Jeremy Stopford (Semi-Retired Pastor?)

May 23, 2022

I read with great interest Brother Grant’s article this week about his heart. I’m not sure why that many servants of the Lord have similar experiences.

Sometime around four summers ago I had noticed that when I went for walks, well, not all of me moved with my feet! I would go for regular morning walks from my pastor’s study to the local post office, about 1/2 mile away. It was a good walk, a good opportunity to get outdoors. Also it was a GREAT opportunity to meet people at the post office!

I had the privilege in my last charge to serve the Lord there for precisely on the spot 10 years! I knew I would like this assignment (assigned by God, of course!).

Our community was only 5 miles from nearby Hamilton, New York, home of Colgate University. Not known to you? Colgate sports is area famous! Its football team is in what’s known as “Division 3”. But its hockey team is Division 1 all the way! It competes with collegiate teams from all over the country – many of which have the misfortune of traveling to central New York in the midst of one of our classic snow storms. The Colgate Patriots hockey teams have played in the “frozen four” many years, having finished 2nd in the NATION in 1990. What fun! And the Colgate football played in its own Division 3 finals at least once, the year it went 16-0. We went to the home playoff games – and yes, now those blizzards were OUTSIDE where there was no arena to protect either the fans nor the players from the white stuff.

Our little town of Earlville, New York…WAIT! How small is it? The population varies yearly, although many of Colgate’s professors live in Earlville because the property taxes are MUCH lower than in their beloved Hamilton. Years ago there were signs at each of the entrances to the village reading, “Earlville – Smalltown USA”.

We looked forward to the culture that our area provides. One of the features of our community is the “Earlville Opera House”. Why even one of the summers we lived in Earlville guess who played at the opera house? You bet! Peter Yarrow of “Peter, Paul, and Mary” fame. We could not park in front of our house – the streets were SO packed!

OH, the post office! In my first weeks as the pastor of the local Baptist church, I learned fast that there were two places to meet people in the village. The first was the Huff Brau tavern…AND RESTAURANT! (Except that often one had to pay for one’s meal at the bar, even though such meal had been enjoyed in the restaurant). I got to know the bartender real well. (That wasn’t worded too good was it? But you know what I mean!).

And then there was the post office! It was probably during that first week when I walked in, went to the church’s mail box and retrieved our mail, turned around to head out the door, when…in walked Doc Jerry. He was the retired overseer of the former mastitis laboratory which used to be housed across from the Opera House. Its building is now home to the Quincy Square Museum, a wonderful establishment which includes local history such as the old conestoga wagons which were built in the factory at the end of West Main Street and right near the train station – which location made for easy shipping throughout the world!

Back to Doc Jerry – he looked SO familiar, even though I had never met him before! When we sat down to compare notes, I learned that his younger brother was the founder of the office supply store in nearby Norwich, at which store where my wife was then working for Doc Jerry’s nephew who had bought the business from his parents! Small world, eh? And it was earlier this year when Doc called to let me know that his wife had died, and would I officiate her service. Did Doc ever come to church? No – well, except for the reception when I retired. Amazing lesson here – real ministry occurs NOT within the 4 walls of the church. Just sayin’.

Oh, back to the walks! It was on those walks to the post office when I noticed I was often “running out of breath”, needing to pause to “catch my breath”. One day four years ago my primary care doctor said while using his beloved stethoscope, “something doesn’t sound right”. The long story shortened…I ended up in an area hospital where they performed a nuclear stress test and an echocardiogram.

The results were read by a zillion year old (well, actually around 75 years old – not to offend anyone of that age!) retired heart surgeon. About 45 minutes after he began reviewing my tests results, he called me into his office. 3 insights: Number One “Where’s your wife? She ought to be here.” [she’s at a local store – you said the tests would take 3 hours instead of 1 1/2 hours). Number Two: “Your situation is urgent”. (I’m thinking “‘urgent’? Get me into the nearby hospital NOW”.) Number Three: “I’m surprised you’re still alive”.

“Yessiree! They will roll me right into the hospital, no suitcase needed!”. The old geezer (please accept my apologies) rolls me over to the receptionist’s station and says, “set up an appointment with the head surgeon.”

“Urgent”, the test evaluator said.

“I can get you in before the surgeon in two weeks,” the receptionist said.

“Urgent,” he said.

“For a consult,” she said!

Two weeks later, both my wife and I were in the surgeon’s office to view the latest, up-to-the-date defibrillator/pacemaker! And two weeks later (a full month after “URGENT”), I was wheeled into the operating room to receive my new addition to my body parts.

And I, too, looked up at the ceiling (see the Hon. John Grant’s story)! Looking up at the ceiling was all I was allowed to do for 24 hours!

“The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9a).

Jeremiah, my name sake, would ask the same question in his wonderful prophesy.

Do you ever read verse 10?

“I, the Lord, search the heart. I test the mind. Even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”

Both the lost and the found are the recipients of THIS spiritual defibrillator! The Lord searches the heart, just as my defibrillator/pacemaker searches mine and says, “speed up!” Or “slow down!”. And if one day I need a real jolt – I haven’t had one yet – my defibrillator can supposedly bring me back to life! But our Heavenly Father searches for those who love Him through trust in the purchase, not of a defibrillator, but of the blood of the Lamb slain at Calvary!

I, too, looked up at the ceiling and marveled. Unlike the temporary medical healing that the surgical staff of that hospital could give me, my Heavenly Father has given me an eternal healing of my heart! I belong to Him – and by faith, He to me!

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! About a year ago, we had a new neighbor and his family move into the apartment on the other side of ours. Pretty soon I noticed a most regular yet IRREGULAR occurrence: an alarm would go off every morning at 7:07am. Same time every day. Same sound every day. At first, I was SURE it was coming from my new neighbor’s side of the building! But after many days of persistent alarm sounds, I began to wonder – is it coming from my watch? Is it coming from my computer? Is it coming from my wife’s laptop computer? FROM WHERE WAS IT COMING??? Even when I was in the hospital last December enjoying the joys and fruit of Covid Pneumonia, my 7:07 alarm followed me. Every day without fail.

One morning earlier this year my wife and I were in the kitchen shortly after 7 am when, at precisely 7:07am my daily alarm roared out. My wife said, “JEREMY! The alarm is coming from your defibrillator!”

So I sent a text message to my cardiologist’s office. Within minutes, I received a phone call from that office: “GET IN HERE NOW!”.

“The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”

It seems that one of the two probes connecting my defibrillator to my heart – the probe in particular connecting the pacemaker part of the defibrillator to my heart – well (in the physician’s terms)…it had disintegrated! It was no longer functional, and the alarm – for the past year, mind you! – was telling me that there was something wrong with my new fancy schmancy machine!

“I the Lord test the heart…”

The surgeon’s office disconnected the alarm. Then I met with the surgeon himself who said, “we have a choice, and I think we’re making the right choice – although we’ll know pretty soon whether or not it is the right one.” Now THAT was comforting! He decided to “jack up” the usage of the defibrillator. Then, in two years when the defibrillator’s battery needs to be changed (“you mean, it’s not permanent?”), we’ll decide whether or not the second probe (“wire”) is needed.”

“I test the mind. Even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”

Isn’t it amazing that the Lord in His wisdom uses “the heart” as an illustration of how HE operates? Now for sure, “the heart” in Scripture is rarely a physical organ. It refers more to the inner emotions, the guiding directive between man and his Creator.

So Brother Grant, thanks for sharing! It is a pleasure to be a member of the “Staring Up At The Ceiling In The Hospital” Club.

For it is in that stare where the Good Lord knows He has His child where he can hear His tender voice.

For the child has no where else to go!