What if?

 

Gozo CliffsWhat if Jacob had not deceived Esau? Would he still have gotten the inheritance?
What if Jacob has not attempted to run away from Laban? Would he still have gotten to leave?
What if Paul had not gone to Jerusalem? Would he still have gotten arrested and died?

What if I had not bit my tongue so many times (or whatever may have caused my tongue cancer)?
What if?

The truth is, if we trust the sovereignty of a perfectly good God, all things work together for good. There are no “what ifs” with God.
So stop worrying and live every day as wisely as possible and dependent on God’s grace!

Have a great day!

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Avalanche!

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by God’s work in your life?

Does your life ever remind you of those avalanches that are so common in the Alps, only a few hundred miles from here?

Truthfully, I am guessing that if you are a follower of Jesus, you, like I, are continually overwhelmed with your inadequacy and God’s work around you.

The amazing part is that He allows us to be right in the middle of it!

Solomon certainly understood this when he became king of Israel.  God made a simple offer: “What shall I give you?”

There appears to be no hesitation in his response.  After recognizing God’s steadfast love toward his father David and David’s faithfulness to the end, Solomon asks one thing (recognizing that David would be a hard act to follow!):

“Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV)

Avalanche

(Photo: Bruce Tremper/U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, www.noaa.gov Material is not subject to copyright protection)

The fact that I feel overwhelmed can be seen clearly by my otherwise tidy desk.  Books, papers, bills, folders, pens, birthday cards (my birthday was in May), songs to translate, post-its, cassettes (don’t ask).

There are days when I don’t know where to start and when to stop.

Now before you go and blame everything on my lack of discipline (certainly a part of the problem), let me share some of the overwhelming blessings.

God is at work, so we need prayer and wisdom because, as usual, we feel unprepared to handle it all!

1. God is opening evangelistic doors.

I thank God for allowing cancer in my life as a way of reminding me of my finiteness and of the urgency of the message. 
This morning I was reminded of the urgency in God’s words to Ezekiel: “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:7 ESV)
Maybe I have become more pushy; some would say even too pushy, but Paul reminded Timothy: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV)

2. Leadership training.

     If I could do one thing that makes the greatest difference… I would train leaders.
     – We continue to work ourselves out of a job with the worship ministry.  
Melodee will be teaching the first music course open to all, but especially for our worship team and choir members. She also is teaching some women to play piano.
– I promised to start rehearsing our choir starting October 1st!
– On September 28th we will have our first Worship Training conference with special guest   speaker Dr. Donald Ellsworth, from Baptist Bible Seminary in Pennsylvania!

   – We are training youth leaders.
We started a youth leadership team that includes one young married couple and two singles over 30.  Giovanni will be co-teaching the youth with me!
     – I am leading the missionary team at the moment with weekly training meetings.
– Sunday we will have our first ministry fair at our church, where we will give people the opportunity to sign up for ministry groups and Bible studies for the fall.
– Sunday afternoon I will be leading the ministry coordinators through a training session.

3. Teaching

This is probably the most overwhelming part of my ministry right now: preparing studies for the fall.
     – Translating teaching curriculum. 
We have joined forces with Partners in Discipleship International to translate solid biblical curriculum for all ages.  Right now we are working on a study for middle school and for high school.  Eventually our goal is to find other solid evangelical churches to partner with in distributing the materials and a good Italian evangelical publishing house that would be behind the project.
I’m also translating a deacon training manual, since we are weeks away from nominating deacons in our church!  Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, IN, has kindly given us permission to translate their wonderful materials.
    –  Teaching the adult/youth Sunday School in the fall.

  I have also agreed to disciple two men in our church: Claudio, my brother that has come to Milan with me,  (He is doing much better, by the way.) and Alessio, a young man who used to be the priest’s right hand man in his town, until God almost violently brought him to Himself through the Truth of His Word.
– Then there is our monthly men’s meeting to plan

4. Melodee’s residence permit

– Tuesday, September 16th we will go to pick up Melodee’s residence card.  We will find out if our request for a permanent card was accepted.  I normally would say it is impossible, but God has been doing so many impossible things in our lives recently that I have no doubt that He is capable of it!

5. My health

– On top of a hernia surgery that I am waiting for (when it rains it pours), I am waiting to hear back from the doctor in Milan for my follow-up visit, due this month.

6. Our beautiful children.

Noah will be heading to pre-school in a week.  There he will be in contact with children his age, and hopefully get a better grounding in the Italian language.
Eva turned one a couple weeks ago.  She has found in herself great determination to eat out of the trash and whatever else she can get into her mouth.  Scooting along on the floor, she also helps with cleaning!

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 ESV)

Probably your impossible and my impossible seem so insignificant compared to Jeremiah’s announcement to Jerusalem: God would actually destroy the city He loved.

But God made us a promise:  “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15 ESV)

We don’t know what God will do, but we know that He has called us here, and that He has promised to deliver us for His glory and He does it through prayer.

Please pray with us!  And we will exalt Him together!

Please Pray For:

1. The salvation of those with whom we are sharing Christ.
2. The training of leaders and opportunities

– Worship ministry: Melodee’s  music course, piano teaching, choir ministry, the training conference on September 28th with special guest speaker Dr. Donald Ellsworth, form Baptist Bible Seminary in Pennsylvania!
Youth Ministry: Giovanni, Daniel, Roberto and Carmela.
– Our ministry fair this Sunday.
– Ministry coordinators training session this Sunday
– Our monthly men’s meeting.

3.   Our translation work.  
– For curriculum translation with Partners in Discipleship International (more to come in a future update). For other churches to partner with and a solid publishing house.
– For the translation of the deacon training manual.
– For the adult/youth Sunday School.
– For discipleship with Claudio and Alessio.
4. Melodee to get her permanent residence card (we have spent a lot of time and money on this!!)
5. Continued health for all of us.
6. Our family to grow together toward God and each other.
7. Much needed wisdom and partners to whom we can delegate!!!

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Waiting……

    

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
    but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
        they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary;
        they shall walk and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:30-31 ESV)

We all take comfort in the strength that is promised in this verse.  But there is a key word we often forget: “wait”.

Since my surgery on April 24th I have had to do a lot of waiting…

waiting

Waiting and meditating on my trip to Milan

  • waiting to get out of the hospital (two hospitals, to be precise).
  • waiting to go home from Milan after another week of constant checkups
  • waiting to be able to eat real food again
  • waiting to be able to read to my kids and pray out loud with them
  • waiting for biopsy results
  • waiting for stitches to come out
  • waiting for be able to preach, teach, disciple, talk, eat without pain(I’m still waiting on that one!)

Waiting has been a blessing in many ways.

  • It has helped me appreciate the patience and hard work of those around me, picking up my slack.
  • It has helped me have something to look forward to.
  • It has helped me delegate and swallow my pride as others excel at things I love doing.
  • It has helped me have time to reconnect with God on a deeper level through prayer, reading and meditation on God’s Word and truth.
  • It has helped me see God at work.

And God has been at work!

On May 22nd I went back to Milan with Claudio for my one-month checkup.  They gave me more good bad news… an in-depth biopsy of the part of tongue they removed found another carcinoma in situ.  So…more cancer, but the doctor does not see the need to take more (up to half my tongue)!  You can imagine the roller coaster of conversations I had with myself and those around me.  Here is a sample:

Pessimistic me: “More cancer!” 
Optimistic me: “But they got it all.” 
Pessimistic me: “But this is the fourth time!”
Optimistic me: “Well, in situ is the best kind to have because it didn’t spread.”
Pessimistic me: “But when will it end?”
Optimistic me: “Hopefully now!”
Pessimistic me: “But what if it doesn’t?”

How did I end this cycle?  I had to got back to a previous foundational thought: God is good.  Once we learn to trust him we can finally move on with our lives.

John Calvin said it this way:

“not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause; in this this way we must learn to expect and ask all things from him, and thankfully ascribe to him whatever we receive.” [My emphasis]  (Institutes of the Christian Religion Book I Chapter II p. 40-41)

Despite the setbacks and the waiting we have much to be grateful for. In fact, God is working above and beyond our expectations and we can only look ahead to all He will do.  Here are a few clear signs of God’s blessing and protection:

  1. The carcinoma was in situ, therefore it did not spread.  The doctors don’t even want to see me again until September!
  2. We are so loved and feel so loved!!!
    1. When I got back from the hospital I had almost 800 e-mail messages…mostly of encouragement or of people wanting to help.  (Now you understand why it has taken me so long to write again!)
    2. MANY people have sent money to help cover my medical and travel expenses and even just to help me buy books to read during my recovery!
    3. Despite the burden of work of the ministry, our co-workers/family have encouraged me to take all the time I need to get better.
  3. God has amazingly mended some relationships that are very important in our life and ministry.
  4. We have had and will have several outreach opportunities:
    1. Music outreach
    2. Soccer outreach
    3. Baptisms
  5. We have had some precious family times!
Soccer Outreach

Soccer Outreach with Christian Artist Angelo Maugeri

What more could we ask for?  This very well may be one of the best years of our life!

Here are just a few important requests:

  1. Pray that my tongue would heal enough to get back to preaching and teaching, since Dann and Liz leave on June 13th for their 8 month long furlough.  I will be taking over several of their responsibilities in their absence: youth ministry, men’s ministry, staff leadership and…administrative duties (Lord help me!).
  2. That God would help us to catch up on so many things that I am behind on because of my illness and that we can manage our time and finances better.
  3. For Sunday’s baptisms and the choosing of our first deacons.
  4. That we can continue to improve at training leaders, in order to bring this church to independence.
  5. Our residence papers. Apparently they won’t renew Melodee’s residence papers without further documentation, including a marriage certificate with an apostille from Michigan that is translated and legalized.

Thank you for sticking with us as I continue to wait on God’s renewing of my strength, meditating and delegating!

whitmans_easter 2014

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Still in Milan

 

God doesn’t always answer the way we would have imagined.

Wednesday morning, as I was reading my devotions, the Lord put some verses on my heart.  In Psalm 77:1 the Psalmist describes his situation:

I cry aloud to God,
        aloud to God, and he will hear me.
    In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
        in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
        my soul refuses to be comforted.

There is no description of a deliverance in this Psalm, but it struck me that the turning point was in verses 11-13, where he affirms:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
        yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
    I will ponder all your work,
        and meditate on your mighty deeds.
    Your way, O God, is holy.
        What god is great like our God?

What struck me was that the Psalmist did not reflect on his deliverance…but on the fact that God had delivered in the past. Reflecting on God’s perfect holy ways and on his power was enough to give him comfort.

Little did I know just how soon I would need that truth.

Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori

Our train left at 5:45 pm from Milan.  Around 5:35 my mom and I climbed onto our train, anxious to get back to our families.  As I lifted the suitcase onto the overhead compartment I felt something warm and different in my mouth. I sensed that something was wrong, so I turned to my mom and to the other passengers with me.  They all looked white as sheets.  I looked at my reflection and I could not see my teeth (remember, my mouth was still numb from the operation).

I touched my mouth and got a handful of blood.  I ran to the bathroom and tried to rinse the blood out.  No water came out of the faucet, so all I could do was spit.  As soon as I spit my mouth was full of blood again. I tried the other bathroom.  No difference.  Another sink full of blood.  Panicking, we decided to get back off the train before it left for a 6 hour trip (it was the last train of the night for Perugia).  My mouth kept filling with more and more blood.  I began swallowing it, because I didn’t know where to put it.  I couldn’t rinse out my mouth, so I didn’t know where the bleeding was coming from.  At this rate, I figured, I would pass out before I got to a bathroom in the station.

The police called for an ambulance, but it felt like forever before they came.  I kept losing more and more blood.  Finally a policeman encouraged me to spit the blood on the ground.  Then I remembered all those movies where they would put pressure on an artery to stop the bleeding, so I stuck my thumb on my tongue and kept it there until I could get it checked.  The ambulance came and brought me to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

By the time a doctor saw me, the bleeding had stopped.  In fact, he couldn’t even understand where I bled out.  Everything seemed to be in place.  We got in touch with my tongue doctor, and they decided to keep me for a couple nights in observation at this little hospital (the cancer center doesn’t have an emergency room).

As they brought me to my room, my mom asked if she could stay the night with me.  The person bringing us was categorical: she would have to leave the hospital immediately after dropping my luggage off.  I prayed in my heart to God:  “Lord!  Where are you??  I haven’t seen my wife and children in over a week.  We missed the last train of the night. I may have to be operated on again, including the wretched feeding tube. I almost bled out and now they want to send my mom away in the middle of the night!”

It was then that Psalm 77:1,11-13 came back to mind. “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”   I figured God had given me those verses for a reason so I forced myself to focus on the fact that God had been mighty in my life to this point.  After all, the present seemed pretty dismal.  Even now, as I write this I can’t help tearing up as I think about it.

The nurses brought us to my room, where there was already another patient.  Then something happened…the one nurse looked with compassion on my mom and changed his mind, bringing us to another room, where there was only one bed and a recliner sofa.  They attached me to an IV and brought me a bowl of milk and even gave my mom a sandwich, and brought sheets and a pillow for the recliner for her to sleep on.

Before we went to sleep Wednesday night all I could do was look back amazed at how God had taken a situation of utter desperation and turned it around,  giving us above and beyond what we needed.  Once again.

Duomo of Milan with Claudio

Duomo of Milan with Claudio

Needless to say, I am still in Milan. Friday, Claudio from my church came to trade spots with my mom (he just happened to be a little over an hour away visiting relatives!)  Friday morning I went back to my cancer center, where my doctors checked me at regular intervals.

Claudio and I checked into a hotel near the hospital.  Today my doctor came again to check on me, even though it’s his day off.

Monday I have one last checkup, then Alessio and Roberto from our church will come pick us up and bring us home, Lord willing.

Every checkup has been perfect.  They have no idea what happened to me.  And I have been on strict orders to take it easy and relax. I have not even attempted to pick up a suitcase! We have walked a bit, I have rested some, I saw Milan’s main square for the first time in my life.

It feels like the calm after the storm.  I wrote this little poem as I reflected on this moment of stillness that God is giving me after my near-death experience.

Lord, help me not forget.
When the storm is over,
When gone is all that tore
  at my very life and breath.
Lord help me not forget.
 
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Suffering is what unites us.

 

If suffering is what unites us as human beings, then how is it that I can ignore the suffering of others when I am ok?

If you don’t have a close connection with suffering you are probably not even reading this article. At least I probably would have not read it until 2010.

Feeding tube - day four

Feeding tube – day four

This morning I woke up after a very peaceful night of sleep. It was my first almost full night of sleep since I got to the hospital four days ago. I pulled out all the stops last night. I asked for pain meds and sleeping aid.
The problem is I slept too well. My feeding tube came out. There is only one thing worse than having a feeding tube. Having to put it back in while awake.
I hoped they would let me keep it out. No way. It had to go back in. (Fortunately I got a new, clean one).

Here is how it went:

First time: I didn’t swallow at the right time. It went into my mouth.  I yanked it out.  No way!
Second time: It did not even make it that far.
Third time: The doctor coached me and it made it down: “breathe” now swallow hard, now breathe.” “We did it!”. “But it’s still stuck in my throat!” “That’s the point!” “But it bothers me!” “I’m sure it does, but it’s in. Now let’s get it taped up before it comes back out.” “No negotiating on that point.”

Then I had breakfast…a large latte with sugar…directly into my stomach through my mega-syringe.  That is, after a good job of uncontrollable sobbing.  Sometimes we just break.  I almost always have one of those breaking points sooner or later.
The feeding tube is still there, making me gag, but I feel better. Now I can think again…so I am writing this down to not forget.  But I have only been in this condition for four days. What about those who suffer for four weeks, four months, four years? What about those who suffer for eternity?

Some people suffer all their life and then head to an eternity of suffering. I need to stop ignoring the suffering of others. Today is my turn. Tomorrow it’s your turn. And I want to be there for you. Especially if you were there for me. But even if you weren’t.

Suffering unites us more than happiness.

If I know that you are headed to an eternity of suffering I am going to beg with you. This suffering reminds  me of what you will go through…forever.  I am going to cry with you. I am going to talk to you about it. If my five minutes of suffering felt like an eternity, your eternity of suffering really will really feel like an eternity! It will not end.  Our suffering only gives us hope if our hope is Christ.

Discussion Question:
What have you learned about suffering?

P.S. It looks like I might be getting out Wednesday, but I really want this feeding tube out NOW!

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