Through the valley…in the fire…

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting with dear friends, a couple that’s been married over 50 years. The wife is recovering from cancer surgery… recovering well. We’ve believed for a good prognosis & post-surgery update. It turns out the doctor’s report said the cancer they went in to get was “got…” but… There were other cancer cells that they found somewhere else. And they weren’t contained. And the doctors were in the process of putting together a plan of attack, a plan for treatment. The room swam in front of us.

My friends are faith-filled. Hopeful. Tired. Sad. The whole gamut of emotions. Wanting to hear what the doctors will say, & at the same time knowing that the doctor’s prognosis isn’t the final word.


I had a flashback. Cancer. My brother Johnny – he had an (at the time) experimental treatment in the attempt to eradicate the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had ravaged his body… the bone marrow transplant. I remember hearing the all-too-simple sum up of what this procedure entailed: 1st, the docs harvest the bone marrow from the hip; 2nd they bombard him with enough chemo to kill the cancer & hopefully not him; 3rd, they reintroduce the bone marrow & hope that it acts like a ‘reset button’ allowing him to recover & heal, sans the cancer. Post-procedure, the news came in… it didn’t work. And there were more cancer cells, in other places. Not contained. One nurse callously asked him, “So, you want to die here or at home?” I could’ve punched her.

Johnny & I talked once about this upon his arrival at home – I asked him what he was thinking, especially about the prognosis he’d been given. He said, “I feel like Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego. You know when they were threatened with the fiery furnace if they didn’t worship the golden image (you can read the story HERE.) This is my fiery furnace… & just like they said, ‘my God is able to deliver me from this… but even if He doesn’t, I’m still not gonna bow down.’”


That was the same general feeling/spirit in my office yesterday – no matter what, we will hold onto the fact that God is in charge, & that He is the one with the final say on our lives & when we go home to be with Him. And in the meantime, we will live with determination, persevering in our trust in Christ. With the knowledge that this faith in Christ really shines in the midst of our difficult times. He’s our Rock. Fortress. Deliverer. Healer. Salvation. The One who is with us, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

 

Friends

This week at our church we’re continuing in our series, “Navigating Relationships” with this week’s focus being “Mutual Relationships.” As I’ve been studying for this topic, I keep coming back to an encouragement found in the book of Ecclesiastes. It reads:

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, you up! But if there’s no one to help, tough! Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped. The Message

This passage speaks of our need for close, trusting give/take relationships with people that will walk through life with us – in work & play, in times of celebration & mourning. People that will encourage us, help us, & ‘be there’ for us…. & then will allow us to do the same for them.

At times, this sort of mutuality has been a struggle for me – not because I didn’t have a dependable spouse or great friends that would stand with me – but rather because I lived a life of self-sufficiency. It felt ‘selfish’ to lean on people. Worse, it felt like I was not carrying my share of the weight of my life if I tried to bring others into the rough areas of my life.

Instead of leaning on others, I’d pray & seek God’s help – & He did help. But one day when I was praying, I felt God say, “I want to answer your prayers for help, support, & encouragement with PEOPLE.” Faces of friends flashed in my mind – & I recognized what God was talking about – these dear, trustworthy people were already there in my life as an untapped resource – they were people I wanted to support & walk through life with… & they were there to help pick me up when I fall. To be Christ’s ears, hands, & feet to me. I just needed to put aside fear of hurt, take captive the lying thoughts that would say, “You’re weak if you need people,” & be willing to risk. To ask for help.

I still wrestle with this self-sufficiency… but I’m much quicker to pray & then run to the friends who I know have my back, & who’s back I have as well. And as a result, life is much, much richer & much more enjoyable.

Thank you friends. I need you.

Through the Gospels – Matthew 4

SOAP – Through the Gospels
Matthew 4

Matthew 4:1,2 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days & forty nights, He was hungry.


Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, & led Him into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting…AND to be tempted by the devil. He was LED to the confrontation & temptation by the Spirit of God. And He took on every temptation the devil could throw His way after 40 days (& nights!) of going without food.

Sometimes in reading through the gospels, I almost forget that Jesus was a man… fully God, yes, the Word Incarnate (John 1:1)… At the same time, paradoxically, He was at the same time 100% human – a man: flesh & blood –just like the rest of us (Hebrews 4:15). It’s easier for me to remember the God part; maybe its because of the miracles, maybe it’s the distance of 2000+ years, maybe its because its hard for me to see myself doing what we see Jesus doing in the gospels. Especially here.


That’s why it is significant to me to see that Jesus didn’t address the devil (the adversary, the accuser) in Christ’s exalted glory (see Revelation 1 for a description). Instead, He stood His ground as a man, firmly rooted in the rightly applied Word of God, answering satan’s every temptation & twist of Scripture with an appropriate & powerful response: “It is written…”

Where Adam had failed to withstand his test of temptation in the Garden of Eden, the 2nd Adam (Christ) came through His test with flying colors (Romans 5:12-21) – & He did it in a way that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US could do – submitted to God, led by the Holy Spirit, firmly grounded in Scripture. And after 40 days of constant, directed, oh-so-tempting temptation, satan was stymied & had no choice but to leave (James 4:6,7). Christ didn’t play the “God” card – He stood as one of “us” – a human being, filled with & led by the Holy Spirit- & He won, thereby paving OUR pathway to a God-following life.


LORD – I pray You fill me with Your Holy Spirit – & make my heart humble, so I can & will be directed & led by Your Spirit – wherever You want me to go, whatever You want me to do. Write Your Word on my heart; may it live there & grow fruitful, transforming my heart & mind to be like Yours. Thank You that You will give me everything I need to obey & follow You.

Through The Gospels – Matthew 2

SOAP – Through the Gospels
Matthew 2

S – SCRIPTURE
Matthew 2:19-23 – But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the LORD appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child & His mother & go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose & took the child & His moth & went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, & being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went & lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

O –OBSERVATION
It jumps out at me that Matthew 2 has at least 4 fulfillments of prophecy:

    • 2:6 – Christ, the Anointed One, Son of God would come from Bethlehem of Judah – Micah 5:2
    • 2:15 – Christ, Son of God, would come out of Egypt – Hosea 11:1
    • 2:16-18 – All the male children in the region of Bethlehem would be killed – Jeremiah 31:15
    • 2:23 – Christ would be called a Nazarene –

It seems a little surreal to see that the miraculous, tragic, & even everyday events recorded in Matthew 2 can be directly tied to the fulfillment of a prophetic foretelling, each of which played a part in identifying Jesus as the Christ, & the accomplishment of the God’s plan for the redemption of humanity. For example, Joseph had a dream warning him to head to Egypt, & no sooner does the new family hit the road than the executioner’s sword falls on the region where they lived. Then, in another dream, the family gets the ok to go back to Judea; however, out of fear, Joseph decides to avoid Bethlehem (prophesied birthplace of the Christ) & head to one of the most despised cities in the region: Nazareth (check out John 1:43-51.) God’s plan revealed & fulfilled in human choices, guided by emotion, reason, & an instinct for survival.

A – APPLICATION
I bet the fulfillment of prophecy was the last thing on Joseph & Mary’s minds as they ran for their lives, lived as refugees, & attempted to dodge assassins – they were just making heaven-informed choices on a day-to-day basis, looking to stay alive & keep the family together & whole. And in the middle of it, God’s purposes were worked out. Herod’s megalomania, striving for power, and paranoia all played into creating the panorama in which Matthew 2 unfolds. The absolute craziness of the scenes in this chapter give me great encouragement that God is Sovereign & in control, even in the chaos & craziness of my own life. He has, is, & will continue to “work all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose” for those that love Him (Romans 8:26-30, ESV).

P – PRAYER
LORD – let my life be an offering to You. May my ears be open & my heart soft & able to be directed. Guide me in Your paths of righteousness; & when I’m walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I thank You in advance for being with me. Increase my faith, LORD, that I would not just walk & live by what I see, but by faith in the Sure Thing that is You.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #8-9

Monday is Eddy’s day off, & I heard that the family would be headed to a couple of hardware stores to check out & price supplies for the garden project. I asked if I could tag along, as one of the things I’ve never seen in Germany is a hardware store. Now I have. We went to two stores, both of them very reminiscent of the Home Depot & Lowe’s superstores; one, the Hornbach, even had the same color scheme & ‘feel’ of Home Depot.


In the afternoon, the Dueck’s went to a family birthday party, & I made my way over to TPLF to meet with a local pastor of an English speaking church named Richard Morschel. Richard is South African with German roots, & he & his family have been in Frankfurt since 1987, & he’s been pastoring Kingdom Life Church here since 2006. We made our way to the bakery/coffee shop near the Bistro Sahin, & had some cappuccino & spent a couple of hours getting to know each other.

I’d met Richard before a couple of times, but determined on this trip to actually try to connect for more than a brief conversation. In addition to pastoring, he’s employed by the Frankfurt Opera, & plays bassoon. We had great talks about philosophy of church, the significance of relationships, the process of building trust, & how our paths keep crossing in interesting ways. (For example, the man who leads the youth group came back to Jesus during the “Leben ist Schoen” outreach in August 2007… You can read about it HERE) I found that though we come from very different backgrounds, Richard & I have a lot in common when it comes to our ideas about what really matters… This Friday morning, I’ll be participating in Kingdom Life’s men’s breakfast, & giving the devotional. I look forward to seeing how our new relationship will develop.

There was a short interlude before my next appointment, so I took advantage of the down time to read. I’m currently in a book about Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Some of it is great, some absolutely cracks me up.


My ride arrived in the form of Levent’s VW; we chatted as he skillfully wound his way through Frankfurt’s crazy rush-hour traffic, making his way to their home. Levent is Turkish, & was one of the 1st people that I met at TPLF in 2005, & it is always good to be able to visit with him & Ines, his Bolivian/German wife. They prepared an excellent dinner with burgers, brats, bbq’d corn-on-the-cob, salad, & a South African Pinotage. We caught up on their lives, & also the new happenings in one of the areas that they help out at church in, the Twens Gruppe (College Group,) which is affectionately known as “Flying Ducks.” We made some tentative plans for Ines & I to go to Levent’s workplace on Friday for a tour & for lunch. (He’s in TV. Meaning, he is working to bring streaming television live to the internet.)


Day 9 began at 5:50 a.m. as I staggered my way out the door & down the street to TPLF for prayer for TPLF, led by my friend Sam Clayton. Several of us gathered for about an hour to pray for the church, Eddy & Laura, & whatever else we were led to. And coffee was served, which filled my prayers with a bit more energy than they otherwise might have.

Sam (from Manchester, England,) took me to his house right after prayer to spend time with his family: Wife Mirjam (Swiss), & their 3 kids; Danny 4, Becky (my god-daughter,) 2, & Benjamin 1. Danny had to go to kindergarten, leaving Sam, Mirjam & I to eat some great food, play with the kids & catch up on life. Sam & Mirjam had been a part of the Roundabout team with me, & have also been at TPLF since 2006. Sam feels a call to inter-national reconciliation & peace, & is currently studying to be able to put himself in a spot to help facilitate this. Their story always reminds me of the often winding road that our lives take: Sam left England & went to France, where he met Mirjam, a Swiss national on a mission trip. He tried everything he knew to learn her language (French) & her heart… which he was eventually able to do, marrying about 6 years ago. Then, this international couple felt led to relocated to Frankfurt – & so Sam learned German to go along with his English & French… They have story after story to tell about God’s faithfulness, provision, & care in their lives. I’m honored to be able to be in their lives.


I’ve been trying to catch up on blogging this afternoon, to take a nap, & then do some studying for the meetings I’ll be having over the next few days. My contacts with home have left me feeling a bit home-sick I must say. More than once, I’ve loaded a picture album of my family on my Mac & watched the slideshow play over & over, often pausing on pictures of each of my dear ones to pray for them… & extra long on theBean & her clear blue eyes, gleaming like sapphires, calling to me, making it hard for me to think anything at all except of her… sigh. Soon, my dear.

Tonight, in just a few hours, Eddy & I are going to a Man Meeting to talk about Manhood & what it means to be a Man. Great topic, & I’m really looking forward to the discussion on this, especially considering that there will be people from all sorts of backgrounds & cultures participating. Good times!