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.
Mom    Psalm 46:10. 

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

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,

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,

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,