Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Election

Today, I am going to dive into something totally different for this blog: politics. As a Stage IV lung cancer survivor with a rare mutation that does not respond well to standard chemotherapies and whose healthcare, available treatments, and life may very well depend on the decisions made by our elected leadership, I feel I am entitled to state my beliefs, and I will probably offend many people by the time I am done.

If you have read much of my blog, you should know that I believe the Bible from the Table of Contents all the way to the maps section. I am not the kind of person who can partition his beliefs and only hold them when it fits my purposes. My beliefs are the foundation that my life is built on and the mortar that holds my life together.

In the New Testament, we are taught that God raises up and brings down leaders. They are placed in their positions by God, and I guess you could say that they are divinely appointed. God is not surprised by who wins and loses elections. He has appointed these leaders for this time and place. We may not be happy with it, but we need to accept that this is God's plan, and He continues to be in control. We are to pray for our leaders and that they will do God's will in leading our country.

Now, I also enjoy the Old Testament. There are some great truths to be learned there and many a lesson can be learned from the Israelites and their relationship with God. Throughout the Old Testament, God instructed them how to live and worship Him. As long as they sought and honored God, their nation thrived, and they were prosperous as a nation and as individuals. However, they just never seemed to be able to pass those beliefs from generation to generation. When a new generation would turn its back on God and begin to chase other idols and worship other gods, God would divinely send some method of discipline. Often times, the discipline would come by way of a conquering king or sometimes even a misguided king from within. Often times these kings would enslave the people or oppress them with excessive taxes. This would continue until a prophet or new king would re-introduce the people to the ways of God. Even though God appointed all of the leaders, it was never all good leadership but always for the Israelites' eventual benefit. God never stopped loving them and guiding them. It was up to them to decide when to follow him.

I am going to leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions about where we are as a nation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Deep Roots

There I was, spending another early Sunday morning in the living room. I had been awake for several hours, tossing and turning in bed before finally giving up. Just three days before, I had learned that my work group was being disbanded and that I needed to find a new job. I had been running the what-ifs through my head, trying to figure out where money could come from in the event I could not find another job. Just how many hits am I expected to take?

After eating breakfast, I turned on Dr. David Jeremiah to watch his message. Wouldn't you know it, his message was about deepening our faith. I could swear that this man is following me. During his message, he told a story about two farmers who lived on separate sides of a mountain. This mountain was known for the bad storms that swept over it. Both farmers had decided to plant new crops of trees. The older farmer planted his and then pretty much left nature to take its course on them. The younger farmer on the other side of the mountain planted his trees and watered them regularly. He then carefully built berms around each tree to hold the water. He even told the older farmer that he should be taking better care of his trees. The older farmer would just nod and say they would be okay. The younger farmer's trees grew and bloomed. The older farmer's trees looked like they were just getting by. Then one night the storm that the mountain was known for hit. The rains poured and the wind blew. The next morning, the younger farmer's trees were all down, their shallow roots exposed. The older farmer's trees were still standing. The younger farmer's trees had become dependent on the shallow water that he had been delivering to them. The older farmer's trees had been forced to grow their roots deeper to find water, enabling them to withstand the storms. What had appeared to be indifference by the farmer had made them stronger and prepared for the storm he knew was coming.

I think in that one story we can see two paths in the Christian life. There are those who believe and teach that once you become a Christian, all will be well. Jesus will come by and feed and water you. It will just be an easy life. The other path is that the Christian life is not a simple life. It can be hard, and in it can be found pain and discomfort. Unfortunately, for those who think the road will be easy, when the storm hits, they are toppled and their roots are exposed. They have never grown the deep roots needed to survive the storm.

Jesus has never promised that the road would be easy, just that He would be there with us. I think that Jesus uses the trials that enter our lives to encourage us to grow deeper roots. Jesus knows the storms that will enter our lives and uses each to make our roots go deeper to find the living water that only He can give.

I used to think that Jesus used the first fifty years of my life to prepare me to fight cancer. That may very well be the case, but now I believe that He used these last two years of my life to grow the deeper roots I need to weather this latest storm. After witnessing all that Jesus has done these past two years, I believe that He can get me through this storm as well.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pruning

I remember at our first house in Midland deciding that we needed some rose bushes in the backyard. I bought a book that told how to properly feed, water, care for and prune rose bushes. Then we planted six bushes in the backyard flower beds.

Everything went great; as long as I paid attention to the bushes, they would just grow and grow. They produced some beautiful Tiffany roses and would grow well into the fall. The problems would occur when I did not keep up with the pruning. When not pruned, the branches would start to grow out instead of up and before long, the branches from neighboring bushes would grow together and become entangled. That was when pruning became difficult. I would usually have to start with small cuts and then work my way into the bush to get it back in the shape it should have been. Once pruned back, the roses would begin growing tall and beautiful again.

I have started to realize that a life with Christ is a lot like those rose bushes. There are times that we can grow straight and beautiful. Then there are times when we don't pay attention and things in life start to grow together and get all tangled up. Then the Master Gardener has to come along and do some pruning. That pruning can hurt--a lot. But once he is done cutting out the old tangled and ugly branches, we can once again begin to grow straight and beautiful.

There has been a lot of pruning the last two years. Just when I think it is all done, it seems like Jesus finds one more thing that needs to be pruned. Initially that pruning has been painful, but over time it has become a relief to have the old cut away so that the new can grow. I am so looking forward to being the rose bush that Jesus wants me to be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

No Smell of Fire

Several months ago I read through the book of Daniel. I still enjoy reading the old Bible stories, but sometimes my familiarity with the stories causes me to overlook some of the lessons that God wants me to learn. I am learning that whenever I miss the lesson, God will eventually lead me back.

That was the case with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. The story of their trial is told in the third chapter of Daniel. If you do not know the story, you should probably read it. Go ahead, I will wait here for you....

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego's refusal to acknowledge the king as a god and bow to his figure has lead them to face their trial. The king has them bound and thrown into a fire that is so hot that the soldiers throwing them in died. However, when the king looks into the fire, he sees four men--not just the three who were thrown in. I personally believe that the fourth man was the Lord. What I get from this is that the Lord does not just lead us to our trials and then abandon us to flounder around on our own. He is in there walking with us through our trials.

I also noticed that although the three men were bound by soldiers before being thrown into the fire, that the king sees them walking around loose in the fire. These past two years there have been times that I have been frustrated by the restrictions that I now face. Although they were bound when thrown into the fire, that same fire burned off the bounds, and now I realize that there are times that God does not use our trials to bind us but to set us free from that which has us bound.

Once the king tells the men to come out of the fire, all of the high officials gather around. They notice that the men have been so protected from the fire that no physical harm has come to the men or their clothing. Then the officials notice that there is not even the smell of fire on them. That is the way with my current trial. If you were to meet me on the street, you would not be able to tell that I have lung cancer. Just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, the only way you would know my story is for me to tell you. Here we are thousands of years later, and we still know the story of these men. The only way other people will know of our trials and what God has done, is if we tell them.

The last thing I noticed is that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego's lives were never the same. My Bible says that the king caused them to prosper in the province of Babylon. Had they not gone through this trial, they would not have received the blessings that came after. Sometimes I think that I would just like to have my life back to the way it was, but then I wonder what blessings I would miss out on if I was not going through this trial.

An old story has taught new lessons that are leading to a story to be told.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lessons from a Dead Battery

I have gotten bored riding my fixie around the neighborhood and decided that it was time to venture outside those bounds. This Saturday morning I felt that the time was right to get out and hit the roads for a little ride. Since I had not ridden my road bike for several months, I had to re-inflate the tires and find all of my bike riding stuff. Once out the door, I walked my bike down the walk to the street. As per my usual routine, I pressed to bike computer start button to begin tracking my ride distance and speed. A blank screen looked back at me. Using my astute engineering mind, I pressed the button a second and third time, expecting a different response. Nothing. Realizing that the battery was dead, I decided that I would just ride and enjoy the ride and not worry about how fast and how far I was riding.

As I rode along, I would instinctively look at the computer to check my progress. It finally hit me that this morning that, although I knew my destination, I would not know how far I had come, how far I had to go, or how fast I would get there. I am still surprised when, where, and what God uses to teach me a lesson. But through that dead battery came a lesson about fighting cancer. My fight against cancer is much like my situation this morning. I know my destination, but I do not know how far I have come, how far I have to get there, or how fast I will get there.

As I pedaled along, I realized that this cancer fight is not that much different than living life. On the timeline of my life, I know my final destination but not how far I have come, how far I have to go, or how fast I will get there. Other than being confident of my final destination, that isn't much different than everyone else. None of us can know how long our journey on this earth will be. No one is promised tomorrow. All we can do is lock down our final destination.

I am praying that you have the assurance of knowing your final destination.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Uncertainty

There have been a few nights lately when I wake up and have been unable to go back to sleep. I will toss and turn, and with each flip another question will come to mind: "How long will this medicine work? Will I live to be 55 or 105? How come the medicine has been so effective for me? Will I know if the cancer comes back?"

As I think about these questions, I realize that they all have one thing in common: uncertainty. As long as I can remember, I have known my plans--where I would go and what I would do. I do not do well with uncertainty. Now it seems like there is nothing certain. There are no answers for the questions that swirl through my mind.

At times my life seems to be a storm of uncertainty. But in that storm, there is One that I can turn to that is certain. He continues to walk with me and guide me through this mess. He has lifted me up and placed my feet on solid ground. He knows where I have been and where I am going before I do. I am thankful that Jesus is here to calm the storm.

What about you? Do you have anyone that you can turn to when the storms of life threaten to pull you under? If not, seek out Jesus.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Purpose - Part 2

We had talked on the phone. He had just been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. The call had been arranged through mutual friends, and he wanted to know about my experience and treatment. I liked him and we had things in common: he loved his family, he loved his wife, and he loved Jesus. He also was intent on beating lung cancer but knew the odds were against him. Now just ten months later, his journey has come to an end. Cancer has taken another one.

Although I knew none of his treatments had been successful at slowing or stopping the cancer, the news of his passing made me stop and think. Two men traveling the same road. One's journey has come to an end; the other's continues. God's plan and purpose is unique for each man. One plan and purpose has been completed; the other marches on, but what is the reason?

I still struggle with what God's plan and purpose in all of this can be. Sometimes I think I understand it, but then I think that there has to be more to it. I know that God is working and that somehow, some way all of this will be for His glory. That does not make it any easier. These thoughts were churning in my mind as I walked one day, and I just started to talk to God, and I just asked, "Is that all there is, or is there another purpose?" From nowhere came that same voice that I have heard before: "They're watching," was all it said. I still do not know who they are, but somewhere there is someone watching me. How I handle this battle against my faith will impact someone's life.

I believe that God's plan is perfect and unchanging. He has one singular plan, but His plan encompasses more than one purpose. Each day that I continue this journey, I turn another page in God's plan, but His purpose may change from day to day. I have to be prepared and available to be a part of God's purpose each day.

LET IT BE SAID OF US

Let it be said of us
That the Lord was our passion
That with gladness we bore
Every cross we were given
That we fought the good fight
That we finished our course
Knowing within us the power of the risen Lord

(Lyrics by Steve Fry)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

21

Back in 1995, I was finishing up my MBA. I had spent way too many evenings away from home and family. One Wednesday evening, I didn't have any classwork and was able to pick the boys up from church. On the way home, the two boys were chattering away in the back seat, when Chad asked, "Daddy, how much longer do you have to go to school?" I replied, "Just a few more weeks, why?" Shane then said, "We just want our daddy back." Ouch! I had not considered how my being gone so much affected the boys.

That memory came back to me the other day while I was out for my walk. Walking is about the only form of exercise that I can get these days. Sometimes during my walks, I start to think how much cancer has taken from me and my family. Pieces of my life are gone, and life will never be the same. I am slowly coming to grips with that, but what disturbs me the most is that it just does not seem right that my family has to go through this.

I remember the first time I saw my dad in a real medical emergency. He was much older than I am now, and I was much older than the boys. I still remember how my heart ached when I realized that he someday would be gone. When I remember that, it just really saddens me that at this time in their lives my boys should have to think about things like that and watch their daddy as bits of his life fade away.

This next week, that little guy in the back seat turns twenty-one. More than anything else, I wish I could give him his daddy back.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Potter and His Clay

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still.

This is the first stanza from the old hymn "Have Thine Own Way, Lord!" I used to think that the verse had a gentle sentiment: Mold me, make me. I could invision the gentle hand of the potter forming the clay as it spun on the wheel. The potter knowing that with any wrong move the clay would crumple into a heap on the wheel.

That was what I thought until I saw a pottery demonstration. We had gone to Eureka Springs to see the Passion Play. While waiting for the gates to open, we walked around and happened onto the pottery demonstration being given by the actor that would portray Jesus in the play that evening. I watched as he picked up a clump of clay and began forming it into a ball; gently rolling it around in his hands. Suddenly, he hit the clay with his fist and began pulling on it before forming a ball again. He repeated this a couple of times, explaining as he went that he had to soften up the clay and make it compliant before he could make anything.

I have thought about this scene and hymn more than a few times the past couple of months. Putting the two of them together, I have come to the conclusion that when Jesus is the potter, sometimes before Jesus can use you, He has to make you useful. Yes, it maybe uncomfortable and at times painful, but when He is done, you realize that through the pain, He has made something wonderful.

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Hold o'er my being absolute sway.
Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Next Step

Have you ever had the feeling that God wanted you to do something, but you just did not feel like doing it? I have had that feeling the last couple of months, and with everything else I have had to deal with health-wise, I just could not believe that God was asking me to take the next step now. The bottom line is that I was just being disobedient (1)because I did not feel well, and (2) because it involves doing something that I am not comfortable doing.

The past couple of months I have been feeling that God wants me to get out and give my testimony. Writing this blog is one thing, but He has impressed upon me that reading about miracles is one thing; people sometimes need to see and hear from the miracle. Right now, I can really relate to Moses. God wanted Moses to go to Pharaoh and lead His people out of Egypt. Moses' excuse was "God, I am slow of speech and just not good at that."

People who know me really well know that I am an in-the-shadows kind of guy. I don't like being out front of a group of people and especially talking to a group of people. I have, on occasion, forced myself to speak to a group, but it really pushes my comfort zone. So, like Moses, I am just going to trust God to provide the words, directions, and opportunities to present His message.

If you would be interested in me giving my testimony to your group, please e-mail me at chaga1978@gmail.com and we will see how we can make it happen.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Wrestling with Satan

I left you hanging a bit at the end of the last blog post, but I was still processing what had happened that Sunday morning. During those previous two weeks, not only had I started to spiritually find my way back, but I had also started to physically improve. I had gotten tired of walking around the block and had started walking the almost mile around the neighborhood. My breathing exercises had shown a real improvement, as well. So, when DeLayne asked on Saturday night if I wanted to go to church Sunday morning, I told her that I thought I would give it a shot. I have not been to church for several weeks, and after this last stint in the hospital, I have been afraid of being in large groups of people, especially during the peak flu season. However, I knew I needed to be back in the body for worship.

After I got up Sunday morning and had breakfast, I did my first round of breathing exercises and saw the best early-morning results yet. I thought that was a good sign to start getting ready for church. However, after taking my shower, I noticed that I was really short of breath. I also noticed my back was beginning to hurt worse, and I started to doubt that I would be able to get out of the house. As I sat on the bed trying to catch my breath, I asked why all of a sudden this was such a battle. That's when I heard my little voice say, "Satan doesn't want you in church." So moving a little slower but with more determination, I continued to get dressed and ready for church, but I could tell that the wrestling match was not going to end.

After parking at church, we still had a couple of hundred yards to walk to the entrance. The closer we got, the harder each step became. This was a much shorter walk than I have been doing, but with each of the final few steps I was saying, "Help me, Jesus." Once I was in the church, I noticed that I was breathing hard, but my feet and legs felt lighter. I was able to make my way into the sanctuary and sit down and begin catching my breath. I had made it to church.

After the service, I realized why Satan wrestled with me every step to church. Once again, the service was filled with hymns that contained words I needed to hear. The sermon was from Psalm 139 and about how God had put me together. He knew the plans He had for me and that only He knew the number of my days. Satan did not want me to be encouraged. He doesn't want me back in the game. But thanks to Jesus, Satan has lost another match, and I am on the way back.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Pathway Back

After posting "A Broken Vessel," I was pretty well spent. I was unsure how I would recover from all that had happened the previous week. I could not formulate a plan in my head and was not just real impressed with where God's plan had me. That Sunday morning it became evident that even though I was not particularly interested in spending time with God, He still wanted to spend time with me.

After waking up Sunday morning, I turned on the TV and, out of habit, started looking for Dr. Charles Stanley. After flipping through a few channels, I found him and was shocked to see that his message that day was about challenges to our faith. When he said that all of us face failures in our faith sometimes, I about yelled, "Preach on, Brother!" He went on to make the point that God uses these tests as a means to increase and stretch our faith. I began to realize that I was being stretched, and it was not very comfortable.

After watching Dr. Stanley, I flipped a few more channels and heard another familiar voice. I had stumbled onto Dr. David Jeremiah's broadcast. His message that day was on fighting discouragement. Really? In the course of his message, he said that all Christians will become discouraged. The only way to overcome deep discouragement is to read the Bible, but sometimes you will be so discouraged that you will have to force feed yourself. He said that you will have to pray that God give you verses of encouragement and that He sends you some encouragers.

So, on Sunday afternoon, I humbled myself and asked God to forgive me for my bad attitude, that He give me some verses of encouragement, and send people to encourage me. When I opened my Bible, God provided verses that once again established that He was, is, and will forever be in control. He knows my situation better than I do and that I have to trust His direction.

Sunday evening, my phone rang, and it was my sister calling to encourage me and lift my spirits. Then I started receiving e-mails and comments on my blog. People started thanking me for being honest about my battle and telling me that they would be praying for me. Then on Tuesday morning, a woman that I have never met left me a comment about how my latest blog entry had helped her and her mother understand what another family member was going through. Even in my brokenness, God was still building.

These last two weeks I have still had to force feed myself some days. But at least I know I am now on the pathway back. The pathway has been largely uphill, and there was one more battle I would have to fight. I'll save that for the next post.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Broken Vessel

Broken – that’s what I am: broken. I cannot remember at any point in my life being as broken as I am right now. As I told one of the doctors, it is like all of my dominoes were in a line and someone walked up and pushed the first one, and now I am powerless to stop them. Since mid-September, there has been one health issue after another, and they have finally taken their toll.

Physically, I am exhausted. I am not sure there is any part of my body that is working as it should; even when it does work, it hurts. Just sitting up to eat or taking a short walk wears me out. Rolling over in bed takes tremendous effort. I try not to take many of the pain meds prescribed for me, but sometimes, they are the only answer.

Emotionally, I find myself becoming more disconnected each day. The doctor from Care Support told me it is okay to cry and would probably be good for me. I just thought, “Dude, if I could, I would.” I feel like I have no control and all of the emotion has been sucked out of me.

Mentally, I am fatigued. I feel like I have pulled all nighters for finals for the past week. Putting two thoughts together is becoming a real challenge. I do my best to just focus on each day and what it will take to get through it, but with the string of bad days that I have had, it is hard to think of better days coming.

Spiritually, I have been drained. This is the area that most disturbs me. I try to read my Bible, but I just can’t muster the desire. I try to pray, but all that will come out is, “God, please fix something!” Early one morning, I was lying in bed pleading with God to show me some mercy. Suddenly, I realized the song "It is Well with My Soul" was playing in my head. I got mad and told God that under no circumstances was any of this well with my soul. Then I tried to recall some memory verses, and the only verse that would come to mind was, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” That pretty well summed up my feelings at that moment.

I still believe that God is here and He is working; I just wish I could feel Him more. I still believe that there will be something good come from all of this; I just wish I could see it. I still believe that God is and will be glorified in all of this. I just wish He would get some glory somewhere else for awhile.

Can God still use a broken vessel like me? I have read before that God saves His greatest work for His vessels after they have been broken and He has put them back together. I guess we will see how He puts this one back together.