Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Manna From Heaven


Yesterday was an important day. My meeting with the nutritionist was very instructive. I think we have a plan to keep my weight up. But I did also find out some sobering information from her as well.

First of all, I just think it's really cool that my radiation oncologist has not one, but two nutritionists working in his office, just to help his patients with their nutrition. Not my medical oncologist, whom I see for most of my treatment, but the radiation oncologist that I've only talked to twice. I'm not even sure I'll go for radiation treatment. If I do, it will be down the road. But based only on two consultations, and knowing I may never allow him to treat me, he still wants me to consult with a nutritionist in his office to make sure I don't waste away to nothing. Maybe that's standard procedure, but I'm almost touched by this free service that could make all the difference for me.

As I mentioned yesterday, my weight had increased by one pound, from 120 the past 3 or 4 days to 121. 120 for a few days in a row was a wake up call for me. I don't want to fall below that weight if I can help it. The nutritionist, a young woman I'll call Katie, (not her real name) said that my diet is actually very good. She said I eat "mindfully," which is what they want. I just need to add some calories in a way that works for me.

I mentioned that I got some sobering information. Here's what I found out. She agreed that I should try to avoid falling below 120. I asked her what would happen if I did. At what point would my weight become a serious problem? She wouldn't give me a number. She just said, "We don't want you to weigh less than 120." That tells me it's already a serious problem, even though I'm still not gaunt. With my clothes on, anyway. OK. Good to know.

She also said that one problem I have is that I have two things burning calories inside me now; my digestive system and my cancer. That's why, if I eat like I used to eat, my weight crashes. I replied with an observation I've made before, but wasn't sure was true. I said that the cancer is eating me up one cell at a time. She agreed. That's what happening. That's what cancer does. It eats you up. That's the first time I've had a medical professional confirm that suspicion.

So now, like a pregnant woman, I'm eating for two. I'm feeding myself, and my cancer. I just have to make up for what my cancer eats.

So here's the plan. I need to add snacks at set intervals between meals. So I have alarms set for 9:00 AM, Noon, 3:00 PM, 6:00 PM, and 9:00 PM. Noon and 6:00 PM would be lunch and dinner, obviously, not a snack. But those will be my set eating times, except for the big breakfast I have every morning around 8:00 AM.

Historically, before I was diagnosed, I ate twice a day, breakfast and dinner. If I ate breakfast, I wasn't hungry for lunch. If I knew I was meeting someone for lunch, I'd skip breakfast so I could eat lunch. So I'm adding another whole meal, lunch, and snacks in between.

I'm also supposed to eat something before and after each workout. I had been eating an energy bar before working out, which I do every other day, but I didn't think about eating right after. Katie said I need to eat something within ten minutes after I work out, to keep my body from burning what little body fat I have left. She suggested Carnation Instant Breakfast, instead of Ensure or Boost. I didn't work out today, so I haven't had one yet. I hope they're tolerable. Katie thinks they taste better than Boost, which I can only tolerate if I add ice cream to it.

She says we need to put more money in the bank, not withdraw more. Boy is that true, in more ways than one!

She also told me to always add a fat to a carb. Cheese and crackers. Toast with butter. Cereal and milk. I can do that. On cold mornings, I love oatmeal for breakfast. But oatmeal and toast is an almost 100% carb meal. So I added a spoon of coconut oil to it this morning, and had two pieces of cheese on the side.

My before bed snack last night was pretzels, a couple slices of Colby/Jack cheese, (my favorite) and some almonds. This morning I weighed 122. I'll take that extra pound!

My wife thinks I should try to get above 125, at least. It's too easy for my weight to crash if my eating pattern is disrupted for even one day. I need a little headroom, to use an audio term. A little more money in the bank.

The good news is, I'm actually hungry a lot of the time now. That's another lifestyle adjustment I need to make.

I realize that I've made many of you wish you had my attitude toward food. Sorry, but here's another one. Because I fill up so easily, I've often put off hunger pangs because I didn't want to spoil my next meal. If I felt peckish at, say, 3:00 PM, I wouldn't eat anything. If I did, I wouldn't want dinner. I can't do that anymore. If I feel hungry, I must eat something immediately. If I don't, I'll lose what little money I still have in the bank. My body will start burning my 0% body fat. Not that I'm actually 0%. I have no idea what I am, except skinny.

So the new rules are:
1. Always eat something before and after each workout.
2. Always add a fat to a carb.
3. Eat at regular intervals.
4. Eat before bed.
5. Never ignore hunger pangs.

But even when my stomach is empty, my heart is full. As Jesus said, man does not live on bread alone. (Matthew 4:3-4, blog) My paraphrase is that man also needs coffee and chocolate. What many don't know is the rest of that quote. "...but by every word that comes out of God's mouth." Boy, is he filling me up with that.

And you are filling my heart with love. But I know I can't live on love alone, either. Not if I don't want to weigh zero. But you have made it very tempting to try.

When God provided manna from heaven to the Israelites in the desert, he was providing their nutritional needs. I have a nutritionist for that. I have two grocery stores nearby. Moses didn't. My manna from heaven is what I'm learning about God and about love. My manna is learning to trust God for the first time. It's the love and encouragement that I get from you.

But even as I'm overflowing with the love I'm receiving, with the manna from heaven that still pours down on my head, I'm still gonna eat. It's time for a protein shake. My phone tells me so.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

See More


One quick update before I begin my topic today. My appointment with a nutritionist is this afternoon at 2:00 PM, MDT. I weighed 120 again yesterday, and I was very active; cleaning the house for company, running errands, etc. I also ate light, and did not get my protein shake for lunch. Dinner was a salad with piece of salmon. I added two pieces of bread. I also had a couple of brownies for dessert. But I didn't think that would be enough calories. I fully expected my weight to be less than 120 today, but instead, I gained a pound. 121 this morning. I'll take it.

Each time I post to this blog, and share it on Facebook, I go back periodically to see how many "likes" that post got. What I'm really hoping for when my cursor hovers over that link is to see that there are more names than they can show. If that's the case, at the bottom, it says. "and 4 more..." or however many more there are. I have to click on the link to see all of the names. What really feels special is when, at the bottom of that list, it says, "See More." I have to click on that to see the rest. In the share of one post, Not Zero, I had to click See More twice. That felt very special.

When a friend posts on Facebook, if their post is more than a couple of sentences, you also have to click "See More" to read the rest of what they said. I didn't use to click See More all that often. Now I click it almost every time. I'm much more interested in what my friends have to say on social media than I used to be. I want to see more.

And I am seeing more. More than I've ever seen before. That's what happens when you meet up with God's 2 By 4. The songwriter in me wants to turn those last three lines into a chorus! And I could, in about 30 seconds. But I won't.

In 1996, I wrote a song called, "Out Of The Comfort Zone." It's on my second album, Sin No More. In that song, I asked God to take off my virtual blinders that keep me from seeing the needs of people all around me. I asked him to get me out of my comfort zone. He never did, until now. Or maybe I never really let him until now. That's why it took cancer to wake me up.

But now that I'm awake, I see more than I used to. And the more I see, the more I want to see. I want to know what's going on with you, and how I can be there for you, if I can. I'll be honest and say I've never been that way before. Maybe if we were very close, but otherwise, I've been an absent friend for many of you. There's no way I can apologize enough for that.

There's one who I made a big promise to five years ago, and am only beginning to keep that promise now.

There are three more that I can think of right now, very close friends, who each have a young child that's struggled with health issues for their entire lives. I've been absent from them too, and now I'm desperately trying to make up for lost time. And time is the one thing I may not have.

I really hope it's not too late for all of these relationships. I hope I can make up for my absence with all of them. Because now I see more.

I got the nicest email from a close friend this week. She told me how much reading my blog is helping her learn about the Bible. She said she learns something Biblical every day here. I'm not sure I actually refer to the Bible every time, but I appreciate her saying that anyway. This is an honor and responsibility that I take very seriously.

I still write this blog mainly to help me deal with everything that's going on in my life these days. It's therapeutic for me. But more and more, I hear from people who are helped or find comfort in this blog. That changes my perspective a bit. I can't help but write with certain readers in mind now. She's one of them. I see more than my own needs being met here. I see more. Now I want to make sure there's some kind of scripture reference in every post, just for her.

So what does the Bible say about seeing more? Isaiah 29:18 says that, when the Messiah comes, "the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see." When Jesus was here in the flesh, he did, in fact, open deaf ears and restore sight to the blind. (Matthew 15:30, Mark 8:22-25, Luke 18:35-43, John 9) As life-changing an experience as that would be for anyone, I can tell you that opening our virtual eyes is just as important. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

The trouble is, for most of my life, it wasn't that I couldn't see more, it was just that I wasn't all that interested in seeing beyond my own concerns. But since God woke me up and changed my perspective, now that's of prime importance for me. Now I want to help more, because I'm more aware of you and what's going on in your life. I see more.

Often people marvel at the fact that, with everything I'm going through, I'm so focused on others. All I can say is, that has nothing to do with me. I take no credit for that. In fact, if it wasn't for the cancer, I'd still be just as blind as I was before. I'd still be absent from you, to my great shame. That's why I'm actually grateful for the cancer. I'd rather see more in my current condition than be healthy, and stay blind.

And as it turns out, seeing more translates to being seen more. Or maybe in my case, being seen translated to seeing. When you started loving on me the way you have, it just made me want to do the same for you.

But I don't just want to see more of you. More than anything, I want to see more of what God is showing me. And if you've been reading this blog, you know he's been showing me a lot. I'm not keeping what he's showing me to myself. I'm putting it all out there for you to see too. Show me more, Lord. Please.

I hope it doesn't take for you what it took to open my eyes. Don't wait until you're 60 years old and facing something like this to get beyond your own concerns. Open your eyes. The Messiah is here. See more.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Still Not Zero.... Yet


I thought my weight had stabilized, but apparently not. For the past two days, my weight has been 120, and I really don't want to drop into the one-teens if I can avoid it. It seems I spoke a little too soon about my weight when I wrote my post Not Zero, only ten days ago.

Before I continue, I want to thank all of you for your kind responses to my Holy Week posts. If you don't share my beliefs, and these posts were not your cup of tea, thanks for bearing with me. I wear my heart on my sleeve these days, in case you hadn't noticed. That includes my faith. I can't help it. The same impulse that drives me to tell you how much I love you also drives me to tell you how much I love Jesus. I'm not trying to persuade you, I'm just excited about it.

I'm living on love, as I keep saying. But I guess I need more than that if I don't want to weigh zero.

When I had my appointment with the radiation oncologist on the 18th, they had me fill out a form noting any recent symptoms. Three of these were:

1. Unintentional weight loss of over two percent body weight in one month. Check.
2. Unintentional weight loss of over two percent body weight in six months. Double check.
3. Decreased weight in the last two weeks. Check yet again.

A few days after my appointment, I received something in the mail from them saying I "may be at increased risk for further health complications from compromised nutrition." They wanted me to see a nutritionist. But at the time, I thought I had my weight under control. So I ignored it.

Wednesday of last week, as you may remember, we had a blizzard here in Colorado. You may have seen the picture of my lilac bush that I posted on Facebook.


Don't worry, it seems to still be OK. If we don't get another hard freeze, I should still have lilacs this year. I lost them to frost the last two years. :-(

My wife stayed home from work that day, and we had a snow day. Since we didn't follow our normal routine, my eating routine was disrupted. I just ate when I felt like eating. I had a bowl of chili at about 2:30 PM, and just snacked after that, watching movies.

My wife's on a low carb diet now, so most days, we each cook for ourselves. There were no sit down meals that day. When I went to bed that night, I didn't feel hungry, even though I had not had a meal since mid-afternoon. I was tired, so I went straight to bed without eating. It was only when I was in bed, drifting off to sleep, that I felt my stomach growl. But I was not gonna get up to eat. I just went to sleep.

The next morning, I got up and attempted to work out on an empty stomach. Dumb idea. I got weak really fast. That's the first time I've had rubber legs that soon after I got up in the morning. I couldn't even clean up the kitchen before breakfast, which I always do. I had to sit down immediately and eat a bowl of cereal, just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think the combination of going to bed hungry and working out the next morning on an empty stomach set me back, and I haven't been able to gain ground since.

Since then, it's been a losing battle for me to get back up to 123-124, where I had pretty much stayed for months, with a few notable exceptions. I weighed 120 the morning after the Reunion concert on February 21st, but gained three pounds back easily over the next couple of days, just from rehydrating.

After Good Friday service last Friday night, for the first time, someone told me I look thin, and I need to gain weight. When people start noticing, it's time to pay attention.

So I started drinking protein shakes again for lunch. This past weekend, I ate normally on Friday and Saturday, adding the shakes to my diet. Sunday morning, I still weighed 120.

Yesterday, we had a huge Easter feast at the home of some good friends. It was an wonderful time, and we were very honored to be included in their family Easter. I stuffed myself like you wouldn't believe. I had seconds and dessert. I ate until I couldn't eat anymore. Once we got home, I managed to eat a cookie before bed after we got home, and could barely get it down my throat, I was so full.

This morning, I still weighed 120. So I decided it was time to make an appointment with the nutritionist. The appointment is this Wednesday afternoon. I wonder what she'll tell me I need to do.

One problem I've run into stems from the fact that I'm stuck on one level of our house for my dog until the end of this month, while she recovers from knee surgery. So there have been times when I've been up during the night recently, working on this blog because I can't sleep, and felt hungry, but had nothing to eat on this level, and nothing that was quick and easy. I'm not gonna cook for myself at 2:30 AM. So now I have some energy bars and microwave popcorn down here for situations like that.

I'm interested in hearing what the nutritionist says, but I wonder how much of it will work for me. I couldn't hardly gain weight when I was well. How can I gain pounds during cancer treatment? The things that have always made you gain weight have never worked for me. The only thing that seems to help is inactivity, but I need to exercise so I don't get so weak.

Again, please don't joke about how you wish you had my problem. I have very little right now in the way of filters, and you might get an angry response. I know you don't mean anything by it, but it's not funny.

As I said in my post, Bye Bye Winchell's, I'm not going to start eating badly in an effort to gain weight. I won't be filling our cabinets with junk food. I won't be eating drive-thru burgers and putting gravy on everything. That won't work for me. When I wrote that post, I weighed 124-125.

Since this process started, many have had advice for me on how to gain weight, but none of those people are naturally thin, like me. If eating lots of big meals would do it, I would have been heavy a long time ago. I've always had a high metabolism. How do you slow that down?

Hopefully this nutritionist will be able to help me. I enjoy hearing people say that I look good. Doesn't everybody? I may be a cancer patient, but I don't want to look like one.

But while I'm physically weak, I'm stronger spiritually than I've ever been before. The two may go hand in hand. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I can't work like I used to, but I can pray like nobody's business. If I have to choose between physical strength and spiritual strength, I'll take what I have right now. It seems like a good deal to me. God's power is being made perfect in my weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I know I don't need to ask you to pray. I feel your prayers and your love 24/7. I told Nicki Morgan last week that I feel like I'm resting on a bed of love. She laughed and called me a hippie. Guilty as charged. She can say whatever she wants to me. But that is how I feel. I know I won't fall, because I'll be caught safely by this bed of love that supports me, and it comes from all of you. You made this bed, and I'm lying in it. I'll never be able to thank you enough.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dinner With Friends, Part 2


Happy Easter! If you've been reading my posts this week, you've probably detected a theme. All week, I've been trying to identify with Jesus' week, and see if it has any application to what I'm going through. So far, my main conclusion has seemed to be that I have better friends than Jesus did. But his real friends came through for him in the end, as you are for me.

Sorry for the length of Friday's post. Don't expect today's to be any shorter. Even only focusing on two aspects of Jesus' crucifixion on Friday, (along with explaining the whole of Christian doctrine! What was I thinking?) the internet still ran out of space. The same is true for the Resurrection, of course, and I'm going to limit my focus today as well. I'm not going to attempt to prove the resurrection of Christ in this post. I try to do that in my Bible Blog posts on the Resurrection. You can see my post on Mark's version here, Matthew's version here, and Luke's version here. My post on Matthew includes the plot by the religious leaders to spread the lie that Jesus' disciples had stolen his body. My post on Luke includes Jesus' encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after he rose.

I regret not having commented on John's account yet. I wish I had, because his account is the most personal. His whole book is a more personal account of his time with Jesus than the others. He was Jesus' best friend, and they were also probably related. More on that later.

I need to start where we left off, at the point of Jesus' death. That's when his friends Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to request Jesus' body. They were members of the Jewish ruling council, the same body that had convicted Jesus and sent him to Pilate earlier that same day. But these two men were also secret disciples of Jesus, and they had not consented to the council's decision.

The Bible says they were wealthy men, and they wanted to do something for Jesus that his family and disciples could not do. Joseph had a new, unused family tomb that had been cut out of rock. He not only gave it to Jesus, but went to Pilate to ask for his body and took charge of his burial. Nicodemus provided expensive ointments and spices to anoint Jesus' body.

It’s hard to describe how generous this was on Joseph’s part. Family tombs were for family members, and Joseph was not related to Jesus, as far as we know. And by placing a crucified body there, he was defiling the grave. No member of his family could ever be buried there again. That's how much he loved Jesus.

But because of this, Jesus' burial was much more secure than a typical burial would be. If you'd like a description of how secure the tomb was, I recommend my post on the burial of Jesus in Matthew here. Suffice it to say that it was impossible for Jesus' disciples to break into the tomb. This gave the accounts of Jesus' resurrection much more validity than they would have had otherwise.

Nobody knows what was going on with Jesus on Saturday. Some say he descended into hell in order to defeat it when he rose. The Bible doesn't say that anywhere, so I don't subscribe to that theory. I think he was just dead for a whole day and a half, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning.

But when he rose, I believe that the first thing he did was leave a sign for his mother and his best friend.

Back in the 1980's, my wife and I were sitting in our Sunday School class on an Easter Sunday morning. The lesson was on John chapter 20, which, of course, is the one account of the Resurrection I haven't written a commentary on yet. But I've read it, heard it, and thought about it a lot. I believe that God showed me something about this passage that morning, and I'm more convinced of that now, all these years later. I've never heard this theory from anyone else. I hope it adds meaning to your Resurrection Sunday.

During the lesson, I noticed something in John's narrative. Here's what John 20:3-8 says:

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

The other disciple was John himself, of course. It struck me how specifically John described how the clothes were folded. They were folded! Who folded them? Only one person could have done it.

As I said earlier, John was Jesus' best friend. That is made very clear in John's gospel. He actually calls himself, "the disciple whom Jesus loved!" Many times! John traveled with Jesus for three years. As a guy who's been on tour, I can tell you that when you travel with someone for an extended period, you learn intimate details about their life. Things that only those who live with them know. Stuff like how you fold your clothes when you get up in the morning.

John says in verse 8 that when he saw how the grave clothes were folded, he believed. To me, that's a huge tell. 

I believe that when Jesus rose, the first thing he did was fold his grave clothes the way he always had folded his own clothes. He did it so that his best friend, John, would see the clothes folded the way only Jesus would have done it. He did it so John would believe.

But I believe he also did it for his mother, Mary. It would have been Mary who taught Jesus to fold his bed clothes neatly every morning when he got up. Mary was one of the first to see the place where Jesus was laid. She saw the grave clothes folded the way she had taught her son to do. She must have known he was alive the moment she saw that.

Of course, I know this is all just speculation. But you can’t prove me wrong! And I know about the other theories about this, that it was a sign of his second coming, or that it was a carpenter thing. Excuse me if I think my theory's better. It's more personal. It's something Jesus did for his most loved ones, not some grander theological point. In my opinion, anyway.

When this revelation, and I believe that's what it was, came to me that Sunday, of course, I wanted to share it with the class. For some stupid reason, as an illustration, I thought it would be a good idea to give a couple of my wife's habits as examples of things I'd look for if I came home from an out-of-town gig and wanted to find evidence that she'd been there. I got as far as the half empty pop can on the nightstand and the makeup mirror with the light still on, and she shut me up quick. Afterwards, she told me she'd start telling everyone my habits if I did it again. I never did it again, until now. But I got her permission, and she hasn't drunk pop or used a makeup mirror for many years.

After his followers found the tomb empty, what did Jesus do for the rest of that day? What did he do for the next 40 days until he ascended into Heaven? Did he appear to the Temple leadership to prove he was the Messiah? Did he appear to Pilate, to show what a mistake Pilate had made? No. He only appeared to his friends and family. His inner circle. His crowd on the road.

He walked for miles on the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples, and broke bread with them in their home. He appeared to the rest of his disciples later that day, and ate some fish with them. Sometime later, when they were fishing, Jesus' disciples came ashore and found Jesus grilling fish on the beach for them. Can't you smell it now? What Jesus wanted right before his suffering was dinner with friends. And that's what he wanted when his ordeal was over, and he had won.

Before Jesus was crucified, his friends all deserted him. But they were the first ones he sought out after he rose. He paid special attention to restoring Peter after Peter denied knowing him three times. How much work are we willing to do to restore broken relationships? It was Jesus' first priority after he conquered death. It should be our first priority too.

After this, Jesus' followers knew no fear. Probably the best evidence that Jesus is risen, and there are volumes of it, is the simple fact that his friends would not recant their testimony about it, even though most of them were imprisoned, tortured, and martyred for preaching the resurrection of Jesus. People will not die for something that they know is a lie. Jesus had questionable friends during his life, but after he rose, they continued his mission out of sheer love for him.

You're probably having brunch rather than dinner today. Ham may be on the menu. By the way, how did ham become the traditional meat for Easter? It's always seemed to me like a bunch of Gentiles celebrating the resurrection of Christ by eating the meat that's most offensive to Jews. Just my two cents.

But whatever is on the menu today, I hope you're with friends, family, and loved ones. I hope you're with your inner circle. We will be with some of ours.

I suppose I don't need to tell you how different this Holy Week has been for me. It's been transformative. I've identified with Jesus' suffering more than I ever have before, and now I celebrate his victory over death with greater enthusiasm than I ever have before. His victory is my victory. It's also yours. He did this for all of us.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Best Friday Of All


I love Fridays. We all do. It's the end of the work week, and the start of the weekend. For many of us, it's a party night. But not today, if you're a Christian. Today is a different kind of Friday. We call it Good Friday. But it's more than that. It's the best Friday of all.

I did my best yesterday to give Dinner With Friends a positive, friendly spin. But there's no way I can do that today. This is the day that Jesus was tried before Pilate, scourged and crucified.

I've recognized from the beginning that there are many non-Christians who read this blog. As I said very early on in this process, I want this journal to be accessible to everyone, whether you believe or not. I realize that I have people of all religious stripes here, and some with no religion at all. I love you all the same. I even have a practicing Buddhist who reads all of my posts. She is very precious to me. Often, when I think of how to word things, I have her in mind, as well as several of my other friends who don't share my beliefs. It's very important to me that you have some grasp of what I believe in a way that makes some sense to you.

All week, I've talked about Jesus having to endure what he did because it was the only way to save us. Because of the people I've just mentioned, I feel like I need to explain why. This may sound ridiculous to you if you don't believe, as any religious construct does to an outsider. The Bible itself says that the message of the cross is foolishness to the unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 1:18) But I want to try to explain it, because if we don't understand why Jesus had to do this, there's no point in looking so intently at this horrible tragedy.

So here is the bumper sticker version of what I believe, from the beginning. In fact, before the beginning. All of this comes from the Bible.

Before God created the universe, he created the angels to serve him. His highest creation, and his most loved archangel was Lucifer, whose name means bringer of light. But Lucifer became jealous of God. He wanted to take God's place on the throne, so he betrayed God and led a rebellion against him. God cast Lucifer out of Heaven, along with his minions, the angels whom he had persuaded to join his rebellion. Lucifer became Satan. Hell was created for them, not for us.

Sometime after this, God created the universe and all life. Actually, life is part of the universe. Everything is, except Eternity. Here is one area where the Biblical view differs from some other belief systems. Many philosophies hold that the universe is everything, including God. Many believe that "The Universe" is some kind of conscious entity, but that's not what Christians believe. We believe that the universe is God's creation, not God himself. Just to define our terms, when I talk about the universe, I mean all creation. I mean the dimension of time and space, matter and energy. In Eternity, none of these exist. Well, maybe energy, but not physical energy. Not radiation.

I could go on like that all day. Just ask my wife. As usual, I digress.

Once there were people on earth, Satan's one goal was to drag as many of us down with him as he could. He's unleashed a lot of evil in the world. Every world religion and philosophy recognizes the reality of evil. Just watch the news. You see it every day. Most of that evil has come through people. Satan has been doing a pretty good job of dragging us down.

But God would not allow that. For reasons I can't explain, God found it necessary to become a human being, and die at the hands of evil men in order to keep us out of hell. God had nothing to gain by doing this. He doesn't need us. But he loves us so much, he couldn't let Satan have his way with us. So he sacrificed himself to keep that from happening. That's what Christians believe Jesus was doing this day. That's why he had to endure what he did.

You can read my post on Matthew's account of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus here. I think it's the best and most complete of all my blog posts on this subject, and it has links to the others. I'm not going to talk about all of the horrendous injuries that Jesus experienced on that day here, but I go into great detail about that in my Bible Blog. If you're a believer, and you haven't really faced or understood the medical details of Jesus' suffering, I think it's important that you do so. You'll appreciate his sacrifice for us a lot more if you do.

I only want to focus on two aspects of Jesus' crucifixion today; how Jesus died, and his exchange with the two criminals who were crucified with him.

About his scourging, also called flogging, I will only say this. Scourging was so severe in the Roman Empire, many victims died from scourging alone. And it appears that Jesus received a more severe flogging than usual, yet he survived it in a weakened state, having not slept for at least 24 hours, and having had no food or water since his last dinner with his friends the night before.

The next six paragraphs are copied directly from my Bible Blog post on the death of Jesus in Matthew.
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I have stated in other posts on the death of Jesus (as have many others) that no one took Jesus’ life from him, that he was in control of when and how he died. This is an elegant thought, but unsupported by scripture. There is medical evidence in the gospels to indicate exactly what caused Jesus’ death.

The traditional images that we see of Jesus carrying his cross are wrong. The condemned did not carry the entire cross, which would have weighed upwards of 800 pounds. It’s not physically possible to drag a piece of wood that heavy for that long, especially after having been flogged. Instead, the uprights of the crosses were left in the ground, and the condemned had to carry the crossbeam, which was tied to their arms, across the backs of their shoulders. They typically weighed from 75-150 pounds.

John says that Jesus did carry his cross at least some of the way (John 19:17), so scholars have long assumed that Jesus fell somewhere along the way, from exhaustion, the weight of the crossbar, or both. That’s why the soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to carry it the rest of the way. If Jesus did fall with the crosspiece strapped across his back, the only way to fall is forward. With his arms tied to the crosspiece, Jesus had no way to break his fall. He hit the cobblestone pavement of the Via Dolorosa on his chest and face, with a 75-150 pound weight on his back. This probably bruised his heart, which would cause an aneurism. This is probably what ultimately caused his death.

An aneurism is a weak spot, like a balloon, which would have expanded and filled with blood with every heartbeat. The physical exertion of crucifixion is extreme, and that, along with the significant blood loss from the scourging he had endured, forced Jesus’ heart to beat faster and faster to try to keep up. His heart grew weaker by the minute.

At the moment of his death, Jesus called out with a loud voice. (Luke 23:46) In his weakened state, he should not have been able to shout at all. Most victims of crucifixion were exhausted or unconscious when they died. They died of suffocation, and when you’re suffocating, you can’t cry out. So Jesus did not die of asphyxiation. He was lucid and able to cry out right up until the moment of his death. The most likely explanation is that the aneurism on his heart finally ruptured, and his heart burst within his chest. Jesus would have been able to feel this coming on, like a heart attack. Many people (and animals, for that matter) know when they are about to die, and it seems that Jesus knew that death was imminent for him. So he said, “It is accomplished.” He had paid the debt for our sin. The Greek word Jesus used literally means paid in full.

When Jesus’ heart ruptured, the pericardial sac around his heart filled with blood. That membrane is normally filled with clear fluid, which protects the heart. John 19:34 says that one of the Roman soldiers there pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to make sure he was dead, and blood and water flowed out. That means that the spear pierced the pericardial sac, and blood from his heart, followed by the pericardial fluid, which resembles water, flowed out in a stream, under pressure. The only way blood and water flow out of a wound like that is if Jesus’ heart burst within his chest. Jesus literally died of a broken heart.
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Keep in mind that, as I said earlier, I, along with every Christian, believe that Jesus was God in human form. That means he had the power to stop this at any time. But he chose not to, because he had to do whatever he could to save us.

But before he died, Jesus had a conversation with one of the men who was crucified along with him. I believe that they were cohorts of Barabbas, an insurrectionist, who Pilate released instead of Jesus. In fact, I believe that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was intended for Barabbas.

One of these men took part in the insults that were hurled at Jesus on the cross. He wanted to know why Jesus didn't get them out of this mess if he was supposed to be the Messiah King.

But the other had a different attitude. He didn't lash out with blame. He didn't expect Jesus to rescue them. In fact, he recognized that he was getting what he deserved. He rebuked his companion, saying that, while the charges against them were valid, Jesus had done nothing wrong. He asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into his kingdom.

Think about that. There they were, hanging on crosses, dying, and this criminal still believed Jesus would become king. That's more faith than any of Jesus' disciples had at that moment. They thought their dreams of glory had been shattered, and were hiding in fear for their lives.

All this week I've been trying to identify with Jesus' week. Guess who I identify with in this story? When my life was threatened, I'm glad I didn't react with anger and selfishness, like the one man did. I didn't ask "Why me?" I didn't think I was getting what I deserved, except maybe for the fact that I had skipped my PSA test the previous year, and hadn't bothered to check what normal range was for PSA. I do bear some responsibility for that.

But my reaction was more like the second man. I don't expect Jesus to get me out of this. Many are praying for my healing, but I am not. I just want to be a part of Jesus' kingdom, whatever that means, whether I live or die. Because if I die, then I really live.

Because Jesus didn't die of a broken heart on this day for no good reason. It wasn't because the Romans wanted to get rid of another troublemaker. The whole thing was orchestrated by God from the foundation of the world. He had to do it, not only to save us from hell, but so that we could be with him for eternity. He loves us so much that he wants us to be with him forever. That's why today is the best Friday of all.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dinner With Friends


One of the great joys of our lives these days is dinner with friends. We had dinner with some long time close friends last Saturday night. We hadn't seen them for four years, which we decided can't happen again. We also had dinner with close friends last Monday night, and we'll have dinner with them again this coming Tuesday. We've been invited to spend Easter with some wonderful friends as well. We also have dinner planned with friends a week from Saturday. I guess we must be popular.

But that's not the reason. These are all inner circle gatherings. We consider all of these people to be among our closest friends. It's a wonderful blessing, and these incredible folks are only part of the group that we consider our inner circle. I'm the richest man in town.

Jesus was not so blessed. It seems very strange to say that I'm more blessed than Jesus in any respect. But I believe I am, when it comes to my friends. You're not deserting me in my time of need, the way Jesus' friends did. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Today is Thursday of Holy Week, known in the church as Maundy Thursday. This is the night that Jesus had his last dinner with friends before his arrest. That's what he wanted to do before his trials started. Of course, it was the Passover Meal, which gave it added meaning. And Jesus gave it a completely new meaning.

But Jesus did say that he eagerly desired to have this meal with his disciples before he suffered. He actually told them that. (Luke 22:15) Yes, this meal was about ending one era and ushering in a new one, and replacing an old covenant with a new and better one, but I really believe that, knowing what was to come, what Jesus wanted more than anything else right then was to share one last meal with his closest friends. I can relate to that very easily.

But all was not well in Jesus' inner circle. The plot to betray him was already underway.

You can read my Bible Blog posts on the Last Supper in Mark here, Matthew here, and Luke here. There is some duplication between the posts, but there's also information in each that's different from the others. Each gospel account of this event adds details that others leave out. I haven't blogged on John's account of the Last Supper yet. He records four chapters of teaching at the Last Supper! How'd you like to sit through that after a big meal and few glasses of wine?

In my study of the Bible, I prize the gospels over all the rest. I'd love to do a whole paragraph on that here, but I'll pass. For me, it's all about Jesus. What he did, and what he taught. One of the things I love to do most is compare and contrast the different accounts of events in Jesus' life. I think we get a clearer picture of what really happened that way.

A lot more happened this night than this dinner. After this, Jesus suffered in the Garden, was arrested, beaten, and put on trial, all on Thursday night. He also had to tell one of his best friends that that friend would deny him three times that night. But I'm not going to write a long Bible lesson today. If you want that, my Bible Blog is a great choice. Tomorrow's post will be pretty grim, but today, I want to focus on dinner with friends.

Meals were very intimate affairs in that culture, and it remains that way in Middle Eastern culture to this day. They didn't sit in chairs around a table like we do. Whenever I see the traditional painting above by Leonardo Davinci, I always think of the old joke: "Okay, everybody get on the same side of the table for a picture!"

They didn't sit, they reclined, leaning on the person to their left, and eating with their right hand. Sharing a meal was what families did, what compatriots did. When you ate with someone, you were saying, "These are my people." That's what I'm also saying with each of the dinners we have planned. These are my people.

That's why some got so upset when Jesus ate with "sinners." In that society, you identified yourself by who you ate with. It's also why Judas' betrayal was considered such outrageous treachery by the rest of the disciples. In the view of most in that culture, betraying a friend after breaking bread with them was one of the worst things you could do.

This was a society that prized status above all else. It wasn’t just about pride. It was also about knowing your place and role. When reclining around a table for a meal, a person’s status determined their place at the table. If you didn’t know where you ranked in the group, you wouldn’t know where to sit, or recline.

I think this is why the gospels talk so often about the disciples constantly arguing over who among them was "the greatest." No, Mohammed Ali wasn't there. What the disciples were arguing over was which of them had the highest status among them. This should have been resolved the first time they ate together, because Jesus, according to tradition, should have had them sit according to their status.

But I don't think Jesus did it that way. He was always trying to get them to forget about status, and instead accept the lowest place, that of the slave of all. But they didn't get it, so he showed them.

One of the duties of a slave was washing feet. The roads were dirt, and people wore sandals, so it was customary to have your feet washed when you entered a house. But apparently, there were no servants in the upper room where they ate, and none of the disciples wanted to accept the lowest place. When you washed someone's feet, you were saying that you had less status than the person you did it for.

So as they reclined around the table, Jesus got up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and began washing his disciples' feet. He was their Lord and Master, performing the duty of a slave. He showed them what real love is.

But then, he dropped a bombshell. One of them was going to betray him. Not only that, but before the night was over, they would all desert him, and Peter would deny him three times. Talk about a buzzkill!

Thankfully, I've never had to say that to any of my friends. As I said earlier, I know you won't desert me in my hour of need. In fact, you've done just the opposite.

Out of his inner circle, Jesus ultimately only lost one, Judas. All the rest, including Peter, were reunited with Jesus after his resurrection. I too have lost a friend or two who basically ran off when my world changed. But I've gained many more. And the close friendships I already had are stronger and more vibrant than they've ever been before. Of all the emotions that have swirled inside me since this started, the most predominant emotion has been gratitude. I'm grateful to God for waking me up, and I'm grateful to you for being there for us. None of you care about your status. All you want to do is love us and help us. And you wonder why I think I'm so blessed?

I can't wait for dinner with friends. But I won't wash your feet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

My Song


Something huge happened for me yesterday. Maybe it won't be that big of a deal to you, but to me, it's gigantic. For the first time since my diagnosis last August, I wrote an original song yesterday.

If you've followed this blog, and the CaringBridge journal that preceded it, you know that, since my diagnosis, I've struggled with having the motivation to pursue what has been my main passion in life until now, music. All I can think about is this thing that's taken over my life. I've actually said a few times in this journal that I feel like I'm in the process of retiring from music, and beginning a new career as a writer. Writing this blog is my new passion.

It's not that I've lost my love of music, just my motivation to do it. A friend of mine lost her husband to cancer several years ago. She's a wonderful singer, and when I tried to get her to sing in church months later, maybe a year, she told me that she had lost her song. She was hoping it would come back someday, but right then she couldn't find it.

When she said that to me, she might as well have been speaking Martian. That's about how well I could understand what she was saying. I could not imagine ever losing my song. But I know what that's like all too well now.

Writing parodies is easy for me. Often I find inspiration writing parody lyrics, but just as often, it's a fairly straightforward, mechanical process. It's a skill or a craft, not an art. Art is a whole other thing. It comes from a completely different place, at least for me.

While I'm known for parodies, I've also written many original songs for hire. A client tells me what they want the song to be about, and what style they want it in, and I write and record it for them. If they have a title in mind, they've already done half the work for me. Getting an idea is the hardest part. And I have been in no mood for song ideas lately.

I have someone now who's waiting for two original songs from me, and I've kept putting them off. I just couldn't get in the right frame of mind.

But recently, it seems that the fog is lifting a bit. I still have all of the physical limitations I've been experiencing from treatment and my disease, so there are many types of gigs that I used to be able to do, but can't now. But I can still do some work in my home studio. If my mood will let me, that is.

So yesterday, I decided to try to write a song. I made sure to do that before I did any blogging, because once I start writing this blog, I'm in that mode for the rest of the day. The client wanted an uptempo song about hope. The song is to be used in a musical, so I picked a phrase out of the script, and wrote the song around that.

It took me about three hours to finish the song, including recording a demo of it and sending it to the client. I'll be honest. It's not one of my all-time greats. In fact, it's pretty paint-by-numbers. The kind of song I could have written in my sleep a year ago, and probably would have. Once I got started, it was easy.

It seems I got knocked way off the track, and it took me a while to find it again. I didn't lose my song after all. I just misplaced it. Actually, someone hid it on me, and it took me a while to find it again.

That doesn't mean I've lost my passion for writing this blog. I don't think that will ever stop. And I do believe that finding this new passion means that I'm supposed to pursue it. It seems like God is in it. But maybe music isn't done with me yet.

I don't have a Holy Week angle for this post. The gospels don't record anything that specifically happened on Wednesday of that week. Actually, if you look at the gospels, what you find is that, between the Triumphal Entry and the Last Supper, what Jesus mostly did was teach. You'll find chapters of teaching between the events that made up this week for Jesus.

That being the case, I thought today's post would be about something Jesus taught during the week of his passion. As I said a couple of days ago, Jesus is my teacher, and I've been learning a lot from him this week. I hope you have too. But today, instead of talking about what Jesus taught me, I just wanted to tell you what he gave me. He gave me my song back.

The title of the song I wrote yesterday? "My Hope Is In The Lord."


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Acts Of Love And Betrayal


This week, I'm talking about the events of Holy Week, and trying to apply what I learn to my own life. The passage I'll talk about today is from Matthew 26:1-16. It covers two acts by two of Jesus' closest followers sometime that week. The two acts seem to be connected. An act of love and devotion, followed by an act of betrayal. We're not sure at what point during the week that the events that I'll talk about today happened. Only Matthew records this part of that week. You can find my Bible Blog post on today's passage here. There's a lot more detail there, if you're interested.

I referred yesterday to the home where Biblical scholars believe Jesus and his disciples stayed during that Passover week. It was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who were long time friends and supporters of Jesus. Many scholars believe they were relatives of Jesus. Mary was not his mother Mary, nor was it Mary Magdalene. This was a completely different Mary. The following story is mostly about her. Her and Judas.

This is a story of Jesus' inner circle. One member of Jesus' inner circle understood his mission. The other didn't, and it unmade him.

Jesus often stayed with this family when he was in Jerusalem, which he often was. Jesus faithfully attended the various Jewish festivals throughout the year. Anti-Semitism among Christians makes absolutely no sense. Jesus was the most Jewish guy ever. Hello, he was the Jewish Messiah!

But I digress. Jesus had his crowd on the road, and his disciples took charge of that group. But I get the feeling that when they were at this house, the disciples took a back seat to Jesus' family. This was Jesus' home group in the Jerusalem area. In Capernaum, he lived at Peter's house, with Peter's extended family. There, the disciples may have felt like it was more their show. But here, Jesus was all about Mary.

This Mary was one of Jesus' most devoted followers. In an earlier story, Mary only sat and listened to Jesus teach while her sister, Martha, made all the preparations for dinner. Martha tried to get Jesus to make Mary help her, but Jesus didn't want Mary to go anywhere. Nothing pleases Jesus more than a devoted follower who only wants to listen to his voice. You can find that story, and my commentary on it here.

This is also the same family who Jesus came to see after Lazarus had died, weeks or months before. Jesus purposely delayed coming, so that Lazarus would already have been dead for days when he arrived. He put his most loved ones through days of grief and confusion so that he could demonstrate the power of God by raising Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:1-43) Imagine the impact that had on this gathering, with Lazarus sitting right there.

That sets the stage for the kind of relationship Jesus had with this family. They were very close.

While they were there, Mary felt moved to anoint Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume called nard. It wasn't concentrated like perfumes today. It had a much milder aroma. It was used to anoint bodies for burial. The gospels say that this jar of nard cost a year's wages for a working man. In today's American dollars, that would make it worth about $40,000. Can you imagine owning a bottle of perfume that cost that much? I can't. For this and other reasons, scholars believe this must have been a wealthy family.

She broke the jar and poured the perfume over Jesus' head. This is the way kings were anointed. Then Mary wiped Jesus' feet with her hair, which was the duty of a slave. This was a rich family who probably owned slaves, but instead of having a slave attend to Jesus, this wealthy woman anointed Jesus as her king, and declared herself his slave with this one act.

The disciples, and Judas in particular, thought this was a waste of money. But Jesus understood what Mary was doing. The way Jesus took it, she was anointing his body for burial. I don't think Mary knew that's what she was doing until Jesus said so, but think about that. This was the only anointing for burial his body would receive. His mother Mary would not get the chance to use the myrrh that the Magi had brought for that purpose. By the time she reached the tomb, Jesus was risen. Jesus’ friend and follower Mary did for him what his mother Mary would not get the chance to do, and she used what was probably an irreplaceable family heirloom to do it.

All the while, the chief priests and elders were plotting how to kill Jesus. I won't go into what I believe were Judas' motivations for betraying Jesus, but Matthew, Mark and Luke all seem to connect these two events: Mary’s anointing of Jesus, followed by Judas’ betrayal. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When Mary "wasted" that heirloom on Jesus, something broke in Judas.

I go into a fair amount of detail about this in my Bible Blog post, but let me just say that I do not believe that Judas was bad from the start, even though some of the gospel writers have some pretty bad things to say about him. You can understand why they would. But Judas was as much a part of Jesus' ministry up until this point as any of them. I just think something went very wrong for him somewhere along the line.

Whatever his reason, Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests right after this and specifically asked them how much money they would give him to turn Jesus over to them. The sad and ironic thing about this story is that the amount that Judas received was a pittance. A piece of silver was worth about a dollar in our money today. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty dollars.

So what do I learn from this passage? What's the lesson here? And how does it apply to my cancer, or my journey in any way? The obvious first conclusion is that I want to be like Mary, not like Judas. I want to sit at his feet and listen to him teach. I want to anoint him as my king and declare myself his slave.

One day, Jesus will rule the earth as king. In case you didn't know, Christians believe that will happen. For 1,000 years. Just so you know. But the disciples thought that would happen right away. They didn't understand that before Jesus could save Israel, he had to save us. I don't think even Mary understood that. But when she heard it, she accepted it, even though it meant the death of one of her closest friends and relatives in just a few days. Judas could not accept what Jesus said, and acted out.

Like both Judas and Mary, I've heard some things recently that I didn't want to hear. But I'm thankful that I didn't react like Judas, with anger and betrayal of what I hold dear. When I heard I had cancer, my reaction was basically, "OK, what do I do now?" Maybe Mary thought something similar when Jesus talked about burial. Maybe, like Mary, I was able to accept what I heard because I really try to listen to him. I've spent a lot of time sitting at his feet.

But that wasn't always true. For many years, I was more like Judas. Yes, I was doing the work of a disciple, but deep down, I was more interested in my own pursuits and goals. I wanted to do it for Jesus, but in a way that benefited me. It was about what I got out of it.

Not anymore. Now all I want to do is listen. Even when I hear something I don't like, I want to accept what he says. It might take a while, but eventually, I come around. After all, that's what all of these Holy Week posts are about. I'm trying to listen. I'm trying to look at these events, which I've heard about and studied for my whole life, in a new light. Because everything's different now. Now I get it. All it took was God's 2 by 4 upside my head.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday



Yesterday I talked about Jesus' crowd on the road, and mine. But I didn't really talk about his entrance into Jerusalem, which was staged to fulfill prophecy. Jesus intentionally entered Jerusalem the way a king was supposed to, according to prophecy. He also intentionally did it on the exact day prophesied by Daniel 490 years earlier. With this act, he was proclaiming himself Messiah and king of Israel publicly, which is what accelerated his execution.

That was his Sunday. How was your Sunday?

Actually, Mark's gospel also records that Jesus and his disciples spent Sunday night in Bethany, (Mark 11:11) which means that they stayed at the homes of their dear friends and supporters, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. That's right, the former dead guy. Jesus' crowd was with him on the road, but he spent the night with family.

The gospels record three things Jesus did the next day, Monday.

On his way into Jerusalem from Bethany, which was basically a suburb of Jerusalem, he apparently cursed a fig tree for having no fruit. Mark's gospel tells us about that. You can see my Bible Blog commentary on that passage here. I'm not going to try to explain the reasons Jesus did this here. Everything about it had great significance and symbolism for the Jews of his day. It was an illustration about hypocrisy, having the appearance of fruit with no fruit.

Jesus did this on his way to the Temple, with the Twelve in tow. When they got to the Temple, that's when you-know-what hit the fan. He saw the crooked merchants cheating pilgrims, and it made him angry that this had been done to God's house. So he drove them out with a whip! But it wasn't a tantrum. John says he wove his own whip, which means he took time and thought about it first. (John 2:15)

This is the only event of this week that I have Bible Blog posts for in all four gospels, because John places this event early in Jesus' ministry, where the other three all place it late. Again, I'm not going to try to explain why that might be in this blog. I do that in my post on this passage in John, which you can find here. See my post on Matthew’s version of this event here, Luke’s version here, and Mark’s here.

Then Matthew implies that Jesus, right after driving out the crooks with a whip, went on to spend the rest of his day healing people in the Temple courts! Matthew doesn't exactly say that Jesus did this right afterward, so it may have been later in the week. But it's a better story if it was Monday. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Jesus did teach in the Temple courts every day that week until Thursday, the night of his arrest. The Temple was a huge complex, so it's not all that unlikely that Jesus went straight from kicking butt and taking names in one part of the Temple to teaching in another. But whenever it happened, what happened there was pretty cool.

While Jesus was healing the blind and the lame, according to Matthew, children with them kept shouting, "Hosanna to the son of David!" All. Day. Long. I imagine that this got annoying, even to the disciples. They were probably the disciples' kids. But the religious leaders really hated it. Not for the reasons you or I might wish people would quiet their noisy kids, but because the kids were calling Jesus the Messiah in the Temple courts, and Jesus was letting them do it.

Jesus' response was classic. He basically asked these experts on scripture if they'd ever read their Bibles. If they had they'd know that this meant they were talking to the Messiah. Prophecy predicted that kids would do this.

Jesus continued to poke the religious leaders in the eye in the Temple courts for the rest of the week, which I'm sure only made things worse for him when they finally got their mitts on him. But he was doing what he had to do. It was his mission, and he would not shrink from it. It was the only way to save us.

I spent my Monday morning writing and recording a song parody about chocolate bunnies. Not much of a comparison, is it? But that's not the point. I'm trying to find parallels with my journey, not my week. And instead of parallels, I think I should be looking for lessons.

The first incident of Jesus' Monday, cursing the fig tree, reminds me of things I've done and said since this started that I'm not proud of. Hurtful things I've said to my most loved ones out of emotion, or frustration, or fear, or just downright selfishness. Jesus cursed the fig tree to make a point, not out of anger, and he didn't blame what he did on hormone treatment. I've got to do better.

I can relate to Jesus' anger at the crooked practices in the Temple. It makes me angry when Christians give Christians a bad name, and these thieves were giving Judaism a very bad name. Jesus was the perfect observant Jew, who loved being at the Temple. He went there whenever he could, even staying behind at age 12 after his parents left! (Luke 2:41-52, blog)

Even though Jesus did not react out of emotion in either of these cases, I can't help seeing examples of how I need to handle my anger here. Jesus wove his own whip before he drove out the crooked merchants. I need to learn to take a breath myself, as long as circumstances, within and without, keep breaking down my filters.

Whenever I read or study the Bible, (and I am a student of the Bible, in case you couldn't tell) in every passage I read, I'm always looking for the lesson. Too often, I think people read a passage in the Bible and wonder if it's historically accurate by today's standards. If you're a non-believer, I'm sure you question that. Many believers have that question about certain Biblical passages.

I submit that that's the wrong question. In my opinion, the right question to ask about any passage in the Bible is, "What is this passage trying to teach me?" Not, "Did David really have that many chariots?" or "Did Methuselah really live over 900 years?" Those things are irrelevant to our lives. What Jesus did during this week of his life has everything to do with us. He did it for us. So even if the gospels say Jesus had fish for lunch, I want to know what he's trying to teach me by that. Jesus is my teacher.

My favorite lesson from Jesus' Monday is from the last story, where the kids wouldn't stop shouting Hosanna and calling him the son of David.

As I said earlier, I believe that these kids were the disciples' kids. We know for sure that Peter had kids. Jesus stayed in Peter's home for most of his ministry, and I'm sure developed a relationship with Peter's kids. My favorite example of what I believe to be a case of this is found in Matthew 18:1-4. If you'd like to read my Bible blog post on that passage, I think you'll find it meaningful if you're a believer. I actually think it's quite beautiful, if I do say so myself.

So I think that the kids who were chanting this nonstop while Jesus healed the sick were kids who knew and loved Jesus personally. I believe he lived in the same house as some of them. And they were the ones who still, the next day, kept praising him when all others had stopped.

What does this have to do with me? If I'm trying to identify with Jesus, I feel that, like these kids did with Jesus, my inner circle, my most loved ones who know me and love me best, are the ones who are cheering me on the hardest. That's about the only way I can put myself in Jesus' place here. It's becoming more and more uncomfortable for me to do that, and it's only Monday.

Instead, I see myself as one of the kids. While I've been a believer for most, if not all of my life, recently, I feel like I've moved into the same house as Jesus. He knocked on the door of my heart many years ago, and I let him in. (Revelation 3:20) But I never moved into his house, or at least not for very long, until recently. For the past few months, while we've been walking this road together which some of you just joined, it's been more like he and I are roommates. Like Jesus did with one of Peter's kids in that passage from Matthew, I want him to sit me on his lap and teach me. And he is. I just have to listen.

Like Jesus, I also have a mission, and I will not shrink from it. That mission is to become as much like him as I can, and learn to trust him like a little child trusts their parents. It's to keep praising him when all others have stopped.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My Crowd On The Road



I'm not sure how to do this without it coming off as ridiculous, (Ridiculous, But Normal) but this week being Holy Week, I want to look at what Jesus was doing each day of this week, roughly 2,000 years ago, and see if it bears any resemblance at all to what I'm going through. It's not about comparing myself to him, or my trials to his. That would be truly ridiculous. For me, it's about identifying with what Jesus did for us that week. And make no mistake, he did it for us.

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It's called Palm Sunday because of the palm branches that Jesus' followers placed on the road in front of him as he rode into Jerusalem. For most of my life, I've had the wrong mental picture of this event in my head, probably from movies and church Easter productions. Like most people, I had the idea that what we call The Triumphal Entry happened this way: Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and crowds of people came out to greet him and shout "Hosanna!" That's not the way it happened.

I'm not going to explain why here. I'll only say that Luke and John clearly state that this event took place on the road, before they entered the city. (Luke 19:37, John 12:12-13)

This is an important distinction for this reason. If it took place on the streets of Jerusalem, it was a crowd of strangers shouting. If it was before they entered the city, it was a crowd of his family, friends, and disciples. The gospels all indicate that the crowd on that Sunday had followed Jesus all the way there.

I go into much greater detail about all of this in my Bible Blog. If you're interested, you can read my analysis of and commentary on Luke's account of this event here, Mark's account here, and Matthew's account here. I'll provide links to my Bible Blog posts each day this week for any who may be interested. If you only want to read one of the above, I recommend Luke.

I haven't written on John's version yet. I may get back to writing my Bible Blog someday, but not right now. Now I have other priorities.

Luke's gospel, in particular, stresses the fact that a growing crowd of people had followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. This was the group that was cheering him on as he entered the city.

People think of Jesus as having 12 disciples, but in reality, he had many more than that. The Twelve Apostles were the leadership of that group. Within that inner circle, Jesus had an even smaller inner circle that consisted of Peter, James, and John. Beyond the Twelve, there was the larger group of disciples who followed Jesus around. There always seemed to be a crowd around him, unless he chose to avoid them.

On the road to Jerusalem, the crowd around Jesus grew larger, as pilgrims who were on their way to Jerusalem for Passover joined the group. It was customary for large groups to travel together in that culture because bandits on the road were a constant danger.

Jesus was walking purposefully toward certain death. He knew that his week would end in unimaginable horror for him. But he wasn't walking alone. His inner circle was there, walking along beside him. His leadership group was also there with him, even the one who would betray him in a few days. His larger group of disciples were there too. Some had walked for days, weeks, months and years with him. But many had joined late in the journey. None of them had any idea what was coming, except for Jesus.

I can relate to this part of Jesus' week very easily. I too, am walking down a road that I don't want to travel. I too may be facing death, though not this week. Hopefully. And I too have a large, growing group of people walking the road with me.

We may be family. We may have been close friends for many years. We may have only known each other for a short time, or since I was diagnosed with cancer. Or we may not know each other at all. But whoever you are, I am more grateful for your presence here than I can put into words.

More and more are joining us all the time. I apologize if I've clogged your newsfeed with new Facebook friend notifications, but I can't stop adding to my crowd on the road. And just like Jesus, I can hear you cheering me on.

Here's the big difference between my road and the one Jesus walked. I'm trying to put death off for as long as I can. He headed straight for it, out of sheer love for us. When things got really ugly later that week, Jesus' crowd abandoned him. I know that will never happen to me, because of you, my crowd on the road.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Not Zero


I have something serious to talk about today, but I couldn't let this date go by without commenting on a joke I made four months ago today. Very early in my journaling process, on November 18th, 2015, in my post, "Having Cancer Is A Full Time Job," I said the following:

This morning I weighed 124. Down from 125 yesterday, and 126 the day before. At this rate, I'll be down to zero by March 18th.

I had actually calculated what the date would be in 124 days, if I had continued to lose 1 pound a day. I wanted to see what day my weight would get down to zero.

Today is March 18th, 2016. I'm happy to report that I do not weigh zero today. In fact, as you can see, today I weigh just one pound less than I weighed that day, 123. That's what I've weighed for the last three days. While the overall trend is down, my weight appears to be stable for now. I just have to make sure I eat enough, especially if I'm active. Especially if I'm singing. Then dehydration sets in. But hopefully Gaunt Cancer Guy is still a ways in the future.

I've been waiting for four months to say that.

On a serious note, I have my appointment with the radiation oncologist this morning at 10:00AM, MDT. He's going to try to sell me on radiation treatment, but I'm not sure I'm willing to be sold. But I'm very interested in hearing what he has to say, naturally.

I've said several times before in this journal that, for the first time in my life, I can actually feel people's prayers. I think it's because I'm more aware of my need for prayer than I have ever been before. So I will very much appreciate and be able to feel your prayers this morning. Thank you!

If you're new to this blog, you're going to find that there's an intimacy to it because of the fact that it was started as a CaringBridge site. A community of a little over 100 regular readers there has really become a lifeline for me since I went public last October. They have been my support system in many ways since my diagnosis. So it might seem like I speak in a very familiar way to you, like you're family. That's because you are. And what I need this morning is my family praying for me.

Based on what I hear this morning, and what's discussed with my medical oncologist at a later appointment, my wife and I will decide how to proceed with treatment, or whether to proceed with treatment. All options are on the table.

So while I speak intimately with the group that's been following my journey from the beginning, I want more of you in this circle. That's why I started sharing this blog on social media. There is strength in numbers. You can start by joining my CaringBridge family in praying for me this morning. This is the biggest decision I will ever make.

But I am at peace about it. No matter what the doctor says, I trust God more than I trust them. I believe that the road I've been on up until now has prepared me for this decision. That's what this whole process has been about, to get me to a point where I can be at peace about this. At least that's how I feel today.

At this point, I feel like all of my options are good. It's my choice. But I want to make the right choice. That's why I need your prayers. That's why I need this family that became a community to become a city, a state, a nation. I know for a fact that I have thousands of people praying for me worldwide, but I need more.

That's why I'm so grateful that you're here right now. And I'm grateful that I don't weigh zero.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hearted


I did something yesterday that I haven't done since I started journaling about my cancer. I went through all of the posts in my CaringBridge journal, and checked to see who had "hearted" each post. That's CaringBridge's version of "liking" a post. I've now posted 80 times, so this took a while. It was incredibly encouraging.

It's nice to know that people enjoyed a post that I've written, but what means more to me is just being able to see who was there each time.

That simple act of encouragement that takes less than a second can be very meaningful to the person who receives it. My favorite emoji these days is the heart. It expresses how I feel about so many people and things. If there's an overflowing heart emoji out there, I'd like to find it.

At the bottom of each journal post, CaringBridge shows you how many people have hearted the post, like Facebook does with likes. I don't know why I had never, until yesterday, noticed that, also like Facebook, when you select that text, it shows you who it was who "hearted." But I found that feature yesterday, and learned something about my family and friends.

I found that one friend, a guy I haven't seen or talked to for years, has hearted almost every single post since I started. I emailed him yesterday to thank him. I hope his email address is still good, because I can't find you on Facebook, Dave. Thanks so much for your presence here.

I found that another friend has hearted almost every post since the one about my dog's surgery back in January. I texted her to thank her, and her reply made me feel very loved. I mean hearted.

Sometimes when we're on social media, it seems like an emoji is the cheap, easy way to express support without really going to any bother. Same with "liking" and "hearting." But to the person receiving that token, it means a lot. It means a lot to me, as long as I understand what the emoji is. There are way too many, and I don't understand what most of them mean. It's terrible when you have to get your reading glasses to see an emoji, and then you don't know what it means anyway.

I also discovered something on my Facebook page yesterday. A few weeks ago, I had over 1,000 friends on Facebook. Today I have 961. Of course, they're not all real friends. In fact, I don't know the vast majority personally. Most of my Facebook "friends" are more like networking contacts or fans. So how did I lose that many "friends" so fast? I think I lost around 100. I've been unfriended by that many people in the past two weeks or so.

I have only one explanation. That's when I started promoting this blog on Facebook. Apparently there are that many people who don't want to see this in their newsfeed. To the point where they not only unfollowed me, but unfriended me. But I have no room to complain. I've unfriended a few people recently myself.

By the way, aren't we all glad that Facebook doesn't let people know when we unfriend them? I'm even more glad that I didn't get 100 unfriend notifications in the past two weeks. That might have dampened my spirits.

But as I keep saying, in times like these, you find out who your friends are. And who they aren't. Your friends are the ones who heart you. The ones who unfriend you in your time of need were never your friends to begin with.

Of course, I've also received several friend requests in the past few weeks.  I've lost some fake friends, but gained some real ones.

As analytical as I tend to be, I'm very tempted to go into a whole treatise about why the heart is used as a symbol of love. That might be interesting to three people. I only know that when we talk giving our heart to someone, or getting our heart broken, or home being where the heart is, we're not talking about the physical organ that pumps our blood. We're talking about the center of our being. That thing that makes us who we are.

Personally, as a science guy, I know that that's actually the brain. All of our thoughts, emotions, likes, dislikes, memories, everything that makes us who we are comes from the brain. But a brain emoji wouldn't have the same impact, would it?

We'd all rather be hearted than unfriended. I finally realize how hearted I am, even while a few unfriend me. I can't thank you enough for all the hearts. I feel very hearted.

Starting this Sunday and going through Easter, my posts will have a decided Holy Week slant. As with every season and holiday since my diagnosis, Easter has added meaning for me this year. The whole idea of death being swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54) is very appealing right now.

But it's Jesus' suffering during that week that I identify most with this year. I have a feeling that, in the coming years, however many there may be for me, that will become increasingly true. So starting this Sunday, Palm Sunday, I want to try to address what Jesus was going through during his final week on earth, and compare it to what my week is like. I think if I do that, I'll feel better about my week. Maybe we should all do that.

The act of love that he committed that week cost him infinitely more than clicking on a heart icon. He showed us how much we all are hearted.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Revelation Song


The above beautiful piece was created by Nicki Morgan. She drew it for me today, just now, just for this post. Just because I asked her. Thank you, Nicki!

As a musician and songwriter, I tend to be critical of songs that I consider to be written poorly. Most people don't realize that, like all crafts, there are rules to songwriting. Different styles of music have different rules. The rules that I'm most familiar with, and to which I subscribe, are the rules of pop songwriting. This covers most popular styles that we hear on the radio, including Top 40, Country, Rock, and Contemporary Christian, too. CCM is pop music. That's why it all sounds exactly the same. Did I say that out loud?

In most areas of life, I am a free spirit with very little use for rules. But when it comes to songwriting theory, I am very strict. The reason for that is simple. If you follow the rules, you stand a much better chance of writing a good song. That's true in any field. If you use good technique, you're more likely to be successful. Sure, sometimes inspiration strikes and rules are made to be broken. But most of the great songwriters you know and great songs you love follow the rules.

As a worship leader, I got to pick the songs that we did at church. So when I was picking the songs, I did my best to only use songs that I considered to be well written. People who loved this or that song, and wanted to do it in church often found that their requests fell on deaf ears. If I didn't think it was a good song, I wasn't gonna do it. My attitude was, there are plenty of well written songs that are just as worshipful as the one you want to do.

That wasn't always the case. I often used songs that didn't meet my standards because they fit a service or sermon topic. But I avoided it whenever I could. I had an attitude about it. You see, I had to sing so many songs that I didn't like when someone else was picking them that, once I was picking the songs, I was only gonna pick songs that I liked. Or at least songs that I thought were well written.

One of the songs that didn't meet my standards was Revelation Song by Kari Jobe, one of the most popular worship songs to come out in the last several years. I hear audible gasps from some of my readers. It's a song everyone loves, but I refused to do it. I could give you chapter and verse as to why, and if you and I have talked about it, I probably have. Nobody cares.

I've expressed this opinion to anyone who will listen, but every church still knows, loves, and sings that song. What was I missing? Here's the lesson I learned about the value of songs through my friend Paul Kelley, and my friends in the Reunion band.

Revelation Song was a favorite of the band when we were together in our previous incarnation, but the band only did it once or twice, and that was with no rehearsal. Kristen Miller sang lead on it, and totally crushed it, of course. But I still was not sold.

In my last post, I told the story of my friend Paul Kelley, and how he heard of his father's passing. Here's the part of the story that I left out. Paul also loves Revelation Song. We've agreed to disagree about it. After Paul and I returned to the restaurant when he got that call, Paul drove his truck while his wife Denise drove her car to Paul's dad's facility. Paul listened to Revelation Song all the way there, crying and worshiping. It was the song he needed to hear at that moment.

A few weeks later, Paul came to the Reunion concert, which I talked about in two posts, "Jazzed" and "The Wall." He came to support me, but said afterward that it was one of his all time favorite concerts. I've been to a lot of concerts with Paul, so I found this hard to believe. He talked about how diverse the music was, but what he really loved was the closing song. It was Revelation Song, of course, with Kristen singing lead. Paul was transported.

I had forgotten our conversation about Revelation Song by this time. It never occurred to me what kind of impact closing with that song would have on Paul. I knew we were closing with that, and I knew Paul was coming, but I didn't put 2 + 2 together until that moment. I also had not heard about Paul listening to Revelation Song on his way to take care of his father's affairs. I found out about that afterward.

I still believe in the rules of songwriting, but I believe in the meaning of music more. If Kari Jobe had rewritten Revelation Song to my specifications, would it have reached more people? Would it have meant any more to Paul? No, only songwriting geeks like me would appreciate the difference.

The value of Revelation Song, or any song, is not in how well it's written, but in how much it means to people. The right song at the right time can make all the difference. We've all been there. I'm there right now. I can't go into the reasons why, but I've been on the verge of tears since yesterday afternoon. But a familiar Sting song has been going through my head today, and it's been helping me feel better. If You Love Someone, Set Them Free.

That's why it's such a privilege to do what I've done. The opportunity to move people is a great honor and responsibility. Which is why I've always wanted to write well written songs, but also songs that move people. Songs that help people get through hard times. Songs that make people laugh. Songs that make you feel something. Songs like Revelation Song.

When someone tells me that a song I wrote helped them get through hard times, I feel very humbled. And I have been told that by people, on many occasions. But I guarantee you that none of those people were moved by my great technique as a songwriter. If anything I've written has helped anyone, it's because God was in it. Inspiration means breath of God.

News flash to musicians. Music does not exist for us to analyze. It's literally the breath of God. Preachers, there will be no preaching in Heaven, but there will be music. I don't think they'll sing any of my well-constructed songs, but at some point in the proceedings, I expect Kristen to lead us in Revelation Song.