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”

His Eyes On Us, [The Ministry of Jesus]

 “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?”

Mark 6:2-3, NIV

 Jesus amazed people.  When He is brought to the front of the synagogue, He begins to speak.  His listeners are driven to silence and an awareness of something else.  They attempt to try to decipher these things.  It seems they cannot make the connection between the Holy Spirit and their traditions.  But as they listened their hair stood up.  What is going on? Something isn’t quite right. Too many things are being threatened.

But they remain astonished.  The situation is getting out of control.  This young man is one of their own.  They don’t expect this type of intensity from Him.  He says things that very closely approaches a definition of blasphemy.  Who is this man, and why is He speaking to us in such a manner or attitude?

And on top of all these pronouncements, He begins to perform miracles! 

He does what no one can do, or has done before.  And He does it so easy– no theatrics or gyrations.  There is no effort.  Those who observe Him, are brought into even more astonishment.  Jesus is doing things that are unreasonable, and amazing.  I can just imagine their thinking.  Who invited this guy to speak and why was He invited in the first place?  Has He been brought here to mock and shame us?

Our tendency is to consider miracles to be fantastic interventions in our lives; when in fact they’re better understood as revelations of the nature of a Covenant keeping God.

Jesus simply reveals the heart of the Father.  He is the son of God. And at this particular junction, no one can compare.  As He stands behind that pulpit, He reveals an intimacy with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus clearly stands as the ultimate deliverer of the human race.  We will find no hope by looking somewhere else.  He has established Himself as the only way to the Father.  And He sees us clearly.  We may twist, and we may squirm.  But Jesus remains our only salvation.

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Ministering to Yourself, [Self-Encouragement]

Why are you cast down?

The Psalms are a classical example of self encouragement. The writer sometimes fell in to some moments of depression and he would write encouraging words to uplift his spirit. Today these have become encouragement verses or scriptures for us to emulate. Read Psalm 42. It is somewhat an unusual portion of scripture, in as the writer addresses his/her own soul.  That alone makes it unique. And if we think it out, we become aware of an awesome truth.

“I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self . . . Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.’ Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have had but little experience . . . We must stand up as this man did and say: ‘Why are you cast down? Why are you disquieted within me?’ . . . instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), pp. 20,21.

When I allow myself to indulge in anger, impatience, worry, pride, or spite, I provide an entrance for Satan to enter my life and run rampant through my mind. He doesn’t have to scheme, plan or deceive me. He can walk right in and begin chasing my self-centered emotions all over the place.

Notice the flow– My impatience breeds irritation; irritation– anger. Anger chases bitterness, and bitterness– unkindness. Satan just keeps bringing more and more situations and circumstances in my life that wreak havoc with fruit of the spirit. In my weakened state, my heart is left vulnerable to more and more assaults.

“He who has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.”

–Proverbs 25:28

The Bible teaches us that we are responsible for our behavior. As believers we simply do not have the option to allow depressive self-talk to go on unedited and unchallenged.  If we think about it, as we are depressives and the mentally ill, we must take a stand! This idea can help us through much anguish of soul. The concept of ‘kindling’ a depressive bout can lead us to ‘flare up,’ and get out-of-control. Remember, depression is both physical, emotional, and spiritual issue.

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A Giraffe On Roller Skates, [Mental Illness]

Giraffe-on-Roller-Skates

People will sometimes ask me, “What its like to be a Christian and to have a mental illness?” I’m not entirely sure I can really answer, but I do try. It seems almost always there are misconceptions, or even a stigma attached to their curiosity. But here goes.

It’s like I’m a ‘giraffe on roller skates’, It seems like I’m always lurching and tottering— always on the verge of total collapse. (It’s a wonder I’m even ‘standing.’) Careening from one side to another, I’m aware that I’m becoming quite the spectacle, and I imagine I hear whispers about the ‘splash’ I’m making today.

I’m uneasy and unsure. (Am I being inappropriate?) I seem to speak too loud and pressured, I feel conspicuous; like I’m slightly inebriated at a party of Mormons. I’m aware of nervous glances and uneasy whispers.

Welcome to the world of bipolar mania.

I have a mental illness. ‘Rapid cycling’ bipolar disorder is my particular ‘flavor.’ I’m on meds (and have been for some time) but it only seems to do is to take of edge off— but I’m grateful for even that small mercy. Over time I’ve been able to accrue some coping mechanisms.  Identifying my paranoia and random delusions is simple ‘Bipolar 101’. It has become the present state of my world.  I don’t always do it well— but I do ”do it’. (And I take my lithium daily.)

There is a learning curve to all of this. It must be discovered. I have tried ‘avoidance tactics’, and I suppose most of the time they seem prudent. But life can’t really be lived cloistered in your room. That is safe, but also very dull. The isolation becomes more toxic than ‘the spectacle.’

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and having bipolar disorder creates some problems. I’m aware of the incongruity. But my faith often uses these issues I face; they propel me closer to Him.

Being ‘broken’ has become a real blessing.

28 “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29, NLT

The promise of Jesus is for those who carry extra weights (like mental or physical illness). It’s for those whose ‘cheese has slipped off their cracker.’ It’s for giraffes on roller skates. Anything we bear is endurable, and easy. He carries us far beyond every weight and every burden. He alone gives rest to the troubled, and real peace to those troubled by their souls.

30″ For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

(verse 30).

What Jesus actively does is to puncture my pride, and then release His spirit and grace over me. But He also makes things ‘light’. The reality is that I bear nothing. All that He does is ‘light’. My blundering is seen and never belittled. But His grace only gets revealed in my weakness.

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Can a Mother Forget? [Love]

Gods-love

Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;  the Lord has forgotten us.”
Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?  Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible,    
 I would not forget you! 16 See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.”

Isaiah 49:14-16, NLT

Some of us need to be persuaded of God’s love. We are unconvinced. But Isaiah understands. We grasp the theology, but not the meaning. Our own native ideas keep us in disbelief. Perhaps the greatest liability we have as believers is this doubt that God really feels this way about us. But, He does.

Isaiah claims the impossible, yet grounds himself in what is real. The Father loves us and we’re His very own. Even if we don’t seem as holy as we ought to be. In His out reached hands, we discover scars.  This is the price He has purchased us with. We once were blind, and very lost— but now we are His own children.

We are given the impression that He more than ‘loves’ us; He ‘likes’ us. That dear ones, is not a point I’m prepared to support with scripture— it doesn’t exist except in my own thinking. I know that He theologically loves me.

But I also believe God also likes me as well. Surely, there is such a fine line here, between ‘like’ and love. The more I walk with the Lord, and it’s been almost 35 years now, the more I do love/like Him. I have learned to like Him as much as I love Him. And if God doesn’t like me, I think it diminishes His love.

Some of us must be persuaded again and again of God’s love.

Regardless, Isaiah speaks for the Lord with tender things. Among the people they had the mindset that God had somehow forgotten them. They thought that they were ‘the lost ones.’ God uses the analogy of a mother. A nurturing mother. This metaphor is strong and sure. No, God hasn’t forgotten His people. Look at His hands, your name is ‘tattooed’ on them. You’re His, forever.

“In math, if you divide an infinite number by any number, no matter how large, you still have an infinite quotient. So Jesus’ love, being infinite, even though it is divided up for every person on earth, is still infinitely poured out on each one of us!” 

Charles Spurgeon

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Bringing Down Goliath

David giving Goliath a forehead massage with his foot

Many things seem to have risen up to block us. What we have to face is scary.  It shakes us right down to our sandals.  We see the ultimate intention of the enemies work.  If we pass on Goliath, he will remain, and the Father’s plan becomes vulnerable. Sooner or later, he must be faced.

Then Goliath, a Philistine champion from Gath, came out of the Philistine ranks to face the forces of Israel. He was over nine feet tall! He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield.”

“Goliath stood and shouted a taunt across to the Israelites. “Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! I defy the armies of Israel today! Send me a man who will fight me!”  When Saul and the Israelites heard this, they were terrified and deeply shaken.”

1 Samuel 17:4-11, NLT

Things are such in Israel, that an active faith has no real significance.  Men are going to die, many very quickly.  Then up steps David, he is untried in battle, but within him is an eager commitment to a faith in Jehovah.  Fear has consumed hearts and minds, which are now full of ‘scary goliath fears’ and confusion.  They’re pretty much inconpacitated at this point.  The Scripture says “they were terrified and deeply shaken.” This is an irrational fear.

David (the shepherd boy) steps out and into the confusion.  He is resistant to the fear that attacks his brothers.  He identifies the giant before him as evil, and stands in the way of the Father’s will.  David advances without fear.

The space once occupied by fear has been filled up by faith.

This story, is much more than a story.  It may entertain schoolchildren, but it is so much more for us as believers.  Most definitely you will be called upon to face a Goliath of your own.  He is waiting for you, and you must step forward in faith. If you want to negotiate this away. Don’t! You are already dead.

So much points to Goliath’s superiority.  He is a man-of-war; a dedicated and trained source of death.  Goliath equips himself to stand quite forcefully over you.  He presses forward, confident that he will destroy you.  But David steps out of the line.  He is trusting in God alone.  He steps forward with no armor (Saul’s didn’t fit).

Something is about to happen, something children will sing about, and people will always esteem. Some theologians call this a “power encounter” which is about to tumble down.

David is about to kill Goliath, with just a stone from his sling.  He swings, throws and embeds a rock into the giants forehead– right between his eyes!  The giant collapses, and David moves forward,  and he cuts off the giants head.  He uses Goliath’s own sword to do this. Brutal and bloody?  Terribly so.

But things around us are not much different.  Each of us face a tall evil.  Something that is monstrous and destructive.  We cannot reason with it.  We can only face it with the weapons the Father provides for us.  When we advance to that source, we must do so with a faith that is real and undefeated.

Some reading this are pounded with depression and mental illness.  I truly understand.

But you’re called to advance on any personal darkness.

We must stand and take an aggressive posture against it.  As mentally ill people, the battle (and the stigma) is more intense, but it is overwhelmingly defeated by our simple faith in God’s Son.

Simplicity is our key, and we will not advance with anything less.  At times, we think that we can strategize our way to victory.  We hope to rationalize our enemy away by thinking positively about him.  We think we can move against him by being clever.  That will not work.  Our simple hearts must be laced with faith.  We need to step in to this, and then we will dance in the enemies jaws!

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Why the Church? [Fellowship of the Saints]

fellowship-program

It is easy to become cynical and hard about the Church. We easily see failure and defeat permeating our local churches. That is a serious problem, if we look too close, or for too long. The sins of the Church are evident and massive. It’s popular to diss the Church.

Satan has a personal  vendetta against the Church. He clearly strategizes and makes tactical moves to stultify it. It is his grim effort to make the Church a non-factor in the lives of many. This is Satan’ will. The black lord desires to destroy the saints. The question begs to be asked, “Why the Church?”

Fellowship, or in Koine Greek is “Koinonia.” It implies a common sharing of things or experiences. It is to share with others what you have. At it’s best, believers share all that is good and right with each other. However, bad things can also be shared. Yes, we have seen this!

However, to be a Christian is to be:

  • A branch of the vine– John 15:9
  • A limb of the body– 1 Corinthians 12
  • A reborn child of the Father– John 1:12-13

There is a real dependence in all of these, an attachment to something that provides nourishment to the individual and protection of the person. God has designed it so we come to Him corporately (this is “koinonia”). We are family, and that is how we must access the Father.

I don’t necessarily think the job of the church is to make people happy. I think it’s to make them holy. And it can be the most dedicated place on this planet to accomplish this.

Why the Church? Because it is the source of life and community for believers. It is the way we should love each other. The Church exists for the Lord’s glory. But it’s not perfect, at least not yet.

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