29 November 2009

Faith in Storms

Heather has been reading a devotional entitled Proven Promises by Howard Vanderwell. She received it from my aunt Ann, who had breast cancer many years ago. This morning, she read a devotional entitled "Faith in Storms" (p.27). We were both moved by this reading, so I wanted to share it in its entirety here.

Faith, by its very nature, cries out to be exercised in those times in life when the storms are the most severe. As a matter of fact, faith seems to be more at home in sorrow than in the calm.

Jesus' message to his disciples in this Galilean storm is very simple yet profound. "Yes, I understand you fear. But I expect you to say, 'I see the waves, and I feel the wind, and I know the boat is tossing, and I even observe the water coming into the boat.' And then I call you to say 'but'...'but I see Jesus and I trust his care.'"

And His message to many of us is the same. He meets us in our valleys and says, "Yes, I understand you fear. But you must learn to say 'but'. You must say, 'I heard the doctors reports, and I feel the pain, and I know the threat of malignancy, and I sense the disappointment of it all...but...I see Jesus and I trust His care of me.'"

Faith does not hide from the storms. It does not try to rationalize them away. Faith stares right into the face of all storms and then say "but...I also see Jesus...and I trust Him to care for me."

The devotional may be ordered from:
Dr Howard D. Vanderwell
3770 Black Creek Drive
Hudsonville, MI 49426

28 November 2009

Samson's Weakness

As a young boy, I found great joy listening to the story of Samson and Delilah at my grandmother's side. She would read me tales of kings, and large fish, and a perfect garden, but none intrigued me like the story of Samson. In my memory, Samson was the strongest of the strong, informed partly from the Bible story, but also, I assume from the caricatures presented through Hanna-Barbera renditions of Samson & Delilah or their short-lived series, Young Samson and Goliath. Samson was a long-haired, ultra-masculine body builder type who never backed down from a challenge. He was, in my understanding, without weakness.

As an adult, I have developed a richer appreciation of the story of Samson. His physical strength was indeed without equal. He tore apart a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:6). He killed 30 men and took their garments (Judges 14:19). He even killed 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15).

Story after story in Judges 14-16 testify to Samson's physical prowess. Intermixed, however, we also read of Samson's prominent weaknesses, which I missed as a child. As I have pondered these two stories, Samson was beset by two significant sins that face many men today--lust and pride.

When Samson first to be married, he saw a Philistine woman and requested her for his wife. His parents asked that he consider someone from his own tribe. Samson is unrelenting, saying "Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes." He appeared to lust for her, which affected his ability to accept wise counsel. Although this experience allowed opportunity for Samson to exercise God's judgment against the Philistines, in the meantime, he was taken advantage of and his wife was given to another man. Later, Samson goes in to a prostitute in Gaza and is nearly ambushed by the Gazites.

"After this he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah" (Judges 16:4), again a woman not of his tribe. This woman, Delilah, was to be his downfall--first because of lust and later because of pride. Delilah continually pesters Samson about the source of his strength and he continually lies to her. When he finally does reveal to her the source, she cuts his hair and calls in the Philistines. He attempts to rise against them, not knowing that God had left him. They gouge out his eyes and set him as a slave.

His prayer in 16:28 finally reveals a sense of humility, "O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes" and God once again strengthens him because he acknowledged that his strength was from God and from no other source.

I pray that men today would learn lessons from Samson. Not that Samson was an Ultimate Fighting Champion, but that lust and pride led to his blindness and enslavement, and ultimately to his death. Samson's strength, and ours, comes through our weakness and the Lord's strength and good favor.

27 November 2009

For the Moments I Feel Faint

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
-Isaiah 40:28-31

I am not someone prone to weariness. I am an optimist who typically only experiences occasional bouts of the blues and they rarely last long. Yesterday was one of those dark days. Heather has been experiencing wave upon wave of side effects from surgery and chemotherapy including multiple infections, back pain, nausea, and fatigue. Every time it seems that she is getting better, something else comes along.

I was looking forward to yesterday. A day of Thanksgiving. A morning spent in the woods with a good friend. A reprieve. I prayed that I might make it through the morning hunt, that Heather would feel well, that my children would behave, and that I would come home refreshed.

Despite a brisk morning and a deep chill, on the drive home I felt good, but then I found out that a friend had to come to take the kids. Heather could not manage the 6 hours I was gone. I felt irritated, worried, and guilty but more than anything, I felt the weariness that had begun to abate seeping back in. I felt weighed down again. When we went to bed last night, Heather asked me if I was okay. I told her that I felt overwhelmed with all of the responsibility on my shoulders. I was that young man who fell, exhausted.

This morning, I awoke with a renewed sense of calm. I was reminded yet again that I will not make it through this on my own, but only through God's uplifting strength. As I read Isaiah 40 this morning, he reminded me that as I wait on Him, He will be my supply, my strength, my source.

24 November 2009

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Cherished Father,
Thank you for creating in me a heart designed for gratitude
and this year, in particular, for reminding me
to be grateful

I thank you for the undeserved gift of your Son.
I am utterly broken whenever I ponder the cross
and Jesus' sacrifice
and Yours
That saved me from an eternity of despair

Thank you for the gift of my wife
the woman whom you have entrusted to me
who has remained my joy
and my love

Thank you for my children
who live with vitality and passion every moment
and who look bravely to the future
casting a vision unclouded by doubt or fear

Thank you for adopting us as your children
demonstrating that we are true heirs in your kingdom
and allowing us to share that gift of adoption
with one of your precious little ones

Thank you for dear family and friends
who help us, support us, and love us
who we met on this journey
and who walk with us along the way

Thank you for secure employment
and a desire work diligently
to provide support for my family

Thank you for teaching trust
encouraging hope and
deepening faith
through Heather's cancer

Lord, above all
I thank you for your never ending mercies
which remind me forever of your greatness
and instill hope that endures no matter what storms we encounter

16 November 2009

Three healings

Have you ever noticed what a large part of Jesus' earthly ministry was focused on healing? The blind received sight, the deaf heard, demons were cast out, and the dead were raised. Over and over again, He healed. In Mark 2, we read of Jesus healing many. "That evening, at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the city was gathered together at the door" (v. 32-33).

I am most impressed by the stories of the specific healings. These stories reveal desperation, hope, and faith and teach us about Christ's mercy. We meet real people in these stories.

A leader named Jairus demonstrated desperation in Mark 5. A leader in the synagogue and probably a Pharisee, he should have been skeptical even critical of Jesus, yet when it really mattered, he fell at Christ's feet, "imploring" him to come and lay hands on his daughter, who was "at the point of death." We know that by this point, Christ had already been criticized by the Pharisees (Mark 3), yet he agreed to come along. Along the way, Jesus was interrupted, and word came that it was too late and the daughter had died. Jesus immediately intervened, telling the ruler "do not fear, only believe." Jesus made his way into the crowded house, amidst scoffers who doubted the power of God to heal, even defeat death. Jesus cleared the room and raised the girl, solidifying Jairus's faith.

In the story above, Jesus was interrupted by a woman, a woman who bled constantly for a dozen years. Many doctors tried to help her, running up charges, but she continued to worsen. She was clinging to a thread of hope thinking that if she could just get close enough to Jesus to brush his garment, she would finally be healed. She fought her way through the crowd, inching closer to hope realized and she finally reaches out her arm and brushes his garment. Jesus stopped, in the midst of the crowd pressing in from every side and turned because he perceived that his power went out from him. He asked, "Who touched me?" and she falls fearfully at his feet telling him of her hope. Because of her faith, he heals her as well.

One of the greatest demonstrations of faith in Christ's power to heal is found in Matthew 8. A centurion, a Roman soldier, approaches Christ and asks that his servant be healed. Jesus volunteers to come, but the soldier tells him that he does not expect his presence, only his word, knowing that the power that it holds. Jesus marveled at the faith of the centurion and again we see his healing power.

These stories all provide different views of Christ's power to heal, yet with each person, we see Jesus meeting their needs, granting their requests. What can we learn from these combined stories? With each of these people, faith was at the core. They had hope in Christ's ability to heal. His ability to intervene with conditions where medicine yielded little success--chronic bleeding, paralysis, even death--was profound.

In their faith, Jesus healed. Let it be so with us.

09 November 2009

Unfiltered Joy

It has been a frequent occurrence lately that people will ask me how I am doing. I explain that despite barometric emotions, I am largely doing quite well. This prompts the inevitable question, "no, how are you really doing? Are you just putting on a brave face?" to which I answer, honestly, "I really am doing well. God has thus far granted me grace enough to persevere and I pray that it continues."

I admit, though, that today was a trial. Since Saturday evening, Heather has been battling a bacterial infection that has left her nauseous, febrile, and hurting. Because I am a light sleeper and I feel her pain, as she tosses and turns or rushes to the bathroom, I lie there wondering what I can do know that that the answer is "nothing" except to pray. So I pray--for sleep, for comfort, for reprieve, for God's will. So in my fatigued state as I watched my wife wracked by pain, retching, I wondered, "is this what chemo will bring? Are we in for 16 weeks of this? or more?"

Mid-day, Grace spoke with Gen Thul (please check out her wonderful writings here), who invited us for dinner tonight along with the Fugates for a pseudo-small group. Once I felt assured that Heather was comfortable and in the capable hands of her mother, I looked forward with anticipation to the reunion with our dear friends. You see, we had been apart for much too long not just because of Heather's cancer, but also because Gen and Aaron's third daughter, Amelia, was in the hospital for 10 days with encephalitis and only recently returned home.

Grace, Ian, and I arrived first to visit with Aaron for a few minutes followed shortly thereafter by Gen and the kids. Finally, Zack and Sara arrived, nearly completing the reunion as Heather remained home to rest. The excited anticipation was just one of the wonderful feelings I experienced tonight. As our children, who missed each other desperately, fell into their old routines, sounds of excited chatter, laughter, and even happy screaming emerged from upstairs with a greater intensity than we have heard in a long time. I felt their emotions in my own heart as well as I was able to visit and joke with friends whom I cherish dearly.

I think that if Satan wants to attack God's followers, he merely needs to isolate we Christians. We function best in community. I truly feel strength, rejuvenated strength, in fellowshipping with these people. As I watched and listened to our children together, I was struck that they seem to be more than just friends, they are more closely connected than that. In the same way, Heather and I consider these people--Aaron, Gen, Sara, and Zack--more than just members of our Bible study, more than just friends. They are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ and we love them dearly.

John 13:34--"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."