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A Stroll At Leisure With God

No Substitute

As yesterday drew to a close, I had a tremendous battle with discouragement. Let me explain.

When I woke up yesterday morning, I felt better. My shoulder was not bothering me. It was almost a shock, but I thank the Lord for it. The lack of pain was such an impetus.

We had a great day at church yesterday. That is the only way to describe it. In addition to First Southern and Torre Fuerte meeting together for Jorge’s ordination, we had a lot of other guests as well. Three friends came from North Metro. Pastor Ilamarques and his wife along with our Korean pastor, Dong, and his wife Crystal, were also there.

I got to meet a young church planter who recently moved here from Puerto Rico. He was standing out in the foyer right before the service ended with his son. He asked about how I was doing, and we both stopped right then and there for prayer.

As far as the service was concerned, it is very edifying. Torre Fuerte led worship at the start in Spanish (the English words were on the screen as well). Then, Connor led worship in English.

When it was my turn to preach the ordination sermon, I felt energized and ready to rumble. I attribute this to all the people who were/are praying for me. It was a huge affirmation.

Following my message, Brother Joe (this dear brother had served as Interim Pastor of Torre Fuerte before we called Jorge as pastor) gave the charge to the candidate, led in the laying on of hands, and offered a short but powerful charge to the church.

Interspersed in the final part of the service were a couple more worship songs that the Torre Fuerte praise team led.

When the service concluded, we all headed downstairs for a meal and great opportunity for fellowship.

I was visiting with a couple in our fellowship at lunch. The husband was telling me about a recent surgery that resulted in a large swelling in his mid-section. He went on to say, “John, the doctors warned me that the bruise would go down as it healed, down my leg and finally to my toes. Maybe that is what is going on with you.”

YES! Of course. His comments really encouraged me. I’m going to ask the cancer doctor about this when I see him for my check-up tomorrow. But I am confident that I am experiencing the same thing as the swelling in my neck decreases, it is moving down to my shoulder and hopefully further down and done sometime soon.

Anyway, I got to visit at length with several others before I started to feel a little tired.

I cannot begin to tell all of you how encouraged I was as I drove home yesterday, but the moment I walked into the door, I started to feel worse and worse. The pain in my shoulder returned, and overall, I began to feel terrible.

It wasn’t long before this shift in my physical state started to affect me emotionally and mentally. I just got downright depressed, as I was thinking all along, “John, this is ridiculous. You just experienced God’s strength and had a great day at church, and now look at you.”

As I explained to a friend via text last night, among the things that affect me with this disease are the radical ups and mainly downs that one experiences. It is the ultimate roller coaster. Last night, I hit a low point.

So, I have learned that my response to the total experience of yesterday is that today has to be a kick back and lay low day. Somehow, I’ve got to recover a measure of equilibrium. I think one of the main goals is not to allow oneself, no matter how good he or she feels, to expend an excess amount of energy. I think I overdid it a bit.

Who knows?

But none of what happened to me changes the fact that yesterday advanced the kingdom of God, and I was so glad to be a part of it.

At one point, I was speaking with one of my friends from North Metro. We were talking about how great it was that the auditorium was full. I replied, “Yeah, that is true. Lately, we have had Sundays where there were a lot of empty pews.”

She replied, “John, that is going on everywhere. On our way to church on Sundays, we drive by a park where I see people walking, jogging, and running, and I think, ‘Don’t you realize Who created the world you are enjoying as you refuse to worship Him?’”

So true.

Her statement was still resonating in my brain this morning as I read these comments from Jesus in Luke 7: “"To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon!' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke
7:31-35 NASB).

All the joggers missed out yesterday! Ha!

There were a lot of wise folks in that service yesterday. They weren’t there to be entertained; they were there to worship God—a little taste of heaven, where one day, we will all speak the same language as we worship God together forever.

Lord, I thank You from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to be a part of that ordination service yesterday. This fickle, entertainment culture that has existed even from Jesus’ day will never understand what your kids know: there is no substitute for the corporate worship of Almighty God, and it is only enhanced as people from various ethnic and language backgrounds join together in that worship. Lord, I praise You and will continue to do so today, no matter how bad I feel.

Deliver me from this discouragement as I focus on myself. I turn my eyes on Jesus, right now. Amen.

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Power, A Great Need

It is funny that once you notice something in the Word, you are kind on the lookout for it.

I have certainly never noticed it before in any of my prior readings of the Gospel of Luke, but the concept of POWER is huge in this gospel

Today, in my reading of Professor Horner’s plan, the concept emerges again in Luke 6. I am going to cite two verses. I believe they are related.

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke
6:12 NASB).

“And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all” (Luke
6:19 NASB).

Luke, more than any other gospel writer, chronicles the prayer life of Jesus. Jesus spent the whole night in prayer to God. Wow.

If HE did this, how much more should you and I? That is one statement. What follows Jesus’ night of prayer is two things: the selection of the 12 disciples AND more ministry in the power of God.

And we wonder why so often it seems that our efforts at serving and ministry seem to fall so short.

Yesterday, I just seemed to go downhill as the day progressed—more fatigue and pain than ever.

I was so thankful for the phone call of a friend. He said that he felt led to pray 2 Corinthians 12 for me—that God’s power would be perfected, as it was for Paul, in my weakness.

If anything of any worth happens today, it will certainly be the power of God, because I don’t have a lot in my tank. I feel better than I did yesterday, but I am more aware of my need to depend on Him than I have ever been.

Today, we are going to have an ordination service for the new pastor of the Hispanic church—Torre Fuerte. His name is Jorge, a wonderful brother. The English and Spanish speaking congregations will meet together this morning for this momentous event. Then, we will gather for fellowship afterwards. It promises to be a great day.

Lord, all I can offer you today is weakness. I pray that your power would work from the platform of weakness in and through me today. I give you this service and this day. Amen.
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The Power of the Lord Was Present

I came across a statement in Luke 5 this morning that captured my attention. It is one of those things that I have never seen before, in spite of the fact that I have read the gospel of Luke dozens of times.

Here is the verse: “One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing” (Luke
5:17 NASB).

That last phrase—“the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing.” What does this mean?

Jesus was there. Isn’t that enough? But this verse makes it sound as if it is something (or someone) outside of Jesus that was also at work. What is going on?

This is purely conjecture at this point, but maybe not. In the reading for yesterday, after the temptation experience, the Bible says, “And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit …” (Luke 4:14, NASB). Remember that statement?

Thus, I believe that this statement about the power of the Lord relates to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was at work in power pointing the way for and enabling the healing of some of the folks who were there.

Jesus was very sensitive to the person and work of the Spirit and in Luke 5, He sensed that the Spirit was at work, so Jesus joined Him in the healing process.

What an amazing revelation! Now, of course, Jesus has departed this planet to return to the Father. So, I am not equating Jesus with us. On the other hand, we have access to the same power as Jesus did because the Holy Spirit dwells with us just as He did with Jesus.

As I look back over the years, I think about the times that the Spirit’s power was evident in services. First, I wish that the power of the Lord were present in every service. Why isn’t this so? Well, that is up to God’s sovereignty, but it doesn’t mean that the Spirit can’t work, does it?

But in those times when the power of the Lord is present, we have a choice. We can either “go with the flow,” allowing Him to do whatever He wants. In Jesus’ case, in this story in Luke 5, the Spirit’s power was evident for the purpose of healing. I believe it could be other things as well. Maybe the Lord wants to save someone, and he/she has a hardened heart.

On the other hand, and it is hard for me to admit this, there have been times in which the Spirit’s power has been at work and I have thwarted Him. And this has occurred for a number of reasons. Either I was too preoccupied on something else OR I got nervous about time OR et cetera.

Again, I am ashamed to say this …

I believe that, when this occurs, the Bible uses two terms to describe it. One of them is “grieving” the Spirit; the other is “quenching” the Holy Spirit. Neither one of them is good.

Before I close this post today, I want to give a health update. Over the past couple of days, I have continued to struggle with pain in my shoulder. Even though the swelling on my neck has decreased (and again, I praise God for this), the swelling on my shoulder really has not. It is still causing nerve pain there.

Plus, I have had a lot of fatigue the past few days, and so I have been sleeping a lot throughout the day. I don’t fight it, but it gets a little frustrating at times.

Lord, thank You for the continuing and powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit. Whatever else happens to me today, help me to be sensitive to His presence and special work, never grieving or quenching Him. Amen.
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Satanic Attack or Not or ...

Last night, I woke up several times, not feeling well. The trend continued this morning, so that, even I was reading the Word, I felt myself nodding off to sleep.

Okay, so what to do in those instances? I used to fight it, with everything I had and feel that it was a satanic attack. Don’t get me wrong. Satan attacks us whenever we try to read the Word or listen to a sermon or whatever.

I see it week by week from my perspective in the pulpit of our church. The enemy uses any number of things to distract people and often it occurs during the invitation. So, we all know about this.

But back to sleepiness during a personal quiet time—now, I don’t fight it. I just figure that my body needs more rest, so I just close the book or set the computer aside AND DOZE OFF for a bit. No big deal. That is what I have had to do several times this morning.

What this tells me is that this is a day where I am really going to kick back and rest.

But speaking of the enemy, one of the chapters I read in Professor Horner’s plan this morning was Luke 4. At the beginning of this chapter is one of two times in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit tells the story of the temptation experiences of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. (The other passage is Matthew 4).

After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus is hungry. This provides the occasion for the temptation. Oftentimes, Satan tries to get his foot in the door through some physical infirmity.

Anyway, he tempts Jesus with every temptation—the three instances he encounters the Son of God are the three bullets he has in his gun. The only three. But here is the last verse of the Lucan temptation narrative: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time” (Luke
4:13 NASB).

Satan threw the kitchen sink at Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, but Jesus prevailed as He quoted scripture, but certainly, this was not the only time he tempted the Son of God. He came back over and over at “an opportune time.”

Two things stand out in this chapter as Jesus squared off against the devil and refused to budge. First, the scriptures say, “And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district” (Luke 4:14, NASB).

There is a lot in this chapter and in Luke’s gospel as a whole about the Holy Spirit, but in the early verses of chapter four, the Bible says that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. Out of that experience, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.

Humm, three salient points there. I feel a sermon brewing …

Anyway, that is one thing, but also in chapter four, there is the story of Jesus’ first sermon. It did not end well. His hometown “folk” ushered Him to the edge of a cliff, ostensibly to push Him over. “But passing through their midst, He went His way” (Luke 4:30, NASB). This reference has always fascinated me. What really happened here? How could Jesus just “pass through” this angry mob that wanted to kill Him?

Who knows? The bottom line is that the Lord took care of Him. It was not His time to die. Not yet.

So, this is a fascinating chapter, and the more I write, the more awake I feel. And maybe, just maybe, it was indeed a satanic attack that I experienced this morning.

Whether it was or not, Lord, I put my trust in You today. Thank You that our enemy is defeated. You beat Him on the cross and through the resurrection. So, whether I am awake or asleep, preaching a sermon or not, I choose to focus on You, not the devil today. Help me to be ready for his next attack. Amen.
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God of the Highway

Maybe that is not quite the way to describe it …

After going to the Midtown Cancer Center yesterday morning, I came back home. I was very tired, for some reason. So, I sat down on this couch, and I was out like a light.

After lunch, I found a chair in our living room. I sat in it, and before long, I was asleep again. This intermittent napping occurred for most of the day.

Plus, I started to have pain in my shoulder and arm again and as a result, started taking pain pills full force, and Marilyn changed out my patch as well.

It was just one of “those” days in which I felt as if I was experiencing “a set back,” but as I awakened this morning feeling a little better, I realized that those kind of days are just part and parcel of the recovery process, as my mom had reminded me.

At one point yesterday, she said, “John, your body has been through a lot. It is just going to take a while to get back on your feet and you have to be patient with it.” Good word. She is right.

But I rejoice that the swelling in my neck continues to dissipate and overall, I seem to be doing better. I praise God for this. Thanks to all of you for your prayers.

Well, a couple of verses in Proverbs struck a cord with me this morning. Here they are: “The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps … The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who watches his way preserves his life” (Proverbs 16:9, 17, NASB).

There you have it again—the balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

One of my biggest challenges these days is not physical. It is mental. I have to watch setting standards for myself with this disease. It works this way: in my mind I think, “Well, today, it is x number of days since I had my infusion. Yesterday, I felt good. So, therefore, today, I should feel even better.” And in my mind, I have a graph that is very smoothly on the upswing, so that when it doesn’t look that way in real life, I get disappointed and depressed.

It is the same thing in golf. One day, you have the round of your life and shoot a low score, and after that, you are never satisfied because the low score (the truth be known it was a freak accident!) becomes the new standard for all rounds of golf in the future. This is not realistic, for one thing, and it causes discouragement for another.

I am also reminded of something that ER Cagle, one of our former Directors of Missions for the Mile High Association told me one day as I was expressing discouragement over the lack of growth of the church. As we were talking, I drew a graph that had a smooth and steady uptick.

He grabbed the paper from me and said, “John, that is not how growth works in any area of life. It is like this.” And he drew a picture that looked like stair steps. “This is the way it typically occurs.” That was a profound revelation.

Anyway, again, the problem is my mind, but Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that God is in charge, no matter what my plans or expectations are.

That having been said, I do have a responsibility—to stay on the highway. I love this metaphor! We use it quite often in our family as we are sitting on I-25 stuck in traffic. The conversation goes something like this:

John: I’m so sick of this highway. I’m going to get off and take another route to get us home.

Marilyn (the voice of sanity and reason): No, John, just stay on it. By the time we get off and wind through stoplights and busy side streets, we will have already arrived at home. The highway is jammed, but the highway is still the quickest way.” She is right.

The Christian life has a highway—the fastest point between A and B is obedience to God. My job today is not to try to figure out where I am on the graph; it is to obey God. That’s it.

Lord, thank You for this new day. You are in charge of it and of me. I am where I am today and You know all about it, fully. Today, I just choose NOT to exit the highway, but to stay on it. It is hard. Things are difficult and challenging, but it is still the best way. I love you, God of the Highway. Amen.
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A Major Goof Up

Yesterday, my mom, sis, and I went to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center for a check-up one week after my first infusion on this clinical trial.

As one of the nurses was preparing all the vials she needed to contain my blood, Shantel came in the lab. Shantel is the coordinator of the clinical trial I am on. Her job is to work with patients who have taken that route.

After greeting each other, she said, “So, John, you have not taken your pill yet today, right?”

Gulp. “No, unfortunately, Shantel, I forgot and I did take the pill at 4:00 this morning.” Oops. Major goof up.

Shantel was nice about it, but I could tell she was visibly frustrated. The protocol of this trial requires that the day I come in for a check-up, I do NOT take the pill before. They need to take my blood BEFORE I take the pill. Then, they give it to me in the office, let me wait an hour, and then take my blood after I take the pill.

Well, I blew all of that yesterday. And I have to tell all of you that keeping up with all the details and ins and outs of this protocol is very taxing to my brain. I felt horrible about messing things up.

After another nurse took my vital signs (temperature, blood pressure, etc—this is common practice), she ushered the three of us into a waiting room to see the doctor. It wasn’t long before Dr. Jotte and Shantel both came in. The doctor was very upbeat. “It looks as if the swelling in your neck has decreased rather significantly. I’m so glad!” I could tell he was relieved.

Again, at best, (and I have to keep telling myself this), doctors PRACTICE medicine. This is especially true with cancer. Since every patient is different, one just doesn’t know how someone will respond to new treatments. It seems that I am responding well to this treatment. Praise God!

But then the topic turned back to my goof up. “Shantel, I feel so bad about forgetting and taking that pill.” Dr. Jotte joked, “Well, since you goofed, we have to take you off the trial!” Ha. He was kidding, thank goodness.

“No worries, John,” answered Shantel, “Can you come back tomorrow and let’s see if we can get those tests?”

“Sure,” I answered. Believe you me, I put a huge note on the counter in my bathroom, “DO NOT TAKE THE CANCER PILL.” I didn’t. Thank You, Lord, for helping me with my memory.

Well, I’d better start getting myself ready to go back down there today, but here is a verse that stood out to me in the reading for today: “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';” (Isaiah
46:10 NASB)

Lord, I am thankful that You can even use goof ups for your glory. Help me with all the details and with all this medicine I am taking. May You be honored through me today. Amen.
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The God who Hides Himself

Today’s blog is going to be rather short. I am scrambling a bit this morning. I have an early appointment at Midtown with Dr. Jotte, so I have to get ready to go here in a few minutes. Mother and Marilyn are going with me. They want to hear what the doctor has to say.

I’m not getting an infusion today. This is just a check-up and visit with the doctor.

In the clinical trial, for the first eight weeks, I must go in every week. And Tuesday is the day because it is the only day that Dr. Jotte is at Midtown. The other days, he sees patients at the Sky Ridge location of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center.

So, how am I doing? I think well. I simply do not have any nausea. I do still have pain in my swollen neck and shoulder and arm on the left side, but it is nowhere near as severe as it was just a few days ago.

And the swelling itself? It seems to have diminished rather significantly. It is still there, but it has lessened and it is not as “hard” as it has been previously. That is about the only was I can describe it: softer and less.

Thus, if I just sit here and pause before the Lord, I have a lot to be thankful for today. Praise God! Thank you again for your prayers. Each day, I learned about another church that is praying for me.

Betty told me that Don came by the church office the other day. He and his wife Rose were members of our fellowship a few years ago. In fact, the Lord used them years ago in the beginning stages of getting a Hispanic congregation started at First Southern. The Lord used them mightily and continues to do so.

Anyway, Betty told this dear brother about my cancer. He replied, “The second I get back home to Montrose, I will get John’s name on the prayer list of our church.” Again, praise God.

Well, gotta go, but just wanted to cite one verse today. An interesting reference in Isaiah’s prophecy: “Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior!” (Isaiah
45:15 NASB). What does this mean?

Lord, thank You for helping me thus far. There is much about You that I don’t understand. I can affirm that You are a God who hides Himself. But I turn around and thank You for all the ways You reveal Yourself and intervene in our lives. I commit this doctor visit to You today. Thanks again for cancer. Amen.
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Weaning and Healing

Over the past couple of days, one of my goals has been gradually to “wean myself” off of a couple of the pills, especially pain, that I have been taking.

Up until last night, I felt I was doing well with this process, but yesterday evening, I took a step back. All of a sudden, it felt as if the pain came back, BIG TIME. As a result, I am back on the regimen I lived on during and shortly after my infusion.

What is the problem? I think I just went a little too fast on my “weaning off” plan. To be honest, one of my challenges these days is reining myself in a little bit. I’m kind of ready for a return to normalcy (whatever that is! Ha.).

I don’t know quite how to say this … those of you who have experienced long-term illness of any kind will understand. It just feels as if I am sitting on the sidelines as life goes by. I want to get in the game, so to speak.

Now, there is a good part of that desire. It is the result of feeling better to some degree, but the bad side is that it may not be time for me to return to the field of play. I think last night showed me this other side of the coin. Who knows?

Ultimately, God is in charge of all of this. He is THE Coach who will call my number when it is exactly the right time.

In addition, I am going to talk with the doctor about his tomorrow when we meet with him.

Oh, well, I’m just going to focus on today and leave the rest up to the Lord.

Anyway, I want to talk a little bit about healing this morning. A few years ago, we had some friends that were Pentecostals. They believed that healing is part of the atonement. They held the view that Isaiah 53:5—“by his stripes we are healed”—teaches this.

Now, first of all, I want to affirm all our Pentecostal brethren. I appreciate the fact that they are more prone to pray for healing than some of us who are Baptists.

They are bold in their faith, and they are glad to share the stories of healing they have witnessed. No one can argue with this. I certainly don’t want to.

However, as I sit here this morning, I have to say that I vehemently disagree with this doctrinal position.

I believe that the language of the prophet in Isaiah 53 is metaphorical as he describes the work of salvation that the Suffering Servant accomplished for us on the cross. Now, hear me. I’m NOT saying that salvation is metaphorical. It is very real, of course. I am saying that God speaking through the prophet uses metaphors to describe what Jesus would someday accomplish for us on the cross.

If my memory serves from previous study, Isaiah 53 is the most quoted Old Testament chapter in the New Testament. In all the New Testament quotations, not one of them is about healing. All are in the context of salvation.

If healing were part of the atonement, then everyone, absolutely everyone would be healed. And of course, this is not the case. Pentecostals know this and so they have what I call a “trap door” to use when they pray for someone to be healed and he or she is not.

The “trap door” is that the person who is praying or asking for healing does not have enough faith. How much is enough? And, talk about a guilt trip! I think it is criminal to accuse someone of this as one of my mom’s friends did shortly after my dad died. Here is a grieving widow sitting with a “friend” who had the gall to say, “Well, Mary Louise, you know that if you had had more faith, Jerry would not have died.”

This comment still makes my blood boil. I’m glad I was not there when she said that.

One of the main arguments against the view that healing is part and parcel of the atonement is the experience of the Apostle Paul. If anyone should have been healed, if anyone in the history of Christianity had “enough” faith, it was Paul. But God choose NOT to heal.

2 Corinthians 12 is one of the chapters I read this morning in Professor Horner’s plan.

Paul is talking about the infamous “thorn in the flesh.” What is this? Who knows, but it is clear that it is some type of physical infirmity. “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians
12:8-10 NASB).

As we did for my dad over thirty years ago and as many of you are doing, we are praying for healing. Certainly, the Lord has the power to do it. He is the Great Physician. No problems there.

However, whether or not I am indeed healed from this disease it totally in His hands. Whether He in his sovereignty chooses to heal me or not, I’m thankful for His spilled blood and broken body (Isaiah the prophet predicted it in chapter 53) AND all-sufficient grace.

Lord, whether I am healed or not, I once again thank You for cancer. By Your grace, I choose to continue to trust You. May this period of weakness, that seems to go on and on and on, show the world Your strength. When I am weak, THEN I am strong. Amen.
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Many Tribulations

Last night, as we were trying to have dinner, my mom paused, “I’m feeling dizzy.” And then she started to get nauseated. At that very moment, Marilyn and I looked at each other. We didn’t have to say a word. The look meant: what next? We just can’t take too much more.

These past couple of weeks rank high on the list of “toughest times” EVER for my family. Oh, and by the way, most of those difficult days have occurred in August. My dad died August 1, 1973. Classes for college and seminary always began in August. It was tough back then to leave my mom alone here while Marilyn and I drove off. My first cancer diagnosis came to light in August of 2010. Et cetera.

Tell you what: next year as the calendar turns over from July to August, we are going to leave the country! The only problem with that is: we won’t be able to escape from God, as Jonah found out. He tried to run, but he couldn’t hide. Neither can we. So, we might as well save our money and take our medicine.

I want to back up to a verse I read yesterday in Professor Horner’s plan. It has stuck with me: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts
14:22 NASB). Paul’s message to believers as he traveled and started new churches was: “through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God.” This was a word of encouragement, so says the text.

Okay, I struggle with that a bit. I guess it is good to know that we are not alone. It is good to know something strange and random is not happening, “a run of bad luck,” as the expression goes.

And it is not just one or two; it is many. Many tribulations and these experiences are the pathway of entrance into the kingdom of God.

This was confirmed in Paul’s life and experience. He wasn’t just preaching. In the reading for today, he gives that famous list in 2 Corinthians 11. Here is part of it: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep” (2 Corinthians
11:24-25 NASB). Nothing easy there.

Allusions to trials and tribulations and difficulties are not confined to the New Testament. Notice these words and the PROMISES that go with them: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west” (Isaiah
43:2-5 NASB). Passing through the waters and going through the fire—yep, that sounds like tribulation to me.

But I am going to claim by faith the promises God makes to the prophet: God promises to be with us; God promises that the trial will not be too much to handle; God promises to punish others in our place and in exchange for our lives (not sure what this means, except for the fact that as the Lord took His people out of Egypt, he judged everyone who did not have the sign of the blood on his/her doorposts); and again, He promises to be with us.

Lord, right now, where I sit, things appear to be too tough to handle, but I know You know. I’m thankful that You are with us. I’m grateful for the grace that sustains us through these “many tribulations.” Thank You for saving us through Your blood. Thank You that my mom is feeling better today and so am I! I pray for each person who is reading this blog this morning. Help us all to remember, “Through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God.” So be it, if You are with us. Amen.

P. S. I lift up the services today at First Southern and Bart as he preaches for me. I know I could not have done it today. No way. Thank You, Lord.
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God and Pain Pills

I had a little bit of a wake up call late yesterday afternoon.

Let me back up a bit. Over the past few days, I have been living by an adage that I have learned rather recently: stay away of the pain. The doctors have said repeatedly that I need to take my medications at their prescribed times or it will be more difficult to get and keep things under control.

So, Marilyn and I have devised a rather elaborate scheme with sticky notes on the mirror in my bathroom plus alarms on my phone just to remind myself of what to take and when.

Thankfully, Marilyn does a lot better job or remembering. She often asks, “Have you taken your pills?” Oops. Oh, yeah. Better do that.

Right now, I am taking four different categories of pills. I take medication for nausea. I must be careful to take the right dose every eight hours. In addition, I’m taking this chemo pill. There are explicit instructions regarding it, per the clinical trial.

I must not eat two hours in advance of taking the pill and one hour AFTER taking it and I must take the two pills twelve hours apart. Are you keeping up with all of this? It is rather involved, especially for someone who is sick and rather limited mentally anyway!?! Ha.

I made the decision that I will take this pill at 4AM and at 4PM.

The third pill I take is for sleep.

The fourth category is pain pills. Right now, I currently take two types. One is a patch; I am supposed to keep this patch on for 72 hours. The other is a pill. I can take up to two pills every four hours. And because of the pain, I have been doing that for the last few days—popping them like candy and trying to stay ahead of the pain.

When it looked as if I was running out of the pain pills, I called Dr. Jotte. His clinician Maureen called back. “John, we just filled a prescription for those pain pills the other day and now you are out again?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, we certainly want you to take them if you need them, but try to start cutting back. Taking too many of those pills could damage your liver, and we don’t want that.”

Great.

So, this is the dilemma—on the one hand, there is the very real issue of pain; on the other hand, there is the very real issue of dealing with the cure. Both have challenges and consequences. Some people with cancer develop other unrelated problems because of the medications they took. I don’t want those, either.

Anyway, I’m sharing all this rather tedious information just to let you know the “world” I am living in these days. All cancer patients deal with this. It is an added stressor to the whole thing.

Of course, my goal is to get off as many of these medicines as I can. But again, I trust the Lord in all of this …

In Professor Horner’s reading plan, I was particularly impressed to read the final chapter of Job. What did Job learn through all his suffering? “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42: 2-6, NASB).

This passage demands more study. I’m going to spend some time with it today. One thing: we better be very careful not only how we talk to God, but also how we talk ABOUT Him. I am deeply convicted about what I have said about the Lord these past couple of days in the heat of the moment. Like Job, I need to shut up and let Him speak to me.

Job retracted. I believe that means he took back his words and turned away from his misdirected conclusions about what the Lord was up to in His life.

Lord, this world of pills and drugs and medications and doses and side effects seems so foreign to me. I don’t understand it and sometimes transfer the confusion in that world to You. Oh, Lord, I confess me wayward speech. I affirm that You do have a plan and that You are actively working it. And I wait for You to instruct me. I wait in silence. Amen.
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Caregivers

Thanks for your prayers. Over the past couple of days, the nausea I have been experiencing and the vomiting has decreased, but I still battle it every time I drink anything and I cannot consume solid food. This swelling in my neck is pushing on my esophagus, narrowing the channel from mouth to stomach. Until that swelling diminishes, I’m just not going to be able to eat the way I should.

Right now, I don’t even have an appetite.

My primary care doc is worried about this. I visited with him yesterday. He said, “John, you have to start consuming some calories. I hope you will be able to eat soon.” He mentioned a couple of soft foods. Marilyn is working on this for me.

The other issue—pain—continues rather undiminished, I am afraid. This swelling in my neck has spread out to my shoulder. Now, I have pain in my arm all the way down to my hand. Weird stuff. It lasted most of the night. The pain pills I am taking help a little, but that whole left side—shoulder, arm, and hand—bother me.

Right now, my hope is that with these pills that I am taking—two per day (on the clinical trial)—this swelling will begin to diminish. I know Dr. Jotte is hoping for this.

Has the swelling lessened since I have started treatment? I would say no, but I know it hasn’t increased. For that, I am thankful.

Yesterday, my primary care doc asked about my mom. He takes care of her as well. He said, “I’m worried about you guys. You have a lot on your plate. Your mom has a bowel infection, you know. That type of thing put her in the hospital a few months ago.”

I did know that my mom had a bowel infection, but duh, I didn’t equate it with a urinary tract infection. Part of the reason is that my mom has downplayed it, but she has been ill as well.

All of this brings me to the topic for today—the caregiver. Right now, that is my mom and primarily Marilyn, my sister.

As all of you who keep up with this blog can imagine, I am sure, she has A LOT on her plate right now. She is running (literally) hither, thither, and yon to take care of both of us. And she is doing a great job.

She puts a cold rag on the back of my neck when I am throwing up. She cleans up all my vomit bags. She drives to the pharmacy to get my drugs. She makes sure that I take my pills on time. She keeps trying to find things that I can eat. This is a huge chore these days. But she is now putting food in the blender and trying different “concoctions” I can take in without throwing up.

Plus, in addition to ALL that, she has to put up with me. My attitude has not been the best these past few days. I complain a lot (surprise, surprise), but Marilyn continues to help me get my focus on the Lord and the progress that I am experiencing.

After going through this, I can see how important it is for the caregivers in a situation like this to get care as well. I want to make sure this happens.

Right now, I think things are good. Marilyn has friends who do call to talk to her. And we have gotten good support from the church. For example, yesterday, Connor and Jess helped us out BIG TIME. They transported me from the cancer center to another appointment so that Marilyn could take my mom to a doctor. This is just one way in which our church family has helped us.

I’m grateful for the broader umbrella of support we have received as a family. All of you who read this blog are a part of it.

I just felt compelled this morning to ask you to continue to pray for Marilyn.

Psalm 41 is an encouragement today. I want to cite a few verses from this Psalm: “The LORD will sustain him upon his sickbed; In his illness, You restore him to health…. By this I know that You are pleased with me, Because my enemy does not shout in triumph over me. As for me, You uphold me in my integrity, And You set me in Your presence forever” (Psalms
41:3,11-12 NASB).

Lord, we all know that You are the Main Caregiver. Thank You for sustaining us in times like these. Thank You for upholding us. But Lord, none of us could make it without those special people You have allowed in our lives. I thank You for my mom who is helping to take care of me when she is sick. Please heal her of this bladder infection. Strengthen Marilyn as she takes care of both of us. I lift her up to you today. Thank You so much for her. Thank You also for the church. Thank You for friends. Lord, today, indeed, I “cast all my care” on the One who cares—You. Amen.
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Nausea and Pain; Pain and Nausea

That’s the tune I’m singing these days. Well, not really singing … living every moment of every day.

Let me back up a bit and tell all of you about our conversation with the doctor prior to starting treatment the other day. We all had some very straightforward questions for him.

I for one pointed at my neck and said, “What is going on here? I know it relates to the lymphoma I have but what is happening? This neck thing seems way over the top.”

Marilyn’s question was, “How could we have let this go on so long?”

Now, remember, we had these questions for him BEFORE I took my trip. He kept equivocating and telling me the decision was up to me, and so I decided to go.

And let me hasten to say that I have no regrets about going. Believe me. I’m glad I went.

But here we are after the trip and my neck has swollen significantly and this was his answer: “Well, guys, looking back on things, we probably should have started addressing things sooner. I just kind of underestimated how swiftly this thing would grow. So, now, we do need to treat it, and John, as I told you before, a traditional kind of chemotherapy would shrink this neck. We could also give you one radiation treatment that would do the trick. This is the short-term perspective, but long-term, I think this clinical trial is the best way to go, and we will monitor it closely. If there is non shrinkage after a period of time, then we can go back to the others (and will) at any time.”

“How long do you think it will take to start shrinking this thing?” I asked as I pointed to my neck.

“Well, we will just have to see. I want to give this trial a good shot, give it every chance to work before we nix it.”

So, there you have it. This has been a lot to chew on the past couple of days. I think I could get angry about some of it, but I always go back just to turning things over to God. It is what it is. I am where I am. It is just going to be more difficult to work with the more advanced cancer. It is going to take longer. I am going to have more nausea and pain and sleepless nights. These are all short-term hurdles. They put me in a place, if I can just endure, for the potential for greater long-term benefit.

And, one more thing, my trust ultimately is in the BIG DOCTOR. My main concern now is my mom and sis. They are both helping me A LOT. But I know it is hard on them to see me so sick all this time.

“Since I am afflicted and needy, Let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God” (Psalms
40:17 NASB).

Lord, I continue to cry out to you for help, strength, and relief—just some relief from all of this. I’m crying out to you again, Doc. I know You hear me. Amen
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Report from the First Day of Treatment

First, thanks to all of you for praying for me. I certainly need your prayers and could feel them yesterday.

My difficult day started with a bad decision on my part. I left my pain pills here thinking I would not need them at the cancer center. Boy, was I ever wrong and one thing I am learning about pain is that you must stay on top of it, or you are in big trouble. I should have taken it. Marilyn asked me.

The other issue I dealt with all day and through this morning is that basically I could not keep ANYTHING down. Marilyn kept trying various bland, liquid based foods. And every single one came up. Even as I was leaving the cancer center, I threw up right in middle of the parking lot, and it was just water because that is all I had had while getting treatment. I have to tell you. It is very discouraging.

Even just this morning, I decided to try one scrambled egg and before I had eaten even two bites, it came up.

So, one major prayer request is that today, I would be able to eat and drink and keep it down.

Anyway, back to yesterday, the nurses could see that they would need to deal with nausea and pain and hydration before I could get treatment, but another challenge emerged. For some reason, they could not get my port accessed. Fluids would go in but blood would not come out. They tried just about everything, still to no avail.

Well, by then, my pain was at an all-time level. I can’t begin to explain it to you. It is in the left side of my neck and shoulder and it just radiates. I was almost at the point of passing out.

Finally, they gave up on my port and just an IV first in my arm and second at my wrist, but even then, they had troubles pulling blood. By that time, everyone was getting frustrated. Finally, the head nurse returned. Her name was Theresa. She told the others, “Well, let’s see if we can get this port to work again.” And, praise God! She was able to do so.

Thus, at that point, they were able to give me some relief in the form of hydration, pain, and nausea. Oh, man, I continue to thank God for that provision because I wasn’t that far from passing out.

Shantel, the nurse in charge of the clinical trial, gave me a pill to take. This is part of the treatment—2 pills per day, twelve hours apart. Nothing to it. THEN, finally, they administered my chemo drug to me. It took about forty-five minutes, and we were done! Praise God! One down and only X to go! I say X because I’m not sure.

Well, when we finally got home, we were all exhausted. I threw up a couple more times during the rest of the day.

Hey, everyone, you have to know that Marilyn is a real trooper. It certainly cannot be easy for her to watch me vomit over and over and over, but she continues to try to find something that I can eat. She is undaunted in her efforts, and I really appreciate them.

So, all of that is part of the story. We also had a rather lengthy visit with the doctor. I will tell you about it in a subsequent post.

In the meantime, reading this verse in Professor Horner’s plan today was a good reminder: “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John
4:4 NASB).

Lord, I thank You that I am an overcomer even as I lie in a hospital bed sick and nauseated. Even there. Even then. Amen.
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New Treatments Start Today ...

And none too soon.

Yesterday was another long, hard day of pain and trying to manage it. I even went to the cancer center for hydration. The doctor adjusted my pain meds a bit.

When I got home, I seemed to go progressively down hill. It felt as if there were a thick noose around my neck that was gradually tightening. My fear was that ultimately, it would affect my breathing.

By about 8:00, Marilyn called the cancer center. When one of the docs called back, her initial response was, “Well, if he is having shortness of breath, he needs to go to the emergency room right now.”

Marilyn clarified, “No, he is fearful of this affecting his breathing, but he is having difficulty swallowing and his pain seems to be getting worse.”

So, she “upped” my pain med pill, and this gave me some relief. And, as a matter of fact, I actually slept a little last night. Praise God!

Well, I think you get the idea. I will let you know how things go.

Lord, thank You for getting my family and me through yesterday. Thanks for everyone who is reading this and is praying. “This is the day the Lord has made.” Amen.
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The Lord's Postal Service

In the past, as I was getting ready to start rounds 1 and 2 of chemo, I dreaded them, wishing they could be delayed.

This time, I would be willing to start a day earlier, a week earlier, if I could.

Last night was horrible. I just could not find a way to get comfortable AT ALL. I moved from bed to chair to couch to chair 2 to bed to couch to … etc. Well, you get the idea.

The problem is that the pain I am experiencing is kind of a moving target. The doc was able to help me with it last week, but as my neck continues to swell, the pain continues to grow right along with it.

I’m having this particularly excruciating response in my shoulder as the cancer pushes against the nerves. Oh, man. It awakens me in the night, and I find I have to move immediately and/or just get up in order to deal with it. It subsides after five minutes, but the recurrences of it are increasing.

The cancer is also pushing against my esophagus, making it more and more difficult to eat AND keep things down. Marilyn continues to try to find food that I even want to eat. It is a daunting challenge. I need to eat food. She is right, but I just don’t have any appetite.

This morning, I tried to force myself to eat with not a good outcome. I threw up TWICE, bringing my vomiting count up to nine times for the past few days, further adding to this dubious record.

So, I guess this means that I have to call Dr. Jotte this morning as they open up around 8:00 and see what they need me to do. I think I will see if I can come in for some hydration. We will see.

I got a lot of encouragement this morning from one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It is located in Isaiah 37—among some very interesting narratives that occur at the end of the first part of this prophecy.

King Hezekiah and the people of Judah find themselves surrounded and under siege at the hands of Sennacherib and the huge Assyrian army. Sennacherib is a loudmouth and a braggart. He spends a lot of time taunting the people, while lauding his military victories.

At the end of chapter 36, Hezekiah receives another threat, this time from Rabshakeh, Sennacherib’s general. It is in the form of a letter. And I love this. “Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD” (Isaiah
37:14 NASB). This correct response led to a lot of other good things in the days that followed.

Hezekiah turned this overwhelming challenge over to the Lord, and He took care of it.

Surprise, surprise, huh? Ha. NO.

This is what I feel led to do this morning. Write out all the details of what I am struggling with this morning and physically, tangibly release that “letter” from my hand to the possession of the Lord. I’m calling it, “The Lord’s Postal Service.” Once I do that, my letter travels at the speed of light, faster than that, to the throne room of God, and is in His possession and therefore “handled.” Amen.
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A Strange Mix of things Going On this Morning

Over the past several days, my mom and sis and I have had a very lively debate around the topic of “should I even go this morning or not.” Of course, I was ready NOT to go I had felt bad when I woke up. No problem.

But I felt it was important to make the effort because of the sermon and because of what I felt I needed to say to the church before another round of treatment begins.

Last night was not particularly good. I bet I woke up and got up at least ten times. I could get comfortable. Plus, I was having severe pain in my left shoulder. This is the type of pain that neither the patch nor the pill can touch. I think I will just be living with it until I go in for treatment on Tuesday.

Now, having read the previous paragraph, one would almost assume that I am toast today. Right?

I am tired. I will give you that. Sometimes, I find myself dozing a bit.

BUT, I feel so energized and there are songs on my heart! Even as I got up those multiple times, I felt joy. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I know this sounds crazy, but it is true.

Now, I am not going to go crazy and over do it. I will go this morning, preach my sermon, share some things with the church in the service, leave right after the service, pick up my mail, and come right back to this couch for the rest of the day. Believe me!

But back to what is going on here. I think Paul gives a perfect explanation in 2 Corinthians 4. Every time I read this passage, I keep thinking about Carol’s Sunday school class of women—“The Cracked Pots.” Great title, huh?

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians
4:7-10 NASB). As the Williams version translates the last part of verse nine, “always getting a knock down, but never a knock out.” Praise God!

I understand the process. I’m living it this morning, but I am not alone.

Last night, I got a call from a young man in our fellowship. His name is Paul. Recently, Paul and Lacie got saved and baptized and now trying to follow the Lord. They have encountered one difficulty after another. Paul is even getting persecution from members of his own family. As we talked, I thought about these verses. Our Paul is living out what the Apostle Paul shared, as we all share the experience of the cross and resurrection life.

Paul the missionary goes on in 2 Corinthians 4. I must cite these verses also. “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians
4:16-18 NASB).

This cancer stuff seems heavy right now. I feel as if I am carrying a thousand-pound ball around my neck, but it falls in the category of “momentary, light affliction.” I’m going to keep my eyes on Jesus today.

Lord, I am actually excited when I come to Sundays like this, because there is no way I can rely on human strength. I don’t have any. I’m excited to see how You are going to use this Cracked Pot for Your glory. Help me. Help the church. Keep us moving forward. Amen.

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Challenges in the Days Ahead

Well, at the cancer center yesterday, I told Gay the nurse about the adverse effects I experienced from Pain Pill #2, and so she asked the doc to prescribe even another.

Praise God! No more vomiting up to this point, but there are at least two different side effects: the painkiller is not as strong. As a result, I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in a spot on my shoulder. I use that word “excruciating” as an accurate description. As this thing swells, it continues to touch nerves. Oh, man. I’m going to put on a new patch and see how that works.

Second, it seemed to keep me awake until I figured that I could take a sleeping pill, but I still didn’t sleep all that well. Even as I read the Word this morning, I find myself dozing off. This means I have to scale back a bit today and get more rest.

I’m sorry to bore all of you with these details, but I present them to show that this is my life now. I’m trying to stay on top of all of this and adjust my activities accordingly.

One of my main goals for the next couple of days is to be able to get to church in the morning, preach a sermon, and share some things with the church.

However, if I don’t feel like it as the day progresses, I have a couple of brothers whom I talked to yesterday who told me that they would be available for me to call even early Sunday morning to preach a sermon. I appreciate this greatly.

I also received a very timely message from Mark Edlund, our Colorado Baptist General Convention exec. He very graciously offered all kinds of help for the church and for me personally. It was encouraging. So, when I recover from this first chemo treatment, I’m going to take Jim with me and we will have a visit with him to explore the options.

Please pray that the Lord will give wisdom in all of this because I want to make sure that the ministry is “covered,” but I also want everyone to know that THIS TIME, my primary focus is going to be on my health—ME.

I have no regrets, but I honestly am not sure I did THAT in chemo rounds 1 and 2. This time will be different. Mark my words.

For example, I’m going to take active steps to make sure that sleepless nights, like last night, are at a minimum. I know that one cannot always avoid them, but I am going to work on it.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to put together a team of brothers that includes Mark and the State Convention as well as pastor friends like Dan and Bart AND, last but not least, brothers and sisters in the church who are available to help. It will be interesting to see who shakes out.

It will test out a hypothesis that I am sure all of us would agree with in theory, but we might hesitate in practice: the church is not made up of one person—the pastor or anyone else. Right? It is a body and thus, the body of Christ under our Great Shepherd and Pastor Jesus, ought to be able to take care of itself, right? This theory will be tested.

I’m going to challenge the folks tomorrow and see what happens. I have every confidence they will step up.

This verse stood out to me this morning: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter
3:9 NASB).

The person who needs to repent in this current scenario is ME. I have always talked a lot about involving others, but now I need to let go of my Messiah complex was of thinking about the church and the ministry—just let it go. Now, this does not mean blow it off. It just means delegate and trust the guys on this time to take care of things when I am not available which may be a lot. AND, I pray that the church would accept it. Thanks for Your patience with me, Lord. It is now where it has always been—IN YOUR HANDS. Amen.
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The Girl in India and Me

Well, yesterday, I felt a little better until the evening.

Let me back up for a moment. I had to go back to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center yesterday for a hydration treatment. This is water through my port. The doctor is worried about dehydration because with all the vomiting, I just have not been drinking as much water as I need to. So, they give it to me through the port where it is more readily absorbed in my system.

Anyway, while I was there, Erin (one of the nurses in the chemo room), asked me about pain. At that time, my neck was bothering me a bit, so she recommended an additional “bridge” pain medicine in addition to the patch. After my treatment, Lisa (one of Dr. Jotte’s assistants) brought me a prescription.

I took one of the new pain pills after dinner and immediately started to feel weird. By later in the evening, I felt downright horrible and guess what? I vomited AGAIN.

That is eight times in the last couple of days. That must be some sort of record. Don’t you think? Sorry for the joke, but at some point in all of this, you have to laugh or go insane.

So, today, I am going back for another hydration treatment. I will tell them what happened and see what they think I need to do.

I do know two pain meds I am going to avoid the rest of my life.

This is crazy. This whole thing seems like some sort of weird theater. I am watching myself and thinking, “Who is this guy?” You never know what will happen in life. I’m glad Someone (not me) is in charge.

Well, on to the topic for today. A few days ago, on Facebook, Pam made a comment that has stuck with me. She went to India with Nancy and me a year ago last March. In one of our ministries, we went to a very poor part of town. After our service, Nancy and I went with two young men to meet and minister to some families.

I have mentioned this before in previous blogs. Maybe some of you will recognize this story.

This family had a daughter who had a goiter on the side of her neck—a rather large swelling.

By the way, as I was preparing for my bone marrow biopsy, I was telling Dr. Rifkin and the nurses in the room about the trip and about this girl. At one point, the doctor shook his head and said, “Sadly, this is pretty common in third world countries.” I did not know this.

But back to that girl, when we first arrived, she was not there. She was out shopping for groceries. But when she came in the house, I immediately noticed that she had gone to elaborate means to cover her neck. Now, with the typical “garb” of women in India, this is not too difficult. But I could tell that she was really conscious of it and it bothered her greatly.

Little did I know that someday, I would be in a position to begin to understand just a little bit of what that sweet girl is going through. My heart goes out to her more than ever.

This is difficult to write. But I just have to tell all of you that I am very conscious of my swollen neck. Others have told me that it is not as prominent as I think it is. Maybe they are right, but TO ME, it feels huge and somehow, I notice people looking at it. I try to pull up the collar on my shirt at times, but I know it only draws attention to that “area” more than ever.

As I was discussing this with my mom and sis, Marilyn said, “John, don’t add this to the list of stuff you are dealing with. Just turn it over to God and just be who you are, where you are right now. Everyone is dealing with something.” This is a paraphrase of what she said.

And I know Marilyn won’t like me quoting her again, making her sound like a “spiritual know-it-all,” but as I have said before, anyone who knows her, knows she is far from THAT person. Her comment was right on target and exactly what I needed to hear.

By the grace of God, I’m going to let this swelling be “out there” for the world to see. I’ve decided this: I am going to turn it over to God. Every time I feel aware of how my neck looks, I’m going to pray for that girl, her family, and those who continue to minister to them in that community in India.

And, I am putting a picture of me on Facebook in “all of my glory.” The stuff on my chest is my port that is accessed. No need to take the needle out since I am going in today for another treatment.

Don’t worry. I will continue to wear a shirt! Ha. But just for this photo …

Here I am, Lord. I am in this situation because You have allowed me to have cancer. May these words of Paul be true in my life today:
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 NASB).

You are my adequacy and sufficiency. Amen.
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A Day that will Live in Infamy ...

I have never put in a day like yesterday—EVER. But two powerful entities pulled me through it—the Lord and the body of Christ. This is why I often say that I don’t know how people go through tough times without a church.

Where do I start to tell you about the day? First, the pain became almost unbearable. My neck has swollen almost to a grotesque level. It looks as if I have a serious case of the mumps, but a nurse explained that the reason things hurt is that these swollen lymph nodes are bumping up against nerves and organs in the body. There is simply no room.

I have never experienced pain like this before.

Add to that the fact that I started to become nauseous in the morning, and I just couldn’t keep anything down. I mean NOTHING. Not even a few sips of water.

Get this: between the house, the Sky Ridge location, and Midtown, and back to last night here in the middle of the night—I threw up SEVEN TIMES.

At first, we thought that I had caught some type of virus, maybe on my trip, but now, we are all convinced that it is a reaction to the original painkiller Dr. Jotte gave me. But this was no fun, particularly because there was really nothing in my stomach to come up except bile.

Third, it seemed we were on the run from morning to night. After the really bad night I had on Tuesday, we called Dr. Jotte’s clinician and without hesitation, she said, “The doctor wants you to come in right now.” So, we loaded in the car and headed south to the Sky Ridge hospital area. This is typically the branch of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center where I usually go.

They squeezed us in. My mom and sis saw the doc for a few moments. I was so angry. I was in the bathroom when he came into our waiting room. He rushed in and said he would be back. As it turns out, he didn’t come back, but his assistant Laura came in and spent some time with us.

She prescribed another painkiller. It is actually a patch. She also got me some medicine for nausea.

After our rather extensive discussion, she sent me to the chemo room for an injection. Diane was ready to go. They gave me 1000 milliliters of water plus a very strong pain medication. I say that because the second she hooked me up to it, I could feel it working from the top of my head down. It really knocked me for a loop, but it is the first thing that I have taken in several days that has given me any relief from the pain.

Diane paid close attention to me. I could tell that she was concerned, especially as I continued to throw up. She monitored my blood pressure and even gave me some oxygen at one point. When we were done, she insisted that she take me out to the car in a wheelchair. I think it was a good decision. I was so wobbly I could barely stand up.

We jumped in the car and headed home for a few minutes where I threw up another couple of times. It wasn’t long before we were back in the car and headed to Midtown.

This is another location of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center located in an area where a lot of hospitals are clustered in Denver, but this is going to be my new treatment center for the foreseeable future since this clinical trial only takes place at THIS location. Plus, Dr. Jotte comes to Midtown one day a week. So, I will see him there.

Once we arrived, I could tell that the nurses at Midtown were very concerned about me. I just felt horrible most of the day, whether it was pain from my neck (lessened greatly after the injection) or nausea. But they took some blood and did an EKG.

When all of those tests were completed, it was time for the infamous “bone marrow biopsy.” Yesterday, I asked you to pray for me on this test because when I took it the first time in a doc’s office in Littleton five years ago, it was a painful nightmare. Then and there, I vowed that I would never do this test again.

Never say never …

Yesterday, there I was again, but the doctor who performed the procedure calmed me immediately as he entered the room. Dr. Rifkin assured me that he had done hundreds of these biopsies and that it would be a “piece of cake.”

Now, before I tell you the results, I need to tell you what it is. This is a procedure in which they actually extract a piece of bone marrow from the hip. Think about that for a minute. On second thought, don’t! Ha.

Dr. Rifkin was right, though. It was a piece of cake. I’m a little sore this morning on my hip bone, but otherwise, I’m no worse for the wear. I attribute this mainly to answered prayer. Thanks to all of you.

Even though I had another nausea episode during the night last night, I seemed to be better today, but I am extremely exhausted.

I have to be honest with all of you at this point. Twixt and tween all of that activity yesterday, I was asking the Lord, “What is going on? I don’t understand this.” I got no “neon sign” answers, but in the reading for today, these two verses stand out.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter
5:6-7 NASB).

Okay, Lord, I do humble myself under Your mighty hand as I trust You to continue to take care of this disease. Thank You for the prayers of Your people on my behalf yesterday. Thank You for those doctors and nurses who cared for me. They fall under the category of YOUR care. I’m glad that day is over! Ha. A new day with new challenges awaits. Amen.
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Miserable

Just another short note this morning to ask all of you to pray for me.

On my way home yesterday, I noticed that my neck was swelling even more. It is very uncomfortable and painful.

It is weird how I just started to feel very much more miserable when I stepped foot in this house, and I have been going downhill ever since.

I went to the cancer doc yesterday. He could tell I was hurting. He prescribed a strong pain medicine, but it doesn’t really help me, so I am going to call him again later to ask for something else.

We got to talk about treatment options. He feels the clinical trial is the most promising way to go at this point. So, that is what I am doing.

I’m going in today for more blood tests and an EKG.

PLUS, one more thing: a bone marrow biopsy. Please pray for me. It is NOT fun.

Thanks for your prayers. I appreciate them very much. Love you all. Amen.
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Jumping Back into the Middle of the Pond

I keep scheduling these early flights … but after a good time away, I am heading home to “jump back in the middle of the pond,” so to speak.

Please pray as, this afternoon, I will meet with the oncologist to discuss treatment options.

Before I left, I was adamantly opposed to starting chemo again. I’m still not thrilled about it, BUT I’m not sure I want to wait a couple of weeks or more until I start a clinical trial. I’m just looking forward to some relief from the swelling in my neck and groin.

We will just have to see.

One of the chapters I read this morning in Professor Horner’s plan is Psalm 31. What an encouragement! It ends with this verse. I leave it with you as I have to scramble a bit to get my stuff together and head for the airport:

“Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24, NASB). Amen.
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A Brother to Jackals

One of the challenges I face in this new Bible plan is to be careful to give each of the ten chapters I read each day, equal consideration. I say that because, reading through Job gets a little tedious. And I hate to say that about any portion of God’s Word. But isn’t that the point?

Here is a man who is suffering to a large degree. No one can argue that, and in addition to everything else, he has to deal with blow-bag friends who lecture him on God and on what is “really going on.” Thanks a lot! It only adds insult to injury.

Is it too difficult just to say, “Brother, I’m so sorry that you are going through this. Please know that I love you and I am praying for you. If you need anything, let me know. Otherwise, I’m going to be here with you as long as you need me and then I will take off.

But no … it doesn’t work that way. Job gets pounded over and over. And may I say that there is nothing more lonely than to be around a bunch of people when you are suffering and no one gives a flip.

Notice this honest confession from Job: “I have become a brother to jackals And a companion of ostriches. My skin turns black on me, And my bones burn with fever. Therefore my harp is turned to mourning, And my flute to the sound of those who weep” (Job 30:29-31 NASB). My heart breaks for him. Maybe more so after these few days away.

I have had exactly the opposite experience with my friends here. Polar opposite. It has been awesome.

Here is another verse that captured my attention. It is from the book of Judges as the angel of the Lord taps Gideon to be the next instrument of deliverance for the people. “Then Gideon said to him, ‘O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, “Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?” But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian’” (Judges 6:13 NASB).

I put this question in the same category as the statement that Job made. These are just honest statements and questions. It is okay to have them and to voice them.

My plea this morning is for the acceptance of honesty in the church of Jesus Christ today. Lord, make it so. You can handle it. Amen
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The Busiest Chapter in the Bible

I have to tell all of you that I relish a few extra minutes this morning. By now, back home in Colorado, I would have either arrived at church or I am on the road to doing so. It feels so good just to park here a few extra minutes.

I’m going with my friends to Sunday school and worship. The schedule starts at 9:45, so I have a while before I have to move. Actually, I probably will get ready a little earlier and take a walk again. It just helps me neck to feel better.

In Professor Horner’s plan, Mark 1 is on the schedule. This chapter is the busiest chapter in all the Word of God. In the first place, Mark does not “waste time” talking about the birth stories as Matthew and Luke do. He jumps in immediately to the public ministry of Jesus.

My imagination is whirling at this thought: “What would it have been like to spend ONE DAY with Jesus?” Just one day. What would you see? What would you learn? And most importantly, what would change in my life?

Two things stand out in this “busy” chapter. First, “Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him” (Mark
1:12-13 NASB).

Here is a question for all of us on a day when we as Christians as busy. What is the relation between busyness and satanic temptation? Each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) gives the narration of Jesus’ temptation experience. Mark’s is the shortest, of course. But even in Mark’s short statement, he adds two details the others don’t: Jesus was with the wild beasts (there was an element of danger added into the mix) and the angels were ministering to Him (and as I read it, even during his temptation).

Right at the start, part and parcel of Jesus’ busy ministry is “Spirit-led” temptation. Do I really realize this? Do I even factor it in?

I need to start.

Second, I love this verse: “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there” (Mark
1:35 NASB). I think my Sundays would always be better if I spent more time with the Lord and less time in feverish activity on that day.

Whenever I read this verse, I am reminded of a statement purportedly attributed to the reformer Martin Luther: “I have a very busy day today. I need to spend more time with the Lord.”

Of course, this runs counter-intuitive to everything in our scheduled up culture, but I believe the theology is sound. The more I have to do, the more potential there is for the Spirit to lead me into temptation and thus more need to have all the lines of communication and fellowship open. All systems go.

Lord, thank You for some precious time this morning to spend with you. I pray for the church today in my absence. I lift up Ilamarques as he preaches today. I pray for the services I will be attending today and for Pastor Tim as he preaches. Amen.
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Aliens Yet Chosen

My neck is really bothering this morning. When I finish this post, I’m going to get up and take a little walk or something. Whoa.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to play in a little church golf tournament. It was only nine holes, but it was a lot of fun.

When we all finished, we gathered together for some fellowship and an “awards” ceremony. THAT PART was no big deal. What followed was.

One of the brothers, who just happened to be named John, said, “Before we go, I think we need to pray for Jim and John (me).”

Now, let me take a pause here and talk about Jim for a moment. I know Jim. I met him a couple of years ago. He is a fine and godly man who has served Southern Baptists and served as a pastor for years.

Last year, he was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer. The name escapes me for the moment, but it ends with “oma.” I’ve learned that is never good. Of course, so does lymphoma. I know, but this is different.

He recently passed through a series of tests that make him eligible for a bone marrow transplant that he will undergo when he returns from a cruise he is on right now. He and his family have been planning that cruise for years. They just decided to go in the midst of all their cancer “stuff.” While he was on this trip, he got the good news that his treatment can move forward. I was so glad to hear this.

So, here we are—it wasn’t a big group, only eight guys—sitting around a picnic table at a snack bar at a golf course. What better place for a Baptist prayer meeting, right?

John prayed for me right then and there and then he prayed for Jim. Just to think about it makes me want to cry. I know this sounds a little overly dramatic, but it seems as if that may have been one of the reasons the Lord brought me here among many others.

When we finished, John approached me. We exchanged business cards. He said, “Let me know how your treatment goes. I will continue to pray for you.” He looked me square in the eye when he said.

All right, I will.

This may sound weird to say, but lately, with this disease taking its course, I have felt more “out of it” in this world than ever. Again, weird—but I look at people’s necks now and think, “You ought to thank God for a healthy neck.” I sort of feel like Frankenstein a bit. Plus, the top of my shirt rubs against the main part of the swelling in my neck at times, itching and irritating a bit. So now, I’ve started turning my collar up—like a preppy. It eases that irritation and covers that huge bulge on my neck.

Anyway, with all this going on, these words in 1 Peter struck me this morning: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure” (1 Peter
1:1-2 NASB).

We reside as aliens. What a graphic word! But I can relate to it more than ever these days. BUT, as aliens (our relation to this world), we are also chosen (our relationship to God and more important) by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, thank You for that impromptu prayer meeting yesterday and how deeply it encouraged me. I thank You for the many folks and churches around the world that are doing this same. All of us as believers are aliens in this world, just as those eight men yesterday were as we prayed at one table while several men drinking alcohol celebrated a hole in one at the other. Big Deal. I’ll take the celebration of the Chosen Ones around the throne someday, where all of us aliens will stand someday. Amen.
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Movement

So much about dealing with cancer is counter-intuitive.

During my last chemo treatment, at first, I felt nauseated so I did not eat, and the ultimate result was a fainting spell in the middle of the night. This is what I learned: continue to force food down even if, especially if, I didn’t feel like eating.

This particular strain of cancer—these two ever-increasing swellings on my neck and groin—feel miserable as I sit here this morning. Of course, the temptation is to continue to sit here and do nothing.

I’m glad I’m in a position on this trip where I don’t want to do that. I have been doing a lot of moving around AND wonder of wonders (as Michelle counseled) I feel better and often time don’t even think about cancer except when I try to turn my head or bend over.

Other than that … so again, this is about NOT letting this disease take over.

Good news! Shantel from the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center called yesterday. I have been accepted as a candidate into this clinical trial! She emailed me some information about it. If I have time, between all my “movements,” I will look it over.

Some of you might remember that I went through one of these trials last summer. There are a lot of hoops to jump through—screening is the word—to see if those who are eligible actually do qualify. This is what I will be working on when I get home and there is no time to fiddly, faddly around.

But, I praise God for this and am thankful there are some treatment options out there.

Two verses from Professor Horner’s plan and then I need to get moving. Both quotes are from James 5: As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James
5:10-11 NASB).

And, how about this one: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James
5:16 NASB).

Thank You, Lord, for the good news of yesterday. Thank You for movement and allowing me to move around. Thank You for the prophets, for Job, and for the prayers of righteous men and women being prayed to You right now. I trust You, Lord, to “accomplish much” through prayer, as always. Amen.
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Rehoboth and A Steadfast Mind

Well, thank you for praying for me. I made it to my destination safely. It was a long day that started at 2:00 AM yesterday, but all in all, a good day. Last night, I had the best night’s sleep I have had in weeks since my neck really started to swell. I did not have to get up to sit a chair once. Praise God!

My new swelling bothers me a bit in certain instances, but I’ve just chosen to ignore it for now.

Please pray as today is the day that I should be hearing about whether or not I am eligible for that clinical trial or not. This is the first step. Shantel, the nurse from Midtown Cancer Center (just another branch of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Denver) said that, if I make it, she is going to send me information about what is involved in the screening process as well as the treatment regimen itself.

She alluded to the fact that this one, unlike all the others, is very intense over a relatively short period of time—a combination of pills and injections, once a week for eight weeks. I hope this doesn't mean that I will be out of pocket for two months, but it certainly could.

This brings me to some thoughts I have been having recently about this next round of chemo. And I voiced this to a couple of friends just yesterday.

In the past, I have been careful to try to schedule my treatments and the recovery from them AROUND my personal and work schedule. Not a bad way to go, I guess, except it isn’t working! Just a minor detail! Ha. Now I am wondering if I have things backward. Hello McFly!

THIS TIME, I am going to make a list of things, in consultation with more than one doctor, that I need to do to help my body fight off this disease. For example, how crucial is a night’s sleep? After last night, I think it is more important than ever.

How important is rest? How significant is exercise and walking and a proper diet and actually working on all of this? Again, just to make a priority of putting myself in a better position to get well. Of course, I trust in God. I believe that the Lord provides the medical profession. I will follow their advice and counsel. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bath water and I don’t want to neglect my work unnecessarily. But the Lord did give us brains …

All that having been said, THIS TIME, I want to put a priority on my health, and if I do, I can continue to live and work and serve. So, pray for me and pray for the church in that regard. This is rather new territory, but maybe this is a place where I should have been all along.

There are a couple of references I came across this morning. First, notice this verse in Genesis: “He moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, ‘At last the LORD has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land’” (Genesis
26:22 NASB). Somehow, I pray that Isaac’s experience could be mine, my family’s, and the church I serve.

Second, this is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. I add verse four for good measure: “"The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, For in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isaiah 26:3-4, NASB).

Lord, thank You for all the lessons You continue to teach. Give me ears to hear. Help me be a good student. Make room for us and give us a steadfast mind, O Rock of our Salvation. Amen.
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Another Swelling

Yesterday, I noticed another swelling in my lower abdomen while I was in the shower. I freaked out. What is this? I don’t know if it has been there a long time or not …

Well, I called the cancer center to report this latest development. I have been planning a vacation. I wondered if I should just cancel it.

A couple of hours later, Monica called. She said, “John, so you are having some issues?”

I was not in a very chatty mood. I might have been a little short with her. I said, “So, Monica, what does the doctor say?”

“Well,” she replied, “if this worries you, you can come right in and we can get chemo going by the end of the week, but the doctor also has a possible clinical trial to see if he can get you on.”

Somehow, as my mind was racing with this new swelling, option B sounded the best.

Kind of a long story from there—I won’t lay all the details on you, but at the end of the day, I was finally able to communicate with a nurse who was able to answer some of my questions. She is putting my name in the hat for this trial. She believes that I will make it in.

If I do get in, she is going to send me some information, and she encouraged me to study it for a couple of days. Then, next week, I will need to go through a screening process to see if indeed I am eligible.

Two things at that point—first, I was encouraged that there is something else out there besides chemo at this point. I’m just not ready to jump in that pond right now. Of course, if the doc told me to do it, I would. I guess …

Second, this nurse said, “John, it is going to take a couple of days to see if you can get in. Plus, you need to be sure before you do … “ Her voice tailed off a bit. “I would just recommend that you go on this vacation and we will tackle things when you get back.”

Okay, I will. In fact, right now, as I write this post, I am sitting at the airport.

One more huge ministry yesterday. Dan’s wife Michelle, who is a nurse, contacted me. We were able to talk at length about the lymph system of the body. Apparently, it is fairly common when folks have problems with their neck that it moves to the groin.

Obviously, my system is really taxed and trying to adjust to this disease, as Michelle reminded me. Her phone call and calm voice and encouraging words did wonders for me. Michelle, if you are reading this, THANKS SO MUCH.

Now, I have another place that hurts and feels very uncomfortable. This new swelling is on the left side. My original cancer swelling back in the August of 2010 was on the right side—same basic location.

Whatever—I’m just turning this next phase over to God.

How about these affirmations from the book of Isaiah? “For You have been a defense for the helpless, A defense for the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; For the breath of the ruthless Is like a rain storm against a wall. Like heat in drought, You subdue the uproar of aliens; Like heat by the shadow of a cloud, the song of the ruthless is silenced” (Isaiah
25:4-5 NASB).

Lord, I qualify in a couple of counts in the above verses—needy and in distress. Dr. Jesus, I trust You to take care of this as well. This too … Amen.

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The Hornet

Whenever I see that word “hornet,” I think of “The Green Hornet,” an action adventure in the mid-sixties. Remember the car? Remember Kato, the Green Hornet’s sidekick? The actor who played Kato was Bruce Lee. He whipped up on every bad guy.

This series that lasted only one season captured my imagination as an eight-year old. I couldn’t believe that ABC canceled the series after one year. Are you kidding me?

Corgi, the famous British toy carmaker, sold a replica of the Green Hornet’s amazing auto. Of course, I still have it, along with my other Corgi cars I bought as a kid. It is in pristine condition in its original box with all the parts. It might be worth a couple of dollars today. Who knows?

But I digress … there is a reference in Joshua 24 that I read today. Somehow, I don’t remember seeing this before. Let me give you some context. The final chapter of the book of Joshua is a sermon from the famous leader. In the first part of the chapter, he recounts the history of Israel. As he is telling that story, he makes this statement, “Then I sent the hornet before you and it drove out the two kings of the Amorites from before you, but not by your sword or your bow” (Joshua
24:12 NASB). This is the Lord’s comment through the mouth of Joshua: “I sent the hornet before you.”

What on earth is this all about? A little research this morning has revealed that God promised Israel in Exodus 23:28 that he would send the hornet to drive out enemy nations before the people. It seems most likely that this reference to a hornet is a metaphor that describes the terror or panic that an encounter with the living God would engender.

Kind of scary, if you think about it. Far more intimidating than the “Green Hornet” and Bruce Lee combined.

Somehow, as I think about this, I am also reminded of some of the descriptions of the “creatures” God will use to judge the world in the book of Revelation.

Be that as it may, the point is that God takes care of our enemies. We do not have the ability to do so. This is the point that Josh is making in his sermon. Since God has paved the way, we need to continue to worship Him and Him alone.

Note these famous words: "Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua
24:14-15 NASB).

Lord, I thank You for the “hornet.” Thank You for all the ways You have demonstrated that You have taken care of me in the past. There is no one else but You. As for me and my house, we will continue to serve You. Amen.
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Encouragements in Trials

I will have to tell all of you that there have been very few Sundays over the past twenty-six years that I have felt much worse than yesterday. I’ve preached with the flu, with bad colds, with nausea, and various as sundry illnesses (as have most pastors, by the way; I am not unusual in this regard), but man, yesterday …

I was speaking with one of the ladies in our fellowship yesterday. Recently, the doctor prescribed a steroid to her to help with back pain. She feels good, better than she has in several years, but she can only take it for ten days. I said, “Get ready when your prescription is done!” I hope she doesn’t have my experience.

I’m certainly no MD, but I realize that all steroids do is mask pain. That’s it.

As the day wore on, I seemed to feel better right before I was going to preach. I made it through the service okay. We had a birthday party for Betty after our Community Group time, but as the time progressed, I started to go downhill again rather rapidly.

I spent most of the afternoon sitting on this couch, dozing and watching the golf tournament. It was a perfect afternoon to do both since the clouds rolled in and we had a fairly substantial thunderstorm that cooled things off.

I just have to tell all of you that I am worn out with this disease. I’m so weary of it. It is still hard to believe that this very month marks FIVE YEARS with cancer—a dubious anniversary, for sure.

What to do? The only answer I have is to continue to trust God. That’s it. Not very flashy. Not very profound, but He is my only resource, a very present help in trials.

I’m going to cite three passages I came across in Professor Horner’s reading plan today. I just put them out there:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:2-5, NASB).

Notice this statement that Job made in the midst of his trials: "Behold, I go forward but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job
23:8-10 NASB).

Finally, I love this description of Paul’s escort on the way to the next stage of his trial before the Roman authorities. As you remember, some Jews had plotted to kill him on the way, but the son of his sister heard about it and told the Commander. Here is his escort: “And he called to him two of the centurions and said, ‘Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen’” (Acts
23:23 NASB).

Lord, I certainly don’t understand any of this, but I choose to rejoice today. I know You have a plan and purpose in all of this. And I know You will get me THERE, safe and sound. Amen.
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Coming Off Steroids

Now I can understand the allure of steroids. They make you feel very good, FOR A WHILE, but then …

It has only been a couple of days since I stopped taking them. My original prescription was for five days only. When I called the cancer center to get more the other day, Maureen (Dr. Jotte’s clinician) said, “Well, John, we don’t like to give them out for long term use. I can give you one more prescription for five days. It will have to last you until your next appointment.”

Okay.

Boy, today, when I woke up, my neck hurt. My leg hurt (I thought I had recovered from that injury completely; guess not) and my abdomen hurt, where I had the appendectomy. Oh, man!

As I sit here with heat on my neck, I’m doing better, just praying that it doesn’t distract me as I preach today. I think I will live! Ha.

Back to the subject of yesterday—prayer. You may be wondering why I am struggling a bit.

Yesterday was the forty-second anniversary of my dad’s death. He died on August 1, 1973.

And, just about every year on August 1, the three of us have a discussion that starts something like this. Someone says, “I just can’t understand why the Lord would take Daddy right in the prime of his life. He was such a dynamic witness for Jesus.”

Looking back on those early months of 1973, we prayed fervently that the Lord would heal him. And we kept right on doing it through that very difficult summer.

I say “difficult” because Marilyn and I were riveted to the television, watching the Watergate hearings as my mom was at the hospital with my dad every day.

We were dealing with our dad’s illness while at the same time going through an unprecedented crisis in our nation. It felt like the twilight zone.

But I would be less than honest if I did not say that I still don’t understand why the Lord allowed my dad to die. I’ll never be able to figure it out. And, no one could give me a reason that would ever make me feel any better.

Don’t get me wrong. We are not bitter. The Lord continues to take care of us. No complaints. We just don’t understand.

And as I am going to share in the message today, there are so many clichés and pat little answers we give as we face the mystery of God. I’m very weary of those kinds of responses.

The one thing that I can affirm is that our Savior has “been there, done that.” Notice these words from the Psalms, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest” (Psalms
22:1-2 NASB).

Do your recognize those words? Of course! Jesus uttered them while He was on the cross.

But I believe that Jesus quoted the first verse of the Psalm as a way of affirming the ENTIRE 22
nd Psalm. One of the final verses of this Psalm is, “For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28, NASB).

Even though there are times where it feels as if the Lord is far away and we can’t understand what is going on and it seems that He is indifferent to our cries for help, “the Lord rules.”

Yes, Lord. Yes, you do, through Watergate, death, illness, and everything, absolutely everything else. You rule. Amen.
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Challenges to Prayer

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I plan to preach a sermon on prayer based on Romans 8:26-27. Don’t worry. I won’t preach the message HERE.

But, as I have been preparing this message, a couple of things have been on my heart related to the subject. Now, before I lay them out, please understand that this is the type of thing that I normally do with most sermons I preach. I take a lot of time to meditate, turning over and over in my mind for days what I am going to say, while thinking about someone who is sitting in the congregation and saying, “Okay, so what?”

He or she may have had the worst week of the year. He or she may be dealing with depression or marriage problems or whatever … and they make it to church, needing a word from God, and here is my sermon. What does the Spirit want to say?

Now, on one level, it is not up to me at all. The Spirit can use anything in the service, whether it is a song or hymn or testimony—anything to communicate. The sermon does not carry that weight alone.

But I am speaking about my role of being obedient to God to SAY what the Lord wants me to say. Did I preface everything enough?

So, here you go. First, it seems that the Lord is just going to do what he is going to do in some instances, whether we pray or not. We certainly do not pray to inform God. He already knows. Plus, I don’t believe that prayer is trying to force God’s hand. God is sovereign. He does what He pleases.

Second, I find it more and more difficult to be focused for a long time in prayer. Even as I sit here right now, all the events and tasks of the day are crashing in on me. It is more difficult than ever to hold a thought. What is up with that?

Third, and here is a crucial one, more and more and more I value simply the relationship element of prayer—just sitting at Jesus’ feet, like a couple sitting on a park bench, staring out into the night. They aren’t sharing laundry lists with each other; they are just together in silence.

Fourth, sometimes I feel guilty with one, two, and three. Things have changed when it comes to prayer. Now, I like to look at it as more of a pervasive relationship in which we talk throughout the day, more than just a time in the morning where I give God a list and then get up and go on my way.

But in some ways, that pervasive approach to prayer is a lot more challenging. It is a conscious decision to stop, often during the day, not just to ask, but also to praise and thank and confess.

I know I am going to be preaching to folks tomorrow who struggle with prayer just as much as I do. The last thing I want to dole out are easy formulas and pat little answers.

I do know that one thing that helps me more and more is praying with others. I look forward to our men’s prayer meeting on Sunday mornings. It is an awesome time of fellowship. We have a prayer sheet with a lot of prayer requests on it. But we are not slavishly tied to it. This does not mean that we don't esteem the requests, all of them, but we aren’t in a hurry. Plus, we take the sheets with us for the rest of the week.

Anyway, just some rather random thoughts for the day—“Lord, teach us to pray.”

How about this statement tucked in at the end of Joshua 21. Don’t miss it: Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (Joshua
21:45 NASB).

Lord, thank You for that statement above, particularly the promises related to prayer. I confess that the more I try to pray, the less I understand and the more difficult it is. All I know is to keep at it. I’m not going to let the enemy win by just quitting. That is NOT going to happen. I lift up everyone reading this today. Help us all to learn what it means to “pray without ceasing.” Oh, and give me the right words for all my co-strugglers tomorrow. Amen.
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