Prayer Request: unemployed

Please keep us in prayer. I have been working for Union Pacific Railroad over these last couple of years. The last many months (since Thanksgiving) I’ve been barely hanging on (business is very slow and they over-hired prior to the slow down). I will be laid off (they call it furlough because they can call you back if business picks up) most likely tomorrow. And things don’t look promising, as far as business picking up anytime soon. I can get railroad unemployment, but it is only half of what state unemployment is; so it is not livable for a family of four. We can probably make it for about a month, and then we will be out of funds. If you know of any employment that would be viable to support a family of four in this economy (in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area) please drop me an email. And please just hold us up in prayer. We’ve been through this before in our past, but this situation is particularly daunting. 

Thank you! 

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Being Needy and Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark

Earlier today I posted this on my Facebook wall: “Reading the Gospel of Mark: Jesus is surrounded by needy people, not people who are not needy. I’m glad I’m a needy
grunewaldperson.” I want to expand on that statement in this blog post.

It is interesting, I have spent years studying hermeneutics; and have even taught a biblical interpretation class to underclassman at my alma mater in years past. But when it comes right down to it, as I continue to read through the Bible, year in, year out, quite often the way I end up reading the Bible is through a lens of travail; through a lens of suffering and tribulation. This doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the christocentric lens of biblical interpretation, or chucked the literary tools I have learned to study Scripture; but what it does mean is that as I read Holy Scripture I encounter Jesus Christ in living breath on its pages (which is the christocentric lens). And in particular moments like I am facing now (I was just laid off of my job at the railroad a few days ago, and don’t know what to do at the moment), when I approach Scripture, I tend to read it with an eye towards being encouraged and comforted by who God in Jesus Christ is for me (pro me). And so this morning I decided to read through the Gospel of Mark (along with my ongoing Bible read through which I’ve been doing since 1995, 35x through), and given the circumstances we are facing as a family (with me unemployed once again) I noticed this time through that the sorts of people hanging around Jesus in the Gospel of Mark look a lot like me.

Take the first chapter for example. John the Baptist was as needy as they come. He lived out in the wilderness on a diet of honey and wild locust; a homeless peripatetic prophet with nowhere to lay his head. And yet his whole existence was consumed by pointing people to Jesus. He didn’t worry about his clothes, or his personal well being; he was concerned with pointing his finger to Jesus. He was seeking God’s kingdom first, and God in Christ was making sure that everything else was being added unto him (like food, clothing, etc. — all of his needs were being met).

The next characters we meet, still in chapter one are: Simon, Andrew, James, and John (vss. 16-20). From a material standpoint they became immediately needy (which would be indicative of their spiritual need as well); they walked away from their livelihood as fisherman to follow Jesus. They no longer had a steady or stable financial situation, and yet like John the Baptizer they were willing to seek Jesus first and be consumed by Him; they were willing to let Him worry about their physical needs (and spiritual). So more needy guys.

Still in chapter one in verses 21-28 we encounter, with Jesus, a guy who is demon-possessed, in the temple of all places; another needy guy. What does Jesus do for him? He casts the unclean spirit out, and brings healing to this spiritually destitute man. Jesus was there, not having any place to call home, to minister the power of God to this man, even as Jesus Himself had his own material and physical needs. In the following pericope in verses 29-31 we meet, with Jesus, Peter’s mother-in-law; she had a fever, a physical ailment. Jesus touched her, healed her, and she served Him; as if nothing could stand in the way of Jesus being magnified. It was out of her need that Jesus healed her, met her need, which allowed her to serve Jesus.

And as something like a summary of what has already happened previously in verses 32-34 the whole city gathered at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house and Jesus healed the multitudes of various physical and spiritual ailments. Jesus was surrounded by the needy. Now wouldn’t you know it, here I am, with my beautiful family, not sure what we’re going to do with my job loss, standing as it were at Peter’s mother-in-law’s front door and seeking the healing and ministering touch of this great and mysterious man named, Jesus of Nazareth.

In many ways because of His ministry in the past, in similar situations where I’ve been unemployed, or in even more extreme circumstances, had an incurable/terminal cancer, it is as if I can see Him stretching His healing hand out and moving it in my direction. I can see myself in His story, like the one narrated in the Gospel of Mark, and know that Jesus, my Lord, is the same Jesus who spent time with and ministered to all of these other needy people we just took note of. I find confidence, and hope from all of this; but still wonder just how the Lord will touch my neediness this time. It seems like His ways are not my ways, and His thoughts not my thoughts; and even though I can’t quite see how He’s going to work it out and meet the need this time, I am confident that He will indeed meet it. He has never left or forsaken me or my family yet, and I am positive He’s not going to this time either!

I am needy.

Prayer Request: CT Scan and Cancer

As most of you, my readers, know by now I was diagnosed with a rare and typically incurable and thus terminal cancer back in November 2009 called Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (DSRCT), which is in the sarcoma category of cancers. After really hard chemotherapy and then invasive resection surgery they were able to remove the cancer (miraculously)–along with my right kidney and a chunk of my inferior vena cava–back in May of 2010. After some follow up chemo I’ve been cancer free ever since then; so going on six years. Later today I am going in for what is to be my last CT scan to make sure I’m still cancer free. It is a thoroughly anxious time for me and my wife, and so we would appreciate your prayers! Even now as I write this it is the middle of the night; I can’t sleep because I am so anxious!

I appreciate your prayers! One more thing please: later today I will also find out if I am going to be laid off from my job with the railroad, it seems very likely! So as you can see there is a lot of stress going on right now. Again we covet your prayers!

Thank you, blessings!

Dedicated to Sean Mathison: A Reflection on Suffering and Jesus Christ

seanmathisonThis short essay is dedicated to a brother who I know through a mutual friend (Pastor Carlos Velasquez a  la Redondo Beach, CA), Sean Mathison. Sean just underwent a cancer resection surgery today (March 24, 2014) to remove a cancerous tumor from his brain; he still has one tumor that remains inoperable. Sean is just a young guy (mid-thirties) who loves Jesus, and serves the Lord at church through music-worship and other ways (I am sure!). Sean was only diagnosed with this condition just last week as he became symptomatic; so this is all happening ever so fast. I dedicate this post to Sean Mathison for the primary purpose and call on all of you who are reading this to keep him and his family in prayer. His prognosis is bleak (humanly speaking)–but then so was my cancer diagnosis–but we do not serve a God who is bounded by the ‘bleak’, but who is all powerful, and who is all loving! I will reflect on human suffering throughout the remainder of this essay.

Karl Barth in his short book Dogmatics In Outline, which is his explication of The Apostles’ Creed, offers a deep and rich reflection upon suffering, the cross of Christ, and how we ought to approach suffering in the light of God’s wondrous grace demonstrated therein. Let’s here from Uncle Karl:

But the present time of His life is really suffering from the start. There is no doubt that for the Evangelists Luke and Matthew the childhood of Jesus, His Birth in the stable of Bethlehem, were already under the sign of suffering. This man is persecuted all His life, a stranger in His own family—what shocking statements He can make!—and in His nation; a stranger in the spheres of State and Church and civilization. And what a road of manifest success He treads! In what utter loneliness and temptation He stands among men, the leaders of His nation, even over against the masses of the people and in the very circle of His disciples! In this narrowest circle He is to find His betrayer; and in the man to whom He says, ‘Thou art the Rock . . .’, the man who denies Him thrice. And, finally, it is the disciples of whom it is said that ‘they all forsook Him’. And the people cry in chorus, ‘Away with him! Crucify him!’ The entire life of Jesus is lived in this loneliness and thus already in the shadow of the Cross. And if the light of the Resurrection lights up here and there, that is the exception that proves the rule. The son of man must go up unto Jerusalem, must there be condemned, scourged and crucified—to rise again the third day. But first it is this dominant ‘must’ which leads him to the gallows.

What does it mean? Is it not the opposite of what we might expect from the news that God became Man? Here there is suffering. Notice that it is here for the first time in the Confession that the great problem of evil and suffering meets us directly. Already, of course, we have frequently had to refer to it. But according to the letter this is the first time we have an indication of the fact that in the relation between Creator and creature everything is not at its best, that lawlessness and destruction hold sway, that pain is added and suffered. Here for the first time the shadowy side of existence enters into our field of view, and not in the first article, which speaks of God the Creator. Not in the description of creation as heaven and earth, but here in the description of the existence of the Creator become creature, evil appears; here afar off death also becomes visible. The fact that this is so at least means this: that discretion is demanded in all descriptions of wickedness and evil as being to some extent independent. When that was done later, it was more or less overlooked that all this enters the field only in connexion with Jesus Christ. He has suffered, He has rendered visible what the nature of evil is, of man’s revolt against God. What do we know of evil and sin? What do we know of what is called suffering or what death means? Here we get to know it. Here appears this complete darkness in its reality and truth. Here complaint is raise and punished, here the relation between God and man is really made clear. What are all our sighs, what is all that man thinks he knows about his folly and sinfulness and about the lost state of the world, what is all speculation about suffering and death beside what becomes manifest here? He, He has suffered, who is true God and true man. All independent talk on the subject—that is, talk cut loose from Him—will necessarily be inadequate and imperfect. Unless talk on this matter goes out from this centre, it will be unreal. That man can bear the most frightful strokes of Fate and comes through untouched by anything as through a shower of rain: that can be seen by us to-day. We are simply untouched either by suffering or by evil in its proper reality; we know that now. So we can repeatedly escape from the knowledge of our guilt and sin. We can only achieve proper knowledge, when we know that He who is true God and true man suffered. In other words, it needs faith to see what suffering is. Here there was suffering. Everything else that we know as suffering is unreal suffering compared with what has happened here. Only from this standpoint, by sharing in the suffering He suffered, can we recognize the fact and the cause of suffering everywhere in the creaturely cosmos, secretly and openly.[1]  

As usual there are a diverse amount of rich threads ready to be pulled upon by this tightly packed précis on suffering by Barth, but I want to focus on the dominant thread. The thread which dominates Barth’s indomitable commitment to a Christ-centered reading of everything; in this case, suffering. What Barth develops is the idea, as we just read, that we do not really understand suffering and its purpose within the grander scheme of things apart from understanding it in Christ. When we suffer, according to Barth, it is not part of some sort of random, abstract thing fragmented from other things and other people; but it is part of the grand narrative that God in Christ has entered into for us, and where our understanding, as with everything else, becomes informed by God’s life which sustains and undergirds all of reality; including the foreign reality brought on by the atmosphere of evil, sin, suffering, and a host of other attendant things.

Personal Application

When I was living through my own experience of cancer I had moments where something like what I just wrote might have helped me and my perspective, but most days, it would not have. And so this kind of thinking about suffering (above) might be more for people around Sean, in particular, and those of us praying for him in general.

One of the scariest things for me, when I first found out that I had cancer, was this idea that some sort of alien force had entered my body, and that it was running around in my body in an insidious way as if it was totally out of control. I remember, specifically one night, when I was at work (Toyota Logistics Services at the time), driving around in new Toyotas (at this point I only knew I had a large mass in my body, presumably cancer, but we did not know what kind it was yet), and thinking about this invasive monster in my body. And as I was just beginning to think this way, and give way to the fear that came with it, the Lord broke into my heart and contradicted this kind of demonic inspired thinking; he said to my heart: ‘that He is the Lord of my body, and that He is even Lord of this mass in my body,’ and this instantly brought peace to my heart, at least in regard to this line of fearful thinking.

We are all different, and respond to trauma inserted into our lives in different ways, and even as Christians, based upon where we are at with the Lord, etc. But whatever way we respond, whatever kinds of fears we entertain or rebuke, the Lord suffered first. He is the touchstone of all suffering. He places it into its proper and intelligible order within the economy of his life, and thus provides us with the conceptual capacities to know how to think about suffering when we are able. When we are faced with tragedy upon tragedy like this (like Sean’s cancer), we don’t do so independent from God’s life, but right from the center of His life for us in Jesus Christ.

I am praying for you, my dear brother, Sean, and for your family and friends as the days and nights continue to unfold for you and you all within the domain of God’s life in Jesus Christ for you. amen.  

 

[1] Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline (London: SCM Press, 1949), 102-04.

Please Pray for my Daughter, Madeline

For any of you I am not friends with on Facebook, I just wanted to provide an update on what has been happening ever since yesterday. My 11 year daughter, Madeline, was playing at recess yesterday, and a boy fell off the jungle gym and landed full force with his elbow on her head. She had tremors after that, and was essentially knocked out. She was taken to Southwest Washington Medical Center’s Emergency Room by ambulance, and it was determined by way of CT scan that she had suffered a very serious skull fracture. She was then immediately transferred (by ambulance) to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon; in route it was determined by the team of surgeons at Doernbecher (it turns out the lead surgeon just happened to be the chief of pediatric neurosurgery and a highly sought after surgeon in his field) that Madeline would need immediate brain/head surgery. The surgery took approximately 3 hours wherein the surgeons removed the broken skull fragments that were impinging on Madeline’s brain, repaired a blood vessel that was about to burst (and if it did this matter could have been terribly more serious the surgeon said), and rec0nstructed her skull (which involved about ten small pieces) using titanium strips and tiny titanium screws (that Madeline will live with the rest of her life—as she heals the bone will just incorporate the titanium into itself). She has been in ICU recovering ever since (since about 9:00 pm pst yesterday), and could have been moved by now (to a regular room—I am gathering some stuff from home and will be spending the night with her as her mom did last night). She is doing exceedingly well, and is going to escape this incident with ultimately, just an amazing story to tell (and some titanium to boot). Please pray for a speedy recovery, and as painless a recovery as possible. Also pray that there will be no complications, and that Angela and I will have wisdom. Also pray for Madeline’s younger brother (8yrs), Jake. He has been through a lot these last couple years (with me and my cancer, and now his sissy and this); he is a very sensitive kid, and so just pray that the Lord would minister to him.

Thank you all!

Today is the day of salvation …

I am having a summit of sorts ( 😉 ) tomorrow morning with my friend from work at a local Starbucks in Vancouver, WA. Our topic of discussion will be why he needs Jesus, and how that can happen. There are some things that need to be worked through before my friend can become a full participant in the life of God through Christ. 1) He is that same friend who likes to listen to this guy and this guy; unfortunately! See, my friend from work is a very genuine and sincere guy who is on a self-proposed journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. For some reason he has chosen against Christ (like Jesus said ‘You are either for me or against me’), and for himself (as god … if that sounds like something you have read before [hint, hint Genesis 3], it’s because you have!). 2) I will attempt to demonstrate for my friend that his position is untenable in light of various things—like ethics, morality, explanatory power, etc. (so an abductive exercise)—but in the end I am fully aware that as the Apostle has so pointedly noted:

4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. II Corinthians 4.4 (NIV)

So all I am left to believe is:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1.16 (NIV)

I am not under the delusion that I can whip my friend into Christianity through winning the ‘intellectual’ arguments (even though I will 😉 ); it is the Spirit of God alone who brings a person to the point wherein they can finally say that Jesus is Lord (I Cor. 12.3). But maybe, just maybe the Lord will use my small offering tomorrow to plant seeds (I Cor. 3) that someone else might come along and water (or maybe I’m doing the watering by the Spirit tomorrow); that someone else, finally, will be able to harvest. Anyway, if you remember me and my friend tomorrow between the times of 10am-11:30am (pst); then please pray that the Lord would be present in our time of discussion, and that my friend would finally quit ‘kicking against the goads’, and become a full participant in the life of salvation and grace that Christ has won for all of us in his own life for us! Thanks.

Prayer Request . . .

This is a change of pace, but I wanted to post this video; and further, to ask for continued prayer for our brother in Christ, Rory Wheeler (and now his wife, Kristen) as he continues to battle Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor-sarcoma (DSRCT) cancer (same cancer I had, you can read about my journey here). Kristen and Rory were just married on June 11th, and they did so in the midst of Rory’s continued battle with this terrible cancer. I became acquainted with Rory and Kristen through the internet, and ever since I have been praying for both of them. I am inviting you all to join me as the body of Christ, and as a participant in the intercessory work of Christ (cf. Heb. 7:25); to implore the LORD for Rory’s return to health, and to be healed of this dreadful cancer so that he and Kristen might spend many days and years together here on this earth. They are a beautiful couple who need our prayer support! Here’s the video of parts of their recent marriage day:

http://vimeo.com/25146853

Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You. ~Jeremiah 32:17

Prayer for Bill Houg's Family

Please keep the Houg family in prayer. Bill Houg, a guy I worked with briefly, in the past at Evangelical Christian Credit Union (where my mom currently is employed), just went home to be with the Lord today. He was a young guy, only 45, and leaves behind a wife Sheri Houg, and I believe two little kids. As far as I understand, he was diagnosed with cancer (I believe non-Hodgkins lymphoma) only about 3-4 mos. ago. He went through chemo treatment, which had no effect on the cancer. Actually I just found out last night about his diagnosis, and then earlier today I received a text from my mom saying that Bill had passed into the presence of the Lord this morning 😦 . Anyway, please pray for his young family; that the Lord would just surround them with His presence through His people, and that the Lord would just grow Bill’s kids up in a special way as unto HIM. Very sad, but praise the Lord we don’t grieve as without hope! Until heaven, then, Bill . . .

CT Scan Results tomorrow at 11:40am (PST)

Update: “No recurrent or metastatic disease to the chest abdomen or pelvis.” (Taken from my report/results of my CT Scan)

Praise the Lord, thank you all for your prayers and continued support that way 🙂 !!!

_________________________________________

Tomorrow at 11:40am (pst) my wife and I head into my medical oncologist’s office (Dr. Chris Ryan at OHSU, Portland, OR) to get the results of my routine follow up CT scan (which I had today). Please pray that I will be able to rest tonight (my wife) too, and most of all that when we get the results that they are still “cancer-free!!!” Truth be told, I am not doing good; I am a nervous wreck! I know the Lord is in total control, I know He loves us, and yet my frame is but dust! Anyway, if you think about at — esp. at that time tomorrow — please shoot up an “arrow” prayer (as one of my profs used to say) for us . . . we could really use it! Thanks everyone.