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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Especially Peter

“And now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, that he will go ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”

Mark 16:7, CEV

Poor Peter. Despairing over his personal darkness he has become completely undone.  His wound is beyond any human remedy.  No one can help him at this point. We do well to mark the fall of the ‘Rock.’

Jesus had called him, the ‘Rock.’  This would become  a bestowed nickname of a future transformation.  We use granite and marble when we want something to last for ages.  It is as permanent as we can make it. Peter is definitely ‘a work-in-progress.’ His character is sand.

Visiting a working quarry, you will find large machinery.  Men scale the walls with heavy drills.  At just the right spot they begin to bore a hole.  It is hard and intense work, but they are persistent.  The rock is unyielding, but they work relentlessly. Dynamite is used to move rock fast.

Soon they take the hole to the proper depth.  Explosives are hauled up, And the hole is carefully packed with dynamite.  The word used in the New Testament is the word “dunamis.”  It is translated from the Greek into English as “power.”  Our word for “dynamite” is also a translation of that word.

Peter needs the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit. It is explosive.  It breaks and blasts, moving many tons of rock in just seconds. These particular verses read differently when translated like this:

  •  “But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the dynamite of God.” Matthew 22:29
  • “And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory with dynamite and great glory.” Matthew 24:30
  • “Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the dynamite proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” Mark 5:30
  • “And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous dynamite are at work in Him.” Mark 6:14
  • “And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with dynamite.” Mark 9:1
  • “But you will receive dynamite when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Jesus looks after each disciple before his resurrection.  He kindly gazes at Peter. Especially Peter.  He will need this new power to overcome his weaknesses. The dynamite of the Spirit will explode all over the Upper Room. Shifty Peter us about to become a rock.

His disciples, in just 50 days are going to meet the Holy Spirit.  All of them will find that explosive power that moves mountains.  And the world is about to change forever.

Peter was so transformed on Pentecost he would preach and 3,000 would believe and be baptised. He went from cowardly denier to bold preacher. The dunamis of God changed him that day (Acts 2).

As a broken believer I see the image of Peter morphing into my own face. I have denied Him before others. I am ashamed at what I have done. My depression flares up and my heart goes down in a downward spiral. I must have the Holy Spirit’s authority to be free.

Where is the ‘dynamite’ of God?  Oh come Spirit of God to our broken hearts. Fill us, change us today.


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Bring Down Those Walls! [Victory]

Bring Down Those Walls
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.”

Hebrews 11:30, NIV

Cemented into our walk as believers is the powerful presence of Jesus Christ.  The scriptures, which are our supreme directive, show to us our spiritual imperative.  That mandate is victory, and we begin freedom with ourselves.  The Israelites have shown us a realistic understanding of overcoming by faith alone.

So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”

Joshua 6:20, NKJV

The stone walls of Jericho crumbled in when God’s covenant people believed the Word of the Lord for an astonishing victory.  Our Lord intends we walk around our obstacles by faith, our confidence is in His power to defeat all that resists Him. We can’t do this by copying their formula, but by having God’s presence.

Instead, our spiritual weapons are energized with divine power to effectively dismantle the defenses behind which people hide.We can demolish every deceptive fantasy that opposes God and break through every arrogant attitude that is raised up in defiance of the true knowledge of God. We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One. 

2 Corinthians 10:4-5, TPT

 Spiritual power is always present when Jesus is near.

When we’re united with him, we’ll see every obstacle fall prostate at His feet. In Christ, by faith, we can expect to see some pretty awesome things! We follow our High Priest as we face our own walls. We are no longer defenseless.

With you as my strength I can crush an enemy horde, advancing through every stronghold that stands in front of me.

Psalm 18:29, TPT

For those of us who struggle with depression or other illness, we need a God of power who can work in our lives. There is a battle and victory will always contested. But for those of us who are downtrodden, we set our gaze on He who wants us free. Don’t give up. Follow the Lord Jesus to freedom.

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We Are Mere Servants

7–8 Jesus continued, “After a servant has finished his work in the field or with the livestock, he doesn’t immediately sit down to relax and eat. No, a true servant prepares the food for his master and makes sure his master is served his meal before he sits down to eat his own.Does the true servant expect to be thanked for doing what is required of him? 10 So learn this lesson: After doing all that is commanded of you, simply say, ‘We are mere servants, undeserving of special praise, for we are just doing what is expected of us and fulfilling our duties.’”

Luke 17, TPT

Selfishness is endemic to men of all stripes. It’s in our bloodstream  It taints the most noble of actions and the most wonderful of efforts.

There is an exception for the empowered Christian. The ability to live unselfishly is the believer’s option. We can live above the issues of the worldling. To us is given the joy of obedience. Obeying God’s will is the privilege of redeemed men and women. We have the Holy Spirit’s abilities to meet the situation around us.

We serve because we’ve been served.

But we still are ”mere servants” and we shouldn’t make a big deal of our efforts. Within our most noble efforts is the possibility of falling short of the Lord’s wishes for us.

The only safe place for us is found  in a sacred humility. It is the posture of obedience which generates an enduring obedience. You might say that humility is the wiring that keeps us from ‘shorting out.’ Being a humble person will insulate us from the holy power of an obedient action. 

I’m afraid that is the only way it’ll work.

We had long known the Lord without realizing that meekness and lowliness of heart should be the distinguishing feature of the disciple.

–Andrew Murray

 

Understanding Your Pastor

PASTORING

I think that most of us in the Church fail to get a real grip on what pastoring is all about. And that is sad and bad. Not only do we stunt our pastors growth, but we cripple ourselves, and flunk some important spiritual lessons.

Three things (there are more, believe me)–

1) Our pastors are sinners. Surprise! They are just like you and me– definitely not superheroes and certainly not always saintly. They will have their moments, and struggles. We really need to understand this to fully receive from their giftings. Just knowing this about them, prepares us to receive deeply and sincerely from their ministries. It seems that their own battles work a brokenness and humility within.

2) Our pastors need to be prayed for. What they do is probably one of the hardest, most challenging work on planet Earth. The good pastors know this. But they still wade courageously into the thick of things. Our real prayers can buttress and stabilize their lives. They substantially encounter the darkness and do warfare for us. Most have a family to pray for, but they also have a Church they must cover too. A local pastor must have active intercessors, or they will certainly stumble and fall.

3) Our pastors must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s work must be done His way. And He repeatedly insists they be filled with the Spirit. They receive power right from the true source. Again, Jesus the True Shepherd gives power and wisdom and grace for each singular moment. A good pastor over time and much prayer– develops discernment and an awareness for his flock. He learns to love them as he watches over them.

Much, much more could be written. There are so many facets to ponder. I only want to encourage you to love and honor your pastor. When you do this, it will probably activate the gift, and fresh ministry will become available. A real work will be done, inside of you and inside your pastor.

“Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Jeremiah 23:4, NLT

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Pastor Darren Williams Refuge Chapel, Homer AK
Pastor Darren Williams
Refuge Chapel, Homer Alaska

Being Honest As I Can

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 “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”

Ephesians 4:25, NLT

I intend to be simple.  I am worried and distressed by my own confusion and a simple disorientation about my own detachment to what is spiritual.  I confess a trust in Him, but am wary of  an evil attachment to things that take me away from Him.  I know this sounds confusing, please bear with me.

I turn to Him, and yet I know that I know that a small part of me does not really belong to Him.  I want to belong, but am conscious that I just don’t work into the Kingdom.  I am a liability.  I quickly will admit to some confusion, but I have no real intention to deceive anyone.  I desperately want to be His, but I’m aware of issues that would defy such a connection.

I have an incredible infatuation with Jesus, and His teaching.  He is the most amazing man to step out out of the ‘river’ of the human race.  I see in Him so much, and deep down I want to fall on my knees and worship Him.  The things He did are honestly the most sublime in the history of man.  He is astonishing.

And yet, I continue to struggle.  I see all of this and yet I’m confronted with my own issues.  I know what I would like to be.  But if I press, I begin to short-circuit.  I do, certainly turn it over to Him.  But I also am aware of a certain antipathy or rebellion (although that word seems too harsh) against the whole idea of grace.  I can not figure ‘grace’ out.  Grace perplexes me.  It is the ‘Gordian Knot’ of the entire human race.

But I do connect with Him.  My bipolar would quickly render me a traitor.  I vacillate much more then the average person.  Ultimately, I do turn and trust Him.  He has led me to a wonderful place.  If it is all a delusion, then so be it.  But I will still believe in Him who gave Himself for me.

If that makes me a disciple, then so be it.  But I know I am the least of His.  I guess faith would venture more.  But I scrape up all that I have and a saving hope it is enough.  I look at the accounts of Him and am pretty much astonished.  Jesus did things, consistently, above others before Him and after Him.  He is quite exceptional.

I am a follower.  I will struggle, and then have to deal with that sin.  But I do believe and intend to keep believing.  I only wish I was more consistent.  I sometime wonder that in the “Book of Life’ if my name would include an asterisk.  (“Made it, but by the skin on his teeth.”)

Don’t fret, I am under His hand.  He deals with me, and fully intends to lead me, home.  I so do want that.  If on that Day, you hear someone hollering, it will be me back in the 715,426,488th row, shouting ‘I am finally here”, in the fellowship of heaven.

Some will understand this:

He who has this disease called Jesus will never be cured.”

Doestevesky

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