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A Stroll At Leisure With God

The Ahaz Shuffle

Let me quickly say that in the title for today, I am not alluding to my health (for once). I actually felt very energized yesterday as I drove to church and saw the folks and preached my sermon.

We had a good morning. I thank God for this.

When I finally got home to settle down a bit, I was tired but not fatigued. Again, I am grateful to God for this.

I’m going to try to lay low a bit today to prepare myself for the infusion tomorrow. Man, it seems as if these three-week time increments go by so quickly. But I do sense that at the end of the three weeks, I seem to feel a little better.

Honestly, it does not hurt that the Broncos beat the Patriots last night. Love it!

But I digress. I came across an interesting story in the Old Testament in the Professor Horner reading plan. King Ahaz of Judah took a trip to Damascus to visit with his “buddy” (or at least he HOPED the king of Assyria was his ally). When he was there, he noticed the altar upon which the Assyrians worship. It was bigger and shinier and prettier that the boring altar in the temple back home.

So, Ahaz issued a command to build a similar altar in the temple back in Jerusalem. Done.

When Ahaz returned home, he liked the “new and bigger” altar. He issued a decree:
“Then King Ahaz commanded Uriah the priest, ‘Offer on the great altar the morning burnt offering, the evening grain offering, and the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering. Also offer the burnt offering of all the people of the land, their grain offering, and their drink offerings. Sprinkle on the altar all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of sacrifice. The bronze altar will be for me to seek guidance’” (2 Kings 16:15 HCSB).

Did you notice what happened? Ahaz rearranged the furniture in the Holy of Holies. He moved the “great altar” to the center and stipulated that all the regular offerings would be given on it. He moved the smaller, “bronze altar” to the side, stating that he would continue to use it only for guidance.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

First, no one has the right to move furniture in the worship of God. Second, just because it is bigger and shinier doesn’t make it right. Third, the symbolism of this action could not be more significant—Ahaz moved the bronze altar (not out completely) to the side and relegated it to the status of guidance only.

Same ole, same ole, right? Some have no time for God at the center. They don’t “need” Him unless they are in trouble, and then, and only then, will they pray—when they need guidance or help with some type of decision.

This is so commonplace among many churchgoers that I meet. I still remember the answer one of our members gave years ago when I called folks on our membership roll asking if there was anything I could pray for. This person answered, “No, pastor, I am fine. I don’t have any prayer requests now.”

I still shudder when I remember that conversation. It is subtle. Did you notice it? That answer is reminiscent of the Ahaz Shuffle, as I will call it.

Instead, we need to appropriate the power and presence of the Holy Spirit so that we will have God’s help NOT to move any furniture but to keep God in the center. “And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them” (Acts 2:3 HCSB). This ties in with a verse in the text of the sermon I preached yesterday. “If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:14 HCSB, emphasis mine).

So be it, Lord. So be it. I thank You for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. He keeps us on the straight and narrow and prevents us, if we will allow Him, not to be sucked into the world’s appeal to bigger and shinier, but to You and You alone as God, IN THE CENTER of everything. Amen.
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Constant Vigilance

I want to thank all of you, ONCE AGAIN, for praying for me. This disease is forcing me to do something I never really did for most of my life up to the time when I was diagnosed: pay close attention to the details of my life, constantly.

Let me explain. This is especially true when I started as pastor of First Southern in the Fall of 1989. And, as I tell this, please don’t hear me bragging. From my perspective NOW, I am ashamed.

I just worked, constantly, with a patent disregard of the details of my life. I pushed myself to the limit over and over. I did not eat well, stopping frequently at fast food restaurants and pushing food down my mouth quickly so that I could get on. Somehow, I justified all of this, thinking that spiritual people do not think much about themselves. Do they? Didn’t Jesus say, “If any man would follow me, let him deny himself”?

Back then, I was so prideful and patted myself on the back for all my efforts.

I am now ashamed of this lifestyle.

Now, these days, cancer has forced me almost to the opposite end of that spectrum.

Take yesterday as an example. I am telling all of you that when I got up yesterday, I could barely keep my eyes open. I should have just gone back to bed and slept an extra two to three hours, but again, I forced myself to get up, eat, read the Word, pray, and write this blog.

But, after sleeping most of the morning and some of the afternoon, my fatigue forced me to ask the question: what have I done that has put me in this position? I spent time thinking in detail about what I ate, what I did, what medicine I took—all the minutia of my life for the past couple of days.

I also talked with my mom and sis about it. I know they are weary of such conversations, but I appreciate their patience with me.

I know that on one hand, the short answer to my question is, “John, this is the nature of chemotherapy—there are days when fatigue takes over.” I know that, but still, on the other hand, I know that I have a hand in how I feel and I want to learn. I want to learn to pay attention with CONSTANT VIGILANCE to my health without being selfish.

By the way, I want to say this categorically: paying attention to one’s health is NOT selfishness. This is NOT what Jesus was saying when He advocated denying oneself. In fact, constant vigilance to the temple of the Holy Spirit is stewardship. If I am not healthy, then I cannot serve God the way I could if I were. THIS is what cancer has forced me to learn. And, as you can tell from yesterday, I am still learning.

So, I am telling all of you, my dear readers, that if there is a day you see no blog, please pray for me and remember that maybe, I just needed to sleep longer into the morning and just didn’t write that one day.

I don’t think the universe will collapse if I don’t write this blog ONE DAY. Do you?

By the way, I believe that Jesus was talking about denying our former lives as dominated by sin. We deny who we WERE, appropriating by faith our death to sin (taking up the cross) and embracing our new nature in Christ—following Him.

“For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.”
(Colossians 2:5 NASB)

Good discipline and stable faith—that is the balance and that is goal.

Lord, today it seems more difficult to say this … but I thank You again for cancer. Thank You for all You are teaching me through this disease. Help me to learn some things. Thank You for helping me feel better today. Thank You for allowing me to go to church today and to preach. Lord, I pray for everyone who will be on the roads this morning. Give them safety in their travels to church. Amen.
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Another One of "Those" Mornings

Each day presents its own unique challenge, right? Of course, this is true for each of us. I am more acutely aware of it now than ever before.

So, this morning, for some reason, I am so tired that I can barely fight to keep my eyes open. Already today, I just pushed the computer away from me, gave in, and tried to sleep. Didn’t work. Now I continue to fight it even as I write these words.

So, I am not going to fight any longer. I’m going to sleep for a while.

Please pray that I can rest and be rejuvenated enough to be in a position to preach tomorrow. I feel the urgency to do so.

Lord, You are in charge, even on, especially on a day like today. I trust You and love You. Amen.
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Name Names

Before I get into the topic for today, I want to share a brief word about yesterday. We had a good and very relaxing day. I pray that all of you who are reading this blog could say the same thing.

I did have some relief from the stomach issues that have been plaguing me, but I am a little concerned about this morning. Please continue to pray that the Lord will give me wisdom concerning this. I am examining everything I eat consistently to see if there is a problem there as well. We will see.

Yesterday was very cold and snowy. It looks as if today will be the same, in spite of the fact that as I look out of the window behind this couch, I don’t see any snow falling at the moment, and the sky appears to be clear.

On to the reading for today—again, one of the things that I like about Professor Horner’s plan is that it connects certain passages of scripture I had never put together before.

For example, notice these comments Paul made in Philippians 4: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians
4:2-3 NASB).

Before I make a comment on these verses, let me cite the second passage: “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy
1:18-20 NASB).

Did you notice anything commonalities in these two passages? I guess I have never thought about this before, but in his instructions to these two congregations at Philippi and in Ephesus (Timothy served the church there, if my memory serves me correctly), Paul actually names names.

Now, someone may say, “John, this is not unusual. Paul cites a lot of names as he greets the churches.” This is correct.

But, as far as I know, these are the only two passages in all Paul’s letters in which he names specific people as he is talking about PROBLEMS in the churches.

Why would he do this? Normally, if and when there is a problem in the church I serve, I don’t address specific people from the pulpit, but I talk to the individuals involved privately. I think this is appropriate.

But that is not how Paul choses to handle these two situations. What were they? Well, in the church in Philippi, Paul named two women who were involved in a conflict because he viewed it as a CHURCH. He is urging the CHURCH to help them get things settled for the good of the church.

In the second instance, Paul cites two false teachers, Hymenaeus and Alexander as examples of the outcome of a life that sacrifices “faith and a good conscience,” suffering shipwreck. Paul tells the church that he has handed these two individuals, delineated BY NAME, over to Satan. What does this mean? Well, like the man in 1 Corinthians 5 (in that chapter, he did NOT give the name of that man), I believe these two men dropped dead.

What is the lesson here on this day after Thanksgiving as millions flood stores and shopping malls (nothing wrong with this necessarily unless it becomes idolatry)—we need to pay diligent heed to the health of our churches and to do everything we can to identify and deal with and/or avoid false doctrine. And, as Paul teaches us, we must deal with it VERY SPECIFICALLY.

To all my readers, not just those who are members of First Southern—the church I serve—as you thank the Lord for Your church, pray for her as well and know that our enemy is seeking to destroy churches. We must not let him succeed. This is the responsibility of everyone, not just pastors and leaders—EVERYONE.

I quote a verse from the Amplified Bible that the Lord used in a significant way my senior year at Baylor University. I know exactly where I was when the Spirit illuminated THIS VERSE:

“I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency].” (Philippians 4:13 AMP)

Lord, among all the things I thank You for, I praise You for the genius of the CHURCH. Thank You for the community uniquely designed as a place of worship, instruction in the truth, mutual encouragement, and service for You, the King. Of course, the enemy will attack her. Of course. Give us vigilance and wisdom, as we are alert to two of his biggest weapons against us: conflict from within and false doctrine. We trust Your strength to stand up and to serve. Amen.
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"I Understand"

Incredibly redemptive words, for which I am very thankful today.

Let me explain.

Yesterday, after a good service at the Crossroads, the nursing home where Jim and I serve on the fourth Wednesday of each month, he and I went to get some lunch at Black-eyed Pea. The plan was to have some fellowship together and then head out to Wheatridge to visit Myrtle.

We weren’t very far into our lunch when I started to feel bad—once again stomach problems. I had to leave the table to go to the bathroom a couple of times.

When I returned after the first time, I said, “Jim, I am so sorry, but I don’t think I am going to be able to make that visit. I’m just not doing very well. I think I just need to go home and get under that warm blanket you and Patti gave me.”

Jim’s response, “I understand, Pastor. I agree. You need to do that.”

We finished up our lunch and returned to the church. As we were parting ways, I could see the look of concern on Jim’s face. He gave me a hug, got in his car, and left.

Jim, if you are reading this blog today, thank you for THAT response yesterday. It was incredibly redemptive in my life. I appreciate it and you very much.

“I understand.” That’s what Jim said. And I know he does. He has been through some very difficult health challenges himself, tougher stuff I believe than what I am dealing with, but I’m not going to compare or grade illness. But still … I think it is important and significant to use those words.

Crazy as this sounds—I think we have sort of gotten away from them in the Christian community. We make statements like, “I know I don’t understand what you are going through but …” and I know people are just trying to be honest. I’m not knocking anyone, but Jim’s comment reflects what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1—the passage Mark preached from when he filled the pulpit for me a couple of weeks ago.

Notice these words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians
1:3-4 NASB).

Notice what Paul says. God comforts us in ALL our affliction so that we may comfort others in ANY affliction. We don’t have to go through exactly what someone else has experienced to be able to comfort someone. Sure, in that sense we “don’t understand,” but in the broader comfort sense, we can and do. That is what Jim’s comment reflected.

As I have been thanking God for Jim and his statement and his response to me yesterday, it occurs that what he did is a reflection of how the church as a whole is responding to me these days, from Betty (I mention her first because I see her most often in the office) on down to everyone in our fellowship. I feel no pressure at all, just a bunch of brothers and sisters who notice when I am not feeling well and are in my corner.

Last Sunday, as I was greeting folks, Nancy, Athina, and Patty were sitting in a couple of pews, talking. As I walked by, I could tell that all three of them knew I didn’t feel well.

Anyway, all of this is incredibly redemptive and comforting, and here and now, I want to thank You, Lord, for my church family AND the broader circle of friends, brothers and sisters in Jesus, whom the Lord is using in the same way to minister to me. Again, THANK YOU JESUS.

I really do need your prayers. Now, my stomach problems are emerging as another issue along with the pain in my shoulder. The other day, the doctor asserted that they are connected, “John, one of the reasons that it is taking a while for your shoulder to get better is that you are so weak, and your stomach issues contribute to that.”

The truth is (and sorry to be so graphic here), my appetite has returned, but what I eat doesn’t benefit me because it just goes out shortly after I eat. Weird stuff.

I’m going to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal today, but I just hope I can retain it.

One more passage to mention on this day we set aside to thank God:

“Thank you! Everything in me says ‘Thank you!’ Angels listen as I sing my thanks. I kneel in worship facing your holy temple and say it again: ‘Thank you! Thank you for your love, thank you for your faithfulness; Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word. The moment I called out, you stepped in; you made my life large with strength’” (Psalm
138:1-3 MSG).

The temptation with illness or problems or difficulties of any kind is that we become so focused on them that our lives get as small as our problems. When we thank Him, He makes our lives “large with strength.”

Yesterday was another time the Lord used a brother to move me into “largeness.”

Thank YOU, Lord, for your love and mercy and grace and strength. As significant as our problems are, they are not bigger than You. Thank You for using Jim yesterday. Thank You for my brothers and sisters in Jesus. Thank You again for cancer and for pain and for weakness—all are good and provide opportunity for a manifestation of your LARGENESS. Amen.
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A Discussion about Healing

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit with a pastor friend. Among the topics in our conversation was the subject of healing. He asked what I believed about it.

Oh, boy. Kind of a loaded question and it hits just a little too close to home.

First, I told him that my bedrock belief, when it comes to healing, is the sovereignty of God. Ultimately, things rest in the hands of the Lord. If he wants me to be healed, He will do it. If not, He won’t.

Second, having said this, I do NOT mean to imply that I don’t believe that the Lord has the power to heal. I do. Absolutely, I do.

Not long ago, a dear sister sent me a bunch of verses in scripture that talk about healing. It is an impressive and encouraging list.

Third, I do not agree with those who believe that somehow, healing is a part of the atonement and thus every believer deserves to be healed. Those who hold this view look to Isaiah 53 and misinterpret a verse in that chapter that mentions healing. I don’t want to get into all that right now, but that view is out there.

Fourth (and I may have mentioned this before; it is weird to say), when I pray for myself, I rarely if ever ask the Lord for total healing FOR MYSELF. I’m not sure why. I’m sure a psychologist or psychiatrist would have a field day with that one.

Fifth, even as I mention point four to my friend, I appealed to that story in the gospels about the men who lowered their friend down to Jesus through the roof. How about this verse: “And when Jesus saw their faith (the friend’s faith, I am assuming), he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5, LEB). So, the determining factor was NOT the paralytic’s faith, but the faith of his friends.

I honestly do count on all of you who pray that I would be healed, and I believe that Jesus honors YOUR faith.

In the course of the conversation, my friend said that he had seen a video in which the Lord used someone who prayed for another person to be healed. It was not showy or theatrical. And in the video, the Lord healed that person.

I certainly WON’T argue with what the Lord chooses to do in other situations. That is up to Him. I’m responsible for my own walk of faith before God.

As I confessed to my friend, I do wonder why the Lord hasn’t chosen to heal me thus far, but I can’t let my mind go THERE. I just have to continue to trust him day by day and leave things up to God.

As we ended the conversation, my friend promised to continue to pray for me.

For all of you who do this, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

In the reading today, I came across the controversial end of Jesus’ first sermon, a message in which He emphasized what I have been talking about here.

“’But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’ And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way” (Luke
4:25-30, NASB). Isn’t that crazy?

But I love the fact that Jesus walked straight through the middle of this congregation turned angry mob and went His way.

Ultimately, it wasn’t Jesus’ time. Ultimately, He is in charge of healing and life and death, whether I or anyone else LIKES it or not. This certainly isn’t popular. What seems to gain television ratings is a pastor or preacher who claims to have a corner on the healing market so that before a crowd of people, he can invite sick people up on a stage, snap his fingers, hocus pocus, and someone is healed!

I am NOT buying it. Sure, the Lord can chose to work that way or any way He chooses, but still …

So, Lord, I’m left with today and right now. I choose to thank You again for cancer, one of the greatest gifts EVER. Today, along with many, many others, I do appeal to You, Dr. Jesus, for healing, but rather or not that happens, I will still follow You and serve You and love You. Always. No matter what. Amen.
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The Trampling Boot

“God remembered us when we were down, His love never quits. Rescued us from the trampling boot, His love never quits. Takes care of everyone in time of need. His love never quits. Thank God, who did it all! His love never quits!”
(Psalm
136:23-26 MSG, emphasis mine)

My imagination runs wild this morning, as I think about what the trampling boot means in practical terms.

The picture I get in my mind (from movies and documentaries of World War II; I am certainly no expert here and don’t want to be) is of a German Panzer tank rolling along, even over wounded and/or dead soldiers in its path. In a time of battle, there is no time for housecleaning. One just keeps rolling.

Now, of course, in the Psalmist’s day, there were no tanks, just legions of enemy soldiers marching onward for some wicked purpose. The statement I quoted above reminds us that even when we are down, the Lord is there to rescue us.

As the days and weeks progress with this disease, I’m now learning that the greatest obstacle and battle I face is depression.

Let me be clear here: when I am using it, I simply mean the overwhelming feeling of being down.

I know that depression comes in many forms and thus, there are appropriate treatments for each type or phase of it. AND, in the interest of transparency with all of you, mine may be morphing into something more than just a feeling of being down. Believe me, I am monitoring this closely in several ways.

But I don’t really want to go into detail about THAT right now.

The truth is that after a good but very tough day (from a physical standpoint) on Sunday, yesterday was what I would call a “day of recovery.” I’m learning that after a very hard day, I don’t just bounce back in a snap the next day. This is what I am hoping for today, but we will see. Each day is an adventure.

I do know that, even though I felt slightly better, I was still not able to do couple of things I needed to accomplish for work. I would ask you to pray that I would have the strength to do them today. Thanks.

One of the things I need to do is visit a dear sister who is in critical condition in the hospital. Her name is Deloris. Delores has cancer, and the Lord continues to use her as an encouragement to me. When she feels up to coming to church, we share “war stories,” as it were. Plus, she sends me notes from time to time to let me know that she is praying for me. I appreciate this deeply.

But back to the trampling boot: as Christians here in America, we do not face the challenge of dealing with an occupying enemy army (although ISIS may soon fit this category if we don’t deal with this enemy soon). So what does it mean?

I think anything that we allow to put us down and keep us down fits in that category. I would think that cancer and its symptoms and treatments fill that bill. The longer this goes on, I can either allow this to get me down …

Or not.

Paul was faced with a “trampling boot” as well. How about this—imprisonment in a Roman jail chain between two soldiers 24 hours a day? This would certainly have the potential to get one down, especially a missionary like Paul whom God called to go the ends of the earth. And here he is rotting in prison.

What does he say? What does he do? I love these words I read in Professor Horner’s plan in addition to Psalm 136: “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians
1:19-20 NASB).

Lord, even as I read that, I just have to say, “Wow.” Here I am, sick, to be sure, but with all the freedom in the world. Be exalted in and through my life today; be exalted whether in life or death, sickness or health. Whatever. Amen.
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Overdid It

In hindsight, I should not have gone up to the church yesterday. I should have stayed home. I knew it.

But … there was no way I was going to miss yesterday.

Our friend who works overseas did a great job of preaching and telling us about his work as he preached from Luke 10.

The whole front of the auditorium was filled with Operation Christmas Child boxes. This year, we collected 507 of them! Praise God! Clay stood up to announce the tally on the day before his tenth birthday. He did a great job.

Then, we all lined up and the “assembly line” began as we loaded all the boxes in Bernard’s truck as Marvin his son along with several others drove it over to North Metro church—the distribution center.

In the meantime, our friend and I got to spend some more time visiting about his work before we had a lunch discussion with several folks who were also interested.

By then, however, I could barely keep my eyes open. I was totally spent. I’m thankful for the grace the Lord gave me just to get back home to collapse on this couch. As the day progressed, I seemed to feel worse and worse. By the end of the day, I ached all over as if I had the flu.

What is the lesson here? Again, I need to do a better job of self-monitoring BEFORE a big day like yesterday. I did too much on Saturday and I got too tired, putting myself in a bad way even before the day.

As much as I resent thinking about myself all the time, I still HAVE to do it. The price is too high when I allow myself to get too tired. Please continue to pray that I will be more vigilant when it comes to my health. And I would include emotional, mental, and spiritual under the umbrella of “health.”

In Professor Horner’s reading plan, I read two of the main passages in the letters of Paul dealing with the topic of spiritual warfare. I would like to quote from both.

First, there is the very familiar Ephesians 6. I chose to read this passage today from the Message Version. “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when
it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”
Ephesians
6:13-18, MSG, emphasis mine).

Before I started my Bible reading this morning, I happened to steal a glance at my Broncos App on my phone to see what was on there after the victory yesterday. As most of you probably know, back-up quarterback Brock Osweiler had his first NFL start in the wake of Peyton Manning’s injury last week. He had an AWESOME game, but one of the videos showed Brock entering the locker room after the victory and the players were actually cheering and yelling.

I’m certainly no expert on what happens in the average NFL locker room but I would imagine that this is rather unusual.

Think with me for a moment. What will it be like when each of us enters heaven and the battle here on earth is over? I have a feeling that our minds cannot conceive of the cheering that will occur. Pick and choose all the men and women of God through history, standing in a row, giving us high fives and shouting as we enter our eternal locker room.

Oh, man. I have to stop right there. I’m not even going to quote the other spiritual warfare passage from 1 Thessalonians 5. I just have to let my spiritual imagination run with THAT ONE.

Lord, help us to stand and keep standing all the way to the end, until there is nothing left but the shouting and slapping fives with Paul, Augustine, Spurgeon, and on and on. Hooray! Amen.
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A Busy Day Ahead

As I sit here this morning, I am nodding off to sleep, now and again. I just pray that the Lord will wake me up fully for this day.

First, this is the day that we will pray over the Operation Christmas Child boxes we have received. We don’t pray for the cardboard; we pray for the child who will receive the box—that he or she will repent and believe the gospel and the family would follow.

Every year, Operation Christmas Child sends us videos of children receiving and opening their boxes. It is a sight to see—unbridled joy and adulation. It is very convicting in one sense. We take so much for granted in this country. Many of these boys and girls have NEVER received any kind of present for Christmas, but beyond that, they hear the Gospel. We pray that seeds would be planted and families impacted.

Second, we have a special guest with us. I spent almost two hours talking with him last night. He is here to preach and to share about his work overseas.

Third, all of us will be helping as we load the boxes in a truck and some of us will be taking the boxes to North Metro to distribute them there.

Fourth, after Community Groups, some of us will be meeting with him and talking further about the work.

Sorry to be a little cryptic in the previous two paragraphs. I just want to be overly cautious about revealing too much of this person’s identity here on social media. We have to be careful about such things.

Anyway, as you can see, there is a lot going on. It is kind of overwhelming, to be honest. The special guest and I prayed that in all of these things, people would not be distracted in their worship of the Lord.

In Professor Horner’s reading plan today, one statement stood out to me the birth narrative of Luke 1. There was a lot going on THERE as well. Elizabeth was pregnant through a miracle of God; she met up with her relative Mary.

Thus, from the beginning, the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus intertwined!

Here is that statement: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke
1:37, NASB).

Amen, Lord. Thank You for the miraculous births of the forerunner John and the Messiah Jesus. If you can do THAT miracle, You can take care of things on a busy Sunday in a Baptist church. Are you kidding me? Amen Again.
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Turn Around

Last night, I had planned and was really looking forward to going to a prayer meeting at our sister church—North Metro. Several weeks ago, I had met with Larry and Lucinda. I affirmed the need for such a meeting, and in fact, prayed with both of them that day.

One of the reasons—not the main reason—was to pray for me. I deeply appreciate this, and as the day progressed yesterday, I continued to think, “I really do need the prayers of God’s people.”

The meeting was to start at 7:00 PM.

So, at about 6:15, I jumped in my car and headed out. The further north I headed up I25, the heavier the traffic—a weird thing at that time of night since rush hour is usually over at this point (I am an expert on this). Plus, the weather seemed to worsen as the temperature dropped.

There was just something (or better, Someone) inside of me that said, “Just turn around and go home.” At first, I fought this voice and just kept driving and pushing on. However, I guess if there is anything I have learned over the past five years with cancer—I have learned to listen to that “still small voice,” even though I am resistant and don’t understand.

I finally gave in and I called Lucinda. Of course, as always, she was very understanding and affirming. She and I prayed together over the phone as I exited the highway at 58
th Avenue to turn around. By then, Pastor James got on the phone. We talked for a bit. We agreed that we would get together this next week.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate these responses. But I was so discouraged. Oh, man! As I re-entered the highway—this time going in the opposite direction—I just felt the bottom dropping out of my energy.

But I know those dear folks prayed for me.

So, last night, did I make the right decision? Did I do what God told me? Yes. Am I sorry that I missed that meeting? Absolutely.

This whole scenario I have described shows me that I am not as far along in recovery as I thought, and it tells me that I need more rest today—especially because, even as I sit here, it is one of those mornings in which I just can’t keep my eyes open.

Rest is crucial because we have a big weekend ahead. Today, a friend of ours whom we met overseas when we traveled to South Asia is coming to Denver this afternoon. It will be awesome to see him. A family in our church is picking him up and providing hospitality for him. I appreciate this very much.

Tomorrow, two big things are happening. First, this brother is going to share with us. Second, we are going to pray a congregational prayer of dedication for the boxes. Then, we are going to load them on a truck for transport to North Metro, ultimately to be carried to the distribution center. It will be a big day! I need to be well prepared for it.

Thanks for your prayers for all of that.

This morning, as I continue with Professor Horner’s plan—the contrast of two chapters stands out. On the one hand, there is the tragic story of Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16. In essence, Korah and his cohorts said (in a sort of pseudo-compassionate tone) to all the people, “You take too much upon yourselves! All of the community is holy, every one of them, and Yahweh is in their midst, so why do you raise yourselves over the assembly of Yahweh?” (Numbers 16:3, NASB).

Have you ever noticed that some of the most sinful, devious, and evil statements are cloaked in religion?

As the leader of God’s people, Moses addressed this rebellion immediately. Long story short, God judged Korah and all the people who supported him, IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS.

Now, balance that with what Paul teaches in Ephesians 4. In the body of Christ, leaders are tasked with the role of equipping the saints for ministry, BUT even though we are different, we are ONE in the body. No one is more or less important than any other person.

What is the difference? Jesus fulfilled His role as the ultimate sacrifice and priest on our behalf! Through redemption, there is forgiveness for sin and cleansing in the blood. Jesus did that and He was the only One who could. As a result, all of us have access to the throne of grace. We can go to God any time we want, even on a cold and snowy November night …

Lord, I understand less and less of what is going on with me. Thank You for another lesson, another reminder of weakness. Thank You for Larry, Lucinda, Pastor James, and all the others who worshiped and prayed last night. Raise up more prayer warriors like them.

In the meantime, I commit this weekend to you. Give our friend a safe trip today. Speak through him tomorrow in the power of the Holy Spirit. We trust You. We thank You that You can use weakness for Your glory. I’m so glad. Amen.
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Strengths and Weaknesses

There is so much going on in my brain this morning … In fact, it started in the middle of the night. I just couldn’t sleep. I don’t know if it has to do with the medicine I am taking or what. Maybe that is the physical explanation. But on a spiritual level, I think it is one of those times where I just need feverishly to take notes. This brings me back to my school days, back in the Dark Ages, where the tool of choice was (I can’t even remember the correct name—was it really that long ago?) a “spiral notebook” and a good pen.

Things started Wednesday night when I was typing out the answers to some questions Connor had given me for one of his classes at seminary. One of the questions was, “What are your strengths in ministry?” Somehow, the question caused me to pause a second. I thought, “I guess this is asking what my spiritual gifts are.” As I started to list them, somehow, in that way that He speaks, louder than an audible voice, He said, “Do you think that I use you in your strengths?”

It hit me, like a baseball bat between the eyes, “No, Lord, You use me in my weakness.” If I had it to do over to answer that question, I think I would NOT list my spiritual gifts as if even they come from me.

My list would resemble the second half of 2 Corinthians 11. Really, what is my 2 Corinthians 11 list? What is yours, dear reader? Let me start it here: I have run out of all the tricks of the trade in the ministry; I have received many blows from people whom I trusted who turned on me; I have often been discouraged in ministry and disappointed with myself and others; I have spent many sleepless nights because of conflicts in the church; things have not turned out as I dreamed they would; and as the icing on the cake, I got cancer! Many days, I cannot stay awake. I do not feel like doing anything but sleep. I am as weak as I have ever been.

Now, would any “normal” person add cancer to a list of strengths in ministry? I doubt it. But I want to say categorically with Paul: “when at the very moment of my weakness, THEN I am strong.”

This is weird to say and please don’t take it as bragging on my part. But right now, I may be doing my best work as a pastor because the Strong John is gone! The Strong John often got in God’s way and messed things up with his ideas and effort. I worked myself to the bone. Really, that didn’t help anyone, especially the church.

Now, all I have to offer the Lord is the Weak John. Maybe now, I am finally in a position to be out of God’s way so that He, our truly Strong God, can work.

Again, this sounds weird but as the Lord continued to speak to me through the day, three things emerged. First, I love preaching more than I ever have. Our schedule gives me the opportunity to preach one twenty-minute sermon to our church two out of every three weeks. This demands an economy of words. Are you kidding me?

When I first started and as the church added more people numerically, way back “in the day,” I was preaching/teaching four to five times per week. Now, it is only once and not even every week as I go through chemo.

Actually, now, I am spending more time in sermon prep than I was back then, because, with only one opportunity per week (well, I guess I am preaching at two nursing homes as well and love that too), I am realizing that I better make it count.

Now, here is where I am: I would rather do a really good job by the grace of God in one shorter message per week than preach five times and not do a good job.

How about that?

Second, and this hit me last night, I love, deeply love the flock at First Southern. I just could not get the faces of people in the church off of my mind, and if I could, I would just put my arms around them all and give them a big bear hug.

If you are reading this and you are a part of the family of First Southern, I love you!

But beyond that, third, it is amazing to me how the Lord is using the broader body of Christ in my life. Yesterday, two former pastors of mine, Larry Venable and Andy Hornbaker Sr., called me out of the blue to ask how I was doing and to tell me they are praying for me. In fact, Larry said, “John, if there is ever something you need, call me, and I will ask the church here to pray for you.”

Me? Are you kidding? People praying for me? Who am I?

I also got a note from someone telling me that she was praying for me. Again, wow!

How about these two passages from the reading this morning? “Therefore I ask you not to be discouraged at my afflictions on behalf of you, which are your glory. On account of this, I bend my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person”
(Ephesians
3:13-16, LEB). Strengthened with power in the inner person—now THAT is strength!

And then, absolutely one of my favorite Old Testament stories in the Prophet Elisha narratives of the Old Testament. “So he (the enemy of Israel, the king of Aram) sent horses, chariots, and an oppressing army there. They arrived at night and surrounded the town. The attendant of the man of God arose early and went out, and look, the army was surrounding the city with horses and chariots. His servant said to him, ‘Oh no, my master! What shall we do?’ And he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, for more are with us than are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Yahweh, please open his eyes that he may see,’ and Yahweh opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw, and look, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings
6:14-17, LEB).

Oh, Lord, I will take it—“more are with us than are with them.” This is all we need. Open our eyes, our spiritual eyes today. Amen.
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Responses to the Blog

Again I say that I continue to be amazed that anyone reads the “daily chicken scratchings,” let alone responds to them. I want to thank you all!

First, I received some books on loan from Patti—three works on the subject of heaven. I want to pass these titles along to you. They have sparked a lot more research on my part.

Randy Alcorn has written several books on heaven. My friend Steve gave me this book years ago—
Safely Home. He has written another with the title Heaven. And then one more in the stack of books from Patti—the title is We Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon’s Classic Devotional Thoughts on Heaven.

This book is particularly interesting to me because, as many of you know, I did my PhD dissertation on Spurgeon and the way he interpreted the Old Testament in his preaching.

Alcorn’s book gives a brief bio of Spurgeon, but the meat of this book consists of “translations” of sections of Spurgeon’s sermons on the topic of heaven. I say “translations” because (and I know this from personal experience) Spurgeon’s sermons are a little difficult to read from
New Park Street/Metropolitan Tabernacle series. The reason is that Spurgeon speaks in nineteenth century British style. The English language has changed even in the 100+ years since Spurgeon lived and died.

Thus, Alcorn attempts to make Spurgeon’s sermon excerpts a little more readable for the contemporary American reader. He does a good job of this. Then, after each excerpt, he makes some comments on his own from what Spurgeon wrote.

Alcorn’s book led me to think of Charles Haddon Spurgeon as another major source when it comes to preaching/writing about heaven.

Finally, two more of the books that Patti loaned me are
Nearing Home by Billy Graham and Heaven: My Father’s House. Graham’s daughter, herself a prolific speaker and writer, wrote the second book. These should also be a fascinating read. I recommend one other book Billy Graham wrote—The Heaven Answer Book. It offers concise answers to common questions about heaven. It is excellent.

I want to thank Patti for her response and for these three loaner books. They have sparked some fruitful investigation on my part. At this point in the journey, I would say that Randy Alcorn, Charles Spurgeon, and Billy Graham are good sources for books that help us understand what the Bible teaches about heaven.

Again, please keep this in mind: our number one source is the Bible, but I like benefitting from what the Spirit has revealed to others. I think it is important not to be so arrogant that we don’t learn from others (the pseudo-spiritual attitude that says, “The only book I read is the Bible.” Come on!) and yet, at the same time, recognize that they are human and fallible. There is a balance.

That is one response.

The other came from Pastor Ilamarques as we visited yesterday. He affirmed what I wrote about the transience of the American church scene. And he took it a step further, “John, this is going on not only here in America, but also across the world.”

Lord, have mercy on us.

What I am learning in the initial stages of my study on heaven is that we cannot focus on it to the exclusion of its counterpart—HELL. Of course, we all must affirm that NOT everyone is automatically going to heaven. If you believe in heaven, you must also believe in hell. You cannot have one without the other.

This duality is clearly present in Revelation 21. After the revelation to John the Apostle about heaven, notice the contrast: “But as for the cowards and unbelievers and detestable persons and murderers and sexually immoral people and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their share is in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8, LEB).

Gulp. Don’t want to go there, nor do I want any friends there either.

Lord, I thank You for the reality of heaven for the believer. It is a real place where those who have repented and believed will go. But Lord, today, give me more urgency to share the gospel so that many more will not end up in Hell for eternity. Certainly “Hell” is not a pleasant subject to talk about in our contemporary world. No preacher wants to be branded with the “fire and brimstone” moniker, but too bad. It is in the Word and we must share it and warn people. Amen.
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Transience

As Betty and I were commiserating yesterday and I have had time to think about our conversation, several things have crystalized in my mind and heart.

Now, before I get into this topic, let me say that there are many exceptions to the situation I am going to describe here. I can list several families that I still maintain contact with. We keep in touch. I hear from them. Our relationship continues. This is good. They know who they are. Many of them read this blog and keep up with the church and with me.

So, I want to get this on the table right now.

Having said that, one of the greatest challenges the church faces (I am going to put this on a congregational, not personal, level although people’s actions affect both) is what I am going to call transience.

I think it is a characteristic of our culture that people do not often stay in the same place all that long. This is the same with their church.

When I first started as pastor in 1989, the Lord brought families to our church. Again, there were exceptions, but a lot of these folks jumped in and served. Plus, I found myself spending time with them in their homes. We developed close relationships.

Somehow, over the years, this seems to occur less and less. Here is what occurs: a family joins; they begin to develop relationships; and then, for various reasons, poof! They are gone and oftentimes there is never any communication as to why.

I know this happens in other churches. We are not the exception here.

I have seen it firsthand with churches on the north side of Denver. People don’t realize that pastors talk as well. We actually do have conversations about folks that jump from church to church, never finding what they are looking for OR never settling in to serve for the long haul. Again, there are exceptions to this rule, but unfortunately, not enough.

As a friend of mine used to say, “It takes people three years to decide to join a church and three seconds to decide to leave it.” There is something very wrong with this, don’t you think?

This is a sin against the body of Christ and people who do this show that they never really joined in the first place. I am reminded of that statement in 1 John: “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us” (1 John 2:19, NLT). How about that?

For crying out loud, if you are going to join a church, shouldn’t you care enough about it to talk with the pastor before you leave it? But that takes to much effort and energy, I guess.

Plus, I am a little leery of those conversations now anyway. All too often, they turn into lectures with a condescending, “holier than thou” attitude.

Why can’t you just be humble? Why can’t you just say, “Pastor, I wanted to get with you to let you know we are having some concerns. Here they are. Can these be addressed? Or, can my family and I help with these issues? God led us here and we want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. How can we help?” How about that?

Then, if you don’t get the response you like, why can’t you just stay anyway?

This is no excuse for sin (we never tolerate that or doctrinal error—those are reasons to leave but even then—shouldn’t you tell someone?), but if you are looking for the perfect church, don’t join it if you find it.

Do you detect a little anger on my part as you read these words?

Good. I am angry.

I’m tired of it. I’m sick of it. And, I believe this type of attitude is a sin against the body of Christ. It hurts The Church, because these types of folks go somewhere else with this attitude and eventually leave THAT church because of something that they don’t like.

The result of these actions on a personal level for me is that I am different. I am much more cautious with people than I have ever been. Don’t get me wrong. I love my church family, but I am not as vulnerable as I used to be.

What does this have to do with heaven? Remember yesterday I indicated that I was going to focus on it. Notice these words from Revelation 21: “Then He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son”
(Revelation
21:6-7, NASB).

I look forward to the day of permanence. When Jesus is finished and all His children gather with Him to be with Him forever.

Lord, I am grieved for the church and how people treat Your body. I look forward to our permanent home in heaven with You—a perfect place, forever. Amen.

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No More Pain

When days like yesterday occur, I’ve learned just to “go with them.” After a weekend in which I honestly felt as good as I have in a long time, the graph went down, way down, yesterday.

The only thing I felt like doing was to sit on this couch, underneath the heated blanket that Jim and Patti gave me, and sleep. The only interruption in this routine was two Epsom salt baths I took—again, just to give me some relief from the overall bad feeling (I think I’ve said this before, but on these days I feel bad, it feels like the flu) and the chills that go with it.

I sat in this room, and every once in a while, as I roused from my slumber, I noticed that the clouds were coming in and the snowstorm (actually a blizzard) was arriving. Great. Just great. Every one who knows me knows how much I “love” snow. UGH.

I stuck my head out the door this morning as I got up to eat breakfast. Sure enough, the white and ugly stuff was coming down rather fast and furious. One of the local stations reported that south of downtown and into Douglas County was the worst of the storm. From the church northward, things are not that bad, so they say.

We will see as the day unfolds.

It is my hope that I will be able to head up to the church about noon when the storm subsides a bit. Who knows?

For some reason, this whole scenario has proven to be soft and receptive soil in my heart for the Word today. Go figure.

First, I was deeply impressed with the descriptions of Moses in Numbers 12. Certainly, few would disagree that he was one of the greatest men of God that our faith has ever known. Great—not as the world counts it, but in the eyes of God—the only One whose ultimate opinion and judgment matters.

I am sure you will remember this statement, actually a parenthetical one in the NASB: “(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)” (Numbers
12:3 NASB)

More humble than any man on the face of the earth. Wow. What does that mean exactly? A couple of verses later, this is what God says as He defends His servant: “He said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?’” (Numbers
12:6-8 NASB) Remarkable words, wouldn’t you say?

Based on this passage alone and of course, we have other teachings in the Bible on this subject; I would say the essence of humility is intimacy. Moses and God spoke “mouth to mouth.” The Amplified Bible adds this bracketed word “directly” as a descriptive of what mouth to mouth means.

I would say that all of us as believers through the Holy Spirit have this same opportunity of a “mouth to mouth” relationship with the Lord, if only we would shut up long enough to let him speak.

By the way, the other day I was visiting with a friend named Stan. He told me about a local ministry that sponsors “silent retreats.” Stan gave me contact information. I emailed the brother in charge. He said that his silent retreats are booked up for the rest of the year. I guess a lot of folks are like me—tired of all the noise and verbiage and simple, alliterated three-point “solutions.” We crave “mouth to mouth” time with God. I’m going to go on one of those silent retreats. I need help with this.

But I divert … one more passage has sparked me in another direction. Revelation 21 is about heaven. Here are a few verses at the beginning of this monumental chapter: “I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone,
pain gone—all the first order of things gone.’ The Enthroned continued, ‘Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate’” (Revelation 21:3-5, MSG, emphasis mine).

I can hardly fight back the tears. Lord, someday, I will be in a place where days like yesterday, days where pain and fatigue and weakness overwhelm me, will be GONE, gone forever. I don’t want to die one second before “my time,” but I am ready, so ready to live in the God neighborhood forever. Bring it on!

Do you know what I fee led to do? And here is a question to all my dear readers:
please tell me about the best book on heaven you have ever read! Let’s compile a list and challenge each other to read them. I believe that circumstances in my life—cancer specifically—has made me long for HOME more than ever.

The ten best books about heaven in the history of Christianity. There is your assignment. You don’t need to give me ten. Give me one or two. Whatever.

In the meantime, I’m going to suspend my reading plan to focus on Revelation 21. I don’t know if my diversion from the plan will last one day or one week or whatever, but I am starting there.

Of course, the best book on heaven is the Bible. Let’s get that fact out on the table first, okay?


Lord, as I long for the day I go home, go to a place with no more pain, I desire the cultivation of a life of mouth to mouth humility with you. Amen.
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Another Sunday Away from Church

Somehow, I try to take opportunities that are available to me when I am not at church on Sunday. Yesterday, I even tried to take a walk. It felt good to get outside and move around.

Actually, I should be doing this a lot more often (and hope I will be able to and feel like it). We will see.

Even though it was a very pleasant morning (and the rest of the day was unseasonably warm as well), there weren’t very many people out. Not any pedestrians and very little traffic.

I wonder what people do. Most of them don’t give God or church a thought, I am sure. It just seems to be rather empty—living most of the time without an acknowledgment of God or corporate worship.

I can see, if a person had no worship in his or her life, how easy it would be to worship idols and to be very materialistic, if that is all one thought about.

Then, this question emerged in my mind as I walked along and prayed: how would a church reach these folks?

One could ask that question about and in every neighborhood in our city and nation.

Honestly, I don’t think a slick program or contemporary service will get these people. As I said, I just don’t believe that God or church is even on the radar screen.

The only thing that I can think of is prayer—prayer walking, prayer house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood. I know I have mentioned this before, but I really like the website pray4everyhome.com. It gives me the opportunity to pray for each of my neighbors by name.

On other days as I am walking and see people, I wonder if I am seeing a person I am already praying for.

Part of the thing as well is to be open to opportunities to get with my neighbors. On Halloween weekend, our neighborhood association sponsored a party. I had plans to go but I missed it because I wasn’t feeling well. The association also has a get together on July 4
th. Again, I hope to be able to attend this year.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I felt like a fish out of water once again and look forward to being back in church next Sunday, if the Lord wills.

Father, I can’t imagine a life that does not acknowledge You or worship You along with others in the family of God. I continue to pray for my neighbors. Use me in their salvation. Help me to be ready to share when an opportunity comes along. Thank You for Brent, Holly, Halle, Caleb, and Sunday—our neighbors next door—who are also on the pray4rveryhome website. I lift them up today. Thank You for the good message Mark preached in my absence yesterday and for taking care of things like You always do. I love You, Lord. Amen.
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Because of a Bodily Illness

What a week! A lot to think about as I sit here this morning. And, unlike most Sunday mornings, I have the time to think. Mark Edlund, our Executive Director for the Colorado Baptist General Convention, is preaching for me this morning. I really appreciate this.

I’m glad that the people of our church will have the opportunity to get to know him and hear him share God’s Word. As I have said previously, it is good for them to hear someone else preach every once in a while.

I still miss it … but this is another opportunity to sit and reflect.

My two football teams—the Denver Broncos and my alma mater, the Baylor Bears—both fell from the ranks of the unbeaten. Normally, that would bother me a lot, but that news pales in significance in light of what happened in Paris on Friday night.

Yesterday, early afternoon, I stopped by the home of Connor and Jess. Connor leads worship for us. It didn’t take us long to get on the subject of that terrorist attack. It is quite disturbing to hear news about Americans joining ISIS (or ISIL, whatever you call it). And, add to that the very imminent possibility that we will have some type of terrorist attack on American soil AND many Americans don’t seem to care.

We went out to eat last night, and as we sat in the restaurant waiting for our food to arrive, I commented, “Just sitting here and listening to the gibberish and conversation of these folks, many of them being intoxicated to some degree, one would never know that we have just experienced one of the most infamous acts of terrorism in history.” Sure it happened across an ocean. Sure it seems rather remote. But it is a harbinger of things to come, and no one seems to care.

Here is a question or turn it around a bit and it could become the title of a book—“How does the church minister in an era of terrorism?”
The Church and Worldwide Terrorism. Yawn. So what? I mean what practical impact does these horrific events have on the average American?

After 9/11, we had a full house for prayer meeting the following Wednesday. The next week, we were back to “the few, the brave, and the proud.” This event had even less significance.

I think we all want to cover our eyes and ears and make noise so we don’t have to think about it.

Anyway, what does the Word of God say this morning? A few passages emerged that I would like to highlight. First, notice these words in Galatians 4: “You have done me no wrong; but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:12-16, NASB)

I know I have read those words before, but what “bodily illness” is Paul talking about? It may have something to do with his eyes, as he indicates above, and this may lend insight into the “thorn of the flesh.” But what is he talking about?

I love this explanation from Tom Schreiner in his commentary on Galatians: “Paul’s sickness, however, was not a liability for the spread of the gospel. Rather, he considered it to be a
corollary of Christ’s sufferings. In other words, Paul did not think his diseases and sufferings should be separated from his calling as an apostle. The weakness of Paul, manifested in sickness, was the pathway by which Christ’s strength was manifested through him.”

Wow! I really needed to read THAT this morning. In light of everything that is going on in the world, I have to be honest, I am frustrated that I have cancer NOW, of all times in human history. Why? What is going on? Well, so far, the Lord has not answered those two questions. Stay tuned. I will let you know when He does.

In the meantime, I have this testimony from Paul. I’m going to line myself up with it.

Why? Well, I love Revelation 19, the description of a white horse and its rider! Whenever you get tempted to be overwhelmed with what is going on in the world and start to feel that this radical, evil ideology and the suicide bombers who adhere to it, are gaining the upper hand, READ REVELATION 19!

He takes names and kicks the enemy’s rear end: “I saw the Beast and, assembled with him, earth’s kings and their armies, ready to make war against the One on the horse and his army. The Beast was taken, and with him, his puppet, the False Prophet, who used signs to dazzle and deceive those who had taken the mark of the Beast and worshiped his image. They were thrown alive, those two, into Lake Fire and Brimstone. The rest were killed by the sword of the One on the horse, the sword that comes from his mouth. All the birds held a feast on their flesh” (Revelation
19:19-21 MSG). AMEN!

What to do in the meantime? These well-known verses from Proverbs 3: “Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD ’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to GOD!” (Proverbs 3:5-6, MSG)

Lord, things on a personal level (sickness), on a local level (the struggles of the church here and many places), and on an international level seem as daunting as ever. It is just easier to play pretend, but if anyone has the calling and the duty to be faithful realists, it is those who are a part of the armies of heaven who follow the Rider on the White Horse. Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon.

I pray for Mark as he preaches today. I lift up First Southern Baptist Church of Northglenn. This little group of people. What possible difference can we make in the immensity of this evil world? Again, the FACT is that we are on the winning side and numbers don’t matter. Here is a bit of God math on this mid-November Sunday, from the computer keys of a pastor with a “bodily illness). God plus one or two or three=majority=victory!

How about this verse from an old Christmas song? The title is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” This is one of Marilyn’s favorites. She played it for Mother and me—this verse:

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead nor doubt He sleeps
The wrong shall fail the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men.”

Amen.
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Blood: Murdered, Martyred, and Responsible

I just can’t get the horrific scenes out of my mind that my family and I saw last night as we watched the coverage of that horrific terrorist event in Paris.

At just the moment that we believe we have seen everything, something like this happens.

Yesterday, I talked about the whole concept of anarchy. I believe that it is a key component of the ever-increasing evil that is escalating as we approach the Second Coming of Christ. Again, my view of eschatology does NOT include the idea of a rapture of the church because I don’t believe the Bible teaches it anywhere.

If I am wrong about this, it would not be the first or last time, but the subject is moot at this point because we are all STILL here. Aren’t we?

We can debate all we want, but I think that it is irresponsible and almost immoral. We need to be focusing on holiness and what we are going to do as the Church NOW.

One thing that is hard to get out of my mind is the fact that, because of a shortage of funds, the International Mission Board has had to lay off (they don’t use this term) a significant percentage of our workers overseas. I wonder how many of them are or were in France.

If there were ever a time a nation needed the Lord and the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is now.

But we need it here in the USA as well. I don’t know about you, but I could not help but think that it is only a matter of time before such an event occurs on American soil. The press is reporting that those who are celebrating what happened in Paris are mentioning “American blood.” We are ultimately the main target.

Are we ready? When I ask that question, I am not speaking of all the logistical parameters that need to be in place (and now aren’t, for the most part) for us to be protected. I am speaking of the spiritual “stuff” we need.

As I laid awake most of the night thinking about all of this and praying, I began to anticipate what the Lord was going to say through His Word this morning. Sure enough … the thread that ties these passages together interestingly enough is BLOOD.

First, notice these words from Revelation 18. This whole chapter is about the fall of Babylon. The empire that the Lord allowed to cause the downfall of Judah and the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B. C. emerges in the Word as a symbol of this sinful world we live in—a world that produces ISIS and other terrorist groups who murder thousands of innocent folks in cold blood.

Here are the final verses of that chapter in the Message version: A strong Angel reached for a boulder—huge, like a millstone—and heaved it into the sea, saying, Heaved and sunk, the great city Babylon, sunk in the sea, not a sign of her ever again. Silent the music of harpists and singers— you’ll never hear flutes and trumpets again. Artisans of every kind—gone; you’ll never see their likes again. The voice of a millstone grinding falls dumb; you’ll never hear that sound again. The light from lamps, never again; never again laughter of bride and groom. Her traders robbed the whole earth blind, and by black-magic arts deceived the nations.
The only thing left of Babylon is blood— the blood of saints and prophets, the murdered and the martyred” (Revelation 18:21-24, emphasis mine).

Second, 1 Kings 22 describes the death of one of the most wicked kings in the history of Israel—Ahab: ”The battle raged that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot in front of the Arameans, and died at evening,
and the blood from the wound ran into the bottom of the chariot. Then a cry passed throughout the army close to sunset, saying, ‘Every man to his city and every man to his country’” (1 Kings 22:35-36, NASB, again, emphasis mine). This reference to blood is significant because as the king’s chariot was cleaned when he returned to the city, the dogs licked up his blood. This evil man died in exactly the way the prophet predicted.

Third, in the call of Ezekiel the prophet, there is a strong word of responsibility. “When I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself."”
(Ezekiel
3:18-21, NASB).

A lot to quote this morning, but I hope you get the idea. Seeing those terribly bloody pictures of the carnage in Paris should be a “kick in the pants” for us that we have responsibility as never before to get the Word out of the redeeming grace of God available in another very bloody place—the cross of Jesus Christ.

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

Lord, I don’t even know where to start to pray this morning. I lift up everyone involved in this terrible tragedy. Still and always, the only hope for this world is YOU. I pray for comfort and grace and strength today. I pray for the church this morning and one particular sister in Christ as well as all of us. O God, help us! Help! Amen.
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Anarchy

I’ll tell you: it is tough to learn about what is happening at Yale and the University of Missouri.

Last night, my mom and sis watched the protests at the protests at these two institutions. I would call them “anarchy.” The dictionary defines that term as “a state of disorder due to the absence or non-recognition of authority.”

Upfront—please know that I am not making these comments out of any political motivation but just out of concern for our country and where it is headed. And, I believe we ought to pray for our leaders as never before.

Here’s the deal: if someone does something wrong that hurts another individual, then there should be consequences for that crime. That is the way the criminal justice system in this country SHOULD work. No problems there.

However, if someone gets their nose out of joint because of “free speech” and violates someone else’s civil rights as a result, then I have a problem.

It doesn’t take a genius to see where all of this is headed. Mark it down. This is disorder due to a non-recognition of authority, and the Word reminds us that there is no authority in place that God (as ultimate authority) did not put in place.

Therefore, this is rebellion against God and it WILL eventually affect the church in some way. Well, it already has.

My mind goes to a place in London I have made a point of attending each of the three times I have been there—Speaker’s Corner. Every Sunday afternoon, people of all faiths and political persuasions can get up on a soapbox and have the freedom to say whatever they want. Believe me. There are some “out there” people and speeches going on in this place. Whew!

But it is still allowed and it still happens.

I wonder if it would be allowed here in the good ole USA. Think about it. Someone could be walking by. He or she is sampling the speeches. One person says, “That Baptist preacher’s message offends me. It doesn’t make me feel safe. I feel violated.” So, at that point, do the police come and haul the Baptist preacher away, leaving the others to continue?

I’m sure my little scenario is overblown to some degree. This may never happen, but it could, right? I guess it is just hard to get perspective on things when we are living right in the middle of things. We do like to minimize what is going on because we fear what will happen.

What I am saying is that the church needs to be diligent to keep on preaching our message and sharing the gospel as long as we have the freedom to do so. And we need to be going about our task with urgency.

Several passages I read this morning emphasize this. Here is the commission of Ezekiel the prophet: “And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house. But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious”
(Ezekiel
2:6-7, NASB).

Ezekiel is actually one of my favorite books in the Bible. God told “Zeke” to do some very unusual things to get the Word out. I believe it was because of the essential characteristic of his audience: rebelliousness. Are we prepared to take the same approach? Sure, it might invite more ridicule but are we afraid?

One more passage: the famous story of Ahab and Jezebel killing Naboth and stealing his vineyard. God sent Elijah personally to confront the king and pronounce the judgment of God on his capricious actions.

So, whether it is the leadership of the Spirit to stand out on a street corner (back in the Dark Ages, when I was at Baylor, a guy used to come along. He carried a wooden cross. He stopped at a fountain in the middle of campus to preach the gospel. He was like Arthur Blessitt, if you know that name) or to confront an individual, we must do it.

Lord, I lift up our nation to you and what is happening on at least two college campuses. I assume that we will see it more often. Give us boldness and courage to stand up and make the truth known, no more than ever. And, we need to be prepared for the consequences … Amen.
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Home and Hearth as Well as Intimacy

One of the benefits of Professor Horner’s plan is that it puts passages of scripture together in one day’s reading that I have never associated. Today is no exception.

On the one hand, I read the final verses of the book of Proverbs. In the Message Version, Peterson calls vv. 10-31 a “Hymn to a Good Wife.” Interesting. The final section of the book of Proverbs stands in stark contrast to chapters one through seven. They describe a woman of bad character and the results of association with her. Not good.

I believe that God has designed women with a unique capacity for building up men or tearing them down brick by brick. It is either/or.

Back to Proverbs 31, the more I read these verses, the more I think it would be great to be married to the type of woman described in these verses. One section, particular, captures my attention this morning: “She senses the worth of her work, is in no hurry to call it quits for the day. She’s skilled in the crafts of
home and hearth, diligent in homemaking” (MSG, emphasis mine).

Out of curiosity this morning, I looked up the meaning of “hearth.” From what I could discover, the term emerged in Charles Dickens’ novels as well as other old English literature to describe the fireplace in a home and thus became a symbol for the family.

The woman described in the “hymn” in Proverbs 31 places a value, a high value, on being a homemaker and caring for her family.

I guess I need to say from the perspective of a single man and pastor that in our day and time, and in American culture, this skill seems to be in very short supply. But I am always careful to notice it when I visit families in their homes. I respect homemakers greatly. I believe they have one of the toughest jobs there is.

And, just to be honest, I would like to marry someone who values home and hearth, like the Proverbs 31 woman—quite a business woman, quite industrious, certainly no one who sits around watching “soaps” and eating bonbons all day long—but all of her intelligence and ingenuity goes toward helping her husband and family.

Even as I write this—I know how our contemporary culture denigrates this perspective and makes it even harder for women to do this. In addition, people contend that Christian men want to keep their wives under their thumb, so to speak. There are men out there with this perspective, but not all.

Have these detractors read Proverbs 31?

Balancing all this on the other side is the picture of marriage presented in Song of Solomon. Of all the books of the Old Testament, none has been more abused and misinterpreted than this writing. Spurgeon (even Spurgeon) summed up the twisting of its meaning well when he said, “If Song of Solomon isn’t about Jesus, then it is worthless” (my paraphrase). Thus, through the centuries, interpreters have allegorized it to be a picture of Christ and the church.

I don’t agree with this view at all.

The only passages in the Old Testament that speak of Jesus are those quoted in the New Testament as such. We don’t have the right to interpret the New Testament back into the Old, unless the New Testament gives us that warrant. Anything else is “eisegesis.” My opinion.

Whatever one thinks, I believe that the basic teaching of this book is another hymn, this time to the joys of physical intimacy in the marriage context. This book is actually quite graphic, but all of this is very appropriate if one keeps in mind that God has designed physical intimacy between a man and a woman to occur in the context of marriage ONLY. When it expresses itself THERE, it is awesome and beautiful.

SO I HAVE HEARD. I speak as if I know what I am talking about. Ha.

But I can read the Word and teach it. And I think these two very important perspectives of marriage and family life need to be taught and emphasized more and more.

Lord, I thank You for the gifts of marriage and family AND singleness. Each lifestyle is a gift, given by You, totally and completely under Your control.

For those of us who are single, we wait on You. If you want us to marry, You will show us and guide us and lead us to the RIGHT person. If that occurs, wonderful! If not, wonderful—we get to serve You, undistracted from the joys and obligations of marriage, for however long Your plan dictates.

As I write this, I am also reminded of the widows and widowers and those who have and are going through the pain of divorce. I lift them up to you as well. Give them special grace and strength today.

For those who are married, I pray that we would model our marriages on biblical norms and standards, today, more than ever. I pray that Christians would show this evil world marriage as You designed it. It is after all YOUR very good idea. Amen.
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The Next Big Thing

One company that produces cell phones and other similar gadgets (it is not Apple) uses this statement in many of their ads: “the next big thing.”

Well, after my visit to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center (RMCC) yesterday—a visit that included a conversation with the doctor and an infusion—I now have something to share with you that for me is “the next big thing.”

First of all, thanks for praying. I definitely felt the power and peace of God as we drove to the Midtown office of RMCC. None of us in my family likes driving up there. The traffic is bad and it takes longer to get there than it does going south to the Lone Tree office where, up till now, I have had most of my cancer treatments. Oh, well.

Anyway, as the doc entered the waiting room, he held out his hand, “I don’t want to get too close to you. I’ve got some sort of virus.”

I had some questions written out to him about how I’ve been feeling and where things are in my treatment. To sum up: I think my cancer is better but my overall quality of life is not. What is going on?

As we talked, the doctor said, “Well, from what you are telling me, it looks as if your shoulder is now the main concern. I’m going to send you to an anesthesiologist I know.”

As that word came out of his mouth, I interjected, “Not a neurologist?”

“No,” he replied, “not right now. This doc knows his stuff and may be able to give you some sort of pain block to help you get through.”

My impression of what he was saying is that he believes that if he can get the pain in my shoulder taken care of, two things will happen. I will feel better AND it will serve as a bridge to getting things healed up.

Fast forward to last night: I put on a new pain patch before I went to bed. Plus, I took one of my nerve pain pills. However, shortly after I went to sleep, I woke up with a very strange and weird sensation in my shoulders. It is hard to describe…. I’m trying to figure out a way because I am feeling it right now.

It feels as if my shoulders want to come out of my body. The “pain” (if I can call it that) stretches from one shoulder to the other. It is extremely uncomfortable.

Last night, I just could not put myself in a position to return to sleep. So, I got up and took the third pain medicine. It somehow gave me just enough relief that I could go back to sleep.


I’m glad I eventually went to sleep last night, but I don’t want to continue to live this way … I know all of you understand.

So, all of this to say: please pray that my shoulder could be completely healed in addition to praying for the cancer. I’m a little concerned about what is going on….

But, of course—trusting God is still and always THE main issue.

A couple of references in my reading this morning confirm this. “’Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at Him. Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.’ And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.
And He wondered at their unbelief. And He was going around the villages teaching” (Mark 6:3-6, NASB, emphasis mine). Jesus wondered at the unbelief of the hometown folk.

“Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but
their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:51-52 NASB, again my emphasis).

The quickest way to a hardened heart (and the history of Israel confirms this) is not to connect the dots. By that, I mean we (specifically I) need to trust God with every new challenge that comes my way. Now, in addition to the cancer, it is this stinking shoulder pain.

One more: “The believer replied, ‘Every promise of God proves true; he protects everyone who runs to him for help. So don’t second-guess him; he might take you to task and show up your lies’” (Proverbs
30:5-6 MSG). How about these two verses as a strong challenge and stern rebuke?

Lord, thank You for all Your help yesterday AND for this new opportunity to trust You. I do live on the cusp of wondering as I am now in my sixth year of dealing with this disease, what is next? Come on! But I never win when I presume to second-guess You. Never. I choose instead to trust Your promises.

You made my shoulder. You know how best to fix it. Amen.
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An Infusion Today and Word of Encouragement in Judgment

Well, everyone, this morning is “one of those days” where I am fighting just to keep my eyes open. Reading those ten chapters in Professor Horner’s plan was a battle from start to finish.

I found that it was very easy just to nod off to sleep.

So, I am a little pressed for time. My appointment with the doc is at 8:00 this morning. We will be leaving in less than an hour just to make sure we get down there on time. Traffic is always “iffy,” at best.

Anyway, as I shared with my church family on Sunday, please pray for me at 8:00 this morning. I need to have a conversation with the doctor. While I am thankful for the fact that this treatment has helped my cancer, I need to visit with him a bit about the whole issue of “quality of life.” After three months of this clinical trial, when I think about just overall health, I don’t think I am doing that well. But I need to find out and talk with him a bit.

Again, please pray for the conversation and for me. Thanks so much.

Here is a verse that the Lord brought to my attention as I fought nodding off to sleep.

“Meanwhile, the saints stand passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus” (Revelation
14:12 MSG). Of course, now, I will have to reveal a bit of my eschatology.

I don’t believe that the Bible teaches about a rapture, and these and other verses confirm that for me. During what some call “the great tribulation” that unfolds in chapters six through nineteen of this book, the saints are THERE. This verse calls the saints to remain faithful to Jesus.

This is the call of today, no matter what each of us is facing.

As Harvey White, a retired pastor and wonderful brother who joined First Southern and served before he went home to Jesus several years ago used to say, “Faithful and available, John. That is what the Lord requires—be faithful and available.” Even today, Lord? I’m too tired. Nope. Faithful and available even during chemo. Yes. Amen.
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Shut Her Down (Or Off)

I did something very unusual yesterday afternoon, but somehow, I felt I needed to do it.

Let me back up for a moment. We had a good service yesterday morning, but from the beginning of the day, I realized that it was going to be “one of THOSE days,” meaning that I was just going to struggle with staying awake and having energy to do much of anything.

I am starting now to take these kinds of days seriously because of something that happened the other night.

I was in the car with my mom and sis. We were heading north on I-25 and exited on Hampden. The light was red. We waited in a line of cars in order to turn left onto Hampden and go a couple of blocks west on this busy thoroughfare before we turned left onto a street that leads to Hillcrest Drive.

Well, I know this is going to sound weird, but someone, between the time the light turned green and we turned on Hampden to head west—I fell asleep! When I woke up, I exclaimed, “Oh, man, I made a wrong turn. I’m heading in the wrong direction!” Somehow, when I woke up from my little “nap” as I was driving, I was a bit disoriented.

Well, … you can imagine how freaked out my mom and sis were! So was I! The next day, I called the oncologist to tell him about this incident and mention some other things. Of course, I got his clinician. Upon hearing about the little “nap as I was driving incident,” she stated, “You probably should not drive.”

“No way,” I exclaimed. “I have to get to work and usually I can do things to keep myself awake like drink water and eat a snack while I am driving.” She seemed a little concerned. Rightfully so.

Anyway, all of this to say that this little experience has made fatigue a much more serious matter than ever before. So, yesterday, after the service, I just came home and crashed, waiting for the Bronco game.

When the game started, I immediately felt myself getting very angry and frustrated with them. They were making mistakes and did not appear to be playing that well. I felt my temperature rising along with my frustration level.

So, and here is the unusual thing, I just turned to the TV off, got up, and headed off to go outside a bit (it was a beautiful and unseasonably warm November day yesterday) and just to do something else. Now, I hasten to tell all of you that I did TAPE the game. Ultimately, I did not miss anything.

Later in the day, I discovered that they lost. All well and good (not really), but as far as getting my emotions needlessly aroused over a football game, I didn’t do it.

As many of you know, I am very “into” the Broncos, a little too much, so as I have been praying about “idols” in my life, I have decided that getting excessively angry and all bent out of shape and thus ruining a day over a stinking football game, is just not worth it. Besides, I have it on tape if I want to see it.

I had a wonderful rest of the afternoon, especially since I got to spend a lot of it with Mother and Marilyn.

What is the lesson here? I’m thankful that the Lord is giving me wisdom to do a better job of prioritizing and self-monitoring. I guarantee you I will have a better day today than I would have had I gone ballistic over that game. Don’t get me wrong. I am bummed out that they lost, but I didn’t have to spend all that energy needlessly.

I am not trying to equate football with these “characters,” but all of us need to guard against idolatry.

Revelation 13 describes the trinity of evil that will emerge in the final days to wage war against the people of God: the dragon, the beast of the sea, and the beast of the earth. I believe these are symbols of Satan, the False prophet, and the Anti-christ. Near the end of this ominous chapter, notice this warning:

Are you listening to this? They’ve made their bed; now they must lie in it. Anyone marked for prison goes straight to prison; anyone pulling a sword goes down by the sword. Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground” (Revelation
13:9-10 MSG).

In the face of this unprecedented manifestation of evil, those who belong to God will be evident AND as Paul says, “having done all, they will stand.”

Lord, thank You for helping me NOT to watch that game yesterday. Give me, more and more, the wisdom to make good decisions about how I spend my time and how I expend my energy. I want to follow You. I stand against the dragon and all his tactics. Amen.

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The Value of Friendship

One of the things that I have realized over the past several months is the fact that, gradually, over the years, I have isolated myself more and more. Honestly, I’m finding that I am not alone in this regard (no pun intended). Many men do this.

We tend to get buried in our work, and when we get home after work OR on the weekends, we just don’t have the energy to do what it takes to invest in friends to the degree that we need to.

The consequence of this isolationism leads to other problems and even addictions. It is far from benign. It is dangerous.

What I have discovered with this men’s study that we have been having at church the past year or so is that, given an opportunity, men will open up and share. We have had some great discussions, and the guys seem very open to being vulnerable. HOWEVER, the greatest challenge is just getting them THERE on a consistent basis.

We have recently switched the day that we meet from Wednesday nights to Saturday mornings, and we are starting out slowly: we are only meeting once a month. One would THINK that this would be doable, but I realize Saturdays are valuable family time; so many guys will be busy that day as well.

My point in all of this is that friendship for guys but few of us make it a priority.

Actually, the Lord started speaking to me about this in college. Each year, the Baptist Student Union sponsored a “pre-school retreat.” Let me explain that moniker. They used “pre-school,” not in the sense of little children under the age of five but as the title of the time before a young man or woman starts his or her college career. The purpose was to help these new students get acclimated to college life. Each year, the focus was on priorities.

I remember this vividly. The verse we used was Luke 2:52, describing those silent years in Jesus’ life about which very little was written in the pages of scripture: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men” (LEB)—four things. Jesus grew mentally, physically, relationally (with God), and SOCIALLY (my emphasis). I believe that is what the BSU called the fourth aspect of Jesus’ growth. He increased in favor with men.

What does that mean exactly? Well, I am sure we could debate it forever. I would like to posit that perhaps one thing it means is that Jesus learned to make a priority of His relationships with others.

The Gospel accounts make it clear that definitely, there were levels of relationships in his life. He was closer to “the three”—Peter, James, and John—than the other disciples. AND, Jesus was closer to the twelve than the others who followed him in his three years of public ministry—an entourage that included women who took care of the group.

And He did have close friends with whom He hung out. I believe that Lazarus, Martha, and Mary are an example of that, along with their home in “burbs” of Jerusalem.

So, what about me? Well, I’m so grateful that, through cancer, the Lord is working on the SOCIAL priority in my life. I am nowhere where I need to be but the Lord is helping me with this.

I believe it involves being available to one’s friends. There is no substitute for time. We can talk about “priorities” all we want, but how one spends one time and with whom shows what our priorities are. I think it also includes prayer.

I’m really starting to prioritize praying for my friends right up there on the list with my own family and my church family.

Anyway, this is another gift that cancer has given me—a renewed emphasis and enjoyment of friendship. Interestingly enough, Proverbs 27 has a lot to say about friendship. Here are a couple of verses that stand out.

“Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul” (Proverbs
27:9 MSG).

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

Lord, thank You, from the bottom of my heart, for the “sweetness” and “sharpening” of true friendship. What a blessing! I will never again push it to the back burner among the priorities of my life. Thank You for teaching me about it since college. I’m grateful for my years in the BSU and the friends I met there in college. Amen.
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A Lot of Sermons on Cassette Tapes (A Lot)

One of the things I have been doing just to keep myself occupied mentally on those days that I just don’t feel good is to give myself “projects” to do. I know it sounds weird, but it helps me.

For the most part, these projects consist of reorganizing things and throwing stuff away. This is a necessity in some places! Ha.

One project I have given myself is the organization and storage of sermons I have preached and sermons from others I value. Someone might ask, “So, what is the big deal?”

Well, you need to understand: I have a LOT of sermons. I would imagine that I have upwards of 1000! Yes, that is right. Maybe more.

And here is the issue: most of them are on cassette tapes!

Over the past decade or so, I have just been shuffling them around in my house up in Thornton, in my church office, and now here at my mom and sister’s house—in various and as sundry places.

For the past few weeks, all these cassettes and Cd’s have literally filled our living room. I keep promising my mom and sister that I will dispose of them somehow, but what should I do?

Think about it. I have sermons that I preached all the way back to the early 90’s! But even if I wanted to, I could not listen to them because I don’t have any of my old cassette decks any more. They are long gone.

Thus, I looked into ways of converting these analogue tapes into digital media, whether it is on Cd’s or just MP3 files. Should be easy, right? NOPE.

There are machines you can buy that do that but it is slow and arduous work. You have to convert the tapes to digital media in real time. Think about 1000 tapes times forty-five minutes to an hour. You get the idea.

Then, I looked into paying someone else to do it. One company I talked to was really proud of themselves for giving me a quote of $9.99 per cassette tape! So, multiply that out … gulp. Not an option.

The other solution: just throw all of them away! Somehow, I just can’t do that.

I’m sure I would make a good study for a psychologist or psychiatrist, but again, I just can’t throw those sermons away.

This may sound like a minor issue, but I have actually been asking the Lord about this. “Why can’t I just throw them away?” Somehow, and here is a frustration I have had for all these years—I spend so much time and effort and blood and sweat and tears and agony on each sermon. Then, I preach the message, and poof, it is gone! It is just hard to come to grips with that.

Now, what I just said is NOT really true. I’m reminded of Isaiah’s comment, “My Word will not return to me void without accomplishing the purpose for which I have sent it” (a John paraphrase of this statement in Isaiah 55). I know this, but still …

Maybe I can’t throw these sermons away because they seem to be the only vestige of my work through the years. So much of what we do is unseen. What do you have to show for it? When you look at some of the folks who listened to those sermons, some of them have turned away from the Lord and aren’t even following Him any more. But, some are. And I need to discipline myself to think about them.

So, as you can see, obviously, the Lord is teaching me some things through this exercise. Please pray that I learn it fast because I need to clear all this stuff out of our living room! And soon! Ha.

Lord, it is hard to believe that I have been serving this church for over 26 years. Thank You for allowing me the privilege of doing so. That is a lot of sermons over that time period. Some of them I have on tape or Cd. Some I do not. This is a battle, Lord. It is hard. But help me to trust You that I have preached what You told me to preach. I hope I have preached Your Word. “Your Word is living and active.” What people do with what I have preached is between them and You. Take care of all of this, Lord. Take care of all of these sermons…. So I don’t feel as if I have to. I can’t do it anyway. Amen.
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Jarrett Stidham

Dear friends, once again, in the interest of transparency, I have to tell all of you that yesterday, I was as low as I have ever been.

Part of it is physical. I’m going to try to find a neurologist and make an appointment because my brachial plexus continues to bother me. Plus, I just felt bad all over, as if I had the flu.

But I cannot dismiss the emotional aspect of all of this. At one point, my mom and sister gathered around me, and we all cried out to the Lord. “Help!”

I seem to be a tad better today, but I always pay a price for a day like yesterday. I’m battling a headache this morning. All of this is deeply frustrating to me. I am the most impatient patient EVER.

Sometimes, however, the realizations of the Lord’s answers to prayer come later. This happened this morning.

Last night, I watched my alma mater, the Baylor Bears, play Kansas State. For those of you who don’t keep up with college football, I need to tell you that our starting quarterback for the year, Seth Russell, broke a bone in his neck in our last game against Iowa State. He is out for the season.

Our backup is a true freshman from Stephenville, Texas. His name is Jarrett Stidham. Prior to the game last night, a college friend named Jack sent me some video about Jarrett. I was impressed, so much so that I coined a nickname for him: STUDham.

Well, last night, in the first game of his college career, on the road against a tough defense, Jarrett was lights out. He threw for over four hundred yards and three touchdowns. Peyton would be proud of him! I know I was.

Seeing this young man play so well encouraged me. Hey, I am not picky in how or what the Lord uses when I am so down as I was yesterday. Here are a couple of reasons.

Bottom line--he displayed POISE. This is an over-used but seldom understood word when it comes to athletic performance. The etymology of the word is fascinating. It comes from the Latin word “pendere,” meaning weigh. From this meaning, the word came to denote the concept of “equal weight,” leading to the notion of “composure” and one definition I like—“elegant balance” (Google).

“Elegant balance”—what a concept! At first glance, one would think this is a picture of a nineteenth century woman holding a teacup with her pinky extended!

But this is far from what it means when it comes to football players. Jarrett displayed elegant balance last night as he launched one beautiful pass after another.

After the game, Joel Platt (he a former college QB himself at CU) commented on Jarrett’s throws. He talked about how the tip of the ball was up in the air at first, to get over the arms of the rushing defensive line, but also how the tip dipped afterwards making it stay on target as it dropped into a receivers arms. Just like Peyton.

Now, I will admit that I am a little biased at this point, but I think this young man has the potential to be one of the greatest Baylor QB’s EVER. I know he has only played one game, but that is my opinion. But no one can argue that last night’s performance was one of the most outstanding games of a freshman quarterback in the history of college football.

Jarrett performed at this high level in the midst of a lot of opposition, not just the Kansas State defense (that is tough enough) but in the face of national media and many pundits that dropped Baylor down to sixth in the polls.

By the way, I’m tired of the national sports media giving us the shaft. We got robbed last year as they voted Baylor and TCU out of the top four.

Anyway, I digress … but after last night, I am praying that the Lord would give me spiritual poise as I go through the ups and downs of this stinking disease. What does spiritual poise look like?

Let me cite some verses from my reading today. First, John the Baptist was different. “John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey” (Mark
1:6 NASB). But he stood “in the pocket” so to speak in the wilderness and kept preaching. The only way they could shut him up was to cut his head off.

The same thing could be said for John the Apostle. Here is his commission in Revelation 10: The voice out of Heaven spoke to me again: ‘Go, take the book held open in the hand of the Angel astride sea and earth.’ I went up to the Angel and said, ‘Give me the little book.’ He said, ‘Take it, then eat it. It will taste sweet like honey, but turn sour in your stomach.’ I took the little book from the Angel’s hand and it was sweet honey in my mouth, but when I swallowed, my stomach curdled. Then I was told, ‘You must go back and prophesy again over many peoples and nations and languages and kings’” (Revelation
10:8-11 MSG).

How do we get it? I believe the Lord does answer prayer. “Out of my distress I called upon the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free and in a large place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? [Heb. 13:6.]” (Psalm
118:5-6 AMP). The Lord gives us room in the pocket to launch salvos at the enemy.

The Spirit fills us. The fruit of the Spirit involves self-control. He gives us this quality so that we can avoid the pitfall about which Proverbs speaks: “A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out”
(Proverbs
25:28, MSG).

One more example—how about Stephen? This is a description of him as he stood in the pocket of conflict. “Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts
6:8 LEB). He preached his sermon and they stoned him to death.

And this dear brother died with spiritual poise. He loved and forgave and stood to his final breath.

Lord, no matter what happens to me, no matter what I have to deal with, no matter how long it takes, give me spiritual poise in this pocket. Amen.
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The Day Death Goes Into Hiding

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit with two families in their homes. Jim and I spent some time with a wonderful couple—members of our fellowship—in the afternoon.

When we finished, we went back to the church. Jim went home, and I stayed at the office for a bit to finish up some more work.

Then, I headed out to do something I had not done in months—have dinner and visit in the home of another couple. They indicated that they felt led to join our fellowship. I set up this appointment and was glad to enjoy a meal with them (of course!) as we got to know one another.

What a delightful couple! Both the husband and the wife love Jesus! We had a wonderful time.

As we finished up, and I left to head home, my mind was flooded with memories. From the start of my pastorate, I have visited in countless homes. At first, I was doing it three to four times per week—I am talking about eating a meal and spending hours visiting—oftentimes well into the night. All good.

But now, from where I am health-wise, I cannot conceive how I did that.

Again, I had an awesome time. I love visiting in homes and getting to know folks who are members or who are prospective members, but I have to tell all of you: I am worn out this morning. It is another one of those days when I can barely keep my eyes open.

Thus, when I finish the blog, I can see myself not fighting it but sleeping a couple of hours and probably doing the same this afternoon. This is the world in which I live these days. I’m just learning to accept it.

On to the reading for this morning—an interesting phrase in one of the chapters I read in Professor Horner’s plan. Here is the passage:

“Then out of the smoke crawled locusts with the venom of scorpions. They were given their orders: ‘Don’t hurt the grass, don’t hurt anything green, don’t hurt a single tree—only men and women, and then only those who lack the seal of God on their foreheads.’ They were ordered to torture but not kill, torture them for five months, the pain like a scorpion sting. When this happens, people are going to prefer death to torture, look for ways to kill themselves. But they won’t find a way—
death will have gone into hiding” (Revelation 9:3-6 MSG, emphasis mine).

These verses are part of a description of the fifth trumpet judgment. It is interesting that each of these judgments is partial in nature. God sets limits on what occurs.

In this particular judgment, the Lord orders these “locusts” not to touch green grass or trees but only those who do not have the seal on their foreheads. And he orders torture—pain so severe that those who experience it will actively seek death.

Now, let me stop right there. Death is something all of us want to avoid except when we are suffering and dealing with severe pain. I have often said this to families who are dealing with a member of the family who is suffering to this degree: “Death is merciful. Of course, we don’t want a loved one to die, but in some cases, as far as the person is concerned, it is merciful.”

But here in this instance, God does not allow this particular aspect of His mercy. Why? Because he is mean and just wants people to be in pain. NO. He allows this because it is one of the final measures in human history that calls those without the seal the opportunity to repent.

You would think this would work, right? Nope.

“The remaining men and women who weren’t killed by these weapons went on their merry way—didn’t change their way of life, didn’t quit worshiping demons, didn’t quit centering their lives around lumps of gold and silver and brass, hunks of stone and wood that couldn’t see or hear or move. There wasn’t a sign of a change of heart. They plunged right on in their murderous, occult, promiscuous, and thieving ways” (Revelation
9:20-21 MSG).

How deeply sad and troublesome! But if this is not an impetus for the church, I don’t know what is.

Oh, Lord, thank You for the visits yesterday. Thank You for the family You are leading our way. They are such a blessing. Continue to guide them. Lord, thank You for rest and sleep. I crave it right now. Help all of us to learn the balance so that ultimately we are energized to continue to share the gospel with a lost and dying world as Your judgment continues to unfold before the final end. Come Lord Jesus! Amen.
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The Posture of Free Men

I came across a rather curious reference in one of the chapters I read in Professor Horner’s plan for today.

“Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you
walk erect” (Leviticus 26:11-13 NASB, emphasis mine).

Or how about verse 13 in the Amplified Version? “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should no more be slaves; and I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect [as free men].”

In the context, the Lord is citing the benefits, the blessings, and the promises related to a life of following the Lord. Of course, later on the in the chapter, he deals with the other side of the story—the curses related to idolatry and disobedience.

But back to this whole idea of posture—as you remember, at a certain point in history, a Pharaoh emerged who did not know Joseph and the tide turned for the people of Israel in Egypt. They became slaves, and the “government,” so to speak, worked them hard.

Metaphorically speaking, Pharaoh laid heavy burdens on them. These burdens weighed so much that it caused the people to bend over, not only to bear the weight of the life of a slave, but also, I would imagine, in discouragement over their lives.

However, through the plagues and the Exodus, God delivered them from that life to a life of freedom. He gave them a great opportunity. Of course, they blew it, returning to a life of idolatry and disobedience. But again, the Lord gave them the opportunity to be free, to walk erect, as it were.

This is a very graphic image. Somehow, I just can’t get it out of my mind, and it reminds me of another passage I was talking with someone about the other day.

Here is that passage. I am quoting it in the Amplified Version: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] Take my yoke upon you and learn of me … “ (Matthew 11:28-29).

It is significant that Jesus takes a word—yoke—that is often affiliated with slavery and burdens and a “stooped over life” and transfers the concept to a life of walking erect. See Galatians 5:1 for the reference “yoke of slavery.”

As we progress in our walk and relationship with the Lord, just about at every turn, we are tempted to turn away from the Lord and go back to a life that places burdens and yokes on our backs.

Any number of things could tempt us to turn in that direction.

I will be honest to say that for me, it is the church. I’m concerned. Yes, I worry about it.

In the past, with the potential of this yoke out there, I would just try to work harder in the flesh to try to make things happen, all the while stooping over more and more.

Now, I literally find that I have a choice just about every day with all the chemo pills and painkillers I am taking. I can worry or I can literally just close my Bible and commentaries and just to choose to doze off.

As I was telling Betty yesterday, I have learned not to fight it but just give in to it—REST.

Weird that it has taken cancer to point me in that direction, but I want to walk erect.

Lord, I confess the sin of worry, particularly as it pertains to the church. Not good. I choose this morning to stop worrying and to come to you for rest. I pray the same for everyone who is reading this blog today—a life of rest and an erect walk—a good spiritual posture—back straight and heads up and eyes on Jesus. Amen.
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A Study of Contrasts and a HUGE Challenge

I have to tell all of you that I am getting weary—literally and just about every other way with this disease. A couple of recent twists and turns in the road.

I weighed myself yesterday. I have lost six pounds in a week! I now weigh less than I have since Junior High School, and it is not because of a lack of eating. I will admit that my appetite has not fully returned, but I am eating a lot.

Last night, Marilyn warmed up a little cherry pie she had bought. I ate half of it and this was well after dinner, but stlll …

Plus, yesterday was one of those days where I felt fatigue for most of the day, except around lunchtime. I slept most of the afternoon, watched some football, and tried to go to bed and to sleep. I noticed that my brachial plexus was bothering me a bit, so I changed out a pain patch. Everything good, right? Nope. I don’t think I slept more than 15 minutes last night.

Strangely enough, though, I don’t feel that bad this morning. I have more energy than I did yesterday. Who knows what is going on?

Oh, well. Thanks for the prayers. I’m going to call Dr. Jotte today and update him on all of this.

On to the readings for today—I can really relate to them. There are so many contrasts in the walk of faith with the Lord, aren’t there? In my own experience, after a Sunday in which the Holy Spirit moved in power, I had one of my most powerless days ever. Think there is a correlation? Me thinks so!

Matthew 26 is one of the clearest statements in all of scripture about the fallibility and weakness of mankind. Jesus poured Himself into twelve men for his three years of ministry on this planet, and at the time he needed them the most—they all blew it! Judas betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver.

How much is that in today’s dollars? I searched Google and came up with two different answers—all the way from about $325.00 to approximately $3,000—neither amount even back then all that much.

Nine others fled and ran.

Peter and John went a little further. John hung around long enough to witness the Kangaroo Court, and Peter betrayed the Lord three times. Chapter 26 ends with Peter crying his heart out somewhere in the Judean countryside. A sad “lot,” as the Brits would say. How discouraging? What a failure, if the story stopped there, right?

Well, I love the contrast if one compares Matthew 26 with Acts 2 (read that chapter yesterday) and Acts 3 today. I love Peter and John’s response when they encounter that notorious lame beggar at the gate Beautiful of the temple. Little did this man know that THIS TIME, when he asked for money, he got something he never would have bargained for: “But Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not possess, but what I have, this I give to you—in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’” (Acts
3:6 LEB)

Wow, what a great statement! I don’t have any money, but I have something greater than money. I wonder if we could EVER hear this in the contemporary American church. “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” I love to picture what it must have been like in the stuffy confines of the temple in Jerusalem to see two former fishermen and a man everyone vaguely recognized doing the Praise God Leap—walking and jumping and leaping for the first time in his life.

As I told the congregation in the message Sunday, we are not going to win the world by trying to be like them, but by living such holy lives that they will take notice and ASK.

Chapters three and four of Acts are a testament to that. The impetus of the early church after Pentecost was a high profile miracle in the NAME of Jesus.

My cousin Howard who lives in Michigan and I have been corresponding a lot lately. I love to do this, but he has a lot of questions about theology because he is teaching a small group Bible study on Bible doctrines. He asks me questions and I don’t know anything but I like to PRETEND that I do—ha! We have been talking about what it really means to pray in the “name of Jesus.”

As he has accurately posited, sadly, for most of us, this phrase has morphed into a thoughtless by-word we rattle off at the end of our prayers, but do we really know what it means? Beyond that, do we experience what it means?

Here is how he ended his most recent email to me: I'm still thinking about prayer  "in Jesus’ name."  These thoughts have actually been in the back of my mind for years but now these thoughts of praying "in the name of Jesus" have resurfaced these thoughts.  In Luke 17:20, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.’  We allegorize that and ask people, ‘Is there a mountain in your life that you need moved?’  But, in the context, Jesus was referring to an actual mountain.”

He continues, “Are we linked up with God's omnipotence through Jesus?  Are we not seeing possibilities before us through our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ Who said
, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me."? This is mind-boggling. Anyway, you live closer to some mountains than I do so would go try this out?”

Okay, Howard. Lord, I am crying out to You this morning IN THE NAME OF JESUS. I am weaker than ever. But You are stronger than ever. Show me, show Howard, show us all what it means to live and operate in the realm of the NAME OF JESUS. Money can’t buy us out of this mess. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
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The Movement of the Holy Spirit

From yesterday afternoon until this morning, I just have not been able to keep my eyes open. I hope I can type something coherent this morning.

Yesterday’s service was a very good one—I want to come back to this topic in a moment. When I finally got home, I was exhausted and yet energized. Weird. But this is what happens when I sense a movement of the Spirit of God.

I will get to this in a moment, but I was thoroughly exhausted for the rest of the afternoon and on into the evening as the Bronco game started. I did have some energy through the game (of course), but even though we whipped up on Green Bay and I was excited about that, it quickly turned back into fatigue as the night wore on.

One thing that I am learning is that I expend a lot of energy preaching. Because, even before I left the service, I noticed a significant drop-off.

The other night, as Mother and Marilyn and I were praying, Marilyn prayed that I would learn how to “ration” my energy so that I don’t use it all up and end up like a feel today. There is a lot of wisdom to that. Please pray that I learn how to do this.

Anyway, again, I can barely keep my eyes open as I write this morning. It is a battle!

But back to the service yesterday—Donna said it as she walked out of the door, “Over the past few weeks I have really sensed a movement of the Holy Spirit in our services.” As she said that, immediately, it struck a cord.

What is THAT? What is a movement of the Holy Spirit? How does one know?

Well, let me be the first one to say that I am certainly no expert, but I am going to toss out a couple of things. A lot of this is from my own personal perspective—of course!

First, as we were singing one of the songs, I immediately started weeping, and I just couldn’t stop. The Spirit was convicting me of sin in my life. I had to work at composing myself just to stand up in front during the invitation.

Second, everyone seemed to be participating in the service—through singing along and through affirming the message. On some Sundays recently, people seemed to be very placid. Yesterday, that was not the case DURING the sermon. People were “with things” and seemed very responsive. I realize this is a very subjective observation on my part.

Third, there is the affirmation of the congregation such as Donna voiced above.

I could say a lot more, but I will stop there. Someone who reads this might say, “John, that is all well and good, but that is no big deal.” I understand that response, but when one considers what has happened before in services, FOR US, this is a big deal.

Plus, after the service, a young couple that has been visiting came to my office to tell me that they feel the Lord is leading them to join our fellowship. They told me, “We don’t want to be bumps on a log. We want to serve!” I nearly fell off my chair.

All this is so encouraging and I thank the Lord for what He is doing. I don’t depend on it. I continue to depend on Him. I certainly take no credit. All the credit and all the glory for anything good, no matter how small and insignificant it is, belongs to God.

God, I love you and thank You for whatever You are doing. Help me to stay out of your way and let You continue to work. I love You, Jesus. Amen.
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What the Devil Says to Discouraged Believers

This title sounds rather strange, doesn’t it? But I have been thinking about this a lot lately. It came to the front of my mind and heart yesterday morning.

We have moved our monthly men’s Bible study from Wednesday nights to Saturday mornings—we are still in a once per month mode.

It is weird how things have changed since I started to serve this church 26 years ago as pastor. Back then, we had Sunday morning services that included Sunday school and worship.

Late afternoon, we came back for Church Training followed by an evening worship service.

Then, on Wednesday nights, we had a full slate of activities for all age groups.

Now, before I progress to talk about now, I want everyone to understand that we are in process as a church. Who knows what is going to happen in the future? We will see. So, I don’t want anyone who is reading this to say that anything we do is permanent. It is simply where we are now.

Right now, it looks as if Sunday night is gone. This happened years ago (this doesn’t mean that we don’t have special services on occasion on Sunday night).

And, in spite of our best efforts, Wednesday night is done for now as well. Whenever I talk to someone who decries this situation, I have a stock response: “oh, if you don’t like it, would you teach or lead a group on Wednesday night. Can we count on you to do it for the next years?” Things get very quiet.

We did not have a good response from the men on Wednesday night, so we changed it. Yesterday was our first Saturday meeting in a while. And we had a great time of fellowship and had a study.

Before we started, I told the guys, “Listen, we are going to end this thing this morning promptly at 8:30 to allow you guys time with your families. I know this is important for us all on Saturdays.” And, it was practically important for a dad and his son. Mike and his son Clay were there. Clay’s basketball game started at 9:00. Mike is the coach of the team, so they had to head out fast.

Bryan, James, and I went to Clay’s game. Clay is one of the stars of the team. This is evident. He was “under the weather” a bit yesterday, but he still played well. The Dragons, (Clay’s team) ended up tying the other team. Kind of a bummer, but I was glad we could be there to cheer him on.

All in all, it was a very good morning, and I will tell you why: I have missed the fellowship of the body of Christ. It was just good to be with my church family.

Having said that, I realized after yesterday morning that one of the main things that the devil says to discouraged believers is, “Ah, don’t go to church today. Just skip out on it. You are too tired. You have too much to do. Just stay home.”

Now, let me hasten to say that I know we are saved by grace through faith. No one goes to hell for missing a Sunday or two. Sometimes, it is the essence of spirituality to stay home and rest. The Lord has forced me to do this because of my cancer treatments. I have a greater understanding of this than ever before.

HOWEVER, a Sunday here or there is different from a lifestyle that involves NEVER being in church.

So many of us are isolated with our personal computers and tech gadgets anyway. Satan loves it when he can keep us away from church. We become more isolated and thus more susceptible to discouragement.

This becomes cyclical. We get discouraged so we stay away from church for months; we stay away because we are discouraged and so forth and so on. Et cetera.

This week, I am going to make a point of calling families I haven’t seen for a while and just touch base.

In Professor Horner’s reading plan, once again, I am starting to read Acts. This is about the fifth time through this book. Today, I read chapter one and something hit me: the vision and impetus for the church came, not to an isolated individual. Think about that. How many religions in the world purportedly began as one individual had a vision?

Isolated visions can be called into questions; collective commissions cannot. “And as THEY were staring into the sky while he was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood by them who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking into the sky? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven like this will come back in the same way you saw him departing into heaven!””
(Acts
1:10-11 LEB, emphasis mine)

God never intended us to be “Lone Ranger” Christians.

Lord, thank You for the fellowship of the body of Christ. I’m so grateful I get to go to church today. Help me never ever again to take it for granted and certainly, health and circumstances permitting, never to stop going. Amen.
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