Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Persecuted Church

For the most part, I feel that many in the American church are very unaware of the international persecution that some in the global church have to endure. Recently while working on a set of sermon notes, I paged through Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and once again felt the deep-seated conviction that most of the American church probably would not be able to endure physical challenges to their faith. In fact, I even questioned whether or not I would stand in the face of persecution and even martyrdom for what I believed to be true. Perhaps many are choking on God’s blessings at the expense of our soul. Blessings and prosperity have a way of dulling one’s spiritual senses. Why do we really need God when we have a surplus of wealth and health? Why should we depend on God when we have become self-made men by following the advice of the best life now routine?

I have been accused by some of my “preaching buddies” of always reading heavy or even dark books and they are probably right! Of course Scripture has been the main fair of my efforts because I want the Book to master me and it will not happen unless I spend time with it. But in addition to Scripture I have been fortunate enough to have for years devoted much reading to Tozer, Ravenhill, Chambers (among others), and a host of the Puritans. The Puritans have had to endure an incredible amount of undue criticism by those of more carnal “spiritual” appetites because they confront the way that men live. Spend a little time with Boston, Brooks, Watson (my personal favorite), Edwards, and such like and you will suddenly find much encouragement in the areas of personal holiness, dedication to prayer and the Scriptures. All of these working in tandem have had the ability to create a formidable team of voices that continue to remain productive. Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life (which has a free download) was another clarion call to me to simply do that not waste my life.

This matter of the persecuted church has again taken front and center in my life due to a book that was recently recommended to me to read. It is written by Randy Alcorn and is entitled Safely Home and recounts the persecution of the Christians in China. It was so troubling to me when I read in the opening chapter of the account of the saints on their way to church in the middle of the night and having to ride bicycles at that.

They meet at night in “house-churches” so that they will not be caught by the government officials. They were ever so careful with their Bibles and wrapped them in a waterproof covering. When they got to their place of worship, the prayer was reverent, the singing was heart-felt, and the response to the Word was majestic. What troubled me so much was that this coming up Sunday, there will be people (saints?) who will lay out of church for every conceivable and weak reason. They have not had any real interaction with the Word or with God all week long. They have Bibles that are not valued, prayer is basically non-existent, and their experience with worship borders on an emotional attachment to entertainment.

Just a few questions for you:

How many Bibles do you have and how long has it been since you treasured them in such a way as those in the persecuted church?

What was your reaction to the call for prayer on an “off-night” at the Church? Was it one of expectation or were you upset that your schedule was going to be disrupted?

Take a look at the last ten years of your tax returns and see how much money you have given to spread the Gospel and support the church? Now compare that amount with how much you spent on other things? (Going to an Alabama or Auburn football game is going to cost right at $400 +/- for the trip. Going on a weekend shopping spree in Atlanta or Birmingham has the potential to cost even more.) For you Dothan folks who are reading this blog, 65 foreign missionaries are depending on your commitment to God to keep them in the fray all over the world. . . we cannot let them or God down. . . we must stay on the firing line!

4. How much time have you spent this week with God-saturated people compared to those who were dead spiritually? Analyze the voices you listened to this week. Was it the frivolity of Facebook, the incessant voices of talk radio (political and/or sports focused), or was your MP3 player loaded to the gills with good spiritual voices?

When you have to answer those sorts of questions, it immediately sheds a lot of light on how much devotion you have to God. If faith has any value whatsoever, there will be an equal amount dedication that will be manifested in “works.” If you don’t believe me, go and read the Acts of the Apostles and then Romans 6-8 and then James 2:14-26.

I trust that you are feeling some heat right now as you read this, because I have felt high heat. . . as in the gentle but very convicting voice of the Spirit with every page I have turned in Safely Home. Almost fearfully, I did not want to even consider the thought that I could not endure the challenges of persecution faced by these Chinese Christians. Would I have been one of those who gave up because of the threat of personal pain? Is there even enough devotion and commitment in my heart to withstand such pressure? Or do I only live in the blessing trap that when God is filling His role as Santa Claus I can serve Him and when He does not live up to my expectations I am ready to give up? What an indictment against me. . . perhaps that same indictment is against you also. . .

C. S. Lewis
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.

The book is dedicated to Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip (age ten) and Timothy (age six) who at half-past midnight on January 23, 1999 were burned to death by a mob in India for their beliefs. The reports are that Graham, in the midst of the fire, huddled his two young sons up close to him, as they were burning to death.

I can only pray that God brings this blog to your mind next Sunday night when you leave church and pile into Appleby’s or Ruby Tuesday’s or Burger King or wherever and bite into the chicken fingers or the burger. . . .

I trust that you will read this in the spirit in which I have written it. . . suffice it to say that although fictional Safely Home has moved me toward a deeper commitment to God. . . for that I am thankful!

God Bless,

Monday, October 05, 2009

Don't Silence the Alarms. . .

My thoughts in the last couple of weeks has increasingly been turned back toward the world of medicine of which I have somewhat lost touch with in the last 4 years. In January 2006, I had the great opportunity to leave the field of medicine and devote myself to the role of being a full-time pastor. What turned my thoughts back to that venue was my oldest son having graduated from the RN program that my wife and I both graduated from 24 years ago has gone to work in one of Intensive Care Units at Flowers Hospital in Dothan. His orientation process has caused me to think of several instances over the years that taught not only valuable lessons about medicine but about life in general.

While I have been able to be involved in a host of good things there are also some instances that horrific outcomes took place. As I look back in retrospect I realize now that they could have been prevented. One such experience happened early on when one of my co-workers was admitting a fresh open-heart from the OR. The common practice is that within the first 30 minutes of admitting a post-op heart is for a naso-gastric tube to be inserted. This involves taking a tube made of firm plastic and placing it in one of the nostrils and advancing it through the nares into the esophagus and down into the stomach. It is then hooked up to an intermittent suction device that gently keeps the stomach empty of air and fluid preventing vomiting that may lead to aspirate pneumonia which is never good. During this time the patient is unconscious and on a ventilator because of the effects of the anesthesia used during the procedure.

Leading up to the point of NG tube insertion that patient had done well. They had been attached all the appropriate monitors, the Swan-Ganz catheter had been successfully placed by the CV surgeon, and all seemed well. However, the person taking care of the patient had grown tired of hearing the alarms on the cardiac monitor and had overrode the cardiac monitor completely silencing the monitors. On a side note, the vast majority of cardiac monitors that are made today can only be silenced for a two-minute maximum before they reset and start again. This has helped to prevent bad patient outcomes.

One of the potential complications with the insertion of an NG tube is that a vaso-vagal response can occur. This means that a patient will have a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure and often leads to the patient “passing out” (in laymen’s terms) if they are conscious. They become cold, clammy, and at best their pulse is weak and thready. If the patient is already in a state of compromised health, this vaso-vagal response can even lead to their heart going into a fatal rhythm. This is what happened to this patient but the difficulty in all of this was the alarms had been silenced and the person inserting the NG tube was not aware that the heart rate had dropped from the 90’s down into the 30’s. It then deteriorated into an ominous ventricular fibrillation. This means the heart of the patient was turned into a mass of writhing worms (as I had one physician characterize this condition to me many years ago). The heart in this condition cannot generate a blood pressure and therefore it is in full-blown cardiac arrest. How long the patient was in this condition is unknown and I doubt it was more than a minute but it was long enough for the patient to go from normal to Code Blue.

It ended up that the patient had their chest opened at bedside which is always incredibly chaotic. They were “shocked” directly to the heart with some special paddles and a host of cardiac drugs were given in an effort to save the patient. To our great disappointment the patient ended up expiring after we worked well over an hour in our efforts to resuscitate the patient.

In the post-code debriefing that generally occurs with all Code Blue situations in all hospitals across the nation, it was determined that the silencing of the alarms were very costly to our efforts to save this patient. We were already behind the trying to climb out of a deep hole before we got started. As it turned out from that point on there was a zero-tolerance policy concerning the silencing of the alarms no matter how annoying they were to the intensive care staff. Alarms can save the lives of patients but they only work when they are not silenced.

There are a lot of alarms that we can choose to silence in our lives simply because we find they are annoying and perhaps even a bit confining to us. There are alarms in your relationship with God that are silenced when you neglect prayer. Far too often, our prayer is spent in hurried trips across the parking lot to school or work, prayer is sometimes confined to our drive to and from different places that our attendance is required, and you can get the picture. The alarms of the soul are neglected when we do not get down on our knees (or some posture of prayer) and stop the world for a bit so that we interact with God! People who have spiritual problems and are always full of doubt and fear are those who are not praying.

We silence soul alarms when there is no interaction with the Word. It has to go beyond simply a “verse for the day” mentality. I am currently working through a series on the Old Testament Tabernacle and through the Sermon on the Mount. I just thought I was spiritual until the pattern of the Tabernacle began to play itself out. I also discovered that a depth of character could be born out of Matthew 5-7. A superficial approach to Scripture will lead to a very shallow spiritual life and I am pleading with you to get involved with your Bible (whether you are a minister or not!). The more I read the Book, the more I grasp that the path to Heaven follows a very narrow path.

We silence the soul alarms when we have a lackadaisical attitude toward public corporate worship. It is important for you to get out of bed on Sunday morning and go to church. It is important that you put Sunday night on hold and go to worship. It is important for you to go to a mid-week Bible study and prayer meeting and I do mean Bible study and prayer. As in Bible study that requires note-taking, systematic teaching, and provoking Scripture that forces you to think. I also am an ardent supporter of corporate prayer—as in the get-down-on-your-knees sort of thing either in the pew or at the altar and as in out-loud-everyone-around-being-heard kind of prayer. This kind of worship will cause your spiritual life to grow as never before.

We have alarms in our marriages that are silenced when we refuse to listen, to care, and will not compromise our plans for our spouses. Alarms in our families occur when we neglect them for the so-called purpose of making a living. There are some who get so busy making and living that they kill the very life most important to them—the life that resides with them under the same roof. Our children desperately need for us to be parents. Being a parent will require you to set boundaries, to discipline, to encourage, and to just be there. Don’t fall into the trap of “quality” time versus “quantity” of time spent with your children. In the case of raising kids, quantity always equals quality.

One final plea is reserved for pastors and ministers, don’t silence the alarms of true ministry. Just in case you may not have read it in a while, you will find a very detailed job description in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. You will also find in 2 Peter 2 and in Jude what happens to those who neglected to do their job and silenced the alarms.

Keep the alarms on!

(Please note: The details of the patient account above were changed and actually represents a variation of details and conditions which I have been exposed to in multiple patient experiences over a 25 year time frame and numerous facilities I have been associated with. While fictional the account resembles what occurs in hospitals around the world on a daily basis.)

A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...