Friday, December 29, 2006

Joni on Suffering and Hope

I woke up feeling sorry for myself, feeling anxious about my leukemia, projecting myself into a number of terrible futures. So it was with great joy that I read Dan Phillips' post over at the blog Pyromaniacs. He pointed me to a speech given by Joni Eareckson Tada on suffering and the sovereignty of God. It was given at John Piper's 2005 Desiring God conference. She offers a glimpse into her ability to glory and rejoice despite being a quadriplegic. She pointed me to 1 Corinthians 1:5, "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ." Her ministry, her singing, her artwork, her joy in living is a powerful testimony to the hope that is in Christ. I encourage you to listen to this speech. I want to listen to it again, maybe several more times. It puts things in perspective. God uses our suffering, Joni says, to wean us from dependence on anything but Him. She quotes a line from the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" (from a story by Stephen King!), "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. So get busy living or get busy dying." Try and listen to this speech without tears. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:5, "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Thanks Dan, for pointing me to this godly woman on this fretful day. Oh, how God anticipates our needs!

{For more information about Joni's ministry, here is a link}

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Robe of Christ's Righteousness

The great error pastors confront in the church is the notion, held by even the most devout of souls, that heaven is gained by our good deeds weighed in the balance of God's judgment. In other words, most believe salvation is by works, and based upon the individual's personal holiness. This is view is not taught in Scripture, quite the opposite.

One is right to point to the great judgment to come, when God will judge each person according to his or her works. "God will give to each person according to what he has done" (Romans 2:6). For the unbeliever this means judgment and punishment, but for the believer it means an evaluation which will determine his or her experience of heavenly glory. For the believer is judged on his sanctification, not his justification. The Christian stands before God at the great judgment clothed not in his own filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), but in the robe of Christ's perfect righteousness. As we read in Isaiah 61:10, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness." The robe of Christ's righteousness is placed around us, and we are deemed holy in God's sight. Our faith is in Christ, not in our faith, nor in our holiness ~ hence our joy.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Learning Patience

The word "patience" is derived from the Latin patientia, meaning to suffer without complaint. It is the opposite of whining. The word "patient," then, is one who endurs suffering or sickness. As a patient I have trouble with patience, namely, I lack it. Ambrose Bierce defined patience as "a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue."

The Bible has some interesting thoughts on patience. Paul writes in Romans 15:4, "that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." So we learn patience from reading the Bible. In 2 Thessalonians 3:5 we read, "Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. The Greek word for patience is hypomone, which is also translated endurance or steadfastness. Patience, then, finds another source in being in Christ. It is also produced by tribulation, suffering, and the testing of our faith (cf. James 1:3).

As a cancer patient, I have to remember I am in Christ, and to endure the traffic, the needles, the chemotherapy, the waiting, all with Christian patience. I must also remember that patience produces its own fruit. As Paul writes in Romans 5:3, "we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience (hypomone); and patience, character; and character, hope." Thus patience produces character in a Christian, an inner strength to endure with grace, wit, and even rejoicing what God in his providence places before us.

I am not Paul, and I lack patience, but I am working on it through Scripture reading, prayer, and adoration. The goal is to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). As Augustine famously wrote at the outset of his Confessions, "our heart is restless until it rests in Thee." Amen.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Being Raised by the Gospel

While doing some research for my sermon (yes, I am, Lord willing, preaching at the Christmas eve service) about the shepherds, I ran into this quote from Calvin's commentary on Luke 2:20, "Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them."

Calvin writes, "If the cradle of Christ had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ be in raising us to God? For Christ did not only ascend from the earth, that he might draw all things after him; but he sits at the right hand of the Father, that, during our pilgrimage in the world, we may meditate with our whole heart on the heavenly life" (emphasis added).

The Latin words for lifting us up to heaven are sursum corda. Calvin uses this concept in his Institutes to describe what occurs when we partake of sacrament of the Lord's Supper. We are lifted up and fed by the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be comforted and strengthened in our pilgrimage. The result is evangelism ~ the public worship of God and the proclamation of the Gospel. But what an interesting image! These realities of incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are not merely intellectual truths, but rather they are vehicles of divine power, lifting us up to live in Christ. Is there a better Christmas present?

{Painting: The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Caravaggio}

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Importance of Daily Bible Reading

I awoke anxious, concerned for my health, and so I prayed to the Lord to comfort and strengthen me. The psalter reading for the morning was Psalm 31, famous for its fulfillment by Jesus on the cross, when he said, "Into thine hand I commit my spirit" (v.5). On an anxious morning, God uplifted me with the last verse of this psalm: "Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord" (v.24). Comfort indeed.

So I am putting in a plug for daily Bible reading. In the past I have used Robert M. M'Cheyne's calendar, but recently I have been using the Society of St. James' lectionary. It continually amazes me how often each day's readings will coincide with my own particular needs and concerns. Daily Bible reading also provides more than comfort, it highlights that golden thread of gospel consistency which runs from Genesis to Revelation. The more I read, the more I detect how unified God's Word truly is. Some like to point to "contradictions" in the Bible, but those who spend time in the Word each day find just the opposite. Reading the Bible through once or twice a year is a joy, and a spiritual exercise guaranteed to deepen one's faith and trust in God. As the psalmist said, "Make me go in the path of thy commandments, for therein do I delight" (Psalm 119:35).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I Am a TR Man

No not Teddy Roosevelt, but the Textus Receptus. It is the Greek New Testament which the translators used to produce the King James Bible (also called, more accurately, the "Authorized Version"). Now I am not one of those "King James Only Folks," who reject all other translations. I just prefer to read from the KJV and preach and teach from the New King James Version. Why? For some technical reasons, you can read this page of helpful information, but suffice to say I am more comfortable using a Bible that is based on 90% of the 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts, than one which is based on only several texts from Alexandria in Egypt, which may be of dubious origin and theologically heterodox. But there are other reasons I use the King James and New King James versions over others. These are more subjective reasons:

1. I love the phrasing, the beauty of the prose, and the exalted poetry found there. It's the same reason I love Shakespeare. Compare the KJV to The Message (a recent paraphrase "Bible"). The Message offers Psalm 23:1 as "God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing." That sounds more like rap music than Scripture.

2. It is the Bible of our culture. It has found a permanent home in our literature, our English-speaking consciousness. It would be a tragedy for our children not to know the source of so many of our phrases and ideas.

3. Newer translations adopt a looser format called "dynamic equivalence" when they translate from the Hebrew and Greek. Instead of word for word, they try to guess the meaning of a passage and translate accordingly. That's not translation - that's interpretation. The KJV alerts you to added words by placing them in italics. In the end, the KJV is a more accurate and honest text.

4. Dr. Joel Beeke has pointed out that it is really the only ecumenical translation, due to its prominence (it still sells better than any other Bible except for the NIV), and widespread use.

5. Newer translations seem to me to be mere marketing gimics. In the most recent New Yorker, there is an article which shines a spotlight on how publishers continually strive for increased sales by turning the Bible into magazines, and offering specialty versions for every possible niche. I prefer my black leather Oxford edition thank you.

6. The KJV makes you work to understand God's Word. That's right, work for it. Newer translations dumb down the Bible to a 6th grade reading level. The KJV makes you stop, which is always a good thing, and use a dictionary from time to time. Reading the Bible too fast is never a good thing.

7. Finally, when I read the Bible, I want God exalted in its prose. I want to refer to Him as "Thou" or "Thee." Newer translations turn God into a buddy.

This morning in my devotions I read Isaiah 49:16. The KJV translates this verse of supreme comfort this way: "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands." The Message gives us, "Look, I've written your names on the backs of my hands." You decide.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Threats to Spiritual Health

Monotony, loneliness, fear, and doubt. Four horsemen with considerable power to damage one's spiritual health. They damage joy, corrode trust, and render faith a weak and pitiable thing. They are the children of sloth and having too much time one one's hands. I know them all intimately, especially since September. Work, prayer, Scripture reading, worship, and fellowship are needed to repel these foul invaders. Work is never appreciated until you are forced to retire or are set aside by illness or unemployment. How I long to preach! How I long to do those things I used to grumble over just a few months ago. I would lead a consistory meeting with joy today. When Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the desert, those forty days must have seemed like a lifetime. At least I do not have to contend with hunger and thirst. Jesus coped, and emerged triumphant and ready for his ministry. May that be so of us, and may we contend with the spiritual forces of wickedness with the spiritual weapons fashioned for our weak and feeble hands. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

"Redeem the time," is Paul's injunction (Eph 5:16). Remain busy, prayerful, biblical, and trust not in one's own faith, but in Christ alone. I read this morning about the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42-43). He called Jesus "Lord" (in the King James version), recognizing Jesus' divinity and power to save. If I trust in my own faith, my own strength, I am doomed. The four horsemen will trample over me. But if I look to Christ as Lord, then the promise is given to me as well: "you will be with me in paradise." After all, God is glorified in our weakness, and so Paul can say, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Renewing Our Love For Christ

I read a portion of Octavius Winslow's Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul (Banner of Truth Trust) the other day and was profoundly impressed by it. I say this because I had previously read the book and was unmoved. Sometimes a passage appears more forceful when it is lifted from the deep portions of a book. Anyway, here is one quote:

"Ah! dear Christian reader, it is because we have so little to do with Jesus - we admit Him so seldom and so reluctantly to our hearts, we have so few dealings with Him, travel so seldom to His blood and righteousness, and live so little upon His fullness - that we are compelled so often to exclaim, "My leanness, my leanness!" (Isaiah 24:16). But, if we be "risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God" (Col 3:1), let us seek to know Christ more, to have more spiritual and enlarged comprehensions of His glory, to drink deeper into His love, to imbibe more of His Spirit, and conform more closely to His example."

How shallow contemporary teaching about Jesus appears in comparison to past writings. Much preaching today is centered on the felt needs of the congregation, and not about the glories of Christ. We have a church of consumers, but what we need is a church of people living in intimate communion with the Savior. Such communion will always be marked by love. How aware are we of the love Christ has for us? How aware are we of our defliciency in returning that love? The only answer for our church problems and failures is to seek Christ, and renew our love for Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us drink deeper. "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek" (Ps 27:8).

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Source of Strength

I have resumed visiting the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society bulletin board on the net, and upon doing so found this post. It summarizes beautifully not only the nature of potentially fatal diseases, but how we should look at life in general. I don't know who this person is, but I owe them much thanksgiving. Here is the post:

It will be ten years in January since I was diagnosed with APL--I was one of the few--and really it is few--who relapse HOWEVER, that was seven years ago and I had a BMT, am doing great, and ran a marathon last year. I know the "R" (relapse) can have as much power as the "c" word but really, the thing about APL relapse--should it happen and most likely, it won't--is that you have options. Knowing you have options is great. You pretty much can leave it at that and then focus to living today as joyfully and gratefully as possible. I also found that for my husband and I, the 'after" part of treatment was almost as hard as the physical part--emotional roller-coaster for us--but eventually--on your own timetable--you will integrate the experience into your life. I was 39 when i was diagnosed and it just seemed way too early in life to be dealing with the whole death and dying topic. It is a powerful, blindsiding experience and integrating it can take time--be easy on yourself, acknowledge the anxiety and then try to lay it down. Fear doesn't help one bit and just holds a person back from living fully--but just because you know something intellectually doesn't mean that you are at the same spot emotionally. hang in there, it's a process and we get through it in our unique way (s). This experience will be part of you forever--like eye color-- but it won't dictate your future and believe it or not, will likely have some positive effects that you can't imagine at this moment.

"APL" is the same type of Acute Leukemia I am suffering from, and "BMT" means "Bone marrow transplant."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Two Cool Things

1. A post I read on The Conventicle, which led me here.

2. A photo the son of a parishioner sent me. It comes from a burned-down Lutheran church. It is from the Book of Concordia.

Friday, December 01, 2006

More Medical News

Because my denomination is changing health care insurance come January 1st, I have had to change doctors and hospitals in mid-course of my leukemia treatments. There is a blessing to all this, however, in that the hospital which accepts United Health Care (henceforth named Uck), is Hackensack University Medical Center, which is one of the best hospitals in the country, and a premier leukemia treatment center.

I met my new doctor, Dr. Goldberg, today, and was quite impressed with him and the unit which will be treating me. It turns out that my treatment will be faster (2 hours a day instead of 5), and when it comes time (God willing) for a stem cell transplant, one is first put in an isolation ward which is very clean and secure. Then, they monitor your progress by putting you in a hospital-owned apartment a block away, and shuttle you each day back and forth. This makes life much better, trust me, since staying in a tiny room for long periods of time hinders your recovery.

It's a long, scary trip I am on, but I am thankful to God for providing me with the services and staff I need to get better. Some folks drive hours just to get the care that's twenty minutes from my door. Now, as they say in AA, it's one day at a time, easy does, it, and let go and let God take over. Easier said than done, but in my case there is no alternative. One of the worst fears, that of the unknown, is now gone, so that's a relief. New Jersey may be a crowded mess, but if you're sick, it's "banging," as my daughter says. I assume "banging" means very good.

Please consider signing up to be a bone marrow donor. You will be giving the gift of life to someone, and that, to quote Martha, is a good thing.