Monday, June 22, 2015

Our Father...

Before our services begin on Sunday at the Community Care Center,  I usually give a Scripture and welcoming piece. This week I wanted to say something special for Father’s Day, as many of the men are lonely and feel forgotten.  Here’s what the Lord gave me for them.

When you first meet someone new, the question “What do I call you?”  needs to be answered, because the name or title by which we address someone tells a lot about the nature of our relationship.  If someone says “I’m Mr. Simmons,” we know the relationship is more formal.  If he says, “My name is Harrison,” we relate to him on a more personal level.  And if he says “Just call me Harry!” that’s an even more friendly, less formal relationship. 
What if we think our relationship with someone has changed, and we're not certain what we should call him or her?  It's an uneasy feeling, isn't it?

We see a similar issue in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God spoke to a few people, who relayed His words to everyone.  A formal relationship. Jesus brought with Him a new issue – How do we think about God now that He is Emmanuel - God With Us? 

Jesus was God, and He shared some of the titles and forms of address from the Old Testament, just to reinforce the fact of Who he was.  The disciples called Him Lord and Master, and God was also called those things (Genesis 28, Malachi 1:6). God is the Creator and in John 1:3  we read “Through Him (Jesus) all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”  God is the deliverer (2 Samuel 22:2), and so is Jesus (Romans 11:26).  God is light (1 John 1:5) and Jesus is light (John 8:12). God is the Rock (Deuteronomy 32:4), and 1 Corinthians 10:4 identifies Christ as the rock. 2 Samuel 22:31 tells us “As for God His way is perfect.”  Jesus said “I am the way”(John 14:6). God is truthful (1 Timothy 3:15) and Jesus said “I am the truth” (John 14:6)  Finally, Jacob identifies God as his shepherd (Genesis 48:15), and Jesus is also the good Shepherd (John 10:11).

But the most significant example begins all the way back to Exodus chapter 3.  There was Moses, standing by the burning bush, receiving his commission. And he said in verse 13, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”


This is the name God told His people to call Him. 

I AM Who I AM. The self-existent one. 

It was a holy name; a powerful name; the personal name of Almighty God, that one could only whisper with awe and reverence.  But to everyone’s shock, in John 8:58, Jesus tells the religious leaders, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” And the next thing they did was pick up stones to stone Him, because they knew exactly what He meant. He was claiming to be God. He was using the personal name of Almighty God.

These are only a few examples. But there is an exception, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about today. 

When God sent His Son down to earth to relate to us in our humanness, He had to then choose a new name that would distinguish him from the second and third persons of the trinity. A name that would indicate the new relationship it was possible to have with Him through Christ.  What name would He pick?

Jesus said, “When you pray, pray like this; Our Father….”

In the Old Testament, people could come before God as before a king, with fear and trembling, not daring to look into His face.  But now, in the New Testament, we have been reconciled to Him through the blood of Jesus Christ, and the relationship has changed. Now He is Our Father, a relationship all peoples understand.  Not our dictator or our jailer or our police chief. 


It is a vastly different thing to come running to your Father than to come cringing before your King.

When God wanted to relate to us – when He wanted to show us that He loved us and cared about us and had all our best interests in His heart and mind and hands -  he chose a name that would show all that.

It was a name He kept to Himself and didn’t share even with Jesus, His Chosen One.

He called Himself “Our Father.” And so on Father’s Day, we remember our earthly fathers, given to us as a picture of His love, so we could understand how He wants us to relate to Him.

And we give thanks for our fathers, to our Heavenly Father, who gave us the right to be called Children of God.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Greater is He Who Is In You

The Other Side of Ministry

Everyone loves to hear the success stories, and I love to recount them. These are stories that show how God is working in a mighty way, showing His Love among those who are too often forgotten by people.  But perhaps that makes us complacent.  If God is for us then who can be against us, right?  God is working over there at the Community Care Center (CCC); it's an easy ministry and it's pretty much got LifeCare covered, so there's no need to get involved.

But the truth is there is another side.  If God is working, Satan is not just going to snap his fingers and say "Shucks.  Missed my chance" and go looking for a handy herd of pigs.  He's going to dig in, up the ante, and try to at least keep his ground.  

Betsy is a perfect example.  You met her before under a different name (one drawback to having to report anonymously is that I can't ever remember what I've been calling people) - she loved the carrier I got her for her walker.  She called it "That THING for my walker" in her delightful accent.  She was very suspicious of me at first; she was Catholic and I wasn't.  But after I gave her the walker bag for Christmas and brought her flowers from my garden she started seeking me out on Sunday afternoons.  Then she began coming to service. And that's when things started going wrong for Betsy.
Her mental illness, which had until that point been well-controlled with medication, began to worsen.  She'd get worse, get depressed, and disappear from the service for  while, and she'd get better and come back.  The second time this happened I went to her room to visit when she didn't show up for service.
Her part of it was completely bare.  Nothing on the walls or the nightstand, and only a thin white sheet on the bed.  She wanted it that way.  On several occasions people tried to give her things like a cozy afghan or a religious picture, but during her next "downhill spiral" she'd get rid of them. 
Her family, scarred by her mental illness, had put her in care with the first relief they'd felt in years and gone back to try and rebuild their lives.  They visited on her birthday, and that was it.  She was convinced she was worthless. I committed to visiting her twice a week, just to let her know I cared how she was doing, and God cared how she was doing.

At first she was suspicious.  Then accepting.  Then she welcomed the visits.  Once, around Halloween, she asked me to pull her up in bed so she could sit and talk with me.  I did, and she looked around as though expecting to be overheard.  "I moved my room," she informed me.
"Yes, I know."
"They lost something.  I can't find it.  not anywhere. Somebody took it."
"What was it?"
She tried several times to speak. Finally she got it out.  "My...Bible.  It was black.  I miss it. Could you get me one?"
I smiled.  "Do you want a black one, just like the one you had?"
"No," she said, eyes darting around like a mouse caught pilfering in the pantry.  "Purple," she said.  "A purple Bible."

So I went on a quest.  She was on one of her familiar downhill slopes, despondent because Thanksgiving and Christmas were coming and she had nobody. She began missing service but was holding her own when I went to visit her one Sunday and right in the middle of what I was saying she blurted out "Pray for me."
I was surprised. She'd never allowed me to pray with her before.  "Is there something in particular we should pray for?"
She shook her head. "This place is a cesspit of human suffering. I have mental illness and my family doesn't want me and I just want to die."
I prayed with her.  You can get in a lot of gospel truth in a prayer. I thanked God for her life, that He had ordained all of her days, and that He was in control. I prayed for release from her suffering, for peace and for snatches of joy so she would know that He was with her even in despair.  Then I went on to thank Him for His word that tells us we were all created for a purpose, and for His Son who made a way for us to spend eternity in heaven with Him when our lives here are over; that all we need to do is say "I'm sorry for the all the wrong things I've done. Thank you for coming to die to pay the price for all that. I believe in you and want to give you my life.  Help me to live for you." And then I thanked Him for His promise that He would forgive us, and make us more like His Son, and take us to heaven to be with Him.  I ended with general thanksgiving for the blessing Betsy was to other residents, mentioning a couple specific examples I'd witnessed.
When I opened my eyes she was staring at me with her mouth dangling open.
"I ain't never heard a prayer like that before," she said. "That was so nice. Come do that again sometime."
"I'll be back on Wednesday."
And so I left.  On Tuesday, she asked Herman the Bus Driver to pray for her, and he did. I imagine along something of the same lines. And I came in on Wednesday and prayed the same kind of prayer again. And she had peace, just for a moment.  So I figured I'd go by any chance I got and pray with her. 
And that's when things began getting worse for Betsy.
When I got there on Sunday, Betsy wasn't at home. Her body was there, but the eyes that looked out at me from Betsy's face were not Betsy's eyes.  This was way different: Not the usual downward spiral. She'd become violent.  While I was there she tried to break out the front window, and lunged for the staff member who tried to restrain her.
"Betsy, Betsy," I said, and she looked at me with utter hatred.  But she stopped swinging.
"Come on.  Let's go to your room and talk.  Look - I brought you some flowers."
She dropped her arms and came with me, with three staff people following behind in case she  went after me.  But she was meek and calm.  At her door I said, "Here we are; let's go in and we'll arrange your flowers and I'll pray with you."
She whirled around, threw her walker into the closet door and screamed "Leave me alone!"

That was it. As a volunteer I can't stay if a resident asks me to leave.

That was when things really began going wrong for Betsy. 

Medication, psychosis, and brief windows of clarity that only tortured her further because she could remember the psychotic episodes and knew another one would come.
(note: I'm not a physician and I'm not privy to the details about the residents' condition unless they tell me something.  The words I use are my own best descriptions of what I observed, but may not be correct).

I tried to catch her in those lucid windows to let her know I had a special Christmas gift for her.  I'd found her purple Bible, you see, and I was keeping it for a Christmas surprise. In the meantime I and the CARE ministry folks prayed fervently for her, although I didn't share her name or any details of her condition. Christmas was a little more than a week away when I came in and Betsy was gone. Sent away to a place where she couldn't hurt herself or others. Nobody had let me know, because they said she'd be back in a few days. But Christmas came and went and no Betsy.  Finally, she returned, and she was back to her old self!
"Betsy!" I said when I saw her.  "It's so good to see you back! I have a Christmas present for you!"
"Where is it?" she asked with a grin.
"I didn't know you'd be here so I don't have it with me, but I'll bring it with me soon."
On Wednesday she met me at the door.  "Do you have my present?"
I'd forgotten it. 
I finally remembered the following week, and watched while she opened  it. She was delighted with her purple Bible.  I was delighted.

But that's when things started going wrong for Betsy.

She took a nosedive, and when I went to pray with her or read Scripture she stared at me and said, "I can't hear anything."  The nurses said her hearing was fine, but she couldn't hear me.  She took to bed, and a week later when I went to visit her her name had been removed from the door.

She'd passed away.

There was no reason for her death that I know of.  Aside from the mental illness, she was not sick, and her health was in fact pretty good.  She hadn't had any sort of medical event and was not on hospice. She just...died.

Look at the progression. She was fine until she began coming to services. She rebounded to a lower level when she stopped coming to services, but when she came back she suffered setbacks.  She continued to be OK until we started praying for her.  Then she got sent away, with no spiritual input for a while. When she rebounded that time she was back to being fine again...until she came back to the CCC and I gave her the Bible. 
At that point, having tried lots of other avenues without success, I believe that the enemy took her life. Either to keep her from giving her life to the Lord or because she already had, and this was the only thing left that he could take - so she could have no joy with her saviour. I know she heard the gospel many times, thanks to the faithful men who preach for our worship services.  I know she had peace after I prayed with her.  I will not know until heaven what the end result really was. But I look at her life and see the enemy, alive and well, like a cancer, chewing away at souls.

Yes, the war has been won, but the enemy will not give ground easily, and the battle rages on.  There is need. 
A need for prayer.
A need for love. 
A need for Jesus.

"Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." I John 4:4


Saturday, February 28, 2015

On God and Dementia

Happy (Almost) Spring!

Early in the year someone came up to me and asked whether I had any articles (or anything I’d written personally) on whether it’s any use to share the Gospel with those who have advanced dementia. This person had just put an aging mother in a nursing home in a nonresponsive state due to dementia, and was wondering whether (or perhaps had been told that) she was beyond hope.  This was not a new thought; others have in the past questioned the usefulness of a ministry to those with dementia or other debilitating mental conditions.  So let me share my answer, so you can see inside my world for a minute.

On God and Dementia.

Should we go and share the gospel with patients (even unbelievers) suffering from dementia Yes.

Even if they can’t reliably tell whether it’s day or night by looking out the window? Yes.

Even if they are completely insensible or comatose? Yes.


Because they are still alive, and where there is life there is hope.  It’s certainly not as rewarding as sharing the gospel with those who can respond to us verbally; but that is, at the bottom, a selfish goal. It’s human to want to be able to see the results of our work; to know we are being fruitful in what God has commanded us.  But many times we have to let that go, just do our bit faithfully and trust the results to God.  I think that’s the crux of the matter: questioning the benefit of sharing the gospel with those suffering from dementia evidences a misunderstanding both of the nature of the disability and of God.  I’ll deal with those one at a time.

The nature of the disability:

Dementia is not a disease. It’s a collection of symptoms. A disorder in memory, thinking, and reasoning that is severe enough to significantly impact the person’s ability to function independently.  It is insidious as it robs sufferers of both yesterday and tomorrow, and makes getting through today a challenge.  It isolates them by stealing away their memories and recognition of the people who, in normal conditions, would bring their greatest comfort.  The people to whom they belong. Eventually, the person with dementia is utterly alone in a land of strangers. Is it any wonder they react angrily and fearfully? Does this help explain why they push people away?

In their solitary state, they are aware that they are traveling - by what means they’re not exactly certain – to new unfamiliar places on a daily or even hourly basis. You can tell them all you want “This is your kitchen. You’ve lived here for 50 years! You had your breakfast here.” And it does no good. All they want is “to go home” – but  by that they don’t mean the same thing we mean.  They don’t recognize places in their house – but they remember that it is good to be “home.” That home they long for isn't a place: it's security, love and acceptance.  Even if they are physically in their own house, they are not at home because dementia has robbed them of their ability to recognize the familiar.  What they want is the feeling of security, love, and acceptance, and their condition robs them of even that.  Little by little, dementia takes them to a different place, though their bodies occupy the same bed or chair. Is it any wonder they’re disoriented? Do you understand why they prefer to sit in one chair for hours; why going outside for pleasant distractions completely unnerves them?

As the neurons in their brains die, they “slip away.”  And in our humanness we tend to write them off at the point at which they can no longer respond. “She’s beyond hope now,” we say. “It’s just a matter of time.”  And it’s true to a certain extent.  Dementia is, in the end, a terminal condition.  We visit out of a sense of duty for a while, but when there is no response we reason that there is no use in talking – they do not hear or recognize us – and we conclude that it doesn’t really matter whether we come and see them or not.  All we really need to do is ensure that they are adequately cared for and reasonably healthy.

And spiritually, once they can no longer respond we decide that “it’s no use” sharing the Gospel with them, because they can’t do anything about it anyway.

How do you know? You ask me.  Have you spoken with anyone who used to have dementia who doesn’t any more, and can tell us what it was like?

No, of course not.  But we don’t need that, really.  We need to rely on what we know about people, God and salvation.
One of the very most important things to understand about people is that “unable to respond” does not mean “absent.”  They can still hear. There are so many stories of people who were comatose but have recovered who can repeat what was said to them (or about then) when they were thought to be “out of it” that this is not seriously discounted any more.  Of all the senses, hearing is the last to be lost in the normal course of aging and disability.  Because hearing is totally passive.  Sight is an active sense, requiring one to exert effort and muscle coordination to open the eyelids, move the eyeballs, and focus on things/people.  Just seeing can be exhausting.  Our sense of touch (except for pain receptors) requires us to touch things.  Rest your finger lightly on something.  If you hold perfectly still, within a second you lose the ability to discriminate between soft, hard, smooth, rough, silky, furry…all you have is the sense of pressure. And after a couple seconds, even the sense of touching something fades away because we need to move the finger in order for the pressure sensors in the skin to fire.

But hearing is totally passive.  Even those who cannot respond can hear. And if they can hear, what do they need to hear more than the Gospel?  If they are believers, we can kind of understand that; they need to be reminded of the only security they have – even if they forget it again by lunch time.  But what if they are not believers? Is there any reason to share with them if they can’t respond? Just think about that for a minute. What does the Bible say about that?  Here’s a very clear encouragement from Romans 10:17. Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the Word of God.


We were all dead in our sin. God had to quicken in us the faith to believe the gospel.  In a way, we were worse than those with dementia because we exercised our will to consciously refuse to respond to the Word. But their volition is significantly impaired. Their heart is softened; in their fear and disorientation they are like people being tossed about by a raging river; they are ready to cling to any rock.  It must be THE ROCK.

 We tend to put “boxes” around people’s Christianity.  To gauge the eternal state of someone’s soul by applying modern evangelical constructs as our meter stick.  Modern evangelicalism says the evidence of saving faith is a prayer (the Sinner’s prayer) or “asking Jesus to come into our heart” or showing a changed life. It’s something we have to DO.  That’s slippery ground to stand on. I’m not 100% in agreement with Calvinism, but it is pretty clear in Scripture that God is the agent, and the author, and the perfector of our faith. We are sheep. Clay.  Dead.  Hmmm. What a travesty it is to devalue someone’s life (or faith) because they can no longer move or smile or speak. 

The Nature of God

Saying it’s useless to share with those who have dementia is putting ourselves in the place of God.  We think it’s up to us.

Here’s the truth: IT’S NOT.

God talks about Himself in His word and shows us glimpses of what He is doing.  If you’re dealing with someone with dementia, I highly recommend reading Isaiah 55:10-11 daily until you have it memorized. Here it is:

ISAIAH 55:10-11

10 For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

See how important this is?  What food for the soul is here! The rain and snow come down to the earth and seem to disappear. But they don’t really.  They sink in and are hard at work watering the earth and making it productive and spreading the blessing far and wide.  The dirt may not look any different, but the water is working down deep and in due time the fruit is seen. Just because we don’t see the water on the surface doesn’t mean we can conclude that it’s not necessary.  To withhold the water on the basis that it’s just wasted pouring it into dirt like that will starve the ground and make it impossible for fruit to be produced.

Now, this is not a promise – it’s a principle. A general statement of the way things usually work. We know that the rain and snow do not guarantee  fruit.  Even if the water is sufficient, the fruit may fail due to environmental conditions or disease or human intervention. But without the water none of those other things matter. Even in the perfect, disease-free environment, with patient nurturing; if there is no water fruit is impossible.

The Word is the water.

Just because we don’t see it having an effect doesn’t mean it’s not working.  It may sound harsh to say it this way, but withholding the Word starves the soul, making fruit impossible. With the Word, fruit is possible. Without the Word, there will be no fruit – guaranteed.  No chance. No hope. No fruit – no seed – no future.

But, you say, in this case the life can’t bring forth fruit anyway – the person is comatose. 

Wrong again. The ultimate fruit is eternal life. Which we will not see until heaven.

The second half of the verse is familiar, but I don’t think we think much about it. But there it is in black and white. His word will not return void.  Like the water and the snow.  It’s not possible for it to return void.  And further, it accomplishes what He pleases.  This should make us laugh with joyful relief.  It isn’t only not about what THEY can do in response, it’s not about what we do either!  It’s not about phrasing the gospel just right to break through their defenses or out-logic them. It’s not about us at all! It is God who does all the work through His word. HA!

God has spoken through a bush…and thunderclouds, and a donkey…and still His word accomplished its purpose every time.  His words through His prophets have produced amazing results: like animating dead bones. His word through His Son and His servants have brought the dead back to life! How can we say God’s word can no longer work in this person just because they’re not able to respond?

And how will they hear the Word unless we proclaim it?  We should continue to pray for them, certainly.  But while they are alive, we should be diligent to speak the Word to them. If we cannot, we can definitely pray that someone else (like a chaplain perhaps) will. 

In conclusion, as long as what we’re saying is God’s word, it is never wasted effort. We may not see any result in their lifetime, but we must not stop speaking the Words of life to those who are suffering from dementia.  There is nothing to fear: no reason to hesitate. This life has nothing left to offer them – but eternity is within their grasp.

Here’s a parting song:

1.      Sing them over again to me,

                   wonderful words of life;

                   let me more of their beauty see,

                   wonderful words of life;

                   words of life and beauty

                   teach me faith and duty.


                   Beautiful words, wonderful words,

                   wonderful words of life.

                   Beautiful words, wonderful words,

                   wonderful words of life.


2.                Christ, the blessed one, gives to all

                   wonderful words of life;

                   sinner, list’n to the Gospel call,

                   wonderful words of life;

                   all so freely given,

                   wooing us to heaven.



3.                Sweetly echo the gospel call,

                   wonderful words of life;

                   offer pardon and peace to all,

                   wonderful words of life;

                   Jesus, only Savior,

                   sanctify forever.

                   Beautiful words, wonderful words,

                   wonderful words of life.

                   Beautiful words, wonderful words,

                   wonderful words of life.





Sunday, February 15, 2015


I hear you groaning.  That acronym is so cliché.  I have never used it before. But something happened today at the Community Care Center that was so paradigm-shifting it jolted me out of "usual" mode, and I just had to write about it.

In a nutshell, I saw Jesus today at the CCC.  Now before you start rolling your eyes and making cuckoo motions beside your head, let me tell you what happened.

First, we're a little low on management right now.  Several high-ranking leadership types have moved on in the last month or two, including the Executive Director (In charge of the whole facility and all of everybody in it).  A permanent replacement hasn't been found for the ED position yet, so we have an Interim ED.  He's a young man called Dmitriy, who goes about in a suit and tie and engaging smile, and he has brought many good things to a burdened facility.  In fact, I wrote him what I thought was an encouraging note in his Valentine card this week.

But what I saw today caused me to see that every carefully-worded bit of encouragement I wrote was entirely inadequate.

Today one of the aides on the dementia floor went home early. The receptionist began phoning the on-call list, but was unable to find anyone to fill in.  She reported, regretfully, do Dmitriy that we were short-staffed, and he said he'd think about it.  He went out to his car, came back in, and disappeared into the men's room.

When he came out he was in scrubs and a gait belt, and he spent the rest of the shift downstairs working as a CNA: dressing people and cleaning up all sorts of messes and looking for Grant's glasses; doing the heavy work that keeps the facility running.

I'm speechless.  Truly. So I'll let Scripture say it for me:

" [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.   Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.   I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.   Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

John 13:4-5; 12-17

Amen and amen. This is the kind of exemplary leadership that will redeem the facility. If it spreads around, there will be nothing that will be impossible there.