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The Bible in 90 Days--Day 90

Day 90: Revelation 2-3 and More Reflections

Maybe it is just because the church I serve is so heavily on my mind—I asked the Lord this morning to direct me to the passage he wanted me to read this morning on Day 90.

I felt strongly impressed to go back to the messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor.

A few days ago, Betty had mentioned a sermon she heard Jack Graham preach. Jack is pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas—a mega-church. As many of you have probably gathered as you read this blog, I have mixed emotions about mega-churches. I won’t get into all of that right here …

But I have a world of respect for Jack Graham, his character, and his preaching.

Back to the sermon, I called the church to order it. As it turns out, it is one of seven messages on Revelation 2 to 3. So, I ordered the whole series. I am looking forward to listening to all the sermons—for many reasons. The main one is—I need some input in my life right now.

Back to the Business Meeting the other night—I am not going to get into any particulars. It would simply not be appropriate, but as we were discussing things, what kept coming back to my mind was a strong impression from the Lord. I want to be clear. I’m going to put this impression in quotes but it is not audible voice from God. But it was very strong. “John, someone has to be concerned about the church AS A WHOLE and there are some folks in here who do, but the main person who needs to have that perspective is YOU.”

It was once again one of those times where it felt as if the Lord backed me in a corner with his finger in my face—YOU! “No one is more important than the church. NO ONE, including and especially you!”

Those impressions from the Lord may at first appear to be contradictory. But I don’t believe so. They are complimentary. It is so easy to for me and everyone else to focus on our feelings, impressions, suspicions, et cetera. I guess I just hope and pray that the crossroads where we are right now will first and foremost drive us to the Lord, to get on our knees, to seek his face earnestly, and pray about what each of us can do.

We will see. The ultimate solution is God, as we allow Him to work. Oh, Lord, I pray that we would just allow you to be yourself in our midst.

Well, on Day 90, I would like to cite some passages in Revelation 2 and 3 this morning and make a few comments on them.

"Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard” (Revelation 2:7, MSG). Someday, we are going to get share in the Conqueror’s dinner, as things come full circle. Adam and Eve “jumped the gun,” so to speak. They just couldn’t wait. Someday, the Lord is going to serve us a banquet of “Tree-of-Life” fruit.

"Fear nothing in the things you’re about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won’t last forever. Don’t quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you” (Revelation 2:10, MSG). Unfortunately, I don’t see things getting any easier from the two sources of opposition: outside persecution and inside division. Inside division makes facing outside persecution much more difficult. That’s why Satan loves it so much. We just play right into his hands.

“Then every church will know that appearances don’t impress me. I x-ray every motive and make sure you get what’s coming to you" (Revelation 2:23, MSG). In the context, the Lord is talking about “Jezebel” and all her cronies. I believe this is a moniker for some type of false teacher or teaching or influence that has seeped into the church, but we don’t pull the wool over God’s eyes. He has “x-ray” vision. This is scary. And it should sober us up.

A message to the church at Sardis: “I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you’re dead, stone-dead" (Revelation 3:1, MSG). Is it possible for a church to be dead and just not know it? I mean, isn’t this what God is saying—there is a lot of “work” going on and a reputation for vigor and zest? A human corpse does not move; a church corpse can.

One more: "And watch as I take those who call themselves true believers but are nothing of the kind, pretenders whose true membership is in the club of Satan—watch as I strip off their pretensions and they’re forced to acknowledge it’s you that I’ve loved” (Revelation 3:9, MSG). The church in Philly (the Asia Minor city; not the Pennsylvania town) was full of pretenders. God promises to expose these folks and “bust” them.

Last night, my mom and sis and I were talking about the whole is of “unregenerate church members.” I got this term from a blog I read recently—that of Thom Rainer, the president of Lifeway. Marilyn asked, “Why would lost people want to join a church?” “Are you kidding?” And I went back to an answer Bob gave me the other day—play and power. They want to be entertained. Or, they want to have power in the church.

Oh, Lord, thank you again for this challenge. I pray for tomorrow as we close it out with testimonies and a sermon from Revelation and the Lord’s Supper. I can hardly wait to start another reading plan—maybe read the Bible in a month. Ha. I might not start THAT ONE right away. Revive us, Lord. Amen.
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The Bible in 90 Days: Day 89

Day 89: Reflections on “The Bible in 90 Days”

I’m going to try to explain where I am right now. Think of the last book that you read, and how you felt when you finished.

Think about the last GREAT meal you had and how you felt when you pushed away from the table.

There is a word to describe both. I would use the word “savor.”

I’m still not over this reading of God’s Word. I’m not ready to move on quite yet, but I will say that it was a little awkward to sit here this morning and think, “What am I going to do?” This is the first morning in three months that I have not read multiple chapters in the Bible.

Looking back over these three months, I can’t believe all that occurred in this time period.


    Now, as I list all of that, honestly, my initial feeling is that I am ready for a vacation, and I am going to take one. Ha.

    But, I am not sure that there has ever been a busier time with more on my plate than any other time in my whole life.

    And all of that was/is going on during “The Bible in 90 Days.” And I could not be more grateful to God, and know I would not have made it through any of those eleven challenges without a daily helping of MEAT from the Word. Not just a nibble, not a bag of potato chips or a candy bar, but an 8-ounce steak each day.

    I am reminded of a famous statement that Martin Luther the reformer was purported to have said, “I have so much to do today that I am going to spend three hours in prayer in order to get it all done” (“Too Busy NOT to Pray,”
    www.christianitytoday.com, accessed May 30, 2014).

    Who am I? But I would expand his statement to say, “I am going to spend three hours in prayer and in the Word.”

    Before I started this challenge of “The Bible in 90 Days,” I really wondered how I was going to read that many chapters each day and how long it would take, but as it progressed, I couldn’t imagine how I could live without it. I just got up a little earlier, especially on the Vision Trip to India. I relished my time with Jesus each day, as I listened to Muslim prayers each morning in the background. It was my way of defying that idol worship in the stillness and quietness of the early morning as someone sang prayers to a false god over a loud speaker. It was creepy.

    By the way—I would hope that would NEVER happen in the United States of America. Too many people would complain about the noise. I hope they would … I guess if people would tolerate it here then I would buy some huge speakers and blast Christian music out at 4:30 AM each day. Yeah, right!

    This morning, I went back to the final chapter of Revelation. What an amazing conclusion to the canon! Genesis 1 is a perfect beginning. Revelation 22 is a perfect ending. Here is a key portion:

    "The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:17-22, GNT)

    The last chapter contains an invitation to come to Jesus, a warning about adding to (or taking away) from the words of this book (a statement that applies to the canon as a whole), and last but not least, a promise of the imminent return of our Husband, Jesus. How imminently appropriate each element is!

    Lord, again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your Word. I’m still smacking my lips. I can’t believe how awesome and majestic your Bible is. Thank you for allowing me this level of nutrition in the busiest three months of my entire life.

    Oh, and one more thing—the book is done with one day to spare. Praise God! Amen.

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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 88

    Day 88: Revelation 18:1 to 22:21 and Final Chapters and the Final Day—Hard to Believe!

    Last night, we had a tough business meeting as our church is facing some difficult challenges … I don’t want to get into detail at this point. For those of you who are reading this, please pray for First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn.

    I didn’t sleep very much if at all last night, and this time, it had nothing to do with cancer.

    The situation our church is in was heavily on my mind as I started reading the final five chapters of the Bible.

    However, as I began, it dawned on me: the believers to whom this apocalypse was directed were in the same boat or worse!

    Yesterday, as I read the initial chapters of the book of Revelation in which the seven churches were addressed, it is easy to see that these congregations faced overwhelming challenges from a culture antagonistic to Christianity and forces from within churches that threaten to causes its demise.

    Does this sound familiar?

    A straightforward reading of this book (we make things unduly complicated, especially when it comes to “prophecy”) shows that from chapter four on, God addresses sin and evil through his unfolding judgment—the seals, the trumpets and the bowls. I believe that these descriptions give different perspectives of the same time period, and especially “the end of the end.” Right now, I believe, since the ascension, we are living in the last days, or the “beginning of the end.”

    These judgments continue through chapter 16, after which, in the “end of the end,” God pronounces and executes judgment on the sources of evil—the world (exemplified in the Great Babylon), the devil (actually an evil trinity of the beast, the false prophet, and the dragon), and the flesh (unbelievers and the lake of fire).

    Then, Jesus comes back and sets up the new heaven and the new earth—the New Jerusalem. And we live with him forever in heaven. I was talking about some of this with one of our seniors about this Sunday. We had an excellent discussion.

    But back to my personal eschatology—here is what I believe, and this gets confirmed every time I read the book of Revelation: things will get worse and worse for all of us (I don’t believe that the scriptures teach some sort of “left behind” rapture—makes good fiction) and then Jesus returns and that’s it.

    I could be wrong, wouldn’t be the first time or the last! Ha. I do know one thing: we will find out someday and all of us, even the so-called “experts,” will be surprised.

    All of this, however, is secondary to the main purpose of Revelation and this comes out in the final chapter. I believe that purpose is twofold:

    First, this book is all about worship. We must continue to worship Jesus, no matter what. "But he said to me, ‘Don't do it! I am a servant together with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all those who obey the words in this book.
    Worship God!’” (Revelation 22:9 GNT, emphasis mine)

    Second, this is a plea for urgency and perspective. We get so bogged down in all our constructs of the way things are going to unfold in the future. The truth is—no one knows—not even Jesus! Thus, our main focus needs to be on this imminent fact:
    Jesus is coming back soon, “and very soon.” We must be ready and get busy!

    "“Listen!” says Jesus. “I am coming soon! I will bring my rewards with me, to give to each one according to what he has done. I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” He who gives his testimony to all this says, “Yes indeed! I am coming soon!” So be it. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:12-13, 20, GNT)
    All I can say is, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon!”

    In the meantime, Lord, we are crying out to you for help, not because we are worried about any outcomes. “We read the back of the book and we win.” But I pray for genuine believers to step up to the plate in these difficult days and be counted! Amen.

    P. S. I was going to share some of my impressions as “The Bible in 90 Days” comes to a close today. Hard to believe. It ends on day 88 because the challenge gives two grace days. I’m done with the reading, but I am not done quite yet. More comments the overall experience tomorrow.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 87

    Day 87: Jude 1 to Revelation 17:18 and Impending Doom

    Thank you for praying for me yesterday. I’m feeling better for the most part, but still dealing with some “issues” from my treatment. I’m going back to the cancer doctor this morning. My sense is that this 28-day period of treatment is over.

    But I have no idea what is in the immediate future. I don’t know if I will get a break at this point (one of Dr. Jotte’s assistants used that word, “break,” last week as she was asking me about treatment) or not. Who knows?

    I just show up and do what they tell me. Ha.

    I do remember that, after the first month, I will not have to go in each week for a check-up and EKG as I have been doing for this month.

    My port has been bothering me a bit. The doctor fears that it could be infected. I have no idea what this means as far as addressing the infection is concerned. Again, I will talk with them about it today.

    None of what I have mentioned is a major deal.

    By the way, I got an email from my roommate in college—Carter. I had just sent him a message asking him to give me an update. He wrote back. One bit of sad news is that his oldest son, Ryan, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He had an operation a few days ago. He is waiting for a scan in the next few days.

    This is a young man—late twenties, I believe—with a wife and three kids. My heart goes out to him. Please pray for him. I replied to Carter’s email, writing something like this, “It breaks my heart, hearing about a young man with cancer. This disease is for old geezers like me.”

    Anyway, I love the encouragements of the last two books of the Bible. Jude gives warnings about false teachers in the last days. He uses graphic language and Old Testament imagery that is very vivid, but overall, this little book is rather bleak.

    Toward the end of his letter, we read these words: "But you, my friends, keep on building yourselves up on your most sacred faith. Pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and keep yourselves in the love of God, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy to give you eternal life" (Jude 1:20, 21 GNT).

    I will have more comments to make about the book of Revelation, but one thing that I noticed in the reading for today are the editorial comments (for lack of a better term) that spring up here and there in this majesty book. Let me give you an example:

    "This calls for endurance on the part of God's people, those who obey God's commandments and are faithful to Jesus" (Revelation 14:12, GNT).
    Everything in this book is written as an encouragement for the people of God who are facing persecution and the intensification of evil in the final days.
    So, we face false teachers in the church and persecution from without—the perennial double whammy.
    On the first topic, false teachers, I was visiting with a pastor friend yesterday. He made a cogent comment: “John, what gets me is that in just about every other profession, you have to go to school or be recognized in your field to earn a title; but just about anyone can confer on himself the title of “pastor,” and the community is supposed to recognize it.”
    There are so many charlatans out there.
    I get an email from a very large church in our community and the “new” pastor. Who is this guy? He is the son of the former pastor and “founder” (that term really bothers me when I hear it in conjunction with a local church) of the church. As far as I can tell, the only qualification this man had was his dad.
    Lord, as I have said before, You are turning up the heat on the stove.
    Christianettes wanting sermonettes in churchettes with pastorettes are not going to make it.
    I lift up Ryan today, Lord. Heal him and encourage his family. Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 86

    Day 86: James 3:13 to 3 John 14 and Ominous Tones

    First of all, one of the great things about corporate worship each week is the “takeaway.” I find that, during the week, things come back to my mind and heart.

    About the woman that Jeremy mentioned Sunday, Marilyn found a web article detailing her story. Please look at it but more than that, pray for her today.
    http://mobile.wnd.com/2014/05/u-s-leaves-pregnant-woman-to-hang/

    In addition, Jim sang a song that has been on my mind ever since—“The Touch of the Master’s Hand.” It is one of my all-time favorites. I haven’t heard it in several years … it has made an impact on me. I couldn’t help but think, as I stood up to preach Sunday, that I was looking at a roomful of “violins.” And I am one myself.

    On to the reading for today—I am actually getting a little sad that we are nearing the end of “The Bible in 90 Days.” I was talking with Jim about this the other day. I may take a bit of a break—going back to my former method of reading for a little while, but I am going to find a new plan to get on ASAP. Maybe I can find one that allows me to read the Bible in six months or a year. I know they are out there. We will see.

    One of the huge benefits of “The Bible in 90 Days” is that I am seeing the genius of the canon as never before. Why is it that the so-called “General Epistles” are in the position they are in? Why are Paul’s letters first? The order of the books of the Bible is very intentional.

    Having finished the Pauline epistles and starting with Hebrews, there is more of an emphasis on suffering, the return of Jesus, and warnings against false teachers.

    Paul’s epistles focus on doctrine and how that doctrine relates to relationships in the body of Christ. But the emphasis seems to shift a bit in these later letters.

    In all the years I have studied scripture, I’ve never noticed these broad strokes before.

    Of course, I could site a number of passages for today from the reading, but I will only pick a couple.

    "But you, my friends, already know this. Be on your guard, then, so that you will not be led away by the errors of lawless people and fall from your safe position. But continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory, now and forever! Amen" (2 Peter 3:17, 18 GNT). This final couple of verses in 2 Peter pulls together all of the major themes in the General Epistles that I mentioned above.

    These verses impacted me as well, "My children, the end is near! You were told that the Enemy of Christ would come; and now many enemies of Christ have already appeared, and so we know that the end is near. These people really did not belong to our fellowship, and that is why they left us; if they had belonged to our fellowship, they would have stayed with us. But they left so that it might be clear that none of them really belonged to us" (1 John 2:18, 19 GNT). The phenomenon of people leaving churches (again, not everyone) is not just a characteristic of the 21
    st Century church in America, but it is part and parcel of what happens in the last days. The truth is that some of those folks leave because they were never really a part of the church in the first place. Very sobering.

    Lord, again, I thank you for the genius of your Word. Thank you for the challenge and encouragement you have given me from worship Sunday and from the reading. I lift up my dear sister in Jesus, Miriam, today. Rescue her. Lord, we beseech you. Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 85

    Day 85: Hebrews 1:1 to James 3:18 and a Different Take

    Yesterday, after Jeremy gave the announcements, he stood up to say one more thing. I am paraphrasing here. “I am a vet and saw a lot in my years of service. We always say that soldiers died so that we can have the freedom to worship and to share the gospel, but we don’t. There is nothing stopping us, but we don’t do it. Believers in other countries, who don’t have the freedom we have, are much more inclined to share.” Then, he mentioned a young mother in Sudan who faces death because of her Christian beliefs.

    It was very powerful, especially for a VET. A sober reminder and challenge to us all.

    It led right into my sermon. I believe that a mark of maturity (or not) is our availability to share, and it is easier said than done.

    Yesterday morning, as I arrive at church, I noticed that a man was painting the trim on a house in the cul-de-sac immediately adjacent to the church. He stopped for a moment and waved as I got out of my truck. Humm.

    For some reason, I had to come out to my truck again a little later in the morning, and it was one of those times that the Holy Spirit said, “Go talk to that man and do it now.” I hesitated a bit because I was “busy.” But I just could not avoid the command of the Spirit.

    As I approached him, he stopped his work, turned around, and immediately I recognized him. Ken and his family attended our church a few years ago. They just moved into this house! We took a few moments to catch up. He shared some things about what is going on with his family. We parted ways. That’s it.

    But that little incident reminded me of something that invariably happens as I preach/teach. The Lord puts me in positions where I am forced to obey what I preach to others.

    Anyway, there is so much in the reading for today. There are a couple of very prominent statements about the Word of God. They are noteworthy. I will cite them here:

    "God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what" (Hebrews 4:12, 13 MSG). We progress as we take this Word in and let it do it’s work in us.

    "So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you" (James 1:21 GNT).

    Good stuff, there.

    But also, back to Hebrews for a moment—this awesome book emphasizes two very important things that give us a bit of a different take on the Christian life. First, it points out that only those who persevere to the end are truly saved in the first place.

    This is not about salvation by works. Please don’t misunderstand. However, if I am truly saved, my works will demonstrate it and I will continue on with the Lord. If I don’t persevere, then the reality is that I was never saved in the first place.

    "For we are all partners with Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at the beginning" (Hebrews 3:14 GNT). The “if” looms large in this verse.

    Second, this book focuses on what Jesus is doing right now for us as our High Priest at the right hand of God’s throne. As I keep my focus THERE (where I am seated with Him in the heavenly realms as Ephesians and Colossians remind me), then and only then am I able to persevere.

    Jesus, today, I thank you for your blood sacrifice and your broken body as well as the fact that you are administering your sacrifice on my behalf as my Priest right now. This is the only reason I got saved in the first place, and it is your work that keeps me saved and keeps me going.

    I pray for the persecuted church—the young lady Jeremy mentioned yesterday and Pastor Saeed Abedini. Amen.

    P. S. Please see
    http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/05/22/serious-setback-pastor-saeed-abedini-belongs-in-us-not-in-brutal-iranian-prison for his story. Jim sent this link yesterday. Keep praying! Keep on keeping on.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 84

    Day 84: 1 Thessalonians 1:1 to Philemon 25 and Jack

    I was going to comment on this yesterday, but somehow, I just could not. I was still in shock. Let me explain.

    On Wednesday afternoon, Jim and I drove up to Boulder to visit one of our seniors. His name is Jack. He recently had some physical issues that put him in the hospital for a bit, but when his stay there had been completed, the doctors gave the order to move him a convalescent center north of Boulder.

    When I heard about his move “up there,” I felt particularly concerned to go see him as often as I could.

    For those of you who do not live here, let me give you a little geography and traffic news—just want you need on Memorial Day weekend. Right? Ha. Boulder is not that far from Northglenn, but it is a hassle to get up there because of the extensive construction on the Boulder Turnpike highway. It just takes forever, and I know it would be difficult for folks to make their way up there.

    Plus, Jack has a special place in my heart. His wife, Nancy, passed away toward the end of last year. I miss her today as well. Oh, man. I talked about her funeral in this blog—one of the best ever. I will never forget her or that service. We cried but we also laughed—a lot.

    Jack was right there, but you can’t be married to someone over sixty years (yes, you read that right—sixty plus years) and not be radically affected when she dies. Jack was never the same after Nancy’s death. We visited a couple of times in his home, but I regret not having done it more.

    He always made a special effort to encourage me whenever we would get together. He kept saying, “Pastor, I know you are busy but thanks for coming.”

    I will never forget the times that he and Nancy and I sat at leisure on their front porch in Old Thornton and visited. They often shared about their family. They loved them, and it is mutual. I love them too.

    I’m glad to get to see the family again for Jack’s service, but it will be hard. It just seems as if it were yesterday that we gathered for Nancy’s service.

    I think the reason I am in shock is that Jim and I just visited with Jack last Wednesday. He was a little discouraged because he said that the doctors told him he could go home, but he had an infection and needed to stay one day longer.

    He never made it back home.

    Our senior group is diminishing rather rapidly, it seems. I just don’t do well with this type of thing … I guess I will never get to the point where I will.

    Please join me in praying for the family in their loss (heaven’s gain) over this holiday. I anticipate that the funeral will be this week sometime as family comes back together for the service.

    The reading for today had special significance for me in light of Jack’s home-going. The end of 1 Thessalonians is clearly Paul’s answer to questions about believers who have died and the return of Christ.

    Paul gives the very cogent answer that those who have died will not precede those of us who are still alive when Christ returns. The dead in Christ (Jack and Nancy among that number) will rise and the folks living on the earth will “be gathered up along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17, GNT).

    By the way, how anyone can come up with “rapture” in this passage is beyond me. I’m still unconvinced, but hey, if it happens, I will be the first to enjoy it!

    The main thing that this is teaching is that Jesus is coming back at a time we can not predict; we will be a part of his return; we will have a reunion with all believers who have passed away before us; and we will be with the Lord together in heaven forever.

    Lord, these are the times when I am so glad to reaffirm one of the greatest blessings of this new life—a blessing that we are enjoying right now—ETERNAL LIFE. Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 83

    Day 83: Galatians 3:26 to Colossians 4:18 and the Gospel and Suffering

    Again, I don’t think I have EVER done this before, but it is quite instructive to read through most of Galatians and all of the next three books—Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians in one sitting.

    Once again, in our tendency to atomize scripture, I think we often miss the forest for the trees.

    It almost seems as if it is a broken record, but Paul battles the legalists or Judaizers, as they are often called. He fights vehemently against their teaching but also against their challenge of his authority as an apostle.

    Thus, all of these letters are, to coin a term I hear often from Jeremy, our youth pastor (and it is an excellent one, by the way) GOSPEL CENTERED.

    As I read these books, I was convicted. I am afraid that all too often, if we are not careful as preachers and teachers, our message can degenerate into moralistic platitudes wherein each Sunday, we just give people one more thing TO DO. And then, we wonder why they don’t do it.

    I am again impressed that Paul spent a lot of time in his ministry—most of it—describing WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST. He brought people back, time and time again, to the gospel!

    When we finish “The Bible in 90 Days” next Sunday, June 1
    st, we will start a new study in prayer beginning on June 15th. The last thing I want that study to be is another guilt trip.

    But if we understand who we are in Christ, prayer becomes simply a natural outgrowth of our identity. Do you have to tell a baby to talk?

    I love watching Jennifer, my Spanish tutor, as she interacts with her son, Luis. (By the way, he is an awesome boy. Why do I say this? Well, I have many reasons, but one is a selfish one. Okay, I admit it. That little guy smiles at me every time I get close to him and say hi. This is a first in the history of my contact with babies, but I digress). She is so in tune with him that she can pick up the little nuances of the way he communicates with her so that she can “mother” him.

    But my point is: he communicates! No one needs to tell him to do it. He just does it. It is natural, and he does not even know how to talk yet. It won’t be long.

    My point is: prayer is not just something to do, an obligation; it is a natural outgrowth of our new identity. Certainly, Paul gives a lot of instruction in his letters, but I was reminded again today that it is ALL an outgrowth of our identity.

    I could quote from each of the four letters, but I will just cite two examples.

    "As for me, however, I will boast only about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; for by means of his cross the world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world. It does not matter at all whether or not one is circumcised; what does matter is being a new creature" (Galatians 6:14, 15 GNT).

    "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!" (Colossians 3:3, 4 GNT)

    The other prominent feature of these books is Paul’s continual allusions to his own suffering. The reason for this is that suffering is a validation that he indeed is a true follower of Jesus. It is the same for us.

    Thank you, Jesus, for this reminder this morning. My identity is not based on how I think the church is going. It is based on what you did for me on the cross and through the resurrection. Why should I assume that I will miss suffering if the One who is in me and in whom I am suffered? Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 82

    Day 82: 1 Corinthians 15:1 to Galatians 3:25 and “Make Your Bed Every Day”

    Just a heads up for everyone this morning—go to Google and search for “make your bed” speech or search for U. S. Navy Admiral William H. McCraven. His speech at the grad ceremony for the University of Texas in Austin is off the charts.

    He just urged the students to make their beds every morning. Indeed, it is a small task, but completing one small task leads to finishing more tasks and so on.

    He goes on to say that, even if you have a bad day, you come home to a bed that is made. It gives you hope that tomorrow will be better …

    Anyway, you can find a video of this speech at
    www.today.com. I plan to look at it myself later today. I’ve just read excerpts of it after Marilyn mentioned it yesterday.

    Somehow, it leads me to think about the ministry and what is involved in it.

    The other day, my mom and sister and I were talking about a congregation here in town where we used to serve. The church experienced some tough years, almost closed its doors, but now, according to a guy I talked to the other day, it is “booming.” I’m so glad to hear this, but I wonder if the folks who are there right now, realize all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into that ministry?

    They see the harvest right now (and are probably taking credit for it), but they don’t see the long view of things. And I don’t blame them. We are all so shortsighted.

    The truth is that all of us have no idea what the “seeds” of actions and work will produce. We just get up every day and “make the bed.” I’m speaking now in metaphorical terms. We do the little tasks that are before us and trust God for the rest.

    Maybe this is what the Lord is doing at First Southern right now. Maybe this is a period in which we are just tossing seed out there, and we don’t see as much as we would hope RIGHT NOW, but maybe the Lord will bring a great harvest in the future.

    Or, maybe like Community of Faith in Broomfield, the Lord’s will is that this church transition in some other way.

    Who knows? I wish I could stop thinking about it. My burden for the church I serve weighs. It is heavy.

    There is a brother in our church who is discouraged. Lift him up, Lord.

    There is a young lady who is turning away from God even as I write these words. Turn her back to yourself.

    There are other “issues” going on. Resolve them, Lord. Take care of them.

    In the reading today, in both 2 Corinthians and Galatians, I just pick up how Paul cares about the people in these two congregations—how he pours his heart out, how he suffers in order to minister to the folks he serves, how his zeal for the gospel and for them comes out. He is the real deal.

    Lord, sometimes the work seems so insignificant, as if it doesn’t matter and it is not making any difference, but thank you for encouragement from a weird place. Today, I am going to make my bed—metaphorically and actually. “Faithful in that which is least” and hopefully, by your grace, “faithful in much.” Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 81

    Day 81: Romans 15:1 to 1 Corinthians 14:40 and the Source of the Problem

    As I read the chapters for today, my mind went back to that afternoon in Kolkata, when S took another man and me downtown to the idol manufacturing section of town.

    A taxi let us off, and we just started walking slowly through the streets and alleys. We were able to see the whole process of making an idol from the weaving of what looked like stalks of wheat into a figure, covering the figure with plaster, and then painting the idol.

    There were some garish-looking creatures. I will have to tell you. At one point, we went in what looked like a little cave. There was an area reserved for worship back in one corner, but in the walkway, in the main part of the covered area, someone had manufactured a huge snake that curled all the way around.

    It was at this point that I felt in my spirit that it was time to go. I had seen enough.

    Interestingly enough, I did not feel satanic oppression in this part of town, as I thought I would. My main feeling was one of utter despair. How hopeless can anything be? As I think about those people fabricating the gods they worship, it just broke my heart.

    Anyway, I say all of that as a segue to the reading for today. The church at Corinth had a lot of problems. 1 Corinthians, the first of three letters Paul wrote the church (one of them was lost, see 1 Corinthians 5:1), was written to address the numerous issues this church faced, but there was a common theme in his exhortations: idolatry.

    As Americans, when we see that word “idol,” we think of the kind of fabrications I saw in Kolkata, but we all know that real idolatry is very insidious and often so subtle that we don’t realize it at times.

    But the bottom line problem in the church at Corinth was idolatry and it revealed itself in several ways.

    The church was divided. Paul addresses this problem in chapters 1 to 4. Why do they have this problem? Idolatry. People were in effect worshiping the various teachers (including Paul) who had ministered in the congregation. Here is Paul’s answer to this: "The one who plants and the one who waters really do not matter. It is God who matters, because he makes the plant grow” (1 Corinthians 3:7, GNT).

    The church was tolerating immorality and engaged in it, chapters 5 and 6. Why? Idolatry. Paul tells them to remove the evil man from the church and remember that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

    The church had misunderstandings about singleness and marriage, chapter 7. Why? Idolatry. Paul affirmed marriage as a gift of God, but encouraged people to stay single if God was leading them to do so. Why? Singles are less distracted than married folks.

    The church had problems with eating meat offered to idols. Why? Idolatry. Paul starts of chapters 8-11 by affirming that idols are no-gods, but then he turns around and says, "So then, my dear friends, keep away from the worship of idols. I speak to you as sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup we use in the Lord's Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:14-17, GNT). We need to be careful that we don’t inadvertently fall into idol worship AS BELIEVERS.
    Finally, in chapters 12-14, Paul addresses some false views and practices regarding spiritual gifts. What is the problem? Idolatry. There is only one body and all of us must promote unity in it.
    So, the admonition of 10:14 is very appropriate, especially right now for the church I serve and for me: “Keep away from the worship of idols.”
    Lord, it is easy to point my finger at others. Take inventory this morning. We need to do some Spring-cleaning. Do it in my life. Do it in the church. Amen
    .
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Day--Day 80

    Day 80: Acts 28:17 to Romans 14:23 and Relationships in the Body

    Yesterday, before heading up to the church, I ventured west on Hampden Avenue and north a few blocks on Wadsworth. I had an appointment at a church to participate in an “Associational Assessment.”

    I don’t know if I have indicated this or not in this blog, but Bob, the team leader for our association, is retiring. I will miss him … but that is another matter. Anyway, in anticipation of this leadership transition, this is the reason we are doing this.

    But I have to say that it was not what I expected.

    I thought I was going to be asked to evaluate the work of the association. There was some of that, but the main purpose of this ministry is to hear from churches—what they are going through and what they need. Humm.

    Instead of formulating a strategy, and asking churches to fit into it—what this was about is all about determining needs and trying to minister.

    I like it. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this process. On Monday, the assessment occurred at First Southern while I was on the links; yesterday, the “assessors” chose a SBC church on the south end.

    Back to the assessment—the major part of my time was a one-on-one interview with Doyle. At the start, we visited with one another, sharing our stories. I was impressed with this brother’s ministry experiences and his heart to encourage me.

    So much in the conversation, but he challenged me with a good question for a church in transition. This is a question to ask people who might be a little resistant—ahem. “What are you willing to change in order for this church to do a better job of reaching our children and grandchildren?”

    Doyle is now retired, but it was very clear that he has this heart in the church in which he currently serves in California.

    I wish I had more of his breed …

    There is nothing more powerful than a senior—mature in age and spirituality—with a heart to reach people DIFFERENT from him or her.

    This is the perennial challenge of the church. Some get on board with it. Some never do.

    This is the same struggle that Paul addressed in the church in Rome.

    Again, as I read the first fourteen chapters of this epistle, I saw this book in a light I have not ever focused on before. Sure, it is the main theological treatise of the New Testament, but beyond that, it is a plea for Jew and Gentile to get along in the church. Both groups tend to look down on the other for a multitude of reasons.

    In chapter two, the Jews judge Gentiles who are profligate in their behavior while overlooking their own “religious sins.”

    In chapter eleven, the Gentiles are proud that they get grafted in God’s tree, but Paul warns them against pride, asserting that the Jews will have a second chance to turn back to God and they will.

    This command stands out: "So then, let us stop judging one another. Instead, you should decide never to do anything that would make others stumble or fall into sin" (Romans 14:13 GNT).

    There are so many things that tend to divide us as believers—age, worship style, ethnicity, socio-economics, et cetera—the list goes on, but Paul exhorts us to focus on ourselves FIRST and make sure we do nothing EVER to cause someone else to stumble.

    Lord, thank you for the challenges of ministry. They are many. Thank you for brother Doyle. I pray that our church and association can honor you. And, Lord, today, give me grace to live in such a way never to cause anyone to stumble, no matter how “right” I think I am.

    Oh, and there is a family in the congregation who is in crisis—I lift them up this morning. Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 79

    Day 79: Acts 16:38 to 28:16

    Yesterday, I took a day of vacation to participate in a golf tournament sponsored by a Christian radio station here in town. The title of the tournament was the “Pastor’s Masters.” We played at Red Rocks Country Club west of town in the foothills near Morrison. As I drove out to the course yesterday morning, the day had the feel of one of those “Chamber of Commerce” days here in our state. The sky was crystal clear, Colorado blue (there is no blue like the sky here on a clear day; I am no scientist or meteorologist but I think it is the altitude and lack of humidity; I don’t know; I just know that I love it). It takes forever to shed the vestiges of winter in this state, but when we finally do, it is awesome.

    This tournament was originally scheduled to occur last Monday, but just a week ago Monday, there was nine inches of snow on the ground and the temps were in the high 20’s.

    Anyway, I got to play because Bob, the team leader for the Mile High Association, strained his back and thus couldn’t. He called to ask if I could play in his stead. I wrestled with doing it (believe that or not) because I have a ton of stuff to do—mainly sermon work and I’m trying to finish the book on a deadline. But I just decided to do it.

    I’m so glad I did. The format for the tournament was a “scramble.” And it is not really about scoring or winning (even though we tried to do so). It is mainly about fellowship.

    I was glad to get to spend some time with Bart, Steve, and Howard on a beautiful Spring day in an awesome setting. Oh, man. Are you kidding me? This course is not far from Red Rocks amphitheater where all the concerts occur. The combination of hills and views and rock formations and green grass and blue sky and brothers in Christ—can’t be beaten.

    Steve serves a church in Englewood, a community I know well since we went to church there during my college and seminary days. I said, “Steve, I have literally knocked on most of the doors in your community. I hope that has not been too much of a hindrance to your ministry!” We laughed as we rode in the electric cart together.

    Howard serves on staff at Bear Valley Church in Lakewood; Bart is a pastor in Aurora and a regular golf buddy. We laughed and joked with one another all the way around the course.

    At each hole, there was some sort of business stationed there to solicit us. I felt like a “rock star.” Most of these “solicitors” were Christian businesses and organizations. Some were not. For example, there was a roofing company and a coffee business at two tees. Most of them had food or sodas or water or granola bars or candy to hand out to us. Of course, I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I ate something at just about every hole!

    When we finished, we had a great lunch in the dining room of the clubhouse. All in all, a wonderful diversion, but when I got home, I had to work, and I’m glad the Lord gave me an alert mind to be able to do so.

    By the way, I didn’t have a headache yesterday. Could it be a harbinger … ??? Dare I say it?

    The final chapters of the book of Acts read like an adventure novel as Paul concludes his third missionary journey and makes the trek to Jerusalem in spite of all the warnings and certainty that things will not go well for him there.

    One thing that I noticed in the reading today was the repeated encouragements that the apostle received from the Lord. Here are three examples:

    "One night Paul had a vision in which the Lord said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, but keep on speaking and do not give up, for I am with you. No one will be able to harm you, for many in this city are my people.’ So Paul stayed there for a year and a half, teaching the people the word of God." (Acts 18:9-11 GNT).

    "That night the Lord stood by Paul and said, ‘Don't be afraid! You have given your witness for me here in Jerusalem, and you must also do the same in Rome’” (Acts 23:11, GNT).

    "And said, ‘Don't be afraid, Paul! You must stand before the Emperor. And God in his goodness to you has spared the lives of all those who are sailing with you’" (Acts 27:24 GNT).

    What does this tell me? The Lord offers support and encouragement to his kids, just when they need it. He can speak directly to us through his word and/or he can use the body of Christ and/or anything … even a silly little white ball.

    Lord, I cannot begin to thank you for caring about each of us as unique individuals. You tailor your care for us at just the right time and with the right people. I hug you, Precious Savior. Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 78

    Day 78: Acts 6:8 to 16:37 and Two Brothers Sent by God

    Somehow, after the anniversary service in the Brazilian church that I attended on Saturday night and possibly because I got way too tired, I felt myself sinking like a rock. The “sink” continued on into Sunday morning.

    I am particularly vulnerable to discouragement when I am tired, and oh, man, was I vulnerable Sunday morning!

    At the anniversary service, I met Pastor Manuel before he preached. We made a plan to meet at 9:30 on Sunday morning. Sure enough, Ilamarques knocked on my door, and these two dear brothers came in. We talked about a lot of things I will share at another time, but as our conversation drew to a close (our service was going to start), they both asked if they could pray for me.

    I knelt down between these two brothers as they prayed for me with fervor, their hands almost pushing me down to the ground. As Pastor Manuel prayed in Portuguese, Ilamarques translated his prayer with the same amount of emotion.

    This took me back to the summer of 2010 and that night when I “happened” to come to church. The Brazilians were praying. They invited me into their prayer meeting, laid hands on me, and prayed for me.

    Back to yesterday, as those hands were literally pushing me down, I felt the Lord lifting me up. I thank you for using these two brothers, Lord.

    But that was not all the Lord did yesterday.

    I felt we had a great service with a lot of joy and enthusiasm. Two hymns that Calla chose and put together in a unique way—“I Need Thee” and “I Surrender All”—really ministered to me. Bob was there. It was great to see him. The couple that I helped renew their vows a couple of Saturdays ago came to the service. That was a huge shot in the arm …

    After the service, I met with a family for the New Member’s class—another encouragement.

    When we completed the class, I was so hungry that I just decided to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, right up the street from the church. I bet it has been ten years since I have gone there.

    I ordered my meal, “wolfed down” my food, and was about to finish when someone said, “John! Is that you?” It was Gary. He is a dear brother who had served as a pastor on the North Side a few years ago before the Lord led him into a more itinerant type of ministry. He is a brother whom I deeply love and respect.

    We don’t see each other that often, but yesterday was a divine appointment. We visited for a while. I met his wife Kathy in addition to his daughter and her family who were there also.

    Gary is a modern-day Barnabas. He said a lot that encouraged me (I will share more later), but here are a couple of things. First, this came out of the blue, unsolicited. He had no idea how I had been feeling at the start of the day: “John, if you ever quit that church, I will find you and kick your tail.”

    Second, he said, “You look a lot like your Father.” At first, I thought, “Did you know my dad?” Then, it dawned on me … His daughter was standing there as he said it. She quipped, “That is a nice compliment when he says it to a man, but when people tell me THAT, I’m not sure how to take it!” Ha. Hilarious!

    Anyway, the bottom line is that the Lord used all of this as a giant and very timely lift, but this is no new tactic. The Lord has been doing this since the beginning.

    Maybe it is just because I am in the middle of this that something stood out to me that I hadn’t thought of before. God used a couple of brothers in a very timely way in Saul’s life. Think about Ananias and Barnabas! They came along at just the right time.

    Where would any of us be were it not for the body of Christ and the larger kingdom of God?

    From the bottom of my heart, Lord, I thank you for these brothers, these messengers of encouragement—Ilamarques, Manuel, and Gary—as well as my church family (I will never discount them) right when I needed them.

    My prayer today, Lord, is that anyone who is reading this blog today and who is discouraged will meet his/her own Ananias’ and Barnabas’. Use me in that role for someone today. Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 77

    Day 77: John 15:18 to Acts 6:7 and a Vibrant Church and …

    196. What a great number! Can you begin to guess why I like it so much? Yesterday, the guys said that I would probably shift my sermon around just to include this number in some way. I’ve tried … Ha.

    So, just in case you are wondering: in one game yesterday, I bowled a 196! Can you believe it? I can’t. Really, I can’t. What happened? I have no idea, but after a couple of strikes in a row (I’ve never come close to doing this before), Bryan took a video of my doing the turkey dance and asked my permission to put it on our church Facebook page. I may regret this, but I said yes.

    We had a blast yesterday. I bowled with three youth who came: Tom, Miguel, and Tito. The other guys—all of them accomplished bowlers—took the other two lanes.

    When we finished, I took Tom, Miguel, and Tito home. Then, I went to the church to crash a bit and do some studying before the anniversary service. New Generation Christian Community Church—the Portuguese-speaking congregation that uses God’s building along with us—had their sixth anniversary celebration.

    By the time the service started at 6:00, I was feeling the effects of the day a bit. It seems as if there is always a headache lingering, waiting to come out at any time. It is weird. I know I keep using that term--weird. It started to come on.

    I greeted a few people but I did not have the energy to do much more except sit on the back pew and observe. The longer I sat there, the more convicted I became. Why? I just have to tell you that this church is “happening.” There is joy. There is loud and enthusiastic participation in worship. The church showed videos of folks across the world expressing appreciation for the help this congregation is giving them. Pastor Manuel, a friend of Ilamarques that came up from Brazil for these services, preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. Oh, man. I could go on and on.

    Such a contrast …

    I guess I just have to be honest … some Sundays, in the church I serve, it feels as if I am slogging through a mud puddle. There is a palpable sense of discontentment at times. This is why I am praying for revival.

    Most of the time, I struggle to know what is going on and pray that it isn’t my fault, somehow. Who knows? Usually, I am the last to know.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not totally “down” on us; the Lord is at work. We are seeing him do some great things. But in comparison to what I saw last night …

    Somehow, today, the bar is set even higher when it comes to those first believers who just started “congregating” after Pentecost. Why did they do this? Shouldn’t they have had a 26-week discipleship course telling them, “Now that you are saved, you have to go to a church building and sit there while people sing and someone preaches”?

    Nope. They just started gathering together because of the life of God in them. I love these verses: "Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47, GNT).

    These folks were so in love with Jesus that they could not meet enough—in the Temple courts and in each other’s homes. They met every day! And coincidentally (even though I do not think it was a coincidence), God added people to the church EVERY DAY.

    I wonder what would happen if someone showed up at First Southern on a Tuesday afternoon and said, “Hey, I got saved today. Can I join this fellowship now?”

    After fainting and picking myself off the floor, believe me, I would find a way to accommodate that.

    How about this statement? "But Peter said to him, ‘I have no money at all, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I order you to get up and walk!’” (Acts 3:6 GNT) The power of God was all over these first believers!

    Is it wrong to say from my heart this morning that I long to be involved in a work of God just once in my lifetime where the power of God was unleashed and unhindered. I know I have no idea of what I am talking about …

    “Send a great revival in my soul. Send a great revival in my soul. Let the Holy Spirit come and take control, and send a great revival in my soul.” Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 76

    Day 76: John 6:1 to 15:17 and the Teaching that Makes People Mad or Causes Them to Leave

    Again, as I write each day, I feel compelled to give you and update on my health because I know so many are praying.

    I talked with Dave yesterday. He coordinates church planting efforts for us on an associational and state level. He is an awesome brother.

    We were visiting about some work we are doing together and Dave said, “At the Executive Board meeting yesterday, all of us prayed for you.” Even as I type those words, I am getting very emotional. Just to think that some guys in a meeting thought of me … I cannot begin to express how much I appreciate it.

    I did have a couple of headaches yesterday, but I think that whole situation is improving. I’m very grateful.

    Anyway, on to a discussion of the reading for today—another huge benefit of this “rapid-fire” reading of large portions of God’s Word is that it allows one to make connections more easily. Let me give you an example.

    Do you remember Jesus’ first sermon? It occurred in his hometown. The story is recorded in Luke 4. We read that passage just a couple of days ago. Jesus picks up a scroll from the book of Isaiah, reads it, and then makes some brief comments.

    His remarks, if I could sum them up in a couple of words, center on God’s sovereignty. He emphasizes the fact that there were a lot of sick people and lepers in the days of the widow at Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, respectively, but he goes on to say after citing each of those people, “Yet Elijah was not sent to anyone in Israel, but only to a widow … yet not one of them was healed, but only Naaman” (Luke 4:26-27, GNT).

    Do you remember the reaction of the people? They were “filled with anger” (Verse 28) and ushered Jesus out of the synagogue and to the edge of the cliff where they were ready to push him over!

    This is a little “over the top,” isn’t it?

    Fast forward to the gospel of John and the reading for today. "And he added, ‘This is the very reason I told you that no people can come to me unless the Father makes it possible for them to do so.’ Because of this, many of Jesus' followers turned back and would not go with him any more. So he asked the twelve disciples, ‘And you—would you also like to leave?’” (John 6:65-67, GNT).

    Somehow, as I read these words this morning, my mind made the connection with the Luke 4 passage. In John, when the crowds heard Jesus’ teaching about God’s sovereignty, they turned away from him and would not follow any longer.

    Interesting. What is going on here?

    Well, first of all, I am not going to go all “Calvinist” on everyone, but I am firmly convinced that there is a balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

    Here is a key point for me: without God’s choice, none of us who know Jesus would be saved. However, that having been said, I do not believe in hyper-Calvinism (these terms are up for debate, I realize). I do not believe that God chooses to send people to hell. We make that choice.

    As one pastor put all of this—if we get saved, God gets all the glory. If we end up going to hell, it is our fault.

    I also believe that the doctrines of election and predestination apply mainly to believers. See Romans 8.

    Anyway, that is all I am going to say at this point. I certainly do not believe I have “cornered the market” or figured all of this out …

    But, back to the passages—why did these folks in both instances, either get angry and want to kill Jesus on the spot or leave him, never to return? I believe the doctrine of God’s sovereignty flies in the face of our tendency to trust our own efforts and the belief that we really do merit God’s grace. That is why I believe they tried to push him over the cliff or walked away.

    Lord, thank you that, in a roundabout sort of way, you have sovereignly used these two passages as an encouragement today. We are never going to be popular when we teach people that you are in control, not us. Amen.

    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 75

    Day 75: Luke 20:20 to John 5:47 and Jesus is God!

    Thank you for praying for me. I really did not do a whole lot yesterday except study for most of the day. But I don’t remember having a headache. I say it that way because I fought wanting to sleep for most of the day as well--just more of the challenges of taking this drug. Oh, man.

    I also had a really good conversation with Jennie at the City of Northglenn. We are trying to coordinate some volunteer projects for this summer.

    We have had some really good experiences in past years. They don’t really “net” us any people who come through the door of our church building. Sometimes, I struggle with this, but when I am thinking right, I realize that true servanthood has no agenda. In our church’s ministry, we don’t serve SO THAT we will get more church members. We serve just to serve.

    This is one thing that has been weighing on me the past several days … I have been thinking about all the service projects we have done over the years and the church plants we have been involved in that have not increased the “bottom line” of church attendance and membership at all.

    I struggle with this because in my “business,” we are judged on the three B’s (I’ve talked about this so often): buildings, budgets, and bodies. And if you don’t keep increasing in those areas, then you are not “successful.” If you do, you are. It seems to be that simple and that twisted. Something is off there.

    But as we sit now dealing with some fairly severe financial troubles … it just makes me wonder. Honestly, I don’t regret anything we have done.

    And the fact that we have a good relationship with the Volunteer Coordinator with the City of Northglenn means a lot to me.

    Well, anyway, today marks the transition from reading in the Gospel of Luke to moving to the Gospel of John. I love this book, so many unique features of it! I won’t mention them all. But here is one that stands out today.

    In spite of what one “cult” claims (I won’t name them specifically, but you can probably figure it out), this Gospel makes the assertion in no uncertain terms that Jesus is God. John 1:1 is clear and no, “Jesus is a god” is NOT a viable translation of this verse.

    Notice these statements in chapter five: "Then the man left and told the Jewish authorities that it was Jesus who had healed him. So they began to persecute Jesus, because he had done this healing on a Sabbath. Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is always working, and I too must work.’ This saying made the Jewish authorities all the more determined to kill him; not only had he broken the Sabbath law, but he had said that God was his own Father and in this way had made himself equal with God” (John 5:15-18, GNT).

    Whenever I get into a conversation with a person from “that group,” and he or she tries to point to their translation of John 1:1, I always point them to this passage. It tends to quell arguments for a few moments, but after standing at my door and arguing for years, I now give them a brief testimony and tell them that I am not interested.

    I have yet to have a genuine believer from a Baptist church or any evangelical denomination or church come to my door, any door of any house I have lived in. This thought just struck me. I am ashamed of this.

    Jesus, I acknowledge you as God. Give us the same boldness or more than those who don’t believe this. Help us to have opportunities to share Jesus with the people we will be serving this summer. Amen.

    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 74

    Day 74: Luke 10:1 to 20:19 and the Dark Side

    At the cancer clinic yesterday, we talked about the headaches. The doctor said, “I’m sorry you have been having them. Why don’t you take Tylenol at the beginning of each day and see how that works. But I am not going to keep you on this trial if you keep having headaches every day.”

    I appreciate that. I don’t want to live on painkillers, either. So, I appreciate what he said. We will see what happens …

    As I read the Gospel of Luke, I am again impressed about the way that the Holy Spirit used the Good Doctor to compose a treatise that lays the ground work for what he will talk about in Volume 2 of his writings, the book of Acts.

    The theme of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Savior of the World. More than any other gospel writer, he uses several tactics to demonstrate how Jesus came to save everyone.

    The parable of the Good Samaritan is a primo example of his approach. Jesus turns things on their head a bit as a man whom Jews despised (just because he was a Samaritan) turns out to be the hero of the story. He emerges to demonstrate what true love really is, while the Priest and Levite (who are teachers of the law of God and should know better) don’t. They pass by the wounded man, ostensibly (the text does not say this; thus, I need to be careful) on their way to the temple to their “religious duty,” and they just missed it.

    Anyway, that theme emerges very clearly, but I noticed something else that I have never really seen before.

    In Luke 13, Jesus references a couple of recent tragedies: Pilate slaughtered some Galileans, and a tower collapsed, killing eighteen people. Having mentioned those two incidents, Jesus asks, “Do you suppose that this proves that they were worse than all the other people living in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4, GNT) The prevalent theology of the day would say that, “Whoa, these folks really must have done something bad to have go through these tragedies!”

    But Jesus turns the finger from those who died to those who are commenting on their deaths. And he tells a parable:

    "Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘There was once a man who had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He went looking for figs on it but found none. So he said to his gardener, “Look, for three years I have been coming here looking for figs on this fig tree, and I haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it go on using up the soil?” But the gardener answered, “Leave it alone, sir, just one more year; I will dig around it and put in some fertilizer. Then if the tree bears figs next year, so much the better; if not, then you can have it cut down”’” (Luke 6-8, GNT).

    The folks who witnessed the tragedy are asking, “What about them?” Jesus turns the spotlight on them, and the question is, “What about you?” The ultimate concern is, “What about God?”

    I believe that this parable is directed once again to the Jews who had opportunity to repent, but did not do so. And God was merciful, but their rejection paved the way for others.

    In short, what I noticed today is the Dark Side of world evangelization, the story of the spread of the gospel in Acts. All of this occurred because the Jews rejected the Messiah! Because of that, God took the gospel through Paul and others to the Gentiles.

    The parables (like the one I referenced above) and stories and teaches of Jesus in the gospel lay the groundwork for this.

    But the warning is there for all of us: God has planted us in his vineyard to bear the fruit of Christ’s character. We need to get with it. Chop, chop. If we do, great. If not, we are in danger of the same fate as the fig tree.

    Lord, thank you so much for your infinite patience with me. You expect fruit. I reckon myself dead to sin and alive to you. Living plants and saved people bear fruit! Do it through me today, Lord. Amen.

    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 73

    Day 73: Luke 2:1 to 9:62 and the Unique Features of Luke’s Gospel

    I had a great visit with my high school buddy, Eric, plus good conversations with two other brothers, Jorge and Dean. It was a good day, except for the headaches that I experienced.

    In the midst of these conversations, I drove up to Boulder to attend a high school graduation. One of our youth—Wendy—graduated from Thornton High School. The ceremony was held at the Coors Event Center on the campus of the University of Colorado. There were a lot of people there, of course. I had hoped to see the family, and I walked around a bit to look at the crowd, but I didn’t see them.

    I stayed for a while at the ceremony, but all of a sudden, I felt a headache coming on.

    As I was driving to Northglenn, it dissipated a bit, but when I got to church, it returned with a vengeance… Weird, weird, weird. I have to talk to the doctor about it today. I have an appointment with him again this morning, and after my visit with him, I have to get another ultrasound. Hopefully, he can give me something that will help.

    The beat goes on …

    Both Betty and Dean yesterday commented on “The Bible in 90 Days.” They indicated that they are seeing things and learning things they have never seen before. I agree. The same thing is happening with me.

    Reading the Gospel accounts in RAPID succession is a huge eye-opener. I am noticing several characteristics of Luke’s account that are unique. First, unlike any other gospel, he highlights the prayer life of Jesus. For example, notice this reference, "At that time Jesus went up a hill to pray and spent the whole night there praying to God" (Luke 6:12 GNT). I’ve never done THAT, have you?

    This reminds me of a weekly practice of the largest church in the world—Yoido Full Gospel Church. Betty has told me this, and I think I read about it somewhere … the church owns a hill near their property and they built cement “bunkers” in it. People from the church go into those bunkers to pray through the night, every week.

    Anyway, I digress.

    Second, Luke highlights how Jesus ministered to women and they were a part of his entourage. See Luke 8:1-3, for example.

    Third, Luke focuses on discipleship as no other gospel does. One of my favorite passages is Luke 9:51-62. I will just quote from verse 57 onward: "As they went on their way, a man said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But that man said, ‘Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.’ Jesus answered, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.’ Someone else said, ‘I will follow you, sir; but first let me go and say good-bye to my family.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Anyone who starts to plow and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God.’”
    One of the best sermons I ever heard used this passage as a text. We received cassette tapes of sermons from Pastor Richard Jackson at North Phoenix Baptist Church. I still have that sermon somewhere …
    Lord, today, keep my hand to the plough and my eyes riveted on you—all the way to the end.
    As I was looking up the name of the church in Korea, I came across a disturbing article. I had not heard this, but recently, the Pastor of Yoido church, Paul Cho (who is now 78 years old), was convicted of embezzling 12 million dollars from the church! Please see the story on this site:
    www.christianpost.com.
    Oh, man. This news breaks my heart.
    Lord, I pray for him, his family, and the church. A chilling lesson to be learned. Hand to plough, looking forward, all the way to the end. Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 72

    Day 72: Mark 9:14 to Luke 1:80 and A Good Friend from High School

    Well, the new “issue” I am dealing with these days is headaches. I seem to be sleeping a little better (the night before last was an exception to this statement), but the headaches are really starting to become a bother. And it is weird. They can come on in an instant just like they did Sunday.

    Yesterday, Marilyn said something that made me laugh, and when I finished laughing, I had a headache. It seems that it is always there, under the surface, just waiting to emerge. Oh, boy. I’m making them sound like some kind of monster.

    Oh, well, more side effects of this drug I am taking, I guess. Who knows?

    On to a different topic: I’m excited to get to see one of my buddies from High School today. I mentioned a few weeks ago that we passed each other at my primary care doctor’s office, and the recognition was immediate, “E!” I said. “JT” he responded. (Somehow, when we were in high school, we were into initials!?!)

    Eric (his real name) is a pilot for a commercial airline (not sure which one) so with his schedule and mine, it was a bit of a challenge to find a time we could both meet. We made this appointment a few weeks ago to meet for lunch today. I’m looking forward to visiting with him and catching up.

    It is amazing what comes to mind all after all these years.

    Back to the spring of 1977—the Dark Ages--we were having some kind of special day at school. I was in student government. I had the responsibility of organizing one part of the day. I asked Eric and another buddy Raymond to help me. We jumped in my car, went over to my house, got our ping-pong table, loaded it on the car (you read that right—ON), and headed back to school. I was driving (a little too fast, surprise, surprise) and E and Raymond were trying to hold on to that ping-pong table on the roof of my 1974 green Malibu Classic—my first car! Think about that!

    Well, don’t.

    I think the table fell off in the middle of Quincy Avenue at one point … But we finally made it back to the school. Those two guys won the prize for a herculean feat. When we got to school and unloaded the table, Raymond said, “You owe us big time!” I still haven’t paid off that debt!

    Good memories and I am thankful for my friend and brother in Christ—Eric. He and his family visited the church a few years ago. We were trying to figure out how long—it has been at least 10 to 15 years. Too long.

    Anyway, on to the reading for today. One of my favorite passages in Mark is in chapter eleven—the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple. I chose this passage my first year of Greek class at Southwestern seminary and wrote a paper on it. Years and years went by, however, until I was able to grasp the full significance of it. It has to do with the fig tree that Jesus cursed.

    Remember the story? On the way into Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree with leaves and no fruit, and he cursed it.

    Then, he and the disciples went into the city where Jesus discovered all the merchants and moneychangers in the Temple, and he drove them out—an action that sealed his fate with the religious authorities, by the way. You don’t mess with people’s wallets!

    Early the next morning, they walked by that tree again. “It was dead all the way down to the roots” (Mark 11:20). Peter saw it and remarked to Jesus, “Look, Teacher, the fig tree you cursed has died!” (Verse 21).

    What is going on with this? It seems pointless that the Son of God would waste his time on a fruitless fig tree, but that is exactly the point. He was teaching and showing his disciples (through the cleansing of the temple) how the judgment of God had come on Israel for their lack of fruit. It goes back to the parable of vineyard in Isaiah 5, in the parable that Jesus told, and to John 15.

    As he did with Israel (and of course they failed), Jesus calls us to bear fruit in union with Him. If we don’t, the Gardener prunes the cursed branches (because they are dead) and throws them into the fire.

    Lord, this story sends chills up my spine. I pray that we would never pervert the purpose of your house or the reason you saved us. Fill me with the Holy Spirit today that I might bear the fruit of your character. Thanks for Eric and the time to share with him today. Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 71

    Day 71: Matthew 26:57 to Mark 9:13 and Authority

    Right before the service yesterday, I was shaking hands with folks as they arrived. Larry told me a joke, and I laughed. No big deal, right? Wrong. All of a sudden, a headache came rushing back on me. It was kind of shocking, to be honest. I was greeting some more folks but feeling very poorly.

    I’m glad Marilyn came up to me. She had to tell me something, but immediately noticed that I wasn’t well. Thank the Lord she had some Advil capsules in her purse. I popped them in my mouth and took a drink of water right before the sermon. I made it okay through the rest of the service and all of us shared a good lunch with a family in our church. My mom and sister went. It has been months since they have done this. My mom had a great time, but she was exhausted when we finished.

    All in all, all things considered, it was a good day in spite of the snowstorm. Yes, you read that right: SNOWSTORM. It continued throughout the day and into the night. It is in the twenties today. It will take a while for the snow to melt. There is lots of it!

    Would it surprise any of you who know me if I said, “I am so sick of winter. I am so ready for summer”? Probably not. I am thankful for the moisture. It will certainly help “green up” the golf courses—all I care about. Ha.

    Reading the Gospels in rapid succession is something that I have never done. Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous. As most of you know, my usual method of daily reading involves switching back and forth between the Old and New Testaments. Thus, my usual procedure was to read Matthew and then switch to an Old Testament book and finish it before coming back to Mark. This is all well and good. Nothing wrong, but it just became a rut.

    “The Bible in 90 Days” has confirmed to me that it is very beneficial to switch up our approach to reading the Bible just so we get a different perspective at times. I was in such a rut. I see that now.

    The nuances in the gospels come out in reading them in succession. Matthew focuses on how Jesus’ life and ministry fulfilled the Old Testament. As I have already said, it is the perfect start to the New Testament canon. Perfect.

    Mark is a different “critter.” It starts with the ministry of John the Baptist. It highlights Jesus’ actions and moves at a fast pace from the start.

    But there is something else about this gospel that I noticed. It focuses on the authority of Jesus. Let me cite a couple examples:

    "I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man" (Mark 2:10 GNT).

    "So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 GNT).

    "Jesus sternly ordered the evil spirits not to tell anyone who he was" (Mark 3:12 GNT).

    "But they were terribly afraid and began to say to one another, ‘Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’” (Mark 4:41 GNT)

    That’s enough. Get the idea? Jesus has authority over forgiveness. He is in charge of it. He is Lord of time. He orders evil spirits. And, even wind and waves and May snowstorms are in his purview. Even the snow. Yikes!

    Lord, as I sit here today, I thank you that you are Boss. I submit to your authority. You are in charge of everything and everyone. You are Lord. Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 70

    Day 70: Matthew 16:1 to 26:56 and Little Faith, Very Little

    I had another fairly good night’s sleep last night. I cannot begin to tell you how much better I feel, but I am still dealing with the amped up feeling this drug gives me. I have to fight wanting to sleep during the day, but I am fighting it. Maybe this is helping me sleep at night. Maybe my body is adjusting to this drug. Maybe … who knows?

    Please pray for us here in Denver today. The forecast is for a snowstorm to drop five to nine inches of snow on us! It is supposed to start this morning. I hope it doesn’t prevent people from coming to church or doesn’t hinder them in trying to get home. My mom and sis and I are worried about our trees. They have leafed out. I heavy snow could cause severe damage …

    It takes this part of the country forever to transition from winter to summer. Spring often gets lost in the shuffle. Oh well. The last time I looked, complaining about the weather doesn’t affect it any. Didn’t Will Rogers say something about that? This doesn’t stop me from continuing the practice, though!

    The reading for today in Matthew has raised a question that I need to spend some time investigating. There is a fairly consistent rebuke that Jesus levels against his disciples on a couple of occasions in the Gospel of Matthew. I will just cite one passage here:

    "Jesus knew what they were saying, so he asked them, ‘Why are you discussing among yourselves about not having any bread?
    What little faith you have! Don't you understand yet? Don't you remember when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand men? How many baskets did you fill? And what about the seven loaves for the four thousand men? How many baskets did you fill? How is it that you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? Guard yourselves from the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’” (Matthew 16:8-11 GNT, emphasis mine) This was a particularly significant time for Jesus and his disciples. They should have known better, but they just didn’t get it (a frequent occurrence).

    But Jesus rebukes them for having “little faith.”

    It is interesting that he rebuked them in another situation as well—after the Transfiguration. When they came down from the mountain, they encountered a need, and Jesus had to deal with it. But remember his rebuke to the disciples on THAT occasion?

    "’It was because you do not have enough faith,’ answered Jesus. ‘I assure you that if you have faith as big as a mustard seed, you can say to this hill, “Go from here to there!” and it will go. You could do anything!’” (Matthew 17:20 GNT)
    Do you see it? What is going on? In several instances, he rebukes them for having “little faith” and then he corrects them because they don’t have enough, adding that all one needs is faith the size of a mustard seed. That is very little!

    This is the type of thing that gets my “study juices” flowing. I’m looking forward to working on this, but later … Got to get moving. It doesn’t look as if it is even raining yet. Good.

    But the bottom line point of these passages is not lost on me today: they are an exhortation to trust God.

    Lord, as the days go by, thank you for another opportunity to trust you. Take care of things today. Show me what is going on in these passages. Teach me; help me to trust you more and more each day. Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 69

    Day 69: Matthew 5:1 to 15:39 and Unregenerate Church Members

    Just a quick report and update: I cannot begin to tell all of you how thankful I am about your prayers and concern. When I said that the main way you could help me is prayer, I meant it. Sometimes, when we say that, people (and I am at the top of this list because I am a DOER) say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what can I really do?”

    And, I appreciate that comment in another way. Some use prayer as an EXCUSE for inactivity and as a cop-out. So, I get that.

    But, my request for prayer was my REAL need just because of sleeplessness and how Satan attacks me when I get very tired.

    These past few days have actually taken me back to my pre-cancer days where I would not sleep for five or six days in a row, rather frequently. But since then, the Lord has helped me with some herbs that I started to take that have helped me.

    Again, though, with the start of this new treatment, I cannot take them, but what the Lord has shown me in several areas, not just sleep, is that I NEED Him, primarily.

    I was so glad to read these words in the Sermon on the Mount today:

    "So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings" (Matthew 6:31-34 GNT).

    The timing of coming to this passage today could not be more perfect. Thank you, Jesus. “He knows that you need all these things.” Amen.

    The other portion of the reading for today that is noteworthy pulls me back to a conversation I had with Bob the other day—the whole topic of “unregenerate church members.”

    Another friend recommended a source to me. Thom Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian stores, has a website and a blog. I spent some time looking at both the other day. One of his blogs has a section detailed the challenges of ministering to “unregenerate church members.” Apparently, this is becoming more and more of an issue these days in church for several reasons.

    Rainer claims that one cause of this phenomenon is that many churches have gotten lax in their membership process. When someone wants to join the fellowship, our main job is to make sure that he or she is really saved! Oh, man.

    But why would lost people even care about joining a church of all places?

    Back to my conversation with Bob, he asserted that lost people join churches for two reasons: to be entertained and/or to get power. His words hit me like a ton of bricks. He is so right.

    I would never want to cause doubt in a genuine believer. However, I would also never want to affirm a lost person in his/her “lostness,” either.

    Jesus addressed this problem. How about this passage? "Now, to what can I compare the people of this day? They are like children sitting in the marketplace. One group shouts to the other, ‘We played wedding music for you, but you wouldn't dance! We sang funeral songs, but you wouldn't cry!’ When John came, he fasted and drank no wine, and everyone said, ‘He has a demon in him!’ When the Son of Man came, he ate and drank, and everyone said, ‘Look at this man! He is a glutton and wine drinker, a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts!’ God's wisdom, however, is shown to be true by its results” (Matthew 11:16-19 GNT). I think the better translation of the last words of the verses above is, “Wisdom is vindicated by her children” (AMP).

    It finally dawned on me that the contrast is between the “children of the world” and “the children of true wisdom.”

    No wonder so many people “jump” churches every couple of years.

    Now again, before I ruffle any more feathers than I do every day ANYWAY, I am not asserting that everyone who leaves a church and joins another is lost. Sometimes, people need to move to another church. It is the best thing for both parties.

    But I am referring to what Jesus is saying in Matthew 11. Worldly people are never satisfied with anyone or anything when it comes to the kingdom of God, and the church or the pastor often fall into that category.

    Lord, so much of my angst has to do with the struggle over why many Christians are not obedient and have no urgency for the kingdom of God. Maybe, I need to focus more attention on making sure these same folks are saved in the first place. Food for thought. Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 68

    Day 68: Zechariah 11:1 to Matthew 4:25 and Transitions

    I have to start out by saying that yesterday was an extremely difficult day. I dealt with a headache that I could not shake until I called the cancer center to ask if it was permissible to take Advil or Tylenol. I was apprehensive that somehow, the clinical trial would not allow it. But Rachel gave me a quick answer, “Oh, of course, John, please take something. Sorry to hear about your headache.” This is one of the known side effects of the pill. We will see if how things go today.

    But praise God! So far, so good. I feel better and I slept. Oh, man—what a difference! I think the headache came as a result of not sleeping for four or five days. But who knows? I just wake up in the morning and take what comes.

    On to the reading for today—I think the main thing that struck me is something I have absolutely NEVER done before and that was finish the Old Testament and in the same sitting, turn the page and start reading the New Testament.

    Reading the Bible in this way continues to make me realize how wise the scholars were in putting the Canon of scripture together. There actually is “method to the madness,” as the saying goes but no madness here!

    Why is Malachi the last book of the Old Testament in the Canon? I think it is perfectly suited for this role. Here are the last two verses of the book:

    "But before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes, I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will bring fathers and children together again; otherwise I would have to come and destroy your country” (Malachi 4:5, 6 GNT). This is pointing to God’s transitional figure—John the Baptist. He was in effect, the last of the prophets—this caps off the Old Testament, but also he was the messenger who came after 400 years of prophetic silence (in the transition between the Old and New Testaments) to point the way to the Messiah.

    He preached repentance in the very wilderness in which the Jews rebelled against God and his servant Moses. He baptized Jesus to “fulfill all righteousness.” The nation of Israel was “born” as they passed through the Red Sea and when the crossed the Jordan to move into the Promised Land.

    A new nation was inaugurated when Jesus “passed through Jordan” in his baptism. The parallels are unmistakable.

    Malachi makes a perfect ending to the Old Covenant; Matthew makes a perfect start to the New Testament. The book begins with a genealogy but it is also replete with the statement, “This happened to fulfill …” and he cites Old Testament prophecy to show that Jesus came to fulfill God’s plan.

    The birth of Jesus was NOT an afterthought in God’s purpose, but it happened according to the plan of God from the foundations of the world.

    Lord, there is not one thing that happens outside your plan and purpose, even headaches that last an entire day, fit in that category. From the bottom of my heart, Lord, thank you for the Word of God and Logos of God who came to embody everything written in the Canon.

    My response: the song, “We Are An Offering,” has been on my mind and heart for days, along with this verse: “This may seem impossible to those of the nation who are now left, but it is not impossible to me” (Zechariah 8:6, GNT). Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 67

    Day 67: Habakkuk 1:1 to Zechariah 10:12 and Overdid It

    I always have to learn my lessons the hard way. I pushed myself too hard yesterday and I paid for it last night. I can’t remember when I have had a worse headache. It actually woke me up in the middle of the night, but I just asked the Lord to help me sleep, and He did. Thank you, Jesus.

    But again, the challenge in all of this is to take care of myself and ask for help—both are difficult for me.

    When I mentioned prayer the other day as a main avenue of help for me, I did not at all mean to imply that other forms of help are not valid or not needed.

    They probably didn’t know it, but I asked two guys to help last night, and they were perfectly willing. We have some security “issues” at church, and after the study last night, I met with our team—Jeremy and Marvin. I just handed a project to them and asked them to handle it. They were perfectly willing. No big deal for these guys and no problem.

    This is not a big deal in one way, but it is huge on another.

    My usual thought process goes like this: something needs to be done; I think of some guys that can do it; and then, I think, “So and so and the other guy—they have a lot going; I’ll just make some calls and take care of it and not bother them.” This is all well and good but when you multiply by ten this type of action and response in other arenas in the church, then it moves into overload mode—not good for me or for the church.

    Back to last night—those two guys ministered to me. They helped me BIG TIME. Thanks, brothers.

    Two other brothers I got to visit with yesterday were also a huge encouragement—thanks, Bob and Jim.

    Just a lot of good stuff yesterday, but I was suffering from a lack of sleep, and it finally caught up with me.

    Anyway, enough of that—on to the reading for today. These lasts Minor Prophets are the most neglected books in the Bible. And we are lessor biblical interpreters for it.

    How huge is Habakkuk 2:4 in Paul’s theology: "And this is the message: ‘Those who are evil will not survive, but those who are righteous will live because they are faithful to God’” (GNT).

    Without reading Zachariah, do we really understand John’s writings in the New Testament? There is so much in this prophecy that comes out in Revelation. For example, here is a vision: "Then I asked him, ‘What do the two olive trees on either side of the lampstand mean? And what is the meaning of the two olive branches beside the two gold pipes from which the olive oil pours?’ He asked me, ‘Don't you know?’ ‘No, I don't, sir,’ I answered. Then he said, ‘These are the two men whom God has chosen and anointed to serve him, the Lord of the whole earth’” (4:11-14, GNT). This gives us insight into the vision of the “two witnesses” in the Apocalypse.

    I could go on and on. One never hears any sermons from Zephaniah and Haggai—two small books with big messages.

    Lord, I thank you for your Word, both the Old and New Testaments. Two parts of ONE BOOK. Forgive us for establishing our own “canon” and neglecting yours. All sixty-six books are the inspired Word. Amen.
    Comments

    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 66

    Day 66: Amos 9:11 to Nahum 3:19 and Urgency in Writing

    I’m running a little behind this morning since I overslept—not a good thing. Last night was one of the most sleepless to date, but I fell into a deep sleep after I turned off my alarm.

    I have an appointment with the doctor this morning. I hope they can give me something … I have been hesitant to take sleeping pills in the past, but now, I would. I would stick my head in a bucket of water … Humm, maybe I ought to just try that?

    Please pray that I would be alert today. Sleeplessness causes me to be even more of a space cadet than normal—a scary thought!

    I told Betty yesterday that one of the only things I can do is to nap during the day. I’m going to find a pew late this afternoon. I just hope I wake up in time for services tonight.

    Well, anyway, thanks for praying. The Lord will continue to take care of me. I’m not worried.

    Here is another thing I have learned: without a deadline and urgency, I doubt that anyone would ever write a book, even if he or she did nothing else. I’m convinced of this now.

    At the present time, I feel under the gun to finish this devotional for the publisher in India. My regimen now is three hours a day! I write for an hour in the morning, an hour at midday, and an hour in the evening. Last night, I finished the month of August—four months to go. If I stay on track, then I will have written a book of 366 pages in a month while starting cancer treatment and still trying to pastor a church.

    Now, I say all of that NOT to pat myself on the back. That’s not the point. The point is: with urgency, you will find a way to get something done. Without it, there is absolutely no urgency and thus, in spite of one’s grandest proclamations and intentions, no writing actually occurs. At least, this is the case in my experience.

    How many times have I written in this blog indicating that the Lord gave me another idea for a book? Many times. And yet, none of those ideas have gotten off the ground.

    Please pray that somehow, I continue this sense of urgency when this book is completely. I have no idea how that will occur, but I absolutely have to continue. I feel that the Lord has given me a burden.

    Well, enough of that. Having finished the Major Prophets, “The Bible in 90 Days” is picking up steam now. We are plowing through the Minor Prophets. Just a couple of observations …

    We hardly ever speak of Obadiah and Nahum. But these two short books are prophesies against enemy nations—Edom and Assyria—respectively. Judgment sermons are prominent in this section of God’s Word. How prominent are they today?

    I wonder how many pastors of mega-churches actually preach messages of judgment? I’m sure there are some, but you just don’t hear about it. But it is certainly not a way to preach if you want to gather a crowd …

    And then, the book of Jonah—if you really stop and think about it, it is unique in the prophetic literature. It tells the story of how the Lord dealt with one of his prophets. One thing that stands out this morning is that God commands a fish to swallow Jonah; He commands that same fish to spit him out; He commands a plant to give Jonah shade; and He commands a worm to eat the plant. In each instance, God’s creation obeys him instantaneously, but with the prophet and with us, it is not that easy. What a tragedy!

    Lord, I can really relate to Jonah … Help me to obey you the first time. Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 65

    Day 65: Hosea 13:7 to Amos 9:10 and the Lap of Luxury

    I did have a talk with Rachel at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center yesterday. I told her about my sleep issues. She is going to contact the drug company to see what I can take to help me.

    I honestly don’t know how much longer I can go without more sleep. I use the terminology “more sleep” because I do get some each night—a couple of hours here and there. When I wake up, the “motor” is going, and it is difficult to tone it down. I still try to rest, but it is difficult.

    There is a lot pressing in these days. Most of it has to do with the church. One cannot control everything that happens. I wish I could. But the timing of the issues we are facing right now, from my personal health standpoint, could not be worse. I don’t know how else to say it …

    I am as burdened for the church I serve as I have ever been.

    This is a huge point of contention with my mom and sister because they get to see firsthand how stress exacerbates an already difficult challenge, but hey, there are thousands of folks out there that are dealing with tough things while going through cancer treatment. It is what it is, and as I said to someone the other day, I’m not as sick as many others who have this disease.

    My family and I are thankful that I can still eat and don’t have to face nausea on a continuous basis as many do who are taking these pills. I think it is fairly common. Here is a comment on the instruction page Rachel gave me: “Vomited does should be retaken, but only if the tablets are visible in the vomitus.”

    So, not only are some throwing up with this treatment, but they have to be careful to throw up in a place or way where he or she can actually look at the “vomitus” to see if the pills are in there … I don’t think I want to let my imagination go further …

    Anyway, back to the church—I do have several people who ask me how they can help right now. I appreciate this offer very much, but honestly, the best way to help is to pray. We are not going through anything right now that a good, old-fashioned revival would not cure and this is not too difficult for God to pull off. Of course, we have a responsibility in this …

    I repeat: for those of you who want to help, whether you are in the church or not, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. This is what we need now. Pray as individuals. Pray as a family. Call a friend and ask them to pray with you. PRAY.

    I will have to say that I do get a lot of insight into our struggle as I read the prophecy of Amos this morning. I can definitely see a sermon series coming out of this book down the road, but here are a couple of prominent passages that caught my eye this morning:

    "Listen to this, you women of Samaria, who grow fat like the well-fed cows of Bashan, who mistreat the weak, oppress the poor, and demand that your husbands keep you supplied with liquor! As the Sovereign Lord is holy, he has promised, ‘The days will come when they will drag you away with hooks; every one of you will be like a fish on a hook’” (Amos 4:1, 2 GNT).

    "How terrible it will be for you that have such an easy life in Zion and for you that feel safe in Samaria—you great leaders of this great nation Israel, you to whom the people go for help! How terrible it will be for you that stretch out on your luxurious couches, feasting on veal and lamb! The Sovereign Lord Almighty has given this solemn warning: ‘I hate the pride of the people of Israel; I despise their luxurious mansions. I will give their capital city and everything in it to the enemy’” (Amos 6:1, 4, 8 GNT).

    Do you see a theme in these passages? We are all just too comfortable, too “fat and sassy,” as the expression goes, on our couches and in our luxurious homes. We may not look at them that way, but compared to what I saw in India and what exists in most of the other countries of the world—we are wealthy and comfortable beyond measure.

    This is a blessing but it is also a huge problem. We are too comfortable.

    I’m afraid we are facing the same challenges Amos faced—trying to preach a message of urgency about the imminent judgment of God to people who yawn and go home to sit on their couches—sounds like football and baseball and et cetera season.

    Lord, I am included in the number of folks who are, as the KJV famously puts Amos 6:1, “at ease in Zion.” Have mercy on me, Lord. Have mercy on all of us, especially the church of which I am a part, before it is too late. Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 64

    Day 64: Daniel 9:1 to Hosea 13:6 and the Dew

    Yesterday was one of the more difficult days. After a sleepless night, it felt as if I were slogging through a mud puddle most of the day. My mom and sis had urged me to get Jeremy to preach for me. I was almost ready to do it, but I just decided to go on. By the end of a very long day, I was tired, but not as tired as I expected.

    I keep hoping that someday, I will get adjusted to these pills. I am beginning to wonder if that is a naïve notion—probably. But, I’m going to call the doctor and see if there is some way that they can help me sleep.

    When I am “sleep deprived,” it affects many things adversely (as you would imagine) but particularly my writing. I have finished the devotionals through July as of last night, but I really need to pick up the pace in order to finish by mid-May. This is going to be a huge challenge, especially if I find it hard to stay awake whenever I sit down in a chair.

    Somebody asked me the other day, “Would you say that this treatment is more difficult than the first one?” My answer was, “Absolutely. Before, I went in for several hours and then got my steroid shot the next day. It took me a week, but eventually, the effects of the treatment and the steroid diminished. This time, it feels as if I am getting a treatment/steroid every day. There is no break.” Maybe this is the reason that cancer research has gone this way: it is a longer, sustained attack on the cancer.

    I speak as if I know something. Ha. Who knows?

    We had a good service yesterday. Torre Fuerte—our Hispanic congregation joined us. Well … people kept filtering in throughout the service. I appreciated them making the effort to come. The reason for this is that, at the end of our service and the beginning of theirs, we baptized two people—Vanessa and Jorge’s son Abner. It was awesome.

    However, I continue to have a burden for the church I serve, particularly Sunday school. Betty and I had a meeting with our adult teachers. They seem to be a little discouraged. Our attendance in Sunday school, particularly as we started “The Bible in 90 Days,” has dropped off.

    Here is what I struggle with: whenever we just maintain the status quo (this is a Sunday school program in which, for the most part people just show up with little or not expectation of having done anything and no challenge to do anything as a result of the lesson), then people will come. But once we challenge people, they just don’t come.

    Now, please don’t hear me disparaging our teachers at all in this. They are studying hard and teaching the Word and making application. It is not their fault, but I think we have just become a little lazy and content with cognitive learning and no life change. This takes me back to what I learned in India. Somehow, we have gotten off track … only the Lord can get us back. I feel more burdened than ever to ask Him for a movement of the Spirit. Start with me, Lord. Start with me.

    Well, the book of Hosea is the first of a new section of the Old Testament called “The Minor Prophets,” so named not because these men preached less of a message than that of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel but just because of the length of the books.

    Hosea has always been one of my favorites. This book is full of vivid imagery. Of course, the dominant life metaphor has to do with Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, but that is only the beginning of the vivid ways that the Lord used Hosea to call the northern kingdom of Israel to repentance.

    Here is another of my favorite metaphors in this book. Notice how it is used in two ways:

    "’Let us try to know the Lord. He will come to us as surely as the day dawns, as surely as the spring rains fall upon the earth.’ But the Lord says, ‘Israel and Judah, what am I going to do with you? Your love for me disappears as quickly as morning mist; it is like dew, that vanishes early in the day. That is why I have sent my prophets to you with my message of judgment and destruction. What I want from you is plain and clear: I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me’” (Hosea 6:3-6). The Lord compares the fickleness of the people to dew. It appears and it is gone.
    Notice what he says in 14:5 (I read ahead a bit): God says, “I will be like the dew to Israel. He will blossom like the lily, And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon” (NASB). Even though his people were faithless, the Lord remained faithful.
    A good reminder, especially for a pastor.
    “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God My Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee.” Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 63

    Day 63: Ezekiel 47:13 to Daniel 8:27 and An Unexpected Blessing

    Thank you for your prayers for me yesterday and “The Eagle is Landing” Conference. I hope to get a chance to visit with Bob, our team leader for the Mile High Association, this week. I will ask him what he thought the conference.

    I’m sure some might be disappointed. We did not have the numbers of folks that we expected, but as I was sharing with my mom and sister later that afternoon, I think it will be one of those things that is going to gain momentum, and it will grow.

    One of the things I have learned over the years is that I have canceled/moved on from ministries where the “numbers” weren’t there, and I have done it too quickly. It just takes time for the word to get out. I think this conference is an example of that.

    Can I just say that I am tired and weary of numbers? So often, that becomes the criteria for success in my line of work. I’m sick of it. I understand it. Sometimes, it is a gauge. But sometimes it isn’t.

    Anyway, if anyone were to ask me how I think it went, I would say, “A huge success.”

    The way it was set up, there were two pastor’s seminars. Dan and Dennis were slated to lead a class dealing with the ministry issues surrounding seniors and the local church. I was scheduled to follow them and teach on the subject of “A Theology of Aging and Death.” I spent a lot of time preparing a rather formal presentation. I am sure Dan and Dennis did as well, but none of us used the fancy tools like a computer and overhead projector we brought.

    That’s fine.

    The reason? Well, there were a few other pastors at the event, but in our two seminars, it ended up being the four of us—Dan, his wife Michelle (who made an outstanding contribution), Dennis, and myself plus Sam. At one point in the morning, one of the attorneys, Carey, joined us for a few moments and entered into the discussion, but for the main part, it was just the five of us.

    We had some awesome discussions about ministry, and I left after lunch very encouraged.

    What was the content of our dialogue? Well, of course, it had to do with seniors, but at this point, suffice it to say that I learned that I am not alone in the challenges we face at First Southern.

    It is always good to know that you are not alone.

    Beyond that bit of news, I need to pray about the other things we talked about. Maybe, I will share that information later.

    Anyway, the encouragement continues this morning. I honestly don’t know of six more inspiring chapters linked together in the whole Bible than Daniel 1-6—so many famous stories of the way the Lord rewards faithfulness and protects His people. I will just cite a couple of significant quotes from these stories.

    Threatened with death in the furnace if they don’t bow down to a false god, S, M, and A tell the king that they refuse to worship any god but the true God and that they are trusting God to rescue them. But they add this caveat:

    "But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up” (Daniel 3:18 GNT). Our worship does not (or should not) depend on God jumping through our hoops “when we need him” (this is another fallacy; we “need” him all the time, whether we recognize or admit it).

    Another reference in that same story captured my attention: when S, M, and A came out of the furnace, they were not burned or even singed, AND they did not even smell of smoke (see Daniel 3:27)! Love it.

    Father, I’m grateful for the unexpected blessing of being able to share fellowship with some guys yesterday—there is no way to measure how valuable it is. Thank you, Lord. You know what I need and you are actively rescuing me right now and all the time, whether I realize it or not. Not even a smoke smell! Ha. Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 62

    Day 62: Ezekiel 36:1 to 47:12 and “The Eagle is Landing”

    Thank you for praying for me. Yesterday (during the day) was better, and it was a good thing because I had a ton of work to do.

    Last night, however, was not good. I think I slept maybe two hours total. I just pray that my body will adjust to this medicine. If not, this could be a tough several months or however long I have to take these pills, especially because I have to overcome my preconceived notions of what I thought this was going to be.

    Preconceived ideas tend to be a problem, usually.

    I will say, however, that from the start, I have noticed a steady lessening of the swelling on my neck, so from that standpoint, I am grateful for the improvement.

    It is just a day-to-day deal. Almost four years ago, as I started this cancer pilgrimage, the Lord gave me Matthew 6:34, “So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings” (GNT). This is what cancer continues to teach me. I continue to struggle to learn this lesson. I’m not there yet.

    Whenever I allow my mind to start drifting into thoughts of the future or questions like, “Is this the rest of my life? How many more treatment regimens will I have to face? Is this moving ultimately to a bone marrow transplant and will that even help?” then I find myself sinking down, fairly rapidly. I’ve learned I just can’t allow myself to go THERE.

    Anyway, I’m glad to be able to concentrate today on the conference Bob graciously invited me to be a part of today. I’m teaching a breakout session three times today. The title of it is, “A Theology of Aging and Death.”

    Last night, Marilyn asked me what I have learned from my study. I answered, “I wish that seniors would take the opportunity to be mentors of younger people. Their years of service and wisdom could be a real help for the local church.”

    Almost before those words left my mouth, my mom said, “That is all well and good, but younger people don’t care what we think. They don’t want to listen to old people because they are out of touch.” Okay. There is a lot of truth to that comment.

    This is the type of thing that conferences like this bring out. I honestly believe that it is going to be a ground breaking, thought provoking, and potentially a very emotional day as all sides of the issue of “strategic aging” come out. I’m really looking forward to it.

    Back to last night, at the end of our discussion, Marilyn said, “Wow, I should go to this conference. It sounds awesome.” My mom agreed, “I should go as well.” I don’t know if they can this year, but I see this conference gaining momentum if we continue it.

    About the reading for today … some well-known passages in Ezekiel such as the Valley of Dry Bones precede what initially appears to be a very monotonous and tedious series of chapters in which measurements and dimensions come to the forefront. What is going on?

    Well, pages and pages and pages could be written. There are many different opinions about what is going on in this passage. Let me just say this: chapters forty through 48 in Ezekiel are the high point of the book. They look back to the descriptions of the tabernacle in the book of Exodus, but they also look forward to the measurements in the book of Revelation.

    This is not (in my humble but accurate opinion—ha) about a rebuilt temple and a re-institution of the sacrifices of the Old Testament someday (what is the point of Calvary then?). No, it is about the fact that God’s plan is symmetrical. It fits. It lines up. And someday, not when the exiles return, God will pull everything together.

    The prophet was telling the people about the restoration of the worship of God, a worship that is in fact not dependent on buildings, and the fact that someday, as a result of the work of the Ruling Prince (he is mentioned often in these chapters), everyone will have the opportunity to come to Him and serve Him.

    Dimensions matter. If something has dimensions, it is real and it is solid.

    Lord, taking one day at a time, I thank you for today and the privilege of serving you. I’m going to do that as long as you give me breath. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future—a cliché but true. And, I thank you for the measurements of your unfolding plan. It is real, just as real as You are, and I’m thankful to have a part of it. Amen.
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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 61

    Day 61: Ezekiel 23:40 to 35:15 and Hard Pills

    Well, the treatment regimen that I started on Wednesday has not been anything like what I imagined. I know I had a pretty naïve view of things.

    As the day progressed yesterday, I felt worse and worse. Taking these pills makes me feel as if I am getting those steroid shots all over again.

    My motor is running but I am going nowhere. It runs during the day and at night, so much so that I can’t sleep. During the day, I can’t seem to rest or get comfortable. By the time I went to bed last night, I was miserable.

    Plus, my hands started to feel numb last night. Oh, great—something else!

    I think I was so exhausted last night that I slept pretty well, and somehow, I feel a little better this morning.

    To say the least, this is NOT what I expected, but as Dr. Jotte said the other day, “Just because you are taking pills, don’t think this is like aspirin. You will start to feel it in a couple of days. I just hope the side effects are not that severe.” The jury is still out on that comment.

    The other thing that continued to happen is spiritual warfare BIG TIME. It is so weird that I had to be jolted a bit to remember my own sermon from last Sunday, and when I started to quote from Lamentations 3, especially last night, I got some relief.

    “Physician, heal yourself” as the biblical proverb goes. Let’s just see if I was just preachin’ or if there really is some truth to what I said. Invariably, the Lord brings me face to face with my own words. Sometimes, it is after the fact.

    Anyway, thanks for praying. I deeply appreciate all of you who are.

    Today, I hope to get to spend time with Marilyn the day BEFORE her birthday. Tomorrow is the all day conference at Riverside. I don’t anticipate having much extra time, although we will do a birthday dinner.

    In the meantime, there is still very much to do to get ready for tomorrow and to continue writing. I am cranking out as many devotionals as possible each day. I am now in mid-July. I hope to finish month seven today.

    I do want to go back to something I alluded to yesterday. The more I spend time with Peter Lord’s 2959 Plan, the more I am impressed with it. It has sparked some things in my memory that I used to do that somehow I have moved away from in recent years.

    Please see the website at
    www.pray2959.com. I think I am going to subscribe to the online version today—not primarily because of the study at church, but because I need help right now in my walk with Jesus.

    In the reading today, one passage in particular struck me. In the course of his preaching ministry, Ezekiel suffered a severe blow:

    "The Lord spoke to me. ‘Mortal man,’ he said, ‘with one blow I am going to take away the person you love most. You are not to complain or cry or shed any tears. Don't let your sobbing be heard. Do not go bareheaded or barefoot as a sign of mourning. Don't cover your face or eat the food that mourners eat’” (Ezekiel 24:15-17, NLT).

    I don’t know … if the Lord said that to me, I think I would say, “Come on, Lord. Isn’t there any way? You are going to take my wife and use my non-reaction (in public at least) for a sermon?” I think it would be a hard pill to swallow, pun intended.

    Sometimes the Lord does indeed give us hard pills to swallow. That is the real test.

    Lord, the only way I can pass this test is by your grace and strength. This whole thing has knocked me off my perch a bit. But you have called others to swallow more difficult “pills.” Nobody said it was going to be easy. Amen.

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    The Bible in 90 Days--Day 60

    Day 60: Ezekiel 12:21 to 23:39 and Spiritual Warfare Along with GS-9973

    First of all, I want to share that my mom is fine. She woke up yesterday morning with no issues from her fall yesterday. We praise God for this. Thank you for praying.

    Second, thanks for praying for me as I started my treatments. Before yesterday, I was under the impression that I would go in once a month, take one pill, and then skip out the door like a child on the last day of school.

    Ah, no. That is not the scenario. Rachel handed me a sheet of paper with some instructions on it. The medicine I am taking has no name yet because it is still in the trial stage. It is called GS-9973.

    I took my first dose at the cancer center yesterday—4 pills, but I am required to take four pills every twelve hours EVERY DAY.

    At one point in the proceedings yesterday, the doctor came into the waiting room to visit with me. “John, just because this is a pill doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be rough, potentially. You may not have side effects, but be prepared. You won’t know for a couple of days. It takes a while for this medicine to get in your system.”

    Yesterday, they wanted to make sure my body was tolerating the first dose well so I went back to the center twice for blood tests before I headed up for work.

    The common side effects listed on the sheet Rachel gave me yesterday are: headache, somnolence (a fancy word for sleeplessness), and Gastrointestinal Symptoms (another $10,000 term for … well, you can guess). But so far so good, but I do feel a little churned up, come to think of it, like I felt after the steroid shots in my first round of treatments almost four years ago.

    I am getting ready to take my third dose here in about an hour.

    Third, I just have to add one more thing about yesterday. I felt under attack from the enemy for most of the day into the night until this morning. Weird. This confirms that the devil tries to pounce on us when we are down physically.

    This is why I feel particularly burdened to pray for cancer patients when they are getting treatment. As if the physical stuff is not enough, Satan uses it as an opportunity, at least that has been my experience.

    Fourth, I came across an interesting article detailing a conversation with Peter Lord. I don’t know if many of you will know that name. He was a pastor in Florida for many years. He developed the “2959 Plan” in the seventies. It is one of the best prayer resources EVER. I noticed that since the Dark Ages, when it came in the form of a little spiral notebook, it is now online. Check it out. Just enter “2959 plan” in Google.

    Anyway, as I was researching some things related to this study, I came across a blog in which the author, Seth, had a conversation with Peter Lord, who is now retired. He asked Peter Lord about the state of the church in America. Lord’s reply was, “It is better than nothing.” The famed pastor went on to say that he believes that churches should have no more than twelve folks in them and that, if he had his career as a pastor do over, he would preach less and spend more time in small group discipleship. Interesting.

    But what a sad commentary on the church: “It is better than nothing.”

    Well, anyway, today’s readings continue in the prophecy of Ezekiel. What a fascinating book! But there is a refrain that occurs over and over and over. God tells “Zeke” to preach a message. The prophet announces some type of calamity the people are facing, and invariably, at the end of a graphic description, he says:

    "I intend to break down the wall they whitewashed, to shatter it, and to leave the foundation stones bare. It will collapse and kill you all. Then everyone will know that I am the Lord" (Ezekiel 13:14 GNT, emphasis mine). Again, the main problem the people faced through the destruction of Jerusalem, their deportation to Babylon, and their time along the Chebar River in Babylon was idolatry. The Lord literally had to beat it out of them, in the same kind of way that a loving father spanks his wayward child.
    Lord, I thank you that you love us so much that you allow extremely difficult circumstances in our lives to test us and try us and to see what or whom we really worship. Okay, Lord. Amen.
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