Christ and Cancer

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illustration by NIH

by John Piper

Before I entered college I hardly gave a thought to cancer and terminal illness. But ever since those college days death by disease has walked beside me all the way. Two of my college acquaintances died of leukemia and cancer of the lymph glands before they were 22. At seminary I watched Jim Morgan, my teacher of systematic theology, shrivel up and die in less than a year of intestinal cancer. He was 36. In my graduate program in Germany my own “doctor-father,” Professor Goppelt, died suddenly just before I was finished. He was 62—a massive coronary. Then I came to Bethel, the house of God! And I taught for six years and watched students, teachers, and administrators die of cancer: Sue Port, Paul Greely, Bob Bergerud, Ruth Ludeman, Graydon Held, Chet Lindsay, Mary Ellen Carlson—all Christians, all dead before their three score and ten were up. And now I’ve come to Bethlehem and Harvey Ring is gone. And you could multiply the list ten-fold.

What shall we say to these things? Something must be said because sickness and death are threats to faith in the love and power of God. And I regard it as my primary responsibility as a pastor to nourish and strengthen faith in the love and power of God. There is no weapon like the Word of God for warding off threats to faith. And so I want us to listen carefully today to the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ and cancer, the power and love of God over against the sickness of our bodies.

I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while his enemy wreaks havoc with his children—if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God’s thoughts.

Six Affirmations Toward a Theology of Suffering

So I would like everyone who has a Bible to turn with me to Romans 8:18–28. There are six affirmations which sum up my theology of sickness, and at least the seed for each of these affirmations is here. Let’s read the text:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (RSV)

1. All Creation Has Been Subjected to Futility

My first affirmation is this: the age in which we live, which extends from the fall of man into sin until the second coming of Christ, is an age in which the creation, including our bodies, has been “subjected to futility” and “enslaved to corruption.” Verse 20: “The creation was subjected to futility.” Verse 21: “The creation will be freed from slavery to corruption.” And the reason we know this includes our bodies is given in verse 23: not only the wider creation but “we ourselves (i.e., Christians) groan in ourselves awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Our bodies are part of creation and participate in all the futility and corruption to which creation has been subjected.

Who is this in verse 20 that subjected creation to futility and enslaved it to corruption? It is God. The only other possible candidates to consider would be Satan or man himself. Perhaps Paul meant that Satan, in bringing man into sin, or man, in choosing to disobey God—perhaps one of them is referred to as the one who subjected creation to futility. But neither Satan nor man can be meant because of the words “in hope” at the end of verse 20. This little phrase, subjected “in hope,” gives the design or purpose of the one who subjected creation to futility. But it was neither man’s nor Satan’s intention to bring corruption upon the world in order that the hope of redemption might be kindled in men’s hearts and that someday the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” might shine more brightly. Only one person could subject the creation to futility with that design and purpose, namely, the just and loving creator.

Therefore, I conclude that this world stands under the judicial sentence of God upon a rebellious and sinful mankind—a sentence of universal futility and corruption. And no one is excluded, not even the precious children of God.

Probably the futility and corruption Paul speaks of refers to both spiritual and physical ruination. On the one hand man in his fallen state is enslaved to flawed perception, misconceived goals, foolish blunders, and spiritual numbness. On the other hand, there are floods, famines, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues, snake bites, car accidents, plane crashes, asthma, allergies, and the common cold, and cancer, all rending and wracking the human body with pain and bringing men—all men—to the dust.

As long as we are in the body we are slaves to corruption. Paul said this same thing in another place. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 he said, “We do not lose heart, but though our outer man (i.e., the body) is decaying (i.e., being corrupted) yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The word Paul uses for decay or corrupt here is the same one used in Luke 12:33 where Jesus said, Make sure your treasure is in heaven “where thief does not come near and moth does not corrupt.” Just like a coat in a warm, dark closet will get moth eaten and ruined, so our bodies in this fallen world are going to be ruined one way or the other. For all creation has been subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption while this age lasts. That is my first affirmation.

2. An Age of Deliverance and Redemption Is Coming

My second affirmation is this: there is an age coming when all the children of God, who have endured to the end in faith, will be delivered from all futility and corruption, spiritually and physically. According to verse 21, the hope in which God subjected creation was that some day “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And verse 23 says that “We ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” It has not happened yet. We wait. But it will happen. “Our citizenship is in heaven from which we await a Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our lowliness to be like the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20, 21). “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no longer any death; and there shall be no longer any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. And Merlin and Reuben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth and all the others among us will do cartwheels through the Kingdom of Heaven. But not yet. Not yet. We groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. But the day is coming and that is my second affirmation.

3. Christ Purchased, Demonstrated, and Gave a Foretaste of It

Third, Jesus Christ came and died to purchase our redemption, to demonstrate the character of that redemption as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. He purchased our redemption, demonstrated its character, and gave us a foretaste of it. Please listen carefully, for this is a truth badly distorted by many healers of our day.

The prophet Isaiah foretold the work of Christ like this in 53:5–6 (a text which Peter applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:24):

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (RSV)

The blessing of forgiveness and the blessing of physical healing were purchased by Christ when he died for us on the cross. And all those who give their lives to him shall have both of these benefits. But when? That is the question of today. When will we be healed? When will our bodies no longer be enslaved to corruption?

Continue reading “Christ and Cancer”

Scum of the Earth, [Our Identity]

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“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.”

1 Corinthians 4:11-13, NIV

The apostle Paul isn’t ashamed to be called ‘scum.’ He realizes that this is his ‘standing’ in this world’s opinion. He is regarded as a nobody and of little value. A tension exists between the believer and the world system. The expectations that the world has is part of the package that we have been given. The message of the Cross is the ultimate foolishness. Jesus told his own disciples that:

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.”

John 15:18-19, NLT

 The world hates us because we belong to Jesus. It is his reproach we bear. We should not see the trial and sorrows as our issue, and we shouldn’t get upset by the world’s snub. The tension is real and we can expect being ostracized. In fact, we might do well to be concerned if we don’t see it.

After all, hatred is a hard word. And the stigma should humble us— it has a supernatural origin. We shouldn’t expect otherwise. To follow Jesus means we will only experience what he is already gone through. Some of us will follow him even to martyrdom. The hardships and challenges do not invalidate our walk, rather they confirm what he said would happen. The world is under seige by Satan,  it is his spirit that controls the unbelieving world.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

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Father of all comfort, please come to your servants who are suffering for their faith in you. Meet them and hold them close to you. Give them boldness and awareness. Seek them out and make them your witnesses in a hostile world. Give them the Spirit of Jesus and help them overcome by their love. ~In Jesus Name, Amen

 

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Choosing to Walk With the Broken

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It seems the world is divided into two groups.

  1. Those all together, happy, healthy, and reasonably sane and ‘self actualized’.
  2. Those with significant issues, have hang-ups, and who are lesser sane.

We gravitate toward success. Even in a spiritual sense we do so. No one wants to be associated with a ‘washed-up’ loser.  We expect success (at least in its fundamental form) to ooze out of every preacher, teacher or ‘wanna-be’ that intends to lead us to ‘the promised land’. We expect (or demand) it to be so.

But there are those broken ‘on the wheels of life’ who offer nothing at all. They are busted and broke. They may once have been noble and keen; they might have stared at life as if it were their own already. They were gifted, but breakable. Alas, and they broke. And they have nothing to give. So many things have disintegrated around them, they are left without a clue, and certainly without hope from a ‘fickle’ Church.

What makes a man or woman ‘spiritual’ or holy? Is it living up to a special standard or calling? Or maybe they look and sound good at what they do? Perhaps it is none of these. Maybe it really comes down to brokeness and humility? Perhaps we’ve looked at it all wrong. Perhaps the real yardstick is spiritual poverty?

“They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Matthew 5:4, NCV

Make no mistake, the ‘good’ seems very good. It is easy to ‘receive’ from some preachers. They do it so seamlessly, and so correctly. We often wonder why we haven’t been so receptive before. But ‘polish’ can never replace ‘broken’ prayer. I will trust my soul to those ‘busted’ by the meanness of life, rather than those who pretend that things are ‘rosy’ all over. Brokenness is not a given. But it really is ‘the coin of the realm’. It is how the Kingdom does ‘business.’

 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me.”

2 Corinthians 12:4, NCV

I hate to say this, but if being broken is the desperate need of the moment, then hammer me over and over again. I can’t imagine or even explain a better calling. “Bring it Father God”, (but help me if I stumble.) Oh, and one more thing: typically ‘mercy’ is absent for those who seem to live so ‘perfectly.’ (You just don’t see them with any.)

Look for mercy, and you will probably find someone truly authentic.

Take your candle, run to the darkness, and light your world, and love the unlovely while on your way.

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The Swamp of Despondency, [Pilgrim’s Progress]

 
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“Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
   Tell others he has redeemed you from your       enemies.
  For he has gathered the exiles from many lands,
      from east and west,
      from north and south.
 Some wandered in the wilderness,
      lost and homeless.
 Hungry and thirsty,
      they nearly died.
 “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
      and he rescued them from their distress.”

            Psalms 107:2-6

Recently watched the new release of the movie “Pilgrim’s Progress” and I have to say, it’s remarkably close to the book, which often is not the case when a movie is based upon a book.  In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan has written one of the most beautiful allegories about the journey we all travel as a believers.

The book describes the hero, Christian, and his journey from the City of Destruction to his heavenly destination, the Celestial City. Now there’s one part of Pilgrim’s Progress that I want to focus on today –walking througH (or sinking into) the Swamp of Despondency!

At one point during their travels, Christian and his companion suddenly find themselves there….into this particular swamp. Still bearing  a burden, Christian begins to quickly sink in the mire.  His traveling companion manages to get out, but he returns to the City of Destruction without giving aid to Christian.  Christian is left all alone and sinking even deeper in the mire, until Help, the allegorical figure for the Holy Spirit, pulls him free from the muck.

Christian then asks Help why this dangerous plot of land has not been mended so that poor travelers might go safely to the Celestial City. Help replies, “This miry slough is such a place that cannot be mended.”

How true it is in real life!  As hard as we try to avoid them, whether young in the Lord, or spiritually mature…swamps of despondency seem inevitable, and we must struggle through them!

Charles Spurgeon once wrote to his students in the book, “Lectures to my Students”,

  • “Fits of depression come over most of us.  Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down.
  • The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.
  • There may be here and there men of iron…but surely the rust frets even these.”

There are times in our lives when we will struggle through the swamps of despondency — but praise God that He has provided us a helper for those times of need!  We need to press through, seeking and trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to pull us out of those nasty swamps, and set our feet back upon the Rock of our salvation.

Let’s also look around us to see our brethren who may be struggling in the swamps of despondency, so that, rather than abandoning them, we might give them a hand on their journey to “the Celestial city”!

Source: http://www.worthydevotions.com/christian/depression

 

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We Are Inconsistent Rascals

 

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“Loving Father God, my heart is filled upon rethinking the greatness of your love and the completeness of your plan.  I want to please you, but how often my flesh folds under the pressure of temptation.  I thank you that you know my frame, and you remember that I am but dust.  And I thank you for the abundance of Grace and the gift of righteousness that you have made available to me through the cross of your son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thank you for receiving me back, my gracious Lord.   Amen. ” 

Jack Hayford

When my children do wrong I ache inside.  As a father I so want to hear their confession and see their repentance.  But I cannot imagine disowning them. Never, ever!  How much more is our Heavenly Father ready to receive us back, and hold us close to his heart.

This profound love turns us back to Himself. The very fact you feel the Holy Spirit’s tug is evidence enough that you haven’t been permanently forsaken and ‘cast aside.’ You’ll need to take a step of faith however. Always remember— proximity to Jesus is always a good thing. Stay close, and watch the enemy flee.

Become brutally real with yourself, but not despairingly. Confess sin to the real God who loves you unconditionally. Let Him fill you with His Spirit again.

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:66-68

Who else would take us? Jesus loves each one of us as if there were only one of us. Sink into that love, and have the assurance that He alone has the power to save us- His called rascals. And now His friends.

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Do Not Judge Too Hard

“Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps
Or stumbles along the road
Unless you have worn the shoes that hurt
Or struggled beneath his load
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,
Though hidden away from view
Or the burden he bears, placed on your back,
Might cause you to stumble, too.”

 

“Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today
Unless you have felt the blow
That caused his fall, or felt the same
That only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, if dealt to you
In the self same way at the self same time,
Might cause you to stagger, too.”

 

“Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins
Or pelt him with words or stones,
Unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure,
That you have no sins of your own.
For you know perhaps, if the tempters voice
Should whisper as soft to you
As it did to him when he went astray,
‘Twould cause you to falter, too.”

By Georgy

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Notice Leah’s Eyes, [Handicaps]

Portait of woman wearing scarf with eyes closed Stuck in the wonderful convolutions of scripture we can start a great study of Leah and her sister Rachel. These two daughters of Laban have become Jacob’s wives.

Now, we may question this polygamy when all we know is monogamy. These kind of decisions may be criticized and even outright challenged, but we will change nothing (and does it really matter)?

Jacob longs for Rachel. She is his “soul mate” and because he is so much in love, the customs and technicalities of the day somehow get by him. Because of this, he will have to take on Laban’s subtle trickery, where daughters get exchanged, and he must sort out who is who. Laban’s deception really creates a crisis. But it seems Jacob just rolls with it. I suppose deception has always been Jacob’s strong suit. (But when a deceiver gets deceived, that can’t be all bad, I suppose).

Jacob is so in love with Rachel that he works for seven years for the right to marry her. This may be a bit outrageous. But we really must weigh these issues. I believe Jacob really is a monogamist at heart (shh… don’t tell him). He can only see that one girl that he is crazy about, his true love, Rachel. But it’s Leah that I think about. Her own issues are unique. Genesis 29 explains it a bit cryptically,

“Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.” 

Genesis 29:17

I must tell you that there is confusion by commentators about the “weak eyes.” Some take it literally (as in, she in very “near-sighted,”) others who look at the original Hebrew find the words to be a bit looser and vague. They think that this is a polite way of saying she really wasn’t pretty. IDK, but I think I can gain from either interpretation.

In the long view, Leah would birth four patriarchs for Israel. But she would struggle with jealousy over her younger sister’s beauty and favor. Her pain was real, and she would hurt deeply over this.

I think I may understand Leah. She is wounded, and life requires that she live as unwanted. She sticks out as a woman of tragedy and broken hopes and dreams. She will always live as a reject. At best, she will always be a distant second, and perhaps a bit scorned and neglected for this.

I so love Leah and I do understand her. Her life is a long tragedy and very full of sadness. For the next 30-40 years she will always be a cast-off, someone who has been broken on life’s hard wheel. I look at her with a painful bit of understanding. She reminds me of being a struggler and a survivor. Her sad life is comparable to us who have to fight so hard over our own illness or handicap.

I suppose its “Leah’s eyes” that catch me. I have no idea what the issue was. But I know that she was weak, and challenged by this terrible weakness. I understand this. My own life has been “topsy-turvy” and a really hard struggle. Somehow it seems we must work through way too much. It doesn’t seem fair. But than again, we are the ones who must drink our adversity straight; and the ones who get to know special comfort.

For those of you who are confined to a ‘chair,’ and the others who must deal with mental illness. Leah should be our hero.

Those who have been betrayed by addiction, or who have felt rejected through a bitter divorce. Leah speaks to us. For she is for every loser and for failures of all stripes. But through all of our “set-backs” and messes, we must realize that God does love us– even as we weep.

We may have “Leah’s eyes,” but we also have His grace.

One more thought that might be relevant:

“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.”

–Francis de Sales

 

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