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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Joyous Anticipation

Over these past several weeks, I think I have a better idea of what the text in Romans for today is all about.

I find myself more and more in a mode where I have so much anticipation about feeling better and what the world will be like when I do.

I am going to go ahead and cite the paragraph for today in Romans: “That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens” (Romans
8:18-21 MSG).

There is one verse in particular in this passage that I would like to quote from another version: “that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans
8:21 NASB).

The thing that impresses me about this passage—something I have never realized before—is that ALL of creation, including Maxwell the cat who sits beside me right now—is anticipating the revealing of the Sons of God.

I believe this will occur when Jesus comes back. Every one of His kids will join Him forever. The Lord will return, making a new heaven and a new earth.

We place so much emphasis on the here and now. There is nothing wrong with this per se, unless that is our ONLY focus.

God made everything and everyone. He created them. He spoke them into existence in the PAST. However, that is not the whole story. Everything He made anticipates, looks forward, to the revealing of the Sons of God. This is a time where everything will come to light, everything in heaven and on earth.

I know I sound like a broken record, but the Lord keeps impressing on me that this life of weakness and illness and disease and death is only a preparatory drop in the bucket to what all of creation anticipates.

I am so grateful for this corrective. My tendency has been to focus more and more on myself and my issues with this illness and with cancer.

The other day, my neck started to bother me, and my first thought was, “Oh no! Has my cancer returned?” I guess that type of thing just goes with it when one talks of cancer. BUT the bottom line is that everything is moving toward the goal, as Jesus returns to reveal the truth of who we are and to take us home.

Home means no more illness and disease and death—all those things are gone forever. I can hardly wait. I have joyful anticipation.

Lord, thank You for continuing to keep me focused not only on today, but also on a joyous and certain future. I’m so glad that this life with all its weakness and foibles is NOT all there is. I love You Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Adventuresomely Expectant

Someday, I am going to get over this virus. Someday.

Somehow … I just have to keep affirming this because on some days, it just doesn’t feel as if I ever will. Yesterday was a case in point. Sundays are very long days without the benefit of corporate worship and the fellowship with other believers, as it is. But add this illness component … I know I sound like a broken record in this regard, but I just have to say it again: I will never take those two things—worship and fellowship—for granted EVER AGAIN.

When I say “take for granted,” what I mean is that I will never assume that the Lord will give me the physical strength just to go without thanking Him for it. This may seem like a small thing. It isn’t.

Anyway, as I continue in Romans 8 (I am just taking it very slowly, paragraph by paragraph in the Message Version), I continue to be amazed at how the Spirit of God pulls everything together for us.

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!” (Romans
8:15-17 MSG).

I love the phrase, “What’s next, Papa?” That is (or should be) the Christian life as we continue to rehearse what we know: we know who He is; we know who we are; we know we have a certain future, even if we go through hard times with Him; and we know we will share the good times as well.

As I think about it this morning, the good times infinitely outweigh and over-shadow the hard times. How do I know this? Because our earthly lives are a miniscule drop in the bucket compared to what is ahead of us in an eternity that begins now and continues forever.

The other night, as I woke up, this thought was heavily on my mind as, I believe, the Holy Spirit put it there: the time is so short. The time is short.

Again, many of us look at twenty years as eternity. Ha. It is far from that.

I hope the Lord gives me more time here on this planet because I don’t believe that He is finished with me yet. But who knows?

As I was talking with Marilyn about this the other day, I said, “I feel as if I am living on borrowed time. At the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute, they keep checking me for a recurrence of cancer. Even though I am cancer free now, who knows what will happen in the future?” I am not trying to be morbid, just real.

The point is that none of us knows the day or hour of our deaths OR of Christ’s return. So, we better get moving before we are incapacitated like my mom and physically unable to do many things she still wants to do.

She still prays. She can do that. She does continue the lifestyle.

One more thing: it is curious to me that not even cancer or the transplant have pressed the urgency of life and death and beyond on me more than this virus has. Either way …

Lord, thank You for using my long-term physical weakness to get me more focused than ever on eternal life. Spirit of God, I am growing in my enthusiasm for what lies ahead. Again, I trust You, the hand that holds our past, present, and especially our future in His hands. Amen.
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God's Spirit Beckons

I guess I would just have to say that I am STILL sick. This is the craziest thing ever. I almost have to laugh to keep from crying. Almost.

I’m sorry to say this, but it has been encouraging for me to hear about others who have had this same type of thing for weeks and weeks AND WEEKS. I feel sorry for them. Don’t get me wrong, but I am glad that this virus for me is not just a product of the drugs I am taking for the transplant.

Thus, my days consist of sitting around in the morning, dozing off occasionally. Then, I try to get up and spend time with Marilyn as she goes out and about. By late afternoon, I am usually on the decline. By evening, I seem to feel as bad as ever. Last night, I was coughing so hard that I nearly vomited. I know that many of you can relate to all of this—nothing new and novel here.

One additional thing: it seems to be difficult these days for me to talk on the phone because conversation often starts me on a coughing spree.

Anyway, for right now, my main goal is just to last this thing out without saying things like, “I am NEVER going to get over this! UGH!” These comments are human. I know this, but they soon start to serve as a ball and chain around my neck, pulling me down.

This is why the passage I read in Romans 8 is such a challenge. “So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!” (Romans
8:12-14 MSG)

This is a reminder that, as God’s kids, we are NOT defined by our slavery in the past. All of that ended at the moment of salvation. We are done with the old life. It didn’t serve us well. Dead. Gone. Buried.

In addition, I am NOT defined by right now. I am NOT a sick person. Indeed, this virus has been going on forever, seemingly. I also put cancer and the transplant in this same category. All of this is a part of my testimony, to be sure. But they will never define me.

No, this passage reminds us that as believers, we are defined by our future. The Holy Spirit beckons! He continues to call us into a life of adventure HERE. I love the phrase in the text, “Things to do and places to go,” followed by a certain and safe future ahead as citizens of heaven.

The other night, I woke up with the thought: there isn’t much time left. Life is short and it is urgent.

Most of us don’t let ourselves think about the future because it seems so unpleasant. I find myself doing it more and more. I’m tired of this body with its foibles and illnesses and disease.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the Lord is done with me yet, but I don’t have the luxury of thinking I have unlimited time—maybe twenty years. Who knows? But twenty years goes by fast under the healthiest of circumstances. Think about what you were doing twenty years ago. Whoa.

Lord, thank You for saving me. Jesus, I thank You that I am identified with You in Your death, burial, and resurrection. Spirit, thank You that You dwell in us, beckoning us onward to new people and new places in this wonderful adventure. It doesn’t always feel that way … Amen.
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Carrie

Correction: yesterday, I said that these traces of pneumonia were in my stomach; of course, I meant CHEST.

Well, yesterday, I seemed to feel a little bit better until early evening, at which point I began to decline fairly rapidly. The beat goes on …

I was talking to a pastor friend yesterday who told me that just about everyone in his church had contracted this virus. He went on the say that, for most folks, it takes two to three MONTHS to get over it. Great!

Anyway, in telling all of you about my appointments and visit to the clinic the other day, I left out one major and encouraging aspect of the story. As Ryan and Tina were leaving and as Marilyn and I were getting ready to leave, an old friend came in the waiting room. Her name is Carrie. She was one of the nurses who worked with me while I was in the transplant “wing” of the hospital for 19 days.

She was in the rotation for my care and did an awesome job. Plus, she was very prominent and helpful on that final day. She helped move us out to the car. She waved good-bye to us as we drove off. I’m kind of emotional as I write this because she and the other nurses on that wing did such a great job with me. And it is obvious, especially in Carrie’s case, that they really did/do care.

I felt lousy as we were leaving that day, but Carrie said, “Wow, John, you look great. Full head of hair and all. How are you doing?”

Marilyn asked her where she was working these days because CBCI moves the nurses around quite a bit from the hospital and the clinic. Carrie replied, “I still work at the hospital. I’ve been doing it for 14 years. I love it!” There you go.

I’ll tell you: I am so deeply appreciative of all the folks I have met that I have met through this transplant process. I pray for everyone I can remember as the Lord brings them to mind. Carrie is at the top of the list.

Well, back to the reading for today. As I indicated yesterday, I am taking a side route of sorts in the Solid Life Reading Plan. I plan to camp in Romans 8 for a few more days.

“But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” (Romans
8:9-11 MSG).

“Life on God’s terms”—that is what I trust the Trinity to bring about in this life, and it is entirely possible because Jesus in the person of the Holy Spirit has actually taken up residence in me. Through Him, I get to participate in the life of God.

When I stop and think about it, this whole transplant process continues to be an adventure. This time last year, I would have never dreamed that I would be at this place, with all the astronomical changes that have occurred in my family. It is crazy.

O Indwelling Holy Spirit, thank You for residing in me. I’m so grateful for Carrie and others at the hospital and clinic You have brought across my path. Continue to use Marilyn and me as witnesses to Your glory. Amen.
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A Trace of Pneumonia

Let me back up a bit and tell all of you about my appointments yesterday. It certainly was a full day.

After the CT scan, Marilyn and I raced over to the adjacent building at the hospital to get my blood work done. When we had finished, we hurried back over to the hospital to get my lines out. We were both so gratified that in the last two appointments, we were ahead of schedule and they got us in early.

I wish I had a trumpet to blow. My Triple Lumens Catheter is OUT! Hooray! I have been living with it since July of last year. The procedure was a little more complicated than I had anticipated, but again, it is out!

Later that afternoon, we came back to the clinic for our regular appointment. Ryan, another one of Dr. Ali’s assistants, and Tina met with us. Ryan already had the CT report. “Well, John, the good news is that there is no cancer. We are glad about that. However, this report did show a couple of pneumonia nodules in your stomach. We don’t know if these indicate the start of pneumonia or the end of it.”

Huh, what? This is the first time I had heard the word “pneumonia.” He went on to add, “Sometimes, these viruses turn into pneumonia.” Gulp. Okay.

They didn’t seem too worried. Ryan prescribed some medication, told me to take it for a week, and urged me to call them to let them know how I am doing.

Marilyn was glad that they FINALLY gave me some medication. “Ryan, I have just been concerned about John because, even after all these weeks, he still hasn’t felt well.”

So, we are thankful for the good report (again, we praise God for it and thank Him for all of you), and we are hopeful that this medication gets me over the hump. I feel that I am in the final stages of this virus/trace of pneumonia, but what do I know? Ha.

In the Solid Life Reading Plan, I am kind of stuck on Romans 8, one of the chapters I read a couple of days ago. I feel led to take my time.

Here are the words I read this morning: “Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored” (Romans
8:5-8 MSG).
The “open, spacious, and free” life of the Spirit is what I am after. The longer this illness goes on, the more I feel tempted just to focus on it and myself and worrying about the future, “What if this is just the beginning of pneumonia?”, “How much longer is this going to last?”, and et cetera.

When I have these questions, I find that the immediate challenge is to take them to God and LEAVE them there. If I don’t do it (and sometimes it is multiple times a day), then it isn’t long before I end up on a “dead end” street. For me, that is discouragement, deep discouragement. Not worth it.

Lord, I thank You for the good report of the CT and for my lines being taken out. Thank You for that. Thank You also for this virus. You know the end from the beginning and are in charge of all aspects of it. Do I have any reason NOT to believe that You are right now taking care of me as You have all along? Amen.
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Four Things Going On Today

This is a rather unusual day. Most of the time, when Marilyn and I head up there, we only have one appointment for one thing or another, but I think the clinic is making an honest effort for me to drive up that way less and less. I appreciate that.

Anyway, here is what is going on.

First, I am getting a CT scan this morning. The doctor wanted me to get a PET scan, but insurance would not approve it. To be honest, Marilyn and I are not a little ticked off with this situation. If the doctor wants something, then I should receive it, but these days, the tail is wagging the doctor. Money is more important than anything else, I guess.

Second, we are headed up to the clinic for a blood draw. They want to do it in the morning.

Third, we have to go back to the hospital for them to take out my triple lumens catheter! Hooray! I sure hope nothing comes up between now and then to stall this any further. A lady from the hospital called me yesterday. She said it is no big deal to take it out. I can hardly wait.

Fourth, after leaving late morning, we have to return for a “regular” appointment in the afternoon.

There you have it. I am actually looking forward to all of this. I will let you know how it goes.

“This is GOD ’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as GOD: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own” (Jeremiah
33:2-3 MSG).

Lord, I thank You that You continue to be a prayer-answering God, working on us and on things we “could never figure out on our own.” Thank You for bringing us to this point in the pilgrimage today. I pray that You would take care of this cough this morning so that it doesn’t mess up any scans or tests. Thanks again, Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.
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Under a Black Cloud

I can already tell that this is one of those readings that I will come back to again tomorrow, if I have the time. I’ll explain that in a moment, but first, I want to go ahead and cite a well-known passage I came across this morning:

“With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death” (Romans
8:1-2 MSG).

“Living under a black cloud”—so much to say about this … When I lived in Texas, sometimes the humidity felt very oppressive. It was one of the things I had to get used to when I started at Baylor in the Fall of 1977. That sounds kind of weird, I know. But I moved there from a state in which our humidity is very low. I noticed it immediately.

This is true especially when a storm was blowing in. I also have very vivid memories of the first rain storm I experienced in Waco—a “frog strangler,” as Texans call it. Wow, it was a literal downpour with a LOT of water that just floods down the street.

Anyway, after a few months, when I saw the rain clouds that seemed to be pushing me down, I always thought of the “frog strangler” ahead, whether it actually did rain or not.

Unfortunately, I’ve been experiencing those same kind of feelings with this extended virus. Even on days where I feel a little better (like yesterday), I feel that the hammer is going to fall. In the evening, I started to cough my head off again!

Well, I make these points to say that life without Jesus has similarities. It is akin to living life under a black Texas storm cloud. You know IT is coming. What is IT? The condemnation judgment of God.

I have had friends who have joked about hell, “I’ll probably go to hell for that one! Ha.” I guess it is easier to joke than to repent. It was for me before I got saved.

Turn the table for a moment, I believe a lot of Christians live under this black cloud. They are somehow convinced that the Lord is always mad at them for one reason or another.

I have a good friend who translates Romans 8:1 as follows: there is therefore now no SELF condemnation in Christ Jesus.” Paul is talking to believers here—believers who always feel self-condemned even though they are forgiven in Christ Jesus.

More to say … I will return to this tomorrow.

In the meantime, I want to tell all of you that tomorrow is going to be a very busy day at the cancer clinic—3 appointments in the morning and one in the afternoon. There is nothing serious. These are all routine. I’ll tell you about them in the morning.

Lord, in spite of everything, I thank You again for everything Jesus did for me. Thank You for sending Him, Father. Thank You, Holy Spirit, Strong and Mighty wind. Amen.
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God's Fix for our Mess

The beat goes on with this virus. For a while yesterday morning, I seemed to be doing okay, but again, as the day progressed, I seemed to go downhill rather quickly. Again, the realization hit me that it is just going to take a long time fully to recover AND the toughest days ahead will be the mental adjustments.

I know that all of you can relate to this in one way or another. With long-term illness (several weeks or so), one would think that once you are well or even start to get better, that it would be very easy just to go back to “normal” life (whatever that is). I thought so. But over the past few days, I have realized that I have to LEARN to be well and adjust to it. I know that sounds weird … I am trusting the Lord to continue to heal and give me grace for adjustments or re-adjustments, as it were.

Anyway, there are similarities when it comes to what the Lord did for us in the New Covenant. This is what I read about this morning in the Solid Life Reading Plan, specifically Jeremiah 30 and 31. The Lord addresses His people who are perennially slaves to sin and death. The consequence of their rebellion landed them in a faraway place—Babylon—for a long time.

Then, the Lord told them to put down roots—build houses, have kids, et cetera—because they were going to be THERE a long time—40 years.

I imagine it shocked them and they were glad to hear that it was time to go home, but the question still remained: what was the Lord going to do about the sin that landed them in exile in the first place? A change of geography does NOT necessarily mean a change of heart.

So, here is where the New Covenant comes in: “This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts!—and be their God. And they will be my people. They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about GOD. They’ll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned!” GOD ’s Decree” (Jeremiah
31:33-34 MSG).

The New Covenant in the blood of Jesus is an inside job in which we go straight to the Father. He saves us and forgives us and gives us a brand new start.

As I think about what this means for me as I face another day is this: if the Lord can save me, He can certainly help me through this extended virus and put me back on my feet. Don’t you think?

I’ll answer my own question: YES!

Lord, thank You again for this marathon virus. On one side, I’m overly anxious to be fully done with it forever. On the other side, after all these weeks of being sick (and it isn’t over yet), the adjustment back is very difficult as well. Thanks again for Marilyn and all her help, as well as everyone who patiently reads this story each and every day. I love you, Father, Son, and Spirit AND I love you prayer warriors as well. Amen.
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God's Plans

Among all the opposition that the prophet Jeremiah faced in his ministry—as if that weren’t enough—he also shared God’s Word in a context where others were preaching. And, usually, their message was quite different.

In Jeremiah 28, Hananiah, using a very dramatic wooden yoke he eventually broke, told the people that the exile would last only a couple of years and then they would be back home—easy peacy, lemon squeezy. And of course, the people bought this message totally, just as they do all types of false doctrine.

Well, Hananiah did not have a good end. He is just one example of what Jeremiah faced.

In contrast to that, the Lord sends the prophet with a letter from God, essentially. The message is quite different, in many ways, but here is a well-known verse at the heart of the Lord’s exhortation to His exiled people:

“This is GOD ’s Word on the subject: ‘As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for’” (Jeremiah
29:10-11 MSG).

Amen! I love these promises. God DID and does have a plan all the way through the mess of the final days of the nation of Judah—as a reflection of the judgment of God, people lost their homeland and their temple and everything familiar. God moved them to a distant land to live in a desert by a not-so-impressive river. Think about those huge changes.

And yet, through it all, the Lord was sticking to His plan, a plan that demonstrated the care of God and a plan that engendered hope.

This is what I am going to hang my hat on today.

Yesterday was another one of those marathon days of sitting on the couch and sleeping. I did that for over two hours in the morning and for at least three in the afternoon. Then, as evening approached, I felt as if I were going downhill again.

I have allowed this extended illness—part of the plan of God—to knock me out of kilter a bit, but not today. I’m going to be smart (for once in my life—ha), but I just can’t sit on that couch all day, AGAIN, today. So, I am going to continue to force myself to get up and move around and continue to walk.

None of what I have gone through makes any sense to me in my very limited brain, but I can affirm this: the Lord DOES know what He is doing. I wouldn’t understand if He told me anyway. I’m better off just taking one day at a time and leave the rest up to Him.

Lord, it is difficult to do this, but I thank You again for this extended virus. Thanks for helping me feel a tiny bit better this morning. Continue to give Marilyn strength and grace as she takes care of me and my mom. It is a heavy load for her. Thanks for everyone who continues to pray through these months and years. I love each one of the prayer warriors. Amen.
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Fatigue and More Fatigue

After I threw up yesterday morning, I started to take a nose dive—down, down, down. It was not an emotional down but a physical one. I became so fatigued that I could barely navigate. It was hard to put one foot in front of the other. I can’t remember a time in my life when I was so thoroughly and completely exhausted.

I continue to have to force myself to eat. I have zero appetite.

Marilyn and I did take a walk in the afternoon. It was very difficult to get going, but once we got started, it actually seemed to help.

I am now fairly convinced that, when I get over this virus, it is going to take weeks for me fully to recover. This virus that has lasted now almost eight weeks has knocked me for a loop.

Last night, Marilyn showed me a video she took of the actual Bone Marrow Transplant. It occurred right there in the hospital room with one of the docs from CBCI administering it. It seems as if that was lifetimes ago now. Watching that little video, however, did show me how far the Lord has brought me since then. It gave me a lot of perspective. I appreciate the fact that Marilyn showed it to me.

In the Solid Life Reading Plan for today, I came across these words in Romans 5: “Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him” (Romans
5:6-8 MSG).

The flipside of everything I have been saying is that, even though we as human rebel against weakness, as far as salvation is concerned, it is actually a good thing. Paul reminds that at precisely the time we recognize our weakness, the Lord steps in to save us! Praise God!

It is the folk who see themselves as strong that push themselves out as candidates for getting saved.

As Paul has famously said elsewhere: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, NASB).

Lord, first, thank You for all the way You have taken us since that transplant in late July of last year. Thank You for this marathon virus that continues to remind me of weakness. May this weak body become even more of a platform for the gospel than ever before. I praise You—Father of Lights, Shepherd of the Sheep, and Comforter. Amen.
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Vomit and 200 Cement Trucks

How about that for a combination?

Let me start with number one. Over the past few days, I have felt better in some ways, worse in others. I’ve had this virus long enough that I am always skeptical when I think I am getting better—probably not.

I have had stomach “issues” for the past several days—mainly, I just feel full and I have very little if any appetite (I keep eating, however). Well, this morning, it all came out. I threw up every bit of my breakfast. I’m worried about the pills I take with meals. I don’t know if I threw them up as well.

Sorry to be so graphic, but I do have to say that I had to fight back a little laughter as I was throwing up. That’s sounds psychotic, I know. I don’t deny it. But here is what I was thinking: let’s see how many symptoms am I going to get with this virus? I think I am going for a record. Ha. Have to laugh to keep from crying.

My main deal right now is just that I am weak and fatigued. Yesterday, I slept two and a half hours in the morning and an hour or so in the afternoon. I guess my body needed it.

Anyway, on to the second part. The work on the Denver Water Board field behind our house is stepping up today. Workers have completed the labor on one of the big new water tanks they are building back there. The next step is cement and a lot of it.

They have told us that over the course of the day that 200 cement trucks will be entering the field at a gate right behind our house and exiting at another gate further down Happy Canyon Road. It promises to be an extremely busy day, probably very noisy and loud.

Marilyn and I are looking to get out of here a little bit today if I am up to it and all my vomiting has stopped??? We will see.

I love Romans chapter four. It ranks up there with Hebrews 11 as one of the greatest faith chapters in the Word. Thank You that Abraham is my spiritual father—father of the faithful: “When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, ‘You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!’” (Romans
4:17-18 MSG)

I love this. In the new normal, it feels as if everything that is happening is out of my control. GREAT! Put vomiting and those stinking trucks in that category! But good! Out of my control—in God’s control.

Lord, I choose to live on the promises of God today. I pray that You would give Marilyn and me the grace to get through. You have promised to do so. We trust You. Amen.
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Slack-Jawed

On one of my sports apps, I read this morning that Darrelle Revis, the famous cornerback for the New York Jets has allegedly been charged with four felonies. He is on the loose right now. He still has not turned himself in, as the authorities pursue him.

How sad! Here is this great NFL player looking an imminent retirement in the face sometime soon, who (again, if he is guilty) will be going to prison if he is convicted.

I don’t know why this is sticking on my mind this morning. I’m not, nor have I ever been, much of a Revis or Jets fan …

I guess this just shows how quickly life can turn, for one reason or another.

Yesterday, as Marilyn and I took a little walk in the 70 plus degree weather—it was an absolutely beautiful winter day—we talked again about where we were one year ago. Back in February of 2016, neither one of us had any idea what this past year would hold for us. It certainly was a doozy.

Back then, our mom was still with us. We were plugging along and then, BANG. Her stroke. BANG. My bone marrow transplant procedure and everything that it involved (and continues to do so). And the list went on.

Of course, here in February of 2017, neither one of us knows what this year will hold. Our only alternative is just to keep plugging along. Right now, that involves continuing to recover from this virus and getting well, and for Marilyn and me, it means forging onward in total dependence on the God the Psalmist describes:

“But you, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love, and you never, never quit. So look me in the eye and show kindness, give your servant the strength to go on, save your dear, dear child! Make a show of how much you love me so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed, as you, GOD, gently and powerfully put me back on my feet” (Psalm
86:11-17 MSG).

“The bullies stand there slack-jawed”—what a picture! What a goal!

What Marilyn and I both know is that the Lord is not finished with us yet. We both have a desire to finish strong, serving the Lord all the way to the last breath we take. We don’t want to be like Revis (again, if he is convicted of wrongdoing).

Lord, thank You for bringing both us to this point. Thank You for helping me feel a little bit better with this marathon virus. Help both us to avoid the ditches and ruts of evil so that our lives can give You glory and so that our enemies will stand there slack-jawed. Amen.
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Whatever

Well, I hope that those of you who are reading this are sitting down! Ha. Here’s the news: I do feel a LITTLE better, FINALLY, after seven plus weeks. However, I am now dealing with some new symptoms. We will see what happens.

But I have to stop and thank all of you AGAIN for praying for us. We really appreciate it.

The truth is that this stinking virus has gone on so long that I know I have a big adjustment BACK to normal life (whatever that is!). I’ve just decided to start to make that transition because I am just tired of sitting around every day. Please know that I won’t do anything wild and crazy. I don’t want to relapse, but I am gradually going to start doing more and more and see what happens???

In the meantime, I plan to go see my mom today, and I am glad to do so. In Marilyn’s recent visits with her, she has observed that my mom seems more resigned, more discouraged. I continue to be concerned for her. We will see.

For some reason, I derive a lot of comfort from reading the biographical sections of the prophecy of Jeremiah. As I indicated the other day, Jerry did not have a very “successful” ministry. In fact, (if my memory serves me here), there is no record of positive, lasting response to any message he preached. And yet, the prophet was obedient to the Lord to proclaim what He wanted.

In Jeremiah 26, he preached another Temple sermon, emphasizing that the folks on their way in need to repent and get right with the Lord. It was not popular. In fact, folks got so mad they threatened to kill him.

I just wonder what would happen today if a prophet stood in a church parking lot pointing his finger at those entering the building and calling for repentance. I can only imagine the response???

Anyway, as Jeremiah preached, temple officials threatened to end his life. Here is Jeremiah’s response: “As for me, I’m at your mercy—do whatever you think is best. But take warning: If you kill me, you’re killing an innocent man, and you and the city and the people in it will be liable. I didn’t say any of this on my own. GOD sent me and told me what to say. You’ve been listening to GOD speak, not Jeremiah” (Jeremiah
26:14-15 MSG).

In short, he didn’t seem to care what happened to him, just as long as the message got out. “Whatever” you do to me …

This may be a reversal of the way I am these days: I care more about myself and what total strangers feel about me, than I do about the Lord.

Humm. Food for prayer.

Lord, thank You for the spiritual bravery of Jeremiah. He kept right on preaching in difficult and unlikely places, with no care of his own life. Thank You for helping me feel better after all these weeks. I lift up everyone else who has had this virus FOR WEEKS. Heal them and get them back on their feet. I love You, Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.

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23 Years

Yesterday, I seemed to do a little better, and I felt encouraged that maybe, someday, I might get over this thing.

Today, the jury is still out. Right now, I definitely don’t feel well, but hopefully, I will do better as the day goes on. Who knows?

Again, I want to thank all of you for your prayers for us yesterday. We made it through a difficult day. I had a good visit with my mom. I gave her some chocolate and wished her Happy Birthday. But it didn’t seem to register. If it did, she clearly just blew it off, and as she did that, I remembered that this has always been her attitude toward her birthday. She didn’t care one wit about it. She was always more concerned about giving Marilyn and me something …

As I arrived, one of our good friends, Jane, came out with my mom. She had already been visiting with her. It was great to see Jane. I’m so thankful for the few folks who take the time and effort to visit with my mom. This always encourages Marilyn and me greatly.

Well, anyway, on to the reading for this morning. Occasionally, in the book of Jeremiah, bits and pieces of his personal history come out. Here was an interesting detail I read this morning: “From the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah right up to the present day—twenty-three years it’s been!— GOD ’s Word has come to me, and from early each morning to late every night I’ve passed it on to you. And you haven’t listened to a word of it!” (Jeremiah
25:3 MSG)

Imagine! 23 years of preaching and NO RESPONSE. If that had been me, I would have given up way before the 23-year mark because I, like many, are so steeped in worldly concepts of success. And, if all the smoke and mirrors are pulled away, we (preachers) like to take credit for what only God can do—turn people around and point them in the God-direction.

I’m glad this was not Jeremiah’s perspective.

This morning, I am reminded what Harry Senn told me. That’s right. That is his name. He was the associate pastor at the church I joined in college. You have to believe that we had a lot of fun with THAT name! Ha. Harry laughed right along with it and had more jokes to add.

Anyway, we were talking about notions of success one day as we were riding along in a bus picking up kids one Sunday morning. He said, “John, you know, I have had to come up with a definition of success to help me when I struggle with discouragement in ministry. Here is how I define it: ‘If people hear the Word, then THAT is success.’”

I believe this is profound. Jeremiah was faithful to share the Word for 23 years. The fact that no one responded is not his fault. He did what the Lord told him to do. He preached, facing a lot of opposition and hardship as he did. The “listening” part was up to the folks who were there when Jerry shared the Word. They will have to answer for themselves, as will each of us.

Lord, thank You again for Mother and her birthday. I pray that she had a good day yesterday. Thank You for Jane and others who visit her. Thank You for helping me feeling even a little bit better yesterday. Help me to continue to share the Word and listen to the Word—no matter what. Amen.
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My Mom's Birthday Today

Valentine’s Day—always a great day for us as kids because my mom’s birthday was always more about us than it was about her. More often than not, she gave Marilyn and me a box of Russell Stover chocolates—you know, the kind where you had to guess what was in each one. We both got to the point where we could pretty much guess. It was always a fun day. Always. She made it so.

I have many more memories of this day … too many to share, some that are just for Marilyn and me and the Lord.

This is why we are anticipating that it will be a particularly difficult day. Today is my mom’s 89
th birthday. We doubt she will know this, and if she does remember, she won’t care that much. She still just wants to come home to be with her family …

I tell all of you that I almost can’t take this, as I think about her in there. In addition to everything else the Lord is leading us through these days, this seems almost unbearable at times.

As Marilyn and I talk about this, we have to go back and rehearse everything the Lord did in leading us to put her there. We know she is safe and well-cared for, better than what we could provide here. Even though it was incredibly hard, we know all of that. But still …

One of the readings for today is Psalm 43. It goes with Psalm 42 and basically shows us a believer who is depressed. I know there are times when depression becomes clinical and one must take medication for it, and I think that is okay. I’m glad the Lord has provided it. I need to say this upfront.

But there are other times when we get pulled down in the ups and downs of life. This is normal and just part of being human, I believe. But what to do in those times?

“Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God— soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God”
(Psalm
43, MSG).

This is the refrain that is repeated three times in Psalm 42 and 43—a stern self-talking to that needs to be repeated so we will get it. We can still and we must pray, even when we don’t feel like it, especially then.

If I can keep from coughing my head off every minute, I hope to see her today. Marilyn is going to try to find some Russell Stover chocolate for me to take to her …

Lord, I thank You so much for my mom. Thank You for allowing her to live 89 years and to be such a blessing. Give her a great day, whether she remembers it is her birthday or not. We love her. And we love You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Whipped

Not me. Well, not literally … I’m speaking of Jeremiah and Paul.

But first … yesterday seemed to be a little bit better of a day, but both of us were so exhausted, we could barely move around. In addition to all the symptoms, I continue to deal with fatigue. That’s me.

But it is hard even to imagine the toll my illness along with recovery from the transplant as well as my mom’s situation has on Marilyn. I know everything weighs on her.

It is even more difficult for Marilyn and me when my mom seems to be more “with it” than normal. This may sound bad. I certainly don’t mean it that way. Please understand. But in some ways, dementia is a blessing for my mom because, most days, she just doesn’t fully remember where she is and everything that is going on.

Some days, however, it seems as if she does know EXACTLY what is happening. Those are the most difficult times of all. We just try to assure her that she is in a good place and is working on her recovery from the stroke she had last year.

Continuing on in the Solid Life Reading Plan, I continue to see the comparisons between one Old Testament servant and one in the New.

For preaching the truth, Pashur the priest had Jeremiah whipped and put in stocks at the Upper Benjamin Gate of the Temple. Then, the next day, as he tried to let the prophet go, Jeremiah let him have it with the Word—nothing changed. Jeremiah was more concerned about the Lord’s opinion than those around him.

As for Paul, what a life! Acts 27 tells the famous shipwreck story and 2 Corinthians 11 gives a litany of many things Paul went through, including two kinds of whippings—from the Romans and from the Jews. Neither experience could have been all that pleasant.

But both men kept right on preaching and sharing the Word. Notice this very frank prayer from Jeremiah: “You pushed me into this, GOD, and I let you do it. You were too much for me. And now I’m a public joke. They all poke fun at me. Every time I open my mouth I’m shouting, ‘Murder!’ or ‘Rape!’ And all I get for my GOD-warnings are insults and contempt. But if I say, ‘Forget it! No more GOD -Messages from me!’ The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer! Then I hear whispering behind my back: ‘There goes old ‘Danger-Everywhere.’ Shut him up! Report him!’ Old friends watch, hoping I’ll fall flat on my face: ‘One misstep and we’ll have him. We’ll get rid of him for good!’” (Jeremiah 20, MSG).

“Fire in my belly, a burning in my bones”—this is the way the prophet felt about preaching. Nothing could stop him as he and Paul did what the Lord told them to do.

Lord, I confess that I am so weary of this virus. It just seems to go on and on and on. And I know that many others are dealing with it and suffering for weeks as well. I lift up Ben, Pam, and Josiah in that regard. I could name many others. Help us through this, Lord, and continue to give us a testimony to share with a lost and dying world, no matter what happens. Amen.
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In the Tank

I didn’t feel bad yesterday morning. So far so good, but starting early in the afternoon, I started to go down, down, down. It got so bad that, in the early evening, I called the 24-hour help line at CBCI. I like this resource because there is always a doctor on call. Marilyn suggested this. I had to do something.

Dr. M was very cordial. He listened as I told him about my cough and the green stuff that was now occasionally coming up (sorry to be so gross). I figured that this recent development might cause them at least to try to give me an anti-biotic.

He replied, “No, John, it is not the color of mucous that we look at it. We look at fevers. We look at chest congestion and trouble breathing that goes with it. And finally, if you get a whole lot worse. Even then—some folks do have viruses that go into bacterial infections, but even then, we are hesitant to prescribe anti-biotics because they don’t always work.”

Good on those three things.

Then, he went on to conclude (drumroll please for dramatic announcement): “John, I think really at this point, your only alternative is to “ride it out.”

So, okay, that makes the third person at CBCI that has told me this. But … I guess I am at the point—finally—to listen. I keep trying to find something, anything that will work to shorten this thing …

In some ways, I feel as if I have been doing what Saul the Pharisee did before he got saved.

Let me back up a second—there is one story that is repeated in one form or another THREE times in the book of Acts. Can you guess what it is? Right. It is Paul’s testimony, and it reflects the major theme of the book: the gospel of Jesus can overcome every barrier.

Here is part of what the apostle said in the third time Acts records his salvation testimony: “One day on my way to Damascus, armed as always with papers from the high priests authorizing my action, right in the middle of the day a blaze of light, light outshining the sun, poured out of the sky on me and my companions. Oh, King, it was so bright! We fell flat on our faces. Then I heard a voice in Hebrew: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me? Why do you insist on going against the grain?’” (Acts
26:12-14 MSG).

For that last phrase, the NASB has it, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

An ox goad was a stick with metal spikes at the end of it. Farmers would use this implement to keep their oxen going in the right direction. Sometimes, an ox would rebel against this prodding, but his rebellion would only cause him/her more hurt (gotquestions.org).

A very vivid image, to be sure, and one that is instructive to me as I am looking at starting my seventh week of this virus. Anxiety, anger, frustration, et cetera don’t help me much. They just make things worse.

Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief. Thanks for all the saints who continue to pray for me. I love each and every one. Give Marilyn special grace and strength through all of this. I love You, O Company of the Trinity. Amen.
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Sober Reality

Yesterday, we had a very timely visit from Rachel, one of the two nurses who visit with me in our home. She is with Halcyon—the palliative care company.

Marilyn and I talked with her at length about this virus and what we could do at this point. Her comments basically tracked with those of Dr. Ali and Tina at the cancer center a couple of days ago: with colds like I have, no matter how severe, there is really nothing that anyone can do but treat symptoms. She reiterated that I just have to last it out.

I’m kind of tired of having people tell me this, but truth is truth. Besides, what choice do I have?

Then, we asked her about how to avoid this type of thing in the future. She replied, “Well, maintaining a healthy lifestyle of proper eating, exercise, and sleep, while continuing to avoid potentially dangerous situations (as far as viruses are concerned) is your best defense. And, continue to wash your hands … “

Her final comment stuck with me: “John, most people who get colds start to feel better after a couple of days, but you will never be a person like that ever again. When you catch a cold, the duration will be longer (2 weeks or so) and the severity will be worse. I’m sorry to tell you that, but this is the case even with your new immune system. And it will be the case for the rest of your life.”

Wow. Her comment hit me like a ton of bricks. But I have to tell all of you, that when the Lord brings me through this current nightmare virus, I’m going to do everything in my power to avoid getting it again anytime soon.

The other side of this coin is: I am not going to turn into some kind of present-day example of Seinfeld’s “Bubble Boy” or a hermit. I just can’t and won’t live that. I’ve missed interaction and fellowship over these past several weeks.

Oh, well, so that is the latest.

On my part, I will continue to appeal to God, just as the Psalmist does: “Time to get up, GOD —get moving. The luckless think they’re Godforsaken. They wonder why the wicked scorn God and get away with it, Why the wicked are so cocksure they’ll never come up for audit. But you know all about it— the contempt, the abuse. I dare to believe that the luckless will get lucky someday in you. You won’t let them down: orphans won’t be orphans forever” (Psalm
10:12-14 MSG).

I believe that “luckless” is a good translation here. None of us believes in “luck,” but in times of grave tragedy, we make comments like, “Wow, look at all the hard stuff they are going through.” We wouldn’t admit to it, but we regard some folks as victims of tragedy or “bad luck.”

Be that as it may, “the luckless will get lucky someday in you.” No matter what type of evaluation we use to describe our circumstances, God is in charge. He is in charge of life and death, sickness and health.

I believe that. It doesn’t make things any easier …

Lord, again, thanks for your promises and your sovereignty. You have taken care of my family all these years. I have no reason to believe that You will stop any time soon, no matter how “luckless” we are. I love You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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No PET Scan Yesterday

Yep. You read that right.

Let me back up for a minute. Preparing for the PET scan is a rather big deal—no exercise 24 hours before this exam, nothing to eat or drink except water for six hours prior, and you must wear certain clothing or they make you wear a gown. It is a huge deal for me because, from the earliest days of my childhood, the very first thing I do every day is EAT. On the days I don’t do that, I almost get sick.

Anyway, Marilyn took me down there at 7:15. We walked into the main lobby of Presbyterian /St Luke’s Hospital, already brimming with activity at 7:30.

The girl behind the front desk where I check in looked at the doctor’s orders and then glanced at me, then at the doctor’s orders. “Ah, Mr. Talbert, unfortunately, the insurance has not authorized this scan yet, but if you want to sign a waiver, we can continue to deal with the company and cover this cost later.” Huh?

At that point, I remembered something Tina had told us months ago, “NEVER do a PET scan without insurance authorization or you WILL end up paying for it out of pocket.” These scans cost upwards of $8,000, so there is no way.

I tried calling the cancer center. No answer. I called Tina and got her voice mail. I even ran up to the cancer center (it is right next to the hospital). Estella, the receptionist, tried to get a hold of someone—NOTHING.

So, we just punted the screen, stopped to a bagel, and headed home.

This is really going to sound “made-up,” but I am going to say it anyway: I was glad this screen was canceled. I was just coughing too much for it to work as one must be fairly stable and quiet. I’m neither one of those things at the moment.

Indeed, I was/still am frustrated because I want to get this text done, but it will happen another day.

When Marilyn and I came back in the afternoon for the appointment, Tina was very apologetic, “John and Marilyn, I am so sorry. We had a glitch in our process and we just didn’t get the authorization. I’m so sorry.” This was one of THOSE moments. Marilyn and I had talked about it prior to this appointment. We both said, “That’s okay, Tina. We know you have a lot on your plate. It worked out for the best.”

You could tell that she was not used to this kind of response. She seemed relieved. I really think she expected us to ream her out.

But the blood tests and everything went well. They still tell me I am doing great.

“But I feel anything but,” I blurted out.

We talked at length about this virus and the misery I have been in the last several weeks. By then, Dr. Ali was in the room, “I’m sorry to hear this, John. But again, this is just a cold. The reason that it is more severe than most is that you are still on immune-suppressant medication. Hang in there. You will get over it one of these days.”

Tina and Dr. Ali realized that these answers were very unsatisfying to me, but at least they were honest. There is really nothing they (or any doctor) can do to help someone get over a cold. I have no choice but to keep plugging along.

The last phrases of this passage captured my attention for today:
“We know we’re guilty. We’ve lived bad lives— but do something, GOD. Do it for your sake! Time and time again we’ve betrayed you. No doubt about it—we’ve sinned against you. Hope of Israel! Our only hope! Israel’s last chance in this trouble! Why are you acting like a tourist, taking in the sights, here today and gone tomorrow? Why do you just stand there and stare, like someone who doesn’t know what to do in a crisis? But GOD, you are, in fact, here, here with us! You know who we are—you named us! Don’t leave us in the lurch” (Jeremiah 14:7-9 MSG).

Never in a lurch with the Lord!

Lord, I thank You for everything that happened yesterday. Your timing and will are perfect. Thanks for taking care of things again and for the good report. I confess that this virus often seems to pull me down. But I know You, O Trinitarian God, are here. You named us and You never leave us or forsake us. Amen
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PET Scan Today--Run with the Horses

Yesterday, I called Tina at the cancer center to request a refill on a prescription and to update her on how I was feeling. Again, I guess that even what I told her did not cause her much alarm because I didn’t hear from her yesterday.

I DID hear from two other folks at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s hospital to remind me that I have a PET scan today. What? Somehow, this took me totally by surprise. Courtney had mentioned it in my last appointment at the clinic but I didn’t know that I had a definite appointment.

So, we have to do this scan. Then, we have to go back this afternoon for an appointment—a full day.

Oh, well. Back to the scan--in spite of the fact that I continue to cough my head off, I’m going through with this procedure this morning if I have to crawl in there on all fours. Ha. That probably won’t happen, but they might cancel me out when they see how much I am coughing. Who knows? I will let you know tomorrow.

In my reading today, I came across one of my favorite challenges in the Word of God. I could not have come at a more opportune time: “So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood? Those closest to you, your own brothers and cousins, are working against you. They’re out to get you. They’ll stop at nothing. Don’t trust them, especially when they’re smiling” (Jeremiah
12:5-6 MSG).

You know, I would like to think that everything I have gone through to this point is as tough as it gets. It has been for me, no question, but what if, on the path and plan the Lord has for me, there is a LOT more challenging stuff ahead? What about that?

Lord, I give You this PET scan this morning. Help me not to cough my head off and somehow ruin the test. I give You the results of it right now. Give me the grace “to run with patience the race set before me, looking unto Jesus.” Will do, Company of the Trinity. Amen.
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Pig Slop

Just when I think this virus can’t get any worse, I experience a day like yesterday. It was the most challenging day EVER. Thank the Lord I enjoyed a little reprieve in the evening, but still, the rest of the day was a nightmare.

I have a regularly scheduled appointment with the cancer doc tomorrow, but if things continue as they did today, I will probably call today.

My main challenge beside this cough is discouragement. I acknowledge that the Lord is in charge of everything, including this virus, but I just wonder how much longer I will have to deal with it. This is crazy!

But my main goal is just to stay on the path and continue to trust Him. The consequences are too severe.

Notice the Lord’s statements to His wayward people: “GOD ’s answer: “Because they abandoned my plain teaching. They wouldn’t listen to anything I said, refused to live the way I told them to. Instead they lived any way they wanted and took up with the Baal gods, who they thought would give them what they wanted—following the example of their parents.” And this is the consequence. GOD -of-the-Angel-Armies says so: ‘
I’ll feed them with pig slop. I’ll give them poison to drink’” (Jeremiah 9:13-15 MSG, emphasis mine).

The reference to pig slop captured my attention. Where does that term show up in the New Testament? Right. The prodigal, as He left the Father, ended up in the pig slop. In fact, that setting and diet looked good to him before he came to himself and returned to his dad’s estate.

When I get frustrated and cry out to the Lord, I need to remember that the Lord has taken care of me to this point. As tough as this is to deal with day after day (after day), I know He won’t abandon me now.

Lord, I am really struggling with this sickness. Help! I turn to You and continue to trust You. Give Marilyn the grace to deal with this. It is hard on her. I ask You to help this end soon. I love You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Backwards

Just about the time that I think I might be getting better, this virus slaps me down again. As the day progressed yesterday, I seemed to feel worse and worse. One of the issues I continue to face is an almost total lack of an appetite. I force myself to eat, and that makes me feel even worse.

Back up just a bit, Marilyn had a lot going on yesterday. She asked if I could visit mom. I did, and again, she is very emotional. She wants to come home and wants me there as well. I just keep repeating that the Lord is taking care of both of us and that she shouldn’t worry. It is just so difficult seeing her suffer. I can’t begin to express it to all of you …

I am still reading in Acts in the Solid Life Reading Plan. In Acts 21, the believers are gathered around the apostle. They are trying to convince him NOT to go to Jerusalem since, almost certainly, death awaits him there. Agabus concurred with them, offering a very vivid prophetic warning. But none of this phased Paul.

Instead, here is his response: “When we heard that, we and everyone there that day begged Paul not to be stubborn and persist in going to Jerusalem. But Paul wouldn’t budge: ‘Why all this hysteria? Why do you insist on making a scene and making it even harder for me? You’re looking at this backward. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience. Can’t you see that?’” (Acts
21:12-13 MSG).

Wow. I love this response. A “backward” perspective involves a focus on me and what the enemies will do to me—in other words, what I am going through. This is “default” mode for many of us, especially me, when I am going through a difficult time like right now. I start to speculate and get anxious, wondering what is ahead.

Paul says this is a “backward” focus. Instead, all of us need to train our attention on what the Lord wants to do through our obedience.

It is hard for me to imagine anything good coming out of this prolonged virus, where all I do day after day is sit on the couch and cough my head off???

Lord, honestly, I am about to the end of my rope with this virus. My neck and shoulders and chest ache because of the persistent coughing and now this stomach problem. What can possibly be next? No one knows but you. I acknowledge that You are the same God who has carried me and brought me to this place. I rejoice in my union with Jesus, trusting You to use however You see fit. Amen
.
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No Picnic

Ok, let me start off with some full disclosure stuff: in spite of all my grand pronouncements, I did end up watching the Super Bowl, and it turned out to be a fairly decent game! Ha—a little understatement there. I don’t care about who won or lost—not a fan of either team.

Prior to that, I watched my first golf tournament in over a year—the Phoenix Open. Both “games” went into “overtime,” so to speak.

As it turned out, both games helped divert my attention in a day in which I felt horrible. I found myself getting rather depressed and wondering if indeed, I am ever going to get over this virus. Today, I start my sixth week with it….

I have other friends who have had it for six weeks or more as well, and they have not had a transplant, so I try to keep that in mind. I hate to derive comfort off other people’s misery, but I am at the point where I grab it from whatever source I can.

My major concern today, though, is not me. Please pray for Marilyn. I know that dealing with me and ministering to my mom continue to be very hard on her. AND, I think things are getting more difficult for her by the day.

In the reading for today, one of the passages was Acts 20. In a book of speeches (that is what Acts is, essentially), Paul’s message to the elders at Miletus is the only sermon in the book that is directed to the saints. It has always intrigued me, but Paul does a lot of self-disclosure.

Let me stop at this point: of course, there are limits in the public context about what you can share with the congregation and what is not appropriate, but in this message, Paul bares his soul to a group of folks who love him dearly. To me, this is the essence of what it means to be a pastor—serving others who are human out of your own humanness, as together we live out the implications of what it means to be in Christ and have Him in us.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from that awesome message: “But there is another urgency before me now. I feel compelled to go to Jerusalem. I’m completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there. I do know that it won’t be any picnic, for the Holy Spirit has let me know repeatedly and clearly that there are hard times and imprisonment ahead. But that matters little. What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God” (Acts
20:22-24 MSG).

I continue to be impressed with this testimony. If I were Paul (and eternity is glad I am not), I would love to go into detail about all the hardships and difficulties I have faced. Paul alludes to them briefly, indicating that what is ahead of him is “no picnic,” but he doesn’t dwell on them.

Instead, he asserts that what is MOST important is to finish the job the Master gave him.

So, to sum up, it is okay and beneficial to let one’s humanity “out” within limits in the message. However, that should never be the main focus—it is always, always, always, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Okay, another disclosure from me: I don’t believe that the Lord is done with me yet, but sometimes, I struggle with what He is up to in our lives. How does coughing one’s head off really honor God? I have no idea. I can’t figure out, and I know it is futile to try. Thankfully, I know HE knows.

Lord, I thank You for this prolonged virus. It has and continues to be one of the greatest challenges EVER. I lift up Marilyn. Please encourage her today. I continue to pray for my mom as well. None of this is a picnic, but then, You never promised that it would be. Amen.
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The Word of the Master Prevailed

Well, I thought for a while yesterday afternoon that I was actually doing better. Not so sure today. This is just the way it is with this virus. It is very much an “up and down” affair. I’m praying that one of these days, I will actually start to get better.

I have always been fascinated to read about the effect of the spread of the gospel in Ephesus as Paul and others were just faithful to get the Word out:

“It was soon news all over Ephesus among both Jews and Greeks. The realization spread that God was in and behind this. Curiosity about Paul developed into reverence for the Master Jesus. Many of those who thus believed came out of the closet and made a clean break with their secret sorceries. All kinds of witches and warlocks came out of the woodwork with their books of spells and incantations and made a huge bonfire of them. Someone estimated their worth at fifty thousand silver coins. In such ways it became evident that the Word of the Master was now sovereign and prevailed in Ephesus” (Acts
19:17-20 MSG).

This reminds me of descriptions of what happened as the Nazis continued to invade Europe in the early years of World War II. They gathered all sorts of books—good and bad (as far as we would be concerned) and burned them in city after city.

This story in the book of Acts depicts a completely different scene. In Paul’s day, there was no coercion or threat, just salvation. When people got saved, they made the choice to burn their books of spells and incantations, as witches and warlocks got saved. These books were (formally) very valuable.

These actions demonstrated that the Word of God was “now sovereign and prevailed in Ephesus.” Wow. I just can’t get over that statement. I wonder what it would be like to live in a city where the Word of God prevailed. What would that look like exactly?

Would it be safe to say that this was a spiritual awakening, as folks got saved and got serious about the one and only true God?

Today of course is Super Bowl Sunday. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of interest in this year’s game. There are a lot of reasons for this. I don’t want to go into them in this context right now, but most people in our culture go crazy for this game. It seems to take over everything in the mind and attention of folks.

I wonder what would happen if, even for one day, our country went bonkers over God and His Word—just for a day?

Lord, I tend to discount my influence in this very wicked world. In one sense, I am right about that. In and of myself, I can’t make much of a different. Fill me with Your Spirit that I might preach the Word and serve you enthusiastically every chance I get. I love You, Lord. Amen.
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Encouragement for the Preachers

I’m still sick. Thanks for you continued and sustained prayers. There is really nothing to do but to ride it out, as Tina counseled. I even tried one over-the-counter medication yesterday. It didn’t help.

I was commiserating with Marilyn yesterday. I can tell that she is just as weary as I am of this virus, but she said, “John, you will get over this someday.”

Please continue to pray for my mom. Marilyn saw her doctor there at the nursing home the other day. She said that my mom seems to be having more and more issues toward the end of the day. This makes it difficult for her to go to bed at night. She told Marilyn that she was going to switch some meds around to help her in that part of the day. We hope this does indeed help her.

On to the passages for today—I honestly think it would make an interesting study to compare the ministries of Jeremiah and Paul. Both had tremendously difficult challenges—preaching to folks who did not want to hear.

But in both instances, the Lord gave His servants encouragement. Note these words from the Lord to the prophet: ‘But you—up on your feet and get dressed for work! Stand up and say your piece. Say exactly what I tell you to say. Don’t pull your punches or I’ll pull you out of the lineup. Stand at attention while I prepare you for your work. I’m making you as impregnable as a castle, Immovable as a steel post, solid as a concrete block wall. You’re a one-man defense system against this culture, Against Judah’s kings and princes, against the priests and local leaders. They’ll fight you, but they won’t even scratch you. I’ll back you up every inch of the way.’ GOD’s Decree.” (Jeremiah
1:17-19 MSG).

Here is the striking phrase from the verses above: “a one-man defense system against this culture.” Oh, man. Jeremiah must have struggled with loneliness during his ministry, but the Lord is assuring him that He is with His man, all the way.

In the same way, Paul faced an insurmountable challenge in the ministry in Corinth, but the Lord spoke to him as well: “One night the Master spoke to Paul in a dream: ‘Keep it up, and don’t let anyone intimidate or silence you. No matter what happens, I’m with you and no one is going to be able to hurt you. You have no idea how many people I have on my side in this city.’ That was all he needed to stick it out. He stayed another year and a half, faithfully teaching the Word of God to the Corinthians” (Acts
18, MSG).

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had nothing but time on my hands. I have been thinking about all the challenges and obstacles and difficulties I faced as a pastor over 27 years. Of course, these are not unusual. Every pastor deals with problems. Every Christian faces the challenge of standing up for Jesus in a godless culture.

As the days and weeks and years progress, I am firmly convinced that it is going to be A LOT tougher on us as Christians. I wonder when churches when churches will be physically attacked, all across the country, just for being there. This is already occurring in some instances. Certainly, this is no great revelation.

The challenge will be: will we stick it out? Will we continue to preach Jesus in this godless culture? Right now, my main mission field is the doctor and nurses who work at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute. One night several weeks ago, Marilyn and I were kind of shocked to see one of the nurses from CBCI at a restaurant. We visited a bit and she said, “You both are always so ‘up.’” I couldn’t let that one go.

“Oh, no, we aren’t. We just have a lot of people praying for us. The Lord is getting us through.” She really didn’t have a response for that.

Marilyn is focusing on ministry to the residents and the nurses at Sunrise at Orchard. I believe I told all of you that she went to a baby shower a couple of weeks ago. This nurse has since left the nursing home, but I know that Marilyn’s witness will not return void.

Lord, it is difficult not to get discouraged, as Marilyn and I struggle with what is going on right now with both of us. We do have a lot of questions, but more importantly than that, we know You, the One with ALL the questions. You have heard them all and know them all. Give us the grace and strength to continue to give witness of Your grace and mercy, no matter what. Amen.
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Ride It Out

I won’t be writing a lot today, just because I don’t feel well. I had a rough day yesterday. It looks as if today will be more of the same.

In a moment of frustration yesterday afternoon, I called Tina (Dr. Ali’s assistant) to tell her what was going on with me and to ask if there was anything else they could do to help.

In her return call, she reiterated what they have been saying all along: “John, there really isn’t anything we can give you except stuff to treat symptoms. I’m just afraid you are going to have to ride it out. Sorry to tell you this.”

That’s what I thought they would say, but at least, I gave it a try. So, the beat goes on—another day of sitting and resting and drinking water.

Lord, thank You for a warm house and a roof over my head. I rejoice in the provisions You have made for me. Thank You for Marilyn. Thank You that she has finally gotten over whatever this is. I place myself in your care, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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The Lord's Timing

I am not the first person who is frustrated by the Lord’s timing.

“The problem as God gave Habakkuk to see it: GOD, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, ‘Help! Murder! Police!’ before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place. Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head” (Habakkuk
1:1-4 MSG).

As the prophet looked at all the sin and evil and lawlessness, he began to wonder how long the Lord was going to put up with it before He stepped in and executed judgment.

The rest of the book is essentially God’s answer to this question and it has to do with the Lord raising up the Babylonians to bring about judgment. But in the meantime, as the prophet and others wait on God, what does one do?

The last verses of this little prophecy sum this up nicely: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds' feet, and makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments”
(Habakkuk
3:17-19 NASB).

I haven’t noticed this before, but that phrase “for the choir director, on my stringed instruments” indicates that this prophecy is actually a song that the Lord intends a congregation to sing together.

In other words, we don’t live it the question of God’s timing on our own. It is always in the congregational context. It is only in THAT setting where we fully realize what is going on with the Lord and His timing.

This fact has led me in my thought process to think of men and women I have known that have suffered a lot longer than I have. They have still maintained their love and worship of the Lord through everything. I need to do the same, even “though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines … “In short—even though there are no visible indications that the Lord is actually doing anything, … I will continue to rejoice in the Lord and trust Him to give me “hinds’ feet” strength to overcome any and every obstacle.

Would it surprise all of you if I said that in many ways, having this extended virus has been more frustrating and difficult to deal with than the recovery from my transplant? At least, back then, there were some estimates out there about how long it would take. But with this virus—it just keeps going on and on and on with no end in sight. How am I going to respond? A crucial question.

Lord, I confess the sin of basing my evaluation of You and Your character and Your timing on what I can see and perceive. You don’t operate as humans do. I choose to rejoice in You today, no matter what the appearances indicate. I love You Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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The Mark of a True Believer

Yesterday, I seemed to feel better. It was an encouragement to think that maybe I was getting over this virus. Nope, not yet. Today, I seem to have taken a bit of a downturn—don’t feel well. By God’s grace, I’m going to keep on plugging—resting and drinking water. I do hope that I can be done with this sickness soon.

I am grateful that the doctor and nurses and CBCI did not think it was necessary to put me in the hospital. I praise God for this, but I know I am not “out of the woods” yet.

Marilyn continues to get better. I’m so thankful for this AND both of us are glad that my mom has not contracted a virus or the flu in the nursing home. We continue to lift her up in this regard.

Josiah has to rank up there very high in the litany of the kings of Judah. Unlike many of his ancestors, he proved to be zealous in his relationship with the Lord. Two chapters in the Old Testament—2 Kings 23 and 2 Chronicles 35—bear this out. They describe his actions in totally eradicating idolatry from the land of Judah. He totally destroyed everything and everyone who worshiped any God but Jehovah.

Here is a summary statement of his life and work: “There was no king to compare with Josiah—neither before nor after—a king who turned in total and repentant obedience to GOD, heart and mind and strength, following the instructions revealed to and written by Moses. The world would never again see a king like Josiah” (2 Kings
23:25 MSG).

Not too shabby, eh?

Going right along with this, notice Peter’s comments in Acts 15 in light of the deliberations of the early church in regard to Gentile believers: “The apostles and leaders called a special meeting to consider the matter. The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated. Then Peter took the floor: “Friends, you well know that from early on God made it quite plain that he wanted the pagans to hear the Message of this good news and embrace it—and not in any secondhand or roundabout way, but firsthand, straight from my mouth. And God, who can’t be fooled by any pretense on our part but always knows a person’s thoughts, gave them the Holy Spirit exactly as he gave him to us. He treated the outsiders exactly as he treated us, beginning at the very center of who they were and
working from that center outward, cleaning up their lives as they trusted and believed him” (Acts 15:6-9 MSG, emphasis mine).

“Working from that center outward”—doesn’t that describe what Josiah did?

The longer I go in this recovery and especially now as I deal with the protracted virus, the more I realize that the Lord wants to use these circumstances to reveal idols in my life and lead me turn from them.

I am reminded of a statement in the Message version of the Psalms: “our dearest idols go up in smoke”—something like that.

These passages make it clear that one of the distinguishing marks of a true believer is wholehearted devotion to the One and Only God.

Lord, I admit that I am getting frustrated with this virus. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, and yet, I do want to learn the lessons You want to teach me through these experiences. “Search me, O God.” Let me live wholly and exclusively for You. Amen.
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