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Archive for the tag “cancer”

What Does Dying Look Like?

No. I’m not. At least no more than anyone else, a little closer to the grave each day. But, as far as I am concerned, that is my prognosis.

1 Corinthians 15:22 – For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

But the past couple of days have given me pause to reflect on death and dying. Not just in human terms, but also in the church.

My first story starts as I was waiting for a simple medical procedure to be done. I was in the waiting room, a well-lit place with gray and cream walls and these stupid molding squares every foot or so. I was in the waiting room thinking to myself as I was about to get a biopsy done on my esophagus, what if someone comes back with a terminal illness diagnosis? The place that would be seared into my mind would be an ugly waiting room with gray and cream walls and squares on the walls.

They called me back and took me into the next waiting room, a small procedural area with hospital beds surrounded by curtains and people in those curtains recovering from their procedures. I could hear almost every word that was said between the doctor and the patients.

The majority of the people going in there were getting colonoscopies. One person was in there for her very first one. She was nervous, especially about the farting afterward. But the other 3 beds were taken up by people who have had multiple ones this year. One bed had a girl who couldn’t be much older than a junior in high school. She was on her second colonoscopy this year. Another bed had an 80+ year-old woman in it and she has had 2 this year. The man who came in and sat next to me in the chairs until a bed was open was on his third for the year!

The man next to me and I struck up a conversation. It started with small talk and platitudes. He asked me what I was in for, I did the same. He asked me my age, I did the same.

But then it took a little deeper turn.

He said to me that he never believed he would have to be getting multiple colonoscopies in a year. He said on his first one they found multiple polyps. After testing them, they were cancerous. They realized that they missed one that couldn’t be removed with the equipment there and he had to have it done at the hospital so they sent him in again. During that one it had spread a little more and they removed several others. This third time he was in to see if any more had grown.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 – And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

He stared me in the face and told me that he never expected to be staring a potential life-threatening disease in the face.

Now he was upbeat about it. He said he has no regrets for how he lived his life and he was proud of the people his children and grand-children had become. But you could tell there was a tone in his voice that said he just didn’t want this life to end.

One could easily say that this man is being overdramatic. The doctors didn’t know if he had any further issues, so why would he be getting all bent out of shape?

It is because death is final.

At least here it is.

As a Christian I know that this life is simply a small vapor in the wind and then I move on to the next life. But all of the people we have come to know and love in this lifetime, we worry about how they will react to our absence.

Ever since birth, this life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. Some come for a few moments, but others come for a lifetime. It is those lifetime people that we worry about.

I went through with my procedure and he went through with his. After that moment in chairs together we never spoke. I wish I would have gotten his phone number or email or something. I would really like to be able to check in with him from time to time. But I didn’t. #Fredfail

I will always remember this man. He was stoic but scared. Peaceful but a little anxious.

John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live

There are many stories like the man I spoke to while at the surgical center. Too many to count.

A lot of them are happening in our churches as well.

That leads me to story number 2.

Over the past year I have interviewed at a couple different churches with hopes of becoming a pastor. In every single instance I made it to the final round only to get beat out by someone else.

But each time that I interviewed at a church I would sign up for their email list. I like to keep in the know about other churches, I believe it makes me a better minister as I am not the smartest person on church leadership (I could have put the period after “person”, but I decided to qualify it a little more)

Many of the churches that I interviewed at were smaller with older congregations. That isn’t a problem as long as you constantly are replacing those who are dying out of your congregation.

In the past 3 weeks I have received 6 funeral notices for one of the churches I signed up for! That doesn’t even count the other couple of churches I get emails from.

The church is not an easy organization to manage. You have several demographics to hit upon and you are expected to hit them all equally as well. You are expected to be the 7-11 of biblical knowledge. Most churches don’t do that well. They are skewed to one demographic over another. They are either an old church or a young church. A white church or a black church. An English church or a Korean church.

The churches are focusing on being niche-based rather than all-encompassing.

And this leads to some churches dying while others find the right niche for the moment.

Unfortunately, the right niche is usually fad-based. Right now, the right niche is to have a great sounding worship band followed by a charismatic message and do it all in about an hour. But that is changing. We are starting to see the death of the charismatic, evangelical church now as this fad fades.

You also have a lot of other types of venues popping up like the tattoo parlor church, the movie theatre church, the cowboy church, and child-focused church.

The one thing I have noticed time and time again is that those churches need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant.

Now I am probably going to get a lot of unhappy comments when I say this, but does the church need to be relevant with the fads of the day, or do we need to learn to be relevant in how to be approachable to the unbelieving public?

Revelation 3:1 – To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead

Let me explain.

Relevance can be seen as adding a high-powered worship band and skinny jeans and fauxhawks on the ministry team. Those will bring in people who are searching to be entertained and don’t have to worry about making personal changes to their lives so long as they get their weekly dose of entertainment.

Or…

Relevance can look like the body of believers going to church and enjoying each other’s company before a pastor gets up in front and teaches from the Bible on how to interact with the world outside of the 4 walls of the church.

That was kind of painful for me to say. I enjoy my latte-infused, Bethel Music Group energized, skinny-jean with a fauxhawk preaching churches. Unfortunately, many times they are simply places to hide ourselves away as Christians even though we say we are being a light set on a hill, all too often, because we don’t teach people how to interact with unbelievers, when the unbelievers come to our churches they simply get burned by those who proclaim to be the light.

And that is why the church is dying. Well, that’s my take at least.

If we spent a lot more time teaching people how to interact with the unbeliever rather than being safe houses for the marginal Christians, we would find that we may have smaller congregations, but they would be a lot more fruit-bearing.

So whether you are alone in a gray and cream room with ugly squares on the walls or in the most beautiful high-tech church in America, there is something in common.

Death.

Psalm 115:17 – The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.

And many times that death is slow and painful. And even if you do survive, whether it is a life-threatening disease or a church focused on doing church in the church, you will never be the same afterward. The light goes away. It is the equivalence of losing the lamp stand in Revelation.

I’ll end with this example that I got from Louie Giglio. The last 2 letters of the word “SIN” are “IN.” Churches who are “in sin” are “in church.” The first 2 letters of the word “GOSPEL” is “GO.” Churches that are being relevant at the individual level and going to places outside of the church are gospel churches.

And that is the church that Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against.

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Yesterday is Taking Over

This weekend I was able to enjoy some time with my family, including my mom and dad. It was her birthday weekend.

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A little back story here, my mom, a couple weeks ago, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. She had been fine up until about a month ago and then she went into the hospital because she was filling with fluid.  The doctors in the ER said that she was in the early stages of cirrhosis and not to worry about it but that they would send the fluid off to be tested.

The a few weeks ago she went back into the hospital because more fluid had collected and she got a call to go into the hospital.

The doctor came in and told her it was cancerous.

They did more testing.

After the testing they told her the cancer had spread throughout her body and was in her bones, her liver, her pancreas, her stomach, and other places. It was too much to operate and they gave her 3-6 months to live. We called in hospice, cancelled further testing, and went home.

That was a tough day. Very long as well. We would cry when we were awake and sleep when we could.

But this weekend was about celebrating, not regretting.

Mimi, myself, and the four kids packed into the car and headed north to her house. Along the way, we stopped at Cold Stone Creamery to get an impromptu ice cream cake (which was yummy, by the way!)

Mum decided that she wanted to make dinner for all of, thinking it might be the last time she could do it. She made ham, corn, mashed potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, steamed shrimp, macaroni and cheese, and multiple desserts that she made herself like butterscotch pie and pumpkin pie.

During it all she was in pain, but she hid it fairly well. She wanted to do this labor of love for those she loves and love her.

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After dinner we sat down to talk about the stories from the past and give her gifts. Mum was in tears because she knows this will probably be her final birthday. My kids got her a framed picture of themselves taken a month ago. Mimi and the boys wrote mum letters thanking her for all the love they have brought into their lives. And then we got her a Precious Moments piece for her mantle.

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Then mum brought out the tears.

She wanted to give up some of her jewelry to my kids. She has been promising them that they would receive these and she wanted to make sure they had them in case something happened and she wasn’t able to see them anymore. (typing that just brought a lump in my throat)

We ended the day by taking some pictures with mum.

We left early because she was in a lot of pain and very tired. She took some of her morphine and headed to bed for the night and we started down the road toward home.

I got misty a couple of times and had to excuse myself after she gave out her jewelry because I was in tears.

I love my mom. She is, and always has been, such a blessing to me. She lives a Proverbs 31 life. She loves anyone and everyone.

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She has been blessed.

And knowing some of her back story about being abused by her first husband, growing up in poverty just after the Great Depression, and having a tough time by watching her own mom die in her arms with the same Hospice nurse who is taking care of my mom makes it even more clear just how blessed she truly is.

And what do blessed people do?

They spend their lives blessing others.

And she has been a blessing to countless people in this life.

So we don’t know how long mum has to live. God only knows that. We will just take it one milestone at a time:

  • Easter on 4/16
  • Her 52nd Anniversary on 4/23
  • And any other milestones afterward

If she passes before then, she will truly be home and even more blessed than she is now.

So here’s to you, mum. Happy 83rd birthday. I love you. I am a lot like you.

And for that, I am thankful.

Bad Things Don’t Always Happen in Threes

Job 1:6 – One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.

You’ve heard the phrase.

“Bad things come in threes.”

Well I am here to tell you that is crap.

The history of that phrase holds origins in Christianity, but a perverted and twisted sense of it. When I researched the origin of the phrase it was that if someone upset the Trinity, then the Father, Son and Spirit would take their revenge on you, thus bringing you bad tidings three separate times.

There is also a war analogy that was used by British soldiers during the Crimean War. In order to save matches, the soldiers would light as many cigarettes with a single match. Part of their training manual said to not light 3 cigarettes with a single match because it would give a sniper time to locate the position of the light and the third man would be killed. After time, it was found out that the creator of the matches they used spread that information to the command of the British troops so that he could sell them more matches.

But I am going to tell you that bad things DEFINITELY can come in more than threes.

This has been a very tough 4 months. Really a tough year. It started with me getting back surgery in May of last year. I needed a second back surgery in December. Then we had troubles with pets. Our diabetic, 15-year-old cat was given too much insulin by accident. Then our dog decided to eat a bag of coffee beans. Then Mimi’s car needed almost $4,000 in repairs. Then my mom went into the hospital. Then the sump pump stopped working and started filling the crawl space with water. And then yesterday, my mom went back into the hospital again, this time she is told she has cancer.

Job 1:21 – And said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

I write this as I sit at the hospital, eating cafeteria food, and thinking about my mom’s life.

By my count, we are now up to 8 pretty big things that have come our way. Seven of those items were in the past 3 months alone! (maybe bad things come in a period of three months?)

So I have come to realize that superstitions are crap.

So instead of superstitions, where should we look?

No matter what after all of this turmoil, it has an effect on people. I have noticed a pretty big effect on myself. I can no longer look at people and give the church morning answer:

Person: How are you brother?

Me: Blessed like the rest brother!

Person: Amen!

I can’t be fake happy anymore.

I find solace in the Bible.

Specifically the book of Job. But not for the reason you might think.

I know everyone says that they read the book of Job and it fills them with comfort. But it shouldn’t.

Job 1:20 – At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship.

Job shows how tragedies in our lives change us permanently.

Here is the timeline:

  • Job had it all. Tens of thousands of animals, a large family, a lot of servants. He lost them all at once.
  • This caused Job to fall to his knees in worship to God.
  • After that, Job got sores all over his body.
  • Job praised God.
  • Job is visited by potentially well-meaning friends.
  • He said that even though he is blameless, he hates his life. (Job 9:21-22)
  • Even though he hated his life, he understood that God was still on the throne and in control (Job 12:13-14)
  • Job feels broken by what his friends said about him.
  • God has a discussion with Job. In the end of this conversation, Job understands that there are things in this world that are greater than Job and he would never understand them.
  • Job’s family came to his aid and he ended up with more than he lost before.

But one thing is interesting in chapter 6: Job asks God to kill him.

Job was broken.

He reached such a low point that he asked for death.

Now, just so you know I have known that feeling before. When I got divorced I went through a time where I believed that life would be better if I weren’t in it.

But then I had my “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment and came to grips as to what life would look like without Fred in it.

So today, I sit here numb. I’ve cried some. I’ve felt anger. I’ve even laughed a little.

But, in the end, numb.

The book of Job doesn’t tell us about the emotional impact that his trial had on his life. The last verse says, “And Job died, an old man, and full of days.” I take that to mean that he lived his life and enjoyed it. But still there is nothing there about how this trial affected him.

Job 28:28 – And he said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord – the is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”

I am definitely not as focused on God as Job was. But I know how much these minor (in relation to Job’s afflictions) inconveniences have affected me.

It takes everything I can do just to not be cynical.

Pain is part of this life. If you don’t believe me, read the Psalms.  I believe there is a reason Proverbs comes after Psalms. The Psalms show God’s glory in the pain of this world. The Proverbs give us wisdom, most likely acquired through years of pain.

I know that when this season is over, the wisdom that will be gained, if I can stay true to God’s Word, will be used to help others going through adversity.

In the meantime, I feel numb.

In the meantime, don’t expect me to give you too many nice answers.

In the meantime, even if I make you so angry that you want to punch me, just flash me a smile.

This is a season that everyone goes through. It isn’t easy, but it is part of this broken world.

But even though this world is broken, God is still sovereign. He is on the throne. And one day soon, and even sooner for my mom, there will be no pain, no disease, no tears of sadness, no cancer, no bitterness, and no one but God.

And for that, I will wait.

Revelation 21:4 – He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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