My dearly beloved brethren,
Our April Congregational Record is reduced to this letter as it is about all that I can produce at this time. As most of you know, I have been enduring some health issues for the past several months that have been a distraction to me and to my family and to my work. These issues were being discovered and addressed with encouraging effectiveness through a series of medical tests that I had thought were concluded. However, on 1 April, things took a more serious and debilitating turn for me. I was awakened in the very early morning with chest pain and soon discovered that I could hardly speak or move. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital emergency room where I spent an entire day undergoing stabilization procedures and numerous tests. Heart attack was ruled out and stroke seemed unlikely. Neurological causes became the suspects and I was handed over to other doctors for further tests as an outpatient. I continue to undergo such tests, an MRI being next for me on this coming Tuesday. Meanwhile, I feel fine but am very tired physically. Our Elders have been briefed and they have kindly relieved me of all of my pastoral duties for as long as it takes for me to be cleared by the medics and to regain my depleted energy. I was due to go to Colombia this coming Friday to teach at the seminary in Medellín but my doctor has prohibited me from going—a decision with which I fully agree.
All of this testing and waiting and enduring tentative diagnoses (the most horrifying of which have thus far, thankfully, been eliminated) has been painful and perplexing to me, to my family, and also to you, the members of Immanuel. Yet, I want to assure you of certain things that have remained clear and comforting to me throughout this process.
For example, the sovereignty of God can seem to us at times to be a cold and somewhat imposing doctrine. Yet, in the worst of my throes—when for a time it looked as though I was experiencing early onset Alzheimer’s, or when on 1 April I was sinking so dramatically that I thought I was dying—I found the sovereignty of the Lord to be the most sweet, strong, and vital comfort. What is a surprise to me is to Him perfectly known and orchestrated for my highest good. What to me may look dreadful is bursting with His merciful and loving design for my blessing and even for the blessing of others.
What I have heard with my ears and believed with my heart from God’s Word for more than forty years, I have glimpsed with my eyes through the afflictions that are now upon me. The decay of my outer man is being used by God to lead me more vitally to focus on the renewal of my inner man. I am truly conscious of being securely loved and wisely directed by my Savior. I neither want to live one minute longer nor to die one minute sooner than He deems best. I neither want to serve Him as a pastor one day longer nor to cease so to serve Him one day less than He deems best. He is my good shepherd who makes me to lie down in green pastures and to rise up to follow Him to refreshing waters.
Already I can see emerging from my trials the good He has in mind for me. One medical test has revealed a vitamin B-12 deficiency that has been corrected and brought several benefits to me in areas where I now realize I have suffered for years. Another test has clearly shown that I have suffered from ADHD for probably all my life. Apparently, I have intuitively developed an impressive array of coping devices to deal with this affliction, and those devices and the fountain of my intuition from which they have issued, have served me very well in my ministry. The discovery of my disability has served to shed light on a number of features of my life, especially in my early childhood years. The prescription I have received for it consists merely in a daily routine of mental exercises that are already helping me become more attentive than I have ever been in my life. This is an example of how the Lord delights to break things to remake them better.
But what does the future hold for me and for us as a congregation? The answer to that question will unfold in the Lord’s good time. Meantime, there are valuable and vital lessons for us all to learn. I am learning that to live really is Christ, and to die is gain. This is the secret of my contentment and source of my comfort. We all should learn that Christ is building His Church, and that He will continue to do so with or without me. As my medical tests continue, I cannot predict when I will preach again, nor can I promise that I will produce even such monthly letters as this one, let alone our regular Congregational Record. But I do tell you that I am certain of the Lord’s love for me and of your love and prayers for me. Such loving prayers are bound to be answered above what any of us will ask or think. Let us, then, honor our Lord by our confident waiting upon Him to show us fresh and deeper cause we have to trust Him, love Him and one another, and praise Him for His marvelous providence.
Yours with enduring and deepening love,