Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Post from Greg - Matthew 11:1-6

Each month Elise and I send a prayer letter/update to a special group of people who have partnered with us financially in the ministry here at Mason, in the effort of seeing the gospel spread to every GMU student. As I was writing this month's letter, I realized that there were portions of it that I really wanted to share here on the blog. Below are those portions - please know how much Elise and I love you and appreciate your tenderness, care, and prayers. There are many times we'd feel lost if it weren't for you and what God does through you...

...The first thing I wanted to share is that Elise and I are OK. I know that there have been some people who have been worried lately, especially by our blog posts. I want you to know that part of the plan for the blog is for us to be completely transparent with anyone who cares to read it – even in dark moments. This is really intentional on our part, because we want people to know that it's OK to be a Christian and for life to be awful – it's possible to lose all your faith in life while keeping all your faith in Jesus. Many of our days, thoughts, and emotions are dark, hopeless, and confusing (and as one person recently pointed out to me, Elise and I aren't suffering perfectly - no one ever has or will since Jesus). But what we want is for people to know that it is OK to not be OK - you can be a Christian and still be adrift in the darkness. It doesn't make you a bad Christian, doesn't mean God loves you any less, doesn't mean that you're a bad or weak person, or that you don't believe deeply enough, or that you need to have more faith. The truth of the matter is that some people are called to suffer in this life (which is one of the many dramatic lessons of Hebrews 11 - some people are called to glorify God with the life they live, while others are called to glorify Him with the death they die).


One of the simple truths of being a Christian is that God demands we be perfect, but He doesn't expect us to be perfect, because He knows we're not perfect, which is why He gave and gave up His perfect Son. The apostle Peter backslid into sin by capitulating to Jewish dietary law, and had to be called out on it in front of everyone by Paul (Galatians 2:11). John the Baptist, the greatest mere man to ever live (Jesus declared John "the greatest of those born of women"  in Matthew 11:11) – anyway, that John the Baptist spent his last days rotting in prison, and finally had his head cut off and served to a dancing girl on a silver platter. And before he met his end, he sent a messenger to Jesus, his cousin, whose coming he'd spent years proclaiming, asking "Are you the Messiah, or do we wait for another?"


Have you ever thought about the implications of John's question? The simple truth of it is that John's life had degenerated into a horrible mess, that mess didn't fit his picture of what life was supposed to look like, and in a weak moment he doubted the divinity and power of Christ. Because after all, if cousin Jesus is in fact the conquering, reclaiming messiah foretold by the entire Old Testament, then what the heck am I doing in a prison cell??


Now here's why I bring it up: Whatever measure Jesus was using for "greatness", he declared John the greatest of our species. And if the greatest mere man to ever live doubted Christ during a storm in life, and if God intentionally had that doubting recorded in His holy book, then I think its safe to say that there's a place in Jesus' kingdom for those who are adrift in darkness and can't find the way out. By the grace of God, neither Elise nor I have ever doubted Jesus for a second. But we have spent much time in the valley of despair – and that's OK. It's OK with God, and it needs to be OK with His children as well. Check out Psalm 23 – nowhere does it promise that God won't lead us into "the valley of the shadow of death" – it does, however, promise us that He will "be with us" in it. Elise and I want you to know He can and will use this season (or new reality) in our lives just like He did our old season when we were experiencing victory. I feel total freedom to share even our dark moments on the blog, simply because I feel totally free in the Gospel to be what I am. We're light-years from being perfect, we need God to be working on us constantly to make us holier and less sinful and more in love with Him – but it's OK to ask God to meet you where you're at. And in the meantime, He's using our defeat for His victory.


Here's an example of what I mean: One of the countless emails we've received in the wake of our blog posts was from a young woman in college who has suffered from clinical depression for years and has recently been thinking about killing herself. A friend referred her to one of the blog posts, and God used it to call her into an awareness of His love – she wrote us saying that what God said to her through that post has forever changed her life, she's no longer suicidal, and Christ is now her treasure. If that were the only good that came of the entirety of what God has planned for Elise and I to go through, we would do it in a heartbeat. It's an honor that Jesus would use our stupid little post in such a way, and it's an honor to be connected to that young woman's life...


... I'm running out of space to write, but I want to share one more story of victory that came about even in this season of defeat: The other day, Matt Bedker (one of my disciples) came to our apartment to visit. Matt is an original "Monday Thinger" - do you remember that? "The Monday Thing" was the group that Elise and I put together last year to explore matters of faith and spirituality with non-Christians. Anyway, last spring, The Monday Thing played a part in Matt coming to know Jesus, and on spring break last year he actually took the plunge and placed his faith in Christ. I love him so dearly, and it's been wonderful to watch his faith grow by leaps and bounds the past year. When he showed up here last week, he informed me that it was the one-year anniversary of his becoming a Christian.


In one year, Elise and I and you and all the rest of the team have gotten to watch Matt go from being in a very dark and very Christ-less place to being a man whose faith is incredibly deep and mature, and only becoming more so. And oh by the way, do you want to know why he was sitting in my living room during spring break, instead of down at Panama City Beach with the rest of the Cru movement? He didn't have the money to go to Florida, because he's currently raising support, because he applied and was accepted to Cru's East Asia Summer Project for this coming summer. One year after becoming a Christian, Matt's giving up spring break so he can spend six weeks sharing the gospel 24/7 in a country where Christianity is so repressed I can't even tell you which one it is. Can you believe that?


Matt is yet another story that could only be possible through Jesus. Life can be (and is) torture, but it's also mercy. And awe. And love. And those are realities that are OK experience at the same time.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Post from Greg – Jeremiah 29:11

I felt like I was going crazy last night and went outside for some fresh air around midnight. Jesus brought a song to mind that I've really loved for a long time, and I wanted to share the lyrics with you:


I take my refuge in the palm of Your hand
I take my comfort in Your perfect plan
I take my sorrow and lay it down at Your feet
I take my refuge where I can be free
I take my shelter in the shade of Your wings
I take my pleasure in the hope that You bring
I take my weakness to the foot of the cross
I take my refuge where I can get lost


In You, Oh Lord, In You, my God
When there's no where to turn
And there's nothing that's true
I find my peace here in You

Right now I don't know if one bit of this song can be said truly about my spiritual walk. Its all stuff that I know is true in my head, but I have a really, really hard time knowing it's true in my heart.


When I posted yesterday, I was writing in desperation. Please forgive me for that desperation, and know that I've asked God to forgive me too.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Sometimes I don't believe a word of it. But it's all true. And I need to believe it - I want to believe it.



Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A post from Greg - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15a

We live across from an elementary school and the playground is on the far side. The kids look tiny from this distance, but I just realized that I've been watching them play at recess for the last ten minutes. They’ve got a ball they keep kicking high in the air, and they run everywhere. Running, running, running. I doubt they have a care in the world right now – the air is warm, the sun is out, and spring is on the way. Life’s a funny, painful thing.

Yesterday was an awful day for two reasons. First off, my maternal grandfather, Joe Gartner (I’ve always called him “Pap”), died. I love him, and I miss him. My heart breaks for my mother, and I can’t even begin to imagine what Grandma is going through. Pappy was a good man, and more importantly, he knew Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. He knew that its not good people who go to heaven, but rather, forgivenpeople. And because of that, I don’t “mourn like those who have no hope”. I’ll see him again. There’s nothing permanent about his death.

Two hours after I found out about Pap I had my weekly visit at the heart transplant clinic. I found out that this past week Dr. Desai (the director of the entire transplant clinic) had been talking to his colleagues all over the country about me. Turns out that after four years we finally have a diagnosis.

I have a really rare disease called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD). The way it works is that there’s a program embedded in my genetics with a start button; I hit a certain age, the start button is activated, and my heart’s right ventricle begins genetically mutating into fat. Like, not that I get a fatty heart, like when you don’t eat healthily and need a bypass. My heart muscle literally turns into a lobe of fat – you let the disease run its course, and I eventually won’t have a right ventricle – just a heart shaped/sized ball of fat. And fat doesn’t conduct nerve electricity. And fat doesn’t pump blood.

Because ARVD screws up nerve conduction, it causes cardiac arrests. You let it go on long enough, and it causes electrical storms. An electrical storm is a random, unstoppable sequence of cardiac arrests, just like what happened to me in October 2006, and last January. Internal defibrillator implants like the one I have can’t always save you from an electrical storm – its kind of a miracle that I’ve survived two already. All that to say, while ARVD will kill your heart from a pump standpoint in a really weird, almost science-fiction kind of way, the electrical problems will get you first – long before the conversion process is complete.

Because of all of that, the strategy for keeping me alive has changed. Usually, if someone has a year to live, you wait until one day short of a year and give them a transplant. That way, you’ve added a year to their life on the backend – if they were gonna live 13 years with a new heart, you just made it 14. The reason that strategy is possible is because heart failure is a gradual, predictable process – so you play the game of maximizing their pre-transplant days to lengthen their total lifespan.

In cases like mine, though, the risk with ARVD is too high. You play with all the chips in, everyday. So let’s say you decide to wait a year; you continue to get healthier and healthier on the outside, and then at ten months you have an electrical storm and die. You just added ten months, and lost 13 years. It’s not worth it.

So the strategy for me has changed; I’m being upgraded to a status 1B on the heart transplant waiting list, and I'm going to start getting offered hearts. Since my pharmacological regimen has me feeling a little better each day, Dr. Desai can pass on all the hearts that aren’t an exact match for me. Then, when the right one comes along, we pull the trigger before it’s too late. For those of you tracking with us and praying for us, this would count as a resounding “no” to our request that I stay a “2” for ten to fifteen years.

C. S. Lewis wrote about praying once, thinking about why some prayers are answered and others aren’t, wondering if our praying really does alter the plan God has laid out for us, observing that some people seem to have their prayers answered all the time while others seem to get only dramatic refusals. Here’s what he wrote:

“It would be worse to think of those who get what they pray for as some sort of “court favorites”, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ is Gethsemene is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer, and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning – before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent – they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”

Does God then forsake just those who serve him best? Well, He who served him best of all, near the end of His tortured death, said “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted beyond all hope and probability had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.”

So instead of trying to milk 10 years of pre-op life out of being a “2”, I’m looking at getting a transplant as soon as the right heart comes along. All the risks still apply - 10% die during the operation, another 10% in the first year. Then 50% get diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer. None of that’s changed.

I can’t feel anything right now. I can’t wrap it up and put a bow on it, no matter which way I try. I’ve got nothing – I’m coming up empty on life at the moment.

Unrelated thought, but important: in my last blog post, I told you that Elise and I are praying that god takes her before he takes me, so that she wouldn’t have to live without me. You have no idea of the panic and fear in her voice and eyes when we talk about her living without me – you really just don’t know. Fear becomes a compelling emotion for both of us when we talk about me dieing. It’s not like when the first of an elderly couple passes away – that couple got to have their 50 years of marriage. They got to have their kids. People grow old, and then they die – that’s how life unfolds. I have no idea how awful, how absolutely horrible it is to lose a spouse in old age. But likewise, unless someone’s 24 and wakes up every single day staring death in the face and dealing with the potentiality of becoming a widow or widower, they have no idea what we’re going through - the situations are not analogous. We’re 24. We’re 24. I’m not saying its worse, and I assure you it’s not easier. It’s different.

All that to say that in my last post, I told you that Elise and I are praying that God takes her before he takes me – its something we both desire, and we pray everyday that He brings it to pass in such a way. But what I didn’t take the time to explain in my last post is that it’s a sinful prayer to pray. Do you know why? Because it exhibits a lack of trust and a lack of faith in God, His plan, and the fact that He loves us more than we love each other and wants what’s best for us. Elise and I praying for her death to proceed mine is sinful, because in doing so we’re not placing our faith fully in God and the path He’s authored for our lives.

We knew that when we starting praying that way, and I knew it when I asked you to pray that way for me. And that’s where I screwed up. Jesus said that it would be better for someone to tie a millstone around their neck and drown themselves that to lead one of his children astray, which is exactly what I’m doing when I ask you to pray with a lack of faith in God’s character. So I want to ask you to stop. Know that God has a plan, and that his way is best, and that whatever he has in store for Elise and I, it’s the right and best thing.

All that being said, Elise and have asked God to change our hearts regarding that prayer, to make us more holy, give us more faith, and help us to stop praying it. But until He changes our hearts, we’re going to continue to pray it. My wife is married to a dieing 24-year-old, and we’re both human. Which is to say that we’re both sinners - people who lack faith and trust, who place our hope and faith in things other than Jesus. Which is why we need a savior. And the beauty of the Gospel is that there is one.

When I look at my prayer life, I pray all the time that God would make me more holy. Sometimes I want to be holier because I love Jesus and want to honor and enjoy him. But there are other times when the only reason I want to be holier is so that I can do my job better, or feel less ashamed of my life. I pray for the right things with the wrong motivations.

And then there’s my prayer that I outlive Elise. I pray that because of my tremendous love for her, because it will be hell on earth for the one left behind, and I truly would rather be the one that burns instead of her. I pray with the right motivations, but for the wrong things.

I pray for the right things with the wrong motivations, and I pray for the wrong things with the right motivations. How about that. Has anyone ever been more screwed up, or needed Jesus, more than me? And I have him – I’ve placed my faith in him, I’ve stepped down a rung on the ladder and let him be first in my life, and because of that all of my sins are covered in his mercy. I’ll be with him, and Pappy, in heaven, forever.

I don’t have any insight to share this time, and I don’t have any peace. I’m 24 and, playing the numbers, I’m a handful of years closer to dieing than I was a week ago. I have to go to a genetic research center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore soon to get some tests run and talk to a genetic counselor. And I can’t go to Pap’s funeral because I can’t leave the 3-hour radius.

There’s one thing to cling to: When people place their faith in Jesus, they get grafted into His righteousness. Which means that God sees them as sinless, which means that they are fit for heaven, which means they endure forever with Christ and those they love who’ve also placed their faith in Christ. Because of that, I will see Pappy again – and soon. Whether it’s a week or fifty years, it’s soon – fifty years is such a short time. Such a short, short time – 18,250 days. They’ll tick away like seconds on a clock, and then this life ends and eternal life begins. There’s nothing permanent about my being separated from Pap. And when I die, you need to remember that there’s nothing permanent about you being separated from me. They’re just years – they’ll fly by, and we’ll be together again.

Not even the main blessing and miracle of the Gospel, but a sweet one. A very sweet, very precious one.

Elise and I love you all, and we want to be with you a thousand years from now. Please talk to somebody about what it means to know and follow Jesus. And pray for my mom – that she would have peace. Grandma too. And pray for Elise and me – that we would shed our distrust and fear, and walk in deeper faith, and know Jesus more fully.

I may not even know you, but I love you with all my heart. You’ve gotta believe that. And of infinitely more importance, Jesus loves you more than I do.