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”

Seeing the Chariots

The king of Aram is perplexed. He has come up against an authentic man of God whose name is Elisha. This prophet of God knows exactly where the Aramean army is planning to ambush the army of Israel. Elisha communicates what he knows to the king of Israel who escapes. Aram has now lost the element of surprise.

The enemy realizes that unless Elisha is captured this ‘strategic shell game’ will only continue. To conquer Israel the Syrian army must first neutralize Elisha the man of God.

“Go and find out where he is,” the king commanded, “so I can send troops to seize him.”

And the report came back: “Elisha is at Dothan.” So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city.

2 Kings 6:13-14

Elisha has become the enemy of the king of Aram. Men and chariots have been quickly dispatched to stop him. God’s hand of supernatural protection of Israel hangs in the balance. Aram intends to destroy Elisha and ruin God’s people.

But there are other chariots. 

The next morning Elisha’s servant is the first to see the enemy’s presence. He is afraid.

 “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.”

(vv. 16-17)

God has triumphed over the enemy of Israel. Vision is given and the superior reality of the Spirit is grasped. Elisha’s servant now understands. He now sees the Lord’s overwhelming power.

God’s chariots trump the enemies. This is the reality of the spiritual landscape. This is the heritage of every Christian believer.

Are you convinced of God’s decisive victory over the darkness? Do you know exactly His care for your soul? Are you afraid?

Pray for the faith to see it for yourself. Let Him open your eyes to see the real world. See the very definite effort He makes on behalf of His own. The blood that Jesus shed for your soul destroys every plan of the enemy. You can now go free

 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ.”

2 Corinthians 2:14

“Father, let those who praise you never find satisfaction in the camp of the enemy. Help us be a people of boldness who see what exactly what and who is surounding us. We patiently wait on you. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ministering to Yourself, [Self-Encouragement]

Why are you cast down?

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Proverbs 25:28

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

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A Giraffe On Roller Skates, [Mental Illness]

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

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

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

Welcome to the world of bipolar mania.

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

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

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

Being ‘broken’ has become a real blessing.

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

Matthew 11:28-29, NLT

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

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

(verse 30).

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

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Can a Mother Forget? [Love]

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

Isaiah 49:14-16, NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Spurgeon

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We Are Inconsistent Rascals

 

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“Loving Father God, my heart is filled upon rethinking the greatness of your love and the completeness of your plan.  I want to please you, but how often my flesh folds under the pressure of temptation.  I thank you that you know my frame, and you remember that I am but dust.  And I thank you for the abundance of Grace and the gift of righteousness that you have made available to me through the cross of your son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thank you for receiving me back, my gracious Lord.   Amen. ” 

Jack Hayford

When my children do wrong I ache inside.  As a father I so want to hear their confession and see their repentance.  But I cannot imagine disowning them. Never, ever!  How much more is our Heavenly Father ready to receive us back, and hold us close to his heart.

This profound love turns us back to Himself. The very fact you feel the Holy Spirit’s tug is evidence enough that you haven’t been permanently forsaken and ‘cast aside.’ You’ll need to take a step of faith however. Always remember— proximity to Jesus is always a good thing. Stay close, and watch the enemy flee.

Become brutally real with yourself, but not despairingly. Confess sin to the real God who loves you unconditionally. Let Him fill you with His Spirit again.

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:66-68

Who else would take us? Jesus loves each one of us as if there were only one of us. Sink into that love, and have the assurance that He alone has the power to save us- His called rascals. And now His friends.

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Related articles

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.

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