Psalm 10, The Arrogance of Pediatric Cancer

“Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

When times of trouble stubbornly persist, the heart of the faithful cries out as it appears God is far off. In his arrogance the wicked taunts the faithful caught in the schemes of the wicked. Often the psalms speak of the struggles of faith, the struggle of the suffering righteous who watch the wicked prosper.

I remember daily my grandson Sully, who died at age fifteen months with infant ALL, leukemia. When I read a text like Psalm 10 I read it through the eyes of one who has witnessed the wicked scheme of Satan called pediatric cancer. The psalmist’s description of the wicked man serves as a metaphor of pediatric cancer–the arrogance, hunting down the weak, the boasting. “He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, ‘God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.'”

“Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.”

Parents’ desire (a weak word to express what their heart is longing and aching for) is deliverance now. The faith of the believer is that God hears her cries. Yet deliverance might not come now. Trust in God may waver in the weakness of the pain and heartache. However, trust does not break. Christ strengthens trust in God as hope in his return sustains. Christ is coming. All wickedness will perish. God’s people, all of them, and the children, will be eternally delivered. In the midst of continuing affliction, of the arrogant evil of wickedness, the cries of those who trust in God through Christ are heard. God gives strength and hope. He gives peace. He pours out his love.

“You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed.”

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Ten Years Ago—Remembering, Loving, and Missing our Grandson

Ten years ago today our daughter called. “Come to the hospital.” Her son, our grandson, Sully, was nearing the end of his life at the age of fifteen months. We spent the day, family, friends, hospital staff, saying “good bye”, holding and hugging Sully, holding and hugging each other. Room 14 on the BMT unit at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

We watched Sully for thirteen months wage a fierce and courageous battle against leukemia. During his short life we watched this little man defeat death more than once. Sully’s fight, his spirit, his sweetness, and his smile, blessed us all. Sully was God’s gift to us.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). Oh how Sully led and taught us.

The pictures are from July 25, 2008, nine days before Sully took his last breath. These pictures are evidence of Sully teaching us that no matter how painful life can be, there is reason to smile. There was a toughness of spirit within Sully which was a gift from God. Grumble and complain, Sully did not. There were cries and screams of pain, which broke our hearts. Yet a moment or minutes later Sully was smiling and playing patty cake or waving his hand or “I-I” or peek-a-boo or throwing a kiss.

Sully loved and enjoyed people—people, reason to smile. Sully taught us that the Lord did make this day. The Lord—reason to smile. Sully taught us not to waste life wallowing in the difficulties. In the midst of all the struggle, the pain, and the grief of those thirteen months, the one suffering the most, little Sully, was the one bringing us joy with his smile, his grunts, his kisses, and his laughs. He taught us to smile and to live with hope.

Life becomes so filled with the seriousness of what amount to small things, ultimately unimportant things. We spend our days and nights consumed with the urgent, with wants of toys and pleasure, and with energy draining efforts to get, to achieve, and to have. We forget the important things. With his sweet spirit Sully taught us to remember the important—a good attitude, a smile, a “thank you,” a “let me help you,” people, and above all, God.

The prophet Jeremiah writes of his suffering in Lamentations 3. As I understand his words he lays his suffering at the feet of God; he blames God for it. “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me” (Lamentations 3:19-20). If anyone had a right to speak these words Sully did, but he smiled; he loved; he gave joy. I know his little mind could not form the thoughts as we can, but with his spirit Sully taught us. He taught us that with all the suffering and the questions his suffering brought, it all ultimately comes down to this—trust God. Out of the depths of suffering the prophet went on to write, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Sully helped us understand these words.

Sully helped us understand the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:1-4. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And so you are Sully, and so you are!

Ten years ago, remembering, loving, and missing you Sully. Thank you for being our teacher. Thank you for leading us. Thank you Lord for your gift and for the hope we have in Christ.

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On This Independence Day God Knows I Love My Country

Consider the new song of praise sung to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9, 10). Then consider the words of the apostle Paul. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20, 21).

God knows I love my country, the United States of America. There are those moments when my heart and body are moved with emotion, humility, and yes, patriotic pride—a song, a reading, a military salute at a funeral, a parade, a cemetery or memorial, standing on a battlefield imagining the sounds of battle, trying to sense the fear and courage of the soldiers engaged in a horrific struggle for their lives. Independence Day, July 4, I pause to remember the price paid by so many for the freedoms I often take for granted. It is a day to remind myself of the responsibilities these freedoms bring. My love for my country does not blind my eyes or heart to its sins. Its sins do not blind my eyes or heart to its goodness.

As my fathers before me, I give thanks to God who, in his providence, at the least allowed this nation to rise, or, for reasons which cannot be known with certainty, purposely established this nation. I give thanks to God who, for whatever reason, has blessed disciples of Jesus Christ who live in America with peace and freedom as we live lives of faith in Jesus Christ. For this I give thanks to God and pray for this continued blessing.

I love this country in which I was born and live. Yet, as a follower of Jesus Christ I am a citizen of the kingdom of God. I am part of this kingdom which breaks down walls, boundaries, borders, ethnic prejudices, enmity, and hatred. All who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have been made the kingdom of God by Jesus Christ the Lamb of God. The followers of Christ from every tribe and language and people and nation are a holy nation, God’s people, God’s own possession, God’s one nation, God’s one people, God’s kingdom.

As it is for all citizens of the kingdom of God, whatever nation in which they live, as a follower of Christ in America I am challenged to live for the glory of Christ my Lord. I am to live as a good citizen in my behavior, respecting authority, and praying for my nation and its leaders (no matter who those leaders are). Yet at the same time, as a citizen of the kingdom of God, I am to live in America as an alien, a stranger, a pilgrim. The central, core, purpose in my life as a follower of Christ is to bring glory to God by the way I live my life, through the message of Christ which I live and proclaim. What loyalty I have toward America is to be rooted in my loyalty to God. Loyalty to God and to Christ is to be the loyalty to which I give myself above all other loyalties.

In the movie “Chariots of Fire”, the crusty old chairman of the British sports committee scolded Eric Liddel, “In my day it was king first and God after.” There was a clash between Eric’s faith and what he was being asked to do for his country. Eric responded, “God knows I love my country but I can’t sacrifice my loyalty to Him.”

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To Please My Father

Jesus described his relationship with his Father. “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29).

My father was skilled in all things carpentry, plumbing, electrical, masonry, and so on. I am unskilled in all such things. One summer visit with my parents Dad asked me if I was willing to replace the landscape timbers around one of their flower beds. He was ninety, on oxygen, his body no longer able to do what he had done all his life. I was grateful to be asked. I was very willing to do this for Dad and Mom.

The finished product would not be as good as Dad’s work. My goal was to do the best I could do. All I wanted to do was to please my father. As small or insignificant as this request might sound to you, for me this was an opportunity to express gratitude to this man who, with love, had given so much of his life for his family.

I purchased all the supplies, took some instruction from Dad, and went to work. Dad sat in the seat of his walker, with his portable oxygen tank. He watched. He supervised. He answered my questions. We visited. Dad was not able to stay in the yard the whole day. I finished after dark. Landscape timbers around a flower bed. Not much. Work to which I gave myself to thank my father for his life, for all he had done for me. With love and gratitude all I wanted to do was please my father and to know his pleasure.

The next day Dad inspected my work. I will never forget his words. “You did a better job than me.” My sixty year old heart felt ten again. Joy filled my heart. The joy of pleasing my father, of bringing him pleasure, of experiencing his pleasure. Five months later my father died. This day became all the more significant to me. The previous day’s work, this day’s words of praise from my father, were a memorable experience of intimacy with my father. This was a memorable experience of doing something worthy, not in the sense of deserving praise. Rather doing something worthy of honoring Dad. It was the expression of my gratitude to him for all that he had given me in my life. This was an experience of the joy of pleasing my father by doing something worthy of his love, worthy of him.

Looking back on that summer day I am reminded that as a child of God the goal of my life is to please my heavenly Father in the things that I do. Every day provides the opportunity to please God by bearing the fruit of what is good, right, and true. Living in order to please God I seek to live a life worthy, a life honoring God, expressing gratitude for all that he has given and continues to give so freely to me. What joy to know I am pleasing God, bringing pleasure to his heart, and experiencing his pleasure, knowing intimacy with the Father.

On that day when the Father inspects my work, my hope in Jesus Christ is that I will kneel before him and hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). To know the Father’s pleasure!

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My Father’s Blessing

Isaac called his son Esau to come to him. Old, sensing his life was fading, this father said to his son, “Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die” (Genesis 27:4).

Dad, Mom, we all knew. Dad’s life was nearing its end. I flew to Pennsylvania to spend time with Dad and Mom. There was little doubt these were going to be my last days to visit with my father.

Dad had come home from the hospital the morning of the Friday I arrived. The living room was set up with a hospital bed. Dad was too weak to be out of the bed. He was now under hospice care. The house was busy with a continual flow of visitors. Weak, tired, breathing difficult at times, but Dad’s humor was full of energy. His mind was sharp. There were jokes and laughter. His faith was keen. Many of us teared up as Dad spoke of heaven. He said he was waiting for the Lord.

Sunday the house was again busy with family and friends. Our son, Paul, and his family came. They lived only thirty miles away. Dad shared with me and Paul a dream he had some years ago. The dream was the story of Zachaeus from Luke 19. In Dad’s dream the short man who climbed in the tree was Dad. Fitting since Dad was barely five feet tall, if that. The tree was by the road to Jericho. Dad climbed it to see Jesus. Jesus told him to come down. “Karl, come down for I am going to your house today.” Dad said in the dream he was surprised by this. Then he realized Jesus was talking about Dad’s heart and body. Jesus was calling him to faith and giving him the Holy Spirit. Finishing the story Dad told me and Paul, “I hope my grandchildren and great grandchildren will have faith.”

Dad went on to speak of Christ’s grace in healing. He reminded us of times in the gospels when Jesus healed the sick. He again spoke of the importance of faith. Dad was confident Christ had been with him over the years. He mentioned his heart surgery in 1981 and his heart attack in 1966 as examples of Christ being with him.

That Sunday holds an especially cherished memory for me. Dad asked me and my son to come close to him. That dear old man, my father who knew his life was so near its end. He called us close. He said to us, “This is my blessing to you, faith in Jesus Christ.”

Wednesday morning I woke Mom and Dad early. My friend Louie was coming to take me to the airport. I held Dad’s hand, patted and rubbed his head. More than once I hugged and kissed him. “God bless you,” Dad said. “See you—I don’t remember his exact words—in the hereafter or on the other side or…” His message was clear. Mom and I had a long, firm hug. They did not want me to leave. It was hard to leave, knowing this was most likely the last time to hold my dad, to feel his touch, to hear his voice. Yet I left with another blessing from him. And, Dad being Dad, a joke, “Don’t drag your feet on the ground while flying.” Five days later the Lord came for Dad. The Lord for whom Dad had been waiting.

“So that I may give you my blessing before I die.” Dad did. A precious and cherished blessing it was and continues to be.

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Reflections on the Resurrection

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone. The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said’” (Matthew 28:2, 5, 6).

Jesus has risen! “Where, O death, is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The tomb is empty. Hope is alive! “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. So in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22).

Jesus crucified is risen. Jesus, who like a lamb quietly went to his death, is enthroned at the right hand of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords. He who died in weakness rose from the grave, from death, in power. The power and mighty strength of God was “exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything” for the good of God’s people (Ephesians 1:19-22).

I come to the empty tomb of Christ. The graves which hold my parents and my grandson no longer instill hopelessness and fear within my heart. The grave which one day will hold my lifeless body is no longer fearful to me. Death’s strangling grip on my heart has been broken. 

Jesus Christ shared in our humanity “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). In Christ I am freed from the fear of death. For in Christ I am alive in God and live with the hope of the resurrection to eternal life. This hope is not a “what if”, an “I hope so, but I’m not sure.” This hope is hope for it is certain. “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (1 Corinthians 6:14).

Jesus is risen! He is at the right hand of God! Yes, we await the resurrection to come with hope and expectation. I am confident that now in spirit my parents and my grandson are not entombed as are their lifeless, spiritless, bodies. They are with Christ waiting for the resurrection to come. The apostle wrote of his expectation to be with Christ after death. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). 

The resurrection of Christ means resurrection life for us, not only in the future, but even now. Resurrection life is life lived in faith trusting the power, grace, and love of God and of Christ. Resurrection life is life lived in the hope of our eternal inheritance in Christ. Resurrection life is living with the joy of hope deeply planted in our hearts. Resurrection life is living faithfully before God. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3, 8, 9). “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

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Reflections on the Tomb

“Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:59-60).

The beauty of the grass, trees, and flowers, cannot hide what lies beneath the ground. The entombed lifeless bodies of people who loved and were loved. They once lived, worked, and played. Babies, children, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, the single, the married, all engulfed by the earth.

The grave cries out that death, the enemy of us all, is victorious. Yes, death is our enemy, the enemy of life (1 Corinthians 15:26).

I want to again experience my father’s hugs and hear his voice. To eat my mother’s pies, pot pie, and more, to hear her words of love, and her giggle, at least once more. I remember and miss my grandson sitting in my lap, curled up asleep in my arms. I wonder what he’d be now. The grave keeps them from me. The grave, its stark coldness, its mocking darkness, is death’s strangling grip on my heart.

Death feeds the grave. The grave feeds my fears. What is life if all it does is lead to the grave? “Death is the destiny of every man” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other” (Ecclesiastes 3:19).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator, his lifeless body on a stone slab in the darkness of the tomb. Hope died as the big stone was rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb.

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb” (Matthew 28:1).

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Reflections on the Cross

“They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). And they crucified him” (Mark 15:22, 24).

God loves humankind with a love the depth, the cost, and the unselfishness of which I cannot fully grasp. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

It is said of Jesus Christ that he created all that was created. How do I put my mind around the Creator becoming the created? The Creator of all things, the Almighty One, lived in the weakness of the flesh. The power of all powers died seemingly powerless. We humans pursue power over others. I cannot comprehend such strength of love, such power, that is able to so completely sacrifice self. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).

Father and Son gave themselves freely for me, a sinner, ungodly, an enemy of God. Christ died that I might be forgiven and reconciled to God. Through the crucified Christ I am now a holy child of God, godly in His sight, and at peace with God. “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When the tragedies and struggles of life have struck those I love, I remember Christ on the cross. When suffering and death strike the innocent, especially those I love, I remember Christ on the cross. When tragedies, struggles, suffering, and death challenge my faith, cause me to struggle with doubt, and tempt me to turn from God, I remember Christ on the cross. Christ died on the cross. The Beloved of God died on the cross. I remember. Remembering I know God’s love has not forsaken the suffering and dying child of God. God’s love has not forsaken me. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Jesus Christ dying on the cross gives me hope. Hope gives me joy. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have no received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11).

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A CHRISTMAS PRAYER–Lessons from Sully

Journey through the Shadowlands

6-24img_2572A baby in the manger. The Son of God come in the flesh. We ponder the wonder. We seek to understand his impact on our lives.

A baby born with leukemia. My grandson Sully. We ponder the wonder of his short life. We seek to understand his impact on our lives.

A couple years ago I was sitting at lunch with a group of St. Jude Children’s Hospital nurses. One of them had known Sully. She reflected on Sully’s life of fifteen months. “Sully always smiled. All the chemo and heavy duty meds, the suffering which he endured, yet he always smiled.”

As I remember Sully on this Christmas, I share with you the lessons with which Sully blessed this grandfather’s heart and life.

No matter how painful life may be, smile.

Do not grumble and complain. Cry, scream in pain, but then remember the Lord, remember the blessings of…

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Christmas Gifts for Your Children

Journey through the Shadowlands

PICT1295Children add something so special to this season. I have precious childhood memories of Christmas. How precious are the memories, even more so, of our own children and Christmas. Now the grandchildren. As I reflect on Christmases past and present, I wonder, do we attempt to buy our children’s happiness with gifts quickly forgotten? Do we fail to devote as much joy, expense, and effort in giving the gifts that last a lifetime? So here is my suggested list of gifts for parents to give to their children. A list for grandparents to give to their grandchildren. Give these gifts now and throughout the year. You do not need a check, cash, or plastic to buy them. You simply need all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.

Gift one–LOVE! I know, this is obvious, or is it? Jesus said, “As I have loved you…

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