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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Anticipating Super Bowl Sunday

Anticipating Super Bowl Sunday

As we approach the big game tomorrow, I cannot believe all the hype that surrounds this game every year. It seems to grow bigger every year. The most talked about sporting event EVER. Talk, talk, talk. Talk to every player who has ever played and talk some more.

Now, I will admit that I am sour grapes because the Broncos are not there but I don’t think I am alone. One would think that the furor would somehow be lessened here in the Mile High City because of that. Maybe a little. But I think most folks are going to watch the game, yours truly included. And the parties will continue. Don’t worry (in case any of you are!).

The only thing I care about it is that it is a good game and that one of the teams loses (I wish both teams could), but oftentimes, like last year (it pains me even to say it), the game is a blowout and is anti-climactic.

But of course, that is usually the case, with big events like this game. Things seldom live up to the hype.

Yesterday, on one of the sports radio talk shows, the host interviewed former Bronco defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson who now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. (Of course, he was on the Broncos last year when they went to the Big Game). They asked him his impression of the week. He simply replied, “Boring.”

They went on to ask, “Are you going to the game?”

“Ah, I don’t know. I might this year,” Vick answered. He seemed very ambivalent.

Well, anyway, Super Bowl Sunday is always a day just to get through. The people who care about football are rather distracted. Those who don’t care are disgusted, unless they want to watch the ads during the game.

Over the years, I have changed my approach to this particular Sunday. In the past, whether the Broncos were there or not, I did even mention the game. Now I do just because it is such a big event, and it is on everyone’s minds.

It seems our culture consists of a series of big events that get hyped, starting with New Year’s, then the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day and so forth throughout the year.

Of course, this is exactly opposite of the way God conducts His business. Psalm 48 talks about God and Zion. Both are impregnable. No “hype” needed. How can you “hype” God, anyway? "Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die” (Psalm 48:12-14, NLT).

Just like His city, God is consistent. He is always there, even the next week after the Super Bowl, consistently being Who He is all the time, our God, forever and ever. I’m grateful that His guidance continues from birth to death.

Lord, You are reflected in Your city. Thank you that I can always count on you. Thank you for getting us through another Super Bowl Sunday. Oh, boy. I pray that people would plan to be there in spite of the game later that afternoon. I love you, Lord. Amen.

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Two Cancers at the Same Time?

It is weird what pops into your head, when. I had that experience yesterday.

Let me back up a bit.

For well over a year and a half, I have been getting check-ups with a skin doctor. I had some “issues” on my face. He has frozen off some places and generally given me wisdom and skin care products to help me out.

They have made a revolutionary shift in how I feel. Not to go into too much detail—but I now use a moisturizer, and it has helped me not feel so cold all the time here in the winter. My skin was way too dry. This is just one example of how I feel better.

Anyway, I went to him yesterday for a check-up. He does a full body exam. At one point, he stopped to focus on a mole on my leg. And it is funny. The second he did that, this thought popped in my brain, “Wouldn’t it be freaky if this spot turned out to be a melanoma? Humm, I have never known anyone who had to deal with two different types of cancer at the same time. Humm.” To be honest, I chuckled to myself a bit.

As he examined me, he actually found another mole that concerned him—two places.

He concluded his exam and told me he wanted to investigate those two places more.

Apparently, there is new technology out there that allows skin doctors to better measure what is going on with a suspicious mole. It is basically a camera that they put right on top of it, take a series of very detailed pictures, and compare those pictures with thousands of others in order to gauge what is going on a little better. It is not quite as good as an actual biopsy but pretty close, according to the doc.

He asked me if I wanted to do that. “Sure,” I replied.

So, a nurse came in and administered this test after a lengthy explanation of what it is and how it works. The mole on my leg got a score of 2.2. The one near my shoulder came out with a score of -1.0. Apparently the last score is good; the former score is borderline.

When the doctor came back into the waiting room after test, he said, “Well, John, I think we need to biopsy the mole on your leg. This is something you don’t want to mess around with. I am going to remove it and the scar will take about three stitches. You will need to rest a couple of days after the surgery.”

So, two weeks from yesterday, I’m going to have this biopsy. And I would appreciate your prayers.

I want to make a couple of things clear. First, even though the question of cancer came up in my mind, I’m not going to allow my thinking to get ahead of the game here.

Second, I’m not about to ruin my last few days before chemo worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet.

Third, the doctor isn’t too concerned about this mole, but I appreciate his precautions. As he says and as I know from the experience of some friends of mine, you don’t want to mess around with a melanoma or potential melanoma.

Fourth, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that this pops into my head every once in a while as a thought.

But I can’t keep from laughing. Are you kidding me? Another turn in the road on this “stroll at leisure with God.” The adventure continues!

All right, Lord, whatever. I choose to thank You for this challenge you have added to the list. Obviously, You are still in charge of my life and health. You have taken care of me so far. I have no reason to believe you are stopping now. In the meantime, the words of Psalm 46, one of my favorites (I seem to say that a lot about many of the Psalms) are the words to live by as another nagging thought tries to find a place in my crowded yet very small brain.

"Come, see the glorious works of the LORD: See how he brings destruction upon the world. He causes wars to end throughout the earth. He breaks the bow and snaps the spear; he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.’ The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude" (Psalm 46:8-11, NLT). Yes. Be still and know that I am God. Amen.

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Killed All Day Long

In the reading for today, Psalm 44, there is a curious reference that has captured my attention. I will get to it in a moment.

Just a couple of words about yesterday: Jim and I led a service at another nursing home yesterday. Last week, it was Northglenn Heights. Yesterday, it was Crossroads. Both are fairly close to one another in proximity in the city of Northglenn.

Tim, the activity director at Crossroads, rounded up nine people for us. They were very responsive to the music that Jim led and to the message I preached. Unlike the arrangement at Northglenn Heights, where the chairs were arranged in rows, at Crossroads, the folks were seated around a table. So, I just pulled up a nearby stool and talked with them.

Jim shared about his heart attack; I told them that I have cancer, but neither of us did that to illicit sympathy. We shared these facts as a platform to go on to say that the Lord is taking care of us.

This is another role that cancer has for me—a platform for ministry. But I never want it to become bigger than the Lord’s message through it. Hopefully, that did not occur yesterday, but it was just another opportunity. I wrote down everyone’s name. We will see where the Lord wants to take things from there.

As I mentioned in a previous post, it has been a long time since I have preached in nursing homes. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

On to the passage for today. Here is the verse that stood out to me: "But for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Psalm 44:22, NASB). The title of this Psalm in the New American Standard Bible is “Former Deliverances and Present Trouble.” This is the prayer of a person who is facing various kinds of difficulties, while remembering what the Lord has done in the past and crying out to Him in the present.

But that statement, “for your sake we are killed all day long” is intriguing. What does this mean exactly? How does this work?

Well, the more I thought about this verse, I realize that it occurs in another part of the Word. "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘FOR Y OUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; W E WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37, NASB).

Paul lists all kinds of persecutions that can happen to us as believers (a lot of these words describe his own experiences). I don’t think this list is exhaustive. But when it is linked to Psalm 44:22, I think it helps us understand a bit as we remember Paul’s theology.

He teaches that every believer is identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism pictures this (Romans 6:2-3), but in addition, it describes our experiences (or the purpose for them) in our daily lives. Look at 2 Corinthians 4, specifically verse 10: “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (NASB).

Hmm. So, all my difficult experiences are a death in a sense. If I allow them to do the work that the Lord intended, they are part and parcel of a process that allows the life of Jesus to flow out to others right in the middle of the difficulty.

“IN all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer.” So, this is not even close. It is a 60 to 0 wipeout—just the kind of loss that I want either team in the Super Bowl this year to experience. I’m not picky. I hate both teams. I wish BOTH could lose 60 to 0. Do you think that could happen? Ha.

“IN all these things”—including heart attacks and cancer. So THAT is what is going on. It has nothing to do with me. It is all about my death and Christ’s life.

“Killed all day long.” Lord, I know I still don’t fully know what that means, and I find it hard right now to ask you to show me because I know that learning and growth occurs through and IN tribulation, so I am in a sense asking for more trouble. I think my plate is full right now in the regard, but You know. You know. I do want the “overwhelmingly conquer” part. I’ll leave the rest to you. Amen.
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The Help of My Countenance

I read three Psalms today, mainly because Psalm 42 and 43 are among my favorites in the Psalter.

Before I get to them, I just have to report that I did get a chance to talk with Don yesterday. We chatted about some stuff related to cancer, but that was not the main topic of conversation. I found out that Don loves golf!

And, of course, that is a topic that I could talk about for hours, but I usually don’t at church. Somehow, I just don’t feel right about it. Most people start to nod off to sleep whenever the topic emerges. Plus, I think in some circles, it is perceived as a rich man’s sport, and it turns people off.

Here is another reason I don’t mention it as often: it is just part of my personal life, and I like to keep it rather private—for some reason.

Of course, most everyone at the church knows that I am a participant and a fan.

Anyway, it was just good to be able to talk about it with someone who obviously likes it as much as I do, and there aren’t many of “us” around.

I think the main thing I am learning about cancer (in my own experience and in that of others in ministry) is that there are times when we want to talk about it, but there are more times (and it seems less and less for me) that we just don’t.

At first, I found myself even talking about it with total strangers. I soon discovered that this was a little over the top. Now, I find myself giving rather short and curt answers to people who genuinely care when they ask how I am doing—not good.

My conversation with Don, though, confirmed something that these two Psalms teach: focusing on what is going on here can lead to depression; hoping in God undergirds a life of faith.

This is why I love the Psalms. They depict human life in all its ups and downs. I can relate because I find myself dealing with depression more and more these days. Somehow, it doesn’t seem very difficult to admit it.

I struggle with depression.

A few years ago, in the course of a physical examination, a doctor asked me, “John, do you ever get blue?” “Of course,” I responded. He was quick to follow up: “Well, I would be glad to give you an anti-depressant if that would help.” Oh, no.

Now, before I go further, let me hasten to say that I have seen how drugs can really help SOME people who are struggling with depression. There are all levels of experience going on here and everyone is different. So, I am not anti-medication. Please understand.

But I turn around and say that it is NOT the quick answer for absolutely everyone. The truth is that ups and downs and our emotions surrounding the “roller coaster” are a normal part of HUMAN life.

The Bible, Psalm 42 and 43, confirms this!

How does the Psalmist respond to His own depression? There is a refrain that occurs three times. Here it is: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:5 and 11; 43:5). The Lord is the “help of my countenance.”

Sometimes, when one is depressed, even the effort to smile is difficult, but through self-talk that urges genuine hope in the Lord, He can lift up the corners of one’s mouth so that he or she can smile.

As Paul says in Romans—hope does not disappoint, EVER.

Lord, I called Don yesterday ostensibly to minister to him, but what ended up happening is that you used him to minister to me—our talk put a smile on my face and buoyed me with hope. Help me to learn the discipline of self-talk in the context of God-talk. Thank you, Lord, for HOPE. I place my hope in you today. Amen.
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Opportunities for Ministry While in Need of It Myself

Recently, it has come to my attention that two guys who are either in the fellowship (Don) or were at one time (Greg) need to start chemo AGAIN.

Let me back up for a second. When I was first diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2010 (has it really been that long ago?), one of my first thoughts and actually a huge motivation behind my first book, is that somehow, the Lord wanted me to minister to others who were in my exact situation. In other words, they had cancer.

Certainly, I have some chances to share with other cancer patients, but it has been nowhere close to what I thought it would be.

In the chemo room at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, I sit near all these other folks who are in various degrees of sickness as they are receiving treatment as I am, but somehow (up to now; who knows what the Lord is going to do in the future?), it just hasn’t been the time or place for me to have much opportunity to share.

Mother and Marilyn got in a conversation with a lady who was just starting chemo last time. They spent quite a while talking with her, as a matter of fact, but not me. Why? Well, as much as I wanted to join in, I just could not keep my eyes open. I dropped off to sleep.

So, all of that to say—the ministry to other cancer patients just has not been what I thought it was going to be.

Until now.

Yesterday, I had some work to do in the morning and an appointment with a brother at lunch, but when I returned home, I just could not escape the burden I had for Don and Greg.

I’m not really going to get into all the details about both of these guys just because I don’t feel that this is the right forum for me to talk about someone else’s cancer in detail. But I will relay some details.

Don was in church Sunday, but I did not get to visit with him. I just received an email from Jim, our prayer coordinator, that his cancer had returned and that he was going in to see the doctor this week and to get the plan for starting chemo again. When I got that message, my heart sank a bit.

I think Don went through his first chemo and did very well. I can only pray that he has the same good experience this time.

I tried to call him, but I didn’t reach him. I just noticed that I missed his call last night. He called back and left a message. Hopefully, we can talk today.

Greg’s story is kind of similar. He went through the first round of chemo, but shortly after it concluded, the doctors discovered that his cancer had emerged in a different area, and so they started him again. Here is his regimen: every other week for three months.

I did get to talk with Greg. Our conversation did not last long. I just wanted him to know that I was praying for him AND that I could relate at least in some small way to what he was going through. I think his regimen is a lot tougher than mine. I feel for him.

So, there you have it. Please join me in praying with and for these two guys. I think having to do chemo twice or multiple times is a lot more difficult because you think you know what you are in for and it is oftentimes more difficult than the first time.

As you might remember, I approached my second round of treatments with a bit of an arrogant attitude, “Oh, yeah. I’ve done these before. It is a piece of cake. I can just be as active as ever and even take a trip. No problem.” Ah, NO.

Psalm 40, the reading for today, helps me to navigate all of this.

"I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:1-3, NLT). These verses sum up very well where the Lord has me right now.

I am waiting on God. So far, I know He has lifted me up and steadied me on the course. And I pray that somehow, the “song” that comes out of my life will help others trust God.

Here are the final two verses of the Psalm: "But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, ‘The LORD is great!’ As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay" (Psalm 40: 16-17, NLT). These two verses are a corrective against a prideful attitude that says, “Yeah, I am on top of this cancer stuff. Let me help these poor guys who aren’t.” Again—ah, NO.

The truth is that I feel less on top of cancer than ever. It weighs on me as I look to another round of treatments next week and pray that I don’t have the hiccups or nausea or X new symptom I have never had to deal with before.

Lord, “as for me, … I am poor and needy. You are my helper and savior. O God, don’t delay.” I need you more than ever. And I lift up Don and Greg to you today. Give them grace and stamina to go through chemo AGAIN. UGH. Amen.
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Just A Passin'Through

Today’s Psalm deals with the fleeting nature of human life, and I seem to be more aware of it than ever before.

This sounds weird to say, and I am not sure how to put this in words exactly, but lately, especially as I deal with the side effects of chemo—the aches and pains and fatigue and lack of appetite and general malaise—it just strikes me that this is the type of thing that seniors experience on a regular basis.

Now, of course, I hasten to say that anyone whether he/she is twenty or sixty deals with these “issues” when it comes to cancer. Please understand.

But somehow, on occasion, my recent experiences have allowed me to get a broader perspective of age. This is very subjective, I know. And a lot of days, I really feel good, but more and more, I just FEEL old.

Someone might respond, “Well, John, you are as young as you feel and age is largely a state of mind.” Yeah, yeah, I get that. I believe it.

Anyway, be that as it may, how does one respond to this FEELING? I believe that there is a clear choice here. Some folks just start shutting down, even at my age. Others fight it with everything in them.

I think I will choose B.

On the days that I feel good, I am trying to be more active. I’ve resumed my walks in addition to the other exercise I do. Walking always improves my overall health and outlook. I love it. Some of the best praying and meditating and thinking and sermon prep I ever do occurs when I am walking.

I also sense the need to amp up my workouts. I will see how I can get this done as well.

These thoughts concerning lifespan and age are intensified a bit as I have been reading and praying through the Psalms. The Psalm for today, Psalm 39, has a lot to say.

“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. Interlude. We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it” (Psalm 39:4-6, NLT).

I don’t know why it seems so hard for me to adjust my thinking to realize, “Guess what, John. You are getting older by the day!” Is that some sort of surprise? This is not the only place where the Bible reminds us that human life is fleeting. Look at all the metaphors in the verses above alone.

Life is no longer than the width of my hand.

Life is just a moment to the Lord.

At best, life is a breath.

We are merely moving shadows.

It occurs to me this morning that I need to keep coming back to scripture for my “Theology of Aging” to avoid getting downright depressed.

When I start to realize that my time is short—that is just the way it is, the way God made it—it lends more urgency than ever to life here on earth.

How about the last two verses of this Psalm? "Hear my prayer, O LORD! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears. For I am your guest— a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me. Leave me alone so I can smile again before I am gone and exist no more” (Psalm 39:12-13, NLT).

Note: this is a prayer of affirmation. “I am YOUR guest.” All of this, every bit of it in aging—the aches and pains and the FEELING of being old or older—all of it is under the auspices of our God.

The other day at the nursing home as we were ministering to the seniors at the nursing home, Jim called himself a “geezer.” I have to laugh at that word. I am in the same category.

I’m glad, Lord. Amen.
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A Vomit of Groans

This is a quote from a verse in Psalm 38 in the Message Version. What a vivid and unpleasant picture, to say the least.

There are few things I hate more than nausea and vomiting, but Peterson marshals these words to describe the life of a believer who is facing three things. First, the early part of the Psalm talks about God’s discipline—his “punishing rod.” Second, he talks about physical maladies. One phrase that literally leaps off the page is “my body is a wreck. I’m on my last legs.”

Third, the Psalmist discusses how people treat him: “old friends avoid me like the plague. My cousins never visit, my neighbors stab me in the back.”

This is quite a burden to bear—all three of those issues. How does one deal with all of that?

The Psalmist has a ready answer: “What I do, God is wait for you, wait for my Lord, my God—you
will answer!”

He concludes with this statement in verses 21-22: “Don’t dump me, God; my God, don’t stand me up. Hurry and help me; I want some wide-open space in my life” (All quotes from Psalm 38 in the Message Version).

As I sit here this morning, I wonder if there has ever been a time in my life when I have had it as bad as this Psalm describes. I’ve had one or two of these challenges during my Christian life, but never all three. I wonder what I would do if I did. Only God knows the answer to that. AND, I hope I am spiritually prepared if the Lord asked me to suffer.

I have to keep going back to the messages the Lord gave the past couple of days.

One of the speakers at the missionary conference said, “If we feel that we are paupers and we have nothing, this is a message Satan wants us to believe; if, on the other hand, we believe that we are children of the king and are wealthy in our relationship with the Lord, then we are on the right track.” I am paraphrasing a bit there, but I think you get the point.

I read this Psalm and think, “Oh, man. I never want THAT to happen to me. I would NEVER want to be in that bad of shape.” Why? I don’t like pain and suffering. As I have already said, I hate nausea and vomiting and let’s toss in groaning on top of that. I see those symptoms as things I would like to avoid like the plague.

But maybe, just maybe, this Psalm is a description of a rich person—someone who is literally at the end of his rope. He has nothing and no one left. When we get to THAT point, what do we have—the only One left is the Lord! And at that point, the question is: is He enough or not?

A few days ago, I was talking with a friend about the state of the church and the need for revival. I conjectured, “I wonder what it is really going to take for us to get to that point?” He answered, “Oh, I know. It will take persecution. When it becomes illegal to have church and all of our lives are threatened, then we will see.”

Oh, man. I hope we don’t get to that point in this country, but I’m afraid we are already moving in that direction. Do I even need to say that anything, absolutely anything goes, except the mention of Jesus Christ?

But let’s take what many consider to be the worst case scenario—death. What about that? Well, that certainly is not a loss either.

I mentioned a song that Jim sang at the nursing home on Wednesday. The Lord used Jim and the song to encourage me. The title is “Winner Either Way:”

A loved one knew he’d reached the end of life’s journey
But he’s been holdin’ to God’s hand a long, long time
And as I knelt beside his bed my heart was thrilled at what he said,
If I go, or if I stay, the victory is mine.

Ultimately, no matter what happens, even I can rightfully characterize my life as a vomit of groans, I am ultimately and still a winner.

Lord, this Psalm struck a cord with me this morning. I would do almost anything to avoid vomiting. I hate it so much. Not sure I know anyone who loves it. But Father, I do want to get to the point where I recognize that You are my only resource and I will wholly and exclusively on You and for You. Amen.

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The Straight Life, The Spacious Life

Again, I love Peterson’s use of language as I read the Psalms. I think the translation of that particular book represents some of his best work.

But let me back up for a second. Two things have been gnawing at me a bit after the missions’ conference at Ken Caryl.

First, please pray for wisdom for us as we try to make a decision about our return trip to India.

I don’t know if I mentioned this or not yesterday, but the plans are to leave on April 12
th to go back to help a young couple who serves in the south part of South Asia.

Here is the challenge I face: my final chemo treatment will be the first week of March. After that, the doctor said he would scan me to see how my cancer is doing. If I am in remission, then I would be ready to go back to India in April. No problem. If not, I will have to continue getting chemo, and if that is the case, I don’t think I would be up to making the trip.

With all this up in the air, it looks doubtful that we will take a trip this Spring.

I told Jeff at Ken Caryl about all of this. He recommends just moving our trip to the Fall of 2015. That might work, but there are challenges with this date also.

Next Fall, Ken Caryl is taking a trip to Chili to help a family out who works there. We know this same family and are interested in going on THAT trip as well.

Did you follow all of that? What this means is that we just need to continue to pray and ask for the Lord’s wisdom in this whole process. I just sense the urgency and priority of continuing our focus on India and cultivating the relationships we forged when we went last March.

As a matter of fact, I got an email from a dear brother there—Adam. He writes me on occasion just to share a prayer request and tell me he is praying for me. It means a lot.

Again, please pray for wisdom for us in these decisions.

Second, something that one of the presenters said on Wednesday struck a cord with me. He was talking about the needs in China. And he showed a picture depicting a room full of men in a classroom. Then he said, “These men are pastors, and most of them do not know as much about the Bible as the Sunday school teachers in your church, but they are not interested in a PhD to come and train them. They only want pastors to train these pastors.”

Okay, so here is the rub: the Holy Spirit will not let me let go of those comments. I wonder if there is a way I could meet a need there.

Someone might be asking at this point, “What are you saying, John?” Honestly, I don’t feel led away from the ministry at First Southern. But lately, I have been sensing the desire to coach and mentor young pastors. I mean, there has to be some reason the Lord led me to get a PhD AND to be a pastor lo these many years.

Anyway, please pray about this as well.

Back to Psalm 37 in the Message Version—the last four verses impacted me this morning. Let me quote them: "Keep your eye on the healthy soul, scrutinize the straight life; There’s a future in strenuous wholeness. But the willful will soon be discarded; insolent souls are on a dead-end street. The spacious, free life is from GOD, it’s also protected and safe. GOD -strengthened, we’re delivered from evil— when we run to him, he saves us” (Psalm 37:37-40, MSG).

I love those two phrases: “the straight life” and the “spacious, free life.” When one follows the Lord, the road is straight. There are many twists and turns and detours, but once one doesn’t, it is a prescription for going around in circles and going nowhere. The path of the Israelites in the wilderness is a case in point.

The second they refused to believe God and go forward at the encouragement of Joshua and Caleb, they condemned themselves to a life of going nowhere.

But the life of faith is also a “spacious” life. All you have to do is to read any testimony of Saeed Abedini. This brother is still in prison in Iran. But even there, he is living the spacious and free life, just as Paul did.

Continue to pray that his wife’s meeting with President Obama the other day would result in his release.

Lord, I get all tied in a knot over decisions about trips and opportunities “out there,” but I know You don’t. I lay all of what I wrote today at Your feet. It is up to You. I choose the straight life and the spacious life. I continue to pray for my dear brother Saeed and ask that You use this conversation with the President (or not, whatever) to help in his release. Amen.
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Missions Conference at Ken Caryl

I cannot begin to tell you how timely this conference was yesterday, and I was only able to stay for half of it.

Let me back up a minute. Last year we entered into a partnership with Ken Caryl Church and went with them to India. When we returned, we all agreed that we wanted to continue working together. The plan is to make a return trip to India this year or as soon as possible (I say this for a reason; I will get to it in a moment).

Jeff, the Associate Pastor at Ken Caryl, and organizer/leader of the trip last March, invited me to come to this one-day conference at the church.

When I arrived yesterday morning, I discovered that they had various IMB workers from all over the world.

In the morning session, two of these workers spoke.

John used the new map of engaged/unengaged people groups around the world as his frame of reference. He challenged us to use the new map to pray for the world.

Stop the presses: PRAY FOR THE WORLD. What a concept! Jim in our church does a great job of sending out emails from the IMB about what is going on in the world, but this adds a new component to that. I hope to share this additional challenge with the church I serve.

After that initial challenge, John took time to talk about what is going on in the world right now. He focused on China, where, in spite of persecution, the church is growing and multiplying in astronomical proportions. He also talked at length about India and Japan where the opportunities are great.

I was intrigued as John shared. What a different perspective! I think all of us get too myopically focused on our little corner and miss the forest for the trees.

After some discussion and a break, Ian stood up to speak. He was tasked with presenting some biblical foundations for our Great Commission work. Ian has served extensively in China and took time telling us about “the persecuted church.” He showed pictures from actual services and talked about the vitality of the church in China.

What I got from the pictures—actual pictures of believers in worship services in China--was a lasting impression of the joy of Chinese believers. Most of the time, they arrive early for worship—45 minutes early—and just start worshiping before the “service” actually starts.

I still need to process much of what I heard. We are so proud of ourselves here in the States with our packaged presentations and slick sermons. But where is the passionate love for Jesus? Where is the spiritual vitality?

Ian made the point that, if we are not careful, a good part of what we teach and believe here in America is not biblical after all but comes out of pop psychology and American culture. Very convicting.

I wonder how much “leaders” like me contribute to this. We are actually afraid of what might happen if we let things get out of our control. Invariably, it ends up that we quench the Holy Spirit. The truth is that I left with more of a burden than ever for the American church and for First Southern.

The passage I read this morning only reinforces this. Do yourself a favor. Read Psalm 36 from the Message version. Peterson does such a great job capturing the poetic essence of this song. You will see this as I quote a couple of passages.

"God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks…. Keep on loving your friends; do your work in welcoming hearts. Don’t let the bullies kick me around, the moral midgets slap me down. Send the upstarts sprawling flat on their faces in the mud” (Psalm 36:5-6; 10-12, MSG).

Here is how I would sum these verses up: God is gigantic, but His attention to detail in our lives is atomic. With God, we are seven-footers in strength compared to “moral midget” enemies.

Lord, the challenges we have seem overwhelmingly huge, not only here, but also across the world as well. Give us a view today of the GREAT BIG GOD You are. Amen.
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Do Not Let My Enemies Gloat Over Me

Psalm 35, my reading for today, really strikes a cord.

But before I get into a discussion of how this Psalm intersects with my own experience, I want to say a word about the service at the nursing home yesterday. It felt very comfortable for me, bringing back a lot of memories.

My last two and a half years at Baylor, I preached in the same nursing home every week. When I got to seminary, I didn’t preach at a nursing home, and really missed it. I wish I had.

Anyway, when I entered the room on the second floor of Northglenn Heights, I just started shaking hands just like I do in the services at the church. One of the ladies said, “Pastor John, good to meet you. How are you feeling these days?” Jim had obviously shared with them that I have cancer, and many of them have been praying for me.

Jim did a great job leading. He would sing a song. Then, we would all sing a hymn together out of the hymnal. All the songs had a great message, but one in particular, struck a cord with me. Jim gave me the words. I will share them at a later time.

As I got up to preach, I said, “Remembering names is really important to me. Would it be possible for all of you to tell me your names again? I’m going to write them down so that I can remember.” I drew a little informal seating chart on a piece of paper and plugged their names into it as they shared.

One lady, Francis, did not speak English. I tried to communicate with her in Spanish a bit. She seemed to appreciate that.

I finished my sermon. We sang a couple more songs and then concluded the service. Awesome. I’m going to start praying for all those ladies and the one man, Donnie, who attended.

Anyway, back to Psalm 35. This Psalm is all about enemies and what they want for us with the final two verses turning the tables. Let me cite a few verses: "Do not let my deceitful enemies rejoice over me; do not let those who hate me without cause look at me maliciously. For they do not speak in friendly ways, but contrive deceitful schemes against those who live peacefully in the land. They open their mouths wide against me and say, ‘Aha, aha! We saw it! ‘ You saw it, Lord; do not be silent. Lord, do not be far from me…. Let those who want my vindication shout for joy and be glad; let them continually say, ‘The Lord be exalted. He takes pleasure in His servant’s well-being.’ And my tongue will proclaim Your righteousness, Your praise all day long” (Psalm 35:19-22;27-28, HCSB).

The Psalmist recognizes the presence of folks in his life that hate him for no reason. These enemies would just love it if he tripped up or if God supposedly didn’t come through in his life in some way.

A few years ago, I had a friend tell me that a man who has no enemies doesn’t stand for anything—that you can tell a lot about a person by who their enemies are. I think this is very true.

I know I have enemies. I know there are folks out there who would just love it if one day, it came out that I was embezzling funds from the church (by the way, I am NOT doing this) or had some other prominent failure. They would say, “See I knew it. I knew he was a poor leader. I knew there was something fishy about him all along.”

Honestly, I think the stakes get higher the longer one serves the Lord in a certain place, whether you are a pastor or not. I think unbelievers tend to look for inconsistencies and issues that demonstrate a lack of integrity so they can say, “Aha, see. I knew that all Christians are phonies.”

This topic reminds me of something that Pastor Jack Graham (he serves Prestonwood in Dallas) said at a pastor’s conference at the SBC a few years ago. He said, “Guys, I tell you something that I say to myself over and over and over: ‘Jack, just don’t blow it.’” I can really relate to that.

I could do so much damage it scares me. God, help me.

This isn’t about human effort or some type of twisted works salvation or even the false view that anyone, especially a pastor, can be perfect. But it is a realization that there are folks out there that are ready to pounce and seize upon anything to discredit our faith or us.

I just don’t want to give the enemy any more ammo than he has already.

Lord, thank You for the privilege of letting me serve you as a pastor and a preacher in places like Northglenn Heights with those dear folks. You said, “Pray for your enemies.” So I do that today. I’m not even sure I know all of them, but You do. By your grace and mercy, please don’t let me do anything that allows my enemies to gloat over me or anything that causes damage to the testimony of Jesus in our community. AND, please let those who want the best for me—let them have the last and glorious word. Amen.
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Delivered from Fear through Worship

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been immersed in the whole subject of fear.

Don’t worry. I won’t preach or re-preach any sermon here, but there is a vivid reference about it in the text for last Sunday’s sermon. The Bible says that at the prospect of the Syro-Ephraim coalition that had come against Judah, King Ahaz and the people were so afraid that “they shook like trees in the wind” (Isaiah 7:2, MSG).

What a vivid description of fear!

That level of fear causes a certain degree of panic. That is what happened with Ahaz. It caused him to seek “help” from the Assyrian army instead of God. Not a good move on his part.

I can relate. Every time I have allowed fear to dominate, I have made a bad decision when it comes to whom I look to for help. Once I make that bad decision, it causes further problems. I am going to talk about those in the sermon for THIS week from Isaiah 8.

Anyway, all of this is on my mind as I read Psalm 34 this morning from the Message Version. Two parts of this Psalm stand out to me today.

Notice this statement: "GOD met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears” (Psalm 34:4, MSG). How does one find deliverance from the tendency to shake like a tree in the wind in a crisis? God delivers us from fear!

Wow! I truly wonder what life would be like if I were freed from absolutely everyone of my fears?

It is easy to sit here and dream about that, but how does that become a reality?

Well, I think there is another passage in this Psalm that gives us some answers. "Come, children, listen closely; I’ll give you a lesson in GOD worship. Who out there has a lust for life? Can’t wait each day to come upon beauty? Guard your tongue from profanity, and no more lying through your teeth. Turn your back on sin; do something good. Embrace peace—don’t let it get away!" (Psalm 34:11-14, MSG).

I think the short answer is worshiping God. But even THAT activity needs to be defined a bit more. There are a lot of false concepts of worship, but these verses reinforce the biblical emphasis. It is NOT just something I do in church on Sunday morning. That is important. Don’t get me wrong.

But the true test is the way I live my life “each day.” The Psalmist gives five ethical admonitions about a lifestyle of worship.

I’m going to take some time thinking about each one this morning. I urge you to do the same. This puts things on a different level. It is not about human effort. It is not about trying in the flesh not to fear or be afraid of certain things.

It is about a dynamic relationship with the Lord that approaches each day as an adventure that centers on God and living all out for Him.

Praise God!

Later on today, I am going with Jim B, one of our deacons, to a local nursing home to join him in leading a service there. Jim will lead worship. I am going to preach. I think I will preach this Psalm to the folks there.

Why? Well, what occurs to me is that no matter how old we are, we still deal with fear. And because of this, we need to understand that fear is patently NOT the way the Lord wants us to live, no matter where we are or what we are doing.

I want to challenge those folks to worship God every day of their lives and pray that He gives me grace to do the same thing.

Lord, I ask you to show me all my anxious fears so that I can confess them to you and turn from them in repentance, accepting your gracious deliverance. I pray that my worship would demonstrate itself in a lifestyle that pleases you today.

Thank You for Jim and his ministry in the nursing home. Use us both today as we minister to encourage these folks and point them to Jesus. Amen.
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Just Give In

First, I need to share this morning that Jim came through his surgery well. One of our deacons (his name is Jim also; I will refer to him as Jim B) called me to let me know this. I appreciated that. I got to talk with Jim’s wife Freida as well. She was exhausted (understandably) but glad things went well.

Thanks for your prayers. Please continue to pray as Jim embarks on the road to recovery. So much about open-heart surgery is difficult—the vein the doctors extract from your leg and opening up the chest … Well, I won’t go into detail.

Yesterday was “one of those days” for me. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not stay awake very long.

In the past (before my cancer diagnosis), I would fight it tooth and nail. I learned several “tricks” while I was in seminary to force myself to stay awake. I won’t go into all of them here, but I will tell you one: while sitting at a desk, lift one leg and keep it elevated (it doesn’t have to be that high) for as long as possible. Believe me, there is no way that you will be sleepy if you do this. By the way, this works well in classrooms on those lazy and hot September afternoons in Texas when the lecture is just a little too boring. Ha.

No charge for the free advice, but hey, I didn’t say it was easy.

Anyway, I did things like THAT to stay awake, but since God gave me the gift of cancer, I have changed my mindset.

I don’t fight it any more. I give in and sleep for a little while, wake up, and get right back to my work. The key now is just persevering.

Yesterday, I repeated this work/sleep cycle several times.

After dinner, I was so tired I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Then, I found it difficult to stay awake in front of the television, so I just gave up and went to bed. I slept like a log with no pill to help me, either.

Sorry for all the detail at this point. I’m sure some of you, my readers, are nodding off to sleep right now as well! Ha.

But I say all of that to say this: these types of days are extremely frustrating for me and not a little bit depressing. They make me feel weak, and remind me that I still need to depend on the Lord, even though I seem to be past some of the blatant side effects of chemo.

What happens in your life that reminds you of your weakness? How about that as a question?

What immediately comes to mind is Paul’s infirmity. I’m glad he did not go into detail about exactly what it was. I’m glad because here is room for all of us under the weakness “moniker.”

As humans, we all resist and rebel against weakness or better stated, “the appearance” of weakness. We will do anything to avoid it.

Instead, we need to respond as Paul did: he gloried in his weakness with this lesson, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

This is hard to reconcile for me. Are you telling me that when I am taking a nap in the middle of a Monday morning when the rest of the normal world is busy starting a new work week that THEN, at that moment, I am strong?

In the past, I would have said, “John, you lazy bum. Get up. Roust up. There is work to do. Use one of your tricks. Raise your foot. Get moving.”

Now, I don’t.

I think the Psalmist learned this lesson as well. "The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory— for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love” (Psalm 33:16-18, NLT).

Lord, today, I glory in my weakness. I am reminded of it more often than ever. I don’t count on an army (because I don’t have one), great strength (don’t have it), horse power (I’m less than one horse there), or even lift-one-foot power. I trust in You. Thank You, Dr. Jesus, for Your power. Thank You for taking care of Jim and watching over all of us in your unfailing love. Amen.
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The Timing of Prayer

Jim made a comment to me yesterday. It has been on my mind ever since.

Let me back up a second. We had a good service yesterday followed by an extremely busy day with multiple conversations—all good. It was about 1:00 before I left the church. I had one more thing to do. I had planned to head downtown to the new St. Joseph’s hospital to visit Jim before his open-heart surgery this morning.

This may sound a bit strange, but I love to visit people in the hospital (anytime, really; I hope that doesn’t sound weird) on Sundays.

In the Monday through Friday week, hospitals are typically very hectic places, but somewhat less so on Sundays. It is certainly easier to get around. That is for sure, especially with the downtown hospitals. The traffic is lighter. Parking is much easier. Overall, it is just quieter.

I parked in the same parking garage that Jim B and I parked in the other day when we went to see Jim M. I made my way through the halls and up the elevator of this brand new hospital. It has actually only been open a month.

The “old” St. Joseph Hospital complex is adjacent to the new complex, just east. I can’t tell you how many people I visited THERE. It was rather dilapidated. Somehow, they were able to construct the new hospital “next door.”

Anyway, Jim has a room on the sixth floor. As I approached it, I noticed that Duane and Mary Ann were already there. It was good to see them. Jim seemed to be in good spirits. We had a lively conversation.

I could have stayed longer, but somehow, I had the sense that it was time to leave.

I know there are different philosophies when it comes to pastoral, hospital visitation. Some guys I know come and stay for hours when they visit folks in the church in the hospital. I don’t.

I believe it is my job not to wear someone out. They are in the hospital in the first place because they are trying to get better. I talk for a few minutes, have prayer, and then leave.

As it was time to leave, Duane and Jim and I gathered to pray (Mary Ann had stepped out of the room for a minute). We prayed together. As I concluded, Jim said, “Well, things get started early for me tomorrow. They have a lot to do to get me ready for surgery. I suppose it would kind of hard to track me down for prayer then. I wonder how long the effects of prayer last.”

We prayed yesterday afternoon. His surgery is this morning.

I understand the correct theological answer to Jim’s question, but more than that, I perceive the “heart” behind it. There is something about praying with folks right before they go into surgery. Usually, I try to do this. It just isn’t feasible this morning. But I still believe the prayer “holds up.”

I’m trying to minimize the times I do this, because I believe that if you tell someone you are going to pray for them, you should do it. But on those times I forget, I believe that the Lord also answers prayer retroactively. In other words, let’s say I forget to pray for Jim’s surgery until after it is over. I believe the Lord can still answer prayer for his surgery as if it hadn’t happened yet. Does this make sense?

In other words, God is not limited in time and space as we are. So timing and everything else is in His hands.

In Psalm 32, the Psalmist recognizes this: "Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. Interlude" (Psalms
32:6-7 NLT).

In these verses, the Psalmist recognizes that there is urgency to the timing of prayer. For example, on the Day of Judgment, it will be too late to pray for anyone. In the meantime, the Lord protects His people and surrounds them with victory.

Lord, I pray that You would do that for Jim. Please let him know that You are right there with him this morning as he prepares for surgery and goes through it and recovers. I pray for Freida his wife and the family as they support him. I am lifting him up to you, Dr. Jesus, right now. Amen.
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"What is Mightiest Seems So Least in Appearance"

As I was studying for my sermon for January 25th, the Lord gave me something.

Before I get into this, let me say a couple of things. First, I try to stay two weeks ahead when it comes to my sermons. The longer I go in preaching week by week, the more I realize that I need this longer incubation period. I love to have more time to think and pray about what the Lord wants me to say.

Second, more often than not, studying to preach benefits me personally. I know that it sounds rather cliché. I know that. But I find it to be truer than ever before.

I have to be careful here because I don’t want to preach my sermon before I actually preach it.

There is a reference in the text for next week that captured my attention. As I was trying to determine what it meant, I came across the statement in quotes that is the title of the blog for today. The author of the statement is John Oswalt. The source is the New International Commentary on Isaiah 1-39, one of the best on this section of the Major Prophet, by the by.

After making the above comment, he goes on to say, “Those who trust in God must look deeper than appearance.” Following this quote is a footnote reference. He cites a dozen passages in which this aphorism is confirmed.

One of the passages, Judges 7:4-8, is the story of Gideon. The Lord paired down his army, as you remember the story. He ended up with 300 men. By all “appearances,” this was nowhere near enough people to win, but again, “appearances” are not the crucial component.

I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

We live in a culture in which, if you stop and think about it, appearances are god. We always tend to make judgments based on them, and we find, more often than not, that our judgment may be flawed.

Let me give an example. That Bronco game last Sunday still pains me. But, by all appearances as most people thought about things before the game, the Broncos had a shot to win the Super Bowl, but of course, they lost in ignominious fashion.

This past week, all the sports talk shows have been talking about what was going on behind the scenes. A lot of it is conjecture to be sure, but some of it is certainly true. “Behind the scenes,” the Broncos were not so good and this contributed to the loss. (There were plenty of other factors too, of course).

Anyway, my point is: appearances can be deceiving. That is why the only reliable source for the truth of any situation is the Lord, not feelings, not impressions, and not even track record. THE LORD.

In the second of the two Psalms I read today, this point is once again confirmed. "I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the slander of many, Terror is on every side; While they took counsel together against me, They schemed to take away my life. But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, "You are my God." My times are in Your hand; Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me” (Psalm 31:12-15, NLT).

Here is someone who FEELS that it is over. He calls himself a piece of garbage—a broken vessel. Useless. Ready for the trash. That is only one side of the story.

The truth is that our times are in God’s hand. The Lord is, despite appearances, in charge of the present and the future.

Lord, thank you for this hugely encouraging word. I am guilty of basing my self worth on appearances in some many different arenas—in my personal life and in the church. I’m SO THANKFUL that Your standard differs from that of the world.

Today, as we worship, help us truly to worship, and here is the key—IN SPIRIT and in truth. Amen.

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18 Times

Thanks for praying for me. As the day progressed yesterday, my restlessness tended to cease, but I got very tired, overly so. But I think this is just part of the gig. “Just roll with the punches,” as Donnie the brother in Louisiana in Rick’s church used to say about his multiple treatments. (I need to call him to catch up, by the way).

Anyway, I am really going to lay low today, just to make sure I am ready for tomorrow.

In my reading of Psalm 29, a word immediately caught my attention multiple times. I cannot replicate it exactly on my computer as it comes across in the text in the New Living Bible on my IPad, but the word is LORD—all caps.

In most English translations of the Old Testament, when the editors want to distinguish between two of the main names for God, they spell them LORD and Lord. Of course, “God” is the third name.

I found a very helpful web article on this on
www.gotquestions.org. Please look it up for more detail.

Here is the deal: the Hebrews would not dare even pronounce the main name of God—YHWH—spelling it just with consonants. This is the main name for God. When it is actually spelled out (very rare), it is spelled “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.”

When the word “Lord” is used and spelled that way, it is a translation of the Hebrew Adonai—emphasizing Lordship. “God” is “Elohim,” the general word for God. Interesting.

Here is the point for today: in Psalm 29, the word LORD is used 18 times in declarative sentences. There are two main focuses—what the LORD does and the power of the voice of the LORD. The Psalm concludes with these two verses: “The LORD rules over the floodwaters. The LORD reigns as king forever. The LORD gives his people strength. The LORD blesses them with peace” (Psalm 29:10-11, NLT).

The LORD, the LORD, the LORD!

So much of our lives as believers and our worship in the church—unfortunately—tends to focus on us, whether we realize it or not.

Over these next few months as I preach on the Trinity, my heart’s desire is to preach sermons, not about human problems, but about God’s majesty. Instead of groveling in our problems here (a thing that is very easy to do; I am living right now in a world where I wake up to find out the next side effect to stress over), we need to take time to lift up our eyes and see the Lord, as Isaiah and John did, “high and lifted up.”

I’m not saying that our problems are not important, but as Peter Lord says in his famous 2959 Discipleship Plan, we need to GLANCE at our problems but GAZE on God.

How about that?

Lord, teach me the discipline of living in our world where human problems clamor for my GAZE. I decide. I determine. Right now, to look off and away (Hebrews 12:1-2) to Jesus. LORD, Lord, God—whatever name we choose. You deserve our main focus and worship. Amen.
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Never Two Sets of Footprints

Never Two Sets of Footprints

Please continue to pray for me. Wednesday night, I had to deal with another weird side effect of chemotherapy that has emerged. I don’t quite know how to describe it. I have alluded to it before, but it is “restlessness.”

When I got home from work Wednesday, I was exhausted. It really wasn’t that busy of a day, but it was my first day back in the saddle. I sat down to rest, and I just couldn’t get still. Weird.

This continued into yesterday. I went to a doctor at the clinic where my former primary care doctor practiced (I still don’t have a main primary care doctor) and he prescribed something for me.

My attention span has been shortened considerably since I got cancer anyway, but this whole “restlessness” thing has shortened it even more. I study and work a bit, but then I just have to get up and move around and do something different. This is doing wonders for the cleanliness of my rooms here at my mom’s house and even the bathroom. I think my mom and sis are a bit shocked.

I’m fairly confident that again, this is the steroid that just gets me so “revved up” even though I am fatigued most of the time.

Just another cog in the chain—I hope this passes completely in the next couple of days. I do feel better today.

This thing is an endurance contest, but I am determined just to keep plugging along and not expect too much out of myself.

The one thing I do know is that the Lord is continuing to take care of me. He confirms this over and over through notes and emails and phone calls from friends across the country. It is amazing. I’m so grateful for everyone who takes the time to read these posts even if it is periodically.

One bit of good news is that I am in process of securing copies of book #2 from the publisher in India. It is a bit of a hassle getting them, but it should not be too much longer until they arrive stateside.

I’m also excited that Marilyn and I are working together on book #3. I don’t want to say too much about it at this point. We will see. I will certainly keep you posted.

I had another idea for a book “descend” on me yesterday. This is the only way I can describe how these leadings get a hold of me.

The soil for the germination of these ideas is cancer. So, how about that as a Romans 8:28 example? I wish there were another way … but it is what it is.

Back to my previous statement: I do know the Lord is taking care of me through all of this. Psalm 28 is a very graphic reminder of this. Here is a sample of the vivid imagery in this song: "The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. The LORD gives his people strength. He is a safe fortress for his anointed king. Save your people! Bless Israel, your special possession. Lead them like a shepherd, and carry them in your arms forever" (Psalms
28: 7-9 NLT).

Let me give you a list just from these verses: strength, shield, safe fortress, special possession, and shepherd who carries us in His arms forever. Wow.

Lord, I’m thankful that even through tough times, You remind us in so many ways that you are there, powerfully there, eternally there, and unlike that famous footprint poem, You carry us ALL THE TIME. There are always one set of footprints—YOURS. Amen.

P. S. I have nothing against the footprint poem (does everyone know what I am talking about? If not, go to the “official” website: www.footprints-in the-sand.com, but it is NOT theologically correct. Other than that, it is fine. Ha).
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The Test

That title sounds a little ominous, but let me back up for a second.

Yesterday, in Psalm 26, the Psalmist basically asks the Psalmist to “bring it on.” “Order your battery of tests,” as the Message version puts it.

It is as if he is sitting at home watching TV and he calls the doctor to say, “Hey doc, send me to the hospital and run every test in the book on me.” No one would do that!

Yesterday afternoon, Jim and I were able visit another Jim in our church. Jim M had a heart attack after church on Sunday. He is in St. Joe’s hospital downtown awaiting surgery. He seems to be doing well. But certainly, Jim M did not choose to go to the hospital for testing and surgery.

But the Psalmist does. I just can’t get over it.

Anyway, on the heels of that, I asked that the Lord prepare me for any tests He had in mind for me. Funny, by 10:00 yesterday morning, I knew what that test was.

Can you guess? Does it have to do with an illness for Mother or Marilyn? How about a crisis at church or more cancer for me? THANKFULLY NO to all those options.

No, I think we have a misconception of God’s tests. We believe that somehow they relate to the BIG STUFF, however we might define it. And certainly, I’m not excluding that category from tests, but I think, more often than not, they relate to LITTLE things that we readily pass over and don’t give them the consideration and prayer we need to.

Case in point: let me tell you the story.

Last August, I took a trip to Salt Lake City to visit Pastor Andy and his family. I flew to Salt Lake and rented a car at the airport (Dollar Rental Car). When my trip concluded, I dropped the car off at the airport. No big deal, right?

Wrong. In October (two months after the trip), I got a phone from a company representing Dollar. The lady on the line said, “Mr. Talbert, we are calling to tell you that when you dropped off your car two months ago, we found three rock chips in the windshield and we want to find out how you want to take care of this.”

What? Now, I usually check over my car fairly thoroughly when I drop off a rental. I do not remember any rock chips and I told the lady. She replied, “So, you don’t agree?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t and why are you guys calling me two months later. This is ridiculous. When I drove the car, there were no rock chips.”

She seemed to take my word for it. Matter closed.

Until last week.

I got another call from another lady telling me that they had tried to call me several times and had sent emails (?) and they wanted to know how I was going to take care of this claim.

When I finally got someone on the phone, I reaffirmed my position and claim that those rock chips did not happen on my watch, and I wasn’t going to pay. Finally, I asked, “How much money are we talking about here? How much do you want me to pay?”

“$40.00.” Forty! Are you kidding me? All this effort and energy over forty dollars! I had to laugh, “You have lost money on me,” I replied.

“Mr. Talbert, can we just try to resend the claim?”

“You can but I still am not paying it.”

I did receive the email. The costs are $10 per rock chip and a $10 “admin fee” for a total of $40.00. I spoke with my insurance agent. He said, “John, it took them two months to call you after you rented the car. This is documented in the email. How many folks could have driven that car in two months? They did not check it as most companies do when you dropped it off. This is bogus.”

It seems to me that they are just trying to gouge more money out of me, and if it were $4,000, they know I wouldn’t pay, but $40.00! I think they are hoping I will just give up and pay it.

I’m not.

But there is my test. How about that? I want to respond to the folks I talk to in a godly way, and if I am really at fault, I would certainly pay this, but right now, I am angry and want to get on every social media site I can find to tell people NOT ever to rent a car from Dollar.

We will see how this test progresses. Pray for me. This seems so utterly ridiculous. But after reading Psalm 26, I have a different perspective. This prayer seems appropriate for today: "Because of my adversaries, show me Your way, Lord, and lead me on a level path. Do not give me over to the will of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing violence. I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous. Wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:11-14, HCSB).
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"Give Me a Test, Please!"

Can you imagine being a teacher in school and having a student come to her desk with a request?

“Yes, Johnny, can I help you?”

“Mrs. Smith, can you give me a test today? In fact, please go ahead and give me all the tests for the rest of the year. I want to take them right now.”

Huh, what? Are you kidding me?

I can’t imagine that this has ever happened anywhere. But this is the impression of the request I get from the Psalmist in Psalm 26.

Let me cite several verses from two different translations. First, the NLT:

"Put me on trial, LORD, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart….
I wash my hands to declare my innocence. I come to your altar, O LORD,… Don’t let me suffer the fate of sinners. Don’t condemn me along with murderers. Their hands are dirty with evil schemes, and they constantly take bribes. But I am not like that; I live with integrity. So redeem me and show me mercy. Now I stand on solid ground, and I will publicly praise the LORD" (Psalms
26:2, 6, 9-12 NLT).

As always, the language of the Message version is a little more graphic:
"Examine me, GOD, from head to foot, order your battery of tests. Make sure I’m fit inside and out… You know I’ve been aboveboard with you; now be aboveboard with me. I’m on the level with you, GOD; I bless you every chance I get" (Psalm
26:2, 11-12 MSG).

Let’s change the metaphor a bit. It is as if the Psalmist is saying to the prosecuting attorney: “Put me on the stand and ask me any question you want. I’m ready.”

Somehow, this Psalm seems very bold, a lot more courageous than I feel as I sit here this morning, for sure. If I prayed this prayer, I would be afraid that the Lord would indeed take me up on it, and who knows what would happen?

This sounds strange, but every now and again, I wonder if I have prayed it already and cancer was God’s answer.

But I don’t believe that the Lord is sitting on the edge of His throne waiting to zap us. Plus, He doesn’t need our permission. PLUS, I don’t look at cancer as a “zapp” from a capricious god. I look at it as a gift from my heavenly Father.

But back the Psalm—here is a man who is desperately crying out to God for an answer, for redemption of some sort, and he is making this appeal on the basis of a godly life, asking and yes, demanding that the Lord examine him.

What bothers me is that I wonder how I would fare with that level of scrutiny from Almighty God. What does it say about me that I struggle with being so bold? I definitely lack confidence these days, and this Psalm has raised the specter of that issue.

Am I really afraid of what God would do if I handed Him a blank check? Haven’t I learned more about Him and learned BETTER than that?

Or maybe, I am just not that desperate, not desperate enough. But how much is enough?

Lord, there is a lot to talk about with You today. I feel as if I am right in the middle of your battery of tests right now. Not sure I am passing THESE tests. Why would I ever ask for more? But I do know this, Lord. I do know that You will continue to test me today. I have no idea how, but I want to be ready with my trusty number 2 pencil when you put the paper on my desk, when I sit in the witness chair and it is time to talk—my whole life a study hall for today. Amen.

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John Fox and the Leadership of the Lord

In spite of the fact that I told myself after the Broncos lost Sunday that I was done with them, at least for several months, I could not pull myself away from my phone and the radio yesterday afternoon when John Fox was fired.

Let me say first of all that I think it was a good move, long overdue. I’ve never really been a fan of his, but even as I say that, I have mixed feelings.

Did John Fox drop passes during the game or was that Demaryius Thomas? Did John Fox fail to sack the passer on any occasion or was that Demarcus Ware and Von Miller? How about the offensive and defensive game plans? He is ultimately responsible, but others, namely Gase and Del Rio had a part in that.

My point is that John Fox certainly had responsibility—big responsibility—in that Broncos loss, but so did a lot of other folks, and yet, he got fired. I’m sure others will follow. Elway isn’t done, I’m sure.

But this reminds me of a statement that my dad made quite frequently: “If there are problems in an organization, look at the top.”

There is something about us that wants to assign blame quickly and readily, and certainly, in the NFL (short for Not For Long), coaches not players are the first to go.

I don’t think we should feel too sorry for John Fox. He got paid a lot of money. A friend of mine and I saw him at a Starbucks this summer. He purchased his latte and jumped into his black Porsche to drive off. The Broncos paid him a lot of money. Someone else will as well.

But it is the principle of the thing, especially as it relates to church and the ministry.

As much as I have written about this in the blog, I am still dealing with it. Satan attacks me just about every day. I know I am not alone as it relates to other pastors. When the 3 B’s are down (buildings, budgets, and bodies), it is like an early exit from the playoffs for the Broncos. This has to be some one person’s fault. It has got to be the pastor.

Now, please, let me be clear here. No one in our fellowship has EVER pointed a finger at me in blame. People are very gracious, maybe overly so towards my cancer and me. I want to be clear. So, I am not alluding to anything that anyone said.

I am referring to my dad’s comment, to a cultural phenomenon as we are seeing it played out with the Broncos, and the way Satan is attacking me.

Also, please, I’m not look for sympathy. I’m really not. I’m just being honest with what is going on with me—it is an ever-increasing struggle every day. AND, I will go further. I do take responsibility for my part. I DO have one.

This may sound weird, but I am struggling to determine from the Lord exactly what it is at this point. I have to be careful not to try to push agendas and people, and yet, someone has a responsibility to be the sheep dog and the Lord has called me to do so.

I have a burden for the church I serve. I have no interest in our fellowship being LIKE any other church or becoming some sort of MEGA church. That isn’t it. I just want it to survive and thrive. And it has all the potential in the world to do so.

I have to be honest. I feel some pressure this morning. And I have to turn it right back over to the Lord.

What I count on today as I emerge out of my hiatus and get back in the saddle for a few hours today is the leadership of the Lord. Notice these passages from Psalm 26 today: "Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you…. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The LORD leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands” (Psalm 25:4-5, 9-10, NLT).

Lord, this is Your church we are talking about, much more important than any pro football team. The stakes are much higher. Point out the road for me today. Lead me. Guide us as a church. I’m not the only one on this team. Help me play my part so that You get glory and the kingdom expands as our church follows You. THAT is the goal. Amen.
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A Redirected Focus on a Very Long Day

Now, as I start this morning, I need to preface my remarks a bit. First, I’m glad that the Lord and the church allowed me to stay home yesterday. This was exactly what I needed to do. Second, I know that I did the right thing. Plus, I think I made great headway on getting over the effects of chemo. These past few days have been the most inactive I have EVER been in recovering from chemo on this round, and I think my inactivity paid dividends.

HOWEVER, I nearly lost my mind yesterday. I was literally one of the longest days I have EVER spent. I missed church much more than I thought I would. And as the day went forward, I seemed to feel more and more restless. I just could not sit on this couch or anywhere without feeling extremely fidgety. This is just part of the gig, I guess.

But when my mom and sis got home from church, I asked them how things went. Marilyn’s comment was, “Off the charts. Dan and Calla did extremely well. Awesome.” She went on to say that many people appreciated the content of Dan’s message but also they gravitated to his vulnerability. He shared about what was really going on in his life at this point.

It wasn’t long after Marilyn relayed that information that I received the sermon. John sends a MP3 version out via email so that Marilyn can post it on the website. There it was. I clicked on it to listen for myself.

At the beginning of the sermon, Dan recommended a book that I immediately found on Amazon and downloaded the Kindle version. The title is
An Unstoppable Force. The author is Erwin McManus. I actually went to seminary with Erwin. He was in my evangelism class.

Anyway, I have just started this book, but in the introduction, McManus makes some comments about the “life cycle” of churches. He tells about a church in his community that has ten remaining members, all in their seventies. He asserts that they are “paralyzed by the fear of death and lack of life.” He claims that churches all over the country are facing this same challenge. Then, he says, “Our future is not to be found in our preservation but in our investment” (Location 188 of 4189, Kindle version of
An Unstoppable Force).

Yesterday, I turned off the Bronco game (not that hard to do) to call Betty to find out about a guy in our fellowship. After church, Jim started to have chest pains. The ambulance came to pick him up. He is having heart surgery today. Please pray for him.

When I hung up that phone call, I was deeply convicted about how my focus has been diverted over the past several months. This town is crazy for the Broncos. I have been as well, but now that is over, and honestly, I’m kind of glad.

My overarching focus as far as the church is concerned has just been preservation, keeping the thing afloat, making decisions that I hope will spark something as if it all depends on me. And here I am sick, with cancer, trying to work my way through chemotherapy. Are you kidding?

If the sustainability of First Southern depends on me, we are in big trouble. McManus’ words have given me a jolt: our Christian faith reminds me that death is not the end-all, be-all. I don’t need to be afraid of it on an individual or corporate level. Let the thing die! You can’t fight death! Are you kidding? Let it die so that out of death, life may emerge.

Isn’t THIS revival?

I have a hard time embracing change on a Sunday when I need to rest. I find myself very easily caught up in all the hype of our culture, whether it is for a football team or for church. I lay that aside and focus on the question of Psalm 24 today—the most important question of all and the answer as well:

"Who may climb the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies" (Psalms
24:3-4 NLT).

Lord, this feels like one of those transition/learning times. Thank you for Dan’s message. Thank you for McManus’ book. Thank for another day in which I was forced to “sit there.” Thank you that the Broncos got beat. I’m honest about that. Thank you for the clarification of focus. Let me learn what you want me to learn. Let me get out of your way. Amen.
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God Lets Me Rest

This is one of those mornings in which a phrase from scripture literally jumps off the page.

I want to go ahead and quote the first few verses of this very well known Psalm: "The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name” (Psalm 23:1-3, NLT, emphasis mine).

This is essentially what I will be doing today! And, first and foremost, it is because the Lord has allowed it. I praise Him for it. I need it, maybe more than I ever have.

The Lord has allowed rest.

And of course, this whole concept of rest is a neglected one in our current culture, and I fit right into that mindset.

Over the past four plus years, I have often written about this subject in the blog. I will try not to beat a dead horse (or unrested horse, as the case may be—ha). But as I sit here this morning at a time on Sunday when I would usually be on the road to church, it is a good time to rehearse the biblical concept.

God Himself rested on the seventh day after completing creation. As one of the Ten Commandments, He urged Israel to rest on the seventh day as well. As a result, an elaborate system of applications emerged and reared their ugly head during the ministry of Jesus.

Interestingly enough, Jesus often contradicted these false views, making a point of performing miracles on the Sabbath on several occasions just to counteract these false and myopic perspectives. It isn’t that Jesus was not in favor of Sabbath, but He opposed what it had become in first century Judaism—a sort of legalistic badge of honor rather than the day of worship the Lord had originally intended.

The book of Hebrews picks up on the whole idea of “rest” as it was also associated with the people of Israel and the land of Canaan. The writer reminds us that God wants us to live in a perpetual state of “resting” from our efforts to please God so that we trust the finished work of Jesus.

What does this mean? Well, for me today, I’m just grateful that the Lord is allowing me a day of rest. I’m going to take full advantage of it.

As I am thanking the Lord, I also want to thank my church family. Again, people have been very supportive and encouraging. I also thank my buddy Dan for preaching for me today. I’m glad the folks at church will get a chance to hear him.

Marilyn made a comment the other day. “John, even when you are not taking chemo, you need to ask other people to preach on occasion. It just allows all of us to hear another voice. That is good at times.” Notice, she said “all of us,” including herself in that loop.

I understand and affirm that.

Shepherd, I am thankful for Your comprehensive care of the sheep, care that includes the mention of rest right at the top of the list. You are patently NOT a slave driver. Your concern is for the health and well being of the sheep. I’m so thankful.

I pray for the services today—Dan as he preaches and Calla as she leads worship. Do a great work among your people today as this whole city is focused on football game. Help all of us to stop long enough to recognize WHO is the most important player in the world. You, the Good Shepherd. Amen.
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The Cry of Dereliction or ...

First of all this morning, I want to thank all of you for praying for me yesterday. I have never considered HICCUPS to be that big of a deal until I have had to deal with them as a side effect of chemotherapy. Oh, man.

Last night, they got so bad that I nearly lost it. I tried everything and so did Marilyn—just to slow them down, but it seemed as the night went on, they just got worse.

Finally, I just gave up and decided to try to go to bed, fearing I would be awake all night with them. After a shower and after taking some pills I got at the doc’s office, I went to bed and immediately dropped off to sleep. Here I am this morning. Up till now, no hiccups. Praise God! Again, somebody was praying. Thank you SO MUCH.

Now, I am dealing with a little bit of a queasy stomach. This could go the way of nausea very quickly. I hope I can maintain equilibrium and avoid THAT. We will see.

This whole thing is just an endurance contest. I’m just trying to make it through the next couple of days to emerge on the other side.

As I sit here this morning, I’m so glad I don’t have to preach tomorrow. I just couldn’t do it. I know that.

So, today is a day of rest. I’m going to just sit around and hope I can indeed rest. Another one of the very aggravating side effects of chemo is restlessness. I think the official moniker is “restless leg syndrome.” No matter what I do, I just can’t get comfortable.

Anyway, enough of all THAT.

As I draw an analogy of my experience to the scriptures this morning, I want to say that I would never presume to compare what I am going through to what Jesus faced on the cross. There is no comparison there.

However, we can learn about the redemptive purposes of suffering from our Lord and garner encouragement from Him.

Today, I read Psalm 22 and the first line is a familiar one. We recognize it as “the cry of dereliction,” as traditional theologians have called it. Most of my life, I interpreted this as Jesus’ way of saying that, as He was dying on the cross for the sins of mankind, God turned His back on His One and Only Son.

Joel Gregory, my pastor at Travis Avenue in Fort Worth while I was in seminary, was the first to make me rethink that viewpoint. In a sermon, he said, “When Jesus used the first verse of that Psalm on the cross, it was his way of affirming the message of the ENTIRE Psalm.”

That viewpoint resonated with me since I have always had a bit of a struggle with the idea that God turned His back on Himself on the cross.

Yes, the One who knew no sin and became sin our behalf took the sin of the world on himself, but the quotation of Psalm 22:1 had another purpose. I believe that it was an affirmation of trust in the Lord as Jesus faced the unbelievable suffering associated with taking on the sin of the world.

Let me quote a couple of passages from this Psalm. After describing how the Lord has rescued people in the past, the Psalmist prays: "But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all! Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, ‘Is this the one who relies on the LORD? Then let the LORD save him! If the LORD loves him so much, let the LORD rescue him!’ … For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help…. Our children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done” (Psalm 22:6-8; 24; 30-31, NLT).

This is the story of a man who faces suffering and the FEELING of abandonment, but who, in the final analysis, discovers that God is faithful and takes care of His own.

God NEVER turned His back on His own Son. NEVER. And He never turns His back on us. No matter how we feel. NEVER.

I join my Lord as He suffered on the cross in a cry of FAITH. Amen.
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Hiccups 2 and 6 Prayer Requests

“Hiccups 2”—doesn’t that sound like some B rated horror flick? “Now, the return to theaters of ‘Hiccups 2!’” I wish it were at some theater and not in this house. They started yesterday afternoon, and I would say they certainly inhibit normal conversation and life.

As the evening went on, I found myself holding my breath quite often in hopes they would subside a bit so that I could sleep. It wasn’t too bad last night. Only a couple of times did they return.

Just another side effect of chemo—Marilyn has been reading about it on the web. It is more common than one would imagine, and I guess if you were going to choose between hair loss, nausea, and a long list of other issues to face, hiccups isn’t all that bad.

But the after effects for me seem to be falling into a similar pattern. I tend to move from hiccups to a pretty pronounced loss of appetite over the next couple of days plus just an overall ache from head to foot with an accompanying restlessness. It just seems to get worse and worse.

This is why I am so glad and appreciative that Dan is preaching for me Sunday, because in the cycle, Sunday seems to be the worst day. I hope this time I can head it off at the pass a bit.

I will admit to all of you that I am encouraged by the fact that I am two-thirds of the way through this round of chemo. Thank You, Lord.

Today, I am going to make a visit to the doctor and then head back to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center for hydration into my port. That seems to help DALOW (remember my new middle name, short for Drinks A Lot Of Water).

I’m looking forward to some good study and reading time today as well as more extended time for prayer. My readings in the Psalms have encouraged me in that regard, especially the first few verses of Psalm 20:

"In times of trouble, may the LORD answer your cry.
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm. May he send you help from his sanctuary and strengthen you from Jerusalem. May he remember all your gifts and look favorably on your burnt offerings. Interlude May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the LORD answer all your prayers” (Psalm 20:1-5, NLT, emphasis mine).

These six “mays” stand out in the NLT. They have captured my attention, especially numbers 4 and 6, “May he grant all your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed” and “May the Lord answer all your prayers.” How about that?

In some of my conversations with my mom and sister lately, I’ve detected a pervasive note of cynicism that is creeping into my heart and life.

I’ve alluded to this in previous posts. When one prays about something over a long period of time, and the answer to a specific prayer is not readily apparent (notice how I said that), then one tends to become a little jaded, if one is not careful. Let me move this out of the general and be specific: I have become a little jaded in some ways.

But all these “mays” are not quantified. Did you notice that? Especially 4 and 6. All my plans. All your prayers.

I may even forget what I have prayed. But God doesn’t. I may give up on some of my prayers. But God doesn’t. All means all.

So I am going to take some time to dredge up some long-standing prayers that I have pushed aside because I think God must have forgotten or is not interested or has just arbitrarily decided NOT to answer them. Humm. All those comments reflect an inadequate view of God.

My prayer life reflects what I really believe about God. Humm.

Lord, I count on your to forget my sin through the shed blood and broken body of your Son, but at the same time, trust that you do not forget one prayer that I have breathed out of my mouth. Here’s one: help Hiccups 2, the sequel, to be short-lived. Ha. Amen.
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Chemo 4b and 1958

Well, yesterday went fairly well. I got to ask the doctor to tell me what the plan for the future is as far as the number of treatments and scans are concerned. He replied, “Well, John, normally, unless there are significant problems, your regimen involves six treatments. That is the standard. You seem to be doing very well, so no problem there. After that we will give you a scan to see how you are doing. If everything proves good at that point, we will start you on a series of maintenance treatments.”

“How long will those last?” I interjected, “Because last time, it wasn’t long after I finished those that my cancer re-emerged.”

He answered, “Yeah, right. So, these would be on a different schedule of one every other month and they will continue indefinitely.”

Okay, I am good with that simply because it is Rituxin—the protein and no chemo drug and last time I seemed to do well with the maintenance treatments. The word “indefinitely” is a little ominous, but it seems imminently doable.

His words were encouraging. After today, I am two-thirds of the way there! Hooray?

When I was not sleeping in the chemo room or when I got home to sit on this couch, I was ready the biography of Billy Casper. The title is
The Big Three and Me. Billy was an excellent golfer who played during the era of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player. These three have the moniker—“The Big Three.” But ready Billy’s story makes me a firm believer that he should have been added to that group. He was right up there in winnings with all of them.

This book is a good read for me on a day like yesterday and today. I sprinkle to some sermon study in and amongst this reading as well.

Anyway, Billy made a comment in his book that has stuck with me today. He said that the year 1958 (the year of my birth) marked the very first time that all four of golf’s major championships were broadcast on television. Amazing!

Last Summer, I attended the BMW championship here in Denver with a few good friends. The broadcast media had cameras and towers all over the place. They want to make sure they capture the action on every hole and every shot. It is the standard now, but 1958 was the beginning.

That really isn’t that much time—I’m complimenting myself now, I guess—56 years isn’t that long and think how far we have come just in that one arena. So much has changed over the course of my lifetime. It is a bit overwhelming.

But I am thankful for the Lord’s rescuing power. I’m still stuck in Psalm 18. Let me review what this song has taught us so far:

--God’s character is rock-like
--Our circumstances and challenges are often ocean-like as we sink in the waters of crisis

Can there be a great contrast between the “solidness” of God and “soakiness” of our lives. You know that as a preacher I had to pick a word beginning with s? Ha.

How is this dilemma solved? I love the language of this Psalm: "But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. They hit me when I was down, but GOD stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!" (Psalm
18:16-19 MSG)

I love the imagery here. From his Rock Heaven, God reached down into the ocean waters in which I am sinking and lifts me up and out and places my feet on solid ground.

From there, I turn from struggler to conqueror in one fell swoop: "Is there any god like GOD? Are we not at bedrock? Is not this the God who armed me, then aimed me in the right direction? Now I run like a deer; I’m king of the mountain. He shows me how to fight; I can bend a bronze bow! You protect me with salvation-armor; you hold me up with a firm hand, caress me with your gentle ways. You cleared the ground under me so my footing was firm. When I chased my enemies I caught them; I didn’t let go till they were dead men. I nailed them; they were down for good; then I walked all over them. You armed me well for this fight, you smashed the upstarts. You made my enemies turn tail, and I wiped out the haters. They cried “uncle” but Uncle didn’t come; They yelled for GOD and got no for an answer. I ground them to dust; they gusted in the wind. I threw them out, like garbage in the gutter” (Psalm 18:31-42, MSG).

It isn’t enough just to be rescued. He makes us “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” as Romans 8 contends. Praise God!

Lord, I am thankful that you have taken care of me since my physical birth waaaaaaaaaay back in the 1950’s when television was just getting its start. You have led me all this way even through the ups and ocean downs of cancer. Thanks for rescuing me yesterday. I count on you again today through the prayers of your people on my behalf. Thank you for the encouraging report from the doctor. I love you, Lord. Amen.

P. S. I pray for the families of the journalists who were murdered in Paris yesterday.
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Chemo 4a and the Imagery of Water

In preparation for today, I had a short day at the office. During lunch, I got to visit with my friend Dan. We had a good time of fellowship.

I left Northglenn around 3:30 because I did not want to get caught in rush hour traffic. And, I wanted to eat rather early and lay low the rest of the night. I’m doing everything I can to do a better job of preparing myself for chemo so that I don’t get as sick as I have in the past. We will see if it pays off.

Back to my conversation with Dan, we spent a lot of time talking about “the church” in general. I always appreciate being able to commiserate with a brother that has been there and done that.

As we visited, I became more and more confirmed in the notion that history will record these days as some of the most difficult in history for the church.

We are definitely facing a changing of the guard when it comes to the emergence of a younger generation, most of whom are not in church (as demographers like George Barna confirm) and if they are, don’t see things like Seniors and Boomers do.

The truth is that pastors who care about the flock they have are trying to do a juggling act of reaching the next generation without running everyone off that is currently in the church.

How does one do THAT? Plus, it is hard to overcome one’s personal biases and perspectives when it comes to ministry. Here, I am talking about myself as a pastor. I am a Boomer. That is just a fact. The older I get, the more removed I feel from twenty-year olds. It doesn’t mean that I can’t minister to them or love them. I do. But as far as understanding them and meeting their needs, I feel very deficient.

Dan told me about a mega-church in our area (I won’t name names at this point) that repeats this statement over and over to the folks who attend: “We are not your parent’s or grandparent’s church. We are not your parent’s and grandparent’s church.” Okay, got it.

Every week, they have a concert with LOUD music, so loud that they offer earplugs for visitors. Several folks in our church have attended special services there. They tell me it is different.

Please don’t hear me criticizing this church. Dan has been there and says the gospel message is clearly presented. I say, “Great. Praise God!”

But what are other smaller churches (and churches that have a hundred folks or less are in the majority in our nation) supposed to do? I struggle with this question a lot. I can tell that Dan has and does in his experience. We are not alone. I know that many others do as well.

Dan and I did not have any easy answers to this dilemma, but just being able to talk about it helped me greatly. I always leave my conversations with Dan encouraged.

Back to Psalm 18. I’m stuck here again today. This morning, I read this salvation song from the Message version. Yesterday, I alluded to the fact that this Psalm uses rock and wilderness imagery to describe the character of God.

Interestingly enough, the metaphor changes a bit when David describes his own struggles and experiences. Let me cite a couple of passages in this Psalm:

"The hangman’s noose was tight at my throat; devil waters rushed over me. Hell’s ropes cinched me tight; death traps barred every exit. A hostile world! I call to GOD, I cry to God to help me. From his palace he hears my call; my cry brings me right into his presence— a private audience!" (Psalm
18:4-6 MSG)

"But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. They hit me when I was down, but GOD stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!" (Verses 16-19, MSG)

David marshals a common biblical metaphor to describe his troubles—water. “Devil waters rushed over me … ocean of hate.” He portrays himself as sinking down, down, down. This reminds me of what Noah faced with the flood, but God protected him.

The sailors threw Jonah overboard, but God appointed a big fish to swallow him.

Peter started walking on the stormy water, but when he took his eyes off Jesus, the Lord was there to lift him up.

The contrast could not be greater—between our rock-solid God and the storms of life in which we feel as if we are sinking.

Sometimes, to be honest, I feel as if the church is sinking, like the Titanic, but I know that He is there. Sometimes, if I really let myself dwell on cancer, I go down. It doesn’t take a lot to head that direction. You would think I would be on top of this whole cancer thing by now, but I am not.

But the ground is solid. The Rock is there. He reaches down to lift me up. I know He will do so AGAIN today. I’m not worried. I know people are praying. I have a tremendous sense of peace. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the FLOOD of mortal ills prevailing.” Amen.
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Davids' Song of Salvation

In my reading through the Psalms, today I came to Psalm 18. Some call it, “David’s Song of Salvation.” It has to rank up there as one of the greatest prayers (if you can classify prayers THAT way) in the Bible.

After reading it in the Psalms, I turned back to 2 Samuel 22 to read it again. With some minor variations, the two chapters are identical. This is one of the reasons why I put this prayer UP THERE. Think about it. Is there another prayer in scripture that is repeated in another part of the Word?

I don’t think so.

The end of 2 Samuel gives this song of salvation in chapter 22. Many believe that David prayed this prayer (or sang this song, as the case may be) EARLY in his life as he fled from Saul, hiding in the caves in the wilderness.

Interestingly enough, in 2 Samuel 23, the Bible gives us some of the last words of David as king—significant bookends in the life of this man who looms as one of the spiritual giants of the Old Testament.

I have to admit that as I read this Psalm today, I am a bit overwhelmed with it. There are so many vivid metaphors and descriptions both of the Lord and his situation. David marshals this imagery to describe in detail how the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul. The Holy Spirit does masterful work here.

This is one of those times where I think I need to spend a couple of days or more in this one place. This is the advantage of NOT being on a plan, and somehow I enjoy the flexibility at this point. I will get myself on a reading plan in due time but not yet.

I need the leisure of reading through the Psalms at my own pace for a while longer.

I think this is a key for me in reading the Bible every day. I have to be careful that I don’t get stuck in a rut. This means that variety is key.

This morning, I want to cite some of the references to God in this Psalm: "I love you, LORD; you are my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety…. God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. For who is God except the LORD? Who but our God is a solid rock? God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. You have given me your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; your help has made me great" (Psalms
18:1-2, 30-35 NLT).

Notice all the words for God: rock, fortress, savior, shield, power, and place of safety. These are vivid descriptions of His character. They are ALL solid and substantial.

David goes on to describe how God’s character becomes a weapon in our hands and feet as believers. I love this reference: “surefooted as a deer.”

David lived among the rocks and crevices of the wilderness as he fled from David and his enemies. This rather barren landscape became the classroom where the Lord taught His servant about His character and His power to deliver. That is where this language comes from. Of course!

What about me? I have to be honest to tell all of you that I dread going in tomorrow for chemo. I have been feeling good, very good, the past few days. But tomorrow, I start on this cycle again. I’m getting weary of it all.

Cancer and treatments for it is an endurance contest. And I can understand today more than ever those folks who just say, “That’s it. I’m done.” They just stop their treatments and walk away.


Now, I am not going to do THAT, but I can understand folks who take that course of action.

So, as I struggle with all of this, I’m learning that salvation involves our ultimate future and destiny—where we are going to spend eternity—but it also involves STUFF down here on earth. Many mini-salvations, if I can use that terminology to describe cancer and other challenges we face in our daily lives.

God rescued David from his enemies. Do I believe that He can rescue me?

What does that mean? Total healing? Maybe so, maybe not.

As I think about it this morning, I realize that salvation means stamina and endurance—just going through this day with gratefulness in my heart, and if the Lord allows me to live another day, going down there tomorrow to get more chemo, and doing it with joy in my heart.

Lord, thank you for my terrain these past four plus years—hospitals and doctors and nurses and a port and medicine (a lot of medicine) et cetera—places where I seldom was before but now places where I frequent. You are my Big Doctor, Doctor of Doctors, a rock in a chair in a chemo room where you give grace to triumph over THIS challenge, whatever that means. Amen.
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Brother Joe

Yesterday was rather a long day. But a good one.

In addition to our services, I stayed for the Hispanic church worship service as well. I’m really glad I did.

It was lively, to say the least. At one point, Jorge asked for testimonies. Three women stood up to share, and when they finished, the congregation clapped its approval. It wasn’t any kind of “entertainment” thing—just visible, audible, affirmation. I liked it.

After another worship set, I stood up to introduce the preacher for the day.

Brother Joe and his wife Gloria were there. I came across this wonderful couple through Jerico at the state convention office. He recently assumed a role of working with ethnic church plants through the Colorado Baptist General Convention.

Let me stop right here for a moment. I really appreciate the broader network that is available to the local church through our state convention and the Mile High Association here in Denver. This is, as I often hear, the genius of cooperation of our denomination. And I am not just ringing the SBC bell at this point. I really believe it … and appreciate it.

We have been searching for a pastor for Torre Fuerte the past several months and as of yet, the Lord has not led us to anyone. In the meantime, I along with some of the leaders at the church, felt that the congregation needed some leadership at this point as we continue to search.

In steps Joe and Gloria.

I have had an opportunity to visit with them on a couple of occasions. Joe was born in Mexico. Gloria was born in the States. Since God brought this couple together, they have served several congregations in the pastor role, served overseas in Russia as missionaries for ten years, and worked in a catalytic role in California before retiring and moving to Colorado.

I would like to “retire” as Joe is. He is still active and busy serving God, yet he is available to help Torre Fuerte in an interim role for a few months.

In our recent meeting, Joe pulled out a little notebook. He had ten things on a list that he wanted to accomplish with the Hispanic church in his role as interim. I was very impressed. And in fact, some of the items such as a demographic study of the community will help the Anglos as well.

Back to yesterday—Joe preached and did a great job. I can tell that he really connected with folks in the church. Plus, I seemed to understand and track with much of what he said. I know a little Spanish, but I think I would have grasped a lot even if I did not. That is a pretty good sign of effective communication, don’t you think?

After the Lord’s Supper, I presented Joe to the church. We handed out a sheet of paper (translated in Spanish; thanks Jorge!) to everyone detailing some of the parameters of Joe’s work as interim. People were pleased.

At the close of the service, I shook Joe’s hand as well as that of Gloria. I looked them in the eye and said, “I’m so grateful for you both. Your coming encourages and helps me greatly. I’ve got more chemo treatment this week.”

Gloria replied, “If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.”

“You already have,” I said.

The truth is that this congregation has been a burden on my heart the past several months. I feel that this church is crucial in reaching our community. Hispanics comprise 18.8% percent of our population. We need to reach them, and the Anglo church can’t do it.

Having Joe in place at least for a couple of months relieves some of the burden for me. I’m so thankful for him.

"By the power of your hand, O LORD, destroy those who look to this world for their reward. But satisfy the hunger of your treasured ones. May their children have plenty, leaving an inheritance for their descendants. Because I am righteous, I will see you. When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied” (Psalm 17:14-15, NLT).

These verses strike a contrast between opposition from the enemy and the blessing of our inheritance as saints. I’m thankful that this occurs in a community with other believers.

Lord, thank you for Joe and Gloria. I’m looking forward to more fellowship with them in the future. Bless their ministry as Joe starts as interim pastor. I pray for Torre Fuerte. Strengthen this congregation. Use them as a tool to reach the community. Amen.
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Touch Points for Worship

I will try not to preach my sermon for today here, but one of the Psalms I read this morning dovetails with one of the passages I will mention today.

The first chapter of Isaiah details what is wrong with the nation of Judah during a particularly prosperous time in its history. No matter how things “looked” in the culture, spiritually, the state of the nation was not good.

I will not quote from Isaiah 1 at this point, but basically God says to the people through the prophet, “I’m sick and tired of your worship services and your sacrifices. Just stop the charade. Admit your sin and get right with me. Then, we can talk.”

Simply going through the motions and showing up at the Temple or a church and sitting in pew doesn’t really mean anything.

I am also reminded of Jesus’ visit to the Temple in Jerusalem in the last week of His earthly life. He got mad, really mad, when He witnessed the charade in the outer court with the moneychangers and the people carrying their groceries through the court, using it as a shortcut. As Jesus made the whip He used to bust things up, he quoted from the prophet Jeremiah who spoke against making God’s house “a den of thieves.”

Now that I think about it, the Bible really does have a lot to say about corporate worship and how to do THAT in the right way.

This is a needed encouragement and challenge for me today, as I get ready to head up to church. It has been particularly cold the past few days. Please pray for my family and me as we head up the highway to church. Travel may be a bit treacherous this morning.

Pray for others who are heading to church. I hope we have a fairly good group there today and I pray all of us are ready to go.

It usually takes a few weeks for us to “recover” from the holidays. I’m always very glad when they are FINALLY over.

It is easy just to adopt this minimalistic attitude this time of year that says, “Hey preacher, you ought to be glad that I showed up. Don’t expect a whole more than that.” I sympathize. I’m not being critical of others to the exclusion of myself—just making it to church today will be a chore.

But the minimalistic mindset is far from the heart of God. Psalm 15 gives five characteristics of the type of person who “may enter your presence on your holy hill,” in other words, God’s presence. I’m just going to summarize what the rest of Psalm 15 says:

--Those who live blameless lives in which their speech matches their actions
--Those who refuse to engage in gossip and/or speaking evil of their friends
--Those who have close friendships only with godly folks
--Those who keep their promises even when it hurts
--Those who use money compassionately and responsibly

So, obviously, this list says nothing about music or worship “style” or even preaching. Of course, it is all ultimately related. Of course.

But still, today as we gather, God’s spotlight is on my heart and how I am going to live out my professions when I walk out the door today.

Lord, as I preach about God and worship today, help me to make sure that in these five touch points, I am where I need to be. Let everyone else examine himself/herself before God, and whether they even show up at church today or not, that is NOT my concern. The focus is on me.

Lord, please give everyone safety in their travels today. Amen.
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Waiting on God

What do you do when you pray about and for something for years and years and years and it doesn’t seem as if God has answered your prayer? What do you do?

As we enter into a new year, this issue resurfaces in my mind and heart. What are these prayer requests? Here is one on my mind and heart: “Lord, I pray for revival for First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn.” How about THAT?

Now, even as I write out that request, several thoughts come to mind, as I think about that longstanding request (and by the way, I am NOT the only one who is praying for revival. Others in our fellowship are joining me), several things come to mind.

First, maybe that is not the right thing to pray, although I can’t see anything wrong with it. What I mean is that maybe it is selfish to pray for revival JUST for the church I serve. Maybe we should be praying for all the churches on the north side of Denver or all in the state of Colorado or all the churches in the United States! Who knows?

Second, as I am praying for God to do something and “waiting on Him,” maybe He is waiting on me! I certainly have issues in my life and as the Lord speaks to me about them, I need to take a course of action. 2 Chronicles 7:14 comes to my mind. It starts with the phrase, “If my people …” So, there is something for US to do.

These are two things that come to mind. A myriad of other clichés come into play here. “Maybe it just isn’t the right time.” “The Lord has something to teach us before we are ready.” Et cetera.

My point is: when one prays for something for years and it doesn’t SEEM to be happening, we have all these mental gymnastics that we go through, all these justifications and explanations.

I was talking with a friend yesterday. He was asking me about my cancer. He said, “Do you ever wonder why God allowed this into your life?”

I replied, “Oh, yes. I have but I have learned that asking God ‘why’ seems rather pointless. There are no answers to that question and even if there were, would I be satisfied? Will that really help me?”

I wonder if it is the same thing when it comes to long standing, unanswered prayer.

All this comes to mind because of the Psalm I read this morning. Notice these words that begin the Psalm:

"O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?" (Psalm 13:1-2, NLT)

I am guessing a bit here, but I believe these words come from the anguished heart of someone under the heel of an enemy. The oppression continues day after day after year. He is crying out to God, but nothing seems to be happening, and as a human he asks, “How long do I have to wait until You answer my prayer?”

Significantly, the Psalm ends with no hint that the Lord has answered. What does the Psalmist do? What should I do?

"But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me” (Psalm 13:5-6, NLT). Trust in God’s unfailing love. Sing because God HAS rescued me. Huh? How?

Well, today, I sit here on this couch SAVED by the blood of the Lamb. And I know this. I am thankful for it. The relationship is settled.

I trust the One I know to take care of things. I’m going to keep praying. That is not going to stop. I am waiting on God STILL, but I am open to whatever He wants to teach me or show me or lead me to do in the meantime.

Lord, thank you for this very human Psalm today. I’m so glad for it. I continue to pray for revival. I continue to lift up my other long-standing prayer requests. Rather than continue to seek explanations and rationalizations, I put that aside. And I trust your unfailing love. I rejoice because I am rescued. I sing about your goodness. That’s it. Amen.
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Louis Zamperini and the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade

Last night, on one of the cable channels, we watched a documentary about Louis Zamperini as presented by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I think this was a brilliant move on the part of this organization.

It is coming out just as “Unbroken,” the movie directed by Angelina Jolie, is coming out in theaters. The Billy Graham film purports to pick up where the movie left off.

What does this mean? Well, of course, the pop movie leaves out the most important part of Zamperini’s life: his conversion—what happened as a lead up to it and how Jesus Christ changed this war hero’s life.

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie when it comes out on DVD and then, re-watching the Billy Graham film in its entirety (we caught it kind of mid-stream last night).

One of the fascinating features of the Billy Graham movie was its focus on the 1949 Crusade in Los Angeles. This is the setting in which Zamperini got saved as his recently converted wife invited him. Great story. I won’t go into detail about it here. Watch the movie.

I was fascinated to see actual film and pictures about that famous crusade. Wow. Here is the significance of it: it was the launching pad for the evangelistic ministry of a young man from North Carolina—Billy Graham.

They showed pictures of the tent. It seated 6,500 people. It was touted as the largest tent ever at the time. The place was packed out, night after night after night, for WEEKS.

Think about the impact of that first crusade in the lives of millions of people, here in the United States and across the world. The gospel impacted Louis.

The gospel impacted my family and me, so that when we started looking for a church, my mom had a copy of Time Magazine with a picture of Billy Graham on the cover. It sparked a thought, “I wonder what church Billy Graham is affiliated with?” When we discovered that it was a curious group called “Southern Baptists,” we went to the phone book to find the nearest Southern Baptist church and voila—we heard the gospel and everyone in my family got saved!

Lord, I have to stop right here and thank you for the life and ministry of Billy Graham.

Anyway, back to that crusade—as we were watching the movie, Marilyn said, “Boy, that type of crusade would never happen today.”

Is that EVER true! Sad, so sad to say it, but true.

Here is something else that is rare. Before I share it (and I have mentioned it before), I know that some of my readers will give personal stories and examples from their own life and current church—that is great. But I am speaking about it on a broader scale as I interact with other pastors and read about the state of the church in our nation.

Here is a fact: adult conversions seem more and more rare these days.

There are a lot of explanations for this, I am sure.

After spending time last weekend with my friend who works overseas, I am more and more convinced that one among many of the factors is that we as Christians may not be active in sharing the Gospel as we should be.

My friend and I were in a Wendy’s. He struck up a conversation with a young man who was sweeping the floor. Very simple. Very straightforward. Just like the sermons of Billy Graham, for 1949 onward. This convicted me greatly.

It is easy to point my finger at the state of the American church and other people, but not take personal responsibility for SHARING. God saves people. That is not my job. My job is telling. And it doesn’t have to be obnoxious or over-the-top, either.

"The LORD’s promises are pure, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times over. Therefore, LORD, we know you will protect the oppressed, preserving them forever from this lying generation, even though the wicked strut about, and evil is praised throughout the land" (Psalms
12:6-8 NLT).

Lord, I thank you for the life and testimony of Louis Zamperini. I pray that these two movies would impact the wicked who strut about in our land, this lying generation. This is NOT a resolution, Lord. I pray that You would fill me with the Holy Spirit so that I will be bold to share as my friend does. I pray that Brad at Wendy’s could get saved. Thank you again for the simple gospel Billy and his son Franklin proclaim. Amen.
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Unadopted

First of all, I want to wish everyone who is reading this blog today a Happy New Year in the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m thankful that the Lord has allowed me to live another year and am grateful for the opportunity to serve Him.

I am sure my college friend Jack will help me with this if he is reading today, but I got a call from a relative last night I have NEVER talked to before. His name is Rick Talbert.

Jack helped me before with the proper nomenclature relating to cousins and “once or twice removed” stuff.

Anyway, I’m just going to lay this out. My grandfather Glenn Talbert had four brothers: Howard, Byron, Paul, and X (I can’t remember the last brother’s name; I’m going to call him Earl, even though I am not sure that is right). Howard had at least three children: Howard Jr., Jim (who died of cancer in 2014), and Rick.

While I am in this neighborhood, Howard Jr. lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is a huge Michigan State fan. He called me the other day to talk about the game and other things. I told him that I hope his team doesn’t lose too badly today. Ha.

Rick also lives in Michigan, in a town by the name of Jackson.

Last night, he just called me out of the blue. It was great to talk with him. As I said, we have never talked before. It didn’t take me long to realize that he is also a wonderful brother in Jesus. He told me that he was really glad that the Lord called me to be a pastor. He indicated that he believed that serving a local church was one of the highest callings anyone could have. He was very encouraging.

Anyway, he shared a bit of family history I had never known before. My grandfather Glenn was born in 1901. Shortly after his birth, both his parents died, leaving the five brothers as orphans. All five boys were “farmed out” to various families. Paul and Byron as the oldest two brothers stayed together and moved in with a local family.

Another family took Howard in. He was separated from the rest of the brothers.

An additional family adopted the two youngest boys: Earl and Glenn, both of whom were toddlers when their parents died.

This is the fact that I had never heard before: down the road, later on, both Earl and Glenn fought to get their original last name—Talbert—back. And they did sometime in their teens.

After telling this story, Rick said, “John, think about it. If your grandfather had not taken this very unusual step, you would have had another name.”

I replied, “Rick, I’ve never heard of this. I’ve never heard of an instance in which children, who were adopted by a family, essentially ‘unadopted’ themselves.” Very interesting.

I don’t know any more details of the story, but I didn’t know this was possible.

But I think back about those five brothers losing both parents … It is kind of sad story, but it is amazing that two of them felt more identity with their birth parents they hardly knew rather than the people who raised them.

Interestingly enough, the Bible has a lot to say about all of this. I just “happened” to come across a Psalm that reinforces this in my reading today: "But you see the trouble and grief they cause. You take note of it and punish them. The helpless put their trust in you. You defend the orphans…. LORD, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them" (Psalms
10:14, 17-18 NLT).

The Lord takes care of orphans. AND, once adopted by the grace and mercy of God into my new family in Christ, I can neither lose this family connection nor “unadopt” myself as my granddad and his brother did. Praise God!

What a great thing to affirm on the first day of a new year!

Lord, thank you for that call from Rick last night. Thank you for bringing this relative and brother in Christ across my path. Thank you for the name Talbert. I am honored to have it. I pray that I never bring dishonor to my family. But I am more grateful for the name Christian and my heavenly Father and my new family in Jesus. Amen.

Oh, and Go Bears in the Cotton Bowl today!
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