January 2016

What is a Miracle, Really?

by Father Trey Nelson

Trey New (Michaels)_editedOn October 28, 2004 at 7:15 a.m., I found myself in a place where I had never been before, in pre-op for a major surgery. Five months prior to that, out of the blue, I had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. There was a golf ball sized tumor in my esophagus. I sat down to eat lunch one day and BAM! I couldn’t swallow. I attributed it to stress, given the fact that along with the two churches at which I was already serving as pastor, I had been asked to take on a third. Five months and several doses of chemotherapy and radiation later, there I was, about to undergo what one surgeon had termed, “the most complicated surgery that a general surgeon would ever perform.”

Forget about the fact that this cancer was common in people in their late 60s and chronic smokers, I was 41 at the time and had never smoked. As far as asking “why” or “how” goes, I was way beyond that, too. I was too afraid to be afraid, if that makes any sense. I was extremely overweight, weighing almost 350 pounds at the time. I’m not proud of it, but that’s just where I was. There were major complications during the surgery, which lasted anywhere from 10-12 hours depending on whom you ask. I spent one week in ICU and another week in a room on the cardiac floor. Most of it is a blur, but I do remember some things.

I remember how amazing everyone was toward me. My doctors, nurses, and family carried me through those days. My brother, Tim, reflects back and says that, at one point one of my physicians pulled him to the side and told him, “You need to take your mom home and prepare her for the worst, because your brother may more than likely not go home.” I remember the hallucinations too. They seemed so real and frightening, that I would cry as I described them to my family. Eventually I went home. In all, I was on medical leave from my ministry for roughly seven months.

The road back was an incredibly difficult one. The upside of it all is that I became and have remained healthier than I had ever been in my life prior to that point. I backpack and climb mountains in the summer. I run. I have no difficulty walking up the stairs at work, and so on. In the ten months following the surgery, I dropped to 185 pounds and have been at or near that weight ever since. I certainly do not believe that God caused my cancer, but I definitely do believe that He gave me the blessing that came from it.

I have often shied away from a traditional notion of miracles. As a Catholic, I’ve heard stories of miracles attributed to the Saints of our church throughout my life. But I have to be honest with you, none of those ever really moved me. I don’t doubt them, but they never really moved me. My experience with miracles? It’s in everyday life. It’s seen in people who, because of their openness to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, become conduits, vessels of God’s grace and goodness. You want to witness a real miracle? Watch a mom or dad say goodbye to a child in death and still have the resilience to move on; witness a terminally ill patient turn it around and embrace the Lord in their suffering and minister to others in their final moments; hold a newborn baby in your hands; listen to someone forgive the unforgivable.

If I were to attach the concept of a miracle to my experience of cancer, I would say that it has been in the outcome. Cancer woke me up. It humbled me. It made me realize that I am just as weak and vulnerable as anyone else, and the day that I forget that, well, that’s when the real problem sets in. In my mind, a “miracle” is any experience that unites us more closely to Jesus Christ and the grace of our humanity. It’s something that brings us to an even clearer vision of the Lord’s presence in our life and the love that He has for us, any experience that makes you realize that God is in control and you’re not.

January 2016

Miracle Moment: Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven”

by Beth Townsend

DSCN5384Louisiana native, LSU alumnus, and best selling author Don Piper understands miracles.

“I am a miracle!” he says. “My left arm was in the back seat of the car, my left leg was cut off. We are standing here now, I’m standing on my own two legs and my left arm is right here beside me.”

On his way home from a United Methodist Church conference in 1989, Piper’s car was hit head-on by an 18-wheeler. Emergency personnel responded and after attempting to revive him, four paramedics pronounced him dead on the scene. A minister from the conference, traveling separately in a car behind Piper, got an audible message from God to pray for the man in the red car. That pastor, understanding that nothing in theology indicated praying over a dead body, concluded the message could only be from God and pushed forward. He received permission to stand by Don’s car, put his hand under the tarp that covered the lifeless body and began praying.

Ninety minutes after being pronounced dead, Don returned to life on earth with vivid memories of God’s perfect place—heaven. Thirty-four operations and years of recovery forced Don and his family to find a new “normal.” His inspirational story touched millions around the globe, helping many to find hope following tragedy and loss.

“One of the things that distinguishes God from everyone and everything is else is miracles. Only God can pull that off, that is his territory,” Piper shares.

Don also gives credit to the power of prayer. Many upon hearing of his accident began to pray, not realizing he had been pronounced dead at the scene. Last year he was able to shake hands with one of those prayer warriors. “I was in Modesto, Calif., speaking. A guy walked up to me and extended his hand. Weeping he said, ‘I prayed for you that day.’ Twenty-six years later I am meeting this guy face to face!” I said to him, “Keep praying, it works!”

This is a man who believes in Jesus. “There is only one person who died and lived again to save us. Jesus is that person. One of his last statements is, ‘I am the way. No man comes to the Father except through me.’ I would say to a dead and dying world, there is hope eternally and there is hope for now.”

In his book “90 Minutes in Heaven,” Piper shares how he visited heaven. Yet, he believes that glory starts here on earth. “Jesus can help you have a better life now. And he wants to do that. That is why he spent time with his disciples, preparing them for what is next. And the world looks to Christ now because those men got the word out.”

“That’s our job now, we are like a tag team. When I was at Leesville High School, I ran track and passed the baton. There were four guys on our team. If I was the first guy and failed to pass the baton, it did not matter what the rest of the guys did, because I dropped it,” he says. “This message is for now! We are one generation from being out of business. It is an urgent message, yet very positive and exciting if we embrace it.”

Faith Life, January 2016

The Miracle That Revealed Jesus is REAL!

by Philip Zimmerman

image1-2“Oh my Jesus you’re real how can this be … ” Soon my mind was overfilled with emotion and wonder as I simply stood in the middle of the boulevard, shaking as if chilled, while tears streamed down my face. It was at this moment I went from believing Jesus was real, to knowing He was real.

This miraculous discovery was initiated in the spring of 8th grade at Broadmoor Junior High when my father asked me to go to school and say my goodbyes as we were moving to Akron, Ohio that coming weekend. I was dumbfounded; how could this be? I obeyed, saying my goodbyes with a sense of dread while having my teachers sign school transfer papers, as boxes at my house were being filled and loaded into a moving van.

For three straight nights in hotel beds on our way to Akron, I cried myself to sleep repeating this prayer, “Jesus, if you’re real you’ll let me graduate with my high school class and I’ll be OK with this move. Jesus, if you’re … ” Upon arrival in Akron my life was upside down with a new school, no friends, and only six weeks left in 8th grade. I was miserable and didn’t recover until P.E. soccer in October of 9th grade when I met Joe Flohr, who had a motorcycle, and invited me to ride. Life had made a change for the better.

In January of my junior year I heard my mom talking about how my dad had lost his job and was sending out his résumé. I didn’t know what that meant until early April when my dad said he had very nice job offers in Virginia Beach, Va., Orange, Texas, and Lake Charles, La., and asked me to which of the three would I like to move? I sheepishly said Lake Charles, thinking perhaps of being closer to Baton Rouge and going to LSU. But inside I was devastated, as I had to move again and miss my senior year with now close friends.

The night before my dad left to formally accept the job, he received a call from a company that had just build a plant in Plaquemine like the one he was going to manage in Lake Charles; problem was they didn’t have anyone to run it. They were calling to see if they could make my dad an offer that would change his mind about Lake Charles and get him to manage their plant in Plaquemine instead. An acceptable offer was made and my dad flew to Baton Rouge and began working in Plaquemine.

He came back to Akron after a week with pictures of a new house for my mother to inspect. When I asked where the house was located and where I’d go to school my dad said Tara Subdivision and Tara High School; both brand new. When he asked why I looked so disappointed, I asked about living near our old house and perhaps going to Broadmoor High. My dad purchased a house in Sherwood Forest less than a half-mile from our former house on Goodwood Boulevard and lived there until we arrived at the end of the school year.

When I arrived at our new house I spent about an hour checking it out and then, bored, thought I’d walk up Goodwood to Broadmoor High. I had walked the half-mile to our former house on Goodwood on the way to the school. As I was walking I looked toward my old house on my left and it struck me like a ton of bricks: “I’m going to graduate with my high school class!”

I froze in my tracks, I literally could not move, I started shaking as chills ran throughout my body. It was not until that very moment that I vividly remembered the prayer I’d prayed for three straight nights when moving to Akron: “Jesus, if you’re real you’ll let me graduate with my high school class and I’ll be OK with this move.” My next thought was, “Oh my Jesus you’re real how can this be … ” Soon my mind was overfilled with emotion and wonder as I simply stood in the middle of the boulevard chilled and shaking in 90+ degree heat while tears streamed down my face. It was at this moment Jesus proved to me he was real, no doubt about it!

I tried to continue the walk but was too overwhelmed with emotion so I returned home and went immediately into my room. I stayed there until well past dinner, crying and wondering what was happening and how I could find this Jesus who I now knew to be real. I’ll save that for another day, but have one postscript.

While I told all my friends and anyone who would like to listen the account I’ve just given, I didn’t tell most of my family and still haven’t some 40 years later. I did tell my dad a few years after my mother passed away when he was curious about what happened that made me seek Jesus. Upon hearing the story he cried out in a wail that was sincere, “Oh Philip, why didn’t you tell me when that happened? It would have allowed me to process better all that was happening in my life at that time. If I’d only known you were the reason we moved and not me … ” Be careful what you pray for as you just might get it and unintended consequences as well.

About Philip: Philip Zimmerman is founder of Engineering Leadership a professional coaching company artfully bridging meaning, purpose and calling in people and organizations. His life pursuit is continually gaining in the knowledge of Christ.