PastorJohnsBlog.com

A Stroll At Leisure With God

Death/Life

Update on my mom: please continue to pray for her. Yesterday was not a good day. She felt sick most of the day and had no energy. As we were discussing it last night, we all came to the agreement that it relates to her blood pressure. In spite of the medicine that the doctor is giving her to regulate it, it is still too high. Marilyn takes her blood pressure every day. She is tracking it.

As a result, we are going to have to take her back to the doctor to get her medicine modified. The only problem with an increase in her blood pressure medicine, however, is that an increase has its own side-affects. More medicine makes her feel even more lethargic.

All of this is taking a toll on her. Here is a person who has been very healthy most of her life and now, she rarely feels well. If it is not this blood pressure issue, it is another one of her ailments—back, stomach, or eyes—that cause her trouble.

Again, as she often says, “Getting old is not for cowards.”

The second thing that I would like to mention is that there is a ministry issue that is very heavily on my mind and heart this morning. I would like nothing better than to talk about it in detail in this blog (as I do just about everything else), but in this situation, I certainly don’t think it would be appropriate. I realize that asking all of you to pray about a nebulous “ministry issue” is rather vague, but that is all I can say this morning.

I can talk about how I feel, however, in relation to the passage this morning.

Going back to 2 Corinthians, I am seeing how significant Paul’s metaphor of the Roman victory parade is for the next few chapters. That image of the general in his chariot dragging captives along, on the way to their deaths, is pervasive. Those enemy soldiers (or civilians, possibly including women and children) were alive in the sense that they were breathing and shuffling along but in reality they were dead. Their fate had been sealed. It was over.

I can’t get over the fact that Paul observed that—many times, I am sure as a Roman citizen—and said, “That’s it. That’s the Christian life.”

And for the next several chapters, beginning with 2:14, he elaborates on it. All of this comes as Paul is waiting for news from the church.

He is agonizing about a ministry issue.

In his situation, it is all about the church’s response to an offender. He is hoping and praying that, having confronted this man, the church would forgive him. Everything he had done in this church, everything he had taught them, everything related to how the church was going to do in the future, hinged on this response.

It was so important, so crucial, that Paul couldn’t even minister, even when there was a wide open door for the gospel in Troas. He had to just move on and wait it out. It was excruciating agony.

I would imagine that Paul just sat there for days, thinking and praying. He had plenty of time for reflection and his thoughts moved toward the very essence of the Christian life and what it means to be a genuine servant of God. And it all revolved around being chained to the chariot.

The more I think about where Paul was as he wrote these chapters in 2 Corinthians, I can relate to it in so many ways.

Right or wrong, good or bad, as a pastor, part of what comes with the gift (and no one can take credit for this, certainly, just because it is a spiritual gift) is a broad and deep perspective of what is REALLY going on in the church. Most people (and I’m not blaming them necessarily) have a very myopic focus of church life. They are only able to see what is going on outwardly and very narrowly in their interest/ministry area.

But as a pastor, you come face to face with spiritual issues in the church. It may be in a conversation or committee meeting or worship service—whatever, whenever—the Holy Spirit points it out and then He says, “You must deal with this.”

Many times, when I have felt this impression from the Lord, I have balked. “Oh, no, I don’t want to.” Because along with this perception comes the realization of what is going to cost in terms of conflict and angst.

I was telling someone about this the other day as we were discussing what it means to be a pastor. Several years ago, as I was dealing with a situation in the church (and I honestly can’t remember specifics. I guess I should be thankful for that), I was struggling. I knew that it was going to be a fight. And I was praying to the Lord, and I felt as if He backed me in a corner with a finger in my face, “John, I put you here. I called you to serve this church as their pastor. You have no choice in the matter. Deal with it!”

Gulp. Okay.

I remember Bob Costas describing baseball in one of the Ken Burns’ history of baseball video series. I love that series, by the way.

Anyway, Costas said that in baseball, when someone gets a hit, as you watch the baseball soar into the outfield, you are already beginning to calculate where it is going to go, who has a chance to catch it, what he is going to do with the ball if he does, where the runners are going, et cetera.

Every time I hear this description, the thought occurs to me, “That is what it means to be a pastor.” Most folks in the church are like the players on the field—doing their own thing and playing their position—but the pastor is high up in the grandstands—watching how all of this is going to unfold.

Please do not take any of my comments as indicating that pastors are better than the “players” or are more special. I’m not saying that. The fact is that without “players,” there is no ballgame—at Coors Field or in the church. It is just different. That’s all I am saying.

Back to my point—that was Paul’s perspective of things at Corinth. That’s why he was in such agony as he waited it out in Macedonia, looking off into the horizon, trying to catch a glimpse of Titus returning to him with good news.

I just can relate to what he is saying TODAY. I feel exactly the same way.

I’ll have to tell all of you that I am taking a few days of vacation over this weekend and into next week, but it won’t be much of one, unfortunately, because my mind and heart are consumed with this ministry issue. I can’t get away from it.

But, in the midst of all of this, I know the Lord is doing something. Paul says it this way: "Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11 NLT). Paul suffered on so many different levels that went beyond the emotional angst he experienced as a pastor, but it definitely included that.

And, Paul is asserting that this “sharing in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies” demonstrated and proved that he was a genuine follower of Jesus. This just goes with the package, whether you are a pastor or not.

Everything the Lord is doing comes back to the fact that He is handing us over to death, day by day and moment by moment, so that the resurrection life of Jesus might be evident. Chained to the Chariot. Always and still. A walking, living, breathing dead man so that the victory of Jesus might be even more visible!

In other words, my contribution to Jesus’ victory parade is death! My death makes his life and victory more prominent.

Lord, I wish there were another day—with all my heart, I do, but why would I think that I would have to take another way than what you called your Son to take. His road involved death, burial, resurrection. My baptism into Jesus signified that I signed up for the same thing—to be identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection.

I lift up my mom today. Help her as she walks this death/life road now through suffering. I give you this ministry issue. I deny myself, take up the cross today and follow you, pastor or no pastor, this is my road.

“Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me” (“Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,” BH 2008, 217). Thank you for everything you went through for me, Jesus. Amen.
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Right Up to the Edge, No Further

I continue to be amazed by these fires that rage in our state, especially the one in Colorado Springs.

As of this moment, I read this morning that 386 homes have been destroyed and one person has lost his life.

I was thankful yesterday that it was a little cooler and we even had a few drops of rainfall. This can only help. Thank you for praying for rain. Please continue to do so.

As it turned out, I did not get a chance to try to reach my friends, Andy and Gary, but I will work on that today.

Yesterday evening, Marilyn told me that she came across a testimony from Doug Nuenke. He is the president of the United States branch of the Navigators. The Navs have a camp in Colorado Springs that is right in the path of the fire. The camp is called Glen Eyrie.

It is a special and beautiful place.

I have to stop here and divert for a moment. One of if not my favorite biography of all time is Daws. It is the autobiography of the founder of the Navigator. The author’s name is Dawson Trotman. If you want to be challenged to grow in your walk and relationship with Jesus, I challenge everyone reading this to find a copy of that biography and read it.

Two things stand out from the life of Dawson Trotman. First, he was a champion of scripture memory. This is a hallmark of his walk with Jesus and is a central feature of the ministry of the Navigators to this day.

Second, he had a burden for sharing Jesus with lost folks. One story in the book stands out in this regard. Daws made a commitment to share Christ with at least one person per day.

One night, as he was getting ready for bed, he realized he had not shared with anyone that day. He got up, got his clothes on, and got in his car. As he headed out, he noticed a man beside the road who was hitchhiking. He picked the man up, and he got into Dawson’s car, he said, “Where are you headed?”

Daws’ classic response was, “Wherever you need to go!” The man was a little taken aback, of course. Huh?

Daws went on to explain, “I am committed to sharing Jesus once a day and for today, you are my guy.” With a captive audience, Daws did indeed share Jesus with the man and by the time he reached the hitchhiker’s destination, the man had received Christ!

This book is chuck-full of stories like this. It is one of the most challenging Christian books I have ever read.

This reminds me to get my copy of this bio off the shelf and read it for myself again. For several years, through college and seminary, I made a point of reading this book once a year, over and over. It is that good.

Well, anyway, through my contact with Daws through his biography, I became interested in the Navigator’s organization and learned about Glen Eyrie.

Several years ago, I decided to take a personal retreat to this amazing Christian camp. I booked a reservation to stay in the “Castle.” This is the oldest building on the campsite—the original and first building. It is rather old and rickety. At night, you can hear the pipes “crack” as the heater resonates through them. I hope you know what I mean.

But what a wonderful place. I stayed in my room part of the day, but I loved to walk and hike in the area around the camp. It is beautiful.

Well, anyway, when I heard that the Waldo Canyon fire threatened to destroy Glen Eyrie, I was really concerned.

Back to Marilyn’s comment last night—she said that she heard that the president of the Navigators gave the testimony that the fire came right up to the edge of the camp but no further! So far, the camp has been spared!

I praise God for this. As Marilyn shared that with me, both she and I were deeply encouraged. This is another example of the way God protects His people.

I was not able to find that exact story but I did find a YouTube video of an interview that Doug conducted on Fox News. Here is the link to that interview. It is hugely encouraging: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JRfgwTYD34.

"O Sovereign LORD, the strong one who rescued me, you protected me on the day of battle" (Psalm 140:7 NLT).

O Lord, I am thankful that you set the limits and the boundaries in our lives. Thank you for protecting Glen Eyrie from the fire.

I just continue to pray for the folks who have lost their homes and the victims of this terrible fire. I pray that all the folks impacted by this fire would come to know you as the sovereign and strong God, whether their homes are spared or not.

“Isn’t he beautiful?
Beautiful, isn’t He?
Prince of Peace, Son of God, isn’t He?” (“Isn’t He?” BH 2008, 214). Amen.
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Ten Fires in Colorado!

I tell you. In all the years I have lived here, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Yesterday, as I was heading up Federal Boulevard to turn west on 120th Avenue, I saw a plume of smoke coming from the Boulder area. Apparently, a lightning strike caused a fire that is now threatening the city of Boulder.

The Hyde Park fire, north of the Denver metro area, is still raging, although I saw a news report that indicated that is now being contained, but there is a fire in Colorado Springs, outside a community and area we love to visit when we go the Springs on vacation.

It is the Garden of the Gods and Manitou Springs area. I guess they are calling it the Waldo Canyon fire. In the Denver Post today, the report indicates that the fire is consuming 18,500 acres. So far, 300 homes have been lost, and it threatens the city of Colorado Springs.

Here is another aspect of this: tens of thousands of folks remain homeless as a result of these fires. When an area is threatened by the spread of a fire (no matter where it is), authorities infiltrate an area, at all hours of the day or night, knock on a door, and say, “It is time to go, NOW.” Many people just have to jump in their car with only the possessions they can grab up in a minute and head out.

I can’t imagine.

Back to my historical perspective of all of this—Mother, Marilyn, and I talk about it often. We never remember even hearing about many forest fires back in the days of our childhood. My mom doesn’t remember any either as she and my dad moved here in the early 1950’s. I’m sure they occurred, I guess, but we just have no memory and now, all of this.

I received an email from a fellow pastor yesterday. He is soliciting supplies like blankets and water and non-perishable food items to take down to the Springs. I’m sure there is much need for those types of items, but the magnitude of this disaster is so overwhelming that it is hard to know what to do.

Of course, the weather is not helping at all. For the past several days, it has been well over 100 degrees and the wind has been howling. I’m not expert but I think this is the worst possible scenario. Everything is so dry—“epic dryness,” as another news report I read has put it.

It is quite common actually to smell smoke in the air most of the time, and there is a creepy kind of haziness in the sky most hours of the day.

Please pray for rain.

Yesterday late afternoon, it got very cloudy and a thunderstorm blew in, complete with lightning and thunder, but no rain to speak of—just a few drops here and there. Of course, this doesn’t help, either, and lightning strikes are the many cause of most of these fires.

Believe me, the cause of every single one is thoroughly investigated. I would not like to be a person who is apprehended after inadvertently flicking a cigarette butt out the window. The way things are in our state right now, I think the police would throw you in jail and throw away the key. And I wouldn’t blame them.

Bernard was telling me Sunday, as we gathered for prayer, that he saw a person do this the other day. “I almost felt like chasing him down myself, stopping him, and calling the police. I can’t believe someone would be stupid enough to do that,” he said. I agree—stupid enough to smoke in the first place and then to toss that “forest fire spark” out the window. Dumb.

Anyway, please pray also for two friends of mine. They live in the Springs—Andy and Gary. I’m going to try to contact both of them today to find out how they are doing.

I tell you again. The Waldo Canyon fire threatens the whole city of Colorado Springs. It is a very scary time for a lot of people.

How does one interpret all this? I honestly don’t know. On the one hand, again, as I say often to people, disasters occur. Things just happen. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust,” as Jesus says in Matthew 5:45. I understand that.

On the other hand, however, it is hard not to see an element of the judgment of God in all of this, as well. I had to search for it on Google, but I finally found a verse in the book of Revelation that came to mind. Here it is: "The first angel blew his trumpet, and hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down on the earth. One-third of the earth was set on fire, one-third of the trees were burned, and all the green grass was burned" (Revelation 8:7 NLT). Can you imagine? One third of the earth on fire?

I think what we are seeing is just a little taste of the unfolding judgment of God in the future, not too distant future?

If this doesn’t make you want to get right and stay right with the Lord, what will? The Lord brought this to mind today as I finished Psalm 139: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life" (Psalm 139:23, 24 NLT).

Lord, I know that there is not one thing that happens over which you are not totally in control. I thank you that you are in charge of these fires. You have allowed them for some purpose.

I pray for rain, heavy rain. I pray for the firefighters. Protect them from harm. I pray that no more houses would be damaged or lost. I pray for the safety and protection of everyone in the path of these fires. I pray for Andy and Gary and their families. Protect them.

I also pray for a pastor friend. His name is Kim. I found out last night that he is having excruciating stomach pain and the doctors don’t know what is going on. He is getting numerous tests.

Lord, show me if there is anything in my life that offends you. I turn to you, today.

“I have seen the Light whose holy name is Jesus;
His kingdom is forever.
He reigns on heaven’s throne” (“I Have Seen the Light,” BH 2008, 211). Amen.
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Good Fellowship

Yesterday, at noon, I drove over to First Southern Baptist Church of Westminster for a pastor’s lunch. Dan, the pastor of FSBC Westminster, invited us over. He grilled steaks for us. His secretary Deanna and her husband Larry helped out. It was a meal fit for a king.

When I arrived, Sam pulled up in his car. I invited him. I’ve mentioned him before. He is the church planter from Aurora who called our church a couple of months ago. We’ve had multiple opportunities to visit since. I invited him to join our fellowship and he was more than willing to come.

Once I got inside, I had the opportunity to meet Greg, who is Dan’s new associate pastor of worship and education. Standing in the fellowship was another brother, Bill. He serves a church in the Park Hill area of Denver.

This fellowship of pastors is basically from the North Side of Denver. This is the same group of guys who gathered to pray for me and anoint my head with oil prior to my first chemo treatment almost two years ago. We’ve only had one get together since the momentous meeting. It was great to see some of the guys again. Several other guys could not make it yesterday. I missed them.

After we had visited a while, we sat down to eat. Once we started, another brother showed up. This was his first time to join our fellowship. His name is Larry and he serves an SBC church in Boulder.

Are you keeping track? The final tally of guys was six: Dan, Greg, Sam, Bill, Larry, and me—five pastors and one associate pastor sitting around a table eating steak and sharing with one another.

I wish I could give you some of the details of what these guys shared, but I think that would be a violation of the level of honesty of our fellowship. I will share in generalities, however.

But before I do, I just have to say this: pastors need a place where they can share what is going on with them without fear of reprisal and condemnation. I’ve talked about this issue in the blog on numerous occasions. But I just need to say it again: I’ve learned to be very cautious when it comes with being dead level honest about what is going on with me with folks in the church. More often than not, I have been burned.

I used to be a lot more vulnerable and open than I am now. Right or wrong, that is just the way it is.

You have to be careful because once you share something, you are vulnerable. And I just don’t need the grief right now in my life.

But I needed to talk. I realized that as I sat with those guys yesterday. I needed to share my heart.

Larry started out. He went into detail about a process that the Lord is leading his church through right now. He was honest about his feelings and rejoiced at how things were going.

After that, Bill talked. From what he said, it appears as if the Lord has raised Bill up as a pastor through some very difficult situations that his church has endured. He is dealing with this history right now and it is very difficult.

After Bill talked, I shared some things about what is going on with me. As I talked, a couple of the guys seemed taken aback. I don’t think they knew that I had had cancer. As I have indicated before, I just don’t talk about cancer all that much any more. I assume everyone knows about my story and if they don’t, it is not that big of a deal. I don’t harp on it. It just doesn’t feel appropriate to do so, but I’m not sure this is what I need to do. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Dan was directing things, yesterday. He has such a heart of love and compassion for pastors. When I wound down, he asked Sam to share. Sam told about the challenges of working and trying to start a church. He is seeking to walk the delicate balance between his secular job and spending time with the church.

When he finished, there was a lull in the conversation. I said, “Dan, we aren’t leaving until you share what is going on with you.” Dan said that he was encouraged since Greg came on staff and he was excited about the upcoming birth of a new grandbaby in his family. We rejoiced with him on that.

Greg did not get an opportunity to share. I felt bad about that.

When he finished, he said, “Well, guys, let’s pray.” We spent rather an extended period of time, going around the table again, just praying specifically for one another. I really appreciated what some of the guys prayed for me. The Lord is still using it in my life, even now.

As we said our “Amens” and started to leave, Greg caught me in the parking lot, and we took several minutes as he shared some of the details of his story with me. I’m really glad that I could hear it. He was honest with me. We had a good talk, just the two of us.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that, after this pastor’s gathering, I went over to Helen’s house to visit with Carol and Helen. At the beginning of the conversation, Helen looked concerned. She said, “You are always telling us that you wish and hope that our congregation could get to the point where we could be totally honest with each other.”

“Yes, right,” I responded.

“Well, a few months ago, you asked me how I was doing, and I answered, ‘Worse and worse,’ and you said, ‘Good’ and turned and walked off!

Can you believe I did that? I can’t! I have no idea what I heard or what was going on in my tiny brain, but I said, “Helen, thanks for letting me know this. Please forgive me. I have no idea what was going on with me.” She readily did forgive me, but I was glad that she was comfortable enough in our relationship to bring this up. I so appreciate how she handled it.

I’ve probably done that many times over the course of my years in the church—offended people without even knowing it. I’m sure I have. I was just glad that we could resolve it. We had a wonderful visit and as always, when I am in Helen’s home, we laugh a lot.

Anyway, those two times of fellowship took most of my day yesterday, and I am still trying to process what the Lord is teaching me, but here are a couple of things.

First, in spite of the fact that I have not wanted to talk about cancer as much, I still believe that the Lord has lessons to teach the church and me through it. He is not done yet.

I am feeling the urgency to spend time with the Lord seeking answers to this. Please pray with me that I will be able to hear God through it.

He isn’t done.

Second, I realize how much I need genuine Christian fellowship. I’ve reverted to my pre-cancer mode these past few months—a myopic focus on work to the neglect of this major need. This is going to change.

We planned another fellowship sometime in August. I’m going to work on this. But I think it is more than just another pastor’s fellowship. More than that.

Lord, I cannot begin to thank you enough for the fellowship yesterday with these men and women and how it ministered to me and met needs in my life I was not even aware I had.

I confess, Lord, that I am getting more and more weary. I’m tired of church activity upon church activity where Christians are in the same room, but we don’t share true fellowship.

Show me how to do a better job of remedying that. Give me direction and wisdom. I know you have more to teach me and more to teach First Southern. Open my ears Lord.

"I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you" (Psalm 139:11, 12 NLT).

“I have seen the Light whose holy name is Jesus;
His kingdom is forever.
He reigns on heaven’s throne” (“I Have the Seen the Light,” BH 2008, 211). Amen.
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Resliency: Pushed to the Edge, But Not OVER the Edge

I remember the first time the Lord brought me face to face with these four couplets in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. It was my senior year at Baylor.

Before I go further with my story …

Four couplets, you might be asking? Yes. Paul makes four statements about the realities of his life and after each statement, he goes on to add “but not.” Here is what I am referring to, and I am quoting from the Amplified Bible and I am arranging this citation so that you more clearly see what I am talking about:

"We are hedged in (pressed) on every side [troubled and oppressed in every way], but not cramped or crushed;
We suffer embarrassments and are perplexed and unable to find a way out, but not driven to despair;
We are pursued (persecuted and hard driven), but not deserted [to stand alone]; We are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed;" (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9 AMP).

This is such a fascinating and intriguing way of describing the Christian life—true to form, I might add.

Back to my story before I talk about these two verses—I was in my final year in college and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. There was a huge part of me that just wanted to get “the show on the road.” I wanted to preach in the worst way and struggled with putting myself out there and just diving in.

Another part of me realized that I was not ready for that. This became evident as I preached in a little church out in the countryside. I had an opportunity to fill the pulpit in this little church for a couple of Sundays. The last Sunday I was there, after I concluded the service, a man stood up and said, “We need a pastor here. I think we should consider calling this young man.” Everyone—there were about twenty folks there—agreed.

I had suspected something like this was going to happen. So, on that particular Sunday, I invited Marilyn to go with me.

Well, as the church was deliberating what to do, someone ushered Marilyn and me out of the church’s auditorium and into a side room. He shut the door as he left. Marilyn and I were sitting in that small room looking at each other. Here was my opportunity to become a pastor. I had wanted this chance since the Lord called me to preach my sophomore year. That was it, right?

Nope.

We looked at each other, and I said to Marilyn, “There is no way I can do this. I just can’t.” Marilyn seemed to be rather relieved when I made that statement. She agreed.

They called us back out to the auditorium and said that they agreed that they wanted me to be their pastor. When they finished, I had the opportunity to speak. I can’t remember exactly what I said at that moment. It was rather embarrassing because I had been preaching there for several weeks. I choked as I stood up, but I turned to the small group of people and said, “Thank you so much for extending this call to me. I’m honored that you would think of me and call me, but I just can not accept this invitation.”

I remember the facial expression of one man in particular. He was not happy. After the service, he said, “I am a little concerned that you let this process go on, but I guess you didn’t want to assume that we would call you.” He was right. I felt it would have been arrogant and premature of me to turn down the call before they actually extended it to me.

Well, this was God’s way of pushing me, extending me, and at that moment, I knew that the next step was seminary, and I never looked back after that.

Back to the passage—it has always fascinated me because I concur with Paul. The Christian life is difficult, in so many different ways and levels. The Lord allows us to be in extreme situations, places where we just don’t think we are going to make it.

He pushes us to the edge. But somehow, someway, He steps in and rescues us before we go over that edge.

The final couplet puts it the best, I think. “We are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed.”

This final couplet always brings to mind Rocky Balboa and his boxing match with Apollo Creed. He got knocked down multiple times. Each time, you wondered if he was going to be done, but he struggled to his feet and fought on. By the end of the match, he was still on his feet—barely—and at the end, he won.

This is the property of RESILIENCE that the Holy Spirit enables us to have as believers. It is a crucial mark of genuineness. It is like a rubber band that is stretched to its absolute limit but yet it doesn’t break.

I’ve seen this played out over the years as pastor. Some, who face extreme difficulty, turn away from God and leave the church forever. The only thing I can conclude (and of course, neither anyone else nor I know the end of the story) is that they were never saved in the first place.

But others, facing extreme situations and being pushed to edge, struggle greatly but they do not turn away. They keep on plugging.

Back to the context of these four couplets—we have the treasure of the glory of God in clay pots. We are those clay pots! They may be cracked on occasion, but they don’t break!

I believe that what Paul is talking about is brokenness.

In the world, when something is broken—let’s take a clay pot for example—it is useless and we throw it in the trash.

But in God’s household, when the pot is broken, it is now ready to be used. It is in these extremes, when I come to edge (the edge of my strength, my ability, and my wisdom), that the Lord’s power is evident.

Yesterday was a tough day. I think I was just extremely exhausted after Sunday, but I had time to reflect as I fought to stay awake through most of the day. My mom and sister and I had a long talk about where things are for us individually and as a family.

Without going into detail at this point, please pray for us.

Lord, I firmly believe that I am, right now, in one of those times. I feel stretched to the limit. I feel burdened excessively. I am struggling. My family is having a hard time. We need you to intervene. Step in as you always do in extreme times and give us relief and strength and wisdom and direction.

I pray the same thing for everyone who is reading this who is in the same boat—on the edge of the cliff wondering … but you are always there at the edge to keep us from going over the edge. Do it again, Lord. Do it again.

“The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb!” (“Mary, Did You Know?” BH 2008, 209). Amen.
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RevivalFest and a Quote from D. L. Moody

After our services at church yesterday, some of us headed over to E. B. Rains Park in Northglenn for RevivalFest. This is the first of this type of gathering that we have ever had. Anh Le, an evangelist who is a member of North Metro Community Church, a sister SBC congregation in our community and a partner with us in Federal Heights, organized this outreach.

Anh enlisted churches in the community to provide a booth at RevivalFest. We had a couple of tents, a folding table, some chairs, some Bibles, some brochures about our church, some water bottles with a message inside, and some bottles of water. Bill took care of transporting all this stuff over to the event. Jerry, Diane, Will, Eric, Eduardo, Omero, and Patty helped him unload it. We were in a primo spot under a tree in the park. I’m glad that we were located there. It was another hundred-degree day. We needed all the shade we could find. We were all set up and ready to go about two hours before the event started.

Jay and I arrived a little later. We sat in our tent under the tree and had some great fellowship as the other churches and people providing food arrived.

Anh’s wife Kathleen was the official coordinator of the event. She came by our booth and visited with us a while. Not long after she stopped by, Anh arrived. He came with several young people—teenagers and young adults from North Metro—came over to our area to rehearse their parts in the day’s festivities.

Anh and Ryan performed a “history of dance” routine with all the motions choreographed. It was spectacular, honestly, how both of these men worked together. After that, Anh called other members of his group together—with all of us in our tent as his audience—to make a run through the skit.

This is the same skit that Anh and his group had performed at the Easter service at Federal Heights a couple of months ago. I was glad that more folks in our church could actually witness it up close and personal. It is one of the most powerful dramatic gospel presentations I have ever witness. I wish somehow that I could get the whole thing on video and show it to the world.

Prior to the event, Anh had asked me to give the invitation after the skit. So, in the course of the program, later on that day, I hopped up on the stage, quoted John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, NIV84). After quoting that verse, I talked about the characters in the skit, touching each one as I did it (at the end of this skit, all the characters fell the stage and just laid there. I don’t want to go into too much detail here because I’ve already described it in a previous post. Please see the April 9th post in Caring Bridge). They hopped up and moved around on the stage.

Then, I proclaimed, “Jesus came to set us from the devil, free from the love of money, free from the partying lifestyle, free from a focus on externals, and free from the emptiness that pursuing all of this causes. He died, was buried, and rose again to set us free!”

I tell you. It is very interesting trying to preach at an event like that. My part in the program was rather early in the afternoon. At that point, there weren’t too many people there. Those that had arrived, whether they were Christians involved in the event or just folks in the park, were just milling around. It did not look as if many were paying attention, except for the group from First Southern.

I’m spoiled, I know. I’m used to preaching in an enclosed building with people making every effort to be polite and sit still in the comfort of a padded pew. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. But somehow, as I stood out there giving that invitation, it dawned on me that preaching in the days of the New Testament and certainly today in most places in the world is not that antiseptic.

It is outside on a street corner or in a crowded intersection or in a park. I was reminded of what George Whitfield and the Wesley brothers did in the Evangelical Revival in England in the eighteenth century. They preached in open fields to folks on their way to work. I remember reading that George Whitfield’s voice could be heard a mile away! At first, when I read that, I said, “No way—without a microphone! Are you kidding me?”

Of course, God can do anything, but I did see a picture of his pulpit. It was a large platform with a wooden back in the form of a satellite dish. I will try to find a sketch of it and attach it on my website. I’m sure this contraption helped amplify his voice, but still … pretty amazing.

Anyway, I thought of those men preaching outside. I also thought of speaker’s corner in London.

Relatively speaking (I say this because Satan can distract anyone anywhere), it is easy to preach in a comfortable building, but it is quite another thing, on a hundred-degree day to preach a congregation into existence and preach them into the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit is powerful. He can use His Word anywhere.

Well, anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed my little part. I was honored to do it.

There is more to say about yesterday. I will do it later, but I so appreciated the opportunity to be there and to share in this event. I also deeply appreciate everyone from First Southern who showed up to be a part of this outreach. I think our church did the best job of any church that was there. I know my opinion is biased.

Here is my evaluation: there are some things that I would do differently if I were organizing an event like this, and I will certainly share some of this with Anh, because there is another RevivalFest slated for the first Sunday in August. And we WILL be there again.

I’m learning that it is easy to criticize what folks do in evangelism. And I am deeply saddened and convicted by the fact that Christians in the American church today (and I am at the top of the list when I say this) are so good at finding every reason in the world NOT to share Christ or why this method or that approach won’t work. The bottom line is that none of us are doing it.

Sure, some might criticize an event in a park like RevivalFest, but I am reminded of what D. L. Moody said when someone criticized his evangelistic efforts, “Brother, I like the way I am doing evangelism better than the way you are not doing it.”

It is not easy, but here is the truth. It NEVER has been a cakewalk to share Christ in any setting at any time!

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 ESV).

Lord, I thank you for allowing the congregation I serve to be involved in this outreach effort at the park in Northglenn. I thank you for Anh and his leadership. I thank you for every church in our community that was involved. I thank you for everyone in our church who came.

We were there, Lord. Thank you for the folks we got to visit with one on one. We place the results of this day in your hands.

“Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?” (“Mary, Did You Know?” BH 2008, 209). Amen.
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Fatigue

Late yesterday afternoon, as I was talking with my mom and sister, I said, “Here is something that is very perplexing for me. I just don’t understand why some days as I sit to try to prepare sermons and write, I can barely keep my eyes open. It is a huge challenge. While other days, like today, I am wide-awake and alert, and feel as if I can get a lot done.”

Someone might answer, “Well, John, that is just the way it is with us as humans. Some days we are energized; some days we are not. No big deal.” That may very well be the case with me.

I guess I would say that I am just more aware of all of this since I was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve said this many times in the blog: before I got cancer, I just pushed ahead. I didn’t ignore how I felt; I just didn’t try to think about it. I just pushed forward. I did this for years.

Mondays were a case in point.

In the early years, we had three services on Sunday—two in the morning and one at night, and usually, after church, I went over to someone’s house where I stayed to well past 10:00 PM. We are talking a non-stop fifteen-hour day. I say non-stop because, even in the afternoon, I had to push myself to put the finishing touches on my Sunday night message. I never seemed to have that done in advance.

After THAT kind of day, I would turn around on Monday for a full-bore day that continued well into the night because we had an organized outreach program that met on Monday night to go out and visit folks.

I often joked that, in this schedule, I never really recovered from Sunday until late Tuesday afternoon. In retrospect, I think this was a prideful statement. Now, as I look back on this “joke,” I don’t think it is funny AT ALL.

Again, before I go further, I don’t want anyone to think I am pointing to myself as some super-hero. Sundays are busy days for every pastor. That just goes with the territory, whether you have three services or ten or one.

Back then, no one was forcing me to live that way. These were decisions that I led our church to make.

Looking back, though from where I sit now, I think it was all so crazy and honestly, not very fruitful for the kingdom of God. But I will leave the evaluations up to the Lord.

My point is that I lived with fatigue every week and totally discounted it.

Now, I can’t. Not because I did anything to cause cancer—the doctors have assured me of that. I understand that. But I am placing a higher value on focusing on myself (hopefully not in a selfish way but in a stewardship way--taking care of my own health). I’m factoring it into the equation now. It is a consideration. Before, it just wasn’t.

This takes my back to a conversation I had with a brother several years ago. I honestly can’t remember who it was, but we were talking about ministry. And he said, “Well, things will be a little different for you since you don’t have a family.” At that point, he stopped. It was as if the Lord arrested him. He paused, and then added, “Oh, John, what I just said was totally wrong. You do have a family to take care of. A family of one!” This was one of the greatest affirmations of singleness I have ever received.

I am a family of one (this is not technically true because I do have my mom and sister of course, but he was speaking of family in terms of me having my own wife and kids)!

Anyway, please pray for me that the Lord would give me discernment as to why I seem to be dealing with such drastic fluctuations in fatigue. It may be nothing or maybe not. If it continues, I will make a special appointment with the doctor. Count on that.

In the meantime, this simply reinforces what Paul knew about himself. I love this well-known reference in 2 Corinthians 4: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 ESV).

He had been speaking of the glory of God, the glory of the New Covenant in contrast with that of the old. The light of the glory of God shines through us as believers. This is off-the-charts amazing, but we can’t take any credit for being “special.”

We are just common, ordinary, weak, and feeble clay pots!

My mom has several on the side of her porch in the backyard. They just sit there, not being used, and I can see that they deteriorate over time. Someday, when one of us reaches down to grab one of them, they could just fall apart.

I believe that the container of God’s glory—our weak and feeble and yes prone to fatigue bodies—provides the greatest platform for God’s glory. The contrast is stark and palpable. Our weakness/God’s strength. This is a theme of the whole book.

Lord, I thank you for giving us these amazing physical bodies. You designed them and created each one of us. Through the power of the indwelling Spirit, I acknowledge that this body is a temple in which you dwell.

I confess the sin of not rightly considering this “jar of clay.”

Strengthen me today for the message at church and RevivalFest at the park this afternoon. It is supposed to be another 100-degree day. Take care of everyone involved. May your glory shine through me!

“Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart” (“What Can I Give Him?” BH 2008, 207). Amen.
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Bondslaves

Again, I have to say that there is so much in this book that strikes a cord with me on my levels. This book is Paul’s defense against some “super apostles” who infiltrated the church and tried to turn the congregation against him.

I have to say that this is one of the most difficult things that any pastor has to deal with. Of course, I am speaking from experience. And I hasten to say that my experience is not exactly like that of Paul, but there are many similarities.

It is extremely difficult not to take ministry very personally. I do. I look at the years I have spent as pastor in one place, now almost 23 years. And it has cost me a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (before I go on, here, please understand that in sharing some of this, I am not “blowing my own horn.” My experience has been a very good one, for the most part. The Lord has blessed me. I need to say that, first of all. Second, my tales of woe are similar to every other pastor out there. I am NOT special). I have a lot invested in that church.

To be honest, one of the things that hurts the most is when people decide to leave the church for spurious reasons. This happens all the time across the country. I know this. But still it hurts. It hurts DEEPLY. And it is very difficult NOT to take that personally. It is hard not to look at it in this way: those people are leaving ME.

I know this isn’t always the case, certainly. I’m just saying that it FEELS that way.

And, many of these folks want to have the same relationship with me that they had when I was their pastor. The truth is that it will never be the same. It just can’t be.

Again, here, I am talking about people who have left our church because they got their noses out of joint for some reason. For those who have left because the Lord moved them, this is another story. And the distinction in these situations is not difficult to discern.

Anyway, this is my analogy to Paul’s situation in Corinth. He is dealing with folks who were taking another tactic—one that is still going on today in my churches across the country. Instead of leaving themselves, they were encouraging the whole church to leave Paul. Today, this would be translated as the group that wanted to fire the pastor for illegitimate reasons.

Whatever the case may be—either way—it would be hard not to respond out of hurt and out of protest, “I can’t believe you are doing this to ME. You have no idea how much this hurts. I can’t believe you are saying these things about me.”

Here is my point: PAUL DOES NOT DO THIS. He never answers his critics from a personal, hurt-perspective. He always responds from a Jesus-perspective.

And this verse, maybe more than any other in the book sums things up for him:
"For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5 ESV). The Amplified Bible makes terms in this verse even more clear: "For what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves [merely] as your servants (slaves) for Jesus’ sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5 AMP).

What is he saying in this verse? Well, first, Paul’s ministry in Corinth (and everywhere else for that matter) was NOT about him in the first place. It was always about Jesus Christ the Lord. Jesus was the heart of his message and ministry. Therefore, any attacks against him, were really jabs at Jesus. As a result, Paul did not take them personally, even if he were hurt on a personal level (as I am sure he was—he was human after all).

This verse is foundational to my philosophy of preaching. I believe it is my job, Sunday by Sunday, and in fact every time I stand before the church, to explain and apply the scriptures in such a way as to lift up and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not long ago, we had a staff member who preached for me on occasion. One Sunday, he spent a lot of time in his message talking about his own family. I heard about it. People didn’t affirm it. When I got back, I said to this brother, “We are not called to preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. It is a perennial temptation for preachers to make much of their own personal experiences—good or bad. Illustrations on occasion are one thing, but the heart of the message is another. I could talk about cancer every week, but that is NOT what I am called to do. Cancer is my platform, but it is not and never should be the heart of my message. Jesus Christ the Lord is my first and only topic.”

If you listen to a lot of contemporary and very popular preachers today, for many of them (and I am not going to name names here), it is all about them. This is blatantly wrong.

But if the heart of the message and the ministry is Jesus, then that philosophy carries with it a role for the preacher or pastor or minister. Here it is—BONDSERVANT.

What exactly is a bondservant? I’ve heard this explained in the past: it is a menial servant. This is someone who, as we would say, does all the “dirty work.”

There was a brother in the church several years ago who exemplified this role. He used to say on multiple occasions, “Give me the jobs nobody else wants.” This is what menial servants do. They are not in the game for glory or a pat on the back. They serve behind the scenes in down and dirty ways.

If I preach Jesus as Lord, this demands that I take a back seat. Actually, it calls for me to be in the trunk of the car—out of the way and out of sight.

Lord Jesus, I recommit myself to preach you as Lord. I want you to be exalted, not only in my preaching, but also in every area of my life today.

Having said that, show me ways to serve. Give me the dirty jobs, the jobs nobody else wants. I am your bondslave today.

“Take my life, lead me, Lord;
Take my life, lead me, Lord;
Make my life useful to Thee” (“Take My Life, Lead Me, Lord,” BH 2008, 540). Amen.
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The Two-Fold 'Ministry' of Satan

Please forgive the association of the word “ministry” with the devil, but I could not figure out a better way to put it this morning.

As I was reading in the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians this morning, the Holy Spirit stopped me here: "Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

Immediately, I was reminded of the other reference to our enemy in chapter two:
"So that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11 NLT). In this context, Paul is exhorting the church to forgive the “offender,” whoever he was, and restore him to the fellowship of the body. His concern is that, if the church does not do this, Satan will be able to get his foot in the door.

I made this comment in the sermon I preached last Sunday, “Our greatest enemy that we face today is not outside the walls of the church building. It is inside. The devil would like nothing better than to divide and conquer us. If he can entice us to sever our relationships with one another, he has won.” I believe this is the “scheme” that Paul is alluding to. This is his tactic among believers.

Chapter four gives the other aspect of the two-fold “ministry” of Satan. If his tactic inside the church is to divide believers, then his strategy outside the church is to blind unbelievers to the truth.

I wonder if I have taken this truth as seriously as I should?

I’m trying to think what it would be like to be blinded. I realize that I really don’t understand. The only thing I can relate to are the times when I have been blindfolded.

One prominent incident comes to mind. A couple of years ago, Jose, the pastor of the Hispanic congregation asked me if I wanted to play a game. Of course, there were a whole lot of people around. It was the Christmas season and we had just finished one of those wonderful times when all the congregations that use our building had shared fellowship together. People were milling around as we were cleaning up and heading home.

I answered, “Sure, Jose. I would love to.” When I consented, Jose put some cups on the floor in front of me. They were spaced out in two-foot intervals. The cups were stacked up fairly high—about ten per stack, in four or five stacks. He then asked me to close my eyes (or, he put a blindfold over my eyes—one of the two—I can’t remember exactly). By then, a fairly sizable crowd had gathered. Jose gave this instruction, “Pastor John, I would like you to step over these cups without touching them.”

Okay. So, I proceeded. I lifted my foot way up in the air and put it down—one step. I lifted my other foot even higher for the next step and put it down. Everyone was cheering. Jose was exhorting me, “Keep going. Good!” When I had taken five or six steps in this way, the cheers were even louder, “Great, Pastor John, now turn around and go back. You are doing very well.” So, with great care, I turned around and repeated my “high step” routine four or five more times.

When I had finished, Jose told me to open my eyes (or he took the blindfold off), and of course, there was nothing there. Jose had removed all the stacks of cups. By then, everyone in the crowd was howling with laughter. One brother even videoed this routine on his cell phone. Of course, he would not send me the video or turn it over. Ha, ha. Very funny. (It really is, now, in retrospect—ha!).

Anyway, my point is that it didn’t matter what was really there in front of me—I couldn’t see it! For those few moments, I was living a blinded life—stepping over things that really weren’t there.

Yesterday, I got a chance to visit with a friend. She told me about everything she has “tried.” She has a friend who is an astrologer. She has tried “channeling.” And, one time, she went to a “sweat house” (I’m not sure I got the name of this exactly correct). She explained that this was a gathering of folks in a large, enclosed tent, where the temperature is 125 degrees and everyone passes a stick around. When you have the stick, it is your turn to talk. I’ve never really heard of this.

As she shared all of this with me, I could not help but think, “How many people actually believe that any of this has any validity?”

Why do they do it? It is called blindness. It is high stepping over stacks of cups that really aren’t there. It is funny as a game, but deeply tragic as a lifestyle.

That is very sad, for sure, but I think there is something else that is equally as sad. I think all of us in church life spend way too much time trying to do things that appeal to lost folks—we have dog and pony shows, rock bands, et cetera. It occurs to me that we are trying to stack up cups in front of blind people.

People that don’t know Jesus do not need something else to see! They need to be able to see! Their problem is not the need for more information or innovation. Their problem is that the enemy has blinded them! When they turn to the Lord, then they can see!

In other words, I think I need to spend more time praying for lost friends and asking the Lord to remove Satan’s blinders and reveal the truth to them.

I am reminded of Jesus’ answer to Peter after he correctly identified who Jesus is (maybe one of the only times he said the RIGHT thing during the years he walked with Jesus!). “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being” (Matthew 16:17, NLT).

Father, today, I thank you for your triumph over the enemy on the cross. Through the resurrection of your Son, he is defeated.

I choose to stand against his schemes inside the church. That is one thing. But also, I pray that you would remove the enemy’s blindfold in my friends who do not know your Son.

I confess the sin of trying to appeal to a blind world. It is a fruitless waste of time.

I choose instead to renew my commitment to preach the Word and pray that you would reveal your truth to those who need to be saved. Use me today to share with someone who needs you.

“Shepherds hear the angels sing, ‘Alleluia! Hail the king!
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born” (“Silent Night, Holy Night,” BH 2008, 206). Thank you for making yourself known to common folks, like the shepherds, like me. Amen.
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Internet Scams

We had a really good time of fellowship last night as several of us gathered to get things ready for this outreach event we are involved in on Sunday afternoon. Anh Le, an evangelist who is a member at North Metro, is coordinating an event in the main park in Northglenn. It is called “RevivalFest.” It will involve preaching, skits, testimonies, and music as well as activities for kids.

In addition, the churches involved have an opportunity to have a booth for our church—it will be a table underneath a tent. We are going to have some Bibles and brochures and water bottles and water to give out. We pray that it will allow us to network some new relationships in our city and to share Jesus with some folks.

Anyway, last night, we gathered to get everything ready for Sunday and to pray together. In the course of the evening, one of the ladies was talking about what was going on with someone in her family. Apparently, he is seeking to meet women on the Internet, and has already run into some “challenges,” to say the least.

I’ll tell you: I have had personal experience with scammers and hear about more and more others on a continual basis. Most of these scams originate out of Africa (giving new meaning to the title of that movie), Nigeria specifically.

A few years ago, I happened to see a news report on 60 Minutes (or some other similar type of news program) about them. It showed a group of men sitting at computers in a crowded room in Logos, Nigeria. They spent their days on the computer in various types of nefarious activities. The bottom line is that their “job” was to cheat people out of money—to scam them.

These scams come in all shapes and sizes.

A few years ago, a staff member at our church received a message from a lady in Africa who wanted to give millions of dollars to a church if only we would send her several thousand dollars to free up the funds somehow so that we could receive them (I can’t remember all the details exactly). I am kind of embarrassed to tell you that this staff member and I actually took the letter to a bank and asked someone. Being the good Baptists we are, we wouldn’t want to miss out on a large contribution, would we? I ask this question to my own shame now.

His response to us was classic. I’m sure he thought we were both the biggest suckers in the world. He simply said, “Ah, no. This is a scam. Don’t send any money!”

Another way this works is that these scammers infiltrate Internet dating sites. They steal photos of models and put them up. And vulnerable people, looking for relationships, fall for the “picture.” They start corresponding and invariably, the person asks for money for some reason.

In some of the stories we shared last night, it breaks my heart to see how much money people send. I heard about one married man, who met one of these “pictures” online. He sent this “woman” several thousand dollars! As a result, he put his family finances in jeopardy, not to mention the damage he did to his marriage and family.

Of course, it was all a scam, and he ended up simply losing the money. I wonder how many people have a similar experience. And you don’t hear about it. It is just too embarrassing to share.

These scammers are also prevalent on Craig’s List. They are trying to get you to send money or a product, and once either one is in the mail, it is lost forever.

The bottom line of all of this is that it is more and more difficult to trust anyone or anything. The Internet has great potential for good, but like everything else, when it is in the wrong hands, it also can cause a lot of pain and agony and suffering.

All of this is context for what I want to say about the imprecatory Psalms. Yesterday, I alluded to Psalm 137 as an example of how this category of Psalms are simply expressions of raw emotion to God. This is one aspect of what these Psalms are all about, but that is not the whole story.

There is something else going on in these Psalms—something more vital and important. They are requests for God to bring judgments on the enemies of God’s people.

Notice again how the final two verses of Psalm 137 are framed: "O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!" (Psalm 137:8, 9 NLT) I should have included verse seven because it refers to Edom.

Edom and Babylon were enemy nations, and the Psalmist is praying that the Lord would judge them. He is the only One who has the right to pronounce condemnation judgment on anyone.

These Psalm teach us that it is important to ask God to judge evil as well.

I first came into contact with this several years ago as I was praying with a brother in our church. He and his family lived in the same general part of town as I did. Both of us came to church the same way—south on Colorado Boulevard to 112th, east on 112th to Irma, and south on Irma. Near the southeast corner of Irma and 112th is a bar, and it does a brisk business. Just about any time of the day or night that you drive by it, the parking lot is full.

Anyway, this brother named that bar as we were praying and he said, “Lord, I pray that you would shut it down and put it out of business.”

Ever since then, even though I don’t live in the same part of town and therefore do not have occasion to frequent that street as often as I did in the past, whenever I drive down that street, I pray the same thing: “Lord, shut that bar down.”

In the same way, last night, as we were praying for RevivalFest, I prayed, “Lord, put all these scammers out of business permanently.”

A zeal for God and righteousness means a hatred of evil. It is not about hating people. It is about asking God to judge evil. How much does He hate sin? I don’t think we can fathom it. The cross shows us.

Lord, You are the only One who is truly good. I acknowledge your holiness and righteousness today. I thank you that you, and you alone, are the only One who is qualified to pronounce condemnation judgment. Thank you for the mercy that triumphed over judgment in my case—for one such as I who deserve death and hell.

Father, first, save the people involved in these businesses/industries/scams. Save them. But shut the bar at the corner down. Stop these scammers in Africa who prey on vulnerability and greed.

I lift up everyone and every family at First Southern who has been affected by these thieves. I imagine that more have been suckered that I would ever imagine. Give your people discernment, especially when it comes to the Internet.

"But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2 ESV).

“Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there” (“Away in a Manger,” BH 2008, 205). Amen.
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Raw Emotion Prayed to God

Before I get into the topic for the day, I just wanted to give up update on my mom. Sunday, when she and Marilyn got home from church, my mom had a dizzy spell and actually fell into a dresser in her bedroom. Since then, she has been sore on her right side and just has not felt well.

Yesterday, Marilyn took her to see her doctor. He checked her over and determined that her blood pressure was too high. He prescribed some medication for her. I hope this will help her feel better.

We sure would appreciate your prayers for her. Thanks.

Back to the Psalm I read today—Psalm 137. It is part of a category biblical scholars call “imprecatory Psalms.” These are Psalms that contain curses or prayers for the judgment of God against the Psalmist’s enemies. The Psalms that fit in this classification are Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137, and 139.

Here is a statement from this Psalm that gives you an idea of what is going on:
"God, remember those Edomites, and remember the ruin of Jerusalem, That day they yelled out, "Wreck it, smash it to bits!" And you, Babylonians—ravagers! A reward to whoever gets back at you for all you've done to us; Yes, a reward to the one who grabs your babies and smashes their heads on the rocks!" (Psalm 137:8, 9 MSG)

This is perhaps one of the most shocking of all the Psalms in this category. The Psalmist actually asks the Lord to reward anyone who smashes a little baby’s head against a rock! This is scandalous! It certainly isn’t very spiritual. That is for sure.

What is going on here?

Well, first, I think a lot of us have the idea that prayer needs to be some flowery type of fluffy King James English. That we really need to be careful that we frame our language to God in just the right way or he might pull a Fred G. Sanford, get shocked, and topple off of his throne. “Oh, I think I am going to have a heart attack. I can’t believe John used that type of language or prayed that type of prayer!” Something like that.

I honestly believe that this is the reason why most people don’t pray more than they do. Who needs another occasion in life where we have to guard our language? I’m not talking about cussing. This is not appropriate in any setting. I’m just talking about being real, expressing how you really feel with no holds barred, being dead level honest with someone somewhere.

Last Wednesday night, as we had the final Resolution study with the guys, I talked about the whole issue of accountability. And I told them that each of us needs to have at least one true friend with whom we can confess sin, as James 5:16 exhorts, “Confess your sins to one another so that you might be healed.” This is a special relationship in which you can tell someone how you really feel and what you have done and he/she will walk a very narrow line.

You don’t want someone who will condemn you and pull a Fred G. Sanford (this is the second time I have used this reference, and I realize that maybe no one knows what I am talking about. I am referring to the character Redd Fox played in the 1970’s sitcom, “Sanford and Son.” He was always putting his hand over his heart when he got shocked and saying something like, “This is going to be the big one!”). In other words, you don’t want someone who will put you down for being honest.

On the other hand, however, this special accountability partner must not be someone who just condones everything you do, either. I believe the expression is “tough love.” Again, as I have already said, there is a delicate balance there.

The point I am making is that finding someone on a human level with whom you can be totally honest at all times is a daunting task. I didn’t say this to the men, but I think that for everyone of us, there may be one or two folks in our lifetime that can fill that role.

One must be very careful when you share anything of a sensitive nature with anyone, especially, I might add, if you are a pastor.

I am a lot more guarded now than I have ever been. I used to be a lot more open about what I was struggling with, and the only way I can say it is that I got stabbed in the back, more than once. Over the course of my twenty plus years as pastor, the majority of my experience of being vulnerable with folks has not been good. They have been the ones who were the first to turn on me when something happened in the church.

I remember quite vividly someone making the comment, “Oh, John. Quit whining!”

And you know how you respond when someone says that? Okay, that’s it for you. I’m never sharing anything with you EVER AGAIN. This person was probably right. I was whining, but I needed someone at that moment to “whine to.”

I think we all do.

BUT, there is Someone who is always available to listen to whatever I want to tell Him, without condemnation or reprisal—the Lord Jesus Christ.

I can go to Him and “let it all hang out.” I can tell Him anything, whether it is spiritual or not. I can say things to the Lord that would get me fired if I uttered them from the pulpit. And I find myself doing this more and more.

There is something else about these imprecatory Psalms that I need to mention, but I will leave that for tomorrow.

In the meantime … Lord, I thank you that you are always there for me—day and night, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I’m glad that I can come to you in boldness—the speaking of all one thinks. I praise you, for this.

I need to say some things to you this morning that I can’t even write here … Thank you for not kicking me out of your family for being REAL with you.

“Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray” (“Away in a Manger,” BH 2008, 205). Amen.
Comments

Pastor Andy and Degrees of Glory

I had heard that Andy Sr., my former pastor and good friend, was in the hospital. Yesterday, I called him to find out how he was doing.

These past several months have been difficult for him because of a heart condition he has contracted—“a fib.” Because of it, he has curtailed many of his exercise and ministry activities. Andy has always been a VERY ACTIVE person. Running has always been his thing. In fact, he was still running races well into his seventies.

In one of our conversations, he said, “Yeah, I enjoyed the races I entered because, in some of them, I was the only contestant in my age bracket—a guaranteed win.”

He has also been active in ministry up until recently. He has served as an interim pastor in several churches and preached A LOT.

But all of this came to a grinding halt when he got “a fib.”

Well, a couple of weeks ago, the symptoms from this condition got so bad that he had to go the hospital and the doctors told him that he needed an ablation. I have a friend whose wife had that surgery recently. Apparently, it is not a lot of fun.

Andy told me that there were a lot of folks at the hospital the day of his surgery. This group of people was there to support JoAnn and the family. They prayed for him and waited for the results of the surgery.

The doctor came out and said that everything went well. He fully expected Andy to have a full recovery and be able to do just about anything he wanted to do.

After a couple of days, the doctors released him to go home, but it didn’t take long for something very troubling to occur. Andy started to swell up in the area where the doctors made the incision for his surgery. His skin turned black. What on earth was going on?

As it turned out, as the doctor was operating on him, he punctured an artery near Andy’s groin and blood was oozing out inside of him! Can you imagine? Andy said it was very painful and it is going to take several weeks to recover.

Unbelievable!

Andy is going to get to see this surgeon sometime this week. Please pray for this meeting.

As Andy told this story, I honestly felt myself getting more and more angry. Finally, I stated, “Well, it is going to be interesting to see what this doctor’s attitude and demeanor is all about. If he is humble and apologetic about what he did, that is one thing, but if he is not, it is going to be hard to take.”

Andy agreed, “If I were a member of the mafia, I might consider doing something!” We both laughed.

Please pray for him today. Again, as I have already said, I can’t imagine. It is one thing to get sick and deal with some type of illness. It is another thing to be a victim of a doctor’s mistake.

Andy would be the first one to acknowledge that doctors, like everyone else, are human. We all make mistakes. No one argues with this, but it is hard to take when you are on the receiving end of one of those mistakes.

A few years ago, my mom had a colonoscopy and the doctor scraped something on her insides (I can’t remember exactly what it was), but it caused my mom a lot of pain and discomfort for weeks. The doctor who made the mistake never saw her or talked with her EVER.

Back to Andy—I had planned to take a trip out to Salt Lake City to visit with JoAnn and Andy, but I am not going to go now. It is very obvious that Andy is not up to it. Yesterday, we both agreed that it would be best to reschedule our visit.

I can’t get that conversation out of my mind. Andy’s voice was weak. It was obvious that he was in a lot of pain, but his sense of humor still came out. This attitude challenges me greatly.

It is very unusual.

I’ll tell you: there are so many reasons for getting more and more bitter the older one gets. As my mom says quite often, “Old age is not for the faint of heart.” It is just one blow after another, one more physical ailment, one more thing that you can’t do any longer, aches and pains and doctor’s visits, ad infinitum, ad nauseum (literally). I see it all the time. And I don’t blame seniors.

But I just want to be someone who gets softer and softer the older I get—more loving, more compassionate. I want to laugh more, not less. I sense that I want to talk less about my physical ailments.

I’m finding this out when it comes to cancer. It is just harder and harder to talk about, but I know I must. It is the platform that the Lord has given me. I’m never going to be done with it the rest of my life. I just pray that I can handle it the way Andy is handling his physical ailments.

It all goes back to the glory of God. Paul talks about this in the latter half of 2 Corinthians 3. The glory of the old covenant under Moses was a fading glory. That’s why Moses had to put the veil on his face after he had spent time with God. The veil hid the fading glory.

But in the new covenant, there is no need for any veils and communion with the Lord is not a one-man affair. All of us can do it for a long as we like each day. And when we do, we get to experience THE GLORY.

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

Here is the Message version translation of that verse: “And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him."

I happen to believe that when things get more and more difficult (Paul’s life is a testimony to this; and 2 Corinthians tells about Paul’s trials), when we keep gazing on the Lord’s face, our face will reflect His glory—“one degree of glory to another.”

The glory of God shines brightest in a context of trial and difficulty and pain.

Oh, Lord, I praise you for your glory—the Shekinah glory that filled the Holy of Holies in your tabernacle and temple. Now, through the indwelling Holy Spirit as He makes us your temple, it fills us too. Praise God!

I lift up Andy today. Help him with his pain. Give him the grace to look at the doctor who made the mistake and to approach him in the right way.

May your glory be reflected on my face today and in ever-increasing brightness and beauty for the rest of my life, no matter what happens to this body.

I confess the sin of complaining because of my stuff NOW. I turn from that, and embrace THE GLORY.

“The majesty and glory of Your name.
Alleluia, Alleluia” (“The Majesty and Glory of Your Name,” BH 2008, 57). Amen.
Comments

Forgiveness in Personal Relationships

I love the interaction that often occurs after I preach sermons. Sometimes, as I was explaining to Rob on the phone yesterday morning, I toy with the idea of making some outlandish or even heretical statement just to see if people are listening. I’m never quite comfortable going THAT far.

But I do think that truth in and of itself is often provocative.

This is obvious as you read the New Testament. In Luke 4, after Jesus’ very first sermon, the congregation ushered Him to the edge of a cliff and were in the process of trying to push Him over it before He walked through the middle of the crowd and was gone.

Paul was stoned at Lystra and left for dead until the church gathered around him in prayer, and he revived, got back up, and returned to “the scene of crime” to continuing preaching.

These are just two examples of what can happen when one preaches the truth in love and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I certainly don’t make a boast to have done either yesterday—only the Lord knows and I will leave all that up to him. But to the degree that any preacher or I explain and apply the text with accuracy, I think there is a potential for trouble on one hand and just provoking thought on the other.

The latter occurred yesterday after the sermon.

I was preaching from 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. This passage details Paul’s instruction concerning an “offender” in the church at Corinth. Who was this man? There is some speculation that he is the man who was living in sin with his stepmother in I Corinthians 5. This could be, I guess. Sometimes, I think that is a very real possibility. Other times, I’m not sure.

I still remember Bruce Corley’s answer to that question when I asked him in New Testament class at Southwestern Seminary. He replied, “Oh, no, I don’t think so. Paul told the church to hand that man over for the destruction of his flesh in hope that his spirit might be saved. What that means is that he dropped dead on the spot, just like Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.” Gulp. Who knows what really happened to that man, but that statement made sense.

Anyway, whoever the offender was and whatever he did, the church confronted him. The man repented. And this passage is all about Paul asking the church to forgive him, comfort him, reaffirm love to him, and restore him to the fellowship.

As I was making application to this message yesterday, I said something like, “Church, if someone who has wronged you repents of his sin, you must forgive him, but I have news for you: if they don’t repent, you must forgive them also.”

I cited Paul’s comments in I Corinthians 6, the earlier letter, where he chides the church for taking each other to court when they had interpersonal issues. There is one verse in particular that stands out: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (I Corinthians 6:7, NIV84).

This is a very stern rebuke of an attitude that is unfortunately too often prevalent in Christian congregations. When we are wronged, we want our pound of flesh, no matter what the cost. Paul is saying, “Why not just take it?”

My point in all of this was just to say: no matter what the other person does or does not do to me, I am commanded to forgive.

That’s basically what I said.

After the service, Jose approached me. He is a very thoughtful brother who has insight into the scriptures. I always appreciate his comments. He said, “John, is there ever really forgiveness without repentance? How can anyone forgive without it?” Great comment.

Just mouthing the words means nothing. I may be wrong about this, but I don’t think that anyone should say it if he doesn’t mean it. But on the other hand, like all issues of obedience, it is an act of the will. I decide to do it, even if, especially if I don’t feel like it.

But back to Jose’s question—we discussed this. There are times, where for one reason or another, the offending person refuses to repent in spite of our best and repeated efforts.

Rob helped me with this. Simply saying, “I’m sorry,” means nothing. Someone can feel sorry for what he or she did but that is not repentance. In personal relationships, repentance says to someone who has been offended, “I was wrong. Please forgive me.”

But what if you don’t hear that? What if the offending party does not repent? What I am to do?

Jose’s question helped me with this: forgiveness in THAT instance just means turning that person and his offense over to the Lord--giving it to Him and leaving it there. The temptation in these types of situations is to stew on the offense and chew on it (stew and chew) and get more and more angry and bitter. All that does is damage the one who is offended.

What Paul was saying in I Corinthians 6:7, I believe, is that, in these instances, you turn the offender over to the Lord and let Him take care of it.

Here is what I believe: if the offender is truly saved, then he or she will recognize the sin and repent.

For example, several years ago I received a short message from a lady who turned against me in a dispute over a staff member and spread rumor and gossip about me in the church. She simply alluded to all of that, and said, “I was wrong, so wrong. Please forgive me.” I had turned that situation and this woman over to the Lord, and He ultimately and eventually took care of it.

Well, I am excited to see what the Lord is going to do with the message from yesterday. As I explained to everyone, if we take seriously the exhortation to forgive, and we get things right in personal relationships, there is huge potential for revival to break out. Hooray!

"It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever; he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever" (Psalm 136:23-26 ESV).

Lord, I thank you for the magnitude of your steadfast love and forgiveness in my life. The longer I serve you, the more I realize the how huge your forgiveness of my sins is. Thank you, Jesus.

As I continue to take inventory, please show me what I need to do and who I need to go to.

I pray for folks in the congregation as they do this. Send a great revival, Lord. Let it begin with me.

“Send a great revival in my soul;
Send a great revival in my soul; (in my soul;)
Let the Holy Spirit come and take control (“Send a Great Revival,” BH 2008, 490). Amen.
Comments

NIV2011 (A Reprint of the 5/26/12 Post)

This whole issue came to light last Wednesday night in the Resolution Bible study with the guys.  Bob said that he and his wife Debbie were looking for a 1984 version of the NIV and they had a very difficult time.  They eventually did find ONE, but he added, “They are phasing out the 84 version and the 2011 is just about all that is out there.”
Huh?  I was aware of the new version, but I did not realize that the 84 versions were disappearing.
His words stuck in my mind through the evening and into the next day.  And it hit me, “I’d better check on something.”
As I was talking with Betty on Thursday, I asked her to check on an order we had recently placed.  We were running low on our current stock of pew Bibles.  They are the 1984 version of the NIV and have a blue cover.  A couple of months ago, Betty had tried to reorder these Bibles, but the store we use said they were out of stock, but she found that someone else had some “new” NIV Bibles.  We didn’t think much about it, but we were glad to find them.  We ordered a few boxes of these “new” Bibles.  And we put some in the pews.  They have a red cover. 
Blue cover, red cover—no big deal, right?
Back to my conversation with Betty—she happened to have a copy of the red cover NIV Bibles at her desk.  One of the guys (again, I think it was Bob) mentioned the following verses as we were discussing the differences between the 84 and 11 versions.  Here it is: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship" (Romans 12:1 NIV2011).
Did you notice the difference?  In the Greek, the word is “adelphoi”—brothers.  When the New Testament uses this word, it is referring to men and women.  This is understood.  And, this is how the NIV 84 version translates it—“brothers.” 
It is interesting how often this issue comes up.  I came across it this morning in my devotional reading in 2 Corinthians 1: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself" (2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV2011).
On my IPad, after “brothers and sisters,” there is a footnote mark in the NIV 2011.  The note says, “The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in 8:1; 13:11.”
Whoa.  I’m still struggling with this.  This is not accurate.  The Greek word for brothers is “adelphoi.”  If the Bible had intended to say brothers AND SISTERS, the translation would be “adelphoi and adelphas” (the masculine and feminine version of the Greek words for siblings).  “Adelphas” is the word translated “sisters” in I Timothy 5:2 where the text is specifically referring to women believers. 
What is going on? Well, it is very obvious that the new NIV is committed to what is called “gender neutral” language.  Somehow, they have deemed it important to change all the male-oriented language that refers to people in general in the Bible to be all-inclusive.  The references to “brothers” in Romans 12 and 2 Corinthians 1 are confirmation of this. 
One misconception I had of the NIV 2011 was that the publishers used this philosophy also when it came to references to God—“our heavenly mother” and so forth—but they did not.  Look at the Model Prayer in Matthew 6, for example, and you will discover that in the NIV 2011 it still says, “Our Father in heaven.”  Good.   
One other thing that Bob brought up Wednesday night is the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention last year passed a non-binding resolution appointing a task force to study this issue and requested that Lifeway consider not selling the New International version (NIV 2011) Bible in their bookstores. 
After extensive study and research, this task force made a report to the trustees of Lifeway Christian Resources.  As a result, Lifeway decided to continue selling the new NIV.  Please see this information in an article at www.lifeway.com.
This is all well and good.  I have no problem with this decision, but I am responsible for my own convictions about the Word of God and for my leadership of the flock at First Southern. 
Back to my conversation with Betty, I asked her to pull all of the red Bibles—the 2011 versions of the NIV we had in the pews--and we are returning them along with another large order we had already placed.  I just cannot in good conscience use these Bibles in the pews of our church. 
I believe that this “gender neutral” versions steps over a line and I just cannot support it.
My question is: if we try as believers to keep up with every politically correct breeze that blows down the pike, what is next?  This feels like a house of cards, to me, and I just can’t go along with it or lead my church to do so, even if Lifeway sells it.     
I read one blogger who was talking about this issue.  And he asked the question, “Why doesn’t Zondervan continue to print the 1984 version for folks who can’t go along with the translation philosophy of the 2011 version?”  Good question.  This makes sense purely from a business perspective.  But I guess not.  Therefore, as far as I am concerned, they are forcing the issue. 
And it is going to force us to choose another version for use in the pews of our church as the Bible from which we read the scriptures each week together. 
If you have ever attended a service at our church, you know I make a big deal about the public reading of scripture.  Isn’t this the instruction that Paul gave Timothy?  “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13, NIV84).  Next to prayer, I think this is one of the most important things we do each week—read the Word of God out loud together. 
Therefore, this makes the proper choice of a pew Bible even more vital, and I’m not going to go anywhere near anything that feels the least bit like compromise, and that is the way the NIV 2011 “feels” for me.
Please pray for us as we seek the Lord’s will concerning the selection of a new pew Bible.  My initial investigation has revealed that very few translations are available in an affordable “pew Bible” form.  Oh, well.  So be it.  We will figure something out.
Lord, I’m so thankful for your Word.  Thank you for the various translations that are out there, versions whose goal is to stay true to the original text in scripture.  I’m grateful for the variety. This helps us understand the Greek and Hebrew.
But that having been said, give me, give all of wisdom as we see newer translations proliferate.  I pray that we would never compromise, EVER. 
As I write this today, help my focus to be trusting you and obeying the Word you give me each day from THE WORD. 
“How Firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word” (“How Firm a Foundation,” BH 2008, 456). Amen.
Comments

A Bug and A Window

Stop the presses! Last night, the Rockies won a ballgame! What do you know? They beat the Detroit Tigers by scoring eight runs in the tenth inning—the most they have ever scored in an extra inning games.

They won in grand style, but frankly, the only reason the game got to extra innings is that Detroit missed some opportunities during the game to put the Rockies away. The Tigers tied the game in the sixth inning on Brennan Boesch’s groundout, but they failed to take the lead when Delmon Young struck out with the bases loaded.

Someone asked him about this strikeout after the game. “It happens,” Young opined, “Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re a window. I was a bug.”

Ha.

Somehow, I cannot get that very unusual contrast out of my mind today. A Bug or A Window. There are certainly a lot of differences between those two entities. That is for sure.

This contrast brings so many things to mind this morning. I do have to say that I hate bugs, of all varieties for the most part, especially those that gravitate to windows. Here in Colorado that means two types. Miller moths are at the top of the list. When I moved into my first house back in 1995, I didn’t realize that I inhabited the New York City of moths. I still can’t figure out why every year (I mean it, EVERY YEAR) in the season for moths (which is usually late Spring), I would have hundreds of them to deal with.

Invariably, as I am sure most of you know, moths are drawn to light, and at night, one of the things that drove me crazy was to hear one or more (usually more, many more) flitting around on my window in my bedroom when I was trying to sleep. It is one of those things that, at first, got my attention, and I said to myself lying in bed, “Oh, just forget it. Go to sleep.”

But it was just one of those noises that did not go away.

It never failed that I had to get up and take care of those critters, and it is not an easy task, but I would stay up and fight until every single one of them died a horrible death!

Back then, I told people at church about my dilemma. And I received all kinds of prescriptions and homemade remedies for dealing with them. I tried them all. None worked. Finally, I arrived at the point where, at a certain time in the evening, I turned off all the lights in my house except one in the bathroom upstairs. All the moths gravitated to that room and before I went to bed, I closed the door of the bathroom and “took care of business.”

I know this sounds ridiculous. And I can laugh about it now, but back then, it nearly drove me to insanity!

I just hate moths! Once at church, I tried to do a kung fu leg kick to smash one that had landed on a wall at church and I created a huge hole in the dry wall near a staircase at church! Of course, everyone (I mean everyone) had to ask about that hole. “What on earth happened there?” I will never live that one down!

That is one bug. The other one is the fly.

Again, I don’t know what it is about our church building, but we attract hundreds of flies, not as many now, but at first, it was crazy. There are two windows in my office. When I first started at the church, those two windows, like many others in our building, were made of very cheap aluminum and they were deteriorating. There were huge gaps around them. They provided a perfect gateway for any fly seeking refuge from the cold outside.

There were days when I would have fifteen to twenty flies buzzing around on my two windows in the office. Again, it was a similar deal to that of the moths in my house. I would try to work and the more I heard that buzzing, the more it affected me. Flies are easier to “take care of” than moths because I found a spray that kills them, en masse. I make sure to this day that I have a can of Raid Fly Spray handy.

We don’t have this problem as much any more, because we replaced our old aluminum window framed a few years ago. It is amazing how a quality window and a little calk can work wonders!

Well, anyway, by now, you have probably concluded that I am certifiably insane!

And here is another thing that I need to add: where would my sanity level be if I lived in a place that really had a lot of varieties of bugs? Are you kidding? I can’t imagine!

Bottom line: bugs are nuisances and (for me, as you can tell—I won’t speak for anyone else) hinder the normal conduct of life, sleep, and work. But windows, without bugs, are very functional and important entities that promote life and sleep and work.

I guess.

I’m still trying to figure out what Delmon Young’s contrast was all about! I just know, like him, that I would rather be a window than a bug any day of the week.

Well, I think I have “beaten that horse” enough. Sorry for all of my cruelty to animal comments!

Well, today, I want to ask you to pray about something. I’m really excited about it. A few weeks ago, a couple visited our church. They were very positive and said they would return. The husband’s name is Michael. His wife’s name is Jimmie. As it turns out, they are Native Americans. Turns out that Michael was a pastor of a Native American congregation in South Dakota for a couple of years, but they are moving to Colorado because of health reasons.

Not long before I met this couple, I received an email from Bob, the Director of Missions for the Mile High Association that there was a movement afoot to see if we could start a Native American SBC church in Denver! How about that?

I continue to be amazed at the Lord’s timing and His provision. I have talked with Michael about being involved in this new church plant when they get settled here in Denver. In fact, there is a meeting about this next week. Michael and I are going to it. He is excited about the possibilities!

The Lord is awesome. I am humbled and honored that in some small way, He might want to use First Southern and me in extending the gospel to another ethnic group in our city. There are several thousand Native Americans in Denver, according to the most recent demographic information, and no SBC work to reach them.

Lord, when it comes to your work and the extension of your kingdom in this city and beyond, I pray that I would be a window, not a bug!

"The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!" (Psalm 135:15-18 ESV)

“Savior.
Sing alleluia, sing alleluia.
All is well” (“All Is Well,” BH 2008, 204). Amen.
Comments

A Death March to Honor Jupiter

As I continue to study 2 Corinthians for this series of sermons I am preaching, I just can’t get past the metaphor Paul uses in chapter two, verses fourteen through sixteen. I mentioned it a couple of days ago—the parade for a triumphant Roman general leading a series of captives in tow along with a healthy dose of incense for everyone—an in-your-face celebration of victory for the glory of Rome.

My reading the past few days, however, has shown me that the “victory celebration” aspect of this parade is only a small part of the story. There are two other more prominent features.

Let me quote this passage again, today from the Amplified Bible: "For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which exhales] unto God, [discernible alike] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: To the latter it is an aroma [wafted] from death to death [a fatal odor, the smell of doom]; to the former it is an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]. And who is qualified (fit and sufficient) for these things? [Who is able for such a ministry? We?]" (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16 AMP)

Why were these captives being pulled along in the victory parade? Here is something I have learned: they were headed to their own execution! Everyone knew this. The crowd along the parade path. The prisoners themselves. The truth is: their days were numbered.

I can only imagine how eerie this would be to watch. I’m not sure I could. I’m watching a death march, essentially.

This reminds me of what the Nazis did to the Jews en masse in World War II. One of my favorite mini-series of all time came out in the 1980’s. We have it on DVD and pull it out rather often to look at it—Herman Wouk’s “Winds of War.” It chronicles with accuracy what happened in the Holocaust--millions and millions of Jews in various settings across Europe who marched to their deaths.

One memorable scene in the movie has scores of naked Jewish people lined up on top of a mass grave. The Nazis opened fire and killed them. The bodies of these folks tumbled down the hill into the grave as spectators stood by. One woman is eating an ice cream cone. It is almost as if she is attending a baseball game!

But back to the Roman parade—I think one of the things that gets lost in the shuffle when we think about Rome is the utter brutality of this regime through history. Of course, one of the most famous aspects of this is that Nero used Christians for sport in the coliseum in Rome. He tossed them in the pen with wild animals and people cheered as they were torn limb to limb, dying violent deaths. The crowd cheered. Tickets were hard to come by, I’m sure.

This is one aspect of the imagery that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 2.

The second aspect of this is a religious one. Ben Witherington III in his commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians makes a strong case for this. He contends that many believed that in victory, the Roman general became god-like. As the parade progressed down the street and the people cheered, they were really praising Jupiter who was incarnate in the person of that general. Here is a description of him: “He is clothed in a purple toga and a tunic stitched with palm-motifs, together called ornamus Iovis, and in his hand he carries a scepter crowned by an eagle. His face has been red-leaded. It seems as if Iuppiter [Jupiter] himself, incarnated in the triumphator, makes his solemn entry into Rome” (H. S. Versnal in Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth, 368, bracket mine).

How about that? This passage reflects the Roman concept of incarnation!

I don’t know. It is hard to get this image out of my mind. Paul is talking about the nature of the Christian life. He is putting this vivid image before a church (one with which they were all too familiar, I’m sure) and some who were critical of Paul and his ministry.

It is almost as if he is saying: look! Look at this spectacle. THIS is what it is REALLY like! He puts the image before them. He sticks it in their face, in the same way as the Romans intended it.

This explains why there is so much in both 1 and 2 Corinthians about death and life—these two extreme and radical concepts held in close proximity. Of course, this is a reversal of the normal course of humanity: it is USUALLY life and death. But not for Paul and as he makes it clear—not for the Christian. Here is God’s order: death and then life.

This is not just a truth as it relates to the death of a believer. This is glorious enough. We can rejoice that death is not the end. It is only the beginning.

But Paul goes further than this. He teaches that this “death/life” experience is an essential aspect of the daily experience of a true believer in Jesus. “Constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus may be evident” (2 Corinthians 4:11, my paraphrase). I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but this is what it is all about.

I know this is the clearest explanation of what is happening in my life right now. Without going into detail at this point, I can’t imagine things getting any more difficult than they are right now—both for me and for my family. Thank you for praying for us. We need your continued prayers.

Lord, I thank you for what you are doing. I don’t understand it. But it is hard, very hard.

I confess that I am struggling and not doing very well in my attitude and actions. Thank you for your blood that continues to cleanse me.

As hard as it is, I would rather be in no other place that being dragged along in the victory procession of the only One who truly was God and truly was man, at one and the same time—the Lord Jesus Christ.

“To you, in David’s town this day
Is born of David’s line,
The Savior, who is Christ the Lord (“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” BH 2008, 203).

"For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps" (Psalm 135:5, 6 ESV). Amen.
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Two Rails of the Railroad Track

First of all, I wanted to let you know the results of the CT Scan I had on Monday. Yesterday, Marilyn and my mom went with me to the cancer center. They insisted. They know me well enough to recognize that I was a little nervous, for some reason.

I was apprehensive because, frankly, I just have not been on top of things for the last month. I had that virus. Of course, that affected me, but even after I got over that, I still have not been feeling that great—just fatigue and stomach issues.

Well, Dr. Jotte came into the waiting room. He smiled when he saw my mom and sister, stuck out his hand, and joked, “I’m Dr. Jotte, who are you?” We all laughed. The truth is that Mother and Marilyn have not gone with me to the cancer center for about nine months—just too much going on with my mom’s health and Marilyn’s work.

They have wanted to come, but it just didn’t work out, and that was okay by me. I didn’t want to add more to either one of their plates.

But yesterday, they were there when the doctor said, “Well, John, everything looked great and your blood counts are good. We will just stay the course.”

Marilyn asked, “When John is through with maintenance treatments in March of 2013, what is next?” He replied, “We keep up with the check-ups. They will occur every three months.” Okay.

I asked him about the difference between a CT and PET scan. He explained, “Well, there really isn’t that much difference. The CT scan gives us about an 85% accuracy on a picture whereas the PET scan is 93%. There is not that much difference.” (I’m not sure I have quoted him completely accurately, here. I just remember those two percentages and how close they were to each other). I was worried that I had to take an inferior test simply because the insurance company would not pay for the PET scan. I felt better after his explanation.

It’s all good. I just have to stop right here and now to thank Dr. Jesus. Would you join me? You get all the credit for this report, Lord. I thank you and praise you for taking care of things for me TODAY.

Back to the topic for today—last night, in the men’s Bible study, Bob asked about Calvinism as it relates to the Southern Baptist Convention (which will convene next week, by the way. I’m not sure where). He stated that it will be a topic of discussion and asked me about it.

We discussed it for a while, but J. B.’s grandson, Chance, who was with us last night, looked at me and said, “Who is John Calvin?” I thought it was a great question.

I answered, “Well, John Calvin was a believer back in the sixteenth century, who along with Martin Luther and some other men, saw things that were wrong in the Roman Catholic church and sought to reform them. He focused on God’s role in salvation as well as other doctrines. His teachings led to a protest movement that caused a lot of new churches to begin.” I said something like that, and asked Chance if that made sense. He nodded his head, to my surprise (because I wasn’t sure I did make any sense!), “Yes, thanks.” He is a very bright and intelligent young man. He is about nine years old. I was glad J. B. brought him along.

But this discussion reminded me of another that I raised the other day.

A couple of days ago, I was talking about the comment that I hear on occasion, “So and so beat cancer.” I was adamant about the fact that no one actually beats cancer. God is the only one who can.

The day of that post was the first day of writing in another media—Facebook. To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of Facebook, but recently, I’ve had to rethink that a bit for a couple of reasons. First, I can’t believe how many friends wished me Happy Birthday on Facebook. I really appreciated that and as I was trying to respond to everyone who sent me a birthday note, the thought occurred to me, “I need to do this as well.” I prefer written cards, but so what? This is just another avenue to communicate with people.

Second, Marilyn encouraged me to post something daily in the status section of my Facebook page. “It is just another way to communicate with people,” she explained. Okay. Therefore, a couple of days ago, I posted a couple of sentences rebutting the statement, “So and so beat cancer.”

I received several responses to my post. I loved that! Two stood out. Joe had an interesting response. He is a brother who used to be in First Southern. But he and his wife moved to Houston. He had his own bout with cancer a few years ago. He said, “But can I say me and God beat cancer? I seem to remember a lot of hanging on that I had to do while He steered the car.

Another friend, Keith, made this comment: “Don’t forget the power of prayer. God bless.”

You know what? I can’t argue with either one of those comments. I still believe that God is powerful and sovereign and in charge (John Calvin had a lot to say about these doctrines, but I think modern proponents who use his name sometimes “out Calvin Calvin”), BUT as humans, we have responsibility. I am responsible to continue getting treatment and trying to take care of myself. As much as I can, I’m never going to allow my stress levels to reach the point where they did before. This is a choice I am making.

In addition, I have the responsibility to pray and I need to do that, not only for myself, but also for others, just as they have prayed for me. This is another aspect of human responsibility and as Keith said, it is important.

I’m still not backing off my contention that God beats cancer, but He does use us in that process.

All of this reminds me of Spurgeon’s explanation when someone asked him the age-old question, “How do you reconcile the doctrine of God sovereignty with man’s responsibility?” His reply? “You don’t. They run together like the two rails of a railroad track side-by-side into eternity. God knows how they work together. We just need to teach both, and they are NOT contradictory. It is not a question of either/or. It is both/and.” I’m paraphrasing a bit. I don’t have the eloquence to word it like Spurgeon did but that is the gist of what he said.

I’m glad I don’t have to understand it. I can just believe it. Thank you for another beat down of cancer for today, Lord. You did it. You are responsible for the good report. Help me to stay in line with you (and out of your way). Amen.

"Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!" (Psalm 134:1-3 ESV).

“His name is called Emmanuel” (“Emmanuel,” BH 2008, 201). Amen.
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The Pervasive Smell of Victory

For those of you who are reading this who don’t live in Colorado, I wonder if you have heard about the massive fire in the northern part of the state. It is called the High Park fire. Right now, over 43,000 acres (about 65 square miles) are on fire. Thousands of folks have been evacuated. Hundreds of homes have been affected, and the fear is that it could spread even farther.

I read an article in the
Denver Post today where firefighters are fearing that the blaze will spread to a forested area affected by beetles—a lot of dead trees and dry wood—perfect fodder for a fire. Officials are already saying that they will not allow firefighters to go there if the fire spreads to this dead forest. It is just too dangerous.

I feel for the folks who are affected by this fire. Please pray for them and the firefighters. It is going to take a long time to get this thing contained, according to reports in the paper.

I have been trying to figure out how to include photos on my website (I’m using a new format for this site; I’m still learning). I won’t be able to do it for now, but if you go to Google and enter High Park fire, you will be able to see pictures of this huge inferno.

Apparently, this fire started last Saturday. Officials believe that a lightning strike was the cause.

I knew something was up as I headed to church on Sunday morning. It was very hazy, and I could not see the mountains. I’m not kidding. The hazy sky just continued to the horizon. It was rather eerie, to be honest.

Then, over the course of the day Sunday and as we headed to the hospital for my CT scan on Monday, the appearance of things reminded me of California. On the trips we have taken to the Los Angeles area, I remember the sky. One of the things that I love about the mornings is the marine layer that appears most mornings along the coast. It is kind of a hazy fog, and as the sun rises, there is sort of an orange feel to the atmosphere. That is the only way I can describe it.

These past few days have reminded me of mornings on southern California coast.

But here is the main thing about this fire: one can actually smell smoke. Sometimes, it even burns the nose a bit—the pervasive smell of smoke from this huge fire.

As I was thinking about this today, the Spirit took me back a few verses in 2 Corinthians to this dominant image of chapter—the victory parade of a triumphant Roman general. I’ve talked about this before in a previous post, but again, one of the things about it was the incense that accompanied this parade.

It wasn’t enough that it was a spectacle the whole town no doubt gathered to see, but even before you could see it, you could smell it, probably miles before the parade actually arrived if the wind were blowing right.

I remember something one of my preaching professors said in seminary. His name was Jesse Northcutt. He was such a distinguished servant of God.

Actually, I have to back up a moment to tell you another thing he shared with me in a private meeting. I had him as my professor for “Preaching Lab.” This was a class where everyone got a chance to preach and when you did it, you received an evaluation from your peers and from the professor. Dr. Northcutt preferred to have a conversation with each student in his office.

In my personal consultation with Dr. Northcutt, somehow we got on the subject of a well-known pastor/preacher in that day. Dr. Northcutt made this comment: “Well, obviously, he is a great preacher, but the one danger he faces is the temptation to ‘grandstand.’” “Grandstanding”—an intriguing but very dangerous temptation for a preacher.

I’m still not exactly sure what he meant, but here is my take on it. Preachers must resist the temptation to say things that will appeal to the crowd as the first and foremost motivation. In short, it is assuming the role of a cheerleader.

After preaching in the same church for over twenty years, I can understand this temptation, more than ever. Some Sundays, for whatever reason, people are just subdued and quiet and seemingly non-responsive in a service. There are a myriad of explanations for this. I know because I experience these ups and downs myself. It is normal and just part of being human.

Anyway, as a preacher, sometimes you just long for some type of visible response or affirmation. As a result, you are tempted to say things just to get a rise out of folks.

Dr. Northcutt warned me to resist this temptation at all costs. That was one thing.

But back to the point—in class one day, he said, “Men, the more senses you can appeal to you in your sermon, the better it will be.” He was commenting on someone’s message. I can’t remember much about it now, but one of my classmates had described a church potluck as an illustration in his message. He used such graphic language that all of us could not only see that potluck meal, but we could smell it. It was very powerful.

I think Rome understood this. They wanted to appeal to as many senses as possible to remind everyone who was boss and who not to mess with.

Paul picks up on this imagery and “smell-ery” in 2 Corinthians 2. He claims that we as believers are like that incense.
"To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?" (2 Corinthians 2:16 NLT).

Lord, I pray that the aroma of your victory in my life would be just as pervasive as the incense Paul talks about and the smell of smoke here in our state. No matter what happens to me in the days and years ahead, may your victory be the thing that comes through.

“More than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8). Yes, General Jesus. Yes.

“Faith is the victory!
Faith is the victory!
Oh, glorious victory
That overcomes the world” (“Faith is the Victory,” BH 2008, 521). Amen.
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No One Beats Cancer!

There was an interesting article in the Denver Post yesterday. The title is, “Cancer can’t conquer on family’s devotion.” It is about a forty-one year old tri-athlete, Amy Lawrence, who competed along with her mom and sister in the Denver Triathlon recently. Amy was diagnosed in April with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is currently getting chemotherapy, but that didn’t stop her from competing. The article indicates that Amy doesn’t think it is that big of a deal, but her family does. They think she is an amazing person. I would have to agree.

Here is what Amy said when she finished: “I love the feeling when I’m done. Complete runner’s high, swimmer’s, everything.”

As you can understand, I am sure, I gravitate to stories like this. They intrigue me and challenge me, of course, but it is more than that. I am reading to see how people respond to someone who has cancer—what they say and how they relate to it.

One of the phrases I read and often hear (and the title of the article gets at it) is that so and so “beat cancer.” I’m sure they would use Amy Lawrence as an example of this.

Somehow, this phrase seems “off” in several ways, and I would like to elaborate on what I mean this morning.

But before I do that—a word about yesterday. The CT scan went well. As I said yesterday, it is a whole lot less involved than a PET scan. One of the nurses—Jeremy—came into the waiting room to give me my barium. He told me to drink all of it, and then he said, “This takes about an hour to an hour and ten minutes to take effect. So, you don’t have to sit here. You can go and do what you want, but make sure you are back here in about an hour.”

Humm, okay.

My mom and sis were with me, so we jumped in the car and headed to the mall for lunch. Of course, I couldn’t eat anything or drink anything except water. As we were headed that way, the barium started to affect me. I just didn’t feel that well. As a result, I just stayed in the car and headed into the bathroom a couple of times.

When we got back to the hospital, they got me in fast, accessed my port, and got me into the CT scan very quickly. I didn’t even have to put on a robe since they were only taking a picture of me from the waist up.

Once I was in there, I laid down on a movable bed. They asked me to raise my hands above my head. The tech stepped out of the room. Then, this bed moved under the machine. The actual machine itself—well actually the part you are under--is only about eighteen inches wide. Once under the “camera” part, a recorded voice comes over a loud speaker, “Hold your breath.” Then, after a few seconds, the voice says, “Breathe,” as the bed moves back.

This happened a couple of times, after which, the tech came in to check on me and make sure that my port is hooked up to a gadget that was going to put some hot liquid in my system.

When the tech leaves again, all of a sudden I feel this weird sensation of liquid entering my body. It is warm, very warm. At first, I can feel it in my esophagus and then, after a bit, I sense the warmness down my legs even to my feet.

Apparently, the purpose of it is to make the picture more legible, I guess. Who knows? But once again, the bed moves and the voice says, “Hold your breath.” And it seems a little longer this time. “Breathe,” is the next word as the bed slides out from under the machine. Done. That’s it. It took about twenty minutes, and we were headed out the door.

For the rest of the day, I just didn’t feel that great, but it was just because of that barium stuff. But I am good today.

I wanted to give that rather detailed description for a couple of reasons. First, somehow, I just want to explain what is really involved in these tests because for people who are not taking them, they have no idea. And this is no one’s fault. It is just a fact.

Second, I want to go back to my original discussion about “beating cancer.” This phrase is a misnomer in my opinion because in one sense of the word, you never really beat it. Why? Because (and of course this varies with the type of cancer one has) there are always tests and always check-ups and always, in the back of your mind, the very real possibility, no matter what type of cancer you have, that it could come back.

To me, the word “beat” implies finality. The Angels beat the Rockies (like a drum, three times, as a matter of fact) over the weekend. Those games were played and now the teams are done--three losses for the Rockies.

But if you want to be honest, you can never say this about cancer—ever. You are never done with it. It will always be in the back of your mind for the rest of your life. That is the fact.

Here is another thing. Somehow, the phrase “beat cancer” is often associated with someone who performs an amazing athletic feat while dealing it. That is all well and good. I respect people who do this. I am fairly confident that I could not enter a triathlon even when I was twenty!

And I certainly can’t speak for Amy and would not presume to do so.

But for myself and cancer patients I have talked to—it is just about continuing to live, continuing to do what you have always done. It involves a recognition that cancer affects everything, profoundly, but in some areas of life, you want to do what you have always done and keep on living.

This is a profound struggle. Back to me—there are some areas of my life where I am determined that they are NEVER going to be the same EVER again, and one of those areas for me is work, how I did it and the routine and schedule I kept. I am NEVER going back to that, and I think that, to do so, would be a denial of everything the Lord has taught me through this disease.

But on the other hand, I think the whole issue of physical exercise and activity on a general level is something that I want to maintain and even increase. In some ways, I feel that right now, I’m in the best shape I have ever been my whole life.

Therefore, someone might look at all of this and say, “Wait a minute! This doesn’t make sense. You are never going to return to what you did at work but you claim to be in the best shape of your life?” Right. Right on.

Oh, and by the by, I just have to say that I have never felt more productive at work than I have felt these days. None of this is about that. It is just about changing the way I did it, how I did it, how I drove myself to please everyone and to be what I thought they wanted me to be as a pastor. Now, I am more content than ever to let God define my work and me, and if someone doesn’t like it—whoever that person may be--too bad.

You might be saying at this point, “What does this have to do with ‘beating cancer’?” Everything. The concept is too narrow, too over-simplified, too truncated. It is so much more than performing some great feat. It is about learning and growing--an on-going process of moving forward, a never ending “game,” if you please.

Finally, I don’t like the phrase because it leaves God out of the equation. No one beats cancer. God beats it! He should get the praise and glory! He is the one in charge of life and death, whether we acknowledge it or not. He made us. All of us have cancer cells in us. He is the one in charge of whether or not they are benign or malignant at any point of time.

We like to relegate God to the bigness of the universe, but He is small, as well. He is in total charge of all the cellular activity in every body on this planet at every moment. Is that awesome or what?

And He is in charge of the pilgrimage and the destination of every person. That is what I love these words from another one of those Psalms of songs of “ascent” in that wonderful section of the Psalms, 120 through 135. Here is a quote from 132:

"The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: ‘One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne.’ For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: ‘This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it’” (Psalm 132:11-14, ESV).

Lord, I praise you that you are on your throne today, and I am so grateful that my destination is your resting place forever—Zion—the heavenly Jerusalem. I long for you to return, My Groom. I long for the wedding feast of the Lamb. I long to be done with this weak body of flesh and cancer forever.

I pray for Amy and her family. If they don’t know you, I pray that they could come to know you as the God who beats cancer and every other obstacle believers face.

And Jesus, I thank you that you define what the “beating” really is. It is NEVER a human accomplishment. Please forgive us for taking credit for what only you can accomplish.

I’m leaving it up to you today, Lord. Use me through cancer to minister to others. I don’t want to be known for cancer. I want to be your servant and I want to walk with you, no matter what happens.

“O come, let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord” (“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” BH 2008, 199). Amen.
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CT Scan Today for a Worrier

Apparently, I have to have a test every six months to see how things are. Dr. Jotte prefers PET scans. He told me that they are a better test, and he scheduled one for me for today, originally.

BUT, I got a call from Christy at the front desk a few weeks ago. She said that my insurance would not permit me to have a PET scan. So, CT scan it is.

I think I have mentioned this before in the blog, but I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I am glad because I just prefer the CT scan from a convenience standpoint. I was able to get up this morning and eat breakfast including my cup of coffee. Plus, I get to work out this morning. Both of these things are huge for me.

The requirement for the CT is no food or drink except clear liquids four hours before the test. Since I am scheduled to go in at 10:30 this morning, I have plenty of time to eat and drink my coffee before that four-hour mark. Then, when I get to the hospital for the test (this is at Sky Ridge Medical Center, not the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center as in the case of the PET scan), they give me some barium stuff to drink. It isn’t too bad.

The test itself is easier also because I am not strapped down and I don’t go fully into an enclosed container and it doesn’t take as long.

The PET scan, on the other hand, it much more involved. The requirement for this test is no eating or drinking except for water SIX HOURS before the test. So, since, I usually go in for a PET scan early in the morning, breakfast and my one cup of coffee is out.

Another requirement is no strenuous exercise for 24 hours prior to the test. Therefore, no exercise. Plus, the kind of stuff they give me to drink prior to this test always makes me want to go to the bathroom, and this is a much bigger deal for the PET scan because a nurse escorts you out to a trailer for this test and gets you situated in a room. And you have to sit in a chair for a half an hour to let the stuff they give you to drink get fully in your system.

As a result, when you have to go to the bathroom, you have to ask a nurse. She has to escort you back to the building, wait in the waiting room while you use the restroom, and then escort you back to the trailer.

I’m sorry for all the detail. I know it is way more than anyone would probably want to know, but I don’t think anyone has any idea about these tests and all this may seem like minor issues but honestly, they cause me to stress a bit.

Yesterday, for example, at church, I told a brother that I was having a CT scan today and asked him to pray for me. He said, “Well, at least you have something in your head for them to take a picture of. I don’t.” I appreciated his attempt to help me laugh a bit, and I certainly don’t blame him, but I realized that he has no idea what a CT or PET scan is. No one does, until he or she has to go through it.

Back to the PET scan--the test itself is much more involved. They strap you to a table and for a half an hour, this table goes in and out of a machine. I usually close my eyes and play a round of golf in my head because I think I would get claustrophobic if I didn’t, and then I worry about that, “What happens if I have to get up off that table for some reason? It would mess everything up.”

Finally, the other thing that makes the PET scan difficult is that by the time I have finished, I’ve got a huge headache. I think it occurs for two reasons. First, the stress level and second, the fact that I have not been able to drink a cup of coffee. Usually, after I get home and am able to do this, I feel better.

Well, anyway, as I have already said, this is overkill when it comes to detail, but I want to go back to my original point: from a convenience standpoint, the CT scan is better.

BUT, on the other side of the coin, it bothers me that everything is so money and insurance driven. I should be able to get the test that the doctor wants me to have!

I’m not sure, but I think from the standpoint of cost—the CT scan is about half of what the PET scan is. We are talking the difference between $8,000 and $4,000! That’s right. No typo. Not too many zeroes—eight and four thousand dollars!

I just can’t believe how expensive everything is when it comes to cancer. I’m thankful that I do have health insurance. I feel for people in our culture who don’t. I don’t know what you would do. I guess you would get some level of care, but I doubt you could have these tests to find out how you are doing.

All I know is that the financial burden of this adds another stress to things. My premium went up fairly significantly this month and my out-of-pocket expenses choke a horse (and me).

Please understand: I am not complaining, but somehow, I felt compelled to share some of the nitty-gritty details of what is actually going with me in the course of this pilgrimage.

As someone said yesterday in a meeting at church—“the devil is in the details.” He certainly could be—if I allow him that access.

In contrast to all of this is the passage I read today from the Psalms. How about this to a guy that can easily let the devil in with all the details? "O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me" (Psalm 131:1, 2 ESV).

Worrying about all this stuff—something I am good at—is a form of pride. It is “occupying myself with things too great.” Why should I? The Lord has given me no indication that he is not going to take care of things for me today.

I’m asking the Spirit of God to calm and quiet my soul, to enable me to be “like a weaned child” in his mother’s lap—fully at peace and at rest. What a graphic picture of trust in the Christian life. Wow. A weaned child--that little mind has no capacity to worry about having to go to the bathroom or the barium or the test results.

My problem is that I know too much. I actually have a smaller mind that a child at rest. That is the true picture.

Make me, Lord, make me today like that weaned child. Take this tempestuous soul. Calm me and quiet me.

“What Child is this, who laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping” (“What Child Is This,” BH 2008, 198). The Son of God asleep on his mother’s lap! Jesus—you did it. Live that life through me today! Amen.
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The Veil and the Fading Glory

Another one of the contrasts that Paul makes as he contradicts his critics in Corinth is the whole issue of glory. And he uses a rather curious incident in the Old Testament to do it.

Let me quote both the passage in 2 Corinthians and in Exodus: "We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away" (2 Corinthians 3:13 NLT).

The passage in Exodus: "When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the LORD… When Moses finished speaking with them, he covered his face with a veil. But whenever he went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with the LORD, he would remove the veil until he came out again. Then he would give the people whatever instructions the LORD had given him" (Exodus 34:29, 33, 34 NLT).

Moses, this one man and leader of the people, had the opportunity to spend time with the Lord. Of course, the Lord did not allow His servant to see him. If you will remember, the Lord hid Moses in the cleft of the rock as He passed by. But still, Moses had a closer relationship with God than anyone else in the community. Out of that communion, the Lord gave Moses the Ten Words. He wrote them on tablets of stone and carried them down the mountain—twice. (The first time, Moses broke the stone tablets when he saw the orgy the people were engaged in).

But beyond the giving of the Law, Moses continued to commune with the Lord and then come out to speak with the people with his face aglow. After the sermon, he would put a veil on his face until he went back into the presence of the Lord. Paul says that Moses did that so that the people would not see “the glory fade away.”

It was only on one man’s face and it was very temporal.

Contrast this with the glory of the new covenant.

Back up a couple of verses in 2 Corinthians 3—Paul says that the glory of the new covenant far surpasses that of the old. In fact, there really is no comparison. The glory of the New is so great that, in comparison, the glory of the Old is really not glory at all.

I can’t help but think that there is a bit of double entendre going on here. Paul’s opponents, Judaizers, used their teachings and promotion of circumcision and other Jewish laws/rituals actually to put the spotlight on themselves. “Look at how spiritual we are. We are ‘super’ apostles. We are far better than this character Paul.” Something like that.

Paul’s response and references to Moses and his veil make two very profound statements. First, under the New Covenant, the glory of God is not restricted to one man (Moses) or to a few select, super-spiritual people (the Judaizers). It is the right and prerogative of every believer and in that sense is no big deal.

Second, this is never about glory for man, even with Moses. It is always and foremost about glory to God.

Paul’s bedrock motivation for everything he did was the glory of God. This is the sharp and stark contrast he is making.

As I read these words this morning, I realize how rare this really is. In my now almost twenty-three years of pastoral ministry, I find so few people whose deep heart desire at the top of the list is the glory of God. Someone who is motivated in this way doesn’t care if he or she EVER gets glory. It isn’t about achievement. It is not about being recognized and lauded. It is just about serving so that the Lord gets noticed.

Lord, as I prepare for another day at church, where I am standing up before the congregation of your people, turn the spotlight on me right now. Rid out anything in me that desires glory for myself. Throw it out. Help me today, in everything I do--greeting, leading, preaching, conversing, and meeting—to glorify you and you alone.

“Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary” (“What Child Is This,” BH 2008, 198). “Haste to bring Him laud”—isn’t that a rather quaint and old fashioned way of echoing the message of Paul—give Him glory? I thinketh so. Amen.
Comments

Letters and The Letter

What a masterful transition Paul makes in chapter three of 2 Corinthians. He has a marvelous way of dealing with all the “issues” he faces from the opposition in the church.

This group of folks who called themselves “super” apostles touted themselves over Paul for many reasons, but their main tool was letters (plural) of recommendation from other people outside the church.

The other thing they did was advocate adherence to the Jewish laws and regulations.

I’m sitting here this morning and it is dawning on me that Paul battled this group of folks—called the Judaizers—throughout his ministry. This word is really only used in one place—Galatians 2:14. It refers to a group of Jewish believers who believed that circumcision was necessary for salvation. They added this requirement onto salvation by grace through faith.

Paul battled them in Galatia. He fought them in Corinth. And he dealt with them in other places as well.

But back to 2 Corinthians three, as he was talking about the whole issue of adequacy, it led him into a discussion of the new covenant. This is a natural transition, it seems to me.

If my chief qualification for ministry as a genuine servant of God depends only on the Lord, it makes sense that this would hold true in my life of faith.

In other words, if I don’t rely on any outside influences (letters of recommendation) to make me qualified to serve Him, then I certainly don’t need to any letter (singular) of the law to make me acceptable to God in the first place. The two go hand in hand in seems to me.

The Old Covenant centers on the letter of the law; the new covenant based on the blood of Jesus and his broken body revolves around the Holy Spirit of God who dwells in us, giving us new life.

Paul frames it this way, "He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6 NLT).

What a sharp contrast? The Old Covenant ends in death—the law of sin and death, as Paul calls it in Romans. But the New Covenant in the Spirit gives life!

I am so grateful for this today. I know there is much more to say about this as I progress through 2 Corinthians, but this morning, I rejoice in the life of the Spirit. That involves fellowship with other “lively” believers.

I had such an experience yesterday. I was able to join some of the senior women in our church at lunch at a restaurant. Juana invited me. When I walked into the restaurant yesterday, they cheered! It was hilarious! You talk about a lively group!

As we were eating our lunch, Juana said, “Pastor, you know we have been doing this for years once our meals at church ended. We realized we were all too old to prepare a lot of food and carry it to the church, so we just started doing this.” Okay.

I’ll tell you—one of the highlights of the early years of my ministry were the senior luncheons at church. When I first started as pastor back in 1989, it was a huge event. I’ll never forget it. Our fellowship hall was full. There were at least two tables at the front of the room loaded (I mean loaded) with dishes of all sorts and varieties, and then perpendicular to them were two longer rows of tables.

All the men sat at one long table on one side of the room, and on the other side of the room, all the women sat at the other table.

Talk about a lively group! They always made sure that I was first in line, and Sarah always guaranteed that I had at least two plates of leftovers after every meal. I would usually sit with the men and laugh my head off at all their stories and jokes and comments, at the same time looking over to the other side of the room hearing just as much or more laughter from that side.

Over the years, the attendance at these meals started to diminish. Finally, the seniors just decided to go to a restaurant.

All these memories kept flooding back in my mind as I visited with the ladies yesterday.

To me, this is one of the concrete evidences of what Paul was talking about when he said the Spirit gives life.

Lord, thank you for the ministry of the Holy Spirit who gives life. The life of the Spirit. I’m so grateful for his presence in me and among believers.

Thank you for the seniors all through the years and the way you have used each successive group from those in the fellowship hall at the beginning to the ladies yesterday.

Bless them and encourage each one, Lord: Myrtle, Lois, Fran, Muriel, Dorla, Ann, Sarah, and Juana.

“O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel” (“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” BH 2008, 196). Amen.
Comments

Adequacy

The more I read 2 Corinthians, the more I love this book. I love the fact that I am reading this book in my Quiet Time while I am preaching through the book. It gives me a dual exposure to this heart exposure of the Apostle Paul.

You have to read between the lines, kind of. Sometimes, it is not that hard, but you have to infer from what Paul says about the criticism leveled against him.

At the beginning of chapter three, it is about the whole issue of qualification for ministry. Apparently, the so-called “super apostles” who invaded the church and tried to turn the congregation against Paul brought “letters of recommendation” along with them to commend them to the church.

And apparently, they made a big deal about it in two ways. First, they wanted the folks in Corinth to be impressed with them because of the volume of paper they brought with them on one hand. Second, they were trying to put Paul down because of the lack of volume of paper he had.

I tell you: this is so American—all of this. The whole idea of resumes and references and qualifications and convincing someone from a piece of paper that you are the right person for the job. All of that—is so worldly.

Everything Paul faced in the way of criticism was based on the flesh and superficiality. And I love the way he responds throughout the book. He turns these attacks on their head and uses them as a platform to show what in life and in ministry is really important.

At the beginning of chapter three, he basically asks, “So, you want our letters of recommendation? Okay. We will produce them. Look around at the people in your church who are walking with Jesus. There you go!”

These saved disciples, according to Paul, are God’s letters written on this servant of God’s heart. It is not a pen and ink letter. It is a Spirit of God letter, written on the heart. I love this. This is the only kind of letter that really matters.

This passage has played a key role in my life. That May morning back in 1978 when I felt that the Lord was calling me to preach, I had two questions for the Lord.

The first one was, “Lord, what kind of life is this for a family?” And the immediate answer the Lord gave me was, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Bang. That verse came to mind, and then things were silent. It was as if the Lord said, “Handled that question. Any other?” Gulp. Okay.

Second, I said to the Lord, “I am just not adequate for this task.” I wonder how many men and women in the Word have said the same thing. The one that comes to mind immediately is Moses.

Well again, God brought a verse to my mind like a flash of lightning. I will quote it here in a minute, but I want to give you the context. Paul asks a question in chapter two, "To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?" (2 Corinthians 2:16 NLT)

Did you get it—the whole question of adequacy—but like a good preacher he chases a rabbit for a few verses before he gets to the answer to this question. The answer comes in chapter three, verse five: "It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5 NLT).

On that morning, it was the NASB of the last part of verse three that came to mind, “Our adequacy is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5b, NASB). Again, like a shot, that verse came to my mind and heart, as all of heaven (this is what it felt like that morning in my apartment in Waco) waited for me to respond.

“Any thing else?” And heaven waited. It was silent. So quiet. I’ll never forget that moment.

My mind was blank. No more questions. Time for action. “Okay, God, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” I broke at that moment. It seemed as if the whole universe opened up to me and I was released to run free in the wide-open spaces of a new adventure with God.

I know I’ve told this story before, but it “just so happened” that we were having revival services at church that week. It was a Friday night and the preacher, Allen Buchanek, was sharing his personal testimony. At the end of his message, he said, “I just feel as if someone needs to give himself to full-time vocational Christian service tonight, right here and right now.”

Well, I felt again, for the second time in that day, that something broke, something gave way in my heart, and before I knew it, I was down the aisle and up at the front of the church. If my memory serves me correctly, I think two other folks responded with that same commitment.

Lord, thanks for the memory of that wonderful day in May 1978. Thank you for calling me, Lord. I certainly have no idea why. It certainly isn’t because I was qualified or had the resume.

I want to reaffirm that you have been faithful to keep your promise of providing for my family and for being my adequacy, for any and every situation. I love you, Jesus. Good job!

“While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wond’ring love” (“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” BH 2008, 196). Amen.
Comments

Joel Osteen at Pepsi Center

I have been waiting to write about this until George’s article came out in the Broomfield Enterprise and today is the day it did. Please read it. It is an excellent piece. You can find it at www.broomfiendenterprise.com. George’s full name is George McHendry.

Let me just give you some background. George is a retired pastor who now writes this weekly article for the Broomfield Enterprise. He visits church all over the city of Denver but mainly congregations on the north side of town. He has already written one major article about us (I wish we were as good as his article made us sound!) and referenced our church in another.

He started coming to our church rather frequently because he is a friend of Calla, our new Minister to the Families of Children, and her family. George and I have met for lunch on a couple of occasions and as a matter of fact, we have another appointment to do that next week. I appreciate this brother. He is a huge encourager. I just enjoy hanging out with him. He has a good sense of humor and we “talk shop.”

Well, last Saturday at the Block Party at Federal Heights, George showed up with his wife Helene. This was the first time I have met her. As we were visiting, it did not take long for George to say, “Well, last night, Calla and her family and I went to Pepsi Center to Joel Osteen’s deal.” Until he mentioned it, I had forgotten about Osteen’s “deal” in Denver.

The article that I reference this morning gives most of the information that George shared with me.

Apparently, it was quite an event that showcased a little bit of great music (not enough as far as George was concerned) and a whole lot of Joel Osteen and his family. Apparently, Joel talked a lot but his formal sermon proper last only about thirty minutes and occurred at the end of the three-hour show.

In addition, his wife spoke and his children performed musically.

As George was telling me all of this, I asked, “Well, what did Joel talk about in all that time before his official sermon started?” George replied, “Well, it was about himself and his family and some of the things they have gone through.” As you can see in the article, and George didn’t mention this in our personal conversation, but Joel’s mom talked about how the Lord helped her through cancer. And Joel promoted sponsoring a child through World Vision.

As the article indicates, “Jesus was hardly mentioned, and scripture was only used in passing.”

Have I said enough about what happened? Probably too much.

I want to be careful at this point because I am certain that this event did some good for the folks who attended. I have to leave this up to God. And I don’t want to come across as sour grapes. What Joel Osteen does is between him and God.

But, I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbing all of this is to me.

The topic of Joel Osteen came up in my men’s Bible study last night. The guys shared some of my sentiments about all of this. None of them attended this “service.”

I guess I would just say at this point that I really don’t get it. It is amazing how a preacher can get a crowd if he barely mentions Jesus and does not refer to scripture. That would be one thing, but then charging for admittance. Wow.

And then—the offering plate. George and Calla talked about all the things for sale at this “service.” Tshirts, CD’s, books, et cetera. All of that but then they passed the plate. Why? Calla commented, “Well, it was interesting. After charging everyone fifteen dollars a piece for their seat, they also passed an offering plate, asking people to give to Osteen’s church in Houston. When the plate came my way, I figured, ‘I’ve already paid fifteen dollars. I think that is enough.’”

You think?

Well, this whole issue came more prominently to my mind and heart as I finished chapter two of 2 Corinthians. I want to cite two versions of the last verse of this chapter.
"You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us" (2 Corinthians 2:17 NLT).

Here is the Message version translation of this verse: "This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No— but at least we don't take God's Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ's presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can."

I happen to believe that the traveling preachers who infiltrated the church in Corinth and tried to turn the hearts of the people away from their founding pastor, Paul, were probably as flashy and charismatic (a personality trait and theological perspective) as Joel Osteen. And people gravitated to them, just as they do Osteen today. And no doubt paid money to do it.

But Paul held a firm line. He was not in the concert business. He refused to market the Word of God “for cheap sale on the street.”

Why? Well, as you can read in the passages above. Paul was concerned to appeal to his audience as well. Who was this audience? An audience of ONE—God.

Lord, I thank you that the truth of your Word is a safe haven. It is the only source of the message. It isn’t popular and never will be.

Help me NEVER to compromise the message for any reason. NEVER.

I pray for Joel Osteen and his family and his ministry and his church in Houston. I just turn them over to you.

I lift up faithful pastors all over this country who preach the whole council of God to a few people. Bless them. Encourage them. Embolden them to preach the Word in the sight of God, these servants of God who will never in their lifetime make as much money as Joel Osteen is making on his current eighteen-city tour.

Not here . . .

“His power and glory evermore proclaim!” (“O Holy Night!” BH 2008, 194). Amen.
Comments

Aroma of Death or Life, It Depends

The Aroma of Life or Death, It Depends

I want to come back to the verses I cited yesterday, but first, I have to say that I had a great day.

I’m not really much of a participant on Facebook, to be honest, but yesterday I received a bunch of birthday greetings from “friends” on that media. I put “friends” in quotation marks for two reasons. First, because everyone who wrote me is indeed a friend. Second, that is their designation.

I really appreciate everyone who wished me Happy Birthday, and I tried to take the time to respond to each one. It was great.

A few others emailed me. I appreciated that as well.

I have also received a couple of birthday cards through the mail. I really like that. I love the personal nature of a hand-written note.

It is just kind of funny. Cards through the mail seem to be something that you see less and less. Email and Facebook have become the ways we contact each other.

Either way, all ways, are fine. That’s how I feel, but I am afraid that I am still a little old fashioned. For the first time in my ministry, this year, I have decided to mail out birthday cards to everyone in the church.

Jennifer, my Spanish tutor, has helped me with this. She actually makes greeting cards. They are exquisite works of art! She makes cards that are small and fit in a small envelope. I usually try to write a personal message on the card. Then, I put it in the envelope and then I put that envelope in a larger one for mailing—kind of like a graduation or wedding notice. I like it, and I’ve had a few people comment on it and especially the cards.

Anyway, back to Facebook, yesterday challenged me to use this media more than I have. I would like to keep up with birthdays and send greetings just as so many did with me yesterday. It means a lot.

If any of you are reading this today, thank you so much!

Back to the passage, I love the way Paul uses common sites and sounds and smells from his day to teach significant spiritual truths. I’m sure that no matter where you were in the Roman Empire, it was not uncommon to be interrupted in your work to hear a clamor and noise. And immediately, you knew what it was.

And maybe you ran to the window to see it. Or, maybe you left your house and hurried to get a front row seat on Main Street just to see it. There’s something about the event.

When a Roman general won a battle, he put on his own little parade. And maybe it wasn’t a “little” parade after all. But he would ride or stand in his chariot, with his troops alongside. Behind the processional of Roman soldiers, dragged along with ropes or chains, were the defeated troops of the enemy army.

This was sort of an “in your face” declaration that showed everyone, “Rome is powerful. We won another one. Don’t mess with us.”

But here is one of the interesting things about this parade. Maybe more than the spectacle, more than the sight, was the smell. Each of these parades was accompanied by a huge amount of incense. I don’t know enough about how the smell of incense is spread—probably by burning. I need to do more research on this.

Anyway, when you smelled the aroma, you knew that it was time to chalk up another one for Rome.

But Paul mentions the double-edged aspect of this story, depending on whose side you were on: "But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 NLT)

He argues that believers are like those defeated soldiers dragged along in the victory parade. To unbelievers or enemies of The General (and here I am referring to Jesus not the company), it stinks—it is offensive and repulsive. “The dreadful smell of death and doom,” as the NLT puts it.

But for believers, “we are a life-giving perfume.” Only brothers and sister in Christ can savor the beauty and the aroma of someone who is totally submitted to Jesus! It is awesome!

Sunday, one of the ladies who responded to the invitation was Carol. When she came forward, she said, “John, I’ve been through a lot over the past few months, but I’ve come to the point of praying the prayer that God always answers: ‘Not my will but thine be done.’”

I can just see her chained to the chariot. How awesome!

It certainly isn’t about any victories that she has won, and I’m not picking on Carol. None of us can claim credit. I know I can’t. I can only hope as the Lord allows me to live another year, I can just stay in tow. In total submission to Jesus, just follow along behind the victory parade and as long as I am chained to the winning general, the aroma of victory is pervasive.

Who knows what is in store in this new year of my life?

Yesterday, I thought about my birthday on June 5, 2010. I had no idea that in a month and two days from THAT birthday, I would discover a bulge on my lower abdomen and start a new leg of the journey that I never would have dreamed would happen.

It is amazing how one day can change your life forever, but the victory parade continues. I’m not leading this thing. Jesus is. He is taking this defeated soldier through Cancerville and every other town He chooses to show people His awesome strength and power.

Jesus, keep it up. Thank you for the victory you won at Calvary and the empty tomb. The greatest victory EVER.

For this new year of my life, I bend to you. I bow to your Lordship. I just get in line and shuffle along with Carol and the rest of your servants who have just given up their efforts at trying to win the day.

I follow you, General Jesus. I want my life to be a fragrant perfume to your glory. Old Spice has nothing on you!

“Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Now ye need not fear the grave;
Jesus Christ was born to save” (“Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” BH 2008, 183). Amen.
Comments

Glad to Have Another One

A few years ago, I got so depressed on my birthday, I could barely hold my head up. It was a huge downer, and it took me several days to recover from the pit I dug for myself.

I heard someone define depression as a “temper tantrum on the inside.” That is an intriguing description. I’m sure it is rather over-simplified. There are a lot of components to it and it varies from person to person, of course. Some folks in the church I serve take medication for it, and I think sometimes this is necessary.

But back to me on that day several years ago, a tantrum describes how I felt and my actions that day.

Come to think of it—it may have been on my 50th birthday. For some reason, turning 50 was very difficult for me, but looking back on it, it was one of the best years of my life and the 50’s have been great, cancer and all, one of the best decades of my life so far.

Anyway, looking back on that birthday from the vantage point of today, allowing myself to get down on a birthday seems so silly and superfluous now. What a waste of time and energy!

I can honestly say this from the bottom of my heart today: I’m just glad to have another birthday. I am thankful that the Lord has graciously allowed me to live another year. It is a wonderful gift, and I plan to enjoy it.

One of the other things that is a legacy from that downer day a few years ago is that I always try to do something different on my birthday, to treat myself a bit. So, today, I am taking a vacation day. I’m going to hang out, try to be outside as much as possible today, and this evening, my mom and sis and I are going to some type of different restaurant somewhere. We may even drive down to Colorado Springs. Who knows? Just something different on this day—a little diversion. I’m looking forward to it.

I will have to make another comment about life as I turn 54 today. Things seem to be going faster and faster. There is never enough time each day to get everything done that I need to do.

A case in point occurred yesterday. I was studying 2 Corinthians and trying to get my study guide prepared to email to Betty for next week’s message, and I came across a statement in one of the commentaries. It captured my attention. And all of a sudden it hit me. This is book idea number four.

I will unpack this idea sometime soon in this blog—of course—but not today. Suffice it to say that my burden to write increases by the day. There is so much on my heart that I believe the Lord wants me to put in print—somewhere, somehow.

And I feel compelled to keep the momentum of this first book going. I’m almost finished with the final proofing and ready to sign off on it. At that point, I don’t think it will be too much longer before it actually gets published.

Once that happens, by the grace and mercy of God, the challenge for ministry begins. I have some ideas about how I want to use cancer as a platform. And I am going to dedicate some time each week to taking opportunities and making opportunities to share what the Lord has taught me through this experience.

Sometimes, the devil gets a hold of me even in this and whispers in my ear, “Are you kidding? No one cares about what happened to you, and no one will read, let along buy your book. Are you kidding?” And I just have to take those thoughts to the Lord.

I had a brother call me yesterday to tell me that he was under satanic attack. He asked my what to do. I directed him to Ephesians six and told him to make sure he put each piece of his armor on. He replied, “How do I do that?”

I answered, “You do it in prayer and then you stay in prayer.” Isn’t this what Paul is saying in Ephesians 6:18, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (NLT).

I went on to say that every time Satan whispers something in your ear, rebuke him and re-appropriate the armor and take a stand.

As that advice was flowing out of my mouth, it occurred to me, “John, you need to listen to what you are telling this brother and heed it yourself.” Amen.

The bottom line is that it is all good and the Lord has us all in a victory parade. This is the affirmation of the following verses: "But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 NLT)

There is much more to say about these verses. Again, I will at a later time (another tease to get you to come back tomorrow, if the Lord allows me to live another day to write more!).

Lord, you have allowed me to live another year, another day. Thank you so much. I praise you for the gift of life and more than that, new life in Jesus.

“Go, tell it on the mountain, …
That Jesus Christ is born” (“Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” BH 2008, 182). Amen.
Comments

What Does it Mean to Wait on God?

Yesterday, we had a lot of public response when it came time for the invitation.

Let me back up for a moment. Every couple of months, we have a special Sunday morning schedule. We call it Koinonia—this is a transliteration of the Greek word for fellowship.

Much of what we do in contemporary American church life consists of dividing folks up according to age and sex. We have Children’s church and men and women’s Bible studies. We have youth meetings that are appropriate only for teenagers, and on and on and on.

All of this is well and good—nothing wrong with it—but when and where does everyone come together in church life? That was the burden that compelled me to lead the church to have these special Sundays every once in a while.

Here is another reason: we used to have Sunday evening services and they were a wonderful springboard for church fellowship. In the summer, we would have ice cream (most of it homemade—nothing better this side of heaven) and watermelon. It was just an opportunity to get together.

But since we have gradually phased out Sunday evening services (and I heard no complaints when we did it), we lacked an opportunity for the whole church to get together. When would you do it? Wednesday night was certainly NOT that night. If I had to guess, I would say that it is probably on the way out as well, if one judges that by participation and attendance. We are still trying to resuscitate it. (I could make some comments here about those efforts—programs die hard in Baptist churches. Usually, the people that work to keep them going die first).

Well, anyway, that left Sunday morning as now the only time during the week that you can count on most of the church being there.

Therefore, we made the decision to replace Sunday school on that day with a breakfast in the fellowship hall. We eat and then take time to pray together. Yesterday, we prayed for Sarah and Duane and Mary Ann and the rest of the Tidwell family. Afterward, I led a brief study that summarized the stewardship class we have had the past three months. I encouraged people to have discussion at their tables.

After our brief study, I asked the folks to pick up the hymnals we provided at the tables and we had a time for people to pick a hymn that reminded us of how rich God is. We sang together for about fifteen minutes. I loved the choices people made. Our last hymn was “Count Your Blessings.”

At point, we took a break and headed upstairs so that we could all be up there when the service normally starts at 10:05. We do this because we realize that some folks won’t and don’t come at 9:00 and we wanted to include them as well.

But, when we get upstairs, we usually don’t have any more congregational singing. Yesterday, I asked people to share a testimony about their experiences at the Block Party in Federal Heights. After this, we had our offering and I dismissed the children to go to Children’s Church. Then, I preached my sermon and we had the Lord’s Supper.

Okay, I hadn’t really planned on giving you a blow by blow, but there it is.

Back to my feelings about all of this—I like these Sundays, more and more. If I had my druthers, we would do this A LOT more. I like having everyone together. I think there is much wisdom to be gleaned from the collective gathering of God’s people. I think we put to much emphasis on a few people—whether they are pastors or teachers or worship leaders—to perform while everyone else sits.

I am kind of tired of how programmed we are in the church today. We have our little set routine each week that is very timed and controlled and things move like clockwork. One might say that the Holy Spirit is planned out of most services. Where does He have any room?

I like the biblical model of allowing people to share—whether it is a testimony or a hymn or a song. Isn’t that what the New Testament demonstrates? Certainly, this isn’t polished. It is a little scary because you never know what someone might say and it is nearly impossible to script it.

I guess I would say that we should strike a balance between the prepared and the spontaneous. But right now, I think we err too much on the side of script and sticking to it.

Well, anyway, I think all of this contributed to folks feeling more comfortable to respond to the message and the Supper. Myrtle came forward to ask us to pray because she has “full blown” (her words) Parkinson’s. Cindy came forward to ask us to pray for a family situation. Judy shared a praise for the Lord healing her dad, and she went on to ask prayer for her family and for the church family. Carol came forward to let us know that she has finally come to the place of submitting to the will of God. We prayed for another family who is struggling with their teenage daughter.

I cannot begin to tell you how encouraging it was to see us move more and more into the “real.” So much of what happens in church life is smoke and mirrors. In other words, when you ask someone how he or she is doing, you often get, “I’m fine. Great” when his/her heart is breaking.

Certainly, there are appropriate times and places to share. Some things you can’t tell the whole church. I understand that, but I do think that the body of Christ needs to function as the mutually supportive entity that God designed it to be more than we as pastors allow.

I would share with all of you that right now, I would characterize my walk as waiting on God. The Psalmist says, "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning" (Psalm 130:5, 6 ESV).

What does it mean to wait on God? Well, it is certainly not a passive activity. That is for sure. It is one of the most active things we can do as believers. Here’s how I would characterize it: it is putting oneself in a position to hear from God and waiting for Him to give specific direction and not moving until He gives the Word, but it has the element of certainty that I will happen. It will.

I believe the Lord wants to show us what to do, where to go, how to do it—all those things and more—much more than we could ever want it. And it is certain that He will show us. It is a certain as the sunrise. Amen!

Lord, I thank you for yesterday and the fellowship and the “realness” we shared. I pray that it would continue and grow.

I confess the sin of wanting to control things. Again, today, I take my hands off the schedule and the services. It is all up to you, Lord.

I lift up the Tidwells and Myrtle and Cindy’s family and Judy’s family and Carol and Bresz.

Give me the stamina to continue to wait on you.

“Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end”—that’s what we need. All the way to the end (“Count Your Blessings,” BH 2008, 585). Amen.


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Carolyn at the Block Party at Federal Heights

Before I tell you about what happened yesterday, I need to talk about my personal blog—www.pastorjohnsblog.com—for a moment. 
Apple is making some huge changes that will eventually take place on June 30, 2012.  They are switching from MobileMe to ICloud and they are eliminating IWeb.  For those of you who aren’t Apple “aficionados,” you might be saying, “Huh, what?”  And believe me, you have more sanity than those of us who do know (a little) about these things. 
I’m not going to go into detail at this point, but suffice it to say that I had to make some changes with my personal blog, and it is going to take a few days to learn the new ropes.  So, if you don’t find my blog entries there for a few days or things are a little off, I just wanted you to know what is going on.
As I have said on and off for the past several months, my ultimate goal is to move from Caring Bridge to this blog exclusively, but I will not do that without a lot of warning.  I don’t want anyone who wants to continue to read the blog not be able to, but the reason I am making this transition is that I don’t think it is right to tell about my book and encourage people to buy it on Caring Bridge. 
While I am in THAT neighborhood, progress on the publishing of the book is moving along slowly, but it looks as if it won’t take too much longer for it to come out.  Yesterday, I got word from my publisher about the prices of the paperback and the hardback editions.  I was a little disappointed, to be honest.  I’ll tell you what the prices will be in a moment, but they informed me that the price is determined by several factors, one of which is the length of the book.  I mean, after all, Westbow Press does have the expense of printing it. 
When all is said and done, it will be 260 pages!  Wow.  I didn’t realize it would be that long!  Therefore, they are telling me that the paperback edition will sell for $19.95 and the hardback will retail for $35.95!  As I was telling my mom and sis about these figures yesterday, I stated, “I wouldn’t pay that much for this type of book!”  My mom’s reply (always the encourager, especially of me as a writer), “I would, if I really wanted it.”  
Well, okay, but I believe the debut of this book signals the beginning of a new phase of the ministry for me.  I see it as an opportunity to use cancer as a platform for the gospel and an expansion of the ministry of First Southern.  I’ll go into more detail about this at a later time, but I’m excited to see what the Lord wants to do.
Back to yesterday—the Block Party in the Denver Cascade manufactured housing park at Federal Heights—went very well, but it started off slowly.  At 11:00, we didn’t have any children!
As a result, Jose’s wife Danielle along with two folks from First Southern—Edward and Susan—and I decided to walk through the neighborhood and invite people personally.  We met a few folks who were out, one man named Dick in particular.  Dick was a believer and very talkative.  We asked him about where he went to church.  He informed us that he attended a large neo-Pentecostal congregation in the area. Danielle replied, “Well, Dick, we are not here to take you away from your church, but we just wanted you to know what is going on here and we would invite you to join the Bible study on Wednesday night and/or point other folks who may need a church in our direction.”  I thought this was very well stated. 
One other thing—we also had a rather scary encounter with a dog.  It was a large dog!  The critter barked at us and made advancements toward us as if he might attack.  All four us turned and slowly headed in the opposite direction as the dog lunged at us.
I have been bitten before on two separate occasions!  I think dogs can sense if you are afraid and it only makes them more aggressive in situations like that, so I was glad not to mess around and leave the area.  Quickly.  Thank you. 
We had a good talk around the park and after forty-five minutes or so returned to the site of the Block Party.  By then, more and more folks were filtering in.  It was great to see.  We had a couple of bouncy castles and some “sprayers” (not sure what to call them exactly—they looked like aerosol cans—a good idea) for the kids to shoot water at each other as well as popcorn, cotton candy, tons of hard candy, hotdogs, and soft drinks.  Jose did a great job of planning. 
I enjoyed just hanging out and getting to visit with folks.  I noticed a lady standing by herself just observing everything.  I introduced myself to her.  She said, “My name is Carolyn.”  After some small talk about what it was like to live in Denver Cascade Park, I asked, “Carolyn, do you have a church home?”
Before I could finish the sentence, she was shaking her head, “No, no, no, don’t want to talk about it.  I am an agnostic.  So, you probably don’t want to talk with me any longer!” 
I stopped her, “No, Carolyn.  That is not the way I feel about it.  I want to hear your viewpoint.  I am very interested.  Tell me why you are an agnostic.” 
She perked up, “I just can’t believe in a God that would allow wars and hurricanes and tragedies and AIDS in the world.”  She listed more things and went on and on. 
I waited for her to wind down, and then I said, “Well, there are certainly a lot of bad things in this world.  I had something bad happen to me.  I got cancer a few months ago.  This is not a good thing, but I will tell you, the Lord I believe in has brought so much good out of it. I believe in Him.  He is powerful.” 
My statements seemed to set her back a bit and she softened.  As it turned out, she also had some bad experiences in the Presbyterian church she attended as a child and she shared some of those experiences. 
This always happens to me as I think about these types of experiences.  I always think about things I should have said.  Here is what comes to mind: “Carolyn, we could list bad things that happen in our world all day.  You say these bad things cause you not to believe in God or believe that there is a God.  But what about all the good things?  How do you account for those?  Why not allow the good things that happen—and they are equally inexplicable, by the way—cause you to believe that there is a God!”  How about that?
I wish I would have said this, but I just have to believe that the Lord will use my testimony, no matter how incomplete it may seem in my eyes. 
The fact is that this God that is real and the Lord we do believe in reveals Himself through difficult circumstances and give us the grace and strength to cope with difficulty and tragedy.  The Psalmist echoes this view, "’Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth’— let Israel now say— ‘Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.’ The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked" (Psalm 129:1-4 ESV).
Even in the midst of plow marks in the back (this is a very graphic image of the effect of being whipped or caned—think about the pain of deep furrows in the back), instead of using it as a reason NOT to believe in God, it is instead a platform for displaying the righteousness of the Lord. 
I can only pray that Carolyn receives this Lord for herself.
Lord, thank you for yesterday—for protecting us from that dog and from the big dog (our enemy, the devil).  Thank you for all the folks that showed up.  I pray that they were able to hear and see the gospel. 
I pray for Carolyn in particular.  I pray that she would get saved. 
Lord, I just ask you to use this event for your glory and for the advancement of the kingdom in Federal Heights. 
Give me another opportunity to share you.  And give me the love and boldness and urgency to respond in obedience. 
As the Christmas song starts off, “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come” (BH 2008, 181). Amen. 
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Incapacitated with Concern

Before I get into this today, I would like to ask you to pray for a family in our church. I mentioned Randy’s death a few weeks ago. Well, yesterday, I got word that Duane’s sister’s daughter was killed in a single car accident on a highway in eastern Colorado yesterday. Please pray especially for Sarah, Duane’s mom.

When Betty called me yesterday to give me this message, she said that she was going over to Sarah’s house to be with her because this death has hit her hard. I appreciate her doing this. We are all concerned for Sarah. Randy’s death affected her greatly, and now this …

Please lift this family up in prayer. Thanks.

Back to the passage for today--I can’t remember where I first read about the following verses years ago. I think it was in a book by A. T. Robertson, the Greek scholar. Well, first, let me cite the verses the Holy Spirit led me to today in 2 Corinthians: "When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him" (2 Corinthians 2:12, 13 NLT).

If one is not careful, he could just read past these verses and not see much significance, but we need to be careful.

First, think about it. Paul had an open door of opportunity. What is that? Well, I think it is his way of saying that he was in a place—the city of Troas specifically-- where people were open to the gospel message and were getting saved, maybe in large numbers.

That’s what we all want, right? Paul was right in the middle of that huge open door. Yet … the text says he had no peace of mind.

What is this? Well, I don’t think any of us know exactly, but I think I have a little bit of an idea. It is called deep pastoral concern.

Even though Paul was a missionary, he had a pastor’s heart for the churches he worked with. The churches in Corinth and Ephesus were probably highest on the list since he had the most dealings with both these churches and spent the most time with each one.

His “deep pastoral concern” was so intense that he could not remain in a situation where a lot of people were getting saved. He had to move on as he awaited a report from a church he loved. What was the reply he was waiting for?

Well, I think it was a letter he sent to the church—“a painful letter”—that we do not have a copy of. He sent it to the church to address some issues in the congregation. I believe he wrote and sent this letter between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians. He alludes to it in 2 Corinthians 2:9: “I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions” (NLT).

We have to remember that there were no phones or computers or emails or texts or cars or planes or televisions (how on earth did people make it?). So, Paul had to rely on a currier like Titus to deliver a letter and wait for a reply (whether it was an actual letter from the church or a report). This could take weeks or months.

In the meanwhile, Paul was so anxious that he could take advantage of a wide open door for the gospel.

Robertson (or whoever I read; I will try to find out) makes a big deal of these two verses. He claims that it was one of the most difficult and trying times of his whole life. I think there is merit to this claim.

And I can relate to this so much.

Over the past twenty-two plus years, there have been times where the emotional angst I have felt in regard to something that was going on at church was so intense that I didn’t think I was going to make it. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. It felt as if I was carrying a thousand pound weight on my back.

Most of these type things have been staff issues, and it seems that every time, people have misunderstood or jumped to conclusions and left the church.

All of this is coming to mind because (going back to yesterday), I’m praying about past relationships to see if I need to go to some people.

Some of the folks who have left our church for one reason or another were very close friends. We shared a lot together, and yet, when some staff issue came up, instead of trying to resolve it, they thought the worst of the church and me, and just left. I would have to say that each time, it hurt deeply, and in spite of efforts to talk or dialogue or resolve a problem, they just chose to bail.

I don’t know what to do about that broad issue. People leave churches for various reasons, not all of them bad. It just happens. As a pastor, you do the best that you can do and leave it up to God, but it still hurts, deeply. And it hurts because you care, care about the church, care about the people. It just goes with the territory.

“It just goes with the territory.”

That statement sounds a little mundane. I don’t mean that way. If you are a pastor, you care for the sheep and you can’t help it.

Please pray for me as I work through this inventory of folks. It is rather a long list, sorry to say. But that is reality. I know I haven’t done all I could have done to love people and care for them over the years.

Recently, a man was standing in my office. He and his family were members of our congregation years ago. I named his name and then said, “I sure am sorry about the circumstances and my role in them that caused you guys to leave.” He looked at me and said, “John, you don’t need to apologize. It just happened and the Lord led us to move on.”

His response was redemptive. I appreciated it so much.

Well, anyway, caring for people and being concerned and getting hurt is all part of the gig. That’s just the way it is.

Lord, thank you that you care about your church far more than anyone could possibly care. And you experienced hurt in that concern. You died on the cross to redeem your church and me.

I confess that I can relate to the angst that Paul went through as he awaited word from the church in Corinth. I know that something is going to happen again, maybe sooner than later. Right now, I pray that you would prepare me for it and enable me to respond in a loving and godly way.

It is your church, Jesus.

I pray for the block party in Federal Heights today. I pray for an “open door” for the gospel.

“Let every heart prepare Him room” (“Joy to the World! The Lord is Come,” BH 2008, 181). Amen.
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