Monthly Archives: March 2015

Break the cycle


Amongst other things, GVHD negatively affects the GI tract leading to system distress and loss of appetite. Loss of appetite leads to lack of nutrition and weight loss and fatigue and eventually Failure To Thrive…which leads to lack of exercise which further perpetuates fatigue.


It’s a vicious circle. The answer seems simple. Eat more. Eat better. Exercise. Or the doctor’s answer: steroids (and mania, induced diabetes, and sleeplessness). In the end, it is a combination of the will of the mind and the will of the body and spirit. In any case, you have to find a way to break the cycle.


What vicious circles do you experience? Feeling depressed about body image (or any other host of things) often leads to compensation eating (overeating and eating poorly) which in turn amplifies feelings of negative self-worth and depression. Pain causes stress, anxiety, and worry which further exacerbate pain. Wrong behavior leads to guilt which should lead to repentance and forgiveness and renewal. But sometimes we let guilt lead us to despair and more wrong behavior, thinking what’s the point?


But there is a point; an important one. The cycle must be broken. And it can be. People enter rehab to break the cycle of substance addiction and abuse. Others make a determined choice to break the cycle of divorce, abuse, shame, or other destructive practices. Doctors sometimes put patients into an induced medical coma to break the cycle of injury and pain to allow the body to begin a work of restoration.


Our lives look like the repeated story in the Old Testament. We turn to the world and forget God for a while. We turn away from God and find trouble. God brings us to repentance and we find restoration…until we turn to the world and forget God again. Over and over the cycle continues.


The first step to breaking any negative cycle is to recognize it for what it is. But like the frog in the pot of water we don’t always recognize the dilemma we’re in. We need to ask God’s perspective to show us where we are. (Search my heart O Lord.)


A second step is bringing our thoughts and behaviors to God’s courtroom. This may include negative behaviors we use to compensate for our hurts such as blaming others, being cynical or sarcastic, passive-aggressiveness, shying away from conflict, blaming ourselves for others behavior. The list goes on to include worry, false guilt, anxiety, self-condemnation, isolation, and neglecting the Word of God.


Having submitted our thoughts and behaviors to God, our third step to breaking the cycle is turning our focus to where He is at work in our lives: seeing our tasks and people around us through His eyes. God’s on others on our path takes us away from self and away from negativity that deludes us and steals our joy.


Breaking a downward cycle is never easy.
Sometimes you need help from others who will be honest with you and tell you what you think you don’t want to hear. In the end (and in the beginning!) we need God to rescue us. Turning to Him is always the right step.



Beyond chocolate bunnies and colored eggs


Easter is next Sunday. What preparations are you making for the commemoration of this special event in the Christian year?


Cute, but in Bolivia, it's just not 'hoppening'.

Cute, but in Bolivia, it’s just not ‘hoppening’.

Most of the world likely considers Bolivia to be a poor backward country. Poor, yes. But backward? In much of the United States, Easter is welcomed with chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. (Did you ever wonder who concocted such an idea?) Church attendance swells for an hour and then dwindles again to normal numbers the next week. Sadly, these commercial influences are beginning to appear in Bolivia. But mostly, it seems Easter is celebrated differently there.


In cities like Potosí, Sucre, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and others, people attend church, rituals, concerts, and processions. Some visit the renovated century-old Jesuit Missions, left by the Spaniards. You can hear the locals playing music taught to them by the ancient Spaniards 500 years ago. Many Bolivian churches celebrate the three most important days of Easter: Good Friday through Resurrection Day. Others prepare 12 meals throughout the entire week between Palm Sunday and Easter.


Likely, a certain amount of this may be chalked up to ritual but it seems preferable to me than the transformation of a holy week into a festival of colored eggs and chocolate bunnies.


Might this Easter be different in your home? Perhaps you’ll take time each day to ponder the path our Lord walked this week. How did He feel riding into Jerusalem, knowing that the people’s welcoming cheers would so soon change to condemning jeers? What was it like for the disciples to have their master wash their feet as a lowly servant would do? What would go through your mind if you were there and heard your beloved Lord say, “One of you will betray me?” What goes through your mind now as you contemplate that it was indeed our sins that put Him on the cross? Certainly you have known sorrow and stress, but have you ever sweat blood while you prayed as He did?


None of us can comprehend what it would be like to be fully God and yet suffer the scornful and painful death while being fully human too. Imagine being completely one with God for all history and yet in an instant moment, forsaken. Imagine hanging on a cross, punished for a crime you didn’t commit, and looking upon the crowd saying, “Father forgive them.” What if you were one of the disciples who had devoted themselves to Jesus, only to experience His death. All alone, dreams and hopes dashed, where do you turn?


And then imagine if you can, hearing the incredible news that your Lord is not dead; He is risen! And not just hearing the news, but seeing for yourself, touching His hands, talking with Him, putting it all together. There’s no way you’d walk away and say, “That was interesting.” There’d be no thought of chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. No, you’d respond like the disciples did. Changed for life, nothing would ever be the same again. Now that your purpose is revealed, you are compelled to devote all your life to it, with all your energy.


Let your devotions this week be filled with the wonder of your salvation, the cost at which it was paid, and the compelling call God places on your heart. And be blessed.



Praise in every season


Do You Know How to Praise Jesus in Every Season?


Cindi McMenamin, national speaker and author of When God Sees Your Tears tells of her nephew Escher praying for breakfast just before he went to Disneyland:

“Dear Disneyland Jesus, Thank you for this day. Thank you for this food. Please keep us safe and healthy. Aaaaaa-men.”


His mom related that Escher had prayed to ‘Dinosaur Jesus’ after going to a dinosaur exhibit. McMenamin writes: “I couldn’t help but smile and think that little Escher was simply transferring the excitement of the blessing he was about to experience to the Blesser who was making it possible. I love that Escher knows Jesus is Lord of the dinosaurs and Lord over Disneyland, as well!!”


Jesus loved when the children came to Him. He encouraged His followers to have the faith of a child… even like those who pray to “Disneyland Jesus” who gives good things and “Dinosaur Jesus” who brings us the adventure of discovery. But how about the difficult times we face as adults and children. Can we pray “Dear Cancer Jesus” or “Dear Loneliness Jesus”? Sometimes it’s hard to pray at all. Many of my prayers have been simply, “Dear Lord,” or even a wordless groan left to the Holy Spirit to interpret to my Heavenly Father. But we must still pray and give thanks that Jesus is Lord not only over the mountain tops but the valleys of despair, not just the days of bubbling joy but also those filled with disappointment, rejection, sorrow, and pain.


Without praise, all we have is despair. 


Meeting God in every situation we face allows Him to use both the Disneyland and the Heartache experiences to transform us into His image. We forget but that is the sole (and soul) purpose of our life in Christ, to become like Him. Everything else flows from that. Yet, none of us want sorrow, grief, or pain. We’re sure we can become more like God without them. It’s hard to pray to “Chronic Pain Jesus” and “Job Loss Jesus.” But in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, either Jesus is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all. As we pray to the Jesus of All Seasons, He brings us to the simple faith of a child like Escher, a faith that honors Him as the Lord over everything, even our hurts and disappointments.


Perhaps you will find several opportunities throughout today to pray to “All-Loving Jesus” whatever circumstance comes your way. Let your prayers be simple and your words few. Let them build your trust in the one who carries you through the good times and the bad. Do not be afraid to let your prayerful tears flow. They do not go unnoticed. Our loving God sees them and catches every one.


“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” – Psalm 56:8 New Living Translation



Running the race


Paul uses the metaphor of running a race to describe the Christian life. Running a race requires diligence, preparation, dedication, total focus on the goal, and the discipline of not being distracted. Sometimes the race is more like a marathon than a run around the track. There’s pain and suffering along the way. We fall down. But we keep getting up. Sometimes our job is helping others who are faltering.


I remember seeing a girl’s track team T-shirt years ago that had the image of an oblong track course with the words:  “Run hard. Keep turning left.” It was a humorous attempt to keep the girl’s focused on their task: to run quickly and not get lost in the race. Actually, it offers good advice to all of us in the race of life. Parts of the course are really hard. We might be tempted to give up or slow down, but there is no reward in that. Sometimes when the road gets tough, we just have to keep persevering and endure the challenge. If you’re injured or wounded, rest. Seek help from the one who can heal you perfectly. Rest in God’s arms. But stay on the course. Let him strengthen you with his sufficient grace. Don’t give up. Above all, stay on track. Don’t get distracted by ‘rabbit trails’ that take you away from your goal.


One of the enemy’s primary and most effective strategies is to keep us busy, even busy with good deeds. You see, he doesn’t have to get you to hate God. If he just gets you to forget God for a while, he wins. When we get distracted by all our busyness we start to think it’s productive. But if it’s just running in circles and we’re not maturing or really drawing closer to the God we will one day meet face to face, what’s the point? You probably know someone who looks busy all the time but never really gets much done. Where’s the value in that?


Paul wrote to the church in Galatia how disappointed he was that they had fallen off the path. He laments how they lived like immature baby Christians, when they should be growing in maturity and producing spiritual fruit.


Keeping busy and running fast is not our calling. Keeping on the right path and continuing to move forward in faith is our only worthy pursuit.


Have you found yourself worn out from all your efforts to be in control? Does it seem like you are constantly running in circles? Have you started to sit out the race and rest on the sidelines? The Christian life is not a spectator sport. Get up and prepare yourself for the daily challenge by being nourished by the Word of God. Keep your eyes fixed on Him and His calling even as you’re doing things you consider to be mundane. Run the course set before you as if you were running for (and to) the Lord. Give Him your all. Don’t give in to the worship of a busy life. Stay in the race you were called to run and stay on course. The finish line is closer than you think.



The cost of following Jesus -2-


God’s gift of salvation is free but there is a cost to following Jesus. One cost is putting God first, even ahead of our family. The truth is we can’t really put them in top priority without God.  One of the costs of worshipping God is that we have to set aside our worship of family in place of him.  But there’s more.


Jesus said, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33) His disciples took that literally as did many in the first century church. I think he is saying to all of us that everything we have belongs to God and is to be used for His purpose. Not 10%, but all of it. If we want to follow Jesus it all needs to be submitted to Him for His glory. Do you still want to follow Jesus?


Jesus says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-29) There is a cost to be counted to follow Jesus. You may have to give up friends, job offers, or your reputation in the community. You might endure suffering, persecution, or imprisonment. Are you willing to count the cost so you can finish what you’ve started? Do you really want to be a follower of Jesus?


In the same discussion Jesus says, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” (Luke 14:34-35) The cost of following Jesus is retaining our saltiness, our flavor. It’s required to go all the way with Jesus. What good are we if we’ve lost this essential quality? What would you do with a box of tasteless salt? You’d throw it out. That’s what Jesus does with those who say they follow him but don’t have the flavor of His life in them. There is no lukewarm or unsaltiness in following Jesus. There is no partially committed or renouncing some but not all. There is only carrying the cross and following him. Do you really want to follow Jesus?


So how do we follow Jesus? Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” (John 8:31) None of us do it perfectly. That’s precisely why we need his grace – and power. The key is abiding in Him and letting His Word abide in us, all day, every day, in all circumstances. The proof of being his disciple is bearing fruit of the Spirit. (John 15:8) He says, “Everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (as he loved us). Do you want to follow Jesus? Then make these your daily aim and your life ambition. Nothing else will do. It’s a cost worth bearing.



The cost of following Jesus


What if I offered you something valuable – for free? You’d ask, “What’s the catch?” There’s usually some catch. It’s free if you buy something else. It’s free if you subscribe to a trial membership. It’s free if you just listen to a 45 minute presentation (that really lasts much longer). It seems like when something is free there’s always a catch.


So how do we respond when we’re told our eternal salvation is a free gift? In fact, you can’t buy it, trade for it, earn it or learn it. It’s a free gift from God for all who believe in His Son Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their life. Wait. Is that the catch? I mean, when I first came to realize in my mind and heart who Jesus really is, that didn’t seem like a catch. It was (and is) the real deal, like free food that tastes good and satisfies your hunger and a cool drink that quenches parched lips.


God’s gift of grace is free but it’s not cheap. Being a disciple of Jesus comes at a cost.


Jesus says “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38) Wait. Doesn’t Christianity value and honor families? Yes, of course. We love our kids and grandchildren. We’d do anything for them. I know you feel the same about your family. But if our parents, children, or grandchildren become more valuable to us than Jesus, He says we can’t follow Him. (The truth is we can’t love them best without Him!)


It doesn’t seem right or fair. When parents and grandparents devote their lives to teaching their children to love and honor God, they are in fact raising up the next generation church. It’s a hard teaching that about the roots of sin in idolatry. God says anything we put between us and him is an idol – even family. Is your family an idol? It may be if you find yourself saying, “I’d answer God’s call except for my kids.” A man said he would follow Jesus but first had to bury his father. Jesus recognized the man’s tendency to find excuses and wouldn’t have anything of it. Jesus loves children, and families. But He draws a line of distinction when it comes to loving and honoring God.


The gift is free but it really does come with a cost. Some think the cost is too great. Really it is too small. What is the cost to you? Do you really want to follow Jesus? Act as if Jesus meant what he said:


“Pick up your cross and follow me.”



All about you?


“It’s all about you!”


That’s the message which constantly bombards us. Advertising, politics, and too many false preachers tell us ‘you’re worth it, go for the gusto, get what you want, you deserve to live in comfort.’  If we’re honest with ourselves many of our prayer habits might resemble this. We want it all, right now, just the way we like it, and with little cost.  But this falls in dark contrast to what God’s Word says. Yes, He wants the very best for you. But his best is often so very different from our desires.


Consider Hebrews 11, the story of faith giants like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, and other faithful martyrs who were persecuted, flogged, sawed in half, and killed by the sword. So great were the martyrs of the faith that “the world was not worthy of them”. “They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. THESE were commended for their faith, yet NONE OF THEM received what they had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (v 38-40)


Wow. Stack that truth up against the name it and claim it prosperity gospels. The truth is, it’s not all about us. It’s not about our worldly desires and ambitions and goals. It’s certainly not about lifelong efforts, however godly they may seem. For the followers of Jesus, it is simply about maintaining the faith that does God’s will. And that we can only do by the power of the Holy Spirit.


What does this look like? In Hebrews 12 it’s the vigilant and persistent race; a relay race started by the great men and women of faith before us and continued by those who follow us. It’s a race run untangled by worldly passions. Faith runners have their eyes completely fixed on Jesus, their prize, not the spectators. It’s about “enduring hardship as a discipline”, not comfort as a luxury. It’s about living in peace with others, not constantly squabbling over trivial matters. It’s about being holy, the goal of our Christian life. Not some ‘holier than thou’ pious life, but simply and profoundly being set apart for God and nothing else. It is believing we are citizens of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Isn’t that what you desire?


In Hebrews 13 it’s persistently loving one another, honoring our marriages, being content with what you have. It is about imitating the faith of faithful leaders, not idolatrous celebrity personalities and sports stars. It’s about fidelity to God’s truth and not being carried away by all sort of false teaching. It’s about experiencing strength in God’s sufficient grace. Instead of fighting to achieve our personal goals, it’s about finding the peace that equips us for doing God’s will.


It’s not easy in my daily fight and I’m sure it’s not easy in yours either. But it’s possible. What if we lived today in the truth that it’s not all about us?  What would happen if peace guarded your heart and mind instead of it being filled with fear and despair? How would it impact your family, your church and your community to live in the confidence that God answers His promises when it is best for us – even if that best is after we leave this earth? Would that be enough for you?


Let’s aim higher today, beyond ourselves.



Shaking our fist at God


imageRon Reagan calls religion a ‘delusion’. In a recent video he signs off: “Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, and not afraid of burning in hell.” The picture of him shaking his fist is eerily symbolic.


How sorrowed it would make his famous president-father who said:

“Without God there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience…without God democracy will not and cannot endure…if we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under”. (Ecumenical Prayer breakfast: August 23, 1984)


I believe what the Bible says. There is a heaven and a hell. The decisions we make on earth impact our future eternity. I’m reminded we’re all tempted by our own prideful hearts to go our own way instead of God’s. It may not seem so blatant as to stand up and shake our fists at God, but in essence that is what it is. We pridefully sing along with Frank Sinatra, “I faced it all and I stood tall. I did it MY way.” But is “my way” best? Job 15 talks about such foolishness:

“Would a wise person answer with empty notions…? Would they argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value? But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God. Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills? Do you listen in on God’s council? Do you have a monopoly on wisdom? Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you? All his days the wicked man suffers torment…Distress and anguish fill him with terror; troubles overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack, because he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield. Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return.”


This is echoed in Revelation 16. We read that people will continue to curse God and refuse to repent of their sins even as the terrible bowl judgments are poured out upon the earth in the last days. “From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God.” (Revelation 16:21) We’re left with the image of a prideful and defiant people who shake their unrepentant fists at God, cursing him, rather than bow in repentance. As evangelical theologian D.A. Carson says: “Hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins. It is filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fist in the face of God almighty in an endless existence of evil, and corruption, and shame, and the wrath of God.”


I doubt that you would be so blatantly rebellious. But our pride and lust for “my way” are fist shaking ways of separating us from God’s great call to live a life fully devoted to Him. Our gracious God gives us each the choice to go “my way” or “His way.”


Choose wisely my friend.


GLOW Update: Bulgaria and Greece


We have just received an urgent prayer request from our missionary who ministers to the gypsy population in Bulgaria. Abraham’s Flock is a Christian agricultural project that raises goats and chickens, ducks and geese, to provide milk and eggs for the poor children in Vetren, Bulgaria, where we also support a Christian literacy program.


“Abraham’s flock is in danger, due to ongoing rains and floods in Bulgaria. Due to a chemical contamination which government aircrafts have been spraying, an epidemic has been spreading in the surrounding villages. So, as a result of this all baby-goats die within three days after their birth. The vet has injected them with medicine and antibiotics, but despite everything done they are still dying! Due to the continuous floods the humidity has been increased and the animals cannot go outside the barn as often as they need. Please pray for the rains to STOP and for the baby goats to survive!


Along with this urgent prayer request is a praise story from that same ministry in Bulgaria. Todorka, a girl who attended the Christian literacy program GLOW supports has been accepted to nursing school in the city of Sophia (where our newest granddaughter was recently adopted) – and because of the Christian ministry in Vetren, Todorka takes Jesus with her! Your donations to GLOW go directly to support this ministry and others where disenfranchised people have not yet encountered the real Jesus.


Another story of praise and also prayer request is also from our missionary who ministers to the Greek orthodox and also Muslims in Athens and Corinth. She writes of “heaven’s appointment.”


“When I was walking in a nearby town, I saw an old white-haired man with a worn-out coat and a very sad face, picking out roots which Greeks cook for food. I decided to approach him, and asked him about these roots. As we were talking, the old man began sobbing with tears. It was very cold and the wind was freezing both my hands and face. He said that his name is Michalis. He used to own a small food market which he was forced to shut down due to the crisis. He doesn’t have a pension.

“Mr. Michalis told me that his beloved sister had recently passed away very suddenly, right after his 7 siblings had died, and was now totally alone. He told me that he loved Jesus, but he felt abandoned by God. His sister was a very compassionate lady who used to make small packages with food and had him distributing them to the needy and starving people out in their neighborhood. Someone had stolen his wallet which had his last few euros. So now he is left without any money, not even to buy a small bottle of milk!

“Even though he was a Greek Orthodox, he was reading the New Testament and he knew many portions by heart. His love for God was evident by every word he spoke! I am sure that this divine appointment was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit because Mr. Michalis knew about God, but not as a Father. He neither knew salvation by Grace. Later on he told me: “no one has ever spoken to me like this before”!

“Even his own priest didn’t have anything encouraging to say to him. We prayed together and he said Amen to every word I prayed for. Yesterday he called me on the phone, and I read with him from the Word of God and prayed with him. He told me that God’s Word brought “light” to his saddened heart. He will be calling me in a few days so we can read again from the Bible and pray.

Please pray for Mr. Michalis that the Lord will lift him up, provide for him and cover his needs, and that he will be a testimony of God’s grace in his neighborhood.


“… For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen…”
Romans 11:36

What’s eating at you?


The doctors said the Graft Versus Host Disease symptoms could return at random anytime during the next ten years as the new host DNA grafted cells continue to fight with my host cells. Well, it did come back. While a maddening nuisance, it’s not medically significant. It’s like a thousand ants nibbling at the skin from the top of the head to the sole of the feet. In a moment of respite, I’m reminded of other things that “eat” at us all.


Do you find yourself getting frustrated at small things? We get frustrated with ourselves, frustrated with others, frustrated with things that don’t work, frustrated with the fast pace of life, and frustrated with the times we’re stuck in a holding pattern. We huff and puff,  sigh deeply,  clench our muscles, and frown. Sometimes words not meant to be said get spoken.  But it’s not like going into a full rage that requires anger management therapy, so it’s no big deal, right? Or is it?


Decades ago, I read a book on stress management by a physician who asserted that getting upset at small things is indeed a big deal.   Certainly, there is much damage that can be done by the big stressors in life:  death of a loved one, a serious illness, abusive and neglectful relationships, or chronic pain or nearly any big loss. But the doctor warned that it is the accumulation of small things that really attack our bodies. He described the chemical interactions that occur in the body and mind when we experience unproductive stress and explained how this takes its toll over the years. He theorized that each negative expression of frustration could actually shorten our life by up to thirty seconds.  If you find yourself getting frustrated ten times a day that’s five minutes. That’s an hour over the course of two weeks; more than a whole day over a year. Imagine, at the end of your life, wanting to have another hour or another day with your loved ones.


The doctor related that studies reveal even the memory of stressed events triggers these same chemical reactions. It seems the cells in our bodies are always listening to what’s going on around them and always ready to respond. This is a good thing because it allows us to react quickly to truly stressful situations. But when the response is unproductive such as negative thinking and worry, the effect on the body is harmful. Interestingly, the opposite is true. When our body is at rest and our mind contemplates positive thoughts, the chemical reactions have restorative properties.


The bible’s many warnings about worrying and thinking bad thoughts is not just about wasted time. It’s about negative affects on our minds and bodies. It’s time we discipline ourselves to think and act better. Demand less. Practice being calm in the face of frustration. Seek God’s presence in those moments and find the peace his perspective brings. Read scripture to regularly renew your mind. You won’t be perfect at this, but over time you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your life. And your loved ones will thank you.