Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A (Hopefully) Minor Setback

I suppose one could say that we have had an exciting last few days. I began to notice that I was getting a little more tired than normal last Thursday but attributed it to the fact that I had been pushing myself on the treadmill.  Then, Saturday morning, when I woke up, I noticed a rash on my forearms. By Sunday the rash had spread all over my body. So it was back to the ER. After about 8 hours of testing, poking etc. they had eliminated measles, allergic reaction, blood clot (a possibility we were warned about as an after-effect of chemo), and several other possible causes. It came down to, basically, "we don't know." After seeing our local GP and oncologist the best guess is that it is a reaction to one of the new medicines I am taking or a reaction to all the childhood vaccinations I had to retake in December and January. We are taking a few days to wait and see what the rash will do. We also are getting an appointment with the dermatologist at Stanford to check it out. It seems like my body doesn't get normal diseases: just the rare and exotic. It was interesting to see how fast the hospital staff gets you out of the waiting room and into a private room in the ER when you are covered with red dots.

So, even though this seems very different than what we struggled with the last two years, it brings us right back mentally to where we have been. As Joyce said yesterday, "We waited two years to breathe again and then just one week later we feel like we're right back where we were." It is disappointing and a little discouraging. It's hard to be positive when you feel this bad. 

But God continues to minister. He spoke to me through Chrysostom in yesterday's devotional,
"Paul implies that there must be temptations which we cannot bear. What are these? Well, all of them in effect. For the ability to bear them comes from God’s grace, which we obtain by asking for it. God gives us patience and brings us speedy deliverance. In this way the temptation becomes bearable. Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 24.1, Ancient Christian Devotional C, 84 
Both Joyce and I would appreciate your prayers that the rash would go away and that the doctors could figure out what caused it. Then please pray that Joyce and I would be able to maintain a positive attitude. As always, we appreciate your prayers. 

The picture is from a week ago. I didn't include the "rash pictures" because I didn't want to gross anyone out.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Devotional: The Present and Future Kingdom, Matthew 13:24-43

Matthew 13:24-43 contains the second round of Jesus’ parables in this central teaching section of the Gospel. As with the soils parable, Matthew has structured the passage so that the telling and explanation of the parable frame additional related teaching by Jesus. Thus, these sections need to be interpreted by and in reference to one another. Here Jesus is teaching about the present nature of the kingdom, from the ascension to the second coming, and how it compares and relates to the final kingdom that will happen when he returns. The parable of the wheat and the poison weeds teaches that, in the present age, the kingdoms of Satan and God will exist together and it will be sometimes difficult to tell who is who until the final judgment. God tolerates this because he wants as many as possible to make the decision to be part of his kingdom and receive his blessing before the final judgment and end of the age. The parables of the mustard seed and leaven explain that this will be because the present kingdom tends to appear small, hidden and insignificant, but it will permeate the world to become large and influential before Jesus returns. Jesus leaves his people mixed with the devil’s kingdom in this age so that we can be the means to bring them into Jesus’ final kingdom.

Jesus again uses a familiar agricultural image to make his point. (Matthew 13:24-30) Sometimes the enemies or business rivals of a wealthy landowner would secretly plant poisonous weeds in his field to ruin his crop. Once their roots intertwined, they would be very difficult to remove without damaging the wheat crop. However, once they were harvested they could easily be separated, the poisonous darnel burned for fuel, and the cash crop stored and sold. The main point of this story is that both God’s and Satan’s kingdoms will exist together in this present age, and it won’t be completely clear to us who are in and who are out until the return of Jesus. (Matthew 13:36-43) God is patient and wants that even the worst sinner will “reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9)” This also reminds us that it is not our place to judge the final destination of anyone. That should be left up to the “son of Man and his angels” (13:41). Our job now is to be the good soil that believes, perseveres, follows and serves in God’s kingdom. Even if we are misunderstood and seem insignificant and overlooked now, we can be certain that our faith will be vindicated by King Jesus when he returns.

The mustard seed and leaven parables amplify the point Jesus is making in the weeds and wheat parable (Matthew 13:31-35). Just like Jesus’ ministry at his first coming the kingdom will start in a small and hidden way. It will spread through relationships that bring Jesus’ blessing and care to the needy and multiply until it permeates the entire world. Like a mustard seed, it will start as the smallest of movements. But then it will grow to provide a place where all the weary and weighed down “birds” can “Come to me… and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:20). Like leaven, the kingdom of God invades the world in a hidden and inconspicuous way but then permeates all levels of society until it affects everything. The kingdom of heaven conquers by eating with sinners, healing the sick, including the outcast, reconciliation with enemies and displaying the humble servant heart of Jesus. This is how we earn the right to present the truth of who he is and the high requirements of his service.

This kind of meek and self-denying approach seems stupid by human standards. But Jesus’ resurrection and 2000 years of Christian history show that this is how God changes the world we live in. Let’s leave judgment and vindication to him and focus on what he calls us to do.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

63 and Cancer Free

Today I have completed 63 orbits around the sun in my lifetime. I suppose that is a somewhat significant achievement, especially when you consider what we have gone through during the last three orbits. This year was the first time in three years, humanly speaking, that we were pretty sure I would make it through to this birthday. So here I still am "enjoying" a cold snowy day on my 63rd birthday. We are going to try to navigate our way down the steep driveway where we are staying in a few minutes, so we can go out with some friends (who have 4-wheel drive) for a birthday celebration. All of this is a tremendous testimony to God who preserves and gives us the years of our lives to invest for him, the prayers and care of our faithful friends, and the love of my family, especially Joyce. God Bless!

Monday, February 04, 2019

Structure of Matthew 13

Devotional: Be Careful How You Hear! Matthew 13:1-23

Chapter 13 is one of the major teaching sections of the Gospel of Matthew. In it Jesus uses eight parables to explain the character of the kingdom of God in this age before Jesus’ second coming. In the present age, the kingdom will exist in a hidden form mixed with the kingdoms of the world. Only disciples that persistently listen to Jesus will understand it and recognize it. They will only understand Jesus when they value his kingdom above everything else in this life. Others may profess to follow Christ, but at the end of the age, God's judgment will reveal who are the true members of God's kingdom. The chapter is highly structured to highlight these points. The parable of the soils is sandwiched around Jesus’ explanation of why he uses parables. The parable of the weeds is sandwiched around two parables that explain the hidden nature of the present kingdom. The chapter ends with four parables that highlight the great, but presently hidden, value of Jesus; kingdom. We must listen well with a willing heart to avoid the mistake of the nation that rejected Jesus and was destroyed.

Matthew begins by pointing out the great crowds that listened to Jesus’ teaching.(13:1-2) Sadly, by the end of his ministry this great crowd will dwindle down to a few women and the eleven disciples The point is that it is not enough to just hear what Jesus is saying. Only disciples that stick around, act on what he says, and continually seek Jesus’ direction will really understand what he is all about and benefit from it.

Jesus as the “sower” plants the “seed” of the kingdom message everywhere and to everyone he meets. (13:3-9)  He speaks using  images that would have been common to his audiences. The problem with lack of fruitfulness was not caused by his presentation but by the receptiveness of the audience. The “path” represents people who do not care enough to really listen and so the word goes “in one ear and out the other” as if he had never spoken (13:18-19). The “rocky soil” represents those that hear with shallow commitment. (13:20-21). Testing and trials reveal their lack of commitment and they fall away. The “seeds among the thorns” represent those that let other priorities crowd out their commitment to Jesus’ word. (13:22). Jesus will hold first place or no place in your life. The “good soil” represents those that really believe Jesus, are willing to live by his values and are truly committed to his work. (13:23) They are willing to join in what Jesus is doing and thus learn more and deeper things about him and become more like him.

In between the telling of the parable and the explanation of its meaning, Jesus explains to his disciples why he teaches in parables. (13:10-17) Basically, the truth goes out to everyone, but it can only be understood by disciples who are willing to follow Jesus. That is, they are committed to pursue what Jesus is saying by asking questions, applying what he says to their daily lives, joining him in ministry, enduring what he endures, falling and getting back up, and doing all this in submission to him and his agenda. Those unwilling to do this, as Isaiah predicted, render themselves unable to see, hear and understand. Understanding comes only to those committed to a life of discipleship.

So we need to be careful how we hear. Hearing Jesus’ words, submitting to them and applying them to our daily life makes it easier to hear and understand more. Hearing Jesus without response makes it harder to hear the next time. We must see and hear with our eyes, ears, heads, hearts and hands. That is really listening!

Saturday, February 02, 2019

A Day To Celebrate

Joyce and I went down last Thursday to Stanford for the doctor appointment and follow up report on my PET scan from the week before. This would be a major turning point in my recovery from cancer either way it came out. We were expecting a good report, but there had been some "spots" in previous scans that caused some "concern." When the doctor came into the room with a big smile on his face we relaxed a little. His report was that the scan was clear. Even the "spots" were gone. He then released us back to the normal after-care that mostly will be taken care of up here in El Dorado county. This was the best possible news we could get and we enjoyed celebrating with the doctor, the nurses and even the receptionist who took the picture above.

I will still officially be in  recovery for 2019 but we can now begin planning for what is next in our lives. We plan to continue our ministry with LMUSA here in the US. This will include visiting our supporting churches and anyone interested in what we are doing. I have taught one online PIU Bible class already and plan to teach more starting this summer on both the undergrad and graduate level. We have already made contact with some of the Micronesian church leaders here on the US mainland and plan to start working with them now. In the meantime, Joyce will be going to Guam at the end of April to finish up our business there and to be the speaker at the PIU graduation in May. If you are interested in having Joyce, me, or both of us minister in your church or group please give me a call at 530-409-6971. If I don't answer leave me a message and I'll get back with you. You can also email me at dave.l.owen@gmail.com. We are looking forward to being more active in ministry!

It is amazing when God gives you a day like we had last Thursday. The trip to Stanford took only 2:45 going down and 3:45 going back. The traffic was lighter than normal. We also took the back way through the country and it was beautiful and green all the way. When we stopped at Starbucks they even gave us free pastries. Most days don't go like that so we are always thankful when they do.

Thank you so much for praying for us and supporting us through this two-year ordeal. You have been such an encouragement to us. We'd appreciate your prayers for direction as we step forward into what God has for us in 2019 and beyond. Let us know how we can serve you!

Friday, February 01, 2019

Devotional: The Most Important Question #2, Matthew 12:33-50

At the end of chapter 12, Matthew concludes his discussion about the most important question the Gospel asks us: “Who is Jesus?” How we answer that question is the most important decision we will ever make in our lives. Because Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God in the flesh, our relationship with God and his created world hinges on our answer. Here, Jesus contrasts the rejection of him by the Pharisees with the reception of his words and authority by his true disciples. Jesus makes the bold claim that response to him reveals a heart that is open or closed to God and what God is doing in the world. The Pharisees’ words and actions toward him reveal them as “bound by Satan.” In contrast, those who follow Jesus are doing “the will of my Father” and are in family relationship with God. This passage is a strong reminder to us to be on the alert, humbly listening and watching for what God’s Spirit is doing in the world. It is a reminder of the need to prioritize our allegiance to Jesus and to God’s kingdom as we begin each day.

The Pharisees’ and scribes’ words and actions toward Jesus reveal them as evil “vipers,” rather than the holy men of God they pretended to be. (12:33-37) Good people do not condemn the actions of a person who is serving those around him. Good people do not condemn one whose words accurately reflect the truth of scripture. Good men do not manipulate the word of God to enrich themselves or justify their greed. (See Matthew 23) Good men do not plot to ruin the reputation or seek to kill those they disagree with. (12:14) Just because people call themselves Bible teachers does not mean you should listen to them. Watch their lives and words to determine what is in their hearts, but remember, to watch yourself too. Your words and actions will also be judged.

The religious leaders tried to justify themselves by asking for a sign. Jesus responded that they had already had enough signs. (12:38-42). What more did they need than “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them?” (11:5) But Jesus did say that they would get one more sign: the “sign of Jonah.” Jesus’ resurrection from the dead would be the final and ultimate sign to the nation of who he is. Sadly, most of those listening to Jesus there would reject even that sign. Ironically, pagan Gentiles, like the Assyrians who responded to Jonah’s message, were more attuned to God’s Spirit and repented. Ironically, the pagan queen of Sheba recognized God’s wisdom when it was spoken better than Jesus’ generation. The bottom line is that the issue is not a need for information or proof. The issue is willingness to submit to God. It’s about hearts, not heads.

The results of rejecting Jesus are presented graphically. (12:43-45) To reject Jesus’ offer of spiritual freedom and victory does not leave one the same. It brings deeper bondage, deeper degradation, and more decisive and devastating judgment. You risk getting what you ask for: life without God. These leaders led the nation down the path that would result in its destruction less than forty years later.

Matthew closes the chapter with one more contrast. He contrasts his biological family with his real family: those who obey the Father by trusting and following him. Though Jesus’ family would later come to believe him, here they were embarrassed by him and tried to restrain him. (See Mark 3:21) Jesus’ point is that relationship with God and membership in his kingdom does not come by national or family origins, but only by following him. The kingdom of God must be your most important allegiance or relationship.The benefit is that when we follow Jesus we reach the highest status a human can attain: “brother and sister and mother” of Jesus. That is what is at stake here.