Category Archives: Christian Faith

Cancer

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Photo credit: Digital Storm/Shutterstock

“Cancer.” No one likes to hear that word, unless it is followed by the words “You are cured.” Or, “Your cancer is in remission.”  In early December, I heard that word. Cancer. The word struck me with a fear greater perhaps than the deadly power of the disease itself. A veteran of many surgeries over the course of my life, I have learned that I am only granted a reprieve between the last one and the next one. The first one occurred the day that I was born, saving my life and making sure that my parents had a family of four and not a family of three. Since then, I have had twelve. I think the number is high, but those who deal with burns will tell you that it is nothing. The same for war wounds.  I humble myself before these brave souls.

Apparently, or so the doctors thought, I had what appeared to be a cyst in my right kidney that could have been cancer. The doctors proceeded along the line that it was cancer. The thought was that a portion of my kidney would probably have to come out, or even the whole kidney, even if it were not cancer. I also had something going on in the left kidney, but it was too small to be a problem at the moment. After the initial shock, about 24 hours, I asked “Why me?” After all I have been through in my life—all the surgeries—four alone on my back, the Lord had me wondering. As I wondered, I could feel myself becoming angrier and angrier. Angry with God. I wasn’t quite at the state of disbelief in Him, but I was angry at God. Furious with the Lord. Not a good place to be. I had to let my work go that week. I just could not concentrate—not on work, not on anything: “How long do I have? Will I die soon? Does anyone care? Do I care?”  I seriously had thought I would never get cancer. Friends have died from it. Two of my uncles died from it. My father died of cancer; others in my family had had it, but surely I would be spared, or so I thought. Vanity.

Struggling that week just to put one foot in front of the other—making sure that only a select few people knew until I was ready to tell the world—I spent time looking around at all my books and thinking I should start giving them away. Giving everything away! By Saturday of that week, I had had enough. Suddenly remorselessly fatalistic, resigned to fate, I had given up. “If the Lord wants me, he should take me.” That is what I growled to my brother. “Would I go to church that Sunday? Would it matter?” God had let me down. Thirteen surgeries later, I felt I had kept my end of the bargain, entering every one thinking it would help me, make me well, restore my freedom of movement, improve my vision, just to name a few of the goals. Saturday night I went to bed depressed, despondent, ragefully angry, and furious.  It didn’t keep me from sleeping, but church would be a wait and see for me.

Rising that morning, I resolved I would attend, because I had nothing else. What would I do instead? Sleep in with the cats? Go to a mediocre brunch, sit by myself and think about how long I had? Church, I resolved, church it would be. Good to see my friends there. Always the tonic of laughter around the table at Hardee’s. Good to see Pastor Eddie, maybe ask for a healing. Prayer warriors would pray over me, as Pastor Eddie would make a moist cross on my forehead by dipping his finger in water from the Jordan River mixed with Brunswick Country water. I had been a prayer warrior for others confronting cancer—seen their lives extended—now I would be the one to be prayed for. “You must get up and go.”

Once aboard the ferry, I sat down to read the morning’s tweets on Twitter, something I do daily, looking for headlines upon which to follow up, if need be. If it wasn’t a tweet by Thomas Sowell, then it was within the first three tweets. I think it was the first. Franklin Graham had posted Mark 4:37-41. Here it is for the uninitiated:

Mark 4:37-41King James Version (KJV):

37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.  38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?  39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?  41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?  

Reading this tweet, here I was sitting aboard this ferry on the upper deck directly behind the pilot house—crossing the Cape Fear— its normally wavy waters motionless as a mill pond. As a looked over the starboard rail on the lower deck back toward the island at the stillness before me, I realized that my storm had passed; my blind rage had ended: Here was Jesus saying, “[H]ow is it that ye have no faith?” The Lord reassured me in the tranquility of the morning, just as Jesus had done with his disciples. Was I not one of His disciples? To be sure, He wasn’t saying, “Sandy, you have been spared” No, He was saying, “I am with you.” Reassurance full of fortitude with a divine healing power all its own.  My great friend Joe has reminded me of this in the midst of my diagnosis

Joshua 1:9 King James Version (KJV):

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

So, as we entered the marina, I felt a new sense of assurance, resolve and determination, knowing that whatever lay ahead in this life’s journey, my Lord had once again shown Himself to be true to me, as He always has. It was I who had—once again—foolishly doubted Him.

My wondrous friend Billie had long ago introduced me to this Bible verse from Ephesians:

Ephesians 6:10-18 King James Version (KJV):

 10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, at ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;  15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:  18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints[.]

She expressed her feelings this way on that particular morning five years ago: “Every day when I get up, I like to put on the armor of God.” Profound then. Profound now. Was this crossing under the watchful eye of the Lord not arming me for the battle ahead?  To rousing applause, I opined as much in church later that morning. “Armour of God.”

As I felt Pastor Eddie’s calming finger form a cross on my forehead and all the love and prayers of my friends and fellow parishioners surround me that Sunday, I was glad that I had not given in to my misdirected rage and self-pity the night before. Whatever this life had in store for me, I would face this cancer challenge with renewed strength, courage and wisdom. 

My family and most of my friends know the good news by now, shared via a post elsewhere, but for those who are wondering, I include a portion of it here:

[Eighteen] days ago, I had it confirmed to me for the second time that I do not have cancer. This gives me more time to do the Lord’s work, and that is exactly what I intend to do. I don’t care if I am one[,] and the only one, I will fight for this amazing God whom I serve until I can fight no more. I have fought so many battles in my life and struggled to survive. I won this one, but will ultimately lose, as will we all. Vanity makes you think you have time. As we begin our journeys into old age, I leave you with these words from John Wesley [first taught to me at the close of a church service by my mentor, pastor and friend] Eddie Hill:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
― John Wesley

Blessings to all,

Sandman

(Photo credit-top of page-Sailing: cdrin/Shutterstock

 

What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

This afternoon I rediscovered the draft of an old blog I wrote a long time ago. It began, “Tonight, I find myself asking the question: “What does it mean to be a Christian?” What quintessential belief does one have to hold in order to enjoy the right to call oneself Christian? Strange, but I’ve never really asked myself the question.”  Now, I cannot stop thinking about it, especially as we live in an age when one’s appearance is valued so much more than one’s character.

First, I think you have to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.  You have to believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God.   You can’t just say, “I believe in what he believed in,” or “I follow his teachings and try to live by them.”  To me, that’s not good enough.  (Maybe for you, but not for me.)  Not only was he a rabbi, a teacher, prophet, he could perform miracles, the first account of which appears in the Bible at John 2: 1-11, the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding:  John 2:1-11 King James Version (KJV)

2 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, 10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. 11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

You have to embrace the miraculous.  Jesus dealt in the supernatural. If you do not believe in the divinity of Christ, then to me, you’re not a true Christian. You still may endeavor to live by Christian principles as expressed in Jesus’ two commandments: Matthew 22: 37-39 King James Version (KJV):

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment.  39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  

If you truly live by these principles, however, meaning you believe in God, and you love Him with all your heart, soul and mind, then you have to take it on faith that Jesus was His one and only son, the intercession between Himself and his creation, man.  I cannot get involved in absolute proof that Jesus existed. I do not need to, because I have accepted through faith that he did exist and through faith that he performed miracles in my life and in the lives of others, and he continues to do so through this day.  This point is where you lose a person who instantly becomes a Doubting Thomas:

John 20: 25 King James Version (KJV):  25 ….But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.  

He or she wants proof and without faith, there is no proof. I would argue that faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, my faith, has shown me proof.  Not that I looked for it, but here is my proof: 1. I believe Jesus put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me and give me strength and courage at my father’s funeral.  (Even there, I had already acknowledged divinity to believe that he was behind me.  2. More recently, I believe that he met my friend Carol at her hospital window when she, who had lain bedridden, rose to walk to the window–where she died. Her last words, “It’s so beautiful!”  3.  I have seen further evidence of his presence in my own life when I was dying of a septic infection: My last words to the surgeon who removed a toxic kidney stone from my kidney before I went under anesthesia, “May God guide your hand.”  After I had recovered, my primary care physician told me he had been thoroughly impressed by the skill of the surgeon, that what the surgeon had done was “a one in a hundred shot,” retrieving the stone the first time he tried. How else is that possible, except by the guiding hand of the Lord? At the time, I said, “[m]ay God,” but as I grow in my understanding of the Bible, I percieve it was Jesus’ hand that healed me.

To be Christian then, one must fully embrace faith in a divine Jesus Christ. One must believe, first.  Believing one must then strive to live by Jesus’ two commandments as expressed in Matthew 22: 37-39.

Sandman

 

(Photo credit at top of page-fish symbol: Thoom/Shutterstock)

Leap of Faith

Pondering my faith low these many weeks during my travels, this came to me as advice to a dear friend who is struggling with her faith. With two small additions since sending it to her, I thought it could apply to me, to you, to all of us, and so I share it with you:

B: 

Merry Christmas to you! And a very happy new year!   There will be challenges for sure, but you will rise above them and you will prosper!

Think of the great journey that lies ahead as one that leads to all good things.  Continue to embrace your faith and faith will embrace you.   When you cannot not carry it, you will find that it carries you.   At first you will be a student, and then you will be a teacher. At first you will teach, and one day you will become a master in the pattern of the Master.

Let go of the endeavors that are not working.  In so doing you will make room for the wondrous miracles to come.  In the broadest sense this is the leap of faith.  Before you can refine the gold, you must first dig it out—nugget by nugget—of the earth and the rock that surrounds it, An arduous job for sure, but one you must undertake.   The fear you have known is not God’s gift. This is God’s gift: Isaiah 9:6 KVJ: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Sandman

 

(Photo credit-top of page-Cross on wood: Images72/Shutterstock)

I am a Christian

In today’s America, if you are a Christian, you wonder whether or not you will be assassinated for your faith, or simply bludgeoned to death by the cudgel of the administrative state.  All this under a leader who is supposedly a Christian….

Sandman

 

(Photo credit: Rafael Dias Katayama/Shutterstock)

Here I Am

Frankly, I am torn, because I have so many thoughts running through my head about which I could write. I know many have commented that last week’s blog was a powerful call to action. Afterward, I wrote a response to one of my friends, and I may include that response stripped of the name, in a future blog. Not this week, though.  Jeremiah 7 is for another week. My poor little brain feels so overwhelmed with all I could write about….

Recently, I had the great fortune to pray with my friend Jenny, who is a pastor. (Pastors who are friends = four.)  Quite out of the blue, she reached out to me last Friday, suggesting that she come to pray with me. Her entreaty was timely.  We met Saturday morning at 11:00 here at my house.  Jenny and I prayed so long even Georgia, who is not fond of people came out to see that what was up.  So unusual. Jenny’s appearance was quite spur of the moment. Indeed, in a moment of discouragement, I had asked the Lord to show Himself to me.  He sent Jenny.  I asked Him again on Sunday and Daniel and Carol, friends whom I had met three years ago here on the island, appeared at the door Monday morning. Knock, knock? Having sequestered herself in a specially fashioned hole on the underside of the box spring upon their arrival for dinner, Georgia reappeared later that evening while Daniel and I shared some of Carol’s homemade lasagna and garlic bread. I only mention her brief appearance, because Georgia is so very frightened of strangers. Leviticus 25:55: 55 I am the Lord your God who brought your Siamese cat out from under the bed. Hey, a little biblically inspired humor never hurt anyone….

I am at a place in my spiritual journey, not where I question the work of the Lord, but the hearts and intentions of men.  Daily. Jenny discussed her own struggles in preaching the Gospel. She taught; she preached: she did all to further God’s kingdom, but was anyone really listening? Was she making a difference?  (Not that I would claim to be pastor.)  She said early on to feel isolated and powerless is part of spiritual growth. After all, we cannot force people to accept the Lord. Is that not  what ISIS does?

She briefly related the story of Jesus’ journey to pray in solitude, which he undertook so often. Who can forget this: Mathew 13:22-23: 22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.

This passage comes just before Jesus walks on water and saves Peter from drowning. Interestingly, also in this passage, the Lord tested Peter’s faith: Mathew 13:29-30: 29And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.

30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.

Prayer in solitude was how the Lord prepared Jesus for what came next. Gini exuded the confidence that such is what the Lord is doing with me. O. K. Lord, You have my attention.  Isaiah 6:8: Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

As I tell you my story, I wish not to draw attention to myself, but to reassure those of you who might feel similarly, “Leave to thy God to order and provide; In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.” So say the words of the second verse of the wonderful hymn “Be Still My Soul.”

What, if anything is this mission God has for me? For any one of us? Jesus teaches if we follow him we can perform miracles: John 14:12: 12Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. Most people when they think of miracles, they think of big miracles: raising the dead, healing the sick or giving sight to the blind. I would submit to you humbly our job on this earth is not to perform the great miracles, but the small ones: talking a despondent friend out of harming herself, turning an alcoholic away from a life in the bottle, helping an Alzheimer’s patient find the words to express himself, leading the Lord’s children back to His teachings, His house one by one.

As I prepared to write to you today, I thought, “What shall I write? It’s too late. I am tired.” But earlier this week I pondered this question; “What does it mean to be a Christian?” First and foremost to be a Christian, you must accept the divinity of Christ. If you cannot do that, you may adhere to some of Christ’s teachings, but you’re not a Christian. You say, “Now wait a minute….Who do you think you are telling me that I am not a Christian?” O. K. If you follow Marin Luther King’s teachings to the letter, does that make you a Kingsman? Is there a difference between Christ and any other man with a spiritual underpinning? Yes. Divinity.

So I leave you as the Lord has left me: meditating on the word divinity: The divinity of Christ.

If I am to undertake the journey, I must accept without question or hesitation the divinity of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. John 6:8… Here am I; send me.

Sandman

 

(Photo credit: Bushko Oleksandr/Shutterstock)

David and Goliath

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Photo Credit: Anelina/Shutterstock

I feel that I am living in a time of manifest, engulfing evil.  Not that I’ve studied him, but the Old Testament god Moloch comes to mind. Rampaging, burning everything in his path, mercilessly devouring sacrificed children. Daily in the Middle East ISIS sacrifices Christian children, as well as those of other faiths. Yet the people in the West do not see it, or they simply turn their heads. We Americans, I would venture to say, are momentarily sun-blinded by our cell phones, our iPads, our Facebook friends. Every day, I ask, “Where is the outrage? Who stands against this in church?” At times, I feel like a voice screaming in the wilderness.  I hear the trees move above me, their branches scraping, the rushing wind, I even hear my own footfalls on the leaves. I walk the path God entreats, but where is my fellow man, my fellow Christian? When will he save his brother?

Tonight, I stood on a stile on south beach by the club facing the southwest. The wind must have been blowing at least 25 to 30 knots. I thought of walking the beach around to the next beach access, but then I realized my cries for help, if such were uttered, would go unheard, die unanswered. My voice would carry only into the next breaking wave, then to be scattered with bits of blowing foam on the beach and into other turbulent breakers. As it was just twilight, I thought I would save my trek for a calmer day.  Sound preparation in body, mind and spirit is the steel of valor.

I am thinking of one man in particular as I write this blog.

This, I reflect, is the year of cancer. Almost everyone whom I know has either had it, or has it, or is in the process of vanquishing it.  One cruel, wily, often merciless opponent.  Cancer killed my father and my best friend, Dusty.  I never really understood the pain until my Aunt Jo Anne had suffered from metastatic breast cancer which resurfaced in her spine. She was brave, even on morphine, she was oh so brave. Like many who have endured radiation and chemotherapy, she had trouble eating. Food was tasteless to her and she, in particular, couldn’t stand the smell of turkey—too much like her chemotherapy said she, but she did love a tasty, tender filet mignon!

What of this cancer? This Dad killer, this Dusty killer? I pray about it. I pray for Jesus healing hands to rest upon the shoulders of those afflicted whom I know. I have even asked God if I could trade places with some of my friends, if I suspected they had it. When you love someone that much, you’ll give your life for them.  I remember praying that prayer once for a girlfriend and minutes later almost choking on my lunch.  It was as if God were testing me, saying, “Did you mean what you said?  Never forget that I, Lord of all lords, King of all kings, can seize your life from you in an instant.”

As I think of this latest friend, a Marine’s marine and Vietnam vet who now struggles with Agent Orange-induced cancer, I am 700 miles away powerless to help him. Many days I have pondered tactics: “What other treatments should he consider? What other courses of action? “When should I go to see him?” I have beseeched the Lord on his behalf, but no miracle prayed for miracle has presented.   The only thought I have over and over is this: “The Lord often saves his bravest warriors for his toughest battles.” If you knew my friend, you’d know this fits him to a T. I have seen this with my father, with Dusty, with Aunt Jo Anne, with Dana and many, many others.  Some, like my dear friend Marie, have beaten cancer, this scoundrel, this wrecker of lives at least three times. I have often wondered how she did it:  Special DNA? Tough German stock? (Sorry P. C. zealots, you’ll find none your free speech suicide pills here.)  Bravest warriors? Toughest battles?  I think back to the story of David. David and Goliath which I reread again today.

Goliath strode onto the battlefield supremely confident of his power, his prowess in battle. Heavily armored, he terrified the Israelites, 1 Samuel 17:11 When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.  David came as a hum ble servant of the Lord: 1 Samuel 17: 26 And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? For the Lord had prepared him well for this day, this battle, unpretentious shepherd though he was. The Lord had prepared him well. He had fought both a lion and a bear to free a purloined lamb from their clutches: 1 Samuel 17: 36 Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David displayed the confidence of the Lord’s will with him such that Saul allowed him to go into battle to save the Israelites from certain slavery and servitude under the Philistines.  Think of it: the once mighty, now fearful king trusted the fate of his kingdom with a mere shepherd: 1 Samuel 17: 37 David said moreover, The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. David invoking the spirit of the Lord, together with his “sling” and his “five smooth stones” confronted Goliath using even the same language that Goliath had in describing what would be his end. In that instant, I can hear the subtext—David in effect saying, “I am your equal”: 1 Samuel 17: 45…I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. 1 Samuel 17: 46 This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.

So today I think of my friend battling cancer and heart disease with “his sling” and his “five smooth stones,” the love and grace of the Lord, Jesus miraculous power to heal which assured David victory against Goliath on the battlefield: 1 Samuel 17:  47 … the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands. My friend must summon the same courage David drew upon if he is to be victorious. In this last valiant effort, twirling the sling of the might of the Lord above his head, he must draw upon the exquisite power of the Holy Spirit with steadfast aim to lead him to sure victory.

As I reflect upon the cancer that threatens to take my friend from me, the Iran nuclear deal’s passage in the Senate this afternoon, the murderous wrath of ISIS and even the anniversary of 911 attacks here in the United States and abroad, I humbly ask the Lord to confer upon my great friend and also upon me the courage of David knowing “1 Samuel 17: 47…the battle is the Lord’s.”

Sandman