Friday, February 29, 2008

It's Just Sad

No one is angry. No one is bitter. We are just sad. It is sad to watch Linda slip physically. These bodies are subject to decay, but hers is slipping ahead of schedule. Well, ahead of our schedule, but on time according to God. Not that the Lord loves death - indeed, Jesus hated death and was in the practice of breaking up funerals. But our sovereign Lord numbered our days before the world ever began. I don't get it, but I absolutely believe it.

Linda has not been awake much at all today. We have decided not to move her any more (out of bed) unless there is a dramatic change in her condition. The moves are so very traumatic for her, and she is hardly awake enough to sit up, anyway. The Hospice nurses tell us that while she is not in the final day or two (though, clearly the end could come by then), she is, nonetheless, declining rapidly. And - it is sad.

But, the sadness serves a purpose, even in our lives. Romans 8 talks about the futility of the creation and how creation longs for redemption. Then, verse 23 says, "And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Our inevitable groaning creates a thirst, a longing for the day when our bodies are no longer subject to pain and decay. We eagerly anticipate - eternity! We do so, that is, when the groaning is intense. Let's face it - until we encounter suffering, most of us in America, and other countries as well, feel as though we are living in heaven, so why worry about the unknown heaven that requires a painful transition (death) to enjoy? We have it made, here! Then, the pain. Then, the groaning. Then, the longing.

So, our sadness, while intense and real, serves to point our eyes upward. We selfishly want Linda to hang on with us as long as she can, but as you would imagine, we do not want her to suffer. So far, there does not seem to be significant suffering, but there is sadness aplenty. Thank you for sharing in our sorrow - it eases the load a bit.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Life and - Well, Life!

Nothing has changed significantly today. I am so grateful that Linda's parents are here with us during these difficult days. Linda is sleeping almost all of the time. About the only time she is awake is when we wake her to see someone who has come to visit her or when we attempt to get her to eat a little food so that we can give her the medicine that will keep Listeria at bay and help the swelling in her brain. Of course we also want her to eat to maintain what strength is available to her.

I am certain that Linda - along with all of us - will live for eternity. As much as she love Buies Creek, the address she will soon call home (short of divine intervention) will be most assuredly be so much better than this world that comparisons are a waste of time. But, we try anyway, which is why so much language in Scripture is put in a way we can grasp and comprehend. God has told us quite a bit more about heaven than most people know. Have you read Randy Alcorn's book, Heaven, yet? I have read some of it, though not all of it. I do know that heaven is far superior to this existence, no matter how advanced we are or how much we have.

Linda's passing will be enormously difficult here, though. I already miss her. There is so much we have shared this past year, but there is so much that was already lost to us during this past year. I would not trade it for ANYTHING, but I have been losing the love of my life for over a year, now. When she moves to her new address, I anticipate much more sorrow than I already know. BUT - it will not be the sorrow of one who has no hope of seeing his beloved again! (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

In fact, life is seen very differently through the eyes of a Christ-follower than one who is not. If you are interested in a much more detailed discussion, keep reading - I am going to copy and paste a sermon I preached several weeks ago from Philippians 1. The text emphasizes the way the Apostle Paul looked at life and death, or rather, life after life. Paul's example is a model for all who love Jesus, even though one's circumstances may be entirely different from his. In God's providence, I was privileged to examine this text thoroughly in these days of transition. So, if you have time and interest, continue reading.

Total Commitment; Absolute Confidence - Philippians 1:18b-26

This morning we will return to the book of Philippians. Before the Thanksgiving break, we spent four weeks in the first 17 verses of the first chapter of Philippians. Instead of reviewing what we have already covered, I would prefer to point you to the sermons themselves on our church website. Since, however, today’s text begins in the middle of verse 18, we will need a quick review.

So many people say that Philippians is their favorite book of the Bible. When we began this study in Philippians, I put up 12 slides that contained more than 12 well-known and deeply loved verses from the book of Philippians. I do not want to repeat all of those verses, but let’s just look at a few to refresh your memory. Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And then, the familiar call to trust and prayer in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison. Paul was in prison twice – this was his first imprisonment. The second time he was in prison he was in the famous Mamertine Prison in Rome, waiting execution. That is where he wrote 2 Timothy, which is the last know writing of the Apostle Paul. During his first imprisonment, Paul was under house arrest. When he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi, he was waiting for a trial, at which it was possible that he would be condemned to die, but that was unlikely. It was a possibility, though, and that is important to know, especially as we read today’s text.

The believers at Philippi were close friends of Paul who had supported him time and again on his mission trips. Even now in prison they had sent aid by Epaphroditus, likely a leader in the church at Philippi. Because of their support, Paul called the Philippians partners in the gospel with him. Oh, that our missionaries consider us to be honest-to-goodness partners in the gospel with them as they serve all over the world!

Because this was a missionary report, Paul told them about what was going on in Rome. As a result of his imprisonment, instead of believers becoming frightened of persecution and lying low, a number of Christians were proclaiming the gospel with boldness. There were two different groups who were sharing Christ. One group consisted of believers who had the same passion Paul did for sharing the gospel. The other group shared Christ out of envy. These detractors were believers, not enemies of the gospel, but they were people who were opposed to Paul’s way of proclaiming Christ, so when they shared Christ they thought it was showing Paul who God really blessed and who He didn’t. Before you shake your head and wonder how they could do such a thing, you will not have to think long before you say, “Oh, yeah – that happens all the time today, doesn’t it?” Brother and sister in Christ, be careful when you think you have a special anointing of God that others do not have. Be careful before you condemn someone who seems not to be blessed in the way you are. Think how silly Paul’s detractors felt when they got to heaven!

How did Paul respond to his critics? Well, that was the subject of the message the last time we found ourselves in the book of Philippians here at Grace Community Church, and since that was November, let’s read all the verses we have previously examined for the answer. Paul’s response to his detractors continues into today’s text and message, so it is important context, anyway. Would you please stand as we read Philippians 1:1-26?

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,
4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,
5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
6 And I am sure of this, that He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,
10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,
13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.
16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.
17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,
19 for, I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,
20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Total commitment. Absolute confidence. What is that all about? Is it possible to be totally committed to anything? In our day, can one be absolutely confident about anyone or anything? Well, the Apostle Paul was about as close to total commitment and absolute confidence as one can be. In our text today, Paul is leading by example. He is not instructing the Philippians in their walk with the Lord, but he fully intended for them to follow his example. In fact, it is in the book of Philippians – chapter 3, verse 17, to be exact, where Paul boldly tells his readers to imitate him. Have you ever done that? Well, of course you have on the golf course, or on the dance floor, or at an upscale restaurant, but have you ever told someone, “Imitate my walk with Christ?” Amazing!

So, across the centuries, Paul expects us to rise to the level of commitment and confidence that he exhibited under house arrest in Rome in the first century. Ultimately, it is God, of course, Who expects us to grow in our commitment to and confidence in Jesus. And that is the challenge today. If we were a church given to altar calls, I would stop right here and David would lead us in “I Surrender All,” because this is the point of the message. But, don’t get excited – we are not through! I just want you to know the life to which God is calling all of His followers.

So, here’s the way the rest of our time is going to go. We will look at our specific text, verses 18-26. As we read through this text slowly, concentrate on our primary thoughts – total commitment, absolute confidence. After we read the text we will go back through verse by verse and just concentrate on what Paul was saying. There will not be any points this morning beyond our main thoughts – total commitment, absolute confidence. The commitment is to Jesus, the confidence is in what He has done for us and in the future that awaits believers. Let’s begin reading the very last part of verse 18.

18 Yes, and I will rejoice,
19 for, I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,
20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Paul begins this section by transitioning from the previous one, saying, “Yes and I will rejoice.” He is, of course, referring to the fact that the gospel was being preached, even by those who did not care for Paul’s style of preaching. You don’t get the sense that Paul rejoiced through gritted teeth. It was a supernatural attitude, to be sure, that he rejoiced at the preaching of those who were convinced that Paul’s imprisonment was judgment on his particular way of presenting the gospel, but Paul’s rejoicing was genuine. And he rejoiced in the Philippians’ love for him, shown in their support of Paul and their prayers for him. In fact, Paul shows a great deal of vulnerability in verses 19 and 20 by confessing his dependence on their prayers. When you realize what Paul means by “deliverance” in verse 19, you will comprehend just how vulnerable and dependent Paul was.

The word for “deliverance” is the Greek word soterian, which is usually translated as “salvation” and usually refers to one’s eternal state in relation to God. To translate this word “deliverance” is pretty much an editorial decision, and one that is not fully supported by the immediate context. Before we look at that context, though, you need to know that in verse 19 Paul was actually quoting Job from his Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint. Specifically, Paul was quoting from Job 13:16, where Job said, “I will speak and plead before Him. And this will turn out for my salvation . . .” “Salvation” is the same word translated “deliverance” in Philippians 1:19. But, you can see Job’s intent in verse 18, and thus, Paul’s intent in quoting Job – they were both looking forward to standing before the Lord. Job 13:18: “Behold, I am near judgment: I know that I will appear just.” In other words, when Job stands before God, He will be accepted. When Paul stands before God, he has absolute confidence that he will be justified because of Jesus.

So, it appears that Paul is most likely talking about his eternal salvation, not his deliverance from prison. That seems especially so when Paul says in verse 20, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Paul did not know what the outcome of his imprisonment would be, though, as we will see a little later, he suspected that he would be freed. He wanted to be ready, though, if God should decide that he would be martyred for Jesus. We have already seen in verse 19 that Paul fully expected to go to heaven when he passed from this life to the next. In verse 20, he fully expects to honor the Lord, whether he was to live or die. Paul had massive confidence – but, it was not self-confidence. His confidence was in the Lord.

And, Paul leaned heavily on the prayers of the saints! We always think of Paul praying for others and teaching them and helping them to grow in Jesus. In verses 19 and 20, Paul expresses his dependence on the prayers of his brothers and sisters to the Lord. The Lord would, in turn, help Paul by the Spirit. And the startling conclusion to which Paul comes in verse 20 is that his salvation, his deliverance, does not depend on whether he lives or dies, which is why he can say in verse 21, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” That was an amazing thought in Paul’s day! How amazing? Listen to what Moises Silva says, quote:

“Such a perspective is jarring not merely to someone unacquainted with the Scriptures but even to a believer who may have noticed the repeated Old Testament references depicting divine blessing in terms of physical safety from enemies and deliverance from death. Indeed, one can argue that the Old Testament phrase being put to shame is often equivalent with dying. Therefore, for Paul to say that even through death he will be ashamed in nothing demands an explanation. Even more surprisingly, Paul’s explanation does not express hope in spite of death but rather focuses on death as the more advantageous alternative.” End quote.

Do you see in Paul’s attitude an absolute confidence? It is not the false assurance with which so many today deceive themselves, thinking their money or their wit or their logic or their connections will be enough in the end. It is a confidence based on an intimate knowledge of Jesus, and such an intimate knowledge is only possible through a heart and life that is totally committed to Jesus.

Because of Paul’s intimate relationship with Jesus he can say with confidence that if he lives, he will be totally committed to Christ, Who will be his life, and if he dies, well, that’s all the better! Paul then muses on the two possible roads before him. If he lives, there will be service to the Lord, fruitful service, at that. Once again, Paul’s confidence in the Lord leaves him no doubt that God will continue to use him if he stays here. But, frankly, Paul said, “If I had my choice, it would be FAR better to leave this life behind and go to be with the Lord.” If that attitude is absolutely unimaginable to you, I suppose that if you had been through all the Paul had been through, you would likely feel the same way!

Most of us want to postpone heaven as long as we can. Why? Well, I am certain part of it is because of the God-given will to live. It could be, though, that we have not suffered enough to be homesick for heaven, as we learned about a few weeks ago in Romans 5:1-5. Whether or not we are homesick for heaven, we need to be prepared, because none of us knows when our time will come. We need the absolute confidence that Paul had. Paul’s confidence in his eternal home effected a longing for heaven in his heart. Total commitment to the Lord caused Paul to be willing to stay and minister to the Philippians for as long as God desired. Verses 24-26: “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

Contrast Paul’s reason for a willingness to live with our absolute refusal to think about anything but living. We want to live so that we can finish school and be married, or so that we may continue to enjoy our spouse, our children or our grandchildren. We want to see that project at work completed, or to go on that cruise with the entire family, or to enjoy the fruits of our labor in retirement, and the list could get quite long. Why did Paul say he was willing to go on living, even though he preferred to go to be with Jesus? “For you, Philippians. I will serve you, teaching you about God’s new covenant, encouraging you to be totally committed to Jesus, helping you to become more like Him so that you can have the same confidence in your relationship with Him that I have.”

Is it possible to summarize Paul’s thoughts in this section with one line, with one sentence? Indeed, there is a way, and it is pretty simple: For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Are you there in your life? Would you be willing, right now, to ask God to help you to reach that point? Would you ask Him to put in your heart a passion to pursue an intimate relationship with Jesus that is so great that you will find yourself saying, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain?” Take a moment to respond to God’s Word.

Paul’s heart for Jesus resulted in a heart that reached out to help others. This morning, as we do every last Sunday of the month, we are going to take an offering specifically designed to help those in need. It is a benevolence offering, and these moneys will go to those who have particular financial needs. Let’s pray.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Linda's Greatest Need - Met

We seem to be witnessing, experiencing, living Linda's last days. Yesterday (Saturday) was an extremely tough day for her. She was nauseated all day, interacting with others very little during the day, then not at all on Saturday night. She sleeps 20+ hours a day, and I wonder if she would be awake at all if we did not wake her up to feed her or just check on her. But, then today was a better day! That is relatively speaking, you understand. She ate more and interacted with us some today, but she is still very confused and when she looks at us, it is with vacant eyes.

Yesterday, we were thinking that Linda would be with the Lord within a week. Today, we feel we may have more time. The Lord knows, though, and we have seen His grace in her life and in our lives. Five days or five months, we sense that the end is near. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I wail, sometimes I am all cried out, sometimes I smile. As Sheldon Vanauken said in A Severe Mercy, "He chuckled at the memory, and then, in the instant, tears were burning in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. That was always the way of grief: laughter and tears, joy and sorrow." (Believe me, you will read more about this book. In fact, you may as well go ahead and purchase it, because I am going to insist that you do! Be sure to get the book by Vanauken as there is another book with this title by a different author. It is WELL worth the read and includes eighteen letters written to Vanauken by C. S. Lewis gracing the work.)

In spite of this enormously difficult time, our family is glad to say that Linda's greatest need in life has been met. No, I am not saying that she has been healed and will be granted several more years of life. God may yet heal her, but frankly, I do not expect that. What if God healed her? The death rate, the last time I checked, is still 100%, and for those of you on the same side of the hill as I, we know, don't we, how rapidly time moves? We will all be dead in the blink of an eye. Then what? Does life end? Good question, isn't it? My answer will indicate why I said that Linda's greatest need of all has been met.

I do not think life ends at death, and I don't think most of you reading this blog believe it ends then, either. I would think, also, that most of you think that the Bible speaks in some way to matters of the afterlife. Oh, I realize there are countless other religions and religious scriptures that speak to matters of life after life, but rather than debate other religions and philosophies, I will stick with what the Bible says about what happens after death. If you are tempted to stop reading now, please read just a few more paragraphs before you stop.

For those of you who believe differently, may I ask you to consider just a few thoughts? Most people believe that there is more to reality than what we can touch and see. Of course there are those who believe that the universe came into existence through a series of events leading to the big bang. I would suspect, though, that the stunning beauty of creation, the stunning order of the universe, and the terrible blessing of the conscience leads you to believe that there is more to our existence - yea, to the existence of the universe - than meets the eye. It may just be that you cannot bring yourself to believe in Jesus, at least not at the level of some folks.

Most of us hail from Missouri. (For our international readers, it is one of our states in which the residents are known for their need for evidence before believing.) We want God to show us that He exists before we believe in Him. "Show me and I will believe." Hmm. While I live much of my life that way, my relationship with God requires faith on the basis of what He has said, not faith on the basis of irrefutable evidence presented to satisfy my intellectual skeptism - alas, my skepticism was really cynicism before I believed.

There were many in Jesus' day who demanded proof that He was God. The miracles He performed were never enough to convince them, anyway. Once, in the midst of a debate where the religious leaders questioned His authority, Jesus told them the solution to their doubt: "Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own." John 7:17. The point Jesus was making was that if anyone wants to be rightly related to God, he or she must believe in Jesus. The result? Then you will know! Know what? That Jesus was Who He claimed to be: God in the flesh. His mission was to die for our sins that we might be able to be rightly related to God - more about that in two sentences. Our tendency is to say, "Show me and I will believe." Jesus said, "Believe Me, and I will show you."

We have believed. That is why we are so confident that Linda's greatest need has been met! As I have told you before (and I say again for those who do not know Linda), there are dozens and dozens of people who would say that Linda Talley is one of the best people they have ever known, possibly the BEST person they have ever known. So, she was destined for heaven all along, right? Well, even Linda - she has always been kind, caring, giving, teaching Linda - even Linda is not anywhere close to good enough to go to heaven without a change in her heart. If that seems cruel or naive to you, perhaps it is because we humans have no conception whatsoever of perfection. Well, we say that we know what perfection is, but we don't really, do we? But, God is perfect. In fact, He is more than perfect. He is holy. The Hebrew word for "holy" means, "other than." Indeed!

Imagine a pristene house ready for the most honored guest (maybe the President of the United States - hey, you would be honored regardless of whether you liked the President or not!), and imagine that you arrive at the house 20 minutes before the President is expected to arrive. The problem is that you have been playing football in the rain and mud for an hour and you are a mess! Do you think the owner of the house, even if it is your very best friend, is going to let you in? I don't think so! That analogy falls way short, but you get the idea.

Most people think that "heaven" is the default destination for all humans, and as long as we don't screw it up, we will get there. But Jesus said, in John 3:18: "Whoever believes in Him (Jesus was speaking in the third person about Himself) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only Son of God." Another admonishment to believe! There is also strong incentive to believe - if we do not, we continue to our default destination - condemned, separated from God for eternity.

What is it that we need to believe? Believe, in short, that our sins have separated us from God, and there is nothing we can ever do to make ourselves presentable to Him. Sin cannot enter heaven, a place of perfection, a holy place. But also believe that God loves us and wants us to be with Him, so He made a way by sending His Son, Jesus, to earth. He lived a perfect life among the people He had created, and they crucified Him. That was all a part of the plan, though. Jesus was not, of course, condemned (as we are who do not believe) to live apart from God. He was, thus, the ONLY acceptable sacrifice, the only One Who could stand as a substitute and receive the condemnation that we deserve. When Jesus' was dying upon the cross, God turned away, because He is so holy that He cannot look favorably on sin. (Habakkuk 1:13) Jesus, Who had never committed any sin at all, cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46) The answer? Because my sin was upon Jesus. Linda's sin was upon Jesus. Your sin was upon Jesus. When you believe, you become God's child. What incredible love! Though you are condemned, He pursues you through His Word. Linda's greatest need has been met, because she has believed that Jesus took her place, standing in the way of a holy God's wrath that was focused on her sin.

So, will you believe? If you wait to be shown before you believe, I am afraid you will never believe! But, should you take that leap of faith, you will know! The message I have so poorly articulated has been scorned by some of the most intelligent men and women who have ever lived - and understood as a plan to be brilliant beyond imagination once those same men and women believed. Oh, do not misunderstand this to be a transaction that is conducted and done - to believe implies your total commitment to Him, to your Maker and your Redeemer. Repentance and faith are necessary for a right relationship with God. To repent is to humbly acknowledge your sin before God and commit yourself to Him. To believe is - well, we have read several times it is to believe in Jesus, that He took your place. If you will repent and believe, God will meet your greatest need - your right standing with Him.

If you want to read more about this transaction, may I suggest Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis, or Can Man Live Without God?, by Ravi Zacharias, or The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel? All of these books deal with historical, philosophical, and spiritual issues that will help one determine whether or not to become a Christ-follower. It ultimately comes down to, however, a decision of simple belief, one way or the other.

The decision to believe in Jesus is so much more than a safeguard from condemnation, though! Once one believes, a whole new life of relationship begins. All through this illness, Linda has focused on the Shepherd/sheep relationship that Jesus taught during His time of ministry. Once when I asked her if she was afraid to die, she responded by saying, "Who wouldn't want to be carried in the arms of the Shepherd?" Can you imagine how beautiful that thought is to sweet Linda, who has not walked in over a year? "Oh, Lord, hold her tight even tonight as she is so little aware of her condition, or of the reality that exists around her. The reality of eternity, so clear to me of late, is far more important than these fleeting days - help me live with eternity in mind - and cause those who do not yet know You to believe!"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Living Hope

Before I share the latest, I wanted to say that many of you have complained about not being able to leave a comment on the blog. I wish I were technologically savvy enough to help, but, alas, I am a product of the sixties, not of the nineties! Well, any excuse will do, right? At any rate, thank you so much for your attempts! If you are unable to leave a message there and you want to get in touch with us, you can do so via e-mail: Now, for the post.

There is little pleasant about the gradual decay of the body. Death, while preferred over life by the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:21-23), can seem an ignominy for many of us, especially when it demands a little piece of the body and the mind at a time. We know the sting of death is gone for the believer (1 Corinthians 15:51-57), but the pain may be intense before the glory of heaven is revealed. Though we hope and pray for the Lord's return - or, at the very least, a peaceful death - one need only look to Jesus' death on the cross to know that pain, caused by sin in this world, is a universal experience.

Linda's condition is no better. We continue to pray and hope that she will improve some as the bleeding in the brain continues to be absorbed. There is no evidence yet that improvement has begun. In fact, Linda's symptoms indicate we are entering the last stages of brain cancer. Techincally, Linda is bedridden - but I refuse to keep her there as long as she is willing to sit in the wheel chair at the table during meals, and sit (really, sleep) on the sofa while we "watch" TV, or I read to her. The primary reason is to keep bed sores at bay. She rarely, rarely smiles, though her sense of humor shines through occasionally. And, then tonight I was blessed so much that I laughed out loud when she spontaneously smiled, looked at me (sort of), and said with feeling, "I love you!"

I do not think that Linda is aware that she is as critical as she is - THANK GOD for His mercy on that issue! Linda is ready to go, but in earlier, more lucid moments, she admitted that she is afraid of dying, as almost all of us are, even those who walk closely with Jesus. If you think yourself the exception, please get back with me after you have had a "near-death" experience, especially if it is a bit extended. To be precise, it is NOT that Linda is afraid of death, as she has stated many times, but of the humiliation and the "unknowns" of dying.

These last few days have been extremely difficult for all of us. God has graciously given us the gift of Linda Faile Talley, one of the truly great ones. As far as we can see, Linda is dying, though even if our assessment is true (OH, how we would love to be wrong!), it may be several months until the end. With such heaviness, imagine the joy that Linda (I think) and I (with certainty) experienced early this evening when I read to her from 1 Peter:3-9! I will close tonight with that great passage in the ESV about our living hope.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heave for you,
5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
8 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 inexpresible and filled with glory,
9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


Home Again

We are home again! It is, however, certainly a new day. Linda has lost a good bit of function and awareness. The bleeding in her brain will be absorbed into the brain, but whether or not she will improve remains to be seen. There may be more to tell after Linda is readmitted to hospice early this afternoon, so I hope to write more later today. Thank you for all of your love and care!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuesday Evening

Linda is having a day pretty much like yesterday, though she may be just a tad more lucid today. It appears we will be going home tomorrow - at least, that is the plan at the moment. That decision has pretty much been made for us, but, frankly, as helpful as it would be for Linda to have a week or so in a facility where more help is available, I am really glad she will be coming home. So, thank you for praying - God's wisdom is higher than ours! Of course, the way things are going, it is quite difficult to guess (we must never assume, though planning is certainly appropriate) where she will be this time tomorrow. If anything changes tonight, I will update this space. Thanks for keeping trac5

Monday, February 18, 2008

A New Path

"LINDA HAS NINE LIVES!" Those were the first words that Dr. Lacin, Linda's neurosurgeon, spoke to me today. So many times Linda should not have made it, but she did. We know that her days were written, as were all of ours, before time ever began. Aren't you glad we serve a God Who is that big?

Without doubt, Linda has faced several serious health issues in this last year, many of which could have been the end for her. She has recovered every time. She may yet recover from this latest incident, but all the signs, this time, indicate that we are on a new path.

The bleeding in Linda's brain was quite substantial. It has affected a fairly large portion of her brain. I am not sure if that is permanent damage or not. I know that some of you who are in the medical field could answer these questions, but I must rely on a poor memory several hours after I have talked with the doctors, and that is only if I have asked the right questions! Whether the damage is permanent or not, Linda has been greatly affected by this bleed. Tonight our good friend (and one of our extra "daughters") was with Linda when she woke up from a nap. Linda thought she was at home. When Kat told her that they were at the hospital, Linda asked, "Who is sick?" This is constant, and there are other signs, such as repeating words or phrases and some definite loss of sight along with the inability (sometimes) to process what she does see. As I have already mentioned that the tumor is larger, also. Not by much, but it is growing.

Dr. Lacin told us there are two possibilities. The first is that she will bleed again, and go quietly and quickly. The other possibility is the slow deterioration that accompanies a brain tumor that is growing. Chemo is not an option - remember, she contracted Listeria (many of the doctors have never known an adult to contract it) several months after discontinuing chemo. Linda's system will just not tolerate chemo. I asked Dr. Lacin how long, and he just laughed and said, "I am not going to say - everytime I say something I am wrong!"

I cannot begin to tell you how much we appreciate and love (a strong word, but accurate) all of our doctors! "Our" doctors. I can't tell you how many times I have written that and then changed it to "Linda's doctors" before I published the post, but it is how I feel. Linda and I are one flesh - part of me is in that hospital bed having a difficult time with reality. Coming home tonight from the hospital was quite difficult for me. I have cried a lot tonight. That's OK. I love her more than I could ever tell you, and it hurts to think she will not be here much longer, and in fact, may never be the same again.

We laugh with Linda. It is NOT that we are laughing at her, but we are certainly enjoying her, even as she comes up with some unusual things, like this morning when she said that she wants to learn how to play T-ball. We laughed and said she would have to hop around the bases on her right foot since her left one doesn't work. She laughed with us. You cannot begin to know what a joy that girl is! How to tell you the way she is joyful even now, I do not know! It is not a change of personality that some grumpy people get when things go haywire in the brain - it is a continuation of the lady we love in a sweet and innocent form.

In addition to the kind of redaction I mentioned in connection with "our doctors," I also always review the post to make sure it has a logical flow before publishing it. Tonight, I am just writing, just rambling, (although Liz gave me a heads up on a couple of things that I changed after it was published and I corrected them) so I may go in and out with different subjects. I will also not review this post for any errors - I need to go to bed when I finish, but there is more to say.

I do especially want to enlist your prayers on a specific subject. We need to make a decision about Linda's care in the next few days. There is a strong possibility we are going to ask for her to be moved to the hospice ward at Rex Hospital. That would not necessarily be a permanent move, but it may end up being just that. There is also a very nice hospice facility in Erwin, but there are advantages to staying at Rex. For now, Linda is bedridden. Will she recover? We don't know. If she gets back to where she was, there is no question that we will bring her home! If not, though, it will be very difficult for us to care for her like she needs at home. She will have constant company anywhere she is, whether home or hospital, but the care will be much better in a facility.

To move to a hospice ward is to concede that we believe the end to be inevitable in the near future. While all of our family (Linda's parents and I, and our children and spouses) feel this way, we will continue to pray for a miracle. We all agree that this is a new path. God is being merciful to Linda and to us in ways that would take hours to articulate!

Is it contradictory to pray for a miracle and say you do not believe one to be forthcoming? It could be, but I don't think so. The last time I checked, the death rate is 100%. Sometimes, though, God intervenes and we will pray that He will. Last week I was tempted to tell Him He could really get glory if He would just heal Linda now. In fact, I was really close to praying that, but I don't think He needs me to tell Him how to get glory. It is my responsibility to praise Him no matter how He chooses to bring glory to Himself in my life or the lives of my loved ones.

So, we need wisdom. And I need to sleep. And I need to quit rambling or you are going to quit checking this blog! Thank you - we love you! Pray for Michael tonight - he is staying with his mom at the hospital. One quick humorous story about that. Linda's first week at the hospital, Michael took his turn one night. Linda needed something in the night and called for Michael. Several times. Loudly. Snoring was the only response she got from him. Every since, Mike has been known as "The Night Hawk." Pray for both, tonight!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

With God at the Hospital

We now have a more definitive word about Linda. She had a significant bleed in the tumor that spilled outside of the tumor into the brain. Dr. Lacin, her neurosurgeon, is surprised that this bleed did not do much more damage than it actually did. Swelling in the brain is impinging on the optic nerve, not so much cutting off her vision, but cutting off her ability to process what she sees.

Dr. Lacin also confirmed, by the CT scan, that the tumor is growing. He will keep her at the hospital for two or three days for observation. If she remains as stable as she is now (stable is very much a relative term), she will be released to go home. There is always, of course, the possibility that the tumor will bleed again. Blood vessels inside (affected by?) the tumor are weaker and more susceptible to bleeding (at least that is what we understand) than normal blood vessels, so bleeding is always a possibility.

I do not believe there has been one doctor or nurse unaffected by Linda’s testimony for the Lord. She radiates the love of Jesus, and, unbelievably, the joy of the Lord, even as she struggles to maintain contact with reality. I write these words at the moment I would normally be preaching at Grace Community Church - thank you brothers and sisters for your support! I also write through tears as I bless the Lord for giving me SO MUCH BETTER THAN I DESERVE with my sweet Linda.

Thank you, dear brother or sister (we do not know who you are – it’s OK, you pointed to God, anyway!), who wrote in the wee hours of the morning a verse of strength from Nahum: The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble. He knoweth them that trusteth in Him. (1:7) The Lord is with us at the hospital, even as He was with us last night in our moment of confusion when the seizure began. May we all experience His strength in our respective days of trouble.


This is from Autumn again. Liz and I just received an update from Dad. They are admitting Mom to the hospital, and a CT scan has revealed that she has bleeding in the brain. The doctors have indicated that this is a very serious situation, especially because it requires that she stop blood thinners immediately. We have clearly entered a new phase in this journey, and we continue to covet your prayers. Mom is currently resting comfortably.

It is 4:00 in the morning, and Liz and I are still trying to recover from the events of the evening. I was sitting with Mom at her bedside went she went into the seizure, and it was so scary for Dad, Liz and me to witness. Thankfully though, all three of Liz's kids slept through the entire ordeal! We all love Mom so much, and hate to see her suffer. But I cannot express to you how fully reliant she is on the Lord right now. Just this evening she told me how much she has changed and grown in the Lord this year. The Lord is truly her portion, and she will not take personal credit for one ounce of her strength. What an incredible first-hand testimony for us as her children to witness!

Thank you for your ongoing love, prayers and support. Only the Lord knows what is to come next, but we can all rest assured that HE is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

Urgent Prayer Request

This is Autumn again. There have been dramatic changes even since Dad's post a few hours ago. Mom had what appears to be a seizure. It was extremely scary for a few minutes, but she came out of it. We called EMS, and Mom is currently on her way to Rex - Dad is also riding along in the ambulance. Before she left the house, she was able to talk and respond, and she was speaking with the same sweet spirit that she always has. Please pray! I know nothing more right now, but we will keep this posted as often as possible.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Transition?

Linda's condition has changed rather dramatically over the last three days, and it is not for the better. She is confused a good bit of the time. Though she still knows who you are, she is confused about many things. She is also sleeping quite a bit and experiencing fairly frequent headaches.

There are at least three possibilities for this muddled state. It could be her blood sugar, which is running quite high. It was, in fact, 476 after breakfast (we check 2 hours after each meal), though it was "down" to 260 after lunch. Normal blood sugar runs below 100. The second possible explanation for her confusion is pain medicine. The third possibility is the tumor. After speaking with doctor, pharmacist, and hospice nurse, this last possibility seems to be the most likely.

If that is the case, we have entered a new phase. We are praying and hoping that we will, as we have a few times before, be blessed with a rally. During this time, Linda's praise for the Lord has increased, if anything. I do not think she is aware that her cognitive functions are slipping as much as they are. Do not think she is completely oblivious or unaware, but there is no question that she is not where she was even three days ago.

Even so, God is good - all the time. All the time . . .

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Clarification

We have had a wonderful day today, which was Linda's birthday - thank you, Jesus, for my beautiful (inside and out) bride! After a very good visit to the podiatrist, we were able to eat at Sullivan's Steak House in Raleigh tonight with some friends. What a blessing to return home and enjoy all of your comments and well wishes on this special day!

A few comments about the post earlier today. First, let me say that I knew I would regret writing about the responses I have received over this past year based on my beliefs about the "faith and healing" issue. One of the reasons it is so important to me to speak the right things (at least as I understand them to be right) about God was highlighted today when we received two incredibly kind notes, one from a woman who tragically lost her husband a few years ago, and another from a woman Linda's age who lost her son in this past year. What pain for both of these ladies! How could we face these ladies if we wrote that God always gives us what we want and whatever we ask for? I would give anything if I could take Linda's brain tumor - in addition to my love for her, it would be easier for me to write such difficult truth, but it is truth from God's Word and I must proclaim it! Those who say, "Speak no negative thing, but only positive" may put too much stock into their own words and not enough trust in the sovereign God Who has given us His Word.

Oh, I have to stop. No one has written one hint of a negative response, but since I know the good hearts of those who have felt compelled to comment on the issue in days gone by, I regret showing any disappointment at all - we are grateful for every single prayer! My regret for sharing my disappointment will not, though, stop me from writing what I believe to be true about God and this life we live in Jesus.

I also want to clarify my comment about weariness - I was referring only to having to discuss theological differences about healing (I have already confessed my regret at mentioning said weariness!). I am constantly renewed with energy to care for my bride - no doubt, because of the prayers of so many wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ! Please do not stop. Oh, I get tired at times, and it always helps to get away for a bit, but it is such a privilege to serve the lady, who is without a doubt, in my mind, the best person I know. I will hasten to say that her goodness comes from above - it is Jesus in Linda that makes her who she is! But she is the best, and I get to serve her. I will never be able to adequately thank Grace Community Church for allowing me this privilege.

God bless and good night!

Happy Birthday, Linda!

Today is Linda's 53rd birthday - Praise the Lord! We are so thankful that she is here to celebrate it, and she did so this morning already. We have more festivities planned, but we started the day off rejoicing in the wonderful life the Lord has given us.

I apologize for the limited updates. Life is very full for us, and I often do not know exactly how to give you an update on Linda. We have multiple issues we are dealing with at the moment. We are waiting to hear if a podiatrist can see her today to deal with an infection on the big toe of one foot (along with a blister on the same foot) and an ingrown toenail on the other foot. With diabetes, trouble with the feet is always a concern.

On Thursday of this past week, Linda went to see an endocrinologist about her blood sugar levels, which are quite high. It was an encouraging visit with some hopeful treatment plans. Even with increased insulin, though, her blood sugar remains extremely high. This could be due to infections (lungs, feet, upper respiratory), or to the meds prescribed to fight these infections (prednazone, levaquin). The list could go on for quite some space, but you get the idea.

Overall, Linda's medical condition is fair, at best, and that is, of course, relative. Her spirits, on the other hand, are quite good. I asked for special prayer for that a few weeks back - thank you so very much for your prayers along those lines!

We have no idea whether God is going to heal Linda physically or not. PLEASE do not write me and tell me that my faith is weak. We trust God at the highest level we are capable of trusting Him. You may believe that God will heal anyone who has enough faith, but neither Scripture nor experience support such a belief. If I sound defensive, I do not wish to, but I am weary from dealing with this issue. I do not want to ever have to deal with this directly again, but we have had a year of rebuke for a lack of faith - well-intended rebukes, to be sure, but rebukes, nonetheless. OF COURSE I want for God to heal Linda, and we continue to ask Him to do so. I refuse, however, to pretend to think that I KNOW He is going to heal her. To say so would be to presume more than I am allowed to expect. Having said all that, I know that any who scold us (well, me) love Linda deeply and want her to be healed. Thank you, every one of you, for loving us the way you do, even when you disagree with our understanding of God's ways!

Speaking of God's ways, we read in Isaiah 55 last night - oh, the good news that God has given salvation that is free! Also, the compelling news that His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts. How much higher? You know, don't you? As high as the heavens are above the earth, His ways are that much higher than ours.

This post has been in the making for about 3 hours with many interruptions. We just heard from the podiatrist - Linda is scheduled for a 2:00 PM appointment.
Linda's parents, Marvin and Virginia Faile, have been with us for a week and had planned to leave on Wednesday. Virginia has not been feeling well the last few days, and this morning, after a restless night, she felt really bad. They left this morning to go home to Rome, Georgia. Virginia had a low-grade fever when she left, and Marvin began an 8-9 hour drive with little sleep last night. PLEASE PRAY FOR THE FAILES ON THEIR TRIP HOME!
God bless you, and again, please forgive my negative comments. I am so sorry to vent, but this journey is difficult enough as it is. The support you have given us sustains us a level that would be impossible without you. That's the way the body of Christ was designed, wasn't it? THANKS!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

We Went to the Doctor's Office Today

It's what we do. Smile, it was meant to be a joke! The need for this unscheduled appointment is not quite as funny, but it was not serious, as Linda's medical condition goes. She has a cough - some upper respiratory issues. She has new meds, the first in quite some time. We are taking this in stride because we have no choice. It is, of course, the biblical response anyway as we trust our great and sovereign God.

Linda does have a cough and that is not funny to her. It bothers her more at certain times than at others. It is especially troublesome at night. Her back and neck hurt most of the time, and she continues to mention the sense of heat (a fever?) in her neck, shoulders, and back, all on the inside. I do not know how it all works, but since her immune system has recovered so nicely, it would not seem to be Listeria lurking about waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Her sugar levels continue to be quite high, which helped precipitate this trip to the doctor who wanted to see if there was an infection to be found. None was detected, though the medicines were prescribed to help the nagging cough and ear and throat pain.

Linda's appetite is down considerably. That is not a concern - yet. Please pray that she is able to continue getting enough nourishment from day to day. As I said, it is not a concern at this time, but I do hope it is not a trend in the wrong direction.

Thank you for staying with us for so long! God's richest blessings on every single one of you!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Some Really Good News - And an On-going Concern

We got the results from Linda's blood work earlier this week. There are quite a few reasons to rejoice! Her immune system has recovered quite nicely - this should alleviate the concern of Listeria returning, but not being a doctor, I do not know for sure. Her liver is improving, and her kidneys and pancreas are perfect, in the words of the lab tech that called. We are SO grateful!

There is one on-going concern, though. Linda's lipids continue to be outrageously high. Her cholesterol is over 800, and her triglycerides are an incomprehensible 3,000 plus, a cause for concern, indeed! So, let's pray that her lipids will be brought under control. Also, pray that her blood sugar, which continues to run high, will stabalize.

We were recently sent these verses from Psalm 73:

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.