Thoughts from the Hospital
I don’t always understand why things happen the way they do and why God has allowed me to go through what I have been through these last 2 months. I might never fully get it this side of eternal glory… I do want to share with you dear friends some of the things I am starting to understand…
Sometimes God has us on our backs for a reason. For those of you who haven’t heard, I was infected with MRSA on my nose at the beginning of August and we have been battling this life threatening and extremely painful infection ever since. After nearly two months of struggle, 4 emergency room visits, 8 different antibiotics, a PIC line going to my heart, being admitted to the hospital twice and lots of pain it seems that God has seen it fit to bring me through this season of suffering. My infectious disease doctor believed I needed to have a final surgery to remove a remaining lump in the tissue of my nose. She believed it still had the MRSA infection in it and that the antibiotics didn’t seem to heal it fully. I waited two weeks and saw an ear nose and throat specialist yesterday and he said the lump was nearly gone and seems to be healing. He saw no need now to cut it out. I am very thankful that I won’t be getting a Micahel Jackscon nose anytime soon, and despite some slight scarring from the infection, my wife still likes to look at me (or she is just really good at keeping her wedding vows….you know, the part about in sickness and in health) I am still feeling tired and dealing with some of the side affects of the numerous and intense drugs I was on but I feel good in Spirit and excited about the next steps of this journey. It has been a hard two months and we have felt many attacks. I broke up a fight right before I got sick and few days later our Mini-van was vandalized. All the oil had been purposely drained from it and when we drove it the whole engine seized within a minute and we had to get a new one put in. A nice 3 week long ordeal… last month my beautiful two year old daughter Trinity did a not-so-cute thing and pulled my laptop off my desk and broke it. (it still kinda works) Fortunately for us, we have insurance all three of these expensive disasters, but the co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance payments have hit us really hard financially. I don’t write of these hardships to complain but rather to rejoice… Yes, somewhere in the depths of this sinful self-centered soul of mine, God has brought great joy and deeper levels of faith and repentance in my life through this suffering and these experiences… if you want to keep reading I’ll explain some of things God has been teaching me through this whole thing. I know once I get going I tend to write a lot so if you don’t want to read some of my journal entries and thoughts that is fine, though I pray that you would and be encouraged and drawn closer to Jesus through what he has taught me. If you are not so inclined please do skip down to the end and at least read about the ministry and what is happening and how you can pray/help.
A Lamentation of Joy.
The great Scottish Pastor Robert Murray McCheyne of the 1800s spent a chunk of his thriving ministry on his back deathly sick. He ended up going to be with the LORD at age 29. He writes about how God saw it fit to grow his ministry in Dundee Scotland while he was out of the picture. All he could do was pray and connect with God. During that time, God grew his ministry more than when he was preaching… I have felt that way these last two months. Despite me being out of the picture great things have happened in Newark that I couldn’t even imagine. The community is changing and the people are growing together in faith. People are stepping up and leading unlike I have ever seen before. It is an awesome thing to witness and I praise God for this.
I have also begun a new season of seeking to be more intimate with the Lord than ever before. It is interesting how a person can do “church work” and be far from the heart of God. I see that tendency in myself. So quickly I focus on the ministry of God instead of just “being” with Him and seeking Him for the sake of seeking Him. I have to confess, these last few years have been dry ones for my own personal study, prayer life, and personal time with God. I’ll study and pray like my job depended on it, since it does, but just enough so I can do my work and feel successful and appear holy to the people that look up to me. I have taken seminary classes, preached over 100 sermons, led Bible studies and shared the Gospel with my community, yet fallen short in the most important area of deep personal devotion with my God and deep personal prayer for others. I struggle so much within the business of this ministry to take the time to be with my First Love and really sit at His feet, learn His ways and rejoice in His promises. I have gotten so self absorbed and focused on “ministry,” so enamored and confident in myself and my ability to minister the Gospel, that I have barely prayed the way I should for my flock. The last few years, my personal devotions have become a habitual fast food dining experience. Instead of sitting down daily to the feast that God has laid out before me in His Word, and taking my time to read and meditate on it, I go through the drive-through and eat while I am on the move… It may make me feel full and give me some spiritual nutrients to get through the day, but in the end in leaves me spiritually lazy, a bit indigested, and not nearly equipped to handle life in a way that will honor God and bring joy to my neighbor. It’s kind of like that movie “Super Size me.” The guy making the documentary on fast food eats only McDonald’s for along period of time and nearly dies. Putting ministry before my own spiritual health has cost me these last few years I am afraid… I find my heart so quickly getting bitter and judgmental … I find my joy fluctuating based on circumstance and I tend to overwork in order to compensate. Instead of slowing down and focusing on what really matters, I tend to speed up and take on more than I can handle to try and justify the way I am feeling and counteract the bitterness of ministry with more activity.
During my leisure time and Sabbath, I have formed very unhealthy habits of going to media and entertainment to find my rest and relaxation instead of Christ… Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think movies or TV are bad (I do enjoy Hulu), but when that is where I find myself naturally going to try and rest, there is a problem. I really saw this the first week of being sick. My heart got so bitter and as I lay there in bed away from my ministry (eventually in the hospital), I didn’t even want to read the Word, pray or even talk to people about God. All I did was watch movies, sleep, and complain. My heart became so hard and I can’t believe some of the doubts and thoughts that went through my brain. I wanted to give up, just walk away from everything and not care anymore.
After being admitted to the hospital and finding out I had a potentially life threatening infection my heart became a little bit stirred. My grandfather came to visit me and brought with him the grace-filled message of the Gospel that he so consistently bears. He reminded me of the Good News in his tender yet firm way. He also called my heart to repentance and would not let his grandson make excuses for anything. How I needed that correction, that realigning of my heart, that complaining, self-absorbed spirit silenced by a grandfather’s tender and firm hand.
As my wife and kids came to see me I couldn’t help but cry. I looked at my son and realized how badly I wanted him to know Jesus and how badly I wanted to see him grow up. I realized lots of things. I wanted to be a better father. I had been such a bad example to him. How often he saw his daddy come home from a hard day of work and crash into the arms of his lap-top, putting on his headphones and shutting himself away from his family. Instead of seeing a father excited and filled with the Spirit of God, he was witnessing a burnt out pastor addicted to movies. That’s not the dad I want to be… That is not the dad I am going to be by God’s grace.
My body needed this physical sickness to help heal the spiritual disease of my heart, and God knew that. I didn’t understand why He would shut me down right at the end of such an awesome summer of ministry. Why would God lay me aside and allow such a random disease to afflict me and stop me in my tracks?…. Doesn’t He need me to save the world?…. or at least Newark?… Doesn’t He owe me good health and a happy life for all the ways I serve Him day in and day out?… No…. he doesn’t…. He wants my heart to love Him and know Him. He doesn’t want my works…. he doesn’t want anything but me… God wants me completely…. He wants me to be in His presence, to delight in Him above all else; to find eternal joy in Him and the love that He has for me as displayed in Christ’s sacrifice. He is willing to do anything to bring me to him, even die in my place and take on my eternal infection of sin that would otherwise lead to my eternal death and ruin. The Cross has shown me this love, it has shown US this love. “By His wounds” we are indeed healed. Yes, He loves me, and he has used MRSA to teach my doubting heart afresh of such love. I am so excited about this new season and the great feast for my soul I am finding in God’s Word. In God’s Word I am seeing and tasting that their is indeed a never ending spring of water that quenches my thirst; and I must drink from it daily. McCheyne’s life spoke to me again as He write this in His journal:
“Somewhat overcome,. Let me see. There is a creeping defect here. Humble purpose like reading of the WORD omitted. What plant can be unwatered and not wither.”
So true… How can I go so long without allowing the roots of my heart to drink in the Water of the Word. No wonder the weeds of this present world get in and begin to choke out my joy? How can I have joy in the promises of God if I forget them so quickly? I am so naturally prone to not immerse myself in the ever powerful Word of God. His Word alone has the power to trigger the hopeless sinner’s memory to authentically “forget not all His benefits,” to rejoice in the “mercies that are new every morning,” and that in view of such mercy to truly become a “living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God.” It is so easy for me to watch a two hour movie and entertain myself with such stories, yet so hard for me to meditate on the story of redemption for half that time and find my life satisfied there alone.
Why is it so hard to sit and be still before the Lord and allow his Word to speak to me? I think the enemy of our souls would seek to truly undo me by cutting off my letters from home… he will do anything he can to keep my heart from longing for home and the love found in the arms of the Father. The best way he can do that is by keeping me out of the Word. If he can get me to skim my bible like I did my college textbooks, just to get enough info to pass the next test, then he has succeed in keeping my heart from hearing from the Father… The humble purpose like reading of the WORD is indeed our lifeline… I am committing afresh to drink from such a fountain and I encourage all who are reading and have a walk with God to do the same. Dr. Tim Keller encouraged me to stop reading God’s Word as an instruction manual that tells me what to do and how to live, but rather read it as a love story that points me to Jesus, the one who really lived and in whom all things have their being. The more I fall in love with God’s story of redemption and the hero of the story, the more my heart will be inclined to join my Maker in becoming a part of this redemption story as it unfolds through time.
Not being in the Word makes me forget the story and paves a highway for selfish sin to travel quickly to my heart. A heart overgrown and flourishing with the WORD of God leaves no path for sin to travel to the inner man and corrupt him.
In terms of prayer, God has used me more on my back in bed than on the field. What great times of prayer he has given me these last few weeks. Prayer with my wife, and deep personal prayer times I have rarely known. I felt his presence and enjoyed crying out to Him for my community and our world. I want to see the discipline of prayer for others increase in my life. God has used this sickness to help me learn to take my eyes off myself and focus on Him and the needs of others…
I know this has been long and probably repetitive, but this is where my heart is and what God has used this sickness to accomplish. I praise Him for this and hope that my struggle would encourage you to “Seek First the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
Sabbatical….. yes this is true. Our board and various other leaders in my life have decided to send us on a 6 week sabbatical to write, rest, reconnect as a family and seek fresh vision and direction from the LORD. We will be in Virginia for two weeks with Kimberly’s father and then go up to Cape Cod Massachusetts for the remaining month. Kimberly’s extended family lives there and has been gracious to let us stay in one of their cottages on the beach during this off season when people don’t usually rent. I will be focusing a lot on reading, study, and writing a book about incarnational ministry that I have been working on here and there but have not had a chance to focus on and finish. I also brought my musical gear and will have time to write and record some songs, another thing that really helps me connect to my Creator. My phone will be off till November 14th, but I will be checking email, and facebook every few days or so. I will not answer ministry related stuff unless it is urgent. Please direct any ministry related things to Pastor Walter Howard. His cell is 973-932-7098 and his email is email@example.com. It is hard for me to leave at this time, but after 6 years of ministry and a tired out spirit that has dealt with this sickness, I am accepting this assignment with joy and looking forward to what God will harvest from our lives through this.
God has raised up my staff and people from the community to lead the charge in reaching our community for His glory. Things have grown and as we enter into the Fall we are looking at some amazing things happening.
Here is our Main Fall program and details of what it is all about. I also attached a sheet that details all of Trinity/Safe Haven’s ministries and volunteer opportunities. If you are in the area and want to be a part of that, please do contact the appropriate person and come and serve.
S.H.A.C. (Safe Haven After Class) – Our afterschool program for K-5th graders. 60 kids come together each day from 3:00-6:00 for a healthy snack, tutoring, homework help, spiritual instruction/development, social development, music, art, computer and dance lessons. The program also employs 15 teens from the community to work with the kids as junior counselors. This is a job development program changing kids lives. Teens that otherwise might be hustling drugs and running the streets now become positive forces in society who are learning how to work and are also developing a relationship with God. We are very excited about what God is doing. Asa Jackson is our new program director and is doing an awesome job leading this program. This is unlike anything else we have seen in Newark. We have partnered with Against All Odds Foundation to provide excellent tutoring with qualified teachers who work with kids on a 1 on 5 ratio to help them catch up in reading and math. AAO is hiring as well and if you have a college degree and want to tutor at-risk kids they will train you and pay $50/hour to tutor kids from our community. Pretty sweet deal.
Here is a list of our Safe Haven staff team. Please pray for them as they reach our community. Please pray for lots of protection while I am gone and can’t lead things. It is hard to leave but I am confident this is what God wants at this time of my life and I am also confident in my team and what God is doing in them and through them.
Asa Jackson – Program Director of Safe Haven After Class (S.H.A.C)/Guy’s bible study leader.
Josh Halinen – Program Coordinator of Safe Haven After Class (S.H.A.C)
Kortlyn Shoemaker – Art director and teen girl’s Bible study leader and Sunday School teacher
Jonathan Rudd – Youth Center Director and Studio Engineer, Bible study leader, Music ministry
Jamie Waters – Intern and Group Leader for Safe Haven After Class (S.H.A.C). He will also be working on our website and sponsorship pages.
Nelda Cerynik – Executive administrative assistant
Kathy Pedro – S.H.A.C administrator
Please also pray for the 15 youth staff working for us this year. Our website should have profiles of them up soon.
Here is Our Trinity Staff Team (Paid and Volunteer). Please pray for them as well.
Pastor Walter Howard – Senior Pastor, Adult Ministry.
Keisha Williams – Secretary
Michael Mitchel – Custodian
Adam Culp – Worship leader
Jerry and Valerie DeVos – Men and Women Ministries
Suzanne Lyon – Prayer Ministry
Willie Cheatham – Feeding ministry
Niki Hernez and Lilly Brown – Food Pantry
As you can imagine and as always we have huge needs. God seems to keep providing and I praise God for all of the supporters (you) that he has raised up to pray and give toward the redemption of Newark. Thank you so much for all you have done to support us thus far. To our monthly supporters who have stayed with us during this hard financial season, thank you for your faithful giving. Those that had to leave our support team, we understand and thank you for everything you have given into this ministry. We know you all are praying and we see the fruit of your support in everything that is happening. May God continue to bless you greatly as you bless the poor here in Newark.
Our biggest need right now is funding for our after school program.
It costs close to $7,000 a month to operate SHAC and it has been really hard to raise funds these days. God is growing our ministry and outreach. We are reaching more kids and people than ever before but are also facing some big struggles. Here is an easy way people can help.
$1 a day. I am praying for God to raise up 100 people from this email to sacrifice a coke or a candy bar or any junk food and give a buck to help our kids and teens have a healthy snack each day and 2 healthy dinners each week. Most of our kids eat junk all day and besides what they get at school don’t receive healthy balanced meals. We are trying to change that. Kids with healthy diets focus better, miss less days of school and will live longer to serve God and their community.
Please pray about going to our website and setting up a monthly recurring donation of $30/month. You will help make Newark kids healthier and you might get healthier too. When you crave that junk food, think and pray for our kids here in Newark… I am doing this myself and it has been hard detoxing myself from all the junk food I am used to eating, but has been so good for my soul and body. I don’t know why I have paid people for so long to make things that are so unhealthy for all of us and why I have not worked on this more in my own life. Sacrificing in my junk food budget not only has helped me become healthier and strengthened my immune system, it has also freed up money to give to help others. If you don’t feel called to serve Safe Haven in this way with the money you save on junk food, please consider sponsoring a child through World Vision or Compassion International. Our Safe Haven kids do this as well and sponsor a kid in Togo Africa and numerous orphans in Haiti. It is so cool to see them learn to sacrifice for the sake of others.
As always, it does my heart well to write to you. I hope this email encourages you to live radically for the God who loves you radically. I am encouraged and strengthened by your prayers and look forward to hearing from you (after sabbatical). May God bless you and keep you and cause His face to shine upon you and give you His peace.
Ministry Site. www.newarksafehaven.com
Family Website. fromscarlet.com