What’s Your Number?

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In my line of work, I deal with families who lose loved ones, sometimes without warning. In the process of treatment, utilizing all of our knowledge to resuscitate using drugs, physical techniques (like CPR) and others,  we connect patients to heart monitors, which count their heartbeats per minute. Usually 70 is a good heart rate but at those times, any heart rate is preferred to none.

But it struck me that the number of beats our heart makes is a definite number. It has a definite beginning, and a definite end. It begins when our little hearts begin in our mother’s womb, and end, sometimes on an E.R. treatment bed. If a person truly wished to discover this number, it is probably possible. But it is a number God already knows.

Let that sink in. God knows the number of beats your heart will make, He knows how many you have left. He also knows what you’ve done with each of them. If God numbers our hairs (Matthew 10:30) would He not know our heartbeats? Consider the following:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
(1Sa 16:7)

I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
(Jer 17:10)
And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,
(Act 15:8)

When I witness an unexpected death, I grieve with the family. None of us know when our beats come to an end.  Many times we can’t predict it, let alone prepare for it. I am reminded of a movie, called “In Time” that came out in 2011. In the film, people stop aging at 25, but have a clock on their arm to tell them exactly how much time they have left. They work for time, and barter time to pay for things, instead of using money. Though the movie failed to perform at the box office, it pointed out the innate human desire to know our time. If we knew when we would die, don’t you think we would be better prepared for it? Or if we knew our death was near, would we go out and run up our credit cards and live like royalty?  Could you imagine a world where you knew exactly how much time you had left to live? Seems to me this is information we are better off not knowing. Besides, I believe we have something better.

I think about the impact my death would have on my family, or theirs on me. Death can come so suddenly and destructively, it just leaves devastation in its wake. That’s why I praise God that I serve one who conquered death, that rose from the grave, and offers me hope for the same.

I know that when my number comes up, He will be standing there, arms outstretched, saying, “Welcome Home!” For when I die, eternity is laid out before me, and I will never die again. “For it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that, the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) “For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 8:1) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Joh 3:16)

It is that hope that helps me help others in the midst of their tragedy. And I am grateful to God for His indescribable gift!

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Lessons from Loss

If you’ve been keeping up with your Bible reading, then you’ve read the prophet Ezekiel. I’ve always found Ezekiel to be fascinating, ever since I started reading through the Bible. I have a journal somewhere dated 1999 where I tried to read through the Bible, and only got as far as Isaiah, and that in 2001. I’ve only been through the entire Bible a handful of times, and only recently (2004) picked it up again with the help of an audio Bible. So don’t think I’m trying to boast. But as a believer, I’ve come under the conviction that I need to be reading the Bible daily to keep up the strength of my Spirit.

After reading about the disaster that befell the Israelites in Jerusalem in the siege by the Babylonians, and then the numbers that were sent away, you get a feeling of utter despair. Jeremiah’s writings feel despondent, if not maudlin. It’s no wonder they call them the Lamentations. The Jews have been ripped from their homeland, and their homeland is utterly destroyed. We know it is because of their sins, their idolatry and their wickedness before God. That’s the religious justification. But pain is still pain. It still hurts, whether it is just or not.

Enter Ezekiel, mourning with the exiles on the shores of the river Kebar. “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, …”1 right along with them, Ezekiel was wailing, weeping, mourning the loss of their home, and despairing of their future.

We’ve all lost someone or something at one time or another, whether a spouse, friend, child, parent, job, or favorite activity. When we lose a loved one especially, the pain of the void they leave behind devours the rest of our lives. We wonder if life will ever be the same again.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describes it as the five stages of grief. Her work focused primarily on those who were in the process of dying, like from a long-term illness, but the stages are applicable to any loss. First there is denial and isolation. We don’t believe it and don’t want to talk to anyone that does. Then, there is anger. Often this is directed at God, at doctors, at friends because of the force of our loss. Third, there is bargaining. Just bring them back Lord, I’ll do anything. Fourth, there is depression, a simple despondency, lack of energy, or desire for life. Lastly, there is acceptance. This is the point we’d all wish we could skip to, because the loss becomes then a part of us, part of who we are.2 There is no guarantee that everyone will go through all the stages in order, but everyone goes through each stage to some extent. Dwelling in any of these stages save the last is asking for serious mental and emotional problems. And if you find yourself in the list above, you need to talk to someone, even if it is your local minister, to work through this debilitating grief.

Now this is why Ezekiel is so fascinating. Into this emotional maelstrom, where all is despair and loss and rejection and grief, enters God. “The heavens were opened and I saw the visions of God.”3 And not merely visions, or the “Angel of the Lord,” but wheels within wheels, cherubim with the faces of Man, Ox, Eagle, and Lion. “I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.”4 Ezekiel goes on to describe an incredible vision. This is the Lord God revealed in His glory to this lost and depressed crowd, to this one man entrusted with a simple message. “He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you. As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.”5

What God instructs Ezekiel to do is continue to warn the Israelites that unfaithfulness will lead to further destruction. We learn later that they didn’t listen, and their first destruction was better than their last. In short, Ezekiel’s message to his people from God was this, “trust me.”

I Know You’re in Pain, But Trust Me, I Can Take Care of You.

This is the message to every age, and to every man. “Trust Me.” I know you’re hurting. I know your circumstances. I know your pain, but trust me, I can take care of you and your eternity. God may not appear in whirling wheels or great and terrifying storms, but like he appeared to Elijah at Mt. Sinai, He may speak in a mere whisper, in a still small voice, just to see if you are listening. Today is a great day for listening.

1 Ezekiel 1:1a (NIV)

2 Taken from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (New York: Macmillan, 1973)

3 1:1b

4 1:4

5 2:1, 2