A Stroll At Leisure With God

A Korean CHRISTIAN Wedding

Yesterday, our Korean pastor’s son, Han, got married, and the family invited me to the ceremony and in fact to participate in it. I was glad and honored to do it.

One of the hugest blessings of having multiple ethnicities worshiping under one roof is the privilege of seeing how other believers worship and serve God.

I have never been to a Korean Christian wedding before. This was a first for me.

Here are some of my observations.

First, Korean believers here in Denver (even across denominational lines) are a very close group.

I’ll never forget meeting a couple of Korean pastors on the golf course several years ago. They served Presbyterian and American Baptist congregations on the south side of Denver. I told them about the group that meets in our building. One of them asked, “Who is the pastor?”

“Dong Lim,” I replied. Their faces lit up. “We know him. We just met with him the other day. He is a fine brother.” Wow.

So, yesterday, I bet there were two hundred people there including many pastors, some of whom I had met before. Dong’s congregation has only a few people in it, but the whole community showed up for this wedding.

Second, the family decorated our auditorium with many flowers. I have never seen so many in any wedding I have ever attended or officiated. It was beautiful.

Third, the pastor who officiated (it was not Dong, the father) preached a rather lengthy message that included the story of how Han and Grace met. I was able to pick up some of what he was saying because the family provided headphones for a translation. He gave some personal greetings, shared some stories about the groom and bride, and preached a message from Ephesians 5.

We sang a couple of very familiar gospel hymns as well some musical presentations from Grace’s family.

Fourth, and here is the thing that stood out to me. Near the end of the ceremony, before the “kiss your bride” part, both Han and Grace stepped down from the platform. They stood first before her parents and both bowed. Then, they shuffled over to the groom’s side, where they bowed again. Dong and Crystal stood up and gave both of them a long hug. It was a wonderful way to honor their parents.

After the ceremony, Betty along with Pastor Ilamarques (who serves the Brazilian congregation that meets in the building) and his wife “Edgy,” went downstairs for a huge meal in our fellowship hall.

During the course of the meal, Han and Grace reappeared in traditional Korean “garb.” They sat at the head table along with other members of the wedding party.

Back to the service, the pastor who officiated made a great statement. I am paraphrasing here. He asserted, “You cannot define Christian spirituality apart from the family.”

As Americans, we want to individualize everything or worse redefine the family. I saw an ad yesterday about a new show on ABC this summer. One statement in the promo said, “No matter how the genders are blended, family is family.”

NO! We don’t get to redefine God’s institution. Gender matters. Marriage is one man and one woman.

Yesterday, I saw the Christian definition of family displayed in a way that honors God.

“My son, observe the commandment of your father And do not forsake the teaching of your mother” (Proverbs
6:20 NASB).

Lord, thank You so much for the wedding and the beginning of a marriage between Han and Grace. I lift them up to You today. Thank You for both sets of parents and the family involved. Strengthen my families and all the families in all the congregations in our church and in the Christian community at large. What a great idea You had, Lord—FAMILY. Amen.

Ruin the Midst of the Congregation

Notice this verse in Proverbs 5: “I was almost in utter ruin In the midst of the assembly and congregation” (Proverbs 5:14 NASB).

Let me give you a little context. This verse comes as a part of a series of warnings about taking the wrong path. This is the voice of regret. “Why didn’t I listen? Why did I refuse instruction?” It is the cry of an anguished heart—someone who blew it on a moral level and now has to live with regrets for the rest of his life.

But back to verse 14. What is going on here? Here is a translation of this verse from the Amplified Bible: “[The extent and boldness of] my sin involved almost all evil [in the estimation] of the congregation and the community.” Humm. That seems to put another light on it.

My old buddy, the commentator, Tremper Longman III, asserts that this verse is a culmination of this warning section. If the young man ignores the moral advice he is given, the public shame (ruin before the assembled community) will be complete and no one will forget it.

I tell you that this sends chills up and down my spine.

Here is the ultimate contradiction: for a man to make a bad choice, having ignored the advice and counsel of his teachers and mentors in the church, and then have to turn right around and face the consequences of sin right in front of those same folks.

Last Sunday, I gave Connor (our worship leader) and his fiancée Jess an opportunity to share about the way they have decided to conduct their relationship as they prepare for marriage. They talked about some of their convictions when it comes to morality. It was awesome.

They share BEFORE the congregation.

The truth is that all of live our lives in full view, whether we realize it or not.

Anyway, back to last Sunday, as Connor and Jess were concluding their time of sharing (this occurred right in the middle of the sermon), Dan raised his hand to ask a question, “Connor and Jess, do you two have someone to keep you accountable?” Great question.

Both Connor and Jess nodded their heads. “Oh, yes,” Jess answered. “We have friends who will kick our tails if we don’t stay in line.”

That’s the way it should be with us all. We all need teachers and mentors who can speak truth into our lives and ask us how we are doing.

As I sit here this morning, I am convicted that I need to contact mine and have a conversation with them. Soon.

This topic takes me back to a comment that Pastor Jack Graham made in a sermon at the SBC Pastor’s Conference years ago. I am paraphrasing: “Guys, I know this sounds rather simplistic, but I say to myself over and over, ‘Jack, don’t blow it. Just don’t blow it.’” I’ve never forgotten that.

As a pastor, we are human like everyone else, BUT the damage we can do because of some moral failure seems to be so much greater.

One of my greatest deterrents is to think of the reproach I would bring on the congregation I serve. When I just see them in my mind’s eye—sitting out there—listening to me preach and responding as they do…

Oh, Lord, let me heed the advice that I preach to others, lest possibly, after preaching to others, I myself might become a castaway. By Your grace and strength. Help me, Lord. Amen.

105 Days in a Row

Those of you who know me know that it was only a matter of time before I commented on the weather here in Colorado for the past month.

But before I do, I have to put some things in perspective. Betty told me about the severe weather that folks are facing in India. They are dealing with a heat wave. I just saw a report that 1100 people have died in one city alone with temperatures soaring over 110 degrees. Throughout the nation, people are dying because of the heat.

Back here in the states, people in Oklahoma and Texas are dealing with devastating floods.

Sunday, we prayed for the city of Claremore, Oklahoma. We have some dear friends there from Eastern Hills Baptist Church. They came to help us with a sports camp last summer.

I could cite other examples of how severe weather is having a huge impact on people’s lives.

What I am going to share this morning pales compared to all of this.

These same rains that have severely affected other states in the Midwest have been falling here in Colorado. May has been the rainiest month I have ever witnessed in all the years I have lived here. Unbelievable.

The impact here is more personal. As much as I or anyone else does not want to admit it, it is a downer. Everyone is talking about it and they are tired of the rain, even the so-called self-proclaimed environmentalists who assert, “Well, we need the moisture.” Yeah, right.

Was it Mark Twain who said, “Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it”? So true.

Yesterday, I visited with a man at the doctor’s office. We were talking about the weather. He is originally from Seattle, Washington. He moved to Portland, Oregon to attend college. He said, “You think this is bad? When I was in college, in one stretch, we had 105 days straight of rain. 105 days! This is why I moved to Colorado.”

There you go.

I do know this. Jesus proved it. The Gospels confirm it. “Even the wind and the waves obey Him.” He is in charge of the weather.

What does this mean for me? Well, I realize that instead of spending a lot of time complaining about something I can’t do anything about, when the temptation to gripe comes to mind, I just need to think of friends in India or people in Oklahoma who have lost their homes AND PRAY.

This helps me avoid another potential way to get off track in my walk with Jesus.

It is weird to say this—but complaining and griping all the time about the weather or whatever seems to be a rather harmless thing. In fact, it has a certain appeal to it. The enemy sees to that. It seems inconsequential, but it certainly wasn’t for the Israelites. The “complainers” or grumblers never made it to the Promised Land.

“For the lips of an adulteress drip honey And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, Her steps take hold of Sheol” (Proverbs
5:3-5 NASB).

Lord, today, I refuse to listen to HER. I choose instead to thank You for the rain because You are allowing it. I lift up our friends in India and Oklahoma and Texas. God, I pray for a break in the weather for them to get some relief. Amen.

Martha and Mary and "Our Helpless Estate"

Yesterday, in the service in the nursing home, Jim and I only had two ladies show up: Mary and Martha. We joked that we were waiting for Lazarus to come in as well.

As we started the service, Jim did his usual great job of alternating. He sings a song and then we all sing together and then he sings another song and so forth. After five or six songs, he hands me “the microphone,” so to speak, for the message. It is not really a formal sermon per se.

Since I have started to preach in the nursing homes with Jim a few months ago, I decided to use the tactic of “preaching from the overflow.” That is a fancy way of saying that I just choose passages that have impacted me in my Quiet Time. So, yesterday, I chose Proverbs 3:5-6 and just talked about it for a few minutes.

As I was explaining that acknowledging God means “to know God in the path” (a truth I discovered and talked about here a few days ago), Martha just started to cry. “I tell you: my heart hurts—my whole chest. The process of me coming here was really difficult. I had spent my whole life making decisions and now I am at a point where all my decisions are made for me.”

Wow, I can’t imagine …

You know, most of us just write people off who are in nursing homes. We don’t think much about them because we really don’t want to think about them. But they are still people with emotions and struggles, just like the rest of us.

Mary was a little different story. She is extremely positive and always makes very good remarks in the course of the singing and the study, but it came out that she had just been in the hospital. When I asked her about it, she said, “Oh, I’m fine.”

When I finished my study, Jim stood up and said, “As I was preparing for today, I had chosen one song at this point, but the Holy Spirit would not let me sing it, and now I know why. The one He led me to choose fits right in with the message you shared.”

The hymn was “It is Well with my Soul.” The second verse was particularly relevant to the study, to those two women, and to me:

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

Isn’t this the essence of what “knowing God in the way” is all about? I need to remember that Christ has regard for my helpless estate. I’m just as helpless when it comes to the things of God or accomplishing anything for Him as those two women in the nursing home. I just needed a reminder of it.

“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble” (Proverbs
4:18-19 NASB).

Lord, as we affirmed yesterday, Your path, the straight path, the bright path, is the best. This does not mean that it is easy. It is never easy. But I’m grateful that You have regard for our helpless estate, whether we realize we are helpless or not. I lift up Martha and Mary today. Encourage both of them on the path. Amen.

Cracked But Still Plugging

Okay, so yesterday, I FINALLY felt as if I was getting better with this virus that I have had for, count ‘em—FOUR WEEKS! Needless to say, I have never dealt with anything like it before. I think the viruses are becoming more virulent and thus lasting longer and longer. Gulp. I shutter to think …

So, I hope this means that I am done with physical issues for a few days. Ha. But these past three months … let me recap. It took me a month and a half to recover from my last chemo treatment. Just about the time I felt over it, I injured my leg. Not too many days after I got the boot off, I caught this stinking virus—three months of fun and frivolity.

To be honest, I am grateful to God and a bit weary. But I am thankful that the Lord brought my mom and sister and me through it all. It has been a rough few months for them as well.

Oh, well. Enough of that.

Yesterday, I received an early birthday present—one of the best ever. I want to tell you about it.

Most of you who read this blog remember that, in the recent snowstorm, we lost the oldest remaining tree on our property—a 52 year-old crabapple tree my dad planted at the corner of our driveway. I am still rather surprised at how much that loss affected me. I’m not really sure why … it is just a tree. Maybe the emotion is linked with everything I have just mentioned. I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.

But, the company who cut it down left some of the stump and larger branches on the lower part of the tree. Marilyn saved one large piece aside.

She had a conversation about it with John.

Let me tell you about this brother. He is Holly’s dad. Holly is our next door neighbor. She and her husband Brent have three awesome children: Halle, Caleb, and Sunday. Halle is the artist who sketched the crab apple tree. Turns out, she also took a lot of pictures of it and sent them to me as well. I appreciated this greatly.

Well, John, who serves his congregation, is bi-vocational. His “other” job is a General Contractor. He has done some work for us in our home and it is top notch. Right now, as I write these words, he is painting our house and his cohort Tim is re-doing our deck in the back. These brothers are awesome. I have a lot of respect for them.

Anyway, Marilyn told Pastor John about this stump she had pulled aside and said, “I wish that we could find someone to do some sort of carving with this wood, and I would like to give it to John (speaking of her beloved brother).”

John replied, “I know someone.” So, he took it to a lady he was acquainted with on the way to his cabin in the mountains and she enthusiastically accepted the challenge. He paid her to do work on that piece of wood from the crab apple tree—an awesome gift.

I will post a picture of it on Facebook. It is incredible.

She crafted an eagle out of the wood and beside it the reference, Isaiah 40:31. One of the interesting features of this sculpture and John pointed this out to us yesterday is that the wood is starting to crack a bit. But this only gives this sculpture more character. I love it!

Actually, can I say this? I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but that is what preachers do. Right?

This sculpture is a metaphor of where I am with God TODAY. I am waiting on Him in so many ways—for my health, for revival in the church, and for direction. Waiting on God is NEVER easy.

Why does God ask us to wait on Him? Is it because He is somehow slow? NOPE. I think He asks us to wait because we are slow. He has some character issues that need to be sculpted out and some breaking that needs to occur. But those cracks only add to the beauty of the Artist’s work.

This reminds of the name Carol chose for our women’s group a few years ago. She dubbed them the “Cracked Pots.” What a great name! What an honor to be “cracked” for God!

Here is the verse. In this case, I prefer the KJV: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Lord, I’m thankful for this awesome gift and the timing of it. Thank You for John, Tim, and Ruby and their ministry. Thank You for getting us through this three-month period. Everyone knows I am cracked. But I rejoice in it. Cracked but still plugging along by your grace and strength. Amen.

Responding to a Crude Remark

This is going to seem a little nebulous because I don’t want to go into detail here, but yesterday, I was with a buddy. We happened to get into a conversation with a total stranger. He seemed like a nice enough guy. There was no fight. He was just trying to be funny in his own way, I guess. But he made a crude remark.

Now, before I go further, I have to say a couple of things at this point. First, it is not the first of this type of statement that I have ever heard in my life. Second, I understand that lost people react and respond and make jokes out of their lostness. Christians sometimes act like lost people too, on occasion. This guy yesterday obviously needs the Lord or needs to get right with Him. Third, when I speak of response, I am not talking about some kind of “holier-than-thou” condemnation. This NEVER helps anyone. Nope. Fourth, as Christians, I don’t think we need to focus on “symptoms.” We need to realize that people need the Lord and we need to respond appropriately.

I get all of that.

However, yesterday seemed to be one of those circumstances in which I SHOULD have made an appropriate response. I SHOULD have said something, but nothing came to mind and my friend and I just moved on. Maybe that is the best thing. I don’t know …

As we walked away, I said, “You know, I should have responded to that crude remark in some way, but usually, what happens in these situations is that I think of what I should have said long after the opportunity presents itself.”

All of this brings to mind a time when I did hear an appropriate response.

This was in seminary. I was walking along with the professor who was teaching an evangelism seminar I took in the PhD. program at Southwestern. We passed another professor who made a snide remark to him. Now, it wasn’t crude. It wasn’t on the same level as what happened yesterday. I want to be clear about this.

But after that other professor made that comment, the prof I was with stopped, dead in his tracks, and looking at the other guy (one of his colleagues) and stated, “Humm, I don’t know how to respond to that, so I won’t.”

The other guy did know what to say at that point, either, so he just headed on. And so did we, continuing our conversation.

What I am trying to say in all of this is that SOMETIMES, an appropriate response provides an opportunity to share the love of Christ and/or rebuke to someone who needs it.

I am praying today, that if someone gives me an opportunity (it doesn’t have to be a crude or snide remark—whatever) that I will respond in an appropriate way. And again, that may be saying NOTHING.

Anyway, I’m sure that my reading in Proverbs will help me with this at some point.

In the meantime, notice these verses in chapter three today: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body And refreshment to your bones” (Proverbs
3:7-8 NASB). I like the specificity of verse eight in the Amplified Bible: “It shall be health to your nerves and sinews, and marrow and moistening to your bones.”

Another very practical benefit of obedience to the Lord.

Lord, thank you for the health you have given me today. Somehow, I can’t get that incident from yesterday off my mind. It sort of caught me off guard. I pray for that guy, whoever he is. If he is a Christian, that comment was certainly not appropriate. I lift him up to you. I pray for alertness and awareness today, whatever opportunities you bring my way. Let me honor you in my loving response or in my silence. Amen.

In All Your Paths

I like commentator Tremper Longman III’s translation of Proverbs 3:5-6, arguably two of the most famous verses in the book: “Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding. In all your paths, know him and he will keep your paths straight.”

All of us have various paths. Knowing God in the path keeps us on it. AND, here is the promise, and this intrigues me, “He will keep your paths straight.”

In 2:15, those who delight in evil are on “crooked” paths and live devious lives.

I can’t help but think that sin really does complicate things. I think about what happened with the Israelites in the wilderness when they refused to believe God at Kadesh Barnea. They started a “crooked” path that went around and around in the desert until all of them died off, all except Joshua and Caleb.

Proverbs also reminds us that the crooked path leads ultimately to death. When we go “nowhere” in this life, we end up going to “nowheresville” in eternity.

What a vivid contrast to the “straight” path! A straight path is the quickest and most efficient way between point A and point B.

On a straight path, the obstacles and difficulties are clearly visible and one has the time and leisure to see what is ahead and prepare for it. And when things come upon us suddenly, God gives us the wisdom to make the right decisions.

Yesterday, after our Community Group gatherings, we had a meeting to discuss an amendment to our church constitution. This is a big deal. And I was so encouraged to see how many folks stayed to discuss this change. We had a really good meeting. Dan led it and did an excellent job.

When it was over, he said, “In my former church, we had to amend our constitution to fit where we were as a church.” Absolutely.

Plus, I love this statement I came across in the section in our Constitution that talks about amendments: “This constitution is intended to be a living document, meaning it will be adjusted, as the church deems necessary for effectively fulfilling its purpose and mission.” Isn’t that awesome?

The church is a living organism, and our guiding document needs to reflect this as together, we head down a path.

I believe this opportunity presents us as a group an example of what the writer of the Proverbs is saying. Our path right now as a church is adjusting to where we are in this season of our pilgrimage. I believe that, if we trust Him in this path, He will guide us and make our paths straight.

I have to say this. I do NOT believe that the promise of a straight path means that life and decisions will be easy. That is not what is going on here. The example of the prophets and the statements of Jesus confirm that suffering lies in our path as we head down the road.

But to me, this is just another example of why, on a very practical level, I want to be a Christian on a straight path dealing with those problems rather than someone who does not know God heading down a crooked path.

Wouldn’t you?

Lord, I thank You for the paths and I thank You for the privilege of knowing You IN the path and ON the path. Give us wisdom as a church to make good decisions. We do lack wisdom. We ask You for it. Amen.

Ranks Up There

At lunch yesterday, my mom and sis and I looked at each other, and we agreed that May of 2015 ranks up there as one of the toughest months we have ever had. This is weird to say, I know. And just as soon as you say it, get ready for June. It could be tougher.

It is just the combination of factors that started with all of us getting this virus that just never seems to go away and ending with Gary’s death. I won’t lay the full list on you this morning.

Usually, Memorial Day weekend is a joyful time for us—kind of the beginning of summer. But this year, we are all so weary that we are just glad this month is coming to an end.

Well, what do you do about it? First, I am going to praise God. I am going to acknowledge Him for His grace and mercy in allowing us to get through tough stuff.

Second, I am going to thank God for absolutely everything I can think of that has happened—good and bad. I have been particularly focused on expressing gratitude to God for Gary and the way the Lord used Him in my life.

Third, I am going to focus on the opportunities for ministry that this time of the year affords. We are still not sure what the Lord wants us to do this summer to reach folks, but we have several irons in the fire.

While I am in that neighborhood, please pray for the city of Claremore, Oklahoma. I just saw on the news that as a result of severe storms in the area, a firefighter was killed. Claremore has significance to us because last summer, some dear saints from Eastern Hills Baptist Church came to help us with a sports camp. What an awesome group!

What is the lesson here? Just as soon as you think you have it tough, you have to remember what others are going through, especially the family of that firefighter and the city of Claremore.

Anyway, as you can see, we are just making decisions to focus on the Lord and embracing His wisdom. This is what the first chapter of Proverbs advocates. It presents wisdom as a street preacher—calling out to the masses in the light of day—right out there in the open where everyone can see and hear. It is available to everyone at any time.

However, if one refuses it, the consequences are not good. When we choose not to listen or to follow, “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD. They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices” (Proverbs 1:28-31, NASB).

Believe me. We have no plans to do this, but I can see how folks can just decide to turn away from God. They go through tough times. They get tired and weary, and they just punt.

But think about it. When you turn away from God and His church, where do you go? When you refuse wisdom crying out on a street corner, the repeated calls of a merciful God, then He lets you go to be “satiated with their own devices.” What a scary statement! The Lord lets us live with our own “non-solutions” and we get in a deeper mess.

Here is the deal: I would rather be going through tough times right in the center of God’s will than deal with my “own devices” outside it.

Lord, I praise You this morning for being the God of wisdom. My family and I cry out to You for it today. Thank You for everything You have allowed this past month. I continue to pray for Gary’s family. I thank You for this great nation and all the men and women who have given their lives so that we have the freedom to worship You. Teach us what You want us to learn through these times. Oh, and thank You that May is almost over! Amen.


Aaron, Ricky, and the Right Path

This morning, I debated starting a new “formal” Bible reading plan, but I decided just to go on to the book of Proverbs.

After reading through the Bible TWICE last year, I have enjoyed a slower pace this year. I don’t know. I have to keep changing things up or I very easily get into a rut.

Anyway, the first chapter of Proverbs sets the tone for the rest of book. It all boils down to whom we listen and the path we take.

Notice these words from the first chapter: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause …’ My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path, for their feet run to evil and they hasten to shed blood”
1:10-11, 15-16, NASB).

I read an interesting story about Aaron Hernandez this morning. Do you recognize that name? He is the former New England Patriots’ tight end who was convicted of murder, but, as if that weren’t bad enough, his problems do not stop there.

This article I read made the claim that he was caught serving as a lookout for a gang fight in prison. Now, he has to deal with THAT charge as well.

Some people (and Hernandez definitely falls in this category) just have a penchant for hanging with the wrong folks and thus getting into trouble.

That is what makes these words in chapter one so powerful. They ring true.

Before I got saved at the age of nine, I always found myself hanging with the wrong folks. Ricky, a friend in the neighborhood, said, “Hey John, let’s see what we can find in some mailboxes on this street.” That was a good suggestion, huh? Last I heard, it is a felony to mess with someone else’s mail.

My one recollection of what I did was to take a prescription from someone’s box and pour out the pills on the ground.

This was stupid in so many ways. I can’t believe we didn’t get caught. In our neighborhood, we don’t have mailboxes on the street like many of the newer housing areas. Most folks’ mailbox is a slot near their front door like ours. So, Ricky and I were actually sticking our hands IN people’s houses to vandalize mail.

As I share all of this, I am a little apprehensive. Has the statute of limitations run out on this crime? I just realized this. Ha. Well, it is not funny.

This was the road I was on when I got saved. And, Ricky moved to California. We started going to church. My dad and mom got saved. Well, it went on from there …

And I am so thankful it did. I have often wondered what happened to Ricky. I never heard from him again. To this day, I believe God took him out of my circle of friends.

But here is the point: without the Spirit of God and the Word of God in us, we are sitting ducks for bad associations that can lead us down the wrong path. It is hard enough as a Christian! I think the diversions are more subtle but just as dangerous.

Lord, help me to listen only to You. Thank You for the church. All of us are far from perfect, but at least, we are all moving in the same direction—the straight and narrow. Amen.

Hoping for the Best

These are the prominent letters on a billboard I saw the other day. Underneath this statement, the message continues, “Is NOT a plan for the future.”

Racking my brain, I can’t think of exactly what this sign is advertising. I think it is for health insurance.

Whatever … the statement rings true.

Choose the situation: health, finances, health insurance, job, future, eternity, et cetera—I wonder how many people actually have that philosophy.

For some reason, I find myself more resistant to making plans than I have ever been. Why? I think the main reason is laziness. It seems just easier NOT to have one, but what I have learned is that indeed, it might be easier AT FIRST but down the road …

It is funny that I would see this sign and have its message on my heart as I read the final Psalm—150.

Most of the time, in the past, I have just read it and said, “Ho hum. Praise the Lord. Okay.”

We talk about praise, but I wonder how many of us actually DO it on a daily basis.

Again, default is just uttering some requests to the Lord because my needs are on my mind, saying “Amen,” and going on my way. Praise doesn’t ever seem to be that urgent or important.

That word just seems to call up images of someone living in an ivory tower, oblivious to the “real” world, but I remind that what I have just said is NOT anywhere near the Psalms. They are earthy. They express real emotion, yes, in a real world. So, it seems only fitting that this awesome hymnbook of the Bible would conclude with praise.

What is my PLAN for today? I would like to suggest that it should always, always, always start with praise. Praise the Lord when the sun shines. Praise the Lord when it rains for a solid month. Praise the Lord when healthy. Praise the Lord when you just can’t seem to get over some stinking virus. Praise the Lord … well, you get the idea.

The more I think about it, the more it dawns on me that this is absolute priority and it prepares us for eternity. What are we going to be doing as believers for eternity—praising God? And eternity won’t be long enough! With an infinity of years before us, we still won’t have time to praise our God.

Much, much better than hoping for the best is praising God who is the Best. No god is higher. No other gods beside or before Him.

Lord, You are worthy of praise today. I choose to do it. I choose to force myself by your grace to do it today and forevermore. “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” (Psalms
150:6 NASB). Amen and amen.

Some Things Over Which He is in Charge

Marilyn and I both have commented in recent days: this virus just will not go away.

Both of us are coughing up lungs just as we were at the start.

Of course, my mom is as well, but she doesn’t count since she got this after Marilyn and I did. Ha.

It is getting very discouraging for all of us, but I know we aren’t alone. Folks at church have said the same thing.

The other thing that is contributing to this is the weather—cloudy and rainy for most of the month. This is VERY unusual for Colorado. I can’t EVER remember this much rain. And, of course, we need it. (There is always someone who reminds me of that. Thanks. I got it).

Oh, well, just another “season.” And I am not talking about spring, summer, and fall. I’m talking about seasons of the Christian life. For some reason, this is just one of those times where the Lord is reminding us of two things that He is in charge of: the weather and our health.

You know, just as I wrote those words, it hit me. In His public ministry, Jesus focused on those two areas (among others) in the miracles He performed. He healed that man whom his friends lowered through the ceiling and reminded the stunned audience that He has authority on earth both to heal and forgive (of course it was on the Sabbath).

Jesus walked on the water and the disciples exclaimed, “Even the wind and the waves obey Him.” So, there you go. Still true today.

Jesus also has ultimate and final authority to judge, but here is something I have learned about that today: “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand, To execute vengeance on the nations And punishment on the peoples, To bind their kings with chains And their nobles with fetters of iron, To execute on them the judgment written; This is an honor for all His godly ones. Praise the LORD!” (Psalms
149:6-9 NASB).

Did I read that right? When you think about all the judges and tribunals and terrorists and prison guards who have exacted some form of “judgment” on believers through the ages, it is incredible to me that someday, all of us as believers will sit in judgment alongside the Lamb to execute judgment on them.

I think of those Coptic Christians whom ISIS beheaded. I think of Pastor Saeed. I think of the first martyr of the church—James. I think of John the Baptist.

Someday, the tables will be turned. Everything will be made right. Jesus will have the final word.

I don’t get any pleasure out of that. It just causes me to feel more urgency to pray and to share.

Lord, I thank You for the reminders today of all the things You are in charge of—wind, waves, rain, clouds, viruses, surgeries (I pray for Libby today who is having surgery), cancer, forgiveness, and judgment. You are awesome. You are Lord. Amen.

"Cessation" Churches

Connor sent me an interesting article yesterday. It coins a term I have not heard EVER—“cessation.” It relates to a particular kind of belief that a church may hold. Humm.

Let me back up a second. In a couple of weeks, as I continue this series of messages on the Trinity, I will begin to preach on God the Holy Spirit. I approach this challenge with not a little bit of trepidation. Why?

Southern Baptists tend not to want to talk about the Holy Spirit. I don’t blame them. Neither do I. Well, … that statement might be a little extreme. I DO like to talk about Him, but I don’t like all the excesses related to folks who talk about Him more than my denomination or I.

This was a big topic of conversation when I started as pastor of First Southern almost twenty-six years ago. The previous “administration” leaned very heavily toward neo-Pentecostalism and tried to sway the church that way. Most of the young folks left. Those who remained—a very strong group of senior adults—dug their feet in and said, “No, we are not moving that way.” So, he left.

Enter Greenhorn John. Now, one thing in my favor was the fact that I had dealt with neo-Pentecostalism in college and in seminary.

By the way, when I use the term “neo-Pentecostalism,” I am referring to the modern manifestation of a movement that actually began at the turn of the twentieth century. The newer, “neo” version has similarities to its classical counterpart but differs in some rather significant ways, but I won’t get into that here.

Anyway, in the candidacy phase of my process with this church, I got asked more questions about my beliefs in this regard than any other issue. Thankfully, the seniors in the church and I agreed—we wanted nothing to do with neo-Pentecostalism.

Honestly, I still feel this way. I think there are radical differences. Now, I won’t go so far as to pass condemnation judgment on Pentecostals. That is up to God, but there are differences.

That having been said, the article Connor sent me has to do with a Pentecostal who feels led to join a “cessation” church. This article uses this term and indicates that there are churches that believe that all spiritual gifts have CEASED.

Now, I know that there are some who contend that the sign gifts—knowledge, prophecy, and tongues—have ceased with the advent of the canon of Scripture, but I did not know that there were churches or denominations who held that ALL spiritual gifts had ceased.

I don’t buy that INTELLECTUALLY. I really don’t.

However, what is on my heart this morning is this: on a practical level, is First Southern a “cessation” church in REALITY? It seems that more and more, we use worldly terms to denote our service to God like “talent” and “job.” And, necessity determines who serves where. We just put people into slots because it is easier or they will do it, when no one else will.

What is the difference between someone who has the talent to teach a class and someone who has the spiritual gift of teaching? Do we take the time to probe those differences? What would happen if we just cleared the deck and started over with people only serving according to their spiritual gift? And, how does one discern his/her spiritual gift?

All these questions proliferate.

Back to the article, the author says that the Lord taught him a lot in a cessation church. He met a lot of fine believers while affirming some of the very real pitfalls of his perspective. It is very interesting.

I just wonder … am I willing to be open to another perspective while acknowledging the pitfalls of a “cessation” church?

Lord, are we really a cessation church? I ask the question. You know the answer. If so (now matter what we SAY we believe), my heart is grieved and to the degree that I am a part of that perspective and process, I confess it as sin. Holy Spirit, I am NOT afraid of You. I am available to You today. Amen.

Four Things You Want People to Say about You at Your Funeral

Would it be too morbid to suggest this morning that all of us ought to live our lives from our funeral backward?

Several years ago, I attended the funeral of the father of a man in our church. During the course of the service, a man came to the podium to read a litany of everything the deceased did during his life. One of the things he noted was “usher” in his church.

Now, before I go further, let me say that I think we have one of the best “ushers” in the history of Christianity in our church. Bernard faithfully performs this responsibility every week, but it is much more than an “usher.” He ministers to folks who come through our door. This is such a needed function that last Sunday, when Bernard and his wife Gladys were out of town, Larry came up to me, “Pastor, I think I am going to sit in the back where Bernard usually is, just to be there.” I agreed.

But anyway, back to that funeral of years ago, the list of functions left me a bit cold. So what?

Fast-forward to Gary’s service yesterday—radically different. After my message and Jim’s song (accompanied by Helen; both did an awesome job), we had an opportunity for eulogies. I asked people to come to the front and speak into the microphone. What they said impacted my life forever—four things you want people to say at your funeral.

          Not bad, right?

          Instead of some dry, “During his life, John went to Baylor, graduated from Southwestern seminary, and served as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn for X years and then died.” Yawn. Not even worth mentioning. I will be ashamed to stand before Jesus someday with nothing but THAT having been said about me.

          This reminds me of another list, in Genesis 5. All those folks who were born, had kids, and died. That’s it. And the stark contrast with all those people who lived hundreds of years by the way and one man—Enoch—who walked with God.

          No, I would prefer the Gary and Enoch way.

          Lord, thank You again for Gary and the way You used him. Help me learn. I am available to you today.

          “Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; Both young men and virgins; Old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven”
          148:11-13 NASB). Amen.

          Gary's Funeral Today

          At 1:50 AM last night, I woke up with very vivid thoughts about Gary. It is weird how the mind works.

          As I visited his wife Pat last Thursday, we both remarked that we were sort of in a state of shock. We all knew that Gary was very ill. But I guess we just didn’t expect him to pass away so soon. I don’t know …

          Are you ever really prepared? I just don’t think so.

          But back to last night, he was in one of my dreams and we were talking and laughing and then I just woke up, and I couldn’t go back to sleep.

          Today, I am charged with preaching a sermon at his service. Pat was at church yesterday. Please pray for her. Once the shock is wearing off, this is hitting her hard. And I know her daughters and granddaughter, Lensey, feel the same way. Of course.

          I asked her about the service today. Through the tears, she said, “Just do what Gary would want. Preach the gospel.”

          Certainly, I will do that, but it will be hard not to interject at least some of the ways that the Lord used him to impact my life.

          For crying out loud, I have known him for twenty-six years! He has been an integral part of the church and my support system for every day in all those years.

          I guess that one of the things I want to say about him is that he was always in my corner. Always. When I first started, I had some grandiose ideas for reaching people. Gary affirmed me in those ideas. It wasn’t that he had blinders on. He and I just shared many of the same perspective on things.

          And, after my first deacon’s meeting when I got shot out of the water, he was there for me. How can one measure the impact of THAT?

          Every pastor needs a Gary Baker. His type is rare indeed. Who is going to minister to the pastor?

          Even to say this leads some to reply, “Oh, quit whining. You have such a cushy job. Plus, it is your job to minister to me!”

          That was NEVER Gary’s perspective. Even on his deathbed, he asked about me and told me to take care of myself. And he meant it.

          I don’t know … I think this is going to be hard today. And probably I am still in shock as this thing hits.

          But I count on the strength of the Lord as always. “He does not delight in the strength of the horse; He does not take pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD favors those who fear Him, Those who wait for His lovingkindness” (Psalms
          147:10-11 NASB). What an expression in the NASB, “God does not take pleasure in the legs of a man.”

          I guess in healthy people one of the strongest aspects of our anatomy is the legs, but that is not what the Lord looks at. He gives regard to those who fear Him and wait on Him.

          Right now, in so many ways, I am waiting on God. Yesterday, after church, my mom and sis (who did not go; they are both better but still dealing with the virus; I guess I am too) and I were talking about this. What does this mean? How does one wait on God? Whatever it is, it is very difficult and has the superficial appearance of weakness.

          The world says, “Get up and get on your horse. Use your legs to work hard and DO something.” This is not, according to the verses above, what God favors.

          Lord, I pray for the Bakers today as they grieve. I pray that this service today would first of all honor you and second be a great reflection of how You used Gary Baker in significant ways. I miss him. I thank You for His life, Lord. Amen.

          He Names the Stars

          Every year, during the Christmas season, there is a hokey advertisement that comes on the radio. I listen to sports talk most of the time. So, I think the target of these ads is the man who just doesn’t ever seem to know what to buy anyone for Christmas. I don’t know …

          It is some guy who is selling the fact that you can buy the right to name some star after someone. Have you heard it?

          It costs fifty to a hundred dollars and the name of that star is registered somewhere and you get a certificate.

          I can’t believe anyone would do this, but I’m sure folks do. Otherwise, how would this guy have the wherewithal to puts ads on the radio? They cost something.

          How arrogant! How presumptuous!

          Here is what God’s Word says: “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them” (Psalms
          147:4, NASB).

          There are two amazing things about this statement. First, God COUNTS the number of stars.

          Some opportunist can feel confident that he can “sell” stars to people because he is never going to run out. No human could EVER count the number of stars because there is in human terms an infinite number.

          Not to God. To Him, the infinite is finite. He knows the exact number of stars.

          This statement reminds me on a macro level of what Jesus says about us on a micro level—He counts and knows the number of hairs on our head! How about that?

          Second, not only does God know the number of stars in the universe, He gives names to each of them! Sorry buddy! The names of the stars are not for sale. They have already been taken.

          Let’s go back to creation for a moment. God has named all the beasts of the air, sky, and sea. Why is naming so significant? It indicates God’s sovereignty over that particular realm. This is why names are so important in the Old Testament.

          God names His creation. His names for people go a step further. Names indicate character.

          Anyway, this is an incredible statement in Psalm 147 that gives me a lot of comfort.

          Further report on my mom: with all the medicine the doctor gave her, she seems to be doing slightly better. The doc ordered her to lay low for the weekend because, when she tries to get up and about, the coughing starts. But we are glad she didn’t have to go to the hospital and all the x-rays checked out okay. So, as difficult as it is for her to miss church, both she and Marilyn won’t be coming today. Marilyn is still getting over the virus after almost three weeks.

          Please pray for me that, as I preach today, I don’t get into one of those coughing fits.

          Lord, You are sovereign over the universe You have created. Your control is BIG, BIG, BIG. And yet, You know the number of hairs on our head and You care about us at such a miniscule level—even about head colds. Thank You for helping my mom get better. Help her to continue to improve. Amen.


          “Don’t put your life in the hands of experts who know nothing of life, of salvation life. Mere humans don’t have what it takes; when they die, their projects die with them. Instead, get help from the God of Jacob, put your hope in GOD and know real blessing! GOD made sky and soil, sea and all the fish in it. He always does what he says— he defends the wronged, he feeds the hungry. GOD frees prisoners— he gives sight to the blind, he lifts up the fallen. GOD loves good people, protects strangers, takes the side of orphans and widows, but makes short work of the wicked” (Psalm 146:3-9 MSG).

          Peterson’s translation of Psalm 146 is interesting. This Psalm is a chronicle of what God has done in creation and redemption. It is just a bare list. He did this. He did that.

          As I am sitting here this morning and read it, I wonder why we need such lists. We know this about the Lord, don’t we?

          Well, you would think, but I am not so sure. This word about experts hits me in two ways this morning.

          First, when I am in any kind of crisis—name it—who is the first person I call? This says A LOT about what I believe.

          Now, I know that someone might say, “Well, if you are sick, you need to call a doctor. What are you talking about?” Yes, I hear that BUT I wonder where talking to the Great Physician fits in there. I think I ought to at least talk to Him ALSO, don't you think?

          This is just one example. If I need a job, do I call an employment agency or do I pray about it? Financial need? On and on. As the movie Ghostbusters coined, “Who you gonna call?”

          I don’t think that it is either/or in any of the above scenarios, but at least, it is both/and.

          We live in a culture of experts, don’t we? And these experts are becoming more and more specialized. With the Internet, we can always find someone somewhere we can call—a specialist.

          But I think that Psalm 146 is a reminder that our God is a Specialist in absolutely everything. We would laugh if we found someone on the web that made that outlandish claim. “Call me. I know everything about everything.” Yeah, right.

          But God does.

          Second, every time I hear that word “expert,” I think of a definition I heard several years ago as it relates to Christian ministry. “An expert is someone from out of town.”

          If I had a dime for every time I heard this as I was preaching revivals in college and seminary, I would be a millionaire. “Oh, John. Great sermon. I’ve never heard that before.” I used to like that compliment. Now, I don’t.

          Now that I have been a pastor for over twenty-five years, I have a ready-made response to that statement: “Oh yes you have. You have heard it many times. You just haven’t really “heard” it until now.”

          I guess that is just human nature. I don’t know. But we tend to elevate people we don’t really know. We like press-clippings. We believe that the out-of-town preacher can work miracles when the one we have can’t.

          This Psalm is about trusting God with who you are and where you are in the right now. I believe that Peterson’s translation is right on target.

          “Don’t put your life in the hands of experts.”

          “Put your hand in the hand of the Man from Galilee,” as the old song says. Amen.

          P. S. Thanks for praying for my mom. She is plugging along with a lot of medicine given by one expert and under the care of the Expert of experts.

          Gary and My Mom Along with J and J

          Kind of a weird title, I know, but I couldn’t think of anything else …

          I’m actually kind of reeling this morning. Not long after I mentioned Gary in this blog yesterday, I got an email from his daughter telling me that he had passed away the night before.

          As I told his wife yesterday as we visited in the home, “I’m in shock.” She agreed.

          Looking back on my visit with him on Wednesday, I did note that as Connor and I said good-bye leaving his room at the nursing home, Gary did not. He had a certain look on his face. I think he knew something. He knew that it was our last visit here.

          I am having a hard time with this because honestly, he is one of my best friends in the world, and that friendship was forged the first time I talked with him.

          Just to give all of you this bit of background—were it not for Gary and his wife Pat, I would not be the pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn.

          As I was nearing graduation from Southwestern Seminary, I was getting very discouraged. I had sent resumes all over the country seeking a pastorate. Nothing.

          Five days before graduation, my mom walked into the office of our accountant (for some reason). Pat was his secretary. Here is the gist of their conversation. Pat: our church is looking for a pastor. My mom: my son is looking for a pastorate.

          Not very long after that, the church called me, and Gary was a huge encourager, supporter, and advocate—from day one and always has been.

          I cannot measure the magnitude of his influence in my life. I miss him greatly.

          I have a lot more to say about him, but I won’t this morning. Just pray for the family. Two of his three daughters and their families live in North Carolina. They are flying in today.

          On to my mom: please continue to pray for her. Her health is worsening. Yesterday, at the doctor, he was worried that she is moving into full-blown pneumonia. She is having difficulty breathing when she walks. She seems better when she is not moving around, but she is also now dealing with nausea and vomiting.

          Today, Marilyn is taking her to get a chest x-ray. The doc wants to see how congested she is. He is also prescribing oxygen for her just to help her get her breath. She could be going to the hospital today if these tests show too much fluid in her chest. We don’t know yet …

          In the midst of all of this yesterday, I drove back up to our church’s neighborhood to go to parent’s night at the elementary school down the street from the church.

          As I have indicated before, we have been helping out as mentors for fifth graders as they finish their final term project. That is the way I would describe. I think the school calls it an “exhibition.” The two boys I have been working with, J and J, were giving their oral presentation along with a poster board full of pictures of Michelangelo’s art.

          The second I entered the classroom, J1 (to differentiate these two boys) said, “Hi, Pastor John!” As he said that, a lady said, “Do you know this man?” J1 replied, “Oh yes. He is our mentor.”

          “Mentor? He never tells me anything!” the lady exclaimed. “I didn’t know you had a mentor.”

          Turns out it was J1’s mom. I met her. She seemed grateful that I would do this for her son, especially since I wasn’t a teacher at the school. We had a good but brief conversation. J1’s younger brother was there and so was his baby sister.

          I turned to J2. “Are you folks or family here? I would like to meet them.” J2’s face fell a bit. “My parents could not make it. They had to work.”

          The more I think about this, the sadder I get. Are you kidding? You can’t get off work to come to a ten-minute presentation your kid is doing?

          I know … just because they missed last night does not make these folks bad parents. I have no idea. I have never met them. It is just sad they couldn’t be there.

          I don’t think Gary and/or Pat would have missed anything their daughters did at school or anywhere else. My mom certainly didn’t with Marilyn and me. How important is that?

          Lord, I lift up the four people I have mentioned today. I am burdened for J2 and his family. A lot of needs and concerns to bring to Your throne of grace, Jesus. Amen.

          Trained Fingers

          “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my FINGERS for battle; My lovingkindness and my fortress, My stronghold and my deliverer, My shield and He in whom I take refuge, Who subdues my people under me”
          Psalms 144:1-2 NASB, all caps for fingers mine for emphasis).

          Often, in Hebrew poetry, one witnesses what the scholars call “parallelism.” That is a fancy term for two lines in a poem or song that say basically the same thing.

          I believe that the first two lines of Psalm 144 are an example of this. God trains our hands for war; He trains our fingers for battle. Get it?

          That having been said, however, I can’t escape from that second phrase and that particular detail in this affirmation of God.

          How crucial are fingers for any type of battle? I’m not any kind of expert in ancient Hebrew military challenges, but one does not have to be to use one’s imagination. Fingers hold spears and shields. Fingers grip a rock one is trying to scale. Fingers make a fist to punch an enemy. Et cetera.

          How important are they? I don’t know anyone who would voluntarily give up his fingers.

          I remember a brother who used to be in our fellowship. He had lost a finger in a farming accident as a child (as I remember). He was rather cavalier about it, “Oh, well. At least I still have nine others.” Wow.

          But I love the application of this principle to other “battles.”

          Yesterday, Connor and I went to visit with Marvin in the rehab center. He was very upbeat. He hopes to get out on Saturday and return home. “My rehab is not done. It is only beginning, but what this place can teach me is done. This is a good place, but it is very expensive. I want to go home and wait for the next phase of rehab.” Please pray for this brother. He has a long way to go, and he knows it.

          But I would imagine that fingers are more important to Marvin now than ever since his legs and feet and toes are immobilized.

          After we visited with Marvin, Connor and I stopped to see another dear brother in our fellowship. Not too long ago, Gary fell and broke a hip. Not long after his injury and subsequent surgery, the docs moved him to a nursing home in the community. He is dealing with a lot of health challenges.

          In the course or our visit, Gary lifted up a pillow. It was a slow and arduous process. I could tell he was trying to twist it around in his hands and fingers to get it in a position to put it behind his head. I helped him do this.

          Fingers are important to Gary.

          Another sister in our church—Libby—is in rehab as well. I haven’t visited with her in a couple of weeks, mainly because I didn’t want to expose her to this virus. But the last time I saw her, we met in the lunch room of the rehab facility she is in and she picked up a sandwich to eat it while we talked.

          Fingers are important for eating, right?

          I don’t know … the longer I think about this parallel statement in the first verse of Psalm 144, the more I am impressed about the detailed ways that the Lord equips us for any kind of battle we face.

          Lord, I lift up these dear brothers and sister. I respect the way each of them is facing the battle you have handed them. Train their hands and FINGERS for battle. Amen.


          Walking Pneumonia

          Great. Just great. Yesterday, Marilyn took my mom to the doctor and texted me when the appointment was over. The doc said my mom has “walking pneumonia.”

          I have heard this term on and off for years. I looked it up on the Internet. Apparently, it is a milder form of pneumonia—an infection of the lungs. The site I consulted—Web MD—says that it occurs with children and adults under 40, typically.

          My mom has never been “typical.” Why should she start now?

          This whole thing bothers Marilyn and me because it is simply the last thing my mom needs at 87. Nothing about what is going on with her appears to be “mild,” but she is handling things well.

          When I got home from work, I said, “I’m sorry you have walking pneumonia, Mother.” She just shrugged her shoulders, “Oh, well.”

          I talked to several people in our fellowship yesterday. All of them said, “We are praying for you and your family, John.” I really appreciate this.

          It takes me back to my comments in this blog yesterday. As the Psalmist in 142 said, “No one cares,” I cannot and will not say that.

          Of course, as I thought about it, I realized that the Psalmist did NOT say, “no one cares.” He asserted, “No one cares FOR MY SOUL.” That is not just semantics. That is different.

          I believe this Psalm is a cry for a shepherd, for a pastor.

          In my seminary days, I remember a definition of pastoral ministry that I came across. It was “the care of souls.”

          I do not believe that this is a function of A man in the church. First, Jesus is our Pastor. 1 Peter reminds us of this. Second, pastoral ministry is a church-wide ministry, not just one man’s “job.” Third, as an under-shepherd, I do believe that it is my calling to coordinate this “soul care” in our fellowship—not do all of it—but make sure it gets done.

          Where does one go to find anyone who cares for us beyond a superficial level? It is my experience that lost folks care about me as long as I can do something for them or I conform to what they want me to do. Of course, this is a generalization, but really can people who are not regenerate care about someone’s soul?

          It is the care of souls that is a driving force for evangelism and missions. It should motivate everything we do. And we should expect this level of concern from one another in the body of Christ.

          Certainly, no one “out there” is going to care for my soul.

          That is why I think this Psalm is a confession of present need that looks forward to the future. Here is the verse for today that confirms this: “I cried out to You, O LORD; I said, ‘You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living’” (Psalms
          142:5 NASB).

          The Psalmist looks to a day when he will have an allotment of land—a solid inheritance. And that inheritance is God himself.

          We really don’t “have” anything, you know. There are no funeral processions pulling U-Hauls. The only thing, the only ONE we have here and in eternity is the Lord.

          What and whom we care for shows whether we believe this or not.

          Lord, I lift up my mom today. She is so sick with this “mild” form of pneumonia. Please help her get better today. Help me. Help the church I serve. Help THE church to get better in the crucial ministry of “soul care” as You get our room ready for eternity. Amen.

          "No One Cares"

          These are the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 142. I want to talk about this statement a bit in a moment, but first, an update on the soap opera that is “Talbert Hospital” or “Coughing Center USA.” I have to try to joke about it …

          Marilyn and I are worried about my mom. This virus has hit hard. She is coughing a lot. I think Marilyn is going to take her to the doctor today. Hopefully, he can give something to curb this violent cough a bit. Please pray for her. Thanks.

          I seem to be doing a bit better after seven days, but it does not take much for me to start coughing to the extent that I almost gag.

          Well, enough of that. It should be over someday, right? Ha.

          This Psalm—142—resonates with me in so many ways. I think I am going to be camped in this song for at least a couple of days. Here are the verses for today: “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk They have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul”
          142:3-4, NASB).

          These verses can be summarized as the Psalmist expressing his need to God. This is common in the Psalter. It is a crucial aspect of prayer—confession. Most of us limit that term to an acknowledgement of our sin. Certainly, this is AN aspect of it, but it is far more than that.

          As I have often contended in this blog, confession is a very important aspect of being real with God. It is literally “saying the same thing” or “telling it like it is.” God knows anyway, right? It isn’t as if we are giving Him new information that causes Him to pull a “Fred G. Sanford” heart attack in total shock.

          But what this person is acknowledging is, in my own personal experience and in the ministry, very common, even though few admit to it.

          The Psalmist acknowledges that God knows what is going on and yet, is also honest enough to keep telling the Lord what is going on—no one is there and no one cares.

          At first glance, when one reads these statements, he or she might say, “Yeah, right. NO ONE. I don’t think so.” But who are we to judge what someone else is going through and yet we do it all the time?

          I did and do. I have to watch myself.

          A lot of what I thought before I got cancer is now coming back on me. I remember distinctly being frustrated with long-term illness. I gave my little platitudes; I pray for a certain length of time; then I just gave up. If it wasn’t fixed in what I deemed a reasonable amount of time, I was done.

          It is hard to admit this, but it is true. I wonder how many people I abandoned. It breaks my heart.

          Now, I am on the other end of things—far from abandoned and yet, it is interesting how many friends don’t even ask about my cancer any more.

          And, before I go further, I get THAT. I really do. I did that very thing. I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing.

          AND, I understand the other side of the equation as well. I know I compound things right now because I find myself less and less willing to talk about it.

          So, it is just difficult all the way around, but abandonment is never the answer.

          Anyway, please don’t hear me complaining or whining at this point. I’m not. But all this gives me a lot more sympathy than I used to have. And I can relate to what the Psalmist is expressing.

          Recently, I received an excellent email from Dave Dravecky and his organization called “Endurance.” He affirms, “One of the most frustrating and hurtful kinds of loneliness is what we feel in relationship to other people when we suffer—when we don’t want to be alone and people are present physically but are not connected with us emotionally. When those relationships aren’t what we need them to be, we can end up feeling lonely…. But what I have learned is that God is very much with us during the lonely times. Although it is easy to feel like God is not anywhere to be found, the truth is, He is there. So I have learned to trust the truth not my feelings.”

          Lord, thank You again for Your inspired Word in which someone was real with You. Thank You for being with us ALWAYS. We may feel alone. And those feelings are legit, but we are NEVER truly alone. And yet, … I think of folks right now that are going through difficult times and may feel as if they are all alone. I lift them up. I don’t totally understand but I understand better. Use me to be there for someone through the long haul—with no quick and easy platitudes—just there. Amen.

          A Parable of Success

          First of all, I just have to say that I am a little surprised at how I am responding even today about that crabapple tree in our front yard. This is kind of the strangest grief of all…

          Well, anyway, let me tell you the story of what happened yesterday morning.

          In the course of the morning, I call this company that takes care of our trees. I got a hold of Glen. He said, “We will be right out.”

          They did show up. I met him at the tree. By then, Marilyn came out of the house as well. I said, “Glen, I am sick, so don’t get too close, but I wonder what you think we ought to do.”

          He shook his head, “I think this tree is done. Look at the rot here in the stump. I think we ought to just cut it down.”

          Marilyn and I looked at each other.

          Do you want to know what it felt like? It felt as if we were standing at a hospital bed and the doc was recommending that we stop life support.

          It took us both a while to answer. Finally, we said, “Okay. If that is what you think.” It was just another tree to him. He has probably chopped down thousands. No big deal, but to us …

          I watched Glen, his dad Mark, and the crew as they used a power saw to chop up all the branches and then … after deliberation, they sawed down the main stump. My eyes were riveted as it teetered for a moment and then fell. Oh, man. I will never forget it.

          This company stayed to clean up most of the branches and the wood, even though we still have a couple of piles left at the end of the driveway. They brought another truck with a huge lift on it. One of the guys cleared all the snow out of the top of the other tree in our front yard. They also helped us with some damaged trees in our backyard. One huge branch had broken off and was resting on a power line. We had to get that cleared away.

          Bottom line, they did a great job for us, but Glen said, “Guys, we will be back, but we have to go. We have other calls.” I’m sure they did. There were many other damaged trees on our block.

          Anyway, this whole incident has had a profound effect on me, as I remember Gene Wilkes’ 3 F’s of the biblical concept of success: faithfulness, fruitfulness, and finishing well.

          That tree exemplified all three there at the corner of our driveway for the last 52 years. Even though it was old and rotting, it still bore fruit right down to its final hour.

          All of us are rotting on the inside. We are dying as each day passes. I might go today or in twenty years. Who knows? But I want to be in my place. I want to bear the fruit of Christ’s character even to my dying day—even on my deathbed.

          There you have it. Well, I won’t continue to write about this tree forever, but it will take me a while to get over this.

          When the company left and before we all went back to bed, Marilyn said, “I’m going to get them to come back out and grind up that stump. Then, I think we ought to plant another tree there.” Absolutely. I would vote for crabapple, but I am not sure what we are going to do.

          On to the passage for today and for yesterday—please note these two verses in Psalm 141: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice deeds of wickedness With men who do iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies”
          141:3-4 NASB).

          The more I read these verses, the more I realize that there is more going on here than just a prayer to God asking Him to help us with hasty statements coming out of our mouths. All the way through scripture, especially in James, there are severe warnings about the tongue.

          We definitely need to be saved from what others can do to us, but sometimes, our biggest potential enemy is OURSELVES.

          As a tree planted by the river (to use Psalm 1), we must guard against destroying ourselves with our own words.

          Lord, thank You for the vivid parable of yesterday. Thank You for helping us through the difficult day. Help us all to get over this virus that just seems to linger. And Lord, for me, especially me, set a guard over my mouth. Amen.

          A Reminder of God--Gone

          Please pray for us. As a family, we are really struggling. This “thing” that I have had is now respiratory. I’m actually wheezing.

          My mom is sick. She has the same kind of cough. AND, yesterday, during the course of the day, Marilyn said, “This is going to sound weird, but I think I am getting sick again.” I replied, “Maybe you never got over round one.” Who knows?

          That is one thing.

          The other is this storm we have been experiencing the past several days and its results.

          Honestly, in all the years I have lived here in Colorado, I have NEVER seen it rain more. We have had several consecutive days of rain—straight—with little or no interruption. Weird. Perfect for sick people who don’t feel like going outside anyway, but very strange.

          Last night, those rainstorms turned into snow. The forecast was for five to ten inches. And we knew we were in for it.

          When I woke up this morning, I braced myself a bit before I looked out our back window. Then, I got my boots on and went outside to witness the damage firsthand. One of our big trees had several substantive branches that have just broken off. The rest of the tree is bent under the load of all that heavy, wet snow.

          Last summer, we had a couple of aspen trees planted in the corner of our backyard. Of course, they are totally weighed down and the main stump on one of them has broken.

          I tried to pull the snow off of the little saplings as much as possible.

          Then, I went through our garage to the front yard. We have two big trees out there. The biggest one had several broken branches as well.

          It was the damage the other tree sustained that almost made me cry.

          Let me back up a bit. Ever since we have lived here—that is almost 53 years now, we have had a little crabapple tree at the side of our driveway. Every year in the spring, it produces the most beautiful blossoms you have ever seen. This year, they were a spectacular pink. Then, just as soon as they emerge, they are gone.

          After a period of just green leaves, then the crabapples appear and after a few weeks, they start to drop off. Our driveway almost looks like a battlefield because those crabapples fall on the cement and most of the time we just drive over them. Man, I am getting emotional now …

          Well, anyway, as a result of the storm, that little tree split right down the middle. A large part of it is lying on the street. Another huge branch rests on our driveway. It is a good thing I am not preaching today because I could not get out of my driveway to get to church even if I felt like it!

          I tried to pull it aside, but I couldn’t budge it. I called a couple of guys who take care of our trees. Glen answered the phone and said he would be right over with his chainsaw.

          Marilyn is very emotional. She said, “Just have them chop it down. It is done.” I’m hopeful that it is salvageable, but I fear she is right.

          Here is the thing: not very long ago, Halle, our neighbor’s daughter that lives next door, sketched that tree and gave us the sketch. It is beautiful. Please see this sketch on my Facebook page along with a couple of pictures of the broken tree. It is not the only one on our block. Many other majestic trees are lying in the street.

          On the back of that sketch, she wrote these words, “Hi Talbert family! It was a blessing and a privilege to be able to draw your tree. Thank you for letting me. I dedicate this drawing to you guys! Thanks for being great neighbors all these years. Blessings, Halle. P. S. Your tree is awesome! Simply marvelous. When I look at it, I see God. And I thank him for creating such a beautiful tree.”

          Isn’t that letter awesome? Halle is a sweet young servant of God. I am going to keep her sketch forever. I was, anyway, but now it is even more valuable to my family and me. It is the last picture/representation of that tree we have.

          I am emotional now, but that tree isn’t God. We don’t worship it, neither was Halle. But as one of God’s creations it reminded us of Him, and now, it looks as if that reminder—that one—is gone. We will see.

          If it is, I will talk with Halle and ask her to help us find another reminder of God around here. We don’t lack for material. That is for sure.

          Lord, this is one of those hard times. I’m thankful that even though things that You have created come and go, You don’t. Even so, Lord, it seems as if we have lost a fifty-year old friend and we are grieving. Help us. Take care of folks who are on the roads to church this morning. Preach through Al in the power of the Holy Spirit. Take care of Your church today. Amen.

          Heading Covering

          If it is possible to feel worse than I have the past couple of days, I am experiencing it this morning. I’m glad I can just sit here.

          Please pray for my mom. Marilyn and I are worried that she is going to catch this virus. Yesterday, she was starting to cough and had some congestion in her chest. Oh, man. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. Thanks.

          To be honest, I am not quite over what I wrote in this blog yesterday, particularly about Saeed Abedini. The contrast is huge.

          Here I sit. Yeah, sure, I am sick but I have every comfort in the world, and it is difficult for me to focus on anything, let alone prayer for our nation.

          On the other hand, Saeed continues to be in the Iranian prison with no creature comforts of any kind. He is diligently praying for US.

          It is overwhelming, but please continue to pray for this dear brother and his wife Naghmeh and his children.

          The issue of praying for our nation is still heavily on my mind …

          One more thing came across my computer yesterday. Our State Convention and SBC at large are focusing on what they call “church revitalization.” Interesting term.

          How do the terms “revival” and “revitalization” differ? Probably not much, but somehow, I think “revitalization” puts the ball in our court, whereas “revival” tends to leave things solely with God.

          Today, I’m not quite sure where I fall in that continuum. Honestly, as Baptist preachers, we get pressured to think we can “program” ourselves out of any down time. I am very disillusioned with that philosophy. My “bag of tricks” (so to speak) is empty.

          However, just sitting in an easy chair and asking God to do everything doesn’t seem to resonate, either.

          Once again, we all find ourselves in a position of leading in such as way as to get out of the way and encourage folks to deal with the Lord. I am paraphrasing, but Peterson makes such a comment in his introduction to 2 Corinthians in the Message. This is a delicate balance to be sure. But true leadership in a church often occurs in ways that casual observers or attenders never notice.

          Anyway, I’m grateful to the Lord today for the resources He makes available to us in our quest to be in a position for Him to revitalize the church. Psalm 140 gives us one of those resources and contrasts it with the way the Lord deals with the wicked.

          “"O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, You have covered my head in the day of battle…. As for the head of those who surround me, May the mischief of their lips cover them. "May burning coals fall upon them; May they be cast into the fire, Into deep pits from which they cannot rise” (Psalms
          140:7, 9-10 NASB).

          Obviously, as we can easily imagine, “head coverings” or helmets (the modern term) are extremely important for soldiers in battle. Our heads are very vulnerable! Ha.

          This is always true in the realm of spiritual warfare as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6—“the hope of salvation as a helmet” is critical.

          I have to watch this very diligently. One of Satan’s fiery darts for me is the thought, “THIS (whatever it might be in church work) is hopeless.” If I find myself using this phrase in my self-talk, I trust the Spirit to catch me and turn me around.

          Hopelessness is a characteristic of the lives of the unregenerate. But for US, there is always hope. Always.

          I don’t know how the Lord is going to turn things around. I’m pretty sure it is no program or formula or easy, little three-step alliterated “fix.” In fact, I can’t see it how He is going to do it, but isn’t that the essence of hope, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8? “Hope that is seen is not hope.”

          Lord, as I continue to pray for revival or revitalization or whatever, I thank You for Your head covering You provide for us. My hope is in You, today and always. Amen.

          Multiple Prophetic Warnings and the Hand of God

          This “thing” I’ve got has settled in my throat. I sound very froggy. There would have been no way that I could have preached Sunday. Another day to lay low and drink water.

          Once again, though, I believe that the Lord has at least one purpose in shutting me down for a few days. He has stopped me long enough to realize that the Lord’s warnings to this nation are beginning to proliferate.

          Saeed Abedini, the American pastor who is imprisoned in Iran, penned these words in his birthday letter: “As an American and as a prisoner for Christ I have spent many hours praying and crying out to God for revival for this great nation. We all hope for the success of our nation and for America to be blessed, but without revival there can be no true success or blessing.”

          Can you imagine this? Here is a dear brother in Christ, suffering to a huge degree, with a burden for our country! This is significant. We do well to heed this message.

          I also received an email from Franklin Graham. The title of his letter contained therein is “Headed in the Wrong Direction at Warp Speed.” He is announcing a “Decision America Tour.” He plans to be in all 50 states. He will challenge believers in three ways: to live out their faith boldly, to pray fervently for our nation, and to vote in the coming election. He makes it clear that, as always, he will not be endorsing any particular candidate, but he will encourage Christians to vote only for folks who uphold Christian values.

          Do you realize what a cosmic shift this signals? Now, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is focusing on BELIEVERS—at least in this endeavor.

          One more prophetic voice. And by the way, when I use the term “prophetic,” I am referring to prophecy in its classic Old Testament sense, first as a “forthtelling” message of warning and judgment to this CURRENT generation. We always limit prophecy to “foretelling” about the future. This is very unfortunate for many reasons. No time to talk about that here.

          Anyway, a friend sent me a sermon yesterday via a link in an email. The preacher is a Messianic Jewish Rabbi. His name is Jonathan Cahn. He is speaking at the fourth annual “Washington—A Man of Prayer” event at the nation’s capitol. It celebrates the 226
          th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington.

          In attaching this video to the blog today, I have political agenda, and I don’t believe Cahn has either. Here is a Jewish believer preaching a prophetic sermon. I could not help but think of Isaiah and Jeremiah as this brother pours out his heart. The sermon is just under nine minutes. PLEASE LISTEN.
 If somehow I have goofed in pasting this link into the blog, please go to Google. You can find it there easily.

          Oh, man. I am deeply convicted.

          Psalm 139 describes the intimate and personal ways that God knows us and protects us as believers. His hands are all over us, literally. Notice these two references to the Hand of God: “You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me… Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me” (Psalms
          139:5, 10 NASB).

          We affirm God’s care for us on an individual level, of course. But I wonder at what point, God removes His Hand from a nation? Has this happened? Are we on the doorstep of it happening?

          I get frustrated when people don’t show up for church, but this is bigger. I think what we are dealing with in terms of God’s judgment is far more ominous than any of us realize as Christians roll over in bed.

          Oh, God, help us heed these warnings. Thank for Your hand on us. Please don’t remove it from our nation. Have mercy on us, Lord. Wake believers up. Wake me up! Amen.

          The Next Four Days

          Again, I don’t like to “plug” or even mention movies, but what is going on with me reminds me of a Russell Crowe flick called, “The Next Three Days.”

          Yesterday, as I sat on this couch, I felt myself feeling worse and worse. And I realized it was one of “those” moments.

          It was as if the Lord himself backed me in a corner, “Now is the time.”

          I could feel all the rationalizations coming to mind, “Well, I could start to feel better by the end of the day … this virus isn’t that bad. Just keep going…” All the messages I did listen to most of my ministry life.

          But this time, I decided to opt for the course of action that might put me in the best position actually to get better—clearing my calendar for the next four days. This was hard to do, especially because I had invited a brother to town to preach this Sunday. He is a pastor from India and a great friend. I really wanted to see him, but I knew I just couldn’t do it. So, I had to contact him—very difficult.

          In addition, I asked a brother in the church to preach this Sunday. He was glad to do it. What makes this even more difficult is that this Sunday is a rather big day in church life—Mother’s Day. But I won’t be there.

          I am sitting on this couch or laying down on a bed and drinking water until it flows out my ears the next four days.

          Here is the thing: my sister Marilyn is still not quite over her virus. Neither is Jim, the brother I made some visits with yesterday. He has been sick over a week as well!

          “On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul” (Psalms
          138:3 NASB).

          Lord, thank You for giving me the strength and courage to cancel out. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done—strange as that may sound. I lift up my brother Susheel. Thank You for his grace-filled response. Thank You for Al who is preaching for me on very short notice. Thank You for these next four days for rest. I’m grateful, Lord. Amen.

          Being Real

          First of all, let me share that I caught the virus my sister had. I have been coughing my head off the last two days. What a bummer! I’m glad that I am not preaching this Sunday. A pastor friend from India is coming. His name is Susheel.

          Please pray for him. We talked on the phone the other day. He is having some health problems as well since he arrived in the States. A doctor ordered him to rest. Hopefully, he will be able to make it this weekend.

          This is just “one of those times.” Last Sunday, we had less people in our Community Groups than I can ever remember in almost twenty-six years. Many are out sick. Some were out of town.

          Having said that, I think it was one of the best services we have had in a long time. I’m glad the Lord doesn’t measure things the way we do. He said, “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst” (John paraphrase).

          Please continue to pray for Marvin. His doctor moved him to a rehab center on Monday. This begins the long stretch of getting back on his feet—literally.

          Anyway, let me cite the final two verses of Psalm 137: “O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones Against the rock” (Psalms
          137:8-9 NASB).

          Are those two verses scandalous or what? Can you imagine praying this out loud or something like it in church? “Lord, my neighbor did me wrong last week. I pray that his house would burn down and that he and his family would be out on the street as homeless people.” Something like that.

          I want to hasten to say that my little fabricated prayer (and I really don’t feel this way about any of my neighbors) and these two verses in Psalm 137 are NOT really the same.

          The Lord said, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” I see the Psalmist asking the Lord to repay the enemy for what he has done to God’s people.

          This ISN’T about the Psalmist blaming the enemy or being ticked off—unrighteous anger.

          HOWEVER, and this is my point for today—this is an honest expression prayed to God. And, I am thankful that we can be brutally honest—we can be real—with God and He doesn’t chastise us for it.

          This is the thing I love about the Psalms—they are very real expressions of humanity prayed back to God.

          This is the Psalmist responded to God and crying out to Him out of all the pain and agony involved in the Babylonian captivity. I’m sure none of us have any concept of what really happened in that situation—how many innocent babies were brutally murdered.

          But let me carry this one step further. This is a pet peeve of mine. Why can’t Christians just be honest with each other? Now, I realize that there is a good time and place for everything. Some “honest expressions” maybe need not be voiced, but I am frankly sick and tired of Christians feeling that they have to pretend about how they feel or what is really going on in their lives.

          This is what lost folks do all the time.

          I was speaking with a Christian sister yesterday. She told about a neighbor who criticized her for something when this sister was just trying to help. This sister said, “She jumped down my throat with both feet because she is a very private person and doesn’t want anyone in her business” (this is a paraphrase of what she shared).

          My immediate reaction to that comment is that in the church, believers need to be in each other’s business. Christians should not be totally “private” folks. Privacy is dangerous and lethal.

          In the church, “being real” is the only platform for truly being able to be love and support each other, right?

          Lord, give us wisdom and discretion in this matter. I’m thankful that we can be totally, brutally, scandalously honest with You all the time. Show us how to do this appropriately with each other in the church context. I lift up Marvin and I am naming the others who are sick or infirmed in our church. Encourage them today, Lord. Amen.

          A Song with a Refrain

          Before I get into the topic for today, I just wanted to share a word about my treatment yesterday.

          First, the nurses had trouble accessing my port. This is the second time this has happened in my last two visits to the cancer center. On the one hand, this is no big deal, I guess. They just poke my arm to get blood.

          On the other hand, somehow, it bothers me a bit that they don’t work harder to get it working. Apparently, over time, with the use of this port, a layer of skin grows across the opening, blocking the blood coming out. They can still get fluids in. It is just the output that doesn’t work.

          The only cure is the use of a drug that “blasts” that skin out of there. It takes time and a lot of effort, and I guess they were just so swamped with folks that they didn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on one person. I understand this.

          Second, when Lisa, Dr. Jotte’s assistant came in the waiting room yesterday, she greeted me, “How are you doing, John?” Somehow, I didn’t feel like giving the short, “I’m okay” answer.

          “Well, Lisa, I think my main struggle now is mental. I was discouraged with the last PET scan results and now it feels as if we are just kicking the can down the road. I’m a little discouraged.”

          Interestingly enough, she didn’t really answer. She just nodded her head. Here is what I think her responses MEANS: this is the nature of the beast when it comes to the type of cancer I have. No cures, just trying to keep it in check with one drug before moving to another. Right now, Rituxan is the plan. When it ceases to keep my cancer from growing, they will give me another kind of chemo drug as long as it keeps working and then … et cetera, et cetera.

          Somehow, over the past few weeks, just accepting this is becoming increasingly difficult for me. So, I am investigating alternative treatment options, and I need prayer in this regard. I have a lot MORE to say about this, but for right now, this is what I want to share.

          In the meantime, now that I have my boot off and seem to be able to navigate a little better, I feel great, even after the treatment yesterday. It does not seem to have had many adverse effects.

          Back to the visit from Lisa—when she finished examining me, she said, “Dr. Jotte has a lot of patients today. He just urged me to go ahead and send you into the treatment room.” When I left the examining room, there he was! “Hi John, everything okay?” This time, I gave the short answer. He urged Lisa to schedule me for a PET scan in July and another treatment afterwards.

          This is the regimen for these maintenance treatments: every other month for at least two years or longer.

          Third, once I got into the chemo room, it filled up very quickly with a lot of folks. The treatment itself took over two hours. Again, I don’t think it will be that bad going forward. We will see …

          I love Psalm 136. This is one of those Psalms that really reminds you that this Old Testament book does indeed contain SONGS. It is one of those books that one must read out loud.

          One service, years and years ago, I had people at the church stand up. I read the verse. The congregation read the refrain. It is “for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” The verses start with descriptions of what God has done in creation. Then, it makes the transition to what He did in the Exodus event—the greatest example of redemption in the Old Testament. There is a lot to list.

          But as I sit here today, I have a lot to list as well and the structure of this Psalm really encourages me. It ebbs and flows just like life. The verses (the circumstances and challenges) may change, but the refrain (God’s character) does not.

          Amen. As I read this Psalm this morning, I can’t but help want to insert my own pilgrimage in this format. Here is the last verse and refrain:

          “The Lord has allowed him to have another cycle of maintenance treatments;
          His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

          Yes, even so, it is. Amen.

          Marvin and Maintenance Treatment #1

          This is one of those days where I really had to pause a moment before deciding on the title for today’s blog. I wish I could put the fact that I am starting maintenance treatments today WAY down the list from Marvin … for several reasons.

          My heart goes out to Marvin. Late last week, he fell down the basement stairs in his home, injuring his leg severely. His wife took him to the hospital. The doctor informed him of the severity of his injuring, stating that he would stabilize the leg and that Marvin would need to go home to await surgery in a couple of days.

          As Marvin was at home hobbling around on crutches, he fell, severely injuring his OTHER leg! He tried to navigate with two injured legs, but after realizing he couldn’t, he had to call an ambulance to get him back to the hospital.

          What a nightmare!

          The docs did move his surgery on both legs up to last Friday night. Things went well, but Marvin is incapacitated now for six weeks. Oh, man!

          As we visited in the hospital yesterday afternoon, I realized that the greatest challenge he faces is just keeping his mind occupied as he sits there. Please pray for him.

          What I am dealing with right now pales in comparison. I don’t even want to mention it.

          Again, this is one of the very tedious things about cancer, at least in my experience. There are so many “here we go again” moments. I’ve had a two-year cycle of maintenance treatments before. It looks as if this is what I am facing again, at least that long or longer in duration if they hold my cancer in check.

          Hopefully, these won’t be all that big of a deal since they aren’t really chemo—just Rituxan—a protein administered through my port. The purpose of it is to help my body fight the cancer. Dr. Jotte intimated that the possibility exists that my cancer could even improve. We will see.

          As you might be able to tell, I’m a little skeptical. My faith in God is as strong as ever. My optimism about these treatments is not very high. I will do them, of course. And I’m glad about the fact that they shouldn’t affect any where near as much as chemo. The plan is that I will receive them every other month. No problem.

          Oh, well. Again, this deal for me today doesn't even compare to what Marvin is going through.

          Back to my faith in God—I’m thankful that I am securely in God’s hands—whatever the future holds. I love this statement in Psalm 135: “For Yahweh has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel as His treasured possession” (Psalms
          135:4 HCSB). Do you recognize that phrase “treasured possession”? It appears for the first time in the Old Testament in conjunction with the Exodus event (Exodus 19:5).

          Whenever I read that statement, I think of my dad’s watches. I treasure them so much that I keep them hidden away in a drawer in my dresser.

          This is the way that the Lord values us.

          Lord, I’m so grateful for the value that You place on us Your people. I affirm today that You are taking care of Marvin and me in extraordinary ways. I pray for my brother Marvin today. Give him strength and grace as he goes through this trial. I love You, Lord. Amen.

          Marilyn's Birthday Today

          This is always a great time of year to have a birthday. Today is Marilyn’s, and it is also significant that two other brothers I know have birthdays today—Sam and Shane. I love you guys. Hope you have awesome days as well.

          Yesterday, my mom, sis, and I just spent some time hanging out a bit. We just wanted to do some things that Marilyn enjoys.

          Marilyn and I always chuckle when we talk about our ages. We don’t consider ourselves “old” quite yet, but it is just weird to have known someone for a lifetime. I guess our memories of what we did as kids seem more prominent than the others. Kind of weird, isn’t it?

          But Marilyn has always been my best friend and I am praying for her today that the Lord would encourage her on her birthday.

          In a lot of ways, the reference I cite in Psalm 134 reminds me of her.

          “Behold, bless the LORD, all servants of the LORD, Who serve by night in the house of the LORD!” (Psalms
          134:1 NASB). As far as I can determine, a better translation of “serve” in this verse may be “stand.” Why is this important?

          Well, according to my old friend Goldingay, this is significant because the usual posture of worship is kneeling, of course. Here the worshiper is pictured as standing because he or she is present, alert, and ready to do whatever God wants.

          In addition (and this reference has always intrigued me), he or she is standing “by night.” What is going on here?

          Goldingay explains, “There are no regular acts of worship to be offered during the night, though there are tasks to be undertaken in connection with keeping watch and preparing for the next morning.” He goes on to conjecture that these may be guards who are waiting for the morning or the worshipers who will show up in the early morning. Who knows?

          Whatever this is referring to, it is certainly not a “glamorous” function.

          In contemporary church life, we tend to focus on the very public and showy duties like preaching or singing or leading. Certainly, these roles are important, but what about the folks who serve in obscurity? What about the people who faithfully take their responsibility often at times that no one is looking and who stay available and stay alert?

          A casual or superficial observer would argue, “He isn’t DOING anything? He is useless.” Nope.

          This reminds me of a famous analogy that the Bible teacher Ron Dunn used. He spoke about the faucet in his kitchen. That faucet was perfectly pleasing to Him even when or especially when it was not being used. It was there, in its place, ready whenever Ron wanted to use it to clean a dish or fill a glass with water.

          Again, as Harvey White used to say, “Faithful AND AVAILABLE.” If I am available, it is up to God to use me when He wants.

          I guess I would say that Marilyn--and Sam and Shane, all three—fit that role—they serve behind the scenes with distinction. They serve in ways that don’t make the front page of any newspaper, but they love Jesus and they ready.

          This is a hard. Make no mistake. God made us to be communal creatures. And all of us long to see the Lord do something. We want Him to act in very prominent ways. Sometimes He does it. Other times He does not, but it does not mean that He is not there AND not always at work.

          This is another one of those fascinating Psalms of Ascent. It is even more interesting that it is the last one. Humm. Food for thought.

          Lord, thank You for my sister Marilyn. Bless her on her birthday today. Thanks also for Sam and Shane. I’m glad that all three were born and born again. Thank You for all those folks who stand at night in Your service. Make me one of them. Amen.

          "The Most Spectacularly Unanswered Prayer in World History"

          Wow, what a strong statement! Goldingay, the commentator, makes it in his explanation of the Psalm I read today.

          Here is Psalm 133, the whole thing: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron's beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing-life forever” (Psalms
          133:1-3 NASB).

          This three-verse Psalm has always been rather intriguing for me. What on earth does oil flowing down on Aaron’s beard and dew on Mount Hermon have to do with one another? Very curious.

          Usually, in my devotional reading, I stay away from anything that smacks of intense Bible study. I try to separate those two different activities, but it is interesting that this time, as I have been reading the Psalms, I’m more intrigued than ever to scout out things like these two references in Psalm 133.

          Goldingay goes into a rather elaborate discussion that demonstrates that both these references underline the main point of this Psalm. And it is NOT unity among brothers. According to him, it is the blessing that God commands, the abundant blessing. Because every time God blesses His people—it is abundant.

          In ancient Israel, oil poured over the head occurred in formal and festive occasions. The fact that it dripped down on Aaron’s beard and clothing reinforces this.

          Likewise, “the dew of Hermon” is a similar metaphor for abundance because it is very heavy in that part of the country and it is crucial for the sustenance of crops and life.

          Interestingly enough, Goldingay goes on to affirm that these references may also be allusions in and of themselves to rain and snow, and he makes an interesting case for this as well.

          Whatever metaphors are in play here, the point is the abundant blessing of God and its relation in the limited sense to believers coming together.

          This is also something I didn’t know, but this Psalm forms the foundation for convents and monasteries in the Catholic church. “Mono” in the term for the place men gather means, among other things, “one.” The intent of these two entities was not only retreat but unity.

          The church ought to fall in this category as well (not necessarily the retreat part although Christians do go on “retreats”). But this is the point at which Goldingay makes the assertion that forms the title of the blog for today: “But the most spectacularly unanswered prayer in world history is Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23.”

          Of course, as you know, this is Jesus’ high priestly prayer for unity for His disciples, a unity that ought to reflect the unity in the Trinity. Goldingay presents this passage as a New Testament counterpart to what is going on in Psalm 133.

          Unfortunately, I would have to concur. It is amazing what we allow the enemy to do in our churches so that, when it comes to the worship service on Sunday morning, we are divided as ever. We divide over music. We divide over who is leading the music. We divide over how the one who is leading is leading. We divide over who is preaching. We divide over what is being preached. We divide over who is there. We divide over who is not there.

          Et cetera. The list goes on and on.

          The Psalm for today reminds us, that when we allow this to occur, we miss out on an abundant blessing from God AND I would add, an important opportunity to impact the world. Isn’t this what Jesus says in His prayer? When we are unified, the world will know that God sent Jesus.

          Lord, please have mercy on us. While we allow the enemy inroads in so many ways, we miss out on the kind of abundant life blessing you promise in this Psalm. Forgive us, Lord. Bring us together in unity so that Christians are edified; a lost world is notified; and You are glorified. Amen.

          Criteria for Success

          I came across a great description of “success” in ministry yesterday, but before I get to that, I want to thank all of you for praying.

          First, Marilyn seems to be doing a little better. She was very sick yesterday with this virus, but she got out of bed a little bit yesterday.

          Second, the doc said that I am just a few days from getting rid of the boot. I should be able to do it early next week. I thank God for this.

          Okay, so back to the topic for today. I receive email updates from an interesting seminary in Arlington, Texas. One of my former professors at Southwestern Seminary, Bruce Corley, started it. It is called B. H. Carroll Theological Institute. This school has no formal campus. It utilizes churches and offers online class.

          Anyway, in the most recent email, I came across this article from president C. Gene Wilkes. The title is “What is success from a biblical perspective?” In the first paragraph of his article, he asserts: “We all live with self-imposed, externally imposed or embraced metrics of success. Some of us are more success-oriented while others live without care of such measures. What is success from a biblical perspective? I believe these three concepts are the measure of biblical success: faithfulness, fruitfulness, and finishing well.”
          This is one of the most concise and precise statements about this topic that I have ever read as most of us deal with “self-imposed, externally imposed or embraced metrics of success.” Well said.

          As most of you who read this blog on a consistent basis will readily gather, I struggle with this greatly. I don’t know a pastor who doesn’t. But I don’t think pastors are the only ones. Men and women in all types of jobs do, and I think this “self-imposed or externally imposed” pressure only intensifies the older we get because we all deal with the dreams we had when we were younger.

          Those three concepts: faithfulness, fruitfulness, and finishing well are very grounded in the biblical revelation.

          Harvey White, a dear brother and retired pastor who served in our fellowship years ago, repeated this quite often, as we conversed, “John, don’t worry about it. God has called us to be faithful and available. Faithful and available.” Amen, Harvey.

          These are difficult days for the American church. Not a week goes by where I don’t hear about someone who has left a church for one reason or another and most of us rarely see those folks come back or an equivalent number added to take their place. There are many reasons for this, not all of them are bad. We have a very transient church population probably because we have a very transient general population.

          Now, of course, this is a huge generalization. I’m sure some will say, “John, that’s not the case with my church. We see new people added every week.” If that is the case, I’m glad, but check out where they come from. Most of the growth for mega-churches these days comes at the expense of smaller congregations. Not many are making a kingdom impact on lost people.

          Again, there are exceptions to this, of course, but I am speaking of my own experience on the north side of Denver. Whatever.

          All of this to say that I really can’t focus on this or even try to understand it. I have enough headaches. I don’t need more. People are accountable to God for the decisions they make. So am I.

          I’m going to choose today to be faithful to pray and preach and shepherd the flock God has given me, focusing on my own character and making sure, whether I have an injured foot or not or cancer or whatever, to allow the Holy Spirit of God to demonstrate the fruit of Christ’s character through me.

          And, I’m determined not to bale on this church until God calls me elsewhere. After all, it still is GOD’S CHURCH, right?

          “The LORD has sworn to David A truth from which He will not turn back: ‘Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne. If your sons will keep My covenant And My testimony which I will teach them, Their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever.’ For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. ‘This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it’” (Psalms
          132:11-14 NASB).

          Do you see the three “F’s” of the biblical perspective in those verses for today? Every one of those criteria depends on God and His power.

          Lord, I’m very thankful for the clear and alliterated (always great for a preacher) statement about the biblical definition of success. Thank You for the challenge You provide. I pray for all the pastors and men I know. We are all under so much pressure with our self-imposed or externally imposed metrics of success. Liberate us all from those worldly standards. Free us with Your standards. Amen.