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

From a Mental Hospital Ward, [Crushed]

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take from me my shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  

Besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

&

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!

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

 &

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.

aabryscript

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (3)

The Unholy Ghost: Defining Depression

 

depressed-person-slider

Evil has completely saturated the world of human beings.  We are being drenched with a thousand variations of sin and rebellion.  In olden times, an enemy would surround a city, and essentially let the inhabitants starve until they would surrender.  I wonder at times, if this tactic is not working in us today, on some kind of level.

Clinical depression takes on many forms.  It is very much like being surrounded and being brought to our knees.  For those of us who go through this meat grinder, we find it completely dismantles us.  Depression assaults us; and leaves us mute and deaf to His grace.

There seems to be three distinct varieties of depression.  I’ve thought about this for some time now, and I’m coming to the point where I want to share.

1)  There is a depression that comes from guilt

There is a corrosive place that eats us up, it’s where we sin, and continue to sin.  We fully understand our guilt and our sin.  Sin however, will always will stain us.  Banks will often place “dye packets” into stacks of money.  A robber grabs the money, only to find that something explodes on him.  He then, is marked indelibly.  There isn’t anything he can do; he has been stained.  The following verses explain this dynamic.

“When I kept things to myself,
       I felt weak deep inside me.
       I moaned all day long.
4 Day and night you punished me.
My strength was gone as in the summer heat. 

5 Then I confessed my sins to you
       and didn’t hide my guilt.
    I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,”
       and you forgave my guilt. “

Psalm 32, NCV

2)  There is a depression that is organic. 

It simply resides in us as if it were eye color, or a talent to play music.  This type of depression is hard wired in us.  It is just a natural inclination, or propensity toward melancholy.  We typically gravitate toward a negative outlook.  We are not ‘a cheery lot.’  The glass is always half empty, and that is our certain perspective.

Some have diabetes, and others are deaf.  We have been saddled with certain issues.  We did nothing to warrant such challenges.  They are just the part and parcel of the human condition.  We need to see our depression as sort of diabetes of the emotional world.  Very often we will need to take meds to restore our sense of balance and wholeness. Sometimes all we need is to rest, as fatigue can become a serious issue.

3)  There is a depression that is reactionary. 

We find ourselves responding to trials and difficulties, and they just overwhelm us.  Persecution and attacks slam into us, and our reaction is to hide, or shut down.  Paul had to endure major attacks. This ‘depression’ is found in situations and issues. It can come about by Satan or ungodly authorities.

“So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day.17 We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles.18 We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.”

2 Cor. 4:16, 18, NCV

Summary

As we look at ourselves, we can honestly determine which of the three kinds of depression that we face.  It seems we can have all three working in our lives.  But it is very helpful to find our particular variety, or our certain inclination.   Seldom will we identify with just one ‘variety’, as all three can be working at once. Understanding the three will hopefully give us a definite advantage.

We can ask ourselves: Is this depression coming from sin or guilt?  Is this something organic or ‘hardwired’ in me?  Could it be that I’m reacting to the evil that is coming at me so fast?  Distinguishing between these three can be very useful, and direct us as we build our discipleship.

 bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

Rethinking Ordinary

 

88436c0baf853c6243c5a8a2c72fc8f4Monotony has become a fixture around here. I had been told to be on alert for it, but it seems like I’ve got to learn for myself.

With any chronic illness there can be something tedious and routine about life. To have a physical or mental illness can be acutely painful. But interspersed between the pain is the sheer weariness of the afflicted. It can be intense and intrusive. It is the pure drudgery of depression.

The sheer boredom of my illness is killing me. Everyday is the same and the foreseeable future holds little hope of it changing. Now I’m a reasonably sedate person. I don’t need a lot of excitement. (I like a good book and a cup of tea.) I’m not after adventure, but I don’t care too much for monotony either.

Brain-numbing existence is quite common. It is often seen in a “trivial” life.

  • the single mom working as a secretary
  • the man mopping floors
  • the college grad frying burgers
  • the resident at an old folks home

These situations seem inescapable. We see ourselves locked into a situation where escape is not possible. We are consigned to do whatever our circumstances dictate. We’re all trapped. Pure and simple. We can find no meaning in our lives; we start to despair, “Will it ever be different?”

I believe the drabness of our lives can often be attributed to a lack of intimacy with the Lord Jesus, We are built for fellowship with God, and anything else is just “treading water.” Nothing satisfies, except Him present.

When I’m filled with hopelessness, I often find myself filling the emptiness with anything I can find. This usually leads to even more “sadness” and deadness inside.

When I ponder my hopelessness I feel like giving up. I simply don’t want to take another step into the doldrums of what my life has become. I despair that life will continue its “suffering grind.”

Joy is what I must have to survive, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). I don’t have to dwell in the grey drabness of hopelessness. My heart can find a reason to “sing to the Lord.”

The Holy Spirit understands our “brokenness.” Jesus is interceding for us at this very moment, and I can rise above this tedious “mess” I have made for myself. This is the only way out for me. Depression is a form of suffering. I give this to Him.

ybic, Bryan

 

cropped-christiangraffiti1-2