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A Stroll At Leisure With God

A Day Which Both of Us Cratered

Usually, when one of us has a rough day, the other one can help. Marilyn is more often on the giving end of that transaction. However, yesterday was doubly hard because both of us were having difficult days.

I am still losing weight. I still can’t eat without nausea, even though I seem to be eating more often. This is progress. Marilyn was having a down day. She is allowed when dealing with my mom and me. It is crazy.

What to do? We usually just try to “gut” them out? We prayed and then went to bed. I sacked out. I needed it. I hope Marilyn slept as well.

These long term illnesses are challenging, just to keep one’s head, by the grace and mercy of God, on top of the water and not below it. Ha. Have to laugh to keep from crying.

I am glad that the Lord has brought me to this particular section of Romans 12. Paul gives a listing of SOME of the spiritual gifts. I don’t think this is comprehensive because there are other lists in other places. They differ slightly: If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face” (Romans
12:6-8 MSG).

Here is verse six in the NASB. I printed this out because I believe this is my particular gift: “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith” (Romans
12:6 NASB).

As I read these verses today, I ask, “What does this have to do with anything?” Well, I think the principle is very important. Again, as I said (I think; if not, I am saying it now), God gave every believer at least ONE spiritual gift. As such, He intends that each one of us use his or her spiritual gift. They all have validity. No one gift including preaching is more important than any other.

The point is: use your gift in and through the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Why? A lot of reasons. For the church of course. For God—that is another good reason of course. But here is what I would like to submit. I must use it because it is GOOD FOR ME ALSO! As I am functioning in the way God intends, He lifts me up.

What is the specific application of this? Well, to be honest, my “preaching” right now consists of this blog. AND, as weird as this sounds, when I am writing, the Lord lifts me up, EACH AND EVERY TIME. It is one of the huge motivators that keeps me at it.

And, of course, I am so grateful for each of you and for your readership, but even if you didn’t read it, I would still write because it always seems to help me.

Lord, thank You for giving each believer at least one spiritual gift. I’m so grateful for mine. Help me keep using it for Your glory and for others but also for ME. You are awesome. Amen.
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A Relevant Replay of 'Hacksaw Ridge'

I need to be very careful here, because I would never EVER want to denigrate our troops who have served us with some dumb analogy on my part. But I do think the Lord puts things together to teach us lessons.

Last night, Marilyn and I were able to watch the new Mel Gibson movie, “Hacksaw Ridge.” Of course, it was very violent as the real thing was and not appropriate for children. However, I thought it was a good movie about a man following his convictions.

Anyway, it did show the horrors of war with men dying and losing limbs.

The passage for today reinforces this: “Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t” (Romans 12, MSG).

We would never minimize the loss of a limb on the part of one of our soldiers. Every time I see a man with a prosthesis of any kind, I believe he or she is one of our troops (of course I could be wrong) AND thank the Lord for our dear soldiers. I love them all.

BUT, we don’t like to see people without all the limbs they need. Does it bother us when we see churches that way?

Let me explain. This passage reminds us that when we get saved, the Lord makes us a body part and intends us to be a part of the body of Christ. We need to function in our role as a finger or arm or leg or eye or whatever. When we don’t, the body is hampered somewhat, just as returning troops are without limbs.

I’ll tell you: it really bothers me to think of folks populating church roles without exercising a functional role in the church. We must conclude one of two things: either that person is very disobedient OR he or she were never saved in the first place.

Or … one more possibility.

It is hard to hold back emotion as I think of the fact that I have not preached orally in a worship now for year, come the second Sunday in April. Why? Because of this cancer stuff.

Now, I do continue to preach. Writing fills this role for me, but I just miss preaching orally in the congregational setting. This is the gift God gave me. It is the first in the list that follows, and I guess I could say that I struggle with it.

The third possibility is that He just sets us aside for His goals and purposes for a while, and this falls within God’s sovereign grace. Why He does this is a mystery for us, but He knows what He is doing.

Lord, YES. Yes, You do know what You are doing. Thank You for the body of Christ and every member of it. I love the church. It is beautiful. Help me function in my role as You see fit. Amen.
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Our Meaning from the Whole

I love how Paul’s argument progresses at this point. In the few verses I read, we come to the teach in the epistle about the church: “In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body” (Romans 12:4-6 MSG).

Yesterday, I alluded to the fact that Paul intimated that we do not get our significance from ourselves. We get it from the grace of God.

But, invariably, grace pulls true believers into fellowship with others in the BODY of Christ. However, I often meet a lot of so-called spiritual folk (in their own eyes) who want nothing to do with the church. I think this is bogus and I question their salvation.

Now, let me hasten to say at this point that I am not talking about folks in transition from one church to another OR those who feel temporary burnout. The key is temporary. They are headed back at some point. They don’t hate the church. They are just in transition.

But others just are not going back and they may not hate the church but it just gets easier and easier not to go over time. I’m trying to allow for all sorts of situations here. Of course, each person and situation is unique.

I’m mainly addressing attitudes that say, “We don’t need the church and all those hypocrites.” There are hypocrites at the grocery store as well but they don’t keep folks from going. Why? Eating is a necessity.

I wish people saw church fellowship in the same way. They just don’t.

We live in a culture however that opposes church for many reasons. Last Sunday, the pastor made the point that the greatest enemy of church in the West is what he called “rugged individualism.” The whole idea is the concept that we can make it on our own and don’t “need” others.

I personally have discovered the fallacy of that thinking. When all this transplant stuff happened and all the tests, I was mortified and recognized my need of the body of Christ more than ever. I just don’t see how folks go through stuff like this without a church. A church. Friends are important. But a church is equally as important because of the resources of people and prayer. I want as many people praying for me as possible, even folks that technically aren’t friends. Get my point?

Have you ever had the feeling of a church praying for you? If you haven’t, you are missing something. I still remember my very first chemo treatment where multiple CHURCHES were praying for me. Wow. Awesome!

But this doesn’t happen overnight. One must cultivate relationships and go and be involved, obviously.

Lord, I am grateful for the body of Christ, where all of what we know about grace works itself out in relationships. What a beautiful creation! Amen.
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Interpreting Ourselves by What He Does for Us

Profound stuff here today. I will get to it in a moment.

Back to health stuff here for a sec. I finally did get a call from the gastroenterologist (G) to set up an appointment. It is near mid-April. I’m a little flustered at this point. By mid-April, I hope I am a lot better, but still, it will be good to see him and get some insight on what is/has been going on.

I tentatively say that I might be a tad better because yesterday, I actually craved a couple of snacks I ate because I was hungry. When I started eating, I was nauseated again, but at least, there was a little improvement. And I thank God for this.

I have more to say about this extended illness, but I will save it for another day. At times, I get a little weary even talking about it. I know many of you may feel that way as well. And if you do, that is perfectly okay. Thanks for continuing to pray nonetheless.

Back to Romans—this first chapter of the so-called practical section of the epistle (chapters 12-16) is particularly intriguing as Paul points out the foundation doctrinally for the body of Christ, the church.

Notice what he says in the verses I cite today: “I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him” (Romans
12:3 MSG).

This is profound, in my opinion. The Jews missed the Lord exactly because their spiritual life became all about what they were doing for God—this is religion. And if we are not careful, it could be the same for us, especially in the smaller church, where it doesn’t survive unless more and more people step up and serve.

This becomes a vicious cycle because, the more people leave (some of them do because they are just worn out), then it puts the onus on the few to do more, making them more tired. And the cycle continues.

Now, of course, these are broad generalizations. Everyone can find exceptions to generalities.

I am only saying this to point out that the danger of religion is not just a Jewish problem. It affects all of us, no matter what size church we attend. Mega-church need doers and a lot of them as well. None of this is wrong. It is just the way it is.

But Paul rightly argues that we should not base our self-evaluation on what WE do but upon what the Lord does for us in pure grace. Grace, grace, marvelous grace.

This is very appropriate to me because right now and for a long time, I have not been able to do at all, let alone serving at church. I miss it in some ways; in others, frankly I do not. Health is the major reason, but I would not be honest if I didn’t say that there are some elements of the “rat race” I don’t miss.

One element I deeply miss is the oral presentation of God’s word—this aspect of preaching. I love it. However, I want to hasten to say that I am still preaching in this blog right here seven days per week. I’m thankful for this outlet, and probably to more people than I was when I was doing oral presentations. Neither one is good or bad or less or more. Just different, but I still miss the oral messages. They have an equal impact.

People listen with equal intent. As I say this, I am reminded of one brother who always jotted down my messages in his Bible, so that when I started a new series, he would say, “Pastor, you preached this same series a few years ago.” He was not making a negative comment ever, just reminding me. It was very helpful and good. Every one needs a brother like Jim, for more reasons than one.

While I am in that neighborhood, Jim is very active in the body, but the works he performs are NOT religion. They grow out of a healthy walk with the Lord. There is a huge difference there. Patti, his wife, is the same. There are others in the church who operate this way as well. I am making no blanket statements against serving God here, only pointing out the dangers, particularly for Christians who go to church regularly. That is all.

And of course, the danger is one that Jesus speaks of at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. The person who defines himself or herself with their own deeds could end up in the flood of their life on the way to hell because they never knew God. He never knew them, even though the church did.

Lord, again, thank You for the privilege of relationship with you. Thank You for folks like Jim and Patti and others who model this. Help me never to dabble in religion but always define myself by what You did and do for me in grace not by what I do or in my case, don’t do. Thank You for pure grace. Amen.
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The First Time

It is kind of hard to stomach (pun intended) that now, medicine seems to be my primary problem. I just seemed to feel worse and worse last night. Eventually, I just gave up and went to bed about 7:30. I felt so lousy. I tell you …

Hopefully, I can get adjusted soon, because I seem to be doing a little better on the appetite front. Not at meals. But I ate two additional snacks yesterday just because I was hungry. One of them was at night before I started to go downhill. Maybe there is a relation there. Who knows? I’m tired of trying to figure things out. I’m just going with the flow of the Spirit.

Oh well.

Kris was one of the best children’s teachers we ever had. She had several kids of her own, all of whom were and still are outstanding young people.

Anyway, one day, I stumbled into her class at church when she was explaining obedience to the kids. She stopped. “John, I figured out something to use to teach these kids about obedience. I tell them, ‘Boys and girls, when God tells you to do something, do it “the first time.”’ Do you think that works?”

Oh, man. I have never forgotten that and it reminds me of my dad who told me to take out the garbage, THE FIRST TIME.

Yeah, yeah, dad. I’ll get to it.

“John, take out the garbage.”

“I’ll get around to it in just a second.”

“I’m not tell you again. Do it NOW.”

Do you think I learned? Eventually, because the “board of education met the seat of knowledge” so hard and so well that when he even mentioned the word “trash” I was on it like my friend Andy says “like stink on a dog.” THE FIRST TIME.

Parents understand this. Kids will. I did, but what an excellent way to explain. I love Tony and Kris and their kids. What a great family and memory!

Isn’t this what the Holy Spirit is saying? “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2 MSG, emphasis mine).

I desire to be so in tune with the Holy Spirit that 1) I recognize His voice and 2) I snap to it immediately.

Let’s all make that a goal that God will certainly grace and enable today. How about that?

Father, and you are my Dad, help me to respond to you THE FIRST TIME today and always as a reflection of my new life in Jesus, laid on the altar, consecrated to You. Amen.
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The Overwhelming Generosity of God

Over the past couple of days, I have been meditating on this concept. I’m realizing that all of us would readily agree with this doctrine IN THEORY, but as always, the practice leaves a lot be desired.

For me, it is always easier to gripe and complain about what is going wrong OR what I don’t have versus thanking Him for the preponderance of reasons to fall on my face in praise and worship.

Anyway, the beat goes on. I am grateful that all of you are praying for me, BIG TIME. I could not make it without all of you. AND, I know you are praying about the whole take-your-medicine issue. I’m still trying hard to remember every pill to take and when. Hopefully, if the Lord lets me live another few years, I will have figured it out by then. Ha.

Back to generosity. As I have been thinking about the Lord, I just decided to keep reading in Romans. Context, those verses before and after the text, are crucial. I am quoting today from the Amplified Version: “I APPEAL to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you] (Romans
12:1-2).

A lot of verbiage there, for sure, but it is all good, as it always is, of course. The last phrases are noteworthy.

When we place our ordinary lives on the altar, He begins the transfiguration process. If memory serves, the word for transformation here is the same as they awesome story in the gospels where Jesus met Moses and Elijah. Don’t hold me to that, but I think I am right.

Be that as it may, when we lay ourselves down, He takes over and thus we should let go. When we do, two things: we prove the will of God to others AND “even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].” How about that?

We can please God when we relinquish control and let Him run things as the God of the Altar. When the meat of sacrifice was consuming in the jealous righteousness of the Lord in the tabernacle and temple, the aroma made its way back to the Lord and blessed others. I definitely could have a BBQ tonight and smell the aroma. I could not eat very much of it, only a couple of bites, but still …

Marilyn would laugh at this point. She is no kill-joy, but she would think it would be a waste to burn all that meet and then throw out most of it. She is right. We will probably just go to a restaurant at some point. She can order it and eat most of it, and I can have my customary couple of bites.

Anyway, I believe this is what the Apostle is talking about in 2 Corinthians 2 as he describes the victory processional of the Lamb and the “sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14, NASB).

Lord, THAT IS WHO I WANT TO BE—an aroma that draws people to You, no matter what happens in this life. I place myself on the altar this morning as my only LOGIKON, my only logical and reasonable course of action. I love You today Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.
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Who Can Explain God?

What a question! I will get to it in a moment.

First—all these meds. Marilyn looked at me yesterday afternoon and said, “John, do you want me to take over your medications again?” She is rightfully frustrated with the fact that I don’t seem to be doing well with all the ins and outs these days.

There is the issue of withdrawal. The other day, at the clinic, Tina decided to take me off of a couple of medications. This is all well and good. I like it. HOWEVER, this is not as easy as one would think. I have been taking these two pills for months and yesterday, I had rather severe withdrawal symptoms that lasted most of the night. I felt horrible just from that.

Second, I forgot to take a couple of the thirty or so meds I am on now. This is not good. I’m always trying to refine my “system.” I have a pill box to use four times per day, but I still struggle with this. Got to keep on working on it.

Third, some of my medications are liquid and thus have to be taken orally. Yesterday, I called the pharmacy to refill some of them. The pharmacist declined one. She said, “We can’t fill this yet.” Huh? So, I called Tina. The upshot of the conversation was that she believed I am taking ten times too much of one drug. TEN TIMES!

So, I jumped in the car and headed to the pharmacist down the street (I had already driven to the pharmacy at the hospital that day. I will get to this in a moment) to ask her, and it turns out I was taking the right amount each day. At least, I got THAT right. Thank You Jesus!

Fourth, I am dealing with two pharmacies. There is a Walgreens right down the street. This is very convenient of course, BUT I am also getting meds from the Walgreens at the hospital. Why? There are some meds that only they have, so we have to drive down there a couple of times per week just to pick up certain medications.

Okay, so there it all is!!! It is complicated and a full-time job in and of itself, and I know many of you understand this, but I wrote all this out anyway.

Well, enough of that. Back to Romans—these final verses in chapter 11 of the epistle are some of the best that the Holy Spirit ever wrote through Paul. I’m going to give you two translations:

“Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out. Is there anyone around who can explain God? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice? Everything comes from him; Everything happens through him; Everything ends up in him. Always glory! Always praise! Yes. Yes. Yes” (Romans
11:33-36 MSG).

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. [For all things originate with Him and come from Him; all things live through Him, and all things center in and tend to consummate and to end in Him.] To Him be glory forever! Amen (so be it)” (Romans
11:36 AMPC).

I love these verses! We usually cry out to God to explain tragedy in our lives, right? Why are you allowing me to have cancer or be sick this long? These are my questions to the Lord.

But these verses are a cry in the other “direction:” Lord, WHY ARE YOU SO GENEROUS? My heart breaks right now. Neither “why” has an answer, but I so often neglect the former in favor of the latter in narrowness and selfishness. I am very self-consumed these days. This is so wrong.

Lord, I confess my self-focus these days, forgetting all the “good stuff” to thank You for. I’m going to do that right now, to think of everything until I can’t think of anything, good AND bad to thank You for. Thank You for pills. I’m glad I can take something. I love You Dr. Jesus. Amen.
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Purple Hair and Punting

Well, it wasn’t long ago that I preached a sermon in this forum about ministry. I said that it was mainly a sermon to me, as most of them are. I take this approach from 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul says something like “after I have preached to others, I myself would be a castaway.” If I don’t obey what I preach to others, then my preaching is hollow and hypocritical.

Anyway, I need to preach a sermon on prejudice and judgmentalism. AND, I need to remind all of you that Marilyn hates it when I cast her in a super-spiritual light. I would never want to do that, BUT the Lord uses her quite often to speak to me and that is the truth.

As we were leaving the hospital, a young woman was shuffling by on the sidewalk. She had very stark purple hair along with a pink skirt. Oh, me, the “holy man,” said, “Look at her.” After a long pause, Marilyn replied, “I hope the Lord will teach me to look at folks the way He does.”

Gulp. Right. I have to pray about that.

Back to my appointment at the clinic—we had Ryan again. He is one of Dr. Ali’s physician assistants and very thorough. He read the endoscopy report again, informing us that it was inconclusive and not very well worded. Long story at this point, but he is sending me to a GI specialist who can interpret the nebulous report, check my meds, and help me figure out what is going. He is in a position to do that since he is the doc who administered the endoscopy in the first place. Good move, I think.

As Ryan was sharing all of this, he interjected, “John, I don’t want you to think we are ‘punting.’ This is a term we use in this business when doctors basically give up and send a patient to someone else because they have no clue. This is not what is going on here. We would probably be sending you to him anyway for a check-up with all of this.”

His comment reminded me of something that former Bronco Coach Dan Reeves said to an assistant who was filling in for him years ago when Reeves had a health issue and had to miss a game. This was his only advice to the replacement, “Punt on fourth down.”

Punting isn’t always bad, but I understand what Ryan was saying. Whatever. I am going and going with the flow. This is an adventure. Who knows where it will lead?

All of this leads me to the passage for today. We have to avoid arrogance at all costs. We are in the position we are in—as the Lord’s saved kids because of His grace and mercy alone. No merit on our part, for sure. Once we get that skewed, we are in danger of being un-grafted or never-grafted—worse.

“And don’t get to feeling superior to those pruned branches down on the ground. If they don’t persist in remaining deadwood, they could very well get grafted back in. God can do that. He can perform miracle grafts. Why, if he could graft you —branches cut from a tree out in the wild—into an orchard tree, he certainly isn’t going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you’re in the tree, and hope for the best for the others” (Romans
11:23-24 MSG).

Lord, I pray for the girl with the purple hair, for Ryan, and for this Baptist preacher. Have mercy on us all, me more than the rest. Indeed, help me seeing purple hair and “punting” in Your light, not mine. I love You Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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133

I know that Marilyn and the nurse from Halcyon a few weeks ago said, “John, don’t weigh yourself” (and by implication freak out after you do it). Well, I did it the other day and discovered that I am at an all-time low—133 lbs. I can’t even remember the last time I weighed that low.

It is crazy to think that I have lost 27 pounds since I got home from the hospital after transplant last August. I know the doctors are concerned with this, but not as concerned as they would be if cancer were the reason, of course. But still, there are concerned. So am I.

It is really weird being so thin. Weird. Last night, I woke up with this stabbing pain in my right side. I believe it was my rib cage pushing against my stomach, and now I know why it is good to have some meat on the bone, as they say. It protects both the bone and the organs inside—a little biology (very little and probably pretty obvious to all of you but it is a revelation to me) for all of you! Ha.

Well, we have an appointment to see the doctor today at the clinic. Hopefully, we can get more answers. On the positive side, I do believe these pills are helping me a little tiny bit. So we will see.

I continue to jump back and forth in this incredible 11
th chapter of Romans. What an awesome part of God’s Word—one of my favorites (I guess I say that a lot, huh?). This analogy of the olive branch grafted in is intriguing. I don’t understand a lot about grafting, but what I do know is that the point is PRODUCTIVITY, FRUITFULNESS.

“If God didn’t think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches, why would he hesitate over you? He wouldn’t give it a second thought. Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God—ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don’t presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood, you’re out of there” (Romans
11:21-22 MSG).

Doesn’t this sound like John 15? This applies more directly to Gentiles since we are the grafted in branches.

The goal of course in either situation is to avoid becoming deadwood, or the Gardener will cut you off and throw you into the fire. The issue always comes back to openly displaying the character of God--the fruit of the Spirit.

I love this: “make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God.” Wow. Both/and. Salvation and judgment both rest with Him. He is in charge.

Lord, I don’t get anything that is going on with me these days. I pray for some answers at the doc today. In the meantime, I chose to focus on You and worship You for Your character—gentle kindness and ruthless severity. No matter what is going on, no matter how I feel, I don’t want to become deadwood. Make me a display case, a platform, so to speak, for Your character today. Save folks at CBCI. I name them to You right now. Amen.
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Kinda Sorta

Well, Tina and I finally did connect yesterday. It seemed rather strange because, as Tina puts on her voicemail, she is off on Tuesdays. Plus, the call came rather late in the afternoon, early evening, too late for me to race downtown to grab a new prescription the doctor recommended.

Anyway, she said that they THINK I have Graft Versus Host Disease. Think being the operative term. At the end of the call, I pressed her again, “So you guys think I have GVHD??”

She replied, “We still don’t really know, John.”

OH OK, so there it is—more practicing of medicine. AND, please don’t hear me berating her or making fun. They STILL don’t really know what the issue is, so they are just giving this diagnosis a try to see if my body responds.

Ok, a new med and increase the dose on three others. I pray they are right.

The beat goes on …

We tend to worship doctors in our day and time, but after all, they are just human, as we are. They don’t know everything. Things are still rather uncertain at times. I struggle with it in this situation, but it is what it is.

There are two things that are certain. Paul tells us in Romans: “From your point of view as you hear and embrace the good news of the Message, it looks like the Jews are God’s enemies. But looked at from the long-range perspective of God’s overall purpose, they remain God’s oldest friends. God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded” (Romans 11, MSG).

God’s gifts and God’s call are under “full warranty.” Don’t you love to hear that when you take your car in or take a broken gadget in to be fixed, and the repair man says, “Mr. Talbert, no worries. It is under full warranty. You owe nothing, but we will fix it and you can count on this.” Whoa. Love it. Don’t hear THAT as much as I would like, but those words are very comforting.

Especially when it comes to salvation.

Thus, instead of worrying about who is or who will be saved, I can rejoice in the fact that I am saved. Because the Lord did it and not me, I don’t have to worry about voiding the warranty. He created me. He saved me. He is the One who keeps me saved. Actually, when God graced me, I stepped into God’s plan of salvation for the ages.

When I got saved, as far as the Lord is concerned, I have always been saved and always be saved. I’m not saved until He saves me, but when He does, I have always been under full warranty.

I don’t understand all of this, but I’m glad salvation doesn’t even depend on me understanding. I just trust the warranty, written in blood red and signed by our High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us. Done. Finished. Irrevocable.

Lord, I continue to be frustrated since I am still sick all day, but thank You for Tina’s call. I appreciate Dr. Ali and Tina for continuing to try to figure out what is going. More than that, thanks for all of these dear readers and church family and friends who keep praying. Thanks for the full warranty. Amen.
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No News is GOOD News Or ...

Still nothing. Well, not exactly. I guess Tina did call about 4:00, but she did not leave a message. What is exasperating is that I can be looking at my phone all day and step away for a second and THAT is when she calls. I missed her. I became even more frustrated.

However, if things were serious (she has been known to do this), she would have called Marilyn. Why didn’t she? Who knows? The longer this goes, the more questions I have almost to the limit of sanity. Finally, I just have to turn them over to Jesus.

I mean, after all, what does pounding the inside of the shower do for you except give you sore hands the next day? This is just an example. Ahem.

I’m glad in this example that the person didn’t break glass or seriously injure that person’s hands so that this person would have more to deal with.

Of course, as soon as I hear anything, I will let you know. I bet they wait until our appointment on Thursday to let us know. If so, what does THAT mean? Why do this? There I go with questions again.

Oh, well, on with Romans. Here are the verses for today: “I want to lay all this out on the table as clearly as I can, friends. This is complicated. It would be easy to misinterpret what’s going on and arrogantly assume that you’re royalty and they’re just rabble, out on their ears for good. But that’s not it at all. This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary. Its effect is to open things up to all the outsiders so that we end up with a full house. Before it’s all over, there will be a complete Israel” (Romans 11, MSG).

In short, as the NASB puts it, “all Israel will be saved.” This precedes a quote. I will get to it tomorrow, but all of this begs the question: what does it mean that all Israel will be saved?

When will this happen? What does this involve? Why is it taking so long to get answers about what ails me? Oops. Not in the same category OR is it?

I wonder if we could add up all the questions all the believers had through all the years, how many thousands of miles it would take up? Those are just my questions. Ha.

Anyway, back to Romans. I am going to investigate this today. This statement certainly does NOT mean that the Lord has two plans of salvation—one for Jews and the other for Gentiles. I don’t know … but what I keep coming back to is that we could spend our whole lives on speculation while people—Gentiles here in Denver and abroad—are on their way to hell.

I’d rather leave the questions I have to the Lord and instead go with what I know: Jesus Christ was born, lived a perfect human life, died, was buried, rose again, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and is coming back again SOON. Thus, we should repent and believe this gospel AND call as many to it as possible. I’d rather be out in the field rather than sitting in some ivory tower of speculation.

I’m still going to study because it is the Word, but I am not going to stop or halt the other.

Lord, I do have so many questions. Someday, when I see You face to face, I know my questions won’t matter. This is not to say that our questions don’t matter, but things are urgent. We must stay at our main work. I plan to do that today, no matter what questions or answers I receive. Amen.
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Keeping Things Straight

After my little article about ministry yesterday, the Lord confirmed the many reasons why I should be deeply grateful because I have learned to pray from you guys. I could literally and physically tell you were praying. At one point in the morning, I declared, “Marilyn!”

She stopped and looked at me as if to say, “Oh, no, what is going on NOW?”

“I am feeling really well. REALLY WELL.” It was awesome to have a few hours to remember what that felt like before lunch, and I got sick again.

This confirmed one of the main reasons I want to feel well. All of you ARE praying and doing a great job of it. AND, Marilyn is pulling for me. I’d like to see her get relief from the worry of all of this as well. She continues to do a great job of being a caregiver. I thank the Lord for her every day.

Back to this ministry thing, all of you DO ask and are willing. I wish there were something to do LIKE, “Please come over with a baseball bat and hit me in the head multiple times”!?!?!

Anyway, I love the analogy that Paul creates in Romans 11. It is based on the famous Isaiah 5 metaphor of the vineyard and it is all about grafting. Right now (and this is something else for which I am deeply grateful), we have the opportunity as Gentiles (wild olive shoots) to be grafted into God’s vine and God’s vineyard. But we better not get the “big head.”

“Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you” (Romans
11:16-18 MSG).

We need to keep things straight: just because we are “in” right now, does NOT mean that this situation should last forever. We have an urgent opportunity to respond and an urgent opportunity to evangelize.

One sandwich shop to which Marilyn and I go frequently has a lot of South Asians who seem to go there for some reason. I do wonder about the population in Denver of people from India. This reminds me of my trip a few years ago and my desire, deep desire, to go back, and yet, South Asians need to be reached HERE and NOW. This is just one opportunity of many.

Back to the analogy: even though this illness tends to want to make me feel “self-important”—look at everything John is going through—it pales in significance to what others are dealing with—my mom, for example. AND, I need to remember that Jesus is the root, not me.

For from Him and to Him and through Him are ALL THINGS. Amen.

P. S. Baylor won and is in the Sweet Sixteen. Hooray!
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What to Do in Ministry When You Don't Know What to Do

How about THAT for a title today? Ha.

I felt strongly led of the Holy Spirit to write about this today. One of the “upsides” of this extended illness (if I can call it THAT) is what I have learned about ministering to others. First, I need to say that I have spent a lot of time confessing my sins and failures in this regard. So, remember, when I make comments, I am at the top of the list of people who need this.

Having said that, I do want to say that “doing nothing” is never an alternative. We like to excuse ourselves by saying, “Well, I don’t know what to do and I don’t want to bother him or her?” How can ministry ever be a bother?? This is from the devil and it is a cop-out.

In addition, most of the time, we (again, I am at the top of this list) do ministry for ourselves and not for the other person. We get something in our heads that WE would like to do and do it without any regard for what the other person needs. How about this great question? “What can I do for you right now?” ASK.

BUT, if you are going to ask the question, be ready for an answer you may not like personally. I always defaulted to what I THOUGHT I should do without any regard for the other person. This is NOT ministry. Let me say this again. THIS IS NOT MINISTRY. It is simply religious activity. It is intended to make ME feel better. “I did something,” rather than please God OR do something that actually helps another person.

How about this? Don’t get mad when the other person doesn’t respond at all or in the way you want them to respond. THEY ARE SICK. There are a lot of reasons out there. For the longest time, I simply have not felt like visits or phone calls, for several reasons. I don’t do a good job keeping up with texts. I’m trying, but I simply don’t have my phone at my side 24 hours a day. I don’t need any leashes right now. I’m trying to get better, and of necessity, I have had to become a lot more focused on that.

Plus, I haven’t done so well with emails. One reason is that I am buried. If you miss a couple of days in email, you are automatically backlogged. I have over 2500 messages in the queue. This is ridiculous, but some days, I just don’t feel like responding even to emails. For those of you who have experienced this first-hand, please forgive me. This is NOT personal.

Anyway, back to topic. I think a great question in addition to “What do you need?” is “How would you like to be communicated with?” I have to tell you that the church I served does a great job with LETTERS. Sadly, writing letters or notes is a lost art. The church needs to resurrect it. It is a great way to communicate. It is personal. It is tangible. It is very unobtrusive.

I learned of the necessity of letters from one of the greatest SBC preachers EVER—George W. Truett. I wrote a paper on him in the PhD. program at Southwestern. His congregation appreciated his notes almost more than his preaching ministry. He wrote thousands and thousands of letters in his long tenure as pastor. I know it was a different day and time, blah, blah, blah, but we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water, do we?

So, I have said what not to do, but here is the question: what does one do in ministry when one doesn’t know what to do? Are you ready? Drumroll, please.

PRAY

Somehow the devil has made us think things like, “Well, of course I am praying, but I want to do more or something else.” Of course, the enemy does everything He can from stopping us do the very thing HE HATES. Of course.

I am now learning why there are so many admonitions in scripture about persevering in prayer. After a while, when we have prayed for something or someone for a long time and God doesn’t answer in the way WE WANT (no answer IS AN ANSWER), we give up and quit.

I have learned that the moment I am tempted to quit is the time I need grace to redouble my efforts. Praying is the best thing we can do. It is NOT at the bottom of the list. It is at the top.

“You have not because you ask not” (James 4).

Father, I love everyone who is praying for us right now. Without prayer, Marilyn and I and my mom, all three of us, would be in an insane asylum right now. You are answering prayer daily. Help your church to prioritize prayer once again to the central place it deserves in the body.

“My house shall be called a ‘House of Prayer’ for all nations” (Mark 11). Amen.

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"A Walking Skeleton"

As I comment about myself in these next few sentences, please don’t think I am trying to tout myself as spiritual. Ha. I’m about as far from it as possible, truth be known.

But the frustration level is mounting with Marilyn and me. I called Tina at the clinic. When she called me back about noon, she said, “John, please take one of the meds four times and day instead of three and I talked to Dr. Ali. He has prescribed another medication. I called that into the pharmacy. It will be ready today.”

“Tina,” I interjected, “do you have the results of the endoscopy?”

“No, not yet.”

Huh???

I thought of this later, but I did get a call from Denver Endoscopy on Thursday. They wanted to check on me. Mary then said, “We sent the results to your doctor today. You should be hearing from him on Friday. If not, let us know.” So, I did call Tina back and left her this message. Still nothing as the day drew to a close.

What? There is no way in the “information age” that it takes two days and in this case over a weekend for results to get to a doctor across town. Crazy. Ridiculous. Now we have another weekend to deal with before the results get in “sometime next week.”

When Marilyn heard this news, she became even more angry. “This is ridiculous. Did you tell them how bad you are feeling? Did you tell them you are throwing up? Did you tell them you continue to lose weight and look like a walking skeleton?” Yep. Yep. Well no, not the walking skeleton part, although I wish I had used this terminology.

Marilyn is still mad; I’m just dull to the whole thing. For me, not spiritual, as I said, just beyond despair at this point.

But I did get up and did some stuff outside yesterday. The 80 degree-day here in Colorado was not wasted. I just could not do THAT.

Well, anyway, we just keep plugging, rejoicing that we are a part of “the Lord’s vine.” Romans emphasizes this (“they” refers to the Jewish nation): “The next question is, ‘Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?’ And the answer is a clear-cut No. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in. But the next thing you know, the Jews were starting to wonder if perhaps they had walked out on a good thing. Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!” (Romans
11:11-12 MSG)
One of the things that keeps me sane in all of this is, when I start to feel down, I just choose to thank God for all the “big” things I can think of.

I am so grateful to be a part of this “worldwide coming of the non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom” in two ways. First, this has allowed my family, friends, and me to come to the Lord. Second, this is more of an incentive than ever for me to share Jesus with as many Gentiles as possible while the opportunity still exists. Right?

Someday, the door will close and the Jewish nation will have another opportunity. We are now getting into the part of Romans 11 where I have a lot of questions. More later. But for right now …

Thank You, Jesus, from the bottom of my heart for allowing a Gentile dog like me entrance into Your kingdom. I confess. I’m beyond anger with this health thing. I pray it gets resolved soon. Help me to have more opportunities like yesterday afforded. I love You Trinity: Creator and Master-Mind, God the Father: Lamb of God, Jesus; and Indwelling and Praying on my behalf right now and always, Holy Spirit. Amen.
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One of the Best Ways to Get an Ulcer

Well, I don’t know any other way to tell this but to just be honest: Marilyn and I are fed up. This bowel issue added to the marathon coughing virus as Pam called it has lasted long enough. Marilyn urged me to call the clinic today and essentially “lay down the law:” we cannot go through another weekend like this. You have had time to look at the endoscopy. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE prescribe or do something to help me get over this.” This is where we are.

Please continue to pray that something could get resolved today. I can see it on her face. Marilyn is as weary as I am with this thing, even more. I don’t blame her. I think it is more difficult to watch someone else suffer as it is to go through something on your own.

I have refused to weigh myself through this, but I have to believe that I weigh less than ever.

Anyway, we will see what happens today.

As Paul continues to talk about the sin and rebellion of the people of Israel, he cites two “heavy weights” in Jewish history—Moses and David. This morning, I will cite Peterson’s very vivid and accurate translation below:

“David was upset about the same thing: ‘I hope they get sick eating self-serving meals, break a leg walking their self-serving ways. I hope they go blind staring in their mirrors, get ulcers from playing at god’” (Romans
11, MSG).

I know the clinic will never admit or tell me this, but I do believe that when we, even as believers, make the decision of “playing at god,” it wreaks havoc with one’s body. Sickness, broken bones, blindness, ulcers, and cancer are potential results. I’m not trying to argue at this late stage that I caused my own cancer, but no one will ever be able to convince me that stress certainly doesn’t help.

The people of Israel missed God by a thousand miles in their efforts to be what only One Person in the Universe can be—God. He designed us to be human. Of course, we can NEVER be God. Never. But why do we keep on trying?

Let’s go back to this bowel issue that I am dealing with. Yes, I am at the stage of anger where I want to get done with this thing, but I also know this: I will not be done with it UNLESS and UNTIL the Lord decides that it is time to be done. I can beat my head against a wall. I can slam my fist on a table. I can yell and scream, but I am NOT God and never will be.

It is indeed interesting and sadly tragic to me that if one sets out to miss God totally, all one has to do is to be involved in religion. Weird, huh? It would seem that pagans with no religion at all would be farthest from God. Nope. Religious people are because they are deluded in their thinking that just because they do good things and are not as bad as prostitutes and drug addicts and murderers and addicts that they will get a pass from God. On the contrary, religious sins are the worst of all. I know you can’t “grade” sin. Sin is sin, but religious sins are dangerous because they deceive people into believing that everything is all right.

When I ask someone about his/her Christianity and he/she talks about what he/she has done or family lineage (my grandfather was a Baptist preacher), then I have a pretty good idea that I am talking with a lost person. Sad. Very sad.

“Without faith it is hard to please God.” NOPE. “Without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God.”

Lord, as I continue to read these very challenging verses, You are using them to challenge me to make sure I am on the good side, the faith side. It is easy to point my finger at others. I have enough to do pointing at me.

All of that having been said, however, Lord, I ask that something could be resolved today. I lift up Marilyn. Thank You for everyone who continues to pray. I need them more than ever. I need You more than ever, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, One in Three. Amen.
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God Pursuing His Interest IN Me

It is weird. On one hand, I seem to be doing better. On the other hand, when it comes to sitting down to eat, I still have little to no appetite, but at least I didn’t throw up yesterday. I’m sure thankful for that. It really takes a lot out of me and when there isn’t a whole lot in there to begin with, it is more significant.

I hope to receive some kind of word today on what is going on …

In the meantime, I have an appointment to receive Pantamodine. This is a drug one inhales. Its goal is to get way down in the lungs, preventing pneumonia. A little late, wouldn’t you say? But, I guess they want to prevent further outbreaks. The last time I took it, it literally made me sicker. It is very nasty and leaves that sort of taste in my mouth and throat for a few hours. UGH. Oh, well, I just go to where they tell me and do what they say.

Speaking of which, I am going to call the hospital to confirm everything this morning, believe you me. I am fairly confident of where and when on this one since they confirmed it on Tuesday when I THOUGHT I had to be there, but I am leaving nothing to chance EVER AGAIN.

I am so intrigued with chapters 9, 10, and 11 in Romans. There is much here I don’t understand, but I really enjoy reading these chapters. I am savoring every bite (I can eat a huge meal when it comes to the Word. Ha!).

I love the contrast the apostle sets up in these verses: “And then what happened? Well, when Israel tried to be right with God on her own, pursuing her own self-interest, she didn’t succeed. The chosen ones of God were those who let God pursue his interest in them, and as a result received his stamp of legitimacy. The “self-interest Israel” became thick-skinned toward God” (Romans 11, MSG).

Isn’t it ironic and tragic that those who tried in their own flesh to please God through religion ultimately failed? Has there ever been a nation that tried harder than the Jews with their 613 subdivisions of the Jewish law?

If you think about it, religion is ultimately very selfish because it is based on what I do for God. And, the Pharisees, for example, made sure that everyone noticed their acts of religiosity. Jesus condemned them for taking the best seats at parties and praying long flowery prayers out on the street corner where everyone noticed.

Last night, during another long and mostly sleepless night, I turned on an app that Connor had recommended—oral readings of scripture. I “happened” to listen to the Sermon on the Mount. In that message, Jesus confirmed that our Father “who sees in secret” will reward kingdom people openly.

I would like to finish this life with the Lord pursuing His interests in me, unhindered. I still believe there is some meat on that bone (I’m not sure this expression applies to one’s life but I am using it in that regard).

Another weird thing: after listening to the Word, the Lord laid a sermon on my heart. When He does that, He usually wants me to preach it. It will be interesting to see how He works that out.

I remember He did that a lot when I was a kid, so I got my stuffed animals and put them in a circle around me, and I preached to them. I never had any objection. No one got mad and walked out. Ha. This is the first time I have shared this in any public forum. It does sound a little crazy …

Lord, thank You for these beautiful, warm days of late winter. Wow. Spectacular. I know that folks in other parts of the country are really suffering with a ton of snow. Protect them. Thanks for a good day. I pray that today, we would find out what has been going on with me. I love You, Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.
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Almost Blew It

We can laugh about it a little now but yesterday morning….

My appointment was at 10:00 AM with a 9:00 AM check-in time. So, Marilyn and I headed down to Presbyterian/St. Luke’s hospital. I went to the main registration desk to check in. The young woman had a quizzical look on her face, “Mr. Talbert, I’m sorry but we don’t have you down today.” Immediately, my heart sank, “Oh, no, not again!”

She directed us to the outpatient area where the procedure was supposed to be done. It was crowded. When it finally came time for me to get to the registration desk, that woman got the same expression on her face as that of the woman out front. “Mr. Talbert, we do not have you down for today. Let me check with the scheduler.” By then, I was almost frantic.

As I was calling the cancer clinic, my phone rang. The voice on the other end said, “Mr. Talbert, are you coming for your appointment?”

“Yes,” I blurted. “I am already here. What is the problem?”

There was a pause. “Well, sir, I am calling from the Denver Endoscopy Clinic in Lowery …” At that moment, my heart sank even further. I could tell that Marilyn was getting a bit panicked as well.

We jumped in the car and raced that way, using the map app on my phone. Both of us were afraid they would cancel me out and that I would have to reschedule. Neither one of us wanted THAT.

When we arrived, the woman at the front desk saw my panic, “No worries, John. We will get you in. Glad you made it safe and sound.”

In a few minutes, another woman at the registration desk called me into a side office to finish up some paper work. When she saw me, she stated, “John, do me a favor. Just give me a deep breath. Everything is fine.” Turns out she was a believer. She ministered to me. Or, let me re-phrase that—the Lord used her to minister to me.

I got the test done. They actually showed me a small picture of part of my upper intestine. It was very red and inflamed. The nurse added, “No wonder you are having eating problems. But we will send this to your doctor and he will be in touch by the end of the week.”

When Marilyn and I left, we were so relieved. We certainly did not want any more delays on figuring out what is wrong with me.

I threw up my lunch, and didn’t feel well for most of the rest of the day, but again, RELIEF took over.

I’m so glad the Lord takes care of idiots like me, but in the future, I will always call the day before. I know I said that the last time, and I didn’t do it, but this time …

I am confirmation of what Paul says in Romans: “God has been too long involved with Israel, has too much invested, to simply wash his hands of them. Do you remember that time Elijah was agonizing over this same Israel and cried out in prayer? God, they murdered your prophets, they trashed your altars; I’m the only one left and now they’re after me! And do you remember God’s answer? I still have seven thousand who haven’t quit, seven thousand who are loyal to the finish. It’s the same today. There’s a fiercely loyal minority still—not many, perhaps, but probably more than you think. They’re holding on, not because of what they think they’re going to get out of it, but because they’re convinced of God’s grace and purpose in choosing them. If they were only thinking of their own immediate self-interest, they would have left long ago” (Romans 11, MSG)

I am part of God’s family. He continues to take care of His kids, whether they are a Jewish remnant or Gentile grafted-in branches.

Lord, thanks for helping us yesterday and getting us over to the RIGHT clinic. “All the way My Savior leads me. What have I to ask beside? Shall I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my guide?” Amen.
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Endoscopy

Well, here is another test to take today, one that I have never had before. Ha. I wonder how many of these tests are left and whether or not I will end up taking them as well. I’d better be careful. I don’t think this is something to joke about or make fun of. Well, it is either that or …

Bottom line: I am glad to get this show on the road. Hopefully, the doctor will be able to discern what is going on so that I can be treated and start to get over this weird thing that has been going on with me for weeks now.

One of the major issues with most of these tests is the radical change in diet: with this one, I am not allowed to eat or drink anything from midnight on, except small sips of water with pills that I take. This sounds strange, but even though I don’t eat much these days, I still miss the little bit of food that I did eat and the snack I had. Missing out on meals usually gives me a headache. Hopefully that won’t happen today.

Well, anyway, thanks for your prayers and encouragement and support.

I came across one of my favorite quotes in Romans 10. “For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER BELIEVES IN H IM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED’”
(Romans
10:11-13 NASB).

I wanted to go ahead and cite the original reference in Isaiah: “Kings will be your guardians, And their princesses your nurses. They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth and lick the dust of your feet; and you will know that I am the LORD; those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame” (Isaiah
49:23 NASB).

I love these promises for the Babylonian exiles. One day, someday, the Lord will turn everything around and our prominent enemies will be bowing down to us, and we will then remember that no one who believers in Him will be put to shame. This is especially true in salvation. No one is outside the scope of the saving work of God in Christ administered to us by the Holy Spirit.

Lord, thank You for this test today. Thank You for the opportunity to visit with Brent, my neighbor yesterday. He is a wonderful brother and a big encouragement. Thank You that there is no enemy who will ever have the last word in our lives. You have NEVER disappointed me, Jesus, to this point, and Spirit of God, I don’t believe You will start now. Amen.
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Not Up There, Not Down There, But Near

Another day with weakness on display. I slept two hours yesterday morning; had some lunch; then I slept three hours yesterday afternoon. I can’t remember when I slept so much during the day. I know my body needed it. No problem there, but when it came time to sleep last night, I couldn’t do it. I think I finally fell asleep somewhere after 1:00 AM.

Oh well, it is what it is. Sleeplessness really used to bother me, but these days, I take it in stride and try just to relax and rest.

That said, I’m glad another long weekend is over and I am looking forward to the endoscopy tomorrow. I do hope they get a clue as to what is going on with me so that they can address it and I can START to feel better. We will see. We will continue to trust the Big Doctor.

Anyway, the passage today (one of my favorites; aren’t they all?) gives a final death blow to the whole idea of earning God’s favor through arduous action. It can’t get any harder than climbing up to meet Him OR descending to the lowest depths in search of Him.

“The earlier revelation was intended simply to get us ready for the Messiah, who then puts everything right for those who trust him to do it. Moses wrote that anyone who insists on using the law code to live right before God soon discovers it’s not so easy—every detail of life regulated by fine print! But trusting God to shape the right living in us is a different story—no precarious climb up to heaven to recruit the Messiah, no dangerous descent into hell to rescue the Messiah. So what exactly was Moses saying? The word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest. It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God— “Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: ‘God has set everything right between him and me!’” (Romans
10:4-10 MSG)

I have vivid memories of the Lord driving these truths home for me when I was at Baylor. I turned around and taught them to me my BT (Basic Training) in Kokernaut Hall at BU. This is what they called the dorm Bible studies through the Baptist Student Union at Baylor. I was a leader. My friend and roommate Carter helped me out. We had a lot of fun, as I always did with Carter. I actually made some really good friends out of that group.

This was a good message for college guys with all the energy in the world. Becoming a believer and pleasing God was NEVER a matter of Herculean effort. It was always a case of simply receiving Him by grace through faith. And He was there, closer than a brother; I am in Him, and He is in me. Praise God!

I learned that growing as a believer is based on learning and trusting what saves us and WHO keeps us saved in the first place—Jesus.

The question that is on my heart today is: what does it take to remind us of our utter inability to please God on our own AND God’s total ability to save us? I hope it doesn’t come to cancer or some extended illness. This is what it took for me. And I don’t intend to imply that God is mean. Exactly the opposite. He intensely desires that we learn to depend TOTALLY on Him.

Lord, I do pray that I learn out of all of this what You want me to learn. I pray that these long weeks of illness are not wasted. Amen.
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Three Tuxedo Shirts

Believe it or not, I did remember to “spring forward” last night. Marilyn and I even went to bed early to compensate for this. I wish I felt well, but still, the same issues persist. I will be so glad to get that endoscopy this week and hopefully get some answers as to why I feel terrible most of the time.

Anyway, Marilyn decided to clean out a large closet upstairs. I hope to do some cleaning out of my own one of these days … In the process of cleaning, she discovered some rather unique and important items. First, she found my mom’s wedding dress. She had never seen it before. Second, she found three tuxedo shirts, one of which had never been worn. The unworn shirt is marked with a band that surrounds it. It reads, “The Greenbriar Hotel.”

Interesting. This is a rather fancy resort hotel in West Virginia, a place my mom and dad often went for insurance conventions. Actually, it is a rather famous golf place as well (of course I would know this). Sam Snead was the head pro there for years, and even these days, the PGA tour makes a stop there. I have never been to West Virginia, but it appears to be a beautiful place. I hope to go there one of these days—not the hotel but the state.

Finding those shirts is a blast from the past and has encouraged me to think about him a lot these days. In the course of his “work” at these conventions, he often had to go to cocktail parties and wear very fancy clothes, including tuxedos. Even then, my mom and dad hated this lifestyle.

When my dad got saved, he was glad NEVER to go to another cocktail party. He was thankful to give up this lifestyle and the tuxedos and shirts that go with it. I guess my mom just kept these shirts as a counterpart to her wedding dress.

All of this is a reminder of the Lord saving my mom and dad in the mid-1960’s. I am horrified to think of where we would be today had the Lord not done this. Oh man!

Since I haven’t had the Lord’s Supper in a while (I miss it), this is the Lord’s way of helping me to “do this in remembrance of Him.”

I want to spend some time this morning thinking about and thanking Him for the salvation I enjoy in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

These verses in Romans 10 reinforce this: “Believe me, friends, all I want for Israel is what’s best for Israel: salvation, nothing less. I want it with all my heart and pray to God for it all the time. I readily admit that the Jews are impressively energetic regarding God—but they are doing everything exactly backward. They don’t seem to realize that this comprehensive setting-things-right that is salvation is God’s business, and a most flourishing business it is. Right across the street they set up their own salvation shops and noisily hawk their wares. After all these years of refusing to really deal with God on his terms, insisting instead on making their own deals, they have nothing to show for it”
(Romans
10:1-3 MSG).

Salvation is God’s business and a rather flourishing business it is. Hallelujah! I may be getting weaker and weaker but the old life, my lifestyle prior to getting saved, is a closed and boarded up non-salvation shop with cobwebs and broken windows—a closed business going nowhere.

Lord, I can’t begin to thank You for saving my dad and mom and sister and grandparents and me. Thank You for the thriving business of the Trinity in me and I in Him. The old is dead and gone—out of business—and behold everything is new! Amen.
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God Projects

One of our major faults when it comes to the application of the Word of God is the thinking that statements and references to Pharisees and Israel apply to someone else but us.

The Spirit convicted me as I read the words below:

“God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus. Isaiah had looked ahead and spoken the truth: If our powerful God had not provided us a legacy of living children, we would have ended up like ghost towns, like Sodom and Gomorrah. How can we sum this up? All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road” (Romans 9, MSG).

Some of the characteristics of Israel as Paul describes them are: people who talk about what God is doing but miss out on His activity AND who are consumed with their God projects to the point where they actually miss Him right in front of them. Doesn’t this sound like a lot of churches we know?

To me, this is the definition of “religion”—being consumed with our efforts to reach God instead of His finished work that saves us! Right?

This was not my choice. It was God’s, but I believe all this cancer stuff, transplant recovery, and now this extended illness has beaten the religion out of me. Strange way to put it, I know.

Let me explain. For the past several months, I haven’t been able to go to church except for a couple of times. I have not been involved in planning or executing church activities. It has been a difficult adjustment because they tend to be all-consuming. After a while, we forget the Lord (I’m speaking in generalities and of me primarily here) in favor of being absorbed in the next project. It is a subtle and dangerous trap.

But Paul focuses on the heart of our faith: not what we have done, but what He has done for us and in us. How much time do we meditate on that?

I have plenty of time for that now, because that is all I have energy to do, and in that sense, it is the best thing in the world for me.

I don’t want to be one of the folks who stands before the Lord someday listing all the church activities I have done as reasons for Him to “let me into heaven.”

“My faith is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand.” Amen.
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Nobodies into Somebodies

It seemed as if Courtney, one of Dr. Ali’s assistants, took extra time with us yesterday. One of her questions was, “John, how are YOU doing through all of this?” I interpreted her question as asking me how I was doing on an emotional level.

“Courtney, I am struggling with discouragement more than ever as I just continue to feel bad. I’m very weary of it. I just want to feel better.”

I could tell that she understood and sympathized with what I was saying. I needed someone to ask me that question. Please don’t take this as a knock to any of my readers, church family, or friends. If it is a knock against anyone, it is against me prior to my cancer diagnosis. I know how I responded to long-term illness. Not good. Shames me.

How could anyone understand this, though?

Still, yesterday, I needed someone who genuinely understands how I am feeling because they have either been there or know many people who have. I just don’t know anyone who has had a Bone Marrow Transplant, except two dear friends in Texas. And I lean on them a lot.

Most people in our world (again, I don’t blame them--this is how I responded to long-term illness prior to getting cancer—just seem to have a glazed over look) just don’t get it or really even want to get it.

But I could tell that Courtney did get it. She said, “Well, John, overall you are doing well, but I can see why you are frustrated. You have to know you are not alone. This is not unusual. Others are dealing with these same things. We are concerned about your weight. You have lost twenty pounds since you came home from the transplant, but please know we will work on things and try to get you feeling better very soon.”

Then, she told me about a support group for guys who are transplant patients. Cool. I’m going to find out about it and get in it, for sure.

Finally, she gave me more medication to take, hopefully to calm my stomach and help me. Later on in the day, Tina called to give me the appointment for the endoscopy next week.

When the day was done, even though I didn’t feel well, I was encouraged that the ball is rolling on this thing.

When I say that I only know a couple of people who have gone through this, I left out one Person, one significant person—the Lord Jesus Christ. He has “been there, done that” with everything we as humans go through. And HE CARES right now. Because we are saved, we have special privileges.

“If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn’t that all right? Either or both happens to Jews, but it also happens to the other people. Hosea put it well: I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!” they’re calling you “God’s living children” (Romans 9, MSG).

Continuing on in the pottery “aisle” of Romans 9—the Holy Spirit reminds us that there are no second-class citizens in God’s economy. We may be nobodies as far as the world is concerned, but in Jesus, we are always God’s somebodies. He is Someone who understands and loves us and pleads our cause to God.

Lord, thank You for all the help You gave us yesterday. Thank You for Courtney. Thank You for all praying brothers and sisters, whether they understand or not. They care. I’m grateful for this. I don’t blame them, but I am grateful You do and You are helping us. Amen.
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Possibility Number Two?

I am not feeling well this morning. I fully expect to throw up soon. I’m sorry to be so graphic.

After two days of making efforts to see if bowel stuff is the source of my problem, I honestly don’t think it is.

I have a regularly scheduled appointment today, and it is likely that they will do the endoscopy. Lindsey, thanks for telling me that this procedure is no big deal. Thanks for this encouragement.

Anyway, I fully anticipate that they will do this procedure or at least make an appointment for me to get it fully to figure out what is going on down there. Something has to give. I have little to no appetite. I am losing weight. I still feel “full” and nauseated some of the time (like right now). I am very weary of not feeling well. Certainly, I will let you know what happens.

I want to cite a passage I read this morning. I will make a couple of comments on it, but I will have to put off my full commentary (ha) until tomorrow.

“Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, ‘Why did you shape me like this?’ Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn’t that all right?” (Romans 9, MSG).

This passage looks back to Jeremiah 18—the prophet’s sermon from the potter’s house. It debunks the whole idea of “clay” talking back to the potter and asking, “Why did you make me like this?”

What a vivid picture AND rebuke!

I wish I had back all the time, especially over the past few months, where I have asked God, “Why?” Al rightfully calls this “speculation” and of course it is a waste of time.

Today, I have decided that whenever I feel that question coming on, instead of asking, I am going to acknowledge God’s sovereignty. How about that?

Lord, thank You for giving me another day. Give me the grace to get this straight and keep it straight: You are the potter. I am the clay. Thank You for Your sovereign plan and purpose. Take care of this stomach issue as You have taken care of everything before and since and forever. Amen.
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Not Hit-or-Miss

During these very difficult days for Marilyn and me, I have taken a lot of comfort from the very unusual story of the Father of the Faithful, Abraham. Many of us have read it so much and so often that perhaps it has lost for us some of its luster.

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit references His story at length three different places: Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews (of course, there are other brief references elsewhere). His influence on our Christian faith is profound. As a matter of fact, we Gentile believers are His ancestors.

Back to his story—amazing! The long 25-year process of the birth of the promised child Isaac along with Isaac and Rebekah’s story involving the very unusual birth of two twins in which their future characteristics were on display at the moment of birth (abortion proponents still don’t like to admit that the fetus is a real person).

Anyway, this unusual birth is what Paul picks up on as he discussed the sovereignty of God in Romans 9. Here are the verses that captured my attention this morning. Speaking of the birth of the twins, he asserts: “What God did in this case made it perfectly plain that his purpose is not a hit-or-miss thing dependent on what we do or don’t do, but a sure thing determined by his decision, flowing steadily from his initiative. God told Rebecca, ‘The firstborn of your twins will take second place.’ Later that was turned into a stark epigram: ‘I loved Jacob; I hated Esau’” (Romans
9:10-13 MSG).

To be honest, I have always struggled with this passage. Still do. “Jacob I loved; Esau I HATED”? What strong language! Why did the Lord hate Esau from the beginning? This doesn’t seem fair. Ha.

At this point, I remember what my pastor, Andy Hornbaker Sr., said years ago. “If we are going to talk about FAIRNESS, then God would hate all of us; all of us would go to hell and deserve it.”

I think we need to view the word “hate” in this context, not as the emotional term of 21
st century America but the covenant term of scripture.

Be that as it may, Paul is talking about the inexplicable plan and purpose of the Lord. He uses anything and anyone—even folks who reject Him, who seek repentance but never do it—for His praise and glory.

There is nothing hit-or-miss or haphazard about it. He is steadily working out that purpose in our lives.

The more Marilyn and I talk about things, the less we understand. We keep trying to figure out what is going on and what the Lord is up to. Of course, we never do FIGURE it out. The second WE THINK we do, we know we are wrong!

We just know that He is at work, according to His plan and purpose.

As of today, I am still on the medications the doctor prescribed without results. We should find out what the next steps will be today. But who knows?

Lord, what You are doing is a mystery, but the fact that You are working Your plan laid out for us from the foundation of the world is not. We trust You, Trinity. We refuse to keep trying to figure it out—waste of time. We love You, Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.
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Two Possibilities

Just a second … I have to throw up. It is as common as brushing my teeth.

The phone rang at 7:30 AM yesterday. It was Tina. Finally, we heard from her. She asked how I was doing. After I explained, she urged me to come to the clinic and be there at 8:00 AM. Marilyn and I scrambled a bit. We arrived at 8:15.

After taking my vitals, they put us in a waiting room. It wasn’t long before Ryan arrived. We talked at length with him about everything I was experiencing. When we were done, he pondered for a moment and then said, “Well, John. I think it is one of two possibilities. First, it could be bowel issues. We are really going to treat this first. If it is not THAT, then we are going to put a scope down your throat, down your esophagus, and down into your upper GI. We are looking for Graft versus Host Disease. The symptoms you describe fit that diagnosis as well. It could be either one.”

Thus, yesterday, I worked on possibility number one. Today, I am going to take more drastic measures, using a prescription medication. We will see how that goes. If it “works,” great. Number one is the problem. If not, they will move me on to number two. We will see and I will let you know.

Obviously, I am just so anxious and so ready to feel better. I can hardly wait. I have spent this whole year up to this point SICK.

On to the reading for this morning … but first, I would like to say that I think I am just going to stay in Romans and set aside the Solid Life Reading Plan for the time being. I will come back and finish it at some point. Here is what I have learned in my forty-five plus years of being in the Word daily: don’t ever allow yourself to get stuck in any plan. Move on! Being in the Word each day is the key.

Here is the passage the Spirit impressed on my heart today: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE M Y POWER IN YOU, AND THAT M Y NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans
9:16-18 NASB).

The Message Version calls pharaoh a “bit player” in the drama of salvation.

I am so glad this morning that the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose in His sovereign work of salvation does not depend on a weak, vomiting, sick guy or the strongest man on the face of the earth. It depends wholly and completely on the Lord.

This may sound weird, but every time I throw up, I assert: “the Lord is working out His plan right now” and I thank Him that I, a bit player on the good side because he saved me, am a part of that plan even in my weakest state.

I am as weak now as I have ever been. Yesterday, as they weighed me, the number was 142 pounds—my lowest figure yet. I have lost ten pounds in two weeks. They would be very concerned if not for the CT scan I took recently that showed I am cancer free.

Beyond that, I am an object of the mercy of God. Without Him, who knows where I would be?

Lord, this is hard, but You said, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus for you.” So, I thank You for nausea and vomiting and mercy and grace. I have nothing to offer except weakness. I’m grateful to be a bit player in the drama of salvation. You use everyone and everything to move us along in Your Grand Plan. Awesome. Amen.
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Headache and Nausea Times Two

I woke up this morning with a terrible headache and nausea. I just got through throwing up—my meal last night and breakfast this morning. Now, I feel a lot better. I’m going to try to eat something a little later.

I’m at the point with this where, if I throw up, I just shrug my shoulders and go on. Whatever.

In spite of the way I felt this morning, my more serious concern is Marilyn. She was sick all day yesterday with a headache and nausea. We are thinking that it might be a reaction to some new medication she is taking. I hope this is the case, and it is not the flu. We will see as the day goes on.

I wasn’t feeling that great earlier in the day yesterday, but in the afternoon, I went to see my mom in Sunrise at Orchard. She seemed to be okay, but when she is with me, her overriding concern is: when are you going to come home? And, when she says “home,” I honestly think she is referring to the nursing home. So, I have to explain to her about my recovery and my recent illness. It upsets her to hear these things. She doesn’t seem very keen on talking about herself at all when she is with me.

However, when Marilyn visits her, the key question is: when am I going to get to go home? Thus, Marilyn has to explain what happened to her—her stroke—and why she is there—she is recovering from her stroke. My mom talks a lot about herself when she is with Marilyn. But the bottom line is that she doesn’t like it there and wants to come home.

This scenario is very difficult for both of us to handle. We can’t handle it.

All of this—my mom’s situation, this marathon virus, and now Marilyn’s illness—is almost more than we can take. Almost.

But the Lord knows what He is doing and what He is allowing. Our focus each day is just plugging along as we continue to trust Him, read His Word, and pray.

Notice this statement from Romans 9: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Romans
9:6 NASB).

Paul is talking about his beloved nation of Israel and the fact of their rejection of the Messiah as well as his heartbreak over the whole thing.

But the first part of the verse is significant: no matter what happens that seems to contradict it, the one thing is: the Word of God has not nor will it ever FAIL.

Lord, the only thing we have right now is YOU and YOUR UNFAILING WORD. We count on both with full confidence, nothing held back. All or nothing. Today and forever. No matter what happens. You don’t change. We count on Your promises more than ever before. Amen.
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Incomplete

In my special reading through Romans 8, I have arrived at the final verses—the epitome of Paul’s argument of who we are in Christ.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans
8:35-39 NASB).

There are two lists in the passage above. As I was reading the first list in verse 35, the Holy Spirit gave me a thought: “This list is incomplete.” Now, maybe this fact is self- evident. Not to me. I believe it is a list of Paul’s personal experiences—stuff he actually went through. You don’t have to go too far to confirm this. Look at Acts and 2 Corinthians 11.

Now, even at that point, this is list in Romans 8 is incomplete. The Apostle simply could not list absolutely everything. Space and time prohibit it. However, just because it is not on the list, does it mean that there are some situations out there in which we could be separated from the love of God?

No way!

But this leads me to my point. Because this list is incomplete, I can add stuff from my own life. I can actually look back over the years and confirm what Paul is saying here: death of a friend, death of grandparents, death of family, death of my dad, entrance exams, oral exams, starting in a church for the first time, the first deacon’s meeting, et cetera.

I could add A LOT to this list, including of course cancer and transplants. Up to this point, my testimony is: so far so good. Nothing has separated me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And therefore, I can be confident that nothing ever will separate me from His love.

This is where Paul goes in the second list. THIS list encompasses time and space and eternity and is very broad, very all-inclusive. Praise God!

If I know this, deep in my heart, I can go through anything, if I am convinced and convicted that He loves me. Satan likes to twist this simple truth. He likes to say things like, “How can a loving God allow you to go through this? He is NOT loving? He is mad at you?” Drivel like that comes from the gates of hell.

Lord, thank You again for cancer and transplants and marathon illnesses. None are easy, but thank you that IN these circumstances, You demonstrate Your love over and over and over. My story adds more to Paul’s first list and confirms the second. Praise be to the Father, Dr. Jesus, and Paracletos. Amen.
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Toughest Day to this Point

After lunch, I just seemed to feel worse and worse, to the point where I called the clinic and left a message with Tina. When we didn’t hear from here after a few hours, Marilyn called her with a more impassioned plea. Still nothing. This is not like her. We don’t know what is going on, but we weren’t too sympathetic yesterday.

Finally, in the “after-hours” time, I called the general number for CBCI and asked if I could speak with the doctor on call. It wasn’t long before Dr. T called me back. I recognized him. He had been the resident physician in the hospital for my two chemo treatments before the transplant in May of last year.

I tried to explain to him how lousy I was feeling. We were even open to going to the ER, but instead, he encouraged me to take the nausea med I had (I was already doing this) “around the clock.” He recommended some over-the-counter stuff. He said that if I felt worse to call and they would get me in the ER at the hospital. So, we will see.

This morning, I seem to be feeling a little better. We will see as the day goes on.

I would be lying to all of you if I said that this recent development was not discouraging to me. I’m battling the mental side of this, more than ever. It doesn’t help that this weekend here in Denver promises to be unseasonably warm. I had plans to get out in it extensively. We will see how that works out.

In the meantime, I am left with prayer and the Word—two great weapons in this battle. I couldn’t be in a more triumphant chapter in the Word. Here are my verses for today: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans
8:31-34 NASB).

I have been questioning the Lord a lot more lately. I am just being honest. This passage, however, this concluding passage in Romans 8, gives the answer in no uncertain terms.

No matter what happens to us, God is for us. He is on my side, and no matter what happens, this does not change. Praise His name!

I think of believers all over the world in a lot worse shape than I am, standing before magistrates and judges. Many are condemned to die or to rot in some dank, dark, and musty prison cell. This is going on all over the world, as I am sure you know. We never hear about the largest group of people in the world—Christians—who are suffering and dying.

Romans 8 reminds us that no matter how any human court judges us, once we are saved, the Lord NEVER does because we have the best advocate EVER—Jesus Christ the righteous who pleads our cause perpetually before the Father.

Lord, I am struggling more than ever physically and mentally. There is no way I can ever begin to believe that somehow You have turned away from me. No way! You are at the Lord’s side, 24/7, pleading my cause to the Father. This is going on regardless of what is happening with me, be it sickness or health. I pray for the persecuted church. All those folks in prison right now. O Righteous Judge, deliver them soon. Amen.
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Predestined to Look Like Jesus

So, I did do a little better yesterday on the stomach front, but I still have issues. Whenever I try to eat a little more, it causes a lot of discomfort and nausea. This is weird stuff.

On my last appointment, Ryan explained that when we eat less over a period of time, our stomach contracts a bit to accommodate less food intake. He counseled me to keep on eating. So, I find that I am eating less per meal but more times per day. I’m hopeful this will get me over a hump.

As Marilyn said, “John, through this, you have to learn to take responsibility for your own health.” She is right. This is why I am trying things. As a general rule, I still do not feel well a good part of each day.

Anyway, continuing with Romans 8—yesterday, I did not comment on the last verse of the paragraph I cited. So, I will include it today and add two more from the reading. I’m also going to cite verses 29 and 30 from the NASB.

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun” (Romans
8:26-30 MSG).

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans
8:29-30 NASB).

With the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives—this is a crucial component of the famous promise in verse 28—all the details of our lives work together for good. Even stomach issues. Even nausea and vomiting. Even cancer and transplants and hospitals and doctors and nurses…. You get the idea. EVERYTHING.

Why is this so? Well, for believers, God has a goal for us—that we would be conformed to the image of God. Here’s the glorious thing: in God’s eyes, this has already happened! Not only that—we are called, justified, and already glorified. This means that no matter what happens in our lives, in salvation, the Lord uses it for our good and His glory.

There is much dispute about “predestination.” As far as I am concerned, however, this passage answers it. Predestination is never used in reference to lost folks. It is always used in the sphere of the Christian life.

Once we get saved, we always have been saved. Once justified, we are already glorified. We are predestined to be conformed to His image. This will happen. It already has.

Wow, my mind is blown this morning. I’m so glad that the Lord saved me and the Lord keeps me saved. There is nothing I can do to lose my salvation because it was a work of God from the beginning and NOTHING can stop His plan moving forward.

Wow!

Lord, I am overwhelmed at Your plan and purpose for our lives, both of which can never be thwarted EVER. I confess that the various phases of this virus tend to pull me down or more accurately, I LET them. Help me through this most recent issue. I pray for a dear friend who is in the hospital this morning. I lift her up. Thanks again Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Our Presence with the Lord

So, here is the deal with this virus the past few days. The respiratory stuff is gone, for the most part. What I am dealing with now is stomach stuff. I don’t want to go into detail, but it involves a lack of appetite and nausea (I threw up again yesterday) and fatigue at a level I have never experienced before. Last night, I was so exhausted that I could barely put one foot in front of the other.

I do hope that this is the last stage of this marathon. I am SO ready to feel better, especially as we are looking forward to a weekend that promises to be unseasonably warm.

On to the passage for today as I continue in Romans 8. Yesterday, Paul talked about waiting on God as the essence of the life of the believer. Even though a physical baby’s mind is not cognizant of what is going on in the womb (I am no biologist or expert at this point for sure), that little life is “waiting” to come out.

Likewise, as believers, our womb life here on earth involves the eager expectation of the future, no matter what happens now. We can expect Jesus to return at an unknown time (maybe even today) or, if he tarries, we can look forward to the continuation of eternity with Him forever in heaven.

This sounds fairly easy to do, right? Nope. This is where Romans picks up the statement of truth.

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” (Romans
8:26-28 MSG).

Our biggest resource for the womb life here is the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. The Word reminds us that the Spirit is right alongside of us, helping all the way. This statement reminds me of Jesus’ teaching in John about the “paracletos”—literally, “one called alongside to HELP.” The Spirit who indwells us is called to HELP.

But what does this help involve? Many things for sure but this passage reminds us that the Spirit helps us in prayer simply because, when we are going through tough times, we simply don’t know WHAT to pray.

This is where the Holy Spirit comes in: He prays for us. He takes our unintelligible groans (this is NO reference to a prayer language) and translates them before Almighty God. He prays through us and for us, knowing full well our current “pregnant” position.

Here is the phrase that captured my attention: He keeps us “present” before God.

The truth is: we are always in the presence of God. Right? He is everywhere at all times. So, His presence is not the issue. OUR presence before Him is.

I get so irritated when I talk to someone who is not present in the conversation. You can tell he/she is distracted and not really listening.

Not with the Lord. Because the Spirit is helping us and Jesus is always interceding on our behalf at the right hand of God, God the Father is always present and keeps me “present” in the conversation with Him. Praise God!

Lord, I know You hear my cries and the cries of others. Jesus, thank You for everything You did in Your death, burial, resurrection, and ascension on our behalf so that the Father is always there. Keep me PRESENT in our conversation. I am present right now … No Amens today. The conversation continues.
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Enlarged in the Waiting

As I continue to read Romans 8, I can’t help but thank the Lord for a true picture of what life here on earth is all about, how short and fleeting it is.

“All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy” (Romans
8:22-25 MSG).

I believe that Peterson’s translation brings out this wonderful comparison of our lives here to that of a pregnant woman. The life inside of her is a real life. That fetus grows by the day until it is time for him/her to be born. When that day occurs, it is only the beginning of a new life outside the womb.

As Christians, our lives here on earth are “womb” lives. The only contrast in the analogy is that we don’t know the exact day or hour when we will be “born,” in other words, when we will die to be with Him or He will return to take us home with Him, either way …

Paul reminds us that this waiting is no negative. It does not diminish us in any way. Instead, like a pregnant mom, we are “enlarged” in the waiting.

This is such an encouragement for us all but especially those of us dealing with long term illness. These passing days are not wasted. They have purpose. Circumstances here on earth, especially illness and disease, have direction. As believers, we are all moving toward the goal: the redemption of our bodies and continued eternal life in Christ and on into eternity.

This is very difficult to keep in mind because “stuff” that is going on here seems so prominent, but it is only womb life. When the baby is born, he/she does not remember what it was like to be in the womb nine months. All of those days are gone. What is significant is the baby that is born and the start of human life.

I have been rambling for a bit here …

But I am just so thankful that this human life is so short and fleeting compared to what is ahead for us. I need to keep my focus riveted on who He is and who I am in Him.

Lord, I confess that it seems to be easier and easier to focus on me—how I am feeling and what is happening in the here and now, and to get buried in all of that. It is just so all-consuming or seems that way. Certainly important, it dwarfs in significance compared to what You have in store for all of us. The Spirit has shown us some of this now but our minds can’t conceive of all the rest. Thank You for hope and salvation in the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.
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