Some of you may remember this phrase from the “Mad” comic guy, Alfred E. Neuman. As I reflect on report from our recent visit to Houston, I was deeply grateful, and relieved, to hear “good news”……but at the same time aware of how challenging it can be to remain free from worry (like our little friend Alfred). With God…all things (including “peace that surpasses understanding) are possible, and without God, we will all fail miserably on our own when we try to face our fears and life obstacles.
Let me back up for a minute and explain my thinking today. First, we indeed did just return from yet another return to Houston for the latest PET scan. This was done to determine what had transpired “inside” after my last radiation treatment for the tumor/lesion discovered near the base of the spine. This was, of course, a very unwelcome and somewhat discouraging development as we are all prayerfully wanting this disease to stop re-appearing in new places. The radiation was not a big deal in itself, but represented the “reality” that this enemy was still seemingly lurking in spite of our continuing faith that God has already provided the “healing”. The neuropathy/numbness in my leg and feet was/is a daily reminder of the “fact” that it is still a “work in process”.
So, the PET scan this week was an opportunity to not only check on the official medical status of the spinal issue, but to further investigate whether there would be any new “spots” revealed. As we waited for the Oncologist to arrive and give us what they found, we found ourselves in that unpleasant place “between faith and fear”. It is so strangely easy to have full “intellectual faith”…and certainty in your heart that God is in control and faithful….and yet to have a degree of “doubt/fear” in your mind about the many unpleasant consequences of any “bad news”. Whenever we are near the “regular” docs, we are clearly reminded of the scary possibilities. Just the opposite of what God Himself tells us in His Word. (“Trust the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” “Count it all joy”. “By His stripes, we are healed”. “All things are possible”….etc). So….which voice to listen to!
Well, if I really shared the way the doctor revealed the results, you would need to either laugh, or cry. In his most well intended way, he began peering at the scan comparisons and slowly (agonizingly so) stepped through each area of the body while we tried to determine if he was showing us good news or bad…who knows with these computer pictures of my “insides” and various places glowing etc.? It sure seemed from his body and facial language that he was about to share some “new problem” as he moved from place to place….but finally it seemed he was “done” and we realized he hadn’t pointed out new issues….plus he said that the previous spot was now “fixed”. Really??! Why didn’t he say that when we first arrived?? So…we both kind of decided to say the words we wanted him to say and see if he would agree: “So, it is basically clear?…no issues to treat now?” Humorously…he said: “YES, That’s right”. Wow….great news! God is faithful as always and we are grateful and humbled by His favor as always. All the areas of concern were quiet and nothing new was discovered. Some inflammation issues remain especially in the stomach and a couple of areas to “watch” along the spine and of course always the brain…but we will return in November for that follow-up. In the meantime, we know that our God is at work and we are His.
As we were returning home, both Nancy and I were reflecting on what we had experienced over these past few months. It was definitely more challenging than what we had expected. I think the “enemy” had found a bit of a foothold on both of us. Maybe it was just fatigue that made us vulnerable or maybe we simply allowed that voice of doubt and discouragement to take our focus off from the Lord’s perfect peace and promises. It is a dangerous and unhappy place to be. Of course, as always, I was fully secure in my faith that God does love me, and has that perfect plan…but I might have lost a bit of that “joy” as I wondered how long I might be asked to remain in uncertainty, medically. When would I be able to fully see God’s finished work?
So, as I think of how quickly I was faced with such a period of faith-crisis and fatigue, I thought about how you and I deal typically with worry, frustration, and discouragement? The world’s normal way of facing up to these universal human struggles is to accept them, fight them, or wallow in them. Only someone like MAD’s Alfred E. Newman can deny them. Everyone has to face that worry is a part of life. No one can say, “What, me worry?” But, what did Jesus teach about how believers should respond to worry?…….
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)
In these verses, we learn that we should respond with faith. Not a blind faith, but an informed faith and the evidence, from nature, that He cares for those even less valuable to Him than us. When faith stumbles and our situations seem larger in our minds than God’s promises, We should indeed obey Matthew 6:34 but, also find new hope in Luke 12:6 “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God?”
Additionally, when we lack faith to believe, we are told to pray to God to increase our faith. Like the father of the demon-possessed child, we say to God, “I believe! Lord, please help my unbelief!” (Mark :23-24). Our faith is frequently weak and feels insufficient and inadequate. Often our troubles and situations in life seem to over-talk the promises of God, so that God and his Word quickly fade away. But we must remember that God does not forget. He even knows when the most insignificant sparrow dies. We must remember that “His eye is on the sparrow, and he cares for me”. We are commanded to believe, and to ask for strong faith to overcome our unbelief. He honors our heart when our mind is not fully “cooperating”…….God grants to us what he requires from us.
These verses also teach that anxiety accomplishes nothing, therefore it is useless and fruitless to spend our time and energy worrying. Again, our Father knows our needs and is faithful to take care of us. He instructs us to replace our worry for earthly and physical needs with a proper heart-attitude: seeking after the kingdom of God and his righteousness. According to Jesus, when we have our heart in the right place, seeking God, his kingdom, and his righteous favor, we will have all of our needs met in the process. I find it comforting that Jesus concludes this discussion in Matthew 6 on worry by acknowledging that anxiety is real, and that we should not just ignore our needs and worries about them. He says; “tomorrow will be anxious about itself” and “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” So it is true that there are troubles in this world, and that our needs are sometimes not immediately met, which leads to fear and anxiety. He knows our trials, but he also knows that our trials need the hand of God to subside, and that is in fact his promise to each of us.
We ought to ask God to take our worries from us, and be ever thankful for the privilege to approach him in humility, boldness, and yet with reverence….and we ought to expect that God will reward such trust in our circumstances with His peace which will guard our hearts and minds. Easier said, than done!! I am vowing to “pass the test” better each time.
Chuck Swindoll offered a recent prayer on this topic that I will share here….
“We all have experienced anxiety, our Father. How helpful it is to be reminded, nevertheless, that we are to celebrate Your name, Your work, Your power, Your character, all day every day, so that we might come to the place where we revel in You. What a grand reminder it is that Your Son could come at any moment. Find us ready for that, Lord.
Yet we cannot be ready as long as anxiety lives enthroned within us, so I pray that You will begin to do a work right now in the lives of those who love to worry. What a waste that we have spent so long in our lives fretting and worrying. Remind us today and in the days to come that prayer can truly displace our worries. Time with You can become such a magnificent turning point, not only in the moment but in the day—in fact, in our lives—so that we might begin to realize the power of Your peace as it settles us down. Give us the ability, the discipline of mind, to meditate on and focus our attention toward that which is true and noble, reputable and authentic, compelling and gracious”.
And one more great piece of advice from him on suffering;
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NASB) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies andGod of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are inany affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; 7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.
“I have found great help from two truths God gave me at a time in my life when I was bombarded with a series of unexpected and unfair blows (from my perspective). In my darkest hours, these principles become my anchor of stability, my only means of survival. Afflicted, confused, persecuted, and rejected in that situation, I claimed these two truths and held on to them like wild waves, strong winds, and pounding rain grabbing hold of the mast of a ship at sea. God took me through the consequences and kept me from becoming a bitter man.
Because they worked for me, I pass them on to you. At the risk of sounding simplistic, I would suggest that you not only write them down where you can read them often, but also that you might commit them to memory. The day will come when you will be thankful you did, I assure you. They have scriptural support, but I’ll only list a couple of verses for the sake of brevity and clarity.
Here is the first truth to claim when enduring the consequences of suffering: nothing touches me that has not passed through the hands of my heavenly Father. Nothing. Whatever occurs, God has sovereignly surveyed and approved (Job 2:3–6). We may not know why (we may never know why), but we do know our pain is no accident to Him who guides our lives. He is, in no way, surprised by it all. Before it ever touches us, it passes through Him.
The second truth to claim is this: everything I endure is designed to prepare me for serving others more effectively. Everything. Because my heavenly Father is committed to shaping me into the image of His Son, He knows the ultimate value of this painful experience (2 Corinthians 1:3–7). It is a necessary part of the preparation process. It is being used to empty our hands of our own resources, our own sufficiency, and turn us back to Him—the faithful Provider. And God knows what will get through to us.”
Great food for thought! Nancy and I are rejoicing with all of you that we have been given such a wonderful report last week. It is easiest to Praise our Lord when we get “what we want”. It is a better thing when we can praise Him ( and rest at peace) daily in the face of delays or disappointments or uncertainty…..He is never “uncertain”, and His promises are always to be trusted and rested on….. for as long as He requires, for our ultimate good, and His ultimate glory. I thank you for the faithful prayers and unending belief that sustains us and uplifts us and inspires us to be “better”. So many of you have lived these lessons before us, and with us. We take this journey together…whether it be in “health”, or in finances, or in family, or in any of life’s issues….having our faith “exercised”, tested, and strengthened is a great thing!
Now, at the risk of being long-winded….I would love to also share some of the many reasons we have had to be grateful and joy-filled over this past month of “waiting” on God and our ever-present tests. It has indeed been a wonderful month.
Dave and Jules celebrated their 6th anniversary by going to a fabulous resort in the Caribbean. They stayed in a breathtaking villa with a vanishing edge pool and I know they came back refreshed. They enjoyed many memories including a “dinner on the beach” one evening (but, alas no piano this time). They are quite disciplined in scheduling these great “together” memories in the midst of their busy life. Also, in June, Nancy and I went to the National Power Soccer Tournament in Tampa, and once again we were inspired by the spirit and courage and energy of these special athletes. This year’s prize trophy went to a totally new team, which was an indication of how far the sport has come. They had custom-designed new competitive chairs that blew away everyone with their speed and accuracy and the whole country is now talking about how to get one. As always, everyone who competes there is a real winner in our eyes.
Next came our July 4th celebration for America’s founding, and as always we gathered the family at our lake house for fun, food and fireworks. I have included a few photos of the kids as well as Dave hauling the fireworks boxes. We put on a “show” that seemed to me to rival Disneyland’s…but who’s counting? Went on for about an hour at the shore and hundreds of boats were anchored nearby to add to the fun and festivities. What a great night it was. Ashley-Kate was at Skip Ross’s summer camp (Circle A ranch) for her second year, and so she returned after the 4th…but she loves that time there and many other “Amway kids” come from all over the world.
Eric was treated to a special visit to Atlanta by Fernando Ruelas’ daughter, Zoe. What a very special and sweet young lady she is. Some of you may remember that she was born right after Ashley-Kate was, and right after Fernando passed away. He never saw her. It is a special connection for sure, and her “eyes” are Fernando and her smile is totally Angie. We all loved it.
So, life moves ahead, filled with blessings and filled with fears, and filled with opportunities to either choose joy and faith and trust…or the opposite. The enemy would love to get us all to focus away from our source of peace. He would love to see us fearful, distracted, discouraged, frustrated, angry, and at his mercy. It is always our choice as God stands at the door and knocks. I have been once again given a wonderful period where I can recognize just how much our Lord wants to give us and teach us. I am listening again more than ever, and each day seems a bit brighter (well, maybe a LOT brighter). I am grateful for all of you and pray that you also can learn from some of my journey experiences…even when I am not the “perfect” example of following God’s instructions. I am getting better, and I am looking forward to making even more fruit for His kingdom as He allows me to me “re-made” into the Jim He has always planned. I will keep you all informed as always and I pray for you all as you draw closer to the real source of joy and peace and a “successful” life. Thanks for travelling with us on this journey.
To God be the Glory