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”

“O My Dove,” a Thought from A.B. Simpson

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“O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock,
in the secret places of the stairs,
let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice;
for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.”

Song of Solomon 2:14, KJV

“The dove is in the cleft of the rock”—that is, the open side of our Lord. There is comfort and security there. It is also in the secret places of the stairs. It loves to build its nest in the high towers to which men mount by winding stairs for hundreds of feet above the ground. What a glorious vision is there obtained of the surrounding scenery.

It is a picture of ascending life. To reach our highest altitudes we must find the secret places of the stairs. That is the only way to rise above the natural plane. Our lives should be ones of quiet mounting with occasional resting places; but we should be mounting higher, step by step. Not everyone finds this way of secret ascent. It is only for God’s chosen.

The world may think we are going down. We may not have as much public work to do as formerly.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Matthew 5:3

It is a secret, hidden life. We may be hardly aware that we are growing, until one day a test comes and we find we are established.

  • Have you arrived at the place where Christ is keeping you from willful disobedience?
  • Does the consciousness of sin make you shudder?
  • Are you lifted above the world?”

~~A.B. Simpson

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Albert Benjamin Simpson, (Dec. 15, 1843 – Oct. 29, 1919)

FOUNDER OF THE Christian and Missionary Alliance, Albert Benjamin Simpson was born in Canada of Scottish parents. He became a Presbyterian minister and pastored several churches in Ontario. Later, he accepted the call to serve as pastor of the Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. It was there that his life and ministry were completely changed in that, during a revival meeting, he experienced the fullness of the Spirit.

He continued in the Presbyterian Church until 1881, when he founded an independent Gospel Tabernacle in New York. There he published the Alliance Weekly and wrote 70 books on Christian living. He organized two missionary societies which later merged to become the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

–Wikipedia

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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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Of Bruises and Crushings

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“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall crush your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

“The first step on the way to victory is to recognize the enemy.”

Corrie Ten Boom

This is the first prophecy of Jesus Christ in the Bible. All the prophecy that will follow are to be interpreted through this statement first. It’s like getting a fishing pole outfitted with a line. It’s threaded from one eye to the next until that same line goes through them all.

Hatred. There would be an ‘enmity’ between the serpent and the woman. We hate being held in ‘chains’ as much as Satan hates us. There will be no end to hostilities until his final destruction comes.

This verse is focused on the future. Note the term, ‘offspring.’ There will be no peace treaty between humans and the demonic A compromise only means that one is assimilated over the other. Either we lay down our weapons, or he does. There are some who have done this, with tragic consequences. They are being held hostages in a spiritual battle. They are ‘prisoners of war.’

Although Satan is powerful, he is not omnipotent. There are limits on what he can do. He bruises, but we crush. In a real accurate sense, this describes Jesus destroying the enemy. The baby lying in a manger is really a hammer, that pulverizes the darkness. It is experienced in our lives, as we declare Satan’s defeat in our own hearts.

Satan bruises; but ‘in Christ,’ we crush his head. Jesus leads us in a ‘victory parade.’

“Prayer is repeating the victor’s name (Jesus) into the ears of Satan and insisting on his retreat.

S.D. Gordon

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One Strange Trip, [Honesty]

Pastor Bryan Lowe

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6, CEB

I was ‘saved’ in my early twenties.  With that salvation came a sense of what really was true.  And perhaps a real hope of what life could become.  I’m  now 55, I can only shake my head.  It certainly has not been as rosy as I first thought.  I blame myself, and go on to understand that maybe this is the way it was supposed to turn out.

But my walk with Jesus has been real.  I haven’t given up on my pitiful faith and I haven’t apostatized.  And yet I am aware of a confusion, and  a disconnectedness that is a bit odd.  I sort of realize that my soul has been hunted, and that I’m vulnerable.

But I can’t let go of Him who I call Savior.  It certainly has not been easy.  Sometimes it seems that I am perhaps the most troubled of all His followers. I’m sure some of you might understand.

You see, I have a disease called “loving Jesus” from which know I will never recover.

The promises that have been given to me can’t be diminished or revoked.  He has dedicated Himself to reaching me.  I’ve been told that He not only plucks me out of my darkness, but His intention is to heal and balance me.  My confusion is not enough to sidetrack His will.

I don’t know what my future holds.  But to be honest, I don’t anticipate anything magical,  or some fantastically creative spirituality.  I do not think things will suddenly get bright all of a sudden.  But I can tell you this much, that I will never turn from His grace or goodness.  I hang on them as a shipwrecked man clings to a log, out in the middle of the ocean.

I am most unorthodox, I know.  I do not fit the mold of the average believer.  I am too blunt, direct and disconnected. I have considerable issues, compounded by my mental illness. But I do know Jesus.  He has come to save the broken-hearted, and come as a physician to a very sick soul.  I trust Him to fix me. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes us:

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

It seems we stand on the threshold of a real and authentic life.  For some, we must work especially hard to understand  this walk of authentic discipleship.   Unquestionably, we must trust in His love.  But being stable and established will not save us. (Although, it would be nice). Salvation has always been by grace through faith.

My dysfunctional life doesn’t incur His rejection, the opposite is true.  He loves losers, and looks especially on losers who know they are very lost.

I especially want to encourage my brothers and sisters who struggle with a mental illness.  You’ve been dealt a severe blow.  Others will never understand your “limp.”  But Jesus does. You have a gift to bring to the table.  He can pour much more grace into you.  Don’t be discouraged by the resistance coming out of your thinking.  You are especially His.  He holds you with a transforming love.

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Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

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These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.”

2 Cor. 4:17, CEV

“Before God could bring me to this place He has broken me a thousand times.”                                   

Smith Wigglesworth

 

As we move toward maturity, over time and through circumstance, we will start to develop exciting new ways of thinking.  We engage the Word and combined with our relationships with people we start the work of God.  We soon learn that the Kingdom of God flows through relationships, almost exclusively.

Pain and sorrow are some of the more intense ways the Lord reaches down and into our lives.

Rick Warren has written, “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others.” 

 

I think that as we dwell on this we will start to see the hand of God, moving things around in our complicated lives.  As we attend class in this school of the Spirit, we learn things that will change our life and ministry.

But we must consider that we can waste our pain and sorrows by not engaging the issues properly.  Will I submit, or will I grow sullen and cynical? Will I worship through my tears?  Surrendering to Christ is not a once-in-a-lifetime event.  It is a daily, and even hourly process.  I regard any kind of cynicism though, as a hungry predator who is hunting me.  Very dangerous, and I am highly suspectable.

Pain is the way the Father reaches me, he isn’t too concerned about our comfort (it isn’t the real issue, after all.)  When I hurt, I invaribly look for Jesus.  And that cannot be all bad.  Through the trials and pain I begin to reconnect with my Father.  Without the trials, I doubt we would ever call out for His help.

“Don’t waste your sorrows.”  It is easily said but seldom done.  We start to stagger by the weight of our personal issues.  Overwhelmed by the pain we start to panic and grab things, and throw them overboard, to lighten the load.  We can be confused, and will do whatever we must do to stay afloat.  But unless we take these sorrows well, we are just short-circuiting God’s intentions.

C.S. Lewis once commented on our issues,

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn—my God do you learn.”

The darkness intends to absorb us.  Satan uses our own bitterness and frustration to do this.  Our discipleship is no longer valid if we commence doing our own will and desires.  Even though we get “flaky” the Father will always love us. But we dare not waste our pain, it comes at too big of a price.

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The Rigidity of Evil

I have a heart--but it is broken and crushed.
I have a heart–but it is broken and crushed.

Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, an exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?

There is a real rigidity to evil. As I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.

The Bible speaks about having a hard heart. It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.

“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”

There are only four real options.

  • The first is seed that never arrives.
  • The second lands on hard stones.
  • The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
  • Only the fourth flourishes.

    Heart of Stone Heart of Flesh
    The Battle of the Heart

The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.

I have found that my own  heart drifts. Manic Depression is a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and than there. I maybe depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”

I want my heart to soften. I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect in my spiritual heart. This really scares me. *

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ybic, Bryan

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