Saturday, June 30, 2007

Psalm 91

When I was in Sunday School as a little boy, I was asked to memorize Psalm 91 (in the old King James Version, no less!). I don't remember if I memorized the entire Psalm, but I do recall the first verse:

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

You can find a modern English translation of the entire Psalm here.

I didn't really understand the Psalm at the time. There were words like "noisome pestilence," and "pinions," and "fowler's snare" that were well beyond my vocabulary at the time. My Sunday School teacher explained them, but I kept envisioning some monster stalking around at noon, and God swooping down like an eagle, avoiding traps, and covering the cowering Israelites with His feathered wings. It was like the poorly made, black-and-white Sci-Fi movies that were on T.V. at the time - "It Came From Outer Space;" "Them!"; "Invaders from Mars."

More than that, the entire point of the Psalm went over my head. I just didn't understand that God is making such an incredible Promise.

The final verses of Psalm 91 (in a modern translation) read:

"Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.
He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With a long life I will satisfy him
And let him see My salvation" (Psalm 91:14-16).

God has made a commitment. Because He is God, He will fulfill that commitment. He has the power and character to do so. He says He will intimately be with those who love Him. Like Romans 8:28 (which assures us that God is working ALL THINGS together for the good of those who love Him), the promise is grounded in our love of God.

How can we possibly love Someone who is invisible to us? How can we be intimate with Him, when often God seems absent in our lives - especially for those who doubt His existence in the first place?

For me, the answer is the same as with any other important relationship: We must spend time talking and listening to the other person. God speaks to us through His Word (the Bible). God listens to us when we pray.

Reading the Bible should never be an exercise in guilt or obligation. Instead, we should pray that God will reveal His Truth to us through His Word. Then, with expectation, we should open the Bible and start reading in a logical fashion - don't merely 'hunt-and-peck.' Start with one book and read it all the way through. I'd suggest starting with one of the Gospels - Mark, say. Or start at the beginning with Genesis. Don't feel like you have to read the entire book in one sitting.

Then, after reading, pray again. Ask God to confirm the Truth of what you've just read. Start to practice prayer - open your heart to God throughout the day. Ask Him for help, for guidance, for assurance. God promises that He is not far from us; that He will reward those who diligently seek Him (Acts 17:27; Hebrews 11:6).

Honestly, my love for God is not exactly like my love for my wife and children. At this time, I cannot see God; cannot hug Him or be hugged by Him; cannot audibly hear His voice. On the other hand, my wife and children do not spiritually "live" inside of me the way God's Spirit does.

And it is His Spirit that testifies to me that I can trust His Promises. Because I love God, I know that He will sustain me through this trial and every other. He will set me on high. He will be with me in trouble (like on the operating table, Monday). He will rescue me and honor me, though I do not deserve it. And He will reward me with long life and His salvation - not ultimately in this life, but in Eternity.

His promises can be yours, too.

Friday, June 29, 2007

"Awaken, Sleeper!"

I just heard from Dr. Liau's office. The results of the functional MRI indicate that Dr. Liau WILL do the sleep/awake procedure. This involves being put to sleep for the first part of the surgery (when they open up my head and expose the tumor), and then being awakened. The neurologist I spoke with the other day said I'd be fully awake - as awake as I am now. However, Dr. Liau says many patients have only vague memories of being awake. During the awake time - which can be between 1-2 hours - they will ask me vocabulary-related questions while stimulating portions of my Broca's Area with a mild electric shock. If I can't come up with the right word, they'll know they're in a vital area. They literally mark the area with a sterile piece of paper (wonder if it's an Avery product?).

After the awake time, they'll put me back to sleep, remove the tumor, and close me up. I'll go to the ICU for the first night, then to my room for at least 2 more nights. If all goes well, I'll be home by Thursday.

My surgery will be at UCLA Medical Center Hospital. After Monday, you can try to reach me through Patient Location: 310/825-8611.

It's scheduled for 7:30AM (need to be at the hospital by 5:00AM that morning).

That's what I know at this point. I'm scheduled to talk to Dr. Liau in more detail Sunday afternoon. This is all coming together! It's becoming very 'real' to me, now - I'm a little nervous, but confident. I know Who's in charge!

What is Truth?

I was talking with a friend the other day, and he said something like, "When someone says they have the Truth, it's time to get scared." He said this because of two reasons:

1. It's just not possible to know what is true; we all have pieces of the truth, but not enough to achieve certainty - especially in the area of religion.

2. Those who think they have the truth usually try to impose their version of the truth on others. This can be demonstrated in numerous ways, from the Taliban to the Crusades.

I'd like to share my answer to him and some further thoughts on this important topic.

I told my friend that truth - by its very nature - is divisive. Something cannot be both true and not true at the same time and in the same way. So, for example, there either is a God or there is not a God. You can't have it both ways. In logic, this is a truth known as the Law of Non-Contradiction. Logic is one way that we can know certain truths.

To a large extent, I actually agree with my friend's second point. Many people want to impose their beliefs on others. This fact is not limited to those with religious faith - even secular humanists try to impose their will on society. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot each attempted to create a religion-free society. In the West today, those who embrace the idea of Relativism (that all truth is relative; that people must determine subjectively what is true for them, and be tolerant of other people's "truth"), attempt to change laws they find objectionable.

This is not the place to respond to Relativism, but I'll simply point out that it is logically self-defeating. The statement: "All truth is relative" is absolute. If ALL truth is relative, that necessarily includes the statement itself, in which case NOT ALL truth is relative. Thus, the basic tenet of Relativism is both true and not true at the same time and in the same way. This is a violation of the Law of Non-Contradiction.

Regarding Christians that have tried to impose their beliefs on others, such as during the Crusades, one simply has to ask if they were acting according to the teachings of Jesus? The answer is an emphatic "No." There is no Biblical justification for spreading Jesus' message by violence or even political activism. The focus is on personal witnessing (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15). Thus, while some people calling themselves "Christians" may have used violent means to enforce their beliefs on others, the root-cause is not the tenets of Christianity, but their own pride and lust for power. In other words, what the Bible calls "Sin."

In my previous posts on Significant Faith, I tried to explain how faith in God can be based in fact. God has given ample evidence for His existence through His Creation. But I also stressed that, ultimately, assenting to the truth of that evidence involves not only drawing one's own conclusions, but also the active work of God in our hearts.

In his book, Reasonable Faith, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig draws a distinction between "knowing" something is true and "showing" something is true. We can know something is true, ultimately, because God lives in us and reveals it to us; but we can show it is true to someone else because our faith is based on knowledge - on facts and logic - that can be demonstrated to be true.

Here's how Craig explains it:

"My friend, I know Christianity is true because God's Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. And you can know it is true, too, because God is knocking at the door of your heart, telling you the same thing. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now, to try to show you it's true, I'll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that's my fault, not God's. It only shows that I'm a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue. Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. I'll do my best to present good arguments to you. But ultimately you have to deal, not with arguments, but with God himself'" [William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), p. 48.]

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Final MRI This Morning

I just completed my final MRI prior to surgery. Unlike the functional MRI yesterday, this was just a 'normal' one - the third I've had in the past 3 weeks. For those of you who have never had an MRI, it is a procedure using "Magnetic Resonance" technology to image the brain (or some other internal structure). The instrument used is a body-sized tube with a narrow table that slides into it. You lay on the table, your head cradled in a plastic cage with lots of padding - your head must remain completely still, like during an x-ray. The technician slides the table into the tube. It can feel a bit claustrophobic, especially the first time.

Once inside the tube, they start the scans. The machine has no moving parts and is not invasive. However, the "Resonance" part means that the magnets make a LOT of noise. They give you earplugs, but it's still loud - lots of knocking, whirring, pops, and grinding. Sometimes the whole instrument vibrates - not sure how they keep the imaging clear when that happens.

They do a series of scans. I've had as many as a dozen scans; today, we did only 3. Each scan can last between 2 and 12 minutes. Sometimes, lights flash during the scan. The tube is well-lit, and they often place a mirror on the cage in front of your face, so you can see out the bottom of the tube. I usually just keep my eyes closed.

I've found this process to be an excellent time to relax and pray. This morning, I spent about 20 minutes inside.

So, now - once again - I'm back in 'wait' mode. All the tests have been completed. All systems go. I'm waiting to hear the results of the brain-mapping - to see if the tumor is within 1cm of my Broca's Area (speech center). If it is, Dr. Liau will wake me up during surgery. If she does, it will add about 2 hours to the surgery. Otherwise, I'll probably be in 4-5 hours.

I have to call the hospital tomorrow afternoon to see when I need to check-in. Dr. Liau says she usually schedules surgeries like mine early in the morning.

I learned yesterday that children under 12 are not allowed in the hospital during visiting hours. Obviously, I'm disappointed - I'd like to see my kids during my stay. But, I'm only scheduled for 3 nights, so it shouldn't be that bad - especially considering that I probably won't feel up to visitors on Monday.

Since the 'Blackberry Test' worked so well, yesterday, I'll take my handheld to the hospital (it doubles as my cell phone, too) and - if I'm up to it - will blog from there. Between now and Monday, I'll keep blogging with updates (like the brain-mapping results, when I get them) and other things that are on my mind. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brain Mapping Test

Let's see if this works....

I'm sitting in a Westwood restaurant, blogging from my Blackberry
handheld. I just finished with my pre-admittance appointment, which
followed the brain-mapping exercise earlier this morning. Both went well.

The brain-mapping - or functional MRI - was much more interesting than my
previous MRIs. First, they gave me headphones and goggles and put on an
old Seinfeld episode for me to watch while they did some 'normal' scans.
I'd forgotten how funny that show was! I had to force myself not to laugh
and move my head during the scans!

Then, we started mapping. This consisted of a series of
vocabulary-related tests. They'd play a short definition - like "you
write with it" - and I'd think (not say aloud!) the answer. Or, I'd see
the definition written out on the 'screen' of my goggles, and I'd have to
think of the word. Or, they'd show me an image - a saw, for example, and
I'd have to think of the word and an action associated with it ("cuts

I should have known that I'd have to keep my head still during the
testing, and so would not be able to speak out loud, but it still amazes
me that they can actually see the brain functioning when you think of a
word. Where is 'saw' located in my brain? Is it next to 'hammer?'. How
are verbs stored, as opposed to nouns? Did they catch the fact that I
sometimes had multiple answers (you can write with a pencil, pen, and
crayon). Did they notice that it took me awhile to think of a 'long,
orange vegetable'?

We all learned in school that our thoughts have physiological analogues in
the brain. Increased bloodflow, synapses firing. It's fascinating that
science has progressed to this point - where doctors can map key areas in
a patient's brain before surgery like this!

I'm just glad I live when and where I do!

I'm now awaiting my final appointment of the day - my pre-op with the

Isaiah's Message of Hope and Comfort - Part 3

Isaiah Chapter 40 concludes with one of the most powerful and majestic promises is all of Scripture. It is a promise I've been holding onto in recent days:

"Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD ;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom" (Isaiah 40:27-28).

Here, Isaiah assures his readers that no matter how far away God may seem, He is in reality not far from each of us. He is the all-powerful Creator God; nothing is hidden from Him and He regards every aspect of our lives as significant. Jesus says:

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

As a balding guy, I always have to smile when I read about the hairs of my head being numbered - an easier task now than it used to be! But Jesus' point is the same as Isaiah's: God is intimately involved in our lives. While we may not always understand WHY He allows certain trials and challenges into our lives, if we love God, we can trust that He intends these for our good (Romans 8:28). If He cares about an almost worthless sparrow, how much more does He care for His children; and if He is powerful enough to have created everything with a mere word, He is certainly powerful enough to accomplish his good purposes in our lives.

"Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:30-31).

The promise expressed in these two final verses has always moved me. I quoted them in the Tribute to my father that was read at his funeral (see here). In that context, the promise was that my father - his body formerly wracked by Parkinson's and other ailments - was now with his Lord, restored to strength and vigor. Now, I find a healing promise in these words. The healing may or may not come in this life; ultimately, from the perspective of Eternity, it really doesn't matter.

But I also, in a very real sense, feel like I'm soaring with eagles' wings right now. I feel lifted by the love and encouragement of all of you. Even if you don't believe in God - or in the God of the Bible - I know that He is using you in a powerful way in my life, right now. Of course, if you do, then you know what I'm talking about.

So, I'd like to thank you, once again, for your kind thoughts and prayers. And I'm so very grateful to God for His promise of hope and comfort that I'm feeling in a tangible way as I write this.

Cleared for Take Off

I had my pre-operative exam yesterday with my regular doctor, and he cleared me for surgery. He told me he was optimistic; that there was every reason to expect a successful surgery - that Dr. Liau would be able to get all of the tumor and that it would prove to be 'low-grade,' requiring no further treatments.

He was encouraged that I feel so good - both physically and emotionally. Really, other than an occasional temporary inability to find the right word in the middle of speaking (a symptom I've had for awhile, and always associated with getting older, since many of my friends have the same problem), I don't feel like there's anything wrong at all.

It wouldn't surprise me if the MRIs that I'm having later today and tomorrrow reveal that the tumor has not grown - or has shrunk - or has even gone into "spontaneous remission" (med-speak for a miraculous healing!).

As always, your prayers and good wishes are very much appreciated. Please pray that the tests will be 100% successful to ensure the best possible outcome of the surgery.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Proud Moment

One week ago today, my youngest daughter Becca culminated from Fifth Grade. I was very proud of her, particularly when she received the President's Academic Achievement Award. Schoolwork does not come easily to Becca. Not that she isn't bright - when she finds something she's interested in, she dives deep. She devours books about dragons and cats (the "Warriors" series is her current favorite), and she can tell you all about them. She notices small details others often miss, which gives her the uncanny ability to find lost items (we call her, "Becca, the Finder of All Lost Things"). This is exactly the opposite of her father, who has the uncanny ability to misplace things with some regularity.

But if her schoolwork does not catch her interest, Becca struggles. But she always tries her best; she's a hard worker. And it meant so much to see her efforts pay off by winning the Award.

Next Fall, Becca will join our oldest daughter, Caelin, in Middle School. She may not make the trasition as smoothly as Caelin, who makes friends easily and is a good student. But seeing her Culminate last week, I know Becca will find her way.

It's hard to believe that at the end of Summer, Becca will turn 11 (Caelin will turn 13 in October; Ryan 10 at the end of February). Those of you with children can relate - it's like we have these little signposts in our lives, pointing to the fleeting nature of time. There are so many aphorisms that encourage us to enjoy every moment of every day: "Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may;" "Sieze the day!"; "You only live once!"; "Live in the moment." But, as true as these sayings may be, our signposts also point to the fact that, as Solomon says, "Life is a vapor." For me, particularly now, it is important to enjoy every moment, but also to keep an eye on Eternity. Jesus tells us, "Store up treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where rust does not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20).

But for now, Becca is just starting the Endless Summer of a 10 year old. She has a cat book to keep her nose stuck in for the next few days, the pool to play in when it gets hot in the afternoon, and a playdate with her best friend set up for Thursday. She has, with hard work, achieved her goal and won a "bonus" prize. I'm very proud of her, and enjoy seeing her enjoy the "fruits of her labor." I suspect this feeling of pride and vicarious pleasure in my child is a faint echo of how our heavenly Father feels about us, and will feel about us when we join Him in His Kingdom forever.

Monday, June 25, 2007

One Week From Surgery

Until now, my surgery was comfortably a couple weeks in the future. But, in the immortal words of Mick Jagger, time waits for no one, and this morning the realization is sinking in that one week from today I'll undergo the most extensive and important medical procedure in my life.

I must confess to you that when I first heard the diagnosis - when the neurosurgeon who performed the biopsy came into my hospital room and told me that the tumor was a Grade 2 - not a 0 or 1, as I'd been hoping and praying - I was scared. After he left, I was alone. My legs began to tremble. All kinds of thoughts ran through my mind: Will this thing in my head kill me? How long will it take? Will I be in pain, at the end? Will I lose my ability to speak, to think clearly? What about my wife and kids - what will happen to them?

I prayed aloud: "Lord, you're still in charge. I know that. See me through this."

I then got my cell phone and called Shirley. I got her voicemail (as she'll be the first to tell you, her phone never rings! Imperfect technology!). Then, I called my close friend, Casey Walker from church. He'd been my 'front man' for my church family, as my other close friend and boss, Mark Van Holsbeck, was for my work friends (thanks, guys!). I talked to Casey briefly, telling him the diagnosis. Within 5 minutes of hanging up, my phone rang. I was Pastor Paul. He asked how I was doing with the news, and then we prayed together.

After that, I can honestly say the panic was gone, and has not returned. This morning, with my surgery scheduled for a week from today, I am sober but not somber. On the one hand, I very much want this trial behind me - to hear my surgeon say that she got all of the tumor; that it was a Grade 2; that I can heal up and get on with my life. On the other hand, I've seen in a very tangible way how God is using this trial for my good (deepening my faith; allowing me to share it with others; focusing me on what is really important in this life - family, friends, relationships).

Like many in my situation, I've been reaching out to some people who have been important to me as friends or acquaintances over the years, but with whom I've not been in contact, recently. It's so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day activities and responsibilities, and then you realize 10 years have gone by, and you have lost touch with someone who was significant in your life in some way. I'm glad that I've been given this opportunity to slow down, to focus, and to try to re-establish contact with some of those people.

I'd encourage you to do the same! I don't remember who said, "Hell is other people." I disagree completely. "Heaven is other people." I can't tell you enough how much the thoughts, expressions of love and concern, and prayers mean to me - all of my friends and family mean so very much to me. Thank you for helping me get through this final week of waiting!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Isaiah's Message of Hope and Comfort - Part 2

The next few verses in Isaiah 40 establish the foundation of our comfort and hope in God:

"A voice of one calling:
'In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken'" (Isaiah 40:3-5).

God promises to someday reveal Himself in glory to the entire world. This is one of the central promises God makes to His People in the Old Testament: "I will be your God; you will be My People; And I will dwell with you." In the New Testament, verse 40:3 is applied directly to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (Matt 3:3). Through Isaiah, God is emphasizing that our hope is grounded in His promises, which He - being God - can be trusted to fulfill.

"See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young" (Isaiah 40:10-11).

Often, the "coming of the LORD" in the Hebrew Scriptures points to God coming in judgment; here, however, the focus is on His compassion and tenderness towards those who love Him. He is Sovereign over all because He is the Creator of all things, and when He comes to rule, His "arm" will rule for Him. While "arm" may simply be a personification of power, Christians and Messianic Jews have interpreted this (and many other such references: Arm, Branch, Root, etc.) as referring to the coming Messiah. This inference is reinforced in the New Testatment book of Revelation, where the words spoken here of God are placed in the mouth of Jesus (Revelation 22:12).

"To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?" (Isiaiah 40:18).

"Image" refers in this context to idols - manmade objects of worship. It is foolish to create one's own God - which is not even alive! - when the true and living God has made His existence apparent to everyone (Romans 1:18). He is incomparable in the literal sense of the word - an infinite, all-powerful Being that cannot be compared to anyone or anything else.

In Isaiah's time, people carved idols out of stone or wood; today, they create idols in their hearts: Money, fame, success, social status; pleasure. An idol is anything that replaces God, and for most of us, the most potent idol is ourselves. I know in the past, I've made idols out of many things - my mind, my writing, my education. But if we want to experience true comfort and have a hope for the future, our focus must become less self-centered and more God-ward.

"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in" (Isaiah 40:21-22).

God's promises can be trusted because He is above and outside the world. And Isaiah says that these things have been known about God from the very beginning. If God is the God of the Bible - and the Bible says over and over again that we know in our heart of hearts that God exists - we must go deep into our hearts to see if that is true.

By the way, there are hints, here, of modern cosmology, not that of 700 B.C. - the earth is a "circle," the heavens "stretched out." Pretty cool, huh?

"Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing" (Isaiah 40:26).

The 20th Century philosopher Immanual Kant said he was troubled in his atheistic philosophy by two things: The Moral Law within man, and the Heavens without. Here, Isaiah appeals to the Heavens as evidence of a Creator. Yes, stars burn out and explode in supernovae, but their elements are not "missing." Indeed, as Carl Sagan famously said, "Our bodies consist of elements cooked in the hearts of ancient stars; we are truly star-stuff." We've talked before about the huge philosophical/theological implications of the Universe having a Beginning - of the Singularity.

Isaiah is not making a carefully crafted philosophical argument. His purpose is to convey the hope and comfort offered by the mighty Creator of the Heavens. This hope is grounded in God's promises, which in turn, are established by His power and character to keep them.

He is coming. He will establish His rule forever. He will gather those who love Him like sheep and tenderly lead us.

We'll finish Isaiah 40 in a future entry.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Isaiah's Message of Hope and Comfort - Part 1

One of my favorite books in the Hebrew Scriptures is Isaiah. My favorite chapter in this Prophetic book is chapter 40. You can find the full text, here.

The previous 39 chapters in Isaiah are largely concerned with God's judgment of Isarael because of her stiff-necked rebellion and her turning away to the false gods of the surrounding pagan nations. But in chapter 40, Isaiah takes a turn, and the rest of the book speaks largely of God's compassion for His people, His invitation for Israel to return and be forgiven, and His ultimate salvation and restoration for all nations who love the true God.

Chapter 40 is a message of hope and comfort that is particularly meaningful to me right now. It begins:

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40:1-2).

The God of the Bible is loving and kind. But He is also Holy - morally perfect in every way. He is the standard by which we measure right and wrong. He has established certain Laws for us to follow, the most famous encapsulation of which are found in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). I've pointed out before that His intention in giving us His Law is for our good (Deuteronomy 10:13), though we often don't see it that way.

Since God is perfect in every way, He is a perfect judge. This aspect of God's character is not as appealing as His perfect Love. We're happy to have a God who loves us; we don't like the idea of a God who will judge us. But judge us, He will - in this life or the next. Perfect justice demands a judgment.

One of the most natural instincts in people is the desire for justice - for others! Look at the reaction to the OJ trial. There was outrage in certain communities when OJ was accused in the first place ("No justice, no peace!"), and there was outrage in other communities when he was aquitted ("He got away with murder!").

People inherently want justice - they want to know that evil will be punished and righteousness rewarded. One of the key messages of Isaiah 1-39 is that God is a God of justice. But God is also merciful. He understands when His people fall short of the mark. So, He has provided a way of forgiveness. As a Christian, I believe the way of forgiveness is ultmately through the provision of God's Messiah, Jesus Christ. But in Isaiah, the Messiah is only hinted at (Jesus would not arrive on the scene until some 700 years later).

In Chapter 40, God begins with words of comfort. He says that His punishment will cease, and invites His People to return to Him, and He will not only forgive them, He will restore to them "double" for all their sins. I know as a father, there are times when my children do something wrong and I punish them. Sometimes they just take their punishment stoically; others times they grudingly apologize. But sometimes, they will come to me, truly broken and contrite. In times like these, I'm moved out of compassion to relax their punishment a bit. This is a small echo of how our Heavenly Father deals with each of us. He is always ready to forgive us, and that forgiveness is never a mere restoration to our prior state; it always involves a further reward (ultimately, the believer's reward is Heaven, which is far, far beyond anything we deserve):

"He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:9-14).

Knowing that I have not always lived up to the standard of the 10 Commandments brings the realization that I deserve justice. But knowing that God is merciful and forgiving, gives me great comfort and an assurance that no matter how things turn out in my present situation, I will dwell in His house forever (Psalm 23).

More on Isaiah 40 in future blogs.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Significant Faith - Part 4

Throughout the Bible, believers are called to obey God. God does not ask us to obey Him because He is dictatorially self-centered: His way or the only way. He has created us with the capacity to not choose His way - to be like Frank Sinatra and "Do It Our Way."

But our way will ultimately lead to misery - if not in this life, in the next, where God will honor the choices we make here. If we have chosen to live without Him on earth, He will make that state permanent after we die.

The Bible is clear that God asks for our obedience because He knows better than we do what will truly satisfy our deepest desires, how we can have real and lasting peace, how we can be reconciled with Him - despite our previous rebellion - and achieve the relationship He so longs to have with us. God intends our obedience for our own good (Deuteronomy 10:13); He intends to richly bless us, if we follow the guidelines He has laid out for us (Deuteronomy 28:2).

Significant faith comprises one final element, beyond knowledge, assent, and trust: Commitment.

Commitment means acting on what we know to be true and in which we have placed our trust. The Apostle James writes:

"For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:26).

The 'works' James is talking about are anything we do that provide an outward demonstration of our inward commitment to trust and obedience in God. The New Testament is clear that such 'works' do not save us - salvation is a gift of God, based solely on faith (Ephesians 2:8). We can do nothing to earn God's favor - to cause Him to love us any more than He does today. Even before we come to significant faith, He loves us with an infinite love that arises out of His very Being ("God is love"; see also Romans 5:8). But significant faith will inevitably produce works - acts of selfless love, kindness, gentleness, self-control, charity, forgiveness, patience, and endurance.

Of course, such works do not come all at once, or easily, even with commitment. The walk of significant faith is a long, slow one, for most of us. But God has promised that if we remain committed to living out our significant faith, He will bless us by shaping us into the person He intends us to be (Philippians 1:6). And this shaping process can sometimes take the form of trials - like the one I'm going through right now. But such trials can produce a stronger faith and a deeper commitment (1 Peter 1:7).

The commitment to obey God is usually the biggest stumbling block to significant faith. I've written previously that it was certainly that way with me - I knew the God of the Bible was real, but didn't want to submit to His authority over my life. I still wanted to be Frank Sinatra. But what turned me around was the simple realization that if God was who He said He was in the Bible, He would not ask me to do anything contrary to His Good Purposes. And those things that I was clinging to amounted to nothing of value. I realized that I was like a little boy whose father wished to give him a dollar. "Let go of the penny in your hand, and I'll give you this dollar." But the little boy clung to the penny, believing it to be more valuable than the dollar - not trusting that his father knew what was the greater blessing.

Thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts with you about Significant Faith. Sharing one's faith is integral to Christian theology - it is something we are commanded to do (Matthew 28:19), but not in an offensive or pushy way. The Apostle Peter writes:

"Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15).

Sharing one's faith has been likened to having a cure for cancer - one having such knowledge would have a moral obligation to tell everyone dying of cancer about it. In a sense, everyone lacking significant faith in God is dying spiritually. Significant faith is the cure.

So, if you've gotten this far, thank you again. It's not my way to push my faith on anyone; nor am I so proud as to think I have all the answers. But I think God has given me a unique platform, at least for the moment. Peter says that we are to give an answer to those who ask.

So, if you have questions, ask away!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Neurological Tests

I've just returned from UCLA for my first round of tests. This time, it was just 'standard' tests to determine if any of my language and/or logic functions have been impaired by the tumor, and to establish a baseline, in case we'll need to do the sleep/awake procedure during surgery.

The tests themselves were pretty basic: Repeat the sentence I say; Define the words I say; Read and repeat this sentence; Why does the government collect taxes (good question, in some cases!); is the sister of your wife's brother's aunt a man or woman?; Can you drive nails with a saw? Name as many animals as you can in 60 seconds; What is this a picture of (horse, star, asparagus stalk, etc.)?

Those were easy. But there were a couple tests I struggled with (not sure if I would have without the tumor!). The first was a series of words, written in different colors:


There was a whole page of these. I had to read the color (not the word) as fast as I could without making a mistake. Then I had to repeat the exercise, reading the word (not the color). That was easier.

The next was naming as many words - not proper nouns - that started with a given letter. The first letter she gave me was "A," and I did pretty good for about 30 seconds, then went blank for 5 seconds or so, until I came up with another category of "A" words. We repeated this test 3 times, and I had a pause each time. That was a litte disconcerting.

The hardest test for me was repeating a series of numbers. It wasn't too bad when I could repeat them in the same order the testor recited them - I did pretty good up to six numbers. But then she asked me to repeat them backwards, and I didn't do very well beyond 4 or 5 numbers.

I'm not sure what to make of all this, but I think there's reason to suspect that the tumor may be causing some mild impairment. Of course, the hope is that surgery will correct everything! One of my prayer requests is that this test is 100% accurate, so as to ensure the best possible outcome, and I do have confidence that this prayer has been answered!

I don't know if I'll hear any results of these tests prior to the functional MRI next week. Somehow, the doctors will correlate them with the FMRI and come up with a map of my speech area in relation to my tumor. Then, if necessary, more precise measurements will be made during surgery when I'm awakened and asked some of these same questions.

I also had a chance to learn a little more about the sleep/awake procedure during a discussion with the neurologist who oversaw the testing. She was very nice and explained everything in detail. She told me exactly what to expect when I woke up - the sensation of thirst, scratchy throat (from the breathing tube), maybe some minor pain around the incision (controllable with local anesthetic), etc. She told me what I'd see (blue tent, the neurologist assisting the surgeon looking at me), and who would be talking to me (the neurologist and the surgeon), and what they would be asking.

I'm the kind of person that likes to know lots of details, so all this was very reassuring.

I'm happy things are moving, now. We're making progress. Next week will be a big week with a lot more tests. And then the following Monday is my surgery. Not a minute too soon!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Significant Faith - Part 3

Significant Faith is not merely obtaining knowledge about God through diligent effort and becoming - through the provision of God's Spirit - convinced of its truth. It also includes the difficult concept of Trust.

One of the most famous passages in the Bible reads:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Trust does not mean stepping entirely beyond the certainty of Assent, but it does involve a conviction that God's design and purposes are ultimately beyond our complete comprehension. We can be assured of His character and lovingkindness towards us - that He is working all things for the GOOD of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) - but we may not understand exactly HOW He is doing this in any given situation. I have admitted to you that while I trust that God is working in my own situation for my good (and the good of others, such as you, if you're reading this!), I don't understand exactly how this can be. But He has graciously provided His Word (the Bible) and some indications - which I've shared with you - to assure me that my trust is well-founded.

Looking at the Proverb, quoted above, there is a contrast between trusting in God and in one's own understanding. If one examines the evidence for the existence of a Creator God and has assented to its essential truth, by definition, it would be foolish to pit our own finite understanding against God's infinite knowledge and wisdom. He is the Creator - we the creation. So, why is it so hard, sometimes, to trust Him? Why do we so often lean on our own understanding?

The answer lies in the third chapter of Genesis. Here we find the story of The Fall. Whether one believes the Genesis story to be literally true or symbolic is not important, right now. The essential element is that God originally created us in His image. "Image" can (and does!) mean many things, but I think it points to our self-awareness, our ability to make choices, our inner conviction of right and wrong (the so-called Moral Sense that is universal among humans, even those denying God's existence; secular philosophers struggle as much with human altruism as they do with the idea that the physical universe had a Beginning).

But in Genesis, we find that even though the first humans "walked with God" in an earthly Paradise, they ultimately chose not to live under His benevolent rule, but rebelled. The temptation to which they succumbed is one every person ever since has struggled with: The desire to be one's own God. We inherently want to be in control of our own lives, and fight against the notion that even the One who created us and knows us intimately should - in any way - tell us what to do.

I know when I was critically examining Christianity over 10 years ago, this point was the biggest struggle for me. I remember saying, "I've become convinced that the God of the Bible is real, but I don't want to go any farther, because I'm not sure I want to change what I'm doing."

I can tell you, now, that I have NEVER regretted that moment when I finally gave in and put my trust in God. If God is who the Bible says He is, He alone is Sovereign over all things, including our lives, because He is the Creator of all things. If God is who the Bible says, He alone understands exactly what we need to grow into His people. He has kind intentions towards us. He is truly working all things for our good, if we love Him.

This doesn't mean life will get easier - that prosperity and harmony will always come our way. Like a human parent that sometimes has to teach his children lessons "the hard way," sometimes God allows suffering and trials into our lives, as He has allowed in mine right now. But if we trust in Him and forsake our own limited perceptions, He will be faithful and use those trials to shape us into the people He knows we can be. He will certainly "make our paths straight."

Trust is a big step - but a necessary one on the path to significant faith. And it starts with humility, with admitting that even though we WANT to be the God of our lives, we really aren't. Indeed, thinking that we are in charge is an affront to the One who created us - we are simply repeating Adam's rebellion.

Like Assent, Trust requires the help of God's Spirit. If you are just starting your journey to faith, pray that God will open your heart to the truth and that He will enable you to trust Him. He will certainly honor and reward such a prayer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The "Final" Schedule

I've just been told that all my tests and final surgery dates have now been set.

First, my surgery has been re-scheduled from July 3 to July 2. It'll be at UCLA and I'll probably be there 3-4 nights.

Thursday, June 21, I'll undergo some neurological testing at UCLA to determine what effect - if any - the tumor is having on my speech and other mental functions. I'll be surprised if they find anything - I feel completely fine!

Tuesday, June 26, I'll have a pre-operative exam with my own doctor.

Wednesday, June 27, I'll go back to UCLA for the Functional MRI (the brain-mapping exercise) and a pre-operative consultation with the anesthesiologist.

Thursday, June 28, back to UCLA one more time for a regular MRI.

You'll notice "final" is in quotes in the title of this entry. That's because while the schedule is pretty much set, there is always the possibility that some things could shift around.

As always, I crave your prayers for the success of these tests - that the results will be positive, and that they will be 100% accurate, so as to ensure the best possible outcome of the surgery.

Significant Faith - Part 2

We talked yesterday about how significant faith - a faith that can not only withstand adversity, but actually grow through it - is grounded in knowledge. But simply knowing some facts is not enough to produce significant faith. We must DO something with those facts. The first thing we need to do is decide if we assent to or agree with them. This can be a big decision, and it is at this point where so many turn away.

The Apostle John, near the end of his Gospel, wrote:

"These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (or the Messiah), the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).

John claims to have written historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth in the first Century AD. His purpose in doing so is to produce faith - not blind faith or even passionate wishful thinking, but a fact-based faith of significance. He calls his readers not only to understand what he has written, but to assent to its truth. It is not my intent here to defend the historical accuracy of John's Gospel - others have done so far better than I can. If you're interested, you can read Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, and The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel, and the fantastic new book by Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

"Assent" implies a decision on our part. Ultimately, assent is an act of the will - as is the opposite, rejection. While believers are sometimes accused of turning off their minds and leaving them at the doors of their houses of worship (and some do!), unbelivers are usually open to the same criticism when they refuse to enter a house of worship in the first place.

Sometimes this willful rejection is simply a matter of failing to examine the evidence for faith critically. Faith in God is not a 'front-burner' issue for most people. The reasons for this attitude are varied, but are always based in an innate desire for people to be in charge of their own lives. If you think you are in control and value that control, it is easy to pass over evidence that there is a God who might want you to change some of your ways. Why pursue something that might lead to uncomfortable conclusions? It doesn't matter that God tells us in the Bible that He intends His sovereignty over our lives for our good (Deuteronomy 10:13); that is a fact left unconsidered.

Another type of willful rejection can be demonstrated by something I wrote in yesterday's entry. Some physicists (by no means all) who understand the mathematics necessitating "The Singularity" reject it - not on the basis of science, but due to philosophical or (anti-) religious considerations. In this case, rejection includes a thorough examination of the facts. But a strong bias against those facts leads to a lack of assent to their truth. Note, though, that this bias is not based on facts - it is based on one's unwillingness to follow where those facts lead.

The reasons for such considered rejection are ultimately the same as less-considered rejection: a willful decision of denial.

In one of the most profound passages in all of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes:

"[Unbelievers] suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20).

If what Paul wrote is true, God has provided ample evidence of His existence - He has made it possible to obtain enough knowledge to warrant significant faith. But Paul says that unbelievers "suppress" this truth. The word "suppress" means to actively push something down. It requires a certain effort - even if faith in God is a "back-burner" issue.

Significant faith requires not only knowledge, but an active assent or agreement that that knowledge is true. The Bible says that God will reward those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6) and that He is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). I know in my own experience, coming to significant faith was a process that took place over several months. But the direct cause was reading the Bible with the knowledge that it could just possibly be true. I had done enough investigation to satisfy myself on that point. But, in the end, it was God's active pursuit of me as I was pursuing Him that opened my heart to assent to the truth the Bible contained.

So, I cannot take any credit for my faith. God provided the evidence through His creation of His existence. God provided the historical evidence necessary to conclude that the Bible was reasonably accurate. And it was God's Spirit that whispered and prodded and eventually overwhelmed my natural rejection throughout the process.

If you'd like to explore whether significant faith in the Creator God of the universe is possible, I invite you to begin your investigation today. Make it a 'front-burner' issue. God will reward your efforts, as He did mine.

But this will just be a start. Significant faith entails not only knowledge and assent, it also includes trust and committment. We'll explore those aspects of faith in future blog entries.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Significant Faith - Part 1

American humorist Mark Twain famously defined 'faith' as follows:

"Faith is believing in something you know ain't true."

I've been thinking a lot about faith in recent days. My faith - in a very real sense - has been my foundation through this trial (and many others!). But I think there's a wide misperception - characterized humorously by Mark Twain - about the nature of faith. Or, at least, the faith that the Bible talks about.

We must first distinguish the popular notion of 'blind faith' from the significant faith defined in Scripture:

Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Notice that significant faith is grounded in assurance and conviction. These are two words are antithethical to the idea of 'blindness' or taking a 'leap' into what we suspect is untrue. One of my Jewish friends described his faith as, "I have FAITH that the Lakers will win the championship next year. It's not something I KNOW, it's something I hope for." That is the way I think many people consider faith. But if the Bible is true, it is possible to enjoy a faith that goes well beyond fervant wishful thinking. Let's see how.

Significant faith consists of four components: Knowledge, Assent (or Agreement), Trust, and Conviction. I'll consider the first of these, below, then continue on with the others in future blogs.

The faith the Bible talks about is first and foremost fact-based:

Philemon 1:6: "I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake."

In order for faith to be effective, it must be according to what we know. The amount of knowledge necessary to engender significant faith varies from person to person. Some may need objective facts from the area of science or history; others a more personal knowledge through experiencing God directly in their lives or in the lives of those they love. But either way, significant faith is based on facts, and thus cannot be characterized as 'blind.'

Here's an example of what I mean: Several lines of evidence in modern cosmology (the study of the nature of the universe) point to the fact that the physical universe came into existence at a some fixed time in the past. This fact is mathematically necessitated and cannot be denied on scientific grounds (there are a number of physicists who reject it on self-admittedly philosophical grounds). In the early 1960's, residual effects of the 'creation event' (what scientists term "the Big Bang") were observed and measured in the laboratory.

Before the Big Bang was proven, it was possible for scientists (and others) to believe that the physical universe always existed. The need for a Creator was thus comfortably removed and the Biblical account in Genesis could be denied. But with the proof of the Big Bang came along a whole host of philosophical and theological implications, the most significant of which is the idea that if anything has a beginning, it must have a preceeding cause.

So, what preceeded and caused the Big Bang? Physicists have demonstrated - again, through the elegance of mathematics - that what they term "The Singularity" pre-existed the Big Bang. The Singularity is something about which we can say little, except that no physical laws can pertain to it. It is quite literally beyond all physical reality and beyond all possible physical reality. Again, this is not mere speculation; the Singularity is a mathematical necessity to account for the universe we now find ourselves inhabiting. Every experiment ever conducted to prove the Singularity has succeeded; every experiment conducted to disprove it has failed (for more details, see Frank Tipler's The Physics of Christianity).

One of the oldest philosophical truths is: From nothing, nothing comes. That is, if there were nothing prior to the Big Bang, nothing would now exist. But in terms of physical reality, nothing existed prior to the Big Bang! Instead, when we wind the clock back to before the Beginning, what does science tell us we find? Something incomprehensible. Something beyond the bounds of what is even possible for us to know. In other words, in the literal sense of the term, something supernatural.

This fact is a long way from proving that the God 0f the Bible exists. But it is a solid foundation upon which to add other facts to establish His existence beyond reasonable doubt.

The question is: What do we do with such facts? In a recent survey, 40% of leading scientists claim a belief in God (this is roughly the same number reported in a survey conducted in the early 1900s). What about the other 60%? What about you, if you doubt God's existence?

Knowledge is only one component of significant faith. We must add the other components of Assent, Trust, and Committment. But knowledge is the foundation. It belies the notion that 'faith' is blind.

I'll continue discussing Significant Faith in my next blog.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

I'm sitting at home right now, after a very full Father's Day. Since my diagnosis, I've been relishing every aspect of life. Today was one of exceptional relish - from the morning at church (my first time back after my hospital stay), to the beach with friends, to an elegant fondue dinner - planned by my lovely and loving wife, Shirley; accompanied by my children, Caelin, Becca, and Ryan. It simply could not have been a better day! If this is the last Father's Day I will have on earth, it will be the one I cherish the most.

From time to time throughout the day, I've been reflecting on my own father. If you will allow me, I'd like to share some memories of him with you.

He died in 1999, after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease and a host of other illnesses. A few days after he died, I wrote the following words to be read at his funeral service. Some of you reading this knew my father - others may (I hope) glimpse something of him in me. He was and is the finest man I have ever known.

Memories of My Father

I am sitting in my Dad's favorite recliner chair as I write these words. It makes me feel a little closer to him. My Mom tells me he spent almost the entire last day that he was home in this chair. How I wish I could have spent just a few minutes with him that day, remembering:

Dad, is there a golf tournament on TV today? I remember how you used to sit here, watching golf on TV, marvelling at how well the Pros played. Remember when I was a kid, no more than 12, when you bought me my first set of clubs and taught me to play? The first thing you taught me, before I ever took a club in my hand, was the etiquette of the game - how to mark my ball on the green, who putted first, how to repair my divot, who had 'honors' on the next tee. You taught me that no matter how well or badly I played, I could play with anyone if I followed the etiquette of the game. Not that we didn't try to play our best, and not that we weren't frustrated by that unfortunate slice off the 2nd tee (I remember you saying more than once, "This game will make you crazy, son!"), but at the end of the day, if we'd played by the rules and tried the best we could, it was a good day on the golf course. We had lots of good days, huh, Dad?

Playing by the rules was very important to you, wasn't it, Dad, in every aspect of your life? You were always courteous, always a gentleman in the finest sense of the word. Fairness and honesty were virtues to nourish and celebrate. And honesty started with one's self, didn't it, Dad? Though you weren't one to study literature, every once in awhile, you'd quote Shakespeare: "To thine own self be true." Those weren't just words, or some aphorism to recite at the appropriate place in an idle conversation. It was the way you lived your life in a fundamental and profound way. "If you can't be honest with yourself, " you'd say, "you'll never be honest with anyone else."

You might think that a father for whom playing by the rules and honesty were so important would be overly demanding on a young son. But you weren't that way at all, Dad. You held me to the same high standard you held yourself, but your natural empathy - the essential gentleness and warmth that made it so easy for you to feel what others felt - provided a wonderful counterbalance. You taught me the ideal, but you understood when I fell short. You corrected me when you felt it was necessary, but always with love and encouragement. As I grew to manhood, the correction disappeared, but never the encouragement. You were my biggest fan, Dad. How I will miss those simple words: "That's great, Bob!"

Sitting here with you, Dad, I can see your Bible in the other room. In recent years, you'd read from it aloud as part of your speech therapy. You were never much of a Bible reader before that, Dad, but you were a man of great faith. It gives me tremendous comfort to know that we share a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have in common the great hope of Eternal Life together with Him. I've never heard you voice a doubt about your faith. You approach faith like all other areas in your life - you know the rules, you value the truth, and you have great empathy for those less fortunate than yourself. You have a great sense of the real purpose in life, that is preparation for the life to come. You have prepared very well, I think. In the next life, you won't need to rest in a reclining chair, Dad. You won't need those pills on the table. You won't need to struggle to speak clearly, or labor to walk. In the words of the Prophet, "You will soar on wings of eagles, you will run and not be weary, you will walk and not grow faint."

Sitting here in Dad's chair, I fear the words I've written no more express who my Dad was than the cold arms of this chair express the warmth of his arms when he embraced me.

I could not have asked for a better Dad. My tribute to him will be to live my life more like he lived his. He was and is a fine example, and an inspiration.

Someday, Dad, we will embrace again, joined by our family and friends, enfolded in the arms of our Lord and our God. Until then, Dad, I'll miss you. I'll love you, always. I am blessed to have such memories as these.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Waiting

One of my favorite rock albums of the 1980's (my older readers will remember 'albums'!) was Tom Petty's The Waiting. The lyrics of the title cut run:

"The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part."

Not great poetry, perhaps, but it perfectly reflects my experience, right now. I feel fine. I'm on meds to control possible siezures and swelling of the tumor (both of which keep me out of the driver's seat of my car, other than short trips, not on the freeway). I have some pain pills for headaches I've not needed in recent days.

I'm not scheduled for surgery for 2 1/2 weeks (July 3). I have to undergo some tests prior to surgery, but with one exception, I don't know - yet - when these will occur.

So, all I can do is wait.

I have to say, there is a certain anxiety, having major surgery - on my BRAIN, no less! - hanging over me like this. I wish the surgery could have been scheduled weeks sooner. But, I also know that events are all happening for a reason - that God has providentially arranged things for my good, no matter how this all ultimately works out.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: "And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?" (Matthew 6:27).

I'm clinging to that verse, right now. The waiting IS the hardest part - but I know that God is continuing to teach me, growing me through all aspects of this experience; growing me up into the man He knows I can be.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Power of Prayer

We've talked a lot about prayer on this blog. I've asked for your prayers - you've told me you're praying for me (even some of you who don't believe in a Personal God!). And I've detailed some specific answers to prayer I've experienced.

But why do we pray? If God is in control of all things - as I believe the Bible teaches - isn't He going to do whatever He wants, anyway, despite our prayers? Can our prayers actually influence God in some way?

I can't pretend to have anything like a definitive answer. Ultimately, God's ways are far beyond our ways, and it's simply not possible for finite beings to understand how an infinite Being operates within His creation, or how He interacts with His children.

But the Bible does provide some clues for us to at least begin to approach the matter. First, the Bible is clear: God wants us to pray to Him!

Psalm 32:6: "Let everyone who is godly pray to You."

1 Thess 5:17: "Pray without ceasing."

James 5:14: "Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him..."

Indeed, James 5:16 tells us that the prayers of a righteous man "avails much."

Second, while God will surely accomplish His purposes, He is not a distant tyrant, ordaining whatever happens from afar. Instead, He is intimately involved in our daily lives, constantly WORKING all things according to the council of His will (Ephesians 1:11). The verb "working" implies an active, involved RELATIONSHIP with the created world, and specifically with each of us - His children.

So, why do we pray when God will accomplish what He wants anyway? A friend of mine shared this story with me a few years ago, and I think it a perfect illustration. My friend - like me - has a young son. My friend would work on projects in his garage on weekends, and sometimes, his little son would come and ask to help. My friend knew that it would be easier and faster if he denied his son's request. He'd do a better job on his own. But, because he loves his son, he wanted to include his son in the project. "Sure! Let me show you how to use this tool..."

My friend's purpose was to complete the project. He could have done so with or without the participation of his son. He chose to include his son in the process. His purpose was still achieved - just not in the way it would have been, had his son not offered to help. But the process of working with his son built up their relationship, and the project - in a very real sense - reflected both the work of son and father.

Ultimately, prayer is not for God - it's for us. It puts us in the proper relationship to God - with us seeking His guidance, help, strength, healing, wisdom. Ultimately, as our relationship with God grows, He will change our desires. We will grow out of selfishness and self-centerdness and focus more on Eternal Realities - we will end up wanting exactly what He wants, for the same reasons He wants them:

Psalm 37:4: "Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart."

So, friends, continue to pray - not just for me, but for every aspect of your lives. If you don't know God in a personal way, pray that He will reveal Himself to you profoundly. He is not far from any of us! (Acts 17:27).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why Me? Why Now?

I know that many of you reading this blog don't believe in God - or if you do, "God" is a kind-of impersonal creative force behind the physical universe in some way, but not actively involved in its day-to-day activities.

Those of you who are fellow Christians - or are devout Jews - know that the God revealed in the Bible is very Personal, Loving, and Involved. He is a God of relationships - zealously seeking fellowship with His creatures. But a true loving relationship cannot be coerced; so God has created us with the capacity to freely love Him - or reject Him.

If one doubts God's existence - or sees Him in a more Deistic way - the "why" questions can be brushed aside. They can be dismissed as 'bad luck' or some random act with no Divine significance.

But what about a person of Faith? Can I honestly believe that God somehow intends for my cancer to be a good thing? That He has a purpose behind it? And if so, can I understand it? Is it right to ask Him for an explanation?

As a Christian, the yardstick by which I measure Truth is the Bible. And there's a book in the Bible that specifically addresses the "why" questions: The book of Job. At the end, God confronts Job and asks him a series of rhetorical questions, that basically point to the truth that God's ways are beyond our ways. He created us; He created the world. He is in charge. We should not ask "why" - we have no right to ask such questions. Rather, we should ask, "what would you have me do in this situation? What do you want me to learn?"

There are other passages in Scripture that point to God's benevolent care for His children. Romans 8:28: "We know that God works all things for the good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose." I've been meditating on this verse a lot, recently. It calls me to trust that God's purposes - even in my cancer - are intended by Him for my good. I don't understand exactly how that can be, but I think I've gained some insights I'd like to share.

First, I've been praying Mark 9:24 for several months: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." It has been an appeal for God to increase my faith. While my faith has never waivered - and I've certainly never regretted my committment to Christ (see my testimony, here), I have doubts and uncertainties, from time to time. I've known people of great faith, and I want to be more like them. I want to feel a personal relationship with God on a deeper level. It is, afterall, the most important relationship - by far - we'll ever have!

So, when this happened, I know that - in a huge way - God was presenting me with an opportunity to grow in faith. During those first moments two Sundays ago when I temporarily lost the ability to speak, I knew something was very wrong - that I could be dying. As facts began to emerge, and I learned that I have cancer, the possiblity of death - maybe not right away, but soon - became a reality. And the biggest fact staring me in the face was: I'm not in charge! Every aspect of my existence was immediately thrown into focus: It's all in God's Hands.

Coming to that realization - not merely "head" knowledge but a true "heart" knowledge - was a great comfort to me. The God revealed in the Bible is perfect in every way. What better Person to be in charge?

Another lesson I think God is teaching me is strongly related to all this: Humility. I've always taken great pride in my intellect - in my articulateness. I didn't need to be the 'sharpest knife in the drawer,' but I was always one of them. I remember my mother telling me how proud she was that I was attending graduate school. "No one will ever be able to take your education away from you!" Well, Mom was right about alot of things, but wrong on that point: Had God wanted, He could have taken my intellect from me.

I've been reflecting on the last Sunday School lesson I was able to finish, on John 3:25-30. In this passage, John the Baptist's disciples come to him and complain that Jesus is baptizing more people than they are. John's response: "A man can receive nothing unless it is given him from Heaven."

The truth of the matter is that I did absolutely nothing to deserve the mind I've got. It was a gift from God. "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). I know that one lesson God is teaching me is humility. Pride is nothing more than idolatry - the substitution of Self for God.

So, is God working all things - even THIS thing - for my good? Yes, I believe that He is. I'm not going down the "why" path anymore. I'm asking, "what would You have me do?"

For those of you who have "your own" concept of God, a gentle warning: That's idolatry, too. You have made a God to suit yourself. I'm not saying that God will teach you the same lesson He's teaching me in the same way - no, it's a far more important issue than that. Your relationship with God will have Eternal consequences. Please, give it some thought this week, and feel free to ask me any questions you'd like.

I'm a Bruin fan, now!

My father got his BA from the University of Southern California (USC) in the early 1940's. He was on the varsity track team that included Olympic miler Louis Zamperini. I have clippings of Dad running high hurdles from the front page of the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times.

Growing up, sports were a big part of my relationship with my Dad, and USC was was his favorite team - especially track and football. I remember following the John McKay teams with Heisman trophy winners and National Championships. Our local rival was UCLA, and I always hated them! I remember vividly when the Gary Beban-led Bruins defeated our Trojans in the last minute to gain the Rose Bowl - what was that, 1967?

As many of you know, I eventually ended up attending graduate schoool at USC myself in the late 1970's.

As they say, that was then - this is now!

I've done a lot of research on the topic, and I can say without question that UCLA's medical research facilities are second to none. I still have a certain fondness for my own alma mater, but I've been converted! I'm a Bruin fan, now!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Answered Prayers Regarding Dr. Liau!

Shirley and I have just returned from consultation with Dr. Liau. It went VERY well! Thanks to everyone who prayed for this meeting - every prayer was answered!

First, Dr. Liau is very personable and articulate. I really liked her, as did Shirley. Dr. Liau was able to answer all my questions and explained her evaluation thoroughly. My tumor is slightly larger than originally reported - about 5cm. It is located near Broca's Center - an area that controls speech. The biopsy report showed it as a Grade 3, but Dr. Liau said it had characteristics of a Grade 2, which was probably why my original neurosurgeon so classed it. There's a significant difference between the two grades: Grade 2 is considered 'low-grade' and surgery is the ONLY treatment required. Grade 3 is 'high-grade,' and will need to be treated post-operatively with chemo and radiation. The final determination will be made when they get the tumor out and can do a complete examination. Please pray that it will be grade 2!

Second, Dr. Liau is available to do my surgery on July 3. She said I'd probably be in the hospital 3-4 days.

Third, here's the exciting part: If the tumor is within 1cm of Broca's Center, Dr. Liau will perform her pioneering procedure where I'll be awakened during surgery to help determine just how far she can go to get maximum tumor without permanent brain damage. How close the tumor is to Broca's will be determined by a Functional MRI that will be performed prior to surgery on an out-patient basis. Another term for Functional MRI is "brain-mapping." She said it would be very precise, determining where my Broca's Center begins and ends (differs from person to person). I've always enjoyed speculating about the synergy of mind/brain/soul, and this will be a fascinating exercise!

Dr. Liau has performed literally hundreds of these procedures with an amazing success-rate (all her surgeries have been successful; the ultimate outcome for each patient depends on the final grading of the tumor and the efficacy of subsequent treatment, if any).

She gave me a copy of the March 2005 National Geographic that features her. In it, the author details sleep/awake surgery on a tumor nearly identical to mine. Very encouraging!

So, to summarize, here's what I've been asking people to pray for:

1. That Dr. Liau would be able to fit me into her schedule for consultation. Answered.
2. That Dr. Liau and I would "click," that I would be assured she's the right surgeon for me. Answered.
3. That Dr. Liau would be available to do the surgery within the timeframe necessary for successful treatment. Answered.
4. That she would give me some positive news regarding my prognosis. Answered.

Please continue to keep me in prayer - particularly that the surgery will be successful with minimal side-effects (Dr. Liau warned that most patients have some trouble speaking for several hours or days after surgery, due to swelling), and that the tumor will test out as a grade 2, so I can avoid further treatments.

"You're in a War!"

Monday afternoon, I had a long meeting with my internist. He provided some much needed information and guidance. The first thing he confirmed for me was the wisdom in seeking an expert neurosurgeon. "We're fortunate to have 3 of the top centers for neurosurgery in the world here - UCLA, USC, and Cedars. You really need the 'A' team for something like this, and while I'm sure the surgeon who performed your biopsy is very good, you owe it to yourself and your family to get the best."

He then looked at me soberly. "Surgery is a given. But beyond that, they will probably offer you chemo and radiation therapy. Maybe some others. My advice is to take them all - even if there are risks of permanent impairment. Make no mistake about it: You're in a war! We have to be aggressive. Take no prisoners!"

The prospect of permanent side-effects scares me. At this point, there's no reason to speculate on what they might be - cognitive, verbal, physical. I know that I want to be cured of this, but at what cost?

On the other hand, as I've known from the outset, the outcome is really not up to me. "Blessed is He who gives, and who takes away! Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him!"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dr. Linda Liau

The day before my biopsy, Pastor Paul came by for a visit. He told me that Lynn Morgan - a member of the church - had undergone brain surgery several years ago, and her doctor had recommended Donald Becker of UCLA as the best of the best. "If I was going to have someone operate on my brain, Dr. Becker is the guy I'd want to do it," her doctor had said.

I called Lynn later that day and she was very encouraging. Though her tumor was not cancerous, her surgery went very well - no complications at all. "I know that Dr. Becker has changed his practice, and he may no longer do this kind of surgery, but his office will be able to advise you about the best of his collegues."

When I called Dr. Becker's office, the assistant confirmed that Dr. Becker had, indeed, changed his focus, becoming an academic dean, but she referred me to Dr. Linda Liau. Dr. Liau has been featured on the cable Med networks, and her speciality is aggressive tumors in the exact location mine is located. Her assistant tells me that she does a technique offered only at UCLA where they wake you up during surgery so the doctor can ask questions and determine exactly how far she can go without doing unnecessary damage. Of course, I don't know if I'm a candidate for such a procedure, but I'm hopeful.

I'm scheduled to see her Wednesday, June 13 at 2pm. Please pray that she will be able to do the surgery, that side-effects will be minimal, and that I will be able to tolerate the chemo and radiation treatments that will inevitably follow.

The Diagnosis

On Monday, June 4, I underwent the first of two MRI's. The test was in the morning, and I did not hear about the results until after 6PM. I received excellent care in both hospitals I was in, but there was a LOT of waiting, and the facts I so desperately needed to hear were slow in coming.

I knew the neurologist standing next to my bed that evening did not have good news; she asked if my children should leave the room with my wife before she discussed my results. There was a tumor. It was small, she said (about 3 cm), and in one place. It was easy to get to. But it was a tumor, nonetheless, and until it was biopsied, we would not know how bad it was.

I was transferred to Northridge Hospital the next day and scheduled for a biopsy by a neurosurgeon on Thursday.

The neurosurgeon came to see me Wednesday night. He surprised me by saying that he planned to actually remove the tumor the next day. I balked. "I thought we were just doing a biopsy," I said, "I'd like to get a second opinion, if I have time." The surgeon's bedside manner left something to be desired, but he assured me that I would be in no danger waiting, and agreed to just do the biopsy.

He told me the biopsy would be about 1/2 hour, but they actually kept me under General Anasthesia about 4.5 hours! I'd never been under GA that long, and it took me a long time to recover.

The next day, the surgeon came with the biopsy results: A grade 2 Astrocytoma. Cancer. He explained that tumors are rated on a 4-point scale, with 4 being the most aggressive. So, all things considered, things could be worse. I'll take a 2. I'll take a 2 in an operable location with no metastasis.

"I Think I'm Having a Stroke!"

On Sunday morning, June 3, while praying aloud in front of my adult Sunday School class at Shepherd's Community Church, I was suddenly unable to speak. My thoughts were clear; I could hear and see everything around me. But when I tried to put words to my thoughts, I could only stutter.

I could see everyone looking at me, wondering what was going on. I knew I needed to let them know that something was wrong, but the words simply weren't there. I managed to substitute synonyms from time to time, and struggled out something like: "I don't want you to think I'm intending any weirdness by this." Then: "I think I'm having a stroke!"

Immediately, the whole class jumped into action. Several folks came around me and had me sit down. Dan Kolker and Walter Rude - I remember them hugging me and praying for me. I could hear Sara Jo calling 911.

Joan asked me my wife's name and phone number - I could understand her perfectly, but could not answer her. I kept thinking: "This is a problem. I need to fix it! I'm having a stroke. What do you do for a stroke?"

As people were praying, I felt a supernatural calm. I began to pray, too. "Lord, if this is my time, I'm ready. Please watch over my family." I was worried about Shirley and the kids, but I can honestly say I did not fear dying. I knew where I was going.

I learned later that Kitty had gone over to the sanctuary to have the entire congregation pray for me. When she did, Mark Nix - an MD - came to the classroom. He had me lay on my left side. As soon as I laid down, I could feel something relax in my mind. I found that I could speak again - haltingly at first, one word here and there. But by the time the paramedics arrived (about 10 minutes later), I was able to answer questions verbally.

The ambulance rushed me to West Hills Hospital where the Emergency doctors got me stablized. The first diagnosis was a TIA - a mini-stroke. They performed a CAT-scan to see if there was anything left of the bloodclot. I knew there was a problem with the scan when the doctor poked his head in the room and asked, "Have you ever had a severe blow to the head?"

I was admitted to the hospital that afternoon, an MRI to follow the next day. There was a 'shadow' on the CAT-scan that looked suspicious. It might be nothing more than calcium deposits. It might be a tumor.

My most vivid memories of my time in the ER was my wife and church family gathering around me. They would let them in, one or two at a time, and they kept coming! I sent my wife out to the waiting room to tell everyone I was fine, to go home, that I appreciated them being there. But many stayed. Everyone was great, but I particularly remember Rick James, Randy Leinen, and Larry LaCom - and of course, Casey Walker.

The love of Christ is truly expressed in the faithful servants who make up His church on earth.