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A Stroll At Leisure With God

The Guys

This morning, “the guys” are meeting at the church for a breakfast. In addition to fellowship, the goal is to mobilize all of us to serve God. I pray that this happens, but I also know the challenges.

As I sit here this morning and think and pray for the guys that I hope will be there, my heart goes out to them. I love them first of all. Second, I know that they have a lot on their plates.

Going back to the men’s Bible study that we started a couple of weeks ago, I could see how exhausted the guys were who showed up. Sure, we have a couple of guys who are retired, but they are busy as well. One brother came in the room and flopped down on a chair. I could tell it was just an effort for him to stay awake. He had probably already put in twelve plus hours of work prior to 6:00 PM.

Now, of course, I am speaking in generalities here. I’m sure that maybe more than one guy would say, “John, that is not the way it is for me.” That’s fine. If not, I am glad, but my sense is that today, most men are overwhelmed.

I remember a conversation I had with Ralph a few years. He was teaching a big class of senior men when I started as pastor way back in 1989. What an awesome guy. I miss him. He went home to be with the Lord a couple of decades ago.

He was telling me about his service for the Lord over the years in various churches. I am paraphrasing, but he said something like, “Yeah, John, I was up at the church just about every night of the week doing one thing or another.” Wow. I’m still amazed at that statement. I need to make a few comments about it.

For one thing, this was NEVER true of me even at my busiest times, in the first few years of my pastorate.

Here is another comment: I would NEVER encourage this for anyone. I remember my first pastor, Brother Herb, making the emphatic statement: “Don’t show up at the church every time the door opens.” The fact that he had to say this says something.

My final response: whatever days Ralph was talking about are OVER, big time. Now, to see folks show up on Sunday morning on a consistent basis is about all one could hope for.

Please do not take these comments as cynical and bitter. They are not. They are always pastors out there who pound their fist on a desk or pulpit and bemoan the state of things. I am one of them! Sure, more people need to be more committed to the Lord. We have twenty-four hours a day now, just as we did in the days that Ralph spoke about. I hear you.

But I think all this tells me that if you do something special on a Wednesday night or Saturday morning or whatever, you better respect guy’s time, and it better be meaningful.

I was visiting with a brother this week. We were talking about the men’s ministry. We agreed that what we pray is that guys will see the value of what we are doing and WANT to get together more often and WANT to serve together.

There is no substitute for a godly man who is a leader in his home and in his church.

The clear evidence for this is the end of Psalm 78—this litany of the failure of Israel and the mercy of God. This is a long history of rebellion. I think it is significant that this Psalm ends with these two verses: “From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him To shepherd Jacob His people, And Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands” (Psalm 78:71-72, NASB).

No doubt, these are references to David. Of course, David wasn’t perfect either, but isn’t this the point? The Lord uses very flawed men to accomplish His purposes. The line of David did lead to the One Man who is perfect.

Lord, thank You for today. I love the guys I am meeting with this morning. I name them to You in prayer—man by man. Encourage them today. Give them grace and strength. Motivate us. Mobilize us for effective service for Jesus. Amen.

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Questions and More Questions

Another Psalm, Psalm 77, with a lot of questions. A lot.

This Psalm brings a couple of things to mind this morning. First of all, in the front lawn of a church on this side of town, I noticed a sign the other day (yes, one can still see it even in the midst of all the snow). It is one of those temporary signs that you just stick in the ground. It reads, “Got Questions? So do we.”

On the one hand, I like this message. Too often the church comes across as high and mighty, know—it—alls, who all too readily dismiss genuine and sincere questions with flip, cliché answers. In the process, we demean folks and dismiss their questions in the process. I’m guilty of this. Thus, we need to let folks know that we are human, just like they are, with all the legitimate questions and struggles that they have. I get it.

On the other hand, I don’t believe that we ought to stop there. I want to be careful how I say this because God doesn’t always answer all my questions. However, when I ask and when I am sincere, I believe He leads me in a pilgrimage that will answer my question OR help me frame it in a different way.

For example, here is a question: why would the Lord allow my dad, with all of his influence and potential as a man of God, to die of cancer at the age of 47? Why?

I haven’t got the answer to that question yet, but over the past 41 years, my family and I have continued to walk with him (in a far from perfect way, I might add) to this point. Now, I have cancer. And it isn’t that I have answers to that original question, but the Lord has superseded it a bit, if I can put it that way. Now, my “why” question about my dad has morphed into a “how” question: how do you want to use cancer for Your glory?

I’m not trying to come across as super-spiritual here. It is just that, sitting around asking “why” questions has validity with God (don’t get me wrong; it is okay to ask God anything), but they don’t seem to go very far. In fact, I tend to get depressed real fast. What helps me more is to leave that question up to God and ask a “how” question for today and for life.

Anyway, I think I’ve said enough there. Here is how I would amend the message of that sign: Got Questions? Join us in an on-going walk with God. Or, something like that …

Here is another thing that pops into my mind. A couple of days ago, I had a visit with a couple. The Lord has led them to start a new church. As we were talking about some things, I said, “Hey guys, listen, I would like to see your doctrinal statement. I tend to operate better when I see the big picture. Do you have it? Can you send it to me?”

They were very responsive and told me that they were going to do this. It was nice to meet them.

We got into a discussion of the book of Revelation. They had some very intriguing thoughts and ideas.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I am in an on-going conversation with a brother I met on the golf course about this same book. Interesting.

I think one’s approach to this book is very revelatory about one’s perspective on God and the Word. Some folks are very definitive in their approach and their interpretation of the symbols of this book. To be honest, this perspective always makes me a little nervous.

As I was talking with this couple, I said something like this, “In seminary, I had the opportunity to take a course on the book of Revelation. In this class, I was intrigued to learn that through the centuries, believers have attached different names and meanings to these symbols. For example, during World War II, many believed that Hitler was the anti-Christ. Now, Christians have other ideas. We need to be careful.”

Psalm 77 gives a good balance in this whole discussion, I believe. As I said before, this Psalm starts off with a lot of questions. The whole thing turns as the Psalmist begins to focus on God’s character and His deeds in history. This is always a valid and safe perspective. It guards against speculation.

Here is how the Psalm ends: “Ocean saw you in action, God, saw you and trembled with fear; Deep Ocean was scared to death. Clouds belched buckets of rain, Sky exploded with thunder, your arrows flashing this way and that. From Whirlwind came your thundering voice, Lightning exposed the world, Earth reeled and rocked. You strode right through Ocean, walked straight through roaring Ocean, but nobody saw you come or go. Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron, You led your people like a flock of sheep” (Psalm 77:16-20, MSG).

I believe this is a reference to the Exodus event. God did great and might things, awesome demonstrations of power, but in a sense, He was hidden from the human eye, leading His “people like a flock of sheep.”

Lord, thank You that I can come to you today with all my questions. There is nothing that is out-of-bounds in our conversation. I’m glad that Your first answer is first and always, “John, let’s take a long leisurely walk.” I’m learning that the relationship is key, the long walk. You will get my questions and me where You want me to go. Amen.
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Horns: The Ministry of Humility

I’m not talking about the kind that is on cars. I’m referring to the kind on the top of the heads of animals.

But before I get into that, I want to say a couple of things about yesterday. Jim and I had another great day at the nursing home service. Lavonda, a sister in our church, went with us. She greeted everyone warmly and did an awesome job of encouragement.

I worked on names again and by the end of the hour, I was able to go around the table (we had about ten folks) and acknowledge everyone by name. Again, I say (and I learned this from my dad), everyone likes to be called by his/her name, whether he or she is ten or eighty. It is always worth the effort.

Betty, Ardella, and Helen were there for the very first time. They seemed to enjoy themselves. Someone (I don’t know who it was; my back was turned) said, “I like these people. I’m coming back.” Morni shook my hand as she left. “This service takes me back to my roots. I’m Catholic now, but when I was a child, we went to a Baptist church. This makes me feel at home.”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to minister and thank the Lord for Jim who leads worship and Lavonda who greets—two key components of any service, whether it is at a church or at a nursing home.

Anyway, I had a couple of other appointments in the afternoon as another snowstorm blew it. This one was not as severe as that over the weekend, but we got a few more inches. As the day progressed, I was a little more concerned about the streets, but not worried enough to cancel an evening appointment with a couple that has been visiting our fellowship.

We met at El Mirado’s, a Mexican restaurant off Huron. We had a wonderful time of fellowship. I was there ostensibly to minister to them, but the encouragement and love came flooding back my way more than it went out. I enjoyed myself so much that I didn’t even think about what was going on outside. Who cares?

I guess the bottom line comment I would make is that it was one of those days in which, as I ministered and visited and conversed with folks, the Lord lifted me up. I’m so grateful.

This is always the trajectory—lifting up—that occurs with God’s people. The opposite is true for the wicked. This comes out very clearly with a dominant image in Psalm 75: "I said to the boastful, 'Do not boast,' And to the wicked, 'Do not lift up the horn; Do not lift up your horn on high, Do not speak with insolent pride.'"… And all the horns of the wicked He will cut off, But the horns of the righteous will be lifted up” (Psalm 75:4-5, 10, NASB). The horn is a symbol of strength, but in verse five of this Psalm, it is linked with pride.

I believe what is happening here corresponds with Jesus’ statements in the Gospels: “He who humbles himself shall be exalted; he who exalts himself shall be humbled.”

Father, I want to pray for all the humble folks you brought across my path yesterday—the ministry of humility. Wow. Use me in the lives of others in exactly that same way. Amen.
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A Revealing Comment

A few days ago, I enjoyed a visit from Andy who serves with a branch of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He works with a program called “My Hope.” This is essentially a ministry that makes available videos in which Billy talks about certain pertinent topics like heaven.

I first heard about My Hope from my friends and former church members, Bill and Melba, who live in Idaho now.

They showed the videos in their home and invited their neighbors. This is only one of many ways one could utilize them to reach folks.

Anyway, Andy and I visited a while and I found out about other resources such as a little Gospel of John that contains resources for a new believer. I’m going to order a bunch of those to be available for folks to give use or give away.

The other day, I received an email from Andy detailing how to order these materials. Toward the conclusion of his message, he typed these words:

“The more I do this the more I see that the church of Colorado has settled on proclaiming the gospel by deeds and acts of love and generosity.  Good things for certain.  But few tell others the source of this motivation.  Gospel proclamation is being lost.  So I pray that your use of My Hope leads to new believers joining the family!”

Let me back up and say a few things. My immediate challenge with the church is to help us see that just sitting back and opening the doors on Sunday is not going to cut it. We have an urgent need to get “out there,” whether it is our own neighborhoods or the church community. We can’t allow the church to become a Christian Ghetto or Holy Huddle. I love both of those terms; I hate the reality.

But let’s say that we do get “out there.” Doing THAT is not enough.

I tell you if I hear another person say, “Well, we don’t want to club people over the head with a Bible,” I think I am going to scream.

Why do we always caricature sharing the gospel? I think it gives us a convenient excuse not to do it. We are speaking for people before we even give them a chance to respond or not. AND, as Christians are being beheaded and burned and kidnapped all over the world, would the absolute worse thing that could happen be that someone says, “No thank you. I don’t want to hear it”?

At least, they have decided and we didn’t decide for them, “They don’t want to hear it. It will be a big turnoff. So let’s not do it.”

Andy is right on target, and after chewing on his words, I am convinced that I need to do something about it, starting today.

As always, I believe it starts with prayer. Psalm 74 gives us some insight in that regard. In this Psalm, the writer struggles with another question that he poses to God: “
How long, O God, will the adversary revile, And the enemy spurn Your name forever? Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand? From within Your bosom, destroy them! Yet God is my king from of old, Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters” (Psalm 74:10-13, NASB).

The Psalmist goes on to pray for believers: “Let the afflicted and needy praise your name” (verse 21). In other words, help them not to be silent.

With ISIS expanding its influence in the world through violence and barbarism, this world needs an example of what it means to expand the kingdom of God through speaking the truth in love WITH BOLDNESS.

This brings me back to the prayer of Acts 4 as Peter and John were released. This new church did not pull in its haunches and close the door as they quivered in fear. They prayed for boldness and the place shook. God who was there in them all along gave them a powerful manifestation of His presence that propelled them out to SPEAK the gospel.

Lord, I long for the day that You move in power in me and among the folks I serve. Give us boldness not only to show love (this is, as Andy states, very important) but also to share love. Give me an opportunity today to share the gospel with someone. Amen.

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The Nearness of God

As I picked up my IPad this morning, I realized that I was not quite done with Psalm 73--more meat on that bone.

The final verse of this Psalm intrigues me. Let me quote it here: “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord G OD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works” (Psalm 73:28, NASB).

Whenever I read this verse, I think about my friend Rob. He had a real theological problem with a popular hymn we sing, especially at funerals—“Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” Over the years, the more I think about it, the more I think Rob is right about his concerns.

We need to be very careful about the WAY we talk about our relationship with the Lord. We tend to use non-biblical categories to describe it.

Let me explain: the moment anyone gets saved, two things happen. First, Jesus comes to live in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8 affirms that if anyone does not have the Spirit, he or she is not saved. Our bodies become the new temple, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Second, as baptism pictures, we go INTO Jesus Christ. We are identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection.

In summary, Jesus is in us and we are in Him. This is a permanent reality for the believer.

This is why the popular hymn “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” is off base. How can I get closer to God than God living in me and me living in Him?

Okay, so someone might say, “Well, there are times that I FEEL far away from God and I know my walk is not where it needs to be. What about that?” Well, I have emphasized the key word here—FEEL. I may feel far from God and thus sense that I need to be closer to Him, but this is not in fact reality.

Psalm 73 is confirmation of this fact. What actually happens in this Psalm? Nothing changes exception the Psalmist’s perception of what is really going on.

His experience in the sanctuary (I talked about this yesterday) gave Him a new perspective of the wicked, of himself, and yes, of God. He came to realize that God was near Him ALL THE TIME, even in His questions and struggles and feelings.

I can’t tell you how often I have heard this comment and I have said it several times myself: “I feel as if I am far away from God right now.” I am not sure I know of any believer who hasn’t had that experience at one time or another.

We have a cliché for this that I don’t like either: “If you feel far away from God, who moved?” Not quite sure I buy this either because it implies that I can move away from God.

Again, I may FEEL that way, but isn’t it the same thing as the feeling that God has moved? I may be splitting hairs here, but I think this is crucially important.

Now, of course, sin has a negative impact on my fellowship with God (1 John 1) and in the case of idolatry (the last verse of 1 John makes it clear that even Christians can struggle in this area; there are other passages about this as well), I need to make a conscious turn back to God.

I believe that Psalm 73 is about this! When my perspective is out of whack, I can turn back to God and that turn involves the worshiping community. So, if there is any move to be made, it is back to the worshiping community—the sanctuary or my church.

Therefore, I believe that this Psalm is about a believer with struggles and questions (it is okay to have those; God can handle them) who turns back to the community. “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children” (Psalm 73:15, NASB).

So, the struggles that the Psalmists was having in the first part of this Psalm were conflicts going on in his head and heart. He did not want to give voice to these struggles or it would have affected his fellow worshipers. This is the sobering reality that hits him.

Anyway, the more I meditate on this Psalm, the more encouraged I get. God is near me ALL THE TIME, even when, especially when I don’t feel like it and when I have questions. Nothing has changed!

Is it blasphemous to amend the hymn? Oh, well. I can do it this morning sitting here on this couch. “Just my walk with Thee. Thank you Jesus that it be.” Bad grammar, great theology. Ha. Amen.
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The Perspective of th Sanctuary

Yesterday was a very quiet and restful day, so quiet that I noticed how infrequently I even heard any traffic.

Around 8:00 AM, I decided to take a walk. I put on my boots and a heavy coat to head out. I trudged through the snow down to Thomas Jefferson High School (about four blocks away) and then turned around and walked back to the house right in the middle of Happy Canyon Road. The street had been plowed. The walking was easier. Only two cars swerved a bit to pass me by as they headed in the opposite direction. It was kind of eerie.

This is going to sound strange, but I am always fascinated a bit about life among those who don’t go to church. I just like to observe folks on Sunday morning when I am not going to church myself.

During my first round of chemo four years ago, I always took walks on Sunday mornings, if I felt like it.

I guess I do this because most Sundays (as most of my readers will attest) are fairly focused days. I get up, get ready, and drive to church. I am there usually for several hours, often into the early afternoon. I am immersed in that world, and I think sometimes, it is easy to lose track of folks who are not.

Sometimes, on the way to church, I see people meandering along (like I was yesterday) or running or walking a dog, and I find myself saying under my breath, “Go to church!”

The bottom line of all of this is: I really do miss it when I can’t go to church. There is a big empty part of the day that nothing else can fill. I miss worship. I miss fellowship. I miss interacting with believers.

There is something else at play here. The Psalmist talks about it in Psalm 73 as he starts off giving voice to his struggles about the wicked. They wear their pride necklaces and violence robes (I alluded to this in the blog yesterday). They are fat and happy, seemingly impervious to the tragedies of life.

His discussion raises the specter of the age-old question, “Why do the innocent suffer?” The corollary is: “Why do the wicked NOT suffer?”

They are out and about on Sunday mornings like I was yesterday. They are happy. They are walking. They are enjoying life. What gives?

The Psalmist genuinely struggles with this. All the cliché answers and intellectual arguments don’t help, either. He doesn’t see it until he comes to a place, or better, a PERSON.

“When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form” (Psalm 73:16-20, NASB).

I’m convinced that we need worship, corporate worship with other believers, for all the biblical reasons we could all cite, but for one very important reason that surpasses them all. We need worship because of the eternal perspective it affords us. Without it, it is way too easy to became enamored and overwhelmed in the affairs of this life. I can see that after just one Sunday out of church.

I can also see how easy it is for one Sunday to become four and four Sundays to turn into a year, and suddenly, one never goes again. Satan loves this scenario.

When the Psalmist worshiped, he was able to glean perspective on the wickedness and wicked people that had become so prominent.

We need a weekly reminder of this ourselves or our perspective tends to get skewed, and this can happen very easily.

Please understand: I am not advocating here for some type of legalistic practice. I understand that believers sometimes cannot make it to church for extended periods of time for various reasons. Things happen. But I also think that they miss it, genuinely miss it, and work hard to get to the point where they can return.

But let’s also face one other fact: it is often hard to go to church. Churches are far from perfect places (newsflash). Eugene Peterson made a statement in one of his recorded sermons or lectures (I can’t remember which). He asserted, “It is often a spiritual challenge even to go to church” (I’m paraphrasing here).

I hear that. I really do. I have to be honest and say that when I am not urging strangers I pass on the street on the way to church to go just as I am, I am occasionally envious and wonder, “I wish I had the time on Sundays just to take a long leisurely walk.”

I do think that on occasion. Then, I go through days like yesterday, and I am glad that I realize that I would miss it deeply.

Lord, thanks for the sanctuary. This is not referring to a church auditorium. It is referring to where You are in the presence of your people who are worshipping. Thank You for eternity and the awareness of it. Thank You for the gift of ETERNAL life through your undeserved and unmerited grace. As the song says, “Were it not for grace, I can tell you where I’d be, wandering down some pointless road to nowhere with my salvation up to me.” Amen.

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Services Canceled Today

I have to admit I was feeling rather smug yesterday. I had picked up Tom—our only youth—to take him to the Skating Event yesterday morning. The streets were just wet, and as I said yesterday in this blog, we had a couple of inches of snow. That was it.

The same could be said as I took Tom home and returned to mine. “Yep, they (referring the weather prognosticators) got it wrong.”

About midafternoon, my mom and sis and I headed out for a few errands, and in the course of our trip, we decided to stop at a restaurant to eat. By then, it was snowing a bit more. Well, by the time we finished and exited the restaurant, we could barely stand up in the wind to make it to the car.

The blizzard finally arrived and with gusto.

I apologize to all the weather forecasters. You were right.

Things turned bad very quickly as the temperature dropped ten degrees in no time. The streets turned from just being wet to becoming sheets of ice.

I called Betty and Jim (one of our deacons) to check with them about what was going on in Northglenn and the north side of town. They both agreed that it was wise to cancel.

As I sit here this morning, I have no doubt that we made the right decision. There is no way that I would want to ask folks to get out on the roads this morning.

As I was eating my breakfast, I turned on the local news. The forecast (one that I now totally respect) indicates that the snow will be intermittent but it will continue into tomorrow morning. So, we are not done yet.

I will miss worship and fellowship at the church today, but to be honest, this feels exactly the same way that it did when I was in elementary school and school was canceled because of the snow. The only difference is that I have no plans to go outside, make snowballs, and throw them at cars that pass in front of our house. Oops. Maybe I revealed a little too much there …

Anyway, we are going to stay in for a quiet and restful day. I’m looking forward to it. I hope everyone else in our fellowship does the same thing. After the rather treacherous drive we had just getting home last night, I’m praying that they stay safe.

My Psalm for today is one of the more well known and one of my favorites in the Psalter—Psalm 73. One of the phrases in the early part of the Psalm caught my attention and reminded me of the message I preached last Sunday. It gives a rather detailed description of the wicked. I’m going to quote this verse from two different versions.

“Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them” (Psalm 73:6, NASB).

“Therefore pride is about their necks like a chain; violence covers them like a garment [like a long, luxurious robe]” (Psalm 73:6, AMP).

Isn’t that vivid? A pride necklace and a long violence robe.

One of the chief characteristics of the nations that God judged in Isaiah 13 through 23 is pride.

It looks elaborate, but it is ultimately destructive. God cannot and will not bless pride.

We are never as great as we THINK we are.

Father, thank You for another reminder today, whether the forecasters get it right or not, that You are totally in charge of our lives. As the disciples marveled in the boat with you that night as you woke up to calm the seas, “even the wind and the waves obey You.” Keep Your people safe today. Thank You for homes and roofs and warmth. I think of folks in our community who are homeless this morning. Take care of them, Lord. Amen.
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A Study in Hysteria

Over the past few days, predictions about a snowstorm for this weekend have accelerated rather dramatically. At first the weather forecasters (again, a job just about anyone would love to have) predicted just a few inches.

Then, as the days past, the numbers ballooned. One prognostication was for 18 inches of snow.

And, around noon yesterday, I could see the clouds gather in the west, and I was thinking, “Oh, man, we are going to get a snow dump.”

I had to pick up one item at Whole Foods (a friend of mine calls this store Whole Paycheck. I think he is on to something), and it was packed out. This is mid-afternoon on a Friday. Maybe this is the norm for this time of the week. But I don’t think so.

When I got back home, Marilyn said she heard that at a nearby King Soopers, people were actually knocking each other down as they grabbed for the remaining food items on the shelves. I don’t know if that is true, but based on the hustle and bustle at Whole Paycheck, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Another observation I would make is that the general traffic and urgency levels seemed to increase as people were scurrying around before the “big storm.”

This reminds me of what happened in the New York City recently as weather forecasters predicted the storm of the century, and as a result, the mayor basically shut the city down.

Well, as I look out the window this morning, we did get some snow last night, but I would say that it is closer to 18 centimeters than 18 feet. Now, I know that the expectation is that the storm will continue through today and tomorrow and possibly into Monday, but as of now, it doesn’t look like we will get anything close to the snow dump we all feared.

I’m glad. We need the moisture, but not eighteen inches worth in my humble opinion. Ha.

But all of this is just a study in human nature and what happens when a crowd or a city gets stirred up. On a different scale with the stakes much higher, this is what we see in the gospels relating to Jesus and in Acts relating to the ministry of Paul. In the lives of the Son of God and the missionary, crowds seemed to be easily swayed and more often than not, in the wrong direction.

I can sit here on this couch in the stillness with a high and mighty attitude to claim that the crowds never sway me, but I would be lying.

I can think of numerous examples of times when it has happened. For example, just about every time a new IPhone comes out, I all of a sudden feel a sense of urgency to get the newest and best model. I feel that push when a new golf club comes out as well, although this happens with a lot more frequency than Apple products, and believe it or not, don’t buy every new club. Some, but not every. (No new club has helped my game all that much, either).

Anyway, we live in a culture where we are continually told to “hurry” to this store and that, or we will miss this once-in-a-lifetime deal or sale.

I say all of this as background for a significant phrase that caught my attention as I read Psalm 71 yesterday. I’m still stuck on this Psalm today. At first reading, one might think that this Psalm has nothing to do with folks knocking each other down at a grocery store, but read it again. The Psalmist is facing an enemy, and he is calling out to the Lord to be rescued.

I think this becomes a crucial issue for believers: whom will we allow to set the agenda of urgency for our lives? Will it be the hysteria of the masses or the Lord?

Hear is the prayer of the Psalmist: “Be to me a ROCK OF HABITATION to which I may continually; You have given commandment to save me, For You are my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 71:3, NASB, caps are mine). I love that phrase—A ROCK OF HABITATION.

God is a place, a solid place we can go to find refuge from the storm, certainly, but also from the pressures of our modern world.

Another verse comes to mind this morning: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (Romans 12:2, Philips Version). I love that! This is what the world wants to do—squeeze us.

Lord, thank You that You are in charge of the weather. You have shown us that again. If this storm continues today, protect us from the storm. You have given us brains and have called us to prepare. But deliver us from hysteria and from molds. Amen.

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Colorado Golf Club Repair

Yesterday, I noticed that I had received a call from Jim at Colorado Golf Club Repair. When I called him back, he said, “Well, John, just wanted you to know that we are closing things down. I’m 71 and tired of just sitting around. I want to play golf and do some other things, so if you still want that club, come and get it.”

Say it ain’t so?

Let me back up a bit and give you some background. Colorado Golf Club Repair is a business with which I have had dealings for almost forty years.

It is located a couple of blocks off the corner of Broadway and Evans. It is an old cinder block building. When you drive up to the front, you have to look hard even to find any signage.

The owner is Fred. I remember one of the first times I took a club there to be repaired. He looked at me and said, “What is your last name?” I said, “Talbert.” He paused a moment as his eyes squinted a bit, “Are you Jerry Talbert’s son?”

“Yep,” I replied. “How did you guess?”

“Well, I could tell right off the bat. You look like him. Your dad was a fine man.”

That’s how I started off with this business. Fred is the owner, but over the years, Jim (his friend and co-owner) has taken over more and more of the duties of working with customers on their golf clubs.

In recent years, when I would go in the shop, Fred would be watching Gun Smoke on the TV. He always greets me. But it is Jim who does the work.

When you go into the shop, it is a blast in the past. There are pictures on the wall. Ben Hogan. Arnold Palmer. Lee Trevino, along with a signature, “to my good friend Fred” or something to that effect.

Over the years, Fred and Jim have garnered quite a collection of old golf clubs. They are literally everywhere with no real organizational principle being employed. I just love rummaging through them and remembering when woods really were WOOD.

Anyway, I love to go there to get clubs re-gripped and for minor repairs. Jim always does the work I need while I wait. I don’t have to leave my sticks there. It is great. Plus, I just like talking to Fred and Jim.

Jim actually lives up north, not all that far from the church. I have shared with him and have invited him to church. So far, he hasn’t responded, but I am going to keep at it, especially now.

Over the years, business has slowed way down. Now there are big huge golf stores and the golf business has changed into highly technical shaft fittings. There is less and less of a need for a mom and pop store (or granddad and granddad) store to “repair” clubs. No one does that anymore. People just buy new clubs.

Business has slowed way down as a result.

For years now, when I go to the shop even in the winter, Jim and Fred are there but they have their coats on inside. One time I asked them, “What is going on guys? It is freezing in here. Are you having problems with the heat?”

Jim answered, “No, we just don’t want to pay for it, so we turned it off.” Brrrr. Okay.

Plus, Jim and Fred don’t sit in there all day every day. They usually close up early afternoon. Can’t say I blame them, especially in the winter.

Well, anyway, this whole thing makes me sad. I’m going to miss seeing those two guys. I hope to keep in touch with them. I am still praying for them.

But I think more than that: I worry about this being a metaphor for many churches, hopefully not the one I serve.

Let me hasten to say: there are some major differences. The church has a “product”—the gospel that is always more relevant and up to date than the newest golf shaft or club produced. We have a “service” that is never outdated—loving folks and praying for them—always a need for that.

However, will we adapt our METHODS so that people will hear the gospel and be in a position to deliver the love of Christ or will we just sit there in a heated building bemoaning our demise?

I refuse to do this.

We have a responsibility to take this message to the next generation. Psalm 71 reminds us of this. “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18, NASB).

Lord, I pray for Fred and Jim. I ask you to save both of these guys. It is not too late. I pray that what I am witnessing, as Colorado Golf Club Repair closes down, would not be a metaphor of the church. I’m afraid that for too many churches that close every day, it already is. Let me declare Your strength to the next generation before I close up shop and go home. Amen.
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An Encouragement Blast

The timing of things last night could not have been better.

At dinnertime, I raced out to a local Asian restaurant to grab a bite to eat, and just as I was starting my meal, I looked up and there was Scott.

I have mentioned this dear brother before. Every time I see him—I mean every time—the Lord uses him to encourage me.

I wish I were half the servant of God that he is. In addition to his family responsibilities, he has two jobs as well as his pastorate. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.

As our conversation continued, I said, “Scott, it has been great visiting with you as always, but I have got to run. I have an appointment at the church.”

“John, I know you need to go, but let me pray for you first,” Scott replied. He prayed for my church, its ministry, and me as he does every time he passes by our church. He lives in the immediate neighborhood of First Southern. I value this practice very much.

What occurs to me is that Scott’s practice is something that all of us can do as we drive by a church building, whether it is once or every day. How about that? Just pray for that church. Humm. Good idea. Wish this had occurred to me sooner. Can’t take credit for it. I learned it from Scott.

Back to that meeting with Scott, as I left, I said, “Scott, I believe the Lord led me here tonight. I haven’t eaten here in three years or more.” Divine appointment.

As I jumped in my car to head back to the church, my phone rang. It was Dr. Ho’s office. He is the Skin Doctor who performed the biopsy last week. “John, we just wanted you to know that the mole on your leg is benign. No further action is needed. Have a nice night.”

A NICE night! Are you kidding?

Have you ever had one of those times where you just felt as if there was some sort of Divine action going on with the express purpose of encouragement? I wonder WHO that might be?

All I could do is fight back the tears and say, “Thank you, Lord, for this encouragement BLAST!”

At the men’s Bible study last night—our first for the year—at the conclusion, I asked for prayer requests and had to give the first one myself. “Guys, I just have to share this praise. I know you have been praying for me. My skin test came back negative. I don’t have skin cancer in addition to the cancer I already have. Ha.” Then, it was even more difficult to fight back to the tears.

Why, Lord, have you blessed me? Why?

It is the same question, right? Whether it is the cancer that I have—why do I have lymphoma—or the cancer I don’t have—skin cancer. Why have you blessed me in both cases?

Lord, I don’t have words this morning. My heart is full. Thank you for Scott—this Barnabas You brought across my path. Thank You for the results of the biopsy. Thank You for the guys last night. Thank You.

“Let those on the hunt for you sing and celebrate. Let all who love your saving way say over and over, “God is mighty!” But I’ve lost it. I’m wasted. God—quickly, quickly! Quick to my side, quick to my rescue! GOD, don’t lose a minute” (Psalm 70:4-5, MSG). Amen.

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"Practicing Homosexuals Into Leadership"

What? I’m sure my sensitivities are heightened because I am reading Platt’s book A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture, but my blood started boil a bit after I read an article that a friend emailed to me.

Here it is: “Megachurch Pastor ‘Prayerfully Allows Practicing Homosexuals Into Leadership” (
http://barbwire.com, accessed February 18, 2015). Apparently, there is a megachurch pastor in Franklin, Tennessee, who after praying about it (somehow that makes it right) has now decided to allow “practicing” homosexuals into the membership of his congregation and into leadership in the church. Read the article for yourself.

This bothers me on so many levels that I don’t have time to write out all the reasons this morning, but I will give it a shot.

First and foremost, under what authority is this “pastor” making this decision? It certainly cannot be the Bible.

Platt makes this clear in his chapter on the gospel and sexual morality as he cites other so-called religious leaders or teachers (this megachurch pastor is not the first one to go public with his views) who advocate for some kind of affirmation of homosexuality. “The reality is that as soon as we advocate homosexual activity, we undercut biblical authority” (page 171). I think he is right. That is as simple as it gets.

Second, and this is what I would say to any so-called pastor or leader or teacher who takes the same stand: who do you think you are?

What about the believers in this church in Tennessee? I would think that the second a pastor stands up and makes these claims, his ministry is done. He should be fired. Or, at least, people in the service, should stand up and walk out the door. This is outrageous!

Third, even as I make these claims and write these words, I don’t want anyone to think that I am addressing this issue out of some type of superiority attitude. One of the things that I love about Platt’s chapter on this subject is this statement: “Every single one of us has a heart that tends toward sexual sin” (page 168).

Now, hear me. I am not condoning anything, but like Platt, I believe we ought to address sin as sin but also as the new creatures in Christ that He made us and not from some condemnation judgment standpoint.

Paul essentially says this after his clear teachings on morality in Romans chapter one. Chapter two warns against condemnation judgment on our part. That is God’s prerogative.

Having said that, though, does not mean that we as Christians should avoid our roles as “fruit inspectors,” pointing out sin and deviant behavior to believers who purport to be followers of Jesus.

I guess what I am saying is that this whole topic leads me once again to focus first and foremost on myself before I point the finger at anyone else.

Psalm 69 helps me in this regard. This Psalm is significant because Jesus quoted from it while He was on the cross. But notice these words:

“Don’t let those who trust in you be ashamed because of me, O Sovereign LORD of Heaven’s Armies. Don’t let me cause them to be humiliated, O God of Israel…. The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged. For the LORD hears the cries of the needy; he does not despise his imprisoned people” (Psalm 69:6, 32-33, NLT).

One of the biggest responsibilities of spiritual leadership is to point people to God AND His standards and not away from them. I have the potential to do this, not only in what I preach from the pulpit, but also how I live. It literally scares me to death.

Lord, I pray for this pastor in Tennessee and his congregation. If indeed he is praying, then speak to him and change his mind and leadership on this issue before more people get damaged.

Oh, God, please help me. You have saved me and forgiven me and graced me. Now, I am a new creation in Christ Jesus—the old has passed. Everything is new. By your grace, enable me to lead Your church to follow Your teachings in the Word of God. Amen.
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The Victor Who Can Stem the Tide

Psalm 68 uses some graphic imagery, but before I get to the Psalm for today, I would like to make a few more comments about David Platt’s new book, A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture. Here are some of the topics he addresses: poverty, abortion, sex slavery, sexual immorality, religious liberty, and others.

In each chapter, he presents a very biblical argument on the topic, and his chapters conclude with some “first steps to counter culture through prayer, participation (practical steps), and proclamation. Platt definitely confirms he is a pastor. All his points start with the same letter—ha.

In all seriousness, though, I like this book. Too often, we as Christians shy away from addressing social issues because it seems to overwhelming and diverts us from our main task (supposedly but not really).

I am still kind of stuck on the chapter about abortion just because of the overwhelming statistic that Platt cites in the first words of the chapter: 115,000 babies PER DAY WORLD-WIDE are aborted! I just can’t wrap my mind around it. It makes me want to cry and never stop.

What are some practical steps that Platt recommends? I am very interested. The first thing he says is, “Bring conviction and repentance in the lives of Christians (including you) involved in sexual immorality.”

It has been a while, but years ago we were involved in True Love Waits and made it a church-wide emphasis. Before our auditorium remodel, those of us who committed to abstaining from sex prior to marriage signed our names on a wall near the church auditorium.

One year, our youth leaders asked me to take some time during Sunday school to speak to the youth about God’s standards for sex. I was glad to do it, but somehow, I felt that my words and appeal rang a little hollow with the students. Who knows for sure?

I’m just not sure we are doing a good job in that arena. I say that. Then, I hasten to say that I don’t believe the primary responsibility for sex discipleship (if I can coin that term) rests with the church.

Shouldn’t the family do it? I believe the main responsibility for teaching a responsible and biblical perspective of sex begins at home, but are parents equipped to do it? If they are, will they? There are so many questions.

It breaks my heart to think that many of those students who wrote their name on a wall at church ended up breaking their promise.

Platt also recommends meeting with a small group of folks in our church to “exhort one another to sexual purity and faithfulness.” How about that? I like the idea, but there are a lot of challenges actually to implementing such a group. I think the first one is trust and confidentiality. One would have to be sure that he or she could share struggles without seeing them splashed across the front page of the newspaper the next day.

Have you noticed what I just did? I discounted two of Platt’s ideas. That’s what we do. We shoot down ideas in favor of nothing and wonder why our children get pregnant outside of marriage and choose to abort a baby.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed in this issue--$115,000 per day—what on earth can we do? Well, we certainly don’t need to be defensive. We are on the winning side! Psalm 68 makes this clear: “Sing to the one who rides across the ancient heavens, his mighty voice thundering from the sky. Tell everyone about God’s power. His majesty shines down on Israel; his strength is mighty in the heavens. God is awesome in his sanctuary. The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!” (Psalm 68:33-35, NLT)

O God, You who ride across the heavens, your mighty voice thundering from the sky--win the victory over this mass worldwide slaughter of innocent babies. I choose today to ask You to lead us to do SOMETHING to stem the tide even if it saves one baby. Amen.

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A Laughter Gift

A recurrent phrase in the Psalm for today caught my attention. And I will get to it in a moment.

But let me back up first.

Yesterday, I had a couple of meetings at our Community Groups concluded yesterday, and I was beat. The truth was that I just didn’t feel all that great yesterday. Nothing major. I just wasn’t on top of things. And, as the day wore on, I felt as if I were wearing down a bit.

One brother who came into the office saw me hanging my head a bit, asked how I was doing, and prayed for me on the spot. I really appreciate this.

But, after my second meeting, I headed down to our fellowship hall to retrieve the food that some folks in our fellowship graciously prepared for me. Betty told me it was in the fridge in our fellowship hall.

When I entered the room, I noticed that the folks in our Korean church had just started having lunch. They invited me to join them. As one who never misses a good meal and in spite of the fact that I didn’t feel that great, I joined them.

Pastor Dong’s married daughter Miel was there. She jumped up to give me a hug. She was in town visiting from New Mexico. Her husband is an engineer there and Miel is a school teacher. Their little daughter Alena is now four years old! Wow, she is growing up fast. She sat right across the table from me and didn’t quite know what to do with this “American intruder.”

Immediately, Crystal (Pastor Dong’s wife) began passing dishes my way. I have been eating and enjoying Korean food for years and believe me, it is all good and very healthy.

As we were sitting there, I noticed a band aid on Grace’s left hand and asked her about it. “What happened to you?”

Her eyes widened. “Really? You don’t know? You are kidding, right?”

“No, Grace,” I replied, “I have no idea. Unless you are uncomfortable, please tell me.”

At that point, everyone around the table started laughing.

“Well, Pastor John, we had quite a day a few weeks ago. My husband Han (who is Pastor Dong’s son; Grace is his fiancée) was heating up a drink in a special heater he had made out of a Coke can, and it exploded. And in the course of the explosion, it sent shards of aluminum at all of us. This is what happened to my hand.”

At that point, Dong pointed to the side of his face. Apparently, Han had some serious injuries to his chest and arms. And, Lydia, a lady in the church told me her story.

“Something went into my eye, but the Lord was protecting me because I wear glasses and contact lenses. A few days after this incident, I pulled a couple of particles out of my eye.”

Now, I have paraphrased this story, but I have to tell you this: while they were telling me this story, they were laughing! We had to go the emergency room. Ha, ha. The doctors checked us out and bandaged our wounds. Ha.

The more they laughed, the more I started to laugh with them. “Wow,” I said. “That was a serious deal. All of you could have been wounded much more severely. Wow.” I just couldn’t get over the incident and their reaction to it.

“No, Pastor. The Lord is taking care of us. No big deal. We are fine.”

Somehow, the laughter did me good, and I started to feel better.

The passage for today further confirms this. Notice the repetition of a phrase in these verses: “God, mark us with grace and blessing! Smile! The whole country will see how you work, all the godless nations see how you save. God! Let people thank and enjoy you. Let all people thank and enjoy you. Let all far-flung people become happy and shout their happiness because You judge them fair and square, you ten the far-flung peoples. God! Let people thank and enjoy you. Let all people thank and enjoy you. Earth, display your exuberance” (Psalm 67:1-7, MSG).

“Thank and enjoy You”—what a phrase. I’m convinced that this occurs in many ways, but one of the main avenues available to us for “thanking and enjoying” the Lord is the fellowship of His people.

Lord, thank You for protecting Grace, Dong, Han, Crystal, and Lydia in that explosion. Thank You for the gift of laughter and that they gave it to me. Amen.
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Don't Get Your Feelings Hurt: A Letter from my Dad, April 15, 1973

It wasn’t to me …

Let me back up a bit. After I wrote yesterday’s blog post about my mom (thanks for all the great comments on Facebook by the way), Marilyn and I talked more about the book.

I need to fess up a bit here—the original idea for a book comprised of my mom’s Quiet Time notes through the years came from Marilyn—not me. Just to set things straight here. But we talked about this book and got those journals out. Wow. There are quite a few.

At that point (all of you know how this goes), we unearthed lots of old pictures and letters and reminisced a bit. Marilyn came across one from my dad.

Back in the early 1970’s, we took a family trip to California to visit Disneyland. In the course of that trip, we took some time one day in our rented car to divert several miles east of Los Angeles to a little town called Hemet. Once we arrived, we spent some time with an elderly couple my dad called Uncle Milo and Aunt Mildred. I found out recently that Aunt Mildred was a sister of my dad’s grandmother. They had a close relationship.

Anyway, this letter from my dad was written to Aunt Mildred. How did we have it? I think it is probably a safe bet that she gave it back to us at my dad’s funeral. She wanted us to have it, and we have kept it all these years.

I had never seen it before.

Just to give you a little timeline. My dad discovered that his cancer had reemerged in February of 1973. He died August 1, 1973. So, this communication occurred during those crucial few months. I typed out the letter last night. I want to share a rather lengthy excerpt, but I didn’t realize how emotional I would be as I read it. It hits a little too close to home in more than one way.

We received a little bad news in February. I had to go back in the hospital to have exploratory surgery and they found I have an inoperable tumor in my liver. So I am back on the strong medicine and not feeling so good. But we believe that the Lord still performs miracles and that His is going to heal this disease—in fact we believe that He has already done it (Mark 11:24) even though it may be some time before we see the results. I have been sustained by the prayers of many friends and loved ones who are praying the prayer of faith (James 5:15) and we are at complete peace knowing that we can always depend on God’s promises. I guess faith is acting like a thing is so when it is not, in order for it to be so. Someone else has said that faith is so acting on the world and the will of God, that God has to perform a miracle to keep His Word. Anyway, I told the doctors the Lord was going to this and not to have hurt feelings if He didn’t use the medicine or their brains.”

“Don’t get your feelings hurt,” my dad told the doctors. What a line!

This brings back so many memories. Shortly after he was diagnosed, we were exposed to the writings of two men: Manley Beasley and Jack Taylor. Beasley wrote a book on faith based on his experiences of being healed from a deadly disease. We literally ate up his words. Much of what my dad says in the quote above comes from Beasley and his teachings.

We earnestly believed, right up to the waning moments of my dad’s life, that the Lord was going to heal him. Were we fools? Were we somehow deceived and naïve?

Well, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that his disease and death shook us. It still does. For the life of my, I can’t figure out why the Lord would take my dad in the prime of his life and witness.

But the thing that stands out is his faith. As I read the letter, I got emotional because I wonder about mine. Do I really believe in the Lord like THAT? Somehow, I would have to say no. And here is the reason why. After my dad’s death, I hesitate to attach outcomes to my prayers and faith.

I trust the Lord to heal me and I am praying for it, as many of you are, but I would have to say more accurately that I trust the Lord
no matter the outcome. Does this somehow diminish faith? I wonder. I really do.

My dad trusted the Lord to heal him. We all did. We ate up Beasley’s teachings and this “inoperable” cancer drove us to God. We prayed fervently. So did many others. But he died anyway. How do you process it? I would say that I still am.

Let me ask this question. It has been on my mind since yesterday. Two statements:

First, Jerry Talbert trusted God and the Lord healed him of cancer.

Second, Jerry Talbert trusted God and he died of cancer.

Are there any differences in the real genuine faith in those two instances? We tend to base the legitimacy of our faith based on outcomes. One friend of my mom did this after my dad died, “Well, Mary Louise, if you had had more faith, Jerry would not have died.” I think this kind of statement is hogwash and it was a good thing I was not in the room when she told my mom this, because I would have punched her. Sorry to say.

I’m so glad we kept this letter. I’m so glad to read my dad’s testimony during his second round of chemo treatments in which he was sick in bed most of the time. He was sick but his faith and testimony were healthy. All those memories come flooding back into my brain now. Flooding.

The Psalm for today sums things up fairly well, I think. It is a good but brief history of Israel from Egypt to Canaan. “Bless our God, O peoples! Give him a thunderous welcome! Didn’t he set us on the road to life? Didn’t he keep us out of the ditch? He trained us first, passed us like silver through refining fires, Brought us into hardscrabble country, pushed us to our very limit, Road-tested us inside and out, took us to hell and back; Finally he brought us to this well-watered place” (Psalm 66:8-12, MSG)

Thanks for those necessary but painful “refining fires.” Still, Lord, I don’t get it. Why? Amen.

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My Mom's Birthday on Valentine's Day

February 14 has always been a special day. As the title of the blog indicates, it is my mom’s birthday. She told us the story of her birth in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1928. The doctors and nurses “fudged” a bit. Apparently my mom was ACTUALLY born a couple of minutes before the clock turned over to February 14th, but they didn’t want her to be born on the 13th, so they (in agreement with Leo and Belle McNerney, the parents) just “called it good” by saying she was born on Valentine’s Day.

You are probably thinking that Marilyn and I liked this day because it was my mom’s birthday, and that would be right. But the truth is: we also liked it because WE always got something. Yes, you read that right. She gave US something. Usually, it was a box of Russell Stover chocolates! How about that?

I blame my love for chocolate on my mom because of this. She is the culprit. Of course, I have no personal responsibility in the matter! Ha.

But my mom always did this, every year. How about that? It made quite an impact on me. And it makes me think: how about changing the custom to birthday presents being something you give on your birthday instead of something you receive? I wonder if I can get our culture to make that shift? Yeah, right. Never happen, I know.

But let’s just say I could do it. The day it happened, I would immediately buy a bunch of stock in Russell Stover. Just tell everyone to buy the little gift box of chocolates and give them out to as many people as possible on your birthday. How about that?

I’m joking but not really. This is just one thing I have learned from my mom. She got a lot more joy from giving us something on her birthday than receiving anything.

The other day, I asked, “Mother, would what would you like to do on your birthday? Just name it.” Her answer? “Just getting to be with you two is all I want.”

Another thing: I was in the kitchen doing something a few days ago. She came in laughing. “What is so funny?” My mom could barely contain herself she was literally gasping for air—that kind of laugh. “I’m just thinking about it. I’m going to be 87! 87!! That is old. I’ve never known anyone as old as I am going to be!”

Since I am sharing this stuff about her, I have one more thing to share. I am reminded of this because of an illustration I want to use in the sermon tomorrow. One of my mom’s main legacies—something that I will remember about her maybe more than anything else—is that the fact every morning, no matter what happened good or bad in our family—my mom spent time every morning in the Word and in prayer. She used a spiral notebook to journal her thoughts and prayers.

I learned to do THIS because of my mom.

Back when she was doing it, she just her down her communion with God with pen on lined sheets of paper in notebooks. No one saw what she wrote except God. She did not have the technology that allows me to type words on a computer screen and push a button so people in all parts of the country and the world have immediate access.

But someday, I hope people will. One of my writing projects is going to be to publish her writings. That is one of my book ideas. How about that as a legacy? My mom’s Quiet Time notes. We still have those notebooks. Marilyn and I both consider them to be very valuable.

Beyond the words on pages, it was just the example. There was a certain time of the morning after she ate breakfast that she was not to be disturbed. She was meeting with Jesus. We all respected her for that. I still do.

I wonder if any parents are reading this blog today—will your kids remember your personal walk and daily walk with Jesus because you gave them an example? I can’t imagine a greater thing to teach one’s kids by example. Can you?

“Don’t let them find me— the conspirators out to get me, Using their tongues as weapons, flinging poison words, poison-tipped arrow-words. They shoot from ambush, shoot without warning, not caring who they hit. They keep fit doing calisthenics of evil purpose, They keep lists of the traps they’ve secretly set. They say to each other, ‘No one can catch us, no one can detect our perfect crime.’ The Detective detects the mystery in the dark of the cellar heart” (Psalm 64:2-6, MSG).

The Detective is on the job. No hidden crime goes unnoticed. God sees all evil, but He also detects good—even the hidden faithfulness of a mom.

Thanks for my mom, Lord. Give her a good day on HER birthday. Thanks for letting her live 87 years. Amen.
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Thankful to Be Alive

Just a quick report about the biopsy yesterday—I think my main problem was my own imagination about what the doctor was doing as he cut out a chunk of my leg. I haven’t had any pain. I would call it just an awareness that my leg is a little sore. That’s it.

The doctor told me not to take a shower for twenty-four hours because he did not want the incision and stitches to get wet. At 4:30 this afternoon, I will take a shower and redress the wound with a dab of Vaseline and a new Band Aid. The instructions are to follow this procedure twice a day for the next two weeks until the stitches are removed. Sir. Yes, Sir!

I should hear the results of the biopsy in a week, and at this point in the game, my response is, “Whatever.”

I’m just glad that I don’t have to do anything related to cancer for a few days. I hope to get outside in the sun a little today. The doctor has asked me not to walk a whole lot but still, I can be “out there.” And I am grateful.

As we were headed home from the doctor’s office, I said this to my mom and sis, “My life feels very remote from the rest of the world right now, as if I am on the sidelines watching the world go by. I look at the harried pace of modern life with people riding bikes and running and exerting effort, and I just think, ‘Will that ever be me again?’”

Marilyn replied, “Well, Mother and I think you are doing well with all of it, John. I wouldn’t worry about it.” She wasn’t trying to be dismissive. She knows I tend to “overthink” everything. She is right.

It is just the mental side of cancer that I am learning about and learning to cope with by the grace of God.

One of the benefits of my “down time” is that I am able to devote more quality time to preparing my sermons AND reading books. These two activities tend to counter this other stuff.

A new book came in the mail the other day. It is called
Counter Culture. The author is David Platt of Radical fame. Platt is now the head of the International Mission Board. I have a lot of respect for his insights of issues from a global perspective.

Counter Culture touches on “issues” that Christians are facing in the modern world. One of the most intriguing chapters deals with the subject of abortion. Here is a stat he cites in the first page of the chapter: every day, 115,000 abortions occur worldwide PER DAY. Stop and think about that.

I’ve said this before, but I do not believe this is a political issue. Like Gay marriage, it is a MORAL issue and as the church of Jesus Christ, we need to speak out against it.

My heart breaks as I think of the women who have sat in my office crying their hearts out over taking the life of one of their children. Abortion is no easy fix for an unwanted pregnancy. Like all sin, like my sin, it has consequences, and we don’t need to hammer people over it but make it very clear that it is wrong and show the compassion of the love of Christ.

The other day, Betty handed me some information about an interesting ministry called Psalm 139 Project. Please go to
www.psalm139project.org to learn about it. The gist of it is that if we can just encourage moms to get a glimpse of the unborn fetus in the womb, the likelihood of a woman choosing abortion drops significantly. What an awesome idea!

“I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises! If I’m sleepless at midnight, I spend the hours in grateful reflection. Because you’ve always stood up for me, I’m free to run and play. I hold on to you for dear life, and you hold me steady as a post” (Psalm 63:5-8, MSG). Don’t you love this “kid” language—in the Lord’s family, we are free to run and play.

We take our cues (or should) about family life from the One who invented the institution in the first place.

Lord, I’m thankful for another day—it is a gift just to be able to live. I don’t understand what is going on in my brain these days, but I choose not to try to figure it out, especially during these sleepless nights that occur after chemo. I choose instead to thank you. My heart breaks that today 115,000 babies will never get the chance to come out of the womb and live in this world even one day. Oh, man. Amen.
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Molehills and Mountains

First of all, this afternoon, I go back to the skin doc’s office to have a suspicious mole removed and biopsied. It is amazing how many folks I have talked with about this. Every single person—mainly men and a few women—have said, “Yeah, I have had several moles cut out. No biggie.”

I shared this with my oncologist last week before I started chemo. He took a look at both places and shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t think there is anything there.”

So, anyway, I will be glad when I get this done this afternoon. And here is the main reason why: I can start the process of NOT thinking about cancer/cancer related stuff for a couple of weeks until I get chemo again. I know that statement sounds a little crazy, but again, this disease wants to consume one’s life and would certainly do it if I allow that to happen.

I won’t. I can’t.

Back to yesterday, I spent some time at the office and then headed to Aurora for a visit. I could sense that my energy was running out early in the afternoon, but I knew I had a little more in the tank for something that I considered to be very important.

All visits are important. Don’t get me wrong. I love chatting with people in their homes or in the hospital or wherever. It is one of my favorite things about being a pastor, but the visit yesterday had even more significance for me.

Over the past few days as I have read Larry’s book, my burden for the church—the one I serve and the American church at large—has increased significantly. It is one thing to talk about outreach and the church’s impact on a community, but it is quite another actually to see it happen.

Now, before I ask this question, I realize that there might be a few people or more than a few who will say, “Oh, John, I am a part of a church where dozens of folks get saved and baptized every Sunday. It is commonplace with us. I have no idea what you are talking about. You are wrong.”

If you are reading this and this is the case with your church, I am thrilled for you. I really am, but somehow, I believe this type of situation is the exception rather than the rule.

Here is my question: honestly, when was the last time, reader, when the Lord has allowed you to be there when He saved an adult?

Notice how I asked that question. The Lord saves. We don’t save anyone. He does all the work and sometimes, He allows us to see someone get saved. Oftentimes, He does not. Either way, it is good, right? We cast seed out there and leave the results up to God. Okay?

But back to my question. When was the last time? I will just answer for me. It has been way too long.

Here is where I am: it is one thing to talk about reaching the community and pointing to “the church” (not the building but the people; the church is not a building; it is people) and complaining how “they” aren’t doing it, but what about me? I am part of the church. When I complain about “them,” I am complaining about me!

So, where the Lord has me these days is working on my own personal witness life.

And the challenges are greater than ever. One of the main ones is: right now, I don’t even live in the church community any longer. I live on the other side of town. I guess that means I don’t have to worry about witnessing? Ah, no.

I am asking the Lord to give me opportunities to share in a place where I go every once in a while these days (more in the summer of course): the golf course. And recently, the Lord allowed me to meet a guy with whom we have struck up a friendship.

Yesterday, he invited me to his home in Aurora to talk about the book of Revelation of all things. How about that? It was AWESOME!

I won’t go into detail about everything we talked about at this point, but as I was visiting with him, I could not help but laugh. Again, I say, “If you ask the Lord for an opportunity, you’d better be ready!” Ha. Oh, man.

Notice these selected statements from Psalm 62: “How long will you gang up on me? How long will you run with the bullies? There’s nothing to you, any of you— rotten floorboards, worm-eaten rafters, Anthills plotting to bring down mountains, far gone in make-believe. You talk a good line, but every “blessing” breathes a curse…. Man as such is smoke, woman as such, a mirage. Put them together, they’re nothing; two times nothing is nothing. And a windfall, if it comes— don’t make too much of it. God said this once and for all; how many times Have I heard it repeated? ‘Strength comes Straight from God’” (Psalm 62:3-4, 9-11, MSG).

Lord, my anthill (or more appropriately MOLEHILL) worries don’t compare with the Mountain You are. Thank You for the strength You give us to go through anything and to serve You. Lord, thank You for yesterday. Help me always to practice everything—absolutely everything—I preach to others. Amen.
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Live What I Sing Every Day

Yesterday was rather a short day at the office. I spent some time visiting with Ilamarques, who preached for me Sunday. Two days before his service on my behalf, he returned from a trip to Brazil (his homeland). On this trip, he served as an emissary for his congregation. They gave two cars to two missionary families. Yeah. You read that right—CARS.

Just to see the video and the pictures of this couple and this single woman as they received these automobiles made my month. The woman, who serves in an area near the Amazon jungle, told Ilamarques that she has been asking the Lord for a car for 15 years. Finally, her prayers were answered. As he handed her the keys in a worship service, she wept as she clutched them near her forehead. Oh, man.

After visiting with Betty a bit and making a few more calls, I felt the “energy drain” and knew it was time to head home.

My last conversation was with Jim Sines. He serves as Director of Community of Faith United (COFU). Some of you may recognize that name and that organization. We actually housed them in our building for about five years. It was a wonderful partnership in ministry. They grew to the point where they had to move to a new and bigger space across I-25 from the church.

Now, after operating in what was a former library for a couple of years, they are on the move again.

Please pray for them as they make this transition. They are facing one final obstacle before this move may be finalized.

It was good to talk with Jim and catch up with him a bit. To be frank, I miss COFU and the activity in the building going on seven days a week. It was challenging and difficult at times. I won’t lie. But I miss them.

I think our folks have mixed feelings. We hated to see them go because we had developed relationships with the folks who came to volunteer and we still keep up with them, but on the other hand, we reclaimed some space that we use now for other ministry purposes. But the building seems so quiet now, too quiet.

What to do about this? Well, I think we need to be open to what the Lord leads us to do when it comes to community impact.

Back to Pastor Larry’s book (I mentioned it yesterday)—the main title is:
Transitioning to a Great Church. In the book, Larry gives a definition of a “great” church and makes the strong point that it has NOTHING to do with numbers. It has to do with kingdom and cultural impact. He goes on, “Every church is called to a community or a city:
--To serve that community in the name of Jesus
--To challenge that community with the Gospel of Jesus
--To transform that community with the compassion of Jesus” (page 38).

Good stuff. This reminds me of something I read recently. I can’t remember the title of the book or the author, but he said, “If your church were not in the community, would the community notice or care?” This is a different paradigm of church that focuses primarily on the field not on what is going on inside the building—not that programs and activities are not important, but if no one is sitting there, it doesn’t really matter.

Anyway, more food for thought.

I can relate to the Psalmist’s cry in Psalm 61. “God, listen to me shout, bend an ear to my prayer. When I’m far from anywhere, down to my last gasp, I call out, “Guide me up High Rock Mountain!” (Psalm 61:1-2, MSG) You may wonder why I can relate to this prayer and the feeling of being “far from anywhere.” This disease makes me feel this way. After sitting around in my house for three or four days and then returning to the church, things FEEL a little foreign. This is a place and community in which I have served for over twenty-five years. Now, sometimes, I feel like a stranger in it. Weird to say but true.

What to do? Here is how the Psalm ends: “Let the days of the king add up to years and years of good rule. Set his throne in the full light of God; post Steady Love and Good Faith as lookouts, And I’ll be the poet who sings your glory— and live what I sing every day” (Psalm 61:6-8, MSG). The only thing I know to do is to continue to worship the Lord DAILY and make sure I LIVE this worship EVERY DAY.

Lord, “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Let me along with Peterson and the Psalmist be a poet who lives these words. Let our church live them as well. Let us be a “great” church as you define greatness. Amen.
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Pastor Larry and His Book

One of the indicators that I may be doing a little better is that I feel up to talking on the phone. I don’t know why, but right in the middle of the side effects of chemo, that is often the last thing I feel like doing, and it isn’t because I don’t appreciate phone calls and messages. I just don’t have the energy. Weird.

But anyway, I did yesterday afternoon, at least for a while, and the first guy I felt the need to call was Larry.

Let me give you a little background: my second year at Southwestern Seminary (Marilyn’s first) we were still in the process of looking for a church. We visited all the big ones. None of them appealed to us. We tried all kinds and sizes of churches. It was not until second semester, second year (for me) that we found a church home. The name of the church was Arlington Heights Baptist Church.

It was a rather old and dilapidated building located near several art museums and the osteopathic medical school in downtown Fort Worth—a challenging community, to say the least.

It was a small church, comprised mainly of senior adults, with a young, energetic pastor. Larry was the guy. He and I hit if off from the start for several reasons. Larry was an expository preacher. “Expository” tends to have become a buzzword these days that seems to mean just about anything. I define it as the practice of preaching through books of the Bible.

Larry did that very well. Plus, he was a sports nut. He liked and played sports that I liked—the two primary examples being basketball and golf.

Not long after Marilyn and I became members, he recruited me to be on the church basketball team. I rode the bench but I loved it. Larry was player coach. One game he scored 27 points and helped lead us to victory over our hated rivals, Broadway Baptist Church.

One summer, Larry led a mission team up to Colorado to help us with Vacation Bible School at Calvary Baptist Church of Englewood. For some reason, the accommodations the group had planned to use did not work out, so my mom, sis, and I invited the whole team to stay at our house—15 people or so for a week. That was interesting.

The next year, our church started a house church ministry in the community. Larry recruited me to be one of the leaders. We knocked on doors and started a Bible study across the street from the church in a transitional neighborhood.

Wow, that is a lot, as I sit here and remember.

The Lord led Larry and his wife Edda to move to Garland, a suburb of Dallas, in 1983. He has been serving that church—Freeman Heights Baptist Church—ever since. How long is that? 31, 32 years? Awesome.

Not long after Larry left, Marilyn and I did decide to join one of those big churches just so we could meet some people our own age and we entered into a new era, but I will never forget those two short years at Arlington Heights with Larry.

Since, then, over the years, we have kept in touch sporadically. But the other day, I received a package in the mail. It was a book. The author was Larry Venable. The title is
Transitioning to a Great Church: From Traditional through Transitional to Transformational. This little book tells the story of how the Lord worked to make this traditional church viable and relevant to its community. I could say more about the book, but I am going to read it again first.

The bottom line is that it encouraged me deeply, and I told Larry that when I talked to him yesterday.

He asked about my health. Then, he said, “Have I told you about my stuff?” “Your stuff?” I replied. “Yeah, several years ago, my hand started shaking and I just noticed that I could not hit the golf ball very far at all. After going to some doctors and taking some tests, they discovered that I have a form of Parkinson’s disease. They are giving me medicine and encouraging exercise and I am doing a lot better. In fact, I would like to market this medicine to the golfers and the PGA tour because, since I started taking it, I’m hitting my drives farther than ever.” Ha. I told him I would sign up!

But back to the book, it has inspired me to continue the fight to lead our church to be relevant. To be honest, I am growing a little weary of having to try to convince people that if we don’t reach folks, if we don’t become viable in our community, our days are over. Don’t people see it? Are you kidding me? But Larry reminded me that people don’t automatically see it, that it is a leadership challenge, and it is my job to train and develop leaders who do “get it.” Not every one of them will, but some will.

The other thing Larry’s book showed me is that we are not alone in this challenge. He said that last year, across the United States, 1000 SBC churches closed their doors. 1000! A couple of them have been on the north side in Denver! Those churches that “figure it out” survive. Those that don’t, die. It is that simple.

Lord, thank you for Larry and the way you have used this brother in my life. Thank you for the longevity of his ministry in Garland. Thank you for the way You have led him to lead his congregation. What an awesome story! I pray that First Southern could have such a story. Use me to be a part of it, even through cancer. I pray for Larry and his Parkinson’s disease. Strengthen him. Help him hit farther than ever! Amen.

“Who will take me to the thick of the fight? Who’ll show me the road to Edom? You aren’t giving up on us, are you, God? refusing to go out with our troops? Give us help for the hard task; human help is worthless. In God we’ll do our very best; he’ll flatten the opposition for good” (Psalm 60:9-12, MSG).
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In the Tank and Dependable Love

I would really appreciate your prayers. Since my visit with Carter on Friday, I have gone downhill. Yesterday, late afternoon, was the worst. I just kept feeling worse and worse. Eating would help me for a little bit (I had to force myself to poke food down my mouth), but I would soon return to that ache all over nausea feeling. It was miserable.

What made things worse is that the past couple of days had to be two of the nicest weather days in early February EVER. The temperatures were up in the high 60’s/early 70’s. These would normally have been days that I would have figured out some way to be outside enjoying the weather. I did go outside a few times, but all I felt like doing was sitting on our back porch.

I hope today that the pendulum begins to swing upward a bit because I just feel so out of it and so old. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Up till now, I haven’t had much depression to go along with things—can’t really figure out why except the assurance that people are praying for me. Thank you all, VERY MUCH.

One additional thing helped me a bit. On the Sundays that I am not able to preach or go to church, I try to find a sermon or some type of Bible study to listen to somewhere, somehow. Yesterday, I was acutely aware of this need for some spiritual input.

A couple of days ago, I friend had sent me a link of the keynote message at the National Prayer Breakfast several days ago. President Obama’s comments about Christians and the crusades of the Middle Ages garnered a lot of attention, but someone who did not much if any press was Darrell Waltrip—the race car driver.

I’m not much of a NASCAR or racing fan so I didn’t know much about Waltrip until yesterday, but after having heard his blatant, unashamed Christian testimony, now I am. Wow. He told about his life prior to his conversation. He shared about his encounter with Jesus and went on to assert that even good people go to Hell if they do not know Jesus. It was off the charts encouraging. I will try to provide a link for this speech on my Facebook page. Everyone must listen to it.

I’m not sure whether this speech came before or after the President’s in the order of service, but one other noteworthy comment that Darrell made was (and I am paraphrasing), “We all need to get off our high horse if we would humble ourselves and turn to Jesus Christ.”

I’m so grateful for men like Darrell Waltrip. They don’t care about political correctness. They just speak out for Jesus—he is a good ole Kentucky boy.

Listening to this testimony encouraged me yesterday morning as I was praying for the services at First Southern and for Ilamarques who was preaching in my absence.

No matter how you feel—good, bad, or indifferent—you can count on the Lord. I’m learning more and more about his dependable love each and every day:

“But you, GOD, break out laughing; you treat the godless nations like jokes. Strong God, I’m watching you do it, I can always count on you. God in dependable love shows up on time, shows me my enemies in ruin…. And me? I’m singing your prowess, shouting at cockcrow your largesse, For you’ve been a safe place for me, a good place to hide. Strong God, I’m watching you do it, I can always count on you— God, my dependable love” (Psalm 58:8-10; 16-17, MSG).

Lord, this has been one of the most difficult weekends I have ever endured, but I’m thankful for the prayers of God’s people, the testimonies of faithful witnesses, and Your dependable love—You are always there for us. Amen.
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Howard Re-Visited

This is one of the most difficult times of the week after chemo—the time when I would be getting in my car and heading up to church. Right about now.

But I am not … and I will add quickly that I am thankful that I am not driving up there this morning.

Yesterday was a very long tough day. I dealt with nausea throughout the day along with the battle to continue to eat something. I forced myself to eat, and for a while, I seemed to feel better until the nausea returned.

When I wasn’t dealing with the nausea/forcing myself to eat syndrome, I was sleeping. I bet I slept most of the afternoon. And it was weird because normally, it would have been a day that I would have been outside doing something—the temperature was at or near 70 degrees, for crying out loud!

Just one of those days …

Sitting here this morning, it seems like a waste. It looks as if I have another one of those “waste” days ahead of me today.

But even as I use that term “waste,” I really don’t believe that any day is wasted, is it? I have to come back to what is going on here. I am dealing with a disease not of my choosing. God has sovereignly allowed it into my life.

I have learned the hard way that my best response during these days is to do exactly want I did yesterday—REST. So, no matter who it “feels,” I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

Psalm 56 gives some helpful insight as well. Notice these three verses in the Message version: “You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book…. God, you did everything you promised, and I’m thanking you with all my heart. You pulled me from the brink of death, my feet from the cliff-edge of doom. Now I stroll at leisure with God in the sunlit fields of life” (Psalm 56:8, 12-13).

God keeps track of my every twist and turn as I sit on this couch. Nothing escapes His notice. I affirm that.

Not only that, I don’t have to be worried that some kind of clock is ticking—that God is in heaven with his arms folded across His chest, tapping His foot, “I wish that guy would get better and get back to work. What is going on here? Another day where he just sits there? Are you kidding?”

Years ago, I went with Andy Sr. and a group of boys down to Ponderosa—our Southern Baptist encampment here in Colorado. It is a beautiful place just east of Monument across I-25.

One day, Andy and I took the boys on a hike. Andy took the lead, and I stayed at the back. It did not take me long to get frustrated with a little boy at the back of the line named Howard. Howard had no interest in the hike. He was bored to death. And he had no motivation to keep up with the others. He dawdled. He stopped to sit on rocks. He wandered off the trail.

“Howard, let’s keep moving,” I urged. “We are falling behind the group.” It didn’t motivate him in the least.

Well, Andy and the rest of the boys took off, and it wasn’t long before Howard and I were way behind. I kept trying to get Howard to move faster, but the more I pushed him, the slower he got. I rode him hard. Looking back on it, I regret it.

The motivating factor for me was to keep up with the group, but as it turned out, when the group realized we weren’t with them, they just stopped, turned around, and backtracked to us. We all returned to camp. Howard walked a lot faster when he realized we were heading back to eat lunch.

I’m glad the Lord doesn’t treat me as I treated Howard. In fact, he encourages slow walkers—strolls at leisure in the sunlit fields of life.

Lord, I feel like Howard this morning—way late, way behind, out of it. Thank You that You don’t respond to me as I did that little boy. I pray for the services today and for Ilamarques as he preaches for me. Thanks for allowing “strollers” in your fields. Amen.
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Carter

Yesterday morning, I spent a little over an hour in the chemo room getting a hydration treatment. It is simply a bucket of water down my port. Well, not really a bucket per se, but a lot of water.

I’m thankful for this final piece of the puzzle in my chemo treatment, but as I have said before, it seems more and more difficult to drag myself back there for a third day in a row.

But when I finally finished, I jumped in my car and headed to the airport. My friend and college roommate Carter was coming into town, and I was picking him up. We were going to eat lunch, visit a while, and then I was going to take him to his son’s house in Aurora. That was the plan.

We were both not a little incredulous that his flight was actually early. I arrived at the terminal on time (another miracle), and after retrieving his suitcase, we were off to the races.

We figured that we hadn’t seen each other for twenty years, and that was only a brief catch-up time when he made a visit to Denver back in the mid-1990’s. The more I think about this, the worse I feel because Carter is one of my best friends in the world.

We lived together in college for three and a half years, for crying out loud. But it was interesting that the bulk of the conversation was about what had happened in both of our lives since college.

My pilgrimage has been rather mundane and boring. Not Carter’s. He has done a lot of different things and has moved several times. This is in addition to being a husband and father of three now grown kids.

We talked about other “stuff” as well relating to our views on certain controversial topics. I think I will just leave it there.

And we laughed. This is a very common feature of our friendship, and a very important one. Carter cracks me up. And he doesn’t have to work very hard to do it, either. Ha.

I was uncertain how long my energy would hold up, but I seemed to do fine until mid-afternoon. Then, we left Chick Fil-A to head to his son’s house. On the way, he said, “I’m really proud of how my kids are doing in their walk and relationship with the Lord.”

I replied, “Carter, that is a huge gauge of true success—being a good husband and father.”

“Well, it wasn’t that Lorraine and I were perfect. That’s for sure, but we just tried to raise them in the right way.” Amen.

As we parted ways, he said that he might be back to Denver in December. I hope so. I look forward to more fellowship with him. He and Lorraine live in Maryland now. One of these days, maybe I can go out to see them …

It was just a great break in this whole cancer process. I was a little worn out when I got home, but it was a good tired, a refreshed tired.

My fellowship with him yesterday put an interesting slant on a Psalm that deals with the opposite side of the coin. Psalm 55 talks about the pain of betrayal—how much it hurts when a “companion and close friend” turns on us.

The Psalm concludes this way: “Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. But you, O God, will send the wicked down to the pit of destruction. Murderers and liars will die young, but I am trusting you to save me” (Psalm 55:22-23, NLT).

As I read those verses, it occurs to me that something else even more amazing happens as a result of an encounter with a good friend. The Galatians 6:2 Effect comes into play: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (NLT).

I’m telling you that we didn’t get into any “deep” stuff, but this is a guy with whom I could talk about anything with and we certain did in college—just hanging around him, my burdens that I am giving to the Lord felt lighter.

How about that as a mark of friendship?

Lord, I thank you for Carter and our friendship. It was great to see him yesterday. I pray for Lorraine and his kiddos and their families. I pray that you would give him a safe trip and help him as he works on some family stuff while visiting this part of the country. Thank You Lord for our fellowship time yesterday. Amen.

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Chemo 5"c," Dealing with the Cure, and Naghmeh's Letter

I put the quotes around “c” today, but I have to go back to the cancer center this morning for a hydration treatment. Essentially, what they do is put water in my port. This helps flush all the poison out of my system faster thus lessening the side effects of the chemo—hopefully. I feel that it has helped in the past so I am going to stick with the plan this time.

It is very difficult for me to get up to going back there a third day in a row, however. I usually end up being in there about an hour. It feels like four hours, but it is what it is and I will get this tube out of my port and finally be able to take a shower.

Back to yesterday, before I started my treatment, I said to Diane the nurse, “Diane, the last time I got treatment, sometime in the second day, I started to have a bout with the hiccups that lasted two days. Dr. Jotte prescribed Valium for them. I sort of want to head them off at the pass. Is it okay if I start now?”

Her eyes widened a bit, “Valium, huh? Well, okay. Maybe you might want to start a little slow on it.”

I took her up on her advice. I broke one of the little pills in half and stuck it in my mouth.

Okay, it didn’t take long for it to “hit.” I felt it in my head and legs. The former felt light; the latter felt heavy. Weird. I laid back in my chair and slept for most of the two hours we were there. I got home and slept some more, and as the afternoon unfolded, I slept more. Sound like a broken record?

I started to feel the hiccups returning in the early evening, so took the other half of the pill. I seemed to sleep okay last night. We will see how today goes. I’m not going to take more unless the hiccups start up again. I’m glad the hiccups are better, but I don’t really like the cure.

Well, enough of that.

Yesterday, I received a prayer letter from Saeed Abedini’s (the imprisoned pastor in Iran) wife. Her name is Naghmeh. It touched me deeply. She said that she was asking prayer for herself because she was facing physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional attacks on herself and on the kids.

I felt a burden to pray for her as the Lord brought her to mind through my intermittent sleepy day and I sent a email out to our prayer warriors.

Interestingly enough, she sent out another message later in the day thanking all of us for praying. She received many email responses and felt the hedge of protection around her. In this second email, she talks about her future speaking engagements. She will be spending a lot of time in Europe. She believes that Satan is attacking her because she will be sharing the gospel with many secular audiences.

Please continue to pray for Saeed, Naghmeh, and the family.

These letters dovetail with the message of Psalm 54. I want to say a word about the titles of the Psalms. In my study, I have discovered that they are spurious add-ons at best—not a part of the original Hebrew text. But I look at them nonetheless. Sometimes they do give a little insight into what the Psalm is about.

The title of his Psalm in the New Living Translation is: “For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time the Ziphites came and said to Saul, ‘We know where David is hiding.’ To be accompanied by stringed instruments”

So, this Psalm perhaps gives a prayer of David as he faces similar threats from humans that Naghmeh is facing on a spiritual level. Both are threats. Both are scary. How does David respond?

“Come with great power, O God, and rescue me! Defend me with your might. Listen to my prayer, O God. Pay attention to my plea. For strangers are attacking me; violent people are trying to kill me. They care nothing for God. Interlude But God is my helper. The Lord keeps me alive! May the evil plans of my enemies be turned against them. Do as you promised and put an end to them” (Psalm 54:1-5, NLT). The enemy would like nothing better than to shut us up and shut us down.

As long as we keep this in mind, it gives up perspective on the reason we persevere through trials and temptations and threats and enemy attacks.

Lord, I pray for Naghmeh as this dear pastor’s wife is now called to travel all over the world to speak on behalf of her imprisoned husband but more than that, as am ambassador for You, Jesus. Protect her today from the attacks of the enemy. Turn the evil plans of the enemy around and bring them back onto them. Amen.

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Chemo 5b, A Cure for Hiccups (Hopefully), and Another Perspective

As you could probably guess, one of the main questions I had for Dr. Jotte before chemo yesterday was about hiccups. “They nearly pushed me over the edge of sanity,” I stated.

“Humm,” he replied, “Sorry to hear that. Well the only thing I have found to help them is Valium. There is another older drug but it has a lot of side effects that you don’t want to deal with. Valium seems to work well. But of course, you have to be careful with it as well. Don’t try to operate any heavy machinery or dig trenches in your yard. Your wife wouldn’t like it if you cut a new front door in your house.”

We laughed, and I didn’t even care to correct his view of my marital status. So, Marilyn went to the drug store yesterday evening and got my prescription. Day 2—the b day—was the day I got hiccups last month, so I will be ready if they start. We will see. And don’t worry about operating heavy machinery. The heaviest will be this laptop. Ha.

I didn’t feel particularly well all day yesterday. I had a headache in the morning that would just not go away, but mainly I was fatigued. When I go home in the afternoon, I literally conked out for over two hours.

I plan to rest for the next couple of days as well—just sit here, study when I feel like it, but mainly sleep.

One other thing to share: yesterday, Jim emailed out an interesting and significant article relating to the Middle East.

If you watch television news, one could get very depressed in the thought that things are hopeless in that part of the world. I noticed on the news today that the King of Jordon was photographed with his pilot’s uniform. He is willing to lead the fight against ISIS as the nation still seeks revenge for the burning of one of their pilots.

The news seems to be bad all the time.

However, this is not true.

The article sites James Keath, IMB strategy leader responsible for North Africa and the Middle East, who recounts numerous examples of Muslim men and women coming to faith in Jesus Christ. He contends that the humanitarian crises we see on the news are opening doors for the gospel, compelling people to look outside their tradition Muslim faith for genuine answers.

One of the greatest needs in the Middle East is the challenge of ministering to folks who are displaced from their homes because of terrorism. These refugees are also in a position to hear the truth and respond.

Please see this article under the moniker of Commission Stories on the IMB website. The title is “Political crises abound years after Arab Spring, but God’s hand at work,” dated January 23, 2015. I will check later on today, but I am sure that there are other articles on this site that give a different perspective.
The bottom line: God is at work.
Psalm 53 affirms this: “Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” (Psalm 53:1-3, NLT)

This is the Old Testament equivalent of Romans 3:23.

Even though we like to classify sin (burning someone alive is barbaric; and I am not justifying it; but it is not worse than my sins—any of them), God does not. We are all in need of salvation through the grace and mercy of God.

So, again, I know I sound like a broken record, but the answer to all of this, whether it is the Muslims around the corner from the church ostensibly meeting peacefully or these ISIS thugs or a Baptist Pastor’s sins—the answer is the gospel. We need to preach it and believe it and live it.

Lord, there is none that does good, not one, including and especially me. One would have thought this, but it is not as prevalent as it should be, especially in my life. My acute awareness of MY sin ought to be the chief motivator for world evangelization. If God can save and forgive me, he can do the same with any ISIS thug. Thank you for the folks You are saving in that part of the world and here. Use me in that process. Amen.

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Chemo 5a, Burned Alive, and Olive Trees

After visiting with a family last night, I returned home to find my mom and sister watching a cable news program. I was shocked to hear about a recruitment video from ISIS showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.

I have not seen the actual video and have no desire to do so.

Shortly after this video was released (apparently the actual deed occurred a few weeks ago), Jordan executed two convicted, terrorist prisoners they had been holding.

The situation continues to escalate in that part of the world. I can’t help but believe that, at some point, we are going to face another terrorist event on American soil unless we do something to stop these barbarians.

This takes me back to a comment that one of the IMB workers made at the conference at Ken Caryl a couple of weeks ago: “The most dangerous people in the world are those who do not know God.” What we are witnessing with these public beheadings and now this fellow Muslim being burned alive is religious zealotry gone amuck.

The most barbaric wars ever fought in human history have been religious wars. If you don’t believe that, do some reading about the crusades in the Middle Ages.

Somehow, this morning, as I prepare for another round of chemo, I can’t get the images of that pilot being burned alive out of my mind even though I didn’t see the video.

What do these events mean for the American church? This makes the challenge of world evangelization more urgent than ever. Are you kidding me?

Yesterday, I drove by a mosque in Northglenn (yes, you read that correctly). It is down the street and around the corner from the church. There was a sign out front inviting the general public to come and learn about Islam.

Now, let me hasten to reaffirm what many are saying: not all Muslims are terrorists. This is America. We believe in freedom of speech and religion. I want to make this clear.

But I would be less than honest if I didn’t wonder what could potentially be going on in that mosque. I’m not accusing them. I just think about it. This is an aggressive group. I do know that.

Several years ago, a couple of young men from the mosque came by the church to meet me and invite to come their monthly “discussion” about religious topics. They were very cordial and friendly.

Since then, every month, I receive an email from them inviting me to come. As I pray about these opportunities, I just have not felt led to participate, but after yesterday, I feel the urgency to continue to pray. If I don’t go to these “discussions,” what does the Lord want me to do? What does the Lord want our church to do?

Right now, I believe we need to pray more than ever. AND, again, I believe that the only answer to this in our immediate community and worldwide is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is more urgency than ever to get the message OUT THERE.

These questions/challenges are on my heart as I read Psalm 52 this morning. I believe this Psalm makes some timely affirmation about the Lord’s role in all of this.

“Look what happens to mighty warriors who do not trust in God. They trust their wealth instead and grow more and more bold in their wickedness. But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love. I will praise you forever, O God, for what you have done. I will trust in your good name in the presence of your faithful people” (Psalm 52:7-9, NLT).

Love it! Indeed, the wicked grow “more bold” in their wickedness, but we operate on a different scale. We are essentially “hot house plants in God’s garden—well tended and well taken care of. We do not need to fear what could happen to us at the hand of some barbarian. We can trust God’s unfailing love.

Lord, I do. I do trust in your good name in the presence of faithful people—the family of God. Amen.

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Would Have

I’m not sure there are two more tragic words in the Bible than THOSE TWO--“would have.”

Is it wrong to say that I have a very mixed bag reaction when I read Psalm 51? On the one hand, the overwhelming failure of what David did and what he says to God weighs a bit.

On the other hand, somehow, it gives me comfort. This is one of the greatest men (as God counts greatness—“a man after God’s heart”) who has ever lived and he blew it, BIG TIME. That means there is hope for me.

What makes David great is not that he was perfect and sinless. Of course, we know that no one except One can make that claim, but it was his response to his sin. He confessed it to the Lord and he turned from it.

But here is the other thing about the tragedy of David. He had to live with the consequences of sin as all of us do.

This morning, after reading Psalm 51, I decided to go back to the story of David and Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel.

As the prophet confronted David, he exhorted him with this message from the Lord. Here is one verse from that message: “I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more” (2 Samuel 12:8, NLT).

God says, “I WOULD HAVE given you much, much more.” Oh, man. I can’t imagine anything more painful than to hear those words from the mouth of the prophet.

David’s sin had severe consequences, the first of which was the death of the child he conceived out of his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. And it went on from there. The latter years of David’s life were filled with misery and woe.

But, as I sit here this morning, I wonder what God’s “would have” was for David. There is no telling.

I wonder what God’s “would have” is for me.

If we really stopped to consider the consequences of our actions, I think all of us might have responded differently as we think about all we missed out on as a result of our sin—“would have, could have, should have,” as the expression goes.

Having said that, I want to hasten to say that it doesn’t seem very productive or profitable to dwell on what might have been. The truth is that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is not one of us who is perfectly living out God’s plan and purpose.

This is why Jesus came. This is the reason for the cross. This is the glory of salvation—that the Lord forgives and forgets our sin, and allows us, as new creatures in Christ Jesus (far from perfect EVER) to serve Him.

This sounds strange but I am thankful for my sin and failures in one way—they are continual reminders of how much I need the Lord and how grateful I am that He doesn’t remember.

Back to David—he is supremely HUMAN. His story like that of all the men and women in scripture reminds us that God works with us and through us in our individual stories and yes, in our sin.

Why didn’t the Lord kill David on the spot after his colossal failure? Why didn’t He take Peter out after denying the Lord THREE TIMES? What about Saul the Pharisee and his attacks on Christians? He left them here. He still had a plan for each of them.

It is the same for us.

Lord, as I come to you today again in need of the forgiveness you have already extended to me through the blood of Your Son and as I pray Psalm 51 AGAIN myself, I’m so grateful that You have saved me and keep me saved. I have to argue with Paul a bit. I am the chief sinner. I pray that there is never a day that goes by that I don’t thank You for forgiveness. I kiss the nail-scarred hands. I hug the side from which blood and water flowed, both of which cleansed me. Amen.
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The Fix

Last night, as I was watching the Super Bowl (yes, I did watch it and I was glad one team lost; I still wish both had lost), a sister sent me an email. First, it was good to hear from her. Second, I’ve been chewing on the first words of the quote since last night. Here they are:

“There is an old southern saying that; if God is fixin’ to fix you but if you try to fix the fix, He’s fixin’ to fix you with, He’ll find another fix to fix you, until you let the fix He’s fixed for you ... fix you!” (posted by Lee LeFebre from Exchanged Life Ministries on January 28, 2015).

Somehow, I have read these words before. They are not new. But, it seems very timely to have read them now.

Since my visit to the skin doctor a few days ago, I have been asking the Lord, “What do you want to teach me through this additional turn in the road?”

Back to what I said—I am not worried about it. I was talking with a brother in our fellowship the other day. He remarked about my post concerning my skin biopsy in a couple of weeks. He basically said, “Join the club. I’ve had that surgery several times. No big deal.” It helped me to hear him say that.

But still … I have this nagging sense that I am missing something or need to do something else. Where I am right now is in a waiting mode. I firmly believe that God will show me in His time.

In the meantime, I just need to refrain from trying to fix me or anything else. This is a tough place to be right now because “fixing” or “trying to fix things” is a default mode in which I have lived most of my life.

Now, I question myself all the time, especially at church. I had called a meeting of the men simply because I have a burden for the guys in our fellowship. After the services yesterday, we talked about ideas for a men’s Bible study. The guys seemed very open and receptive to the idea. I didn’t want them to feel as if I were imposing this on them.

We came up with a very workable plan. Most of them seemed in agreement. We will see what happens, but is this the kind of fix that LeFebre is talking about on a corporate level?

Right now, until the Lord shows me something different, here is a definition and a distinction. I define a fix as something we do in the flesh to attempt to wriggle out of the discipline that the Lord imposes on us.

A prime example of this is the first twelve chapters of Isaiah. God wanted to fix Ahaz and the nation of Judah, but Ahaz attempted to wriggle out of this fix by going to the Assyrians for help. As a result, the king and the nation of Judah got into a lot more trouble.

That is how I perceive our human attempt at fixing God’s fixes.

On the other hand, obeying what one perceives as the leadership of the Holy Spirit is not a fix. Plus, I believe that if we are somehow on the wrong track when we are honestly trying to obey God, the Holy Spirit will show us or stop us.

That is a crucial distinction, I think, but it is difficult to balance because we are doers.

We need to make sure we don’t substitute activity just for activity’s sake. This is the message of Psalm 50: I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer. But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens. For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills…. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it…. Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory” (Psalm 50:8-10, 12, 14-15, NLT).

Here is another element in all of this. I need to spend more time praising and thanking the Lord for WHAT HE HAS DONE and less time trying to figure out WHAT I NEED TO DO. How about that?

Lord, I’m thankful for what you are doing. I’m grateful for the “fix.” I choose today to get out of your way and let Your fix do its job of fixing me. Show me how to do this on a personal and corporate level. Hands off. Stand down. Submit. Wait. Amen.
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You Can't Take It With You

Yikes. As I woke up this morning and looked out the window, I noticed that the trees were covered with snow. I’d better get moving. With any hint of snow, it tends to take longer for me to get up to the church.

There is a relatively new show on one of the cable networks. My family and I enjoy watching it. It is called “Strange Inheritance.” It presents stories of unusual finds/challenges people have in figuring out what to do with a deceased relative’s stuff. The most unusual inheritance so far is 3000 cars. Yes, you read that right.

It is fascinating to see what the family ended up doing with all those automobiles. The collector was obviously a very wealthy man who was obsessed with keeping just about every significant type of automobile EVER made. There was one model that he sought during his life, but he didn’t ever find. However, his heirs did, and added one more car to the collection posthumously.

I won’t spoil the outcome of the show in case you come across it, but at the end of every episode, the hostess says, “And remember, you can’t take it with you.”

As I look back over my life, I wish I had had a better perspective on the acquisition of stuff. I am a collector. Sitting here this morning, I have no idea about how many collections I own. Most items are not big ticket, but still …

For example, I still own a lot of baseball cards from the time I collected them. I really enjoyed that hobby—still do on occasion—but for a few years, I really got into it. At one point, I just had to back off. I got to a point where I realized this. This is just one example. Believe me. There are plenty others.

The point is: the day I die, someone will have to disseminate that collection and others. I’m frankly not sure it will be worth the effort. Most of it will go in the trash.

But that is the point: we can’t take it with us.

I’ve heard this statement also: really, the only things we can take with us are what we have given away. Life is not about who can accumulate the most stuff but who can be the best steward of what he or she has.

Psalm 49 does a great job of putting this whole issue into further perspective. I’m going to cite a couple of passages. Here is the first: "Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The cost of rescue is beyond our means, and even then it doesn’t guarantee Life forever, or insurance against the Black Hole” (Psalm 49:7-9, MSG). No possession or no amount of money in the world can buy me favor with God. Thus, those things should not be my focus here.

Here are the final few verses of this Psalm: "So don’t be impressed with those who get rich and pile up fame and fortune. They can’t take it with them; fame and fortune all get left behind. Just when they think they’ve arrived and folks praise them because they’ve made good, They enter the family burial plot where they’ll never see sunshine again. We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long. Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die” (Psalm 49:16-20, MSG). Pretty graphic and straightforward, right?

On this day when we make such a big deal about players on a field and money—oh, man, what does it cost to air one Super Bowl commercial? All of us, whether we are Tom Brady or Russell Wilson or Joe Schmo—will die someday and there are no caskets pulling U-Haul trailers. I’ve looked into caskets and into graves. No room or trailer hitch.

Lord, this may feel like a rather clichéd statement: you can’t take it with you. But it is true, so true. Let me live by it today. I love you, Lord.

Keep everyone safe on the roads as we drive to church today. Amen.
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