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A Stroll At Leisure With God

A Window Into Suffering

Before I get into the topic for today, I want to thank all of you for praying for me yesterday. The doctor said that he thinks I am improving, in spite of my efforts to convince him otherwise. Ha. Only kidding there. Well, …

I told him that I continue to have pain in my shoulder and a loss of appetite.

He reiterated what he has been asserting the past several weeks: those issues will eventually go away once the lymphoma gets better. He urged me to stay the course and continue to take my pain meds.

Okay. Will do.

As the day progressed yesterday, I started to go downhill as I looked out the window at a beautiful Fall day. I wish I felt better to do more things outside. I try to walk as often as possible, but that’s about it. Golf is certainly OUT. I asked the doc, and he replied, “No, John, I don’t want you out there swinging your driver. You can work on your putting.”

“How do you know I need to do that?” I answered, trying to laugh. But I really wasn’t. Oh, well, again. Just submit to the Lord and be where He has placed me.

This is a lesson that was reinforced this morning as I read two rather revealing chapters in Professor Horner’s plan.

If you had to rank people in the Bible that suffered the most, I bet many of us would put these two gentlemen in the top five: Job and Jeremiah.

It was kind of interesting that in the two chapters I read, we get a window into the severity of the suffering these two guys went through.

By the way, while I am here, as I learn more about suffering, from personal experience and from the Word, each person suffers differently. I think we all need to be reminded not to put someone down or “blow him or her off” because we don’t esteem what they are going through.

This reminds me of the quip I hear in regard to love. When someone says, “Oh, those two are in puppy love,” the quip is, “It is real to the puppy.” I think the same thing applies to suffering.

Anyway, sufferer number one—Job. I urge you to read chapter 19 from the Message Version. Here are a couple of verses from that section: “Job answered: ‘How long are you going to keep battering away at me, pounding me with these harangues? Time after time after time you jump all over me. Do you have no conscience, abusing me like this? Even if I have, somehow or other, gotten off the track, what business is that of yours? Why do you insist on putting me down, using my troubles as a stick to beat me? Tell it to God—he’s the one behind all this, he’s the one who dragged me into this mess’ (Job
19:1-6 MSG).

Then, another section: “God alienated my family from me; everyone who knows me avoids me. My relatives and friends have all left; houseguests forget I ever existed. The servant girls treat me like a bum off the street, look at me like they’ve never seen me before. I call my attendant and he ignores me, ignores me even though I plead with him. My wife can’t stand to be around me anymore. I’m repulsive to my family. Even street urchins despise me; when I come out, they taunt and jeer. Everyone I’ve ever been close to abhors me; my dearest loved ones reject me. I’m nothing but a bag of bones; my life hangs by a thread” (Job
19:13-20 MSG).

You know, as I read these words, it dawns on me that in addition to the physical stuff Job endured, he had to put up with his so-called friends lecturing him on how bad he was AND his family, especially his wife turning their backs on him AS WELL as strangers making fun of him. Wow, I’m not sure I’ve ever really stopped to think about this before: Job did not have one person in his life that responded appropriately to his suffering. NOT ONE. Think about that.

On to Jeremiah the prophet and some words from Jeremiah 15: “I did not sit in the circle of merrymakers, Nor did I exult. Because of Your hand upon me I sat alone, For You filled me with indignation. Why has my pain been perpetual And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream With water that is unreliable?” (Jeremiah
15:17-18 NASB). These words are striking.

Jeremiah sat alone, burdened with the sin and rebellion of the people to whom he preached God’s message of judgment, and yet he continued to call out to God for some relief, for some healing, and there was none.

Not one.

Notice what he says about the One to whom He is praying: “Will you indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?” Peterson translates that phrase in the following way: “You’re nothing, God, but a mirage, a lovely oasis in the distance—then nothing!”

This almost sounds blasphemous, doesn’t it? But it is not. It is just honest. Here is a man who is crying out for help from God, and at times, it looks as if the Lord is on the way to give immediate relief, but … no.

This almost makes me want to cry, to be honest.

Lord, I do cry out to you this morning. If I have learned nothing from these five plus years with cancer, help me to know how to respond to every suffering person IN THE RIGHT WAY. Is this too much to ask? Thank You for the folks You have brought across my path—many, as a matter of fact—way more than Job had--who are there for me through this ordeal.

Oh, Lord, for some people, healing seems as easy as snapping one’s fingers, and it is done. I don’t resent anyone whom You have healed, but I wonder why I am not in that number. I know all the clichés at this point. I’ve used them myself in trying console others and have become one of Job’s friends in the process. I confess that as sin. How dare I do that? But now, the shoe is on the other foot. I'm tired of clichés and people who think they have You figured out. I certainly don’t. In fact, I know less this morning than ever. But still, but sometimes, like this morning, I would really like to know why … is this wrong to say? Is that You, Lord, or a mirage? Help me today. Amen.
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An Infusion Today and "Shilly-Shallying"

I just wanted all of you to know that I have an infusion this morning and would appreciate your prayers as always.

I hope to have a discussion about the pain in my shoulder with Dr. Jotte. It has lessened SOMEWHAT. Therefore, my wish is that he will tell me to start to decrease the amount of pain medicine that I take so that, in turn, I can maybe see and increase in my appetite. We will see.

These infusions are not that big of a deal time-wise; all told, they take about an hour if I can get in the chemo room at Midtown and out of there.

Last time, if you remember, the nurses were a little miffed at me for coming in early. Of course, I didn’t just decide to go in there for fun. The doctor, after examining me, told me to do it, but they were not happy and indicated that it would take a while to prepare the drug for me to take it.

Thus, we waited an hour and a half! It was ridiculous.

I’m not as impressed with the chemo room at Midtown as I am with that of the Sky Ridge branch, but it is what it is. Oh, well.

In Professor Horner’s reading plan for today, I came across an interesting word in my reading of Acts 24. By the way, since this is the THIRD time I have read Acts in this plan, this time, I choose to read the Message version.

Here is the context of the verses I am going to cite. Paul is on trial before the Roman governor Felix. The Jews, along with their fancy lawyer Tertullus, made their weak case to the governor. After their presentation, the “gov” gave Paul a chance to speak.

Now, let’s stop right there for a moment. On the one side of the “courtroom” (it may not have looked that way at all, but this is the way I picture it in my mind) was the distinguished Chief Priest Ananias along with a rather sizable crowd of frenzied Jewish leaders and their slick lawyer Tertullus with his fancy robe and slicked hair cut (okay, maybe that takes it a bit too far)—all those folks. Quite a contingent.

Then, on the other is one little scrawny missionary. Can you see it? That little scrawny missionary has the best lawyer on his side along with the Lord God and the armies of heaven itself. You just can’t see them with the human eye. They are there, though.

Anyway, after Paul shares his testimony, straightforward, based on fact as opposed to the other side, Gov Felix is in a position to make a ruling. What happens?

Felix shilly-shallied. He knew far more about the Way than he let on, and could have settled the case then and there. But uncertain of his best move politically, he played for time. “When Captain Lysias comes down, I’ll decide your case.” He gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody, but to more or less give him the run of the place and not prevent his friends from helping him” (Acts
24:22-23 MSG).

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that term before: “shilly-shallied.” What does it mean? Webster says that it means “to show hesitation or lack decisiveness or resolution.” Here’s how I would put it: Felix wimped out for political reasons.

He was a typical politician, even though, as the Bible indicates, he knew more about the Way than he let on. He also heard the truth and still, didn’t do the right thing. He sided with the crowd against that solitary preacher.

Do you see the similarities between the trial of Jesus and that of Paul? Both governors choose the wrong because they sided with the crowd (ultimately).

Today, as I prepare for another cancer treatment, and after reading this story, this verse comes to mind: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31, NASB).

Lord, this isn’t politics. I’m glad You are on my side AND a whole bunch of prayer warriors. Amen.
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Strengthened Himself

Before I get into the passage today, I have to share a comment that Al made to me in passing yesterday. We were greeting each other in the auditorium before the service. As we said hello to each other, Al remarked, “Remember, the wilderness is a place of testing, but it is also a place of protection.” Good word, brother.

It was interesting he would say that and feel compelled to do so because the Lord continues to teach me about life in the wilderness.

David spent many years there as many things were going on. First, the Lord was preparing him to be the next king. Second, the Lord was protecting him from danger as he ran from that lunatic King Saul. Sorry to use those terms, but that is what the narrative indicates.

Third, God used David to continue to fight battles against the enemies of Israel. On one such occasion, the Amalekites raided the Negev and Ziklag, burning the town to the ground, plundering the riches, and stealing all the women and children. It was a dark day. David and his men had been gone fighting other battles when all this happened.

You can imagine how upset they were when they came back to discover the devastation that had occurred. The scriptures say that David and his men wept. In addition to this, David’s cohorts were so upset that they were talking among themselves about stoning David.

I would have to say that David was in a heap of trouble. Duh, ya think?

Well, in the text, in the midst of all of this, the Bible says, “David strengthened himself with trust in his God” (1 Samuel 30:6, MSG). That’s all it says. The Message Version gives a little more detail than the New American Standard. It simple translates the last part of the verse as, “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” That’s it.

What does this mean? What did he do, exactly? Over the years, as I have read this story and noticed this comment, I’ve always wondered.

I mean, of course, we can conjecture. But we don’t know.

All I do know is that, after this comment, David took decisive action and the bottom line is that he defeated the Amalekites, destroyed their cities, and retrieved all the wives and children. Good ending to the story.

But back to that comment, “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” I want to learn what this means and how to do this when the bottom seems to fall out of life and everything is caving in around me.

Somehow, as David found the calm center of the storm, he was able to lay aside his anxiety and grief (both understandable emotions given that his family had just been kidnapped and his life was threatened) and somehow make decisions to move forward.

So, even though I don’t know exactly WHAT David did in this situation, I know WHOM he turned to. I am reminded of that famous verse in Philippians 4: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). That is the key—going to the One in whom all strength resides and finding exactly the strength I need for the challenge I face.

Tomorrow, I am going in for another infusion. So, I need strength for that. I know WHO to go to. And I trust that Person and thank Him for everyone who is reading this and is praying for me, IN THE WILDERNESS. I would rather be in no other place.

Father, I would like it to be said of me, “John strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” May it be so. Amen.
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Drowsy

Man, it is another one of those mornings where, as I sit here trying to read the Word, I find that I am having trouble keeping my eyes open.

I want to thank all of you AGAIN for praying for me. I feel as if I am doing a little better as I continue to deal with pain in my shoulder/arm and stomach issues, but the symptoms seem to be less severe, somehow.

I’m so grateful for this as I look forward to going to church this morning as well as worship, fellowship, and preaching.

One thing that my extended solitude gives me the opportunity to do, besides resting and praying, is to really focus on preparation for these sermons the Lord is leading me to preach. I guess I am a little more motivated since I am dealing with the topic of suffering as I preach through 1 Peter.

As all of you have prayed for all these physical ailments, I want to ask you now to pray for the spiritual side of things. I am not going to give any specifics, except to say that the enemy is really working me over.

Honestly, I think it is part of my fatigue as I try to get going today.

What to do about this?

Well, I would like to share a couple of passages this morning that I came across in Professor Horner’s reading plan. First, there is this verse in Hebrews 13: “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews
13:3 NASB). There is something to be said for praying for others who are in much more difficult situations than I am.

I appreciate Jim’s burden for the persecuted church. He often sends out emails detailing the persecution of believers around the world. We are particularly burdened for Pastor Saeed Abedini as he continues to endure ill treatment (this is an understatement) in that prison cell in Iran. Please join us in continuing to pray for him.

The other day, Jim sent out a message relating to the Hajj—the Muslim’s annual pilgrimage to Mecca. This is the time of year for it. But it is also another opportunity for prayer. We need to ask the Lord to give these folks dreams and visions of Jesus along with a dissatisfaction of the “works” they are performing in their religion.

Anyway, I could give other examples of prayer. The truth is that this is an important aspect of spiritual warfare as the Lord commands us to “be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18, NASB). I have to remember that my drowsiness has ramifications far beyond my own narrow experience. The enemy would like nothing better than for me to be distracted from praying for others.

Isn’t it ironic? I am the beneficiary of the intercessory prayers of so many and yet, I struggle with praying for others?? Something is off here.

Here is another passage: “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Hebrews
13:11-14 NASB).

As I study the topic of suffering, I wonder what “bearing His reproach” means exactly. To be honest, I am not sure, but in these verses in Hebrews, it is somehow linked to the fact that ultimately, this earth is not our home.

I struggle with this … but honestly; dealing with this disease has made me long for heaven more than ever. I’m so tired of this weak and frail body. I am ready to leave it behind and go home…. But not until the Lord is ready for this to occur. I only pray that it is soon.

In the meantime, Lord, wake me up this morning. Help me to be alert so that I can pray for others, drive up to the church, be fully engaged in worship and fellowship, and preach a sermon that will honor You—all of this is a tall order for healthy folk. Keep me through temptation and from evil. (I dropped off to sleep after writing that line—believe it or not). Wake me UP, Lord. Amen.
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Avoiding Backwardness

This is one of those days in the reading of the ten chapters assigned in Professor Horner’s reading plan that the same message hits me over and over.

Tomorrow, in my sermon, I’m going to be talking about salvation. And one of the things that is dawning on me is that, in the American church, we do not do a good job of characterizing the present realities of the Christian life.

Our main focus is on the past—our conversion experience. And of course, this is crucial. Without that, no one is saved. We do a little better on the future, although we certainly don’t talk about heaven like we used to.

To all my readers this morning: when was the last time you heard a sermon about heaven? As a pastor myself, I am deeply convicted about this. I hope others of you can give a different testimony about your church and pastor.

That having been said, however, the area of greatest neglect is talking about the present reality of our salvation. I hope I can explain this well.

The Apostle Peter focuses on this. Some of the other passages I read this morning echo his message.

What is one of the chief evidences of salvation? In other words, how do I know that I am saved right now? I believe, among other answers (this is certainly not exhaustive) is the DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD. Hebrews 12 makes this abundantly clear. The writer affirms that if one is not experiencing God’s discipline, then he or she is not saved!

And the Lord’s discipline is not a lot of fun. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews
12:11 NASB).

This leads me into the second aspect of all of this. If I am under the Lord’s discipline, then I will discipline myself. “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, NASB). There is no way any of us could do this if we were not saved.

God’s discipline is foundational for our discipline. A lack of discipline has its consequences, as does the life of obedience. A couple of verses I read today in Proverbs make this clear: “An undisciplined, self-willed life is puny; an obedient, God-willed life is spacious. Fear-of- GOD is a school in skilled living— first you learn humility, then you experience glory” (Proverbs
15:32-33 MSG).

Finally, pulling all this together is the testimony of Paul. As he was heading toward Jerusalem, his friends, in various and as sundry ways, were warning him about the dangers he would be facing. A lesser man would have turned back and heeded their warnings.

But, Paul was evidently a child of God under the Lord’s discipline, so he disciplined himself to keep forging ahead, making this statement: “When we heard that, we and everyone there that day begged Paul not to be stubborn and persist in going to Jerusalem. But Paul wouldn’t budge: ‘Why all this hysteria? Why do you insist on making a scene and making it even harder for me? You’re looking at this backward. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience. Can’t you see that?’” (Acts
21:12-13 MSG).

I can’t get over Peterson’s translation of these two verses. We don’t discipline ourselves FOR OURSELVES, but we discipline ourselves so that the Lord might use us as witnesses of His glory.

Of course, none of us wants to suffer, especially the way Paul did. The litany of his hardships is very long in Acts and in other places in the New Testament such as 2 Corinthians 11, but through it all, Paul was focused on Master Jesus and not himself.

This is the mark of someone who is genuinely saved right now.

Lord, these passages today set the bar very high. Everything in me resists hardship and suffering. I find myself wishing that somehow I could have avoided cancer. I keep trying to figure out why I got it. Ultimately, this line of thinking is a road going nowhere. It is backward. Help me to avoid backwardness!

Here is the “forward” equation for the day: A disciple is a man or woman under God’s discipline that disciplines himself or herself for the purpose of a godly and obedient life that focuses on the Lord and leads others to follow Him as well. So be it. Amen.
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Faith and True Bravery

One of the things that I really appreciate about these Bible reading plans is that they put passages together that I have previously not thought actually do inform one another. Of course, the truth is that God’s Word is extremely cohesive. Scripture interprets scripture. I would readily affirm that principle, but now, I am seeing it fleshed out in new and greater ways.

In Professor Horner’s plan, I read Hebrews 11 and Acts 20.

Hebrews 11 is the faith chapter and it begins with an important definition and equally important distinction that somehow gets obscured in modern translations for some unknown reason. This is why I am going to cite the first two verses of this famous chapter in the Amplified Version.

“NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. For by [faith–trust and holy fervor born of faith]
the men of old had divine testimony borne to them and obtained a good report” (Hebrews 11:1-2 AMP, emphasis mine).

For verse two, most translations render the final phrase as “obtained a good report,” as if to say that God rewards faith with some sort of commendation after the fact.

I’m not going to argue that translation and viewpoint at this time, but I will say that this translation seems to be very inaccurate to me. The literal language of that final phrase is “obtained a testimony.”

I believe that what the writer to Hebrews is saying is that faith, true faith is based on a Word from God.

If you read each of the vignettes in this chapter, you will notice that all these heroes of the faith heard from God and then acted on it IN FAITH. The word here is not a commendation after the fact as much as it is a command BEFORE the fact. In my opinion, it affirms that faith and obedience go hand in hand. Everything the Lord asks us to do, including kill our one and only son as in the case of Abraham, requires faith.

So, having read Hebrews 11, I also read Acts 20. This is one of my favorite chapters anyway because it contains a pastoral sermon (the only one in the book of Acts as a matter of fact)—so much there. But here is what struck me:

“Except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:23, NASB). This is in fact the testimony that Paul received and thus he acted on it. This is faith.

And, I believe that these elders recognized it and affirmed it as well, even as they wept. They were never going to see each other again.

I have a hard time saying good-bye to anyone. Don’t you? It is very difficult, but by faith, the church said good-bye to Paul and acted on that faith. “They knew that they would never see him again—he had told them quite plainly. The pain cut deep. Then, bravely, they walked him down to the ship” (Acts 20:38, MSG).

Nothing in all of this is easy. Look at Hebrews 11. Look at this story. Faith and Bravery go hand in hand. When we hear the testimony of God and act on it, we can count on death, just as Jesus’ pilgrimage of faith led Him to Calvary.

Likewise, when Paul got on that ship in the harbor at Miletus, he was headed off to die.

Lord, it is lot easier to write about faith than it is actually to live it. Give me ears to hear your testimony to me AND to act on it. I pray that the church I serve would learn to do the same. Help me to show them by example what true faith and bravery are all about. I realize I have no idea what I am praying right now, but Spirit of God, You take it from here. Amen.
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A Lapse of Sorts

One of the most discouraging things about this disease is that I just can’t seem to get on top of things. When I feel as if I am making some progress (the doctor said that he feels I am getting better when I saw him on Tuesday), it seems that something emerges to slap me down again.

I guess I should say that the pain in my shoulder seems to have diminished a bit AS LONG as I stay up with my pain medications. If I don’t, it starts to bother me.

Right now, my main issue relates to stomach problems. Over the past couple of days, I just seem to have had more and more challenges. Yesterday, I headed up to Northglenn to meet Jim at Crossroads—a nursing home—for a service.

When I got there, Jim was standing outside the room where we usually meet with an anxious look on his face. “Pastor John, no one is here.” What? We waited and waited. Finally, Jim found someone who said, “Tim (the volunteer coordinator) took a lot of residents on a field trip today.” This is all well and good, but why didn’t he tell us?

At first, I was a little ticked off, but then, I realized it was providential. I went back to the church, had some lunch, and basically rested until a meeting at noon. After the meeting, I was starting to feel a little worse, so I just came home. I ended up sleeping most of the rest of the afternoon, and then after a very light dinner, I slept two more hours. One would think that would be helpful. Not really.

Before I went to bed, I really didn’t feel well AT ALL. Who knows what today holds?

What I have just described is very frustrating and discouraging, not only for me, but also for my mom and sister. Sometimes, all of us are just at a loss as we seek causes and reasons. What did I do or what did I eat that could have caused all of this???

We have no idea.

My only recourse is just to back way off for the next couple of days for more rest and very basic foods.

Please continue to pray for us. I think our main challenge now is discouragement.

This morning, I read these pertinent words in Hebrews 10: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews
10:23-25 NASB).

In times like these, one of the main things to hold on to is the faithfulness of God. He is unwavering and steadfast. Every day with this disease is a challenge. When I wake up in the morning, I have no idea what to expect. But what or who I can count on is the Lord.

These verses have challenged me, not to focus on myself all the time, but to think about how I can minister to others and encourage them. I think this is vital to spiritual health.

Lord, I don’t understand anything that is going on with me these days. But I thank You for Your faithfulness. You do not change. Give me an opportunity to encourage someone else even as I sit here on this couch for another day. I lift up my mom and sis as well. I love you, Jesus. Amen.
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"You Have No Idea ... "

It is amazing to see how the Lord encourages His servants in scripture. The Holy Spirit wrote those encouragements down and thus, they apply to us as well.

I have often wondered, “What kept Paul going through everything he faced?” Just looking at the record of the book of Acts—every town the Lord led him to, he faced opposition and difficulty and rejection of the message he proclaimed.

The city of Corinth was no exception. As he did in other towns, Paul started with the Jews. The Bible says that they argued with him at every turn.

Thus, Paul said, “That’s it. I’m done. I’m shaking the dust off my feet.” The symbolism of that action is very profound. It means essentially that he turned those folks over to the judgment of God and He completely disassociated himself from them, even from the dust of the ground they walked on. It is a pretty ominous and serious action.

I like the language of the Message version at this point in verse six, “You’ve made your bed; now lie in it. From now on I’m spending my time with the other nations” (Acts 18:6, MSG).

Paul then turned his focus to the Gentiles and used the home of a God-fearer, Titius Justus, for his meeting place. And, as a result, many people in the city of Corinth heard the gospel and got saved. And the Lord spoke to Paul in the middle of the night. Here was the message:

“Keep it up, and don’t let anyone intimidate or silence you. No matter what happens, I’m with you and no one is going to be able to hurt you. You have no idea how many people I have on my side in this city.” That was all he needed to stick it out. He stayed another year and a half, faithfully teaching the Word of God to the Corinthians” (Acts 18:9-11, MSG).

God said to Paul, “You have no idea how many people I have on my side in this city.”

Do you know what this reminds me of? Remember what the Lord said to the prophet Elijah as he hid in the cave? He was on the dead run, scared to death of Queen Jezebel and discouraged, even after the victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. But in that still small voice, God informed Elijah, “Come on out of there. I still have 7000 people who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (John paraphrase).

He is essentially saying the same thing to Paul. Two things come to mind when I read this message of encouragement.

First, I believe that one of the things that happens to us when we get discouraged is that we think we are all alone. Satan would have us believe that, of course. And he can turn that feeling very quickly into something that is dangerous. It is called pride, and we all know what Proverbs tells us about pride.

But in the messages to Elijah and Paul, the Lord is affirming the fact that these two men of God are NOT ALONE. God always has a remnant. Always.

I’m learning that I very easily get discouraged when I think about the folks who are NOT there at church on Sunday morning and I forget about those who are. I’m asking God by His grace to help me think about the folks who are obedient (He gets the credit for anything good that comes out of us anyway) and not those who aren’t.

Second, there is something else that comes to mind as I read these words. I believe that the Lord was encouraging Paul to keep on preaching and teaching and sharing the Word because there would be many who would come to know Jesus in the future. Who knows how the Holy Spirit is going to use the gospel if we will just keep on teaching and preaching.

Salvation is God’s business. Our job is just to toss the seed out there and as Cru founder Bill Bright used to teach, “leave the results up to God.”

Lord, it is easier than ever these days to get discouraged as churches all over the place dwindle in attendance. First Southern is no exception. But I know You still have a remnant in Northglenn. Thus, help us to stay faithful and continue to proclaim the Word, just as Paul did and just as You helped Him. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

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A Skewed Perspective

I have to be careful as I share what is on my heart this morning because I don’t want to preach my sermon for this coming Sunday BEFORE Sunday!

I was a little behind on my sermon preparation, so yesterday, I worked to finish up studying for the message this coming Sunday.

One commentator—his name is Peter H. Davids—made a comment that has been on my mind and heart ever since I came across it.

Before I get to it, let me give you a little context.

Over the years, as I meet with people and visit with them, I always try to get to a point in the conversation where I ask them about their relationship with the Lord. But here is a point at which I struggle. How does one do that in order to get an accurate answer?

Evangelism Explosion gives a couple of good questions. One is: “If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?” The second question is: “If you did die today and you were standing before God, and He asked you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say?”

Those are good but they are inadequate for a couple of reasons. I will get to those in a moment.

One question that I have used over the years is, “Can you go back to a point in time where you repented and believed in Jesus?” Again, this is not a bad question, but over the years, I have grown a little disillusioned with it as well.

Why—on both counts?

Well, this brings me to a statement that Davids makes in his commentary on 1 Peter concerning a verse in the passage I will be preaching this Sunday. I will paraphrase it here

He decries the whole notion of a focus on the past in our Christian experience.

As Southern Baptists, we are particularly vulnerable to this issue because most SBC churches have an invitation or altar call after the sermon, so that, if you ask someone about his/her experience, one could say, “Oh, sure, John. I am a Christian. I ‘walked the aisle’ in a church twenty years ago.”

Of course, this perspective is skewed because “walking the aisle” or “praying a prayer” or even immersion baptism is NOT the end all, be all. Right?

Honestly, this is the problem I have with the Evangelism Explosion questions on the other side of the scale. Becoming a Christian is NOT JUST a fire insurance policy that gives me a free ticket to heaven. It is much, much more than that.

Davids makes the salient point that salvation, true conversion, has three dimensions—past, future, AND PRESENT.

Of course, there is a past dimension—a born again experience in which the Lord moves me by grace through faith out of darkness into light. The Christian life has a beginning. This is why I grate when someone says, “Oh, I have always been a believer.”

Now, before I go further, there are some who were so young when they got saved that they can’t remember. I do not put them in this category, but, as John 3 confirms, every true believer has two births—physical and spiritual. This is what Jesus is teaching Nicodemas.

In addition to this, salvation does have a future dimension. I’m so looking forward to going to heaven when I die. As I said last Sunday, heaven is my true home.

BUT, there is another dimension of salvation that is equally as important as the past and the future. It is the PRESENT.

I do have to question the validity of someone’s testimony who “walked an aisle” twenty years ago but has no spiritual fruit in his/her life since.

I also wonder about someone who says (this is an actual comment), “Preacher, I know I haven’t been in church for thirty years but don’t worry about me. I’m going to heaven. I’ll see you there someday.”

BOTH of these perspectives are off base. I’ll leave the judgment up to God, but as Davids argues, we must not neglect the present-day context of Christianity.

This is exactly what the prophet preached against as he stood at the gate to the temple in Jeremiah 7.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, … Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered!'-that you may do all these abominations?” (Jeremiah 7:3-5, 8-10 NASB).


Lord, thank You for enabling me to repent and believe when I was nine years old. Thank You for saving me BACK THEN so that, when I die, I get to go to heaven and be with You in my eternal home forever. But, Lord, thank You that You are right now, this very moment, saving me and calling me to turn from my wicked ways and allow Your Spirit to bear the fruit of Jesus’ character in my life right now.

Also, Lord, help me never again to be satisfied with anything but a full-orbed view of salvation, whether it is in my own life, in conversations, or especially in the preaching/teaching ministry of the church. I love You TODAY. Thank You again for saving me TODAY. Amen.
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The Rock of Escape

One of the most powerful metaphors in the Bible is that of the WILDERNESS.

As I sit here this morning, it dawns on me that for many of the prominent men of the Bible, God sent them there to be tested, tried, and prepared for a lifetime of ministry.

Moses spent forty years on the backside of the wilderness, tending sheep until the burning bush experience.

Then, as he led the people of Israel out of Egypt, he spent another forty years in the wilderness with the people of Israel. Think about it. Moses lived 120 years on this earth—80 years of which he spent in the wilderness. And here is the tragedy of his life: God kept giving him tests, but the one he failed (striking the rock twice rather than speaking to it once) disqualified him from entering into the Promised Land.

David also spent plenty of time in the caves and crevices of the wilderness of Judea, running from that maniac Saul. On one particularly close call, David and his men were on one side of a rock; Saul and his army were on the other. David was done, but the Lord rescued David. And this is what happened (I read this chapter and verse in 1 Samuel as part of Professor Horner’s plan today): “So Saul returned from pursuing David and went to meet the Philistines; therefore they called that place the Rock of Escape. David went up from there and stayed in the strongholds of Engedi” (1 Samuel 23:28-29).

So significant was this rescue that David memorialized the Rock that separated him from Saul and certain death.

It is interesting to me that many of the Psalms use this wilderness language to describe God’s character and how He rescues His people. Of course! David learned that God is a stronghold from his experiences in the wilderness.

Before Jesus began His public ministry, he spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness, facing constant temptation from the devil. Matthew 4 and Luke 4 tell us in detail what happened there.

Likewise, after his conversion and before he started his ministry, Saul retired to the wilderness. Scholars debate exactly how long Saul (Paul) stayed there. It could have been up to 14 years.

Not too many years ago, Billy Graham made the statement that if he were able to do things over in his ministry, he would prepare 50 years and preach 5.

Are those enough examples from scripture and from contemporary experience?

Honestly, I don’t mean to lump myself in with these great men and servants of God. I can’t hold a candle to any of them, especially the Son of God and don’t mean to imply I can, but I honestly feel that I am living in the wilderness right now.

I have so much time for the enemy to work me over, as if during the day were not enough. I don’t ever sleep that well. The other night, I probably didn’t sleep a total of fifteen minutes. All the time, I tried to pray, but I just couldn’t. The enemy was on the attack.

Plus, and this sounds weird, (I have said this before), I feel more isolated than ever.

And I don’t want to imply that I am alone. I have my family. They are such a blessing and take good care of me.

In addition, I have good friends with whom I commiserate. One of them—a dear brother named Scott—stopped by the church yesterday morning just before I was heading to the service to preach. The services at his church are on Sunday nights (a good idea, I think). He said, “John, I had to come because the Lord laid you on my heart.” We hugged each other as he prayed for me. What a blessing! Scott, if you happen to be reading this: thank you so much, brother. You will never know this side of heaven how much your actions blessed me.

God has used folks in our fellowship and many of you who read this blog. So, when I say I feel isolated, I am not alone or lonely, but it is just a product of living in the wilderness.

All of us have or are or will spend time there. Mark it down. Get ready.

I honestly have no formulas for you at this point. No three-point, alliterated sermons entitled, “How to Live in the Wilderness.” To be honest, it is just the opposite. It is called “survival”—living day to day on the edge of disaster in total dependence on the Lord. That’s it. The jury is still out. The story is not finished.

Lord, I’m grateful for your presence and the help of friends like Scott in the wilderness. I lift up this dear brother and his family right now. Give us the stamina and endurance to pass the tests in the wilderness and make it. Today. I trust You for today. Amen.
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Don't Try to Out-god God

This phrase hit me in the head this morning like a baseball bat. I came across it as I read Acts 15 in the Message version.

The context of the verse I will cite in a moment occurs in chapter 15. This chapter marks a huge crossroad in the growth of the church in Acts. It was a “business meeting” with huge ramifications. At stake was the very essence of the gospel itself.

On the one hand, there were those who are argued that new Gentile converts to the faith should be circumcised just as all their Jewish counterparts were.

On the other hand, there was a group of believers (Peter, Paul, and Barnabas part of it) who adamantly argued that anything added to the gospel invalidates it. Peter was the first to give a testimony. He presented a strong argument for the gospel of the grace of God, and he concluded his remarks with these statements:

“So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too? Don’t we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those from beyond our nation? So what are we arguing about?” (Acts
15:10-11 MSG)

“Why are you now trying to ‘out-god God?’” Wow. I can’t get over Peterson’s translation here.

As I approach another Sunday in which I have the opportunity and privilege to preach God’s Word, I just hope and pray that I will be miles away from doing this to the folks to whom I proclaim God’s Word.

Miles away from it.

It is interesting and significant that after Peter made his statement, Paul and Barnabas shared testimonies of their work among Gentiles, conversions they had witnessed among countless Gentiles who got saved.

When these three “pillars” had finished, the argument was over, and those gathered in this meeting crafted a letter. The group commissioned Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas to carry this letter to the new congregations and read it aloud to the churches, and Bible says that the believers were comforted and encouraged.

This whole story resonates with me because, in my family, we struggled with the same thing. My mom grew up attending a Methodist church (and I am not going to bash the Methodists at this point; we just happened to be involved in a church in that denomination at the start) in Hutchinson, Kansas and when my mom and dad married and had children, we attended another Methodist church—University Park Methodist, across the street from Iliff Seminary here in Denver.

The message in both of those churches was “be a good person and when you die, if your good works outweigh the bad, then you will make it to heaven.” That is what my parents believed and what they taught Marilyn and me.

What is going on in Acts 15 is basically the same thing with a little different twist. And Baptists tend to be guilty of this. Since I criticized the Methodists, I want to include the Baptists at this point! Ha. We do a good job of preaching salvation by grace through faith alone.

However, I don’t think we do a good job as a general rule in teaching folks that grace is NOT just the principle by which we are saved in the first place. Grace is the CONTINUING principle of the Christian life. I am saved by grace alone. I grow by grace alone.

I want to be careful in my new sermon series on the topic of suffering from 1 Peter to make this clear.

Why? Because, whether any of us want to admit it or not, when we go through tough times, there is always a nagging thought, “What did I do wrong? Why is the Lord punishing me?”

Now, let me hasten to say that, if indeed I sinned, I believe the Holy Spirit would convict me of that particular sin AND, I know the Lord uses suffering to teach us things. Both those facts are important to emphasize.

However, our God is not some sort of tyrant waiting to whack us because of some unknown sin we might have committed.

He loves us always just as much as He did the moment we got saved. And today, I cannot tell all of you how grateful I am for this.

I want to laud the gospel of the grace of God as I preach through 1 Peter (the human author of this book is the same man who made the statement I quoted at the Jerusalem Council) and encourage the saints just as that council did back then. And I want to avoid trying to “out-god God,” at all costs!

O God, You are God. I am not. Thank You for the grace that saves me, grace alone, and the grace that keeps me saved, no matter what happens. I love You. Amen.
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A Small Victory of Sorts

Hey, it is very easy to be extremely negative as the days go by with this disease. I’ve actually had a relatively good couple of days as I seek to moderate my intake of pain medicine, simply because it has a lot of impact on my appetite and my stomach. I long for the day that my appetite returns. Now, I simply drink water and eat because I know I should, not because anything tastes all that good.

Anyway, I decided to take a step last night. Since my neck really started to bother me after my return from the trip to Salt Lake City, the only way I could even lie down in a bed was to be propped up. Marilyn brought a blanket, a lot of pillows, and this special pillow to prop me up in bed. She also placed more pillows so they propped my legs up a bit.

If that sounds like a strange arrangement, it was, but “sitting” in a bed was the only thing I could because if I laid down, the pain was too intense in my neck. I just could not tolerate it.

Well, last night, for the first time in a month and a half, I removed all those extra pillows and went back to lying down. I was a little apprehensive, but I am happy to report that I slept like a log. It was glorious! Praise God!

As I have said before, sleep is a huge priority for me in the recovery process. If I could just sleep as I did last night, I think I would get better much more quickly. Thanks be to God and thanks for praying for me.

In Professor Horner’s plan, I was intrigued to read Peterson’s translation of a couple of verses in Acts 14. Since this is the third time in his plan for me to read through Acts, I decided to do it in the Message Version. Here are those verses: “After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch, putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy: ‘Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times’” (
Acts 14:21-22 MSG).

Two things stand out this morning. First, I love his translation of verse 22. In the NASB, it is “strengthening the souls” of the disciples. In the Message Version, Peterson renders that phrase as “putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples.”

In their outward bound visit to these communities and churches, the disciples focused on evangelism, preaching messages so that lost folks could get saved, but on the inward trek, as they returned home to Antioch, they spent their energies on the disciples, seeking to strengthen and encourage them. As humans, we grow stronger when our muscles develop, if we happen to make some time to exercise.

What are sinews? I had to search Google for help with this term. My initial research reveals that it is synonymous with the world “tendon.” Tendons are “fibrous connective tissue that usually connects muscle to bone” (Wikipedia). Interesting. I’m certainly no biologist, but it was seem that if my sinews were strengthened, I would be a lot less likely to experience injury. Who knows?

The point is that the disciples ministered in such a way that the believers in these churches were better able to serve and to endure.

Second, Paul and his cohorts preached a very straightforward message. Luke just gives us a summary: “Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.”

I wonder if we as pastors in the American church ring this bell as often as we need to. It certainly won’t make one more popular. I’m almost positive that Joel Osteen would not count this theme worthy of his focus. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.

But I have been convicted about this, long before I came across this verse in my reading. Tomorrow, I am starting a series of messages from 1 Peter—a letter in the New Testament that deals with the subject of suffering and the believer. Why do believers suffer? Why do righteous people have to experience tough times?

For example, I have a dear friend. His name is Sam. I heard this week that he has been diagnosed with leukemia. When I called to talk with him, I asked his permission to share this prayer request with the church. He answered, “Sure. The more the merrier.”

Why would God allow this brother to get leukemia? Why would he allow my good friend Rick to have a recurrence of cancer, suffer horribly for four months, and die? What does God allow Saeed Abedini to continue to languish in that prison cell in Iran? We could go on and on.

Lord, I lift up Sam and Saeed to you. I pray for Rick’s widow. I lift up everyone who is reading this blog this morning, everyone who is suffering to one degree or another. Why Lord? Why? I don’t understand. I have no answers, only questions. Like Job, I give You my questions and trust You in the midst of them. Amen.
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Circle of Intensity

After a rather sluggish day in which I just could not get off this couch and found myself sinking emotionally, my mom and sis and I drove to a restaurant to meet my cousin Cathy and her husband Duane for dinner. It was great to see them.

If you will remember, several months ago, I told you about the accident that Cathy suffered. She has been a school teacher in Las Vegas for thirty-eight years (wow!), but this was the year, she had planned to retire.

Three days before the official end of the school year, Cathy broke her hip and her arm! She has been in recovery mode for the whole summer, but she and Duane decided to take a road trip. They are passing through Denver.

As both of us got out of our cars at the restaurant, Cathy said, “John, you look good!” She made that comment about me just as those same words were coming out of my mouth. Cathy does look good. She is walking with a cane, but I honestly don’t think she will need it very much longer.

We had a great meal together.

One of the topics of conversation that came up was Cathy’s grandmother. Most of us in the family called her Mrs. Van. One of my earliest memories was a fourth of July parade in the park right across the street from her house. As I mentioned this, Duane said, “We drove by that house today. Do you want to drive over there after dinner? It is not too far from this restaurant.” Yes. Of course!

So, we did, and as we pull to a stop in front of this house, all those images came flooding back in my brain. However, things have changed at the house, as you would imagine they would after 52 years! Huge trees. The brick on the house now covered with siding. Pferdesteller (yes, that is the name of the park; the first p is silent) seems a lot smaller than it did to a five year old.

As we pulled up, a man came out of the house. Cathy immediately went over to talk with him and eventually went inside the house! All of us got to meet both of the men who live there now. We all enjoyed reminiscing. I put a picture up on Facebook of our meeting in front of Mrs. Van’s house.

As the sun was setting, I said to Duane, “I am kind of running out of gas, Duane. I think we need to go. I shook Duane’s hand, gave Cathy a hug, and my mom and sis and I headed out. It was a wonderful evening.

When I got home, I just crashed on the couch as I turned on the Bronco game. (Hey, you knew I HAD to mention that game—ha!) By the time the game ended, I was so pumped that I could not sleep.

I say all of this to assert: I am so thankful for the boost, for the shot in the arm, for the encouragement of last night.

I know that what happened to me is radically different in some ways, but somehow, after what happened to me last night, I resonate with a phrase in Acts 13 in the Message Version. Here it is:
“So they commissioned them. In that circle of intensity and obedience, of fasting and praying, they laid hands on their heads and sent them off” (Acts 13:3 MSG).

“Circle of intensity and obedience”—is that a great picture of the church?

Think about it for a moment, these believers in Antioch. They are gathered together. They are praying, but it isn’t just any old prayer meeting. It isn’t just a ritual. It isn’t “business as usual.”

When they came together, something happened. Something moved. It wasn’t a “thing.” It was the Spirit of God. The Spirit pulled things together and the Spirit compelled this circle of intensity to make a bold step—to send two of their best men OUT of the church and ON a journey that would be the first missionary enterprise of the Christian church.

I just pray that the church I serve could become a “circle of intensity and obedience.” I pray that what happened to me last night (and much, much more by the power of Your Spirit) could be replicated in the lives of everyone in the church, week by week.

Last night, the Lord encouraged me. He used Duane and Cathy and pulled together a great memory from childhood. He used a victory to pump me up. Even though I didn’t sleep much at all, I have a lot of energy this morning. I can only thank the Lord for this.

Lord, I do thank You for last night. Thank You for Duane and Cathy. Help Cathy’s hip to continue to heal. Bless them as they continue their trip today. Thank You for last night. I know that what You want to do in our lives far surpasses any human experience. Make First Southern “a circle of intensity and obedience.” Help me to be a part of it. Amen.

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A Revised To-Do List Format

I’m sorry about yesterday … it was kind of weird.

After I ate my breakfast and came in here to read the Word, I encountered two symptoms. I became so drowsy that I could not keep my eyes open AND I found myself trying to catch my breath every few minutes.

I ultimately just gave up trying to fight it and eventually went to sleep for a while, but it was difficult to rest because I was thinking, “What is going on with me?”

Finally, it dawned on me: on Tuesday, at the doctor’s office, he prescribed an additional medication to help me with my stomach problems.

The only think I can figure is that this new medicine interacted negatively with the medicines I have currently been taking and produced these symptoms. I’m pretty sure I am correct in my rookie diagnosis because I didn’t take the new pill last night, and this morning, I feel a lot better.

But back to yesterday, it was just a battle throughout the day because I drove up to Northglenn to do the nursing home ministry at Northglenn Heights with Jim. As I entered the room, one of the ladies was there. Her name is Martha*. Martha’s face lit up, “Well, hi! How are you doing? We’ve missed you.” I appreciated this so much.

As it turned out, she was the only person who showed up yesterday, but the three of us had a great time of worship. Once again, Jim had picked out a new song that captured my attention. All of them were well chosen and excellent but this one in particular really ministered to me. The title is, “If It Matters to You, It Matters to the Master.”

In spite of the fact that I was fully engaged in what was going on, I still battled drowsiness. It was very frustrating.

When I got back home, I laid down on this couch and just gave in to sleep—again.

One of the things that the Lord is teaching me is to stop getting frustrated and discouraged when my plans for the day don’t turn out as I want.

Every morning, after I read the Word, pray, and write this blog, I spend time making a “to-do” list for the day. I just try to jot down everything that I THINK needs to be done for the day. At the end of day, when I look at my list again, I tend to judge how well I did by how many items I have checked off.

Based on those criteria, yesterday was an abject failure—IN MY MIND, but does God judge it that way? I hasten to say NO! A couple of the passages I read today reinforce my answer.

First, I read Exodus 18. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro gave him some good advice. This chapter reminds me that delegation allows me to accomplish much more than trying to do everything myself. As I was sleeping on this couch yesterday afternoon, Jim and Patti were making some visits. They were serving in ways I normally would. Their work helps me immeasurably.

Obviously, the Lord wanted me to rest yesterday, but the ministry goes on. Is that failure? I think NOT.

Humm. Maybe I ought to change my daily list. I’m not talking about abdicating responsibility, but maybe I should also make a list of things that I delegate each day.

Right now, my “to-do” list puts the entire onus on me. I don’t think Jethro and more importantly God, approves.

Second, a verse in Psalm 68 reminds me of something else:
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. Selah. God is to us a God of deliverances; And to GOD the Lord belong escapes from death” (Psalms 68:19-20 NASB).

How about this? How about, for each item on the to-do list, turning it over to God? He daily bears our burden. This reminds me of Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11 to come to Him, to get co-yoked with Him, and He will give me rest.

Third, Hebrews reminds me that Jesus runs this “house.” My first responsibility is NOT to do anything, but to TRUST. “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house-whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Hebrews 3:6 NASB).

Lord, I thank You for teaching me through a day when I could not catch my breath and could not keep my eyes open—a day in which I was not “productive” from a fleshly standpoint, but a time in which I learned a little bit more about how to trust You and allow You to work through my weakness so that your strength could be demonstrated. Thanks for Jethro—the wise man whose sage advice still resonates even today. Thanks for Martha. Thanks for Jim and Patti. Thanks for being a good Manager of this house. I love you, Jesus. Amen.
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Can't Stay Awake

Whoa, as I sit here this morning trying to read the Word, I dropped off to sleep several times. It has been a real struggle. Don’t worry. When I finish this blog, I am going back to sleep, and I will sleep at long as I need to.

But, in the meantime, I did have a good day yesterday. I had an appointment with Dr. Jotte. He continues to be impressed with my neck and how I am doing.

I had plenty of questions for him, but the bottom line is that he wants me just to keep plugging along. If the pain in my shoulder persists for another couple of weeks, he reiterated the fact that he would do something, but since I am improving week by week, his hope is that the cancer that is pushing against the nerves in my shoulder will diminish also.

Anyway, I continue to battle just dropping off to sleep … so I am going to quit fighting it. I don’t know what is going on this morning. I’m sorry to be so short on this blog, but I am going to give in and doze off for a while.

Thank You for this, Lord. I love you. Amen.
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"Transferable Concepts"

This term came into my mind as I read a very familiar Old Testament story. Before I used it as the title of the blog today, I searched Google and sure enough I found it. “Cru” (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) employs these words as the title for a page on their website that lists and explains several core, biblical teachings—“transferable concepts.” I like that phrase.

Of all stories in the Old Testament, it certainly applies to the one that the Holy Spirit pinpointed for me today.

This is rather strange to say (I shared this with a brother yesterday)—I feel more and more isolated as I deal with recovery from this disease. AND, let me hasten to say that I continue to receive text messages, emails, phone calls, and plenty expressions of love. So, it is not a feeling of loneliness that I am talking about but ISOLATION.

I am sure that everyone who is recovering from a disease or injury feels this way. Ryan Clady, the all-pro tackle for the Broncos, injured himself early in preseason. He is out for the year. I’m sure he hangs out with the players. He participated in the team photo taken at Dove Valley the other day. But I am sure, as he sits on the sidelines during games with everyone around him, he feels isolated.

What to do? Well, I would hope that for Ryan Clady and for me—we are both spending this time learning and more than that learning stuff that we can “transfer” to other life situations that may occur down the road.

Why has the Lord allowed me to have cancer? Why doesn’t He heal me? What do I need to be learning as I enter my sixth year (I’ve had this disease for six years!) of dealing with cancer? What could the Lord possibly want me to learn and transfer?

Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this, but I ask these questions and ask the Lord all the time.

I’m sure that David asked them as well as he tended sheep on the backside of the wilderness. It was a thankless and lonely job. No one wanted it. I think David’s older brothers dumped it on him while they went off to do bigger and better things like fight battles against the Philistines.

That was exactly what was going on in the context of the famous story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. David was eager to leave his smelly sheep with someone else and take some food to the front lines of the battle, but when he arrived, his brothers rolled their eyes. What on earth is THIS KID doing here? Go back to your sheep. Leave the fighting to men, you little squirt!

David sized up the situation and with a child-like faith (could this story be one of the greatest descriptions of what child-like faith is really all about?) offered to help the army of Israel out?

Here is David’s rationale as he explained how he dealt with lions first and then bears as a shepherd: “’I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.’ And David said, ‘The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’ And Saul said to David, ‘Go, and may the LORD be with you’”(1 Samuel
17:35-37 NASB).

Do you see a “transferable concept” in those words? “Paw of the lion,” “Paw of the bear” transferred to “Hand of the Philistine.” If the Lord could work over there, don’t you think He could work in THIS situation?” Isn’t it simple?

Here is the encouragement of this passage today. First, not one circumstance, not ONE, is EVER wasted. Second, God is always preparing us for something. Third, if I am alert, or even if I am not, He will use my past experiences for His glory in the future.

So, six years of dealing with cancer and a lot of days like yesterday just sitting around … the transferable concept? Who knows? God. I’m glad, Lord. Amen.



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Momentum

The Sundays I am not preaching seem to last forever. I really miss it when I don’t go to church. I miss the prayer time I have with the guys at 8:15. I miss seeing everyone. I miss the corporate worship—there just isn’t any substitute for it.

However, ALL OF THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, I know I made the right decision NOT to be at church yesterday and just sit on this couch or the one in our basement or the chair on the back porch, most of the day.

I don’t usually ask this, but after what happened at the end of last week, I am learning that I need to: now that I feel a little better, please pray for me that I don’t do too much and overextend myself. I’m going to be very careful. I guarantee you.

This morning, in Professor Horner’s plan, I read Acts 9—the story of Paul’s conversion experience. What a story it is!

As he was on the way to arrest Christians, God arrested him, turning his life around and putting him on a completely different course in a split second. All of a sudden, Saul was blind, and for the first time in his life, he needed someone to help him move around.

Let me stop right here for a moment. This reminds me of something that happened to me the night I made public my call to full-time vocational service at Beverly Hills Baptist Church in Waco that May night in 1978.

After I went forward in the invitation to tell the church what the Lord had done, I said something like this, “Church, now that God had called me to preach, I just want you to know that I need all of you. I need you, more than ever.”

At that point in time, I didn’t realize the full significance of what I was saying, and I am still learning about its significance to this very day.

Of course, all of who are saved and have a spiritual gift NEED others in the body, just as a finger cannot operate as an independent agent. It needs a hand; the hand needs an arm; an arm needs a shoulder (isn’t there a Negro spiritual that teaches this?).

We all recognize this or we SHOULD.

I believe that Saul’s conversion experience was also his call to ministry, and right off the bat, Saul needed a messenger of God—Ananias.

Ananias was apprehensive at first, but he obeyed God and went to meet this former Pharisee-out-to-kill-Christians-turned-apostle. Saul got his eyesight back and was on his way.

Most scholars are agreed that there is a gap between verse 18 and verse 19 in Acts 9. This is probably when Saul had his famous three-year retreat in the desert. When this was over, God brought him right back to Damascus. When Paul returned, the Christians in the area were a little hesitant to receive him because of his former “occupation.”

Now, here is the verse that caught my eye this morning as I read this chapter from the Message Version: “But their suspicions didn’t slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts
9:22 MSG).

Saul faced opposition, but by then, he had MOMENTUM. Thus, he plowed right through the opposition and continued to preach.

Interesting way to put, it, right?

This is no technically accurate definition, but to me, when I think of momentum, I think of movement and movement that is hard, if not impossible to stop.

As far as I can tell, this momentum of Saul (later turned Paul), that began early in his ministry, did not stop EVER.

This is such a huge encouragement for me because one of the things that has hounded me that last few days and weeks has been this thought, “John, this cancer thing has re-emerged for the third time; maybe you should just pull out of ministry—quit.”

I certainly don’t want to do this; nor do I feel led. But this thought hounds me day after day. And, I have started to pray about it. And today, the Lord brought me to this verse. What do you think that means? Ha.

Lord, I pray that you would continue to help me to be smart and wise and take care of myself with a focus on getting well. All of that is well and good. BUT, God, I believe that Your call has built-in momentum attached to it. Until You tell me different, I am hanging in there and trust that Your momentum can and will overcome all opposition as I continue on in ministry. Satan, get behind me. Amen.
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The Disobedience Dance

Yesterday was interesting to see how the Lord worked and how He used people who called to encourage me …

After doing too much on Friday, the temptation was to just pull the covers over my head and stay in bed, not only yesterday, but also for longer. After all, I might overextend myself and get sick again et cetera …

Somehow, as I thought about it, the Lord jolted me a bit. Wait a minute! That is no way to live. Yeah, I do need to learn from what happened. I am asking for wisdom from God. I do need to learn baby steps, BUT, I am going to keep pushing the envelope, as it were but hopefully just be smarter about it.

I refuse to let cancer keep me on the mat.

One brother named Mark who called me urged me not to beat myself up over what happened, but just trust God and go on. We laughed about all of it. He told me that his wife often says, “I wish the Lord would help me graduated from this class; I’m ready to move on to the next grade.” Amen.

God is in charge of this whole thing. He obviously has a plan and purpose through this suffering. Mark reminded me of a significant passage in my spiritual pilgrimage. Andy Hornbaker preached on it when I was in high school. “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, NASB). We both remarked that if this were the case with Jesus, how much more with us?

I just hope I learn to obey Him, or all of this is wasted.

This morning, in Professor Horner’s plan, I came across a rather well known story involving Samuel and Saul. Samuel gave the new king explicit instructions regarding the battle plan against Amalek: totally wipe them out and destroy absolutely everything that belongs to them as well.

These are fairly simple and straightforward instructions that anyone could obey, right?

Well, you know the story. Saul disobeyed. He “made an exception for Agag, and for the choice sheep and cattle. They didn’t include them under the terms of the holy ban” (1 Samuel 15:9, MSG).

Samuel went to meet Saul the next day. When the two met, Saul bragged that he had carried out the commandment of the Lord.

Here is Samuel’s famous retort, “But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?’" (1 Samuel
15:14 NASB).

What follows is an interesting “disobedience dance” as Saul tries to rationalize his behavior. He argues that he was planning to sacrifice these sheep that he had kept back to the Lord. Doesn’t that make everything all right? Doesn’t that smooth things over? No.

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22, NASB).

For all intents and purposes, Saul was done. He continued to reign as king, but he was done. What a tragedy? This tall and handsome man was a shipwreck.

Lord, help me today to learn obedience through all this cancer stuff. It is hard. I’m so prone to the “disobedience dance,” even though I’m not a good dancer. I often resort to this dance. Thank You for Your patience and grace and strength. Thank You for Mark and Bill and Melba who called yesterday.

Thank You for Dan as he preaches in my absence this morning. Empower him to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. I lift up Connor and the worship team as well. Take care of Your church today, Pastor Jesus. Amen.
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A Major Set Back

I started to feel a little better late Wednesday and definitely into Thursday. So (and here is my big mistake), I started to do a little bit more, even on into Friday.

Well, yesterday, late in the morning and for the rest of the day, I crashed.

Every issue I dealt with a couple of weeks ago came back—nausea, severe pain in my shoulder, and fatigue. It was another nightmare.

I felt horrible for the rest of the day into the night. Marilyn urged me to take my nausea medicine. I’m sure that was the reason I was able to go to sleep and stay asleep.

I felt a little better as I awakened. I drank a few sips of a drink the doctor recommended. It is specifically for people who are nauseated and can’t keep anything down. It is called AbsorbPlus. I had some of it last night also. It isn’t too bad as far as taste is concerned.

Well, after drinking some this morning, I threw it up, as well as everything I had yesterday.

So, here I sit. As I write this, Marilyn is in the kitchen. She is trying to find something that I can eat, just because there is nothing in my stomach.

She just brought me a banana along with some yogurt and peaches. I will try to eat a few bites….

I have to tell all of you that I am EXTREMELY discouraged. This recent manifestation of this disease has revealed something about me: I am NOT patient AT ALL.

It seems that I get to the point that, with a little window of encouragement, I jump “whole hog” back into “normal activity” and my body is just not ready for it. Please pray that the Lord will give me wisdom to know how to take “baby steps.”

We always use that term, but I need to know in practical experience related to who I am and where I am now—what that means.

These verses in Proverbs (this is the third time to read this book in Professor Horner’s plan; I’m reading them this time from the Message Version) hit me like a Mack truck: “Because you hated Knowledge and had nothing to do with the Fear-of- GOD, Because you wouldn’t take my advice and brushed aside all my offers to train you, Well, you’ve made your bed—now lie in it; you wanted your own way—now, how do you like it? Don’t you see what happens, you simpletons, you idiots? Carelessness kills; complacency is murder. First pay attention to me, and then relax. Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands” (Proverbs
1:29-33 MSG). Those last two sentences—this is where I need to be.

Lord, I am the worst PATIENT in the world. I confess that to You. Help me, Lord. Fill me with the Spirit so that my life might bear Your fruit. I pray for wisdom also. Help my mom and sister as well. All these “episodes” affect them greatly as they want to see me get well. You are the original “good hands.” This is where I need to be. Amen.

On the bananas and yogurt with peaches … so far so good. Thank You, Lord.
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A Good Sermon from a Strange Source

Before I get into the topic for today, I just want to share with all of you that yesterday was a day in which I felt a little bit better. I rejoice in this. It was a huge encouragement for my mom and sister. Thank you for your prayers.

I can already tell that today, I don’t feel quite as good, but that’s the way it goes. I will just try to continue to stay the course with rest and my pain pills.

Anyway, for the past couple of weeks, at night, we have been watching a television mini-series on DVD that originally aired in 1983. It is based on the novels of Jewish author Hermon Wouk. The first part is entitled, “The Winds of War,” and it chronicles events leading up to the start of World War II.

The second part is called “War and Remembrance.” It tells the story of actually what happened in World War II.

This is an amazing series because, even though it has characters and a plot, it is very accurate when it comes to what happened in the war. Each scene was shot on location, so it spans the globe to show what happened in this world war.

Two of the main characters, Aaron Jastrow (played by John Gielgud) and his niece, Natalie (played by Jane Seymour) find themselves imprisoned in a special concentration camp called “Theresienstadt.” Go to Google and search for information about it.

It was infamously called “paradise ghetto” as it served as a holding prison for thousands of Jews who either died there or were eventually transported east to extermination camps like Auschwitz in Poland.

Back to Aaron—he was chosen as an elder among the Jews in this camp. Since his character was a famous American author, he had many duties, including serving as a Rabbi for the prisoners.

One scene in the movie shows him standing before a large congregation and he decides to teach the book of Job.

Think about this: what does kind of message would the book of Job have for Jews awaiting death in a concentration camp?

“Aaron Jastrow” actually “preaches” a very good sermon. A couple of points stand out. Even though Job cried out to God for answers, God ultimately gave him the “answer which was not an answer.” He responded to Job’s questions with more questions that neither Job nor any human could respond to, and as a result, Job accepted God’s “non-answer” with humility and praise. Aaron urged the prisoners at Theresienstadt to do the same.

I was actually very surprised to hear this message.

How does one explain the whole idea of “unjust suffering.” The Holocaust is a primo case in point. What is the reason for the mass slaughter of millions of Jews?

Here is the gist of “Aaron’s” message: God is sovereign. He does as He pleases. He is in control. Instead of trying to figure things out, we must humbly bow before Him, whether in good circumstances or evil, whether the Lord gives or the Lord takes away, “blessed be the name of the Lord.”

When he finished in the movie, we all commented, “Not bad.” It really wasn’t. Humm.

Of course, we as believers have an eternal hope. We see the significance of suffering that has meaning well beyond life here on earth.

Here is Paul’s prayer: “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Colossians
1:9-12 NASB).

Here is his testimony: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God” (Colossians
1:24-25 NASB).

Lord, I thank You for the amazing ways and means You use to encourage us. Little did we know that you would use this 30 plus year-old TV mini-series and this message from Job to have an impact on my family. Lord, I have no idea why You have allowed this cancer into my life, but I rejoice in You, nonetheless. Use my suffering as a platform for fruit bearing and as an avenue of encouragement for the body of Christ. I love You, Lord. Amen.

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Shoulder Pain and Mulberry Trees

This pilgrimage that the Lord has us on has many unexpected twists and turns. One thing I continue to ask the Lord is for His grace to help me live one day at a time with no expectations for the future. The very practical reason for this is that it takes way too much energy to deal with things that don’t turn out the way I had anticipated. I have enough on my plate trying to handle what is going on in the present.

Does this make sense?

Let me see if I can explain. After the second infusion a couple of days ago, I had the expectation that the pain in my shoulder would go away very quickly—as in a day or two. I don’t know how or why I came to that belief, but it is what it is.

And, honestly, the pain is not what it was even a week ago. It is better in one sense, but in another it is worse.

Yesterday, after a good day in which I actually did get out to take a walk, I felt better as the morning progressed, but in the afternoon, I started to go downhill again. My first response was to take my one of my pain pills. I changed the patch, and after dinner took one of the new pain pills Dr. Jotte prescribed the other day. Why?

The pain returned BIG TIME. And it was different. It wasn’t the sharp pain I experienced before I started this round of chemo. It wasn’t the dull pain I have been dealing with since my first infusion. This was a different kind of pain, one that felt as if it was emanating from somewhere deeper in my shoulder. I know these descriptions are very inadequate … but the bottom line is that it is almost unbearable.

Here is the cycle: I feel pain, so I take more pain pills. They affect me in multiple ways, the main one being that my appetite diminishes greatly, and I fight depression/discouragement more than ever.

My mom and sister have to live with every new nuance of this disease, and I know it is getting to them also, more than ever. Last night, Marilyn said, “I’m just so tired.” Mother concurred.

We are getting very impatient. And we wonder, “Where is all this headed?”

The other day, Dr. Jotte urged perseverance. He said that if this pain continues much longer, then he would order an MRI on my shoulder to see exactly what the problem is. I hope there is nothing else going on there. But it is a concern. I think about his comment, A LOT.

But there I go again.

So, anyway, I know I sound like a broken record, but please pray for us.

Two passages I read this morning stand out to me. The first is a statement about faith in Luke 17. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”; and it would obey you’” (Luke
17:5-6 NASB). This is a good reminder today that the size of my faith is NOT the issue; it is the SIZE of the ONE in whom I trust.

I place my tiny little microscopically small bit of faith in You, A GREAT BIG GOD. And I trust You to uproot and toss this mulberry tree away!

I decided to do some study on why Jesus choose to focus on a mulberry tree in His teaching about faith. Apparently, mulberry trees have a deep and extensive root system that makes removing them a very difficult challenge under the best of circumstances. I learned that these trees can live up to 600 years! This reference is akin to moving a mountain. But taking it one step further: uprooting this type of tree and then replanting it in the ocean is an even greater, almost ridiculous challenge. No one would even dare to attempt this. The bottom line is that even a little faith can accomplish great things.

The second passage is from Acts—the testimony and activity of Peter and John as they are released from prison. “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts
5:41-42 NASB).

Lord, I’m not there yet … I’m not in a position to rejoice about these sufferings, and I am struggling with my faith or lack thereof. This cancer is a 600 year-old mulberry tree. Uproot it and replant it in the sea, Lord! I do believe. Help my unbelief. I choose to continue to preach and teach and honor You. Amen.
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A Victory Carry

Much to share with all of you today: first of all, thanks for your prayers. I wish that every Christian could experience what I have witnessed in crucial times during these five plus years I have had cancer. I can literally feel the prayers of God’s people.

The closest analogy is that famous Old Testament story in Exodus 17 of Joshua and Hur holding up Moses’ arms so that the Israelites won the battle.

It feels as if all of you are carrying me, just like they carried Elway off the field when the Broncos won their first Super Bowl—a victory carry.

Thank you so much. I love all of you.

The doctor continues to be encouraged that my swelling has gone down, but he is perplexed that I am still having pain, so he gave me another type of pain medication, specifically designed for nerve pain. As he wrote out the prescription, he said, “Let’s try this. It works in about fifty percent of the time. So, let’s just see.”

I was starting to feel the pain at about 4:00 in the afternoon yesterday, so I took one of the new pills. I could tell that it had an immediate affect. However, at the same time, my already queasy stomach became more so. I ate a little bit of the great meal Marilyn prepared for me, but I was just to “iffy” to eat a lot.

I still feel a bit on the edge of nausea this morning, so I was very careful about what I ate. We will see. This now adds up to three pain medications I am taking. The accumulated affect of these drugs is that my stomach is upset a lot of the time. It affects my appetite (yesterday, as the nurses took my weight, I have lost three more pounds), and I am just sleepier during the day. This is all stuff that seems a little difficult to continue to deal with just because it is hard to do anything without feeling drowsy and “out of it.”

At the same time, the doc told me I need to get up and move around a bit more. So, after writing this blog, I am going to take a walk. And, he wants me to eat more often during the day—more calories just to build myself up a little bit more. The reason I haven’t been doing both of these things is that I just haven’t felt like it, but I am going to force myself a bit today and see what happens.

One other thing to share—I was a little apprehensive about scheduling this on the afternoon of my infusion, but I felt it was urgent.

Last week, Mark, the Executive Director of the Colorado Baptist Convention, sent me an email. He told me that he was praying for me and added that he had resources to help the church and me if I needed them. I felt it was urgent enough to touch base with him that I scheduled a meeting yesterday.

I’m not going to get into the details of what we discussed, but it was a VERY ENCOURAGING meeting. We talked about a lot of things. Mainly, it was just good to share what is going on with a brother who cares. We did decide on a couple of things that will help us out greatly. We concluded our meeting as Mark prayed for me. Mark, if you are reading this blog today, thanks so much brother!

As I was leaving the State Convention building, someone called out my name, “John, wait a second.” Three brothers—Jim, Dave, and Steve—came to meet me. They asked how I was doing, encouraged me, and gathered around me to pray for me. Again, a huge encouragement.

Just more “victory carriers”! How valuable is that? You cannot measure the value.

All of this dovetails a couple of passages I read this morning in Professor Horner’s plan. One of my favorites: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians
3:8-11 NASB).

There is that challenging word again—POWER. And it is associated with the most powerful event of all time—the resurrection—in which God demonstrated His power over death and the grave.

Luke continues to use that word in the second installment of his gospel—the book of Acts: “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all” (Acts
4:33 NASB). Great power and abundant grace.

Lord, thank You that You have already beaten the “Packers.” The game is over. There is a huge victory in the biggest game of history. You have beaten death, the grave, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Your people are carrying me—we are carrying each other—no one plays this game by himself or herself. We are lifting each other up on the field and off the field. Thank you for everyone who prayed and is praying today. Thank You for those four guys yesterday. Go God! Amen.
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Injection #2 Today--Opportunity for Glory

For this round of chemotherapy, the language is a little different than that of the previous two.

In the past, I would say that I am getting a chemo treatment today, but this go-around, I’m actually getting a chemo treatment every day because I take a pill twice a day AND every three weeks, I actually go into the cancer center for them to inject a chemo drug into me through the port. This is why they call it an “injection.”

And, the good news is, if I understand the doctor correctly, that it will only take a half an hour for this injection, and I should be out of there. Of course, it will take longer than that when you add up everything because they have to take my blood, and I have to see the doctor, but the actual injection part won’t take that long.

I’m kind of curious to see how I will respond to things this time. As you may remember, my first injection was a total nightmare because of the nausea, vomiting, inability to urinate, et cetera. But I attribute most of that to my negative reaction to the first pain pill they gave me. Without that complication, we will see what happens.

I have cleared my calendar for the rest of the week except for a couple of things just so that I am in a position fully to recover from this injection.

Back to yesterday for a moment … I have to be careful what I ask all of you to pray for because I know you will do it! Ha! I set aside yesterday as a day of rest and man, was it ever! After lunch, I took a seat on our back porch and promptly fell asleep for an hour.

When I woke up, I came in to sit on this couch, falling asleep AGAIN, this time for two hours! After dinner, I slept for another hour, and last night, I had one of the best night’s sleep I have had in the past week. Wow. So, thank you for praying and I praise God for this.

In the category of taking care of myself, sleep and rest right now are at the top of my list. I’m arranging everything to put myself in the best position to get both.

Well, as I continue in Professor Horner’s reading plan, I am noticing a couple of interesting things. I am on my second reading of Proverbs and my third reading of the book of Acts. I like it! One can never read those two books enough.

Here are a couple of passages that stood out to me today. Notice this statement the Lord makes about Pharaoh in the narrative of the plagues: “But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go” (Exodus
9:16-17 NASB). This reminds me of Paul’s comments about God’s sovereignty in Romans. God raised up Pharaoh, the evil and wicked leader, so that His power could be demonstrated through him.

And, it provided an opportunity for Pharaoh to repent, but of course, he did not.

The same is true for the bowl judgments in the book of Revelation. These terrible plagues (reading these two passages together has helped me see that the plagues in Egypt are a precursor, a foreshadowing, of the seals, trumpets, and bowls judgments in the eschaton) have the same purpose. Notice this statement in Revelation: “Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory” (Revelation
16:9 NASB).

Let me try to put this together. God is so powerful that He can use evil for His glory. Even in judgment, he provides an opportunity to repent. But make no mistake about it: God will get glory, even if we don’t give it to Him, but His goal is for us to give Him glory.

Lord, again, I thank You for cancer. Everyone would agree that there is nothing good about it, but I pray that You would be glorified through this disease in my life. I choose to give You glory. May Your glory be evident at the Midtown Cancer Center today—whether I am awake or asleep—glorify Yourself through me. Amen.
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Teachings on Sabbath

Well, thank you for praying for me yesterday. When I woke up, I felt really good, and I had a lot of energy through the morning and into the afternoon. I did start to wind down by mid-afternoon. I wasn’t feeling any pain as such, just fatigue. So, I spent the remainder of the day just sitting and resting. I made a point of NOT doing any work.

There is something to be learned here, I think, and not just in this period of time when I have cancer.

I think I have mentioned this before in the blog, but several years ago, I was sitting in a meeting with leaders in our church. The topic of SABBATH came up. I asked this question: how many of you take time each week to rest? A few raised their hands rather sheepishly. Then, I went a step further: “how many of you take an entire day each week to rest?” No one responded.

I think we have gone way too far in our zeal as Christians to laud the fact that we worship on Sunday because of the resurrection. I’m not going to argue about that in this forum. I have no problem with it.

However, in so doing, we have totally abandoned the whole concept of SABBATH. We need to be clear about it. In Hebrews, the Holy Spirit asserts that, as a result of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we live in a perpetual state of Sabbath. “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9, NASB). I believe this is a state of being that results from trusting the finished work of Jesus on the cross for us.

Having said that, however, does not negate the fact that God designed us to work and to rest, just as He did. I mean, God created the universe and then He rested! How much more you and I?

I wonder how many health problems occur in our contemporary culture because of a lack of rest. I’m not doctor, of course, but I am just curious.

Back to that meeting years ago, as we continued to discuss Sabbath, someone made this point, “Well, as Christians, not only do we NOT have a Sabbath, but also, our day (Sunday), especially for Baptists, is one of the busiest of the week, every week.” Back then, we still had Sunday Night services. Yikes! Now, I don’t ever hear any complaints that we don’t have evening services any longer. None from me. That is for sure!

We all came to the conclusion that something was off, but we didn’t do anything about it.

In Professor Horner’s reading plan for today, two passages I read touched on the subject of Sabbath. First, in Luke, Jesus asks the question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (Luke 14:3, NASB) Of course, in that instance, he was attacking the legalistic hypocrisy of the Jews who castigated Jesus on one hand and then were quick to pull their oxen out of a pit if the animal fell in on a Sabbath.

Of course, we need to stay away from any hint of legalism. Jesus attacked that mindset in his ministry. I think it would be interesting actually to study how many times Jesus did a miracle on the Sabbath just to debunk false concepts of that day among the Jewish religious leadership.

Second, notice these words in Isaiah 58, “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah
58:13-14 NASB). Interesting. Here the Lord challenges folks to honor the Lord in Sabbath by taking delight in Him.

We need to focus on what we do and not take pride in what we don’t do.

I don’t know … I think I have raised more questions than I have answered, but one thing I do believe is that if one is negligent in this area of Sabbath, the Lord will make sure that You take it. Isn’t that a principle of Sabbath in the Old Testament in regard to land? I need to research this further.

Don’t get me wrong at this point! I don’t believe the Lord is cruel or vindictive. I believe He loves us so much that He exhorts us to rest in Him and to get rest.

Lord, on this holiday Monday, I thank You for another opportunity for rest. Help me, Lord. Teach me what Sabbath means in this day and time, not as some legalistic pat on my own back, but as another way to honor. Thank You Jesus that You have invited us to come to You and rest. Amen.
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A Rather "Unique" Parade in Boulder

For the last few days, one of Marilyn and my good friends from seminary—Cindy—has been in town visiting with us. It has been great to see her—a real encouragement for all of us. She and Marilyn spent a lot of time hanging out and seeing some of the sights in our fair city.

Yesterday, the plan was for Marilyn and Cindy to go to Boulder to meet one of Cindy’s friends from Georgia, eat lunch, and walk around on the Pearl Street Mall.

As the women were having lunch, they noticed some commotion right outside the restaurant. Let me see how I can put this … it was a parade in which those who marched—both men and women—were not wearing a shirt.

As Cindy was telling me about it when she and Marilyn returned to the house, I asked, “What was the purpose of this parade?”

Cindy replied, “Well, I guess it was some sort of protest that women should be able not to wear a shirt just like men.”

To be honest, it was hard for me not to laugh. Here is our guest who lives in a small town in Georgia, here on vacation to see the “sights,” and this is one of the sights she sees. Just great.

For those of us who live here and know about the type of things that occur in Boulder and specifically on this mall, it is not too surprising. But still …

Marilyn chimed in. “I guess one of the strange things about this parade was that the people who were in it were just trying to act as ‘normal’ as possible, walking along eating snacks or whatever.”

Again, hard not to laugh about it but at the same time have a deep burden and sense of shame—on a holiday weekend in a very public place. What is this world coming to? Or, where is it going?

The contrast was a little stark because, while Marilyn and Cindy were up in Boulder seeing what they were seeing, my mom and I had a visit from Al, a brother from church. He was working down in Castle Rock and as he was heading back up to the north side of Metro Denver, he stopped by our house to say hi.

It was great to see him and visit with him. He didn’t stay long, but before he left, he prayed with us. It was a huge encouragement. Al, if you are reading this blog today, thanks a lot, brother. My mom and I really appreciated it.

Could the contrast be any greater? The world chooses to make their point through loud and shocking protest marches. The Lord works in a different way—behind the scenes as a man or woman obeys God and makes a visit.

Significantly enough, I came across these verses today in the prophecy of Isaiah as I continue with Professor Horner’s plan. “Behind the door and the doorpost You have set up your sign; Indeed, far removed from Me, you have uncovered yourself, And have gone up and made your bed wide. And you have made an agreement for yourself with them, You have loved their bed, You have looked on their manhood” (Isaiah
57:8 NASB). Isn’t this a reference to the same kind of thing as the “topless” parade Marilyn and Cindy witnessed?

This verse is part of a condemnation of idolatry among the folks in Isaiah’s day. I guess we are experiencing the same kind of problems today. We really haven’t come that far. Satan isn’t innovative at all.

Lord, thank You for the encouragement that Cindy has been this week for us. Thank You for Al’s visit yesterday. Lord, our culture and world continue to move far away from you. This “parade” in Boulder, shocking as it is, isn’t really all that new. Sin is sin is sin. Help us to continue to worship You and follow You and serve You. I pray that all the folks in that parade will get saved and find out how glorious it is to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Amen.
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Now, I Get It

Yesterday was a very perplexing day. I rested for most of the day. But as the day wore on, I started to feel worse and worse. By dinnertime, I was really in bad shape. I decided to eat, hoping that would make me feel a little better. It didn’t.

I didn’t sleep that well, and I didn’t feel well when I got up, but I made myself some breakfast and forced myself to eat. Again, hoping …

Not long after finishing, all of a sudden, (and there really wasn’t any nausea associated with it) I just threw up, and I mean, I vomited everything I had eaten last night and my breakfast this morning. UGH.

I guess I just have to say that I am very perplexed about what is going on.

In the past, I would have a treatment at the cancer center and feel bad for a few days, but with each of the treatments in rounds one and two, I would start to feel better at some point but not this time. I have not felt well since I started Round Three. I maybe have had a couple of days where I felt better, but in general, I have not felt well for the past three weeks and yesterday was the capper.

So, I am wondering: is this a harbinger of things to come? After all, I do take two cancer pills each day. These pills seem to be rather potent stuff. The swelling on my neck decreased pretty dramatically since day one. I still have swelling in my upper chest, no appetite, and fatigue, but will I need to add “feeling bad and vomiting” to the list of seeming perpetual side effects?

Of course, I will ask Dr. Jotte these questions when I see him before my second injection on Tuesday, but this whole scenario is weighing on me a bit.

This is, by far, the roughest go I have had in my three rounds of chemo.

In the midst of all these doubts and uncertainties and questions, the Lord gave me three words of encouragement in the passages I read in Professor Horner’s plan this morning.

First, Luke 12 has some very similar wording to what Jesus said in the “Sermon on the Mount.” I have heard this message called “The Sermon on the Plain.” Here are a couple of verses I needed to read this morning: “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?” (Luke
12:25-26 NASB). When will I learn? I always start to sink in depression when I project today’s issues on into the future.

The truth is I got sick for some reason the past few days, but this does not mean that I will be throwing up every day for the rest of my life.

Second, Acts 28, the final chapter of Luke’s narrative of the early days of the church, clearly demonstrates that the Lord takes care of his servants and gets us to the destination in one piece. No one who reads Acts 27 would say that the trail or the seas are not rough at times, but the Lord gets us there.

It was crucial in the expansion of the kingdom of God that Paul get to Rome.

Likewise, the Lord has a destination for each of us. It may not be an actual, physical location per se, but He will get us there.

Our trust of the Lord day by day is predicated on the fact that, in the final analysis, the Lord is in charge of the future. That is why we don’t need to worry about it.

Third, I love this altar that Samuel built. “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (1 Samuel
7:12 NASB).

I love the way the Lord speaks through His Word. Here is how I would summarize His message to me today: Jesus Today; Jesus in the Final Destination; Jesus Thus Far.

Jesus, I have no idea what is going on with this cancer stuff. It is very perplexing and discouraging. Thank You that, right now, I feel better. I trust you for today, refusing to worry about my life. I thank You that You will get me THERE—wherever “there” is. Today, I’m getting a rock from our garden. As the hymn says, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I’m come; And I hope, by thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home” (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing). Amen.
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Stay the Course

As I sit here this morning, I can barely keep my eyes open to type these words on a page. One of the issues that continues to be a struggle is fatigue. Usually, by noon, I am very tired and sleepy. I have to sit down on this couch, in a comfy chair, or even in bed just to sleep. It is kind of crazy.

At first, I resisted it, but lately, I just go with the flow and let myself doze off for an hour or two, but even after I do that, I remain exhausted for the rest of the day. In addition, my shoulder starts to bother late afternoon.

This has been my “routine” the past several days. It is getting old.

But what to do? I know nothing besides staying the course. I am going to add in a walk today and just see how I respond. I think it might help me to get the blood circulating a little bit. And I go back to Michelle’s advice that she gave me before the trip to Utah. Being as active as possible will help the lymph glands as well. We will see.

Two passages I read this morning in Professor Horner’s plan helped me with this “stay the course” mentality.

In the first part of Luke eleven, Jesus, in response to a question from the disciples, teaches them about prayer. His main point is persistence—just staying at it. He tells a story about a man that goes to his friend’s house at midnight to request bread. Crazy, right? Well, the man’s situation was urgent because it was a huge insult in Jesus’ day not to provide hospitality when one had the opportunity. Thus, the man bangs on his neighbor’s door at midnight—that’s pretty bold.

Notice what Jesus says about it: “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (Luke
11:8 NASB).

“Because of his persistence”—wow, what a powerful phrase. Of course, the contrast is huge. There is a difference between a sleepy, reluctant neighbor and a loving God who invites us to come to Him 24 hours a day, seven days a week with our petitions and requests.

That is one story. The other comes in the second to last chapter of the book of Acts—the famous shipwreck story. At first, the passengers and sailors regard Paul as a bit of an eccentric. But as the dangerous journey progresses, everyone on the ship esteems him more and more. Why? Because he is in touch with the True Captain of the ship.

What is Paul’s message in this situation of grave danger? He told them to stay on the ship, assuring them that no life would be lost. And he added these words: “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (Acts
27:25 NASB).

How about that? Honestly, I believe that one of the most difficult challenges any of us face is “staying the course.” I’m finding that I am getting very impatient with how long it is taking for me to recover from this particular outbreak of cancer. I want to be further down the road—whatever that means. I want to be able to do the things that I normally do, and I fight pushing myself to try.

O Captain, my Captain, give me the grace to continue to pray and continue to trust You that You know what You are doing with this 57 year old ship that right now, has a few dents and dings in it, nothing You can’t handle. You know where I am going. You know when I will get there. It is just a matter of weathering the storm until we hit ground. By your grace—staying the course. Amen.
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The Good Part

As Marilyn and I were talking the other day, Marilyn said, “I find that I am worrying about more and more stuff these days. What about you?” I concurred.

I really feel for Marilyn because she has a lot on her plate in trying to take care of both of us. Even as I write that last sentence, I know that there is so much involved in that care.

My mom has frequent doctor appointments and recently has had to have a crown placed on one of her teeth.

As far as I am concerned, Marilyn is trying to manage the eating situation with someone who has no appetite. We thank the Lord for the food some dear folks from the church have provided for us. It has helped greatly, but she is constantly asking me what I want to eat and trying to prepare it for me.

Plus, she helps me keep track of my medicine, making sure that I am staying up with that.

Add to all of this, she has been busy with her work and is trying to keep up with the demands of her clients. This causes her to have to work late into the night at times.

As far as I am concerned, I would just say that my main concerns focus around trying to take care of the church and myself as well. I have a lot of help at church. Two brothers spent some time visiting yesterday afternoon. One of these brothers is going to preach for me next Sunday, after I take my second injection.

I am learning to turn things over to the Lord, but I do still worry about stuff. Plus, I really am trying to focus on my health. If I have a tough day, then I make sure that I take the next day as a day of rest, trying to discipline myself to do just that.

Anyway, this is a bunch of minutia, but I just wanted to give you an idea of some of the concerns (there are many more) that Marilyn and I are dealing with.

In other words, in the story at the end of Luke 10, we tend to side with Martha rather than Mary. In this well-known passage, notice again what Jesus says:

“But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her’” (Luke
10:40-42 NASB).

Again, I side with Martha. I get frustrated when I feel as if I doing all the work and someone is a slacker. Plus, just sitting at Jesus’ feet? Are you kidding? Who has time to do that?

Well, I do. Cancer has provided that opportunity, and I need to take it.

I don’t think this story is about Jesus commending someone who shirks responsibility and is lazy. I think the Son of God is commending Mary for her focus: she is worshiping Jesus in the midst of everything and that is “the good part.” And Jesus is not going to succumb to pressure or allow Mary to succumb to the tyranny of the urgent.

Here is the question of the day: what does it mean in practical experience just to sit at Jesus’ feet?

I am a Martha. I have been most of my life. So it will be tough. I do know this: only the Spirit of God can do it. It is too difficult to accomplish on a human level. Even after a few minutes of prayer, I find that my mind wanders into all the stuff I need to do.

Lord, here am I in the silence of this early morning sitting on this couch. Teach me. Show me. Show everyone who is reading this blog today. Show us; empower us, in actually doing “the good part,” just like Mary. Amen.
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On the Move Discipleship

I went to the doctor yesterday with a couple of issues on my mind. First, what can be done about this pain in my shoulder? Second, I just have little to no appetite. What gives?

Dr. Jotte examined my neck and the swelling that has now moved down to the top of my chest. After checking me out, he said, “Well, John, overall, the swelling looks even better. Right now, I think we will just stay the course because I think you will get better and this pain in your shoulder will go away, but if not, we will give you an MRI just to check out what might be going on there. But I don’t think anything is beside your lymph nodes that are swollen and pushing against those nerves. Just keep taking your pain medication.”

As far as the lack of appetite is concerned, he links that with the pain I am experiencing.

So, there you go.

After the visit with the doctor, I decided to head up to the church to get some work done. I was there a couple of hours—no big deal—but by the time I left and got home, I could barely keep my eyes open. So, I sat on this couch and I was out for over two hours. And, for the rest of the evening, I battled the pain in my shoulder …

Thus, right now, it feels that any extra exertion puts me in the tank. To be very honest with all of you, I am frustrated and discouraged by this, but I know it is just going to take time to recover fully. After all, it has only been a couple of weeks.

As I was leaving, I crossed paths with three of the nurses in the chemo room—Zozo, Theresa, and Cody. They stopped me. Theresa exclaimed, “Wow, John, your neck appears to be a lot better. I’m so glad and she gave me a hug.” This was a good perspective to have as I left. I live with all of this every day, so it is easy for me to forget the gains when I deal with the pain all the time.

I gain perspective from a passage in the gospel of Luke as well—one of my favorites. It comes at the end of Luke 9—three discipleship scenarios. Wannabe #1 said that he would follow Jesus WHEREVER He goes. On the surface, that sounds very spiritual, but do you detect the condition in that statement? He has a pleasant destination in mind and as long as the winters are mild and the “natives” are receptive and … well, you get the idea.

Wannabe #2 has to bury his father FIRST. It is likely that this man’s dad is not old and not even sick, but someday, on down the road, when circumstances line up, THEN he will follow Jesus.

Wannabe #3 wants to say good-bye to his family before he follows Jesus. This seems to be the most reasonable request of all. However, I believe this man wants the time to give one of those long and lingering good-byes, the kind where you look back as the car drives off. Here is Jesus’ blunt reply: “But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke
9:62 NASB). This is reminiscent of Lot’s wife who looked back as her family left Sodom and Gomorrah.

Here is the idea I get as I read these statements and responses in the final verses of chapter nine of Luke. Jesus is a train, and He is moving. You either get on when the immediate opportunity presents itself OR you miss the training.

Jesus is moving; you move with Him; or He moves without you. There is nothing static about discipleship. Nothing.

Lord, I can either get bogged down at this point with this disease, OR turn it over to you again today and keep following you, no matter where this road goes. And I don’t know … but I do know you. I’m on and I will stay on. Amen.
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Another Reminder of Power

Over the past few days, those of you who are kind enough to read this blog have seen that the one word that characterized Jesus’ public ministry, as far as Dr. Luke is concerned, is POWER. This was true from day one after the temptation experiences in the wilderness. God launched the public ministry of Jesus in the “power of the Holy Spirit.”

Luke uses that word now and again in his descriptions of Jesus’ healings and miracles—the Son of God lived with a vital connection to the power source—the Holy Spirit.

It is easy as one reads the accounts of the miracles in the gospels to relegate them to that day and time, thus writing them off and claiming that they don’t occur these days.

Paul would disagree. In Professor Horner’s plan, I read Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 1. Here is a part of that prayer: “and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world” (Ephesians
1:19-20 GNT).

Backing up for a second, the Apostle prays for the church that our spiritual eyes would be flooded with light so that we can see several things, one of which is His very great power. At this point, I love the quaint language of the KJV—“his power to us-ward who believe.” This is not limited to Jesus. It is not power that is floating out there in outer space.

It is as accessible as the light switch on the wall. When I flip it, I get to experience electricity to “me-ward.”

This has always been the case, however, all the way through the history of Israel. How about this passage in Isaiah 52? “Break into shouts of joy, you ruins of Jerusalem! The Lord will rescue his city and comfort his people. The Lord will use his holy power; he will save his people, and the entire world will see it. Be sure to leave Babylonia, all you that carry the Temple equipment. Touch no forbidden thing; keep yourselves holy and leave” (Isaiah
52:9-11 GNT).

Talk about a demonstration of the power of God? It took God’s power to bring His people back from exile. It was, in a sense, a resurrection of sorts, if you think about it.

God is in the POWER business. He always has been. Always will be. We just need to learn how to access it on a daily basis.

I trust the power of God today as I make a visit to the cancer doctor. The Lord has brought me a long way over the past couple of weeks. I seem to be doing better, but I am still struggling with pain in my shoulder (not as bad as it was; praise God!) and a serious lack of appetite. I attribute that to the cancer medicine. But I will talk to the doc about it.

My burden today is that I would live in and by that power to us-ward as I continue to believe. There is nothing we face today that the power of God can’t handle!

Right?

Lord, so often I find myself getting discouraged with the seeming slow pace of my recovery from this disease. I confess the sin of trying to overcome it and deal with it in my own meager power instead of Yours. Open our eyes so that we can see and experience first hand the same power that raised Your Son from the dead. I give this appointment with the doctor today. Amen.
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