Monthly Archives: November 2007

Cancer Update

The day before yesterday I went for my follow-up appointment with the urologist and got the results of all the 6 month follow-up testing… just to make sure there aren’t any surprises with the cancer. RESULTS: Everything looks good! No sign of anything abnormal! YAY GOD!!!

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Just a couple of weeks ago, a man in our community committed suicide in his early 30’s. He had ongoing concerns with his health and also, largely because of the health issues, had a growing problem with finances. Several members of his family are involved in my congregation and I spent quite a bit of time in the immediate aftermath with them. Ultimately, I officiated the memorial service.


The father of the deceased, within his first five steps of coming home where the rest of us were gathered, asked me: “Is he in Hell for killing himself?”

You know, I grew up believing that suicide was murder (of yourself) and thus was a sin. And of course, like any sin, if you sinned you were absolutely, without question going to Hell UNLESS you repented before you died. And since you couldn’t repent before you died when you’ve just killed yourself, then it just made sense that committing suicide was an automatic one-way ticket to eternal damnation. Right?

In fact, as a pretty mixed-up teen, it was that belief that made me NOT give in to the whispers of the enemy that quite often suggested suicide as a way for me to escape from my painful situations in life.

My answer to this grieving dad, however, was ‘no.’

My reasoning is based on four things…

First, a mentor as I became a pastor had explained to me once that his own father had committed suicide. It was a comfort to him to know that God held people responsible for their decisions and behaviors based on their ability and understanding. For instance, if a severely mentally retarded person dies without having said the official sinner’s prayer, but knew they loved Jesus, would they go to Hell? No, the reasoning went, because God deals with you on the level where you are. This mentor shared that self-harm and suicide were behaviors acted out by someone who is suffering from such pain and turmoil that they are, in essence, extremely sick. In that moment of pain, when the suffering is so great, he believed that the suicidal person CANNOT properly reason out the choices anymore. Therefore, God, who deals with them in that moment like the mentally disabled person who knows no better, treats them as a sick person who just needs help.

Secondly, I took a one credit course at seminary on “Pastoral Care and Suicide” and I review my notes every so often… My answer is consistent with the teaching I received in that course.

Thirdly, I once got my hands on a audiotape teaching by Jack Hayford, a well-respected pastor and teacher in the charismatic and PromiseKeepers movements, called “The Sin Of Suicide.” In that teaching, following several suicides in the extended family of his own church, Hayford taught a similar idea. The ‘sin’ is the self-focus of suicide… the lack of considering what your action would do to those around you. Essentially: selfishness.

Lastly, my wife acted like a research assistant for me during this past couple of weeks and found an absolutely awesome webpage fashioned from a brochure put out by the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches entitled: “What should we think about suicide?” I have never read anything quite so succinct and Biblically faithful on suicide.

I’m really interested in having some other folks read through the pamphlet and share their thoughts. I would loan the Hayford tapes, as well. I want to have some conversation, online or offline, on this subject. I want to hear of others who have walked through similar situations and how you’ve ministered.

Any takers?

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A Year To Be Thankful

“… So I will go about Your altar, O Lord, that I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Your wondrous works.” —Psalm 26:7 (NKJV)

At this time last year, I was oblivious to the fact that a cancerous tumor had invaded my left kidney and had already begun the process of killing me. But a sudden kidney stone attack in the other kidney forced me to the ER where a visiting urologist just happened to be on duty… and he just happened to notice a shadow on the cat scan that prompted him to do further testing. And because of several of those “just happened” kinds of moments, the surgeons were able to remove that affected kidney and effectively killed what turned out to be a rare form of kidney cancer before it ever made it out of the collecting duct tubule where it had implanted itself. We caught it so early that I didn’t even have to do chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Most of you already know that story. In fact, many of those who read this letter were actually ones who were actively praying for me as I went through this process. You prayed, you called, you visited, you wrote. And again, I thank you. You can’t possibly know how much healing came into my life and my family just through your love and care. I truly thank God for this congregation.

Now for the challenge that you look for in a reflection like this… As I remembered this past year, and all of the seeming coincidences and “just happened” kinds of moments, I marvel at how God was quietly working behind the scenes. In the same way that God sort of egged on Satan in the book of Job, and Job then endured testing and trials, I see a similarity here. Yes, God allowed Job to be tested by Satan, but only because He knew that Job could “pass the test.” Satan wasn’t permitted to lay a finger on Job until God knew for certain that Job would be able to face the trial of his faith successfully.

In the same way, it seems that somehow Satan got permission to afflict my body with that tumor… I hope I dealt with it as successfully and graciously as Job did with his trials. But it hit me… God set me up to find out about it. I shouldn’t have known it was there until a week or two before I died. And there would have been nothing I could have done at that point. But here I am. God set me up with the right doctor visiting at the right hospital at the right time to treat the presenting problem of a kidney stone AND to spot the secret tumor. Coincidence? I think not! God set me up!

I’m not the only one to experience this phenomenon, am I? I’ve heard different ones share stories about how there seemed to be coincidence after coincidence in their life, and they recognized it was simply God, behind the scenes, setting them up for blessings!

In the scripture passage above, the psalmist goes to the altar. Old Testament worship suggests that when they would go to the altar they presented a gift to God. And then, with the “voice of thanksgiving” he goes out to proclaim all the wondrous works God has done in his life. This year, I’m following the example of this psalmist. I’m making a special Thanks Offering and then going out and sharing how awesome our God is… and how much we can trust Him and lean on Him… in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

How about you? How has God been working in your life? How can you offer Him thanks? How can you share the good news of His wondrous works? How about joining with us and giving your thanks?

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Learning From Old Mistakes???

This was my pastor’s letter in our church’s monthly newsletter for this month…

My daughters and I visited the ruins of the Austin Dam earlier this summer. Located in Potter County, not far from where I grew up, the failure of the Austin Dam and the disastrous flood that resulted on September 30, 1911, was part of our local history. But what started as a quick stop to stretch our legs as we drove home from grandma’s house, became an emotionally moving experience… and a reminder of spiritual truths.

According to the “experts” of the time, when the dam was started in 1909, it was deliberately designed backwards from conventional wisdom. The flat side of the dam wall was built to face the water and the wall’s sloped section faced downstream. The idea, supposedly, was that this would provide an even greater strength to the structure. It was claimed that this would be a “dam that could not break.” In fact, when flood survivor Marie Kathern Nuschke wrote her eyewitness account of the event almost 50 years later she entitled it: The Dam That Could Not Break.

When people would question the logic and/or the safety of the dam, the engineers and owners (and even other residents) would simply laugh and say things like: “That dam will stand when you all are dead.” Nuschke wrote that there were two people who were adamant in their concerns about the dam, Sarah Willetts and William Nelson. Not only were they summarily dismissed, but most of the rest of the community laughed at them as well. And despite their misgivings, they stayed in Austin. Later, when the flood did in fact come, they were killed as well.

As I stood there in the midst of those remains, reading names of those who died in this tragedy, I was reminded of the many times we have seen such conceit and overconfidence… with equally disastrous effect.

I’m reminded of the arrogance and pride of the builders of the Titanic who claimed that “Even God couldn’t sink this ship.” And yet, sink it did. The lack of concern over the safety of the local residents reminds me of the stories of the owners of the South Fork Club that disregarded safety warnings and their dam eventually burst and wiped out much of Johnstown, Pa. in 1889.

What did the Lord speak to me in this visit? First, just because “experts” claim something is safe or “everyone else agrees” with an idea, neither makes it safe nor right. Second, Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” (NLT) Unbridled arrogance and pride, especially without compassion, is a disaster just waiting to happen. Third, I sensed a great deal of grief for those two people who had seen the danger and had tried to warn others, and yet did not escape. It reminded me that it’s not enough to know of the danger or even to tell others. We need to also take care of ourselves. Spiritually, it’s the same way. It’s not enough to know that there is a Hell or even to warn others, if we haven’t accepted Christ and established our own place in eternity then we won’t escape either.

Finally, as I left, I stopped at the little bridge that leads into the park and snapped this picture of Freeman Run, the water source the Austin Dam had tried to block to harness the power of the water. Yet without the proper respect and attention to its dangers, this tiny little brook caused the death of dozens. It was a reminder to me of the effect and importance of paying attention to the little things in our lives.

There was a lot for me to think about and pray about as I drove away from that memorial park that day. How about you? Can we learn from history? Or do we have to make our own mistakes every time?

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Controlling the WORLD!!!!

I’m back!

The past month has been sort of tough. Spent some time just adjusting my own medicines (with my doctor, of course) and then a major overhaul of my basement and then my garage. And I FINALLY got the rest of the weight bench/machine set up. (It had to be taken apart for us to move in August 2006). Then in the past two weeks, there was a suicide, which made for an extremely hard funeral. And then I spent three days at a conference/continuing education event in Gettysburg. I’ll share about that later on. For now, here is what caught my attention this morning from email. I can’t verify the accuracy, but it’s a great story!!!

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The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet,8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lineswere built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, andthat’s the gauge they used.

Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built thetramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for buildingwagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break onsome of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s thespacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the firstlong distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts,which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagonwheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a Specification/ Procedure/ Processand wonder “What horse’s butt came up with it?” you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough toaccommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses’ butts.)

Now, the twist to the story: When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are twobig booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol attheir factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs wouldhave preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroadline from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains,and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is
about as wide as two horses’ behinds. So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is one of the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s butt. The width of a horse’s butt controls almost everything the Romans did…..and today horses butts are still trying to control everything else!

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