Certain experiences provide unforgettable memories. One such experience arose for me when I was caring for an acute heart attack patient whose heart suddenly stopped. Between artificial ventilations during resuscitation, the patient cried out, "Help me, the devil's taking me! Help me, the devil's taking me!" He kept saying it. He had no rhythm—apart from external chest compressions—yet pleaded repeatedly for help.
He was telling me that, if he didn't survive, the devil was taking him.
A Bible verse memorized during Sunday school days came to mind: 1 John 1:9, so I prayed, "Lord, what do I do now?"
I told the nurses to continue the resuscitation effort, I took the man's hand in mine and prayed aloud, "Thank you, Lord, that you've promised that if we confess our sins, you're faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, so we ask for forgiveness for this man's sins." Instantly his pleading stopped! Shortly thereafter, we got a heartbeat established, with return of a pulse, and six hours later he regained consciousness.
Interestingly enough, I never asked him what he remembered about the event. I've had many patients, after resuscitation, say, "Doctor, I'm not afraid to die. It was beautiful!"
But this man's cries indicated quite the opposite. And incidents similar to this man's have been recorded in literature.
I've been amazed how frequently a long ago memorized Bible verse would come to mind during times of medical crises. Consequently, I thanked God my Sunday school and confirmation teachers required memorization. Often, when listening to a patient unload his plight, I would wonder just what to say, and then a pertinent Bible verse would come to mind and direct my response. It always seemed that the verse or verses had a greater impact than anything I personally could have said. After such an encounter, I often was amazed at what I had just said! I knew I couldn't have come up with it on my own.
As a result, I was particularly enthused while attending the recent WordAlone Network board meeting in San Jose. We reviewed the efforts WordAlone is making to provide educational material for people of all ages—so we're prepared to be effective witnesses of Jesus' mercy and redemption in this stressful, highly disturbed world. We know things are bad when students kill fellow students, teachers sexually abuse students, parents kill their children and people are lured into Internet traps and end up missing. Many people are going hopelessly to their graves.
Given Christ's command that this witnessing be our preeminent mission, we must have good Bible knowledge. Having as great a command of the Bible as possible is important! To that end, Pastor Steven King has developed excellent study materials. And to that end, WA has birthed the Institute of Lutheran Theology, ably led by Rev. Dennis Bielfeldt, Ph.D., and Pastor Randy Freund. This institute is already offering interesting on-line classes taught by Dr. Jim Nestingen. It's exciting how quality lectures can be delivered into one's own home or church via computers. And lecture notes can be printed directly from the website (better than being in a college classroom!). Such lectures bring new insights and refresh the memory of facts once learned. All of which leaves us better equipped to help others.
To be effective, however, we must be able to share what we know. Observing good teachers and pastors, thus utilizing their approaches or techniques makes sense. Undoubtedly the disciples learned much about effective sharing during their years with Jesus. His use of questions, stories and the miracles He performed touched people's hearts and created receptiveness in many, though not in all. But it wasn't because Jesus didn't care. The disciples witnessed Jesus' caring in spades. So even if we can't feel love or concern for someone, we can, at least, show them God's love and concern. We'll never meet a person for whom Jesus didn't die.
Jesus once said, "and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (John 12:32) So, if the ELCA nationally hasn't been gaining members (and it hasn't), shouldn't we reassess just what we as a church are currently doing to "lift up" Jesus? Do we have the right priorities in ministry? Are we using the right methods or materials? Are we being faithful to God and His Word?
Thankfully, Martin Luther reassessed the situation in his day—studied scripture, developed materials to teach and challenged the church to be faithful. He was instrumental in bringing the church back to Christ. And growth of the Church followed!
Similarly, we in WA today are striving to study God's Word, develop good educational materials for teaching, challenge the church to be faithful and lift up Jesus to the world. Church growth should follow if we, as people, equipped with the truth and a refreshed knowledge of scripture, reach out to the millions who live close to our local churches, yet are without a church home.
And, just as Martin Luther's efforts to share His Savior with the world have outlived him, so our efforts today will likely outlive us if we're found faithful!