Do you really believe He will be there for you in the midst of the heartache and confusion?
I think it’s not only interesting, but completely counter to human tendency, how that Jesus didn’t work or strive for “success” as we understand it. In today’s world, it seems as if everything is about “growth” and “expansion” — numerical growth, financial growth, increase in social and political clout. Business seems to always be about growth and outperforming last year’s, or even last quarter’s, performance margins and sale’s records. Government seems to be all about growth with new initiatives, new programs, new ways of interfering and meddling with our private lives. Schools at all levels seem to be continually interested in expansion, larger student bodies, more money to work with to provide more programs and serve ever more students. Even churches seem to always be interested in numbers, finances, and building bigger barns. On and on it goes, people always striving for more, for bigger; if not always for better.
But it appears as if Jesus — true to His radical, counterculture nature — ran completely opposite of our worldly thinking. Jesus was not all about swelling the rank and number of His followers. He didn’t work the crowds in order to get more and more people to follow Him. He didn’t work for ever increasing masses of people who would provide even greater resources so that He could put together a powerful political lobby; or, perhaps, even begin a revolution capable of taking back the government from the Romans.
That’s what many people expected, of course; and at one point there were so many people excited about Jesus that the Bible says, “they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (John 6:15, NASB). And how did Jesus respond to that? Well, He didn’t step forward and say, “I’m your huckleberry, that’s JUST my cup of tea!” Instead, the Bible says He “withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” Imagine how Jesus could have changed the face of the political world in His day if political power had been His goal and initiating a wide-spread social/cultural movement had been His aim.
Don’t get me wrong — oh, He was all about a “movement,” alright. But it wasn’t the kind of movement that depended upon swelling the ranks, or that required establishing a strong financial foundation or political platform. Rather, it was a movement among hearts and souls that required nothing more, or less, than love for, and faith in, the only true and living God.
To get a glimpse of Jesus’ modus operandi, let’s consider how He chose to deal with people when they wanted to follow Him and become one of His disciples. The Bible says:
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 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 9:57-62, NASB)
Now, if you ask me, THAT’s no way to gather a following, is it? I mean, if I’m reading this right, it appears to me that Jesus not only did not beg for followers, or work the crowds, or try to do everything in His power to inflame people’s hearts and motivate them to join Him and give Him their allegiance, He actually gave them reasons “not” to follow Him. Jesus didn’t go out of His way to make it easy for people. He certainly didn’t appeal to their personal wants, desires, or preferences. He didn’t try to entertain them or make them feel good. Instead, He did just the opposite — He actually “discouraged” people from following Him. Remember the rich, young ruler. Yes, Jesus invited the young man to follow Him, but not until after he had sold all that he possessed and had given the proceeds to the poor (Mark 10:21). I bet that thoroughly irked Judas! I mean, imagine the money that could have flowed into the coffers just from that one individual. Imagine the social influence having someone rich and powerful like that among His disciples. But Jesus was having none of that. He welcomed the young man only after bankrupting him. And, of course, as we know, the rich, young ruler couldn’t do it; so Jesus lost THAT one, didn’t He — or did He?
I’ll confess, I’ve often asked God for a million bucks. I’ve shared my mission vision with the Lord and talked with Him about all the wonderful things we could accomplish for both local ministry and global mission outreach — if He would just give me a million bucks. Or, if not that, if He would at least give me a fancy facility and a powerful mission team to work with. It’s just that, sometimes, I get so tired of watching the denominationalists build their ever bigger, ever fancier barns and wield all that social clout though all their fancy programs and ministries. And so I pray, “God why can’t we have a great, big, wonderful — and well financed — Christian outreach center with lots of fancy programs and ministries that will allow us to wield social clout and attract the masses?” But, I guess, He knows that, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not going to make one little bit of difference between those hearts that seek Him, and that choose to love Him and serve Him, and those that are just playing their religious games because it makes them feel better. And, besides, who knows if I would even be wise enough to properly manage such gifts — probably not! So, perhaps, in light of eternity, it’s actually best that the $millions$ just remain back there in the coffers of those fancy Bible-Belt churches.
And so, with little more than a Bible, my little ragged out Acer computer, and — praise God — a few wonderful, war-torn, ragged, and tattered fellow disciples to encourage me and do what they can to help, we let God raise us up out of the dust, the sweat, and the tears and go looking, one more time, for one more precious soul to teach — not beg, not entertain, not manipulate in any fashion — just to teach! And, I guess, that’s pretty much the way Jesus and His disciples did it. They loved, they served, they taught!
You want to stop abortion? Teach the Gospel! You want to see the children of the world loved and cared for? Teach the Gospel! You want to see marriages, homes, and families strengthened? Teach the Gospel! You want to fight the LGBTQ agenda? Teach the Gospel! You want to have a meaningful impact on the war on drugs? Teach the Gospel! You want to stop human trafficking and work for social justice in this world? Teach the Gospel! You want to exercise political power in the halls of government? Teach the Gospel! You may not change the whole, wide world. But you just may change someone’s whole world!
Like Jesus, we’re in it for hearts!
~ Salty ~
Coming to terms with the “theology of the cross,” and the fact that Jesus calls every disciple to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB), means coming to terms with authentic Christian living in everyday life. Discipleship is not so much about studying the word as it is living the word as we learn it. Discipleship is not so much about spending time in daily prayer as it is making our lives a perpetual and continual prayer unto God. Discipleship has little to do with how many times we “gather with the saints at the river,” but with our willingness to love and serve a lost and dying world. In fact, it grieves me, sometimes, that “church” has so commandeered our time, energy, and allegiance that people are too busy doing “churchy” stuff to connect with the world around them in authentic and meaningful ways.
Have you heard that old, kinda “worn out” adage that says: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one, any day!” Well, I guess, some old saying should be well remembered because Jesus says pretty much the same thing when He talks about our being “light” in this world of darkness. He said:
“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:16-18, NASB)
In this passage, Jesus is reminding us that authentic faith ultimately gets down to what people “see” in us. It’s all about “living” our faith in the eyes of the world; not just singing about it during the Sunday gathering. And, if you look closely at Jesus statement above, you’ll notice that people have an uncanny knack for seeing through the surface of things into who and what we really are. Yes, we all wear masks at times. We all try to create a façade and manipulate people’s thinking concerning who we are and what we’re all about. But that never really works, does it? I mean, we all know that, eventually, the masks fall away and the façades disseminate in the light of daily living, don’t they? We may fool a few people for a little while but, ultimately, the people who matter most in life, and the people who need us the most in life, are going to come to know us as we really are.
Jesus’ comments, above, remind me of the parable of the talents wherein we learn that those who hoard their gifts unto themselves, rather than investing them in life, love, relationships, and the mission our Lord has set before us, will ultimately loose them altogether. How are we “living” our faith?
In what we’ve come to call, “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus initiated His earthly ministry with this very same concept, saying:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
When we put a little salt on our taters, we expect it to make a difference. We would consider it “worthless” if it didn’t. What good is salt that doesn’t enhance the taste of our food, preserve our pork, or help freeze our homemade ice-cream? What good is a so-called “Christian” who hasn’t denied himself and taken up his cross; or who is not in hot pursuit of Jesus? When it comes down to daily living, authentic faith can’t help be become evident in our lives. People will see our faith, if what we have is a living faith, because it will be seen in our works — how we love, how we serve, how we seek to make a difference in this world and in the hearts and lives of others! As James said, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works'” (James 2:18, NASB).
I hasten to add that a living faith should never be equated with dogmatic self-righteousness. People who interprete faith as “holiness” in the eyes of men, or as achieving some high level of “perfection” in our performance, have allowed our old Adversary to sidetrack, if not completely derail, them. Faith is not acting like that self-righteous Pharisee who, when he came to pray, said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12, NASB). Rather, faith is becoming like that tax collector, standing some distance away, who was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (verse 13). Faith is acknowledging that we’re all in the same boat, that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NASB) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23). Authentic faith is agreeing with heaven’s judgment, that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB).
And, perhaps, this is the greatest testimony of the children of light; and the very thing that people need most to see in us. They don’t need to hear our doctrine, so much, as they need to see our humility. They don’t need us to slam dunk them with our righteousness — as though we were somehow better than them — so much as they need us to lay aside our masks, quit with our façades, and confess our weaknesses, our faults, our failures, and our need for Jesus. While we seek to love them, while we seek to serve them, while we seek to go out of our way to make this world a better place by leading people to faith in Christ, people need to see these actions coming from broken and contrite hearts painfully aware of our own shortcomings, but all the more in love with Jesus for His sacrifice of grace and mercy. This is the “theology of the cross.” This is authentic Christian living. This is real faith. This is being the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world!” This is letting our light shine before men “in such a way” that they see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.
That they may see HIM in us,
~ Salty ~
Contrary to what many think, Jesus had very little to say about how to “do church!” In fact, Jesus idea of a church was, “… where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, NASB). But, as our previous posts have revealed, Jesus had plenty to say about the stewardship of our resources and about our relationships one with another. I think it’s sad how the evil one — our age-old Adversary — has kind of duped us into thinking that, as long as we show up down at the church house once or twice and week and do our “churchy” thing, then we’re fulfilling our expected religious obligations and we’re “okay Christians.” But oh how that kind of mentality strips authentic Christianity of its dynamic. It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s warning to Timothy concerning those who are, “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5, NASB).
Jesus definitely had plenty to say about the essentiality of living our faith. Remember His analogy of the wise and foolish builders? Jesus says,
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49, NASB)
This passage, and others like, reminds me of the fact that its not enough to hear Jesus’ teachings; it’s not even enough to simply believe Jesus’ teachings or to mentally acquiesce to His identity and authority. Remember, James says that even the demons do that, and they tremble (James 2:19). But an authentic, living faith is not about playing church; rather, it’s about living life. It’s about not only believing in Jesus, but surrendering our lives to His authority. It’s about giving Him jurisdiction over our hearts and living by His teaching. Too many hear, believe, and even cry out “Lord, Lord,” every Sunday in what they think of as “worship!” But too few actually buy in to the “theology of the cross” — by denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus — and then demonstrating that by the way they live their lives, steward their resources, and treat other people.
What is worship, anway? Is it crying out “Lord, Lord,” on Sunday morning; or is it presenting our “bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1, NASB) every day that we live?
Building on the Rock,
~ Salty ~
How to deal with human traditions and matters of opinion, and keep them in proper perspective when it comes to matters of the Christian faith, has always been a challenge for the children of God. In writing to the “ekklesia” in Corinth, the Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (I Corinthians 6:12, NASB). Again he told them, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (I Corinthians 10:23, NASB).
In stating that “all things are lawful,” Paul is not endorsing or permitting those things that are specifically and explicitly condemned in scripture – such as: “…immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Ephesians 5:19-21, NASB)
Nor is the Apostle Paul giving people license to set aside and not practice those things specifically and explicitly taught in scripture – such as: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NASB), or “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB), or be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NASB).
Far from permitting what is explicitly condemned, or setting aside what has been specifically commanded, when the Apostle Paul says, “All things are lawful,” he is referring to that vast area of human endeavor that falls within the scope of human judgment and opinion. He is speaking with regard to the “ekklesia” determining what is relevant and expedient as we seek to live our lives to God’s glory day-by-day and carry out the work, the mission, and the ministry to which Christ has called us.
Because we do not want to become a catalyst for further division [denominationalism] within the body of Christ, and because we do not want to “bind” where God has not “bound” by pushing our personal opinions on others and holding them accountable to our own expectations as though they were the will of God, we need to give serious consideration to some concepts presented in scripture concerning the area of human opinion, cultural relevancy, and our use of Christian liberty. The Apostle Paul said:
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4, NASB)
The Apostle Paul also shared this concept with the “ekklesia” living in Corinth as he described for them how he conducted his own daily life and ministry in various cultural settings, saying:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (I Corinthians 9:19-22, NASB)
Paul did not sit up on his “high horse” judging and condemning people because they did not look, act, or think like him. He did not insist that everybody come around to his personal way of thinking before he could have fellowship with them. Instead, because he knew that “all things are lawful,” Paul exercised his freedom in Christ to get out of himself and his own world and into the hearts and lives of others. To the greatest extent possible, without violating his allegiance to Christ, he became like those people he sought to reach and teach. He utilized “all means” available to him in his effort to “save some.”
These Biblical concepts encompass the very epitome of the freedom of the New Covenant. While some people take the position that “whatever is not specifically commanded in the New Testament is strictly forbidden”—often erring in the area of “binding” where God, through His inspired word, has not bound—others take the position that “whatever is not specifically forbidden in the New Testament is permitted”—often erring in the area of “loosing” where God, through His inspired word, has not loosed. Both of these positions originate in the mind of man, are fraught with inconsistency, and fall short of what the scriptures actually teach.
The main reason these types of philosophies fail us is because both positions are entirely legalistic—they move the discussion out of the realm of faith and into the arena of law. In other words, both positions stem from the mindset of looking at the New Testament as though it were a book of law—much the way the Old Testament children of Israel might look at the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Many people don’t seem to comprehend the fact that, unlike the Ten Commandments—which were engraved on tablets of stone—and all the rest of the Law of Moses—contained in the written scrolls of antiquity—the terms of the New Covenant are written on our hearts and in our minds. Remember, God said, concerning the New Covenant in Christ, “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16, NASB).
God’s holy and inspired written word—the Bible and in particular, the New Testament—is certainly essential to that process. In fact, we are told, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2, NASB). However, the gospels, the histories, the letters, and the prophecies that comprise our New Testament in no way read like a book of law; and to treat them that way leads only to what Jesus warned His disciples about when He said, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6, NASB). Like the people of Jesus’ day who were spiritually enslaved to the Pharisees, treating the New Testament as though it were a book of law places us in the precarious position of being controlled by the would be “scholars” and alleged “theologians” of our day; many of whom far too gleefully and voraciously adhere to that role.
Taking a rather “legalistic” view of God’s written word and Christianity in general, the modern-day Pharisees—religious leaders—of our day love to argue and debate over what they believe is “authorized” in scripture. This kind of legalism reduces the teachings of the New Testament to “the letter of the law,” rather than elevating them to “matters of the heart.” It takes love for God and for others completely out of the picture when it comes to making decisions about how we will chose to live our lives.
Does the new covenant child of God really need a “thus sayeth the Lord”—with book, chapter, and verse—to “authorize” absolutely everything we say and do; and, if there is no specific command or example, are we, then, prohibited from doing it? If so, then a lot of “churches” are in trouble because they have incorporated themselves, established business accounts, purchased property, built buildings, incorporated mechanical instruments of music in worship, appointed worship directors, song leaders, church secretaries, and a host of other “ministerial staff,” and have established orphanages, hospitals, and schools, all while engaging in a plethora of “ministry” activities that were unheard of in Bible days.
By the same token, does the new covenant child of God really need a specific prohibition spelled out in the “letter of the law” to know that something is not pleasing to God and that they shouldn’t engage in some possibly destructive activity? Because there is no specific command prohibiting some activity, does that mean one should feel free to participate in it even if, by doing so, we take advantage of others or hurt them in some way? We can all probably think of many examples wherein these kinds of legalistic “rules” appear absurd.
Is not my heart, when surrendered to the will of God, sufficient to convict me with regard to these and all other spiritual matters? God thinks that it is, for the Bible says:
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16, NASB)
We must be very careful with this concept, however, because it is, after all, our hearts that God is after. The scripture makes it clear that, even if something does, indeed, fall under the category of “all things are lawful”—belonging to the realm of human opinion—if I believe in my heart that it is sinful then, for me, it is sinful. The Apostle Paul says:
I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean … It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:14 & 21-23, NASB)
The concept that “whatever is not from faith is sin” is an incredible truth. On the one hand, if I consider something to be a sin, or even if I simply “doubt” that it has God’s approval, and yet I choose to engage in the activity anyway, what does that say about the condition of my heart; am I not, internally if not outwardly, walking in rebellion against God? On the other hand, James says, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17, NASB). So again, if I refuse to do what I believe the Lord wants me to do, am I not, internally, walking in rebellion? It matters not whether the issue is specifically addressed in the written word of God because it is my heart that convicts me; and it is my heart with which my Lord is most concerned.
From my heart to yours,
~ Salty ~
Why is this, seemingly, so hard to do? The Apostle Paul says, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NASB).
I was really disappointed when a video clip was posted recently on one of my social networking sites in which certain churches were likened unto Hitler and his evil den of miscreants. I guess it was supposed to be funny; you know, making fun of the ultra-conservatives, or those who some think of as the “legalists” among us. But I was more than a little taken back, in fact, I found myself rather aghast at the idea that ANYBODY calling themselves Christians would compare ANYONE calling themselves Christians to Hitler—of all people!
What scares me so much about it is simply that there must be a great deal of hurt, bitterness, and, dare I say, even a certain amount of hatred in people’s hearts in order for them to find pleasure in creating, sharing, or laughing at such a negative piece of work. I mean, yeah, the people at whom they are poking fun—those who seek to bind their legalistic tendencies on others—surely need to be challenged and rebuked, and in some cases, perhaps, we just need to keep our distance. The Bible does say, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18, NASB). That’s a pretty stern warning and it uses some pretty tough language. But, I believe, there are ways we can do that, we must do that, that don’t play right into our enemies hands and make us, for all practical purposes, just like them. There must be ways we can do that and still, “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB).
Legalism is no laughing matter because souls are at stake. The Apostle Paul warns us saying, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4, NASB). And when the ancient legalists—we sometimes refer to them as Judaizers because they compelled all first century Christians to live like Jews (See: Galatians 2:14)—came to up to Asia Minor, advocating for their brand of Christianity, Paul referred to them as “false brethren” and said, “we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour” (Galatians 2:4-5, NASB). But, while Paul did not hesitate to reveal them for what they were, still, He did not mock them, make fun of them, or take any pleasure in denouncing their activities. I think of the passage in the little epistle of Jude wherein it says, “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9, NASB).
There is also a certain amount of danger inherent in stepping outside the boundaries of love and attacking people—regardless of their doctrinal positions or their other hang-ups—in a vehement manner; such as comparing them to Nazis. And that danger can be seen in the way that other people, innocent people, can be caught in the crossfire. Satan tempts us to call down fire upon those whom we perceive as the “guilty,” knowing all too well that the innocent standing not too far away are likely to be consumed in the conflagration as well. I wonder how many beautiful, vibrant, and Spirit filled churches of Christ are being harmed not so much by the legalists themselves, as by those self-proclaimed advocates of freedom who insist on taking matters into their own hands, rather than taking it to the Lord in prayer, and end up fueling Satan’s fire by taking the “fight” to perpetually higher levels. How many good and faithful people and churches will have their image tarnished and their testimony hindered, if not altogether negated, by these kinds of actions? Guilt by association!?! How many seekers of truth will be turned away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they happen to view the spew of somebody’s vehement heart online, or elsewhere? My prayer is “none.” My fear is “some,” or even just “one.”
There is something insidious about our global communications network and all the social media sites in the modern era; something that seems to draw out the worst in us from time-to-time. And, it’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with modern technology or the fact that we can instantly communicate with people all around the world. Twitter is not the problem! Facebook is not the problem! The problem is an ancient one. It’s a problem of the heart, not the internet. But the technology does offer an easy platform for that which the Bible describes, and condemns, as “the boastful pride of life” (I John 2:16, NASB). And I’m as guilty as anyone else! At times, when there is some political issue, or some social issue, or what I perceive to be a moral issue on the table, I get all “head up!” I jump up on my “high horse!” I tout my opinions, throw love out the window, and run ruff-shod over everyone with whom I disagree—even some of my “friends!”
You know what I need to remember? I need to remember that time in Jesus ministry when James and John—the sons of thunder—wanted to call down fire from heaven and consume the little inhospitable village of Samaria that refused to offer lodging to Jesus and His disciples simply because they were traveling toward Jerusalem? But, the Bible says, “He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of'” (Luke 9:55, NASB). Oh my! I don’t want to be of that spirit, do you?
There are times when we must confront evil with truth. It does not please the Lord when we cower in fear or when we allow people to harm other people with their deceptions or their belligerent attitudes. God says, “But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38, NASB). But, at the same time, we must “speak the truth in love” always seeking, to the greatest degree possible, the spiritual benefit and higher welfare of all parties involved. And, yes, that is sometimes hard to do! But “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22) and, if we will let Him, the Spirit will give us the power to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:13) and “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:2, NASB).
May “the love of Christ control us” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NASB),
~ Salty ~
Sometimes I have to take a step back and ask, “Wow! Does the Adversary have us ‘on the run’ here, or what?” What I mean is, are we ducking and dodging, running and hiding, rather than “standing” for what God’s word teaches? Are we running away from “the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12, NASB), rather than stepping up to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3, NASB)? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no warmonger — spiritually or physically. In fact, I sometimes think my testimony and my ministry sometime suffers due to my natural aversion to controversy. But there comes a time when even the most passive among us must find the resolve step forward with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17, NASB) in hand, and squarely face the opposition.
I marvel, though, at the effectiveness of Satan’s devices. While the Apostle Paul reminds the children of God in Corinth that “we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11, NASB), it appears as if many of us today are, indeed, ignorant of his devices, or simply unable to contend with them. For example, our enemy knows just how overwhelming and pervasive culture and society can be; he has mastered the power of “group think” and is an expert “herdsman” — rounding up the sheep together with the goats and herding them all together toward the cliff of destruction. He aggressively goes after the strays who don’t want to run with the herd and reigns them back in again; chastising them for their disorderly conduct. He and his “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB) seem to know just how to prompt, prod, and goad them into compliance.
I’m thinking, now, of comments made yesterday by Kaniela Ing, a member of the Hawai’i State House Finance Committee who voted in favor of SB 1 — the Hawai’i Marriage Equality Act of 2013 — when he said: “Marriage means help. Marriage holds families together and forms a loving environment for children to be raised, so why deny more loving couples from getting married? Isn’t allowing our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that opportunity the conservative and Christian thing to do?” (Lincoln, 2013). Satan must be laughing up his sleeve at that one. Sadly, Ing, being quite deceived, knows not the spirit with which he speaks. God, through the prophet Isaiah, gravely warned against such folly, saying: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah, 5:20, NASB).
Christians, of course, want to do the “Christian thing,” don’t they? And that means loving and accepting virtually everyone’s notion of morality, regardless of how perverse it may actually be, right? We are a kind, gentle, and peace-loving — if not always peace-making — people, aren’t we? I mean, no one wants to be thought of as narrow minded, backward, intolerant, or old fashioned. And, certainly, no one wants to be called a “bigot,” or “prejudiced,” or a “hater,” or even, heaven forbid, “homophobic.” So when these kinds of accusations start flying, and the mind-control is turned on and brought to bear, what are the children of God supposed to do, simply crumple in the face of the onslaught, allow ourselves to be reigned back in, and rejoin the herd? I thought the church was supposed to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15, NASB).
In my reading from the book of Ezekiel today, I came across a passage of scripture originally meant for ancient Israel, who had sold out their faith in order to become like the nations around them — they too wanted to fit in — but that, I think, also speaks powerfully to our society today. God, speaking through Ezekiel says to them: “But the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?” (Ezekiel 18:29, NASB). People today, even some who call themselves, “Christians,” violently react to certain passages of scripture such as: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10, NASB) and they say, “The way of the Lord is not right!” The modern, en vogue, pseudo-scientific, politically correct, and socially acceptable mindset is to categorize homosexuals along with minorities, people with disabilities, and others who may be in need of special rights and protections by law. But the word of God does not make the matter a civil rights issue, but rather, a moral issue. It places them squarely in the category of those who have made a “choice” to pursue a life of unrighteousness. Again, I can hear the voice of rebellion crying out, “The way of the Lord is not right!” To which God answers, “Are My ways not right… Is it not your ways that are not right?”
The new covenant children of God need to be careful with this one. We are called to hate sin, not the sinner — “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). We need to remember that the family of God is made up of people who were once fornicators, idolaters, adulterers effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; and “such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11, NASB). However, if our ultimate goal is truly to put the best interest of others ahead of ourselves, and help men and women, young and old, get ready to go home to be with God forever in that “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, NASB), then we need to understand that we are doing them no favors by failing to stand up and declare the truth of God’s word and call them to repentance. To those who say, “The way of the Lord is not right!” Ezekiel closes his prophecy with this dire warning:
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord God. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:30-32, NASB)
Furthermore, insofar as our own personal relationship with God is concerned, we need to decide who’s love and acceptance we cherish most, and where our own loyalty and true commitments lie. Perhaps we need to also remember Jesus’ call to discipleship and His warning: “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:25-26, NASB). Ashamed to Jesus? Ashamed of His words?
“… stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1, NASB).
~ Salty ~
Lincoln, M. (2013). House committees pass same-sex marriage bill, advances to floor for vote. KHNL Hawaii News Now. Retrieved from http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/23887893/watch-at-5-house-committees-pass-same-sex-marriage-bill-advances-to-floor-for-vote
With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:6-8, NASB)
I sometimes get so frustrated with the worldly, fleshly thinking that so often pervades this secular humanists society in which we find ourselves. People who don’t want to acknowledge God, who think that this world and everything in it is just one cataclysmic accident, are always looking for reasons to justify their position; or to denigrate the beliefs of others. So bad things happen: a commercial airliner with hundreds on board disappears out over the southern Indian ocean — or wherever it ended up; a land slide in Washington wipes out an entire community, killing dozens; people we know and love, young and old alike, are taken from us by cancer, or by a terrible auto accident, or by who knows what — there are a thousand ways to die in any given day. Humanity lives with perpetual heartache and tragedy. Sometimes I think there are definitely more “broken hearts” out there than there are those that remain yet unscathed.
I’ve experienced the sensation of all the strength suddenly draining from my body upon hearing the news that someone I love has departed. I’ve spent sleepless nights sighing, crying, and wrestling with God — asking, “Why, oh Lord, why did You let this happen?” And it frustrates me to no end when I see the atheists, the agnostics, the anarchists, the “unbelievers” among us prey upon that. They try to lay all that tragedy and heartache at the feet of God, or those who believe in God, and say things like: “Why does your so-called God let this happen?” or “If there really is a God, and if God is really good, then He wouldn’t let these kinds of things happen.”
How bout that Bill Maher guy, you know the popular comedian and commentator who totally ripped into that “Noah” movie that was recently released. I’ve heard some comments he made being discussed on conservative airwaves, but according to a recent article in The Christian Post, some of what he actually said on television was:
“The thing that’s really disturbing about Noah isn’t the silly, it’s that it’s immoral. It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it and his name is God. Genesis says God was so angry with Himself for screwing up when he made mankind so flawed that he sent the flood to kill everyone. Men, women, children, babies, what kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at? I mean besides Chris Christie,” he said.
“Hey God, you know you’re kind of a d**k when you’re in a movie with Russell Crowe and you’re the one with anger issues,” he noted.
The comedian then tried making the case for why people should not get their moral direction from the Bible. “You know conservatives are always going on about how Americans are losing their values and their morality. Well maybe it’s because you worship a guy who drowns babies,” he said. (Blair, 2014)
But actually, I don’t know what’s really worse, the fact that this guy said a bunch of things like that on national television, or the fact that, as Blair (2014) noted in his article, “TV host Bill Maher left his target audience in riotous laughter…” I’m like, “Seriously? A whole studio full of people actually thought those comments were funny? What is happening in America, today? And who were all those people anyway? Do you have to pass some kind of liberal, agnostic, secular humanist litmus test before being admitted as a member of his audience?” I think I would have just quietly, or not so quietly, stood up and walked out… after having hauled off and thrown my right boot at the stage — forgive me Lord; I know, I know, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55, NASB).
I have to confess, I shouted out “booooooo” and threw some popcorn at the movie screen when I took my granddaughters to the cinema last week and, before the movie, they showed a totally raunchy, sexually suggestive, piece of garbage that was supposed to be some kind of “music video.” My teenage granddaughters, one on each side, just stared at me, somewhat disapprovingly, in stark amazement. “WHAT?” I exclaimed! And they totally broke out in laughter! Well, you know, you just kinda get tired of all the “nonsense” — a dozen other words come to mind > a hem < — being perpetually shoveled in your face by today’s liberal media! >>> so I threw some popcorn back at them; I know that must have seriously upset the whole Hollywood film industry <<<
Anyway, back to my point and, I think, I have one. The thing is, what the secular humanists are missing is the fact that IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THIS WORLD! I mean, it “IS” for “THEM” because this world is “ALL THEY’VE GOT!” Or so they think. For them, it’s all about the comfort, the safety, the prosperity, the well-being, the happiness, and long life of humanity in this present realm. And being thus so fleshly minded, they cannot conceive of a God Who does not necessarily put humanity’s materialistic wants and desires, and physical, fleshly good first and foremost — at the very topmost rung of His eternal ladder of priority.
Have you ever read the book of Job? Talk about a mind-bender ~ sheeeeeesh! God broke the man’s heart in more ways than any of us can dare to imagine or would care to innumerate. And when Job cried out “why?” God’s response was: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4, NASB). Furthermore, even though Satan was the actual ravager who inflicted all the harm, God was willing to take responsibility for it because He allowed it to happen. Job didn’t know that he was a key player in a cosmic spiritual battle of epic proportions. And, that part was never even explained to him. All he knew was that, though he was suffering immeasurably, there was a God who cared for him. And so, he absolutely refused to do what Bill Maher did, “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Well, Maher hasn’t died, physically, yet, so maybe there is still some hope for him, too.
As Micah cried out, so I cry out, “Oh God, what can I bring to you, today, as a sacrifice of praise and worship that is in any way worthy of You?” All my commandment keeping falls short. All my service in Your kingdom pales in comparison with what Your Son has done for me? Do You want my sacrifices? If I could, somehow, manage to do what that rich young ruler who came to speak with Jesus couldn’t do — if I could sell my every possession and give the money to the poor — would that be enough? Is a sacrifice of praise from my lips, a song or prayer that exalts You — we call it “worship” — really what You want from me? Or, is it something else You’re ultimately looking for?
In an absolutely stunning passage of scripture, the Apostle Peter said
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:6-9, NASB)
In light of teaching like that, do you think we can, or even should, be exempt from the distress of various trials? How, then, would faith ever become real — something more than a mere abstract concept? How, without distress, can faith be “tested,” be “refined,” become “more precious than gold”? Remember, Jesus said, “in this world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NASB). Can we, do we, believe that?
And so, what is the ultimate call? Is it all our religious stuff and ecclesiastical trappings — our so-called “worship”? Or, is it not, to find a way through all the tragedy to keep our faith intact and, as Micah prophesied so long ago, “to walk humbly with your God”? To, like Job, remain faithful to Him no matter how much it hurts; to refuse to curse God, to refuse to give up on Him, to refuse to play Satan’s game and blame God for all the heartache in this world and thereby justify unbelief. But rather, to allow the heartache, the pain, the suffering, the sorrow to purge the dross and perfect our faith!
Those of you — us — who are going through the fires, or who have been through the fires, or who will, beyond doubt, one day surely go through the fires, have something to offer God that is immeasurably valuable beyond anything in this mortal world: a broken, contrite, faith-filled heart!
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
(Psalm 51:17, NASB)
~ Salty ~
Blair, Leonardo. (2014). Bill Maher curses God, Bible, Noah story and ‘stupid’ Americans who believe; Calls God ‘psychotic mass murderer.’ The Christian Post U.S. Retrieved from http://www.christianpost.com/news/bill-maher-curses-god-bible-noah-story-and-stupid-americans-who-believe-calls-god-psychotic-mass-murderer-116276/
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB)
I could hardly believe my eyes, or ears for that matter. It was the evening of the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” and we were right in the midst of the opening ceremony—the survivor’s lap. As I walked around the far end of the track, surrounded by hundreds of cancer survivors walking side-by-side together, I looked up and there, just beyond the other end of the field, was the most beautiful rainbow. So beautiful and amazing was this rainbow that the relay facilitators called for the whole group of survivors to quickly make their way back to the other end of the field for a big group picture of us all standing together beneath the rainbow. Then, the announcer called out: “Waianuenue (Rainbow) is in the house!” I almost “lost it” completely! I stumbled forward through the tears, my head spinning, making my way toward the rainbow, thinking of my little, deceased Nui boy (Rainbow) and the trials, tribulations, courage, and hope he symbolized. That those events would unfold in such sequence at just such a moment gave me the most profound assurance of God’s abiding presence.
As discussed earlier in these memoirs, if confronted seriously enough with a potentially life-threatening situation, one cannot help but be confronted with his or her own mortality. It happens to soldiers on the battlefield, to firefighters and emergency personnel, to people on the front lines of the medical industry, to people who have faced severe accident, harm, and injury; and, to one degree or another, to those who have survived a serious illness.
We hear a lot about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) today, especially with regard to men and women returning from the battlefield in war zones around the globe. I can’t help but believe that a significant component of that phenomenon is our human consciousness—heart, soul—trying to come to terms with the reality of our mortality. I mean, it’s one thing to know that every living thing, and everyone, eventually dies. But it is quite another to stand face-to-face with the brevity of life and be made to live with the fact that our own lives, and the lives of those we cherish, hang by a thread and can be snuffed out in less than a heartbeat.
We want more control than that. We want to think that our destiny lies in our own hands. We want to believe that we’ve got some kind of a lease on life, that time is on our side, that death can’t, or at least won’t, touch us or the ones we love and that we won’t have to face it anytime in the foreseeable future. And so we push death way back into the dark recesses of our brain; out of sight, out of mind. And there it remains, hidden, but lurking; until the day the bullets start flying or the doctor walks into the office and says, “Yes, it’s cancer!”
As I’ve tried to persevere on this faith-walk through the stormy clouds of cancer, only one person has dared ask of me, whether or not I felt as though I had “found my peace” with regard to facing death. I wanted to say, “Well, of course, after all, I’m a ‘preacher’ aren’t I?” But in reality, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.
The question, you see, wasn’t, “are you prepared to die if you ever have to?” or, “have you gotten your affairs in order in case you die?” or even, “are you good with God and ready to meet Him whenever you die?” The question was, “have you found your peace?” The person asking me that question wasn’t at all concerned with my “preparedness” for death or for life after death. She was inquiring into the present state of my heart. She understood, in the measure of wisdom that God had granted her, that it’s one thing to accept the fact that we’re all going to die, some sooner than others, and quite another to be able to live with peace and joy in our hearts in the face of that fact. Although it had been asked in the context of the subject of death, it really wasn’t a “death” question at all; it was a “life” question. And, for me, it was nothing short of a “faith” challenge.
I’m convinced that most of today’s Christian community is in need of a serious spiritual paradigm shift. I say this because it appears to me, from the way we talk, the way we pray, the things we’re most concerned about, and the things we’re most likely to celebrate, that we’re far too wrapped up in this material world. Take a step back and listen, sometime, to the way we pray and communicate with one another; the things that seriously disturb us and the things we get really excited about. Tell me we’re not mostly about fleshly concerns and material needs! We talk about and pray almost continually for people’s physical healing and material welfare, but how much energy and concern is directed toward people’s spiritual needs?
I’m remembering, again, the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and how he asked the Lord three times that it be removed, but God refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NASB). Paul needed to suffer in the flesh to fulfill the will of God for him. So why do we seem to feel as if the most important thing to ask from God is physical healing and material blessing? Not that there is anything wrong with that, per se, it’s just not the most important thing; at least, not to me anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I do ask God, almost daily, for physical well-being. I want to be healthy and have the strength and energy to do all the things I feel like I want and need to do to take care of my family and to accomplish the work God has set before me. But, ultimately, I know that physical healing is of little consequence. What matters most is whether or not I’m willing to be used by God to accomplish His purpose and to allow my lot in life—rich, poor, healthy, or ill—to glorify my Lord. So, perhaps, the most important things we need to be praying about, both for ourselves and for those we’re called to love and serve, is for surrender—true discipleship—and for the grace and wisdom to truly yield our hearts and lives to the will of God.
I walked out into the sea last evening at sunset. The ocean had taken on a metallic golden-grayish hue, impossible to describe to all but those who’ve witnessed it. A big red sun hung in the western sky, its mirrored image rippling across the water and terminating at my feet like a puddle of liquid gold. I breathed deeply of the soft, salty, sea breezes and listened to the gentle lapping of the waves on the shoreline some distance behind me. Cool water embraced my legs up to my knees as my toes snuggled into the warm sand beneath. It was all so magical, so perfect. And then the old song jumped into my head: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through!”
One might think that such a thought would pretty much spoil the occasion. But that was not my experience. Rather, a flurry of scripture rushed through my brain and I found myself in a state of intense meditation. I thought of the Apostles Paul and his “desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Philippians 1:23, NASB). I thought of the Apostle John’s admonition: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15, NASB). I thought of Jesus’ teaching, “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26, NASB). I even thought of Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross, “today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, NASB). And I thought to myself, this is not paradise, THAT’S paradise!
I think most people have a longing for a place called “home.” We seek connection. We relish community. We want a place where we belong, where we can know and be known intimately; and be accepted for who we are—the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. We look for it in our churches; we look for it in our family circles; we look for it when we come together to celebrate our holidays or when we try to meaningfully connect with some age-old social tradition—often to no avail.
I believe that religion and culture have more to do with humanity’s desire for these connections than they do anything else. Both religion and culture seek to provide people with a sense of belonging, an identity, a pathway to connectivity, to community, to hearth and home. But when dispossessed of one’s culture, or when family seems scattered to the wind, or when faith flounders, our hearts reel with emptiness. We may fool ourselves for a while—trying to fill the void with materialistic gratification and endless diversions—but, eventually, we will be made to face our mortality. And when we do, may God grant us the presence of mind to ask, “Where is my peace?”
I love King Solomon’s statement, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV). As I stood there, knee deep in a golden sunset ocean, pure beauty unleashed all about me, I felt a deep emptiness and longing for something more; something that I knew couldn’t be found this side of death’s dark portal. And, with eternity tugging at my heart, another passage, one that I dearly love, came to mind:
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15, NASB)
People, in general, do fear death; no one wants to die! But our Lord Jesus has stepped into this world, cloaked Himself with flesh and blood, and, through His own sacrificial death and resurrection, taken away the fear of death for all those who love Him. He rendered death nothing more than our ticket “home.”
It’s been ten months, now, since my diagnosis. They’re still doing regular blood work on me every other month, trying to regulate my thyroid hormone. There is another lump steadily growing in the right side of my throat near the thyroid bed. I’m tempted to despair at the dreadful thought, “here we go again!” But it’s probably nothing; still, it could be something—a lymph node do you suppose? That seems to be how it is when you’ve been through cancer or a similar kind of illness. A close thyca friend, Karen, who lives in Florida writes:
I know what you mean about water under the bridge, but I fear there are waters out there we have yet to tread. I think that it will always be in my mind: will it return or is it gone? Every new bump or lump I get scares me, fearing that the cancer has spread; but trusting God it’s dormant and that it will stay that way. I have a place on the inside of my lip—they are calling it a fibroma—and I will have it taken off next week; of course, they have to biopsy it as precaution. I never worried about any of these kinds of things before diagnosis of thyroid cancer. But even with all of this I still trust God to see me thru whatever happens.
As for this lump in my throat, I will have another battery of tests, along with an ultrasound later this month; and a WBS (whole body scan) if necessary in order to see if there is any metastatic recurrence going on in that location; or anywhere else in my body.
It’s a little disconcerting for me to have two other dear friends who are both continuing to battle reoccurring metastatic thyroid cancer. Lolly, who lives here in the islands, and Julie, who lives on the U.S. Mainland, both started out with the same diagnosis as I, went through precisely the same treatment, and were handed the same “all clear for now” verdict by their endocrinologists, just as I was. Today, even as I sit here writing this journal, Lolly is undergoing a radical neck dissection to remove multiple metastatic lymph nodes. Julie has recently been diagnosed with two metastatic thyroid tumors in her lungs; which must soon be surgically removed. What has happened with these two precious friends serves as a stern reminder for me not to take anything for granted; and that, when it comes to cancer, it’s never really over unless, and until, God says it’s over.
It’s no fun living without a thyroid. It’s one of those invisible amputations that nobody pays much attention to, except the one who is having to deal with it each day; and, as I’m discovering, there are a myriad of subtle symptoms—and some not so subtle—that one has to deal with each day. Energy levels, as well as emotions, can fluctuate wildly.
For now, I’m just trying to live each day as it comes and be “in the moment.” I find myself living with a deep sense of gratitude. If there is any good thing that has come out of my skirmish with cancer, and I do believe that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB), it is that cancer has revealed my “peace.” It has helped me come to terms with my own mortality.
What I mean is, I know that, should this be the day of my departure, the world will go on spinning without me; and I’m quite alright with that. I know that God holds the hearts and lives of my dearest loved ones in His holy and compassionate hands; and that they’ll be okay without me. He has a plan for each of them; and it’s His plan that matters, not mine.
But here’s the ultimate rainbow: I also know that separation from loved ones in this world heralds a reunion with loved ones in the world beyond who’ve gone on before me; and, furthermore, I know that the separation of death is only temporary. Soon, all who have surrendered their hearts and lives to Jesus, and who have put their faith in Him and His atoning sacrifice, will be together again in that “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, NASB). We will be home!
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
(Burton & Graham, 2011)
Please feel free to comment below; or to write to me at: email@example.com
“And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”
(Psalm 139:16, NASB)
As I observe the gathering storm clouds, dark on the horizon, my thoughts are scattered; but I know I’ve got to get a handle on all of this. This cancer could very well take my life. We’re not sure just what variety of thyroid cancer I have, nor what the staging may be. Has it already metastasized? Are my days numbered?
I believe the day and hour of my departure from this old world is already known to God. I believe, from this passage of scripture—Psalm 139:16—that He has known it long before I ever came into this world. The days of my life are “ordained” for me.
What I’m not wise enough to know is how much the decisions that I make in life have helped determined that day and hour. On the one hand, if the Lord already knew that I was going to choose to live an unhealthy, undisciplined, and self-indulgent lifestyle, or that I would make stupid decisions that would lead to an early grave, did He, then, ordain my days accordingly? Or, on the other hand, if the Lord already knew that I was going to choose to live a healthy, wholesome, and disciplined life, and make intelligent, insightful decisions that would enable me to live long and prosper, did He, then, ordain a longer life-span for me? Some say it doesn’t matter what choices we make; that when your time is up, it’s up; and if it’s your day to go, you go—by one means or another. Others say it does matter and that the day of our departure is scheduled, at least to some extent, according to the decisions God knows we, and others, will make as we go through life.
James, the elder in Jerusalem, and physical, younger brother of Jesus, exhorts us saying: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NASB). So, I ask for wisdom in all matters pertaining to life, health, and living to the glory of God during my time on earth. Whether it extends my life-span or not, I want to make good choices and live healthy and strong. I want to be an example of the quality of life that we can have if we choose to live God’s way—with spiritual and physical discipline. Perhaps these choices have already extended the days that have been ordained for me, even before there was a one of them. Perhaps these choices have nothing to do with my lifespan, but do provide a healthier lifestyle and a higher quality of life for however long I’m here. Either way, wisdom dictates that God is far more pleased with me when I make good decisions than when I don’t; and that’s enough motivation for me these days!
So, should I go vegetarian? Vegan? Should I adopt some strange therapeutic diet that has me pulping and juicing all day long? Should I give up coffee, tea, chocolate, ice-cream, along with all other processed sugars and carbohydrates; fruit or no fruit, or only certain fruits? Can I eat fish; pelagic fish, only farm-raised fish, shellfish? Do I go with high protein, low protein, or whole foods only? I know I can always have all the “green leafy vegetables” that I can eat—(someone just shoot me in the head, already).
And why does eating a fresh, healthy, organic diet have to cost THREE TIMES MORE than eating the normal, chemical laden, toxic diet that we typical Americans have become accustomed to? Should I get into a high-powered exercise routine, running, resistance training, or cross-fit? Will more moderate exercise, walking, swimming, biking suffice?
When it comes to treatment for what ails me, do I agree to surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? I know that whole “cut, poison, and burn” therapy is highly controversial and condemned by many. So, what about alternative medicines and therapies? Should I, really, be placing raw seaweed under my tongue for a few minutes, before swallowing, everyday? Do I agree to coffee enemas five times daily—yikes! And at what point does the treatment become worse than the disease? When does having some measure of quality in one’s life outweigh any possible life-extending benefits that some treatment might provide? How many have been put through hell on earth, only to die anyway, when foregoing the “life-saving” treatment may have ensured a higher-quality existence and a far more peaceful death process?
If the day of my departure is already determined, and any decision I make while here on earth does not change that, then I’m going to go for whatever treatment or therapy I think will give me the highest quality life experience possible while I’m here, regardless of whether or not it promises to extend my days. If the day of my departure, while already ordained, is determined by decisions I will make while here on earth, then I’m going to go for whatever treatment or therapy I think will extend my days, unless those days are going to be miserable; then, I think I’d rather just go out peacefully; with grace and dignity. Either way, I think I’m saying the same thing, aren’t I? Quality of life outweighs length of life! And, being the big “chicken” that I am, I’d rather avoid as much pain as possible.
It wasn’t long after I shared the diagnosis with others—in fact, about two seconds—before people started advising me on how best to treat this illness. While I do appreciate every concern and each person’s kind word of advice, I have to tell you that it all gets pretty confusing really fast. Sometimes I feel myself buried under an avalanche of conflicting, contrary, and opposing opinions and so-called “research.” Even people in the medical profession, for whom I hold a very high esteem these days, seem to continually contradict one another.
So, what can I do? I can follow James’ advice and ask God for wisdom. Then, trust the wisdom He gives me. Right now, that wisdom points me in the direction of trusting my doctors and their medical team, almost implicitly. They’ve told me nothing, so far, that doesn’t make sense or that would appear to eventually lead to a lower quality of existence.
Forgive me, those of you who love me, if I appear to, at least temporarily, shelve some of your good advice and alternative suggestions. Right now, I don’t really feel like I have the luxury of indulging in various medical or philosophical alternatives. I only have the mental fortitude and emotional strength to focus on the course that is clearly set before me. However, as things progress and change, I do reserve the right to hold on to all conceivable options.
But know this, Ne’ and I have talked it over and neither one of us is into extending our lives on earth at all cost. I’m not afraid of death—at least that’s what I keep telling myself upfront; as the storm gradually swells all around me. While I don’t relish the thought of being separated from the people I love in this world, even if only for a little while, death itself holds only the promise of beauty, joy, and happy reunions for me. As I face the storm, those thoughts fill my heart with courage and my limbs with strength. What I’m about, first and foremost, as far as this world goes, is quality of life; living each day for the glory of my Lord with as much energy and exuberance as I can muster. It’s a philosophy, I know, by which I am choosing both to live and, perhaps, to die. I want, so much, to identify with the Apostle Paul’s take on his own mortality when he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB).
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Sooner or later, somewhere along the line, when confronted with a potentially life-threatening illness, or some other tragic situation involving people we love, the thought crosses our mind: “Why? Why me? Why now? Why is God doing this, or allowing this, to happen?”
And you know, there are plenty of half-hitched people with some pretty goofy ideas out there who think they have all the answers for us. Some say that it’s God punishing people for their bad behavior. But while I’m sure that I do deserve plenty of punishment for all my bad behavior, I’m not convinced that God works like that. In fact, Jesus, Himself, discounts that kind of thinking in His teaching about the need for authentic repentance. As the story goes:
… there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-5, NASB)
So, there you have it. We are all sinners and we all need to repent of the selfishness in our lives. But God doesn’t punish some of us physically, here on earth, for the sin in our lives while letting others go scot-free. Rest assured, people will be held accountable for their sin; and those who choose not to repent of sin, but to embrace it during their time here on earth, will meet their fate in the final judgment. Check out Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus for more information about that (See: Luke 16:19-31). But, according to Jesus, the bad things that happen to us here on earth are not due to God’s direct punishment.
That having been said, the Bible does teach us that God “disciplines” the children He loves. Consider this incredible teaching written to the Hebrew children (Jewish Christians) who were suffering tremendous hardships and persecutions at the hands of their fellow countrymen, as well as the Romans, during the first century:
…you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 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. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-13, NASB)
It seems as if, having been confronted with cancer and the fact of my own mortality, and in light of eternity, my personal goals and ambitions don’t seem to matter to me so much anymore. Somehow, it’s not about my plans and what I want to do for God anymore, but about His plans and what God wants to do with me in whatever remaining time He has designated for me here upon the earth.
It’s not that I no longer have the right and the privilege to pursue my personal dreams, goals, and ambitions. These are the things that make our lives unique and wonderful. But it’s more like God wants me to give those dreams and ambitions to Him, completely and without reservation. He is calling me to surrender them to Him at the foot of the cross, along with everything and everyone else in my life; so that He can take them and do with them whatever He sees fit. Perhaps they need to evaporate before my very eyes. Or, perhaps He will work with them, mold and shape them, and make of them something more beautiful than I could ever imagine. But, I’m convinced, He won’t do that until I let go—until I give them up by giving Him utter control of my destiny—and that includes a willingness to be content with whatever He decides to do with them.
Furthermore, I don’t think God is content to leave me at my current level of discipleship. And why should He be? When I think of all the trials and tribulations our brothers and sisters in Christ have had to go through as they lived out their Christian faith—losing their homes, their families, their livelihood, even their very lives for the sake of Christ—why should He be content with my lukewarm approach to faith. The Apostle Peter reminds us of the purpose behind God’s discipline, saying:
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:6-7, NASB)
God wants and deserves my unadulterated allegiance—a refined faith, purified, as necessary, through the fires of tribulation. It is written even of Jesus that, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, NASB). So, if even my Lord Jesus needed to suffer in order to experience the true value and significance of obedience, then who am I to argue against it, or run from it? “Oh, God, my Father, give me the faith, hope, love, joy, and peace to embrace your discipline, in whatever form it comes!”
Now that’s just me and God at work in my life. We are all individuals and God is intimately working His will in different ways and in different measures within all of us who love Him. I don’t believe that the discipline God is working in my life applies equally to everybody, or anybody, else. I don’t believe God’s reasons for confronting me with thyroid cancer are the same reasons my little nephew, Gatlin, had to endure Ewing’s sarcoma at such a young age and die at age 14; or the same reasons our sweet Jessica had to deal with Fanconi anemia and succumb to it at age 11. I don’t believe God’s purpose in suddenly taking Tim’s life, at age 23, bears any resemblance to His purpose in disciplining me with cancer.
While some of the same disciplinary benefits may be inculcated upon the hearts and lives of the parents, families, and loved ones left behind, the only sure connection that I can see between any of us, and the trials we’re individually required to face, is “FAITH”—the uncompromising belief that, “…we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB).