Saturday, March 31, 2012

More Details On John

Yesterday, someone misunderstood my note and concluded that the hospital was somehow negligent in caring for John. Nothing could be further from the truth, so I wanted to try to give a more accurate explanation. Please understand that I'm very tired and very busy, so I am not interested in giving every single detail.

Basically, John came through the colonoscopy well. Right now, the colon cancer is localized to one surgery, so the expectation was that he'd have surgery in early April and then get started on chemo. My friend Carol and I (thanks to one of John's relatives) surprised him by coming to the recovery room, finding him in relatively good spirits, but in pain from bloating. His vitals looked good, and he seemed ready to go home.

The staff was extremely attentive, leaving us little time together...which is good. I was telling him that we'd seen a helicopter on the way in to see him. His eyes lit up and he said, "Oh wow!" A split-second later, he wasn't breathing and alarms were going off. The yanked me out of the room to do chest compressions. The thought (and reasonably so) that his decision to use an anstrum rather than a mask with his ventilator (so he could talk) prevented adequate ventilation.

During the night, however, his enzyme levels showed that he'd indeed suffered a mild heart attack.. The catherterazation showed two blocked arteries. They put a stent in one, and will do the other Monday.

Now he's struggling getting the settings right on his new ventilator. This is absolutely not the hospital's fault. He's been forced to change ventilator's because his was obsolete, and he lost the company that serviced his equipment. Therefore, all this has happened at once, so the adjustment has been difficult for him. Anyway, they're getting his old ventilator to him now--hopefully from that the pulmonary therapists can figure out what settings will work. Until then, he prefers no visitors...not even me. We appreciate your prayers.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Good News on John

Just letting everyone know that John had his stents successfully put in, and is now doing his characteristic comedy in CCU. I'll get to call him soon.

Report On John

John had his colonoscopy yesterday. As far as that went, they only found two more polyps, and just the one lesion, which is operable. When Carol Roman and I were with him in recovery, he was bloated, but in good spirits. I did notice a decline in those, but I attributed that to the pain from the bloating. As I was talking to him, he suddenly stopped breathing, and his heart stopped. They thought he has improperly ventilated. During the night, however, they determined he'd had a mild heart attack. As I type, they're putting stents in to unblock his arteries. I'm waiting now for further word. Thank you for all your emails, prayers and thoughts

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Colonoscopies, Pot Roasts And Piered Ears

Prior to 9/11, people could sit in airports with their loved ones, right at the gate, until boarding time. That short space of time was simultaneously comforting and awkward, knowing that conversations had to stay surface-level, regardless of underlying feelings. Silly comments like, "Remember to send me that pot roast recipe," or "That man over there dresses like Uncle Harry," filled the void.

All along, everyone actually felt sad that the visit was about to end. If a flight was delayed, the meaningless chatter would continue, not because anyone had more to say beyond instructions to hug Cousin Bertha, but because all parties didn't want the changes that separation necessarily brought.

The small talk essentially eased the pain. Sure, it carried a certain discomfort of its own, and most people knew it had an absurd superficiality. But airports didn't accommodate deeper conversation. And anyway, the comments about Cousin Bertha seemed easier than saying, "I don't want to go!" 

I feel a similar awkward sensation today, knowing that John's colonoscopy is tomorrow, after which we'll be thrust into a lifestyle of surgery, chemo, and heaven knows what else. And, oddly, it seems like a good time to mention that my ears are no longer pierced. Just before Christmas, I'd worn a cheap pair of earrings (I know--really dumb) that infected them. I had plans to get them re-pierced in late January. That's when John's bleeding began. So I figured I'd enjoy my turtleneck sweaters for the winter, piercing them in March. Well, that's not a priority now, is it?

So John and I sit at the gate, waiting for this cancer plane to take wing. We've done our crying (for now), and are concentrating on odds-and-ends that need to be done in preparation for tomorrow. That surreal sensation punctuates our day, as we comment on the consistency of Jello and search for a misplaced item that he needs. But we're praying, and telling each other how much we love each other. What else is there to say? (Unless I Google a pot roast recipe.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Attitude Slightly More Adjusted

Praise God, I'm getting the help I need. People from church, friends from other churches and neighbors are stepping up to the plate, causing me chagrin for doubting the Lord.

Not that our storm is over. There are very real concerns about John's cancer, especially related to his breathing limitations. But he had a very reassuring conversation with a pulmonary therapist who will be with him for his colonoscopy Thursday, so I have more hope that he can avoid complications, even coming home that afternoon.

Before my needs for help this week got completely resolved, however, I noticed my willingness to trust the Lord returning. Just as in other times when I've felt so angry and disappointed with Him that I wanted to to walk away from Him to seek comfort on my own terms, I thought of the time Jesus asked His twelve disciples if they wanted to join those who (offended by His preaching) decided to reject Him.

 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, ~~John 6:68 (ESV)

Like Peter, I'm emotional and impulsive, often letting circumstances determine my level of faith. But also like Peter, I understand that Jesus Christ is the only true God, and that I must cling to Him! There's no other other place to run.

Monday, March 26, 2012

When Life Can't Get Worse...Something Bad Happens

This morning, my Personal Care Attendant called to say she had been rear-ended on her way to get us up this morning. John's PCA rushed to Trinidad Thursday for an emergency in his family, so we had counted on mine to assist both of us. On top of everything, my back-up PCA had her tonsils out Friday, so she's unable to work for a while.

I know pop-theology advocates getting angry at God, saying that He has big shoulders and He can take it. They cite David's psalms. But I never see David shaking his fist at God or blaming Him, and he usually ends his complaints very quickly, with a resolve to trust Him. Anger presumes that God has offended, and therefore is worthy of blame. He becomes a Defendant, rather than a King to be worshiped and obeyed. And I know that I must fear Him.

Right now, however, I struggle with anger toward Him. My husband has cancer, and I can barely find people to get me out of bed. What will happen when he's hospitalized next month, and I need extra help? Will people help me visit him in the hospital? Can people come give me pills and feed me meals?

I should be focusing on John, not myself, and I feel so selfish. Okay, I am selfish--a fact I confess daily in prayer. That selfishness bothers me all the more now, as I think of all the suffering John is facing. He needs me now, and I can't even attend my own basic needs enough to be there for him. I want to be with him for every treatment, every surgery, every procedure. All I can do, it appears, is plead for help...from the Lord and from His people.

Sorry for rambling. Today, I'm not very coherent, I guess, and I don't believe I'm representing the Lord well. My poor representation of Him also disturbs me. When the world watches this battle, it's fine if it sees my weakness...but only if it sees His strength and faithfulness. If I'm angry at Him, will He be glorified? Will my selfish fears discredit Him? I pray, as this struggle with cancer progresses, that I'll confess God's faithfulness to me and John, and that I'll serve my husband rather than fretting about myself. Please pray for Jesus to be glorified.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Photos Portaying God

I made the mistake of going on Facebook instead of starting this blog post, and naturally had to comment on a few items. As a result, this will be a short blog post, but I believe you'll be amazed by how John's photographs from Friday's Boston Adventure gave me small glimpses of the Lord.

As we wheeled through Boston Common on our way to the Public Garden, John noticed buds on the trees.

I love that shot, with Hancock Tower and the Prudential Center in the background to the right. Looking at the photo now, I think of Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding. 
  In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths. (ESV)

But Friday, I just wanted a springtime photograph of Boston Common. The newness refreshed me, and I hope other people will appreciate the blossoms, the cool green leaves that will shade the path this summer, and the flashing colors of fall. I'll look at this picture and remember holding John's hand as he drove both our chairs along that path, savoring  how we'd always feel like newlyweds.

Crossing at the corner of Boylston and Charles, we entered the Public Garden and turned right to move toward the Lagoon. The warm weather had coaxed the willow trees to start budding, a sight I have always enjoyed in April.

Breath-taking, isn't it? I love the yellow-green color, which seems a bit timid, as if meeting springtime is something it does both eagerly and unassumingly. I imagine feeling like a spring willow the first time I see Jesus face-to-Face.

The Lagoon is still drained, so being on the bridge seemed really odd.

In a way, the beautiful trees surrounding the dryness serve as a metaphor for this beginning of our journey with colon cancer. John's cancer is big, ugly and disappointing, making a gaping hole in our lives. But all around, we still see God's beauty as people pray for us and we think back on what a splendid marriage  He has given us. These three photographs remind me of Him.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Private End of Summer

Bittersweet. What other word could possibly describe yesterday's time in Boston? The thermometer on School Street said 75, perhaps amused at the weather's flagrant disregard for the calendar, and people lounged on the Boston Common and the Public Garden in shorts and tank tops. As John and I wheeled around the places that mean so much to us, we were tempted to look forward to a spring/summer/fall of wonderful days with people we always see in our meanderings and the easiness of exploring as I plan blog posts to chronicle our discoveries.

Funny how that little word, "cancer," changes the beginning of a season to the end of one. We kept reminding ourselves of how gracious the Lord has been, all these years, to give us Boston Adventures, and we are so thankful for those times. I thought of tourists, who may only visit Boston once or twice; how little they get to know this historic, modern and surprisingly bizarre city. We have been exceedingly blessed, living here. Tourists, and even many locals who are jaded to the merits of this first real cradle of American culture, never enjoy the richness of this place. But the Lord, for whatever reason, has delighted us repeatedly.

It occurred to me yesterday that, in nearly six years of blogging about the cannolis that typified so many of our lunches at Quincy Market, I've never posted a photograph of one. Yesterday, we boldly prevailed on a tourist from New Mexico to  remedy that situation:

John's procedures begin in earnest this coming week, and trips to Boston will pretty much revolve around hospitals and surgery and chemo. Tiring for any cancer patient, let alone one disabled by Polio and a stroke. We hope the Lord will surprise us with days that John actually feels up to going to town, but we know it's unlikely.

So, I'm holding memories of yesterday close to my heart. I hope to post pictures of our time, perhaps even tomorrow, and to tell you some of what we did to say goodbye to this summer. Sad as we were, we enjoyed the day, maybe savoring it the way tourists might. It was, for all the sadness, such a beautiful day. And, if we never have a Boston Adventure again, it was a perfect ending! I treasure it, so aware that the Lord Jesus Christ gave us such a poignant end to our private summer in Boston.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Someting More Sure

Why do some Christians (perhaps a majority of Christian think of Christians, even) studying the Bible as a dry, academic exercise? Well, I can understand nominal Christians holding that perspective. But then, the very term, "nominal," means "in name only," so such people don't actually  know Christ and therefore have no reason to care about His Word anyway. Having said this, I still get such a thrill from studying the Bible (both in a group and during my personal devotional time) that it baffles me to think that some people find it boring.

This past week, my study of 2 Peter has been particularly exciting! So, taking a break from blogging about John's cancer (I'm very sure there'll be plenty of posts on that topic in the months ahead), I thought I'd share an insight I've gleaned from Chapter 1.

I'm reading 2 Peter in response to a friend's developing involvement in false teaching, which he is boldly propagating quite publicly. This second letter of Peter's addresses a false teaching different from my friend's error in some respects, though there are similar practical ways that people live out these teachings. In both situations, the deviation from sound Christian living originates because personal experience has been elevated over Scripture.

In the first 15 verses of Chapter 1, Peter has been telling his readers that the knowledge of Jesus Christ provides everything necessary to live a godly life, listing qualities we must cultivate as a confirmation of our "calling and election." He then says that, knowing he hasn't much more time before his crucifixion, he's committed to leaving them written reminders of God's truth. Then, beginning with verse 16, he writes:

2Pe 1:16  For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
2Pe 1:17  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,"
2Pe 1:18  we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
2Pe 1:19  And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
2Pe 1:20  knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.
2Pe 1:21  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.. ~~2 Peter 1:16-21 (ESV)

Peter first employs his personal experience at the Transfiguration to establish the authenticity of his claim to share the truth. He delivers first-hand information that God the Father had chosen Jesus. He, James and  John constituted the necessary three witnesses to verify a fact. But (and this is where I really get excited) look at verse 19. Peter says the prophesies of Scripture, which Jesus fulfilled, supply even firmer testimony!

To be honest, the various commentaries I read disagreed on whether the prophesies validate the Transfiguration or vise-versa, but the remainder of verse 19, along with verses 20 and 21, definitely indicate the former. Although Peter's experience enjoyed the corroborating testimonies of James and John, he subjects his experience to the Word of God.

We 21st Century Christians would do well to follow Peter's example of humility by subjugating our spiritual experiences, no matter how glorious, to the scrutiny of God's Word. Scripture gives us "something more sure" than even our experiences. Therefore, it's crucial to evaluate everything, no matter how cherished or vivid, and even no matter what sort of fruit it appears to produce, by the Bible. The authority of Scripture must always be our measuring rod.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How Is John, Anyway?

John's busy. Besides doctor's appointments (this morning a friend took him to get fitted for a Bi-pap mask so that he'll be able to breathe safely during his colonoscopy), he has unrelated paperwork that must be completed now. Being a man, he's able to compartmentalize thoughts and emotions, which probably helps him keep from obsessing over the cancer.

He likes spending time with men from church. I can see how energizing that contact is for him. For years, I've prayed daily that God would give him a few male friends that would spend time with him, never dreaming the Lord would use colon cancer to answer that request. The joy in his voice after time with one of these men refreshes both of us, confirming just how deeply he's needed that type of fellowship. Again, those men buffer him from depression, it seems. And that's good!

John, according to his mom, has never been a complainer. Self-pity rarely appears in his conversation, and he only expresses feelings of despair privately to me; not that those feelings last long. I guess lots of people might evaluate him as being in denial, not knowing him well enough to understand how deeply he believes that God actually does work all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Maybe my husband's Pollyanna outlook comes from his childhood crush on Haley Mills, and if so, that's fine! Cynics laugh derisively at Pollyanna, but John understands that gratitude towards God, rather than being a cause for mockery, is a quality more Christians should cultivate.

John has good days and not-so-good days, but for the most part he chooses to be upbeat and thankful, trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows, more than most people (including his wife), that the Lord loves him and will carry us though this battle. I admire his godly example!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Where Am I Looking?

Of course I want the Lord to heal my husband of colon cancer! Last night, when he returned from the sleep clinic at 10:00 because it was obvious what sort of respirator needed to be prescribed, I was so happy to have him in bed next to me. The prospect of even one night without him nearly drove me crazy, even as I told myself that it was better to endure a few short separations if those separations ultimately gave me more years with him.

In the first few months of our marriage, I held him more loosely, espousing the philosophy that God had loaned John to me only temporarily. When He called John Home, I felt confident that I could release John back to Him with little effort and gratitude for whatever time He allowed us to be man and wife. That's a Biblical outlook, right? Having been a single adult for three decades, I believed I could adjust back to not having a husband easily, secure in the Lord's ability and faithfulness to care for me.

As our marriage progressed, however, that philosophy melted away. God had made me one with John, and my prayers increasingly requested more time with him. I understand now, as I never could have understood before getting married, how intricately bound a husband and wife are. He's not my idol, as I know he's thoroughly incapable of being what Jesus is, but he's part of me. So the thought of staying behind if the Lord chooses to take him Home breaks my heart. I want more time with John, and I'm pretty sure the Lord expects wives to feel that way about their husbands.

So now I pray that the Lord will heal John, and I don't care whether He does so miraculously or through doctors and medical technology. Although we'll have a glorious relationship in heaven, I know he'll no longer be my husband...and, being still veiled to heaven's mysteries, I want to prolong the joyous, wonderful marriage that enriches our life now.

The Lord is faithful, sometimes in ways that amuse me, to shift my attitude back to Biblical thinking, however. Usually during lunch, I play Christian radio on the Internet, tuning into a channel with "easy-listening" contemporary Christian music (mostly because no free channel that I know of offers hymns set to updated music). Many of the songs are theologically shallow, but we can't help liking them, but every so often, one ministers to us. And today, Jeremy Camp's song, "There Will Be A Day," did just that.

For the first time since John's diagnoses, I could see past my pain enough to rejoice in the possibility of my husband seeing Jesus face-to-Face. I still pray God will let us have more years of marriage, but I finally have a glimpse of joy in this situation.


Due to paper-work regarding John's new respirator (which he'll need to undergo the procedure), the colonoscopy has now been canceled until the respirator can be approved. We're extremely frustrated! Please pray that all this can be sorted out, and that we can arrange the help we need once the respirator is set up.

Also, please pray that this glitch allows us to take advantage of this glorious weather by going into Boston. Of course, first priority is meeting with the Respiratory Therapist to get set up on the ventilator, but John really wants a date in Boston (so do I).

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Both pastors and four of the elders from church came to see us today. I'm encouraged that people are finally seeing how disabled John really is. How much help he really needs.

We've seemed, I guess, less disabled than we actually are, coming to church on Sundays and serving in various areas of ministry. And, in most respects, I believe that's a good thing because we want to be accepted as people first, with our disabilities being incidental. But the fact is, we have needs that require attention, and we believe the Lord would have His people (rather than the world) help meet those needs as a demonstration of His love.

Now, though we hate the circumstances that causes it, the church is rallying around us. I'm very thankful.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wasn't Sure What To Post, Anyway

All morning, I debated with myself. Is this blog morphing into a Journey With Cancer blog? Is that what I want? Or what the Lord wants? I'd finally summoned up the courage, after at least three years of careful (prayerful) consideration, to address trends in the evangelical church that deeply disturb me, and I'd begun to pursue that course despite opposition.

Then Monday happened, and I'm entering a whole new world of cancer, complicated by Polio. And complicated even further by my disability. I can't think outside of what's happening to John, and how to respond in a way that honors the Lord. Especially when I'm so tempted to be angry at Him, and so afraid He'll take John away. This new phase in our lives could completely engulf this blog space. Actually, I'm pretty sure that will happen, as I process my thoughts and apply my faith and see how very special our marriage is.

So today, I was reading a Facebook page on one of the issues I'd been preparing to introduce in this blog, thinking maybe dealing with it would prevent this from becoming a Journey With Cancer blog,  when friends from church called asking to visit. This couple met in a grief group after each had lost a spouse to cancer, and six years ago the wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. (She's now on an experimental drug and doing quite well.)

We had a good visit, learned a few things, and feel like they have our backs. They helped us see some of what life will be like as John fights this disease. Sobering. Also encouraging, as we see the church rally around us. For me, the visit offered assurance that the Lord will provide. It was also refreshing to digress into conversation about The Andy Griffith Show and Little House On The Prairie.

As a result of the visit, I am more at peace about allowing John's cancer give direction to this blog. Right now, it's going to be our life. If you'd rather read other types of posts, well, then pray for us. Because right now, we are facing the biggest battle of our lives, and it may be hard to write outside of it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

All The More Cherished

Growing up, I always dreamed of marriage. Concerned for my psychological welfare, my Occupational Therapist firmly advised my mom to tell me I would never get married, to which Mom replied, "I don't know if that's really true." Yet adults did find subtle ways of encouraging me to envision my future as a single woman.

I was unhappily single into my 40s, always struggling with varying levels of romantic feelings toward different men...who were unattainable. Finally, when I was 43 and living at a nursing home for disabled adults of all ages, I met someone who claimed he was a Christian and wanted to marry me (neither was true). The Lord used that man, however, to give me confidence that I was desirable and actually could hope for marriage. Obviously, He then brought me to John.

From the moment we said "I Do," we've been exceedingly grateful for our marriage. John also had always wanted to be married, so both of us see our marriage as a miracle! But on top of that, John turned out to be everything I'd wanted in a husband. Only better!

As we've seen other Christian marriages fail, we've been amazed by how the Lord kept allowing ours to flourish. Why did He bless us so abundantly and not them? Mostly, though, we've been thankful, treasuring our time together as a gift second only to our salvation through Jesus Christ. Nine-and-a-half years into it, our gratitude has only increased, so that we've been even happier than we were on our wedding day.

Now, facing the possibility that John may go to be with Jesus, our joy in having this marriage deepens, and we value each precious moment. We pray that this cancer can be defeated, but we've been given added reason to treasure each other. God is good.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Little Banjaxed

For Christmas, my sister gave us one of those "daily sayings" calendars. You know....each day has a saying or picture, as well as the date. Since she and I were raised to emphasize our Irish heritage over and above our English, Scotch, Native American, Danish and French heritages (yes, we're mutts), this 2012 calendar is about all things Irish and Irish-American. It's been, for the most part, very entertaining (though occasionally a little bawdy, which we don't particularly enjoy), with it's limericks, food facts and trivia.

Yesterday's page was very apropos to our current emotions:

 Irish Slang


Broken, ruined or shattered. Metaphorically, it can also mean exhausted.

Yep...that pretty much describes  the initial days of a cancer diagnosis! Our emotions indeed are shattered, as we grapple with tests, possible surgery, implications of John's Polio and finding people to help me when I can't accompany him to appointments. We need to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, which obviously keeps us on a tightrope. We can't sleep. Eating physically hurts me, since I honestly feel like somebody kicked me in the stomach with an Army boot.

I keep asking, "How did this happen?" Then I realize what a ridiculous question that is! What difference does it make? It's not as if we could hop into Marty McFly and Emmet "Doc" Brown's Delorean (though that's certainly a recurring fantasy of John's) to undo the root cause. We can only move forward, fighting our fears with a resolve to trust the Lord Jesus Christ even though we really don't understand His purposes in this horrible mess.

As I've thought about that word "banjaxed," 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 kept coming to mind. Although the passage primarily describes the suffering Paul and his companions endured for the sake of the Gospel, the feelings he expresses seem to coincide with our present feelings.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. ~~2 Corinthians 4:7-10

People will be watching us as we go through this ordeal. As they learn that we are Christians, they'll check to see how real our faith is by monitoring our responses. As someone with a track record for chronic failure in manifesting godly behavior under pressure, I definitely realize my need to depend on the Holy Spirit. We're banjaxed, most assuredly, but the Lord knows exactly how He'll glorify Himself through this cancer. And He's much bigger than the luck of the Irish!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Update On My Husband

I had more to say regarding various issues in evangelical circles. I have many deep concerns.

But just now, I can't write about all that. My beloved husband, the apple of my eye, has just been diagnosed with colon cancer. I guess I'll be posting a lot about our journey to fight this disease in coming days, rather than my planned posts. I just need to focus on the Lord and on John.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

No Rocking Horse Necessary

Each Sunday, the Pyromaniacs' blog (which is really a must-read blog for Christians) features a sermon, devotional or other piece of writing by Charles Spurgeon. So often, it seems as if Spurgeon saw straight into the 21st Century Church. His admonishments seem perfectly tailored to the trends currently rippling throughout evangelical circles, almost as if he was writing prophetically. Of course, in reality 19th Century Christians struggled with the same temptations toward doctrinal dilution that trouble the Church today. Pyromaniacs' team of writers devote Sundays to Spurgeon precisely because he fought the same battle for the Church to submit to the authority of Scripture that they're fighting now.

Today's post, The Sufficiency of Scripture, dovetails so beautifully into our current discussions on this blog that I wanted to direct your attention to it. Spurgeon's concern, though not specifically with "listening prayer," is that God's people not add to the Word of God. He regarded the Bible as being completely sufficient as a medium for hearing God's voice. He reasons:

The Scriptures in their own sphere are like God in the universe—All-sufficient. In them is revealed all the light and power the mind of man can need in spiritual things. We hear of other motive power beyond that which lies in the Scriptures, but we believe such a force to be a pretentious nothing. A train is off the lines, or otherwise unable to proceed, and a break-down gang has arrived. Engines are brought to move the great impediment. At first there seems to be no stir: the engine power is not enough. Harken! A small boy has it. He cries, "Father, if they have not power enough, I will lend them my rocking-horse to help them."

We have had the offer of a considerable number of rocking-horses of late. They have not accomplished much that I can see, but they promised fair. I fear their effect has been for evil rather than good: they have moved the people to derision, and have driven them out of the places of worship which once they were glad to crowd. The new toys have been exhibited, and the people, after seeing them for a little, have moved on to other toy-shops. These fine new nothings have done no good, and they never will do any good while the world standeth.

The Word of God is quite sufficient to interest and bless the souls of men throughout all time; but novelties soon fail.

"In them [the Scriptures] is revealed all the light and power the mind of man can need in spiritual things." Right there, Spurgeon has made his point. Yes, the Holy Spirit reminds us of Scripture as we seek His guidance, and in that respect I can whole-heartedly agree that He speaks to present-day Christians. But until Christ's return, He will not go beyond Scripture. Christ's sheep know His voice as we read the Bible because the Holy Spirit living in us causes us to recognize  His voice.

It's that simple. And that profound.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Almost Like Home Movies

So, I discovered the Maps feature on Facebook's Timeline this afternoon, so I've been adding various places I've visited throughout my life. Way too addictive, but I like the memories that float through my mind as I add photos, dates, people I shared those experiences with and comments. During the '80s and early '90s, Exodus International conferences gave me several opportunities to travel, in addition to other trips I took, so many memories flood my  head. I don't have many photos, probably because I wasn't yet married to John, but I'll share a couple favorites.

In 1983, I participated in the Sierra Club's first trip to include physically disabled adults. With seven others who had disabilities ranging from blindness to spinal cord injuries plus at least two able-bodied people for each one of us, I went river rafting on the Rogue River in Oregon. I was bribed with a side-trip to see A Comedy of Errors afterwards at The Ashland Shakespeare Festival. I'd always hoped to go rafting again, but it never happened.

After attending Living Waters Bible College in North Wales during the first three months of 1985, I stayed in London with friends for ten days in April. The highlight of the London visit, without a doubt, was the day roaming around Oxford University,  where C.S. Lewis had been a professor. Nine years earlier, I'd read Matthew Arnold's poem, The Scholar Gypsy (yes, I know it's full of occult references), in college, and from that poem developed an intense desire to see Oxford. The Lord graciously blessed that day with a misty fog, so everything was exactly as I'd dreamed! My Personal Care Attendant rolled her eyes as I cried with joy. That's okay. The Lord understood what that day meant to me, and it's one of my most treasured memories.

In 1990, Exodus International had its conference in San Antonio. It was one of my favorite conferences, though bittersweet because a dear friend who had been so much a part of Love In Action and Exodus (as well as playing a significant part in my life) had died seven months prior. On the free day, I insisted upon seeing the Alamo, having prepared to do so by reading a hefty book about the siege. Photography isn't permitted inside the fort, which Texans treat like a shrine, so I can't show you the tiny room where 60 women and children hid for four days, but I'll never forget it!

So, there are three slices of my travels to entertain you. Thank you for indulging my fit of nostalgia. If it bored you too much, take heart! I'll be returning to discussions on doctrinal purity fairly soon.

Friday, March 9, 2012

iTunes and Choices

Today we dug up the iTunes gift card my mom gave us for Christmas, and I'm itching to use it. Now the decisions start. Do I expand my collection of Beatles music, create a new playlist of worship songs (heavy on the hymns), collect '70s music to commemorate my college years, or really spoil myself with romantic music (I'm thinking Gershwin, Sanatra...maybe a little Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole). How far can I make $25 go, anyway?

I'll most likely major on worship music, as so much of the stuff on Christian radio is fluff, or devoid of much theological content. A few songs nowdays are good, and worth downloading. Of course, at the moment I can't think of any specific examples, but I'm sure many will jump out at me once I start browsing the iTunes store. Maybe that's the fun of having an iTunes card--just exploring the store to see what's there.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I'll Die On This Hill, Thank You

Joe Dallas has been in counseling ministry since before I met him at Exodus International conferences in the late 80s and early 90s. I left ex-gay ministry in 1997 for reasons not germane to this blog post, and had all but forgotten about Joe (except when John and I attended the 2005 Love Won Out conference in Boston where Joe was speaking). Recently, however, a mutual friend began posting Joe's blog on Facebook and Twitter. The titles intrigued me, so I clicked a few links. After a few days, I was hooked, and added Joe's blog to my blogroll.

Yesterday, Joe did an ingenious post supposing that Jesus was being interviewed by the secular media regarding His stand on same-sex marriage. I loved his technique of quoting directly from the Gospels to provide the Lord's perspective on the issue. With a couple very minor exceptions, the quotes did not violate Scriptural context, and demonstrated how we can hear God's voice through understanding His Word.

Given the debate that my recent posts have generated (well, at least my blog's being read these days), I found Joe's  blog post encouraging on two counts. Firstly, and more obviously, he stayed strictly with Christ's words contained in the Bible, rather than inventing extra-Biblical answers based on conjectures about Christ's compassion and on His apparent silence concerning homosexuality. He used the Bible at face-value, and yet demonstrated careful study and skillful use of its contents. I appreciate the way Joe shows that God speaks to us, practically and accurately, through the medium of the Bible.

Secondly, the post reminded me that I don't need to placate those who disagree with me. Certainly, when someone corrects me by properly using Biblical principles to expose error in either my doctrine or my behavior, the Lord would have me respond in humility and repentance. Thus, if any of you can show me a strong Scriptural case for "listening prayer," I'll be glad and eager to write a retraction of all my recent posts, and to adopt the practice. I pray that the Holy Spirit will keep me teachable, even when learning a lesson requires me to eat humble pie.

Yet, I can stand on my convictions that stem from study of God's Word, even when other people disagree. My commitment is to Scripture. And, while I admit that I don't understand the Bible perfectly (which is precisely why I study it daily, using Bible Dictionaries and Commentaries as well as reading blogs and listening to sermons), I am secure in my doctrinal foundation. I know that much of what I write flies in the face of 21st Century evangelical thought. But my point in writing such things is that 21st Century evangelical thought increasingly deviates from the clear teaching of Scripture. I'd rather step on toes by questioning theologies and practices that can't be substantiated Scripturally than compromise doctrine for the sake of appeasing readers.

For me, the integrity of God's Word is a hill to die on. If Scripture refutes some cherished belief or experience of mine, as it already has in several instances, okay. I can relinquish those things. I have relinquished a few treasured experiences that didn't hold up to the Bible's scrutiny. I can do it again, and undoubtedly will need to do so. But I will not knowingly conform God's Holy Word to the ideas, experiences, thoughts or preferences of myself or any human being. It's too valuable.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Goosebumps Are For Geese

This series I've been writing on "listening prayer" has certainly aroused some lively debate, mostly from those who seem threatened by the proposition that listening prayer is, at best, a practice which the Bible doesn't teach. And I empathize with them, in that I've found it painful to call my own spiritual experiences into question. I loved telling stories of "how God spoke to me," as those experiences helped me feel more acceptable to my Christian friends. (Before my first "experience," my spirituality indeed was in doubt by certain pockets in my church.) Yet, I was challenged by one of my readers to blog about prayer, and I wanted to approach the topic by separating it from false mysticism.

Commenting on yesterday's post, Susan listed three passages from John's Gospel in which Jesus promised His disciples that He would speak to them either directly or through the Holy Spirit. Well, Susan, Jesus kept those promises. He spoke to the eleven disciples who remained after His Resurrection, as well as to Paul, and those twelve men faithfully delivered His word to the First Century Church. He inspired a few of them, as well as Luke, James and Jude, to complete the Canon of Scripture. Through these men, we Christians in successive generations have His Word, miraculously preserved in the Bible!

What a treasure the Bible is! Through it's pages, which the Holy Spirit illumines to me, the Holy Trinity speaks to me, as He does to all Christians. I'm awed by the fact that His Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). Why would I seek anything further? If people consider me less spiritual because I don't "hear Him speak" outside of His Word, they're at liberty to judge me. But I'm content that Scripture is all I need to hear Him.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Flimsy Experience

The discussion on "listening prayer" these past few days has generated some interesting comments! And that's fine, as it means people are grappling with the issue. Admittedly, I'd prefer more comments agreeing completely with my perspective instead of throwing in the word "but" with ill-disguised hopes of convincing me that I'm going to the other extreme regarding this matter. (That attitude reminds me of of comments I received when I turned from Charismatic teaching, as well as comments from family when I renounced occult practices after becoming a Christian.)

In considering various disagreements with my objections to "listening prayer," it occurs to me that almost every rebuttal either contains the phrase, "I think" or appeals to personal experience. Both approaches move the conversation into a subjective realm, as opposed to making a case from Scripture. Interestingly, my very purpose in broaching the subject when I posted Unfamiliar Old Paths was to lay groundwork for questioning the problem of imposing subjective experience on our theology.

Yes, I've been guilty of interpreting the Bible through my experience, rather than judging my experiences by Scripture. To be honest, I still catch myself falling into that trap. Prayerfully, I do so with decreasing frequency, as I believe subjective experience can be deceiving. I'm grudgingly letting go of my stories of hearing God speak to me because I have no way to Biblically defend their veracity. Maybe He did give me personal words on those occasions. But I could have concocted them in my own mind. The point is,  my experience can't be held up as authoritative.

Non-Christians, you see, have experiences too. Joseph Smith's vision from the "angel"  Moroni comes to mind. Is his vision as equally valid as experiences Christians have? Most of us would argue that it is certainly not, rightly saying that his vision contradicts God's Word. Ah, but Mormons would claim otherwise, convinced that they strictly adhere to the Bible and that Joseph Smith's writings merely supplement Scripture. After all, his experience made it clear to him that God had further revelation. If people must accept our experiences as valid, than why not his? Why not the experience of a Buddhist, a Hindu or someone fiddling with an Ouija board?

I assert therefore that experiences are flimsy defenses for stating our beliefs. If I'm wrong in discounting such practices as "listening prayer," use Scripture to show me my error. Not proof-tests, but  careful reasoning from God's Word in proper context. I may voice opposition, again reasoning from Scripture, or I may be forced to concede that you are "rightly dividing the Word." I'm willing to be corrected if my doctrine truly fails to line up with the clear teaching of Scripture. But don't argue from opinion, and even less from personal experience, please. Let's all keep the authority of Scripture as our standard of measurement.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Listen To What Was Said

Advocates of listening prayer typically refer to Old Testament prophets (and I'd include the psalmists David and Asaph in this category) as models for Christians. The reasoning generally goes that, since the Holy Spirit now resides in our hearts, He speaks to us just as He spoke to them. Therefore, hearing from Him is assumed to be a normative occurrence.

Certainly, the Holy Spirit does reside in Christians! In fact, He is the Person Who enables us to understand the things of God.

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. ~~1 Corinthians 2:12-15 (ESV)

Specifically, the Spirit inspired men to write histories, poems, proverbs, prophecies and letters which now comprise the Holy Scriptures. And, as we read these Scriptures, He enables us to understand them and apply them to our everyday lives. Throughout the day, He faithfully reminds us of verses, passages, examples and principles that correspond to how He wants us to respond to various situations. In this sense, He most assuredly speaks to us, and in this sense we'd better be listening! The Bible, being the written Word of God, reveals His thoughts, attitudes and even His feelings, so by possessing Scripture we can make the claim that "we have the mind of Christ."

The prophets and apostles lacked our advantage of having the Bible in its entirety, and in fact were the agents the Holy Spirit used to give us the Bible. So yes, God had reason to speak to them directly, or through angels. Notice, however, that God reserved His Voice for specific  people. The Old Testament prophets received words that shaped the destiny of Israel, and thus had a scope well beyond their individual circumstances. The true miracle is that His words to them can become His words to us.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

But I Digress

Since this blog has gotten a bit heavy lately, and will continue exploring the topic of "listening prayer" in the next few posts, I wanted to lighten the mood with my latest rendition of Raggedy Ann:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Listen By Reading

The Bible overflows with passages that reveal how the Lord desires His followers to live out our lives. Obviously, of course, I never found a Scripture that said, "Thou shalt marry John, " but I did find instruction on God's pattern for marriage, His desire that I not marry a non-Christian, and the principle that it's best to marry when one burns with sexual desire (see Ephesians 5:25-31 and 1 Corinthians 7). Further, I recognized that John had godly qualities and a history with the Lord that was similar to mine. We had a few doctrinal differences, which we worked through by studying the Bible prayerfully, but basically we could see that the Lord had us on the same page. Therefore, I believe His guidance came through our attention to His Word and our willingness to apply Scriptural principles to the relationship. No personal words from God necessary.

John MacAurthur (in a sermon that I can't locate at the moment) speaks of couples who tell him that they're seeking God's will regarding marriage. Typically, he'll ask them if they've had any sexual activity. If they say yes, he'll ask how they expect to hear from Him when they haven't even obeyed the principles of purity that God has already lain out in the Bible.

MacAurthur's question, I believe, extends far beyond wanting to know whom to marry, which job to take, where to live, or any of the thousands of specific questions in every day life. The Lord has revealed, in His Word, many broad principles for living, and not one of us can honestly claim to follow those broad instructions very well. Why then, seeing that we don't even obey Him in things that He clearly sets out in the Bible, would He speak to us through "listening prayer?"

Allow me to cite just one of many passages in which the Lord makes His will clear.

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16  Rejoice always, 17  pray without ceasing, 18  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19  Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. ~~1 Thessalonians 5:12-21 (ESV)
I haven't yet put all those commands into practice. I'd venture to guess that few Christians have. And this is only one of many sections in which the Lord speaks to us, telling us how He feels and what He desires from us. I could list a good number of passages if I wasn't bound by copyright laws.

Notice that, in verse 18, it says, "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." If a Christian wants to know God's will, there's little sense sitting in the prayer closet trying  to conjure up God's "still, small voice." As I pointed out yesterday, Elijah wasn't exactly in listening mode when God whispered to him, so we don't need to structure our Quiet Times to include emptying our minds to "allow" the Lord Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, to whisper into our ears. He's already shown us His will. Until we act on what He has already said to us in the Bible, what's the point of Him adding to it as we sit silently in prayer?

Certainly, as we're praying, He might remind us of Scriptures that apply to a situation we're praying about, although even then, it's crucial to go back to that passage, making sure that we're keeping it in context and applying it properly. That's why Bible Study and memorization are such vital disciplines. We know His voice in a way that distinguishes it from our own thoughts, worldly influences, or doctrines of demons by reading and studying the Bible. Scripture gives us the "mind of Christ" by acquainting us with His perspective.

Conversely, "listening prayer" offers exrta-biblical revelation, carrying the implication that we need more than He provides in His Word. Sola Sisters recently ran a blog post challenging a group called Adventures In Missions on their use of listening prayer, writing:

Also, participants of AIM/World Race must practice something calling the discipline of "listening prayer," a kind of "prayer" that rejects Sola Scriptura, which is the Reformation principle that God speaks to us through Scripture alone.  Instead, "listening prayer" rejects the authority of Scripture in favor of a more subjective, experiential kind of prayer in which the participant "listens"to God and journals what he or she thinks God is personally speaking to them.  This kind of prayer is a rejection, as I noted, of the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura, and is also a rejection of God's clear teaching on how we "hear" from God:

"In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe." Hebrews 1:1-2

1 Thessalonians 5:12-21 gives us a course for godly behavior, as do many other passages of Scripture.  Rather than seeking a more personal word from God (and one which is much more subjective, wouldn't it be more honoring to God if we worked on incorporating the Scripture that He has already given us into our daily lives? Why add to His revelation?

Yes, listen closely to God. I'm convinced John and I listened to Him as we made the decision to marry, so of course I support consulting Him! But listen to the words He's already provided, implementing them, resting in the assurance that He's freely told us everything we need to know.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Misapplying Elijah's Experience

The prophet Elijah had just demonstrated God's power in contrast to the impotence of Baal, thereby enraging Queen Jezebel so greatly that she determined to have him executed. Despite having just experienced how mighty God was (well, He still is, but you know what I mean), Elijah quakes in terror over the threats of a heathen woman. Thus begins 1 Kings 19, for which I've provided a link since quoting the chapter in its entirety would be a copyright infringement. Please read the passage before continuing with this post, as understanding the passage's context is vital to the point I want to make.

Advocates of "listening prayer" almost invariably use verses 11-12 to substantiate the practice:

11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. ~~(ESV)

Most English translations render "low whisper" as "still, small voice." Commonly, the teaching goes that Elijah had to quiet his spirit so that he could hear from the Lord, and consequently these two verses can be isolated from the rest of the chapter and developed into a self-contained teaching on how to hear from God during our daily communion with Him.

For example, Linda Douty, in an article entitled Listening for God, uses 1 Kings 19:9-14 as a springboard to her explanation of listening prayer, though she quotes it at the beginning of her piece, not to mention it again till three fourths of her essay is written. At that point, she deals with the Scripture by writing:

Many of us are like Elijah, straining to hear the voice of God over the whirlwinds and earthquakes of our lives. But the truth is, life seems to constantly intrude on that process. Our best intentions get derailed by deadlines and burnt toast! Unfortunately, we can't move to a monastery. The task is to house our own portable sanctuary in the hallowed center of who we arethat place where we become so familiar with the sound of that still small voice that we can hear it in the MIDST of the whirlwind, in the very ebb and flow of our daily lives.
Douty's implication, if I read this paragraph correctly, is that Elijah quieted himself, despite the wind, fire and earthquake, tuning his ear to the Lord's voice. As most teachers I've heard on this topic do, she sets Elijah up as an example for Christians to emulate in this type of prayer. But, while there are several instances where the prophet does give Christians models of faith worth imitating, this episode has to be terribly misconstrued in order to make it successful as a model of this type of prayer.

William MacDonald, in the Believer's Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995) offers a different take on the incident:

19:9-14   There in a cave . . . the LORD dealt with him. In a self-righteous spirit, Elijah protested his own faithfulness and denounced the children of Israel. He said in effect that he was the only one who had remained true to the Lord. God then commanded him to stand on the mountain of the law, but Elijah did not obey. We know this because later (v. 13) he went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. In rapid succession the mountains were visited by a great . . . wind, an earthquake, and a fire. These violent storms must have reminded Elijah of his harsh, censorious spirit. None of them brought him out of the cave. Finally, after the fire the prophet heard a still, small voice. It was this gracious voice of the Lord which brought him to the entrance of the cave.

According to MacDonald, Elijah needed to be humbled. He wasn't seeking God with an open heart; he was consumed with self-pity, demanding that God "just shoot" him. MacDonald doesn't discuss any need to silence one's thoughts to receive a direct word from God. Nor does he expound on any notion that Elijah's experience should be normative among Christians. He considers this narrative, in fact, to be a picture of God correcting Elijah's disobedience.

Commentator Albert Barnes confirms MacDonald's perspective:

A still small voice - literally, “a sound of soft stillness.” The teaching is a condemnation of that “zeal” which Elijah had gloried in, a zeal exhibiting itself in fierce and terrible vengeances, and an exaltation and recommendation of that mild and gentle temper, which “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” But it was so contrary to the whole character of the stern, harsh, unsparing Tishbite, that it could have found no ready entrance into his heart. It may have for a while moderated his excessive zeal, and inclined him to gentler courses; but later in his life the old harshness recurred in a deed in reference to which our Lord himself drew the well-known contrast between the spirits of the two Dispensations Luk_9:51-56.

Rather than being a passage demonstrating listening prayer, 1 Kings 19 describes a singular event in Elijah's   life culminating in his specific call to ministry. The application is less about a Christian's prayer-life than it is about God's gentle, yet firm, reproof of self-righteousness and self-pity. The chapter continues with its main point that Elijah, instead of bemoaning the erroneous idea that he was the only godly prophet remaining, needed to stop wringing his hands over Jezebel and get on with the work God wanted him to do.

For Christians, Scripture tells us how to conduct ourselves, and tomorrow I hope to give examples. If we're honest, we must acknowledge that we don't even act on the instructions He gives us in Scripture half the time. Why would He need to speak further?


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