Around Easter we tend to think about new beginnings. For believers this involves the resurrection of Jesus, for others bunnies, chicks and eggs symbolize Spring, revitalization, and a new growing season. For me, Easter of 2015 holds a special meaning.
For an indeterminate number of years now I have been dealing with emphysema – a result of having spent 30 years as a furniture maker, breathing wood dust and lacquer fumes. Five or six years ago I attributed the shortness of breath and fatigue to advancing age. The summer of 2012 brought occasional chest pains. By November 2012 the pain was so constant and pervasive I was fearing congestive heart failure. In December I finally admitted that it wasn’t getting any better, went to see a doctor and was diagnosed with emphysema. Since then I’ve been on inhaled steroids to slow down the degradation, but it’s been just a matter of time as I feel my strength and stamina slipping away and the pain increasing. Medical science says emphysema cannot be cured, just slowed down. I had resigned myself to this.
On Easter Sunday the Sunday school lesson, which is lead by our pastor, was about the meaning of communion. I knew very well that the cup symbolizes the blood of Christ that was shed for the remission of our sins, if we believe in and accept Jesus. The bread represents Christ’s body: I knew that too. What I didn’t know is why we celebrate His mangled body.
His crucifixion was not simply being nailed to a cross and left to die of asphyxiation. Before that He had been flogged at length with a cat of nine tails. This instrument has lashes that cut the flesh and are tipped with chunks of bone or metal that rip chunks of flesh away with each stroke. There was the crown of thorns jammed into his scalp, and he was severely beaten several times with wooden rods. The Bible says that by the time he hung on the cross, His visage was barely recognizable as human. It also says in 1 Peter 2:24 and Isaiah 53:4-5
24 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.
The blood of Jesus forgives sin, his battered body brings healing. Can we accept one and ignore the other?
I never once blamed my lung problems on God. I knew full well that emphysema came because I did not install the needed ten to twenty thousand dollar dust and fume extraction equipment in my workshop. I never felt I had that kind of money laying around. When my wife and I opened this business we agreed that we would run it in a Biblical manner by not taking ourselves into debt. I also knew the dangers: I had written articles for woodworking magazines clearly stating the dangers and quoting statistics on how many woodworkers die every year from emphysema. No: God did not do this to me, I did this to myself.
A while back, our Pastor: Dr. Dan Netherland, held a healing service and I laid aside skepticism and stepped further out in faith than I ever have – and an injured shoulder was restored. That opened my eyes to a new understanding of the power of the Holy Spirit. The shoulder injury was accidental: my emphysema was self inflicted. I didn’t believe God would cure that. It wasn’t that He could not, but I thought He would not, so I never asked.
During the lesson that morning Dan talked about people who hold onto their illnesses like badges of honor. Some make a discussion of their ills into a contest to see who is the most pitiable. This is hubris: the height of arrogance and self-absorption. They might as well be bragging about their sins and denying Jesus’ power to forgive them.
He also talked about how Satan, whose primary mission is to prevent unbelievers from believing and distract believers from our faith in Jesus, can use our afflictions as a wedge between us and God.
God does not smite us with injury or illness to punish us or train us. He can use these things when they happen if we let Him. Nor does God allow Satan to strike us down: if He did, Satan could just kill us all and be done with his task. Satan’s primary tool is temptation. He whispers in our ear words of enticement. He draws us away from God with vain promises just as he did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He promised them that if they ate the forbidden fruit they’d become just like God. There was just enough truth in this to tempt them, but he hid from them the consequences.
I never blamed God for my emphysema, but it never occurred to me that Satan might be using it to keep me from doing God’s will. For four years I used to produce and announce a Christian radio program. As my voice went away and speaking became painful I had to step away from that. I used to teach a young-adult Sunday School class. Again I had to step away from that, in part, because it is hard to make myself heard. As I listened, it suddenly occurred to me that Satan was prevailing because I was allowing this illness to interfere.
If I say, “This must be God’s will.” I am walking away from the promise that the broken and battered body of Christ holds. That’s what the communion bread represents. I Corinthians 11 says (paraphrased), “he who takes the cup and eats the bread in an unworthy manner brings upon himself condemnation.” If I drink the cup and celebrate the forgiveness of sin, but eat the bread and refuse the promise of wholeness, I am standing in rebellion, and rebellion against God is the sin from which all other sin springs.
This brought an emotional epiphany as I clearly saw my error. During the Communion message I prayed for forgiveness of my prideful stance and asked for healing. During the break between Sunday school and the worship service I went to Dan to thank him for his clarification of the issue and told him of my change of heart. He responded by praying with me. He prayed specifically: naming the problem as being the small sacks in my lungs that clog and rot away, reducing the ability for my blood to get oxygen. Then he anointed me with oil and invoked the power of the Holy Spirit to heal by the stripes of Jesus.
Sunday morning worship services became a double edged sword because of singing the hymns. I love the message the hymns hold, but singing leaves me coughing and gasping for air – generally after a single verse. On this morning we opened with The Old Rugged Cross (one of my favorites) and my first indication of change was that I got through all four verses without coughing and I managed to maintain some volume. I don’t claim to be a singer, but it’s always disappointing when my voice fades away to a scratchy whisper while singing to my Lord.
I tried hard to pay close attention to the sermon, but as I listened I couldn’t help noticing that the crushing pressure on my chest was gone. I could take a deep breath without stabbing pains, and I reveled in the joy of being able to suck in deep, smooth lung-fulls of air without the crackling, foamy sensation that had accompanied my breathing for so long. I became rather emotional!
As Dan wound down the service, I wanted to stand up and offer testimony to the power of the Spirit – but no clear opportunity offered itself. I didn’t want to be disruptive: which is to say I chickened out.
But I went up to Dan immediately after the service and told him, thanking him for his instruction and intervention. I also confessed to chickening out on the testimony. He said, “Let’s take care of that right now.” and loudly asked for everyone’s attention. In our church we do not rush off to some lunch buffet immediately after the service, so everyone was still there; just up milling about talking and hugging necks. There is a lot of Christian love in that church.
I fought back joyful tears and stumbled through my explanation of what had just occurred. Afterward, many of those who came to offer encouragement said they had no idea I was sick. I wasn’t surprised by this because I did not wear it on my sleeve or use it as a topic of discussion. Because I am not (quite) to the point of needing to drag an oxygen bottle around behind me, only the most observant noticed that even minor exertion left me huffing and puffing for breath.
The rest of that day was just amazing! My head cleared up and I was able to think clearly again (oxygen deprivation does nasty things to your brain) and this was very encouraging.
I gave up the woodworking when I was diagnosed with emphysema and turned fully to writing: which had been a side-line income for me. Recently I’ve let that slip away because the creativity had just evaporated as my mind muddled. Decision making and memory have also degraded badly. But all that day I enjoyed clarity I haven’t experienced in many months.
Dan often quotes the Bible in that when we learn something Godly, Satan comes immediately to steal it away. Since he can’t just erase it from our minds, he will distract us from it or twist it a little so it is no longer the pure truth of God, but something more to our liking. And I experienced this.
Even as I celebrated the relief from pain and the glorious sensation of drawing air deep into my lungs, there were thoughts whispering in the back of my head:
“This is not a miracle, this is all in your head.”
“You are not cured, it will come back.”
“This is an emotional response: reverse hypochondria. It won’t last.”
“It’s time for your medication, you must take your medication.”
This last one gave me pause: yes, it was time for my regular medication, but would taking medication for something I believe myself to have been cured of be a lack of faith? Would that demonstrated lack of faith open the door to Satan stealing this away from me? I decided that, yes: it would. If I was not feeling the distress that the medication was supposed to relieve – and since that distress was normally easy to feel, there was no need of the medication. I skipped it and went to bed.
As this gets posted it has been 7 days since I last used my inhaler, I’ve taken no pills at night, and I am still free of the pain and crackling. My lungs and mind are clear, my voice has regained some timber, and I’m still gratefully reveling in these changes.
Marie and I do a daily devotion after breakfast every morning. I read the Bible verses and she reads the page in the devotional book. If my part was more that a handful of verses, I struggled to get through it. Monday morning I had an entire chapter in Nehemiah: one and a quarter pages, to read. I got through it easily, my voice strong and steady all the way through.
Several mornings have been chilly and raining. These conditions normally keep me sealed up in the house because the pain and shortness of breath are exaggerated by cold air or high humidity. Both together leave me weak as a kitten.
I have been out every morning to feed the dogs: no problems! Even climbing back up the steep embankment from the dog pens to our house is easy again. I have been working in the garden, I built a set of steps on our porch, I dug out an old wooden and stone stairway in the yard, and moved a pile of lumber. My muscles ache, but it’s from use they have grown unaccustomed to, not lack of oxygen. I am ecstatic! This is my Easter resurrection, snatched from an early grave by the power of God given to me by Jesus and enacted by the Holy Spirit.
My only issue now is to, as Dan says, “hold onto it!” That takes unwavering faith to keep Satan at bay. He is persistent. But I feel I’ve grown enough in the past year to do this. The Holy Spirit stands at my side ready to assist. I cannot cower behind Him; I too must stand and face the enemy, but having such an able warrior at my side lends me strength. I do not have to defeat Satan: Jesus will do that in due time, I just need to stand against him and not give in. That I can do!
UPDATE Sept 9, 2015
As of today it has been 6 months since that Easter morning when my emphysema was taken from me. In that time I have not once needed to use either the daily inhaler or the rescue inhaler, nor have I taken the Montelukast (Singulair) that I had to take daily before. Over this period I have gained in strength and stamina and have taken once again to working on heavy yard work. I built a board walk around our house. And I’ve been feeling better than I have for years. I say again: it’s been six months. This is not a “wishful thinking” short term thing. This is real: Jesus healed my lungs and I am again able to live and work. I praise His name!
UPDATE: April 16, 2017
Easter day once again. Two years and I am still breathing strong and capable of working again. I’m staying away from woodworking … but I am no longer “disabled”. Thank you, Jesus!