Giving Birth To Hope
Written by Dan Armistead
My wife is not in the habit of keeping things from me. But several years ago, when she learned my mother was admitted to the hospital, she put on her best poker face and acted as if nothing happened.
There was a reason for her deception: I had just been admitted to the hospital myself. Acute stress produced in me what appeared to be a heart
attack. During some preliminary tests in the emergency room, I was given a nitroglycerin tablet, which triggered a complete cardiac arrest. The emergency room doctor decided that anyone who flatlined probably needed more tests, so they checked me into a room.
Later that evening, my mother was admitted to the intensive care unit of her local hospital. Meanwhile, my wife arranged for me to have a stress test early the next morning. I passed the test and hopped into a waiting car to go see my mother.
Compared to what lay ahead, the stress test I passed that morning was a cinch. I cannot count the number of sleepless nights, fits of anger and tears, despondent days, and times when I wondered if I could go on. I struggled with doubts. I questioned many of my beliefs about God and his ways. For three years, I endured, barely.
Here’s a brief rundown on those years. After three weeks of fighting for her life, my mother died. It didn’t take long to figure out why she clung so fiercely to life; my father’s dementia was worse than we imagined and he went into a free-fall after Mom passed. We converted my sister’s garage into a nice apartment for him. Unfortunately, he would not stay put and wandered the neighborhood at night.
My Dad was a strong man. He joined the Navy at fifteen, flew the Pacific as a co-pilot bomber in World War II, and built two businesses from the ground up while earning both a business and law degree after leaving the Navy.
But dementia turned him into a raving lunatic, completely unrecognizable from the father I had known all my life. Honestly, it was hard just to see him. But after a few months with my sister, we realized Dad had to be moved to a nursing home. He died soon afterward on Thanksgiving Day, eight months after my Mom.
That’s when the administration of death began. My brother was the executor of the will, but he was covered up in a new business start, so I helped as much as possible.
After a few months, my brother was diagnosed with cancer. It’s a long story, but he died a slow death, and I was left with the final execution of the will. The legal hurdles were immense.
On top of all this, the church I had served for eight years entered a time of division and turmoil. From a dying to a thriving downtown church, we had added a large number of young families, grown a strong youth and children’s ministry, and placed new leaders in places of decision making.
The new leaders were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The night before these new leaders were scheduled to begin their service to the church, the old guard called a meeting. That meeting was the beginning of the end, although the end, like my brother’s death, was slow and painful.
I want you to understand something; all these things were happening at the same time. The result was my faith was tested in ways I’d never experienced before. I stood on the edge, looking down, and came close to walking away from the church, my faith, and my future.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was reaching a breaking point. And it was a breaking point for good, not bad.
My willingness to walk away from everything resulted in two things: I left what I like to refer to as “camp” Christianity, and I experienced a growing self-awareness in my life. I engaged in a fearless pursuit of truth, wherever it led me.
And where it led me was to a stronger faith in Jesus than I had ever known.
There was a price to be paid for this newfound faith. I was shunned by other pastors in my denomination. Rumors spread like wildfire. Speaking opportunities dried up.
That’s when I realized the frozen state of faith among many evangelical Christians. To be in lock-step with everything from non-essential doctrine to political parties in the United States was the unspoken, but guiding principle underlying so much of what we said and did in church and denominational meetings.
“Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.”
But I was marching to the beat of a different drummer. I still found many points of agreement with others who I am convinced were faithfully following Jesus, but I was not a member of the “camp.”
And so, one day in my office, I visited my alma mater’s web site looking at pastoral openings for churches. It was there, I came across an opening for the pastor of a church in Seoul, Korea. If it had not been for the click of a mouse button, I would have never sent my resume.
But I did send it, and two questionnairres later, I received an invitation to serve as the pastor of a church with multiple Christian traditions and nationalities.
My wife and I moved to Seoul in May of 2008 and served for twelve years.
During those years, God opened my eyes to the radical and powerful nature of his kingdom. A kingdom that transcends all others. A kingdom that welcomes all others. Best of all, a kingdom that takes our differences and weaves them together in a wonderful unity of diversity that demonstrates His love and glorifies his son.
Don’t run from your crises of faith. Embrace your doubts. Wrestle with them like Jacob wrestled with the angel. It’s painful, but it’s worth it! And I want you to know that even as I wrote this, I prayed for those who read these words, asking God to give birth to hope in your life out of the ashes of despair.
My book, Prophets or Patriots: How Evangelicals Are Giving to Caesar What Belongs to God, is scheduled for release on September 15. Also, check out my website, Church on the Edge, for more articles and videos on what it means to follow Jesus.
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