much of my time in the hospital because of my bacterial infection. I could not muster sufficient strength to review and respond to work emails. I could not manage life in my own strength. I had somehow lulled myself into thinking that I was in control of my children's upbringing and the trajectory of my law practice. I don't know if there was any other form of suffering that God could have allowed that would have shown me the sin and fallacy of this self-sufficiency. Now that I have identified it as such, it is crucial that I release my sense of self-sufficiency and renew Jesus Christ as the source of my hope.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Through the course of my recent illness, I lost much of my muscle and lung capacity and a lot of weight. Immediately before I entered the hospital, I enjoyed long-distance running and cross country skiing. While it appears that, with a significant amount of work and training, I can regain these physical attributes that would allow me to enjoy these activities, my experience taught me how tenuous life is, and how quickly these physical attributes can be lost. No matter how hard we train or educate ourselves, our physical and mental attributes are not meant to last. Similarly, while we were blessed with having health insurance, a catastrophe like this could have had the effect of wiping out one's life savings. Being away from work meant I lost the opportunity to market my legal skills, serve my existing clients, and continue to make a living. I could have easily lost my law practice. As with our physical attributes, no set of earthly circumstances can possibly withstand the trauma of significant suffering, whether the death of one's child, financial ruin, or one's own sickness or death. My experience in Room 314 has re-centered the source of stability in my life around the only thing that can last through significant suffering--Jesus Christ. In Matthew 7, 24-27, Jesus contrasts the "wise" man who built his house on a rock with the "foolish" man who built his house on sand. While the house built on sand may have gone up quicker and easier, the house build on sand cannot withstand the rain and wind. The wise man's house withstood the weather because of where its foundation was laid. We must continually ask ourselves where our own foundation is laid. Jesus says that the only way to bear up under suffering is to follow him, to center your affections on Him. Similarly, in Psalm 73, the Psalmist is initially frustrated by the apparent physical and financial prowess of the godless people around him in light of his own suffering. And then, after entering into worship and prayer with God, he was able to re-center his affections in God. "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:25-26. When suffering through the death of a child or facing financial or career difficulties, our sufferings educate us as to the temporal duration of any source of stability outside of Christ. I pray that God would use Room 314 to continually remind me of what will ultimately last, and where our foundation should be laid.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
In my law practice, I have noticed a tendency to be a lone ranger. I feel pressured to minimize social contacts for the purpose of efficiently completing the client matters that I have been retained to complete. Similarly, in our home life, Heather and I have found it increasingly difficult to be purposeful about fellowship with other believers. Between our work, ministry and preschool schedules, not to mention the planned and unplanned visits to pediatricians on behalf of our children, there is not much room left to be purposeful about meeting with friends, both old and new. During my recent hospital stay, we experienced the benefits of maintaining fellowship with believers. Ever since Micah died, I have met regularly with a fellow brother in Christ. While both of us have numerous other commitments that would, from an economic perspective, dictate against continuing to meet together, we have committed to maintaining that fellowship. By a series of events that only God could have ordained, this friend "happened" to be stopping by at the hospital on the afternoon when my surgeon decided, almost spur of the moment, to call me into a significant emergency surgery. My friend's physical presence, and prayers over me and Heather as I headed into the operating room, provided tremendous encouragement to me. Likewise, Heather's Bible Study Fellowship group and other close friends provided her with tremendous logistical and emotional encouragement during those many days of my physical absence from the family. The author of Hebrews strongly encourages us to continue to meet together because it is crucial to maintaining our faith. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another 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 10:23-25. My experience in Room 314 has shown me how I have recently succumbed to the pressure of becoming a "lone ranger," for efficiency sake, to the detriment of our fellowship with our believers. I am so grateful for my colleagues at my law firm who graciously assisted me with my clients and professional contacts in my absence. More importantly, Heather and I are so grateful for the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In addition to numerous meals, logistical support, the spiritual encouragement from prayers offered up on your behalf has been invaluable. I pray that God would use my Room 314 experience to demonstrate to us the fundamental imperative of walking in close fellowship with fellow members of the body of Christ, and not try to walk this walk on our own.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Like many other fellow grieving parents, Heather and I have struggled with prayer following the death of our son Micah. If we prayed to God to save our son, and He chose not to answer, why should we continue to bother with prayer for other needs? If God won't answer our prayers when we really need Him, why should we bother with going before Him in prayer with comparatively minor matters? Why bother at all? Through my recent illness and lengthy hospital stay, God removed any sense that I could somehow control my own life. As I wrote in my previous post, God took away the subjective sense that I could somehow control the way in which I raise my children, grow my career, or achieve our other life goals. My illness tore away any sense of self-direction, albeit on a smaller scale from the grief of the death of our child. Regardless, when your life is shaken, whether by reason of the death of a child, a significant illness, or any other significant suffering, we often have no words to use to even begin to know how to pray, and we are left in a place of utter shock and desolation. But it is in this condition that God seems to work. Saint Augustine wrote that you cannot truly pray until you "account yourself desolate to the world." That is, we have no hope in our own earthly strength, and most cry out to the Lord. In his excellent book on Prayer, Pastor Tim Keller teaches us that it is actually Jesus who initiates prayer, and he initiates prayer in our lives by reason of our own neediness. Keller writes, "You wouldn't event be feeling helpless and needy toward God unless he was at your side making you capable of feeling that way, leading you to think of prayer. When we feel most completely helpless, we should be more secure in the knowledge that God is with us and is listening to our prayer." Tim Keller, Prayer. Jesus tells us, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Rev. 3:20. Jesus, who controls every aspect of the universe and our very lives, is using our circumstances to initiate conversation with Him. If prayer was completely up to us, we would surely screw it up. If prayer were initiated by us, we would feel the need to find the right words, have the right attitude or pray with the appropriate repetition in order to encourage God to answer us, as if there were a magic formula. And yet the great blessing of the knowledge of the Lord's initiation of prayer is that, no matter the way our words come out in prayer, God ALWAYS listens. Since God is the initiator of prayer, we can rest in the assurance that no prayer goes unanswered. In light of this promise, consider Paul's encouragement in Romans: "For the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Romans 8:26. Paul, the great Apostle, tells us that we really don't know how to pray on our own, in our own strength. True Spirit-lead prayers are initiated by God, and in forms independent of our own efforts, our own thoughts, our own sentances. In hindsight, I think my difficulty with praying to the Lord following the death of my son has been from the misperception that I must initiate prayer, and that God will only answer if I have the right attitude or say the "magic words." In my illness, God has been teaching me that prayer is not based on my ability to decipher and apply Biblical texts, my writing ability, or the frequency of my prayer life. It is precisely because I don't know how to pray, in my own strength, that has allowed the Spirit in recent days to give me a renewed prayer life.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
In Psalm 139, David writes about how God is everywhere present. He writes, "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me." Psalm 139:7-10. While we can objectively know that God is always present, do we always subjectively feel His presence? My experience in Room 314, during my recent lengthy and unexpected hospital stay, shows how counter-intuitive and yet wonderful and re-assuring is a sense of God's presence. Throughout the evening of Sunday night, the 11th of January, and the early morning hours of the next day, I was in tremendous pain from the effects of the bacterial infection in my body. Even though I suffered from hallucinations and high fevers that prevented clear thought, I will never forget the distinct comfort of the sense of the presence of our Lord. I had the distinct emotional and spiritual sense that God was in this circumstance. In times such as this, when we have no earthly hopes, what a tremendous benefit it is to have a sense of the Lord's presence--knowing that whether we live or die, whether we succeed in our earthly endeavors, whatever happens--the Lord is truly with us and on our side. From my experience, it seems there are two qualifications to receiving that sense of His presence. First, we must be so humbled by our God-ordained circumstances that we are not then in a position to rely upon ourselves. We cannot be of a mindset where we think we can manage our circumstances on our own. In my case, I had become absolutely impotent to control everything in my life that, as of a few days previously, I thought I had well under my control: my family, my finances, my career, my physical condition. By reason of what the Lord stripped of me, I could not rely upon myself, and in my humility, God granted a sense of His presence. Second, we must ask for that sense of God's presence through prayer. My grandfather would pray daily that we would "have a sense of the Lord's presence as we walk and talk with Him." In my condition in Room 314, I was not in a position to offer up intelligent prayers. And yet God does not require intelligent, well-written or reasoned prayers--he only requires a heart seeking Him. Tim Keller writes, "Through prayer our somewhat abstract knowledge of God becomes existentially real to us. We do not just believe in the glory of God; we sense His greatness. We do not just believe that he loves us; we find our hearts flooded with it." I pray that my own experience in Room 314 will teach me to use strip myself of self-sufficiency and daily pray for a sense of the Lord's presence, that we might be encouraged to live in awe and wonder at His glorious attributes and what He is doing in us.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
When we lost our son Micah, Heather and I struggled with the very same question that we know is asked by so many fellow grieving parents--how can God take away "our" child? How could God dare to take him or her away from us, the child's very parents? Though not without a fight, God has shown us that, while we can not and should not end our grief over our son, we did not actually possess ownership rights over our son's life. While we can and should go to God with our grief and our questions, we cannot claim ownership over our child. Our son's life is actually owned by Jesus, the creator and sustainer of all. In the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul writes about Christ's claim to everything in all creation, including our very lives. "For by him [Jesus] 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 1:16). My experience in Room 314 of the hospital has reinforced what I learned following the sudden death of my son--that as much effort as I put into my career, raising a family, pushing myself to career success or athletic achievement--I really don't possess any of it. Since God created each of us, and sustains every aspect of who we are, we cannot claim ownership over any of it. The day before I entered the hospital, I ran 9 miles on the treadmill at a fairly good pace. I took some pride in my long-distance running ability. But in the course of 22 days in the hospital, 8 days of which were without any food, the shape of my body has completely changed. In the course of this short time, God chose not to sustain that physical ability. While I am grateful that the Lord "held together" my body through some difficult medical concerns, he has chosen to not sustain ("hold together") the physical running ability that I had before entering the hospital. Similarly, I work very diligently to manage relationships within my law practice, keeping a very full schedule of meetings. But given my time away from work, I have had to delegate the responsibilities of work to others. While I am grateful for my colleagues and my clients, my experience has shown me that I clearly don't "own" my law practice. I cannot control my schedule, my relationships. I cannot "hold it all together" in my own efforts--but Jesus clearly can, if He so desires. Just as God sustains my physical body, God sustains even our professional and financial relationships. He owns it all. Through this experience, I have been blessed with the lesson that as much as I strive to succeed in my "own" efforts, God is the sustainer of these efforts, and He will sustain what He will. As we struggle with grief or other suffering, we must recognize the limitations of our own striving, and look to Jesus as the owner of every aspect of our lives.
Saturday, February 7, 2015
Friends, I recently returned home from a very lengthy and unexpected hospital stay. After anticipating a 3 or 4 day hospital stay for a relatively standard medical procedure, I developed complications from the procedure, and I ended up spending 22 of 26 days in the hospital. While these complications from the procedure have had profound effects on my physical body (including the loss of a lot of weight, strength, and lung capacity), I do anticipate, Lord willing, to make a full recovery. The complications and the hospital stay itself have had a profound effect on my spiritual and emotional condition. Not since Micah died have I truly felt as powerless and humbled. Not since Micah died have I felt the Lord's presence so strong upon me. Through the many long days and nights of laying in Room 314 at the hospital, I felt his presence upon me, even as I was too weak from the pain and drugs to do anything other than think and wait upon the Lord. I'd like to renew my blogging efforts, so that I can, for my own benefit, work through the purposes that God may have been accomplishing through my recent health issues. While the world might simply say, "What are the chances!!--You are very unlucky," we as believers know that God never wastes our sufferings, and that no suffering, in whatever form, cannot be ultimately redeemed for His sovereign and good purposes. Of the several implications I'd live to write about, perhaps the most significant encouragement to me is how I view God's finished work for the redemption of my own soul. Paul says in Colossians 1:18b-19, "...He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven making peace by the blood of his cross." At the cross, by reason of Christ's blood on the cross, we have been FULLY reconciled to God. When one is laying on the hospital bed, there can be no greater assurance that one's life has already been reconciled to God. We need not lay on our death beds regretting what we didn't accomplish for God during our lifetime, since God has already done it for us. As I lay in Room 314 through those long days, I was so grateful for that promise, for it kept me from innumerable regrets of what ministry objectives I didn't accomplish, what I failed to do with my wife and kids, or even unmet career objectives. Perhaps one of God's purposes in this significant health episode has been to teach me to remove a "salvation by my own works" thought process, and rely completely on Christ's work on the cross for my own redemption. Having been in Room 314 for as long as I was, let me encourage you to be so grateful for the fact that, if you are in Christ, your salvation is already accomplished!