Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Stool is Kicked Out

Yesterday I got my biopsy results. My wife and I had prayed and prayed. The closer we got to the appointment, the more urgently we prayed. We prayed in the car. We prayed all the way into the building. Out loud. Must have seemed a little weird to the people we were walking through. Prayed in the elevator. Prayed in the waiting room. Prayed desperately in the appointment room. "God don't let them find it to be malignent cancer."

And it was.

It felt like our last medical hope was kicked out from under us just like that. The tumor on my kidney is 6 inches across. No wonder I'm almost always feeling bloated and can't eat much.

Despair really overwhelmed us. Our worst fears gripped us and we wept and wept. Just sat and cried. How can it be that every time we look for an answer the situation turns incredibly worse? How can it be that every time we look to God to bail us out here, He turns the tide against us? How can it be that our last medical hope - physical hope is now gone? The worst case scenerio. Renal (kidney) cancer. A really big one. And spreading to the liver and lungs. Now confirmed.

How do you tell your children? When their young tender hearts have been praying that God would take away the cancer? When they have prayed with you many times each day with all the faith they could muster? We had to look them in they eyes and tell them of the results. No one should ever have to do that! It's the hardest thing in the world! And it hurt so bad to have to do it.

With my family in absolute despair around me, my strength began to fail. Up till now, I had been fighting for peace. Fighting for joy. Fighting for strength. Fighting for hope. And I could feel the battle turning. How can a man be strong for his family as they desapair around him? What does he say to console them? When the stool gets kicked out from under him?

It all began to slip away and I began to think of Job. You know the guy from the Bible who had everything taken away by God. Oldest story in the book. God allows then enemy to take away all that Job has to test him. And Job mourns and calls out to God in anguish.

The self-pity began creep in and my strength of faith began to show signs of cracking. My family could see it and it did nothing to help them.

But then the comparison didn't fit. Remember Job. There was at least one very different thing about my situation from Job's. And the difference was a HUGE one!


Job was surrounded by accusing friends who did nothing to support him. They tore him down. Even his wife encouraged him to curse God and die. Job's friends worked systematically through his life to erode his faith in God and his hope.

But as the evening came, some friends and family came. And some called. And some prayed. And some listened to us cry out shamefully. But they didn't judge. And they didn't despair. Some brought flowers. Some brought snacks. Some brought words of encouragement. Some brought appetite (thanks bro). All of them brought us such encouragement!

God uses His people so powerfully! It's amazing! They really are His hands and feet and voice! They really are an extension of Himself! Literally.

My wife and I pondered yesterday the story of Elijah and the the showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Where Elijah offers to the people a chance to find out which god is really God - Baal or God. After giving them plenty of time to see if they could get Baal to light a fire under his sacrifice, Elijah orders that the sacrifice to God be doused with water. Several times. And that a big trench be dug around it to hold lots of water. Let there be no doubt that this was going to take a extremely HUGE miracle. And God sends fire to consume the entire sacrifice. WHOOOMP!

Why did Elijah (and God) want a bigger demonstration? Because it brought greater glory to God! It was that much more unbelievablely great! It was that much more awe-inspiring! It will be told with wider eyes and louder voices. It will be told for that much longer and be told that much more. To God be the glory!

Maybe that's what He's doing in me. Maybe He wants to push the envelope a little more. Maybe trust in God isn't really trust in God until that's all you're holding on to.

I don't know what God's purposes are in this. But the stool has been kicked out. My friends have supported my faith at just the time I needed them. I'm still believing that God has a purpose. And my family has survived despair.

As small sign of encouragement, I had a half-decent night's sleep - first one in a long time. Thank you God! Today I will look to God for strength and find it. Each of my family will too. I'm humbled and the tears flow freely, but not in despair.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Fighting in a Battle

There's these stories in the Old Testament that I've been reading. Stories of how the a rag-tag group of desert-dwellers became a nation. God ranges up this group of slaves from Egypt who have been calling out to Him.

And let me tell you, they are a miserable lot. Complainers. Whiners. Grumblers. "Oh, we'll never make it out here!" "Oh, we'll die out here without water." "Oh, we'll never taste good food again." "Oh, we have no way to get into a land of giants." Time and time again they do nothing but whine.

It gets so Moses is just plain sick of leading them. He quits the job several times. But God keeps him going. It gets so God is just plain sick of leading them. He quits the job several times. But Moses keeps Him going. Moses and God - and a bunch of whiners. Taking them to the "Promised Land". So when they get there, and see it's going to be a battle, they do what?

Give up. Quit. Pack it in. Lose courage (as if they ever had any) and lose heart.

But God loves them desperately. He has chosen them and His kindness to them is so great. He falls head over heels in love with this group of Israelites. He can't stop thinking about them. He can't stop wanting to bless them. He keeps devising plans to give them great blessings. He keeps speaking words of encouragement to them. He keeps setting up festivals and celebrations so that they can enjoy time with Him. He sets apart "holy days" to break up their busyness to meet with Him and celebrate. He's just plain nuts about them! Go figure.

His ultimate plan is for this miserable group to be so blessed by Him that they love Him back and all the people of the earth see what a great God He is through them. But it never seems to work out very well.

Part of the plan is to bring them to the "Promised Land". A great place where they can settle down and be a great nation of people. God is sick of the wickness of the Canaanites and ready to wipe them out. He's wants the Israelites to be the strong victorious nation they can be in doing this with Him!

So God uses a phrase that keeps popping up. "Given them into your hands." I keep thinking about that phrase. "Given them into your hands." I think it means that the ending is already predetermined. You win! Okay, that's guaranteed. Done.

There's only one catch. You still have to fight it. You still have to have the courage to show up. To put your armor on. To put the sword in your hand. To run up to the enemy. To look him in the face and swing that sword with all your might. Fight!

I'm such an Israelite. I believe that God is head over heels in love with me. He's nuts about loving and blessing me. He's nuts about spending time with me and hearing me call out to Him and rely on Him. He's crazy about the way I look to Him for strength and He gets such a charge from blessing me. He keeps thinking of better and better ways to do it. He keeps encouraging me every step. He keeps showing me ways that I can grow in my walk with Him.

He's given me the victory for this journey. He's guaranteed it. Promised it. But there's one thing necessary. I have to show up with some fight in me. Some willingness to not just sit there in a pity party. Not just whine about my circumstance. Fight for it.

For what? Exactly?

Fight for peace. It won't come to me without me reaching for it. My peace comes not from my circumstances. It comes from the character of God. Who He is. How He's proven Himself in my life. If there is a God and if He cares about me. Then I can have peace.

Fight for joy. Same thing. Joy is a choice. Joy doesn't come from my circumstance. It comes as I choose my attitude for the day. Where will I let my mind go? Self-pity or self-control. Fear or fight. I choose joy.

These are gifts offered everyday from the hand of a God who delights in me. He's really wanting me to have them and to enjoy them. He's hoping that I take them. He's asking me to take them. He's never failed to give them out.

I read the end of Numbers today and I sat back in amazement as I read of a battle the Israelites did. A successful one. They completely wiped out the enemy (five Midianite kings and their armies) grabbed all the spoils and never lost a single combatant. That's some serious kicking butt! Why so lopsided? Because God had "given them into your hands". It filled me with fight!

Today I find out the results of my biopsy. I'm so filled with emotion about it. Will there be a cancer diagnosis confirmed medically? I'm praying there won't. I'm asking God that they don't find cancer in biopsy they took from the tumor in my kidney. But I'm trusting God and I'm fighting for peace and joy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Strength In Times of Weakness

There's a line in the Lord of the Rings film that I can't completely remember
When the darkness closes in
And all the lights go out...
When there is no light at all...

I had been praying and praying that they wouldn't find the tumor in my kidney. So had my wife. Our prayers were that they would look for it and it would be gone. No explanation except God. We prayed right up until the biopsy.

But they found it. The dissappointment hits you. Right in the deep part of your soul. You close your eyes and the darkness closes in and there's no light at all....

I think that there are times when God places us in the most vulnerable positions. Where you can get scared the worst and hurt the most. Where you are so far from your comfort zone that it area codes away. Where your fears can attack you right in the soft spot.

All night long my dreams scared me. Woke me up in a sweat. My chest aching. My breaths coming with sharp pain. My mind racing with fears and more fears. My dreams so real they fool me into thinking they're still there. I didn't get much sleep and it's the day of my biopsy. Something I've been playing and replaying in my mind for days. Often replaying with fear. Now I'm overtired and exhausted in addition.

As I said:
I do think that there are times when God places us in the most vulnerable positions.
The most exposed places. The weakness of our weakness.... I'm lying there upside down on the table. I don't like being upside down. I like to see what's going on. The less-than-ample hospital gown is opened up. I'm on the table exposed. Waiting. Now they're going to biopsy me. Stick me with the needle. Four times in and four times they come out with a little more. I feel so weak. So absolutely helpless.

But I'm not. That's the incredible thing! I can feel them. Literally FEEL the prayers of the people and the power of God. He is not absent! He has not left. His prescence is there. Almighty. The Rock. The Father...

And I can close my eyes and let all the lights go out. I can embrace the darkness and the pressure of the needles. Let them find the tumor. Let them stab it. Let them call it what they want. I will not be discouraged. I will not be dismayed. I have a God whose strength is displayed in my weakness. His glory is to show me that He is more than sufficient for the day.
His joy is to show that His strength is made perfect in my weakness. His greatness is to show that He can meet any challenge (the bigger the better). And I gloried in Him though the biopsy.
I sang in my heart as they pulled samples. I smiled at my wife in confidence as they wheeled me away. "It's okay."

What kind of a God is this? How much can I trust Him?

It's a different kind of confidence. Not that He will take away the pain. Not that He will take away the difficulty. Not that He will make my life all lovely and comfy. But that He knows my every thought. But that He knows my every fear. And that He walks with me though this. And His strength is immense! More than enough.

I trust Him. And that's enough for today. Thank you for walking with me.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Humbled by a Ministry to Me

Today was Sunday. A day of ministry for me normally. Usually I've put a tonne of work into a message and a lot of planning and preparation and coordination with others to work out a worship service plan that brings people closer to Christ, that serves to meet specific needs in their lives and applies practically to the lives of the people I love so much - my church family and their friends.

Today was Sunday, A day of ministry to me. I had put no work into the worship service. In fact, I had very little idea of what was really going to happen. No one even informed me. Pretty weird for me. I had prayed before I went that God would be a blessing through it to those who attended. That's it.

How would people respond to me?

I went to our "mother church" in the morning. I was really surprised at how incredibly loving they were to me and my wife. Lots of people we know and love came to show their love and tell me they were praying for me. They had a sermon on healing that was fantastic and they prayed over people for healing. I was prayed for and was really blessed through it.

Then I went to our church....

O, man! It was amazing! I am so humbled! The embraces and hugs and care of the people of my church blew me away! You couldn't ask for a greater show of concern for me and my family! I am so amazed at how this group of friends can be so loving.

My family took our usual close to the front seats and we worshipped the same way. But today for me it was so much more intense. I couldn't stop crying sometimes as we sang our worship. Somehow there was an intensity in those songs and my expression of them that was greater than ever before. How can you sing of the power of God the same way after you've just walked this week of His strength in your weakness? You can't! You just weep to try!

There was a time to publicly pray your prayer out loud and I tried, but all I could get out was a simple "Thanks for your strength in my weakness" and I got all choked up. But I was so blessed to hear everyone else pray their prayers of praise to God. Then there was a sermon that was good. But I tried to take all the notes and couldn't keep up. It felt like there was so much good stuff I couldn't take it all in. But the point was about covenental relationships and I really felt like we got the point! We need to covenant to love each other deeply, spiritually, and without expections.

After the service we put in place our interim leadership for the church. I really wanted to see us bless them and pray for them so I asked if we could. I gathered people around them and listened as our people prayed for them. It was BEAUTIFUL! To hear God's people pray for these leaders and the task ahead of them. To have the community affirm them and covenant to them.

I couldn't have asked for anything more. But then they turned to me and prayed for me. And Wow did they pray for me! For my family. For my healing. For my peace....

I'm going for my biopsy tomorrow. This is where they find out if it's really what they expect it to be - cancer. It will confirm if my body has cancer in the kidney, liver and lungs - spreading through it (metastacising). The medical professionals are expecting it and have prepared for me to get straight to the Cancer Center and on to an oncologist as quickly as possible. I'm really thankful for their great work on my behalf. But, I'm praying that they won't find cancer.

Someone today asked me if I was afraid of my biopsy. I was honest with them. Mostly. I told them I wasn't afraid of the biopsy, just the results. Truth is, I'm might be a little afraid of the biopsy too. Not very much though. God has used so many people to minister to me so much today, that I'm still feeling so cared for.

I have a confidence and peace that God will work out His loving purpose in this. And that is more than enough for me to face a scary biopsy. Thank you to the people of God! You humble and amaze me.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Ministry Taken Away

I hate it! I can't stand it! I'm nearly going crazy here!
For 12 years I've been pastoring! That's what I am - a pastor. It's my gifts, my heart, my passion, my identity, my life has been wrapped around serving the church. And I love doing it! I'd do it all my life. It's my calling in life.

Now I'm on a medical leave. "Stop pastoring," they said. (Yes, it can be a verb too.)

You can't just turn that off. A pastor's heart is not like a tap. It keeps running. I keep thinking about the people. People I'm praying for daily. People who need Jesus. People who face problems. Parents who cry out for their children to know Christ. Spouses who cry out for their spouses to know Christ. Youth who need to see beyond themselves. You keep thinking about the church. Outreach opportunities. Passion for God that isn't ignited in the midst of vacation planning. And so many places where a little enthusiasm for Christ would bring a smile to someone's face. The church needs to be rallied. The community needs to be called forth. The battle cry raised! Leaders brought together. The momentum gathered. And where am I? At home applying for medical leave benefits. Aaargh!

And then God meets me this morning. And watches me in my self-pity for a while. (I wonder if He ponders how hard He's going to need to slap me to get my attention.) And He stops me dead in my tracks.

In Numbers 11 there's this story about the Isreality community grumbling in the desert. No meat. They haven't eaten anything but manna and they're sick of it. The people have had enough and they come out of their tents and grumble LOUDLY. All of them. Can you imagine it? As a leader Moses listens to the entire community grumble against him. How incredibly disheartening that must have been for him as a leader. Your entire community hates your leadership. Hates it. They all think you stink as a leader. They don't just question your leadership. They reject it.

Moses hears this and he gives up. Who wouldn't. "O, I give up!" "What am I supposed to do? I can't supply their every need? I can't meet their expectations. I just give up. Take my life now." I'd give up too.

But God doesn't.

God says bring me the leaders. And God gathers the leaders. And when he gathers them. He annoints them with His Spirit. Wow! Not just elects them. Not just appoints them. But annoints them! And with a full measure of the Spirit! In the Old Testament for crying out loud!

And then God makes a promise to feed the entire community meat. What? In the desert? Yes. Meat for a month. Meat till you can't eat meat anymore. Meat till it comes out your nostrils. (I thought that was pretty funny :-)

How can that be? Great verse. I memorized it:
Numbers 11:23
The Lord answered Moses, "Is the Lord's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you."

God is doing that right now for my church. As I write, God is gathering the leaders. I believe He's not just electing them and appointing them. I believe He's annointing them. With His Spirit. And He's engaging them to lead our church community beautifully, powerfully, correctly.

The very next chapter in Numbers is a huge rebuke to speaking negatively about God-appointed leaders.

Quite a slap, Huh?
Sure caught my attention! Spun my head around a couple of times this morning. Pity party over. I've got some praying to do. For our church leaders. They need my prayers and my support. God bless 'em!

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Hardest Verse in the Bible

Ugh! Like the chest pain that I wake up to.
I don't want to take that first breath. I know it's going to hurt. It's so common now that I do it without thinking - I wince and suck it in. Ugh! Couple more times now. Ugh! And then it subsides. That wasn't so bad. I get over it pretty quickly, but it always seems to start my day in a bad way.

Someone stopped by the house and dropped off a package for me. I know who it was - they signed their names. But it was really God in them. They don't know that, but I do. I know because when I opened the package it was God who came out of it. He can speak so clearly through others voices and actions sometimes that it stuns me.

And He brought me back to the verses. The hardest ones. The ones that I've never really understood. Or maybe I have and I just want to say that I don't. Certainly I don't get them completely. You know the verses I bet. As soon as you hear them you'll remember. Maybe they plagued you too. Probably.

But that wasn't enough for God today. No. Today He had a plan to really set me up for them.
Reading today in Numbers 11 - the people of Isreal travelling through the desert for the first time complained about their hardships. No kidding. Anyone in their sandals would. And God gets angry with them. He burns the outskirts of the camp in anger. Literally. Till Moses prayed for them - interceded. And God relents.

Wow! That was powerful to me! I'm pondering that for an hour in prayer. Just letting it soak in and having some conversation with God about this story as I go for an early morning walk with Him. And when I come back I see this package in the mail and I open it and out comes God.

Romans 5:3-4 - We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverence; perseverence, character; and character, hope. (Just like James 1:3)

What have I been begging God for in my suffering? Hope! I've been begging for a biopsy date to confirm/deny this whole cancer thing. Now I have one on Monday morning. I'm praying for a negative biopsy - no cancer. Man, am I ever praying. Desperately. Crying. Pleading. Shamelessly at times. Like a man with a death sentence hanging over him. Like an Israelite in the dying desert. Although I'm told to prepare myself for a confirmation of cancer. Against the odds I'm looking for something to hold to. Hope! If it's confirmed to be cancer what am I to do? I need some hope to cling to. There are some really dark moments in my early morning thoughts as the first few breaths come to me and the Ugh! hits me hard. All my worst fears come rushing at me. They seem to attack at once and there are times I don't put up much defence. I'm overwhelmed and I just break down. I'm reaching for something in the darkness. Ugh.

And the hardest verse in the Bible comes with God's promise - hope!
Set up by a story I've been pondering for an hour.
What attitude will I choose for today? To rejoice in my sufferings!

There's a card in the package. It's signed by a person, but I recognize the signature of God.
"The need that you face is great,
but the grace that is yours in Christ is even greater.
May your heart and your faith
stay fixed upon Him as you
go through this difficulty.
Be assured that He is holding
your hand and will not let go!"

Then, in the card, the promise of an intercessor.
It wasn't signed by Moses, but it might as well have been.
Someone interceded for me and the fire stopped burning my edges. The Lord relented His anger with my complaining. And I learned a lesson. I'm choosing to rejoice today. In my suffering! And I believe it's going to produce hope!

O Lord, hold my hand! I'll fix my eyes on You!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Hyperbaric Chamber of Growth

Last night was one of my worst nights and best nights.
My wife and I sat in bed and talked long into the night. Both of us were exhausted and needed sleep. But both of us has so much to say and to listen to in each other. This crisis in my life has drawn us so closely together we have been amazed. It has also pulled us so powerfully to God that my wife used the hyperbaric chamber analogy. I was so amazed that she used a sports analogy! Until I realized that she never even thought of it as a sports analogy. :-)

The things in our lives that used to be important but aren't have faded away so quickly we're amazed! Here's the radical changes we've noticed already!

Wow do we ever pray more! Constantly. We break into prayer during our conversations with each other often. It's like God pulls up a seat at most of our conversations and we're learning to include Him in them. He's right there. Today I read this powerful verse at the end of Numbers 7 where Moses hears the voice of God speaking to him. It sounded so conversational! That's what our prayer life is becoming. I just long to hear so much more from God. This morning I wept and wept asking to "hear" more from Him. So many questions I ask and although I sense His presence so powerfully at times. I feel Him literally "carry" me through some very dark moments. I still don't hear the answers to the questions that race through my mind and the fears that come like darts seeking a way through the defence of my shield of faith.

This sounds really selfish and I guess it is. But we desire people's prayers so deeply now. I can't tell you how much I long to hear people pray for me. Every time we meet with someone I want to pray with them. And there was one time when I went for a walk with some friends this week and we didn't stop and pray during the walk. All night I kicked myself about that! I missed a great chance! It won't happen again.

Material things
You know, we used to go through the flyers looking at stuff and dreaming of home improvements and the fun stuff we could get. Now when the flyers come they have no appeal. Window shopping at the store just has no appeal either. We're looking at all the clutter we have around our house and wishing we had the energy to clean more of it up and get rid of it! We don't need this stuff!

We sure are noticing people more. My wife watches a little bit of news and hears a story about a family that has lost a child and she weeps over them and prays for them with intensity that I've never seen from her before. We see the people around us. Really see them in a way that we haven't noticed their lives before.

These are radical changes that are happening so deeply in our lives. Never before have we been so swiftly changed at such a deep level! Bible school was like a green house of growth for us, but this crisis has been a hyperbaric chamber. Still, the pain is so deep and my symptoms are getting worse. The fears are everpresent too. Simultaneously, we love the work of God in our lives, but we would do almost anything to avoid the pain of this crisis.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Blown Away by Community

I'm constantly amazed at what the church can be. It seems that in times of crisis the church family can pull together in ways that never cease to amaze! I'm certainly amazed!

You'd think that after 12 years of pastoring a guy would get a little cynical. A little hardened. A little weathered by the storms of church life and church people. But I think I've softened. Or been softened. (Sometimes you're softened up by the blows :-)

But what do you say to a woman who brings you a home-made supper and drives off to grab some drive-thru? Someone else pops in with pizzas to freeze. Phone calls come - constantly. "Is there anything we can do?" "Do you need someone to talk to?" "Can we come and pray with you?" "Just wanted you to know that we're thinking and praying for you?" Emails come to say "We're believeing God for a miracle!" It's so much that you sit there absolutely blown away and mumble yourappreciation and wonder and ponder afterwards at the amazing generosity! What kind of people do this?

God's people! His hands and feet! His arms of love! His demonstration of Himself! Real people with real lives and real issues stop to make my family a part of theirs. Community means a kind of family. And I'm only beginning to discover it!

The Worst Day of My Life So Far

Maybe I'm overstating it. Nope. I'm not.

Monday, June 20th I went for a test to get it out of the way. An ultrasound. Reminded me of happy days with my expectant wife. We were expecting a baby and a healthy happy one at that. Ultrasounds offer those rare expressions of joyful expectation. I can still remember with clarity the whoosh, whoosh of a tiny heartbeat. This one was not that.

I had asked for the results to be given to me directly at the end of the test. They do that at this lab. And I was thankful for it. Better to get it straight out and go on. So the guy walks up to me and says, "I'm sorry." And in next 3 sentences of his my world comes completely apart. "We found a tumor on your left kidney, spots on your liver and nodules in your lungs. It looks like you have cancer in each of these and that it is metastasizing. You should see your doctor." I nodded and smiled and shook my head like I understood. I didn't understand at all.

He sent over the results to my doctor who asked to see me immediately. So I left the lab and stepped into my car. Where do you go? You've just been told you have spreading cancer and your whole world doesn't fit right anymore. I went home.

I grabbed the wheel of my car and made it go home - crying and praying! "God?" "Where are you?" Physically I could see to drive. Spiritually I was blind. The world went dark and empty and void. My prayers echoed in the emptiness.

Last time I told my wife and we went to the doctor for grim news she really fell apart. Loudly. Emotionally! It was horrible. I feared the worst. But I had no other options. I needed her so badly. So I walked into the house tears streaming down my face. No bravery. No stoic front to put on. I'm a broken man in need. I don't think she's ever seen me quite like that. And she knew it all from the look on my face.

When we got to the doctor's office and he faced us with the news - it's like I went into shock. Maybe I just can't process things as fast as others. Maybe I just process them afterwards. "It's cancer of the kidney, liver, and lungs. We have to biopsy to be sure. But we're cancelling the other tests for now. We're pretty sure."

Renal cancer, I'm told, doesn't respond well to forms of treatment. It can hide in your system without much for symptoms for quite a while before spreading. It's one of the "bad" forms of cancer. The doctor was "hoping" for testicular cancer. It's more treatable. Not this one.
What's next? A biopsy to confirm it.
How soon? It could be a couple of weeks.
Can we rush that? We'll try.

Monday was the darkest day of my life. How do you tell your children that you have cancer? There's no books for that. No one teaches you how. We knew we had to. We cried. "How, God, do you tell your children?" We cried some more.

As a family we gathered and I spoke the unspeakable. I couldn't stop the tears from running down my face. I wanted so badly to be brave while I told them. I wanted so badly to show them my faith in God in this. But tears and faith come hand in hand. So they saw them both. My utter weakness and my faith. And somehow God did what only God can do. And while we all cried and our worlds came apart, God held us. I had prayed that He would, but my faith was so weak that I could never see it happening. Is that faith? When you can't even visualize what you're asking for? You have enough faith to ask for it, but you can't really see God doing it? Doesn't sound like faith?

There's a story in Mark 9 that I find myself drawn to so often. A father brings his son to Christ to be healed. The boy has an evil spirit that does nasty things to him and tries to kill him. Horrible. I can hardly get my mind to imagine it. I guess I'd be desperate too. So the father says to Jesus, "If you can do anything take pity on us and help us." Not a real statement of great faith. Just desperation. Pure desperation. Jesus is looking for more. Isn't desperation enough? I guess not.

"If you can?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Jesus is looking for some faith. It seems Jesus is always looking for some sign of faith in those He heals. "Show me some faith." But if you don't feel it.... If you can't really see it.... If you can't visualize it.... Where do you get faith from?

So the man calls out (I imagine in exasperation, frustration, desperation), "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" So often that's my prayer life. I'm crying out for the faith to believe my own prayers. I'm asking for things greater than my imagination. But I'm asking.

And God answered. Somehow the kids were able to understand that their father likely had cancer, they understood all of what that meant, and that we were going to continue to live our lives. But in a new way. Matthew 6 has this powerful stuff at the end of the chapter. It blows me away every time I really ponder it. On Monday it became a rock that I clung to in the crashing surf.

"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Now we live in a new way. We live in today. Today God has provided for us. This moment has enough oxygen. Breathe.

The "C-word": How I found out about cancer

It's not like I had been sick for a long time. Just a few symptoms - a feeling of bloating after meals that seemed like I had overeaten. Well, seeing as how much I love to eat, that doesn't seem too much out of place. Some chest pain that woke me up and sometimes kept me awake. Rare for a runner who daily logged 4-8 miles. But other than that, not much. Pretty healthy.

But the lack of sleep brought me to my doctor for some answers. And a chest x-ray result came in on Monday June 13. The doctor called me immediately. "There's some spots on your lungs." "They look like they could be lung cancer, but that doesn't make sense with you and your health. We need to repeat the tests." That's a lot for a guy to hear in one sitting and my mind raced through the possibilities exactly as I told it not to.

Wednesday, June 15 the second set of chest x-rays came in and they confirmed nodules on both my lungs - 6mm to 2 cm. The doctor is deeply disturbed and says he's getting very serious about this now. He's not the only one. My mind races again. I tell it not to again. Same result. But now my wife is scared. And frankly, my greater concern is her. How do you face your wife with the news that "they're" saying you have cancer. "I don't have cancer," I told her. "Look at me. I'm healthy! There has to be another explanation."

However, I have to consider a medical leave. At least that's what the doctor thinks. Well, my wife too. Well, my good friends and smartest advisors whose opinion I asked said the same things too. Hmmm. So with my hat in my hand I sat in front of my church leaders and asked for the thing that I wanted least of all - to stop actively serving as the pastor of the church that I love with all my heart. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

But they were gracious and they granted it. I was immediately on a medical leave. "Go home and don't come back." (in love) And it truly was in love. But I wasn't "in love" with the idea.

Being a pastor defines you. I know you're not supposed to be defined by your job. But pastoring is so much more than a job - its a calling, a lifestyle, a being "set apart", a passion (obsession) that is so deeply a part of my fabric... I love these people so deeply - I've prayed over each one. Pastorally, like a shepherd puts his hand on each sheep and lovingly pets each one. Pastorally, like when a smile breaks over your face each time you think of them. The times of laughter we've shared and the times of heartache that I've seen in their lives. Sometimes walking with them through it, sometimes praying for them through it, sometimes wishing I could have done something more as I watched them being stretched through it. Man, I love these people - this community.

You know how a father feels about his kids - he'd step in front of a bus for them! He'd work a second job to provide for them. He'd smile and tell dumb jokes to bring them smiles. He'd get up late at night to watch them sleep and pray over them as tears stream down his face. He'd think of them at work and pause to wonder what they're doing right then. He'd wonder about how they're going to face the challenges ahead and what can a father do to prepare them for those challenges. That's how a pastor thinks. You can't shut it off. You can't turn it down. It wells up inside you.

I'm not a great pastor. Don't get the wrong idea. I've made so many mistakes that there's some who wonder if I still have the ability to lead this flock any farther than here. They're not malicious. They don't have bad feelings against me. I sense love from each one. But there are doubts. Frankly, I've been praying about that as well. The church is going through a major restructuring and rebuilding crisis right now. We're all in prayer about it! And we should be. No one's "blaming". But there's some fingers that should be pointing at me. I've played too fast and loose with no structures in place and now the church is paying for it. And here at the point of crisis, I'm out of the picture. Medical leave. I hate it!

"God, what are you doing?" There has to be a purpose in this, right? There is. I don't understand it, but I know there is. Maybe that's enough for now. Maybe I can trust without explanation for a while. Just for a while.

That week we talked to the kids and told them I was on medical leave about my lungs. I never used the "c-word" with my kids. There's no way I'm going to yet without it being confirmed. I don't think I have it. There's still lots of possibilities.

On Sunday, June 19, I told the church. I managed to get it out without crying or breaking down. Again one of the most surreal moments of my life. Looking into the faces of people who love me and whom I love and telling them I could be looking at some serious medical problems. I never used the "c-word" but they all heard it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Creating an opportunity to post my thoughts.
I'm walking through the experience of being diagnosed with renal cancer. That's a big blow! Within the last 48 hours I've had the run pulled out from under my life. At least that's what it's felt like. I'd like to create a post here that talks about my journey and the powerful and profound lessons that God has been speaking to me about through this experience. I'd like to make that available to anyone who wants to hear that journey. Perhaps be blessed by that journey. Or even walk part of that journey with me.