Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reflections on Our Identity in Christ

This morning I read and reflected on one of my favorite passages of Scripture (though I confess that I have many!), Philippians 2:1-11. This passage is one of several key passages in the Bible that describes the identity of a follower of Jesus Christ.

Paul begins in the first verse by describing four redemptive qualities in the life of every believer. In the Greek, these are all written as 1st class conditionals, which means that they are all assumed to be true. For this reason, I have written each of these statements with the word since in parentheses after the word if.

If (Since) you have been encouraged by your union with Christ . . .

If (Since) you have experienced the comfort of Christ’s love . . .

If (Since) you have enjoyed fellowship with His indwelling Holy Spirit . . .

If (Since) you have experienced God’s tenderness and compassion . . .

Paul is writing to the Philippian believers and assuming that they have all experienced, by God’s grace, the encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness, and compassion that comes from having a relationship with Jesus Christ and by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This should be the experience of every follower of Jesus Christ.

Because this is true, because we have experienced these things, Paul describes, in verses 2-8, how we should live in light of the grace we have been given as children of God . . .

then be in one spirit and purpose (v. 2)

then do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (v. 3)

then consider others better than yourselves (v. 3)

then look not only to your own interests, but also to those of others (v. 4)

then make sure your attitude is the same as Christ’s (vv. 5-8)

Because we are followers of Christ and have our identity in Him, we are to follow His example in being united in spirit and purpose, humility, esteeming others, looking after the interests of others, and being willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of others.

I do not live out these things perfectly. But because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is progressively working in me, by His grace, to radically change my heart to be more like my Savior.

Paul goes on to write in verses 9-11 how Christ’s obedience to the Father’s will resulted in His exaltation by the Father and how God bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name, so that every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the sun, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the glory of God the Father.

Tom Constable, in commenting in this passage, wrote:

The exaltation of Jesus Christ is as much a motivation for the Christian to live a life of submissive humility as is His incarnation. God will reward a life of self-denial now in the future. That is the obvious implication of Paul’s illustration. Is it not selfish to serve the Lord for a reward? Was it selfish for Jesus to endure what He did because He knew He would receive a reward? Motivation is the key. If we submit to God and to one another for the glory of God rather than for selfish glory, as Jesus did, our motivation is correct.

Paul . . . was merely seeking to correct selfishness and party spirit in the saints. The cure of their condition is the mind of Christ. (William MacDonald)

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to live a life of self-denial, giving up our own rights and our own self-interests for the sake of others and the glory of God. But God has promised that this is a lifestyle that will be rewarded for eternity in Heaven.

Friday, May 30, 2008

T-Bone Steaks and Vacations at the Beach

Today is another beautiful day.

My wife took me to physical therapy this morning. I am continuing to make good progress.

Friends came by for lunch today and helped us do some gardening work.

For the first time this spring, I ventured beyond our top deck - on crutches - to the back yard to have a better view of the perennial gardens that my wife has been working on for the past few summers.

It was nice to have a change of view. A new perspective.

As I reflect on the day, I am reminded of something that Billy Graham wrote . . .

Suppose someone should offer me a plateful of crumbs after I had eaten a T-bone steak. I would say, "No, thank you. I am already satisfied." Christian, that is the secret—you can be so filled with the things of Christ, so enamored with the things of God that you do not have time for the sinful pleasures of the world.

Even the simple things like being outdoors and enjoying the work of our Creator fills me with the things of God and reminds me of who He is, so that my mind and heart do not have time for the sinful pleasures of the world. Of course, enjoying God's creation is not enough. I need time in God's Word, the Bible. I need time with Him in prayer. I need to sing hymns and songs of praise to Him. All of these things together allow me to focus on God and drown out the call of the world upon my heart.

The world will never stop calling on me, so I must never stop calling upon God and intentionally putting my focus on Him. The world can only offer me crumbs. Why settle for crumbs when I can have a steak?

I am reminded of yet another quote, this one from C. S. Lewis, and I will close with this . . .

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and lust and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to keep on making mud-pie in the slums because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the beach.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Waldo Says . . .

All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Each day with cancer is a new adventure. Really, each day of life is a new adventure. Period. Just when we think we have it all figured out, something new pops up. A new side-effect of the chemotherapy. A new bend in the road. An unexpected bill. A friend in need of help.

But I am learning not to let these new circumstances get to me. Because I have seen God's faithfulness in the past, I can trust Him with my present and with my future. As I have probably written before, He never promised to take away my difficult circumstances (though He could!) but He did promise to see me through each one, for my good and for His glory.

So far (this is Day 3), I am doing well after the 7th round of chemotherapy. I am tired, but not worn out to the point that I need a blood transfusion. I continue to lay low and take all the available remedies for nausea and mouth sores. So far, so good.

It is a beautiful day. I am alive. And I am in the hands of my loving Savior!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Day in the Life . . . And Something Completely Different

Yesterday was a busy day. In the morning, my wife drove me to Honesdale for physical therapy. By God's grace, I am making good progress in increasing the mobility of both my knee and ankle joints on the right side. From there, we drove to Allentown for Round 7 of chemotherapy (This one was an outpateient treatment.).

We arrived at 12:30, our scheduled time, only to find that they were backed up (The day after a holiday weekend us always like this, we were told.) By 1:30, we saw a nurse who told us that she was going to have to draw blood for a CBC panel. Apparently, my platelet count had dropped on Friday. If the platelet count was not up, the treatment would have to be delayed. By 2:00, the blood test came back. The platelet count was up, but the hemoglobin level had dropped. By 2:30, another conversation took place between the nurse and my oncologist's office, and it was decided that we would proceed with the treatment. The nurse told us, however, that I might need to come back down for a blood transfusion within a few days. We would need to watch for headaches, fatigue, or loss of breath. By 6:30, we were on the road home.

This morning, by the time I got washed and dressed and came downstairs, I was out of breath. In another hour, we will be going to hear my son and the other seniors give their senior testimonies before the entire school -another highlight of the end of the year. After that, my wife will be calling the oncologist's office to give an update on my condition and see what they want to do.

Graduation is nine days away, and I am praying that I will be healthy enough to not only attend, but to serve as the commencement speaker. For me, there is no option. I am going to be there and I am going to speak. But, truthfully, I do not know what God has planned. As much as I want to be there and to share my thoughts with the graduating class, I know that God's plan is perfect. He knows best. And I must surrender to His will, with joy and contentment.

And now for something completely different . . .

On Monday, I took some time to read over a collection of quotations that I have been building for a few years. It doesn't have anything to do with what I have just written, but I wanted to share it with you today.

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of my life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. C.S. Lewis

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

The desire to commemorate occasions goes back to Old Testament times when people like Jacob set up memorials to remind them and future generations of what God had done. I Samuel 7:12 says, Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the LORD has helped us. Beginning with Jacob building a memorial at Bethel (Gen 28:20-22), the setting up of stones to commemorate significant events has been a part of Israel’s culture. Joshua used stones to mark the place where God opened the waters of the Jordan and allowed Israel to cross into the Promised Land (Joshua 4:1-21). Before his death, Joshua set up a stone to remind Israel of their vow to serve God alone (4:26-28).

In I Samuel, a stone was used to commemorate the victory over the Philistines. Ebenezer literally means the stone of help. The stone was a reminder that God had helped them thus far and that they trusted Him to continue to help them.

About 12 years ago we received an Ebenezer dish as a Christmas present. We write scriptures on new stones as we celebrate joys and trials in our lives and remember God’s faithfulness from year to year.

We all need to create reminders of God’s faithfulness in our lives. Over and over again, the scriptures tell us to remember what God has done in our lives and to tell others. In Psalm 78:5-7, we read,

He commanded our forefathers to teach their children so the next generation would know them, even children yet to be born and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.

Today is a day that our nation has set aside to commemorate those who have given their lives to win and maintain the freedoms that we enjoy today. As we remember those who have fallen and honor those who have served our country, we are to remember their sacrifices and vow to live in such a way as to demonstrate our gratitude for these freedoms and do our part to maintain what they have attained.

And as Christians, we remember the ultimate sacrifice that was made on our behalf – the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary, the sacrifice that gave us our freedom from sin and its eternal effects.

As we enjoy this day off from school and work, as we enjoy our picnics with family and friends, let us take time to stop and remember the One who died for our eternal freedom and the many that died for the freedoms we enjoy here on earth.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Having cancer in my leg has decreased my mobility. As a result, I depend on my wife and my children to do many things that I used to do for myself. I need help with things like climbing up the steps, getting snacks, getting things from the other side of the room, and so on. My younger son is my official crutch-bearer!

Although I am getting pretty self-sufficient again with getting myself dressed, I do need my wife to help me get clothes out of the armoire and closet.

I think that my wife actually enjoys picking out my clothes - a little bit too much! Not only does she make sure that my shirt, slacks, and socks match, she also has to make sure that my hats (I have to protect this bald head from the elements!) match the rest of my outfit. My wife has taken to accessorizing me!

Lately, I have been wearing sneakers with a coat and tie to functions that require more than casual dress (banquets, church, etc.). Because of swelling, I can't seem to fit a dress shoe on my right foot. Now my wife wants my sneakers to match my jacket and tie! She has even discussed my need to have more sneakers in a variety of colors! This is for a guy that believes that basic black and brown dress shoes are sufficient for any wardrobe, male or female. I have never understood the need for women to have fourteen different pairs of shoes with purses, belts, and scarves to match! But I digress.

I actually find this all very humorous and, at the same time, am motivated to make progress in my rehabilitation so that I can once again pick my own clothes out of the closet with ease. And keep my shoe collection to a minimum: one pair of sneakers, one pair of work boots, brown dress shoes, and black dress shoes.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Few Thoughts on a Nice Day

It is a beautiful day - sunny, a bit breezy, sky filled with puffy cumulus clouds. A welcome change after what seems like weeks of rain. I like the rain. Rain is a blessing from God. But when the sun shines, everything seems better.

The rain has ended. The days are sunnier and warmer, and I am feeling better.

Yesterday, we visited the oncologist. My blood counts are up. The doctor has decided to decrease the dosages of chemotherapy by 20% in order to try lessening the side effects.

Today, I had my third session with the physical therapist. I am making progress in increasing the range of motion in my knee.

Tonight, my wife and I will be attending our son's senior banquet. It will be fun to hear the senior wills and a recollection of their favorite memories.

Two weeks from tonight is graduation. It is hard to believe that eighteen years have passed since our older son was born. And now he is getting ready to graduate from high school. God has been gracious to him. God has blessed us through him.

All good things are gifts from God. For all these things we are thankful to Him.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On Ecclesiastes 3:11

This morning I read the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon. In verse 11, he wrote,

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The word beautiful means "appropriate and helpful." Everything that God has made, everything that he does, everything that He permits, is appropriate and helpful. This, of course, means that all of our sufferings will ultimately benefit us and glorify God.

God put eternity in our hearts. All our hearts. We were created for God’s eternal purpose. Nothing else under the sun will bring us satisfaction. Nothing. Life under the sun, as Solomon discovered, is filled with all kinds of pleasures. But none of these pleasures can fulfill the desire our heart has for God.

God has not given us the answers to every question. Life is full of mystery. Solomon advised us to accept the good things in life with gratitude, and to face the difficulties of life with faith instead of despair.

In the end, we are all accountable to God. Solomon's ultimate advice, at the end of the twelfth chapter is to "fear God and keep His commandments."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On Perseverance

The word perseverance, as used in the list of character qualities in 2 Peter 1:6, comes from the Greek word hupomeno, which means to abide under.

To persevere is to remain under some form of discipline, to subject one’s self to something against which one naturally would rebel. To persevere is to bear up under the pressure of a heavy load.

Perseverance is a character quality which does not allow one to surrender to circumstances or give up when under a trial.

The best example of perseverance we have is from Jesus Christ Himself, “who for the joy set before Him endured [hupomeno] the Cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

Perseverance involves doing what is right and never giving in to the temptation or trial. It is the ability to deal triumphantly with anything that life can do to us. It accepts the difficult circumstances of life, does not try to find the first way of escape, but sees them as opportunities to grow and to glorify God.

Perseverance is a character quality that is developed in the trials of life. In my present battle of cancer, the character quality of perseverance in my life is being put to the test, and, in the process, being strengthened. From the beginning, I made a prior determination to please God. In this battle, despite the temptations to quit, I can never give up. I have no right to give up. To glorify God and to grow in Christ-likeness, I must endure the pain and suffering. I must persevere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

For Today

A few weeks ago, my wife read me this quote from H.E. Manning:

Neither go back in fear and misgiving to the past, nor in anxiety and forecasting to the future, but lie quiet under His hand, having no will but His.

We may all, to one degree or another, have a tendency to live in the past. This may consist of resting on our laurels - resting on the accomplishments we have already attained. Or it may consist of dwelling upon the mistakes we have made in the past, not allowing ourselves to move on from there. Our past does influence our present, but we do not have to allow it to prevent us from becoming the person we were created to be.

Some of us live with anxiety about the future, worrying about things that may never come to be.

We need to learn from our past and look, with hope, to our future, but our focus needs to be on the here and now. Living this day to its fullest.

As I learn to live with cancer, this is the daily challenge. I need to squelch the tendency to dwell upon the way things were before I was diagnosed, and I need to avoid anxiety about what the future holds. Today, I am alive. Today I can being with my wife and children . I can enjoy watching the birds out my window. I can praise the God who created me, redeemed me, and is now present with me.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I must learn to focus on His daily bread, His daily provision for me. God has given me everything that I need to live for Him today. Everything I need to do His will. Everything I need to grow in Christ-likeness. Everything I need to glorify Him. For today.

Monday, May 19, 2008

On Following Jesus

Sometimes our vision of what the Christian life does not match up with what God’s Word tells us it is like. Unless we have a Biblically-informed picture of what is to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we will be frustrated when reality sets in.

Following Jesus Christ is rarely simple or easy. He never promised that it would be. Growth in Christ-likeness is a process. It has been said that the life of following Christ is not a walk in the park but a journey through the wilderness. It is exhausting. It is often confusing.

At times, it seems like God is not there. At times, it is difficult to see how God is working out His plan and His promises in my life. At times, it seems like there is more suffering than blessing. At times, I feel like giving up. At times, I feel like evil triumphs. At times, I feel isolated and misunderstood.

These are all normal feelings. Read the psalms of David. Read the Gospels.

Even though I entrust my circumstances to God does not mean that they will change overnight. He never promised to take away my suffering. But He did promise to see me through it. And He promised me that in the midst of it all, I can have incredible joy and a peace that passes all understanding. In the midst of it all, I can have hope. Because He promised that this journey in the wilderness is only temporary. The Promised Land awaits.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trust and Obey

The Christian life can really be boiled down to two words: trust and obey.

I have run across this idea in my reading and e-mail correspondence several times in the past week.

First there is the matter of trust. Trust is the means by which we enter into a relationship with the Almighty, Holy, Sovereign God who created and sustains the universe. By His grace, we place our faith in Jesus Christ to forgive us for our sins and to receive His righteousness as our own. By faith, we become a child of God and can now call Him Father. Trust is also the means by which we live our daily lives. The same God who saved us from our sin and its consequences – eternal separation from God – also promises His daily presence and provision. Each day, we trust that He is who He says He is and will do what He said He will do.

As children of the Father, we have confidence in Him and His Word. We do not place our trust in ourselves, other people, things, or our circumstances. All of these will eventually let us down, but Jesus never fails! He never changes.

The second part is obey. We obey, not to obtain God’s favor – that is accomplished only by trusting in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross at Calvary – but because, as His children, we delight in doing His will. Obedience brings joy.

Our obedience to the Father is often manifested (required) in other personal relationships. As children obey their parents, as church members obey their spiritual leaders, as citizens obey their government leaders, they are obeying God.

These two words are familiar to many because of an old hymn penned by John H. Sammis.
He wrote:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

In any circumstance that comes our way, whether it be a financial pressure, a health problem, an interpersonal conflict, or anything, we have no reason to fear. We only need to be reminded of Who our Heavenly Father is and to trust and obey.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

To Be Used for His Glory

It is Saturday afternoon. So far I have avoided a fever and a consequent admission to the hospital. Thanks be to God.

Would I thank Him and praise Him if I was now on a hospital bed in Allentown instead of my own bed? Yes, I believe I would. It's all a matter of choosing my attitude. New circumstances arise each day. Choices need to be made.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee. Psalm 56:3.

In any circumstance we must make a purposeful decision – we can respond with fear or with confidence in the LORD. I choose to place my trust in Him. First, because He tells me in His Word that I can. Second, because past experience has shown that He never fails.

Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Thy glory be above all the earth. Psalm 57:5.

God’s glory is more important that having our problems solved. Do I want to be healed from this cancer? Do I want to return to the teaching position I love? Yes. Yes. God certainly can and may bring those things to pass. But as one who was created by Him and redeemed by death of His Son, I must surrender my will to His. His glory is more important than my comfort. If remaining in these circumstances are His will, I will praise Him and continue to seek His glory. If I am healed, I will praise Him, and continue to seek His glory. Of course, the latter road will require an extra measure of His grace, which He has already promised.

Today, I choose to trust in God. I choose to seek His will over mine. I choose to allow Him to use me, if He will, for His glory.

Friday, May 16, 2008

His Plans Are Better Than Mine

Even as late as yesterday, I had high expectations that my blood counts would be good today and that I would be able to attend a children's program at church tonight, our new coffee house outreach on Saturday, church on Sunday, and even spend some time in the office next week.

But . . . today I found out that I was too eager in planning ahead. There is a lesson here in waiting on God and trusting in His perfect timing. His plans are better than mine. I believe that. I trust that.

Yesterday was busy with physical therapy, errands with my wife, her birthday celebration (she is now 46 and I am still a young lad of 45!), and a deacon meeting at church. In hindsight, I did too much and wore myself down. (On the other hand, my blood counts would have dropped even if I stayed at home.)

On the drive down today, I did not feel well. The lab results showed that my hemoglobin level is almost 3 points below normal, and my white blood cell count (absolute neutrophil count, to be more specific) is 0. I am what they call 'neutropenic.' That means that I must avoid large crowds and anyone who is sick. In addition, I have terrible mouth sores, a relatively new side effect for me.

This (neutropenia)is not a new occurrence for me, but it gets a little more severe each time. I am on an antibiotic to help prevent infection, in addition to my daily injections of neupagen to stimulate WBC production.

After my last five-day chemotherapy treatment, I spiked a fever and ended up in Lehigh Valley Hospital on IV antibiotics for three days, as well as blood transfusions to increase my hemoglobin level. The doctor wants me to monitor my temperature, and if it reaches 101, I will be admitted to the hospital. The last we checked it was 99.6.

He also said that I can expect this after each treatment from here on out. One remedy may be to decrease the dosage by 20%. This could be done, he said, without decreasing the efficacy of the treatment. A 30% reduction or more would render the treatment ineffective. We will have to monitor the situation and, if necessary, amend the treatment plan. Of course, it is in my best interest to get as many rounds of chemotherapy into my body as possible. But the body has its limitations

I e-mailed my friends and family and asked them to pray specifically that . . .

1. God would be glorified through all of this.

2. That we would continually recognize His presence with us.

3. That we would be a positive testimony of Christ before others.

4. That we would trust God in whatever circumstances come to pass

5. That the oncologist would have wisdom as he monitors my progress.

6. That my wife would be strengthened and renewed daily as she drives me to appointments, cares for me at home, and does the thousand other things that moms do.

In all of this I know that God is sovereign. He is with us, sustaining us and comforting us. Every day, I fail to adequately magnify our Great God. But He never fails me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Sleepless Night, A Birthday Celebration, and a Walk through Psalm 33

I have not had much trouble sleeping in the past six months . . . until last night. There have been some strange, apparently chemo-induced, dreams - like waking up every few fours to different companies bidding to transport me to the bathroom - but no insomnia. Last night, I slept for about an hour, but woke up at 12:30 this morning. And I could not go back to sleep. I reasoned that I had three choices at that time: just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, have my wife bring my laptop up to me, or to go downstairs and do something productive. I decided to go downstairs. With my wife's help.

For a few hours, I worked on my commencement address for the Academy graduation ceremony. Then, I worked on a project for my son's graduation present. Then I read the Bible and prayed. By 4:30 am, I was still not tired, so I worked on a NT Times crossword puzzle - a great chemo-brain buster! By 5:00 or 5:15, I felt drowsy and nodded off. The next thing I remember is my wife standing over me at 6:15 this morning.

It is her birthday. We started out the day with bagels from the local shop and cappuccinos from Turkey Hill. My wife opened her cards and gifts - we always do that after breakfast on the morning of the birthday - before our two older children left for school. Our younger son stayed home because he had a fever.

At 9:30 this morning, I had my first consult with a physical therapist to help increase the range of motion in my knee. He reviewed my history, took some baseline measurements, and ran me through a series of exercises that I can do at home. There are three exercises that I can do alone, ten times a day. There are two others that require my wife's assistance, and need to be done three times a day. He also showed me how to walk with my crutches using both feet, but only putting twenty pounds of pressure on my right leg.

After the appointment, we took our son to McDonalds (What other restaurant would a four-year-old choose?), shopped for some flowers to plant in our porch and window boxes - in lieu of flowers sent to the hospital, we received a check in the mail to purchase flowers for our home, picked up some new fish at pet store, and had a $1 ice cream cone at Gravity in Honesdale. Ice cream is a great finish to any outing!

We are now at home, resting - well, my son and I are resting. My wife is doing her best rendition of the Energizer Bunny - until the phase of the birthday celebration: a special dinner (marinated London Broil, potatoes, corn on the cob, and green beans) and a fun dessert (chocolate fondue with apples, bananas, strawberries, pineapple, and Angel Food cake).

We try to make birthday celebrations last all day.

In all the busy-ness of the day, I managed to find some time to open my Bible and let God's Word refresh my soul. In Psalm 33, I read about the sovereignty of God (I cannot escape this great doctrine!). The psalmist praises God for His righteousness, justice, and goodness (vv. 1-5) and describes how God created all things by His breath (vv. 6-9). In verses 10-12, he describes the fact that God has called a special people to Himself to be blessed by Him (and to be a blessing to others, if we consult other passages of Scripture). In verses 13-15, the psalmist reminds us that this same sovereign God who created all things is looking down from heaven, knows each one of our hearts, and considers our works. In verses 16-17, we see that we as men can find no safety apart from this sovereign God. The psalmist concludes, in verses 18-22, by reminding us that God is watching over all who fear Him, all who have placed their hope in His mercy. It is He who saves men from eternal death and provides what His people need. As we wait upon Him, we find that He is our help and our shield. As believers, we can rejoice because we have placed our trust in Him. In Him, we have hope and mercy.

The sun is peeking out on an otherwise cloudy, rainy day. I feel a nap coming on as I anticipate the next phase of our birthday celebration.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On Friends, A Cellular Protein called Laminin, and the Greatness of God

Friends are great! There are three things that keep me going during this chemotherapy: prayer, reading the Bible, and spending time with friends.

It is a wonderful blessing to have friends that love and encourage me.

Most evenings, our home is quiet. Sure, there are Nerf-gun battles, homework questions, and other family things, but there is a quietness. Last night was different.

Our friend Betsy called to tell us that she was on her way over with a pie that her daughter had made. Friends bearing apple pies are a special blessing. And there was whipped cream, to boot. Actually, to place on top of the pie.

While we were waiting for Betsy to arrive, our friends Frank and Rose called to say that they had something encouraging to share with us and would be over later.

What they had to share was a video from Lou Giglio on the greatness of God. I think that the video was entitled God Breath. In any case, it was a message that Lou gave on a concert tour. [Lou produces the Passion concerts aimed at the college-aged set. Chris Tomlin. Matt Redman. David Crowder.]

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Psalm 19:1, NASB

Using images from NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope, Lou described the grand infinity of the universe. The greatness of God. How the infinity of the universe magnifies our insignificance. Yet, the God responsible for the cosmos knows each one of us.

We all need a clear vision of the glory of God. Isaiah received his in the sixth chapter. Go ahead, read it. I'll wait.

God is big. We are small. Yet God cares for us. We matter to Him. To demonstrate, Lou switches from images of the universe to images of a human embryo. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, as David wrote in Psalm 139:14. He described how 1,000,000 optical nerve cells start in the brain and reach out to perfectly join up with 1,000,000 corresponding nerve cells in the eye.

And he described a cellular protein called laminin, that holds the body together. If you search for an image of this substance, you will discover that it often takes the form of a cross.

We are reminded of Colossians 1:17, He [Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. We can trust Jesus Christ to hold our bodies together, just as we can trust Him to hold us eternally to His Father.

As I am reminded of the glory of God, I am reminded that the God who created the Universe is present with me. Because He loves me.

Does God understand what I am going through? Does He know me?

Giglio reminds his audience of what Isaiah writes in Chapter 40, verses 27-31 (NASB),

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God"? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him wholacks might He increases in power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait upon the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

God does care. He knows everything about us. God does not take away our pain, most of the time. Although He could and sometimes does. But He gives us strength to endure. He promises to be with us.

Being present with others during any and all circumstances of life. This is love. That is the mark of true friends. That is what it means to lay down one's life for another. To be present, to share in the experience (whether happy and suffering) no matter what happens.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You've Got the Look

"You've got the look," she said, as she opened the door for me. For those of you old enough to remember old TV ads, she wasn't taliking about "the look you want to know better." She was talking about the chemotherapy look.

The sunken eyes. Pale face. Slouched demeanor. The kinds of things that make a 45-year-old look like he's 70. [Please, I mean no offense to 70-year-old men. Many I know are in much better shape than I.]

When you've got the look, people stare. Some know. Many wonder. Some have to look away.

There is a certain stigma attached to any sick role. Since cancer is so prevalent, the stigma evokes a variety of responses.

I do wonder what people think sometimes. Does my cancer highlight their own immortality? Does my decaying body cause them to see the reality of how sin has affected all of creation? Do they think that I am being punished in some way? Can they see the real me?

I want people to look long enough to see beyond the sunken eyes and pale complexion, to see the life of Christ within. A life that will never die. A life that is growing in love and peace. Yes, the outward man is wasting away, but the inner man is glorifying in Jesus Christ and the life He gives, both for today and for eternity.

Today, this body can't do much. In a few months, Lord willing, I hope to be walking. But in heaven, I'll be dancing. I'll still be praising the King of kings and Lord of lords. I'll be worshiping the Creator of the Universe, the One who has seen me through all these trials so that I can be with Him forever.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Upon Being Reminded of His Presence

I am home once again, after a five-day stay at Lehigh Valley Hospital for Round 6 of chemotherapy. This round: ifosfamide and etoposide. Great stuff. Nurses have to wear gowns and masks to hook up my IV’s. And this stuff is flowing through my body, killing anything that seeks to grow and live, cancerous or not.

On Tuesday, the day before treatment, we drove to Lancaster to meet with the surgeon. We got to see the x-rays of the bone graft – the rod, the screws, the implanted tibia part from a cadaver. Everything seems to be healing, but the surgeon did say that we are expecting the body to do a lot by healing from this surgery and undergoing chemotherapy. The chemotherapy does not promote healing, as it destroys fast growing cells. The surgeon also said that I will see him regularly – every six weeks or so – for a year and that he cannot rule out additional surgery to repair the grafts in the future. But overall, he is very pleased with the progress.

The surgeon prescribed a consult to a physical therapist so that I can start working on increasing the range of motion in my right knee. I can bend it slightly, but have lost motion due to the surgical trauma. In addition, I can start putting 15 to 20 pounds of weight on my right leg. The doctor suggested using a scale to get a feel for what that is. I also have to start wearing a lovely white compression stocking on my right leg.

My wife and I returned home that same day, stopping at Chick-Fil-A for lunch in Reading. That evening, we took our two older children to the Honor Society Banquet at Lake Ladore. We had dinner and a nice program, orchestrated by the students. Eight new students, a large group for a school of our size, were inducted. Our son read an essay on Christian Scholarship and played guitar for a girls’ ensemble.

The next morning we headed down to Allentown. We met with the oncologist in the morning, had a light lunch in the cafeteria, and headed up to the 7th Floor to check in.

My stay was relatively uneventful. The nurses and staff are great. I spent most of my time doing NY Times Crossword Puzzles and watching cooking shows on the Food Network, even though I lost my appetite by Thursday afternoon. My wife and I also worked on graduation invitations for our older son. My wife left on Friday to return home and attend a program for my younger son. She returned on Saturday with our daughter. It was a nice treat to have both of my girls with me.

As I mentioned, I am home once again. Our younger son has set up a barricade in the living room. His older brother, the one headed to West Point, is teaching him tactical maneuvers. He is dressed in child-size BDU’s (Battle Dress Uniform) purchased by his brother on a recent trip to the West Point Gift Shop.

It is a cold, rainy day. A good day to read a book.

This morning I read Matthew Card’s devotional from his website. His text was Matthew 28:20, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. It is entitled Presence not Provision. He writes:

Who is Jesus for you? How is faithfulness written on his face? Might he impossibly be the very image of the God whose disturbing faithfulness to us looks like incarnation? Could it be that he came not to wave the magic wand and make the cancer go away, but to enter into our sufferings? Could it possibly be true that the best show of faithfulness is not the healing or the unexpected check, but the unthinkable truth that God has chosen to be with us through it all? Could it be that the greatest miracle is not provision, but presence?

As I read this, I realized that I am quick to recognize God for His provision – a beautiful new day, a loving wife and family, supportive friends, food on the table, gasoline in the car tank – but slow to recognize the importance of His presence with me during all of this. Yes, God does provide for me. But He is here with me. Immanuel. Just as He promised. He will never leave me nor forsake me. No matter what this cancer does to me, God is with me, holding me, seeing me through. As I heard recently, I matter to the One who created all matter.

The challenge here is not so much the cancer, but the ability to keep my focus on the right things. [Isn’t that the challenge for each one of us? For some, the right things are not even on the radar screen. For some, there is nothing beyond what the circumstances they have to endure or, if there is, they are not quite sure what it is. The quick answer: It’s Jesus.] To keep focused on our Sovereign God instead of my fleeting circumstances. To keep focused on what He is doing in my life and in the lives of the people around me, instead of what this cancer is doing to my body. That’s why passages of Scripture like Psalm 121:1-2, Psalm 57:7 and similar verses are so important. They help me to focus on God’s presence with me during these circumstances. I am reminded that this may all be beyond on my comprehension, but it is certainly all for His glory and my refinement.

He is God. He is here. He will be glorified.

I am His child. I am in His presence. I will become the person He created me to be.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Radical Call

It is a beautiful, sunny day. A bit cold, but a beautiful day nonetheless.

We just returned from our morning church service. It has been five weeks since I have been able to be a part of corporate worship. What a blessing!

This morning, our pastor's message was called Sacrifice Your Body, based on Romans 12:1-2. I really like it when our pastor lets them have it. When he really challenges them to heed the Word of God and to obey its commands. Actually, I am kidding. He really challenged me personally to think about these verses and what it means to apply them to the way I think and act on a daily basis.

Paul writes,

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

I was particular challenged by our pastor's description of these verses as a radical call to believers. To be a living sacrifice involves 100% dedication. A total surrender of one's life. Our pastor is right when he says that we really haven't grasped this concept in America. Otherwise our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities would look radically different.

This week, I am going to be thinking and praying about what it means for me to be a living sacrifice. I will be reading ahead to see what Paul writes in the rest of his letter to the Romans. I am going to pray that God will use His Word and, by His Spirit, transform my life - beginning with the way that I think.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Psalm 46 and An Open Invitation

This morning, I have been reading and reflecting on Psalm 46 . . .

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (v. 1).

God is our refuge and our strength. In Him we find rest and protection, in the midst of our trials and tribulations. In verse 2, the psalmist describes trembling mountains and troubled waters. In the midst of this instability, our God is stable,

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge (v. 7).

The Lord of heaven and earth is with us. Immanuel. God is with us. The writer of Hebrews (13:5b) put it this way: For He Himself said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (v. 10).

Our natural tendency, in the midst of difficult circumstances, is to panic. To be filled with fear and anxiety. To look for a quick way of escape. God commands us, instead, to be still. To recognize his sovereign control over the universe and our personal circumstances.

No matter what, God will be exalted. His glory will be revealed to all men and all nations.

So what does that mean for you and me?

It means that we can trust in the Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth. God, through His written Word and through His Incarnate Word - Jesus Christ, invites us to be reconciled to Him and to be a part of His sovereign plan of redemption.

Throughout the pages of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, man is called to repentance from sin - to turn away from his own sinful rebellion against God and humbly submit himself to God's rightful authority. Salvation is found in Christ alone - by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross at Calvary.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This verse is the gospel in a nutshell. It describes how sinners (All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, according to Romans 3:23.) can be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ died in our place for our sins. He took our punishment so that we could receive His righteousness. At Calvary, all of our sin was put upon Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God who was and is Himself without sin. On the cross, the wrath of God was poured out upon His Son so that His perfect justice could be satisfied. Jesus Christ was treated as a sinner, even though He is not. Sin must be punished, by death. Those who trust in Christ, are now seen by God as if they have the perfect righteousness of Christ. We are treated as if we were righteous, even though we are not.

The invitation is still open. Sinners can still call upon the gracious and merciful God of the universe to be saved from eternal separation from Him. God is still calling sinners to Himself, to receive not only freedom from sin and death, but freedom to live a purposeful and satisfying life for Him and in Him. God is still inviting men and women to enjoy an abundant life in Jesus Christ. Will you answer His call?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Faith-Based Optimism

Attitude. In my reading this morning, I came across a quotation about attitude from Victor Frankl, who spent some time in a Nazi concentration camp. Now here's a guy who, when he talks about attitude, deserves a listening ear. He wrote,

Everything can be taken from men but one thing, the last of human freedoms - the ability to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.

In any circumstance, we can think positively or negatively. The glass is either half full or half empty. It is either partly sunny or partly cloudy.

We can be optimistic or pessimistic. We can be like Tigger, or we can be like Eeyore. I like to have the energetic optimism of Tigger, but my default setting tends to be the lazy pessimism of Eeyore. But each day, in each circumstance, I do have a choice!

As followers of Christ, we are called to live a life of optimism. Not blind optimism, but an optimism based on faith. We can make a conscious decision to look at life from the perspective that confidence in God provides. We can be optimistic because of who God is and what He has promised He will do. In our ever-changing circumstances, we can trust in the God who never changes.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Just Being Here

It is the first of May. A Thursday. A partly rainy spring day. I have been a cancer survivor for four months now. [I was told early on that cancer survival begins with diagnosis.] For four months, I have been engaged in this battle with Ewing's sarcoma. It appears that I am winning the battle, but some days I am not so sure. I'll leave that up to God (as if I have a choice).

This is the part of my cycle where my blood counts are somewhat back to normal and I am able to get out of the house (for reasons other than seeing a doctor, having a test, or getting an injection). I call it my "frolic" time.

Today, I went on some errands with my wife. I have to sit in the back seat so I can keep my leg outstretched. And I am trying to avoid being a backseat driver. I sat in the car while she did her errands. We bought sandwiches and parked near the park to eat lunch.

Later, we picked up our daughter and younger son from school, then did some shopping. My daughter needed to buy a dress. So I sat in the car, napped, and did a few NY Times crossword puzzles while the rest of them went into the mall.

We ate dinner at Panera Bread, then headed home.

Now we are at home and everyone is about their school-night business. My wife is picking up - there is always picking up to do. My daughter is working on a school project. My son is getting ready for bed. He just came in to show me his school papers from today. In a few minutes, after his teeth are brushed, he will crawl up on the sofa bed for me to read to him. It's Winnie the Pooh tonight. And Tigger too.

For most people, this is probably not a description of a very exciting day. For me, I enjoyed being out and being more a part of a family activity. Just being there is important. For my son. For my daughter. For my wife. And for me. I am thankful that I get to be there. To be here.

It's really just another ordinary day. But I get to be here. Just being here is important.