Monday, August 14, 2017

Adding The Fruit Of The Spirit To A Heart Healthy Diet: Adding Trust to That

Fr. Dale Matson

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
            I have been diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). It has been less than a year now and after my cardiologist implanted two stents to help blood circulation to my heart, I live quite a different life. I am more anxious.
            I had a severe G.I. bleed the first day of this year because of 3 undiagnosed preexistent ulcers combined with dual antiplatelet therapy to thin my blood. Dual antiplatelet therapy is standard protocol for those with stents but I was more prone to bleeding. It has been a long road back since that time and I no longer am anemic. I had another bleed and the cardiologist took me off Plavix after 6 months. I am still on a daily dose of baby aspirin. Although the cardiologist has limited my maximum heart rate based on treadmill performance, I am still able to get into the mountains even for an overnight with a backpack. I use a heart monitor watch and keep an eye on my heart rate.
            I have been on two kinds of antacids to keep my ulcers from bleeding again. A recent endoscopy biopsy indicated that my ulcers were not the result of bacteria. The ulcers were probably the result of years of overuse of aspirin and ibuprofen.
            During the last 8 months, I have conducted a great deal of research on my CAD etiology and treatment. There is good universal treatment advice including change of diet, loss of weight and exercise. I have always had enough exercise even to excess. I have reduced the size of my meals and avoid foods with a high glycemic index that encourage insulin spikes. It is a low carbohydrate diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, adequate hydration and monounsaturated fats. I am at my high school weight with a BMI of 22. I take several supplements that include vitamins and minerals. I do not take statins to reduce my LDL cholesterol but I do take sterols and stanols. This is not just to discourage the build up of plaque in the arteries; it is also to lower blood viscosity so the heart does not have to work as hard. There is an optimum amount and mix of chemical interventions for each person. After that, the effort is counterproductive.
Eventually however one must ask, “To what extent is the solution only a chemical solution?” Every pill that has efficacy also has side effects. For example beta-blockers that lower blood pressure may also cause depression. Cardiac patients are often depressed? Is it any wonder why depressed cardiac patients who take beta-blockers are even more at risk?   
I also get adequate rest and don’t ‘overdose’ on what is going on in the world through excessively watching the news. In short, I don’t seek out things that stir me up and I do surround myself with things that calm me down like beauty, music and Scripture. There is no shortage of Scripture that points to hard heartedness, being stiff necked and needing a heart of flesh. In short Scripture tells us to repent of our ways and give our lives and hearts to Jesus.
There is another factor that I believe is downplayed by cardiologists but understood by psychologists. To what extent is CAD influenced by our thoughts and emotions. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that our emotions play a significant role in the development of CAD. To understand this we have to look at the root of the problem and that is inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s response to stress. Anxiety and anger are two emotions that have been demonstrated to be associated with inflammation.
            I am not an ‘Alpha’ male but I am a ‘Type A’ male. I am impatient, aggressive and ambitious. It was actually cardiologists that coined the term ‘Type A’ but cardiologists currently are more concerned about CRP than the significant contributing personality features. They acknowledge that lifestyle changes (behavioral) help but avoid emotional traits that create the lifestyles. Maybe they think this will be addressed in support groups.
            I must confess as a Christian pilgrim beyond the three score and ten years granted me that I still lack much real progress in spiritual development. I in no way am dismissive about what I have stated previously but the ultimate solution is spiritual since each of us is ultimately terminal. I have always been a late bloomer. Part of that is lack of progress is preoccupation with myself. I am what can be referred to as a “Carnal Christian”. I am living a life that St. Paul refers to in Romans Chapter seven not Chapter 8. In spiritual development, I am mostly in the “Purgative Stage”. I have given my life to Christ over and over and taken it back over and over. I too rarely trust my Savior who has guided and protected me from the world, the evil one and myself since day one. Why can’t I cast my anxiety on Him (1 Peter 5:7)? Why am I still afraid? (Isaiah 41:10) It is not so much a fear of death as a lack of trust that by every measure should have been in place long ago. I am not as prideful however.
            I believe my conclusion about trust betrays my personality. It is the impatience about trust. Trust is a process not just an event. I am left with this evidence. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Transfiguration, The Incarnation and Danny Farenbacher

Fr. Dale Matson

This Sunday is the Feast Day of the Transfiguration. Our opening Collect, Old Testament lesson, Psalm, Epistle Lesson and Gospel Lesson all contribute to our understanding of this event. The Transfiguration is the final revelation of the person of Christ prior to His crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension.

The Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36)

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure,[a] which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One;[b] listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.”

There are actually Four Gospel accounts of the transfiguration. We have accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke and we have John’s statement contained within his Prologue. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14, ESV). John’s statement, “And the Word became flesh.” One reason the Transfiguration is so important to us is that it is the final revelation of the incarnation. Jesus Christ is the incarnate word. The incarnation is both a mystery and an essential part of the Christology of the Christian Church. He is both human and God. We identify with the human part of Christ but His statements would not be trustworthy if He were not also God. Christ told Philip, “Whoever has seen Me, has seen the Father. (John 14:9b, ESV). Would you believe a human who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through Me.”? Could you Love or even approach a Sovereign Omnipotent God or would you, like Adam, hide from Him. The incarnation reveals to us the human qualities of God and the Glory and Majesty of His Son Jesus Christ.

But the Word becoming flesh in the Incarnation as fully revealed in the Transfiguration is also the key to understanding Christ’s presence in His body the church and in each believer. Christ asked Paul why Paul was persecuting Him when Paul was persecuting Christ’s followers in the early church (Acts 9:4). The incarnation encourages us to serve Christ when we minister to Christ in others. “And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 35-40).

Our Collect was about the Transfiguration and even the Psalm (99) talked about the glory of the Lord and His speaking from the pillar of cloud (v. 7). It is so much easier to understand, identify with and explain the struggles of Paul and even the human moments in the life of Jesus than it is to grasp the Glory and majesty of God in the person of Christ. It is in the moments where the miraculous happens to Christ that He seems so different and unapproachable and we seem so unable to respond or even comprehend. Unlike Moses, His glory was not a reflected radiance.

From our Epistle Lesson today, Peter related the following, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"-- and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy Mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

In the book of Revelation St. John described a post ascension encounter with the Glorified Christ. “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” (Rev. 14-18a).

Last week, Fr. Carlos recognized and affirmed those in our faith community who have chosen to be intercessors. In our ‘Prayers of the people’, as a church, we publicly offer general prayers for our leaders, clergy, and others in general. We also have a specific list of those for whom we regularly pray. The list is mostly composed of members of our congregation. As intercessors we help bear the burden of their sufferings as St. Paul encouraged us to do. (Galatians 6:2) but rarely do we see how God blesses us as intercessors. St. James told us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16a).

Many people know one individual on our list but few know his story. His name is Danny Fahrenbacher. I believe Jesus would say of Danny what he said of Nathanael. “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). A man in whom there is no guile is an honest plain-hearted man. I cannot begin to tell you how much interceding for and ministering to Danny has blessed this congregation in general and me in particular. He is God’s gift to us and my personal faith hero. As the Word became flesh I would like to put flesh on the name Danny for you. I have his enthusiastic permission to tell you more about him, his life and his challenges.
Danny recently celebrated his 50th birthday and has been a member of St. James for 16 years. He has so enjoyed serving St. James as a lector; crucifer, lay Eucharistic minister (LEM) and MC. Danny’s loving parents Jenny and Gary are also members at St. James. He has two sisters and a brother.

Danny joined the Army soon after graduating from high school. While in basic training he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. They were not able to find the proper medication for it in the Army and he was given an honorable discharge. He was treated here In Fresno and the proper medication allowed him to have a stable life with employment.

In 2009, Danny went to the emergency room with severe pain. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and a volleyball sized tumor was removed from his colon. The doctors believed they got it all and he was in remission for about three years. In 2010, he was still suffering the effects of his illness. He was not able to meet the productivity requirements of his jobs and was fired.

In 2012 he had severe pain and could barely walk. It was discovered that his colon cancer had metastasized to his liver. He endured a 14-hour operation that removed 2/3rd of his liver. There is still a tumor on his liver that has resisted chemo and radiation therapy. It is considered inoperable here in Fresno because the tumor is located next to a major artery. His bile ducts for his liver are plugged and he needs biliary tubes to drain his liver bile. They too become plugged or an infection occurs. He has had nine hospitalizations since this time last year for replacement of his tubes or to treat his infections. He has had X-rays, cat scans, and pet scans. His pain management has been ongoing and difficult. There is this update. Danny is going to be admitted to the hospital again (his 10th admission in a year's time). They are waiting for a bed. His temperature went up to 102+, it's now back to 101. He's had a CT scan, blood cultures & on his 2nd IV antibiotic. He had morphine for pain. They ran into the Dr. who assists Dr. Tower. The Drs. had had a second look at the CT scan and determined that one of the tubes is near or on a bone that is degenerating. This does not include several additional visits to the emergency room that did not lead to hospitalization.

Danny is no longer able to drive and sold his car to his parents to help with expenses. Many of his doctors that he has established a relationship with have retired and he has had to adjust to new treatment personnel. There is a doctor at Stanford who has seen Daniel and is a specialist surgeon who could possibly operate on his tumor. He wanted all the treatment data collected and sent to him. It was a great burden for Gary and Jenny who were responsible to collect years worth of data and photographs and transport it the to Stanford. Danny has another appointment with his Dr. there but there will still be no decision on surgery yet.

In all of this Danny has remained upbeat and hopeful. Danny is God’s reminder to me that I make too much out of the burdens I carry. I asked Danny how his faith was holding up. He said, “Tell the folks at St. James, “Never give up. Thanks to all of you for your prayers. I hope to go back to church and to serve as a lay Eucharistic minister again.”

Danny may not be aware of it but he has been serving us in his sickness. We have kept him before God in our prayers and as we pray for Danny and others in our faith community at St. James, we too are transformed from Glory to Glory. Amen