The Dog Days of Cancer

I really want to give Facebook a rest for a while. I’ve felt this way for a while now. Really, the only thing keeping my Facebook account active is this website (Facebook is the primary way that I publicize these updates). I feel responsible to keep my friends and family (and even many people that I do not know) up to date on my wife’s battle with breast cancer. Why? Because there are so many that have been praying for us. If you are one of those people…if you are one of those who have been praying for us…THANK YOU! Seriously, it means the world to us. Your prayers have been, I believe, a matter of life and death.

I apologize for updating so infrequently. Most of the time when I think of writing an update, I feel there is little worth saying. One distinctive of the fight against cancer is its monotony. Don’t get me wrong. It is traumatic. It is difficult. But it is constant. It is consistently uncomfortable. Consistently inconsistent. Carmen feels differently each day. One day brings fatigue and the next soreness. The acute trauma of the diagnosis and surgery has long since passed and we are now in the daily grind phase of the trial.

The third greatest day of the year (behind Christmas and Easter, of course) is Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. It is coming soon! To craft an analogy using our national pastime, we are currently in the “dog days of summer” with treatment. See, the baseball season is long (162 games). Around the middle of the summer, it gets monotonous, with each team plugging away day after day, looking for more wins than losses, hoping to make it to the sweet relief of the playoffs, which comes with the probably even sweeter relief of autumn. Here we sit in the dog days, notching more little victories than losses, awaiting the final scans that will tell us if the cancer has tucked its tail and rescinded into remission or not. The playoffs, so to speak.

To stop torturing you with analogies from our world’s greatest sport (I apologize if that offends…it is an empirical fact that baseball is the best sport ever…take it up with God), I will now use plain English.

Carmen with the chemotherapy nurses at Physicians East in Greenville, NC.
Carmen with the chemotherapy nurses at Physicians East in Greenville, NC.

Carmen completed chemotherapy early on December 31, 2013. She finished early because she was experienced neuropathy, a constant annoyance featuring tingling and numbness in her extremities. The doctor thought it better to end the treatments early than to allow the neuropathy to progress. So, God was gracious to us in that regard. She recently began receiving radiation therapy here in the Outer Banks. To the praise of God’s glorious grace, we have been assigned another talented, Jesus-loving physician for this stage of the game. Carmen will have six weeks of intensive radiation therapy (five days per week) in total and is set to finish the first week of April. After that is over, Carmen will undergo the necessary scans which will tell us if she has been healed from cancer. We believe she already has been, but these scans will tell us for sure.

Carmen and her oncologist, the wonderful and talented Dr. Heather White (http://achristianoncologist.com)
Carmen and her oncologist, the wonderful and talented Dr. Heather White (http://achristianoncologist.com)

I came across a couple of verses this morning that describes how I have felt thus far in our journey through cancer. In this passage, David describes his attitude when facing trails in his life:

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:13-14 (NASB)

Now, I am not saying that I have not despaired at all. That is flatly untrue. I have spent my portion of time in despair during this process. We both have. But we have struggled to not allow despair to become a pattern in our lives…to not allow despair to consume our hearts. We have prayed for and believed God to show His goodness in the land of the living. Indeed, He has! He has been so good to us. He has given us hope even in our moments of despair. He has rallied His troops, the Church, to pray incessantly on our behalf. He has minimized side effects and suffering. He has brought joy in our marriage and He has shown us that we can trust in Him.

So, my friend…what are you facing? Is it difficult? Are you in the acute stages of a trial? Or are you just grinding out the dog days of a difficult situation? In either case, DO NOT DESPAIR! Believe that God will show His goodness in the land of the living! Allow your heart to trust and take courage in God. Wait for the LORD. He will respond.

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Thank you so much for reading and for praying for us. In particular, please pray for continued favor as Carmen undergoes radiation therapy. And please, please pray that those scans come back clear in April!

After a few days of posting this update on my Facebook page, I am going to take some time off from FB. I will reactivate my account in April long enough to publicize the results of the tests. But I am planning to keep myself free from the snare that is our world’s largest social media platform in the coming months.

- AW

Update on Carmen: Good As It Gets

Here we sit in the chemotherapy bay at Physicians East in Greenville. Today is Carmen’s fourth treatment, which puts us more than halfway through this part of our journey. To this point, I believe that Carmen’s response to the chemotherapy has been, as the title suggests, as good as it gets. To the praise of His glorious grace, God has brought Carmen through three full cycles of chemo with very few complications. For the most part, she has felt relatively well. She has not been sick. She has only had one real negative reaction to the medications and the oncologist seems to have solved that problem quickly and easily. God has been so good to us and shown us such favor all the way through Carmen’s battle with breast cancer. She was hospitalized for one night during the first treatment as a result of fevers caused by low white blood cell counts, but that was resolved within a day and the fevers have been held at bay since the first cycle ended. Praise God! He has given wisdom and insight to our medical team, a spirit of mercy and generosity to our church, friends, and family, and He has shown enormous favor to us throughout this whole process. It seems that God has brought much glory to Himself through the exposure my website has gotten since this all started and through my relatively public ministry in the Outer Banks. We are so excited to have seen God work in such mighty ways on our behalf thus far.

I did have my doubts at first. I had my moments. I never doubted God’s goodness, but in the very beginning, if I’m being gut-level honest, I had my doubts that prayer really worked. Literally hundreds of people were praying for us during the biopsy phase of this journey, and we were quite sure that God would come through in the way we desired. And then the diagnosis came. And the news was not to our liking. I had many honest and painful conversations with God, with my Dad, and with my father-in-law. Ultimately, God showed me that I was praying according to my own will and not God’s will, and that I would have to trust that His plan was better than mine. I begged God to show up and show off. And boy did He.

To our knowledge, there is no cancer in Carmen’s body right now. We believe that she has been healed. The scans are clean. The blood work is perfect. And we are encouraged. Praise be to God! We are continuing the treatment with what our doctor calls “curative intent,” working toward eliminating the chance of reoccurrence. The words of Deuteronomy 31:8 ring through my mind often: “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” God has gone before us and He has shown His favor and love and mercy on us. We have no reason to fear or be dismayed.

Not only has God blessed Carmen physically, but He has blessed us emotionally and spiritually as well. Carmen has received literally hundreds of cards and encouraging notes and letters. We have received many gifts and several offerings from God’s people. (Carmen even received a bracelet from the governor of Mississippi’s wife, which was super cool). And most of all, I know that so many people have been praying for us since August. We have received cards from many churches (some of which we have never even heard of!), assuring us that we are being prayed for. Our church has surrounded us and lifted us up in prayer and support. God has shown amazing grace to us through His people. Thank you. Thank you for your prayers, cards, and gifts. We love you and we pray that God will see your gifts to my family as a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” and that He “will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” just as He has done for us thus far. “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever” (Philippians 4:18b-19). Good is good and does good.

Here is the timeline for the rest of Carmen’s treatment, so you will now how to continue to pray for us:

Today: chemo, round 4. Typically the week immediately following treatment are the most uncomfortable for Carmen, specifically days 4-7. She is often very tired, has trouble with her sleeping schedule, is very sore, and generally lethargic. Please pray that the treatment’s effectiveness will be maximized, and side effects minimized.

December 30: chemo, round 5.

January 20: last chemo treatment!

After the last treatment, Carmen will have some scans done. Then she will start radiation, which will be local, every day for six weeks.

We are hopeful and confident that we will be looking at breast cancer in the rear view mirror by Easter of 2014. Praise God.

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I apologize for not updating sooner or more often. Things are crazy, you know. :). I plan to post some thoughts on Christmas and some more thoughts on how awesome Carmen is in the near future. Stay tuned.

Absolutely His,
Andrew

Reflection: Pain is God’s Megaphone (+ cancer update)

Carmen and I have been absolutely overwhelmed at the exposure my last post received.  The famous Christian philosopher, C. S. Lewis once remarked on suffering in this way: “Pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  This has certainly proven to be true in our lives and in the responses of my readers.  God has indeed used the suffering He has placed in front of us to rouse our attention and our dependence upon Him.  And it appears that God has used our trials to minister to thousands of readers as well.

Paul and Timothy describe the result of their suffering in 2 Corinthians 1:9 – “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”  Granted, the context of our circumstance and that of the apostles in the first century differ drastically, but this is exactly how we have felt since our first update.  We felt that God had delivered to us a death sentence and we did despair.  I, in particular, experienced bouts with doubt and even some anxiety attacks as I endeavored to navigate the feelings that accompany such dire circumstances.  But God has proven Himself faithful.  He has show me my absolute inadequacy and inability to help my wife, forcing me to lean on His power, His goodness, and His sovereign grace.  I have begun to learn how to rely not on myself, but on the God who reigns over all creation.  He is good and has been good to us.

In the past month, God has led Carmen through a successful double mastectomy on September 11th (yet another reason to never forget that fateful date).  The doctors removed two large tumors from her right side as well as all of the lymph nodes on that side as well.  God has brought about a swift and eventless recovery from the surgery.  He has set us up with the most excellent doctors in the area.  And…here’s the best news…get ready…He has used the surgery to remove all of the cancer from Carmen’s body!  Her scans have come back clean!

Despite the clean scans, Carmen is still facing chemotherapy.  In fact, we are sitting in the chemotherapy room for her first treatment as I type these very words.  While we dread the reality of chemotherapy in the coming months, we know that God is working for our good and that He will provide the strength we need to make it through this trial.  He has already proven Himself in mighty ways thus far and we, like Paul and Timothy, believe that: “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10).  And we continue to ask for your prayers as we stare down chemo, just as Paul and Timothy asked for the prayers of the saints as they endured trials much worse than ours: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11).

It is our prayer and our hope that as God proves Himself in our trials that you see us struggle well.  We ask you to watch us.  We ask you to read our words.  We ask that you stand with us and support us.  And we promise that we will do our very best to make much of Jesus as we struggle.  We pray that God will speak loudly and clearly through the megaphone of our pain so that deaf ears will be roused and dead hearts awakened to His marvelous goodness!  Many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessings God has granted us.

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Please forgive me for not posting recently.  I did not feel I had anything worth saying until now.  This morning as I sat in the oncologist’s waiting room, I read through 2 Corinthians.  What a balm that was for my wounds.  God came through in the clutch to deliver a warm blanket for my soul through His Word!

Are you hurting?  Are you suffering?  Are you going through a trial?  Then I entreat you, open your Bible and read Second Corinthians right now.  Paul and Timothy show us how to suffer well for the glory of God and in the hope provided by His Son Jesus.  May you be ministered to as I have been through God’s living Word.

I plan to write again in the next few days.  Stay tuned!

- AW

The Worst 8 Days Ever…

This past week has been the worst time of Carmen’s and my life.  We have each gone through troubling and trying times, but none compare to what God has put in front of us over these last nine days.  Members of our church and friends from all over the United States have been praying for us and we deeply appreciate the support.  We have received hundreds of text messages, calls, emails, and Facebook posts supporting us as we fight disease and trying circumstances, and for these we are eternally grateful.  If you are just catching up in this conversation, let me fill you in on what has been going on lately in the White family.

On August 19th, after a series of medical tests that took weeks to undergo, my wife, Carmen went in for a biopsy to determine whether or not she would have breast cancer.  Needless to say, we were terrified and nervous as we waited for the results.

There was a bright spot to all of this madness, though.

The very next day, on August 20th, Carmen told me that she was pregnant!  What great news!  We had been trying to have a child for about a year and a half.  We were so excited we could hardly contain ourselves, but at the same time we were cautious, not yet knowing the biopsy results.

The results came, and on August 26th Carmen was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, which is the most common form of breast cancer.  Carmen is 25 years old.  This should not be happening.  But it is happening and we know that God is faithful even in the midst of devastating news and scary circumstances.

We traveled back to Greenville, North Carolina (2 hours from our home in Manteo, NC) the next day to meet with our medical oncologist.  As it turns out, Dr. White is a strong believer who assured us she had been praying for us since she found out our diagnosis the previous day.  We prayed together in her office after we discussed the treatment plan, which would focus on promoting the health of my wife and our new baby.  She sent us over to the high-risk OB-GYN to get our first ultrasound that same afternoon.  As it turns out, Dr. Gay is also a strong believer who prayed over us in his office.  We were on top of the world!  And then the world came crashing down around us.

Nothing showed up on the screen.

Dr. Gay shared over our tears that we were likely to experience a miscarriage.

The next day (yesterday), on August 28th, we lost our baby we had been praying for for so long.  And we were still facing a battle against breast cancer.  How could this be happening?

I still don’t have an answer.  How can we stand strong and proclaim that God is good in the midst of the hardest season of our life to date?  How can we rest in God’s sovereign plan when we must stare down a disease that is not supposed to impact the life of a 25 year old woman?  How can we believe in the power of prayer when we experienced the sorrow of losing our first baby just eight days after we experienced the joy of pregnancy?

I don’t know…

But here’s what we’ve decided: God IS good.  He DOES have a plan.  He DOES hear our prayers.  He DOES care.  He is NOT mean.  He IS kind and gracious.  He IS worthy of worship.  And so we will worship Him.  Because He is good.  Even when it doesn’t feel like it, God is good.

I have prayed more prayers and cried more tears in the past 9 days than I probably ever have before in my life.  Yesterday, I wanted to rip my clothes, dress in burlap, sit in ashes, shave my head, and just grieve for the rest of my life.  (In case you missed it, that’s like every method of grief mentioned in the Bible).  But today?  Today, I will glorify God.  I will trust Him.  I will worship, even through tears and even though the flesh resists.  Why?  Because of God.  Notice David’s response when God caused his unborn son to become sick in 2 Samuel 12:15-25:

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”  He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.

How did David respond to his baby’s sickness?

He fasted and prayed while the situation played out.  I did too.

He wept for his child.  I did too.  A lot.

He held out hope, saying, “Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live.”  I did too.

He received the news that his child was gone.  I did too.

How, then, did David respond to his baby’s death?

He got up, washed himself, changed his clothes, ate some food, and engaged the world again.  I WILL TOO!

He comforted his wife.  I WILL TOO!

He prayed for God to give him another child.  I WILL TOO!

And God heard his prayer and gave him another child.  I believe that God will hear our prayer after we finish this fight against cancer and will give us the joy of children.

Before we leave David’s story, notice David’s final response.  He named his son Solomon, but God loved Solomon, so he nicknamed him Jedidiah, which means “beloved of God.”  Why did he give his son the new name?  Why did he worship?  Why was he able to face circumstances that seemed like the world was ending?  Why does the story have a happy ending?  Look at the end of verse 25:

BECAUSE OF THE LORD.

Because of the Lord, my wife and I will make it through this trying time.  We will lift Him high and glorify His name.  We will worship God.  We will endure to the end.  We will be blessed BECAUSE OF THE LORD.

So…

I want to thank everyone who has prayed for us thus far.  I want to ask for your continued prayers.  I want to praise God because of the way His Church has ministered to my family.  And I thought I’d end this little (long) note by counting my blessings.  Here are the ways God has shown His goodness throughout this situation:

  • He has provided families who love us and pray for us and support us completely
  • He has provided for us several church families who do the same
  • He has provided for us unbelievable insurance to help cover the enormous costs that await us
  • He has provided for us the certainty that we can indeed conceive
  • He has provided a way now for us to more aggressively treat Carmen’s cancer
  • He has provided for us the most unbelievable team of doctors that we could have imagined
  • He moved us to the Outer Banks 15 months ago, where we now live only three miles from Carmen’s parents, who we will need in this battle.  We also live a short drive from our amazing doctors and Carmen’s sister lives right down the road from the Breast Center.  Tell me that isn’t sovereignty on display!
  • He did not make us wait seven days like David to determine our child’s future
  • He has given us Christ, the hope of our glory, and the strength through which we can face every situation
  • He has provided for us His Word in which we can find our strength and comfort
  • He has provided for us prayer, through which we can commune with Him and experience the comfort of His presence
  • He has brought Carmen and I closer than ever before and has increased my love for this incredible, unbelievably amazing woman more than I ever thought possible

I cannot wait until this battle is over and we will have so many more praises to add to this list.  Until then, thank you for your prayers and please keep lifting us up.  We need strength and support.  God is faithful and good.

Absolutely His,
Andrew

P.S. This song has really ministered to me (Andrew) in really tough situations.  Let it minister to you.

miracles

Do You Believe In Miracles?

I am of the opinion that if you are not constantly re-examining your doctrine, then you probably are not reading your Bible consistently or correctly.

Is that too harsh?

Here’s why I believe that to be true.  We all bring presuppositions to the biblical text.  We all have some grid through which we view the Scriptures.  For example, any Southern Baptist lifer will probably look at the text through the lens of a traditional Southern Baptist.  Health and wealth guys look at the text through the lens that God wants to bless his people.  And Reformed guys tend to look at the text with a view of God’s absolute sovereignty (and his desire that we all be miserable all the time).

If it sounds like I’m giving the Reformed guys a hard time, it’s okay, because I am one of those fellows.

As I have read through Matthew this past week, the Scriptures have once again begun to confront my already molded doctrine.  This is a good thing.  As a fan of Reformed theology, I am surrounded by guys who believe that God is done working miracles in today’s age.  These are called Cessationists (God has “ceased” doing wonders and miracles at the close of the biblical canon).  On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Prosperity Gospel movement, which is prevalent in my local context.  This doctrine communicates that as long as the believer has enough faith, he or she will always be drowning in monetary blessings from a God that seeks to bless his people and that his will is that we should not be sick or suffer.

Both ideas are a cop out.

It is far easier to believe that God has laid down his ability to work miracles in our lives than to grapple with those times when he chooses not to.  And it is easy to believe that God always wants to work miracles in our lives and that when he does not it is because we lack faith.  Both theologies miss the mark.

Of course, in a reaction against health and wealth theology, my view has always leaned toward the Cessationist view, although I would never have admitted the fact.  Truthfully, my lack of faith is often covered by a strict view of sovereignty.  My prayers often sound something like this: “Lord, please heal them…BUT IF YOU DON’T, we will still praise you and recognize that you are God and you’re in control.”  How sad, right?

While there is nothing doctrinally incorrect in this sort of prayer, I don’t think, it leaves so much on the table!  God desires his people to believe in his goodness and power.  If you don’t believe me, watch how he responds to the sick and the lame in the book of Matthew.

“Jesus turned (to the woman with the issue of blood), and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’” – Matthew 9:22

When healing the two blind men: “According to your faith be it done to you.” – Matt. 9:29

Showing the compassion of Jesus on EVERYONE who followed him: “And many followed him, and he healed them all.” – Matt. 12:15

Jesus was not well-received in his hometown, so: “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” – Matt. 13:58

In the story of the Canaanite woman, the only event I can think of where Jesus almost refused to heal: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” – Matt. 15:28

“And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered…and they glorified the God of Israel.” – Matt. 15:29-31

Is it not clear that Jesus has compassion on those who need him the most?  Is it not clear that Jesus responds to the faith of his people?  Is it not clear that healing corresponds with faith?

Make sure you don’t misunderstand me.  I am no health and wealth apologist.  There are many examples in Scripture that illustrate that things will not always go well for followers of Jesus.  He promised that we will be persecuted (Matthew 10:16-25).  Jesus himself was betrayed by a close friend, beaten, and brutally murdered.  Paul went through hell on earth repeatedly for the cause of Christ.  Most of the apostles were martyred.  But even after all this, James urges the sick to pray for healing:

“Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” – James 5:14-15

We must come to the text as a blank canvas, allowing the Word to dictate what we believe, not the other way around.

After reading through much of Matthew, I am left to grapple with the reality that neither Cessationism nor prosperity teaching are adequately biblical.  Does God desire to heal the sick?  It seems so.  Does God respond to great faith with great works?  It certainly seems so.  Will God always heal the sick if they pray?  No.  What I am sure of is this: God will respond to great faith with great works and he will do it in order to glorify himself among us.

Part of the key, I believe, is that we pray according to his will.

It was God’s will for Jesus to heal everyone who asked in Matthew’s Gospel.  And it was God’s will to glorify himself in the death of his Son and his apostles.  God will get the glory.  Praise God if that means he is glorified in our healing!  I believe he wants that!  And praise God if that means he is glorified in our suffering, for in our suffering we learn true faith.

So, my friends, do you have a need?  Do you need God to work a miracle in your life?  I believe he wants to work miracles in our lives according to his will and his plan.

Can I just be real with you for a quick moment?

I have a need and I struggle with lack of faith often.  But I have prayed and I believe that God’s will for me is that I finish my education.  Here’s the deal: I can’t afford it.  Not even close.  But I know a God who can afford it and I believe that if it really is his will, then it is his bill!

God doesn’t struggle with a lack of resources.  If he did, Jesus would never have fed two different multitudes (Matthew 14:13-21 and 15:32-39).  So, I’m exercising some faith TODAY!  The application is finished and I am enrolling in a Seminary program I absolutely cannot afford.  But God can!  And I believe strongly that he WILL!  And when he does, I’ll get back on this website and glorify God for his provision.

What miracle do you need God to do in your life?  Start praying and start believing!  He will uphold his purpose and he will glorify himself in your life.  Don’t let a lack of faith or a lack of resources hold you back.  Get out of the boat (Matthew 14:28-33) and follow Jesus.  He will respond.

After all, Jesus loves to do miracles.

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Spurgeon on Forgetting Jesus

Sometimes a preacher says something so perfectly that it does not even do well for another preacher to elaborate.  In studying to teach on the Lord’s Supper, I came across this reality with the words of Charles Spurgeon.  His take on the ease with which we forget Christ is amazing and worth relaying:

“It pictures the end as well as the means; that is to say, when I take that bread, and eat it, and take that cup, and drink from it, I bring to remembrance, – to my own remembrance, and the remembrance of those round about me, – not merely the fact that Christ suffered, but that he suffered for me, and that I had an interest in him.  Believe me, beloved, this truth is so simple, that, while I speak, I can half fancy some of you saying, ‘Why does he not tell us something new?’  But let me say to you, it is always a new truth, and there is no truth which the Christian heart more readily forgets.

“Oh, that I could always feel that he loved me, and gave himself for me!  I know he did; is is long since I had a doubt about it, but I do not always remember it.  Going abroad into the world, how apt we are to let the remembrance of the Saviour’s love slip!  The love of wife and husband follows us like our own shadow; the love of our dear child seems to encompass us like the atmosphere in which we live; but Jesus Christ is not visibly here, and therefore the remembrance of him requires spirituality of mind, and we are carnal – too often but babes in grace, and so we forget his sufferings; and, worse still, we forget our interest in them.

“Oh, that I could have the cross painted on my eyeballs, that I could not see anything except through the medium of my Saviour’s passion!  O Jesus, set thyself as a seal upon my hand, and as a signet on mine arm, and let me wear the pledge for ever where it is conspicuous before my soul’s eye!  Happy is that Christian who can say, ‘I scarcely need that memorial.’  But I am not such an one; and I fear me, my brethren, that the most of us need to be reminded by that bread and wine that Jesus died; and need to be reminded, by the eating and drinking of the same, that he died for us.”
- Charles Spurgeon in “The Lord’s Supper, Simple But Sublime!” 1866.

BOOM!

Wow.  Feeling convicted?  Me, too.  May we remember Christ together.

Real Hope

Jesus Is Not A Republican (or a Democrat)!

I met a very interesting person the other day.  I was in a Bojangles (yuck) with my students in Virginia on the way back home to the Outer Banks after a weekend evangelism conference.  The man immediately caught the attention of my wife.  He sat by himself at a table behind us wearing a three-piece suit, a fedora, and a bow tie.  But neither his clothing nor his epic mustache caught Carmen’s attention…it was his Republican elephant cuff links that drew her eye.  She pointed him out and I thought to myself, “This will be fun!”  I had to engage the man in conversation.  I walked over to his table and shot from the hip:

“You wouldn’t happen to be a Republican, would you?”  I said.
“What makes you say that?  Oh, you like my cuff links, huh?”  He replied.
“They certainly are interesting.”

Thus began our conversation, the goal of which was for me to transition from politics to the gospel by speaking about hope.  We got there quickly:

“Are you a Republican?” the man asked.
“No sir.  But I’m not a democrat either.  I believe that the answer to the world’s problems lies with the gospel rather than with a political party.”

The rest of the conversation proceeded peacefully, believe it or not, as he agreed (initially) with my stance.  We parted ways as I once again joined my students to finish lunch.  As we each wrapped up our meal and the man began to prepare to leave, he beckoned me to return to our conversation with the wave of a hand.  I obliged.  He asked me about my job, my education, and my ministry on the Outer Banks.  It was pleasant.  And then he dropped the bomb.  The one that has boggled my mind for a month now.  He began to proselytize:

“I’m a Christian like you.  In fact, I like to say that if Jesus walked the earth today, he would certainly be a Republican and he would drive around a Suburban with all his disciples inside.”

I fumbled around for words.  I fought back a myriad of emotions, including incredulity and what I think might have been rage.  Everything in me began to prepare to mount my defensive attack.  My wife visibly cringed at what she knew was coming next.  By God’s grace and to His everlasting glory, I managed to bite my tongue and simply wish the man a happy afternoon and safe travels.

But the comment still plagues me.  The fact that someone would make such a statement grieves me to a great degree and it reveals a deep misunderstanding of Jesus and the gospel in my southern conservative culture.  But this is by no means a new system of belief.

Real HopeThe Jews misunderstood what kind of king the Messiah would be.  For centuries, Israel awaited a king.  They awaited political freedom. When Jesus hit the scene as a baby, the Israelites were subject to the tyranny of the Roman government.  They understood the Messiah to be some charismatic political redeemer.  Some sort of true and better William Wallace, perhaps.  They anticipated a Savior for a nation rather than the Savior of the nations!  Thus, when Jesus entered Jerusalem in John 12, the people praised their “king,” certain that he would provide freedom from the tyranny of oppression.

“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” – John 12:10.

Jesus did come to usher in a new kingdom; but his was not a kingdom comprised of human government.  He came to usher in the kingdom of heaven.  He explained in Matthew 10:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. – Matthew 10:34.

Jesus brought a sword, all right.  But his sword divided those who followed him and those who followed man.  His kingdom liberates humanity from the oppression of sin and death!  The Israelites expected a kingdom that would liberate them from the Romans.  They had a shortsighted fantasy.  The Jews awaited the day when a Messiah would come to liberate his people from the EFFECTS of sin (i.e. a wicked government and oppression).  Jesus offers much more!  He offers freedom from sin itself!  See, a political Messiah would not provide an everlasting solution; the problem would inevitably re-arise, as sinful man would continue to rise into positions of leadership.  Political freedom was not the answer the world needed.  Not for the Israelites 2,000 years ago and not for the rest of the world today.  The hope of the world rests in this Messiah and his Good News!  His kingdom stands forever, because it offers freedom from OURSELVES!  It offers a better hope.  A hope that rests on the eternal perfection of Jesus Christ rather than on the efforts of sinful man.  This is indeed good news.

To suppose that Jesus would belong to any political party is not only absurd…it is obscene!  It strips Jesus of his transcendance and places him under the same limitations that plague humanity.  But Jesus is alive and he sits on the throne of heaven!  He is in control.  Jesus provides an answer far better than a political party led by sinful men and women.  To worship a “Republican Jesus” or a “Democratic Jesus” is to form God into the image of man rather than the other way around.  It is an attempt to limit Jesus to what we deem acceptable or right.  But, like I said, his kingdom is better.  His ways are higher.  His answer goes far beyond economic policy and civil rights.  Jesus would not stand for the wickedness that is on display in each of the parties.  It is arrogant to assume that Jesus would fit inside the boundaries of our political preferences.  Let’s stop trying to mold Jesus into our image and bow down to worship him for who he is: the perfect image of the invisible, transcendant God Almighty.

Jesus is certainly not the property of the Republican party.  He is no elephant.  He cares everyone, including the poor.
Jesus certainly does not stand in congruence with the democratic party.  He rode on a donkey; he does not bow down to one.
Jesus stands above.  His answer is higher!  His solution is better!  He represents the party of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah!

Sign me up for the Lion Party!  Who’s with me?

Preaching the Gospel At Every Gig

“I’ve never heard anyone preach the gospel the way you do.”

These were the words that changed the focus of my ministry.  As the sentence flowed out of Clayton‘s mouth during our lunch together at El Vallarta in Danville, Virginia, my first response was immediate: that can’t be true.  Someone had to have presented the gospel to him in a similar manner as I at some point in his lifetime.  Or was I taking some innovative approach to the cross?  I knew that, in regards to theology or hermeneutics, if you find something in Scripture that no one else in history has found, you are most likely a heretic.  Was I leaning toward heresy in my gospel proclamation?  Had Clayton really never heard the gospel so explicitly and often stated as he had in the first months of my ministry career?

The answer to this conundrum was one of three options: 1) he had not ever heard the gospel explicitly laid out for him from the pulpit; 2) he had heard it, but was not ready to really hear it until his senior year of high school; or 3) some mix of these two options.

Believe me when I say that this is no humblebrag.  This statement began to plague my mind.  Thankfully, I can say with confidence, knowing his previous leaders at his church, that the gospel had indeed been preached to him often…and explicitly.  So, most likely, the reason for Clayton’s excitement about the gospel was the work of the Holy Spirit in readying him for this good Word.  The difference between me and many other preachers today is that I try to never preach without a clear view of the cross and God’s redemptive plan for mankind.  I try to follow Charles Spurgeon’s advice: “I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.”  Every message I preach comes with the goal of keeping the gospel in clear view.

I truly believe that for many, many teenagers throughout the scope of the evangelical landscape today, the gospel is not preached often or explicitly enough.  This is why, whenever I am asked to preach somewhere new, I almost always preach on the gospel.  (I like to use Dare 2 Share’s G.O.S.P.E.L. approach or the bad news/good news approach from Ephesians 2:1-5).

This resolution to preach the gospel at every speaking engagement I undertake began during my conversation with Clayton.  And I am convinced it is a win-win-win proposition.

In the first case, it is a win because you never know when the student will have ears to hear the truth of the gospel!

Clayton had heard the gospel many times, I’m sure, in his lifetime, but his heart had not been made up of good, receptive soil until his senior year of high school.  I simply had the privilege of reaping the harvest that others had faithfully sown into his life.  I unapologetically look to reap a harvest every time I preach somewhere new.  Maybe a fresh perspective or a new voice will awaken the message the student’s Youth Pastor or Pastor had been depositing in their heart for years!  I would celebrate someone whose message God used to awakened the hearts of my students.  And I anticipate the same response from other faithful leaders.

Secondly, many do not hear the gospel consistently and explicitly preached.

Unfortunately, many preachers shrink back from consistently proclaiming the gospel in their pulpits.  They fear that the message will become stale or they will run out of material.  Maybe they feel that it is important to propel their congregation into other matters of the faith.  This leads us to our third point.

The gospel is good for the lost and the found!

I will never forget, while listening to his podcast as a junior in college, hearing Pastor Matt Chandler proclaim the gospel for the bajillionty-fifth time to his congregation and thinking, “Okay, we got it…move on to something else!”  And then, he made a statement that changed my life.  It was simple, really.  He said, “The gospel is for salvation and sanctification.”  The gospel changes the lives of the saved just as well as the unsaved.  The gospel produces salvation in the life of the (former) unbeliever.  But the gospel also brings the believer consistently back to the cross, where he or she will realize that God sanctifies them.  The gospel continually reminds us that we are not good enough to earn righteousness.  We never have been and we never will be.  Prior to salvation, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).  After salvation, we still need the grace of God to help us wage war against our sinful nature (Colossians 3:1-11)!  The gospel saves the lost and sanctifies the saved!

It is ALWAYS appropriate to preach the cross.

These are the reasons why I always seek to preach the gospel when I am offered a speaking engagement.  Perhaps God will use the message of the cross to save some who are lost.  Or perhaps God will use the message of the cross to make those who know Christ become more like Him.

I long to be able to say along with Paul that, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Preach the cross, friends.  We all need to hear it…to see it…to savor it…to be changed by it.

Preach the gospel. Do it for Clayton’s sake!

Prodigal Worship: A changed life heralding the Good News