Category Archives: surviving melanoma

Two Keys to Overcoming Pain’s Grip

– Joe Fornear

Physical pain is a 900-pound gorilla, dominating cancer battles, hijacking focus, and draining hope. Rock with cross etched inYet the link between physical pain and emotional misery can be broken! Surely, if the Lord allows us to go through it, He’ll certainly help us get through it. He never promised pain-free living, but He freely guarantees massive help to cope.

Our spiritual and emotional parts are definitely “joined at the hip” with our physical bodies. During my battle with Stage IV metastatic melanoma, I was consistently at #10 on the smiley-face pain chart, especially due to tumors on both the head and tail of my pancreas. Yet the good news is our bodies do not define us, dictate our value, or hold absolute sway over our mood!

Consider two keys to overcoming pain’s grip:

1) Supernatural strengthMy flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:26

This Psalm was written by Asaph, King David’s Choir Director. He experienced failing flesh and failing emotions. The Hebrew word here for “fail” means, “come to an end.” So Asaph was physically and emotionally exhausted – his strength was gone. Have you ever felt that depleted? Yet his heart was “strengthened” by God. This word means to literally be made strong like a rock!

2) Daily renewal of supernatural strengthTherefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. – 2 Corinthians 4:16

Paul has a similar emphasis as Asaph – the soul and spirit don’t HAVE to follow the body into exhaustion or despair! His strength is the key, especially if we tap into it on a daily basis!

People say the human spirit is capable of amazing feats, but the human spirit strengthened daily by God’s Holy Spirit can endure and overcome much more! Supernatural coping power brings incredible relief not accessible when we do-it-ourself. So ask Him daily – even moment-by-moment – for a fresh filling of His strength. Maybe you have never talked or prayed to God but you want and need to start now. A great first step is to invite Him into your life – more here.

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 an 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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Listen to the Mockingbird!

– Joe Fornear

For most of last week, I heard him singing outside our house at all hours of the day. The little mockingbird was relentless. mockingbird - 5-22-15A few evenings in a row he was still going strong past midnight. Finally, the other night at 3 AM, a driving rain and thunder woke me up. Between the claps and gusts, sure enough, I could hear the little fellow tweeting out his songs.

In Matthew 6:26, Jesus said, “Consider the birds.” Perhaps this mockingbird has something to teach us.

I believe there are two major reasons why mockingbirds sing. The first is from this passage in the Psalms – birds praise God when they chirp.

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; He gave a decree that will never pass away. Praise the LORD from the earth, you… wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds – Psalm 148:5-7a & 10

But certainly male mockingbirds are also looking to impress the females. I looked it up, only bachelor mockingbirds sing around the clock. Are they wooing by their ability to mimic the praise tunes of other birds? A female (human) friend commented about the likelihood, “A guy who’s praising God can be very attractive.” I suppose singing during a fierce storm in the middle of the night would be even more attractive to a chick. Interestingly, haven’t heard him much since that stormy night.

Storms can leave a muddy mess, but we can rise – even glide above it all. The poet Carl Sandburg once said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” In the fiercest storm of my life, my Stage IV cancer battle, wallowing in the mud was easy, yet wallowing made everything harder. On the other hand, praising God was hard at first, but made coping much easier. King David “saw” the choice:

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed with me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. – Psalm 42:5
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. – Psalm 40:2 

Choose wisely. I know it’s hard, but resist wallowing. And we’ll definitely need His help to praise in the storms. Listen to the mockingbird!

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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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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.

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 (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.

Those Annoying Bible Verses on Suffering with Joy

-Joe Fornear

They go together: jelly and peanut butter; Robin and Batman; bows and arrows; suffering and joy. puzzle pieces - joy & suffering - 9-23-14Suffering and joy? To me, joy and suffering seem mutually exclusive – I have one or the other – never both at once. Yet, joy is the response to suffering which God consistently encourages in His Word. Fortunately, as we’ll see, He provides the ability to respond with joy as well.

During my suffering under Stage IV metastatic melanoma, joy was rare. So, I admit, Bible verses which link joy with suffering annoyed me at times – and they’re hard to avoid:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials. – James 1:2
And not only this, but we also rejoice in our tribulations… – Romans 5:3

Why was I annoyed? I could not figure out how to manufacture such joy while feeling so beat up. Yet amazingly, periods of breakthrough came when I quit trying and began leaning on the power of the Holy Spirit to produce joy in me. We are weak – He is strong.

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6

As this verse points out, Jesus not only modeled joy, He provides His supernatural joy by the power of the Holy Spirit (see also John 15:11). His type of joy is transcendent and not dependent on feelings, circumstances or medical prognoses. He’s never worried or bothered or upset.

But don’t mistake joy for giddiness or even happiness. It is deep confidence in a God Who is in absolute control and incredibly good. This is far from natural to humans in the midst of suffering – it’s supernatural.

Lord, teach us how to let go and rest with Your supernatural joy.

Three Responses to Adversity

– Joe Fornear

Driving away that day, I was stunned yet incredibly moved by my friend’s response to her situation. cross maze - 9-11-14How could she have such a great attitude? She could not swallow, talk, walk or eat. She had come from California for cancer removal surgery and a week of recovery in a Dallas hospital. Instead, she had four surgeries followed by a major stroke which paralyzed one side of her body, and a four month ever-extending stay in Dallas medical centers. As a Stage IV melanoma survivor, I had some rough moments of my own. Yet I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to have her set of challenges.

(For more on Joe’s journey, reply to this email and ask for his free ebook, My Stronghold).

During several visits in the last few months, she has tried many times to speak to me. But I’ve managed to understand only one sentence the entire time, and that only because she said it with such amazing clarity. Her sheer determination somehow pushed through the fog of the stroke and she said, “No matter what happens, I’ll stay with Him.” Wow.

In a CaringBridge post, another friend with pancreatic cancer provides a clue on how to have this type of attitude. He and his wife mined a gem from Warren Weirsbe’s commentary on the book of Ruth about three responses to adversity.

“When trouble comes to our lives, we can do one of three things: endure it, escape it, or enlist it. If we only endure our trials, then trials become our master, and we have a tendency to become hard and bitter. If we try to escape our trials, then we will probably miss the purposes God wants to achieve in our lives. But if we learn to enlist our trials, they will become our servants instead of our masters and work for us; and God will work all things together for our good and His glory.”

The concept of “enlisting our trials” may seem a bit slippery, but if enlisting them makes trials slaves and not masters, I’m motivated to figure out how to hold on. So here are three foundational beliefs that might help us to enlist trials.

  • God is far bigger than my trials – I’m not a helpless victim of fate. He has allowed this in my life and with a snap of His finger could remove them.
  • God is so good that He would not cause me to suffer for no reason. Though I don’t understand His purposes, He does, and I eventually will too.
  • God is hanging on to me, so I don’t have to panic when I’m feeling overwhelmed!

Enlisting trials won’t make them easy, but it will cut them down to manageable size. This is why my friend had it so right, “No matter what happens, I will stay with Him.” Where else would we go?

Is It True – No Pain-No Gain?

-Joe Fornear

No one has ever managed to completely avoid pain. Some have learned to manage it though. road signs - blur  - 8-28-14Amazingly, despite millenniums of angry questions and shaking fists pointed His direction, the Lord still allows pain on the earth. Yet all along He has leveraged pain for His kingdom and our greater good (Romans 8:28). But we must be clear with Job and Peter that pain is never in vain, or surely we will resist His  processes… and miss the hidden benefits.

But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. – Job 23:10

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. – 1 Peter 1:6-8

As a Stage IV melanoma survivor, the purifying fires of pain have swept through my own heart. These types of struggles have the potential to revise values and refocus priorities, setting us free from the empty desires and tyrannous demands of life. Many of our friends battling cancer have told us that despite the difficulty, God has used their battle to draw them to Him. This is why so many have called their cancer a gift!

(For more on Joe’s journey, reply to this email and ask for the free ebook, My Stronghold).

Speaking of gifts, there was One Who not only managed His pain and suffering, but He mastered it.

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. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. – Hebrews 5:6-7

Keep in mind, if you received Jesus as your Savior, He now lives inside of you and will produce supernatural coping mechanisms inside you. So like Jesus, let’s pour out our hearts in complete dependence and surrender to our loving Father. And cut yourself some slack, even The Perfect Son, Jesus, had to “learn” obedience from suffering.

How to Master Your Human Race

-Joe Fornear

In the human “race” we all have a course marked out for us – a path God allows for His highest purposes. Sometimes the course is a pleasant power walk around a soft, oval track. At times it’s a crawl over vast stretches of unforgiving wilderness.runner - 8-7-14

The imagery of life as a race was used by the author of Hebrews when writing to a group of Christ followers. They were reeling from the violent reaction to their new found faith in Jesus. Some had been imprisoned and others had their possessions confiscated (Hebrews 10:34). Many were wondering if the fight was even worth it. Did you ever feel like your race may not be worth it? I have. During my battle with Stage IV metastatic melanoma, I felt imprisoned by bed rails while cancer carted off huge chunks of my valuables – time, health, finances and well-being.

Yet for perspective, spending time in the literal wilderness was a common leg in the journey of many of God’s favorites. Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joshua, Caleb, Elijah, David, Paul, even Jesus, did some laps in the desert. John the Baptist knew his course would eventually lead there, so early on in his ministry he just picked out a desert cave!

So considering the ways of The Great Charter of Courses, I wonder if we spend too much time trying to change our journey and not enough time mastering its challenges. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should diligently and boldly seek course change – be it physical healing or deliverance from a rough situation. Even Jesus sought a Plan B route before His crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane! Yet there is a stumbling block in forgetting to move forward while we wait for circumstantial change. Hebrews describes this tendency to get off track as being “encumbered” or “entangled” – neither are good when we’re trying to run.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2

So what are these encumbrances and entanglements? To name a few:

  • Self-pity – Giving our troubles way too much power.
  • Resentment – A grudge against another – Giving another person way too much power.
  • Shame – A grudge against ourselves – Giving our own righteousness way too much power.
  • Discontentment – A grudge against God – Giving Him too little power to satisfy our souls.

So listen up; hear the cheers from “the great cloud of witnesses” that are rooting you on each step of the way! Run your course with endurance – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Above all, “fix your eyes on Jesus.” He not only models focus for us in the midst of trials, but as “author and perfecter of our faith,” He works that same supernatural focus into us!