Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Thanks for What?

Thanksgiving did not originate as most of us think it did.

I have spent some time (probably not enough, though) studying this holiday that everyone remembers, and here are just some of the facts about how it started.

The first thanksgiving celebration in what would become known as "America" happened on September 8, 1565. A Spanish explorer named Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed in Florida. He was grateful to have arrived safely, and held a feast of giving thanks with a group of the Timucua native Americans. They stuffed themselves with a bean soup. In 1820, the Timucua became extinct, thanks to European diseases and invasion warfare.

In the "Commonwealth of Virginia," thanksgiving feasts and celebrations are recorded from as early as May 14, 1607. Captain John Woodlief declared, "the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God." I haven't found the reason for it, but 9 people there, and about a third of the colony population, were killed by the Powhatan Indians in 1622.

"The First Thanksgiving, 1621" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.
Pilgrims never wore such clothes, and the northeast region
natives never wore these great plains styles.
The story we all think we know from Massachusetts isn't much different. The Pilgrims were NOT Puritans. They were a political group of English Separatists. (The Puritans had settled nearby, where Boston is now, but were not part of this story.) All but about 50 of the Pilgrims died over the winter of 1620. The survivors only lived because the Wampanoag Indian tribe taught them how to plant, gather, and preserve foods. After their fall harvest in 1621, they celebrated a feast of thanksgiving. The food was deer taken in the forest by natives, fowl raised by the Pilgrims, natural nuts from the forest, seafood, and various harvested grains. The celebration lasted 3 days. Within 20 years, the Wampanoag were nearly wiped out by the combination of disease and the Pilgrims' belief that they had the right to take over the land.

Native elders rarely saw any of the true Christian settlers who followed a highly desirable "spirit-man" named Jesus. Christian leaders rarely saw natives who started every day by giving thanks to Creator for life, and celebrated every gift from him. Neither understood the other. Only a few of both sides truly loved God with heart, soul, and mind. On the rare occasions when they faced each other through the love of God, they lived in peace.

All Americans should know the truths about the Thanksgiving holiday. (And I'll tell you now, I have only scratched the surface here.) We should learn from its history, then we should let that history pass. It was good in some ways, and evil in others. But what about today?

Today, just make it a holiday of giving thanks to God for whatever blessing you have received, and for bringing you through whatever hardships you have faced. God loves every person to the point that he gave his only Son, that through the cross all could accept his love. Meet your neighbors with that love, and share your thanksgiving.

Who do we hate? Who do we ignore? If we are truly saved by and living for Jesus Christ, we can't hate or ignore anyone. What are we missing? What do we have? Whatever our conditions may be, whether the table is loaded or light, give thanks to God for the greatest gift he has given, Jesus Christ, and reach out with the love from that gift to everyone else.

"Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9.10-15)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Feeling Low, and Getting Over It

Father, this morning I'm feeling low. No, not low. Feeling so bad it would need a word that's been cleaned from my vocabulary. Why do I feel so bad this morning? I'm not hurting anywhere. I got a great night's sleep. I went to the doctor's office yesterday, and after they took their blood tests, he told me how great the numbers were. Everything going on around me is working fine (except that I have to go to work, I guess). And everything I'm being told is good news. So what's up?

I start the next wave of treatments next Monday morning, but I thought that was under control. We've been through that. The doctor told me he didn't expect I would have any problems. I took this drug for a month, and had no side effects. My blood numbers didn't go down at all, even with the radiation along with it. So now I get to take the drug for just five days. Then take 23 days off before taking it again.

Well, the stuff IS a poison after all. Yeah, I know. I've got a Chemistry degree. I've seen what this chemical is. I know what it does to cancer cells, and how it does it. I also know it does the same to a bunch of the other cells in the body. My body. The doc said that during the 23 days after taking it, the good cells will rebuild, because the body cares about them and will replace them. The cancer cells-- If they're there at all, and we know they're not.-- They won't be replaced, because they're not connected to the body. My body.

But now the dose is being doubled, since the radiation is done. And if the doctor thinks I'm looking OK, he may increase it even more. Yeah. More poison if I'm doing good.

I've been through so much with this, Father. You have strengthened me and led me through all of it.

OK. Yeah, I remember. That first message you gave me through another leader. "You'll come through it. But you have to go through all of it." When I heard it, it sounded alright, but I didn't get it right away. Then-- when my self-reliance was torn down to nothing and my reliance on you replaced it-- I understood. In everything... Everything!... I had to learn to put it all on you. Fear and courage. Worry and confidence. Pain and pleasure. Suffering and relief. Anger and attraction. Hatred and love. Sorrow and joy. All on you, Father. I learned about praying these things, and truly leaving them at your feet. At the cross of Jesus Christ. Your son. My Lord and (in ways I'll never fully understand) my perfect brother.

So Father, you're telling me I'm not all the way there yet. Will I ever be? No? But oh-- OK-- I will always grow in my faith and trust and confidence and love and all those other ways in you, for the rest of my life. Right now it's the trust thing. Yes, Father. I trust you will get me through these next six months of treatments, and the recovery time after them. And I trust that my trust and faith and trust and confidence and trust will be stronger than I can imagine. Already stronger in you now, than I ever knew I could be. Yet I know it's just the beginning of what you have in mind for me, so you can fulfill what you have called me to do for you and for your Kingdom.

So here I am, back at the Cross. I see and feel your perfect love flowing into and around me, from my loving Saviour who sacrificed himself on it, for me. I love you, Lord, with all my feelings, all my being, all my strength, and all my thoughts (Luke 10.27), weak as they still are. And you've given me a most unexpected, but blessed, answer. In my past days, I was more like that disciple Simon Peter, than I ever wanted to believe. "'Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.' Peter said to him, 'Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.' Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.'” (Luke 22.31-34) And like you did with him, Lord, you are bringing me out the other side.

Now I understand. Well, at least more than when I started. So here, Lord. Take this fear and worry and emotion that I have right now. I'm handing them all over to you, and will not pick them up again. I see and accept that you're not done. Through these six cycles of treatment with poison, and recovery time after them, you are going to make me into what I never dreamed possible. And I will rely on you as my source of strength and wisdom and knowledge and everything else, far more than I do already.

Thanks, Father. I'm feeling pretty good now.

Cross image copied from "St James' Kids" blog.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Find Perfect Love

Late in July of this year, I was found to have cancer in my brain. If you want to review the story, you can read an earlier posting about the details of my cancer treatment in the hospital. And you can read about an unexpected gift, Boomer.

Since those postings, I have had six weeks of combined radiation and chemotherapy treatments. I was supposed to feel fatigue, and have an upset stomach. The radiation was supposed to cause a "sunburn" on the side of my face. I had none of those.

Here's a common sermon illustration-- When a person goes to the altar to pray, she takes the burdens off of her shoulders, and prays to the Lord that He will take those burdens away. Then she gets up from the altar, picks up the burdens again, and carries them back out. It's fairly clear-- When a person asks God to take her burdens, she should leave them there, right? Right.

Well, that illustration isn't totally accurate. What usually happens is a person takes his burdens to the altar, but never takes them off his own shoulders while he asks God to take them away. He prays while holding the burdens to himself!

The Star Trek bridge device, shooting my head with X-rays.
My head was held in place by a stiff plastic net.
Thousands of shots, from hundreds of angles,
all within 2 minutes.
When I was taking the treatments, they were shooting through one of my brain's emotion centers with high powered X-rays. What I felt coming on was depression. Now, I understand what can cause depression, but I had none of those usual causes. So I knew that it was from the radiation. I passed this information to those praying for me, and I handed the whole thing over to God my Father. I told Him that I knew there was nothing I could do about it, and asked Him to get me through it.

The result was that the depression passed that day. And each day through the treatments, my personal feelings of joy and satisfaction increased. At the end of the treatments, when I was supposed to be at my worst, I felt almost normal.

Read 1 John 4.7-21. Right now, I'll focus on verses 18-19: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us."

I had bypassed fear on all of this. When I could have been afraid, I had no emotions at all. I think that was God's gift, for His purposes. When they came back, the most powerful emotion I felt was the joy of knowing Jesus Christ and the love He had given to me.

I know many, many Christians who have disease or injury, and have not been healed. Why is that, even though they love God? It's because they don't let go! Maybe he thinks he has to do something to earn healing. Maybe she wants to be healed, more than she loves the Lord. Maybe his heart is such that if he is healed, he'll wander off some other way. Maybe she thinks she loves God, but it's just an emotion of her own. Whatever the details, they don't truly let go of the burdens they are carrying.

I also know Christians who have disease or injury, but are not bothered or afraid. They serve and love God and other people. They may or may not be healed in their lifetimes. But they aren't worried by that. They are powered by the love of Christ that lives and moves within them.

How did I get through this so far? How can I face the possibility that the cancer could return, yet live with confidence that it is gone forever? Because I  learned about that "perfect love" John talked about. Every person has love. But like everything else, it's not perfect. The only perfect love is the love of Jesus Christ, which He offers to every person as a gift. He did that by giving His life on the cross, for every person. I you don't have that perfect love, then run to the cross of Jesus Christ, and turn yourself completely over to Him.

The love I feel for God, and the love I feel for everybody, is no longer my own love, but the love of Christ that was given to me. Because I have that love, I took these burdens off, handed them over to God my Father through the name and love of Jesus Christ, and walked away from them. Now free of those burdens, even though they could still exist physically, I am strengthened to serve and love God and other people completely, with the love of Jesus Christ.

I have six months of chemotherapy coming. Not a problem.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Damascus... er, Muncie... Road

Thirty-three years ago, I was riding my motorcycle (a '76 Gold Wing, if that matters to anyone) on Indiana State Highway 3. I was a student at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) in Indianapolis, near the end of my third year. I was student-pastor of the Springport Christian Church. I was returning from a hospital visit in Muncie.

Mine looked just like this one.
Picture from "Naked Gold Wings Club."
About a mile from the turn-off to Springport, I topped a hill overlooking farmland and forest, where one of the church members let me hunt. Suddenly, the bike's radio turned on. Strange, though, because I heard it in my helmet. Back in those days, a motorcycle radio was hung under the windshield, and there was no connection between it and the helmet. Unless you were rich. Which I certainly was not. So it wasn't the radio, but a whole other source. I brought that Wing to a halt!

This was my "Damascus Road Experience." If you're not familiar with that road, let me make reference for you. A young Jewish Pharisee named Saul was big on the literal law that kept people in line. He didn't care at all about the people themselves. His mission was to hunt down them Jesus people and get rid of'em, any way he could. Well, Saul was riding his horse on his way to Damascus, intent on having a big mass arrest, followed by a big mass execution.

"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'
'Who are you, Lord?' Saul asked.
'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 'Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'" (Acts 9.1-6)

Standing on the edge of the shoulder, I was trying to figure out what I was hearing in the helmet-- then in my ears once the helmet was off! I was hearing the Lord's voice. I don't think anybody else would have heard it, if they were with me. "You are finished at Springport and at CTS. Anderson will accept you. You are to be an evangelist more than a pastor."

And that was it. The gracious difference between my experience and Saul's was that I was not blinded and knocked off my steed. At 60 miles per hour.

That night, and the next two nights, I had a dream about it, telling me (by events, not dates) when the calling would truly come to life. In the meantime, I was to serve Him, however life would take me. Within two weeks, I was fired by the Springport church, because CTS told them that I had failed. Then I applied at the Church of God seminary in Anderson IN, and was accepted. I excelled there, but the falling economy pushed me elsewhere.

I accepted the call to ministry 36 years ago. After three years, the call was clarified on the road. I finished seminary (Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary) and was ordained. I was a pastor for 18 years. Then for 18 years I worked in regular-world jobs, serving the Lord however I could. My wife and I founded a world ministry for widows, still in its early stages. Then those events I had dreamed about? They happened.

This is long enough for today. Details in following articles. For now let's just say that God never forgets, and time belongs to Him. Ultimately, when we wonder what's going on, the best thing to do is "get up..., and you will be told what you must do."