hospital call

“Maybe I need to rethink belonging to this church.”

“One of my old pastors told me a church isn’t a building. It’s a group of people. And I have my group of people at work. We watch a pastor on tv together. That’s good enough!”

That’s what she told me. Never mind that what she said meant she didn’t belong to the same congregation as her family. Never mind Jesus invited her to the feast of Communion only in a local congregation, not through television. Never mind that her tv preacher was a false teacher. Never mind that I was her shepherd calling her back.

It didn’t matter what Scripture I proclaimed. It didn’t matter at all – she didn’t need church.

Never mind that she constantly complained that her son didn’t come to church. (I wonder where he learned that?) Never mind that she was constantly so overstressed that she needed Jesus to calm her down and make her let go of her stress. Never mind that Jesus commands us to gather together.

Sigh.

Well, as might guess, it wasn’t a fun conversation for either of us. She left, telling me, “Maybe I need to think about whether or not this is the right church for me.”

Oh, the next day?

Her brother (also a member) was in the hospital and about to undergo emergency surgery. “He’s about to go into pre-op, so you probably can’t get here in time. Just say a prayer, ok?”

I grabbed my coat and drove to the hospital. I’m known in this particular hospital, and if the patient allows it, I’m allowed to go all the way in until the actual operating theater. When I arrive, he’s still in his room, surrounded by family.

Including that woman.

“Pastor! You got here fast!” she says.

I look at her. “A tv pastor will never visit you in the hospital.”

“You’re going to be mean about this, aren’t you?”

“Yep.”

And I turned to the man in pain and shared the Gospel with him. I visited him every day until he went home – and I’ll do a follow-up this week at his home. (I make it my policy, whenever possible, to visit a member every day they’re in the hospital. It might be only a five-minute visit, but I’m there with them! There are definite positives to pastoring a smaller congregation!) I shared Jesus and comfort from him at every visit.

See, God has given us a great blessing through television and the internet to share the Gospel with others. But there are things that cannot come through a screen. A personal visit when you’re in pain? No matter how close you might be to that person on the other side of the screen, they can’t hold your hand as you pray together, and they can’t sit with you in your pain and simply be there.

But I can’t help but feel God timed this all to happen just right to show that woman… yeah, you do need a local congregation.

I just hope he gets through to her. Personally, I’m not confident – she’s a stubborn woman, she is! – but if anyone can get through, it’s God!

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“He’ll be there.”

Pastors have been making sick calls for a long time…

One of my congregation members is having surgery today. I knew it was coming and called yesterday to double-check the time so I could be there for a devotion before the surgery. I usually stick around during the operations like this so I can give support and spend time with family. If there’s no family (or they’re distinctly not interested in having me around), I’ll simply bring my laptop and get some work done while I’m waiting.

ANYWAY… I called yesterday to double-check the time of the surgery. Good thing I did! The surgery had been moved to seven this morning, as opposed to late morning/early afternoon.

As I was talking with the member about the operation, she revealed something to me that’s totally unexpected.

Apparently, Sunday she was talking with another congregation member. At that point she already knew about the earlier surgery time. (I was gone on vacation until Monday morning, so I didn’t get the chance to talk at church.) She mentioned that she would be in the operation early, so she didn’t expect me to be there.

“Oh, he’ll be there,” the other congregation member assured.

“But he doesn’t have to be,” she answered.

“He’ll be there. That’s just the type of guy he is.” (more…)

“Why won’t he let me go Home?”

There is nothing like gazing into the face of intense pain to make one feel inadequate. I’m not saying my faith is shaken; God is still God, and Jesus has still forgiven my sins. He still promises that all things work for the best, and these promises are good and true and God keeps them. Truth doesn’t change just because someone you love is in pain — but it can make it so hard to articulate that truth in a way that seems meaningful.

Several of my members were ambulanced to hospitals this past week. This is nothing new; sin means people get hurt and sick. I’ve been to the hospitals here in town many times and know my way around fairly well. I’ve delivered any number of devotions at hospital bedsides and simply held hands as people groaned in pain.

This weekend I faced something new to me (though I know pretty much every pastor faces it sooner or later): A Christian woman who longed, ached to simply go home. Her husband has preceded her to heaven. She knows her children are in good standing through the miracle of faith. She is in pain. Her body is shutting down. She has lived a full, full life and now longs to be with Jesus. Through tears she asked me, “Why won’t he let me go Home?”

I don’t have an answer for her. I don’t know why God has made the decision for her to remain here longer. I know that it brings glory to God. I know that his choice is best for this woman, her family, the doctors, and her congregation. I know that God in his mercy has prepared a place for her in heaven and it awaits her arrival. I know all these things… but no human can say why God has elected to allow her to remain in pain on this earth this much longer.

I left the hospital in tears. That’s not normal for me. I know the goodness of my God. I deliver that love whenever and wherever I can. That’s not to say that I leave people in pain smiling and laughing for joy, but usually I’m pretty even-keel.

Not that day.

Our prayer that day was simple: “Father, we commit her soul to you. Do with it what is best and give peace to her in your decision.”

God knows what he’s doing. My bumbling doesn’t change that. I really wish I was better at communicating his love at such a time, though.