Thursday, December 27, 2007
I do not know if any of us could take another round of Listeria. It hurt us deeply to watch Linda in such agony. We are extremely grateful that she does not recall any of it. She does not even remember the initial headache and trip to the hospital, even though she was completely aware of what was going on at the time. We will, of course, walk with her through any valley God causes her to walk through, but we want to avoid that particular valley if at all possible!
So, we are asking as many of you as will to pray that her liver counts are better by Monday. We will be doing our part here, but we are aware that we need a specific touch from God. Please pray continually (not continuously – continually will do just fine!) about these liver counts specifically. Also, her blood sugar remains quite high – pray about that, also. We are going to increase protein for the sugar and introduce specific supplements for the liver, but again, we need the Lord to intervene. Above all, we need an awareness of His presence, and we need His grace during these difficult days. I pray the same for you, whether your days be challenging or worry-free (for the time, at least). God bless you!
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
I have repeatedly been amazed by God's grace this season. His blessings to me come for no reason at all. My fleshly heart seeks to identify the reasons God is "rewarding" me, but I find only failure and unworthiness, leaving no doubt that every good and precious gift in my life comes down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no changing at all. It is grace - all grace. I trust you are tasting God's grace today with your loved ones. Merry Christmas! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Whose first coming we celebrate on this day. We love you!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I tend to be fairly analytical. As you might imagine, there is plenty to analyze with Linda's illness, but since her various maladies and symptoms are ever-changing, I tend to go up and down with her condition - thus, my many references to the roller coaster ride we are on.
Since I often report on the snapshot, you may not get an accurate sense of the big picture. I know that some of you have read the blog or spoken to me on the phone for a report and you perceive one thing, but then you hear a very different report from another family member or someone else close to the situation. Which report is accurate? Both are! But they are only a small part of the big picture, or really, more like a very small piece of a mosaic. Also, like a mosaic, the image is not always crystal clear even when you have the whole picture.
So, what are we to do with so very many different parts of a picture? I have decided to take the advice, offered at different times, by Autumn (our daughter) and by Virginia (Linda's mother): take it, not day by day, but hour by hour.
In general (disregarding my commitment announced in the last paragraph), Linda is doing better. She has a headache tonight, but not nearly as much fatigue, nausea, and confusion as she has had in the last week. She is much better today, actually, than she was yesterday. I will stop there even though I am tempted to go further.
So, the big picture is in the Lord's hands as He puts the pieces into place - and we must trust Him for the finished product. Besides, when we focus only on the pictures that come into view in this world, we miss the BIG picture. Some good friends from the NC Mountains sent us some verses from 2 Corinthians 4 (as they are written in The Message) that have long guided us in our difficulties - verses 15-18:
"So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
Now, that's THE BIG PICTURE!
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The doctor was just in and gave a fairly positive report on Linda's condition, though as is always the case, not all of our questions were answered, and some questions remain in critical areas. We can say that as of December 11, Linda's liver counts were much better than they have been - a definite praise.
One huge request - it appears Linda's treatment at home will be more difficult to manage than we had thought it might be. Please pray that we (children, Linda's parents, siblings, etc.) will be at our best as we care for our precious Linda.
I hope to write more fully about Linda's present health state later today. If you are reading this before 3:00 EST, please pray that we will have an uneventful trip home. God bless you!
Monday, December 17, 2007
It is often difficult to communicate the big picture in this space. It seems that it ends up being mostly one way or the other - expressions of praise or concern. Every day, though, there are signs that indicate Linda is doing better (from the infection) and equal indications that she is not doing as well as she was before she came into the hospital, and her condition was not good at that time. I have, at least for this morning, quit trying to analyze why Linda has so many unexplainable medical problems. Even when there is an explanation, it is often puzzling that such a significant issue (swelling, liver, lipids) would result from such a small dose of medication (steroids).
Fortunately, as we read last night from Isaiah 40, God is aware of every cell in our bodies. He carries us like a shepherd carries a lamb - a picture of truth that has meant so very much to Linda as she can do little but rest in the arms of her Great Shepherd. As Jim Aycock said in his prayer with us yesterday, God's will is always best, whether we understand - or like - it or not.
Linda will be going home tomorrow - at least that is the plan. It is going to be difficult - very difficult, in fact, at home. Her needs have increased significantly in this past two weeks. I know you will be praying for us, though we never take your prayers, nor God's grace, for granted. We are eagerly anticipating this Christmas at home!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
As I have already mentioned, Linda has been a bit blue these past few days. It is most likely the medicine, but the long arduous journey is beginning to weigh on her. Scripture lifts her spirits considerably. Would you please pray for God's grace to overwhelm her? Also, please pray that she will keep her nights and days straight.
Your many expressions of love continue to encourage us - it is one of God's ways of sustaining us. May God give you opportunities during this Advent season to share the good news of Jesus' sacrifice with those who do not know Him.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Well, having thought out loud, let me report on this day. It was not very good. Perhaps she was tired from yesterday, but I doubt that is all that is going on. She slept a good bit of the day, and when she was awake, she was agitated. If you know Linda, you have to know that something is wrong for her to be agitated. Oh, she has been agitated a time or two with me (I think I remember at least once that she was upset with me :)), but she rarely lets others see her frustration. In addition to an agitated state, today Linda has been a bit like she was last week a few days before the severe headache sent her to the emergency room. She has been on these powerful antibiotics for three and a half days, so if the infection caused the extreme confusion last week, we should not go back down that road again. There are signs, though, and that is disconcerting.
If it seems like one post is positive and the next post is laced with concern - well, that's the roller coaster of which I have often spoken. Thank God for His steadfast love, His unchangeable nature, and His eternal Word! Linda's medical condition is unique - much like the one who hosts these myriad anomalies (sounds like an oxymoron - unfortunately, it is not) is unique. A couple of days ago, Linda's good friend, Rebecca, told Linda that she had never heard one unkind word spoken about her. What a testimony! Thank You, Lord, for such a faithful witness to Your love and goodness in Your servant, Linda. If there is a cause for all of these problems that is yet undetected, please reveal it to the doctors and help them to treat it. Bring our girl all the way back to us! We trust You, Father, for Your perfect will to be done in Linda's life - and, in all of our lives. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Last night was one of those blessed nights I had been longing for - thank you for praying! About 3:45, Linda woke up and so did I - there was not much sleep afterwards, but it was more than worth being awake most of the night. We talked and prayed - and were so very blessed by God's Word. We read (very deliberately) the whole of Romans 8 and the entire 14th chapter of John's Gospel. Over and over the passages spoke of the many gracious gifts that God has given us. No matter the outcome of Linda's illness, nor of any reverses in my own health or circumstances, we are safe and secure in the Father's hand. When we look at God's sacrifice in giving Jesus up for us, and when we look at the cross, we pull up short of complaining about our own suffering. After all, the suffering is temporary, the glory will be eternal!
To give you just an idea of the roller coaster, our spirits were high as we absorbed God's Word - oh, how it spoke to our need! Then, somewhere around 5, Linda began to experience a fair amount of pain (head, neck, shoulders, lower back) and discomfort. The most unsettling aspect of her discomfort was the difficulty she had breathing. It was so tough that she began to wonder if she could go on. The nurse came and gave her a nasal spray and repositioned her on the bed and, VOILA - she went right to sleep! She awoke with some considerable confusion, which I (most likely, wrongly) attributed to the tumor. My concern was great this morning - until the doctors came in and said she is doing remarkably well. Her oxygen levels are very high! Our anticipation of Christmas together with our family at home is growing stronger by the hour. If she beats the infection. well, you know the laundry list - liver, lipids, kidneys, etc.
Linda is quite tired. She had a lot of visitors today, all of whom she VERY much wanted to see - but I think we are going to have to limit visitors in the next few days at least. Please pray for her - she is a bit discouraged. I am sure you understand. Pray that she will sleep well tonight and be refreshed in the morning. As much as I enjoyed last night, we both need to sleep tonight. And on that note . . .
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Linda's condition is not good. Even though she had quite a good day, she also experienced pain (headaches), nausea (finally getting to eat after 5 days), more tests (x-rays looking for pneumonia - no word yet), and the insertion of a pic line (to administer drugs to and through a vein that carries blood directly to the heart). There is talk that she will go home later this week. If so, it will be insurance driven, because I cannot see that she will be "ready" to go later this week. She is having difficulty breathing, though that may be due more to a stuffy nose than to compromised lungs.
Linda is sleeping now after a long and busy day. We will read Scripture if she awakens in the night. Thank you for your many prayers and encouraging words. We love you!
Monday, December 10, 2007
Thank you so much for praying that Linda would be more lucid today. She was! She continues to crack jokes in her pain. I had slept last night on the pull out chair that sits beside the bed. I slept well, but my back paid the price (pray for Terri, Linda's sister, who will sleep here tonight!). I told Linda that we would perhaps switch beds tonight. Without blinking, she looked up at me and asked, "Do you like shots?"
Linda and I have read a great deal of Scripture this past year, often concentrating in the book of Colossians and in the Psalms. A particular passage that has blessed us of late is the second half of Romans 8. This disease is battering Linda's body, but God is in charge - and He loves us! He is conforming us to the image of His Son, the Son He gave up to suffer on our behalf. And what of us in such dire times? We are more than conquerors, no matter how these days conclude! How can this be?
Sunday, December 9, 2007
I am here alone with Linda, now. She is still opening her eyes, but she appears a little more confused. A nurse came in and it startled her. She did not seem to understand where she was and what was going on. I imagine with all the Morphine she has received in addition to the infection, she will be disoriented off and on for a bit.
The doctors had told us we really need to see some improvement by tomorrow. Improvement appears to have begun, though there are still very many issues for her to overcome even if the infection is eliminated. Please pray for a restful night and an alert tomorrow! There are many who love her that would love to share their love to an awake and alert Linda.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Linda does have a fever tonight, once again approaching 103 degrees. As you can imagine, this is not a good thing. There is some optimism, though, that the antibiotics will arrest the fever and pain, and enable her to interact with us again. Where we go from there, who knows? It is enough, I think, to ask you to pray that she will awake from this stupor (it is not a coma) with a clear head. God bless!
Here we are together again in the East Wing of the sixth floor. Tonight is very different, though. Linda is breathing heavily as she sleeps with the merciful assistance of morphine. This is not the morphine that only seeks to limit pain and ease one's passing, but it is administered to allow her the rest she needs in order to overcome an infection (in the meningitis family, though not the "severe, contagious, quarantine everyone" variety!) that threatens her life. Even IF she beats this infection, there may be too many other obstacles for her to overcome. Only the Lord knows her time, but it appears it will be soon, short of a miracle.
I have been reading Scripture, praying, and talking to (though not "with") Linda tonight. I dare not wake her and trigger the almost inevitable agitation that nearly tore our hearts out of our chests most of the night (pray that Michael will forget the ordeal he endured through the night) and much of this day. The antibiotics have reduced the fever, so perhaps they will eliminate the hallucinations that have tormented her these past 24 hours. That is difficult for me to say, but it is truth and I should share at least that much with you. Earlier tonight I prayed for at least one more night like we had in February. Perhaps it will happen later this morning, but for now I am content to be able to be near the best person I have ever known.
Who is sufficient for times such as these? When will we learn that God must bring us to the depths so that we will look to Him? When you read such carefully crafted words, do not think the one who writes them to be spiritually minded. I am not. I have erred so often and so foolishly in this trial. Why God leads anyone to read this blog is beyond me. If there is anything of value it bears His strength shining through my weakness. Really.
Should this infection be overcome, very high blood sugar, triglycerides that are higher than doctors have ever seen, along with liver and kidney challenges await her. Even from a medical standpoint, these seemingly impossible odds can be overcome, and certainly it is true that God can reverse the direst of circumstances, but we may be soon forced to deal with the reality that Linda's time on this earth is near an end. Even since I wrote that her temperature has gone down a nurse came with a thermoter, which now reads 103.1 degrees - the highest yet. Please pray that should God choose to take her, that it will be with as little pain, stress, and agitation as possible.
Well, I can never thank God enough for bringing Linda Faile into my life. I have not deserved her. Really. God has melded our hearts, our spirits, our minds, our souls into one. A potential tearing is painful to consider, but I am so grateful to hurt so deeply because it means that we have loved so deeply. I would do it again a million times - I love her so much.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
All of us in the family have thought of what it would be like to have such limited mobility over such a long span of time. Some of you who are reading this have had loved ones to suffer for longer than ten months (and perhaps you have yourself), but it has been no easy calling for Linda. Always sleeping in the exact same position, sitting in only a few limited spots - can you imagine how much pressure that would put on your back?
Liz is here this week and I called Michael to come in and help - I was sick yesterday and today with a stomach bug. I did my best to avoid contact with Linda, but some contact was unavoidable. Please pray that she will not catch the bug I had (brief, but rather intense). Autumn comes tomorrow.
I do not think I have asked for specific prayer for me at this site beyond a request for wisdom. I would like to ask something specifically, now. I am really tired - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Tomorrow I am going to take a little time away to seek the Lord for strength in all areas. I am sure you understand that when I confess my exhaustion that it does not mean I am weary of taking care of my precious wife. As I have repeatedly said, I will take 40 years of life just as it is right now! Oh, we would have to make different arrangements, to be sure, but I want many, many more years with the woman who has been - and, is - a treasure to me. God blessed me beyond my wildest expectations when He gave Linda to me. I am tired, though, and need a bit of refreshment from the Lord. So, thank you for praying, and while you are at it, please pray for our children and their spouses, our grandchildren, Linda's parents, siblings and children, my parents (who are enduring a trial of their own), siblings, their spouses and children. I think that covers it!
There is more to say, but it will have to wait. I can never thank you adequately for your love and prayers!
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Our prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord before our meal today was more meaningful and emotional than years past. I am sure you can understand why. We are so thrilled to have Linda here today, out of the hospital and enjoying food that our children and a few dear friends prepared for us. It has been a wonderful day, and more is to come as we decorate for Christmas. In early February, we had no idea whether Linda would be with us or not. Thank You, Father!
We want you to know the full story about Linda’s visit to the doctor over the weekend. Our GP met Linda and Autumn at his office last Saturday – just one example (though a huge one!) of the love and care of our doctors that I referred to in the last post. The news he gave us, though, was disconcerting. Linda’s health has reached a serious state. It is not the tumor that is such a present threat, but rather the effects of immobility and medicines that have kept the tumor from growing (shrinking, actually) and have kept PCP pneumonia at bay. In fact, in plain terms, our doctor told us that Linda’s body is shutting down. The end is not imminent, but time to reverse this course is limited.
As you can imagine, this is not welcome news. It is one reason our trip to the emergency room was so scary. You need to know that we are not conceding anything! We are realistic, but continue to ask God for a miracle. We serve a great God, which is one reason we read more than a dozen verses of thanksgiving before our meal today. He is able – we all know that. We continue to fervently ask Him to intervene and heal Linda while praying the prayer that never fails – Thy will be done.
As we have related to you already, we have decided to give Linda large doses of natural supplements. The way that her body has responded in one week has been most encouraging. While her liver remains compromised and her cholesterol levels continue to stay high, her kidneys have improved, her immune system has rallied (which made the possibility of pneumonia unlikely, but scar tissue in her lungs looked compelling, which is why several doctors recommended going to the emergency room – thank God it was scar tissue, not pneumonia!), and other systems are functioning better, also. We are eager to see if the liver and cholesterol levels look better on Monday. We are not unaware of the battle we face, which is why we covet your continual prayers.
Linda’s cough and congestion continue to linger. Diabetes has recently been diagnosed and her blood sugar is a fairly long way from normal. The thrush in her mouth creates a great deal of pain and discomfort. She still is unable to move without significant assistance, which makes getting rid of the blood clot and lung congestion a challenge. You know most of this already, but I wanted to give you some specific needs to lift up to the God Who loves Linda more than all of us combined love her! It is not the tumor that is the immediate threat, though it renders Linda unable to move and that contributes to a host of the aforementioned problems. The first order of business is to reverse the slide her body is currently experiencing.
Is it not a comfort to put oneself in the Lord’s hands? None of us want to hear that our bodies are nearing the point of crisis. We all know people who left this earth too soon. Or did they? Are not all our days numbered before one of them is ever lived? We also know, however, that when death seems imminent, God many times chooses to extend life for His purposes and our comfort, and we have the privilege of asking Him to do so. Indeed, it is biblical to bring our requests to the Lord with great passion, asking for help in our time of crisis (Hebrews 4:14-16).
One of our favorite psalms since our earliest years of marriage has been Psalm 138. I trust it will minister to you, also:
I give You thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing Your praise;
I bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word.
On the day I called, You answered me; my strength of soul You increased.
All the kings of the earth shall give You thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of Your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.
For though the LORD is high, He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve my life; You stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand delivers me.
The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
And what can we say of the family of God? Do you know that a church in Rome, Italy (really) called a special prayer meeting for Linda!?! Thank you, dear brothers and sisters at Dragona Church - and thank you for loaning Joe Hunziker (especially you, Stefania, Aaron, Mattia, and Gioia) to us for a week. What a blessing he was to our family at a time of great difficulty, and what a great blessing he was to Grace Community Church. And thank you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world who prayed for us in these last hours. Oh, how God answers prayers - we are home for Thanksgiving, and thankful for our home and our family.
That, of course, would be a good place to stop, but I want to add how amazed and grateful we are for the loving personal care that Linda has received from EVERY ONE of her doctors! You cannot believe how every one of at least 10 doctors has shown intentional love and care that is well beyond the call of duty for those in the medical profession. Once again, God is good to us. I close with the words I have heard more times in the last 24 hours than I can count - WE LOVE YOU!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Since that is the case, will you join us in asking Him for mercy on behalf of Linda and for those who love her dearly? I know that God is merciful no matter the outcome, but Philippians 2:25-30 will help you understand what I mean. At any rate, we need your prayers. I am home to pick up a few things and will head back to the hospital where our daughter, Autumn, is helping Linda to get checked into the hospital. Liz and Michael are heading here from the mountains. We do not feel that this is a crisis, but it is quite serious. Thank you SO MUCH for standing with us in prayer!
Monday, November 12, 2007
In addition to the privilege I have to take care of my beloved and the time it takes for us to go to doctors’ offices and testing facilities (x-rays, MRI’s, etc.) I put a fair amount of time into preparing sermons. I can’t tell you how much I love that – I love to preach, and I love preparing the sermons! It is somewhat different these days, though, than it used to be. In the past, I would go into the pulpit on Sunday morning armed with a great deal more information than I delivered in the sermon. Not so these days! What I preach is “all I got!” It is a case, though, of God showing His strength in my weakness, but that’s the way it should be, isn’t it?
Speaking of weakness, Linda and I are! I have begun preaching through Philippians – what a joy. Paul’s spirit of gratitude to God for using him to advance the gospel even in the most difficult of circumstances (imprisonment) has spoken to Linda and me both. She is struggling to reach the point of saying, “I want the gospel to be advanced no matter what it takes.” As she reminds me, it is difficult for her because she has a brain tumor. Hey, I totally understand! It is one thing to make such a strong commitment when all is well in one’s life, but when you realize that it could mean – well, you know – it’s a different story.
Linda had an MRI for her stomach area (checking liver, pancreas) last week. The GI doc called today and said that there is inflammation, most likely caused by high cholesterol (caused mostly by inactivity – muscle weakness on the left side) and medicines (used to protect against infections caused by steroids, which are used to counteract swelling in the brain which causes muscle weakness). The good news with the liver is that it appears to be improving, though there are many medicine restrictions and diet concerns, as if the diabetes did not require enough of those!
It would be difficult to fully communicate what life is like for us, though the previous paragraph was an attempt at a portion of the picture, anyway. But you know what? First, we wouldn’t have had this kind of life if we lived 50 years ago – in fact, Linda would likely not be here this long after the initial symptoms presented if we had lived then. Second, I would not be able to participate in Linda’s treatment to near this level if it were not for the wonderful folks at Grace Community Church – the elders allow me to take the time I need, and there is great understanding and help in ways you cannot imagine from the congregation. Third, this is the life to which God has called us. Really, this could have been stated first and nothing else be said, but all the rest is part of God’s plan, so it is important.
Tomorrow morning, Linda must see the Infectious Diseases’ Doctor, who manages her bronchitis/pneumonia. Please pray that the cause of her congestion and difficulty with breathing will be properly diagnosed and treated (made more difficult by liver concerns) – preferably without hospitalization! On Wednesday, Linda will go to Duke for consultation on the next step for chemo treatment. That will be determined to a large degree by her respiratory and liver issues.
Thank you for caring so much and praying so faithfully! As difficult as Linda’s condition is at present, we pray for a miracle! God bless.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
There is no good explanation for the decreased movement on her left side - yet. We hope to hear from Duke about that, soon. You already know about the other issues - liver, blood clot, diabetes. Another positive sign - her kidneys have improved since last week. We are doing our best to keep her hydrated - needed on many levels!
So, is the glass half-empty or half-full? Well, the glass has one half with water and one half without water. In other words, to quote John Fox, "it is what it is." The reality is that the brain tumor is the cause (or medicines such as steroids that must be taken because of the tumor) of almost every medical problem Linda faces at the present. If the tumor disappears, the complications will be far more manageable, and many will be eliminated altogether. But the complications are serious and even thought recent scans reveal a shrinking tumor, it is shrinking at a very slow rate. What are we to do?
From a medical standpoint, we do our best, following the lead of the doctors and our research, to manage each problem as it presents itself. From a spiritual standpoint, we look to the Lord. Do you remember the story of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20 as the army of Judah was being threatened by a great multitude of soldiers from several armies? Jehoshaphat knew that if God did not intervene, Judah was toast. In his prayer (verse 12), Jehoshaphat did the right thing by putting his trust completely in the Lord: "We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You."
That is a great prayer, isn't it? "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You!" Now, do not think that I am claiming victory over this illness based on passages like this one - that is taking Scripture out of context. As I mentioned in a recent post, God has not promised us health and wealth in these NT days, but He has promised us spiritual blessings. Oh, no doubt, He does heal and we continue to pray - AND, we take encouragement from today's report! I had braced myself for bad new, but good news came in its place! Thank You, Lord! The problems that remain are serious, though, and we stand quietly with our eyes on the Lord.
Years ago, Linda shared a verse with me that had ministered to her. I have probably used this verse in ministry more than any other. The poetry and beauty of the King James Version for this particular verse draw me to it time and again. Psalm 94:19: "In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul."
Linda is having some trouble breathing tonight. Blood work revealed that her CO2 levels are low - low enough to cause concern. When her oxygen levels were tested in the office yesterday, they were quite good, but the blood work has raised concerns twice in a row. Another issue to sort out. It would be enough to drive one batty - unless the Lord sends His comfort. Our eyes are on Him tonight, and His comforts delight our souls. I trust you, also, will look to Him with whatever is facing you. For all practical purposes, we have no choice. If you feel that you can do something about your problem, it is a far greater task for you than for us to keep your eyes on Him. My prayer is that your focus will be fixed on Him Who alone can bring you comfort to withstand any challenge this life can present to you.
God's richest blessings on you!
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Years ago I preached a message from Ephesians 1:3 entitled Looking for Blessings in All the Wrong Places, which was, of course, a play on the title of a country song, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places. Are you familiar with Ephesians 1:3? I know you will be blessed:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
In the Old Testament, God promised blessings in every imaginable sphere of life for the individuals of the nation of Israel if they would love and obey Him. There were, of course, spiritual blessings, but also material blessings, physical blessings, including long life for you and blessings on your children and grandchildren, medical blessings, victory over the nation’s enemies, even psychological and emotional blessings. Of course, if the nation as a whole forsook God, all Israelites suffered.
The promise is much different in the NT for those who will follow the Lord. If you will live a godly life today, you are promised – persecution. HUH? Check it out for yourself in 2 Timothy 3:12. Philippians 1:29 tells us that believers are not only called to salvation, but to suffering.
Now, granted, physical ailments, such as the ones that trouble Linda, are not included in the suffering caused by the persecution of the two passages just quoted, but there is ample biblical evidence that believers are sometimes called to suffer deprivation, pain, suffering, and even death just as unbelievers do. Jesus was quite clear when He said that God makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just(ified) and the unjust(ified) alike. (Matthew 5:45)
So, are we getting shortchanged by being promised only the spiritual blessings of Ephesians 1:3? I suppose one’s answer would depend on his or her understanding and appreciation of those very spiritual blessings that are promised. I am certain that someone in the world whose loved one was dragged off to prison (North Korea) or hacked to death (Sudan) yesterday is grateful for the spiritual blessing of eternal life. How ludicrous does the “health and wealth” gospel sound in a country where the name of Jesus on one’s lips is a death sentence?
Well, I must qualify. I really, really, REALLY want God to heal Linda. We all do! Well, what I really want is for the Lord to return tomorrow! We will continue to passionately pray that He will heal her. We will also appreciate God’s spiritual blessings of eternal life, purpose, peace, His presence (and on and on we could go) more and more.
This has been a difficult week for Linda. This has also been a blessed week for Linda, because she is a child of God, a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. Linda has urged me to submit a post with nothing but various Scripture passages that have ministered to her. I will close this post with a passage that has been particularly meaningful to her. It is Paul’s prayer for the Colossians in the first chapter of that book, verses 9-14. Notice the amount of time Paul spends praying for their spiritual health as opposed to their physical health. Perhaps our prayer lives should be more in line with Paul’s! May his prayer minister to your heart:
“And so, from the day we heard (about your salvation – my note), we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
There are still major concerns, though. Blood tests from yesterday showed that Linda's liver enzymes - elevated as of last week - have actually gone higher at some points. Also, Linda's cholesterol, triglycerides, and sugar all remain high. The sugar is of particular concern to her oncologist. We have been encouraged to talk with our GP about that. We are so grateful for a GP like Dr. Patterson - what a wonderful team in Sanford!
Because of her liver count, Linda is unable to take Temodar at the present. We are seriously considering moving to a more natural approach to fighting this cancer. We are just in the beginning stages of thinking/praying about this approach and we VERY much want you to pray with us about this decision. It does not mean we will abandon all medicine/chemo, but we may be approaching a point where we have no other choice. Could this be the way God is leading us to such an approach? I would imagine some of you are thrilled at such thinking while others are horrified! Regardless of whether you are on either pole or somewhere in the middle, would you pray for us? As you can tell, we are quite unsure right now, but we are open to whatever the Lord may have for us.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
"Commend to me a bruised brother, a broken reed - for the Man of Sorrows is never far from him. To me, there is something sacred and sweet in all suffering, for it is so much akin to the Man of Sorrows." Robert Murry McCheyne in Banner of Truth Trust.
Linda had a chest x-ray two to three weeks ago which revealed some problems, though they were minor. She was told she had bronchitis and was given the proper antibiotics. Blood tests last week, taken to determine her fitness before beginning the next round of Temodar (chemo - it had been scheduled to begin last night), revealed significantly elevated liver enzymes along with a slight concern about her kidneys. She returned to the doctor today for consultation and blood tests. Her cough has improved, but is certainly still with her. The doctor wanted her to have another chest x-ray before starting the chemo. After looking at the x-ray, he found sufficient cause to order a CT scan for tomorrow morning. We are not 100% sure what he is looking for, but there is obvious concern.
These are deep waters for Linda. Well, they have been deep all along, but these waters are more troubling for her. She finds herself fatigued much more often now, even though we went up considerably on the steroids last week - this is the first report in this space of that decision. She is more discouraged than at any time in this trial. I fully understand. The caregivers and I are doing our best to help keep her spirits up. Even though she is discouraged, her hope and trust remain firmly in the Lord!
Would you please pray for my bride tonight? Pray that the Lord will touch her spirit and her body. I will report on the scan tomorrow if at all possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your faithful prayers and encouragement.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
If you have been keeping up with these posts, you know that we tried to reduce the steroids because of all the negative side effects that accompany this medicine used to control swelling in the brain (when a tumor is present, that is). The test was unsuccessful, to say the least. Linda went from 2 mg per day to 1.5 mg per day for nearly two weeks. When it was clear that Linda's adrenal glands were not kicking in to offset the reduced steroids, she resumed taking 2 mg per day. Less than a week later, it was necessary to go up to 2.5 mg per day.
A month ago, Linda could move her left hand and arm with a little bit of effort. She could use her thumb to touch all the other fingers on her left hand. Now, she can barely move the thumb on her left hand - barely. She has also struggled a great deal more with discouragement of late. I suspect (though this is certainly not a clinical diagnosis) that this discouragement is more physical - caused by the tumor - than emotional. With the lack of mobility, increased confusion (this is not critical by any means, but it is more pronounced than it was even a month ago), shortness of breath, significant difficulty swallowing (especially pills), blurring vision (we hope to see our friend, Dr. Bob Johnson, this week) and growing fatigue, AND the fact that she has hardly moved anywhere on her own for eight and a half months, these are tough days for Linda.
That means they are tough days for me, also - emotionally, that is. It is difficult to see my bride - who is so much more used to serving than to being served - struggle. We are one flesh, and though I would never dare to claim to fully understand what Linda is experiencing, there is no doubt that a part of me is suffering with her at a high level.
But, suffering brings opportunity, does it not? God has blessed me with some unusually insightful ministry friends. My good friend David Brown recently shared an insight from 1 Peter 5:6, 7: "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." Dave pointed out that the Greek verb that is translated "Humble (yourselves)" is written in the passive voice. Thus, it could be translated, "Allow yourselves to be humbled." Dave further pointed out that humility comes in two forms in the book of 1 Peter - through relationships of submission and through trials.
OK, I think we qualify! This is a marvelous opportunity for us to allow ourselves to be humbled by God. I am currently reading an excellent book written by the late Ron Dunn called, "Will God Heal Me?" Dunn states that sickness comes from four sources: 1) God, 2) Satan (though he can only act as God allows), 3) lifestyle choices, and 4) being a human. Dunn further notes that Job never once attributed the difficulties that had befallen him to Satan - he knew that God is ultimately in charge. I am certain I will share more from this insightful book as I continue to read and digest a carefully considered theology of sickness and healing. When men like Warren Wiersbe, Calvin Miller, Adrian Rogers (deceased), and Steve Brown recommend a book about such a controversial subject (it is more controversial than I could have ever imagined!), you know it is worth reading.
So, God is calling Linda and me, along with all of our family and those who know and love Linda, to submit to God's design for humility in our lives. Does that mean we quit praying for God to heal her? HEAVENS NO! PLEASE continue to pray for healing, but PLEASE do not forget to pray that we will receive all that God has for us. We can only do so with a spirit of total and absolute trust, and with an eternal perspective. 1 Peter 5:6 is easier to receive when verse 7 is included in the mix - "casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."
Even as I write this blog, Linda and I are enjoying the company of her godly and gracious parents, who are here from Rome, Georgia (nearly 500 miles away) for their 13th time to serve as caregivers. Linda is in much better spirits tonight than she has been in awhile. It could be that she is the beneficiary of many prayers from our church family today - I shared her need this morning in our second service. So, if you will join our church in praying for Linda's health AND that we will receive from God's hand all that He has for us so that we may in turn refresh those who find themselves behind us in the Valley of Baca (see the June 3 post). We love you!
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Linda also decided she would take Lovenox shots for her clotting problems in order to eliminate the need for adjusting the coumadin. Linda has been dangerously close to bleeding and developing more clots as her blood levels go up and down. The Lovenox creates a great deal more certainty. The downside is that she has to take shots in her stomach every day.
We are so grateful for the huge response to the last post when we asked for very specific prayer in order of our desire, beginning with a prayer for healing and then for wisdom. We still are praying fervently for healing as we seek to trust God for His decision. 1 Peter 5 and Philippians 4 have particularly ministered to Linda of late. Thank you for sharing Scripture with us, also! God bless.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
It is always difficult to know how to write these notes. We want to stay as positive as possible, and there has been plenty of good news along the way . . . but, dealing with cancer has never been easy for anyone. One of the primary reasons I am encouraged about Linda’s future is that our Father in heaven has led so very many people to pray. Frankly, I am stunned by the number of people who tell me they check this site almost every day (some check it more than once a day) to see how Linda is doing. “Thank you” seems so inadequate, but it is all we have, so we try to say it often.
Since so many of you are praying, the last thing I want to do is to come across as discouraged. We are not anywhere close to defeated, and though discouragement knocks often at our door, the goodness of God that is displayed in so many ways (often through you) continually brings our focus back to Him, and so we rejoice in the midst of suffering (Romans 5:1-5).
It is time, though, to be all the way honest – we need you to walk this valley with us. Do not be alarmed! I am not about to say that things are way worse than we have reported. Every good word you have heard from us has been true, and we are quite excited that the tumor is shrinking (albeit, ever so slightly). The complications of the medications (necessitated by the tumor) have begun to take a heavier toll, and we want you to be aware of the extent of the challenges Linda is facing so that you can pray more specifically.
Prolonged use of steroids creates a number of problems – muscle wasting, increased appetite and weight (the weight gain seems to come even if you control your appetite) and compromised immune system, to name a few. Linda was initially taking up to 12 mg of decadron (dexamethasone – the generic – really) per day early in the process, and we have worked all the way down to 2 mg per day. We are currently on our second or third try to reduce that to 1.5 mg per day, and then keep on going down until we eliminate them altogether. We cannot reduce more than .5 mg every two weeks, because the adrenal glands need time to kick back so that steroids will not have to be reintroduced to Linda’s list of medicines.
The reason for the steroids in the first place is to keep the swelling in the brain down. Anytime there is a foreign object in the body, swelling is likely. We asked Linda’s doctor at Duke last week if it is possible for brain tumor patients to get off steroids. He said that some can and some cannot. He also said that it is easier to reduce steroids at the higher levels (say, from 12 mg to 8 mg) than it is at lower levels like we are trying. As I said, this is the 2nd or 3rd attempt at reducing the steroids from 2 mg to 1.5 mg per day. We started 11 days ago – and it does not seem to be working.
Linda has lost fine motor skills (she can barely move her left hand at all), she has much more difficulty transferring from the wheel chair to car, etc., she is more tired than before, and discouragement comes more easily and more often.
We would like to try more natural means for reducing swelling, such as salmon oil and other Omega 3’s, but they interact radically with the Coumadin, which must be taken because of the blood clot. Her blood has gone from thick to thin time and again these past few months. The lack of mobility (exacerbated by the reduction in steroids) makes it more difficult to deal with the blood clot and keep others away. She is scheduled for Physical Therapy on Thursday, but we are not sure she will be able to move enough to participate. One thing leads to another.
So, you can see where we are. Should the tumor continue to shrink (either through the Temodar or by more direct intervention by God – though He directs the Temodar, also!), the swelling will go down and Linda can get off the steroids that way, move more and allow her body to take care of the blood clot. But, that’s not how things are going, now.
These complications represent nowhere near a complete list, but they are the most disconcerting. We need direction from the Lord in the decision to continue to keep the steroid dosage down, or go back to 2 mg (which allows more mobility but increases risks in all the aforementioned areas) and make life a bit easier for the time being. Life seems so unstable right now. Thankfully, GOD NEVER CHANGES! He is rock-solid stable and as Linda has said time and again, nothing takes Him by surprise.
Since He is so powerful and invites us to make our requests known to Him, would you pray for Linda’s complete healing all over again? He has not chosen to heal in dramatic fashion to this point, but He has caused the tumor to reduce in size, which is a miracle in itself. Would you pray that God would direct us in our decisions should He not remove the tumor immediately and want us to continue in this valley for now? Our lives are in His hands – so are yours. We would all do well to rest there.
So, please pray as you feel led, but we would like to suggest this order:
1) Heal Linda completely – since we will have more specific requests, I want to say that I do not consider it a lack of faith to ask for the following requests should God decide not to answer this first one in the manner we are asking for Him to
2) For the swelling in the brain to stop so that we can reduce the steroids down to zero (and thus be able to quit antibiotics, etc) and Linda to regain mobility
3) For wisdom to know when to concede that the swelling is not going to stop without steroids and go back to 2 mg per day
4) For the Temodar to reduce the size of the tumor and thus eliminate the need for the steroids
5) For her blood levels to stabilize with the Coumadin and for Linda’s body to deal properly with the blood clot
6) For us to glorify God with our hearts and mouths, no matter what God’s decision is in this for us
Life is hard, no question, but GOD IS GOOD!
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
Dr. Reardon at Duke last week confirmed that the tumor is stable. Sprague Cheshire, the PA who worked with us, agreed with Dr. Moore's (Linda's oncologist) assessment earlier that the tumor is actually smaller. Either way, we are greatly encouraged that Linda is with us and actually seems to be making progress in her battle with cancer.
Since we have received the good news, Linda and I (mostly at her initiation, not mine) have begun discussing our hope of heaven again. We discussed the next life rather extensively at first because we were told that her time on this earth would come to an end in three to five months. Now, almost eight months later . . . Praise the LORD!
Should that time come again when either of us are facing our mortality at the level Linda faced hers in February, we will once again speak much to one another of the blessings of heaven. When she seemed to be in a holding pattern in late spring and early to mid summer, it was difficult to talk about heaven because it seemed to do so was to concede the battle to the cancer, and that we were not willing to do. Now that the news seems better about the tumor, it is a bit easier to talk about things that need to be discussed involving end of life issues.
But, stop for a moment and try to gain perspective (he says to himself). First of all, heaven is better than this place. Do you believe it? Sure you do, but you sing the lyrics along with me, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die." A big part of the reason for this dichotomy of emotions is the drive to live that God put inside us. But, we only have so much to say about when we will transition from this life to eternity (if we know Christ as our Savior, that is). God has numbered our days - the beginning and the end are already determined and we don't know when our time in this life will be up. (If you knew Linda well before she was diagnosed with this tumor, you know that she was VERY nutritionally minded and careful with her diet.) So, even if you do not have a brain tumor, it would be a good thing to prepare for the day when you will see Jesus face to face!
Even though Linda's tumor is smaller, there are myriad issues that are disconcerting when we give ourselves to worry rather than to trust. Even when we are fully trusting the Lord in this trial, there are several issues that warrant attention and prayer. As has been the case for so long, we are grateful when you join us in bringing our concerns to our great God. So, here we go.
First, the steroids. Linda has continued to take 2 mg of dexamethazone (dekadron) per day up until Friday. At the beginning of the weekend, we reduced the amount to one and a half mg. You would not thing such a small reduction would affect Linda so much, but when you think about it, that is a 25% reduction in her dosage. Her adrenal glands have been sitting idly by while the steroids have done their work. It takes up to several days for them to get back in gear and do their job. So, while Linda waits for active adrenal glands, her mobility is compromised, fatigue creeps in, and she even struggles emotionally.Why does she need steroids in the first place? To keep the swelling in the brain down, which comes as a result of the tumor. As you know, she has not moved that well since February anyway, so when she becomes less mobile than normal, the complications from swelling in the brain become more acute. With less mobility comes muscle atrophy and increased risk of blood clots, which are always dangerous.
So, is it worth it to try to get off the steroids? Oh, yes! In addition to significant weight gain and puffiness (especially in the face) that cause a fair amount of angst, the change in blood chemistry and damage to muscles create plenty of incentive to eliminate steroid use if at all possible. Dr. Reardon told us last week that there are some brain tumor patients who are able to eliminate steroid use while others are not able to do so. If I am not mistaken, this is the third time we have tried to reduce the steroid amount. Please pray that the third time will be the charm for Linda!
One of the ways we have attempted to facilitate steroid reduction is to introduce salmon oil (Omega 3's) into Linda's supplement regimen. The only problem is that the fish oils interact with the Coumadin (blood thinner) she must take in order to dissolve the clot (there is a better medical explanation, but you know what I mean). There are other drug interactions that create challenges, but that will be enough to inform your prayer life in this area. Oh, how we thank our Father for so many faithful prayer partners!
One of our biggest prayer concerns involves the Temodar (chemo therapy) that Linda will begin taking again later today (since it is after midnight). God is likely using the medicine to reduce the tumor, so we are glad for her to be able to take it. The last couple of times she has taken the Temodar, she is nauseated early in the five day regimen. That is part of the territory, and though some deal with much worse, we would appreciate your prayers for her in this crucial time. Also pray that she will not get sick as her immune system takes a hit!
Aren't you glad that our hope is not in this life? Now, we are doing everything we can to extend Linda's life just as we would do if it were me in her place, but we must keep our eyes on Jesus, knowing that we will ultimately stand before Him one day. And, I know you would agree, heaven is better than this place!
Friday, September 14, 2007
Even with the reduction in the size of the tumor, Linda is not moving as well as she has in the past. I know you will pray about that. Her coughing is improving day by day. She has been treated for reflux and thrush (almost inevitable with so many antibiotics), and those drugs seem to be helping considerably. Her INR levels (blood clotting factor) are all over the map, so please pray that will regulate.
We will go to Duke on Wednesday, so hopefully we will know even more by Thursday. Thank you for traveling this road with us! Praise be to God!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Since I last wrote (in mid-August), Linda has enjoyed relatively good days - until this past week. A small cough visited her on Monday. It came more often as the week progressed, and by Thursday night, it was a full-blown resident in her chest. It is a dry cough, exactly like the one that preceded pneumonia the last time. We were blessed (by good friends) with four days at the beach. We did not have caregivers this past week, and my time away from home is limited anyway, so we enjoyed the beautiful September days by the sea.
When we left Myrtle Beach Friday morning, we headed straight to the hospital in Raleigh. Blood work showed Linda's white cell and hemoglobin counts to be good. A chest x-ray did not reveal any concern. The doctors want to keep a close watch, though, so she will have two to three appointments this week. Linda's cough has worsened over the weekend, so we would appreciate your immediate prayers in this area.
The chemo treatments compromise the immune system, of course, and though it recovers, it can create significant problems while down. Linda's numbers are good, but she clearly has upper respiratory problems. She was scheduled to begin her next round of Temodar (chemo) next Sunday, but Duke wants to wait until after a September 19 appointment. She will have an MRI in the interim, so we will get an idea of what the tumor is doing.
We rejoice in every day that God gives us and anticipate many more. According to the earliest medical reports, Linda was not supposed to be here now. Job spoke words of truth (14:5) when he said, "Man's days are determined; You (Lord) have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." Doctors do not know the number of days - but they do have quite a bit of experience with patients who have particular kinds of illnesses. Linda's tumor is bad any way you cut it, which is why we want you to continue to pray for a miracle, for God to heal her completely! Her days are already determined as are yours and mine, and our time may be up long before hers. Living with a terminal disease does tend to focus one's priorities. But, as believers, we should already be focused on the right things, shouldn't we?
Yesterday morning, I was blessed when I read the first chapter of 1 Peter. It speaks of eternal life, which is our ultimate hope, and it speaks of difficulties in this life as well as the glory of the knowledge of our relationship with Jesus. I would like to share 1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV) with you. Would you please stop right now and ask God to speak directly and clearly to you as you read His eternal Word? Aren't you glad we have access to His eternal Word? God bless you!
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it be tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls." AMEN!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Sunday, August 12, 2007
This morning (Sunday), I finished preaching the series on 2 Timothy (16 messages in all) at church. Paul mentions several of his friends in 2 Timothy 4:9-22 - some friends who were faithless, some who were good, and the best friend, Jesus. At the end of the message I read a letter of thanks to the church from Linda. I thought it appropriate to publish it here, because so many of you outside our church have been so kind to us in the same way our church family has been. So, to all our friends, both in and out of Grace Community Church, here is a letter from Linda, written last night:
Dear Church Family,
Ever since February and our startling diagnosis, we have been amazed and comforted by the outpouring of love, kindness, sharing, and friendship shown by the Grace Community Church family. My own family, most of whom are in full-time ministry with many different churches all over the country and who have been my constant caregivers, have said that they have never seen such an outpouring of love and kindness from any church. The food, music, books, clothes, personal touches, monetary gifts, visits, Scriptures, prayer shawls and pillow covers, and encouraging cards (that are still arriving), remind us that our friends are still praying!
When we first received the diagnosis, I was reading Elizabeth Elliott’s Secure in the Everlasting Arms, one of my favorite books. She mentions the gracious gifts of God as being like the “winks of heaven.” I still think of that when one of you comes to our home bringing one of your delicious meals. It is like God’s grace smiling and winking at us. We are so undeserving of all you – our church family – have done for us, but you have truly allowed yourselves to be pipelines straight from God’s heart to meet our family’s needs. There is no way I can ever express my deep and full gratitude for everything you have done for me – and for my family. Words are so inadequate right now. I just wish you could feel and know my heart. I am not able to write individual notes like I’d like, and don’t do well at even occasional phone call attempts – I get too emotional so easily these days. Many of you were my friends before all this, and many others of you I’ve gotten to know better through these months. I look forward to deepening our friendships, old and new, even more. Please help me to see that happen!
Over and over I have read that one great enemy of cancer patients is the horrible “valley of LONELINESS.” And we have seen it on the faces of fellow cancer patients, such as in the radiation waiting room at the hospital. But over and over I have told Brad that regardless of whatever else I have had to struggle with in recent months, loneliness has not been one of my enemies. And I want to tell you how grateful I am to all of you for that! I do not take that for granted. God has blessed Brad and me with a church family full of true friends. You have met our needs in our family’s weakest, darkest times, and we are so grateful for your friendship. We, as well as every one of our children, have expressed that we have learned so much from you. We have especially learned how to serve others much better than we have in the past. We all look forward to opportunities to be a better friend to others, the way you have been to us.
Thank you again, dear friends, for every meal, kind expression, card, and “wink of God’s grace” you have shared with me and my family. I love you!
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Linda is doing much better with her pneumonia. She will see her infectious diseases doctor - never a doctor you want on your card - tomorrow and hopefully get a clean bill of health. We hope to get the green light next week for resuming the Temodar (oral chemo). PRAYER REQUEST: Please pray that Linda will be able to walk more in order to take care of the blood clot so that she will be ready for the Avastin, a chemo that has produced amazing results for many brain tumor patients. We continue to pray for healing, in which case the Avastin will be unnecessary!
I am going to include last Sunday's sermon, below. I have been posting the written copy of sermons (the actual sermon can be heard on our web-site - and may sound a lot different, or maybe not too different!) when they relate to our trial. I did not choose the text (2 Timothy 4:6-8) because of Linda's tumor. I am finally finishing a series on 2 Timothy that was begun last fall - with the year we have had, I have missed a lot of Sundays. This text was preached on schedule. So, if you are interested . . .
I remember several years ago either hearing about or reading about an interview with Billy Graham. The famous evangelist was asked what he would do differently with his life if he had another chance. His answer may surprise you. Billy Graham said that if he could live his life over, he would preach less and study more. Interesting, isn’t it?
What do you wish that you had done differently to this point? Can you imagine coming to the end of your life with no regrets? I can’t imagine that for me, but maybe you are a good bit more spiritual than I. Well, apparently the Apostle Paul had few regrets. He was ready to meet Jesus, which was a good thing since his time was at hand. The Apostle Paul finished well.
There are so very many people who start well in their walk with Jesus, but drift away. I know that if we went down the rows and asked each person here, “Do you want to finish well, pleasing the Lord and looking forward to His evaluation of your life?” that every single person would say, “Yes – absolutely!” We will examine our text today to see if there is any help for us who so want to finish well. Since the verses we read last week set the stage for today’s text, we will read 2 Timothy 4:1-8, though our focus today will be only verses 6-8. Would you please stand as we read God’s Word together?
1. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge:
2. Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.
3. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
4. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
5. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
6. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
7. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
8. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.
Just before we read this passage, I encouraged you to be on the lookout for any help you might receive in finishing well. Unfortunately, Paul did not write a “How to Finish Well” book for us. If he had, it would be on the front shelves at the Christian bookstores, an unquestionable best seller. We can glean much from Paul’s words, though, if we reflect on his life as we examine these three verses. As it is, in these few words, Paul gives a powerful summary of his past, present, and future. We begin in the here and now, talking about:
I. Paul’s present reality
As Paul finished his letter to Timothy, he knew that his death was both certain and near. It is not as though he expected the executioner to appear any moment, as we will see next week, but it would be within a matter of months, and maybe a lot sooner. I want you to do something. I want you to close your eyes for a moment and put yourself in Paul’s death row cell. What are your emotions? Do you feel sorry for yourself? Do you feel unfairly treated, condemned to die simply because you shared your faith? Are you afraid of death? Do you have some regrets? Or, do you feel a sweet fellowship with Jesus, one that is promised in suffering? Are you maybe even excited about seeing the One Who died on the cross so that you might live forever? OK.
I just wanted you to sit there with Paul for a moment. In fact, you are still there as he writes, but you are there as an apprentice. You are there to learn, so take notice of Paul’s present reality.
He begins verse 6 with the word “for.” So, we have to back up to verse 5 and see the connection between the two verses.
5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
See, I told you that you are an apprentice in Paul’s cell! “Timothy – you are going to have to endure these hardships that weigh so heavily on you now and you are going to have to hang in there – I will not be here much longer. It’s up to you, son.”
It is no stretch to say, “Ann – I will not be here much longer – it’s up to you, now. Doug, I am checking out soon. I am counting on you, son, to preach the pure gospel. Preach it clearly and preach it boldly.” Paul was challenging Timothy to live for Jesus, but he was also modeling for Timothy the way to die for Jesus. He exhibited the proper spirit for Timothy to embrace when facing a martyr’s death. It was the very thing Timothy feared most – death at the hands of the enemies of Christ. Paul tried to change Timothy’s perspective.
I imagine that there were a lot of people who thought Paul’s death was a waste, maybe even some who were close to Paul. “Paul, if you had just used a little more discretion, you wouldn’t be here! How are we going to carry on without you? Why did you have to be public about Jesus?” But Paul saw his death as anything but a waste! In fact, he saw it as an offering – “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering.”
Now, before we talk about what Paul meant by this phrase, it is important to note that he saw his death as a certainty – there would be no turning back – “I am already being poured out.” But his death had purpose, just like his life had been full of purpose. “I am already being poured out like a drink offering.” Paul was referring to the wine that was poured out at that base of an altar when a lamb was sacrificed, as mandated in Exodus 29 and Leviticus 23. Paul saw his death as a sacrifice, an offering to God. But he did not see his death as the end. He said, “the time has come for my departure.”
The Greek word that is translated departure was a word used by sailors when they loosed the moorings of their ship from a dock or when they raised the anchor. It was not the end of a voyage, but the beginning. This word was also used by soldiers when they struck their tents, picking up their stakes to move on. Paul was preparing to move on, not to death, but to life. Thomas Oden captured, I think, Paul’s spirit. Quote:
“Paul’s valedictory is filled with quiet joy amid his afflictions. His living faith encourages others to face hazard and death as he did. He exhibited no fear of death in this letter, though he must have known that his approaching execution would be violent – the axman would have his neck – yet he viewed his departure as release and victory. Contrast this with compulsive death-avoidance patterns in modernity, where we pay the mortician to make the corpse look as alive as possible. When we come near to death, we circumvent any awareness of it and deny it. There was in Paul no denial of death.” End quote.
There is pretty strong consensus that Paul died by an executioner’s ax, as you saw in Oden’s remarks. If you believe all that the Bible says about eternal life, then we know that Paul never lost consciousness. He simply moved from this life to the next – instantaneously. Paul knew that before he died, so he did not dread execution. We know that he was more than ready to see Jesus, and he was also grateful to offer himself to the Lord in this manner. It was Paul’s present reality. His present was as meaningful as it was, however, because of:
II. Paul’s purpose-filled past
We have already noted that Paul viewed his death as full of purpose. This could only be so if his life had been full of purpose. Without question, Paul had led an eventful life. He reviews it briefly in verse 7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
If you heard someone that you didn’t know make such a statement, what would you think? I would probably think he was bragging – big time! Of course, I would think that because that is what I would be doing if I made such a statement. You know what they say – our suspicions about others are most often a result of an intimate knowledge of ourselves. Indeed!
But we know Paul, don’t we? In fact, we know him so well that we are certain he was not bragging. We will give proof of that in a few minutes, but first let’s examine what he said here. He begins by saying “I have fought the good fight.” The Greek word for fight could be used of a soldier or an athlete. It seems, especially in light of the context, that Paul is referring to the battles fought in the contests at the Olympic Games in Athens rather than the battles the Roman soldiers fought. In the same manner as an athlete that competed at the highest levels, Paul acknowledged that his life had been a struggle. But, he had persevered. He did not dodge the responsibility that God had given him, even though from the earliest days of his walk with Christ he knew that he would have to suffer for Jesus. Paul had fought the good fight.
And, he had finished the race that was set before him. Have you ever considered yourself in a race that the Lord has set before you? The interesting thing about the race that God sets before us is that there is no set standard for these races. My race is not the same as your race and vice versa. All believers have been given the circumstances God chose for them, and each race is different. One by one, we must decide whether or not we will run the race set before us. A lot of people begin the race well. Not nearly as many finish well. If we want to finish well, we will need the same resolve Paul had exhibited many years before he wrote to Timothy from death row.
In Acts 20, we read about the time that Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, almost certainly going to face persecution and possibly death. Many tried to talk him out of his decision, but he told them in verse 24: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” When I was in Bible college, everyone had to have a life’s verse. This would be a good verse to memorize and follow, would it not? When our lives mean nothing to us, and the race that Jesus has set before us is everything to us, then we will be well on our way to finishing well.
Look back again at 2 Timothy 4:7. Once again, it may seem like Paul has succumbed to a pride attack, but from what we know of him, it cannot be. Our clue, from this verse, is in the last phrase – “I have kept the faith.” The faith he refers to is his trust in Jesus Christ, for salvation, for life, for eternity. Paul finished well, not so much because he behaved well. Paul finished well because he believed well.
Paul understood all along the way that it was not his own strength that enabled him to live for God, rather it was the Lord’s strength. God not only justified Paul; He also sanctified Paul. Paul lived well because he believed well. I could point to countless number of verses, but let me remind you of a rather familiar one – Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Absorb that verse for a minute, and then we will read 2 Timothy 4:7 once again in the context of Paul’s understanding of how the Christian life is to be lived. OK, one last time, 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
That was Paul’s purpose-filled past. Let’s conclude by considering:
III. Paul’s glorious future
Some glorious future, huh, sitting in a cell waiting for execution. Well, if this life is all there is, it wasn’t much of a future Paul was facing. But he knew there was more! Verse 8: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” There is further proof in this verse that Paul is not bragging. Can you see it? Paul is anticipating a crown of righteousness. Of all people who have ever lived, the Apostle Paul recognized that any righteousness he had was from Jesus. Once again, we could look at any number of verses, but let’s choose Philippians 3:9: “(I want to) be found in Him (Jesus), not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Now, think about it. Paul is looking for a crown of righteousness when he gets to heaven. Does it appear that Paul is counting on his own righteousness to earn himself this crown? Absolutely not! Paul had already received Christ’s righteousness on the Damascus Road when Jesus saved him. Now, as Paul anticipates seeing Jesus face to face in heaven, he expects the ultimate, or permanent, crown of righteousness. This speaks far more of Christ’s work than of Paul’s good life.
And notice, this crown is not for big shots only. It is not just for a “super Christian” like Paul. It is for everyone who longs for Jesus’ return. And who would that be, but all who have a personal relationship with Jesus?
Now, I want to say something about longing for Jesus’ 2nd coming. I have spoken quite often about being ready to stand before Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ, which is the judgment for believers. Unbelievers stand before Jesus at the Great White Throne Judgment, but believers will have to give an account of themselves to Jesus – 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:12, among many other verses, make that quite clear. The first three verses of 1 John 3 tell us that knowledge of Jesus’ return should cause us to live godly lives. So, how we live makes a big difference in how our time at the Judgment Seat of Christ will go. But I want to reemphasize that our behavior on this earth is determined by our beliefs. If we understand that any righteousness we have is because of Jesus and that if we hope to live godly lives it will have to be Jesus’ righteousness shining through us, then our lives will be different.
So, do you want to finish well? I know you do! You might expect me to say something like, “If you want to finish well, you better live well. You better watch your step.” Instead, the message is, “If you want to finish well, you need to believe well – believe God when He says that He will sanctify you as well as justify you. Believe Him when He says that His righteousness is available to you for living as well as for dying. Believe that death is only moving from this shadow of a life that we enjoy now to the real thing! Hey, we can believe at least as well as Muslims who blow themselves up thinking that they will be rewarded for their efforts, can’t we? I mean, you have staked your eternity on the truth of this book, have you not? Why not believe this book enough to live well so that you will finish well?
We can only speak of these things – of heaven, of a crown of righteousness, of finishing well – because Jesus finished the work the Father gave Him to do, dying for our sins, taking the judgment upon Himself that should have fallen on us. As the elders come forward, let us remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us by coming to the Lord’s table to participate, as 1 Corinthians 10 tells us, in His body and His blood. That does not mean that these elements become the body and blood of Christ, but it does mean, I believe, that there is help for us in living the life to which God has called us, a life in which the righteousness of Christ prevails, as we receive this bread and juice by faith.