Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When Cancer Hits Your Family: Chapters 1 And 2

If you live long enough, you'll undoubtedly experience the company of one of the world's greatest foes–grief. Grief comes in all sorts of shapes. It comes to us in a variety of ways. It's one of the culprits of living in a very fallen world. Through one man, sin entered into the world, and death came through sin. I've had my own experiences with losing loved ones. I remember being at lunch in my middle school's cafeteria and one of the lunch lady's telling me that they were sorry to hear the news. I had no idea what news she was talking about. I found out later on that my grandfather had died. I can remember my mom driving us over to the hospital. When we got there my dad was laying on a bench outside with his hands over his face. I'd never seen that before. I knew whatever it was, it wasn't good. I'd experienced funerals before that event, but that was the first time I really met grief. I remember going to the funeral and listening to my grandpa's best friend try to muster up the words to describe just how thankful he was for my grandfather in his life. I understood what he was saying, but only about five percent of his words were really understandable. His own grief let out this terribly unintelligible speech that carried heartache and sadness and despair. It sounded more like moans with a few words mixed in along the way. And my own heart hurt thinking about it. I knew what he was saying deep down in my own spirit.

The next really, really big event was the loss of my grandfather on my mother's side. He died two days before my 18th birthday. His name was Thomas, too. I'm named after him. He called me Tommy. And we were sidekicks when we were together. I think about him all the time really. There was a connection between us that I know the other grandkids didn't have. He loved me, and I loved him. There were lots of brushes with death, lots of moments where we thought "Tonight's the night." At that point in my life, I still had not been saved. I still had no hope. I remember sitting in the bedroom with him one night on one of those close call nights. Lots of people were in the room. I was right in front of him. There was a pastor there who asked if he could pray. The family was willing. But I remember as everyone bowed their heads and closed their eyes, my grandfather and I locked eyes. I don't remember exactly what we were saying to one another, but it was anticipated grief. He was silently saying to me, "All of this is hogwash. Who are they talking to?" I was looking at him echoing his thoughts, adding "Man, don't go anywhere. Don't go yet." So I'll never forget the morning when he died. I was laying in bed. My mom called me to tell me that he had died. I don't remember anything else about my conversation with my mom. But I remember getting off of the phone, rolling over, crying my eyes out, then getting up and going outside for a bit. I cried some more. I was devastated. 

It's crazy the things that you remember when you look back. I have lots of memories with my grandparents, especially my mom's dad. Trips to the grocery store to just park and talk and watch people as they walked to and from their cars in the parking lot. We'd disappear for hours. He'd tell me about his life. He'd make me laugh. He'd let me chew tobacco with him. The most painful memory I have, though, is that night I was looking into my grandfather's eyes while everyone else was praying.

Fast-forward to after God saved me and let me just tell you a little about the biggest loss I've had since knowing Jesus Christ. Lesly's dad was diagnosed with cancer. That was in December, a few years ago. The following August he drew his last breath and went into the presence of the Lord. 

...You know what? I just hit a block. What do I even want to tell you? What was I trying to get out? Why'd I even write any of this stuff? I don't know. Maybe just to let you know that I'm human too. Maybe to give you a peak into my life. Maybe because you know what's it's like to experience grief and you wonder what happens next....

I remember listening to an interview where someone said, "Because there was that suffering, there was a subsequent strengthening." "Grief is something that you can't avoid. It doesn't go away. It might disappear for a little while, but it's still there. It somehow needs to be lived through." The person who said that was Dave Matthews' uncle, David Matthews. When my grandparents died, I would have echoed those words–somehow it just needs to be lived through. If you would have asked me what the "somehow" was, I wouldn't have had one single answer for you. You just do it. When Lesly's father went home to be with the Lord, though, that was different. It's the difference that over ten years of walking with the Lord Jesus Christ will make in a person's life. Knowing at least some of the "how" doesn't mean it made it any easier per se. It doesn't mean the pain hurt any less. It just means I learned a little more about what it means to honor and please the Lord Jesus Christ while living through it. I had learned a little more about what it meant to give what was going on over to the Lord and allowing him to use our suffering for his good purpose. It meant if he would give us the strength–and he always did–then we would use that strength to point people to him. 

I started writing a little book back a few months ago. It's called When Cancer Hits Your Family: Living in God's Faithfulness. I guess I haven't shared any of that with you, at least via the blog before. But maybe today's a good time. Maybe there's a reason for this little break between "getting my work done" that God wants to use. So, here's chapter one and two. It's just a little reflection of our journey and how God's proven his faithfulness to people who say he's faithful, but were dying to experience that faithfulness in a special way at just the right time.


Chapter 1: Writing This Book

In March 2005 I went to Tegucigalpa, Honduras with a team of professors and students from the College at Southeastern. We arrived on March 19th. On March 20th we traveled to a church in the Cerro Grande district. The church was Hebron Baptist Church. I sat near the front during the service. I remember so many details from that day—the music, the people that were sitting beside me, and what I ate for lunch, etc. But there is one detail that far surpasses them all. It’s a detail of my life that is right up there with the details surrounding my salvation. It was on March 20th at that church service in one of the most densely populated cities in the western hemisphere that I met the most wonderful, beautiful girl in the world—Lesly Judith Mejia Grandez.

Lesly and I married in July 2008. She’s been the love of my life, my best friend, my most faithful co-laborer in the work of the gospel. How in the world I met this girl in a city of 1.5 million is one of those thoughts that leaves me marveling all of the time. All the intrigue the world has for things like Peru’s Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramid of Giza is nothing compared to my sense of awe in having met Lesly back in 2005 and to now call her my wife. There’s nothing like “getting the girl.” What I didn’t realize on March 20th, 2005, but I would realize very soon after, is I was getting so much more than the girl. I was getting a beautiful family that loved the Lord Jesus Christ more than anything else.

This is our story about one of the most difficult times in our marriage. In January 2012 Lesly’s father, Rigoberto Mejia, was diagnosed with cancer. Less than eight months later, he would be in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those were the fastest slow eight months I can remember. In one sense they were like watching a fierce thundershower that just went on and on and on. You know, I can only remember a couple of times in my life where I went to sleep with a torrential thunderstorm outside and woke up the next morning, hours later, listening to the rain trying to beat the panes out of the windows and thunder trying to shake our house off its foundation. In one sense those eight months were like that. Lesly would wake up to the same crazy storm that she fell asleep to day after day for those entire eight months. They were slow, ongoing. But they were also fast. They feel like a blip on the radar. You ever notice how after it rains the sun can just absorb all of that moisture on a hot summer day. It can be soaking wet one moment, and the next time you think about it there’s not a drop of water on the pavement. Looking back on those eight months, Lesly and I often say to each other, “Where did the time go?” I understand I’m taking this verse out of context, 2 Pet. 3:8 that is. But if there’s one verse that describes time during those eight months, here it is—“one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.”

So, why this book? I don’t know who you are. I don’t know how you got this book. I don’t know the details of what’s going on in your life. But I wrote this book for you. We found this time in our life to be one of the most trying times. As a young boy I used to like to put things inside a drill press vise and then wind the lever until it was completely smashed. Believe me when I tell you, we felt like we were pressed, squeezed, and squished. But in it all we were close to the Lord. Our faith in Jesus Christ was our anchor. We never felt abandoned. We never felt alone. We never felt destitute. He never once left us alone. When Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20), he means always. From meetings with oncologists all the way to the last time you get to hear a loved one’s voice—your ear laid low to their lips, listening to words you’ll never forget while tears flow off your cheek and roll down theirs—Jesus is there.

This is a testimony of God’s faithfulness. And it’s a sort of record of some of the major life-lessons learned. What do you do when your family gets hit with cancer? All I can do in this book is tell you what we did—the good and the bad. “The bad? you ask. Yeah, the bad too. I learned a lot from what I shouldn’t have done. And I want to be as transparent as possible. We were surrounded by blessings. Cancer might have been the stencil of our lives during that time, but God’s presence and the blessing of being part of the Body of Christ were the color that filled it all in.

So, here we go. I pray that what lies ahead will be a comfort to your heart. I pray that it will direct you to the one who is called “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10). For those of you that cancer has already hit, hang in there. Draw near to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let him be your source of comfort, peace, and joy. For those of you who it hasn’t hit, it just might, although I pray it doesn’t. For you I pray that reading this book will be like girding up your minds for action (1 Pet. 1:13). There’s nothing wrong with preparing for future trials. If you’ve prepared, when they come, you’ll be so thankful you did.

Chapter 2: Finding Out the News

There are a lot of emotions running through us this week. You might not know it, but there's a pain to which God is constantly applying his grace and mercy each day. It flares up at times. Sometimes it feels like it is inextinguishable. It feels that way, but the presence of God always does its work. Like an icepack that brings down the swelling. Like Neosporin that lessens the scarring. The pain may feel inextinguishable at times, but God’s presence douses the pain and the truth of his Word puts it all in perspective. It is temporary, even though our temporaries feel, at least this side of heaven, like eternities. Of course, anything I write about my own feelings is only a dwarfing reflection of however great the pain is for my wife. This week we have been talking about her dad a lot.

Yesterday I read about what's been going on in Gino Odjick's life. The former NHL superstar announced recently that he has been diagnosed with a rare heart disease. Here's a young guy with a family that is wrestling with thoughts and feelings that he hoped would never come. You can read his letter to friends and fans here. (Check out the video of fans cheering for him too.) This portion really stuck out to me: " I also want you to know that my spirit is strong even if my body isn't. I'm going to use all of my time to be with my kids and everyone I love." It's inevitable–whenever we talk about death, somewhere mixed in we find the language of strength and weakness. Odjick is starting a journey. Of course we wish him the very best and we hope that he will experience some kind of breakthrough, whether it be medical or miracle, that would let him live well into the future. This story got me thinking about the "start" of one such journey that is close to our heart.

I remember where I was when I got the phone call. I had to step outside. I knew that something was wrong. Lesly, deep down, knew it too. We were over 2,000 miles away. We were in North Carolina. Her family was down in Tegucigalpa. We had hoped that her family would visit us for Christmas. They didn't. Part of the reason was Lesly's father wasn't feeling well. Even though I knew something was wrong, nothing could prepare me for that phone call and the subsequent conversation I was going to have with Lesly. The phone rang, and Lesly's sister asked to speak with me. "Hola, Bere," I said. She said hey back. But it didn't take more than a millisecond to realize this was a different kind of phone call. We knew that Lesly's dad recently had an appointment with the doctor. My heart wasn't racing, it was sort of paused.

We had a moment of small talk. She was telling me about how she went swimming at the pool with some of her friends. I was telling her I was jealous. The place where she went is one of my favorite in the city. The pool is located on top of a building and overlooks all of Tegucigalpa. We talked a little more. Then, I asked her, “So, how did the exams go with your father?” Yesterday afternoon he had an appointment with the doctor about some pain he had been having. Bere's voice changed as she said, “About this, I need to talk with you, Thomas.” My heart sunk.

"Thomas, my . . . dad . . . ." [Pause] [Pause] [More pause] "Thomas, my dad . . . he has cancer." There, she said it. Our absolute worst fear. In a time like that you wish someone could take their words back. They can't. When you get news like that, the only way to move is forward. Believe me, though, you're limping at first. It's a blow to the gut. It's a queasiness in the stomach. It's something that puts that little voice in your head into overdrive–What did the doctors say? How are they going to treat him? How long does he have? What's he thinking? What's he feeling? –And behind all of this there's the question Why? with all of its shapes, forms, and variations. I'll never forget that conversation. Berenice was the first person that I prayed with about the news concerning her dad's cancer.

After what seemed like an eternity it was time to walk back to the bedroom, where Lesly was. This is what I was dreading more than anything else. I was thankful that I got to be the one to share the news with her. I was thankful that Berenice had called me. I was thankful that Lesly didn't get a phone call (like she always did at night), only for me to then watch her fall apart on the phone, not knowing and unprepared to comfort my wife. When I think back on that night, I know God was at work. I needed to gird up my mind. I needed those few short moments outside underneath the moonlight to gather my thoughts and to pray. When I walked into the bedroom, Lesly was sitting on the bed. She looked at me. I could tell that part of her was acting like this was just one of those times when her little sister wanted to talk to her "big brother," you know, just to catch up. She was hoping hard because one look at me would have told anyone that something was wrong. "Lesly," I said. "I need to talk to you, baby." Her immediate response was, "My dad? What's wrong with my dad?" And she crumbled. Right then, right there. I hadn't even said anything. It didn't matter. Anything wrong with her dad was wrong with her. I don't know that feeling firsthand, but I know it would hit me the same way. We don't want anything, anything at all, to be wrong with the ones we love.

That night was a long, long night. The only things I think I did with any sort of success were pray, listen, hold my girl, and plan for her to get down to Teguc as soon as possible.

That night the journey started. We weren't alone. Rigo wasn't alone. Judith wasn't alone. Lesly and Bere weren't alone. Neither was I, the adopted son of the family. We had each other. And that's a big treasure. But we weren't alone. Right in the midst of us was the God of all grace. He was there. And he still is.

After having typed all of that I'm asking myself, "Why did you share all that, Thomas?" I don't know. I think I sat down this morning and just wanted to write. But maybe there's another reason. Maybe God's going to use this somehow, in some way. I don't know how. Maybe if you're reading this, you just want to know that someone else might know in a small way just how you feel. We believe that God comforts people. We believe that God strengthens people. We believe that God has a beautiful plan, even when it looks, frustratingly so, the opposite at times. He might have to use dismal and bleak colors to paint the picture, but when he's finished it takes only a flick of his power to turn them into the brightest, most joyful, and most beautiful of colors, the likes of which we've only dreamed about.

Who's That Handsome Young Man?

Two New Course Videos For BIB516

I just finished making two of my videos for BIB516, which starts up on Dec. 8th. One is the welcome video for the course, and the other just walks through the course syllabus.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Inching Closer On The MOOC

I finished my handout on the Davidic Covenant today. One of the things you'll notice about these handouts is they are far from exhaustive. Anyone looking for an extensive and detailed discussion on the covenants can find them in places like the Master's Seminary Journal (1999) and any number of theologies and commentaries. But these handouts are intentionally introductory in nature. I want people coming away knowing where the covenants are in Scripture and what they promise.

Luke 6:40 On Logos

I just saw that my book on Luke 6:40 is going to be included in a Logos Bible software set. You can read about it here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Getting Closer On The MOOC

I just finished my handout for the Mosaic and Priestly covenants. I'd appreciate your prayers as I press forward on this assignment. I'm hoping to turn the course over to our online department by December 1st. I'm not sure when the course will launch as a MOOC, but I definitely can't wait to announce it here on the blog.

Daniel Chia On Learning Greek

Hey, check out Daniel Chia's testimony on learning Greek. Fifteen minutes, well worth the time. I especially appreciate his pointers for learning Greek. Yeah, there are a couple of things that he says that I take a quibble on (e.g., when he says that no translation can capture the meaning of the Greek). But I love his heart. I love his testimony. I love that his pastor is taking people in the church through this. I love his recommendations for studying Greek. I love that he turned his guest bathroom into a whiteboard, and when people ask him about the Greek he uses it as an opportunity to talk about the gospel.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Quote From Henry Cook

Henry Cook writes this in his What Baptists Stand For
"Every Christian a living churchmember, and every churchmember a living partaker of the ministry of Christ: that seems to be the ideal, and the Church from this point of view becomes not a body made up of ministers and people, but of people who are all ministers alike; all, that is, engaged in the work of the ministry."

Cook, Henry. What Baptists Stand For. London: Kingsgate, 1947. 

Spurgeon's Letter On Ordination

The following is a letter written by Charles Spurgeon to James Low, one of the deacons of Metropolitan Tabernacle:
"I have a decided objection to any public ordination or recognition. I have, scores of times, most warmly expressed from the pulpit my abhorrence of such things, and have been not a little notorious as the opponent of a custom which has become a kind of iron law in the country. I am willing to retrace my steps if in error, but if I have been right, it will be no honorable thing to belie my former loud outcries by submitting myself to it. 
I object to ordinances and recognitions, as such, (1) because I am a minister, and will never receive authority and commission from man; nor do I like that which has the shadow of such a thing about it. I detest the dogma of apostolic succession, and dislike the revival of the doctrine by delegating power from minister to minister. 
(2) I believe in the glorious principle of Independency. Every church has a right to choose its own minister; and if so, certainly it needs no assistance from others in appointing him to the office. You, yourselves, have chosen me; and what matters it if the whole world dislikes the choice? . . . 
(3) If there be no authority inferred, what is the meaning of ceremony? . . . Furthermore, I have seldom heard of an ordination service in which there was not something objectionable. There are dinners, and toasts, and things in that line. There is a foolish and needless advice, or, if wise advice, unfit for public mention. I am ready to be advised by anyone, on any subject, in private; but I do not know how I could sit in public to be told. 
I trust, my dear sir, that you will not imagine that I write warmly, for I am willing to submit; but it will be submission. I shall endure it as a self-mortification, in order that you may all be pleased, I had rather please you than myself; but, still, I would have it understood by all the church that I endure it as a penance for their sake. . . ." (205-206)

Drummond, Lewis. Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992.

A Lovely Sunset

I snapped this picture of the sunset this evening before heading to the office to pick Lesly up. Absolutely beautiful.

"Coming Into The Parlor Some Cloudy Morning"

I found this letter written by Robert E. Lee's wife to their daughter Mildred (or "Milly," as she was called) interesting tonight. In it she talks about the difference between one's self-awareness of sin prior to and after having the Holy Spirit in one's life:
"Do not be discouraged because you see so much in yourself that is vile and sinful. That is the sure work of the Holy Spirit. Before His influence was shed into your heart, you could see none of your faults. It was like coming into the parlor some cloudy morning. All the dust and litter of the room would not be visible. But let a bright ray of sunshine gleam in and how you would see every particle of dust! So the Holy Spirit has shined into your heart and you are astonished at what you see there. He shows all these defilements to you that He may cleanse them and daily you must pray for his purifying influence. . . . Do not doubt for a moment His power and His willingness to receive you. . . . He will keep you safe. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will give you peace and joy the world knows not of." (239). 
Can you relate to what Mary is talking about? I sure can. I remember especially the home I grew up in over on Kildaire Farm Rd. in Cary, NC. The front door let lots of light in. But on a gloomy day, you wouldn't even notice the dust that lay within. Even if that dust were stirred up, it would go unnoticed. But let some light into the room and it would refract indefinitely. The Holy Spirit does exactly that. And I'm thankful for Mary's comparison. I'm thankful for those real-connections that help illustrate great and profound spiritual truths. Mary was no theologian in the professional sense. But she was a theologian of theologians. Lee had a beautiful wife, one who no doubt anchored him and spurred him on in his walk with the Lord in the same way that he would spur his beloved horse "Traveller."

If you're looking for a great book to buy someone for Christmas, whether a guy or a girl, think about getting Perry's book. It's one of my favorites.


Perry, John. Mrs. Robert E. Lee: The Lady of Arlington. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2001.

Have You Seen The Tyndale Reading Rooms?

If you're looking for a helpful resource as you study God's Word, be sure you take a look at Tyndale Seminary's reading rooms. Since I've been gearing up for my Greek exegesis class in Peru (just a couple months away), the reading rooms have been one of the stops in my preparation. Here's the one for Philippians. The reading rooms make serious use out of Google Books. If you're looking for a tutorial on how you can use Google Books in your studies, take a look at this

Got My Logos 6 Update

I got my update for Logos 6 yesterday evening. I really like the new format. Here's the home screen. Did you know that at Capital Seminary and Graduate School every student has a copy of Logos Bible software and every professor incorporates it into the curriculum for every class? Yep!

I Love The New Moodle Format

I'm loving the new Moodle format for our courses. Here's what my BIB516 class looks like. Thanks to Debra and the online department for working so hard!

Maybe We Can Turn That Amplification Down A Bit (Or, A Lot)

There's a YouTube video making the rounds on the Internet this week. It's right before the start of Toronto Maple Leafs game, the singing of the national anthem of the United States. Something happens. The mic drops out right after "the bombs bursting in air gave proof . . . ." The news is talking about how the fans in the stadium finished the song sans amplification. Check the video out. Before you do, let me just throw out an idea. Maybe we can turn the amplification in our churches down a bit and let our congregations fill the room with the collective voices of everyone, not just the energized voices of a few.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sharing The Message Of The Cross

We talked about sharing the gospel with people last week in a home Bible study. One of the young ladies asked the question, "Sharing the gospel isn't easy for me. I'm sorta introverted. What would you recommend for someone like me?" Then today Dave Black posted these words:
"I often hear people complain that witnessing does not come 'naturally' for them. With this I agree. Evangelism is not a natural task at all; it is a completely supernatural enterprise. In fact, personal evangelism is utterly impossible unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus is given free rein in our lives. Thus, while it is our duty to share our faith with others through word and deed, even more it is a divinely-enabled privilege. And unless we learn to view evangelism in those terms – as a great privilege and not merely as a duty to be performed legalistically – we will never be successful in motivating either ourselves or others to share Jesus, no matter how much training we may have had in this or that evangelistic technique or method."
Everyone, please think about these words. Give them a real chew. Spend some time thinking about what Dave is saying here. Sharing the message of the cross is a real privilege. We have the message of life. We have the life-giving water that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman in John 4. I know sharing the gospel can be difficult. It can look really easy for certain people, while others of us sit back and wonder why it's so difficult for them. Don't rob yourself of the greatest privilege you'll ever have.

Want to read a little more about the book from where those words above are taken, then check out this post, "Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?" and this post "David Alan Black's Latest Book On Missions (And You)." Or if you want to just go straight to Amazon and get a copy of the book, just click here. The book won't break the bank, I promise. It's less than $5 (print edition) and less than $1 on Kindle. You can't beat that. And you will–I repeat–you will be blessed.

Great Time Of Fellowship

We had an exceptional morning together as the faculty and staff came together. One of the hallmarks was the devotional led by one of our students, Javaid Haroon. He taught us the meaning of John 4, concentrating on verses 4, 7, and 10. Isn't it interesting that Jesus "had to pass" through Samaria? That's pretty remarkable if you ask me. So thankful for students who are willing to follow the Lord anywhere and represent him everywhere!

Sitting Beside Victor Jacobs

Right now we are in a faculty and staff meeting. I'm sitting beside Victor Jacobs, my NT colleague here at Capital. I love spending time with this guy. He loves the Lord, prays for all of us, and seriously wants students to grow in their walks with God. I've found in Victor a trusted friend and co-laborer. After our meeting I'm looking forward to catching up with him. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Awesome Voice

Third Row Seats!

Awaiting El Cigala

Waiting For Doors To Open

What A Difference!

Checking Out The Tix

Grabbin' Some Dinner

Lesly And I Are Going Out

Oh yeah! Lesly and I are heading out on the town tonight! Here we go. Right now we are on the metro. The DC metro has nothing on Madrid's, just so you know.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Concert Tomorrow

Lesly and I are going to a concert tomorrow night. One of Spain's most renowned musicians is here in the nation's capital. We couldn't miss an opportunity to check it out. Getting out on the town with Lesly tomorrow is going to be really special. I can't wait to just spend some time with my girl. Of course, we're supposed to have record lows tonight and tomorrow! Can you say "Burrrrrr?"