Friday, July 27, 2007

News From the Hospital

We do not know much more now than we did when we first got to the hospital on Wednesday. Linda underwent a bronchoscopy this morning, a procedure in which a tube is run through the throat into the lungs. Secretions were "vacuumed" from her lungs and sent to the lab. The doctors have checked several times for a preliminary report, but none has been forthcoming. Even though more extensive tests will need to be done on these secretions, the hope is for enough information to get an initial treatment plan in place. Please pray that the doctors will be able to start treating the problem, soon.

Linda's oxygen levels are low and not rising without oxygen being given to her. Please pray about that as well as for the above mentioned treatment plan, which is so important for so many easons, such as chemo, physical therapy and steroid reduction all being put on hold while we wait for her lungs to clear.

We have been enjoying the Psalms lately, particularly Psalms 40, 46 and 138. Aren't you glad that we can say what we truly feel to a wise, all-powerful and compassionate God? We are repeatedly comforted by His presence. We are also encouraged that you have chosen to walk through this trial with us. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Prayer Request!

We are about to leave for the hospital where Linda will be for at least a couple of days. There is concern that she has PCP pneumonia, a type of pneumonia that often visist those whose immune systems are comprimised. She is allergic to sulfa drugs, the most common remedy for this disease, which may complicate treatment, if it is, as suspected, PCP pneumonia. If you are reading this blog, I know you will pray! Thank you so much! We want to limit visitors for several reasons. I will give you updates as they are available.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


The last post was a few weeks back and was full of good news. As I told you, Duke seems to think Linda's tumor may not be a glioblastoma (the worst), but rather an astrocytoma (the second worst). As far as prognosis goes, that means an extra year of life expectancy, though we continue to understand that our times are in the Lord's hands and the days of our lives are already determined by Him. Please pray with us that He will heal Linda completely (no contradiction in the last two sentences).

Almost as soon as we left Duke, some of the complications that go with cancer visited my dear wife and made themselves at home for awhile! Her immune system is down, so much so that she developed a lung infection. She has been checked for a blood clot in the lungs (CT scan) and for pneumonia (chest x-ray), but neither ailment was found. She has been quite miserable, though, with a horrific cough. Linda received two units of blood on Wednesday, which would have given her much more energy if not for the infection.

Another complication is that the next round of Temodar (chemo) has been delayed while her blood count returns to more normal levels. She is scheduled to start back this week. The plan is for two more rounds of Temodar over the next two months, then to introduce Avastin, a much stronger chemo. The concern with Avastin is bleeding, and since she is on coumadin, that may be a concern. If, as is possible, her tumor is an astrocytoma, we may have a little time to wait before introducing Avastin.

God has been gracious to us this week as we have been given clarity with regard to what is really important in life. We continually give thanks to God for His inexpressible gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) of eternal life in Jesus. As for this life, please pray that Linda's immune system will rebound and that she will get past this infection that has plagued her so this week. Thank you so very much for your prayers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Interesting/Exciting News!

We have just finished our first appointment at Duke. The doctors are, as we expected, wonderful. Linda will be seeing Dr. Henry Friedman and Dr. Steve Silverman. Dr. Silverman asked us why the diagnosis of glioblastoma? He then showed us the pathology report (we had never seen that), which states that the tumor has characteristics consistent with a high grade glioma. Dr. Lacin has told us that it is a glioblastoma multiforme. The doctors at Duke think it is more likely an astrocytoma, which is still malignant and does not provide a good long-term diagnosis, but is much less aggressive than a glioblastoma multiforme. Since pathology did not precisely identify the type of tumor, all the doctors are guessing.

Another piece of excellent news - and a mark on the astrocytoma side - is that the latest MRI (taken a few weeks ago) shows that the tumor is rock-solid stable - no growth at all! It appears right now that the plan is for two more months of Temodar, then introducing Avastin, a chemotherapy treatment that has been around for several years, but has only recently been used for brain tumors - with some rather amazing results! Avastin carries a high risk of bleeding (the Coumadin Linda is taking is a problem), so please pray about that. It is a couple of months away, so we will take it a day at a time.

More in the near future, but I wanted to pass this good news along immediately. If this tumor is, indeed, an astrocytoma, that should lengthen the life expectancy by a year - and who knows what will happen with research in that year? Our hope, of course, is in the Lord, but our ultimate hope is not in this life at all - it is eternity with Jesus! It appears, to this point, that God is directing us to get the best medical help we can to deal with this current crisis. Our trust is ultimately in Him. Thank you so much for praying!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Renewed Call for Prayer

No news is good news, it seems. We told you last week that Linda had an MRI. I called the neurosurgeon's office before the MRI on Friday and asked for a report once they had seen the pictures. No call came Friday afternoon. When no call had come as of Monday afternoon, I called them. I was told that the doctor had "signed off" on the report, which meant that he did not see anything of concern. I responded that I would like to hear from him and was told that if there were any concern at all the doctor would have called. I started to demand that the doctor call, but there are spiritual/ministry reasons as well as personality (timidity, to be exact) reasons that I did not do so. I left them with the understanding that if we did not hear from them, it would mean that the tumor is stable. It must be so. Presumably. Probably.

Linda's PT/INR blood levels (coagulation factor) had stabilized, but the numbers are high, again, meaning that bleeding is a concern. Please pray about that.

We go to Duke on Wednesday. Since we have heard some remarkable stories of people who have been a part of the experimental program there, we are rather excited. Even as we go, we are aware that there is no proven treatment on record that will end this tumor. Quality and length of life have been improved considerably, however. If that is the case, it gives time for the research to go on for a cure. We are aware that the Coumadin that Linda has to take because of the clot in her leg will eliminate some of the options for treatment.

Would you join us in a renewed effort of prayer for Linda's healing? It seems a bit strange to pray for God to remove the tumor in one breath, then for the medicine to do its work in the next breath. Let's not worry about any of that and just pray! Though it could go without saying, we feel it is important to acknowledge that we are in God's hands and His decision is best, but since we have been invited to pray (believing) for a miracle, we are going to do so. Would you join us? And, would you also pray for little Cali Moody, the one year old in our church who just had a brain tumor removed last week but is still in a coma, and for Elyse Fenerty, a young mother of five children (also in our church) who has a brain tumor on her brain stem that is stable, but needs to go away?

Thank you so very much! God bless you!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ultimate Trust

Below is the text of the message I preached this morning. The message was directed to the entire church - we are experiencing a difficult stretch with many families suffering more than one would think to be normal.

Thank you for praying for Linda during her MRI on Friday. She did just fine. We have not heard from the neurosurgeon yet - when we hear we will let you know.

Ultimate Trust

I have a friend who once gave me a one-minute summary of his testimony. He said, “When I first put my trust in Jesus Christ, believers everywhere applauded my decision! People slapped me on the back and encouraged me to walk with Jesus. As I began to walk with Jesus, several friends walked with me – not as many as applauded my salvation, but a good number encouraged me to take a stand for the Lord. As I began to take that stand for Jesus, the number of those standing with me dwindled and some even began opposing me. Eventually, voices were raised against me until finally I heard the crowd crying, ‘Crucify Him!’ Then I remembered that I had prayed to be like Jesus!

Our text today gives the details of the very last moments of Jesus’ crucifixion. The message will not be about persecution, but about trust. It is easy to trust when things go well, but we all know that our faith is put to the test in difficult times. So much of the typical Sunday morning message is shared in a way to challenge individuals. Today’s message will be no exception – we all need to know how to trust, but it is also a time when our church needs to come together and trust as the body of Christ known as Grace Community Church. All churches go through difficult times, and recent days have been especially difficult here. For starters, three brain tumors in less than two years would be enough for a large church – it is almost overwhelming for a relatively small church like ours! We have had job losses, miscarriages, an untimely death, significant pain over relationships going bad, sickness in extended families and troubles about which we know little but we are quite aware that they exist among our church families.

This has been a rather difficult time for the Talley family. I only use this personal experience as it relates to all of us in the way we respond to trials, as you will see. My father was taken back to the hospital yesterday. It was only three weeks ago that he had wandered off in Cary on a Saturday afternoon. He was missing for nearly 15 hours. At 4:00 AM on Sunday morning, he came back to the McDonald’s from which he had left the afternoon before. My father’s disappearance was the culmination of an unbelievably difficult week for me. As I drove along Hwy. 401 on that Sunday morning while Roy Lytle preached here, a thought came unbidden to my mind – “I think this is just about all I can take.”

Now, I told you this thought was kind of “just there” in my mind. From whence do you think it came? One of two places, certainly –either from my own mind or from Satan. Such a thought would not come from God. In fact, when I place such a thought alongside Jesus, Who gives us the proper response to trouble in our text today, I gain perspective that is necessary for my own response to trials. No matter what my trial, it will never equal Jesus’ pain on the cross, pain that was so much more than physical. How did He handle it? Our text this morning tells us part of what happened at the very end, just before He died. We will look at more than just these verses, but Luke 23:44-49 is a good place to start. I will be reading from the English Standard Version. Would you please stand as we read God’s Word together?

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,
45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” And having said this He breathed His last.
47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.
49 And all His acquaintances and the women who had followed Him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Those were Jesus’ last words on the cross, along with “It is finished.” When you think about what Jesus had just endured, His words indicated a trust that is beyond our comprehension. They represent a great deal more than trust, and we will consider at least a portion of the cross’s meaning here at the first of the message, but our primary focus is on the trust Jesus demonstrated at the very end of His life.

We know that there is a penalty for sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. God speaks here not only of physical death, but also of spiritual death – separation from God for eternity. Once we understand the penalty for sin, none of us expects an exemption – we are all guilty. Every human being who has ever lived has been found guilty of sin – except for Jesus.

Jesus never sinned. He was, in OT imagery, a lamb without spot. He was, in fact, the perfect sacrifice and substitute. The mystery of the Trinity prevents us from comprehending all that occurred on the cross, but there is much that we are told. We know that the cross was God’s perfect plan for the redemption of man. If there was to be any hope for us to commune with God, His wrath had to be satisfied, and the only way for that to happen was for someone to pay. But, no one was eligible to die and take away God’s wrath, for all were standing directly in the path of God’s judgment. Only a perfect substitute would be acceptable. That was, of course, Jesus. The divine side of Jesus understood this and willingly left His glory in heaven to come to earth as one of us and pay the ultimate price.

The human side of Jesus, however, recoiled from the cross. Why? I think the primary reason was what it would do to His relationship with the Father.

Father. That’s what Jesus called Yahweh. The very first thing we hear Jesus saying was as a boy when his parents lost Him in Jerusalem. When they finally found Him, they scolded Him for not staying with them. Jesus corrected the correctors by saying, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know I must be in My Father’s house?”

When Jesus was baptized, the heavens resounded with a voice that said, “You are my Son, Whom I love.” When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He shocked the religious world by teaching them to address God as Father. Then, as the cross loomed in Jesus’ immediate future, He asked His Father to find another way to reconcile sinners to Himself. Why – because He was scared of death? Hardly!

Jesus knew that the cross was in His future all along. When Peter had attempted to sway Jesus from His destiny, Jesus rebuked His follower soundly and publicly. And yet, in the garden an hour before He was arrested He prayed to avoid the cross with such intensity that he began to sweat blood. Jesus did not dread death. If Socrates could comfort and cheer his friends even as he was dying from the hemlock poisoning he had just drunk, surely Jesus was at least that good! But Jesus’ death was not the death of a martyr. His was the death of the perfect substitute for men and women of all races of all ages.

Here is where the mystery of the cross comes back into play. While we know that Jesus was taking our place, there is no way to comprehend the wave after wave of condemnation that came upon Jesus because of our sin. His heart became evil itself as God looked away. That’s when the loneliness that Jesus had so dreaded came. The loving Father, Whom Jesus had never displeased in His entire life, turned away from His Son. Perfect communion now became ultimate separation. In His agony, Jesus cried out to His Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

When you think about it, the cross was the ultimate injustice. Here, the spotless, sinless Son of God and Son of Man, hangs on a cross for fabricated crimes, enduring the full wrath of His Father for sins He did not commit. It baffled the humanity of Jesus so that He cried out, not with bitterness, but in confusion. It was not confusion as we know it, but rather an acknowledgment of the absurdity of a perfect human being suffering one of the greatest indignities ever devised by mankind – crucifixion on a Roman cross.

So, how has life been unfair to you? What are your complaints about injustices that have been perpetrated upon you and/or your family? Are you confused about the circumstances that have befallen you? Jesus was, so you are in good company there. But remember, Jesus cried out in confusion and pain, not in anger or bitterness. He asked, “Why?” – not, “WHY? YOU ANSWER ME RIGHT NOW!” Are you following His example?

I suppose most of us can endure most anything as long as we see an end to the problem. I wonder if Jesus saw an end to the problem in those six hours on the cross, at least three of them exceedingly dark. We know that Jesus suffered the equivalent of eternity in hell for all who will live eternally with Him. How can we even conceive such a horrible reality? We are absolutely unable to project ourselves into His mind in such a moment for myriad reasons, but you have to wonder if He felt the absolute and utter helplessness that such an act implies.

Even though Jesus’ death was infinitely more important than a great example, He was, nonetheless, our example when life seems hopeless. He is, in fact, our example when death looms, even an unpleasant death. In His agony, confusion, and ultimate sense of abandonment, Jesus did not reject His Father even though He felt abandoned by God. As He died Jesus cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!”

That’s an unnatural reaction, is it not? Everything conspired against Jesus and should have driven Him to despair. Yet, there He was putting His trust in God. His response to suffering was quite public. It is often that way, isn’t it? Our personal agonies are increasingly public in our day, as is our response to suffering. With reality shows a-plenty and 24 hour news that covers car chases and train wrecks, people want to know about our suffering and our response to suffering. Perhaps that is a sign of our sickness, but it is the reality of our day.

When Jesus committed His spirit into God’s hands, it made quite an impression on those who were on the scene. The centurion recognized that Jesus was innocent and He acknowledged as much to God. You have to realize how remarkable this was. Centurions supervised crucifixions all the time. Many Roman centurions despised Jews and mocked them as they died. There was something about Jesus’ response to suffering, though, that touched this hardened soldier deeply and pointed him to God. You get the same sense about all the crowds who had observed the spectacle – they went home beating their breasts.

When God calls on you to suffer, and make no mistake about it, God is sovereign and in charge of every detail of your life – when God calls on you to suffer, remember that people are watching and they are forming opinions about God based on how you respond to your suffering. The response that makes an impact on the world is not the faith that enables one to escape suffering, but the kind of faith that trusts God when life makes no sense at all and when despair would be the natural reaction.

There are many levels of trust, aren’t there? It is one thing to trust God the week after you lose your job, especially if you have received a nice severance package. It is another thing to trust God several weeks or months into unemployment when the refrigerator is nearly empty. We often hear about stories where people have fallen into great difficulty only to pray in faith and watch as God delivers them from their troubles. But what happens to our faith when our trust does not yield the relief for which we prayed, but instead the circumstances go from bad to worse? Listen to what Brennan Manning says in his book Ruthless Trust. Quote:

“We often presume that trust will dispel the confusion, illuminate the darkness, vanquish the uncertainty, and redeem the times. But the crowd of witnesses in Hebrews 11 testifies that this is not the case. Our trust does not bring final clarity on this earth. It does not still the chaos or dull the pain or provide a crutch. When all else is unclear, the heart of trust says, as Jesus did on the cross, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’”

The first time I read these words, I felt that Manning had no right to apply Jesus’ words to our own circumstances because of all the implications of the cross. On further reflection, though, I found them to be absolutely appropriate in spirit. We utter them when we are absolutely at the end of understanding, even though we have trusted God with all our hearts. These words, in fact, had been written and spoken before Jesus ever uttered them. They come from Psalm 31. Let’s read the first five verses of Psalm 31, written by David:

1 In You, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in Your righteousness deliver me!
2 Incline Your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
3 For You are my rock and my fortress; and for Your name’s sake You lead me and guide me;
4 You take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for You are my refuge.
5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

“Into Your hands I commit my spirit,” was the traditional Jewish good-night prayer. It was somewhat akin to a child’s prayer that goes something like, “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Now, granted, the Jews prayed with a great deal of meaning and sincerity – it was not a chant to be said before climbing into bed. It was a prayer for safety, for deliverance from one’s enemies, which was the spirit in which David prayed.

Jesus’ prayer was different than David’s. First of all, He addressed God as “Father.” Even at the end, Jesus exhibited His trust in God by calling Him Father, and by placing His soul in His Father’s hands. But there is more. Have you noticed on the screen that there is an exclamation point at the end of Jesus’ declaration of trust? Even though the punctuation is not inspired like the words are, the exclamation point is absolutely appropriate.

Jesus uttered these words in a completely different way than they had ever been prayed to this point. First, it was an acknowledgment of His impending death, not a request for deliverance from death. Also, it was shouted, which is not the way crucifixion victims usually uttered their last words. Most of those who were crucified weakened over the time they were on the cross, then, fell into an unconscious state and finally, died feebly. Not Jesus! He had already made it clear that He would die willingly, not at the hands of others. John 10:17-18: “For this reason, the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.”

Jesus’ death was the culmination of the plan that had been determined before the world ever began. Remember, in addition to committing His spirit into God’s hands, Jesus said, “It is finished,” which could be translated, “Paid in full.” Jesus’ death was not one of defeat, but one of triumph!

Is there instruction for us? Certainly! Not that we would ever suffer in such a meaningful way as Jesus did, but all suffering is meaningful, and all suffering allows us an opportunity to trust and glorify God.

Now, do not misunderstand what I am saying. We are, after all, human. It is not that we take every negative thing that comes along with a smile and a wink toward heaven. Sometimes Linda says, “Everyone thinks I am so strong, and I am not strong.” I remind her that no one expects her to smile and say, “I have a brain tumor and I am OK with that!” Absolutely not! We hurt, we cry, we grieve, and we seek to relieve the pain. Jesus, after all, sought to avoid the cross. He also cried out in confusion when His Father turned His back on Him. But in the end, He affirmed His unwavering trust in His Father. And, so should we.

So, what’s going on here at Grace Community Church? Are we under spiritual attack? Yes. But, if we had just come through an entire year where almost every thing imaginable had gone right for every single person here, we would still be under spiritual attack! We will never assuage Satan’s hatred for us. We will never be able to hide from the arrows he sends our way. We will always be under spiritual attack. It will just be more evident at certain times than at other times. We are in such a time as a church family.

What should we do? Raise the shield of faith! Ephesians 6 talks about spiritual warfare and tells believers to put on the spiritual armor that God has provided for the fight. Verse 16 tells us, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” When we think of a shield, we usually think of the relatively small shields that ancient soldiers carried into battles to deflect the blows of the enemy’s swords. But the shield Paul was most likely thinking about was a group shield known as the tortoise, which was a defensive tactic.

When the Roman army would lay siege to a city, they could count on arrows flying at them from the city walls, especially as they prepared to attack. Sometimes the arrows had been set on fire which would spread quickly once finding their mark. The Roman soldiers would get together in a tight group with the front members kneeling and shields in front of them. The soldiers behind the front line would put their shields over head, with as little space as possible between the shields. The shield was like a tortoise shell and was often impenetrable. When the arrows would come, they would bounce off the shields and fall harmlessly behind the soldiers.

So, the shield of faith in Ephesians 6 is more of a group shield than an individual shield. We need it now, wouldn’t you agree? It is apparent that the enemy is sending some dangerous arrows our way. That is always true, as I said, but we are certainly aware that Satan is sending a barrage of arrows our way at present. We need to form a tortoise shield, lifting the shield of faith. When we start to doubt our God or ourselves, we will drop the shield of faith. Not that we can ever trust ourselves, but we can trust that God has put us into our current circumstances and that He is honored by our trust in Him. As a church, let us say with Jesus, “Father, into Your hands we commit ourselves.”

Let’s close by looking at our text once again, absorbing Jesus’ ultimate trust and the impact in made on others.

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,
45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” And having said this He breathed His last.
47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when the saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.
49 And all His acquaintances and the women who had followed Him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Let’s bow for prayer.