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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Halloween and the Word of God

As I reflect over the course of my life when it comes to Halloween, I do see a progression of sorts.

When I was a kid, I dressed up in a costume. One year, I wanted to be a baseball player, and the second I walked into my classroom, one kid yelled out, “Look at Talbert. He has pajamas on!” I hadn’t even thought about it, but immediately, I realized that “my accuser” was right! I wanted to run and hide.

After that debacle, Halloween was never the same, even though Marilyn and I did do it for a few years. We even walked up and down our street, Trick or Treating.

Then, we got to the point where we were too mature for such child-like activity, that is, until we got to college.

While we were at Baylor, people would dress up for Halloween, but it became a contest about who could be the most wild and crazy or innovative. At one gathering we had at church (yes, at church), one guy in our group came as a driver’s license! He just got a large placard, replicated his own driver’s license, and cut a hole in this large poster board where his face would be! It was hilarious.

That was the kind of thing that went on through college and seminary.

Then, as I started as pastor and we began AWANA, we allowed the boys and girls to “dress up” for Halloween. We gave stipulations and guidelines—nothing inappropriate or related to the devil in any way such as witches. We never really had too many problems.

Let me just add at this point that I will be anxious to hear how our ministry to the school down the street went last night. We helped them with their Trunk and Treat party for the kids at the school. It was an opportunity for ministry. I’m sure it went well.

Anyway, I guess I should say that I didn't ever get too worked up about this holiday until this year.

First, I am amazed at how many people fix up the outside of their homes with a Halloween theme in the neighborhood in which I walk. It is crazy. Here are the things I see: spider webs, spiders (one home has this huge inflatable purple spider), skeletons, ghosts, tombstones, and other stuff.

I guess I am incredulous that people would actually take the time to put that stuff in their yards! It seems rather innocent, but I don’t think it is.

Plus, now, I’m seeing more and more people of all ages dressing up in various costumes. Whatever.

Third, it is amazing how many of those costumes have a “devil” connection. For example, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, a hero in the game last night (I’m not really a hockey fan, but I saw this on “Sports Center,” a show that I watch as I eat breakfast) dressed up as the devil in Sabres Halloween program where each player had a costume for Halloween. Again, all in innocent fun. No big deal, right?

Again, I don’t know why, but somehow, all of this bothers me more than ever, and now, I realize that this is anything but innocent. This is simply the way that things become mainstream and part of our culture.

Someone might say, “John, this is the way it has always been. We’ve always celebrated Halloween.” I would answer, “Not this way. Not with as much emphasis and folks on Satan and evil as before.”

So, what to do? Well, I am not going to spend my time in preaching or teaching railing against the evils of our culture, giving them even more press. Anyone can do that. And, lost people are going to follow their father, of course, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2, NASB). Of course.

No, I would rather play offense than defense (I hope the Broncos do BOTH against the Packers on Sunday, but that is another topic—ha!).

Two passage stand out in my reading in Professor Horner’s plan this morning. First, here is what Solomon prayed in the dedication: "Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant. May the LORD our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers” (1 Kings
8:56-58 NASB). Solomon’s focus was not on the building (I wish that the Jews really would have taken his words to heart through their history, but they did not. The culmination of this false perspective occurred in the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7).

Likewise, we need to get our focus off of church buildings and get it on the opportunity we have to go to God for forgiveness and for the strength to live godly lives as never before.

This may sound rather pedestrian, but we need to pray for our country as never before. Idolatry is becoming mainstream. The devil is getting a lot of press, and it is “no big deal.” But come out as a Christian and use the name of Jesus and see what happens.

But in addition to this passage, I also read Acts 28 in the Lexham English Bible. Here are the final two verses of the book: “So he stayed two whole years in his own rented house, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, without hindrance” (Acts
28:30-31 LEB). I love it!

As Frank Stagg in his commentary on Acts argues very convincingly, the whole key to understanding Acts is in the final word of the book. Not good English, but good theology. The best English translation is “un-hinderedly.” Acts is the story of the Gospel overcoming every hindrance as it goes out in the world. Here is Paul in prison but the gospel is not.

Nothing, not even Halloween, can stop the Word of God. This is why we should share it even more.

Lord, I believe our country is in sad shape and this day—Halloween—demonstrates that fact more than ever. I lift up our nation. I pray for our country and everyone who laughingly gives credence to the enemy. I do not. I submit to You. I resist the devil. I stand on the unhindered Word of God. Amen.
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Bad Days and Long Nights

The other day, I was complaining to someone about one aspect of my cancer that is very frustrating—from day to day and even within days, I have no idea how I am going to feel. And if it ends up that I feel bad, I usually have to turn around and cancel all my appointments for that day.

Now some might read that and say, “So what? What is the bid deal? There are a lot of folks going through things. They have to do the same thing.” Oh, yes, I agree, but once again, I am just talking about what gets me down.

Again, I am fully aware that there are a lot of people out there who are sicker than I am …

Anyway, on those days when I am a little under the weather so to speak, what should I do? Well, it is significant that the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament addresses this situation. Did you know this? The Peterson translation brings this out well:

“On a good day, enjoy yourself; On a bad day, examine your conscience. God arranges for both kinds of days So that we won’t take anything for granted”
(Ecclesiastes
7:14 MSG). How about that?

“On a good day, enjoy yourself.” Let’s start there. This reminds me of the Westminster Confession. (I am paraphrasing here). God designed us to enjoy Him! Nothing wrong with that or with enjoying good days. I have come to appreciate them more than ever.

But on bad days—what to do? Interesting. Spend the time, not griping or complaining (I’m very good at both and it takes a lot of time and energy), but in self-examination. This is perfect for me. I’m usually very immobilized on bad days—just sitting on this couch and dozing off….

Much to think about then and there.

But one more passage and a phrase that captured my attention—one of the most thrilling passages in the Bible with all the suspense of an action movie except for the fact that it was/is real life—Acts 27.

Here is the verse: “And because they were afraid lest somewhere we run aground against rough places, they threw down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come” (Acts
27:29 LEB). Whoa!

Can you imagine how tough things were that the folks on this boat “prayed for day to come”? I can’t imagine, but all of us have experienced our share of long nights where we keep looking at the alarm clock and thinking, “It is only 2:36? I looked at this clock before thinking that hours had passed, and it was only 2:32. What gives?”

Now, my sleepless nights do not compare in any way to the danger that Paul and those men on that ship faced, but in one small way, I can relate.

Of course, we all know how the shipwreck story ended in Acts 27 …

Lord, I thank You that, whether it is a tough day or long night, You are there. Amen.
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Subtle and Not So Subtle Idolatries

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to visit over lunch with my pastor friend Dan. He and his wife Michelle are awesome servants of the Lord.

What tends to happen as Dan and I meet together—remember we are talking about two pastors here—is that we get into some kind of theological discussion.

Of course, I love it, and I think Dan does as well.

But these discussion are not what I call “ivory tower” stuff. Usually, they relate to things that are going on in both of our lives. Yesterday was no exception.

We got into the topic of decision-making. As Christians, how should we go to God about decisions we are facing? To coin a phrase, how do we hear from God?

Out of my reading these past few days in the Horner plan, I referenced 1 Kings 3 in which the Lord invited King Solomon to ask for anything, and the king made the right choice. He asked for wisdom, and as I result, the Lord gave him everything else. You know the story.

Balance that out with the command in the only NT wisdom book—James—and one has the verse in chapter one: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NASB).

So, how does this correlate? Is asking the Lord for help in a decision such as what job to take or what person to marry the same as asking God for wisdom or not?

Up front, I would say NOT.

Let me try to explain. Now, of course, I am speaking in generalities. Some might read what I am going to say at this point and protest, “That is not me or my friend, John.” I understand. I’m speaking out of my own personal experience and that of a pastor.

Many people who ask for help in a particular decision do not have much time for God. They only want Him to “help” with a decision, to show them what to do, so that they can go on their merry way. I contend that this is a form of idolatry. This makes God in our image—that somehow, He is an errand boy for us. They want God to show up only when they “need” Him. Otherwise, they don’t have much time for Him.

I go back to a rather informal poll I took several years ago as pastor. It came out of a desire to be able to pray from a more informed standpoint for the members of the church I serve. So, I just called everyone in the church, asking a simple question: “Is there anything for which I could pray for you?” Simple, right?

Here is an alarmingly frequent answer I received. “No, John, everything is going well for us. We don’t need any prayer right now.” What? Oops! Do you see the fallacy and subtle idolatry in that statement? We are all guilty of it to one degree or another.

But how about this? What about those times that the Lord clearly speaks? Notice this response from the people of Israel who migrated to Egypt against God’s orders.

"As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we are not going to listen to you! But rather we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths, by burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, just as we ourselves, our forefathers, our kings and our princes did in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food and were well off and saw no misfortune. But since we stopped burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and by famine. ‘And,’ said the women, ‘when we were burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and were pouring out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands that we made for her sacrificial cakes in her image and poured out drink offerings to her?’” (Jeremiah 44:16-19 NASB)

My mom has always said, “When the women in a culture turn away from God, we are in real trouble.”

These folks refused to obey the Word as spoken by the prophet AND built a case for their side through an observation of how “well” things went when they disobeyed God. And the women blamed the men. Of course. But the men were at fault because they did not provide spiritual leadership to their wives and families.

Anyway, back to the whole subject of wisdom as Dan and I discussed it. Asking for wisdom is a WHOLE lot more than simply asking God to help us make the right decision. It involves this, of course. God wants us to make the right decision, but He also wants us to live in a way that honors Him as well.

When we are walking with the Lord, sometimes (not always), decisions are very easy to make. When they aren’t, we still need to keep walking down the straight and narrow path. This is what wisdom is—a lifestyle of worshiping God and loving our neighbor as ourselves in the practical arenas of life.

Lord, even though I am realizing the danger of what I am praying, this morning, I pray for wisdom, and I lift up Dan and Michelle in that regard as well. All three of us, as well as many readers of this blog this morning, I am sure, need You and need wisdom. Amen.
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Cocoon of Warmth

As I left the house yesterday morning to head up to the church, I didn’t feel all that good, but I pushed myself anyway.

When I got up there, I visited with Betty a while to catch up on everything before I had an appointment with a dear couple. They are good friends. After we talked, we prayed together. I learned some things about corporate prayer from them, things I will share at a later time.

By the end of our prayer time, however, I was sinking fast. It seems that whenever I start to feel bad I also get chilled—weird stuff. The only thing that seems to help is to come home, to sit on this couch covered with my trusty blanket, and to turn on a little floor heater next to me. I have positioned this heater in such a way as it blows heat up into this blanket that covers me. It is about the only thing that gives me relief.

I sat here, in my own little cocoon of heat, dozing off for the rest of the afternoon and on into the evening. Marilyn fixed me some dinner. Again, I didn’t have much appetite, and later on, made me some hot tea. (Is there a theme here? Warmth, hot, warm, etc.) Eventually, I started to feel better.

We will see about today. It seems that I am better, but who knows for the rest of the day.

I’m grateful that, during our prayer time yesterday, this couple prayed for me and for my healing. As I have intimated in this blog before, I cannot begin to thank all of you for praying for my healing.

I don’t know if it is a lack of faith on my part or what, but I rarely pray for healing. I usually just ask the Lord for the grace to get through each day. Please understand: this is really no conscious decision on my part. Believe it or not, I just don’t think to pray about it. But I do try to commit myself to the Lord each day and leave it at that.

Having said that, yesterday and this morning, I have felt the burden and the urgency to pray for healing. I am so wearied and tired of this disease and everything (yesterday as a case in point) that goes with it.

Should I have changed my plans and not driven to the church? Probably, but had I made that decision, I would have missed out on that prayer time and what I learned. I think the timing of it was significant, BUT, making that decision had physical results for the rest of the day. So, I can tie myself up in knots trying to figure out all of this, but what is the point?

What to do instead?

Usually, I try to pick one passage out of the ten chapters I read daily in Professor Horner’s plan. Today, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to quote a verse or verses from a series of passages to show you God’s message for the day. He is awesome in the way He speaks through His Word, no matter how we read it:

“I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31 NASB).

“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "D EATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NASB).

“I, John, am writing this to the seven churches in Asia province: All the best to you from THE GOD WHO IS, THE GOD WHO WAS, AND THE GOD ABOUT TO ARRIVE, and from the Seven Spirits assembled before his throne, and from Jesus Christ—Loyal Witness, Firstborn from the dead, Ruler of all earthly kings. Glory and strength to Christ, who loves us, who blood-washed our sins from our lives, Who made us a Kingdom, Priests for his Father, forever—and yes, he’s on his way! Riding the clouds, he’ll be seen by every eye, those who mocked and killed him will see him, People from all nations and all times will tear their clothes in lament. Oh, Yes.” (Revelation 1:4-7 MSG)

“Oh, GOD, my Lord, step in; work a miracle for me—you can do it! Get me out of here—your love is so great!— I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins. I’m fading away to nothing, passing away, my youth gone, old before my time. I’m weak from hunger and can hardly stand up, my body a rack of skin and bones. I’m a joke in poor taste to those who see me; they take one look and shake their heads” (Psalm 109:21-25 MSG).

“We plan the way we want to live, but only GOD makes us able to live it” (Proverbs 16:9 MSG).

Got it?

Lord, give me wisdom and discernment to receive the message You intend for me TODAY. I’m thankful for my participation in the suffering and death of Jesus DAILY. That is what all of this is. But ultimately, death is not the final word. You have won the victory over death and the grave and I wait for Your imminent return. In the meantime, I continue to cry out to You—HELP. HELP! As I cry out, I place my life and plans in Your hands. Amen.
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Enemies Who Infiltrate the Church

In the history of Christianity, persecution from without has always tended to strengthen the church. This is why Satan often takes a different approach: he works from within.

This is the concern of Jude as he writes in his little epistle: “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude
1:17-21 NASB).

There is a lot in those four verses.

The other day, I took a trip up to Northglenn to stop at the church office and get a couple of things done. Mary Ann was there. We spent a few minutes talking. Our conversation moved toward this very issue—the enemy is attacking the church from within.

This is the essence of Jude’s quote above, and he goes on to describe these “mockers.” There are four characteristics he mentions: they follow their own lusts (this means that they do not follow God); they cause division in the body; they are worldly-minded; and they are devoid of the Spirit. Isn’t it true that anyone who does not have the Spirit is indeed NOT saved?

This goes back to a statement purported attributed to Billy Graham. My research has indicated that I cannot find this statement in any of his writings. I’m not sure he said it, but whoever did is right, I believe. Here is the essence of it: half of the people on church rolls these days are lost.

I still remember the first time I heard this. I laughed. “You have to be kidding!” Now, after all these years, I wonder if the percentage is higher.

The other side of this is that I believe these tough times in which churches are experiencing diminishing numbers when it comes to membership and attendance are a purge of sorts. These testing times are weeding out folks who were never saved in the first place.

What to do in all of this? Well, I have determined that it is very important that I ask each candidate for membership about his or her Christian testimony. Any believer ought to be able to articulate what happened when he or she got saved.

Then, and I have learned this lesson the hard way, even after listening to a testimony, I am very slow to put a new person into a position of leadership. Isn’t this what 1 Timothy says about deacons: “These men must also first be tested” (1 Timothy 3:10, NASB). I think this same principle applies to anyone who aspires to leadership.

It is much easier to be cautious on the front end than to deal with a problem or the challenge of extricating someone once a lost person is in a position of leadership.

Finally, and this has been on my heart a lot lately, I believe that pastor/preachers assume a lot when they preach these days. By that, I mean that they preach sermons that are exclusively dedicated to believers most of the time.

Another chapter I read this morning in Professor Horner’s plan—1 Corinthians 14—actually makes the assumption that lost folks will be in the service and thus we should be careful always to speak in understandable ways.

Are we afraid to preach the gospel these days? Why don’t we do it more? And, if there are lost folks in the church, maybe they, having heard the gospel every once in while, will get saved?

I am reminded of an answer Spurgeon gave years ago. Someone asked him about the content of his sermons. He said, “I preach Jesus all the time.”

Those who asked the first question presented him with another, “Won’t people get tired of hearing the same topic all the time?

Spurgeon answered (I am paraphrasing here; I’m going to have to find the exact quote), “No, I will just preach Jesus and continuing to do until He is all they want to hear about.”

Good preaching cultivates an appetite for the gospel and for the core of the gospel—Jesus. Of course. This makes sense since the Bible is really about Jesus from cover to cover.

Lord, help us to be more alert and wise than we have ever been. Help us to be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing. Help me to have the course to preach Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. You are the ultimate judge when it comes to these things, but save the lost folks who sit in a pew every Sunday. Defeat the enemy’s tactic. Amen.
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No Addition, No Subtraction

After dealing with cancer for over five years now, I have a lot more respect for athletes with long rehabs who are out of action for a long time and then come back. It happens all the time in the major college and pro sports. And, I won’t speak for others at this point, just me. But I don’t even think much about these injured players, but “all of sudden” (and the reality is that it is anything but THAT), they reappear at some point, and I say, “Oh, yeah. I haven’t seen John Smith for over a year. Oh, yeah. He had a serious knee injury or whatever.”

Please understand: I do not put myself on the same level as any top-notch college or pro athlete. I am just trying to figure out some category of comparison to what is going on with me and how I feel.

When I am not preaching (like yesterday), Sundays feel as if they last forever. They are the longest days.

I miss going to church. I miss seeing the people. I miss preaching—desperately.

Having said all of that, do I feel that staying home was a bad decision? No. The truth is that I was not up to going. Saturday was a very tough day. Sunday morning was a little better, but as the day progressed, I declined.

I actually had hoped that I could go to a fellowship last night. Connor and Jess had invited the folks in their Community Group to come to their home on this side of town for a fellowship last night. They had invited me. I was hoping to go, but at the end of the day, I just knew I couldn’t do it.

It was as if the Holy Spirit said, “Ah, John. Stay in rehab today.” Okay. Got it.

I honestly believe that the greatest challenge with a long-term illness or injury is not physical. It is mental. Marvin, the young man in our church who injured both of his legs and was out of pocket for several months (by the way, he is doing much better now; I think he is back to work or close to it; I need to touch base with him this week), said as much to me when I visited with him a few months ago.

Marvin has been an example to me about how to go through long-term “rehab.” Thanks, brother!

In a sense, Qoheleth or the Preacher—the human but unnamed author of Ecclesiastes (a lot of folks think the author is Solomon; who knows?)—was in the same boat. His search for the meaning of life took him out of the game, so to speak. It allowed him to try all the extremes to see if any of them could make him happy and give him fulfillment. And we all know the ultimate result of that search.

But along the way, he learned a lot. Here is one nugget of wisdom: “I’ve also concluded that whatever God does, that’s the way it’s going to be, always. No addition, no subtraction. God’s done it and that’s it. That’s so we’ll quit asking questions and simply worship in holy fear. Whatever was, is. Whatever will be, is. That’s how it always is with God” (Ecclesiastes
3:14-15 MSG).

An interesting phrase in Peterson’s translation of these verses—“no addition, no subtraction.” Of course, we would like it. We think it would benefit us. But God doesn’t need our help, and everything He does is complete and solid and adequate. Even though I do it, we don’t need to question what He does. Our role is simply to worship Him.

On first glance, these verses appear to have a tinge of fatalism—que sera, sera—as Doris Day sings it. But that is NOT what the Preacher is saying. He is affirming God’s sovereignty. The Lord takes care of the past, the present, and the future.

Lord, thank You for these very difficult, long, and hard days when I am in rehab. Thanks for helping Marvin do better and recover. Thanks for this dear brother and the example he has been to me. I continue to lift him up. I’m glad, Lord, You are not into “math,” at least not addition and subtraction. I worship You today. I know I can count on You. Amen.
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"Hitting Bottom"

Before I get into the “topic” for today, I just want to tell all of you that I feel the need to be brutally honest today. Brutally. Those of you who read this blog on a consistent basis (and again, thank you so much for doing so; I’m still amazed to know that anyone does) know that, from the first, I felt led to be honest in this forum. One of the reasons is that I believe that this is a missing and yet very needed element in the church today.

Remember that Jesus condemned the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day for hypocrisy. In the Greek, that word was originally associated with the theater and it had to do with putting on a mask like actors and actresses did in that forum.

Somehow, it seems appropriate to say in this Halloween season (one in which I have an increasing repulsion. I will say more about this later) that Christians who decry the evils of this holiday turn around and do the same thing IN the church. I believe that there are more masks in the contemporary church than there are on Halloween!

So, one of my goals in writing this blog is to challenge all of us to remove our masks!

Now, of course, there is a need for discernment in this area. There are some things that don’t need to be shared on a public or even a congregational level. The Holy Spirit is our guide at this point. However, that does not mean that we should not take off the mask with trusted friends in appropriate settings. All of us need friends. Few people have them.

I’m thankful for my family and friends and church family.

I value the contribution of Christian counselors in the kingdom of God. I believe they fill a valuable void. I often refer folks to them and (removing a mask at this point) have gone to them myself at key points in my life. BUT, I just wonder if some of us just need friends, comrades in arms, so to speak, who will just listen and care and not try to fix us.

As a pastor, I have made the startling discovery that most people that come to my office just need this. What the Spirit tells me is, “John, just shut up and listen.” It is hard work. I will tell you. The pressure on all of us as pastors and leaders and counselors is to talk and FIX THINGS. But that is not always what people need at first.

Well, anyway, I have chased a rabbit here … not sure I caught him, but all of this is a preface for a confession on my part.

Last night, I felt myself starting to sink down to a new low. And, as I was doing it, a term that Alcoholics Anonymous has coined came to mind. Now, before I progress, I am not confessing that I am an alcoholic, but I am telling all of you that I am struggling spiritually.

Anyway, the term is “hitting bottom,” and I am wondering about it as it relates to brokenness in the Christian life. And, this morning, I just have more questions.

How does one know if he or she has hit bottom? Or, how does one know if he or she is broken? Are those two questions related or not? Does it matter?

When I am dealing with a gadget of some sort and I turn the on/off switch and nothing happens, I wonder. So, I check the cord that plugs into the wall and/or open the battery compartment. If both of these avenues check out, and the gadget still does not work, then I conclude it is broken.

At that point, I have another decision to make. I can either take it to someone to see if they can fix it OR I just toss it into the trash.

Now, I am grateful that when it comes to the Lord, the “throwing it in the trash option” is not on the table. In fact, from what I know about the Lord, he specializes in those instances when the gadget (in this case—me) is at the bottom or is broken.

I don’t know a lot … but I do know THAT.

As I was writing the words above, I got a phone call this morning from a dear friend. He calls me every Sunday morning. I told him I was struggling and he prayed for me. Kind of a Job experience in reverse! But I needed that SO MUCH! God’s timing is perfect.

One passage I read that captured my attention was the story of the transfiguration in Matthew 17. Here is Jesus “on a high mountain” with Peter, James, and John. And Jesus is “transfigured” before them. There is a description of this: “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (v. 2, NASB). Will all of us see this someday? I think so.

Moses and Elijah were standing with Him.

But anyway, Peter blurts out, “Lord, it is good to be here. Let me build a tent for the three of you and we can just stay up here forever” (v. 4).

“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, "Get up, and do not be afraid." And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone” (Matthew 17:5-8 NASB).
This message is similar to the one the Lord gave after Jesus’ baptism. There is one small but significant addition. These words, “Listen to Him.”

Lord, I can get all caught up in where I am and lose sight of where You are—the same place You have always been and always will be—seated on Your throne. Of all the things I need to do the main one is “listen to you.”

Thanks for the friend who called today. Thanks for my family. Thank you for my friends. I name them to you right now. Thanks for my church family and broader family—all of whom are there and praying for me.

I lift up Hans Edlund as he preaches for me today. I lift up the church as well. I give you this day. Give me ears to hear You. Amen.
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Another One of Those Mornings

I had a fairly active and good day yesterday, but I was just wondering what this morning would be like. Sure enough, I am really struggling with staying awake.

I guess I have come to expect one of these type mornings in the schedule after a treatment.

So, I am going to be rather brief this morning, again, just because I can barely keep my eyes open. Today, as much as possible, I am just going to rest.

In the reading today in Professor Horner’s plan, I arrived at Matthew 16. Contained in this chapter is the famous statements Jesus made at Caesarea Philippi. For once in his life, Peter got it right when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, NASB). Check. All well and good.

But it didn’t take long for Peter, as the leader and spokesman of the group, to revert to his former stick-the-foot-in-the-mouth ways. As all of you know, this is what happened: “
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's’” (Matthew 16:21-23 NASB).

In rebuking Peter, Jesus went right to the source to deal with the enemy. It was obvious that Peter did know realize what would happen with Jesus and with every true follower.

By the way, as I have been preaching through the book of 1 Peter, it is becoming more and more obvious that many of the teachings and perspectives on suffering in the Petrine epistles are a direct reflection of THIS statement.

And of course, what follows in Matthew 16 is also significant: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, NASB). In other words, the call to follow Jesus is a call to die.

The other day, someone asked me about my cancer. He said, “So, when will you be done with it, and on the road to recovery?”

I had to pause because the question caught me off guard. Finally, I mustered the wherewithal to respond, “Well, the doctors are giving me chemo with no time limit. I will continue to take it as long as my cancer is stabilized. The moment it is NOT, they will move me to some other treatment. So, this will be going on as long as I live. Unless of course, the Lord chooses to heal me altogether. I will take that! Ha.”

In other words, the Lord is using cancer as the means by which the Lord is handing me over to death continually so that His life would be revealed.

Like Peter, I don’t necessarily like it, but that is my privilege.

Lord, thank You again for the cross. Jesus died on it so that I might be saved. I die daily so that Your life may be revealed. I thank You for today, even though I can tell that it is going to involve “laying low” mostly. Okay, Lord. Whatever. Amen.
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"John, is that you?"

Yesterday, I took my mom to the place where she gets her hair “done,” as the expression goes.

As I was visiting with the one man who works there and the ladies also (I know them because I also go there to get my hair “done”—ha!), one of them gasped, “John, is that you?”

“Yes, it is.”

“I honestly would not have recognized you. How much weight have you lost?”

“Oh, about twenty-five pounds.”

“Oh,” she gasped again.

“Jenny*, I have had cancer the past five years, but I am okay. The Lord is taking care of me.”

“I’m so sorry,” Jenny said, as she gasped again (for the third time).

When all of us got home later that afternoon, I told my mom and sister about what happened. Marilyn got mad. “I can’t believe that!” My mom (who was there but did not hear the conversation) was a bit incredulous. “She said what?”

Honestly, the more I think about it, I just have to laugh. I certainly don’t hold anything against this woman. The other women in there don’t respond that way and certainly none of my Christian friends. But she just didn’t know what to say. I don’t blame her for that.

Plus, I’ve had more people tell me that I look good, so I am not going to worry about it. It just set me back a bit but I am good now … really!

This incident along with my story has some level of correspondence (as does all Christian suffering; I’m certainly not anyone special) with the story of Job. Today, in Professor Horner’s reading plan, I have come to the final chapter of the Job Saga—chapter 42.

Here is the question of the hour: what did Job learn? What happened to this man who spent all that time (I don’t think we know the exact number of days or years) as an object of multiple “gasps,” as he sat on that ash heap, rubbing his sores with a piece of broken pottery.

More than that, he had to endure the “counsel” of well-meaning friends who dramatically misrepresented God. I’ll say more about that in a moment.

After everything happened through Job’s intense suffering, God finally spoke to His servant—FOUR CHAPTERS. The majority of the content of those chapters are questions, questions that neither Job nor any man who has ever lived (now or then) could answer. When God stopped speaking, once again, it was Job’s turn and his comments were short, far less verbiage than the preceding thirty-seven chapters, excluding all the hot air from his “friends”:

“Job answered GOD: ‘I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, “Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?” I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, “Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.” I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor” (Job
42:1-6 MSG).

I must admit to all of you that these words hit pretty close to home with me right now. I confess to God and to all of You that I have been pretty flippant with my easy explanations of what God—the sovereign Lord—is up to. But that has changed. My sermons are shorter. I’m much more willing to say, “I don’t know,” and I am comfortable with the integrity of those words.

Today, and each and every day that I continue to deal with cancer, I honestly know less about the Lord than I ever have. AND, I am certainly far less glib than I was before.

I love Peterson’s translation of the last words of Job’s short response to God: “I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.” It is a very poor and certainly totally inadequate diet that does not sustain.

More than ever, as this disease unearths all the spiritual issues I must deal with, it has whittled life down to the main thing: knowing God and making Him known.

But I just have to say this: Job was not ready to be healed and restored until the Lord rebuked his friends and Job prayed for them. “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends” (Job 42:10, NASB).

We must ALL be very careful that we say nothing before we say anything that misrepresents God. Experiencing Jennifer’s reaction to my cancer set me back a bit, but I wonder how many times I have responded in that same way to others, in one form or another.

Lord, forgive us for presuming that we have an idea of what You are up to. Forgive me for misrepresenting You and simply babbling on way too much. I would rather listen than talk. I want to know You, whom to know is life eternal. Amen.
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The Church: A Distribution Center

Before I get into the topic for today, I want to thank all of you for your prayers and for the affirmations I received about the results of the CT scan. Please continue to pray because right now, I am concerned about my shoulder. It still bothers me, and I am praying that the Lord will heal it completely. I have no reason to believe He won’t, but somehow, Satan beat me up yesterday. He attacked me, trying to insert doubt. And I should have known it was going to happen.

Of all the days in these past five years that I have dealt with cancer, yesterday was one of the longest I have ever spent. The second I tried to get off this couch to do something, anything, I found myself bouncing back to it like a rubber ball. I would sit back down, and it was lights out for another couple of hours. I ended up sleeping most of the day.

Whenever I tell people about a day like yesterday, invariably, I get this type of response, “John, don’t fight it. Just go with it. You need the rest.” Of course, they are right on the physical level, but spiritually, it is often the worst thing to do, just because I found myself going back into the ring with the enemy for another “whuppin’.”

So, again, this is why I am asking for prayer. I need to learn how to rest without allowing myself to more vulnerable to enemy attack. THIS is the challenge.

Thanks again.

In Professor Horner’s plan, I read Matthew 14. It contains a description of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. As you probably know, the Gospels contain two such stories—the feeding of 5000 and the feeding of 4000. As I was reading this morning, something dawned on me that I have never really spent a whole lot of time meditating about.

Hang with me here. In one way, Jesus did NOT feed the five thousand or the four thousand—the disciples did! In each instance, Jesus received the very limited amount of food. In Matthew 14, it was five loaves and two fish. That’s it. Are you kidding me? Feed five thousand MEN (this is not counting the women and children; it is only a guess as to the real total—15,000, 20,000?) with a lunch for one!

When Jesus received that lunch, why didn’t He hand it out to the crowd HIMSELF? Well, on a practical level, it would have taken a lot longer, but I don’t think THAT is the real reason. I believe He wanted to teach His disciples a lesson they would never forget. We have no idea HOW He did it, but that lunch kept multiplying in His hands.

AND, here is the point: Jesus served the disciples and THEY handed out the food to the crowd. In effect, they were, long before Amazon, the first distribution center.

Let me see if I can explain. I love Amazon. What an awesome company, especially when it comes to books. I always go there first before I buy a book from any other source. But when I choose to buy a book from Amazon, somehow my order goes to someone else—a bookstore or individual or whatever—and THEY, having received my money (and too much of it, I have to admit), send me the book.

In other words, there is some type of middleman or business between the order and my receipt of a product.

God has the best PRODUCT ever. It is called the Gospel. Jesus, if I can say it this way, created it HIMSELF. He lived it. He IS it! And, the Lord wants it distributed to the ends of the earth. How does He choose to do it?

Well, the Lord could take care of it Himself. He could drop a neon sign out of heaven written in all the languages of the world and bright enough and prominent enough that everyone on the planet could see it and somehow get the message, but that is NOT how he chose to operate.

Like Amazon (but to a far greater and more significant degree), He chooses to use us as His distribution center.

All of that sounds well and good, but why isn’t this happening to a greater degree? Well, the problem is not with God or with the “product.” We FIGHT being distribution centers.

Like Peter, we have prejudices. Like Job, we have questions. Like the Jews to whom Paul preached in his missionary travels, we have hard hearts. Like the parable of the soils, we have two many “weeds” in the garden. ET CETERA.

I believe that part of what the Lord is doing in my life through this five-year period of having cancer and through long days like yesterday, is knocking off the rough edges so I can be part of a church who is distribution center!

I won’t go into detail about this, but I missed another opportunity to share the Gospel just the other day at the cancer center. I blew it!

How long would Amazon stay in business if this company failed to distribute products that customers paid money to receive? Ah, not very long.

This was Paul’s main concern. Here is another verse I read today: “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians
9:26-27 NASB).

Disqualified. Scary word.

Lord, help me through this difficult and long days to allow you to knock the rough edges off so that I can be and lead the church I serve to be a distribution center for the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Have mercy on me. Thanks for your patience with me. Amen.
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Report of the CT Scan and Soils

Dr. Jotte was upbeat when he came in to see us yesterday, “I bet you can’t imagine how the scan went?”

I laughed, “Well, I hope the results are good.”

For the first time in five years, he actually explained the process to us. “We looked at the lesions in a certain area and measure each one to see what has happened. Then, we take the average of those measurements to come up with a figure. We don’t bother with issues in other areas. We just focus on the neck and see what is happening there. The other reason we do this is that it allows for a margin of error if somehow we miscalculate in our measurements. Anyway, the bottom line is that you are doing better. Congratulations.” He stuck out his hand for me to shake it.

Okay. I shook his hand, and along with my mom and sis, we thanked him for his good work.

But I had another question: “Doctor, what about my shoulder?”

He said, “Well, again, I believe that it is just some of the lymph nodes pressing against the “brachial plexus” and causing some pain, but I think this will diminish soon.”

“Brachial plexus” is the term he has been using all along. This time, I was determined to remember it. I searched Google for a definition. It is “
a group of nerves that come from the spinal cord in the neck and travel down the arm. These nerves control the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand, as well as provide feeling in the arm. Some brachial plexus injuries are minor and will completely recover in several weeks. Other injuries are severe enough and could cause some permanent disability in the arm” (from the American Society for the Surgery of the Hand website).

Gulp. I’m hoping that my injury fits in the former category and not the latter. I went on to tell the doctor about the pain on the back of my left hand. He seemed a little concerned, but again, before sending me to a neurologist, he counseled that we wait to see if it gets better.

Okay. Will do.

I am not going to worry about all of that right now. The doc feels that I am doing better. I’m going with it and thanking the Lord.

When I got home yesterday afternoon and on through to this morning, I’m still dealing with some of the side effects like fatigue, stomach problems, and appetite issues, but I seem to be doing a little better. Again, praise God!
Thanks to all of you for your prayers. Please keep them coming. I appreciate it greatly.

In my reading for today, I came to Matthew 13. This chapter chronicles a bit of a transition in Jesus’ public ministry as he moves to using parables to communicate truth. The first parable—the parable of the soils—is a key to understanding the rest of the parables. Jesus indicates as such.

In His explanation to the disciples, here is what Jesus says about two scenarios in the parable: “
The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful”
(Matthew
13:20-22, NASB).

In these two instances, there was some initial “success” when it comes to reception of the Word, but it didn’t last, in either case. On the one hand, the culprit is “affliction or persecution.” On the other hand, it is the “worries of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth.”

As I sit here this morning, I think those of us who are in the American church are vulnerable to both. I believe that the enemy is turning up the heat on all of us through various means whether it is sickness and disease or persecution. We are seeing more and more persecution against believers.

This latest school shooting is a prime example.

The more insidious threat is “worries and wealth.” Unlike many other parts of the world, we as Americans have too much, and we often use our wealth as an excuse not to serve. Recently, I joined with a family to ask that the Lord give them a job. He did. And after that point, they have not returned to church. Go figure.

Lord, thank You for the good report yesterday. I continue to ask that You heal my brachial plexus on the left side. Regardless of what happens with that or how long it takes, I want to continue to be “good soil” that is receptive to the seed of Your word. I pray that same thing for everyone who is reading this blog today. Amen.
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An Infusion Today and An Opportunity

I just wanted to let all of you know that I have an infusion today. I will also have an opportunity to see Dr. Jotte and FINALLY get the results of the CT scan I had several days ago. I hope he can give me some insight into the pain in my shoulder.

I want to thank all of you for praying and being concerned. I appreciate it very much. I will be certain to pass on what he says in tomorrow’s blog.

In the meantime, the Lord is at work bringing together several strands of circumstances into a lesson for me.

DON’T YOU LOVE HOW THE LORD DOES THIS?

He pulls everything together; nothing is incidental or extraneous. Everything is noteworthy and “classroom” worthy, and class is always in session.

First, as I have indicated in this blog, over the past few weeks, I have been cleaning up spaces and rooms and closets and just about anything I can get my hands on. Up until last Saturday, this very rare “clean up and organizational mode” was restricted to my house.

However, the workday at the church last Saturday has inspired me to focus on my office at church. One of my first projects is to organize the few shelves in my library that contain tracts and brochures.

Second, as I started this work, I got very convicted. It was as if the Holy Spirit said, “John, these items do not belong on a neatly organized shelf; they belong in the hands of my people and thus in a position to be shared with those who do not know Jesus and/or those believers who need encouragement. Come on!” Of course!

Third, I shared this conviction with Connor as we met last week and, as a result, I’ve decided that I would like to devote a few minutes in a worship service every now again to a time when I challenge the church to share and then hand out one of these resources.

Tracts are NEVER to be used (unless the Holy Spirit says, of course) as a substitute or replacement for a verbal witness. Instead, I believe they are best used in conjunction with sharing the gospel. So, I want to remind folks of this.

I know there might be some who will be hesitant and maybe not even receive a tract because they know that they won’t hand it out OR worse, they refuse to hand it out.

I’m going to try to convince folks that sharing the gospel is NOT some guilt trip that a pastor lays on folks, but it is a God-given opportunity that we respond to if and when the Lord opens that door.

The place that a tract or some other type of “handout” has is that it is just a tool that the Holy Spirit might use.

Of course, the theology of the tract must be right. This goes without saying.

Even as I write this, I know that there might be some who don’t believe in using them at all OR those who go to the opposite extreme of putting them OUT everywhere. My response to all of this: whatever!

The point is that however, wherever, and whatever—we are commanded to be His witnesses wherever we are (Acts 1:8). This is the bottom line.

Fourth, the Lord used a comment that Betsy* made on Sunday as she spoke of the work that she and her husband are doing in East Asia. In the course of her testimony, she reminded us that it is illegal to talk about Jesus publicly and “to hand out tracts.”

She made that explicit comment, and when she did, I got even more convicted. I have a bunch of tracts sitting on a shelf in my church office! What is wrong with this picture? I live in a place where I have total freedom to give them out wherever. I need to do this, again as the Holy Spirit directs.

Fifth, I had a good conversation with a friend yesterday. This encouraged me to continue to share as well.

Sixth, two passages in Acts 17 have spurred me on. Notice the accusation against Paul and Silas from the rabble-rousers in Thessalonica: “But when they failed to find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, ‘These men who have
turned the world upside down have come here also’” (Acts 17:6 AMP).

How about that? God used these men to “turn the world upside down”! Talk about impact! All they did was continue to preach and teach and share, and they didn’t have any tracts! Ha.

One more passage. The Stoic and Epicurean philosopher in the Agora or marketplace in Athens made this comment about Paul: “’What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’-because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18, NASB).

“Idle babbler” literally means seed picker in the Greek New Testament. As one commentator explains, these so-called philosophers were accusing Paul of being “a third-rate intellectual devoid of method” (Eckhard J. Schnabel, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on Acts).

Who really was the person devoid of method and intellect?

Lord, thank You for everyone who is praying for me today? Thank You for Dr. Jotte and the medicine that is available to help with this cancer. I pray that my port would work today, but beyond that, I confess the sin of pushing evangelism to the back burner in my life. Holy Spirit, help me to be sensitive to You and ready to share, if You so lead AND ready with a tool, again, if you so lead. It is no big deal to carry a tract just in case You ask me to hand it out. I love you, Lord. Use a seed picker like me to turn this world upside down or right side up, as the case may be! Amen.
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The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

As I indicated in the blog yesterday, we had a visit from a couple of workers from the IMB. They work in East Asia. Their names are Adam* and Betsy*.

I asked them to take a couple of moments to share in the service. Then, after the service, I invited them to my office for further conversation. After that talk, we found a classroom. Jim and Judy as well as Jim (one of our deacons) met with us.

As everyone gathered in the room, I informed them that we needed to pray for this couple, as they are facing some big decisions in the days and weeks ahead.

During our prayer time, both Betsy and Adam prayed for me. They prayed that the Lord would heal me completely. As they were praying, somehow, everything seemed to hit me.

I am indeed grateful for the people all over the world that are praying for my complete healing.

To be honest (and I am not sure that it is a lack of faith on my part or just where I am emotionally because of how difficult this round of chemo has been), I seldom, if ever, pray for healing. Whatever the reason on my part, I am just so thankful to God that others are doing it. Thanks to you all.

Anyway, one of the reasons that I had pulled Adam and Betsy into my office was for the purpose of picking their brains a bit. They work with an Unreached, Unengaged, People Group (UUPG) in East Asia. In our work in India, we are partnering with other workers in the IMB to do the same in India, but over the past several months, our progress toward that goal has stalled a bit. Part of the reason (and this makes me feel bad) is my cancer stuff.

Thus, I asked Adam and Betsy, “How would you guys go about encouraging a church to engage a UUPG?”

Betsy answered, “Well, here is what the Lord is telling me as you asked that question. ‘This type of decision must not be simply “handed down” to the church from the pastor, but the whole church must make this decision.’ I would recommend getting some of your prayer warriors together. Our company sends out emails about these groups. I would print these messages out. Then, I would take all of them and spread them on the floor. Have people gathered together for a special time of prayer or even a retreat, asking Him to give you direction. You may not receive an immediate answer, but it will happen.”

Good word.

Then, they proceeded to tell their story. They had mentioned some of this in the service, but they elaborated with me. It was an amazing testimony as to how the Lord had guided them to a specific and very populace group of folks in East Asia.

I believe the Lord can do the same with us.

But Adam chimed in, “To be honest, I’m not sure what our company’s goal is when they ask churches to embrace a UUPG somewhere in the world.”

“I wonder as well,” I answered. “We are certainly willing, but we are a blue collar congregation. Not many, if any of us, have the means to take multiple trips to India or anywhere else overseas for that matter. However, I do feel led to go back as often as the Lord wants me to, but for now, my health is a bit of a barrier to that, and it frustrates me a bit.”

Well, anyway, that was the gist of the conversation. As I reflect back on it this morning, I just have to turn all of it over to God, AGAIN. He is in charge of timing and leadership and direction and who goes where and when and all the “small stuff” we should not sweat.

One of the passages I read this morning was Matthew 11. I reread these verses in the Message Version: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG, emphasis mine).

Yesterday, I had asked you to pray that I would not succumb to the temptation of hurrying in the service. I believe that the whole challenge of embracing a UUPG falls in that same category. The Lord will take care of it.

Lord, help me to learn to live right in the middle of Your
unforced rhythms of grace. Thank You for allowing us to meet Adam and Betsy. I lift this dear couple up to you. Guide them. Continue to provide for them and their children who live here now, attending college. Thank You for bringing them our way yesterday and the perfect timing of that. Amen.
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The Temptation to Rush

Sitting here on this couch, it already looks as if today is shaping into an “interesting” day, to say the least.

One of the things that is very important to me is that each worship service is planned well. I know that Connor shares this conviction, especially with our current configuration on Sunday mornings.

Several months ago, in response to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we felt the need to put our small group Bible study ministry in a better position to reach and keep younger folks.

So, we made a switch of sorts. We moved our worship to 9:00 AM and our “Community Groups” to 10:15. This puts the onus on Connor and me to plan well so that we finish by 10:00, allowing folks time to get to Bible study.

Connor does an excellent job with the worship time. He has a great feel for what fits and what doesn’t. We both agree that the Holy Spirit can work through planning. However, good planning does not exclude Him, at all. We want to be open to his leadership, even if it is at the last minute.

That statement brings me to the service today. We have three opportunities to follow His leadership, opportunities we had not “planned” on before.

First, we have a young couple that serves overseas with the IMB. They are in the area on vacation. We have invited them to come and share about their work. I’m looking forward for a chance to visit with them and allow others to do so as well.

Second, I so appreciate the diligent work of Duane. He was able to fix the heater in the baptistery! Hooray! We didn’t really know it was fixed until Mary Ann confirmed it yesterday morning at the Work Day.

Third, I feel that we need to spend some time commissioning those who are volunteering to serve at Leroy Elementary School. This is just as much a missions opportunity as going to India.

Okay, so we have those three “insertions” from the Holy Spirit. By using the word “insertion,” I am not implying any negativity. In fact, I’m excited. We are giving the Spirit’s immediate leadership just the same priority as the planning leadership of several months ago that led Connor and me to map our worship as well as preaching for today.

So, all of this brings me to my point: in the past, I will be honest to say that all of this would have made me nervous and inside, I would have felt the need to “hurry things up a bit.” What do I mean by this? Well, maybe it meant speaking faster, getting nervous, looking at the clock more, worrying about what people will think if the service lasts longer, telling Connor to move things along faster … a number of worrisome and nervous responses.

As all of these pieces to the puzzle have been coming together over the past few days, I have to tell all of you that I have a miraculous sense of peace about all of it. Why not? If the Lord is putting together, why should I hurry? Why should I fret?

Now, I will confer with Connor this morning and we will take some time to see if there are any cuts or adjustments we need to make. I’ve already sensed some of those shifting of gears in the message.

But I am just telling all of you that I am not going to allow Satan to distract me as I am involved along with Connor in the leadership of this service today because I am nervous or in a hurry.

“Get thee behind me, Satan!”

All of this fits what I read this morning in Jesus’ instructions to the disciples as he sent them out. “Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. As you enter the house, give it your greeting. If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Matthew
10:9-15 NASB).

These instructions apply to us today! One might argue, “No, John, they don’t. These are Jesus’ words to the disciples as He sent them out. You are dealing with a worship service.” Right but wrong.

In this service, we are obeying the Great Commission. Thus, we can learn from what Jesus says. Here is my summary of the above instructions: travel light; join in fellowship with those who are responsive to the message; turn the unbelievers over to God; and move on.

Honestly, none of us has time to worry and fret. The bottom line of the above instructions is: trust Jesus. He will provide for us and guide us as we continue to seek to fulfill the mission.

The Stroll at Leisure continues … Amen.
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Stewards of the Mysteries of God

In my reading today, a phrase in a verse I have read hundreds of times literally jumped off the page. I love how the Holy Spirit illuminates the Word that He inspired. Love it!

Here is the verse: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and
stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1 NASB, emphasis mine).

As I just said, I know I have read that verse a lot, but I never really noticed that final phrase.

Of course, most of us are well versed in the fact that we are servants of God. We may not DO everything that the Lord tells us to do all the time, but at least we are aware of what we need to do.

For example, this morning, we are having a workday at church. It begins with a breakfast. Anne is preparing it. She is an awesome servant of God. And I appreciate her doing this very much. The pancakes she is preparing (and believe me, they rival any that I eat at The Original Pancake House when I meet Conner there for staff meeting) are awesome.

The other folks who are coming to help are servants as well. Duane has been working for weeks trying to repair the heater in our baptistery. He is an electrician by trade, and he knows his trade well, but getting that heater fixed has been a big challenge for him. He left me a message yesterday that he is close to having it ready to go. This is another example of an act of service.

Believe me. I could list a lot more folks in our church family. I love them deeply.

I appreciate Anne and Duane and everyone who will be coming today. And, by the way, I will be there, but I am not going to do anything that will get me into trouble as far as my shoulder or fatigue is concerned. Don’t worry. AND, I know that everyone will understand this. No problem.

But here is my point: we understand service, at least somewhat. But Paul goes further. He claims that he is a steward of the mysteries of God.

Wow.

In other words, there is a lot more about God that we DON’T know than what we do. AND negotiating mystery is a HUGE part of our calling.

I can’t tell you how affirming and encouraging this is for me today.

I will tell you that I am increasingly uncomfortable with pastors or teachers who claim that they have every board nailed down when it comes to all the doctrines of God, especially end times and healing.

It angers me. It is an affront to God and to Jesus. Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man does not know the day or hour” (John paraphrase).

And, as far as healing is concerned, some are uncomfortable with the whole concept of the sovereignty of God as if everyone somehow deserves to be healed based on a faulty interpretation of Isaiah 53 and other passages.

I could elaborate on both of these issues and add many more doctrines to it, but it is not our responsibility to know everything! It is impossible anyway. Right? Only God knows everything.

It is our responsibility to be stewards of what we don’t know AND to live with mystery!

This reminds me of the instruction I was given prior to my oral exams for the PhD. program at Southwestern. As part of my right of passage in that degree, I had to sit in a room with four professors ALL DAY to answer any question they threw at me in any area of homiletics or pastoral ministry (my major and minor, respectively in the doctoral program).

Think about that. Believe me. I did and quaked in my boots.

Here was the counsel I received prior to taking that exam: if you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t try to fake it. Just say, “I don’t know.”

I think we as Christians would have a lot more integrity with a lost and dying world if we didn’t try to put ourselves forward as people who have the answers for everything, like Job’s so-called friends.

Like Jeremiah in chapter 32 of his prophecy (I read this chapter this morning as well), we just obey God even though we don’t understand and then we ask Him in private. If He chooses to answer as He did with the prophet, it is all well and good.

If not, we trust Him anyhow.

Lord, I thank You for the call to service and all the servants who will be serving You today, but thank You also for mystery. I don’t understand a lot of what is going on in my life or in the world or what You are doing these days, but I choose to put my hand in Yours and take the next step today. Amen.
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Health Update and Interpreting a Difficult Passage

As I was speaking with Cindy yesterday, it dawned on me that I have said nothing about the results of the CT scan that I had several days ago. The main reason I have not spoken about it is that I have not heard ANYTHING. Ha.

In my last visit with the doctor, he talked about it briefly, “Well, John, this CT scan is just part of the clinical trial and we all know how it is going to turn out. It will show that you are doing better.”

Well, okay, but I would still like to know what is going on with my shoulder. I have a friend who is too polite to come right out and say it, but it is obvious that he believes that there is some sort of tumor pushing on the shoulder complex (I doubt that “complex” is the right word but all of you know what I mean).

Of course, that could be the case, but I doubt it and I don’t think the doctor believes that. For one thing, with a blood cancer like lymphoma, it isn’t really about tumors in specific places. In addition, Dr. Jotte is convinced that it is the lymphoma in the lymph nodes on my neck that are pushing against my shoulder, but he believes that I will feel better as the cancer there diminishes.

All well and good, but I still would like to know what the CT scan shows and I guess I will have to wait until I see the doc before my next infusion next week. Oh, well, until then “ignorance is bliss,” I guess.

Anyway, I appreciate Cindy and all of the rest of you who care enough to try to keep up with all of this and to pray. Thanks AGAIN, so much.

Now, on the reading for today: I am going to quote a passage that presents a lot of problems for interpreters. But before I do it, I just need to say one thing. Conner and I talked about this in our meeting yesterday. By the way, it is so great that he and Jess live down this way. It makes it easier for us to get together for a weekly staff meeting. Yesterday, we met at The Original Pancake House or TOPH, as Conner calls it. Of course, while we are there, we have to sample the merchandise, so to speak. I’m always able, no matter how limited my appetite is, to eat at least a few bites of one variety of TOPH’s pancakes or another.

Anyway, Conner indicated that he had, before going to seminary, sort of a bias against books and commentaries when it came to the Bible. I told him that I had previously felt this way—the attitude that says, “I don’t need anyone or any book to help me with interpreting scripture. I have the Holy Spirit.” There are many who feel this way in the church today—this is a form of an anti-education mindset.

Well, first of all, I don’t believe that one who has received graduate degrees needs to be arrogant about it or better than everyone else. I’ve met a lot of people who are a lot smarter than I am and they have only a high school diploma.

However, that said, I appreciate the opportunity that I had to go to college and seminary and my time in those two schools has given me more tools that the Holy Spirit can use.

Why re-invent the wheel when the Holy Spirit has worked through other godly men and women in history and now? I’m not the only Christian who has the Holy Spirit, right?

I’m reminded of a statement that Spurgeon made: “It is shocking to see how people who have the Holy Spirit in their lives and think so little of His work in others” (this is a paraphrase, but you get the idea).

Thus, in my study of the Word, I now enjoy seeing how the Holy Spirit has helped others and I let the Spirit be my guide at that point.

Here is the controversial passage: “Set up for yourself roadmarks, Place for yourself guideposts; Direct your mind to the highway, The way by which you went. Return, O virgin of Israel, Return to these your cities. How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth-A woman will encompass a man” (Jeremiah 31:21-22, NASB). It is the last phrase that is intriguing: “A woman will encompass a man.”


What does this mean? Interpretations abound. I have some thoughts, but I wonder.

After examining several different interpretations, my spirit resonates with the explanation that Craigie offers in the Word Biblical Commentary. He believes that this is Hebrew pun of sorts. The woman corresponds to Virgin Israel. And this salvation circle announces the reversal of a situation of need. God creates for Israel the capacity to stop wandering away from God and to return to Him. The people of Israel will gather “around” God in worship. In this interpretation, “the man” represents God—a rather strange statement, unless this word is used for God in Exodus 15:3 and Jeremiah 32:13.

In short, what this pun affirms, according to Craigie, is that God’s new work makes possible the spiritual return and continuing faithfulness of Israel.

I like it. I affirm that interpretation. Of course, Peter Craigie, Page Kelly, and Joel Drinkerd, the three human authors of this particular commentary could be wrong. They are humans and therefore fallible just like me, but I believe they have this one right.

I’m going with it today.

Lord, I thank You for the new covenant in the blood of Jesus that enables wanderers like faithless Israel and me to be saved and to come to you in worship. Continue to do Your work in my life today. I love you. Amen.
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Myrtle, Ally and Friend

Yesterday, after getting some work done at the church office, I drove out to Arvada to visit Myrtle.

The other day, her granddaughter Rae Ann had called to let the church and me know that her family had moved her to the Mountain Vista Retirement Center.

Somehow, as I talked with Betty about this, I had originally thought that I had visited someone else at this place years ago, but as I drove out there yesterday, I quickly realized that I had not. I had never been to this part of town before. It was actually almost to Golden.

Anyway, after arriving, entering the facility, and receiving directions from the lady at the front desk, I made my way down the hallways, past what looked like little shops and storefronts. It was obvious that the original architect of this nursing tried to make it look as if one was walking down the street of a small town.

But after making a few turns, I found that I was hopelessly lost. I turned to the left to walk across a rather large room in which some of the attendants were taking tables down and preparing for some other type of activity with some seniors who were scattered throughout this room.

All of a sudden, I looked up and there was Myrtle. She had a blue windbreaker on and was pushing her walker. We met face to face.

I said, “Hey Myrtle, how are you? Do you know who I am?”

At first, she did not recognize me. I continued, “I am Pastor John. I came to visit with you for a few minutes.”

Finally, I could tell that she did recognize me, and we sat down on a couch to visit.

Let me stop right here and say a few things. Over the course of my twenty-six plus years as pastor of First Southern, I have not met many whom I would call “allies.” But Myrtle is one of them.

A few years ago, Community of Faith United—this is a charitable organization in our community that works with churches and the government to help needy people become self-sustaining citizens (this is a synopsis of their work). They had rented some space in a little shopping center not far from the church, but they weren’t faring that well.

So, long story short, our church invited COFU to use space in our building. As it turned out, this was a very controversial decision and a whole lot of folks in our church were patently NOT HAPPY about it. They feared what would happen if we opened our doors to “those kind of people” and wondered if we needed to purchase locks for all our classrooms so that they would vandalize things and so forth.

Please understand: I am not denigrating the legitimate concern for how this was to work out. There were a lot of questions, but here is my leadership philosophy: one must pray and ask the Lord for direction, and if He tells you to go, you must do it. PERIOD. This is not to say that there are not logistical details to be worked out, but still the bottom line is the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

This was a huge step for us. COFU needed and took a lot of space. It meant that our building was in use 24 hours a day, almost. There were a lot of issues. It was not easy, but it was right. I will go to my grave knowing this.

It ended up that COFU stayed about five years. During the time they worked in our building, the organization grew to the point where they had to move out to a larger space. Anyway, … continue to pray for this organization. It is in transition again. But COFU performs a vital function for the kingdom of God in north Denver.

Back to Myrtle—through all the controversy and difficulty we experienced in moving COFU into the church building, Myrtle was a staunch supporter of this action and did everything she could to encourage me as she heard all the negative talk and opposition to this partnership.

She was an ally, not of me. Not in blindness, but with her eyes wide open to the leadership and direction of the Lord. “She kept saying, ‘John, this is right. This is what we should have done. Don’t let the naysayers get you down.” She encouraged me, but she did more than that. She acted.

For several months, I would stop at her home every Wednesday to pick her up to bring her to the church so that she could volunteer in the clothing bank of COFU each week.

She even invited some of the seniors who were not keen on having COFU in the building to volunteer right along with her. One of these ladies stopped me one day to say, “John, I was wrong about COFU. I think it is great. I’m sorry I was opposed to them. Now, I am not.”

All of this and more came flooding back into my mind and heart as my eyes met those of Myrtle. Isn’t that strange? Well, not really.

Only eternity will tell how much she means to me and how much impact her life has had.

For the past several years, Myrtle has been struggling with Parkinson’s disease. She hasn’t been able to come to church. I have missed her. She told me yesterday that she is getting worse.

As our conversation concluded, we prayed together and I thanked the Lord for her AGAIN. I hugged her. I hope to see her next week. I don’t want her to be lonely in that nursing home.

Lord, I thank You for my ally and friend, Myrtle. I lift her up to You today. Somehow, some way, let her know how valuable she is. I love her and will never forget her. Amen.
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The Things That Are Not

As the five of us sat there with Hanna* and one of the kindergarten teachers, Anna*, I could not but help be amazed at what God is doing.

I believe I have mentioned in this forum before an opportunity to minister in an elementary school just four blocks or so down the street from the church.

A pastor friend and brother—Luke—introduced me to this opportunity a couple of years ago. He said that it began with a simple desire to serve a school with no agenda. He also told me about how the ministry has evolved (I actually hate that word because it always reminds me of “evolution” but it is a good word, I guess) from there. Now, Luke and his congregation find that doors are opening for the gospel quite frequently.

But it comes back to serving for serving’s sake. And I think that is hard for Baptists to do. We want to move beyond that quickly to something that will actually put people in the pews and thus make us more money. That is a crass statement, but all of know it is true.

But I am done with that viewpoint and approach. THIS WHOLE THING, this service approach to our immediate community feels right.

I’m not saying that this is the only thing we will do, but for now, I am going to challenge our church to focus on it.

So, back to the meeting: four ladies from our fellowship and I met with Hanna, who coordinates volunteers. She bent over backwards to tell us how much they appreciate us being willing to help them out. I said, “Hanna, the privilege is ours. Thank you so much.”

We walked down a hall to Hanna’s office. “Pastor John, they moved me down here this year. I like this room a whole lot more.” As we entered, four teachers were sitting around a table in the middle of the room, but when they noticed us, they promptly pulled their books and papers together and shuffled out.

At every turn, I can tell how much this school and these teachers NEED help.

As Hanna began to talk with us, Anna entered the room and pulled up a chair at the table. Hanna relinquished the floor, so to speak to her. “I’m just so glad all of you are here. I had asked Hanna for the opportunity to speak to you. I am just overwhelmed with the number of kindergartners I have this year. I’m not able to give some of the students the individual care they need, so that is why I am asking for help.”

A couple of us are going to be able to help her to some degree; others expressed interest in serving in other ways. Both Anna and Hanna were glad to accept anything we tossed out.

I don’t know … I love it. Again, this ministry isn’t everything, but it is a good place to start. I don’t see why many others in our fellowship could not be involved. I know that it won’t work for folks who have jobs during the day, but for others …

In Professor Horner’s reading plan, these words from Paul captured my attention: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen
, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NASB, emphasis mine).

I love that phrase. Right now, where our church is, there are an awful lot of “nots.” Not many nobles (ha). Not many rich people. Not many successful people as the world views it. Not any doctors or lawyers or merchants or chiefs.

However, just a few people that are, to coin Harvey White’s quote (he was a retired pastor God led to our fellowship years ago and a dear servant of God), FAITHFUL and AVAILABLE.

He has put us in this spot and we will serve Him THERE.

Lord, thank You again for this “open door” for the gospel, as Paul terms it. Use us, a congregation of “nots” (and I don’t mean that in a deprecating way at all; in fact, as Paul uses that phrase in the verses above, we ought to glory in our weakness that God’s power might be evident). We certainly can’t take any credit for any of this, for crying out loud!). Guide us as we seek to serve and try to stay out of Your way. Amen.
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The Responsibility of Teaching

Recently, a dear sister in the Lord asked me a theological question. I’m not going to get into the specifics of what that question was, but let me just say that it is a rather controversial topic. When she asked me for counsel, she indicated that she had read what another very prominent pastor had said about it.

It took me a while to answer her question because of my health. I was going through a particularly difficult time in that regard, but in addition to that, I was really wrestling with how to answer. It wasn’t that I did not know what I felt deep in my heart about her question. That wasn’t it. It was just the weight of responsibility.

But eventually, I did write her, and she responded with a very affirming answer. It seemed that the Lord used what I said to help her in some degree. I always rejoice when this happens and to be honest, I am a little amazed whenever it does. I mean, really, who am I? I don’t mean to be falsely self-deprecating at this point, but I do know me.

After that, I was talking with another brother about the general topic of giving advice, and he said, “I just point people to the Word and tell them to make up their own minds.” I hear what he is saying. I really do, but sometimes, that very task is what people need help with! It is such a fine line.

Ultimately, our goal is to point people to God and to His Word, but the fact that people need help with this is why He has given pastors and preachers and teachers to the church. This is why in Ephesians four, God gives gifted people to the church to EQUIP them for ministry.

However, there is a fine line in this process. One must point people to God and the Word without inserting himself or herself in the process so that folks look at him or her and not the Lord. This diversion from the Word to a man is the stuff of which cults are made. And we don’t want that! Ever!

Isn’t it weird that the longer I am a pastor and the longer I preach, the more I feel the weight of responsibility that comes with these ministries? It is because I know that people do listen to what I say and give it some degree of weight. I try to stress often that people need to take what I say and go to the Word for confirmation and if/when I say something that isn’t right (because I, like all others, are fallible), then they need to come and tell me so that I can correct it.

Anyway, as you are praying for me with this cancer stuff, please also pray for me as I continue to preach. I want to make sure that I am preaching truth and not my own opinions.

Two of the readings for today confirm this. Notice what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew
5:19 NASB). How about that? Heavy duty.

The second passage is Jeremiah 28. Read this chapter when you get a chance. It is classic. Hananiah gives a very spectacular and popular prophecy about Babylon. I can see how it has a lot of appeal. Jeremiah’s answer is interesting. At first, he basically says, “I hope that what you say is true and really happens.” But the bottom line is that it isn’t truth. It is a lie and the Lord confirms it, with stiff consequences.

Notice this word to the false prophet: “Therefore thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.'" So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month” (Jeremiah
28:16-17 NASB). Yikes.

I feel led to ask everyone who is reading this blog today to stop right here and pray for your pastor. Lift him up to the Lord.

Lord, thank You for the privilege of serving First Southern as pastor. I pray that everything I say would point people to You and Your inerrant Word. Nothing more. Nothing less. Amen.
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Our Chickens Have Come Home to Roost

Before I get into the subject for today, I want to ask you to pray for my family. Early this morning, we got news of a death. I’m not going to give details at this point because, in talking with someone in my family yesterday, they want to avoid putting information and news on Facebook. They have chosen, rather, to communicate person to person on the telephone instead. I think this is a good decision and want to honor it in this forum.

I will give more detail when I feel the freedom to do.

After a good and very busy day at church, I came home and crash a bit. I laid down most of the afternoon and on into the evening.

In the early evening, I got a phone call from a dear friend. His name is Elvin. He serves as Missional Church Strategist with the International Mission Board (MB). We met in the course of trying to reach an Unreached, Unengaged People Group as part of a global strategy with the IMB. He helped get us hooked up with Pastor Rick Lewis at Ken Caryl and the trip to India we took in March 2014.

Since that time, he and I have become very good friends. Elvin has a son who lives in Colorado Springs, so when he comes to Colorado, he usually gives me a call and we try to get together.

We just talked on the phone last night.

As part of our conversation, we commiserated about what is going on now with the IMB—the pairing down of missionary personnel (for lack of a better way of saying it). As we talked, Elvin made this comment: “I believe that the spiritual warfare we experienced overseas is now coming to America, and we will experience an unprecedented amount of attacks from the enemy. The purpose of this test will be to trim away from the church everyone who isn’t really a genuine follower of Jesus.”

I paused for a moment as he made that statement and I asked, “Did you really face a lot of warfare overseas when you served on the field?”

“Oh, yes,” he replied. “I could tell you stories of direct contact with the enemy that would curl your hair. Now, we are going to face it here.”

“Wow,” I said, without any other comment to make. “We have pride here that we are more advanced in our spirituality than in other countries when in fact the opposite is true. Now we are in trouble.”

In other words, as the old expression goes, “our chickens have come to roost.”

Yesterday, at the beginning of the service during announcements, I felt led to exhort the church to turn to Ephesians 6 and to put on the full armor of God as we prayed together, just because I had the sense from my own experience and the testimony of others even that morning, that many of us were facing attacks from the enemy.

What Elvin has talked about is already happening: people are dropping like flies.

Somehow, even though it grieves me, it also helps me to get a broader perspective about what is happening on a broader Church level. What we are experiencing at First Southern is not unique to us. Other churches are going through it.

What to do? Well, I’m convinced that prayer is paramount. How about these two prayers that I read today in the Horner plan from Romans 15:

“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans
15:5-6 NASB).

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans
15:13 NASB).

Indeed, Lord, help us glorify You at all costs and give us the grace to abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. I lift up my family today. Amen.
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Repent or Nothing

Yesterday was a good day, and very encouraging.

Marilyn and I decided to do some major cleanup in the house. She is great at that kind of thing and has no struggles when it comes to an issue I have fought most of my life. The positive, cutesy way of saying it is that I am a packrat. The truth is that it is so hard for me to throw anything away. I border on being a hoarder (hey, that rhymes!?!).

We cleared out a lot of stuff yesterday. It was difficult in some respects for me, I’m a little embarrassed to say, but today I feel great about it.

AND, even with all the exertion and moving and lifting, my shoulder and arm feel fine. Dare I say it? Am I indeed progressing a bit?

If so, I attribute it totally to the prayers of God’s people on my behalf—all of you, believing and praying for healing when I have been waning in my hope.

I believe that this is the responsibility of the body of Christ to lift each other up. I’m reminded of that incident when a group of friends lowered a sick man through the roof and down to Jesus. The Bible is explicit to say that when Jesus saw the faith of these lower-ers who were really lifters, He healed that man. It was THEIR faith.

I’m in the same boat or on the same stretcher, as it were! Thanks again.

Well, anyway, on to the reading for this morning. It seems that many of the passages I read had the same theme. They use a word that is not very common these days: REPENT.

Before I get into this, I want to say a word here: the church faces a huge challenge when it comes to our EASY BELIEVISM. We have turned conversion into a “decision” like deciding to sign up with Xcel Energy when one moves into a new home. He or she calls the company to sign up and get electrical service. That’s it. Then, one never really thinks about it again (except when one receives a bill).

This is my analogy for the hole we have dug for ourselves.

I cannot begin to tell you about how many people I have met who shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, I walked an aisle in a Baptist church twenty years ago …”, their voice trailing off a bit, implying, “What else do you want?” In other words, I signed up with Xcel. I’m good.

Nope.

Conversion is not just a decision. Biblical conversion involves repentance and faith AND God gives us the ability to repent and believe. We can’t even do that on our own!

So, in the reading for today, this is the concern of John the Baptist as he preaches to the religious leaders who flock out to the countryside to listen to this rather eccentric preacher with a weird diet. “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew
3:8-10 NASB).

He preached repentance for two reasons. First, it is the essence of conversion. Without it, there is fruit. Second, repentance puts one in the spiritual position of being able to recognize and receive what the Lord is doing in salvation history.

Why did the Jews (for the most part) miss the Messiah? They weren’t saved!

Likewise, Jeremiah preached to religious people and called for them to listen to God. “And you will say to them, 'Thus says the LORD, "If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth.”’” (Jeremiah
26:4-6 NASB).

If you think about it, listening the Lord is a form of repentance because it involves a reorientation of one’s life, even if one is religious. Even churchgoers need to repent. Maybe this is the hardest thing of all—to tell someone who has been sitting a church pew for twenty years, “You are wrong. Repent. Turn from your way and walk in God’s ways, listening to Him.”

Finally, here is Paul’s rather stern response to a magician who wanted to purchase His salvation. It’s NOT for sale, by the by. “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and supplicate the Lord, if indeed the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee; for I see thee to be in the gall of bitterness, and bond of unrighteousness” (The Acts
8:20-23 DARBY).

Lord, I choose to embrace repentance as a way of life in the walk of faith. You are constantly calling me to turn from evil and to embrace You as Lord. Help me never to try to distill down Your call into a decision. Grant us repentance. Grant us the ability to believe, “For by grace are you saved through faith and THAT not of yourselves. It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thank You for that gift, the awesome gift that keeps on giving. Grant it to more and more and do it today in the service. Amen.
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The Lord's Timing, Revealed in So Many Ways

I’m always a little hesitant to mention movies for many of the obvious reasons, but last night, my family and I viewed “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” The plot and story were okay, but of course, the main thing I liked about it was that it is set in India.

The depiction of life there brought back so many good memories of our vision trip there in March 2014. What a fascinating country and I still appreciate so much the opportunity to keep in touch with several of the “nationals” we met while we were there. These on-going relationships are such a blessing.

During the course of the movie, I searched Google for the exact location of the film. Apparently, the producers shot the film in two cities in the state of Rajasthan, in the northwest part of the country. My only frame of reference to this location is the city of Mumbai that is apparently somewhat near. Mumbai is the city we flew into initially before catching a connecting flight to Kolkata.

Life on the street and the sights and sounds shown in this movie resonated with me.

Curiously, one of the main memories that came flooding back was the two nights we spent in the Baptist guesthouse in Bangalore before returning to the States. I did not sleep well either of those two nights because of the sounds of all the critters just outside my window. One of the species was the monkey. They make a lot of noise, and I got the idea very quickly that one would not want to mess with a monkey in the wild.

Well, anyway, I was so thankful that the Lord allowed Pam, Nancy, and me along with the group from Ken Caryl, to go on that trip. I hope to be able to go back. With all this cancer stuff, the timing just has not been right.

That brings me to the topic for today: TIMING. I think it is important to affirm that everything, absolutely everything operates on God’s timetable. There is no such thing as random events.

Several passages I read this morning in Professor Horner’s plan reminded me of this. Matthew 2 tells the story of the birth of Jesus. Of course, THAT event happened at exactly the right time in human history (as Galatians 4:4 reminds us). Interestingly enough, timing continued to be crucial in the story of Jesus’ early years Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to wait to return to Judea as the dust had settled from Herod’s senseless massacre of baby boys.

In his sermon before the Jews stoned him, Stephen recounted the history of Israel, his narrative literally dripping with one reference to another about timing. Moses’ life divided rather neatly into three forty-year periods. Here is how I would categorize them: Period one, birth to forty—Moses trying to do it his own way; Period two, in obscurity on the backside of the wilderness tending sheep—God breaking Moses so that He could use him to do things His way; and Period Three—leader of the Israelites out of Egypt—leading a nation to do it God’s way. In summary: my way, His way, and the rocky way.

One more: notice this statement from the prophet Jeremiah: “From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, these twenty-three years the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened” (Jeremiah
25:3 NASB).

Jeremiah preached 23 years to folks who did not listen and certainly did not obey God.

Among the mental challenges I face through this cancer experience is that I am struggling with God’s timing. I was first diagnosed in the Summer of 2010 as we celebrated the 50
th Anniversary of FSBC. All of us had high hopes of a real surge as we embarked on the next stage of the journey of our church.

Quite the opposite has occurred in many ways (not all ways) over the past five years as I have dealt with this disease. How long will I continue to be incapacitated with cancer? When will the Lord heal me, if indeed that is His intent?

At the time of our anniversary, I had served this church 21 years, and the Lord had blessed me with great health, where I rarely even visited a doctor or thought of one. Now…

I have to keep coming back to a verse that often comes to mind these days. I did not read this verse in Horner’s plan this morning but I want to cite it:
My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me” (Psalm 31:15, NIV).

Lord, you hold the watch and the timer and the alarm. I don’t get all these numbers. They don’t make sense to me, but I know they do to you. I trust that and kiss the hand that holds my times. I love you. Amen.
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A Weird Dream

I’m going to have to call Andy and tell him about this dream that I had last night.

Now, before I progress with this, I honestly don’t attach much spiritual significance to dreams. I’m not saying this is true with everyone, but it is certainly the case with me.

Over the past few days, I have had much opportunity for dreams. That is for sure. I’m in one of those “stages” of this disease that I just can’t help sleeping a lot.

Yesterday, for example, after lunch, I sat down, thinking I would be in a chair for a few minutes. Two hours later, I rousted up. It is crazy!

Then, this morning, I am battling sleep again. Instead of fighting it, I just set my phone with the Bible App YouVersion to the side and dozed off a bit. Right now, as a matter of fact, …

But back to last night and my dream.

I dreamt that I was in a church in a service. The pastor of the church had been ill, and everyone knew it, but he was there, sitting in a chair on the platform, where everyone could see him. He was an older man with grey hair. He slumped down in his seat a bit, one of his hands propping up his head. He just didn’t look well.

The service started with worship and someone in the church got up to preach. When that was over, another man in the church prayed with I thought was a concluding prayer, but when he finished, to my surprise, I realized that the service was NOT over. Instead, the man who had led the prayer called on another man to preach another sermon.

What? Two sermons in one service. Madness!

As he started, I realized that I just needed to get out of there. I was a visitor. I reasoned that, if I left, it would not be a big deal because I was just a visitor. At that moment, I noticed Andy Jr., my former pastor’s son and good friend. Our eyes met, indicating that he was thinking the same thing. So, at that moment, as the second man was beginning to speak, we both slipped out.

As I left the building, I realized that I didn’t have my own automobile. Thus, looking at the parking lot, I chose a grey SUV, got in it, and sure enough, the owner had left his keys! How lucky for me!

I drove the truck off the parking lot and got to my own church’s parking lot. As I was sitting there, Andy showed up! He said, “John, what is going on? I need my truck.” Standing with him was a couple. Andy pointed at that couple and said, “I need to take this couple home!” Well, of course. I could see that he was not too happy that I had taken his SUV and left him in the lurch.

I handed him the keys and walked off!

At that moment, I woke up. Now, I am sure that a psychiatrist or psychologist would have a field day with THAT dream! Ha. Oh, man! Even as I share it, I’m tempted to turn around and delete it. Too much insight into my twisted brain! TMI.

But that dream makes a good segue into a passage that the Lord often brings to my attention. I am going to cite some verses from the sixth chapter of Acts. It is that famous point in time when “the Twelve” faced a challenge: murmuring developed in the church because the Hellenist widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. So, the Twelve called everyone together and challenged the church to set aside some servants to take care of things like this so that they could devote themselves to “THE prayer” (this is the literal language of the Greek at this point; the definite article is before prayer indicating that this may be referring to set prayer times in the church) and THE ministry of the Word.

Notice what happened when the Twelve said this. “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and, having prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem was very greatly multiplied, and a great crowd of the priests obeyed the faith” (Acts
6:5-7 DARBY).

What jumped off the page this morning is that this saying “pleased the whole multitude.” Interesting. When the Twelve were doing what they needed to be doing and others were serving, it pleased the church.

As I sit here trying to process that crazy dream with what I read in the Word, I’m thinking that there may be some sort of lesson there. Maybe two.

First, I need to allow others to serve in the body of Christ, especially now, when I feel like (and probably look like that sick pastor in my dream—kind of scary).

Second, it is probably not a good idea just to jump in a random car (or truck) in a parking lot and drive off—EVER! Amen.

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One of Many HUGE Challenges the Church Faces

I have intended to write about this ever since I talked to a friend on Monday afternoon. I have been outraged ever since.

Now, before I get into this today, I want to make it clear that my intent is NOT to bash anyone or any group of sinners. The truth is that I believe the church should be open to all as a redemptive society. We ought to share the love of Christ with folks with partiality or judgment or approval of their lifestyle.

No sin is worse than another, even though we tend to make distinctions.

This is especially true with gays and lesbians.

Significantly enough, mores in our culture are changing rapidly. Yesterday, as I spent some time in the office at church, I received the most recent copy of
Facts and Trends, Fall 2015. On page 8, the magazine contains the results from a recent Gallop poll delineating what most Americans consider morally wrong and what most Americans consider morally right. The title of the article is, “What’s morally wrong? Americans’ list grows shorter.” Interesting.

I won’t take the time in the blog this morning but I am going to try to scan the article and put it up on our church’s website.

On the “Considered Morally Acceptable By a Majority” list is “Gay or Lesbian relations.” In 2001, 40% of Americans considered this lifestyle to be acceptable. In 2015, the percentage grew to 63%.

This is the culture in which we live. Now, again, how must the church respond? Again, I affirm that we must share the gospel in the love of Christ, realizing that all of us need Jesus, no matter what category of sinner we are. This is something I feel very strongly about. If sinners cannot go to a church and be in a position to hear the truth, especially as they come into contact with believers, then where can they go?

Okay, so this is one side of the coin, but the other side is, in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church, and in a culture in which more and more people find the gay and lesbian lifestyle acceptable, we must uphold God’s standard of relationships.

I cannot tell you how often I have listened to folks who were living the gay and lesbian lifestyle as they wept and cried and as they shared the heartbreak and emptiness they experienced.

It is like any sin (and again, I’m not differentiating here). Any deviance from God’s path ends up in calamity and heartbreak.

Having said ALL of this, I talked to a friend who recently accepted a staff position in a church in Denver. (I’m not going to share his name or that of the church; I received permission from him to tell this story). It wasn’t too many days into the start of his work that he discovered that a couple, living the homosexual lifestyle, was actually teaching a children’s Sunday school class in the church!

This same-sex couple had the same last name, and their children shared it as well.

And here is the kicker: the pastor along with key leaders in the church knew about this, but in all likelihood, the church as a whole did not. My friend was shocked. He confronted the pastor, who replied, “Well, we were short on teachers. We just asked them to serve.” And he was unwilling to address this situation.

Are you kidding? It is one thing to be open to folks whose lifestyle contradicts the standards of God’s Word—that is everyone and all sins—to attend a church, but it is quite another thing to place these folks in LEADERSHIP positions in the church.

Of course, this whole situation forced my friend to make a decision himself. Of course. But how sad and tragic!

Please understand the point of this blog today: I am expressing outrage not at sinners. Sinners apart from God’s grace will sin. That is what all of us did before we got saved and now as new creations in Jesus, we can live according to God’s standards, not because we are better than anyone else but solely because of His grace

No, I am outraged at a church that decided, out of convenience, to capitulate to culture instead of standing on the truth.

I don’t know of any church that is not constantly in need of workers and teachers, but there is a line …

We need to be careful that our need to staff programs does not trump the Word of God. It doesn’t “work” anyway. Right? We reach a lost world not by trying to be like it, but by committing ourselves fully to God who in holiness makes us radically different from the world.

This type of outrage came from God out of the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah who railed against the false shepherds and false prophets of his day: “"I did not send these prophets, But they ran. I did not speak to them, But they prophesied…. Thus will each of you say to his neighbor and to his brother, 'What has the LORD answered?' or, 'What has the LORD spoken?' For you will no longer remember the oracle of the LORD, because every man's own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God” (Jeremiah
23:21, 35-36 NASB). Read this whole chapter when you get a chance. You will see the outrage and broken heart of Almighty God.

Lord, even as I write this, I confess the sin of putting people in leadership positions that should not have been there. I pray for my friend. I pray for this church. I pray for the Church—all of us. In this culture with its twisted values and perspectives, help us now, more than every to uphold God’s standards in the love of Christ. Amen.
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Second Wind

Yesterday ranks up there as one of the weirdest and toughest days I have spent. First, I just could not stay awake, no matter what I tried. It started in the morning, ceased as I drove to see the doctor and get my CT scan (thank the Lord), and continued in the afternoon and evening.

When I got home from the doctor, I slept like a log through the afternoon. After dinner, I sat on this couch again, and in no time, I was “out” like a light. I slept an hour and a half.

When I finally went to bed, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but I was. Again, I thank the Lord.

When I saw Dr. Jotte, I told him about what was going on with me. He replied, “Humm. It may be some sort of thyroid issue, but I am not going to do anything at this point. It is probably related to not getting enough sleep or something like that.”

There are times when I get a little frustrated with Dr. Jotte because he doesn’t move fast enough; at other times, I appreciate the face that he is not as alarmist as I am.

But anyway, back to my visit at the doc’s office. The usual procedure is for me to go to the lab to get my blood drawn for the clinical trial. They take A LOT of blood through my port.

Yesterday, when Chelsea was trying to access my port, something happened.

Before I go on with this story, let me explain the process. “Accessing the port” involves sticking a needle into my skin and into the port. At face value, that sounds as if it would be painful. Usually, it is not. My port has been accessed dozens of times over the years. It is not big deal.

But yesterday, it was. When Chelsea tried to access it, it felt as if she stuck a needle into my bare skin. Ouch! I immediately cried out. Chelsea said, “Oh, John, did I hurt you?” “Yes, Chelsea. Whoa. It hurts,” I answered.

As she felt around my port, she could tell I was in pain AND no blood was coming out.

So, she took me into the chemo room where Theresa (one of the nurses I met in my first chemo treatment; she is awesome) tried to fix things. She pulled the needle out and reinserted it. The second time, it was a normal insertion but still no blood came out. So, Theresa, rather frustrated, said, “Well, John, it looks as if we are going to have to do an IV in your arm, twice, once here to get blood for the trial and the other time for your CT test. In the meantime, I’m going to insert some medicine into your port that will break up some skin that may have formed to close off the port. This is a normal reaction of the body to using this port. It happens a lot. Hopefully, this will break things up so that, next time, we can use your port.”

Okay. I have to tell all of you that this process wore me out. I was very frustrated and more exhausted.

They retrieved my blood in the lab. I went to see the doctor. He was in a hurry, but reiterated that he thought I was doing well. Then, I raced off to get my CT scan.

Tracy, the nurse who attended me, tried to get blood out of my left arm, but when she tied off my arm above the area where she planned to insert the needle, I was in excruciating pain. Again, I cried out. This is the arm connected to the shoulder that I am having problems with. So, she switched over to the other arm, and poked me there for the second time, to access me for the CT exam.

By the time, I finished the CT test, I was thoroughly and completely exhausted.

To be honest with all of you, this whole thing feels more and more like a multiple marathon race, not just one, but many. Each day, especially days like yesterday, a marathon. And sometimes, I wonder if I am going to make it. Or, if I have the stamina to make it. And I know, of course, I don’t.

Read these words from James 1. They are part of my reading for today, and this could not have been more appropriate and well timed:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James
1:2-4 NASB).

What does the phrase “let endurance have its perfect result” mean? Interesting. Here is how I would answer: right now, I am learning how God takes over when I get to the absolute end of my human resources. Yesterday was such a day.

Back to the marathon metaphor, I heard about what runners call “a second wind.” Somehow, some way, along the path, when it seems as if you can’t run any further, there is another gear that kicks in and you have the breath to keep going.

I want to tell all of you that today, I am at THAT PLACE. I am done. Now, it is up to the Lord to keep me going. It is all God-speed.

Lord, maybe, just maybe, this is where You have wanted me all along. I can’t think beyond today, however. I can’t go there, but I trust Your second wind just to get me through this day. Amen.

P. S. I will let all of you know the results of CT scan when I receive them. Thanks AGAIN for your concern and for your prayers. We need to cheer each other along in this race. All of you certainly do that for me.
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CT Scan Today

Boy, everyone, I am having the most difficult time I have EVER had this morning just staying awake. I find that I just drop off to sleep at the drop of a hat.

Rather than keep on battling it, I’m just going to give in and sleep a bit before I have to go to Midtown.

I have a routine doctor’s appointment at 10:00. Then, I am scheduled for check-in to the CT scan at 11:00.

One of my major concerns today is that this scan would show the doctor something about what is going on with the pain in my shoulder. It certainly isn’t as severe as it was at first, but it still bothers me.

As I have written before, the doctor thinks it is just lymphoma pushing against the muscle complex in my shoulder and arm. We will see.

Lord, I thank You for everyone who cares and is praying so diligently. I’m thankful also for the churches that are doing the same. I just turn today over to You. Amen.
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Fierce Warrior

Yesterday, we had a bit of an incident at church. A dear sister—her name is Marilyn (just like my sis) fell down a flight of stairs, injuring herself rather severely.

Before I go on with the story, anyone who has been in our church building knows that there are a series of staircases just about at every turn.

Several years ago, I asked one of our seniors why on earth was the building configured that way? It certainly makes life difficult for seniors.

This man’s name was Olin (I think I am spelling his first name correctly). Answering with a rather sly grin on his face, he said, “Well, John, way back then, we didn’t really think about it. We were all young.”

Well, okay …

A few years ago, as we voted on a renovation of our auditorium, one of the priorities was an elevator. The first difficulty in building it was to find the exactly right place to install so as to hit all the four levels in our church. It certainly does help, but there are just times when you take the stairs.

Yesterday, Marilyn made such a decision. The flight of stairs that she decided to navigate only has five steps or so.

Later, as I talked to Marilyn on the phone, she said, “I don’t really know what happened. I think I got my cane caught as I was stepping down. I don’t know … “ She laughed about it.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

Marilyn fell down the stairs, and Marilyn T (to distinguish her) saw it soon after it happened. Marilyn was in a lot of pain. She hit her head and injured her nose in the fall so that blood was everywhere. It was very concerning.

Patti was there also. In fact, she was there from the start and was with Marilyn the whole time. They called an ambulance. This is when the story was suspended as far as I was concerned because when Marilyn T saw that Marilyn’s situation had stabilized a bit, she headed home.

In the early afternoon, I talked with Patti’s husband Jim who is one of our deacons. He was on the way to the hospital to see Marilyn. He said, “John, one of the main concerns is with Marilyn’s knee. She is in a lot of pain.” What made this even more concerning is that Marilyn has had both knees replaced, rather recently.

It wasn’t any time at all. I had stepped away from my phone for a moment. I notice that Jim had called again. He left a message. He stated, “John, just wanted you to know that the tests they ran on Marilyn’s knee at the hospital proved negative, so they sent her home. Praise God!”

I called Marilyn a little later. She answered the phone. “Marilyn, I’m so sorry you had a fall. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she replied. She sounded normal. She was more concerned about me and how I was doing. We had a good conversation. We laughed and talked a while. My family and I praised God for taking care of Marilyn. We love her.

Well, this story is just another example of the way the Lord takes care of us, isn’t it?

As Jeremiah the prophet was complaining to God about the ill treatment he was suffering—right in the middle of his complaint—he affirms, “But the LORD is with me like a dread champion; Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, With an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten” (Jeremiah
20:11 NASB).

“The Lord is with me like a dread champion.” What a phrase! What does it mean? I looked it up. The word dread means “violent.” This phrase is often used in the Old Testament to describe the enemies of God’s people. This is the ONLY time it is used in reference to God himself. I like the Message version translation: “But God, a most fierce warrior, is at my side.”

Love it. I’m never alone. Not matter where I am or what I am doing, even trying to go down a five-step flight of stairs at church—even there, even then. The Fierce Warrior is at my side.

He fights with me. He fights for me.

Not long ago, I met a young man and told him about my cancer. He said, “Well, John, keep fighting.” I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m glad I don’t have to.

I’m going to let Fierce Warrior do the fighting for me! Amen.

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Singular and Sovereign

Last night, as all of us were preparing to go to bed, I tasted it and smelled it—CANCER.

Recently, I have had two conversations relative to this subject. The first was with my mom and sis. I know they are both frustrated with me at times simply because it is just so difficult to find something I can eat.

This past week has been better because I have not had that cancer taste and smell. Good thing because Gladys from church made an awesome casserole along with peach cobbler that we have really enjoyed. Plus, last night, I enjoyed a couple of tamales that Athina and her family prepared last weekend. This is in addition to what Marilyn prepared for me—chicken salad on spinach. Last night, she cooked more for me. She is doing an awesome job.

Now, I am sure all of you who are reading this might be saying, “John, are you kidding me? You have indicated that you don’t have an appetite. Sounds as if you are eating like a high school football player. What gives?” Ha.

Well, I know it sounds rather contradictory, but when I have no issues, I am able to eat. I don’t eat a lot, but I eat.

The second conversation I had was with Becky. She is a good friend. I have known her since the day I started as pastor at First Southern. She and her husband Tim along with their daughter Lensey now live in North Carolina.

She was in town visiting her mom Pat this past week. I was trying to explain to her about the cancer taste and smell. Becky said, “I’ve heard it described as sort of metallic sensation. Is that right?”

“Yes! That is what it is like,” I answered.

But here is the point: last night, several days after my infusion and a good week where I was able to eat some good food, I had that cancer taste and smell. When that occurs, the Galloping Gourmet could prepare crème brulee (I don't even know what that is but it sounds exotic and delicious), and I would not be able to choke down one bite.

All of this is so WEIRD! This disease is strange. The second I feel as if I am starting to get on top of one thing or another, I find out the opposite.

Well, enough on that subject. I’m so thankful that Al is preaching for me today, because I know, as I deal with the cancer taste and smell, I just could not do it.

This is a hard go, but I know I am not the only person who has ever gone through anything.

In Professor Horner’s reading plan, I read Job 23. Here is his testimony in the course of his suffering:
““But he is singular and sovereign. Who can argue with him? He does what he wants, when he wants to. He’ll complete in detail what he’s decided about me, and whatever else he determines to do. Is it any wonder that I dread meeting him? Whenever I think about it, I get scared all over again. God makes my heart sink! God Almighty gives me the shudders! I’m completely in the dark, I can’t see my hand in front of my face” (Job 23:13-17, MSG).

I love the brutal honesty of these comments, don’t you? Here is a man dealing with God in a situation in which all of his senses and emotions have totally failed him. What to do? Job continues to praise God!

So, here is a crucial lesson about suffering: these trials remind us that the Lord is “singular and sovereign.” The NASB translation of that verse is: “He is unique and who can turn Him?” Or, how about the Amplified Bible? “But He is unchangeable, and who can turn Him? And what He wants to do, that He does.”

Even after all the stuff I’ve been through with cancer over the past five years, I still want to be in control. I continue to strive to know what is going on AND to get to the point where I can write things off, using phrases like, “Well, I am done with THAT” or “I am cured” or “I’m glad that is finished.”

All those phrases have a bad taste and smell in the mouth of the Lord!

Only He gets to make those kinds of comments. Only He is unique and sovereign. I’m just a weak and sick human being, a child of God born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus, but human nonetheless.

Lord, in the midst of all the ups and downs, ins and outs, tastes and smells and sounds and sights of cancer, You are singular and sovereign. I choose by grace through faith to continue to praise You and trust You. I love You, Jesus. Amen.

P. S. I’m going to find out what crème brulee is and try some today. How about that??
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A "Sect Spoken Against Everywhere"

As more details come out about the mass shootings in Oregon, the more disturbing this whole thing is.

Here is this shooter, in a classroom where, just before his entry, more than a couple of dozen college students were having an English class. As they hit the floor when he entered, the shooter commanded them to stand up and tell what faith they espouse. If they claimed to be Christian, he promised to shoot them in the head. If not, he asserted that he would shoot them somewhere else, usually the leg.

When the incident was over, nine people had died and ten were sent to the hospital. Ultimately, the shooter lost his life as well. (I received this information from an article on the website washingtonpost.com).

What a tragedy! First and foremost, we all need to continue to pray for the victim’s families. One young woman who received a gunshot wound in the back has miraculously survived. I watched an interview with her dad on television last night. Praise God!

But again, how does one put this in perspective? First, I’m not sure that any of us could possibly have the right perspective right now.

However, I think it would be hard to argue (and I know that I am Captain Obvious at this point) that what we are witnessing first hand is an all-out war against Christians. Is this a brand new phenomenon?

Not exactly. These words that I read this morning in Acts 28 confirm this. Here is the Apostle Paul under house arrest in Rome. A group of Jewish leaders gather around him. Paul starts to give his testimony. Here is their initial response: “They (the Jewish leaders) said, ‘Nobody wrote warning us about you. And no one has shown up saying anything bad about you. But we would like very much to hear more. The only thing we know about this Christian sect is that nobody seems to have anything good to say about it’” (Acts
28:21-22 MSG, parentheses mine).

“Nobody has anything good to say about it”—doesn’t that describe what is going on in our world today. There is toleration for any and every other kind of religion EXCEPT Christianity.

And yet, third, I can’t help but think that the heat is being turned up on the stove these days. I think things are worse, and right now, that is a subjective opinion, but it seems as if, no matter where one turns, he or she discovers overt actions against believers. ISIS beheaded those Coptic Christians in Egypt. Saeed Abedini and many others like him sit in prison precisely because of their faith.

The unbelieving world is on the attack, but the other side of this coin is how it is affecting the church. This whole situation with the International Mission Board is deeply disturbing. Recently, David Platt (head of the IMB) announced the necessity to layoff 600 missionaries around the world!

We know a dear family who serves in South America. They are from Colorado. They have shared about their work many times in our church over the past several years. The Board gave them the option of early retirement. They have to leave the work to which God called them. It is very sad. Their hearts are broken.

Why? Churches like the one I serve have witnessed a precipitous drop in giving. So, this situation compounds itself.

Anyway, another passage I read this morning gives us more insight. In Jeremiah 18, God told the prophet to go down to the potter’s house for a graphic lesson. Here it is: “Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel’” (Jeremiah
18:5-6 NASB).

Will we allow the Lord to use the events of these difficult days to mold and shape us or will we harden ourselves, refusing to repent and believe, as Israel did?

The jury is still out.

Lord, these are very difficult days that are only becoming more difficult. I lift up Brother Saeed and the families of the victims in the Oregon shooting and the members of the church I serve—give us grace and strength to keep on keeping on, as Your skilled fingers press hard to mold us and make us vessels useful for serving You. Amen.
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Moses and Paul

Well, I knew it was a little too good to be true, and sure enough, I was right. I started to have some shoulder pain late yesterday afternoon. It has not been as bad as it was before, but still …

I have to tell all of you that this is deeply frustrating for me, and I am starting to get worried about what is really going on.

I have a CAT scan scheduled for next Tuesday. It should give the doctor some type of insight, I hope. We will see. This is just something else to turn over to God.

Well, this morning, I am intrigued as I read two stories from the lives of two famous men in God’s Word. I’m interested because the contrast helps me cope with what is going on in my life right now.

Let’s start with Moses. In the travels of the people of Israel in the wilderness, Exodus 33 tells us that Moses had a tent of meeting. He would set it up outside the camp, and he would go into the tent to meet with the Lord.

When he did that, the narrative tells us that the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent. This was outward evidence of what was going on inside the tent: “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus
33:11 NASB).

Two interesting things about this—first, Joshua shared this intimate relationship that Moses and the Lord experienced. Second, the rest of the community watched as Moses went into the tent. In fact, they would stand at the entrance to their own tent and worship.

But here is the thing: Moses and Joshua enjoyed that intimate, face to face relationship with the Lord in the tent of meeting, but the rest of the folks did NOT.

Then benefitted. Don’t get me wrong. Moses interceded for them. But they did not have that intimacy with the Lord.

Fast-forward to the New Testament—another one of my favorite chapters is Acts 27—the shipwreck story. This is another example of intercession. But here is the huge difference: because of the gospel and Paul’s salvation, HE was able to commune with the Lord just as Moses did.

In Paul’s face-to-face conversation with God, the Lord assured him and Paul shared this with the crew: “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island’” (Acts
27:23-26 NASB).

Interesting. Like Moses, Paul interceded. In both instances, the “communities” for which they prayed benefitted. HOWEVER, unlike the experience of Moses (never replicated EVER AGAIN in history), Paul had a relationship with the Lord that is possible for all of us to share. AND, we can have it anywhere.

Moses needed a designated place—a tent of meeting. That is the one place where he could commune with God.

As believers, we are the tents of meeting and we can take that tent anywhere, at any time, even out on Mediterranean Sea in the middle of a Nor’easter. Even there.

Lord, I rejoice this morning at the prospect of my “portable” tent of meeting. You are with me all the time, no matter where I am. I continue to pray for the church I serve. I lift them up to You again this morning. Enable me to be to grow as an intercessor just as Moses and Paul were. Thank You for this pesky arm injury. Thank You for the extra time it affords me to pray. Help me to use this opportunity wisely. Amen.
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"Trying to Keep God for Yourselves"

Just a word about yesterday: I slept, most of the time, and then I got up, spending some time reorganizing my desk here at the house, while I tried to do some sermon work here and there. But my brain was in a weird place. I really couldn’t concentrate long enough to get much work done before I would doze off to sleep, hence, the desk reorganization. I just tried to keep myself occupied to some degree so that I didn’t just sleep the whole day.

Plus, my desk drawers really needed to be cleaned out! Ha.

These are the most difficult days when it comes to cancer—just trying to recover from the jolt of the infusion. But thanks so much for praying for me. My appetite and the pain in my shoulder seem to be doing better. I’m starting to back off gradually from the pain medication.

On to the sock drawer today! I’m half kidding.

I continue to be intrigued as I read the book of Acts. Today, in Professor Horner’s plan, I read chapter twenty-six as Paul the apostle has the opportunity to preach a sermon before Herod Agrippa, king of Judea.

I urge you to take some time to read about this monarch. The book of Acts has a lot to say about him. I would not call his attitude toward Christians as very favorable. He ordered the second martyrdom of Christianity—the death of James. He did this for political reasons, but revenge belongs to the Lord. His death was not very pleasant, to say the least.

Anyway, here he is along with his entourage and all the Jews who had gathered to make their flimsy case against Paul.

One would have thought a person in Paul’s rather precarious spot, given a chance to speak, would have devoted his speaking time to defending himself. But that is NOT what Paul does.

One thing I have learned from reading the book of Acts—a book of speeches, essentially—is that Paul regarded every speaking opportunity as a door for the gospel.

I pray that I could do the same, but unfortunately, I think about it too late, after the fact. For example, I was speaking to a banker the other day and somehow the topic of my cancer came up. (By the way, when I was first diagnosed with this disease, I somehow felt the need to tell everyone, even total strangers. Now, I don’t mention it to strangers at all, as a general rule). I told this man about my pilgrimage at bit, but left it there.

When we concluded our conversation, duh, I realized I didn’t mention anything about the Lord! Not one thing!

Well, I digress … back to Paul. This sermon before Agrippa is intriguing. I want to cite a couple of parts. I will be quoting from the Message Version: ““I said, ‘Who are you, Master?’ “The voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, the One you’re hunting down like an animal. But now, up on your feet—I have a job for you. I’ve handpicked you to be a servant and witness to what’s happened today, and to what I am going to show you.

“‘I’m sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I’m sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me” (Acts
26:15-18 MSG).

He goes on, “““What could I do, King Agrippa? I couldn’t just walk away from a vision like that! I became an obedient believer on the spot. I started preaching this life-change—this radical turn to God and everything it meant in everyday life—right there in Damascus… It’s because of this ‘whole world’ dimension that the Jews grabbed me in the Temple that day and tried to kill me. They want to keep God for themselves. But God has stood by me, just as he promised, … And everything I’m saying is completely in line with what the prophets and Moses said would happen: One, the Messiah must die; two, raised from the dead, he would be the first rays of God’s daylight shining on people far and near, people both godless and God-fearing” (Acts
26:19-23 MSG).

This is the third time in the book of Acts that we have Paul’s testimony, but each time, he links his testimony with the straightforward presentation of the gospel. He talks about the choice confronting every man—between darkness and light. He mentions forgiveness and the result of redemption—becoming a part of the family of God. He focuses on the only acceptable response to the message—repentance and faith.

Plus, he even goes on the offensive against his accusers, stating that they try to keep God for themselves but that Paul continued to “stand by” His servant, approving of him and affirming his message.

In short, he got it said.

Lord, I thank You again for the platform that cancer gives me. If I see someone today, give me the alertness and the grace NOT to try to keep God for myself but rather proclaim Him at every turn. If I don’t, help me encourage my mom and sister—this is just as important as preaching the gospel. Wherever, whatever. I thank You for another day of rest. Thank You for taking care of absolutely everything, as always. Love You, Jesus! Amen.
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