Heard about the Herd?

“Horses are herd animals,” my daughter said recently explaining her purchase of the second horse in six months. I had to admit the two did look happy and natural out there in the pasture. So now Winona and Trigger are rarely seen apart; they are a herd.

In 2016 several upper school boys at Eastwood were dubbed The Nerd Herd. The Nerd Herd spent as much school time together as they could.  You could see them sitting in the hallways, hear them talking about video games or soccer, or watch them building a Herd Hut in the woods behind the school. The Hut was quite impressive — stone-paved entrance, couch, roof — all items found in the woods. It was the envy and talk of all the younger boys. The nerds enjoyed each other and one couldn’t help but enjoy them enjoying each other.  They were a herd. 

My daughter and family moved from Idaho to Montgomery when they heard of my ALS diagnosis.  They live 100 yards behind Dawn and me. My oldest son and family recently moved from Michigan. They live 30 yards behind me.  He thought this was a good time for law school and to be near us. My youngest son sacrificially changed his college choices to a local school so he could continue to live with us — 40 feet down the hall.  My herd has gathered. I have a surprisingly deep joy in the midst of this chaos — laughter, teasing, preparing meals, grandchildren climbing, exploring, eating, throwing food, screaming, giggling — all part of the herd. I feel like I have been handed a gift from God.  His kindness knows no bounds. My heart is a herd heart. Humans are herd creatures.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” We were created for fellowship. This should not surprise us; we were made in the image of the triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There is fellowship and unity in the Godhead. Mysterious, yes, but present and beautiful. When we experience friendship or family love and unity, it is so good and blissful.  And, when relationships are broken and the family is fragmented, it is so bad and painful. We long for a healthy herd.

Lately, my family and I have been the focus of herd affection, yours.  The word suffocation comes to mind. I am very sensitive to that word because I am fighting to breathe everyday. Also, I know the word carries a negative image. But I am focusing on a positive, enjoyable use.  Picture laughing until you are out of breath, being tickled breathlessly, or the breathlessness of a groom when his radiant bride begins her journey down the aisle. The outpouring of love we have received is astonishing — letters, cards, texts, emails, visits, songs, food, money, hugs, tears, prayers — the herd is suffocating me and, yet, I have never felt more alive.  I feel like half of me is experiencing heaven . . . and heaven is very good.

Jesus said to the Church, His herd, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Do you hear the tender and eager invitation in Jesus’ tone?  It is for you and for me. Our first fellowship must be with Him; then our other fellowships are in order. The arms of our souls must first go up, and then they can go out. This is how God’s herd works. 

How are our relationships doing?  With God? With others? Home is best when there is peace, peace with God and peace with others. 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Being part of God’s herd is mankind’s intended home. There is peace in His house. Let’s go home.

For a Young Friend

Recently a boy came to me and expressed concern about His relationship with God. He was fearful and confused. He is a follower of Jesus but his behavior and thoughts lack perfection.  Even though only seven years old, he shares a common Christian struggle — the lack of assurance of salvation.  Yesterday I responded to him.  My wife thought this would be a helpful blog for my readers and their children and grandchildren.  So, with some appropriate adjustments, we share this with you:

Dear young friend,

As you know I can’t talk anymore. Well, actually, I can make a bunch of strange mumbling sounds that no one understands. But, that isn’t really talking. I feel like a one-year-old again. So, I want to type some thoughts for you.

Thank you for telling me about your fears. I know they are real. I used to have the same fears about my salvation. Many people do. In fact, if our salvation depended on our being a good person, we ought to be fearful because as the Bible says, “No one is righteous, no not one.” God understands your fear.

When you do something wrong (you know the Bible calls that sin), you feel so dirty, or so far away from God. That is normal. Sin separates us from God. Yuk, it is bad enough to be separated from the hugs of Mom and Dad, but to be separated from the hugs of God. Well, that sends shivers of fear through my whole body. Fortunately, many people in history have had this same problem and God answered them in the Bible. So, that is where our answers are to be found. Let’s go there.

Psalm 130, look it up. Read verses 1 and 2. Do you hear the panic in the poet’s voice? Kind of like a person rock-climbing, slipping, holding on, and calling for help.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;  Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”

Why is this person so scared? Read verse 3.
“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?”
Help! He knows we are failures. It is sort of like a teacher marking down in her grade book every time we sin, every action and every thought! Ugh! We are broken failures and God knows it!

What now? Is there any hope? Read on. Verses 4-6.
“But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
The only hope is forgiveness. Forgiveness is beautiful. It is a gift. You can’t earn it by being good and you can’t lose it by being bad. Let’s look at some encouragement God gave us in the Bible.

1 Peter 1:18-19–“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
Your salvation was bought with what? Yes, the blood of the Lamb. Who bought it for you? Christ! And He was perfect. Picture getting in the bathtub after a dirty day. Lots of soap and bubbles and you are clean. Now, picture a really dirty heart. Soap and bubbles doesn’t clean that. Jesus invites you into His bathtub, it is filled with His blood. He says, “Get in and your sins will be washed away.” You bathe in blood and step out cleaner, freer, and happier that you ever were before.

Ephesians 2:8-9–“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Again, God gave you salvation as a gift. You can’t make Him take it away.

Jeremiah 31:3–“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.'”

Romans 8:37-39–“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God loves you, is holding onto you, and is not going to let you go. But, why do we sin and who will help me when I feel sin taking over my body and mind?

Romans 7:18-20, 24-25–“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Jesus is the answer! This is how I live now. Everyday I sin and everyday I ask Jesus to wash me with His blood. Everyday I thank Him for holding onto me. I don’t worry about falling away from God. Fear is gone. Jesus is here.

Are you fearful? Picture Jesus hugging you, washing you, and walking with you. You are His. Be at peace.

I hope this has helped you.

Much love,

Mr. Geiger

P.S. So, if you want to, read the final part of Psalm 130:7-8. Hope, love, and redemption are wonderful.

The Sound of Silence

The only thing worse than going silent is for no one to notice.  Fortunately, that is not my case. Many caring individuals have inquired into my absence in the blog arena.  I thought a health update might be in order. So, here we go.

As you know, ALS is a nerve disorder which affects muscles.  For the past two years my voluntary muscles have been deteriorating.  Presently, I am confined to a wheelchair. I can shuffle my feet some, but no more walking.  A fancy electric wheelchair allows me to roam around our property and give my grandchildren rides.  I am amazed how quickly they learned that the joystick controls all the excitement and power.

My voice is reduced to garbles right now. My family’s ears are accustomed to my mumbles and they understand most of my limited speech.  I find that parents of small children do better at understanding me; their ears are finely tuned. Come visit me and test your skills at translation and charades.  

Typing has become extremely more difficult these last couple of months.  My fingers don’t work correctly and sitting at my desk requires neck and upper body strength which is no longer there. Presently, I am typing this note propped up in my bed using an iPad and two styluses. I have several blog fragments left unfinished because of my limited finger control.  I would dictate but the computer can’t understand me any better than my friends. Maybe this new arrangement will get me writing again.  

I no longer eat or drink. All nutrients and water are taken in via a bolus feeding tube.  Five times a day someone pours me a drink, or rather, pours a drink in me. I get plenty of calories; I have actually gained a little weight back. I went from 175lbs to 125lbs and now I am up to 135lbs.  Just call me “Chubby.”

A new muscle annoyance these past few months has been in my mouth and face.  Due to less jowl muscle, I have less control over my jaws, so I constantly bite my lips.  In the big scheme of things this is minor, but it is the horsefly in my stall right now. I told my wife that I was going to have my teeth removed; I don’t need them and they are now a hassle.  Her sad look made me quickly reveal that I was joking . . . and I couldn’t get a good price for them anyway. 

One bizarre side effect of my mouth muscles is that I am swallowing large amounts of air. I used to do this intentionally as a child when I wanted to form a colossal burp.  What was annoying then for those around me is now annoying for me. The 60 year old body doesn’t manage air like the 10 year old body.

Fatigue is gripping me more these days. I sleep a lot.  It would be worse if I had a long list of chores piling up; fortunately, no one is expecting much from me these days.  This helps assuage my sleep guilt, but I am having to get used to being a slug.  

And so, my “outer man is decaying, but the inner man is being renewed day by day.” The apostle Paul wrote that phrase to the Christians in ancient Corinth. He was discussing suffering brought on due to his life as a servant of Jesus.  I find it encouraging that quality of life is not limited to the outer man. We are more than our flesh.

The other day I came across a piece of paper where I had written, “Born once/die twice. Born twice/die once.” I am not sure what those notes were originally for, but they are applicable now.  Jesus was speaking to a religious man one evening, and He told this gentleman that he needed to be born again, a second birth. Jesus went on to explain how this happens. He used a part of Jewish history.  When Moses was leading the people to the Promised Land, they were extremely rebellious, filled with grumbling and complaining. A consequence for this was the arrival of venomous snakes. People were being bitten and dying.  They quickly saw the connection and came to Moses in repentance. God instructed Moses to create a snake of bronze and wrap it around a pole. If the sick people looked upon the snake on the pole, they would be healed. Then Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.  That whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Then Jesus said these famous words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

If we are only born once, our flesh will eventually die and our spirit will die with it, the second eternal death.  But, God, rich in mercy provided eternal life. If we are born twice (body and spirit), we will only die once. Our spirit will live eternally and be given a resurrected body!  This happens through repentance, looking to Jesus who was lifted up on the cross. There is our source of healing and life.

My body is dying.  My lungs are now functioning at 24%.  Respiratory failure is what normally kills the ALS patient.  But, I do not fear this valley of death for I am alive within and will live eternally. This is only by the grace, kindness, and sacrifice of Jesus.  I can’t keep silent about that.

With My Last Breath

Before my fingers became musically useless and my voice garbled, I was able to write and record this last year. My desire is that it will provide one Christian’s perspective on life and death. It was birthed out of reflections on the coming paralysis that ALS infuses into life. Many of you have heard it in other contexts. Feel free to pass it to anyone who may find it helpful or of interest. John

With My Last Breath

Well now, death has been hovering around my door.

Adam unlocked it, but I did much more.

The body is crumbling, but my spirit is strong,

He who has ears, come hear my song.

He who has ears, come hear my song.

Go ahead and crush me, break my legs and break my hands.

You’re the one with limited days, of that you understand.

Don’t forget there is a heel which will smash your wicked head.

Heaven will rejoice when Death is dead.

Squeeze your hand around my throat, take my voice away.

A song is more than words and notes, I will find a way.

Suffocation doesn’t stop the breath of God’s Word.

Your pitiful presence is mockingly absurd.

With my last breath, I will sing of God’s goodness.

With my last breath, I will tell of His mercies.

With my last breath, I believe beyond the grave, there is hope even in death,

With my last breath, I will sing of God’s goodness.

With my last breath, I will tell of His mercies.

With my last breath, I will speak before the King who gives life beyond our deaths,

With my last breath.

Fearfully and wonderfully I was made of Eden’s dirt.

To there I will return, but with no lasting hurt.

The kindness of God’s love is felt each wasting day.

Thanksgiving, praise, and hope is what I say.

Dear family,

Darkness is approaching, we must part a little while.

Our tears hold no bitterness, they will dry with a smile.

Make the most of your days, they really are not long.

Inside of you there lies your own song.

With my last breath, I will sing of God’s goodness.

With my last breath, I will tell of His mercies.

With my last breath, I believe beyond the grave, there is hope even in death,

With my last breath, I will sing of God’s goodness.

With my last breath, I will tell of His mercies.

With my last breath, I will speak before the King who gives life beyond our deaths,

With my last breath.

What Kind Of Animal Are You?

You know those personality tests that label a person as an animal?  Maybe a dominant lion? Or a productive beaver? A warm labrador or an adorable otter?  Well, I took an assessment of myself the other day. I came up as a two-toed sloth. Yes, I am a sloth — a cross between a wookie, a glacier, and an emoji happy face.  God’s whimsical antonym to the majestic cheetah. It is difficult to watch a sloth without shaking one’s head and laughing. That is how I spend a good deal of my time — shaking my head and laughing.

Ever so slowly — with the greatest of determination, mind you — I work my arms through the sleeves of my jacket.  An attempt to dry my hands usually leaves the water evaporating before I snail the towel over my skin. My teeth are ready for a re-brushing before I am finished with the first brushing. For integrity”s sake, I have removed from my vocabulary the phrase, “I’ll be back in a minute.”  A sloth — shaking my head and laughing.

All of this slowness took my attention to a wonderful phrase that is repeated several times in Scripture:  “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)

All of the caricatures of “the mean old man upstairs” fall apart when faced with the true nature of our Lord: full of mercy, gracious, strong and steady in love, faithful, and slow to be angry with us.  Our daily struggles against our sinful habits are cared for by God’s tender, patient hand.

And yet, there are times when the Lord appears to be slow, but is not.  He has been accused of this when it comes to the return of Christ. But, take courage — “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”  (2 Peter 3:9-10)

Jesus is going to return.  He will reshape the heavens and the earth.  He will raise the dead. He will judge all mankind. He will provide eternal life to all who have trusted in Him to wash their sins away by His blood.  He will reign forever and ever. And in the meantime, God is slow to anger . . . When I see the the two-toed paw of the sloth, I am reminded of the hand of God’s love and compassion.  By reflecting on creation our minds can be drawn to truths expressed in the Scriptures.   So, let’s hear it for the sloth. Let’s hear it for slow. Let’s hear it for the Lord! Shaking my head and laughing.

I Miss Eating

I keep having this recurring daydream.  I am at a mountain stream with a tin cup in my hand.  I dip into the current and bring a refreshing drink of cool water to my lips.  Deep draughts slowly roll down my throat. Over and over again I return the cup to the stream.  Then my hand goes to a basket I had placed in the shallows. I pull out a pear and crush its icy pulp with my teeth.  Four or five bites and it is gone. I reach down into the frigid basket and my fingers find a peach. I chuckle to myself over how good this is going to taste.  

Such are the daydreams of those who eat via a feeding tube.  No liquids or solids go through my mouth anymore. The good news is that my choking spells are seriously better; there is no longer anything to choke on.  I still help in the kitchen by giving orders on how the meal for the family should be prepared. I know I have become a bit demanding of my sous-chefs (and I am guilty of watching too much of the Food Network), but I find great joy over watching my family enjoy meals.  I vicariously dine with them.

Recently, my pastor and I had a sad, but helpful, exchange of text messages.  We agreed I should no longer take communion. I have been choking on the cup for months and now the bread is getting to me.  I must admit the thought of dying with the Lord’s supper in my mouth would be kinda cool. But, I imagine it would be an overly traumatic scene for children and misunderstood by adults; most would think I was being judged for taking the meal in an unworthy manner (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-30).  Probably best to avoid all of that drama.

Lately, I have been pondering how the curse of sin and death was brought into this world through eating.  Adam and Eve actualized their disobedience through consuming the forbidden fruit. What started in man’s spirit was manifested through his body.  Our physical ills have their source in a broken spirit. My ALS is a manifestation of the grand rebellion humans displayed against God. The beauty of our world was shattered through the pride of mankind.  And so we all die . . .

But God, rich in mercy, did not leave us in this condition.  When the Church celebrates Christ’s resurrection this month, we recall Passion Week and the Last Supper.  

And when he [Jesus] had given thanks, he broke it [the bread], and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)  

The healing of man’s condition is found in Christ.  “By His stripes we are healed,” said the prophet Isaiah. Jesus invites us into His life.  We sacredly commune through our mouths with Christ. His body and blood are spiritually in us.

What did Jesus tell the Samaritan woman?  “[W]hoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  And then during the Feast of Tabernacles,

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  

We really are being made into new creatures, ones that can dwell in the new heavens and the new earth.  Allow me to finish by turning our thoughts to the Apostle John’s revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. . . . They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Everlasting water for the thirsty.  Everlasting fruit for the hungry. Christ is everything and He offers everything.  

And so, my friends, when you arrive in heaven, please come find me—I will be down by the river.

Three Ships Passing in the Day

“Yay, Evelyn!  Did you see her stand on her own?”

“Leo, aren’t you a big boy pulling up and shaking that metal grate!”  

I didn’t know watching grandchildren develop would be so enjoyable . . . and disturbing.

“Look at John, he’s standing on his own!  I even saw him take a few steps the other day!”  “Wow! Nice job putting on your shoe!”  

Yes, right now my grandchildren and I are sharing many of the same challenges.  We are three ships travelling the same waters, but they are sailing one direction and I another.  They are free standing and feeling so proud; I am free standing right before I freefall. They are taking their first steps with glee; I am pounding out my last steps with difficulty.  They are using nimble fingers to pick up big people food; I am using curled paws to assist my liquid feeding through a stomach tube. They are babbling their first words; I am babbling my last.

Like Benjamin in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” I feel my body is going in the wrong direction — towards childhood.  All muscular strength and ability is fading away. I am walking backwards down life’s stairs. I am sinking into the quicksand of paralysis. I feel like I am melting.  I have no major physical pain, but rather a foreboding angst that I will soon be trapped in a helpless and dependent body. This is the very condition from which my grandchildren are freeing themselves.  Majestic mountains are ahead for them and deep valleys await me.

Sounds discouraging?  Pity party? Absolutely not.  Because, curiously, I am able to say that life is better now than it has ever been.  I want that to sink in — my life is better now than it has ever been! Over the past year, I have received hundreds of cards, kind messages galore on social media, never-ending daily prayers, gifts, visitors from near and far, and just plain ol’ love.  I have implored thousands of people to see more to life than the physical body. And best of all, I am knowing Jesus Christ through suffering.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  (Matthew 11:28)

Experiencing rest in Jesus is the good life.  I would not trade it for an Olympic body. This joy from the Holy Spirit eludes any earthly description.  It is ethereal, sublime. I feel at rest, and I am content.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

The Apostle Paul speaks of doing all things.  What things is he talking about?  They are found in the verses above; they are the full spectrum of life’s conditions.  Paul is saying that wherever you find yourself in life, contentment is available. Am I reading this correctly?  Reread it. Yes, that is what Paul is saying.

Contentment and rest are found in Jesus.  This may sound abstract, but the more intense the need, the clearer this truth becomes.  Contentment is not found by reshaping life’s external circumstances. Contentment comes by reshaping the life within.  I spiritually died with Christ. I resurrected with Him a new man. I am seated with Him in the heavenlies. He has given me the Holy Spirit.  I hold on to Christ by faith. I trust His promises. I will be given a new life beyond the grave. In this I experience contentment and rest. Life is now as good as it gets.  This is available to all who believe.

“Who’s ready for a little supper?”  Evelyn pounds her highchair and gets some avocado to squish into her mouth.  Leo pounds his highchair and carefully pinches a few peas. I teasingly pound my wheelchair and get a cup full of liquid poured into my belly.  Then we all take a ride around the house in my wheelchair. (Apparently, Grandpa-on-wheels makes me quite popular with the toddler set.)

Three ships passing in the day.  I sense a closeness to my grandchildren and I love it.  I am sensing a closeness to Jesus and I love it. “There is rest for my soul.”