Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Post from Susan

"In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe. This gift of love and righteousness…"

Merry Christmas!
We are so grateful to be celebrating Christmas this year with health and wholeness, and after the events of 2009, we have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the gifts of health and life.
Our children are doing well and this year is one of firsts for all of them. Luke started high school and driving this year. Drew spent a semester abroad at the University of Edinburgh studying chemical engineering, playing basketball for the university, and traveling in Europe on long weekends. Newt and I visited him for a week together in Paris and Scotland. Zach is a senior this year and applying and receiving acceptances to attend college. He wants to study broadcast journalism/communications. Jensen started middle school this year as a fifth grader and began competing in equestrian and jumping events this summer. She will be baptized this Sunday.

Eight months after Newt was first misdiagnosed with pancreatic cancer and four months after his last chemo treatment and more prayers for us than we know, Newt’s lymphoma is gone and his chest and pancreas are clear. This month his doctor has officially pronounced him in remission and Lord willing, the lymphoma will not return. As you can imagine, we are overflowing with thankfulness for God’s mercy and deliverance.

In the months since Newt has had cancer, we have heard and experienced other stories of God’s hand of mercy, deliverance, and rescue. The Bible is replete with them as well and none so compelling as the Christ-mas story of God coming to earth wrapped in flesh. God sent us His Son so that in His mercy each of us could be rescued from death as we trust Him to be our Savior. This is the ultimate story of hope and healing and salvation and the reality that is a certainty for all eternity. It is for this deliverance, this rescue, that we praise God most. Our joy in Newt’s physical healing is great, but our joy in God’s gift of salvation is immeasurable!

We pray that you too find joy in the good gifts that God has given this Christmas and in those He has for you in 2010. May your hope, like ours, be in Christ alone.

With much love to you all~

Newt, Susan, Drew, Zach, Luke and Jensen Crenshaw

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Latest Health Upate

Dear Friends and Family,

About two weeks ago I had a PET scan which was scheduled three months after my last treatment in late August. The results were completely clear, continuing to reveal that the cancer remains gone.

My oncologist indicated during a visit the following week that I was officially "in remission".

This was the news we have all been praying for, and I want to thank you for your continued prayers on my behalf. I certainly have felt God's hand upon me during the past weeks and months and am confident that he has healed me. The process of recovery happens one step at a time, and this latest step of a clean PET scan three months post treatment is an important one.

It has taken me a few days to process this last bit of news. I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude and peace that comes from knowing I am in good Hands. As I approach the Christmas holidays, I am reflecting in a new way on the meaning of the incarnation, that God became man in the form of a baby. I am also reflecting on how God wants to use this experience of cancer in my life. Please pray for eyes to see, ears to hear and the courage to follow. I am confident that God does not waste these experiences on his children.

I hope and pray your holidays are blessed, and that you are moved to be a blessing in others' lives, as you have been to me through your prayers and kind thoughts.

In Christ alone,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

. . . all this talk of PEACE

Dear Friends and Family,

Recently in the media, we have been served up an interesting discussion about peace: President Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, the continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the military's plan for victory and withdrawal, speculation about the next steps in the war on terrorism, strife and tribal warfare in Africa, and of course early talk of Christmas peace, or mostly the lack thereof due to busy schedules, joblessness, and poor consumer spending.

All this talk of peace seems to be hardwired into the human condition because of the constant presence of war and strife. I just finished an informative biography of Sir Winston Churchill by Roy Jenkins where he chronicled Churchill's decisive role in WWII as the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain. One his most telling observations was the birth of the next war (i.e. the cold war) which came even before the Allied Powers were declaring victory and bringing peace in their current struggle with Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers. Churchill rightly saw this next bipolar struggle coming which would dominate the latter half of the 20th century.

Peace was a big theme at the first Christmas, and also before Jesus' death. Luke indicates it was part of the angel's chorus to the lowly shepherds - "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased" (Luke 2:14) . Some thirty-three years later, peace was the topic of discussion between Jesus and his inner-circle of followers - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)

This desire for peace clearly has more than one aspect to it. On a grand human scale it is the elusive pursuit of the absence of war. On an interpersonal level it is the absence of strife and conflict in our relationships. On a spiritual level, the angels indicated it had something to do with God being pleased with us. Jesus also seemed to indicate that peace was other-worldly and a gift from Him, bringing calm, not fear, to our souls.

To me, these various aspects of peace seem to be deeply connected. Just as the scientific and philosophic rule called Occam's Razor, when applied to medicine, calls for the simplest diagnosis and assumes that various symptoms of disease may somehow be connected, so too we should assume our lack of peace, our dis-ease if you will, has a common root cause.

While it may be tempting to focus our treatment on political solutions between nations - and we should - or psychological strategies for interpersonal harmony - and we should - those solutions and strategies would likely only be temporary "pain killers" or "band-aids" treating the symptoms, not the cause.

No, our dis-ease and lack of peace requires more basic and targeted medicine, because the root cause is imbedded in our human genetic make-up. We have faulty hearts. They are faulty not in the physical sense of muscle contractions, electrical impulses or valve operation, but in the sense of our deepest life-directing impulses, motivations and affections.

We need more than a list of rules, more than a contrived state of detachment from our physical existence, more than an evolutionary prescription for overcoming our self-focused survival -of-the-fittest instincts, more than psycho-analysis to reconcile our id and superego, more than a new Porsche at 1.9% interest rate or a new iPod Nano or the latest in designer clothes. We need more than weekly counseling sessions or self-help recommendations from Oprah or Dr. Phil. We need more than a Nobel Peace Prize, a new majority in congress, or a peace accord with the Taliban and a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or even Osama Bin Laden brought to justice.

(I must admit all those things would be nice - especially the Porsche and Bin Laden - but they would still fall woefully short.)

We need new hearts. We need a heart surgeon of the other-worldly kind. Maybe He's the One the angels were singing about all those years ago. Maybe that's what Jesus meant when he said:

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many rooms. . . And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth. . . He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." John 14:1,2,16,17,26.

Maybe that's what all the Christmas celebration is supposed to be about.

The prophet Isaiah had it right several hundred years before the angels sang it out:

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of PEACE. Of the increase of his government and of PEACE there will be no end. . ." Isaiah 9:6,7

May that "increase" start in our hearts this season and re-make and re-direct our impulses, motivations and affections, bringing us peace with God and our fellow man.

In Christ (the other-worldly heart surgeon) alone,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Mathematics of Thankfulness

Dear Friends and Family,

I trust that many of you in the US (and abroad) were able to celebrate Thanksgiving this past week with family and friends. Close friends of ours who are non-US citizens, but have lived in the states, told us recently that Thanksgiving was their "favorite adopted holiday" because of its focus on an attitude of thankfulness and on family. It is without a doubt my favorite holiday of the year for those reasons as well as for the crisp autumn days that accompany it here in central Indiana.

Reflecting on my own battle with cancer this past year, and also through discussions with others, I wanted to share a brief reflection on how we can be thankful even in the midst of difficult times. I will attempt to express these principles of thankfulness in mathematical terms, since mathematics often describes the relationship of one variable to another. I believe that an attitude of thankfulness has much more to do with our relationships - to God, to others, to our possessions - than it does with our particular circumstances. Here goes. . .

1. f (God) = man

An attitude of thankfulness begins with an understanding that man is created by God, or that we are a function of God, as in the basic expression, f(x) = mx + b. Our existence is derived from Him, and humankind is created by Him as an overflow of his love, not based on something lacking in His Being. "Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." Genesis 2:7

The Psalmist provides another intimate and detailed glimpse into our relationship with the Creator God:

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth." Psalm 139:13-15.

In difficult times, remembering that we have been lovingly created by a personal God who knows us well will become the foundation of our thankful attitudes. To state the obvious, "thankfulness" requires a person or object to whom thanks is due, and that should first and foremost be the Lord God.

2. self "<" others

The second key to thankfulness in difficult times is to take our eyes off of ourselves and place them onto others. As in the simple inequality expressed above, one way to do this is to place ourselves below others. This attitude runs counter to the dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest dogma espoused in the market economy or through the evolutionary struggle taught in our classrooms.

In one of the most beautiful expressions of humility and servanthood in all of scripture, the Apostle Paul describes how we should imitate Jesus Christ's example in Philippians 2:3-11:

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

3. Wants = Current x State

Someone once said that the key to contentment is to want what you have. How much of our time is wasted chasing after things that will not satisfy our deepest needs? If we are honest with ourselves, especially here in America, we have deep predisposition for the gods of "more" and "next". We are bombarded with daily messages that tell us happiness is somehow bound up in getting more or moving on to what is next. Simply not true.

Many people in this country and around the world are going through difficult economic circumstances as a result of the recent financial crisis and persistent joblessness. Others are suffering from chronic, incurable or even terminal diseases that are shaking them to their core. While we cannot deny the difficulty of these circumstances, we do not have to allow them to rule our lives and steal away a heart of thankfulness.

Again, the Apostle Paul provides insight as one who suffered greatly during his life:

". . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound, in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need . I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13

I must admit, it is far easier to have an ungrateful heart issuing from a view that we are on our own and that this existence is all there is, so get as much as you can for yourself and pay no attention to what happens to others in the process.

Let's make a choice to do a 180 degree turn from that attitude and remember that we have been made by a loving Creator, and redeemed by his Son to a life that can put others first and also find contentment and thankfulness in all of life's circumstances.

In Christ alone,


Saturday, November 14, 2009

"The Weight of Glory"

Dear Friends and Family,

It was recently suggested to me by a friend that I read a sermon by C.S. Lewis called the "Weight of Glory". (Google it by name and you will find a PDF version you can download.)

Some of you have probably read the article before, and many have likely heard quotes from it like this one:

". . . it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

In his sermon, Lewis explores more deeply this notion of our longings and how they connect to what God truly has in store for us "in Christ". He dispels the misconception that we, as Christians, should not desire reward from the Lord just because it seems, at first glance, to be mercenary or self-serving. In its truest sense, our deepest desire is to be noticed and approved by our Creator - the knower and lover of our souls. I really like Lewis' description of "being noticed by our Lord"; it reminds me of the gospel story we read our children in Sunday school about the little man named Zacchaeus climbing up in the tree to see Jesus. He was noticed by our Lord and called down and asked to dine with the Savior. (Luke 19:2) If we are honest, much our misguided earthly pursuits bely an underlying desire to be noticed and approved by our Lord just like this little man.

I have spoken with many friends recently about a deep motivation we should all have to hear "well done, good and faithful servant" from our Lord himself. (Matthew 25:23) I believe that the most important arc of our lives should lead us to that point, providing us a proper perspective on all the time-bound moments in between. We must remember that we will stand in Christ's presence only because his grace has smiled upon us through his inestimable sacrifice on our behalf, but we must also know that what we do with our lives in this realm really does matter to him.

Lewis also speaks of glory not only as being approved by ("being famous with") the Lord, but he also speaks of the notion that glory connotes light or luminescence. He captures our desires this way: "We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words,- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." It seems clear to me that this desire for union with light and beauty is being fulfilled by our union with Christ through his indwelling Spirit and the hope that we will one day be like him in our glorified bodies.

All this talk of longing, approval, beauty and light causes Lewis to consider a practical application that is worth appropriating in our lives today and each day.

"It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight , or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only a nightmare."

We should pray then not only to hear "well done, good and faithful servant" for ourselves, but encourage and help others to lives their lives toward that same end, seeing and loving them today with a view from that Great Day before our Lord Jesus.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1,2)

In Christ alone,


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

Here we are at a street side cafe' in Paris next to the Place des Vosges. Susan and I spent a week in Europe recently, punctuating what has been an eventful six months. It was good for us to have some time away and enjoy a break.

We spent a few days in beautiful Paris, exploring the arts, the history, the architecture and of course the food. As Susan would say, "It was glorious"! It was her first time to Paris and she said that she may have found her "home away from home".

We stayed in the Latin Quarter and enjoyed walking everywhere, to Notre Dame, the Louvre, Musee' D' Orsay, the Eifel, Champs Elysees, the theatre, and shopping on the Rue de' Rivoli. The weather was nice at 15 c and sunny.

We also went to see our son, Drew, who is studying in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. Scotland was beautiful and full of fascinating history. We walked the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, saw Edinburgh Castle, visited Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument and, of course, played golf at St. Andrews, where the sun actually shined down on us for several holes. . . it was glorious!

We even took in a bit of reformation history as we visited the John Knox house and St. Giles church and studied the Scots Confession of 1560, Mary Queen of Scots and other larger-than-life figures of that era.

We hope to go back to Scotland and take the "high road to Loch Lomond" and other sites in the highlands.

Sola Christus,


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Feeling Stronger Every Day

Dear Friends and Family,

It has been three weeks since I last updated my blog and nearly a month and a half since my last chemo therapy treatment. Today would have been the day of my eighth treatment if it had been required. Being cancer-free and putting some distance between me and my last treatment have allowed me to gain five pounds, start exercising seriously again, and even begin to grow my hair.

While I have not returned to 100%, I must be gaining at least one percent each day. I would like to think that I will be back to near normal in less than a month with no lingering side effects. Again, I am very grateful.

Several times over the past weeks, I have remembered the moment when Susan and I heard the initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer from the head of surgery at IU Med Center. It is a moment frozen in time as I gazed over the edge of my earthly life. While I don't care to return to that place again in reality, I return there in my mind because it causes me to maintain perspective on what really matters in life. It is an aid in my heeding the the most repeated command in the Bible - "Fear not."

On that subject of "fear", I did upload a new picture of myself which turns out to be a bit scarier than I thought it would. Halloween is around the corner, and Woody Harrelson has a new movie about zombies. . . maybe there's room for an "extra".

It's good to be a live, even if I resemble a fuzzy ghost.

In Christ alone,


Thursday, September 17, 2009

"For whoever would save his life will lose it . . ."

Dear Friends and Family,

I was paid the best compliment I have ever received in my life the other day. A learned individual looked at me and said, "There is nothing remarkable here." I never thought I would rejoice in hearing such words, but they were especially wonderful when they came from the expert radiologist reading my confirmatory CT scan. I spent a few  moments with my oncologist this afternoon reading the CT scan images myself, and it continues to appear that the solid tumors in my pancreas and chest area are completely gone. Hallelujah!

So now I am out of the treatment phase and into the recovery phase. Today would have been the day for my seventh treatment, would that have been deemed necessary. However, it is nice to be on the mend and gaining strength day by day. Again, I cannot thank you enough for your faithful prayers. I am as firmly convinced that God has heard and answered these prayers as I am of anything else in my life.

Back to Luke 9:23, 24 - "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

When considering what Jesus meant by the last two phrases, I am reminded of Jim Elliot's famous quote: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose." Indeed, Elliot, a missionary to a remote tribe in south/central America, gave his own life as he was murdered by the people he was trying to reach with the gospel of Jesus Christ over 50 years ago. (If you are interested in his story and the other missionaries involved, rent the movie "The End of the Spear"; it is quite compelling and appropriate for the entire family.)

I believe that Jesus is warning us with this last phrase that trying to hang on to the things of this world will only result in loss because the things of this world are temporary and don't ultimately meet our deepest needs. Jesus states these truths similarly in Matthew 6:19-21, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

If you invest yourself completely in gaining the things of this realm for yourself, you will come up short in the end. In other words, he who dies with the most toys, does NOT win. However, if Christ - and trusting in him and following his lead - are what you invest in, then you will not be disappointed. You will not only gain abundant life here on this earth, but you will gain the afterlife with him. Elliot's pithy thought makes sense. It may not be easy to live out, but it is certainly a proposition worth embracing. 

Ultimately, Jesus is asking each of us, "What do you treasure"? Do you value possessions, status, power, comfort and the praise of others more than you do me? Or, are you willing to lay up treasures in heaven, demonstrating that your heart is in the place it should be?  

Losing our lives for a worthy cause here on earth is compelling. Losing our lives for the One who saves us, restores us and provides us eternal security should be irresistible to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. If you are reading these words, I pray that is the case for you.

May the irresistible, unmerited favor of Jesus rest upon you and draw you to himself, so that you may lay a hold of life that is truly life.

In Christ alone,


Friday, September 4, 2009

Step Three: Follow Me

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, it feels good to have the six treatments behind me now. While I am a bit tired this week due to the drugs' effects on my red/white blood cells, I am hopeful as I consider being able to build up my strength and not getting "whacked" again in a couple of weeks. Please pray the confirmatory CT scan again shows no cancer next Thursday.

My body seems to be adapting to the chemo drugs as my hair, beard, eyebrows, etc. are starting to grow back. Many have suggested that I keep the metro-bald look, although my wife is not sold on it, and her vote always counts for (all voters + 1) in these types of categories. In celebration of a few blooming hair follicles, I have changed my blog picture to one that was taken about six years ago. A few years back a Washington DC insider accused me of using my "first communion picture" when he saw this one. Imagine if he saw me now in my "ridden hard and put away sweaty" state! Ah well, all flesh is like the grass. . .

Let's continue with the exploration of Jesus' direction from Luke 9:23,24:

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

God has been impressing on me over the past several months a few ways that I need to follow Jesus. Most clearly, he has shown me that following my Lord means becoming more like him. A friend of mine was sharing with me some teaching he had heard on this subject recently. The instructor indicated that in the ancient middle east, a follower of a master/teacher/rabbi/prophet would want to follow so closely that they would get the teacher's "dust" on them. Imagine that, getting "dusted" by Jesus. The notion is obviously that you walked around with your master and observed what he/she did and how they did it. As with Socrates, it could have taken the form of rigorous question and answer sessions. Nonetheless, you spent much time with your master and patterned your life after him.

It seems that God has always had this "imitation of Christ" in store for us. Many believers have suggested that Romans Chapter 8 is one of the pinnacles in all of the Bible. An oft quoted verse is 28: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." We all like the notion that "all things work together for good", but how do we know what "his (God's) purpose" is? The next verse holds the clue: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. . .".

As the apostle Paul clearly states in Romans 8:28,29, God's purpose in our lives is to conform us to his Son's image. It is in this context of being made more like Jesus day-by-day that we can be sure that all things (even suffering, pain, hardship, setbacks, loss) work together for good. We could explore this notion of God's sovereign purposes being accomplished even (and especially) through suffering in a later blog, because I do think we see the ultimate "good from suffering" in the cross of Christ.

When we consider following our Lord so closely that we are conformed to his image, some may object because it might cause a loss of individuality. I believe nothing could be further from the truth. When we become more like Christ, we are actually becoming who God fully intended us to be, with all of our uniqueness. The Bible clearly teaches that the Lord knows us individually (read Psalm 139 or Matthew 10:26-33) and his design for us is fulfill our special role in his eternal kingdom. God wants to make us more like his Son but to still allow for our special blend of talents, experiences, upbringing, temperament and personality to shine through. I find this principle well demonstrated in the Bible itself. Look at the unique characters we find on every page! Further, consider how God's word shines through in a timeless fashion, but does not diminish the individual authors' personalities or writing styles.

I am motivated by the idea that the Lord of the universe has a job with my name on it in his kingdom. It is a small role that only I can fill, but I need to "go to school" on his Son if I am to be properly equipped (from the inside-out) as his faithful servant.

Another area of following Christ that I am learning is to keep my eyes on him and not the road ahead. I often suffer from the "what's next" disease, maybe you do to. Or, some people suffer from the "what's behind" disease as they are constantly burdened, even haunted, by their past. When I lay in my bed during the first two weeks under the presumptive diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, "what's next" took on a whole new meaning. I saw how vain many of my thoughts and plans about the future were. I saw clearly that Christ was telling me to follow him, and live in the present moment, leaving my future to Him. I have come to believe that living outside of God's present moment is one of the devil's schemes to render us ineffective in our special kingdom jobs.

If the evil one, in and through circumstances or through our own sinful tendencies, can keep us burdened down and paralyzed by the past, or preoccupied with the illusion of controlling or shaping the future, then we become much less effective, even worthless, in the present moment where God wants to work in and through us for his good purposes. Please hear me - there is a time for reflecting on and learning from our past, certainly confessing our sins and dealing with problems in the past that keep popping up in the present. There is also a time for planning ahead and considering the paths we might take to fulfill God's purposes in our lives. HOWEVER, we can only truly live in the moment before us. By keeping our eyes on Christ, we leave the choice of the next path up to Him and his sovereign plan in our lives. By keeping our eyes on Christ, we keep our eyes out of the rearview mirror, not filling ourselves with regret and indecision about turns not taken along the way.

So, for me, following Jesus means becoming more like him each day, and living in "the now" where He is leading me, and there is a lot of joy in that journey. . .

In Christ alone,


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Step Two: Take Up Your Cross Daily

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the beginning of the end . . . of my "poison with a purpose". I go in for my last treatment at IU Medical Center trusting that it, along with the previous five treatments, has accomplished the intended purpose of eradicating the insurgent b-cells. From the CT scan after number four, it would seem that is the case. These last two have been necessary to kill any small cancer cells that still may be lurking around. 

For the past several weeks, I have been reflecting on Luke 9:23,24, where Jesus said:

". . . if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

What does Jesus mean by "take up his cross daily"?

As a matter of groundwork, let's be clear that the "cross" he is referring to is not the piece of 18 carat gold jewelry many Christians (and even some non-Christians) wear around their necks. The cross in Jesus' day would have been known to be one of the most cruel forms of Roman torture and execution, a hideous process of asphyxiation where the victim would become like a pathetic human yo-yo, pushing themselves up on their nailed or tied feet to create the possibility of taking a breath, only to collapse again due to exhaustion and exposure. This process could go on for hours before death's grip held them fast. From a number of gospel passages, including this one, it seems clear that Jesus knew the cross was to be his means of physical death.

Even so, Jesus was using this term, "cross", metaphorically. While the cross clearly represents suffering and death, it does not represent meaningless, purposeless suffering and death. In Jesus' case, he embraced suffering and death as a means of sacrifice (satisfying the penalty for our treason against, and turning our backs on, our Creator God) and as an act of service (showing his followers the way to gain their lives by losing it for his sake). 

If we are not called to literally die on a Roman execution stake, then how do we take up our crosses daily? 

As I explored in an earlier blog, we must be first willing to "deny ourselves" and the notion that our lives are about self-focus and the accumulation of wealth and possessions to satisfy our desire for control, power, comfort, etc.

We must be willing to see suffering as a chosen mechanism that God uses in our lives to get our attention and to conform us to the image of his Son (see Romans 8:28,29). I know my experience with cancer has opened my eyes to how much I attempt to avoid pain and suffering, but when faced with unavoidable trials like the one I am going through, God has met me in unimaginable ways. The closeness I have felt with my Savior during these past five months has been a blessing that has overwhelmed any sense of loss or pain that I have felt. Having so many friends and family pour out their love and prayers on my behalf has deepened my appreciation of the power of others in my life. Indeed, suffering has marked all the characters we read about in the Bible, not to mention the key periods of growth for the church throughout history.

God has called each of us in different ways to sacrifice for his sake and to serve others. For some it may be through intercessory prayer, for others it may be through financial giving, still others it could be through their time and talents. It could be in small ways that we relate to family members or friends, choosing not to put them in a box but being willing to see them in a new light, giving them the benefit of the doubt when it is in our power to do so. Some may be called to bear what seems to be the unbearable grief of the loss of a child, or a spouse or a parent. Others may be called to leave family, friends and familiar surroundings to go and serve Christ in a foreign land.

I believe Jesus' words in Luke 9:23,24 hold the key to living a powerful, Spirit-filled life as his follower. It is only by denying ourselves and embracing the suffering and pain through the "crosses" in our lives that we will truly experience the resurrection power that God promises us in his word (see Romans 8:11). 

Susan and I have had a wonderful picture of this truth as we have observed close friends of ours who suffered early in their marriage when one of them was stricken with cancer. Due to treatments, they were unable to have children of their own, but in the midst of their suffering heard Christ's calling in their lives. They have gone on to be a profound blessing in the lives of others with cancer, counselors to many hurting marriages, founders of inner-city ministries, adoptive parents, and leaders within the church. They can see in hindsight that cancer and trials early in their lives were gifts from God that produced much fruit that benefitted others.

These friends recently encouraged us to meditate for a "a few months" on the following words written by Jesus' half brother, James:

"Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:2-4

Remember, James had a front row seat in watching his half-brother, Jesus, put these words into practice. Knowing that he left his eternal home in heaven to break into our earthly realm, become a man with the intention of giving his life a ransom for many, must have given James tangible evidence that the words he wrote were trustworthy.

In Christ alone,


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

mushi atsui, desu ne

Dear Friends and Family,

You can see a new picture on my blog with a new hat from our friends, Brad and Megumi Harker. Brad works for the US Consolate in Osaka, Japan, and we went to church with them while living there.

Brad's note to me started with "it is hot and sticky here. . ." as he described the weather in August in the Kansai region of Japan. "Mushi atsui" is the Japanese phrase for hot and sticky, or as we say here in Indiana: "the dog-days of summer".

We miss our friends in Japan and thank you all for your faithful prayers from around the world.

I am pushing through chemo-treatment number 5 as I look forward to the final treatment this month.

I can see the light that is coming at the end of this tunnel. . .

In Christ alone,


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Where art thou, O' Farve?

Dear Friends and Family,

I may be wearing my most unusual hat, thanks to our friends the Meulbroeks. Tom, the leader of their Pack, happens to be a diehard Packers fan, so he sent me the Cheesehead hat that is frequently worn in Green Bay by the faithful.

The question is: What will happen to the Packers this year? Are their glory days past as Farve has gone the way of Lambeau, Lombardi and Starr?

Or is Farve secretly negotiating a comeback with the Packers, proving that the recent flirtations with their dreaded Viking neighbors was just a warm-up act?

The Cheeseheads can only dream. . .

Go Colts,


Friday, July 31, 2009

Great News!

Dear Friends and Family,

I spoke with my doctor today after he had a chance to read the CT scan from yesterday. The cancer is completely gone from my pancreas (clear in the entire abdomen) and nearly completely resolved in the chest. In fact, the remaining tissue in the chest may just be scar tissue. He indicated that he could not imagine a better result at this stage. 

We are so very thankful to God for this result and for the many answered prayers from all of you. I am also grateful for the expert care we have received from my doctors and other medical professionals.

I now have two more treatments to complete on August 6th and 27th. Thank you for your continued prayers for complete healing and for no lasting side effects from the chemotherapy.

I have uploaded a picture of my friend Steve Haigh. He is not wearing a hat, but he is sporting a shaved head. Steve has been a close friend and brother since high school, and he has shaved his head in solidarity with me. He said it reminds him to pray for me every time he notices his now bald head.

I am reminded of the Bible verses I shared earlier in my journey from the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Corinth:

"For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many." II Corinthians 1:8b-11

I have watched these verses become more than words in my life in the past weeks. 


In Christ alone,


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Step One: Deny Yourself

Dear Friends and Family,

I cannot express strongly enough how much I appreciate the continual flow of blessings that I am receiving from so many - notes, cards, prayers, words of encouragement, and even some pretty wild hats (stay tuned!).

As I have indicated, this Thursday is a big day as I have a CT scan scheduled for 4 PM to determine how much cancer has been killed by the first 4 treatments. Because of your prayers and God's unwavering goodness in my life, I am not anxious. If the scan shows that the tumors have become smaller, then I will be scheduled for two more treatments in August (6th and 27th). I am beginning to sense that I am on the downhill run. . .

I have been reading through the Bible in a year with the Discipleship Journal Plan (four-track reading plan you can get online), and have recently been reading the gospel of Luke. In chapter 9:23,24, Jesus says the following:

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

I would like to take the next few blogs to explore these verses and hear wisdom from others on how they are applying Christ's words in their own lives.

Because of my situation with cancer, I have been thinking about self-denial. We live in a very self-oriented society and age. Self-confidence, self-reliance, self-actualization, self-determination, self-preservation, self-help, self-esteem, etc are all very positively received concepts in western society today. We can only assume that the origins of these now well-developed ideas were present in first-century Israel and among her neighbors. Jesus' comments would likely have been counter-cultural then just as they are now.

What does He mean by denying self? Why is it a prerequisite for taking up our cross daily, following Him and losing our lives for His sake, and thereby gaining it?

By way of background, I don't believe that Jesus  is saying that we should treat ourselves badly through neglect, harm or indifference. His groundbreaking ethic in stating the Golden Rule in its positive form underscores this perspective. "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets". (Mt. 7:12) His assumption is that we want good things for ourselves which in turn should be the standard for our behavior towards others.

Self denial might start with not gratifying our every desire, whether we call it a want or even a need. It could come in the form of food, drink, leisure, sex, material comfort, and so on. I have been experiencing some self denial in terms of my diet, which I describe as the "no meat, no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol, no fun" diet. I am eating a healthy diet thanks to my wife, Susan. It is full  of vegetables, fruit, grains, fish, and the like. It has been good for me physically to be on this diet, but it has also been good for me spiritually to experience this form of self denial. Jesus is saying to us: "Don't give into every selfish desire that comes along. Keep the all-encompassing tenth commandment not to covet (desire/pursue) that which you don't have."

A second form of self denial involves being less focused on our problems, and being willing to embrace others. We often tend to behave as if the world is supposed to revolve around us, at work, at home, at school, in traffic. We need to get our eyes off of our own problems, and start to be aware of what is going on around us. I had a friend and co-worker tell me that his uncle used to live by the motto: "Be kinder than necessary to everyone you meet, because everyone is dealing with some kind of problem". How true. I have noticed over the past few months as I speak with people, they are dealing with challenging problems of their own - health, family, job, spiritual direction - that rival my bout with cancer. Jesus is saying to us: "Look around you at others, see them with eyes of kindness and compassion, because the world does not revolve around you and your problems".

A third form of self denial involves the willingness to find ourselves in a story that is broader than just our own. A narrative or worldview that encompasses things far greater than our life story, but one that integrates our story into the bigger text. It means that we are not the main player; rather, we play a small but uniquely important role. I have been challenged recently as I read the book "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision. Stearns argues persuasively that we need to find our story inside the broader gospel, and then act to bring that gospel in word and in deed to "the least of these" around the world. I believe we all are searching for the significance that comes from being a part something bigger than our self-driven existence. We seem to be wired to know that just focusing on our own needs and our own story will cause us to come up short in the end. Jesus is saying to us: "Change the title of your life story from 'It's All about Me' to 'A Hitchhiker's Guide to God's Redemptive Plan for the Universe'".

I hope to hear some of your thoughts on denying self. . .

In Christ alone,


Friday, July 17, 2009

. . .and she gave me a Charlie Horse!

Dear Friends and Family,

My new picture reveals yet another hat I have received. This one comes from my sister, Elyse, a faithful prayer partner and consistent encourager through my cancer trial. She was concerned for my bald head burning in the hot Indiana summer sun, so she bought me a cowboy hat, a Charlie Horse Hat to be specific. 

It happens that today I will get to see my daughter, Jensen, ride in her third horse show down at the Indiana Fair grounds. So, I will be wearing my hat with pride, even though Jensen is an English saddle rider, not a rough riding western type.

My 4th treatment went fine yesterday. Although each one seems to be somewhat more of a burden to my system, I am pulling through them without many serious cumulative side effects. I am grateful. 

My blood counts were good, although the white cells continue to be lower, but not yet at a level that would prohibit treatment. My LDH (a non-specific cancer blood marker) was down considerably from my first test prior to treatment. This could be a good sign. I have a CT scan scheduled for July 30th that will reveal the damage done to the cancer by the 4 treatments when compared to the pre-treatment scan. I am praying that the scan is as clear as the Indianapolis sky was yesterday morning when I was walking my dog.

Thank you for your faithful prayers and kind thoughts.

In Christ alone,


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Semper Fi

Dear Friends and Family,

"Always faithful" is the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps. In my uploaded picture, you will see one of my new hats, thanks to my sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Mark, who is a Marine.

We are all proud of Mark and Elizabeth for their choice to have Mark join the Marines and serve our country.

Benjamin Franklin, one of our country's founding fathers, wrote the following statement in 1775 as part of a proposition for the Pennsylvania State Assembly:

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
(see Wikipedia)

This quote reminds me that we have men and women in our armed forces, especially those in the Marines, who put their "little temporary safety" aside to fight and defend our "essential liberty". We need look no further than what has recently happened in Iran's elections, in the coup in the Honduras, in the despotic rule of North Korea or Venezuela, or the loss of basic freedoms in Russia to understand the importance of liberty and consequences of its absence.

I would encourage us all to take a moment this day and pray for our men and women in the armed forces. Let's all look for opportunities to "pay forward" some act of kindness toward them, returning to them the faithfulness they show each of us and our country through their service and willingness to sacrifice.

In Christ alone,


Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Oh Beautiful. . ."

Dear Friends and Family,

For fellow country men and women, happy Independence Day. For non-US citizens, I hope that our country has been a blessing to you in some way, although an imperfect one at times.

I have two beautiful things I want to highlight on my post today. 

As it is July 4th, I would like to say despite the controversies and difficulties of the recent years (and living abroad for five years, I am quite aware of them) that I am so very proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. 

I have always been touched by Katherine Lee Bates words set to music in "America the Beautiful". It might just be a worthy refrain and prayer for many of us to sing and say this day as we seek God's grace for our country and for the rest of the world:

O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.
O beautiful, for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!
O beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, and ev'ry gain divine!
O beautiful, for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!

The second beautiful highlight of today is my wife, Susan. It also happens to be her birthday today, so all who know her please take a moment to wish her well on her birthday! My wife indeed is a beautiful blessing to me in so many ways. She has the heart of a servant combined with a keen mind and a determined work ethic, a combination that I have not seen matched by anyone else I know.

A very important mentor of mine, Alan Clark, used to say to me (you can substitute the Scottish accent): "Young Crenshaw, some people say that adversity builds character, but I say it only reveals it." Although I knew it from the first time I met her, my situation with cancer has underscored this truth as it concerns my faithful partner, Susan. She is a woman of deep and substantial character, rooted in her faith in Christ and sustained by her walk with Him.

I am grateful to be an American citizen. I am blessed to have a wife and partner in Susan. God has surely "shed his grace" on me.

In Christ alone,


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Trivia Time

Dear Friends and Family,

As you can see by my profile picture, I have a new photo and a new hat to cover up my increasingly hairless head!

The hat was compliments of my cousin, Mark Ferrara, who is like a brother to me. For me, this hat has significance which is why Mark knew to buy it.

Ok, all you baseball trivia nuts, here are the questions about this particular hat:

1. Which team (easy)?

2. What year/era (moderate)?

3. What longstanding record held by whom was broken by which player of this team during that era (hard)?

4. Extra credit: Can you provide exact statistics? Can you provide exact date? What was the opposing team name? Can you provide any interesting facts about this modern-day sports hero?

More hats are coming. . .I must say I have received a few interesting ones in the mail lately!

Thanks for your continued prayers. By God's grace, I am plodding through these middle innings, trying to get some good pitches to hit, trying to get on base and every once in a while even score a few runs.

In Christ alone,


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2 days to 1/2 time

Dear Friends and Family,

I have two days until my 3rd treatment, which will be the half way mark.

I am thankful for and humbled by the constant reminder of God's goodness through the faithful prayers of so many.

I am rejoicing with a friend, Ken Knipp, who just had a clean PET scan after his battle with non-hodgkins lymphoma! God is faithful. I am borrowing a practice that Ken, the head of all training for Young Life, started during his treatment. He would wear hats that were sent to him to cover up his "bare wood" (see last post) and take pictures of them to send out. Ken sent me a Young Life Frontier hat which I am wearing in my profile picture on my blog. Thanks, Ken!

Here's a shout out (or, blog out) to all you Young Lifers out there! Keep serving, praying, giving and loving this amazing ministry that brings the good news of Jesus Christ to young people all around the world. May God richly bless you and your work for his kingdom.

In Christ alone,


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bare Wood

Bare Wood

I am only bare wood.

All the varnish has been rubbed off;

The stain has been stripped away.

The knots, that were once branches,

Have all been sanded down.

As painful as it has been,

It has somehow been cleansing,

Less covered by the layers of living

Which masquerade

As part of my wood.

"Not so", said the Carpenter,

"I have new purposes

For your wood.

Aged, cured, seasoned with time,

You show true colors and original grain."

"My purposes will be clear

As you fit into this new piece

I am now building.

Let the chemicals strip,

The awl cut, the paper sand."

"Let go of the covering

Not essentially yours.

Release the past stains,

No longer the right patina.

Submit to my well trained hands."

"Remember that I chose you from

The pile of used planks,

Though I could have left you untouched,

Lying there satisfied

With your station in life."

"Yes, I have chosen you because

You are still in need of re-making.

I have a plan that includes you,

But first you must become

Bare wood."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fixing our Hubble Telescopes

Dear Friends and Family,

As you can see by my new picture below, I have opted for the hairless approach and shaved my head due to the side effects of the chemo causing my hair to begin to fall out. Despite my new look, all went well at my recent treatment. Thankfully, my blood counts were back to normal, and I was able to receive the drugs without any serious side effects again. Thank you for continuing to pray that the cancer will be totally eradicated. I mistakenly mentioned that I would have a CT scan after my third treatment, but it will actually be after my fourth treatment in mid-July. I am hopeful that I will be cancer free at that point, and the last two planned treatments will only be for prophylactic purposes.

I suppose everyone has heard of the Hubble telescope that is taking the most astounding pictures of outer space while it orbits the earth. Here is the link to the official gallery of photos: Recently, I was reading in the paper and listening on the radio about the need to do some serious maintenance on the Hubble as it has been in orbit for a number of years. Astronauts from NASA were sent up to do the repairs and had to wrestle with stuck bolts and changing basic equipment, much like we might do on our cars on the weekend, except of course they were orbiting the earth in zero gravity atmosphere wearing full space suits while working on a machine that likely cost 100's of millions of dollars.

I was also talking with a professional acquaintance of mine this past week, and we were reflecting on mankind's interest in "the beyond", things which are outside of our known existence, like outer space. This interest in "the mysterious" is built deep into our human psyche and extends to the spiritual realm and the existence of God. While there is much we know about God - through nature, the cosmos, our own humanity which bears God's image and certainly through his revealed word in the Bible - God is still set apart from our complete comprehension. He is wholly other, and his ways can be inscrutable.

I also happened to be reading in the Bible this past week in the gospel according to Luke. Luke, a physician, provides a careful and focused account of God breaking into time and space through an alien-messenger sent to two chosen people. The alien's name was Gabriel, an angel who "stands in the presence of God" (Luke 1:19). He was sent to a man named Zechariah and to a woman named Mary. Although the news was good (two history-altering sons were to be born to them), Zechariah and Mary were both initially troubled and fearful (Luke 1:12, 29, 30). 

Zechariah's Hubble-like perception of the alien being needed a bit of adjusting, however. He did not quite comprehend exactly WHO he was talking to, since it is not everyday we humans are visited by the archangel who attends the Creator of the Cosmos. His insolent question of "How will I know this?" in response to Gabriel's message earned him the privilege of being mute for  the rest of his wife's pregnancy with John the Baptist. Mary, on the other hand, was faith-filled and merely asked "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (1:34), and later stated, "let it be to me according to your word" (1:38).

Like our physical Hubble, do our spiritual Hubble telescopes need some adjustments or updates? Is our resolution of the mysteries of God and life a bit fuzzy? Are there a few stuck bolts that need to be loosened so that we can stop asking "how will I know?", and instead start saying "let it be unto me according to your word"?

God is trying to break through to each of us, using various means - images of the vast beyond of space, relationships with loving friends and family, sickness and suffering, possibly even a visit from an angel. Are we tuned in to his images? Are we picking up his frequency?

Chances are - if you are seeing his images clearly - they are pointing you to Mary's son, Jesus. In fact, that was Zechariah's son's main calling in life, to herald the life of Jesus Christ. Gabriel, the awesome and fearful alien, told Mary that her son Jesus "would be great and called the Son of the Most High. . . and of his kingdom there would be no end." (Luke 1:32,33) The apostle Paul later called this same Jesus the "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. . . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by his blood on the cross". (Colossians 1:15,16,19,20)

It might be worth pondering Gabriel's and Paul's words as you check out the Hubble pictures. He created the heavens; he created us. He wants to bring reconciliation and peace in our lives and in all creation. Humbling. Exciting. "How will this be. . . let it be unto me."

In Christ alone,


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Round 2

Dear Friends and Family,

I am ready for round two today. I have recovered from the fatigue that the last round brought. Thank you for your continued prayers for healing. I am confident the medicine is working as I am beginning to experience other predicted side effects, such as hair loss. I got a "buzz" this past week, and a clean shave is not too far off.

I am working on my Telly Savalas imitations - "Who loves you, baby"?

I finished Lance Armstrong's biography "My Journey Back" about his fight with and victory over testicular cancer. It was inspiring even if we have different ideas about God and our spiritual reality. He said in the end that "pain is temporary, but quitting stays with you".

Please pray that the medicine does its work. I am looking forward to a clear CT scan after my third round later this month. Thank you again for your prayers and concern. It means a lot to me and my family.

In Christ alone,


Sunday, May 24, 2009

"For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Dear Friends and Family,

Life is filled with paradoxes - seemingly self-contradictory statements with an underlying truth - including literary, mathematical, philosophical and even certain folk riddles. Some are rather technical, others inane. While the Apostle Paul was not employing a literary technique when he penned these words - "For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10) - he was making a profound statement about a spiritual truth that he had experienced first hand. To this day, countless followers of Jesus Christ can also affirm the same in their own lives.

As I write today, it has been 10 days since my first chemotherapy treatment. While I have not experienced many side-effects, I do feel weak, tired and my body has ached at times like I have the flu. I take all these symptoms as signs the medicines are working. Although I am thankful that I am not experiencing greater side-effects, I must confess that I wish I had my pre-treatment level of energy. Like most, I don't want to be weak; I want to be strong, substantial, self-sufficient.

Weakness has an interesting effect, however, as it causes us to look to other sources of strength. I think this is Paul's point in his second letter to the church at Corinth. Paul (like me) had some physical malady - he called it a "thorn in the flesh".  He prayed to the Lord Jesus three times for him to take it away. This was Jesus' answer to him:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness". (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I am learning, as Paul learned, to call on a power far greater than my own meager strength, even at its peak. Unfortunately, when I am strong, my tendency is to rely on my own strength far too often, even though I know it pales in comparison to what Christ has availed to us by his Spirit. His power is perfected in weakness, in part then, because we are willing to lay aside our own self-sufficiency and call on his other-worldly power.

This is not easy for me, but I find myself in a place where I have no choice, which is in fact a severe mercy - severe in my diseased circumstances, merciful because I am moved to call upon the One who has the power to heal, transform and even raise the dead.

Others likely have much deeper, fire-forged insights into this spiritual truth of Christ's power being perfected in weakness. Please share them on the blog. I and others will be encouraged and benefit from your experiences.

I'll close with what many believe to be the greatest, most important paradox in human history - a cruel form of Roman torture and death (the crucifix) represents hope, redemption and new life. This paradox can only be true because Jesus took his own prescribed course for God's power being perfected in weakness. In laying down his life willingly (John 10:11), he conquered death. In becoming sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21), he payed the penalty for sin, satisfying God's holy wrath. In being swallowed by the powers of darkness, he defeated them and sealed their doom (Revelation 12:9-11). We know these truths are not the stuff of fairy tales, because the tomb was empty (Luke 24:6, 1 Corinthians 15).

I am glad that paradox exists.

In Christ alone,

Sunday, May 17, 2009

So Good. . . So Far . . .

Dear Friends and Family,

Thank you for your prayers and thoughts this past Thursday when I experienced my first cycle of chemotherapy. God answered your many prayers as I did not suffer the predicted side effects during the first infusion of one of the drugs, nor have I dealt with any significant side effects at all with the exception of a headache that evening. I am grateful.

I have a confidence that the tough medicine is working, even though the side effects are not manifesting themselves. It may be my imagination, but I do sense some sort of activity in the areas where the tumors are present in my body, within my chest and pancreas. Please continue to pray that they will kill the "insurgents" and minimize the "civilian casualties and collateral damage". One down. Five to go.

I have signed my recent notes "In Christ Alone". His presence has been with me from my first day in the hospital over a month ago until now. In addition to being blessed by the recent Christian hymn by that title, I would like to quote a few words by A. W. Tozer from his book "The Pursuit of God" that amplify my own reflections and experience of Christ during this trial:

"When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking "God - and. . ." effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the "and" lies our great woe. If we omit the "and", we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.

We need not fear that in seeking God only we may narrow our lives or restrict the motions of our expanding hearts. The opposite is true. We can well afford to make God our All, to concentrate, to sacrifice the many for the One (Christ alone). . . 

The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately and forever."

Tozer's words are worthy of reflection, especially in a world of "much-ness" and and "many-ness" - so many distractions, so many things competing for our ultimate affections. According to the scriptures and in my experience, there is only One who is worthy of our complete devotion and adoration. . .

In Christ alone,


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poison with a Purpose

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you on the "eve of destruction" - of my cancer cells, that is - as my first chemotherapy infusion starts tomorrow at 9 am at IU Medical Center. I like to think of this next phase as "poison with a purpose" since the drugs I will be given will attack the cancer cells, but at the same time, kill many types of good cells in my body. Four of the five drugs are not targeted in any way, so as they destroy fast growing cancer cells, they will also kill other cells which replicate frequently, such as white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets and cells lining my stomach and intestines. The other medicine is a monoclonal antibody targeted to a specific antigen on the surface of the aberrant b-cells. It will attach itself to those cancer cells and call on my body's death squads to kill the intruders.

So, the goal is to wipe out the insurgents, knowingly suffer collateral damage and civilian casualties, then secure the perimeter and build up sustainable defenses so there will be no more enemy infiltration. Heavy artillery. Special forces. Tough medicine.

There are times when tough medicine is called for, especially when the illness is terminal, or the prospects dire. I along with 66,000 others who are diagnosed with b-cell lymphoma every year are fortunate to have medicines which provide some solid hope of a cure, although there is still room for significant improvement. There are, however,  tens of thousands of patients with other types of cancers and diseases who are not so fortunate - a clarion call for continued bio-medical research and development around the globe, both public and private.

In all aspects of life, not just medicine or the military, drastic measures and harsh solutions are often required. In politics and foreign policy great risks need to be taken to "sue for peace"; in parenting we may need to take stern measures to reign in a wayward child; even in sports, like my beloved baseball, we have the late inning tactic of the "suicide squeeze play" to bring home a runner on third base to score a run, or to be mercilessly tagged out by the catcher.

From a spiritual perspective, there is a disease which is worse than cancer, Alzheimers or serious heart disease. The Bible calls it "sin". It is not a very popular topic during cocktail parties, or on blogs, nor is it often brought up in many of the pulpits in our churches today for fear of turning off the congregants, but it is serious and deserves our resolute attention.

In the midst of his "sermon on the mount" found in Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus spoke of various types of sin that often befall us - anger, lust/adultery, divorce/broken relationships, swearing, retaliation, dealing with your enemies, attitudes toward the poor, judging others, and so on. At one point (Mt. 5:29-30), he sternly warns: "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell."

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Christ is doing surgery on me of a spiritual kind, even if I thankfully avoided my scheduled pancreatic surgery. This type of surgery is dealing with sin in my life that still needs to be removed, or in Jesus' words, torn out and cut off. I am motivated to take this deep look and employ this tough medicine because I see how far short I fall from God's holy standard, and Christ's sinless example while he was on this earth. I am motivated by gratitude towards him for the sacrifice he made on my behalf on the cross. Even if I know my sins are forgiven based Jesus' death and resurrection, I want to hear "well done, good and faithful servant" when we meet face-to-face.

I wish it did not take cancer, or difficult situations and suffering, to motivate us to take the hard, deep look and use the tough medicine of repentance. God designed us so that pain often has a purpose, requiring us to poison those areas of our lives that keep us from following him. Our time is shorter than we often imagine, as I have been clearly reminded, so a bona fide "sense of urgency" regarding these matters is justified.

Here's to dead cancer cells and dead sin in our lives. . .

In Christ alone,


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Post from Susan

(The following is a post from my wonderful wife, Susan.)

Dearest friends,
True to my nature, I have been researching nutrition and supplements to help build Newt's immunity before, during and after chemo.  I am learning a lot even in the midst of conflicting theories and advice.  Mostly, for now, I am focusing on preparing a variety of healthy foods and supplementing with basic vitamins, and trusting God to lead us each step as we take one day/week at a time.
I have been reflecting on Psalm 33 this week.  I wrote it out and posted it on my refrigerator so I will remember it on our journey:
The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.
No king is saved by the size of His army; no warrior escapes by His great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance, despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love
to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the LORD;
He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in His Holy Name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
even as we put our hope in you.
Psalms 33: 11, 16-22
Our hearts are at peace knowing that despite the uncertainty of the past weeks and the uncertainty of the next, God's purposes for us and this trial He has given us have been established from before the foundation of the world.  What an amazing thought that is!  It is so humbling, sobering and yet, what a gift.  God has chosen to do and teach us something through this that in His unfailing love for us, He knows we could not learn some other way and we need in order to make us trust Him more.
I have been tempted more than once to take comfort in the statistics and stories of those "cured" of lymphoma, both through chemotherapy and nutritional supplements.  I look at Newt and he is so strong, and I think that surely he can beat this. How I am prone to rely upon what I can see and do.  But God has shown me in these verses from the Psalms that "a horse," whether it be a chemo horse or a nutritional horse, is a vain hope for deliverance. Despite great strength of both, they cannot save Newt, or me.  Even Newt's strength, "goodness," or integrity cannot save him.  But GOD, whose eyes are on us who fear Him, who love Him, whose hope is in HIM, is the one who delivers from death, even as He kills the cancer in Newt's body and restores him to health.
This verse reminds us and focuses our sight so that we wait in hope for the LORD.  HE is our help and our shield (though we walk through the fire we will not be burned...see Isaiah 43:1-7).  
While there have been many worrisome moments and the night is darkest on those occasions when we have not been able to sleep because of Newt's pain, we turn in trust to God to deliver and help us.  As Isaiah says later in verse 11 of that same chapter, Is. 43, "I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me, there is no Savior."  How our hearts rejoice in that truth because we know that He has redeemed us with His own blood, through the death of His own Son, and that nothing can be against us if God is for us.
Thank you so much for your continued prayers.  Newt's first chemo treatment is on Thursday so please pray for him as we begin this phase of the battle. We are so honored that you are praying for or thinking of us; know that we are praying for you as you pray for or think of us.  Please keep joining us as together we hope in God's abundant and unfailing love for each of us.
With much love in Christ,

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Definitive Diagnosis and Treatment Plan

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your prayers and for your comments on the blog, your emails, your cards and calls. You have been a source of deep encouragement for Susan, me and the children. We are grateful for your support and friendship.

We met today with my oncologist/hematologist at IU Med Center. The pathology results were back from the Nat'l Institute of Health  as well as the latest testing at IU. My diagnosis is diffuse large b-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It is one of the more common forms of lymphoma and has a standard chemotherapy treatment protocol. This is much better news than the original diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and certainly is better than having some rare form of lymphoma where the treatment would be less clear. Thanks be to God for answering our prayers.

The bone marrow biopsy revealed no detectable cancer in my bone marrow or blood. Further, the PET scan revealed no detectable cancer in any other tissue besides the pancreas and the mediastinal area in my chest. Again, thanks be to God for answering our prayers.

While the disease will be staged as IV because it has spread outside the lymph nodes, my prognostic index is still fairly good. In fact, the doctor indicated that my situation would suggest an 80% "cure rate" is possible should they be able to kill all the cancer during this first round of chemotherapy.

I will be starting chemotherapy next week (no surgery and likely no radiation required, another answer to prayer!). I will have six cycles, one every three weeks. The side effects are problematic with this therapy (R-CHOP), so please pray that it will kill all the cancer cells, but that I will also tolerate the side-effects.

Remaining cancer free for two years will be an important hurdle; however, the "cured" label will not be used until five years of being cancer free. I am in the Lord's hands in this regard, but I can assure you we plan to follow this plan of attack and win.

We have been so encouraged by the testimonies of how God is meeting different people who are praying for me in unique ways. If you are so moved, please continue to share how the Lord God is working in your life in specific ways as you pray and reflect on what he is teaching you.

I will close with a passage of scripture that our family has been meditating on that has aptly described our situation and also provided a spiritual roadmap:

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."
(I Peter 5:6-11)

In Christ alone,


Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Waiting is the Hardest Part. . .

Dear Friends,

A young Tom Petty sang that "the waiting is the hardest part", and my guess is we can all agree with him on one level or another. Today is the four week anniversary of my medical odyssey dealing with pancreatitis, blood work and IV's, ultrasounds, CT scans, supposed pancreatic cancer, a scheduled Whipple surgery, X-rays and EKG's, MRI's,  needle biopsies, a surgical biopsy, PET scan, and bone marrow aspiration. So, you might be asking, where are we after this "full meal plan" of diagnostics?

We're still waiting.

On Friday, we received the pathology report from my surgical chest biopsy. While the results are consistent with large b-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, there are some elements which are puzzling to the IU pathologists, so they have sent the sample to the National Institutes of Health to have a top cancer pathologist render her opinion. 

We hope to learn more about her views by next Wednesday when I have an appointment with an Oncologist/Hematologist at IU. On Monday, I meet with a supportive care doctor to determine how to best build and support my immune system. Later in the week, we plan to travel to Northwestern University Medical School to consult with an oncologist/hematologist who specializes in rarer forms of lymphoma, as it seems that mine is not quite "garden variety".

So, why is waiting so difficult for most of us? It seems to first be an issue of control - as in, who's in control. When we are waiting on someone or something, that person or event has a measure of control over our lives. Whether we are waiting at a stoplight, waiting for a friend to show up at a meeting place, waiting on your spouse to head out the door, waiting on a response to a job application, waiting on a medical diagnosis, even waiting to see a loved one again in heaven, waiting can be frustrating and create impatience and anxiety in our lives.

In the midst of my health uncertainties, however, God is teaching me an important truth that I know intellectually, but often behave as if I do not: I am not ultimately in control of my own existence, but God is. It is easy with our technology and wealth in the USA to fool ourselves into thinking we have more control over our lives than we really do. This line of thinking may seem like a giving up of control, but I would suggest that it is closer to surrendering the illusion that we were in ultimate control to begin with. 

If we are not ultimately in control, then who/what is? A high percentage of people today might say "chance", even "fate", or possibly some form of impersonal "providence". Many would say "God"; however, their conception of God is closer to the deist's notion of him as the absent clockmaker who created the world and then went off on some cosmic vacation in another galaxy. Not only should we reject the modernists' belief in random chance or the notion of blind fate, but also the view that God is somehow uninvolved in the lives of his people. This absent God is certainly not the Heavenly Father to whom Jesus Christ bore witness in the gospels: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows." (Mt. 10:29-31)

If control is the first issue making the wait hard, then trust becomes the second. If I cannot ultimately trust in myself or the randomness of life, then is God trustworthy?  I believe He is. Jesus taught and demonstrated to his disciples, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Mt. 7:7,8) He also promised, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." (Jn 11:25,26)  In the shortest statement of God's trustworthiness, the apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:8 "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Ok, if God - in and through Christ - has demonstrated his trustworthiness, why does He make us wait? Control and trust. He knows that by making us wait on Him, even in the midst of suffering, pain and confusion, we will come to know that He is in control and we are not. Further, when we turn to Him and ask in Jesus' name, we discover Him to be loving and faithful on our behalf. . . always. Read the Bible, and you will see that nearly all of its stories have to do with people waiting on the Lord to save them, reveal himself to them, or deliver them. Noah waited for months on the rain, Abraham and Sarah waited for decades for a son, Job waited in pain and in loss for restoration, Moses and the Israelites waited and wandered for two generations in the desert, David waited in exile for 13 years for the promised throne of Israel, and Mary and Martha even waited on Jesus while Lazarus lay in the grave for four days.

I am forced, then, to disagree with Tom Petty. Waiting is not necessarily the hardest part, it is often the essential part, because it drives us to the only One who has satisfying answers to our deepest questions. Psalm 40, written by King David (quite possibly while in exile), has meant much to me during these past four weeks. "I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord."

Waiting on a difficult diagnosis has not been easy, but it has been good in many ways. I am not in ultimate control of my destiny, as I have been abruptly reminded over the past few weeks, but I know the One who is. And He is good and trustworthy and always faithful. . . regardless of the circumstances.

In Christ alone,



Thursday, April 30, 2009

First Update to blog

Hello to Friends, Family and Co-workers,

I have been encouraged by many of you to write a blog to keep everyone updated on my situation and to share my thoughts along this journey. My intention is to write a few times each week or as I have new information and something relevant to share. Please feel free to share your thoughts back on the blog so that I and others can benefit from them.

Thanks to all of you for your wonderful out-pouring of support and prayer! You have been a blessing to me, Susan and my family. You have been a substantial source of strength and encouragement as we have faced this current challenge. Your emails, cards, calls and demonstrations of love have shown us how blessed of God we are to have such a family and friends!

Medical Update:
As most of you know, 3.5 weeks ago I went to the ER for abdominal pain, thinking it was an ulcer. I found out it was pancreatitis, leading to an ultrasound of my pancreas. The doctors found a mass in the head of my pancreas and diagnosed it as pancreatic cancer. Through a variety of tests, procedures, and biopsies, they subsequently determined that it is not pancreatic cancer. Thanks be to God! 

During those procedures, they found another mass in my chest, behind my sternum (anterior mediastinum), and have completed a surgical biopsy of that tissue last Friday. While we have no results from that larger biopsy, we should know more within the next few days. The current assumption based on the needle biopsies of the pancreas and chest is that I have some type of lymphoma

I will be undergoing more tests (PET/CT, bone marrow aspiration) tomorrow to help determine whether the growth is in parts of my body other than the chest and pancreas. I will then be meeting with an oncologist/hematologist next week to review all of the data from these tests to determine a treatment plan.

Although this has been a very long and tough three weeks, I want to publicly thank the team of expert doctors and staff at the IU Medical Center. What a blessing to have such a resource here in our city of Indianapolis. Your prayers have been answered in so many ways, including my not having pancreatic cancer. Please keep praying for complete healing - even a God-glorifying miracle - from whatever the doctors determine is the cause!

Living under a "death sentence" for over two weeks has had quite an effect on me. God's grip on my life has become much more real to me as I have grappled with this trial. While I will avoid pancreatic surgery/cancer, the Lord has done surgery of another kind on my heart and soul. I have been reminded more than once of a favorite section of T.S. Eliot's poem, The Four Quartets, East Coker, part IV:

The Wounded Surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

Jesus Christ (our "Wounded Surgeon") has been refining me by showing me ways he wants me to change for his glory and his kingdom. He is asking me to more deeply rely on Him, to trust him with my life and future, and to look to him for grace to live each day. He is also asking me to die to sin and myself ("our, and Adam's curse"), and live for Him and for others in his resurrection power. In moments like these, you see how powerless the things of this world are to truly save us. Unfortunately, money, status, position, power, connections, all masquerade as having a form of power, but ultimately they come up short when dealing with matters of life, death and the disposition of our souls.

The apostle Paul, summed up my situation perfectly in II Corinthians 1:8b-11:

"For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many."

While it has been difficult, God is using this trial for his glory. We are praying that as God calls you to pray with and for us, he himself will meet you in unique ways and bless your life.

In Christ alone,