Monday, May 21, 2007

Medical Update

On Wednesday I will be entering Hackensack University Medical Center for the final phase of my treatment for leukemia. I will be receiving high dose chemotherapy for eight days, then my harvested stem-cells will be returned to me, and then I will be under observation for about two weeks, until my counts are high enough for me to be sent home. My immune system will need several months to recuperate, but I hope to be back in the pulpit again in July or August.

I don't yet know if my hospital room has an internet connection, so don't be alarmed if I don't post here for a while. I continue to be blessed with the prayers and encouragement of many people and churches, and covet them now more than ever. God bless.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What Jerry Falwell Did

Certain newspaper columnists (e.g., Christopher Hitchens and Jonathan Alter) have decried the many faults of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. He was lambasted as a bigot, a homophobe, and the embodiment of evangelical self-righteous hypocrisy. Yet as I reflect on his life, I see a man who did a great deal of good for the Lord and God's people. As a Calvinist I disagreed with parts of his theology, but he remained an orthodox, Bible-believing servant, who brought to our nation's attention the precipitous moral decline which began in the licentious 1960's.

Here are some facts not often noted in the news:
1. He started a church with 35 people, and which now numbers 22,000.
2. He started a small Bible college, and which is now an impressive university.
3. He put the issue of the murder of millions of children by abortion front and center in our nation's political discourse.
4. He provided homes for young women who decided to keep their babies instead of aborting them. In other words, he wasn't just pro-life verbally, but was pro-life in action.
5. He spoke biblical truth to power, namely, that "righteousness exalts a nation" and America was (and is) in great peril from God's wrath against sin and the normalization of perversity.

I did not always agree with his methods or message, but I do know that Jerry Falwell was a powerful voice for God's truth, and did more for the Lord than most of us who are quick to criticize or lampoon. I trust he is now in the bosom of his Savior, Jesus Christ, and enjoying the blessed communion of the saints in light. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Exorbitant Claims

The Bible makes some astonishing claims concerning the privileges of believers. These claims can be divided into two types: those affecting us in this life, and those which pertain to the life to come. For example, God promises to wipe away every tear (Rev 21:4), and to glorfiy our mortal bodies (1 Cor 15:51f.). We live in the hope of a future communion with the Triune God, where we will know about "life, the universe, and everything," just as we are presently known (1Cor 13:12). All are marvelous claims, capable of sustaining us in the most difficult of situations, but I find that the more exorbitant claims concern our lives here on earth - they are truly amazing.

Take two promises from the Psalms. The first is from Psalm 34. "I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears" (v.4). Deliverance from all fear is no small matter, and yet it is ours for the asking. "Why are you afraid," Jesus would ask his disciples. The presence of Christ should banish fear, and yet we remain fearful, because of our little faith and because we do not ask (James 4:2-4). We ask for things, but instead we should ask for Christ, for more faith, and for more love. "Perfect love casteth out fear" (1John 4:18).

In Psalm 37, we read, "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart" (v.4). If we commit our way to Him, trusting and waiting patiently for him (v.5, 7), then our desires will grow into conformity with God's desires, and we shall experience blessings and wonders - in this life. I think we doubt the Lord when He said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father. And whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:12-14).

Christianity is an exorbitant religion, meaning that it goes beyond the mundane to promise the truly spectacular, the unexpected, the unimaginable. We, however, remain beggars at God's feast. We are content with so little, and God offers us so much - in the life to come, surely, but also much here in this time and this place. Let us rejoice in God's superabundant offerings, and receive our heart's deepest desires. This is no sorcery, no magic or ritual trick, only we must remain in Christ, and receive His Spirit.

{illustration: branch of ivy - see John 15:4}

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On Affliction

I have now completed the second round of medical treatments for my relapsed leukemia. After finishing four courses of arsenic trioxide, I transitioned to the stem-cell harvest phase. This required six shots a day for four days of the drug Neupagen, which raises your stem-cell levels in your blood stream. The shots weren't particularly painful (my wife and nursing student daughter did the dirty work), but they resulted in bone pain. This past Monday I went to Hackensack University Medical Center to have my cells harvested. To harvest them, a catheter had to be placed in my upper chest. Imagine an IV the size of pencil. I had to sit hooked up to a machine which separates your blood into components, and saves the stem-cells. It took five hours to complete the process. I had to do the same thing again yesterday. So I've been undergoing a fair bit of affliction, pain, anxiety, etc. The good news is that they got the required amount of stem-cells in just two days, and today I had the big catheter removed.

Feeling afflicted these past few days made me turn to Graham Miller's wonderful anthology of quotes from John Calvin. Here are a few which put our afflictions into their proper context.

"The disciples of Christ must walk among thorns, and march to the cross amidst uninterrupted afflictions" (Harmony of the Gospel, I:388).

"For God does not consider, in chastening the faithful, what they deserve; but what will be useful to them in the future; and fulfills the office of a physician rather than of a judge" (Gen. I:178).

"Many crosses spring forth to us from the root of God's favour" (Gen II:266).

"When visited with affliction, it is of great importance that we should consider it as coming from God, as expressly intended for our good" (Ps. II:472).

"The best fruit of afflictions is, when we are brought to purge our minds from all arrogance, and to bend them to meekness and modesty" (Ps. III:201).

"Our afflictions prepare us for receiving the grace of God" (Is. II:333).

"The afflictions of the Church are always momentary, when we raise our eyes to its eternal happiness" (Is. IV:141).

"Afflictions are not evils, because they have glory annexed to them...We are not afflicted by chance, but through the infallible providence of God" (Gen. Epp. 43).

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Slandering Thomas Tallis

The absurd, historically inaccurate series on Showtime, "The Tudors," has slandered the reputation of one of England's greatest composers, Thomas Tallis (1505-85). As it is now de rigeur to include gay and lesbian scenes in television mini-series, someone thought it would be nice to have young Tallis engage in homosex with Lord Compton. The problem is Tallis was not present at the court of Henry VIII until 1543, well past the time period depicted on the program. We also know that Tallis married a woman named Joan, and there is not even a whiff of scandal attached to his name. Indeed he managed to negotiate the religious turmoil of the sucessive reigns of Henry, and his children Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth.

I was looking forward to "The Tudors," but it has turned out to be an over the top soap opera, which has now slandered a great musical genius. They should be ashamed of themselves, but gay themes are now all the rage, so we can only expect more of them. Those of us who love Thomas Tallis are deeply offended.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


C.S. Lewis wrote that pain is God's megaphone - it gets our attention. While being a great admirer of Lewis, I never liked that depiction of pain. God can certainly use pain to get our attention, but it is not the only way He directs our hearts and minds away from this sinful world toward Himself. It might not even be a particularly common use of pain. Pain arises out of the fallenness of the world, and is everywhere in creation. "The whole creation groans and labors with birth pains until now" (Romans 8:22). Pain can often put a great distance between the soul and God, and hence can be a serious obstacle to spiritual growth.

What is interesting about pain is that you can't remember it. You can't recreate pain as a memory in your body (thank the Lord!). Pain is also necessary to keep us healthy. Without it, we would very quickly destroy our bodies, being unaware of burns, broken bones, and other misfortunes. Pain does remind us of our inherent frailty, and hence our dependence on God, but we cannot make too much of it as a spiritual discipline (no hair shirts or self-flagellation please). As Paul writes, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). As I face the final treatments for a second go-round with leukemia, I can dwell on the painful procedures, the side-effects of chemotherapy, and other indignities, but it is far better for me to remember that pain passes, and by God's mercy will one day be erased from all human experience.

"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).