Lessons Learned Firsthand

I’ve been away from the blogoshpere for a while.  God had some lessons to teach me firsthand.  Several weeks ago, I received news that a dear friend of my family had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that had spread to her bones.  We were shocked.  And so was she.

Jacqulyn had been experiencing some severe pain in her back and thought she just needed the help of a chiropractor. However, the pain didn’t go away after several treatments.  It just increased.  Come to find out, the pain was caused by the cancer eating away at the bones in her lower back.  Her diagnosis was bleak.  Without treatment, the doctor told her she had 2-3 weeks to live.  With immediate and radical treatment, they offered her the possibility of a couple of years.  She and her husband, Daniel, decided to pursue the radical treatment in order to try to extend her life.

It was after the treatment began that I called her.  I didn’t know what to say, but I felt compelled (I’m pretty sure by the Lord) to offer to fly to Washington State where they now live to serve them and hopefully minister to them in the name of the Lord.  I wasn’t sure how they’d receive the offer, but to my surprise and gladness, they took me up on it!  6 days later, I was on a plane headed for East Wenatchee, Washington for a week of uncertain ministry.

While there, I do believe that the Lord used me to bring love, comfort, and peace to them, but in return, He taught me some valuable lessons that will be hard to forget.  Here are some of my initial thoughts about what the Lord taught me:

Bad things like cancer still trip up my faith.
I should know better – and I do – but knowing and feeling are sometimes distant relatives.  What I saw cancer doing to my beautiful friend, Jacqulyn, just broke my heart and made me feel a bit bewildered.  Cancer has absolutely redefined and redirected Jacqulyn and Daniel’s lives.  They moved to Washington to be closer to their kids and grandkids so that they could be active and involved in their lives, but because of the cancer, things are not going as they planned.  Jacqulyn is very sick and in a lot of pain.  Her ability to be active has been severely limited.  She wrestles with the uncertainty of the future and feels a great sense of loss for “what could have been.”  We talked often of God’s plans and purposes in our lives while I was there, and we took great comfort in His Word, but frankly, I still feel so much sadness and frustration that Jacqulyn has cancer.  Many are praying that she gets better and is able to be the active and involved wife, mother, and grandmother she had hoped to be.  Would you please join us?

The Word of God truly is alive and active.
Like I said, the three of us spent a lot of time in God’s Word together.  We started and ended each day with readings from Daily Light, and often it led to good discussions and meaningful times in prayer.  The Lord showed me firsthand how He uses His Word powerfully to bring hope, encouragement, and peace to those who needed it.  Our times in the Word were sweet, and the emotional and mental healing that the Lord brought to all of us was truly miraculous.  I was reminded again by the Lord that His Word is truly alive, active, and sharper than any double-edged sword.

The Church is alive and well – even in a small, remote farming town in Washington!
I’ve moved enough to know this, but it was such an encouragement to see this in play for my dear friends.  They were a part of my church family for many years until they moved last summer.  One of the hardest things for my church family is to know how much Daniel and Jacqulyn need right now…and to be 1800 miles away from them.  So, one of the things I was looking for when I got there was if the Christians in their town were taking care of them like we would here.  And to my great  joy and relief, I found them busy at work loving and caring for our dear friends.  Daniel and Jacqulyn have not even been there a full year, but there were meals coming in, couples coming over, and a group of women who took turns coming each morning to help Jacqulyn get up and get ready for the day.  It was beautiful!

If God calls you to do something, no matter how far-fetched or uncertain it seems…do it.
God has been teaching me more intensely over the past few years that He’s not kidding when He says that His ways are not my ways.  The things He calls upon me to do are not always things that make a whole lot of sense to me.  I was convinced that He wanted me to leave behind my family, fly four hours then drive for three more in order to spend a week with Daniel and Jacqulyn.  In my opinion, there are better people for the task.  People who really know how to cook, clean, and care.  I can sort-of do the first two (I did botch french toast while I was there), and I really want to do the third, but there are better people than me who are much closer to Daniel and Jacqulyn from my church who I thought God should tell to go before me.  But, I sensed that He was telling me to go, so I did.  And the way in which He used me there and blessed me all along the way was something I am so glad I didn’t miss.  Plus, I do recall that God put a guy in the belly of a whale for a few long, dark days for not going where He told him to go.  I try to remember that event often.  Anyway, this experience was yet another lesson for me in walking by faith and not by sight.

What is God calling you to do?

Beating the Tax-Man

What would you do for a tax exemption?  Some people buy a home.  Some people have children.  And one guy decided to become a pastor!

According to abc.com, Illinois real estate agent George Michael allegedly converted part of his home into a chapel and became ordained as a minister by signing up with an online program in order to be exempt from tens of thousands of dollars in taxes on his multimillion dollar lakefront property.

Michael contends that all he was trying to do was help his wife, who has multiple sclerosis, and his disabled daughter worship at home instead of traveling miles to the nearest Armenian church. He says that he chose online ordination because it was faster than spending years at a theological school.  But one state judge has called Michael’s tax exemption application “a sham,” arguing that Michael’s professed faith — the Armenian Orthodox religion — is at odds with the church that licensed him online – the Church of Spiritual Humanism.  (Ya think?!)

In order to prove that a part of his home had been converted into a church, the city requested that he send them pictures.  So he did, and one of the photos submitted by Michael showed his home with a cross installed on its exterior. But it was noted by a judge that the cross was drawn on the photograph with a marker and did not physically exist at the time the photo was taken of the building.

As Michael pursues his battle for the exemption in court, local government officials are preparing to send him a property tax bill of roughly $225,000 for 2007 through 2009.  Michael says that he is fed-up with the hassle and has put the house/church on the market…for $10 million!

Champagne After Morning Prayer

The following words from N. T. Wright from his book Surprised by Hope will serve as my benediction at church on this Easter morning…

So how can we learn to live as wide-awake people – as Easter people?  I have come to believe that many churches simply throw Easter away year by year, and I want to plead that we rethink how we do it.

Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power, and at least we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them.  Why?  Because Easter is about the real Jesus coming out of the real tomb and getting God’s new kingdom under way.

Which brings me to Easter Monday.  I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend 40 days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little bit gloomy, bringing it to a peak with Holy Week…and then only having a single day of celebration!

Easter week itself (which starts today) ought to be an eight-day festival with champagne served after morning prayer or even before with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems.  Is it any wonder that people find it hard to believe in the resurrection  of Jesus if we don’t at least throw our hats in the air?

Is it any wonder that the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to 40-days of fasting and gloom?

Take Easter away, and you don’t have the New Testament.  Take Easter away and you don’t have Christianity.  Take Easter away and you are still in your sins.  This is our greatest day.  We should put the flags out!