“I Know Him by Name”

Katie is well into her seventies, and I’ve been taking care of her for about 20 years, including the years she fussed at God about her husband’s suffering and death.

One day Katie said to me, “Dr. Morris, you don’t know this, but for all these years I have prayed for you several times a week. Sometimes I pray for you three times a day.”

Just hearing that made me sit back in my chair.

Katie continued, “Last week I closed my eyes and right in front of me was Jesus himself! I told him I was praying for you, and do you know what Jesus said to me?”

I was still taken aback by the fact that Katie sincerely prays for me and the Church Health Center so often, but what she said next was astonishing.

“When I told Jesus I was praying for you,” Katie said, “he said to me, ‘I know him by name.'”

The thought of Jesus knowing me by name is powerful. Surely that is how we all want to be known by God, but to hear this from someone to whom I have tried to offer care over the years struck me as profound.

The words of Jesus in John 10 echo in my mind. This chapter is known as the Good Shepherd chapter because of the imagery Jesus uses to connect himself to his followers.

Jesus said, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice (10:3–4).

Some of those listening to Jesus that day did not act in a way demonstrating they understood Jesus’ message. Peter, Thomas and Judas didn’t always get it right.

Still, Katie’s encouragement made me want to live a life where Jesus knows me by name and I hear his voice.

I left Katie with refills on her routine medications and an order to check her blood levels. It seemed a weak exchange for the gift she had given me.

Resurrection Health

Holy Week reminded us that Jesus suffered in his physical body. Easter week reminds us that God raised Jesus from the dead in his body.

The resurrection was not only spiritual; it was physical. The tomb was empty because the body was no longer dead. Hundreds of people saw Jesus. He spoke to his disciples. He invited Thomas to touch his wounds. He made a fire and cooked breakfast on the beach. He took a walk with Peter for a private conversation. All of this was bodily.

New Testament writers herald that we, too, will experience resurrection at the end of time. We may not know all the details of how the body will be transformed or when exactly this will  happen, but we know that we will have bodies going into eternity with God.

God does not say, “I made a mistake with this body business. Let’s just worry about the spirit.” Over and over, the Bible tells us that God values the body and comes to us in our experience with the body.

Jesus brings life to body-and-spirit. God means for us to cherish the nature of being human in body-and-spirit. Through it all we are connected to God, who calls us to live a life of faith in and through the body, just as Jesus did.

Rather than pushing the body aside in your understanding of what it means to live a full life, embrace it. See from Jesus’ example what it means to be human and intimately connected to God.

Adapted from God, Health and Happiness by G. Scott Morris (Barbour Publishing, 2012).

Health and Holy Week

Holy Week is a fitting time to remember that God’s grace comes to us in physical, visceral ways.

The gospel writers give us gruesome detail of the physical experience of Jesus sacrificing himself so that we can have peace with God. Soldiers slammed nails through his hands and feet, ripping through skin, tendon, muscle, and bone. They smashed a crown of thorns into his head. They stabbed a spear into his side and bodily fluids poured out. Jesus died on that rugged cross. Jesus did not simply think in his mind, I’ll save these humans who have lost their way, and then suddenly everything was okay. He agonized about the experience so profoundly that he was sweating blood and praying for a way out.

But he went through with it, suffering in his body because humans are created body-and-spirit.

Jesus’ suffering had great meaning. God was present in it, and God also is present in our suffering. By God’s grace we can find meaning in the worst of circumstances.

Our bodies disappoint us. We can have no doubt about that. Even apart from dangerous behaviors or accidents, bodies break. We live with chronic illness, even suffering that seems as though it should be unbearable. Loved ones die while we hold their hands and cool their foreheads and give them one last kiss.

Jesus shows us that the body is at the heart of how we know God. He understood that his life had purpose and meaning precisely through his physical experience, not because of it. The apostle Paul calls Jesus’ death “Gods abundant provision of grace” (Romans 5:17).

Jesus himself said he came so that we can “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Yes, Holy Week is a fitting time to remember that health comes to us even in suffering.

Adapted from God, Health and Happiness by G. Scott Morris (Barbour Publishing, 2012).

Bitterness and Freedom of Faith

A year ago we celebrated the Church Health Center’s 25th anniversary celebration at a downtown banquet. People literally came from all over the world. Our keynote speaker was Andrew Young, 45 years and one day after he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel with Martin Luther King, Jr. and saw his friend assassinated.

It was an amazing night. At age 82, Andrew Young said to me, “I’m not good at giving speeches. I tend to ramble.” (You probably think I tend to ramble.) He said, “Rather than me giving a speech, I would like to just sit on the stage and you ask me questions.”

With hundreds of people listening in, I got to ask him the questions I had burning in me.   There were several things I came to understand about Andrew Young through his answers. Here are two that have stuck with me in the last year.

1. Andrew Young is not bitter about what happened. You would think he would be. He’s had 46 years now to get over it, so maybe he was at first. But he’s not bitter. He went on to a distinguished career in public service untinged by bitterness toward what happened that April evening.

2. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, and that entire group were not out to change the world. That was not their objective. They were not all that interested in fighting racism. They were interested as ministers, and to this day Andrew Young sees himself as a minister. He’s been the mayor of Atlanta, he’s been a congressman for many years, he’s been the representative for the United States to the United Nations. And still he thinks of himself as Reverend Andrew Young. Martin Luther King also thought of himself first and foremost as a pastor.

So I asked Andrew, “On that day, what was it like to stand on the balcony?”  

He said, “You know, had King not been killed I don’t think his message would have been heard.”

Young believes that on that day Martin Luther King, Jr.’s spirit was freed, and as a result he changed the world.

April 4 marked the forty-sixth anniversary of King’s death. Let us remember his work rose out of his conviction that the gospel was for all people, and that at the heart of God we find justice.