Educating for Life

09/15/2016

 
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Thanks to Kevin Conover of Educate for Life for the chance to tell my story on KPRZ radio (San Diego) this month. We recorded about an hour in studio on Sept. 1, 2016; it aired a couple of days later. The interview, videotaped in studio, has been posted online.

See Highlight (4.5 minutes) on YouTube.
See entire interview (about 45 minutes) at EducateForLife.org.

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Kevin is a bright and articulate host, who has a lot going on in his own life and ministry. Not only is he up to speed on many issues in creation and intelligent design, having interviewed many leading spokespeople for those subjects and family issues, he is also running for a local school board in San Diego County.

In the interview, we talk about my youth and parents' ministry, how I got interested in creation, my experience at JPL, the trial and its results, and my cancer surgery and recovery. We also talk about Illustra Media's films and I share amazing news from science.

I appreciated Kevin's enthusiastic promotion of Creation-Evolution Headlines and Illustra Media. His own website, EducateForLife.org, is loaded with resources, includ- ing an apologetics curriculum called Unshakeable Faith, to help families, students and adults deal with the issues of our day. His staff regularly witnesses to people in public places. I hope you will support his ministry and his run for school board. Like me, he believes in standing for the truth and making a difference.

 
 
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How much are you willing to lose to defend freedom or oppose injustice? Jesus spoke of “counting the cost” before setting out to do battle. It’s something I had to think about very hard before taking on JPL for violating my rights and freedoms. It was going to be a “David vs Goliath” contest, with no assurance I would be as victorious as my Biblical namesake.

As it was, I did lose, and it cost me dearly. Five years ago today, I lost my job, and three years ago this month, I lost the case. Knowing what I know now, would I have done it again? Should I have done it in the first place?

Let me say at the outset that I am not complaining. The Lord's grace has been abundant since the trial ended. Even though I am only earning about a quarter of what I made at JPL, I have a small house, a good car, enough food, and I have the ability to earn a living, even with cancer. Coincidentally (and I believe this was providential), my last mortgage payment was made one month before I was fired. With that large expense done, I am able to pay my monthly bills with a slight margin, not enough to save for major purchases, but enough to get by. Now, I can work from home on things I enjoy and consider worthwhile. So far my health is good with the monthly treatments I get, and I have many friends and family members who keep me encouraged. Life is good. God is good. I am very thankful!

Nevertheless, anybody considering taking a stand needs to consider the possible downside, materially speaking. Spiritually, of course, one can always be reassured that God’s ultimate will is done even through suffering. Many people far more deserving of justice have suffered far worse. I got just a taste of suffering when within six days I lost the case and got diagnosed with cancer.
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I remember back in April 2009 when I first contacted ADF and spoke with Bill Becker, my lawyer. I wanted to know what this could cost me. As we prepared to sign a contract, Bill reassured me that he was taking this case on contingency (pro bono), so I would not have to pay for his services unless I broke contract with him.

Also, we had reason to believe ADF would fund the case. A multitude of others encouraged me to move forward, agreeing this was a worthy cause. I don’t think either of us at the time knew what to expect. Meanwhile, Bill assured me that JPL would probably not risk firing me while litigation was pending. That would be evidence for a wrongful termination claim.

But they did fire me — over a year before the court trial began. It was January 24, 2011. The Deputy Section Manager appeared at my cubicle as I was busily at work. He called me to an empty office, and gave me a little time to gather my things. They had already blocked my computer access. I was taken out the door, and driven to my car. No going-away party for me; ha! They had even cleared the floor so that I could not say good-bye to anyone.
Before that grim day, I was earning a six-figure salary. At my previous job as an operations manager, I had reached an annual salary of $60,000 with benefits. When I first came to JPL in 1996, I was offered $72,000 by a company contracting IT employees for the lab. Each subsequent year I received hefty raises without ever asking for them. When I transitioned to JPL employee status in 2003, I received another significant raise. Each year the pay continued to climb—a fact that stands against the portrayal by JPL’s lawyers that I was a poor or mediocre worker who didn't get along with people. The only years I didn’t get a substantial raise was when nobody at the lab got one, because of the 2009 financial crisis and its aftermath. My final pay rate was almost $125,000 plus benefits worth perhaps $30,000 more: health care, life insurance, accident insurance, sick leave, and 4 weeks paid vacation. One of the most significant benefits in my final years was 12% matching on my contributions to my IRA—very high compared to industry standards.
PictureSuffering a headache in the courthouse
That all came to a screeching halt the day I was let go. JPL gave me $30,000 separation pay (typical for anyone laid off with my length of service), and from then on, I was on my own, too busy to find a job elsewhere because of the intense work with Bill on the case. It’s kind of laughable to me that JPL’s lawyers argued to the judge that I was not seriously looking for work, therefore did not receive compensation if I were to win.

There was just no way. Having no staff, Bill relied on me for the equivalent of a full-time job as we prepared for trial. Plus, I was sick with cancer and didn’t know it. I also had debilitating headaches almost every day without knowing the cause. Several times during trial we had to take breaks until I got well enough to continue.

Bill hired an expert witness who calculated my losses at $860,238, because I was planning to work until the end of Cassini’s mission in 2017. Six years of lost salary alone is $750,000, but then there were the matching contributions to my IRA that ceased, the health insurance, and the other benefits. Actual losses would have to deduct what I’ve earned since the layoff, but health care costs rose substantially. I had to find a private health insurance plan a year later when the COBRA benefits expired. In 2015 my premiums were over $1,000 a month out of pocket (thank you, “Affordable Care Act”). JPL would have paid most of my insurance and my cancer treatments as well as providing sick leave or short term disability while I recovered.

Then there were other costs I haven’t disclosed till now.

In October of 2011, right after the judge had given his tentative ruling on Summary Judgment, indicating he was inclined to throw out our case, I took Bill to lunch with a heavy heart. I told him how bad I felt that his one-and-a-half years’ worth of work to date appeared to be down the drain. I offered him $50,000 out of my retirement savings as a token of friendship and support, knowing he deserved far more for his professional expertise and devotion to the work. He was grateful and hesitant to take it, but I insisted.
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That gift, however, didn’t do him any good. Shortly afterward, the judge reversed himself on Summary Judgment. We had a case! The next thing Bill and I learned was how many fees a plaintiff must pay for his day in court. Those fees quickly ate up the $50,000 and then some (so much for “equal justice under the law.”). We were both scrambling to pay for this fee and that. ADF helped out with three grants, totaling about $30,000, but the rest we had to pay out of our own pockets. A main reason we opted for a bench trial instead of a jury trial was that we couldn’t afford the extra cost; jury members must be paid, and that comes out of the plaintiff's pocket. Paying 14 jurors for 5 weeks would have been substantial. As it was, Bill and I were both pouring money into this effort. We believed in our case, and hoped that a victory would reimburse us. Bill was fresh from his large settlement in the AFA vs California Science Center case, and may have felt a bit overconfident he could win this one, at least on some of the 10 counts.

The outcome knocked our breath away. The judge ruled against us on all counts without explanation. Then, already depressed with the news of my cancer diagnosis 6 days earlier, I was threatened with having to pay JPL’s court costs to the tune of $51,000 on top of everything else. I felt like a wounded warrior being kicked on the ground. I felt equally bad for Bill, having received no compensation for nearly three years of hard, stressful work.  

In the days of deciding whether to appeal, I drove to ADF’s headquarters in Arizona to ask the advice of their lead attorneys. They were very kind and understanding, but strongly advised against appealing. Bill was raring to go, but grew to agree, after many discussions with ADF and other trusted lawyers, that it was probably unlikely to succeed under the best of circumstances. And with me facing major cancer surgery within weeks, the best possible outcome, they said, was to settle with JPL not to charge me for their court costs if we would agree not to appeal. So, reluctantly, that’s what I did. I signed away any right to carry the case forward. This also ended Bill’s last chance to be compensated for his legal work.
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Before going in for surgery, I wanted to express my appreciation to ADF, too, for supporting the case. I thought of all their donors that had given faithfully small amounts for years. In my case, their gifts ended up supporting a loss. A long-time supporter of ADF myself, I couldn’t repay $30,000, but I offered what I could, $10,000, as a one-time donation from my retirement savings, as a token of my appreciation. Someday I hope I can give them more.

I wish I could pay all those who worked so hard on this case, especially Bill Becker. Right now, though, I’m just covering my living expenses, even after having pared back spending significantly (e.g., no TV, rarely eating out, keeping lights off, etc.) Most of my earned income goes to medical insurance and doctor bills, which cost me over $21,000 last year out of pocket. I’m sure my accusers and teammates on Cassini, though, are living well.

In short, you can see that I took a very significant financial hit for my stand. It’s hard to quantify, but $800,000 to a million dollars could be defended as a reasonable figure for my personal financial losses from the case. That’s much more than the total retirement income I have left after almost 40 years of full-time work since college. The fact that Cassini is still flying well and is expected to end on schedule in 2017 means I would probably still be at JPL working the mission till then, considering that I was the Team Lead with the most tenure and experience. My demotion and layoff would never have occurred, I believe, except for the discrimination and retaliation mounted against me for the high crime and misdemeanor of sharing DVDs on intelligent design with co-workers. 
PictureAfter returning home from the hospital
I realize that some readers may wish they could trade places with me financially. This is a hard time for many people. Again, let me stress I am content with God and his grace. I haven’t shed blood like many of my Christian brethren in the Middle East. I still have my head attached to my neck. I have a good amount of health. I have shelter, food and clothing that is adequate. In addition, I have even more opportunities now to share the message of creation, intelligent design and the gospel than before. I’m joyful and grateful for my present circumstances. I never asked for a high salary or wealth, so I can't complain when it evaporated. I just wanted to be financially responsible so as not to be a burden on anyone in my senior years. We must all work hard, but trust the Lord for our sustenance. The Lord gives; the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

The losses I have described above are directly attributable to taking a stand against JPL's discrimination. Would I have made the same decision now, knowing now that it was going to cost nearly a million dollars? It’s a hard question, but several things give me hope that it was worth it. 

  1. For one, I probably would have been laid off anyway over the DVD matter without ever learning about JPL’s schemes. Court testimony showed that Chin and Mitchell heard gossip about my DVD lending and were upset about it.
  2. Secondly, I’ve learned many important lessons about our legal system, about life and my relationship with God through these experiences. 
  3. Third, I know there are many Christians around the world who were encouraged by my stand in spite of the unhappy ending.
  4. Fourth, my trial brought together exceptional legal expertise and prayer support from around the world that was amazing to see. 
  5. Fifth, “intelligent design” made global headlines through this case. Even among my detractors, I suspect there were many who sympathized with my situation. I can hear them whispering, “He lost his job over that?” 
  6. And lastly, I’ve seen that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think if we stand true to Him, even if it costs in material terms. My church and various friends pitched in to help me financially when I was under the most strain. Opportunities came to me. I've bounced back and enjoy every new morning.

"The fact is, and you can quote me, you are the rare individual courageous enough to fight to vindicate your rights. I know other people who would, but many more who would rather preserve their secure but unhappy circumstances." — Bill Becker, Jan 8, 2016.
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Tony Perkins of Family Research Council ends his daily podcasts with the challenge of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6: “When you’ve done all that you can do, by all means, keep standing.” Paul knew what it feels like to be knocked down, but not knocked out. I hope my experience will encourage others to stand for the right no matter the cost. Sooner or later, I believe, someone is going to win a substantial case against Darwinian bigotry. The case of Martin Gaskell and Bill Becker's hefty settlement in the AFA case against the California Science Center have put them on notice that discrimination against those who support intelligent design can be costly.

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P.S. Bill Becker and I both appreciate your ongoing prayers and support. Please read my science news service Creation-Evolution Headlines, and buy Illustra Media’s great films. Consider becoming a regular donor to Bill Becker's FreedomX non-profit 501(c)(3) public policy law firm where he continues the fight for Freedom of “X”pression wherever injustice threatens our precious liberties. 

 
 
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I've owed my readers some news for over two months now.  SInce I have been silent on this blog, some have worried if everything is OK.  The short answer is, yes!  I am recovering well.  The picture above was taken June 19 of me jumping off a 60' cliff called "Skydiver Leap" into a deep pool in Havasupai Canyon (a tributary of the Grand Canyon).  It was my ninth time there (first time in 1988).  On this expedition I carried a pack 20 miles and hiked an additional 15 miles on a great trip with over a dozen young adults, one of whom I was able to lead to Christ one night at Havasu Falls.

Just prior to that trip I had a good 3-day camping jaunt up the California coast with a friend from Australia, another hiking buddy and two nephews.  These were my first chances to get away since surgery.  I'm posting photos from these trips on my Flickr page over time: see them here-- http://www.flickr.com/photos/psa104/ .  One coastal photo caught the eyes of over 3,000 viewers.

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Mooney Falls is a 200-footer.
Cancer Update

I'm feeling strong, walking 2-4 miles a day and eating healthy food.  Though I'm not out of the woods, I've recovered remarkably well so far, thanks to the prayers of many people and the grace of God.  Just 3.5 months ago I was helpless in a hospital bed, and now look!  When my oncologist saw these pictures of me hiking, doing handstands and cliff diving, she said it made her day! 

I'm on long-term treatment with octreotide, a chemical that mimics a natural enzyme with receptors for the tumor cells in my liver.  It's supposed to shrink the tumors, or at least inhibit them from growing.  In late May, I had to inject myself three times a day for two weeks.  Now, every 4 weeks I get a shot in the gluteal muscles that makes me sore for about a day, but then I feel fine.

Neuroendocrine tumors, like those embedded in my liver, are usually slow-growing.  The octreotide is probably just buying time until more targeted therapies become FDA approved.  Some of them look very promising.  One available already follows the octreotide to the tumors with a radioactive isotope payload that can kill the tumor cells without harming healthy tissue.  A better isotope is now undergoing a Phase III trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The most interesting targeted therapies are the T-cell immunotherapies and oncolytic viruses. The T-cell therapy trains your own immune system to fight the tumors.  The oncolythic virus therapy uses a custom virus that finds the tumor cell and kills it, releasing copies that attack nearby tumor cells.  A test of this virus at the University of Uppsala in Sweden has proven effective in mice.  Researchers are seeking funds to begin Phase I trials in humans.  Unfortunately, these "miracle cures" are years away.  We should pray that they become available soon, not just for me, but for many others suffering from cancer.

In mid-July I will be meeting with my surgeons at City of Hope to learn about treatment options.  Most likely they will recommend staying the course with octreotide for now.  You can continue to pray that it will be effective, and buy me as much time as God's perfect will requires for me to work, and that I will use my time wisely.

JPL Status

Some reasons for my silence have been (1) busy with other writing, (2) the blog software for this site is lousy, buggy, and lacking in features, (3) uncertainties about how many are reading it.  I've been questioning whether a blog is the best way to tell the story of my trial.  It's time consuming, for one thing, and I'm not sure readers are getting the whole story with occasional bits and pieces in reverse chronological order.  The blog software is rigid and inflexible, making it hard to write and hard for readers to find the whole story.  I know I spoke of another episode coming up, so I apologize for keeping you in suspense if you were following it.  I do intend to write more.

I do have some news to share.  Another system administrator I knew at JPL emailed me out of the blue a couple of weeks ago.  He had read the trial decision and parts of this blog, and was quite upset by the negative reports about me JPL's lawyers told.  He said he had the utmost respect for me and never considered me overbearing or demeaning.  "This character assassination of you is completely bogus," he said.
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I was glad to hear from this co-worker, Paul, who had been laid off in 2008, not long before my troubles began.  We got together for lunch last week in Glendale.  He repeated his opinion that he looked up to me as a senior system administrator who was highly regarded by others in the Network and Security Group.  Turns out he is also a Christian, and a talented jazz trumpeter with two excellent albums.  He gave me one, and I gave him my album Classic Adventures.

Paul said he remembered me as a calm person, never angry, never talking down to others.  I appreciated his input, telling him that are only a limited number of people who were there and know the facts and characters in the Cassini environment.  Because of the costs of deposition, we couldn't afford many character witnesses at trial (just Bruce, Jennifer and Ron).  We couldn't call on my Cassini friends to testify without deposing them first.  It would have been an imposition on their time and a possible threat to their own jobs to have them testify against their employer.  JPL, by contrast, could call on anyone they wanted without deposing them first, and offer them a free day with pay to testify against me.   Because of this imbalance, I have been collecting unsolicited positive comments about my work from several JPL co-workers.   I would like to share them with you in a future post, just for the record.

Paul corroborated other things from our side of the story, such as the fact that Cassini's Holiday Party had been called "Christmas Party" before 2003 but was changed due to political correctness.  He also gave his opinion of the team lead who was selected after I was demoted, saying he was not as qualified as JPL's lawyers made him out to be.  He also agreed with my impression that this person was an opportunist.  Paul was not surprised that he had testified against me in court. Additionally, Paul corroborated that JPL lied about the importance of Linux being a skill necessary for the future of the Cassini mission.  JPL claimed that Linux was essential, and because I was not as knowledgeable about it as another SA, that's why I was ranked low and laid off. Paul and I knew that was false; Cassini had determined to stay on Solaris 10 (a subject I was highly qualified on) till the end of mission. Out of the nearly 200 computers in Cassini, only a couple in one office used Linux, and those two were administered by a part-timer.

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Flight: The Genius of Birds
Other Good News

Another good thing that has occupied my time over the last 3 months has been assisting Illustra Media with their latest intelligent design documentary, Flight: The Genius of Birds (see trailer and ordering information on illustramedia.com).  This latest addition to their growing ID arsenal is really exceptional: cutting-edge science, stunning photography, and a powerful ID message all wrapped in a compelling narration with beautiful music.  Illustra's producer, editor and production team have outdone themselves again!  This is a film that informs and inspires, like its predecessor Metamorphosis  The Blu-ray edition of Flight just came out.  What a treat of sight and 5.1 surround sound!

My role was science consultant and fact-checker.  I discovered some of the amazing facts about hummingbirds, starlings and arctic terns featured in the film, and about bird anatomy.  In addition, I spell-checked the script and subtitles, assisted with a photo shoot and some of the interviews, and quality-checked the test disks before publication.  Lad Allen wanted to list me as "Associate Producer" in the credits but I talked him out of it, thinking two other mentions (science consultant and board member) was plenty.  The credit really goes to Lad Allen and Jerry Harned, two of the finest Christian film producers in the country today.

And thus my story circles round; it was the Illustra films Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet that cost me my job at JPL.  Well, if they think these wonderful films are harassing, then chocolate is nauseous and a rose smells putrid.  The rest of us know a good thing when we see it.  I hope you will support Illustra's great ministry by buying their products and sharing them with the widest audiences you can.  Become a fan on their Facebook page, and order a pile of their films today!

I hope you will be a daily reader of Creation-Evolution Headlines where I report on news from the science journals each day, adding "color commentary" to liven things up a bit.  It has RSS and a Twitter feed @crevinfo.  My personal Twitter is @psa104.

Tell next time, thanks for reading, and may God richly bless you!
"Then He [Jesus] spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1).
Dave Coppedge

 
 
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My sister Judy and me at the front entrance
(This is the first day after my surgery I'm feeling well enough to write, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts what God has been teaching me this week.)

St. Augustine was well known for his large work, The City of God, that compared God's domain with man's.  I don't suppose either Augustine or the designers of City of Hope Clinical Research Hospital had that in mind, but I think Augustine would certainly approve of calling the "City of God" a City of Hope as well.  For it is in Christ Jesus that we have hope of eternal life for this life and the next.  I have also found that God's hope is for this life as well. It's a hope that stems from the goodness of God – his affection for His creatures that moves him to act on their behalf, because it is His good pleasure to see them rejoice in Him.  He is good.  He has been good to me this week.

In rhe emotional distress I faced after the diagnosis on January 11, I first saw that goodness in God's leading to two of the finest clinical oncologists I could ever "hope" to have cutting me open.  It just so happened (I use that phrase advisedly) that my first oncologist said on my first visit, "You are fortunate that we have working in this area one of the finest surgical oncologists at City of Hope hospital, with years of experience specifically operating on tumors.  He has just opened up an office nearby.  I want to go over your scans with him in the morning, then I want you to make an appointment with him immediately."  It turns out that he is not only one of the finest in the area, but probably in California and the nation as well.  In his part if the surgery, Dr. Vijay Trisal succeeded in getting the entire primary tumor out, including the lymph nodes and associated tissue.  Then he carefully removed a foot of small intestine and sutured it successfully together allowing me to eat my first clear liquid food today.  In another answer to prayer and evidence of His goodness, He moved Dr. Trisal to go for primary tumor removal first--a good thing, because by Feb. 26 it was almost completely blocking my small intestine.  The Lord him make that critical decision in the nick of time.

Assisting Dr. Trisal on Tuesday was Dr. Gagandeep Singh, another outstanding surgeon--chief of surgery here at COH and one who knows the cutting edge science as well as the cutting edge of the scalpel.  Dr. Singh spent six of the eight hour operation removing as many liver tumors and tumor clusters as he could, including 86 from the surface.  Wisely he decided not to attempt a major resection, though, lest I face loss of function.  "You can survive without a kidney," he said, "but not without a liver."  In his meeting with me the prior day, he encouraged me with promising new treatments that may be ready when I need them – targeted therapies that can specifically target the tumor cells without harming healthy tissue.  I was very glad to know that Dr. Singh, Dr. Trisal and City of Hope are on the leading edge of cancer treatment.

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Helford Hospital at City of Hope, where I write from
I was reminded again how God's goodness is reflected in the goodness of His people.  While I have had to learn some patience with hospital staff some days (more about this in a satire perhaps tomorrow), I was glad to have regular visitors flow into my groggy field of vision, encourage me, and pray for me.  My sister would do anything she could, anything I asked; her family made arrangements to help free up her time so she could be with me the whole week. 

I will not deny that an operation of this magnitude is an ordeal.  Imagine every slight cough or hiccup leading to stabs of pain in the abdomen.  Imagine the struggle to breathe normally.  I tell you, when you lose your health, even temporarily, you understand what a precious gift it is.  So many people do the simplest, ordinary things every day in ways that would have caused me to shrink in horror at the thought of going through that pain again.  Health is itself a gift of God's goodness.  It is tragic to think of the many who, because of refusal to accept God's salvation from their sin, choose sickness over eternal life, pain over God's pleasure, tears over God's good gifts.

At this point I'm getting a little better each day.  The first 3 days after surgery were the hardest, but I'm making progress.  It was a great relief todaywhen Dr. Singh gave permission to remove the breathing tube.  Now another day or two
 and I could be tube-free.    We celebrate the goodness of God by saying grace before meals.  I tell you, no clear broth and apple juice was better blessed!  Soon I hope I will be home, where challenges will continue in my City of Hope under God.

 
 
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Holding church by a river in Yellowstone on a Creation Safari in 1994
Well, it's the night before I go to the hospital.  I'm having abdominal pains where the tumor is pressing against my intestine, and it's late.  I wondered what I could share quickly to encourage my friends and describe my meditations at this point.  I thought I would relate some clear evidences of God's leading me through this latest trial.

When you get a cancer diagnosis, or face an operating room, your emotions can go wild.  Most of the time I can act pretty stoic about my situation in public, but I haven't always been as brave and confident as I should be, knowing Biblical theology about salvation, sanctification, and grace.  One of the curve balls Satan tries to throw at you is the guilt trip.  "God is punishing you for your sins," he whispers.  Even though I know that my sins are under the blood of Christ, and there is no one, not even among the finest Christ followers, who never sins, that guilt trip can try to snag you, especially when the devil quotes Scripture to make his point.  He reminds me that God judges even Christ followers with sickness and death, as I Corinthians 11:29-31 teaches.  Then there's the "sin unto death" John warned about in I John 5:16-17.  Like JPL's lawyers, Satan is really good at hunting and pecking for evidence to use against me.

Intellectually, I can tell him, "Begone, Satan!  My sins are under the blood of Christ."  I can also point to Christ followers far more saintly than me who also got cancer.  Scientifically I know that cancer is common and afflicts people of all ages and backgrounds; God is not picking them out to judge them with cancer, is he?  But when I was having a particularly hard time with this mental battle some weeks ago, shortly after the diagnosis before many people knew, I asked the Lord for some sign that this cancer was not punishment for my sins.  It was a Saturday night and I went to bed with that hope.

Next morning I walked into the church lobby, a few minutes late after the service had begun.  In the lobby are screens where the words for the congregational singing are projected.  The choir director was leading the audience in the familiar hymn, "How Firm a Foundation."  At the exact moment I entered, I heard the music and saw these words on the screen:

      When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, 
      My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply.
     The flames will not hurt Thee, I only design 
     Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.


I stood there, amazed at the timing!  I followed as they sang the third verse:

     When through the deep waters I cause thee to go,
     The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow.
     I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
     Upheld by my gracious omnipotent hand.


Tears started flowing as I walked quietly up to the balcony, as the words I knew by heart continued to echo through the halls:

     The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
     I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
     That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
     I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!


I took a seat against the far right wall, trying to hide my tears—tears of relief and comfort that this hymn, such a perfect answer to prayer, was the first thing to greet me.  But that wasn't the only sign of God's comfort that morning.  The next congregational hymn was "It Is Well With My Soul."  I could hardly sing, so I just listened and sang it in my heart.

     Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
     Let this blest assurance control,
     That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
     And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

     My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
     My sin, not in part but the whole,
     Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
     Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


Good old usher Bob could not help noticing my sniffling.  He came over and asked with a smile, "Everything all right?"  I forced a smile and we smacked fists.

The Lord must have wanted to make sure I was not going to fall for Satan's guilt trip.  It "just so happened" that the pastor's series on I Peter landed on chapter 1, verses 6 to 9:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been  grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Comforted by this rapid-fire series of answers to my prayer, I remember the pastor quoting Psalm 23 with a comment; "The fact that you walk through the valley of the shadow of death does not necessarily mean you will leave it; just that He will be with you."

The Lord came through that morning for me with the assurance I needed, and He has continued to bless me with encouragement from friends far and wide.  Just last night, for instance, I lady I had not seen for some time walked up to me during a break in a meeting and went on and on about how much I had blessed her life and influenced many others.  I was reluctant to tell her about the cancer, but when she sensed "something else was going on," I told her.  She stopped and prayed fervently for me right then and there, asking for healing.  And tonight, my sister's family held a rich, sincere round of prayer for me.

I could tell more about God's comfort during this my new trial, but it's time to sleep and get ready for the hospital tomorrow.  I hope you will take heart at how God met me when I really needed hope.  When you face your next trial, and intellectual knowledge alone is not enough, will you lay it before the Lord and ask Him for guidance?  God is eager and willing to give wisdom to those who lack it, and ask without doubting (James 1:2-5).  You may not get an answer from an angel at the foot of your bed, but God has other "angels" (other believers) He can bring alongside you to pray for and encourage you.  Trust Him and see His perfect timing!

     O, what peace we often forfeit,
     O, what needless pain we bear;
     All because we do not carry
     Everything to God in prayer.

     --Joseph Scriven, a man who knew a lot about trials
     (see his story in the video Amazing Grace: Hymns That Changed the World).

Footnote: Tonight I ended a several-year chronological Bible study using the English Standard Version and Greek.  "It just so happened" that tonight's final text was Revelation 22: No more sorrow, no more tears, no more pain; the curse is gone, and the river of life flows by the tree of life.  Yes, come Lord Jesus!

 
 
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Hi, I'm David Coppedge.
You may have seen me in the news.  I'm the guy who sued JPL – and lost.
I've done much more than that.  I've shown multi-media presentations at over 300 locations.  I've led 350 hiking and backpacking trips and other outdoor expeditions, called Creation Safaris.  I have degrees in physics and education.  I'm a photographer with over 1,000 photos on Flickr.  I play the French horn, trumpet, baritone horn and piano.  I compose orchestral music.  I give Powerpoint presentations about creation, evolution and intelligent design to large groups, most recently in Canada.  I am the creator and editor of a widely-read news service on origins, Creation-Evolution Headlines.  I'm on the board of Illustra Media, maker of the world's finest intelligent design documentaries, like Metamorphosis, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, and The Privileged Planet.  I write for several other leading creation and ID organizations.  I'm on three boards of directors of non-profits, and have been President of two of them.  At JPL for 14 years, I was the team lead system administrator for the Cassini Mission for 9 straight years, a proud member of a large team that made space history at Saturn.

My life has been characterized by ceaseless activity on simultaneous fronts. My "list of things to do" is always long. This was going to be my year to rebound and catch up on many back-burner projects, long delayed because of the trial and my need to find new sources of income after getting fired from JPL.  Finally, disappointing as my loss was, I could put that trial behind me.

Those dreams came to a screeching halt on January 10, when a CT scan showed a large tumor in my gut and more in my liver.  Six days later, I learned that the judge ruled against me on all counts.  With no resources to pay the $51,000 for JPL's court costs they were seeking, and now expecting major medical bills,I had no choice but to give up any right of appeal.  Now I face a major abdominal surgery in a few days at City of Hope hospital.  Even if I survive (which is probable but never guaranteed), I will face a shortened life from a progressive cancer that is, at this time in scientific knowledge, incurable.

Needless to say, this is an unfamiliar trail for me.  I always wanted to glorify God by what I could do (realizing, of course, that the omnipotent Creator of the universe does not need any help from me).  I was the one to help promote His cause.  Now I feel helpless.  I've been out of work for 2 years, scrambling with 1/6 of what I was earning at JPL, writing for non-profits while working long hours for years on a high-profile case with my attorney, only to have the worst-case scenario hit me last month--a complete loss--just after learning about the cancer.  The media, hearing about JPL's win, told mostly JPL's side of the story, making me out to be a poor worker with no social skills, giving me no opportunity to respond.  My reputation was trashed around the country, and parts of the world, when a distorted AP story hit the wires and was copied uncritically by all the leading news organizations.  I have been the target of vicious diatribes by bloggers who hate my views, and have used the news reports to justify their hate.

We've all heard, "God works in mysterious ways."  I know and believe that God has purposes for what He causes and allows, purposes for the eventual blessing of those who follow Him.  And I know that many, many around the world suffer far more than me.  Probably all of us know someone with cancer.  Many die of it in childhood, long before experiencing all the joys I've had for 62 years.  Many get injustice when they stand up for the right.  The history of God's people is stained with the blood of martyrs  My sufferings seem puny by comparison.  I still have much to be thankful for: I own a home, I live in a free country, and most importantly, I have eternal life through Christ Jesus my Lord. 

This is God's will for me right now.  It's the trail I must take to get to be able to hear His "well done" at the final destination.  As I learn the painful lessons ahead, I will have an opportunity in this blog to share what I'm learning and hopefully encourage others.  And now that the JPL case is finally over, maybe I can finally tell things about it you never heard in the news.  I hope you will join me in this (my first) blog, as I discover new joys and sorrows in the days ahead.

Jesus never promised an easy path.  As my pastor said recently, He never promised to keep us out of the valley of the shadow of death; just that He would be with us.  That's enough for me.  I'd rather have that than all the health and wealth this world has to offer.  If you are on the wide path that leads to destruction, you need to turn around and get on the straight and narrow before God's righteous judgment falls.  Read Romans 1-6 and John 1-3.  Turn from the darkness to God's light.  Since Jesus paid your debt of sin; you only need open your empty hands to receive His gift of eternal life.  Become a Christ follower today.  Let's walk this trail together (see Map).