I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Monday, June 9, 2014

Life, Death, Evangelism, Apologetics, and the Heidelberg Catechism

Here is an email I shared with a work associate. I share it to reveal how powerfully catechesis can be both in life and in death, both in yours and others.

Dear Jack,

[“Jack,” a friend who worked for my client’s company was facing a case of the most aggressive cancer and invasive treatment. It entailed a mere five percent chance of surviving the next five years. I first addressed Jack’s grave circumstances, sharing with him our concentrated prayer on his behalf, and the many-sided ways that God’s mercy and grace were available to him through Christ and his gospel. Then, I identified a similar situation I had, and made application, then used the faithful Heidelberg’s gospel center in Q 1 to show and tell the gospel hope. Since the note, I am blessed to share that Jack's prognosis is greatly improved and treatment measures have been remarkable!]

I’m not sure if you were aware or not, but late last spring, I took a fall, while fishing and the next evening was in the first class seat on a life-flight helicopter headed to Roanoke Memorial. Evidently, the blow I took ruptured my spleen. By the time I finally went to the ER in Bedford, I had lost about two units of blood into my abdomen. All the staff, bless their hearts, began freaking out! They wanted me outta there yesterday! After making it clear to Fanny and I that the prognosis was rather poor, granting how much I had already lost, how much is lost during the removal surgery and the other attending risks, they told us that they already called and LGH didn’t want me either! Ugh. That was because their blood bank wasn’t prepared for a level three trauma. And I just thought I threw my back out real bad! This was a shocker to say the least. I had never felt so utterly out of control of myself and my circumstances in my entire life. I felt helpless and nearly hopeless.

After ten hours’ worth (I think; it’s all a bit fuzzy) of observation in ICU, my H & H number (hemoglobin and h-something?) began to rise. To everyone’s surprise, this indicated that the hemorrhaging had begun to slow way down, if not stop altogether. All the staffers were nothing short of incredulous. Nevertheless, three days later, my numbers were leveled out at normal; they ejected me! I had several doctors and nurses tell me that they had never witnessed a splenic rupture heal on its own. Just this week an MRI finally revealed that my spleen wasn’t the only thing to rupture. Two discs in my thoracic 12 / lumbar 1 area are bulging, one is ruptured, and a vertebrae is displaced, putting pressure on my spinal cord. Ironically, I’m thankful for that. I feared that the continued pains were related to the spleen, which is not an issue I really wanted to revisit.

Sorry for the windbag autobiography. But I share this story for a couple of relevant reasons.

First, although the doctors had little experience in, and even less so a naturalistic explanation of, the spleen “healing,” concerning the latter, we did. Here we were, 1200 miles from any family and (despite how likable we are, we haven’t made many friends in Big I ;), my main concern was for my girls, Fanny and Israel. Poor Fanny got lost in Bedford, trying to leave BMH and follow the chopper to Roanoke! But she was praying, and praying hard. A pastor friend, who lives in Bedford, shot over to BMH and was able to pray for me just before I was loaded in the bird. We had a handful of close family in the faith praying, and God heard these faithful few, and our faithful King Jesus came, “with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2).

This explains what was inexplicable to the doctors, regardless of whether or not they would admit it. Granted, this answer isn’t subject to pathological analysis or empirical observation. However, neither are time and gravity, logic and love, morals and motion. That these aren’t subject to scientific observation doesn’t challenge their reality; rather, the reality of these things—among others—provide the necessary preconditions that make scientific analysis possible; they must be taken for granted for my doctors to even do their scientific reasoning. So, that the absolute-personal God, who created and is “upholding all things by the word of his power,” has the gracious will and almighty power to be personally present, caring for his people, may have been implausible at best to those doctors of mine, that didn’t challenge the fact that he was there and acting (Genesis 1; Hebrew 1:1—3). Heck, science is allegedly all about finding the best case explanatory hypothesis. But, if Jesus Christ promised that his Father and ours would respond to our prayers in his name, and we thus prayed, and God responded, our explanation certainly got the blue ribbon at the science fair that night (St. John 14:13—14)! I just think sometimes that the doctors’ pride can’t handle being outclassed by the Great Physician. :) As William Hunter’s ole hymn by the same name goes:

The Great Physician now is near,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer,
Oh, hear the voice of Jesus!

Mine was just one experience of many—an unusually many—remarkable answers to prayer for healing and wholeness. I’m sure you are aware of Ms. E’s radically reversed situation this year. We had the honor of praying her through that season with them. So incredible and “scientifically inexplicable” was her situation that I believe even many of her doctors had to tip their hats to God’s hand of providence in the situation. God’s mercy in healing people has just been incredibly apparent round about us this year. It’s been a privilege to witness it and be a part of it. I’m excited and hopeful about praying with so many others to see what God might do in you and your situation.

In addition to the physical healing that God wrought in my experience last spring, the second reason for sharing it is the spiritual and psychological wellness that I experienced during and through it.

Our particular theological heritage has a rich history in creeds, confessions, and catechisms. These, whether the shorter or longer ones, are basically systematic summaries of what we believe the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments teach concerning the big numbers—God, the creation and preservation of the world, man, sin, salvation, etc. Earlier last spring I was winding up to write a devotional commentary on one of the oldest, most-beloved catechisms in the Reformed-Presbyterian tradition, the Heidelberg Catechism (which, Lord willing, will be ready for press spring of 2015). About a week before my fall I had memorized the first question and answer of the Heidelberg. I believe, with many others throughout the world and time, that the first Q/A of this warm and personal catechism is one of the finest statements of the good news that God brought to light in Christ that has ever been penned (outside the Bible, of course). It goes like this.

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

There are some folks that think that doctrine is airy-fairy, abstract and dry, having nothing to do with practical, warp-and-woof experiences of life. Well, this doctrine and my experience stand as an indictment against such ideas.

I had buried this truth deep into my head the previous week, but my fall brought about the true test of whether I had truly buried it in my heart. In my twenty years of following my faithful Lord, knowing myself like I do, I had always feared that my faith would falter when a serious test hit me. I have often enjoyed this “comfort in life,” but what would happen on the pangs of possible death? I’m the guy who was still sucking my thumb at 12 years old! I still cried about getting shots when I was 14 years old! I’m the most pusillanimous person you know, believe you me! 

Nevertheless, Jack, I felt utterly no fear, as I was being prepped and loaded on the helicopter. Of course, I was worried about my girls. That was the only fear I felt, however. By grace and the enabling power of God’s Spirit, Christ Jesus—who had died and rose three days later, defeating the grave—he was truly my “only comfort” in body and soul, life and death! By God’s grace, this doctrinal truth had made its home in the deepest part of my soul. If this doctrine is true—and it is—then there is no reason to fear anything in either life or death, if Christ is one’s “faithful Savior.”

It is amazing how circumstances like mine and yours radically relativizes what once seemed like top priorities but are now periphery issues at best.

It’s with chagrin and shame that I must confess that I’m ignorant of whether or not you enjoy this hope that the Heidelberg talks about, and that carried us through my recent crisis. The gospel of Jesus Christ, that is. I pray—and will continue to pray—that are enjoying it. If not, though, it is my earnest hope and prayer that you will reconsider it...or seriously consider it even if for the first time. Frankly, I know of no other real hope we have, save God’s mercy in Christ.

After years of studying the plethora of perspectives and worldviews available to us, I’ve found that only the biblical world and life view provides sure enough footing to make sense of our experiences, be they better or worse, in this world or the one to come.

I’ve enjoyed what little times we’ve had to talk, and pray that they continue well beyond this windy note...(salutations, etc.).

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