Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on dying . . .

I remember the first time I saw someone die.

I was a twenty-one year-old newly married college kid working at E.W. Sparrow Hospital here in Lansing. The department I worked for was brimming with college students, most of them pre-med at Michigan State University. Because Sparrow is a teaching hospital, these spots were highly prized by my fellow employees who saw them as an opportunity to observe the inner workings of medicine up close.

It didn't take me very long to learn that the magic words that gained one entrance into nearly any situation in the hospital were, "May I observe?" Uttering this incantation would spirit you into nearly any room or procedure at the hospital that didn't require the maintaining of a sterile field.

One dreary night I was "floated" - that is loaned - to a short-staffed Emergency Room. Mostly I just cleaned up other people's messes and made sure the treatment rooms were well stocked. The night dragged on until a critical patient came through the doors. An elderly gentlemen, this guy was in trouble from the minute he rolled in. The paramedics were performing rolling CPR as he was hustled into the trauma room. There, the ER team took over and were soon assisted by the folks from respiratory therapy. Hearing the commotion, I dropped my mop and walked in. I looked straight at the physician running the code. When he caught my gaze I intoned, "May I observe?"

"Absolutely," was his reply, and then with a sweep of his foot he kicked a stepping stool over my way and said, "Stand up on this so you can get a good view."

I stepped up and watched in fascination as the team worked to restore life to the rapidly failing gentleman. What was most striking about this scene to me wasn't the speed with which the team worked, or the technology that was rapidly being deployed to save the gentleman. What struck me was the banter between caregivers. Interspersed with the instructions, questions, and responses of the code team was an amazing assortment of otherwise innocuous repartee.

"Whatta you have in mind for breakfast this morning?"

"I don't know."

"Did the pastry chef make anything good tonight?"

"I saw some pretty amazing looking bear claws."

"That's the last thing I need right now."

"Oatmeal again . . . "

I was staggered by their conversation. A man lay dying. Their hands were working to revive him, and yet their minds had already moved on to their next meal. I wanted to shout, "Hey, this guy is dying! Do something!"

Then, just as suddenly as the code began it was over. With a swift finality, the head physician looked up at the clock and said, "That's it folks; time of death - 5:24 A.M." Everyone stepped back, snapped off their latex gloves, dropped them on the floor and walked out. The two respiratory therapists were discussing the merits of oatmeal versus cold cereals on their way out the door.

I stood there, frozen to my stool, thinking, "There should be more. A man has just died, and there should be bells tolling, or soft music playing or something!" But there wasn't. There was just silence. One moment this man was alive. The next moment he was not.

I've been present at, literally, hundreds of deaths since then. Many of them physical, most of them spiritual.

I'll never forget the first time I saw a man die, but the death I most look forward to is the next one I will see - the next spiritual death that is. Paul wrote:
That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country. (Romans 6:3-5, The Message)
One moment, a person is dead, the next moment, alive.

When I was baptized, my preacher - a tall gangly guy named Jim - said "Buried with Christ," as he dunked me in the stainless steel baptistery at the First Church of Christ. Then he paused, ever so slightly and, as he lifted me out of the water, "Raised to walk in newness of life."

New life. It is ironic that, in dying we find life. But then that is what Jesus is all about.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Helping Haiti - 3 cents at a time.

Our church is collecting change to send to Haiti. Here's the story. Larry Owens from Waves of Mercy Ministries was given 170,000 nutrition bars that had to be thrown out because they were part of a multi-pack that contained contaminated peanut butter bars. The bars he received are perfectly good, but they cannot be sold separately, so the mission was given them.

Now the mission is raising the funds to ship them to Haiti. It costs 3 cents to ship a bar. I've challenged our church to raise enough money to ship 100,000 bars - $3000. So far, we have collected about $500 of that. Can we go the whole way?

Here is an amazing video taken by Larry and Diana last fall after the hurricane devastated the island. These are some of the people that our 3 cents will be feeding.

If you can help, please send your contribution to South Lansing Christian Church, ATTN: Frank Weller; 6300 Aurelius Rd. Lansing, MI 48911. Put Haiti Bars in the memo line. Thank you!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A piece of my past

No, I wasn't "born in a barn." But growing up in rural DeKalb County, Indiana, I suppose it was inevitable that much of my young life would be spent in a barn. Our farm was one of the first settled in the county by one Arthur Heitz. His name was painted on the side of the barn - the side that faced the dirt road. I prayed they would pave that road so I could buy a skateboard, but to this day it remains a dusty gravel byway with washboards that have to be grated down a couple times a year.

In the barn, near the stable door, stood an old cast iron water hydrant. When we first moved to the farm we used the hydrant to draw water for the pigs. Eventually the water line cracked and we resorted to hoses. When we left the farm all those memories remained behind. Until a couple years ago.

I happened to stop in one afternoon to visit the family that lives there now and asked them if I could buy the hydrant. "No," replied the matriarch, "but you can have it." I borrowed Mike's reciprocal saw (the same one that was later stolen from my van - I still owe you for that one, Mike) and zipped it off the concrete.

Scott sandblasted and painted it. I plumbed it up, and Lee welded some bolts to the bottom so I could install it as a water feature in our Butler, Indiana backyard.

We brought the hydrant north with us to Michigan when we moved two years ago, but it wasn't until two nights ago that Jonah and I installed it at our Grand Ledge home.

I wasn't prepared for how that simple act made me feel. I felt at home - maybe for the first time since moving to this river town. I guess there is something really grounding about having a piece of my past so near me that is, likely, two or three times older than I am. Every time I leave the house I hear the water splashing. I see the galvanized steel bucket, gleaming below the spicket. I run my fingers across the cold cast iron. It ties me to my past.

Oh . . . the whole point of this post. Patti asked me to post a picture of the fountain on Facebook, but I was having trouble uploading it. The shot was taken at night, so it is tough to catch the whole effect. I'll put up another when it is daylight, Patti. And here's hoping that something from your past reminds you, as this bit of metal does for me, that you are blessed in the present and hopeful for the future.

Here it is during the day:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Does Jesus Care?

More than a hundred years ago, composer and pastor Frank Graeff was in the midst of a trying personal crisis when he penned the words to the hymn, Does Jesus Care?

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress
And the way grows weary and long?

Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Truth is, I think we have all wondered if Jesus cares at one time or another. Over the next three weeks, South Lansing Christian Church is going to explore that question. Does Jesus really care? Does he care when I am afraid? When I am tempted? When I am grieving?

In the darkest times of my life I have wondered. But time and again, Jesus has shown me that he is there, and he does care.

Friday, July 03, 2009

NACC: Day Four

Max Lucado wrapped up the 2009 North American Christian Convention earlier today. He preached from John 3:16. I think Max had the sermon memorized, but then he wrote the book on John 3:16 – literally.

Max has been accused by some in our brotherhood of churches for being a bit too Baptistic in his doctrine. (Perhaps rightly so.) That’s why I really appreciated what he said about baptism. He noted that some time ago someone pointed out to him a sentence he said each time he immersed someone into Christ. The phrase that worked its way, unnoticed, into his exercise of the sacrament: “You just bend your knees and I will do all the work.”

Without realizing it, he said that every time he baptized someone.

Frankly speaking, that is really good theology. In baptism we just bend our knees and God does all the work. Maybe Max isn’t as “padded” as some think.

One thing more . . . Mrs. Frankly and I are deeply grateful to the South Lansing Christian Church elders for making it possible for us to attend the NACC this year. While South has been facing some financial challenges, our elders – out of their generosity – suggested we attend and paid the way for us to do so.

We are deeply grateful and will not forget this kindness shown to us.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

NACC: Day Three

An all around great day, topped off by an incredible message from Matt Proctor. Matt spoke from 2 Timothy 2, encouraging us to persevere. Quoting from Remember the Titans, Proctor challenged us to repeat a liturgy:

Proctor: "Do you wanna' quit?"

Congregation: "No!"

"What do you want?"

"We want some more!"

I needed to hear that sermon. I need the encouragement, and am ready to wade back into ministry.

The night concluded with Casting Crowns in concert. One word: Wow!

More from McNeal

In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal details three views of the church:

  • The church as a place where things happen. This, in McNeal’s view, comes from the Reformation heritage. The church is a place where people where certain rites and sacraments are performed. It operates in predominantly Christian cultures. Adherents “go to church” listen to preaching and teaching, engage in worship and then leave.
  • The church as a “vendor of religious goods and services.” This view holds that churches exist in order to provide members with a range of services. Music that they like, opportunities for travel, sports leagues and fellowship are all services that the church provides. Naturally, the churches that do a more effective job of this are able to increase their “market share” within the Christian community.
  • The church as “a body of people sent on a mission.” With a carefully crafted mission statement, this church goes forth into the world to accomplish that which God has uniquely called them to do. We determine our mission and then ask God to bless it, though sometimes we might miss altogether what God wants us to do.
A fourth view, and the one that McNeal advocates is this: “The missional church believes it is God who is on a mission and that we are to join him in it . . . . Our job, then, is to do what the Baptist thinker Henry Blackaby often suggests: find out what God is doing and join him in it.”

Of the four, McNeal’s is the most challenging. The entrepreneur in me, educated in a culture of marketing-driven media, has learned how to “do church better than the Baptists.” Increasing membership by “transfer” has always been easier than going out into the highways and byways and compelling sinners to come to faith. Similarly, it is far easier to determine my course and then invite God along for the journey. That God might not want to purchase a ticket to where I am going either doesn’t occur to me or is, sadly, irrelevant in my way of thinking.

Far riskier, exceedingly more frightening is to perceive what God is doing and then join him in it. Do that and I might find myself leaving my nets to go and follow him (how will my family get along without me?). I might be called upon to take up the prophetic mantle and confront kings while my mentor rides a flaming chariot heavenward to his reward. People who join God in what he is doing have a high mortality rate.

Then again, dying is what I am called to do. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me,” wrote the Apostle Paul. He was dead long before he stood before Nero to discover his earthly fate. If I am living (dying) the way that Christ intends, then I will join him in whatever he is doing, wherever he is going. To do any other is hubris at best and treason at worst.

The more I read about the missional church, the more I begin to wonder . . . is there any other kind?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

NACC: Day Two

Day two at the North American Christian Convention ended with David Clark preaching on "Healing Grace." He talked about how each of us need to let God's Spirit minister to us in our pain. Tracy and I have been experiencing a measure of pain in recent days - not with each other - but with some of the bumps and bruises that sometimes come from ministry.

Tonight was a good reminder that God's grace can bring healing even when our hurts run deep, even when they are fresh and bleeding.

Later, after the main session concluded, Tracy and I attended an ice cream social sponsored by our Alma mater, Great Lakes Christian College. President Larry Carter reported that the college just completed its 15th year of operating "in the black." He also reported that the last two years have seen record enrollment at GLCC, and that applications are on pace to exceed last year's enrollment.

Larry completed his talk by saying that he was proud of us, the former students of Great Lakes. Here's the thing, Larry . . . we're proud of you, too. After ten years at the helm of GLCC, we are all proud that you're our President.

Tomorrow is day three . . . starting with Jeff Walling in the morning, and concluding with Casting Crowns at night. It looks to be the best yet.