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.

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