Monthly Archives: September 2015

We are saved to do good works


In the closing to Paul’s letter to Titus (and us), he reminds us that we aren’t to do good works as part of our life. God actually saved us for this very purpose. I hope you know that God loves you and wants to fill your life with good things. But more than that, he saves us so the outpouring of his love in our lives will overflow and spill onto others. We demonstrate this by:


  • Being subject to rulers and authorities, being obedient and ready to do whatever is good, to not slander anyone, and to be gentle toward everyone…even those with whom we disagree.
  • Replacing foolishness, disobedience, deception, and our slavery to self pleasure because we want to display what it means to be aware of God’s mercy in our lives. We put a stop to bitterness and envy and hatred because God’s kindness and love flow over these and replace them with his mercy and grace, realizing “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
  • Remembering that “having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
  • Being careful to devote ourselves to doing good in ways that are profitable for everyone.
  • Avoiding “foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”
  • Warning people who are divisive person once and twice and “after that, have nothing to do with them.” (Tough love!)
  • Remembering it is always the right time to do the right thing, to do “what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”


We do good works for the sake of the gospel. We weren’t saved By our good works but doing good works is the reason we were saved. . . the expression of God’s overflowing love in our lives.


Why do you do good things?


Do you like to help others? Encourage them? Be silent with them when their world is filled with tears, when someone or something has “thrown a grenade in their dream box? Do you like to do good deeds? Do random acts of kindness bring you a special joy? Have you ever seen a homeless person and offered to take them to get a meal or keep a care package in your car to give to them? If so, WHY do you do these things? I know many unbelieving friends who are so good at expressing compassion and human kindness to others. How much more should we be motivated to do good works, being filled with the compassion of God, which he renews every single morning.


But there’s more than doing good works to help people or because we feel good about it. In fact, sometimes we can do so many good works they wear us down. But there’s a better way. Paul writes to Titus (chapter 2) about doing good works for the sake of the gospel. In other words, they are not just good deeds that help people. They are doorways or bridges we use to carry God’s practical love and redeeming hope to others.


  • Teach what is appropriate and in keeping with God’s Word. Not just our own opinions or advice.
  • For the sake of the gospel, teach to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. Sometimes we teach others by words; often a better teacher is our own actions that reflect these qualities.
  • Likewise, we are to express and encourage to live reverent lives, not filled with callous, disrespectful, or harsh talk, but instead filled with God’s goodness.
  • For the sake of the gospel, we’re reminded that one of the best gifts we can give to our children is the promise and committed demonstration that mom and dad love each other and will never leave each other. That is not only a gift of security and peace to our children and also an example to them, but a testimony to others. We receive countless comments when Marcia and I walk the hospital corridors hand in hand,  also visiting with others along the way. How you love your spouse – and others – is a reflection of how you love God.
  • Our teaching and example is also intended to reflect integrity in what we say and do. Beyond what is legal or moral or write, we need to demonstrate integrity in speaking and doing what is best and living a life beyond reproach.
  • We are taught to submit to God and sometimes to others, for the sake of the gospel. It is for this gospel of good news and hope that we let God’s grace speak to our disappointments and extend God’s grace to others.
  • We say “No” not only to ungodly things but to things that waste our life, or are merely good, but not God’s best for us.
  • It is for the sake of the gospel that we don’t just live for today but eagerly long for the hope when God’s full glory will be revealed on earth and in heaven. And we do all this not in our own strength or wisdom, but in the authority that God gives us through his Holy Spirit… For the sake of the gospel.


Instead of doing good because it feels good, what is one take away from Paul’s message that will help you do good… For the sake of the gospel?



Special mid chemo Good News update


Good report on the morning of Day Four. My peripheral blood shows NO sign of cancerous blasts (down from 31%) and other numbers are holding steady. The bone marrow “factory” is of course a darker picture but is presumably also improving. Appetite continues with no nausea yet. And the two units of blood I received two days ago are a good pick me up. (Thank you to everyone who donates blood. It really makes a difference!)


Experience tells me the real battle is in the coming days. But surely God’s grace and mercy are flowing through my veins along with the chemo! The hope is for complete remission again in a few weeks. My teams at Mercy and the U of Iowa are recommending a second “mini” stem cell transplant that may offer some chance of an actual “cure.” That will take some time to coordinate a good match.


Soaking up the "Son" rays at Mercy Medical Center.

Soaking up the “Son” rays at Mercy Medical Center.

God is always good in times of trouble but also when his goodness is known in the land of the living! -Psalm 27:13 Thanks everyone for your prayerful support of Marcia and me as we continue this unexpected journey to God’s honor and glory.


Am I denying God or affirming I know his love?


If you were sending a letter of instruction to someone setting out into the world, what would you write? Maybe you would reflect on some of the life lessons you’ve learned along the way. So would I. Maybe we’d give words of encouragement and words of warning that we’ve learned. That’s what God did in writing his love letter, the bible, to you and me. And that’s what Paul did in his mentoring letter to Titus. He talks about many things, including to remember:


  • Our life role is to be servants who are truthful in all our ways.
  • Our main job, before ministering to others, is to make sure WE are holding onto OUR own faith firmly, SO THAT we can encourage others with that same truthful faith and also defend it against those who try to persuade us with false teaching.
  • He warns Titis (and us) to not get tripped up with meaningless talk. In the hospital, I’ve found where people are in extreme painful situations, either as a patient or family member, or more often as a staff constantly dealing with people in pain and sorrow, there are often open opportunities for simple conversations to become doorways for gospel conversations. Once, I approached a stranger waiting by the elevator, and asked “How is your day going?” One simple question led to a discussion of his wife’s cancer, his Muslim faith, and a time of prayer with him, to then his inviting me to come to his house to share with him and his wife. There are many opportunities for God encounters if we simply put an end to meaningless talk and exchange them for opportunities to build relationship bridges with people that lead to meaningful gospel conversations and prayer.
  • Paul gives a warning to Titus – and us – about people who “claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Oh my prayer, is that this not be a warning about me. I can look back in life and sometimes even now, and see times when I claim to know God but my own actions don’t reflect it. In fact maybe they actually deny God when I choose meaningless chit chat over meaningful time with others, my own comfort and interests instead of reaching out with practical expressions of God’s love. Recently a friend offered to do yard work for us while I am in the hospital. Another is going to change a car battery for Marcia. Their simple acts of compassion affirm they do know God who wants to encourage us through the simple yet generous actions of his servants.


The bad news is we have so many opportunities to become distracted by meaningless activities, that in the end amount to nothing and waste our lives, while others go about their lives without God or discouraged in their walk with God. In our self-absorbed loves we become unfit for any good work.


BUT THE GOOD NEWS is that we have so very many opportunities to let God’s Spirit help us see every day practical ways of expressing his love and thereby affirming that we really love God and are coming to know him more and more.


How do you want to live your life?



Endurance is not just holding on – it’s letting go


Sometimes life takes us down unexpected paths that twist and turn in directions we hadn’t considered taking, even those we would never ever have chosen to take. If the path is difficult and unpleasant, we often try to find a way out, an escape from the pain. It’s our basic nature to want to avoid pain and seek pleasure. You’ve been there, right?


At the same time, we recognize the truth in the popular adage, “No gain without pain.” And so we endure and persevere as long as we can see a better outcome at the end of the road. Most parents are faced with enduring the really tough parts of childrearing, trusting that our enduring efforts will help guide the maturing our our children. We don’t like surgery but we endure it because we believe in the good outcome it will produce. Nobody chooses chemo as a recreational drug but we endure it because of its potential to kill the disease that threatens to kill us.


But enduring is not just holding on. It’s learning to let go.


As Marcia and I were recently reading about “enduring” suffering, we found it interesting that the Spanish translation used the word “resisting.” It reminded us that enduring is not just clenching our teeth and impatiently waiting for pain to end. Enduring involves resisting the temptation to cling to what works against us. It means letting go of:

Feelings of hopelessness
Our sense that we can control everything
Self pity
…and more.


When you’re facing difficult times, aren’t these some of the things that cause you stress and maybe even make you feel like throwing in the towel? But when we seem to be at the end of our rope and we have no strength to hold on, there’s hope. God promises to never leave us alone in our troubles. He brings a certain strength to our weakness. He promises that he will show us peace even while the storm rages around and within us. He shows us the path to confidence that endurance pays off. He shines his light on a path of faith that leads us out of the valley of fear. The truth of his light exposes the lies we’re tempted to believe. He proves that even when our lives our spinning wildly out of control, he holds the whole universe in balance, and He reminds us that even the end of our lives are really just the beginning. He brings perspective where we only see confusion.


When we let go we can let God.


I’m writing this on my first day of my most recent chemotherapy, reflecting also on my “very first day of chemo” from nearly three years ago. Here’s the truth I’ve experienced throughout this unexpected journey, truth that I think is relevant to each of us who are enduring some level of hardship:

The weight of pain and suffering seems great, but an enduring faith reveals a greater joy yet to behold. This pain is light and momentary. It won’t last forever.

Not even pain can separate us from God’s love, unless we let it.

God is able to work good through ALL situations, if we let him.

Fixing our focus on him allows us escape the bondage of focusing exclusively on our problems.

Faith is like a bank account. You have to make deposits before you can take withdrawals.

Pain and suffering reveals who we really are and also who we want to become.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. So is your life. Don’t waste your pain or sorrow. Enduring pain and resisting the lies our feelings tell us maximizes our potential to grow closer – to each other and to God.


Let’s resist the impulse to quickly pray away every pain and sorrow, and instead ask for the strength and grace to endure it while we draw closer to God and closer to others on the unexpected path we share. Let’s not only hold on. Let’s let go of everything that trips us up and keeps us from God’s best.


Your charge – and mine (+ update)


What’s on your to-do list today? No doubt there are tasks to accomplish, problems to solve, routines that need attending. Hopefully, you’ve included some enjoyable activity to celebrate the end of the work week and some earned time off. And we need rest and relaxation. We need to “recharge our batteries” and renew our minds. It’s part of life’s ebb and flow of energy.


But instead of living for our time off, maybe we should focus our time off to hone our skills for what is yet to come, the very purpose for our living.


Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4) focuses on that purpose. I think we need the same reminder today. At least, I do. It’s so easy to get distracted that our real purpose gets put on the top shelf, out of sight – out of mind.  Here are the highlights that Paul reminds Timothy to keep in his sights. I wonder which ones will speak urgently to you today?


In the presence of God and Jesus, I give you this charge:

    • Preach the Word. (Whether in word or action, our life is supposed to reflect Jesus.)
    • Be prepared (at all times). We set aside savings for a “rainy day.” We make deposits in our “faith account” so we can draw on that faith when times are tough. Shouldn’t we let his Word take root in our souls today so it can bear fruit tomorrow?
    • Correct, rebuke, and encourage others with great patience and careful instruction.  “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Be truthful but also be humble, gentle and patient.
    • Keep your head in all situations.  Stay alert. Remember the reason you’re alive today. Rely on God’s Spirit to guide you, not your “instinct.”
    • Endure hardship. Endurance builds our character and brings us to our reward. Instead of trying to escape our inescapable trials, how can we use these to draw us closer to God, and others?
    • Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. Reach for the prize.  Don’t give up.
    • Be on your guard. Remember, your strength comes from God.

Guard against that which deceives you, robs your joy, and distracts you from your life purpose.

  • Be filled with God’s grace. Grace is what marks us as God’s children. Shouldn’t it be our defining mark as we interact with others?


The reason we “recharge our batteries” is so that we will be able to carry out our charge for living. Let’s hold up our passions and activities against our charge so we too can “finish the race” well.


imageSpeaking of recharging batteries, I’ll be recharging mine for the next 3-4 weeks at the Mercy Hospital Resort Suites. My leukemia has relapsed 2 1/2 years post transplant. So it’s time for another seven days of chemo that will take me down and then some time to build me back up again.  We’re thankful for God’s mercy which is evident even in this situation, and certainly in whatever battles you face. We trust him for whatever outcome he chooses, and we’re thankful for the prayers of our little friend Brisa (and beloved Delia) in Bolivia, and for your prayers too. Live life to the fullest. Hug those you love. Be vigilant of the time you have.  Guard your heart. Draw close to God.



Power that equips


“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. . . always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 7)


Doesn’t that sound a lot like today? You know the part that strikes at my heart? “Having a form of godliness but denying its power, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Form without substance. A mere shadow of what is real. It’s not how I want to be described, though I can think of times when it might have described me all too well. How about you?


Paul’s advice to young Timothy is also a timely warning for us too. Like Paul, our lives are supposed to be marked by “purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings.” Otherwise, how else will we be ready when things get much worse? If we do not take seriously God’s purpose driven call on our lives now, when times are good, how in the world will we stand firm when real persecution comes our way?


But beyond suffering, there’s to be power. Power to face difficulties, power to rise above our circumstances, to live a transformed life, fully awake to the purpose to which God calls us. Paul’s earlier writing says that power comes upon us when we receive the Holy Spirit in our lives, the Spirit of Jesus who guides us throughout each day. That same Spirit speaks wisdom to us through God’s inspired Word. This same Word equips us both for the battles we’re about to face and also for the good work to which he calls us.


Sadly, too many live powerless lives, playing the victim more than the victor, trying to do good but always falling short. That’s not the way we’re intended to live. God’s design and desire is to equip us with his power for living well and on purpose.


If we insist, he will let us waste our lives in meaningless pursuits, with no need for his great power. But his good intent is that our lives be abundant and full, marked by power for victorious living, equipped for his purpose and his good plan for our lives. The key is found reading and applying his Word and following his Spirit’s leading, even through difficult times.  But the choice is ours. How do you want to live today?


More than a game


Imagine you just got a new job. You’re filled with excitement about the prospects that are ahead of you. You’re anxious to receive your “marching orders.” You wonder how your talents and abilities will be used and to what end goal. You open the letter with your job assignment and read these words:

  • Be strong.
  • Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier.
  • Don’t get sidetracked. Serve your commanding officer.
  • Compete according to the rules given you.
  • Remember your orders and wait for further instruction.


You start to wonder what kind of a job you’ve been given. But there’s no backing out. Despite what others say, you know this is your true calling. And you are ready to live according to the call on your life for the one purpose that really matters.


In some sense, these are the instructions given to Timothy from his mentor, Paul in 2 Timothy 2. It’s not a call to easy living but a call to suffering, to endure hard battles so others might be rescued from the darkness. It’s your reason for living. It’s a call to live as if you’d died to everything convenient and trivial and to live a life of real faith.


The call? It’s to be a Christian, a fully devoted follower of Jesus. Not just someone who said a prayer and lives it up until it’s time for heaven. No, your job description inherently involves some degree of suffering. Did you know that every single book of the New Testament speaks to the role of suffering when following Jesus? If you were to cut it out from the bible’s description of a real Christian, you’re bible would be in tatters. You won’t read it in the popular Christian books. You likely won’t hear much of it from the pulpits. But it’s the message of 2 Timothy 2 and it’s a common thread woven into the entire story of God’s Word. The truth is, every life (Christian or not) bears the scars of suffering. But for the Christian, the suffering comes with strength to endure. If your eyes are open, if you’re serious about following the call of God on your life as a Christian, sooner or later you will encounter this part of your job description.


The warning and the call is twofold: flee from evil and pursue faith, love, and peace. Flee from a wasted life spent pursuing everything that doesn’t last. Pursue the life that is daily marked by an enduring faith, an abundant love, and a peace that transcends the circumstances around you. Paul says your job is to warn others against meaningless quarreling and godless chatter that spreads “like gangrene” and “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Your job is to keep your spiritual senses about you. Moment by moment, you’re to be constantly vigilant in your stand for truth, not distracted but rather keenly focused on the goal.


Suffering is not without reward. You know that. So does the good soldier, the runner of the race, and the farmer who plants his crops. Every worthwhile goal that seeks a reward comes at some cost, some degree of “suffering.” But the end is worth it.  The end is a firm faith, an abundant love, and a peace that transcends all understanding. Cancer can destroy a body but it doesn’t have to destroy a life.  Paul’s message wasn’t just for young Timothy. It’s for you and me. It’s a call to follow Jesus throughout our day, to live for him, rejoice in him, and when necessary, to suffer with him. . . nothing else draws us closer to God. It’s a reminder that to not get sidetracked from our real life purpose or be taken captive by the enemy.


It’s a reminder that life is not a game. It’s a calling to live with the purpose and passion that God placed upon our lives when we said we wanted to follow him.



Our call to loyalty


Everyone values loyalty. Both good and bad leaders want loyal followers. People from all stations of life long for loyal friends. We want others to be loyal to us, but what about our loyalty? We’re called to a life of loyalty, but not just in a “you watch my back and I’ll watch yours” way. We’re called to be loyal to truth and to God’s call on our lives. But how do we measure up? Sometimes, that’s another matter, because loyalty comes at a price. It costs selfless dedication to someone or something other than our own interests. Loyalty demands sacrifice when we prefer comfort.


If we’re really interested in having our lives marked by loyalty, we encouraged to consider the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1. The call on your life and mine is to remain loyal, “in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” (V 1)


I invite you to join me in looking inward as we consider some of the marks of loyalty:

V3 A clear conscience, and devoted prayers
V4 Real joy in sharing together with God and with others
V5-7 The building up of each other’s faith and the encouragement to seek God’s gift of power, love and a sound mind
V8 Loyalty is not ashamed. Rather it joins others in suffering.
V9 Loyalty pursues holiness and spreads grace.
V12 We can (and should) be loyal to God “because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”
V14 Above all, loyalty guards the truth, that one thing that guides our daily priorities and decisions.
V15 The loyal person perseveres and does not abandon the faith.


How loyal are we really to God and to the people he puts in our path? How loyal are we really to the true essence of our faith, compared to everything else that calls for our attention and devotion?


Loyalty comes at a price but also with blessings. Persistent and uncompromising loyalty to God’s true call on your life is a secure deposit on your future. It’s the only thing we have to offer of any merit, a humble and obedient faith that perseveres through thick and thin; that keeps keen focus on the goal, undistracted and unentangled from the things that distract us.


Loyalty comes at a cost and with a blessing. Loyalty matters. Maybe it’s the only thing that matters. It’s faith – always expressing itself in love.


Beyond our circumstance…hope!


There’s the circumstance that surrounds us. And then there’s our response to that circumstance. Two different things. Same reality.


Sometimes our circumstances seem to crush us. They’re unfair and unjust. It’s easy to think all that matters is getting OUT of those circumstances. Maybe it’s hard for us to really get a grasp on this. After all, we’re not slaves. We’re not fleeing our country to save our lives. We’re not imprisoned for our faith or threatened with death unless we renounce our faith. Most of us aren’t facing the death threat of cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s. But even if we don’t face these life crushers, we all face our own difficulties that are hard for us to bear. Not able to find an escape route, what do we do?


We look deeper. We consider what is even more important than our comfort and happiness. Beyond our circumstance, we look at the core of our faith that reveals who we really are.


– Even in the middle of the circumstances that frustrate us.


Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy 6 reminds us that whatever enslaves us we should be full of respect. Why? “So that God’s name…may not be slandered.” (V1) Our testimony in times of bondage is what matters. It gives purpose to our suffering.


Whatever enslaves us, we should remain faithful to living our lives according to God’s truth, not just the path that is easy. Everyone else has an opinion of you and maybe even a plan for you. They are eager to draw you into have unhealthy “controversies and quarrels…that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (V 4-5)


What matters is that we listen to God’s plan for our life. His plan is that you and I will be content – in every situation. We think of contentment as settling for less than we want. He intends us to find that contentment in everything we already have. I don’t think this is easy – but it’s true.


We come into this world with nothing and leave this world with nothing. Why in the world are we so obsessed with gaining more of what we cannot keep?! Our great desires for “more” causes us to wander from our true faith and pierces us with many griefs. (V 10)


What is our alternative?


“Flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. (V 11-12) Refuse to be arrogant, putting your faith in “more.” Instead let’s live generously, willing to share – not only our wealth, but also our time, our energies, and our sincere interest in others. Let’s create margins in our life so there is room for others. This is how we “lay up treasures” that last forever. This is how we really “take hold of the life that is truly life.” (V 17-19)


If we’re too busy for others, we’re too busy for God’s best for us.


There’s no end to the “godless chatter” that fills our ears and ideas that pose as knowledge but ultimately are foolery. Let’s guard our hearts today, including all God has already taught us, all he has provided, and all he has promised.


Even in the middle of the circumstances that frustrate you, let your life be marked by grace today and enjoy the blessing of being content in all God is.