Colossians 1:15-20

Christ Is Supreme

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,[e]
16 for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.[f]
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Crisis in Nepal

I just tweeted:
India has Nepal under siege. Pls pray! Pls contact gov't reps to pressure India: "Lift blockade!" Ppl are dying w/o food, fuel, and medical!
Nepal recently held an election and adopted a new constitution. Because the people chose not to return their country to being declared a Hindu nation, the prime minister of India, an ardent Hindu, is enraged. Nepal is its own sovereign country, but the PM of India is bullying India's northern neighbor in an effort to force the people to renounce the constitution. He has set up a blockade to keep all supplies out of Nepal. That includes fuel, food, safe drinking water, medical supplies and trade items. Further, he is inciting border thugs to riot along the border. People are dying in the skirmishes, and millions more will die of starvation, exposure, and lack of medical care, if the blockade continues. Also, Nepal depends heavily on the tourism of trekkers and mountain climbers. They're not likely to go to Nepal if they have no guarantee of being able to get around in the country or secure supplies. Nepal is a country in crisis.

Will you please PRAY, tweet, and post on your social media platforms about this situation? Will you contact your representatives on Nepal's behalf? It's worse than the chain of earthquakes Nepal suffered earlier this year because the blockade affects EVERYONE! It's winter here; it's winter there. They have no fuel to heat their humble homes, very little food and medical supplies. I feel this very personally because my family soon will return there and soon will resume serving "the least of these," children, people they love very much, the poorest of the poor--people who are just like you in the ways that really matter.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Gospel According to Joe: Celebrate Me [Nearly] Home!

Today's update is brought to you by God, author of the Number One Best Seller, the Holy Bible

First a note from Joe's Pastor

My heart is overwhelmed with both joy and sadness. It is right to grieve, but I will not grieve as Joe's wife or children will—and perhaps others. I grieve as pastor, a brother in the Lord, a friend and as one of those who have been greatly impacted by Joe's influence. No one else has had a more significant impact on my adult life than Joe - particularly on my role as a husband and a father. His unity in the gospel has been a unique privilege. There's just so many times he has been used by the Lord as I have served Christ as a pastor to minister to me I don't know where to begin. For now, I simply send this to you all - the church family he has so loved. I will travel this Monday with my friend Andy McCracken to visit Joe and his family. We all would do well to read this final note - repent of our idols and seek to live in light of eternity. His idols are mine as well. I'm broken.

With a heavy heart and much hope in Christ,

Kevin R. 
Pastor

*******
I have had a great life: 57 years. A wonderful childhood, a loving family—Mom and Dad, sisters and brother, an aunt and uncle who loved me more than I can know, great childhood friends—Jim, Roger, Brett, Steve, Tim, and many more whom I can’t remember right now.
I’ve enjoyed freedom to explore, freedom to make mistakes, freedom to take risks. I have traveled to all 50 states and several other countries. I’ve taken trips to some of the most wonderful places on Earth, spent two summers running a fishing camp in Canada, made four trips to Hawaii, including one for five weeks.
I earned a master’s degree from the #1 business school in the country and exercised that knowledge through great careers spanning 35 years, leading and helping others reach their potential.
God has blessed me with a wonderful church family and pastor, great friends, amazing in-laws, a wonderful Godly wife, seven great children, two wonderful daughters-in-law, and a son-in-law who is a wonderful mate for my daughter.
For 56 years I was in great health. During that time, we built my dream house, a 6,000-square-ft. log home on a secluded and beautiful property that we named Utopia (thanks Linda for loaning us the name). I acquired tractors, motorcycles, ATVs, a powered parachute, guns, snowmobiles, and basically anything my heart desired. If it sounds boastful or prideful, I apologize. I am merely stating facts to make a point.

So what is that point? All the above were idols for me. ALL. Of my 57 years this last year with this lousy cancer has been my best! None come close to being as good. It has been the hardest and longest year of my life but I would not trade one day of it for the any of the 56 years prior.
How can this be, you might ask. Because God, through His Son Jesus Christ and with the work of the Holy Spirit, has redeemed me. He has saved my soul. He has striped me of every idol mentioned above. He has shown me that He alone is worthy of my love and praise. He has proven over and over that He is completely trustworthy. He has opened my eyes. This is my best year!

Today Hospice takes over my care. I have stopped all treatment. The side effects of the drugs aren’t worth it to me. After four different chemo regimens that didn’t work, it’s time to throw in the towel. I am so happy that the end is near for me. I won’t miss anyone or anything here because I will be in the presence of Jesus Christ, worshipping Him forever!
Obviously, I don’t know my time. Only God does, and I trust His timing. Would you pray a specific prayer with me that God will take me soon and peacefully? My prayer is tonight, but again, it is His will, not mine. But I do know He answers the prayers of the righteous. Please stop praying for my healing. I want to go Home. My wife and family are in agreement, as well.
So I leave you with this: Trust Jesus, Trust Jesus, Trust Jesus. He alone is worthy. He alone saves—not any of your good works or good intentions will get you to Heaven, but they will send you to Hell. If He can save a wretch like me with all my idols, He can save you. Trust Jesus, Trust Jesus, Trust Jesus.
If you know me and can do so, I hope you will make it a priority to come to my funeral in Columbus Indiana. It will be a great time of celebrating!
Good bye and I will see some of you in Glory.
Love,
Joe

And as always if you ever want to start at the beginning of these updates then please check out the link posted by my dear sister in Christ Sharon at http://sweetwaterfromtherock.blogspot.com/


Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Gospel According to Joe: The Good News Makes a Great Day

Joe's Eighth Epistle

Today's update is brought to you by the following sponsors: College Park Church, Indianapolis; Jesus Christ, and the Holy Bible.

Yesterday, April 26, 2015, was a hard day and a great day for me. Friday I had back surgery on three vertebrae. They attempted to rebuild them. Time will tell the success of the surgery. On one of them, the surgeon had to hammer through the outer layer to get to the inside, where he said it was mush.
I am so ready to be going home, but, for now, God has me enduring. Today I go in for a blood draw to check my numbers to determine what the next phase of treatment will be. I’ll meet with the doctor the following Monday to review the numbers and discuss options. This Wednesday is my last scheduled chemo treatment; however, they tell me that I will be on chemo the rest of my life, so it simply means they will change the regimen. They want to do two bone marrow transplants, if the numbers are favorable. I am not excited about the idea but remain open to God's leading. Such a hard journey, but God is good! I will be praising God and laughing about this in eternity.
I say yesterday was a great day, because I got to hear the Good News that Jesus died for my sins to make a way for me to have a restored relationship with a Holy God—that Christ has forgiven me of my sins and has provided mercy and grace through the sacrifice of God's only son, Jesus. While I was not able to attend our church that we love and fellowship in, I was able to attend on-line our son and daughter-in-law's church at www.yourchurch.com/watchthissunday  (8 am, 9:45 am or 11:30 am). When I can't make it to our home church, this is where I go and am always blessed by the worship and preaching of the Word of God. Don't get me wrong. There is no substitute for the local church, and, if you have a church that is faithful in rightly dividing the Bible, then you should always prioritize fellowshipping, worshiping and serving there. God has so much to say on that subject. Please support your church! If you don't, won't or can't get to a church that preaches truth then I highly recommend the link above. I have others to recommend as well. (Thank you to those who have linked me to their churches).
The message yesterday was http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/whoever-calls-on-the-name-of-the-lord-will-be-saved/ from Romans 9:30-10:13. It was directed at unbelievers and “religious” people who lack real saving faith. It doesn't get any clearer than this. Take time to listen. It could very well be the most important thing you will do in this life. My soul was so satisfied and blessed, as it always is when God's Word is taught boldly and correctly. If the Gospel is not preached boldly and honestly where you attend, find a church where it is. I can help. I am so thankful that I have a pastor who does.
Again, I thank you for joining me in this journey.
Oh God, help us to want You!
Joe

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Gospel According to Joe: Preparing for the Court Date

Joe's Seventh Epistle

Paoli Peaks, southern Indiana

Today’s update is brought to you by the following sponsors; 3/4, Anna, Bowles, Suffering, Card, and Mom.

Yesterday, February 19, 2015, was Chemo # 14. The last two weeks have been rough. I learned that Chemo treatments need to continue as my main cancer marker number has stalled out at 2.5 for the past month. It needs to fall below 1. I also learned that I most likely am not a good candidate for a bone marrow transplant because of a genetic marker I carry. I have another appointment on March 4 with the doctor to get an update and discuss future treatment options. 
Next week I have an MRI to determine if additional back surgery options are in my future. This past week was four hard days, two not-as-hard days, and one okay day. The chemo effects are building up in my body and the dynamics of how I feel continue to change week to week. I am so ready for relief one way or another. Although I am ready for this cancer to leave, I thank God every day for this lousy cancer and how He is using this to refine my faith in Him.

***
Anna, my daughter Lily’s best friend, celebrated her 14th birthday with a party at Paoli Peaks, a ski slope in southern Indiana, this past Tuesday, which was my one good day of the week. Anna has been such a joy to Lily and our entire family for a decade. She is a lovely young woman full of grace, kindness, joy, and smiling. We love her dearly. In fact, we love her whole family dearly. They minister to us through our local church as faithful members serving the entire body and encourage us weekly in so many ways.
Anna invited our whole family to go skiing. Even though I grew up on skis living in Iowa (I know; who grows up on skis living in Iowa?), I failed to teach our younger four children how to ski—another regret from a life sacrificed to the idol of work. So off to the slopes they go to learn from someone else.
What a perfect day for skiing! First snow of the year here and 23 degrees! No broken bones, and I was able to watch them for a couple of hours. Plus two bonuses: first, Tyler, our second oldest and now a doctor, was able to go with them. He headed home early with us to rescue his wife from finals as she finishes up her teaching degree soon from IU. So we were able to enjoy a couple hours with just Tyler, which was great. The second bonus was my getting to film Stephen, our youngest son (16), falling. He claimed it was the only time that day. To quote Stephen, “Un-stinking Unbelievable!” Somehow it was my fault, which further made my day. Happy birthday, Anna!

*** 

I am learning that every one of us will suffer. Up until this cancer, our family has had some suffering, but never to the extent we are experiencing now. Anyone who has lived long enough will testify to this truth: you will suffer. How we suffer, how we endure, and in what hope we put our trust matters, being of eternal consequence. For the unbeliever and for the fringe “Christian” (one who perhaps attends church now and then and even knows the vocabulary, but does not have an authentic relationship with Christ), suffering will result in despair and unbelief. There will be no eternal reward for them. It is so hard for me to watch and listen to those suffering without Christ. They are fighting a losing battle and are having “their best life now.” Oh, how my heart breaks for them!
I honestly cannot believe all the people that have had, are having, and will have cancer. Nearly every family has someone or will have someone fighting this battle to varying degrees. If we don't stare cancer in the eye at some point, we certainly will face some form of suffering. So how should we prepare for the events that will shake the foundations of our faith? With a sound Biblical belief system that can only come from the One Who created us, the One Who modeled the ultimate suffering by sacrificing His only, perfect, sinless Son for a sin debt He didn’t owe, the One Who proved His infinite love for us by dying on a cross to pay off our debt so that we could make peace with God the Father once and for all! God gave us Jesus. He has given us everything we need in this life and the next through His son Jesus.
What we believe matters!
In fact, it matters most. We need to prepare ourselves now. It will be too late when suffering hits. Moral fortitude, rugged individualism, positive thinking, perseverance and endurance on our own leads to death and leaves us empty and without hope. (This is no weak, watered-down hope, as we often use the word today. I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow. I hope I get a raise soon. This hope is an assurance that rests on the promises of God as presented in the Bible.) For the believer who has mourned greatly over his sin, asked forgiveness, placed his faith in the living Christ, and truly made Him Lord of his life, there is such glorious hope in the promises of God and the peace that Jesus gives—peace that will see the Christ-follower through every circumstance. That person can face suffering, assured that Jesus Christ will go with him every step of the way.
And if that suffering should bring the believer face to face with the Righteous Judge, he can know the living Christ has wiped the sin account clean with His redeeming blood, shed on the cross. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we stand firm in our faith. Christ will restore! He has promised to save to the end for a future reward with Him. Hold fast to the promises of the Bible. Be ever aware of the enemy, for Satan seeks to destroy our faith. As my good friend reminds me, “Cling to Jesus, cling to Jesus, cling to Jesus!”
For those who haven't had their sins forgiven, read the Bible (begin with the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), listen to Biblical teaching at a Gospel-preaching church, pray to God that He open your eyes to your sin and your need to repent before a holy, loving, just God, and run to Jesus. Friend, you will be spending an eternity in either Heaven or Hell. No sane person willingly chooses Hell, but here is the crazy thing: no one can choose God. Only God can open the eyes of a sinner. We all deserve the wrath of God. The critical starting point is to understand Who God is. Pray. Read the Bible. Pray. Read. Pray and read!

***

Last time I reported that I was able to sleep in my own bed. Well that was short lived as I soon found out that our bed, after 15 years, was worn out and had a huge sag in it that caused my back to ache every night. So we went bed shopping. Six mattress stores later, we bought a Bowles mattress which is made in Indiana. At last, I can get a good night’s sleep.

***

Recently I told you about my brothers in Gatesville Penitentiary, Texas. They continue to encourage my soul. I have received at least a hundred Cards of encouragement from friends and family since this lousy cancer. My friend Jim, who ministers to these men regularly, forwarded me a card handmade by Danny, one of the brothers, and signed by many. The card is the most beautiful card I have ever received and the notes from my brothers brought me to tears. Please pray with me for these men: DAnnal, Sebastian, Luis, Gerardo, Robert, Alex, José, Wes, Matt, Alberto, William, Ruben, Stanley, Vance, C.J., Rashid, Rick, Laredo, Cervantes, Loren, Stevie, Faluth, Leo, Clint, Keith, Goodson, Aulie , D.C., Philip, Ron, Charles, Adrien, Danny, Sammy, Jonathon, Jamie, Eugene, Ruben H., Jeremy, LeRoy, Patrick, Clayton, Oay, J.J, and Steve. I am so humbled, honored and thankful for these men who continue to encourage me in the midst of their suffering. I love these brothers and can’t wait to see them either in this life or the next!

***

Speaking of love, I love my Mom. She is an exceptional godly woman. She is fun, funny, smart, wise, loving, caring and has more common sense and business savvy than most people I know. I wanted to share some wisdom and encouragement she recently gave me.
OVERCOME; to obtain the mastery over or the control of.
Of course, it is not of your own doing to overcome. Is it not the Lord God who is in control of your life to cure or not to cure? You and I both know that everything happens because of His grace, goodness and mercy. Surviving the cancer is up to Him. I hope I'm not detecting doubt. Yes you do have the worst kind of cancer and the highest stage. You have come a long way since Oct. Just because your doctor said maybe you would not be a good candidate for a transplant, doesn't mean that’s final. I’m sure you must have an inkling of what Hell would be like, with all the agony, pain, nausea, tingling, sleeplessness, muddled mind, stress, anxiety, loss of strength, weakness, concern for Beth and family, tired of pills and shots and just plain weary. You have to be motivated not through the body but through the Holy Spirit. You're thinking, Sure Mom, you don’t have the cancer. Remember we are more than conquerors through HIM who loves us. Praise God you have been saved and chosen to be a child of God even before you were born. Will all the suffering you’re going through help you to realize how Christ suffered on the cross? After blessings comes the battle.
Love, 
Mom    Psalm 46:10. 

 Friends, brothers, and sisters, I am praying for you as I trust in Christ alone,
Joe


Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Gospel According to Joe: Reason to Hope

Joe's Sixth Epistle 


Today’s update is brought to you by the following sponsors: my bed, Smart Water®, brothers in Gatesville Penitentiary [Texas], pastors, 2.9, and the number 30.


Today, January 14, 2015, was Chemo # 9. Last week was tolerable because that was Cycle 4 in my regimen, which leaves off the infusion and the massive dose of steroids. But today is Cycle 1, which calls for all the guns and translates typically into four days of survival mode. This, too, shall pass. Believe it or not, I still thank God every day for this lousy cancer. I would not trade anything in my 56 years for what God has taught me and changed in me through this cancer. Nor would my family. For he has revealed to me Himself and like Paul the Apostle, I count all other things as filthy rags in comparison.
Last night was the first night in three months that I got to sleep in my own bed with my own wife! Oh, what a thrill it was to upgrade out of the hospital bed (a lifesaver when I needed it) to our king-size pillow-top bed. I was giddy! The kids thought I was nuts. The things I long for are the simplest things in life—walking outside, listening to a friend over a cup of coffee, throwing a rock in the water, fishing, dancing with my youngest daughter, Kiara . . .
Speaking of simple things in life, I want to take this time to do a commercial. May I recommend Smart Water®? Purity you can taste, hydration you can feel. Before cancer, water was not my drink of choice. Not sure what was, but I know it wasn’t water. I’ve never been a proponent of buying water when it runs freely from the faucet. Until now. It seems that the smart people at Smart Water have figured out how to bottle clouds! I really can taste the difference. And now that I have to consume at least three liters of water daily to keep my kidneys and liver functioning properly, well I am a fan of Smart Water. And if you want a double blessing, buy it at the greatest store ever in the history of the world (according to a good friend): Walgreens!
I have had several requests to forward these updates to others and am happy to, as you instruct, for the Glory of God. Be encouraged not by what I have penned, but rather by the Source of my hope.
Recently I learned from a dear friend that he and about 100 brothers he ministers to in the Gatesville, Texas, penitentiary have been praying for me. I am so humbled, honored and thankful for these men who in the midst of their suffering would consider me. My heart is drawn to them. I find myself praying for them daily and desire to someday greet them in person and pray with them for their deliverance. Before cancer and this great work that the Saviour has done in my life, I never would have dreamed of setting foot inside a prison. Now, I see and know that I am no better than any of my brothers in Gatesville and just as deserving a sentence as any of them—if not to society, then to God. I love these brothers. Will you join me, brothers and sisters in Christ and pray for these men, that their souls will be set free by Jesus?
Thank you, God for showing me the love of a stranger who is suffering perhaps more than I. Oh for the day when we all worship the risen Saviour as free men! Free from the slavery of sin! Oh what a glorious day that will be!
During this journey, I have been encouraged by hundreds of people in so many ways. One small group that has provided me with much encouragement while feeding my soul daily is a handful of pastors. One of these men is my own pastor, whom I love dearly, as he is faithful to the Gospel and preaching verse by verse. Additionally, I have been blessed by four other pastors that minister to me on a regular basis. God has sustained me as they take time to share with me their passion for preaching the Truth and their ability to rightly divide the Word of God. They have spent countless hours with me, either in person or via emails. I thank God for these faithful men. What is amazing to me is that each of these men has a profound ability to preach the Gospel but have been called to, and is faithfully serving in, a “small church”. I often have wondered why God doesn’t call them to “big church” so that many more people can hear truth.
I am starting a new email list for any of you who wish to be included as these men share their truths with me. Leave a “Comment” to this post, and I will send you their updates a couple of times a week. Be sure to include your email address. Please pray for these faithful brothers as they face so many challenges in our culture that despises the preaching of the Gospel.

God has been so faithful to our family through this lousy cancer. We continue to thank God every day for His care and for refining us through this suffering. I have shared much before about how He is using His Church in our lives and we continue to be amazed at the faithfulness of His own. God has left us speechless with the generosity of the faithful. It is so humbling and yet glorious to see His handiwork. Never would I have imagined that I would have been on the receiving end of so much outpouring from His people. I want you to know that we see His glory through your generosity of provisions and prayer. Thank you, saints! Thank You, God!
When I was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer October 22, 2014, they tested marrow and blood to determine what stage I was in. Stage 1 is 0-3.5. Stage 2 is 3.5 to 5.5. Stage 3 is above 5.5 and comes with an average life expectancy of 309 days if untreated. My number came in at 5.9. Honestly, without prayer and treatment I am fairly certain that I would not have made it to Christmas 2014. Now, after three months, thousands of prayers, and nine chemo treatments, my number is 2.9! Praise God! The Doctors are encouraged and they are beginning to talk about bone marrow transplantation. My bones are beginning to heal and my thoughts have turned to survival. I know this disease is incurable, and typical life expectancy is 2-5 years after treatment, but there are plenty of examples of survivors making it 10-15 years. I am thankful for His healing. The pain is tolerable. The chemo is terrible. The future is scary only because I am fearful that all He has taught me will be lost, and my idols, pride, and criticism will creep back in. Please, please pray for me that God will continue to heal my heart as He heals my body.
Lastly, I have a specific rather selfish prayer that I am praying for: that I can be done with chemo in 30 days. Original time frame was six months, but four months sounds much better. Will you pray with me? God doesn’t promise healing or shorter-than-normal chemo. He promises healing to the soul and rest for the weary. He also delights in giving good gifts to His children and glorifying Himself. Perhaps he will delight in granting my request.
I am praying for you as I trust in Christ alone,
Joe


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Gospel According to Joe: Dancing in the Surf

Joe's Fifth Epistle


Today's update brought to you by Monsterfroboy

Today’s is Tuesday, December 2, 2014. So tomorrow is Week 3 of chemo. I’m beginning to learn what to expect, especially after spending two days with my sisters this week, both of whom are nurses. My kids inform me that evidently some of my most endearing traits run in the family. Stephen summed it up best: “Your sisters are a lot of fun, but they are nut mutts.”
Wednesdays are OK days, with anxiety about needles, pills and learning something new about what’s coming down the pike. Thursdays through Sunday mornings are just tough. Sleepless nights, tingling arms and hands, blah stomach, headaches—and nothing tastes or sounds good to eat. “Chemo Brain” and simply getting through the day is a struggle. Sunday afternoons through Wednesday mornings are bearable and sometimes good. It’s good to begin to see a pattern, to know what to expect, generally.
I am happy to report that lately my thoughts are, Lord, what will I do with my life, should You spare me of this lousy cancer? Two weeks ago, I was losing ground daily and could not even imagine the thought of survival. Wow! My son the doctor was so frustrated with me because I honestly couldn’t see any hope of getting past this. Now watch. Tomorrow I will be taken home. Wouldn’t that be funny in an odd way?
One of the things that has lightened my day when they are so long is to watch some old video music clips that Brett, our oldest son, put together of a few family gatherings many years ago. Check out “A Day at the Beach,” and “Monsterfroboy” on YouTube to see several of his works.
Thank you so much for your prayers, cards, visits and encouragement.
Trusting in Jesus Christ Alone,
Joe

The Gospel According to Joe: Rules of Engagement

Joe's Fourth Epistle

Tullian Tchividijan

Today's update brought to you by Tullian Tchividijan's book Do I Know God?

November 24, 2014
A few years ago, I took my family on a work trip to Gulfport, Mississippi. [I was] working for my friends at Hartson-Kennedy and, specifically, my very good friend Edmund and his team. I absolutely love the South and became quite fond of the Biloxi-Gulfport area. The people are delightful, and the seafood is amazing (Mary Mahoney’s, Half Shells, Cap’n Al’s, Shoo Fly Inn, Back Bay, Beau Rivage, Aunt Jenny’s, with my friend Glenn, and last, but not least, Saki, with Bruce and my dear departed friend Doug).
While there, we stayed in a beautiful condo across from the beach and were able to take in a few of the sights over the weekend. On the way to work, I would pass over the Tchoutacabouffa River. I never learned how to pronounce [the name] despite my several attempts with Edmund. I even have it recorded on my iPhone. As many of you know, I like to have fun and make challenging games. True to form, with the family in tow, I told them that we would soon be approaching a river and there would be a sign of its spelling. If anyone of them could pronounce it correctly, I would present them with $100. But they only got one shot. Oh my! Allie, who is now 18, was so close they said I lost all color from my face. Do you know how to pronounce it?
Today is Day Four, post first-chemo treatment. For the next 25 Wednesdays, I will be going through chemo. I am praising God that the side effects have been minimal so far. But more than that, I am praising God because He has given me a vision and purpose to use my cancer and redeem my time.
These past three weeks, I have gone from deep anguish, where my fervent prayer has been, “Lord, take me home now,” to “Lord, use me up for Your Glory until it pleases You to take me home.” Specifically, I am praying for the miracle that He spare me of all the typical side effects of chemo so that He can accomplish these things through me. (Certainly, I see the selfish side of this petition and I am praying that this is not my feeble attempt to negotiate my selfish desires with God).
Here is the vision and purpose He has given me:
First, to become the spiritual leader in my home to my wife and children that I have neglected for, oh, so long, making Him the center of our home every day. Second, to share my testimony of my great hope in the Gospel of my Lord Jesus Christ to my extended family, friends, church body and all those to whom He has put in my path every day possible. Last, for the strength, energy and clarity of mind to accomplish these purposes.
I think of Paul, when he said in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. While I don’t fully understand this, God is revealing more of His truths to me each day. This miracle of clarity of Scripture and a deeper understanding of the attributes of God is a direct result of my current condition and, as I again told my family, I thank God every day for this lousy bone marrow cancer!
So, my praying friends, please join me in my fervent prayer to accomplish what He has given me until He takes me home.
My mind is random today, so I am sure my writing is, as well. So back to the top. Many of you have asked and offered to let you know if there is anything you could do to help me and my family. And as I have reported to you, the Church and God’s people have come to our aid on so many occasions and we are left not needing. Thank you, dear friends!
But today, I am excited, as I have discovered there is something that you could do for me. I would like to invite you into a discussion centered on a book that I am going to read. Reading for some reason is very difficult for me these days and I am only able to read in short spurts. My plan is to read a chapter a week and then engage in conversations around that chapter for another week. So, a chapter, 12-18 pages every two weeks with discussion. Eleven chapters. The way I figure, that will get me to the end of my chemo treatments and will give me many hours of rich conversations with my friends and family while I am battling this cancer with sleepless nights and 20-plus hours flat on my back. One of the most amazing things I have discovered during this cancer is that I detest TV. I am only able to tolerate an hour a day and that is only if I’m watching with my whole family and a show like Dick Van Dyke or Carol Brunette. The shows I used to love and could watch endlessly nauseate me. As a result, I have what seems to be an endless number of hours to fill each day. And what better way to spend then with you!
The way I see this working is for me to present some questions, thoughts, ideas to you out of the book and if you are moved to engage then you can do so individually via email. Talking is still a problem for me, so email and texts are it. I have always been a man of action with set goals and a purpose. This will help me immensely as I seek to redeem the time I have left. Certainly, I understand busy schedules and life getting in the way and you have much grace to not engage me in this invitation. For those who choose, well then, let’s get started!
The book is Do I Know God by Tullian Tchividijan. Tullian is the grandson of Billy Graham.
1. You need to buy a copy. I bought one from Amazon for $6.
2. Email me that you are in!  [Leave a “Comment” that includes your email address, and I, Sharon Kirk Clifton, will call it to Joe’s attention.]
3. Read the first chapter.
4. We will engage in conversation.
5. Consider inviting others to read with us. Wouldn’t it be fun to have hundreds of people involved? Although the reality is that I will be pleased with just one that is faithful.
If you have already read it, read it again with me! I appreciate authenticity, vulnerability, transparency, and sincerity. What I don’t value is insincerity and doing this with me out of guilt, pity, or duty. If you commit, then please see it through with me. I would rather you not start than to start and then stop.
You may think that you don’t need to read this. You may think you already have this question answered. You may think I have a hidden agenda. You may think--? Here’s the deal: it doesn’t really matter. I am inviting you to go down a journey with me to help you discover the TRUE answer to “Do I Know God?”  And in the process of discovering that answer, you will be filling one of the purposes God has given me. How’s that for laying it on you?
Trusting In Christ Alone,
Joe 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Gospel According to Joe: Defining CHURCH

Photo by Daniel Dempster

Joe's Third Epistle

I use aliases throughout this series to protect the privacy of Joe, his family, and friends.

Today’s update is brought to you by better living through drugs.

Today is Wednesday, November 19, 2014. Let me get the details out of the way first, because I am uncertain how much I will be able to write tonight.
      
I finished radiation treatments earlier than expected this week because they want to start chemo ASAP. In fact they wanted to start today, but I said no thanks. I needed a mental health day (as my sister has done once a quarter for the past 20 years—you should try it) between radiation and chemo. Good call! I have had two good days. Of course good is relative, but by my new standard, they were good! I start chemo at 1 p.m. and will repeat every Wednesday for the next six months or until the Lord takes me home!  The treatment consists of one drug that is infused into blood stream, one drug that is injected under skin in stomach, and two drugs that are administered in pill form—massive amounts—30 or 40 at a time. I will have some treatments in Indy and others in Columbus. Not sure how that all will fall out. Please pray that God will spare me of all the side effects that these pills offer.
      
These past nine days has been rough. I’ve gone for being plugged up for four days to can’t find the valve to turn the spigot off for four days. Today we have reached a happy medium. There have been many day and nights of anguish, but God has been so gracious to give me joy, humor, hope, purpose and some relief along the way just when needed. God is good all the time!
      
I have been blessed to have the company of some great friends, including my beloved pastor. Our children and their spouses have also poured into us. There are many others that want to stop in, but most days I am overwhelmed and not up for visitors.
      
A funny thing happened today. Two ladies from our church stopped in to encourage us. As they were leaving, one said that her husband wanted to take care of me by filling in for Beth, my wife, so she could go to church tonight. One of the side effects of some of the drugs I am taking is panic. I panicked! I love her husband. He is an elder in our church. My son married his daughter (with whom I am well pleased). I trust that brother with my life and the oversight of feeding my soul. But there is no way that he is going to do what Beth has had to do to me these last four days! I would never be able to look him in the eye nor he me. Thanking them for the offer, I took a hard PASS!       One of the most amazing things happened this week. I was talking with Beth about all the outpouring of help, and, while many have given sacrificially of their time, food, stuff, and assistance, I wondered if God would use His people to support us financially if we were to have a need (which we don’t at this time). We have met our deductible and all medical cost is 100% covered. God knew beforehand and has provided for our short-term needs). Please understand, some friends already have gone beyond our imagination. We are living in a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood for free at great expense to my brother and sister in Christ.
So much God! when will You stop?
       I know myself and know how reluctant I would be to send money without seeing your financial status. Behold our God!
      
The next day, I received an email from a great friend and brother in Christ. Here’s how it starts out: “We want to support you financially.”
      
I assured him that I was not in need at this time and expressed my thankfulness for his willingness to be used by God. Amazing! And then in typical God fashion (He has such a great sense of humor; after all, not only did He invent sex, but He also invented humor), we got three Buckets of Love from our homeschool co-op program that our kids go to once a week. Inside these buckets were cash, gift cards, movies, laundry service for two weeks, and the most uplifting cards from students, faculty and board. Our souls continue to feast on those delights.
      
Again, I laugh as God humors me even more. Did I mention they did the same thing this week? Most of these people I don’t even know and have never met. Beth and the kids are the ones who participate. Who, but God’s people?
Oh, how you have humbled me, Father!
       Whether I live or die, my family will be like these families and pour into others, not knowing the specific needs, but, rather, giving sacrificially as they serve the Savior.
      
I want to clear up something that’s been bothering me, something I think I may have misrepresented regarding the Church. It is one of two organizations instituted by God. The other is marriage. He likened the Church to His Bride. (I would be honored to explore what God’s Word says about His Church, its purpose, and its attributes with you.*) I fear that I have told you all the man-centered benefits of the Church, which are much the same as our views of God.
      
Most people—and I was one for so many years—believe God to be a kind of cosmic genie. He’s here to grant us all the goodies whenever we are in need and provide the miracles. That, my friend, is a small, inaccurate view of God. The full teachings of Scripture reveal a high, God-centered view of Himself. The blessings that I have mentioned poured out on our family about the Church, reeks of a Santa Claus view, when in fact the Church exists to glorify God, to equip the believers for battle, to discipline the members, and to confront habitual sin and heresy with the purpose to restore the believer to the Body, to proclaim the Good News of Christ to the unbeliever, to rightly divide the Word of Truth, and to provide oversight of our souls by the Church leaders. These are some of the eternal benefits of Church. Taking care of each other is a temporal benefit, one that shows the rest of the world the love of Christ for our believing brothers and sisters.
      
I didn’t understand these truths until I began serving and got engaged in a healthy church. I was the Lone Ranger Christian, bucking against the institution of Church, not wanting anyone to tell me how or when to worship God, thinking I could do church on my own. All they want is my money. And, God, You are one lucky guy to have me on your team. Boy, was I wrong on everything. Scripture is very clear on these matters. Don’t believe me? Read the Bible. Have someone help you understand. I have many friends that do church out of obligation, duty, habit, kids, tradition, fear, guilt, social club etc. Some don’t go because of the reasons I’ve listed. Some don’t go because the Church is full of hypocrites. You know what? You are right! There are no perfect churches because they are all filled with sinners like me. And if you believe like I do, that at least 50% of church goers are not true believers, but, rather, wolves in sheep’s clothing, then you will be all the more skeptical of church. But know this: There are churches that preach the Gospel and the full counsel of God. Find one and GO! If you need help finding one, I have resources. If you are going to a spiritually dead church stop today, even if Mommy and Daddy still go there, and run to a church that loves Jesus and feeds your soul from the very Word of God!       I have had so many rich conversations with people vía email and text these past few weeks. I wouldn’t trade them for this cancer. I thank God every day for it. Sound crazy? Not if you know my Savior. Engage me on it. I would love to tell you more. One of the things I have shared with several people is that I know why I have this cancer! Want to hear? I thought so.
      
Two years ago, I was challenged by a dear brother in Christ to really fight my sin and idols and really love God. I began praying in earnest “Lord whatever it takes!” God has answered my prayers. He alone is faithful and worthy. He is refining me with His fire. He has torn down and trampled every idol I am aware of: sex, lust, entertainment, food, relationships, titles, education, wealth, money, income, security, toys, land, house, vacations, spiritual knowledge, giving, pride, career, busyness, comfort, health, children, and wife, just to name a few. God is teaching me so much. Sure I would like to be rid of this cancer but I pray that I never go back to what I was. God is oh so faithful and I am so thankful for how God is using this cancer for His own Glory and my eternal benefit.
      
It is late, I am tired, and I have a big day ahead of me. I am praying for you that God would open your eyes and save you, if you are not a true believer, and if you are, that He would draw you nearer to Him.        Please pray for me, also.

Trusting in Christ alone,
Joe
Husband, Father, Friend and Follower of Christ, Saved by His Matchless Grace and Forgiveness by His Death on a Cross for a Wretched Sinner as I.



*If you wish to dialogue with “Joe” on any topic raised in this series of letters, please “Comment” including your email address. As his health and strength permits, he will be happy to converse though email with you. As the owner of Sweet Water from the Rock, I reserve the right to moderate comments. –Sharon Kirk Clifton

Again today, Blogger allows me no changes in text style. I apologize for emboldened font. That is not my choice. Blogger gives me no choice on this day.



Friday, January 2, 2015

The Gospel According to Joe: The Body of Christ at Work

Joe's Second Epistle

I use aliases throughout this series to protect the privacy of Joe, his family, and friends.

Today’s update is brought to you by the Church!

Today is Saturday November 8, 2014. Last Saturday, my cousin Bob and his wife Cici stopped by. It was an encouragement to see them. We always enjoy talking to them. Bob always makes me laugh and raises my spirit. Next time you see Bob ask him to tell you about his dermatologist appointment. I hurt myself laughing.
       I think I missed my first election since being of voting age. I hope they got it done without me this time! I have moved four times in the past two weeks, so I am hoping that the campaign donation requests don’t catch up to me for a while. My sister Martha, who also has been fighting cancer (Breast Cancer) the past nine months warned me that there would be many silver linings along the way, perhaps this was one J       Martha has been such an encouragement to me, and of course now I have so many regrets of not supporting her like I could have because I was “too busy.” God has such a good sense of humor!
       Speaking of God’s humor, let me tell you some funny stories that happened to me just the other day. Monday morning, we were prepared to travel to Indy to begin the process of radiation therapy when Dr. Val called at 7:45 a.m. and told us that he talked with his partner here in Columbus. The Columbus doc could get me in the same day to start the process. We didn’t have to go to Indy! Wow! That would save us approximately 3 hrs. a day of severe discomfort. So, we headed for Columbus hospital for a 1:45pm appointment to do the initial consultation hoping to get started on Wednesday.
       Oh! Back to the funny part. So I got up, took a shower, and was already out of juice. So instead of brushing my teeth I decided to Listerine it. We were still living in the RV [since the new owners of our house had taken possession], and I had this huge bottle of green Listerine. I reached for it and noticed there was another small bottle of clear Listerine. Upon inspection, I learn that it is Ultra Clean 3X, more powerful! I asked Beth if I could use it.
       “Sure go ahead. I’m sure Allie won’t mind”. I took an extra-large swig knowing how bad my breath smells to me, let alone to some unsuspecting doctor or nurse. Upon gargling, I noticed a burning sensation unlike any I had ever experienced before. While said liquid was still in my mouth, I quickly re read the bottle. Yep, Ultra Clean 3X. I held it in my mouth as long as humanly possible, timing the expulsion so perfectly between that fine line of killing every conceivable germ in my mouth and passing out. At this point I begin to see a light of hope at the end of the tunnel. My thoughts turn to Why don’t they just use this stuff for chemo? And then to I bet I have the freshest breath on Earth! After a solid one minute of drooling over the sink, unable to talk, breath or spit I get the bright idea to use the green bottle. It tastes like candy!
       At the hospital, I saw the doc, and he looked over my charts. At that point, he decided to bump all his other patients and put me at the front of the line. It was a long afternoon. I was able to get my first treatment Monday around 5 p.m.
       They focused radiation on my lower back. The x-rays show more issues than you can shake a stick at in my back. An hour after the treatments, the nausea set in. By 8 p.m. I was vomiting every 30 minutes. Beth was able to get some meds for it to subside by about 1 a.m. But not before wrecking my ribs and diaphragm, which is now the source of most of my pain. It was a very hard start to the week.
       Tuesday was new day bringing new hopes. After a night of hardly any sleep and plenty of time for prayer about many things, there was clarity for me as to where we should seek treatment. My good friend Luke had advised me early on, calling it a “no brainer.” It became crystal clear to me now that we needed to stay in Columbus for one reason—our church. For the benefit of our family and the benefit of the church. I know that only you who are in a healthy church will fully understand this. Others will see my decision as stupid, especially since there are treatment centers that specialize in this cancer that have average life expectancy results from 1.9 to 5.7 times better than the average hospital. Indy/Columbus is not one of them.
       I asked Beth to begin working on a place for us to call home. True to form, she began by praying and reading Scripture because that’s who she is everyday, not just when her husband is dying of cancer.
       God worked mightily and swiftly. Beth received a call from her good friend Amanda, with whom we used to go to Church.
       Here are the first words out of her mouth: “Beth, can I help you find a house today?” Who can do this but God? Amanda has only recently become aware of our situation and certainly knew nothing of the decision we’d made 30 min earlier. Amanda began working (or, more accurately, God did) and within two hours she calls Beth back to tell her that by 8 p.m. that very night we can move into a house that would be fully furnished with beds, a hospital bed, recliner, wheel chair, food, appliances, and the necessities to live! Who but God and His Church?
       It turned out that there was a Christian family we met four years ago that was prompted by God (in the middle of the night) to remove their beautiful 5 bedroom home from selling it on the market two months ago in order that they could minister to a family in need. Two months ago! Who but God and His Church?
       Now here is the coolest part. None of these people go to our church. Do you see? God is not only using our church (Bible Baptist, a small but faithful body of 125) but three other churches in our community: Terrace Lake Community Church, Parkside Baptist Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, to bless us and provide for our needs. I am so encouraged by the faithfulness of God’s people as they serve in the local church. I have many friends that claim to be believers and yet do not get connected and serve in a local Bible-preaching church. I once was that guy about seven years ago. I could not go through this battle, or life, for that matter, without my church and church family.
       I live to tell you my story and would love to have an honest discussion on the matter. Dying, I am learning brings about the boldness about which Christ instructs us in His Word. And here is the funny part; we are all dying. My window is 5 months to 5 years, but the reality is that you may beat me there! So, please engage me. It truly is the only thing that I am living for, which is to Glorify God and sharing the Gospel.
       So, by Tuesday at 8 p.m., with the help of dozens of people from four churches, we were ready to move out of the RV and into the beautiful home! Beth and the kids met at the house and thanked those moving us in. Tears of joy seeing God’s overwhelming love, protection and provision flow freely from our family as they witness firsthand the hands and feet of God working through His Bride the Church. Words cannot express what my heart feels even now.
       Tuesday was also the day I found out from Allie that the bottle of Ultra Clean 3X Listerine had recently been swapped out with rubbing alcohol! Needless to say I had yet another training session with kids.
       Wednesday was my best day this week! Because of the hospital bed and the new home, I was able to get out of bed without injuring my poor back, and Luke, my good friend and brother in Christ made the trip from his home in Iowa to pray with me and encourage me in the Gospel. Who does these sorts of things? I understand friendships. I understand family but what I am learning is that our brotherhood in Christ is a bond that lasts an eternity and that eternity has begun in this life for true believers. I realize as I am writing there is another church that is supporting us: Luke’s church in Iowa, Oak Hill Baptist.
       Some of you don’t go to church because it’s “full of hypocrites.” Most churches are, at the most, 50% true believers, the rest are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Some of you have been burned by church people.
       One thing I know for certain—there are no perfect churches because they are all filled with wretched sinners like me, but there are churches that preach boldly the Word of God and God has much to say about His church and why you should be serving in one, growing and living out life with fellow believers in the church. He designed it. He calls His Church the Bride of Christ. He has instructed us plainly to be part of a healthy church. Most, if not all, the books in the New Testament were written to the Church, not to individuals. Engage me on this. Search the scriptures. Your eternity hangs in the balance.
       My body continues to wear down. I can see it daily. My zeal for God increases daily. Scripture most days is the only thing that satisfies me and encourages me. When I read Scripture now it truly comes alive! It jumps from the pages in living color. I see it Lord, I finally see and understand! Oh how I pray that you will see it, too. That the God of the universe will save your soul! That the Almighty King of kings and Lord of lords will save you from your religion of works. That your dead faith will be brought to Life by Christ, the only one who can save you. I pray that God will be glorified.
       God is good and worthy of my praise. I thank God daily for this cancer. I pray for Him to use me up for His name’s sake and when He is done, to take me Home. I pray that that day comes quickly.

In Christ alone,
Joe

Husband, Father, Friend and Follower of Christ, Saved by His Matchless Grace and Forgiveness by His Death on a Cross for a Wretched Sinner as I.