Posts Tagged ‘faith’

A Subtle Heresy

Question:  does God want you to be healthy, wealthy, and wise?  Many Christians would say that yes, this is God’s desire for our lives.

Better Question:  does God want to conform us into the image of His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ?  Yes, yes, and yes again.

This means that the Lord will go to great lengths to accomplish this in your life.  Including bringing suffering into your life.  Not a once of us would ask to go through the school of suffering.   But, I can attest, great growth in faith and the Gospel comes through our suffering well in Christ.  A friend of mine called it a subtle heresy that most Christians believe, when we that God wants to make us happy and comfortable.  Actually he wrecks our comfort, especially our comfort with our sin.  When we quit fighting for our sanctification.  God wrecks our apathy.  My friend and his wife had great plans for their son, until they realized that he was autistic.  All of a sudden they were on a different journey.  I think he would agree that is both a wonderful and terrifying journey.  This makes us depend all the more on God.  This dependence is the real goal of the Christian life.  I can assure you that in some way at some time, God will disrupt your will, your thinking, and your life.  And He will do so for your good.  I guarantee it, though you may not see it at the time.  It is the lie of the Prosperity Gospel (that God wants you to have your best life now) that we so desperately want to believe.  It is easier to believe that, but it is not in the Bible (read 1 Peter or Acts 7).  God has so much better for us.  Live in that truth and look to our God to do wonderful and terrifying things in our lives.  For His glory and the furtherance of the Gospel in our lives.

Cancer & Sin

I Peter 5:8 – Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls aroundlike a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
I wish this weren’t true, but it is.  And I mistakenly thought that Satan might give me a break from temptation – at least for a little while.  After all, haven’t I suffered enough.  And aren’t I doing a good enough job on my own? (yes).  But that not the way things work.

Jesus’ Temptation is instructive at this point.  Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness.  And no, at the end of it all, Jesus didn’t catch a break from Satan.  No, instead he waited to attack and tempt Jesus at the end of that time when we would he would be at his weakest and lowest point.  He waited until Jesus would be hungry and thirsty for a way out and an end to his trials, which were only just beginning.  But thankfully for us, Jesus prevailed.

And so, I find myself still struggling with sin in my life.  Temptation comes from all sides and often when I am at my lowest point.  Of course, like Jesus, my best defense is to arm myself with the Word of God and be prepared for the attack to come.

But that’s hard isn’t it.  We don’t see it coming.  And we don’t recognize temptation for what it is.  Let me give you an example of such sin struggles in my life at this point.  I love to use Faceboook.  We use for the church.  I use it to keep up with family and friends.  And they have used to send me reminders of their prayers or other such encouragement.  So, I enjoy Facebook.  But there has been a sin that I don’t I have wrestled with as much in the past (of course, I could be very wrong about that!):  Envy and Jealousy.  These are what Jerry Bridges would call “respectable sins” in his great book by the same title.  They are subtle.  What happens is I see all the happy people on Facebook taking their wonderful vacations to the beach or the mountains.  And they are eating such scrumptious meals and having all around good time.  On one hand, I can be happy for them and glad they can delight in such things.  On the other hand, I don’t understand why they deserve such goodness and I have received such hardship.  What did I do to deserve this?  Why did all my plans get wiped off the map with the mention of one little word: cancer.    Envy and jealousy then creep in and I find myself loathing my friends and myself.  No, there is no let up in the temptation.  Sorry, I wish I could tell you otherwise. 

What is happening in my heart when I begin to entertain the sin of envy and jealousy.

  • I have forgotten God’s goodness and His Sovereignty
  • I have neglected to use a powerful weapon to combat this sin, as Jesus did:  the Word of God.
  • I have failed to realize that everything God gives is a gift of His grace and none of us is worthy.
  • I have failed to love my friends and family well.
  • I have not believed that God is sufficient for all my needs.
  • And I have not believe that my Savior has completely vanquished my enemy and I am victorious in Him.
  • And I forgotten how good God has been to me and my family.

No, there is no let up in the temptation.  Sorry, I wish I could tell you otherwise.   Thankfully, I can also tell you that there is no let up in the mercy and forgiveness of God, that covers all our sins.  Especially the ones that we so often let pass and do not recognize.  Envy and Jealousy in Him.  What subtle and respectable sins do you find yourself struggling with?

I Peter 5:6-11:  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. Andafter you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Fighting for the Truth

LiesSpiritual life is a fight for truth.  For a greater reality.  Why must we fight for truth?

Because we have an adversary who has been lying since the beginning.  Satan started his attack on truth in the Garden (Genesis 3) and it has been one of his choice weapons since then.  He is called the father of lies in Scripture (John 8:44).  On the other hand, it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).  But we are so perceptible to the subtle mistruths and misdirections.  Have you ever heard these whispers in you ear?

  • How could God love you?
  • God won’t forgive you again.
  • Did God really say that?
  • God won’t keep his promises
  • How can you trust God?
  • Jesus was just a good teacher.
  • Jesus didn’t really rise from the grave
  • You are unloveable
  • You will never amount to anything
  • You are to far past redemption
  • Trust yourself – it’s the best way
  • You can not depend upon God to see you through this trial
  • God is punishing you

And the lies go on and on.  Sometimes they are close to the truth.  Sometimes they appeal to our sinful flesh.  Our pride.  Our wounds.  Sometimes we believe the lie, because the truth of God’s grace seems to good to be real.  Or just for other folks, but not for me.   

Brothers and Sisters, do not believe these lies.  See them for what they are.  Shine the Light of God’s Word upon them and reveal the mistruths.  Pray for the Spirit to help you discern between truth and error.  Fight for the truth of God’s Word.  There is life and freedom in God’s Word.  Help one another in this battle.   One of the best things you can do for a brother or sister in Christ is to pray for them and to share Scripture with them.  May we be a church that does that for one another.  

John 8:32-38 (ESV) So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

The Gospel Well

I, along with others, was asked this question by a good friend teaching a seminar at General Assembly this year:

What characteristics (in anyway you want to explain them) would you list that describe a man being animated and enjoying the Gospel in contrast to a man who is living out of a religiously-moralistic understanding of Christianity?”

I share this with you because I talked yesterday in the sermon about the need to regularly focus on the Gospel – the good news of our salvation.  A great treasure we have in jars of clay.

Here was my answer, which applies to men and women equally:

            I got this as I was going into or just starting chemotherapy.  So, take that into account, but here is the mental image that came to mind.  And I don’t exactly claim originality, but other than Scripture, I don’t have a source for this imagination of mine.   Here goes:
           Imagine, if you will, a well in the center of an area, surrounded by a hundred other wells.  That center well is the Gospel Well and it is fed by “living waters” that Christ provide.  That means, when we dip and drink from the Gospel Well we find life.  We also find that the water is always fresh to our need and there is never a moment when we dip into that well and find it empty.  Never is there a gate-keeper saying that we have had too much or that the Owner of the well has given enough, but no more.  Always, and each day, we have a need to run to that well.  We find life, animation, hope, mercy, redemption, forgiveness, love, and on and on.  There we have a precious foretaste of the full satisfaction that we find in Christ.  As Peter said,  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:68-69).   And so we must turn to Christ and come to know again Who He is.  Isn’t this what the Woman at the Well learned? (John 4)  She’d been drinking from the wrong wells.  
            But what of those other wells?  You and I know them too well, unfortunately.  They are the well of performance, the well of pleasure, the well of reputation, the well of self-righteousness, the well of judgment of others, the well of despair, the well of guilt, the well of addiction, the well of lies, the well of greed…and a hundred others by similar names.  This is our problem:  we run to those wells days after day, looking for what only the Gospel well can provide us.  And yet, we continue to dip our buckets into these wells looking for life. What do we find?  Stagnant pools that don’t bring us life, but instead lead us away from Christ.  They effectively empty.  And we pay the price – emotionally, spiritually, financially, relationally, physically – for such empty drink.  We drink and still parched.  We drink and are still empty inside.  And why do we do this?  Because we continue to drink from the Well of Lies – crafted by the father of Lies himself.  We’ve drunk too deeply of the kook-aid and been pointed from one well to another.  
            But the Gospel Well is rich and free – all the time, anytime.  There is no lie or false advertising in the Gospel, only our ever growing realization of what we need to drink.  And drink deeply.  
Isaiah 55 (all of it, because there is no good place to stop!)
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Fighting for the Greater Reality


The longer I live, the more and more I am convinced that a large part of the Christian life is a fighting for the greater reality of God at work in our lives.  A fighting for perspective that see beyond the moment we live in at the present, for the reality that is both our present and our future.  We are a myopic bunch – we can only see what is right in front of us.  Meanwhile, God is ordering our days and nights, is present with us in real ways – especially through His Spirit, and is keeping His promises.

This fighting has been much of what my last week has been about – at least in my mind and in the quiet moments when I consider “what in the world are you doing, God?!”  As you may have read in my last blog post, I didn’t fair well during, but especially after the last chemotherapy cycle.  I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually spent – and not in a good way.

One of the reasons this was true, I have come to believe, is that I lost the mental/emotional/spiritual fight for perspective before I ever started.  This time, two weeks ago, I began to feel a sense of dread and foreboding.  I knew what was coming and I hated it.  I was defeated going in and I came out defeated coming out.  I did not fight for the greater reality of God’s goodness and His faithfulness.  It wasn’t that I was actively doubting those, but I wasn’t fighting to see them either.  If your honest, you do the same thing in your life and in the struggles you face.  And don’t diminish those struggles, just because you are not struggling like I am.  This is a common Christian experience – I think.  We forget that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity (or fear), but of power and love and discipline.” (1 Timothy 1:7).

Another verse that has been much on my mind, is 2 Corinthians 5:7:  “we walk by faith, not by sight.”  I am learning in new ways what that means.  For me, right now, it means that I have to trust that God will be faithful to the promises He has made in His Word (to comfort the afflicted, to come near to those who are low, to hear & even answer prayers, etc).  And to trust especially when I cannot see where His answer are coming from.  That is the faith that sees, despite not seeing.  That is the way the Christian fights for perspective and for the greater reality, even when what is seen out of my two eyeballs seems to scream that God has left me, doesn’t care, or isn’t there.  Those of the lies of the evil one, who does not give me a pass on his evil attack on me or God’s reputation, just because I’m going through chemotherapy.  No, that’s actually makes me ripe.  All the more reason to engage in this battle.

And how do we engage in this fight?  It’s both simple and profound.  Pray, read Scripture, seek encouragement from the Body, worship & rejoice in the goodness and faithfulness that can be seen (if we open our eyes there is much), reflect on how God has come near in past circumstances, journal/write/blog your thoughts, have coffee with a friend who will speak truth into your life.  To name a few.  Thank you for joining me in this fight where you can ad for learning to fight your own battles.   This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.  Fight for the greater reality.

This Moment is Real, but it is not the Only Reality

Like my dinner that ended up on the living room floor – a side effect of the constipation, which is a side effect of the nausea meds, that are used to control the nausea, which is a side effect of the chemotherapy, of course – I feel the need to work through some of my emotions and thoughts.  You have been warned.  It has not been pretty the past few days.

Days that end in Y are hard, much of the time.  The Monday after a chemotherapy are the hardest.   Here’s why:  I’m ready to feel better and return to some activity at home and in the office.  And Lydia is ready to be done with being a single parent (for all practical purposes).  And yet, the transition is stilted and fraught with landmines – physical and emotional.  In that way, that Monday can be very hard for all involved.

Tonight through tears, I cried out to God.  I told Him I was mad, but that I needed Him to meet me there.  It’s the first time that I have been able to express that emotion in prayer.  I don’t tend towards outward anger, in general.  I am much more prone to depression, which I remember somebody calling “anger toward inward.”  I suppose this is progress through the emotional side of this suffering.  I think I have a long ways to go.

I hate that my children have to come to me with their small, sweet voices to ask if I am okay, if they see me writhing in pain, or after I have lost the contents of my stomach.

I hate what this is doing to my wife, who has been a rock, but can only withstand so much.  Our marriage is as strong as ever, but this tests our endurance and patience, as we suffer together

Speaking of patience, I hate that I have so little when my children are just being children.  Never a strong suit before this, but a real test.

I hate that I can’t be the pastor I want to be, though my congregation and fellow elders make no demands on me, other than to focus on my health as needed.

I wonder what they will remember about this time in their childhood.  I hope and pray that it is moments of joy, punctuated with moments of pain.  But not pain without a purpose.  May it increase their faith and understanding of need for the Lord.  I’m not sure I could stand otherwise.

I wrenched my knee, which remains painful, but I think is getting better (I hope).  I hate that it’s an added physical impediment, but I have never regretted being a dad to my son, chasing and playing tag on a scooter.  I’d do it again for the moment of joy with him, in the midst of so many joyless days.

This last cycle I lost the mental battle.  I am learning how much of this is mental, even when the physical side is the most visible.  I went into the last chemo cycle already defeated.  I can’t be sure, but I am fairly certain that that had an impact on my experience this past weekend.  I am trying to figure out how I can keep a positive spirit and attitude, but not make it about my will and ego.  I need to be strengthened by God, not self.  And yet, I am entirely sure what that looks like.  I’ve lost my way a bit in this regard.

I don’t want your sympathy (and yet, I am thankful for it) and I wish I didn’t need your prayers.  Though I do want and need them.   I’m also bad at taking advice and being cared for.  I’m just not good at it.  Typical man, I suppose.

One of my biggest laments is that I cannot go (or should not, for fear of infection with a diminished immune system) to the hospital.  Last week, during chemo, someone connected to our church was in the hospital, and I couldn’t go.

I’m tired of vomiting.  I think my esophagus may agree.

Last night, one of our children had a meltdown.  The end of the school year is always hard.  The end of  the school year when you dad has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemo – well, that’s a different kind of hard.  One of the thing that I told this child, I realized I needed to hear too.  We talked about how our emotions (whether good or bad) in a moment  are real – very real.  But they are not the only true reality.  This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.  This – this is what I need to fight for emotionally and mentally.  There will be an end to this.  There will be a return to health, Lord willing.  And we are still a family that is clinging to God and Who, more importantly, will not let us go.  This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.

Help My Unbelief: Mark 9:14-29

This is a sermon manuscript, which is written for the ear, not the eye.  So, it’s full of grammatical errors and incomplete sentences, I imagine.  Also, I try to attribute thoughts to others, but my sermon is the product of much reading of others, to whom I am indebted.

 Help My Unbelief  (Mark 9:14-29);  One of my favorite passages and verses (I know I have a lot):  “I believe, help my unbelief”.  After two sermons on miracles in the Gospel of John, I want to turn our attention to one more desperate father and one more healing from Christ.  This is a story that we will find ourselves somewhere in, but I hope that we also find our Savior in this story.   


Do you ever think of your life as a story?  Or maybe you picture yourself in a movie, complete with a soundtrack.  And in general, we love a good story.  And some of us love to tell a good story.  Part of the fun of our Wednesday night gatherings is the opportunity to fellowship over a meal and tell the stories of our week.  Sometimes, they are of our foibles or our frustrations, but in those moments we understand ourselves as living in a story.  Obviously, you know that my use of the term “story” does not imply fiction, but the truth of our lives as we experience them.  Aren’t you glad that the Bible gives us stories?  Yes, we get lots of other things we need:  teaching, prophecy, poetry, included.  But we also get stories.  And here we have another story from the Gospels.

What are the five elements of story (you may have learned slightly different terms): the plot, the characters, the theme, the conflict, and the resolution.  Well, we definitely have that today in this story from the Gospel of Mark.  And we have those in our lives.  Do you know conflict in your life and your heart?  Aren’t our lives full of characters, especially here in the Deep South – we have some real characters here.  And whether we know it not,

Let me tell you the theme of this story that were going to explore, and thus the theme of this sermon:

Theme:   You can have an imperfect faith, if you have a perfect Savior. 

 Your faith can falter & fail, if you know Jesus.  You can struggle with unbelief, when you also believe that God is bigger than it.  Isn’t that who we are?  And where we live most days?

BB:  We’re going to take a slightly different approach this morning.  We’ll get the outline of the story and then we’ll look at the details as we consider the characters in this story.    So, my main points our The Story, The (Usual) Suspects, and The Savior.

Continue reading

Pondering the Why/Why Me Question (Part 2)

This part 2.  Last week I introduced the topic here.  As I said there, this is not a mutually exclusive list, nor should it be considered exhaustive.  Just my thoughts on the topic…         


             Fallen World:   We live in a world that is not as God originally created, that has been marred by our sin, and that results in great tragedy.  Children are born with disabilities, we get diseases and cancers, and tornadoes ravage the countryside.  To name just a few things that happen in a fallen world.  Basically, things aren’t the way they are suppose to be!   Maybe I have a gene mutation (something that we are looking into through genetic testing – more on this some other time).  Maybe I ate too many lemonheads that I chased with Mt Dew (maybe not healthy, but probably not the cause of cancer).  Stuff, you know, happens in a fallen world.  And it is often nothing we would ever want or ask for.  And yet, God uses our pain to draw us closer to Himself.  And sometimes He brings healing on this side of heaven and sometimes we have to wait.   In either case, we have the sure promises of His world.  He is making right what we have fowled up through our sin.    Creation eagerly waits with us, for the our full redemption (Romans 8:19)

                   Discipline:  I should probably start with Scripture to gets off on the right foot:  “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).  This verse, and the broader context, makes clear that the Lord disciplines his children.  The problem we have with this notion is that we hear the word discipline and we think punishment.  That is a very narrow view of discipline.  If we think through the analogy, we can think about all of the positive and negative reinforcements that parents provide children.  Another word that we might use positively is train.  We trained or disciplined not to run out in the street and we are working on not talking back!  So then, I see this trial as part of the Lord discipline of me.  He is disciplining me to depend more fully upon Him, to not look so closely to this world for comfort and pleasure, and to live out my testimony more fully.  To name a few things.  To be clear, I do not think the Lord is punishing me.  He is not paying me back for my transgressions.  That would violate the Cross of Christ.  When Christ said, “It is finished”, from the Cross, I believe Him.  That is, my sins were fully punished and forgiven there.  God will not punish, what He has forgiven through Christ.  That said, the Lord is fully committed to my sanctification and he may well use my cancer to as a sanctifying agent.  In that, I am blessed that God would love me that much.  (See also paragraph 10 of John Piper’s article, Don’t Waste Your Cancer, “We waste our cancer if we treat sin as casually as before”).

              God’s Sovereignty:  I told you these weren’t mutually exclusive points.  In fact, maybe I should have started with this one, as it is an overarching reality.  As a Presbyterian/Reformed-type fellow, my reading of the Bible leads me to see God’s sovereignty as one of the big themes of Scripture.   That God is sovereign (in charge, over all things, past, present, and future) is a very good thing.  I do a pretty good job of just messing things up, so I don’t think I’m fit for the job.    But, let’s be honest, God’s sovereignty also raises questions in our hearts.  The “why me” question for one.   And the “if God is_____, then _______?”  These questions are real and sometimes difficult.  However, I would rather have a good God whose ways I don’t understand (Isaiah 55:6-9) be sovereign, than an impotent god who is merely responding as best he can to the chaos of this world.   That’s not really a choice, but it’s one I don’t want all the same.  So, when I think of “why?” and “why me?”, part of my answer is to run to the arms of the one whom I know is in charge, of my little life and of this big world.  (See also paragraph 2 of John Pipers booklet:  “We waste our cancer if we do not believe it is designed by God.”)

So these are the thoughts rumbling in my head about why I am dealing with cancer at my age, at my place in life, at all, etc…  And whatever answers may be forthcoming or not (God doesn’t always satisfy our curiosity or our felt need for answers), I hang my hat on these verses:   So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  ~ 2 Cor 4:16-18

Pondering the Why/Why Me Question (Part 1)


When you go through a trial, adversity, or some suffering, a perennial question that comes to our minds is “why?”  And often that questions turns into a plaintive “why me?”  It is a real question, but it is often without clear answer or at least one that is readily forthcoming.   And sometimes those unanswered questions become a noose around our necks or millstone on our shoulders.  We are weighed down by the seeming silence from God.   This can lead to despair, anger, or further distress.   And Satan can use this question against us and against God. 

It is a natural place to go in our hearts and minds.   We want to know who or what to blame.  We want to know what lessons God is trying to teach us, so that we can get the learning process completed and move on.  We want to know if there is some better way to learn altogether.  We want to know how keep this from happening again.  And yet, despite those desires, many times we are not called to know, but to trust.  To depend upon God in the storm, rather than looking for the first exit ramp. 

I have thought of the why question a good bit, since this whole thing with cancer started back in late February and early March.  And I have cried out the “why me” question at least a couple of very specific times that I can remember.  The first of those was on Sunday, March 10th (a few days after surgery), when for two hours I was in excruciating pain that the morphine barely touched.  The second time was when I vomited for the first time during the very first chemotherapy cycle.  You can understand why those experiences provoked the cry of lament, “why me?”

The more analytical pastor part of me has been thinking about the why question and I am pondering three answers.  In some ways, you might think the answers unsatisfying, but I find hope in them, particularly the second and third.  And these are not either/or answers.  They are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, I think it likely that all three are a part of the puzzle.  So, why did I get cancer?  Stay tuned…I’ll give you my answers, such as they are, next week. 

Preparing for Cancer – A rejoinder to myself

In some ways this is a rejoinder to myself and what I wrote about preparing for cancer a few weeks ago.  While I do strongly believe in what I wrote, as it applies to my situation and can for many others, I do not intend to imply that only those who’ve been worshipping and learning in church for years can successfully face cancer with faith intact.  I do think there is great value in learning Scripture and hymns and other things that point us to the truth of the goodness and sovereignty of God before we need them.  In that sense, some of what we do week to week is practice for when we need it. 

            That said, and I had this in mind from the beginning, there is something (really Someone) that is completely outside of our experience.  Our faith is in Christ and He is the anchor that holds when the storms of life begin to surround us.  He is the anchor that is the yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), regardless of whether we have been following and walking with Christ for a few days or a few decades.  He is not tossed about by the waves, as we are, and is able to hold onto us when we are unable to hold onto Him.   

            This is good news!  The anchor holds.  And it is this that gives our faith confidence – not whether we are being strong, faithful, or dependent – though the Lord may grant us those as a gift too.   I love this quotation from A.J. Gordon that was in the bulletin a few Sundays ago on this very idea:

Christ in heaven is our hope in glory, and Christ in the heart is our hope of glory. An anchor is useless unless fastened at both ends, and Christ has fastened one end in glory, which the Holy Ghost comes down and fastens the other end of the anchor in our hearts. In older times the anchor used to be brought in first and the ship came in afterward. So Christ has gone in as the forerunner within the veil, and we shall come in afterward.”  What a great picture!  And what an awesome savior we have! 


Here is one more thing I came across this week using the metaphor of an anchor: 

Are you in a storm? Does it look like your ship is about to go under? If so, you need some anchors: 

The anchor of God’s presence: He is with you – “an angel of God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me.”

The anchor of God’s ownership: You are his possession – “the God whose I am.”

The anchor that comes through serving God: “…the God….whom I serve.”

The anchor of faith: “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”

With anchors like these, God’s servants will stand strong and true.

Acts, The Church Afire, by R Kent Hughes (comment on Paul’s Acts 27 shipwreck on p 338).

Preparing for Cancer

How does one prepare for cancer?  Specifically, how does a Christian prepare to face the battle of cancer in their life or in that of a close family member?

And I don’t mean, how do you keep from getting cancer.  I’ll leave you to your own devices with that one.  Certainly, I don’t have anything worthwhile to share in that category anyway!

I do not hold ourselves up as paragons of faith, but I do wonder in amazement at how steady we have been through this (It’ll have to be a separate post, but we must remember that faith is more about it’s object – Christ – than our “work of faith”).  Our faith has surprised me at times.  I don’t mean to paint an inaccurate picture.  To be clear this whole thing sucks (to use a technical term), I hate it many days, and the teardrops are too numerous to count at this point.  And yet, there is something more.  Really, there is Someone more.

One answer, in my mind, without a doubt is all of the prayer that we have received and continue to receive.  Friends, family, preschoolers, acquaintances, and strangers lifting us up before the Lord.  Yes, that has much to do with it.  And that’s probably another whole reflection.  Here, I want to think about preparing in the years before trials come, suffering hits, and horrific news knocks us to our knees.  In that sense, this applies more broadly to cancer.

Ready for the answer?  Here it is:  walking faithfully with the Lord day in and day out for years.  In good times and bad.  In plenty and in want.  You get the idea.  As we do that, what happens?   We will have read the Scriptures, we will have heard the Scriptures proclaimed, hymns and songs will root into our bones, and we will watch others deal with the falleness of life.    We will come along side of them when they need prayer, meals, hugs, and encouragement.  We will see the faith of the saints carried out in both the mundane and the tragic.

Trust is something that we learn over the seasons.  We learn that God is trustworthy during the harvest and even during the drought.  For He provides.  Not always what we want or expect, but still this is something that has to be learned over the course of time.  But if we don’t put ourselves in the company of others and we don’t learn those hymns and we don’t hear the Word of Life, then it will be hard for us to trust.  We will have stunted our growth.  Think about it this way.  That hymn that you are singing on Sunday (you know the one that you don’t like the tune of), may not be for today.  You might be learning it for a tomorrow that is going to come and you’ll need to be reminded that “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head” (“God Moves In a Mysterious Way”, William Cowper, 1774).  You’ll need to have treasured up already the Words of Scripture that alone give life and lead us.  You’ll need to have put in some time already listening to the pastor drone on just a little too long once again.  It may not seem like much is happening right now, but I can assure you that the cumulative effect of walking with God and His people, can sustain you when you are diagnosed with cancer.

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man

and makes flesh his strength,

whose heart turns away from the Lord.

He is like a shrub in the desert,

and shall not see any good come.

He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,

in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

whose trust is the Lord.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

                                                                                (Jeremiah 17:5-8)


How can we bear fruit in a drought season?  Only if we have placed our trust in the Lord and have been nourished by Him before that.  That is part of how you prepare for cancer.

Bullet Trains & Recents Stops

What does this all feel like?  I have not been asked that question in that manner, but I think it is in the background.  And it’s a fair question, since this is not something that most people have to go through.  Thankfully.  Though plenty have and will.  The most reached for analogy to describe any sort of emotionally, spiritually, and physically tumultuous time is a roller coaster.  The ups and downs.  The quick turns.  Maybe even one of those loops.  As apt as that analogy is, it is not the first or most prominent picture in the mind.  I keep coming back to one and expanding upon it in my mind.

What does this all feel like?  It feels like being a passenger on a bullet train.  Like the kind that they have in Japan that can reach speeds up to 200 mph (according to Wikipedia, so I’m sure it’s true).   Now, I’ve never been on a bullet train, let alone to Japan, but this is still the image has been most on my mind.  Fast.  Everything going so fast.  To some unknown destination.  A month ago, I was feeling just fine and only moderately concerned about one of the symptoms of the colon cancer.  And certainly not thinking cancer.  Honestly, my biggest fear was that I had developed some sort of food allergy and would have to change my diet.  So much for that (on the positive side, I can still eat whatever I want – no food allergies here).  So, here we are on this bullet train, going at speeds unfathomable, and unable to find the emergency stop button.  Or that line you can pull on a bus that lets the driver know you want off.  I keep searching in my mind for that line and that button, but I can’t find either.  I want off, but I am not in control of this journey.

But we do get off sometimes.  Or more like ejected.  Whether we want off the train at that particular moment or not.  Ejected for a Dr’s appointment, for an unwanted phone call, for surgery, for more Dr’s appointments.  And then you’re back on the train – cruising at warp speed.  Until the next sudden stop – even when we know they’re coming, it still can feel sudden.

We had one of those yesterday.  Another new Doctor.  As an aside, I was content just having one Doctor, who I would go to see from time to time when I got a sinus infection.  Now I have several and more stops along the way.  We met with one of my two oncologists for the first time and got the plan for chemotherapy.  I will have a round of chemo every two weeks.  During the on weeks I will have to go three different days (approximately 3-4 hours the first day, 2 hours the next, and a quick visit on the third).  The following week will be an off week.  I’ll do this for 6 months.  That’s about 5 months longer than I was hoping for, but I tend to be overly and unrealistically optimistic at times.  Glad I haven’t become cynical yet.  Tomorrow (Wednesday), I’ll meet with the radiation oncologist, though radiation will not be done until after the chemotherapy is complete.  More stops next week: PET scan on Wednesday and the installation of a Port Catheter on Thursday.

So, I don’t like be out of control of the speed of this cancer train and not being able to get off when and how I want.  But here is the one thing that is keeping me sane.  I know the train conductor.  The Lord is the one who has designed (to use the word from John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Cancer, which I reread last night) this trip and directs its starting and stopping.  Though we feel and are out of control, which we don’t like, we know that the Lord is in control.  And He is a wise and good conductor.  This we know.  And this grants us hope and faith for the journey.

Not only do we know the conductor, but He has invited friends to join us for small parts of our journey.  And they (you!) have been so faithful and kind to us.  Family, friends, and even brand new friends riding with us for a bit.  No, they can’t be on for every bit, but their presence gives and grants grace to us when and where we need it.  We know we are not alone.  And our so thankful for that – it remains impossible to adequately express the gratitude that we feel for so many joining us on this journey.  And so, we go where our Lord takes us, trusting in both His wisdom and the multitude of His provision along the way.  At warp speed.

Cancer & Preaching to Myself

Almost three years ago, in the Spring of 2010, I wrote a letter to a dear friend who had been diagnosed with cancer.  I wrote the letter because we had moved away and yet I still very much felt like her pastor – even if from a distance.  Today, I am realizing that so much of my need each day is to preach what I have preached to others to myself.  To remember the richness of God’s grace, the depth of His love, and the promise of His presence.  To think deeply about God’s sovereignty and His glory, even in the midst of suffering.  I want to do this while and as I have opportunity.  Here is the majority of what I wrote and my attempt to own some of the ways I have encouraged others – I know I have a long ways to go:

Here is what I would tell you if I were your pastor, and at times like this I wish I were!:

  First, I would tell you I love you and am so thankful the Lord has placed you and your family in our lives.  What a tremendous blessing y’all have been to us since we first came to Hampton Roads and still to this day.  While this past year has been good in many ways, one thing that has consistently been hard is that the Lord placed in Meridianville/Huntsville, rather than in your community. [Four years in, I could now write how thankful and blessed we are to be here in North Alabama and would’t want to change that one bit]  We are making new friends, but it’s nothing yet like the joy of our friendship with your family.  And you personally, have been an encouragement to me, particularly in my ministry these years too.  That has been invaluable to me and a certain fulfillment of the Lord’s command to encourage one another.  And I can only begin to imagine the love that your family has for you as you have been a loving, faithful, and compassionate wife and mother.  I am sure they have shared their love for anew in these recent days.  Regardless, of how we might describe the depth of such love, love of friends or family, it pails in comparison to the love of God.  That is the first thing I would tell you and remind you – God loves you far more than we can imagine on this side of glory, but not in a way that is only incomprehensible.  God’s love is demonstrable for we need only look to the Cross of Christ.  God’s love is not fickle, feeble, nor does it wane.  God’s love is not measured by our assessment of our circumstances, whether good or bad.  God’s love is not quantified or qualified in relation to how we feel, what we can see, or what we might hope.  And so, my prayer for you during these days is that “Christ may dwell in your heart through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (with thanks to Paul!). 

            Secondly, I would encourage you to find the balance between radical honesty about your frailty, struggles, doubts, and uncertainties, while at the same time being radically honest about your faith and trust in God.  I have always loved the “holy buts” of 2 Corinthians 4.  Paul acknowledges that we are jars of clay, symbolizing our frailty.  But – and it’s a big one, Paul also directs us to the power of God that was first displayed at creation and now in our recreation through Jesus Christ.  In the Christian, these are always joined together (Or should be) – an understanding of what we are, but always in relation to the work of Jesus.  So, even as you struggle today or tomorrow or next week in a variety of ways, don’t shrink back from being honest with yourself, your family, your brothers and sisters in Christ, or those who don’t know Christ.  Speak your doubts, your fears, your anxieties.  And then, as they are spoken, be prepared to hear God’s response of love and compassion for you.  It might come from His Word, by His Spirit, through a loved one, a brother/sister in Christ, or God may even use someone where you might least expect to hear God’s truth. 

            Thirdly, I would tell you that God’s care about you as a complete person.  So then, this isn’t just about what is happening to you or in you physically.  This also about your faith, your heart, your emotions, and your spirit – God doesn’t just redeem a portion of us, but all of us.  So, in that sense this presents an opportunity to prayerfully consider all of the ways that the Lord will grow you.  I am so glad someone directed you to “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” – I read a couple of years ago and am thankful for John Piper’s ministry.  I probably can’t say what he says as well, but the thrust of what Piper says is what I would say to you, perhaps more personally, if not as eloquently.  Here is an opportunity the Lord has given you to grow, not in spite of your cancer, but because of it.  Not a one of us would ask the Lord to grow us that way, but now that you are there, might as well take advantage of it.   This knowledge informs my prayers for you.  Yes, I pray for your physical well-being, but I also pray (and maybe more so) for your spiritual well-being.  

            Fourthly, I would tell you that this isn’t just about you.  That could sound harsh, but I think you would know the way in which I would say that to you.  Just as the Lord is doing something in you as a whole person, He is also at work outside of you.  I heard someone once say that God’s never just doing one thing, He’s doing a million things at one time or something like that.  In that sense, even as you may pray for yourself, pray also for how the Lord will glorify himself in a multitude of ways through this.  How might he use this to grow your church?  How might he use this to bring reconciliation with family members?  How might he use this to draw your whole family into an even deeper walk?  How might he use this to draw someone to himself? How might he use this in ways that we may not see today or tomorrow, or on this side of heaven?  Yeah, that’s would I say, it’s not just about you, but the Lord will use you for His glory.

            I probably would have more to say, but I know that talking too much is an occupational hazard.  So, if I were your pastor, I would also wait, watch, and pray, to see what else the Lord would lead me to say.  I would listen, knowing that I can learn/hear/be reminded of as much from you about the Gospel, the love of Christ, and our growth as Christians, as you might learn/hear/be reminded of from me.  Forgive any grammatical errors, since I would prefer to saying these things to you, rather than writing them.  My prayers attend this note. 

grace & peace…Adam