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April 2016

The Right Words – Part 2

Last month we explored the topic of things we should NOT say to people you know who are dealing with major life problems or serious/chronic illnesses. But, as you know, sometimes the fear of saying the wrong thing can paralyze us and keep us from saying anything to someone who is fighting a battle. So, in Part 2, let’s look at things that we SHOULD DO or SAY…

Here are some suggestions:

1.  Be there for the person.

2.  If the person wants to talk about their situation…let them talk…WHILE YOU LISTEN INTENTLY!

3.  If they don’t want to talk about their situation then don’t push them to talk about it.

4.  If they are a Christian you can pray for them…but be careful because if they’re not of the same belief you may offend them. Yes, there is a time and a place to share Christ and your hope of heaven but seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit before you jump in with “guns blazing”.

a. If you say you’ll pray for someone, then be sure you do it. Vicki and I were convicted about this a few years back and therefore started a list of people we pray for every night.

5.  One thing we all tend to say is “If you need anything just let me know.” Chances are they will NOT let you know. A better approach might be “I’m going by the store later…can I pick up something for you?”

6.  Remember the family of the sick or hurting person has needs as well. If you are able to help out with those needs (watch their kids for a few hours, cut their lawn, run an errand etc.) then do it.

7.  Be patient with the person…they are going through a GREAT struggle.

Like I said in Part 1, these suggestions are not intended to be an extensive list. Rather my intent has been to offer some helpful suggestions for ministering to those going through great trials.

March 2016

The Right Words – Part 1

In my life I know I have said many wrong things to others suffering from major or chronic illnesses or other struggles. If you happen to be one of those people then I offer you my sincere apology. I just pray that my current situation is helping me to learn what to say and not say to people going through life’s struggles. For those who may not know me, I will briefly share my story so that you can understand why I am writing on this subject.

I came down with crippling juvenile onset rheumatoid arthritis when I was 16 and within a year was nearly in a wheelchair. When I was 34 I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus or SLE). That same year my mother died from lupus as well. The years that followed were up and down. Eventually I would have many surgeries and acquire nine artificial joints. In the 1990s my health was so bad that I was hospitalized 14 times in three years, almost dying twice. In December of 1991 my rheumatologist told me that they had been having some success with Cytoxan Chemotherapy on Lupus patients and he thought I should consider trying it. On December 23, 1991 I had my first Chemotherapy infusion and almost passed out. I did Cytoxan chemotherapy from December 23, 1991 (139 rounds of it) until August 31, 2006 (a little under 15 years).

In April of 2006 I changed to a new medication called Cellcept (a drug primarily used for patients who have had organ transplants) and have now been on it for 9 years. It saved my life but it has not been without side effects.

In August of 2014 I was diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma Cancer and I have had 10 surgeries since then (not all cancer related). Since I am on Cellcept to suppress my immune system I am not a candidate for a chemo to address the melanoma as the drugs used to treat the melanoma are designed to ramp up the immune system which would more than likely cause the lupus to spiral out of control. Basically the side effects of chemo could be worse than the cancer and would probably be of little to no value. So surgeries are my only viable option, aside from possibly radiation.

Then recently the numbers on my bloodwork started going haywire and now there is an indication that I may be in stage 3 renal (kidney) failure.

With that said let’s get on to the subject at hand. I posted some of the following on my daily “Points to Ponder” devotional a couple of months ago and thought that perhaps I should share some of my observations here in the Crossroads Newsletter. Before I share those points let me be quick to say that some of these points did not originate with me. Some were originally shared by Pastor Brad Fangman over the years, some came from various other notes I’ve made and some came from the web. I really don’t remember what came from where. At any rate here are a few things to consider when ministering to a person dealing with life’s struggles, particularly major or chronic illnesses. There are some suggestions of things NOT to do or say (this is NOT intended to be an exhaustive list):

  1. You have such great faith….if anyone can beat this, you can…

Personally I have found this to be especially annoying. Saying this heaps the healing responsibility directly onto the sick person to “have enough faith” to be healed. The implication is that if a person gets sick or dies then it was a faith issue. Let’s be real, the statistics on death are pretty grim. One out of one of us are going to die from something. We tend to think that God has given us earthly lifetime warranties. There have only been two people who escaped from this life without dying and that was Enoch and Elijah. Furthermore, none of us know what circumstance or disease will cause our demise. Look at the story of Elisha who did many great miracles by the power of God including the raising of the dead. 2 Kings 13:14 NASB  “When Elisha became sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash the king of Israel came down to him and wept over him and said, …..”

People don’t die because they aren’t strong willed enough or have enough faith. That’s an incredibly simplistic way of looking at it. People die because this temporary body we live in has an expiration date because we live in a fallen world. It has little to do with their will to live, or their personal character. Yes, in some cases their lifestyle choices and attitudes can affect short range outcomes. Nonetheless none of us will get out of this life alive.

Many years ago I actually had a person say to me, “It’s a good thing God gave lupus to you because your faith is strong enough to beat it, but God knows I’m too weak to deal with what you’re going through”. WOW… What a backhanded comment, if that were true then I’d want to be the weakest person on earth!!! Talk about a distorted view of God!

  1. Think positive…

Is thinking positive and cultivating a happy and balanced outlook important to people with a major or chronic illnesses? Absolutely! Is telling someone to think positive even the slightest bit helpful? Not at all.

Often we act as if it’s in our job description to counsel people with major or chronic illnesses to be “positive” but we need to be careful here as it can backfire causing the person with the illness to become irritated at us. I think most suffering people are trying the best they can to be positive and upbeat but to insinuate that they aren’t being positive enough can be a real put down.

  1. You’ll be fine…

Are you God or at least this person’s physician? We need to face up to the reality that no one knows or has control over what will happen in the course of any serious illness [except God Himself]. Pretending everything is going to be fine is not real life. We certainly hope and pray this will be the case but let’s face it “bad things do happen to good people.”

  1. You’re looking really good…

I get this one a lot. However, physical looks can be very deceiving. Yes, some people’s emotions and feelings show readily on their face, but don’t assume this is the case with all people. I’d recommend taking a cue from the patient, before commenting on their appearance.

  1. Don’t be overly cheerful or overly sympathetic…

This can seem fake and dishonest, and may cause the person to feel uncomfortable. Be natural and genuine in your emotional response.

  1. Refrain from telling stories about people who have beat or succumbed to the illnesses or problem the person is struggling from…

I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve told someone about my having lupus that their first response is, “I had a friend (or relative) die of lupus”. Really, that’s so comforting to know! Or the reverse, my friend or relative had cancer and they beat it. That’s good for them but frankly it doesn’t give me much comfort. Or they will tell me about some special diet, some herbal supplement I need to take, some book I need to read or a set of DVD’s I need to listen to. I understand that those suggesting these “remedies” mean well but unless the person specifically asks, I would refrain from offering any stories.

  1. Don’t say “I know how you feel”… 

No two situations are exactly the same so no one can know how another person exactly feels. Even if you’ve had the same exact illness you have still not walked in their shoes….be careful here.

  1. Lastly…

If you don’t know what to say…say nothing…. You don’t need to say much of anything…remember Job’s friends…. they did great as long as they were there and JUST listened. It’s when they opened their mouths that things went downhill fast.

I don’t want you to avoid people who are struggling from major problems or illnesses for fear you’ll say the wrong thing but rather I hope I have given you a few guidelines to help you help them. Next month, in Part 2, we will explore some helpful things you CAN say and do.

September 2015

…A Chasing After the Wind

“The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”… I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Eccles 1:1-2,12-14 NIV)

For many years, I have read through the Bible each year. Like many, I find that certain books of the Bible are harder than others to navigate through. One of those books certainly would be Ecclesiastes. In a nutshell Solomon goes on and on in most of the book about how meaningless life is. How everything is a “chasing after the wind”.

As one of the richest and wisest men to have ever lived, King Solomon starts by giving a list of the things he did in seeking contentment and a meaningful life: wisdom, money, power, massive building projects, materialism, wine, sexual pleasures (700 wives and 300 concubines) yet all the things he tried never brought him contentment. In fact, his wives and concubines led him away from God and into serious idolatry.

In many ways, the book of Ecclesiastes could very well sum up our lives in our present day world – a world that is seeking after everything except God to find contentment and fulfillment in life. It is not until the next to the last verse of the book that Solomon finally puts the pieces together – “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man.” (Eccl. 12:13 NIV). His two most important commandments are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31 NIV)

The Bible also says – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV)

The message for today is that your life is not meaningless if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and have put Him first in your life. Our lives as Christians are not meaningless when we have a servant’s heart towards others. In fact I believe that everything a Christian does that is not sin can be an act of righteousness. Nurturing, providing and caring for our spouses, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors and total strangers can all be acts of righteousness. Even the seemingly mundane and routine things like changing a soiled diaper or holding a door open can be meaningful and righteous acts when they are done with Christ in our heart and mind. “Many a humble soul will be amazed to find that the seed it sowed in weakness, in the dust of daily life, has blossomed into immortal flowers
under the eye of the Lord.” (Harriet Beecher Stowe)

A question for all of us would be what are we doing that could be a “chasing after the wind”? Might it be our careers, the pursuit of money, fame, status, physical appearance…? Remember, God won’t ask how many promotions you took to chase a dollar bill, how many friends you have on Facebook or how much time you spent at the gym. However, He will look at how many promotions you refused to advance your family’s quality of life, how many friends you’ve helped find Christ and how much time you spent with Him.”

 

September 2013

How do you smell?

Any of you that have seen me walk know that it’s a major challenge. And, walking very far can be very hard on my back because of the way I have to walk. Back at the end of May, I decided I needed to do something to get more exercise, something that I could preferably do outdoors and not be so hard on my back. I had always enjoyed riding bicycles both as a kid and as an adult but to ride one now with my crippled legs would be very dangerous at best. So, I started looking into adult tricycles and ended up getting one that has three speeds. My first day out I couldn’t even get around the block once, however, by the grace of God, I have continued to ride, and now average  10 to 15 miles per week. When I rode the other day, the temperature was 93 degrees and it was very humid, so by the time I got home after over an hour of peddling you could definitely say I didn’t smell very good! But personal hygiene is not what this article is about.

Rather, spiritually speaking, the Bible says that our lives will exude either a “sweet smelling life-giving perfume” or the “fearful smell of death and doom.

2 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But thanks be to God, who made us His captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go He uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing. To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume.” NLT

This verse is primarily referring to how people react to the sharing of the Gospel. However, I don’t think we are losing the Biblical context if we apply the principle to how we live our daily lives. After all, as Christians, we are to be salt and light to the world.

So my question is this: Does your life exude a sweet smell of life or the smell of death? Let me elaborate a bit more. In today’s world it is very easy for us to become pretty foul smelling in our talk, actions and deeds. We’ve all heard the phrase, “So and so could brighten up a room by leaving it.” Gordon MacDonald once wrote about VDP’s or Very Draining People.  These are the people who drain our energy rather than refuel us. These phrases should never apply to Christians. When someone bumps into you, what spills out? Anger, hate, bitterness, curses, outbursts of anger? Or love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

In Luke 6:27 Jesus gave us some examples to follow, “But I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. NIV

How do you treat those around you? First what about those nameless people you encounter like the delivery man, the checkout clerk at the store, your waitress, the person who cuts you off in traffic, the service advisor at the car dealership? And the list could go on and on. Are you one of those people who will always make a big deal about how nobody is ever going to give you bad service and get by with it? Are you a person who always insists on “having it your way” no matter how much it hurts someone else? If so, you need to reread Luke 6:27-31 and then pray that God would change your heart so that you can become a sweet smelling fragrance to those you encounter.

Then there are many who treat those closest to them the worst. They are nicer to complete strangers than their own spouse or children. If there is ever a person who exudes a “fearful smell of death and doom” it is these.

In 1 Thessalonian’s 5:11ff the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are to “encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually;  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” NIV

So the question is this: Does the life you live exude a “sweet smelling life-giving perfume” or the “fearful smell of death and doom”?

 

 

June 2013

Ten-Day Test

In my annual reading through the Bible, I recently read the story of Daniel in the Old Testament. Daniel is a fascinating book. There’s the lion’s den, the blazing furnace, the dreams and visions and “the writing on the wall.” (Yes, that saying comes from a Biblical context).

However, this time, the passage that caught my eye was when Daniel and his three friends, probably only 14-16 years old, are taken captive to Babylon where they are put into a three-year training program to become servants of the king. Part of that training included a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and wine.But, Daniel and his three friends, purposed in their hearts not to defile themselves with the king’s food and drink and asked to be exempt. This caused the man in charge of their training to become fearful for his life. If Daniel and his friends began to look malnourished, it would be him in trouble. So Daniel proposed a 10-day test during which time he and his friends would only eat vegetables and drink water. At the end of the 10 days Daniel and his friends appeared healthier than those who had eaten the king’s food.

Admittedly, one might use this for an argument for becoming a vegetarian, however, that is not my focus. Rather my focus is this: are you willing to take a 10-day test in regards to some area of your life? As an example, let’s take television. Odds are that all of us at times watch programs that if Jesus was physically sitting there next to us on the couch, we wouldn’t watch. So the test would be this: For the next 10 days purpose in your heart not to watch those questionable programs. Instead, as you saw in the case of Daniel, replace the time you would have spent in front of the television with another more positive activity like spending that time playing with your kids or talking with your spouse or reading your Bible. Try it and see how it impacts your life for the better.

So what will your 10 day test be? As in the case of Daniel it might forever change your life.

“I will not set anything worthless before my eyes.
I hate the practice of transgression; it will not cling to me.”
Psalm 101:3 (HCSB)