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Guest post: “What a hospital chaplain learned about ICU waiting when his own father died”

Copyright 2016 by Brian Williamson

hospitalwaiting

(NOTE: Brian Williamson is an experienced hospital chaplain, but recently he experienced the other side of ministry, spending many hours in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit –ICU– as his own father died. In this post, he shares his observations, in hopes that it can help those of us who visit the sick and their families, especially those in ICU.)

These are some notes I prepared from my experiences in the ICU waiting room as a family member when my father was dying. Since I work extensively in this area as a hospital chaplain, the new experience from a personal perspective has given me insights into how I can better minister to folks going through something like this. Since my observations are filled with my own feelings, they could be negatively or positively impacted by what I’m feeling and/or experiencing. I’ve offered them to my friend and co-worker, Bob Rogers to share with others. My hope is that they will be insightful and helpful to others. So, take them for what you think they’re worth.
1. ICU family members (yes, I was guilty!)  are pivoting/hinging on every little idea of their loved one getting better. You want your loved one to “be” better, so if something is “a little better” (such as a lab result, an O2 sat, blood gas, etc.) then you accentuate that and project it to everything else. This may not be the case… (“He squeezed my hand, so I know he’s getting better!” “The kidneys are looking good.” Some nurses might say, “the numbers are a little better today,” or “We turned the O2 down to 60%, so that’s a little better…” {never mind the tea-colored urine, the 9 medicines in the IV bags, the ventilator set on “C-full control” and the doctor is just hoping that you won’t have to turn it back up, etc., etc.})

2. People in the waiting room—family members, staff, pastors, etc.—tell you what to believe and what to say; and you’re usually polite enough to not slap them when they do; or to argue with them, because you know they won’t understand.

3. There is no shortage of people who want to tell you what it’s like for them. They ask you what’s going on with your loved one, but then they interrupt you to tell you “their story.” When they finish, they usually have forgotten that they haven’t heard your story.

4. Very few people really want to hear your story or talk about your memories; or what’s important to you. Fallacious clichés such as, “I know how you feel” and “I know what that’s like” are the status quo. The reality is that people in the ICU waiting room have their own pain and struggles to deal with. You feel connected to them; but, when your story starts to “go south,” they distance from you as if what you’re experiencing is contagious. If you’re loved one begins to worsen, they leave you alone and whisper to other waiting room people about what’s happening with your patient.

5. Many preachers, ministers, etc., form circles with families that block traffic in the middle of the aisles, then pray loudly—and pray, and pray and pray. Most of them leave after the prayer, and then it’s very interesting what people talk about after the minister leaves.

6. When someone is on the ventilator they have to be sedated (usually). The sedation helps keep the person relaxed so the machine can be beneficial. BUT…what I didn’t know is that every 12 hrs, the sedation has to be turned off in order to “let the person wake up a little bit.” This test helps the hospital be aware of mental changes. During the time the sedation is off, the nurse assesses the patient’s ability to respond to instructions like “squeeze my fingers,” “blink your eyes,” “wiggle your toes,” etc. In other words, you awake every 12 hrs to a tube down your throat that makes you cough and gag, you become just awake enough to know you’re not able to breathe. This can be quite punishing to the patient.

7. Silence is golden. Nurses work hard at saying the right thing and “keeping you company,” which is very special and sometimes greatly appreciated; but, I think that being quiet while being with someone is usually more valuable as their loved one is dying. One of the best questions I heard a nurse ask was, “Would you like some privacy or would you like me to stay with you a little longer?” The worst question I heard was asked by a nurse as I sat in a chair in the pod outside my dad’s room, just after his death… “Uh, you’re the chaplain, right? Well, I was wondering, “How do you feel about monogamy in marriage?”

8. Always visiting during visiting hours may not be the best idea for clergy members. Families get precious few minutes every few hours that could end up being the last minutes they have with their loved one alive. Experiment with waiting room visits followed by in-room visits. I suggest taking someone for a walk around the building, to the canteen, to the coffee shop or somewhere outside. If they ask you to “go back” with them, then go. If not, don’t.

9. There’s lots of praying going on, even though you can’t hear it.

(This is Bob again. From reading Brian’s observations, five lessons come to mind for ministry to families in ICU waiting rooms: 1. Be quiet and really listen, 2. Don’t offer pat answers, 3. Keep vocal prayers soft and short,  4. Don’t be afraid of silence, and 5. Don’t abandon them when they hurt the most. What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.)

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The right question to ask of Job

job-suffering

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

“Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10, HCSB)

Last week, I met a man who wanted to give up on life. I asked him if he knew the story of Job, from the Bible. He said he had a Bible somewhere, but had never heard of Job. So I gave him the short version of the story: Job was a good man who worshiped God, but he lost everything. Bandits stole his property, a storm killed his children, and then his skin broke out in painful sores. His wife told him, “Curse God and die.” When I said this, my new friend raised his eyebrows, and wanted to know what happened next. I explained that Job refused to curse God. Then his three friends came to comfort him, but instead of comforting him, they tried to defend God. They said Job must have sinned, and that was why God was allowing him to suffer. Job objected, saying he didn’t deserve his suffering. In the end, God spoke to Job, and restored his fortunes.

The wrong question to ask of Job

   Many people go to the book of Job looking for the answer to why people suffer. Unfortunately, the only answers they find are negative:
Job’s suffering was not because God was angry or punishing him. Bildad, one of Job’s friends, accused him of this. He implied that Job must have forgotten God, so God forgot him (Job 8:13). But Bildad was wrong! God specifically said in Job 1:8 and 2:3, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.”
Job’s suffering was not because Job sinned. Bildad said that Job’s children died because of their sin (8:3), and Zophar, another one of Job’s friends, accused Job himself of being so sinful that “God has chosen to overlook some of your sins” (11:6). But they were wrong! Job 2:10 says, “Throughout all of this Job did not sin in what he said.”
Job’s suffering was not answered by God, either. After the long debates between Job and his friends, the Lord Himself answered Job from the whirlwind in chapters 38-41. But if you read those chapters to find an answer to suffering, you will be disappointed. It’s not there. Instead, God turns the questions on those who have been asking questions. “Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,” God asks (38:4). Then the Lord lists the amazing traits of His creation, and asks if Job can explain all of that. The point is blunt: We do not know all there is to know. Only God does. We cannot understand God. As the Lord proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
So what is the answer to suffering? The Book of Job doesn’t answer that question. In fact, it’s the wrong question to ask.

The right question to ask of Job

    The question to ask is not, Why is there suffering? The question to ask is, What do suffering people need to do? The Book of Job has hope-filled answers to this question.
First, hold on to faith. Despite his losses and sorrow, Job fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh” (1:21). Later, in the middle of his debates with his friends, Job says, “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him.” This doesn’t fit with the so-called “prosperity gospel” that says if you just have faith, all will go well. No, this is a real-world faith, that holds on to God’s hand, even when it cannot see His plan.
Second, live in integrity. Satan, the old accuser before the Lord, said that Job would curse God if Job suffered. But Satan was wrong. This is one of the major points of the book. The word “integrity” is repeatedly used to describe Job. Notice the question Job’s wife asks: “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9) But Job rejects her suggestion as foolish, saying, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (2:10) We read in James 2:2-4 to consider it joy when we face trials, because God uses it to produce maturity in us. It has been my observation as a hospital chaplain, that suffering generally reveals the attitude that is already in a person. I’ve seen people handle horrible physical problems with grace and peace, while others with lesser physical ailments complain and are bitter. We choose how we will respond. Job set a standard, choosing to live in integrity.
Third, hope in the Savior. One of the greatest cries of faith comes in the midst of the greatest pain, when Job says, “Even now my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is in the heights!… But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh” (16:19; 19:25-26). Long before Jesus Christ came, Job caught a vision of the Redeemer, who would die on the cross for our sins, and be our advocate before God the Father (Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5).
There is an fable about a poor man who had a valuable horse. People told him that he should sell his horse, so he wouldn’t be poor, but he refused. Then the horse ran away, and the people asked, “Why didn’t you sell it when you could? The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse ran away.” Later, the horse returned, with 20 wild horses, and the man suddenly became the owner of 21 valuable horses. This time they said, “We were wrong! Now we know why the horse ran away; it was to bring you riches later.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse returned with more horses.” Then the man’s son broke his leg, trying to tame one of the wild horses. The people said, “Why did you keep the wild horses? Now your son has a broken leg.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is my son broke his leg.” Then their country went to war against a larger, more powerful nation, and the army came to their town, forcing all of the young men to join the army, except for the son of the man with the wild horses. The people said, “Now we know why his leg was broken, to spare him from dying in the war.” Once again, the man said, “Don’t say that. We don’t know why. All we can say is my son did not have to go to war.”
Thus the question we need to ask is not why? but what? Not, Why do people suffer? but What do suffering people need to do? Even if we knew the answer to why, it would not help us do anything different. But the answer to the second question gives us hope and purpose that we can put into action. Because our Redeemer lives, we even after our skin is destroyed, we shall see God!

Twisted scripture: “by His stripes we are healed”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Isaiah53.5

(NOTE: This is the fifth blog post in a series on scriptures commonly misinterpreted.)

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5, NKJV

I often meet people praying for the sick who claim Isaiah 53:5 as a promise that God will heal any sickness if they pray for it in faith. Their logic is straightforward: the prophet said that the Messiah would be crucified for our sins, “and by His stripes we are healed.” Thus, they conclude, the verse is saying that Jesus’ cross has two effects: first, Christ paid for our sins, and second, He also heals our diseases, if we pray in faith. After all, they reason, didn’t Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well?” (Mark 5:34).
Is this really what Isaiah 53:5 is teaching? Does it teach a two-part effect of the cross: a healing from both sin and sickness? This interpretation fails to take into consideration the kind of Hebrew poetic writing used here, often called Hebrew parallelism. That is, the Hebrew poet frequently says the same thing twice in slightly different ways, for emphasis. We see this in many psalms, such as, “While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have being” (Psalm 146:2). If this is Hebrew parallelism, then the second part means the same thing as the first part, and the first part says the Messiah was wounded for our transgressions, not our sickness. But what if this is not Hebrew parallelism?

Here is where we need to apply a very important but often neglected principle of Bible interpretation: scripture itself is the best interpreter of other scripture. So what does the rest of the Bible say on this subject?
The New Testament frequently discusses the effect of the cross of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:24-25 speaks of how Jesus’ blood justifies us from sin, redeems us from sin, and presents Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin. Ephesians 1:7 says His blood gives us forgiveness from our sin. Colossians 1:20-22 says Jesus made peace through the blood of His cross, in order to present you “holy and blameless” before God. Many other scriptures talk about how the cross of Christ offers salvation from sin, but nowhere does the New Testament say that the cross of Christ brings healing from sickness.
Is Isaiah 53:5 directly quoted anywhere else in the Bible? Yes, it is, in 1 Peter 2:24. Here it is:
“Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
If Isaiah 53:5 was intended to be a prophecy that Jesus’ cross would heal from sickness as well as sin, then when Peter quoted that very same verse, surely Peter would have mentioned the effect of the cross on sickness. Yet it is not there. Read the verse again. It says Jesus “bore our sins in His own body…” It continues, “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.” After making reference to sin twice, Peter then quoted Isaiah 53:5: “by whose stripes you were healed.” There is no question what kind of healing Peter understood Isaiah to mean. He already said it twice: healing from our sins.
Remember this important principle: the best interpreter of scripture is other scripture, not a human preacher or teacher. Should we pray for the sick? Yes, we are commanded to do so (Matthew 10:8; James 5:14). Is God able to heal the sick? Yes, and He often chooses to do so, although not always (Acts 5:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). However, does Isaiah 53:5 teach that the cross of Christ is a promise of physical healing for us to claim in faith? Based on the interpretation of scripture itself, we can only conclude that it is a promise for one type of healing– the greatest kind of all– from our sin.

Twisted scripture: “God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

WomanOverworked

(NOTE: This is the second in a series of blog posts I am doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.)

As a hospital chaplain, I seek to guide patients to find the spiritual strength to handle their problems. After hearing their story, I sometimes ask, “How are you handling that?” Many people will reply, “Well, God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle.” Others will say, “The Bible says God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.” That sounds nice, but it’s not what the Bible says! People get this idea from a misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here is what the entire verse says [italics mine]:

“No temptation has overtake you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV

Many people seem to think that this verse says that God will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can bear. But read the verse again. Is that what it says? No! It says God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. Some people correctly argue that the Greek word can be translated “tested” or “tried,” instead of “tempted.” However, almost all translations prefer the word “tempted” in this verse. Why? Because of the context. A rule of thumb for Bible interpretation is to read the context. So when we read the whole chapter, we see that 1 Corinthians 10 is about temptation. The first part of the chapter gives a series of warnings against falling into disobedience through unbelief. Verse 12 warns, “So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.” Fall into what? Temptation. And verse 14 says the solution to the temptation is to “flee.” So the context of 1 Corinthians 10:13 shows that it is about temptation.

But if 1 Corinthians 10:13 does not say God won’t put on us more than we can bear, do other verses teach this? Ironically, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” In other words, God put more on him than he could handle! But he goes on to say in the next verse, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The scripture frequently says that when we cannot handle things, God can give us the strength we need (See 1 Samuel 30:6; Philippians 4:13).  (Unfortunately, Philippians 4:13 is also misinterpreted, and we’ll discuss how in the next blog post.)

Here is the bottom line: God is not saying that we won’t face more than we can handle, but He is saying that He will give us the spiritual strength to handle whatever we face.

Who Needs My Kindness?

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

KindnessThe fifth fruit of the Holy Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22, is kindness. We know what kindness is, but have we stopped to think about who needs to receive our kindness? Undoubtedly, everybody needs it, but scripture names some specific groups of people in particular need of kindness:

1. My wife. Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them.” Sadly, men tend to come as across harsh with their wives, often without realizing it. The stronger male physique and deeper voice of the male can be intimidating, which is why 1 Peter 3:7 commands, “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature, yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

2. My fellow believers. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another.”

3. The poor. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Kindness to the poor is a loan to the LORD.” Jesus tells a parable of righteous sheep and unrighteous goats, and the distinguishing mark of the sheep is how they show kindness, particularly to the poor. Christ said to the sheep that they were blessed to inherit the kingdom, “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink… I was naked and you clothed Me…” (Matthew 25:35-36). In the same passage, Jesus adds three other people groups who need our kindness:

4. Strangers (Matthew 25:35). This is an often overlooked theme of the Old Testament Law, to always show kindness to strangers and foreigners. Deuteronomy 10:19 says, ‘You also must love the foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Many Americans who are unkind to immigrants seem to forget that most of our ancestors originally came from another continent.

5. The sick. (Matthew 25:36). The head chaplain at the hospital where I work recently said to the other chaplains, “Guys, remember when you have a bad day, that our worst day is better than the best day of most of our patients.” When people are seriously sick, their worlds are turned upside-down, and their emotions are on edge. How they need our kindness.

6. Prisoners (Matthew 25:36). Most of us find this last group the most difficult to show kindness. After all, if they’re in prison, don’t they deserve their punishment? Probably, but maybe not. However, for Jesus, the issue is not what they deserve, but what they need. All of us deserve punishment for our sin, for we have all broken God’s laws. But we need grace. Let’s show it to those in prison, as well.

Mark Twain said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  The Bible teaches that it is especially the most vulnerable people in society, such as the deaf and blind, the poor, the sick, and those in prison, to whom we should show extra kindness.

So instead of asking who deserves our kindness today, let’s ask, Who needs my kindness today?

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(If you see an ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over the ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)

How do you pray when you are desperate for help?

BlindManHealed

Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

How do you pray when you are desperate for help?
Matthew 9:27 says, “As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, shouting, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!”
Notice three things about their prayer:
1) They refused to give up. They followed Him, shouting! Luke 18:1 reminds us to always pray and not give up.
2) They made a simple plea. They just said, “Have mercy on us.” Your prayer does not have to be complex or eloquent.
3) They recognized Jesus’ authority to heal. By calling Him “Son of David,” they were confessing that He was the Messiah, who was to be a descendant of David. In verse 28, when Jesus asked them if they believed He could heal them, they said, “Yes, Lord.” The miracle of healing the blind never happened in the Old Testament, but Isaiah 35:5 prophesied the blind would be healed by the Messiah. In our times of desperate need, do we believe Jesus has the ability to do in our lives what nobody ever did before?