There is a deep, unexplainable “peace” in my heart tonight. Is this the peace Paul wrote about to the church at Philippi, when he said:
The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7, NASB)
I saw my primary physician this afternoon so she could put me through my pre-op paces and sign-off on the final approval for surgery tomorrow. Everything looks to be in good order, except the high blood pressure—160/98—which is not good, but not high enough to forestall surgery. She also found a few other things that will need attention following the surgery, but I don’t have the energy to think too much about those issues right now—one thing at a time, please.
You know, I’m so grateful for the gift of good medical care. While I may not have the very best medical insurance plan in the whole wide world, still, it is so much more than what people living in most of the rest of the world can ever hope to expect. What if I lived in one of the “developing countries” of the world where medical care is always hit and miss? I am so blessed; thank you, Lord, for the marvels of modern medicine.
Following the doctor visit, we had to, of course, make the obligatory “therapeutic” trip to good ole Walmart for last minute supplies. Nothing helps ready you for travel like a trip to Wally World to get some “stuff.” My grand prize of the day—“Dear Foams”—yes, house slippers, for getting from the house, through the airport, and around the hospital. Plenty of us ole cowpokes love our Dear Foams; contrary to popular stereotype, it’s not always about the boots – ha!
We’ll have a light meal tonight, nothing to eat or drink after midnight—you know that routine—then up at 4:00AM to catch an early morning flight to Honolulu. We arrive at 6:55AM, catch the shuttle to Moanalua Medical Center at 7:30AM, and I go into surgery at 8:30AM. That’s as far ahead as I can realistically plan, for now—interesting feeling.
I’m convinced that no matter which way this thing breaks, regardless of the extent of the surgery—and they won’t know until they get in there just how far they’ll have to go—and no matter the prognosis that might lie before me—and that won’t be determined until after the post-surgical biopsy and staging of the cancer—there are, really, only two possible outcomes: “good” and “better!” I’m taking my cue from the Apostle Paul’s statement with regard to his possible impending departure from this world, when he said:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB)
There was a time in my life, not so very long ago, when I really had a hard time relating to Paul’s statement. I simply could not imagine not knowing which to choose—life or death—let alone being “hard-pressed from both directions.” While mentally acquiescing to the idea that “to depart and be with Christ” is, in reality, “very much better,” still, I wasn’t ready to go any time soon. Like the old adage: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go today!”
I can honestly say, however, that, for me, that has changed; at least for the moment. In all sincerity, I can think of nothing sweeter right now than to step through death’s portal and fall into the arms of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like to draw that first sweet breath of spiritual sustenance in that beautiful and comforting place Jesus referred to as “Paradise.” I don’t know if I’ll still be able to say this next week—for me, spiritual growth is often one step forward and two steps back—but, for tonight, I almost envious of the thief on the cross to whom Jesus said: “today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, NASB). I just hope my journey to paradise is a little less challenging than was his – yikes!
If my soul is a little unsettled this evening, it has nothing to do with me per se, but rather is due to the fact that so many of my loved ones are not yet at this same place in their own hearts—even many who have been “Christians” for years. I know, as my own experience reveals, that having this kind of spiritual perspective is not something that can be inculcated upon another simply by teaching. Rather, it’s something the Holy Spirit of God has to grow us into. Paul was speaking from the viewpoint of an incredible spiritual maturity; a maturity that I am just now beginning to comprehend and appreciate. I understand, all too well, that it has taken more than thirty years of ministry and a potentially life-threatening illness to bring me around to actually embracing this philosophical viewpoint and making it my own.
Still, I can’t help but find it a little irritating, and not at all comforting, when people come up to me and they’re just all about me getting well and being restored to my physical health in this present world; you know, like some kind of cheerleader: “yay, yay, whatta ya say, I’ve prayed for you, and you’ll be okay!” (That’s supposed to rhyme somehow – ha!) Don’t get me wrong, please, I “do” want to be okay. I’m praying for a safe surgery, no complications, and no infections; as well as for a rapid recovery and a great prognosis. Every day I ask the Lord for healing. But, in light of God’s grand spiritual scheme of things, my physical health seems to pale to insignificance.
I’m laughing right now, thinking about our poor brother Lazarus; you know, Jesus’ good friend whom He raised from the dead. I’m just imagining what that must have been like for Lazarus. He’s led a life of relative poverty, he’s been terribly sick, then he dies; and now he’s being comforted in paradise. Man, I mean he’s got it made, the victory is his, things are finally good, really, really good!
Then, Jesus calls, “Lazarus come forth” (John 11:43, NASB).
“Ohhhhh man! Seriously? I’ve got to go back to all that? Really? I’ve got to finish living out my life and then die all over again?”
Poor guy! I can just hear it now, some of his old buddies coming around saying, “Hey, Laz, great to have you back, man!”
And Lazarus shaking his head in response, “Yeah, yeah, great… just great!”
But, you know, when the Lord beckons, every faithful servant answers with that same response demonstrated by Jesus Himself when, facing the cross and all that was about to happen to Him there, He said to the Father, “not my will, but Yours be done!” (Luke 22:42, NASB).
I’ve tried to share this Biblical perspective with a few people of late; only to be met with resistance. In fact, I’ve actually been accused of not having enough faith, or not understanding God’s promise to grant physical healing. One person even hinted that I’m being selfish when I talk like this because I’m not taking into consideration other people’s feelings.
But, just for the record, I want you to know that I had a good talk with the Lord today about my future plans for ministry and He reminded me of how much work there is still left to do. And, for these reasons, like Lazarus, I’m probably not going to get off all “that easy.” I fear Paul’s final words in the statement above likely ring true for me as well, “. . . to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (Philippians 1:24, NASB).
That having been said, regardless of when the Lord decides to take me on home, I don’t want to meet Him like some vagabond who’s been drifting along without any direction or aim in life other than just trying to survive and avoid taxes. Rather, I want to meet Him having a divine “purpose” in one hand and a “plan” in the other. So I know what I need to do during the recovery process following this surgery and whatever medical protocol is to follow: I need to inventory, evaluate, and rethink my mission as it currently exists; and I need to outline a strategic plan of ministry as I think about moving forward. Well, anyway, when you’re staring cancer in the eye, and you’re face-to-face with your first surgery, it sure is nice to at least contemplate having some kind of a life after cancer.
Back to those passionate, redneck, borderline fanatical loved ones of mine; my encouragement to you this evening is to remember what really matters. I’m thankful that I live in the time of this current presidential administration, and not under the Pharaohs, or the Caesars, or even the King Kamehameha dynasty. And, while the man in the oval office may not be the best president we’ve ever had, neither is he the antichrist some of you are making him out to be. The constitution is still intact. The republic is still alive and well. So why don’t we just focus on the things that really matter. Pray for the prez, but keep your eyes on the King!
Furthermore, let’s not forget the mission our Lord has set before us. As children of God, we do the cause of Christ little good, and perhaps much harm, by grandstanding on one political or social issue or another—I’m thinking about some of the things that get posted on various social media sites. We need to remember that, ultimately, we’re not about patriotism, constitutional rights, or making this world a better place in which to live. Because, even if we do somehow manage to improve as a society—that is, if our great nation should, indeed, one day find the heart to pursue righteousness and to actually implement “liberty and justice for all”—if people lose sight of Jesus and fail to surrender their hearts and lives to Him, well, it just doesn’t matter all that much, does it?
I’m reminded of Jesus’ passionate plea when He looked out over the people and felt compassion for them, because they were “distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38, NASB). I know many of you have a lot of political, social, and even moral issues that you feel must be addressed. But let’s never forget that the most important thing of all is that people learn to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, NASB).