Jim & Katharine Sweeney Letter

sweeney Well, dear friends, it has been some time since Katharine and I have shared with you concerning the journey we began five years ago when she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Your prayers throughout that journey have meant far more to us than you can possibly know.  For the past three years, following chemotherapy, a series of good CT scans had shown "no visible evidence" of cancer.  A year had elapsed since a scan, and several days ago she had a CT scan once again.  This one was not a good one.  It has shown the return of the cancer in both lungs.  It is an occasion for us to again ask for your prayers.  Emphatically, we are unshaken in our confidence in the steadfast love and unyielding faithfulness of God. 

We have had much discussion with Katharine’s oncologist about treatment options in this situation.  Since chemotherapy was so effective earlier, one option is to begin that once more.  Another is a trial with a promising experimental drug, a once-a-day pill which is intended to interrupt the cellular communication system and prevent cancer cell growth.  Katharine seems to be a good candidate for this drug, and has now begun a three month trial.  In mid-September another CT scan will reveal its effectiveness.  If the results are good we’ll continue this approach.  If not, we will resume chemotherapy. 

We have determined to follow our original summer plan to return to North Carolina, sell our house there, and return to settle permanently in Portland.  And so we expect to fly back there on Tuesday, July 1.  This will mean a trip back to Portland no later than mid-September for the CT scan.  We will simply trust that God will guide us in this and that our house will sell very quickly.  We would appreciate your prayers about this, as well.

As we move ahead day to day, we are placing no limits on what God can do, though we are prepared to receive from his hand whatever his good and gracious will entails.  As a wonderful song of worship reminds us, quite biblically, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.  They are  new every morning, new every morning; great is thy faithfulness, O Lord."
We are indebted to you for your prayers.  The strength and peace that God promises his children is multiplied by the prayers of friends. 

Thank you so much for both your prayer and your friendship.

Jim and Katharine Sweeney

These two are heroes of the faith as well as long time pillars at Western. Their example of mature, feeling faith has touched us all deeply. If anyone wants to send a message to Jim and Katharine, I’ll be glad to pass it on to them. You can put it here as a comment or email it to me at gerry@breshears.net


The Father

One must think a bit about the role of the father in Luke 15 on Father’s Day. What a fool he must have seemed when he agreed with the outrageous demand of his immoral, irresponsible son. How could a loving father let his son get away with such outrage, to insult not only his father, but all that’s good and right. He should beat the son, not give him his way, his money.

We have no clue as to what the father was thinking as the son walked away, laughing in his newly acquired freedom. There’s only silence. What was in his heart as his younger son "unsoned" himself and disappeared? Unlike the shepherd or the woman in the previous parables, he made no move to seek out his son. He let’s him have his way. It’s like the LORD who calls His people to come to Him, but let’s them do incredibly stupid rebellion.

He lets us have control of our own life, at least some of the time. He gives us the freedom we demand. And then we Him for letting us have our way, but only after things go badly.

RETURN-PRODIGAL-SONBut when the son comes to his senses and returns, things are completely different. The father again shames himself, running away from all dignity to meet his returning son. The son’s repentant confession is cut short by the father’s joy, his request to return as the lowest level servant cut short by the joyous celebration. There’s no waiting for the expected respectful address by the son. The father’s embrace, kiss, call for ring, robe, calf express his heart. The father is so full of joy that he drapes himself around his lost son’s neck and welcomes him back with hugs and kisses of affection.  Rembrandt catches the amazing quiet of the father’s embrace for the re-sonned son.

The LORD will embarrass Himself to get to the sinner who is coming home. You are my son. Always. Were gone/now here. Lost now found.

It’s the lavish grace that ruins the expectations of all religionists. But that’s another story.

P1010010 We celebrated Father’s day with Joy’s 6th birthday party. It was so fun to see her enjoying her very own Chuck E. Cheese party. You can see more pictures here.

Catharine Coon arrived from Uganda to join me in teaching the "Theological Principles for Ministering to Children at Risk" class. She’s the founding director of Hope Alive!. CAR Prep 4We have been great friends. So teaching together is very stimulating for me. It will be the third time we’ve done the class. You can see that we are working very hard at our preparation for class.

It’s made a bit more challenging because of the continuing impact of the cellulitis infection. It’s been four weeks now. The reddened area keeps getting smaller, but it’s not gone yet. Back to the doctor tomorrow.


Getting Well

P1010003 For about three years I have taught the PIT crew and staff at Living Hope Church, a church whose senior pastor, John Bishop, is one of "my guys." (click here for their web site) Today I got a call from Jan Hall asking if she could bring me something. My wonder about what it could be was soon satisfied: John and the whole staff delighted me with the banner! My cellulitis is easing significantly, but the 2 inch diameter infected spot on my shin above my ankle is being quite stubborn! So I’m still spending much of my time in the recliner with elevated leg. That’s where I am putting Vintage Church on a 12,000 word diet. Cutting 10% out of a book is quite a challenge!

I’ve also been working on getting well in other ways. A dozen years ago I was confronted by a friend who loved me enough to call me on my pattern of overcommitment that was serious enough that I was hurting people I thought I was helping. That led to extensive and deep work with the "Gerry Group," people who helped me take out my soul and examine it carefully. That lead to substantial inner change that lowered that pattern. I deeply appreciated what these people helped me do.

More recently, I ended up hurting a close friend deeply because of the fall out of my intensity in relationship. I’m again amazed at how damaging my well intentioned things can be. This time, I’ve been working in formal counseling, as well as with close friends, to see what’s going on inside me. That process has been going on for about a year. As it comes to an end, I’m grateful for grace and growth. I surely wish the relationship could "get well."

By the power of Jesus, my growth and healing will be body, soul and spirit. However, I don’t think it’s going to be all better.


I preached Luke 15 this weekend. It’s such a wonderful passage, full of challenge from every vantage point. It’s motivated by the Pharisee’s hatred of Jesus hanging with sinners rather than being righteous like them. Pharisees find greatest personal delight in keeping rules.  The more rigorous the better. God finds joy in retrieving lost things. Pharisees keep their distance from sinners to protect their holiness. Saducees indulge in sin to protect their connection with sinners, so they can fit in. Jesus goes to sinners to seek them and call them to a new life.

The son’s request is ultimately offensive: I want you dead, Dad. He trades in his father for himself. The Dad should beat him severely or even kill him (Deut. 21:18-21) Rather he gives him his heart as gives him title to the estate. The son unsons himself completely as he heads off to carefree living. But soon he goes from lavish dining to being excluded even from dining with filthy pigs. What a tragic loss: no one gave him anything. A total absence of grace.

It would be easy to think why he shouldn’t go home. It would be easy for him to wallow in his lostness.  “I am no good.  I am useless.  I am unlovable.  I am worthless. I am divorced.  I am unemployed. I’m only a burden, a problem, a drain on people’s time and energy.  Or he could wallow in victim thinking.  “If they wouldn’t have done . . . ” Or he could be wallowing in law: I can’t go home unless I make it up to the family. 

The memory of the goodness of home draws him even when he’s completely aware that he is unworthy to be a called a son. Those words, "I will arise and go to my father . . . "

prodigal-son In his younger years Rembrandt was drawn to the ribald life of the son. He painted the younger son if full living in the far country. He had grown up with the father’s voice: a voice is a gentle, tender, quiet like the one Elijah heard on Mt. Horeb.  It’s only heard by hearts made tender by hurt or love.

He responded to other voices that are much louder, seductive, promising.  “Go prove you are worth something, worth being loved. Find real love in being successful, powerful, popular.  Dream of having power, possessions, popularity.”

In the fears of being passed over, ignored, I suppose he developed strategies to protect, promote and defend himself, asking, “Do you like me? But the world answers with “if’s” If you are good-looking, intelligent, wealthy, educated, athletic, keep a good job and good connections, produce, sell, consume much.  Living for the “If’s” only enslaves.

What’s going on here at home

My leg is improving slowly. The doctor extended the antibiotics another week to empower the fight. My energy is still quite low. Preaching yesterday just about did me in! So I’m spending my time with leg up and doing work on my lap top. 

Sherry is on vacation too. But her activity level is rather different than mine. She painted trim in the dining room and hall, mostly without help from me. I’m very proud of her!