Letter from a hospital bed to my children on the eve of open heart surgery

I had open heart surgery a few years ago to fix a leaky mitral valve that was damaged by a serious infection in my heart. I had already experienced a very small stroke and was in congestive heart failure when they discovered the root issue. I went in for a test to try and figure out why I was so sick and ended up being admitted to the hospital facing serious heart surgery. All this before I had ever turned 40.

I was warned that there was a very slight risk of complications that my surgery could end in a catastrophic stroke and or death. This really struck a nerve because my dad has a stroke in his early 40’s and it had really impacted me in a negative way. I was anxious that something could happen and that it would have a negative impact on my children.

I wrote each of my kids a letter, and I wrote this as a journal article for them to read as they grew older (I’ve edited it slightly to help it read better):

“Today I sit down to acquaint myself with all the things that could go wrong. To be honest, “wrong” on this is just my perspective. I really want to avoid hurt and pain, but they are at my doorstep knocking.They won’t let up until they enter my life like never before.

I write this now so you know my state of mind as I open the door.
There may be consequences for you that I never intended. Should things go “wrong,” it will be grief that comes knocking on your door.

Our scariest moments are the ones where we recognize we have no control. We either run to God or we run away from Him. We either call Him Evil, or we call Him Good. In those moments, there is no middle ground to practice a modified religion.

I didn’t choose this road. But it is the road that is set before me. In a thousand lifetimes I would not pick this pain. But I firmly believe that God has chosen me to endure it and so I will walk it, and you must know that I do not walk alone.

You must know that it is because of suffering that I cling to Him now, more than ever. I find that even in the darkness, and in the quiet, He remains true. So while this is not that path I would have chosen. It is the path that has led me closest to Him and for that I am grateful.

So I have to confess that when I ponder, “what might go ‘wrong’?” I say with confidence, that in some way, whatever happens, it will have also gone “right.” God is still in control.

It can be hard to imagine God is in control when we feel so out of control. I imagine the disciples were completely unnerved at the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps they thought all was lost. But three days later he rose from the dead! And the most tragic day in all of history became the greatest day in all of history. The resurrection changed everything. And this is where I place my hope that after whatever darkness may come we will experience the Light of God’s amazing grace.

This trial brought me closer to the Lord and that was a purpose greater than my own personal comfort could have ever been. I pray you press into the Lord no matter what comes your way. He has a way of taking the hardest circumstances and using them for his glory. It took me decades, but looking back and see how he used my dad’s stroke to work in my life. You may not see it or feel it now, but never lose the hope and true optimism that comes with trusting in the promises of God. – DAD”

I am grateful that my kids didn’t need to read that letter/journal entry. But I’m glad I wrote it for them. It helped me process some of my own feelings about my dad’s stroke (for the curious, he survived and I’ve written more about it elsewhere). I swore I’d never go into the ministry because of his stroke and the surrounding story, but as I look back, I’m probably in ministry because of it.

To this day we don’t know the cause of the infection in my heart. We probably won’t ever know. I’ve had to make peace that some things in life aren’t meant for us to understand on this side of eternity.

Philippians 3:9-11 (Devotional Thought)

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:9-11 ESV)

We live in a day and age that tries to redefine the word faith. Some folks use the word faith to mean to believe in something that is not true. So that when they say that if you have enough faith, something that is not true now, will be true later. You kind of “wish” it into existence. For example an individual may be sick or have a physical handicap and these folks will say that if you just have enough “faith” you will get better. This is NOT what the bible teaches when it talks about faith.

Other people try to make the word faith something more like blindly accepting something to be true without checking the facts or thinking about what your doing. They think of faith as something like an assumption. This is also NOT what the bible teaches about faith.

Still other people think of faith more like a feeling. They would say that it doesn’t matter what it true, it matters how you feel and so they would say that faith is a feeling you have when you pray or at a worship service or something like that. Again, this is NOT what the bible teaches us about faith.

The kind of faith found in the Bible can be described as a belief that moves you to action. Or maybe put more simply, “Active trust.” So when you have faith you believe something based on good evidence and then act on it. Like ridding on a school bus. You look carefully to see which bus has the markings that is supposed to take you to your bus stop. You also look for your bus driver and maybe the other kids you know who are on your bus. When you see all of these things coming together on one bus you get on the bus, in good faith, because this bus will take you to your bus stop.

Paul says that real righteousness (being good in God’s eyes) comes from faith. We know that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, was buried and rose again from the dead and then we act in faith by asking God to forgive us of our sin and for Jesus to be Lord (leader) of our lives. Where we act to embrace what Jesus has done is where faith is… its like knowing that’s your bus number, your bus driver, and all the people with whom you ride the bus , you still need to get on the bus in order for it to take you to your bus stop. Just knowing it was the right bus isn’t enough. In the same way saving faith requires us to not just know these things about Jesus but to act on them.

Have you done that? Have you responded to God and asked him to forgive you of your sins and asked JESUS to be the Lord (Leader) of your life? YOU can do that right now. Tell someone if you do.

Paul is so confident that he has been made right with God through what Jesus has done that he is willing to die for his faith in Christ. He knows that just like Jesus was raised from the dead, so he too will be raised from the dead one day as well. He doesn’t know when He’ll die, or what method, that’s why he says “by any means possible” but he’s confident of one thing, He will be raised from the dead in the resurrection.

3 Questions About Healing and the Kingdom

jesus-heals1 So I guess it is only fair for me to admit my biases up front when it comes to “healing.”  My Theological Assumption: I would like to clearly state that I do believe that God does choose to heal and even miraculously heal certain people at certain times.  My Cultural Assumption: I would also like to state that I believe that many Americans neglect  a healthy understanding of the miraculous and supernatural because of an over dependence on a skeptical mind (how arrogant to assume that all cultures that hold to a supernatural world are living in ignorance).  My Experiential Assumption: I have several friends who despite great prayers and great faith have never experience a divine healing miraculous or otherwise.  They were asked to stand up out of their chairs or extend forth their lame hands all to no avail.  Many were accused of not having enough faith.

3 Questions About Healing and the Kingdom

So all of this arises out of the need to get something right in my mind.  A few times now I have been in a situation where a group of folks will get together with the idea to share Christ with the lost world and a brother of mine will stand up and start talking about healing. Usually when this happens they direct my attention to Isaiah 53:5 (By his stripes we are healed) gloss over the whole sacrifice part of the passage and ask if anyone wants to be healed.  The gospel seems to be diminished or passed over by the desire to display a powerful sign of healing.

I understand  that while in the midst of preaching the kingdom Jesus healed people. In many instances healing and preaching the kingdom were hand in hand and almost inseparable (Matt 4:23, 9:35, 10:7-8, Luke 9:11 and especially Luke 10:9).  Jesus demonstrates that the kingdom is coming by healing and showing us what the kingdom will be like (there will be no sickness or death).  This proves not only to authenticate his message, but help us to visualize what it would look like to live under the rule and reign of such a benevolent king.

Yet at the heart of what I generally observe when I hear healing preached is not an announcing of the Kingdom of God, but a statement that God wants you healthy and wealthy. Then some take it so far as to say that if you lack health or wealth you have no faith.  I often wonder if such people have searched the scriptures enough to develop and understand a theology of suffering.

So here are my questions…

. . . . . . . . .

  • Is there a connection between healing and the kingdom of God?
  • Does your theology of healing allow for a theology of suffering? If so how?
  • Does miraculous healing still happen today?