A Stroll At Leisure With God

A Farewell Sermon

One of the chapters in the list on the Professor Horner reading plan for today is one of the most poignant in the whole Bible. It gets me every time I read it.

It is actually very unusual in a book of speeches—the book of Acts—in that it is the only sermon directed to believers, and it has a lot of features of the epistles that Paul wrote.

Paul stopped in Miletus where he was able to have a rather impromptu meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus. Arguably, Paul spent more time and more blood, sweat, and tears with this congregation than with any other. No doubt, they had a special relationship, and one does not need to read this sermon to see it.

But here they are, pastor and congregation, meeting for the last time. Paul is heading off to Jerusalem, and he doesn’t know exactly what is ahead, but he does KNOW. It is not going to be pretty.

But then, it never has been, even when he was with them: “And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house” (Acts
20:18-20 NASB).

How about that? This is just the beginning of his sermon, but it says a lot. He served with all “humility and with tears and with trials.” I can’t get that threesome out of my mind. What do these three words say about a ministry? A LOT.

First, Paul showed us that ministry is not about the minister. He worked his hands to the bone so as not to be a burden to any church AND to point people to Jesus, not to himself.

Second, genuine ministry involves tears, if you care at all. We are talking about a huge emotional investment in relationships if you serve God’s people—lifetime friendships, men and women with whom you have been through the wars. This forges deep ties.

Third, and this is the clincher—trials. When I think about what fellow pastors I know are going through, mine pale in insignificance—health issues worse than me; lack of money; heartbreak from children; broken marriages (in the ministry); et cetera. It is no bed of roses.

As he was saying goodbye to his dear friends, THIS is what he mentioned, not the three b’s. “Hey guys, remember in the course of my ministry with you, we added two hundred folks per Sunday in average attendance; our budget is now over 2 million a year; and we built that educational building.

NOPE, none of that. As Gregory’s sermon and Paul’s words in another place (2 Corinthians 4) remind us—all of that is seen. What is seen is temporary. What is not seen is eternal.

Back to the three b’s. Please understand: I am not knocking any of that, but this is not what Paul points to as he says goodbye and sails off.

Lord, it won’t be too many more years until it is time for me to sail off into eternity. As long as you give me breath, let me honor You in humility, tears, and trials. Amen.

"The Inside of the Outside"

Late yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak with a fellow pastor friend. His name is Mark. He serves a congregation in Wyoming. We struck up a friendship a few years ago as he served a Southern Baptist church here in the area. It is always good to speak with Mark.

In the course of the conversation, he said, “Hey, there is a sermon I would like you to hear. You may recognize the preacher. His name is Joel Gregory. The title of the sermon is “The Inside of the Outside.” It is on YouTube and you can find if you search Google.

So, I did. I was curious. I had not seen hide or hair of my former pastor in over twenty years. Mark said that since he became preaching professor at Truett Seminary in Waco, he preaches mainly to African American congregations as he travels around the country these days.

Anyway, the sermon on YouTube did not appear to be in a black church, but I don’t know the exact setting.

When he stood up to preach, Joel looked like his old self, except for a few more grey hairs and a few more pounds (all of us can say that). The voice (oh, that voice) is still the same. His style has softened a bit. He is a little more conversational in tone (here I am evaluating my former pastor and a preaching prof?!? Oh, well).

Just seeing him took me back to those days at Travis Avenue Baptist Church. I still remember the night that Joe Lenamon, one of the leaders of the church, stood up to proclaim, “We got him!” And the congregation erupted into cheers. With all due respect, back then, Joel Gregory was a rock star. It was quite a coup for Travis Avenue to get him out of Southwestern Seminary where he was a professor for a couple of years after leaving Gambrell Street.

I’m not trying to name drop or anything, but Joel and I actually became friends. We played golf together on a couple of occasions and he invited me to preach on a Wednesday night. I still have that sermon on video. I was so nervous. The sermon ended ten minutes early. I don’t think anyone knew what to do. Elwin Oller (our Single’s pastor) raced up to the pulpit to make some announcements just for filler, I guess.

Joel left Travis to go to First Baptist Dallas shortly after I started at First Southern in 1989. Even though, Joe, Andy, Rick, and I met with him when he came to Denver for a preaching conference in the early 90’s, we sort of lost track of each after that.

Back to the message—Mark was right. It was a huge encouragement. He preached from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “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” (NASB).

So much in those verses to unpack, but mainly, it was encouraging to receive the challenge not to focus on my cancer and the things I can see, but to rivet my attention on Jesus and the things I cannot.

Lord, thank You for speaking through Joel, my former pastor. I thank You for Mark and his timely bit of advice. Thanks, brother. “Momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory.” I believe it. Amen.

Soft and Hard

Well, the steroids are helping me, I’m shocked to say. I don’t think the swelling in my neck has decreased as much as it has softened a bit. Without getting too graphic, my lymph nodes were increasing to the point where they were pushing against my esophagus and chin and ear and lower neck. Each and every one of those parts was hurting. Now, the pressure has been relieved, even to the point where I can lay down on a bed and sleep. Praise God!

My disposition has improved as a result. I know my mom and sis are grateful for that.

Again, I cannot begin to thank you enough for your prayers. Each day, someone in some way let’s me know that he and she and/or a church is praying for me. For example, I talked to my friend Rob who is recovering from a heart attack, but his physical challenges haven’t changed his heart and love for people one bit. He called, as he usually does every Sunday, to let me know he is thinking of me and to tell me that his church is praying for me. Thanks, brother!

I am learning first hand what David is talking about in Psalm 18, even though our circumstances are radically different. David spent multiple years as a fugitive, running from the lunatic king Saul. His “habitat” if I can use that word because the rocks and crevasses and barren hill country of the Judean wilderness—not exactly a garden spot.

Everyone knew he was going to be the next king of Israel. His military exploits were well renown in the nation, and yet, humble servant as he was, David resisted taking matters in his own hands. He even had opportunities to kill Saul, but he didn’t do it as he waited on God.

All these years proved to be a training ground for the incumbent king. God had him in the wilderness to teach him to wait and to trust.

So, instead of hating his life, David embraced it. Notice these words:

“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalms
18:2 NASB).

“They confronted me in the day of my calamity, But the LORD was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me” (Psalms 18:18-19 NASB).

“For by You I can run upon a troop; And by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalms 18:29 NASB).

I love these graphic metaphors of the Lord’s love and deliverance and care and victory in the barrenness of the desert. Instead of hating his environment, David came to love it and link it with how the Lord was working in his life.

I’m sure it is very evident to all of you who read this blog that over the past few days, I have really been struggling with my habitat—sickness, weakness, infirmity, doctors, hospitals, injuries, chemo, etc. I have been fighting it, resenting it in my mind and heart.

This type of response takes a lot of emotional energy. It wears one down, but unfortunately does not help a whole lot.

This morning, I am standing with David in my own wilderness …

And I ask you, Father, help me to see You in the midst of the white coats and syringes and nurses and doctors and medicine and feeling bad. You are there because You are everywhere. But help me see You even THERE. Amen.

Kicking the Can Down the Road

First of all, I want to thank all of you for your prayers and concern. I deeply appreciate it.

As I tell you what happened yesterday, please understand that I am emerging out of discouragement over what happened. Ask my mom and sis how they view things and you might get a more optimistic report.

Also, please don’t take this that I don’t value and appreciate Dr. Jotte. He is on top of things and is trying to be sensitive to where I am in this process. He knows that I want to take a few days of vacation next week. He is tailoring things around that.

As the doctor examined my neck, he said, “Well, I am not seeing anything that is not normal with this disease. Possibly, your type of cancer is a little more aggressive. I am recommending that you take a steroid for the next five days. That should relieve the swelling. If you feel better at the end of the week, go on your vacation. If not, then we can move things forward earlier.”

One thing that I was disappointed about it that he had no suggestions for “what moving things forward” will look like. One of the reasons is that he did not expect that I was in pain with my swollen neck. That fact changes things a bit.

So, I asked two questions. “Doc, about the appendix. Does this mean that my cancer is growing and should we be alarmed about this?”

“No,” he replied, “The truth is that I suspected that scenario because you did not have any pain down there. No. I’m sure if we looked in other lymph nodes in other parts of your body, we might find some activity there. That is just the nature of this disease, but don’t worry, when we do treatment, it catches those cells as well.”

Question #2: “So, doc, I am a bit discouraged by the prospects of this disease. Is this going to be my life from now—chemo every six months? It seems that these treatments are having an adverse affect on me. Is this it?”

“No, John, we will keep trying new treatments. The hope is that we will find one that will put you in remission for a longer period of time. But even folks who have been in remission for years with this disease, I’m fairly confident that it will come back at some point. Everyone is different. New drugs are coming out all the time. We will check on that for you. In the meantime, we just keep trying to push chemo off as long as possible.”

Even as write those words, I battle discouragement a bit. This visit just seemed as if we are “kicking the can down the road a little further.” I think he is honestly trying to find something that will delay the inevitable here—more chemo.

Plus, I want it said right here and right now—my hope is in the Lord, not in this or any doctor.

However, having left that doctor’s office yesterday, I started plummeting downward. I have battled discouragement more in these last few days than I can ever remember. It is a constant battle.

I do thank the Lord that I slept better last night. That makes A LOT of difference. So, we will see how things progress over the next few days, as I continue to turn it over to Dr. Jesus.

In Professor Horner’s plan for today, I came across two verses. First, this comment that Jesus makes in Matthew 17: [But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]” (Matthew
17:21 NASB). Remember the context? Jesus’ disciples ask why they could not drive the demoniac out. This whole incident occurred as He and they came down from the Mount of Transfiguration.

Jesus rebuked them for their “little faith,” apparently not even the size of a mustard seed. For if they had even that amount of faith, they could move mountains. Then, Jesus makes the statement in verse 21. I notice that it is in brackets in the NASB. Humm. It may be questionable textually. I’ll have to investigate.

The reason it intrigues me is that I have two pastor friends who are strong advocates of fasting as a means of enhancing urgent prayer. I confess at this juncture that I have led the church to fast on occasion, but we have only done it a couple of times in the last twenty-five years. I need to think on this a bit.

The other verse comes from Proverbs: “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests hearts” (Proverbs
17:3 NASB).

Lord, whatever the test is, I know I failed yesterday. Thank You for the prayers of Your people on our behalf. As I have said before, Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. I lift up my mom today as she goes in for a root canal dental procedure—just one thing after another. Keep us focused on you, Big Doc. Amen.

Seven Large Baskets

I have to admit that late yesterday afternoon I cratered. I found myself sinking down in depression. My mom was sitting next to me on our back porch, and she prayed for me, right then and there.

I got up from my spot and made some phone calls for work. Somehow, it just helped to talk to folks and get my mind off cancer.

Last night, I didn’t even try to sleep in the bed. I just started in the chair and stayed there, but I also used one of the sleeping pills the cancer center gave me to use during chemo. I can say that I had one of the best night’s rest in several days. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to the Lord for allowing this.

As much as I dread hearing the word “chemo” today, I’m glad finally to be seeing the doctor as my neck continues to swell. One of the things that caused discouragement is that it seems now to have affected the other side of my neck as well. I could be wrong … but now my entire neck seems swollen. Oh, well, … we will see.

The one thing I do know is that a pre-occupation with one’s own need becomes a blinder as such. I love that story in Matthew 16 where Jesus is with his disciples in a boat. Once again, He is trying to teach them something, but they just can’t hear and the Son of God rebukes them: “Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew
16:9-11 NASB).

This is almost laughable that the very area in which the Lord had provided so much would be the very area where the disciples would struggle with their unbelief. Jesus keeps asking questions about leftovers. In the second instance, after the feeding of the four thousand, they picked up SEVEN large baskets full of bread! These baskets were so big that a man could fit in them!

How on earth could you forget seven man-size baskets full of bread and ever worry about bread again? But they did. I can see this discrepancy very easily when it comes to those dullard disciples.

But what about us? What about me?

How on earth could I ever possibly take one second to worry or get depressed ONE SECOND when it comes to cancer? I have five years of experience to look back on and affirm that, not once, in all the five years I have had cancer, has the Lord ever forsaken me or given me a raw deal. It hasn’t been easy. But He has been there. And still is. Today. Right now. Now. This second.

Lord, again I say today, as I get ready for another visit and big decision regarding cancer treatment, I believe. Help my unbelief. SEVEN LARGE BASKETS tells me You will come through again, o my soul. Soul, get your focus back on Jesus. O me of little faith! Amen.

So Shall Your Descendants Be

This pain in my neck is now at the point where it is almost intolerable. It is weird. It bothers me some during the day but nothing compared to night.

Last night, as my family and I prayed before bedtime, Marilyn petitioned the Lord, “Lord, I pray that John would be able to sleep the whole night in his bed.”

Unfortunately, the Lord said, “No.”

I went to bed about 9:30. I woke up at 10:55. I knew it was “chair time” at that point for the rest of the night. The pain and discomfort made it almost impossible for me, even in the sitting position, to get comfortable enough to go back to sleep. These restless nights of sitting are starting to take a toll.

Please pray that I will be coherent enough to preach a sermon today.

I’m glad that I will be seeing the doctor in the morning …

In the meantime, the Lord continues to give me encouragement to trust Him. And these encouragements have come from very prominent parts of the Bible, parts of God’s Word I would not have come to had I not been on Professor Horner’s plan.

Must be a coincidence, huh? Ha!

I love the story of Abraham as he and Sarah wait and wait and wait for the promised child. Each day of waiting made it less likely that they would EVER have this baby from a biological and scientific point of view. How many 90 year-olds do you know that are having babies?

One night, the Lord spoke to the old man. “And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis
15:5-6 NASB).

An amazing response from Abe—in the face of mounting odds from a human standpoint, he believed God. Not just for one child—this is amazing enough for all the reasons I have alluded to above. Not just one, but countless multitudes.

As I sit here in Denver, Colorado on a Sunday morning in July 2015, I am one of Abe’s kids—a descendant of a man who believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. And, as the song says, “Were it not for grace, I can tell you where I’d be, wandering down so pointless road to nowhere, with my salvation up to me.”

This passage and story gives me great comfort, just the way the scriptures are designed to work. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans
15:4 NASB).

I do, Lord. I do have hope. I do trust You. And I will never stop. Keep me awake and alert today. Thank You for the three who are following You in baptism today. More about them tomorrow. Amen.

Water Walkers of the World, Unite!

Here is what I am learning about trusting God: what you did yesterday is significant and we can always learn from history, but each new day is a challenge. Each new hour. Each new moment.

Late yesterday, Mandy from Dr. Jotte’s office called. She said, “John, we have not received the report from Dr. Haun. We tried to call them, but their office is closed today. Do you have it?”

“Yes, I do, Mandy.”

“Well, why don’t you just bring it with you to your appointment on Monday.”

Will do.

I know they are concerned about it, just like I am.

Okay, so I was doing fairly well yesterday until THAT phone call, and then all this cancer stuff came flooding back into my mind. And it wasn’t worry per se, but just thinking about it for the rest of the day.

This is the agony of this disease. It seems that the second you start to live without thinking about it, it is like our cat Maxwell when he is lying in your lap. He twists and turns a bit, looking up to say, “Hey, pay attention to me. I’m still here. Hey!”

This is why I say that trusting God is a continual discipline of the mind, over and over and over, throughout the day.

Two passages I read today in Professor Horner’s plan remind me of this.

First, I love that story in Matthew 14. The disciples, struggling in the boat with one of those severe storms that every fisherman on the Sea of Galilee feared, saw Jesus actually walking on the water toward them. Peter, whom we knock because he continued to stick his foot in his mouth, THIS TIME, placed his foot in a good place—on the sea with Jesus. He was doing so well …

“But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew
14:30-31 NASB). I have always been a bit curious as to why Jesus rebuked Peter so sharply at this point. After all, the Big Fisherman was the only one who actually got out of the boat. The others didn’t even do THAT.

But see again, the faith I exercise even thirty seconds ago is no guarantee that I will keep at it. Peter didn’t. He took his eyes off the object of faith and his moment of glory ended.

Second, there are these words at the end of Romans 14, “And whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23, NASB).

Notice above when I talked about my reaction to that phone call yesterday, I tried to soften it a bit by saying I wasn’t worrying. Well, … yeah I was. Whatever I was doing, I took my eyes off the Water Walker and nothing good happens when we do that. It is called sin.

Lord, I need your grace today more than ever to help me continue to keep my eyes on You, no matter what. I pray that same thing for everyone reading this blog this morning. Water Walkers of the world, unite! Amen.

A Large Faith

One of the burning questions I had for the surgeon yesterday was, “Dr. Haun, is this appendix trouble connected to my lymphoma?”

He did not hesitate, “Absolutely.” The abruptness of his answer kind of shocked me.

So, I probed a little further, “So, my appendix was enlarged because the cancer had spread to it?”

“No,” he replied, “the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes around it.” He then stood up to point to a picture of the human bowel system on his wall. “Here is the appendix and all this area surrounding it is lymph nodes.”

Oh, okay.

To be honest, this news is a little disturbing. But it provided the final impetus I needed to call my oncologist. Monica, clinician for Dr. Jotte, indicated that the doctor was not in the office yesterday, but her responses had both compassion and urgency.

“Well, I’m sure the surgeon will send us a copy of the report, but given the fact that your neck is bothering you, it is probably best that you come in sooner than later.” They moved my appointment up to first thing Monday morning. I will meet with the doctor and he will advise me concerning treatment options at that point.

All of this explains something that I had been wondering about. How would the PET scan have shown that there was a problem with my appendix UNLESS the cancer had spread to that area? Now, I know why—because it had!

It is funny to say this, I guess, but I have a peace about all of this. And I don’t know why. My mom and sis are understandably very concerned, but we are all rather relieved that we will be getting in to see the doctor to see what he says. At this point, I really don’t know how to process all of this, so I am just going to turn it over to Big Doctor.

In the meantime, the story that stood out to me today in Professor Horner’s reading plan is Genesis 13. As Lot’s herdsmen and those of Abraham began to quarrel, the old patriarch stepped in to resolve the issue. With a sweep of the hand, he told his nephew, “Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left” (Genesis
13:9 NASB).

The more I read this story, the more amazed that I am. This was rather a big decision, don’t you think? The choice of the Promised Land. If that had been me, I would not have dared to leave that decision up to my capricious nephew who didn’t seem to have much of a moral compass.

But in the largeness of his trust in God, Abraham was different. He believed that all human decisions are ultimately under the control of His God. And so, it was no big deal. You go right; I’ll go left. You go left; I’ll go right.

I can’t speak for others. I will just confine this comment to myself. I make too much of my decisions, stressing and fretting about them. And let me pause here to say: we need to pray about things and seek God’s direction. However, ultimately, everything we decide and everything we do, INCLUDING DECISIONS BY WICKED PEOPLE, are in the hands of God.

Of course, Lot chose “the best land,” and left his uncle with a desert. But the other part of it was the fact that Sodom and Gomorrah were located in Lot’s chosen area. And ultimately, as you read the narrative, Lot pitched his tent “toward” those wicked cities and eventually ended up living there. That one decision led him down the wrong path.

Abraham’s trust in God led him down another …

Lord, give my family and me a large faith. For every different trial and every different challenge, enlarge our capacity for trusting you. Amen.

Save Yourself and Your Hearers

Thanks for your prayers for me yesterday. Once again, I could literally feel them, especially on my neck.

Let me put it this way: thanks for praying for this pain in the neck (me) with a pain in the neck. Ha. Takes one to know one.

I slept better last night. This always helps one’s disposition, and I am going to call the cancer doc today and let him know what is going on.

The Seniors at Crossroads helped me yesterday, as we challenged each other to turn things over to the Lord and LEAVE THEM THERE.

Plus, I had a great visit yesterday afternoon with a young man the Lord has led to our church. I loved hearing his fascinating testimony and spiritual pilgrimage that led him to seek us out and to say, “The minute I walked in the door, I knew that this is where the Lord wanted me to be.”

I’m trying to keep track, but yesterday produced another couple of significant encouragements. My heart is full of gratitude to the Lord.

In Professor Horner’s Bible reading plan for today, these three verses in chapter four of 1 Timothy stood out. I’m going to cite them now.

“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (1 Timothy
4:6 NASB).

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12 NASB).

“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16 NASB).

Several takeaways from these verses …

First, I love that phrase in verse six, “nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which YOU have been following” (emphasis mine). It is one thing to teach and preach the Bible in a very detached way. It is another to feed off the Word myself.

In all my readings and studying recently, I feel that I still have been rather malnourished. I come back to Zach Johnson’s example from the Open Championship. In the heat of competition and/or the battle, one must be careful to feed on the Word.

This is even more important when one is going through a difficult time, but what does the devil say, “Oh, you are so busy. You don’t have time for meditation or memorization.” And we play right into his hands. Soul nourishment is CRUCIAL, just as crucial as physical nourishment, maybe even more so.

Second, no matter what I am going through, I am called to be an example. In the list in verse 12, the significant word is “faith.” I need to be available to the Lord to use me as an instrument to show people what trusting God is all about. Wow. I feel that I fallen way short in that regard.

But I do know one thing. Faith is NOT wishful thinking. It is NOT a theory. As the experience of Abraham (the Father of the Faithful) confirms, it faces facts. It looks reality right in the eye and trudges on. This is the nitty-gritty stuff that never gets on television with a healing ministry. This is trusting God when He does not heal (at least up until today—the story is not over yet).

Third, verse 16 confirms that saving myself is foundation to the salvation of those who hear what I preach. Of course, no one saves himself or herself. The Lord is the One who saves. But what I think Paul is saying is that I better take heed to what I preach to others, making sure I believe it and live it BEFORE I attempt to share. 1 Timothy 4:16 is akin to 1 Corinthians 9:27, “lest possibly after I have preached to others, I might become a shipwreck” (my paraphrase).

A word to the wise.

Lord, thank You again for cancer—the gift that keeps on giving, teaching, correcting, challenging, et cetera. All good stuff out of what is not good. Thank You for everyone you used to speak truth and encourage me yesterday (the two instances I cited above are only two of several).

Lord, what I preach to others must be in operation in my own life or it is a farce, and I better give it up to flip hamburgers (I’m not sure I could handle that job and I’m not kidding, so I better stick with this one). Amen.

"The Best Church Ever"

Before I get into the topic for today, I want to ask you to continue to pray for me. At the same time that I am recovering from this appendix surgery, my neck continues to swell, becoming more and more uncomfortable. It is now at the place where I cannot sleep at night lying in a bed. Last night, after tossing and turning most of the night, I just gave up to sit in a chair. This is the only way I got any relief.

So, I am going to call the doctor today and see what he thinks I need to do … not thrilled with having to do this.

Anyway, yesterday, as I entered the office, Betty and our custodian Barb were having a conversation. Betty picked up a framed piece of paper lying on her desk and said, “Look at this.” I noticed immediately that it was a certificate from Operation Christmas Child.

In bold letters in the middle of the page are these words, “The Best Church Ever.” Underneath that caption, the organization lauds us for having given out 1261 boxes over the last couple of years (I can’t remember whether it is three of four; I think three).

Not too shabby, huh?

Now if it sounds as if I am bragging, you are right! But not about me. I have been a very small part of all of this. We brag about the Lord, first. Second, Betty has been the organizer and has done a great job of mobilizing people and classes and even folks from the community. Last year, I picked up some boxes that women donated from this exercise place where Betty works out. We have had unbelievable participation. This is just one example.

I’ve just served the role of cheerleader and tried to stay out of everyone’s way! Ha.

A couple of those years, one person in our church donated all the money for postage for all the boxes we collected. One year, the total cost added up to $1,500, again, just for POSTAGE. This generous donation sparked more giving since it reduced the cost that people had to pay.

I am very confident that we were not the only church across the nation that received this certificate with that very title, but I can’t imagine that there are many churches OUR SIZE that donated more boxes.

Again, we are going to celebrate this on Sunday. These days, we need things to celebrate.

This certificate we received corresponds to a couple of important truths I came across in Professor Horner’s plan for today. The first biblical truth is that of the REMNANT. Both Isaiah 11 and Romans 11 speak of it. God has always had a remnant of his people among the Jews—a relatively small group of folks who have continued to serve Him.

In Acts 11, Peter makes a very good case to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem that God’s plan has broadened to include Gentiles, as he experience with Cornelius confirms. But God’s work has never been about numbers.

Out of all the people in the nation in Elijah’s day, God reserved only 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal.

That is one thing. The other involves this verse in 1 Timothy 3: “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15, NASB).

The church—the pillar and support of the truth. This metaphor says nothing about size.

Betty said she has heard that when Operation Christmas Child talks about what churches can do, they mention us as an example. Again, I praise God for this. I thank Him for the encouragement. If we do anything, he gets the glory. All of us know this.

But I do pray for those 1261 boys and girls that got a box and heard the gospel along with it.

My goal for our church is that, what we choose to do (and it certainly cannot compete with the mega-churches in our area or across the country), we do with excellence. I would rather do a few things well, than a lot of things poorly.

Lord, we do not work for recognition and reward. Only You know what church across the world and all human history qualifies as “the best church ever.” That’s up to you. But help us to continue to be faithful to work in your vineyard and to be who we are, where we are planted, “the pillar and support of the truth.” Amen.

Zach and Harvest Hands

Yesterday, I was very intrigued to watch the interview with Zach Johnson after he won “The Open Championship” and became “the champion golfer of the year.”

Let me back up a minute. Of course, I watched every second of the final round of the British Open yesterday, albeit on fast-forward. I had a lot of work to do yesterday morning so I recorded the tournament. Then, later on in the day, I watched it in my old “after Sunday night service Bronco recording mode.”

Years ago, when we still had Sunday night services, I would record the Bronco games, try to avoid hearing the final score (I didn’t always succeed in that regard), and watch the game later that night. I developed a rather honed skill of leaving the recorder on fast forward, blazing through a game in forty-five minutes to an hour, stopping only for highlights I wanted to see again.

This is how I approached the recording of the golf tournament. I saw everything I wanted to see, but I didn’t have to take several hours to do it (the broadcast of major championship golf tournaments last way longer than a NFL game).

So, after an exciting finish to the regular tournament in which Zach made a long putt on 18 to get into a playoff and Jordan Speith barely missed out, a playoff ensued involving three players. THAT was exciting as well. Zach finally won it as Louie missed his putt on 18, the final hole of the aggregate playoff.

Okay, so I was excited to see his interview after winning the tournament because Zach Johnson is a believer and a rather out-spoken one at that. Zach was visibly emotional at having won this huge tournament. Over and over, he said he was thankful.

I can’t remember the exact question the interviewer asked him. It was something like, “How did you keep your composure through all the ups and downs of this round and playoff today?”

Zach answered, “Well, the Lord helped me and I had scripture running through my mind all day.” This is a paraphrase, but it is essentially what he said. It was a brief comment. I kind of wish he had said more, but again, he was so emotional. Anyway, I still appreciate it.

One of these days, I will talk about a fantastic golf seminar I attended this summer and its application to the Christian life, but Zach’s comments went right along with what I learned and are a huge challenge to me.

Let me see if I can explain. A round of golf, like life, has plenty of opportunities for one’s mind to play tricks on him or her. Think about it. One hits a golf ball. That takes only a few seconds, but then one has to walk to the next shot. What do you do with all that time?

The same challenge holds true for all of us, especially when we are sick or infirmed. Over the past ten days or so, I have had a lot of time to think. And, as I was telling my mom and sis last night, I have felt intense warfare and spiritual assault from the enemy. And I think I have allowed him to beat me up a bit with all this time I have had to just sit.

Zach’s comments are a challenge to do what I learned in that golf seminar—not to let my mind control me, but instead control it (and I would add: through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God). So, I am back to getting the Word in there and meditating on it. Here is the Word from yesterday that is still very much on my heart: “’What a huge harvest!’ he said to his disciples. ‘How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!’” (Matthew
9:37-38, MSG). How about that?

This morning, in Professor Horner’s system, two chapters I read follow right along with these verses at the end of chapter nine. Matthew 10 describes Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as he sent them out; Acts 10 is that wonderful story of Peter’s meeting with Cornelius and the “congregation” that had gathered in his home, ripe and ready for the gospel.

A few things have emerged out of all of this for me today. First, I need to challenge the church to pray Jesus’ prayer for more harvest hands (more about this later). Second, we need to keep sharing the gospel and moving on to those who want to hear it. Third, in all things, we must be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, even if it is uncomfortable and moves us outside our comfort zone.

Lord, thank You for Zach’s brief testimony. I pray that his win yesterday will give him a platform and further opportunities to share Jesus. Thank You for using him to get me on track again and focus me on the real reason I am here. Use all this weird physical stuff I am going through now as a platform for the gospel. Satan, get behind me. Oh, and Lord, I pray for my friend Rob today. Help him to have a quick recovery from his heart attack yesterday. Love you, Rob. Amen.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

Thank you for praying for me yesterday. I could literally feel your prayers. Actually, the Lord helped me to do well physically. I pulled a stool up to the front of the platform, just to have it in case I needed it. I sat on it a couple of times, but for most of the sermon, I stood up.

The widespread prayer response for me has been a bit overwhelming. Three messages I received yesterday will give you an indication of what I am talking about. I received two cards from Valrico, Florida. One of the names on the return address I recognize: Karen.

Karen was a big part of our fellowship in the 90’s. The Lord used her in many significant ways—such an encourager. But the Lord moved her on to Florida. We hear from her on occasion and it is always great when we do. I received a card from her yesterday. She told me to take care of myself and the last line of her card is, “P. S. Listen to your mom and sister.” Ha.

Karen, if you are reading this, thanks so much for your card. I really appreciate it.

One of Karen’s friends, a woman named Rosa, also sent a nice card with a note indicating that she is praying. Awesome.

In addition to these two cards, I received a message on my voicemail at church from a dear brother in Bangladesh, India. His name is Bony. I had met him here through Phil, a friend here in town. He called long distance to encourage me and tell me that his church is praying for me as well.

Bony, if you are on Facebook, thank you for your message. I will be in contact with you. Thanks for thinking of me. I look forward to visiting with you on my next trip to India, Lord willing.

I’m so thankful for this brother and these two sisters in Jesus. These encouragements help me to stay the course of recovery from this surgery and help me trust the Lord for whatever is ahead as it relates to cancer.

Funny how the Lord speaks through his word—today, in Professor Horner’s plan, one of the passages I read is Joshua 9. After the defeating the city of Jericho and the people of Ai, Israel was plugging along in their conquest of Canaan. The other nations were observing this, one in particular—the Hivites. They knew they were no match for God’s army.

So, they disguised themselves as paupers from a far-away nation and solicited help from Joshua and the people of Israel. This verse is very telling. “So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD” (Joshua
9:14 NASB). They forged an agreement with these folks. Big mistake.

A few days later, they discovered that they had been hoodwinked, but by then, it was too late. They could not undo what they had forged.

A warning to the wise: when we fail to seek the counsel of the Lord at every turn, we are vulnerable.

Like Joshua and his army, we are on the winning side. We need to live like it and act like it.

Unlike the Hivites of Joshua’s day, we don’t have many folks seeking to join us. Our greatest enemy is compromise with the world.

Lord, I thank You so much for the encouragement I received from Karen, Rosa, and Bony. Their notes and call reminded me that I am indeed on the winning side. I pray that you would remind the church of the same thing. Amen.

The Lord of All Creation

These past couple of days have been particularly frustrating, simply because I thought, at least BY NOW, I would be fully recovered from this surgery but not yet.

The other day, the surgeon called me after receiving the report from the emergency room about my little “passing out” incident. He was clearly concerned, “What happened?”

“I don’t know exactly, doctor,” I replied as I told him the story.

“Well, at least, they did not find anything after they examined you.” Right. I’m still not satisfied with that diagnosis.

I went on tell him about this huge bruise I have on my right side above the belt line. He made some technical comments about what he had to do in surgery but went on to tell me not to worry about it unless it gets bigger. It is already the size of Texas! Well, maybe not quite that big!

So, I would really appreciate your prayers for me as I get back into the saddle for church today. Besides preaching, I don’t have much on the plate today except for picking up Mitch. I may even sit down as I preach today, as it is still a little difficult to straighten myself when I am standing up. Thanks.

I am growing more and more fond of Professor Horner’s reading plan because it links passages I would have never brought together.

For example, Genesis 8 describes the aftermath of the Flood, as the earth dries up, and Noah has the green light to let all the creatures out of the boat. The Lord has the authority to call all of them into that giant boat and is equally powerful to call them out.

This goes right along with Psalm 8, speaking of Jesus: “You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalms
8:6-9 NASB).

Proverbs 8 is the ode to the Man of Wisdom. “When He set for the sea its boundary So that the water would not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him” (Proverbs
8:29-30 NASB).

In Matthew 8, Jesus calms the wind and the waves and the disciples marvel.

How about these words in Romans 8 (I think this ranks up there as one of the top chapter eights in the whole Bible, but the previous four I have cited aren’t too shabby either): “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans
8:38-39 NASB). Amen!

God created everything and everyone. God re-created everything after the flood. He is in charge of His creation. Nothing in that creation can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Thank You for these reminders, Holy Spirit, after a week in which I am continually reminded how weak and frail and temporary this creation is, but through it all and IN it all, we overwhelmingly conquer through You who loved us. Amen.

The Effect of One Sin

Today, in Professor Horner’s reading system, one of the chapters I read was Joshua chapter seven. To be honest, it is rather shocking in two ways.

First, what a contrast between the victory at Jericho and the defeat at Ai—an over-confident leader and a smaller army (they thought they could handle things quite easily) were soundly defeated.

Second, when Joshua comes back from the battle, he falls on his face before God, “What gives, Lord? Have you brought us all this way to defeat us?’’

It is at this point that God reveals that, in the previous contrast, someone in the camp had stolen stuff under the ban. This is why the people of Ai defeated them.

So, per the Lord’s instructions, Joshua identifies the guilty party. The man’s name was Achan. Once Achan “fesses up” and the contra ban is discovered, the people stone Achan and his family and all their possessions. As a result, all is well.

Now, let me fast forward a moment to the first days of the church (I read this passage a couple of days ago). On the heels of Barnabas’ generosity, Ananias and his wife Sapphira think they can cash in a bit. Like Barnabas, they sell property and choose to give money to the church. Unlike Barnabas, they keep back a part of the proceeds for themselves.

Well, you know how that story ends. Not well for the enterprising couple.

Now, let me just stand those two stories side by side this morning and ask this question: can one man, or one couple, or one family’s sin have a debilitating effect on the church?

A few years ago, Betty told me about a preacher’s sermon that intimated that the church was not growing because, as he said, “There was a sin in the camp.” This was a direct allusion to the story in Joshua 7.

So, my question is, “Can one man’s sin affect the church?” This is actually something I wrestle with on occasion as it pertains to First Southern. I often ask the Lord, “What is going on? If there is some sin, please show us.”

Here are my preliminary answers to this dilemma. I certainly do not have this issue figured out.

First, all sin, no matter what it is (there are no degrees with God) and no matter who commits it, has consequences. We never minimize it.

Second, some sin does impact the whole church. Look at 1 Corinthians 5. Paul urges the church at Corinth to deal with it because a little leaven, leavens the whole batch of dough.

Third, in 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of “strongholds,” asserting that the ministry is mighty to God to their destruction. I believe that it is possible for churches to develop mindsets and entrenched opposition to God’s work in one way or another.

Fourth, in spite of all that I have said up to this point, I really have a problem thinking that one man’s sin can stop God’s church. If so, would there really be any church anywhere that would not be affected?

Now, again, I am not minimizing it. It does have consequences … but somehow, I just can’t see it. How about this verse in Romans 5: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20, NASB). Again, I don’t know …

Back to those two very prominent stories, I believe that in each case, both families sinned against the community. Achan directly disobeyed the Lord’s instructions for defeating Jericho. Peter told the church that this couple had lied to the Holy Spirit (or tried to).

But even as I say that, I know I am making a distinction of sorts that may not be there.

Lord, this is a huge mystery and a bit of a struggle. All I can ask is that if there is something there in my life or in someone else’s or in the church as a whole—some sin somewhere—please make it known to us. I know we aren’t perfect. This is why You died on the cross. This is why we are saved by grace. We never compromise, however. Grace makes us more concerned than ever to live lives that reflect who we really are in Jesus. Make it so, Lord. Amen.

God's Way of Doing Things

The other night, as I was meeting with the guys in our men’s Bible story, we spent some time discussing a story none of us had ever heard before.

Dennis Rainey devotes an entire chapter to it in his book
Stepping Up. Since I am going to allude to this story in my sermon on Sunday, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail at this point, but let me give you the essence of what happened.

Back in 1914, a man by the name of Ernest Shackleton decided he wanted to do something that no one, up to that time, had done. He wanted to be the first man actually to hike across Antarctica. Thus, he along with 27 men boarded a ship named Endurance, left England, and headed for Antarctica.

When they were about a day from their destination, their boat got stuck in ice. It started to drift way off course. After many days, Endurance was breaking up and suddenly, Shackleton and his crew had to abandon ship.

The story goes on from here. Rainey gives a summary of it in chapter 13 of his book, but I have been so intrigued that I actually ordered two books on Kindle that tell the full story. I will be fascinated to read them both today.

If you are curious as to what I am talking about, just enter the name of Ernest Shackleton in Google and you can get the gist of what I am talking about.

It has to be one of the greatest examples of “endurance” (to use the name of the ship these brave men were on) I have ever come across. Think about it. This occurred way before the telephone or radios or cell phones for sure. These men were forced into a situation where they had to survive.

So many parallels to the Christian life.

Rainey does a great job using this story to challenge men to “step up” and be courageous.

Somehow, I think there are a lot of parallels between what this story teaches about heroism and the story I read today in day six of Professor Horner’s plan—Joshua 6.

As Joshua led the people through the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, their first major obstacle was the imposing, walled city of Jericho. How on earth was this rather ragtag band of nomads going to attack and take this city down?

Well, as a result of what happened as the people crossed the Jordan on dry ground, I believe the folks were primed to listen to God and to follow His servant Joshua.

I have to tell you. I love this story more and more each time I read it. You know it. God gave His servant rather odd instructions: march around the city with the Ark of the Covenant and the priests blowing trumpets, once a day for six days. Then, on the seventh day, march around seven times, blowing the trumpets again. There is an explicit instruction to shout but only after all of this has been completed.

Of course, God’s people followed instructions to the letter (including the rescue of Rahab and her family and her possessions) and the walls “came a tumbling down.”

Though few would acknowledge it today, this has to be one of the greatest, most unlikely military victories in history.

And the people did it God’s way.

Putting these two stories together—how are any of us going to make it through our challenges? The only way is God’s way.

Notice these words of Paul: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians
1:3-5 NASB).

Lord, when I try to figure things out, I get a headache. I know You have called us to stay on the straight and narrow path, negotiating all challenges and obstacles, not our way but YOUR way. Help me to take the time and effort to find out what Your way is BEFORE I bumble and stumble forward (usually backward) MY way. Amen.

A Hope that does not Disappoint

It is funny what comes out of your mouth at times. Sometimes, it is good! Ha. Let me explain.

Yesterday, late afternoon, I drove up to the church. This was the first time I had even attempted to drive a car in the last six days. No problem there, thankfully.

When I arrived at the office, I had some tasks to perform, one of which was to call those who had visited last Sunday. As it turns out, it was two men.

The first guy I called seemed very enthusiastic. I noticed on his response card that he had made the comment, “I’m here because it is time that I got Jesus back into my life.” He asked how I was recovering from my surgery and went on to say that he would return next Sunday. It was a very encouraging call.

The second guy I talked to was very nice. He said that he already had a church home in the area. He paused before he asked this question: “I noticed that there were only about forty people in the service last Sunday. Is this normal for you guys?”

Okay. Talk about a button that someone could push. If there were EVER one, that was it.

As many of you who read this blog regularly can probably discern, one of the issues that is causing me the most angst with all these physical challenges I have faced for the past several months is that it has affected my work. I still believe that I am doing better work in some ways than ever. Please don’t see that comment as a pat on my own back. I just believe that the Lord is helping me, through all these challenges. HE IS DOING IT.

But I still fight guilt and take very personally the struggles and difficulties of the church. And I don’t know a pastor who doesn’t. I know that it is not right, but it is the truth. I don’t know if that makes sense …

And, let me go on to say that I have shared some of my frustrations with the church in this forum. But they come out of a deep love and concern for this congregation that I have served now for almost twenty-six years.

So, back to this man’s comment. I did not take it as malicious at all. He was just asking a question, and at that moment, it was as if God put me on the spot. How was I going to respond?

This is what I said, “Well, we are a little down because some people are out of town, but I believe we are as strong as ever with a viable ministry in the community.”

That is what came out of my mouth. That is the truth and it reflects what I really believe about the church.

It was kind of surprising. I didn’t feel all that good. I’m struggling with all the physical stuff that is going on with me. But still …

The essence of what came out of my mouth was HOPE.

These words from Romans 5 that I read this morning in Professor Horner’s system put that together for me: “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans
5:3-5 NASB).

Lord, through it all, I thank You for hope. Amen.

Hope Against Hope

I can’t imagine a more difficult day than yesterday. I called the cancer doctor again, informing him of the fact that my neck seems to be swelling again. And it is bothering me a bit.

His clinician called back to say that it would be best to keep our original appointment in early August and just go from there. I asked her, “Do you think he will want to start this new treatment—whatever it is—on that same day?”

“I doubt it, John. He wants you to have your vacation and we can go from there.”

This was a relief in some respects, but I have to tell all of you that the prospect of chemo starting again so soon after I just finished a rough round is pulling me down in the tank. Now again, I am getting ahead of myself. I know that, but it has been really difficult not to let my mind go there. It takes a continual discipline just to trust God and focus on today.

By His grace, I choose to do that right now.

Meanwhile, back at the appendix surgery recovery ranch, I think I am gradually improving a little bit each day. I plan to go up to the church late this afternoon to be ready to teach the men’s Bible study tonight. Lord willing, this will be the first time in almost a week that I have driven a car. Hopefully, it won’t be too much. We will see.

In my reading this morning on Professor Horner’s system, two passages stood out to me. First, God warned Cain. He made it very clear to Adam’s son: “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis
4:7 NASB).

Reading this verse this morning felt as if it were God speaking directly to me.

It is weird to say that after all I have been through the past five years, I am having more of a struggle than ever TRUSTING God. My first round of chemo—I had no idea what to expect and it turned out easier than I thought. My second round—I approached it with a cavalier attitude—thinking it would a piece of cake. It was not. Now, I just dread it, and I am NOT ready to go through it again.

Sin is right there at the door, dogging me at every step. It is an intense battle.

But the response of Abraham in his twenty-five year pilgrimage of faith is an encouragement this morning, this verse in particular: In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, "S O SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE." Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:18-21, NASB). I love this!

Faith is not some sort of wishful-thinking dodge of reality. Abraham entered into his challenge with his eyes wide open—each day reminded of how increasingly impossible it was for a man of his age (his wife was not spring chicken) either to have a child. So, he saw that. He knew that, no illusions.

Yet, with respect to his faith, he did not waver. He trusted God and his promises. He put His faith in God’s power.

So, if I have to start chemo soon (and of course, I don’t know this yet), then why is round 3 any different from 1 and 2. He got me through those. Why can’t he do it again?

Lord, this battle with the sin of worry and unbelief and its attendant bad attitudes crouching at my door seems very intense, but I choose by grace to place my faith on You and in You. Help me, like old Abe, to grow strong in faith. Thank You again for everyone who is praying for my family and me. Amen.

Still in the Saving Business

I’ve been on Professor Horner’s “Bible Reading System” now for three days, and I am finally seeing some “method to the madness,” so to speak. Not that anything related to the Bible is “madness,” but up to this point, it seemed as if Professor Horner’s selection of the books to read in his system were rather arbitrary. Now, I patently don’t believe that. Wow, what a message for me today, and I really needed it.

Yesterday, I called the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center to tell Dr. Jotte’s assistant Maureen about what had happened to me over the past few days and to ask about “the plan” for my appointment on August 3
rd. Part of the reason is that I want to take a few days of vacation in early August and wondered what the doctor had in my mind.

So, when Maureen called back, she said, “The doctor says, ‘Don’t worry about it. Let’s just reschedule after your vacation.’” To be honest, this alarmed me a bit. I replied, “Why does he want to do that? Does he want me to go back on chemo right away?” She said, “I will ask him and get back to you.”

She called late yesterday afternoon to say, “I talked with the doctor again. He indicated that when he meets with you, he wants to discuss alternative treatments to maintenance, but go ahead and have your vacation and we will reschedule in mid-August.”

“Alternatives to maintenance”—what are they? My mind is racing. The only alternatives that I have had are chemo and a clinical trial (that wasn’t effective for very long). Oh, man.

All of this brings me back to the verse the Lord gave me when I was first diagnosed—Matthew 6:34, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (my paraphrase). This will demand that I put this verse into practice multiple times a day. Why ruin these fleeting days of summer worrying about what might happen? Please pray for me in this regard. My focus is today and continuing to recover from this surgery.

Back to the reading for today—the combined message of the third chapters of the ten books in the reading system is amazing! Wow. Now, before I summarize this message, I want you to know that I do not attribute this to Professor Horner but to the Holy Spirit of God. I’m sure that you could pick chapter sevens or fourteens or twenty threes of ten books of the Bible and get a powerful message. It is not magic or some secret Bible code. It is just the power of the inspiration of this book in which all these authors, moved by the Spirit, have the same coherent message. Praise God!

So, I am going to summarize what I read this morning:

Matthew 3, Jesus’ good beginning, “This is my Son. I’m well pleased with him.”
Genesis 3, The Human Race’s bad beginning, Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from the Garden
Romans 3, The Horrific Result of the Fall, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”
1 Thessalonians 3, Saved People Continue to Trust God
Job 3, Job Cursed the Day of his birth
Psalms 3, “My Glory and the Lifter of my Head.”
Proverbs 3, The Benefits of the Life of Wisdom that comes from the Lord
Joshua 3, By Faith, Joshua led the people through the Jordan River on Dry Ground
Isaiah 3, God Pronounces Judgment on the wickedness of the city of Jerusalem
Acts 3, Peter and John, “We don’t have silver and gold, but we do have the Name of Jesus. Get up and walk.”

Amazing, huh? But our Lord puts the “A” in amazing!

Lord, thank You for this special message today. Thank You for bringing together all these amazing chapters in Your Word as a reminder that through the course of human history, You are still in the saving business. In the Name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Hump Day

For a lot of reasons, yesterday was an extremely difficult day. I hope I have gotten over a “hump” as it relates to recovery from this surgery. I have stopped taking the pain pills and hope this will help me since I have been suffering from several side effects.

It is always difficult to miss church, not because I worry about how things will go. I’m confident that Tom did well and the services were fine.

No, I just miss the fellowship and contact with people, but hopefully, I will be back in the saddle next Sunday. I say “hopefully” because my recovery from this surgery is going much slower that I had anticipated. Maybe things will move faster now that I feel I have gotten over a “hump.”

Professor Horner’s Reading Plan in YouVersion is going to be quite a challenge. There is so much to keep track of in the ten chapters I will be reading each day. I have given up trying to synthesize what I read. Instead, I’m asking the Holy Spirit to speak to me through any or all of the chapters. This is going to be a stretch, but I love it.

Two passages stand out this morning. First, when the Lord allowed Satan to smite Job with boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. When this happened, Job’s “lovely” wife told him just to curse God and die. This was Job’s testimony—a classic statement in the whole Bible, “’You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job
2:10 NASB).

You know, it seems to me that the Lord allows us to go through trials and tests and difficulties here on earth as a proving ground. How else will the Lord know that we are genuine?

I know I am going through a trial now. I wish I didn’t have to, but I realize there is no other way. I hope I pass this test.

On the other hand, for people who don’t know the Lord, their lives here on earth may be easier in some respects because they don’t have to deal with God’s discipline, but the end will not be pretty. Isaiah speaks of this judgment: “For the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning Against everyone who is proud and lofty And against everyone who is lifted up, That he may be abased” (Isaiah 2:12, NASB).

If you have an opportunity, take some time today to read the second chapter of Isaiah. This is scary stuff, especially since it is directed to religious people who are “in church” every Sunday. They have no idea as they go through the motions that they are “cruisin’ for a bruisin’ (and in using that phrase, I don’t intend to make light of it, either).

As tough as the discipline of the Lord is, I would much rather have IT now, HERE, than fail to pass the ultimate test at the judgment bar of God for eternity THEN.

Lord, as you keep giving me these tests, I trust Your grace and mercy to pass them, each one. They are giving me a greater sense of urgency to share the gospel so that people I know will avoid the consequences of judgment. Again, along with John Piper, I pray that my cancer and all attendant circumstances like this appendix surgery will not be wasted. Amen.

A Practical Application of Romans 8:28

Some of you may remember that a few days ago, I cited Ron Dunn’s comment, “I believe in Romans 8:28, but don’t ask me to preach a sermon on it yet.”

Funny how things like that have a way of turning around and coming back to you. I guess you could say that I am now ready to preach a sermon on that verse. Ha.

Yesterday, as I was looking at pictures of my appendix and remembering the words of the nurse, it dawned on me that if I didn’t have cancer (and thus, did not have PET scans), I would have been dealing with a ruptured appendix—sooner than later, I am sure.

So, the Lord continues to use something bad (cancer) to protect one of his kids.

How about this statement? I am healthier with cancer right now than I would be if I didn’t have it.

Plus, the Lord continues to put me in positions to honor and serve Him. Not too many days ago, I got to meet a man named Mark. We visited a while. I handed him my business card. He emailed me several days later. In the course of our messages back and forth, I told him I had cancer. He replied, “I never would have known.”

I’m always glad now to pull the cancer card out of my deck, not as a way of eliciting sympathy (because, remember, I am more healthy with it than I would be without it—don’t feel sorry for me. I am well taken care of—even the other day, when I passed out), but I use it as a segue to give my testimony.

I used to just blurt it out all the time. I think I just needed to tell people that I had cancer for selfish reasons. I don’t know …

Now, I believe it is strategic. The Holy Spirit leads me to share it in the larger context of what He is doing, not only in my life, but also in the universe.

Speaking of the Lord’s larger plan, I started a new Bible reading plan today. Up to this point in 2015, the plan has been to read Psalms and Proverbs SLOWLY, savoring the Word a bit. Now that I am done with these two books on the slow cook, I am ready for the microwave.

I am starting “Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System.” It puts me on a course to read through the entire Bible in 8 months, but it is unlike any other plan I have ever utilized. Let me cite what I read this morning: Matthew 1, Genesis 1, Romans 1, 1 Thessalonians 1, Job 1, Psalms 1, Proverbs 1, Joshua 1, Isaiah 1, and Acts 1. How about that?

To be honest, I am a bit overwhelmed, trying to pull all of that together, but here is what dawned on me as I read: ever since the Fall of man, we live in a chaotic world, full of sin and tragedy of all types, but our God is an expert at putting the pieces together.

How about this quote from Job, as he was receiving the devastating news that everyone in his family (except his wife) had been killed? “He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.’ Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job
1:21-22 NASB). This is Job’s sermon on Romans 8:28. Joshua, Isaiah, Joseph, all the disciples, and Paul—have one of their own.

Lord, thank You for this day of rest. Thank You for helping me recover from this surgery and everything that happened to me. I know I could not have preached today. Still not up to being “out and about.” But again, Lord, I thank You for cancer and the regular scans I receive, one of which showed this appendix problem. Once again, I echo Job: blessed be the name of the Lord! Amen.

Bookends and Bounce Backs

Thanks for your prayers, phone calls, and messages. I deeply appreciate each and every one of them.

Yesterday was a very sedentary and painful day. Even if I had wanted to do a lot of moving around, I would not have been able.

So, except for meals, I spent the whole day seated on our back porch, enjoying one of the nicest days of the year. I am amazed at how often I just dozed off to sleep, but I know my body needed the rest because I just haven’t been sleeping all that well at night.

One of the reasons is that I set an alarm to get up about 1:30 ish to take a pain pill. The doctor was adamant that I needed to keep taking those pills “to stay ahead of the pain.”

Anyway, I have finally arrived at the final chapter of Proverbs. It is interesting that this book ends with an opposite focus of how it began.

In chapters one through seven, there were numerous warnings about the adulterous woman. The culmination is the tragic story of the young man who meets a brazen woman who invites him to her home and bedroom while her husband is away. And, of course, in the twilight, he follows her off as an “ox goes to the slaughter” (Proverbs 7:22, NASB).

On the other hand, the final verses of the book describe “an excellent wife.” I think these verses have a dual role. I believe they are exhortations that a godly woman can pattern her life after. But beyond that, I think this is a description of the epitome of the life of wisdom for both men and women.

This is a person who values his/her family, first and foremost (I won’t say he or she over and over; again this applies to men and women, I believe). She is on the lookout for the family.

She is a hard and diligent worker, from morning to night.

She is shrewd when it comes to business transactions and makes good deals.

She is generous when it comes to helping the poor.

She is prepared for the good times and the bad, summer and winter.

She enhances the testimony of the family.

When she speaks, she has something worthwhile to say.

The following verses sum things up well: “She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: ‘Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all’” (Proverbs
31:27-29 NASB).

There is a lot here to think about as I spend another day of rest.

One more thing. My friend, Pastor Luke, recommended a couple of books to me the other day, one of which is entitled,
Don’t Waste Your Cancer. The author is John Piper. It is a very short but very good read. I have been meditating on his eleven “we waste our cancer if” points.

Point 8 is, “We waste our cancer if we let it drive us into solitude instead of deepen our relationships with manifest affection.”

I am spending some days in solitude out of necessity, but this whole experience has caused me to focus on thanking the Lord for each and every one of you who respond, those of you who read this blog and pray for my family and me.

Please know that, when I hear from you, I am committing to a “bounce back” prayer. I ask the Lord to bless you, and I pray for everything I can about you and your family.

God, again, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU FOR CANCER. Help me not to waste it. Give me wisdom to live a life of wisdom like the noble wife of Proverbs 31. Bless everyone who reads this blog and takes the time to pray. I love you all. Amen.

An Unexpected Trip in an Ambulance

Surely, for those of you who have been praying (and again, I am so grateful for your prayers)—surely, you don’t think that yesterday was without adventure. Somehow, this is becoming the norm for me.

Before I get to the adventure, I just want all of you to know that the surgery went well. The doctor took pictures of my appendix. When the nurse handed them to us, she exclaimed, “Look how big it is! Wow! I’m sure that you would have had a problem in the near future. You ought to be glad it is out.” Then she added, “Do you mind if I show the other nurses?” Sure.

This is another reminder of the Lord’s perfect timing and His care for one of His kids. He does not miss details.

So, we finished at the surgical center. Marilyn emailed Jim to tell him that I had come through the surgery well. Jim passed that on to the church.

My sister was driving us home. We passed by a little jog in Hillcrest Drive. Almost home. Everything done. All is well and good, right?

Well, somewhere at that part of the street, sitting in the front seat of our car, I PASSED OUT! I have no recollection of the flurry of activity that ensued. I figure I lost about ten minutes.

Marilyn said that she spoke to me when we pulled up in the driveway. I was totally unresponsive. She shook me. She got out of the car, went to the passenger side, and tried to pull me out, but I was out of it.

So, she ran next door to get Holly. Holly’s occupation, before the Lord led her to be a wife and mom, was a nurse.

Now again, I have no recollection of any of this. Marilyn said that Holly was concerned. She took my pulse. She got close to me to see if I was breathing. Obviously, everyone was concerned. Ya think?

It was at this point that I started to come out of whatever happened. The first thing I remember was Holly’s voice, “John, can you hear me?” By then, her husband Brent was there. He was calling out to me as well.

The only way I can describe how I felt at that point was that everyone seemed far away and I was just so sleepy. I couldn’t form words.

Well, the next thing I knew, a fireman was asking me questions. “What is your name? What day is it? How do you feel?”

He took my blood pressure. It was 60 something, over 20 something—not good. I could see people scrambling a bit. I was still sitting in the front seat. My grogginess had started to diminish.

Then, an ambulance pulled up. Three young men got out of it to attend to me. The leading EMT said, “John, I think it would be good just to get you to the Emergency Room at Swedish. We are concerned that your blood pressure got so low. I think it would be good to check you out.”

So, they maneuvered me on a gurney and hefted me into the back of an ambulance—MY FIRST AMBULANCE RIDE! My mom and sister followed the ambulance. I caught a glimpse of our car out the back window.

A rather large entourage was waiting for us at the Emergency Room at Swedish. They looked concerned.

The doctor at the ER asked me a bunch of questions, as I indicated to him that I was feeling better and better. They gave me an IV and did an EKG. I just lay there, sensing that my faculties were coming back.

We don’t really have any answers for what caused my little episode. My blood pressure is low usually any way. This reminded me of when I fainted last Fall. I’m just thankful that this time, there were folks around to help and get me to the hospital.

At one point in the evening as the hours dragged on, I said to my mom and sis (they were obviously exhausted), “Why does everything have to be so hard?” I meant it kind of as a joke, but none of us ventured any answers.

It was difficult for me not to chuckle a bit as we finally left the hospital. It was raining! We got home after 10:30 PM.

So, as you can tell, it was quite a marathon. I’m going to sit on this couch and/or sleep the rest of the day. The surgeon said that it was important to get up and move around every couple of hours, so I will do that, but not much more.

Thanks again for your prayers. Here is the bottom line: Dr. Jesus took care of us again.

Doctor, I thank You for the awesome care I received yesterday. Thank You that Brent and Holly were there. Thanks for everyone who was praying. Indeed, You are an awesome God! Amen.

Surgery Today and A Warm Blanket

Another doomsday prophecy—fails. Surprise, surprise.

I’ve been hearing about this Mayan calendar “issue” now for months.

This morning, there is an article about it on the front page of the Denver Post. To read the various responses and reactions to this date, I believe, gives a realistic picture of where we are spiritually. Oh, boy.

One lady, who works as a meteorologist for the National Center for atmospheric research in Boulder (of all places), describes the day as “a shift of energy” (“Revelers hit a gold Mayan,” Denver Post, accessed December 21, 2012).

At the McNichols Building in Denver’s Civic Center, they are expecting 2000 folks to show up (each paying twenty-one bucks) for a “three levels of Armageddon” party with aliens, Mayans, performers in full costume, a light show, and ten disc jockeys playing music.

Hey, I have an idea to reach our 2013 budget in one night!

Just kidding …

But back to this party—are you kidding me?

Finally, there are others who are just going to have a party and drink. One couple is having an “end-of-the-world, zombie, and apocalypse wedding reception at a bar in Aurora. Where do zombies fit in this scenario?

I don’t know. The more I read this article, the more hopelessness I feel.

Interestingly enough, the verses I read in Galatians three strike a cord with all of this in our contemporary culture. Notice these verses: "Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years" (Galatians 4:8-10 NLT).

These statements are addressed to the Gentile contingent in the churches of Galatia. He describes their former lives as being enslaved to “so-called gods” and “observing certain days or months or seasons or years.” Eerily similar, wouldn’t you say?

Lostness is lostness. It hasn’t changed all that much in a couple of thousand years.

There is just so much confusion. People know a little bit (always dangerous) about spiritual tidbits here and there, and they toss them all into a spiritual crock pot on the stove of their hearts and let it simmer into something they try to worship.

Here’s what I have discovered about cooking in a crock pot (in all my vast experience of cooking—ehem). It is the same principle that we quote when it comes to computers—“garbage in, garbage out.” If the ingredients are not good, then the mix, even though heated up, won’t be good either.

But here is the thing about all of this that really bothers me. When the real end of the world does indeed come—I’m talking about all the descriptions of the unfolding judgment of God culminating in the Second Coming of Jesus—when all of that occurs—there will be no “third Armageddon or zombie parties” going on. I can guarantee that.

How does the Bible counsel believers to be ready for the end? Drink beer and dance around in a Mayan costume?


We ought to be on our faces. We need to be “sober” (to use a good old KJV word that has meaning on several levels) and vigilant. We ought to be urgent about sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This mixed up and desperately lost culture needs folks who have a solid handle on biblical truth so that we can serve folks the meat of God’s Word and not some jumbled up concoction of partial truths and myths and cartoons.

Oh, God, have mercy on us. Wake us up! Mobilize believers.

It occurs to me that today may present opportunities. Give us boldness and soberness and urgency.

Oh, Lord, I continue to pray for Rick. Thank you that he had a good day with a good report about his blood levels. Give him and give Jonann and Will another good day today.

“May Your pure light shine thro’ us” (“Song for the Nations,” BH 2008, 365). Amen.

"What are you doing the rest of this week?"

After our discussion, this was the question the surgeon asked. It now strikes me as a bit funny, but I am grateful to the Lord.

Let me back up a bit. I had my visit with the surgeon, Dr. Haun, yesterday. We talked about my appendix. It is inflamed a bit. Right now, there is not a whole lot to worry about except that the potential is that there will be a problem down the road.

In the course of our conversation, Dr. Haun left the room to talk with Dr. Jotte.

I appreciate the fact that he wanted to be on the same page as my oncologist.

Finally, I asked, “So, doctor, what is your recommendation?”

“Well, John, I think the risk of surgery is not as great as the risk that at some point you will have an issue, and you don’t want to go there.”

So, I answered, “Well, let’s do it.” At this point, one of my apprehensions emerged. I knew this would probably be the decision, but I just want to have to wait several weeks or months. I know surgeons are busy.

This is when Dr. Haun asked, “What are you doing the rest of this week?” Ha. Getting surgery! I’m glad. I just don’t want this thing hanging over my head. The actual time is tomorrow afternoon at 2:45. The doctor said it would take about an hour, and unless there are complications, I could go home afterwards, and it would take about 8 to 10 days to recover.

I inquired about preaching this Sunday. He paused for a moment, “Well, John, I don’t think that is a good idea. You will be on pain medication and your mind could be a bit cloudy. Do you have someone who can fill in for you?”

When I got to the church, I called Tom. He is a former pastor. He and his wife Libby joined our fellowship not long ago—a wonderful couple. Tom did not hesitate, “Sure, John, anything to help you.”

Tom, if you are reading this, thanks a lot, brother! Your willingness and response blessed me.

I also had an ordination service planned. The new pastor of Torre Fuerte, our sister Hispanic church that meets in our building, Jorge, called last night to ask how I was doing. When I told him I wouldn’t be there Sunday, he said, “Well, we will make an adjustment because we want you there.” Thanks, Jorge!

So, the Lord is clearing the deck for me. I’m going to lay low these next few days. The only thing that I will miss is golf on Friday and probably next Friday, but I think I will live. Maybe . Ha.

I just can’t get over what this says about the way the Lord is taking care of me. Dr. Haun mentioned this yesterday. He said, “I have to admit that this is a bit unusual.” Ya think?

Most folks who have an appendectomy do so because there is some huge problem with their appendix, but this PET scan for cancer actually showed them this POTENTIAL problem before it occurred.

Therefore, all of this, including and especially the re-emergence of my cancer, is a blessing from God. The logic of these statements might be a bit flawed. I don’t know and don’t care. That is how I am choosing by grace through faith to think about things now.

The GIFT of cancer keeps on giving!

“Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar” (Proverbs
30:5-6 NASB).

I’m going to continue to hold on to the tested word. What an interesting statement! I need to chew on that a bit more today.

Lord, thank You for all of this. I can’t begin to thank You enough. Thank You for Tom and Jorge, these two brothers, and the way You used them to encourage me yesterday. Amen.

Weeds AND Soil

Thanks to all of you for your prayers for my family and for me. I can actually feel them. This is an experience that I wish every believer could have.

Let me just say this: if you are in a church that doesn’t pray, find another one.

Of all the things that I appreciate about First Southern (and if you read this blog at all, you know we aren’t perfect), one of the main things is that we are a praying church. People that have been a part of the fellowship and the Lord has moved them on somewhere else still call, requesting that we pray for them. That is very valuable.

And I include those of you who read this blog in that category.

So, more to pray about: I have my appointment with the surgeon today. As I have indicated before, I feel very confident that he will recommend surgery, and if he does, I will readily agree.

Last night, I felt a little discomfort in my right side. Who knows what it was? It could have been the Asian food I ate last night, but I just don’t want to live, wondering if my appendix is on the verge of bursting every time I get a little pain. Out she goes!

I don’t mean to be cavalier at this point. Surgery is never minor, but I just want to get moving.

I made a visit to the clinic where I get primary health care yesterday morning. I was talking to one of the doctors there, and he said, “John, beyond the issue of the potential that your appendix may burst, I think the surgeon and oncologist want to deal with it because they don’t want any hindrances to your treatment in the future. If you start treatment, and then have an appendix issue, they will have to stop for a period of time.” Humm. Interesting.

I asked him about alternative cancer treatment. He replied, “Well, there really isn’t a lot out there. Even in China, people get chemo and radiation along with herbs to help with the side effects. I think a lot of these other treatments are a myth. I would just advocate a good solid diet with organic foods.” Again, I say, “Humm.”

In the research that Marilyn and I are doing, we have come across a term that has a measure of appeal to me.

Before I elaborate, I need to say that one of the confusing elements about all of this is that there are so many folks “out there” with all types of labels and all types of claims about what they can do. How do you know? How do you avoid spending a lot of money chasing rabbits that go nowhere?

I don’t have the time to chase rabbits (not in preaching nor in treating cancer), nor do I have the money.

But back to a term—we came upon it yesterday—“Integrative Holistic Medicine.” This seems to be an approach that works with the medical profession. Here is the way one person put it: contemporary cancer treatment attempts to eradicate the WEED in the garden; integrative holistic medicine addresses the SOIL so that the garden is less likely to see weeds grow. This focuses on overall health and eating right. This seems to make a lot of sense to me.

In other words, it is both/and rather than either/or.

Anyway, thanks again for your prayers as my family and I are on this pilgrimage. It is always an adventure.

While you are on it, you can’t worry about what other people think. This is a time when I need to focus on my health. This has to be up there on the list of priorities. I’m honestly not sure it has been, but I’m not going to worry about the past.

Here is a very germane verse I read today: “The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted” (Proverbs
29:25 NASB).

Lord, thank You for the prayers of Your people. Thank You for the direction You have given us already. I commit this doctor visit and the decision that is made to You today. Again, You are the Big Doctor here. I trust You for the care I need. Amen.

"Mighty to Save"

The Lord used two things to touch me deeply yesterday. Honestly, I think I was a little on the edge emotionally anyway.

When I got home, Marilyn said, “I think you need to share how you really feel with the people, not in a selfish “look at me. I’m the only guy that is going through anything” kind of way but just as a segue into encouraging others.” Then, she mentioned Sam who is going through a difficult physical challenge. Good point.

I hear that, but I was just not in a good emotional place yesterday. Plus, we had a lot going on in the service. Things ended up being rather extended yesterday. And it was good, all good, but I just didn’t feel the freedom to do it.

Especially after the two things that I want to mention …

First, we had a dear brother visit with us yesterday. He serves with Campus Crusade (I don’t think they call it THAT any longer). I may have alluded to this yesterday (sorry for the repeat if I have). He shows the Jesus film and/or hands out copies of it in various places across the world.

As a part of his presentation, he showed a video clip depicting an example of the impact of the Jesus Film. It was the story of an older couple that decided they would sponsor the making of the film into a certain African dialect. Then, they traveled to Africa to turn on the projector (a great honor) at the first showing.

4,500 people showed up! Just to see this movie. Some had never seen a movie EVER, let alone in their own language. And they were enraptured! I will never forget the looks on the faces of people as Jesus was crucified. They moaned. They cried. And then … they cheered and celebrated when the movie showed the resurrection.

Somehow, this struck a cord with me on a Sunday when we were going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Here in America, we take the Gospel in such a ho-hum way. We’ve heard it a thousand times. We’ve seen many Christian movies, but those folks …

What got me is that somehow I had failed to take into account the resurrection in my situation. Over these past few days, I’ve lost the big picture, and I need to get back to it.

Second, Connor led us in the singing of “Mighty to Save.” A couple of phrases still stand out in my mind and heart. “He rose and conquered the grave. Jesus conquered the grave.” And, this one, “Savior He can move the mountains.” This is no “vision,” but in my mind’s eye I just caught a glimpse of the resurrected Christ standing in the opening of the tomb with the rolled-away stone at His side …
I wonder if He can take care of this cancer patient. Ah, yeah. Me thinks so.

It isn’t that I am talking about any miraculous healing (although, I know He can do it any time He chooses with the snap of His finger—no doubt about that). But I have confidence that He can move THIS mountain in front of me.

Didn’t Jesus talk about this—faith the size of a mustard seed and throwing mountains into the depth of the sea?

Humm, this just dawned on me—mountains into the depth of the sea—the same place where my sins reside in the memory of God—gone, gone, gone. I need to do more research and reflection on this.

In the meantime, in a week where I face almost certain surgery, the timing of this “vision” could not have been more perfect. I am not surprised.

I use the word “vision” in light of this famous verse in Proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs
29:18 NASB). I have heard this verse misinterpreted so often.

This is patently NOT about some type of CEO model pastor who stands up in front of his church like Steve Jobs to share His “vision.” Nope.

This is a reference to the prophetic message. Prophets were originally called “seers.” Their role was to preach the Word in such a vivid way as to allow the Lord to use them to call the people to repentance.

Here is the Message version of the same verse: “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed” (Proverbs
29:18 MSG).

I believe this happened to me through that testimony and that song—the Lord gave me a prophetic “vision.” Now, I have a choice.

Lord, I have allowed this disease to pull me down into the pit. I have been so low. I turn from that. Please lift me up and out. I do pray for Sam today in his health concerns and also a dear sister named Kay who had a stroke yesterday. Heal both of them, Jesus. Strengthen them through their mountains. Amen.

Then and Now

I have a couple of “then and now” contrasts this morning.

First of all, I want to thank all of you for your notes and calls and messages and prayers. I’m not really through the woods yet as far as my attitude is concerned. I would say that yesterday it was downright bad.

This is weird to say, but dealing with cancer NOW after five years is much more difficult than it was when I was first diagnosed—THEN. Five years! It is really hard to believe that I have had cancer that long.

When I am driving around in Northglenn and surrounding communities making visits or whatever, I drive by something that pulls up a memory. This is how my thought process goes: when did that happen? Oh yeah, it was before cancer, B. C. Wow, that seems as if it were lifetimes ago. What was I thinking? Certainly not about cancer.

It is getting more difficult to remember what life was like before I had this disease.

I do remember what one oncologist told us. This was the first guy we went to before we decided on Dr. Jotte. He said, “This disease wants to just consume every part of your life, but you can’t let it.” Man oh man, was he right!

Well, anyway …

Last night, we decided to watch an episode of one of our favorite DVD series. It is called John Adams, and it is based on the David McCullough book with the same title. The second episode is called “Independence,” depicting how that first congress came up with the Declaration of Independence.

It ends as one of the leaders of that first congress, with Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin standing near him, reads this famous document to a crowd gathered outside that famous building in Philadelphia. The crowd cheers. The drums beat. The soldiers of a new nation begin to march. I always get very emotional. That was the humble beginning of this great nation. THEN.

Fast forward to NOW. I wonder what Adams and Jefferson and Franklin would think if somehow they could be carried to the future and see us now.

I honestly fear that we are heading down a path of destruction through decay from within, just as the empire of Rome fell.

But we face a very serious outside threat as well.

This morning, Don is coming to share with us a bit. I got into a contact with him through the recommendation of Larry, one of our members. His mission is to show the Jesus film in Western Europe in an attempt to reach Muslims.

I hearken back to my conversation with Sam this past week. He made the statement as he was commenting on his recent trip to Spain that there were many Muslims in that country. I have read that Muslims are simply out-populating much of Western Europe. They are growing exponentially as a group.

This seems to be their tactic, and I wonder when we will really notice it here.

The other day, Jim and I drove by the mosque in Northglenn. The sign out front read, “Come learn about Islam.” I wonder how many are.

We aren’t exactly having crowds show up to learn about Jesus.

But again, as long as we live in a free country with mosques and churches--both, we must continue to allow the Lord to work on us so that, those of us with the right answer, can get out there and share.

“A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy” (Proverbs
29:1 NASB). Of course, as you know, the whole concept of a “stiffened neck” is a metaphor for rebellion, and the people of Israel in their wilderness wanderings are the first and primo examples of it. For most of the nation with the exception of two, things did not end well for them.

Lord, I know that the enemy wants me to be buried in this disease. Thank You for this verse today. It reminds me that You are disciplining me through cancer. Give me the grace not to stiffen my neck—an amazing statement because the cancer is in my neck and it is sore. I turn my neck over to You. Amen.

Alternative Cancer Treatments

Somehow, the whole idea of living the rest of my life going in and out of chemo therapy doesn’t seem all that appealing. I think the most discouraging thing about my visit with Dr. Jotte the other day is when he made that roller coaster motion with his hand.

You mean that’s it?

Now, let me hasten to say that I put no stock in my human doctors, no matter who they are. The second God chooses to heal me I will be healed. So, I put my faith in Him. Bottom line.

But, two things need to be said at this point. One—God uses human agency to accomplish His purposes and this is particularly true with doctors and medicine. Believing in God for healing and going to a doctor are NOT two contradictory entities!

Two—God gave us brains and I believe He intends us to use them.

So, yesterday, my mom and sis and I had a long discussion about alternative cancer treatments. The truth is the chemotherapy is poison, and the more treatments one has over the course of time, the more poison one puts in his or her system. This cannot be good. Plus, the more treatment you have, the less effective it is.

Thus, what does one do?

Well, Marilyn has done a lot more research than I have. Let me say at this point that early on, I realized that I can’t spend too much of my time scouting around on the web about my type of cancer. I read too much that takes way too long to get out of my head.

However, I am learning that I need to get over it and at least consider alternatives.

But here are some of the challenges one faces as he starts to “dip his foot in this swimming pool.” First, it is big-time expensive and generally not covered by health insurance. Now, of course, when it comes to life and death, this consideration goes out the window, but for right now, it is a concern. Ya think? Ha.

WITH INSURANCE, money is a huge issue with cancer. My health insurance renews in June. I have a $2000 deductible and $2000 max out of pocket. That PET scan cost me $4000 the other day! But the good news is that whatever else I do for the rest of the year is taken care of (the Lord’s provision). But still … a lot of money.

Second, the benefits of alternative care are based on anecdotal evidence, for the most part. In other words, these treatments work for some and not for others. So, making a choice of alternative care is a bit of a risk.

On the other hand, as Dr. Jotte explained to us months ago, he operates on the basis of clinical research and evidence. These drugs go through a long process including clinical trials (I participated in one of these last Spring) before anything comes on the market. It is also a risk. I think the last round of chemo did me no good, but I have a friend who took that exact drug for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is now in remission. But with traditional care, more people are involved and more testing occurs. This seems to be a huge difference.

Third, whatever I choose in terms of alternatives, it will be extremely hard to give up my doctor and access to constant screening and supervision. This gives me a lot of assurance. No matter what is going on, I’m glad that the doctors on top of it.

It seems that the best choice would be to do both, but alternative care and conventional chemo seem to be totally contradictory in their goals. As a general rule, alternative care focuses on helping the body through nutrition fight off the disease itself whereas chemo is poison and thus ultimately weakens the body.

I don’t know …

Needless to say, my family and I count on your continued prayers. I could not make it without all of you. Words cannot express how much I appreciate your notes and messages online and phone calls and concern.

Lord, as always, from day one of my life and day one of this disease, I trust You. Give my family and me wisdom and direction.

“He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs
28:26 NASB). Amen.

Report from Doctor Visits

I have to be honest this morning that I am a little discouraged. Two things from yesterday.

First, both doctors felt that the priority for right now is the appendix. The first doctor called a surgeon as I sat in his waiting room.

When we got to the cancer center and Dr. Jotte came in to see us, he had already talked with this surgeon. So concerned was he about the appendix that he told me not to get a treatment yesterday, “Sometimes surgeons become hesitant to operate if you tell them that you have had a chemo treatment lately.”

“But these maintenance treatments are not technically chemo, right?” I asked.

“Right,” he replied, “but they tend to lump them all together, so to be safe, let’s not do a treatment today.”

Okay. Before I left the center, I had an appointment with the surgeon. It is on Tuesday. Anyone want to bet that I DON’T get this appendix out sometime in the near future?

And, let me hasten to say at this point that I will be glad. It seems that it is a little inflamed and rather than fear having it burst (from what I learned yesterday, you don’t want to deal with THAT), I’d rather just have it removed. Plus, they now can do it as laparoscopic surgery so no big deal. This doesn’t really bother me.

Second, the thing that is discouraging is that my cancer is growing again. It is hard even to type those words. On the cancer topic, Dr. Jotte said, “If you didn’t have this appendix problem, I wouldn’t be too worried because you are feeling well, but let’s get through this month and see where you are. We might be able to go six months or so but …” His voice trailed off a bit.

I finished his sentence, “But I will have to get chemo again.”

“Yes,” he answered.

My head dropped. It was a reflex action.

“John, from the beginning I have told you that what you are looking at is that we fight this thing off for a while but we have to come back to treatment.” He made a wave motion with his hand, indicating a roller coaster.

I guess the thing that is a bit discouraging is that I was hoping for a couple of years on maintenance treatments before going back to chemo, but the time frame has bumped up. Oh, man.

After these doctor’s visits, I was in shock a bit and had to take some time to recalibrate a bit. I’m still there, I think.

I remember a statement that one of my favorite preachers, Ron Dunn, made. I think it fits me today, “I believe in Romans 8:28, but don’t ask me to preach a sermon on it quite yet.”

“How blessed is the man who fears always, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity” (Proverbs
28:14 NASB).

A hardened heart is no option.

Lord, I confess to You today that I am reeling a bit. Thank You for the prayers and encouragement of everyone who is reading this blog. I choose the fear of the Lord. I choose to trust You. You’ve never let me down yet. Amen.

How to Prepare for Bad News

Okay, so before I get into the topic for today, I need to make a few comments.

First, this is just a topic that came to mind this morning.

Second, the reality is that I have a peace about the day ahead.

Third, even as I frame the topic, I don’t like that statement … but I am already getting ahead of myself a bit.

Let me back up. Today, I have two doctor’s appointments scheduled. The first is with a doctor who wants to visit with me about my appendix.

The other day, after the cancer center called, I telephoned the clinic I go to and they informed the doctor. He got a hold of the PET scan, looked at it, and then called to tell me to come in. So, I am glad to find out what he recommends that I do about my appendix. I still wouldn’t mind just having it removed if it is inflamed.

I was talking with a nurse in our church yesterday. I told her about this incident. She said, “Well, if your appendix is inflamed, you are going to have a problem with it at some point. The procedure to take it out is not that big of a deal.” Well, you know the old adage about “minor surgery”—the surgery doctors perform on everyone else? Ha. All surgery is a big deal, but I hear what she is saying. I want to find out what he thinks. This appointment is at 8:00 this morning.

My appointment with Dr. Jotte at the cancer center is at 9:30. Mother and Marilyn are going with me to both appointments. We should be able to make it to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in good time.

My neck continues to be sore on the cancer side. Plus, I have a little discomfort in my abdomen on the LEFT side. I want to talk with him about both these issues and get his take on the appendix as well.

All right, so that is the context.

As I was lying awake last night, my mind went to all the various scenarios of what these two doctors could say today. I thought about best case, “middle” case (if one can phrase it that way), and worse case with both of these visits. Then, as I pondered “worse case,” I asked the Lord to prepare me to hear those words, thus, the topic: how to prepare for bad news.

Well, first, let me say that my little exercise in the course of the night did NOTHING but tie me up in knots even more! I don’t recommend it.

There is no way I could possibly think of all the scenarios I could face today if I had a week’s worth of nights to lay awake. Thus, it is a waste of time.

Think about all the potential bad new out there—most of which has absolutely nothing to do with these two doctor’s visits. How about receiving word that a tornado that hit Denver destroyed this house? How about getting a call that the church building has burned down? How about learning the Peyton and half the Broncos decided to retire? Need I go on?

Or, how about this question: how does one prepare for GOOD NEWS? As I indicated the other day, I think prosperity is often a greater test than adversity. What would I do if Dr. Jotte said, “Wow, John, the PET scan shows there is no cancer? Put some ice on your sore neck and have a nice life!” Ha. How about that? That would be the greater test.

Anyway, I hope you get my point … I’m a little groggy this morning.

So, as I tossed and turned through the night, at about 2:45 AM or so, this “revelation” came to me: “Lord, I confess the sin of worry. There is no way I can possibly prepare for ANYTHING that is going to happen to me today, whether it is bad or good, so I just TRUST YOU.” Somehow at that moment, I felt relaxed enough to sleep for a bit.

Lesson learned? I hope so…. at least for today. Amen.

The Lord's Ways and Means

As I sit here this morning, I’m more amazed that ever at all the “ways and means” the Lord uses to lift us up. Isn’t there a “Ways and Means Committee” in the House of Representatives in the United States government?

Well, the Lord is a One-person committee and He always makes the right choice.

As I indicated yesterday, the Lord is giving me peace about my health issues, but they are still a bit sobering. I’ll be glad to see two doctors tomorrow—one to talk about my appendix (he called the cancer center yesterday and got a hold of the PET scan in order actually to see what they are talking about) and of course, the other—Dr. Jotte—to let me know where things stand with my cancer stuff. My neck is a bit sore this morning, so it is a concern.

Anyway, these “issues” are there, hanging around.

But the Lord used two brothers and their recent mission trips to lift me up.

First, I had lunch with a dear Korean brother. His name is Sung Ho. I first met him because he was a student in one of my preaching classes at the seminary here over a decade ago. He has gone through many physical challenges himself. We each shared our “war stories.”

Quickly, the conversation moved to a discussion of the overseas mission the Lord has given his congregation. On two separate occasions, Sung Ho and some folks in his church have traveled to China to work with North Korean refugees—fascinating.

Apparently, there are two ways to get out of North Korea. The first—a route that women take—is to bribe border soldiers in Korea and China to go to the countryside in China to work with farmers. The second (this is an approach that men take) is to get to some other country as the means of going to the United States or some other nation.

When Sung Ho and his group go, they work in the countryside. He told me yesterday that he has many folks in his congregation who work in the medical field. Thus, when his group goes, they minister to the physical needs of these refugees as they share the gospel.

Of course, since proselyting is illegal, they must meet with folks in a rather discreet way so as not to draw undue attention to their work.

As we ate our great Korean barbeque lunch, I loved the conversation as I learned about life in China and North Korea. In fact, as we concluded our meal, I felt as if I had been there myself.

That is one conversation.

Later in the afternoon, Sam came by. This dear brother came to tell me about his recent trip to Spain. I learned about all the challenges of sharing the gospel in Madrid, the so-called graveyard of missionaries. What a name for a place!

Sam and his group got to do a lot of prayer-walking and personal evangelism.

I heard about the fact that there are a lot of Muslims in that part of Europe (not the only place, I’m sure).

We talked about Spain and the challenges our missionaries and Christians face there. It was a great conversation (as all of them are) with Sam.

So, there you go. It isn’t as if life has been easy for these two brothers. Like Sung Ho, Sam continues to face his own challenges in ministry.

After listening to these two brothers, I ended the day under conviction that, here in America we in the church have more than we need. And as individuals, we focus on ourselves way too much, whereas overseas, Christians lack a lot of the basic needs.

I don’t know … it just puts things in perspective a bit. The truth is that absolutely everything—good times and bad, plenty and lack of plenty, praise and criticism, sickness and health—any and all of it is a test.

“The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, And each is tested by the praise accorded him” (Proverbs
27:21 NASB).

Lord, thank You for these brothers and the way You are using them across the globe and here in town as encouragers to me yesterday. I lift both of them and their families and their churches up to You. In the crucible, help us all to pass the test—whatever it may be. Amen.