Cancer

In Her Own Words

March 27, 2014 stood tall for Valérie and me.

On this day, the doctor diagnosed Valérie with metastatic carcinoma breast cancer. I then accessed the American Cancer Society website and it described this type as “the most feared form of breast cancer…little in the way of treatment.” In bewilderment and shock, I thought I would lose my wife.

Little did the Alexander family know then that, exactly two years later, March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday, Valérie would give her video testimony to God’s healing and of His continued presence while she underwent bleak, challenging, devastating, painful and lonely times.

Except for Valérie’s closest friends and relatives, no one could possibly know how difficult this video task was for her. With the exception of a speaking engagement at a women’s retreat, this was the only time she had spoken publicly about her journey.

As you’ll hear in the video below, her testimony is accompanied by a powerful rendition of the song “It Is Well,” led by our dear friend Sarah Schoenherr.

Whether Valérie lived or died, her trust centered in Jesus.

“Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you…

And it is well with me…”

With no reservation, I assure all that the words captured Valérie’s heart. Whether she lived or died was not her primary concern. Rather, regardless of the outcome, she simply wanted God to redeem her pain for the benefit of others.

It wasn’t until a most anxious of days, when we thought Valérie was going back into chemo, that I, too, released it all. And though all I wanted was to grow old with my wife, I told the Lord that whatever happened, it, too, was well with me!

Valérie, our daughters, and I share this journey with you now. In the midst of pain, in the middle of heartache and sorrow, stands the One who knows and sees.

His name is Jesus. And because our eyes are on Him, it is well…

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Politics

Evangelicals and the Trump Phenomema 

This week, America began the process of choosing the next POTUS. For Christians and conservatives, the choices have rarely been so diverse and contrasting, primarilydue to the strong early showing of Donald Trump. Even though Trump has hit on a theme that America’s ruling class has failed them, he is a deeply flawed candidate.

While the Democrats have a leading candidate who has severe handicaps as well, it is Donald Trump and his significant support from Evangelicals that is most perplexing. Rectitude and uprightness still matter. Integrity and honor must be qualities we demand from leaders. It seems as though America has replaced those standards with clever sound bites. Thoughtfulness has been replaced with entertainment.

America professes exacerbation with its leaders, yet few will admit the leaders are a reflection of the electorate. The leaders are simply a representation of the country. There is an understandable fascination with Donald Trump because he refreshingly speaks his mind, paying no heed to consequences. It’s bracing and invigorating to an audience tired of flimsy rhetoric.

Invective and brashness, however, are no substitute for a godly, principled leader. Even a nation that is increasingly secular would benefit profoundly from choosing leaders of decency and probity.

The perception of leadership is often vastly different from actual leadership. How one looks and sounds has little bearing on actual substance. In the end, America has rejected any semblance of true godliness, and has instead replaced it with buffet-style morality, and it is reflected in our current generation of leaders.

America would do well to learn from Israel’s history. In both the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, a clear relationship is seen between godly kings and the health of the nation. Kings such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah provided leadership under which the nation prospered.

But it is the story of Israel‘s first King, Saul, that most closely shows the consequences of disobedience. Whereas theocracy was the standard of governance for the nation of Israel, God relented to the demands of the people for a King.

Saul appeared to be the ideal King in terms of stature and presence, but his character lacked discipline and was irresolute. When presented to the people, Saul immediately gained favor because he looked the part. 

Saul’s story however, would expose him as a man given to greed, pride, and an unwillingness to do what he knew was right. Unlike his successor, David, who drew “mighty men” to his side, King Saul died the death of a coward, surrounded by men who were unable to rescue him.

And it was because of disobedience.

The disobedience of King Saul germinated with a single decisionthat not only affected his life and future, but it also imperiled the very existence of his people.

America should take note.

We read about the existential threat to the Jews in the book of Esther. This story has become part of the national identity of the modern day State of Israel. In fact, in his recent speech before the United States Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted parallels between the threat facedby Israel from Iran to what the Jews faced from the Persian Empire 2500 years ago.

This story of Esther is one of the more gripping stories in all the Bible. She was a young Jewish girl who became Queen of the Persian Empire during the reign of King Xerxes. In the story, Queen Esther’s people, the Jewish people living in the Persian Empire, faced extermination from a man who was second only to the King. His name was Haman.

The roots of the story of Esther reach far back in Israelis history to the book of Exodus. As the Israelites were traveling through the desert from Egypt to Canaan, the Amalekites attacked when Israel was most vulnerable. Joshua and the army defeated them, and God said “I will completely block out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. (Exodus 17:8-15)

Later, in Deuteronomy 25,still hundreds of years before Saul becomes King, God tells the people to remember what the Amalekites did and reminds them how the Israelites were attacked when they were weary and worn out. God further commands the Israelites when they were settled in the land to “block out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”(Deuteronomy‬ 25:17-19 NIV)

After Saul became King, God was ready to punish the Amalekites. Through the prophet Samuel, he told Saul to destroy them and all that belonged to themDutifully, Saul attacked the Amalekites and completely destroyed the Amalekites with the exception of Agag, whom they kept as a prisoner. Then greed entered the equation. They kept the best of all the flocks and herds. Everything that was of great value was spared (1 Samuel 15:7-9 NIV). Saul disobeyed God in that while he destroyed all the people in the city of Amalek, he spared the most important person, King Agag. 

Seven hundred years later, in the story of Esther, the Jewish people are experiencing great difficulty. Mordecai, the cousin of Queen Esther, would not kneel down or pay Haman honor as was customary. “Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, ‘Why do you disobey the king’s command?’ Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply.

“Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.” (Esther 3:3-6 NIV)

Something hidden exists here. Haman, furious that Mordecai would not honor him found that Mordecai had Jewish roots, and he thereby devised a plan to destroy not only Mordecai but all the Jewish people in the kingdom.

What is the connection between Saul, the Amalekites, and the story of Esther? The link is Haman! “After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles” (Esther 3:1 NIV).

Scripture reveals that Hamanwas a direct descendant of Agag!Scripture also illuminated that Saul killed all of Agag’s people. The implication seems to be that between the time Agag was captured by Saul and the time he was killed by Samuel, he fathered a child. Hundreds of years after those events, the ancestral offspring of that union was looking to exact revenge.

Saul partially obeyed the Lord in killing the Amalekites, but he made a horrible choice in letting Agag live. It may have seemed like a minor detail at the time, but it nearly resulted in a genocide of the Jews. It was Saul’s lack of discipline and obedience that not only destroyed him, but nearly destroyed his people.

There is a little bit more to the story. You see, while the city of Amalek was the capital city, there were other Amalekites dwelling in the region. God had told Saul, “Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.

Saul was not to have stopped with the city of Amalek, but he did. This tragic decision would provide a fitting end to Saul’s life. At the end of Saul’s life, surrounded by Philistines (1 Samuel 31) as he took his own life, there was a person there to witness this sad end. While scripture doesn’t name him, he is identified as “an Amalekite” (2 Samuel 1:8).

An Amalekite!

An ironic end to a life lived for self and in disobedience…

For America, the clarion call must be for statesmen of integrity, virtue, and honor. It may be difficult at times to discern the substance of a candidate, but with Donald Trump, nothing is hidden. Though he looms large, his lack of character illuminates his smallness.

In this election season, the Church must be heard. Evangelicals cannot afford to squander their civic and moral duties. If the Church abstains from voting or sets its affections on a candidate with whom there is no true commonality, the Church will have readily contributed to,and hastened, its irrelevance.

Hosea 8:7 says, “They that sow the wind shallreap a whirlwind.” When the church sows foolishness and squanders opportunity, America reaps a storm of consequences that none can foresee. The consequences may not be felt in the current generation, but the compounding effect of time will multiply culpability.

If Evangelicals will act quickly and wisely, problems can be chosen. If time and opportunity is wasted, the problems will do the choosing!

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Jesus in Scripture

Considering Jesus in the aftermath of ISIS inspired attacks

Even while ISIS summarily executed French citizens and influenced the attack in San Bernardino, Christians were prodded to question their own approach to these horrid events. They wondered how they should respond…how Jesus would respond. Much of the time, the answer to that question evolved from a perception of who they thought Jesus was. However, the response often lacked consistency across the whole of scripture. Neither did the representation consider the fullness of who He was or who He is. Who was Jesus? What do the scriptures proclaim about him?

A recent Facebook post suggested that Jesus was a pacifist. Although one can understand the comment and intent it does pose serious problems as well. To reduce Jesus to a label, often to emphasize a point of view, minimizes his nature. The weightier truth, that Jesus is Deity and one with the Father reveals both the simplicity and complexity of who Jesus is, and it illuminates the interconnectedness of the Father and the Son.

The predominant perception that the world holds of God and Jesus often defaults in terms of cliché: an Old Testament God who exhibits wrath, anger, and judgement and a New Testament Jesus who loves all and passes no judgement except on religious leaders. It’s a bad cop/good cop dichotomy. This view is often, albeit more subtly, found in the Church as well.

Neither of these descriptions accurately portray the picture revealed in scripture. God (the Father) and Jesus (the Son) (alongside the Holy Spirit) embody the Deity (singular) and cannot work independently from each other: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus)” Col 1:19. “For in Christ all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Through Jesus, all of God was made plain. All.

Why does the picture of a God of wrath, judgement, and anger persist? It certainly has no foundation in Jesus, for He mirrors the very nature of the Father.

While Jesus lived among us, the Father simply expressed all of himself through the Son. Jesus, who while on earth lived fully as man, lived a life filled with and sourced by God himself through the Holy Spirit. Again, Jesus visibly manifested all of God’s fullness.

In Jesus then, the Old Testament “God of wrath” is revealed as a God who is indeed “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love“(Neh 9:17). To see who the Father truly is, look to the Son, where the fullness of deity lived.

 The interconnectedness of the Father and the Son goes even deeper still. “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” Colossians1:15; “no one has ever seen God…” John 1:18; “now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible…” 1 Tim 1:17; “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see…” 1 Tim 6:16, etc.

These verses reveal one commonality: God the Father, is spirit invisible, unseen and unseeable. These verses are paramount to our understanding of God, especially regarding the God presented in the Old Testament. From the very beginning of scripture then, a paradox is seemingly presented.

 In Genesis 2-3 for example, The Lord God put Adam in the garden, He brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them, He made Eve as a helpmate for Adam, He talked with Adam and Eve, and they “heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”

The one talked about here, the one who walked and talked with Adam and Eve, could only be Jesus, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ! Scholars refer to this and other similar sightings as Christophanies, a physical appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. No surprise should exist then that Jesus, the author of creation (Col 1:16), was active and present in His creation much in the same way He longs to be active and present in our lives today.

 This phenomenon is not only found in the Garden. In Genesis 18, The Lord and two angels met Abraham and had a meal with him. Not only was this another Christophany, but the Hebrew word used here for “The Lord” is YHWH, the divine name of God! Although the Godhead consists of three persons, God is indeed One! There is no daylight between the Father and the Son. To see one is to know the other.

 Dr. John Walvoord in his book, Jesus Christ Our Lord, makes this statement: “It is safe to assume that every visible manifestation of God in bodily form in the Old Testament is to be identified with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Asher Intrater further explores this theme in his book Who Ate Lunch With Abraham?

 Jesus alludes to his relationship to the Father in John 14:9 when He said to Philip “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”! In John 5:39, Jesus also said “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me!

 The prophet Isaiah illuminates this truth when he writes of his own revelation:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.””Isaiah‬ ‭6:1-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Then Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord say “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” After Isaiah agrees to go and speak for the Lord, the passage goes on to say “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”” Isaiah‬ 6:10.

Who did Isaiah see on the throne? The apostle John asserts the truth in chapter 12 of his gospel: 

“Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere (Isaiah 6:10): “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”

John declares Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him! Isaiah “saw the Lord, high and exalted and on the throne, with the angels singing Holy Holy Holy”! Amazing!

 Jesus wasn’t a pacifist. He is, however, the Prince of Peace. He is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Rider on the White Horse in Revelation 19. Even more important though, in this time where the world seems upside down, where white is black and black is white, where fear wants to press in on all sides, the angels are still singing Holy Holy Holy!

 In this advent season, the babe in the manger is still in on the throne. Jesus is the only God you will ever see. He wants to be your Prince of Peace? Will you let him?

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Cancer

If He’s Not Yours, Then You’re Not His

The last two weeks have been quite difficult. Almost daily somebody I know reports a new cancer diagnosis. I wonder why there are so many…
…Why now?

And with each one comes a flashback to our own diagnosis. It’s not hyperbole when I say I feel like I’m stuck in a hole.

I’m learning to deal with the remembering and the fear. It was more than fear though; the fear had a presence. The fear was like a pervasive odor that I couldn’t escape. With each breathe, a reminder that it was there.

After Valerie was diagnosed, I can now admit, with every ache and pain, I wondered if I too was going to be diagnosed. It seemed so shocking. There was nowhere to run away to. So we didn’t run away…we ran towards. We ran towards the One who let it all happen. We cried out to Him like a child to his father.

The hardest part was trusting that God knew. And not only did He know, but He allowed. And because of those two truths, I didn’t just want to trust – I had to trust. Honestly, that was the only thing that got us through. Regardless of the outcome, healing or death, we knew that we were held close.

 

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” 

‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭17:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬


We had nothing else to do but to put this Truth to the test. We decided early that we would cast everything on the Lord. We pushed all our chips to the middle of the table and we trusted. I remember praying that if God didn’t heal Valerie, then we weren’t interested in anything else.

When I think about the “trust” spoken of in the passage, it’s not a relationship between co-equals. Rather, this relationship is with God himself! It is a lesser party crying out to a greater party for help, and then taking confidence in the outcome. When you’re going through the wasteland, where is your confidence? In whom are you trusting?

Even though our trust was (and is) rooted in this relationship, it doesn’t mean there was an absence of fear. In trusting, though, we continued to give away the fear that seeks to control and paralyze. And we had to continually release it to the One to whom the wind and waves submit.

So what happened to my trust this week?

I never said this was easy… Some of it is very much PTSD. I suppose the rest is a deep empathy and sadness for those I love because I now know what it all means. Moment by moment, though, I continue to choose to release. I continue to choose relationship.

As I try to picture this trust relationship within the context of Scripture, I’m immediately drawn to the story of Passover, which celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. In Exodus 12, we see a picture of the Passover lamb, the perfect lamb that was the sacrifice for the sin of the people. It’s a picture of Jesus, who was the perfect sacrifice for the sin of the whole world.

In the Hebrew text, there is a wonderful progression:
“Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats” Exodus‬ ‭12:3-5
Notice the progression, from general to specific. Whether or not one is a believer, we can most likely agree that Jesus was a lamb; he was one who claimed to be the Savior. You see, in history, there are many who have claimed to be “a lamb”, or Messiah. Jesus, among them, also was a lamb. But he wasn’t just a lamb, or one of many, he was the lamb.

So you may accept that Jesus was one among many who have claimed to be a Savior, but do you know him to be the Savior?

There is a bit more, though, that is very important! Jesus was a lamb, and you may believe that he was the lamb. But is he your lamb? You may acknowledge that Jesus, the Son of God, is the Savior of the world, but is He your Savior. Here’s the thing… If He’s not yours, then you’re not His! But when you’re in that type of relationship, you can have the absolute confidence that your prayers are heard, considered, and answered! And whatever the answer, there is trust and confidence!

When life crashes in, and when the fear of death seemingly grabs you by the throat to where you can’t breathe or think, knowing that He is yours and you are His somehow makes whatever future you are facing seem doable!

I have realized again this week that it’s not a hole I am in. It’s a tunnel, and there is a way out. As I move through the darkness, there is a Light I am moving towards.

The Light is Jesus. I know, no matter the circumstances, I can trust Him. Do you know Him? Is He yours?

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Cancer

Juxtapositions in the Strong Tower

Yesterday was an anniversary of sorts. One year ago, September 10, 2014, my wife, Valerie, finished chemotherapy for Stage 3, invasive breast cancer.

The chemo lasted a little over five months and to say it was brutal would be an understatement. There were many days when Valerie could only get out of bed to use the restroom. And the pain…

…so much pain…

You should know right up front, even as I write this, I can’t help but think of the horror of it all. Yet I remember peace and the constant abiding presence of God throughout our journey. When Valerie was diagnosed, we weren’t expecting it (does anybody?). What was most difficult was that she had discovered the tumor as much as two years earlier, but it was attached to a cyst that neither mammograms nor ultrasounds showed. What should have been an early diagnosis and minimally invasive treatment turned into five+ months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and eight weeks of radiation.

Today, one year from the end of chemo, seven months from the end of treatment and almost two months from her first post-treatment scans, I find myself with a heart of wonder and thankfulness. Oh, those scans? They included a full body CT scan, a bone scan, and an MRI. Unfortunately, they did reveal one thing… Valerie has a little bit of arthritis in her left knee.

Other than that, everything was CLEAN!

When I read the Psalms, I am struck by the juxtaposition of the writers crying to God in despair and fear and then turning to praise God for his goodness and his faithfulness, for his protection and provision, for his shelter and his refuge. My wife and I know that juxtaposition because we lived it.

After we received the phone call that “the test results were positive,” we were in shock for several hours. When we finally could begin to start navigating again we discussed several things. While we had both the best oncologist and surgeon in town, we were not interested in doctors or medicine or treatments.

What we wanted was a “Jesus healing.”

It’s a simple picture really… When Jesus healed, it was complete. It was done and it was finished. There were no ongoing treatments. When Jesus healed the blind man, the blind man didn’t need glasses. When Jesus healed the deaf, they didn’t need hearing aids. And when Jesus healed the lame, they didn’t need orthotics. The healing was complete and it was full! That’s what we wanted! And so, from the very beginning, it’s what we prayed for.

Two weeks before receiving our diagnosis, God put Psalm 91 on Valerie’s heart, and she saturated in it day after day, wondering why. And then we knew… The first two verses read:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (‭Psalm‬ ‭91‬:‭1-2‬ NIV) ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The rest of the chapter is all about God’s protection and deliverance. And so, I sit here now, knowing those promises were for us, and I am full of praise and thanksgiving.

I’ve documented all of this well over the last 17 months at Valerie’s blog site. If you haven’t read it before, you’ll find it to be raw and very transparent. You’ll also see that in 17 months of specific prayer requests, everything we prayed for was answered, be it low blood counts, sickness, infection, tests, scans, etc. Every. Single. Thing! And so again, today, I write from a place of wonder and thanksgiving, having known the heartache and despair that preceded it.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned through this chapter of our lives is how different everybody’s story is, cancer or not. This hit us hard 14 days ago as we said goodbye to a dear young friend, Kari Karr, who was just a bit older than our girls. Some would say she fought a long, hard battle against Cystic Fibrosis since she was a baby. I wouldn’t disagree, but I saw something a little different. I saw a young lady who kept her gaze steady on Jesus, who was her strong tower, her refuge, her rampart. She focused on him, and he fought for her.

When Jesus called her home, he didn’t lose, and neither did she.

I don’t understand why it was her time, but it reminds me of the night Valerie was told she had to go back into chemotherapy. I didn’t understand this either, especially after her treatment seemed to be going so well. I accepted it, and though I went to sleep that night sure that I was going to lose my wife, I felt and knew the presence and peace of Jesus like I never had before. Valerie didn’t end up going into chemo, and, to this day, the story of why she didn’t is simply hard to believe, even for me.

As for our Kari, we know she is with Jesus now because we read about it in scripture. The apostle Paul wrote:

 “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord”. (‭II Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭8‬ NKJV). ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 

I think there is more, though, that excites me for her and for us. You see, scripture teaches us a couple of other truths. Throughout the Bible, we see our relationship with Jesus as that of him as the groom, and we (the Church) as the bride. And in the Day of The Lord, the rapture, we are presented to him whole and complete, ready for a honeymoon as inferred in the book of Daniel.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Confused? Stick with me and think with me…Paul also writes:

“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (‭I Thessalonians‬ ‭4‬:‭13-18‬ NKJV) ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Where others believe in “soul sleep,” we believe that when we die we go directly to be with the Lord. I also believe though, that all believers, dead or alive, are presented to the groom as one body, the Church! You see, God is outside of time. He’s in eternity, and time places no constraints on Him! And just as I cannot fully understand the idea of a triune Godhead, I also cannot understand an existence outside of time. Scripture though, speaks to both!

We live by the truth that scripture interprets scripture. Now the only way I can reconcile the scripture from 1 Thessalonians 4 (and others) with the truth of being with Jesus at death is that Jesus is outside of time and we are all presented to him at the same time. In other words, I believe we all get there together!

The Church has wrestled with these questions for thousands of years, and you may not accept what I believe. That’s okay! It’s not really the point. The real question is are you dwelling in the shelter of the Most High? Is Jesus your refuge, your strong tower? Do you seek shelter under His wings as Psalm 91 speaks of? When your day of trial comes, and it will come, will you be prepared?

What about Kari? Did those promises not apply to her as well? I absolutely believe they did. Over and over we saw God move miraculously in her life, confounding even the doctors when they told her there was no hope. In the end though, when Jesus beckons, will you be ready?

She was.

On the morning Kari went to be with Jesus, she married her fiancé, Brad, in the hospital room. It was a beautiful culmination of her desire to both marry her best friend and to fall pain-free into the arms of Jesus. And for her, I believe she entered the presence of Jesus with her husband at her side, surrounded by her family… a beautiful reunion with the One who held her tight all the years of her life! A close friend said it best: “Kari was the only person I know who was married twice in the same day!” Beautiful!

May God keep you and bless you! May you find your rest in Him. Let Him be your strong tower! And may His face shine upon you!

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Church and Culture

Forgetting “Fearfully and Wonderfully”

“I think there’s problem with the baby. I’m calling the doctor.”

I was at work when I heard my wife’s voice on the phone. I quickly prayed with her and told her to call me as soon as possible. Her next call was to tell me the doctor wanted to see her right away. An hour later, the news wasn’t good.

“We’ve lost the baby…”

In the intervening days and weeks, we grieved. Yes, the baby was only 10 weeks along, but it was a baby. Our baby… Our first…

Ten years earlier, our family planning had been altered by the addition of our first child – a child by adoption. She was a little blondie with Down Syndrome. Adopting a child with special needs was a big decision. We had taken her into our home three years earlier as a foster child, and when she came up for adoption, we knew what we needed to do.

Was it something we wanted to do? Sure, but it’s more complicated than that. From my wife’s experience as a behavior specialist, working with kids with disabilities, and our own experiences over the last three years as foster parents to this little girl, we knew life would be much more challenging. But most of the time, it seems, when God places a call on you, it’s not to the easy life. He never promised easy, but He promises His presence.

As I look back over the last 25 years with our forever child, it hasn’t been easy. (I’m just being honest!) It’s as if we were boarding a plane to France, but we ended up in Italy. Italy isn’t worse, it’s just different. I also now realize that God is developing in me, through the life of this little girl, things I never would have known otherwise. When I see her, the one who is the littlest among us, I think of Jesus. I see her, and I realize how she would have been the one He would have had on his lap.

There’s one other thing I am still learning from this little one: Grace! Scripture is constantly challenging me in my relationship with her: “Whatever you have done for the least of these…,” “…with the same measure you use….” I see the same mistakes and behaviors from her over and over, and when I get frustrated, I am gently reminded that is how I am when compared to a holy and perfect Jesus. When I want to speak harshly at times, instead of saying her name, I internally insert His name, and my attitude softens. “Would I treat Jesus that way?” I ask myself. The answer alters how I react.

I write about this now, after so many years, because of what we’ve seen recently in the media with the Planned Parenthood videos (some of which are here, here, and here). We’ve heard the videos were heavily edited, that they lacked context, and that Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong. Okay, I don’t know how much is true or not true.

I care, but I don’t.

The videos aren’t the point.

Abortion is.

As this has erupted yet again, it’s the pictures of the pre-born, the babies, that have captivated me.

I should make one thing very clear: I’m not writing to anybody but the Church. If you’re a non-believer (or better said, a pre-Christian), this isn’t for you!

So why, exactly, do I feel the need to weigh in? It’s because of Scripture, I guess. Over the last year or so, the cry of my heart has been that I want to be like Jesus… I mean, really be like Him! I want to act like Him. I want to talk like Him.

I take Galatians 2:20 as my guide (and as inspiration for the name of this blog)

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…”

My friend, Jeremiah Bolich, said it best when he taught that I needed to treat people as Jesus would – that, as a man, I needed to see women as Jesus would and that, as a father, I needed to treat my children as Jesus would.

So, the obvious question: how does Jesus, the Creator, view abortion?

In the gospels, I never see Jesus as indifferent. There was no relativism in His character. Furthermore, if there was any class He favored, it was children. “Let the little children come to me” he told the disciples. “Their angels are always before the Father”.

The smallest ones, the most helpless ones – their advocate is Jesus himself.

How do we miss this? Really, how do we explain it away when we champion the abortion industry, or at least turn a blind eye to this travesty?

Wait, you don’t like abortion, or think it’s right, but you think a woman should have the right to choose? On what basis, Church? Is that what the Jesus inside you thinks? See it’s not just that I like the things that Jesus likes and act the way that Jesus acts. It’s also that my heart is broken for what breaks His! The killing of the unborn breaks his heart! Consider these words:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

My frame was not hidden from you when I was knit in the secret place, when I was woven together…

Your eyes saw my unformed body… (Psalm 139:13-14a,15a,16a NIV)

This is the heart of Jesus! The picture is absolutely clear.

Now consider, for a moment, something provocative. Read the last section of this Psalm as if it weren’t written by David. Read it as if it were written by one of the unborn children we have killed:

If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:19-24 NIV)

Too much of a stretch?

We quote the last verse regularly, but we recoil from what precedes it. Though inspired, this was written by one who lived a long life, a much different life than one who is suddenly taken from the most secure place of safety any of us will ever know and killed by the most brutal of all methods.

One last thing. If you’ve had an abortion, this can be brutal to think about. I recognize that. That breaks my heart as well. To the Jesus follower, He has forgiven. He has cast all this into the Sea of Forgetfulness and you will be reunited with your little one someday. A joyous reunion! Jesus knows your hurt, your grief, and your sorrow. Praise His name that he took care of all that on the cross. There is freedom and peace. And it’s found only in Him!

As for our little one, we really didn’t lose her. And yes, we believe it was a girl.

She’s with Jesus now…

Her name is Ellen.

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