Publication: Pastoral Letter, April 2000
Dear Friend in Christ:
As some of you may know, I had open-heart surgery on January 21, 2000. I am writing this letter to you a little more than one month into my recovery, and so far, I am doing well.
For the past year, I have had digestion problems that were in fact caused by a lack of circulation to my stomach. After doctors had put me through several tests and examinations, I was recommended to a cardiologist. I realized that I had some blockage, though I was hoping it was not critical. My cholesterol had been rather high and we had some family history of heart trouble on both sides of the family. In fact, a few weeks earlier, I had attended the funeral of an uncle who had died suddenly of heart failure.
My cardiologist recommended a Nuclear Stress Test – a four-hour exam – and it revealed significant blockage. He recommended an immediate heart catheterization. I wanted to put it off at least a few days, because I was scheduled to fly to San Diego the next day. But at his urging, and after prayer and consultation, I elected to go ahead with the procedure immediately.
The catheterization showed two completely blocked arteries, a third artery with 95% blockage, and a fourth artery that was also significantly blocked. I went into surgery immediately for quadruple bypass. The surgery lasted for 2 & 1/2 hours, and it was, according to the doctors, a complete success. I did not have any heart damage, for which I am deeply grateful. My doctor told me that an attack could have been fatal, due to the amount of blockage.
I want to testify that from the moment I decided to have a catheterization until now; I have had complete peace. God has been very gracious in assuring me of His presence and His help. I am deeply thankful to the many people who remembered us in their prayers and have shown practical support during this season.
By the time you receive this letter, I expect to have resumed a normal schedule of travel and ministry. However, this situation has certainly had a profound effect upon me: canceling two months of meetings, watching life go on without my active involvement, relying on others, being conscious of my heartbeat, being less spontaneous in responding to the telephone, or other things that occur around me are just some of the adjustments. And one of the big adjustments is that I read the labels on everything that I eat.
Back in the 1960s, I began reading a chapter of the book of Proverbs each day. There is wisdom in every verse. One of my very favorite passages is Proverbs 4:20-23. It tells us to keep God’s Word in our heart, for His Word is life and health to our whole body. Verse 23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.”
All life flows from the heart. Of course, for many years, I interpreted that in a spiritual sense; I should keep God’s Word in my mind so that my spiritual life will be healthy. And that is a true interpretation. But there is another principle of interpretation that says, “First the natural, then the spiritual.” In other words, before we can understand the spiritual application, we need to understand the natural principle. If I am going to do a good job tending my spiritual heart, I need to first do a good job of tending my physical heart. The spiritual principle is built on understanding the natural analogy. A vague understanding of the natural principle will leave us with a vague understanding of the spiritual principle.
The writer of Proverbs is pointing out something that I am not sure the physicians of his day understood: it is from the physical heart that life flows to the entire body. If the body is going to be healthy, the physical heart must be properly fed and cared for.
There are many ways that the physical heart must be tended. Certainly, meditating on the Word of God is healthy for the physical heart. But there are other things that are also good for one’s heart. I had not paid attention to some of those things such as diet, exercise, and rest. Nor had I paid sufficient attention to the condition of my blood. My cholesterol was too high. If the doctor had not insisted, I would not have watched over my heart with all diligence. In fact, I could have died, and that would have affected the spiritual side of my life as well as the physical.
We cannot control our heredity, and that certainly is an important factor. But we can control what we eat, how we exercise, and how we rest, “with all diligence.” I do not know if I will always be diligent in these regards, but I do know that open-heart surgery has made a great impression on me, and it has affected the way I look at my physical life, and hopefully the way that I look at my spiritual life.
- I have learned that at almost 63 years of age, my body is not invincible or immortal.
- I have learned that heart surgery is no longer what happens to other people.
- I have learned that I must keep my physical heart with all diligence.
- I have lost almost 30 pounds, and am trying to be accountable to my doctor, who fortunately cared enough to tell me the truth.
THE SPIRITUAL HEART
Now back to the spiritual heart. It is possible that through neglect we can allow our spiritual heart to become blocked. We can fail to watch our spiritual diet, fail to forgive, fail to do our spiritual exercises, or fail to find the measure of rest that we need in Christ. We can get to a place where the “life-flow” from Christ to us and from us to others is blocked. When that happens, we are heading for a crisis.
What causes blockage in the spiritual heart? Sometimes, that is more difficult to diagnose, and difficult to face when we do diagnose it. But if I had to choose one word, it would be the word “indulgence.” The same word that characterizes physical blockage, I believe characterizes spiritual blockage. It is allowing our desires and circumstances to dominate our best interests. The Bible calls this carnality. Carnality is feeding the flesh, to its own detriment. It is giving the flesh what it wants, but to its own destruction. It seems paradoxical that the things we enjoy the most often harm us.
For instance, I enjoy eating foods with a “high fat” content. I also enjoy foods with a “high cholesterol content,” such as fried shrimp, fried oysters, and crabs. I really do enjoy seafood. And I used to enjoy foods that were high in sugar – certain cereals and desserts. I would often indulge myself, because those kinds of foods comforted me. Now I know that everything that tastes good and feels good is not good for you. Understanding that is called self-denial. We learn from the scriptures that indulging ourselves can be dangerously destructive, and denying ourselves can be healthy and life-producing.
How strange it seems…the things we enjoy are often bad; the things we dislike are often good. It is a matter of changing how we see things. The key to health, both physical and spiritual, is keeping the truth in our hearts, living in the reality of God’s Word, denying ourselves, and giving to others what He has given to us.
Self-indulgence, self-love, pride, a loss of discipline, and ignorance of God’s truth can cause spiritual crises, and even bring spiritual death. But the good news is that open-heart surgery is preventable in most cases, if we keep watch over our hearts. However, it is also good news that one can have “open-heart surgery,” when necessary. God can send someone to us who will give us the Word with integrity, and cut away the blockage that prevents us from having a good life-flow.
I would encourage all of us to get two check-ups; one for the physical heart, and one for the spiritual heart. Here’s to our health in both areas, and please know that I deeply appreciate your prayers on my behalf and for my family and staff.
I want to share some joyful news with you. Our daughter, Charlyn, has been working toward having a home for needy children in San Jose, Costa Rica, for nearly six years. She has worked hard to learn the language and culture, and she has worked with many children in various ministries. But up until now, she has not had a release from the government to actually have children living in her home.
Recently an eight-year old boy walked into a police station and said that he had no place to go. The local officials called Charlyn to tell her that she would get a child the next day. When the officials saw where the little boy lived, they also found four other children from infancy to 10 years old with no adult supervision at home. Upon further investigation, the children were believed to be all from the same mother, but each one had a different father. Charlyn was asked to take all five children. Soon after, two more children in desperate need were assigned to Charlyn’s home.
Now she has seven children who came to her with no shoes, no clothes to wear, no school supplies, and no medical attention. She has received these children as an answer to her prayers and her commitment to serve the Lord in this way. She is joyful at the possibilities. This is our first great breakthrough. We want to thank all of you who have stood with her in prayer and financial support.
As many of you know, she will be getting married May 28, and will begin marriage with seven foster children! Her husband-to-be, Enrique, has been working with Charlyn for a number of years in ministering to children, and he is very committed to this work. He is currently finishing his education with a specialization in computers.
ONE PERSON AT A TIME
CSM is all about extending Christ’s Kingdom in the entire world – one person at a time. Like these children, sometimes they are added several at a time! But it takes one person who is willing to share the life of Christ.
I want to teach the Word of God in a way that affects people practically – people who will then go and affect others practically. Through these kind of people, the Living Word goes where we cannot go in person.
Even during my recovery, I have been so blessed by reports from our friends in Asia, Europe, Africa, India, Latin America, the Philippines, and here in North America. Thank you for supporting us in our mission, and thank you for making this your mission!
Scripture References: Proverbs 4