From the monthly archives:

January 2010

The Valley of Shadows

January 31, 2010

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

Every country has such a place.  Libya has the Sahara… “A waterless sea of sand and stone, where scorpions infest, vipers slither, and the sun has no mercy.”  Chile has one of the most hostile environments on the earth. The Atacama Desert’s total rainfall is just half an inch a year and situated in the middle is the Socompa Volcano that spews an atmosphere more akin to Mars than Earth.

Our own country has Death Valley, the name itself describing the sober landscape it represents.   Between Pakistan and Afghanistan lies the Khyber Pass, the narrow and bloody route trampled by the Scythins, White Huns, Seljuks, Tartars, Mongols and a host of others including Alexander the Great.  Perhaps none other represents the Valley of Shadows more precisely.

I have often wondered where David’s valley was located.  He names it as a location, not a poetic illusion.  A valley filled with tribulation of heart and flesh that could only be depicted by death itself.  It was there that he occasioned to lead his sheep, obviously knowing the path and having the means to pass through the dangers without fear.

Psalm 23 is quoted most often at the end of a life.  While you read this, in funeral homes and graveyards around the world, the psalm is being repeated over coffins and graves to bring comfort and solace to shattered lives.  Therein lies the problem because this is not a psalm of the dead but of the living.  Notice the words David writes,

I walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death.

There is only one time in every life that the trek through this dark valley takes the path of no return.  Every other occasion is one that passes through this valley.  For the novice, the very shadows of trouble causes many to shrink back.  For the faithless, the thought that a person might take the trek freezes the heart and stammers the steps.  For the lazy and undisciplined, the ease of life is far more important than the promise of  “a table prepared before me.”

Maybe you have never passed this way and I pray that you will be spared this valley.  Jesus taught us to pray “Lead us not unto temptation” after all.  Be assured though, life will lead every believer to the badlands of trouble and to go with the confidence of God’s truth is the best preparation for the humble of heart.  Here are some of the great truths from this Traveler’s Psalm.

“The Lord is my Shepherd”

David the Shepherd had a Chief Shepherd.  He was not declaring himself a sheep but a journeyman who looked to the most experienced and named Him his Lord.  In this world filled with an expectation of safety and security, the slightest rock of the boat sends many into their final prayers.  David knew though that, The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?  the Lord is the defense of my life, whom shall I dread?  Psalm 27:1

For You are with me”

Charles Spurgeon wrote,

“Trembling Brother, you would feel perfectly safe if you had your eyes opened to see the companies of angels that surround you.  You would rejoice in your security if you saw horses of fire and chariots of fire encompassing you.  But such defenses are as nothing compared with those which are always around you!  God is better than myriads of chariots!  God is with every one of His children!  We dwell in Him and He dwells in us.  A vital, everlasting union exists between every believing soul and God – then what cause can there be for fear?”

You must choose between temporary comfort and God’s continual presence.  God does not abandon you and is faithful when we are unfaithful.  Many turn from the direction where God leads to hold on to the baggage of worldly dross.  Remember the rich young ruler?  God’s presence is “the ever present help” while all else weighs us down in our journey.  Which one will you choose?

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life”

It bears repeating, the valley is to be passed through, not overcome by.  And the promise of God is that every valley will produce the fruit of God’s Spirit in goodness and lovingkindness.  David did not fear the valley swallowing him.  He did not question whether or not he would be overcome by the death the valley boasts.  Instead he looked toward the rest of his life that he knew would follow.  When you know the God you serve there is no need to fear the valley you traverse.

In the darkest of times you can experience the goodness and lovingkindness of the Father.  It may be dry as a desert.  The shadows of your valley might resemble death.  At times, the physical challenges can be overwhelming.  Yet God’s presence and His provision are ours as we simply follow Him on His path.   And you are here to pass through this valley.

Many years ago, a wiser man than I quoted a familiar bible phrase noted throughout the old and new testaments over 200 times… “It has come to pass.”  But he changed the inflection and taught me a lifelong lesson.  Now, I always remember that whatever valley of shadows I walk in, “It has come, TO PASS.”

Are you passing through a valley right now?  Remember… The Lord is your Shepherd and He is with you now.  This valley is one you will pass through and not be consumed by.  Why?  Because it has come, to pass.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.


A Good Promise

January 22, 2010

We were staring at the washer/dryer stacks in the basement of MD Anderson.  More accustomed to deer blinds than laundry rooms, the uncomfortableness gets as thick as the Houston fog.  It takes a while for guys to actually look at each other let alone converse and in those moments you look for any man-topic to avoid talking about your wife’s clothes spinning in the dryer. One friend calls it being pigheaded… I prefer a gentler term like… well, pigheaded probably nails it after all.

We talk.  His name is L.J. and his wife is having a bone marrow transplant as well as a stem cell transplant.  Four kids, bad insurance, five appeals in a year and a half just to get here and she is doing well one month into a four month hospital stay.  I promise to pray for her and his gratitude is sincere.

An older Hispanic couple walks the halls every day.  They are from New Mexico and caring for their daughter.  Rare disease, bone marrow transplant, 4 young children and this is the last hope.  I talk to them around the coffeepot and promise to pray, their words are  quiet and wrapped in humility from a life lived without the pride that accompanies possessions.

There is a man and his two sons, fixtures in the little “family room” that offers a refrigerator and microwave to caregivers.  He is always on his cell phone.  The two sons are “live-ins”… shoes off, cooking spaghetti, leaving a mess in their wake and oblivious to all others as teens are likely to do.  Their mom is never out of bed… not a good sign in this place where every patient does the “chemo marathon” around the two pods several times a day.  Keeping to themselves, they say little but hurt deeply.  All I can do is pray.

There are the nurses, too.  There names change twice a day on the white board in front of Jan’s bed.  They are careful to stay within the confines of HIPAA, that conversation killing gag rule that strangles tender care if observed to the letter. Thankfully, they don’t and the conversations are about kids, real life struggles,  and life between shifts which is messy compared to the sterile walls of the 11th floor.  They all know who we serve and we care for them as they care for Jan.

And here Jan sits.  There are seven bags hanging from the I.V. stand.  This morning they are giving her blood along with other concoctions as her blood counts do what is expected.  Outside of Jan’s room it is busy and noisy… floors are being cleaned, carts of supplies pass along, and the occasional “inmate” walks their chemo marathon for the day.  Humanity in a microscope.  The gospel story lived out among the 100 or so people that will make up our village over the coming weeks.

Paul, when he finally arrived in Rome, was immediately under a sort of “house arrest.”  The story goes that his days were spent chained to the elite Roman soldiers known as the Praetorian Guard, the personal protectors of the Emperor.  His world was constricted to the length of chain between him and the hardened warrior on the other end.  He saw his circumstance as a great opportunity.  After all, he didn’t need to go looking for those to share Christ with because they were chained to him in shifts throughout the day.

The Letter to the church in Philippi gives a snapshot of what took place.

My imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known
throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.

In other words, those that were in his path were the ones with whom he shared the Gospel.

  • They saw him as a prisoner of Rome.  He saw them as captives of Christ.
  • They thought he was chained to them.  Paul knew they were chained to him.
  • They heard he was to appeal to the Emperor but Heaven heard his appeal for their souls.

And so it was that one by one, those hardened warriors bowed to King Jesus.  I can only imagine the scene!
For these next months, we are not captives of cancer, hospital beds or the 11th floor of MDA.  Our assignment, as difficult as it might seem, is to be the light of the Gospel to many who are closer to death than those outside these doors.  No one does this willingly, by the way, but where God sends, He provides.

And what of you?  How short is the “chain” you struggle with each day to escape?  Those circumstances or that person you are chained to are providential.  No mistake was made and as unappealing as circumstances might be God’s promise carries His provision.

Paul uses the word “guard” another time in his wonderful little letter to the Philippians.  It is found at the end as he encourages those saints to alway trust God’s promises.  He says this,

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The great promise of a life lived with Jesus is that He will never leave and never forsake.  He backs up His great promise with a great gift, the peace of God that stands sentry in Heaven’s full battle armor against the onslaught of the enemy of your soul.  The message is clear.  If we do our job and stop struggling against the chain of providence, God will do His greater work.  His peace will be our banner as we share His gospel in our appointed assignment.

Your heart is chained to the peace of God, friend.  That’s a good promise to stand on.  Now go and do your job.


New Beginnings

January 12, 2010

It is the end of a long day not unlike many days over the past years.  Life for Jan and I has had the element of doctors, medicines, waiting rooms and strange names to stranger diseases for many years so these past days have not held any surprises, just more of the same. But tonight […]

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A New Assignment

January 12, 2010

The waiting room is crowded.  It is one of thousands in the complex and 30 or so people are sitting in this one waiting.  One lady’s cap says “No Hair Day” and a bald man says, “I like that!” A lady across from him says, “This is my first naked hair day but its so […]

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Jesus and the Stranger

January 9, 2010

Emmaus was not far, only seven miles, and the walk would do them good. The two, Cleopas and Josiah, could no longer stand the confinement of the city. Jesus was dead. And they had lost all hope. Cleopas had a small farm in Emmaus and was going to begin the spring plowing and planting. After […]

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