PastorJohnsBlog.com

A Stroll At Leisure With God

The Danger of Religion

First of all, I want to say thanks for praying for me. Yesterday was rather rough. However, I did start to feel a little better at noon. I seem to be doing okay this morning … it is just hard to make definitive statements.

I’m praying that the Lord would give my family and me insight into why I have bad days and what I can do to lessen their frequency. Maybe nothing. Who knows? But we will continue to try.

If you follow the weather forecasts at all, you have heard that we are in for a blizzard coming in tonight and lasting through Tuesday morning. As Marilyn looked outside last night before all of us went to bed, she commented that it was snowing already. I hope and pray for safety for everyone who is going to church this morning.

One of the chapters I read this morning is Matthew 23 in which Jesus pronounces the prophetic woe on a certain group of people. This is rather ominous, if you ask me. In a sense, Jesus is confirming the identity, the true identity of these folks—the Pharisees, scribes, and religious leaders of the people.

Here is one example: “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” (Matthew
23:32-33 NASB)

I’m not sure he could be any clearer: he is telling these folks that they are lost and on their way to hell.

These are the most religious people of Jesus’ day—experts in all aspects of the Jewish law and fervent adherents to the 613 applications of the law. And yet—they are lost.

This is chilling. And I wonder what the application of these pronouncements is today? When we read the scriptures and see what Jesus says about the Pharisees, I think it is a grave danger to disregard his comments as if they apply to someone else.

Rather, I believe we ought to read this comments and carefully evaluate our own lives. We must do as Paul exhorts in another chapter I read today: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians
13:5 NASB).

A statement that has been credited to Billy Graham (in some research on this subject, Billy Graham denies ever saying this, so we are left to wonder who did?) is that “half the folks on membership roles across the country are lost.”

I happen to agree with this to a degree. I believe it is very possible to join a church and yet be lost. I’ve seen this play out on many occasions.

I don’t want to get into finger-pointing. That is not my job—condemnation judgment. I will leave that up to God. However, we are called to be fruit inspectors. And some folks just don’t demonstrate the fruit of Christ’s character. And it makes one wonder (let me put it THAT way) if that person is really saved.

But the main focus of these statements in Matthew 23 and 2 Corinthians 13 is ME.

Lord, of all the things I think and pray about each day, help me to include self-examination, making sure that I am displaying the fruit of the Spirit in every arena of life—not just “in public.” Several things have come to mind this morning. I confess them to you. Being sick is never an excuse. Lord, thank You for helping me feel better. Thanks for all the faithful prayer warriors out there. Make me one of them. I commit today and the service today to You. Keep us safe on the roads. Amen.
Comments

A Winning Approach

Before I get into the topic for today, I need to tell all of you that I am struggling a little bit this morning with fatigue and drowsiness. It is kind of frustrating when this happens because it really slows me down and sometimes for the whole day.

To be honest, when I get up in the morning, I fear feeling like this … please pray that I don’t tomorrow when I am planning to preach a sermon.

“A winning approach”—sounds like the title of a book that a coach might write, huh? Ha.

This is the only way I can describe my response to a series of verses the Holy Spirit brought to mind as I read 2 Chronicles 20—a story about what King Jehoshaphat as he faced opposition from a coalition of armies. What did he do?

I am just going to quote a few verses.

First, he prayed with focus: “O our God, will you not judge them, for there is no power in us before this great multitude that is coming against us. Now we do not know what we shall do, for our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles
20:12 LEB). It would have been easy for the king to get his eyes off the Lord and onto the overwhelming odds he faced.

This verse reminds me of what Peter did as he saw Jesus walking on the water and coming toward the boat. “Lord, bid me come to you,” said Peter. And he got out of the boat and actually walked on the water just like Jesus did. And he stayed on top—by keeping his eyes on Jesus.

Back to 2 Chronicles 20. Notice this exhortation: And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat, thus says Yahweh to you: ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed before this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles
20:15 LEB). When we turn things over to Him, those very things become His property. The king was reminding the people that the battle belongs to the Lord.

Finally, the king says, “There will be no need for you to fight in this battle. Take your stand! Stand and see the deliverance of Yahweh among you, O Judah and Jerusalem! Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out before them and Yahweh will be with you” (2 Chronicles
20:17 LEB).

No need to do anything. Just stand there and watch. See what the Lord is going to do when we give it to Him.

Lord, this is so easy to write and so hard to do in “real life,” especially as it SEEMS I am facing another day of fatigue. This is getting old, Lord, but I choose not to panic. My eyes are on You. This battle is indeed yours. I choose to turn it over to you and watch what You do today. Amen.
Comments

Refusing to Back Down

As I have indicated before, my readings in Job given what is going on with me, have given me a new perspective of this book and of Job and his sufferings that I have never had before.

Before I get into THAT, just a word or two about where I am—finally, after about ten days, I felt better yesterday and thus I was able to do some sermon work and even go to the library at Denver Seminary for some research. It brought back good memories.

Prior to my cancer diagnosis and to moving down here, I used to have a Thursday afternoon regimen that I enjoyed thoroughly. I drove down to this end of town and spent the afternoon, either in library of Denver Seminary or that of Iliff Seminary (I believe I have the name of that latter institution delineated correctly).

The latter is near the University of Denver and is right across the street from the very first church my family attended as a child—University Park Methodist Church. This rather austere building housed a church that scared me as a child. I remember sitting in an ante-room one Sunday because the church was so packed out. The “ministers,” as the church called them, wore long black robes and seemed to be way up there and out there—very distant from the curious eyes of a five to six-year old child.

I also remember a little bit about “Sunday school.” Sometimes my parents would drop me off with other boys and girls. We did crafts and used colors to draw pictures on multi-colored paper, but that was about it. There was no teaching or instruction. It was glorified babysitting.

Somehow, even though this church resembled what my mom attended in Hutchinson, Kansas, through all of this, she became deeply dissatisfied with the lack of biblical content, and so we left that church and started visiting other churches of various denominations—still not finding what she was looking for, although we weren’t sure.

I say “we,” but it really wasn’t. My mom gave the impetus to all of this. My dad, when he wasn’t on the golf course on Sundays, tagged along with Marilyn and me. He didn’t really care, not then, not until he got saved.

Eventually, the Lord used a picture of Billy Graham on the cover of Time magazine to cause my mom to wonder what church he went to. When she discovered that he was a Southern Baptist, she called the nearest SBC church on a Saturday afternoon to find out when the service times were. The phone rang and rang and rang, until the janitor, Carl Groom, answered.

In sharing this story through the years, I have often said that if Carl had not been faithfully doing his job, we would never have been saved!

Well, anyway, how did I come to chase that rabbit? I guess I always think of my testimony when I see or drive by or mention that very fancy tomb called University Park Methodist Church.

I finally felt well enough to go the library to study a bit… that was my point! Ha.

Back to Job—my reading today brought me to chapter 13. I urge you to take a few moments and read this chapter in the Message Version. Here is this suffering man having to put up with speeches from his so-called friends (maybe they wore black robes too) who came to lecture him with the logic of religion, their god in a neat little box. “Job, here is the simple reason you are going through all of this—you must have sinned and sinned BIG TIME.”

What I am seeing for the first time as I read these speeches is Job’s courage. He refuses to give into this false logic and false doctrine, retaining his integrity and faith in God. “Yes, I’ve seen all this with my own eyes, heard and understood it with my very own ears. Everything you know, I know, so I’m not taking a backseat to any of you. I’m taking my case straight to God Almighty; I’ve had it with you—I’m going directly to God. You graffiti my life with lies. You’re a bunch of pompous quacks! I wish you’d shut your mouths— silence is your only claim to wisdom” (Job
13:1-5 MSG). Hooray! Amen! Go Job!

But of course, they didn’t. There are still twenty-plus more chapters of hot air to blow.

I’m thankful that I have not had to deal with the modern equivalent of Job’s friends—for the most part. My problem is Satan in my head, badgering me and trying to get me to doubt the Lord’s care and love.

Even though I did not start today with the intention of sharing my salvation testimony, thank You for bringing that story to mind. Thank You for my mom, for Carl Groom, and for a church that preached the gospel so that all of us could get saved. This was a glorious beginning. Why would I ever struggle with any message that claims that I could blow it? Of course, I have sinned and will sin in the future. But salvation and the plan—is all about You from start to finish. Like Job, I’m taking my case once again straight to You. Amen.
Comments

Wanting to Be with God's People

Yesterday, I finally felt well enough to head up to the church for a bit. I got some things done in the office. Just as I was finishing, Jim showed up. It was great to see him.

We spent some time visiting. It was interrupted when I received a call about my health. I will tell you about that some other time.

I called one lady, asking her if Jim and I could come by for a visit. She was not going to be available until later in the afternoon—this did not work with my schedule. So, we agreed that we would try to set something up next week. We have not seen this dear sister in the Lord for a while. She definitely has had some “issues” to deal with and she has moved. I’m praying that we will see her and her children soon. One Sunday, a few months ago, she brought eight children to church—her four kids and her sister’s four. It was awesome.

Anyway, after I hung up the phone, Jim and I jumped in my car and we headed out to Wheatridge. In the course of the trip, we visited about a myriad of things but mainly about things going on in our families and in the church. Frankly (and maybe selfishly), this is one of the main things I enjoy about “visiting”—the fellowship along the way.

Years ago, when I first started at the church, I made a lot of visits, many of them when I was alone. It took me a few years to realize that this was not a good idea for several reasons, but the main one is that going alone is not in the Bible ANYWHERE. Do you realize that?

When Jesus sent the disciples out to minister, one could argue that He would have been able to “cover more territory” if he had just sent them out individually. Right? But his method reinforced the idea of church in which the body ministers. As believers, we are part and parcel of the body of Christ. We are not fingers and elbows and noses hanging out there unattached.

I think we do better when we are with others. There is accountability and encouragement built in. Even pastors need this. Ha!

Anyway, we drove out to Wheatridge to visit Myrtle. She is in a nursing home out there. It is no short distance to there from Northglenn. I doubt she gets many visitors simply because of this. I’ve mentioned Myrtle before in this blog. I love her. When we finally found her room, we noticed that she was asleep. I spoke as loudly as I dared to try to rouse her so that we could visit, but she did not wake up. We left her a note and got in the car and headed back to the church.

Some might argue that because we did not have a conversation, the visit was wasted. Nope. I’ve learned long ago that faithfulness and availability are all we can offer the Lord. He takes it from there. I’ll leave all the evaluations to God.

When we got back to the church, Jim and I prayed together—at Jim’s request. I’m glad we were able to do this. It was awesome.

Anyway, this rather simple story of what happened to me yesterday confirms what I read in a Spurgeon sermon last night, as the Victorian pastor was comparing believers with unbelievers. He asserted that true Christians crave fellowship in the body of Christ and recognize that we do indeed NEED each other. When someone is going down, he or she has the resource of being encouraged through fellowship with someone who is on the way up.

Honestly, this is EXACTLY where I am. As Jim and I prayed, it dawned on me that this congregation has been ministering to me for over five years since I was diagnosed with cancer! Wow. Each time I have started a new round of chemo, I’ve only felt love and support, and they continue to offer. And Jim is the personification of that. Love you, brother!

I could not make it without my church family, the body of Christ and along with them, all of you who continue to read this blog daily. And whether you hit “like” in Facebook or make a comment, I know you are there. Thanks to all of you.

This morning in my reading in Professor Horner’s plan, I came again to Acts 2. By the way, his plan involves reading several books over and over and over. One of those is Acts. Maybe it will sink in!

After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost—you know the story—thousands of folks got convicted, turning from sin in repentance, turning to God in faith, right then and there.

This was before Nashville had produced any Sunday school literature or before any church growth “expert” existed. Ha. What did those folks do? Who told them to do it? They instinctively started gathering together. The church was born. Acts 2:42-47 is one of my favorite passages because all this activity is spontaneous! Here are a few of those verses:

“And they began selling their possessions and property, and distributing these things to all, to the degree that anyone had need. And every day, devoting themselves to meeting with one purpose in the temple courts and breaking bread from house to house, they were eating their food with joy and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding every day to the total of those who were being saved” (Acts
2:45-47 LEB).

Again, I say, “Wow.”

Lord, thank You so much for the time yesterday with Jim. I lift this brother up along with his family. Thank You for the body of Christ and their support of me. I’ve been on the other side of the coin for a few years. They have ministered to me. Thank You, Lord. Thanks also for everyone who is reading these words. I love them all. Lord, You are amazing. Amen.
Comments

Another Rough Day and Evening Devotionals

Throughout the day yesterday, Marilyn and I talked, trying to figure out why I had a rough day. It was another one of those days where I felt fatigued and chilled along with a feeling of nausea—well into the afternoon. I finally started to feel relief in the evening, but by then, I was totally worn out.

What happened, for crying out loud? It is not a little disconcerting that I had this rough day after two very good days on Sunday and Monday. Who knows?

My tentative assessment of today: I feel a little bit better. We will see.

Through all of the twists and turns of the various aspects of this disease, one thing that is emerging in my life as a blessing is the advent of evening devotionals. I mentioned that I started these as part of a process to help me get in a good state of mind so that I might be able to improve my sleep at night.

After a few evenings, I can say that I believe that it is.

What am I doing? Well, I decided to start by reading a selection of Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermons. They were compiled in a book entitled
Sermons on Heaven and Hell. This goes right along with the new series I started a couple of years ago, and that is fine. But my main purpose is meeting with the Lord not sermon study.

Before I go further, I want to make a comment at this point. When people ask me about “devotional guides,” I tend to tell them to use them ONLY in conjunction with the main source of spiritual input—the Word of God. I know this sounds rather contradictory from a guy who has written two devotional books. But I am still rather adamant about telling folks—read the Bible first and foremost.

Having said all of that, I believe that some sort of devotional guide is a GREAT source of spiritual input for EVENING devotionals, if one is careful to read the Word in the morning. How about that?

And I highly recommend sermons as devotional reading. There is really no one in the history of preaching who compares with Spurgeon and the overwhelming volume of sermons he published—over sixty books of sermons as well as his other books. And I am enjoying reading them for a devotional not academic purpose.

As some of you might know, I did my PhD dissertation on Spurgeon. It was a critical evaluation of his sermons on Old Testament texts. All of that is well and good, but that was almost twenty-seven years ago. Now, I relish reading the sermons of this man of God now for spiritual benefit.

I want to quote an excerpt that I read the other night, one that was particularly meaningful to me: “Well, I think that this good news may be summed up thus. God is working in providence, and making all things work together for your good if you belong to him. Your heart is heavy just now, and your harp is hanging in the willows. Yet God is permitting that to happen for your good. The bitter drugs you have take are nauseous to you, but they are to work together with other things for your good; wherefore, be of good cheer.” (page 30).

“The bitter drugs you have to take are nauseous to you”—are you kidding me? Is Spurgeon talking about cancer? I have no idea what the state of cancer care was in late nineteenth century England, but still this statement rings true for me RIGHT NOW. And the Lord used it as an encouragement. And it made me think Spurgeon understands what I am going through. History records all the physical suffering he experienced in his life.

“Take your stand with God’s loyal community and live, or chase after phantoms of evil and die” (Proverbs
11:19 MSG).

Lord, I thank You AGAIN for cancer—for everything and everyone you are leading me to through this disease. Thank You for using the testimony and messages of others to help me depend on you. Amen.
Comments

The Eyes of the Lord and a Huge Reversal

As many of you observed over the past several days, one of the side effects of chemo for me has been depression. And depression has its characteristics as well.

I was beginning to think that there was something uniquely wrong with me, something that I would never get over.

After all, I figure that I have not felt well for over two weeks. It all started when the doctor told me just to stop taking my twice-a-day chemo pills. And, after two days, my neck started to swell up, and I just felt worse and worse.

This culminated on that Monday two weeks ago when I had chest pains and had to go to the hospital … all of you know THAT story.

So, I did not feel well the rest of THAT week and on through the weekend. I believe I was in a weakened state when I finally did receive the infusion last week. As a result, as each day passed, I just seemed to feel worse and worse, and of course all along with, I dealt with depression.

When I got home from church yesterday, I checked my messages, finding one from a dear sister in the Lord who affirmed that, when she went through a period of long-term illness, she also suffered from depression. She gave me some words of counsel. It was an affirmation I deeply appreciate.

Back to Saturday—it was such a downer day—for my family and me.

But yesterday … I just have to tell all of you that I did not expect how I felt when I awakened. It was weird. It was tangible and palpable—I actually felt BETTER—again, for the first time in over two weeks.

As the morning progressed and I got ready for church, I was skeptical, “This isn’t going to last,” I said to myself as I drove up to church.

I so appreciate the reception my church family gave me—a lot of hugs and smiles and empathy. It was a huge encouragement.

I preached my sermon, and it took a lot out of me. I could literally feel the energy draining from my body. After all, I hadn’t done much more than sit on this couch for two weeks prior to yesterday. When I got home, I crashed.

Like last week, I had made the decision NOT to watch the Bronco game in real time, but after dinner, all of us sat down to watch the recording. Oh man! What a game!

One of the benefits of this approach to watching football is that it takes A LOT less time. We burned through that great game in a little less than an hour. When it was done, we crashed, as a family. I think the collective burden of everything that has happened over the past couple of weeks finally hit us. We talked. We prayed. And then we went to bed, grateful for God’s answer to prayer.

All of you have such a huge role in this—your prayers, your concern, and your love. I am such an example of the mercy of our Lord, as He acts in compassionate answer to prayer.

Scripture exhorts us to seek the Lord, but interestingly enough, I believe it also demonstrates that the Lord does some seeking on His own. The story of King Asa of Judah in 2 Chronicles 16 is proof of this. Early in his career, the king trusted God, but toward the end, he abandoned his faith in the Lord, turning to Ben Hadad of Assyria for help against his enemies in Israel to the north.

Notice this statement from the Lord as well as his rebuke of the king’s actions: “For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout all the earth to strengthen those whose heart is fully devoted to him. You have been foolish in this, for from now on you will have wars” (2 Chronicles
16:9 LEB).

The Lord is looking diligently across the planet for full devotion. He is ready and willing to answer the prayers of the faithful, not because of THEIR faith, but because of the righteousness of His Son who pleads on the basis of His sacrifice on our behalf.

Lord, from the bottom of my heart, thank YOU. Thank You for answering prayer. Thank You for everyone who has been and is praying. I thank You for helping me and encouraging my family yesterday. We trust You now for today. May Your searching eyes continue to find us faithful. Amen.
Comments

Can't Go On Like This

As I sat with my mom and sister yesterday afternoon, I said, “I can’t go on like this. I can’t go on living this way.”

I am sure you have noticed it—just an accumulation of factors—physical and mental—that are making life miserable. It seems that, especially over these last couple of weeks, more and more, the only thing I can do is sit here. That’s the only thing I feel like doing, the only thing I can do.

And I ask myself the question, “Is this IT? Is this the rest of my life?” That’s when anxiety and depression start to move in. And I should have learned this by now. I do need to keep going back to Matthew 6:34—the verse the Lord gave me over five years ago when I started on this cancer pilgrimage.

But here is what I am discovering, when you are weak and sick and weary, you need others to believe for you and to pray for you, like the man lowered through the roof in the presence of Jesus. There was nothing about those actions that came from him, not even the faith. I don’t have chapter and verse, but look it up. The Bible says something to the effect that “when Jesus saw THEIR faith,” he got into action.

This is what I need from all of you today. I need you to believe for me because my tank is empty.

One of the topics of discussion yesterday was my plan to go to church and preach today. Given everything I have just said, one might think that this is the last thing I should even think about doing.

But somehow, as I wrestled through another day, it seemed to make sense that I need some things to shoot for. I need a reason to get off this couch every now and again. Otherwise, I can honestly see how easy it would be just for me to sit here and never get up.

Of course, our agreement (Marilyn, Mother, and I) was that if I awakened and I knew I just couldn’t go, that I would not. And, Al, a dear brother in our church is ready to go, even at the last minute. He texted me last night to see how I was doing. I replied, “I had a bad day, Al. Hopefully I will be better tomorrow.” It really takes a load off knowing that I can call on him at the last minute. I have a pastor friend who told me the same thing. Huge relief.

Back to Al, I will touch base with him when I finish this blog because …

Here is a praise: I do feel better today, for some unknown reason. The only thing I can attribute it to is God and answered prayer. I can literally feel your prayers. Thank you so much.

Is it wrong to go to church FOR ME? If someone were to press me, I would tell them, “I need to be in the fellowship of God’s people. I need to go for me. The sermon I am preaching is way down the list of priorities.”

AND, I am not going to do anything “wild and crazy.” I’m going to enjoy the fellowship, preach my sermon, and come home.

In my reading this morning, chapter nine of Job gives me comfort. I urge you to read it in the Message Version where all the honesty comes out. More than ever before, I can relate to him. His religious friends, with their clichés and accusations and condescension and “answers,” only added to his misery. I can understand it. That’s not what any of us needs. I certainly don’t.

I just need the Lord to come through. That’s where this chapter goes, as far as it can before the Incarnation. Notice these words:

“God and I are not equals; I can’t bring a case against him. We’ll never enter a courtroom as peers. How I wish we had an arbitrator to step in and let me get on with life— To break God’s death grip on me, to free me from this terror so I could breathe again. Then I’d speak up and state my case boldly. As things stand, there is no way I can do it” (Job
9:32-35 MSG).

Job cried out for an intermediary, someone to take his desperate case directly to the throne of God and to advocate on his behalf.

That is what WE HAVE. We have such a Person. Dr. Jesus Himself! So, Doctor, again, I cry out to you for HELP. I need You more than ever. Bless every single person who is praying for my family and me. Give them all a big God-hug from us.

Help me today, Lord, to get up to the church, see my family, preach my sermon, and come home. I don’t even know what to pray beyond that. So, I sigh. Spirit of God, do Your intermediary work alongside the Son as well. Amen.
Comments

"The Old Perfessor"

I wouldn’t imagine that many would recognize that title, with the word “professor” intentionally misspelled. I learned this moniker as I have watched Ken Burns’ series “Baseball” over the years. This is what New York Yankee fans called one of the most famous managers in baseball history, Casey Stengel. What a character!

I don’t know where my brain came up with that in light of one of the most nightmarish days I have ever spent.

Again, I have to be honest in telling all of you that I am so weary of the daily challenges this disease brings me. I need a break, and they never seem to come.

So, one of the things I am dealing with is a lack of sleep. Last night is an example. I slept 30 minutes. That’s it. And this has been the norm with me, especially over the past few weeks. Last night, with my mom and sister’s help, we really set our minds to tackling this problem, and I hope that, over the next few days, something improves, because this, among many other challenges, is one I can’t live with much longer.

The night before last, I made the unilateral decision to up the dose of one of the pills the cancer doc gave me. Its purpose is to help me sleep and to reduce anxiety. I played “the old (or in my case the “mad,” literally) perfessor. Well, I did FINALLY have a good night’s sleep. However, it continued on into the day and the afternoon. I just could not keep my eyes open. I was drowsy in writing the blog, and it just seemed to get worse.

Mid-afternoon, I went to the cancer center for a previously scheduled hydration treatment, and I asked Beth, one of the Dr. Jotte’s assistants what to do about this sleep problem. Of course, her first answer was to prescribe a sleeping pill—a narcotic. And, right now, I just don’t want to go that way. (I am not saying that I will NEVER do it but not right now).

She talked to the doctor while I was getting the treatment, and he made another couple of suggestions. I’m not going to mention them right now. But last night, I tried one of his suggestions, and I will let you know how it goes.

It is weird to tell all of you that I feel more alert this morning than I did yesterday morning having slept all night. Of course, it was a drug induced sleep …

Again, this is one of those things that I share just to ask you to pray for me. I know that sleeplessness is a common problem as we age. Many people deal with it. I did before I got cancer. I understand that, and I know there are many “home remedies” out there. I’ve heard most of them. Believe me. But each individual is unique. So, I don’t want to hear about any—again, just pray. Thanks.

One of the things I did last night before I went to bed was to spend some intentional time with the Lord. My goal is to expand my devotional life to include what Spurgeon calls “evening devotions” as well as “morning devotions.” I’m not sure at this point what direction my evening devotions will take, but last night, I started out by reading one of Spurgeon’s sermons in a compilation of his messages entitled
Sermons on Heaven and Hell. This goes along with the series I am starting tomorrow.

BUT, I did not read this book with thoughts of any sermon. I read it to get my mind calmed down and focused on Jesus as I went to sleep. This is part of my strategy to address this sleeplessness issue. More than that, I just feel the need to spend more time with Jesus through all of this …

This morning, I echo this prayer I read in 2 Chronicles this morning: “Then Asa cried out to Yahweh his God. And he said, ‘O Yahweh, there is none with you to help between the great and the powerless. Help us, O Yahweh our God, for we rely upon you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Yahweh, you are our God! Let no man prevail against you!’” (2 Chronicles
14:11 LEB).

Lord, like King Asa, I stand between the great and the powerless, as one who has no power. This is just one more thing I can’t solve. Help, Lord. Let not sleeplessness prevail against you. You made me. You know what to do to fix me. So much of me needs fixing, Dr. Jesus. Help! Amen.
Comments

Every Nook and Cranny

“When the thousand years are up, Satan will be let loose from his cell, and will launch again his old work of deceiving the nations, searching out victims in every nook and cranny of earth, even Gog and Magog! He’ll talk them into going to war and will gather a huge army, millions strong. They’ll stream across the earth, surround and lay siege to the camp of God’s holy people, the Beloved City. They’ll no sooner get there than fire will pour out of Heaven and burn them up. The Devil who deceived them will be hurled into Lake Fire and Brimstone, joining the Beast and False Prophet, the three in torment around the clock for ages without end” (Revelation 20:7-10 MSG).

I am encouraged as I read these verses this morning.

Here is a little insight into my eschatology: I believe that we are living in the millennium NOW where Satan’s activity, though still rampant, is curtailed somewhat.

Whenever I make this statement, people go into orbit, “Are you kidding? How can you say that? Satan seems to be as free as a bird to wreck havoc across the earth.”

I take seriously the fact that Jesus defeated Satan through His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. He is a roaring lion seeking folks to destroy, but he is still defeated.

However, sometime, right before the end, he will be “let loose from his cell” for a final furious war against the nations and against God’s people.

Whether you agree with me or not, think about the imagery of this passage in Revelation. Millions and millions of folks in an enemy army marching across the earth to wage battle. They arrive, surrounding the camp of God’s people.

When and where will this occur? I believe this is a reference to the battle of Armageddon—the final battle between good and evil.

But it will be over before it starts as fire comes out of heaven and destroys the enemy army. AND, this trinity of evil—the dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet, will all be thrown into the lake of fire—DONE, finished, defeated forever! Praise God!

This is a great reminder for us all, especially me as I sit here on this couch, prepared for another day in which it looks like all I will feel like doing is sleep. Hard to keep my eyes open now so I am just going to give into it.

Lord, I thank You for the victory You have won and will win ultimately and finally. I love You today. Amen.
Comments

A Gulch in the Desert

Today’s readings have pulled some things together for me. And I am grateful because I have been calling out to the Lord, “Help me know what is going on and what is happening to me!”

I have alluded to a lot of the physical stuff—the weird and contradictory circumstances in which my cancer is getting microscopically better and yet I seem to be getting worse. And I believe the cause is threefold: my shoulder, my chemo treatments, and my pain medications.

What I have not talked a lot about is what is going on with me from a mental and emotional standpoint. I’m trying to figure it out, and frankly, right now, it is more troubling.

Last night, I was visiting with a sister in the Lord, a woman in our church. I point-blank asked her, “Are you depressed?” She gave me an answer and then turned the question around, “Are you?” Before I could think, I answered, “Yes.”

For many of you who read this blog on a consistent basis and know me well, I’m sure you picked up on that. I don’t think I am admitting any earth-shattering “new” revelation.

But admitting that is only the beginning.

There are a lot of types of depression—everything from just feeling down all the way to clinical depression, a state which often requires medication.

So, after I hung up and thought about my response, the natural follow-up question I asked myself was, “Where am I in the continuum?”

Off the top of my head, I would venture to say that I am somewhere in the middle leaning toward the clinical side, and I think I could easily go that way, unless some things change.

Marilyn helps me A LOT in this area because she is quick to remind me when we talk about it that what is going on with me is induced by all this strong medication I am taking—it somehow affects the chemicals in my brain. And the pain doctor in the hospital agrees with her because one of the meds he gave me is intended to help with mood and sleep.

Again, recognizing this helps a lot, because it removes the guilt factor, but still, it is there and I am asking that you pray for me in this regard as well as my family that has to put up with me. I still have to deal with it. OR better, ask the Lord and trust Him to help me in this regard.

This is where my reading in Job this morning helps me. I love reading this rather enigmatic book from the Message Version because Peterson’s translation tends to humanize Job’s experience more.

Before I get into this, I want to make a crucial distinction. Unlike Job, I have friends who encourage me and pray for me in the right way. I appreciate this so much.

Like Job, I have to deal with words that I hear and that go through my brain. For me, the source of those words is the enemy himself. I feel as if I am under a constant barrage from him, as I sit on this couch from day to day.

It is my experience that the devil does attack us when we are vulnerable. Job’s story is confirmation of that. The devil is under God’s control. Let’s be certain of that, but the test, as God allows us, always hits our “soft spots.” The enemy knows them.

All of that having been said, hear these words that Job utters: ““When desperate people give up on God Almighty, their friends, at least, should stick with them. But my brothers are fickle as a gulch in the desert— one day they’re gushing with water From melting ice and snow cascading out of the mountains, But by midsummer they’re dry, gullies baked dry in the sun. Travelers who spot them and go out of their way for a drink end up in a waterless gulch and die of thirst. Merchant caravans from Tema see them and expect water, tourists from Sheba hope for a cool drink. They arrive so confident—but what a disappointment! They get there, and their faces fall! And you, my so-called friends, are no better— there’s nothing to you! One look at a hard scene and you shrink in fear. It’s not as though I asked you for anything— I didn’t ask you for one red cent— Nor did I beg you to go out on a limb for me. So why all this dodging and shuffling?” (Job
6:14-23 MSG)

As one reads the book of Job, he or she could readily say that Job’s friends through all their verbiage and long-winded speeches in which they purport to have all the answers, certainly didn’t HELP (even though that was their goal). They only contributed to Job’s agony.

This is Satan’s tactic. He likes to kick us when we are down already. This is my summation of what is happening to me right now. It seems overwhelming.

However, I balance these words in Job with Paul’s statements in 2 Corinthians: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians
4:16-18 NASB).

The things that are seen are temporal; the things that are not seen are eternal.

Lord, instead of trying to “figure everything out,” an activity that pulls me down further, I choose instead to rivet my attention on the things that are not apprehended through the human senses. Help me with this. Show me how to focus on the unseen and eternal. Amen.
Comments

Nurse, Doctor, and More

An interesting couple of references in Psalm 41—one of the ten chapters I read this morning in Professor Horner’s plan. But first, I want to tell all of you a little about what happened yesterday.

I received a CT scan on December 29
th. Yesterday, I FINALLY heard the results. The doc told me that my cancer has diminished in the affected lymph nodes. I praise God for this.

He went on to say, however, that these lymph nodes are as close to “normal” size as they are probably going to get. Thus, he recommended continuing my cancer treatments indefinitely.

The only reason for stopping would be if they ceased to hold the cancer in check. It does seem as if all the swelling on my neck that occurred when I stopped taking the chemo pills for a few days a couple of weeks ago is gone. Again, praise God!

So, from a cancer standpoint, I am doing well. From a quality of life perspective, not so good. The combination of the pills (two a day) and the infusion (every three weeks) continues to have an impact on me. This morning, it is fatigue. Again, I am fighting to keep my eyes open even though I had a fairly good night’s sleep. I expect this fatigue to worsen over the next few days and then get better before my next infusion.

We spent some time talking about the pain issue with my shoulder. I informed Dr. Jotte about what happened in the hospital, especially my “panic attack” during the MRI. He laughed. “John, that is fairly common for folks. There is a new kind of MRI that you might be able to tolerate better. The patient sits and the front is open.” Humm. This is NOT the same as what some call the “open MRI.” I will look into this and let you know what I learn about it.

In the meantime, I am still taking the pain pills that the doctor I saw in the hospital prescribed for me. They tend to knock me for a loop as well.

Last night, Marilyn reminded me that I need to be careful to sustain my food intake as I ingest all these rather powerful drugs. Right now, that is one of the biggest challenges I face—eating enough. I just don’t have an appetite for food. I’m not hungry, but I am forcing myself to eat several times a day. We will see what happens.

Frankly, I have to tell all of you that I am a bit overwhelmed right now. There is so much to keep up with. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job right now. Please pray that I have the energy to get on top of things better.

I know I am not alone in this process. I am so grateful for all the prayers and support and encouragement that I have received.

Plus, I am receiving a lot of support from my church family. People are willing to step up to the plate and serve in significant ways. This happened in three areas yesterday. Thanks Dan, Patty, and Al. I don’t mean to limit this to three areas. I could add many more names to this list.

Last but not least—the Lord is THERE to help. Notice these two references in Psalm 41—very appropriate to my situation.
“Dignify those who are down on their luck; you’ll feel good— that’s what GOD does. GOD looks after us all, makes us robust with life— Lucky to be in the land, we’re free from enemy worries. Whenever we’re sick and in bed, GOD becomes our nurse, nurses us back to health” (Psalm 41:1-3 MSG, emphasis mine) AND “The rumor goes out, “He’s got some dirty, deadly disease. The doctors have given up on him.” Even my best friend, the one I always told everything —he ate meals at my house all the time!— has bitten my hand” (Psalm 41:8-9 MSG).

God is my nurse and by implication, He is also my Doctor who sticks with me when the other doctors have given up.

Oh, and I want to add a message that God gave Paul in the course of his ministry. “And the next night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Have courage, for as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’” (Acts 23:11 LEB). One of the most significant things about that verse is that “the Lord stood by him.”

Add all of this up, and in spite of all the challenges this disease presents, I am well taken care of.

Lord, again I thank You for cancer because this disease is allowing me to see how you rally help for your kids when they need it the most. I don’t think I have ever been sicker in my life than I am right now, but I am thankful for You, Nurse God, Dr. Jesus, the one who stands by us ALWAYS. Amen.
Comments

Infusion Today--Entering the Mystery

Almost (I say almost) forgotten in the midst of the pain and the hospital visit and the pain meds I have been taking is cancer. Somehow, no matter what happens, I always return to the reality of this disease. I’m never very far from it, even if it gets pushed to the back burner for a few days in my conscious attention.

Yesterday, about noon, I was wondering what was going on since I hadn’t heard from the cancer center about my appointment today. I called the scheduler, my friend Dom—no response. I emailed Shantel, Dr. Jotte’s assistant in charge of clinical trials. She responded, indicating that Dom was not around any longer and that my appointment today was at noon.

Noon? I’ve never had an appointment with the doctor so late in the day, but so be it. I just resigned myself to it and told my mom and sister.

As I sat here in the early evening, my phone rang. I noticed it was the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. Weird. When I answered, the voice on the other end said, “Hi John! This is Tracy. Just calling you. I noticed you were in the hospital last week. How are you doing?”

Honestly, it took a while to compute in my brain. Tracy? Who is that? Then, suddenly, I remembered. She is a “manager” (I’m sure that isn’t her exact title but that is the job she performs) at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center at Skyridge. She has always been very friendly to my family and me. Tracy.

She could tell that my brain was a little foggy, but she continued, “I am just calling about your appointment tomorrow. You usually come early in the morning, right? Would you prefer to see the doctor at 7:45 in the morning?”

At that point, all I could think of to say was, “Oh, great, Tracy. But I am not coming to Skyridge, am I?”

“Oh, no,” she answered. “I’m just handling some scheduling for Dr. Jotte since we are in transition in that area. No, I know you go to Skyridge these days.”

“I sure miss you guys,” I asserted.

“Well, we miss seeing you guys as well,” Tracy replied.

I know this sounds a little weird, but after I hung up, I realized how much I do miss the staff and nurses at the Skyridge office of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. After all, that is where we went for the first four and a half years of treatment for this disease. It is only with the start of the clinical trial that we go to Midtown, and it is different there—much busier and much less personal.

Anyway, just another adjustment and change and transition. Plus, Dom is gone. I will miss him. He really did help me out on several occasions. I have no idea why he is not there any longer …

Well, so, 7:45 it is. We are going to have to leave from the house in about an hour. Kind of a hassle, but all of us are glad to get this show on the road early and get done by mid to late morning.

Please pray for this visit to the doctor. I still want to find out the results of the CT scan I took now THREE WEEKS ago and to catch up with him about the hospital visit last week and to discern where things go from here—a lot of questions. Even as I type these words, I feel anxiety welling up a bit—a call to turn things over to Jesus AGAIN.

With more and more questions bouncing around in my brain and the potential for worry multiply by the moment, I was glad to read Psalm 40 in the Message Version. There are two parts of this Psalm that the Spirit illuminated this morning.

The first part is verses 1-3: “I waited and waited and waited for GOD. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this:
they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to GOD.” (emphasis mine).

This seems to be a polar opposite alternative to an anxiety that runs from uncertainty and mystery. This is our tendency as humans—we want answers. We want God boxed up in a neat little package we can hold and measure and contain. But of course, we can’t. No one can.

So what to do? Abandon myself to God. Isn’t that another way of saying, “Lean not unto thine own understanding” (the KJV translation of Proverbs 3:5b)? I can try to lean on my understanding OR I can lean on the “everlasting arms.”

The second part of this Psalm in the Message Version is “Soften up, GOD, and intervene; hurry and get me some help, So those who are trying to
kidnap my soul will be embarrassed and lose face, So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable will be heckled and disgraced, So those who pray for my ruin will be booed and jeered without mercy” (Psalm 40:13-15 MSG, emphasis mine). What a graphic image?

All these voices of worry in my head are seeking to kidnap my soul. In the modern vernacular, I translate that as, “trying to get me to ‘lose it.’” I’m very close to it.

Lord, this visit to the doctor today is another opportunity for me to trust You and for the voices of ruin and destruction to be silenced. Answer the prayers of those out there who are on your side and on mine. I pray for Dom today, wherever he is, whatever he is doing. Help my security to rest only in You—the One who never changes in the job of being seated on the throne. Amen.
Comments

Carefully Measuring EVERYTHING

On Saturday, Marilyn came into my room with a couple of questions, “Are the Broncos playing tomorrow? Are you going to watch the game?”

At first, my answer to both questions was an unqualified “yes.” Of course. Does the sun come up in the morning? Ha.

But then, as we talked further, I realized where she was coming from in her question.

Most of you who know me well know that I tend to get very “worked up” over the Broncos, especially as I watch the games. I have always been that way. This is especially true with this year’s team as we continue to eek out hard-fought victories.

Yesterday was a rough day, ANOTHER ROUGH day. I spent most of it on this couch, struggling to stay awake. The combination of the chemo pills and all the pain medication I am taking seem to be taking its toll on me.

I tried to watch some of the early NFL playoff game between Carolina and Seattle, but even then, I had to turn off the TV late second quarter to take a nap.

All of this is background to my point: I did not watch the Broncos yesterday. I set my DVR and then turned off the television, relishing the peace and quiet as I just gutted out the rest of the day. At first, I really fought myself. “Come on, John. Are you kidding? No big deal. Just watch the game. You know you want to.”

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even WATCH the game.

My “not feel well” won out over my “want to.”

So, here is where I am: now, each day with my number one priority on my health, I have to pick and choose, to measure, how much I have in the tank and set my activity level accordingly. And, these days, I have one or two things a day I can do. The remainder of the time is just rest.

I have chosen to accept Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11. Now, I realize the rest about which He speaks is very comprehensive. It involves life and eternity, but there is a Sabbath Rest concept in these words as well: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew
11:28-30 NASB). Amen.

Another way to put all of this is—I finally have realized how sick I really am, and a friend reminded me recently—I need to devote as much of my resources as possible to getting well and/or to allowing my body time and space to fight this disease.

Is this easy? I hope I don’t give you the idea that it is. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my life—carefully measure EVERYTHING.

Lord, thank You for all the encouragement from my family and friends, and for their prayers as well. Help me to learn, learn from You, to rest. Amen.

P. S. Later on that evening, when I felt a little better, I did find out that they won, and I watched the recording of the game in thirty minutes. Go Broncos!
Comments

Saeed Released!

Praise God! If you haven’t heard, I want to let you know that yesterday, the news came out that Pastor Saeed Abedini along with three other Americans, have been released from prison in Iran.

Apparently, this release was part of a negotiation between the United States and Iran that involved the “release” on our part of 100 billion dollars in frozen assets from Iran.

In addition, there are two other Americans that continue to remain in captivity. Some view this as Iran holding on to a “bargaining chip” that they can use in the future.

The politics of this whole thing will be debated, I am sure, but for now, we just need to thank God for this brother’s freedom. He has been in jail for over three years and has suffered unspeakable injuries and difficulties. Now, he can be reunited with his wife Naghmeh and his two children as well as receive the medical care he needs.

Again, I say, “Praise God!”

All through the day yesterday, I could not stop thinking about Saeed and his wife and family.

Several months ago, I attended a midweek service at Calvary Chapel in Aurora and heard Naghmeh speak. She was not maudlin or melodramatic in the least. She shared the gospel in straightforward terms and her confidence in the power of God.

Since that time, I have received email updates from her, as she told of her world travels and the opportunities the Lord gave her because of her husband’s imprisonment. This is a wife and mom who never “preached” before and was reluctant to do so, but she did not miss the chance to share.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I realized that I had not received any emails from her or about Saeed for several months. I wondered what that meant. And I have no idea. Perhaps, we will hear in the days and weeks ahead. Who knows?

Here is my conjecture and that is what it is—pure speculation on my part. I link this with Abraham’s experience. Can you imagine waiting on God for twenty-five years for the birth of the promised child? I would imagine at some point (and again, the Bible does not say and we must be careful EVER arguing from silence) that Abraham and Sarah just stopped praying. I don’t think they ever stopped BELIEVING, but I wonder if they stopped praying. Again, who knows?

I’m glad that God’s timing and power and answers to prayer NEVER depend on us. It is totally in His hands. He is sovereign in all things, especially in prayer.

I have always wondered when continuing to pray in and of itself becomes an act of unbelief. I wonder when we just turn something over to the Lord and leave it with Him.

Anyway … each person and situation is different. Again, I just thank the Lord that this dear brother is out, and I hope to meet him someday and shake his hand.

One more thing that is happening with me after the release of Saeed. Today (and I don’t know if this will continue for the rest of my life or not; I hope it does), I found myself reading scripture through “Saeed glasses.”

In Professor Horner’s plan today, three chapters stand out: Matthew 10, Job 2, and Acts 20.

Matthew 10 gives Jesus’ instructions to His disciples as he sends them out on mission. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles” (Matthew
10:16-18 NASB). This is what happened to Saeed and Naghmeh.

Job gives this response: “His wife said, ‘Still holding on to your precious integrity, are you? Curse God and be done with it!’ He told her, ‘You’re talking like an empty-headed fool. We take the good days from God—why not also the bad days?’ Not once through all this did Job sin. He said nothing against God.” (Job
2:9-10 MSG). What if Saeed had followed Job’s wife’s advice?

Finally, Paul utters these words to the elders of the church in Ephesus as he says goodbye to them in Miletus: “And now behold, bound by the Spirit I am traveling to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in town after town, saying that bonds and persecutions await me. But I consider my life as worth nothing to myself, in order to finish my mission and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts
20:22-24 LEB).

A common thread in all these passages? I think so.

Lord, from the bottom of my heart, I thank YOU for Saeed’s release as well as that of the other three Americans. I continue to pray for the release of the other two plus the thousands more believers in prisons all over the world. They are suffering; most of us here in the U.S.A. are free to serve and don’t as we should. Something is off there. I choose today to take the bad along with the good and to continue to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Amen.
Comments

More of a Stranger

Yesterday was another one of those days where all I could do was just sit here. Even a few months ago, I think a day like that would have been extremely frustrating (it still is in many ways), but somehow, I feel more resigned to days of relative inactivity and almost relish them.

My one BIG thing to do, believe this or not, was ANOTHER doctor’s appointment, and my dread grew as the time drew near for me to go. It was my yearly check-up with the skin doctor. The thought that kept going through my mind was, “Great. This is all I need. He will find another spot on me that is potentially skin cancer, and I will have to deal with THAT. Just great.”

This is where I am. I am at a tipping point emotionally, very tenuous, like a house of cards.

Thankfully, as it turns out, he did not find any potential skin cancers but he informed me that he thinks he needs to freeze some places on my lips, believe it or not. Quickly, I jumped in, “Well, doc, I am taking chemo right now, and don’t feel that well. Plus, I’m not sure if this clinical trial will allow it. I will check with my oncologist and get back to you.”

He could see that my plate is full right now and told me to come back to see him in three months or so. We will see. Just not a high priority at the moment.

He did ask a lot of questions about my cancer and asked his assistant, who was in the room, to make notes of what was going on with me.

When we finished, he shook my hand and exited the waiting room. After giving me some final instructions about skin care, his assistant said, “Take care, John. I’m crossing my fingers for you.” What a statement, huh?

Worldly folks, well meaning though they may be, just don’t know what to say. Another relatively common statement that I hear is, “I will send a lot of good thoughts your way”—something like that.

How hopeless! Crossing fingers and good thoughts have zero power.

It was the only time I got out all day. I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity when one is handed to me on a silver platter. I responded, “Oh, thanks. I have a lot of people praying for me, and I am trusting the Lord to take care of things.”

Well, THAT statement caused her even more evident discomfort as she quickly left the room.

This little incident confirms something that is growing in me, day by day. I feel like more and more of a stranger to this world. As I sit here, my human body deteriorating by the day (as all of our bodies are, whether we have cancer or not), I find myself longing for HOME.

Please don’t take that as any suicidal thought or anything like that. I will stay as long as the Lord wants me to, but if I am going to be sick (in one way or another) the rest of my life, I would just prefer to go—to leave this body behind and take on the new forever.

I’m NOT preaching tomorrow. My friend Dan is. Again, I’m thankful for him. He called me yesterday. I have not been up to phone conversations this week, but somehow, I was around my phone when it rang and I answered and we visited a bit.

But next Sunday, health permitting, I will begin a new series on a subject I have seldom preached about (to my shame)—HEAVEN. The more I look into it from a biblical standpoint, the more intrigued I become.

I think many people in church today feel it is an irrelevant topic—pie in the sky, by and by. This is one of the reasons why it is hardly mentioned. I believe that this is a huge omission.

One of the things that I like about Revelation is the interplay between all these cataclysmic events in the unfolding judgment of God in the future AND exhortations to believers in the here and now. If we really believe in HEAVEN and HELL, then it should make a difference in our daily lives NOW.

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

With all that is happening in a desperately lost world that can only offer crossed fingers and good thoughts to tragedy, we have an opportunity to live in the Lord AND to die in the Lord.

Can’t get any better than that, but never easy.

Lord, I’m ready to stay here a little while longer if you need me to do so, but I am also ready to go any time. In the meanwhile, I pray for that assistant and everyone else who is crossing his or her fingers today. “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Amen.
Comments

Fragile

How about that for a word this morning?

Something happened to me on that hospital visit. To be honest, I am still praying through what it was. Rather than trying to figure it out, I just decided to keep praying—for the time being.

Before I go further, I just want to reiterate something that I have written here and emailed to others.

I really appreciate everyone who has written or called to tell me that he or she is praying for me and asking if there is anything he or she can do. I appreciate the concern and so do my mom and sister.

So here is what I am going to repeat: please just continue to pray for us. This is our greatest and most urgent need.

Yesterday, I saw more evidences of the toll this tough week has taken on my family. They were there with me most of the time I was in the hospital. We did a lot of sitting and waiting. It was not easy, especially from an emotional standpoint. We are still in recovery mode.

In the meantime, I came across something yesterday that has been “food for thought” as I sit here on this couch under my heated blanket not feeling like doing much else.

A local doctor has a blog I read on occasion. She is a believer. This is very evident. Her most recent entry has the title, “Eight Habits That Changed My Life.” Upfront, she affirms that she doesn’t believe in “resolutions.” She asserts, “Don’t make resolutions. Change habits.” She then goes on to list eight.

The first item on her list is “show kindness.” She exhorts us to be intentionally kind to every person you meet, loving them and valuing them as Jesus did. She recommends a book that I downloaded on Kindle. I have started reading it. It is entitled,
Love Does, and the author is Bob Goff. I have just started reading it. So far, so off-the-charts good!

I guess coming back to where I am (just to reveal a little more at this point)—I think I need input, positive, spiritual input in my life, and rather than using all of my energy on ministry stuff (such as sermon preparation) even as I just sit here, I need to focus on me a little more.

Believe me, as I write that, the Lord has gotten me WAY beyond the feeling that to focus on me is selfishness. WAY beyond that. I am at a place right now where it is an absolute necessity.

If there is any word of wisdom I could share at this point with all of you, my beloved readers, it is: don’t wait until it is desperate to start ministering to yourself.

I am a prime example of what NOT to do. Are you ready for this quote from Bob Goff’s book?

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I am more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

Oh, man.

The Lord brought this home to me as I read this verse in Deuteronomy this morning: “Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, Who is the shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, And you will tread upon their high places” (Deuteronomy
33:29 NASB).

What a question: “Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord?” Wow. I can’t get over it. We certainly acknowledge that our God is unique—He is “One-of-a-Kind.” But when we trust Him and depend on Him, we somehow step into that uniqueness as well, the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty. Our help, our majesty. And we must respond appropriately. Our salvation is a stewardship that I cannot throw away.

Lord, I am in one of “those” times and one of “those” places of desperate need--fragile. Marilyn just told me that my mom is sick. I’m not sure she has ever gotten over that virus that reared its head a couple of weeks ago. Lord, I lift her up as well as Marilyn. Thank You for everyone who is reading this today and is doing the “heavy lifting” of prayer. We feel those prayers and need them more than ever.

Affirm everyone who is praying. Help them not to allow the enemy to belittle their role in our lives. Lift them up as well. Amen.
Comments

The Woman Who Gave Birth and the Wilderness

Well, last night was another crazy experience. I spent most of the night dealing with these weird shooting pains across my chest. At least now, after everything that has happened this week, I know I am not having a heart attack.

The pain doc that came to us in the hospital did a great job of explaining the relationship between the bones in the neck and nerves that go from those bones affecting the shoulder, arm, and hand. It was an affirmation of what I had firmly believed all along: this lymphoma IS indeed connected to the pain I have been experiencing and now someone sees this and is starting to treat it.

Honestly, also, his visit was an affirmation of something else. This is going to sound strange, but after one deals with pain for long time (in my case—five months) and no one (up to this point) can figure out what is going on, he or she begins to believe that it is all in one’s head. That is a contributor to depression, for sure.

Now, I know I am not crazy. Well, …

I look forward to another day of rest, just trying to get back on my feet after the upheaval of that hospital visit.

Two more things about that—first, people I have visited through the years have always joked, “If you want a good night’s sleep, don’t go to a hospital.” Boy, did I ever learn that they are right. I got a “visit” from medical personnel for one reason or another at midnight, 1:00 AM, 2:00 AM, 2:15 AM, and somewhere around 3:00 AM. I say “somewhere” because by that time, I was really groggy and tired. The final person said, “Well, now, we are going to let you sleep.” Great. Thanks.

Since I usually wake up for good about 4:00 AM, you can see how much sleep I actually got. Then, it was a long day of waiting and then that MRI experience. What a day. I’m still exhausted.

Second, one of my “techs” on Tuesday (this is the title they used for themselves in addition to the nurses. The “techs” wore red apparel; the nurses wore blue) was an evident believe. He was an African man named Tom. He entered my room and asked how I was feeling. When I said, “Better,” he shouted, “Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.” His praise to God lifted me up right there. He had an awesome smile and joyful demeanor.

Well, anyway, I’m trying to get back to my reading—now two days behind, but I am plugging along. I came across one of my favorite chapters in the Bible—Revelation 12—the image of the woman who gives birth. At first glance, one might think this is a picture of Mary, the human instrument God used to bring Jesus into the world. Certainly, she is a part of it, but I don’t think that is the whole story.

Notice these words: “When the Dragon saw he’d been thrown to earth, he went after the Woman who had given birth to the Man-Child. The Woman was given wings of a great eagle to fly to a place in the desert to be kept in safety and comfort for a time and times and half a time, safe and sound from the Serpent. The Serpent vomited a river of water to swamp and drown her, but earth came to her help, swallowing the water the Dragon spewed from its mouth. Helpless with rage, the Dragon raged at the Woman, then went off to make war with the rest of her children, the children who keep God’s commands and hold firm to the witness of Jesus” (Revelation
12:13-17 MSG).

Clearly, the last phrase of the passage above makes it clear that this Woman is a picture of the church. The Dragon or the Serpent (same enemy) did his dead level best to destroy her but the Lord took her to the wilderness. Interesting here the connection between this reference and all the times in the Bible where folks went to the wilderness—the people of Israel, of course, Jesus, and Paul—to name a few.

The wilderness is a hardscrabble place. Actually, I know because I am there right now, but it is pre-eminently a place of protection first and learning second. The devil tempts and attacks folks there. It is also a place where idols get exposed. I could go on …

In the passage above, it concludes with the reference about the Dragon waging war with the rest of God’s kids—sort of open-ended because it still goes on …

Lord, the Dragon, the Serpent, the devil—whatever name we use for him—is still on the attack. Give us the grace and strength to stay obedient, even in the wilderness, and to hold firm to the witness of Jesus—just like Tom, that wonderful brother I met. Amen.
Comments

The Last Three Days PM Blog Post

First of all and again, I want to thank all of your for your responses and mainly for your prayers. After three days, I finally feel up to writing so I thought I had better do it, because, increasingly, in the mornings, I seem less and less up to it.

From now on, if you don’t get a message from me in the morning, it means I am not up to it, and I will write as soon as I am up to snuff. Also, pray, because when I don’t write, it means that I don’t feel like it.

Let me go back to Monday and recap the past three days. On Monday, I felt worse and worse so that, by lunchtime, I was in severe pain, and it was chest pain. I called the cancer center. They asked me to come down for a hydration treatment, but by the time we go there, Dr. Jotte’s nurse called again, “John, we have been talking about it, and if you are having chest pain, we think you shouldn’t mess around. Go to the Emergency Room immediately.” Okay.

Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital (hereafter referred to as PSL) is basically across the street so we dashed over there to the emergency room.

A little project for you: go into any emergency room and tell them that you have chest pains and watch them scurry into action (just make sure you really do!). Man, they got a whole lot of nurses and the doc around and they went to work—questions, tests, more questions, more tests.

At one point the ER doc said, “John, we think it best that you stay the night so that we can continue to observe you.” Okay.

They whisked me over the opposite side of the hospital and up to the ninth floor where additional nurses and doctors greeted us. Through the rest of Monday and well into the early morning hours of Tuesday, they kept running tests to see if I had had a heart attack. I appreciated their thoroughness.

Finally, by Tuesday morning, they had concluded that I did NOT have one. Praise God! With that diagnosis out of the way, the question emerged, “What was it?”

Dr. Jotte stopped by to visit with me Tuesday morning. He seemed determined to get to the bottom of my pain, but urged me to stay on the chemo trial I am going through since it seems to be working on my cancer. He told me that he was going to get a pain doc in the hospital to come and talk with me.

The doctors and nurses wanted us to check out a noon. So did we because, I had plans to get my cancer infusion yesterday, but Shantel, Dr. Jotte assistant, said, “John, getting to the cause of this pain is CRUCIAL. Don’t leave the hospital until you see this doctor.

Well, we waited and waited and waited until it was too late for an infusion yesterday. Finally, after 2:00, Dr. M came in. Immediately, we were encouraged that indeed he knows what he is doing.

In fact, Marilyn said this, “John, I think the Lord used those chest pains to get you in here to see Dr. M because it has been such an issue.” Amen.

He talked at length about what I was experiencing and then said, “Well, I’ve set up an MRI for you today. We will look at that and go from there. I have a pretty good idea of what is going on and I am going to prescribe some pain pills to you for it, but let’s get the MRI.” Okay.

So, they came and go me to take me to the other side of the hospital for this scan. When I arrived, the nurse said, “John, we have a lot of pictures to take so this is going to last an hour and a half.” Huh, what?

They put me in the machine and started the ball rolling.

At that point, the only way I can describe how I felt is that I FREAKED OUT. After about five minutes, I knew I just couldn’t do it so I pushed the handclasp and the test stopped.

When they pulled me out, the nurses were very understanding. This happens about twice a day with this test. What do you want to do? “I just can’t do it,” I sobbed. “I just can’t.”

So, they wheeled me back to the room. Naturally, my mom and sis were surprised to see me. By then, my “upset” had grown. Here was a test I needed to take to get me some help finally and I couldn’t do it!?! Are you kidding? It almost pushed me over the edge. Finally, the nurse had to give me a sedative because I felt as if I was crawling out of my skin, and I was bouncing off the walls.

When we finally finished and got discharged, it was late when we go home. We had a light dinner and watched a few minutes of TV to wind down and then went to bed.

When I awakened this morning, that “panic attack” as the doctor in the hospital called it was back in full force. It includes nausea, shortness of breath, total comfortableness, headache, and more. It is a nightmare.

Thank God for Marilyn in so many ways. She got one of the pills the cancer doc had prescribed for sleep. It is also actually an anti-anxiety pill as well.

I’ve spent time at two other doctor’s offices today. I am beat.

What about the MRI? Honestly, if someone were to tell me that I had to do it today, I wouldn’t be able. No way. I have heard that they prescribe sedatives for people who take it and who are anxious. I might do that, but honestly, today, I have to tell all of you that I just couldn’t do it. Is that forever? No. But I tell you … it freaked me out.

It was a very bad end to what had turned out to be a good day. And I was very emotional about it. Still am, to some degree.

One doctor I visited today told me not to worry about it. I already have the pain prescriptions from the pain doc. Just put it on the back burner for a while.

We will see, but needless to say, I am interested to start taking these new pain pills and to get relief from this pain I have been experiencing for five months.

Back to yesterday, I’ve never had THAT reaction happen my whole life. Again, a doc I saw today said, “John, normally, you could have handled that MRI, but not these days. You are weak and just don’t have the resistance or strength right now.

Please pray for me on the anxiety part. It is palpable. And it really affects me.

As I share this story, please JUST pray. Right now, I don’t need advice. I just need to know that all of you are praying. The Lord is going to continue to take care of things, as He always has.

Lord, thank You for getting me through these past three days. Thank You for everyone who is praying for me and my family. Thank You for all the great doctors and nurses I have met over the past few days, especially at PSL. What an awesome hospital! Lord, I love you. Amen.
Comments

Robust Hymn

Another one of those mornings in which I am very drowsy—I just don’t get it. No matter what I do the day before, including sit around for most of the day and go to bed very early—I seem to have these days.

Oh, well.

Yesterday went great. I was tired when I got to church but I seemed to revive enough to preach a sermon.

I rested most of the day when I returned home from church. Last night, I went to bed particularly early just to avoid a morning of drowsiness, but again, here it is.

I love this description of what Paul and Silas were doing in the middle of the night in the deepest and darkest part of the prison where the authorities threw them and locked them up.

“Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose” (Acts
16:25-26 MSG).

Not just any old song, but a robust hymn. Can’t you just hear it? The other prisoners did!

Lord, give me the grace to respond to you in the same way, even though I can barely keep my eyes open. I love you Lord and thank You for everyone who is praying for my family and me, right now. Amen.
Comments

Dog Days

I know we usually use that term to describe summer, but I would like to coin it to apply to long-term illness.

Last night, as I sat down with my mom and sis before all of us went to bed, I said, “I honestly don’t know how many more days like this I have in me.”

I could see the expressions on their faces as well—deep weariness and fatigue.

We prayed together, each of us expressing our desperation to God, and then we trudged on to bed.

Something weird is happening to me. I’m trying to find words to describe it. I used to struggle with days that I spent on this couch immobile.

Now, I think I have gone almost to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Part of the reason for it is just survival. I’ve learned it just isn’t worth it to expend energy in needless and pointless ways. I need all of it that I can muster to fight this disease.

However, now, I am seeing how easy it is just for me to give in to this sedentary lifestyle and NEVER get off this couch.

There is a line in there—I know. But I am coming dangerously close to crossing it.

For example, I really struggled with whether or not I should go to church today. I wrestled with the decision … I finally concluded that it was okay to go and I needed to do it. But it is becoming more and more difficult to overcome the inertia of sitting here day after day after day.

I’m glad I feel up to going today. I really miss it when I don’t go.

Dear reader, please continue to pray for us. I know that it seems repetitive to ask. More than ever, I have people inquire, “I know you need prayer, but is there anything else?” I can understand this expression. At times, prayer feels very minimal—I know I can pray BUT.

Please don’t look at it that way—not for us, but also not for yourself. Keep it up. Don’t stop. This is what makes it so difficult. Prayer is the blocking and tackling of the Christian life. It seems boring and mundane, but don’t do it, and Satan will whip you.

I want to back up a couple of days to a passage I read in the Professor’s plan. Notice this statement about prayer in Daniel: “’Don’t be afraid, Daniel,’ he said to me, ‘for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for 21 days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to help you understand what will happen to your people in the last days, for the vision refers to those days’” (Daniel
10:12-14 HCSB).

This passage shows me that there are reasons for perseverance in prayer. We should keep at it, not just because it is the obedient thing to do, but because the enemy opposing it at such a profound level that we must be on to something.

Is an answer really on the way? I believe, Lord, but help my unbelief. I guess if I didn’t believe it, there is no reason to get off this couch EVER.

I don’t know. I speak as if I do, but I don’t. This prolonged disease is draining all my expertise. I have none left.

Lord, I am thankful for today. Thank You for helping my family and me through these dog days in the middle of winter. Thank You for everyone who is praying and is concerned. I love them all. I mention them to you this morning. I just pray for the strength to get to church and to preach my sermon and to make it through another day. That’s it. Amen.
Comments

Setback

To be honest with all of you, I’m still reeling a bit from this swelling in my neck—quite discouraging. It FEELS as if I have undone a lot of progress—four month’s worth, to be specific, in a couple of days. I don’t think the doctor would say THAT. But that’s how I feel.

It is weird to say that my neck kept swelling yesterday even after I had restarted the pills!

However, I do believe that things have slowed down a bit this morning. I’m glad about that. I’m just trying to monitor what is going on with my neck without really spending a lot of time focusing on it. Does that make sense?

In the meantime, today, I feel fatigued. I am going to rest and try to get ready for tomorrow. I fully anticipate being ready to preach, but I am going to call Al, one of our laymen and a brother who told me to call him even at the last minute, and he would be ready. I have a pastor friend who told me the same thing. I appreciate both of these guys. This gives me a lot of comfort in times like these, in case I just don’t feel like going to church in the morning.

Here is the quote of the day: “After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch, putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy: ‘Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times’” (Acts
14:21-22 MSG).

I can relate to Paul’s message to the disciples. I like Peterson’s translation “putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples.” These two features of our anatomy are keys to stamina. We need both in our walk with the Lord and in ministry. Why? Well, that exhortation really hits home this morning.

Lord, these past couple of days rank up there as some of the most difficult yet. Sometimes, I feel as if I am drooping a bit. I need more spiritual muscle and sinew just to keep going. Thank You for everyone who is reading this blog and is praying. I love You, Lord. Amen.
Comments

My Neck Started to Swell Again

Yep, you read that right.

Let me back up.

I can’t remember a day in the last few years in which I was more discouraged than I was yesterday. I felt myself sinking like a rock thrown in a lake. Splash and down, down, down.

If you recall, I shared with all of you that Dr. Jotte’s clinician, late Monday afternoon, told me just to stop taking the cancer pills. I think it was a last ditch effort on their part to help me feel better and to see if it was the treatment that was making me sick.

The next day after I stopped, if anything, I felt sicker as my body adjusted to life without the pills. That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I felt very good for most of the day. It was kind of scary how good I felt. As the day wore on, my energy left me, but still …

Wednesday night, I didn’t sleep that well. As I was tossing and turning, my hand happened to brush across my neck, and I felt this bump. Huh? What? Eventually, I got up and came to this couch to finish out the night, not really thinking about the bump.

Yesterday morning was another one of those times when I had absolutely no energy. I just sat on this couch, dozing on and off until about 9:30. I got up and went into the bathroom. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I was shocked. What? Not only did I see the bump, but also I noticed rather significant swelling on my shoulder just below the neck.

What? Are you kidding me? It was one of those times when my mind was flooded with the fiery darts of the enemy. Somehow, in that one moment, my whole perspective of my cancer changed.

I had thought that my cancer had diminished, lessened somehow over the past four months of treatment. Now, I know that isn’t true.

Instead, the vision in my mind (this is no significant biblical vision or anything; just the revelation of reality to a deluded human) was one man fighting with all his energy to keep a door closed while there were twenty men on the other side trying to push through.

This cancer treatment has been keeping the door closed for four months, but take it away, for two days (two stinking days!) and the cancer returns with a vengeance. That is reality. That is the tenuous nature of my situation. Now, I know.

Immediately, I called Dr. Jotte and for the time ever, I actually got Judy, his clinician, on the phone. She could hear the panic in my voice. She said, “Well, John, this is the balance we try to achieve in cancer treatment. If we could just kill cancer cells, our work would be relatively easy, but that poison that kills the bad also affects the good. So, obviously, this treatment has been holding things at bay. I will check with Briana and Shantel (Briana is the nurse practitioner who helps Dr. Jotte and Shantel is the nurse in charge of clinical trials) to see what they recommend, and I will get back to you.”

At that moment, I knew what they were going to say, “Start taking the pills again.” AND, I knew I didn’t really have a choice because I never want to come anywhere near having my neck swell up like it did last summer. I’m never going THERE again if I can help it.

So, I did go back to taking a pill last night. Even typing those words is difficult.

HOWEVER, in all my discouragement yesterday, this thought came to mind: I’m thankful there is something I can take to prevent my neck from swelling up.

I think my neck is better today. I say, “I think” because the only way I can deal with this is NOT to feel my neck every ten seconds. I am not going to look at it or touch it AT ALL. I just trust the Lord that He is taking care of it and leave it at that. That’s all I can do. That’s the only way I can make it through this.

Please continue to pray for us. This whole thing was quite a blow to my mom and sister because they witness first hand how sick I have been on this round of chemo. They were hopeful, as I was, that something could be modified so that I could have more of a life, as it were. Now, …

I can’t think about it, can’t go there. I just have to trust God and keep going. Two passages in the reading this morning to cite at this point.

“"Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy
28:1-2 NASB). The whole concept of blessings that OVERTAKE those who obey—I want to get in on that, for sure.

Notice these very appropriate words from the Psalm that Marilyn shared with me the other day: “I hate all this silly religion, but you, GOD, I trust. I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love; you saw my pain, you disarmed my tormentors, You didn’t leave me in their clutches but gave me room to breathe. Be kind to me, GOD — I’m in deep, deep trouble again. I’ve cried my eyes out; I feel hollow inside. My life leaks away, groan by groan; my years fade out in sighs. My troubles have worn me out, turned my bones to powder. To my enemies I’m a monster; I’m ridiculed by the neighbors. My friends are horrified; they cross the street to avoid me. They want to blot me from memory, forget me like a corpse in a grave, discard me like a broken dish in the trash. The street-talk gossip has me “criminally insane”! Behind locked doors they plot how to ruin me for good…. Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon” (Psalm
31:6-13, 24 MSG).

By the way, back to my little “vision” I shared earlier. I want to be clear about this. The one man holding the door shut is the Lord! I’ll take those odds, no matter how many are pushing on the other side.

This cancer is NOT stronger than the Lord—never has been, never will be.

Lord, thank You for allowing me to be awake and alert for the reading, for prayer, and for writing this blog today. Thank You for being the right man on my side as Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” details. God, I am weary, so tired in this disease and of it. Thank You for everyone who is praying. We need You today more than ever. Amen.
Comments

"It Has Been So Long"

Yesterday, at Northglenn Heights Nursing Home, Maxine and Beverly were the only two in attendance as Jim and I ministered there.

Maxine, who faithfully attends every service, greeted me with a smile: “Pastor John, hello! How are you feeling these days? I want you to meet my new friend. Beverly, this is the pastor who comes to lead the service here.”

Beverly is a relatively new resident. She moved in about two weeks ago. She joked, “I’m still trying to learn the ropes around here. One of my biggest problems is trying to remember when the meals are served each day.”

Jim did his usual excellent job leading worship. He sings and then encourages us to join him in singing hymns out of the Baptist hymnal. We brought a box from the church. We just leave it there for the services.

No matter what song Jim chooses, it contributes to the gospel message he is preaching through the music. I really appreciate that. Plus, it is easy to join in and sing along with him. The ladies enjoyed that yesterday.

After several songs, I preached my sermon. I usually don’t take longer than 10 minutes or so. I now relish the opportunity at the nursing homes AND in Sunday morning worship at the church to be BRIEF. My sermon last Sunday morning lasted 18 minutes.

It certainly is easier to preach longer but I now enjoy the challenge of measuring each word, making sure it is right, with nothing superfluous.

Plus, the truth is that attention spans are shorter than ever. And, I would rather finish the message before people want me to be done. In my work, the quick glance at the watch on the part of the listener is deadly.

Well, anyway, after the sermon, we sang a couple more hymns and closed out the service. Beverly started to cry, “This was so good. I haven’t been in church for such a long time … “ Her voice tailed off.

Back to the service, right in the middle of it, another lady, using a walker, enter and took a seat at the back. When the song Jim was leading concluded, we stopped to greet her. We invited her to the front. As she was making her way forward she said, “What religious group are you with?”

“I am pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, just right down the street.”

“Oh,” she replied. “You know what, my legs are hurting. I just don’t think I can stay today.” She just kept right on going around the front and out the door!

Okay. Interesting. Please pray for her. Her name is Pat.

I was just glad I felt well enough to be able to join Jim in this vital ministry. These folks need encouragement. Our culture (for the most part; another generalization) just throws seniors away, dumping them in these places, where they rarely get a visitor, even from their own families. It breaks my heart.

To think that a one-hour service once or twice a month (Jim goes twice a month to this particular facility) would help even a little really makes me want to cry.

Lord, I lift up Maxine, Beverly, and Pat. I am glad you allow us an opportunity to minister. I know that seniors must go to nursing facilities when their family can no longer take care of them adequately. I understand this. But I pray that You would minister to these dear people and prod their families to visit them, at least every once in a while.

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your own hand. For we live before You as foreigners and temporary residents in Your presence as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Yahweh our God, all this wealth that we’ve provided for building You a house for Your holy name comes from Your hand; everything belongs to You” (1 Chronicles
29:14-16 HCSB).

Amen.
Comments

The Form of this World

I was rather shocked that I felt so bad yesterday until something that Marilyn said dawned on me. I continue to be very slow on the uptake. She reminded me that when I stopped the chemo pills, my body reacted to that change.

I didn’t feel particularly well yesterday morning, but I sat around a bit, hoping that some rest would make me feel a bit better before going up to the church. But even as I drove up there, I realized that I was not better.

I got to the office, visited with Betty a bit, made a couple of phone calls, did a few things, and realized I was done. So, I headed back home, fighting drowsiness all the way.

When I got to this couch, I crashed for the rest of the afternoon and after dinner, came back to my “spot” here. Before I knew it, I was sound asleep for two hours, waking at 7:00 only to go to bed a couple of hours later.

That was my day. In my waking moments, I kept trying to figure out what I need to do differently since I am not taking the pill. I started some things. Marilyn helped me do this. We will see how it goes.

I don’t know … this disease is forcing me to do something that I had never done before—actually think about my health in detail every single day.

Prior to my cancer diagnosis over five years ago, I lived “by the seat of my pants,” as the expression goes—pushing myself to the limit and simply eating at whatever fast food restaurant I happened to be driving by at dinner time. I was a little more intentional about exercise, but now, I have to force myself to do it. Spiritual and emotional “self-care” are additional challenges.

Someone needs to teach this pastor how to pastor himself! I’m learning, but it is a slow process. Old habits and lifestyle are hard to break. Anyway, thanks for your prayers.

One more update: my Primary Care doc told me yesterday that the MRI revealed that my shoulder problems have nothing to do with cancer, and he is going to send me to an orthopedic doctor who can analyze the severity of the injury I have sustained and recommend the necessary steps.

I visited with him about the fact that I don’t feel well two days out of three. He shook his head, “John, I think that is just the result of chemo. The symptoms you have described seem fairly typical for cancer patients across the board.” Okay. That may be true, but I am still going to work on feeling better. I will let you know what happens in that regard.

The bottom line: I’m not sure how I feel quite yet. I hope it is better than yesterday, but I will see as the early morning progresses.

Anyway, on to the passages for today—an interesting mix, to be sure. This is one of the reasons I like Professor Horner’s plan. It pairs passages that I have never read together in my life.

Here is an example: Song of Solomon 1 and 1 Corinthians 7. I don’t have time to go into all of the theories about the Song of Solomon, but this book in the Bible has been a “victim” (if I can say it like that) of various misinterpretations over the years. I remember from my dissertation days, for example, that Charles Spurgeon said, “If the Song of Solomon is not about Jesus, then the book is pointless” (my paraphrase).

Well, I don’t agree. I believe that it is about the joys of physical love between a man and his wife in the bonds of marriage. How awesome is that?

1 Corinthians 7, on the other hand, lauds the single life. Even in that chapter, however, Paul doesn’t bash marriage. He just uses the contrast in lifestyle (both legitimate in the eyes of God) to challenge his readers: “But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians
7:29-31 NASB).

“The form of this world is passing away.” Wow. What a statement! No matter what is going on in my life, whether I am married or single, sick or well, I need not get too embroiled in anything here on this planet because the schema (the Greek word), the appearance, the way of life of this world is passing away. Nothing is permanent here. I don’t have the time or luxury to get too focused on it.

Lord, today, I thank You for my singleness and for cancer. Both are a gift from you, just as marriage and health are for others. No matter what the situation, give us the grace not to give undue focus on this temporary world. I pray that today, no matter how I feel, I can invest in eternity somehow. Show me how to do this. Amen.
Comments

Stop!

Whoa, I can’t get over it, but I don’t want to get too carried away because it is only for a week.

Yesterday afternoon, I was determined to find out the results of the blood test and CT scan from last night. Still no news on the latter—I guess I will have to wait until I see Dr. Jotte a week from today prior to my next infusion.

But I did find out about the blood test. It seems that they tested my cortisol and prolactin levels. These two marks indicate what is going on with the thyroid and the adrenal system. And, according to Beth, Dr. Jotte’s clinician, the tests showed that they were normal.

When she gave me that news, I replied, “So, what is next because it is not in dispute that I am just not feeling well a majority of the time.”

She answered, “I will check with the doctor and get back to you.”

She did call me later in the afternoon to let me know that Dr. Jotte told me to stop taking my cancer pills completely for a week and to let them know next Tuesday who I felt.

As the command to “stop” came out of her mind, I said, “So, just to make sure I understand. The doctor wants me to stop taking these pills COMPLETELY for a week?”

“Yes,” she answered.

Well, okey dokey, as the expression goes.

So, where does this leave me? Well, it is hard to say. What happens if I feel A LOT better after a week? Do they stop this clinical trial and start a new round of chemo or what? Plus, I’m not sure what kind of benchmark this week will be since it is typically the best of the three anyway.

But I am going to do it and monitor things. This morning, for example, I am very fatigued and once again, it is difficult to keep my eyes open. Thus, I would have to say that nothing much has changed. Please pray for wisdom and direction for us through this process.

This morning, in Professor Horner’s plan, I came to chapter nine in the book of Daniel. As most of you know, I am sure, the book of Daniel is divided into two basic parts. The first section of the book deals with narratives from the life of David and his three buddies. I love reading this part of Daniel.

The second is much more cryptic, dealing with issues related to end times. I find myself not enjoying this part of the book as much simply because I don’t understand much of what is going on.

However, today, I came across these words: I approached one of those who were standing by and asked him the true meaning of all this. So he let me know the interpretation of these things: ‘These huge beasts, four in number, are four kings who will rise from the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever, yes, forever and ever” (Daniel
7:16-18 HCSB).

The vision of the four beasts is controversial, to say the least, but right in the midst of it, there is an affirmation about the kingdom. “The holy ones”—this must include believers, both Jew and Gentile—will possess it forever and ever.

So, no matter what happens, this fact is secure. World events, however they play out, are always volatile. Who knows what is going to happen in 2016? But we are children of the king and will NEVER lose the kingdom. Our King simply won’t allow it.

Lord, as I continue to wrestle with all this cancer stuff, I thank You that there are some things that are not going to change. You are King. You allow us to reign in life along with You through Jesus Christ, and someday, we will rule with You forever. Amen.
Comments

The Culprit Gets Justice

As I got out of my car in the garage and headed inside yesterday after getting home from church, Marilyn was standing near the front door. She had a weird expression on her face, as if she had just smelled a rat. Turns out that it was much larger!

“John, look!” She pointed across the street. At the bottom of Frank’s driveway at first glance looked as if someone had lost a sizable roll of carpet. As I continued to look, I realized, “This is no carpet. It is an animal—a dead animal.” The striped tail gave it away: A DEAD RACCOON.

Okay, except for one brief time (I’ll tell you about it in a moment), I have never seen a raccoon.

So, I had my preconceptions. I thought they were rather smallish animals, but the carcass across the street was anything but a small critter. Raccoons are sizable animals, at least our dead friend is.

Not long after I got home, Marilyn went to take pictures of the animal with her cell phone camera. As she was snapping pictures, a neighbor in a white Volvo stopped on the street in front of her. Later on, Marilyn told me that he urged her to call 311—animal control for the city and county of Denver.

Marilyn did reach someone who told her that he would send someone to pick up the carcass within the next 24 hours. He was still lying there at the end of the day.

Hopefully, they will come early this morning because, if Frank has to back out of his driveway, it will be quite a chore to miss this animal.

Anyway, as my mom, sis, and I talked about this raccoon, we have surmised that it might be one and the same creature that bit Joe (our family dog) last year. Do you remember that story?

I won’t go into it again, but it occurred in our backyard. Joe received a rather serious bite. Even since then, we have tried to figure out what kind of an animal did it—we concluded that it might have been a raccoon. Marilyn has actually seen them in and around our yard. Our neighbors have as well.

So, maybe our dead “friend” across and on the street is the culprit! And justice has prevailed?!? I can only hope. Ha.

I do know that the Lord is in control of the animal world and the human species and certainly justice. If there were ever a story in the Word that confirms this, it is the narrative of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Thrown in there because he worshiped God against the king’s orders, Daniel was apparently doomed.

I tell you what: I hope I don’t ever have to spend any time rummaging around in the sewer below our street (this same neighbor that stopped to tell Marilyn to call 311 told her that he believed that the raccoons live there. Again, who knows?). I would hate to meet a raccoon as I did years ago one night when I went to empty trash in the community garbage can in the townhouse community I used to live in. I opened the gates to the garbage area and noticed two big eyes starring back at me. It wasn’t a cat. It looked like a raccoon. Yikes! No messing with this critter—there or anywhere!

Anyway, Daniel was in danger, but when the king came back the next day, he discovered that Daniel’s God had rescued him IN the Lion’s Den. Here is Daniel’s testimony and the act of justice that followed:

“’My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.’ Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children and their wives into the lions' den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones” (Daniel
6:22-24 NASB).

God’s man saved; God’s enemies brought to justice. That’s the way it goes—ALWAYS.

Lord, thank You for enabling me to go to church, to preach, and to have a fairly good day yesterday. Thank You for the reminder of your protection and care when I got home. Protect us all from the “raccoons” prowling around wanting to take a bite out of sides in an unguarded moment. “Keep us through temptation and from evil.” Amen.
Comments

Scum

Well, yesterday morning, after struggling to read the Word, to pray, and to write this blog, I just seemed to go downhill. Literally, all I could do was sit here on this couch. We finally figured out that my blood pressure must have gone WAY DOWN, just as it did the day I visited the doctor earlier this week.

We have theories as to why this occurred, but we will just reserve our opinions until we hear from Dr. Jotte to get the results of the blood tests and the CT scan.

But again, this is the frustration: I wish someone could diagnose why I have these days and what is really going on with me.

I was pretty incapacitated for most of the day. For some unknown reason (again), after dinner, I started to feel better. And I was glad because I contemplated calling someone to fill in for me today because I just didn’t feel well.

But thankfully (hopefully), I am doing a little better this morning. So, I am planning on heading up to church and preaching today. And I am glad to be able to do so.

I have come to the place where I count on your prayers for me. I need them more than ever today.

Well, I am always interested, when I read either one of the Corinthian letters to see how Paul deals with opposition to his ministry from the so-called Super Apostles who infiltrated the church (or at least whose ministry philosophy had). You don’t have to probe very deep to see the essence of it.

If Paul is an apostle (and a genuine one at that), then this group comported themselves as higher up the ladder—SUPER Apostles. Comparing. Evaluating. Basing their evaluations on the miraculous and the spectacular.

I don’t know what it is, but Christian ministry seems to invite these types of comparisons all the time. Today, one’s validity seems to be based on the three B’s—buildings, budgets, and bodies. These are now the marks of Super Pastors. If you have MORE in those categories than the guy down the street, you are better than he is and given more recognition and acclaim.

People that get burned out as a result of serving in a smaller church with a Less-than-Super Pastor, gravitate to the Super Church with a Super Pastor.

I guess I understand it to some degree … but in other ways, it grieves me deeply. It is such a skewed view of ministry.

I wish the contemporary American church could spend more time studying and explaining and applying the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians in which Paul addresses the sectarianism in the church—all these groups gathered around personalities. There is even a SUPER spiritual group in THOSE ranks—those who puff up their chest and say they follow Jesus.

But when they do it THAT way, they miss the boat entirely. This is not the type of discipleship Jesus ever taught.

So, here is how Paul addresses this problem. I’m going to quote some verses at the end of chapter four. “And we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Corinthians
4:12-13 NASB).

As I read that, I am deeply convicted and I think about a dear brother.

This morning, John is going to share a word of testimony with us. Years ago, he was a member of First Southern until the Lord called him to go overseas to work. I am not going to give details, except to say that John serves in a very difficult place, doing hard work that very few people know about. He will probably never receive an invitation to stand up and speak as a missions EXPERT (a synonym for SUPER APOSTLE or pastor), but I will tell you: I am not worthy to tie John’s shoes. He knows more about sacrifice and service than I will ever know. He is a wonderful servant of the Lord.

Lord, again, we are reminded that your standards for greatness differ radically from those of the world, standards that have infiltrated the church all too often. Forgive us for getting our focus on man and not on YOU. I thank You for John. I love him and lift him up to you today. I pray that I could join his ranks as fellow “scum,” right along with Paul. May we decrease; may You increase. Amen.
Comments

Sleep and Fatigue and Naps and Drowsiness--All of It

For those of you who read this blog on a regular basis (thanks for doing that, by the way), you will recognize what is going on when I say that it is another one of “those” mornings. As I have been reading the Word, I have been drifting in and out of sleep. What a battle!

And yet, this time, I tried not to battle it. I just gave in and slept for a bit only to awaken to continue to read. Finally, I finished the ten chapters.

This is rather strange. I would not have expected this today because of what happened yesterday.

After lunch, I sat down on this couch and slept for at least an hour. After dinner, I found myself doing the same thing, but the early evening lap lasted an hour and a half. A couple of hours after that, I went to bed and slept fairly well.

So, all of that to say, there is no rhyme or reason to this. That is what I have learned. Thus, again, instead of fighting it, I just go with it.

We will see what happens today. My main concern is to continue to rest so that I will be ready for tomorrow. On the previous chemo cycle, I got sick my first Sunday back after the infusion. It was miserable, a very difficult day. I hope this is not repeated tomorrow.

Would you please pray for me in that regard? Thanks. While you are at it, pray for Marilyn. She indicated yesterday that she thought she might be getting the virus my mom has had. Oh, man! I hope not. Please lift her up to the Lord.

Through all the “fog” and drowsiness this morning, here is the verse that stood out to me: “The very steps we take come from GOD; otherwise how would we know where we’re going?” (Proverbs
20:24 MSG).

This statement gives me a huge measure of comfort. EVEN on days like yesterday and today, when all I can do is sleep, even THOSE steps are ordained and ordered from the Lord. He is in charge of every twist and turn in the path AND how we travel each day.

This verse reminds me of a statement Paul makes in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (NASB).

Lord, as a man in our church named Brent used to remind me over and over, I do choose to thank You today even for drowsiness and naps during the day. Even those are included in The Plan. I love You Lord. Amen.
Comments

Ready, Willing, and Able to HELP

Upfront, I need to tell all of you that yesterday I received some significant help from an unexpected source.

It was NOT in the medical area. I was expecting Dr. Jotte to call me with the results of the blood tests and the CT scan but no such call came. So, I have to wait until early next week.

It was NOT in the health area, although I seemed to feel a little bit better yesterday morning. I declined a bit as the day wore on.

Nope. It was help from God in another area. I really don’t want to go into detail at this point. I will just leave it there.

God’s help confirms the promises the Lord makes in his Word, promises that Marilyn shared with me the other day. Remember these words? “That clinches it—help’s coming, an answer’s on the way, everything’s going to work out” (Psalm 20:6, MSG).

When I shared that verse, I told all of you that I didn’t remember the other passage Marilyn quoted to me. Now, I do. It is Psalm 31:23-24, again in the Message Version: “Love God, all you saints; God takes care of all who stay close to him, but he pays back in full those arrogant enough to go it alone. Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.”

How about that as a promise and a command? Expect God to answer soon.

Last night, as we were eating, Marilyn said, “I have another verse that I came across.” (She is going to hate me telling this because she never wants to come across as “super-spiritual.” Too bad. I’m afraid that I believe that she is—in the right way).

How about this verse from Hebrews? I’m going to back up and cite the two verses that precede it as well: “Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what
he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help” (Hebrews 4:14-16, MSG).

Oh, man. It is difficult not to be very emotional as I once again hear those words. The Lord WANTS to help us; we must be ready to ACCEPT HIS HELP.

One more quote, from a Psalm I read this morning in Professor Horner’s plan: “GOD is at their side; with GOD ’s help they make it. This, Jacob, is what happens to God-seekers, God-questers” (Psalm
24:5-6 MSG).

Notice the theme here? I have a thick skull and dull understanding. It takes repetition for the Lord to get through. Here’s the takeaway for me on this, the first day of 2016:

Help is available always and it is on the way.

I must be ready to accept it.

The only way I make it is with God’s help.

Let me add one more thing: God answers prayer as God’s people pray for help.

All of you are a part of this. Thanks AGAIN. I’m deeply grateful.

Lord, I confess the sin of unbelief. Oftentimes, when I call to You, crying out for help, the truth is that I really don’t believe that You will help. I am wrong. Thank You so much for the help You provided yesterday. I’m grateful to You and to those who are reading this blog and faithfully praying for me. Turns things around for everyone who is praying for me. Many of their faces and needs pop into my mind right now. Boomerang! Help them, oh God, who is ready, willing, and able to HELP. Amen.
Comments