Thursday, August 16, 2007

No More Pneumonia!

Linda received the clean bill of health that we anticipated from her doctors over the last two days. She has been cleared of the pnuemonia, and cleared to take Temodar, the oral chemo. She will be taking that within the next hour, so please pray that she will not be nauseated. If God chooses not to answer that prayer in that fashion, then pray for grace. Please pray, also, that she will continue to increase here physical activity. We may try to restart physical therapy next week. Thanks for praying!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Letter from Linda

Linda has had a much better week this past week. We hope she will get a clean bill of health at doctors visits on Tuesday and Thursday. We also hope to resume the Temodar (oral chemo) as soon as possible.

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!

Linda Talley

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Few Words From Linda - And A Lot Of Words From Brad!

Today we received several cards of encouragement in the mail. Most of them referred to this site. Linda said through tears, "Please tell everyone who sends a card of encouragement how very grateful I am - I wish I could respond to every expression of love and word of comfort. And while you are at it, please say THANK YOU once again for the prayers, continuing meals, and countless expressions of care and love for my family as well as for me. I love you!"

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 . . .

Finishing Well

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.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

HOME! With Accessories

Linda is home! Praise the Lord! The doctors are fairly convinced she has a strain of pneumonia, though tests would not identify the particular strain. She has come home with quite a bit of medicine. We will be giving her two rounds of antibiotics (vancamyacin - a nasty antibiotic, which should kill any pneumonia) every day. The antibiotics will be delivered through a picc line, which could be tricky. It takes one to two hours to take the medicine. We did not anticipate more than an hour, so she is asleep (sitting up) on the sofa right now (11:10 PM) as the medicine is still going in, even though it has been attached for nearly an hour and a half.

In addition to the antibiotics, Linda has been sent home with oxygen and breathing treatments, which must be administered four times a day. Perhaps some of you have dealt with similar issues and you know the challenges associated with these treatments. Hey, aren't you glad we live in a day when such treatments are available? Praise the Lord!

It seems increasingly likely that Linda's tumor is an astrocyctoma, which portends toward more time for researchers to come up with a cure for these deadly brain tumors. If you have kept up with this blog, what I am about to write will be something you have read before, but needs to be written again, nonetheless. From the beginning, it has been our desire - medically - for Linda's life to be extended long enough for a cure to be found. OF COURSE we would prefer that God remove the tumor! He has not chosen to do so, but we keep asking for that to happen. Since most people are cured from something as simple as bronchitis (which I discovered yesterday that I have) with medicine, it is not wrong to desire for a cure to be found for this particular brain tumor/cancer.

Is a cure for cancer our hope? Not in a technical sense! Our hope has nothing to do with this world in the best of times or the worst of times - our hope is eternal life through and with Jesus! But since He gave us that strong desire to live, we hold out for a cure, or at least a treatment that will stop the tumor from growing any more. It does appear that we have more time, though please pray that Linda will get past this pneumonia so that she can resume the Temodar - that is a pretty big concern.

A few days ago, our daughter, Autumn, brought us a printout of the K-Love verse for the day. It was Psalm 73:26 in the New Living Translation. Oh, how that verse ministered to us! Since the verse preceding it is apropos, I will write it also, as it reads in the NLT. 25 - "Whom have I in heaven but You? I desire You more than anything on earth." 26 - "My heart may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever."

That's encouraging, isn't it? There are certainly times that our spirits flag as surely as Linda's body is weak - but God remains our portion! In addition, you don't know how much of an encouragement you are to us. So many of you tell us you check this site every day. I am so sorry I have not written more - life has been so full. Please know that we do not take your care and your prayers for granted! We are so very grateful for every single word of encouragement and every prayer offered on our behalf. One day - in eternity - we will catch up.

Well, Linda's antibiotic is finally done and there are steps to be taken now. God bless you and good night!