Saturday, September 13, 2014

Psalm 91, Angels and Motor Scooters

A week ago with one of my daughters on the back of my motor scooter, I passed out and crashed in a nearby neighborhood. My Facebook post the next morning summarized the event and received a large number of "likes" and comments: Had a "touched by an angel" experience yesterday. As I write this from my hospital, I marvel how blessed I am. Lost consciousness on my scooter with LiLi on the back and crashed. I believe an angel must have provided both of us a landing into a soft green lawn instead of trees, oncoming traffic or down a ravine, any of which might have met us on our short ride home after breakfast. LiLi was a trooper calling for help and remaining courageous. Being worked up for a pacemaker but thanking The Lord today on His day.

After four nights in the hospital and being fitted with a defibrillator, I am home reflecting again about this latest miracle or visitation by an angel. Some might think I'm being too dramatic with this description, but this isn't the first time my life has been spared, and I think the answer can be found in Psalm 91.

Ah, Psalm 91. Back in early January 2008 recovering from a ruptured appendicitis in the hospital, I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest which lasted 12 minutes receiving seven sets of shocks and continuous CPR. In hospital language, I was "circling the drain." A major heart attack had also occurred and my wife called in all of our praying friends. On the following day while I remained in critical condition, an old pastor friend visited me, praying boldly and confidently the words of Psalm 91. After two days of unconsciousness, I heard his voice and recognized his presence and reached my hand up to take hold of his. From that moment all who were following my case sensed I had turned the corner and within a week, I left the hospital with my third stent and damaged heart in tow. But I was alive and according to my friend, he had prayed to "raise the dead" and didn't know until the moment he left my side that I would survive. But the psalm he prayed not only suggested that I would, it just about predicted it.

So what does the psalm say?
Psalm 91:11-12, 15-16 NIV
[11] For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; [12] they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

[15] He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. [16] With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.

Fast forward six and a half years. I had been fighting the idea of a defibrillator even though its main purpose is to prevent another sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrests are always accompanied by loss of consciousness. So this Saturday morning the angels of Psalm 91 were not finished. I remember saying to LiLi that I needed to pull over and the next thing I remember is waking on the soft green lawn. I had driven the scooter about 50 yards after passing out, across a lane of traffic up a curb that just happened to be one of those gentle types that wouldn't throw us over the handlebars. As the scooter slowed to a stop both of us fell off into the grass, neither of us injured from the crash. (You will not strike your foot against a stone.) As I lay in the grass for another few minutes or so LiLi summoned for help at the top of her lungs and stayed by my side until I came back. The rest is a blur of 911 calls, police and fire personnel arriving and a trip to the ER. One of the men from my group at church texted to say he was praying Psalm 91 over me.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


The death of Robin Williams has ushered in an avalanche of commentary, both positive and negative. One blogger, Matt Walsh, received a torrent of negative criticism for his conclusion that suicide is ALWAYS bad and that many are unwittingly condoning it for those with severe depression by glorifying and memorializing the actor.

I'm not here to join that discussion one way or another, but I will give you one real-life experience with suicide and then pose another question, Was Jesus suffering with depression? What if he had chosen to fall on Peter's sword?

When I was 12 and entering 7th grade, I joined the choir, taught by an energetic and charismatic young teacher named Pat Ryan. It did not take long for many of us to find out this man was not the typical junior high school teacher. He actually liked us, goofed around with us, but more importantly, taught us about the mysterious and beautiful world of music, from pipe organs to the newest fad, Switched-on Bach. We hung out at his house, his wife and kids becoming an extension to our ever-growing "family." He was the dad many of us had hoped for but had never had. He was the big brother who could mess with us but would call us out when we went over the line, which was quite often as I recall.

When as a group we all moved on to 10th grade and high school, Mr. Ryan graduated with us, leaving junior high behind and taking on the challenge of the high school choral department. Nothing changed in our friendship and there were a handful of us guys in the inner circle. We could tell him anything and everything. There were no secrets. And we repaid his confidentiality with our loyalty and hard work. By the summer of my junior year the select group of the choir was heading for a trip of a lifetime to perform at the New York World's Fair. I could fill a memoir on that experience and someday I might, but suffice it to say, that trip, and all that led up to it, would never be forgotten by any of us who went.

When we graduated from high school and headed off to college, Mr. Ryan matriculated right along beside us as a graduate student. From learning about pipe organs to learning about pot pipes. Again, another memoir. As I prepared to graduate, it was easy for me to pick a career. I would become a teacher just like Mr. Ryan. I would dedicate my life to my students just the way he had. He was my idol and he was my friend.

So some years later as a teacher myself, I learned from a colleague that Mr. Ryan had just the night before driven from the high school to a vacant lot behind the school and had proceeded to extend a hose from the exhaust pipe of his car into the passenger compartment where his body was found following his wife's frantic nightmarish search. Mr. Ryan, Pat as we called him by now, had committed suicide.

In the weeks that followed, rumors circulated, a memorial was held, family and friends gathered, and hundreds of his former students mourned. Some of us died a little on the inside too.

You might think it had no bearing, but I only taught one year after that. That musical group I had started? It just didn't matter that much anymore and it ceased not long after. Every memory I ever had, every lesson I had ever learned, every soft secret ever spoken was punctuated by the finality that Mr. Ryan had killed himself. It changed things...forever...and I will have to agree with Matt Walsh that NO GOOD THING comes from suicide. Not one...not ever. You can't convince me otherwise, so when I see so many well-intentioned people trying to put a positive spin on Robin Williams' suicide, I just don't think it will be possible, at least for me. It changes the way I remember him. It changes things.

Another claim that really seemed to tick off Matt Walsh's readers was that suicide is a choice, that it's ALWAYS a choice. And to him it's a VERY BAD choice. That got me wondering. Was Jesus depressed? Did Jesus also have a choice? What if Jesus had chosen to fall on Peter's sword instead of enduring the cross? That night in the garden. Remember what he said? "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, even to the point of death." He asked for his Father to take "this cup" from him but in the end he would not assert his own will over that of his Father's. He chose death but of a very different kind.

So suicide, death at one's own hand, is a very bad thing. Sacrifice, by the hand of the Father, is a very good thing. They both change things forever.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How the Church is not a Business

In the early days of Christianity, the church was described as an organism, not an organization. She was a living being dependent on each part, each foot, each vessel working together, all reliant on the Head, described as Christ Himself. She was the Bride, being adorned and prepared for her Husband, the Lord Himself. The church was alive in that infancy, fragile, needing protection and constant feeding, vulnerable--a baby. Somehow, over time, "she" became an "it."  What was born an organism, engaged, dynamic and personal, evolved into an organization, detached, institutional and impersonal.

Church in America now embraces elements of the business model in an effort to run like a modern machine, almost devoid of the distinctive organic qualities of the first century church.

It's business as usual. From the mega-church, super-pastor model to the small congregation struggling to stay alive, you see efforts to adopt effective business models and practices, calls for restructuring to align with the current culture and strategies to accept inevitable change.

Churches are as commercial as burger joints. Don’t agree with the leadership in a particular church, walk with your feet down the street until you find a style and comfort level more to your liking. Submit to that leadership? Only if and when you agree with them. And if you don’t like their decisions, just tool on down the road. After all, you're not going to expect McDonalds to cook it your way.

But we ask similar things from churches all the time.  When the preaching doesn’t please us, the music is not what you hear on the radio and the kids’ programs bore our little ones to death, if complaining doesn’t work, we bolt. We walk with our feet.

In the American church we also vote with our pocket books. Preaching not quite up to par, I’ll just cut back my church support. Perhaps I’ll support some para-church organization instead. Better yet, I’ll use my tithe for the K-Love Cruise through the Mediterranean and the Holy Lands. And it’s probably tax deductible too.

On one hand church is a business, a charity regulated by state and federal laws. If the church doesn’t operate by effective business principles, it will fail to exist. Like the GEICO commercial, we know that.

Yet the church is also definitely not a business. She is organic and she is us, living breathing human members of one body, where the head is Christ. Leaders pray before they plan and even listen for the most unlikely of voices. Churches should not operate according to the loudest and most persistent voices but rather wait for the still, soft voice that follows prayer. We wait to hear from our Head. That’s because the church is only part human: her life is spirit, her protectors are angelic and her leaders are called and chosen by God himself. Sometimes she is very inefficient.

Scripture gives us all the principles we need to run an effective organization in this or any culture, in this or any generation or in this or any century. Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Study to show yourselves approved.  Resist the god of this world and his economic system and he will flee from you.

Can we really trust the Word of God more than we believe the latest business trends and buzz words? I think we should.