Category Archives: handling trials

How Mountains Get Moved

– Joe Fornear

We all face mountains in life that seem impossible to budge.move mountains - 9-23-15 Whether your mountain is cancer, a financial struggle, or a relational issue, you’re convinced it’s bigger than you! Maybe you carry the disappointment of an unmoved mountain from your past. You desperately hoped and prayed that God would remove it … and He didn’t. The fallout is a new mountain which continues to overwhelm you today. Don’t despair, there is hope!

Zerubbabel was governor of Judah after the return of Israel to their land around 500 BC. He had started to build a new temple for Israel, yet there was a very discouraging 15 year delay due to criticism, opposition and total lack of interest. With only the foundation laid, finishing the temple seemed impossible, even laughable. This was a mountain of a task.

But the Lord stepped in. He said Zerubbabel would indeed finish the temple, yet not with military or human strength, but that it would be by His Holy Spirit filling, guiding and strengthening Zerubbabel and the workers.

“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the LORD of hosts. “What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” – Zechariah 4:6-7

God Himself is talking to us here about our mountains. With His help, mountains become plains! Now this doesn’t mean every circumstance turns out exactly according to our preferences – that only happens in heaven. It does mean that supernatural resources will lift us through whatever troubles we face. So don’t gut it out and expend all of your human energy until you’re exhausted. Step back and invite His power to flow in and through you. There is a surrender which produces rest, as Jesus said:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

Now someone might think, “I’m just too weak and my faith is non-existent.” Yet note that in the Zechariah passage above, after the temple was completed with the top capstone, shouts of joy over God’s grace would fill the air. Grace is God’s undeserved favor. We don’t earn His Spirit’s supernatural assistance – this empowerment is a gift! He loves to give to the weak, humble, needy and sick. The irony is He works best when we’re weakest. As Paul said, “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So let’s relax and ask Him to teach us how to tap into His power!

New Book by Terri Fornear
ABiding coverTerri Fornear has published her caretaker side of the story of the Fornear cancer battle. Abiding Through the Shadows, A Caretaker’s Struggle with God’s Goodness, is not about her courage and strength, but rather how God met her at her weakest points. She pulls back the curtain to transparently reveal her false concepts of God, which created extra turbulence during that hard time. She shares how the Lord graciously and gently walked her through it all, setting her free from lies about Him.

If you are, or have been, a caretaker of a cancer patient or someone who is in crisis, we believe you will benefit from this book! Stronghold Ministry has joined with Terri and I to offer this book to you free. Simply reply to this email with your full name and address and we’ll send it to you. If you insist, you can make a donation to Stronghold Ministry here. Or you can purchase the book here.

Here is another excerpt from Terri’s book. After learning Joe had been misdiagnosed as not having cancer for months, she was obviously upset and concerned, but she also saw through the lie about God which she needed to replace with the truth:

Mind Renewal
Lie: Man’s mistakes have more power than God and prevent Him from working.
Truth: Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him have been called according to his purpose.

We invite you to acquire this book and abide in our tremendously good God together with Terri.

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Five Signs Your Cancer Struggles Are Normal

My response to Pauline F.’s question was a no-brainer. During the 12 years since my cancer battle, name tag - normal - 7-17-15and seven years with Stronghold Ministry helping people fight cancer, it’s the question I’m asked most frequently. I too had the question during my Stage IV melanoma battle. So with Pauline’s encouragement and permission, I share her recent message and my thoughts.

I find that my emotions are up and down. I know that God is in this journey which He has me on, and I’m not alone. I know I’m in His will but I feel unprepared for this cancer journey. I just feel like I’m struggling, is this normal?

Yes, yes, to struggle is so very normal! Frankly, I think the mystique of the courageous, valiant cancer warrior does more harm than good. So I want to pull back the curtain on normalcy and describe what I’ve seen. Because if we don’t assess the hurdles correctly, we’re more likely to trip over them!

Here are five signs that your cancer struggles are normal:
1) It’s normal to be shaken and fearful when you have a life-threatening disease.
When you’re fighting cancer you hear it a lot – “Don’t worry, you’re going to beat this.” But I used to think, “I can’t even beat a common cold, so how am I going to beat cancer?” During my years as a carpenter, I fancied myself so brave and fearless, walking the tops of wobbly 3 ½” walls. So during the initial stages of my battle, I wasn’t too worried about cancer. Yet as the cancer spread and an oncologist slapped a one week expiration sticker on me, my self-confidence evaporated quickly. It’s really hard to know how you’ll respond until you’re totally out of control. Getting a death sentence is scary.

2) It’s normal to be angry when treatments aren’t working and human errors set you back.
I have no study to back this up, but I’ll bet the normal person gets angry at some business’ customer service at least once per week! The medical treatment business is no different as it’s run by humans like every other business. When you’re spending thousands on highly recommended but unsuccessful treatments; sitting for hours in doctor’s waiting rooms; or getting stuck ten times because a nurse can’t find a good vein – be assured, anger is a normal reaction.

3) It’s normal to be depressed that you’re losing such large chunks of your life to fighting cancer.
Fighting cancer can take over your life in a hurry and there’s often little you can do about it. You miss out on fun life events we often take for granted, like weddings, cookouts, graduation parties, school events and hobbies. In their place is pain, harsh side effects, and prolonged recovery times from surgeries. So for most, it’s no surprise that depression grows along with the list of difficulties. It’s normal to be screaming inside, “I want my life back!”


Joe Fornear’s book on his cancer battle, My Stronghold, is in our gift basket which is free to cancer patients – click here on the picture above to request one.

4) It’s normal to be disappointed in yourself when you’re not coping very well.
This may have been my greatest struggle. Deep down, I felt I should have been above normal. After all, I was not only a tough guy from Pittsburgh, but one who had been a crisis counselor for years as a pastor and Bible teacher. I think most people are like that – for one reason or another we believe we should be above normal, or at least not abnormal.

5) It’s normal to wonder why you have to go through all of the pain and hardship.
On occasion I hear, “So-and-so never questioned why they were going through this battle.” That’s not normal. Even if a person never voices the question, it doesn’t mean they’re not internally questioning. Whenever someone tells me, “I never ask – why me,” I’m thinking why bring it up if you’re not wondering about it? Fact is, they probably have wondered about the question, it’s just that they’ve arrived at a peaceful resolution. So it’s quite normal to wonder why – even Jesus did.

Awareness that our struggles are normal does truly help. Still, fighting cancer is far beyond our strength to bear. Thankfully, the Lord makes struggles more bearable by granting us superhuman abilities and coping mechanisms. So let’s keep seeking Him for these gifts which He gives so generously. He helps a great deal, normally!

Do You Have an Ideality Gap?

– Joe Fornear

Sometimes I see my life as all about closing the gap between life as it is and life as I want it to be. ideality blog - 6-11-15An “Ideality Gap” is the distance between current reality and the ideal. You see, I have goals – big goals – and when they’re blocked, I’m not happy. I need to get stuff done. I’ve got to make a difference.

Yet it happens over and over. I’m bogged down by seemingly purposeless roadblocks. Then as my ideality gap widens, my agitation increases. My “fixer” gets fired up and compulsions kick in. “Hi, my name is Joe, and I’m a raging workaholic.” Who will set me free from this discontent?

My ideality gap was never wider than back in 2003 while sidelined by Stage IV melanoma. Because I couldn’t work much, I felt doomed to a helpless state of limbo. The option to double down on effort was removed – I was just too weak. Then I learned of a surrender which sets free. That “still, small voice” from that great, wise Lover of my soul spoke once more:

Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. – Psalm 127:1-2

So I questioned, and still question today, my inner slave driver. “Do you seriously believe you can out-think, out-plan and out-produce the God of the Universe?” After all is said and done and re-done and re-said, He gives to us even in our sleep!

Am I really so important? Does everything depend on me? Could I trust Him to cause the readers of this devo to have a meaningful take away, even if I ended abruptly?

Well, maybe not that abruptly. One final thought –  all praise to Him Who sets us free from obsessing over ideality gaps.

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Keep Calm and Cry Out to Jesus

 

– Joe Fornear

Once during a particularly rough patch in my Stage IV cancer battle, a nurse popped unexpectedly into my hospital room. She must have noticed my eyes were watering a little. She presented a pain level chart with ten emojis. Busted, I pointed to the face cry outwith tears on the cheeks – pain level 10. So she gave me what seemed like a cart load of meds, which helped for a time, but I still needed something more. When she left, I began to “cry out” to God, my Stronghold. I suddenly felt His Presence and comfort giving me super-natural strength to bear up under the pain. Can’t get that from a shot or pill.

Sometimes life’s pain can be so physically and/or emotionally draining that something needs to give… quickly. When even the best of human efforts makes little difference, there is always something we can do – “cry out” to the Lord.

Now some might think crying out is a sign of weakness. Right, it is. One of the “aha moments” in my own fight with cancer was to admit how weak I was, because well, I was pretty weak – still am. And now, while helping people fight their cancer, I often find myself encouraging people to embrace their weakness, giving them “permission to be weak.” As Paul said:

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10

The Bible’s list of “weak” people who have cried out to the Lord in the midst of affliction is lengthy and impressive: Job & Hezekiah (when they were sick); David (when he was hunted by murderous enemies), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Habakkuk, Paul (when asking God to remove his troubles – his “thorn in the flesh”), Peter (while sinking in the lake), even saints and angels in heaven. And yes, Jesus too:

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. – Hebrews 5:7

No matter what happens, on the worst of days or years, He is there and He cares and strengthens us when we cry out. King David had many occasions to cry out and he always seemed to get something back from the Lord:

In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears. – Psalm 18:6

I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. – Psalm 30:1-2 (He can heal straight up – emotionally or physically!)

I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. Psalm 40:1-4

The final cry we share today is, according to the title of Psalm 102, “A Prayer of the Afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD.” Appropriate, as it shows that crying out is for all us afflicted ones… of all generations:

But You, O LORD, abide forever, and Your name to all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion; For it is time to be gracious to her, for the appointed time has come. Psalm 102:12-13

People say a good cry cleanses the soul, but a good “cry out” to Jesus Christ the Savior can even bring eternal cleansing of our soul. Have you cried out to Him for eternal salvation, believing in Him alone for forgiveness of all your sin? I’ve done this and am incredibly glad! More on how and why here. And let us know if you received Jesus as your Savior through a book, blog, email or tract from Stronghold Ministry, we’d like to encourage you more and it will encourage us. We’re crying out for your good!

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The Green Grass Is Under You

– Amy Fornear
(Amy is Joe and Terri Fornear’s daughter and our special guest blogger today).

“Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.” – Elisabeth Elliot sheep green grass- 4-9-15

Whether it’s loneliness, chronic illness, fear of failure, unanswered prayer or an unfulfilled desire there is always a nagging voice saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side.”

Or maybe, “That pasture is greener than over here.” Or the frustrated, shorter version, “The grass over there.”

That voice allows you to have the wonderful privilege of acknowledging everything you don’t have and hating everything you have. Yeah, I would call that suffering.

While the enemy is voicing what you lack, God is voicing what you have! And right now you have green grass UNDER YOU. The finished work of Jesus Christ is literally UNDER YOU and IN YOU. Sit in it.

Of course “He makes us lie down in green pastures!” What else is there to do with NICE, LOVELY, GREEN GRASS that is directly UNDER YOU. Sit in it! Nap in it! Roll around in it! Eat it! Have a picnic in it with Him. Tell Him about your day so far. Tired of asking Him for the same things? Change the subject. Ask Jesus what His hobbies are or what He loves to do. I bet He has good stories to tell… like when He made something come out of nothing or when He was twelve years old and scared His parents when He left the caravan without telling them!

Enjoy your Maker – He made you and the green grass UNDER YOU. Now just sit in it. Go with the gravity and sit. It’s easier that way.

More blogs from Amy Fornear on her blog page here.

Power to Spare AND Share

– Joe Fornear

What if Bill Gates kept computer codes to himself? What if Michael Jordan rejected offers to play Jesus Rising- 4-4-15hoops? What if The Eagles never cut an album? What if your best friend was a multi-billionaire, but never bought you a blessed thing? What if Jesus rose from the dead just to show He could? Good for them, bad for us. Yet we all learned early: sharing is good. And the beauty of Christ’s resurrection power is that He showed it in order to share it! Do you “see” this fact?

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know … the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. – Ephesians 1:18-21

So then how is Jesus’ resurrection power available to believers today? Here are just a few amazing benefits of His “share”:

1) We have His resurrection strength to cope with any trial, including cancer and my fight with Stage IV metastatic melanoma.

Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

2) We have His resurrection strength to overcome destructive habits and sins.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:11-13 

3) We can be free of man’s greatest fear – the fear of death!

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. – Hebrews 2:14-15

So power up this Resurrection Day! Sure He died for us, but He rose for us too!

Find out more on how Joe tapped into Jesus’ Resurrection power during his Stage IV cancer battle. His book, My Stronghold – A Pastor’s Battle with Cancer and Doubts, is part of our Free gift basket to cancer patients.

Just. Be. Held.

– Joe Fornear

Sometimes a song can say it all… and help us sense the goodness of His grip on us. This song is titled, “Just Be Held,” by Casting Crowns. The lead singer, Mark Hall, is now in a cancer battle, but he helped write the song a couple years ago. Meditate and rest in Him.

Just Be Held
Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong,
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on.

And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go.

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away,
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held.
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place.
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held,
Just be held, just be held.

If your eyes are on the storm
You’ll wonder if I love you still,
But if your eyes are on the cross
You’ll know I always have and I always will.

And not a tear is wasted
In time, you’ll understand,
I’m painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands.

Lift your hands, lift your eyes
In the storm is where you’ll find Me.
And where you are, I’ll hold your heart,
I’ll hold your heart.
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who won’t let you go.

Find out more on how Joe found himself In the Grip of our Stronghold during his Stage IV cancer battle. His book, My Stronghold – A Pastor’s Battle with Cancer and Doubts, is part of our Free gift basket to cancer patients.

How to Question God

– Joe Fornear

Some onlookers may not approve, but God allows us to question Him. In fact, I think He welcomes questions.cloud question mark

Jesus Himself set a surprising precedent for questioning God. So I don’t think it’s a holy thing to never question Him. The Father had asked Jesus to sacrifice Himself on the cross for the sin of the world, and Jesus second-guessed the most important assignment ever. Three times in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked for a “Plan B” to avoid the pain and humiliation of the cross. Hours later while on the cross, He continued his quest to understand the plan. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This may be the all-time most asked question of God. I doubt God ever dodges this or any question, “Come now, and let’s reason together.” – Isaiah 1:18

Centuries before Jesus, King David opened Psalm 22 with the why-forsake-me question, adding many more questions throughout the Psalms, including in Psalm 73, “Why do the wicked prosper?” He was making sense of why He, the anointed King of Israel, continually found himself running for his life – and often alone in the wilderness.

Job famously questioned God about the tragedies which had devastated his world. During one long day, his 10 children were killed in a storm and all 10,000 of his livestock were either stolen or struck by lightning. Soon after, he contracted a horrific skin disease, only to endure his friend’s questions – about how he was questioning God! This may have been his most difficult circumstance, as they buried him with pious lectures and piercing accusations. In the end, God said that in all of his responses Job had not sinned, but his friends had.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we can’t cross lines when we question God. Philippians 2:14 calls out our grumbling and complaining, which are all too human, but dangerous, as they deepen our mistrust in His ultimate goodness, leaving us even more vulnerable to spiritual oppression. And also, Romans 9 points out the arrogance of the clay (us) rebelliously challenging the potter (God) about His decisions.

Thus to enjoy His grip, and not slip through our gripes, I offer three thoughts on how to remain healthy while questioning God:

1) Like Job, determine to hold on to God’s goodness while you are seeking answers – no matter what happens.

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him. – Job 13:15

2) Like Jesus in Gethsemane, decide to follow His answers when they come.

And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me (referring to the cross); yet not what I will, but what You will.” – Mark 14:36

3) Like David, deny unreliable feelings and land on God’s ultimate truths. At the end of Psalm 22, David found reassurance to his forsaken question:

For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard. – Psalm 22:24

During my Stage IV cancer battle, I had to continually remind myself of what I have come to believe is a baseline truth in tackling tribulations: I may not understand how God will redeem my pain, but He sacrificed Jesus, His very best for me, to take away the eternal punishment which I deserve. Now why would He do that? Now that’s a good question! Ask Him about it… and please consider this.

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Find out more on how Joe found answers to his questions during his Stage IV cancer battle. His book, My Stronghold – A Pastor’s Battle with Cancer and Doubts, is part of our Free gift basket to cancer patients.

“Someone Else” To Fight For You!

 

-Joe Fornear

A celebrity’s life is certainly not more important – but their life lessons are much more accessible toStuart Scott - 1-6-15 us all. Stuart Scott, an anchor on ESPN, was a man’s man who delivered sport’s highlights like none other. For the last eight years, he has also battled appendiceal cancer – until January 4, 2015 when ESPN announced he had passed away at 49. In his mind, Stuart did not “lose his battle to cancer.” He beat it by the way he lived. As he said, “Fighting is winning,” and even if one’s fight ends, his perspective here was also very inspiring:

“When you die that does not mean you lose to cancer; you beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”

Yet in his acceptance speech for the 2013 Jimmy V Foundation Award for Perseverance, he sobered the crowd by revealing his source of perseverance. It was not, as they say, “the triumph of the human spirit.” Instead, he pushed the spotlight onto unsung heroes – his sister, whom he called just to cry; his friends who came just to listen; his bosses who asked to drop off food. He knew the battle was greater than him alone, so he embraced his limitations and gladly leaned on others:

“So fight like hell, and when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let someone else fight for you.”

Still, the battle proved greater than his best efforts and the overwhelming human support which celebrities often enjoy.

“It recently came back a third time. To be honest, I’m scared. I’ve always been afraid of cancer, but this time feels different. My confidence is shaken. I’m a little more vulnerable, a little more aware of my mortality, a little more uncertain about my future…” (Men’s Health interview – 3-25-13).

Can you relate to Stuart? I can. Sometimes in life we encounter trials that are clearly greater than us, like my battle with Stage IV metastatic melanoma. This is why that well-intentioned phrase, “You’re going to beat this,” falls so flat for me. As if we could simply will our way out of a disease – believe me, I tried!

So now what – where do we turn when our coping skills and support prove unstable?

He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. – Psalm 62:6
The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. – Nahum 1:7

You may not be famous like Stuart Scott. You may not have tens of thousands followers rooting for you on Twitter. Yet rest assured, when you turn to THE Stronghold – you will be truly “known.” He is The Great “Someone Else” who will fight for you. Lean on Him – because He is there for you, with you, and best of all… in you!

Lord, help all of us sense Your overwhelmingly good Presence in the midst of our trials.

Find out how Joe got through his Stage IV cancer journey. His book, My Stronghold, is part of our free gift basket to cancer patients.

When God Is Silent… He’s Up to Something

 


Silent
night? Have you ever been up close to a braying donkey? Surrounded by pack animals while delivering a baby, angels appearing to shepherdthe only silence Mary heard seemed to be emanating from God. Hey, whatever happened to that angel’s promise about finding favor with God?

Periods of “silence” are common in the history of God’s relations with man. Yet we always find out later that God was up to something better all along.

  • After David was crowned King, he fled from his enemies for 14 scary years before his kingdom was finally established.
  • The nation of Israel cried out for 400 painful years to be delivered from Egypt’s bondage.
  • The entire human race was subject to a 400 year period of silence during the time between the last Old Testament prophets and the New Testament birth of Jesus.

In all of these cases and so many more, behind the scenes God was working ALL things to the good (Romans 8:28).

Back to Mary. How did she get through her nightmare child birth experience? By focusing, not on the unhealthy conditions of her delivery, but on the promises of God’s glorious goodness delivered through the shepherds:

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart Luke 2:19.

How about us? In our struggles, are we able to look beyond appearances to ponder and treasure His promises? Perhaps long ago you turned away from God – He was just too silent for you. You may be wondering why you’re even still reading. Or perhaps you’re all in with God, but secretly, or not so secretly disillusioned with His current path for you?

This Christmas, God wishes to fan that flicker of hope deep within us all. He is always up to something better! So whether you need to surrender and receive the promised Messiah into your life for the very first time (here’s how – let me know if you do), or you need to be reminded to grab onto His great and precious promises – remember His plans for you are very good. So we end while pondering one of the most hope-filled promises in the Bible:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” – Jeremiah 29:11.

Are We There Yet?

 

– Joe Fornear

Exhaustion… terrible inconvenience… unsanitary conditions… a nightmare scenario. Maybe God is manger Dec 2014trying to tell us something about life by the circumstances in which our King Jesus entered into our world.

Our journeys can be difficult and lengthy, like Mary’s. On that famous 80 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem – who said she rode on a donkey? The Bible makes no mention of that. It’s likely Mary walked the entire four to six day trip while nine months pregnant, accounting for why they were such late arrivals in Bethlehem.

Along the way, Mary & Joseph’s nightly visits at “inns” probably entailed staying with animals. By the time Jesus was born in a Bethlehem stable, she may have grown accustomed to living with animals. Still, to the shepherds, a baby lying in a manger was truly a “sign.” In other words, even in that day, this was a “nightmare” delivery for any mom to have to lay her newborn in an animal’s feeding trough. And c’mon, there was room for them at the inn! There was just no room in anyone’s heart to give up their room for this baby to born.

So why did God allow such a distressing entry into the world for His Only Begotten? Sometimes faith is not about securing the removal of trouble, but being secure in the face of trouble.

A familiar Bible verse in 2 Timothy 4:7 uses a verb and noun for the “fight” of faith with a similar Greek root word – agonizo.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.

This word means “to contend earnestly; struggle; labor fervently.” We get our word “agony” from this word! Paul uses it several times to describe his prayer life. Certainly this contending applies to our physical, emotional and spiritual battles against cancer. I put everything I had into my fight and it took it all.

Joe’s full story in book form, My Stronghold, is part of our free gift basket to cancer patients.

Yet folks, until Jesus comes back, this life will have its share of agonizing battles! In Matthew 24, Jesus prophesies a series of cataclysmic tribulations – earthquakes, wars, famines. He calls them “birth pangs” – the “labor” of God’s universe to bring Him forth once for all in glorious fashion. So with bookends of tribulation marking both Jesus’ first and second coming, is it any wonder that “in the meantime” we have troubles? Some day these troubles will go away forever – no more tears or pain – but we’re not there yet.

(More here on how to get to heaven).

Yet rest well in this, my fighting friend, He who suffered much knows how to help those who suffer much. This Christmas lean into Him, earnestly agonize with Him – He gets it.

Three Keys to Thankfulness (Part 2)

– Joe Fornear

 

A week doesn’t go by without someone writing or telling me they’re thankful for their cancer. Give thanks - 11-20-14Now during my Stage IV cancer journey, I don’t ever recall thanking Him for cancer. Still, I had moments of genuine gratitude; not for the cancer, but despite the beat down of the battle.

Last week, we discussed the 1st Key to thankfulness when you don’t feel like itDetermine to Be Thankful. But a huge stumbling block to this determination is the stubborn belief that thankfulness is a result of trouble-free existence. “I’d like to be thankful, but everything keeps breaking down around this house.” “I’d like to be thankful, but God hasn’t fulfilled my greatest need yet.” Now, there will come a day when those who have Christ will be trouble-free, but for now, we need the 2nd Key to thankfulness when you don’t feel like it:

2) Believe I can be thankful in any situation.  Job believed he could overcome despite tragedies in his life. He praised the Lord after losing his livestock and his 10 children… all in a single day. Yet his troubles were just beginning. He contracted a horrible skin disease which racked him with unbearable pain. That’s when his “friends” showed up, supposedly to encourage him, but soon accusing him of secret sins which led to what they considered God’s punishment.

So Job was understandably crushed – physically, spiritually and relationally. Yet he thanked the Lord despite what must be the all-time record set of horrific circumstances. He said,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” – Job 1:21

How, how in the world did he attain such other-worldly faith and strength? The answer is our 3rd Key to thankfulness when you don’t feel like it:

3) Depend on God’s supernatural power to be thankful in every situation.  Certainly thankfulness is humanly impossible in many situations, such as a rough cancer battle or the passing of a beloved. But this is where the Lord is waiting to catch us – at the end of our rope. So we return to Paul & God’s prayer for us in Colossians 3:11-12:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father.

Paul recognized the importance of thankfulness in his constant troubles – imprisonments, beatings and stonings. Yet as his prayer indicates, he also knew the transforming power of God to enable him to offer up “joyous” thanks.

So may this Thanksgiving be different for us. By all means, let’s enjoy those positive reasons that we’re thankful. But let’s also identify something this year that has been difficult, and by His power, thank Him in the midst of it or even despite it. Enjoy Him this week!

Three Keys to Thankfulness (Key #1)

-Joe Fornear

 

It’s that time of year again – time to hear how important it is to be thankful. Give thanks - 11-20-14Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes I don’t feel like being thankful. And during my Stage IV cancer battle, my best offering to the Lord was admitting I was numb toward Him. Waves of pain from the cancer and treatments had popped holes in my emotional-spiritual tank. At times, I wasn’t feeling anything positive, let alone gratefulness. Still, I had some breakthrough moments.

So what do we do when we don’t feel thankful? Here is the first of what I believe are three keys to thankfulness – (Keys #2 & #3 next week):

1) Determine to be thankful. This may seem an obvious first step, but when you’re really hurting, it’s tempting to make peace with despair. Please don’t settle for despair! With the Lord there is a better way, and we can grow into being more thankful.

Another temptation that blocks thankfulness is the trend of venting among cancer fighters today. Venting is pouring out anger and cussing at cancer. Now, trust me, I truly get the feeling, and I had flareups of venting during my battle. Still, the wisdom of the Bible stands clear for us all, “Only the fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11). Letting anger rip may seem to relieve it for a time, but venting actually embeds it deeper. Then, the object of our anger becomes “bigger than God.” It’s like praising God in reverse.

On the positive side, a huge incentive to thankfulness is it improves our overall well-being. Every doctor, counselor or pastor will tell you that having a grateful attitude goes a long way toward physical and spiritual healing. The Lord even designed our bodies to reinforce gratitude. Stress, frustration, complaining, anxiety, worry, bitterness, anger – all of these raise physical warning flags in our bodies. Our brain responds by dumping surplus adrenaline and stomach acid into our system which can cause reflux, headaches and ulcers. I saw this dynamic in my own battle, a complaining spirit caused unnecessary setbacks during my fight. Yet, when I was spiritually rested, my body rested and responded better.

Joe’s full story in book form, My Stronghold, is free to cancer patients – request here.

Certainly the Lord greatly encourages thankfulness, as there are dozens of invitations in the Scripture. Since His love for us is incomparable, thankfulness must be very good for us! At the start of His love letter to the Colossians, the Lord even leads Paul to pray for them to be thankful (1:11-12). So we will close today with this prayer for me and you. Note that this prayer’s ultimate goal in our lives is not just thanksgiving – but “joyous” thanksgiving. Let’s pray this for each other right now – ok?

May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father.

So first, we’re asking the Lord to grant us the determination to be thankful… all year round. Next week, we’ll dig deeper into how to produce thanksgiving – when we don’t feel like it.

Wisdom from a Weather Vane

– Joe Fornear

Charles Spurgeon, who was a powerful Bible teacher, was walking with his friend through the owl - weather vane - 10-29-14English countryside. He noticed a weather vane on the roof of a barn. There was not a rooster on top, simply the words “GOD IS LOVE.” Spurgeon said to his friend that a weather vane seemed an inappropriate place for such a message. He said, “Weather vanes are so changeable, but God’s love is constant.” His friend replied, “I think you misunderstand – regardless of which way the wind blows, God is always loving us.”

Even in the fiercest headwinds of our lives, His love comes through. Human love has its limits – but His love never fails. As Lamentations 3:22-23 says,

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

These “breakthrough” verses in Lamentations were written by “the weeping prophet,” Jeremiah. He found God’s love to be the silver-lined cloud amidst the devastation caused by Israel’s rebellion from the Lord.

Centuries later, the famous song “Great is Thy Faithfulness” was inspired by these very verses in Lamentations. Because the song was so moving to us, my wife Terri and I chose it as one of our wedding songs. The lyrics were penned by Thomas Chisholm, who struggled with his health and finances for decades. Both Jeremiah and Chisholm wrote during times of great distress, and both found God’s love to be steady and sufficient!

As we triumphantly walked the aisle at the close of our wedding, Terri and I never imagined the firestorm of cancer which would one day blow into our lives. In 2003, at age 44, doctors believed I had a terminal case of Stage IV metastatic melanoma. I can still recall the powerful gusts of pain and suffering. I was caught in a hurricane and desperately trying to hold on… to anything. Yet in the midst of my lamentations, God’s love was so consistent and available. His love broke through my self-reliance and my do-it-yourself approach to fighting cancer.

How about you – are you facing the trial of your life? Where are you turning for help? Be assured, the Lord is able to help us weather any storm, no matter what form it takes! Keep in mind, however, dependence on His love is learned. He will teach us; and unlike ourselves or others, He is very patient with us. And thus we close with Paul’s very fitting prayer from 2 Thessalonians 3:5:

May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.

God’s Heart for You!

– Joe Fornear

We made this meditation video to encourage you in your cancer battle or any crisis. This meditation is from Psalm 139, God’s heart for the sufferer. You might be surprised by the frequency and nature of His thoughts toward you!

Request a free gift basket from Stronghold Ministry for you or someone you know who is fighting cancer.
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-If you’re fighting cancer, please write and let us know how we can pray for you. We want to be “in your corner” and send you some free resources. -In His Grip is also sent as an email newsletter, a ministry of Stronghold Ministry – sign up here. All materials in this blog copyright (c) Joe & Terri Fornear. Scripture quotations from the NASB.