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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Daystar Plan, Day 123: Trip to Waco

PLEASE NOTE: I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO UPDATE THIS BLOG FOR THE NEXT TWO MORNINGS, BUT I WILL WHEN I RETURN. THANKS FOR READING AND PRAYING!

Not sure this is the smartest thing I have ever done, but a little later this morning, I’m getting on a plane and flying to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. I will hopefully be able to rent a car there for the 90-mile trip to Waco.

A couple of months ago, when I went to Salt Lake to visit the Hornbakers, Andy’s youngest son, Steve, who is a twin (his brothers’ name is Stan) and who graduated from Baylor, told me that he and his wife would be out of town on Homecoming weekend. They had a couple of tickets to the football game in brand new McLane Stadium. Did I want them?

Are you kidding?

Once I started chemo again, I could see the handwriting on the wall about this trip. I would finish round 2 and then jump on a plane. Was that a good idea? After debating for a few weeks, I just decided that I would regret it if I didn’t go. So, I went ahead and made my plans.

Today, when I arrive in Waco and get my bearings a bit, I hope to hook up with a dear family I knew in the church I attended in college—Eddie and Kay and Kay’s mom and Kay’s son Jeffrey and his family. It should be a hoot. We are going to visit a bit and then I am going to crash at Steve and Jenny’s house.

Saturday, I hope to go to a couple of homecoming events—something I never did when I was a student (believe that or not). I was emailing with Jack, a friend from my Baylor days, and he made an interesting comment. “By the way, did you know that, despite a few other colleges' claims to the contrary, the Smithsonian Institute has determined that the first ever college homecoming was at Baylor University?  We invented the whole concept!” Interesting, huh?

So, I hope to get to see the annual parade and some other events before going to the game. Should be fun. The new stadium is very cool and state-of-art. It sits right on the banks of the Brazos River right across the river from campus.

After the game, I am heading back up north so that I will be in a position to get to the airport for a mid-day departure back home.

My activity level at every stage of this process will be dependent on how I feel. I’m going to monitor this very closely.

But I am looking forward to it. I have not been to Waco for many years. As I was talking to Kay, she said, “Things have changed a lot since you were here.” I bet she is right!

Please pray for me. One of the reasons I planned this to be such a short trip is that I didn’t want to push myself too much AND last time, it was Sunday afternoon when I really started to get sick. I think I’ve taken better care of myself this time, so hopefully that won’t happen again, at least to that level of severity.

Trusting God. I’m still planning on doing this blog if I can figure things out by doing it just on my phone. If not, please know that I will update every day when I return on Sunday afternoon.

I love you all and deeply appreciate your concern and support for this trip and prayers. I feel the need to keep you in the loop just as Paul did. Notice these comments in the final chapter of Colossians: "Tychicus will give you a full report about how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper who serves with me in the Lord’s work. I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. I am also sending Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, one of your own people. He and Tychicus will tell you everything that’s happening here" (Colossians
4:7-9 NLT).

No Internet or phones back then, of course. So the church had to wait several weeks or months for these reports. I’m thankful for advancements in technology that allow us more immediate contact. Thanks again for praying.

Lord, thank you for allowing me to go on this trip. I pray for the strength and stamina to do it. I pray for wisdom and self-control. Thank you for my years at Baylor and in my church in Waco. I trust this whole trip to you. Take care of Mother and Marilyn while I am gone. Preach through Al and lead through Calla this Sunday. Take care of Your church, Jesus. Amen. P. S. Sic ‘Em Bears!

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Daystar Plan, Day 122: Round 2b and a Sharp Contrast

Yesterday went by quicker. I was actually done and out the door by 1:45 instead of 4:00. One of the reasons is that we got in their earlier and started at 9:00, not 10:00. Plus, I think they gave me less Benadryl and sped up the delivery of the steroids, Rituxin, and the chemo drug.

One other factor proved to be even more helpful. I dozed off for most of the time. That has NEVER happened to me before. Shannon, the nurse, nudged me, “John, you are done. You can go.” Oh, really? Wow. Thanks.

This time I feel a little worse right out of the chute than I did the first time. I’m taking this as an encouraging sign that maybe I will not feel bad for as long this time. Who knows? I have a headache. My face is flushed. I did not sleep that well in spite of taking the sleeping pill they gave me. I got hot, then cold, then hot, for most of the night. Weird, but again, I am hopeful.

We will see after today. I go in today just to get the chemo drug again. That’s it. It should take an hour and a half of so. Maybe I can doze off again.

All of this reminds me of the focus of Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. “Qoheleth” is the Hebrew name of the human writer of the book. Who knows who this really was? It could have been Solomon, I guess. But Solomon is not named as the author. Whoever he was, he was a person that took a realistic if not borderline cynical look at human life, and he arrives at the same conclusion for each aspect: “meaningless, empty, and vain.”

I have often thought that if I ever get to teach the Bible in a business setting again as I did at Lucent Technologies or Glendale as I have in the past, that I will teach this book. I wonder what kind of response I will receive.

The stuff that we do, whether it is for work or for pleasure, when you take a step back and honestly look at, does seem rather pointless without God.

I tell you: the contrast was striking as I turned the page from the readings in Ecclesiastes to Colossians 3. It starts off this way: "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory" (Colossians
3:1-4 NLT).

As believers, our focus should not be on life on this planet with all its mysteries and ups and downs and tragedies and so forth. “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.” I love this. This perspective is only possible as new creations in Christ Jesus. And it is not some fantasy. It is not the ploy of “positive thinking.” It is reality thinking.

If Christ is in me, and I am in Him, then the truth is that as I am sitting in that chair in the chemo room at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, I am actually seated with Christ in the heavenlies (by the way, I think this is the more accurate biblical term. Paul is talking about the spiritual realm that Christ inhabits with God now, not “heaven” in the technical sense). My real life is hidden (from worldly view not from the eyes of faith) with Christ in God. Someday, the veil of this life will be torn completely away, and all of us will share His glory in our new resurrection bodies. THAT DAY will be heaven.

No more sickness. No more tears. No more separation.

I got an email from Nagmeh Abedini. Please continue to pray for Saeed. His mother, the only remaining member of his family left in Iran with visitation rights, is now being forced to leave for her own safety. This leaves no one to go see him and no one to report on how he is doing. This is obviously another very tragic turn in this situation.


Please continue to pray that this dear brother will be released.

Father, thank you for the perspective you give us in Christ—all of us whom You know are seated with You in heavenlies—those of us in the cancer seat, those of us in the prison cell, those of us who are for those facing difficult times (the most difficult situation of all). Give us all the grace to rivet our focus on the things above, not on the things of the earth. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 121: Round 2

It seems as if Rocky needs to be climbing the stairs and dancing on the landing on the entryway of some famous building in Philadelphia. Who did he fight in the second movie? Ha. I can’t remember.

Last Sunday, Al made a great comment in the midst of a gathering of men in our church. I’m paraphrasing here. He asserting, “Whenever I approach any day or any task with the attitude that I can handle it, I am in for trouble. But if I humbly submit to God and depend on His strength, I am invariably in a better place.” I hope I learned that lesson when I got knocked down in round 1.

I’m getting off the mat and going back into the fight. I could get knocked down again. I’m reminded of that passage in 2 Corinthians in the Williams translation, “Always getting a knockdown, but never a knockout.”

I’m ready. Whatever.

We will see, but I know I am well-taken care of by my Heavenly Father. I am wrapped in the warm blanket of the prayers of God’s people and when I get to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, I will meet the Big Doc who is already there. He runs the place. He is in charge.

I’m running a little short on time this morning because my appointment is rather early. I’m glad. Early in, earlier out.

A couple of verses to share this morning before I put it in boogie:
"Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring" (Proverbs 27:1, NLT). This is the Proverbs equivalent of Matthew 6:34.

"Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault" (Colossians 1:22 NLT).

Me? Without a single fault? That has to be grace. Only grace. Always grace.

Lord, this is the day You have made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. I’m so thankful today for the forgiveness and grace I enjoy in Jesus AND all the dear saints and friends and brothers and sisters who are praying. Take care of things again, Dr. Jesus, as you always do. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 120

Make no mistake about it. One of the biggest stresses that goes along with the others when it comes to cancer is finances. Are you kidding me?

On my first round of chemo a few years ago, I figured that my eight treatments cost somewhere around $250,000. In that regimen, I would return the next day for a shot. I learned that the shot itself cost $8,000. Do the math. On second thought, don’t.

Now, of course, I did not have to pay all of it out of my pocket, of course. And I learn that there are negotiated costs between the provider and the insurance company.

But still, before I got cancer, I was paying somewhere around $250.00 per month in premiums. I hardly ever went to the doctor and besides my co-pay when I did happen to go to a doctor, which was about it—every year.

Now, my insurance premium is $875.00 per month. My deductible is $2,000 and my out-of-pocket is $2000.00. Well, it takes only one treatment or shot or CT or PET scan to satisfy that. So, just automatically add $333.00 per month to the above total, but it usually comes in one big chunk. Usually, I have to negotiate with the hospital or Rocky Mountain Cancer Center to split the big cost into smaller monthly payments. They are usually agreeable to this, but all of this is just a given.

Oh, and I expect the premium to go up next year.

Add to this all the other medical costs I am incurring from other doctors for various other things. I can get a bit overwhelming. And I would be less than honest if I said that finances are a concern, and they weigh on me. It adds to the stress of this disease.

But, am I worried? Nope. What good would that do? It is not as if I am not going to pay whatever I need to. The Lord has provided health insurance for me. Some people “out there” don’t have it. The Lord has taken care of me to this point. I have no reason to believe He will stop now.

Especially because of the occasional amazing provisions He gives me along the way. Let me list a few: an encouraging and understanding church family, food that people at church give me (Betty and Cheri are a primo example just from Sunday; tonight I am going to eat at the home of a dear couple who are candidates for membership in our fellowship; food is always good), my mom and sis (how huge are they), and just the peace that passes all understanding.

One other thing I must share. During my last treatment, Joann who works in the financial office approached me. She was diplomatic, but she wanted me to pay my bill. We had to divide it up into several monthly payments. But then she told me about a grant that I might qualify for. I filled out some paperwork and honestly did not think much about it.

Well, yesterday, I received this official letter from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The first sentence of the letter reads, “It is with great pleasure that The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Co-Pay Assistance Program informs you that after review of your application you have qualified to receive assistance up to $5000.00 to use for insurance premiums and/or eligible pharmaceutical co-payments prescribed in relation to your diagnosis.”

Wow.

I found myself staring at this letter for a while just to make sure I understood what I was reading. We have an expression in our family. It also came to mind, “Humm, better than a kick in the head.”

Ah, yes.

It is hard for me not to get very emotional right now.

I want to tell all of you who are reading this: I AM VERY WELL TAKEN CARE OF. My Rich Doctor Friend is paying for the treatments He is giving me. Money is the least of my concerns.

It is ALL good.

What timing today to have arrived in the Daystar Reading to Philippians 4 and this famous verse written by another preacher who found himself in a difficult financial situation. Not an illness, but a Roman prison cell. Who is going to take care of his physical needs there? Same Person. My Rich Doctor Friend is attending to his needs.

“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NLT).

Lord, You are amazing in Your timing and Your provision. Thank You from the bottom of my heart for taking such good care of me. As Paul says, “I am generously supplied.” Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 119: Out of the Holy Huddle

Spending some time at Safe Street at Northglenn High School on Saturday night made an impact on me in many ways.

Again, I have to say that I am so thankful for the folks who showed up from our church. I heard yesterday that John and Calla did not get out of there until 9:30 PM. They gave away every last piece of candy and every Bible and almost all of the tracks along with the “Life Books” we had. Praise God!

This morning, I would like to make some comments about another result of that ministry for me. First of all, I am not usually out and about on Saturday nights in the community or anywhere. I usually spend late afternoons and often well into the evening working on my sermon for the next day.

Second, I sometimes struggle with the fact that I feel very out of touch with the community these days. Part of the reason is that I don’t live up there any longer. That is just the way it is. I don’t regret the decision to sell my house and move down here AT ALL. I know it was and still is the right thing, but sometimes, I just feel so disconnected.

And I am not sure that living on the north side would change that feeling, either.

Part of the problem is the danger that all of us face as believers. It becomes easy and natural to hang out with Christians and people we know in our own little circles. This is human nature. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, except as it relates to the mission of the church.

So, there we were, as the only church in our community at this totally secular event with all those people.

The most obvious comment about the crowds was that most of the people there were Hispanic. Most of the kids we met spoke English. Some of the parents did not.

Of course, a vast majority of the children had costumes on. Calla knew most of the costumes as far as what cartoon or animated character they portrayed. I had no clue. I mean, NONE, ZERO.

I have to be honest at this point. Way back in the Dark Ages when I was a kid, I had no desire to dress up like a cartoon character. Back in the “day,” it was Bugs Bunny and Road Runner. Nope. I wanted to be a baseball player or fireman or some other real life character.

Today, with computers and computer games and even what is on TV, all of this is completely different.

Our society is so different. Again, years ago, it was no problem to walk up and down the street “trick or treating.” Today, events like Safe Street emerge because as the name indicates, it is safer.

I was talking with Jim about this yesterday. He went with one of his daughters and her husband and grandkids to a similar event at their school. But then he added, “But my grandkids still want to walk up and down the street on Halloween.”

Be that as it may, it is still different in our culture.

Here is one last thing: sadness. This is a very subjective comment, I know, but it just seemed to me that many parents and many kids were sad. When we smiled at them, it seemed to be almost a shock.

Makes me want to cry.

I was so convicted that I have lost touch with the fact that people without Jesus are just going with the flow, under the influence of media in all its forms, living sad and empty lives. “People,” as the song says, “need the Lord.”

Is this any kind of compelling factor? Is the church I serve willing to do whatever it takes to reach THESE people? Am I? Somehow, without a change of heart and focus, I doubt it.

I felt this same way in the train station in Kolkata—masses of lost people.

Standing there in that hallway of Northglenn High School, I felt as if I were in a different country. That is no knock against our community. It is what it is. It is a knock against “the holy huddle.”

Two verses from the reading for today: “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 16:25, NLT).

“Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Philippians 2:15, NLT).

Lord, I confess the sin of an ancillary and insulated life. I have become a corporation man instead of a missionary. Focus me on getting with and seeking to reach sinners—the kind of people You “hung out with” when You walked on this earth. “When will you (I) realize, people need the Lord?” Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 118: Safe Street

As I drove up to Northglenn High School yesterday evening with Tom and Miguel, I was shocked. There was a line of people circling the school! This event seems to grow each and every year. Hordes of folks. What a great place for the church to be!

We were the only church there. I’m still kind of surprised by that.

Our position in the hallway of the school was not as good. Last year, we were on a corner by a door. There were two things about that. First, it was a very prominent position that allowed us to visit with folks on two sides. Second, we were near the door. It was a little cooler.

But, last night, the people kept coming and coming. To me, it seemed as if there were A LOT more people than last year.

I was glad that we had a good number of folks there to help. In addition to Calla, we had Mike, Athena, James, Ann, John, Deborah, and myself. I want to give a shout out to each and every one of those folks. Thank you!

I brought Tom and Miguel to help, but they headed off shortly after we arrived.

Last night, one of the biggest challenges was that it was hot in the building. All of us complained about it. Parents mentioned it. Many of the boys and girls had taken their masks off.

In spite of all of this, I think things went great! Calla did an awesome job of organizing everything. We had tons of candy in addition to a couple of little games for the boys and girls to play. Plus, we gave away Bibles and a little pamphlet called “Life Book.” It is a Bible for children with key passages and commentary inside. A great tool.

I had the opportunity to visit with some folks. One man, Aaron, asked a lot of questions. I invited him to come.

Having people show up from the event would be nice. Of course, we pray that people get saved and go to a church, any church, ours, if possible. But to me, that is not the main reason we are involved in this. I would say our main purpose is simply “presence.”

I did kind of run out of gas after a couple of hours and had to head home, but I was energized. I know that sounds kind of contradictory. I was invigorated just because we were able to demonstrate the love of Christ to a bunch of lost people. How often does the church get that opportunity in this day and time? Less and less.

At these events, I always remember what Robert Schuler said. Remember Robert Schuler, he of Crystal Cathedral fame? I don’t think the Crystal Cathedral is even in existence any longer, but the last time my family and I were in Los Angeles, we made a point to visit it.

I don’t exactly track with Robert Schuler on many points, but the Lord did use him as an innovator. Look up how he started the church. It is a fascinating story.

Anyway, Schuler wrote somewhere that every Sunday, he tried to do three things with as many people as possible. He endeavored to give them a smile, a touch, and a greeting. I may be off on that list slightly because “looking people in the eye” may be in there somewhere and one of the other items not there.

But the John Talbert revision of Schuler includes those FOUR things. I believe these are ways we can just demonstrate Christ’s love.

And people in our world need Him. I would like to give more of my impressions of last night, but I need to get going. I’m meeting with the men for discipleship this morning.

Lord, thank You for allowing us the privilege of just being there, being present, to share the smile and the love of Christ with people who so desperately need You. Oh, Lord, people need you. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 117: Immoraltiy and Its Ultimate Cause

Readings for today: Proverbs 6-10 and Ephesians 5-6.

Again, I am amazed at how scripture informs scripture.

As I mentioned yesterday, the first seven chapters set the stage of contrast for the rest of the book. A lack of wisdom is personified as the “promiscuous woman,” whereas as true wisdom is actually a prophecy that points to Jesus. What a huge contrast!

But I don’t think one should ignore the immediate application of a warning against immorality. Chapter seven of Proverbs presents a vivid picture of seduction. A married woman looks for a young man and invites him to go home with her while her husband is away. Both of them live in the delusion of secrecy, but Someone is watching. He always is.

A few years ago, as I preached this passage, I described it as my imagination has always envisioned it—the Holy Spirit is observing what is going on from the second story of a house with a white-picket fence as two people destroy their lives and their families.

Please understand. As I write this, my heart is breaking for all the times I have witnessed in person how this plays out in human life.

Just yesterday, I heard about this occurring on an NFL team and the results of this affair. I’m not going into specifics about the team. I was listening to sports talk radio yesterday afternoon and heard about it.

Whether the particular incident I am referring to actually happened or not, I think I would be fairly safe in asserting that it goes on in professional sports more often than many of us would imagine. I think I will just leave it at that.

But certainly, this is not confined to that arena. Honestly, I am shocked when I think about how many students who have gone through our youth ministry over the years have/are living with someone now/at some point that is not his or her spouse.

I used to beat myself up over this, that somehow, this is a reflection of failure on my part and on the part of those who have led our youth ministry.

Now, I don’t feel that way at all. Of course, none of us are perfect. I don’t mean to come across as high and mighty and holier than thou in any of this—not from a personal standpoint or from a pastor’s vantage point. Nope. Not at all.

However, I know we taught the Word and tried (again not perfect) to show the boys and girls in our church the truth about sexual immorality.

I guess, to me, it just shows how rampant it is in our culture and what a great temptation it is. And, one more thing: the church has always dealt with it.

This is very heavily on my mind as I prepare to preach the message to the third of seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3.

I add to those the passages I read today in Proverbs to those of Ephesians 5. Here is what Paul says in Ephesians 5: “You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (Ephesians 5:5, NLT).

I think this verse sums up the essence of the true connection that is going on here, not only in the passages I have cited but also in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians. The true “issue” here is idolatry.

Once our worship gets out of whack, we are susceptible to immorality and host of other sins.

This reinforces the fact that my main job today as an individual and our main challenge as a church is to worship God and teach others to do so—how to do it for the rest of our lives AND how to get back to it, when our focus gets out of whack.

Lord, all of us are susceptible to idolatry, in one way or another. I choose today to focus on You and worship You, and You alone.

I pray for day two of our marriage conference and Bill and Debra as they lead it. I also pray for our ministry at Safe Street at Northglenn High School tonight. In the midst of all those parents and all those children in costume—may we stand out as people who worship You and may You get glory. Amen.
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Daystar Plan Day 116: The Path and the Walk

I’m a little late on the blog today. I went to the Thursday Night Bronco game last night and got a little carried away—to say the least. At one point, I realized that I had to throttle down or I would lose my voice.

When I was younger, I would yell and scream at the Broncos, Nuggets, our Lacrosse Team in high school, and whoever to the point where I did lose my voice, quite frequently.

At one point, the Holy Spirit spoke to me: “Ah, John, you might want to reconsider abusing your voice this way since ah, your future ministry requires that you actually have a voice to use.” I’ve paraphrased His very strong message to me with polite language, but as all of you know, conviction is anything but polite. I don’t remember how old I was, but I did get the message.

Last night, however, I stepped back a bit and yelled a little more than I normally do. But it was an awesome game on a beautiful, rather abnormally balmy, late October night. I was surprised how warm it was.

But I had predetermined, in desiring to do a better job of taking care of myself, that I would not worry about trying to get up very early this morning. Thus, I did not.

However, I function best as a writer at 5:00 in the morning. This feels as if I am writing at 5:00 PM. Weird.

Be that as it may, in the Daystar Plan, I am beginning the Proverbs.

My friend Rick who passed away last year really helped me with this book. He was an Old Testament scholar. He divided this amazing book in four sections: chapters one through seven; chapter eight; chapters 9-30; and chapter 31.

Chapters one through seven set the tone for the whole rest of the book. The vivid contrast is between “the wicked woman” and “wisdom.”
"Wisdom will save you from the immoral woman, from the seductive words of the promiscuous woman. She has abandoned her husband and ignores the covenant she made before God. Entering her house leads to death; it is the road to the grave. Follow the steps of good men instead, and stay on the paths of the righteous" (Proverbs 2:16-18, 20 NLT).

This is a straightforward as it gets. Following the words of the promiscuous woman and her path leads one to the grave. But the paths of the righteous have another (good) destination.

It is interesting that Paul picks up on this metaphor in his characterization of the Christian life as a WALK, twice in Ephesians 4: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, … walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind …” (Ephesians 4:1, 17, NASB).

So, here is the way I pull all this together: choose the right path and then walk it, by the grace and power of God. This sounds very simple, but very few actually live this way. What did Jesus say? “The way to life is narrow and few there be that find it.”

Not long ago, a young man called who used to be a faithful attender in our fellowship. He left a message with Betty and said he was struggling in a “relationship.” When I returned his call at the number I had for him, a woman answered the phone. She said I had the wrong number.

Ah, no. Somehow I think she is the one with the wrong number on the wrong path and so is this dear brother. Get him off that path, Lord. Get him on the right path.

Lord, let everyone who is reading this today and let me be a part of the few, the brave, and the faithful—KEEP US WALKING THE PATH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 115: Power Prayer

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to visit with a fellow pastor in our community—James. As always, when we get together, we had a great time of fellowship. James, if you happen to be reading this (and I appreciate the fact that you do), thanks, brother!

I left our time of fellowship thinking that too often, my perspective of what God wants to do is way too small. It is easy, as the old expression goes, to “miss the forest for the trees.”

Prior to our lunch, I had been focused on the fact that the new door we had installed the other day has no doorknob on it! Yes, this is true. I had been pre-occupied with this and calling the company to find out what is going on. (Later on yesterday, I did find out that they will be remedying this situation soon—no big deal).

But it is so easy for this to occur in church life. There is always something going wrong—my office phone is not working (it isn’t!). There is a fly buzzing around in my office (this always happens this time of year). The carpet in the fellowship hall needs to be replaced (it does). Et cetera, et cetera.

Those types of issues are always there, but who is thinking about expanding the kingdom of God. Who is diligently praying about where the church really is on a spiritual level, and of course, this has very little to do with buildings and doors and carpets.

I keep coming back to those messages from the resurrected Christ to the seven churches in Asia Minor in chapters two and three of revelation. Our Lord has penetrating insight into two significant areas: what is REALLY going on and what is REALLY important.

Please understand: I am not negating the importance of the stewardship we have with church buildings and maintaining them. This is vitally significant, but what I am saying is that these things are not MORE important than the spiritual pulse of the church.

Make no mistake: Jesus has His strong hand right there.

This is why I gravitate to Paul’s prayers for the church in his epistles. They all focus on “pulse” issues. The greatest example is his prayer for the church in Ephesians.

The Daystar reading for today includes chapters two and three of Ephesians. After I finished the reading, I went back to read the first part of the prayer in chapter one and then jumped to part two in chapter three.

I urge all of you to do this, by the way.

When you do, you will discover what I did. This prayer that spans two chapters is all about THE POWER OF GOD. If my memory serves, the Greek word for power in these verses is the word from which we get our word “dynamite.” Whenever experts in construction or in the military blow something up, we “ooh and ah.” We love displays of power.

So does God. This is the realm in which He lives as Almighty God.

In chapter one, Paul has nothing to compare the power of God to but the power of God! My paraphrase here: “this power is like the strength (a synonym of power) that He displayed when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at God’s right hand.”

In chapter three, Paul carries this statement further: "I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit…. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think" (Ephesians
3:16, 18-20 NLT).

It is one thing to believe in the resurrection, but it is another thing actually to EXPERIENCE the resurrection power of God! This is God’s plan, not for isolated individuals but FOR THE CHURCH! This is what Paul prays.

Here is the burden on my heart today: when was the last time any of us actually experienced the power of God in and through the church? This passage reminds us this power “surge,” this explosion, this dynamite, has to do with the love of Christ and “the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

Lord, I thank You for the power of the resurrection. I pray that we would know this dynamite in our collective and congregational and intensely personal experience TODAY. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 114: "Us-ward"

This is really weird to say, but this morning, I feel all churned up. It is difficult to concentrate. I’m tired, but I am “amped.” This feels like steroids, but now? Today? Are you kidding me?

Weird.

Over the past couple of days, I have “lost it” on a couple of occasions over rather insignificant things. I’m kind of embarrassed to say.

I guess the thing that is frustrating to me is that the first time I went through chemo, all these side effects—physical, mental, and emotional—seemed to subside over time. It felt like, even though my treatments were only three weeks apart (this time, it is four) that I had a little bit of a “break.”

But here it is week number 3, and I still feel it. No break yet and my next “round” is next week! Yikes!

I really have dialed back this week and hope to continue to do so over the next few days even though I do have stuff going.

Yesterday was not a particularly demanding day. I spent most of it in the office and then, late afternoon, I drove over to Brighton to visit a family that has recently become candidates for membership in our fellowship. The purpose of my visit was to have the “the new member’s class” with them.

This is the way I am doing it now. Rather than try to figure out a time for a group of people to meet at the church on Sunday (or even any other night of the week, for that matter) grew into a gargantuan challenge. It just became too hard to pull off.

Thus, I just decided to work with every new family or individual, one on one.

The truth is that it is really not a “class” anyway. I just like to make sure that people are fully aware of the noose they are putting their necks in when they join our fellowship (maybe this is an unfortunate use of terms!).

Yesterday afternoon, I handed Tom and Libby the notebook, talked about the contents briefly, and then basically shared my heart about where I think the church is and where it is headed. We had an awesome conversation. I got to know them better. They got to know me a little better, I hope.

That is the main thing in this process: not doctrine (not saying that is NOT important) or information but relationships.

We talked for a couple of hours. It could have been longer, but I had to leave for another appointment. When I finished that, I headed home.

Not that big of a deal, I thought??? But who knows?

I’m finding that all of this is forcing me to be more diligent in actually thinking about what I am doing and weighing things over against what is best for my health. I have to factor that in NOW. No choice. I’m thinking about it and praying about it.

I just honestly think I have gotten away from this “lifestyle” since my last treatments. It is a discipline I have lost. I’m praying that the Lord will wake me up and prompt me to think, really think about what I am doing.

The other night, my mom and sis and I were talking about this general subject, and I said, “I just resent having to think about what I am doing and how I am feeling all the time.” Okay, so what to do? Tough rockos. Too bad. Tough. DO IT!

The truth is that I have the greatest power in the universe at my disposal, if only I will avail myself of it. It is called “the power of God.” Paul prays for the church to know this power.

In the Daystar Plan, I have arrived at Ephesians chapter one in my reading. I’m going to quote from the KJV just because I love the language. This is the first part of this one long extended prayer that actually encompasses three chapters in Ephesians. It starts in chapter one. It is suspended a bit as Paul chases a theological rabbit in chapter two. Then, he picks up with his prayer in chapter three. It is all tied together.

Back to chapter one, here is the verse and phrase I like: "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power" (Ephesians
1:19 KJV).

Your power to us-ward, ME-ward. That is what I need, Lord. Help me know in the midst of all this cancer stuff and all the life stuff—what your power is all about. I pray the same for every one of my family (who has to put up with me) and friends who read this blog today. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 113: Pop and Puff Or ...

Last Sunday, I continued the series on the seven churches in Revelation. The text for the message was Revelation 2:8-11, the church at Smyrna.

One of the interesting aspects of this study is actually learning about these towns and what the churches in each one faced.

Smyrna is no exception. Long a friend of Rome, they had no tolerance for Christians. This includes the Jewish population. Jesus called them “the synagogue of Satan.” I believe there is a sort of double entendre going on with that phrase. On the one hand, it indicates that Satan, not God, was in charge.

On the other hand, I believe that “Satan” could be a cypher for Rome. The Roman Empire was the human embodiment of Satan’s work on earth—kind of a scary thought. And an intimidating one, for sure.

Thus, the believers faced persecution from the culture and from “phony” religion.

In the message, I tried to make the case that these are exactly the types of persecution that we face here in the United States.

One of my friends on Facebook sent out a video in which a man who is sitting on some sort of panel warns Christians in America that persecution already is ratcheting up. He concludes his remarks by stating, “Get ready to have your car and your house taken away from you.”

Not too long ago, if we had heard someone say that, we would have laughed. Are you kidding me? This is the United States of America. That would NEVER happen here.

Think again.

Somehow, I can’t get that statement out of my mind. Am I really ready for that?

I’m sitting here in my home right now with a little heater running. I’m looking at furniture. I have my computer, a TV to my right, and a bookshelf to my left.

If I knew that someone would be showing up at my house today to demand that I recant my beliefs and just take this house, and I had just a few hours to put some things in a backpack and flee for my life, what would I do? What about my golf clubs? What about our pets?

Even as I write this today, it hits me that, at this very moment, this type of thing is actually happening in our world. There are millions of people who are displaced and homeless and living outside in makeshift lean-tos.

And I am sitting here with my heater and computer and TV and cell phone.

I don’t know …

When we look at things that way, it causes one to realize that I believe there is going to be more and more consequences for sharing the truth and living the truth. Who knows who is sitting there on a Sunday morning to go report to someone?

Look at this whole issue with the Mayor of Houston and those five pastors who were censored? A harbinger of things to come, I believe.

So, again, what does one do? Water the message down and take the easy route?

Paul had that option. In the Daystar Reading Plan for today, I read Galatians 5 and 6. Notice these two references:

"But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished" (Galatians
5:11 NASB).

"Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (Galatians
6:12 NASB).

Paul dealt with the “synagogue of Satan”! They had infiltrated the church! They still do, and I am talking the church universal at this point.

“Cross-less” messages don’t ruffle feathers and in point of fact, garner large audiences. Just add pop music and a little watered-down puff “speech,” and it is all well and good. Pop and puff.

That was Paul’s temptation. He would have no problems if he had just in some way compromised the radical gospel of the grace of God.

“Just circumcision,” said the false teachers. “This is all we are saying. Just get circumcised and tell every new believer it is necessary. And everything is good.”

But that little law, that little concession, that little compromise, invalidates the whole thing and makes life easy. But Paul chose the alternative: the pure gospel and persecution over pop and puff.

Lord, it is so easy to make statements and write about persecution in the abstract. But are we ready? Am I ready? All I can do is continue to preach and by Your grace live the gospel today. Spirit of God, bear Your fruit through me today. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 112: A "Unique" Experience

As the service started yesterday morning, I felt it coming on me like a freight train—one of the worst headaches I have had in a long time.

I knew why—immediately. It is the price I pay for overdoing it the past few days. My mom and sis had warned me about it. I, of course, did not listen to them. And so, there I was.


My first thought was, “Well, THIS is going to be interesting. Never had this happen before. Humm. Okay.”

It seemed to get worse by the moment to the point where I wasn’t sure I could even stand up and stay on my feet, but I prayed one of “those” prayers: “Lord, I confess my sin of pride. I know I have blown it. I just ask you to help me get through these next couple of hours or so.”

He did. I made it okay, but when I finally got home, I crashed for the rest of the day. I slept most of the rest of the afternoon—something I NEVER do, even on Sundays, and then watched that fantastic Bronco game into the evening.

The Lord got me through the day. I thank Him for it.

It was just another one of those learning experiences. It is a perpetual responsibility to stay on top of this whole “health” issue. Sometimes, to be frank, I resent it. I just grow weary of thinking about it, and want to go back to the pre-cancer John where I don’t think about it.

Of course, the pre-cancer John pushed himself and ate poorly and acted foolishly in regard to his health and contributed to his health problems. So … when push comes to shove, I really DON’T want THAT guy.

But again, it just goes back to those lessons I learned before. I need to take heed. By God’s grace, I will.

And, I have plenty of resources to help me (if I would just avail myself of them). Psalm 139 is a timely read today. The gist of this Psalm is that God, since He made us, knows us A LOT better than we could possibly know ourselves. And that intimate knowledge began in the womb. There is no place we can go where God doesn’t see us, where God isn’t, and where God doesn’t care about us.

"I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you" (Psalms
139:11-12 NLT).

I also came across an interesting reference in Galatians 4 this morning—one that I have never seen quite this way: "Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News. But even though my condition tempted you to reject me, you did not despise me or turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself" (Galatians
4:13-14 NLT).

Paul preached sick! Later on in this chapter, he makes a reference to his eyes. But who knows what his illness was?

This is crazy speculation, but if Paul was sick and if he had eye problems, is it totally out of the realm of possibility that he had headaches? Who knows? But it is a possibility.

Anyway, I can relate to his comments, and I am glad Paul didn’t back off and go to bed. He kept right on and the Lord used his illness to build a bond with the church in Galatia, a bond he appeals to as he argues against the false teachers in the church.

Interesting. The Lord can and will use everything, especially weakness, for His glory.

I affirm that, Lord, and I am grateful for it, but I confess the sin of being stupid. Help me listen to You, to others who care for me, and to my own body—all three of which spoke loud and clear yesterday. Give me the grace to learn. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 111: Adult Conversions

Yesterday, a friend of mine who is not a believer, asked me, “John, what is your favorite verse and can you quote it?” I nearly fainted.

“Ah, yes, ah … it is John 3:16.” And I quoted it from the King James Version. He shrugged his shoulders. Kind of a weird reaction after he asked the question. But he heard it.

All of this fits into a broader question and issue that my mom and sis and I were discussing the other day.

Before I ask this question, I know that there are certain places and churches were masses of people are getting saved—most of them are overseas, I would argue, but there might be some places here in the States. I would call them “exceptions to the rule.”

HERE IS MY QUESTION: when was the last time you actually saw a bona-fide adult conversion? I ask the question that way.

A few years ago, a young couple attended our church and during an invitation, they came forward weeping. Both acknowledged their need for Jesus, and if memory serves, followed him in baptism.

I was so concerned for both of them that I made an appointment with them and explained it, “Hey, listen, I want to help you grow in your new-found faith. Can I come over and spend some time with you guys? It doesn’t have to be every week, but I think at first, it needs to be fairly consistent.”

Ok, sure.

The first time, the husband was there; the second time, he was not there, but the wife’s mom was. The third time, the wife called to cancel—too busy. The fourth time, the couple didn’t even return my call. Well, … you get the picture.

Were they genuinely saved? Only God knows that for sure. If I had to hazard a guess in my humanness, I would say no. They dropped out of sight and we never saw them again. I kept trying to follow-up with them, but we never made contact.

Here is my point: adult conversions are rare.

George Barna, the Christian demographer, states that 80 percent of the people who get saved, do so before the age of 18. (I think that is the proper percentage; I might be off a bit, but still, it is a high number).

Even so, I rarely see adults getting saved. I’m sure that many of you who are reading this blog today would concur.

The next question is: why?

Well, I don’t have all the answers (surprise, surprise, right?), but one reason from my experience is that I just don’t share Jesus the way I used to. I say this in shame.

Lately, I have been convicted about this.

Let me back up a bit for a second: to share Jesus with lost people, one actually has to be around them or with them. I think many believers simply have no lost friends. I can understand why in some senses (we don’t want to compromise our beliefs—I get that), but most of us at least work with people who are lost.

I don’t, however. And this fact does not exempt me from the Great Commission.

But back to sharing—I have done all the evangelistic training classes and programs and gimmicks. I do think it is important for people to be trained, but I am more and more convinced that prayer is the key. No formulas. No “sales jobs.” Just, “Lord, give me an opportunity to share Jesus today and help me be ready.”

So, would you say that someone asking me to quote my favorite Bible verse is an opportunity?

I was surprised how shocked I was. I asked. Why did I doubt? Maybe THAT is the real problem.

Food for thought.

"O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows. He himself will redeem Israel from every kind of sin" (Psalms
130:7-8 NLT).

Lord, I lift up this man to you and the other guys who heard me as well. I pray that they could get saved—genuinely saved. If you choose to use me further, help me be ready and not just with them, but also with everyone I meet. I’m asking. I believe. Help my unbelief. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 110: The Call of God and Human Involvement

Before I get into the topic for the day, I just want to make comment about yesterday. Last night, I attended a couples’ fellowship with the Hispanic congregation that met at the church.

When I entered the fellowship hall, the program had already started. Jorge and Vida were singing. And, everyone was dressed up. I mean very formal attire. Oops. I certainly was not.

But people welcomed me when I entered, and I sat at a table in the middle of the room with a wonderful couple. They are from Honduras. We talked about the appetizers that were served as well as other foods people enjoy in Honduras.

One of the incredible features of the Hispanic ministry at First Southern is that we have folks from various countries including Mexico, Central America, and South America. It is a mistake to lump all Hispanics together as one homogeneous unit just as it is for Anglos, Asians, and African-Americans. There are many different cultures within that one language group.

Anyway, the program continued with some hilarious games the couples played together followed by a message. When Jose finished preaching, it was after 9:00 and time for me to turn into a pumpkin, but I asked one of the young ladies who was serving to make me a plate and put it in the fridge to eat today. She was more than willing.

Back to the evening—there were probably 15 couples in attendance, some I had never seen before. It was awesome. I am excited about the growth in Torre Fuerte and the people they are reaching. Please continue to pray for them and for me as we work together to find a pastor. We are seeking the right man for this strategic position.

We seek for a man who displays the clear and evident call of God.

At first glance, when one reads Galatians one, Paul’s statements would seem to reinforce everything I have been arguing against these past few days when it comes to “self-appointed” ministers of the gospel. Paul says, “I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father” (Galatians 1:1, NLT). “I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God” (verse 10, NLT). Finally, he argues, “I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ” (verse 12).

This last quote brings things into focus more clearly. Paul is clearly talking about the gospel message he preaches (in contradiction to others who preach a different gospel and Paul calls down a curse on them—TWICE) and his ministry--two different things.

How do I know this? Here is the reason: further on in the chapter he actually met with the leaders of the church for affirmation and validation. This was critical and necessary. The very practical reason was one of security: is this guy legit or is he faking some kind of “Christian call” in order to arrest more people?

There is a delicate balance in all of this, but the distinctions are important.

Lord, I thank you for the church. I thank you for Torre Fuerte and their couples’ outreach and fellowship last night. I pray that you would bless this wonderful congregation and guide us as we seek Your will concerning pastoral leadership.

Lord, I also thank you for the gospel. It does not come from man and needs no human approval, but I thank You for the legitimate and important role of affirmation that You give the church. Give us all wisdom and discernment, now, more than ever. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 109: The Log Cabin and the Genuine Article

One of the greatest joys that I have are the discoveries that the Lord allows me to make as I prepare to preach each week.

This past week is no exception. I don’t want to get ahead of myself because part of what I am going to write about this morning will come out in the message Sunday.

But I learned about a rather unique seminary that emerged in the earliest days of colonial America. William Tennent Sr., a middle-aged Scotch-Irish, Presbyterian pastor, immigrated to the New World in 1718. It wasn’t long before he settled in as pastor of Nehaminy Presbyterian Church in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

He had four sons, all of whom felt called to full-time vocational ministry. Rather than send them back across the ocean or even east to Harvard or some other established school, father William started his own. He erected a makeshift cabin on his property and started teaching/training his sons along with nine other guys.

Tennent was not without critics. Opponents of what he did called his seminary “the Log Cabin.” But undaunted, Tennent continued. There is more to the story at this point, but suffice it to say that the men who were trained in the Log Cabin, especially William’s oldest son Gilbert, were used of God along with more famous names, Jonathon Edwards and George Whitfield, in an early revival in our nation.

Gilbert preached the second-most famous sermon in early American history, “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry.” This prophetic word is a scathing indictment of so-called ministers who aspire to serve churches and yet, as far as God’s perspective is concerned, are phonies.

The whole premise of this message is a call to examine those who purport to lead or serve congregations as pastor when they are not spiritually qualified to do so.

Ah, I would have to say that conversion is important for anyone who aspires to be a pastor, wouldn’t you?

I think it is so rudimentary that we almost assume it, right? Gilbert Tennent did not. And challenges us not to either.

I honestly think that is what Paul battled in Corinth. He confronted a group who had infiltrated the church and dubbed themselves “super-apostles.” I like the fact that this moniker is in quotes in the NLT.

I can just see these guys as they entered the church, “So, Paul is an apostle. Good for him. But we are better. We are ‘super-apostles,’ clearly superior to him. I guess the basic stuff he taught you guys is okay, even though he is such a poor speaker. We have ‘further knowledge.’ You can see our impressive list of accomplishments—where we’ve been and what we’ve done. You don’t need to listen to that scrawny preacher any longer.”

Anyone can call themselves whatever they want, even a pastor.

I’m not going on a witch hunt here, but I just wonder, what percentage of the pastors of churches across the board in metro-Denver are lost? I bet the exactly number—God only knows—would curl the few hairs I have left.

But it is interesting that Paul ends this defense of his own ministry (not really a defense) with a challenge that turns the finger on the church.

"Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority" (2 Corinthians
13:5-6 NLT).

Father, I am grateful for the men you used—pastors—in the early years of colonial America and how their Holy Spirit-anointed work made such an impact on this country. Ferret out the phonies. For the rest of us, help us to continue to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 108: The Other Side of Obedience

Yesterday was a good day. Jim and I got to spend some time in the home of a wonderful couple in our church. We ate together and had a good time of fellowship. After this visit, we went to the home of another family in our church. They weren’t home, but I got to talk with the wife a little later in the day.

I would put both of these visits/contacts very squarely in the category of pastoral visits. I’m not going to get into the subject matter in both instances. This is confidential. But I enjoyed the contacts, nonetheless.


Someone might ask, “What does ‘pastoral visit’ really mean? Isn’t it just any visit made by a pastor?” Ah, no.

There are a lot of different types of visits that pastors make (and not just me). Even though I don’t do them anywhere near as much as I used to (and I miss it, by the way), there are evangelistic visits. Of course, the purpose there is to share the gospel.

Another type of visit I tend to make more these days is a “get to know you” visit when someone either requests that I come and I set up a time just to get to know people in their homes. Usually, this occurs when someone wants to join the fellowship or has just done so.

I’m sure it goes without saying that you can learn a whole lot about people when you visit in their homes. I’ve learned to observe more, talk less, and focus on listening. I love it!

Anyway, a pastoral visit is different than all of those. I don’t think there are any technical, hard and fast distinctions here. This is just my own perspective (whatever it is worth, not much), but a pastoral visit is motivated out of love (as all ministry should be) and concern for God’s people already in the church and it has some church-related purpose. The last part is key.

Of course, it can also be for the purpose of caring for someone in the church who is going through difficult times as well, but that ministry is shared in our fellowship. Many are involved in it, whether they are praying for the person or actually calling/visiting.

But pastoral visits tend to be the unique responsibility of the pastor. Now, I did not go alone. Usually I try not to. Jim, one of our deacons, went with me. And I really appreciate the fact that he did. But still …

It is interesting that the study on the subject of church membership that we went through as a church got a hold of me in the pastoral area. One of the crucial aspects of membership is the pastor. Everyone needs a pastor, not just in the individual sense, but also in the corporate sense—someone looking out for his or her role in the body of Christ. Someone has to think about that. Most are focused on their own needs and perspectives. Someone has to care for the church as a whole.

An old-fashioned name for this is “soul care.”

Let’s get all of this straight—Jesus is the Pastor and Shepherd and the ultimate “care-giver” of souls at First Southern, but in my pastoral calling, I serve under Him as a “sheep dog.” Ha.

Anyway, it was awesome to see this wonderful couple and share fellowship with them. We all figured that I had not been in their home for over fifteen years since the first “get to know you visit” when they joined. Too long.

Today, in the Daystar Plan, the only chapter on the slate was Psalm 119. The more I read this awesome Psalm, the more I like it. It is so symmetrical. It is divided into twenty-two sections that correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Hebrew, each line of each section begins with the corresponding Hebrew letter.

For example, in section A, all the lines begin with A. Fascinating. What this tells me is that obeying God is symmetrical. It is the most logical thing in the world. When I obey God, I line up with Him AND with obedient people.

The “other side of obedience” is that I refuse to hang out (I think this is in close friendships not for the purpose of sharing Jesus or we would all have to become hermits) with people who disobey God. "I hate those with divided loyalties, but I love your instructions. You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope. Get out of my life, you evil-minded people, for I intend to obey the commands of my God" (Psalms
119:113-115 NLT).

This reminds me of Paul’s quote in 1 Corinthians 15, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (verse 33, NASB).

Lord, thank You for calling me to be a pastor. I’m so grateful for my part in the body of Christ. Give me diligence to be a good under-shepherd, sheep dog, for your people. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 107: Endurance Resources

Last night, when I got home, I discovered that I had received a package. It was actually a rather sizable box. Humm.

I opened it to discover four books, a couple of brochures, and a mug. What is going on?

Well, the brochure at the top of the stack stated, “Doug Ideker recently contacted us and asked that we send you our Endurance resources. Endurance with Jan and Dave Dravecky is a ministry that offers comfort, encouragement, and hope for those who hurt. We deeply respect the difficult journey in front of you. Therefore, we consider it a privilege to offer these resources, trusting they will be an encouragement to you.” It cites a website as well. Check it out:
www.endurance.org. Wow.

Do all of you know the name Dave Dravecky? I actually already have one of the books that came in the packet,
When You Can’t Come Back.

Years ago, Dave had been a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. He was diagnosed with a soft tissue cancer in the deltoid muscle of his pitching arm.

Surgeons removed this section of his deltoid muscle and told him he would never pitch again, but Dave refused to accept that prognosis. He worked and rehabbed and got back to the mound, but his return to baseball was short-lived.

He broke his arm mid-pitch in a game. What followed was a series of surgeries and treatments, with the end result being that the doctors amputated his arm.

Out of those experiences, Dave and his wife Jan started Endurance to help other people facing suffering. I get the idea that they send out these boxes, like the one I received, to many other people.

Frankly, as I sit here this morning, this is a bit overwhelming. I cannot begin to express how this has touched me.

Someone I don’t even know—Doug Ideker—asked Jan and Dave to send me this packet. Besides the biography, there are two devotional books in the packet, but there is one more book,
NIV Encouragement Bible. I have never seen one before, and apparently, it is not available in retail stores. Jan and Dave along with Joni Eareckson Tada are the general editors. Very cool.

Back to Jan and Dave, I’m so challenged that out of their experiences of suffering, they have started a ministry to encourage others in their suffering.

They have encouraged me to continue to do the same.

Just last night, I got the chance to talk to a brother who is going through non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. We were able to compare “war stories.”

But none of this is original with the Dravecky’s or me. Jesus in us enables us to do this. He certainly strengthened Paul in his suffering.

Today, in the Daystar Plan, one of the chapters I read was 2 Corinthians 11. In the face of the false teachers, who exalted themselves above Paul, the Apostle had a unique approach of answering them and validating his own ministry.

If you look at the Joel Osteens of the world and many others, you would get the idea that Christian ministry is one of the easiest things there is. Anyone—and I mean anyone—can just put out a shingle and claim to be a minister of the gospel.

But Paul does not exalt himself. He doesn’t put himself “out there.” He doesn’t give a list his personal accomplishments (and if anyone could do it, he certainly could). He lets something else validate him and his ministry—a litany of the suffering he has experienced and the unwritten part of it—through all of that, he has stayed with the stuff and continued to minister and to love and to serve.

The things that show his weakness are actually, in the eyes of our Suffering Servant Lord Jesus, confirmations of strength—His not ours.

Lord, I am so grateful for the ministry of this pitcher with no pitching arm. Thank you for Endurance. Bless this dear brother and his wife who sent me this packet. Use my weakness, Lord. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 106:"Clocked"

In the service Sunday, Calla took time to recognize me on “Pastor Appreciation Day.” It was a very nice gesture on her part and the church.

But I am always a little uncomfortable with such recognitions.

Someone reading this might say, “Oh, come on, John. Let people show how much they appreciate you.” Kind of like Peter not wanting Jesus to wash his feet.

I get it, but the truth is that much more appreciation and credit goes to the church as a whole. I’m just a part of it. Especially recently, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of ministry.

Let me give just a few examples.

I preached in the Hispanic church on the first Sunday of October, but prior to that, Jorge called me to the front and the entire church came forward to pray for me with fervor. Some were even weeping as they prayed.

Last Sunday, a dear couple in our fellowship gave us some food. It is awesome and very nice of them to do this.

This happened during the first time I went through chemo. One dear sister provided several meals while others gave us food as well. I use the word “dear” in both instances intentionally.

The truth is people give me food all the time. When Rob served on staff at our church, he commented on it. Until then, I hadn’t realized how extraordinary it was. It was “normal” for me. Not a week goes by without some food coming my way.

Food is always good.

Last Sunday, I was talking to another sister about a ministry. I told her I would make a phone call. She said, “Let me do it. No problem.” Okay.

Another brother led out on Wednesday night a couple of weeks ago as I started treatment.

Another sister delayed her brother’s funeral, believe that or not. She said, “John, I want you to do the service, but we know that right now, you don’t feel up to it. We will wait until you do feel better.” How about THAT? We are having that service this week.

I’ve gotten texts and phone calls and emails. I could go on … Get the idea?

This is deeply encouraging when I think about the service and concern and prayers from the body of Christ as a whole.

To be honest, one of my big worries about cancer was, “What if it came back again? How will folks respond THIS TIME?” In my worry, I was projecting my own previous frustrations with long-term illness. I didn’t handle it very well in ministry to others.

Therefore, I just envisioned people saying, “Oh, man. Here we go again. This is getting old.” But that has not been anywhere near the attitude I have witnessed, just the opposite, as a matter of fact.

This deserves a “Congregation Appreciation Sunday.” I’m going to figure out how to pull that off.

All of this comes into focus as I read 2 Corinthians 9 in the Daystar Plan for today. What is happening to me is just another example of the cycle that gets moving when God’s people generously give.

"Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God" (2 Corinthians 9:
11 NLT).

When I say “cycle,” here is what I mean. I wish I could draw a picture at this point. But just imagine a clock, and this going clock-wise. At 12:00, God gave His Son Jesus and so we get saved—the biggest GIVE of all; at 3:00, we like the church in Corinth heard the gospel from those God sent to preach (the original sender was the church in Jerusalem—the congregation Paul was gathering an offering to help); at 6:00, those who have received give to others; and at 9:00, all those who have received give glory back to God.

I ought to patent this “giving clock.”

Father, I am deeply grateful that by your grace, I somehow get to be “clocked.” Ha. How awesome it is to be in on this giving cycle. Bless everyone that You have used to bless my family and me. And, thank You, Jesus for giving yourself to save me. I love you! Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 105: A Glitch in Your Head

Yesterday, I was not quite as energetic as I had been on Saturday, but still, I felt better than the previous Sunday. That’s for sure.

Good thing, because the day started very early.

I’m meeting with three brothers prior to even our early morning, men’s prayer time. We started yesterday at 7:00.

Again, I could not be more impressed about Rainey’s book,
Stepping Up. It gives us plenty of opportunity to discuss “issues” that all of us face as men. Plus (and here is the best thing), we are starting to share some rather personal stuff with each other.

I told the guys about a particular satanic attack that occurred to me last week. It was one of those times when a “voice” (not audible) says something to you. I am not going into specifics as to exactly what it was all about.

It occurred as I was recovering from my down times from chemo early last week—of course. I’ve learned to be more alert when I am sick or not quite on top of things physically. Satan is a crafty enemy. He knows that those are the times I am most vulnerable.

Anyway, I told the guys about it. I added, “At first, it struck me, and I had to think about it, but then I realized the source, stopped, and turned it over to the Lord. But I don’t always do that. When I don’t, I sink like a stone in a lake.”

As we discussed it, I asked the guys, “What helps you be more on top of the messages that go through your mind each day?”

The truth is that most of us are bombarded each and every day as we drive down the street, check out at the grocery store, talk to people, and watch the news on television.

One of the brothers answered, “I think the key is the Spirit of God. It is kind of like a little glitch in your brain. He points out what is not from Him. And He helps us take every thought and make it captive to Jesus.” At that point, I grabbed my Bible and read the passage he referenced in 2 Corinthians 10.

I like that phrase “glitch in the brain.”

This is where the battle is waged—in the mind.

Anyway, we had a good discussion that started a great day off very well.

It was a very encouraging day. For the past two Sundays, we have shifted things around a bit. We know have worship at 9:00 and our small group ministry, “Community Groups,” as we call them now, starts at 10:15. This is certainly different than the schedule most churches have, but we think it puts us in a better position to encourage people to get in a small group.

People have responded very well. We’ve had two very good services the last two weeks. We have had to streamline things a bit because we now have a hard and fast deadline. This has been a good exercise, especially for me. I have cut my sermons by 25 percent because I want to do a better job of being precise and concise in the message. I’m spending more time honing things down. I like it!

Who said this? “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Benjamin Franklin? I’ll have to look it up. Whoever it was—I say, “Amen.”

Back to the whole topic of the thought-life—two verses that the Spirit illumined to my mind and heart today.

"I lie awake, lonely as a solitary bird on the roof" (Psalms
102:7 NLT).

"May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD" (Psalms
104:34 NLT).

Lord, I thank you for the resources you make available to us so that “the words of our mouths and the meditations of our heart” are pleasing to you. May I honor you today in my thought life. Thank You for the two wonderful families you added to the fellowship yesterday. Both are already a huge encouragement. I lift up Tom and Libby as well as Gary and Deborah. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 104: A Call to Integrity

This disease and its ups and downs are so weird. Yesterday, I had one of those “boundless” energy days. And for once, I was halfway productive. I cleaned out some stuff in a couple of rooms here. It felt good.

I guess I am waiting for the perennial shoe to drop and for me to have another “crash.” We will see. Again, please pray that I have wisdom in chemo treatment number two. I have a particular challenge with it. I’ll talk more about it later.

A number of factors have come together this morning to make the readings in the Daystar Plan for today particularly pointed for me.

I am meeting with a group of men on selected Sunday mornings. It is a discipleship/ leadership group. The book we are using is excellent. I highly recommend it. It is called
Stepping Up. The author is Dennis Rainey from Family Life. In reviewing what we are discussing today, one statement grabbed my attention. Rainey said that the opposite of courage is cowardice and for men, cowardice involves passivity—doing nothing, becoming a couch potato.

I wonder how many men I know, including myself, deal with passivity? Honestly, it is just so easy. That’s why.

I’ll be honest. Please pray for me. I have a very tough leadership decision to make. Everything in me does not want to make it. I fight just “letting it go” with every fiber of my being. I’m tired of fights. I’m not physically up to another. I’m tired of being blamed and criticized and maligned … on and on and on. All these reasons or excuses—call them what you will.

Still. It is “out there” and someone has to make it.

But still, it is remarkable how many times I feel the Spirit of God say, “John, I have put you there as my under-shepherd of this flock. No one else is going to do it if you don’t. Snap to it!”

Obedience is jumping when God barks an order, even when circumstances don’t seem conducive. Of course, are they ever? When was the last time it was truly convenient to obey God??

Anyway, all of this meets the Word today. Two passages help me as I face another challenge to integrity.

By the way, integrity means wholeness. It means consistency across the venues of life. I’m getting ready to preach a sermon today. Integrity means that I actually do live (by God’s grace and mercy, of course) in line with what I am talking about in this message today.

The first passage is Psalm 101. It presents the characteristics of the foundation of a life of praise to God—blamelessness—in a series of “I will” statements. I will start this list, “I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them” (Psalm 101:2-3, NLT). The list goes on.

Interesting that “I will” number one has to do with how I live AT HOME. This is where true spirituality is revealed. Well, I could go on …

In addition, in Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 6, he states, “We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry” (2 Corinthians 6:3, NLT).

I still remember Jack Graham’s sermon at a Pastor’s Conference at the SBC a few years ago. He asserted, “Guys, right or wrong, good or bad, I live by the tenet, ‘Just don’t blow it.’” I love the brutal honesty of that.

Lord, the only thing good about me is You. It is time for me to step up, not only in this one area, but also in many others. You are the author of courage. Let me be a better son and brother at home, where it counts. Amen.

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Daystar Plan, Day 103: The Anti Joel Osteen

I feel as if I harp on Brother Osteen rather frequently. I have no personal ax to grind, but I think he epitomizes the current “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel and its “issues” more than anyone out there today. And frankly, I think it is dangerous.

He is more prominent on just “regular” television than ever these days. It is all about an advertisement for his new radio show on satellite radio. The ad pans back from “Pastors” Joel and Victoria Osteen to show a huge indoor stadium-like auditorium packed out with thousands.

Then, the ad comes back to Joel and a snippet of one of his sermons, “The Lord wants you to have victory. The power in you in is greater than the world” (this is a paraphrase of his exact words; the one part that is NOT paraphrase is, “the power in you).

This ad is on a lot. Every time I see and every time I hear him say, “the power in you,” I grate a bit.

THAT IS NOT WHAT THE WORD SAYS!!!!!!!

There is no power in us that is greater than the world. “HE that is in your is greater than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4, NASB, emphasis mine).

Does this difference matter? I wonder what the thousands sitting there in that vast stadium-like auditorium think.

I mean, as a seminary professor of mine used to say, tongue in cheek, “Why let the Bible get in the way of a good sermon?” Right?

But the truth is: there are light years’ differences between what Joel says and what the word says.

God has the power. I have none. God dwells in me in the person of the Holy Spirit, if indeed I am saved by grace through faith. If I am not saved, He does not live in me. AND, the statement in John is a contrast of persons—God versus the devil.

But all of what I just said … takes a lot of time and effort to differentiate and explain the Word. Why bother? Instead, just make a statement that makes people feel good about themselves, make sure it sounds kind of like the Bible, plaster a smile on your face, and call it good.

I believe his sermons and ministry are an affront to the true and unadulterated Word of God, but that is unfortunately what is filling churches these days. Not mine. But many around us.

As I continue to read 2 Corinthians in the Daystar Plan, Paul’s comments about preaching are standing out. I want to cite two today. One was from a past reading:

"You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us" (2 Corinthians
2:17 NLT). It is not my job to package and market the word for an easy-sell. It is to explain and apply the text—just as it says. No holes barred.

Here is a passage in the reading for today: "We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this" (2 Corinthians
4:2 NLT). These early chapters of 2 Corinthians are Paul’s defense of his ministry and he references his preaching as exhibit A. “We don’t twist and distort the Word. We tell it like it is.”

Is this always popular? Ha.

No, but did you notice in both passages the references to God. “God is watching us.” And, “We tell the truth BEFORE GOD.” God is the One I will answer to. God is my audience. He is the only One I am worried about pleasing.

That doesn’t make ministry an easier, but it causes me to thank the Lord more and more for the few faithful folks who will be sitting in the pews tomorrow reading for some more tough medicine from the Lord. And, He has called me to serve it on a spoon.

Sometimes, my mom had to force it down me literally, almost prop my usually talkative mouth open and spoon it down there.

Lord, I just have to leave all the Joel Osteen’s and their phony baloney messages up to you. You will deal with them. Help me continue to preach and serve and love. It is hard, but there is no other way. Open up—the cough medicine is coming! Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 102: Chuck's Memorial Service and the Brevity of Life

Before the service started yesterday and during the first part, Chuck’s family had a slide show going on a loop. It showed pictures of Chuck from his childhood all the way to most recently.

I had known him for the last ten years of life, but even then, I realized that I didn’t know him all that well. Seeing him as a young man and young father along with picture of his flying escapades… was quite impressive. Chuck was a pilot and in fact training people to fly Ultralight airplanes. Search Google and look up the pictures. We are talking very primitive and simple aircraft that remind me of the early days of flying in our country.

But I am sure that flying one of those planes is anything but “primitive and simple.”

Anyway, besides family, a couple of Chuck’s pilot buddies got up to speak, sharing stories of trips they had taken with him and the challenges on faces in flying Ultralight planes. Very interesting.

I remember conversations that Chuck and I had about his adventures on Ultralights, but we did not converse about it often—just a part of his life along with other parts. It was interesting to learn about them.

But the young and vibrant man who flew planes and loved adventures is now with Jesus. It all happened so quickly. I still can’t get over it, but yesterday, in one of the eulogies, someone said, “I’m grateful that Chuck didn’t have to suffer very long. It is a blessing that he went home so quickly.” So, there you go.

Belle, his wife, seemed to be doing well, but the tough ministry will begin when the family has departed, and she is in that house alone for longer periods of time. Please pray for her.

As I sat there yesterday, my mind raced back through all the funerals I have done over the course of my time at the church. I couldn’t begin to count. I have no idea, but I have gone through about three different “waves” or periods of time in which most of the seniors in our group have passed away, and we have had to see a new group emerge. Three different waves of people! Hard to believe!

All of this just points out how fleeting and temporal human life really is. I don’t think we realize how fast things are moving. Psalm 90 has a lot to say about this.

"You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals!’ For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours. You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning" (Psalms
90:3-5 NLT).


"Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom" (Psalms 90:12 NLT).

The way God perceives time, and the way we conceptualize it are very different. It is easy to get “buried” in human life, preoccupied with the temporal stuff.

I feel that I need to spend some time with Jesus this morning, pondering and praying about “the brevity” of life.

Lord, thanks again for Chuck. Thanks for the service yesterday. Comfort Belle and the family in their grief. Help us to be there for her, now more than ever. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 101: Comfort and Candy

Daystar Plan Day 101: Comfort and Candy

For the first time this week, I was able to spend some time in the office yesterday. It was a good thing. There was much to do and a lot of phone calls to catch up on.

For the most part, I felt good. I did have to take some time late in the afternoon just to sit in one chair in my office with my feet on another and catch my breath a bit.

Today, I would say that I am 90 percent recovered.

The reason I am taking pains to go into this detail is that at noon today, it will have been a full week since I had the second installment of my first chemo treatment. A full week! My memory is hazy, but somehow, it seems as if it didn’t take as long to recover the first time as this regimen has.

Oh, well. It is what it is. I believe the doc said they would adjust my medication as things progress, so it may take a little less time as things progress. We will see.

But I had a couple of very encouraging phone calls yesterday. In the morning, I spoke with K in South Asia. He called me. We worked with him on the trip last March. It was great to catch up with him and find ways that we can support him and his family in the work.

The people group that he works with is “cousins.” That is the common word that is used on the field for Muslims.

K stated, “John, as you share about our work, please show pictures from your trip and try to tell people that not every “cousin” is a terrorist. One of the biggest obstacles to people helping us in our work are the news reports back home.”

I affirmed this, replying, “K, you are right. Everything about “cousins” is negative. It is actually very scary.” But they still need Jesus. I’m thankful for missionaries and converted “cousins” who have a burden to share the gospel with this group. We need to be more diligent than ever to pray for them.

Lord, I lift up Saeed again today.

Yesterday afternoon, I got a chance to speak with a dear Hispanic brother. We talked about ministry and had a very encouraging conversation. As we were about to conclude, he said, “John, we are praying for you through this very difficult time. Thanks for letting the Lord use you.”

I thanked HIM for his prayers and encouragement.

Actually, my almost full recovery occurred as a result of talking to these two brothers. Plus, one other thing.

Last Sunday, Calla had apparently asked the boys and girls to write me notes, telling me that they were praying for me and offering words of encouragement. I got to spend some time yesterday looking at these notes in detail and reading their messages.

One note in particular touched me and actually made me laugh. It still does. Clay was among the note-writers. He and his family have not been in our fellowship very long, but he came to the sports camp last summer, invited his family, and they all came! His mom got saved recently. His dad was a believer. His younger sister comes as well.

In other words, the Lord used Clay or Clayton to bring his whole family to the Lord and to church. They have not missed a Sunday since.

I will attach his note to the entry for today on Facebook. For those of you not on Facebook, his message is: “I hope you get better, John. I will give you more candy if that helps. Your friend, Clay.”

Isn’t that priceless? I will take him up on his offer. Candy does help! Are you kidding?

"Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us" (2 Corinthians 1:6-7 NLT).

Lord, I’m so thankful for all the prayers and all the people and all the ways and means you have used to help me bounce back. Thank you for K, the Hispanic brother, Clay, and a multitude of others. Use me as a comforter as well. Amen.


P. S. Please pray for Belle and her family. Chuck’s funeral is today. More about that tomorrow.
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Daystar Plan, Day 100: God's Shining Face

Thank you for your prayers. Yesterday afternoon, I started to feel better, for some unknown reason. I even ate some solid food for the first time in days. It felt very good.

I don’t know if I have described exactly how I have been feeling. If I had to draw an analogy, it felt like the flu. I ached from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I wasn’t nauseous all the time, but my stomach felt full even though I didn’t eat anything. Weird.

As I said yesterday, I am very determined to do a better job of preparing myself so that, when I get my second treatment in late October, I won’t feel as bad. Hopefully …

Anyway, today, I would describe my overall demeanor as one of exhaustion, possibly because for the first time in a few days, I did not sleep that well through the night. Prior to tonight, I had taken the sleeping pill that the doctor prescribed. For some reason, I didn’t take it last night. I regret that decision now.

Do you get the idea of what all this is like? I’m certainly not going through what other cancer patients have to face through chemo. I know that, but I really resent the minutia of having to monitor all this. I’m not really good at it, but it is necessary.

I can really relate to the questions in the early part of Psalm 77. This is stupid, I know, but I long for the days when I didn’t even think about my health, EVER. I would go months and months without a thought of doctors or medicine or anything. Now, my life is completely different.

“I think of the good old days, long since ended, when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search and ponder the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?” (Psalm 77:5-9, NLT)

A lot of questions, right? Again, what I love about the Psalms is the raw humanness.

I know the right answers to all those questions on an intellectual level. That is not the problem. It is just the wondering, the questioning, as you lay there awake in the night.

What turns things around for the Psalmist in this Psalm is the choice to ponder on what the Lord has done. I’m really going to focus on THAT today. And just trust Him for the future.

That sounds cliché. It isn’t.

Marilyn could see my discouragement yesterday. She said, “John, we will get this figured out. Don’t let it pull you down.”

She is right.

There are another couple of references I read today—Day 100—of the Daystar Plan.

"Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. Turn us again to yourself, O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved" (Psalms 80:7, 19 NLT). Two times in Psalm 80—there is a reference to God’s shining face.

As I searched Google, I discovered that this phrase is in the Aaronic Blessing of Numbers 6:25: “May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you” (NLT). How about that? My goal today is to get mind off myself and to enjoy and actively seek God’s smile, with courage for the future.

"Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. BE COURAGEOUS. Be strong. And do everything with love" (1 Corinthians
16:13-14 NLT, emphasis mine).

Father, with all the questions all of us have about everything, divert our attention to Your face. Your face, will I seek. I’m thankful for your smile on me through the grace of God in Christ. That’s all I need today. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Days 98 and 99: When the Going Gets Tough, ...

Honestly, I would have to say that yesterday ranks up there as one of the toughest days I have ever had.

I felt bad, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, for most of the day. I had a little relief in the afternoon when I actually got some work done, believe that or not, but then, everything caved in on me again late in the day and into the evening. I was miserable.

As it turned out, one thing that gave me a little relief was an Epsom salt bath. I actually took a couple of them. They seemed to help, a little. Whew. I am weary from the tough day. It knocked me down.

I’m still not quite back today. I’m going to lay low for most of this day as well.

I had all day to think about it, but I made a couple of crucial mistakes/miscalculations that caused me trouble this time. First, for some unknown reason, I just “assumed” that I would have no side effects of the two-day chemo treatment. When I concluded last Thursday, I just went full bore into the next three days as if nothing had happened.

And I did feel very good, AT FIRST.

However, by the time I got home from my long day at church on Sunday, I knew I was in trouble—that I had pushed things too far. That’s when I began to feel progressively worse and worse. Monday just continued the trend.

I can’t believe I made that false assumption! It won’t happen again, believe me. Next time, I’m going to prepare myself with a better diet and I will have contingency plans for other people to step up at church in case I can’t be there.

Second, I had to confess pride. I guess I thought that, this time around, I could handle chemo, no matter what it was. Boy, was I ever wrong! This treatment so far (after one try—not a big sample size) has proven to be much tougher than the first. I think it is the two days of treatment in a row that has quite an impact on the system.

Third, I have to go back to the place of admitting I need help. This is difficult for me. I don’t want anyone to think I am not doing my job, but my main problem continues to be the fact that I am a people-pleaser. When will I let the Lord win the victory over that attitude in my life? I’m going to pray about it today.

Back to today—for some reason, I seem to feel a little better, but I am not going to go crazy. I’m going to take it slow and do very little today. I have a lot of sermon work to catch up on so it won’t be a problem.

I had two days to catch up on in the Daystar Plan. Here are a couple of familiar verses that stood out to me this morning:

"My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you. But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do" (Psalms
73:26-28 NLT).

God, thank You for being a constant. Thank you for being near, always, even in the toughest days of our lives. I learned that about you yesterday. I’m going to tell people. “When the going gets tough, Our tough God is there.” Amen.
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Overdid It

Hey Everyone, just a quick note. I feel horrible this morning. I overdid it yesterday and now I am paying the price. Please pray that I will be smarter in the future to prepare myself to handle the effects of chemo better. I always learn the hard way!
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Daystar Plan, Day 97: Chuck

It was probably about 7:30 yesterday morning. Chuck’s wife Belle called. “John, I just got a call from the hospital. They don’t expect Chuck to make it through the day.”

I jumped in my car and headed up to North Suburban Hospital. In Chuck’s room in ICU, there were so many machines and tubes connected to him that one could barely navigate. Belle was there along with Phyllis.

We stood there and just stared. What on earth happened?

Just a couple of nights ago, Chuck complained of severe pain. Belle rushed him to the hospital. They did exploratory surgery—I think I wrote all of that yesterday, but somehow, overnight, things just worsened considerably.

At one point, the emergency room head nurse came up to me, “John, this is hard to say but Chuck is not going to make it.”

“I understand.”

As she was talking to me, a doctor approached Belle, “We don’t really know what happened, but it was some catastrophic event in his gut. We are maxing out everything we can do, but it won’t be long.” I actually saw tears in his eyes.

Belle had called her kids and we had contacted Chuck’s daughter. They were on their way.

Belle, Phyllis, and I just finished praying when Betty showed up. I stayed a little longer until I knew it was time for me to go. Yesterday was not one of my best days. I think the chemo finally caught up with me. I was hurrying to get home, but I had to make a stop first.

As I was leaving my “stop,” a little after 11:00 AM, my phone rang. Betty said, “Chuck passed away. Just wanted you to know.”

It just happened so quickly. Please pray for Belle. She has her family around her now. I’m glad about that, but it is going to be rough for her.

As a matter of fact, she called later in the afternoon, “Hi John, how are you feeling?”

“Well, I am fine, Belle, but the main question is: how are YOU?” I’m okay. Just want to ask you about funeral arrangements. We talked a bit about them, but then she said, “I’m worried about you. Sorry to lay this on you. Get some rest.” Isn’t that rather extraordinary?

This is typical of Chuck and Belle. They are both cut from a different cloth. Prior to his retirement, Chuck was an engineer. He is a smart guy. We often had theological discussions about controversial topics. We openly disagreed on some things, but Chuck would always say, “Pastor, I’m not going to cause trouble on this stuff. Just want you to know that.”

After my first cancer diagnosis, Chuck was among a group of guys who preached for me when I couldn’t be there. He taught our Senior Sunday school class when he and Belle were in town. One verse that I came across in the reading this morning reminds me of Chuck. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is continues to address the divisions in this troubled church (does anyone know of any church any where that is NOT troubled in one way or another?). His remarks about division are mostly condemnatory, of course, but there is one that isn’t:

"But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized!" (1 Corinthians
11:19 NLT). Chuck distinguished himself as he served His God. He was not typical in any way.

He was just a guy I could count on. I miss him this morning.

Lord, thank you for Chuck, his life and ministry and impact. He was an awesome brother. I look forward to seeing him again when we all get home. In the meantime, this morning, I pray for Belle and his family. Comfort them in their grief.

Lord, please help me today. I’m struggling a bit. I have a lot going on today. I think I kind of overestimated what I could do. Not good. Strengthen me in your work today. I pray for this new schedule change and everything involved in it. The church is Yours. Always has been, always will be. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 96: Under His Wings

As I was telling Jim last night on the phone, yesterday was a good day, but a little less good. After the initial “euphoria” of the treatment, I stepped back a bit. No big deal. I still feel as if I have a lot of energy during the day. I was able to drive up to a hospital and visit a dear brother who was in a lot of pain. Please pray for him. His name is Chuck.

His wife took him to the hospital. Yesterday, the doctors performed exploratory surgery on him. They are still not sure what is going on.

I made a quick visit in the morning, but Jim (the aforementioned), one of our deacons, was with them in the afternoon during the surgery and the report afterwards. I deeply appreciate Jim’s help in that regard.

He gave me the news, said he would follow-up today, and told me to stay home and rest up for Sunday. When I hung up with him, I told my mom and sis, “That’s about as good as it gets, right there.”

I’m deeply grateful for Jim and for the help people are giving me, as we all have to go through this cancer-treatment thing again.

Much to do today to prepare for a busy Sunday—I’m preaching twice this Sunday. After we conclude our service, we are having a fellowship for a new class we are starting tomorrow. It will include a meal. Of course, I will stop by and join them (some things never change), but then I am preaching in the Hispanic church tomorrow as well.

This is an exercise in pacing, and I am preparing myself for it. It should be “no problem.”

I’ve got some great resources on my side. In addition to God’s people, there is another I came across this morning. "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by” (Psalms
57:1 NLT).

The shadow of your wings—what is this all about?

Well, I sneaked a peak at a couple of commentaries. One intimated that this is a reference to the inner sanctum of the temple in which the wings of the cherubim touch over the altar in the Holy of Holies. I think this is a very viable interpretation, but actually, in the Old Testament, only one man could GO THERE.

I actually believe that it is just a general reference to God’s protective care. The Amplified Bible adds these words of explanation: “Yes, in the shadow of Your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed” (Psalm 57:1, AMP).

This image reminds me of a familiar site on most golf courses. Many have little shacks that are usually open-ended on all sides. They are basically storm shelters. If one gets caught in a storm, he or she can just stand under the shelter. But most are not really that great. An open-ended little shack with just a roof would not really help you in a big storm. You’d still have to walk all the way back to the clubhouse and end up soaking wet from head to toe.

How do I know this? Ha.

But in this case, under His wings, there is no storm coming my way that will get to me.

Honestly, dear readers, I feel very well taken care of. Like a chick under his mother’s wings. Shaded (protected from the sun). Sheltered (protected from the storm). Near. Near Him.

He is perched firmly on His throne, with the Slaughtered Lamb at His side and me too. All is well. All will be well. By the way, this is a capsule of the message of Revelation and the picture of what is going on here. Amen, Lord. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 95: Hiccups

Really, that is the major side effect of yesterday’s treatment. On a scale of one to ten, I would mark that as a ten for desirable. Ha. Not too bad, huh?

Just another example of how the Lord is taking care of me through this by His power and answered prayer. Thanks to all of you, AGAIN.

I have a feeling that today might be a little let down. I was almost euphoric yesterday. It is kind of weird to say that once treatment starts there is a measure of relief and almost an instant rebound. I think most of it is mental, although I can’t discount the physical.

A couple of things about cancer—at least as it affects me—it seems that my mind is more often in a muddle—my ability to focus, to think clearly, and to remember are affected. This muddle also affects me physically. It just seems more difficult to handle mundane tasks.

Now, I don’t know how much of this to attribute to cancer or to depression, quite honestly.

Analyzing all of this puts me in a muddle! I’d better desist and just continue to thank God that He got me through round one.

The second part of round one was noticeably shorter in duration. My mom and sis and I were out of there in about an hour and a half. They gave me another truckload of steroids and then more “Bandimere.” That’s it. Gone.

When I got home, I slept for about an hour, got up, and actually did some cleaning. Wonders never cease!

I’m going to continue to lay low for these next couple of days, although I do feel energetic and want to get some things done.

These past few days have allowed me to make much headway on a new series of sermons that I am starting beginning this Sunday. Two inputs have been particularly beneficial. Of course, I put Peterson’s commentary on Revelation,
Reversed Thunder, at the top of the list. I highly recommend this book.

In his chapter on the seven churches, he lumps them all together, making some profound statements about the church then and now. They really hit home with me. In fact, I will someone had taught me these truths in seminary. It would have saved me a lot of agony and grief.

I won’t quote a lot, but I will just quote this: “There must be no idealization of the church. And lamentation ought to be restrained. Eulogy and anguish are alike misplaced. Churches are not little Jerusalems, either old or new” (page 55).

One of the greatest stressors of my life, and certainly nothing that helps me physically or mentally or emotionally or spiritually, has been “lamentation, eulogy, anguish, and yes, unrealistic expectations that just don’t seem to die.” I can’t help expecting more from Christians. This sounds cynical, and I’m still processing it, but I just can’t anymore. I just can’t. When I say “Christians,” I’m including myself. I’m not immune to this, either.

Please understand. I am not talking about compromise or lack of discipline. We never go soft on sin, but I’m talking gut level stuff. I appreciate Peterson’s insight and clarity about the true nature of church—we are after all, just a lampstand.

That’s one input. Then, at Betty’s great recommendation, several months ago, I had ordered some recorded sermons on the seven churches in Revelation from Jack Graham, Pastor at Prestonwood in Dallas. I listened to one of his sermons as well. Good stuff. I won’t say too much more about him at this point since I will be citing him in the message in a couple of weeks.

The bottom line of all of this: once again, the Lord had to sit me down—in the chemo room at the Cancer Center and here to speak to me. I appreciate this additional benefit of cancer.

Thanks again, Lord, from the bottom of my heart, for cancer. Here’s the truth. I affirm it today: "But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love. I will praise you forever, O God, for what you have done. I will trust in your good name in the presence of your faithful people" (Psalms
52:8-9 NLT). Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 94: Fine N Dandy

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of you for your prayers yesterday. I could literally feel them, especially at first when things got a little frustrating.

Jean tried to access my port, but she was not able to do so. After my visit with the doctor, they sent me right into the chemo room to work on it. Diane gave me a special kind of medicine that they use to break up the platelets that often gather around the tube inside the port. I had to wait a half an hour for that medicine to take effect. But still nothing.

Diane asked me to lie on one of the beds in the corner of the room. She had me turn this way and that, raise my arms, sit up, lay back down. Nothing. The clock was ticking. Remember, I hadn’t even started my treatment yet, and I was getting a little nervous. My long day hadn’t even started, and it was after 10:00 AM.

Finally, I said, “Diane, would you mind pulling the catheter out and reinserting it. The last time I had troubles, that seemed to work.” I think she was a little reluctant at first, but she did it and voila! We had blood flow! Hurry. All systems go.

From there, things moved rather quickly. They started me with a boatload of steroids followed by an equally large quantity of Benadryl. The first time I received chemo in September of 2010, the Benadryl literally knocked me out. I was so groggy I couldn’t even go to the bathroom alone. Marilyn had to go with me.

As Diane was hooking me up, she said, “I remember you don’t like a lot of Benadryl, but we have to give it this time. We can back off later.” Well, okay. No choice in the matter. I did seem to handle it better this time. I could walk by myself to the bathroom. So, that was good.


But sure enough, I dozed off to sleep for a while until Marilyn tapped my shoulder. She had left to get me a sandwich. I ate it and seemed to perk up a bit. In fact, I was able to get some good sermon work done for a while.

Following the Benadryl was the old familiar Rituxin. Those of you who have been patient enough to keep up with this blog know this drug. It is a protein. It is intended to help the body fight disease. This was the largest bag of liquid yet. It took hours finally to be emptied in my system.

Finally—the chemo drug. Diane had given me a sheet explaining it. It is called “Bendamustine HCI Solution for Injection. The first sentence on the sheet says, “It is used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” Good to know. Diane told me that it would take 50 minutes to empty this bag into my system.

When everything was completed, it was about 4:00 PM.

As we got in the car, I slapped five with Mother and Marilyn. Day 1 of treatment number 3 in the books! Praise God!

Honestly, everyone, besides feeling a little tired with a slight steroid headache, I can’t imagine feeling any better right now.

Today, I have to go back in for another dose of Bandamustine. I want to call it Bandamere—as in the racetrack. That might just become my name for it! Ha. But today, that is all I need to do, so it should not take too long.

In the Daystar Reading for today, a couple of passages stand out. The first one is in Psalms 48: "O God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple. As your name deserves, O God, you will be praised to the ends of the earth. Your strong right hand is filled with victory. Let the people on Mount Zion rejoice. Let all the towns of Judah be glad because of your justice. Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die" (Psalms
48:9-14 NLT).

No one can ever convince that God is not as real as the city of Jerusalem was. Of course, one minor difference—this city didn’t last in the state the Psalmist described forever. Eventually, in the unfolding history of Israel, it was under siege and largely destroyed in the Babylonian war.

But pick the most enduring structure one can think of—Empire State Building, the Capitol, the White House, and the Wall in China. (They won’t last forever either). God is solid and more enduring and more real than any of those structures. He is the real thing.

Interesting, to add that as I sat there praying, the Lord convicted me that I need to be less encumbered in my life. Paul says it this way, “"Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away" (1 Corinthians
7:31 NLT).

No one can or should spend time in a room with so many people receiving treatment for cancer and not be impressed that none of us have very long. It may not be cancer, but none of us is getting out of this life alive. And it will come sooner than you think. It is time to get moving!

Lord, You and the prayers of Your people are awesome—solid and real. “A Mighty Fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” Let me live with urgency as You graciously allow me to live another day. Thank You, Thank You, Thank YOU. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 93: Chemo and The Nurse

I just want all of you to know that I feel your prayers. They are wrapped around me like a down blanket on a cold night. I’m snuggling, warm and surrounded.

I like it to be a little cool in the room where I sleep, so in those situations, sometimes, I just pull the cover totally over my head, leaving myself just enough space for my nose and mouth to be exposed. This is the way I feel right now.

I keep telling people in our fellowship that all of us need this experience. We need to pray for one another as all of you are praying for me. I keep trying to encourage it.

In the meantime, thank you ALL from the bottom of my heart. I could not go through this once, let alone three times, without you.

“Three times?” you might be asking. The first round was chemo, the steroid shots, and maintenance treatments. After a few months, when the cancer reemerged on my neck, after I returned from India, I started the pills.

And now, after a few months, plan #3—today I am starting a new chemo treatment—a two-day regimen once a month for ______. The doctor will not be specific. He will not say how long this will last or if there is another maintenance treatment or not. Oh, well, I don’t trust him or time frames. I trust God. I’m wrapped up. Warm and cozy.

Plus, I have another medical expert working for me today. Over the Chief in Charge is the Big Doc—Dr. Jesus, but as I read today, I can worship Him for being someone else.

"Dignify those who are down on their luck; you’ll feel good— that’s what GOD does. GOD looks after us all, makes us robust with life— Lucky to be in the land, we’re free from enemy worries. Whenever we’re sick and in bed, GOD becomes our nurse, nurses us back to health" (Psalm
41:1-3 MSG).

Did you see THAT? When we are sick and in bed, God becomes our NURSE!

My experience, especially with cancer, is that the doctors give the directions. It is actually the nurses that provide the immediate care. My admiration and respect for them and their work has skyrocketed since I was diagnosed with cancer.

I’ll tell you what: in the chemo room, they wait on people hand and foot. Today, over the six hours, I will be doted on like no one would believe. But still, I don’t trust them. I trust the Big Doctor and the One who are one and the same time is My Ever-Present Nurse.

He’s good. I’m good. It is good. Good, good, good. As a title of one of Corrie Ten Boom’s books, states it, “Don’t wrestle; just nestle.” Amen.
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