PastorJohnsBlog.com

A Stroll At Leisure With God

"People to People"

I honestly can’t remember a day when I was more down than yesterday. Somehow, I didn’t feel that great physically as well. This should be an encouragement to me that the reason my ANC is down is that my body is indeed fighting off something. I still believe this is going on.

About mid-morning, we went to Sunrise at Orchard so that Marilyn could visit my mom. We were particularly concerned because we had received a call from Gloria (the head of the memory care unit at Sunrise) that my mom had been involved in an “incident.” Apparently, a woman (they could not tell us who she was) was screaming in the hall outside my mom’s room. Mother went out of her room and into the hall to investigate. Somehow, this woman grabbed my mom, leaving a bruise on her arm.

When Marilyn came back out to the car after her visit, she said that the bruise was large and nasty-looking. Oh, man! Can I tell all of you that Marilyn and I allowed this to pull both of us down even further? We felt led to put her in this place so that she could be safe and well-cared for. It bothers us deeply when this does not occur.

We don’t blame anyone for this. Don’t get me wrong. We know it is impossible for the already over-worked and under-staffed nurses to monitor everything, but still … under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to think of her being in there. These types of things only add to our burden of concern.

It was just “one of those days.” One thing that kept rolling around in my tiny brain all day was the admonitions from the Word that I cited in this blog yesterday. I could kind of see a down day coming, and I prayed, “Lord, please show me what to do.” His answer in a nutshell was: “Sing and praise yourself into a new way of feeling.” This seems rather counter-intuitive because for myself and most of us, “singing and praising” is the last thing we want to do when we are down. But the Lord and the Word turn this “wisdom” on its head.

Rather inadvertently, Marilyn and I learned this last night right before we went to bed. We just started talking about and playing our favorite hymns. We found some of them in ITunes. One we found online. We hummed along with an artist who sang “Pass It On.” Do you remember this song?

I also found a favorite hymn of mine from the 1975 Baptist Hymnal. It is “People to People.” Whenever we had “choose your favorite hymn” on Sunday nights in my college church, I always chose this one. And people in the congregation moaned a bit, all in good fun and humor. This hymn actually took up three pages in the hymnal! This is probably why it didn’t appear in the 1991 hymnal—just too long. But I still love it. We found a couple of videos of people and a children’s choir singing this song. It brought back a lot of very good memories. Please go to Google and listen. William J. Reynolds composed this hymn. He was my prof in seminary when I took “Introduction to Church Music.”

Just an aside that I have to tell you: one day, I was complaining to some fellow-students because Dr. Reynolds was a little late to class. As I was griping, I turned around and he was standing there, listening to every word. He said something like, “Well, I am here now. Sit down!” I have never been more embarrassed in my life.

After class, I went up to him to apologize. He was very gracious. Every time I am late for a ministry appointment of any kind, I remember this incident and the Lord reminds me of his response to my gossip.

Anyway, back to last night, I also stumbled on one of my favorite hymns we sang frequently at my seminary church, Travis Avenue— “Worthy of Worship.” Love it. This too brought back good memories.

I love the way music reaches us on a visceral level—how it touches things in us that no sermon ever could. Of course, I am not minimizing the importance of preaching. I would never do that, but I am lifting up the importance of music in worship.

The Lord ministered to both of us through music, and we went to bed, each of us with a song on our hearts.

Here is Jesus’ discussion about worship with the woman at the well. I will cite verses from the Message and that same verse from the NASB: “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration” (John
4:23-24 MSG).

“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John
4:24 NASB).

Father, I am glad we don’t have to pretend when we worship. We can come to You, just as we are. Thank You for praise and worship and music. Thank You that my mom was not injured more seriously. Take care of her again today. Please allow me to minister to someone today, as one of my favorite hymns, “People to People,” exhorts. Thank You for using people like William J. Reynolds to write songs that continue to minister to us. Amen.
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My ANC is WAY Down

When I was first diagnosed back in the summer of 2010 (now it seems as if it were a million years ago), we embarked on a pilgrimage to find an oncologist. The first one we visited (we eventually chose someone else) made a comment that I have never forgotten, “John, as a disease cancer wants to consume you and your life—that is the nature of the disease—but you just can’t let it.”

I wish now that I had asked, “Doc, HOW on earth does one do that?”

Yesterday was a case in point. As I arrived at the clinic (Marilyn could not go with me because she had an appointment), I immediately noticed that they were swamped with people. Usually, I get right in at my appointment time but not yesterday. I waited to get in. When I did, it was twenty minutes past my appointment time.

After Kate took my vitals, I waited for another nurse to come in to take my blood. Then, I waited for the doctor. After he examined me, I waited to hear about my ANC. When I heard “the news” (I will tell you about this shortly), I had to wait for my insurance to approve the shot they recommended. After this was finally approved, I had to wait for the pharmacy at the hospital to send the shot up to the nurse so that she could administer it to me. As I was getting ready to go, I had to wait as the scheduler tried to contact Tina to resolve an issue with the scheduling request … Well, I guess you get the idea.

Granted, yesterday was unusual, but again, I would like to ask that doctor, “How on earth does one keep from letting cancer consume his/her life?”

Back to my visit with the doctor and the nurse and Tina—they were obviously very concerned and perplexed. Dr. Ali said, “John, there are several possible reasons why your ANC was low on Monday. We will just have to see what it is today. If it continues to be low, we have to give you a shot to boost your counts and you have to come in next week for another shot. But we will see.”

Well, the tests showed that my ANC continues to be WAY down. At one point, Tina came in my room, “Well, John, we are very perplexed. All your other counts are good. We can’t figure out what is going on. But the Bone Marrow Biopsy will help us.” I took her comment to mean that again, the fear is, somehow my cancer has reemerged. UGH. Plus, I still have to wait. They plan to give me the biopsy in a week or so.

More waiting.

Please pray for us. Somehow, all of this really hit me and hit Marilyn hard. We are very tired and weary. Plus, as the day progressed yesterday, I just seemed to feel worse and worse. What is going on there? I don’t know, but I do know that with my ANC down as far as it is, I am even more vulnerable to germs and infection. I have to be extra cautious.

Even in the midst of all of this, here are a couple of verses that the Holy Spirit brought to my attention in the Solid Life Reading Plan this morning:

“’Yes, indeed—God is my salvation. I trust, I won’t be afraid. GOD —yes GOD!—is my strength and song, best of all, my salvation!’ Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation. And as you do it, you’ll say, ‘Give thanks to GOD. Call out his name. Ask him anything! Shout to the nations, tell them what he’s done, spread the news of his great reputation!’ Sing praise-songs to GOD. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what he’s done! Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out, O Zion! The Greatest lives among you: The Holy of Israel” (Isaiah
12:2-6 MSG).

Can I tell all of you that the last thing I feel like doing this morning is singing praises to God. I still don’t feel well. And this disease …

Lord, thank You for allowing all of this. We are crying out to you for HELP. Please give us strength and grace for this next challenge—whatever it is. Since praise is the last thing my flesh wants to do, maybe it is the first thing I ought to do today. Not maybe. Give me grace to praise You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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The Zeal of the Lord

Yesterday, it felt like déjà vu.

We drove all the way down to the clinic only to find out that my appointment is today not yesterday. This is very frustrating since both Marilyn and I had the wrong date and time on our calendars. The doctor keeps changing appointment times, and it is hard to keep up with the changes. But after yesterday, I am learning that I need to call the clinic the day before my appointment just to confirm, if I don’t hear from them first.

Anyway, when we got this news, we jumped in the car and headed south to the nursing home for Marilyn to see my mom. While she visited Mother, I walked and prayed.

When Marilyn came back out to the car, she was exhausted. It takes so much out of both of us to visit her and to see her suffering. Many times, we both say that it is one of the most difficult things we have ever had to do, and this added onto everything else …

This is one of those days when I could cite verses from all the chapters I read in the Solid Life Reading Plan for today, but I am only going to cite two. Here they are:

“For a child has been born—for us! the gift of a son—for us! He’ll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. His ruling authority will grow, and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings. He’ll rule from the historic David throne over that promised kingdom. He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing and keep it going with fair dealing and right living, beginning now and lasting always. The zeal of GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies will do all this” (Isaiah
9:6-7 MSG).

“Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, ‘Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!’ That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, ‘Zeal for your house consumes me’” (John
2:15-17 MSG).

Did you notice a word that is common in both of these passages? ZEAL. This is a term that applies to God—God the Father and God the Son—in both passages. The Hebrew word qinah means “excessive fervor to do something or accomplish some end.” The Greek word is zelos. It means essentially the same thing, involving the concepts of jealousy and ardor.

This term tells me that the Lord has excessive fervor to accomplish His goals and plans. That fervor begins and ends with the incarnation and it continued through the life of Jesus, culminating with His death, burial, and resurrection. He is zealous for the worship of God in the Temple but also in THIS temple—my body that houses the Holy Spirit of God. In His zealotry, He pulls everything into His plan and purpose, even getting appointments wrong. Nothing is extraneous. Nothing is wasted. Every little thing—especially the little things—matter to God.

Lord, thank You for that “wasted” trip yesterday. Thank You that everything fits into your purpose for our lives. We continue to lift up our mom to You. I commit today’s appointment to You. Thank You for Your ZEAL. Amen.

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God's Salvation Stories Fresh and Present

Yesterday, Marilyn and I both enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather and clear blue skies.

After she and I had gone to lunch, I dropped her off at the house—she had a lot of work to do with her business—and I went to see my mom. On my first stop, I opened the front door and without going inside (the doc still does not allow it), I asked Donna at the front desk, “Can I see my mom now?”

“Hi John!” she replied. “Not right now. They just sat down to eat lunch.” So, I left to run some errands, and as I was about to finish up, my phone rang. One of the nurses told me that my mom was available. I hightailed it back to Sunrise at Orchard.

As my mom came out to the sunroom to meet me, she immediately started asking about how I was doing and about when I would recover. We had a good long talk, even though she asked the same questions over and over. At times, she seemed very lucid. At other times—most of the time—she did not.

One of the main things that happens to me after I get to see her is that my mind gets flooded with memories about what we did in the past. I guess I am a little biased. Ha. But she was and still is a great mom—the best ever in my opinion.

These past few days, Marilyn and I have spent a lot of time talking about her and trying to remember everything that has happened this past year. This ranks up there as the most difficult year my family and I have ever experienced. And, of course, it is not over yet. AND, even on January 1, 2017, most of the situations we are facing will continue to be there.

I am trying to make a habit of thanking God whenever those memories come to mind. Sure, things have been rough, going all the back to August 1 of 1973 when my dad died, but He took care of the widow and her orphan kids all along. He is still providing for us.

Over the next few days, I am going to continue to reflect and give Him thanks. This is what the prophet Micah preached to the people of His day. This is one sure-fire way to avoid getting sidetracked in the Christian life.

““Dear people, how have I done you wrong? Have I burdened you, worn you out? Answer! I delivered you from a bad life in Egypt; I paid a good price to get you out of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you— and Aaron and Miriam to boot! Remember what Balak king of Moab tried to pull, and how Balaam son of Beor turned the tables on him. Remember all those stories about Shittim and Gilgal. Keep all GOD ’s salvation stories fresh and present” (Micah
6:3-5 MSG).
Lord, as the familiar hymn says, “All the way my savior leads me; what have I to ask beside? Shall I doubt His tender mercy who through life has been my guide?” By your grace, I do want to keep the “salvation stories fresh and present.” Thanks for taking care of us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I commit the appointment I have at the clinic to You AGAIN today. Amen.
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Wheat Threshed, Gold Refined

Yesterday, tests revealed that my ANC had dropped 500 points!

Let me back up: when I arrived at the clinic yesterday, I could very readily see that it was still a holiday. There was a skeleton crew at CBCI, but as I was trying to figure out where I needed to be, I looked up and there was Dr. Ali. He had a quizzical look on his face, “Hi John, why are you here today?” You mean, HE didn’t know?

I told him about the fluctuations in my ANC, and he replied, “Well, John, that is normal …” His voice trailed off. He showed me where I needed to go. We shook hands and he headed off.

Whitney and Rich were the only two nurses there. Whitney took my blood, and I waited to hear from her. About an hour later, as I was headed to the restroom, she stopped me, “Well, John, your ANC is down.” 500 points from Friday. Weird.

At that moment, however, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Whitney did not seem to be too concerned, either. Since I had told her that I had already seen the doc on my way to the appointment, she called him to ask what to do at this point.

It wasn’t long before she came into my waiting room. “Well, John, Dr. Ali was not too concerned. He recommended that I give you a shot that will help your white blood cell count to come up. This is no big deal. Often patients need this, even well down the road from transplant. You might experience a little bone ache today, but don’t worry. Please. This is no big deal.”

“Thanks, Whitney,” I replied. “I won’t worry. The Lord is taking care of me. I feel better today, and I am going to have a great day.” I figure I have wasted enough of my precious few days left on earth worrying. At least for yesterday, I did not and have not been anxious since.

In my reading today in the Solid Life Reading Plan, I came across an interesting statement. This little prophecy is all about a pronouncement of judgment on the people of Israel for turning their backs on the Lord. Plus, it lays it out God’s plan to judge the evil nations who oppress them as well.

“But for right now, they’re ganged up against you, many godless peoples, saying, ‘Kick her when she’s down! Violate her! We want to see Zion grovel in the dirt.’ These blasphemers have no idea what GOD is thinking and doing in this. They don’t know that this is the making of GOD ’s people, that they are wheat being threshed, gold being refined” (Micah
4:11-12 MSG).

Here is a crucial distinction: God punishes sin and unbelievers who fail to believe in Him; He disciplines His people. Even in judgment, God is still working on and with His people, like wheat being threshed and gold being refined. All of us know that sifting and refining are painful processes. Every believer knows this.

That is what this whole year has been about, but the story isn’t over. The Lord helped me with anxiety yesterday, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot more to learn

Lord, thank You for trial and difficulty and yes, even judgment. This shows that You are still at work in our lives. Thank You that my ANC was down yesterday. Thank You that Dr. Ali just “happened” to be at the clinic yesterday. Ha. There are no accidents with you. Right now, you are sifting us like wheat and refining us like gold. We are precious and valuable in your sight. Now and always. Amen.
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Orphans and Widows

Yesterday was a very low key day for Marilyn and me—just what the Doctor ordered. I’m still not sure what has been going on with me the last few days. My best guess (and Meagan from Halcyon suggested this) is that my new immune system has been fighting a virus. She suggested that these past few days should tell me that the new stem cells are “working” and I should be glad about this.

Well, okay! I will be glad and thank the Lord from the bottom of my heart.

I have another early appointment today at the clinic for more blood tests. The other day, Angie recommended this. They want to make sure that my ANC has continued to go up. Once again, I solicit your prayers for this.

By the way, I am so grateful and blessed to have all of you in my life. You cannot begin to know how deeply I love all of you and thank you for your prayers and encouragement—all of you, my Army of Prayer Warriors.

Shortly after my dad died of cancer in 1973, my mom started to notice all the references in scripture concerning God’s care for orphans and widows. We all took solace in the fact that these two groups of people hold a special place in the economy of God. Here was a 45-year-old woman and her two teenage kids basically on their own.

You know, really, if you think about it, back in the early days of Israel’s history, if a family had no husband or father, they were in bad shape. Women just did not “work” outside the home and thus had no tangible way to “earn a living.” They were totally dependent on the charity of others. Look at the story of Naomi and Ruth as an example.

In other words, they were tangible and visible examples of the weakest two groups in society.

Notice the reference from Hosea 14 in the verses below: “O Israel, come back! Return to your GOD! You’re down but you’re not out. Prepare your confession and come back to GOD. Pray to him, ‘Take away our sin, accept our confession. Receive as restitution our repentant prayers. Assyria won’t save us; horses won’t get us where we want to go. We’ll never again say ‘our god’ to something we’ve made or made up. You’re our last hope. Is it not true that in you the orphan finds mercy?’” (Hosea
14:1-3 MSG)

Do Marilyn and I still qualify as “orphans” as far as God is concerned? I think so. Now, more than ever.

Yesterday, Marilyn took some sweet rolls over to Sunrise to give to the nurses and also she saw Mother. With my health still iffy and with the colder temperatures, we felt it best for me not to see her. When Marilyn returned to the car, she was visibly shaken. “It is so hard to see her in there. This is the hardest thing ever.”

She didn’t tell my mom that it was Christmas. We both thought that telling her this would only upset her. We don’t know …

Lord, we don’t trust in our health. We don’t trust our intellect. We do not place eternal significance in things or possessions or our perspectives of the future. As orphans praying for a widow, we place our trust totally in You. “Is it not true that in you the orphan finds mercy?” Yes, it is true. Amen.
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Idols in the Church and Christmas Day

First of all, let me say to all of you, “Happy Jesus Birthday.” I pray that all of you have a wonderful celebration of the babe who came to be Savior of the World. I’m so grateful to God today.

I remember last year. I was sitting on this couch and I felt horrible. I was wondering what 2016 would hold. I had no idea … I will get to the “Year in Perspective” blog sometime in the days ahead. Of course, saying that, makes me wonder what will happen in 2017, if the Lord wills that I live to see it.

Back to the passages for today in the Solid Life Reading Plan. On this Christmas morning, among the passages I read were Hosea 12 and 13. This whole book is about God’s broken heart over the adultery of the nation of Israel, how they forgot Him and turned to idols:

“God once let loose against Ephraim a terrifying sentence against Israel: Caught and convicted in the lewd sex-worship of Baal—they died! And now they’re back in the sin business again, manufacturing god-images they can use, Religion customized to taste. Professionals see to it: Anything you want in a god you can get. Can you believe it? They sacrifice live babies to these dead gods— kill living babies and kiss golden calves! And now there’s nothing left to these people: hollow men, desiccated women, Like scraps of paper blown down the street, like smoke in a gusty wind” (Hosea
13:1-3 MSG).

What vivid descriptions in the Message version! The main one that strikes me is “religion customized to taste.” The false prophets in Hosea’s day found out what people wanted to hear and what they wanted to do in their “religious” life and they customized their message to fit it.

I know I have mentioned this before, but a very well-known pastor sat across from a TV interviewer several years ago. The reporter asked him this question: “Do you ever preach about Hell?”

The “pastor” paused and then answered, “No, because we want to encourage people.” Here is my conviction and response: are you really encouraging folks if you don’t preach the full counsel of God? Really?

Now, I know it is difficult as a pastor. Once as I prepared a sermon, this thought came into mind: “I really wonder if I should preach that. I know it won’t be popular.” Immediately, 2 Timothy 4:2 came to mind, and the Holy Spirit convicted me on the spot.

It is indeed difficult to assume the role of a prophet as a pastor. This dichotomy is a balancing act at best. BUT, there is no voting on this: we do not have the right to pick and choose what we preach. It is the full counsel of God or nothing. And this is NEVER popular.

As my family was searching for the truth and a church that preached it, my mom always said this, “If we ever find a church that is preaching the truth, there will not be a crowd there to hear it.” I have never taken my mom’s statement as any kind of criticism of mega-churches. She was just emphasizing that the truth isn’t popular. It never has been.

Oh, well, I could go on and on. I have a better perspective of idolatry in the church since I have been out of pocket all these months.

Anyway, what is the solution to this. Back up one chapter in Hosea: “What are you waiting for? Return to your God! Commit yourself in love, in justice! Wait for your God, and don’t give up on him—ever!” (Hosea
12:6 MSG)

A sportscaster on TV yesterday kept saying, “Happy Holidays.” He was trying to be politically correct. I’m so sick of THAT.

I gladly say, “Happy Jesus Birthday!”

Lord, thank You that You sent your Son as a baby in a manger. Thank You that the birth is only the beginning. That baby grew up to die on a cross, come back to life, and ascend to heaven where You rule as King-Priest on our behalf. We wait with baited breath for Your Second Coming. In the meantime, we choose never to give up on You, Lord, no matter what happens in the days and year ahead. I lift up my mom today and all the nurses who have to work today to care for her and the other residents. I love You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on this Christmas day. Amen.
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Oh, No ... Thank You, Lord

One of the biggest challenges with cancer is that nothing is EVER “fully resolved.” In other words, every time one goes to the doctor, there is an opportunity for disaster to strike—a test could reveal that the cancer has returned or something else.

It was the “something else” that I allowed to get me yesterday.

I told all of you that the doctor wanted me to come to the clinic again yesterday for some lab work. One of my levels was down, indicating that my body might be fighting a virus or it could be showing something else—a reaction to medication.

Anyway, when Angie the nurse dropped me off in my waiting room (Marilyn was not with me; she had an appointment herself), I asked her, “Angie, what level is down? What level are we talking about?” She replied, “It is your ANC.” Remember the ANC? Up until yesterday, they have not talked much about this.

In fact, I had asked Tina about it. She looked at my chart online and said, “John, your ANC is 3100—perfect.” But apparently, when they took my blood on Thursday, this figure had gone down, and they were concerned.

When Angie mentioned ANC, somehow that triggered something with me, and I started to experience anxiety BIG TIME. All the what-ifs caved in on me. What if it is down again today? What does this mean? Will they put me in the hospital? What am I going to do if I have to be in there for three months? Et cetera.

Isn’t it tragic how worry just causes this downward spiral that seems to accelerate?

I started pacing back and forth in that waiting room, crying out to God. About that time, a friend called. When I answered my cell phone, I told him all about what was going on and he prayed with me right then and there. This calmed me down a bit.

Finally, Angie returned to tell me that my levels had gone back up. She told me that she now believes that my lowered ANC is due to a reaction to one of the meds I am taking. She was upbeat and said, “Everything is great. Nothing to worry about. Have a great weekend.”

Nothing to worry about. I will find something. Ha. I have to laugh to keep from crying.

Just to let all of you know: I still haven’t felt that well for the past several days. So, I am going to continue to lay low and rest and drink lots of water. The main issue I have is: when am I going to learn to trust God?

Cancer aside, this will continue to be an issue as we get closer and closer to the Second Coming, if the Lord doesn’t take us first. Jesus warns us: ““It’s going to be brother killing brother, father killing child, children killing parents. There’s no telling who will hate you because of me. “Stay with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved” (Mark
13:12-13 MSG).

“Stay with it to the end”—isn’t this Jesus’ way of saying, “No matter what happens, trust Me even to the end of the world and human history”?

I believe that the Lord is preparing all of us—His bride, His church—for His return and the wedding feast of the Lamb. We better learn to trust Him now. Things are going to get a lot worse later.

Lord, thank You again for answered prayer yesterday. Thank You for more opportunities to learn to trust You. I pray for everyone who is sick with this bug that is going around. I pray that I am not one of them, or if I am, that this would be short-lived. I pray for the services all over town today. I pray that You be honored as the babe in the manger who grew up to die and rise again for our justification. Amen.
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Two Crucial Errors to Avoid

Before I get to the passage I want to discuss this morning, I want to give you a report of my visit at the clinic yesterday. Once again, they said that I was doing well. One of my levels—LDH—has dropped down rather significantly. This is GOOD. Another level gave an indication that my body might be fighting a “little virus,” to use a phrase the doctor coined. I did see a doc—Dr. Nash--yesterday. It was NOT Dr. Ali.

Anyway, Dr. Nash told me that he wanted me to come back today for more blood tests. They want to make sure. The level about which they are concerned could also indicate that my body is struggling with one of the medications I have been taking. If that is NOT it, and I am fighting off a little virus, then they will give me some medications for it. They didn’t say anything about putting me in the hospital. I was so glad about this.

We will see what happens today. Regardless of what they say, I am going to continue to do everything I can to take care of myself.

Anyway, on to the passage of scripture. In the Solid Life Reading Plan, the story of Jesus’ exchange with the Sadducees captured my attention. You remember the story. Jesus was put in the position of responding to a story about seven brothers who died, having married the same woman. They asked the Son of God, “Who will be her husband in heaven since all of them married her?”

Here is Jesus’ response: “Jesus said, ‘You’re way off base, and here’s why: One, you don’t know your Bibles; two, you don’t know how God works. After the dead are raised up, we’re past the marriage business. As it is with angels now, all our ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. And regarding the dead, whether or not they are raised, don’t you ever read the Bible? How God at the bush said to Moses, “I am—not was —the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? The living God is God of the living, not the dead. You’re way, way off base’” (Mark
12:24-27 MSG).

These inquirers were “way off base” for two critical reasons: they did not know the Word of God AND they did not know how the Lord works. I don’t believe that the Sadducees of Jesus’ day are the only ones who suffer those two maladies.

Several years ago, I read that Southern Baptists are the number one “mission field” for the cults. How can this be? Well, I believe one of the main reasons is that we don’t know the Word as we should. Otherwise, this would not be the case.

Years ago, a dear brother in our fellowship came to the office to tell Betty and me that he had become a member of a cult. We asked him about it. He said something like, “I agree with their teachings.” When he said that, I felt as if someone had punched me in the gut. I still pray for him and his family.

The other malady—not knowing how God works—is equally damaging. How does one learn about God and His work? Through experience and through memory. What a waste it would be for me to go through all this cancer pilgrimage—more than six-years’ worth—and not learn anything about how God really works! That would be a total waste.

Lord, thank You for the Word and thank You for learned experience. Thank You for the good report at the clinic yesterday. I commit today’s visit to you as well. 1 Peter 5:7 continues to come to mind. Thank You for this. You have taken care of me up to this point. I have no reason to wonder if this will continue to happen. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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The Prodigal Daughter

Yesterday, Marilyn and I drove all the way down to the clinic for our appointment. When we arrived, the lady at the front desk looked a little embarrassed. She said, “I apologize that no one called you. The doctor canceled your appointment for today and rescheduled you for 7:15 tomorrow.”

Nothing like this has happened before. We were a little miffed, but we soon brushed this off and headed to the nursing home for a visit with my mom. No big deal.

But, we are scrambling a bit this morning….

In the Solid Life Reading Plan, I read these verses from the prophecy of Hosea: “Haul your mother into court. Accuse her! She’s no longer my wife. I’m no longer her husband. Tell her to quit dressing like a whore, displaying her breasts for sale. If she refuses, I’ll rip off her clothes and expose her, naked as a newborn. I’ll turn her skin into dried-out leather, her body into a badlands landscape, a rack of bones in the desert. I’ll have nothing to do with her children, born one and all in a whorehouse. Face it: Your mother’s been a whore, bringing bastard children into the world. She said, ‘I’m off to see my lovers! They’ll wine and dine me, Dress and caress me, perfume and adorn me!’ But I’ll fix her: I’ll dump her in a field of thistles, then lose her in a dead-end alley. She’ll go on the hunt for her lovers but not bring down a single one. She’ll look high and low but won’t find a one. Then she’ll say, ‘I’m going back to my husband, the one I started out with. That was a better life by far than this one.’ She didn’t know that it was I all along who wined and dined and adorned her” (Hosea 2, MSG).

That statement “I’m going back to my husband, … That was a better life by far than this one” strikes me as very similar to what the younger son said as he sat in the pig pen.

Sometimes, we need a full taste of what life is apart from God to realize what we had. Once we “come to ourselves,” we can run back to our Father or Husband (same Person) and know that He is waiting with open arms to receive us. This is our initial experience in conversion, but we must remember that He is always there for us in our daily walk with Him.

More than that— “there is therefore now no self-condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, John paraphrase). Wow.

Dear Father and Husband, these two well-known stories—in the Old and New Testaments—show us Your heart. Thank You for saving us. Thank You for the blood that continues to cleanse us from all unrighteousness as we confess our sins to you. Lord, I ask You to help us as we drive down to the clinic again today. I commit this visit with the doctor to You. Thank You for taking care of us as You have. We know this will continue. Amen.
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The New Normal

I continue to be so appreciative of Halcyon—the palliative care company that sends two nurses to our home to visit with me. I know I have mentioned them before. Rachel focuses on my physical well-being. She continues to be instrumental in helping me deal with the pain in my left shoulder—a situation I continue to struggle with.

The second nurse (or a better title for her is social worker) is Meagan. She talks with me about my mental health. Yesterday, I had a visit with her.

We had our most extensive conversation up to this point. I told her that I am still grappling with all the expectations I had going into day 100 of my recovery: basically, I believed that I would be well, off most if not all of my medications, and able to return to work. Laughable, right?

Instead, I honestly believe that these days are just as difficult (if not more in some ways) than what I went through in the first one hundred days. This is when Meagan made this comment: “John, before this transplant, you had a job. Your life was pretty well-mapped out. You knew what you were going to do each day, pretty much. But now, you have to deal with the new normal: constant change. And often, this change is very uncomfortable.” Wow. I can’t get over this comment.

She went on to remind me that it took a while to adjust to my previous life. Thus, it is going to take some time to learn to be well in the new normal. Another great point.

I don’t know … it helped me so much to have that conversation yesterday, and Meagan is not a believer. Yet, the Lord used her to help me. Praise His name! I’m praying that she will get saved. Would you join me in that prayer?

But back to the “new normal.” If this is the case, then I should wake up each morning, anticipating some kind of change, trusting God through it all, right? Well, I am trusting him to give me the grace to do this.

In some ways, I am in the position of the rich young ruler. Remember that incident in the Gospels? “Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, ‘There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.’ The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.”

Seeing this and hearing Jesus’ subsequent comments led the disciples to ask, “Then who has any chance?” “Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it” (Mark 10:21-22, 27 MSG).

Real change, whether it is the initial change of conversion or the change we let the Lord make in our lives, is only possible if we let the Lord do it.

Lord, thank You so much for Rachel and Meagan and the support system they provide. Ultimately, though, I trust You to be my support system. Give me grace to live out the new normal. Continue to help me learn how to walk with you in and through it. Amen.
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No "Ifs" Among Believers

Weird stuff continues to go on with me. Yesterday morning, once again, I felt as if I were getting sick. Once again, I decided just to “lay low” for the day. By early afternoon, I seemed to feel better, better and better as the day progressed.

I seem to be all right today. We will just have to see what happens.

I have an appointment tomorrow at the clinic. I plan to talk with them then. Of course, if things worsen today, I will call them today. I don’ know …

As Marilyn said the other day, there are a lot of possible “issues” that could be going on with me. The doc tapered one of my medications last time. That could be it. Or, it may be the infamous “Graft vs Host Disease” (GVHD). Again, who knows? This is why I am going to reserve judgment until I see him tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, Marilyn and I face some difficult challenges. First, my mom continues to struggle in the nursing home. As I told someone the other day, it is just so hard seeing her suffer. She seems to be miserable. All she wants to do (as she continues to reiterate) is come home, but we feel that, right now, she is in the best possible place to be cared for.

Second, Marilyn continues to recover from the virus she has had the past several days. I don’t think she is quite out of the woods yet. This “thing” seems to drag on and on for most people. My friend Jim seemed to be doing well and was fully recovered when it “hit” him again. I heard that his wife Patti is now also sick again or still, as it were.

Third, absolutely everyone on the planet (it seems) is sick. It feels as if I am a sitting duck of sorts. If I am not sick, how do I continue to avoid it? This is what Marilyn and I are going to talk with the doctor about: how do I live right now? Do I just sit in isolation for the next few months as this virus/flu bug runs its course? Honestly, I just can’t live that way. What do I do?

Do you remember the story of what happened when Jesus along with The Three came down from the Mount of Transfiguration? The disciples were frustrated that they could not cast out a demon who lived in a boy. Then, Jesus got frustrated with the unbelief surrounding this incident.

“He asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has this been going on?’ ‘Ever since he was a little boy. Many times it pitches him into fire or the river to do away with him. If you can do anything, do it. Have a heart and help us!’ Jesus said, ‘If? There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can happen.’ No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, ‘Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!’” (Mark 9:21-24, MSG).

No “ifs” among believers! I love that. We always want a trapdoor to use “if” the Lord doesn’t answer prayer the way we want. Why can’t we just go boldly to the throne of grace and ask? Let God, trust God, to take it from there.

Lord, I continue to pray that I have not caught a virus. Either way, I continue to trust You to take care of me. Why should I doubt now? I lift up Jim and Patti, along with everyone else including Dan and Connor. I lift up Marilyn and my mom. Oh, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I love You today. Amen.
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The Vine and the Vineyard

Before I talk about the passage of scripture for today, I would like to ask all of you to pray for a friend of mine this morning. That is all I feel at liberty to share this morning. Please lift him up. He is heavily on my mind and heart.

Thanks to all of you for your prayers for me. The other day, I honestly felt as though I was getting sick. I believe the Lord answered prayer and kept me from it. I am still plugging along but sometimes I wonder … well, anyway, please continue to pray. Thanks again.

One of the readings in the Solid Life Plan is perhaps one of the most well-known metaphors in the whole Bible: Israel pictured as a vineyard. God, the owner of the vineyard, does everything He can to set the stage for fruitfulness. When His work is concluded, He stops and waits and looks: “Do you get it? The vineyard of GOD -of-the-Angel-Armies is the country of Israel. All the men and women of Judah are the garden he was so proud of. He looked for a crop of justice and saw them murdering each other. He looked for a harvest of righteousness and heard only the moans of victims” (Isaiah
5:7 MSG).

Very interesting. God does NOT measure spirituality by how much “stuff” we are doing IN the church building. Please understand: I am NOT condemning church programs per se, but oftentimes, they get so overwhelming in terms of time and energy that we do not have time for what really matters: loving God and loving our neighbor (as defined in the parable of the Good Samaritan) as ourselves.

In short, God measures fruitfulness in terms of our character and lifestyle OUTSIDE of the church building.

It is dawning on me that these past few months of being away from church and not being able to go even though I wanted to have been God’s way of showing me how desperately lost this world is. It is full of people who are trying to fill their days with various activities so that they don’t have to think about death and the fact that they are (as a friend from seminary used to put it) on a greased pole to hell.

In addition, this parable in Isaiah five sets the stage for Jesus’ teaching in John 15—the reminder that, in the Christian life, He is the branch and we are the branches. As long was stay attached to the vine, we can indeed bear fruit. It is possible only in relationship to Jesus.

O Vine, thank You that You are the key to fruitfulness. Otherwise, we are doomed to failure just at the Israelites were. Thank You for the indwelling Spirit who makes bearing fruit, as we are connected to the Vine, possible. My heart is heavy for my friend this morning. I continue to lift him up. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.
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Oh, No ... Thank You, Lord

Yesterday, I honestly thought I was getting sick. Once that thought crossed my mind, a million others followed: when do I call the clinic; what do I tell them; what are they going to do; will I have to go to the hospital; et cetera. It was crazy.

But then, I just decided to lay low for the afternoon, sitting on a couch in the living room under a heated throw and drinking tons of water. As the afternoon turned into evening, I seemed to feel better and better. Thank You, Lord!

I may be sick. Who knows? But I feel okay this morning… We will see. Marilyn reminded me that the doctor did taper back one of my pills. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that I felt bad. The medicine they continue to give me is powerful stuff and it has a huge effect when the doctor makes any changes. Again, who knows? I chalk things up to the power of God and all of you praying for me. Please continue to do so.

Thanks for praying for Marilyn. She seems to be doing better and better.

Anyway, another interesting comparison emerges in the readings today from Isaiah and Mark. In both passages, the Lord condemns the endless and heartless rituals of “religion” that cause folks to neglect what is really important. Let me cite two passages.

“Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings— meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless” (Isaiah
1:13-17 MSG).

In Mark, the Son of God quotes from Isaiah the prophet: “Jesus answered, ‘Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact: These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they are worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy, Ditching God’s command and taking up the latest fads’” (Mark
7:6-8 MSG).

One of the things that I has been impressed on my heart these past few months where I haven’t gone to church is the fact that churches tend to do the same thing year after year after year. A friend of mine calls it “the rat cage,” and we are the rats! It spins around and around, sometimes at a fever pitch, and no one seems to notice.

In fact, dare to change one of those long-term rituals and people blow a gasket.

As Baptists, we pride ourselves on our focus of the essence of the Christianity and then turn around and actively demonstrate our love for ritual.

Indeed, the danger of ritual has ramifications in our relationship with the Lord, but as the prophet Isaiah and Jesus remind us, the dangers are more far-reaching than that. They cause us to neglect ministry to people in our culture who are neglected and really need it.

I have become more convicted than ever about my response to people holding up cardboard signs and standing on street corners. I just cross them off my ministry list in disgust. Is this what the Lord wants? I did this as a pastor and continue now, often as I am going to do something that I think is more important.

Didn’t Jesus give us a famous parable about this?

Lord, in this Christmas season, deliver us all from meaningless ritual. We know that just because we do something every year, it is not necessarily wrong or bad, but show us the difference. We like to parrot, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” but are you really? If you are, then shouldn’t we be focused on what You value? I lift up the services here in town today. Right now, the temperature is -1 degree with a wind chill of -13. Brrrr. I continue to trust You to take care of Marilyn, me, Jim, Patti, Dan, Connor, and everyone else who is or might be sick. Amen.
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Turning the Situation Over to the Lord

Oh, man, is it ever cold here this morning! I opened the back door to let Joe the dog out, and he refused! I don’t blame him.

Forecasters told all of us that the HIGH for today would be in the single digits. BRRR.

Please continue to pray for me NOT to get sick. I’m trying everything and doing the best I can. Sometimes, I feel that I am a sitting duck. Marilyn had a rough day yesterday. This virus is really hitting her hard. Please pray for her. Thanks.

This morning, in the Solid Reading Plan, I came across one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible. One can find it in 2 Kings 19 and 2 Chronicles 32. Here is the context: the godless king of Assyria, Sennacherib, along with his mouthpiece, Rabshakeh, taunted king Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem.

At one point, when Hezekiah received one of these blasphemous communiques from Sennacherib, here is what he did:
“Hezekiah took the letter from the envoy and read it. He went to The Temple of GOD and spread it out before GOD. And Hezekiah prayed—oh, how he prayed! GOD, God of Israel, seated in majesty on the cherubim-throne. You are the one and only God, sovereign over all kingdoms on earth, Maker of heaven, maker of earth” (2 Kings 19:14-15 MSG).

Hezekiah took that letter and laid it before the Lord.

In my opinion, this is the best picture in all of the Word of God of what it means to “turn the situation over to the Lord.” What Hezekiah did, involved the recognition that this was God’s problem, and his actions reflected it. He essentially gave those threats to the Lord.

Then, Hezekiah started his prayer off with praising God—a recognition of WHO the Lord is and WHAT He has done.

This is similar to the way the early church responded to the threats of the government in Acts 4. They got on their knees NOT first of all to ask God anything but to praise Him.

Here is what I have learned about praise: if I truly praise the Lord as the first step in prayer, it changes HOW I pray to the Lord. Sometimes, I lose track of what I wanted to ask Him.

Lord, You are indeed Maker of Heaven and Earth and all humans and me. You put our bodies together in an amazing way. Dr. Jesus, thank You for the incredible medical technology that knows how to do transplants. Thank You for bringing me this far in my recovery, O Good Shepherd. There are so many people who are sick: Jim, Patti, Dan, and Connor—to name a few. Heal them, Great Physician. Please keep me from getting sick. I trust You. Amen.
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Going Back to My Freshman Year at Baylor

Oh, man! If it is not one thing, it is another. AND, it is not as if we have enough going on in our lives.

Let me back up to the Fall of 1977. Every piece of clothing I owned was in a washer in a room adjacent to Martin Hall at Baylor—the room that contained washers and dryers. I faced a decision: how much laundry soap do I use? I had never done laundry before in my life and this is one question I failed to ask my mom.

The washer was full of clothes. I “reasoned” that I needed a lot of soap. So, I used half a box of detergent! And I left to go back to my dorm room for a few minutes.

You guessed it! When I returned, the washing machine was literally engulfed in suds. I couldn’t even see it! I can laugh about it now but back then …

Well, last night, I had to wash a few things. I filled up the little box on the front of the machine with liquid soap, not remembering I had a light load. When I returned later in the evening, the whole tub inside was full of suds and the machine had stopped! Déjà vu!

I showed Marilyn what had happened. She was not feeling well last night as she continues to struggle with the virus. She took one look, shook her head, and walked off. I can’t blame her.

At least I had the sense to call the 1-800 customer service number in the owner’s manual. Someone actually answered the phone! He walked me through what I need to do to fix the problem. I didn’t want to fiddle with it last night. I just left it. Hopefully I can do that today without much of a hassle. We will see!

AND, I’m not at the point I can laugh about it quite yet.

Anyway, enough of that. In two of the passages I read this morning in the Solid Life Reading Plan, an interesting comparison emerges. Notice Amos’ answer when the king ordered the prophet to shut up: “But Amos stood up to Amaziah: ‘I never set up to be a preacher, never had plans to be a preacher. I raised cattle and I pruned trees. Then GOD took me off the farm and said, “Go preach to my people Israel”’” (Amos
7:14-15 MSG).

What an answer! The prophet is basically saying, “Hey look! I didn’t choose this or call myself. The Lord did!” Fearlessly, Amos went on to preach a bold message of judgment on Israel.

Fast forward to the New Testament—the folks in Jesus’ hometown rejected the Son of God and His message. Why? “But in the next breath they were cutting him down: ‘He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?’ They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further” (Mark
6:3 MSG).

This is sort of the other side of the coin. They rejected Jesus and His message precisely because they viewed Him as just a carpenter. He was so much more than that, but they stumbled over Him in their unbelief.

Lord, thank You for another episode with a washing machine—even this mishap and stupid mistake falls under Your plan and purpose. Thank You that You use farmers and ranchers—just like Amos. Thank You that, on a human level, Jesus was just a carpenter, and His hometown missed His identity as the Son of God because of it. Go figure. You are in charge, Lord. You can use anything and anyone in your plan and purpose. Help me not to miss you. Help us to be bold, no matter what happens. Amen.
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"Midnight Cry"

This may sound a bit weird, but it wouldn’t be the first time, right? Ha. Over the past several months, I just have not felt like listening to music. I even had a good friend give me the gift of Spotify several months ago. A very nice gesture. But even then …

A few days ago, as we were riding along in the car together, Marilyn played a song that is one of my favorites. It is “Midnight Cry.” You can find it on ITunes. Various and a sundry well-known Christians sing it. One of my favorite renditions is that of Charles Billingsly. Check it out.

It is all about the Second Coming of Jesus and what that means for believers—we will be going home. But for unbelievers, it will be a different story.

One of my readings today in the Solid Life Reading Plan comes from Amos 4. I love this little prophecy (again it is “little” in terms of the length of the book, not in the power of the message). In fact, before everything emerged in relation to the Bone Marrow Transplant last Spring, I had plans of preaching a series of sermons from this book. Connor and I had talked about it.

This is a powerful book in which the Holy Spirit speaks of God reaching out to a non-repentant nation.

“’You know, don’t you, that I’m the One who emptied your pantries and cleaned out your cupboards, Who left you hungry and standing in bread lines? But you never got hungry for me. You continued to ignore me.’ GOD ’s Decree” (Amos 4:6 MSG).

“’Yes, and I’m the One who stopped the rains three months short of harvest. I’d make it rain on one village but not on another. I’d make it rain on one field but not on another—and that one would dry up. People would stagger from village to village crazed for water and never quenching their thirst. But you never got thirsty for me. You ignored me.’ GOD ’s Decree” (Amos 4:7-8 MSG).

Hungry and thirsty for God. I wonder what it would take to bring our nation to THIS POINT. Closer to home—what would it take in my life?

I’m afraid that the judgment of God is near for the United States, if we don’t repent from our idolatry and turn back to Him.

Lord, thank You for the message in song and in verse. Please have more patience with us as a nation. Thank You for Your grace and mercy with me. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
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The Dedication of the Cults

Yesterday, I went with Marilyn over to the nursing home to see my mom. We went in separate cars. It was in the low thirties, so we decided it was not a good day for her to come out to the sun room to visit with me. Marilyn went on in to see her.

On the days I go with her and don’t see my mom, I use the time to walk and pray. I take a route that leads me around the parking lot of the library to the north of Sunrise at Orchard, down a sidewalk to the west of my mom’s nursing home, around the nursing home to the south, and back to the car. Sometimes, I take two or three “laps”—walking and praying, praying and walking.

Yesterday, I noticed a weird sight. Two women were seated on a bench outside the front door of the library. On my first “lap,” I didn’t think much of it, but when they were there on the second lap, I looked over at them. They were still there—on a day when the temperature was in the low 30’s. Are you kidding me?

Near them was a display of books and materials. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Wow. Sitting out in front of a public library! They weren’t soliciting people. They were just there.

Once again, I continue to be amazed at the dedication of folks who do not know Jesus.

I would never even think to sit outside a public library waiting to share with folks. Maybe I should. Not right now, of course, but down the road. I mean, if they can do it, why can’t a Christian?

The Lord has called me to preach. What am I waiting for? I should have stopped and talked to those two ladies …

Down through the years, some of the greatest preachers in the history of Christendom were known for their sermons outside of a church building. George Whitfield and the Wesley brothers—John and Charles—were known for their messages outside in the early morning. They positioned themselves so that those who were headed to work could hear the gospel.

One other bit of trivia: people actually reported that they heard the voice of George Whitfield a mile away! This was in an era with no microphones or sound systems. Wow.

Our job is to get the seed out there. It is the responsibility of the hearer to take it from there. Jesus makes this point in the first parable. Here is his explanation of the seed that fell among leaves: “The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it” (Mark
4:18-19 MSG).

This statement convicts me on two counts. I want the soil of my heart to be receptive to the Word in order to allow the Holy Spirit to bear fruit through me. AND, I want to continue to share the Word as long as the Lord gives me breath, cancer notwithstanding.

Lord, I am available for You to use me, any way You chose. Give me grace to receive the Word and to share it as long as I live. I pray for those two women who are religious but not saved. And, I continue to lift up my mom and all the others in those two nursing homes. Amen.
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The Cost of God's Help

I had another good visit at the clinic yesterday. I met with Dr. Ali and with Tina. They both seemed very upbeat. I told them about Marilyn’s virus and asked what to do. Tina shuddered a bit, “Well, just stay away from each other.” Okay. Will do.

Last week, Courtney had recommended that I get this special treatment that would help build up my immunity as long as I am taking these immune-suppressing drugs. Tina asked the doctor about this, telling him that the insurance had denied their first request for it. The doctor shook his head, “No, this is not necessary. If his counts were lower, maybe I would recommend it, but not now.”

The doctor also indicated that over the next couple of weeks, if I continue to do well, he will taper the two drugs that are suppressing my immune system AND possibly take out the triple lumens catheter. Hooray!

I am so thankful to the Lord for all of this good news. He continues to help me. I think my main concern is just staying away from all viruses and infections. It seems that everyone is sick or they live with someone who is sick. UGH. I don’t want to get paranoid about it. I just want to be careful and trust God completely.

Another good story in the passages I read this morning in the Solid Life Reading Plan. King Amaziah attempted to build up his army by hiring some mercenaries from the northern kingdom of Israel. He shelled out tons of silver as payment for their services. An unnamed prophet spoke to the king, urging him not to employ these soldiers-for-pay.

“But Amaziah said to the holy man, ‘But what about all this money—these tons of silver I have already paid out to hire these men?’ ‘GOD ’s help is worth far more to you than that,’ said the holy man” (2 Chronicles
25:9 MSG).

The question is: how much is God’s help worth? The answer: it is worth more than all the money in all the banks of the world.

I wish we could learn this. In making decisions, is our first question, “How much does it cost?” If so, we are in danger of making a god out of money.

Our first question should always be: what does God want?

To be honest, I wonder how much of a factor the insurance denial had in what my doctor said about that test? I don’t think it did play a role, but so much of my care is driven by what the insurance will pay for, and it concerns me a bit.

But I come back to the statement of the Holy Man above: God’s help is far more to me than anything man could do or pay for.

Lord, I can never take for granted these positive and encouraging visits to the cancer doctor. I pray for Marilyn and her health. Heal her of this virus. I need your help, Lord. I ask You to help me NOT to catch her virus or any infection these next few months—flu season. I trust You in this Dr. Jesus and I love You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Bold Belief

I love this story in Mark 2. It starts this way: “After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, ‘Son, I forgive your sins’”
(Mark
2:1-5 MSG, emphasis mine).

These initial words say nothing about the faith of the sick man. Jesus noticed the faith of those who went to a lot of trouble dismantling part of the roof so that, somehow, some way, they could get that sick man in front of Jesus. They didn’t want to “wait in line” with the other sick people. They didn’t want to delay. They wanted to push to the front of the line.

And, when Jesus saw THEIR faith, He addressed the man’s core problem: his sin. Then, He healed the man and sent him on his way.

This story strikes a chord with me because, from the beginning, I have struggled with believing that the Lord would heal me of cancer. I am firmly convinced that He CAN, of course. But after six plus years of struggling with this disease, it is difficult for me to believe that I am now done with it forever.

This is also difficult to admit.

But I am grateful for more than one friend who has said, “John, I will believe in God for you. And I know You will come through this because the Lord has great plans ahead.”

They are like these men who lowered the paraplegic through a hole in the roof to Jesus. Their “bold belief” encourages me to continue to believe.

This is just another reason why each one of needs the body of Christ. We aren’t alone and can’t make it alone. We NEED the faith of others on our behalf before Almighty God. All of you who read this blog fit in that category for me. I’m deeply grateful.

Marilyn and I need your prayers now more than ever. This virus that is going around has knocked Marilyn for a loop. We are working at not getting too close to each other.

Today, I have an appointment at the cancer clinic. I’m just going to go by myself today. It is best that we don’t ride together in the same car. The Lord will take care of us as He always has.

Lord, I am so grateful for those who have bold belief and continue to pray for us. Where would we be without the faithful prayers of Your people? I shudder to think. I give you this visit with the doctor today. Take care of it as You always do. I lift up Marilyn. Heal her of this nasty virus. We love You and trust You. Amen.
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Jonah vs the Stagehand

First of all, I would like to ask all of you to pray for Marilyn. She has not been feeling well the past several days. Originally, we thought she was just tired. Now, it looks as if she has a cold.

Of course, as all of you know, this raises some concerns for me. We just try to stay away from each other as much as possible. I cannot afford to catch her cold … oh boy.

Back to Marilyn—she has a lot of responsibility as she tries to take care of me, my mom, and just about everything else around here. It is a lot. I know that I would not be where I am in my recovery without her. She is an awesome caregiver, and I can’t thank the Lord and her enough.

But, I am not worried. The Lord has taken care of me and brought me this far. I know He won’t let me down now.

Over these past couple of days, I have experienced a lot of fatigue. All I want to do is sit on this couch and sleep.

Anyway, on to the reading for today, as a very interesting contrast emerges. How about the contrast between Jonah in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New? I love the little book of Jonah, as the Lord gives His prophet a second opportunity to obey Him. Jonah does—to a point—but we really don’t know the outcome in Jonah’s life. The book of Jonah ends with a question. It is the only book in the Bible that does. Did Jonah ever come out of his pout?

On the other hand, we have the ministry and preaching of John the Baptist. People were always asking him if he was the Messiah. Here is his answer: “As he preached he said, ‘The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out’” (Mark
1:7-8 MSG).

Jonah made the ministry all about him, as if God “owed” him the outcome he wanted. It is kind of ironic that Jonah EXPECTED the residents of Nineveh NOT to repent and when they did—from the king on down—he was angry at God. He really hated those folks and wanted them to go to hell.

Again, John the Baptist was different. From the start, the ministry was never about him. He was simply a “stagehand.” I love that word! Even though he preached (preaching is a very public thing) a message of repentance, he was all about setting the stage for Jesus so that folks could focus on Him.

This is something that my mom always preached to me: “John, the sermon itself is an act of worship. Just talk about Jesus.” My pastor, Andy Hornbaker, also believes this and practices it. He is a great example in the John the Baptist tradition.

Back to my mom: she also told me that she does not want any teary-eyed eulogies at her funeral. In fact, she doesn’t want a funeral—too much focus on her. “Just preach a sermon about Jesus at the graveside.” She is the ultimate picture of a stagehand.

This is STILL the way she is. The other day, as we visited, she kept wanting to ask about me. She didn’t want to talk about herself.

Lord, thank You again for cancer and the transplant and this long recovery. All of this enhances Your call on my life, not to talk about myself, but to preach Christ and Him crucified and continually to slide into the background as Jesus becomes more and more prominent through me. Let that be the case for us all. It is not about us. It is all about You. Amen.
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A Plague of Locusts

My first real exposure to the book of Joel occurred in seminary. I can’t remember who my professor was for the class on the second half of the Old Testament, but when we came to this little prophecy (little in number of verses, not in impact), he read a description of a plague of locusts.

What he read was chilling! In such a plague, the sky turned black as night—so many locusts that one could not see his hand in front of his/her face. They came like an enemy army to cover the land as well. When the whole thing “blew over,” there was nothing left—not a leaf, not a blade of grass, nothing.

It is hard for us to imagine such a thing here in twenty-first century America. We get angry if we come across a couple of wasps or miller moths or whatever … but this plague stretches our imaginations. This is a picture of the judgment of God in this Old Testament book AND in the book of Revelation. “
And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth” (Revelation 9:3, NIV). I shudder to think …

Well, anyway, this picture of the ultimate judgment of God prepares us, compels us to be ready for the culminating event of world history.
“He who testifies to all these things says it again: “I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon!” Yes! Come, Master Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 MSG).

He can’t come soon enough! I am more ready for His return or my home-going than I ever have.

This sounds weird (it won’t be the first time). When I got out of the hospital in August, things seemed different for me. This world seemed more evil than it had been when I went in. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true, but what is true is that my PERSPECTIVE had changed. Somehow, in these past few months, that feeling never left me.

Unless we repent as a nation, we can look forward to the judgment of God on our nation. Can you imagine an enemy army filling our nation?

A few years ago, I dreamed that I was huddled in my room. As I looked out my window, I noticed several tanks—not American—rumbling down our street. How scary is that? It could happen unless we allow the Lord to straighten us out.

Father, thank you for the United States of American. Before it is too late, help us all—help me—to turn back to You. I pray that the church would feel urgency to share the gospel, more than ever before. Give me an opportunity to share You today. Amen.

P. S. The work of the Denver Water Board in that field behind us was to begin this morning at 4:00 AM, but so far I have heard nothing. Maybe they had to postpone things because of the cold and snow. One can only hope …
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The First Offering Plate

Yesterday, it seemed that I turned another corner, of sorts. I seemed to have an unusually good day. I got a little tired late in the afternoon, but I seemed to revive in the evening. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Raiders and the Chiefs beat each other up in the Thursday Night game as well.

I never want to take these good days for granted nor do I want to fail to give God the glory for bringing me this far.

A couple of days ago at the clinic, I asked Angie who was filling in for Tina about my ANC. She looked it up and said, “It is about 3100—perfect.” I haven’t asked or heard anyone mention that number for weeks. I guess that is good?? I recall my time in the hospital when I waited anxiously every day for that report … seems as if that was a long time ago. It really wasn’t.

Anyway, in one of the passages in the Solid Life Reading Plan, I read these words: “Then Jehoiada took a single chest and bored a hole in the lid and placed it to the right of the main entrance into The Temple of GOD. All the offerings that were brought to The Temple of GOD were placed in the chest by the priests who guarded the entrance. When they saw that a large sum of money had accumulated in the chest, the king’s secretary and the chief priest would empty the chest and count the offerings. They would give the money accounted for to the managers of The Temple project; they in turn would pay the carpenters, construction workers, masons, stoneworkers, and the buyers of timber and quarried stone for the repair and renovation of The Temple of GOD —any expenses connected with fixing up The Temple” (2 Kings 12:9-11 MSG).

A little background: Joash the King requested that Jehoiada the priest use the money he collected in offerings to renovate the temple. After several years, the king discovered that nothing had been done, so he took over the administration of the offerings and hired workman to begin the renovation.

This prompted Jehoiada the priest to bore a hole in the lid of a chest in order to receive these offerings.

Reading this sparks some very vivid memories. Several years ago, at the church, we moved away from a “pass the offering plate” collection to one in which people came forward to put their offerings in plates at the front of the church. We made this switch because we believe that the giving of offerings in scripture is a very public thing. Whether or not people give AND what they give is between them and God.

Of course, this was controversial at first. Some did not participate. They were uncomfortable. That is fine. But I always enjoyed watching children give offerings to the Lord. It was a huge encouragement.

I guess I have to say this morning that I am burdened when I think that ten percent of the folks in most churches (again, these are very general comments; if things are different at your church, praise God!) give ninety percent of the financial support while others are just flat-out disobedient to God.

I always made it a practice not to know what individuals gave—none of my business, but I did ask our treasurer to give me a breakdown of the giving in the church. I wish I hadn’t … The numbers were very discouraging.

Anyway … I also believe that the leadership in the church is responsible before God as to how they spend the money that God’s people give.

Oh, man. On these points, I could say a lot more this morning. A lot more. But I think I will stop right there.

Lord, thank You for the privilege and joy of giving. I lift up the church in America. I don’t know of one church that honestly couldn’t use more money for various reasons. I pray that, across the board, God’s people would allow You to give them the grace to be obedient in that area. Again, Dr. Jesus, how can I not be grateful for everything You have done so far. I am so grateful. May my life and giving today reflect it. Amen.
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Not a Castaway

Another weird thing happened this morning. Many of you will probably laugh when I tell you: I overslept this morning! A whole half an hour! Ha! I NEVER do that, but obviously, my body needed the rest because I just have not been sleeping well over the past several weeks. Go figure!

I checked the temperature this morning. Maybe the app on my phone is incorrect, but it indicates that it is 28 degrees right now. Forecasters predicted that it would go below zero last night. Maybe it did. Who knows?

As Marilyn and I were walking out of the cancer clinic yesterday afternoon, it was freezing cold. I mumbled, “Just think. It wasn’t too many days ago that it was 80.” Marilyn agreed. That is just the way it is here in Colorado—wild fluctuations in weather and temperature. Gotta love it! (I don’t).

Well, anyway, as I stated above, yesterday we had an appointment at the clinic. Dr. Nash came in to examine me. Again, one of the things that I really like about CBCI is the fact that, even though Dr. Ali is my main physician, all of the other nine doctors are relatively familiar with my situation. I figure that, over the course of the last several months, I’ve met just about all of them. I’m very impressed with each of them.

After looking me over, Dr. Nash said, “Well, John, it looks as if you are doing very well. I think we will stay status quo on all your medications. Do you have any questions?” I asked him when he thought I could get my triple lumens catheter removed. He answered, “Well, I am going to let Dr. Ali make that decision, but I would think that it would occur very soon, maybe around Christmas.” What a great Christmas gift!

I am so thankful for another good report. I never want to take for granted how the Lord has taken care of me thus far. Praise His name!

And, I echo one of the petitions of Psalm 69 this morning: “Don’t let those who look to you in hope Be discouraged by what happens to me, Dear Lord! GOD of the armies! Don’t let those out looking for you Come to a dead end by following me— Please, dear God of Israel!” (Psalm
69:6 MSG).

This petition reminds me of a famous statement Paul made. “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians
9:27 KJV).

In short, no matter what the weather forecast is—ha—and no matter what happens health-wise—I want to finish strong and well.

Lord, it is hard, but I do thank You for the weather. You are in charge of it. Thank You also for another good report. I never want to take what You have done through this transplant for granted. Lord, as long as I have breath, I want to serve You and follow You until You decide to take me home. I pray the same thing for everyone reading this blog today. I lift each of them up to you. Amen.
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Tests from All Sides

We are not at the point quite yet where we laugh about it, but we are close. One of our mottos these days is “if it is not one thing, it is another.”

We believe that this year-long trial in the year 2016 (FDR called today back in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor “a day that will live in infamy;” for us, 2016 has been a year that will live in infamy) is replete with trials, just as James mentioned in the opening verses of the book named after him.

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James
1:2-4 MSG).

Two things that have happened/are happening are a case in point. First, last night, before I went to bed, I opened our front door just to get a perspective of the snowstorm. Immediately, I noticed that our trash can was on its side up by our front porch and trash was strewn all over our yard. What???

As Marilyn and I went out to clean up the mess, a truck sped down our street, going at least 50 miles per hour. Marilyn yelled out, “Slow down!” But as she did, we immediately figured out what might have happened: someone who was speeding down our street in the icy conditions and hit our trash can, knocking it and the contents 30 feet onto the middle of our yard.

Can you believe it? In and of itself, this event would probably not be that big of a deal, but last night, it struck Marilyn and me as being extremely weird.

Second, this coming weekend, the work in the Denver Water Board field behind our house will step up dramatically. This will occur starting Friday and it will continue through Sunday. Here is a quote from the website. It is alluding to Saturday: “
Neighbors can expect to see up to 150 concrete trucks (approximately 20 trucks/hour at the peak) accessing the site throughout the day.” The work starts Saturday morning at 4:00 AM.

The Water Board must think this will be disruptive because, in the communique about it, they offered us a free night Friday night at a local hotel. Again, in and of itself, this is not a big deal, but added to everything …

Back to James: the command is to consider it a “sheer gift” when you encounter various and a sundry trials and tests.

This is something that Marilyn and I are asking the Lord for grace to do, especially as we continue to visit Mother.

Yesterday, I spent an hour with her, and when I departed from the nursing home, my heart seemed so heavy for the rest of the day. It is just so difficult to see her THERE.

They had a Christmas party at the nursing home last night. Marilyn went to it and came home feeling the same way. Most of the residents in the memory care unit had no idea what was going on. They were more confused than ever. So sad.

Lord, we thank You for this test that seems to be coming at us from all sides. Give us the grace to continue to thank You and praise You for this test that is coming at us from all sides, front and back, right, left, and center. I pray for every person who is reading this blog that feels the same way. We can’t make it one inch further without You. We love You, Lord, and trust that You know what You are doing, even though we can’t figure it out. Amen.

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No Tears Shed

In a little while, I have to take Joe the dog to the vet. He has to have some teeth pulled and the rest of his teeth cleaned. The vet believes that this is the cause of his swollen lymph glands. I do know one thing: our bank account will have less money in it when all of this is completed!

Anyway, over these past several days, since my resignation from the church, I have been thinking and praying a lot about what is going to happen the rest of my life. Of course, I have no idea how long I have left, but that is part of the point, isn’t it? None of us knows. But we don’t like to think about it.

I was talking with a friend yesterday. He is 70 years old. He was talking about his plans for retirement and his aspirations for the future. Somehow, the subject of nursing homes came up. I asked him if he had a long-term care policy. He said, “No, and I probably won’t get one. It will be expensive to get it at my age.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “But not as expensive as a nursing home. We are talking $10,000 per month.”

I could tell at that point that I blew his mind. He just couldn’t think about it.

I understand. Believe me…. None of us wants to think about it.

My focus now is: how can I honor God with the few short remaining years or months or days or hours I have left. My goal is to finish strong in whatever the Lord has planned.

I don’t want to finish the way King Jehoram of Judah did. Here is the Holy Spirit’s description of his final days and legacy: The terrible and fatal disease in his colon followed. After about two years he was totally incontinent and died writhing in pain. His people didn’t honor him by lighting a great bonfire, as was customary with his ancestors. He was thirty-two years old when he became king and reigned for eight years in Jerusalem. There were no tears shed when he died—it was good riddance!—and they buried him in the City of David, but not in the royal cemetery” (2 Chronicles 21:18-20, MSG).

The phrase that captured my attention was “there were no tears shed when he died.” How tragic!

Years ago, I came across this challenging question for a local church: if you were no longer in this community, would anyone notice?

How about this question for us as individuals? If we weren’t here, would anyone notice? I’m not talking about fame or fortune. I’m talking about spiritual IMPACT.

Lord, give me the grace to finish strong. I believe the best years are ahead. I want to honor and serve You more than ever. Amen.
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Those who are with Us are Greater than Those with Them

I love this story in 2 Kings 6. It is such an encouragement for followers of Jesus in this evil world.

I have to tell all of you that I have received quite an education these past several months as the Lord has allowed Marilyn and me to see what goes on when we would normally be in church. I can hardly wait until the time that the doctor gives us the green light to go back.

Anyway, as is our custom, yesterday morning, we went over to Sunrise at Orchard to see my mom. Sometimes, it works out that I can see her on Sunday. Other times, like yesterday (for various reasons), it doesn’t work out. Marilyn went in to see her. I took my usual prayer walk, down and around the adjacent library’s parking lot, along the sidewalk at the back of Sunrise, across to the path that goes around an adjacent nursing home (I can never remember the name of the nursing home next door to Sunrise), and back to the front.

While on my walk, I saw several couples doing basically the same thing, some with their dogs and some not, strolling along.

When I was finished, I went back to the car to sit there and wait for Marilyn. When her visit had finished, we headed south on Orchard Street to Arapahoe Road and west to a deli we frequent. As always on Sunday, the place was packed out with seniors and young families with children. We found a table in the corner, as far away from everyone as we could be, and had our lunch.

I guess it just seems as if the world is NOT in church, nor do they give much evidence of caring one wit about the God of the Universe. I have heard the stat that 92% of the population of Colorado is unchurched. Sitting in that deli on Sundays as we do quite often, it honestly feels as if the statistic should be 99.99%.

Even though it feels as if we are in the minority, the truth is exactly the opposite. We need the vision that Elisha gave his servant.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.’ Then Elisha prayed, ‘O GOD, open his eyes and let him see.’ The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw. A wonder! The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!” (2 Kings
6:16-17 MSG).

Citing this verse reminds me of this statement in 1 John: “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”

Lord, thank You for this education You are allowing Marilyn and me to have. Father, I pray that You would give impetus to us and to the church to reach these folks who give no thought to You. Thank You for surrounding us with Your protective care. With You, the truth is that we are in the majority and we are on the winning side. I continue to lift up my mom and the residents of those two nursing homes. Amen.
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No Detours, No Dead-Ends

Sometimes, you read a phrase that sums up the goal of life in a profound way. I came across just such a phrase in one of the passages I read this morning. I’ll get to it in a moment.

I have to tell all of you that over the past few days, the Lord has given me so much peace and even excitement about what He has in store for the future. Right now, of course, I have no idea what it will be, but God does!

In the meantime, He just continues to bring people across my path and to give me opportunities to minister. Yesterday was a case in point.

I was sitting in my car outside the nursing home. Marilyn had just gone in for a visit with my mom. I was praying for her and for my mom when I sensed that someone was standing just on the other side of my window. It was a senior lady.

I opened the car door. “Hello,” I exclaimed. It kind of took me off guard.

This woman paused for a moment. She was obviously confused. Then, she muttered, “Can I get a ride from you?”

Her question threw me for a moment. I really didn’t know what to say. Finally, I stammered, “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m not allowed to do that.” She paused for a moment before turning around a walking off.

I watched her as she made her way back toward the front door of the nursing home. It wasn’t long before a younger woman met her and the two headed off together.

But, for the rest of the day, I just couldn’t get that lady off my mind. I wish I had responded differently, but I am not sure what I could have done. I think the thing that “got” me is that she seemed so confused and lost. My heart goes out to her and all the residents of my mom’s nursing home … and my mom.

When the doctor gives me permission, I’m going to preach there. I realize that could be months and months down the road, but still …

Until then, every time I go there, I’m going to pray for the people in that nursing home, including that lady.

In all of this, I am determined to continue to follow the Lord and be open to every opportunity so that, what the Holy Spirit said about King Jehoshaphat (except for the idolatry) could be said about me.


“That about sums up Jehoshaphat’s reign over Judah. He was thirty-five years old when he became king and ruled as king in Jerusalem for twenty-five years. His mother was Azubah daughter of Shilhi. He continued the kind of life characteristic of his father Asa—
no detours, no dead-ends—pleasing GOD with his life. But he failed to get rid of the neighborhood sex-and-religion shrines—people continued to pray and worship at these idolatrous god shops” (2 Chronicles 20:31-33 MSG, emphasis mine).

Lord, thank You for the opportunities for ministry you bring right to my door or car door, as it were! I lift up that lady this morning as I continue to pray for my mom. Help them both as well as every resident of Sunrise at Oxford. I want to continue to serve You, with “no detours, no dead-ends, pleasing You with my life” until the day You take me home. Amen.
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A Different Perspective

Yesterday, in our appointment at the clinic, Marilyn and I met once again with Courtney, one of Dr. Ali’s physician assistants.

Oh, by the way, Marilyn’s appointment shifted. As a result, she was able to go with me to the clinic. I was glad. She is on top of all my medications and listens a lot better than I do to the instructions the doctor gives.

Back to Courtney. After we greeted each other, she looked me in the eye and said, “How did last Sunday go? I was thinking about you.”

Let me explain her question. Last week, in our appointment, Marilyn made these comments to her: “Courtney, last week, Dr. Ali said some things that make us think that John can no longer serve as a pastor, at least for the foreseeable future. Do you agree?”

At that point, she sat down and looked me in the eye. She discerned my struggles. I added, “I have served that church for 27 years. This is the only full-time ministry job I have ever had. It is very difficult.”

Right then, I could tell she really cared. “John, I am so sorry. That must be very difficult. We have another patient who works as a librarian in an elementary school. She walks the line every day. We would rather that she didn’t work in that job … “Her voice tailed off.

I certainly can understand why she would just continue working, but right then and there, I realized that just from a risk and physical standpoint, I just could not. And I needed to resign sooner than later.

Anyway, back to my point—it was very obvious both to Marilyn and me that Courtney genuinely cared. Could her comment about “thinking about me” really indicate that she was praying? We don’t know, but we think it could be possible. It was a huge encouragement.

And, I want to add that my perspective of the folks at CBCI has completely changed. At first, when we started with them back in April, everything seemed cold and clinical and very different from the previous five years I had spent at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center with Dr. Jotte and the nurses there.

But over the course of the last few months, my perspective has changed. It is obvious that for the most part, from the doctor to the PA’s (like Courtney) to the nurses, they do genuinely care.

As I have said before, this is a huge encouragement because they are fully aware of everything it involves when someone has a “bone marrow transplant.” As I make these comments, please know that I understand that it is difficult and nearly impossible for anyone to understand if he or she has not gone through it or had a close relative go through it.

I am sure that many people may look at me and say (as many have), “Wow, John, you look good but you say that you have a long recovery. That doesn’t make any sense. Why don’t you just get over it and get back to normal?” Now, let me hasten to say that no one I know has made this statement, but most people just don’t understand, and I don’t blame them.

But somehow, I long for people to understand, but whether they do or not, the bottom line is that there is One who does—the One who died, was buried, rose again, went to be seated at God’s right hand, and now serves as King-Priest on my behalf. He was “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.” Make no mistake. He understands and calls us to obedience whether any human “understands” or not.

Notice these words of encouragement: “Meanwhile, the saints stand passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus. I heard a voice out of Heaven, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘and blessed rest from their hard, hard work. None of what they’ve done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end’” (Revelation
14:12-13 MSG).

Lord, I thank You for the doctor and the physician’s assistants like Courtney, and the nurses at CBCI. Thank You for another good report yesterday. Thank You for leading Marilyn and me to them. Thank You for using them to care for us as a family. But thank You, Jesus, for being the best Caregiver EVER and for giving all of us the grace to stay faithful to You through the hard times we face. Thank You for the blessing—heaven our home with no cancer or disease—that awaits all of us who believe in You. Amen.
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Don't Try to Bypass God

An interesting phrase in one of the passages I read this morning. I’ll get to it in a moment.

Something “different” happened this week. Marilyn and I noticed that neither one of us had an appointment at the clinic for THIS week on either one of our calendars. I called Tina to leave her a message about this. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before someone called to say that they DID want me to come in today at 8:30.

When I told Marilyn, she said, “John, I can’t do that. I have another appointment.” I replied, “No problem. I’ll just drive down there myself!”

This is the first time in all the months I have been going to CBCI that I will have driven myself to an appointment. Previously, when Marilyn hasn’t been able, I have called a Christian brother to help. But this time, I feel confident that I can get down there. No problem.

This just shows another way in which I have been dependent on others through this whole thing. It has been a huge lesson the Lord has taught me, and I am so grateful for Marilyn and the brothers who have helped me.

Today, I will find out about one of my “levels” that will determine whether or not that they give me this drug that takes four to five hours to administer, a med that will help build up my immune system. We will see.

In the meantime, let me get back to that interesting phrase in one of the passages in the Solid Life Reading Plan for today: “GOD ’s angel spoke to Elijah the Tishbite: “Up on your feet! Go out and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria with this word, ‘Is it because there’s no God in Israel that you’re running off to consult Baal-Zebub god of Ekron?’ Here’s a message from the GOD you’ve tried to bypass: ‘You’re not going to get out of that bed you’re in—you’re as good as dead already.’” Elijah delivered the message and was gone” (2 Kings
1:3-4 MSG).

Here is a little background to this passage: the king of Samaria, Ahaziah, fell off the balcony of his home, injuring himself. Instead of praying to God, the king sent messengers to consult false gods for the answer to his question. This is the background for the Lord’s prompting of Elijah to meet them and say, “Here is a message from the God you tried to bypass.”

Oh, man! Does that word hit home! Praying to the Lord, waiting on God, seeking Him and Him only—these are not activities that give easy, formulaic answers on the fly. Oftentimes, I am learning, when I pray to the Lord, He starts doing some hard work on me so that I will be ready to hear HIS answer to my prayers. It never seems quick and easy.

But this is what we want in our microwave culture.

Oh, Lord, thank You for all the help I have received through this transplant and recovery. Thank You that You have brought me to the point where I can drive myself to an appointment. Help me never to compromise my relationship with You on the altar of “quick and easy.” I will continue to come to You and wait on You. Amen.
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Prophecy Performances

One thing I want to share from the start: every day since Sunday, the Lord has brought across my path opportunities for ministry. This has confirmed what I have believed all along. Harvey White, a retired pastor who joined our fellowship years ago, used to say this repeatedly: “If you are available and faithful, the Lord will use you.” We certainly do not lack for opportunities, do we? This has been an encouragement to me.

Anyway, there is a phrase in one of the passages I read this morning (well, actually a couple of the passages) that captured my attention.

You remember the story in 1 Kings 22 of the proposed alliance between the kings of Israel and Judah. They banded together to fight the king of Aram. They had already decided to this, but after this, they consulted with the prophets. The Word records what happened from there:

“Meanwhile, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat were seated on their thrones, dressed in their royal robes, resplendent in front of the Samaria city gates. All the prophets were staging a
prophecy-performance for their benefit. Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had even made a set of iron horns, and brandishing them called out, ‘GOD ’s word! With these horns you’ll gore Aram until there’s nothing left of him!’ All the prophets chimed in, ‘Yes! Go for Ramoth Gilead! An easy victory! GOD ’s gift to the king!’” (1 Kings 22:10-12 MSG, emphasis mine).

A “prophecy-performance”! Wow. What a phrase! This reminds me so much of certain preachers on television that always seem to preach about “prophecy.” In their minds, what this means is that they talk about the future as if they are so confident about it. With flamboyance and flair, they dazzle huge crowds with their predictions. This makes me sick. Then, I get downright angry.

What a perversion! The main aspect of “prophecy” in scripture is “forth-telling”—proclaiming God’s message to a group of people. “Fore-telling” is clearly secondary to that. “Forth-telling” draws no television crowds. “Fore-telling” does.

Of course, I am speaking in generalizations here …

In 1 Kings 22, this crowd of prophets told these two kings what they wanted to hear, but even these two kings realized that it may not be the truth. That is why they called on Micaiah. But when he told them the truth—that the two armies would be soundly defeated—they threw him in prison.

What does this mean for us? I believe that we are living in an era where more and more believers will be sucked into “prophecy-performances.” Satan loves this because it is a diversion from our main mission: living in obedience as we share the gospel with a lost and dying world.

I love these verses in Revelation twelve: “The Accuser of our brothers and sisters thrown out, who accused them day and night before God. They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb and the bold word of their witness. They weren’t in love with themselves; they were willing to die for Christ. So rejoice, O Heavens, and all who live there, but doom to earth and sea, For the Devil’s come down on you with both feet; he’s had a great fall; He’s wild and raging with anger; he hasn’t much time and he knows it” (Revelation
12:10b-12 MSG).

Here are some certainties about the future: Jesus is coming back and SOON. Satan will ultimately be defeated. We must live for the Lord now.

Lord, thank You for all the opportunities to share that abound in our world. Help us to be obedient to You in and through them all, because we know we don’t have much time left—whether it is the shortness of this frail human life or the imminence of Your return. Give us the grace to love You more than we love ourselves. Amen.
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