Ohhh, My Aching Broken Back

 

Golden Bear Bridge 1
Golden Bear Bridge 😉

Never one to pass up a statue and leave it undisturbed, the Golden Bear Bridge in northern California provided simply too much of an invitation to ride one of its life-size bears!  The lovely overpass above Klamath River on Route 101, just 56 miles (90 km) north of Arcata, California, cannot be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge 330 miles (530 km) south in San Francisco, but the bridge’s nickname is inviting.  http://www.klamathchamber.com/home.cfm?dir_cat=37747

My wife, sister-in-law and I had just spent the day walking among trees that took our breath away as much as a first visit to the Grand Canyon does.  Some of these behemoths were just saplings during the reign of Caesar Augustus a world away, about the time Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem, Judea, in a backwater province of the Roman Empire.  Think of the Ents of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and you could almost hear the whispers of the branches wondering who these tiny creatures were scurrying between their ancient legs.

Golden Bear 2.JPG
King of the Coast

We were returning south to our hotel in Arcata when we paused at the the beautiful golden statues of California’s mascot ahead.  With the warming sun still overhead and cool breezes off the northern Pacific coast refreshing us, I masterfully climbed my Ursidae adversary.  Astride his back I felt like King of the Coast, Conqueror of Sasquatch, Ruler of the Avenue of the Giants.  Assured that Ellen had taken my picture, I began my regal descent to the lowlands . . . and missed the base of the statue.

From only three feet (1m) off the ground, I found myself curiously looking at my foot going by the base and actually thinking, “Why did I DO that?!?”  The next 0.5 seconds was a lesson in physics.  Without anything to grip on the bear, my weight flung me around to the left and propelled me backwards into a vertical 8×8 (20 x 20 cm) guard-rail post.  Before anyone feels sorry for me, let me just say that my guardian angel, though somewhat clumsy, is very good at catching up to my ineptitude.

Six inches (15 cm) higher, if my mass had propelled me further horizontally, I would have been impaled on a three-inch (7.5 cm) bolt anchoring the guard-rail to its post, which would have easily ripped my back open and likely killed me in a few minutes of profuse bleeding.  Slower propulsion from the bear would have landed me on the gravel and rocks below the statue, breaking innumerable bones or splitting my head open, again, a less than attractive option.  Any other landing promised any number of means of death.  So landing sideways on a flat piece of wood, as if I had fallen flat onto it, provided my guardian angel with the best option once I was airborne.

The blow knocked the wind out of my lungs, and I wondered how nearly I was clinging to life as I rotated to my hands and knees for the final moment of descent.  Able to manage a small breath, I called my sister-in-law as she ran to see if I was injured.  “Are you hurt, c.a.?”

Golden Bear Won.JPG
Hmm, kinda hurts.

“Yes,” came my muffled reply.  “My back, my back, Ellen press on my back!” fearing it might be bleeding.  Seeing no blood around me and feeling her assuring hands on my back without the requisite scream blood would have elicited, I gingerly got off my knees and raised myself to a half-crouch stand.  Now if you think my sister-in-law is heartless for taking a picture of me in my fallen state, let me defend her; in her rush to assist me, she just bumped the camera with no idea this picture was there.

Anita had been in the car through the photo-op and glanced up as Ellen rushed to my aid.  “Oh, brother, where is c.a. going now for more photos?” she thought.  However, seeing me limp across the guard-rail, she realized something was not right and came lightning fast to assess the damage.  I assured her I was alive, but needed medical care as soon as possible.  While Ellen helped me back to the car, Anita ran ahead to GPS the nearest hospital, and after a few minutes of heavy breathing I was in the passenger seat as Anita sped toward Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City, just south of the Oregon border, 25 minutes away.

Crescent City in PainCrescent City still in PainOnce past the bureaucrats in the admission area of the Emergency Room, the radiology staff and the doctor and physician assistant were as good as any at UK hospital here in Kentucky.  The radiologists positioned me as gently as possible for my spinal x-ray and CT scan.  Out of courtesy for how difficult it was for me to move, they re-positioned equipment so they could take side pictures while I still lay on my back, rather than have me try to roll onto my side.

As soon as the pictures of my back had been viewed, the PA ordered some long-awaited morphine by injection!  Within minutes, I began to believe I was not really going to die yet.  The pain was subsiding substantially, and I could talk without wincing.  I could almost breath normally, though deep inhaling was still beyond my capacity.  My back was broken, the L2 vertebra smashed across, with torn ligaments on L1 and L3, and a couple of cracks up in the thoracic vertebrae.

Crescent City Hospital's Best
One of Crescent City’s Best!

A consult with a neurosurgeon concluded I would not need surgery, but would need pain meds and careful attention to my back for a few weeks.  Anita and Ellen went to Arcata to get our gear and move us up to a Crescent City hotel where I could get bed rest just a mile from the hospital.  A local pharmacy had a back brace and walker for me.

The first med, oxy-codone gave me itches and a rash and I thought, “Well, that’s bearable.”  But when I read the patient insert, after listing all the inconsequential side effects, it said, “See your doctor if any of the following serious allergic reactions occur, such as itching, rash, . . .!!”  Apparently an allergic reaction can “go south” quickly!  So they changed me to hydro-codone, the same drug with a couple of CH3 moieties difference; same itch, too, for me.  Since I had taken hydro-morphone by injection in the hospital without reaction, they shifted me to this drug, which was okay except for the extreme nausea it caused.

Crescent City Departure
At the Airpor

So less than two weeks later, I am weaned off the opioids and glad to be rid of them.  All of them, besides relieving the pain, made my head feel “loopy.”  Now I am down to extra-strength ibuprofen and that seems to be managing the pain well, and I am back to driving since no longer “under the influence.”

So where was The God Who Is There in all of this?  I’ll share some thoughts on this in next Sunday’s blog, September 4, 2016.  For now, rest assured:  God is good . . . all the time; and all the time . . . God IS good!

Crescent City Departure2
Flying In the Stratosphere!  43000 Feet (8 miles or 13 km)!

Practicing the Practice of the Presence

Practicing the Presence of God presents us with a couple of problems.

First of all, by nature we tend to trust our senses and not our faith.  We easily forget what we cannot see or feel or hear.  We even have a saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Secondly, we face multiple distractions.  These can be good things, like a wonderful poem, a marvelous piece of music, a brilliant blog emo wink, or just the busy-ness of doing our job or caring for our family.  These distractions can also be bad things, temptations to do what we know to be wrong, but what looks like a short-cut to what will please us or make us more comfortable.

Thirdly, we are so small in our thinking, it is hard for us to get our minds around the existence of God as He really is, and we must make substitutions in our thinking to accommodate our limited understanding.

Keep in mind Whose Presence we are practicing.  The God Who Is There is more than our tiny brains can process.  His nature is clearly presented in the Bible as being Three-In-One, what we call a “triune being”, a term we invented because we cannot understand how one being can exist in three persons.  Yet one would have to ask, “If I can understand all there is to know of the nature of God, is this really God?”  You see, He has revealed to us enough of what we can understand to show us that we cannot ever fully grasp His complete nature.

He was and is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the One true God and Creator of all things.  Jesus did not become the Son of God when Mary gave birth to the infant boy, but rather the eternal Son of God simply took on human form, personality and limitations in order to fully identify with His creation.  Think of a painter being able to go into his painting to fully experience what he has painted, and though a poor and limited illustration, this may help us grasp the idea of God becoming man.  Also, we should note here that God is a spirit, not a physical being.  So the idea that God had sexual relations with Mary in order to impregnate her is absurd.  Rather with the same creative ability He had when He formed man, He created in Mary a body for the Son using her DNA and His spirit, just as He used the dust and His breath to make the first Adam.

So how do we get around these problems in Practicing The Presence of God?  The following ideas are not set in stone, but rather suggestions for you if you are having difficulty seeing that God is always with you.

First is to use a holy imagination.  As I mentioned last week, just because we are using imagination does not mean He is not really there.  But this is an exercise of our faith.  However, there is a caution here: our imaginations can imagine things that are not of God.  A holy imagination is one informed by the Bible as to the nature, character and behavior of The God Who Is There.  You may be able to imagine God is telling you to rob a bank to pay your bills, but that will be only your imagination, and not God at all!

After exploring some of the Bible’s teaching about what God is like, then, imagine Him leaning in close to your ear and whispering into your life how you should behave, what your response to the things around you should be.  Pretend you are in the company of a King (you are!!) and behave as you would with Him at your elbow.  Some have found adding an empty chair at dinner reminds them of His presence at the meal.  Remind yourself by any creative way you desire of His presence all day long.  He IS there, even though you may not realize it.

Second is to get past the distractions of life.  As noted last week, I do not advocate that we all become monks in monasteries.  Rather, incorporate our unseen Guest in our activities.  When you select a television program, consider asking Him to watch it with you (He will anyway!)  It is necessary to give attention to tasks we must perform, but whenever possible, simply include Him in the task.  Consider if a Royal was beside you, how would you approach this task?  Would you be so quick to get angry at that other driver?  Would you take that next scoop of ice cream?  Would you ask for His opinion on your plans?   Would you do them differently if He was there?  The fact is, HE IS!   As Steve Elliott said, “Act as if He is really there, and you will find He IS!” 

Third is the issue of what we imagine Him to be.  As noted, we cannot grasp everything about God that He has revealed about Himself, and He understands our limitations.  So there may be times you need to see a God who hangs stars in the universe, but at other times you may need to see a Brother who lovingly feeds a hungry baby.  You may need to see a God who can move mountains, a Mighty Warrior who can defend against an evil enemy, or you may need a gentle Spirit able to see through walls or into the cells of a body that needs healing.  Because our little brains cannot imagine all these things about God at once does not mean He is less than He is.  He is all of these and much more, but we can only imagine part of His divine majesty at any one time.

Enjoy His company.  He came a long way to enjoy yours.  He gave Himself to unspeakable torture and death on a cross so that He could be part of your life.   “For God so loved the world that He gave His only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in Him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed.”   (John 3:16, CJB)

Now, if you do not already, start Practicing the Practice of The Presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice the Presence

Any way to treat a king.JPGSuppose a royal came to my house for a visit and I spent the entire time in front of my television set, barely acknowledging the visitor.  Then I prepared my meal of steak and potatoes and green bean casserole, but shared only a piece of dry bread with my guest.  I laid down in my comfortable queen size bed with warm blankets and gave him a small sheet to lay on the floor of the living room.  In the morning I woke and went out the door without even noting that he was in the house, and that he had hoped to go to work with me.

Sadly this is how many Christians treat their King.  He has come a long way to reach us, but we are too busy with other things to share with Him what we are doing.  Now, don’t get me wrong:  I do not advocate a monastic life or suggest we do nothing but spend hours in “devotions” or Bible study and prayer meetings.  In fact, there are times “acts of devotion” become just that: an act, and not a real part of our lives.

In Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence noted: “I do not say we must put any violent constraint upon ourselves. No, we must serve God in a holy freedom. We must work faithfully without trouble or disquiet, recalling our mind to God mildly and with tranquility as often as we find it wandering from Him. It is, however, necessary to put our whole trust in God. We must lay aside all other cares and even some forms of devotion, though very good in themselves, yet such as one often engages in routinely. Those devotions are only means to attain to the end. Once we have established a habit of the practice of the presence of God, we are then with Him who is our end. We have no need to return to the means.”

You see, Jesus was quite serious when He said, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  When you have accepted Jesus as your savior, He gives this assurance that you will never be alone . . . even when you would prefer to be!  A friend recently noted that in order to sin, one has to divorce himself from the presence of God.  This is not entirely true, as in its purest form, sin is simply “falling short of the glory of God,” and I find that even when I am trying my best to be obedient to God and walk with Him, I continually come up less than what I expect He would want me to be, or to what He created me to be.

However, to intentionally sin, which is to decide to do something that I know is against God’s will, my friend is correct.  The only way I can do that is to get a divorce from God, so that I am not with Him.  And if I go through my day pretending that God is not a part of my life, that He is not “visiting my house,” I easily fall into traps the enemy of human souls sets.  I can sin without thinking about His presence, as though He is asleep on the living room floor when I go to work alone.

But that is not the way He wants it!  He wants to be a Present Participant in everything we do.  He wants us to be aware of Him when we watch television.  He wants us to talk with Him about what we are watching, what we are cooking, when we are driving, when we are working.  He wants us to recognize He is always at our elbow . . . even when we wish He was not!  And if we realize He IS there, we will be more inclined to please Him rather than ourselves when choices need to be made.

The Practice of the Presence of God is not natural for us.  It requires a holy imagination, but do not think that just because we are using our imagination, He is not really there!  This is the exercise of our faith.  The fact is He IS present.  Our ignorance of Him bending over our shoulder when we are reading a magazine or newspaper does not mean He is not there.  He is there when we brag about what we have accomplished, when we sit in our chairs and do nothing, when we fill out our taxes, when we envy someone else’s auto or jewelry, when we choose whether to get another doughnut, when we log onto the internet or walk by a swimming pool, when we blow up at a coworker or drive in our cars.  He is always there!  (For more insight into this list, see .)

When one begins to practice the presence of God it will seem unnatural, but by His grace, you will find He really is there, and there with grace.  The first place you will see His grace active in your mind is in helping you to practice!   And you will find Brother Lawrence’s “holy freedom,” a relaxing of rules and regulations, and a friendly communion with One who loves you more than your own mother!

Practice the Presence2When you practice the presence of God, you will find Him whispering in your ear much more that you realized before you started paying attention.  And He is merciful and loving, so when you discover weaknesses and faults in your life, your practice of His presence that reveals these and troubles your mind, will put you at ease with His mercy.  And you will find Him purifying you, first from belligerent sins, and then from some weaknesses that hurt others.

Do not become discouraged as you find more faults than you realized you had!  When you bring a rough diamond under the jeweler’s lamp to work on it, you will see more faults than you saw before.  His light may seem uncomfortable at first, but His grace will help you endure.  And give Thanx for His view, that He that began the good work in you will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)  Next week, August 28, 2016, we will look at some practical tips for Practicing The Presence.

Practice the Presence1

Do Not Be Distracted

Gypsy DancersThe two women were dressed in flowing maxi-skirts with scarves over their hair and multiple shawls wrapped around their shoulders.  One carried a very young infant in additional swaddles of cloth obscuring the child’s size except for the clearly visible infantile face.  They could be admired for both their fairly youthful beauty and form that was slightly discernible through the folds of their dresses, and for the modesty that such dresses provided.  Though apparently poor, the cloth was not worn nor ragged, and the stitchery and embroidery of the designs showed great skill and care had gone into the apparel.

We were at a train station in Italy, leaving a large atrium to enter a narrower walkway to the platforms when the women approached me.  The one with the baby showed me his lovely face, and began to ask me for some money so she could feed her hungry child.  The other moved courteously to my side to give me an unobstructed view of the begging woman and child.

Having been warned of Gypsies, I withdrew as the woman facing me came closer with her appeals, and turned slightly to keep an eye on the woman at my side.  “Could you give me even a small money to feed my child?” she pleaded in a thick accent, but with excellent English enunciation.  As I backed away, pulling my two wheeled suitcases, she gently reached out to touch my arm . . . at which point I yelled very loudly, “STOP touching me! Get away from me!”

Before you note how rude I was, let me point out that I looked intently at the woman in front of me, then to the woman at my side.  When I turned back to see the woman in front of me, she was gone.  When I looked a second time to the woman beside me, she had also vanished. Gypsy Disappearance I rapidly tried to scan the crowd around me for where they must be running, and could not see them anywhere in the atrium nor in the wide hallway in front of me.  Such was the magic of their distractive ability, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I had probably just avoided being stripped of any money or valuables on my person.  The one who had warned me about Gypsies said to make loud noise and call attention to them; they would disappear.  And so they had.

These women and a host of others follow a long tradition of distraction to get what they want, though they usually will find out in the end that what they took was not what they really wanted.  The original story is as old as human history.  The details were written many centuries after the events by Moses, but the verbal traditions had maintained the pure form of the story (see May 17, 2015), besides Moses’ inside track to God’s revelation.  Genesis 4 records the birth of the first two boys of Adam and Eve, Cain whose name sounds like the Hebrew for “obtained,” and Abel whose name means “breath”.

Cains OfferingBoth boys had followed their dad’s example to worship Yahweh, their creator.  But God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.  So Cain became the first person to use distraction to deceive.  He invited his brother out into the field to see some of his agriculture.  And while Abel was looking in the direction his brother had pointed, Cain took a rock and crushed Abel’s head.  This is more detail than the actual story provides, but one possible scenario.

To understand the acceptance and rejection of their offerings, we must understand the Hebrew concept of “offering.”  God is not a man who needs to eat or drink, so does not need the food offered to Him the way the Old Testament worshipers gave.  When food was offered, it was usually cooked or prepared as food, and then consumed by the worshiper.  If the offering was for praise, it was offered with words and thoughts describing how wonderful God is; if the offering was for thanks giving, the focus would be on God’s gifts; one for intercession or requests, prayers would be presented asking God for what was needed.  The point of the offering was not to “feed God,” but to open the worshiper’s heart to spend time with Him.

Cain and AbelLet’s imagine the story of Cain and Abel with a conversation that could have occurred if Cain had not been so stubborn and distracted by his selfishness.  Suppose Cain invited Abel out to the field, and instead of distracting him to murder him, had asked him to explain why one offering was accepted and the other rejected.

  • Cain: I do not understand.  I am angry at God for rejecting my offering, and at you for being accepted just because you offered an animal and I offered grain.  I do not raise animals and had none to bring.
  • Abel: Cain, my brother, show me where you got your offering.
  • Cain: From over here, by the swampy side of the field.  I just picked some of the stuff that might have spoiled.  After all, God was not going to eat it, anyway.  It was just for show.
  • Abel: Ah, I see the problem, Cain.  My gift was accepted because it was the best of my flock.  As you say, God is not a carnivore nor an herbivore.  He would not eat either of the offerings. My offering was not accepted because it was animal versus vegetable.
  • Cain: So what difference did the offering make? What was the point of it?
  • Abel: Yahweh wants our best, Cain.  He wants our hearts to enjoy meeting with Him.  He wants to know you put thought into the offering and did not just pick out anything, especially something that meant little to you.  If I had saved my best lamb for a feast with friends, it would have said to God that I loved them more than Him.  It might have impressed my friends but what would that have said to God?  Our offerings are not to be “just for show,” other than to be “just for showing God what we think of Him.” 
  • “Let me help you pick some of the best of your field, and let’s go back with another offering and see what He says to you.”

How different the history of mankind might have been.  Oh, born into sin as we are, someone would have been the first murderer, but Cain’s story might have shown other lessons than the tragic ones it reveals.

Our lesson:  Keep your focus on what is valuable. Offer your best to The God Who Is There.  Do not allow the enemy of our souls to touch you.  And Do Not Be Distracted!  More on this next week when we begin to explore Practicing The Presence of God.

Do Babies Go To Heaven?

Baby Sick Pi cI stood by the bedside of the two month old infant girl in 1975.  She was unconscious from the sedatives the doctors had prescribed to calm the seizures that were occurring from her encephalitis.  Her mother was a lovely young Navy mother, but the strain of the last two days was evident in her unkempt hair and bags under her eyes from a sleepless night and hours of crying.  The doctors were “realists” who did not mince words about the little girl’s risks.  She could develop epilepsy or dysphagia if she survived the fevers that were wracking her tiny body with 105-107 temps (40-42C).  If they could not get the fevers down, she might die.

The three of us standing around her were gowned and wore masks and gloves as the cause and contagiousness had not yet been assessed.  The minister with us placed his hands on the febrile child and commented on how hot her body felt.  He asked God very directly for a miracle in Jesus’ name; to heal this infant and remove the encephalitis; to allow this little girl to grow up with no side effects of having the disease; to comfort the mother that it was in no way her fault her daughter had become ill.

The minister and I left eventually as the mother sat by her daughter’s bedside for the evening, planning on sleeping by the child.  The next morning the pastor called me to ask if I would go back to the hospital with him.  He had received an excited call from the mother after the doctors’ rounds.  The infant girl was well, feeding and showed no evidence of fever or the disease that had molested her the last two days!  Baby Well PicWhat a joyous celebration was going on when we arrived.  One of the doctors seemed a little cross, looking for someone to blame for a misdiagnosis, but the techs and nurses, as well as other doctors were very clear.  They had not erred. This was the same girl.  Yes, the tests were on this patient.  Somewhere in the night a Greater Physician, unseen, had visited the little girl and cured her.  Someone once said, “Second-hand miracles make doubters of us all,” but for those of us who had prayed by her bedside the day before, this was no second-hand miracle.  We had been given a front-row seat to our miracle-working Savior.

Fast forward three decades and a five month old boy was lying in a hospital NICU.  Most of his family were believers; many friends were praying in homes and churches whenever they met; several pastors had visited the hospital and laid hands on the child and prayed for healing.  But on May 5, 2005, this first-born little boy left his mother Baby tombstone.pngand father to weep and try to understand where God had gone; to wonder why Jesus had not healed their precious baby boy; to bury a child, which is perhaps a parent’s greatest grief.  I wondered why would God heal the little girl so beautifully and allow this amazing little one to die?

We do not have all the answers to the problem of pain and the reason The God Who Is There sometimes responds with miraculous healing and sometimes not.  But we have assurance of the Bible that babies who die will be reunited with believing parents when they meet again in Heaven.

Some argue about baptism of infants or salvation of pre-lingual children as though God would send an “innocent” to hell.  First of all, the children are not innocent.  Just babysit a one to two year old group of children and watch “original sin” in action!  Infants and toddlers are self-centered, thoroughly selfish, completely oblivious to fairness or justice, greedy and merciless, have no regard for others and no respect for life.  To say, “of course God will save children” will not suffice.  Given the inherited sin nature there is no “of course” about it.

Others will note that the Scripture makes no reference to an “age of accountability” that evangelicals like to invoke when discussing the death of a child.  It certainly does not teach the moral innocence of children, but demands training to lead a child into wise paths and righteousness.   Charles Spurgeon said, “We believe that the infant fell in the first Adam, ‘for in Adam all died.’  If infants [are] saved it is not because of any natural innocence.  They enter heaven by the very same way that we [adults] do: they are received in the name of Christ.”  There is simply no other way to Heaven, but by the blood of Jesus, called the Christ (Acts 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 2:5).

So you may ask, from where does my confidence come that babies who die will be reunited with Christ-following parents?  Spurgeon quoted the first half of 1 Corinthians 15:22.  The whole sentence says, For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  It is an unqualified claim that has no allowance for exception. It is categorical and absolute!  Yet we understand clearly from the same Bible that not all are saved at the judgment (see Romans 2 and Revelation 20).

Therefore we must use the rational thought processes which God has given to understand this.  Simply ask yourself, “How did I die in Adam?”  We are found guilty before a perfect God for being born of someone who had sinned.  The sin nature activated at our conception makes us guilty.  It is a corporate guilt based on our genetic association and predisposition.  And it is in this same way that we can be made alive!  It is a corporate forgiveness based on Jesus’ position as the Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).  So Paul could tell the Romans, Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18)

Resurrcetion 1This is why Paul became so excited as he went on to say, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 5:20-21)  Where the corporate guilt of my involuntary participation in Adam’s sin is covered by the corporate forgiveness of my involuntary participation in Jesus’ resurrection, His grace and mercy extends past the corporate sin and guilt to my personal choices of sin that result in an even guiltier verdict.

Though there is no “age of accountability” mentioned it the Bible, the concept is clear in the Scripture to which we have been referred.  All of us died because of Adam.  All of us are saved from eternal death because of Jesus.  But at the point I take initiative to disbelieve in Jesus, to choose my own way over what I have learned to be right and true, I am no longer saved under corporate salvation, but need my own salvation.  I have to turn my life over to Jesus and make a conscious decision to trust Him for my salvation, and watch His grace abound even more!  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23)