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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Leanness of the Soul

Before I get into the passage for today, I must give an update of praying for my neighborhood.

As I indicated in a previous post, the first thing I felt led to do was to ask my neighbors to the south—a wonderful Christian family—to join me on the website pray4everyhome.com in lifting up our neighborhood. I had a great visit with Brent and Holly, the parents as well as their children Halle (the oldest who sent me a not when I was first diagnosed with cancer that she was praying for me), Caleb, and Sunday.

Holly was enthusiastic to sign up on the site, and as we started to dialogue about our neighbors, he and the kids started rattling off one name after another. Soon, I had to get a small piece of paper out just to jot down names. Wow. It was awesome. Clearly, they have done an excellent job in getting to know folks.

At one point in the conversation, Brent said, “John, what you need to do is come to the fourth of July get together. Everyone seems to show up for that.” Until he had mentioned that, I had forgotten about it. Every year, we receive the notice, but we have chosen not to attend, for one reason or another.

Here is one thing I am learning about prayer: if you are serious about intercession, then it obligates you to a certain degree.

Jesus’ statement in Matthew 9:38 indicates a couple of things. First, we should pray for laborers for the harvest. Second, we need to be willing to be the answer to our own prayers.

So, guess who is going to the 4th of July event THIS YEAR? And I’m glad to do it.

As we were wrapping up our conversation, Holly shared a rather sad story. Many of you might recognize this, but our neighborhood association sends out emails using a particular program called “Nextdoor.” It is just a way for neighbors to communicate with one another. I receive frequent emails on this program from my neighbors.

To be honest, at first, I tried to keep up with them, but it soon became too overwhelming, so sometimes, I glance at them. Most of the time, I just delete them.

Well, Holly said that a few months ago, one of our neighbors—a lady—sent out a message asking if anyone would like to join her in a prayer group/chain. Of course, I missed THAT message. Holly didn’t. Thank the Lord. They prayed together, but the lady told her that she was the only one who responded. This lady has since moved away.

Another missed opportunity for me …

Going back to Matthew 9 (and I am not going to re-preach my sermon from Sunday) a big component of this whole thing is seeing people with compassion (a very vivid New Testament word that means feeling for them from the gut) as sheep without a shepherd.

This woman was crying out for community in her own neighborhood and I was too shortsighted to get the message and respond.

Isn’t this sort of modern-day parable of the Good Samaritan? What is often the biggest obstacle actually to stop and ministry to needs along the road? Isn’t it church busyness?

Now, please don’t hear me wrong. I’m not condemning activities at church. I’m a pastor! I plan them! However, church should never get in the way of loving our neighbors, should it?

Unfortunately, as Christians, I believe we get too caught up in our own needs and wants and desires and the result is not good. Look at this verse from Psalm 106: And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their souls and [thinned their numbers by] disease and death” (Psalm 106:15, AMP).

In the wilderness, the people of Israel were never content, always griping and complaining to God about what they didn’t have. Sometimes God gives us EXACTLY what we ask for just to shut us up, but the consequences are never good. This whole idea of “leanness of the soul” is rather haunting.

The possibility exists that we could get exactly what we want and feel more empty and unfulfilled than ever.

Lord, thank You for the privilege of praying for someone else. Thank you that salvation in Jesus lifts us up and out of a life that is pre-occupied with satisfying one craving after another—a life that ultimately ends up in leanness. Thank you for Brent and Holly and their great kids. Help us as we join together to pray for this neighborhood. I lift up that lady who has since moved. Help me never to miss someone ever again as I make my way down the road to church. Amen.

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If You Don't Pray, Who Will?

I was very encouraged by the response of the church to the prayer challenge yesterday.

As the morning wore on, several folks came to me to tell me that needed to leave. These were families with children—very understandable. It did prove to be a rather long morning, even though we had a meal and an opportunity to share fellowship.

I was encouraging folks to pray for their neighbors. Here are a few things that all of us discovered and/or that came out in the discussion. Before I list these items, I just want to say that when I use the word “we,” I am including myself at the top of the list in many of these things:

First, when I asked folks to list their neighbors, many of us (with one exception) could not list very many. The one exception is Marilyn (not my sister but another lady in the church with that name). She lives in an apartment, walks her dogs each day, and regularly gets to meet her neighbors. She had a very impressive and long list.

Most of us, however, did not.

Second, after asking people to list their neighbors, I asked, “It is clear, isn’t it, that we don’t know many of our neighbors? What should we do about that?”

Someone blurted out, “Get to know them.” “Exactly,” I responded. “This is not witnessing per se, but it is just going up to their door, knocking on it, and saying, “We live over there. We haven’t met yet. What is your name?” Just getting to know them.

Dan raised his hand, “We have some great pecan pie here (amen to that) this morning. How about taking a pie when you go?” Yes, right.

I tried to make it clear that we are all rather intimidated by knocking on the door of strangers, especially of we are attempting to share Jesus or promote some church event, but just going to say, “Hi. I’m John your neighbor. Who are you?” doesn’t seem that scary.

At one point in this discussion, Al said, “Sometimes, the toughest door we face in this challenge is our own.” I agree. Getting out just to do this is huge.” Amen.

Third, I went on to ask, “How can we help each other?” Michelle’s good answer is to take some time in a service every month to let people share. Yes. Right. We are going to do this.

I realize that part of helping people with a mindset or ministry change is a constant reminder. I’m just going to mark it in my calendar. Reminding others will keep me on task as well.

Fourth, our discussion expanded. Jim mentioned that the Lord has led him to prayer walk in Northglenn. Out of that comment I said, “Don’t you think that since our church is located in Northglenn, at least we should pray for every home in our city?” Out of that comment came the additional thought that for those who can’t walk, they can drive. Prayer driving.

Other ideas emerged as we drew to a close, but again, I was encouraged to see how people responded to the challenge of prayer.

Intercession is huge in the economy of God. Very rarely do we in churches take the time to pray specifically (by name) for lost folks we don’t know, let alone those we do.

How about these statements from Psalm 106? “Therefore He said that He would destroy them, Had not Moses His chosen one stood in the breach before Him, To turn away His wrath from destroying them…. Then Phinehas stood up and interposed, And so the plague was stayed. And it was reckoned to him for righteousness, To all generations forever” (Psalms
106:23, 30-31 NASB).

Moses stood in the “breach.” This is the Hebrew word peres. It means a gap in a wall or fortification. In Moses’ case, this gap was between a rebellious nation and a holy God. Moses “interceded.”

Phineas became a hero because he “interposed.” This is a different Hebrew term but the whole idea is basically the same as peres.

Lord, I’m thankful for the encouragement from yesterday. I pray for everyone who was there yesterday. I can still see their faces. When I finish writing this blog, I’m going to log into pray4everyhome.com to lift up five more neighbors by name. Lord, I do pray that this prayer movement would spread across the country so that every neighborhood in our nation would have someone who stands in the “breach” on its behalf. “Beseech the Lord of the Harvest.” That is what I am doing. Amen.
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Pray 4 Every Home

Yesterday, as I was praying and preparing for the message today, I accessed a website that the interim pastor of our Hispanic church—Joe—had recommended to me.

It took me a while to figure out how to sign up (I don’t know if I was having computer problems or what), but I finally did get in to access the information.

At the bottom of the home page, there is a statement about this website being used in conjunction with Planning Center. This is a program that we have purchased. So, if you can’t register and access this site, that may be a reason. I don’t know …

But I wanted to tell you about it nonetheless and I hope that everyone who is reading this blog today will try. I am going to refer to this website as part of a challenge I am giving the church today on Palm Sunday.

Once you sign up on this website, you receive a “map” of your neighborhood. Underneath this map is a list of everyone who lives in the designated area.

I scrolled down to find my house. It shows John and Marilyn Talbert as the residents. It does not mention my mom. This is rather curious. It lists two entries for the house across the street: Eloise, the previous resident and Fred, the current resident. Interesting.

Once you click on a name, there are several options that occur, one of which is a button that allows you to update the information. One can eliminate inaccurate information, so I deleted Eloise because she doesn’t live at that address any longer.

It is obvious that this site wants accurate information and urges, that if you aren’t sure, you can find out. But that is a whole other can of worms. Ha.

This challenge: pray for five of your neighbors for twenty days and then start over. The goal is for every neighborhood in the United States to have at least one person praying for it. Isn’t that awesome?

As I have started to pray, one of the first things the Holy Spirit put on my mind was to talk to Brent and Holly, our neighbors to the south. They are believers. I hope to enlist them to join us in praying for our neighborhood. We will see where the Lord takes it.

I could say a lot more about all of this, but I am not going to preach my sermon here.

Again, a challenge to all my readers: check it out.

Psalm 105, the Psalm for today, is a very appropriate one for Palm Sunday, the more I think about it. This Psalm chronicles what the Lord did prior to and during the Exodus event where the people got to see, actually see the Lord at work in the plagues and God’s deliverance.

They got to see God’s work close-up just as the people of Jesus’ day did. These are the folks that laid down the palm branches for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem one week prior to his crucifixion. What does this action indicate? There are numerous theories, but I think this action reflected what the Romans did for triumphant generals in their victory parade.

Jesus’ entry was much more humble and of a radically different purpose, because he came in, not on a steed, but on the back of a donkey, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. See Zechariah 9:9.

All of that having been said, still, the people did not take to heart what they saw. Neither did the people of Israel in the Exodus event, in spite of what God did. Then He brought them out with silver and gold, And among His tribes there was not one who stumbled. Egypt was glad when they departed, For the dread of them had fallen upon them. He spread a cloud for a covering, And fire to illumine by night” (Psalm 105:37-39, NASB).

In spite of all of THAT, in spite of the fact that they actually saw Him with their eyes and heard His teaching and witnessed the miracles, they still rejected Him in both instances and always. That is way we all are.

Lord, this world, my neighborhood in particular, needs You. All of us have sinned. We have fallen short of Your glory. Help us never to forget what You have done, never lose sight of Your grace and mercy, as we pray, as we share, and as we celebrate the greatest event of all—the resurrection. Amen.

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Denver Nuggets Game

Last night, I had the opportunity to go to a Denver Nuggets game. My friend Jim invited me. He has awesome seats—six rows up from center court.

Going to the game last night brought back a lot of memories… I’ve been going to pro basketball games in Denver since I was a kid.

In fact, the very first pro game of any kind I went to, my dad took me. We went to see the Denver Rockets play (this was the name of the ABA team here in Denver before they changed the name to Denver Nuggets in the early 70’s. Then, in the merger year—1977, I believe, the Nuggets along with several other ABA teams entered the NBA—just a little history of pro ball in Denver. Are you asleep yet?). Spencer Haywood was the star of the team. His story was rather amazing. I won’t get into that here.

My most vivid memory of that game is when my dad said, “Let’s go.” The game wasn’t over yet, but he wanted to leave early to beat the traffic. As we got into our car, we realized that someone had parked directly behind us. As we were bemoaning our fate, someone came out, got into THAT car, and left. We were free to leave! My dad was happy. Isn’t that a strange thing to remember?

That game was the beginning of my love for the Rockets/Nuggets. A few years later, I met Gary. He was a huge fan as well. We went to a lot of ABA games together, including a rather wild playoff game against George McGinnis and the Indiana Pacers in which people were actually throwing things on the court like bottles.

He and I had stood in line downtown to get tickets to this game at the old Auditorium Arena. We got tickets for my family and his. All of us sat on the last row of the “nosebleed” seats way up in the rafters. We had a ball, no pun intended.

Of course, since then, the rules have changed to the point where, if one does that at a game, he or she is immediately thrown out of the arena and arrested. But Gary and I loved it. We were rabid fans who yelled at refs and players.

McNichols Arena, a brand new venue was built just about the time the Nuggets entered the NBA. Gary became a ball boy for the Nuggets. His job was to sit directly under one of the baskets and retrieve balls if they somehow left the court. He loved his job. I was jealous—just to be that close to the action.

We saw some great games and events there. Back to the ABA, I was there for the last All-Star game in which David Thompson (our star player at the time) competed with Julius Erving (my favorite player) for the slam dunk contest.

Gary and I went to a wild playoff game a few years later in which the Nuggets competed with the Portland Trailblazers. Portland had a great team that year. They beat us and went on to win the NBA championship.

Then, after college and seminary, when I moved back here, my friend Andy and I went to several games together, most notably when the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan came to town. One game in particular was epic. The Nuggets beat the Bulls in spite of the fact that Jordan played great—the best of both worlds.

Anyway, I could go on and on. Now, the Nuggets aren’t very good, but they won last night. I just enjoyed going and sitting in those great seats getting a chance to visit with Jim.

It was quite an atmosphere. A lot of very expensive cars in the parking lot right outside Pepsi Center. A lot of alcohol flowing at the game. A waitress came to us, asking if we wanted something. This is the kind of thing that happens when you sit six rows up from the court.

In the seats I usually sit in when I buy tickets, I have to go get my own Coke, if I want it, and I don’t because it costs $7.50.

As Jim and I left, we talked about the wealth and opulence we had witnessed and both agreed that is all smoke and mirrors. I thought about all the games and all the players I had seen through the years. Where are they now? Some have had exemplary lives and careers after basketball; many of them have not. And didn’t have model lives WHILE they were playing.

I wonder how many people at that game (I am sure there were some) know these truths: “They all wait for You To give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground” (Psalms
104:27-30 NASB).

Whether anyone realizes it or not, the Lord is still in charge of all creation, even basketball games and players and fans.

Lord, I thank You for all the good experiences I have had going to watch games here in town. Thank You for the memories of going to games with my dad, Gary, and Andy. Looking at that crowd last night, I pray that each person would realize that You and You alone are God. Amen.
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Creative People Say No

Yesterday, I came across an interesting article. It intrigues me. The title is “Creative People Say ‘No.’” The author is Kevin Asbury.

Here is the gist of it: a Hungarian psychology professor once made contact with 275 creative people in various fields asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. The curious thing is how many of these folks said, “No.”

This article chronicles some of the specifics of the “no” responses that he received. One man said that the secret of productivity (he stated that he did not like the word creativity) is to have a big waste basket for all invitations to help with someone else’s work instead of doing one’s own. A novelist basically said the same thing: “I don’t allow myself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’ I do my own.”

Some of these creative people did even answer the professor’s inquiry themselves, using a secretary, or some did not respond at all. Apparently, they believed that even taking the time to answer was wasting their time. One person stated, “Time is the raw material of creation.”

The article goes on to say that most creators spend nearly all their time on creation. “There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes, and they all say ‘no’ almost all the time.”

Interesting.

This reminds me of a response that a fellow PhD student received from a preacher for a paper we were writing in a seminar. Our professor tasked us to write a paper on a famous preacher.

One of my colleagues chose Arthur Blessitt. Remember him? He was famous for carrying a huge cross and preaching on street corners all over the country.

When asked if he could be interviewed for this seminary paper, he said, “No, why should I take time from the ministry to talk about the ministry.”

Normally, being asked to be the subject of a paper or newspaper article or television interview (whatever the medium) would be a big ego trip for any pastor.

Most of us feel that we serve in relative anonymity, except for the “big boys.”

The truth is that anonymity is a huge part of the work. It is a wonderful gift from God and the platform for creativity. To be honest, the longer I preach, the more time it takes to prepare sermons. Wrestling with the task of study and preparation and delivering a sermon that is true to the text and to the congregation I serve is flat hard work. And it takes being alone for long periods of time.

There are no quick and easy “fixes.” No theological microwaves for heating up someone else’s outline or sermon, stirring it up a bit, and serving it up to the saints. No, no, no.

Of course, the reason many gravitate to the spotlight is that we long for someone to recognize and esteem this anonymous work. Someone. The truth is that most don’t. They regard it or disregard it as they do “education” in general. Anyone can be a pastor, right? It isn’t that hard of a job. You just sit at a desk and wing it, right?

Obviously, as you can see, this article has struck a cord with me. I am convicted.

I will admit it right here and right now. I have always had trouble saying “no.” Always. And every time I fail to do it, I feel diminished a bit more.

Essentially, it is an exchange. By failing to say no, I have stated that my work is less important than what someone else asks me to do. This is not always the case.

Okay, I have better stop here and say some things. I am speaking in generalities. I’m not referring to any specific incident that has happened recently or not recently. Being a pastor and serving in Christian ministry means that one must be available to serve. This ISN’T like some artist painting a picture in a studio in Rome. This is people work and one needs to be available. And I’m glad to do it.

However, even this demands the ability to say no, so that one can be available for the God opportunities, whatever they might be—someone who needs the gospel, someone who needs help, or a message that needs more work. Whatever.

Lord, thank you for the work you have given me. I certainly do not put myself in any category of “creativity,” but I pray that you would teach me to say no to anything and everything that is not essentially part of the work to which you have called me—whatever that might be, whoever that might involve. Not every “religious” thing is a good thing. I choose never to divert my attention from You to anything or anyone else.

“Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You who serve Him, doing His will. Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalms
103:20-22 NASB) Amen.
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Dust, Grass, and Flowers

A rather strange, title, I know! I will get to the text in a minute, but first I would like to make a comment about yesterday.

Jim, Lavanda, and I made three visits yesterday afternoon. Please pray for Carol, Norma, and Ray. All of them are dealing with rather severe physical challenges.

Last night, Dan and Michelle had invited the whole church over to their home (yes, you read that right—the WHOLE church). They said that, in their previous ministry, they had a house full of people. I don’t doubt it. They obviously love to open up their home. They are very good at it.

We patently did NOT have the whole church show up, but we did have a good group and a good discussion. We discussed the whole idea of how concepts and views and approaches to evangelism have shifted over the past century or so. Dan also took some time to share about his own personal pilgrimage and perspective. It was excellent.

Toward the end of our time, Dan showed us a video. Actually, it was a sermon. The preacher was Andy Stanley. He was preaching an Easter message in his church in Atlanta. The name of the church is North Point.

As I searched for more information on the church, I found this quote from Andy Stanley as he cast the vision for the new church in its inception in 1995:
"Atlanta does not need another church. What Atlanta does need is a safe environment where the unchurched can come and hear the life-changing truth that Jesus Christ cares for them and died for their sin."

The video message on the church’s website that we observed last night certainly reflects this vision. It was very powerful.

As I have spent some time this morning praying and reflecting, I would like to make a couple of comments.

It hit me as I was watching the video that I have made a pretty significant shift over the past twenty-five years in my approach to preaching on Sunday mornings. When I started back in 1989, I preached every message with the expectation that lost folks would actually be sitting in the congregation. They needed an “evangelistic” sermon. The other folks would benefit from the message (I am not sure I really thought about how) but it was geared to lost folks for the most part.

My model in this regard was Richard Jackson, the longtime pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church. Every year we took a trip to Arizona, we visited the church and were amazed to see dozens of folks respond to the invitation each Sunday.

Now, let me say that, when I started at Northglenn, I preached three sermons a week: Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. The latter two messages were exclusively for believers, so I felt that I could “get away” with a different focus on Sunday mornings.

Over the years, for several reasons (one is we don’t have three “services” a week as we did before), I have shifted the focus of my sermons to believers on Sunday mornings. Now, I preach to believers each week.

Now, Atlanta is different from Denver (newsflash, I know, but I am talking about the sheer number of churches), but what impressed me about Andy’s message is how true it was to the original vision of the church. I would not call his sermon “evangelistic” in the traditional sense of that term, but in his message, he identified with the mindset of unbelievers as he shared the Easter message.

Here was my thought: have I so shifted my focus of preaching that if a lost person enters our church, would he or she be able to relate to the message? I believe that if one explains and applies a text of scripture, the Holy Spirit can use it. Of course. But I just wonder …

I think this is the mark of a good class: it provokes prayer and thought. And I appreciate Dan and Michelle for providing a forum for us.

The text for today (I’m still in Psalm 103) gives a very good reason why there is a sense of urgency about this issue:
“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer” (Psalms 103:14-16 NASB).

The Psalmist uses three very graphic metaphors to describe the frailty and the temporary nature of human life: dust, grass, and flowers. None of those items stay in one place or last very long.

I am continually reminded of this through my own illness and as I visit folks in our church.

Lord, I do pray for Carol, Norma, and Ray. I lift them up to you. I also pray for the outreach of our church and the focus of our ministry. Help us never to lose sight of the Great Commission and the need for lost souls to be saved. Give us urgency. However we approach it, however we do it. I lift up Andy and the ministry of North Point. Thank you for that great church, but we are not in Atlanta. Show us how to do this in Denver. Amen.
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As Far as East is from West

Over these past few days, I have become more and more enamored with Psalm 103 and what it affirms about God and what He has done for us. It is simply a list of the “benefits” available to all believers. In verse two, the Psalm’s urges us not to forget any of his benefits.

“Benefits” is a rather common term in the business world. As someone applies for a new job, he or she might ask, “What are the benefits that you are offering?” Health insurance? Retirement? Stock? Whatever.

In our nomenclature, when we use the word, we often combine it with the term “fringe,” as if “benefits” are extras.

This is certainly NOT the way the Psalmist uses “benefits.” He is describing essentials. And they all go back to the character of God.

Every thing in the Christian life goes back to the character of God. He is love. Thus, we must love. He is holy. Therefore, we must be holy.

He is a God who forgives our sin. Now, we say that. It has almost become cliché. But do we really understand what it means.

I believe that Psalm 103:12 is one of the greatest statements in the Bible about forgiveness: “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms
103:12 NASB).

If I get in my car today and start driving east, I will eventually rich a coastline. If, from there, I get in a boat and head east, I will reach another coastline. If I get in a car and head east from there, I will … well, you get the picture. I will keep going east until I reach my original point of departure, but never ever never will I start heading west.

In other words, I will never arrive at a point where east meets west. It is impossibility. Thus, east and west NEVER meet.

This is a very graphic way of explaining how God forgives our sin. He removes it. He sends it away. I am reminded of the “scapegoat” in the Old Testament. When the High Priest lays his hands on the head of the goat and sends it off to Azazel (the Hebrew word for nowhere), it is symbolic of the way God sends out sins off.

They are gone forever. Gone for good.

In essence, then, God forgives AND forgets.

But I think our bane as humans is that we can’t forget. Our sins crop up here and there. We think about them. They are huge downers.

Some believers I know feel that God is still mad at them for sins they have committed years ago.

Those that do forget one of the greatest benefits at the core of our faith: God forgives our sin. He removes it. It is gone.

This has huge implications for our walk. If God has forgiven and forgotten my sin, why do I need to confess my sin as 1 John 1:9 admonishes? Well, I certainly don’t need to do in order to be forgiven. That has already been taken care of through the blood of the Lamb and our Scapegoat, Jesus.

He has forgiven all our sins, past, present, and future.

No, I confess (the word means to say the same thing) in order to agree with God and restore the FELLOWSHIP I have with Him. This is something I need to do every day.

Yesterday, for example, I got caught in a two-hour traffic jam on I-25 on my way to the office. I had an appointment with a gentleman who was coming to help us with our security system. As I sat there on the highway, I called Betty to find out if he was there. Sure enough, he had come. There I sat immobile. I will admit that I sort of lost it at that point… Anyway, something else to confess to the One who has already forgiven me.

“Losing it” in my car on the highway did absolutely nothing to get me to the church faster. That is for sure, but it certainly wasn’t an act of faith, and my little outburst drained me of energy for the rest of the day. Not good.

Even before I came to the Lord to confess, He had already forgiven me in His blood, but I needed to confess FOR ME.

Lord, as I sit here this morning, there is no way that I can begin to thank You for the magnitude of forgiveness that You have made possible in Christ. I thank You for removing my sins. You have taken them to nowheresville—that far away place that is as distant from me as east is from west. Let me live a lifestyle of forgiveness today, even in traffic jams on I-25. Even there. Amen.
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Siezing Another By the Hair

Again, as I read Psalm 103 slowly, the Holy Spirit stopped me at another verse. The image is graphic.

“He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever” (Psalm 103:9, NASB).

As I read this verse today, the first thought that popped in my mind is that the nation of Israel, even from its very beginnings, involved “striving.” Remember Jacob’s struggle with “a man” who, when he saw he wasn’t winning the struggle, hit Jacob on his hip. Even wounded, Jacob continued the struggle until the man blessed him (Genesis 32:22-32). This whole incident is shrouded in mystery. I really don’t understand everything that happened there, but this struggle was decisive for Jacob’s character or new character (as the name change implies) forever.

Of course, this was just the beginning of the contention that followed, especially in the wilderness years of Israel’s history, as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land.

Back to Psalm 103:9 where the Psalmist says that the Lord will not strive with us forever. The word “strive” is a very graphic term. The Lexham Theological Wordbook states that the metaphorical meaning behind the Hebrew word is “to seize another by the hair.” Ouch. This is no insignificant argument here! And it goes on to say that this term involves an intense struggle.

I have a very vivid memory of a fight I witnessed a couple of years ago. As I was prayer driving in Federal Heights (a community near Northglenn) with a couple of brothers, we witnessed two Junior High girls in a fight in which both were grabbing each other’s hair and wrestling one another to the ground. We didn’t stop to intervene (not sure that was a good decision or not), but after passing by the fight, we stopped down the road and prayed for those two girls.

Anyway, the whole idea of a fight or quarrel with God at first seems a little offensive and out in left field. Who would dare do such a thing?

Ahem. I’m afraid that all of us would and do.

Let me just be honest here: I will leave this on a personal level. I do it more than I would care to admit. I cry out to Him in anger. I complain. I ask Him, “Why?” a lot.

I honestly believe that we don’t fight unless we care deeply. Fighting, especially the kind in which people grab hair, is not a casual matter. If we didn’t care about the Lord and our relationship with Him and His relationship to us, we wouldn’t do it.

But here is the point of this verse: God doesn’t strive with us forever.

Let me unpack that one a bit. I believe this is true in the history of Israel. The fighting in the wilderness did not last because after the majority of the people failed to believe God at Kadesh Barnea, His judgment fell so that all except Joshua and Caleb died in the wilderness.

But as believers in Jesus, he does not strive with us forever either. God took care of our sin in the person of Jesus and what He did for us on the cross, through the burial, and in the resurrection.

But even now, when we contend with Him over something, anything, the Lord hears. The Lord loves us. He is compassionate. And He acts on our behalf. I’m not saying that the Lord always does what I want Him to do, but I know I always have an audience with Him and no matter how much I am struggling, He is NEVER adversarial toward me. Why? Again because of Jesus.

But I want to emphasize that it is okay to cry out to God and to struggle. Since He became a man and walked this earth, our High Priest has been there and done THAT.

Lord, I’m thankful that we can be honest and even angry with you, but in your love and mercy and grace, You have forgiven us and because of Jesus and His blood, You do not keep Your anger forever. Praise Your Holy Name. Amen.
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God's Ways

As I continue to inch my way along in Psalm 103, today, the Holy Spirit stopped me at this verse: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel”
(Psalms 103:7, NASB).

This is an interesting contrast or is it, really? Some of you might be asking, “What are you talking about?”

Well, there are two ways to look at this verse.

First, some translators regard this as an example of Hebrew poetic parallelism. In other words, there are two phrases in this verse and they are both saying essentially the same thing. I have not taken the time to look up the words “ways” and “acts” in the original language, but I would hazard a guess that they are fairly synonymous.

Second, a few translators regard these two statements as a sharp contrast, stressing the intimacy of the relationship between the Moses and the Lord.

Which one is it? I hope that none of you feel that this is some sort fence-sitting response, but I think it is a bit of a combination of the two.

In the context, the Psalmist continues to list what He does for His people. This verse basically demonstrates that the Lord chooses to reveal Himself to His people, however the methodology.

The truth is that the Old Testament narrative does demonstrate that Moses had a radically different relationship with the Lord than the “masses” did. Moses was the only one who went up the mountain TWICE to receive the Law. While there, if you remember, the Lord hid him in the cleft of the rock while he passed by. This is about as close to a face-to-face appearance as the Lord did with any man in the Bible prior to the coming of Jesus.

Afterwards, Moses met the Lord in the Tabernacle, afterwards coming out with the glory of God on his face to such a degree that he had to use a veil. Paul alludes to this in 2 Corinthians (I believe).

Moses had more responsibility than others. When he struck the rock twice out of anger instead of speaking to it as God had originally instructed, the Lord said, “Moses, you blew it. You will not enter the Promised Land.” This seems rather harsh for one sin, but Moses had more responsibility because he had received more revelation. “To whom much is given, much is required” (as the biblical statement goes, my paraphrase).

What does this mean? Well, again the main point is that God reveals Himself in varying degrees to His children.

“God revealed His ways to Moses.” I am admittedly stuck on that phrase. Wow. It is one thing to be aware of God’s acts—that is quite a challenge for some, I believe. They would miss God if he hit them over the head with a baseball bat. I think I fit in this category as a general rule. This is the reason I can caricature it so negatively. I know it so well.

I pray that I could be like Moses to be able, not only to discern very quickly, the ACTS of God, but also to know Him so well that I know which way He is headed in each and every situation.

How does one get THERE? I don’t think there is any magic formula. I believe it boils down to intimacy with the Lord—spending time with Him daily, hourly, in His Word and in prayer. I believe that very few of us want to pay that price.

I will admit that recent events in my life, whether they are health or church issues, have driven my family and me to our knees. We seem to be crying out to the Lord more than we ever have.

There is one more thing about all of this that merits attention. As well as any of us thinks he or she knows God, there is still a huge element of mystery. We can know Him and know Him better and better, but there is still an aspect of Him that we will never know or be able to figure out or predict.

In fact, the longer I know Him, the less I know Him. Does this make sense?

It is those times in which we embrace the mystery and go on to trust Him.

Lord, thank You for choosing to reveal yourself in so many ways. Thanks for reinforcing this with Mitch yesterday morning. As he commented on the beauty of the mountains to the West, I was convicted that most days, I am so absorbed in myself and my own thoughts that I don’t take the time to “stop and smell the roses.” Each day, Lord, You reveal Yourself in so many ways. Give dullards like me eyes to see and ears to hear. Amen.
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Strength Renewed Like the Eagle

My current reading of Psalm 103 seems to be on the slow track. This happens every once in a while. I just “go with it.” When I am reading at my own pace, I don’t mind it at all.

This morning, the Spirit stopped me on this verse: “Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle” (Psalms
103:5 NASB). “Renewed like the eagle.” What does this phrase mean?

As I was contemplated that, another verse popped into my head: “Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31, NASB). Remember this famous verse?

So, the question emerges: how do eagles renew their strength?

As I search Google this morning, I found a variety of answers to this question. The one that makes the most sense to me is that, through the course of an eagle’s life, the bird experiences a type of metamorphosis of sorts as he sheds the wings of his childhood and takes on the plume that characterizes him/her as an adult. Interesting.

The next question is: what does this mean as it relates to the life of the believer?

As I sit here this morning, I identify with the need for renewal. One word we often use in Baptist circles is “revival.” I’m not sure that this is what Psalm 103 and Isaiah 40 are talking about.

“Revival” tends to be associated with a series of special services. I know. I preached in a lot of “revivals” when I was in college and seminary. In each and every one, the pastor and I prayed that these special services would be more than that. We prayed that the Lord would do a work in the hearts of people in the church.

The history of Christianity has examples of revivals from the “Evangelical Revival” of the eighteenth century through the Second Great Awakening in the early 19
th century. One of the leaders of this movement was Charles Grandison Finney. What a character! But the Lord used him. On and on.

But is revival what these two passages speaking about it? Possibly. It could be a part of it, but I happen to think that the message of these two Old Testament passages fits closer with that of a famous New Testament passage: Romans 12:1-2. I won’t quote these verses at this point. I will paraphrase: as we lay our bodies on the altar as our logical act of service, a TRANSFORMATION takes place that forms the foundation for living life according to the will of God.

Hence, I believe that when we earnestly trust and obey God, a transformation takes place. He gives us strength that we never thought we had in order to endure or persevere or overcome new and greater challenges.

Psalm 103 reminds us that this is one of the “benefits” of knowing God.

Isaiah 40 adds that we receive this type of infusion of strength when we wait on God.

Romans 12 asserts that it is the by-product of a total commitment of ourselves to Him.

Let me pause and think about THAT this morning.

First, I identify a need for renewal. Second, I know it is NOT something I can work up in the flesh. Third, it could correspond with action on my part. I think “getting away” in one way or another could be a part of it. Although, in the past, I have taken personal spiritual retreats in which the enemy beat me to a pulp.

Hear me. I am not decrying travel or retreats or “getting away” but none are a guarantee. I believe that trusting God is the pre-requisite.

Lord, this morning, something or Someone deep inside of me identifies the need for renewal. I believe that many of the readers of this blog would concur. Show us, Lord. Help us. I wonder how many Christians in church today desperately need You to do a work? One thing I know (although You can use anything): it not necessarily another service or program or little 1-2-3 formula. It is as the song says, “More of you taking more of me.” So be it. Amen.
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God Heals All Diseases?

Last Wednesday night, in the men’s Bible study, as we concluded our time together. I asked the guys to share prayer requests and to pray.

We went around the table. Most of the guys had something to share.

When we started to pray, they started praying for someone none of us had mentioned in the prayer requests: me.

To be honest, I was a little taken aback as they prayed for me. Don’t get me wrong. I deeply appreciate it. It just struck me because they were praying for me in a way that even I hadn’t over the past several months.

One brother summed it up: “Lord, we not only pray for remission for John’s cancer; we pray that You would take it away completely.” Wow.

I found myself on the verge of tears. “Dare I believe that, Lord?”

Certainly, Dr. Jotte NEVER does not use that kind of language, nor do I expect him to. But he goes out of his way to stress that the best I can hope for is that treatment pushes this disease back for a period of time AND when (not if) it returns, maybe there will be some type of new treatment out there that can push it back for a while longer.

Now, I am prepared for anything. The Lord has brought me to this point. He will deal with WHATEVER is out there. Right now, I’m not going to ruin these awesome days through worrying (there’s that word again) about the future.

But total healing? I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord can do it. He has done it. He can do it in the future.

Will He do it in my case? Who knows? Maybe so, maybe not, but I still trust Him, whatever He does.

However, just to hear those guys pray for me in THAT WAY was deeply encouraging.

Add to it these words from the first few verses of Psalm 103 that stopped me in my tracks this morning: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle” (Psalm 103:2-5, NASB, underline is mine).

Right after forgiveness (And I have no problem believing that the Lord forgives all my sins—every single one of them), the Psalmist asserts, the Lord “heals all your diseases.” What is going on here?

Well, I just had to consult Goldingay’s commentary on the Psalms in my Logos Software. Interestingly enough, the word “heal” is rare in the Psalms. It is used only two other times in Psalms 107:20 and 143:3. In other words, this is not a major focus in the Psalter.

He also contends that this statement may be tied to the Exodus story. Do you remember this statement? “And He said, ‘If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer’” (Exodus 15:26, NASB).

Thus, in this verse, the Lord affirms that He is the One who protects us from disease (that is a form of healing, albeit prevention) and heals us when we do get sick. All healing comes from God.

AND, in one very profound sense, everyone is healed. When I die and go to heaven, I won’t have to deal with cancer any longer! So, that is a definite fact.

One more point Goldingay makes: sometimes our disease is connected to sin. Not always, as the book of Job and many Psalms teach. We need to be very careful with this, but in certain instances this is true.

Anyway … this is a very compelling statement, and I believe that, at its root, it just affirms one more thing that God does as part of the list of benefits we should thank Him for.

I am never going to stop believing in the Lord’s healing power. I’ve seen it in operation so many times. It is undeniable. Whatever happens with my cancer will not shake this belief one iota.

Lord, I praise You for your healing power. There really isn’t any disease that You can’t heal and ultimately do heal when we shed this earthly body for our resurrection body we have forever. I will be glad for that day. Thank You for the prayers of Your people on my behalf. Makes me want to cry. I wouldn’t have made it this far without the prayers of God’s people. Amen.
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"John, You worry Too Much"

Yesterday, a good friend and brother made this comment to me and laughed. It was one of those moments that dropped on me like a ton of bricks. Oh, man. He is so right.

Recently, I have discovered that I feel vulnerable to worry in so many areas of my life right now.

Of course, I always worry about the church as we continue to face the ever-present challenge of reaching lost folks. This issue comes to the fore FOR ME every year as we approach the Easter season.

I guess it is because it used to be the case that people who never went to church any other time of the year, decided to go on Easter. I remember one year at First Southern, we had three Easter morning services. But now, I am less focused on services at church and more concerned about one-on-one relationships.

One thing that the Lord has impressed on my heart is that I can never expect to lead anyone to care about reaching lost people or to share his/her faith if I don’t.

Thus, recently, I am focusing on praying for my neighbors and the people with whom I come into contact much more frequently, asking the Lord for opportunities to share.

But not out of WORRY.

I am convicted that if one serves or leads out of worry, then it will never be for the right reason. It becomes some of panicked guilt trip and those “spasms” of activity never last.

No, I think all of us ought to be motivated to share out of a passionate love for Jesus that recognizes that it is God who saves folks and whether or not He uses us in the process of someone’s conversion or NOT is totally up to Him.

The church “was” one worry. I hope the past tense verb is appropriate here.

To be honest, my health continues to be a bit of a worry. It has taken me an inordinately long time to recover from my last chemo treatment.

I was talking with a sister in Christ last night about her health concerns. She is always quick to ask about me. Jim and I visited her the other day. She said, “John, when you and Jim came by, I was concerned about you. You looked a little grey. How are you feeling?”

“Better, thanks.”

I have a PET scan scheduled for early April. We will see where things are with this disease.

When I am thinking right, I am trusting God, as always with the results of that test and the next steps of treatment, but it nags at me a bit.

Those are two areas. I guess if I sat her long enough, I could come up with others. Isn’t that the way worry works? Once you allow it space, it tends to infect all areas of our lives.

That is why my friend’s comment was so timely and important. When our conversation was over, I hung up the phone and prayed, “Lord, he is right. I do worry too much. I confess it to you, turn from it right now, and choose to trust you in these areas.” And I just started naming them to the Lord.

Every time I do this (and it certainly has not been enough over the course of my life) what Philippians 4 promises ALWAYS occurs: “And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7, my remembrance of this verse).

Lord, I thank You for the timely rebuke from a brother. He is right. Thank you for stopping “the worry train” and for getting on the right track, at least for now, until I am tempted to worry again. Ha.

“Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress; Incline Your ear to me; In the day when I call answer me quickly” (Psalms
102:2, NASB).

Amen.
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A Stark Contrast

As I was joining in the worship service at the nursing home yesterday, all of a sudden it hit me.

At the time, Jim was singing one of my all time favorites. I wish we sang it throughout the year, but it tends to be more prevalent during the Easter season, “He is Alive!” “He is alive and I’m forgiven. Heaven’s gates are opened wide!” (I don’t know if the actual song lyrics contain an exclamation point, but I added it here). Jim sang the song with gusto and enthusiasm. It was awesome.

Anyway, I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it at first, but suddenly I did. Someone had “hung” a little piece of wood with a crucifix on the pulpit in the room where we usually have the service. Humm. I had never seen it before. Again, I say, “Humm.”

A couple of months ago, I had met a very nice lady—one of the residents—who coordinates the Catholic services that go on at Northglenn Heights. We had a very cordial conversation.

I also need to say at this point that I have no desire to “bash” Catholics. I patently do not agree with their official doctrines, but I am not going to make blanket statements about the people who attend Catholic churches. I’m sure there are some Catholics who are saved. I remember meeting one on the train from Paris back to the port where the boat goes across the channel to England. It was in 1985. (Wow, I can’t believe I just remembered that). And I am not limiting my experience to one person thirty years ago.

So, I just want to say all that.

But as I sat there looking at that crucifix as Jim sang about the resurrection, the contrast could not have been more stark.

When we finished the musical part of the service, and it was time for me to preach, I said something like, “Good to see all of you today. Of course, now, we are entering into the Easter season. But I just want to point out something. This is the time of year that we celebrate the fact that Jesus is NOT still on the cross. He is risen and He is alive!”

As I stated that, and pointed to that little placard, I somehow knocked it off the front of the pulpit and it hit the ground. Everyone laughed a bit. I apologized to the group, but I did not put the crucifix back. I laid it to the side and pointed to another large wooden cross in the corner. “Oops. I didn’t mean to do that. Well ... As this cross demonstrates, Jesus is not on it. It is empty.”

I went on to preach my sermon based on the declaration that appears three times in the Psalms—“The Lord reigns.” I have written about it here in this blog in recent days.

So, what does this mean? Well, I am NEVER going to preach a sermon with a crucifix hanging on the pulpit. The more I think about it, the more I am offended by this “symbol.” It is actually abhorrent.

Jesus is NOT still on the cross, for if He were, no one would EVER be saved. One cannot have the cross without the burial (Jesus was really dead), the resurrection (Jesus rose bodily from the grave), and the ascension (this alive Christ is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God where He intercedes for us as High Priest and Lamb of God; He continues to administer the perfect sacrifice of Himself for us so that we can be forgiven AND have access to the Holy of Holies through His broken body and spilled blood). Obviously, I could go on and on. It is a BIG deal.

Are you kidding me?

This morning, I took a quick look on Wikipedia for the term “crucifix.” I was interested to discover that Luther had no problem with it while Calvin abhorred it and the empty cross as idolatrous. Interesting. On this topic, I side with Calvin.

Now, we have a cross hanging in our bapistry at the church. We certainly don’t worship IT, but I think we need to be very cautious that we stay away from any hint of idolatry. I want to make this clear: we don’t worship the cross. We worship the One who died on it but is not still on it.

“I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil” (Psalm 101:3-4, NASB).

Lord, I thank You for the cross AND the resurrection AND the ascension. I praise You that You are seated now at God’s right hand. The Lord does indeed reign! Amen.

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What Goes Around ...

This morning, as I was eating my breakfast and watching cable news, an amazing story came to light.

A pastor in North Carolina—his name is Tim Jones—donated a kidney to another Christian brother who needed one. The name of the man who received the kidney was Don Herbert.

Apparently, the two met when Don stopped by Tim’s church one day for a fundraiser.

Not long after that, Pastor Tim was on the operating table for a three-hour surgery to remove one of his kidneys to give to Don.

However, Tim’s surgery took much longer because, while they were operating on Tim, they discovered an aneurysm in or near one of his kidneys. The doctors had not discovered this condition before and had the aneurysm ruptured, Tim might have lost his life.

So, in offering to help someone else, Tim ended up saving his own life!

If you want to read this story for yourself, just go to Google and search for it. You can find it quite easily.

But there is obviously a lesson in there somewhere. Sometimes we get to see “results” of our actions; most of the time, however, we don’t.

I am reminded of this verse in Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1. NASB). Here is another translation: “Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns” (MSG). I like it!

Like everything else (this was especially true for Pastor Tim), giving or helping someone is an act of faith. He felt that the Lord was leading him to do this for Don. He had no idea that he was going to “get anything” out of it for himself.

I just love this story.

It is a great challenge to me to be open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit today. Jim and I are doing the service at Northglenn Heights today. Please pray for one of our fellow “ministers” who has gone with us before. Her name is Lavanda. She is a wonderful servant of the Lord, but she can’t go today because she is having a medical procedure. We will miss you, Lavanda!

After the service, Jim and I plan to make some visits this afternoon. Please pray for us as we minister to some folks. One never knows what one will find “out there.” We just want to be open, as Pastor Tim was, to meeting a need.

The foundation of this life of adventure, I am convinced, is a day that starts out with thanksgiving. We literally get to give the Lord thanks! Think about this. We can’t give Him anything else, if you stop and think about it.

Even the money we “give” really belongs to Him in the first place, but this Psalm reminds us that worship has a front porch and a front door: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalms
100:4-5 NASB).

Lord, no matter what you lead us to do or to give, we can never beat you to the punch. You gave the first and ultimate gift—Your One and Only Son. We can’t out-give You. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for salvation. Thank You. Amen.
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The Response to God's Sovereignty

I love the fact that, even though it seems as if the Psalter is composed of 150 relatively unrelated songs, the truth is that there is evidence of organization of some sort.

I am not smart enough to see it all. I don’t have to. I trust the Holy Spirit who inspired these writings just as He did all the other books of the Bible, but I only see hints of it here and there.

This collection of “Sovereignty Psalms” (this is no technical term; I just coined it) is a case in point.

Psalms 96, 97, and 99 all include the phrase, “The Lord Reigns.” Notice these three verses at the start of the Psalm: “The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! The LORD is great in Zion, And He is exalted above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He” (Psalm 99:1-3, NASB).

This is interesting. One of the things that comes out in the Psalm is that praise is a natural result of the fact that the Lord reigns.

There are several things about praise that come out. First, what is going on in heaven—the rule of God—has direct impact (literally) on the earth. “Let the earth shake,” says the Psalmist. I am reminded of the times in the Word where God shows up in power—the giving of the Law at Sinai and after the prayer meeting in Acts 4. Those are only two examples. But do you remember what happened? The earth shook! That means that God showed up.

Second, in scripture, the response when God shows up is noteworthy. People tend to fall on their faces. In other words, it is a reverent and fearful (not in the sense of anxiety but awe) posture before an awesome God.

I was visiting with a young man recently about this subject, and we both agreed that, generally speaking, there is a lack of reverence in many churches today when it comes to corporate worship.

I tell you that if the president of the United States or some other world leader showed up at First Southern some Sunday with all the security and all the fanfare that accompanies such leaders, we would see a different attitude on the part of people in the church. That is for sure.

How much greater should be our “reverence” for the Lord? And yet, many people are flippant and ill prepared and distracted when it comes to worship.

Reverence. When I use that word, I don’t mean “somber or overly serious.” I like laughter and joy and people exchanging greetings, but reverence implies that we are acknowledging God’s singular place in our lives.

He is holy. He is just. He deserves to be exalted. We can call upon Him, just as Moses, Aaron, and Samuel did. God answers prayer. He forgives sin. He avenges evil. Thus, we can and must worship the Lord our God.

Father today, as I sit here, I find that my mind is distracted. I’m thinking about so many things and challenges and the deeds of the day. Often praise is the last thing I want to do, the last thing on my mind.

When I don’t praise You, I focus on myself. What is that? It dawns on me that it borders on self-worship. Not good.

I exalt You this morning, Lord. I worship You, my Sovereign God. Amen.
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A Comprehensive Message

First, I need to share that I am totally exhausted today—a lot going on yesterday. After the services, I took Mitch home, and as I was leaving, I got a phone call from Vida at church.

Some dear folks had given my family and me some food, but in my rush to grab it out of a fridge at church, I inadvertently took someone else’s birthday cake—that of Vida’s brother-in-law. Thus, I had to take it back to the church, but I got caught in a traffic jam in Commerce City. Yes, you read that right: Commerce City.

“Why?” you may be asking. The Flea Market was open! And all the access roads and highway and exits to get to it were literally jammed with people. I had no idea it was this popular, but we had a beautiful 70-degree day, and people wanted to be outside. I don’t blame them.

But then I thought: why don’t we have a service out there? Humm. Let’s go where the people are instead of waiting on them to come to us? Stay tuned to this idea.

If we go to the market and have a service, what message should we share? Well, Psalms 96 and 97 give a good answer. I’m going to quote one verse from each Psalm:

“Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity’” (Psalm 96:10,NASB).

“The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; Let the many islands be glad” (Psalm 97:1, NASB).

These two Psalms repeat this message: the Lord reigns! What a comprehensive message! What do I mean by this statement?

Well, first, this is a good message to share with a lost and dying world. Both these Psalm decry idolatry. There is no god but our God. All the other gods are not God. There is only one AND He is in charge of the universe.

Second, this is a message for believers. I need to be reminded today AS A CHRISTIAN that my God reigns. This becomes an ethical challenge to me today to turn from evil, embrace the Lord, and obey Him. He is the Chief in Charge of my life.

Third, this is a great word for the future. The book of Isaiah, the book of Ezekiel, and the book of Revelation present a clear vision of God on His throne. This assurance of what is going on now is a precursor, a foretaste of the future. What God is doing now, He will do forever.

The fancy theological term for what I am talking about is “the Lord is sovereign.” Actually, when you think about it, it is foundational to just about everything. God’s sovereignty is the bedrock for His plan of salvation in Jesus.

God is in control of my salvation right now. This is not just something with which I can receive assurance. It is a historical fact. Old Testament prophecy forecasted it. Jesus’ coming and Second Coming confirms. Everything is working according to the One who is literally running the universe. Amen.

Lord, give me a chance to share this word with someone today. I choose to believe it and embrace you as the Sovereign God. Rule on, Lord. Amen.

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An Opportunity Missed Forever

Psalm 95 is an important passage in its own right, but the New Testament author of the book of Hebrews (whoever that is) picks up on it as well.

Both passages focus on one of the most tragic events in the history of Israel. The nation had witnessed one of the greatest deliverances EVER—the Exodus. God had delivered them out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt and had set them on their way to the Promised Land.

Between Egypt and Canaan, the Lord gave them a series of tests in the wilderness. Unfortunately, they did not handle them very well at all.

Both the books of Exodus and Numbers refer to the test at Meribah or Masseh (they appear to be two names for the same place) in the wilderness. The people are complaining about a lack of water. God gives Moses specific instructions: speak to the rock and water will come out of it.

However, instead of doing this, he speaks to the people and STRIKES the rock. Clearly, this becomes a watershed event in the life of Moses for sure. It means that he loses his chance to enter the Promised Land. This seems like a rather stiff penalty, but “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

The seriousness of this sin becomes more evident when you read 1 Corinthians 10 where Paul makes the comment that the rock that they dealt with in the wilderness was Christ.

I can’t really fathom THAT, except to say that we better not mess around with what the Lord tells us to do, no matter what.

The solemn warning of Psalm 95 is “Today, if you would hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8, NASB).

What does this mean? Well, I can’t think of a greater DAILY priority than putting myself in a position to hear God’s voice.

How does He do that? Well, I believe that Henry Blackaby is correct when he asserts that it occurs in four ways. The Lord speaks through the Word, through prayer, through circumstances, and through the church. (I hope I got those four correct). I put the Word first, of course.

I believe that the Spirit of God illuminates the scripture that He inspired.

Every day, as I read, I ask the Spirit to bring a particular portion of the Word FORWARD, for lack of a better term. Every verse is important. Don’t get me wrong, but in daily devotional reading, I believe that the Lord illumines verses that apply to what He wants us to know for each day.

Does this happen every day? I would say, “No.”

I was talking with a sister this week that said, “So many times, when I read the Bible, I don’t feel that I get anything out of it or even remember everything I have read.”

Here is my answer that I have learned to give over the years, “But you still read, right? Because even if we don’t feel as if we have gotten anything out of it, we still have.”

The Lord feeds us through the Word of God. Sometimes, we don’t know until days or years later and God brings something to mind.

The emphasis of this Psalm is for TODAY. This is the time frame for which I am responsible. Today.

Give me ears to hear You, today, Lord. Help me never miss out on your daily message. Amen.
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God's Consolations

The Psalm for today—Psalm 94—strikes a cord with me. It brings back memories and experiences.

Have you ever felt alone—I am totally ALONE? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you feel the whole world is against you?

You call out to God, but his answers are not readily apparent and because of this, you question Him and you question yourself.

One of those times comes to mind this morning. I think I have told part of this story before.

When I graduated from Baylor, I came to Southwestern Seminary with a friend from college. His name was Dan, and I had a really good friend already at the school—Andy. Those two guys were/still are big buds. I want to be clear about this upfront.

However, I struggled with the total change of culture at the seminary. Most of the people were married and had families. Once classes were over, these guys and gals jumped in their cars and headed out to work or their church fields.

Of course, college was totally different. When classes were over and you wanted to goof around (I should have earned a degree in “goof around”), there was always someone to hang out with.

Little did I know how different grad school would be. Nobody warned me, and I think I brought some of it on myself.

When I started at seminary, I found an apartment that was a couple of miles north of campus. I lived “way off” campus. I isolated myself. Going back there at the end of the day was one of the more difficult things I have ever done. When I wasn't bugging Andy or Dan, I was just sitting by myself in that apartment wondering, “What have I done?”

I questioned myself. I questioned my call. I questioned God. My friend Dan had some of the same struggles. One day as we were talking, he made a comment I have never forgotten because I could relate to it so well, “I feel as if God brought me here and dumped me.”

So, I spent a lot of time crying out to God.

This is what the Psalmist is doing in Psalm 94. The exact situation is a little different but the prayer is the same. The Psalmist was observing the wicked and noticing how they “strut their stuff.” And they seem to get away with it. It SEEMS as if the Lord does not see what is going and doesn’t care.

But then the Psalm turns. Of course, the One who made eyes sees; the One who makes ears hears. The Lord is intimately aware of what is going on in each and every situation.

The Lord chastens His people at times, but as this is going on, He is digging a pit for the wicked. This reminds me that, when we are going through difficult times, we never really know what the Lord is doing on the other side.

“If I should say, ‘My foot has slipped,’ Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:18-19, NASB).

God’s “consolations.” What are they? I love the way the Lord speaks to us, gives us a hug in His own unique way, and says, “Calm down, son. It is going to be all right. I am handling things.”

This is weird to say but what the Lord did was to turn that lonely apartment into a place of refuge and my struggles and wonderings into a confirmation of His call on my life. It was awesome.

Lord, I thank you for the fact that You are THERE even when, especially when we don’t feel as if You are. Thank You for Your blessed and perpetual consolations. Amen.
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Firmly Established

There is a phrase in this Psalm that has always intrigued me. I’m going to quote some verses now:

“The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty; The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved. Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting…. Your testimonies are fully confirmed; Holiness befits Your house, O LORD, forevermore” (Psalm 93:1-2, 5 NASB).

The interesting phrase is “the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.”

I think of this planet rotating around the sun in our galaxy. It is constantly on the move and turning on its axis.

I’m certainly no expert on outer space, but I do know that huge objects like asteroids and other debris are flying through outer space fairly regularly. Why hasn’t something like struck the earth? Maybe this has happened in earth’s history. I have no idea, but if it happened now, can you imagine how catastrophic that would be?

Those of us who live on the planet now experience all kinds of weather and earthquakes--some that are very severe. I can still see those pictures of twisting highways in northern California in the earthquake that occurred during the 1989 World Series—the looks on player’s faces. It was scary.

And yet, the Lord says in this Psalm, “The world is established, it will not be moved.”

In spite of everything, the Lord takes care of this planet on which we live and more importantly, the Lord’s throne is established as well. This fact has even more significance to our faith.

The truth is that someday, if I read the book of Revelation correctly, this planet will eventually be done away with in light of the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus returns to set up shop.

Thus, I’m grateful that the ground we walk on is solid now, but not even this earth will last forever. Nothing will. No one will, except God, His Word, and those of us in a relationship with Him.

This short Psalm has a powerful message because, after these references to the earth and to the throne, the Psalmist talks about the floods and the noise of many waters. Throughout the Bible, rising water and oceans and seas and storms have presently obstacles to God’s people. It is as if we are often tossed to and fro. Life seems unhinged. Where do we go to stand on solid ground? To whom do we turn for “settled-ness” in an unsettled world?

“On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

I had another talk with Carol yesterday. She made a comment that is apropos to the final verse of this Psalm. She said, “It is not God’s plan that we become just good moral people. Anyone can achieve this without God. His plan for us is holiness.” Amen.

Putting all of this together, today, Lord. I choose to continue to trust You in this topsy-turvy world, allowing you to live Your holy life through me. I’m so glad that no matter what happens, Your throne is firmly established. Amen.
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"Dying Well"

Pretty soon, I’m going to have friends say to me, “Well, John, I would be glad to talk with you, but I don’t want this to show up on the blog tomorrow.” Ha.

I had a visit yesterday with a friend/fellow pastor. We had a good, long visit that encouraged me greatly, as I always am after I spend time with this brother. It was a good thing, too, because, shortly after we parted ways, I somehow took a little bit of a downturn in the way I felt.

I finished up some work, made some phone calls, and then headed home where I crashed for the rest of the evening. I had exhausted my energy reserves, I guess.

Anyway, back to the conversation, my friend made a comment that has stuck with me. He used the phrase “dying well.” He referred to a woman in his fellowship. She has recently been diagnosed with stage 4, pancreatic cancer (if my memory serves) and has made the decision not to accept chemotherapy. The doctors tell her that she only has a few months to live. I asked, but I forgot her name. God knows it. Please pray for her.

But I would say her decision to forego treatment at this time is an example of someone who is dying well. I don’t blame her. After just finishing chemo myself, I think she has made the decision that she wants to live these next days to the fullest and trust God. I would call that “dying well.”

By the way, before I go further (and my friend affirmed this yesterday), WE ARE ALL DYING. Some of us are not doing it well. Others are.

But as I have said all along in this blog, the fact that I have cancer just reminds me of the inevitable. It would be true whether I had cancer or not. I AM DYING. Newsflash, huh? Ha.

Back to the topic: I got a call last night from a dear sister in our fellowship. I will use a name here. Her name is Carol. Carol has recently had some health issues emerge. These landed her in the hospital. The doctors discovered what was wrong with her, but they are still medicating her and treating her.

She called last night to ask me to pray for her. “I feel out of control,” she asserted, “Plus I feel that the enemy is attacking me.” My heart goes out to her.

Funny she called because I had just mentioned her to someone in a conversation earlier in the day. Carol has a deep burden for lost people and actively shares her faith in her own neighborhood. Not long ago, at the conclusion of a service, she got up to share with the church and at the conclusion of her remarks said, “The thing that burdens me is that lost people are on their way to hell and we have the news that will send them in the opposite direction if we will share it.”

As she was sharing this with the church, my heart was breaking, “Thank You, Lord, that someone else besides me is ringing this drum.” It wasn’t a negative message at all. I noticed people’s reaction. They sat there in stunned silence. It was awesome. The Lord used it.

Back to Carol—I told her we would pray. I’m asking all of you to join us. Pray for Carol to get through this. But she is another example of someone who is “dying well.”

I love that phrase!

In the passage for today—Psalm 92—the Psalmist picks up on what I would call one of the dominant metaphors in the book of Psalms. I am indebted to Eugene Peterson on this one.

I will cite some verses from the Psalm for today: “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:12-15, NASB).

“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3, NASB).

Did you catch it? “A tree planted in the house of the Lord” or “planted by streams of water.” Look those phrases up in the Message version. Peterson translates the first as “transplanted” and the second as “replanted.”

In his commentary on the Psalms, he makes the very convincing point that these terms, this concept, is the more accurate translation. Humm.

One of the most interesting studies relative to the Psalm is the study of context. In what context were these songs written? I’m no expert, but I would say they were written in multiple settings, one of which is the exile period of Israel’s history.

Think about how difficult that time was for the exiles—the Babylonians carried them away from home to live in a barren desert by the river Kedar in Babylonia. It must have seemed to be the end of the world and the end of them.

But these two Psalms remind them and us that a change of circumstance or scenery is a “transplant” or “replant.” We might be in a different place, but in the mercy and grace and strength of God, we can flourish and as a result, “die well.”

So be it, Lord. Amen.

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An Example of Lawlessness

After the trip to India last Spring, I am always on the lookout for any article or story in magazines or newspapers about India.

Recently, I came across a very disturbing story in the Denver Post. The title of the article is “India reacts to lynching.” Apparently, very recently, a mob stormed a high-security prison in northeast India. Somehow, they extricated a man from the jail. This man was a suspect in a case involving rape.

They pulled this man out of the prison and lynched him.

Now, police are searching for the men who mobilized this mob of thousands of folks who lynched this suspect and afterwards, pelted him with stones and beat him to death.

According to the article, this incident has caused concern across India where there is increasing public anger over sexual violence toward women.

Now, Amnesty International is involved. This organization is demanding that the leaders of this mob be brought to justice.

I don’t know … since I read this article in the Post the other day and copied it to my computer, I just can’t get it out of my mind.

It raises so many issues on so many levels.

On one hand, I think it is easy to read something like this and slough it off, “Oh, that’s in India. That would never happen here.” Really?

On the other side of the coin, I think it is just another example of the increase of lawlessness in our world.

“Lawlessness” is the word that keeps coming to mind. As you read the Thessalonian letters and the book of Revelation, this is a word that crops up to describe what is going on in the eschaton. “The increase of lawlessness” and the man of lawlessness.

Now, of course, I do not condone any type of sexual violence or rape of any woman anywhere, but as I read this article, this man was a SUSPECT in this crime. I don’t know how the India Justice System works, but I am fairly certain that they have trials and procedures and processes, just as we do. But this mob intervened and took justice in its own hands.

It is very scary, and I think it is naïve to believe that this type of thing could never happen here, but whether it does or not, this is a wake up call on a couple of fronts.

We honestly don’t need to be afraid as people are who have no relationship with the Lord. When we know Him, we have a resource that is not available to others. Psalm 91 refers to Him twice.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…. For you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place” (Psalm 91:1,9, NASB).

This Psalm alludes to a world full of tumult and conflict with dead bodies (literally) surrounding us at every turn, and yet, the believer is safe and secure in the dwelling of the Most High—God Himself. We don’t need to worry, no matter how much lawlessness increases abroad or here.

But there is one more thing. We need to continue to pray for missionaries who serve in India, and we need to pray for us here.

Lord, help us, no matter how bad it gets, never to back away or back off from the proclamation of the truth, as lawlessness increases, I pray that the loving proclamation of the gospel would as well. Allow me to be a part of this spreading of Good News before You come back. And I hope it is soon. Amen.
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Numbering our Days

For a brief moment, I thought I would use the title, “The Days of our Lives,” but I quickly decided that I didn’t want to deal with the perceptions associated with it. This was a soap opera that was on television when I was a kid. How do I know? Well, I used to sneak a peak or two when I was at home sick from school. Don’t worry. I quickly changed the channel to “The Price is Right.”

Anyway, this morning is another one of those occasions where the scriptures intersect exactly with something that has been on my mind and heart the past couple of days.

For those of you who read this blog fairly regularly (and again, if you are in that number, I want to thank you), this will seem like a replay from last month. If that is your perception, you are right, but this lesson keeps coming home to me as one of the main things I have learned from this round of chemo.

Here it is: I am more aware than I have ever been about both the burden and the brevity of human life.

When I am dealing with the effects of chemo, all the normal functions of life—eating and strenuous activity or work—seem almost insurmountable. Of course, I have no appetite. I’m nauseous. I have to force food down my throat. Once I do, I feel a little bit better, but the feeling doesn’t last long. Eating is a burden.

Then, I observe my sister as she does her work. I look out the window to see folks driving hither and thither, in a hurry going to work or coming home from work or whatever. And I just get more fatigued, just watching it.

It is as if I am standing outside the human “race” (a good term for it all), observing and it just seems so arduous.

As I have said before, it makes me feel “old,” and it reminds me that I am quickly moving toward anyone’s definition of “old.”

Even a decade ago, I would have said that 56 is old. But we keep revising our opinions upward as we age. Don’t we?

Anyway, what to do with all of this? Well, certainly, if I allowed these thoughts to consume me, I would check into an assisted living center today and just fold up shop.

But I am not going to do THAT. Instead, I am going to heed the counsel of God’s Word, by God’s grace.

Notice these statements at the end of Psalm 90: “So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom…. O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil” (Psalm 90: 12, 14-15, NASB).

“Teach us to number our days”—that is the phrase of the day. What does this mean?

First, we all know that no one can calculate exactly how many days he or she has left on this planet. What hits me this morning is that this may be my last day. Who knows? God is the only One who does.

Second, if we assume the preposterous stance of trying to figure it out, it still seems rather daunting. For example, let’s say the Lord will allow me to live until I am 70. I am 56 now. So, that is 14 years or so, right? 14 X 365 = 5110 days! That’s it. Wow. That ain’t much, and I am presuming a lot to think I have that many more days to live.

Third, numbering our days is linked with a heart of wisdom. I can see why. Most of us live our lives here on earth with no urgency, as if we are going to live forever. We conduct ourselves this way because we just don’t want to think about it.

This is one of the main reasons why I consider cancer to be such a great gift. It gives me a glimpse into the future (again if God so chooses to let me live even past today; it is totally up to Him, of course) to envision a day when I am immobile or sick on a rather permanent basis. AND the fact that someday, I am going to die!

What will I do until then?

Well, I believe life still has value. Are you kidding? Of course! Every day matters. It is a gift. I know this sounds so cliché and “soap opera-like.” I don’t mean it that way. I MEAN IT.

And it starts in the morning. If I start off each day with my Jesus, all my days have more meaning, even those that I don’t feel like getting off this couch or eating or doing anything.

I choose to be glad, according to the days He has afflicted me. What a phrase! Not exactly sure what that means but it seems contradictory.

Lord, in inverse proportion to the little affliction I have suffered (I have mentioned some suffering here, but others, so many others, have suffered so much more), increase and multiply gladness. I number this day and thank You for giving it to me. Today is all I’ve got. Live it through me to the fullest, Lord. Amen.
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Two of the Longest Days, EVER

I cannot begin to express how grateful to the Lord I am that this weekend is over. I honestly thought it would never end.

For those of you who are kind enough to read this blog on a regular basis, I know it sounds like a broken record these six times I have had chemo, but except for the first two times (when I was stupid and didn’t rest), this scenario has been repeated: all I feel like doing is just sitting here—no computer, no book, no phone calls—just sit.

Thank goodness for golf on television or I really would have gone insane.

I was explaining this to my mom and sis (I think they believe that I have already gone over the edge of sanity), but I would be sitting here and think, “Wow, I bet a couple of hours have gone by since the last time I looked at the clock.” And I would look and would be shocked to see that only ten minutes had gone by.

As I sit here this morning, I am trying to think of another time in my life in which I felt this way, and I can’t.

Most of the time, especially the older I get, time seems to fly by more and more quickly, but not with the after effects of chemo. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, and I know that I have not been as sick as others are! I can’t even begin to imagine.

This is the part of cancer that one doesn’t hear much about. And now, I know why. When the Lord takes me through this, I just want to be done and I don’t want to give it one more second of time or talk or energy.

This disease is like one of those old fashioned video games where the little blob consumes more and more blobs. Obviously, I can’t remember exact terms here….

On face value, it just doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. It is fatigue, a lack of appetite that borders on nausea (if I thought about it), and just a general malaise that feels like the aches and pains of having the flu. That’s about it, but it consumes and eats and gobbles up life—in slow motion.

Well, that’s enough. I guess I feel a little better today. Mondays have typically become “hump” days in getting over all of this. I pray that my past experience holds true.

The reading for today is Psalm 89. This interesting Psalm starts off with rather conventional affirmations of the Lord’s love and protection for his people. But then, all of a sudden, things shift.

“But You have cast off and rejected, You have been full of wrath against Your anointed…. All who pass along the way plunder him; He has become a reproach to his neighbors” (Psalm 89:38, 41, NASB).

Let me skip down to the end of the Psalm: “Where are Your former lovingkindnesses, O Lord, Which You swore to David in Your faithfulness? Remember, O Lord, the reproach of Your servants; How I bear in my bosom the reproach of all the many peoples, With which Your enemies have reproached, O LORD, With which they have reproached the footsteps of Your anointed. Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen” (Psalm 89:48-52, NASB).

In the place of former, very evident acts of lovingkindness from the Lord, there is a vacuum that is filled with “reproaches.” This word is repeated several times in the latter half of this Psalm as you can see. I just looked this word up in my Bible software. Here are some synonyms: reviling, taunt, disgrace, scorn, contempt, and shame. How about that?

The Psalmist is enduring all of that. This is the confession. But what is the resolution? Well, just like Psalm 88, this Psalm demonstrates no compulsion to tie up these problems and issues in a neat little bow. Nope. It is a frank exposition of what is going on and then, poof! It ends with, “Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.” Done.

This is another clear picture of what it means to praise the Lord in the midst of ___________. Fill in the box.

Lord, it is hard. Hard to type these words out right now. I do praise you in the midst of the longest weekend of my life. Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.
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Down in the Pit

Let me hasten to say this morning that the title of the blog is NOT a description of how I feel. It is an intriguing reference in Psalm 88. Just want to be clear.

Let me back up a second: yesterday was another one of those hard and long days. One of my regrets is that I did not do a good job of poking food down my mouth as much as I need to. I didn’t feel like eating and thus, I didn’t. This I have learned (or, I thought I learned it) is a big mistake.

Thus, sitting here today, I am determined to continue to eat throughout the day, especially when I don’t feel like it. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it is a rule of thumb.

The other thing about today that is weird—this marks the first time that I have ever missed two out of three Sundays in a row EVER in over twenty-five years. I have missed two in a row on rare occasions—the trip to India last year as a case in point but NEVER two out of three.

If you remember, on February 22
nd, we canceled services because of a snowstorm. I preached last Sunday and then today, I am not there because of chemo.

I have invited a special guest to preach in my absence. His name is Allen. He founded an organization called “Ezra Project,” the purpose of which is to get people connected to the Word of God. Allen does a great job of challenging believers to get into the Word and his organization produces a lot of tools to help folks.

I’ve known Allen for several years now. He has preached at our church before. He was one of the first that really made me think about reading larger sections of God’s Word every day and/or reading through the Bible in a year. I appreciate this.

While I am in that neighborhood—I do hope to start some type of “official” Bible reading plan sometime in the near future, but to be honest, I have enjoyed a more leisurely stroll through the Psalms over the past couple of months. I’m not in that big of a hurry.

I think it is important to vary one’s approach to daily Bible readings. It is easy to get in a rut and get burned out.

Well, on to Psalm 88. I want to cite a few verses from this Psalm: “I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength,… You have put me in the lowest pit, In dark places, in the depths…. Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? They have surrounded me like water all day long; They have encompassed me altogether. You have removed lover and friend far from me; My acquaintances are in darkness” (Psalm 88:4, 6, 11, 17-18, NASB).

This is one of “those” Psalms—brutally honest. A man cries out to God, and it doesn’t appear as if God is anywhere to be found—a million miles away. Plus, this man is going down, fast.

We all know about the modern, American idiomatic use of the word “pit,” but what about here in the Psalm? I believe that it is used synonymously with “grave.” In ancient times, when the family did not have their own burial plot, they just dug a hole in the ground.

But actually, as one reads this Psalm, it does take on the tone and tenor of the way we, as Americans would describe deep depression.

The thing I love about this Psalm is that it just a confession and it ends. No “answers.” No clichés or five alliterated steps as to how to get out of depression. Just a man alone with God crying out.

The frank truth is that sometimes, that’s all we’ve got. And it is enough.

Lord, I thank You that every time I have found myself in the “pit,” I have met You right there with me.

Take care of the church and the services today. Preach through Allen. Amen.
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Born in Zion

As is customary in the usual order of things after chemo, yesterday, I entered “crash mode.” I went to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center yesterday morning to get my hydration treatment. Karen, my nurse, looked at me, “You are ready to go, aren’t you?”

There was still some water left in the bag that hung above me, but she was right. So right.

She unhooked me and removed all the tubes in my port. My steps were light as I left the chemo room, maybe for the last time. Well, at least a few weeks.

This ranks up there as one of my favorite times of year—the beginning of Daylight Savings. Summer is around the corner. Hooray!

My euphoria was rather short lived, however, because when I got home and sat down, I had to fight to stay awake. Finally, I just gave up the effort. Sitting on this couch and on our back porch, I spent most of the rest of the day sleeping. I’m not sure that today will be all that much different.

Thus, as much as I want to fight it—there are things I could do (a dear couple in our church is moving and needs some help)—I am going to resist doing anything. I’m just going to sit here or out on the back porch or somewhere, most of the day.

I may even make some phone calls today, but right now, I honestly don’t even feel like talking on the phone—takes too much energy.

Anyway, I have a lot of time to think about the whole topic of citizenship today. Here on this planet, you automatically become a citizen in the country where you are born. Since I was born in the United States, I am an American citizen and proud of it.

Others, having been born in one country, immigrate to another to become “dual citizens”—in the place of their birth, like me, and in the new country. In effect, although back in his day things were really regarded in exactly the same way as they are now, the Apostle Paul was a dual citizen—a Jew and Roman. He used this fact to his advantage in his rather protracted trial that took him to Rome to stand before Caesar.

The whole point is this: here on earth, citizenship whether “singular” or dual is common, but one attains it through birth or through legal immigration (most of the time).

Our Christian citizenship, however, is a pure unadulterated gift. It occurs the moment of our new birth in Christ and get this: we become citizens of a place where we have never been.

Notice these words from Psalm 87: “But of Zion it shall be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her’; And the Most High Himself will establish her. The LORD will count when He registers the peoples, ‘This one was born there.’ Selah. Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, ‘All my springs of joy are in you’” (Psalm 87:5-7, NASB).

What about this word “Zion”? Well, it was first mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:7 to refer to the Jebusite fortress in the city of Jerusalem. The term Zion came to be associated not only with that fortress but with the city as a whole—Zion, the city of David.

When Solomon built the Temple, the term expanded even more to include the Temple and the area surrounding it (cf. Psalm 2:6; 48:2, et cetera).

In New Testament times, the meaning of the term broadened even more to become a reference to God’s spiritual kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:2 and Revelation 14:1).

So, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that Psalm 87 affirms our spiritual citizenry in heaven. As believers, our home is actually a place we have never been, YET.

I cannot tell you how much I look forward to going there, especially today, when the burden of the diseases of this life are weighing on me, and I wish I could just be done with them forever. Someday, I will! And so will you.

Lord, thank You today for my home, Zion. Amen.
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Chemo 6c and a United Heart

For the past few treatments, I have tried to designate that I go back to the cancer center three days in a row. Technically, the third day or “c” day is NOT chemo. It is a day reserved simply for hydration or water in my port. This helps flush the chemo drug out of my system faster and seems to help me a little bit.

These drugs that the doctor gives me are designed to stay in me for as long as possible to do their job as a poison to kill cancer cells. I appreciate that, but as long as they are in there, I feel lousy, so in another way, I value what this hydration does for me.

Just an explanation there and one more thing to add: the next step for me is a PET scan toward the end of March to see where things are. The doctor wants to give it a few weeks to let this round of medicine do its job before the scan.

The past couple of days I haven’t felt too bad, I guess. Just the usual: fatigue and loss of appetite and restlessness and a few hiccups (not as bad as in the past with the medicine I have received to counteract them).

But usually, I don’t start to feel bad until the weekend and into Monday, so we will see. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and concern. I have received some texts and messages I really appreciate it.

Yesterday, Marilyn handed me a copy of
Westword magazine. For my readers who do not live here in the Mile High City, Westword is a rag that one often finds in restaurants. It deals with local topics of interest from a liberal political viewpoint for the most part. Sometimes, I just pick it up myself out of curiosity.

On the cover of the most recent issue, the lead story is entitled, “Sacred Ground: A Denver Church is Part of a Nationwide Movement to Provide Sanctuary to Undocumented Immigrants.” Whoa, Nelly. This cover and this story caught my eye.

Now, here in this blog I am not going to go into specifics on this story. I will do that this morning before I head in for hydration on the church Facebook page.

But let me say that this whole topic raises an issue that Psalm 86 addresses very clearly. “Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever” (Psalm 86:11-12, NASB).

The phrase “unite my heart” captured my attention. What does this mean? Well, the Psalmist has been crying out to God for help and making the claim that there is no one like you among the gods. God is unique among the nations. Thus, he is asking that his worship life be as singular as the God He worships as he gives all his heart to the Lord.

There are so many pushes and pulls on us as believers. This is also true for churches. We must continually be on guard to let nothing separate us or divert us from the narrow path of following the Lord.

The immigration issue is a hot button in our culture today. There are a lot of “issues” surrounding it. We must be careful to follow our One, True God in the midst of all swirling controversy.

Lord, unite me heart to give You full and undistracted devotion as a believer but also as a pastor. I love you today. Thanks for getting to the “c” day in this chemo treatment process. Amen.
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Chemo 6b and Owen

Yesterday, as I was sound asleep in the chemo room, Marilyn nudged me, “John, it is Owen.”

He came over to greet us and shake our hands. It was great to see him. He was in there for treatment. In fact, he has the same general type of cancer that I have. He told us that the doctors have started him on treatment recently—a different regimen than mine, of course. Everyone is different.

Anyway, my family has a long history with Owen—a lot of good memories.

When we moved from University Hills to Calvary of Englewood in the late seventies, Owen and his family were there. We liked them immediately. Ruth Ann, his wife, is a quiet servant of God. That’s a good thing because the rest of family—from Owen on down to the rest of their four kids--are very gregarious and hilarious (Ruth Ann has a good sense of humor as well, just different): Susan, Mike, Lisa, and Erica. It seems that I might be missing one of their children …

They all had their own sense of humor in their own way. I’ve told this story often, but one day Mike came up to me. At this point, he was in his early teens. “Hey John, let’s have a soft hitting contest. You start.” Okay, so I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around with fist clenched and PUNCHED me in the shoulder. Ouch! “You win,” he answered with sly grin on his face.

Not a real huge incident although I think I still have pain in that shoulder (ha), but this was just an example. When you add Owen’s family in with Andy and all his kids, one had to be on his toes all the time.

Back to Owen’s kids, we had friendships with each one of them. We still see Lisa at the mall on occasion. Once we get to speaking with her, we all laugh a lot—just as we did back in the day.

The other day, I got to have a great visit with my friend Andy Jr. We both commented that those years at Calvary of Englewood were special. There were a lot of characters in the church at that time, but it was a good place for both of us to start our ministerial pilgrimage, if I can put it that way.

I’m glad our paths crossed at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, but I had seen Owen not too long ago at Ken Caryl Church. In fact, this year, he is going to India with their group next month. That trip is still a possibility for our group from First Southern and me to go with them. So, I might get to hang out with him even more.

Back to the room yesterday, after we visited a minute, Owen said good-bye and headed back to his chair in another part of the room to continue his treatment. I dozed off again with a smile on my face and some good memories of our church home of nearly 40 years ago.

Home is a good way to describe what it means to be with the Lord and with His people—whether it is here on earth as we fellowship with one another or whether we are in the presence of Jesus forever in heaven.

“One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin. All sunshine and sovereign is GOD, generous in gifts and glory. He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions. It’s smooth sailing all the way with GOD -of-the-Angel-Armies” (Psalm 84:10-12, MSG).

I’ve never seen Greek island beaches, but I know the Psalmist is right.

Lord, I’m thankful you don’t scrimp with traveling companions either. Owen has been one for my family and me for all these years. I’m go glad our paths crossed on the “journey” yesterday. What a blessing? Bless him and his family today. Give them laughter just as they give it out to others. Amen.
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Chemo 6a: Treasure

Tucked away in one of the verses of Psalm 83 is an intriguing phrase. I will quote it along with some other verses in this Psalm:

“For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, And those who hate You have exalted themselves. They make shrewd plans against Your people, And conspire together against Your treasured ones…. Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, And let them be humiliated and perish, That they may know that You alone, whose name is the LORD, Are the Most High over all the earth” (Psalm 83:2-3, 16-17, NASB).

Most of this Psalm is a prayer AGAINST the enemies of God’s people. It gets very specific as to who these enemies are. It describes their actions and the consequences of their actions.

But, as I said before, there is an intriguing reference in verse four: “Your treasured ones.” I checked a couple of other translations on my IPad. Most of them state this phrase as “precious ones.” Same basic idea, although I like “treasured ones” better.

Last night, we watched another episode of “Strange Inheritance.” It depicted the story of a man who collected military artifacts—guns, swords, hats, badges, et cetera. This man’s wife we a hoarder so when it came time to rummage through all the junk when he died, his daughter faced a formidable task.

The storyline in all these shows is the same. When all the “junk” (one man’s junk is another man’s treasure) is unearthed and appraised and sold at auction … well, you know the story. Big bucks. Good for them.

But this is our concept of treasure—something hidden away as something for our ancestors SOMEDAY.

The biblical concept of “treasure” is far different. First, it is not some trinket locked away in a closet. God uses the term to describe His “people.” God values His creation, the chief of which are men and women.

God has His priorities straight. We sometimes don’t. There is nothing wrong with owning possession and valuing them to some degree, just as long as our possessions don’t own us. God places ultimate value on people who have the potential (depending upon their relationship with Him) to live and last forever.

Second, God does not keep His treasure hidden away. I believe the New Testament equivalent of this concept in Psalm 83 is what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10. I still like the KJV word: “We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Workmanship essentially means “masterpiece.”

Instead of collecting dust in some attic, God designed us to be on public display, mirroring and reflecting and portraying the beauty of our God in each and every step.

Third, God’s treasures or masterpieces are both for now and for the future. When I struggle with the significance of what I am doing—most of it seems very mundane. That is just the nature of daily life, isn’t it? Sure, we have joys and pleasures and victories to celebrate. Of course. But in daily life, we just go about our business.

Even in THOSE times—we as God’s treasures can reflect His glory.

Lord, as I go in today for another treatment, I pray that I would serve You today while I sit in that chair for several hours as Your treasured one, Your masterpiece. Glorify Yourself through me, through cancer, through it all today. Amen.
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A Challenge to Worship

Goldingay, in his commentary on the Psalms, makes the contention that this song is an exhortation for worship that looks back in history for reasons. I think he is right on target.

I actually felt compelled to go to the commentary this morning because of two references in the verses below that caught my eye. What do they mean? Let me go ahead and quote the verses from the NASB:

"I relieved his shoulder of the burden, His hands were freed from the basket. You called in trouble and I rescued you; I answered you in the hiding place of thunder; I proved you at the waters of Meribah. Selah” (Psalm 81:6-7).

First, of all, God reminds Israel that “his hands were freed from the basket.” What is this all about? Goldingay argues that this is probably a reference to the baskets that the slaves used to carry bricks for the Egyptians. Humm. This makes sense.

If you recall the narratives in the early chapters of Exodus, the people of Israel were subjected to hard labor under Pharoah prior to their deliverance in the Exodus Event. The “basket” was a symbol of their forced labor. But no more! Praise God!

Second, the Psalmist speaks of the “hiding place of Thunder.” Goldingay links this reference with Psalm 77:18, “The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook” (Goldingay translation). This Psalm lists the reference to thunder among the descriptions of the Exodus Event. What happened in the parting of the Red Sea was accompanied by a lot of other huge events on the earth and in the sky. These were all visible demonstrations of God’s power.

What does all this mean? I think we do need to get very detailed in our remembrance of what God has done in the past as an impetus for our worship now.

I was sharing this with a good friend yesterday, but I am getting a little nervous as I prepare for chemo tomorrow. I’m not worried about the treatment. I am concerned about God’s timetable.

As you know, the plan is for me to get a scan later in the month. This will enable the doctors to find out the status of my cancer. If I am in remission, they will start maintenance treatments. These will go on indefinitely. I don’t care. Glad to do it.

If not, I will have to continue chemo. I just pray that this is not the case, but if so, it is what it is.

These issues are swimming around and around in my head. This Psalm reminds me that the key to trusting God in the unknown future is to remember the KNOWN past.

Here are some specifics to thank Him for:

Lord, thanks for getting me through the EIGHT chemo treatments I took the first time. Six or eight or twenty this time. No big deal. You did it before. You can do it again.

Thanks for Dr. Jotte and the technology of chemo and treatment that continues to progress.

Thank you for Diane and the other nurses in the chemo room. Thank you that Alison is back. Thanks for Jean and Carla, the nurses who access my port.

Thank you for Lisa and Laura, Dr. Jotte’s assistants who are always so upbeat and encouraging.

Thank you for the prayers and support of everyone who is reading this blog and everyone in my church family.

Thank you for saving me from “the basket” through “the thunder.” You are an awesome God. I choose to worship You today. Amen.

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God's Smile

There is an expression that occurs three times in Psalm 80. Let me cite the verses:

“O God, restore us And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

O God of hosts, restore us And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

Then we shall not turn back from You; Revive us, and we will call upon Your name. O LORD God of hosts, restore us; Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved” (Psalm 80:3, 7, 18-19, NASB).

What an interesting phrase! I wonder what it means. Goldingay in his commentary in the Baker series asserts that it pictures God smiling with favor on His people, an attitude generating the action of deliverance for the nation.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time this phrase occurs in the Old Testament. We also see it in the Aaronic Blessing of Numbers 6. In verse 25, it is linked with “and be gracious to you” (NIV).

I think we get the idea, at least a little bit better.

I was interested yesterday in the fact that in the morning prayer time yesterday, Bernard and Larry focused on praying for our country. It was obvious that both of them were burdened in that regard.

Would it be too far off to say that we need to pray that the Lord’s face would shine upon us as a nation?

The entirety of Psalm 80 is about the state of the nation of Israel. Enemies mock. The Israelites had been delivered from Egypt only to turn away from the God who rescued them. God’s hedge of protection has been broken down.

The Psalmist just looks at the state of affairs and cries out to God, “Cause Your face to shine upon us.”

As I read this prayer, I am reminded of a statement in the first chapter of Ephesians regarding the believer’s relationship to the Lord. “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, KJV).

I think we need to balance this Old Testament prayer for God’s favor on a nation with the New Testament teaching on the believer’s status with the Lord. I think a lot of Christians believe that God is mad at them, that the expression on God’s face toward them is a frown, for one reason or another.

The reality is exactly the opposite. If we believe that at the moment of salvation, Christ enters our bodies, making us the temple of the Holy Spirit AND we go into Christ, having been identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection (what baptism pictures), then we must realize that when the Lord looks at us, He sees the righteousness of His Son. And God is fully pleased, ALL THE TIME.

Because of Jesus, God is always smiling on us. This is not to say that sin has no effect. Certainly, there are consequences. Human fathers may not approve of everything their kids do, but they still love them. It is the same with the Lord.

Christian, God is smiling on you.

Lord, I share Bernard and Larry’s burden for our country. I do ask that You have mercy on us as we continue to turn away from You as a nation. I pray for our leaders and government officials. Turn their hearts toward you.

At the same time, thank You for mercy and grace and forgiveness. Thank You that right now, I am totally accepted IN THE BELOVED. Amen.
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The Groaning of the Prisoner

Somehow, the more I read about the persecuted church and the more I hear about what is going on in the Middle East right now with Christians, the more I believe that there is a huge disconnect in the church.

I go back to the Missions conference I attended at Ken Caryl Church a few weeks ago. I have alluded to this before, but one brother spoke about the “underground” church in China. In many instances and in spite of the fact that Christianity is illegal, the church thrives in China and it is anything but underground.

I still remember the picture he showed of a huge church building in one of the major cities. It is filled with thousands and thousands of folks for multiple services throughout the week. It is customary for folks from China to show up early (regardless of the venue) and just start worshiping even before the service “officially” starts. Why wait?

One of my greatest pressures, especially on the first Sunday of the month, is to make sure we cram everything in the “lineup” and do it in one hour. Now, on one hand, I understand this. I don’t like services that go on and on, UNNECESSARILY. I think we should respect each other’s time. I get that.

However, why does this same type of segmented approach ALWAYS have to apply to our worship of God? Think about it. There are times and places for each of us when time is no constraint—name a favorite activity or time with family. Are we sitting there looking at our watches and thinking, “Ok, I’ll give you a couple more minutes, but this is dragging on too long." I need to get out of here and get to the restaurant for lunch.”

I just have to tell you that oftentimes, in other countries, worship services go on for hours and no one minds. So, this is one point of contrast.

Another issue is just the folks in prison who are suffering. Once again, my mind goes to Saeed. I wonder how he is doing right now. We need to pray for this dear brother that he does not lose hope. Continue to pray for his wife Naghmeh and his two children.

In the most recent update I received from her, she shares that recently, Saeed’s father was able to spend twenty minutes with his son. She asks us to pray for his health. But the main part of the email centers on several requests for her as she travels all over the country for various speaking engagements. I know from her personal testimony that she would rather stay home with her kids, but she feels that this is the work the Lord has for her now.

Again, such a contrast. I had an opportunity to share Jesus this week at the skin doctor’s office, and I missed it.

We did have a gentleman attend the breakfast yesterday. His name is David. He has been visiting our fellowship on and off the past several months. I actually hadn’t seen him for several weeks, but all the guys greeted him warmly yesterday. I wonder about where he stands with the Lord. I hope to have a conversation with him soon.

Again, what a contrast. I have a burden on my heart this morning for the American church—how weak and anemic we seem to be.

How about these closing verses in Psalm 79:

“Let the groaning of the prisoner come before You; According to the greatness of Your power preserve those who are doomed to die. And return to our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom The reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord. So we Your people and the sheep of Your pasture Will give thanks to You forever; To all generations we will tell of Your praise” (Psalm 79:11-13).

Oh, Lord, help us never forget the groaning of the prisoner even though it seems so remote and distant. Take care of our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church around the world. Continue to them and US boldness. Take care of Saeed and others who groan in prisons. Have mercy on them and us. Amen.
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