Sometimes We are the Miracle

When my wife, Linda, received her cancer diagnosis in 2019, we began praying. Our church began praying. Friends and family began praying. We began praying for what anyone in our situation would pray for: a miracle. We prayed that when Linda went for a PET scan to confirm the diagnosis, the doctors would find that there was no cancer, that our prayers and the prayers of others would result in a miracle. She had the PET scan and the cancer diagnosis was confirmed. There was no miracle. But we continued to pray. Our faith is strong and we were not going to give up hope. We would keep praying for a miracle.

Linda had surgery to remove the cancer. We prayed that the cancer had not spread into the lymph nodes, that God would allow the surgery to bring the miracle. But when we got the biopsy results, we learned that the cancer had gotten into the lymph nodes and there was a second unrelated cancer that did not show up on the PET scan. Still no miracle. Linda would need to go through radiation and chemotherapy. But still our faith was strong and we continued to pray for that miracle.

The dictionary defines a miracle as something that defies the laws of nature, something that is supernatural in nature or an act of God. This is what we were praying for. But there’s another dictionary definition for miracle – any amazing or wonderful event. Not something supernatural, not something that defies the laws of nature, but something that is still amazing or wonderful. Something that we can point to and thank God for. And, for Linda and me, that’s the kind of miracle that we have received.

In the midst of a serious cancer diagnosis, we received peace. We received a stronger faith than we have ever had before. We received the gift of being drawn closer to each other and to God. But the true miracle in this whole situation has been Linda herself. While in the hospital for her surgery and after learning that she needed to undergo chemo and radiation, Linda prayed with other patients, including one who was dying. And while at the treatment center for her radiation treatments, she has been praying with other patients who were struggling.

2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Despite her own diagnosis, and despite the fatiguing treatments she has endured, she has looked at others with a desire to bring a little of the peace and comfort that God has given her. And so, while we have not received the miracle that we have prayed for (although we continue to pray for that!), we have received a miracle. Sometimes the miracle is not what we prayed for. Through God’s great love and mercy, sometimes we are the miracle.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

In the Machine

by Linda McMillan

As I mentioned in a recent post, my wife, Linda, was diagnosed with cancer in 2019. As she has been going through chemo and radiation treatments, the Holy Spirit has given her some powerful insights, which she has written down and I am now publishing on my blog. I pray you will be blessed by them. Pastor Roy

“I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go.” Genesis 28:15.

This is the Scripture verse chosen for me for 2020. I was not able to make it to Evangel’s New Year’s Eve service, so my husband, Pastor Roy, put his hand in the basket with the Scripture cards and “randomly” chose one for me. I say “randomly” in quotes because I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit led him to this card.

And God has been keeping this promise to me. Throughout my cancer treatment, I have felt the Lord’s presence with me. As I lay in the radiation machine used to treat my GYN cancer, I look up at the ceiling and see a cutout in the shape of a cross. I am reminded that Jesus loved me so much that he took my sin upon His shoulders, went to the cross, defeated death, and rose again so that I could have eternal life. I know that He is with me in that room.

From that cross in the ceiling emanates a green beam. Tiny tattoos on my body are lined up with the beam so that I will be in perfect alignment with the machine, which then can deliver the radiation at just the right angle. I am reminded that when I line myself up with the teachings of Jesus, I am in perfect position to receive the Lord’s blessings and to bless others.

The machine that delivers the radiation is comprised of three large arms, one with a camera to take CT images of my pelvis, another with a panel to reflect the images to the technicians in the other room, and a third with the instrument that delivers the radiation. I am reminded of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and feel a sense of peace enveloping me.

As I watch the camera click away taking the images of my pelvis, I am reminded that I am created in God’s image. Then, as the panel that reflects the images to the technicians passes over me, I am reminded that I am to reflect the image of Christ to others. Finally, as the arm with the instrument that delivers the radiation passes over me, I am reminded that just as the radiation is eradicating any remaining cancer in my body, so must I allow the Holy Spirit to fill me and eradicate anything that is not pleasing to the Lord.

The Cross: Foolishness or Wisdom?

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV)

On a hilltop called Abbey Craig, overlooking Stirling in Scotland, there stands a tower known as Wallace Monument. Within the walls of that tower are a number of stained glass windows, including one of a Scottish knight, a great warrior who was a central figure in the battle for Scottish independence from England. That warrior’s name was William Wallace. Wallace was born around 1270 in Paisley, Renfrew, Scotland, to a wealthy landowner. At the age of 27, he began his efforts to help his country break free of British rule. After years of leading troops in battle, Wallace was captured on August 5, 1305 and executed. Wallace was hanged, drawn, and quartered. Despite his capture and death, and despite the fact that Scotland did not win its independence until 1320, fifteen years after his death, William Wallace is recognized as a martyr and a national hero in Scotland. His heroism was glorified in the 1995 movie, Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson.

Just as Scotland needed to be set free from English rule, we needed to be set free from the chains of sin that held us captive. But this was not a battle we could win on our own. We needed a leader, a warrior King, who would lead us to freedom from our sin. That leader, that warrior King, would be God’s promised Messiah. And that promised Messiah was God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who was born not to a rich landowner, but to a poor, virgin girl named Mary. Jesus began His ministry, His mission to secure our freedom from sin, at the age of about 30. He did not lead troops into battle but after three years of teaching His people, healing the sick, and giving sight to the blind, Jesus, like Wallace, was captured and executed. He was beaten, tortured, and nailed to a cross.

Crucifixion was a humiliating, shameful form of death and not the way that the world would expect a leader, a warrior King, to die. In fact, in the eyes of the world, the message of the cross is foolishness. The idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews, who expected a Messiah who would lead them into battle against their enemies and free them from their oppressors. And, the message of the cross was foolishness to the Gentiles, who could see no wisdom in it (1 Corinthians 1:23). But to those of us who are being saved, who are receiving salvation and freedom from the chains of sin, the message of the cross is not foolish. It is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The message of the cross is the message of salvation. William Wallace’s death did not achieve his goal of bringing freedom to Scotland. But through His death on the cross, Jesus, the Savior King, the Son of God, did accomplish what He was sent for by His heavenly Father. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. For those who are being saved, who have chosen to believe in and follow Christ, this humiliating, shameful form of death has broken the chains of sin that held us captive. Just as there were those in the first century who viewed the cross as foolishness, there are some today who similarly hold that view. To them, the cross is a sign of weakness. Yet for those who have received the salvation it brings, it is anything but. Rather, it is an instrument of the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:25 explains this beautifully, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Reflection on 2019 and a Peace that Surpasses Understanding

2019 was an interesting year (to say the least!). It was a year when, for my wife, Linda, and I, a lot of good happened and a year when some really bad stuff happened, as well. On the good side, my spiritual journey, as I walked into ministry, was amazing. I became a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God and am now on staff at Evangel Church, serving as Community Life Pastor. As I have obeyed the call that I felt on my life through the Holy Spirit, God has opened so many doors.

On the bad side, there was the issue of Linda’s health, beginning with a back problem, then diverticulitis, and finally, the worst part of it, a diagnosis of cancer. That diagnosis came out of left field. I can still recall the day that Linda called to give me the news. I was at a meeting at church when she called, and all I can remember is feeling numb. It was totally unexpected! But then, something amazing happened. After that initial feeling of numbness, came a sense of peace.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I’ve read those verses many times but, until that moment, I did not truly understand the deep truth of those words. But in the face of that difficult news I had just received, I completely understood it.

Sure, there have been a couple of times since hearing that diagnosis when I have found myself shedding tears. After all, my best friend this side of heaven had cancer! But any anxiety over it has been given to God. Both of us prayed rather than become dismayed. And many of our family, friends, and church family have joined with us in those prayers. We have called upon our God and, with grateful hearts for all that He has done, and the knowledge that He hears our prayers, we have asked Him to help us, and have asked that His will be done in this circumstance, this situation in which we find ourselves. And His peace, which our human minds cannot even fathom, has and still is guarding our hearts and our minds.

There are days when we feel a bit weary, Linda especially so. The driving to and from treatments, the treatments themselves, and the waiting to see how those treatments will deal with the cancer can sometimes threaten to push us in the direction of anxiety, worry, and fear. But our faith prevails. We know that we serve a faithful God, a God on whom we can cast those anxieties, worries, and fears, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Our enemy wants us to worry, but we continue to resist him, standing firm in our faith because, although we may suffer through this cancer, He will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10). Amen!

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Peace & Joy

Peace. Joy. These are two words that we see often at Christmas time. We see them on cards that wish the recipient “peace” and “joy” at Christmas. We see them on Christmas decorations, and we hear them in countless Christmas carols. We may even see them on “ugly” Christmas sweaters. And, of course, we see them in the account of the Christmas story itself. In Luke, chapter 2, an angel of the Lord appears to a group of shepherds and announces that he brings “good news that will bring great joy to all people.” And after the angel delivers that good news, an angel army appears, giving glory to the God who sent them, as they announce that this good news, the birth of the child born to be the Savior of the world, brings “peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Because of the birth of that little baby in a manger in Bethlehem, both joy and peace were brought into the world. But sometimes we don’t sense that peace. Sometimes we don’t feel that joy. Sometimes the circumstances of life crowd out the joy and the peace that we know we should feel because Jesus became a man and brought the gift of salvation to mankind. Sometimes we just don’t feel peace, instead focusing on our own inner turmoil or the external turmoil that surrounds us. Sometimes we just don’t feel like being joyful because of the trials that we are going through due to illness, relational problems, or financial problems.

In July of this year, my wife, Linda, was diagnosed with cancer. Following tests and eventual surgery, we discovered that not only did she have a rare and aggressive type of cancer, but she also had a second unrelated cancer. Tough news to hear. News that could easily rob us of our peace and wipe away the joy in our lives. But it didn’t. Despite the news that we received, our faith has remained strong. We both feel peace in this situation we find ourselves facing. And, despite the fact that the road ahead is a difficult one, we still have joy in our lives. We have joy and we feel peace because we know that we serve a God who is in control, a God who cares about us and loves us, a God who has a plan for us, a plan that will never harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). We have joy and feel peace because our God is faithful, and because, rather than leaning on our own, limited understanding, we have made a decision to trust in God and His ways (Proverbs 3:5-6).

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul gave us the words that explain the joy and the peace we feel and why we feel it. In Philippians 4:4, Paul told us that we should “Always be full of joy in the Lord.” He emphasized the importance of this when he said, “I say it again–rejoice!” The joy that we feel does not come from our circumstances, it comes from the Lord. In our case, it comes despite the circumstances we are facing. It comes because we know have made Jesus the Lord of our lives.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul went on to say, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Rather than worry about this cancer diagnosis, we have instead gone to prayer about it and have been lifted up in the prayers of our church family. We have brought the diagnosis to God and thanked Him in advance that His will in this situation, His good and perfect will, shall be done. And, just as Paul wrote, we have experienced that peace that exceeds our own understanding. That peace has guarded our hearts and our minds, standing sentry to keep away thoughts of fear, anxiety, and worry.

As we go through this Christmas season, Linda and I know the difficulties that we (and especially she) will be facing during the months of chemotherapy and radiation that lie ahead. But we go through this season in faith, knowing that our joy and our peace will be there because of the One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day. We pray the same joy and peace for all of you!

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God Never Forgets

Born on Christmas Day in 1642, Isaac Newton was one of the greatest geniuses in history. Besides being the inventor of calculus, Newton also discovered the laws of gravity and of motion, and performed important work in the areas of optics and mechanics. In short, Newton was brilliant! But, did you know that this brilliant man also was absent-minded?

Newton was known to lose his way while heading home for dinner, despite the fact that he lived at the college in which he worked. Friends of Newton would sometimes find themselves frustrated and thirsty when Newton would go to his room to get a bottle of wine for them to drink. “Why?” you ask. Well, when Newton arrived at his room, he would forget why he had gone there and instead would sit down to work, forgetting all about the friends who were eagerly awaiting his return with the wine. Newton truly was an example of an absent-minded professor, a person who possesses amazing knowledge but often forgets the simple, most fundamental things.

The God of heaven and earth is omniscient, He knows all things. His brilliance far surpasses that of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, or any of the greatest minds of history. But God does not forget the simple things. He does not get so lost in lofty thoughts that He forgets the fundamental details. He does not forget His people when they are waiting on Him. Take Noah. Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, built an ark based on God’s instructions and then got into that ark, along with a menagerie that would make the Bronx Zoo envious, while outside it rained for forty days and forty nights. The resulting flood covered the entire earth, leaving Noah’s family and their floating zoo sailing the floodwaters for 150 days (Genesis 7: 24).

Now, I can imagine that a boat filled with up to seven pairs of every animal that walked the earth, plus any that were born to those pairs of animals, would have become uncomfortably smelly (and quite noisy!) after 150 days. I can also imagine that, after that amount of time, Noah and his brood had probably begun to think that God had forgotten all about them. I can imagine Noah looking up into the heavens and saying, “Hey, God, it’s Noah. Where are You? Have You forgotten about us?” But look what it says in Genesis 8:1…

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and livestock with him in the boat. He sent a wind to blow across the earth, and the floodwaters began to recede.

God had not forgotten about them. He had not gotten so caught up in something else He was doing that He overlooked the needs of Noah, Noah’s family, and all of the animals who had joined them on this extended ocean cruise. God remembered and caused the waters to recede and, in time, they all left the boat and began life anew, being fruitful and multiplying the earth just as God told them they should (Genesis 9:1).

There are times in life when we may think that God has forgotten about us. Maybe it’s due to an extended illness. Maybe it’s because of a long period of unemployment. Or maybe it’s because we are in a dry season in which we are not sensing God’s presence in our lives. In those times, it may be easy for us to say “Hey, God, it’s me. Where are You? Have you forgotten about me?” In those times, we need to remember that, unlike Isaac Newton, God is not an absent-minded professor. We need to remember the story of Noah and remember that God never forgets. He is in every detail, and when the time is right, we will see Him move in our lives.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Shepherd Leader

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. (1 Peter 5:2-4)

Among the oldest occupations is shepherding, which began some 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor. A shepherd is a wage earner, being paid to tend, herd, feed, or guard the herds or flocks of sheep belonging to others. In order to maintain a large flock, the shepherd needs to ensure that the sheep entrusted to him are able to move from pasture to pasture. It is the duty of the shepherd to keep that flock intact, to protect it from predators, and to guide it to the market in time for shearing.

When it comes to the church, leaders are like shepherds. In fact, when referring to those to whom leadership of God’s people is entrusted, Scripture often refers to them as shepherds. Jesus even referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, a shepherd leader who was willing to lay down His life for His sheep. So, for those in any form of leadership in the church, it is important to model the Good Shepherd while caring for the flocks that have been entrusted to them. This is true for pastors, for elders, for deacons, for ministry leaders, and even for small group leaders.

Being placed in a position of leading God’s people is an awesome responsibility. So, how are we to lead? The apostle Peter gives some excellent advice in 1 Peter 5:2-14, where he gives us the what, why, and how of leading the people that God has placed in our care.

In verse 2, Peter gives us the “what” when he writes, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you.” Just like a shepherd, a leader has been given oversight over a flock. It could be a church congregation, a ministry team, or a small group. The size of the flock is not important. What is important is that God has entrusted the leader with that flock, and what the leader needs to do is to care for it. Just as a shepherd must keep his flock intact, those God has placed in leadership have a duty to care for the flocks entrusted to them by keeping those flocks intact. They do this by helping the flocks to stay focused on their walk with Christ. And as the shepherd must protect the flock from predators, leaders must protect those in their flocks from the enemy by helping them to recognize spiritual attacks and false teachings, and to know how to stand in the face of these things. And finally, as the shepherd must guide his flock to the market in time for shearing, leaders must guide their flocks, through the Word of God, so that they reach their destination, eternal life with Jesus.

The “why” of leading God’s people is also found in verse 2, where Peter points out that those entrusted with leadership of God’s people should do so willingly and not for personal gain, for what they will get out of it. Doing so can easily lead to watching over the flock grudgingly and when a leader watches over the flock grudgingly, it can have negative results such as resentment or burnout. Rather, leaders should watch over the flock willingly and because they are eager to serve the God who has placed them in leadership.

Finally, the “how” of caring for God’s flocks is found in verse 3, where Peter writes, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own example.” Being placed in leadership over God’s people doesn’t mean that a leader is better or superior to those under his or her leadership. Leading with an iron fist, or by looking down at the people being led, is not the way that God wants the shepherd leader to lead. A shepherd leader should lead by example. But, in doing so, leaders should be a reflection of the example shown by Jesus Christ, the true servant leader, a leader who came not to be served, but to serve.

Leaders need to lead like Jesus, the Good Shepherd. When they do, they will experience something that is worth more than all the gold on earth. Peter tells us in verse 4 that “when the Great Shepherd appears,” those who lead well, who lead like Jesus, will receive “a crown of never-ending glory and honor.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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