Monday, January 5, 2015,
The Redland, Florida
Personal Testimony & Witness of Stephen Lucas, after returning home from prolonged Hospitalization.
Father God; Great and Gracious and Holy God; abide with me and guide me in this testimony and witness, please, precious Lord, protect me from my own pride and pretention and use these words and thoughts to your greater Glory.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
One of my wife’s and my favorite Hymns is an old one, “The Love of God” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6B_jYtjvME
Here’s part of the lyrics:
“The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.
Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.
What Can I say about the unending grace and loving-kindness of my God?
A lot – actually. But, even if I were to continue talking and writing about His many mercies and utter faithfulness for the rest of my life, as I intend to do, I won’t do more than touch on a tiny part of His wondrous love and grace.
I confess, there’s going to be some preaching mixed in with this testimony, I feel like Peter and John did when the Sanhedrin told them to stop preaching Christ crucified and resurrected; in Acts four-20, they responded:
“As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
The short form of my witness to His works in my life is this:
God is good!
The Prophet Jeremiah expressed it this way:
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” -- Lamentations 3:23
And as both Moses and the Psalmist said:
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.
I don’t think that I could have endured the year 2014 without the eternally enduring Love of God; it was a pretty rough year.
In February, my Daughter-in-Law came home from a trip to the store to find her husband, our youngest child, dead on the couch where he’d laid down for a nap: He was only 39 and is survived by her and two children, two sisters, his mother and I, and many friends who loved him dearly.
I loved Him, too, but we were estranged, the last time we’d spoken, he was so disrespectful and mocking, I hung up the phone on him. He called, occasionally, after that, but always spoke to his mother, only.
By now, most people have heard about the “stages of grief” or “stages of coping” model, about how people deal with major life changes or significant events; they’re usually described as: Shock or Disbelief and Denial; Anger; Bargaining and Guilt; Depression, and finally, Acceptance and Hope.
My experience is this model’s pretty accurate and has taught me to lean on God to get thru these stages pretty quickly.
When my wife called me at my office that February day, she simply said “Aaron’s dead”.
Denial was immediate. I remember thinking “I know several ‘Aaron’s”, my grand-daughters friend Erin, and some members of my congregation’s son and brother, Aaron. For a brief moment, I was hoping that she was speaking of someone else’s daughter or son, not mine. But, really, I knew what she meant. She told what little she knew and we both started for home from our offices.
I mounted up on my motorcycle and began the hour-long ride. For once, I didn’t do that stupid thing where I try to figure something out before I remember to pray; I was praying as I took my leave. And, once I got rolling I was having a pretty intense conversation with my God.
I also got angry, not at God, but at my son, for neglecting health issues and for leaving us, among other things. I went to God in Prayer, and I guess I had a moment of guilt, as I thought about Aaron’s motives for disrespecting me and rejecting me and my beliefs. For most of his youth, I was a pretty rotten Father and Husband to his mother; and he couldn’t seem to forgive.
I didn’t try to bargain with my Lord; I believe Him to be perfectly just in all things, so my son could be in no better hands than His. Also, I believe Aaron's no longer mad at me.
The Spirit put scripture into my mind, specifically Luke 13, verses 1 thru 5*:
“1Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them, do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
I believe God was saying, all of us survive by his grace alone, those of us who are “saved” are saved by grace alone, not by anything we’ve done or stopped doing, and we’re not condemned or redeemed by how we feel, but by his feelings for us, by the Love of God.
My son’s death was not some kind of punishment for him or those of us that cared about him, but a natural part of life in this broken world.
In truth, I don’t know what Aaron’s relationship with the Savior was or is. In truth, I don’t know about anyone’s other than mine; my son could and did say ridiculous and deliberately provocative things to start verbal duels, so that may be all that was happening; I just don’t know.
His sister told me Aaron was a believer, but whatever the truth of the matter is, I arrived home that day in better relationship with my God than I had before that phone call from Evelyn. I was asked during that ride “Do you really trust me?” and I was able to answer “Yes Lord, I really trust You.”
And when I got home, I took great comfort in hearing about my mother-in-law’s words when she’d heard the news: “All I know is that God’s more gracious than we can imagine.”
I confess: I forget, frequently, that God’s always faithful, always reliable and always present; the source of everything and anything good in my life.
I forget, and I start to lean on my own understanding and my solutions and schemes and dreams about the things in my life.
But thankfully, and by His Grace, I’m spending less and less time in that stupid state before I remember to turn to Him in prayer, and to consult His word, or my Pastors, or my brothers or sisters in Christ. When I do that, things begin to get better, immediately.
For example, when I was writing this testimony (witness, confession), I stopped to “look up” the scripture that the Spirit reminded me of during that Motorcycle ride home on the day my boy died.
I found it and also the verses immediately following it which I had not remembered, but I think may be very pertinent to a forgetful and prideful “Christian” like me:
(Luke 13) “6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
I think the Holy Spirit is “digging around” me; I think He’s fertilizing my mind and spirit thru His Word and thru the Fellowship of the Church, and I think he’s giving me another chance to bear fruit; and this is part of my effort to do just that.
And, there’s more to that story as well, when I explain why one of my other brothers in Christ keeps calling me “Lazarus”.
My surviving children, my daughters, also had other pretty stressful and profoundly life changing events their lives in 2014, and since you never stop being parents that’s also somewhat stressful for us. We keep praying and asking for wisdom and discernment about how much help is too much or not enough, so that’s a good thing, keeping us more constantly in prayer.
Anyway, we muddled thru the summertime, and then in September, my heart had a blowout.
I’d developed an aneurysm, a bulging weak-spot in a blood vessel, in my ascending aorta, the major artery coming out of the top of my heart.
A little after five on a Friday evening, it was the fifth of September, as I was leaving work at the Headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command, the bulge tore open and I began to “bleed-out” internally.
There’s a very well known scripture that is very right for the sequence of events that followed this usually fatal event:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. -- Psalm 23:4
My God’s presence is all over this story.
The first of the divine interventions; that’s what my boss called it; was his return to our “break-room”. He’d left our office a little ahead of me, carrying his bag of recycling stuff in one hand. I’d also gathered up my trash and recycling, secured our office door; most of our offices have combination locks like a safe; and took my stuff to the collection points in the break room.
It was there, in the break room, that my “blow-out” happened; I was struck with pain and weakness and grabbed a counter, trying not to fall.
My boss, Bob Appin, had absent-mindedly gotten all the way to the building’s exit before realizing he still had his recycling bag in his hand. So, he returned to the break area, our break area, passing two others along the way (each with a recycling bin), to find me.
So he was beside me, just a little later, as I collapsed in the corridor.
For security reasons, we can’t carry cell-phones in the Headquarters building, so Bob rushed down our hallway looking for an open office so that he could call nine-one-one on a land-line.
Remember, it was late on a Friday afternoon; there was only one open office in the hall, the Command Chaplin’s office.
Bob called for an ambulance, and a Navy Chief Petty Officer Chaplin’s Assistant (who I’ve known for almost two decades) came out and held my head in her lap and prayed over me while we waited for the EMTs to arrive. One of my other colleuges, an Army Special Forces Doctor with combat life-saving experience, showed up and helped stabilize me and treat for shock while we waited. And, my friends on the compound’s security force had seen me fall on one of thier secuirty monitors and immediate called for an ambulance, then ignored a few rules and (probably) broke a few others to guide the ambulance past security screening and to the building access closest to where I lay, dying.
Dying; that’s not an exaggeration; after they got me to the emergency room, I got sicker and sicker for several hours. I had no detectable pulse on the left side of my body and had started vomiting and passing blood as my digestive system and other organs shut down and started falling apart.
I know that my Pastor and Evelyn and my daughters were there, because I’ve been told that, but, I don’t remember much of anything after the EMTs loaded me on the gurney.
Pastor tells me I looked up at him and said: “God is Good” and that when he’d asked Evelyn what she wanted him to pray for, she’d said “God’s will”, and that really impressed him, though I just think it shows that the presence of death REALLY helps you focus on the important stuff.
Anyway, around Midnight, the doctors split my chest open. Ten hours later, they closed me up after repairing the torn aorta and replacing the aortic valve in my heart.
They also plugged all kinds of tubes and stuff in me, another member of my congregation says I looked like a computer with all the wires and tubes and monitors around me, because by the time they’d finished patching up my heart, it was about the only part of me that was still working, my kidneys and liver and other “guts” had stopped working because of the blood loss.
For the next several weeks, they kept me knocked out. I was breathing thru a tube in my throat, being fed thru a tube run directly into my stomach, getting dialysis several times a week and totally incontinent.
Many came and prayed over me during that time, my blood-sisters also came, but I don’t remember any of that; I appreciate it though, and testify that it made a difference.
Evelyn says I had the easy part; I was sleeping while others worried and prayed over me. And, I was resting in the arms of my Lord – really.
Sometime during that period I said to Him – “Lord, I promised Evelyn I would never leave her again (We’d been separated, at my behest, for ten years, a while back) so, even though I’m not afraid of going home, could I stay and keep my promise?”
Physically, I was in very bad shape, depending on machines to stay alive.
I finally figured out just how bad it was after I got out of the ICU and all those that came to see me would say the same thing: “Oh! You look so much better” or something like that.
Now, by that time, I gotten to a mirror – so, I knew that I looked like death warmed over; so I must have looked REALLY bad before that.
After they woke me up, and after they stopped giving me heavy-duty drugs that caused me to be crazy, paranoid and hallucinating and afraid and out of touch with the reality of the love of God; after that stupid and crazy time; I began to contemplate what had happened to me and I began to testify, to just about everybody, about what God had done for me.
I’d tell them it’s like God just kicked my feet out from under me, but then caught me as I fell.
It was wonderful to rest in Him in that way and it changed me from the man I was before my heart blew out and I think that was the point.
As my mind began to clear, which was, in itself, a miracle, because there was a real concern about brain damage, I began to have the same scripture running thru my head, over and over.
It was from the ninth chapter of Matthew, starting at verse 10:
“10while Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 on hearing this, Jesus said , “it is not the healthy who need a doctor , but the sick. 13 but go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
After some prayer and meditation, I think I got the first part.
I think the lord was trying to tell me that I had begun to think I was “healthy”. I had become “Righteous”, thinking that morning and evening prayer, meditation and Bible study, and faithful Church attendance; all my “religious” practices; had somehow made me “well”.
I had more difficulty with the second part, although it was fairly obvious to me that I was more like the Pharisees than the people eating with Jesus.
So, I went to the writing of Hosea as my Lord had directed, and read the next line after the one he’d quoted, and began to understand.
The whole of Hosea 6:6 is:
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
It’s not that these things that I do and intend keep doing are wrong things, not at all.
But there’s nothing in my renewed life, my resurrected life, more important than telling everyone about the love of God, and sometimes, about how he let me come back, kind of like Lazarus, so that I can do that.
If you’re already a disciple of the Incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ, I want to help both you and I to become more fully aware of his presence in our hearts and lives, until we are walking continually with Him as we face whatever life brings.
If you don’t yet know Him, let me explain:
He loves you.
He loves you more deeply and more truly than any other person has ever loved you or ever will love you.
He loves you so much He left eternity and absolute power and glory to become a human being; to be tortured to death and to rise again into eternal life in order to show you what you can have if you will but accept Him for who He is and accept His love and enter the intimate relationship He desires to have with you.
To know Him is to know Love, in its truest and purest form, and to die without knowing Him, to have an aneurysm, or an accident, or fall asleep on your couch and not wake up, is to spend eternity without knowing true Love, and that is hell.
Dear Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
* All scripture quotes are taken from the NIV.