A Stroll At Leisure With God

Stopped Dead in Their Tracks

If it is not one thing, it is another, it seems these days.

Yesterday, I struggled with fatigue. It was laborious just to put one foot in front of the other. And I really don’t know why.

But as I visited with folks in our fellowship, I discovered very quickly that I was not alone—not in fatigue, necessarily, but in difficulty of one kind or another.

This is one of the main benefits of the fellowship of the body of Christ, and it may sound rather trivial. But coming to church and putting oneself in a position to visit with others gives one perspective of the troubles he or she is experiencing.

As everyone was departing, one brother shared about a funeral he attended the day before. It was a very tragic situation, but he seemed very upbeat (as always) and encouraging to me. I appreciated this deeply.

It isn’t that all of us DON’T face tough times. We certainly do. It is how you respond that makes the difference—not only for you, but also for others.

Our ability to bounce back and respond in a way that honors the Lord is not a matter of self-effort. It goes back to the power of God and our response to Him.

Two passages I read this morning bear this out. First, chapter seven of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with a funeral in the city of Nain. Jesus met the processional as they were carrying the coffin out of the city to the cemetery.

“And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise!’” (Luke
7:14 NASB).

This is one of those times in which I noticed something I have never “seen” before.

When Jesus touched the coffin, the bearers came to a halt—right then and there. Ha! I wonder why? I believe that they stopped because, at that very moment, there was movement in that coffin. The next verse tells that the dead man sat up and began to speak! Praise God!

We don’t often mention this story when we think of resurrections, but it goes right along beside that of Lazarus. Jesus brought this dead man back to life.

Second, Acts 5 was another chapter I read—the story of Ananias and Sapphira—it always gets me. Here is a description of the results and the lesson:

“By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with” (Acts
5:11 MSG).

God is not to be trifled with. Whoa.

Lord, I praise You for Your power to bring the dead to life and the disobedient to an untimely and tragic end. In other words, You are in charge of life and death and everything we go through. I pray for this dear brother and his family and my church family this morning. Give us the grace to continue to trust You, no matter what. Amen.

The Shoe on the Other Foot ...

Yesterday, my mom had a fall.

Apparently, she was making her bed when she tripped over the dog’s bed in her room, falling on her side.

Marilyn discovered her. At that point, my mom was laying on her back on the floor.

When Marilyn came downstairs to tell me what had happened, I could see the look of utter distress on her face.

Both of us talked with my mom. She seemed okay—still able to get around, but she had some pain in the middle of her back. We decided that, to be safe, we needed to take her to the ER.

At one point in that process, Marilyn looked at me, “John, you need to stay home. You have a tough day tomorrow. I will take her.” I objected at first but I realized she was right.

I had a great time of fellowship at the men’s meeting yesterday morning, but I was rather fatigued by the time I got home. I didn’t do much for the rest of the day.

Anyway, Marilyn took her and I sat here. I had plenty of work to do, but at that point, I had no interest AT ALL in doing any of it. The only thing I could do was PRAY. I did get online, sending an email prayer request to Jim. I knew Jim would send the message out to our prayer warriors at church. I also shared what had happened to my mom with a couple of friends, asking them to lift her up as well.

When I got done asking people to pray, I just continued. As I sat here, the Lord reminded me that it wasn’t that long ago, before the MRI, that a lot of you prayed for me. Now, as the expression goes, “the shoe was on the other foot.”

I prayed with desperation. I just didn’t see how we would be able to handle one more thing around here. I cried out to the Lord after Marilyn texted me that the doctor at the ER had ordered an x ray for my mom. I prayed, “Lord, I pray that the x ray would show no broken bones and that Mother and Marilyn could come home soon.”

It wasn’t long before Marilyn texted me with that exact message. Praise God!

For the rest of the day, my mom was sore. Her back hurt. But she seems to be okay. We are so relieved and thankful.

But back to prayer: after the praying that all of you do for me on a continual basis, the Lord is strengthening me to do the same. Of course. How can I NOT pray?

Two passages that I read today point out the priority of prayer in the life of Jesus—not only while He was here on earth, but also now that He is back in heaven at God’s right hand.

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke
6:12 NASB). The context of this verse is Jesus’ choice of His twelve disciples. Before this BIG decision, He spent all night praying! This is the Son of God! Even He needed to spend lengthy times of prayer. If that is true for him, what about me?

The second passage is in Hebrews: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews
7:25 NASB). What is Jesus doing RIGHT NOW? As our High Priest, He is PRAYING—all the time!

Lord, thank You for taking care of my mom yesterday. Thank You for answered prayer. Thank You for everyone who is reading this blog who prays for me. Thank You for the prayer life of Jesus and that same Jesus lives in me! Amen.

Spiritual Sluggards

This morning, I am headed up to church to meet with “the guys” for some fellowship. I’m looking forward to it.

We plan our time together as a pot luck meal. Everyone brings something to eat (of course). We never lack for food. As we are eating, we have a little study followed by a prayer time. Then, we conclude. It lasts about an hour.

I’m very conscious of time frames and limitations because the guys who will be there this morning are busy and work hard. They don’t have much “free time” with their families. I’m concerned to allow them to have as much time as they can get. Thus, we don’t tarry long at these meetings.

My whole concern, however, in gathering together is mutual encouragement. We all need it.

I know I do.

Yesterday was a mixed bag of sorts. Overall, I still feel better. And I am grateful for that, but anxiety reared its head a bit. When I notice it “coming on,” I am trying to be intentional in addressing it because, if I don’t, it intensifies.

As of now, because I don’t want to use narcotics, I have three tools in my “arsenal” to combat it—prayer (that involves all of you), the Word in my heart and mind, and breathing. All are significant.

But the use of those tools or weapons begins with a conscious choice. This is a key element. The writer to Hebrews speaks about this in a couple of verses that captured my attention this morning. Here they are:

“And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews
6:11-12 NASB).

I looked the word translated “sluggish” up in my Logos Bible Software. The Greek word carries the idea of laziness.

Oh, man. Laziness is so easy. Of course. I’m noticing it is quite a temptation given what I have gone through the past couple of weeks. I’d rather just check out than consciously continue to focus on the Lord and the moment by moment discipline of dependence.

For me, however, if I am lazy, then I become very susceptible to anxiety taking over and pulling me down in the dirt.

Can’t go there.

Lord, I choose today to divert my attention from everything that causes me anxiety. I decide instead to trust You and depend on You moment by moment. Thank You for the reminder that I can’t afford the option of laziness. I desire “through faith and patience” to “inherit the promises.” Amen.

Both Sides of the Same Coin

I know the next statement I make is a no-brainer in some respects, but I am more and more convinced that it is true: in and through cancer, the Lord is putting me through a test for a specific purpose. Duh. Of course.

But what is that test all about? That’s the tricky part.

I honestly think that right now, these days, are the most crucial of them all. The Lord brought me through last week—one of the toughest of my life. And now, here I am. It would be easy to revert to the way I lived before I got cancer, now that I feel a little better. But doing that would essentially mean that everything that has happened and everything that I have learned are out the window.

What a waste! I just can’t let that happen. So, by His grace, I choose to maintain that moment by moment dependence on Him as long as possible. This is the test.

Two passages stood out to me this morning as I continue to progress in Professor Horner’s reading plan in the YouVersion App.

The first is Luke 4—one of two temptation narratives in the New Testament. The other is Matthew 4:

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry” (Luke
4:1-2 NASB).

A couple of things. First, the Spirit led Jesus into His temptation experience in the wilderness. Second, Jesus fasted, and this became the occasion, the open door, for an attack from the enemy.

This is often the case—the devil works through the weakness of our flesh in some way. For Jesus, it was through genuine hunger. For me, it is through this disease I have been dealing with for five plus years.

Thus, one side of the coin is temptation. The other side of that same coin is testing. Satan tempts; God who is over all (especially the devil) tests.

The second passage is 1 Peter 4: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter
4:12-13 NASB).

Peter exhorts us not to be surprised in times of suffering. Why? Because God is using those difficulties—suffering—as a test. It is a call to rejoice.

What is the result of all of this? Well, I want to go back to Luke 4. Dr. Luke, the gospel writer, says more about the Holy Spirit in his gospel than any other writer. Following the temptation narrative is this affirmation:

“And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district” (Luke
4:14 NASB).

Let me put this together: the Holy Spirit leads us into temptation (which is a test from God) so that, as He leads us through it and out on the other side, we emerge from our test in the power of the Spirit.

That is what I long for in this life—to live and minister in the POWER of the Holy Spirit.

One more thing: as Marilyn and I were talking about this yesterday, she made a very interesting statement. She said, “Whatever the Lord is telling you or leading you to do, don’t let fear be a motivator.”

Lord, thank You that You are in charge of Satan and his temptations. Thank You for this testing time. Give me the grace and wisdom to learn what you want and do what you want so that I could live the rest of my days in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Week Ago ...

Yesterday, I went to Crossroads—a nursing home in Northglenn right down the street from the church—to join Jim in leading a service there.

When I entered the room, everyone seemed very glad to see me. It is obvious that they had been praying for me.

When I think about where I was just a week ago, it is overwhelming to think that I would not have made it had it not been for all of you, for my church family, for folks at Crossroads, and (as Jim mentioned) for folks all over the world who were praying.

Again, I say, I would not have made it.

As I sit here today, that MRI seems as if it occurred years ago, but it was only a week ago. Wow.

I still have heard nothing in terms of results. I’m going to call the cancer doc today to find out what is going on.

What is going on now? I am still dealing with fatigue (especially this morning), some anxiety (even though it is less than last week), and some pain. Other than that, I am doing A LOT better.

Back to the folks at Crossroads, I shared with them what had happened last week. I could tell that, as I shared, many of them had “been there, done that.”

I was sharing from the third chapter of Hebrews. Two times, in that chapter, the writer of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 95, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” It was a reminder of the verse that the Lord gave me when I was first diagnosed with cancer in August of 2010: So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NASB).

When you couple those two passages together, I might paraphrase Jesus as saying, “Each day has enough opportunities and/or troubles of its own.”

I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I know (as the expression goes) who holds the future. I’m not going to worry about it—just continue to trust God.

Lord, thank You for all those dear ladies that Jim and I met with yesterday. Encourage them in the hard life they live. Help us to focus on trusting you TODAY. I love you. Amen.

Beep, Beep, Beep

If I am not mistaken, the Greek word thlipsis, translated as persecution in most English versions, literally means to feel pressed in on all sides. That feels like what is going on with us these days.

I know I have mentioned this now and again, but our backyard faces on open field. The Denver Water Board owns it.

I have a lot of fond memories of that field. When I first started practicing and playing golf on a regular basis as a kid, I saw it as an opportunity. I grabbed a broom, hopped the fence, went out about a hundred yards, and stuck the broom handle into the ground. Voila! A ready-made practice range in my own backyard!

I would hit all my shag balls out there, go out to retrieve them, only to repeat the process.

That happened until a very stern man in a green car pulled into the entrance of the Water Board one day. He floored it to reach me. Rolling down his window he said, “What are you doing? You are not allowed out here. What house do you live in?” I pointed meekly. “Well stop it. I never want to see you out here again, okay?”

Did I fully obey that command? Well, … not exactly. I don’t think I hit golf balls out there ever again, but it was just so fun to hang out in that field.

Anyway, fast forward to just a couple of months ago. We received a very formal brochure with a lot of computer renderings … Our peaceful field is going to change.

Over the next four years (four stinking years!), the Denver Water Board is going to put in three new huge cement water tanks (for lack of a better description) in that field. They explained that, with the growth of the population on this end of town, the water needs of our community have increased.

Believe this or not, they actually plan to raise the level of the ground just over our fence thirteen feet to accommodate these three new huge tanks. They are going to add some landscaping.

When I call the Board to complain, the lady replied, “Well, Mr. Talbert, we think you are going to like the new landscaping. Right now, it is just a scrubby, old field.”

Who are you to tell me what I like and don’t like? I wanted to say this. I didn’t.

We like that scrubby old field.

Now, even that, will be gone.

Marilyn told me that yesterday, construction began. All day long, she heard, “Beep, beep, beep.” I guess we better get ready. That is the sound we will hear for the next four plus years. Yikes!

I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but somehow, it is to the three of us. This almost feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back—one more thing to push and press in on us.

But there is another way to look at it.

This is another opportunity to trust God. He is the Boss, even over the Denver Water Board.

“Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house-whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Hebrews
3:5-6 NASB).

Lord, even in this, we choose to trust You. Amen.

A Good Night's Sleep

Wow, how much is that worth? I mean, really? I’m so grateful for it.

Here is another area in which Marilyn has helped me recently …

Before I get into that, I want to ask all of you to pray for her. She has had that virus that is going around. It has affected her for a couple of weeks now. In fact, she could not go to church last Sunday because she still felt bad.

This whole issue of caregivers—it is a very difficult job with a lot of stress. Certainly, this is the case with us. She has had to take care of both my mom and me. We wouldn’t be able to make it without her.

I keep trying to think of ways to help her—I want to be available when I can. A lot of times it involves just being here with my mom so that Marilyn can get out to do things.

Anyway, back to the sleep issue—I continue to have challenges in that regard. My main problem is not getting to sleep. It is STAYING asleep. When I wake up, my mind immediately starts to grind away, and I am basically awake for the rest of the night. Not good.

Marilyn told me about something she does. She keeps her IPhone by the bed with scripture applications on it. Either before she goes to sleep or during the night, she just turns that app on with someone reading the Word. Once she does that, she goes back to sleep. It usually doesn’t take that long.

I decided to give this a try over a week ago. All I can say is, “Wow!” Per Marilyn’s counsel, I click on that app. It is ready to go, and so, in the middle of night when I need it, it is ready to go. Awesome!

Hey, I would like to urge all my readers to give this a try. It is better than a sleeping pill, and it really does put me back to sleep.

There are a lot of apps out there in which someone is reading the Word. Connor recommended some to me. Marilyn pointed me to others.

Thank You, Lord. There is no substitute for a night’s sleep.

“For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Hebrews
2:18 NASB).

Lord, I am thankful for all the ways You come to the rescue when we need you the most. Thank You so much for Marilyn. I wouldn’t make it without her. Help her TODAY to start feeling better. Strengthen her. Encourage her as she has helped me. Amen.

Whole World AND Real World

As these days go by, I keep waiting for, as the expression goes, “the other shoe to drop.” I’ve been feeling good and continue to do so, except for fatigue.

I was telling my mom and sister yesterday, “For so long, I felt bad. I just kind of gave up hope that I would feel better on a consistent basis ever again.” This is sad to say, but it is true.

So, yesterday, it was great to be able to go to church and even more great to be able to see my church family and to thank them for praying for me. And I include all of you in that number as well. Thanks again.

Back to the service yesterday--on more than one occasion, I found myself getting emotional about it all.

Last week, as the anxiety grew and as I awaited that MRI—it seemed that the ministry and getting back to it were a million miles away.

Oh, well. I’m going to keep plugging along, making sure that I take the time to rest, just as I have over the past couple of days, though I feel better. I’ve learned the hard way not to push myself too hard once I feel better because I always pay for it in one way or another down the road.

Two passages to cite today. The first comes from James. “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James
5:10-11 NASB).

I am reading in Job right now. He had to deal with something I have not—incessant lecturing from his “so-called” friends who keep telling him to come clean from sin in his life—the reason he is suffering. Job has to sit there in pain and agony, listening to all this hot air.

But there was a good ending to the story—there always is with the Lord. I’m counting on the same thing.

The second passage is in Acts: “’It’s because of this “whole world” dimension that the Jews grabbed me in the Temple that day and tried to kill me. They want to keep God for themselves. But God has stood by me, just as he promised, and I’m standing here saying what I’ve been saying to anyone, whether king or child, who will listen. And everything I’m saying is completely in line with what the prophets and Moses said would happen: One, the Messiah must die; two, raised from the dead, he would be the first rays of God’s daylight shining on people far and near, people both godless and God-fearing.’ That was too much for Festus. He interrupted with a shout: ‘Paul, you’re crazy! You’ve read too many books, spent too much time staring off into space! Get a grip on yourself, get back in the real world!’” (Acts
26:21-24 MSG).

In his testimony before Festus (and I love the Message Version at this point), Paul asserts that the “whole world” dimension of the gospel is the reason for all the trouble he got himself into.

Festus had to stop the sermon. He was under conviction and couldn’t bear it any longer, crying out and urging Paul to get back to the real world. He failed to recognize, however, that he, not Paul, was the one NOT living in the real world.

Everything I have been through these past few months has a gospel component. I firmly believe that he wants me to continue to share what this disease is teaching me. It is as “real world” as anything can get.

God is real and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, as Hebrews reminds.

Lord, I pray that I can be a part of that group—seekers of You. Amen.

Feeling Better

Are all of you sitting down? The truth is, probably, many of you are lying down at this early hour! Ha. I hope so.

But yes, it is true. I am feeling better. It is kind of weird to say it, because, over the past few weeks, I wondered if I ever would again.

Yesterday was a Spring-like day here in Colorado. It was so nice to be outside a bit and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

Plus, I got a call from a dear brother in Salt Lake City, Utah. He identified himself and then said, “Do you remember me?”

“Of course,” I answered. I had met him before and saw him last year when I went to visit the Hornbakers for the annual golf tournament in August.

He asked how I was doing and said that he had been praying for me. He concluded, “I know you probably have a lot of folks there who could help you, but if there is ever anything I can do, please let me know.”

Of course. I wanted to say, “Brother, you already have. You prayed. You obviously care. And you have demonstrated it.” That’s a lot!

So, today, I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with Jesus as I sit here before I head up to church to spend some quality time with my church family. It promises to be another good day. Praise God!

These commands concerning prayer stood out this morning in my reading in Professor Horner’s plan.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Colossians
4:2-4 NASB).

I’m going to add this verse as well: “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (Colossians
4:12 NASB).

Somehow, it seems to me that we really need to avoid the crisis mentality when it comes to prayer. I tend to pray with urgency in a crisis, but now that I am feeling better, my prayers somehow don’t have the same impetus.

Part of that is just human, but another aspect of that bothers me. I need the Lord RIGHT NOW just as much as I did in those hours prior to that MRI this week.

And He is there, STILL.

Lord, thank You again for everything You did this week. Thanks for brothers and sisters all over the world who prayed. Thank You for the dear brother who called yesterday. I choose today to reciprocate prayer for all of them, devoting myself to it even more with an alertness and urgency and praying that all of us may stand perfect and fully assured in ALL the will of God. Amen.

Moment by Moment

I can’t begin to tell all of you how relieved I am to get that MRI behind me. Oh, man! Thanks again for your prayers.

Now, as I get ready to preach tomorrow, I’ve had some time to sit and reflect on what I have learned.

I would say that lesson #1 is “moment by moment” dependence on Jesus—what that involves and why it is so important.

Before I get into this, I realize that, for most of my life, I did not see the urgency of this. I just lived, filling my mind with “stuff” to keep me preoccupied or entertained.

This is going to sound like a harsh statement, but I don’t know any other way to say it. I’ll just focus it on me: I wanted communion with the Lord but not THAT MUCH. As long as the Lord fit my schedule and what I wanted, fine, but anything more than that … not interested.

Fast forward to the past few days and weeks with this panic and anxiety—I found that it was easy just for my mind to start heading in a direction in which I was almost totally incapacitated.

What you and I focus on—whether it is the Lord or something else—becomes larger and larger in our lives. It takes up more and more space. Of course, when we worship God, He doesn’t change. He is the same, but we change.

So, during those times when the battle was intense, what helped? There was really only one thing: THE WORD OF GOD. God’s Word is different than any human word. It has power. It is truth. It is dependable and trustworthy.

Because I was worried about panic (what a contradiction there, right? Worried about being worried), I focused on just staying in the Word and making sure the Word was in me, especially the morning of the MRI. The only thing that gave me peace was just to sit here and allow the Holy Spirit to bring the Word to my mind and heart. When He did, I had peace.

Before I go further, I don’t want anyone to read this today and think, “Wow, John did well.” Nope. This was a work of God in answer to the prayers all of you were lifting up to Jesus. God did it. He put me in a position where it was either trust Him or literally go insane.

One of the verses that the Lord brought to mind came up in the reading for today. One of the ten chapters I read was Colossians 3:15-16. The first of these two verses is about peace. Notice what the second verse is about:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians
3:15-16 NASB). The first command is to let the peace of Christ literally “act as an umpire” in your heart.

The second command is to let the word of Christ richly dwell within you. Humm. Interesting and significant.

Memorizing and meditating on the Word on a daily basis is crucial, not because some discipleship course tells you to do it, but because someday, you are going to need God’s Word to keep you sane.

I thought about Saeed Abedini and others who spend YEARS in prison. How do they do that without going insane? Think about it. Add in the beatings and torture. It has to be the power of God, of course, but also the Word richly dwelling in them.

Lord, I am no expert, certainly, but I thank You for the very hard lessons involved in learning to trust you day by day, moment by moment. Thank You for peace—real peace, the only peace. Thank You for the Word. I love You. Amen.

An Army Escort

First of all, words cannot express how much I love and appreciate each one of you for your prayers yesterday. Marilyn noticed it. It encouraged her. She is the one who used the term army, “John, there is an army of people praying for you.”

I want to back up a bit and tell all of you the full story.

If you remember, back in early December, I had to make a visit to the ER for chest pains. I spent the night at the hospital. After extensive testing, the doctors concluded that I did not have a heart attack. Praise God! But what were these chest pains?

Well, a pain doctor at the hospital came to visit us. I told him about my shoulder. After checking me over, he explained the connection between nerves in the neck area and the brachial plexus—the shoulder area. He went on, “I think I have an idea what is going on, but I want you to get an MRI so that I can know for sure. I’ve scheduled one for you today right here at the hospital.”

Okay. No problem. Late that afternoon, the took me in a wheelchair down to the MRI in another section of Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital. The nurses prepared me for a ninety- minute scan and I went into the tube. Well, it wasn’t long before I freaked out!

They had to stop the test. I was done. When they took me back up to the room, the doctor called what had happened to me a “panic attack.” It took me several days to get over that specific incident, but from then on, my overall anxiety level kept increasing.

Not long after this, I had an appointment with Dr. Jotte and told him what had happened. He seemed very understanding and indicated that “panic attacks” happen often with people and the traditional MRI. At that time, he mentioned another newer type of MRI but didn’t push it. I was glad because there was no way I was going to anything related to an MRI any time soon, maybe ever. That whole thing at the hospital had shaken me to a profound degree.

So time passed … I seemed to be okay except for the fact that my overall anxiety level kept increasing.

At my visit with Dr. Jotte prior to my infusion almost two weeks ago, once again the topic of my shoulder came up. He stated, “I think it is time for that MRI. I want you to get it sometime before your next infusion.”

Gulp. From that moment on, the panic I had felt in December returned. His office scheduled me with Up Right MRI of Colorado. That was the test I had yesterday.

But back to the panic and anxiety—even though this is very different from the traditional MRI—still both increased daily.

Last Monday, I called this company. A friendly man named Andy answered the phone. I explained my history and nervousness. He replied, “John, come on down and take a look. We invite this.”

So, that is what I did last Monday. Andy, along with the tech named Eric and the nurse who works at the front desk Tabitha, took me into the room with the MRI. Andy meticulously explained the two scans I was going to have: the neck and the brachial plexus area. Each scan would take approximately forty to forty-five minutes depending on my ability to remain perfectly still.

Then, he encouraged me to get in the machine myself. They showed me how they were going to position me and how it was going to work. This was very nice. One would have thought that ostensibly, this would have alleviated my anxiety. It did in one small way, but for the most part, it only increased.

Honestly, I have to tell you that never in my life have I experienced such panic and anxiety. As I have explained in a few posts over the past several days, it has been almost debilitating. My family and I now believe that much of it is drug-induced. I have been taking a drug the past few months as a sleep aid. Marilyn looked it up on the web—one of the main side-effects is, you guessed it, anxiety.

Be that as it may, I was so anxious yesterday morning that I was literally shaking. Dr. Jotte had prescribed Valium for me to take prior to this exam. I ended up taking 10 mg of it yesterday. It calmed me down a bit, but the main thing that did the trick: PRAYER.

Marilyn, my mom, and I prayed before we left the house. Marilyn said two things I will never forget. “John, just keep taking one step forward at a time, and the Lord will do the rest. Right now, the only thing you need to focus on is breathing. Deep breath in and let it out.”

As we drove to the clinic, I seemed to calm down. I was worried and fretful about so many things and long story somewhat shorter, the Lord took care of all of them! No surprise there! I cannot tell you how it felt yesterday to walk out of that clinic done with the MRI and done with this “monkey on my back” for the past three months.

We will see what happens from here. But I am encouraged that I MIGHT start to feel better now. I have stopped taking that one pill and my goal is to get off all the pain meds—I now firmly believe they are the culprit for much of the pain I have experienced the past five months.

Ironic isn’t it? Pain meds cause pain! ABSOLUTELY. Every drug has side-effects. Never again will I just blindly take a drug, even if it is prescribed by a doctor, without familiarizing myself completely with the side-effects. NEVER.

But the main thing I have learned, once again, is the power of God unleashed through CORPORATE prayer, and all of you are part of thank.

I thank ALL OF YOU.

In my reading today, I came across the story of Paul’s “escort” to Caesarea. Remember the story? The son of Paul’s sister heard of the plot of the Jews to kill the apostle on the way. The boy reported it to one of the centurions and here is what he did:

“The captain called up two centurions. ‘Get two hundred soldiers ready to go immediately to Caesarea. Also seventy cavalry and two hundred light infantry. I want them ready to march by nine o’clock tonight. And you’ll need a couple of mules for Paul and his gear. We’re going to present this man safe and sound to Governor Felix’” (Acts
23:23-24 MSG).

Lord, thank You for answering the prayers of the army escort—speaking to you yesterday on my behalf. Thank You for getting us through that—my family and me. It was one of, if not the most difficult things I have ever done. Not I, but You in me Jesus. Amen and Amen.

P. S. On Facebook this morning, I will attach a picture of this new MRI machine. It shows the position the patient is in at the start, but that chair moves back into the machine a little bit as the it starts. I’m thankful for it.

The Main Issue these Days

Thanks to all of you SO MUCH for reading this blog and for praying for me. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love all of you and appreciate your ministry. Honestly, and this is not preacher hyperbole, I would not make it without you.

So, in addition to all the physical stuff I continue to deal with, my main issue these days is ANXIETY. This is a side-effect of one of the drugs I am taking—could be chemo or could be pain—one or both.

Never in my life have I dealt with anything quite like this. I can hit at any time, and frankly, it is rather debilitating. I’m trying to learn some strategies to deal with it like drinking water, moving around, eating food, et cetera, but none of these “fixes” is guaranteed to provide relief.

What makes this kind of difficult to understand is that we are all aware of the “garden variety” type of anxiety (if I can call it that). This is the worry that we choose. And it is a sin. Jesus condemns it in the Sermon on the Mount. Philippians 4:6-7 is a famous rebuttal. We all know these and other references.

This kind of worry probably involves some of the above, but mainly, it is chemical and clinical. It is a side-effect that impacts my brain. This has now become one of the main things I need to get rid of and quickly because it seems to be growing and affecting my attitude toward more and more things.

What I have to take in the way of medication to deal with this knocks me out. It helps a little but then I face the challenge of trying to function as I am knocked out. This makes things like driving rather interesting if you can’t stay awake. Hem. I’ve talked about this before.

So many of the drug “fixes” I take make me drowsy and further contribute to another side-effect—fatigue.

Back to anxiety--stuff I was never anxious about (in this clinical way) are gathered up under it. So, this morning I am asking prayer for this in a rather general way. Tomorrow, I will give some specifics.

How about a prayer and a promise this morning?

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Colossians
1:9-12 NASB).

I love this promise I came across in Micah this morning as well: “On your feet, Daughter of Zion! Be threshed of chaff, be refined of dross. I’m remaking you into a people invincible, into God’s juggernaut to crush the godless peoples. You’ll bring their plunder as holy offerings to GOD, their wealth to the Master of the earth” (Micah
4:13 MSG).

Lord, as I deal with this next “big thing,” help me walk in a manner worthy of the Lord as Your juggernaut to crush the enemy. I pray that for all my dear readers as well. Thanks for their prayers. Defeat anxiety. Do it, today, Lord. Amen

Prayers and Expressions of Love

Just a short note today because I am not feeling well AGAIN. Thank you so much for praying for us. We can literally feel your prayers. A dear sister brought some food by last night. We appreciate that as well.

Yesterday, Marilyn looked at me kind of funny and said, “Ah, John, you need to be careful what you write. I think folks might think you are going to die tomorrow” (which would be today, and to quote a famous person who said, “Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated.” Ha).

I am dying, just like all of us are, and it will happen exactly when the Lord wants it.

No, what I am expressing is that I feel bad—my quality of life is bad—in spite of the fact that my cancer reports show that I am improving. THIS IS THE DILEMMA AND THE PROBLEM. Something is wrong here, right? Does this make sense? This situation is what I am asking you to pray for along with my mom and sister, both of whom are dealing with illnesses/challenges of their own.

But God is faithful. He IS answering. “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you” (Mark
11:24 NASB).

Lord, as the man in this gospel responded to Jesus, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” Amen.

The Hardest Day and Just Prayer

Many years ago, a movie came out with the title, “The Longest Yard”—obviously a football movie of some sort. I never saw it, but somehow the title of the blog mirrors that title.

A yard is three feet, thirty-six inches—always. And yet, in certain situations and conditions like a Super Bowl, when one team needs a yard and the other team wants to stop them—that yard seems longer. It isn’t. But it seems that way.

Switch to a day—it is always twenty-four hours and however many minutes (my math skills are on hold today)—always and YET, given certain situations and circumstances (all of us can relate to this), some days seem MUCH longer.

Well, yesterday was such a day for me. I know that preachers are always given to hyperbole of one sort or another. So be it.

But yesterday was the hardest day I have ever spent.

This disease and the treatment that I am receiving for it are affecting me in more and more profound ways. Right now, I don’t want to go into detail. Maybe because I am not emotionally stable enough to do so, but what happened to me yesterday has changed me.

All I could do was sit here and barely do that. I didn’t want TV. I couldn’t read. I craved silence, the more of it, the better. I wanted time to go by and then, I didn’t somehow. I felt the world “out there” going by—it was Sunday, usually a busy day for me—happening and moving, and there I was—totally out of it—physically, emotionally, mentally, and every other way I could be out of it, I was. And am.

So, dear reader, I need you to pray for my family and me, now more than ever.

Again, I don’t want to go into detail as to why—I’m not ready to let that “cat out of the bag” (or cats, as the case may be)—but I just need you more than ever. And so does my mom and sister—the impact of all of this on them grows by the day as well. Marilyn is starting to have some “issues,” the pressure and weight of all of this on her as well.

I’m worried about them both. Something has to give here.

Back to prayer—a friend commented the other day, “I can pray for you. I will do it. But that doesn’t seem to be enough. What ELSE can I do?” I understand that. I really do.

But honestly, PRAYER is what we need. Please don’t stop, and if you are tempted to, turn the devil over on his head, and at the moment he wants you to minimize it, INCREASE your prayer. That’s the only way I can say it.

I know I’m making it hard on you because I’m asking you to pray without a lot of detail.

In the future, I’m asking you to pray even if there is no blog certain mornings. Prayer has become a priority for me. It has to be now, even over writing this blog. Certain mornings, I crave long and leisurely times of communion with God, and the blog must take a back seat.

Don’t worry (if anyone might do this). If I don’t write, it doesn’t mean that I am stopping. Nope. And, it doesn’t mean that I am going to die tomorrow—I might—but that is in God’s hands. It’s just that what is happening to me—whatever it is—is just becoming more and more intolerable. I just can’t live this way much longer. So, I am having to make adjustments just to keep going on.

Does this make sense? If it does, please explain it to me! Ha.

Back to prayer—I need prayer today and this week, more than ever.

No scripture to cite today—just prayer.

Lord, all I am left with is You. Help! Thank You for everyone who is praying, for my family and for me. Keep them at it. They are so vital. I love everyone of them. Hug them for me. Help me through this day with wisdom and strength. Again, I say, “Help, God. Help.” Amen.

P. A. (post amen): Connor, thanks for preaching for me yesterday. My mom and sis said you did a great job. I deeply appreciate it. There was no way I could have done it yesterday. Thanks, brother.

Please Pray

Dear Church Family and Friends,

I am having a particularly rough morning. I would appreciate your prayers.

Please also pray for Connor. He is the young man who is leading worship for us. In addition to those duties today, he is preaching for me as well. He has preached before in youth settings, but today is his FIRST SERMON before the Lord and a congregation. Lift him up as well.

I love you all!

The Valentine Project and Intimate Knowledge

Yesterday was another one of those “bad days” that I have after chemo. I was “down for the count” most of the day—another one of those “sitting on this couch” days where I experience a number of issues including anxiety, nausea, flu-like aches, chills, and dramatic fatigue.

I rousted myself up in the afternoon to get in my car and drive (my mom and sis were worried about me doing this) down to Midtown for a hydration treatment. Somehow, I don’t mind doing this for a couple of reasons. First, these treatments seem to help me a bit. Two, there usually aren’t very many people at the cancer center on Friday afternoons, thus making it a rather quiet respite for me.

As I was sitting in the private room getting my treatment, one of the nurses, Theresa, came in with a big bag. “John, I wanted to give you this. It comes from an organization called ‘the Valentine Project.’ They give us a lot of these for our patients this time of year.’”

Humm. Okay. I looked in the bag. It was full of stuff like a deck of cards, games, a back scratcher (I’ve always wanted one of these), candy, hand-written cards from children, tea bags, hangers with crochet over them, and other things. It was really a nice gesture—so nice in fact that I want to write the organization and thank them.

When my treatment was over, both Theresa and another nurse—her name is Zozo (yes, that is her name; she is a character) came in to unhook me and let me go. I thanked them for the valentine bag. Theresa said, “You would be surprised at the number of patients who turn up their nose at it.”

“That is ridiculous,” I replied. “It is a very nice gesture. Thanks again.” The Lord used it to encourage me a bit on a bad day.

Well, anyway, on to the verses for today. Two passages. The first comes from the gospel of Mark. Notice what Jesus says about the crowd.

“In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples and said to them, ‘I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance’” (Mark
8:1-3 NASB). What strikes me is Jesus’ intimate knowledge of these people. He recognized their needs and had compassion for them. This was foundational for the miracle He performed.

I’m so glad that the Lord is aware of all the stuff you and I are going through AND He cares. When I pray, I am not giving Him any new information. I have to keep this in mind. AND, I don’t need to try to convince Him to care. He does, already and always.

If I recognize this, then I can respond, even during difficult times in the way these verses in the Psalms acknowledge: “Everyone sees it. God’s work is the talk of the town. Be glad, good people! Fly to GOD! Good-hearted people, make praise your habit” (Psalm
64:9-10 MSG).

Lord, I’m thankful for everything and everyone You continue to use in my life to demonstrate that You know what is going on with me and You care at a very deep level. Thank You for this. I praise You today. I “fly” to You again today. Amen.


Well, these are the rough days when dealing with chemo. I can now see them coming, like a train on a track—a freight train.

One thing I am doing this time is making an intentional effort of staying hydrated. This involves two things. First, I am trying to drink more water during the day, with a goal of consuming 10 to 12 glasses of water per day. It is weird to say this, but prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was doing this fairly consistently, but since then (for some reason?), I’ve found it very difficult to do this.

I believe this goes hand in hand with my total lack of any kind of appetite for food. I literally have to force myself to eat, and find that I am consuming about half the amount of food that I was eating before I started this round of chemo in August of 2015. To offset this, I’m trying to eat more snacks during the day. I guess that helps a little bit …

One of the things I am learning about this disease is just to do things, whether I “feel” like it or not. The two main realms where that philosophy holds sway is eating and exercise. I’m trying to walk and/or move around every day. And this is very difficult.

Anyway, drinking water is something I am focused on, but also, getting hydration treatments is another focus.

Yesterday afternoon, I went down to Midtown for an appointment. Theresa, one of the nurses in the chemo lab, greeted me warmly as she took me back to my little ante-room in the lab (as I have told all of you, the chemo lab at Midtown has the advantage over Sky Ridge of having several “private rooms” for patients like me to get treatment; I like the room I usually have. Mother and Marilyn sit in there with me. It is a tight squeeze but worth it).

She accessed my port. It hurt when she did so. She made this comment, “John, it looks as if the skin around your port is bruised—too much poking at it. Be sure to take the band aid off this evening to help it heal a bit.”

She hooked me up to the IV—a bag full of water, essentially, and left the room.

After about forty minutes, I looked up at the bag—the water level was exactly the same! What gives? I pushed the button to notify Theresa. She came in the room, looked at the bag, and said, “Huh, what is going on?” She checked the tubing from the bag to my port. “Oh, John, I’m sorry. I did not open the access. It should work now.” She was right. It was a little frustrating because I had wasted forty minutes. But the water came out. I could feel it coming into my body.

Well, anyway, in spite of that little goof up, I was glad to get hydration. It did not help me FEEL better. In fact, I felt worse after leaving, but I am going back on Friday to get more. We will see. The beat goes on.

Two passages in the same chapter today that focus on the whole topic of strength—an entity that I am badly in need of.

Notice the first, speaking of King Hezekiah: “Then he strengthened himself and built up all the walls that were broken down, and raised towers upon them and another wall outside. And he strengthened the Millo of the city of David and made much weaponry and small shields” (2 Chronicles
32:5 LEB).

“He strengthened himself”—what an intriguing phrase.

Here is what Hezekiah himself says to the people: “’Be strong! Be courageous! Do not fear and do not be dismayed before the king of Assyria and before all the crowd that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is the arm of flesh, and with us is Yahweh our God, to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people took confidence with the words of Hezekiah, king of Judah” (2 Chronicles
32:7-8 LEB).

Interesting. This seems to be a different perspective when it comes to strength.

So, here is what I conclude, having read these two passages in the same chapter. Strength comes from God once we depend on Him, BUT we must take responsibility to strengthen ourselves through actions that reflect that dependence. It is not either/or. It is both/and.

Lord, I would not be able to make it through this without your strength. I depend on You totally again today. Show me what to do in that dependence to strengthen myself. Thank You again for all the prayers and all the support and all the encouragement from Your people. I love You and them. Amen.

One Million "Worshippers"

In my radio interview with the friend in Texas, one of the questions he asked was, “Tell me what things are like before the big game and afterwards.”

I tried to explain to him—a guy raised for the most part in Texas—one of the unique features of the sports culture in this state. This contrast is even more stark when you compare it to that of Texas.

In Texas, high school football is very prominent. It exists here, of course, but it is NOT prominent.

In Texas, college football is huge. Here in Colorado, again, we have college teams, but they are not very significant as far as the national scene is concerned.

In Texas, there are other pro teams in baseball, hockey, and basketball. For example, the San Antonio Spurs are perennial winners in the NBA. We also have the Rockies, Nuggets, and Avalanche—pro baseball, pro basketball, and pro hockey, respectively.

But no team on any level holds a candle to the Broncos.

Yesterday proved this. We had a Super Bowl rally downtown followed by a parade where all the players participated, riding on the backs of fire trucks.

How many folks attended? Are you ready? Some estimates are as high 1.2 MILLION PEOPLE!!! Are you kidding me?

Go to Google and search Denver Super Bowl Parade, to get an idea of what happened and what that huge crowd looked like. Absolutely incredible!

Back to my conversation (or interview, as the case may be) with my friend. Here is a comment I made: “The Broncos are by far and away the most popular team not only in this state but also in this region. It borders on idolatry.

As I have watched TV news reports from yesterday and web video of the parade and rally—my statement is confirmed.

And I wonder: what besides the Broncos would attract such a crowd? I wonder about a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade? NOPE. A rock concert? I don’t think so. There is NOTHING that could draw such a crowd as the Broncos.

I was thinking about this as I read the story of the Gerasenes demoniac—the man with a legion of demons inside of him. Notice these references: “When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore” (Mark
5:21 NASB) AND “And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him” (Mark 5:24 NASB).

“A large crowd” followed Him. I wonder what that was like? It was certainly no indication of true discipleship. The Bible makes it clear that “crowds” are fickle—they can be for You one minute, against you the next.

This is certainly the case with the Broncos. People here will enjoy this championship until next season and then, the euphoria will have to built again. If the Broncos win, people will love them; if not, …

I would rather be a disciple who follows Jesus no matter what. This is only possible by the power of the Spirit.

By the way, the infusion went okay yesterday. I am very fatigued this morning. I will share more about the “cancer stuff” tomorrow.

Lord, it was indeed truly a phenomenon to observe from afar yesterday. Thank You for helping me through a tough day. I pray that I, along with my family, people in my church family, and friends across the world, would not “fans” of God but would be true and loyal followers through the power of the Spirit, no matter how “the season” goes. Amen.

Infusion Today and Unexpected but Needed Encouragement

Man, it seems as if the three weeks goes by so quickly and once again, I’m headed back to the cancer center for another infusion followed by ten days or more of feeling bad. This seems to be getting more and more difficult the longer it goes …

I know I wouldn’t make it without your prayers. My family definitely needs them. My mom seems to be feeling better. I believe she has had some sort of virus for weeks now—she feels better for a few days and then sinks down for a few more. I hope she can get off this merry-go-round soon.

On these days of the infusion, I’m so glad to be able to get in early and get things moving. I’m usually one of the first patients of the day: a nurse takes my vitals then ushers me into the lab where they access my port to take my blood. When that is done, it is back to the waiting room for a while. Finally, another nurse takes us back to a patient’s room where we wait for doctor Jotte. He usually brings Shantel his assistant in charge of clinical trials. He checks me over, and then hands things off to Shantel.

I have to fill out a daily log of when I took my pills twice a day—the exact times. She takes the empty bottles and unused pill from the previous three weeks, handing me new bottles with pills and another log.

After this meeting with Dr. Jotte and Shantel, we have to go to the waiting room again. We usually sit there for a while until one of the nurses in the chemo room comes to get us.

The one thing I like about the chemo room at Midtown more than that at Sky Ridge is the number of private rooms that are available. Usually, since we arrive so early, we are able to get one of these. It seems to help us deal with getting chemo more easily.

Another thing I like about this round of chemo (there is MUCH MORE about it that I don’t like) is that really, I only have to get one drug in the port. When they finally get to the point of administering it, I’m usually done in a half an hour.

When we finish, we have established the habit of going to Einsteins—it is a deli—right down the street from the cancer center for an early lunch, and then we head home, where all of us usually spend the rest of the day napping.

This routine that I have just outlines is equally as stressful on my mom and sis as it is on me. But I appreciate the fact that they are there with me.

If I would let myself, I could really get discouraged as I think about this routine because, again, as I have mentioned before, there really is no end in sight. Last time, Dr. Jotte told me, “John, we are going to keep you on this trial until one of three things happens: you do not tolerate it; it ceases to hold your cancer back; or, you just decide to stop.” Please pray that the Lord would give me wisdom to be decisive in one of those ways when the time is right.

One more thing to share this morning—yesterday, I received a phone call from a dear sister at church. She is coordinating a ministry in the community for our church and doing a great job. We talked about that ministry for a few minutes and then she ventured, “John, can I ask you a question?”


“Do you somehow feel that you, going through these cancer treatments, are somehow hurting the church?”

Her question cut me to the core. I paused for a moment. “Well, to be honest, yes.” I went to say, “I have never had anyone in our church say anything to make me feel this way. It is just my sense and my feelings.”

She answered, “John, you just have to know that all of us are pulling for you and just want you to get well. The Lord is taking care of the church and a lot of good things are happening. You need to know this.”

As she uttered these words, I had to pause a bit to keep from getting very emotional. I thanked her for her statements. This is exactly the encouragement I needed.

Lord, it is hard but I thank you for this infusion today—the routine and the aftermath. It is part and parcel of your plan. Thank you also for this dear sister and the perfect timing of her encouragement. You led her. You inspired her to speak those words. Should I expect anything less from you? Thank You again for my church family. I love them dearly.

“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy
1:12 NASB). Amen.

"The Big Time"

I have to tell all of you that I am still in shock about the Super Bowl. I can’t believe the Broncos won it.

Anyway, I’m glad they did and glad it is over.

Every year, by the time the Super Bowl has concluded, I’m ready for football to be over and for Spring/Summer to occur.

Back to the Bronco victory, I got several texts and calls after the game from friends in various parts of the country. It was great to hear from them.

One of them is a friend from college. He actually hosts and produces a radio program in Houston. A few days ago, he set the stage for what he confirmed last night. He asked me if it would be okay, IF the Broncos won, for him to call me and interview me for his radio program. I laughed and said, “Sure,” not believing that it would be an opportunity for me to take because I doubted that the Broncos would win.

Sure enough they did AND my friend called to congratulate me on a Bronco victory and confirm his earlier request.

Both of these phone calls caused me to chuckle a bit because they remind me of a scene in the Andy Griffith Show. I have all the old episodes on DVD and still watch them on occasion.

At one point, as Andy and Barney are sitting in the courthouse visiting, somehow a man’s name comes up and both guys make note of the fact that he is a DJ on a radio station in the big city of Mount Pilot.

When mention is made of this man and his radio program in Mount Pilot, Barney gets a glassy-eyed, star-struck look in his eyes and says, “The Big Time.”

For me, the opportunity to be interviewed on this program is “The Big Time.” Ha! I look forward to it. He told me that he would ask about what it is like to be a Bronco fan in Denver, my Baylor roots and perceptions of our alma mater, and even about the church. It should be interesting.

Back to today—as I said, I’m just glad the game is over and life can go on. Don’t get me wrong when I say THAT, I’m glad the Broncos won it.

I’m thankful for the friends who made contact. It was encouraging to hear from them. And I am thankful for the technology—texting and cell phones and computers—that make it possible.

I love these words in Ephesians 2. They describe the community in which all of us who know Jesus are a part. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians
2:19-22 NASB).

Above and beyond being a Bronco fan—it is great to bask in the glow of a Super Bowl victory but it is so fleeting (when the new season starts in the summer, the championship is history; the Broncos will have to try all over again)—it is awesome to be a part of the family of God. This is a blessing and benefit that lasts for the rest of my life and on into eternity.

Lord, thank You again for my family, my church family, and the broader group of family and friends across the country. I thank You again for their prayers and encouragement. As the song says, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God …” Help me today on my shot at “The Big Time.” Ha. Actually, because of Jesus, I’m already part of a BIG TIME community. Amen.

A Famine of the Word

So, Super Bowl Sunday is finally here. I’m excited for the game and glad the Broncos are in it, but I sure will be glad when it is over—all the hype and all the sales of Super Bowl “stuff.” Marilyn predicted it, and she was right. On many street corners in town, “hucksters” see tee shirts and hats and flags and blankets and just about anything else that can be orange and have a Bronco emblem on it. Say what you want about the NFL, but it is a marketing machine.

Anyway, today, I’m probably not even going to mention “the big game.” It certainly does not need my help.

On to the reading for this morning—there is an interesting statement in Amos chapter eight. Years ago, I remember Billy Graham making the comment in a sermon. He stated, “Someday, there is going to be a famine of the Word of God. Someday, it will be difficult even to find a Bible.” This is not an exact quote, but I remember him making those comments.

This morning, I came across the following assertion:

“Look, the days are coming,” declares my Lord Yahweh, “when I will send a famine in the land, not a famine for bread and not a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Yahweh!” (Amos
8:11 LEB). As one reads the book of Amos, one realizes that this statement is part of the Lord’s judgment on the northern kingdom.

And I have learned this about the Lord: He gives the opportunity to hear and obey the Word of God, but if we don’t, one of the consequences is that He takes it away.

I hope this doesn’t happen in the United States of America. We have rejected the Lord and shoved His Word aside in so many ways.

Well, I won’t get into that this morning.

Please continue to pray. I really covet your prayers. I’m drowsy again this morning—really fighting it. I hope when I get off this couch in a few moments and get a shower that I will finally wake up.

I am preaching on the subject of hell this morning. It is a neglected topic in the American church today.

I guess you could say that I am truly preaching a “hellfire and brimstone” sermon, although those who use that term are often referring to the tone and tenor of the message and not its content.

Honestly, I am preaching this sermon from a broken heart. I don’t see how anyone could study what the Bible says about hell without being very concerned about the lost folks he or she knows. It is certainly a place you don’t want to go to.

This morning, I’m using as text Jesus’ statements about it from the Gospel of Matthew. It is quite a challenge, but it provides a wonderful corrective to a culture and a city totally focused on the Broncos.

There is nothing wrong with cheering for one’s favorite team and being a fan, but I sure wish that all of us had the same passion to share the gospel with the lost as we do in cheering for a team in the Super Bowl.

Lord, as I preach a sermon on hell on Super Bowl Sunday, I pray for all of us. Help us to focus on what is really important—You—and vital to life—the Word of God, before it is too late. Other nations and empires collapsed because of an undue focus on sports and a neglect of the Word. Help us not to go there. Amen.

Make You Become

As I started reading in the first chapter of Mark this morning in Professor Horner’s plan, a phrase in a familiar verse literally leapt off the page. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men’” (Mark 1:17 NASB, emphasis mine).

Jesus’ declaration to the fishermen could have been stated thusly: “I will make you fishers of men.” But that is not what Jesus said, and phrased that way, it would sound as if Jesus was promised to wave a magic wand and tap the shoulder of the disciples and, in an instant, they are transformed. Boinck!

But that is NOT what Jesus said and not how it works. Jesus is inviting Peter and Andrew as well as John and James and the rest of the twelve along with us into a
creative process. Jesus “makes us become” fishermen out to catch men. Making—the One who made us in the beginning remakes us in redemption. Become—a process. What a word!

As I sit here dealing with cancer another day, He is right now making me become. There isn’t anyone around. I am here by myself typing on a laptop computer. He continues to work on me,
making me become.

One of the things that strikes me about the church I serve and the American church in general is how seldom adults profess faith in Jesus. Have you noticed that as well? (Again, there are churches out there that are exceptions to this rule, but I am making this observation out of my experience and that of other pastors/churches on the north side of Denver. Hear me here. I am not talking about “additions” to a church—believers from other churches joining a church. I’m referring to people who have no church background getting saved and being added to the fellowship. This is becoming more and more rare).

One of the problems we are having is that believers are becoming more insulated and isolated from “the fish” we are called to catch. I will use myself as an example.

A few Sundays ago, I handed out some gospel tracts to the congregation. Not everyone took them. One couple in our church requested more. Many of the folks in our fellowship took tracts. I don’t doubt that any of them actually handed them out (this isn’t the only way to witness; it is just one way). I ended up taking four. I put them in my backpack. Where do you think they are right now? Right. Still there.

Even as a pastor with very good intentions, I did not hand mine out. And more importantly, I didn’t share with anyone.

However, after reading this verse in Mark this morning, I am convicted about this. So, I am going to pull them out of my backpack that sits on the floor right by this couch, and I am going to put them in my pants pocket where they will be available AND where I could pull one out and give it to someone IF the Spirit so leads. In addition, I am actually going to submit to the filling of the Holy Spirit, asking Him for readiness and boldness to share, again IF the Spirit so leads.

Do you see what I am saying? What I am talking about is PROCESS. God is working on me in this regard. The Spirit is convicting me and He is using a series of events: cancer, chemo, pain, the Word, conviction, and many other forces to move me to a point of being available to share, if He so leads. The tracts in my pocket are only a part of this.

But, again, what I am talking about is “making to become.”

And the truth is that Jesus spent three years with these men, teaching and sharing and shaping them.

And the truth is that Pentecost did not JUST happen. When the Spirit came down on the believers and compelled the Big Fisherman who denied the Lord three times to stand up and preach with boldness and power the first sermon in the Christian church, it was part and parcel of the process of making him “a fisher of men.”

I am praying that all of us would submit to this process so that we could actually see lost people saved and added to the fellowship. Otherwise, I just can’t see the Church surviving.

I hope I’m wrong …

Lord, it is easy for me to point my finger at others, but today, Holy Spirit, I feel that You are working on me. I confess the sin of allowing this disease to be so all-consuming at times. I know there is a balance between taking care of myself and being reckless. Today, help me to follow the leadership of Your Spirit and to be available and faithful with the opportunities You bring my way. I pray that You would use me as a fisher of men. I pray for the church I serve—for all of us. I love you, Lord. Amen

Day After Day After Day

One of the reasons that I enjoy reading the Bible in various translations is that they give me a different perspective on very well-known passages. My reading of Matthew 28:18-20—the Great Commission—is a case in point:

“Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age’” (Matthew
28:18-20 MSG).

The phrase that stands out is in the promise of verse 20: “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” Wow.

We can count on the presence of the Lord all the way, day by day.

Peterson’s translation of Matthew 28:20 corresponds with the verse the Lord gave me when I was first diagnosed with cancer in August of 2010: “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34 MSG).

How does all of this apply to where I am right now?

Honestly, every day I wake up, I am a little apprehensive because I just don’t know what to expect health-wise. Since my really good day on Monday, the rest of the week, I have not felt that well. This morning, I feel drowsy again. Go figure.

Not matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to predict how I will feel. This is very frustrating.

On the other hand, I am learning what it means to depend on Him each and every day. I am praying for opportunities to share the gospel and/or minister to someone, but more and more, what happened last night is becoming the norm.

I am continuing to study what the Bible has to say about hell. The reality of that place and what it means—eternal separation from God has been heavy on my heart. I’m not sure I have ever REALLY STOPPED to think about it.

As I am studying in the mornings, I am also reading Spurgeon’s sermons at night. They are on the topic of heaven and hell.

Anyway, as I was reading last night, rather suddenly, I got a burden for the congregation I serve. I started thinking about everyone in the church—their faces came to my mind and as they did, I prayed for them. I prayed for every person I thought of, “Lord, I pray that this person is on his/her way to heaven not hell.”

Now, let me stop right there. Ultimate judgment belongs to God, for sure. However, he places in our hands the responsibility of being “fruit inspectors.” This is the type of judgment he is speaking about at the end of 1 Corinthians 5. Paul says that it is NOT our responsibility to judge those outside the church, but we are called to judge (to discern, to inspect fruit) INSIDE the church.

The Lord impressed me very heavily that one of my main roles as pastor is to make sure every one in our fellowship is indeed saved and on the way to heaven.

How am I going to do that? Well, first, I believe it involves continuing to pray for every one in the church by name. Second, (and I need to pray about this) I’m not so sure that I may need to look every one in the eye and ask him or her. That would certainly be rather awkward, but why not? I need to pray about this more … but the burden is still there …

Lord, I thank you for the promise of being with your kids as they are on mission—in all places—to the ends of the earth AND in all times—day by day. Lord, I count on your provision to make it through today’s challenge of drowsiness and to respond appropriately to everything You lay on my heart. I lift up every one in church I serve. You are ultimately in charge of who is really saved and who isn’t. If there are any who are not saved, convict them today. Show me how to love them to You. This DAY is Yours. Amen.

Because of an Illness, I Preached the Gospel to You

One of the things I have to add to the list with this disease is the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ves.” As I sit here this morning, I realized this. It comes out when people ask me how I am doing.

Yesterday, I got a call from a pastor friend I have not talked to in months. He called me out of the blue to ask how I am doing. Here is the gist of the answer I gave: “not good. It seems that I am getting worse the longer this treatment goes. I find myself unable to do much more than sit on the couch more and more often.”

In other words, what I am saying is: this disease is a huge hindrance in my life right now, and I am frustrated.

I put this up against some words that I read in Galatians 4 in Professor Horner’s plan. In all my readings of Galatians, I don’t remember these words.

“I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me” (Galatians
4:12-15 NASB).

What is the illness to which Paul refers? As you can imagine, there is a lot of speculation in the commentaries and among scholars through the years. Paul’s reference to eyes in verse 15 has led some to believe that it has to do with his eyesight. Maybe so, maybe not. The statement in verse fifteen could just be a hyperbole (an exaggeration) of the sacrificial love the folks in Galatia have for Paul.

Be that as it may, I can’t get over the phrase: “it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time.” What? What does this mean? Again, who knows?

But one thing is clear: for Paul, his physical infirmity (whatever it might be) was clearly NOT any kind of impediment or obstacle to his ministry. Instead, it was the impetus. It was a platform.

Paul recalls it and talks about it as a crucial factor in his early relationship with this congregation. I was sick, and you received me.

This is a point of crucial contrast with the experience of Job. Notice what he says: “God alienated my family from me; everyone who knows me avoids me. My relatives and friends have all left; houseguests forget I ever existed. The servant girls treat me like a bum off the street, look at me like they’ve never seen me before. I call my attendant and he ignores me, ignores me even though I plead with him. My wife can’t stand to be around me anymore. I’m repulsive to my family. Even street urchins despise me; when I come out, they taunt and jeer. Everyone I’ve ever been close to abhors me; my dearest loved ones reject me. I’m nothing but a bag of bones; my life hangs by a thread” (Job
19:13-20 MSG). Interesting. Tragic. Sad.

I believe that Job’s experience mirrors how the world responds to illness. They don’t know what to say or do. I am reminded of that nurse in the eye doctor’s office. Remember? When she found out that I have cancer, she said, “John, I’m keeping my finger’s crossed for you.” She didn’t know what to say. Obviously, my disease made her feel very uncomfortable.

I have not found this type of reaction with my Christian friends and the church, AT ALL

Anyway, back to Paul, I just can’t get over his statement. Again, I say: his illness was NOT a barrier to ministry—exactly the opposite.

Please pray for me that I would learn to see cancer in the same way. I need help in this regard.

Lord, it is easy for me to SAY—thank You for cancer. It is easy to claim that this disease has been a gift. I believe it, but deep down in my heart, the longer this goes and the worse I feel, it is becoming more and more of a struggle. I spend a lot of time wishing, hoping, and praying that it would soon be over and that I could get back to a normal life—whatever that is!?! Maybe this disease is the NEW normal for me? Who knows? But Lord, help me with perspective. Help me see all of this as You do. Amen.

Know the Plan, Like the Plan

Every now again, my mind drifts a bit, and I begin to wonder, “What is in store for me in the future?” I think about this disease and try to imagine a scenario in which I don’t have to deal with it any longer. And who knows? Such a day and time may come.

Until then, what do I do? I struggle with even typing this, but I have to realize that cancer is part of God’s plan for me TODAY. Yesterday is done. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today, I just need to be content with what I know of God’s plan and purpose.

Easier said than done.

I think I have God company as I read the pages of scripture. Two passages emerged in my reading today.

The first comes from Matthew 26. The setting is the Garden of Gethsemane. All of sudden Judas and a gang (this is the exact word in the NASB) of High Priests and religious leaders showed up with swords and clubs to arrest the Son of God. At first, one of the disciples (Peter) pulled his sword and tried to chop off someone’s head but only got an ear.

Jesus refused to fight, but he made the following statement and notice what happened. “But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets." Then all the disciples left Him and fled” (Matthew
26:56 NASB).

As Jesus tried to teach his group of disciples, that the arrest, EVEN THAT, was part and parcel of the prophetic plan of God, that was the tipping point when all the disciples fled. That just didn’t fit their theology.

The second comes from Genesis 17. God appeared to Abraham confirming His promise that old Abe would be the father of many nations. He was 99 years old at the time and his wife was 90. Are you kidding me? Here is his response: Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (Genesis
17:17 NASB).

The plan was so outlandish that the old man laughed. This is a key element of the story because, a little later on, when Abe and Sarah really did become parents, they named their child “Laughter” (Isaac).

Anyway, as I read these two stories this morning, they give me some comfort. The saints of old struggled with God’s plan at times as well!

I am not the only one.

I wish I had some easy answers at this point. I don’t. However, I find I am more ready to accept what I know of God’s plan for me when I rivet my attention on His character and what He has done for me. The Lord has been nothing but merciful and gracious. Why should I believe He has changed?

And if He hasn’t changed in His essential character, why should I believe His plans are anything but grace and mercy and the best for me?

This passage comes to mind: “’For I know the plans that I am planning concerning you,’ declares Yahweh, ‘plans for prosperity and not for harm, to give to you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11, LEB).

Lord, I certainly don’t claim to understand anything, let alone your plan, but I do know You. Give me the grace to accept what you are doing on a DAILY basis and love You just the same, no matter where your plan leads me. Help me with this, Lord. Amen.

A Good Day

Father, I just have to start out by thanking You, praising You, for being the Great Physician. Thanks for giving me a good day, the best I have had in the last five months. Thank You. Thank You for everyone that is praying.

How about THAT? I’m still kind of shocked, to be honest, but I will take it.

Today isn’t bad, either … so far. I’m a little drowsy but nowhere near as much as the other day.

One thing that Marilyn keeps praying is that the Lord would grant me good days, more good days than bad, good days in a row, multiplying good days. I know she is not the only one who is asking the Lord for this. Many of you have been/are as well.

Thank you, AGAIN.

It looks as if today is going to be what we call around here “a snow day.” I checked the weather forecast on television as I was eating my breakfast. Apparently, we have received almost a foot of snow. The roads are dicey. And it appears as if the north part of town has received A LOT of snow. I will wait to see before I make my final decision by mid to late morning. But I doubt I will be heading up to the church today.

I want to thank Him for this as well, thank Him for many things today.

Honestly, my heart is so full of gratitude that I feel I just need to sit here and thank Him. Not much else to write this morning.

I love you all. Amen.

God, My Enemy

Yesterday started out very well. I seemed to be energized as I headed up to church. The roads were wet. That’s all.

I felt a little fatigued as the guys exited our prayer time, so I took a few moments before the service to compose myself. And the Lord helped me once again.

I came home to crash on this couch.

At some point in the afternoon, anxiety and depression started to settle in. I really don’t understand it—why it happened. Maybe I pushed myself a little too hard. Who knows?

More and more, I find myself waiting and watching for the next “shoe to drop.” I feel as I have to be vigilant on so many fronts—the cancer front, the shoulder front, the sleep front, the food front, and now, more than ever, the mental front. It is crazy. This vigilance demands alertness on my part, an awareness of absolutely everything I do and the effort to make a change when it is necessary. Oftentimes, I just don’t have the energy to assert myself.

And it is hard NOT to get angry at God at times. It is hard to type those words, but I am just being honest. I have been feeling guilty about this until I came to the words of Job in my reading today. This is rather a long passage, but notice how straight-forward-honest Job is:

“When I speak up, I feel no better; if I say nothing, that doesn’t help either. I feel worn down. God, you have wasted me totally—me and my family! You’ve shriveled me like a dried prune, showing the world that you’re against me. My gaunt face stares back at me from the mirror, a mute witness to your treatment of me. Your anger tears at me, your teeth rip me to shreds, your eyes burn holes in me—
God, my enemy! People take one look at me and gasp. Contemptuous, they slap me around and gang up against me. And God just stands there and lets them do it, lets wicked people do what they want with me. I was contentedly minding my business when God beat me up. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me around. He set me up as his target, then rounded up archers to shoot at me. Merciless, they shot me full of arrows; bitter bile poured from my gut to the ground. He burst in on me, onslaught after onslaught, charging me like a mad bull.”
16:6-14 MSG, emphasis mine).

God, my enemy? Surely not, but somehow, it FEELS that way.

I can’t get over these words. It is almost as if God is attacking Job like some sort of wild animal. He uses words like “rip me to shreds” and “He grabbed me by the neck and threw me around.”

Not only that, but also, in the face of severe suffering, it seems as if the Lord is distant and remote—the deist’s god standing on the balcony of like, watching suffering transpire and doing nothing about it.

This passage chronicles the interplay between God’s vicious attacks on the one hand and His inactivity on the other.

This has to be some of the most brutally honest words in the whole Bible.

And I really don’t know what to say. This kind of reality defies easy answers and one-two-three “formulas”—way beyond all of that. It is grappling with God on a deep level where everything that happens seems to contradict what we thought we knew about Him.

I read these words from a Spurgeon sermon last night, “You can have a great deal of patience when you have no pain; and you can have a great deal of joy in the Lord when you have got joy in your worldly prosperity; and you can have any quantity of it in when you have no troubles to test its reality. But the real faith is that which will endure the trial by fire.”

That is where I am.

Lord, these are very difficult days. I am struggling on so many levels, but one of my main wrestling matches is with You. I love You, Lord. I know You want the best for me. I believe You care, but it is really hard to see it right now. Help me through this “trial by fire.” Amen.