Well, we have a date set. Exactly one month ago today we had news confirmed that I required open heart surgery to repair a leaking valve on my aortic artery. The news was shocking to say the least. We knew something was not right with my body. After running about three days a week for the last 3 ½ years and waking up one day unable to even run a mile because of a lack of breath, and then not being able to hold my arms up while folding laundry on the same evening, we knew something wasn’t right. At the very worst I thought I may have had a blocked artery that would have required a stint. I am a cheeseburger guy. I also thought it was the stress of starting a church that was weighing me down. But never in a million years would I have guessed that I had been born with a leaking heart valve, and even when I did hear the news I first thought that it could be treated with medicine. But never, I mean never, did I think I’d receive news I’d have to undergo this kind of surgery.
People have asked, “How are you doing?” You honestly don’t want my answer. I’m a follower of Jesus, and I probably should not be thinking the words I do when I get that question. I’m scared, nervous, or whatever other adjective you could think to use there that matches those. When I first received my diagnosis Tasha & I both cried, a lot, and then acted as if we were both in a fog. One of the difficult things that weighed on me was due to my job. I’m a pastor. I’ve ministered to a number of different people that have undergone open heart surgeries. I’ve seen them immediately after surgery and I’ve walked with them through the recovery process. All of those things frighten me, honestly. But, in the days since my diagnosis I’ve learned a lot as well, on a number of different levels.
I’ve learned how vain I am. I’ve learned I have more pride in things that I shouldn’t. It’s funny how a terrible diagnosis can help reveal those things. One of the things I had to schedule as soon as I was diagnosed was an extraction of a tooth, but not just any tooth, but one of my front upper teeth (I’m not a dentist, so I’m not sure what they’re called). It is humbling to look in the mirror when you’re missing one of your teeth that sits right in the front of your mouth. I’m bummed I have to walk around with a partial, but it definitely beats the alternative! Haha! But, it’s also very humbling to know that I worry about that sort of thing. There are plenty of people who deal with MUCH worse than that in our world, and here I am bummed out about having one of my teeth missing. But, vain people worry about such things. God had certainly been teaching me, even before my diagnosis, about finding my value & identity in Him. This has certainly helped me along in the process.
Did God cause my heart valve to leak? Of course not. I am fully aware that we live in a world where things happen we don’t like, MANY things. But, God is not to blame. We live in a world that is fallen, that is much different than the world God created & designed. In the world God created these kinds of things weren’t supposed to happen, but mankind decided we didn’t need or want God, and the natural reaction when we remove ourselves from God is death & decay. I’m a part of this fallen world. I actually add to it, because I’m a sinner too. There are many times in my life I go against the desires of God, acting & behaving even at times as if God does not exist. At times I get it right, but I fail just like everyone else does. That’s why I’m thankful for Jesus. David said in Psalm 23 that “Surely goodness & mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” and I need both. I need God’s “grace” & “mercy”. Not only do I need both, but over & over again I am assured in the Bible that I can count on both being granted to me.
The days since my diagnosis, and even as I sit here in this airport heading back to NY with my surgery finally scheduled I am still scared. I’m not going to lie. However, I am trusting God. I believe He knew I had a leaky heart valve before I did. That day in Providence Hospital when I received shocking news He was not shocked. He was already working it out. In fact, Paul told Christians in Rome that, “all things work together for good” for those who love God. That’s a verse I’ve meditated on constantly since my diagnosis. Here’s one thing that’s struck me about it. For God to work all things for our good that means terrible things will happen. Right? I mean, if terrible things didn’t happen there would be no working to be done. However, God is bigger than our terrible diagnoses, and He can be trusted.
Why would God want this to happen? I can’t answer that totally, because I’m looking from this side of surgery. Let me say first that I don’t think God wants this to happen. But, why would He allow this to happen? I can think of a couple of reasons. One, maybe I wasn’t trusting Him as I should in all things. Maybe I had set up some things to be my functional saviors. Vain things. Prideful things. And through this diagnosis God has begun to go to work to tear some of those things down. Second, my diagnosis has given me a more sympathetic heart towards people who are struggling, in a number of different ways. I told someone recently that my life has been pretty awesome! I mean, I haven’t really suffered at all throughout my life, but I am surrounded by a lot of people who have. God, through my diagnosis has allowed me to be much more sympathetic towards them, allowing me to feel their hurt with them. That is not a bad thing.
A lot of people are praying for me. They are praying for me to be healed totally, to not even need surgery. I have to say, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I were to wake up from anesthesia to find out they didn’t have to cut me open. However, is it a lack of faith if I’m not healed? Absolutely not. Bad things happen to people every day. In fact, the only perfectly good human being to ever live, the One who was closer to The Father than anyone else, suffered brutally throughout His life, Jesus. Was Jesus’ suffering due to a lack of faith? None of us would say so. We live in a fallen world, where difficult diagnoses happen. I’m learning to trust God even in them. Can God heal me? YES! Will He, I don’t know, but I do know this, I’m not going to stop trusting Him either way!
I hope in some way my honest struggles can serve as an encouragement to you. I’m so thankful for so many of you who are praying for me. Please don’t stop. The diagnosis is only the beginning. In less than three weeks I’ll have open heart surgery. I’m ready to see God reveal His glory even through one of the most difficult things I’ll go through in my life. Let me know how I can pray for you during my recovery, I’m going to have plenty of extra time on my hands!
When I woke up on Sunday morning of this week I awoke to the news that a bomb had been detonated in New York City and another had been found undetonated a few blocks away. Honestly, one of the first thoughts I had, and probably so was yours, was that radical islamic terrorists had planted these bombs. It turns out I was right. This angers me on a number of different levels, but mainly because I know a number of great muslim people that are good human beings just wanting to make the world a better place. The few muslims that make the news because of their radicalization cast a dark shadow on the rest of Islam, and I am no proponent of Islamic beliefs, but I do love Muslim people. This blog is not a blog against Islam, or anyone for that matter, although it would be right & prudent to write a blog post condemning radical islamic terrorism. This blog is actually about the ideology behind those who think it’s right to kill people in the name of “God” thinking they are doing Him and the world a favor. It’s a blog post about the nature of the One true God, and why it is good to know Him and follow Him, because He truly is good.
It may surprise you, but killing in the name of “God” is not new. I place “God” in quotation marks because killing in God’s name cannot be supported in the scriptures that the One true God has revealed Himself in (The Bible). In fact, as I reflected on these most recent bombings in NYC my mind could not escape a passage in the Bible that is often misunderstood, that I think relates to what’s going on in the mind of these radical islamic terrorist.
In Genesis 22 there is a story recorded in which God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as an act of worship to Himself. Many skeptics read this story and comment that this is one reason why they don’t want to believe or follow God, because how could a loving God request this of Abraham, or any man for that matter. As you read the story in Genesis 22, and continue to trace the other actions of God throughout the Bible though, it is clear that this story is recorded, and takes place, to prove to us that God is indeed NOT this kind of God. God loves life. In fact, He greatly desires to grant life to ALL people that are willing to trust and follow Him.
So, why ask Abraham to do such a thing? In Abraham’s day there were many different religions being practiced. One of the dominant religions of his day was practiced in worship of a false god named Molech. Worshippers of Molech, and many other of the false gods of Abraham’s day, were willingly throwing their children into boiling pots of water as proof of their devotion to these false deities. For God to request Abraham to do this same thing with his son would not have been out of step with the other deities being worshipped in his day. However, God doesn’t ultimately require Abraham to kill his own son to reveal his loyalty to Him. Rather, God stops Abraham from following through with his willing sacrifice to PROVE that He is in fact NOT the kind of God as those being worshipped in Abraham’s day. God is a God of life. He created life and it is His desire for everyone to experience life in Him (Ezekiel 33: 11). In fact, God wants us to experience life SO much that He was willing to die FOR us, in the person of Jesus, so that by believing in Him we would have life forever!
This brings me back to the problem of radical islamic terrorism, or really, to Islam in general. Muslims worship a god named Allah. I am certainly not an expert is Islam but I will say this, I know many people wonder is Allah the same as the God who has revealed Himself through the pages of the Bible. But, if Allah requires that one way a Muslim can prove their devotion to him by killing other people in cold blooded terrorist acts then he is no god at all, and he certainly cannot be compared to the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is a God that desires to grant life to everyone, not to take the life of those who don’t follow Him. The God of the Bible weeps & mourns over the death of those who don’t know Him.
All of these things are certainly things for all of us to ponder, especially those who claim to follow the One true God. We can claim to follow Him, but I must remind us that Jesus said that even if we harbor anger in our heart towards another we are liable to judgment. It is said later in the New Testament that “who hates his brother is a murder, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3: 15).” As a Christian we respond to those in our world in a different manner. We love those who even desire to take our lives, knowing that it was Jesus who loved us as it was our sin that put Him on the cross. Do we truly love ALL the people around us? Do we love those who are different than us ethnically, economically & socially? Let’s remove the logs from our own eyes before we try to remove the pebble from others’.
I am not a mystic. I’m not the guy who blames every problem I face on the work of demons lurking in the corner. In fact, I’ve rolled my eyes MANY times at those who blame every mess-up in the sound system on the devil attempting to thwart the flow of the service. I am a life-long Southern Baptist. We hardly ever talked about The Holy Spirit growing up, to our detriment, and we definitely never discussed the power & work of demons seeking to stop the work of God and His people in our present day. Sure there are plenty of Biblical passages describing the confrontation between Jesus and demons that had taken over the life of individuals in His day, but that was way back in Bible times. But let me assure you, demonic activity is real, and I face it on a daily basis.
When we moved to New York 2 1/2 years ago we knew it would be difficult. We knew the area we were moving to did not have much evangelical presence. In fact, where we live the population is less than 3% evangelical. Most people who live around me have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus, much less have a personal relationship with God through Him, it has been that way for generations, and the burden of that alone can be overwhelming. People around me are hurting, and so are those who are trying to share the life-giving message of the gospel of Jesus with them.
I wouldn’t say we’re depressed, but there is definitely much discouragement going around amongst those who are serving along with us in our area, and I think one of the reasons for the discouragement is due to the work of demonic forces trying to hold on to the area we live in. Don’t get me wrong, great things are happening. There are churches around us that are busting at the seams, and the numbers are growing. In the two locations we serve in we have seen 41 people profess faith in Jesus Christ and follow Him in believer’s baptism in the last year. God is on the move, and Satan and his legion of forces are not happy about it. They have held this territory for a long time and they don’t plan on letting go of this area and the lives that live in it any time soon.
I am writing this blog not to get your sympathy, I am writing this post to ask you to join us in this war, with us, against the demonic forces we are coming up against every single day. That’s how Paul described the situation in Ephesians 6: 10-20. He told believers to put on their spiritual armor, bringing up war-time imagery, because that is where God desires for the believer to live, following Him, which will put us right in the crosshairs of an enemy that for the most part we can’t see. But know this, they are there, and they’re doing all they can to stop those seeking to share Christ in our spiritually dry land before we can get started. I’m not going to lie, it’s scary. Their tactics are varied, and they’re not what you’d expect.
Please join with us. Please pray for those who are seeking to turn around an area with God’s gospel so the people around us may experience the life that comes from hearing and trusting in Him. Everybody’s discouraged, not just those who are here serving Jesus, but everybody is, even those outside the church. I am convinced that there is a spirit of oppression that has controlled New York for years now, and it is not going to let go easily, but we know that God is over all and we are asking Him to grant us victory and to allow His gospel to go forth unimpeded.
I know what some will say, “Just have faith.” Trust me, we do. Even those whose faith FAR surpassed mine faced difficulty and hardship due to demonic activity. In Daniel 10 the answer to Daniel’s prayer was held back for 21 days due to the power of demonic activity. I don’t think God would have it any other way, because recognizing the hardship causes us to pray like never before, and I am asking you to join us in it. We know in the end God will win. Nothing can stop Him and the movement He will make, but He will not make anyone, or any area, follow Him. But those of us who live here in the meantime long to see Him move in power while we are here.
Spiritual warfare is real, trust me. If you don’t recognize it it’s probably because you’re not engaged in the battle in enemy territory seeking to share the gospel with those that need it. The only way to fight this battle is on our knees and that is where we shall remain until Jesus leads us out or calls us home. Until then would you pray for me and those who are serving Jesus around me?
Today’s reading is about the high priest, his garments & role. It is said of Jesus in Hebrews (2: 17 & 4: 14) that He is our great High Priest. One of the functions of the high priest is that He represents people before God. In other words, the high priest goes before God on sinner’s behalf and performs worship & sacrifices for them in order to seek forgiveness for their sins, as well as his own. Well, when it comes to Jesus, He was sinless, He had no need to seek forgiveness for His own sins, just had to make a sacrifice for ours, by using His own body. When you read about the high priest in these chapters you are reading a foreshadowing of an ultimate High Priest who would come and could perform the office/role of high priest perfectly.
One thing I really loved & noticed reading these chapters was one verse in particular, Exodus 28: 29. It is said in this verse the high priest, Aaron, would put the names of each of the tribes of Israel inside his the breast piece he would wear, close to his heart. Remember Aaron, in a very real way, as high priest is a foreshadowing of the ultimate High Priest, Jesus. Here’s the connection, Jesus keeps those He knows & loves close to His heart. We are on His mind as He intercedes & represents us before the Father. THIS is a great thought for today!
In this section of chapters in Exodus you’ll read about the meticulous nature of worship that God prescribed for the Israelites, as they set out to worship & identify with Him. Sometimes, reading through chapter-after-chapter of these guidelines, we can begin to wonder what all of this is about, and why it matters to us. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you read & meditate on these chapters:
- Worship of God, seeking to know Him, should not be taken lightly. God is a vast being. In fact, He’s complex. We take Him so for granted so often, but He is not to be taken lightly, nor should He be taken for granted. It is quite a privilege to know Him and to be able to live for Him. As you read these, and the following chapters, keep this in mind. Thank God for the privilege of knowing & following Him. Don’t take Him for granted, nor treat Him lightly!
- What are all these guidelines about temple furniture about? Well, the whole Bible is about Jesus. It is all given to us to reveal for those who will read all the way through the Bible His identity. Jesus said in Matthew 5: 17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” It is also said about Jesus in Luke 24: 27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” The point being, all these things point us to Jesus. They reveal something of Him to us. As you read about all these tabernacle pieces (Later to be included in the temple as well) ask yourself this question, “What does this teach me about the role Jesus plays in my life/salvation?” Asking this question will help you see Him on every page of Scripture, and it will also help you understand the role He plays in your salvation better as well. Every color, jewel, placement, role teaches us about Him!