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,