Archive for July, 2018

Recovering Well


I wanted to take this opportunity to give you an update on our recovery. It has been three weeks since I left the hospital from kidney transplant surgery. I’m happy to report that both Letty and I are recovering remarkably well, even better than we expected. Here are some of the highlights:

– My new kidney is not only functioning well, but it has enhanced my health tremendously. I have not felt this good or had this much energy in years! All my levels have come back to normal or getting very close. The doctors have decreased the doseage of some of my meds already!

– Most kidney transplant patients have to go to labs and clinics twice a week for a month. My doctors have me down to once a week after two weeks! Also, most transplant recipients are not cleared to drive until 4-6 weeks after surgery. I got cleared to drive after the third week. I also got the staples removed from my incisions a week early.

– I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds from my weight when I started dialysis! I’m eating a healthy diabetic diet (lots of veggies) and my blood sugars have been under control. I’m walking about 6-7 miles a day (15,000-17,000 steps on FitBit) which has helped with the weight loss.

– Letty is also doing really well. She’s almost back to 100% (she has her post-op with the surgeon next week). She’s just a little achy in her incision areas, but almost to the point where it’s not bothering her that much.

All this to say, God has blessed us with a remarkable recovery! And much of that has to do with the many, many people who are still praying for us.

My tennis coach always told me that the most important thing to remember in striking a tennis ball is the “follow through.” And that’s what’s happening here. There was a lot of prayer in the preparation (during dialysis and the waiting). There was a lot of prayer for the surgery. But there is still a lot of prayer going on (on my part and yours) for the “follow through”, the recovery.

That’s why Paul says in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” As well in Ephesians 6:18, he writes: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

When we pray, we need to pray all the way! Don’t just pray for the issue or the event and then stop when you’re through the crisis. Pray all the way through; “follow through” in our prayers. And that’s what we’ve been doing, and God has been responding.

So thank you for your prayers. And keep on praying for us. Here are a couple of prayer requests you can lift up:

– Pray for protection from infection and rejection until my immune system kicks in and the kidney is totally received by my body (at least another month or so). While I’m feeling very good, I’m still very prone to viruses, bacteria, etc. That’s why I’m pretty restricted from being in crowds and I have to wear a mask every time I leave the house.

– Pray for my re-entry back into ministry. I’m meeting with Pastor Rob (my boss) tomorrow and we’ll be discussing this (when, what, how).

– Pray that Letty gets cleared medically to go back to teaching. The school year preparation will be gearing up in the next few weeks, as school starts in early August.

– Pray that I would continue to hear from God in my daily times of devotion and prayer. This time of recovery has afforded me a “sabbatical” type of environment. I feel that God has given me this new life for a reason, and I want to be in the center of his will and abide in Him like never before.

– Pray for Letty and me, that our marriage and our oneness together would grow and deepen. Yesterday we celebrated our 36thanniversary and today my doctor cleared us to take a little getaway to the beach for the next couple of days (yay!) This season has really brought us together like never before and there is a reason for that, too.

May the Lord bless you, keep you, make his face shine on you, be gracious to you, lift his countenance before you, and give you his peace. Amen!

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As a recent recipient of a new kidney, I got to understand and experience the life-giving power of when someone gives you a part of them. Letty’s kidney has not only improved my physical health, it has literally improved everything in my life: my energy, my perspective, my ability to communicate, my discipline, my spiritual and emotional life. Of course, God’s divine hand is involved in all this, but it took a human agent (Letty) doing something tangible (going into surgery to give me one of her kidneys) that opened the way for me to have a new life.

(By the way, Letty is recovering nicely. She’s still a little sore and achy around her incisions. Continued prayers for her full recovery are appreciated!)

But what I want to share with you today is another “body” part that was given to me in this season of life. This “body” part was given by many, many people. Like Letty’s kidney, it took a tangible human act, accompanied by God’s grace, resulting in a powerful life-giving transfusion in me. And like Letty’s kidney donation, I am eternally grateful and humbled by the giving of this “body” part to me. What is this “body” part I’m talking about?

The heart.

Many, many of you gave me a part of your “heart” throughout this season. You might not have thought you were actually giving me a part of your heart. After all, you didn’t go through a surgical procedure. You might not have thought that what you did was all that big of a deal. But for me, it was.

What I’m talking about is “encouragement.” En means to “infuse” or “insert.” Couer or corage is French for “heart.” And ment is the action or process of what it follows. So encouragement literally means to “infuse heart into another.” It’s the art of giving part of your heart to another person. “Encouragement” is a strong, godly activity in Scripture (mentioned 54 times; most notably in the New Testament letters as a command to Christ-followers).

God knows we need encouragement. We live in a fallen world and it is so easy to get dis-couraged. We face hardships, trials and difficulties that get us feeling down and out; even defeated. And although we may know in our minds that the season of suffering or hardship can produce good and amazing things in our life as we “sow the Seed of Jesus” into it (see last Tuesday’s blog, click here), sometimes we need a little help to get there. So God designed us with the capability to give part of our heartto others; to en-courage. This is an extremely important and powerful function for Christ followers to do for others. As Paul writes:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thess 5:11

As I’ve shared in previous blog posts, there were times when my suffering was getting to me. I was discouraged, sometimes in despair. I felt like I had no strength. I wanted to give up. Even though I knew in my mind that Jesus was right there for me, I did not have the strength in my heart to press into him.

But then, almost out the blue, I would get a sudden boost of strength! I believe someone took the initiative and prayed for me – possibly in that very moment. I’m not sure where it came from (was it solely grace from God or did He use the prayer of another person?) but encouragement came and it was just what I needed to get me to press into Jesus.

A lot of times, however, I knew exactly where the encouragement came from.

People. People who cared. People who loved. People who took the initiative to “give heart” to me. Many times it took form in the form of a greeting card and a short, written out note. Check this out:


These are the cards and notes that Letty and I received in the past 3 months. These cards have ministered powerful encouragement to us! Some were very emotional. Some were prophetic. Some made us laugh. Some inspired us. And all were timely and en-couraging.

Others encouraged us by bringing us a meal after we came home from the hospital. We never ate so well (and so healthy) in our lives! Our dear friend, Lorretta Atkinson, coordinated the meals with people who volunteered (from our church and other churches, as well) and made sure they were all under the strict guidelines that our doctors gave. As a result, our recovery and healing process was accelerated (I got signed off to drive a week early because my progress has been remarkable). But the healing has been rapid not only because the meals were healthy, but also because of the spiritual encouragement this ministry of food has given us.

And a surprise source of encouragement has been those of you who posted on my blog (wholelifeworship.com) or on my Facebook page. Wow! Hundreds of posts and emails from all over the world, from different seasons of my life have poured in. Some of you I haven’t seen or heard from in years, even decades. But you came and reached out and en-couragedme! What a blessing! I am so humbled and amazed and strengthened.

I share this with you, not only to give you my thanks but also to en-courageus to do it all the more. It might seem like a little thing, but every time you send a card, or prepare a meal or post a short note or lift up a prayer, it makes a significant, if not powerful impact on others. You are giving a part of your heart. And it’s a beautiful art-form that builds up, inspires, motivates and transforms.

En-couragement is part of the Whole Life Worship response to God’s goodness and greatness in our lives. It leads us back to Jesus. It strengthens us to live for him 24/7. It draws us to God’s immense reservoir of His lovingkindness.

PS – I want to take this opportunity to personally thank each one of you who sent us a card or brought us a meal (I also wanted to shout out to all who posted encouragement on FB and the website, but that would be too hard to get everyone!) So a special shout out to the following brothers and sisters (not in any particular order):

Mike and Lorretta Atkinson, Gracie Lee, Gary and Robin Proctor, Mike and Carolyn Pruitt, Mary Ellen Leonard, Gary Keith, Terry Elsdon, Natalie Stidham, Wayne and Mary Moore, Nadine Peters, Annette Graversen, Robin Nicoles, Felix and Ronni Nunez, Doug and Debbie Bremer, Steve and Deanne Wells, Eunice Clark, Sister Vivian Curato, Sue Taylor, Gary Lee and Holy Trinity Church of Frome, England, Warren and Mary Burchett, Carol Pilgren, Solorio Kindergarten Team, Bud and Cindy Watts, the “Rosebuds” (anonymous donation), Jim Carey, Andy and Jasmine Valenzuela, CBC Pastoral Staff, Dan and Judy Long, Kathleen Acker, Neva Robinson, DiAnne Drachand, the Gillespie family, Brianna, the Fleenor family, Jackie Smith, Martin Lebovitz, Kristine Miguel, Northminster Presbyterian Church of Bakersfield, CA, Mary and Fred Dahm, the Tira-Tira family, the Guion family, Larry and Louise Murdock, Rose Marie Taylor, the McGinley family.

I hope I didn’t miss anyone. My apologies, if I did. But God knows who you are and He’s smiling at you!

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sowing tears

One of the most intriguing passages in the Psalms is Psalm 126:6-7, which says:

Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

I always scratched my head whenever I read that. What does that mean? I figured it must be important, though, as it is included in the Psalm of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), which was basically the “Official Jewish Songbook” as pilgrims trekked to Jerusalem for the major feasts. As well, I understood it to be a reflection and remembrance of their return from Babylonian captivity – ending one of the darkest chapters of their history.

But “sowing with tears,” “carrying seed” as they are “weeping”? What’s up with that? Is this about farming and using tears as some sort of Miracle Gro?

In my recent, brief season with suffering (though it didn’t seem brief at all when I was going through it!) I began to see a little more of what the Psalmist was saying through this passage:

Suffering causes the “soil” of our lives to be fertile for fruitfulness. Suffering breaks up the hardness, callousness, pridefulness and insensitivity of our hearts and lives. Things like illnesses, hardships, setbacks, injustice, humiliation, loss and persecution (cf. Matt 5:3-11, the Beatitudes) serve to break up the soil of our lives like a hoe or an aerator; leaving us open to humbly receive what we really need: truth, mercy, grace, righteousness, healing, transformation and love.

That’s what my season of suffering did to me. Until I started experiencing some suffering through the disappointment of waiting three more months for a kidney transplant, of experiencing pain, discomfort, nausea, and disorientation of end-stage renal failure, of having to endure hours and hours of dialysis cycles, of sleepless nights, of having to take a leave from ministry mid-year, of wrestling with low self-esteem and discouragement – I did not realize how hardthe soil of my heart had become. It was only as my heart and life was broken down by all this “terrible” suffering that I realized that I had ugly, and even-more-terrible things imbedded in my heart: bitterness, cynicism, pride, religious arrogance, unforgiveness, fear of man, anxiety, judgmentalism, etc.

So Jesus used my suffering as a spiritual “back-hoe” to break up the hard soil of my heart. Little by little, the Lord broke up the soil of my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There’s one more key ingredient to producing fruitfulness in the season of suffering: the “seed.” A fertile soil won’t grow anything by itself. It needs the seed. But the seed also needs the fertile soil. Jesus, in his parable of the Sower, explains that a hard, rocky or thorny soil produces no fruit, no matter how much seed is planted. But without the seed, there is no fruit either. So what is the “seed”?

Jesus defines seed as the “Word” (Mark 4:14). A lot of people naturally think, “Oh, Jesus is talking about “reading the Bible.” The more we read the Bible, the more seed is being planted in our lives.” Now, I agree that reading the Bible is good and profitable. I would even agree that reading the Bible is part of what Jesus meant by the Word. But I believe what Jesus meant by “the Word” is not just the Bible, but Himself. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). Jesus is the Word of Life (1 John 1:1). Jesus is the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

In short, Jesus is the Seed.

So fruitfulness comes through suffering when we “plant” Jesus into our suffering moments. You see, we have a choice when we suffer: we can turn to ourselves, which leads to either taking matters into our own hands or blame others for our misfortune or wallow in our plight (complain the pain).Orwe can plant Jesus in our suffering. (My friend, Sam Williams, uses the phrase “pressing into Jesus” to describe planting the seed of Jesus into our lives. I love that!) Whenever we plant Jesus seeds into our pain, our suffering, our trials, our injustice, our discomfort, our illnesses, our discouragement, or even persecution, the Lord begins the process of bearing fruit (described in the Psalm as “sheaves”).

So how do we sow the seed of Jesus into our suffering? There are many ways (note: Matt 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, are basically ways that Jesus taught on how to sow Him into our lives):

– Whenever we cry out to Jesus (even at 3am), we are sowing Jesus seed

– Whenever we turn to seek Him in reading Scripture in our pain, we are sowing Jesus seed

– Whenever we ask others to pray for us (especially when we pray together), we are sowing Jesus seed

– Whenever we lament (“sowing tears”) to the Lord, we are sowing Jesus seed

– Whenever we choose to live faithfully to Him through obedience, we are sowing Jesus seed

– Whenever we repent of sin, unforgiveness, or anything else the Spirit reveals to us in this season, we are sowing Jesus seed

– Whenever we stop to quiet our souls and listen to for His voice, we are sowing Jesus seed

– Whenever we bless others, stand up against injustice, give generously, meet a need or any other loving act that Jesus leads us to do – in spite of our suffering – we are sowing Jesus seed

These are all things that the Lord led me to do during my time of suffering. There were times when I fell short, where instead of sowing Jesus seed, I wallowed in self-pity or chose to live the smaller life of whining and complaining. But I am thankful that the Lord gave me grace many times to press into Him and sow His seed in my suffering and pain.

And now I am experiencing the first fruits: I have entered into a new life! Not only do I have a new, functioning kidney, not only am I feeling the best I have in years, but I feel that God is transforming me in so many ways: emotionally, spiritually, as well as physically. And I have returned, singing “songs of joy”!

Are you in a season of suffering? How are you responding to it? I encourage you to sow the seed of Jesus into it; press into Jesus. This is a whole life worship opportunity before you. Don’t take the worldly approach of whine, blame or complain. Let Jesus do something with it.

So take my heart and form it. Take my mind and transform it. Take my life, conform it to Yours, to Yours, Oh Lord.“Holiness” by Scott Underwood

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