Thursday, October 20, 2011

When I started writing my Blog, “Keeping Your Head In The Game,” the title and goal was clearly stated: “the goal of helping people think Biblically and have a Christian mindset throughout life’s journey.”  This is no light thing since “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov.23:7) The power of the Gospel is that through Jesus Christ we are given a clean heart and a renewed mind (clear head)!  A new way of living is made possible because we’re called to a new way of thinking. 

I’ve already made the announcement to the church because I wanted to make sure that I effectively and accurately “managed” the flow of information.  That way the congregation and others would be best informed for prayer and the on-going work of God.  I also sent a letter of explanation to all of our pastors with the same intent in mind.  Since the readership of the Blog extends beyond our local congregation, I thought I would include it here also.

As you know I have been fighting a chronic wound on my right ankle bone for many, many years.  However, the underlying cause and the real issue is osteomyelitis, which is an infection of the bone. It is also a very stubborn infection. This is what necessitated my original surgery on June 29, 2011. I have followed the proper treatment protocol which was: 1) debridement of the wound 2) scraping and cleaning of the actual bone of infection (called soft bone) 3) at least a 6-week IV antibiotic regimen with some strong medicine to knock out the infection 4) the proper wound care treatment to accompany all of this.  This is what has limited my activity since that time. At the start, I gave myself in my mind about six months to heal fully. It’s very easy to fixate on the wound that is there but that is NOT the problem, the problem is the infection.
The long and short of the matter is that after all this the last MRI showed that the “osteo” is still there and even used the words “marked progression.”  I could go in for another debridement, followed by a bone biopsy and culture, then another IV (perhaps longer one) regimen, and then the long, long task of healing a now much larger wound. I do not think that is the right course to take. I don’t believe it’s the best stewardship of my life, the will of God, and the things God has called me to do. The best treatment option that will effectively and once and for all remove the infection is amputation.  I have always been aware that this was on the “radar screen” of possibilities, but we fought the good fight to this point, but it is not working.  I am not naive to think there is not going to be a new learning curve associated with this procedure (right now it’s scheduled to be an above-the-knee amputation), but think:

1. I will no longer have a stubborn infection which can be life-threatening
2. It is not as radical as it would be for someone who is walking. Nothing changes. I am still sitting in my wheelchair, still functioning and doing all the things I've always done. This includes preaching, pastoring, traveling, riding/racing etc.  When you look at the platform what do you see? You see Pastor Warner sitting in his wheelchair. OK, still the same thing, only on closer inspection, I will have a shorter pant leg.
3. The healing time frame for this to fully heal is around 6 weeks. Not six weeks in bed, but six weeks to fully heal outside and inside. The other option of doing what we've done before would leave me with a much larger wound that would easily take 9-12 months to heal, an IV regimen that maybe has a 50-50 chance to succeed.
4. In talking to the surgeon and asking him what I can and cannot do he said, “You can do anything you want.”  I’m sure he meant within prudent reason!
5. While not taking it lightly, all of my medical team is on board with this as the best treatment option for me to take. Also, and most importantly, my wife Mona is completely on board as well.

I am taking the path that will allow me best to do the will of God. Is it wise to fight a war over a piece of territory that I will never use?!  When the procedure was first put on the table to me by the surgeon, he pointed to his head and his heart, saying that here were my biggest hurdles to overcome.  I’m sure this is true, but isn’t it also true that much of the Christian life involves focusing on these two things: our hearts and our minds?  (Prov.4:23) admonishes us, Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi about the supernatural peace of God and the things that help activate this, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  When Jesus was talking about the distinctive that is to identify us as His followers He said, “"So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?' These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” (Mt.6:31,32) He then followed it up with one of my life verses (Mt.6:33) “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  You should notice the contrast: what’s missing in a worldly lifestyle is there is no mention of heart or mind issues, but life is reduced to consumption and appearance.  This trumps everything else in life.  As Christians, we have a greater and a higher goal, the KINGDOM OF GOD, His rule in every area of our lives!

I thought about back to the time in my life when I was first injured in an automobile accident on April 30, 1973, which left me as an L-1 paraplegic.  My mentality in that season was “I want to get on with living life and doing the will of God.”  I am so grateful to God and His grace which has kept me and enabled me to witness and be part of the far greater work that He is doing, and to see the impact of the Gospel in thousands of people’s lives in many nations around the world.
In a sense, this is another one of those decisions: what will best enable me to be back in the game, doing what God has called me to do, and doing it with the finest congregation of believers that I know of (as you can tell, I am totally biased!).  As always, YOUR PRAYERS FOR ME HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE MOST PRECIOUS AND VALUABLE GIFTS YOU'VE EVER GIVEN ME.  The surgery is next Tuesday, October 25th at 11:30am.

So, if I’m silent for a few days, no Tweets, no new Blog posts, you will know why.  My wife, my inseparable helper and co-worker with her joy and sense of humor asked me last Saturday night how my sermon was coming along.  I told her fine, I was almost finished editing it.  Then (knowing this surgery was imminent) she asked me (with a smile) if my sermons would be “shorter?!”  I can’t promise that, but I do hope and pray they are inspired by God’s unchanging Word, filled with God’s grace and power, breathed upon by the Holy Spirit, and extolling the “unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.”
Saturday, October 8, 2011

I didn’t expect to wake up this morning to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, but you never know when God is going to whisper to you, or hit you with a sledgehammer!   Part of my reading today brought me to (Acts 15:12) which says, “And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.”

There’s a lot packed in to one verse which I’d like to comment on, but let me just say at the start that this convicted me about how I listen to reports.  So, this is a bit of confession, since I’ve heard “reports” for decades but often listened to them half-heartedly or not as intently as I should.  You know what I mean, we listen but we’re not listening.  Or, we listen, but we’re not hearing!  I am also guessing that I am not alone in my dilemma or practice either.  If it’s a church service, and I am preaching then some of this might be the result of really being focused on my message, but that is really not an excuse as the whole part of a worship service is worship, and not just my part.  No, what I’m talking about is really a heart problem that affects my auditory capacity (my hearing). 

The problem is that we can fall in to the habit of taking things for granted that should really feed our faith in God.  Let’s face it, we hear so many reports: reports in Sunday morning service about ministry endeavors over the weekend, or during the previous week.  Some are about what God is doing in our local church while others are reports of people ministering in other places or churches they’ve been invited to.  Some special reports from some of our evangelists, a good deal are reports from overseas and some of our missionary works in different countries.  Some reports are the variety of outreach and local ministry expressions that some of our people are involved in.  You’d all agree about the tremendous excitement of one of the pastors giving announcements about upcoming church activities. :-)  Then there is the “mother of all reports,” the testimonies given during our Bible Conferences, even if they are held to three minutes in duration.  We certainly do try to showcase “reports from the field” of what God is doing in our baby churches, and through some of our pastors.  I know that I’ve been guilty of not giving my full attention or appreciation for what is being communicated.

So, let me share with you a few thoughts that have been bathed in repentance and being cleansed by the Blood of Jesus to help me put into practice in the future.

  1. The Importance of the Assembly.  First, I’d like to point out that the text says “the whole assembly.”  Wow!  Does that ever happen, that the whole assembly is present at one time in a service?  Relax, this is not a guilt trip to boost attendance.  I realize people’s work schedules often get in the way and have to be sorted out.  I know that people are gone on vacation or other things as well.  I am well aware that sometimes for people even to make it to church qualifies almost as a minor miracle of sorts (which is why I’m not always offended if someone starts to doze off in church, although I will qualify this more in a bit).  No, the statement is important because it lets us know that behind all this is a view that understands the importance of assembling together regularly, and the age-old tendency is to neglect that.  (Heb.10:23-25) lays things out for us, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  They’re all connected you see: a steadfast confession of hope and faith, being able to love and build up one another, all of this is connected to a lifestyle habit that gives priority to assembling together as the Church.  The text says to ignore this is to let some bad habits develop in our lives.  You see, it’s in the assembly where God is speaking like no place else.  The original meaning of the word “church” gives us insight.  It comes from the Greek word, ekklesia that meant the “called out ones,” and the history of the word refers specifically to those called out to assemble together in order to hear the king’s message.

  1. The importance of Paying Attention.  Back to our scripture which says “they fell silent and listened.”  Whoa!  They were not talking to their neighbor or floating in and out either physically or mentally.  They were not checking their hair and make-up which they did just 30 minutes ago.  Your baby is fine in the church nursery, and rest assured, if there was a problem, you would be the first to hear about it and be called.  They weren’t hanging out in the hallway or courtyard, you know, “fellowshiping.” No, it says they fell silent and listened; they were giving their full attention to something!  I’ve been convinced for a long time of the discipline and the art of paying attention, and the difference it can have.  I don’t have time to go in to great detail here, but one of the cultural symptoms of our distracted age is A.D.D.H.  (Attention Deficit Disorder + Hyper-activity).  I don’t know if there’s a specific gene causing this, but I do know that spiritually such a thing exists and we’re warned repeatedly.  “Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don't forget anything of what you've seen. Don't let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you've seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.”  Translated, pay attention, not just for your sake, but for those near and dear to you.  I really believe that the challenge of attention and intention is a major issue, especially today; and there is no such thing as putting your walk with God on “auto pilot.”  (Heb.2:1) clearly warns us, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”  You see, this has always been a problem with human beings, but I believe it’s amplified in our technological age.  Albert Mohler wrote, “We are all living distracted lives that promise only to grow more complicated and distracted in years ahead.  The discipline and stewardship of attention is a matter of great and unquestionable urgency.”  I’m sure that resonates with all of us.  I mention it because it is an important quality of Christian discipleship.  Mohler again emphasized, “People who cannot maintain mental attention cannot know the intimacy of prayer, and God does not maintain a Facebook page.  Our ability to focus attention is not just about the mind, for it is also a reflection of the soul.  Our Christian discipleship demands that we give attention to our attention.”

  1. God’s Instruments.  In this case it was “Barnabas and Paul” and their missionary journey to the Gentiles.  You talk about something that was a true paradigm shift, this falls into the spiritual earthquake category!  This is not just limited to the seeming “heavy weights” like Barnabas and Paul, but what about what God does through YOUR life!  Even if it doesn’t get expressed or recognized, it is just as important as what God is doing through church planters or globally.  You too can be a “chosen vessel” unto God.  That’s God’s will for your life!  That’s all any of us will really be anyhow, we are called to be vessels through whom God can move.

  1. News That Is Fit To Hear.  We are inundated with information today.  The phrase “information overload” is not an exaggeration.   We are inundated and overloaded with information at almost every turn.  Technology has brought to our fingertips a staggering amount of information and news sources today, and at real time.  Speaking for myself, I have stacks of articles, books and other resources that I need to get to, which I might need more than one lifetime to accomplish!  But, news that really matters and news that lasts longer than the regular news cycle today is NEWS (REPORT) ABOUT WHAT GOD IS DOING!  Barnabas and Paul were relating and reporting “the signs and wonders God had done through them.”  Jesus said “heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away.”  I love Peter’s perspective in (1Pet.1:24,25) when he said, "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever."  And this word is the good news (good report) that was preached to you.”  He is contrasting what will be eternally significant from that which at best is temporary and fleeting.  That’s the news I want to be tuned into!

My point in all this?  It’s not just that we become good spectators.  No, God called us to be active participants, but part of that is giving attention to our attention.  How does the song go?  “Who’s report will you believe?  We shall believe the report of the Lord....”  Let’s give heed to God and the reports of what He’s doing in and through people’s lives, both here in Tucson and around the world.  Solomon captured this best when he said, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” (Prov.25:25) All the good reports that we hear will bring a needed refreshing to your soul and mine.  There’s an awesome promise backing all of this up, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” To me that says the best is yet to come and let’s believe and contend together for “greater thing.”  That way there will be more reports to tell! At least I’m committed to trying to do a better job in the join with me! 
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Last week I tweeted about the power of a praying father!  We’ve memorialized over the years praying mothers, and rightly so.  There are many powerful Biblical examples of this from Jochebed, Moses’s mother, to Hannah’s deep and earnest prayer to God for a son.  “And she vowed a vow and said, 
"O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head."
The faith of Timothy was greatly influenced by a praying mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois.

Having said that, however, we should not forget the power wielded by a praying father.  Specifically, I have in mind Job. The Bible testifies to him by saying, “So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, "It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." Thus Job did regularly.” (Job 1:5) Here was a man whose regular practice was to pray for the welfare of his children in regards to the most important thing in life: their relationship to God!  There are those who feel Job had some issues with his children and was a bit self-righteous and over-protective, but when the Bible says he was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God and shunned evil,” I tend to view him and his actions in a more positive light.  This is not suggesting he was perfect or without flaw, but let’s acknowledge that he was a praying father!

Think about it: he provided for them financially, but he also modeled godliness before them, for Job was a man of integrity who feared God and shunned evil.  His children seemed closely knot and enjoyed holidays together; but Job was concerned they partied too much, and he habitually prayed for them, offering sacrifices on their behalf.  I would suggest that if there’s a more powerful force in the world than a praying dad, I don’t know what it is!  The Bible backs this up big time when it says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 1:5) Do you know why this stirs me so much, especially today?  We live in a culture that in different ways is saying “Who needs dads anyway?”  Hollywood starlets, who are relational disasters, say forget finding and being a loving and faithful spouse, just send me to the sperm bank.  The message makes men optional at best, obsolete at worst.  Not only is this blatantly and ludicrously wrong, but it is robbing a generation of young people the vital influence of a father.

Hence, our annual “Daddy Daughter Dinner” this past Saturday, 10-1-11.  It has definitely developed into a special time for fathers and daughters of all ages.  It has also been a special time of father’s communication with their daughters, telling them why they are so special and unique.  This year, Susanna Unruh kind of turned the tables as she presented a poem in honor of her father, Larry Priest.  With her permission I wanted to use this vehicle to share with you also.

My Daddy didn’t make lots of money and buy us all the nicest things,
But he played games with us like alligator and hide and go seek
Daddy was the alligator, crawling on the floor,
When we were caught we were tickled and always came back for more
He taught us to play baseball, running around in the back yard,
But I think his favorite was beating us at Monopoly or playing alphabet games in the car
He always had a joke to tell, “Do you know why elephants paint their toenails red?” he would ask
“To hide in cherry trees of course!  Have you ever seen an elephant in a cherry tree?
See, it works!”  That one always made me laugh!
He took us on long road trips, to visit family and interesting places along the way
And sometimes we went camping or just on an adventurous excursion for the day
My Daddy isn’t a movie star or an all-star so to speak,
But he was there to cheer for us at every game or meet
He was there to encourage us and to celebrate every success
We know we made him proud and to us that was the best
He made an art of explaining words I didn’t quite understand
He used stories and examples so my mind could think and expand
He recognized my desire to worship, though classical lessons we could not afford
He found a way to surprise me with my very own keyboard
My Daddy isn't a pastor or a preacher on the stage,
But he has been faithful to serve in God’s house and hasn’t stopped in his age
I’m sure he had differences with people and didn’t always agree,
But I didn’t hear him criticize or complain about people in our church family
He just strived to be the priest of his home (no pun intended)
We are the fruit of his righteous high standard, blessed
I saw him seek out God’s Word and diligently pray
In fact, this is my father the morning of my wedding day
My Daddy isn’t perfect, no earthly father is
But he loves my mother, his white prairie flower she is
I know that he prays for me and wants God’s best for my life
I knew that his concerns and curfews were there to protect by design
I trusted his judgment about guys I might like
And chose not to move forward without his blessing assigned
I was once was the baby girl you held in your arms and I cried in your lap
I was the bride on your arm, and you gave my hand
Of course as I was writing I thought of some memories I don’t want to share
But I wanted to be honest and let you know I have them, just like you, they are there
Because my Daddy isn’t perfect, he is an earthly father
But you are a good Daddy, I love you, and I’m proud to be your daughter!
By Susanna Joy Unruh

I think Susanna’s closing words to me are the best way to sum this up.  She wrote, “My dad was extremely surprised and blessed at the Daddy Daughter Dinner, and we have both been overwhelmed by the response from other people.  If God can use our relationship to encourage and inspire other fathers and daughters, then to God be the glory!”  I would say, right on, sister! God, give us more godly men, disciples, husbands and fathers.

There is a very important history and spirit in the Bible related to ARMORBEARERS.  In Bible times armorbearers were aides chosen by kings of high-ranking military commander for their bravery and loyalty, and actually carried the shield and armor of his leader as they went into battle!  It would be similar to the Air Force
Aide de Camp, or a general’s executive.  Further insight comes from the meaning of the Hebrew word, which are actually two words, “to lift up; to support; to bear up; to carry” along with “to end, complete, finish.”

I think my favorite would have to be Jonathan and his armorbearer in (1Sam.14:1-7).  Jonathan had a “somebody’s got to do something” attitude concerning the enemy, the Philistines.   Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, "Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few."  And his armor-bearer said to him, "Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” Which is a tremendous spirit of faith all the way around.  It’s obvious that Jonathan’s confidence was not in his brilliantly devised military tactics, but in God’s power to help with many or with just a few.  I love his armorbearers response, “I’m game.  Whatever is in your heart, I’ve got your back!” (a HSW rough translation)   The result of this bold move was a significant victory that day that brought about the rallying of God’s people.

Today, an armorbearer is not an actual position to find in the Classifieds or on Craig’s List, as it is a spirit or mindset or attitude a person has.  It does, however, still have much to teach us. It teaches us that victory in the spiritual realm is a team effort, made up of covenant-minded people.  Reality is we all have out pluses and minuses that answer to each other.  We all have blind spots that are only overcome with the help of others, by an armorbearer.  The lowest point spiritually in Israel’s history (Jdgs 17:6) is where it says “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  We call it today, “doing your own thing....being faithful to your own truth.”  The Living Bible puts it, “In those days Israel had no king, so everyone did whatever he wanted to–whatever seemed right in his own eyes.”  Radical individualism that places the priority of self-interest over the common good is a sure formula for decline. 

This brings me to the purpose of the blog posting: it is my tribute to Freddy & Mary Lou Gonzalez who have served as our Ministers of Pastoral Care since 2000.  Our policy has always been to “send our best” when responding to the Holy Spirit when He says “Separate to Me ____ for the work to which I’ve called them.”  In our June Conference of 2010, Freddy and Mary Lou were announced to go to pioneer a church in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Because his paperwork and visa didn't come until May, we decided to keep them with us until after the June Conference, and then his customary “farewell tour” for him and the rest of the family.  I was able to personally pray and lay hands on them last Sunday (1Tim.5:22), and then, yesterday, Freddy preached his farewell service, an excellent message followed by a nice fellowship.  Today, they boarded the plane for their flight to Buenos Aires, which means “Game On!”  I just want to make it known they he has served our congregation with excellence for the last decade, and he will be missed.  He embodies the true spirit of an armorbearer!   The one reassuring factor is that God has blessed us with many, many men and women who also have the same spirit, and are willing to jump in and help fill the gap!

There is a powerful spiritual principle behind all of this: Jonathan had one (armorbearer) because he was one, both an armorbearer and friend to King David.  The words that defined and inaugurated their friendship tells us volumes.  “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house.  Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.  And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants.”   Their souls were knit together meant this was more than just a nice acquaintance, but a deep covenant bond that brings out God’s best in our lives.  In the New Testament, it was not the size of the church that determines this, but the priorities and commitments of people’s hearts.  I love what Alan Redpath said, “It is God’s plan for souls to be knit together.  The human heart has cried out that it might be knit to another as Jonathan was knit to David.  Therefore, every true friendship, every real Christian courtship, every genuine oneness in marriage, is a re-establishment of this sacred union.  It was God’s purpose from before the foundation of the world.”

I was recently reading an article about Honoring Your Missionaries, and it mentioned what I think is unthinkable, that in some places they are not honored.  Yes, I understand the blend of local ministry and global ministry, and that they are BOTH important.  I also know, that you can’t “export” what’s not happening in a dynamic way locally.  Church planting is essentially taking the life, the commission, and the disciplines of evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, Biblical authority and transporting it to another city or nation through the lives of a God-called and anointed couple.  One way that we keep that call and vision constantly before the minds of people is by the flags of the various nations where we have workers that fly from the rafters of our auditorium.  They are vision-expanding, and a constant reminder that God’s influence through the local church can reach not just our city, but also around the world.  So as of 10-4-11 under the flag of Argentina, are not just faceless employees, but beloved armorbearers, Fred & Mary Lou Gonzalez!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Note: One purpose of this Blog posting is to give a current status report (context) for Pastor Warner’s wound healing.

It had all the potential of being a dramatic time of ministry.  It was, after all, a homecoming of sorts: Jesus, the Anointed One, was returning to where He’d been raised, Nazareth.  (Lk.4:16) “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”  Potential existed coupled with His own disciplined practice of regularly going to church (Hmm, I wonder what this says about those who consistently neglect the assembly today?!)  This potential was further increased when He was asked to publically read from the sacred Scriptures.  He took the scroll and read a passage from Isaiah which was to be His mission statement!  (Please center these verses)

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.   

I don’t think you can find any more powerful or hope-filled words about a person’s mission than this!  Then, Jesus made this both personal and present, rather than just historical or theoretical when He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  It’s been my experience that many men feel that because of their familiarity with where they’ve come from, that this will automatically give them some kind of ministry advantage.  That is not always the case.  Unfortunately, Jesus was not met with glad welcome but with serious incredulity.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” where did these gracious words and outrageous claim come from?  Jesus made reference to a common colloquialism when He said, “And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”  These were not words of faith or truth-receptivity at all.  They actually foreshadowed the Cross, if you’re the Son of God, come down from that place of weakness and demonstrate your power and strength.

The passage Physician, heal yourself” is sort of how I feel, and where I’m at after the second debridement of the wound on my right ankle bone.  It was a necessary and sound medical procedure, and when you’re dealing with wounds, sometimes you have to go bigger in order to get smaller.  The overhang tissue had to be “un-roofed” for everything to heal properly and speedily.  It did leave me with a larger wound and the need to go back to an earlier, and stricter healing regimen, a majority of time with my foot and leg elevated.  On a practical level, it meant I had to put myself back on “Injured Reserve” list, and would be unable to preach as I normally would.  This is the only way the wound will heal, and I can finally put it behind me.  I was able to preach Sunday morning on “Leg Support,” with the intention of being able to make that announcement to the church myself.  I think it was well-received, and I am so privileged to serve such a faithful and dedicated congregation of people.  The “physician, health thyself” refers to the fact that you spend the majority of your life ministering to others, and now for a period of time, you are unable to do so.  Some have experienced this praying for others to be healed, when they themselves are suffering!?  So, the doctor ends up as the patient.  It makes for some interesting drama.

One of the articles that triggered this was the TIME magazine cover story (1-2-11), “What I Learned From My Cancer Scare” by Dr. Mehmet Oz.  Dr. Oz is a celebrity doctor and the host of “The Doctor Oz Show” watched by millions of people.  The intriguing thing to me was reading about him going from Dr. Oz, renowned celebrity, to Mr. Oz, the patient, and joining the ranks of people who receive this kind of diagnosis every day of every year. [Note: I’m not advocating all of Dr. Oz’s medical advice and the things he embraces] As you can probably imagine, that transition was not the easiest.  It began with a “routine” colonoscopy around his 50th birthday, which turned up some suspicious polyps which were pre-cancerous.  He spoke about his personal battles, and how what was routine when it involves other people, takes on whole new meaning when it’s you!  The mind races, “How could this be happening to me?”  Living a healthy lifestyle can dramatically lower your risk of cancer, but it’s no guarantee of anything.  This is what struck me, “I take pride in being a good doctor and a good family man.  But the fact is, I had been a pretty bad patient.” He turned out in many ways to be the kind of patient he had lectured about in his practice for years.  He wrote, “As I lay on the gurney, a snapshot of thousands of conversations I had had in my office with patients on whom I was about to operate formed vividly in my mind.  My emphasis in those situations is always pointed: I look them in the eye and tell them how I need their help, that this is a combined effort ad that we will get through this together but that we both have responsibilities.  I always feel frustrated when my patients seem to think that precise medical instructions based on years of experience don’t apply to them.  I was now that person.”  He was very frank about his disobeying his doctor’s instructions.  How he stalled and delayed a follow-up test for a 9 full months!?  He even put a name on it, yes, he called it arrogance, how that the statistics somehow didn’t apply to him.  A now much more modest Dr. Oz concluded, “The goal, I now knew better than I did before, is not to be a perfect patient, but simply to be as good a patient as you can be.”

So back to my personal situation and my plan.  The irony in this for me, is that most of your life you’ve spent ministering to others, but, now, for a season you are the patient!  Even though I am on the “I.R.” list, and can’t preach like I’d been doing for nearly 40 years, I do want to be a “good patient.”  Two big things are at the forefront of this process: first, keeping my foot/leg elevated as much as possible so no swelling occurs.  The other is to make sure I follow a protein-rich diet.  Both of those things I am trying to put into practice.  In all of this there is also the element of time.  If all goes well, I am looking at approximately a 3-month span.  So while I am “available” but not “in action” like I’m used to, I want to make it as productive a time as possible.  I plan to give priority to as much reading as possible, and if I can’t preach, then I can write!  This gives me an opportunity to increase the number of blog postings for your edification on the church website.  “Keeping Your Head In The Game.” If you would give it a glance, you will see that it touches so many areas of life and ministry.

My calling and one of my life verses has been (Eph.3:8) “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see...”  Since sermon preparation had been put on hold, then there’s no excuse to keep writing and communicating those “unsearchable riches.”  So, stay tuned folks.  By God’s grace, there’s more to come!

A letter from Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who currently faces the death sentence for apostasy. Please continue to pray.

(This message has been translated from Farsi to English.)

Dear brothers and sisters, Salam

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I am continuously seeking grace and mercy to you, that you remember me and those who are bearing efforts for his name in your prayers. Your loyalty to God is the cause of my strength and encouragement.

For I know well that you will be rewarded; as it’s stated: blessed is the one who has faith, for what has been said to him by God, will be carried out. As we believe, heaven and earth will fade but his word will still remain.

Dear beloved ones, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of a few verses, although you might know them, So that in everything, you give more effort than the past, both to prove your election, and for the sake of Gospel that is to be preached to the entire world as well.

I know that not all of us are granted to keep this word, but to those who are granted this power and this revelation, I announce the same as Jude, earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.

We are passing by special and sensitive days.They are days that for an alert and awake believer can be days of spiritual growth and progress. Because for him, more than any other time there is the possibility to compare his faith with the word of God, have God’s promises in mind, and survey his faith.

Therefore he (the true believer) does not need to wonder for the fiery trial that has been set on for him as though it were something unusual, but it pleases him to participate in Christ’s suffering. Because the believer knows he will rejoice in his glory.

Dears, the “ judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

Therefore those who are enduring burdens by the will of God, commit their souls to the faithful Creator. Promises that he has given us, are unique and precious. As we’ve heard he has said: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”

How can it be possible for a believer to understand these words?

Not only when he is focusing on Jesus Christ with adapting his life according to the life Jesus lived when he was on earth? As it is said ” O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

Have we not read and heard: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Many attempt to flee from their spiritual tests, and they have to face those same tests in a more difficult manner, because no one will be victorious by escaping from them, but with patience and humility he will be able to overcome all the tests, and gain victory.

Therefore in the place of Christ’s followers, we must not feel desperate, but we have to pray to God in supplication with more passion to help us with any assistance we may need.

According to what Paul has said: In every temptation, God himself will make a way for us to tolerate it.

O beloved ones, difficulties do not weaken mankind, but they reveal the true human nature.

It will be good for us to occasionally face persecutions and abnormalities, since these abnormalities will persuade us to search our hearts, and to survey ourselves. So as a result, we conclude that troubles are difficult, but usually good and useful to build us.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must be more careful than any other time. Because in these days, the hearts and thoughts of many are revealed, so that the faith is tested. May your treasure be where there is no moth and rust.

I would like to remind you of some verses that we nearly discuss everyday, (Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.) but as long as our human will has priority over God’s will, his will will not be done.

As we have learned from him in Gethsemane, he surrendered his will to the father, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

What we are bearing today, is a difficult but not unbearable situation, because neither he has tested us more than our faith and our endurance, nor does he do as such. And as we have known from before, we must beware not to fail, but to advance in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, And consider these bumps and prisons as opportunities to testify to his name. He said: If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

As a small servant, necessarily in prison to carry out what I must do, I say with faith in the word of God that he will come soon.”However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Discipline yourself with faith in the word of God. Retain your souls with patience. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly.

May you are granted grace and blessings increasingly in the name of Lord Jesus Christ.

Yusef Nadarkhani
Lakan Prison in Rasht

I’ve enclosed an email/blog from Trevin Wax which he posted of the letter sent last year from Youcef Nadarkha who has been convicted in Iran and now faces the death penalty for apostasy.  His crime?  He believes in Jesus and is a faithful pastor.  As I read this many thoughts came to my mind in no particular order.

  1. Christians around the world still suffer persecution for the Gospel.  This is not just Fox’s Book of Martyrs, this is the New Millennium.  This is today!
  2. Freedom of religion is a precious thing which needs to be cherished and defended in our nation.
  3. The Bible calls us to remember and pray for these, acknowledging a special bond of fellowship.  Heb 13:3 “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”   When one member suffers, all members suffer with it.
  4. Pray for Youcef, and especially his family.  Any word to our State Department cannot hurt.   Government only responds to one thing, public pressure.
  5. Here’s a real pastor:  although he is going through great suffering himself, his concern is for the sheep and their welfare.  Especially to see them unmoved and standing strong for Christ and the power of genuine faith in Jesus Christ.
  6. This kind of faith to endure suffering is supernatural, and it is only possible and sustained by the power of the Word of God.  There will be times that this is all we have to hang on to, but in those times, it will be enough!
  7. I also couldn’t help but think that our trails in the West are nothing compared to what others have to endure for the sake of the Gospel.  At the same time, if Jesus tarries, a Biblical faith in Jesus Christ will continue to bring persecution our way in America since, “ALL who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2Tim.3:12).
  8. Are we really dealing here in radicalized Iran with a “peaceful religion?”  This is a powerful illustration of the difference between a religion of conversion (Christianity) and a religion of coercion (Islam).
  9. Finally, it confirms the “Mount Everest” of promises that God makes to His children in (Rom.8:35-39) no matter what your particular situation might be.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.   For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I woke up this morning, and this was one of the first things that I read, and I’m sure it will affect me all day long (as it rightly should).  Even though for a short time I am unable to be in church because of my issues of wound healing, it is nothing compared to this man and his family.  Brethren, we can’t all do everything, but we can ALL be faithful to serve the Lord Jesus Christ with all of our hearts.

Special thanks to Trevin Wax who made this available so we can be aware and respond as the Body of Christ here in Tucson, AZ.

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