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”

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

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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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Blood in the Water

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It’s a fact. Biologists tell us that sharks can smell blood from 2-3 miles away. They follow their noses to the place where they sense it. They have an ‘attack mechanism’ to anything that is vulnerable. Blood acts as a trigger inside their brains. Occasionally dozens of sharks attack in a feeding frenzy that is pretty horrific.

Almost 40 years in the Church has taught me that sharks aren’t the only ones that turn on the wounded.

The Church was supposed to be a safe and a healing place. This is what the Holy Spirit wants. That isn’t always the case. As believers in Jrsus we should of done better.

Someone fails, another falters. Sin is uncovered and everyone takes cover. Many people who could have been restored are instead trampled down.   There are many who would rather ‘kick’ than pray. Unfortunately there is always a sharp escalation and personal attack  that often creates even more blood in the water.

There are many who bleed. Those with a mental illness, or confined to a wheelchair, or with Downs Syndrome are the first that come to mind. The developmentally disabled, the drunk, the addict, the divorced, the adulterer, the homosexual, and the poor, the ex-con are just several kinds of people that regularly get hurt in our churches.

“God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.”

Matthew 5:7, NLT

Mercy is what God extends to people who don’t deserve any. Failure to understand God’s deep penchant for mercy is the first step into religious confusion. Keep in mind that the Prodigal’s older brother refused to party with the forgiven son. How terribly sad.

In theory, we agree. We find tremendous inspiration when this verse is read. But the noble feelings do not always translate well into dedicated action. I have come to see that I must consciously press this into action. I must actively show mercy for the healing of others– and to protect my own heart.

The Kingdom of God is specifically designed for losers; it exists for the sick, the stumbler and the sinner.

The Great Physician has come for the sick– and not so much for the healthy. He loves each of us, but cares in different ways. He tailors His grace to fit our sin.

If there is blood in the water, let’s turn it up a notch, and show special mercy for those who are struggling. Let us be kinder than we have to be. If we err— let us always err on the side of mercy and kindness.

Father, please help me be full of mercy as I touch those who are in pain. I ask that you would make me sensitive and alert to each one on this path. –Amen.

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“Fine, I’ll Do It Broken” Link

Fine, I’ll Do It Broken

“Fine, I’ll Do It Broken

If you want a woman torn apart inside, weeping at the drop of a pin, confused in her own identity, disqualified in every sense of a leader…you got it!

A great link to a special teaching by Cheryl Meakins. This will bless you.

Fine, I’ll Do It Broken

Help Me to Understand My Tears, [Trouble]

bowing-before-himIn 1895 Andrew Murray was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. He was staying with some dear friends. One morning while he was eating his breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Andrew Murray handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Just give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.” This is what hr wrote.

“In time of trouble, say, “First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.” Next, “He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.” Then say, “He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.” And last, say, “In His good time He can bring me out again.”
How, and when, He knows.”

Therefore say, “I am here,

  1. by God’s appointment,
  2. in His keeping,  
  3. under His training,
  4. for His time.”

Suffering has a purpose for the believer. I must keep or honor this particular engagement. It is for my good that I do so.  My life has meaning while I struggle with my issues.  Nothing is really ever wasted, even though I don’t really understand why this is happening to me.

 God certainly doesn’t waste our sorrows. He uses them to build our faith and work His grace, character, and eternal purposes into our lives and through our lives. In fact, God takes note of our tears and gathers them in His bottle that none be wasted. (Psalm 56:8) He rewards godly tears (Psalm 126:5; Luke 7:44; II Timothy 1:4.) One day God will wipe away al tears from our eyes. (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

  My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
    This I know: God is on my side!”

Psalm 56:8-9, NLT

Be faithful, even when life is challenging right now.

 

Caregivers: Improving Your Serve

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One of the weightiest issues of caring for a mentally ill spouse, child, or friend, is that it is so phenomenally relentless.  The disease is so unpredictable, in its intensity and its spontaneity.  You think you have the situation in hand, and it breaks out somewhere else, and often in public and causing major problems.  This is wearing on anyone, including the Christian believer. And sometimes that can even make it more challenging.

You will need a support network, if you’re going to be a caregiver.  This support is received in three different ways.

First, emotional support.  Without someone who can listen and give words that encourage you, you’ll grow in resentment and frustration with your particular “lot”.

Second, I would suggest physical support.  You will need someone to help you make sure the practical issues are met.  (washing the car, fixing the shower, etc.) My wife as a caregiver has had to do things that she would normally wouldn’t be called on to do (fix the stove, do the taxes, etc.) because of my illness.

Third, spiritual support.  It has three concentrations. Worship, prayer, and fellowship.  These three have obvious effects on the caregiver.  Just a word to the wise–when you pray you are going into it as two people (as well as for yourself).  You must maintain and strengthen yourself and for the person you are serving.  I think this is critical to your relationship.  Try to see challenges, not obstacles. Don’t forget the power of a worshipping heart or the warmness of good Christian fellowship.

God gives special grace to the caretaker.  My advice is to take it, and then use it.  Draw upon Jesus who is your caregiver.  Present your afflicted one to Him.  Be supernatural in the mundane.  The story of the paralyzed man on his cot being brought into Jesus’ presence by his friends fascinates me.  It has many parallels for you to be a good caregiver.

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,”

Luke 5:18, ESV

My last word of advice is that you don’t be self-critical or feel guilty.  Remember, it is your friend or family member who is the sick one.  Don’t get consumed by your responsibilities.  Don’t fall in the trap of judging yourself by how well you do or don’t do as a caregiver.  Remember, you are not performing for others, but for an audience of One, who sees all.

Educate yourself, use the internet to track down information.  If I can help you further, please feel free to contact me.  I’m not a rocket scientist but if I can encourage you I will.   May the Holy Spirit touch your heart. You are going to need it.

 

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