A Stroll At Leisure With God

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 59

Day 59: Lamentations 2:1 to Ezekiel 12:22 and My Mom and Treatment Starts

Last night, my mom had a fall and hit her head.

I’m ashamed to say that when Marilyn told me, my first thought was not about my mom but about me. I felt these words coming out of my mouth, “Lord, I can’t take this. This is too much.”

I was getting ready for bed when Marilyn told me. Her voice was calm. That helped right off the bat, but I raced upstairs to talk to her. She was sitting in a chair. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she replied, “I am fine. I just got a little dizzy.” Apparently, she fell in her room on the carpet.

We talked a bit longer. She reassured me. But I tossed and turned most of the night. This was kind of the scenario the last time my mom fell. She gradually felt worse and worse and we found out she had shattered some vertebrae in her back. I was just praying that it will be okay this morning. We will see. I will let you know in this blog tomorrow.

In the meantime, pray because she fell on her hip.

I really appreciate everyone who talked with me yesterday and/or called to let me know they are praying for me. I deeply appreciate it.

I already sense people’s prayers. I believe that when we pray for each other, the Lord applies those prayers in exactly the way we need them even though the intercessor has no idea.

To be honest, after my initial attack of extreme selfishness, I am more worried about my mom than I am about me today.

One of the calls I received yesterday came from a brother in Fort Worth. He and his wife are very good friends of my family. He called to tell me he was praying for me. Please pray for this brother as he has challenges of his own. I’m going to leave it at that. Our church is praying for his specific need, but I don’t feel led to go into detail here. I don’t think he would mind, but somehow I have a check in my spirit to share detail.

Anyway, I was glad to hear from him. I was amazed to hear him cite a passage I knew I would be reading this morning in Lamentations. I remember the first time I read it as a teenager from the Good News Translation. I want to quote the first three verses (I have memorized them, I think??). My friend referred to the next three:

"The Lord 's unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope. The Lord is good to everyone who trusts in him, So it is best for us to wait in patience—to wait for him to save us— And it is best to learn this patience in our youth" (Lamentations 3:22-27 GNT).

This sounds a little corny, but even back then, I put verses twenty-two to twenty-five to my own tune. This has helped me keep it in mind all these years.

And no, I will NEVER sing my tune in any public setting. Ha.

It was a few years later that I read the passage in the King James Version, and I realized that someone had already written a pretty good song about this passage.

It is on my heart today as I start “the pill” and pray for my mom. “Great is they faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee …” Amen and amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 58

Day 58: Jeremiah 48:1 to Lamentations 1:22 and Get This Show on the Road!

Even though I don’t start treatment today, I’m glad that I am going to the Cancer Center for some blood tests—just to get this show on the road. There are so many hoops to jump through for a clinical trial.

Yesterday, Rachel called to tell me that things had been delayed. She explained, “I have tried to call them multiple times today and apparently the lady in charge of approving this type of thing is off, so her boss is working on it. But she hasn’t returned my calls. Don’t come in tomorrow. We aren’t ready.” I could sense the frustration in her voice. I feel that she was genuinely trying to get things moving for me.

To be honest, it bummed me out. It just feels that this whole process has taken forever just to get started …

But then, she called back later in the afternoon and told me that they were indeed ready to move forward! So, I praise God for this!

It feels as the swelling on my neck is increasing by the day. It is often painful. LET’S GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD!

Oh, well. The Lord continues to take care of me as a dear brother in Christ, Sam, reminded me yesterday. We got together for a visit at the office to talk about some things. Please continue to pray for his wife.

As we were sharing about health issues, I mentioned another brother, Dan, former pastor of a sister church in our area. He posted a few sentences on Facebook yesterday. One of the first expressions I read was, “I now know what hell is going to be like.” As I read that, I thought, “What on earth is going on?” Well, he has a severe case of shingles. Please lift him up as well.

Back to my conversation with Sam—he made a point that I have been thinking about ever since. He stated that he believed that Satan was attacking us through sickness and illness. “Not all disease is the result of satanic attack, but some of it is.” Humm. Food for thought.

I will leave it up to the Lord to make those distinctions. Who knows, really? But one thing I do know is Who will triumph in the end.

The final chapters of Jeremiah are judgment sermons against enemy nations and they often employ rather graphic language. Here is an example:

"The Lord said, “Make Moab drunk, because it has rebelled against me. Moab will roll in its own vomit, and people will laugh" (Jeremiah 48:26 GNT).

The main thrust of these messages is the nation of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar and his army destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple (the final chapter of the book is a narrative telling this story) and carried the brightest and the best off to captivity.

However, the triumph of an enemy is NEVER the last word.

"The Lord says, ‘People of Babylonia, you plundered my nation. You are happy and glad, going about like a cow threshing grain or like a neighing horse, but your own great city will be humiliated and disgraced. Babylonia will be the least important nation of all; it will become a dry and waterless desert. Because of my anger no one will live in Babylon; it will be left in ruins, and all who pass by will be shocked and amazed’” (Jeremiah 50:11-13 GNT).

"None of the stones from your ruins will ever be used again for building. You will be like a desert forever. I, the Lord, have spoken" (Jeremiah 51:26 GNT).

And, of course, these predictions came true. God brought his people back to their land and he used Persia to wipe Babylon off the face of the earth. I understand that the place where the city and nation thrived is a desert. There is no trace of this empire that dominated the world for almost a century. Gone.

Last Sunday, I challenged the church to memorize scripture. I have personally been convicted as I have neglected this practice for years, citing all kinds of excuses, to my own detriment. None of them hold water. I used to memorize the Word all the time. Some of those verses I learned as a child and in VBS are still there.

I came across this verse today in the reading:
"But the one who will rescue them is strong—his name is the Lord Almighty. He himself will take up their cause and will bring peace to the earth, but trouble to the people of Babylonia” (Jeremiah 50:34 GNT). This verse like every other one in the Bible is “memorizable.” This is my verse for the day.

“Great and mighty is the Lord our God; Great and mighty is He; Great and mighty is the Lord our God; Great and mighty is He” Amen.


The Bible in 90 Days--Day 57

Day 57: Jeremiah 33:23 to 47:7 and Troubles But Protected

I know now that when I get tempted to whine and complain about my little troubles, I just need to read Jeremiah from cover to cover. The only way to describe him is that he was an unpopular man with an unpopular message delivered during the fall of a nation. I get depressed just writing those words!

But really, I don’t. I’m deeply encouraged. This is exactly the story of what is going on with true servants of the Lord these days. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not placing myself in that category. I aspire to be a true servant of the Lord, but I wonder if I am …

This week is going to be wall-to-wall as I prepare to teach a breakout session on Saturday, May 3
rd. The title of the conference is: “The Eagle is Landing: Conference on Strategic Aging.” Bob, the team leader of our association, has asked me to teach on the subject, “A Theology of Aging and Death.” As I progress with my research, I find it to be a fascinating study. But I still have a lot of work to do to prepare for Saturday. It is pushing me a bit.

I am continuing to work on book number two. I’ve had to set a high standard of what I am trying to write each day—15 journal entries per day. At this pace, I hope to finish a few days before Mother’s Day. This should allow me to have some time to edit what I have written and send it off to the publisher in India.

I had a great conversation yesterday with Nancy who is a friend of Laurie (the lady who edited my first book). Laurie has too much on her plate over the next month, but she recommended Nancy who is willing to take on my project. We are still in the negotiating stage.

Ha. Doesn’t that sound official? I’m talking as if the Broncos drafted me and I am getting ready to sign a contract. Right. In my dreams. I can just read the headline, “After Lengthy Negotiations, Broncos Sign 55 Year-old Pastor with Cancer to serve water to the players at games.” Hey, I’d take that gig! If any of you hear about the Broncos needing my services in that regard, let me know.

Anyway, Nancy and I just want to make sure we are on the same page (pun intended) before we work together.

All of this in addition to “stuff” at church and I start cancer treatments this week—short sentence—the biggest challenges of all.

Oh, and by the way, Saturday is also Marilyn’s birthday.

Other than that, not much going on. I’m glad the Lord can keep track of all of it. I certainly can’t.

I just get so much comfort seeing what happened to Jeremiah and how the Lord took care of him. The final days of the city of Jerusalem were tempestuous at best.

Beginning in chapter thirty-seven, Jeremiah was falsely accused as a deserter. Irijah arrested him and had him locked up. It looked at first as if he was going to be handed over to the Babylonians, but King Zedekiah had him transferred to the palace courtyard where he received a loaf of bread per day until the bread supply in the city was gone.

Jeremiah kept right on preaching.

His message torqued off some other officials who threw him in a dry well where he sunk in the mud. He would have died there had not Ebedmelech rescued him. When the officials discovered that Jeremiah had been rescued, the King spared Jeremiah again and allowed him to stay in the palace courtyard.

Then, when the city fell, Jeremiah was freed to go wherever he wanted.

It is an amazing story of trouble on one hand and the protection of God on the other. Isn’t this what the life of faith is all about?

Lord, there is no way I am going to navigate through this week without your grace and strength. But, like Jeremiah, one thing I am going to continue to do is preach and not stop, EVER.

Yesterday was Brian’s last Sunday as he and his family prepare to move to Houston. I’m thankful for this brother and his family. Bless them and keep them safe as they go. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 56

Day 56: Jeremiah 23:9 to 33:22

This is the key portion of Jeremiah’s prophecy and a very appropriate and encouraging message to me today.

As I have indicated before, this is the day that a sister SBC church on the North Side—Community of Faith in Broomfield—is deciding whether or not to close her doors.

For those of you who are reading this who are not from Denver or do not live here now, this congregation has been around for a long time (in Colorado terms)—forty years or so. I’m not quite sure of its history. But the church really took off, and as a result of its growth, the congregation built a 600-seat auditorium. It is HUGE.

Well, unfortunately, the promise of future growth did not occur. Instead, the church plateaued and started to decline a bit. One of the things that the church has always struggled with is that huge auditorium nowhere near being filled—it is hard to negotiate that.

In addition, I was trying to think how many pastors the church has had in the years I have been at First Southern—six or seven at least. I have known most of them and shared fellowship with them. The guys I knew loved the Lord and earnestly sought to serve him, but they just kept beating their head against a wall.

I have made this statement or similar ones to it, but I fear the same thing for the church I serve.

Somehow, it seems that when a church is a “senior adult” and gets to a certain point, death is imminent. And apart from a revival (always a possibility with the God we serve), it is just going to close its doors.

Now, let me hasten to say: I believe that our church is a long way away from this point. I really do. And that was confirmed on Wednesday night as I got the chance to do the membership class with a young couple who followed Jesus in baptism along with the other family on the day we presented the pictures and videos from the India trip. They are on fire for Jesus. The future is bright if we reach more couples like Paul and Lacey.

However, we are not immune from getting to the point where Community of Faith is, and I feel a burden to share this with the church I serve today as we spend time praying concertedly for them.

These chapters we read today in Jeremiah make a turn of sorts. Up to this point, the message that God gave Jeremiah was bleak, to say the least. The truth always hurts, especially if you are telling people that their nation is going to be destroyed, but in chapter twenty-nine, we see a glimmer of hope.

“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for. Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart. Yes, I say, you will find me, and I will restore you to your land. I will gather you from every country and from every place to which I have scattered you, and I will bring you back to the land from which I had sent you away into exile. I, the Lord, have spoken” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, GNT).

In addition to these encouraging words, chapter thirty-one introduces us to the concept of the New Covenant. This points the way to the Messiah and genuine forgiveness accomplished in the cross of Jesus.

"The Lord says, ‘The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant. The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The message to me today is clear: with the Lord, no matter how bleak things appear to be, there is always a plan, always hope. The Lord is at work, and He is still in the forgiveness and re-creation business.
Lord, nothing is going to cause me to lose hope in you. Again, the burden is heavy. I pray for this sister church. I pray for revival for the church I serve today. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 55

Day 55: Jeremiah 10:14 to 23:8 and a Strange Occurrence

As I continue to read the book of Jeremiah, I am floored by how personal and intimate and real the view is of the prophet. It is stunning. Somehow, in my previous readings over the years, I have not seen these accumulated references as I have now. I tried to keep track of them this morning.

Anyway, I will get to that, but first, I have to share something strange that happened to me today.

Recently, at the church, we moved to a security card system for our outer doors. The reason is that we have had some vandalism, and we wanted to be able to do a better job of keeping track of who is entering and leaving the building.

Of course, I have one of those cards, and as I was leaving Wednesday night, I distinctly remember putting it in my pocket.

When I got home and started to empty my pockets, the card was gone. I looked everywhere in my backpack and coat—nothing. I started to get a little panicky because I feared that I had somehow dropped it out of my pocket on the parking lot.

I contacted Jeremy—our Youth Pastor--about this, just because I wanted someone to know. He had probably just got home himself, but he graciously drove back to the church to look around for it. It was rainy and cold Wednesday night. I’m sure he looked in the parking lot and in the office area. Nothing.

This may seem like a trivial matter, but since Wednesday, it has been weighing on me. What on earth happened to that card? I was worried that somehow, it was “out there” and someone might get into the building.

Last night, as Marilyn got into her car in the passenger’s seat (I was driving), she said, “What is this? I found it in the arm rest on the passenger’s side.” It was my security card! I praise God for this. It is a huge load off my mind.

But here is what I am struggling with as I sit here this morning: how on earth did it get THERE? I have no idea. In my panic Wednesday night, I did not look in my mom/sister’s car. I did not go anywhere near it.

Am I losing it? I ask that question in jest, sort of.

The one thing I notice about cancer for me is that it does have an effect on my mind—probably not a physical impact but a psychological one. Who knows? Before I was diagnosed, I was a space cadet. Now, it seems worse. This incident continues to weigh on me. It feels like a satanic attack.

I’ve just peeled things back a bit in my private life to share that with you. I’m sure some might be thinking, “Humm, let’s call the men in white coats. This guy has lost it.” I am not sure that I wouldn’t agree with you.

But this whole prophecy of Jeremiah does that with the prophet over and over, just in the ten plus chapters for today. Again, this is rather hard to keep track of, but I’m going to try to list all he went through:

--Jeremiah struggled with the concept of God’s justice.
--Jeremiah’s family turned against him.
--Jeremiah cried a lot because of the sin of the people.
--Jeremiah questioned why he was even born.
--People cursed Jeremiah.
--Jeremiah asked the Lord to take revenge on the prophet’s enemies.
--Jeremiah struggled with why God didn’t stop his suffering.
--Jeremiah dealt with people who questioned his ministry.
--The people plotted against him, trying to trump up false charges.
--Pashur, the chief officer of the Temple, had Jeremiah beaten and chained.
--Jeremiah felt that the Lord had somehow tricked him.
--Jeremiah questioned why the Lord gave him such a negative message that no one wanted to hear.
--Jeremiah cursed the day he was born.
--Jeremiah wondered why God why God allowed him to have so much sorrow and trouble and to end his life in disgrace.

Lord, I don’t know what to say to all of this … Maybe just sitting in silence before you is what I need to do. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 54

Day 54: Isaiah 66:19 to Jeremiah 10:13

One of the bi-products of the reading for today is that I just had to take time to be dead-level honest with the Lord on the subject of my struggles/concerns at this point.

Besides the pain in my neck (some would say that I AM a pain in the neck), I’m battling having to go through treatment again so soon after completing the regimen I went through the first time—chemo and then TWO more years of treatment. It is crazy. Not even months after I finished that, here I am again.

I found myself saying to someone the other day, “I guess this is going to be the rest of my life.” I’m just trying to wrap my mind around it.

Please understand at this point: I am just being honest. The truth is that I feel great, better than ever. My pilgrimage with cancer has been nowhere near as difficult as what many others have experienced, and I have a lot of people praying for me. Things are good. God is good.

But somehow today, I just felt compelled to write this. I don’t want anyone to think that I am just sailing through this new chapter of cancer without a care in the world. This is NOT the case. It is different than the first time, for sure, but to say that does not mean that it is easy.

Anyway, again, all of this is in the interest of one of the goals of this blog—to be real.

This is why I love Jeremiah the prophet. It seems as if it has been too long, way too long since I have immersed myself in this prophecy. One of my electives at seminary was the book of Jeremiah under F. B. Huey. I still have his commentary on this book. He did a great job of pointing out to all of us the “humanness” of the prophet.

More than any other major prophet, we get glimpses into what is going on in the heart and life of this man of God who ministered in the most crucial period of Judah’s history. God gave him a hard message. And there is not recorded incidence of anyone responding positively to his message.

Not one person in forty years.

When I get discouraged as a pastor in 21
st Century America, I need to remember Jeremiah.

Now, I have to be careful at this point because I plan to preach from this prophecy the first Sunday of May. The reading today really helped me with the direction I believe the Lord is leading me to go with that sermon.

But I want to cite just one passage in the chapters I read this morning. This will show you what I am talking about:

"I wish my head were a well of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I could cry day and night for my people who have been killed. I wish I had a place to stay in the desert where I could get away from my people. They are all unfaithful, a mob of traitors. They are always ready to tell lies; dishonesty instead of truth rules the land. The Lord says, ‘My people do one evil thing after another and do not acknowledge me as their God’” (Jeremiah 9:1-3 GNT).

This is why they call him, “The Weeping Prophet.”

Lord, I’m grateful that we can be real with you. Jeremiah was not a robot. Neither are we. Even though there are some—even in the church—that cannot handle someone being honest, I’m glad you can. Thanks for allowing me to pour out my heart to you today. I love you. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 53

Day 53: Isaiah 52:13 to 66:24 and Starting New Treatment

A quick update from my visit to the doctor yesterday: the CT scan showed that my cancer was localized. It has not spread beyond the lymph nodes in my neck. I was thankful for this.

I expressed concern to the doctor about the fact that things have seemed rather delayed and I was worried about the spread of cancer. He replied, “Well, John, we would be worried if you have cancer in the colon and it had spread to another organ, but with the blood cancers and lymph nodes that can happen at times, but you are in a very good place to start this treatment.”

I think his comments and answers really helped the three of us feel better.

I have to go back to the doctor next Monday for a check-up of some sort. Then, it appears, if everything goes well with getting things set up, that I will take my first pill on Wednesday around 9:00. An hour and a half later, I have to get my blood tested. Two and a half hours later, I have to have another blood test. Rachel, the nurse, told me that they just want to make sure the first time that my body is tolerating the pill well. I don’t think I will do these tests after taking subsequent pills.

I guess I will be “on the pill” every 28 days. I’m anxious to get started and thankful I don’t have to do what I did the first time—get chemo and then a steroid shot the next day. Thank you, Lord.

I’m fully anticipating continuing on with no interruptions in my work schedule. HOWEVER, I will pull aside and adjust if I don’t feel well. Rest assured. I’ve learned my lesson in that regard. But by all indications, this treatment is more focused on the problem areas, and it seems to be well tolerated in most cases, according to the doctor. We will see.

But I am amazed and thankful to be privy to all the advancements out there in treating my disease. Again, Jesus, thank you.

The readings today in the book of Isaiah bring this monumental prophecy to a close. Every time I read Isaiah, I think that one could spend his life studying just this book and not even begin to scratch the surface. Of course, this is true with every book …

As I indicated yesterday, one of the major themes of these final chapters is the concept of the Suffering Servant. Here is one of the prominent passages about him:

"“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. All the while we thought that his suffering was punishment sent by God" (Isaiah 53:4 GNT). This is one of those things that makes me amazed at the way God works. His answer to the sin and rebellion and idolatry of his people (and of the human race) is Someone who comes to identify with the suffering we endure because of the consequences of our sin. He is right in the middle of all of that. He suffers with us and for us and in our place. And as a result of that, as we repent and turn to Him in faith, we receive the permanent “fix” for our waywardness—the new covenant in the blood of Christ and the inward transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit.

And, there is one more final bonus—the New Jerusalem. The final chapters speak often and again of this eternal home as well.

"The Lord says, ‘I am making a new earth and new heavens. The events of the past will be completely forgotten. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create. The new Jerusalem I make will be full of joy, and her people will be happy. I myself will be filled with joy because of Jerusalem and her people. There will be no weeping there, no calling for help’” (Isaiah 65:17-19 GNT).

My heart is full today, as I think about everything You have done for me, Jesus. Thank you for bringing me to this point in my cancer pilgrimage. I feel very well taken care of. Thank you for all the suffering you endured for me so that I could enjoy eternity in a place of perpetual joy—no more pain, no more cancer, only joy FOREVER. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 52

Day 52: Isaiah 41:19 to 52:12 and Who’s Who and What’s What

Just a quick update on my health stuff: I am going to see the oncologist this morning. My mom and sis are going with me. He will have all the results of all the tests, including the CT scan and the EKG I got on Monday. Hopefully, it won’t be long until I can get started.

One of my questions for the doc today will be, “Why has it taken so long to get this ball rolling if you are convinced that my cancer has returned?” I will be interested to hear his response. I sure hope it hasn’t spread to other areas.

Of course, I have to keep in mind that things might have moved a little quicker had I not gone to India. So, I’m glad I got to do that …

Anyway, thanks for praying. As I look back on how I felt about all this “stuff” when I was first diagnosed and how I feel now, it seems to be a night and day difference. It is not that I am not concerned. This whole thing tends to weigh a bit, but I don’t have the oppressive burden the first time felt like. Going to the doctor almost feels as if I am going in to get medicine for a head cold.

I am learning why cancer patients who deal with this disease over a long period of time come to the place they don’t want to talk about it. I understand it now. But, I am not there yet. Anyone who cares enough to ask me, I appreciate it so much. And I know there are a lot of others who are praying as well. Thanks again to all of you.

The reading for today falls rather neatly into two main sections, both of which are fascinating. Chapters 40 to 48 in Isaiah recycle the same contentions over and over and over. I am going to pick a couple of examples:

"I am the lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols. Everything I prophesied has come true, and now I will prophesy again. I will tell you the future before it happens” (Isaiah 42:8, 9 NLT).

"Some people pour out their silver and gold and hire a craftsman to make a god from it. Then they bow down and worship it! They carry it around on their shoulders, and when they set it down, it stays there. It can’t even move! And when someone prays to it, there is no answer. It can’t rescue anyone from trouble" (Isaiah 46:6, 7 NLT)

Do you see it? God asserts his identity as the one, true God and the worthlessness of idols. Another common theme is God’s prediction that the people would eventually leave captivity in Babylon—they would pass through their time of suffering—and return home to Israel. This is another proof that God is in charge.

One of the results of the Babylonian captivity is that Israel as a nation never engaged in idolatry ever again.

It makes me ask the question of myself and of all of us: what is it going to take to cure all of us of idolatry for good? I think the Lord has got some more work to do with me. Cancer seems to be one of his main tools.

The other theme that begins to be introduced—we will see it fully in the reading tomorrow forward—is the identity of a Servant whom God will use to save His people. Here is one word about him: "I offered my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting" (Isaiah 50:6 NLT). Get a hint of what is ahead?

Lord, today, I thank you for the process you are using in my life to purge out all idolatry and bring me to the place of total dependence on you. I pray for all my readers today as well.

I also pray for a sister SBC church in our community who is meeting this Sunday to decide whether or not to close their doors or continue to try to minister to their community. Oh, Lord. Guide them in their choices. I love you, Jesus, My Suffering Servant. Amen.


The Bible in 90 Days--Day 51

Day 51: Isaiah 29:1 to 41:18 and the Letter before the Lord

These chapters in Isaiah have to be among my favorites in the Old Testament. There are so many memorable verses plus the narrative section of this part of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Beginning with chapter 36, we see three stories from the reign of Hezekiah. The first story in chapters 36-37 tells about the invasion of the Assyrian King Sennacherib into Judah.

A word of historical background is important at this point. The Assyrians were the dominant world power for well over a hundred years. They had laid siege to the capitol city of the Northern Kingdom—Samaria—and had destroyed it in 721 B. C.

But they were still wreaking havoc in the next century as they set their sights on the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and it did not appear that anyone could stop them.

This is just such a classic story. It fits in the same category as that of David and Goliath. There was no way “on paper” (or parchment, as the case may be—ha) that Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem had any chance of prevailing.

Much of what goes on in chapter thirty-six is just a record of the taunts of Sennacherib. He just blithers on and on and on. His threats are really against God, as he counsels the people not to trust what Hezekiah is telling them. The enemy king sent one final, taunting letter to Hezekiah.

How did he respond? Here is one of the classic “moves” in the whole Bible:

"After Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it, he went up to the lord ’s Temple and spread it out before the lord. And Hezekiah prayed this prayer before the Lord" “Isaiah 37:14, 15 NLT). I love this. He did not fret. He did not worry. He just took this letter (and thus the situation as a whole) and gave it to the Lord.

The prayer he prays is a classic as well. It reminds me of the prayer that the early church prayed in Acts 4 after Peter and John’s arrest.

Both prayers are acknowledgements of the greatness of God and present straightforward petitions to the Lord, asking that His Name would be vindicated. There is no hocus pocus, no fancy footwork needed here.

The taunts were about God. The solution is about God. Pure and simple.

And this is another element that I love about these famous biblical stories. The build-up, the hype is so great and consumes so much ink on the page, but the Lord just snaps his fingers and overnight, 185,000 enemy soldiers (that is a lot of folks!) are dead. Sennacherib slinks back to Assyria. Soon thereafter, he is dead.

In other words, the Lord took care of it when Hezekiah acknowledged what was true all along: the battle belongs to the Lord!

“And we sing glory honor power and strength to the King. And we sing glory honor power and strength to the King.” One of my favorite choruses with the title, “The Battle Belongs to the Lord.”

With all the weights hanging on me right now, I am going to take some time to consider each one “a letter” to lay before the Lord.

They now belong to you. They have all along. I’m just acknowledging it, Lord. Sorry it took so long. Amen.


The Bible in 90 Days--Day 50

Day 50: Isaiah 14:1 to 28:29 and More Tests

When I use the word “tests,” I mean more than medical tests.

Today, as a part of the clinical trial, I have to go to the hospital for a CT scan this morning. Then, in the afternoon, I have an appointment for an EKG.

Somewhere, sprinkled around in and through all of this and into the night, I have work to do plus I continue to try to make progress on the devotional book I am writing for the publisher in India.

I have to be honest at this point—with all of this going on plus “stuff” at church, I feel a lot of pressure these days. I don’t think that is good for my health, but it is what it is.

I recall a conversation with Dr. Jotte’s former assistant Kelly (who has since retired) as we were talking about cancer with her a few months ago. Marilyn asked, “What role does stress have in cancer?”

Kelly was emphatic, “Well, of course it is not good, but from our standpoint, it has no effect. The truth is that everyone has stress. It is just part of human life. We can’t measure or quantify it for each person.”

Everyone has stress. That is a fact. I just believe that right now, I am being given a “battery” of tests all at the same time.

Yesterday, a sister in the church commented about this blog. She said, “I can read the heaviness and the burden in your writing.” Very astute observation and very true.

From the start, I have seen this blog as an opportunity to be human, to share all the warts and struggles. Sometimes—most of the time—they are not pretty, but they are there. The truth is that there is a lot I don’t share simply because it is inappropriate to do so. On those matters, I call friends up on the phone or talk to my family and “unload” on them.

All of this to say—a verse I read in Isaiah this morning has always meant a lot to me. I cite it here as meditation-worthy for your day or week.

"You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever; he will always protect us” (Isaiah 26:3-4, GNT). Isaiah 26:3 has long been one of my favorites. I’m thankful that the Lord brought me to this verse and the one after it today.

These verses stand out even a bit more because of the part of the book of Isaiah they are in—the judgments against enemy nations. This is chilling stuff. Ultimately, every person or every nation that turns away from God will face the consequences.

I can’t help but think of our beloved USA. I think in the back of our minds we all live with the illusion that we are good and God will continue to take care of us. I think that might be a false assumption in many ways.

I have seen it over the past few years in the ever-diminishing crowds on Easter. We had a good group there yesterday, but it is not and never will be what it was for us—multiple reasons, I am sure, but still …

Lord, I thank you for all the tests. They seem overwhelming at this point, but I choose by grace through faith to keep my purpose firm and my trust solidly in you. Amen.


The Bible in 90 Days--Day 49

Day 49: Isaiah 1:1-13:22 and a Stump on Easter

Time seems to be getting away from me this morning. I feel kind of disjointed and distracted—so much going on. I’ve learned that when I feel this way on Sunday morning, I need some time just to quiet my heart before the Lord or I will just take this mindset into the day and worship—not good.

Just a quick comment about Friday night—I felt we had a great service. The selection of songs and music was excellent. Calla led us to sing one of my favorites, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name …” This song has been on my mind ever since.

I went to a “strange” place for my approach to the service. I call it “strange” because it is so for me, but not to a lot of believers in the church. I went to the Lectionary online and found an awesome reading for Good Friday. I added a responsive element to it. I think it went well.

I’m praying that this morning goes well. I’ve learned not to invest too much expectation and hope in this day as far as attendance is concerned. I trust God to do great things. Don’t get me wrong, but I think the days are gone when people will just decide to go to church on Easter Sunday when they don’t go any other time of the year.

Actually, this has been one of the greatest shifts I have observed in the twenty plus years I have been pastor—the “I go to church on Christmas and Easter” crowd has almost disappeared. I hope I am wrong today, but I don’t think so.

Be that as it may, I will minister to the folks that will be there today and am glad to do it.

As negative as I have come across this morning, however, I do have hope, but it is not in people. It is in the Lord.

I was so encouraged by a couple of references I came across in the reading today.

Isaiah is the first of the Major Prophets—so labeled because of the length of the book and those that immediately follow: Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

The first twelve chapters of this monumental prophecy are full of famous passages—the Lord’s comments in chapter one about worship; the story of the vineyard in chapter five; the call experience of the prophet in chapter six; and the “Christmas prophecies in chapters seven and nine.

Back to the call experience for a moment—the Lord paints a rather bleak picture about the prophet’s ministry but at the very end of the chapter, there is this reference:

"Even if one person out of ten remains in the land, he too will be destroyed; he will be like the stump of an oak tree that has been cut down.” (The stump represents a new beginning for God's people.)" (Isaiah 6:13 GNT) I like that parenthetical insert on the part of the Good News Translation.

Interestingly enough, this image comes up again:

"The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David's descendants" (Isaiah 11:1 GNT).

Of course, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is Jesus and His resurrection from the dead.

“I serve a Risen Savior who is in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say.” Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 48

Day 48: Ecclesiastes 3:1 to Song of Songs 8:14 and Wisdom Literature

Whenever I read Ecclesiastes, I always think of my friend Rick.

Several years ago, when he was teaching at New Orleans Seminary, he invited me to come and teach a special course with him on the book of Ecclesiastes. Rick taught the content of the book; it was my job to talk about ways to preach the book.

The main thing I enjoyed was hanging out with Rick and Jonann (his wife) as we did when we were in seminary together.

One side note to this story is that as I was trying to leave New Orleans, I learned that the airport was closed! Huh? There was a huge blizzard. I believe it was in 1997 or 98—one of the years that the Broncos went to the Super Bowl. I got out a day late and got stuck in Houston over a Sunday. So, I watched the Broncos beat the Buffalo Bills. Anyway, …

Interestingly enough, one of the passages Rick and I spent a lot of time on is the well-known start to chapter three of Ecclesiastes:

"For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up" (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 NLT).

If I had a dime for every time I have heard this passage read or quoted or cited at funeral, I would be a millionaire. Unfortunately, if one reads the context of these verses in Ecclesiastes, I’m not sure he or she would use them at a funeral. These are actually some of the most depressing words of the whole book as the Preacher or Philosopher (as the Good News Translation) calls him continues to observe life.

In short, what he is saying is: it really doesn’t matter what we do or have done, God is going to do what He will do in His time and there is nothing we can do about it. I would say that these words border on fatalism. But you have to be careful. This whole book is about the human search for meaning in life. It is a very honest, brutally honest chronicle of the futility of most of the things we as humans get obsessed about.

This search concludes with these thoughts at the end of the book:

"After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God, and obey his commands, because this is all that we were created for. God is going to judge everything we do, whether good or bad, even things done in secret" (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14 GNT).

The Philosopher ends up at a good place, but he has to travel some difficult roads to get there. Isn’t that what a genuine believer’s life is all about?

I still believe that this is a very relevant message for all the “ladder climbers” who get so obsessed with doing whatever they have to do to be successful in this life, at the expense of everything that matters.

I also come back to the conviction that no other part of God’s Word gets misinterpreted and misapplied more than the Wisdom books.

And, the Song of Songs is at the top of this list. Oh, man. Here is what I believe about this book: it is a very graphic ode to the bliss of sex in marriage. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

Isn’t this the plan and purpose of God? Marriage is God’s context for physical love to be expressed between a man and a woman, but our culture has so perverted it that we see sex twisted and perverted all over the place, even to the point of redefining what marriage is. We need to recover the biblical view of marriage in our culture and celebrate it as Christians, unashamedly.

Decades ago, someone asked Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach to compare his sex life to that of the famous (or infamous) profligate behaviors of Joe Namath (I will always blame him for the Broncos Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks—he botched the coin toss! But I digress). Here is what Staubach said, “I like sex just as much as Joe Namath but with my wife only.”

Lord, I affirm today that wisdom, true wisdom, in all of life’s pursuits, especially the joys of sex in marriage, come from You. Your ways, Your plans, are always best. Amen.


the Bible in 90 Days--Day 47

Day 47: Proverbs 20:22 to Ecclesiastes 2:26 and Bookends for Good Friday

The more I read Proverbs, the more I value the message of the book as a whole. I first started to grasp this as my friend Rick and I talked about it in seminary. Prior to that, I missed the overall point.

Chapters one through seven are one side of the bookend. Among other things, they focus on the wanton woman. These chapters culminate with the story of the young man who is seduced. The adulterous wife takes him to her home for an illicit affair.

Chapter thirty-one is the other bookend. This book culminates with an ode to a virtuous wife. She is no wallflower. She is industrious. She makes wise decisions. She is a hard worker. She gets up early and goes to bed late, making sure that the affairs of the household run smoothly.

I hope this doesn’t sound corny, but this description has always reminded me of my mom.

It was true of her while my dad was alive, but even more so when he passed away. She was always up way before any of us. She got things ready for us, and then had her time with Jesus.

This is still the way our house operates, except for the fact that I get up way before everyone else. Of course, I learned this from my mom. Like her, I just can’t waste these precious quiet hours before the world gets going.

My mom was (still is) a hard worker. There was always plenty to do around our household. This is why I can never understand women who get bored with being a wife and mother. My mom always said it was the best job and the most important in the world.

I know that financial necessities and circumstances differ from home to home. I know some great wives and moms who work outside the home and yet do a great job with their family—nothing gets missed or neglected. So, please know that I am not stereotyping here. But having a mom who was stay-at-home was a huge blessing for my sister and me.

Anyway … I could go on. These two descriptions—the wanton woman on one hand and the virtuous woman on the other form the bookends for Proverbs. Wisdom in effect is personified as a woman. I think that metaphor fits well.

Today is Good Friday. We are having our second annual Good Friday service this evening. I’m looking forward to it. I have told people that we will not “tarry” long. The service should last no more than forty-five minutes, but the entire focus will be on the cross and what Jesus did for us there.

I honestly don’t think we talk about the core of the gospel enough. Jeremy has a good term for it—Gospel-centered. I’m afraid that too often, we push the gospel to the periphery and make other self-help issues the core.

I go back to Spurgeon at this point. The great English preacher made it clear that every sermon is about Jesus.

One day, someone asked him, “What if people don’t want to hear about Jesus all the time?”

He answered, “Then, I keep preaching Him until He is all they want to hear about.”

Jesus, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything Your death on Calvary meant for me and my family and the world. There is no wisdom apart from You. There is no mercy apart from the cross. Thank you for spilling your blood and breaking your body for me. I love you.

Back to that song, Worthy is the Lamb: “Thank you for the cross, Lord” Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 46

Day 46: Proverbs 7:1 to 20:21 and “On the Pill”

Before I get to the passage, I want to thank everyone who asked how I was doing yesterday and asked about my mom.

First, my mom made it through her surgery well. The actual surgery did not take long, but she was at the doctor’s office with Marilyn for a few hours. Now, she has a patch on her eye and must keep it there till this afternoon.

Second, I had a good visit at the Cancer Center with Rachel. One of my main questions about the clinical trial was, “If this trial doesn’t help me, am I stuck in it for the duration?” Rachel answered, “No. If the doctor sees that this new drug is not helping the ‘activity’ in the lymph nodes on your neck, then he will take you out of it and start another treatment. Dr. Jotte always puts the patient first.” I have to tell all of you that I got a lot of relief out of that answer.

I signed on the dotted line. Again, that is no hard and fast agreement. It just means that I agree to do what is necessary to get this trial started and that I will participate in it. My first step is fasting this morning. I have to go back to the Center at 8:00 AM for some tests.

Yesterday, I remember a thought I had a few years ago. I was driving along and this thought hit my tiny brain, “Humm. I haven’t even been to see a doctor in a couple of years. Humm.” I don’t know if I thanked the Lord for this. I hope I did, because now, my life is TOTALLY the opposite of that. It seems that just about all I do is to go one doctor’s office after another.

Please hear me: I am not complaining. I’m thankful for doctors who can help me. It is just weird. I’m still not used to it. In one way, I hope I never get used to it, but it just doesn’t stress me out as it did at first. I am learning, as my friend Donnie in Louisiana told me about all his treatments, to “take them in stride.” At least I hope to respond that way. We will see.

Anyway, thanks for your prayers. I’m not exactly sure when the treatments will start, but I am ready. It will be interesting to see how the pill works.

I’m going to tell people, “I’m on the pill.”

Well, maybe not …

Anyway, the reading for today is in the book of Proverbs. Chapter 7 is a narrative about a foolish man who follows a “wanton” woman to her home for adultery. The Holy Spirit uses this scenario as a metaphor for the whole rest of the book.

Wisdom chooses the right path; foolishness does not.

It is basically as simple as that. After chapter eight in which Wisdom is personified, the book of Proverbs begins in earnest. This book is basically just one principle after another in short, pithy statements.

I honestly believe that this part of the book of Proverbs is the most difficult section in all the Word of God when it comes to “The Bible in 90 Days.” These aphorisms are always so thought provoking. I believe we should read them slowly, pausing to pray about each truism.

Several stood out to me today. I’m just going to cite them here:

"To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord. If you know the Holy One, you have understanding. Wisdom will add years to your life. You are the one who will profit if you have wisdom, and if you reject it, you are the one who will suffer" (9:10-12, GNT).
"The righteous get what they want, but the wicked will get what they fear most" (10:24, GNT).

"Homes are made by the wisdom of women, but are destroyed by foolishness" (14:1, GNT).
"An intelligent person learns more from one rebuke than a fool learns from being beaten a hundred times” (17:10, GNT).

"If you are sensible, you will control your temper. When someone wrongs you, it is a great virtue to ignore it” (19:11, GNT).

That’s enough. They are all good.

Lord, I’m so glad as I start another round of cancer treatment that You care in detail. There is not one thing that happens on this planet, not one thought, not one careless word, not one decision (good or bad) over which You are not Lord. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 45

Day 45: Psalm 135:1 to Proverbs 6:35 and the Ups and Downs

Just a quick update about my health stuff—I put a prayer request on my personal Facebook page yesterday.

It does seem as if I qualify for the clinical trial. One lymph node has swollen to a size large enough for me to qualify. I guess that is good news?!?

It really is because the doctor wanted to get me in the newest and best treatment regimen for my disease. It is a pill! If I understand correctly, I just take the pill and I don’t have to go sit in the chemo room for hours. He told me that the results have been very good. People seem to tolerate this option very well.

I talked with Rachel from the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center yesterday. She asked me to come in this morning to sign on the dotted line that I indeed do want to choose this option. I asked her to send this agreement to me in advance. When I finally got home last night from work, I spent some time reading it.

Here is one comment I read: “Side effects may go away after you stop taking the study drug. It may last a long time, or it may never go away. There may be side effects that no one knows about yet.”

There ARE risks, but the way I figure it (and I will ask the doctor this and many other questions) is that this is the case with chemo anyway. There are no guarantees about how each individual will respond to any drug one receives, right? Even if it is some over-the-counter medicine.

Anyway, please pray for wisdom. I will be at the cancer center this morning as my mom is having cataract surgery. Please pray for her as well. We really hope that this surgery will allow her to see a little bit better.

So much going on—one more thing to share is that I have received the honor of being asked to write another devotional book. My friend Phil recommended me, and a publisher in India has contacted me. I am under a deadline in that I must complete this book by the end of May. It is now April 16
th, and I have written just 9 out of 366 entries in this yearlong devotional.

What I am trying to do is rework my daily blogs to fit the format the publisher wants.

He desires a lot less verbiage than I spill out on the page per day. Thus, I have a lot of cutting and reworking to do before I can transplant some of my current blog posts to this venue. I hope to catch my stride in this effort and start cranking out a lot of devotional entries per day.

I hope.

I don’t want this opportunity to affect what I do here each morning. We will have to see. I’m sure that it will cause me to be less verbose. That is a good thing, right?

But I am thankful for this opportunity. I now realize that this deadline will keep my feet to the fire and force me to do what I have felt led to do all along—write a second devotional book.

Anyway, on to the reading for today—as I finished Psalms and started Proverbs, I was once again impressed about the varieties of biblical literature. On the one hand, you have Psalm 137. The formal name for it as well as other Psalms in the Psalter is “Imprecatory Psalm.” It concludes with this rather stark request:

"Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy are those who pay you back for what you have done to us— who take your babies and smash them against a rock" (Psalm 137:8, 9 GNT).

How does one reconcile this request? I mean, really? Well, it is just dead-level honest and human. When you read about the atrocities the Babylonians perpetrated against Israel, when they invaded the land and deported many citizens, you can understand the emotion behind this request.

So, you have imprecatory Psalms, but also Psalms that cry out for help as well as Psalms of praise.

For the first time EVER in my life, I finished the Psalms and just turned the page of my Bible to continue reading Proverbs. As far as Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament goes, it is a “different critter,” but it is equally instructive as it relates to every aspect of life.

I believe Proverbs 1:7 is key—“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Here is a truism in the early chapters of Proverbs that captured my attention this morning: “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts" (Proverbs 4:23, GNT).
Lord, I thank you today that Your Word shows me that you care and are intricately involved in every aspect of our lives—from tough decisions to surgeries to warnings about evil to challenges about every thought that crosses my mind. “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight today, My Rock and My Redeemer.” Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 44

Day 44: Psalm 109:1 to 134:3 and the Song of Ascents

Just a quick report: I had the ultrasound yesterday. The nurse (Christy) who administered it asked me what the purpose was. I told her that the cancer doctor was using it to see if the lymph nodes on the left side of my neck had swollen enough for me to qualify for a clinical trial he wanted to get me into.

Christy nodded her head, “I see. Well, my opinion is that you won’t have any problem getting in because these lymph nodes are at least 5 centimeters.” The benchmark for qualification is two, if my memory serves.

Whatever. I am getting a little impatient that it is taking this long to get the show on the road. I hope to be able to touch base with someone at the Cancer Center today and find out what is going on.

To be honest, it disturbs me a little bit. When I was first diagnosed back in the summer of 2010, the doctor seemed to have urgency about getting me in and starting treatment. This time, it feels different, and I don’t know why.

I have some friends who are counseling me to go to another doctor. They feel that this whole thing has been handled in a very slipshod way. I’m not sure I am quite THERE yet. We will just have to see.

No one in my family wants to take THAT step yet. We believe that the Lord led us to Dr. Jotte and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. However, getting another opinion or perspective might be helpful. Please pray for us in that regard.

Today’s reading brings us to one of my favorite sections of the Psalms. Psalms 120-134 are called “the Song of Ascents.” I have actually preached a series of sermons on this section of the Psalter. These songs were originally intended for pilgrims who are making their way back to the homeland from captivity in Babylon, and they seem to progress that way.

Psalm 120:5 makes a reference to Babylon—“Meschech” and “Kedar.” That latter term is the name of a prominent river in Babylon near which most Israelites settled when they were deported from Israel.

Take a few moments and search for this river in Google, and you will find that living around that river was no vacation. The land is barren. No wonder the Israelites missed home so much!

But these Psalms progress to the Temple in Jerusalem (Psalm 134). Of course, the historical reality is that, when the people returned to Israel, there was no physical temple. The land, the city of Jerusalem, and the old temple were in ruins.

Thus, they served the dual purpose of guiding Jewish worshipers in the latter temple itself. See and look up Song of Ascents. Very interesting.

Anyway, these Psalms are pithy and full of hope. They are my favorite section of the Psalms. I’m glad to read the “song” in its entirety today. I have never done this before. Why not? The section is not called “Songs.” It is A song.

Here is one verse that is “meditation-worthy” today:

"Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 124:8 GNT).

Lord, I need your help as much today as I have ever needed it. Thank you that I can call on You, Maker of Heaven and Earth. Thank You for your help in the journey.

“Son, go bring my children home” (I found this song in the songbook Jim loaned me. He is a southern gospel guy. Now, I am too. The book is Southern Gospel’s Best of the 80’s. The song is “Bring My Children Home”--an awesome message!) We are in pilgrimage, just as the Israelites were. We are headed home—the REAL home. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 43

Day 43: Psalm 89:14 to 108:13 and an Ultrasound

My time is a little short today, just because I have sensed the need to spend more time in communion with the Lord. Frankly, I feel overwhelmed with the challenges at church, with some personal ministry commitments I have made, and with all my health stuff.

As I pray about all of it, I don’t feel led to back out of any commitments. It is just the combination of everything right now. Again, it is another opportunity to trust God.

Yesterday’s service was awesome. I challenged the church and myself to pick a verse of scripture and practice scriptural meditation this week. So far, I’ve had some good feedback from people. I rarely get comments about my preaching these days except a couple of negative criticisms here and there. I always try to factor in what people say—good or not so good—and pray about their comments. I want to continue to strive to be a better communicator as each week goes by…

Anyway, we had three guests with us in the service: our dear friends Phil and Nancy along with a pastor from Bangladesh. His name is Boni. Phil and Nancy graciously invited me to their home for lunch after the service. This gave me an opportunity to visit with Pastor Boni.

One of the greatest blessings of the Vision Trip to India is that, from now on, I will have affinity with South Asian people.

Take a look at a map from India and you will discover that Bangladesh is not very far from Kolkata and the state of West Bengal. In fact, on the trip, I got to spend time with one of our M’s who serves in Bangladesh. His name is S—a wonderful brother. I mentioned his name to Boni who nodded his head, “Yes, I know him.”

As we visited before, during, and after a wonderful meal at Phil and Nancy’s (their two grown children were there as well; it was great to meet them), I learned about Bangladesh and Boni’s ministry there. I’m very impressed with how the Lord is using him in discipleship. I could go on and on about it.

Before I departed, I gave him my business card and told him to keep in touch. It looks as if I will have another friend to visit when I go back to India. I will look forward to it.

Anyway—a good day.

Please pray for me. I am going in later this morning for an ultrasound. The purpose of this test is to determine of my swollen lymph nodes on my neck have increased to the point where I am qualified for the clinical trial the doctor wants me to get into.

I feel certain that I will “make the mark.” My neck seems to be getting more swollen by the day and is actually starting to bother me more often. I will be glad to get “the show on the road,” whatever route we take. But I do have more questions about the treatment options. I hope to get a chance to visit with the doctor about them.

I did get a lot of encouragement from my reading today in the Psalms—another thing I noticed that I have “seen” before. Psalms 105, 106, and 107 all relate to distinct historical periods (for the most part) in the history of Israel—the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan, and the return to the homeland from exile in Babylon. Interesting.

It has sparked me to spend some time this morning reviewing my personal history and how the Lord has helped me at every stage of my life—including the cancer stage.

While I am a little anxious about where I am right now, I am NOT worried. Why should I be? The Lord has given me no reason to believe He is going to drop me now.

Here is the verse I chose yesterday as I challenged the church: “Leave your worries with him, because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7, GNT).

Lord, as I meditate on this, reciting it orally as often as I can this day, I choose to leave my worries with you. I release them, here and now. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 42

Day 42: Psalm 69:22 to 89:13 and Meditation

Okay, so I know that many of you—probably all of you—couldn’t sleep last night. You are sitting on the edge of your bed or seat, “I wonder how the race went yesterday and if John’s car—dubbed by Marilyn who painted it as “Flower Power”—won the race.” Well, let me go ahead and tell you, “No, sadly and tragically, my car did not win and did not place. What is this world coming to? Will the injustices never end?” Ha.

Actually, what happened yesterday is the epitome of justice—the fastest and most well-made car won! It was Frank’s car.

It was great to see Frank and Christy along with their daughter Charlie there. Christy’s family got saved and baptized in our church not long after I became pastor of First Southern. We have a long and very rich history with them. Christy grew up in the church and was a leader in our student ministry. She married Frank who designs race cars for a living. Yes, you read that right.

Now, do you understand my statement about injustice? Ha. It is all in good fun. We had a blast as we usually do. Calla’s neighbors—a family of five—showed up. As far as I know, they do not have a church home.

In addition, a woman came with three boys. She and the boys are from Federal Heights. I asked how she heard about the race. She said, “Josiah gave us a flier, and so we came.” We have a Josiah in our church, but I am almost certain it was not THAT Josiah. I have no idea who he is, but she gave this lady a flier and she brought her three stepsons. They did not have cars or anything.

Dawn and her family brought an extra. I had several extras to lend to the boys. They took their borrowed cars and had a blast.

We finished about 10:00, and everyone headed home. I stopped to visit Kathy in the hospital on the way home. When I arrived, I found that Marilyn was very sick. She felt horrible yesterday with this virus that is going around. I’m probably the one that gave it to her. She was so sick that she asked me to go out and get some medicine for her.

Thankfully, by the end of the day, she felt a little better. Please pray for her today.

All in all, it was a low-key day after I got home from the race.

Well, today’s message is going to be interesting—I hope for more people than just me! I’m going to be preaching from the first chapter of Joshua, and I am going to be talking about the Hebrew concept of meditation. I won’t preach my sermon here, but I think this term has been kidnapped as a result of the influence of eastern religion and yoga in our culture.

When we think of “meditation,” what comes to mind is someone sitting on the floor with his or her eyes closes and palms up, uttering “ohm” or some other kind of babble.

This is too bad because this has caused us to shy away from a very important biblical concept.

In fact, it showed up in one of the Psalms I read this morning.

"When I think of God, I sigh; when I meditate, I feel discouraged. I spend the night in deep thought; I meditate, and this is what I ask myself: ‘Will the Lord always reject us? Will he never again be pleased with us? Has he stopped loving us? Does his promise no longer stand? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has anger taken the place of his compassion?’ Then I said, ‘What hurts me most is this— that God is no longer powerful.’ I will think about all that you have done; I will meditate on all your mighty acts" (Psalm 77:3, 6-10, and 12, GNT).
The more I study what is involved in meditation, the more I am convinced that it is a missing element in contemporary American church discipleship. These verses in the Psalm portray a thoughtful believer who has honest questions and struggles WITH GOD in his relationship with Him AND he takes the time to think about his issues. This does not lead to further introspection or depression (not the clinical kind). Instead, these genuine struggles move him to think about God and ponder what God has actually done.
I’m convinced that very few of us spend that level of quality time on our relationship with the Lord. We have enough time to gripe and complain and to think about our “poor situation.” But we don’t take the time actually to think about God and what He has done.
With today’s events on my mind along with the sermon and all the “issues” our church faces now—I feel the urgent need to STOP and ponder about God.
Lord, you are worth the time and effort and energy to think about, let me meditate on your acts and deeds. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 41

Day 41: Psalms 45:15 to 69:21 and the Grand Prix

Today is the day for our annual Soapbox Derby Car race—we call it, “The Grand Prix.” Whenever I mention it to folks who are not in our church, they get quizzical looks on their faces, “Huh? What is it, exactly?”

We have been putting this race on for years. It actually came from the days we did AWANA. It is a race for kids using “cars” they make.

They are actually kits at Hobby Lobby. It is basically a block of wood the size of a soapbox (sort of). They cost five dollars. We ask people to cut the block of wood and paint it to look like the car of their choice. When you glue the axels in and put the wheels on, you are ready to go.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, there is actually an art to cutting that block of wood so that it is aerodynamic and greasing the axel and wheels so that they turn more easily.

I learned all of this from Duane. In the early years of this race, I would always go over to Duane and Mary Ann’s for dinner (of course). Then, Duane and I would “retire” to the garage to cut the car and “grease” the axels and tires. I learned a lot from him in that regard. I have started to call his garage “The Tidwellini Factory.” Ha.

One year, I didn’t have time to get with him to make the car, so he and Mary Ann just made my car for me. I still have it. It is still a winner. I will probably pull it out today and race it in addition to the car I have for today. It is fast, fast, fast.

As you can see, it is quite easy to kind of get caught up in all of this, but the whole morning is all about fun for the boys and girls. It is an opportunity to network relationships with some of the parents and grandparents we don’t see all that often.

Anyway, in the passages for today—what stands out to me are the verses related to what true worship is.

"I do not reprimand you because of your sacrifices and the burnt offerings you always bring me. And yet I do not need bulls from your farms or goats from your flocks; all the animals in the forest are mine and the cattle on thousands of hills. All the wild birds are mine and all living things in the fields. Giving thanks is the sacrifice that honors me, and I will surely save all who obey me” (Psalm 50:8-10, GNT).

"You do not want sacrifices, or I would offer them; you are not pleased with burnt offerings. My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart” (Psalm 51:16-17, GNT).
"I will praise God with a song; I will proclaim his greatness by giving him thanks. This will please the Lord more than offering him cattle, more than sacrificing a full-grown bull. When the oppressed see this, they will be glad; those who worship God will be encouraged. The Lord listens to those in need and does not forget his people in prison” (Psalm 69:30-33, GNT).
From the beginning, the essence of worship has never been about what we bring to God as if He “needed” the offerings of animals in the Old Testament or money now.
These verses talk about “giving thanks,” a “humble and repentant heart,” and “proclaiming his greatness.” All of those have to do with the HEART.

I have mentioned in this blog that First Southern is facing some financial challenges. I made an appeal to the church through the email and phone message I send out weekly, but the problem is NOT money.

The core issue is the HEART. When the heart is right, everything, absolutely everything in worship, service, and giving takes care of itself.

Lord, thank You for these strong reminders this morning. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank You for saving me and bringing me to this point today. Thank you for these blocks of wood sliding down a track—another excuse for fellowship! Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 40

Day 40: Psalm 25:1 to 45:14 and Prayers to God about Enemies

One of the greatest benefits of “The Bible in 90 Days” is that it forces the reader the look at the broad themes of scripture and of particular books.

Somehow, I think we “atomize” the Psalms more than any other book.

I used that phrase in a sermon recently and Jim, who is an expert in the sciences, asked me about that term. He knows what atomizing is from a technical standpoint. I certainly don’t.

The way I am using it (or have heard it used in hermeneutical circles) is that it involves lifting verses and passages out of the canonical and book contexts and treating them as isolated entities. This is always dangerous with any kind of literature. I have waxed long and not so eloquent about this before.

But I have atomized the Psalms in my reading of them. My usual procedure is to read a Psalm a day or sometimes just a few verses in a Psalm a day. I know many people who do this. There is certainly nothing wrong with this practice. Please hear me.

But in reading the Psalms my whole life on dozens of occasions, I have never noticed how often prayers related to enemies surface. I am going to list several that I identified in the reading for today:

"I praise you, Lord, because you have saved me and kept my enemies from gloating over me" (Psalm 30:1 GNT).

"May those who try to kill me be completely defeated and confused. May those who are happy because of my troubles be turned back and disgraced" (Psalm 40:14 GNT).

"Be merciful to me, Lord, and restore my health, and I will pay my enemies back. They will not triumph over me, and I will know that you are pleased with me. You will help me, because I do what is right; you will keep me in your presence forever" (Psalm 41:10-12 GNT).

"Our neighbors see what you did to us, and they mock us and laugh at us. You have made us a joke among the nations; they shake their heads at us in scorn. I am always in disgrace; I am covered with shame from hearing the sneers and insults of my enemies and those who hate me" (Psalm 44:13-16 GNT).

This helps me better understand why the Psalms have traditionally been attributed to David. Of course, he is not the sole human author of ALL the Psalms, in fact, relatively few of them. The truth is we don’t know who wrote many of the Psalms, the titles of some of the notwithstanding. By the way, the titles of some of the Psalms are rather spurious and not reliable. They, like verse divisions, were added later to the inspired text.

That’s all I am going to say about them at this point. I think I have opened the can of worms.

Anyway, David’s story lends some background to all these references to enemies. It seems to fit.

As I stop and think this morning, David always had to deal with them. When he was a boy, his brothers discounted him as the youngest. His nation tried to marginalize him as we often treat children, until he slayed Goliath.

As an emerging leader in Israel, he elicited the jealousy of King Saul who tried to kill him on several occasions in his lunacy. Saul is a biblical example of a crazy man.

When Saul passed off the scene, David had to deal with enemies as he assumed the throne. He did not have an easy go.

Finally, as the established and universally regarded King of Israel, he confronted enemy nations.

Enemies, enemies, enemies. David had them, and so do we. If you stand for anything or do anything in Christian ministry, I can tell you from personal experience that you will accrue enemies.

“You can learn a lot about a man by looking at his enemies.” Isn’t that the expression?

It is easy to write quips like that, but much more difficult to deal with the reality. Oftentimes, you enemies smile at you and pat you on the back …

Father, the words of Jesus come to mind at this point: “Love your enemies and pray for those who spitefully abuse you.” That is not an exact quote from the KJV, but it is close enough. Only Your Spirit in me can do this, Lord. Love through me. Empower me to love. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 39

Day 39: Psalm 1:1 to 24:10 and Reading the Psalms in a Radically New Way

This morning, as I was reading Psalm after Psalm after Psalm, it hit me: I have NEVER read the Psalms in this way! EVER.

Humm. I want to come back to this in a moment, but first a couple of bits of information.

I did receive a call from the doctor’s office yesterday. Rachel told me that it looked as if THIS TIME I might qualify for the clinical trial, but there are some hoops to jump through. The first is that I have to have another ultra sound to determine the actually size of the lumps on my neck. If either lump equals or exceeds 2 centimeters, then I qualify.

If I make it past that benchmark, then I would need to come into the cancer doctor’s office for a full review of what is involved in this trial. I am perfectly willing to do this.

When Rachel told me all of this, I said, “Let me know. I will come in any time.” I will let all of you know what happens.

That is one thing. The other thing is that yesterday, I became aware of some conflict in our church. It certainly is not the first “issue” we have had, nor will it be the last, but it tends to weigh a bit more these days … enough said there.

Anyway, one more thing to share—last week, as I was heading off to a waiting room at the clinic where I receive primary care, I passed a guy who was going the opposite direction. We stopped, dead in our tracks and looked at each other. “Eric!” I exclaimed. “JT!” he responded. We knew each other immediately!

Eric and I were buddies in High School. A few years ago, we connected (somehow) and Eric actually brought his family up to Northglenn to worship with us in a service. I think that was at least ten years ago or more. We did not keep up after that meeting. I have no idea why???

We hadn’t seen each other or contacted one another since then.

But after that quick encounter, we had been trying to get in contact with each other but kept missing each other that way as well. Eric is a pilot for a commercial airline (I think it is United). So, he has been out of town on and off for the past few days, and I was sick. Anyway, yesterday, we finally connected on the phone. He asked how I was doing. I told him about my cancer stuff. He paused, “Wow, JT, when we met at the doc’s office the other day, you looked good.” I said, “Yeah, E (as you can tell we used initials to refer to each other in High School; actually I called him Big E, after Elvin Hayes, a prominent center in the NBA years ago—that was his nickname as well), I feel good for the most part, but it looks as if I will be getting more treatment soon.”

E replied, “John, can I tell you a quick story?” He told me about a family member who had been diagnosed with cancer. The doctors gave him just a few months to live. That was over a year ago. He is still going and doing well.

E went on, “I know that I don’t need to tell you this because you are a pastor, but God is in control of life and death and cancer and what happens when people get sick.”

It was one of those “rhema” words—a word from God at just the time I needed it. I thanked him for that awesome reminder.

E is going to check his schedule and get back to me. I can hardly wait to get with him and catch up.

Sitting here this morning, memories of what we did in High School are coming back. We played on the same basketball team together through High School.

He and another friend named Raymond came over to this house one day to get our Ping Pong table to take to school for a special event. We had to put it on the roof of my ’74 Malibu Classic Chevy and drive it to the school as we all tried to keep it in place by sticking our arms and ourselves out the window of my car. Try to do that and drive at the same time. It is a wonder we didn’t kill ourselves or someone else …

I thank the Lord for his perfect timing of bringing E across my path.

Well, anyone, all of these experiences go into the mix of what I bring to my reading of the Psalms this morning. Guess what? Reading more than just one or two has once again reinforced the fact that the Psalms have an incredible “mix” and variety of prayers for every possible occasion.

Of course, there are prayers for justice and help and rescue from an enemy. There is the “Shepherd’s Psalm” that fits in that category.

But there are also Psalms of praise. I think we need praise as a legitimate form of prayer. We are very quick to move beyond it to our “laundry list” of requests. I see this in the men’s prayer meeting we have on Sunday mornings. I always urge the guys to start off with praise and adoration and thanksgiving. We do it for a little while, but invariably someone jumps into the prayer requests they have or those listed on the prayer sheet. That’s fine. It is all good. Prayer is prayer, but I think the art of praise tends to get obscured at times.

In fact, I will be more personal at this point. I have neglected praising God on a daily basis. And I want to get back to this practice. Music or songbooks help in that regard. Jim gave me a couple Sunday. I want to find more.

Calla led us to worship last Sunday morning with this song: “Worthy is the Lamb, seated on the throne …” The words and the music have been on my heart ever since.

Lord, I thank you for this wonderful prayer and praise resource—the book of Psalms. Thank you for the new experience of reading 24 of them in succession at the same sitting.

Thank you for the call from the doctor. Thank you for E. Bless him and his family today. Thank you also for difficulties and the way you use them in our lives.

They are just as potent as they would be if I only read a couple of verses and stopped. I did pull one verse out today.

"You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands" (Psalm 16:5 GNT)

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 38

Day 38: Job 25:1 to 41:34 and “The Second Time Around”

I’ll tell you: yesterday morning was weird. I’m always out of kilter when I don’t get to spend time in the Word. My mom and sis called my experiences with all those Help Centers a satanic attack. I should have just hung up the phone and dealt with it later.

But my Word documents are an important part of my writing process each day. I type out my blog in Word. Then, I copy and paste it into the three sites I post on each day.

I learned early on that this is the best way to go.

When I first started, I would just write directly into Caring Bridge, but one day, I had a problem with my Wi-Fi and poof, everything I had written was gone! I had to start over again! So, I would rather put my thoughts in a Word document, save it, and then copy it.

TMI—Too Much Information.

It has kind of been weird the past couple of days as the thought, “my cancer has come back” has been dawning on me. A friend asked me yesterday, “So, how are you doing with it?”

Well, it is different. I will say that.

First, I find myself not wanting to talk about it as much as I did before. In the summer of 2010, that is just about all I wanted to do. I talked with folks on the phone and then sat on our back porch with my mom and sis, just processing the whole idea of “cancer.” It was scary, and all the unknowns that go with it. I had so many questions …

Second, now, I feel as if I am an “old veteran.” I almost know too much. That could be dangerous. One tends to get blindsided when he or she thinks they know everything. Whatever treatment option I end up taking, I “think” it is not going to be as difficult as the first time. I hope I am right. Who knows?

Third, people’s response is different. And I don’t blame them. All of this is coming back on me now. I know I did not do well with long-term illness prior to my cancer diagnosis. I was very impatient and intolerant with people who were sick a long time.

I’m sorry to say this, but I avoided them—mainly because I just didn’t have anything to say. It was kind of uncomfortable. What do you say when all the clichés no longer apply? What do you do when you snap your fingers and it doesn’t go away?

We want God to jump to it and take care of our “uncomfortabilities.” That is not a real word. I just made it up.

Fourth, I’m just not as fearful as before. One of the reasons is that the doctor doesn’t seem too worried. It is urgent to begin treatment. But the reason for it is no threat of death. This doesn’t mean it isn’t serious; it is just no life-threatening at this point. Left unchecked it would be serious. Again, this is what happens to folks. They just ignore symptoms and swellings and the cancer spreads.

I don’t know … it just feels weird this time. I’m still waiting on the doctor to see if I can get in the clinical trial. I think I am going to call today, to rattle a chain a bit. I’d like to get the show on the road, whatever it is.

All of this corresponds to my reading today of the final chapters of Job. I can’t help but read between the lines of the rather pompous and long-winded speeches of Job’s friends a little condescension and arrogance. They put themselves forward as “experts” on what God is doing and why Job is suffering so much.

Then, when they run out of things to say and the words of Job conclude, there is one more “friend” who has to wax long and eloquent, but he basically says the same thing the other three said: “Job, fess up. Get right with God and all your troubles will end. Chop, chop. Get to it!”

I love how the Lord responds to this: question after question after question. He pummels Job with questions he can’t answer, questions no human being who has ever lived on the face of the earth can answer. There is a brief respite.

Then, there are two chapters in the book of Job that have to rank up there in “strangeness” in the whole Bible where the Lord talks about Leviathan. Who or what is this beast? I’ve read multiple opinions about this. Some contend that the Lord was referring to a common myth and using that to give Job even more questions he could not answer …

I don’t know. Somehow THAT answer does not satisfy mean.

Maybe just the mysterious nature of the subject matter—maybe that in and of itself just further enforces God’s point: I am God and you are not. There is a lot you don’t know and never will.

God’s response to Job silenced him and rebuked his “friends.” And when Job prayed for his friends, God turned things around.

What a story!

Lord, I can relate to all of this today. Again, I feel weird this time around, the second time around. I still have a lot of questions. I bring them to you, and I affirm the words of Paul:

"How great are God's riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways? As the scripture says, “Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to give him advice? Who has ever given him anything, so that he had to pay it back?” For all things were created by him, and all things exist through him and for him. To God be the glory forever! Amen" (Romans 11:33-36 GNT). Amen.

Report from the Doctor

First of all, I want to apologize that this message is so late. The reason is something I will laugh about it—someday.

A few days ago, I had to renew my Microsoft Office subscription. When I clicked on Word this morning, a message came up telling me that I had to renew!?!

So, I called tech support (or what I thought was tech support) and I have been on the phone for the last THREE HOURS to try to resolve this issue. That is right—THREE HOURS.

Here is the funny thing (it WILL be funny a few days from now): guess what the nationality was of just about every person I talked to? Right! INDIAN!!!

In fact, one guy I have been on the phone with the longest is from Delhi. His name is Peeyap (phonetic spelling). I told him I was just in India. He has invited me to come and visit him. He told me that he would show me around and take me to some good restaurants!

I have to say that my trip to India has given me tons more patience with this type of thing. Those of you who know me realize that something like this in the past would have landed me in the hospital with frustration! I am still frustrated, but at least I have had the chance to speak to several men from India!

Go figure!

Anyway, the gist of what happened yesterday is that I have to start treatment soon. Lisa came in to tell me this. She said that my treatment would involve two visits to the cancer center on consecutive days, once a month.

I asked about the steroid shot. She said, “No, I don’t think we will need to do it this time, unless your blood levels indicate it.” Great.

Then, we inquired (my mom and sis were with me), “How long will this take?” She said, “Four to six months, depending on how the lymph nodes in your neck respond to treatment.”

We visited a little longer and the doc came in.

He said, “John, now that the lump on your neck has increased in size, you may now be qualified for the clinical trial I talked with you about before your trip to India. I really want to get you in it because this is the way treatment for your kind of cancer is going.”

“What do I need to do, Dr. Jotte?” I asked.

“Well, we will call and see if we can get you in. We will be in touch.”

That is basically what happened. I’m waiting now to find out what they are going to do with me. I hope to get into the clinical trial since it involves just taking a pill and not sitting in the chemo room for hours upon hours two days in a row for six months. If I have to do THAT, fine. If not, even more FINE.

We left encouraged. I’m okay. My neck hurts. I’m glad they gave me some painkiller for it. I’ll let you know when I hear from the doc.

Thanks for praying. I deeply appreciate all of you who care. Thanks again.

Please pray that I will get over the pain in the neck I feel from dealing with Microsoft Office support for three hours! Does anyone wonder why I have a MAC?? Ha. Now, I am going to use MAC software. Amen and amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 37

Day 37: Job 8:1 to Job 24:25 and An Awesome Baptismal Service

I have to start out by saying that yesterday’s service was off the charts. We had some folks show up just to hear what happened.

As I suspected and as I “warned” folks, we went long, and when we finished, we still had the five baptisms.

At this point, I hearken back to the baptismal service I witnessed in Andy’s church in Kolkata. At one point in the morning, Andy asked Kabita to share her testimony, and he gave her this framework: what I was before I got saved; what Jesus did for me; and what I am like now.

He had to coax statements out of her. She was so shy, but I liked the exercise. I liked the encouragement for a new believer in the relative “safety” of a congregation of folks who loved her.

Thus, in preparation for the baptism yesterday, I asked Dean, Mary, Julia, Paul, and Lacey to prepare a one to two-sentence testimony to share.

When they got into the water, I asked each one of them to tell what Jesus means to them, and each of them did it. They had obviously thought about it in advance. Their statements were pithy and pointed.

After they shared, I said, “It is upon this testimony that I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And we went from there. Awesome. Memorable. A practice that I will continue from now on, if the Lord wills.

When the service concluded, I drove over to Dean and Mary’s. We shared a great meal. Paul and Lacey were there. This is something else I gleaned from my time in Kolkata.

After Kabita’s baptism in the river, we returned to the church for a fellowship meal and a birthday cake! Of course! It was a celebration of her new life in Christ.

Baptism is a lot bigger deal in India. In fact, we discussed it in class one day. Hindus have baths as well. We saw it at the temple when we visited it on our last day in Kolkata. They claim the water from the Ganges River has healing capacities. Devotees come back over and over to dip themselves in the water. It is sad.

Christian baptism, on the other hand, symbolizes what Jesus has done for us. It is a once for all shower!

But more than that, it is a testimony to the world that one’s former life is OVER and the new life in Christ has begun. For many who follow Jesus in baptism, this is literally true. The new believer is kicked out of his/her family and often ostracized from the community. It is a big deal.

We have almost relegated it to a church exercise. Ho hum.

I know it is not really that practical, especially in the winter here in Colorado when many bodies of water are frozen over, but I think it would be good to baptize people in a river or lake. That way, it becomes more of a public act than it is in our warm and heated baptisteries. I don’t know …

Anyway, on to the reading for today—these chapters in the middle of Job are very tedious as one friend of Job after another bloviates. Their message is the same to their poor and suffering friend: “Fess up, Job. You must have done something wrong or someone in your family did in order to end up in the horribly painful situation you are now in.”

They press their point, over and over, with flowery and poetic language.

To Job’s credit, he does not take this “advice” sitting down. He answers. He protests. He points his comments to God. He argues. This is the very essence of honest, human suffering.

Somehow, these chapters have hit me differently this morning. I don’t think a lot has changed from the days of Job.

We always seek easy and neat categories for things we don’t like. And we are very impatient with long-term illness. We want to snap our fingers and want it all to go away—POOF! But that is often not what God wants.

I have an appointment with the cancer doctor this afternoon. I fully expect him to get me started on some sort of chemo treatment. I hope it is soon. The bulge on the side of my neck seems to have increased in size rather dramatically, so much so that it is actually getting painful. Something needs to happen.

I am critical of Job’s friends, but I find myself going down that same path. I want some sort of category for this recent development. I wanted cancer to be over and done with. And I am very impatient, but that is obviously NOT what the Lord wants.

Just to make this point: I am not afraid. I think the better word that describes how I feel this morning is DREAD. But the Lord can handle that as well.

Father, I thank you so much AGAIN for allowing Nancy, Pam, and me to go to India. Thank you for the service yesterday. Thanks for the five that followed you in baptism and their verbal AND baptismal testimonies. Thank you for this beautiful symbol of our relationship with you.

Take care of this visit today as you have done all along. It is in your hands.

Jim gave me a couple of songbooks yesterday with Southern gospel songs in them. I am interested to probe these words. The first song is a song of praise: “Alleluia To The Lamb.” Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 36

Day 36: Nehemiah 13:15 to Job 7:21

Yesterday, I had the privilege of doing something that I seldom get to do these days—have a three-hour visit in a home.

I’ll tell you about it in a moment, but my mom and sister and I were talking about it after my visit.

Rewind back for a moment. When I started at First Southern, much of my time was spent visiting in people’s home. In fact, one of my original goals was to visit in the home of every family in the church. I don’t think I have ever quite achieved this goal up to this very day.

I can think of families as I sit here … I still feel the urgency to change that.

Anyway, in those early years, my visits often lasted a long time—well into the wee hours of the morning in several instances. I would often go to a home for dinner and find myself walking out of the house at midnight or 1:00 AM.

Part of that was that, in the early years, I developed close relationships with people that God brought to the church. Many of these families still keep in touch. Some of you read this blog every day. I miss you! We have become lifelong friends.

What happened over the years? Well, I think it is a combination of things. Let’s see if I can list them.

First, our formal visitation program went away. I think I have mentioned this before in this blog. We just found that, for whatever reason, people feel less inclined to have visitors in the evening when they finally get home from work after a long day.

We tried calling to make appointments, but invariably (I am speaking in broad and sweeping generalizations) people would hesitate and say, “Ah, no. Tonight will not work. Maybe some other time.” It just seemed more and more difficult to make appointments.

Then, we tossed that idea and just went out to show up on people’s doorstep unannounced. That methodology faired even worse. Often folks were not home or if they were there (and you could tell), they didn’t come to the door. And it just seemed to be a waste of time and energy and gasoline, to send folks out week after week on “wild goose chases.”

And honestly, I didn’t blame people for not coming to the door for unannounced strangers, even if they were “church” people. My mom and sis just don’t go to the door at night. They respond that way for safety reasons. And most folks just don’t want to be bothered, especially when they are not expecting you.

Anyway, the formal visitation program went away, but there is another issue.

Second, we just haven’t had as many visitors as we used to. For whatever reason … and on the rare occasions when folks visit, go back up to point number one—they don’t always like a visit.

Third, I just don’t find myself spending long hours and evenings with folks as I used to … Humm. I need to probe the reasons for this more.

Well, anyway, do you get the idea? All those factors make what happened yesterday even more amazing.

I spent three hours visiting with a dear couple that has been attending the last couple of Sundays. It was awesome to get to know them. We had an off-the-charts time of fellowship!

They are still looking for a church. When we concluded our visit, we prayed together. I asked the Lord to give them wisdom and direction. We gave this decision to the Lord. We hugged and I left.

As I got into my truck, I really identified the fact that I miss visitation. I miss spending time in people’s homes and hope the Lord allows me more opportunity to do so.

As a matter of fact, I know I will today. One of the families following Jesus in baptism today is having a get-together at their home after church. Hooray!

I am really looking forward to the service today: Pam, Nancy, and I will be giving our report about the Vision Trip to India. I have found myself thinking about this service for weeks, and the day is finally here.

We will give the presentation and challenge but I am going to conclude with the story of Kabita’s baptism in the river and the way the church responded to her. This will be the segue for the five folks following Jesus in baptism today. Praise God!

Today’s reading encompassed two Old Testament Wisdom books—as we enter into this section of literature in the Old Testament.

Whenever I think of Wisdom Literature in scripture, I will think of my dear friend Rick Byargeon who died of cancer just about this time one year ago. He loved the Old Testament, but this section in particular. I think these books are neglected in the contemporary church.

When was the last time you heard a sermon from Esther? What a wonderful story of the way the Lord “turns the tables” on our enemies! Haman was hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai and once again, God takes care of His people.

The same can be said for Job even though his circumstances were radically different. He lost everything. I mean EVERYTHING, including his health. And as if that were not enough, he had to endure the response he received from his “so-called” friends. I believe they cared for him, but I wish they had kept their mouths shut. I believe enduring wrong advice was part of Job’s intense suffering.

But for this day—I echo what Job said after he lost everything. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away—blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Father, I pray for this report today. I pray that it would not just be the dry reporting of facts along with some pictures and video, but truly, you would use this as impetus for our church’s mission. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 35

Day 35: Nehemiah 1:1 to 13:31 and the Joy of the Lord

I want to start out this morning with an urgent prayer request: please pray for First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn. On the eve of our report about the Vision Trip to India (one of the greatest things the Lord has ever allowed us to participate in as a church in our history), we are facing some very serious financial challenges.

I had Betty mail a letter to the church on Thursday. For those of you who are in family at First Southern, if you haven’t received it yet, you will today or soon.

We are going to take a little time to challenge the church tomorrow, even in the midst of everything else that is going on: the report about the Vision Trip and five adult baptisms (maybe more because the Hispanic church has a couple of folks they want me to baptize; I have to confirm this today).

Plus, I am excited today to get a chance to get to spend some time with a couple that has been attending since I was in India. I spoke with the husband the other day. He was very positive about the church and the Bible teaching. When he commented about the preaching (Jeremy, Brian, and Al preached in my absence; I appreciate each of those guys), I thought, “Well, I hope they still want to come after they hear me preach!”

Anyway, again, please pray. As you can see, a lot of good stuff is going on; we are facing a lot of challenges as well.

What’s new? Isn’t this the norm in church life?

This is the life context of my reading today, and I just have to thank You, Spirit of God, for bringing me to the book of Nehemiah. As I was reading today, I could not help but make several connections with Nehemiah’s work on the wall and our work in the church here in Denver in 2014.

First, every great work of God faces opposition. Nehemiah did. Think about the daunting task of rebuilding the walls to a major city. I’m sure that, as Nehemiah looked at the ruins and the neglect, he was overwhelmed—just with the job at hand. But from the start, he had to deal with Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. They laughed at Nehemiah. They taunted him.

As he started the work, they made fun of him.

Further on in the story, they tried to distract him, to get him away from the work.

There are always opponents to the work of God—sometimes they are as overt as the three that Nehemiah dealt with; other times, they do their damage behind the scenes through rumor and gossip. Either way—even though many would not admit it—is to hinder or stop the work of God.

Second, it takes every single person. I like the long list of folks in the book of Nehemiah who took one section of the wall. Each family did their part, and the huge task of rebuilding the wall was tackled.

Remember the old adage of eating an elephant one bite at a time?

In no other arena is this more true than the church, especially when it comes to finances. It is the responsibility of every believer to take care of his/her section of the wall—to be obedient in giving. And, if everyone were, neither First Southern nor any church would have any money problems! Are you kidding me?

Third, I like the priority that Nehemiah placed on the worship of God, especially when he found out that the Levites left the city and went home because the people were not supporting them in their work. He called them back and told them to get to work. Plus, he summoned the people and challenged them to bring their tithes to the storehouse.

Worship is priority numero uno!

Gary in our church always made the statement that finances or the lack thereof are not first of all about money. They are about LORDSHIP. When our worship is right, everything else, especially financial stewardship, falls into place.

Lord, thank you for allowing us to be a part of your work. From the beginning, your work has always demanded your people giving You priority and each one of us accepting our responsibility for our little section of the wall. With all of us doing our part, there is no task too great, no challenge too daunting.

This famous statement, about which multiple songs is about, is tucked away in Nehemiah:

"Now go home and have a feast. Share your food and wine with those who don't have enough. Today is holy to our Lord, so don't be sad. The joy that the Lord gives you will make you strong” (Nehemiah 8:10, GNT).

Indeed—as the chorus goes, “The joy of the Lord is my strength; the joy of the Lord is my strength; the joy of the Lord is my strength; the joy of the Lord is my strength.” Amen.


The Bible in 90 Days--Day 34

Day 34: 2 Chronicles 35:16 to Ezra 10:44 and Confession in a Rain Storm

Belle said it the other night. The passages we read today confirm it.

Over and over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, the story is the same: idols and moral compromise.

It was another huge example of deliverance. Cyrus, the Persian king, gave an edict sending the Israelites back to their homeland AND commanding them to rebuild their city and their temple.

They appealed to this edict when Darius, Cyrus’ successor threatened at first to shut down the work of rebuilding, but once they found the original document, he ordered them to resume and even gave them resources for the work.

Really, as you read the unfolding story in the book of Ezra, it is another example of how God takes care of His people.

All of this makes even more incredible what many of the men did when the returned from exile: they intermarried with the pagans in the land!

Now, at first glance, when you come across this activity, you might be tempted to think, “So? What is the big deal?”

Let me stop right here and again make a plug for “The Bible in 90 Days.” Reading the Bible “piecemeal” as most of us do tends to make some of the questions we might have a little more difficult to answer.

Back to the question above: why was this intermarriage such a huge sin?

Well, not too many days ago, we read why.

Think about Solomon. What was the cause of his downfall? Here was a man who AT FIRST was wholly dedicated to God and followed in his father David’s footsteps, building the Temple.

When the construction ended, there was a huge celebration and literally thousands of sacrifices offered to God. Everything is good, right? Well, it was at the start, but as Solomon’s reign progressed, he started to intermarry with pagan women, and they turned his heart away from the Lord.

On a historical level, this was huge. Do you realize that this was the introduction of idolatry into the nation of Israel? From then on, it was an issue—the deciding issue.

We just got through reading the litany of kings in Israel and in Judah. It seemed like a broken record: the king is named; the length of his reign and where it occurred is cited; but then, there is invariably a comment about what he did relative to the plethora of idols and pagan altars in the land.

“Good” kings distinguished themselves because they made efforts to eliminate idolatry; evil kings not only did not eliminate idols, but also they participated in false worship.

That is the dividing line and it always has been. Romans 1 confirms this. When we worship the creature rather than the creator, God then hands us over to what we worship and this handing over on the part of the Lord invariably involves immorality of all sorts—including marrying pagans.

I cannot tell you how many times over the past twenty years that couples have sat in my office wanting me to do pre-marital counseling. One of my first questions is always about their individual relationships with the Lord. I wish I had a dime for every time one professes faith in Jesus and the other does not.

My second question is: are you two living together? What do you think the answer is most of the time?

We haven’t progressed very far from the days of Solomon or Ezra—still an issue.

It is significant to read Ezra’s response when he found out about the intermarriage. He grieved the sin of his people and called a huge convocation.

"Within the three days, on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the men living in the territory of Judah and Benjamin came to Jerusalem and assembled in the temple square. It was raining hard, and because of the weather and the importance of the meeting everyone was trembling. Ezra the priest stood up and spoke to them. He said, ‘You have been faithless and have brought guilt on Israel by marrying foreign women. Now then, confess your sins to the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do what pleases him. Separate yourselves from the foreigners living in our land and get rid of your foreign wives’” (Ezra 10:9-11 GNB).

This is the ultimate “Come to Jesus Meeting.” Certainly, the Bible nowhere commends divorce, but the only solution here is to send these pagan wives and the children born to them away. Sobering. This is how the Lord regards idolatry. He is a jealous God!

Lord, above and beyond anything today, I want to make sure that there are no other gods “beside” You. In everything and every way, I choose to be wholly devoted to You alone. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 33

Day 33: 2 Chronicles 23:16 to 35:15

It is rather how strange how starting just a little bit later than normal affects my writing. I just don’t feel quite as sharp, and I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box at my best!

Last night, I missed out on greeting anyone who had come for the adult study that Brian leads because of a meeting I had to attend. The meeting lasted well beyond the time that things wrap up, so when we finished, everyone except Vida, Isabella, Jose, and Soco were gone.

The Hispanic congregation has their Wednesday meeting in the auditorium. I just went in to say hi. They asked me about the trip to India. I told them I would share some things with them at some point.

I feel very torn these days, because so much of what I experienced in India is still very heavily and prominently on my mind, but there are so many challenges here that merit attention that I find that I have to discipline myself to focus on.

As we started the meeting, I was telling Mary Ann about our experiences with the connecting flight from Mumbai to Kolkata on the trip out there. I also spent some time thanking the Lord for pulling all the details together of our return flight. Amazing stuff.

I won’t rehash all of it again here … don’t worry.

I guess what I am trying to say is that this “re-entry” process is rather new to me and it takes a little time to recalibrate back to here. It has almost been a week.

I was really encouraged to visit with Belle and Jim after our meeting about their reading. Both of them are doing it and seem to be benefitting.

As a matter of fact, Belle and her husband Chuck are now in the Gospel of John! Wow! We are a little over a month into things, and they are already somewhere near Day 75 or 76.

Belle told me that she is doing her reading from the Message Version and because she is moving so quickly, she is much more readily aware of the connections and relations between the testaments.

This is one of the greatest aspects of this whole challenge: it allows us to see the Bible as a whole, as one grand story, instead of bits and pieces.

One of the crucial elements of Bible study that I try to reinforce over and over in discipleship settings is CONTEXT. I believe that it can properly be perceived as a funnel. If I could insert a drawing here, I would, but I will just type terms.

First, there is the CANONICAL CONTEXT of a particular book. I think it is very important to answer the question, “How does this book fit into the larger Story (capital S) of the Bible?” There is a historical element to the answer to this question, but beyond that, it involves the type of literature and the message of the book. These are crucial elements of biblical interpretation.

Second, there is BOOK CONTEXT (as the funnel narrows). The question here is, “How does a particular passage fit into the overall message of this book?”

Third, there is the issue of IMMEDIATE CONTEXT. What I learned in seminary—a crucial lesson here—is that context involves the verses immediately before the text in question AND immediately AFTER.

For example, (and I cited this yesterday in the blog, I think) one of the passages I am going to quote in the report of the Vision Trip to the church on Sunday are the final two verses of Acts 14. They describe what Paul and Barnabas did when they returned to Antioch—they gave a report of what happened on their trip—Acts 14:27-28.

The canonical context of Acts is the unfolding plan and purpose of God to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth through the church. The book context is that what happens in Acts 15 threatens all of that. The immediate context of those two verses is what scholars call “the Jerusalem council.”

I’ve heard chapter 15 referred to as “the only business meeting” in the book of Acts! It is unique in that regard but it chronicles a very important crossroad for the church, the whole question of the very nature of salvation.

Here is the thing that hit me. In the euphoria of the return from the mission field, the church faced an immediate and critical doctrinal controversy. And it was so important to resolve that Paul and Barnabas had to go to Jerusalem to hash things out.

This happened right after the first mission trip!

I have frankly never put those two things together. I think it was a satanic attack. Just when Paul and Barnabas get back, the church has to deal with who can get saved. Are you kidding me?

I think First Southern is facing a critical crossroad right now in our ministry, and I think missions forced the issue. This trip is not just about what happened OVER THERE. It is also about what the Lord wants HERE and NOW.

Anyway, this is very interesting, as are the verses for today. Again, Kings Hezekiah and Josiah stand out in the final years of the history of Judah for two significant reasons that I believe distinguish believers today.

Hezekiah prayed.

Josiah obeyed the Word of God when it was discovered in the Temple.

There you go.

Lord, I thank you for today. Thanks AGAIN for the trip to India. Thanks also for the impact of what we saw and learned HERE. Lord, I believe we are already facing an attack because of this trip. Satan continues to seek ways of undermining every effort and initiative of believers of stealing his kids out of the enemy camp. I stand against him NOW. Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 32

Day 32: 2 Chronicles 7:11 to 23:15

“And we cry glory, honor, power and strength to the king; and we cry glory, honor, power and strength to the King.”

That chorus has been on my heart this morning. I have missed the opportunity to refer to a new hymn or song in recent weeks. Once I finished going through the entire hymnal, I need to find a new source for “songs and hymns and spiritual songs.” I would like to find something—just a resource that is different from the Baptist Hymnal (not that I am tired of it or have any problems with it)—just something different.

Right after my first cancer diagnosis, Jim gave me a couple of chorus books. I referred to those in addition to the hymnal. I need to find something like THAT.

A question to my dear readers: any suggestions for a daily song resource?

Well, I’m glad the Lord gave me a song this morning, because, to be honest, the longer yesterday went, the more burdened and discouraged I became.

Welcome, home, John! Great!

This was in spite of a very good meeting with Nancy and Pam.

Because I am still on the tail end of this virus or whatever is wrong with me, I had originally planned to avoid real close contact with folks—didn’t want them to be exposed to what I’ve got. But schedules and busyness as it is with the three of us, I realized that we had to meet yesterday evening to “get our ducks in a row” in preparation for the presentation to the church about the Vision Trip to India.

I tell you: I have been excited about this service since the day I left for India. I’ve been thinking about it, what I would say, how I would challenge the church in light of everything we saw and experienced.

As I continued to pray about it, the Lord brought to mind the final two verses of Acts 14. Do you remember the story? After the very first missionary journey in the history of the church, Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch and “they gathered the people of the church together and told them about all that God had done with them and how he had opened the way for the Gentiles to believe. And they stayed a long time there with the believers” (Acts 14:27-28, GNB).

Now, previously, those two verses seemed rather boring and mundane, but NOW, after this trip, they have taken on a whole new meaning.

Can you imagine what that meeting with Paul and Barnabas was like??? Oh, man! I wish I could have been a horse fly on the wall in THAT meeting!

This is the same level of excitement and impetus that I pray occurs at First Southern on Sunday. Of course, I want people to be excited, but I believe that this report needs to be more than an emotional boost. I want people to leave with urgency to fulfill the Great Commission WHEREVER. Not everyone can travel as Paul and Barnabas did. Not everyone can go to India. Pam, Nancy, and I may never be able to go again. Who knows?

But the Great Commission was given to the church—to us—and, in God’s economy, there is no difference between those who go and those who don’t. We are ALL called to be missionaries.

Anyway, we got fired up as we talked about Sunday and what the Lord is leading us to share.

However, IN SPITE of that, the weight of a number of “distressing situations” weighed on me as I left last night. I’m sorry for the use of this nebulous term, but I don’t want to get specific at this juncture.

I got home, sat in front of the TV for a little while, went to bed, and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

But my sleep was short-lived. I awakened in the middle of the night and things crashed down on me. I just started to pray but no relief came. So, I just got out of bed and came to sit on this couch, praying some more.

As I sat here in the dark, my mind went back to many of the sleepless nights I have spent. They don’t tell you about THAT aspect of your ministry as a pastor in seminary. I guess I don’t blame them. I think you would have guys screeching tires out of the parking lot to go sell insurance.

THOSE guys have sleepless nights, too, though. I know. My dad was in THAT business. My mom and sis and I believe that the stress he faced killed him. I know he got cancer. But stress killed him.

I cannot tell you how low I sank last night.

After eating some breakfast, I came back to this couch for the reading in the Bible in 90 days. My heart is so grateful for what the Lord allowed me to read this morning.

JUST WHAT I NEEDED—why am I surprised?

I am just going to cite the verses the Holy Spirit brought strongly to my mind and heart this morning:

"Asa prayed to the Lord his God, ‘O Lord, you can help a weak army as easily as a powerful one. Help us now, O Lord our God, because we are relying on you, and in your name we have come out to fight against this huge army. Lord, you are our God; no one can hope to defeat you’”

"You are our God! Punish them, for we are helpless in the face of this large army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but we look to you for help”

"Jahaziel said, ‘Your Majesty and all you people of Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord says that you must not be discouraged or be afraid to face this large army. The battle depends on God, not on you’”
"You will not have to fight this battle. Just take up your positions and wait; you will see the Lord give you victory. People of Judah and Jerusalem, do not hesitate or be afraid. Go out to battle, and the Lord will be with you!”
"When they began to sing, the Lord threw the invading armies into a panic" (selected verses from 2 Chronicles 14 and 20, GNB).
Is there a theme here?
Me thinks so.
Oh, Lord. You are awesome. Thank you for speaking to me out of the experiences of the kings of Judah in battle. I love you for doing this. I needed A WORD (rhema) from THE WORD (logos) today. “Power and Strength to the King.” Amen.

The Bible in 90 Days--Day 31

Day 31: 1 Chronicles 24:1 to 2 Chronicles 7:10

Well, the doctor yesterday expressed concern over two issues I did not go to her about. The first was the swelling I have been experiencing in my left leg. I had just assumed that this was rather normal on long flights.

Jeanne from the Ken Caryl group had spoken about this on our trip. She had injured her ankle several years ago and therefore had to deal with swelling on occasion. It did not bother her, however. She just took it in stride.

The other issue that concerned the doctor was the multiple mosquito bites I received in Bangalore.

Anyway, she sent me to get an Ultra Sound yesterday afternoon just to make sure there were no blood clots in my leg. I’m happy to report that there are not. Praise God!

All of these health issues are starting to weigh on me a bit. I have so much to do but very little energy to them.

When I got home from the Ultra Sound, I sat down on this couch, and I was out like a light for two hours. I never sleep during the day as much as I have these past couple of days. It feels very weird.

I hope today is the beginning of a transition out of this jetlag/virus fog I have been living in since returning from India.

The downtime has afforded me ample opportunity, however, to work on the presentation for this Sunday. As of right now, I have “whittled it down” to 82 slides along with three brief videos I took on the trip! I hope that Nancy, Pam, and I can narrate these slides and get the presentation done in 45 minutes to an hour. I hope.

Anyway, thanks for your continued prayers for me. I really appreciate it. I will need them as I see Dr. Jotte next Monday to find out what is ahead for me on cancer treatment. I’m glad to be getting the show on the road. My neck just continues to swell. Again, weird.

Well, the passage for today starts off with list after list after list of men who served in David’s vast kingdom. It then moves to a discussion of the transition from David to Solomon.

When Solomon took the reigns as king, he assumed the responsibility that his father had given him—to build the temple. It is interesting the Solomon acknowledges on a couple of occasions that no building could ever contain God. He is much too big for that, but the temple served as the PLACE for sacrifice and symbolic forgiveness of sins, the PLACE where both Israelite and foreigner could come to pray to the Lord.

Somehow, I think that this whole idea of a building got twisted and perverted through the history of Israel.

First of all, nothing ever rivaled the temple Solomon built—nothing.

When the people of Israel returned from captivity, they tried to rebuild the temple, but it was a very poor replacement and by then, the people were scattered over the world. What was a devout Jew to do who wanted to offer a sacrifice? He or she would miss out unless he or she could make the long trek to Jerusalem. I don’t get the idea that many had the time or resources to do it.

Thus, what emerged, especially in the inter-testamental period, was the synagogue—local places in towns where priests and scribes taught the Law of God. The sacrifices—all of them—ceased to be offered on behalf of many people except for those who lived in Jerusalem.

And yet, the whole idea of Jerusalem and the temple as the geographical PLACE of worship persisted through the times of Jesus and beyond. It still does to some degree.

Remember this is what the woman at the well referenced when she talked with Jesus, “You Jews say that the only place anyone can worship is Jerusalem” (this is the John paraphrase).

Jesus corrected her. He asserted that it is not about a PLACE. Why? God is spirit (small s; He is also Spirit—capitol s). The point is that he is not limited to any one place. He is, as Solomon originally affirmed, much bigger than any building in any one place. In point of fact, He is everywhere at all times!

But as Jesus uttered those words, it was a radical concept--so radical that espousing it could get one killed. Look at what happened to Stephen. He dared to preach that it was NEVER about a building or a place—EVER.

His words threatened what had become big business and something that religious experts and merchants alike used to work the system and earn money—the moneychangers are a primo example.

Anyway, this story of Solomon building the temple sets the stage for what God did for us in Christ.

Lord, I’m so thankful that this couch in Denver, Colorado or a dorm room in a guest house in Kolkata or anywhere I am can be a PLACE of worship, prayer, and forgiveness. You are everywhere at all times! No building can contain you or limit you. Jesus, I love you and thank you today for the once-for-all sacrifice of yourself and for making my body your new temple through the Holy Spirit. Amen.