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Archive for May, 2018

Answers to Prayer!

I just wanted to thank you for all your prayers for me recently. As many of you know, I had been suffering greatly from my kidney failure. It came to a head last Thursday (May 24th) when I woke up feeling really sick and had a hard time breathing. My wife, Letty, had just left for work (last day of school) and I was wondering, “Should I go to the hospital?” Thankfully, my son, Jonathan, was still home. I asked him to drive me to the ER.

Long story short, I got admitted immediately (there was no line at the ER. How often does that happen?) and they put me on extensive dialysis (two 18 hour sessions) and blood pressure meds. I was in the hospital for three days. During that time, my wife, three sons and good friend (Brad Twitty) attended to me and prayed for me. There were powerful times of prayer and God spoke to me profoundly (I’ll write about those soon).

By the end of the three days, I felt like a new man! The doctors determined that my suffering in the past weeks was because my current dialysis program was not keeping up with the rate of deterioration of my kidneys (under-treated). This is actually common among new dialysis patients. So they “upped” my treatment.

I got discharged from the hospital on Saturday afternoon. And I’ve been feeling great (though still a little tired) since then! I’m on my new program and it’s going very well. Letty is now off from school and so we are raring to go in preparation for the transplant surgeries on June 18th. (She is donating her kidney to me; if you didn’t know)

I credit the Lord answering your prayers for me! Thank you and thank the Lord! I believe it was answered prayer that made me aware of the need to go to the hospital. It was answered prayer that allowed Jon to be available to take me there. It was answered prayer that allowed ER to be quickly responsive to me and the doctors and nurses to attend well to me. And it was answered prayer that my body responded well to the treatment.

I continue to covet your prayers for me, especially between now and June 18th(and beyond, in our recovery). Thank you so much … and praise to the Lord!

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Prayers, Please

I don’t like using my blog as a personal forum, but I need your help and prayers. I am really suffering. The past few days have been really bad with nausea, dry heaves, loss of appetite, not sleeping at night, and feeling extremely weak. I have prayed, literally hours on end at night, for God to give me some sense of relief. Eventually, I get there; but not until I have endured much travail. I’m getting weary and I’m at the point where I’m about ready to lose it. I’ve just contacted my kidney doctor and we’re going to try adding more dialysis. However, I want to ask for you to pray for me as well. I believe in the power of prayer and intercession and I’m not to proud to ask for it. So if you can lift me up to the Father’s arms, in the name of Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit leads you, I would greatly appreciate it.

Good news is that the transplant date is confirmed for June 18th. Letty is healthy. My pre-op date is May 30th. And I got the surgeon who was originally scheduled to do my surgery – Dr. Garnett. So 27 days and counting. God is good.

Thank you so very much!

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3am

One of my favorite scenes in the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy is when Sam-wise explains the eating habits of hobbits. Not only do they eat their three square meals, but there are the in-between meals as well, like “second breakfast” and “elevensies.” Hobbits take their meals very seriously; it gives them the nutrition they need for their long journeys away from the Shire.

In the same way, I’ve always believed that a Christ-follower needs more than a single time with Jesus each day. Part of Whole Life Worship is what I call “Personal Worship Time.” Others call it “quiet time” or daily devotionals (my church calls it “chair time”). Whatever you call it, it is one-on-one time with Jesus spent in prayer, worship, Scripture reflection, silence, journaling and intimacy. (To read my blog on “Personal Worship Time” click here). And I find that while once a day is a bare-minimum requirement, having only one personal worship time each day leaves me wanting more.

But to be honest with you, that’s easier said than done. I’ve only had minimal success in carving out a second time during my day to spend with Jesus. It seems that no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get into a rhythm of having that “second quiet time” into my day. I’ve tried lunch time prayer. I’ve tried evening prayer. It just doesn’t seem to work for me over the long term.

Until now.

I am in a unique season. My kidneys have failed and I require nine hours of dialysis each night. One of the draw-backs I’m experiencing with dialysis is that I get awakened every night around 3am. My dialysis goes through a new cycle of filling my peritoneal cavity with fluid around that time and it seems to always wake me up. And I can’t get back to sleep! As a result, it’s disrupted my normal sleep patterns. So basically, I’m up from 3-4:30am every night.

For the first few weeks, I saw this as a “cross” I needed to bear. I saw it as part of my “suffering” (add it to the nausea, feeling weak, fighting discouragement). And I spent those wee hours playing countless games of solitaire or reading the news. Mostly, I just would complain and feel sorry for myself. Then the Lord gave me a new way to look at this: a second quiet time!

So now when I get awakened at 3am, I get up and have some personal worship time with Jesus. I read through some prayers from the Psalms designed for the late night (called “the Compline” in Fixed Hour Prayer) and then I pray slowly – section by section – through the Lord’s Prayer. That often leads me into a time of intercession for those I know who are in need. Eventually, I’ll fall back asleep; usually a deep sleep until my dialysis is completed at 6am.

It’s not how I planned it to be. I would have preferred having a “second quiet time” during the waking hours of the day rather than during the fourth watch of the night. But, for right now, it works. Instead of squirming, tossing and turning, whining and complaining, and resigning myself to numbing my mind with video games, I’m entering into communion with my Jesus and I’m interceding for others. I’m meditating on Scripture and reflecting on the way Christ calls me to live. I’m pouring out my heart to the Lord and offering my body up to him. If I can’t sleep at 3am, the best thing I can do is be with Jesus.

How about you? When you can’t sleep in the wee hours, how about a second quiet time? Keep your Bible on your nightstand. Have a Book of prayer by your pillow. Turn to Jesus in the thick of the night and be a “night-watchman” for others in the Body of Christ.

It’s better than counting sheep.

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ups-downs-anxiety_3011

Have you ever gone through an experience where you were totally disoriented? For me, it happened a few months ago. It was about 2am when I awoke from a bad dream. I jumped out of bed in a panic. I noticed that I had a mask on (I have sleep apnea) and didn’t know what to do with the mask. I ripped it off. I thought, “Where am I?” Even though I was in my bedroom, I had no idea where I was. The next question was even more revealing, “WHO AM I?” I had no idea who I was and my anxiety shot through the roof. I felt totally lost.

But then something strange happened. I uttered out loud, “Jesus!”

Isn’t that interesting? I couldn’t remember own my name, but for some reason I could remember the name of Jesus! My wife, who is usually a very deep sleeper, woke up (I believe the Lord woke her up) and she attended to me. It turned out that I had very low blood sugar (below 50 – yikes!) So she got me some apple juice and within a few minutes I became oriented again. I remembered my name, where I was, the date, etc.

I share this with you as a way to illustrate one of the most important lessons I’m learning in the school of “suffering”:

Suffering helps us to experience the powerful presence of Jesus.

In my weakest, most vulnerable moment, Jesus is there. When I am totally lost, Jesus is there. When I am suffering, Jesus is totally there! He is there even when I cannot remember my own name.

When Jesus says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” he means it. When he says, “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age,” that’s an ironclad promise.

When things are going well, I find it a challenge to be aware of the Lord’s presence with me. There are some days where I am totally oblivious to Christ being with me. Sure, I have my personal worship time (quiet time) with Him in the morning; but the rest of the day? I’m off doing my own thing, unaware of God, until the end of that day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to confess to God in bed that I had not given him even a second thought!

But when I’m suffering, I’m calling on Jesus all the time. And he always shows up!

When I feel nauseous and sick, I cry out to Jesus. When I get disappointing news of another transplant delay, I cry out to Jesus. When I am awake at 3am because I am uncomfortable, bloated and agitated with dialysis solution, my suffering gives me an opportunity to cry out to Jesus, and he makes his presence known to me.

He shows up every time, without fail.

One of the most repeated prayers in the Psalms is: “In my distress, I called to the Lord, and he heard my cry and answered me.”

The gist of that prayer is found in Psalm 4:1, 18:6, 31:9, 55:17, 102:5, and 120:1, as well as 2 Sam 22:7 and Jonah 2:2. When God’s people suffered, they turned to him – without hesitation.

You would think that turning to Jesus when we suffer is a no-brainer. But how often do we choose not to turn to Jesus when we suffer or face hardships? How often do we try to work it out in our own strength? How often do we not pray or seek Christ’s face when we go through trials? How often do we choose to complain, whine and moan that “no one’s helping, nobody cares!” – and Jesus is there standing beside us waiting for us to call out His name?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 45 years of faith, it’s to turn always to the Lord when I can, as often as I can, all the time – because Jesus always answers us when we call.

If you are suffering or going through a trial, don’t “waste” it by trying to fend for yourself or wallow in your misery (which is different than “lament”). Instead, call on the Lord, cry out to him, turn and seek the face of Jesus, and see why he is called “the Savior.” Experience the power of his presence that gives you strength in the season of suffering.

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suffering learning

I find myself in a very unique season. It is a season where I am experiencing some suffering. The fact that I call it a “unique season” reveals that much of my life has been comfortable and easy. I have not faced a lot of severe adversity. My seasons of trial and hardship have been pretty quick and painless. Part of this is simply the grace of God. But part of this is also my approach to trials, hardship and suffering.

Because when it comes to trials and suffering, I race to get through it. I brace myself, lower my head and blitz through it as fast as I can.

So when I found out that I would be going through dialysis for two more months than expected, it floored me. There was no quick solution. I would have to bear with this struggle for a season. It actually plunged me into despondency.

I called out to the Lord. I lamented my situation to him. And he answered me. He told me, “You are in a special season, Doug. I am inviting you into it. You will find blessing in your suffering.” I regained hope, but I was also confused. What did this mean?

A couple of days later, I was having a conversation with a very wise friend about my situation and the topic of suffering. She told me that whenever she is suffering or going through a trial, she immediately spends a lot of time to reflect and listen to the Lord. She said that God teaches you things in suffering that you can’t learn when things are going well. And once the trial or suffering is over, you’ve missed that opportunity to learn if you aren’t paying attention.

So while my other Christian friends comforted me with their well-wishes and prayers that I would be healed or get through my suffering quickly (and I so appreciated their encouragement), Tami took a different approach. She inspired me to “pay attention” to what God is teaching me through this unique season. Because for the Christ follower, suffering isn’t just a pain or inconvenience that you try to “get through.” Suffering is a gift that you “learn from.”

No one enjoys suffering. It’s hard in any shape or form. As a result, we tend to avoid suffering as much as possible. We prefer comfort and ease and life going as we expect. And if I go through suffering, I want to get through it – as fast as I can. If I can’t make it painless, at least lets make it quick!

But here’s the deal: the Bible looks at suffering differently than our instincts or how the world sees it. One of the most counterintuitive passages in Scripture is James 1:2, which says to “consider it pure joy when you encounter trials/suffering of all kinds.” In Romans 5:3, Paul says that we should “glory” in our sufferings, because it produces unique fruit in our lives (perseverance, character and hope).

And Jesus is our example. While we avoid suffering, Jesus stepped into suffering. He stepped into our suffering. He is known as the “Suffering Servant,” the “Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief.” The writer of Hebrews goes as far as to say that, even though Jesus is the Son of God, he actually “learned obedience” from his suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Now that’s remarkable! Needless to say, there’s something about suffering that is holy and special and unique.

We all will suffer in this life. Maybe you are suffering today. It might be something huge or something small. It could be a health issue or a relationship struggle or a financial hardship or a tough decision that you’re facing. Suffering comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. But don’t look at your suffering as something you just have to get through. Also look at your trial as something you can learn from. . Whether you realize it or not, you’re in a special season where God wants to do something deeper and powerful in your life.

In the next several blogs I’ll be sharing more specifically some things that the Lord has been teaching me in the “school of suffering.”

Health update: Thanks for your prayers. I’ve felt less nauseous and have had more energy this past week! Yay! I just took some labs. Pray for my levels of phosphorus and potassium to go down, and for my hemoglobin to go up.

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No Props, Just God

A slight interruption in our discussion on Suffering …

I experienced something amazing on Friday night. I was at our church’s worship service (we have “Friday Night Church”; one of the coolest things we have done for the past 30 years). This weekend our young people were leading the worship service. My son, Jonathan, was the worship leader and the worship team consisted of mostly high school students. They had worked hard to put together this service and as they started – the lights went out!

Actually, the electricity went out. Apparently there was a traffic accident down the street from the church – a car had knocked out a power pole.

So there they were – no lights, no mics, no video, no song slides, no amps. Nothing but a couple hundred people in the dark. What were they going to do? How would they respond?

What happened over the next hour was one of the most remarkable things I have seen in the history of our church:

They worshipped God.

The students put away their instruments, walked up forward and formed a line. Jon started playing the guitar (he was quickly joined by Tyler, our Worship Director). And they sang their hearts out to God: Loudly, boldly, without reservation, without hesitation.

(a clip from the service)

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And then something equally phenomenal happened: the congregation joined them in worship. Yeah, we didn’t know all the words to the songs, but we sang anyway. The kids inspired us with their worship of God; so much so that we had to join in.

People who normally don’t sing with a full-on worship band, were singing!

People who normally don’t clap their hands, were clapping!

People who don’t lift up their hands, were lifting up their hands! Some people were actually dancing!

This was not the typical “people on the stage vs. people in the audience” dynamic. We were worshiping God as …. the church, as a congregation, as God’s “called out ones.”

God had turned off the lights. God had turned off the sound. God had taken away all the props.

It was just God and just His people.

And it was one of the best corporate experiences of worship that I ever had. Better than a Hillsong Conferece with the best musicians in the world. Better than PromiseKeepers gathering with 70,000 men in the stadium. Just a bunch of teenagers and Friday night congregation, stumbling together in the dark and adoring their God and Savior – the precious jewel of worship.

The whole service was amazing! My friend, Brad (our Youth Pastor), preached his heart out. Pastor Rob (our Senior Pastor) gave a powerful challenge to support our Children and Youth programs. And during the very last song the lights popped on! It was as if God had scripted it (maybe He did). I turned to my friends in the congregation and we looked at each other and said, “Wasn’t that one of the most amazing things we’ve ever experienced!”

Earlier in the week, I had a discussion with Pastor Brad about worship, in anticipation for this service. One of the great temptations in corporate worship is to “worship the worship.” It’s so easy to get sucked into worshiping the song or the experience that we forget that we’re worshiping God. While we batted around a few ideas that might help correct this issue, we came to the conclusion that only way we can get back to authentic worship of God is for the people of God to stop seeing themselves as an “audience” or “consumers” and to start seeing themselves as a “congregation,” as a people who love and experience their awesome God together. To that, Brad said, “Well, we should pray for that to happen!”

And so God turned off the lights. He took away the props. Just God and his children. Literally.

When the music plays and all is stripped away and I simply come… I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about You, Jesus.

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PraiseofLament-468x372

So sorry for the long gap between blogs. Life happened. It’s taking me awhile to adjust to life on dialysis. Nausea, fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite, and mental confusion have been my constant companions these past few weeks. Pretty sucky stuff!

I’ve also wrestled with discouragement and a bout of depression as we’ve been waiting to get back on the kidney transplant surgery list. My wife (who is my perfect match and is graciously willing to donate one of her kidneys to me) came down with laryngitis one week before our scheduled transplant surgery. The doctors cancelled the surgery and it took three weeks of labs, trying to coordinate communication between two health care providers and getting sign-offs by specialists to get us back on the schedule. And by the time we got all the “oks” to move ahead, the soonest date we could re-schedule a transplant was: June 18th!

Man, that sucks! I mean, yeah, I’m supposed to “embrace the suck” but I didn’t think I’d have to embrace that much suck!

I could totally relate to the Psalmist, “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:2-3)

Don’t you love the Psalms? They give us “templates” on how to pray, how to praise, how to intercede, how to worship, and even how to approach God in our suckiness.

Over a third of the Psalms are called “lament” Psalms. These are Psalms that address God when life sucks. Until recently, I totally hated reading the lament Psalms. As an optimist, I felt they were total “downers.” I didn’t want to hear about David’s problems or Asaph’s issues. I just wanted to read “happy” Psalms. I want to hear how good and great God is, not about sad things or hard things or angry things.

But when life sucks, there’s nothing better than using a lament Psalm to help express what you’re feeling. They’re so authentic and real; no holds barred. The Lament Psalms express raw emotions, even graphic descriptions of what’s really on in the Psalmist’s minds as they suffer. When you’re going through suckiness, it’s hard to find words to describe what you’re feeling on the inside. The Lament Psalms give us a “vocabulary” or a “soup starter” to get what’s on the inside of us out in the open.

Even more important, the lament is the ONLY way to transform suckiness into something that can be redeemed. That’s because, in a lament, we’re not just complaining about our situations; we are pressing into God as we issue our complaint to him. Biblical lament is more than just a common complaint. Anyone (and everyone) can complain. Biblical lament is special because it is a complaint in the presence of our Loving God.

And that’s the key. God wants us to find powerful resolution and redemption to our sucky situations, but it involves us turning to him, leaning on him, pressing into him. When we suffer, we can do one of three things: 1) we can try to work it out on our own, 2) we can feel sorry for ourselves or 3) we can press into God. Only one of those options leads to life, love and transformation.

I believe lamenting in God’s presence is the first step through the season of suffering. I’ve been using the Psalms to help me press into God during this difficult season and it’s led me to some very honest and raw conversations with the Lover of my soul. Through them, the Lord has given me some powerful insight into the “value” of suffering. I’d like to share them with you in the weeks to come.

I’ll also give updates on my health progress. I know that many of you are praying for me, and I gladly receive those prayers!

I used to think that June 18th was so FAR away – so far, that it really discouraged me. But after lamenting to God, I see that I only have until June 18th to learn the unique and valuable lessons that the Lord wants to teach me as he walks with me through this journey.

How about you? In your suffering are you just complaining or are you lamenting? Turn to God, press into Jesus and get real with him.

What a friend we have in Jesus! All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

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