PastorJohnsBlog.com

A Stroll At Leisure With God

FOR Us and TO Us

Before I get into the “topic” for the day, I just wanted to let you all know a couple of things. First, Marilyn is sick. She has a virus that has knocked her down. She feels worse today. Please pray for her. She does such a good job of taking care of my mom and me. It is hard to see her get sick.

Second, I have a visit with the foot doc today. I’m hopeful that my days in “das boot” (seems like that is a movie title. Am I wrong about that?) are nearing an end. We will see. My leg and foot feel a lot better. I’m so thankful.

Anyway, yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with a brother. We got into a conversation about our views of end times. This is always a lively debate, it seems, no matter who I talk to.

In advocating for his viewpoint, he made an assertion that I have been wrestling with in my tiny brain every since.

Before I get into this further, I need to say one thing. To me, differences regarding views of eschatology do not fall in the category of essential doctrine. I love this brother and esteem him highly. His views on this particular topic and my disagreements with him do not affect this estimation at all.

He is a Preterist in his views of end times. As I use that word, I realize that I don’t know fully what preterists believe. In fact, I don’t believe I have ever met one before. I am determined to do more research into this viewpoint just for my own personal education.

Back to the assertion—here it is: “the Bible was written FOR us, not TO us. Apparently, this statement is critical to the preterists because they believe that much if not all of what is in scripture about end times and the return of Christ happened in the first century. And, it is done and completed. Whoa.

Now, I disagree with this, rather wholeheartedly, for the following reasons. First, the very nature of inspiration, as 2 Timothy 3:16 states, is that the Word of God is God-breathed. It is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Here is the rub: that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.

The very nature of inspiration is that this Bible has benefit FOR me AND TO me.

Second, I believe this FOR me and TO me dichotomy displays a lack of understanding of hermeneutics—interpreting scripture. The role of the interpreter is to bridge the gap in this God-breathed document between the THEN of the Bible and the NOW. Responsible interpretation starts with the Hebrew and Greek text directed to audiences back then (whether they were in the Old Testament or in the New—the FOR us dimension), but it does not stop there. With the help of the Holy Spirit who inspired the Word, we then move to application, to the NOW, to the TO me part.

If the Bible is not written TO me, then how is it really different than any other book?

Third, the study of prophecy takes very seriously the original audience to which the prophets spoke. However, there is a future dimension. We see this in the Old and New Testaments. I could elaborate here, but I won’t at this point.

Fourth, and most importantly, there is nothing that has ever happened in human history that comes near what scripture said about the Second Coming of Jesus. If He has already come back in A. D. 70, we are all in very sad shape.

I think a lot of this discussion falls in the category of trusting God for the future. I’m certainly no expert on eschatology, but I trust the Lord to take care of me, however that plays out. And I firmly believe that this involves the Second Coming of Jesus that has not happened YET, but I hope happens soon—today!

Psalm 131 describes what this trust looks like very well. “O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me” (Psalms
131:1 NASB).

Lord, help me to know your ever-relevant Word, Your message TO me, better than ever. And yet, I know I will never understand everything. I trust You for today and for the future. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
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Michelangelo

In previous posts, I believe I have only alluded to this briefly, but let me start by saying this: I have never been more encouraged by any outreach we have done in our immediate church community as I am right now.

How about that for a statement?

I can’t tell you how many times we have passed out fliers and knocked on doors. And of course, God is ultimately in charge of that type of thing. He knows what the “real results” are, but I can tell you that no one has come to our church because of those efforts.

I believe that people now are either suspicious or just totally discount anything they receive or anyone they meet at their door. I know I do.

I’m not saying that we will NEVER do it again, but I lost enthusiasm for it.

A year ago last June, I got a call from a pastor in Aurora. His name is Luke. He is a very impressive young man. We met at a Starbucks. He told me about the outreach strategy of his church: partner up with a local elementary school.

He explained the process. It begins with servanthood. When starting, it is important to have no agenda but just service. Once school officials and teachers and students trust, other doors start to open. Luke told story after story of opportunities the Lord has given his church to share, but again, it didn’t start out that way.

I know I want to jump in with both feet in situations and immediately share the gospel. Sometimes, this is how the Spirit leads. Other times, however, we must be careful to develop a relationship first.

So, that is what we did. Patty and I met with the principle at this local school right down the street from the church. She was excited to hear of our interest and thanked us! It was awesome.

Late last Fall, we had opportunity to provide some food for some needy families in the school.

Then, this Spring, another awesome opportunity: we get to serve as mentors for fifth grade students as they work on their final term project.

The two boys I am meeting with are J and J. I’ve enjoyed getting to meet them.

Yesterday was a bit of a challenge. I could tell that it was “one of those days” at the school. The students seemed “hyped,” more than usual. I always get to observe them as I arrive because my meeting time with J and J is right after lunch.

I was waiting in the office as I usually do when J and J’s teacher, Ms. O, came in. We greeted each other and she said, “Oh, you are here to work with J and J. My assistant is teaching the class right now, but I will go get them.”

When the boys entered the office, we slipped into a room to work together. I just try to talk with them and help them with their work, asking questions and giving some general direction. Their term project is on the subject of “Michelangelo.”

You know, I just have to laugh. I remember being very bored in fifth grade when we studied this famous Italian painter. I think I said to myself quite often, “Who cares? When am I ever going to need this information about some painter who lived hundreds of years ago?’

God has a sense of humor. My fifth grade “gripes” have come back to me. It is as if the Holy Spirit is saying, “John, there is not one wasted moment in your life. I can and will and do use EVERYTHING.” Isn’t this what Romans 8:28 is all about?

Here I am sitting with two boys who live in the neighborhood of the church I serve. I would never have access to them if I knocked on their door as a stranger, but this public elementary school is allowing me, a Baptist preacher, the privilege of spending time with them.

God is awesome!

The only reason is that He has forgiven me and graciously allowed me to serve Him. “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared” (Psalms
130:3-4 NASB).

Lord, thank You for this opportunity from the bottom of my heart. Thank You for Luke and his church. Bless them today in their ministry. Thank You for this local school. Thank You for the principal and teachers who have welcomed us. Thank You for J and J and Michelangelo. Thank You for Mrs. Priest and history in fifth grade. Use it and use me for your glory. Amen.
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An Example of Good "Race Relations"

As videos of the violence and destruction and riots in Baltimore are being shown on TV and all over the Internet, I want to tell another story about what happened Sunday in the Hispanic church.

As I do this, please understand. I know that what is going on right now is complicated in a lot of ways. We need to take each case individually, examining what happened and bringing people who were wrong to justice. People get angry for various reasons. Of course, this does not justify murder or the destruction of property, EVER.

And, police officers are human as well. Some of them make bad decisions just as the rest of us do. Again, this is no justification of evil.

We just need to pray for the city of Baltimore and pray that parents and leaders and adults will stand up and stop all this senseless violence.

I did see one encouraging video. I saw a mom trying to stop one of the rioters. Ostensibly, the young man was her son. She was grabbing at his hoodie. She was yelling at him. She was slapping him in the face—anything to get his attention and get him to stop.

Anyway, have I prefaced this enough?

I do turn around to say that Christianity offers a very simple and straightforward solution to all of this—CHANGED HEARTS. This situation that looks very much like anarchy makes me more resolute to continue to focus on THIS solution.

Back to Sunday—as the worship service started, an African-American lady came in and sat down. As she did this, Joe nudged me, “Brother John, you have to meet this lady. She came to one of our Wednesday night Bible studies. She is an amazing person.”

After the service, we shared a meal together. She sat down next to me.

Her name is J. She is originally from Grenada. She immigrated to the United States where she met her husband who is from Jamaica. He and her children live in Georgia. J moved to Colorado to get a government job that put her in a position of working with Hispanic immigrants. She accepted this position because her heart goes out to Latinos who come to America and face a number of challenges.

But so did J. She had difficulties finding a place to live and had problems with her roommate once she did. She also suffered persecution at work from gays and lesbians who tried to recruit her to “go to the other side.” Eventually, she said she just had to quit her job, and she is moving back to Georgia.

In the meantime, one night as she was heading home from work, she drove by the church. It was a Wednesday nights. She noticed that a service was going on. She stopped, came in, and joined the Hispanic church in their Wednesday night Bible study.

In spite of the language barrier (she does know some Spanish), she found a group of folks who loved her and accepted her.

As she and I were visiting, she said, “Pastor John, if I were going to be staying here, I would come to this church. This is such a loving group of people.”

Once again, this is just another example of the way that the love of Christ breaks down all sorts of ethnic, social, economic, and language barriers.

The Lord leads His people. He brings people together. He protects His own. “’They’ve kicked me around ever since I was young’ —this is how Israel tells it— ‘They’ve kicked me around ever since I was young, but they never could keep me down. Their plowmen plowed long furrows up and down my back; Then GOD ripped the harnesses of the evil plowmen to shreds’” (Psalm
129:1-4 MSG).

Lord, I lift up the church in this country. I pray that God’s people would humble themselves and pray (2 Chronicles 7:14). I pray for the church I serve. I pray for Christians in Baltimore to rise up. I thank you for J and I pray for her and for her family. Thank You for bringing her our way—this wonderful sister in Jesus. Take care of her through these hard times as she returns to Georgia. Amen.
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33 No's and 1 Glorious Yes

Yesterday, I heard a great story that I just have to share with you today. Actually, I heard it twice. Jorge shared it with me before the service. Then, because I attended the Hispanic service yesterday, I heard it from the sister who experienced it.

A lot of great things happened in the Hispanic church (Torre Fuerte) yesterday. I will tell you about them later.

Anyway, there is a dear couple in Torre Fuerte—his name is T. She is P. T has been ill and in the hospital for a few months. It has been a very difficult situation. I’m sure you can imagine what a strain this has been on the family in a lot of different ways. In fact, they had to send their kids to Mexico to let the grandparents take care of them because it was just so difficult dealing with T’s issues.

A few days ago, P was headed out to buy groceries and go to the drug store. She did not have enough money to buy T’s drugs, so she prayed to the Lord, asking Him for help.

As she was leaving the grocery store, a tall stranger approached her, asking if he could visit with her for a few minutes. She replied, “Yes.”

He asked her, “Do you have any needs in your life right now?”

P told him about her husband’s illness.

After she finished her story, he asked her if he could pray with her. Again, she said, “Yes.”

When they concluded the prayer (I may not have gotten all these aspects of the conversation in the right order), he asked her where she went to church. She asked him. He was not very forthright in his answer. P said she wasn’t sure what he said exactly at that point, but he thanked her for stopping to talk with him.

He then added, “This morning, I have asked 33 people to stop and talk with me before you consented.”

At the close of the conversation, he handed her a folded newspaper and told her not to unfold it until she got home. Okay.

When she got home (apparently T was home that day; I think he is back in the hospital now; I’m not sure), she opened the newspaper and discovered $500.00 in it. P started to cry as she got to this part of the story in the service. I know because Joe was sitting next to me, translating.

She got in her car and went back to the store to find this man. Maybe it was a mistake. He was not around.

She concluded her story by saying, “When I left the house that day, I did not have the money to buy my husband’s medicine, but now I believe the Lord provided exactly what I needed.”

When she finished her story, everyone clapped and cheered. So did I.

Oh, man. Praise God!

I love to hear those stories of God’s provision, but one thing I realized as I have thought about her story: every single penny that comes to me is a provision of God. Just because I have a job that pays me—it is an equally miraculous provision. I just don’t think about it THAT WAY, but I should, especially in light of the fact that there are so many people in our country that don’t have jobs right now.

“How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways. When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine Within your house, Your children like olive plants Around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the LORD” (Psalms
128:1-4 NASB).

Lord, I am so thankful for this awesome story and all the ways that You provide for us, your people. Please heal T and continue to take care of his family. Thank You for providing a roof over my head as I sit here this morning. Thank You for all the ways You are right now providing for me. It is ALL a miracle. Amen.
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24 Hours a Day

First of all, I need to give a race report. Here is the news all of you are waiting for. I’m sure you probably didn’t sleep very well because you were anticipating this so much … ha. Yeah, right.

I didn’t win. I didn’t even PLACE. But, everyone seemed to have a good time. Dan was a huge help. He did last minute fixes on the cars before the race and gave me a template for a double elimination bracket.

I accidentally put one girl from the Hispanic church in the children’s division when she needed to be in the youth/adult and then somehow missed her when it came to the races. We got her in at the end—she actually won second place, and I gave her the Sportsmanship Award. She had such a good attitude about things.

But all the boys and girls did so well.

We had about twenty participants total. It was a good day.

Well, today, as I continue reading the Psalms of Ascents, I have “arrived” at Psalm 127—one of my favorites. This is a very blatant reminder how the Lord works and how we must LET Him. “It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth” (Psalms
127:2-4 NASB).

I love the fact that the Lord is at work ALL THE TIME, 24 hours a day, even when we are asleep.

As I meditate on that right now, it is very convicting. Psalm 127:2 reminds us that the Lord doesn’t “need” us to get things done. He “uses” vessels that are available to Him, but we are not essential to His work.

In my Sunday morning series of sermons on the Trinity, I am preparing to preach on the Holy Spirit—the forgotten member of the Godhead. I say “forgotten” because we don’t like to talk about Him. As Baptists, I think we are a little scared of what He might do if we let Him work.

Therefore, sometimes, we act as if He is not there. We operate as if Jesus is gone and we must do His work for Him in our own fleshly effort with toil and labor and long hours.

The longer I deal with health issues, the more I am beginning to learn that in the Lord’s work—“less is more.” Maybe He is teaching me to get out of His way! While I am asleep in a bed, this is the time when I am most “out of His way.”

Just some thoughts about all of this … Obviously, I am still learning and have a very long way to go when it comes to the notion of “letting God work” and “staying out of His way.” I think the biggest potential obstacle to the work of God in a church is a hard-working pastor who believes that everything depends on Him.

In Psalm 127, it is interesting that these words about God’s work are seamlessly linked to the family and children. In spite of all the fertility drugs and Viagra ads, even THAT area depends totally on God. I’ve met some very conscientious couples that cannot have children in spite of their best efforts and all the technology in the world. This is still an area in which humanity is totally dependent on the Lord whether we realize it or not.

Lord, today, teach me the truth of this Psalm. I choose to get out of Your way today. I choose to lead in such a way as to allow You to work. Amen.
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Race Day

It is amazing how momentum for this day has grown. More and more people have informed me that they want to enter a car in the race. It should be interesting.

Anticipation grew for me as I put the finishing touches on my car yesterday—I added the all-important axles and tires. I’m not going to give away any trade secrets here, but after some work, I think I may have my fastest car ever. I’m not making any predictions here but …

Anyway, I am picking up Tom rather early so that I can get to the church and get some things set up like my laptop and a projector and a screen. I want to put the bracket up so that “our fans” can get the results of the races immediately. We are high tech. This is serious business. Ha. All in a lot of fun.

My mom and sis are going this year. I’m glad they are making the trip. I hope my mom is up to it. Marilyn and I feared that she had the flu yesterday, but she seemed to get better as the day wore on.

In addition to working on my car yesterday, I made a hospital visit to a lady in our church. L is in University Hospital. She had a rod inserted in her femur plus some other “work” done on the same leg. She is now preparing for rehab as she awaits surgery on her other leg.

In spite of all of this, she was in very good spirits. I have even more respect for her for this. We had a very lively conversation, as she was finishing up her lunch. Please pray for her.

Well, as I continue my journey through the Psalms of Ascents (no pun intended), I came across these two verses in Psalm 126: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalms
126:5-6 NASB).

This Psalm begins with a reference to the return of the exiles from captivity. What a joyous time in the history of Israel! However, history reveals that the rejoicing was rather short-lived because things just weren’t the same and never were.

But, God promises to bless obedience. The evidence of this blessing may not be evident at first, but we must wait.

These verses that I quote this morning remind me of some similar language that Paul uses in the final chapter of Galatians: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap…. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians
6:7, 9-10 NASB).

It dawns on me today that every single action is sowing. I’m either sowing in God’s field or in the arena of my own flesh (Paul makes this clear in the verse eight in Galatians 6, the verse I did not cite above). It is either one or the other.

I need to check my motives for every so-called “good work.” In the church in Galatia, Paul was battling the Judaizers who advocated circumcision for believers. For those who allowed themselves to engage in this work, it totally invalidated the gospel they proclaimed they believed.

In the final chapter of Galatians, Paul turns this whole thing on its head. It isn’t that works are not important. Things just need to be in the proper order. For those of us saved by grace, we are called to a life of obedient sowing.

And, we never know how the Lord is going to use us or what will happen.

It might even be at a silly soapbox derby race. It might even be reaping a harvest of encouragement from a hospital visit. I went to minister. The Lord ministered to me.

Lord, I’m going out today with my bag of seed. Use me. Amen.
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An Interesting Explanation

Rarely do I just attend funerals. Usually, of course, I have a ministry responsibility, but not yesterday.

The service was at Olinger Mortuary, right around the corner from the church, and I went to support the family. I have had a long history with this family over the course of my tenure as pastor. I think a lot of them.

The chaplain from the local hospital conducted the service. He admitted that he did not know the deceased, but it was obvious that he had tried to glean some information about him to share with the rest of us. This was in addition to the “formal” eulogy that his nephew shared.

As the service progressed, the chaplain did read John 14:1-3. As he launched into an explanation of this very familiar passage, at first, I was a little perplexed to see the connection, but it finally dawned on me. Here is that passage:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John
14:1-3 NASB).

The chaplain alluded to a marriage custom of Jesus’ day. Most, if not all, marriages were arranged. The father along with his son would pick out a young woman in the community in agreement with her father. Once the initial negotiations were complete, the groom would go back to his home and get started building an extra “room” on the family compound.

Once that construction was complete, he would go back to retrieve his bride and after a week-long wedding ceremony, the bride and groom would move into their new home to begin their life together.

Interesting.

The chaplain did not say that this was the analogy that Jesus intended as he taught his disciples in the upper room before heading to Calvary. But he did say that this custom and procedure must have been on their minds as the Lord talked with them about his imminent departure and ultimate return.

I have to do more research to see about this, and I will, but frankly, it does make sense, given the biblical teaching about the return of Jesus and the fact that scripture calls us the bride of Christ. Certainly, wedding customs of the day play into that teaching at some level.

Anyway, this whole experience confirms that even seasoned, grisly, and old preachers like myself need to hear a sermon every now and again.

I love the fact that right now, even as I write these words, Jesus is building a room for me in His Father’s house and this is where I will spend eternity with Him. The room I am sitting now that my earthly father had built is very temporary. Even though I have lived in this home for 52 years, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the length of time with the Groom and His Dad.

This certainly lends perspective to this life we live here on earth.

I’ve also heard that couples that are planning to get married actually look forward with great anticipation to the wedding ceremony and their lives together. I’ve heard this … Ha. I would imagine it is true!

This is the kind of anticipation we should have for our Groom’s return and the wedding feast of the Lamb.

In the meantime, this truth from Psalm 125 stands out: “For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the righteous, So that the righteous will not put forth their hands to do wrong” (Psalm 125:3, NASB). Amen. Glad to hear it. The Lord will not allow the symbol of authority of an oppressive leader (the scepter) to rule over His people.

His people were indeed held as captives in Babylon for forty years, but it did not last forever. God continues to take care of us as we wait for our wedding day.

Jesus, my Groom, I wait for you to return or for You just to take me home and I’m thankful for your ultimate rule over the universe until that time and until the consummation of human history where You set up shop forever here on the new heaven and new earth. Hardly wait. Come, Lord Jesus. Come today. Amen.
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Someone To Talk To

As Jim and I finished the service at Crossroads Nursing Home yesterday, Mary* spoke up, “Pastor John, this may be too personal to talk with you about, but my son has cancer also …”

She went on to talk about his illness. Then, she alluded to her daughter’s diabetes. Finally, she talked about her work as a postal carrier and life in St. Joe, Missouri.

She seemed pleased when I told that, not only had I been to St. Joseph, but also I had some relatives who came from there.

This was a conversation like many I have had over the years. I enjoy getting to know people. I would much rather listen than talk (believe that or not).

By the time we started winding down, most of the other folks had left. Jim was gathering his belongings and we started walking out of the room. Mary was with us.

She paused a second before we left. She looked me in the eye. “Thanks a lot for talking with me. All of us need a conversation every once in a while.”

Oh, man.

I cannot tell you how that statement has been on my mind and heart since yesterday. I wonder how many folks at Crossroads are in the same boat.

Back to Mary—I don’t get the idea that her kids live in this town. I may be wrong about that. It is possible that she doesn’t have any family here. I can’t imagine how difficult that must be.

One more thing about the service, as Glenn* came in (he is the only man in the group), I asked how he was doing. He gave this answer or something close to it: “About the same as yesterday and probably the same as tomorrow.”

In other words—things don’t change that much from day to day in that place.

Thus, if you are in Mary or Glenn’s place, whatever that might be, there is not much hope of anything changing.

Crossroads is a nice facility. Don’t get me wrong. I think that they do a good job there, but still, it has to be a rather monotonous life.

I wish I had quick answers for Mary and Glenn and the two women I visited with last week at Northglenn Heights.

It seems almost a polar opposite at first glance when one looks at the Psalms of the Ascents. Today’s reading is in Psalm 122. Notice these verses: “Blessed be the LORD, Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth. Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper; The snare is broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalms
124:6-8 NASB).

These verses describe a life of variety and danger. There is no telling what the details are given the metaphor of a bird escaping the snare of a trapper. One commentator asserts that this image is a common one for enemy attacks.

But interestingly enough, do you notice that this escape is not necessarily a physical one? The allusion is to a “soul” escaping out of the trap. Now, I am not sure that this reference in Psalm 124 presses this distinction too far, but it does allude to the fact that the traps we face and the deliverance we need could include what we would call the psychological issues.

This is what Mary and Glenn and many of us face living in our circumstances.

I think the greatest challenge of living in a nursing home is sanity. Life “outside” the nursing home takes on this characteristic sometimes as well—monotonous regularity.

But even when it does not—we have the same God, no matter how we would characterize our circumstances—“our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Oh, Lord, I lift up the folks that Jim and I ministered to yesterday. Help me to be ready, not just to share a Bible study, but to have a genuine conversation each time I go. I pray that You would rescue these souls from the trap. I ask You to help them and us. In the Name of Jesus.

I pray for the T family today in the death of Joe. Give them comfort and strength. Amen.
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On the Move Worship

Absolutely every time I come to this section of the Psalms, I get more and more intrigued.

Psalms 120-134 form a collection of songs called “Psalms of Ascents.” In Hebrew, the phrase is “Shirei Ha Ma’a lot.” The last word is plural. It literally means steps.

These are songs that were lifted up to the Lord in the pilgrimage feasts as Jewish worshipers celebrated Passover and other festivals on the way from their homes to the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem. Worshipers sing them as they are “on the move.”

Our next-door neighbors are Jewish. On Saturdays (when the weather is nice of course), it is fascinating to see them go to the synagogue down the street. They walk! They “congregate” together with other people and walk to the synagogue. It is beautiful to see.

All of this is such a contrast to the way we as Gentile Americans worship.

Think about it. We jump in our cars, often driving very long distances (right now, I am a primo example of this). I am usually in a hurry. On my way to church, the last thing that I am thinking about is God. I have all the details of the day on my mind, and the longer I am in the car, the more buried I get in them.

Then, when I arrive at church, my worship consists of SITTING or STANDING in a room. It is as far from being ambulatory as anything.

I wonder what we are missing. A lot.

If you stop and think about it, much of what we see in the Old Testament is a Jewish people on the move, and it started with Abraham. He had a very nice and comfortable life as a rancher in Ur when God called him to go to … Ah, well, just to uproot himself and head west.

He was a nomad for the rest of his life. How could a sedentary faith work for him?

When once he found the Promised Land, he still kept moving until the Lord used circumstances to move his ancestors to Egypt where they lived for 400 years until God literally forced them out to be on a pilgrimage AGAIN.

Well, you get the picture.

Later in history, the Lord used the Babylonians to move them out of their land, and after 40 years in captivity, He then told them to go back. Many of these Songs of Ascents are couched in the context of a treacherous return to Israel from Babylon.

This was no trip down the block. It was fraught with danger. But isn’t that what life is about—REAL LIFE.

What are we teaching when our corporate worship is always IN a church building and we are sitting or standing? I’m just asking the question.

I need to pray about this ….

Two quotes from different versions this morning. As you read these verses, think about how they change when you cite them ON THE MOVE.

“GOD ’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you— Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke. GOD guards you from every evil, he guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always” (Psalm
121:5-8 MSG).

“Our soul is greatly filled With the scoffing of those who are at ease, And with the contempt of the proud” (Psalms
123:4 NASB).

Lord, today, I rejoice at the fact our faith is movable because You are a God who is on pilgrimage with us, no matter where our steps take us. We cannot go anywhere You aren’t. Thank You for being my Guard. Thank You for continuing to unsettle me so that I will move. Amen.
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420

Please forgive me for such a huge oversight in this blog. Forgive me for failing to mention a holiday here in my beloved state yesterday on THE DAY. It is 420.

What is 420, you might ask?

Well, I am not quite sure, even after reading an article in Wikipedia. Feel free to go to Google and search if you absolutely have nothing else to do.

Around here, it is just a day set aside for stoners to gather in various public places and smoke pot, just another excuse.

This morning, on the front cover of the Denver Post, there is a picture of the 3000 or so folks who gathered at Lincoln Park downtown yesterday. One of the noteworthy features of the picture is SMOKE. I would think that one could get high just walking by that park.

It is sad to say that marijuana is a part of the culture, especially now that we along with the state of Washington are the two places in this country where it is legal.

We often see an advertisement on TV—some government agency sponsors it—in which there are instructions for what to do with your pot when it is at home and you are not using it. It is a little light-hearted cartoon. We must be responsible in our use of weed. We wouldn’t want any children to get a hold of it.

Of course, there was a story several months ago of an elementary age child who had some at school and tried to sell it. Where did he get it?

No one ever speaks about the poor example parents set when they smoke and their children either know it or actually see it.

I don’t know.

Everyone here is lauding it for another reason. Our economy is apparently doing very well and everyone attributes it to marijuana.

But how does this pot culture affect the church? I do wonder at times how many people who go to church smoke pot. It probably isn’t a huge percentage.

I think the impact is in more general ways. People who smoke pot basically thumb their noses at traditional values. Some of the pot smokers I knew in high school even made the self-righteous claim that marijuana was “more healthy” than smoking or drinking alcohol. They laud its medicinal purposes. Ha.

To me, it just promotes a “devil may care” attitude and irresponsibility, even among very high profile folks like Von Miller of the Denver Broncos and a lot of NFL players.


I would certainly never object to anyone taking a drug prescribed by a doctor, but my sense is that most people smoke pot just because they want to.

Very little is said about it as a gateway drug. Once one starts on this road, it often leads to other more dangerous drugs. And using it destroys brain cells.

I could go on and on … but none of these facts seems to matter.

The Psalmist echoes this in Psalm 120: “Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech, For I dwell among the tents of Kedar! Too long has my soul had its dwelling With those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, They are for war” (Psalms
120:5-7 NASB). This is the heartbreak of someone in captivity in Babylon, far from home.

I can definitely relate. This marijuana culture makes ministry here more challenging. Some days, like yesterday, I feel as if I am on a different planet.

For those of you who are reading this who live in another state, please pray for us here in Colorado.

Lord, give us more boldness than ever to continue to share the gospel through the smoke of marijuana in this culture. Please protect the children in our church from drug use, whether this state says it is “legal” or not. God help us! I’m glad it is 4/21. Amen.
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More About Revival

As I was reading along in Psalm 119 again this morning, the repetition struck me:

“Plead my cause and redeem me; Revive me according to Your word.

Great are Your mercies, O LORD; Revive me according to Your ordinances.

Consider how I love Your precepts; Revive me, O LORD, according to Your lovingkindness. The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalms
119:154, 156, 159-160 NASB).

As you can see, I separated out the verses so that you could see it—three times in this section of this lengthy Psalm.

What is dawning on me (it usually takes me a while) is that, at least in this Psalm, the notion of revival is NOT some emotional experience. At its root, it involves the Word of God as we allow Him to do His work in us through it.

God’s Word and God’s character are linked in this regard. “Revive me according to Your Word … Revive me according to your ordinances (basically the same concept) … and Revive me according to Your lovingkindness (God’s character)” (Parentheses mine).

So, yesterday, in the service, Bryan came forward as the Holy Spirit was at work. I know this because there were a lot of distractions. I won’t list them here. Take my word for it. I felt as if I were preaching in a bus station. Whenever this happens, I’ve learned to look at it, not from the standpoint of my own personal frustration, but as Satan’s compliment.

Anyway, I asked Bryan why he came forward.

“I have something to share,” he replied. I always like that.

When given the opportunity, Bryan stood up and said, “This message today reminds me of the Boreans in Acts 17. They were more noble-minded than the rest because they searched out the scriptures for themselves. We should do this with everything we hear, especially Bible teaching. We should check it out in the Bible.” I am paraphrasing a bit here, but this is basically what he said.

Amen to that.

As he sat down, I added, “I wholeheartedly agree, Bryan. You should do that every time, especially with what you hear in sermons from me or in teaching from anyone else.”

This is absolutely crucial for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is reflected in Psalm 119 and its numerous references to revival.

Our spiritual life and vitality depend on the Word of God! And let me add one more thing that is crucial: THE WORD OF GOD PROPERLY INTERPRETED AND APPLIED.

Of course. We all know the difference. When we hear sermons or teachings that somehow manhandle the Word, it sticks a bit. It causes consternation and confusion. But, as some human agent (fallible as all of us are), properly conveys God’s Word with the help of the Holy Spirit who inspired it in the first place, something happens to us, just as it did with those two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus.

This is why, to me, the sermon still must be central in corporate worship as the Protestants advocated. It isn’t that music is not important. Please don’t get me wrong, but even it carries the responsibility of teaching the Word accurately and pointing folks to message in the right way.

It is NOT preliminary, but both entities should work together and support one another.

This is one of the reasons why we have reversed the traditional order of worship putting the sermon first and upfront and musical aspect of worship follows. This is no rigid ritual for us. We shift sermon and music around, but the point is both proclaim the Word.

All of this helps me as I continue to pray for revival, not only for First Southern, but also for the American church—all churches.

Revive us, Lord, according to Your Word and according to Your love. Amen.
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Significant Technological Advancement

Yesterday, Dan and Michelle hosted a workshop for a Pinewood (Soapbox) Derby race we are having next Saturday. I appreciate them doing this. It brought back a lot of memories.

In the mid 1990’s, I witnessed my very first Awana Grand Prix. At that point as pastor, I was not very involved in the children’s ministry on Wednesday nights. But I thought it was rather curious that so much effort and energy was expended on actually moving pews in our auditorium to set up long wooden tracks so that these homemade cars could go down them. What is the deal? “This is kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?” I thought then.

But it took about ten minutes to change my thinking totally.

That first race at our church almost twenty years ago sparked something inside me. The next year I made a car and entered it in the race. By then, we had moved the tracks down to our newly renovated fellowship hall where we had plenty of room to set up the tracks and plenty of seating for our “rabid” fans. And I was one of them!

I quickly learned who to go to in our church for help with my car. For several years, I went over to Duane and Mary Ann’s. They provided a meal for me (very nice of them) and afterwards, Duane took me out to his garage where he helped me build my car and showed me a lot of “trade secrets” to winning.

One year, they even built my car for me when I did not have time to do so. I still have that car. It is one of the fastest ever.

Over the course of time, we have continued that race and have seen a lot of boys and girls and ADULTS really get into it. Plus, we have added a pancake breakfast to the mix. This seems to bring even more people. Surprise, surprise, right?

A couple of years ago, as our wooden tracks were starting to deteriorate, we bought a fancy and rather expensive aluminum track with a fancy electronic finish line that clearly shows the first, second, third, and fourth place.

Anyway, basically this has become a tradition and a lot of folks (including myself) really enjoy it.

So, back to Dan’s garage and the workshop yesterday—I picked up Tom and both of us arrived not having any idea of what to expect. Oh, man.

As it turns out, Dan was very involved in the Pinewood Derby races at his former church, and if one can even conceive of this, we quickly learned that they got into this race even more than we have!

I will try now to list the significant technological advancements he introduced to us yesterday. In the past, we just drew with a pencil on the block of wood to get our car design.

Dan had papers with car designs on them. Tom and I picked a design, cut out the schemes, and simply traced them on our block of wood. These designs included the places where one would drill holes to add weight.

Over the years, we have used various saws to carve out the cars.

Yesterday, after we penciled the design on our cars, Dan took us to his shed where he meticulously cut our cars for us. “I am never pleased with my work,” Dan interjected as he cut my car. Little does he know that his design is way more fancy than anything I had ever created before.

In the past, we simply melted metal from various sources and poured it into the holes we carved in the cars in various places.

Yesterday, Dan had these little bee bees and with Kevin’s (it was great to see Kevin there also. He is a former member of our fellowship who is really into the Grand Prix as well) help, meticulously poured them into the weight holes to get the exact measurement to keep the cars in regulation. He then glued them in and covered them with putty to make them look pretty.

Dan asked Tom and me, “What color do you want your cars?” We both made choices. He replied, “I will paint them for you and have them at church tomorrow.” Well, okay. Fine and dandy. I’m looking forward to seeing my car today and of course to worshiping God. Of course. Ha.

Anyway, Tom and I had a great time and we are looking forward to another race next Saturday. It is always great when Christians get together for fellowship and have a lot of fun doing it.

Today, as I continued reading Psalm 119, I came across this verse: “I opened my mouth wide and panted, For I longed for Your commandments” (Psalms
119:131 NASB). What a vivid image of thirst! I have seen this even with our pets at home. When a dog gets so thirsty that his mouth is wide open as he pants, he is really thirsty! (By the way, I don’t want anyone to accuse my family and me of cruelty. Ha. Joe gets this way in the summer after he chases his ball fifty times. We always take him in so he can drink water afterwards. He is not mistreated. Believe me!).

Lord, we get “into” so many things like Pinewood Derby races (nothing wrong with this). I pray that I could get “into” getting God’s Word into me. Amen.
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MRI Foot Results and Hands

Well, FINALLY, the doctor called me yesterday with the results.

But let me back up a second to my visit with him the other day. He felt along the back of my foot and lower leg, specifically testing my Achilles. He had me push against his hand from various angles with my foot. Then, he touched some places up the back of my calf.

When he was done, he said, “Well, I’m fairly confident that your Achilles is in tact. That’s good news. If you rupture it, it is a whole new ballgame in terms of recovery—a long time. But I feel fairly confident that you have either pulled a muscle or have torn a tendon in your calf. If that is the case, then we are looking at only a few weeks to recover. If there is a relatively good place to tear, then this is it because it could actually enable you to be longer in your stride than before. In the meantime, do you have a boot? The main thing is that you must keep it stable.”

I told him that I did have a boot and asked, “So, doc, if this injury turns out to be what you think, am I looking at four weeks for recovery?”

“No, I think it more like three, but I will be able to tell when I see the MRI.”

As it turns out, the MRI did confirm almost exactly what he had told me. I did tear a tendon in my calf. He informed me that recovery is a three-week process (from the day of the injury; so now, I am down to a little over two weeks) where I need to keep it stable (the boot) and just “listen” to my body in terms of getting back into full activity.

I cannot begin to tell all of you how thankful I am for this news and I thank all of you for praying for me.

Shortly after I received this news, “magically,” (of course I really don’t believe in magic), I started to feel better. My pain levels have decreased and my mobility has increased. But I am going to follow the doc’s advice. I'm going to keep my foot in the boot and take care of myself to give this thing time to heal.

A verse I came across in Psalm 119 describes what I have been going through the past few days. Here it is in two translations.

“My life is continually in my hand, Yet I do not forget Your law” (Psalms
119:109 NASB). This is rather a curious phrase. Is it not?

My life is as close as my own hands, but I don’t forget what you have revealed” (MSG). This helps a little bit, but what exactly does this verse mean?

One commentator explains that the expression “to have your life in your open palm” signifies vulnerability and susceptibility to danger. He cites 1 Samuel 19:5 and 28:21 where similar language is used. I looked up these two verses in the NASB. In both instances, this phrase was used: so and so took his life in his hands.

We use the expression that way to signify danger.

Okay, so how does this relate to my injured calf? Well, I think any kind of injury or physical setback makes one vulnerable to spiritual attack.

Frankly, I have been anxious and worried about the severity of this injury and how long I would be “laid up.” After my chemo treatments, I was so ready to get outside in the Spring and Summer.

Now, anxiety is a sin, and I have been battling it the past few days. By God’s grace, when I have sensed that I was looking too far ahead in worry about the future, I just stopped to turn it over to God again. But even this makes one more vulnerable. It is weird.

Anyway, this has been and I am sure will be a valuable learning experience. I can already tell that these next two plus weeks will feel like an eternity, but again, my life may be in my hands BUT the greater truth is that is in God’s hands.

Yes, Lord. I’m in “good hands” with You. Amen.
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One Step at a Time

Before I start—still no word on the MRI results. I hope I hear today but my leg and foot feel better. I thank God for this.

At Northglenn Heights on Wednesday, I was getting a little concerned. The service starts at 11:00 AM, but even a couple of minutes before that time, no one was there.

Finally, two of the regulars, E and M came in.

I could tell that E had a concerned look on her face. “What is going on with you today?” I asked.

E replied, “My son is very concerned. He heard about a government program for the families of veterans (my husband was a vet) to help them with nursing home care, but so far he has not been able to get it. You know, it costs $4,000 a month to live here and costs go up every year. I guess I just didn’t expect to live this long.”

M was sitting right behind her. She was nodding her head in agreement.

$4,000 per month! Yikes!

When I got back to the church, I told Betty about this conversation. She said, “4,000 per month isn’t too bad. There is another nursing home in the area that charges $7,000 per month. A few years ago, the average stay in a nursing home was two and a half years. Now, it is five.”

I started doing the math in my head: 5,000 ish times 12 months times 5 years. Oh, man.

Who can afford that? The answer is very few, and of course, what happens, when one goes on Medicaid or Medicare (I’m not really “up” on the difference) is that you have no assets left and the health care system takes over.

And, obviously, I think AT THAT TIME, they don’t pay the $7,000 per month nursing home. You probably go to one that is less expensive and the care isn’t that great.

Anyway, even now, as I sit here this morning writing about all of this, I feel that my anxiety level is increasing a bit.

I feel for E and M and all the other seniors who are dealing with this. It is overwhelming, really.

But back to the service—we sang a couple of hymns—nowhere near the level we do it when Jim is there (he and his wife are out of town this week). Then, I sat in a chair and made some comments about Psalm 119.

I said, “This whole Psalm—all 176 verses—is really about one thing. It depicts life as a path and it gives us a very practical way for believers to stay on the straight and narrow path the Lord has laid out for us.”

I cited several verses but I focused on the verse I came to this morning: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 199:105, NASB). This is arguably one of the most well-known verses in the Psalter. As I was talking about it, it was one of those times where the need of the hour (both for myself and for E and M) intersected perfectly with the message of God’s Word.

The light God gives us for the path points down, giving me just enough to be able to take the next step. As I take that step of obedience, He gives me light and grace and strength and faith for the next and so forth. This is the life of obedience for the believer.

At this point, I could see E nodding her head. She got it.

I hope I do.

Lord, I thank You that it is not my job to worry about how I am going to afford nursing home care when I get to be a senior. How presumptuous! My job is to take the step of obedience You have called me to take TODAY.

I lift up E and M and all the other seniors. Give them the grace to do the same. Amen.
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The MRI Test and Beyond

I think my major problem yesterday evening is that I went into this test with certain expectations.

The first foot doctor I went to said, “You need to get an MRI. It is an easy test. It only takes a few minutes.” I don’t know his definition of “easy” and “a few minutes” but they would not be the same as mine.

Beyond that, however, I just had one of those “moments” when I thought, “How on earth did I end up here?”

So, I’m sure many of you have had an MRI. I never have had one until yesterday, but when I walked into the room to start the test, I was immediately reminded of the CAT and PET scans. The machine looked similar.

But that is where the similarities end—LOOKS.

So, I got on the table. The tech and a woman who was helping him laid this rubber mat with holes in it on top of my feet. One end rested on top of my toes. The other end was on my knees.

The tech then said, “This machine is very loud. What type of music do you like?” Huh? I said, “Jazz.”

No problem. He maneuvered some dials in the corner of the room and handed me a headset. This was different.

Then, the lady gave me what essentially looked like a rubber cord with a rubber microphone on the end. “John, we are in the next room. If you need us, just talk into this.” At this point, I am thinking, “What have I gotten myself into here?”

Yes, the machine is loud, with weird knocking sounds, followed by long and extended roars that often resembled a racecar engine.

Several years ago, Raini invited us over to her house. I went with another couple in our church—Shane and Carla. Raini was in the youth group at the time—an outstanding young woman (still is). Her dad drove racecars and had one in the garage. He revved it up to let us hear it. Wow! It blasted us out. It was very cool, though. I loved it.

But that MRI reminded me of that engine in the garage. LOUD!

One of the other elements of this test is that there was a very visible timer right above me. So, the first time flashed “2:51” and it counted down. Then, more times appeared and counted down. With each one, I was thinking, “Okay, this is going to be over in a few more minutes.” It wasn’t. It took at least a half an hour but it seemed to take four hours.

What I am trying to communicate is that last night was another breaking point for me. I just wasn’t emotionally prepared for that test. I know that sounds weird but …

Plus that rubber mat started to weigh on the big toe of my left foot. It really bothered me, but believe it or not, (and my situation is not even on the same planet as this brother’s—please note this) the thing that got me through was thinking about Saeed Abedini in that Iranian prison.

To “celebrate” Easter, the guards stripped him, beat him, and threw him, shivering and cold, into solitary confinement.

My toe bothered me as I take an MRI, but this brother …

The test finally ended and I went home. My toe is fine. But I pray that Saeed could go home. He has been away from his family long enough.

How about this verse in Psalm 119? “I have seen that everything [human] has its limits and end [no matter how extensive, noble, and excellent]; but Your commandment is exceedingly broad and extends without limits [into eternity]. [Rom. 3:10-19.]” (Psalm
119:96 AMP)

Lord, thank you for the grace You give us to go through “whatever.” My world now is big scanning machines, I guess.

Thank you for diverting my attention to Saeed. He is an example of suffering for us all. I pray that we could add this to the list in the brackets above—“or difficult—i.e. prison.” I pray that the end of his suffering in this cruel prison would be soon. Free this brother. I lift him up. Free him soon. Amen.
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Lessons in Giving

Yesterday morning, before I headed up to the church, I met with two couples from our mission congregation, Torre Fuerte, the Hispanic congregation that meets with us in our building.

We talked about many subjects, but at one point in the conversation, the subject of giving came up.

Now, before I tell you more about the conversation, I just want to stop for a moment. This subject continues to be a touchy one in local church life. I don’t know any pastor or church leader who would not agree with me at this point.

I am making generalizations here (always dangerous, I know), but it seems to me that younger generations struggle with this much more than older folks. I think the main reason is that my generation has not done an adequate job of teaching.

One of the first lessons that my dad taught me after he got saved was the principle of tithing. I didn’t have a lot of money at the age of nine, but if I got ten dollars as a birthday present, he taught me to go get change, five ones and a five, so that I could put a dollar bill in the offering plate.

After he passed away, my mom taught me another lesson: when times get tough, increase your giving to God. Now this sounds totally counter-intuitive, does it? Are you kidding me? But I am telling you: I have never forgotten it.

I’m not going to sit here this morning and give you any “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel drivel to say that when I increased my giving, I found hundred-dollar bills in my mailbox (I still look on occasion—ha). But I know the Lord blessed me. I know “blessing” is a very general term. But it has to do with the favor of God in ways far beyond money. I’ll just leave it at that.

Anyway, back to the conversation yesterday. One of the brothers, who was a pastor before he retired recently, went on to say, “I don’t like fundraisers, because we should not expect people outside the church to support God’s ministry. Plus, when we ask church people to donate clothes and food, they usually give stuff they don’t want or need any longer. I always used to tell people, ‘We will not have a clothes closet at church with a bunch of old clothes stinking up the place’ and ‘We won’t have a food pantry with old cans of food that people don’t want.’ That isn’t giving.”

He is so right. I agree wholeheartedly.

He went on, “True giving is giving something you really need. It involves sacrifice of one sort or another. One time, the Lord led me to give some clothes to a man. I told him to go to my closet and pick out a suit and shoes and so forth. He did. He came back with my best suit and best pair of shoes. It was a little disconcerting, but the Lord told me to do it, so I did.” Now, I didn’t quote him exactly, but that is the gist of what he shared.

Wow.

The principle is that we give God the first and the best, not leftovers that we don’t want any longer.

The principle applies to money. Whenever I hear someone say, “I just can’t afford to tithe” I know they don’t understand. What they are saying is, “I spend money on me all month and then at the end, if I have any left over (and who ever does?), I will give to God and oops, I can’t!” (Parenthesis mine).

Now, I just want to jump in here and say that I am speaking in general terms. Of course, if people have bills and obligations, I would never say NOT to pay bills, BUT the principle is still the same: the first check goes to God. Start there.

But back to this brother’s story. I will never forget it. God told him to give his best suit and best shoes. Believe me. I will share this in the pulpit of the church sometime soon and more importantly, seek to live this principle out in my own life.

One more thing: I did go to the doc yesterday, and he did order me to get an MRI. I have an appointment for this evening. I’m glad to get this ball rolling further down the road. I’m still in pain and it is difficult to walk. He encouraged me to wear the boot Marilyn got for me because he said that it is important for my leg to be stable while it starts to heal.

I will share more about what he said and what he counsels me to do after I get the results of the MRI. In the meantime, thanks for praying.

Here is the verse for the day from Psalm 119: “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes” (Psalms
119:83 NASB). “A wineskin in the smoke”? What is that all about? One commentator asserts that the image is unclear, but from the context of verses 81 and 82, what the Psalmist appears to be saying is that even when hope is gone, he still keeps God’s commandments in mind.

Isn’t that a pretty good summary of these lessons in giving?

Lord, I thank You for the joy and privilege of giving in obedience to You. I will never forget You and Your statutes. Thank You for what my dad and mom taught. Thank You for what this brother shared yesterday. Give me the grace always to give You the first and the best. You deserve it. Amen.
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Pop!

Yesterday morning, as I was exercising, I heard this fairly loud “pop” in the back of my lower leg. It was as if someone had stretched a rubber band too far, and it broke. I fell to the ground. Oh, man. It was and still is painful.

When I got home, my sister called her doctor at a clinic all of us go to. He was able to see me later on yesterday morning. After examining me for a moment, he said, “John, I’m not really sure what is wrong. We will have to send you to a foot doctor. Just a minute. I will be back.”

After a few minutes, he returned, “You are in luck. Our foot doctor is in today and he can see you.”

He examined me and made a few comments before saying, “Really, the only way we can tell for sure what you did is to send you to get an MRI. The lab will call you today to set up an appointment.” They didn’t call yesterday.

But in the meantime, I made an appointment with another foot doctor I have used in the past. I am not really confident in the guy I saw yesterday.

In the meantime, I’m still hurting BIG TIME and walking is very difficult. So, not good …

I will have to be honest at this point. This injury has knocked me off my perch a little bit. I struggled yesterday afternoon with depression. And I really had to pray to ask the Lord to keep me from spinning scenarios of what this is.

I was thinking about Chauncey Billups, the great NBA player who was born and raised here in Denver. He ruptured an Achilles tendon a couple of years ago, and that basically ended his career.

Now, I hasten to say that I am certainly NOT in the class of athlete that Chauncey Billups is NOR do I have any indication that I have ruptured that tendon or any other for that matter, but it is just funny what your mind thinks about.

I am looking forward to seeing another doc this afternoon and getting that MRI at some point.

I have a lot to do today so I hope I can get around without hobbling too much. Marilyn got me a “boot.” At first, I was a little skeptical, but once I put it on, it seemed to stabilize things a bit, so until I get an idea of what I did, I will try to wear it now and again, just because any little wrong movement is very painful.

Oh, well, one more thing to add to the list.

One more weird thing to say: it is almost easier for me to cope with cancer than it is this injury, but all of this is very premature. I just have to continue to live in the present as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:34. This is the verse the Lord gave me when I was first diagnosed. It applies to this as well.

I will let you know what happens in the continuing soap opera of the life of John Talbert entitled, “The Human Disaster Area.” Ha. Have to laugh to keep from … Well, you know.

I’m so glad these two verses in Psalm 119 bring me back to where I need to be: “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. O may Your lovingkindness comfort me, According to Your word to Your servant” (Psalms
119:75-76 NASB).

I love that statement: “in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” Yes!

Even in this crazy injury, especially in this, You are still and always faithful. Amen.
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The Concept of Revival

Yesterday morning, in our men’s prayer meeting—the one we have every Sunday morning at 8:15—Jim prayed for revival. His prayer was noteworthy in my mind.

A couple of years ago, a lady in our church mentioned “revival” to me quite often. Her name is Lettie.

The Lord has since moved her on. We haven’t seen her in a few years. I miss her. She is quite a character and used to give me a hard time about a number of things.

For example, for the only time I have ever done this in my life, I let my beard grow for several weeks. One evening, I walked into a classroom at church. She immediately noticed my beard and said, “Ugh. You look like a homeless man!” Everyone laughed. So did I.

That was Lettie, but she talked often of praying for revival in our church and said that she had a vision that someday, it would be so full of people, that others would have to stand outside and look in the windows in order to be a part of the service.

Interesting. Is THAT what revival looks like? I don’t know. I honestly don’t.

Then, another Jim in our fellowship (he was not in the prayer meeting yesterday because he and his wife are out of town) prays often for revival as well. I appreciate this greatly.

I know there have been a few others who have prayed for revival on occasion in our fellowship.

I mention this because, over the course of my almost 27 years of ministry at this church, these are only a few people that have prayed for revival. I’m not judging the others. Don’t get me wrong. But it isn’t a topic that is even on the prayer list of many people.

For some reason (and I am not patting myself on the back here), it has been on mine. My good friend Dan and I prayed for revival spring semester of our freshman year when we met for prayer in his dorm room at Penland. I learned it from Dan. This is when the burden started for me.

But what is it? What is revival? Is it, as Lettie envisioned, a lot more people in the church? Is it a series of special services with a guest preacher? Is it people getting “fired up” for the Lord? Et cetera.

Of course, it could be all three of those things and more, but I just wonder. I’m not sure I would recognize true revival if it hit me over the head.

From my standpoint, when I have prayed for revival, I am just asking that the church would truly become what God wants and I think of people with a burden to share Jesus with others. But maybe that is too narrow of a focus.

Anyway, as I started Psalm 119 this morning, these two verses captured my attention:
“My soul cleaves to the dust; Revive me according to Your word…
Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways”
(Psalms 119:25, 37 NASB).

Interesting. This is how the Psalms refers to “revival.” I had to look this word up. In both instances above, it is the Hebrew word “hay-ye.” And it means to be alive or stay alive.

Psalm 119 as a whole lauds the lifestyle of living by the Word of God. This is what the whole Psalm—all 176 verses—is about.

So, this helps me understand the biblical concept of revival a bit more, at least in these two verses. It means to live by the Word of God.

When it comes to life being as low as dust, the Psalmist prays that the Lord would let him live according to God’s Word. Living according to God’s Word means to turn away from evil.

Humm. THAT is revival. THAT is something to pray for.

Father, let revival, the genuine, true article, begin with me today. Amen.
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The Stone and the Day

One of the things that I most appreciate about reading through the Bible consecutively is seeing very familiar verses in their actual context. I want to talk about a couple of verses in Psalm 118 in a moment.

But first of all, I want to ask you to pray for three folks who are leaving on a very important trip today. Their names are Ron, Jeanne, and Owen. This is a group of three who are embarking for South Asia to work with a young couple we met last year who work among “cousins” in a major city (the IMB refers to a major group of people in the world as “cousins” for security reasons).

Last year, Ron and Jeanne were among the group that traveled with us. Of course, I have known Owen for years… I’m a little sad that a group of us from First Southern are not on that plane with them. But, even as I sit here this morning, I know that I made a good decision from a personal health standpoint. We will go either in the Fall of 2015 or next Spring, Lord willing.

Anyway, please pray for these three and their work over the next ten days or so. I will be anxious to hear what happened when they return.

Okay, so back to the passage for today. Two well-known verses are in close proximity in Psalm 118. Usually, one does not think of them as going together. Let me cite them now:

“The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. This is the LORD'S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:22-24, NASB).

The first famous verse refers to “the stone the builders rejected.” I claim this verse is famous because it is quoted TWICE in the New Testament. Jesus cites it after telling the parable of the wicked tenants. His point is that the “wretches” who kill the Owner’s Son will face eternal consequences AND will have the kingdom taken from them and given to others.

In Acts 4, Peter and John quote this verse to the Sanhedrin to explain the death of Jesus and their responsibility in it.

So, that is Psalm 118:22.

But look at verse 24. I often quote this verse in isolation as I refer to any particular day. I guess it isn’t all that bad to that (not because I do it!).

However, I think the context indicates that this verse is referring to a CERTAIN day—a very significant day.

The rejection of the Son of God by the Jews ushered in the era of the church. Through His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God put Jesus in a unique and crucial position as cornerstone and THIS is the day the Lord has made. We must rejoice in it.

This is a very timely encouragement for me today as I get ready to head to church. It is a reminder that the church does not depend on me. It depends on Jesus. AND because of that day (way back when He created the church), I can rejoice in THIS day, as I still get to enjoy the fact that it is a very solid and secure “building.” I’m NOT talking about brick and mortar. I’m referring to the church built on the ROCK, Jesus.

Lord, thank You for this day. Thank You for your status as the One who was rejected back then. You became the Chief Cornerstone. “Upon THIS rock, I will build MY church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (John paraphrase of this verse, my emphases). Amen.
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Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters vs. Heaven

Okay, so most of you know by now that I play golf and love the sport. I have felt this way ever since my dad introduced me to the game when I was six.

I didn’t really start playing in earnest until my good friend Bill died and I met Gary on the golf course. Then, no one could keep me away from it. At that point, I was in Junior High. My mom would drop Gary and me off in the morning and pick us up at dark. I guess she figured we could not get into too much trouble. (We probably could have but we didn’t).

Since then, my love for the sport has grown. I have some great memories of times I have had on the course with friends through college, seminary, and now as I get out on my day off as a pastor most weeks.

Plus, I’ve always been interested in the history of game. At a golf exhibition years ago, I got Arnold Palmer’s autograph. And I love to read about golfers through the years, especially decades ago.

One of my favorites is Bobby Jones. He was the greatest golfer of his era and still one of the best ever to play the game. He refused to become a professional. Instead, he retained his amateur status. This didn’t matter. He won the Grand Slam in 1930 and then suddenly retired from golf to focus on his law practice and stay home with his family. Was he done with golf completely?

No, he along with his buddy Clifford Roberts, found a piece of property in Augusta, Georgia—the former Fruitlands Nursery—and with the help of a famous golf architect from Scotland—Alister MacKenzie—built a famous golf course and established the Augusta National Golf Club in 1933.

Since then, the club and the tournament he started—called the Masters—have become the mecca of American golf. It is a great story.

So, all of this is background for what I want to share this morning.

Yesterday, at the end of the second round of the Masters, the tournament took time to honor one of its famous former champions—Ben Crenshaw—who played his last round at the tournament.

As he walked up the 18
th hole, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. His former caddie stood at the back of the green to greet him as he finished. He waved at the patrons. He shook hands with friends who were there. His wife and three daughters hugged him.

The Masters does this type of thing with its former champions. I remember similar scenarios with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

All well and good, I guess. There is nothing wrong with any of this, except that it just struck me in a different way as I watched last night.

Here is the most exclusive golf club in the United States honoring men for having played a game well and for longevity at a golf tournament. But these “great golfers” come and go. Ben Crenshaw is older now, and Jordan Spieth, another Texan and UT alum has the spotlight. If he wins, someday, he will have a similar ceremony. Big deal.

It is all so fleeting and temporary.

This is pitiful, really, and it is a poor substitute for the REAL ceremony that awaits all believers.

Long after all these “great golfers” are dead and gone and are in their eternal destiny (wherever that might be) and Augusta along with all golf courses are burned up in the fire of God’s judgment as Jesus establishes His throne and rule here on earth, what will be left is the ultimate coronation.

Someday all of us who are believers will “walk up 18” to be greeted by Lamb of God and the saints of the ages. There and THEN, we will receive rewards for what God did through us while we lived these few short years here on earth. Think about it. Every believer will be recognized on that day. I believe that all of us will see the results of every obscure act of kindness and mercy. It will be played out before us and before the great cloud of witnesses, for each life God saved.

And the most obscure Christian, whom no one saw or no one knew (but God),
will be rewarded most highly.

Then, all of us will get to turn around and cast our crowns and trophies at the feet of Jesus to praise Him forever.

NOW THAT is a ceremony!

Lord, I’m thankful for golf as recreation and for the health to get out there and play occasionally. I thank you for golf tournaments and the competitions we get to watch and enjoy, but Lord, this morning, I dream about going home. I think about entering into my eternal destiny with You on the throne and with the saints of age as fans gathered around You. Oh, what a glorious day that will be. “The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation” (Psalms
118:14 NASB). Amen.
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"Stable"

One of the challenges of dealing with cancer is the new categories that emerge to describe this disease.

As Dr. Jotte’s assistant Laura came in to talk with us yesterday, she said, “Well, the cancer is still there, but it isn’t growing. Since it is stable, the doctor wants to put you on a maintenance treatment beginning in May.”

To be honest, I was a little disappointed that it was not in remission. I was hoping for that, but she seemed rather upbeat about where I am, and they have hopes that even the maintenance treatment might decrease things more.

When Dr. Jotte came in, he could tell that I was a little set back. He added, “I’m happy with where things are. The truth is that these scans give us a range and are rather subjective. Studies have proven that opinions on the status of cancer can vary when we are looking at the same scan.” I’m not sure I quoted him accurately there, but I think that is what he said.

He went on, “So, because of this, I would like to give you another PET scan in July. The insurance company may not allow me to do it, but at least, I will order a CAT scan. We just want to make sure of what we are seeing, but in the meantime, you are stable (there’s that word again) and we will give you a maintenance treatment in May.”

Well, okay.

I can assure you that as I prepared myself mentally and emotionally for that visit to the doctor, “stable” was not something I thought of, but it is what it is.

Plus, I seem to be feeling better and better. Today is Rockies’ Opening Day. It is day two of the Masters. AND, God is still on His throne. Life is good.

I’m good because I know God is still taking care of me. There are people with cancer—I heard about two yesterday. Please pray for them—Rod and Tommy—who are a lot sicker than I have ever been.

And the fact that this whole thing is rather subjective (I’m still a little curious about this) means that I could be better than they are saying or worse, but I’m just not going to waste time speculating. Not worth it.

But, at this point, I want to thank all of you who are praying. Thank you so much. Please continue. My family and I need your prayers. My mom and sis are doing well.

I want to echo the words of the Psalmist this morning. I love these affirmations from Psalm 116: “Return to your rest, O my soul, For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For You have rescued my soul from death, My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling” (Psalm 116:7-8, NASB).

The truth is that no matter what state my cancer is in, now or in the future, I can live in a state of rest. Jesus speaks of it in Matthew 11. The writer to Hebrews refers to a “Sabbath rest” for the people of God. Why?

The Lord has dealt sparingly with me. NOPE. Exactly the opposite. This news yesterday is another example of the Lord’s BOUNTIFUL dealings with me as He keeps me on the path.

Lord, thank You for all Your rescues—yesterday being another example. I have the assurance that my soul is rescued from death; my eyes from tears (I don’t believe that this is saying I will never cry again; but what I believe is that tears are NEVER the END of the story, only and always a part of it in the here and now); AND my feet from stumbling. You will keep me on my feet, no matter what a doctor may tell me. Amen.

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Whatever He Pleases

Why am I always surprised when, on days like this, I read in scripture the perfect message for what I am facing in the day? Maybe in twenty years or so, I won’t be surprised! Ha.

I have an appointment with the doc in a couple of hours to find out the results of the PET scan. To be honest, I have not thought about it all that much.

Cancer is a long-term disease punctuated by treatments and scans. There is my definition of it. After a while, the scans at least become rather routine. I will say that my concern will amp up a bit as we drive to the cancer center. I believe they do for everyone. I got a note from a dear sister in Christ not long ago who made that point. She has been in remission for quite some time and yet these periodic scans and waiting for the results create a lot of anxiety.

Rob left a note on one of my Facebook entries about a friend of his having to wait several more days than me to get the results of a scan. Ridiculous! But everything revolves around the doctor’s schedule, and I think most cancer doctors are swamped. Dr. Jotte is. His assistant called a week ago to ask if they could move my appointment up one day because he had been out of town at a conference and had other patients to see when he returned. No problem. It is what it is.

Anyway, this type of thing just goes with the territory, but I will be glad to know the results and what the next steps are.

Yesterday, I was having a discussion with a brother about this general topic. He is dealing with someone who is very close to him who has had a serious illness and he remarked about all the different types of responses he has received from friends and preachers.

We all like to feel as if we are in control in one way or another. This means that we can label diseases. It means that we can brand them (this is different). One example of a brand is, “Well, the devil caused that disease or a lack of faith caused that illness or whatever.”

Then, we like to believe that God always operates in a little “cause/effect” box that we construct. The box looks like this: if I do or say or pray something, then God will do something, as if He is my servant.

Now, before I go further, I believe there is a fine line here. I believe in prayer. I believe that God answers prayer. I’ve seen evidence of this a thousand times. HOWEVER, it is not always in the way I thought it was going to happen AND the answer might be different than what I expected.

Here is a key verse to read today in Psalm 115: “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (NASB).

This is the bottom line. Right? This statement does NOT mean that we should NOT ask or pray or petition Him, but at the end of the day, when all is said and done, God does whatever He pleases.

How should we respond to this? Some would take the fatalistic approach and say, “Well, if this is the case, why pray? Why do anything? It doesn’t matter if God just does what He pleases anyway?” Nope.

The Psalmist goes on to draw a contrast between idols and God. He concludes with this appeal: “O Israel, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield” (Psalm 115:9-11, NASB).

Lord, You are not a block of wood. You are real. You are the only true God. As such, You are running the whole universe including my life and this doctor visit today. I trust You. Why should I stop now? Amen.
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Conversion

Not long after I started as pastor at First Southern (now almost 26 years ago), I felt the urgency to develop some time of new member course. Back then, I called it, “J.I.G.S.AW.” That was an anon acronym for “Joining in God’s Service and Worship.”

From the earliest days of when I started, we had folks joining our fellowship that came from non-SBC backgrounds, and I wanted them to know how this particular SBC church functioned. I included our vision and mission but also our values. Yes, I honestly tried to articulate them.

More important than a list of programs we were having and a schedule of activities, I wanted people to understand UPFRONT the reasons behind why we did certain things. I still believe this is important.

Anyway, I put this “course” together and at first, I taught it during Sunday School. I just pulled folks out of their class for a couple of weeks.

Then, a guy in our church stepped up to teach it. He did a great job. He taught it for a few years.

When he and his family moved on, I picked it up again, teaching it after the service on Sunday. We found that if we were going to do this, we needed to provide a meal for folks.

Shortly after we took this approach, Evelyn stepped forward. She cooked the meal herself and was an active and enthusiastic participant in each class. She became involved because she just wanted to get to know everyone who joined our fellowship. With her in the group, we spent a lot of time just getting to know each other. This was a crucial shift in JIGSAW.

When she passed away a few years ago (I miss Evelyn), I had the class by myself again. Now, I really don’t do a “class” as such. I meet with each family individually often in their home. Now, my main goal is to get to know them and to share my heart about the church. I hand them a notebook with a lot of material in it, but I don’t spend a lot of time on it. I just ask them to read it and let me know if they have questions.

When folks are able to sign off on the vision, missions, and values of the church, that is when they become “official” members. So, that is our process, but lately, the Lord has given me a burden that it needs to include a focus on another crucial element that I feel I have glossed over a little too readily over the past few years.

Here it is: conversion.

If we are going to be accurate and in line with the Word of God, the number one prerequisite for church membership is conversion, right?

Just yesterday, I changed JIGSAW again. I have added a section on how crucial it is for people who join God’s church to be genuinely saved.

Think about it. The more I have, the more burdened I have become. This is one area where we need to be as certain as possible. It gets kind of sticky because no two people have the exact same experience and ultimately God is the judge. However, He does call each of us to be “fruit inspectors.” And I think it is perfectly legitimate to ask everyone who joins to articulate or write down his or her salvation testimony AND that testimony needs to be carefully scrutinized IN LOVE.

Can you think of anything more important? For many years, I believed that I was a Christian. It was not until Brother Herb challenged me that I realized that I wasn’t.

Again, I’m not talking about creating doubt and trying to convince someone he or she is lost when in fact they are not. But it is all about confirming, testing ourselves to see if we are indeed in the faith as Paul exhorts in 2 Corinthians 13.

Think about this: glossing over this crucial area has the potential to be very damaging to the unity of the church and the testimony of the congregation in the community.

Of course, some people are always causing trouble because they were never saved in the first place! Of course! And how could a lost person even care about sharing the gospel when he or she has never been saved?

I’m writing this not to start a “witch” hunt, but just to affirm a very legitimate role of the church—to make sure in love that all members have the opportunity to examine their experience to make sure they are saved. Then, it is up to God.

So, I am going to meet with a young couple today and by the way, I don’t doubt either one of them in their genuine conversion, but I just felt that I needed to add this component to the membership process beginning with them. We will see how it goes.

There is no substitute for conversion. One is either saved or not. This has made a huge difference from the beginning. Notice these words in Psalm 114: “When Israel went forth from Egypt, The house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became His sanctuary, Israel, His dominion” (Psalms
114:1-2 NASB).

Lord, I’m thankful today that someone took the time with me as a nine year old boy to get past my misconceptions and lead me to a genuine faith in Jesus. He did it with kindness and love. Now, as a pastor, help me to do the same. Again, Lord, it is ultimately up to You. You are the ultimate Judge. Use me in your process as You choose. Amen.
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Heart Steadfast, Heart Upheld

The advancement of technology is unbelievable. I found out yesterday that it had been a year and a half since I had had a PET scan. In that time period, several rather significant things have changed.

First, the way they administer the barium is different. No longer do you drink it; it goes in through the port.

Second, the chairs in the PET scan trailer are heated. This is a big improvement. When I have had PET scans in the past in the winter, I’ve nearly frozen in there. (If you remember, this very sophisticated machine “travels.” It is in a trailer that the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center moves to its various locations during the week. This is unlike a CAT scan. Most hospitals have this technology. When I get a CAT scan, I just go to Sky Ridge Medical Center)

Third, the machine is different. It is now more like a CAT scan. In the past, one laid down on a movable platform. During the scan, this platform moved in and out of the machine, but at one point, one was totally “in” the machine. This is kind of claustrophobic.

Well, the new machine is more like a CAT scan. It is probably two to three feet rather than six feet wide. I realized this as I dared to open my eyes once. Humm. Not too bad.

Fourth, and this was the clincher, Thane, the tech, said, “John, I know it has been a year and a half since you have had one of these. One of the new things is that we ask, if possible, for you to raise your arms over your head and keep them there for the duration of the scan.” Oh, okay.

Easier said than done. If you have nothing to do one day, lay down with your arms over your head and see how long you can do. Afterwards, when I was complaining a bit about how my arms hurt, Thane said, “Some people just can’t do it. So, we let them keep their arms at their sides just like the ‘old days.’ But others have no problem because they actually sleep with their arms over their heads.”

I don’t.

But none of these changes were a big deal. They were just noteworthy because treatments and scans and procedures in the cancer “business” are always changing. This is an encouragement to me.

Anyway, I’m done with the scan and I will find out the results on Thursday when I meet with Dr. Jotte.

Until then, I am determined to enjoy the absolute best time and best week of the year. The trees are starting to bloom. They are more colorful than ever. The Rockies Home Opener is Friday. AND, last but certainly not least, this is the week of the first major golf tournament of the year—the Masters. This is the only golf tournament I watch all four rounds and love every second.

Spring has sprung. Praise God!

I know people were praying for me yesterday. Thanks to all of you for lifting me up. I appreciate it. In my prayed for state, I can relate to these two verses in Psalm 112, a song of contrast between the wicked and the righteous. He is speaking of the believer: “He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. His heart is upheld, he will not fear, Until he looks with satisfaction on his adversaries” (Psalms
112:7-8 NASB).

Notice that there are two terms used to describe the heart. Steadfast is a translation of the Hebrew word “nakon” that means “unshakable.”

The other term in the verses above is “upheld.” This word means “to be supplied with necessities and support.” Love it!

I realized as the PET scan was progressing and my arms were getting sore because I had to keep them over my head that, through the prayers of God’s people, my heart was unshakable and supplied with the necessities to get through that test AND whatever the results are. The heart is connected to everything else—even sore arms.

I'm ready to rumble. Bring it on.

Piece of cake.

Lord, thank you for the awesome way that You step in and take hold of our hearts so that they will not be moved—no matter what happens. I do not have to fear the unforeseen on a PET scan table or on I-25 today. Fearless. Faithful. Because You are faithful. Amen.
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PET Scan Today and Wide Enough

I really appreciate everyone who keeps on asking questions like, “So, what are the results of your PET scan?” I feel compelled to thank them for asking and to let them know that it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t mind doing this. It is just so hard to keep up with everything in this silly disease, and I am the one going through it. I don’t expect everyone to be “up” on all the ins and outs of treatment.

This is the thing about this disease: it just drags on and on and on. Days very quickly turn into months and years. This coming August, I will have been dealing with cancer for FIVE years! Hard to believe, really.

Today, my original appointment got shifted to 7:00 AM this morning. (I think I have told this story before; I am just not sure if it was HERE). I am glad. Since I have to fast for six hours prior to getting this scan, I’m glad when it is over fairly early in the morning so that I can go eat breakfast.

The other rather curious instruction prior to getting this scan is “no strenuous activity 24 hours prior to taking this scan.” I didn’t ask anyone, but does “Easter Sunday morning for a Baptist pastor” qualify? Pssst. I won’t tell if you don’t!

I think they are talking about rigorous exercise. Certainly, I am okay there especially Sunday afternoons. Ha.

But, glad to get this show on the road. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a scan. It has been well over a year.

But thanks for your prayers. I will not get the results until Thursday morning when I have to visit with the doctor. More waiting. I guess a few more days is not that big of a deal.

Back to yesterday … our “Sonrise” service surprised me a bit. We had well over thirty people in attendance. When we started, it was rather chilly. I got a lot of comments about my “stocking cap.” Hey, what can I say? I was cold!

Connor led worship. Tom preached a message that reminded us about what Jesus suffered and the power of the resurrection. As he preached and as we looked into the sun toward the east, it rose (of course) and it seemed to warm up even in the course of the service. It was awesome.

He led us to do something that I thought was very innovative. We handed out little pieces of paper. He asked us to put praises and/prayer requests on the notes. At the end of the service, we physically came up to the cross and nailed them there.

When we finished the service, Mike and I moved the cross in the auditorium right beside the platform.

As it turned out, it was one of those things that the Spirit used to help me at a key moment in my sermon. (Don’t worry; I won’t re-preach it). I was trying to explain the whole concept of reconciliation. I told the people that, since the Garden of Eden, mankind has been separated from God? How wide is that separation?

I walked over to the cross and pointed to one end of the crossbar: “Man is on this side.” I moved to point to the other side. “God is over here. Who is going to bridge this gap?” Colossians 1:20 answers this question: “And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (NASB).

Lord, I’m thankful for the cross and the resurrection, both of which made reconciliation possible. Thank You for yesterday’s cross. I nailed a request there, and I have to remember that I gave it to You. In my heart and mind, I need to leave it there. Oh, and I am grateful that the cross is wide enough to bridge the gap between unholy me and Holy You. Amen.
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Sonrise Service

I am a little pushed for time this morning because I need to get to the church for an early service.

Tom and his wife Libby joined our fellowship recently. Not long after they had joined, Tom sat down with me in my office. “I think we need to do a sunrise service for Easter” (please note the spelling). I pushed back a little with him because, several years ago, we had actually met at sunrise.

Our expectation was that folks would come early, go home for a bit, and come back. Well, that didn’t happen exactly. Many of them went home, went back to bed, and that was it!

I told Tom that it was too much lag time actually to have a “sunrise” Easter service. Besides, if one wants to go to such a service, he or she can go to the annual one that is held at Red Rocks Park.

After more discussion, we decided on a “Sonrise” service that would start at 7:00 AM. Tom will be the preacher. Connor will lead worship. We will conclude at or before 8:00 because a lady in our fellowship—Susan—is cooking breakfast for all of us. Then, we will segue into our regular schedule of Worship at 9:00 AM and Community Groups at 10:15.

Needless, to say, it is going to be a full morning, but I am excited about it.

Betty called me yesterday. She was excited. Her neighbors have promised to come. Mother, Marilyn, and I got into a conversation with a lady named Lanna the other day. She indicated that she has been looking for a church home for years. We invited her to come. She said she would come and bring a friend.

I hope others do the same. This is something we should do every Sunday, but Easter seems to be a good time to invite folks. We will see.

Psalms 111 seems well suited to be read on Easter Sunday morning. Notice the final verses of this Psalm: “The works of His hands are truth and justice; All His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; They are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (Psalms
111:7-10 NASB).

Forever is such an appropriate term for our God and His Son Jesus.

Lord, everything You are and everything You do is forever. Thank you that You rose from the grave. You are awesome and uncontainable. I love You. I praise You. Receive glory and honor and praise through the church and through me today. Amen.
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What Jesus is Doing Today

First of all, before I get into the passage for today, I just need to share a couple of things about my health. Yesterday was not a good day, especially in the afternoon when I felt as if I were dragging myself around. This would normally have been a week for chemo had I been on the same schedule I have followed for the past six months. So, logic would say that I should be fully “recovered” from the previous treatment, but I guess not.

Allison from Dr. Jotte’s office called the other day. She asked if it was all right for them to move me back to 7:00 AM for my PET scan on Monday. I replied, “Sure. No problem. The earlier the better when it comes to that test.” I have to fast for six hours prior to the scan. Thus, I would rather just get up and go in and do it, rather than having to sit around for a few hours to wait to receive it later in the morning (my original appointment was for 10:00 AM—ugh).

All of this having been said, I am glad just to sit around today and rest up a bit because the next couple of days are going to be crazy. We have two services tomorrow with a lot going on. Plus, I need to go the hospital to visit with Gary.

Please continue to pray for this brother. After hip surgery the other day, the last word I heard is that he is still in ICU.

Anyway, on to the passage for today. Psalm 110 is very prominent in the New Testament. In fact, many scholars assert that the book of Hebrews is a sermon using Psalm 110 as a text.

This unique book in the New Testament focuses on what Jesus is doing right now as our High Priest. All of this assumes the resurrection, of course. After the ascension, Jesus returned to the right side of the throne of God. In that unique position, He serves as our High Priest, but He also does something else as Psalm 110:1 asserts: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet’” (
NASB).

Having conquered sin and the grave, Jesus is ruling. He is right now defeating enemies. Sometimes, it honestly doesn’t FEEL as if this is happening. It seems as if sin is gaining the upper hand as persecution of Christians is increasing. My heart is still grieved to have heard of all those believers who were slaughtered in Africa as they were in church worshipping.

This makes it seem as if our side is losing, but it is patently NOT the case. This Psalm makes it clear. It is actually a huge encouragement on the day before Easter. It goes on to speak of Jesus’ work as priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews picks up on this as well.

In addition, He will defeat enemies, judge the nations, “shatter the chief men over a broad country,” and last but not least, “He will drink from the brook by the wayside; Therefore He will lift up His head” (Psalm 110: 6-7, NASB).

What is that last phrase all about? It is rather curious. My old friend Goldingay indicates that this verse recalls what Solomon did in 1 Kings 1:38-40 when after being anointed as king, he slaked his thirst from that sacred spring by the road that descends to the Valley of Siloam, and he went on the triumph.

Our Lord at the right hand of God has all the resources He needs to win and never has occasion to hang His head in the shame of defeat. Wow!

Lord, I’m grateful for the very encouraging reminder of the aftermath of the resurrection—that You took back to the Father Your human experience, enabling You to do Your job on our behalf as Priest and setting the stage for the ultimate Victory that is already in process. Praise God! I’m fired up now! Amen.
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A Good Friday Message

Last year, we had a Good Friday service. This year, we are not. Instead, we are planning to have an early service on Easter Sunday. This is not because we don’t believe that Good Friday isn’t important. It is a vital part of the true message of Easter weekend. Without the cross and the burial, there is no Sunday celebration!

Recently, a man and his wife joined our fellowship. Their names are Tom and Libby—a wonderful couple. Tom has been a pastor. He came to me with the idea of a “Sonrise” service, so I said, “Great, Tom. Go ahead and preach the sermon. I will help out if you need me. Otherwise, I will be glad to be there as someone in the congregation.” I’m going early on Easter Sunday to help Tom and Connor set up the chairs. We hope to be able to have this service outside in the back parking lot.

If today had been Easter Sunday, we would not have been able to do this. There is about an inch of snow on the ground, but the weather forecasts indicate that things will be warming up nicely. We should be able to pull it off, Lord willing.

Anyway, back to Good Friday. This is a special time to think about what Jesus did for us on the cross, but it is also a day to reflect on what happened to Jesus through His death and burial.

The account of the crucifixion in the Gospel of Matthew has three different groups repeating the same taunt, “Jesus, you claim to be able to save folks. Save yourself right now. Come down from the cross.” This is a John-paraphrase, but it is the gist of what the on-lookers were saying, the religious authorities, and the two thieves that were there with Him (at least at first; we know that one of the two criminals changed his tune later).

I’m sure that most of the people in crowd patted themselves on the back, “See. This guy is dying like every other criminal the Romans have executed on this prominent spot. I knew it. He is no different than the others.”

Of course, as the gospel accounts indicate, the longer people stood there and watched Jesus, the more they realized this was no ordinary man and no criminal. The centurion realized it.

But the point I am trying to make is that the cross and the burial are an example of the brutality non-believers execute against the Lord and His people.

Psalm 109, one of the imprecatory Psalms, captures this. Notice these words: “I also have become a reproach to them; When they see me, they wag their head. Help me, O LORD my God; Save me according to Your lovingkindness. And let them know that this is Your hand; You, LORD, have done it. Let them curse, but You bless; When they arise, they shall be ashamed, But Your servant shall be glad. Let my accusers be clothed with dishonor, And let them cover themselves with their own shame as with a robe” (Psalm 109:25-29, NASB). These words and they experience they describe remind me of what Jesus must have endured on the cross.

Praise God! Jesus didn’t save Himself so that I could be saved. Most of the people there did not know what was going on, but I bet that many of them did three days later, whether they believed or not. They did curse; but God blessed. They did strip Him of His robe, but the Lord clothed Him with honor.

Good Friday is all about the Lord turning the tables as He always does and having the last and glorious and final word.

As I sit here this morning, Lord, I worship You. I thank You for everything You went through. I’m so grateful that You did not come down. You endured the scorn and the taunts and the mockery and through them, ultimately and finally, truth was vindicated. I thank You for your spilled blood and broken body. Thank You that You really did die FOR ME. “The Old Rugged Cross.” Where would I be today without it? Amen.

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An Opportunity at a Local School

I’m still in a state of shock a bit after our visit to a local elementary school yesterday. It went so well. Oh, me of little faith!

Let me back up a bit.

Over the years, I have really struggled with the whole idea of our church’s responsibility to reach out to our community. Don’t get me wrong. I believe we are called to do it in obedience to the Great Commission. But the question is: how do we actually DO it?

We have tried all the traditional answers. I will cite them here, but before I do, I want to offer a disclaimer. I know there might be some who will say, “Well, John, we have done X ministry for years and have been very successful.” However one defines “success,” (I personally don’t like that word in the modern vernacular) that is fine, and it once again points out that every church and community is not the same. So, something that “works” in one place doesn’t necessarily “work” in another.

Of course, Blackaby’s response to the last sentence comes to mind. “’It’ doesn’t work; God is the One who works.”

Anyway, we have knocked on doors and have done all the programs like Vacation Bible School. I know many churches do both, but for many years, I think we just did them because that was what we were “supposed” to do them. Again, I’m not knocking either one.

But a couple of years ago, after a conversation with a fellow pastor in metro Denver—his name is Luke—the Lord laid something on my heart.

Thus, another lady in our congregation—her name is Patty—and I drove down the street a couple of blocks to the nearest elementary school. We sat down with the principal. At the very good counsel of Luke, we went with no agenda but to serve. The principal and another lady were shocked, “Wow, this is awesome. We have been looking to cultivate community partners and you guys have come to us.”

They could not have been more gracious and welcoming.

After decades of what I would term as an adversarial relationship between public schools and the church—something has shifted. Now, every school we have dealt with in our community, including a middle school and a high school, has been very receptive to us.

I am not saying that this ministry is for everyone, but I have a deep sense that this is finally what and where the Lord wants us to be.

Back to this school, they were very specific about ways we could help. Last November and December, we provided some food for needy families. This Spring, they have requested help with something else.

I will try to summarize this in as few words as possible: they have requested help from adults who will mentor fifth grade students in what amounts to a term project.

Yesterday, Connor and Jess met with the coordinator of this program. She was very welcoming. She showed us around the school and introduced us to teachers. Then, she sat down and explained this program to us in detail. We left very excited.

Now, I want to be clear: our initial purpose in going is NOT to get folks to come to our church OR to share the gospel, necessarily. But what I have learned from Luke’s experience is that if we are faithful in that which is least, the Lord will open those doors in due time. We are going to wait for Him to do this.

The teacher we spoke with also intimated that they are looking for adults from the community to show up and help with a variety of needs at the school. My plan, after we finish with this mentoring project, is just to offer myself. It is not going to hurt me to designate an hour or two per week just to show up at the school.

I could not be more excited. Please pray for us as we seek to serve.

I am praying this prayer in Psalm 108 along with the Psalmist: “Have not You Yourself, O God, rejected us? And will You not go forth with our armies, O God? Oh give us help against the adversary, For deliverance by man is in vain. Through God we will do valiantly, And it is He who shall tread down our adversaries” (Psalm 108:11-13, NASB).

I’m sure the Psalmist might be speaking about military adversaries, but his language is general enough to encompass all sorts of enemies we face. Our adversary Satan would like nothing better than for Christians to hide in church buildings bemoaning how difficult it is to reach people and essentially doing nothing. We battle the enemy of just giving up.

We are also fighting our politically correct culture that tolerates every religion but one that proclaims Jesus.

I am excited about the opportunity to be salt and light in one of our local elementary schools. What a mission field! I’m going to serve AND be sensitive to any opportunity the Lord brings our way as a result.

Lord, thank You for opening this door for us. Give us wisdom and direction and sensitivity to Your Spirit as we walk through it.

One more thing: thank You for healing Carol and for helping Gary through his hip replacement surgery yesterday. I continue to pray for both of these dear saints. I love them both. Amen.
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One of the Those Times ...

Yesterday, Betty made a comment. She has made it a few times before. I could really relate to it. “Well, I guess this is one of those times.” But she didn’t stop there. She went on. “I’m not sure I ever remember a time when we had this many folks who are critically ill.” She is right.

After a meeting with Connor and a quick lunch, I jumped in my car and headed to Boulder for a visit with Carol before her surgery. I was headed to Boulder Community Hospital, not realizing that there are two locations. The uniformed man at the information desk said, “Sir, you are at the wrong hospital. We don’t do surgeries here any longer. Go to the Flatirons location.” Okay.

I wound my way through Boulder heading east and then turning south to Arapahoe Avenue, parked on the very top level of the parking garage, and headed into the hospital. It took the lady at the information desk a long time even to find Carol’s name. When I finally got to the right floor and the right room, the nurse said, “I don’t think Carol is here yet.” For once I was early!

I called her. She was very understanding. “I’m heading to the hospital here in a few minutes, but I feel everyone’s prayers.”

“We will continue to do it, Carol. Count on us.” I will go back to Boulder today to see her. I haven’t heard about how the surgery went yet, but I will find out.

After talking to her, I jumped in my car and headed east and south again to another new hospital. St. Anthony’s North has moved from its long-time location on 84
th Avenue (south of the church) to a new spot just off of I-25 and 144th Avenue (north of the church). My goal was to visit with Gary, a dear brother in our church who fell a couple of nights ago, breaking his hip.

When I got to his room, his daughter Barb was there. I could tell immediately that Gary was in a lot of pain. He was really struggling. My heart went out to him.

After I asked how he was doing, he replied, “Fine. How are YOU?” The emphasis on YOU. This is the kind of guy and friend he is.

Gary and his wife Pat were the first family I made contact with at First Southern as the Lord was leading me to the church almost 26 years ago. Our relationship has grown deeper over the years. I love this family.

We visited for a bit, but I could tell that Gary was hurting to the point where even conversation was difficult. So, I grabbed his hand. He gripped mine hard. I prayed for him as Barb stood with us.

Then, something happened. I’m not sure it has in all the years of visiting the hospitals.

When I finished, the patient reciprocated! He prayed for me!

I’ve had Gary on my heart ever since that visit. He is supposed to have hip replacement surgery today. Please keep him in your prayers.

Please add the names of Ray, Joe, and Marilyn (not my sister; there is another lady in the church with that name who had surgery yesterday; I’m sure Marilyn my sister wouldn’t mind you praying for her just for good measure; even people who are well need prayer. Ha).

Just one of those times …

Psalm 107 was a good landing place for me today. This Psalm presents various scenarios. What are they exactly? The best explanation I have read is that they present different situations the Israelites faced as they returned to their land after the Babylonian captivity. Makes sense.

But whatever … no matter what the exact circumstances were/are, the Lord is powerful to deliver us and take us through. The Psalm ends with this admonition: “Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things, And consider the lovingkindnesses (plural for any and all situations) of the LORD” (Psalm 107:43, NASB, parentheses mine).

Lord, I love Carol, Gary, Ray, Joe, and Marilyn. I lift them up to you today. Comfort each one. Encourage each one. Deliver each one through their physical and health challenges, just as You delivered Your people years ago. Amen.

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