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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Daystar Plan, Day 92: Steroids and Messiah's Misfits

As the day progressed yesterday, I felt more and more uncomfortable with this ever-growing swell on the side of my neck. I started to have pain in my jaw and ear. And I wrestled with the thought, “This is ridiculous!”

Prior to a meeting I had, I called the doctor’s assistant Maureen as she had requested on Friday and left a message.

After the meeting, I noticed that I had received a message from her, “John, this is Maureen. I talked to the doctor. He has prescribed a five-day regimen of steroid pills. Please pick them up at the pharmacy we have on file for you. If you have any questions, please call back.”

When I heard that word “steroids,” my heart sunk.

In my last go-around with chemo, after the treatment one day, I had to go back to the cancer center for a steroid shot. That was one of the worse things about the regimen, and yesterday, I started to feel “those same old feelings again.” Isn’t there a song with that phrase in it? I’m sure it isn’t about steroids.

Here are “those same old feelings:” restlessness, muscles aching, too hot, then too cold, headache, and face flushed. This usually translates into no sleep at night. However, last night, I pre-empted things a bit. I took a sleeping pill the doctor had prescribed, so I slept well.

Now, I have listed all that stuff, and one would think that I am complaining. Nope. I’m glad because I feel that my swollen neck has diminished a bit. For this, I am grateful.

As I was sitting in a very good meeting yesterday, it was difficult to keep my mind on things. I certainly don’t know of anyone who has had to deal with this particular symptom of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but my previous swelling on my lower abdomen was out of sight. This is extremely visible. It is just a weird season of this disease. Weird.

I have to be careful, but well-meaning people are asking about it, and I just feel that I ramble on a bit.

Let’s see if I can encapsulate this: I want to go into detail with everyone, but then, at the same time, I don’t. People are gracious, but it is almost like the person that you continue to see and you dread it because when you ask how he or she is doing, you hear a complete medical history. And so you shy away a bit.

Now, I am on the other end of that. I want to share but then I don’t. This is just another aspect of this prolonged disease. I don’t blame people. No one understands this unless he or she has gone through it.

I can really relate to a rather curious statement Paul makes about himself in 1 Corinthians 4, for the reading for today: "Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike" 1 Corinthians
4:9 NLT.

No doubt, Paul writes this to counter the preacher-groupie false worship in the church that gathers people around certain personalities. “Here is the way it is really like for a genuine apostle and believer—it is no cake walk.”

What a vivid image! When a victorious Roman general had finished a conquest, he drove his chariot through town with the defeated enemy army in tow, dragging along behind. Paul could relate to those guys. He was one of the prisoners at the very end of the line.

Peterson translates these verses this way: "It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We’re the Messiah’s misfits” (1 Corinthians
4:9, MSG).

“Messiah’s Misfits”—I love it. Sounds like a good name for a church softball team, right? Ha.

I don’t feel this way about God’s people—don’t get me wrong, but this weird leg of the cancer journey certainly makes me feel this way about this old world. I feel like an oddball.

Maybe that isn’t so bad. It is just getting me more and more ready to go home, when my work is done here.

“This world is not my home. I’m just a passin’ through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue” Amen, from a Bible carrying member of Messiah’s Misfits. And glad to be.
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Daystar Plan, Day 91: Everything Belongs to You--EVERYTHING

We had a good service yesterday.

It was the culmination of a four-week study on church membership using Thom Rainer’s book,
I am a Church Member. Each chapter in the book concludes with a pledge he challenges people to make. The adults discussed those as part of the study. We printed them out and gave them to everyone. Teachers encouraged them to sign off on each commitment.

As I prayed about the way to conclude this study, I had a brainstorm of sorts. I felt that it would be good to end this study with a congregational re-affirmation of our commitment to Christ through the church. It was like a wedding-vow renewal.

I’ve done several of those in the course of my pastorate in Northglenn. Each one has been special. They have occurred on the 50
th Wedding Anniversary—what a special and unique way to celebrate it!

Anyway, the thought occurred to me, “Why don’t we renew our ‘vows’ of membership to the Groom as the Bride of Christ?”

So, I preached a multi-text sermon in which I touched on the biblical relation between marriage and the church. I believe it is a crucial message. More and more, it seems, people treat God’s church like the corner grocery store. By the way, this is the way our culture treats marriage as well: if I am not “happy” (to use Victoria Osteen’s term), then I will bail and find someone else who will make me happy.

Anyway, I could go on about this, but you get the idea.

At the conclusion of the message, I asked everyone to stand up and form a circle around the auditorium so that everyone faced each other. Then, we had a “wedding vow” renewal time of commitment. It was awesome! People were fired up! So was I!

After the invitation, I shared with the church about my upcoming new round of chemo treatments. I said something like, “I’m not worried at all. I’m confident that the Lord is going to take care of this round as He has the previous two, but I am concerned about the church. Please know that I am going to continue to work as my health allows. As always, if I am not available, please call on our deacons or staff. And, in light of what we have just done today, look around. We are all the body of Christ. This church is not about one person, including the pastor. Call someone in this room. Oh, and one more thing, if anyone ever has a problem with my work ethic or schedule, I would really appreciate you talking to me first. Thanks!”

The church is not about any one person. We are not groupies, but somehow, the sophists in Corinth were pulling the church in that direction. Paul wrote his first letter to the church to deal with a variety of issues, the first of which was the division of the church around personalities.

Paul argued against this vehemently. Everything he did in ministry was calculated to point to Jesus rather than himself.

I love these first four chapters of 1 Corinthians. The end of this periscope captured my attention this morning. I cite it from the Amplified Bible:

"So let no one exult proudly concerning men [boasting of having this or that man as a leader], for all things are yours, Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter), or the universe or life or death, or the immediate and threatening present or the [subsequent and uncertain] future–all are yours, And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's." (1 Corinthians
3:21-23 AMP).

I love this! I love the way Paul turns this whole “spiritual groupie” issue on its head. Instead of affiliating with one person, we as Christians need to allow the Spirit of God to expand us. The whole universe and life and death as well as the threatening present and uncertain future BELONG TO US. We belong to Jesus. Jesus belongs to God.

Wow!!!! I don’t focus or follow any man. I belong ultimately ONLY to God.

Praise God! The threatening present, which includes chemotherapy, and the uncertain future, are totally and completely in Your hands, Lord. This includes the church, your church, your Bride. All yours. Everything yours. “In sickness and in health, in adversity and prosperity, so long as I live.” Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 90: Onward and Upward

Reading for today: Psalm 24-29 and 1 Corinthians 1

I’m halfway through the Daystar Plan today—who hoo!

Again, I want to thank everyone for your expressions of concern and prayers these past few days. The Lord is at work.

I decided that I was NOT going to sit around and think about cancer all day. I think one reaches a point with this disease where he or she lets it just consume you OR not. I have chosen B—not.

What does this mean? Well, for me, it meant a lot of activity yesterday outside on a beautiful Fall day here in Colorado. I had a great workout yesterday morning. I actually got some things done around the house and then spent some time outside in the afternoon and early evening. It was awesome.

The truth is that I don’t feel bad AT ALL. That may not be true when I start chemo, but why start to feel bad when I don’t? I think it would be rather easy to do—“anticipatory feeling bad.” I’m not sure that is a technical term but I just created it as such! I think anxiety and worry can create its own “phony war,” so to speak.

All of this goes back to a comment that a doctor made to us when I was first diagnosed. We ended up choosing another doctor, but this was a comment he made: “John, cancer, by its very nature wants to consume more and more and more of you; you just can’t let that happen.”

This recent neck issue is a primo case in point. The second I stopped “the pill” it went to town. So, the pill has been keeping it at bay, for the most part. But that’s what cancer does—it grows; it consumes; it takes “more and more and more.”

Anyway, back to that doctor’s comment—I think he was speaking more of the mental aspect—a mindset if you please, of just going ahead and living. That is what I plan to do, unless I just can’t function from a physical standpoint. Then, I will rest. Otherwise, it is full speed ahead.

Today is a busy day—with a discipleship session with some guys at 7:00 this morning; prayer time at 8:30; and a special service at 10:15. I will tell you about it tomorrow.

At the end of the service, I feel I need to talk with the church a bit. I’m going to tell them about starting chemo. I’m going to tell them that I don’t know what to expect, but that, for the most part (unless physically hindered in some way), I will be forging ahead.

One thing: I am not going to put up with any behind-the-scenes talk or criticisms. I hope I don’t have to deal with this again. I believe that open and honest communication is the answer to this. Don’t you? In fact, I can’t think of a situation in which that approach to relationships is not effective. Can you?

I love Paul’s comments as he begins this letter to this very divided and troubled church. "He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians
1:8-9 NLT). That pretty much sums it up.

I’m trusting Jesus to keep US strong. Not just me, but the church as a whole. I choose to continue to go through this disease with integrity. God enables that as well because He is faithful and invites us all into a mutually beneficial partnership with the Lord Jesus. We certainly benefit more than He does.

Lord, thank you for yesterday. Thank you for helping me feel very good in spite of the aggravation of this stinking swollen neck. I pray that the church can move forward because it is not built on one man; it is You who keep us strong, You who are faithful; and You who lead us on in partnership. Onward and upward. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 89: A Swollen Neck

Please pray for me.

After writing this blog yesterday, I felt that my neck was a little tight. Looking in the mirror, I noticed that the swelling has increased rather dramatically. It is a little grotesque, to be honest, and not a little bit disturbing.

I told my mom and sister. They were concerned as well.

So, I called the doctor. When you make a call to the doctor, you never reach him. It is always his assistant, Maureen, and she never answers either. I left a message with her, and just tried to put my neck out of my mind (huh, kind of a funny expression!). It is not painful. It is just awkward, especially when I try to turn my head to the left.

Anyway, shortly after noon, Maureen called, “John, has your neck swollen significantly?”

“Yes, I feel it has, Maureen.”

“Two things. First, are you having trouble breathing?”

“No.”

“Second, are you having trouble eating?”

“No.”

“Well, then there is nothing urgent that needs to happen right now, but if it gets worse, call us, and call me on Monday to let me know how you are doing.”

Okay.

We had the Prayer Vigil for Saeed yesterday afternoon. I had a wonderful time with Jesus. Chuck and Belle, a couple in our church joined me. We sat in that auditorium in silence, praying. When they left, I continued.

I enjoy praying that way. I really do, but honestly, it was difficult to keep my mind on the Lord as I wanted. But the Lord helped me with this.

As I was praying, He brought to mind a girl I had met in India. After the service with the boys and girls in the Kushtai slum, L and N took Nancy and me down an alley to visit in a couple of homes. In the first little house, we met a mother grieving over her daughter’s illness.

As we visited, the girl who had been out purchasing groceries returned. She had a scarf on her neck to hide the huge (I mean HUGE) goiter on her neck. You could still see it even with the scarf. She did not really look at us, but we prayed with the mom for that little girl and her family.

I will never forget it.

But somehow, it helps me to think of that family and specifically that girl and the work of the gospel in Kushtai when I am tempted to get a little “weirded out” over this swelling on my neck.

Please do not think this is a spiritual act on my part but just the grace and provision of the Lord.

I have access to medical care. I am starting treatment next week. The doctor’s will address this swelling. AND, the Lord will take care of it.

But that little girl … I wonder about her. I wonder what has happened to her over these past few months.

I’m going to write one of the missionaries and ask about her.

In the meantime, I join the apostle in his prayer near the end of the book of Romans.

"I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13 NLT).

Lord, I am confident. I continue to pray for that girl in Kushtai. Dr. Jesus, heal her. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 88: Scaling Walls

First of all, I want to thank everyone who responded/commented on Facebook and through other avenues about your prayers for me. I deeply appreciate it. Thanks so much.

As the day progressed yesterday, I had a peace about everything. There is no way to describe, but you know it, deep in your heart. It is amazing.

The truth is that something different needs to be done simply because I feel that my neck is swelling by the day, and it is starting to bother me, so I am glad finally to have hope that the swelling will decrease through treatment.

The “pill” affected the size of the swelling on my neck at first, but after a few months, it seemed to increase back to its former size. This means that I’ve been dealing with this swelling on my neck for about a year now. No big deal, but again, I’m glad for the prospects of change.

One of the things I have learned to do when I am facing some sort of challenge (whatever it is) is to be particularly sensitive to what I read in the Word. I try to be all the time, of course, but tragedy perks me up. I’ve learned that always, God has a word. Always.

Today is no exception.

One of the Psalms in the Daystar reading for today is Psalm 18. What a magnificent testimony to the power of God! You know that a passage is significant when it is repeated elsewhere in the Word of God. It would be interesting to make a detailed comparison. I need to do this someday, but this victory song is repeated in 2 Samuel 22. David sings this as a testimony to the power of God in the military victories he won over his enemies and over Saul who continued to pursue him.

This Psalm is replete with military imagery, and one picture in particular stood out to me today (the second half of this verse):

“In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall” (Psalm 18:29, NLT). Scaling walls. The image that came to mind is every military training video or army movie you have ever seen. What are the troops doing? They are running through some type of pond, grabbing a rope, and climbing up and over a wall. Right?

Now, it takes some strength and dexterity to do this, I would imagine.

I recall my days of gym class in elementary school. We actually had to grab a rope and climb up it. This was always one of the most difficult things for me. At first, I tried to pull myself up while my feet dangled. Then, I learned how to use my feet and push myself up. It was still very challenging.

Anyway, back to this military training exercise—why train by scaling walls?

Well, of course, the answer is obvious. Oftentimes, especially back then, when attacking an enemy, the challenge including climbing up and over the fortified walls of a city. Part of the gig.

I’m sure that even today this is a necessary skill. If you are going to be a soldier in battle, you must learn how to deal with walls.

It is the same in the Christian life, right?

The point is: chemo treatment number two is simply the next wall God is asking me to scale. He helped me get up and over the first round of chemo. I have no reason to doubt that whatever is involved in this “wall,” with God, He will enable me to scale it as well.

Life is a series of walls. They are lined up before us. With each successive challenge, we learn more about the provision and strength of the Lord.

This doesn’t lesson the challenge. My concerns about chemo on this go around are far different than those of wall number one. Different but still as daunting. Maybe more so. Now, I sort of know what to expect. Makes it tougher in some respects.

But God hasn’t changed. He was there, is there, and will always be there.

Wall-Scalers unite! Let’s go, cries the Drill Sergeant, but THIS is no drill. He is waving us on!

I’m following you, Lord. Up and over. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 87: Chemo--Again

To be honest, I am in shock as I sit here this morning.

Yesterday, as the doctor’s assistant Lisa came in to examine me, she said, “How are you, John?”

“Hi, Lisa,” I responded, “I’m okay but my neck has been bothering me a little, and my family and some friends have been asking if the pills really are the best treatment option for me?”

She said, “Well, if you are feeling good, we like to hear that, but upon further examination of your last CT scan results, we did detect that one lymph node is a little larger, so the doctor is considering taking you off the pills.”

Whoa. Really?

When the doc came in, he stated, “John, do you feel as if we are treading water a bit?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I think we need to make a change. There is a new chemo treatment out there. The regimen is a little different than what you did the first time. But I think we ought to just stop the pills and move to it.”

Okay.

We agreed that I should start right away—a week from yesterday at 8:30—the first session SIX HOURS in the chemo room. Then, I have to come back the next day for two more hours. This is the regimen (if memory serves) once a month—one long session one day (they will not all be six hours, but the first time is that long because they want to see how I tolerate the new drug) and another the very next day—a couple of hours.

Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.

Honestly, I am glad to be making a switch. I just have felt frustrated that the swelling on my neck never seemed to improve and in spite of everything the doctor had said before (about changing my mindset about remission), I was still struggling with it. And so was my family. And a couple of friends had said, “John, this is bogus. Find another doctor.”

I’m glad I am not stuck in rut of treatment, especially if it is not working.

It is now just about getting myself oriented to the whole concept of chemo again. As I said before, it feels like shock. It all shifted so quickly.

My mind goes back to four years ago … I certainly don’t feel THAT WAY, but I am a little apprehensive.

I have been feeling very good. I just hope I tolerate this new treatment and continue to feel good. Please pray about this. This is my number one concern.

How long to take this treatment? Will I have to have a shot afterwards (that steroid shot knocked me for a loop)? Will I have to do maintenance treatments again and if so, for how long? The doctor would not answer any of these questions. He just said, “We will have to see.”

We certainly will. But He already does …

"Turn and answer me, O LORD my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me." (Psalms
13:3-6 NLT).

Indeed, Lord, I affirm it from the bottom of my heart. You are good, all the time. All the time, You are good. Not a quip or cliché. Truth. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 86: The Four Pillars

Several months ago, I received a call from a young man named Aaron. We made an appointment and sat down in my office. He told me that he was concerned about the erosion of moral values in our country. He assured me that he was not political in the sense of promoting one party over another. He just felt that the voices of leaders from all types of religious organizations needed to be heard.

As a result, he planned a rally on the west steps of the Colorado State capitol for September 23—yesterday.

Pastor Ilamarques and I decided to go together. We parked inside the “Cash Register” building off of 17
th and Broadway and made our way back down Broadway three blocks to the capitol.

It didn’t take very long until we saw some friendly and familiar faces. Pastor James from North Metro was there along with his Associate Danny. Steve who serves Living Branch Fellowship in Englewood sidled up to me, “Do you want to associate with me?”

“Of course,” I said.

“I wasn’t sure because of how bad I played the last time we played golf together.” We had a good laugh. A guy from his church—Steven—was with him.

As the six of us were visiting, someone grabbed me from behind. It was Dan and Sam.

We found our seats as the program began. Aaron had asked a Catholic priest to speak about traditional marriage, a Muslim Imam to share a few words about religious liberty, a Baptist pastor to teach on the humanity of the unborn (I thought Pastor John did an excellent job; I’m going to call him today to tell him personally; I guess I am a little biased), and an attorney to advocate for parental rights.

As you can see, I also alluded to the four pillars but let me list them again:

--Traditional marriage
--Religious liberty
--The Humanity of the unborn
--Parental Rights

Each person from all these various backgrounds and perspectives took ten minutes to speak on each subject—a miracle in and off itself when I think about how long winded preacher types like me tend to be.

A Vietnamese American who is a priest told his story of persecution and how he got to the United States. It was an awesome story. He is a proud American.

Finally, a couple of state Senators made some brief comments followed by a Hispanic priest who made more comments about the valuable role of mothers in our culture and handed out several “Friend of Motherhood” awards to some government leaders who were in attendance.

After a closing prayer, we were done.

I was very impressed with the whole program. Ilamarques and I both remarked that we had learned some things, and both of us feel more convicted to at least be more diligent to pray for our government leaders both on a state and national level.

Interesting. One of those new and different kinds of experiences—I believe that the Lord has something else for me in this arena. Ilamarques said the same thing.

Lord, thank you for Aaron. Thank you for this one Christian man who felt led to take a stand and let our government officials know about it.

Please have mercy on our country. Help us not to drift away from our moral foundations. None of us live in the deluded world that we are a Christian nation, but I’m thankful that people from all religious and no religion can advocate for biblical values—values upon which our nation was founded.

I pray for Senators Kevin Lundberg and Mark Scheffel who were there yesterday and affirm the meetings and its vital importance.

God, give all of us the grace to take a stand. Amen.

P. S. To learn more, go to www.pillarproject.com.
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Daystar Plan, Day 85: Quite the Opposite

Today’s readings: Esther 8-10; Psalms 1-3; and Romans 9 and 10.

Quite a variety in the readings for this morning, but the message is the same. Once again, I’m so amazed (but not surprised) that the message of the Bible coheres, no matter what book in the Bible you read.

Esther is all about how the Lord turns the tables on His enemies in favor of His people. Haman and all his family come to a bad end, while Esther and Mordecai and the Jews in Persia emerge.

"So on March 7 the two decrees of the king were put into effect. On that day, the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but quite the opposite happened. It was the Jews who overpowered their enemies" (Esther
9:1 NLT). “Quite the opposite”—I love this phrase.

The rest of the narrative in Esther chronicles the blood bath that ensues as the Jews kill their enemies right under the nose of Xerxes. He allowed it to occur. Amazing stuff.

This was a reversal from His original policy (Haman coaxed him to do it) to exterminate the Jews. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Once again, the God who watches over His people didn’t allow them to be harmed.

The Psalmist comments on this very thing in one of the major Messianic passages of the Old Testament—Psalm 2:7: “I will declare the Lord’s decree: He said to Me, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father” (NLT). In the face of nations who oppose, God laughs and exalts His Son in triumph. This Psalm tells the nations to pay homage to the Son or it will mean trouble.

Romans 9 and 10 further amplify this. God is sovereign over His people. He chooses some to display His glory; others He hardens. His choice includes Gentiles who come to Him in faith.

Think about this: we get to be included in God’s Family, in the People of God. And it is NOT because of anything we have done. It is simply because God has chosen to be merciful to us.

WOW.

Therefore, I can apply this story of Esther to me as an undeserving Gentile. Today, right now, the One who is seated at God’s right hand is on my side and more importantly, I am on His. No enemy can defeat me. “Quite the opposite,” as a matter of fact.

I thought of this as I was preaching Sunday. The gathered people of God are more powerful than any army on the face of the earth because God is on our side.

This is a good reminder for today. For the first time in my life, I am going to a service on the steps of the state capitol downtown this morning. It should be very interesting. I’ll certainly share more about it tomorrow, but basically, I am joining a group who is advocating for moral values among our government officials. It is not a political gathering. It is a plea for morality. Should be interesting.

Lord, I’m deeply grateful that, no matter what the numbers or appearances seem to indicate, whether Jew or Gentile, Your people are always in the majority. Thank You that this is the case because You are on the throne and Your Son, the promised Messiah, who died, was buried, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, is indeed LORD. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! Amen.

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Daystar Plan, Day 84: You or Someone Else

Yesterday, in the service, two different groups came in as the service started. My good friends, Dan and Michelle, came. I had asked Dan to preach for me in the Hispanic church. I was glad that he and Michelle came early to be a part of the English-speaking service.

In addition, Debra along with Bud and Annie, came as well. I had asked Debra and her husband Bill to teach an “Art of Marriage” conference at our church. Unfortunately, Bill was unable to make it because he has pneumonia. Please pray for him. But Debra took some time at the end of the service to share about the conference. She asked Bud and Annie to chime in. It was an excellent presentation.

Anyway, the Lord used Dan, Michelle, Debra, Bud, and Annie to encourage me. I’m so thankful.

As I told the church, as the sin and evil intensifies in this world, I think the fellowship of the body of Christ (here I am speaking of the body universal) will become even more important. I include Naghmeh in this scenario as well.

But it isn’t about just being a “holy huddle.” It is about making an impact on this world from the platform the Lord has given each of us.

Queen Esther found herself in such a position. And the King and his cohort Haman sent out a decree calling for the “holocaust” of the Jews in the land, Mordecai came to Esther:

"Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: ‘Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?’” (Esther
4:13-14 NLT).

What an amazing statement! “If you keep quiet, deliverance will come from some other place.” In other words, if you don’t step up, God will find someone else who will.

Then, this inquiry: “who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” No doubt about it. No need to ask. Absolutely.

So many things are running through my mind as I read those verses.

The “success” or “failure” of a church or an individual has nothing to do with numbers or pedigree or social status. God can and will use anyone at any time. He wants to do this. The question is: will we respond? Will we step up?

Queen Esther had a good life in the harem of the king. She laid it all on the line, however, in order to stand up for her people and rescue them.

In fact, the Lord put her there. She was the human instrument in the hands of God, her circumstances having been uniquely crafted to turn the tables on evil and for God’s people to triumph.

Today’s reading in the New Testament comes from Romans 8. This chapter provides a great commentary on this Old Testament story. I’ve never linked these two parts of God’s Word together before. I love it!

How about this verse: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB). I’ve always interpreted that verse in individualistic terms, but I have been wrong. This is a promise for those of us in the body of Christ! “Good” can’t ever be interpreted simply as something that God does for ME!

When the Lord arranges my circumstances, He has a lot broader perspective than the narrow confines of my own benefit.

Lord, I confess the sin of making terminal judgments of my circumstances. What this boils down to is a satanic diversion. You have put the church and me in a position for You to use us. Make us unusable. I am available. Use this church to honor and glorify You, as an “Esther” in this lost and dying world. Amen.


P. S. Okay, I will say it. I am bummed that the “boys” came up short in the Northeast yesterday. Bummed.
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Daystar Plan, Day 83: I Surrender All

At the Annual Associational meeting at North Metro on Thursday night, the first part was a worship time.

Pastor James and Jan, who leads worship at North Metro, concluded the first worship set with the hymn, “I Surrender All.” The second verse captured my attention:

“All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.”

Prior to singing the song, James said, “We usually sing this at the end of worship services, but tonight, we are going to sing it now, and whatever you are going through or struggling with, just give it to Jesus.” This is a paraphrase of what he said.

This time of surrender was actually a culmination for me.

Wednesday night, at Calvary Chapel, at the beginning of the service, a brother stood up to greet all of us and to say, “We are here to worship the Lord, and also, if you would like to take the Lord’s Supper tonight, please feel free to do so. The bread and the juice are up here at the front.”

So, at one point during the worship, I went forward, took a little cup of juice and a piece of a cracker in the plate and knelt at the front for some time with the Lord.

I was a little emotional, to be honest. The contrast was just a bit overwhelming.

Here I was on a Wednesday night in a church building where thousands were gathered (granted, it was a special meeting) and up in Northglenn, we are struggling with the fact that our attendance is dwindling on Wednesday night.

But up there at the altar, I thanked Jesus for giving me the broken body and blood of His Son, and I felt led to give myself right back to Him, taking hands off.

Whether few or many, it is all in the Lord’s hands.

Thursday night confirmed that—I Surrender ALL.

Nehemiah lived a life of full surrender to the Lord. In the latter chapters of the book in scripture that carries his name, it talks about his return trip to Jerusalem. After finishing the wall and leading the celebration, he went back to Persia to resume his duties with the king, but after a period of time, he asked for permission to return.

When he came back, there were all sorts of issues to deal with.

For example, "I immediately confronted the leaders and demanded, ‘Why has the Temple of God been neglected?’ Then I called all the Levites back again and restored them to their proper duties” (Nehemiah
13:11 NLT).

Someone who has yielded himself or herself totally to the Lord is zealous for Him.

"Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God" (Romans
6:13 NLT).

Lord, today, I give myself wholly and completely to You. Use me as a tool in Your hands today. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 82: A New Paradigm

Earlier this summer, a fellow pastor in the metro area—his name is Luke—called me. We met for coffee on my birthday, as a matter of fact.

We visited for a few moments. Recently, the Lord called him and his family here from Oklahoma to serve a church in Aurora. He is a young guy and very sharp.

Like many of our rather established SBC churches, Central Baptist of Aurora is facing a lot of challenges. We are all struggling.

I confided in Luke that it seems more difficult than ever to find viable ways of reaching people. We have tried all the time worn ideas such as knocking on doors and big “events.”

I’ve said this on several occasions. The summer I was diagnosed with cancer, we literally knocked on thousands of doors in our community. Jerry and Diane and Will (I miss you guys, if you are reading this) devised a way to do this from the back of the van using several boys. Talk about rapid fire. They “covered” a ton of houses.

We also used two youth groups—one from Virginia and another one from Texas—to help us out.

I deeply appreciate the Stephensons and these two groups.

However, we did not get anyone to come to the church out of that. We did get one response—a man told us never to put anything in his door ever again! Ha. But that was it.

I’m not saying that the Lord cannot use these efforts. We knocked on some doors this summer. We met some people and talked to them—all good. I believe that you need to obey the Lord, whether you see immediate “results” or not, but still, it doesn’t seem very fruitful.

Anyway, we have also tried big events. The Lord uses those as well. We reached a lot folks through our sports camp. In fact, one dear family is now in the second pew up front each week. We praise God for them, but again …

I shared all this with Luke. He understood. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt.

He listened for a while and then basically said, “John, none of that is going to be effective and it is not what the Lord called us to do. He called us to serve.”

He went on to talk about a relationship he and the church in Aurora have forged with an elementary school. It started with a conversation with the principal in which Luke and others said, “What can we do to serve you?” They went with no agenda and no desire (at least at first) to “get more people in the pews.”

Long story short—the Lord has opened up some many opportunities—not only to serve, but also to share Jesus. Luke listed a bunch of them. It was incredible. I left very convicted and very convinced.

So, after praying about this and talking with our staff, I felt led to give it a shot.

Just this past week, another woman in the church—Patty—and I had a conversation with Teresa, the principal of Leroy Elementary—four blocks down the street from the church.

We both went into this meeting not knowing entirely what to expect. Luke warned me about this, “John, it takes a long time to forge a relationship. Just make yourself available to God and the school and see what happens. It may start out very small at first.”

As Patty and I sat down in Teresa’s office along with another teacher (I have forgotten her name), Teresa said, “We are so excited to meet with you. We have been trying to develop relationships with people in the community and you have come to us. Now, where is your church?” Huh? What?

We had an awesome talk. Ideas flowed back and forth very freely. One of the main concerns right now is that there is a family in the school that is homeless. The two boys have only been in school a few days the first three weeks of class. Please pray for them. I’m asking the Lord for wisdom as we seek to minister in this situation. Stay tuned.

But I am excited. Genuinely excited.

Instead of trying to figure out tricks and gimmicks to coerce people to come into our building (let’s face it—that isn’t going to happen. I’m sure they would much rather go to Calvary Chapel in Aurora or some other mega-church equivalent in our area) to “help us grow,” we are simply ministering and serving, and as Bill Bright has coined, “leave the results up to God.” This is now our strategy.

It is not that we won’t have events on occasion and it is not that we don’t want to see more people saved, baptized and discipled, but our main focus is going to be this school, and we will see where the Lord wants to take it from there. This is no bag of tricks. This is all about long-term relationships.

Again, I like it.

Lord, I thank you for Luke, this dear brother whom I got to see the other night at the Associational meeting. We caught up and he was happy for the church and for me. Bless the congregation he serves, Lord. I pray for this family. I ask you to meet their need. Thank you for Teresa, the other teacher who met with us, and Roxanne who shared the need of the homeless family. I pray for them today as well. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 81: House Church

As a result of setting up this prayer vigil for Saeed and the persecuted church next week, I came into contact with Lydia*. She and her husband serve as leaders of a house church in the area.

For the past week or so, we have been exchanging voice mails. Yesterday, we finally made contact.

At the direction of the Lord, Paul* and Lydia made the decision to leave the “traditional” church and begin this ministry in their home.

As far as I could tell, Paul and Lydia’s ministry had two primary emphases. First, as they meet on Saturday, they feed hungry people. I didn’t get to ask them how they find these people or who these folks are, but that is one thing.

Second, they minister to folks whom the Lord is delivering from various addictions.

In the course of the conversation, Lydia said, “This is what we were doing up until the summer, but for the past couple of months, we kind of shut things down. We were both rather burned out and needed some rest. We are also waiting on God to see what He has next for us.” Interesting. Convicting.

As we were talking, I remember a conversation that a fellow pastor, Dan, and I had several years ago. He said, “John, the trend in the American church is that folks will either go to a mega-church or a house church. All the in-betweeners like your church and mine will be gone.”

Lydia told me that she and her husband had gone to Calvary Chapel, as I had, to hear Naghmeh’s testimony. She said, “I liked Calvary Chapel but that type of church and ministry is not for us. We left the traditional church because the focus was on programs and not relationships. Plus, we are not captive to the whole concept of numbers as a sign of success or failure. What is the first question people ask about your church?”

In a rather muted tone, I answered, “How many folks attend your church?”

She said, “There you go. We refuse to let that worldly standard dictate to us what we do or don’t do.”

She went on to assert that she believed that God was pairing things down so that only those who are really serious in their commitment to the Lord would remain. Others, because they are not saved and never have been, will drop away. She said, “Nature shows us this. In the Fall, it looks as if things are dying. They aren’t. The focus is on the roots. Over the winter, the roots get nourished so that new life breaks out in the Spring. God is doing a great work right now. It just doesn’t look like it.”

Again, I say, “This is an interesting perspective.” I am steeped in a church culture that is based on worldly concepts of success and failure.

I am in a church culture where there is constant pressure. “What are we going to do next?” Maybe this isn’t reality, but I feel that people are looking at pastors and saying, “Well? Get with it.” Things seem to be in decline (again NUMBERS). Let’s change the program. Let’s keep doing the program. Let’s start a new program.

Personally, I’m tired of programs. I’m sick of trying to keep them afloat. I’m tired of making decisions and then having people say, “Well, we left the church because John is a dictator or we didn’t agree with what John did or it is John’s fault.”

I was talking with a fellow pastor the other day. We both laughed as we shared our “horror” stories. Here is the consensus of the conversation: talk to everyone who originally joins a church because God led him or her to do it. Talk with them when they leave. Somehow, in one way or another, it is the pastor’s fault.

I wonder what would happen if like Paul and Lydia, a pastor just said, “We are shutting it all down just to pray. We are coming next Sunday not to crank out another service, not to keep this rat cage going around and around and around. I will not be preaching. We will not be singing. We won’t have the usual programs. We are just going to pray.”

I wonder what would happen.

Everything I am talking about here would emerge. The people who don’t want to do anything but always demand that the church or the pastor do something would say, “What? I don’t want to do that. I’m leaving. I’m gone.”

The others would say, “How dare you make that decision? You are a dictator. YOU are gone.”

I wonder what Nehemiah would say to all of this. When he found out that the city of Jerusalem was in ruins, he had a genuine burden for the state of affairs. He took personal responsibility. God opened the door for him to go back to his native land and lead a movement of personal responsibility. He appointed families to repair their own little part of the wall with a “hammer” in one hand and a spear in another.

There was opposition. There always is. Sanballat and Tobiah didn’t like it (whoever they are?). They tried to discourage people. They disparaged the work. They made fun of it. They threatened. What’s new? All of this was going on.

Nehemiah was undaunted. He just kept on going. In fact, he challenged the folks to continue to be diligent and wear a weapon all the time.

Any work of God, whether anyone esteems it or not, will face opposition.

What we need are faithful people like Nehemiah and Paul and Lydia and folks Abraham who kept right on believing, “in hope against hope.”

Lord, I pray for a revival of personal responsibility in the American church—whether it is folks who attend Calvary Chapel along with the masses or those who serve faithfully in a house church or in an “in-betweener” like the church I serve whatever. Lord, as for me, I choose to continue to serve and be faithful to you with our little section of “the wall.” Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 80: Naghmeh's Testimony

Oh, man.

I still can’t get over it.

First of all, the building in which Calvary Chapel in Aurora meets is no dinky place. I arrived at 6:30 (the service started at 7:00) because my friend, who belongs to the church, said, “You better get there early.” It was packed out.

After a rather extended worship time, Pastor Ed introduced Naghmeh, but she didn’t speak at first. She showed a video of her two children, Rebekkah and Jacob (I think I got those names right) telling how much they miss their dad.

It got me. I was not alone. When the video finished, the huge crowd was silent.

Then, Naghmeh came out to speak. She told all of us that prior to her husband’s captivity, she refused to speak in public. She had been a very private person, but now all of that had changed.

She is a very intelligent and articulate person. She had been planning to be a doctor until she met Saeed in a church in Iran during a trip from the states back to her homeland over ten years ago. She said that she was attracted to his passion for God.

He was a pastor and served as a leader of a huge underground church planting movement in Iran that witnessed thousands of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus.

One thing about her demeanor that impressed me: she was not maudlin AT ALL. I half expected her to be emotional as she talked about her husband’s imprisonment and missing him (this would have been very understandable), but that was not the way she carried herself. She was confident, straightforward, and very matter-of-fact. She told all of us that she is dependent totally on God and his grace even to get out of bed every day as she fights all Satan’s temptations.

It was very impressive. Praise God!

Two things stand out in my memory this morning from her testimony.

First, she told about a time that one of the imperial guards in Iran put a gun to her head along with that of her husband and he said, “Renounce Christianity right now or you will die a slow and tortuous death.”

She said, “At that moment, I had to decide whether I really trusted God or not, whether Christianity was just a religion or it was a relationship. I decided to tell him, ‘I am a Christian.’ Saeed and I shared the gospel with him, and as we did, he started to cry. Eventually, he tore up our arrest papers, and as he let us go asked for a Bible.”

Second, she talked about the fact that the Lord has given her peace in this extremely difficult situation. At one point, she asserted, “You cannot fake peace. You either have it or you don’t.”

I believe that the peace of God—very evident and visible—is the reason for her confidence.

So, the whole experience made an impact on me. I’m more impressed than ever to pray for them and for Saeed’s release. Please join me.

There is a phrase that occurs rather frequently in the final chapters of Ezra. I want to quote one verse as an example: "We broke camp at the Ahava Canal on April 19 and started off to Jerusalem. And the gracious hand of our God protected us and saved us from enemies and bandits along the way" (Ezra
8:31 NLT).

Did you notice it? It is “the gracious hand of our God.” This is very evident in Ezra’s life—all along the way from his travels to his work in rebuilding the Temple to his stern rebuke of the returning exiles for marrying pagan wives. He did it all, not in his own strength, but as a direct result of the gracious actions of Almighty God.

One could say the same thing about Naghmeh.

Lord, I thank you for the encouragement of those whose lives demonstrate the supernatural power and gracious hand of our God—YOU. May the same be said about me today. Amen.

P. S. I checked Calvary Chapel of Aurora’s website. Naghmeh’s testimony is not there. I wonder if it will be at some point or if the church will offer some type of recording of the message? I might call today to ask.
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Daystar Plan, Day 79: Negotiating Ministry in a Depraved World

Reading for today: 2 Chronicles 36; Ezra 1-4; Acts 28; and Romans 1

Again, one of the reasons I love this reading plan is the combination of passages and how they inform and amplify each other.

I mean we are talking about the same author—the Holy Spirit.

As I continue to wrestle with where our church is and talk to other pastors, I think the thing that other pastors and I struggle with is why people act the way they do.

On the one hand, there is an expectation that as Christians we should be different—not odd or weird—but holy—different in the sense that we are fully dedicated to the Lord, and we should demonstrate that to others.

On the other hand, it seems that one does not see this as often as one would like. And not just in others, but in me. I’m certainly not exempt from the questions in Romans 7. But they apply to all of us. Christians at times or even often don’t act like the new creations in Christ Jesus that God intended us to act like.

What emerges out of this is a myriad of questions. Why? What does this mean?

The one thing that emerges as a common side effect among folks I talk to is DAMAGE. It hurts the church and our witness in the community.

But why?

Well, I want to come back to something that the Spirit (the author of the whole Bible) impressed upon me as I read these passages for today. I wonder if all of us (especially pastors) have a firm grasp on a cardinal principle of scripture—the total depravity of man.

Romans 1 chronicles how this plays out and it begins with idolatry. Once we worship the creature rather than the Creator, everything is out of whack and goes to pieces. It is a mess.

The story of the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath is a primo example of it. The Chronicler makes it clear in chapter 36 that the Lord just removed His hand from the city, and as a result, it was totally destroyed.

So, someone at this point might respond, “What are you saying? Are you making excuses for people at this point?”

No way. What I am saying is that this depravity has affected every single person who has ever walked the face of the earth. Those who are quick to point their fingers at others must be ready to examine themselves.

Where has the outrage been over spousal and child abuse in our culture up to this point? We like to pile on NFL players (I’m not condoning their activities), but what about this issue in our culture as a whole?

As the church of Jesus, we are called to preach and live a message, but we are not exempt from sin. Again, I am not excusing it, but we aren’t. The thing that makes us different is that we have the answer to it. The Gospel of Jesus along with the compassion and mercy of God.

Here is the deal: after seventy years, God brought His people back to their land and used a pagan king to do it! How about that? That is always God’s end game—mercy.

In addition, sin and its consequences NEVER stop God’s work. I love the final chapter of Acts. Paul is under house arrest. He is in prison in Rome, paying his own expenses. Who ever heard of a prisoner doing THAT? But we find him continuing on, preaching the Gospel “unhinderedly.” That is the literal translation of the very last word of the book. It is an adverb. Here is the point: nothing and no one, not even sin, can stop the gospel.

Negotiating all of this is where the Lord has the church—right in the middle of the tension between the depravity of the human race and its consequences AND the Gospel of Jesus.

Somehow, as I write this today, I seem to have more questions than answers, but I come back to the question: why do Christians act the way they do? I’ll never get my mind and heart around this. When we get saved, the old has gone and the new has come. I don’t believe that we have two natures. As Christians, we have one—new creations in Christ Jesus.

We have the potential for good (as God works good out in our hearts and lives) but we never escape the reality of sin and evil in this world.

It is always deeply disturbing and troubling.

Lord, as I meditate on all of this today, I affirm three cardinal doctrinal positions. You are sovereign. Man is a sinner. Jesus came to save us from our sin. I am going to continue to preach that message and minister as you lead me in the midst of all of that. Thank you for forgiving me. Thank you for saving me. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 78: A Cure for the Seasick

So much on my mind and heart today—where do I begin? You know, one might think that writing every day would eventually lead to me getting to the point where I would run out of things to say. I’ve discovered that it is exactly the opposite.

Many times, during the day, the thought occurs to me, “THAT is something I need to write about.” I only wish I had more time.

Anyway, one thing that I need to share is that I got an opportunity to visit with Andy Sr. on the phone yesterday. It was so great to talk with him. We laughed a lot as we always do when we talk. He said, “Everyone and JoAnn tells me that I am doing better. But it is still hard for me because I wish I could go out and trim a hedge. I’m still not able to walk and get around on my own. I think the most difficult thing is just that I don’t want to just sit around. We had a workday at church recently. For the first time in forever, JoAnn and I could not go.” This quote is a compilation of what he told me about how he feels these days. I told him that we would continue to pray for him.

Thank you for joining me in this prayer.

Last night, on one of the news channels, I was able to see an interview with Miriam Ibrahim. Remember her? She spent time in prison in Sudan because she married a Christian. She even had a baby in imprisonment. There is no telling what she went through.

Her testimony and faith in God was amazing. The interviewer asked, “Did you believe that they would kill you?” Her answer: “Faith means life. If you don’t have faith, you don’t have life.” Earlier in the interview, she said, “My faith was my only weapon in prison.”

Honestly, this is one of the greatest examples and living pictures of “the shield of faith” that I have ever heard. I have preached that all the pieces of armor listed in Ephesians 6 are defensive in nature. The only offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit, but now, I’m not so sure about those contentions …

I’m just grateful to God for examples of courage in the face of great difficulty.

Back to Andy for a moment—he went on to say, “Of course, over the past few weeks, I’ve had more opportunity to pray than I have ever had in my life, so know that I am praying for you.” So, the truth is that he is patently NOT sitting around doing nothing.

I only hope that I will do the same some day.

One more thing—last night, my mom and sis and I watched a movie that was very disturbing. I don’t want to give the title.

I find it a little awkward to appeal to movies because most of them I would not recommend. There is a fine line in even watching them. When we watch movies we have never seen, we are very quick to just turn them off if they cross a line and most do.

Anyway, it was about a man who traveled in his line of work. He had no permanent address or home. He had no desire to settle down and get married, until he met a woman on the road that he fell in love with. As he got more and more serious with her, he found out at the end of the movie that she had a husband and family. The news was devastating.

Somehow, I believe this is a vivid picture of the culture in which we live. There are no constants. There are no moorings as people drift from pillar to post, never settling. Never anchored. And when they try to find something, this old world turns around and betrays them.

Unfortunately, as I continue to ponder the study we are doing on church membership, it also seems to be a picture of our contemporary church culture as well.

I love the shipwreck story of Acts 27. I think that very few of us will ever have any concept of what it means to be on ship in the midst of a two-week plus hurricane-force wind storm.

Can you get the picture of everything and everyone, going up and down constantly? The crew has to toss cargo and tackle overboard. They let the lifeboat go. They cut the ropes to the anchors. There is no hope.

The only stable person in this epitome of instability is the person who believes in God and continues to do so.

"But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island’” (Acts of the Apostles
27:22-26 NLT).

He said, “For I believe God.”

Lord, I thank you so much for the encouragement I received yesterday from Andy and Miriam, stable saints that have/are going through tough times triumphantly because, like Paul, they “believe God.” It seems that this world is more “unhinged” than ever. It is hard to keep one’s balance and equilibrium. I think I am seasick. I believe; help my unbelief. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 77: Bronco Country

We had a great service yesterday. I will talk about it at a later date, but after church, I changed my clothes, jumped in my truck, headed south on I-25, and arrived at my friend Jim’s house.

He was waiting for me in his SUV parked right in front of his house.

We headed north down University Avenue to a café located in Bonne Brae area.

Last year, when Jim took me to a Bronco game, we did exactly the same thing. I even tried to order the same thing on the lunch menu, but as the owner stopped by our table (Jim knows him well, apparently), I asked him about it, “Oh, we don’t have that any more.” Okay.

Jim and I visited over lunch. When we concluded, it was about 2:00. The game started at 2:25—a little later than usual, for some reason.

Normally, I would have been nervous because I would have thought that we were late, but it was no problem. Jim takes a route to the game that stays off the main and congested roads in order to park in a restaurant’s parking lot, near the stadium. He pays an annual rate to be able to do this.

From there, it is only a short walk to the east entrance to Sports Authority Field.

Words cannot describe what an “event” Bronco games are. I’m sure that it is not that much different in every NFL city. Folks arrive early, some even the night before, to “tailgate.” The grills are out. Televisions are on. Radios are blaring. Orange cladded Bronco fans are standing around in groups, many holding some type of alcoholic beverage.

Alcohol is extremely prominent, not only outside the stadium but inside as well.

I can’t tell you how many times we had to stand up during the game to allow someone to go out to get beer or to carry huge cups of beer to past us to their seats.

It is also weird to be seated among a whole lot of folks who are as or more fanatical about the Broncos than I am.

Last year, the game Jim took me to was a Bronco’s blowout victory against the Washington Redskins. The game yesterday went down to the wire, but we still started making our way out of the stadium early.

We found some seats closer to the field and exit and sat in them to watch more of the game. At one point, Alex Smith of the Chief’s fumbled. We thought the Broncos had recovered—game over. So, we left. As it turned out, this was not the case. We found this out as we left the game, and as a result, we watched the conclusion of the game on a television in the parking lot where some tailgaters had gathered. Good thing or we would have missed it.

Back to one thing: on the way out, we noticed a “strange” sight. I use that term to delineate it from all the drunkenness around us. One man held up a sign that said, “Jesus Saves,” while another man using a megaphone (is that the right word? Somehow the name escapes me this morning) cried out, “Repent. Turn to Jesus Christ. He loves you.”

Somehow, right at that moment, finally, I felt something I could relate to. Whenever I see street preachers of any kind, I try to encourage them. As Jim and I were whisking by, I veered over close to them and held my thumb up to the man holding the sign. I smiled at him. He smiled back.

Had I not been with someone I would have done more.

Somehow, I think that this is what Paul would have been doing had he been at the game yesterday.

I know this because the biblical record gives me this indication. Standing before King Agrippa with his life on the line, for example,
"And Paul said, ‘Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains’” (Acts 26:29 ESV).

As you can tell, I am trying to walk a line of saying that it is not wrong to be an NFL fan, but the contrast is stark. It always has been. I’m sure that Felix, Festus, and Agrippa along with his wife Bernice, had never met a prisoner like Paul.

Here were three guys, standing outside a stadium, preaching the gospel literally to thousands and thousands of folks, most of whom did not want to hear.

Lord, thank you for yesterday and Jim’s invitation. But thank you, Lord, for those three believers standing outside the stadium, preaching the gospel. Not all of us are called or gifted to do this. But help me to be bold and to preach in the ways and avenues and opportunities that You bring my way. That might even include preaching on the street … who knows? Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 76: The Church of Me

After finishing the study on prayer in our Sunday school hour at the end of August, we started a new study for Sunday mornings in September. We are using Thom Rainer’s book, I am a Church Member. Today’s lesson is “I will not let my church be about my preference and desires.”

Honestly, I cannot think of a more pertinent topic of discussion for the contemporary church than this.

Recently, I was visiting with a lady in our church. Somehow, we got on the topic of dress. It was at a funeral service. I was wearing a coat and tie. She said, “You look nice. Why don’t you wear a coat and time more often?”

“I would like to,” I replied.

She was incredulous, “Well, then, why don’t you?”

My response was, “Because I don’t want people who visit or come who don’t have coats and ties not to feel uncomfortable.” Huh? She shook her head and walked away.

Sunday by Sunday, I can count the men in our church who wear a coat and tie on the fingers of one finger. Well, almost! The fingers of one hand.

Years ago, I just decided that I was not going to follow my preference in that regard for the good of the body.

I honestly think that a lot of folks who come to church have no frame of reference except the Human Trinity, “Me, Myself, and I.” There is no concept of biblical servanthood or the discovery of the “joy of being last” (page 39). I love that!

It will be interesting to see how people respond to this study today.

On September 28
th, we are going to have a recommitment to membership Sunday using the metaphor or renewing our vows as the bride of Christ to the Groom, Jesus. We are calling and contacting folks on the roll, just to make contact (first of all) but to invite them to come that Sunday.

I think church membership—a commitment to Christ through the local church—is very important. It is important to reaffirm, now and again. That is what this is all about.

We will see how people respond. Some folks that we have tried to contact several times have not returned our calls. This perplexes me. We will leave their names on the list, but I told Betty, we are going to move on. At some point, it becomes a stewardship issue. We love them. We will pray for them, but we are going to focus our energies on reaching new people.

Back to people on the church roll that never come and won’t even return a call from their pastor (this point is true even of some of those who do attend), they treat the Lord and their church just like Felix treated Paul. In the course of Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea, Felix the governor often summoned him for a special audience. I’m confident that Paul pulled no punches as he preached, either:

"But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you" (Acts
24:25, NASB). Intrigued. Interested. But certainly no commitment to Jesus. What a picture of the church of Me!

Lord, I choose to deny myself, take up the cross daily—today, and follow You. I pray that I could model and teach the servanthood life that Jesus showed us. Use this lesson today and the message. I love you, Lord. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 75: No Formulas

A few days ago, I mentioned that one of the main idols in the city of Denver was the Denver Broncos. Many of us struggle with false worship when it comes to our team.

I am in the same boat. I have to be careful. Of course, I have an opportunity to go to the Chiefs’ game Sunday … we will see.

There is a line there. Nothing inherently wrong with rooting for a team. Like anything or anyone, it becomes an idol when we put it on the God level in our lives.

Anyway, I made some sort of statement, “I wonder what it would take to supplant this idol from its place of worship in our city and in our nation?” (I added the “nation” part this morning. Denver is not alone in its worship of the “NFL badge” as I have heard it referred to this week).

I would have to say that this was not a good week for the NFL, to say the least—the whole issue of spousal abuse has come into focus, and one local radio talk show host on sports talk station on the radio contended yesterday, “There are six more cases of abuse ‘out there.’” I’m not sure if this is public knowledge or where he gets his information. But it is very disturbing.

Plus, yesterday, Adrian Peterson of the Vikings was arrested for abusing one of his children. I’m not quite ready to throw him in jail quite yet, but still, it is another incident involving an NFL player.

At the same time all of this is going on, the NFL players association adopted some new standards for drug abuse in the league. I don’t know much about these new standards, but I do know they are not as stringent. Some players, like Wes Welker, will be eligible to play Sunday.

This whole thing seems like a huge mess, and it might affect some folks, (as well it should), but I fear it won’t have that much of an effect on the popularity of the game and the adulation most NFL players receive.

Please understand: I am not arguing that all or even a majority of the players abuse their spouses or children, but I think it is more than we think; of course, it is more prevalent in society than many of us think as well.

Anyway—not sure why I chased that rabbit or if I caught him, but all of this stands in contrast to the way the Lord works on behalf of those who fear Him and follow Him.

King Jehosophat of Judah faced a huge battle from the Edomites. He went to the Lord to seek help. After he prayed, Jahaziel said, “Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s’” (2 Chronicles 20:15, ESV). I love that line. “The battle is not yours but God’s.” As Jehosophat led the people out to fight, he put the choir in front, singing praises to God, and when they arrived at the battlefield, it was already over.

Wow—this is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament.

I also like how God delivered Paul out of death from the angry mob in Jerusalem. He used his citizenship and his nephew who overheard the plot of the Jews to kill him. Under armed guard, the Romans took him out of the city. Amazing.

When we love God and serve Him ONLY, He takes up our cause and fights on our behalf.

Each of these stories is different and unique. There are no formulas. Just God on His throne.

Lord, I love you and want to give You the exclusive worship You deserve. I pray that all this news about players in the NFL will lend some perspective to people who idolize these athletes and this game. Turn peoples’ hearts to you. Keep mine focused on you. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 74: Jerusalem

Reading for today: 2 Chronicles 10-14 and Acts 21

First of all, I thank God that we had no terrorist “incident” that I know of yesterday. This doesn’t mean that something won’t ever happen. But I’m grateful it didn’t happen yesterday, at least. We need to keep praying.

Something dawned on me in the reading for today, again the benefit of exposure to Old and New Testaments readings I have never put together before.

Not long into the reign of Rehoboam, the first king of Judah in the newly divided kingdom, Shishak of Egypt came up against the city of Jerusalem after wrecking havoc in Judah. Things did not look good.

But God sent a prophet to the king to point out his sin and that of the people. The king humbled himself. As a result, God spared the city.

Since the reign of David, Jerusalem took on significance as the center of the “religious life” of the nation of Israel.

To the degree that the people who lived there worshiped God and followed Him, the Lord protected the city.

Let me just stop right here: I don’t think any particular plot of land is “more spiritual” than any other—whether it is in Israel or here in our country. But I do think devotion to God on the part of leadership and people who live in a nation matter.

I believe the same is true on an individual level. If we love God and serve Him, He will protect us and take care of us, but this does not always mean that we avoid difficulties and war.

I say all of this because the New Testament picture of Jerusalem is radically different. In Jesus’ day, there was still a commonly held belief that the city was special because the Temple was there, but the truth is that it was far from being a “spiritual place.”

I am reminded of an expression in the Gospel of Luke: “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, ESV). Why? Well, of course, He went there to die. The so-called religious establishment in the center of Jewish worship had become so twisted that they rejected and crucified their own Messiah.

As I was reading Acts 21 this morning, it dawned on me that Paul had a similar experience. At the close of his missionary journeys (he was always a missionary as we are), things lined up in the leadership of the Lord for him to go to Jerusalem.

A prophet warned him not to go, using a graphic picture with Paul’s belt. Other concurred, begging and pleading with him not to go, but the apostle replied,

"What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 ESV).

Now, Paul did not die there as his Savior did, but his trip there and subsequent arrest proved to be the beginning of the end.

Interesting. A nation and a king who built a temple in a city (technically, Solomon actually built it, but God put the whole concept in David’s heart) out of genuine and sincere devotion to God turned on the Lord and ended up crucifying His Son.

But for us, the story of Jesus and that of Paul reminds us that it is never going to be a cakewalk to be a disciple of Jesus. My mom often repeats something as we talk about how difficult serving God seems to be these days, “They killed Christ.”

Yes, they did and I did.

Lord, I am grateful that you have saved me and forgiven me, first of all. Thank you also that You have called me to “take up the cross daily and follow You.” We are called to die, just as your Son was. Please have mercy on this nation. We have rebelled against You, just as the nation of Israel did. Turn our hearts back to you before it is too late. Amen.

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Daystar Plan, Day 73: Bounce--God's Transcendence and Finishing

As many of you could probably tell, I have really been struggling over these past several days. I think something that didn’t help was that I have just not been feeling well. The virus that has been going around jumped on me with both feet.

But I have learned this when it comes to the relation between the physical and the spiritual. There is a link there. When things are out of whack physically (for whatever reason), I believe we are more vulnerable and susceptible to attack from the enemy.

Back to my situation—the best way to put things is that I feel as if I have been sinking like a rock in a lake—down, down, down.

But somehow, some way, at some point last night—I can’t explain it (well, maybe I can), I “bounced.”

Do you remember those little “super balls”? I’m not quite sure about the name, but they were about the size of a golf ball, and if you threw them down, they bounced high. They were very resilient—so much so that the harder you threw them down, the higher they bounced.

This is my very human and limited explanation of what happened, and I believe the resilience in the Christian life has nothing to do with human strength, but everything to do with the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in response to the prayers of God’s people.

I believe in this greatly. I’ve experienced it over and over throughout my life. People were praying for me as I was taking my oral exams in the PhD program at Southwestern. The body of Christ—God’s people—were praying for me four years and one day ago as I started my first chemo treatment. These are only two examples. I could name many more. I’m sure you could as well.

This is why people need a church family. They need a place where they can say, “I need all of you to pray for me.” And we need folks who will do it, right then and there.

SO, THANK YOU.

But coupled with prayer is the “ministry of the Word” in our lives. I came across two references/passages that have encouraged me greatly this morning. I’m sure I will study and think about them much more as the day progresses.

First, Solomon makes a rather innocuous statement as he begins the ceremony for the dedication of the Temple: "Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness" (2 Chronicles
6:1 ESV). Have you noticed this statement? I'm not sure I have.

What on earth is this talking about? Well, I need to study further, but two instances in Old Testament history come to mind—the Exodus and the giving of the Law at Sinai. In both instances, the Lord was showing the people that He operates in ways and means far above our capacity to understand.

God dwells in thick darkness! This means that we can’t see Him or totally perceive what He is doing. We can just see the results of his actions, i.e. dead Egyptians floating up on the shore the next morning!

The people of Israel did not see what happened to the Egyptians as they tried to cross the Red Sea in pursuit of them. Why? A thick cloud in darkness! Read the account in Exodus.

The technical word for this is TRANSCENDENCE. Solomon affirms this as he goes on to say that God is also IMINENT. We are able to have access to Him as believers since we are all the temple of the Holy Spirit, but He is everywhere at all times.

That is one passage. The other is in Acts 20—Paul’s sermon to the pastors in Miletus. This is a unique speech in the book of Acts because it is the only example we have of Paul’s preaching to the church. In this sermon, he tells these guys, “I haven’t hesitated to preach the whole council of God to the church. I’ve done what God told me to do. I’ve finished the race. Good-bye.”

I feel compelled to spend time in this passage today. All I know is: I want to be able to say the same thing when I am done at the church I serve. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Oh, and by the way: this is 9/11. What a date! This lends more solemnity and urgency to our task. We live in a post 9/11 world. I’m not even sure I know what that means.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I still have a print that hangs on a wall in our home here. It is a picture of the first game at Invesco Field at Mile High—a Monday night game against the New York Giants on September 10, 2001. I look at that picture often and think, “None of us knew what the next day held. That world—the “September 10, 2001” world—is gone forever.”

Father, I pray that today, there would be no terrorist activity that affects anyone in the world. I’m comforted with the thought today that there is no place in the world—no place that some terrorist hides who is plotting more death and destruction, maybe (hopefully) not today, that You are not there also, O Transcendent Lord. In the meantime, help me, help the church just to continue preach the Word of God and never stop. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 72: He Cannot Be Contained

Thanks for your prayers. I appreciate all of you and this forum in so many ways.

I know that, like many creations of God, humans have twisted it and used in ways that are evil. But it also has the capacity to be used for God.

I continue to be amazed that I can sit here, write something, push a button, and it is “out there” on the World Wide Web for others to read (another amazing fact that anyone does) and more importantly, take action on.

So, I am grateful for my church family and for the broader church community, and so is my family, by the way.

For some reason (well, I do know why), the longer I am in ministry, the harder it is to ask people to pray. I’ve just learned that it is often better not to go into detail.

A few years ago, I asked a friend to pray about something with me and for me, and he said, “What is it?” When I told him, he chuckled and said, “Are you kidding? That is nothing.” Well, it might be to you …

This is why I try not to do THAT to anyone. I think it is important to have a fellowship in which people can share burdens with one another and not feel demeaned in the process. That is worse.

Yesterday afternoon, a dear sister in Jesus in our fellowship called me. She was distraught. She said that she needed to talk and asked if she could come by the church. By that time of the day, it was well past 5:00. I was there by myself.

I am always a little hesitant to be in the building alone with a woman. This is no indictment of this sister or any woman in our fellowship. It is just a matter of being above reproach.

When she arrived, however, she had brought a friend with her who sat outside my office as we talked. I appreciated that gesture on her part.

Anyway, she just poured her heart out. We were able to talk and pray, and she jumped up and said, “Thanks, Pastor.” She grabbed her friend by the hand and left.

This may sound overly simplistic. God’s plans and purposes are far beyond anything that we can grasp or understand, but I believe the fact that I was asking others to pray for me put me in a position, a better position, to pray for this sister.

We do not minister to others out of our “strengths” (Do any of us really have any inherent “strengths”? Let’s get real here), but out of our weakness.

At this point, I am reminded of a book I read in seminary. I still have it somewhere. I need to pull it out today—
The Wounded Healer, by Henri Nouwen. A good read.

Today, I have more questions than I had yesterday. But I am glad that I can take these questions to God and like Job’s situation, somehow, God gives me more questions, questions on a different level—way beyond my questions.

The sister that came by had questions. I couldn’t answer them.

For once, I didn’t try.

I was just there and we prayed and both stood up in the midst of questions and went on.

I wonder if this is what Solomon learned as he started the work on the Temple—a building designed for the worship of God. Kind of a contradiction, don’t you think? "But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him?" (2 Chronicles
2:6a ESV).

Lord, when I affirm that you are sovereign, I know I really have no idea what that means, but I do know that nothing we build can draw a line around you or contain you.

There is so much I don’t know, so much I don’t understand. So many questions.

But I affirm with Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, ESV). Amen.

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Daystar Plan, Day 71: Deeply Troubled

I just need to say this upfront. There is much on my mind and heart today—too much. This is one of those times where I need the body of Christ to pray for my family and me.

This sounds rather ominous. I don’t want it to be. But I don’t want to go into any explanations. I just would appreciate it. Thanks.

In reading the Word today, there is a phrase from one of the passages that caught my attention.

"While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city" (Acts of the Apostles
17:16 NLT).

There are many ways to look at a city. Architects might admire the buildings and the way they are built. Sports fans might look for the stadiums and sporting arenas. You get the idea …

Acts 16 and 17 record a very tumultuous time in Paul’s life. Everywhere he went, he had folks that were not happy with him (to say the least)—in Thessalonica, then Berea. In both of these towns, Paul ended up leaving, not because he wanted to necessarily, but because the believers in each of those areas whisked him away out of concern for his life.

In Acts 17, the believers took him to Athens to save his life. He was there by himself until his traveling companions, Silas and Timothy, could join him.

Now, if that had been me, I would have been in a spot where I would be licking my wounds, or at least focused on myself.

But that was not Paul, not in Athens, not anywhere.

As he waited, his heart grew troubled about the idols in the city. THAT is what he noticed.

The other day, after leaving the BMW championship, Al, Andy, and me jumped on a shuttle bus to take us to the parking lot. Because of the rains the night before, tournament officials had to change the parking venues from open fields (that were too muddy for folks) to the asphalt of the parking lots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. That is where we had to park.

Therefore, the shuttle took us back there when we left the tournament and dropped us off.

As we were headed back to Al’s car, I said, “Well, this place is going to be rocking on Sunday night.”

Someone (not sure whether it was Al or Andy; and I won’t be able to quote verbatim) replied, “Yeah, there will be a lot of people in this temple.”

Sports Authority Field—a temple? You bet.

Now again, there is nothing necessarily wrong with rooting for the Broncos. Please understand.

However, I have lived in this town most of my life. The Broncos are an idol in the city of Denver, Colorado. Many people worship them with just as much fervor as the idolaters in Athens did or Kolkata do.

I mention Kolkata because the idols are prominent. You can see them everywhere. Hindus literally have millions of gods. And devotees to Hinduism are not shy about putting their gods up so people can see them. I did feel the burden of seeing all those gods when I was there. You can’t miss them.

I visited the place in the city where these gods are manufactured. It was oppressive. I felt demonic oppression there.

But I wonder if I am burdened about the idols in my city or if I even have an eye to see them.

I honestly think that this is the greatest impetus for evangelism that there is. I should be concerned for folks, not because I want another notch on my evangelism belt or to add them to the membership rolls of the church to make me look better, but to see more and more people worship the One and Only True God.

Lord, I confess my apathy and indifference and even participation in the idolatry of this city. I repent today. I turn to you. Open my eyes that I might see the idols and be troubled as Paul was. Troubled so much that I am burdened to share.

I wonder what it will take to deliver this city from that great big huge idol and the temple that sits right beside the highway? Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 70: Looking for a Pastor

Daystar Plan Day 70: Looking for a Pastor

I’d better explain that title.

Our Hispanic congregation, Torre Fuerte, is looking for a pastor. This congregation made a restart last June. Since then, they are doing extremely well. It is time for the search to begin and actually, we are already visiting with a candidate.

Let me back up for a moment. Yesterday was a struggle. As the morning progressed, the worse I felt—this virus still a hold on me. Basically, it just feels as if I was dragging a 500-pound ball around.

And of course, it was a busy day that started with a discipleship group I have started that meets at 7:15, followed by a prayer meeting at 8:30, and of course, worship at 10:15.

When we finished the service, I grabbed a sandwich and then headed into the service for the Hispanic church. Pastor Luis Rene was there. It was great to see him. This dear brother has helped fill the pulpit for us for about a year. He serves a Hispanic congregation in Aurora at my friend Bart’s church. It is no short drive from there. Believe me.

He drives up to Northglenn, preaches at Torre Fuerte, and then drives back down to Aurora to lead his own congregation. He has been doing this every other Sunday for about a year. The congregation and I appreciate this so much.

We had invited him to thank him for his service in light of the fact that we are now looking for a pastor. At a certain point in the service, I thanked him in front of everyone. The church gave him a gift. Luis Rene was very gracious. He told all of us that he would be praying for the church and that he wanted to know when we called a pastor.

I felt burdened to preach from 1 Timothy 3:15, focusing on Paul’s metaphor of the church as the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” Since the church plays this crucial role, leadership, character, and doctrine—all three—are extremely important. I am intricately involved with them in this search, but my main goal was to challenge the church to wait on God for the right leader.

At the end of the service, I intertwined the fingers of my two hands together and held them up. I said, “I was honored to be with you all today. You need to understand that the Anglos and the Hispanics are one in the Lord. We will be praying with you all. Muchas gracias.”

I was concerned to challenge the church without burdening them too much. They need to understand the biblical qualifications for leadership without all of that becoming a legalistic ball and chain (I know what that feels like right now).

All of this ties me in with the story of the church in Acts. In that situation, the circumstances were a little different, but we hope the general outcome is the same.

Paul and Barnabas in their meeting with the elders in Jerusalem wanted to make sure that the gospel was not cluttered with any extra burdens to the grace of God.

"We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts of the Apostles
15:11 NLT).

This was a very crucial meeting for the future expansion of the Gospel. The brothers involved made a very wise choice so that as Paul and Barnabas went out to share the news, “there was great joy throughout the church” (Acts 15:31, NLT).

I pray that every decision the church I serve makes, plus the Hispanic church, has the same result. Lord, I lift up Torre Fuerte right now. I pray for wisdom. Guide us in your grace. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 69: From god to Goat

Daystar Plan Day 69: From god to Goat

Again, there are so many ways that the Old and New Testaments are intertwined but all along the way, one must keep one fact in mind: men are men, but God is God.

In his devotion to God and zeal to build the Temple, David was highly revered in the history of Israel as the greatest king.

In human perspective, Jesus the Messiah was a descendent of David. John pointed him out. John was not the Messiah, either, but he came to point to the descendent of David and the Son of God.

But the Jews rejected Him and crucified Him, but God raised Him from the dead, and He appeared alive to many.

Paul cited from the Psalms (generally regarded as the human work of David) to point to Jesus, and as Paul preached, he had to make the clear distinction about verses in the Psalter referring, not to David, but to Jesus.

In short, the message of the gospel did not originate with the incarnation of Jesus, but He came as a fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and Prophets. Paul used the Old Testament to preach Jesus to the Jews—makes sense.

But they rejected him and his message. Instead of staying to “fight it out,” Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet—a sign of God’s judgment against them—and moved on.

In Lystra, after the performed a miracle, the people decided that they were gods and tried to worship them. Paul and Barnabas restrained them, but notice how fast things changed:

"But even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them. Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe" (Acts of the Apostles
14:18-20 NLT).

This is hard to keep up with, but again, the point that stands out to me, whether it is preaching or interpreting scripture or serving in ministry—one must keep things straight.

It is more, much more than just liking you one day and not liking you the next.

The pagans in Lystra elevated Paul and Barnabas to the level of Zeus and Hermes. This is no small issue. It is idolatry. And it would have been relatively easy for the two Christian leaders just to go along with it. They probably would have made a lot of money and a comfortable life for themselves. But they had to keep things straight: we are indeed NOT gods.

But then, the Jews entered the picture. They hated Paul and Barnabas out of jealousy and out of rejection of the gospel they preached. They also had to keep this straight: even though we face persecution and death in every town because of this message, we must keep on preaching and living the gospel.

Today is going to be a very busy day. I would appreciate your prayers. I’ve been struggling with a virus the past few days. No big deal, but enough to cause me pause.

Lord, I thank you for all the reminders of my humanness in case I would ever be remotely tempted to think I am Somebody. Thank you for your grace and mercy and forgiveness. Help me, through the Word of God, lived and preached, to continue to be an agent of the same today. Help me to keep things straight. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 68: A Horrible End or A Glorious Continuance

Readings for today: 1 Chronicles 8-12 and Acts 12

Once again, there are a couple of very instructive contrasts in the passages today. King Saul did not end well. The Philistines killed all his sons at the same time. When they discovered Saul’s death, they stripped off his armor and cut his head off, hanging both in a pagan temple.

Let’s move to the New Testament. Herod had been on the wrong side of many decisions involving Jesus and his followers. In order to score more points with his constituency, he arrested Peter, placing him in the guardianship of four squads of soldiers.

You know the story. The angel of the Lord delivered him out of jail and to a group of believers who were praying for him as he knocked on the door. They didn’t believe that right then and there, God had answered their prayer. Sounds like me. It would be rather humorous if it weren’t so tragic.

Anyway, Peter greeted the church, said a few words, and headed back out—the work must go on.

Well, the scene shifts to Herod. After he gave a speech in his royal regalia, the people cried out, “The voice of a god and not a man!” Herod loved this accolade, but did not give God the glory.

So, what follows next is the culmination of this contrast and just a few brief words:

"And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied" (Acts 12:23-24 NASB).

“Eaten by worms and died”! Ugh. That could not have been a pretty sight. It reminds me of the death of Judas and the graphic description of it in Acts.

These are examples of men who ended badly.

On the heels of it, though—“but the word of the Lord continued to grow …”

Saul and Herod died rather horrid deaths, but David, who emerged later (even though he certainly was not sinless), was the progenitor of a reign that has lasted forever, culminating in Jesus, the Messiah.

How many people through the centuries thought, that if they just imprison or even kill the messenger, they could stop the spread of the gospel? They will all come to a horrible end, but the word will keep on going, as will those who embrace it and share it.

This gives me a lot of comfort. The safest place to be is in the Word and the Word in me and the Word coming out of me. It certainly won’t be a rose garden, but Christians, faithful believers, live a glorious continuance! Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 67: A Field of BMW's

There is an open field behind our house. The Denver Water Board owns it. They are very particular about it. They usually don’t allow anyone on it.

I found that out when I was a kid. One day, I had a brilliant idea. Instead of going to the practice range to hit golf balls, I would just do it out of my backyard into that open field. I found a broom, jumped the fence, stuck it in the ground in that field, re-jumped the fence, and fired away. All well and good, right?

Nope. One day as I was retrieving golf balls, an angry man in an official looking car pulled in the entrance and raced up the field, jerking to a stop next to me. “What are you doing? This is private property. You are not allowed here. Where do you live?” I meekly pointed at my house. “Collect all this and don’t do it again.” Driving range closed.

I guess somehow that changed because that same field is a parking lot for the BMW championship. It is designated as the “BMW Owner’s Lot.”

Yesterday, it was literally filled with “beemers.” I will attach a photo I took of it on my personal Facebook page. Unbelievable. Are there that many folks in this town who own BMW’s? I guess so.

Nothing wrong with that.

It is just the contrast of this week that impresses me. On the one hand, we have our wealthy and opulent culture and church culture, and on the other hand, Saeed and other believers across the world, are in prison.

And not many care.

Back to my comment—I said opulent culture and “church” culture. Yes, that is right.

Yesterday, Marilyn sent me a link to an article. Here is that link.
http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/09/03/the-osteen-predicament-mere-happiness-cannot-bear-the-weight-of-the-gospel/. The title of the article is, “The Osteen Predicament: Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel.” The author is Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary.

You can read the outrageous comments that Victoria Osteen made recently as her husband stood behind her in the pulpit of the church in Houston. Unbelievable. Mohler quotes her.

He does a great job of critiquing the “Osteen Predicament” but also explaining the contemporary “health, wealth, and prosperity” movement. And he gives specfics. For example, Mohler points out that Osteen tells the story of how he and his family exercised faith for a big house in his book,
Your Best Life Now.

Come to think of it: Osteen and his wife probably drive “beemers.” Or maybe not—too pedestrian. Rolls Royces. Who knows? But shoot for the stars, right? Be happy. God is happy when we are happy.

Again, the whole germ of the prosperity gospel is that if you have faith, then you will be healthy, wealthy, wise, have a big house, and be “happy.” And of course, this is a very popular message. Osteen’s “church” in Houston is now the largest in the United States. Of course.

But if you are an adherent of the prosperity gospel, what do you do with the church in Antioch and the relief offering they sent to Jerusalem? In a similar situation, I wonder what Osteen would do—probably send a message, “Hey, you folks need to get right with God. A famine? Are you kidding? Just be happy and trust God. Come on!” And oh, by the way, with all the wealth God has given me, I need to get my Lamborghini polished.

Or, if you are Joel Osteen, what do you do about the persecuted church? What would Joel Osteen say to or about Saeed Abedini?

In Mohler’s article, he makes a scathing comment, “America deserves the Osteens.”

Oh, God, please have mercy on us! Having wealth or having a BMW or a Ferrari is not a sin unless they have me. Help me never to make my walk and faith about ME. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Help me to recognize my role as a steward of all the blessings you have given me. Amen.

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Daystar Plan, Day 66: Saeed's Wife

I told all of you yesterday that Saeed’s wife Naghmeh responded very quickly to my inquiry about hosting a prayer vigil for Saeed.

Since then, we have had a further email exchange.

In a subsequent message, I told her how often we pray for Saeed and the family. I told her that if she and her family needed anything beyond September 26th, to feel free to call on us.

I also invited Saeed and Naghmeh to Denver for a visit when Saeed is released.

In her response, she thanked me again, and said that they would love to come to Denver.

Wouldn’t it be awesome actually to meet them?

I consider them heroes, in the truest biblical sense of what that means. I know that we have to be careful when we put people on a pedestal.

Saeed is suffering for his faith in ways that most of us will never experience. That is unique in one sense, but in another, the Lord does not grade suffering. All of us, as children of God, are or will face it in one form or another. Jesus promised.

But back to Saeed and Naghmeh—their story has received national attention, but I think that might intimidate some, “Oh, I could never contact them or help them or even meet them.”

This email exchange with Naghmeh has proven one thing to me: you will never know until you ask.

But back to the case in point—as of the writing of this blog, as far as I know right now, Brother Saeed is still in that jail in Iran.

We are hosting a vigil on September 26th. Naghmeh sent me an email with a lot of suggestions for this service. It is obvious that this is “form letter” of sorts. In it, she says that her suggestions are just that—suggestions. For example, there is a recommendation to invite civic leaders and have them speak.

Where I am right now with this (and I am going to pray about it over the weekend) is that I would rather not have a formal service with speakers per se. My initial thought is that I just want to open the building for a designated time that day, allowing people to come and go.

Whatever we do, I would like to supply information about Saeed but also requests from the persecuted charge as a whole.

Saeed is not the only believer whose life is at risk in a prison somewhere.

This whole situation puts a different light on the story of Saul’s (Paul’s) conversion in Acts 9.

Think about this: Saul as a zealous Pharisee who was hunting down Christians and approving of their execution (Stephen) was like the guards and officials who are dealing with Saeed RIGHT NOW.

Saul’s story is that the resurrected Christ who appeared to him on the road to Damascus can take the most ardent opponent of Christianity and turn him into the greatest missionary the church has ever known.

Lord, in addition to praying for Saeed and others, I also lift up their captors or persecutors. Save them as you did Saul. Save them so that you will be recognized over Allah and all others as the One and Only Supreme God. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 65: Country Clubs, PGA Pros, and Saeed

I had a great time at the practice round of the BMW Championship with my friend Gary. The best part of the whole thing was getting to spend time with him and a lot of time remembering.

So, let me give you a little history. After Arnold Palmer won the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, my dad actually joined the club. We were members at Cherry Hills.

My best friend Bill died in the Spring of 1971. I grieved his death for months, in the way that a junior high kid would grieve. My mom could tell.

As school ended that year and summer began, I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I just basically sat around.

One day, my mom said, “John, why don’t you go over to Cherry Hills and play golf in the junior golf event that is going on today?” Humm.

A few years earlier, my dad had bought me a beginner set of clubs—nothing fancy—just a little wood, one iron, and a putter. He asked the pro to give me some lessons. I had played some, but I wasn’t all that interested.

But that day, basically because I was bored and depressed, sitting around missing Bill, I took her up on her offer. She dropped me off at the golf course. I noticed that there were about eight or ten other boys standing around near the practice green. The pro said, “Okay, boys, today, we are actually going to go out and play. I’m going to pair you up and send you off the tenth tee.”

One of the guys in my group was Gary. That is where we met. As I remember, we struck up a friend rather quickly. It happened on the back nine of Cherry Hills Country Club in the summer of 1971.

Somehow, all of a sudden, my attitude about golf changed dramatically at that point.

Gary and I kept bugging our parents to take us to the course. I started using my mom’s clubs—she had a full set. The summer my dad died, he bought me my first official set of clubs, and the first day I had them, I shot my best round ever. I had my mom take me to the hospital where my dad was that day, and I told him, “Daddy, you won’t believe what I shot today. I love my new clubs. Thanks a lot.” He smiled. He was sick. It wouldn’t be too many weeks before he passed away.

As Gary and I entered the tournament yesterday, I said, “Gary, how many rounds of golf do you think you and I played at this place?”

He said, “Who knows? But I bet if you stopped to think, you could sort of figure it out.”

I bet it is close to one thousand. We spent day after day after day there, playing golf and hitting balls and playing more golf.

I’m sure that many of you who are reading this might think, “What a waste!”

It was certainly not a spiritual place. That is for sure. A lot of very wealthy pagans frequented it.

But I want to say right here and now that I thoroughly enjoyed my childhood and my times there. Gary said the same thing.

When I got too old to be allowed to play there any longer, my mom resigned her special “widow’s rate” membership. I have not missed it a bit. But I still love golf and play at the public courses, and I am glad to do it.

I wouldn’t join a country club now even if I could afford it.

But I relish those years of playing golf with Gary and the other guys I met there. All of them, except Gary, made fun of me for my Christian beliefs and behaviors. Didn’t care.

Yesterday, a lot of those memories came back as Gary and I walked the course. We had a great time.

But I will have to tell you that the PGA tour is its own little world of unbelievable opulence. Are you kidding me? More on that later.

After the practice round, I went up to the church to do some work. One of the things on the list was to go to this website: beheardproject.com. I went there to find out how we could host a prayer vigil for Saeed Abedini—the pastor who is held captive in Iran.

The website has an email address. I clicked on it and sent a message indicating my interest.

I had some other things to do but not long after I sent it, bang. I got a response from Naghmeh Abedini, his wife. She thanked me for my interest and support and prayers for her husband and told me that she was going to send me some information about how to conduct this prayer vigil. We are on the list! Praise God! It will be September 26. Please come if you live in the area. I will give more information later, but there are other vigils for this dear brother.

Lord, I want to join the “club” that Saeed is part of. He is my brother. This world can have all its country clubs and the PGA tour.

Even as I write this, I know I have no idea how much he is going through. Deliver him out of prison, Lord, so that, on September 26
th, we can have a PRAISE vigil. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 64: A Graphic Example of Idolatry

I will say more about this tomorrow—I know there will be a lot to tell for many reasons—but today, I am going to a practice round of the BMW Championship that is being held here in Denver this week at Cherry Hills Country Club.

My friend Gary is coming up from Colorado Springs. We are meeting at a designated parking lot not far from my house and taking the shuttle to the golf course.

I also have plans to go to the tournament itself later in the week with Al and Andy.

But practice rounds are a little different for a couple of reasons. Normally, there aren’t as many people (I hope this is the case today). This means that you have better access to the players. It is a lot more relaxed. And, for practice rounds, as a spectator, one is even able to take pictures.

When I go on Friday to the real tournament with Al and Andy, I won’t be able to take any photos. The environment is a lot more controlled. And I anticipate that A LOT of people will be out there but not as many as the weekend. We will probably just have to “camp out” somewhere so that we will have a better chance of actually seeing players hit shots.

Some golf tournaments I have attended in the past have been rather frustrating because, with all the crowds, if you try to follow your favorite player, there are often five or six layers of people standing in front of you. It is almost impossible to get a good view.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see “the big boys.”

But honestly, the main thing I am looking forward to is hanging out with some good friends. Today—that is Gary. The truth is that I met him on the golf course. We have known each other since Junior High. The Lord brought him along at a crucial juncture in my life…. There is a whole lot more to that story. I will tell it as the week unfolds.

I’m looking forward to spending some time today catching up. We haven’t seen each other for a while.

We are going rather early this morning. We think we might get even a better chance at seeing some of the players. It is a little “iffy” because the previous tour event just concluded yesterday in Boston. Normally, tournaments end on Sunday and players travel to the next event on Monday. There may not be many guys practicing today, but this is a big tournament in FedEx competition, so I expect many of them to be there. We will see.

One thing I do expect to see today is another example of the main problem with the kings of Israel and Judah and all of us—idolatry.

As one reads the narratives of 1 and 2 Kings, they get rather monotonous at times, but they are instructive because they give the essentials: name, length of time as king, and level of devotion to God. This, of course, is the key.

With some of the kings, the Holy Spirit gives some detail about this key area. King Ahaz is an example of this. He tried to curry favor with the emerging world power of his day—Tiglath-pileser and Assyria. On a trip to Damascus to meet with him, Ahaz saw the altar in the pagan temple there. He was immediately enamored with it, so much so that he sent instructions back to Uriah the priest to build one for the temple in Jerusalem.

Once he returned, Ahaz went to the temple to see the new altar, and he started offering sacrifices on it. The narrative in 2 Kings gives two very significant details at this point.

Detail #1: "And the bronze altar that was before the Lord he removed from the front of the house, from the place between his altar and the house of the Lord, and put it on the north side of his altar" (2 Kings
16:14 ESV).

Detail #2: "And King Ahaz commanded Uriah the priest, saying, ‘On the great altar burn the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering and the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. And throw on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice, but the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by’” (2 Kings
16:15 ESV).

Did you catch that? He moved God’s altar out of the center and over to the side, replacing it with the shiny new and bigger altar from Assyria. He conducted the main part of his worship on the “great altar,” but kept the other one “to inquire by.”

I’m deeply convicted by this seemingly subtle shift that is anything but.

What or who is at the center of my life is my god. Many want to live their lives as they please but come to God only when they need him.

This does not work.

Lord, I acknowledge you as the one and only God at the center. I know that this week in this golf tournament, I’m going to see many ways in which our culture has turned away from you to focus on star athletes and money. Use me somehow in this culture to share the gospel so that people will know who and what is really important.

Thanks for Gary and his friendship. Thanks for the time we will spend today. I pray that you would bless him and his family. Amen.
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Daystar Plan, Day 63: A Huge Contrast

As I sit here this morning, I’m not sure that I have ever been more exhausted. When I try to pray, I nod off to sleep. It is hard to keep my mind focused on anything.

I think this is the culmination of the past few weeks. The trip to Salt Lake City and my continual concern for Andy is there. My mom’s health issues still persist. We got to spend some time together yesterday afternoon. She is still recovering from her UTI. It is going to take a while, and I know she is frustrated (as Andy is) about how slow her process of recovery is taking.

Keep in mind that both of these people—my mom and Andy—were VERY active and on the go up until recently. It is a huge adjustment for them both. As my mom always says, “Getting old is not for sissies.” Amen.

Plus, I will have to add that my own health stuff has been an adjustment. I’m feeling great for the most part. I’m coming to grips with the fact that cancer is still there. Contained. Not spreading. Praise God for that. But still there.

As a sister in Christ said the other day as she asked me about it. “No one totally understands until they have been there.” I know I didn’t. All of my past times of getting frustrated with the long-term illnesses of others (“Just get over it,” was a common expression of mine; I deeply regret this now) are coming back on me.

Then, add in stuff at church. We face a lot of challenges, but I am not whining or complaining. Don’t get me wrong. This is what the Lord has called me to do. It is part of the gig. I couldn’t do anything else. And I’m glad to say this.

The truth is that, all of us, whether we are pastors are not, go through times where it seems that our plates are full. This is just part of life here on earth, right?

But now, I am facing the challenge of what to do. I need to pull away, but the timing could not be worse. So much to do. So much going on. Beginning tomorrow, after the holiday, things are gearing up.

I need to pray. I’m glad I have some time this morning just to commune with Him. Just to sit at His feet.

Back on to the reading for this morning—is there a greater contrast than the mess which is the final years of the northern kingdom of Israel and harmonious symphony that is the early days of the church in Acts?

I believe that the Lord has a message for me in this huge contrast.

Every problem the nation faced could be traced back to idolatry and things eventually end in a bloody mess. Take the story of Ahab and Jezebel as a case in point. They both did not end well, nor did their families and for that matter, anyone else associated with them.

Switch to the story of the church in Acts—those early followers of Jesus had difficult times as well, but it is a different kind of difficult. It is the difficult that occurs when one is following the Lord.

But there are two resources available to us that weren’t for the idolaters in 2 Kings: prayer and testimony.

The harder it got in those early days—the church just kept on praying and kept on testifying. The story of Peter and John in Acts 4 and 5 as well as that prayer at the end of Acts 4 are testimony to that.

"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts
4:31 ESV).

The shaking in this verse is a Bible way of saying that God showed up in power.

This sounds weird, but I feel energized when I think that right now, I am in a primo position for the Lord to use me.

Huh, go figure.

Lord, my tank is empty. Spirit of God, fill me and I pray for an opportunity to share you today, this week. Show up now just as You did then. Amen.
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