Sunday, December 30, 2018
Proverbs 30:12 says, “There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, yet is not washed from his filthiness.” Many believe they are just fine, yet their lives are all about themselves. They’ve never truly surrendered their lives to Christ, never really developed a mature relationship with the Lord, never really read or studied God’s Word, hold grudges or bitterness, accept social perversions that call evil good, rarely spend time in prayer, are critical, insensitive to the poor, and more. Outwardly they seem like model citizens – they go to church, obey the law, etc. But have they ever fully surrendered every part of their life and every possession they have to God? Are they formed to the world, or transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2)? With that regard, we must not think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3). For even though Christ’s redemption covers our past, present, and future sin, we will never be fully transformed until we join Him in eternity, where He will make all things new. “And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Oh, how I am looking forward to that day.
I know from personal experience that death is nothing to fear, for I’ve been through it. When I was 36 years old, I had a tonsillectomy. The doctor told me that one in 10,000 tonsillectomies will rupture in approximately one week after surgery. Well, guess what? Exactly one week after, I was sitting at my desk, and blood began spewing from my mouth like a fire-hose. I grabbed a roll of paper towels, Kathie grabbed the car keys, I rolled the window down and spouted blood all the way to the hospital, which was a mere three blocks away. I was totally grey-colored upon arrival, and they took me straight back to close up the rupture. They told my wife that I’d lost nine units of blood and that survival was doubtful. One of the nurses in surgery came out and revealed to Kathie that she was a believer and that a great battle was fought in the heavens over my life. Well, that was not the end of it. It turns out I have a rare blood antibody and they could find no match to my blood in all of Virginia, and it had to be flown in when they did find it, so they gave me sugar water instead of blood to keep me alive until the blood arrived. In the middle of the night, I remember my friend Gary Frankson from work, whom I brought from New York, was with me sitting by my bedside. All of a sudden, I heard the death rattle come from my throat, which I’d just been exposed to sitting in a waiting room in another hospital while Kathie had a test. That time, the old man sitting next to me had made the very same sound I was making, and in a few moments, he was dead. So I knew it was the end of me. I knew I was passing into eternity, and I was filled with the most awesome feeling of peace and joy that to this day remains inexplicable. And that’s all I remember. I was told later that I’d flat-lined on two occasions, but I began to breathe again after some time. I do remember not wanting to breathe, being enveloped in such amazing peace and contentment that my breathing, which took such an effort, seemed senseless and meaningless. I wanted to die. It was a wonderful experience.
But then I heard someone yelling at me to breathe, so I took one breath and stopped again. They kept yelling at me to breathe, and each time I took a breath. And that’s all I remember of that. The next thing I remember I was sitting up in my ICU hospital room watching a football game on TV. Later I learned from my wife all that had transpired in the meanwhile.
When I died the first time, I had developed what they call “Vietnam lung,” named after soldiers in Vietnam who didn’t get immediate access to blood transfusions. The lung doctor, who was also a neighbor who lived down the street, came to our home to talk to Kathie, who throughout the whole ordeal was provided with inexplicable peace from the Lord on high. He told Kathie, “Now look, you’re not taking this seriously enough.” He said I would likely have permanent heart damage, possible brain damage, and the survival rate from what was wrong with my lungs was only 10%. However, Kathie knows we serve a mighty God who still works miracles even today.
So here’s what happened: Kathie had spread the word that I needed prayer, and all of the world people were praying. That same evening when my throat ruptured, two godly, saintly indigenous missionaries Kathie and I had visited in India had just arrived at the Christian Aid Mission guest house in Charlottesville, where I worked at the time. One of them was awakened by a manifestation of me (or maybe it was me, I don’t know). He said I wouldn’t say anything, but knew all of a sudden that he needed to pray for me. He got onto his knees and prayed till daylight until he heard the first vehicle drive up to begin the day’s work. He immediately asked what was wrong with his brother Philip, then asked the lady to take them to the hospital where I was. Kathie said he kneeled in the middle of the visiting room praying diligently in their native languages without stopping for hours on end. I know that the prayers of God’s people convinced God to give me more time on this earth. And I know now it is because God has something more for me to do here.
One little footnote to this story: Two years later my parents took our family to the Barnum and Bailey Circus 90 miles away, in Richmond, Virginia. The lady next to us in line recognized our name when we have it to the ticket agent. She was the one tasked with locating blood to match that fateful night and remembered the name. It took her all night to locate it. For years, any time I entered that hospital, I was called Lazarus.
So much for that tangent about dying! Back to those who may be at different levels of their spiritual transformation (Romans 12:2-3). Two chapters later in Romans, we learn how very careful we must be in judging others who are weak in their faith. In the prison where I am, I especially must be careful that I don’t judge others for not having the same convictions as me. Read all of Romans 14 and 15 for yourself. God at various levels of a spiritual transformation will convict oneself of his or her specific sin and shortcomings. But we who are strong in the faith must let God do the convicting. He may choose to do that through yours and my examples. “Now we who are strong ought to hear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Romans 15:1-2).
Being around those who claim to have accepted Christ, but still show some of the world’s attributes and ideologies, is a new experience for me. God is teaching me to be patient, pray for them, and be an example to them, showing them the way to a sanctified life through my example, but more by reading and studying the Word of God, which alone can bring conviction.
God worked a miracle on my behalf, which is nothing out of the ordinary, as evident in the previous story as my being raised from the dead with no permanent damage. The day after I got here to prison, I began to make a list of all the ways God has performed miracles in the lives of my family and me. I got to number 33. I know there are probably more I hadn’t thought of yet, but I consider what happened today number 34.
Yesterday, I wanted to watch the Alabama vs. Oklahoma college football championship final. I don’t have a chair of my own (everyone has to have their own chair here) because I really don’t want one. I’m not going to sit around all day and night and watch TV. I’m sure they watch some interesting stuff, but I don’t believe God wants me to do that. But I did want to watch that football game. “S,” next door, said to just carry my stool down and put it in the room early enough to claim my spot because it might be crowded. So, I took it down mid-afternoon, watched a portion of the Clemson vs. Notre Dame game, and came back up to the cell (there’s only so much sitting you can do on that stool). Not having the stool to get up on my bunk makes it difficult, but not impossible. Well, about 10 minutes before the game was to start, “S” opens the doors and brings in my stool. He told me, “I’ve got bad news for you. The guys in the room don’t want you to come back until you can prove you’re not a sex offender (“chomo”). For a second, my blood started to boil. But, I said that’s okay, although the game coming on is the only one I really want to see. Now “S,” who is a fledgling believer in Christ, told me he tried to explain to them the truth, but they wanted proof. These drug dealer types hate and despise sex offenders, especially the “chomos” (child molesters). “S,” told me I need a “Final Judgment” from the court that did not have the mandatory requirement box checked that is always checked for sex-offenders. “S,” told me the reason there are so many sex-offenders here (probably 40-45% of the population) is because they’re put in a low-security prison as it’s the only place they’re safe from the other prisoners. If they were at a medium-security, or a penitentiary, they’d be killed. They’re also not eligible for a camp.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do at this point, other than giving it to the Lord and trust Him to work it out. So I missed the football game. I was fine with that, but hurt that lies were being told about me, merely because the charge against me includes the word “kidnapping.” So I prayed over it briefly, asking the Lord to deal with it, and this morning emailed my lawyer asking if he could get that document they were asking for.
Well, after lunch, after writing all the previous tangents about judging one another and the miracle of being raised from the dead, “J” came in ranting about how angry he was at the other inmates and their imbecile attitudes. I pressed him why, and he told me rumors were rapidly spreading that I kidnapped and molested a child, and they would not believe him when he told them the truth, because my charge was kidnapping. A while later he came into the cell, saying how a guard was asking him about it, and that he wanted to nip the thing in the bud right then and there. He asked me to write down some websites where the guard could read the truth, so he could go to whoever was spreading the rumors and tell the ringleader that they were wrong, and what the truth is. Believe it or not, within an hour, the young man who instigated me being evicted from the TV room came and apologized, and said he was sorry for misjudging me. I told him he was forgiven, that there were no hard feelings, and introduced myself. I told him, “God bless you,” and we left it at that. He also said I could come to watch TV anytime. (I won’t be back until the national championship!) “J,” says this should take care of the matter, and the truth of why I’m in prison should spread like wildfire through the whole prison. So God used the Alabama football game to vindicate my name here in prison!
I’ve been praying, as many are, that God will use me while I’m here. I know I’m here for a purpose. I don’t know yet what that is, but I know men will be a lot more likely to look at me now as an example to follow and listen to, so I praise the Lord for miraculously answering the prerequisite to this prayer. I don’t know-how, now that the truth may begin to spread with the staff, how that might affect my testimony, as well. Praise God! Keep praying for the exciting things God has in store!
To top it off, I read some things in Bob Goff’s book, “Love Does,” today I thought I’d share that relate to me and what I’ve been telling you. “…The Bible described what we are often doing as looking through a mirror dimly. The Bible says that right now we only know ‘in part’ and that one day after we’re gone, we’ll know ‘in full.’ That makes more sense to me because it means our understanding will always have gaps and gaps are good because they leave room for God to fill in the spaces.
“I think God’s hope and plan for us is pretty simple to figure out. For those who resonate with formulas, here it is: add your whole life, your loves, your passions, and your interests together with what God said He wants us to be about, and that’s your answer. If you want to know the answer to the bigger question – what’s God’s plan for the whole world – buckle up: it’s us.
“We’re God’s plan, and we always have been. We aren’t just supposed to be observers, listeners, or have a bunch of opinions. We’re not here to let everyone know what we agree and don’t agree with, because, frankly, who cares? Tell me about the God you love; tell me about what He has inspired uniquely in you; tell me what you’re going to do about it, and a plan for your life will be pretty easy to figure out…”