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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Update, CT Scan, and the Equipment

Back to yesterday—I want to give you an update on my mom. Indeed, the MRI confirmed that she has another crushed vertebrae and Spine 1 recommended the kyphoplasty procedure once again. All well and good.

The only problem is that they can’t do it till Friday! I say “problem” because when you are dealing with someone is severe pain, any delay feels like eternity. So, my mom has to continue to hurt for a couple more days. Marilyn and I are struggling with it, but there is nothing we can do at this point but just try to keep her as comfortable as possible. Thanks for your prayers.

As far as I am concerned, I have a CT scan today—rather routine except for the fact that I have this new lump on my chest. It has diminished a bit since Dr. Jotte examined it prior to the infusion last week. However, to be honest with all of you, it is still a concern. What is going on there? What does this mean? Has the cancer spread? Does this mean that my current treatment regimen is not working? Et cetera, et cetera.

If you let it, the questions that emerge with this disease can consume you. I just can’t let that happen—WON’T let that happen, but it is a battle nonetheless.

Can I just say AGAIN that I am weary of the huge intrusion this disease makes in one’s normal life? Today, I have this scan. Tomorrow, I have Physical Therapy AND a visit with my Primary Care to discuss some issues. On and on and on. Again, however, I can back to the statement I make above: I have a choice whether or not to allow this to consume me or NOT.

I would appreciate your prayers for this scan. The doctor has already told me that he is not going to schedule another appointment to let me know the results. This means that I will have to wait ten days to see him prior to the next infusion. Again, … let it go.

Finally, I love Peterson’s translation of the instructions to the disciples prior to sending them out on mission. Notice these brief comments: “Jesus now called the Twelve and gave them authority and power to deal with all the demons and cure diseases. He commissioned them to preach the news of God’s kingdom and heal the sick. He said, ‘Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns—get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, leave town. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and move on’” (Luke
9:1-5 MSG).

I can’t get over that turn of phrase: don’t load yourself down with equipment; YOU are the equipment. WOW. I can’t help but think of the story of David and Goliath at this point. The soldiers tried to fit this brave young man out with Saul’s armor. I bet he couldn’t even see out of it! He declined and basically said, “I don’t need this stuff; just let me be me.” At that point in his life, he was a shepherd, not a professional soldier.

So, he operated out of who he was, and using a sling and a stone, defeated the giant.

Lord, is it wrong to ask You to help this trial end soon? Take care of my mom through another long day of pain. Heal the pain. I commit this scan and its results and waiting for the results to YOU. Use me, today, Lord. Use ME. I love You. Amen.
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Not Even Any Boots

During the time my sister went to the grocery store last night, my mom and I sat in this room together. This is hard to write … she was moaning and groaning in pain.

Well beyond words—we just sat here. All I could do was just pray. I wasn’t feeling that great myself but nothing compared to her.

As the evening progressed and Marilyn got back home, she seemed to be doing a little better. However, as we talked with her about what was going on today, she got fearful, very fast.

We tried to assure her, “Mother, don’t be afraid. You are going to Spine 1 tomorrow. Hopefully, they can do some things that will help you feel better. You are not having surgery. You are not going to the hospital.” She was worried about those last two things.

We hope that what we said will be true. There is just no way that she can go on like this. We can’t either.

Thanks AGAIN for your prayers. Of course, I will let you know what the results of the MRI are and what they say needs to be done.

I am so grateful for the timing of the Holy Spirit over these past few months but especially the last few days when it comes to these reading plans. Over and over and over, I have found myself in the book of Job. Can one really read this book too many times?

I don’t think so. It is NOT an easy read, especially as you delve into what Job really says during his time of unspeakable suffering. Job 8 is no exception. Here is a sample:

“All I want is an answer to one prayer, a last request to be honored: Let God step on me—squash me like a bug, and be done with me for good. I’d at least have the satisfaction of not having blasphemed the Holy God, before being pressed past the limits. Where’s the strength to keep my hopes up? What future do I have to keep me going? Do you think I have nerves of steel? Do you think I’m made of iron? Do you think I can pull myself up by my bootstraps? Why, I don’t even have any boots!” (Job
6:8-13 MSG).

This series of questions hit me like punches in the gut. Marilyn added one the other day, “John, can it get any harder?”

All the little ditty answers we toss out in times like these seem so inadequate, especially the ones that boil down to, “Stop complaining. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Exert more effort. Try harder. Gut it out.” Baloney!

Job’s last comment above is perfect. I can’t pull myself up by the bootstraps because I don’t even have any boots. Perfect. Right.

All we have right now is an abiding trust in Dr. Jesus and crying out to Him in utter and complete and total dependence. That is it.

There You have it, Lord. Take care of this visit to the doctor today. Again, just relieve this suffering and pain. Take care of it, Lord. Amen.
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More Than the Pain of Childbirth

Yesterday, the x-rays at Spine 1 showed that somehow, another vertebra in my mom’s back has been crushed. Plus, they think a bone in her neck is broken as well. They want to confirm all of this. So, they did another MRI on her. The results will be in on Wednesday. Marilyn is going to take her back to the clinic to get them.

The doctor at the clinic said that her bones are like paper. Oh, man! No wonder she has been in such pain.

As we were talking about it yesterday, she said, “Never in my life have I experienced such pain, not even in childbirth.” Marilyn and I had no response. What could we say?

We both just hurt for her. It is so difficult seeing someone you love in pain.

But I want to thank all of you for praying for her because, yesterday, mid-afternoon, she had to go to the dentist to get a crown on a tooth. This was necessary even on a day like yesterday just because she is having so many problems with her teeth as well—one more thing.

She did very well with this appointment at the dentist and seemed to be feeling better last night. She has a new pain medication, but I attribute it to answered prayer.

Thanks again. Of course, I will let all of you know the results of the MRI and what the doctors recommend at this point.

As for me, I was not much help to anyone yesterday. I was thoroughly exhausted, so I spent most of the day on this couch, trying not to listen to all the construction in the field behind our house. (I will say more about this another day). I do seem to feel a little better this morning. I hope to be able to go up to the office to work for a couple of hours today. We will see.

In the meantime, Marilyn and I have to continue to trust God that He will relieve Mother of pain. This issue seems to be constantly on my mind and heart.

And I struggle with this, not because I don’t trust God’s sovereignty but because I am human.

One of the passages I read today—Job 3—reminds me that the Lord meets us in our humanness. He is right there.

“Why does God bother giving light to the miserable, why bother keeping bitter people alive, Those who want in the worst way to die, and can’t, who can’t imagine anything better than death, Who count the day of their death and burial the happiest day of their life? What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning? Instead of bread I get groans for my supper, then leave the table and vomit my anguish. The worst of my fears has come true, what I’ve dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life” (Job
3:20-26 MSG).

In short, Job regrets that he was ever born. This seems rather scandalous, doesn’t it?

I read this book over and over and over in the previous Bible reading plan—old Professor Horner. Not once did the Lord castigate Job for anything he said. He did rebuke Job’s so-called friends but never Job.

I’m so glad that I can be real with God in my feelings about what is going on with me and with others, and he doesn’t topple off His throne in shock.

There is a line there, to be sure, because we are commanded not to worry, but we are never commanded not to be human.

Lord, I do trust You, but I am struggling with my mom’s pain and suffering. Please give her relief. Thank You for everyone who is praying. It is in Your hands. Amen.
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A Report on my Mom

Yesterday morning, as I was preparing myself to go to church and preach, Marilyn came in my room. She was very concerned about my mom who, frankly, has been in severe pain the past several days. She was worse yesterday.

At that point, we agreed that Marilyn was going to take her to the ER. Right after we made that decision, I contacted Jim at church and our friends in Fort Worth, Mark and Sam, asking them to pray. I was confident that in these three folks that they would and get others to pray as well.

As I left to head to church, Marilyn and I conferred again. She wasn’t as sure that she was going to take her to the hospital.

We had a wonderful service yesterday with the Hispanic church. It was so great to see my Hispanic brothers and sisters and everyone else.

But honestly, it was difficult for me to keep my mind on things, not just out of concern for my mom, but also—I just didn’t feel that well. I could tell that fatigue was catching up with me.

I got more concerned as I headed home because I hadn’t heard from Marilyn—no voicemail or text or anything.

When I arrived at home, Marilyn said that she had decided NOT to take my mom to the ER but that she was finally able to get through to a doc at Spine One (the clinic that did the procedure on her back) and make an appointment for Monday (today). Both of us felt better about that course of action because the clinic knows her and did the procedure and could more readily help her. At least, we hope.

Here are a couple of other factors: frankly, as the morning wore on, my mom just didn’t want to go to the ER. AND, here is the big one: I think that the prayers of God’s faithful folks had an immediate effect to the point that Marilyn and my mom did not feel the urgency to go the ER that all of us felt early in the morning.

Anyway, I want to thank all of you for praying. A number of folks at church asked me how she was doing. I could see the concern on their faces—for her and for me.

It makes me very emotional—thanks so much. Keep praying because as the day wore on my mom seemed to get worse and then, in the evening—a little better.

I’m glad that she is going to see a doctor today. We just can’t go on like this. It is just so difficult to see her in excruciating pain. More difficult than experiencing it myself. I know Marilyn feels the same way.

Please continue to pray for Marilyn. The weight of this weighs heavily on her. Yesterday morning as we talked about the ER, she said, “John, have we made a mistake in getting that kyphoplasty procedure for her?” I tried to assure her that we had prayed, asked others to do so, and taken a course of action designed to relieve her of pain. I made those statements, but I began to wonder …

Well, as Larry reminded me yesterday, God is in control of sickness and health. Amen. If we didn’t believe that, we would all be in despair.

Job certainly did as he lost everything. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth. GOD gives, GOD takes. God’s name be ever blessed”
(Job
1:21 MSG). He echoed that same truth when his health was taken from him after his wife (gotta love her) urged him to curse God and die. “We take the good days from God—why not take the bad days?” (Job 2:10, MSG).

I’m glad the Solid Life Plan led me to Job 1 and 2 this morning—very timely.

Back to my church family—words cannot express how much I love all of you. Thank you ALL for caring about us and praying for us. Thanks to our friends as well. Mark and Sam were available to pray for us on a busy Easter Sunday morning. I love you two!

God, things seem overwhelming to us right now with my stuff and my mom’s pain. I do pray for some relief for her today. Whether this ends up being a good day or bad day, we will take it from You, gracious Lord. We love You and Your people. Amen.
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The Resurrected Christ and the Church

For all of you who are reading this blog this morning, I pray that you have a wonderful Easter Sunday. Thanks for praying for me. My only issue is that I am a little fatigued this morning, but I have some time to rest before heading up to the church.

I don’t know if I mentioned this or not. Forgive me if I have, but this morning, we are worshiping with the Spanish-speaking wing of our church—Torre Fuerte. As Pastor Jorge and I discussed the possibility of a joint service on Easter, we felt it best to have it at 10:00 AM. This time slot seemed to be the least disruptive for both congregations—one hour later for us, one hour earlier for them.

For the English-speakers, we moved our Sunday morning small group Bible study—we call them Community Groups—back to 9:00 AM.

Having looking at this shift of gears in our schedule, I just decided that I am going to go to the church later than usual this morning. I’m going to leave the house around 8:30. This extra time will allow me to rest up a bit more. I should be good to go.

I’m looking forward to the service today. It will be great to see the brothers and sisters in Torre Fuerte. I miss the fellowship with them. In my pre-cancer days, sometimes, I would just stay later after our services just to hang out with this group. I love them dearly. They have a fellowship meal every month, the last Sunday of the month. This provided me an opportunity to brush up on my Spanish (it needs a big brush).

This congregation is really doing well since Jorge and his wife Vida stepped into the role of pastor. They had been in the church all along, but once they became “official” things really started to take off. They have a lot of young families with children. They do a great job of serving one another. Their worship services are very lively.

What we always say is that we aren’t two churches—we are one. One “wing” just speaks Spanish. That’s it.

Jorge and I have talked about it a lot. We want to try to have joint worship services more often this coming year.

After the service, Torre Fuerte is providing a meal for us. They do it each year. The purpose of the meal is gratitude. They want to thank us for allowing them to operate in our building.

The truth of the matter is: we owe them a lot more than they owe us. They are such a blessing. It is God’s building anyway. We are glad they are onboard.

As I think about all of this, once again, it compels me to go to the Resurrected Christ to ask: are we pleasing in your sight, Lord?

One of the chapters I read today in the Solid Life Plan is Revelation 3. Whenever I read this messages to the seven churches, I get a chill. They are so ominous. The truth is that it really doesn’t matter how I THINK First Southern is doing with all my human and worldly standards for “success” (I hate that word more and more). It only matters what Jesus thinks.

Here is one of His ominous comments. It is directed to the church at Laodicea—a congregation very impressed with its material wealth. “Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see” (Revelation
3:18 MSG).

This statement from Jesus fits with the latter portion of the book that speaks of heaven and our eternal home.

In light of the resurrection, we should focus not on worldly wealth or standard but instead “lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20).

Lord, today, thank You that Jesus rose from the grave. Now, He stands as Lord in the midst of the candlesticks, seeing and knowing exactly what is going on not only at First Southern and Torre Fuerte but also all His churches. May we please You today. May we be truly rich with true riches today.

I pray for my mom. She continues to be in pain. We almost took her to the ER yesterday. I pray for relief for her today. I love You, Living Savior. Amen.

Now, I think I am going to sleep a little bit longer … I can barely keep my eyes open …
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He Gave Them the Slip

I have to say that Luke 4 is fast becoming one of my favorite chapters in the Word. It begins with a temptation narrative that focuses on the role of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit LED Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. When everything was said and done—Jesus having turned away all the temptations of the evil one (the only human being in history to have done so, by the way)—He left that experience in the POWER of the Holy Spirit.

Following that story, Jesus preaches His first sermon …

Let me stop right there. My first sermon at Calvary Baptist Church in Englewood in May of 1979 was very memorable. I had just returned from my sophomore year at Baylor, not far removed from my call to ministry. I shared that with my home church. Pastor Andy asked me to serve on staff that summer along with his son Andy Jr. He sat us both down and laid out a preaching schedule for both of us that summer, plus we all got to serve together.

Can I just say it was a blast? Pastor Andy worked us hard. We visited a lot, did a lot, laughed A LOT.

Andy Jr. and I often say that this experience spoiled us a bit. Both of us ended that summer believing that all ministry experiences were going to be like THAT summer. I can’t imagine a better start. I’m so grateful to God for the two Andy’s—one a mentor (to this day; he is still my pastor) and the other, a friend (still to this day BIG TIME).

Compare, contrast that to Jesus’ first experience in ministry, cited in Luke 4—His first sermon. It was very simple, really. He read a portion from “the scroll” and basically said, “This passage has been fulfilled right here and right now.” Can you imagine how powerful that was?

Then, notice what happened:

“He answered, ‘I suppose you’re going to quote the proverb, “Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.” Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown. Isn’t it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian.’” That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way” (Luke
4:23-30 MSG).

What? I just can’t imagine how Jesus got out of this one. An angry mob of people, “escorting” the Son of God to the edge of a cliff in order to push Him over. What a reaction! How did He escape?

The only answer I have is that it just wasn’t the time for Him to die. He wasn’t going to do it THAT way. Somehow, he just alluded their grasp at that point and left.

The rest of the chapter chronicles His ministry and things go on from there.

This is actually a great passage to read on the day between Good Friday and Easter because it points to the way He did die—on a cross for our sins—but He was never popular, especially in His hometown. Yes, the crowds clamored for the miracles but they were very quick to turn on Him. This passage demonstrates this. The cross confirms it. Buried in a borrowed tomb.

Not for long … Amen.
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Murder and Grandchildren

Over the past couple of days, I have been thinking of Good Friday. A couple of years ago, we had a service on this day. Carol, one of our dear senior sisters and one who practices sharing her faith maybe more than anyone in our fellowship, invited a friend to whom she had been witnessing.

A few days later, she told me that the service really impacted him. Since then, the Lord has really been at work in His life, and if he is not saved, he is close. I happen to believe that he is.

Anyway, I share all of this with a tinge of regret because as I thought about this week and what was happening with my cancer treatment (an infusion) I just decided that this was not the year to have a Good Friday service. Maybe next year.

I guess I just have to say that I am getting increasingly wearied with this disease and its intrusion into life and ministry. When I am thinking right, I am able to thank God for it and recognize His sovereignty over times and seasons and services, but over these past few days and weeks, I continue to battle discouragement.

Part of the reason is the uncertainty regarding my shoulder. In spite of my statements yesterday, I have made no final decisions about what I am going to do quite yet. I’m going to consult with my new Primary Care and others. Again, please pray that the Lord will give me wisdom in all of this. I long to be done completely with the pain meds.

Today, I have an appointment with the Physical Therapist. I’m going to ask him about this as well. We will see.

In the meantime, I am preparing to preach this Sunday.
This is the first time in over six months that I will be preaching the Sunday after an infusion. Please pray that I will be “up to it.” I don’t have any backups for this Sunday. I thought I did, but the change in our schedule precludes using a pastor friend I had asked before. I just realized this the other day. I’m going to try to find someone else to ask to be available.

This morning, in the Solid Life Reading Plan, I came across a passage I have never noticed before. Here it is: “Adam slept with his wife again. She had a son whom she named Seth. She said, ‘God has given me another child in place of Abel whom Cain killed.’ And then Seth had a son whom he named Enosh. That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of GOD” (Genesis
4:25-26 MSG).

Isn’t that interesting? Again, the language of the Message Version helps us see the significance of this—the time men and women began to pray and worship.

What was the impetus? Well, as much as I can see, it was a combination of tragedy and triumph. Cain murdered his brother Abel. Adam and Eve had Seth who had a son named Enosh.

Prayer began as a result of murder and grandchildren! How about that? One of the greatest “sadnesses” of our human condition AND one of its greatest joys.

Lord, again, I thank You for cancer—one of the greatest blessings of my life. Honestly, I do, but I also confess that I am very weary, tired of feeling bad day after day, as I deal with all the conflicting opinions and remedies as to the pain I am experiencing. Out of that duality (some things don’t change), I call out to you in prayer and worship. Thank You for everyone who is reading this blog who is doing the same in their own tragedy and triumph. Amen.
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It Was a Very Long Day

Sorry about yesterday. For some reason, we were having issues with our internet service and I could not publish the blog for yesterday. Hopefully it is up today.

A Very Long Day

My title reminds me of an old ballad, “It Was a Very Good Year.” The song goes through significant years in the writer’s life and after mentioning the year, says, “It was a very good year.”

Well, yesterday will go down in my life as one of the longest days I have ever spent. “It was a very long day.”

Those two new drugs prescribed by the pain doc—the ones I took the night before—knocked me for a loop. I had no motivation to do anything but sit here all day. I fought to keep my eyes open. I experienced anxiety. Unbelievable.

I have made the decision that I am NOT taking them again. I just can’t live in the stupor they produce. So, I’m going to have to figure out another way, with the counsel of my doctor of course, to get off Fentanyl. It just doesn’t make sense to add two new drugs into the mix in order to get off one.

We will see.

Back to yesterday—we had one of those huge Spring snowstorms. Oh, man. It definitely qualified as a blizzard. During the day, I got a text from a sister in our church. Her husband works for UPS. He was caught in this blizzard on I-70 east. It was an extremely dangerous situation.

Later in the day, she texted me that the state patrol had closed down the highway, and everyone on the road, including this brother, were stopped.

Eventually, the highway opened and he made it back home after 8:00 PM at night. Praise God!

I couldn’t help but think that one of the reasons the Lord kept me on this couch was to pray. I would lift him up, go to sleep, wake up, pray, et cetera. I’m so glad the Lord took care of him. I love this couple.

Well, anyway, I am expecting another low-key day. I’m still fatigued, but not in the way I was yesterday. I thank God for this.

I’m grateful for the picture of the resurrected Son of God that the first chapter of Revelation gives us. Here is what Jesus says about Himself: “The Master declares, ‘I’m A to Z. I’m THE GOD WHO IS, THE GOD WHO WAS, AND THE GOD ABOUT TO ARRIVE. I’m the Sovereign-Strong’” (Revelation
1:8 MSG).

“I am A to Z.” That pretty much takes care of everything, right?

Lord, I’m so grateful that You took care of Kenny on that highway yesterday. Thank You for getting me through that long day. Thank You that You are in charge of doctors and medicine and side-effects and everything. You are Lord of the weather—even that. Amen.
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A New Reading Plan and A New Opportunity to Relax

Today, I am starting what is called “The Solid Life” reading plan. It is a year-long plan that calls for me to read about three chapters per day—a far cry from the TEN I was reading before and a welcome change.

Although I would have to say that given my level of drowsiness this morning, I think would have trouble reading even a few verses.

Man, what a battle!

Yesterday’s chemo treatment went okay. We were at the cancer center an inordinate length of time yesterday because of some changes in my treatment dosage. They are prescribed by the plan. Shantel, Dr. Jotte’s assistant in charge of clinical trials, took some time while we were in the waiting room to explain these changes to us.

What they boil down to is that I will be getting more of the chemo drug when I go in every three weeks—not a huge increase. The dosage of the pills will stay the same.

Anyway, I also mentioned this new swelling on my chest. The doctor looked at it and said, “John, that is probably part of the lymph system. Over time, the body gets used to things we put in it. That is why this little change in your chemo drug might be good and might address that swelling. We will see. In the meantime, you still have a CT scan planning for next week, right?”

Somehow, his words did not make me feel any better, but I am not going to worry about it. I will just wait to get the results of the CT scan and we will go from there.

One more thing to add: last night, I took the two new meds that the pain doctor had prescribed.

This along with the increase of the amount of the chemo drug probably explains why I am so drowsy, very drowsy, this morning.

Notice these words from Jude in the Message Version. I DO derive comfort from them: “I, Jude, am a slave to Jesus Christ and brother to James, writing to those loved by God the Father, called and kept safe by Jesus Christ. Relax, everything’s going to be all right; rest, everything’s coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!” (Jude
1:1-2 MSG).

Thank You, Lord. I choose to obey this command today and the promises that go along with it. Thanks for getting us through a long day yesterday. Thank You that, as far as I know, You are still on Your throne, IN CHARGE and IN CONTROL. Amen.
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Report from Pain Doc, Infusion Today, and Say Good-Bye to Professor Horner

Humm—this was the final day of my 250 day reading plan from Professor Horner. It was interesting to see the ten chapters this plan ended on. I will give you those in a moment.

Back to yesterday: I went to St. Joseph’s hospital—the outpatient section—for an appointment with Dr. Morris. To be honest with all of you, I am struggling a bit with what he told me to do.

In short, he has counseled me to start taking two additional pain meds to set the stage for tapering off the Fentenyl. He said, “John, you just can’t stop it cold turkey. You will feel terrible, and we don’t want you to feel bad on Easter week! Start taking these two other drugs and when May gets here we will start to take you down on the patch.”

Why May? Well, he went on to explain that cold weather is not conducive to stopping a narcotic. It is easier for the system in warmer weather. I guess that sounds logical, but I think it is a bit crazy.

When I got home after the appointment, my mom and sister and I discussed it. There is a lot online about how to come off Fentenyl. One must be careful since it is a narcotic. One tactic that does receive a lot of attention is “bridge medication.”

I actually talked with the pharmacist at Walgreens for a few minutes last night. I asked, “How do you recommend coming of Fentenyl, the pain patch?” She replied, “Well, you can just start cutting down on the dose or lengthening the time between applications of the patch. That is the most difficult way or you can take other bridge medications by mouth as you slowly come off the drug but only as your doctor recommends.”

So, there you go. I’m still hesitant to start taking two new pain meds, but if the ultimate goal is to get off all three, I guess I can do it. I just have a feeling that it is going to be very tough.

Dr. Morris also said, “John, I really don’t think this shoulder injury has anything to do with the cancer, but your flare up last August could have aggravated your shoulder issue.”

Golf? He said I could do it if I take it easy and put ice on my shoulder afterwards. This was encouraging news.

So, anyway, the beat goes on. I’m going to talk to Dr. Jotte about all of this today plus try to get some other counsel on these drugs. I just want to make sure.

One more thing I am going to talk to Dr. Jotte about: I have a new mysterious lump on my chest. Dr. Morris did not seem to be too concerned about it, but he did urge me to tell Dr. Jotte today.

There is always something …

Well, today, I do feel as if I am saying good-bye to a friend, in this case—Professor Horner. This reading plan has been very interesting and challenging—ten chapters a day. Not sure I will do it again, but I learned a lot through the pairing of parts of the Word I had never connected before, but why should I be surprised? After all, the same Author wrote it all.

Here are the final ten chapters in Horner’s plan:

John 4
Exodus 13
Romans 16
Revelation 2
Job 2
Psalm 100
Proverbs 2
Joshua 1
Malachi 4
Acts 26

Interesting. Two chapters in this list that make an interesting “match” and a relevant challenge today, in light of everything that is going on are: Revelation 12 and Job 2.

The former chapter speaks of the defeat of the Dragon at the hands of the Woman and her Son with these two verses: “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death…. So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation
12:11, 17 NASB).

Job 2 describes that “war” in the sense that it is under the sovereign control of God who allows sickness in our lives to test us.

Thus, Satan is defeat BUT He is still active doing the Lord’s bidding.

So be it, Lord. So be it. Amen.
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Hope to Get Some Answers

Well, today has FINALLY arrived, after seven months. I am going to go see the pain doctor—Dr. Morris—today.

I have had this rather mysterious shoulder pain since my cancer reemerged last August.

Plus, after waiting several weeks this past Fall—I never got to see him. However, when I went to the ER early last December, and I stayed overnight, I did seem him. He obviously spends much of his time helping folks IN the hospital.

He recommended getting an MRI right there at the hospital. And of course, all you remember what happened: I freaked out, further delaying things.

But all of that is in the past. I have an appointment with him this afternoon. Praise God!

There are three primary concerns I have as I see this doctor.

First, I hope he can show me how to get off this final pain medication—Fentanyl. I am so ready to be done with it and its crazy two-day cycles. Oh, man! I can hardly wait. I know it won’t be immediate in some senses. I will have to take my time to ease off, but I will be glad to be OFF of it nonetheless.

Second, I hope he can give me a course of action relative to the pain. He might recommend a pain block. I’m a little hesitant with this, but at this point, I am ready to stand on my head in a bucket of water, if I can be done with the pain in my shoulder and arm.

Third, I want to ask him when I can play golf again … You knew THAT ONE was coming. Ha!

So, there you have it. I want to be clear here. My ultimate faith is not in Dr. Morris or any human doctor. It is in the Lord.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans
15:13 NASB).

Lord, indeed, You are the God of hope. Thanks for helping my mom to do a little better yesterday. Thanks for strengthening Marilyn. Thanks for the hope You have given me as I choose to continue to trust You, no matter what this doctor says. Amen.
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A Needed Theological Perspective

One of the readings in Professor Horner’s plan this morning gave me a strong reminder of a worship song Connor led us to sing several weeks ago.

First of all, I am praying that Connor, our worship leader, and his wife Jess have a great vacation this weekend. We will miss them. They left town for a couple of days. I hope you guys have a restful vacation!

Anyway, back to the service a few weeks ago. Connor led us in an adaptation of a familiar hymn. As we sang it, the Lord blew my socks off. I will quote the first verse and the chorus:

“All, Lord Jesus, You surrendered
All to me You freely gave
All my sin You bravely shouldered
All for me, my life to save 
Christ surrendered all Christ surrendered all All for me and my salvation Christ surrendered all” (www.zachicks.com).

Notice that this hymn comes from Zac Hicks’ website. Please go the site to see the rest of the lyrics. Zac was (still is) a mentor of Connor’s. He taught him that worship, first and foremost, is not about us. It is about God.

I’m sure that most of us would agree with that contention, right?

So, back to the familiar hymn, “I Surrender All.” If you stop and think about it, any surrendering I do is based on the Ultimate Surrender. Jesus surrendered all for me. What a revolutionary thought! Praise God!

With those perspectives as a background, notice these words in John 2:
“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25 NASB).

Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them! Wow.

We talk a lot about the need for us to trust God. Absolutely. But what about the theological perspective of faith?

Here is the ultimate question: can Jesus entrust Himself to me?

As I get up and get moving this morning, as I go to church, as I minister to folks, and as I preach a sermon, can Jesus trust me? What a stewardship of opportunity! What a position of trust! And of course, I am not worthy of it. My worthiness comes from the Savior who surrendered all for me.

Lord, I pray that today, truly, the worship service would be all about you and NOT about me or anyone else. Give Connor and Jess a good vacation. Thank You for surrendering all for me, Jesus. Amen.
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Answered Prayer and a Prayer Warrior

We are still rejoicing that my mom made it through her procedure so well. Of course, she didn’t FEEL well yesterday, but that is to be expected.

Marilyn took her to the clinic for this procedure. I stayed here and just prayed. Somehow, I just could not move off this couch.

How can I not do this when I have been the object of so many prayers over these past few years?

Later on in the day, I got a phone call as I was out to pick up a prescription for my mom. It was a Waco, Texas area code.

When I answered, the voice on the other end said, “John, this is Edna. I felt that the Lord asked me to call you to let you know we are praying for you.”

Oh, man, what a blessing! Edna was one of my adopted parents in my church in college. I say it that way because the Barbers were assigned to me. They were a wonderful couple, but as time progressed, I also got to meet the Carlisles—Herb and Edna. They adopted me as well! How about that?

Edna’s husband Herb was a bus pastor, and so was I. I just had a conversation with her daughter Kay the other day. This family is a huge blessing for my family and me—STILL—after all these years.

I replied, “Mom, it is so great to hear from you. Please pray for my mom. She is recovering from a procedure she had today.”

“Sure will,” Edna replied. “Say hi to your mom and Marilyn from me.” That was it. The conversation lasted less than two minutes, but it has eternal results. How valuable is it to have someone like Edna praying for you? I love you, Edna. She is in her early 90’s and still going strong. Yesterday proved this.

Lord, I thank You for answered prayer in my mom’s life. Help her to feel better today. Thank You for everyone who prayed for her. Thank You for Edna and her timely phone call. You are awesome, Lord. Amen.
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My Mom's Kyphoplasty Today

I so appreciate everyone who has asked about my mom and assured us of their prayers. Thank you so much!

We are hoping that this procedure will give her relief from the terrible pain she has been experiencing.

Again, just a brief explanation: it is NOT surgery. Somehow, without an incision, the doctor “inserts” this plastic material into her back to stabilize the crushed vertebrae.

As many of you may remember, she had this exact procedure done over five years ago. That time it was a serious of crushed bones in her lower back. This time, it is the upper back.

Anyway, I will let you know how it goes in the blog tomorrow.

Yesterday was not a good day for me. I met Connor at Denver Seminary. Both of us climbed the stairs to the second floor of the building I was in the other day with my friend who had his DMin orals. We met Susan who is one the directors of the mentor program at the seminary.

We had a very good conversation as we got to know one another.

I like the whole concept of mentoring and wish I had had something like it when I was in seminary lo these many years ago. It was obvious that Susan was focused not on Connor’s classes and grades per se, but on the overall picture.

I am honored to be a part of that process with Connor and to help him grow personally and professionally. I continue to be grateful to God for bringing Connor and Jess our way.

After the mentor meeting, he and I made our way over to the student center where we had a brief staff meeting.

When that was concluded, I could not get home fast enough to crash on this couch. I slept for two hours, had dinner, came back here, and slept for another hour. All of this occurred before I went to bed.

Will I ever get used to this? Part of me hopes I don’t. Fighting it isn’t the solution either, however. Anyway …

I am four days away from completing Professor Horner’s reading plan. It has been very interesting. This morning, through the fog of drowsiness, I made a connection I’ve never seen before. Exodus 9 continues the story of the plagues of Egypt. These Old Testament plagues are reflected in the trumpet judgments of Revelation 8. AND, the prophecy of Zechariah predicted them as well. All these passages in the Old Testament—the law and the prophets—are fulfilled in the New.

Somehow, this gives me a lot of peace as we continue to deal with health challenges in this family. Nothing is haphazard. Everything, absolutely EVERYTHING is part and parcel of the plan of God.

Why should I be surprised?

How about this rebuke from that Mysterious Man on the road to Emmaus? “And He said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke
24:25-27 NASB).

Yes, Lord. Right. All about You from beginning to end. All in the Plan. Take care of my mom today. We trust You now as always. Amen.
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One of Those Times ...

Yesterday, I met Jim at Northglenn Heights—a nursing home down the street from the church—for one of our bi-monthly services at this facility. I missed going at all last month because of chemo treatments.

Jim doesn’t miss, however. He is faithful to be there twice a month to minister to the folks. He sings, leads worship, reads the Word, and shares the Gospel. He always does a great job. Yesterday was no exception.

I will say that both of us have been a little discouraged with the fact that most times, there have been only one or two people in attendance. The mainstay, the lady who is most often there (and by her own testimony, glad to be) is Maxine. What a wonderful lady!

I could tell that she was a little discouraged yesterday as things started. “I don’t know what to do. I talk to people and invite them and when the time for the service comes, they forget or just don’t come. Kind of discouraging.” Jim and I both tried to encourage her. I gave all the “pet” answers. “Maxine, all you can do is invite them. It is up to them from there. You have done your part.”

Somehow, my words didn’t seem to help much.

Then, all of a sudden, something happened. As Jim was singing, I heard people coming in. A young, African American lady brought a few in. A couple of the ladies were in wheelchairs. They kept coming and coming.

Another woman named Alicia also brought more people. She remained in the room with us as the service progressed.

We were in shock, to be honest.

As it turns out, we learned that Alicia is the volunteer coordinator at Northglenn Heights. When we thanked her for bringing people she said, “No problem. If we are going to have this service, we will make sure that people get here for it.”

Well, okay! We will take that.

I don’t know … it was just “one of those times” when the Lord did a work and we were able to witness His work.

The Lord is at work all the time. Just because we can’t see it with the human eye doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I know this, but still … I love the way He lets us see His work on occasion.

The truth is that Jim and I have been praying that somehow He would bring more people. Not for any spiritual notches on our belt but so that more could be involved in the worship of the Lord and hear the gospel. That’s it.

We ended up with nine ladies there plus Alicia. All of them heard the gospel in word and especially in song.

I love the Old Testament book of Zechariah. We hear so few sermons from this awesome book in the contemporary American pulpit. That is sad because as you read it, you can see its influence in the works of John, especially Revelation. Here are a couple of verses I read today: “’Sword, get moving against my shepherd, against my close associate!’ Decree of GOD -of-the-Angel-Armies. ‘Kill the shepherd! Scatter the sheep! The back of my hand against even the lambs! All across the country”— GOD ’s Decree— two-thirds will be devastated and one-third survive. I’ll deliver the surviving third to the refinery fires. I’ll refine them as silver is refined, test them for purity as gold is tested. Then they’ll pray to me by name and I’ll answer them personally. I’ll say, “That’s my people.” They’ll say, “ GOD —my God!”’” (Zechariah
13:7-9 MSG).

Lord, I am thankful for the way that You answer prayers PERSONALLY. Thank You for the encouragement yesterday. Thank You for encouraging Maxine specifically.

I pray for my mom as she prepares for her procedure tomorrow. I love You. Amen.
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Iron Sharpens Iron

“You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 MSG).

Last night, I had the opportunity to visit a great couple in our church. We shared a lot together, and after a wonderful meal, they showed me around their house.

Before I left, they asked me how I was doing. I shared some things with them. We prayed together and I left to head home.

Now that doesn’t sound all that complicated, right? Right. But still, the Lord used it to encourage me greatly.

Again, I have to say that I am so thankful for everyone in my church family. I told this couple that for the past five plus years since I was diagnosed, I have had nothing but total support from my church family.

Let me back up a bit. Before making this visit, I stopped at the church to get some things done. In the course of working, I began to feel to feel bad with all those flu-like symptoms coming on.

So, I told Betty that I was going to find a place to lay down. I found a pew located in the fellowship hall. When I got settled, I immediately dropped off to sleep. It was weird. But I slept for at least an hour. When I awakened, I felt a lot better.

Anyway, Betty was very supportive of this action on my part, and I appreciated this as well.

Lord, I cannot begin to tell how thankful I am for my church family. Bless this wonderful couple and Betty. Give me strength as I plan to preach at Northglenn Heights—the nursing home—later this morning. I count on you now as always. I love You, Jesus. Amen.
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Down Memory Lane

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of sitting in on a friend’s oral examination of his DMin project at Denver Seminary.

As we sat there, I could not help but think of my experience of “orals” way back in 1987 at Southwestern seminary. Wow, has it been that long?

Anyway, for the PhD degree at Southwestern, “orals” come at the end of seminar work. They are intended to be a test really over all the work one has done on Masters level AND what one has learned in the seminars.

I studied for weeks to prepare for them. I got to the point where I just closed my books and put my notes away. “If I don’t know all of this by now, it is too late.”

One of the bits of advice I received—one that has boded me well through the years—was: if you don’t know an answer, just say, “I don’t know.” Don’t try to fake it.

If memory serves, there were three professors in the room with me. They asked me a series of questions. I was nervous, but as it turned out, my anxiety dissipated the longer my oral exam lasted. After a few hours (I can’t remember exactly how long it lasted—2 to 3 hours, maybe), the profs dismissed me from the room so that they could deliberate.

When they invited me back in, they told me I had passed. There were no “grades” at that stage—just pass or fail.

As I left the room, my pace quickened as I turned the corner to head to Recreation Center. I noticed a group of people standing in front with a big banner— “CONGRATULATIONS.” These were friends from school and from church. They had been praying for me the whole time and knew that I would pass. The sight of that group of dear friends cheering will stay with me my whole life.

Yesterday, the oral that I was involved in was quite different. For my new friend, he had already completed his seminars AND had written his DMin project. He had asked me to be one of his readers. Two other gentlemen were in the room—the 2
nd reader and Dr. Dolan, who is the head of the DMin program at Denver Seminary.

The two-hour discussion centered on corrections/suggestions for the paper.

When we were done, my friend left the room. The three of us deliberated but not for long. We were in agreement that he had passed—no problem.

When he came back into the room, we shared the news, celebrated a bit, and closed in prayer. That was it. A little bit different, but I’m sure he felt the same way I did when it was over—TOTAL RELIEF.

Back to the start of things yesterday—as we arrived and were visiting a bit, my friend shared some of the trials and difficulties that he and his family have been going through. Somehow, even through the exam, I could not get them out of my mind. They still aren’t.

Well, anyway, it was quite an experience. I was honored to be a part of it. And as I left the seminary yesterday, I just thanked God for the advanced degree He allowed me to receive. It was a wonderful gift. I wouldn’t trade it for anything even though, through the years, some people make fun of it when they find out. I don’t care.

Here’s the way I look at it—my years in the PhD program at Southwestern just gave the Holy Spirit more tools for the ministry. Those years didn’t make me smarter. They never compel me to remind people to call me “Dr. Talbert.” I hate it when people have to keep reminding others of their title and pedigree. Nope. Just more tools.

And good memories. Memories of the Lord’s provision and answered prayer. Memories I am accumulating even up to now.

I have a world of respect for guys that know how to use tools. We have several in our church. I look at the degree the Lord gave me is just more tools in the chest.

Likewise, I know my friend will use the tools he has learned about through his degree at Denver Seminary. I will pray for him. Please join me in doing so as well as he finishes up his paper and graduates.

Lord, You are awesome. Thank You for the ways and means You use to equip us to serve You and follow You. Bless my friend. Give him the grace and strength, along with his family, to finish well. Amen.
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A Very Laborious Day

I’m just counting the hours and minutes before my appointment next Monday with the pain doctor. Two things I hope will happen: 1) he will devise a plan to get me off this pain medication and 2) he will give me some sort of pain block for my shoulder. I’m ready. So ready.

Yesterday was a case in point as to why. I was fatigued but I could never get over the hump of feeling that I had energy. When I am in that boat, driving is very difficult because I am doing everything I can just to stay awake.

Talking is hard. I’ve had to work this out with my mom and sister because it seems as if I am angry, but I have told them, “No, that isn’t it. I just feel as if I have to force words out. That is all.”

This makes preaching particularly difficult—twice the effort.

And then, there are the chills. Yesterday was an unseasonably warm day. It was warm inside out building, but I have all these clothes on. So, I alternate between feeling hot on the one hand and feeling chilled on the other, where my feet are very cold. It is the weirdest thing and one of the main reasons why I love this heated blanket I sit under most of the time.

Sorry to go into all of that. I know that I mention it quite often. I say all that to say this: I believe that A LOT of these symptoms if not all are due to the remaining pain medication I am taking. Marilyn keeps saying this, “I just want to see how you do when it is just chemo. I know it has its challenges, but I just want to see.” She and my mom are so ready for me to get off this as well.

Speaking of my mom—she had a particularly difficult and painful day, made worse by the fact that neither she nor Marilyn could go to church yesterday AGAIN. They really miss it.

When I got home, my mom was asleep. Marilyn was sitting on the back porch. “I just don’t know if Mother will ever be able to go to church again.” Of course, we hope that she is wrong, but it depends on this kyphoplasty surgery.

Please pray because today, Marilyn is taking my mom to a geriatric doctor. She is going to ask him about this procedure. We just want to make sure it is safe for my mom.

I know this is jumping ahead too much, but we are a bit apprehensive as to what to do if he cautions against it. It is just hard to see my mom in so much pain with no relief. Surely, this doc won’t leave her in that place. We will see.

Last night, we watched one of my favorite movies. Whenever I mention a movie, I have to offer this caveat—the language is not good in it. Anyway, here is a line from that movie: “Hope is a dangerous thing.” It is. Especially for us right now because we are hoping that my mom and I get better. Is that a pipe dream?

Here is what Paul says about hope. “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans
8:24-25 NASB).

Lord, the hope we have is NOT dangerous because it is placed firmly in You. Thank You for everyone who continues to pray. At times, it does seem “hopeless” when we focus on our circumstances but never that way when we place our hope in YOU. I choose to do that AGAIN today even as I labor right now just to stay awake. Amen.
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Holding On for Dear Life: The Constant Battle with Fatigue

This is getting old … I don’t know whether these fatigue days are due to the pain medication or the chemo or a combination. This is why I want to wean off the pain drug—just to see.

In the meantime, as I sit here these mornings, I’ve learned not to try to fight it but to give in to it. So, when I feel the drowsiness coming on, I just lay my cell phone down (my scripture readings come from a particular plan in an app on my phone) and doze away. I’m usually not “out” very long. I just wake up and continue.

Now, this may not sound like a big deal but it is a daily battle of epic proportions. I am fighting to continue my daily communion with the Lord through prayer and the reading of the Word.

Up to these recent months, mornings have always been the absolute best, most alert time of the day. Now … go figure. It is SO weird.

Through the day yesterday, both Marilyn and I assumed that my mom (and thus Marilyn) would not be going to church today. It is just difficult for my mom to sit that long.

However, as we were getting ready to go to bed, my mom indicated that she wanted to go today. We will see.

We talk about this a lot, but these seem to be very difficult days … not just for us but for most families in our church at this time.

When I am sitting here and fairly alert, lately, I have just felt led to pray for everyone that the Lord brings to mind—not only church family but also friends across the country. I am so grateful to all of you for praying for us … we couldn’t make it without you and of course without our Lord.

I love Psalm 91—one of my favorites. “’If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,’ says GOD, ‘I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!’” (Psalm
91:14-16 MSG).

Holding on for dear life—that is where we are and what we are doing. Lord, please keep me awake and alert as I drive up to church on this Daylight Saving Sunday (part of the reason for drowsiness today, I am sure, right? I know all of you can relate). I do pray that my mom and sis can make it today. This miss worship and fellowship SO MUCH when they are not able to go. Thank You for the promise to be at our side in bad times. Amen.
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Looking for a Fix

I’ve intimidated this before. I know. But one of the most difficult things about dealing with this disease is that I often find myself in situations or doing things I have never done before.

Yesterday was no exception.

I seemed to have a relatively good day yesterday in the middle part of the day, but late afternoon, the bottom fell out again. I became very fatigued. I had chills (this on a day when the temp was unseasonably warm—high 70’s). Nausea. Aches. The same old stuff.

So, after dinner, I returned to this couch to get under the warm blanket and immediately conked out for TWO HOURS.

Let me stop right there. I NEVER used to sleep during the day. Now, especially these days when recovering from chemo and dealing with this pain medication—I do it most days.

Last night, I was getting texts from two friends about the Baylor Men’s Basketball team playing Kansas right down to the wire in the Big 12 tournament. But I missed the whole game—sleeping.

So, after my two-hour nap that lasted into the early evening, I awakened a bit to watch some TV with my mom and sister before going to bed. I was just about ready to do when I realized I had run out of my Fentanyl pain patches! Are you kidding me?

It was 9:00 at night. What on earth was I going to do? Marilyn remembered a Walgreen’s pharmacy that was open all night, so I jumped in my car and headed out to it. It is located on the corner of Mississippi Avenue and Colorado Blvd. Not far from the house. But honestly, as I raced over to this store and waited for them to fill the prescription—I had to laugh.

It felt as if I was a cocaine addict out looking for a fix in the middle of the night. Believe me. I have never done anything like this before, but there was no way that I was going to get out of step with this patch. It throws me for a loop.

Last night has given me one more major reason why I absolutely need to get off ALL PAIN MEDICATIONS. It was ridiculous, but I’m thankful that the pharmacy was open all night.

Anyway, the beat goes on.

Thanks so much for your continued prayers and concern. My mom seems to be doing better with her pain. She is an amazing person (I knew this anyway). But we are still on track with the kyphopasty surgery next week unless the Lord shows us something else.

My heart resonates with this prayer that I read in the Psalms today: “Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well! Come back, GOD —how long do we have to wait?— and treat your servants with kindness for a change. Surprise us with love at daybreak; then we’ll skip and dance all the day long. Make up for the bad times with some good times; we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime. Let your servants see what you’re best at— the ways you rule and bless your children. And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us, confirming the work that we do. Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!” (Psalm
90:12-17 MSG).

Yes, Lord, teach us to live wisely and well. Amen.
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Out of the Blue ... Encouragement

Thanks so much for your prayers. My mom had a rough day but eventually as a result of getting another pain medication from Spine One, she had some relief at the end of the day. It is just so hard for Marilyn and me to see her hurting so badly.

Marilyn had a good visit with the doctor. She liked him. We are hopeful that she will begin to feel better as well.

As for me, I had a better day yesterday, but this morning, I seem to be very tired and drowsy. It is a confirmation of what I have been telling people these past few months. It takes me about ten days fully to recover from the effects of that chemo infusion.

That is just the way it is. I hope someday I can get out of this rat cage.

I did have a word of encouragement yesterday.

I went to see the same doctor with whom Marilyn had an appointment. Both of us are looking for a Primary Care Physician. His name is Chris Mote. Dr. Mote asked me a lot of questions about my health situation, and at one point said, “You know, John, in all my years in practice, I have never heard anyone say, ‘There is no end to my chemo. I will be on it the rest of my life.’ I would like to challenge that and see if we can get you off of it someday.”

What? Huh? What? Did I hear that right? It makes me want to weep.

No one in the medical profession—especially Dr. Jotte—has said anything but “John, your cancer is going to come back” OR “you will be on this regimen of chemo until it ceases to be effective. Then, we will put you on another drug.” I have resigned myself to this for the rest of my life—not much hope there.

I have a lot of hope in God—not a lot in modern medicine. They make a lot of money on cancer patients.

Now, let me stop right there. I’m not accusing ANYONE of wrong motives at this point, but I am just saying that their focus is fighting cancer, not promoting the wellness of the patient, necessarily.

Anyway, there is a whole lot more I can say, but I won’t at this point. Stay tuned. Just suffice it to say that his encouragement came out of the blue, and I am deeply grateful to God.

This doctor is a believer as well. Praise God!

We will see what happens.

In the meantime, what to do? Jesus is very blunt: “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke
17:10 NASB).

Lord, I continue to pray for my mom. Please relieve the pain. Give us wisdom as to how to help her. I pray for Marilyn’s health. I thank You for Dr. Mote. Thank You for the encouragement You gave me through him yesterday. Thank You for the opportunity to serve. That is what I want to do. Wake me up this morning, Lord. Amen.
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My Mom's MRI Report and Everything Else

Yesterday, we received word that my mom has another broken vertebra, and so right now, we are weighing the options of what we should do.

On the one hand, Spine One recommends that she have the kyph oplasty procedure in which they inject a plastic-like substance into the back. It stabilizes the smashed bone and serves as kind of second spine. This is what she had done when she fell a few years ago. It seemed to work very well back then.

The procedure is schedule to occur a week from tomorrow … at this point.

On the other hand, our current primary care and others are warning us against doing it. They do not think it is a good idea for an 88-year-old woman.

So, please pray that the Lord would give us wisdom. We certainly don’t want to do anything that would be dangerous for my mom, but we don’t want to see her in so much pain, either.

Please also add Marilyn to the list. She is going to a doctor today just to get checked out. She has not been feeling well herself for a long time. Whenever she and I talk, I always say, “Marilyn, cut yourself some slack. You have a lot of stress right now taking care of two invalids.”

As I told Betty yesterday, through this experience in my own family, I have a lot more respect for caregivers than ever before. It is a HUGE and unrelenting job. Marilyn is doing it right now. She is carrying the load. I pray that this doctor’s visit can give her some answers and be an encouragement to her.

Last, thanks for your prayers for me. Yesterday simply was not a good day. I don’t know why. I had a fair amount of pain. Maybe it was a result of the work of the Physical Therapist or maybe it was just plain old fatigue from chemo.

Just to give you an idea: I was so tired that I slept about an hour mid-morning before I went up to the church. I had planned to make some visits with Jim, but on the way up there, I could tell that the only thing I could pull off was an appointment I had scheduled plus one other thing. That’s it.

I was just so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open as I drove back home to come to this couch and sleep again—this time for two hours. After dinner, I fell asleep AGAIN for an hour. Two hours later, I went to bed and actually had a good night’s sleep. This is way over the top, right?

I’m tired of being tired. So tired of it.

Lord, this seems to be a particularly difficult time for my family. I thank you for the prayers and love and support of our church family and everyone who reads this blog. We turn all of this over to You, Dr. Jesus. Give us wisdom. Give Marilyn encouragement. Give us strength and do the same for everyone who is reading these words today. Amen.
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A Shrug of the Shoulders

Yesterday was an interesting day in that I gleaned more insight on what is going on with me with a Physical Therapist (PT). I’m not going to go into any details here, but please continue to pray as I go to another doctor tomorrow, plus another PT, and then, the pain doc. I’m just trying to get as much perspective as possible on this whole thing, before I choose a path to go on.

Marilyn and my mom are going back to Spine One to get the results of the MRI. I will be sure to share those with you tomorrow. We are looking forward to my mom getting some relief.

In the meantime, I am heading up to the church again today to get some work done.

One of the things that is a perpetual struggle for me is that I hope my extended illness has no adverse affects on the church. I go back to a conversation with a dear sister in Christ who is also a member of our fellowship. She assured me that everyone is pulling for me and just hopes that I get better.

I appreciate this and my church family so much …

I think what I have expressed is rather common among pastors, unfortunately, and on a broader scale, for Christians who engage in the work, we tend to take ownership of ministry and link it to our own personhood and superficial evaluation.

If things are “going well” (whatever that means—usually related to the three B’s—buildings, budgets, and bodies), then we are happy and take the credit. This means being lauded in the convention as a successful pastor because a lot of people go to your church.

Of course, there is the other side of the coin. If things are not “going well,” then we start to feel bad and to look for another plot of green grass on the other side of the fence.

There is a lot wrong with this perspective.

A passage I read today in Professor Horner’s plan points this out. Here it is: “Some of the Jews convinced the most respected women and leading men of the town that their precious way of life was about to be destroyed. Alarmed, they turned on Paul and Barnabas and forced them to leave. Paul and Barnabas shrugged their shoulders and went on to the next town, Iconium, brimming with joy and the Holy Spirit, two happy disciples” (Acts
13:50-52 MSG).

What happened to Paul and Barnabas was to be repeated many times in their missionary service. They preached. Some accepted. Some rejected the gospel. Some got downright angry to the point of kicking them out of town.

How did Paul and Barnabas respond? Get angry? Get hurt? Look at themselves as failures and go home?

Nope. They just “shrugged their shoulders” (“shook the dust off their feet” in other versions) and went on to the next place.

In other words, they did not take it personally. They took it realistically—as a rejection of God AND they moved on to share with others. I like that.

Lord, thank You for the gospel You called us to share. Everything, absolutely everything—is under Your control and care—even cancer, even rejection of the truth. Give us the grace to “shrug our shoulders” as Paul and Barnabas did and keep going, keep serving, and keep telling. It is up to You from there. Amen.
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Strenuously

I am kind of drowsy this morning, AGAIN. Man, this is getting old.

Yesterday was quite a day. Just about the time that the three of us went to Spine One to see doctors, we had one of those “March” snowstorms—very flaky snow that tumbled down from the sky like feathers. If there were ever an element of beauty in that storm, this came the closest, I guess.

Did I tell all of you that I patently don’t like snow?

Anyway, after getting an x ray, one of the doctors came in to see me. Dr. K was quizzical as she looked over my Upright MRI and the recent x ray. She asked me a lot of questions about how I was feeling. The look of consternation did not leave her face.

Bottom line, at the end of the day: she is not sure what is going on but was very convinced that the symptoms and issues going on with me have little or nothing to do with the vertebrae in my neck. She thinks I just injured my shoulder and this injury somehow corresponded with the onset of my cancer in August of 2015.

I have an appointment this morning with a physical therapist that Dr. Jotte recommended I see. I will see if he/she can shed any light on this. I’m determined to get to the bottom of this somehow.

While I was being examined my mom was as well. Marilyn was with her. Eventually, they both went downstairs for my mom to get an MRI right then and there.

Marilyn told me it was an open MRI—a good thing—but it was hard for my mom to stay still. Somehow, she got through it. Praise God!

This is the only way we are going to figure out what is going on with her. I will certainly let all of you know as soon as possible.

We count on your prayers. We would not make it without them. This verse in Acts 12 reminds me to thank God for all of you. The Lord has worked through corporate prayer from the beginning.

“All the time that Peter was under heavy guard in the jailhouse, the church prayed for him most strenuously” (Acts
12:5 MSG). They prayed for him most strenuously. Wow.

Prayer that stays with it and keeps at it—make no mistake—is HARD WORK. This is why more people and more churches don’t do it. I’m convinced. This makes it even more of an imperative.

Whatever the devil does not want or attacks—this is exactly what we ought to keep doing.

Lord, thank You for everyone that is offering up strenuous prayers for us. Let me do the same in return. Amen.
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Peyton and Audibles

Ever since the Super Bowl, the question has been, “What is Peyton going to do?” Speculation about his choice has dominated the sports news here.

Finally, over the weekend apparently, he has decided to retire. I think it is a good decision. Like John Elway, he wins the Super Bowl and leaves on a high note. Great!

Many others seem to agree with me. There are quotes and statements about him all over the media. One of the most interesting came from Von Miller who asserted, “I think Peyton Manning will continue to be Peyton Manning in life. He’ll have a great gameplan, call great audibles, have great secondary plans if needed, and will continue to be successful.” Wow.

I never really realized it. Von identified one of Peyton’s greatest strengths as a quarterback—standing at the line of scrimmage, evaluating the defense and making the appropriate audible or not—as an asset that will aid him the rest of his life outside of football.

This is the sign of a great athlete and competitor, but it bodes well for his future—whatever he chooses to do.

I can’t help but laugh as I think about this because in “my day” as a high school basketball player, my coach, Mr. Murphy, always got on me because I made up my mind as to what I was going to do with the ball, bulling my way in, without regard to what the other team was doing. It usually did not end up well.

Not Peyton. He was a master at adapting and attacking a defense at their weakest point. In fact, opposing players and coaches often quipped that Peyton knew what they were doing BEFORE they did.

I will miss watching him play. These past four years have been so much fun.

Well, anyway, as I was thinking about all of this, I came across Acts 11 in my reading today. Barnabas was a first-century Peyton! As an emissary of the church in Jerusalem, he could have played the role of a wet blanket (as so many Christians seem to enjoy doing) when he arrived in Antioch.

But the minute he saw what was going on—the evident and obvious work of God—he was all on board and jumped into the fray as a good teammate, and in fact, recruited a blue-chip rookie who was sitting on the sidelines to join him. He called Saul and together served the young church for a year. Good play!

I want to be like Barnabas and Peyton—unlike my short-lived basketball career—discerning and adaptable and ready to be a catalyst to the work of God, whenever I see it.

Thanks for your prayers yesterday. We had a long day here. My mom’s back continues to hurt. I laid low for most of the day but I still felt fatigued by day’s end.

I seem to be a little better today. Let’s see what the “defense” is! Ha.

Lord, thank You for the opportunities You bring our way. Please help us—help me—NEVER to be a barrier to your work or your team. “Omaha!” Amen.
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Another "Duck out of Water" Sunday

After a week in which I felt unusually well, these past couple of days have not been good. I just have not felt that great. Mainly, it is fatigue and chills. As long as I am sitting here under this heated blanket able to doze off to sleep (or not) if I feel like it, I seem to do fairly well.

Otherwise, I don’t.

Well, anyway, hopefully I will feel better as the days progress. I need to because I have several appointments over the next few days with a couple of physical therapists, a doctor I am visiting to see if he could be my new primary care, a pain doctor, and another doctor at a spine clinic here in town.

The reason I am seeing all these doctors/therapists is to find one who can help me get beyond these pain medications as well as help this shoulder get better so that I can return to normal activity—namely, golf.

Please also pray for my mom. My sister and I are very concerned. Her pain level just continues to rise. Marilyn stays on top of her pain medications AND Monday she has an appointment at the same spine clinic I am going to. We hope that someone there can give some insight into why she is hurting so much and can help her.

Needless to say, she does not feel “up” to going to church today either.

Yesterday, Marilyn said, “We have missed going to church a lot the past few weeks.” Her voice trailed off. I replied, “It is not as if we haven’t had things going on.” I can tell she misses it.

These Sundays when I don’t preach seem to last decades. But I am not complaining. I know I couldn’t do it today.

Another thing to pray about—my next infusion is scheduled for March 22. The Sunday following—the 27
th—is Easter. There is no way that I am going to miss Easter. But just as I type those words, I am glad that Al is available as a back-up. He is a teacher and leader in our fellowship. He always does a great job when he fills in for me. I have total confidence in him.

So far, I have not had to call him at the last minute, but I know he is available and I could call him—even on Easter Sunday. We will see, but I think it is important for me to be there on that Sunday.

But back to THIS Sunday—they are very good reminders that the kingdom of God can still function even when (especially when) I am not preaching. Ha!

“But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Luke
12:31-32 NASB). This familiar passage—the Lucan counterpart to Matthew 6:33-34 in the Sermon on the Mount—is a good reminder for me today. I am “seeking the kingdom” by letting the King run things. He does so even when I am preaching, by the way!

Anyway, I’m thankful for my pastor friend Bart who is filling the pulpit for me today. He drives up to Northglenn from Aurora. For those of you who are reading this and don’t live here, it is well over twenty miles! But the service at his church starts at 11:00 so he preaches for me at 9:00 and then heads back. Thanks brother!

Lord, I’m so grateful for the kingdom and for guys you are using to show me that it isn’t about me. I’m thankful for Al and Bart and Dan and all the guys who preached for me last Fall. Lord, I turn things over to You AGAIN. Thank You, Father, that You have gladly chosen to give me the kingdom. Reign supreme in my life and in my family today. Amen.
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God is in Charge, Not Me

Shortly after I sent out that brief message yesterday on Facebook, it hit me.

The night before, I made an executive decision in an area in which I am far from being an expert—my own health.

Let me back up for a second. I have told all of you that I started to feel better when I just stopped taking two of the three pain meds that Dr. Jotte and Dr. Morris (the pain doctor who came to see us when I was in the hospital) gave me. Just stopped them.

On my appointment with Dr. Jotte before the infusion last Tuesday, I could tell that he was really not happy that I had done this. “John, you need to be careful here. I don’t think you are out of the woods quite yet.”

Okay. But still, I wanted to scream, “I understand that, Dr. Jotte, but I feel BETTER, lots better. What about THAT?” I didn’t say or scream those words.

Over the past few days, and I have discussed this with Mother and Marilyn, I have decided that one of my urgent goals is to get totally OFF the pain meds. That means I want to stop the Fentanyl patch as well. I am on a schedule in which I changed that patch out every other day.

This is the background for my “executive” decision.

The night before last I just decided NOT to change the patch out but to leave it on an extra day. Now, I will hasten to say that Dr. Jotte had recommended this course of action in the past, so it was not without precedent, BUT he did not tell me to take this course of action recently.

SOOO, as the morning progressed, I felt progressively worse with aches and pains in general and pain in my shoulder in particular. It was crazy how fast it came on.

When I realized my mistake, I just gave in and put on a new patch. By last evening, I was starting to feel better.

Lesson learned? I hope so, but I am still very determined to wean off that patch, but I will do it as a doctor orders and instructions, not in the John Talbert Executive way.

I was talking about this with someone the other day. We both agreed that every time we “took matters in our own hands” without consulting God or those that God has placed in our lives to advise us properly, things get messed up. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

I will tell all of you that I am anything but patient these days. I want to get rid of the pain meds and feel better—yesterday. But still …

“Don’t shoot off your mouth, or speak before you think. Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear. God’s in charge, not you—the less you speak, the better” (Ecclesiastes
5:2 MSG).

God is in charge, not you. Lord, thank You for another reminder of this foundational fact of life. I pray for the grace to continue to wait on You. I continue to pray for my mom who is having a lot of pain with her back. I pray for Marilyn who is taking care of both of us. I love You, Lord. Amen.
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A Great Work for a Great Man

Well, this morning, I’m feeling a little drowsy. On these days, it is difficult for me to focus and keep my thoughts going in a coherent direction, but I will try.

I honestly believe I am doing better this time in my recovery from chemo. I’ve had more than a few people affirm it: “John, you seem to be doing better!” Yes!

I am so grateful to the Lord and to all of you from your prayers.

I will admit, however, that I am still a little perplexed about some of the comments that Dr. Jotte made about my shoulder and where things are in that regard. I have a lot of questions. I hope that Dr. Morris, the pain doctor with whom I made an appointment yesterday, will be able to fill in the blanks.

Dr. Jotte also asked me to make an appointment with a physical therapist. His scheduler, Vanessa, gave me a couple of options. I will pick one and call today for an appointment.

The beat goes on.

In the meantime, I was intrigued as I read Nehemiah 6 today. This awesome leader faced opposition from a lot of different people. His main enemies were three characters named Sanballat, Tobiah, and Gesham the Arab. They did everything they could to distract Nehemiah from leading the people to rebuild the wall.

In the early verses of chapter six, they had a proposal for Nehemiah: “When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that there were no more breaks in it—even though I hadn’t yet installed the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent this message: ‘Come and meet with us at Kephirim in the valley of Ono.’ I knew they were scheming to hurt me so I sent messengers back with this: ‘I’m doing a great work; I can’t come down. Why should the work come to a standstill just so I can come down to see you?’ I knew they were scheming to hurt me so I sent messengers back with this: ‘I’m doing a great work; I can’t come down. Why should the work come to a standstill just so I can come down to see you?’” (Nehemiah
6:2-3 MSG).

A little later on in the same chapter, some of Nehemiah’s allies asked him to meet with them in the Temple, to be protected from his enemies. Once again, the leader had a response: “I said, ‘Why would a man like me run for cover? And why would a man like me use The Temple as a hideout? I won’t do it.’” (Nehemiah
6:11 MSG).

Now, at first glance, as you look at those responses, they frankly seem a little egotistic. Nehemiah acknowledges that he is doing a “great work” for God AND “why should a man LIKE ME head for cover?”

I don’t think it is ego AT ALL. Rather, I believe that he recognizes the leadership of God in his life and he focuses on doing what God called him to do. Anything less than that is a distraction and waste of time.

Anything. Even good things.

Of course, as the expression goes— “the enemy of the best is the good.” Something like that. You get the point.

Here is the bottom line: if the Lord leads you to do something, no matter what anyone else thinks, it is a GREAT WORK. And our dignity, our worth comes, not from what we do, but from the Lord and what He calls us to do.

Lord, I thank You for all the ways You are at work. Give me the strength to do the work You have called me to do and NOT ever be distracted. EVER. Amen.
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Results of the MRI

I think I kind of shocked Dr. Jotte as he entered the waiting room yesterday. He could see that I visibly better. I asked about the MRI.

He said, “Well, John, good news. The test didn’t show anything wrong with your shoulder. As far as the neck is concerned, you have a little issue with on vertebrae that could be described as arthritis.”

He pulled out a pad of paper and started to draw a picture.

“Between the vertebrae in your neck (at this point he drew two squares and scribbled in the space between), there is tissue here, but for you, this tissue is nearly gone (he drew two other squares, closer together, with a narrower squiggly line between them) between two vertebrae and there is a little spur here.”

Humm.

Here is the official language of the MRI report: “There is a slight degenerative disease at C3-4. There is an symmetric right-sided uncertebral osteophyte with right C4 foraminal stenosis. Left C4 foramen is normal. No spinal canal stenosis.”

Again, humm. So what does all of this mean?

And here is where things got a little contradictory. This seemed to be a great report. I think he expected to find major issues in my shoulder. And he didn’t.

He went on, “I think this is NOT a time for the golf course. If you are feeling better, I’m glad, but I think you need to be extremely careful. I’m going to send you to the pain doctor and to physical therapy.”

Of course, the main thing I heard was about the golf course. Bummer, but I don’t think it is very long-term. We will see.

He is just being cautious and wants me to get checked out by these other two doctors before I get “too wild and crazy.”

So there you have it.

On the one hand, I’m very grateful that there are no serious issues in the shoulder. On the other hand, I’m not sure about the neck at this point. We will just have to see. He didn’t seem to think it was serious either, just another issue that needs to be addressed at this point.

In the meantime, I need to deal with the fatigue that comes from these infusions. I intend to lay low today.

Lord, thank You for this report and for everyone who reads this blog and has prayed for me. I am so grateful for this report. Help me now to take the necessary steps forward so that I can feel even better and get back to “normal” activities. I love You, Dr. Jesus.

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews
10:19-22 NASB).

Amen.
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Infusion Today: NBD

Just about the time I start to feel good, I have to go back in for another infusion.

However, I am cautiously optimistic THIS TIME because overall I have been feeling better. I hope this means that I won’t feel AS BAD, AS LONG after this treatment. We will see.

I want to add a couple more things.

First, please continue to pray for my mom. She is really hurting after her fall on Saturday. At this point, we have no reason to believe that the pain indicates anything but the jostling she received when she fell. But we will see.

Second, I am going to see Dr. Jotte this morning. This is the usual procedure when I go in for an infusion.

I AM GOING TO ASK ABOUT THE MRI. I hope to get some kind of indication about the results. The other day, I called his clinician Judy to ask why this is taking so long.

“Well,” she answered, “Dr. Jotte will look at the MRI and let you know what he thinks, but we will pass this on to Dr. Morris. These things take time because pain doctors are very busy.”

(Dr. Morris is the pain doctor that came to visit me when I was in the hospital. He was the one who ordered the original MRI. That was in early December. The truth is that he has been waiting on me also. But still …)

Anyway, I hope to get some answers today. My plan includes asking him how I can get off all pain medications. I still have one more to go.

Once again, if I am not diligent, I could get worried and anxious about all this.

By the way, back to Sunday after the service, I had an extended opportunity to visit with Marvin. He is the young man who has battled back from two serious leg injuries AT THE SAME TIME. He has been and is always an encouragement to me.

As our conversation was nearing a close, he said, “Oh, and by the way, John, I can relate to your comments about anxiety. I deal with it as well.” He went on to say that, when he feels it coming on, he has learned two ways to give himself a diversion. When he does that, the anxiety dissipates.

It was a very good piece of advice. I’m working on my own ways to divert focus. I found one yesterday. I will share it in a subsequent post.

The one thing I do know is that Jesus NEVER got anxious during His time on earth. And, seated at the right hand of God, he still NEVER worries.

I love these verses I read today in Luke: “Now on one of those days Jesus and His disciples got into a boat, and He said to them, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they launched out. But as they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger. They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?’” (Luke
8:22-25 NASB).

The thing that makes this incident even more impactful is the fact that four of the disciples—Peter, Andrew, James and John—were experienced fisherman. This was not the first time they had seen a “nor’easter.” They knew the very real dangers.

But Jesus knew them BETTER! He was actually asleep in the back of the boat. Wow.

Lord, today’s treatment is just another storm on the lake. No big deal. You will handle this—NBD—NO BIG DEAL. Amen.
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