In July of 2012 I was speaking at a 5th – 6th grade summer camp. The first night I asked all the kids to write down a question for God and to hand it in. One girl, Kristina Rae Barrett wrote, “Dear God, Why did you give me cancer?”
I knew Kristina’s dad since he was in my youth group back in ’85. Kristina inherited his spunk, love of life, and incomprehensibly deep faith. Actually, I think she passed dad up, telling him at one point, “If this is God’s plan for me, then I accept it.”
Kristina Rae Barrett, May 30, 2002 – June 21, 2014.
There are endless names connected to childhood cancer, but I can’t leave this blog without also mentioning Macen Holderman, who went to be with Jesus on September 27, 2016, at the age of 17. He was a ton of fun, I am sure he still is, but one of my favorite stories is when he was waiting in the hospital. One of his legs had been amputated, and as usual he was playing with his prosthetic. A shocked younger kid came up and asked him what happened. Macen answered something like, “I can’t tell you. But I can tell you, NEVER disobey your parents.”
Why Cancer? I don’t know. I do know the attack on children and their parents seems to be especially brutal. I know it is the result of sin, and as such we need to fight it. I hope you can help.
Last week Ryan Prieb, our Youth Guru drew this illustration for me.
We go to a football game, a play, a concert, and there is a director, the participants playing on the field or on stage, and us in the stands.
So, we go to worship, and we feel like we are the audience, the people on stage the performers, and God, of course is the director.
But what if we are wrong?
What is God is real the audience?
Then it would look like this.
That makes us in the congregation the participants.
Then the music is no longer picked for me to enjoy, but for God. The sermon length isn’t about my convenience, but about His glory. The parking space size and service time may no longer be the determining factor of a church that God loves.
It reminds me of a friend who was a worship leader at a small church in another town. She told me about the end of service one week, when someone leaving told her, “I got nothing out of that worship today.”
She shot back with, “That’s alright. We weren’t worshiping you today.”
He had the wrong chart. Sometimes I do too.
Hey – we were under 90 degrees here in New Mexico this week. It must be almost Christmas! If God is gracious, our below book comes out in October.
Only love for Christ can defend our hearts against all other loves that can kidnap our hearts. Only worship of Christ, where He is the audience, can protect us from worship of ourselves. Only the glory of Christ can guard against self-glory. Only Christ can turn us arrogant long-time churchgoers into patient, humble givers of grace. Only deep gratitude for our suffering Savior can make us willing to suffer for others. Only a heart satisfied in Christ can be satisfied in the hardships of life. It is only in brokenness in the face of our sin that we can give grace to the fellow rebels God is adopting as our brothers and sisters.
I recently finished Dangerous Calling, by David Tripp. I re-worded the above paragraph to be a bit shorter, and more generic in it’s application.
The Good: Paragraphs like the one above abound throughout the book. Not always easy reading, but always enlightening, thought-provoking, and often encouraging.
The Bad: Because this book is targeted at pastors, others won’t feel compelled to read it. I had to radically change the above paragraph to make it apply to all believers. That is a shame, as the teaching, and the way David words things, makes this a book for everyone.
The Ugly: I thought the cover was kinda ugly, not that I would ever self-promote, but doesn’t the cover of my Christmas book below look way better?
Pastor or not, I hope you will consider reading Dangerous Calling.
I recently received this email from someone and thought it could be helpful.
Hello, I thought I would tell you that we got Bizarre Bible Stories,and I started doing our family devotions with it yesterday morning. The first story was about Balaam and the donkey, and after we read the devotion the kids asked if they could act it out. Our son Luke played the part of Balaam, and the girls took turns being the Angel of the Lord and the donkey. (Both girls wanted to be the donkey, so we did our little skit twice.) Luke enjoyed telling the girls that they would be supper if they didn’t straighten up, and the girls enjoyed playing the part of the donkey that talks. As a mom who sometimes gets the deer in the headlights look, when I am trying to do family Bible time with my young children, I wanted to share that I appreciate this resource…
Skit time for devotions, not a bad idea!
Harry the Angel below for the upcoming Christmas book. I love the artwork, hope they print it in color!
That great advice comes from Bruce Kugler, Ph.D. Clinical Psychology, The Wright Institute.
Confession of an idiot pastor #135: I should have listened to his advice before speaking last Sunday.
So, last week I’m telling l the church we will be going to two services on October 7. Churches max out at about 70% of their seating capacity here in America, due to lousy hygiene and inadequate deodorant application I suppose. Haiti can cram three people in a chair and believe there is still plenty of room.
But then all of Port-au-Prince has a bit of an odor, so who’s to know?
Anyway, we’ve been at 70% and above for a couple years now at AnchorPoint, and are way more full than that in our children’s classes, thus, the decision and the announcement.
So, I’m giving the talk, and I said 170% instead of 70%. And I did it again. And again. I was totally consistent in my perplexing presentation. An interesting side-note, when I was told about my mistake after church, there were two opposite responses.
The “Type A” people were confused. They just couldn’t do the math.
The “Type Z” people like myself had no problem with it. “I figured you must have meant 70%, or just that we were really full. I got it.” They said.
Type Z is so much more Godly, don’t you think? But to the main question – why did I do it?
I assume I kept making the mistake because I was stressed about not making a mistake. I hate it when I do that – wish I knew how to stop it. Had I been relaxed and trusted God, I’d have been OK. I need to remember that great advice.
Two stories. One by my mother (on the right at college in the picture). The other by my son. Both well-written, with absolutely nothing else in common – except that they are both great fun to read. I hope you love them too. They would have made one creative writing team.
By Mom, Dorothy Cooley – from sometime in the ‘50s
One of the greatest blessings to me, years ago as a new student at MBI (Moody Bible Institute), and a comparatively new Christian was the challenge of the practical work assignments. One of the nurses approached me and told me of a young 14-year-old girl, Stephanie, who was dying from the effects of a malignant tumor. She was not in the ward, but had been moved into a room by herself. Both of her parents were with her.
“She’s already received the last rights,” the nurse told me, “but she continually cries out both in pain and in fear. Please visit her. She has terrible nightmares because she is so afraid to die.”
I prayed as I had never prayed before, and followed the nurse to her room. I had never yet led a soul to Christ. So many thoughts were rushing through my mind. What if her folks won’t let me speak to her? But there we were at the door.
Both parents were seated by the window, looking so despondent. Stephanie was, of course, lying in bed, so thin, yet the area in which the tumor was located could clearly by seen as a large bulge under the bedspread.
After asking the parents for permission to speak to their loved one about Christ, they quietly consulted together for a few moments and then decided it would be all right. Even though it has been many years, I still remember looking into the face of this frightened young girl who knew she didn’t have long to live and had such a fear of dying. The Lord, in His graciousness, used the verses that were quoted to Stephanie as it was explained to her very simply that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That He loved her and had given His life for her and had risen with her in mind.
As the question was put to her, “Won’t you trust in Him Who gave Himself for you as your own Savior?” Stephanie nodded yes. She could not speak. And as prayer was offered, I saw one pass from death unto life, from darkness to light. Her facial expression relaxed, and her eyes reflected an inner peace and trust in the Lord. She even attempted a smile.
The visit was a very short one, and as the prayer was ended, the nurse returned, telling me it was time to leave. Saying goodbye to the parents and thanking them, I was able to tell them that the daughter they loved so much would, in the Lord’s time, be in heaven, and I was able to leave a gospel tract with them.
The following week I literally rushed to her room – only to be told that Stephanie had passed away a few days before, and the nurse added, “After last week’s visit, she never cried out in fear again – she really seemed to be at peace.” As I rode back to school on the streetcar, many thoughts came to my mind. As a new Christian in Bible School I had met so many young people who seemed to have so many special talents that the Lord could use, a special ministry in music or in some other area, and I wondered why the Lord had led me there. So that afternoon the Lord taught me some very important lessons – He used His Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring a soul to Himself – and in His graciousness had allowed me to be an instrument. I did not need to wish I could do what some other young people could do – I just needed to let Him guide in the way in which He had planned for my life.
Many times the Lord has brought the memory of that afternoon back to me, and reminded me of that lesson – for the message that we have to share is one for which there is absolutely no substitute – “But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name.” John 20:31
By son, Micah Cooley, from sometime in 2018
Frozen is a great analysis on how people with depression often push loved ones away, and how they often don’t know how to ask for help.
Tangled is a well written and nuanced look at toxic and abusive relationships between parents and children, as seen through the eyes of the victim.
Mulan is an excellent story that builds up a woman of conviction and character that doesn’t disrespect the authority placed over her, but defies it in order to be a positive change in the world.
Beauty and the Beast is about a woman who finds the beauty and love in pain, who strives to further her own education, and repeatedly saves her father.
Little Mermaid is about an idiot who wanted to make out with some dude who looks like the least attractive Jonas Brother.
What a stupid princess.
Would have been a dynamic writing duo, no?
New Book Cover and Back – coming out for Christmas 2018
Culture Matters. I grew up and went to college in the Southwest USA, got married in Dallas, and later moved to Winnipeg Canada with four kids and stayed for seven winters. Things were different there.
Winnipeg is a tad cooler than Tucson. Actually, Tucson may have hellish heat, but January in Winnipeg makes a Tucson summer seem like heaven. The politicians in the US take turns when they debate, in Canada they rudely interrupt, making it way more fun to watch. In the Southwest, we speak two languages but claim only English. In Winnipeg we claimed two languages but spoke only English. The countries have different movie rating systems – but we were shocked as to what offends and doesn’t in Canada. One night we rented the equivalent to a PG movie in Winnipeg, and suddenly saw WAY more than we bargained for. Seeing more skin doesn’t seem to offend much north of the 49th parallel. However kill a few people and an “adult” rating is imminent. One culture is squeamish about skin, the other about blood.
But nothing is as different between Canada and the USA as playing pastor.
When I was new in Winnipeg I used the illustration of a friend of mine, who was trying out for the police department in Tucson, who took me target shooting. After using that illustration I was met at the door after church by a young man, who said, “I think I will have to leave this church. I just don’t think I can follow a pastor who would shoot a handgun.”
We now live in New Mexico, and I was reminded of what happened in Winnipeg today. A friend from church took me out to show me what he does at work – in defense of our country. He let me pull the trigger on stuff way more fun than a handgun.
Southwest American fun, not Canadian fun. That would have been mauling people in a hockey rink.
All this to say, culture matters. I quit using gun illustrations in Winnipeg, and the young man stayed and became a good friend. Our family learned about Parliament, a 5-party political system, and became dual citizens. I went from helping to bring in DC Talk and Newsboys for concerts in Tucson to learning to appreciate a pipe organ, stained glass, and a church with 100-year history in Winnipeg. I got rid of my gun before moving North, and got a 100-lb possessed dog to take it’s place. He was way more scary anyway.
But one thing about me didn’t change and never would no matter how long I had lived in Winnipeg. I’d still be squeamish about skin.
This week I got a 100-word email after my sermon that had an 8-word line in it I’d like to memorize. Our sermon topic was Awkward Church, which got this individual thinking. I hope you like his email as much as I did.
When I was about 11, we stayed with my grandparents for about a month when we were between homes. My father liked a glass of bourbon before dinner. Although he never drank himself, my grandfather kept a bottle of bourbon in a cabinet in his living room and invited my dad to have a drink each evening.
A couple of years later, I asked my grandfather why he did this, believing as he did in abstinence from alcohol. His answer was short and concise: “Abstinence is a choice, hospitality is a commandment.”
It’s important for us to make sure we don’t treat our preferences like commandments.
What is your dream church? What kind of music, kids program, messages do you most like?
If we found our dream church, would it be good for us–or would it limit us?
I know what my dad would have liked. His dream would have been the Blackwood Brothers leading hymns, George Beverly Shea singing the special music, and fire-and-brimstone Billy Sunday doing the message.
I’m still more of a DC Talk, Josh Garrels, and Tony Evans kind of guy.
But, is getting what we want best for any of us? Does God divide Heaven up into contemporary and traditional services, Gregorian chants and hip hop? Will the Anglicans have a different service than the Baptists, or are all of us going to have to learn when to stand, sit, and repeat?
Let’s admit it. We are all somewhat selfish consumers when we choose a church. Maybe it is because of my job, but every time I attend another church, I can’t help but evaluate it. I end up asking myself deep theological questions like…
Do they have close visitors parking? Surely if they cared about the unsaved and lazy visitors like me, they would provide guest parking.
Is it going to be good coffee; or church coffee?
After sitting down, I look at the stage. That way I know if I need hearing aids, earplugs, or if it gets my eternal approval and hitting that perfect balance between the two.
Please no “greet the visitor” time. I’m shy already. Let me hide.
After the service, what are they giving away? Coffee doesn’t count. I want a hat, a mug, a new iPad might even bring me back next week.
OK, I’m not that bad. But this week, as I look at what Scripture says about church, I have started to wonder…
Was growing up in a church not my style more healthy for me than if it had been one of my making? This study made me glad our church combined with Wellspring Anglican on Good Friday. It was awkward, I never knew if I was suppose to be sitting or standing, but a picture of Heaven nonetheless.
Here’s my thesis: I believe God made church awkward on purpose – so that we would mature.
Now that I think of it, Dad is in his dream church now. I wonder if learning when to stand and sit in Heaven was awkward.
Thanks to so many who supported our trip to Haiti this year. I went early with a few, and here are 3 things that pretty much could only happen there…
1: Up to my armpits.
We had a couple of toilets we couldn’t get to flush correctly. One was the toilet the 96 too-young-to-aim preschoolers used. We really wanted that one working. The other was in the guys room where we stored the plunger for constant use even when the toilet works well. Anyhow, after removing one toilet with my coworker Jeff, a massive centipede came climbing up the pipe. It was amazing, as the pipe went straight down over 2 feet. I suppose the poop on the sides of the plastic gave him grip. The other one just had those 2” roaches flying out of it.
Anyhow, we killed it when it reached the top, and that’s when I dropped the drill end tool I was using. The one I needed. The irreplaceable tool I needed, I dropped down the toilet hole of death. I didn’t want to think about what I needed to do – too much thinking leads to wisdom, otherwise called wimping out. So, I dove my hand down in there, felt around, grabbed it and yanked it out as fast as possible.
Had something, anything, crawled onto my hand, there would have been another brown spot on the floor.
2: Trash That Wasn’t
After replacing the two unfixable toilets, the trash people came. This isn’t like trash pickup here, it’s a couple guys in a flat bed truck that you pay to come. There is no trash pickup, people end up burning or burying it if they have a house, or just dropping it where they are if not. You have to pay someone to pick up your trash, and few have the money for that. It’s not safe to go to the dump without being somehow connected to the gang there. Anyhow the trash guys asked about the toilets, we said to take them. Suddenly two women working at our house said they wanted them.
We said OK.
We also had a busted suitcase when we arrived – one of the wheels and corners was totally missing. This wasn’t a big deal, we pick them up at garage sales for 5 bucks, and trash them when they get broken due to the harsh treatment. I had put that one in the trash pile the day before. Later I walked behind a building and saw another female worker washing it off with a hose and rag. It looked spotless.
My trashing it was a mistake.
The woman with the suitcase was taking it home to store things out of the dirt. It would become her dresser. I don’t know what will happen to the toilets, almost no one has running water. But, the problem was, I let people take stuff without asking the missionaries that run the place, Byron and Shelley, first. They know who got something last, who is in the greatest need, who would most benefit. When the first to speak up get something, the others can become bitter. Ignorance can cause issues.
After 12 trips, I’m still ignorant. And how humbling to see folks fighting over our trash. It’s confusing, the inequity of it all.
3: Haitian Realities and God’s Sovereignty
Fritz Boyle, who is an intern with Maranatha Ministries again this summer, wrote this last story for the Maranatha Newsletter. It is the reason we go – so that things like this have the opportunity to happen through the real missionaries on sight. I thought she could tell it better than me.
A few weeks ago, Maranatha became involved with distributing food for another orphanage in Port-au-Prince. The full story of why we became involved is wholly corrupt. Funds were being stolen, food and supplies were being mismanaged, children were starving to death. Once what was happening became evident to us, we involved our staff in buying and preparing food to feed these children.
A couple weeks after we became involved with food distribution at this orphanage, my parents came to visit. Shelley suggested (almost on a whim) that we all go on a field trip to the orphanage, so that my Dad (who is an ER doctor) could give the kids a medical examination and so that we could tell the kids the Easter story and how much Jesus loves them.
During the medical examinations, my Dad discovered that one of the younger boys in the orphanage had congestive heart failure and vocal cord paralysis. If these symptoms were due to malnutrition, then the condition of the boy was fatal; if we didn’t address it within a few weeks, he would die. His problem had to do with a severe deficiency in vitamin B1.
Vitamin B1 can be taken orally or in a liquid shot. The boy’s deficiency was so severe that in order for him to survive, he needed a concentrated shot of vitamin B1 as soon as possible. At that point, if he had taken it orally, his body wouldn’t be able to absorb it and he still would have died.
And, here’s the thing. A concentrated vitamin B1 shot might not be an easy thing to find in Haiti. It’s just not as common to take it in a liquid form. And never in a thousand years would my parents have just randomly packed liquid vitamin B1 for their beach vacation with their daughters, EXCEPT THAT, Shelley and I have been wanting to take vitamin B12 shots (which are supposed to give you more energy if you’re exhausted all of the time) since October. You don’t mix the vitamin B1 with the other liquid vitamin until you’re ready to take the shot (for reasons that I am unaware of.) Normally, you can buy these shots in a dual chambered syringe that will mix the chemicals right before injection. Dad found it cheaper to buy bottles of the concentrated vitamins separately, though, and had intended to put together a whole bunch of shots once he landed in Haiti for Shelley and I. HOWEVER, by the glorious grace of God, even though the second vitamin had been packed tightly in a small box with bubble wrap so it wouldn’t break, it shattered on the way here. Dad was unable to mix the concentrated vitamin B1 with the other vitamins to make our shots.
He was able to inject this young boy with the concentrated vitamin B1 his body so desperately needed the very day after we discovered the deficiency, and we had enough to last us until my sister left to visit her friend in Florida and was able to bring us back more.
But that’s just half of it. The symptoms of a vitamin B1 deficiency don’t present themselves in malnourished people until after they’ve been eating for a few weeks. Following WWII, they found that many holocaust survivors died after being rescued, even though they had started eating, because they had undiagnosed vitamin B1 deficiencies. A team of nurse practitioners spent two days trying to sort out the health issues with these children at the time that the plight of these starving kids was brought to our attention. They had examined every single one of those kids and didn’t notice any congestive heart failure or vocal cord paralysis.
What I’m saying is that if my parents had come a few weeks earlier, the vitamin B1 deficiency would have gone undetected. And if they had come a few weeks later, the kid would already be dead. God in His perfect, glorious, good will, brought these children’s condition to Shelley and Byron’s attention so they could start feeding them a few weeks before my parents visited, shattered the glass containing our other liquid vitamin on the way here, and then brought us on a spontaneous trip to the orphanage to save a life.
Coincidences aren’t really coincidences. A volunteer/supporter of this orphanage has been faithfully praying for this orphanage and these children every single night with her kids. I am confident that her prayers and our God saved that boy’s life. I have no words except that our God is a God of grace and miracles. I was not involved in saving this boy’s life, but I was humbled and filled with joy to witness the work of our God.
We continue to need direction and miracles for that orphanage. Pray with confidence of the sovereignty and goodness of our God.
Thanks for your support of us going for another year!