Living Without Lack

life without lackOn January 5, 2018 I was at lunch with some friends when I got a call from my doctor’s office.  My liver enzymes had spiked ten-fold from the low-average level they had maintained throughout my sixteen year journey with cancer.  At that point I was already a full year beyond the average life expectancy for a person with breast cancer metastasized to the liver and lungs, and I was well aware that I had been living on borrowed time.

As I processed the news of dramatically elevated enzymes my first thought was “I made my burial arrangements last fall, so I’m good to go.”  (Previously, each time I learned of cancer progression I would think, “I really need to make my funeral arrangements.”)

My second thought: “I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil.”

My third thought: “I wish everyone I love could walk in peace as life in this world draws to a close.”

It wasn’t a conscious prayer, but the Lord still heard the cry of my heart and answered.

Just four days later, on January 9, I was offered an advance copy of Dallas Willard’s most recent book—Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of the 23rd Psalm.

Now, I know that five years ago I gave away to friends at least fifteen copies of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard; I convinced about the same number of people to buy it for themselves; I recommended it to I-don’t-know-how-many others (including strangers in a check-out line); and I even led a small group study based on the book.  Alas, as far as I know, only one person entered fully into the delight and wonder I found in Dallas Willard’s teaching.  And yet, I am undaunted by the tepid/bewildered response to my enthusiasm in the past.  I am compelled by the Spirit to share another Dallas Willard treasure with anyone who just might listen.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon on February 27 when Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 became officially available for purchase. (You don’t have to rely on my opinion alone; there are now 103 reviews.)

Through the skillful editing of his daughter and his friend, Dallas Willard has given the church a book for all who long to follow Christ more than they long for anything else. 

The Divine Conspiracy is God’s master plan for his people throughout the entire course of human history.  Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 is a practical guide for any individual who wants to live in daily intimacy with Jesus.  Larry Burtoft and Becky Heatly have transformed spoken words from one of our generation’s best teachers into a book that captures both his voice and his wisdom.  Dallas marks a path through the twenty-third psalm that the youngest believer can follow.  At the same time he reveals endless horizons of peace and joy to delight the heart of the most mature saint. 

As I read through the first time, I imagined Jesus asking, “Dallas, do you love me more than these?” After Dallas answers simply, “Yes, Lord, I do,” Jesus repeats the charge that follows the question: “Feed my lambs.” And so Dallas shows us plainly that the Lord is our Shepherd who will supply all our needs in abundance. 

If you don’t see how a Life Without Lack is possible, Dallas will guide you step by step until you do. The process is relatively simple, but you must commit completely. You must surrender your life to the transforming work of the Spirit.  If you have already surrendered your life completely to the Spirit, Life Without Lack may bless you with a fuller understanding of God’s design in the transformation process, a greater appreciation for the necessity of personal effort, and a deeper trust in the One who made transformation possible. But perhaps the most important blessing could be that you will learn how to better nourish any little lambs in your care.

If you love Jesus, I think you will be pleased with this book. 

Whether you or not you purchase and read Life Without Lack, I am content because God, in his infinite grace and love, has assured me that everyone I love can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing evil. He sweetly reminded me yet again that he is my Shepherd and I shall not want.

Since my liver enzymes started climbing in January, I have had one MRI, two CT scans, and I-don’t-know-how-many blood tests. After a trip to Pittsburgh for a second opinion, I had a port placed on June 22, and started IV chemotherapy on June 25 with no end to treatment in sight.

Because of the cancer in my body, I am constantly aware of the reality that life in this world is drawing to a close.  Whether my remaining time is measured in minutes or decades, I look forward to learning with friends and family how to live fully in the blessings and abundance that the Lord pours out generously without finding fault.

I look forward to watching the Lord bring hope and healing to our divided nation as His children learn to live without lack.

 

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God’s voice in the storm

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From early Friday morning until late Saturday afternoon, images of whirlpools and roller coasters flitted into my mind again and again, as seven women plunged deep and soared high exploring the endless love of God together.

It began with a rather humorous reminder that our loving Father in heaven cares about the details of our lives.  If we watch carefully we can see His hand in the what, the when, the where, the how, the why, and the who of everything.  On Friday morning we were paying close attention.

Our plan to overnight at Camp Harmony to discuss the feminine in the image of God had been in place for two months when an impending ice storm threw everything into question.  On Wednesday Kristina and Mary Ellen cancelled, but Shari accepted a last minute invitation. Teresa was still undecided, but Joy, Natalie, Anna, Elaine and I were committed in spite of the ominous forecast. Just before I went to bed on Thursday, I emailed Camp Harmony to confirm reservations for six and possibly seven.

Friday morning while I was still asleep, Elaine and Natalie exchanged a flurry of messages to explore the possibility of meeting somewhere along the turnpike for a few hours instead of overnight at Camp.  Anna awakened me with a text to tell me that a location for our meeting was under discussion. I emailed Deb (the office manager at Camp) to warn her of a possible cancellation, and sent a text to Joy.  The hook-up along the turnpike presented a few problems: Natalie wasn’t free until four, we didn’t have immediate contact with all involved, and I can’t drive on unfamiliar roads after dark because of my cataracts.

It was after eight when I discovered that Elaine and Natalie were not texting as Anna had assumed, but rather they were using Facebook messenger.   I still had no contact information for Shari who I hadn’t met, or Judy who decided to come with Shari after I signed off Facebook on Wednesday. I emailed Deb again to say there were three possibilities: reservations for five, reservations for six, or complete cancellation.  Then Teresa joined in on messenger to say she decided not to venture out into the coming storm. (Reservations for five)  I acknowledged her wisdom and wondered if perhaps we should all just follow her example.

Joy finally entered the fray at 8:30 and she was game for anything! She suggested that the two of us meet Anna and Elaine for just two hours, but for me the appeal of staying warm and safe in my own home during an ice storm grew stronger.  So I asked the Lord to make our path clear—and the phone rang.

Elaine was on her way to pick up Anna (without night gear). They would drive the entire distance to Camp, meet us in the cabin from 1-6, and drive the four hours back to reach home before the ice hit. Of course Joy was totally in favor of the new twist in our ever-bending plan. We agreed to stay in the cabin overnight and drive home Saturday after the roads were cleared and the sun was high.  Natalie was at work and off the grid, but we assumed she would join us.  Both the identities and the plans of Shari and Judy were still a mystery to us as we moved forward.

This time I called Deb to confirm that we would have at least three for the overnight with two day visitors.  She laughed and said that the cabin was open on Saturday night and we could stay till Sunday when the roads would be completely clear.  I called Anna and told her Joy and I would meet them at the cabin, and mentioned that it was open the next night. Without Elaine’s night gear (which includes bedding), that option was off the table for the two of them.

I picked up Joy just after eleven.  We laughed about the ups and downs in the five hours of wild texting, messaging, phoning, and emailing that brought us to that point. That point, to be precise, was less than a mile into our journey. Joy’s phone pinged. Elaine’s message said they would not reach Camp until two because they were circling back to get her night gear so they could stay with us until Sunday morning!   While I got gas, Joy called Deb to confirm the cabin for two nights.

We didn’t do the normal thing, the tempting thing. We didn’t cancel our plan to gather in His name because of the storm, and heaven alone can record the powerful blessings God poured out on that tiny cabin in the hours that followed. Total strangers became close friends. Charismatic and Anabaptist worshiped in harmony.  Democrat and Republican experienced unity of Christ!  Together we found insight, healing, and direction for the days to come.  We were paying careful attention, and with our minds fixed on Him, we saw the mighty hand of God moving constantly in our midst.

The Lord speaks most often in a still small voice. We only need to listen.

The Precious Death of Nabeel Qureshi

 

The end of Dr. Nabeel Qureshi’s life in this world pours light on Psalm 116:15 for me.

Each time death claims someone I love, or someone who is loved by someone I love, I find peace in the knowledge that the Lord God sees the death of His children as precious.

Precious!

Highly valued!

Of great importance!

In grief, I always think of the Lord welcoming His beloved one home as though He is receiving a treasure that will be placed in suitable surroundings at last.

When Nabeel died, for the first time, I had a clear image of the heavenly treasure the King received. I saw a perfectly cut diamond with light shining from a thousand facets.

I saw a gemstone crushed by mining,

cut with precision,

and polished to perfection.

I think it may be possible that Nabeel surrendered his life so completely that the Lord was able to finish all the work He planned for this one precious life in just a few short years.

I often think about judgment, not fearfully, but curiously.  I wonder about the timing, the process, the duration.  I think about the Lord bringing to light the deep things I’ve hidden from myself.  I think it will be a time of purifying, refining, and even detoxing.  I am certain it will be a removal of all things that are contrary to the character of Christ.  I regularly ask the Lord to show me stuff now so I don’t have to deal with it in the judgment.

Perhaps Nabeel is an exceedingly rare gem who passed through judgment completely while still in the body of flesh.  I often wonder if that’s what happened to Enoch who walked with God and was not, for God took him.  I wonder if Enoch had his own personal rapture because the Lord had nothing more to teach him in this world.

Of course Nabeel was not raptured. His body was destroyed from within by a relentless disease.  I empathized with the spiritual battle he fought as he prayed for the physical healing that did not come, because I fought the same battle for years after I found a lump on my breast in 2002.   I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with ambivalence when he spoke of those who were certain he would be healed.  I heard that same certainty repeatedly as cancer ravaged my body through chemo, radiation, chemo, radiation, surgery, surgery, radiation, radiation, surgery, surgery.  I can’t count of the number of times I received anointing, laying on of hands, and assurance of healing over the past fifteen years.  And still I live with a terminal illness.

I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with hope when I heard that he was investigating nutritional support. My healthcare providers are frequently surprised by my tolerance of and recovery after the damaging treatments that are normal protocol for cancer.  I think my ability to endure and bounce back is, at least in part, a result of my effort to eat food as God made it.  However, my hope for Nabeel was never in food.  It was always in the God who loves him beyond my imagination, the God who continued to use him mightily even as his body was wasting away.  I empathized with Nabeel because I know what it is like struggle through cancer with a hundred different people offering a hundred different solutions.  For me that may be hyperbole, for Nabeel, it is probably a gross underestimate. Still I know how loving and well-meaning people can add to a burden they only want to relieve.

I watched Nabeel’s vlogs with deep compassion because years ago I reached precisely the same conclusion he reached from searching the scripture: It is always God’s will to heal.  But even as I received sure knowledge that it is always God’s will to heal our mortal frames, I also received sure knowledge that healing these mortal frames is never His highest priority.  That’s the comment I left on Nabeel’s Facebook page even as I continued to pray that we would see a miracle.  I think I also shared what I learned of the relationship between faith and healing.  Too many Christians have an idea that faith means you must believe that you will be healed without doubt, and if doubt creeps in you cancel the promise for healing. That’s another thing I can’t count: the number of times I was told that expressing doubt about my healing is the reason I still have cancer.  (sad sigh)

I doubt that I will be healed, but I don’t doubt Jesus. He used cancer to deepen my understanding of faith, and whenever Jesus speaks to those he healed, I know to read “faith” as “faith in me”. Their faith in Jesus made them well.  My faith in Jesus gives me peace and joy even though breast cancer metastasized to my liver and lungs. Nabeel’s faith in Jesus empowered him to pour out his life in service to the end.  With the last of his strength Nabeel displayed to the world that his unshakable faith was in Jesus who is worthy of praise even if He does not heal in a particular instance.

Nabeel’s faith was unquestionably in Jesus and not in healing.

That perfect gem of faith in Jesus was buried in Nabeel’s heart long before he knew the name of the One in whom he believed. His faithful friend, David, mined that gem with truth for years before it became visible to others.  The rough-cut stone was crushed through heartbreak as Nabeel chose to love his Lord more than his family.  And even when the process of refining had only just begun, the value of the diamond was recognized by everyone who heard him speak of Jesus. In his final year, Nabeel opened his life to the world and allowed us all to watch as the Lord cut facet, after facet, after beautiful facet to reflect the love of the God who does not always heal, but who always suffers with us.

I don’t wonder why Nabeel died because I know the King has the right to claim His treasure whenever He judges the time is best to do so.  Nabeel Qureshi joins the ranks of men like Oswald Chambers, Peter Marshall, and Jim Elliot.  Their lives were all cut short, but they will continue to bless millions of people for generations to come in ways that God alone can understand.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of Nabeel Qureshi.

Begin again–AGAIN!

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It has been more than a year since I added anything to Grammas’ Guide to the Universe, and it had been over two years since the post before that.   I’m ready to try once more (by the grace of God) to blog with consistency.

I am encouraging myself with this post because I didn’t just give up when I discovered that my WordPress password didn’t work.  I actually reset it!  Now I am writing simply to further encourage myself to begin again!

I came back to Grammas’ Guide because I wrote something about Jordan B. Peterson.  But that post requires more work with links, pictures, and proofreading and I don’t have time to finish it before my 6:30 PM appointment.

This one is just to begin blogging again and check whether or not I am still connected to Facebook and Twitter.

Ultimate Obedience

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After two years of avoidance, I have returned to blogging. My impetus is the result of a CT scan which shows the metastatic breast cancer that I have been battling for 14 years has expanded in my liver and started its deadly assault on my lungs.  This wasn’t a surprise, but it’s a long story that I don’t plan to tell now. I am writing again simply to capture the vision that invaded my dreams decades ago and refuses to die. I don’t have that option:  I am going to die, (probably sooner rather than later), so I will spend the last days of my life writing about a vision that existed long before me and will live on long after my body decomposes in the earth.

The vision at its foundation is simply John 17, and the Lord’s repeated statement that we may be one as the Father and Son are one.  He doesn’t ask God to make us one; He simply states that they may be made one as if it is the assured outcome and the purpose of everything He does ask.  The first time I seriously considered those words nearly forty years ago, I believed that Christ’s prayer had been answered in the affirmative. No other option made sense to me, and it still doesn’t.  When the Son asked the Father to keep the disciples through His name, to keep them from the evil one, and to sanctify them in truth, did the Father say “no”?  Of course not! And being kept and sanctified means that we may be one. So what’s the problem?  Obviously, it’s us!  Obviously, we have chosen for one reason or another not to enter a spiritual reality that Christ provided as His final blessing on the disciples during His last hours in mortal flesh.

The church was born in the heart of that reality.  On the day of Pentecost they were all gathered in one place and in one accord and we know what happened.  Through the early days the believers broke bread daily and had all things in common.  We know from the New Testament, that it didn’t take long for the newly converted to take their eyes off of Christ and begin to focus on other things like the law, or their leaders, or who wasn’t getting their fair share of food distributions. Tragically, history tells us that the Lord’s plan for His disciples to be one as the Father and the Son are one has often been lost in bickering, battles, and bloodshed among believers.

The experience of universal Christian unity was lost within a relatively short period of time. Segregation by doctrine, denomination, and different cultures became normal in a body of believers called to be one as the Father and the Son are one. Knowledge of universal Christian unity faded from the church.  Many if not most Christians believe that John 17 is a promise for life after death.  But that just doesn’t make sense.  Read the prayer.  The purpose of our perfect unity in Christ serves to protect us from the evil one as we are sent into the world.  It provides evidence to the world that the Father sent the Son, and that He loves us as He loves His Son.  Neither will be necessary in the world to come.

We have lost the precious knowledge of Christ’s plan, provision, and power in unity.  But lost knowledge can be rediscovered. In my lifetime, in my small circle of experience, I have seen God bring down walls between Catholic and Protestant, between Methodist, Baptist, and Brethren.  And whatever He is doing around me, He is doing throughout the world. The burden I have carried nearly four decades convinces me that the time has come for the knowledge of Christ’s provision for unity among His disciples to be rediscovered and experienced once more.

Just read John 17 carefully. Think about the cross looming just ahead. Think about Christ’s last minutes with His disciples. Think of Him praying for the work they have been given. Think what might happen if all who claim His name actually believed that His repeated statement is spiritual reality.