Sunday, May 29, 2011

After Four Years…Moving Ahead

Bob Rakestraw

A little over four years ago, in March, 2007, I was placed in hospice care, during which time I would be able to live at home and be visited regularly by a nurse, a social worker, a massage therapist and a chaplain. I would have all the pain medications and palliative care I needed. My transplanted heart was diagnosed as being in a condition known as chronic (permanent) rejection, and I most likely had no more than six months to live.

Rather than simply wait to die I wanted to do something beneficial to others and encouraging to myself as long as I was able. So in May of that year a good friend, former faculty secretary and former student, Abigail Miller, helped me set up a blog, “The Benediction Project,” because I wanted the rest of my life, and my writings, to be a benediction to those I knew and to others around the world.

This month marks the four-year anniversary of “The Benediction Project,” and I am very grateful to God for his direction and strength, and to Abigail for her faithful and skillful management of the blog. In the past four years I have sent out 80 blog postings. There have been 9817 visitors, though with some of these the visitor just touched down briefly. Many, however, have stopped and read for a while. Some of you have even replied with your thoughts on the issue or issues before you. I read each of these replies carefully, although I sometimes find it difficult to respond as I would like. Keep sending them, however! I intend to do better.

As I have reviewed the past four years of postings, two broad themes seem to have emerged: the prevalence of pain, suffering, confusion and distress in this world, and God’s assurances of hope and triumph in the midst of these trials. In brief: life is tough but God is good. Or, as the old chorus says, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.” From time to time I have thought about writing on some controversial theological and ethical matters, even politics and world events, since I feel strongly about many issues. I usually refrain, however, because my primary calling (in writing) is to lead people around the world to real hope and fullness of life in Jesus Christ, no matter how difficult their existence may be, and to encourage people to “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one” (George Fox). In other words, know God and make him known.

Returning to my situation in May, 2007, in addition to starting the blog, I began to think (actually, think more) of a possible book on prayer. Jane Spriggs, a good friend, Bethel Seminary graduate, and minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church, graciously offered to help with the book. The result is shown in the picture at the very beginning of this blog: “Heart Cries: Praying by the Spirit in the Midst of Life,” a 210 page paperback concerning the meaning of prayer, how we can pray well, and 52 prayers I have written on numerous topics that concern all of us. There is even a chapter on Benedictions of the Bible. Jane and I are receiving feedback that the book is proving to be helpful to others. For this, we praise and thank God. The book was published in 2008 in the Philippines and in 2010 in the United States. It can be ordered by clicking on the line above the cover picture.

Now, as God gives me the wisdom and strength, I am beginning to work on another book. This one will be to people who are suffering and to those who desire to help them. I will be writing this primarily for the international community, speaking directly to those in the developing nations, as I have with “Heart Cries” and its predecessor in this series, “Serving by the Spirit: Spiritual Gifts and Spiritual Preaching” (now distributed in Cuba, in a Spanish edition). Of course I desire that my books be used to minister to people in every situation, but especially those living at the lowest economic levels of this world. Most copies of my recent books are distributed free of charge to some of the 3.2 million pastors and Christian workers in the developing nations who have little or no formal theological training.

It has been seven-and-a-half years since the heart transplant, and my immune system has been working overtime from the start to reject my heart. I was removed from hospice care after eight months, praise God. The rejection is, however, full-blown, and the condition of my heart (especially how it struggles to receive oxygen) is precarious. I appreciate your prayers very, very much, for the ability to move through each day, or lie on the bed, with the peace of God in my heart. The depression and anxiety which were quite serious a few years ago are mostly in the past. To God be the glory!

In gratitude for each of you, including the large number I have never met, wherever you live, I offer this closing benediction:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13