Thursday, February 26, 2015

Room 314: Finding a Firm Foundation

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

Room 314: Fellowship

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

Room 314: Prayer

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

Room 314: God's Presence

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

Room 314: God's Ownership

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

Room 314: It is Finished!

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!