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,
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,

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.