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Seriously, think about that for a moment. Actually, I would encourage you to write it down, so that you can really face what it would take to make you happy.

How do you think I would answer that question? Would it be for my cancer to go away? There are at least two problems with that. First of all, it’s not likely to happen. Also, the absence of something (even cancer) does not ensure happiness. So, does this doom me to live whatever time I have remaining without being happy? I don’t believe so. Let me tell you why.

I read a lot during the day, especially when I am weak from chemo and other medications. But it’s at night that I especially enjoy reading. We have an adjustable bed which is very helpful at minimizing both cough and shortness of breath, because it keeps pressure off my lungs.

A couple of weeks ago, I made two relatively small purchases that have already made a significant impact on my life. I spent $69 for a Kindle, and I purchased a floor lamp at Walmart for $35. It uses a fluorescent bulb, and can be directed so that I can read while in bed. So, you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief at the idea that a Kindle and a lamp have made me happy. But you have to understand me. I have always loved to read, and now both the limitations as well as the freedom that have come with my treatment have made that much easier to do. Every night, I go back at 8:30. I raise the head of the bed and read until 10:00 when I normally go to sleep. That time gives me immense pleasure, and I look forward to it. It also helps to relax me, so that when I do go to bed, I tend to be content and in a good mood.

So, what’s the point of my rambling? Just two things. You’re not likely to eliminate all of the stress, hurt, or disappointment from your life any more than I am likely to eliminate cancer from mine. And so you should not waste your time (waste your life actually) waiting for that to happen before you decide to be happy.

It may not be reading for you, but you need to recognize that happiness is not something someone gives you. It doesn’t come from a better marriage, a larger paycheck, a job promotion, or anything external. Happiness is a quality you decide to have. Now you may need a little help. For me it was a Kindle and a lamp. It will probably be something entirely different for you, but I suspect that it will not be whatever you wrote down at the beginning of this exercise.

The reality is that even with all of the trials that go with my treatment, as well as the doubtful outcome, for at least 2-3 hours a day, I can say that I am truly happy. Actually, it’s more than that, because I only mentioned one small thing that gives me pleasure. We didn’t even talk about friends, family, or being able to get out in this beautiful world, even if it’s only for a couple of hours each day. Believe me, I have no illusions that this is permanent. I am all too aware that difficult, probably painful times lie ahead. But for now, cancer and all, I am a happy person, primarily because I choose to be.

Go back to whatever you wrote down that you said would make you happy. I suggest you cross it out and replace it with your equivalent of my Kindle and lamp. Decide what can give you enough pleasure that you will have periods of real happiness in your life. It really is your decision.

 

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Something happened this week that caused me to wonder if some people think I am at death’s door. Yes, my lung cancer has been diagnosed as terminal, which means that, sooner or later, this is a battle I am not likely to win. But that does not mean I am sitting at home waiting to die.  So, if you will indulge me, I wanted to take a moment to provide an update and make some suggestions.

First of all, I am responding to the various combinations of treatment as well as could reasonably be expected. Yes, the various aspects of the treatment sometimes conflict with one another, but that goes with virtually any serious illness. Even the side effects of chemo are not as severe as they were at first. Of course the chemo limits and affects me in a variety of ways, but I believe I am coping reasonably well (Jeannie might give a different opinion, but then she has to live with me every day).

I say this, because I would love to hear from some of you. While I have my “ups and downs,” normally you should find me upbeat. Please don’t worry about, “what should I say?” Say whatever you like. I can handle it, and I will do my best to put you at ease. Your cards mean so much to me, and I would love to talk with you. It would be a pleasant distraction.

A few of you might even think about a short visit. That’s not out of the question, although obviously the logistics would have to be worked out, and a visit would need to coordinate with treatment and aftereffects. And you should not expect us to show you the sights, because I cannot get out for a long period of time. But we do have an extra bedroom for you.

So, please understand that I am not sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. As a matter of fact, over the past couple of months Jeannie and I have been amazed at the way God has worked in our lives. In all sincerity, I have trouble thinking of anyone I know who has been blessed more than I. May you sense that same degree of blessing in your own life, and may God give you the peace to accept it and allow it to flow into the everyday events of even this day.

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This post will be longer than usual, but it deals with a subject that is so important to me right now that I ask your indulgence.

C. S. Lewis once wrote an essay entitled, “Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without An Answer.” He described how the New Testament gives what appear to be contradictory instructions regarding petitionary prayer (prayer in which we are asking God for something). Interestingly enough, James gives examples of both. In James 1:6 we read, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” At the same time James 4:13-15 reads, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Other examples could be given such as Matthew 17:20 which talks about having the faith of a mustard seed and Luke 22:42 in which our Lord asks the Father to take away the cross, but ultimately submits himself to God’s will. So, how should we pray? Do we pray with the assurance that God will grant what we ask, or should we limit our prayer to praying according to God’s will?

If I understand Lewis’s essay, he ultimately gave up and admitted that he could not adequately reconcile the two views. While it may appear the epitome of arrogance to suggest that I can resolve anything C. S. Lewis could not, perhaps my current situation (stage 4 lung cancer) has given me plenty of time for reflection, as I have pondered in my life just what I should pray for. Do I pray for healing when my oncologist has said categorically that ultimately my condition is terminal, or should I pray according to God’s will? And if I do the latter, does that very prayer indicate a lack of faith?

When I was growing up, it seems that almost invariably petitionary prayers used the second model, especially if the condition was critical. I do not wish to judge peoples’ hearts, but it appeared to me even then, that these were not prayers of faith. Rather, the ones praying felt the need to “hedge their bets,” so that if the prayer was not granted, they could fall back on the  explanation that God’s will was that it not be granted. We did that, so that our faith would not be threatened by the petition not being granted.

So, how do I reconcile these two models for petitionary prayer? Here are my rather simplistic explanations.

The model that simply asks God to grant what we ask, because we have faith in him is valid, because it recognizes the nature of the relationship God wants to have with his children. I often fall back on the family relationship as an illustration. When our children come to us with requests, loving parents delight to give them what they seek. We want them to come to us, and it makes us happy to see the pleasure they receive from granting those requests.

At the same time, children do not always get what they ask for a variety of reasons. It may be that the parents do not have the ability to give what is asked, and in that instance the analogy to God breaks down. Sometimes, however, the parents do not give what is asked for either because they recognize that in the long run it would not be good or wise, or there are other issues that the child may not be able to understand.

So, how does this relate to our own petitionary prayers? The prayer which simply asks God to grant the request is a prayer of faith, because it recognizes both God’s power as well as his loving nature that cares for us.

But I am coming to believe that the prayer that subjects my desire to God’s will, when properly invoked, is an even greater expression of faith. It recognizes both God’s power and his love, just as the first model does, but it goes further. When I pray this second model, it tells God that I have enough faith to leave the outcome to him. It is also an admission that I cannot see the whole picture.

I believe that God has the power to remove my cancer completely, even when the physical laws of this universe say it is impossible. Of course, God could have just as easily prevented the cancer from developing in the first place. The fact that he did not causes my faith to ask a more difficult question. Is it possible that God wants to use this situation in some way that I cannot comprehend? As painful as it may be to contemplate, perhaps I should recognize that God did not cause my cancer. The physical laws of the universe did that. At the same time, he can use my circumstances just as he has promised to use every circumstance of my life (consider Romans 8:28). What if God is challenging me to allow him to walk with me through this circumstance, even if the end is my death? Am I willing to do that? Can I recognize that perhaps there are others struggling with their own doubts and their own demons who might read my words and be strengthened in their own faith? And if that happens, am I ready to acknowledge that my death might be worth that kind of transformation?

In conclusion, the first model is a prayer of faith; however, I have come to feel that the second model is an even greater prayer of faith. It reflects a trust that goes beyond my asking God for what I want. Instead, it says to God, “I trust you with this situation, recognizing both your power and your wisdom, and I willingly submit myself to your working in my life — no matter what the end result might be.” This kind of prayer is not “hedging my bets.” Rather, it is the response of a mature faith, that says to God, “I feel that the safest place to be is in your hands.”

Today, do you have the faith to place your situation in God’s hands and allow him to do whatever he wills with you? But I caution you (from personal experience), do not pray that, unless you really mean it.

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On April 15, 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Some final tests are being done to determine treatment options, but the oncologist was clear that the goal is not to cure the cancer, but to prolong my life. Obviously, this news will impact the future of this blog in ways that cannot be predicted at this time. However, in whatever time I have remaining, perhaps I can use this experience to encourage my readers.

Most people know the story of actress Valerie Harper, perhaps best known for playing Rhoda on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in January 2013, Valerie encouraged her supporters with the haunting admonition, “Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral — live this day.”

While that may sound very courageous, it is so obviously true. Why should I want to prolong my life, if I don’t intend to live that life fully? There is no way of knowing how long I will live. It may be months; it may be years. But, you know what, that’s true for you also.

If you are a person who prays, as I do, how often do you begin each day by praying something like, “Thank you, God, for another day”? I have done that for years, but it gets to the point that it becomes a ritual. It’s not for me anymore. At least once a day, I stop and look around me at this beautiful world and marvel that I have taken it for granted so often. The next time you pray something like that, stop right in the middle of the prayer. God won’t mind. Take a moment to look at the world. Go outside and marvel at blue sky or even rain and wind. Take a moment to appreciate your family and friends, the miracle of relationships that add beauty and meaning to our lives.

Mainly, I encourage you to live each day. The best way to express your gratitude for this life is to live it in a positive manner. That’s what I intend to do. I have no illusions. Undoubtedly, there will be days of pain, depression, perhaps even doubt and self-pity; I’m human after all. But I am making a conscious resolve to live the rest of my life as a happy person. I have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which are all the friends and family who continue to support me. And if any of you can learn from my experience, so much the better.

“Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral — live this day.”

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Perhaps my imagination is exaggerating a phenomenon, but it seems that I can’t turn on the TV or go to social media without hearing about (and seeing) “selfies.” Okay, it can be a fairly harmless pastime. But like anything we do, it also tells us something about ourselves. Is our culture becoming more narcissistic, or does it just seem that way? I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question, but there are some indicators that seem to send a message.

How many of our commercials are based on improving the outside? Beauty products, weight loss, exercise equipment, plastic surgeries dominate the airways. Did you notice the list includes weight loss and exercise equipment? Aren’t those good things? Yes, if we use them to improve our health. At the same time, these good things (like all things) can be taken to extremes. Dieting can turn to anorexia or bulimia.

I want to avoid the temptation to simply label things as “wrong” or “evil.” Our lives are too complex for those judgments. I do, however, have a concern about the degree to which our culture pushes us to become self-absorbed.

There is a danger that too much indulgence in things such as “selfies” or products that concentrate on developing the physical part of me can lead to the perhaps subconscious idea that “life is all about me.” Perhaps it might be good to take that cell phone camera, and turn it out instead of in. Point it toward those around us who may be dealing with a pain that just won’t go away. They may be hiding it by taking their own “selfies” as a desperate cry for someone to look at them, to value them, to help them deal with struggles they desperately seek to hide, because they’re afraid to reveal their doubts and fears.

I’m not saying we should stop saying “selfies” or that they are an evil practice. But the next time you take a “selfie,” why not then take a few minutes to talk with those around you and genuinely get to know them? Let’s spend less time looking in the mirror and more time really seeing those around us. We just might find that it makes us feel more satisfied and fulfilled too. Maybe there is a selfish motive here after all. I’m willing to risk that. How about you?

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Sacrifice was pervasive in the ancient world. In Israel sacrifices were always animals (with the possible exception of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11). In other cultures human sacrifice became a common practice. Often those sacrificed were prisoners of war or slaves. Sometimes, however, parents would even sacrifice one of their own children.

The common thread in all this has to do with the purpose of sacrifice. In every instance someone sacrificed an animal or another person in order to either appease the gods or to receive a blessing from the gods. Sacrifice was at its heart a selfish act. I will sacrifice someone or something else for my own benefit.

One essential message of the New Testament is that God has turned sacrifice on its head. It begins with Jesus, because the heart of the gospel message tells us that Jesus sacrificed Himself for our benefit. I understand that there are a variety of interpretations of the meaning of atonement, but I do not believe any of them change this principle. In some form or another, Jesus sacrificed Himself for us.

But it doesn’t stop there. Paul tells us that we are called to imitate Christ’s sacrificial nature.  In Romans 12:1 he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God— this is your true and proper worship.” Ephesians 5 and 6 apply this principle to the various social rankings that existed in the ancient world. Yes, wives, children, and slaves are told to submit. [I most certainly do not condone slavery, but that’s a subject for another post.] But go back and read the passage more closely. The thesis sentence begins in Ephesians 5:21 where we read, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And that principled is applied to all of the various roles. So, wives, children, and slaves are to submit. But wait, Paul gives the same instructions to husbands, parents, and masters. The message is that whatever role in which we find ourselves, we should live our lives in a manner that places the other person’s needs ahead of our own.

Have you ever considered that perhaps God does in fact call for human sacrifice? But how different from the way the peoples of the ancient world understood sacrifice. In fact, how different from how our culture understands it now. Isn’t it routine in the corporate world to advance oneself at the expense of someone else? We have all known husbands or wives who were more than willing to force their spouse to give up their own desires and dreams, so that the other party could get what they wanted.

You see, God’s view of sacrifice is just the opposite of how human beings have typically seen it. Sacrifice is first of all a sacrifice of ourselves. It means giving up what we want for someone else’s good. It also includes a recognition that our very lives are meant to be one continuing sacrifice that we offer in order to advance God’s kingdom on this earth.

Perhaps we think of extreme examples such as Mother Teresa. It would be easy to say that we don’t feel called to that kind of life. But do we have the courage to look at our lives right now? What about that wife I profess to love? Do I see her as being there to serve me, or do I truly try to understand her desires and her needs? Am I willing to give up what I want to make her life more fulfilling?

What about our children? Are they the objects of my ego, or do I really see myself as God’s instrument to raise them to be godly children, who reflect His love because they have seen it demonstrated in me?

God still calls us to human sacrifice. Have you answered that call? Are you willing to start today?

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Last weekend I went to a workshop in Atlanta called “ElderLink.” It’s designed for elders and other leaders in churches. One of the speakers was a man named Randy Harris. He’s a professor of theology, but you would never know it; he didn’t sound at all like a theology professor. One of the freebies participants received was a copy of his book, Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount. A number of things he said, as well as what he writes in his book, spoke to me. I wish to mention only two.

The first startling revelation is that what we have come to call the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) are not commands; rather they are blessings that were pronounced to a crowd of mostly poverty-stricken peasants, who must have felt anything but blessed. It reminds me of a message I heard from another speaker named Lynn Anderson in the 1970s in which he describes a worn down single mother who came to him after he had preached what he thought at the time was the gospel. Her response spoke volumes. “I’m glad I ain’t a Christian. It’s tough enough just bein’ a sinner.” You see, the beatitudes are not commands (“You had better live like this or else.”). Rather they are the pronouncement of blessings that are available to us from a loving Father.

We could focus on any of the Beatitudes, but one in particular has haunted me this week. It’s verse 9—“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Although Randy Harris is not the first to make the point, what he says is certainly true. “Have you ever noticed that nobody really appreciates a peacemaker? You know, those people who refuse to get drawn into the violence and confusion and hostility of their age, but simply by their presence create peace.” It’s true. Peacemakers are often seen as weak, compromising people with no principles they are willing to stand up for. We really don’t like them.

The advent of social media (including blogs) has made it so easy to put our ideas out to the world. Too often it has taken the form of venom that I am convinced we would never say to a person face-to-face. People forward links to others who spout the venom for them on Facebook or Twitter, without bothering to check the facts at snopes.com or in some other way. In most instances these postings are not true, and so it makes us look gullible and mean-spirited.

I received a second reminder just last night. During a Wednesday night service we read from Psalm 37. I was struck forcefully by verses 7 and 8. “Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm.” (NLT).

I must admit (before someone who knows me reminds me) that being a peacemaker doesn’t always come natural to me. There are so many things going on in this world that I believe are wrong and, left unchecked may bring us to ruin. And it is so easy to respond in anger. But I have decided that I would rather be remembered as a peacemaker than a crusader. And I do want to see it as a blessing, rather than a command. There is so much hatred in this world. Do we really need to add more to it? And if we cannot advance our “causes” without anger, perhaps we should consider whether we are the ones to advance them.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

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