Christ and Cancer

NIH illustration
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]

a1705366707_10

“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

*********

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

 

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

The Lord of My Darkest Fear

tarantula-big

“And you will feel secure, because there is hope;
you will look around and take your 
rest in security.”

 Job 11:18

“If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” 

Prov. 3:24

Bedding down in the ruins of an old adobe church gave me a great deal of apprehension.  I was anxious because at night all the scorpions, snakes and tarantulas do most of their exploring.  Now I have an uncommon fear of tarantulas, at night I have seen them come out and the ground was churning.  But as a missionary in rural Mexico and I guess I figured that I ought not shirk my expected routine.  But I was spooked. I am a true arachnophobiac.

Job and the Book of Proverbs combine to correctly identify the personal security issues for the believer.  We’re most vulnerable when we lie down to sleep.  When you think about it, that’s when we are most accessible and open to assault.

But there are promises that are given to believers that reassure us and secure us.  It is a remarkably basic promise, that we can lay down and God will stand watch over us as we rest.  But I contend that there other times, times when He watches us and guides us through a myriad of unseen difficult things.  He secures us, and then keeps us.

My time in the Mexican desert taught me some incredible lessons.  I must admit though, that sleeping on the ground was an ordeal.  I had to trust that the Lord would take special care over me as I lay defenseless.  I could not defend myself, so I trusted Him and slept. I ‘shut down’ my imagination and trusted Him who I could not see.  (I didn’t even bother to look for tarantula ‘tracks’ around my bedroll in the morning.)

We live in a time of complex danger.  Bad things have become increasingly routine and we have come to the point were we just can’t protect ourselves, or those we love.  Jesus warned us that this would happen.

Paul writes of this intensification of evil things.

We must trust Him who is unseen.  We are to be people that move toward ‘the wings’ to find shelter.  I believe this is a volitional decision.  We make a verbal commitment to our protecting One, that He will shield us from those who are evil and perhaps even deranged.

He loves us so much.  We can trust Him completely and fully. Even in the face of very big spiders.

“The only known antidote to fear is faith.”

Woodrow Kroll

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

*

Being Sick

Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel
Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel
“So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.”

Numbers 12:15

To be numbered among the chronically ill often can mean a transition into frustration. We can not do what we want, we are ‘trapped’ by a disease we never asked for, and held hostage by our minds and bodies. It seems apart, from the management of our symptoms, we have little time to do anything else. We once had a job– a career… and our time was occupied by that. We were accustomed to something more than this illness.

I once was a pastor of a small church here in Homer, Alaska. I also taught Gospels for many years at the Alaska Bible Institute. I loved both. They defined my identity and gave me purpose. I loved helping people and teaching the Word. I strived to be faithful in the ministry. My wife and two children were also significant and all of these things led me to think they would always be there. I was living my dream (in a good way.)

With the sudden onset of a brain tumor, followed up by a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder (BP), I knew I had to step out of the ministry. I simply could not function. My depression grew more profound with the stillborn death of our third child. Things suddenly ground to a stand-still as we tried to process what has happening to us. I guess I just couldn’t understand and more or less just shut down. I spent months in bed, unable to function.

Some people were jewels. Others were mean and uncaring. (I had to learn to take the good with the bad.) I suppose I should have been more forth-coming, but things were so tangled up inside I couldn’t verbalize a thing. The post-op surgery was an ordeal, as I had to learn many things all over again. Years later I ended up on disability; I was unable to work, and no one would hire me. My symptoms were so unpredictable, and things were too erratic. The BP was giving me it’s customary depression, as well as paranoia and hallucinations.

Sometimes, like Miriam, we are quarantined by the Lord for his purposes. The isolation is worse that the pain it seems. We wonder why this is happening, and fabricate lies about our worthiness or God’s goodness. In our isolation things seem polarized to extremes. Our value seems to be ripped apart by our illness. We can feel cursed, or worse.

I have been slow to learn this: God brings good out of the dark. I’m embarrassed by my lack of acquiring this truth.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

This light must shine. The treasure is found in clay vessels. Brokenness only means the treasure is now seen clearly. It’s important to note: treasure loses none of its value by being surrounded by broken clay.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Troubles of various ilk come to us. They are variegated and unplanned. No matter what their nature, God holds his people in place while everything else is falling apart. But there is no magic wand; the pain will probably continue. But for the broken believer, there comes another dimension; a new supernatural layer of grace to bolster our beleaguered faith. We will triumph through this thing, and we will stand– because He makes us stand.

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

The Praise of Men

pleasing-god

“…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”

1 Thessalonians 2:4

At a prayer service at a local church an elderly man came forward to the microphone, “I praise God that I don’t have anything to repent of today.”  I suppose what he meant was he was not a murderer, an idolater, a thief, or an adulterer. He was not engaged in any of the biggies. (Needless to say, his wife could be heard groaning.)

We like to make spiritual progress. Holiness is the desired state we Christians desire to attain. We surmise that anything less than that is lethal. We fully intend to become outstanding Christian people. However, it seems our righteousness so easily becomes an “achieved commodity.”

We want to be looked up to, to be honorable men and women. Something inside us desires to receive honor from others. We become slowly addicted to “the praise of men.” In time, it’s all we want. Unfortunately it becomes a requirement to become successful “Christians.”

“…for they loved human praise more than praise from God.”

John 12:43

John is describing men who became secret believers, but not open followers. They believed, but they feared the Pharisees and being excommunicated from the Temple. They were “men-pleasers” rather than God-fearers.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” 

Colossians 3:23

As a broken believer I must steel myself against the praise of people. I should realize the seductiveness of this, and my desire to please other Christians. Sometimes this blog is a challenge for me; I like to be liked. But all of “this” is for the Lord, and His own glory.

I find I have to make constant adjustments. I have to put to death my flesh repeatedly. I want any praise to be redirected to Him. This mindset needs to be worked over and over in my heart. The hook of man-pleasing digs deep.

It seems that God’s whole employment is to lift up the humble and cast down the proud.

bry-signat-1

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (2)

Five Barn Burners

 

“Barnburning for Dummies”

There are some who may not understand the term, but back on the farm in Wisconsin, “barnburning” meant one of two things:

1. A person who burns down a barn, (obviously literal.)
2. Something amazing or noteworthy. To be strong, impressive, or of interest, (metaphorical.)

The following verses have made a tremendous influence on me. Here are five “barn burners” — incendiary verses that have directed me and given me support in challenging times.  I hope at least one will fire up your heart.

It is a challenge to limit myself to just these five, so much has blessed me over 40 years–I should have at least 500.  Scraping up five was really not the problem, there could be so many more.

So here are five which have made a definite impact on my thinking. (I reserve the right to change my mind as necessary, LOL.) All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV), such as it is. Get ready for some “spiritual napalm.”

*****

ONE: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

This is a very precise chapter in my mind.  A great deal of attention is given to Paul and Barnabas’ relationship to the people.  At first, they are deified, but moments later the crowds pick up rocks to stone him.  However Paul’s message to the local church was impressive.  He strengthens, and he encourages.  The reality of difficulty and tribulation has become the very doorway for them to come into the kingdom.  This encourages me, and helps me in the conflicts I deal with.

 


 

TWO: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

This verse tells me of God’s commitment to me.  First, I’m part of a little flock.  Nothing of any significance.  The world evaluates me, but I’m just a simple guy involved with a simple group of people, nothing more.  However in this verse, fear is the primary issue.  “Fear not, little flock.”  Our fear is supposed to be eradicated and extracted.

The word “pleasure” is an interesting choice of words.  We understand pleasure, or at least we think we do.  This verse implies that the Father has put into play His intensity. Pleasure is often a way of doing intensity.  God is “ultra-involved” and is exceptionally extravagant in His treatment of us.  We are brought into this place of grace, by His kindness and grace.  He can’t wait to pour out his love on us.

 


 

THREE:   “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 1:6

What confidence!  That is a vital ingredient in our lives,  this confidence and boldness.  Our God is active in bringing us to a deeper place of  maturity.  Paul understands this, and uses God’s diligence as the basis for his growth.  This verse is a real confidence builder for me.  A promise that He will continue His work in me, no matter what.  This is a great promise for young Christians.  I often look at my own issues, and I give up after I accrue a certain frequency–a certain “sin-ratio.”

Shortly before I became a Christian, I spent a lot of time with Fred Tsholl who was the night-shift announcer at a nearby Christian radio station.  He was so patient and kind to me.  I would sit with him in the studio, all night long.  When it was time for me to leave he would quote this verse to me.  Looking back, this verse became quite significant.  I would take it as a promise from the Lord Himself.

 


 

FOUR:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7

‘Jars of clay,’ really nothing more than this.  We are weak and vulnerable, we so easily can be broken.  But a treasure, I don’t think we grasp the value of treasure.  But, if it resides in us, we become a repository of great significance.  This magnificent work is not of our own effort.  It belongs to God.  It is nothing we can claim from any working on our part.

 


 

FIVE: “Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
   leaning on her beloved?” Song of Sol. 8:5

This world is a tangled place, it is a dense and difficult wilderness. There doesn’t seem to be a smooth road anywhere.  We make our way slowly, through much suffering and personal doubt.  This particular verse gives me an assurance of His presence, even in the middle of hardship and challenge.  He is present with me.

We come up out of this ugliness, precisely because of that close presence.  We lean on the Lord, as we traverse this hard place.  His dear presence will bring us through this darkness, He gives me the amazing strength to do this journey.

bry-signat-1

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (2)

How Things Happen

burst=fireworks

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33, ESV

These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!

Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.

The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.

These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.

I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century.  I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)

The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,

“His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!”

Let it grow, let it grow! 

*

ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.