A Stroll At Leisure With God

The Final Day of 2015

As I sit here this morning, what comes to my mind and heart is thankfulness to God that this year is nearly OVER.

Make no mistake—there are many good things about this year, but honestly, I would be pressed to choose another one in the course of my life that has been more difficult, more trying. AND, these last few days have been the toughest of this hard year.

Having made those statements, what do I do? How do I proceed from here? What about 2016?

I think I need some time to think and pray about the answer to that question, but in the meantime, I want to share a few passages the Holy Spirit impressed me with in my reading in Professor Horner’s plan today.

First, I want to grow in my prayer life. “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full” (John
16:23-24 NASB).

Yesterday, I had the chance to pray with a brother and sister in Jesus. This morning, I want to thank you BOTH for being there.

Somehow, it dawns on me today that whatever “praying in the name of Jesus” is or isn’t, it involves the community of God’s people. I’m more convinced of this now than I have ever been.

If it had not been for those prayers yesterday and the prayers of God’s people—all of you who are reading this blog—I would not be here today. That is not hyperbole. That is FACT.

Second, how about these words of Jesus? “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John
16:33 NASB).

The other day, a friend and I were talking about the biblical concept of peace. Whenever I get too immersed in this world, I know that I don’t have peace. Where is peace? Better question: who is the source of peace? Jesus reminds us: “in Me you may have peace.”

This is a general statement that Christians often make. I realize. It sort of fits in the category of a “sky is falling” mentality, but as each day passes, I get more reminders of the pervasive evil and darkness of our planet. For example, here is Bill Cosby—an iconic figure who has been a symbol of family and fatherhood—who now, as a senior adult, faces charges of sexual abuse. I’m not going to convict him before the trial, but just seeing his mug shot splashed in the pages of the newspaper and online … so sad. I will let the jury decide, but this is just one example of how unsettling things are in this world in which we live.

But Jesus reminds us that He has overcome the world. I believe this means that as we place our trust in the One who died, was buried, and rose again, this evil world does not have the final say. The news need not put us in the tank. Jesus has overcome this world and it systemic evil that displays itself in so many ways.

However, no matter how bleak things become, we are still on the winning side. “When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you” (Deuteronomy
20:1 NASB).

How about this doxology as a way to thank God for his help the past year and as a pledge of trust this New Year? One never knows what tomorrow will bring or it we will even make it to tomorrow.

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude
1:24-25 NASB).

Lord, as I sit on this couch on the final day of 2015, I admit to you that I am a little shell-shocked. I think I need some more perspective before I am able to nail down what I have learned in this very difficult year. In the meantime, I’m glad that You are allowing me to live another day. Thank You for the peace that comes from You as the God who has overcome. Thank You that You are with us always. Thank You that You and You alone can keep us from stumbling and can enable us to stand in Your presence someday and to stand against the evil one today. I love You, Jesus. Amen.

Apart from Me ...

First of all, I want to thank everyone for your prayers, texts, phone calls, and expressions of concern. I deeply appreciate them.

I was not able to respond to all of them and let me tell you why.

Shortly after writing the blog and spending some time in prayer, I called Dr. Jotte’s clinician. Judy informed me that the doctor was booked solid for the whole day—no way to see him. She urged me to call his scheduler and make an appointment for next week.

When I did call him (his name is Dom, and he is a really nice guy; we always spend some time in conversation when we see each other at the cancer center), he said, “Hey John, we had a cancellation this morning. Can you be here in 30 minutes?”

Now, I want to give credit where credit is due at this point: this was a huge answer to your prayers! Huge.

I threw my clothes on and raced down to mid-town. Thankfully (another provision of God), the traffic was not too bad because it is the holiday week.

When the doctor came into the waiting room, he said, “So, John, you have not been feeling well? I did receive the electronic copy of the MRI you sent us yesterday, and after looking at it, I just don’t believe now that your shoulder problems have anything to do with the cancer.”

Huh? What? This was kind of a shock to hear. I have to be honest. After all this time …

He is now urging me to go back to my Primary Care doc and ask him to refer me to an orthopedic doctor who can help me get over this problem.

He went on.

“So, John, I think it is the chemo that is causing you to feel bad. I want to run some blood tests on you this morning and then have you get some hydration. Your blood pressure is dangerously low.”

I replied, “Dr. Jotte, I have a CT scan scheduled for today. Will I have time to do all this before my scan?”

The answer was no. I got the blood tests, walked over to the adjacent building for my CT scan, and returned to get hydration afterwards. It was a full day.

By the time I got home mid-afternoon, I crashed for a couple of hours only to wake up to watch Baylor literally run North Carolina off the field in the bowl game. Awesome!

After that, I went to bed. It was about 8:00 PM.

What is on the slate today is a visit to my Primary Care AND I am waiting for the results of the blood tests and the CT scan. I probably won’t find out until next week.

So, that is the story in a nutshell. Apparently, this cancer treatment can have possible negative affects on the thyroid and the adrenal system. This would explain why I have felt so bad and usually find myself chilled most of the time. We finally know that it probably isn’t the shoulder (I still believe there is some relation there because my shoulder pain started when my neck swelled in August. We will see what the orthopedic doc says).

Dr. Jotte said that he is open to modifying my treatment if these tests show too much of a negative impact on my system. Wow!

What is the bottom line? I finally feel as if some progress is occurring! And I praise God for it and for your prayers. My mom and sister are encouraged as well. How valuable is that?

The struggles continue, however. I did not sleep at all last night, and if anything, for the first time in weeks, I was hot! So, it was all I could do to fall into bed totally worn out at 8:00 only to find that I was too tired to sleep. Oh, well.

This is a lot of tedious detail but I wanted to let all of you know this. Thanks again for your prayers.

These familiar verses stood out to me today in my reading: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John
15:4-5 NASB).

What is my responsibility in the midst of all of this? Very simple: continue to make myself at home in Jesus and allow Him to make Himself at home in me.

Because, and I think yesterday confirms this (as if it needed confirmation)—apart from Jesus, I can literally do nothing. Nothing. Vine, bear fruit through me. Amen.

The Last Straw

I had to look that expression up. It is tied to the proverb relating to the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is a metaphor referring to the final problem that stretches one’s patience beyond the limit.

This is where I am today.

Yesterday, I had another bad day that just got worse as the minutes and seconds ebbed away. I decided I would keep an eye appointment I had made around noon.

Big mistake.

By the time I got home, it was all I could do just to get under this blanket and sleep for the rest of the day. Marilyn brought my soup to me. She is worried that I am going to catch the virus my mom has. It ate a few teaspoons. That was all I had the appetite for, and then, leaned back on this couch. I just sat here for the rest of the night. Believe this or not, I didn’t have the energy even to watch the Bronco game.

I was so sick that all I could do was just sit here, watching the clock.

Let me back up.

Around midday, before I left for my eye appointment, I email Shantel—Dr. Jotte’s assistant in this clinic trial. I told her I was sick—aching all over, fatigued, and chilled. And I added this comment: I have been experiencing these bad days with ever-increasing frequency. I just can’t live this way. Is there anything the doctor can do to help me? It was indeed a cry for help.

Long story short, after correspondence and phone calls with Shantel and Beth, Dr. Jotte’s clinician, nothing much has changed. Since Dr. Jotte was out of town last week, his schedule is full today. Beth said that she doubted he could see me, but she noticed the desperation and urgency in my voice. Finally, she said, “Well, call my associate Judy in the morning. By then, we will have told the doctor what is going on. I really do think you need to see him.” YA THINK! Forgive the sarcasm there.

So, in summary, here is where things are. I have made the decision that something has to change. I just cannot go on this way. Please pray that I get in to see the doctor today.

I have a CT scan scheduled for 11:00. The hope is that people in the lab will be able to read it and get the results by mid-afternoon so that we will have them when I do get to see the doctor. THIS AFTERNOON. Again, please pray that this happens.

I don’t know if the shoulder is the cause of these severe fluctuations in my health from day to day. I seem to be a little better today, but am I in for a bad day tomorrow? This is insanity!!!!

I’m still waiting for that doctor to interpret the results of the MRI, but I think he is out of town this week also OR, if this is the result of side effects from the chemo OR a combination of both. But somehow, someway, if it takes every last ounce of energy I possess, something is going to give.

Please don’t see these comments as melodramatic. Read them as coming from someone who is desperate.

The other day, Marilyn trudged back here to sit down (as hard as all of this is for me, double it for Marilyn and my mom; please include them in your prayers). She labored to get these words out, “John, I am so discouraged with all of this I can barely hold my head up. The only encouragements I have are two passages I came across.” I forgot one. I will ask her to repeat it to me today.

The other one I came across in my reading in kind of a weird way. Yesterday morning, I was already so “out of it” that I didn’t even know the date. So, I read “December 29” in Professor Horner’s plan. Duh! So, today, I backed up to read “December 28.”

I read these words that Marilyn read to me a few days ago: “God answer you on the day you crash, The name God-of-Jacob put you out of harm’s reach, Send reinforcements from Holy Hill, Dispatch from Zion fresh supplies, Exclaim over your offerings, Celebrate your sacrifices, Give you what your heart desires, Accomplish your plans. When you win, we plan to raise the roof and lead the parade with our banners. May all your wishes come true! That clinches it---help’s coming, an answer’s on the way, everything is going to work out” (Psalm 20:1-6, MSG).

The minute she read that last phrase, I burst into tears. I feel like weeping right now. What I said to her, through the tears was, “Oh, if only I truly believed that! If only it were true.”

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Dispatch from Zion fresh supplies. HELP! Amen.

If you really want to help us, please PRAY. Pray Psalm 20 for us. That is what we need.

The Lord is There

As I indicated yesterday, this has been one LONG weekend. I’m glad it is over. I’ve spent most of it sitting on this couch—not doing a whole lot.

I seemed to be a little more alert yesterday, so I began work in my next series of sermons. They will begin in late January. I haven’t come up with the title yet, but the gist of the messages will be on the subject of HEAVEN.

I’ve never attempted anything like this before AND the more I study about this very real place that awaits us as believers, two things occur. First, I long to go there, more than ever.

I think I have mentioned this before, but this disease tends to isolate people. I know that, when I am sick, all I want to do is sit HERE and get warm. I find myself gravitating to rest more than ever. I suppose that is okay, but it feels as if the old world is picking up speed, and I am slowing down.

I find myself watching the craziness—especially this time of year and especially THIS year—and wondering, “What is going on?” It is weird. I must admit.

To be honest, I feel that I am less a part of this ole world than ever!

Second, I am convicted that up to now, after twenty-six years, I have not preached more about heaven than I have. I would say that I have avoided the subject just because of my misconceptions. And I think a lot of Christians share them. Somehow, over the course of the years in contemporary church life, we have made messages pertaining to THIS life more interesting and exciting than talk of heaven.

On my first overseas trip in 1985, I traveled to the UK to spend several weeks for various reasons. It was a long trip, and I can’t tell you how much I missed home. I thought about it, longed for it, counted down the days and then the hours and finally the minutes.

The final verses of the prophecy of Ezekiel catch one by surprise. Here they are: “And on the west side, four thousand five hundred cubits, and their gates three, the gate of Gad, one; the gate of Asher, one; the gate of Naphtali, one. All around the city is eighteen thousand cubits, and the name of the city from that day is ‘Yahweh Is There’!” (Ezekiel
48:34-35 LEB).

Lord, I find that I am longing to go Home these days, more than ever. Counting the days. Maybe 2016 is the year You will return and all of us will get to go. I’m ready, anytime you are. Amen.

War Room

Yesterday ranks up there as one of the longest days of my life. I am alluding to a movie this morning, but the apt description of my day reminds me of the title of another. It has been a long time since I have seen it. I don’t remember much about it except that it has parts that are not appropriate. I don’t recommend it. The title says it all, “Clockwatchers.”

Have you ever had a day when, for one reason or another you were too sick to do anything but dose off and when you were awake, the only thing you could muster up energy for is watch the clock? And it was one of those things that I would look over at it, thinking, “I’m sure at least an hour has passed since the last time I looked at it.” No, only seven minutes! What?

Yesterday was one of those days. I felt horrible (that means flu-like symptoms), with no energy, for most of the day into the night.

A couple of times, during the day, my mom and Marilyn came in, and our topic of discussion was, “What did you do yesterday (Christmas) that maybe brought this on?” The answer to THAT question basically is nothing!

Of course, my mom is sick now, with some sort of virus. I am concerned for her and also don’t want to catch what she has, either. After our discussion, we concluded, “It is just the side-effects of chemo.”

Please don’t take this as the overly dramatic comment of a Baptist preacher. Aren’t we known for them?

I honestly don’t know how much longer I can live this way.

When Monday rolls around, I hope to hear from my primary care doc about the results of the MRI, but I am also going to call Dr. Jotte and ask, “Is there any way to modify this treatment just so that I can live?”

My family and I even discussed just ending this treatment and moving to another. That would be a difficult decision to be sure, but again, I just don’t know how much longer I can tolerate this, especially when one considers that this is rather open-ended. It could last up to two years or longer. Are you kidding me? No way.

Well, my mind can only go so far, and then I return to TODAY. And I am reminded of Jesus’ statement that concludes chapter six in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount. “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34, MSG). Amen.

In the meantime, my family and I stumbled across a movie last night that I have no hesitation mentioning or recommending. It is called “War Room.” Beth Moore, the well-known Bible teacher has a small part in this movie, and her friend has the leading role. It is excellent. I wish I could show it to the whole church. Maybe that could happen.

The bottom line is that it is about prayer and what happens when God’s people pray.

As I watched it, I was deeply convicted about my own prayer life.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to write. The blog (except for days like yesterday) is now as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth.

However, I do feel that, at times, my daily prayer life gets pinched a bit. And I cannot let that happen. I won’t.

A couple of days ago, as I sat here, feeling horrible and fighting watching the clock, I just started praying, letting the Spirit lead me to people to pray for, many of whom read this blog—just lifting you up in all the details of your lives that I know. Eventually, I fell asleep, but at least, I feel I redeemed the time a bit.

Yesterday, I could no nothing but just sit here. And I know that is okay with God as well.

But my point is: I want to grow in my prayer life in this coming year, whatever that means. One thing it means is depending on the Lord—TOTALLY.

I have to fight, as I sit here day after day, coming up with all these ideas and programs and “stuff” to “help” the church. I now realize it is a futile waste of time. God doesn’t need my help; neither does the church. She belongs to the Lord as well. Do I not believe that God needs my “help” with HIS bride?

Lord, I am looking at another long day. I miss it so much when I am not able to go to church. I know I am not up to preaching today. I pray for my brother Dan as he preaches in my absence today. Speak through him in the power of the Holy Spirit and on this, the last Sunday of 2015, I pray for First Southern. I lift the church up today. I pray for my mom to get over this virus quickly. I pray for strength for Marilyn as she continues to take care of both of us. These are extremely difficult days for my family. It is the hardest thing I have ever done—these long drawn out days of sickness. I trust You to help me deal with them, another one, today, right now, moment by moment. I turn the clock over to You as well. Amen.

Brief Note

Hi everyone. I spent most of the day sleeping yesterday. I can’t remember a day when I slept more DURING the day. When I awakened this morning, I thought I would be more rested and feeling better. Instead, as I sit here, I can barely keep my eyes open, so I am going to try to go back to sleep.

Man, I am battling it this morning. Weird.

Please pray for my mom. It seems as if she has caught some sort of virus.

I hope all of you had a good Christmas. Take care in our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

MRI Miracles and Merry Christmas Musings

I thought I would throw a little preacher alliteration in for this morning! Ha. I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas Eve last night. It was kind of weird for me, to be honest, because we did not have a Christmas Eve service for the first time in twenty years or so. I’m glad.

Thank you so much for praying for me, especially yesterday morning.

As you could tell, I am sure, I was dreading that MRI. Last Spring, when I had that scan performed on my leg, it was a nightmare. It seemed as if it took a couple of hours. I know it really only last 45 minutes or so, but I was very uncomfortable from beginning to end. It wore me out.

Yesterday, after I had removed my shirt, put on my gown, and sat in the waiting room, the nurse came in. “John, there is going to be a little bit of a delay this morning because we need to check with your doctor about something.”

Oh, okay. What on earth?

A few minutes later, she returned, “Well, John, your primary care had recommended an arthrogram for you this morning. But our doctor here did not agree that you need that particular scan. This is why we needed to contact him. We just can’t change willy-nilly. But we did make contact and we are not going to go that. And be glad, because it involves an incision in your shoulder and putting dye in there. It usually incapacitates folks for a few days. We are just going to do a straight-forward MRI.”

Well, okay. Praise God! Plus, it only took about 15 to 20 minutes, and I was done! Piece of cake.

The receptionist handed me a disc contained the MRI pictures as I was leaving (per my request). I also asked her to send me the written results via email AND, thank the Lord; I received them early afternoon yesterday.

What are the results? Well, I would rather not say because I’m not exactly sure what all the technical jargon means. I did look some of the terms up on the Internet. But still … I think I will wait until the doctor can read them and give me a clearer indication of what is going on. Believe me, I will let you know ASAP.

But the Lord took me through yesterday, and I am so glad that test is over.

Now, a few days to total rest. Please pray for my mom. Last night, even though she denied it and said she was okay (I hope she is right), it appears as if my mom was getting a virus. She was coughing and sneezing a bit. I will let you know what happens there as well.

This morning, in Professor Horner’s plan, I read a few verses in Romans 11, a passage that is one of my favorites and apropos for Christmas Day, I believe:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME H IS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans
11:33-36 NASB).

Lord, who would have ever thought that You would choose to save the world through a little baby in a feed trough in a barn? There is no way any of us can figure You out, let alone tell You what to do, but thank You today for all the ways You take care of us. To You, O Lord, belongs the glory and honor forever, on this, the day we celebrate Your birth. Give everyone who is reading this blog, plus his or her family and friends, a GREAT JESUS BIRTHDAY. Amen.

An MRI Today and a Retraction

Let me back up a second and talk about yesterday. After a fairly good day of the infusion and on into yesterday, things took a decided turn for the worse by late afternoon and on into the evening.

Once again, not only was I down physically, but also, I got downright depressed.

After conferring with family and friends, I realized that what I am dealing with is probably the fallout of pushing myself too hard over the past few days. I am still so exhausted that I can barely keep my eyes open this morning as I read the Word, pray, and write.

What is the answer to all of this? REST. That is exactly what I am going to do for the next few days. One thing that will make resting easier will be the completion of this MRI this morning.

As many of you will remember, my primary care physician set up this test as the first step in figuring out what is going on with my shoulder. Please pray that this scan will show why I am still dealing with pain even, today, after several months.

For some reason, Dr. Jotte did not want to deal with it other than give me pain pill and recommend me to anesthesiologist. Well, the anesthesiologist never contacted Dr. Jotte or me, so this is why I am taking this step.

Pray for the results of the scan, but also, I ask you to pray that I make it through this process this morning without totally wearing out.

Last Spring, when I got an MRI for my leg injury, that is exactly what happened. Back then, I didn’t know what to expect. Today I do. Hopefully, I will be a little better prepared. Of all the scans I take, PET, CT, or this one, the MRI is by far the most difficult. Part of the reason is that one must stay perfectly still for 45 minutes or so. Not fun.

Anyway, I will be glad when it is over. Then, the only scan I will have left is the CT scan next Tuesday. Oh, well, I’m not crossing that bridge yet …

In the reading for today, once again I return to the book of Job, chapter 42. I am intrigued to read Job’s testimony after everything that happened to him and everything that God said.

“Then Job answered the Lord and said, ‘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 to wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You will 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 42:1-6, NASB).

In Job’s final statement in the book, what stands out to me is his comment: I retract. Just to make sure, I searched Google for the definition of “retract.” It means, “to withdraw a statement or accusation as untrue or unjustified.”

There are so many words in the book of Job. It is so full of verbiage. Job says a lot. Job’s three friends pile on more words. But at the end, Job says to God, “I take back everything I said.”

We all have such an inflated opinion of our own knowledge and opinions and usually those opinions come out of our mouths so readily. I am at the top of that list.

Job’s experiences took him back to zero. He had to unlearn everything he thought he knew about God, and he realized that he didn’t know anything. But it was through the adversity he experienced that he realized that didn’t know God, not really.

We will be held accountable for every idle word that comes out of our mouths. I know that. So, we better be careful.

Lord, I confess the sin of speaking to You and about You out of my own ignorance. I like to live in the illusory world of thinking that I have you figured out. But I don’t and I never will. Instead, I set my intention on talking less and listening more while seeking along with Paul “to know you and the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of your suffering.” Help me get through this MRI today and take care of the results. Amen.

The One Who Runs the Universe

Thanks for praying for my family and for me yesterday. We made it through the day. By late afternoon/early evening, I felt totally exhausted. It wasn’t long after I totally ran out of gas that I went to bed.

Even so, Marilyn said, “John, I think you are doing better with these treatments and doing better as a whole.” I have to trust her comment even when I don’t feel well, particularly. However, I would agree with her that I was a little stronger yesterday than I had been on the day of past treatments.

Today will be another day of rest as I prepare for tomorrow. I will explain in tomorrow’s post.

On to the reading for today—there are a couple of references in Job 40 and 41, respectively, that have always concerned me a bit—“Behemoth” and “Leviathan.” Behemoth seems to be a land monster, Leviathan a sea monster. Who or what are these creatures?

In this blog today, I'm certainly not going to answer my own questions or solve this riddle. Somehow, I agree with Walton and Vizcaino in the commentary on Job in the New International Version Application Commentary series. These scholars do not purport to have all the answers as well.

They even concede that Behemoth and Leviathan may be mythological in Job’s day.

They go on to posit that the Holy Spirit uses these myths to teach important lessons about Job (compared to Behemoth) and God (compared to Leviathan). I’d like to focus on Leviathan this morning.

“Or can you pull in the sea beast, Leviathan, with a fly rod and stuff him in your creel? Can you lasso him with a rope, or snag him with an anchor? Will he beg you over and over for mercy, or flatter you with flowery speech? Will he apply for a job with you to run errands and serve you the rest of your life? Will you play with him as if he were a pet goldfish? Will you make him the mascot of the neighborhood children? Will you put him on display in the market and have shoppers haggle over the price? Could you shoot him full of arrows like a pin cushion, or drive harpoons into his huge head? If you so much as lay a hand on him, you won’t live to tell the story. What hope would you have with such a creature? Why, one look at him would do you in! If you can’t hold your own against his glowering visage, how, then, do you expect to stand up to me? Who could confront me and get by with it? I’m in charge of all this—I run this universe!”
41:1-11 MSG)

As Walton and Vizcaino state, there is no way that Job or any human can tame Leviathan. Likewise, (and here is the crucial comparison), no human can “tame” or domesticate God!

God continues to challenge Job who questioned Him. “How, then, do you expect to stand up to me? Who could confront me and get by with it? I’m in charge of all this—I run the universe!”

Wow. Somehow, we as humans feel we deserve explanations from God for what He does. This is akin to throwing a leash around His neck and taking God for a walk. “Heel, God. Heel.”

This chapter in Job fits nicely with another I read this morning—Romans 9. Paul uses the analogy of the Potter and the clay. Will the clay talk back to the Potter? Why have you made me this way (my paraphrase)?

I have to be honest. This feels like a rebuke from my Heavenly Father this morning as this lump of clay sits at the feet of Leviathan.

Lord, I submit to You this morning. I have no idea what is going on with me. This disease has raised many more unanswerable questions. I put my leashes away and prepare for another day of sitting in silence, trusting the ONE who runs the universe. NOT ME. YOU. Amen.

IN All These Things, Even Chemo

I would characterize yesterday as a “crash day.” After Scharline’s memorial service—a very good one, I would say—I couldn’t get home fast enough so that I could crash on this couch. I slept for two hours, awakened for a couple more before dinner, only to sleep two more on into the early evening.

One would think that having slept all those hours during the day that I would not have slept AT ALL last night. Not true.

I have a feeling that I will end up sleeping most of this day as well when I get home from the infusion.

One of the weird things about this morning is that I will not have my customary visit with Dr. Jotte prior to this treatment today. He is on vacation. As a result, I will meet with another doctor at the cancer center—Dr. Cohn—who will examine me. I get the idea that these doctors “tag team” frequently. No big deal, I guess.

Over the weekend, several people at church have voiced a concern that I have with the timing of this treatment. They have asked, “So, are you going to be sick over Christmas?” There is a high possibility of it.

I wish diseases took vacations just like everyone seems to do this time of year, but they don’t.

Oh, well. It is what it is. Don’t hear that statement as a muted form of fatalism. I just don’t have the energy to fret about things, but I would be lying if I didn’t tell all of you that I am weary, so weary of this disease.

Just the second that I think it might be getting the best of me, I come across two passages that are encouraging. By the way, without the daily input of the Word, none of us has much of a chance in warding off defeat and discouragement. That is why it is so important. I’m learning it firsthand now more than ever.

A daily Quiet Time (or whatever one wants to call it is an absolute necessity) not as another empty religious ritual but as a key component to spiritual survival.

So, here is one passage: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans
8:37-39 NASB).

In chapter eight, Paul has just given a powerful metaphor of our lives as sheep—“counted … to be slaughtered.” Then he goes on: IN all these things. Then, he lists more challenges. The most difficult one for me these days is “things present.” This disease seems to be consuming my life in the PRESENT. I am really getting to the point of resenting its intrusion into my life and work. It seems as if it is winning.

Is it? NOPE!!!!!! Right in the middle of it, even as I sit in that chemo chair, getting poison infused into my body, even THEN, even THERE, I am more than a conqueror.

How can someone be more than a winner? What an amazing phrase! I think it is one of those instances in which human language runs up against its limitation.

The only analogy that I can think of is this: normally, we live week to week as we cheer on our favorite NFL team. Each team wins its share and loses its share as well.

But what if there were a team that won absolutely all its games, not in one season like the 1972 Dolphins, but in every season? They won every game to the point where Roger Goodell and the NFL announced, “Our league is done, since we have one team that wins all their games every season. I along with the rest of the league have given up. We are closing things down.”

More than conquerors. It is this kind of overwhelming victory that is ours!

Second, notice this three-fold description of Paul in the testimony of his Jewish opponents: “For we have found this man to be a
plague, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the Roman world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes!” (Acts 24:5 HCSB, emphasis mine).

How about that? Quite a testimony, huh? This little scrawny Jewish man turning the world upside down or right side up, as the case may be. Paul had his own issues to deal with. He was a sick man, but the Lord used him in extremely powerful ways.

Far from being a barrier, his “infirmities” to use a biblical word, became the platform for the preaching of the gospel.

Likewise, no matter what happens to me, I still want to be a threat to the enemy—a plague, an agitator, and a ringleader. How about that?

Thanks for your prayers for my family and me as we head to the cancer center again. I know this trip is harder on my mom and sister than it is on me. We all long for the day when these trips are OVER.

How long, Lord? I can’t go THERE. I trust You today and affirm with Paul, “IN all these things we overwhelmingly conquer.” Help us all to continue to be a burr in the saddle of our enemy, no matter what. Amen.

Another Funeral Today

Let me back up for a second.

Last night’s service and fellowship went so well that more than one person said, “John, I think we ought to do this every year.” Do what?

Well, for the past twenty plus years, we have had a service on Christmas Eve, but over the years, attendance at this service has dwindled. I had been wondered if we should just cancel it altogether.

This year, we faced a different challenge. I knew that I would be having a cancer infusion on December 22 (tomorrow). As a result, there would be no way that I could pull off a Christmas Eve service two days after a treatment. Thus, we just backed things up to Sunday night.

This proved to be much more conducive to seeing folks show up for a service at night, in spite of the fact that the Bronco game was going on.

Last night, we had a very good crowd. Connor did an excellent job leading. It was a quiet contemplative style of worship for the evening, interrupted by a devotional that I shared. The worship progressed to a point where people were singing their hearts out to God. As we lit the candles, we sang the hymn, “Tell the Good News.” Oh, man—what a message in that song! The gospel—and more!

In the past, I had sung the initial verses, but last night, we sang it all the way to the end. Here is the final stanza:

*Christ still lives in the world today,
Tell the good news, tell the good news;
Giving strength to all souls who pray,
Tell the good news, tell the good news.”

Oh, man—by then, the song and the momentum had built, as the Spirit was moving in people’s hearts. It was palpable.

After the conclusion of the service, we went downstairs for fellowship—just about everyone stayed—another good sign.

People kept me busy during the fellowship all the way to the end even as most folks were leaving. Some might ask, “When you say ‘kept me busy,’ what do you mean?” I will elaborate on that in a later post.

I’m glad that even my mom and sister stayed. We had a great time of sharing and fellowship, but at a certain point in the night, it hit me, as the expression goes, “like a ton of bricks.” I realized that my energy was totally gone—out!

So, I tried to make a quick exit to my office to gather things and out the door and to the car and on the road home.

Here is where I am—totally exhausted. Totally. Please pray for me because later this morning, I have been asked to conduct another funeral service. A dear lady in our church died in her sleep a few nights ago. Her husband awakened to discover that his wife had died. He called 911. They could not resuscitate her.

Today is her service. This dear brother—his name is Don—and this couple’s only child—a grown son who lives with his wife and family in North Carolina—will be there. I would imagine that many folks in our church family will be there as well. Plus, there is a reception in the fellowship hall afterwards.

I’m going to sit here on this couch preparing the message for this service and resting until I have to leave to go up to the church. When the service and reception is over (I’m not going to be able to stay long), I’m coming right home to spend the rest of the day and evening right here.

I have learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to go into a chemotherapy treatment totally worn out. I hope and pray this will not be the case when I get my infusion tomorrow morning.

Again, thanks for the prayers in this regard.

“The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’” (Acts 23:11 HCSB).

Lord, just as you gave Paul grace and courage to continue to share, I ask for the same helping of strength today. I lift up Don and his son Todd today. I pray that this service honors you, first of all, and comforts this dear family. Thank You for yesterday, Lord. I love You. Amen.

A Full Day Today

Last night, as the three of us were praying, I had to chuckle a bit, under my breath.

We were asking the Lord for strength and stamina for me today, as we have our regular slate of services this morning AND a candlelight service tonight at 5:00, followed by a time of fellowship. So, it is going to be a quick turnaround to get back up to church late afternoon.

But why did I chuckle? This used to be my Sunday schedule for YEARS! It was the norm, not the exception as it is now.

Oh, man, as I think back … for many years we had two services on Sunday morning. The second service started at 11:00. By the time I had finished everything and got ready to leave, it was 1:00. I went home to eat, crash, and take some time to put the finishing touches on the Sunday night message.

Our service started at 6:00 or so. It was 8:00 by the time I left, usually to go over to someone’s house or out to eat, finally getting home at 10:00 or so.

Sitting here this morning and looking back on all of that—I really can’t believe I did it. But that was a sign of the times—we had a lot on the schedule, including visitation on Monday night and Wednesday night activities for all ages. In addition to all of that, we usually had something else some other night or the week or on Saturday, just about every week.

Now, we don’t. Is that good or bad?

Well, I don’t think the answer to that question is easy to spell out. I was talking to someone about this just the other day.

We had a lot going on in the early years of my pastorate at First Southern. These activities gave us more opportunity to reach out and enjoy fellowship with one another, but things in our culture and in the church have changed—rather dramatically.

Fast forward to 2015—we have the same amount of hours in each day, but people are busier, especially young families with after-school activities, soccer, ballet, football, band, et cetera—you name it. In many families, both spouses are working to make ends meet. Time is at a premium, no more than ever.

Plus, just because you have lot on the schedule, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is effective or productive. I often wondered about this in those early years.

Now, we are “down” basically to Sunday mornings, and week by week, whether I am able to be there or not (because of my chemotherapy), I feel the burden that we better make the best use of our time, because we only have one shot, for the most part.

There is room for an occasional “extra” service or church-wide activity, but even then, we face great challenges. Today, for example, the Bronco game starts at 2:30 or so. I am praying that this does not adversely affect attendance at our services tonight, but I fear it will.

As for me, I will have to back to a tactic I adopted when we had all those services: I just recorded the Bronco game and didn’t even watch it, because I didn’t want to get into it so much that it diminished my rest and prep time for Sunday night. Please pray that I can indeed do this today.

“Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!”
(1 Peter
5:12 NASB)

Lord, I really do depend on your grace and strength to get through this day. Things have changed so much in church life. This is NOT necessarily bad. Just help us to use our limited time effectively and productively for Your honor and glory. I pray that one of our big city idols—the Denver Broncos (as you can tell, I struggle with this false god as well)—will not get in the way of what You want to do today. Amen.

The Judgment of God: What are We doing?

Over the past couple of days, I have come across two articles that have caused me to pause and think, “What are we doing?” My burden is not just for the church I serve but also for the Church (capital C) at large.

The first I came across in our Baptist state paper,
The Rocky Mountain Baptist. The title of the article is “’Entertaining’ children costly to missions. The writer is Art Toalston who cites a speech given by Wanda Lee, who is the executive director of the Women’s Missionary Union. She was speaking recently at the September meeting of the SBC Executive Committee.

In her speech, Lee laments the fact that many SBC churches have abandoned what she and others have called “the driving force” between studying God’s Word and how much we pray and how much we give. In other words, she sees a disconnect there. She is making these comments in light of the downsizing that has occurred in the International Mission Board lately, resulting in 600 to 800 workers being “laid off” (this is never a term I see used in relation to this; it is MY term and essentially, the way I see it).

Why is this happening? Well, according to Lee, the reason is that we have abandoned mission education to boys and girls (RA’s and GA’s) in light of programs that are focused primarily on entertaining children.

Toalston quotes Lee’s final appeal in her speech: “So come, go with us. Quit entertaining your children and your young people. Drive them to study God’s word. Expose them to the field for the depth of understanding that will commit their lives to service and prayer, and their money will follow.”

Interesting. No comments now. I want to mention the second article at this point. Marilyn sent it to me the other day. It comes from The title is: “If Your Church Makes Christianity Cool and Comfortable, You Should Find a New Church.” This article focuses on the ministry of so-called “celebrity pastor” Rich Wilkerson.

I don’t have time to go into all the details about what Rich is doing and leading his church to do. I’m a little hesitant on one hand to criticize another pastor and church. On the other hand, his accommodations to the world and the culture make me sick. Like other “famous” pastors and preachers, he does not focus on the moral demands of the gospel but rather what the writer of the article calls an “adjustable Jesus.”

Well, I urge all of you to go to Google and search for this article. It is rather lengthy, but it is a good read.

Do you see a common thread in these two articles? They both lament the tendency of the American church to compromise the gospel and discipleship in favor of a watered down pop psychology and entertainment.

I have personal experience with the devastating results of this for the church.

Several years ago, I was speaking with a gentleman who had left our church. We were talking on the phone. I just asked him point blank, “Why?” He said, “Well, John, if you really want to know, it is you. It is your fault. It seems as if you have gone to the dark side.”

I later found out that this man had moved in with a woman, and apparently, he did not want to hear anything that challenged his lifestyle choices. Of course not.

Add to that the fact that we have seen diminishing numbers when it comes to our children and youth ministries over the years. There are a lot of reasons for this, but here is one: as a small church, we simply cannot compete with an entertainment culture (kids are going to soccer and ballet practice a couple nights a week) and an entertainment CHURCH culture with “fun” activities for children and youth.

Most of the time (and of course I am generalizing here), these churches have worship for adults while the children and youth are shipped off their own “services.”

Now, let me hasten to say that for younger children, I am in favor of a time for them to hear the Word in ways their little minds can understand, and some older children have special needs, but when kids get older, especially the teenage years, I think they need to be in worship with adults. They need to learn how to do this and not to think that church is just a place for them to be entertained.

Plus, a smaller church like First Southern can never compete with a mega-church in that regard. And, I refuse to try.

My short answer to all of this is that discipleship starts in the home with parents who share the gospel with their kids, live the gospel in front of them, and challenge them to follow Jesus in their childhood and teenage years.

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter
4:17 NASB).

Lord, thank You for these two articles and the challenges they present. I’m not responsible for what goes on in other churches. You have called me to be the under shepherd in the one I serve. Lord, help us to teach families and children and youth how to follow You. May I and other leaders in our church uphold the radical and other uncomfortable demands of a gospel that tells us to deny ourselves, take up the cross daily, and follow Jesus—whether it is popular or cool or not. So much more here, Lord. We will stand before You in judgment, not the condemnation judgment of unbelievers, but the judgments of the WORKS of our lives. May we please You and You only in that regard. Amen.

Measuring, Calculating, Adjusting, Failing, and Learning

How is that for a title?

As I sit here this morning, I continue to try to figure out what kind of process I am involved in as it relates to dealing with cancer treatment, living in it and with it.

I told all of you that I had the responsibility to conduct (this is a good word my friend Jack offered yesterday in an email as a possible substitute for “officiate.” I like it better) a funeral yesterday.

No matter how much I try, I can never anticipate everything that is going to happen in funerals and how each one is going to affect me. I’m not going into detail, but let me just say this: when the service was over, I was totally and completely drained of all energy. I was wiped out.

When I get that way, I worry about the drive across town back to my home.

Before I go on, I just need to say that had not Betty and Connor been there, I would have felt worse. Betty was there to finish up some work for the week. We have a busy weekend ahead. She went to the service—just that was an encouragement.

Connor was also a big help. He came to run the soundboard and navigate the music CD the family provided. I appreciated this greatly.

I could give both of them a big hug.

But back to my energy level or lack thereof, it was all I could do just to get in my car and drive back home. My mom and sister worry about me in this regard. I have learned to make sure I always have something to eat and water with me—these two things keep me awake on the highway.

But I would appreciate all of you praying for me that I would stay awake behind the wheel. That sounds rather ominous, doesn’t it? I ask for prayer in that regard. Believe me. I have and will pull off the road if I get too drowsy.

Anyway, when I got home, I quickly changed out of my clothes, came to this couch, turned on my electric blanket, and slept for two hours. Crazy. And, as the day progressed, I pushed myself along until I could go to bed.

So, sorry for all this boring detail, but I share all of that to say that I am learning that every day involves a complicated process now of “measuring, calculating, adjusting, failing, and learning.”

As I sit here looking forward to another day, my first task is trying to
measure what my energy level is for THIS day and what I have planned.

Then, I have to
calculate (this reminds me of my math classes through Junior High and High School; actually, way back then, math was my favorite subject) what I need to prioritize, what I can do/can’t do.

Third, I have to make so sort of an
adjustment in what I planned.

Invariably, in this process, I
fail in making the right adjustment, so I hope I can learn to do better the next time.

Okay, just writing THAT has caused an energy drain. It is a process that demands constant vigilance and attention, and often, I don’t even have the energy for it, but I have learned the hard way, that if I don’t pay attention up front, I pay for it down the line.

I do think in some ways, the more chemo I take, the more it is adversely affecting my energy level. And here is what concerns me in that regard: I still have to take these pills (two a day) plus the infusions (every three weeks) for many more months, if not years.

Yikes! I can’t dwell on this, just today.

All of this is in stark contrast to an amazing statement I read today in John 3. I know I have read this famous chapter many times, but I don’t think I have noticed this verse before. Here it is: “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure” (John
3:34 NASB). These are the words of Jesus.

Whether we have cancer or whether we are going through chemotherapy treatments or not, human life FOR ALL OF US demands measurement of one sort or another. We measure time. We measure energy. We measure money. We measure everything BECAUSE everything has measurements and limitations.

However, Jesus affirms that the Holy Spirit whom He sent at Pentecost and who dwells within us is “without measure.” The Message Version puts it this way: “The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts.”


Lord, as each day brings me face to face with weakness and limitation and measurement and humanity, I praise You for the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us as believers—this wonderful Spirit given lavishly, extravagantly, without measure. Amen.

An Unusual Funeral Service Today

I’m never quite sure how to reference my involvement and ministry when it comes to funerals. It seems as if the word “officiate” is a little formal and stuffy. Basically, it involves doing what I do all the time—pastoring.

Let me explain. When I hear about a death in our church family, I call and try to set up a face-to-face meeting with the deceased’s family or at least have a phone conversation. I try my best to console and comfort them. This leads to the planning of the funeral service.

The major parts of the service include music (whether live or on a CD), eulogies, the message, and the graveside service. We try to nail down those details as much as possible.

Usually, during the course of time between the initial planning and the actual service itself, I call to check in with the family to see how they are doing and to find out of there are any additional needs for the service.

Over the years, we have had a majority of the funeral services at the church. Then, we get in a processional to make our way to the cemetery.

A funny story at this point—not long ago, Marilyn got into trouble with a funeral procession. (Maybe I shouldn’t tell this, but the cat is out of the bag now). All of you know how processionals work. Mortuaries hire men who act as “traffic cops,” stopping traffic and directing all the cars on the correct route.

Most people pull off to the side and get out of the way and/or obey these cops when they encounter a processional. Not Marilyn. Now, she told me this story! Somehow, she turned across one of these processionals and got one of these cops so mad that he yelled at her and jumped off his bike in the middle of the street!

Okay … well, I think I’d better leave the story right there, but I think we need a little levity in this blog about funerals—probably way too serious and kind of boring for all of you.

Anyway, there is the processional and the graveside service. It usually consists of the reading of scripture, a few brief words, and a prayer. I don’t tarry long at the grave.

Then, here is something else we used to do a lot more than in recent times—after many services, the seniors in our church would provide a meal for the family at the church. In recent years, however, we have gradually curtailed this ministry just because we don’t have that many seniors and/or people available during the day to help with such a ministry.

Now, if the family requests it, we provide a cake and coffee for the family to have a very simple gathering.

That’s about it. I don’t know why I felt compelled to give all those details. I know this may sound rather boring, but I actually consider it to be a huge aspect of my ministry as a pastor.

Oh, man, even as I write this today, my mind is flooded with memories. I bet I have ministered to families in over 200 funerals in the course of my time at the church. Wow. That is staggering to think about. I give God the glory.

Well, anyway, about this service today. It is unusual, dare I say, unique in the fact that it will be one service for TWO PEOPLE. Delores, one of our seniors, went home to be with the Lord, but a couple of days before she left this earth, her son Doug also died. He had lived in another state. His body was cremated and the remains were sent here.

Thus, there will be a casket for Delores’ tent and an urn for Doug’s remains.

I knew Delores well—what an encourager. She had cancer as I do. Every time I saw her she preferred to talk about my illness and not hers. In fact, she discounted her stuff in favor of mine. I’ll never forget that.

I didn’t know her son at all.

Thus, this is going to be “interesting” and challenging to say the least, but honestly, I am not worried about it. I’m just going to preach the gospel—simplifies things greatly.

Oh, wow. This is a huge aspect of funeral ministry for me that I neglected to mention. In addition to comforting the family, one of my huge burdens at funerals is to share the gospel and challenge people to think about their relationship with Jesus or lack thereof. I just can’t miss the opportunity. Standing behind or alongside a coffin presents a wonderful context to challenge people to think about eternity.

Certainly, this requires a good dose of sensitivity on my part. One must be careful in doing this, but I just can’t let the opportunity go, EVER. Please pray for me in this regard today at 11:00 mountain time.

Lord, thank You for allowing me to minister to families all these years in the significant times of life and death. What an honor and a huge responsibility! I thank You for Delores. I miss her but I know exactly where she is today. I just pray for the family in their grief and for this service today. Give me the right words as I preach the gospel and love on this family. I pray for the strength to do this, Lord. I feel a little fatigued today already. May Your strength come through my weakness, AGAIN. Amen.

Snow Day Along with Hopes and Dreams

As many of you know, I am not a fan of snow. This is an understatement. I hate it all the time, except in one narrow instance—the Snow Day.

After writing the blog yesterday and touching base with people in the church, I soon realized that it was just not worth it to try to get out to deal with the snow. I don’t know what the official totals were, but I think we got about ten inches here at the house.

When all of this dawned on me, and I cleared my calendar for the day, I just settled in to sit here and work on my sermons for the next few weeks. It was exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of rest.

When I felt drowsiness, I just closed up my laptop, marked my books, and laid my head back to sleep. After a certain amount of time (it seemed to vary each time I dropped off to sleep), I would awaken and continue.

Even as I write this, I have to thank all of you again for praying, because somehow, I did not get depressed yesterday. The Lord strengthened me to be able to do it.

Does this sound crazy? Someone who is reading this might respond, “John, are you kidding me? A hard day? This seems like the ideal world, the easiest day—sitting on couch reading and sleeping, ALL DAY.”

Maybe to some, but not to me—one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced.

But back to the concept of “snow day.” I remember how it felt as a kid to get to miss a day of school because of the snow. I loved goofing off and sitting around. Sometimes, this thought would creep in my brain: “John, you could use this day to get ahead on your schoolwork.” Ha! Yeah, right. Never happened.

Anyway, I wanted to share a statement that a football coach made. I actually heard it repeated from one of his players on a sports talk show yesterday. The Broncos are playing the Pittsburg Steelers next Sunday. Never let it be said that I am anything close to a Steeler’s fan.

But on one of these talk shows, they were interviewing Steeler defensive back Will Allen. One of the questions centered on how the team felt about the coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin has a very aggressive coaching philosophy. This is demonstrated in the fact that he often goes for two after touchdowns. I don’t know any statistics in this regard, but the Steelers have to rank up there pretty high on the list in the NFL in this regard.

The local guys asked Allen about this, and he said, “Well, you know that coach always says that we should live, not on the basis of our fears, but on our hopes and dreams. That is his coaching philosophy as well, and all of us support him in that, and he supports us.”

Not too many days ago, I actually heard Tomlin make this assertion in a post-game interview. Again, I am paraphrasing a bit, “We should live, not on the basis of our fears, but on our hopes and dreams.”

Somehow, I can’t get that assertion out of my mind. I think there is some biblical truth to it, when you consider all the times in scripture, and especially at significant times in salvation history, where we find that command, “Do not fear.” Get a concordance and look them up.

Three such times come to mind: the Abraham story, messages to the exiles in Babylon (in the prophecy of Isaiah particularly; one of my favorite verses is Isaiah 41:10), and finally in the birth narratives of Jesus—multiple times: DO NOT FEAR.

It seems to me that just before or just as God is going to do a great work, we must resist Satan’s temptation to recoil in fear. Instead, we need to continue to trust Him.

“Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD ’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to GOD! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor GOD with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over. But don’t, dear friend, resent GOD ’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction. It’s the child he loves that GOD corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this” (Proverbs
3:5-12 MSG).

Lord, thank You for the snow day yesterday. Thank You for deliverance from fear. Thank You for helping my family and me through this extremely difficult time. Thank You for using even a statement from a Steeler coach. As much as I appreciate it, I still hope the Broncos beat the Steelers like a drum on Sunday. Keep us all safe as we drive today. I lift up Don, a guy in our church, this morning. Comfort him, Lord. Amen.

"My Anchor Holds Within the Veil"

This past Sunday, Connor led us in the singing of an old hymn that has been remade. The title of the song is “Cornerstone.” Search for it in Google. Hillsong composed it and sings it, apparently.

One of the ways that I know the Lord is answering your prayers for me is that he brings the Word or the lyrics of songs to mind. This is another reason why I appreciate Connor so much. He spends a lot of time praying and choosing and preparing songs that fit with the message.

He is not the first worship leader we have had to do this, but Connor does this very well, and the choices he makes minister to me through the week.

Back to “Cornerstone”—this morning, the words I have used as the title of the blog came strongly to mind: “my anchor holds within the veil.” This statement is based on Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain” (HCSB).

So much in that one verse—the writer to Hebrews is talking about the promise of God and the strong encouragement we have to seize the hope set before us. Then, he uses the metaphor of an anchor. We can have hope, no matter what, because our lives our anchored to God Himself, “within the veil” being a reference to the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and Temple. He describes this hope as “safe and secure.”

Since I am anchored to God, He keeps me afloat and in place and safe. Amen.

What a great assurance in light of the fact that I cannot count on anything when it comes to my health. I have no idea how I am going to feel from one day or one hour to the next.

Yesterday, late afternoon, I went to the clinic where my family and I get our primary care. Ken, the Nurse Practitioner who provides care for us right now (at the moment, we don’t have a primary care physician) told me, “John, I am 99.99999 percent sure that what you experienced Sunday was just the side-effects of chemo. From the start, when I heard about this clinical trial, I knew that there would be a lot of days where you would just feel bad.”

With all my focus on my shoulder, I had forgotten about what chemo does, especially this treatment. I have no break, EVER. I take two pills a day. That is chemo. I get an infusion every three weeks. This is chemo and part of it as well. There is no let-up this time.

In the past, I would get chemo and then have three weeks to recover. By the third week, I felt pretty good. Not this time.

So, in one sense, it was good to be reminded of this yesterday, but in another sense, Satan used it to pull me down further. I thought about these treatments. I thought about the fact that right now, there is no end in sight. The oncologist is going to keep giving me this treatment until it ceases to stabilize my cancer, and by then, I will have to start another treatment, start all over again … Oh, man. My mind goes to a certain point with this, and I have to stop. I just can’t go there.

I have to come back to the anchor that holds within the veil. There is a lot about hope, this hope, hope that I can’t see. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8, “Hope that is seen is not hope.” So, I have to keep focusing on what I can’t see. This sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

“Close the book on Evil, GOD, but publish your mandate for us. You get us ready for life: you probe for our soft spots, you knock off our rough edges. And I’m feeling so fit, so safe: made right, kept right” (Psalm 7:9, MSG).

Lord, thank You for answering the prayers of everyone who is praying for me. Thank You for Connor and leading him to select this song. Thank You for its message. Thank You for the anchor of the soul. I am hooked and attached firmly to you, as the storms of life rage on, tossed and turned, but safe and secure from all alarms. I love You, Jesus. By grace, I grab You and hold on. Amen.

An Unexpected Bad Day

Even as I wrote that title, it hit me, “That is one of your main problems—expectations.” I guess …

Last Saturday, it was cold and snowy, a perfect day to stay inside. I relished the opportunity to do so, because after a rough week in which I had felt bad early, okay in the middle, and bad again at the end of the week, I was looking forward to feeling better and going to church.

When I got up yesterday morning, I was a little “iffy” and as the morning wore on, I started to feel worse and worse. Betty noticed it, and at one point before the service, knocked on my office door, came in, and prayed for me. Thanks a lot, Betty!

I am now at the point where I don’t even have to say anything and some people know I feel bad. Marge saw it immediately and gave me a hug. I know others do. I appreciate it, deeply. As I was visiting with Jim prior to the service, I told him I was feeling bad and started sneezing uncontrollably. Who knows where THAT came from? I could tell he could see it even before I told him. I knew he would pray for me as well. Thanks, Marge and Jim!

As we started the service, my nausea increased. I felt I was going to lose it at any moment, but it was one of those times where I just cried out to God, “Please get me through this.”

I now have the title to my book on preaching:
How to Preach When Nauseated. I say that, half kidding. There is certainly nothing funny about it. I guess I figured that if I was going to throw up, I would just excuse myself and find a trash can in the classroom behind the baptistery and just let it rip. Believe it or not—THAT thought comforted me a bit.

I even thought about what I would do in that case—I would excuse myself, go throw up, and then come back to finish the sermon. Since I was there, since I started, I was determined to finish that sermon, no matter what.

I made it through. I greeted some folks. Then, I got my stuff together and came home.

When I feel bad with this disease, I have all the symptoms of the flu, especially chills. So, I just got under my trusty heated blanket and slept for a couple of hours, but even when I awakened, I still felt bad.

I had plans to attend a Christmas concert yesterday afternoon. Connor was in a group in another church on this side of town. I really wanted to go, but I just didn’t feel up to it, and as the day wore on, I seemed to get worse and worse, again.

It was just one of those days that reminded me of a statement in Acts 27—in that famous shipwreck story. At one point in the process, the crew “dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight to come” (Acts 27:29, HCSB).

Have you ever had a day like that? Have you ever experienced a time when you just prayed for the day to end and spent time waiting for it?

Yesterday was one of those days.

I have no idea why it occurred or what was/is going on. I still can’t figure it out. What did I do to bring this on?

I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell all of you that possibly, I am more discouraged today than I have EVER been. Maybe that is too dramatic. Probably is.

But it has proven to be a huge setback. Now, as I look at a very busy week ahead, I face the challenge of trying to decide what I am going to plan to do and what I am just not going to do.

I fight resentment over having to do this, but what choice do I have?

Again, I had planned a lot for THIS week because it is usually the best in the three-week cycle before the next infusion. Now, all of that is shot out of the water.

Lord, I am crying out to you this morning for help. I am adrift at sea. I continue to pray for “daybreak.” My hope, what little I have today, is in You. Amen.


The Prayer of Jabez

This morning, in my reading, I came across a passage that has become rather famous in recent years—the prayer of a man named Jabez.

Let me back up a bit. 1 Chronicles 4 is a genealogy of sorts. It reminds me of Genesis 5. Chapter four starts off with a rather mundane and boring list of descendants of Judah. Then, all of a sudden, the scriptures mention this character Jabez and the Holy Spirit says this:

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother named him Jabez and said, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez called out to the God of Israel: ‘If only You would bless me, extend my border, let Your hand be with me, and keep me from harm, so that I will not cause any pain.’ And God granted his request” (1 Chronicles
4:9-10 HCSB).

Now, there were a couple of things that were unusual about Jabez. First, his entry into the world was a difficult one. His mother testified to this.

Second, Jabez prayed, and the Word actually records his prayer.

Several years ago (and some of you may remember it; I think I still have it in my library), a little book came out. The title of it was
The Prayer of Jabez. It is a good book. The author simply places Jabez’ prayer on a high pedestal, urging everyone to pray that same prayer (verbatim) every day, kind of like a little magic formula.

Now, before I go on, I do want to say that I encourage people in our fellowship to pray the prayers of the Bible, and for the most part, one is on safe ground. I say “for the most part” because I am not so sure that Jabez’s prayer falls in that category.

Some good stuff there in the prayer, for sure, but honestly, I think it is a pretty selfish prayer. “Lord, bless me and extend my border.” I don’t know … but still, the Bible says that the Lord answered his prayer.

What am I saying? Well, I think we need to be careful. There is only one prayer in the Bible that the Lord puts up there as a model for us—it is the so-called Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray using THAT prayer as a model.

However, even in that prayer, (and it is okay to recite it verbatim as many of us have throughout our lives), I don’t think that necessarily Jesus wanted us to use it as a “mantra” of sorts, but he wanted us to learn the necessary parts of a prayer that honors God.

Back to the prayer of Jabez—I don’t think it is intended as a model. I think it is a very selfish prayer that God, in His grace and love, chose to answer simply because He is merciful.

There are two key issues in prayer—the heart and the sovereignty of God. As long as my heart is right, the Holy Spirit can take my inadequate words and often very selfish requests (like those of Jabez) and turn them around to His glory. God is in charge even of prayer.

Back to 1 Chronicles 4—I think the point is that Jabez stood out, not necessarily because of what he prayed (that puts the focus on him) but because he prayed.

This makes all the difference. As I tell couples when I do pre-marriage counseling, the divorce rate is now 60%. Sadly, it is the same percentage for folks in the church and outside of it.

However, do you know what the divorce rate is for couples that regularly pray together? It is one in eleven hundred!

When we pray, no matter what kind of prayer it is, God takes things from there.

Lord, take control of this day. Give everyone a safe trip to church today. Give me the energy and strength to preach and do my work. Take care of the services today, Lord. Honor yourself through everything. I love you and thank You for prayer. Amen.

Three Perspectives

I love reading ten chapters of the Word per day, from various and as sundry parts of the Bible.

Before I get into the reading for today, I just want to ask all of you to pray for my mom. She is having some physical challenges this week, culminating in getting shots in both eyes yesterday. This usually causes her pain and discomfort.

As Marilyn and I were commiserating with her about it, she said, “Oh, well. I’m used to it now. How many years have I been getting these shots?”

None of us could remember exact timeframes, but it has been years.

Just to say at this point: I believe that getting a shot in my eyeball is where I am just going to have to draw a line. Can’t imagine doing it. Jim told me that his wife Patti has shots in her eyes as well. As he told me this not long ago, we both looked at each other and grimaced. “Can’t do it,” we both said at the same time.

Sometimes, I do wonder how my mom does it. She has so many challenges including memory loss, and yet, she just keeps plugging along. Her endurance tempers my tendency to whine.

While I am in this neighborhood, please pray for Marilyn as well. She has had a lot on her plate this past week as well. She works constantly in her computer graphics business while trying to take care of both of us. It is a heavy burden.

I’m grateful for both of them as well as my church family and certainly all of you who continue to read this blog. Thanks again.

Well, on to the reading for today—I want to mention three chapters and summarize their relevance to the gospel. First, I read Deuteronomy 1. As most of you probably know, Deuteronomy is simply a series of sermons. Moses is the preacher. He preaches these messages out of a history of FAILURE.

The people of Israel have gone around in circles for forty years—the consequence of idolatry and unbelief. All the rebels except Joshua and Caleb along with their families have died. Moses is soon to follow. Even he isn’t “crossing over.” But he stands on the brink to warn the people to learn the tragic lessons of history.

But again, the key work is FAILURE.

Second, I read Hebrews 11—the Hall of Fame Chapter. Of course, the key word here is FAITH. What differentiates the Israelites who died in the wilderness from the folks listed in this chapter—FAITH. Moses is in this litany. He did trust God, just not all the way. But Abraham is the father of the faithful, and by God’s grace, did trust all the way.

Even so, Hebrews 11 reminds us that none of these folks fully received the promises since they were looking ahead to a city with foundations … AND joining us in the parade of the faithful throughout the ages.

Let me repeat—the key word is FAITH.

Finally, the book of James cites Abraham and Rahab the prostitute as examples of faith demonstrating itself in WORKS. Faith without works is dead.

The key term is WORKS.

So, to summarize, when we fail to believe in God all the way, we are doomed to failure, but if we trust God, our faith will demonstrate itself in works that honor Him.

Lord, I thank you for laying things out so clearly in the Word. Help me to learn from the lessons of history to continue to trust You, no matter what. May my life be a living demonstration of the faith I profess today. I love you. Amen.

The Good Ole Days

One of the books of the Bible that has taken on new significance for me since I was diagnosed with cancer is the book of Job.

Previously, I paid attention to the first and the last part of the book, but I just sort of “waded through” all those rather tedious and long speeches in the middle. If you can relate to what I am saying AT ALL, I urge you to read this awesome book the next time in the Message Version.

What I have discovered on one hand is the brutality and accusative tone of Job’s so-called friends—they were downright mean as they tried to help their friend on one hand but actually did damage on the other.

I wonder if people realize the severity of what they say to sick folks because they are uncomfortable with long-term illness. I am learning that I really have to watch the details and vulnerability I share.

For example, I was complaining about a doctor to a couple of friends, and one of them said something like, “Well, why don’t you do something about it instead of talking about it all the time.” Oh, okay. Thanks a lot for the “advice.”

The longer this disease goes on, the more I realize I just need folks to talk to and to vent about it, without someone getting impatient. When I encounter impatience, what I want to say is, “You think you are impatient with me and that is so hard on you, why don’t you try having the disease you jerk! Then we would see how you would respond.” Oops. That did sound a little angry, didn’t it?

I guess what gets me about Job and his friends is that what he dealt with seems very similar. Can’t you just listen? Can’t you just care for a sick friend? Do you have to add insult to injury by giving him a “lecture” also?

So, on the one hand in the book of Job, are a series of lectures, from friends who are arrogant enough to think they have a corner on the market with God. They are so smug, and so ready to box things up in a tidy package that basically believes—“Job, fess up. You are obviously in this boat because you have sinned and God is punishing you.”

What makes this so damaging is that this is EXACTLY what Satan speaks into the mind and heart of every person dealing with illness. He whispers, “Well, John, you are getting what you deserve. You blew it in this way, that way, the other way, all these ways, and God is punishing you, you dog!”

When I am in a crowd, Satan really attacks, as I look at all the overweight and unhealthy and sinful people in this world. All of them are like me in each of those ways and YET they don’t have cancer, but I do. Why? And I go down.

Anyway, I have waxed a little long on the one side of the speeches in the middle chapters of Job.

The other side is comprised of just brutally honest speeches from a sick man. In today’s reading from Job 29, we find a primo example. “Job now resumed his response: ‘Oh, how I long for the good old days, when God took such very good care of me. He always held a lamp before me and I walked through the dark by its light. Oh, how I miss those golden years when God’s friendship graced my home, When the Mighty One was still by my side and my children were all around me, When everything was going my way, and nothing seemed too difficult’” (
Job 29:1-6 MSG).

Oh, man, can I relate to those statements? I have to tell all of you that it seems increasingly difficult for me to drive around the church field visiting folks or returning to my old neighborhood where I still have a post office box for my mail. I happen to see something that sparks a memory, and I think about how I felt and what I was thinking “way back then.” And I think, “Back then, when I turned that corner to go visit that family, I felt good. I rarely went to a doctor. I was closer to the Lord than I am now … I wish I could go back to those days.”

It is strange. This is what Job is saying in chapter 29. “I long for the good ole days when everything was going my way and I felt great.”

Now, let me jump in here and say that I know that the good ole days are a MYTH. When Satan is attacking in this way, he idealizes the past.

We all know the truth about the golden years. They WERE NOT golden. Back then, things were not perfect—ha! Ya think? I had problems and difficulties and issues, but this is one of the ways he attacks sick people.

What to do? Well, another significant passage I read this morning offers some help. “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James
1:2-4 HCSB )

Lord, again, help me to live in the present, blocking out all voices, even those of so-called well meaning friends, to listen only to You, to look always on You, and to lean forever in the arms of the One who will never let me go. Amen.

Coming to Oneself

After visiting with Myrtle at the nursing home yesterday, once again, the bottom fell out of my energy. I was actually a little worried because I just could not keep my eyes open as I headed east on I70 and south on I25 back home. When I got here, not long after sitting on this couch, I was out, fast asleep.

So, what have I learned about myself after the past couple of days? I will see because today, I am making some changes.

This is a moving target—trying to deal with this disease. Each day is an adventure, each and every day.

Well, this morning, one of my readings is from Acts 12. This chapter contains one of the greatest prayer stories in the Bible with a little twist that I don’t think I have ever noticed before today.

The chapter begins with King Herod, who got the “big head,” thinking he would make a dent in this pesky Christian movement. He had James, the Lord’s brother, killed. Okay. On a roll, he thought he could pull off something else—he put Peter in prison—a dark day for the church.

But something happened: “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church” (Acts
12:5 HCSB). The church prayed for him—this has to be one of the most powerful statements in the book of Acts.

Well, you know the story from here: an angel of the Lord came to rescue Peter. The Lord delivered him out of jail. He went to the house in which the church was meeting, and I can just imagine that, as the prayer meeting focused on Peter. AT THAT VERY MOMENT, everyone heard a knock at the door.

Every time I read this story, I think to myself, “Am I ready for the Lord to answer prayer right now, even as I pray, RIGHT NOW?” Oftentimes, I realize that I don’t really believe that He is answering even as I speak.

But here is the church praying and Peter knocking at the door—actually kind of funny if it were not so tragic.

Peter, free as a bird, left the prison and went to the house church. He knocked on the door. Rhoda went to the door, discovered it was Peter, and went back to tell everyone, but still, they did not let him in and did not believe her! Ha.

Well, anyway, you know the rest of the story. Peter exhorted the church and left. The next day, there was quite a commotion when Herod discovered that his star prisoner had flown the coup, so to speak.

The chapter ends with the gruesome story of Herod’s demise and death. No one gets the better of God and His servants—no one, including terrorists who vow they will kill Christians.

Back to the story—here is a statement I had not noticed before. Remember, as the angel of the Lord was in the process of delivering Peter, AT FIRST, he thought it was a dream. At first. “Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected’” (Acts
12:11 HCSB).

Here is the statement: Peter came to himself. Does that sound familiar at all? There is another significant time in scripture when this statement occurs. It is in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15. The older son who had thrown away his inheritance on loose living and found himself in a pigpen “came to himself” (Luke 15:17, KJV).

What does this mean? Well, trying to put these two rather divergent stories together, I believe it is talking about a full realization of what is really going on—who God is and who we are. The lost son realized that he had blown it AND that he was better off as a slave in his father’s house, so he got up and went back home.

Peter came to a similar realization. “This is no dream. This is reality. God is powerful. He is actually getting me out of this prison AND He loves me and cares about my situation, and I’m going right to the people who are praying for me.” Peter did not go home. Peter did not go to the bank. Peter did not “collect $200.00.” He went right to the church—his first stop in a free life.

I have already determined that IF the Lord chooses to heal me of this disease, the second I find out, after telling my family, I am going to do two things. I’m going to convene a special meeting at church AND I am going to put up a message on the three places where I post a blog each day.

Like Peter, I’m going to the people who are praying for me, FIRST and FOREMOST.

Are all of you ready for this message? I think the more cogent point is: am I ready for the Lord to heal me? Do I really believe that He can and will do it? Well, I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell all of you that I struggle with believing it.

Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief. Whatever it means to come to oneself—help me understand that and do it. Amen. P. S. I pray for Duane who is having surgery today and for Myrtle. I lift both of them up to you.

Off of the Cliff

With every intention of staying in order to attend a Budget Planning meeting, I had to contact the team to tell them I couldn’t make it. And what made matters more difficult is that I had called the meeting in the first place.

But even from the time of my arrival at the church yesterday around noon, I could already sense that I was just not going to be able to make it. Then, in late afternoon, my energy dropped “off of the cliff.”

For people who have never had cancer, this phenomenon is a little difficult to understand (and I don’t blame anyone; if you have never experienced it, it is difficult to grasp). I liken it to what happens in an automobile when one runs out of gas. The car comes to a complete stop, and there is literally nothing one can do about it.

Unfortunately, I have had this experience of running out of gas (literally) way too often. But in cancer terms, it just means total and complete exhaustion. When I get to that point, I’m not good to anyone, and if I am not at home, then I just need go. But saying that and doing that are two separate things.

When I fall “off of the cliff” at church, I still have a half an hour to an hour drive to get home, and what I don’t want to have happen is to fall asleep behind the wheel. Duh. Of course.

So, once again, this whole situation forces me into a constant self-monitoring mode that I hate, but it is necessary.

This is way too much explanation, but I just wanted to lay things out here.

How do I feel today? Tired, very tired, back into that situation where I am fighting sleep just trying to read the Word. I will see what I need to do today. If I am still fatigued by the time I planned to go up to church for an appointment this morning, then I will cancel it and stay home.

All of this is well and good but when I have to make these decisions, it forces others to do work for me. The folks on our Budget Team had to step up. I know they did. I don’t worry about it for a second. I just worry when I am not able to do what I planned to do. Oh, well. It is, what it is.

A couple of verses from the reading for today—the first is from Psalm 1. Before I quote here, two books that I just keep reading over and over and over in Professor Horner’s plan is Psalms and Acts. Interesting. But anyway, notice this contrast from Psalm 1: GOD charts the road you take. The road they take is Skid Row” (Psalm
1:6 MSG).

I have to believe and affirm that God ordained my path for today, and it was NOT in that meeting. It is hard for me to understand how all these displays of weakness such as not being able to be in meetings and to do ministry I used to do are on the “chart,” but somehow, they are.

Second, notice this brief description of the church in Antioch: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts
11:21 HCSB). Humm. Interesting. This verse does NOT say, “The pastor’s hand was strong, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” Nope.

The Lord’s hand is always strong, AND, no one gets saved unless the Lord works in people’s hearts, allowing them to turn to Himself.

Lord, I don’t know why I seem to run headlong into these brick walls, i.e. e. fall off of the cliff, so often, but thank You. Thank You for charting this road and for Your hand, mighty and strong and never fatigued. I depend on You today. May Your hand be with us. Amen.

Just a Man

One of the chief indicators that tells me that I am just a tiny bit better after an infusion (a week has gone by—one of the longest in my life, by the way) is that I can actually sit here, read the Word, pray, and write without battling sleep.

Over the past few days, THIS has been a battle. That is the only word I can come up with to describe it. Several times, multiple times, I just give up and take a nap. These naps last anywhere from five to thirty minutes. Then, I get back to what I am doing until I fall asleep again. It is crazy.

Recently, a voice has been nagging me, “John, just give up writing this blog every day. Who cares?” Just about the second Satan tells me that, I get an encouragement from one of you that somehow, some way, something I have written has encouraged you, and it keeps me going.

Plus, above and beyond that, I have not received any different marching orders from God. The principle is: go with the last order and stick with it unless or until it changes. There has to be some reason WHY writing this blog each day is SUCH a battle. It used to be easy. Now it isn’t.

I just claw myself up to write a little more and then go back to sleep. Weird, weird, weird.

Anyway, today, I cannot begin to tell all of you how thankful I am to be awake and alert right now. Oh, man.

Well, I had some “interesting” conversations with doctors and doctor’s offices yesterday. I’d rather not get into all of that right now. Suffice it to say that in that realm, I finally feel as if I am starting to take some steps forward.

The truth is that I have been in pain since August and no doctor has done anything to address it except give me pain medication. Finally, finally, finally, I feel I got some help from my Primary Care to begin the process of moving forward.

I wonder what life will be like, Lord willing, where I don’t have to live with this pain in my shoulder and see it dictate just about everything, Lord willing? We will see.

I am excited to be able to go the church to get some work done today. Are you kidding me?

Well, this morning, I read the very familiar story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. This is a crucial “turn” in the mission of the gospel as it moves out from Jews, next to God fearers. The Lord gives Peter a vision and moves him from Joppa to Caesarea—a distance of about 30 miles (a four-day journey there and back).

30 miles—it may as well have been a million! What a gargantuan journey in the history of Christianity! And that move was the beginning of the expansion of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

But here is the point: when Peter go there, notice what happened: “When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. But Peter helped him up and said, ‘Stand up! I myself am also a man’” (Acts 10:25-26 HCSB).

As I read those verse this morning, it dawned on me to think about all the times, in Acts and in other places in the New Testament, where someone had to do what Peter did—tell someone, “No, don’t worship me. I am just a man.” And, by implication, point the misguided person to the worship of God.

This may not seem like a big deal, and that is why it is so dangerous. Peter felt the need to correct Cornelius and the others. Paul did the same thing. Jesus faced the same temptation.

Go back to Matthew 4 and/or Luke 4. Of course, we know that Jesus IS God, but he dealt with the temptation in the wilderness as a man. Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple. That would certainly be a shortcut way to gather a crowd, but it is EXACTLY the same temptation that Peter, Paul, AND all of us face.

It is called the pedestal temptation. And you know what pedestals are good for—falling off of.

Here’s how crucial this: the expansion of the gospel depends on getting worship RIGHT, right from the start. What would have happened if Peter had just blown off what Cornelius and his ready-made congregation wanted to do? It would have stopped things dead in their tracks, right then and there. None of us would be saved today!

Allowing false worship prevents true worship.

Lord, I want to get this straight. Maybe there is some reason behind all this pain and agony and cancer stuff (I say, tongue in cheek)—I hope I never lose track of the fact that I am just a man. Just a man. And a weak and feeble one at that. Worship God! Amen.

Marathon Day

The longer I deal with this disease, the harder it gets, and the most difficult day BY FAR is Sunday, especially on days like yesterday, when I don’t go to church.

This is weird to say, but to get more specific--the morning is the most challenging because, as I am sitting here, my mind is on what is happening at church. I looked at the clock a couple of times yesterday morning when I felt as if Doug was right in the middle of his sermon. I thought of the worship time. I thought of our small group Bible study. It starts at 10:15.

Somehow, though, I seem to do better at 11:15 when, usually everything is done at the church on Sunday morning.

Thank you for praying for my family and me yesterday. We really needed the Lord’s help.

Now, what is ahead of me this week is some very determined phone calls to doctors. I’m going to continue to pester both Dr. Jotte and this anesthesiologist until I get an appointment. Plus, I’m going to get an appointment with a nurse practioner at this clinic where my family goes. My goal: get some relief from this pain in my shoulder.

This is absolutely ridiculous! This thing just continues to limp along as it has for MONTHS. I’m at the end of my rope. I’m through being patient. Again, please pray that I have a good attitude as I contact these folks, but it is hard. VERY HARD.

Plus, I’m looking forward to getting back to work. One of the things that has saved me over the past few days is that I have had plenty of time to work on my sermons and even work ahead a bit.

This coming Sunday is the last sermon in this series on suffering from 1 Peter.

Once I conclude that series, I’m going to preach a few sermons from one of the most famous chapters of the Old Testament through the end of December and into early January—Isaiah 53. So far, it has been a fascinating study. There are many challenges one faces in approaching the study of this awesome chapter.

In an afternoon last week where I had a little reprieve from the pain and stomach problems, I took a trip over to the Denver Seminary Library to check out some resources. It felt good to be there.

Before I moved here after my cancer diagnosis, I used to spend most Thursday afternoons. It became an important part of my study week, as I finished up the sermon for the following Sunday and started accumulating resources for subsequent messages. It proved to be a great way to transition from the work week into the weekend.

But since I got cancer, I still go to the library. It is just different times of the week—nothing consistent now.

While I am in that neighborhood (no pun intended)—several nights ago, as my family and I were returning home after dinner, Marilyn was driving. As she headed north on University Boulevard, she suddenly made a right turn on Quincy. We headed east on this two-lane road through one of the most exclusive and wealthy neighborhoods in suburban Denver—Cherry Hills Village.

Suddenly, we came upon it—Kent Denver School! Are you kidding me? This is where Marilyn and I attended High School. My family sacrificed to put us in this school because, at that time, during the mid-1970’s, the Denver Public Schools were in disarray.

And, so we spent some time driving around campus, noticing all the changes since we went to school there in the Dark Ages.

As we were headed home, one of us said, “It seems as if it were a hundred years ago when we went to school here.”

Growing older is weird, in and of itself, but one of the biggest adjustments to deal with right now is that I am doing very little of anything I used to do, whether it is high school or going to the seminary library on Thursdays.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to go back to High School. I’m glad those years are over. Believe me! But it is just the principle …

Will I ever get back to “normal”? What is “normal,” anyway? I can’t remember.

Lord, again, what I am learning is that the most difficult part of this disease for my family and me—is the mental/emotional/spiritual part—all lumped into one. We continue to cry out for HELP, Lord.

“God delights in concealing things; scientists delight in discovering things” (Proverbs
25:2 MSG).


Tender Heart

I just have to say upfront that I cannot imagine that it could be any more difficult than this time period my family and I are going through—for so many reasons. First, there are health reasons. I just can’t seem to get better from a general health perspective. It has to do with the pain in my shoulder and my stomach problems. They persist, and the overall feeling I have is one of weakness and fatigue.

After every infusion, I think to myself, “Well, maybe this is the time I am just going to be able to preach a sermon the following Sunday.” But when that Sunday arrives—a day like today—I know there is no way I could do it.

I wonder how much longer this will be the case? Well, first of all, there is no end to this treatment, at least in the foreseeable future, so who knows?

Add to my health concerns those of my sister who is not feeling well and my mom who is having many difficulties as well.

Second, I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that all of us are down, and it is difficult to see how that is going to change—apart from the power of God, of course. And that is my only hope. For the three of us, we find ourselves praying together a lot more than we have in recent days, and our prayers consist of just crying out to the Lord for HELP!

Third, when any or all of us can’t make it to church (like today) it just compounds these problems. More than ever, we miss the fellowship of the body of Christ. I just don’t see how Christians in crisis can stay away from church for a long time. Corporate worship and mutual fellowship is so crucial.

Fourth, and this is going to sound weird, “the holidays” further compound all of this. Each year, the longer I live, the more I rejoice when January arrives. I’m not against Thanksgiving and Christmas in their pure form—what each celebrates—but I am weary of how our culture has so twisted and perverted this time of year.

Plus, this year, we have the added element of these acts of terrorism that seem to cloud everything. I just can’t get over a feeling of profound sadness for the families of the murdered and injured in that Christmas party in San Bernardino … can you imagine? This holiday will never be the same for them.

I could go on and on at this point, but I won’t. Again, dear readers, thanks for your prayers. We need to pray for EACH OTHER NOW more than ever.

What do we focus on—in the positive, spiritual sense? Well, there was a phrase in one of the chapters I read in Professor Horner’s plan this morning. It describes an aspect of the spiritual character of King Josiah who distinguished himself in the litany of the kings of Israel and Judah as one of the few who did it RIGHT.

“Say this to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the Lord: ‘This is what the Lord God of Israel says: As for the words that you heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I Myself have heard you — this is the Lord’s declaration — therefore, I will indeed gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster that I am bringing on this place.’ Then they reported to the king” (2 Kings
22:18-20 HCSB).

His heart was tender. Wow. What a statement! Everything I have talked about today has a hardening tendency, IF my family and I and all the rest of us (in our unique situations) will let it occur. We just can’t. The cost is too high.

Josiah’s tender heart saved the nation. Could we as believers be in the same boat?

Paul speaks of this hardening in his admonitions to Timothy in the final chapter Paul ever wrote: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy
4:2-5 NASB).

We need to guard our hearts, continuing to preach and teach the Word and receiving it ourselves, simply because “this time” to which Paul refers is here, BIG TIME.

Hang in there, church family and friends. Make sure your heart is tender today.

Lord, thank You that I can share what is going on with my family and me and KNOW that people who read this blog will pray. I commit as I sit here another Sunday to pray for the body and my dear readers. I pray for Doug today as he preaches in my absence. I lift up the church. Keep us on the track. Keep our hearts tender. Amen.

Clothe Yourselves with Humility Toward One Another

Once again, as I sit here this morning, I am battling drowsiness. It is hard to keep my eyes open. I will work on writing a little while longer. If this weariness persists, then I will just shut down for today and go back to bed, as I promised I would.

I read something the other day that I just can’t get out of my mind. I have been studying for my sermon on December 13
th. I won’t be preaching tomorrow. Doug from our State Convention will be filling the pulpit in my absence. I know he will do a good job.

But as I have been preparing the final message in this series, I came across an interesting challenge in Reinhard Feldmeier’s commentary on 1 Peter as it pertains to the subject of humility.

After reading what Feldmeier has to say about it, I am more convinced than ever that it is a largely misunderstood term, especially as it pertains to the church.

Feldmeier mentions the gospel admonitions, one of which I read this morning. Notice Jesus’ statement: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11, NASB).

According to Feldmeier, this is indeed the background to the teaching about humility in 1 Peter 5:5, and yet, we usually relegate it to the concept of self-abasement in the vertical dimension, in other words, only as it pertains to our relationship to God.

But 1 Peter 5:5 says, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (NASB). Clothe yourselves with humility TOWARD ONE ANOTHER (emphasis mine).

Here are some comments that Feldmeier makes about this verse: “In (this verse), the previous regulation of power relationships is yet again surpassed through the command to all to put on humility in their relationship to one another as a slave puts on his loincloth, therefore renouncing attempts to impress and attempts at intimidation, one is to prepare oneself for a service to the ‘brothers and sisters’ oriented on Christ” (Feldmeier, 1 Peter, page 241).

In this quote in the commentary, there is a footnote reference after the word “loincloth” linking the statement in this verse to Jesus’ actions in John 13:4, in which the Son of God “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself” (NASB). I have never connected the dots on 1 Peter 5:5 and John 13:4 before. Jesus was actually donning the garb of a menial servant.

This is the quintessential image of humility, and it is all too uncommon in the American church these days that often becomes a forum for folks to show their talents and/or manipulate others for their own purposes.

Paul himself warns us about this in the early verses of 2 Timothy 3.

Anyway, the burden on my heart this morning is to live out true, New Testament humility in my relationships with others in the body of Christ. How does this express itself? I honestly need to pray about this.

Again, I believe it begins with humility toward God, but I think it involves just a perspective of others when one goes to church. It is not about ME, MYSELF, and I. I don’t go to church first of all to have others, whether it is the pastor or the worship leaders or other brothers and sisters in the church to meet my needs. I go to serve others.

Lord, and I need to be careful here because I know that the answer to this request may take me through more brokenness, I pray that You would teach me what true humility—menial servanthood—is all about, thus enabling me to teach on this subject in the church I serve. I’m ready … I hope. Amen.

A Mixed Bag Day AND God Holds the Bag

Good and bad stuff going on yesterday.

On the one hand, I spent most of the day sleeping. That is about all I had the energy to do. That is a contradictory statement, I know: “All I had the energy to do was to sleep”—meaning I had very little energy, so I just gave into it.

When I wasn’t asleep, I had a good conversation over the phone with Connor, our worship leader. This occurred in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, I continued to work on my last sermon from 1 Peter. I can’t tell you how beneficial the study of this epistle has been from a personal standpoint, but then, after over twenty-six years of preaching in the same church, I now realize that I am the one who has benefitted the most from studying and preaching.

What I have just written is the good stuff of the day.

On the other hand, I am getting more and more frustrated. Let me see if I can lay this out. On Tuesday, in my visit with Dr. Jotte prior to my infusion, he asked once again how I was doing. I replied, “Well, doc, again. I appreciate your help with the cancer stuff. It is just the pain in my shoulder that takes away from quality of life at this point.”

Dr. Jotte asked if I had heard from the anesthesiologist he had recommended.

“No,” I answered. “It is getting very frustrating.”

“Well, John. Let’s keep working at this. If you don’t hear from him today, call me tomorrow.”

The bottom line is that after a couple more contacts from Dr. Jotte’s office and several phone calls from me over the past couple of days—STILL NOTHING. I just don’t get it. How does this doctor stay in business? It is RIDICULOUS!

Yesterday evening, I emailed Dr. Jotte’s assistant. I stated, “I am done trying to get this doctor to respond. Can Dr. Jotte recommend someone else?”

Back to my meeting with him on Tuesday--Dr. Jotte feels that if I can just get relief from this pain through some type of pain block that it might get me over the hump, so to speak. Hey, I hope he is right. I just need some relief, not only from the pain, but also from these pain medications with all their side effects.

So, dear readers, please pray that something can be resolved today as it pertains to this whole issue. Thanks a lot.

In the meantime, the Lord continues to speak to me through His Word. A couple passages stand out in Professor Horner’s reading plan this morning. First, notice these words from 2 Timothy 2: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Timothy
2:8-10 NASB).

This may sound strange to say this morning, but as I read the verses above, I got a strong impression from the Holy Spirit as He reminded me, not in an audible voice but something much louder—ha! “John, you often wonder and ask why you are going through all of this. Here is one answer: ‘for those who are chosen.’ It is for the saints.”

Humm. Okay. It is difficult fully to comprehend that, but I do feel compelled to get out of bed every day to write this blog and continue to work on the sermons as I pray for my church family and others around the world who are going through difficult times. That is all I have the energy to do.

On face value, it doesn’t seem to be a lot, but as I read those words above, I realize that it is all Paul could do as he was chained between two Roman guards 24 hours a day. The added “benefit” of those circumstances is that he got to share the un-imprisoned gospel with his captors.

Even though I am not chained and not in prison, I have the same privilege.

Interestingly enough, I read these words in Acts 6 today also: “Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters. Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry’” (Acts
6:2-4 HCSB).

Humm—prayer and the ministry of the Word. Amen.

Lord, thank You for everything about where I am RIGHT NOW—the good and the bad. You are in charge of it all, even doctors. Instead of fretting, complaining, and getting frustrated, I lean back in the “everlasting Arms, safe and secure from all alarms.” I lift up my brothers and sister in First Southern and around the world who are suffering hardship. Thank You that the Word is never hindered. Never. Amen.

Give it ALL to the Lord

It is another one of those mornings where I am fighting sleep and drowsiness. At times, I just “go with it,” dropping off to sleep for a bit. When I finish the blog this morning, I will try to sleep some more.

Anyway, yesterday, I started talking about a recent Denver Post article entitled, “Here’s what’s bringing Millennial back to churches.” As I wrote yesterday, I mentioned “authenticity” as important value. Secondly, one of the main focuses of this article is the fact that Millennials are very
transient. They move from church to church frequently. (Of course, I would say that on the north side of Denver that this is a predominant characteristic of Christians of all ages!)

This presents a unique challenge since most of us depend on some level of commitment and involvement when start ministries. You need be able to count on folks to lead and to come. This is a challenge I have not figured out a way to meet at this time. Maybe one of the keys is an enhanced us of social media. Who knows?

Moving beyond the Post article, I would say that another challenge in reaching Millennials is a recognition of the fact that this younger generation has grown up in an era when
mass violence (as we witnessed yesterday in California) is becoming more and more commonplace.

I don’t even know how to think about these incidents from any kind of rational perspective. They aren’t logical. This type of violence does not make any sense.

And yet, as a pastor, I must make sure that I lead the congregation to make our church as safe as possible AND address this ever-growing number of incidents with the gospel. People, especially younger people, are asking, “Why? Why would a good and loving God allow this?”

I don’t have any easy answers to these questions.

In the meantime, what does the Word of God say? “So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me His prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God…. And that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know the One I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day”
(2 Timothy
1:8, 12 HCSB).

No matter what happens. No matter who comes or who goes. No matter what tragedy occurs, I choose to keep on suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. No gunman can rob me of the eternal deposit inside of my through the Holy Spirit of God.

I tell all of you, my dear readers, without God, all these challenges—my health stuff, the challenges of reaching people in this day and time, and the ever-increasing violence and evil we are seeing in the world, could be overwhelming. I FEEL that way often.

What to do?

I think collectively, all of us need to do what Hezekiah did when he faced overwhelming opposition from Sennacherib and his threatening letter: “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. Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, ‘O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God’” (2 Kings
19:14-16 NASB).

Lord, I take all of this that I have talked about today, and right now, I place it before You. You are the God, You alone of all the kingdoms of the earth. I give it ALL to You right now. Amen.

Permanence--Personal and Ecclesiastical

Typically, what happens the night after my treatment is that I don’t sleep all that well. This certainly occurred last night.

Back to the visit with the doctor yesterday—when he came in the room, he could tell that I was not having a good day. “Still the shoulder, huh.” Yes. He was a little angry that as yet, the anesthesiologist had not gotten in touch with me.

He went on, “I really want you to see him so that he can give you some relief in your shoulder. He may even be able to do some type of PERMANENT block for the pain.” (Emphasis mine)

Somehow that word stuck in my mind, “Dr. Jotte, do you think I might have some PERMANENT damage in my shoulder?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Neuropathy is a tricky business. He may be able to switch some medicine around and really help you. I just don’t know.”

That’s the bottom line at this point. He doesn’t know what is going on, and it bothers me a bit that he has done nothing except give me pain medication to find out.

I persisted, “Is there any way you could do an X-ray or MRI or something to see what is happening there?”

“No, I really don’t think so. I’d like for you to see this other doc first and let’s see what he says.”

In the meantime, “the other doc” has not contacted me. I called his office on Monday, and they had no record of any order from Dr. Jotte. I think my blood pressure is rising even as I write these words, so I had better wind down a bit.

I’m frustrated, as you can tell. It is another one of those instances when the word “patient” should apply to me but it doesn’t right now. I’m as far from patient as anyone.

Please pray that I will be patient, that I will get in to see this doctor, and (most important), that there is no PERMANENT issues with the nerves in my brachial plexus.

Anyway, I want to start discussing a conversation I had with my friend Dan the other day about the Church and Millennials. Somehow, I can get it off my mind.

I will just touch on some issues. Please reference the article in the Denver Post a couple of days ago. The title is “Here is what is bringing millennials back to churches” by Jenn Fields. Please go to Google, look it up, and read it.

Before I get into this subject, I want to preface it a bit. First, I want to say that Connor and Jess are polar opposites of some of the stereotypes of this younger generation. We love them. They are committed and serving with distinction.

Second, it is difficult to make generalizations about the generations. There are always exceptions. I’m sure you my readers can name other “Connors and Jess’s” yourselves.

Third, the truth is that I have a lot of frustrations with a certain generation—mine—the so-called Baby Boomers. Don’t get me started there. We have dropped the ball when it comes to passing the torch to the next generation BIG TIME.

Back to my conversation with Dan—we both voiced our frustration with trying to reach the next generation. We know very few churches that are doing this well.

Of course, this is an urgent matter for all of us if we want the church to survive.

The article in the Post identifies several key things. I’m just going to talk about one today: authenticity. Fields states that millennials are looking for churches and pastors and leaders who preach the Word and are not afraid of being open and honest about what is going on in their lives. They don’t necessarily want to hear about historical and therefore remote folks.

Humm. Interesting. I think this is a valid comment. So often, the Baby Boomers (specifically the male component of that generation) were taught NOT to talk about their personal struggles and challenges. And the church often takes on an air of phoniness as a result.

Of course, there are issues of time and place and appropriateness. AND, we never compromise the gospel or shift our focus off of the Lord, but still … there is something to learn here. A change that needs to be made.

I’m laughing as I write this because on one hand, I’m deathly afraid that I might have permanent never damage in my shoulder, but on the other hand, NOT deathly afraid of the illusion of permanence in the church—an attitude or action that might be threatening our ability to reach the next generation.

Does anyone else see the irony in this?

Lord, once again, I give you my health situation. I turn it over to You, completely. You are in charge of me. You are in charge of the church. Help us to be ready to change what we need to change so that the non-changing message can go out to the next generation. Thank You for Connor and Jess and for all the millennials who ARE in the church. Increase their number, Lord. Amen.

An Infusion Today and a Huge Reversal

Three weeks always seems to go by so fast. I can’t believe it is time once again for another infusion and for the cycle to repeat itself again.

By using the term “cycle,” I am just referring to the way I feel for about a week to ten days. Then, it seems that I do a little better, at least on and off up until the next infusion.

As I have said before, the thing that makes this round more difficult than the previous two is that there is really no let-up simply because I have to take two cancer pills daily in addition to these infusions or treatments.

Please pray for me because this is one of those days that I am really struggling with stomach problems, chills, and fatigue—and I haven’t even gotten the treatment yet. It looks as if this is going to be a long day. I’m dreading it.

Anyway, a couple of quick references to the reading because I have to get moving. We have to be at the cancer center for an 8:00 appointment.

Interestingly enough, in the readings for today, there are three passages that talk about the history of Israel and the failures that occurred in it—2 Kings 17, Ezekiel 20, and Acts 3. The common feature in each is the recognition that the problem with Israel was a spiritual one—they turned away from God to follow idols. And the story did not end well for them.

When we worship anyone but God, the story never does end well.

Anyway, the difference is that when Peter tells the story, he offers hope at the end. Through the coming of Jesus and through His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, Israel has an opportunity to repent. The early chapters of the book of Acts show that the apostles preached to Jews, and many Jews did get saved.

However, as increasing opposition to the Christian movement emerged (especially from the Jews), Christian witnesses led by the Apostle Paul took the gospel to Gentiles, spreading the Word to the ends of the earth.

Thus, if one just read the history of Israel in the Old Testament, one would be left with a history of failure and defeat, but thanks by to God. That is NOT where the story ends. There is hope. There is grace. There is opportunity for a turn-around through Jesus and the power of God.

Well, I must go now. Something else has happened. For some reason, my nose is bleeding and I can’t get it to stop. What else?

Lord, thank You for your grace and mercy and the opportunity to repent, allowing us access into a life of victory through Your Son Jesus. Help me today, Lord. Just a lot of stuff to deal with. I pray this nosebleed would stop. Thank You for everyone who is reading this blog and praying. I’m in Your care, Dr. Jesus. Amen.