Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

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Anyone Seen Lazarus Lately

I was studying the book of John, and came across this in chapter 11, verse 33:  33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled.

Then, in verses 35-37, the Lord’s humanity is beautifully depicted.  The words are important.  He was more than sympathetic.  He was deeply moved.  He felt their pain and grief even though He would soon relieve it.  Look at this:

35 Then Jesus wept.  36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much He loved him!”  37 But some said, “This Man healed a blind man.  Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?”

The question has been asked since time began.  “Why didn’t God …?”  You can fill in the blank.  Or, “Where was God when ….?”

God hates death.  Death was and is the wage of sin, and it terrorizes the human family.  Sin wasn’t God’s idea, and the impact sin has on our world and our individual lives wasn’t God’s desire.  His desire has and will always be a loving relationship with each one of us.  But sin did come into the world, in spite of God’s warnings.  (We won’t go there now, but have you ever thought why the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was put in the Garden.  In a phrase, “No tree, no choice, no freedom to choose, no life [only existence as a puppet or robot], and no real love.”  Think about it, and we’ll talk about it some other day.)

Paul wrote in Romans 3:2323 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  Then he wrote in Romans 6:2323 For the wages of sin is death …”

Eventually Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus.  But even after being miraculously raised from the grave, Lazarus would still be held in death’s power.  He would die again.  We know that.  Has anyone seen Lazarus lately?  Where’s Lazarus?

Jesus is not a passive bystander in this Death narrative of Lazarus … or of the human race.  He came to destroy the works of the devil.  The worst result of Saran’s work is Death.  This enemy (Death) and Jesus are standing face-to-face in this chapter.   And see it!!  He is deeply moved.  And He’s angry.  But He’s not at Lazarus, or his sisters, or the mourners.  His strong feelings are reserved for Death, and behind Death, Satan.

Take a look at the original language version of John 11:33.  Iησους ουν ως ειδεν αυτην κλαιουσαν και τους συνελθοντας αυτη ιουδαιους κλαιοντας ενεβριμησατο τω πνευματι και εταραξενεαυτον

Enebrimesato (ενεβριμησατο) is from the classical Greek, and it is a word used to describe the snort of a horse in war or in a race.  When it was used for humans it was usually translated as outrage, fury, or anger!  It’s a word that’s typically used to indicate an outburst of anger.  When you add the word etaraxen (εταραξεν), Jesus was not only outraged but “troubled!”

And He was troubled heauton (‘eαυτον) in Himself!  No outside force is acting on Him.  He was stirring Himself, from way down deep inside … down in His spirit.  He was stirring Himself to battle Lazarus’ enemy, Death.

In John 11, the long struggle between good and evil comes into focus.   The many years of Satan’s assault on the human race troubled Jesus in His spirit and He desired to put an end to the horrors of Death which plagued and plague the Human Family.

The war … the conflict began in the Garden of Eden!   The struggle involves every man, woman and child from Adam on.   No wonder the Lord groaned and snorted and was troubled!   He feels the sorrows and pains of His children … His friends … His followers … and the whole human race.  In effect, Mary and Martha’s trouble became His own.

Friends feel each other’s pain, but Jesus is more than a friend!  He took and still takes upon Himself the sorrows of all of us!   Take a good look at Isaiah 53:3 – 6: 

He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.  We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.  4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;  it was our sorrows that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!  5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.  6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Lazarus’ enemy, Death, was also Jesus’ enemy!   But Lazarus, Martha and Mary could not stand on their own before Satan and Death.   They had no power to stand against the power of such an enemy.  Satan’s opposition to Lazarus was another of his efforts to destroy God’s creative purposes.   The enemy of man is in reality the opponent of God!

Satan uses darkness, deception and death.   Jesus combats him by the power of the Resurrection.

The next time you wonder, “Where was God when this innocent child was abused?” or “Where is God while all these people in Somalia are ruthlessly starved by warlords?” or “Where is God in my battle with cancer?” and a thousand other questions … read John 11.  God is there!  Present.  And His solution to Death and evil and disease is always the same:  Life!  Resurrection!  But resurrection and life may not come in the way you thought, or even hoped.  But it will come!

www.Dancing-With-The-Healer.com IS UP AND RUNNING

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After working two 20 hour shifts to make my self-imposed deadline, all I can say is, “Finally!”

Check out http://www.dancing-with-the-healer.com

Tell me what you think

Lowell’s World!

I’ve been working on “Lowell’s World” – a web site that tells more of my story.  It has photos of trips and events, a brief bio, a link to the Vicki-Dancing With the Healer site, and some fun stuff.  I hope you’ll visit it.

This weekend I’m speaking at a church … actually preaching … for the first time in a long while.  Last November my pastor asked Becky and me to share our story at a special Thanksgiving day service.  That was fun!  But the last time I preached was last June – so it’s been almost a year.  Please pray for me tomorrow – April 20th.  All I want to do is “deliver the mail,” not pursue my own agenda or satisfy my ego but deliver the message God wishes to communicate to the congregation I’m visiting.

As far as my future as a pastor … that’s on indefinite hold.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be the lead pastor of a congregation again.  Most likely I’ll be an associate, serving alongside a lead pastor.  I’d love to be someone’s go-to guy, or “man Friday” (see Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe), but I’m waiting.  Who knows what I’ll be doing a month or a year from now.  Hopefully I’ll be finished with the creative side of Dancing With The Healer!!

Love to all!

April 2008 Update – Dancing With The Healer

Vicki QuallsFor all those who have been following the progress of my writing “The Vicki Book,” I have some news.  I’m really close to finishing the “creative stage” of the process.  Soon I’ll be entering the dreaded “editing stage,” where everything I’ve written is on the block.

I’d like to ask my blog readers for some input.  Please comment on the process I’m going to outline below – one that I believe I’ll follow in order to bring the book-writing to its proper conclusion.

Before I share that process I want to thank Caroline Eitzen-Cocciardi AGAIN for her encouragement to “stay in your creative mind, Lowell,” and not give in to the temptation to constantly go back to what I had already written and edit it (which I had done, time and again until she gave me her wise counsel).

I shared last month that my goal was to have the manuscript done before I went on vacation to Maui.  I didn’t make it.  Plain and simple.  But the goal helped push me like never before.  Now, I’ve set another goal – one that I think I will make.  I’m working on the last 75 pages of Vicki’s journal.  I’ve been able to do about 10 a day (on a good day).  Given that, I’m inside two weeks of coming to the end of the creative stage.  Then, I’ll read the manuscript from start to finish, trying to find any grammar/spelling mistakes, typos, and breakdowns in the flow of the story.  That’s probably another week or two.  Then, the gutsy part.

My intention is to share the manuscript with several close friends who have a writer’s background.  Some are published authors.  Others are journalism majors and masters.  One or two of my pastor-buddies will be asked to look over the theological content, and a few readers will be people who lived through much of what Vicki wrote about – family and friends.  I’ll be asking all these folks if they would evaluate my style, the flow of the story/book, and its content.

Whew!

Like I said at the start, anyone out there in the internet world is welcome to comment on the process I’ve outlined above.

And for those who have been praying for me and the book … please continue to do so.  I’ve seen that when I’VE been in prayer and close communion with the Lord, the process of writing the book becomes mystical and supernatural, and in turn, I’m able to produce much more than normally possible.

I could use some encouragement right now.  I’m tired.  I feel emotionally spent at the end of every day.  Thank God for Becky!  She’s been such a supporter and helper.  I can’t think of a day when she hasn’t been there for me.  But most of the time she’s been a single (lone) voice.  Is there anyone out there who could join her?

Well, back to writing the book.

By the way, the blogging has rarely (I can’t say never) interrupted my writing the book.  Actually, blogging has served to break tension, relieve emotions, and strangely – rest my mind.  Blogging has been like having a conversation with a friend who’s only purpose has been to listen as I vent or wade through issues that distract me.

Love to all.

“Pain Can Be My Friend” (an excerpt from Dancing With The Healer)

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Pain takes a mighty toll on our spirit.  Pain is more than a physical phenomenon, but is somehow tied to every part of our being.  Having done carpentry (not well) many times, I believe I’m an expert of sorts.  Instead of driving a 16 penny nail into the wood, I’ve pounded my thumb nail with the hammer.  My thumb nail was physically damaged, but the pain went from my head to my toes, disabling my mind.  Time stood still.

The great English philosopher C. S. Lewis wrote a book entitled The Problem Of Pain.  Lewis poses the following argument from the beginning of the book:  “‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’  This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.”

Pain will make you question whether or not God is good.  Pain will cause you to question His love for mankind.

Lewis tackles the problem of pain by pointing out that because God is good and powerful, He gave mankind the gift of choice – and man’s choices open the door to pain.  Only a Being that is almighty can GIVE such a gift, and only a loving Being would think to give the gift of choice – that is, freedom to act on one’s perceived best interests in one’s own way.

Lewis spends much of the book addresses choice, goodness, love, power and ultimately pain.  In speaking about God’s goodness he states, “Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.  On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil.  What seems to us good many therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to be evil may not be evil.”

That is an arresting idea.  The Bible puts it this way:  “His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.”  He and we are “other.”  Contrary to the ancient Eastern mystics, Joseph Smith, and more modern New Age thinkers, what He is we are not, nor can we become what He is … if God is the God that is revealed in the Bible.  If you have come to believe that the Bible’s God is not God, then you may wish to read another book besides this one, because Vicki and I firmly believe that THE God is the God of the Old and New Testaments.

And so we believe that this biblical God is wiser than we are, more loving than we are, and “other” than we are.  He is transcendent – beyond us.

C. S. Lewis arrives at this conclusion after examining the nature of THE God, and taking the reader logically through the arguments that He is good and almighty:  Pain rouses us to understand that “all is not well,” but there is One who invades our painful existence will “healing in His wings,” and rescues us from the consequences of our unwise choices, and the fact that because of choice, the planet on which we live is fallen.  The conclusion of Lewis, and the concluding statements of the Bible lead us to this truth:  Pain will not be done away with on Earth, but in Heaven.  So Paul writes, “ … the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” when we cross the threshold of Heaven, and come, literally into the presence of the Almighty.

Here, and now, we have pain.  Then, and there, we will not be in pain – not in His presence.  That is a Christian belief, and is so because it is Christ-centered.  Jesus said, “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.’

“Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?’  [And] Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”[1]

The “Father’s House” and “the place” that is being prepared for us is Heaven, and there is no sickness, disease, pain, sin, or evil there.

Pain will make you forget about the promise of Heaven.  Pain reveals weakness, and shows us gaps in our faith.  As I’ve said before, anyone can have “faith” when everything is going great.  It’s when the going gets tough that our faith, weak or strong, is revealed to US.  We come to know where we are on the faith scale.  God already knows, and He’ll allow pain to inform us of what He already knows.

Pain is also a tool, or weapon, that God’s enemy – Satan – uses to serve his purpose, and that is, to separate us from God.  He hopes that we will turn our pain into anger, and our anger into distance from God.  Satan’s greatest tactic for building a wall of separation between us and God is the lie that God withholds good things from us.  Satan used that ploy in the garden, when it came to “the knowledge of good and evil” that could be acquired by eating God-forbidden fruit, and he uses pain to convince us that God is still holding out on us – this time, comfort and healing.

It’s important, then, to note that Vicki did something brilliant, and different than most, when she turned her pain-filled anger toward the cancer and Satan.  In Vicki’s case, Satan’s ploy backfired.  Vicki didn’t turn away from God, but toward Him.  As she said on different occasions, “Pain can be my friend.”

 


[1] John 14:1-6

Under No Delusions

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When I’m involved in a writing project, or preparing for a speaking engagement, I’ll try to find time to do a very worthwhile psychological and spiritual exercise.  I’ll do “a personal gut check.”  Because I want my motives for doing what I do to be as pure as they can be, I want to determine what’s going on in my heart.

This idea of the personal gut check comes to us from Ancient Greece.  According to Pausanias, the following aphorism (short, pithy truthful saying) was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and this aphorism is attributed to at least six ancient Greek sages (but the one I lean toward is Socrates).  It says:  “Know yourself” (Greek: γνωθι σεαυτόν).   In Latin, the aphorism is generally given as nosce te ipsum.

In a discussion of moderation and self-awareness, the Roman poet Juvenal quotes the phrase in Greek, and states that the precept descended de caelo (from heaven) (Satire 11.27).  I think it’s a heavenly idea, too.  I think God wants us to engage in self-examination from time to time.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul wrote that we should “examine” ourselves before we take Communion.

The saying “Know thyself” may refer by extension to the ideal of understanding human behavior, morals, and thought, because ultimately to understand oneself is to understand other humans as well.  However, the ancient Greek philosophers thought that no man can ever comprehend the human spirit and thought thoroughly, so it would have been almost inconceivable to know oneself fully.  Therefore, the saying may refer to a less ambitious ideal, such as knowing one’s own habits, morals, temperament, ability to control anger, and other aspects of human behavior that we struggle with on a daily basis.

One year ago I was sitting on Alii Kahekili Nui Ahumonu Beach, near Kaanapali.  You can see why most of the non-Hawaiian locals call it Airport Beach.  Alii is a beautiful stretch of sand on the island paradise of Maui, and while I was sunning I was reading The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis.  

I was doing some research for the book I’m writing (“Dancing With the Healer;” see DWTH references in this blogsite), and that day I was comparing my writing with that of Lewis’.  I did some self-examination – a personal gut check that I referred to earlier.  Was I setting out to write a best seller, or produce a work that would elevate me in the eyes of people?  Was I writing for money?

That why I wrote the following in the flyleaf of Lewis’ book:

I’m under no illusions.  What I have written so far is not profound.  You want profound?  Read C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed or Kurtz and Ketcham’s The Spirituality of Imperfection.

What I have written is a story, told by an average storyteller.  My preferred style of storytelling is verbal, but because I’m producing a book I’ve tried my best to write like I talk.  

Because I try to keep my audience with me when I’m speaking, I pause from time to time so those listening can catch up.  How do you do that – pause for effect – when you’re writing.  Ah!  I’ll adopt a style, well-spoken of or not, that will cause the reader to hesitate for just a moment so I can catch my breath.  I’ll use ellipses … those magical three dots that allow the reader to take a break, mid-thought.

What I like about writing stories as opposed to telling/talking a story is the opportunity to rewrite.  A rewrite is an author’s “do over.”  It allows the writer to edit, to clarify, and to amplify his thoughts.

The goal of the storyteller, I am told, is to engage the listener, or reader in the case of a book, and hold their attention until they “get it,” that is, they GET what you’re trying to say.  I want my readers to understand, to grasp my meaning.

But here’s the rub:  no reader can fully understand the writer’s meaning.  Not fully.  That’s true in the case of Dancing With the Healer.  I’m endeavoring to tell two stories, actually – my story and Vicki’s story.  Our stories interwoven.  And both stories are complex.

Vicki died.  She’s gone “to be with the Lord.”  She can’t tell her story verbally, except in bits and pieces via a few MP3s, CDs, and DVDs.  And yet she left behind some remarkable “things” that help her tell her story.  These things are proof that she truly (and fully) LIVED.  

Brandon and Chris, our sons, are proof that she lived and loved.  And then there are photos, and friendships.  And there’s me – a man changed and enriched by her life and love.  

And there are five little booklets.  Journals.  Beginning in 1982, Vicki faithfully recorded her experiences, thoughts, and prayers.  Her journals are very intimate, and they are proof that she truly lived.

Vicki eventually decided that she wanted her journals shared.  In 1982 she didn’t write for anyone but herself, but as her life was coming to a close she and I talked about not only sharing her thoughts and experiences with our family, but with friends … and then with anyone who would care to hear what she had to say.  

My role, as storyteller, is to stay true to the promise that I made to Vicki in the Winter of 2002.  She asked me to help make sharing her journals possible.  She asked me to “fill in the blanks,” comment on the context of her journal entries, and put it all into a readable format.

Humbly, I’m trying to keep that promise.  I’m doing my best.  I’m trying to tell the story … our stories … as honestly and transparently as I can.  If anyone chooses to read Dancing With the Healer, my hope is they come away from the reading sometimes challenged, sometimes refreshed, and always a little closer to God.

Why I’m Writing DWTH

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I have been a pastor, or engaged in some form of specialized ministry since 1971, so when I let everyone know I was going to resign from Trinity Assembly of God in 2005, it caught my family and friends off guard.

“What will you do, and where will you do it?” were the questions I heard most often, and my answer was, “I’m going to sell my home, move to Hawaii, write a very special book, and find time to write some articles for pastoral trade journals.”

Not many had a problem with the idea of me moving to Hawaii, and several put in the common request when someone announces their intention to move to paradise: “Need any help?” When I said to one guy, “Yeah, you can help me get my house in shape so I can put it on the market,” he smiled and walked away laughing. “Qualls, you’re such a tease.” But I wasn’t kiddin’.

My plan after leaving TAG was to use my savings and the proceeds from the sale of my house to cover what minimal expenses I would encounter. I didn’t know how long my cache would last, but I figured that when my funds decreased to a certain level I’d seek employment, somewhere. By that time I hoped to have the bulk of the book finished.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “Minimal expenses! On Maui? Is he nuts? He’s moving to Maui for crying out loud!” Then I’d explain that my sister Claudette, and her husband Gene, had graciously invited me to come live – rent free – with them for a while. They had a lovely home on the island, overlooking Kahana and Napili bays. When you looked north from their lanai you could see the fairways and greens of Kapalua. Looking south you could make out the high rise condos of the Kaanapali resort village. Their home was also a stone’s throw from where my oldest son, Brandon, lived … and seven thousand miles closer to my other son, Chris, who was living in China. I could walk to the beach, or drive a short distance to play some of the best golf courses on the planet. Not bad, eh?

Now I ask you, who couldn’t write in a setting like that?

After nodding in approval (and trying to veil their jealousy), next I was asked, “Why are you writing this book?” Knowing that I had never been published, and being polite, my kith and kin were concerned about it’s “emotional nature,” and that I’d have no regular salary.

I’d explain my strategy for dealing with the financial issues, and then tackle the trickiness of the book question. I was as honest as I could be, in hindsight. I gave several reasons for writing it in the order that I was feeling at the time.

My first response early on was, “I made a promise to Vic, and I’m going to keep it.” That is still my first reason for writing. It is a book born out of the deepest kind of love between a man and a woman. It is truly a labor of love, and mirrors the commitments to Vicki I kept throughout our marriage.

Next I’d say that I want to provide our sons and progeny a record of a wonderful life. I want my sons to know their mother in a more intimate way, to better under-stand her earthly priorities, and to read about her dreams for and about them. I want my sons’ wives to “know” their mother-in-law. I also want her grandchildren to have something to hold that was “hers.”

These first two reasons for writing have not changed.

The first two objectives are personal and familial. The last intention can be distilled to this: I hope to inspire.

I know there will be people picking up a copy of this book who are looking for answers to serious questions about the immaterial part of battling a terminal illness. I’ll share what I’ve learned while observing an extraordinary woman dance her way through tumultuous times. I have some strong opinions. I’ll be candid. And I hope Vicki’s sincerity and frankness will inspire you to dance with The Healer, too, understanding there are treatments even the most skilled surgeons can’t provide unless they understand the spiritual dynamics of dealing with disease.

I hope to inspire couples with dysfunctional marriages to find healing in their home. After reading our story, I believe couples headed toward marital breakup will be encouraged to seek out a solution. Marital discord is so much like cancer. Such discord eats away at the core of a relationship until something dies in the soul of one or both partners. Depression soon robs the relationship of its vitality. But there’s hope!

I hope to inspire the spiritually curious to investigate the life and teachings of Jesus, maybe for

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 a second time. If you haven’t taken a good look at Him lately, I think you’ll see Him activity at work in our life-story. Then I hope you’ll become fascinated.

I hope to inspire pastors, who most often live lives of quiet desperation, to develop meaningful collegial relationships. My father used to say, “The banana that gets separated from the bunch gets skinned!” That was his way to saying, “There is no way we, especially in the ministry, can go it alone.” I feel very strongly that “going it alone” in ministry is a sure-fire way of setting yourself up for trouble. And because I’m one of you, I think I get most (at least many) of concerns pastors and ministers have. I think I understand the fear of betrayal that develops in our hearts in proportion to the closeness of the relationship, whether it be peer or professional. I think I understand the root of many pastoral stressors that causes our occasional depressions to look Goliath-like. For the most part I get the nature of ministry, with its blindsides, hostilities, and threats. Been there. So, I’m writing for pastors.

I also hope to help and then inspire, coincidentally, those who have been spiritually abused by a few popular pastors and Christian “teachers.” Religious abuse happens. It can be sexual or psychological. Every kind of abuse certainly is spiritual.

Not everything that comes our way through Christian media outlets or from Christian bookstores is from the throne room of God. Some of the stuff desperate people are exposed to in times of unbelievable difficulty is whimsical, faddish, or heretical. There’s a lot of confused and anxious people in the Church of Jesus Christ buying in to some really goofy teachings that further muddle innocent minds.

I’m sharing our story so that vulnerable believers will have another point of view because many Christ-followers are told they are sick, diseased, going through trials, or financially wanting because they lack faith, that there’s sin in their life, they let some stray thought become a confession, or God is hacked off at them for only-He-knows why. So I’m writing for those who need to hear something biblical that doesn’t need to be dug out of the Scriptures by a prophet who has a special revelation, but can be discovered by any truth seeker.

I’m writing to inspire hope.

May God help me.