WHEN WE GET SMALL AND GOD GETS BIG
BY JARED C. WILSON
The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms . . .
– Deuteronomy 33:27
I am sorry for the lack of posting in a long while. Life and ministry have occupied most of my time, and I am sad to report to those who don’t follow me on Twitter that our church is undergoing yet more challenges from the beast called cancer. In the last 6 months we lost our friends Anne and Richard. Our friends Daisy and Jerry are said to be fighting on the final fronts. And so is our friend Natalie. Can I tell you a bit about her?
Natalie is one of our deaconesses. I say “is” even though she tried to resign and we wouldn’t accept. It didn’t seem right. One of my first memories of Natalie was at a funeral, actually, one of the first of the many I have officiated in my five years in Middletown. I don’t even remember who it was for — it was not a church member but a townsperson — and I was doing my normal introverted, new pastor on the job thing, being young and shy and scared hanging out in the kitchen at the fire hall. Natalie comes walking in. “What are you doing in here? Go out there and meet people.”
Excuse me? Who does this lady think she is?
One of my best critics and greatest friends, actually. As I’ve thought over our friendship the last few weeks, it occurs to me that Natalie is the person from the church I talk with the most. Several times a week we exchange emails. We volunteer together at the local food shelf. When I have to meet with a woman alone at the church, Natalie is the one who will come and hang out in the room next door. Natalie is the one who, when she’s at the table, I know things will get done. When she says something is doable, dangit, it’s doable. Natalie went from my shrewdest challenger to my fiercest supporter and encourager.
On Easter Sunday a friend said, “Natalie, your eyes look yellow.” She went to the doctor that Monday, where they did blood work. Tuesday they called and said “Go to the ER.” She was in the hospital over a week. They found problems with the bile duct, but in that process, also, pancreatic cancer, which, they say, nobody survives. But they also created all kinds of complications in the bile duct procedures which left her feeble and wounded. Talk of air building up, of bile building up, of perforated this and that. And even if that stuff could be fixed, there was still the cancer, which again they say, nobody survives.
Natalie refused treatment. She could not endure any more surgeries. Every thing the doctors did only created three more things to do. She wasn’t going to fool with all that.
She’s at a friend’s home now in Middletown, and hospice has taken over. They gave her a few days to two weeks to live. That was 11 days ago. She’s in a lot of pain. We all hope the perforations and the air and the bile and all that is getting sorted internally, by the body’s great design or God’s great miraculous way. But there’s still that cancer untreated. And nobody, they say, survives that.
I’ve been reading Scripture to her. She asked for Revelation — with its whores and dragons and plagues and beheadings — and for Ecclesiastes — with its vanities and meaninglessnesses and chasings of the wind. This tells you something about Natalie.
I said, “Why Revelation?,” as I’m reading Jesus’ letters to the churches. “This is what I have against you!” he declares over and over.
She said, “He’s not talking to me!”
I said, “Why Ecclesiastes?”
She said, “Because I see that having a bunch of stuff and money and fame doesn’t do anything. It tells me I didn’t waste my life.”
Some people tell Natalie they are mad at God about this. She gets mad about their getting mad. “God’s the reason we have anything in the first place.”
Yesterday she pointed to the collection of cards she’s received. “I almost wish you’d take them all away,” she said.
“Because they go on and on about how great I am and how I’ve done all these wonderful things for them. And they don’t know how selfish I am. Anything good I’ve done wasn’t me.”
Her kids are grown. They are all here, even her son who lives in Sweden. He says, “Wouldn’t it be something if of all the things the doctors got terribly wrong, it was also this diagnosis about the bile and the air? Maybe, if she starts feeling better, she will change her mind about fighting the cancer.”
But, they keep saying, nobody survives pancreatic cancer.
Natalie was upset the other day that she didn’t know when she was gonna go. “They said ‘a few days to two weeks’ eleven days ago. Now they won’t tell me how long I have.” She pauses, eyes closed. “God knows.”
I don’t know when Natalie will go. I don’t know when I will go. None of us knows the when, really. I could go before her. Any of us could.
I preached on Psalm 1 at a conference last weekend, and this line from verse 6 strikes me: “the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” There is nothing more precious than to be known by God, all our days and all our ways.
It has been difficult watching Natalie, a fit, healthy, thin giant of a woman, shrink down in body and energy. And yet, one thing I have learned over the course of our church’s afflictions is that when a saint’s body gives way, their spirit builds up. They get smaller, and God gets bigger, as if their passing is itself a foretaste of the day Christ will put all things in subjection under his feet. And we are not annihilated on that day but redeemed, resurrected, restored. When we die, we get smaller and God gets bigger, that he might be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
The day before Richard died, I stood in his bedroom while he lay in his deathbed. Another bed had been pressed up against it, where his wife slept by his side in the night. I was told I could speak to him, although Richard was not conscious, heavily sedated. Because of that other bed parallel to his own, I could not sit near him. I had to actually lay down next to him. So I did. While his sister and aunt watched, I crawled basically into bed with him, lying on my side to face him, and we laid there, inches from each other, while I looked into his thin face. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open. I could feel and smell his breath, slow and labored on my own face. I said to him, “Richard, God loves you and approves of you.” (These were the words the Spirit spoke to my heart in my moment of gospel wakefulness years ago.) “Richard, the Lord is proud of you and ready to welcome you because of your faith in him.” Then I said something that has been a meaningful exhortation to me ever since Ray Ortlund said it to me over plates of enchiladas at Cancun Mexican Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. “You are a mighty man of God.”
The words sounded weird given our intimate, vulnerable, tender positions.
In the ordinary, in the mundane, in the boredom. In the throes of suffering, in the pangs and numbness of depression, in the threats to life and safety. Christ is all.
Richard passed early the next morning. His body finally gave way to the brokenness and the curse. Few people survive brain tumors. And yet — he did. He really and truly did. Thinking of him standing in the presence of God in great glory, presented blameless by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, he was swallowed up into the divine kingdom in which he was already seated with Christ, into the very God in which he was already hidden. Richard was — is — more than a conqueror.
Jesus looks right into the eyes of Lazarus’ sobbing sister and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live. Do you believe this?”
I do. I really do, by God’s grace.
So does Natalie. Nobody survives pancreatic cancer, “they” say. But the blood of Christ speaks a better word. Natalie will survive.
Everyone who is in Christ will survive — prevail, even.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
– John 3:30
Source: thegospelcoalition.org / May 20, 2014 by Jared C. Wilson
In September of 2012 a huge lump developed in my neck and was merely a symptom of the reality that I had cancer that had developed on the back of my tongue: Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
When I was diagnosed with cancer and heard all the side effects of the treatment I would be receiving my first reaction was to ask the doctor, “What if I don’t get any treatment?” The quick reply was, “You will die.” I knew it was very serious at that point. I was at stage 3 (only stage 4 is more serious) and had a tumor in my neck the size of an avocado. My prayer in all of this was that I would bring glory to God whether I survived the cancer or not. I have boldly proclaimed the gospel in my living, and wanted to also boldly proclaim the gospel in my dying. A helpful passage to me when looking death in the face were some of the Apostle Paul’s last words in 2 Timothy 4:17-18, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
I’ve had a lot of time to think and pray over the last several months and it’s really impossible to describe the feelings I’ve felt, the gratitude I feel, and the hope that I have in Christ and his promises to me in the gospel. However, I’d like to express my gratitude by describing how what I value most in life has been enhanced because of by battle with and present victory over cancer. It was just last week that I received the results of my PET scan of the good news that there is no sign of cancer in my body. Here are just a few of the values I have that have been greatly enhanced because of my experience with cancer:
I am grateful for family and friends.
I’ve been blessed to have Christian parents and a wonderful wife and children for many years. However, It’s hard to fathom getting through the past six months without my dear wife in particular. She fed me via a feeding tube in my stomach sometimes 6-10 times per day, and was literally at my beck and call twenty four hours a day. She never complained and remained optimistic that God was going to heal me and renew me emotionally, physically, and spiritually in His perfect time. I was sent cards, gift cards, money, and had hundreds of people praying for me –many people I didn’t even know. I even had some phone calls from people as far away as India (that I didn’t know) telling me they were praying for my healing. I have never felt so loved and cherished by my family and my closest friends. I desperately needed unconditional love during these difficult months and sensed the reality of Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times.” I experienced the deep love of Christ through my family and friends.
I am grateful for the suffering of Christ on my behalf.
There were many times along the way that I didn’t think I was going to make it another day – the pain and discomfort seemed unbearable. It was during these times of great suffering that I would picture scenes of Christ leading to his ultimate sacrifice on the cross for my sins. Verses on the atonement, great Hymns of the faith, and deep theological truths would comfort me in the midst of my sufferings. It is unfathomable that Jesus voluntarily suffered on my behalf and took the wrath I deserved upon himself to make me right with the Father. Perhaps no passage of Scripture summarizes it better than 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I am grateful that my cancer was for my good and for God’s glory.
In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that Christians will suffer immensely in this life, that their suffering doesn’t compare with the glory that will be revealed in us in Heaven, and that all things work out for our good and God’s glory in the end. There wasn’t a single passage that went through my mind (especially during radiation treatments) more than Romans 8.
I am grateful that suffering results in my sanctification.
In other words, suffering results in bringing about the purposes of God for me that “good times” would never produce. These verses from 1 Peter 4:12-13, 19 were a source of comfort and joy to me even on gthe darkest days: “Beloved, do not me surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
I am grateful that my cancer brought me to a deeper understanding of confession and repentance which have led to emotional as well as physical healing.
Isaiah 38:16-17 declares, “O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit. Oh restore me to health and make me live! Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.”
I am grateful that because I’ve gone through cancer I have more mercy and compassion for those who are suffering.
I believe that God has already and will continue to open doors for me to minister to people with cancer, and those who care for loved ones with cancer. I especially have a heart for those who don’t know Jesus and have to face their fears, pain, and mortality without the hope and promises of the Gospel. I am encouraged to use my experience with cancer as Paul describes here in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”
Ultimately all the values I am grateful for above are wrapped around the great realities of the Gospel. The fact that God is sovereign and in His goodness and mercy chose to save me. He didn’t deal with me as my sins deserved, but chose His own Son to atone for my many sins. Because of Jesus I have purpose in life, and hope in life after death. Because of Jesus I have meaning and purpose. Because of Jesus I have something to offer those who are suffering with cancer. I am grateful that having gone through the ravages of cancer, I can help others as God has helped me in Christ. It is a privilege to point others to the purpose for which we were made – to know Christ and to make Him known. Cancer has merely been a tool to make the urgency of the gospel all the more at the forefront of my life and the lives of others.
Dr. Bill Stuntz Godly Response to His Cancer Diagnosis
My cancer has been promoted: I’m officially in stage 4. My doctors have found two can- cerous nodules—a euphemism for “small tumors”—one on each of my lungs. I started chemo this week. Next week, I’ll see a thoracic surgeon who will, sometime this summer, cut those tumors out. Needless to say, this isn’t good news—though, thanks to medical advances (especially, thanks to those evil drug companies that politicians regularly attack), it isn’t disastrous news either. We’ll see what the future brings.
I don’t have any previous experience with this sort of thing, but judging from what I hear and read, I’m supposed to be asking why all this is happening, and why it’s happening to me. Honestly, those questions are about the farthest thing from my mind.
Partly, that’s because they aren’t hard questions. Why does our world have gravity? Why does the sun rise in the East? There are technical answers, but the meta- physical answer is simple: that’s how reality works. So too here. Only in the richest parts of the rich world of the twenty-first century could anyone entertain the thought that we should expect long, pain-free lives. Suffering and premature death (an odd phrase: what does it mean to call death “premature”?) are constant presences in the lives of most of the peoples of the Earth, and were routine parts of life for generations of our predecessors in this country—as they still are today, for those with their eyes open. Stage 4 cancers happen to middle-aged men and women, seemingly out of the blue, because that’s how reality works.
As for why this is happening to me in particular, the implicit point of the question is an argument: I deserve better than this. There are two responses. First, I don’t—I have no greater moral claim to be free from unwanted pain and loss than anyone else. Plenty of people more virtuous than I am suffer worse than I have, and some who don’t seem virtuous at all skate through life with surprising ease. Welcome to the world.
Once again, it seems to me that this claim arises from the incredibly unusual experience of a small class of wealthy professionals in the wealthiest parts of the world today. We think we live in a world governed by merit and moral desert. It isn’t so. Luck, fortune, fate, providence—call it what you will, but whatever your preferred label, it has far more to do with the successes of the successful than what any of us deserves. Aristocracies of the past awarded wealth and position based on the accident of birth. Today’s meritoc- racies award wealth and position based on the accident of being in the right place at the right time. The difference is smaller than we tend to think. Once you under- stand that, it’s hard to maintain a sense of grievance in the face of even the ugliest medical news. I’ve won more than my share of life’s lotteries. It would seem churlish to rail at the unfairness of losing this one—if indeed I do lose it: which I may not.
The second response is sim- pler; it comes from the movie “Unforgiven.” Gene Hackman is dying, and says to Clint Eastwood: “I don’t deserve this. To die like this. I was building a house.” Eastwood responds: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
That gets it right, I think. It’s a messed-up world, upside-down as often as it’s rightside up. Bad things happen; future plans (that house Hackman was building) come to naught. Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
Why, then, are we so prone to think otherwise? This is one of the biggest reasons I believe my faith is true: something deep within us expects, even demands moral order—in a world that shouts from the rooftops that no such order exists. Any good metaphysical theory must explain both of those phenomena: both the expectation and the lack of supporting evidence for the thing expected. The only persuasive way to get there, I think, is to begin with a world made good that was twisted, corrupted, bent. Buried deep in our hearts are hints of the way things ought to be; the ugliest reality can’t snuff them out. Still, that reality exists; it can’t be denied. Christianity sees that reality, recognizes it for what it is—but also sees the expectation, and recognizes where it comes from.
Bottom line: I don’t need anyone to tell me why I’m in the situation I’m in, and I certainly don’t think I merit an exemption from the rottenness to which the rest of the world is subject.
But I do need to know some things. Three, to be precise: first, that I’m not alone; second, that my disease has not made me ugly to those I love and to the God who made me; and third, that somehow, something good can come from this. My faith tells me that the God of the universe suf- fered everything I suffer and infinitely worse. Death and suffering don’t separate human beings from our Creator—on the contrary: those things unite us with our Creator. The barrier became the bridge: that is the great miracle of the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection. So I need never suffer alone. Job’s story confirms that, far from rejecting the ugli- ness of disease and pain, God embraces those who suffer and takes on their suffering. Beauty and ugliness are turned inside-out. Joseph’s story and the gospels alike show a God who delights to use the worst things to produce the best things. That doesn’t make life’s hells less than hellish. But it does make them bearable.
This isn’t just whistling in the dark—at least, I hope it isn’t. It all makes sense to me: it fits the world I see and feel, with all its shades of glory and misery. And it answers the questions my soul cries out. “Why” isn’t one of those questions.
Article adapted from: http://www.law.upenn.edu/blogs/dskeel/archives/2008/04/ more_cancerstuntz.html#more
[In Dr. Fritzt own words: “I’m a law professor—I teach criminal law and criminal procedure at Harvard—and also an evangelical Christian.That puts [me] in a pretty small, and maybe pretty weird, demo- graphic. I’m also a political junkie and a registered Republican, though I’ve cast as many Democratic votes as Republican ones. I’m interested in all those things—law and legal theory, crime and criminal justice, everything about American politics and political culture, the culture of evangelical Protestantism, and the intersections of various items on that list.] From: http://www.law.upenn.edu/ blogs/dskeel/archives/2008/02/ welcome.html]
Harvard Law School: Obituary for Dr. Stuntz
William Stuntz, a renowned scholar of criminal justice at Harvard Law School, an evangelical Christian and a teacher much beloved by students and colleagues, died March 15 after a long battle with cancer.
Stuntz, 52, joined the HLS faculty in 2000 and was named the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law in 2006. His influential scholarship over the past three decades addressed the full spectrum of issues related to criminal justice and procedure, from the overcrowding of prisons and racial disparities in incarceration to the appropriate role of faith, emotion and mercy in the penal system. He authored three dozen law review articles and essays on criminal law, and published articles and op-eds in the New York Times, Christianity Today, First Things, The New Republic and The Weekly Standard. This fall, Harvard University Press will publish a book he authored on the collapse of the criminal justice system.
In a statement to the Harvard Law School community today, Dean Martha Minow observed: “Bill was extraordinary; his wisdom and compassion touched our lives in so many ways, large and small. His gifts to society through his scholarship and teaching on criminal law and justice changed and improved academic inquiry and policies on the ground. His scholarship and teaching of Christian legal theory and of confronting life’s burdens inspire people in our community and well beyond it. He imbued his work and his life with a vision of mercy and compassion. The Harvard Law School, the larger community of scholars, and the communities connected through Bill’s writings are better, wiser, kinder because of Bill.”
That kindness—and a personal style marked also by good humor and generosity—profoundly affected those who knew Stuntz or knew of him through his writing. As Minow wrote: “Among his many gifts to us was the grace with which he lived his life. In knowing Bill, we couldn’t help but be reminded to live life as our better selves. Bill once wrote, ‘We understand that the world is not what it should be, and that our own capacities to understand it are severely limited.’ He described and lived his life in recognition of the need for humility and also for judgment and work to repair what we find around us. His devotion to family and friends remains legendary. Those of us lucky enough to have been able to consult with him for personal or professional advice will never forget his insights and generosity.”
Carol Steiker, the Howard J. and Katherine W. Aibel Professor of Law at HLS, and a criminal justice scholar who was a close colleague of Stuntz, said: “He was an extraordinary and unforgettable teacher, scholar, colleague and friend. He was someone we’ll all miss, more than we can really say.”
Celebrated for his unusual ability to appeal to a wide variety of legal scholars and others of all political and methodological perspectives, Stuntz was generous with his time and guidance. Colleagues and students were especially struck by his open-mindedness, as reflected in his willingness to listen to a variety of opinions and to change his own when he felt it appropriate. Many observed that his style served as a model for civil discourse. Extremely popular among his students for his compassion and accessibility, Stuntz was the 2004 recipient of the HLS Sacks-Freund Teaching Award, given by the graduating class to honor a professor for his or her contributions to teaching. In the upcoming week, the the Harvard Law & Policy Review will be publishing a series of student reflections on Professor Stuntz (Read the introduction to the collection at http://hlpronline.com/2011/03/professor-bill-stuntz-in-memoriam/).
From his perspective as a legal scholar and also an evangelical Protestant, Stuntz co-authored a blog that addressed law, politics, and other topics, “Less Than the Least,” with fellow evangelical David Skeel, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. As they noted in their blog, “We are both law professors and evangelical Protestants – a weird combination in our time. We hope it’s also an interesting combination.” Stuntz wrote honestly and lyrically, with humor and wisdom, about his struggles with chronic pain and his long battle with cancer, as well as the role of his religious faith in helping him deal with his illnesses.
Said Skeel: “Although Bill was an enormously influential scholar, and was widely viewed as the leading criminal procedure scholar of the past generation, he may have had an even broader impact writing and speaking about his struggles with cancer the past three years, and with debilitating back pain before that. His blog posts and other writings have been reprinted in numerous church bulletins and widely circulated elsewhere. I’ve never known anyone who lived out the Christian call to love one’s neighbor as oneself the way Bill did. He was an inspiration to everyone who came into contact with him.”
Many readers of the blog, including fellow cancer patients, wrote of being deeply touched by the honesty and compassion that imbued his writing. A year ago, in March 2010, a large group of his many admirers, including legal scholars, colleagues, friends, and students—“a simply dazzling array of conference participants,” as Dean Martha Minow said in opening remarks—gathered at HLS for a two-day conference, “A Celebration of the Career of Bill Stuntz.” In tribute after tribute, they noted that Stuntz had exerted a tremendous influence on the fields of American criminal justice and criminal procedure while at the same time having a profound effect, professionally and personally, on so many who worked with or were taught by him.
Present at the conference, Stuntz described factors that had led to what he called the “disaster of criminal justice in our time,” in particular, the massive and “racially unfair” prison population in the U.S., but held out hope that the system might become fairer.
HLS Professor Jeannie Suk ’02, a former student of Stuntz, and a moderator of one of the panels at the conference, said after learning of Stuntz’s death: “He was a wonderful mentor to me since my time as a student at Harvard Law School. He was the one, when I was a student, who looked me right in the eye and told me not to worry about seeing things that might be unconventional or that might surprise or anger people, that it was a good thing if I had those instincts. He encouraged me to develop that and to be unafraid.”
She added, “The whole time I was an assistant professor, he was very ill, yet … he would stop by my office, he would read all my drafts [of articles] and have something to say about them, with great insight. I really think he was one of the main reasons, the primary reason, I became a professor, that I became a criminal law scholar.”
Born on July 3, 1958, Stuntz grew up in Annapolis, then attended the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia School of Law. After two judicial clerkships, he was a professor at the University of Virginia for 14 years until he joined the Harvard Law faculty in 2000.
Stuntz was the loving husband of Ruth Stuntz of Belmont, and devoted father of Sarah Stuntz, Andrew Stuntz, and Samuel Cook-Stuntz, all of Cambridge. He also leaves his parents, John and Sandy Stuntz of Annapolis, Md., and siblings, Linda Adamson of Annapolis, Michael Stuntz of Silver Spring, Md., Richard Stuntz of Annapolis, and David Stuntz of Durham, NC, as well as many nieces and nephews, and a daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Cook-Stuntz.
A memorial service will be held at Park Street Church in Boston on Saturday, March 19 at 5:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, guests should feel free to make donations to International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org) or the Cancer Center Priorities Fund at Massachusetts General Hospital (165 Cambridge Street, Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114-2792).
October 31, 1517 & October 31, 2012 (495 years Later)
Anyone who follows this blog regularly already knows that I have been diagnosed with cancer. I begin my treatment today – 4-5 hours of chemotherapy and 24 minutes of Radiation. I will have 33 straight treatments with the hopes that my cancer will be killed.
I don’t believe it’s by coincidence or an accident that my chemotherapy and radiation treatment begin on October 31st – the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Church Door at Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s 95 Theses sparked perhaps one of the five most significant days in Church history since the closing of the Canon of Scripture on any church historian’s list of significant days.
I want to make a few observations before I leave for the hospital for treatment today:
(1) I am grateful for truth and those who fight for it – no matter what the cost. When you get cancer you start hearing stories of courageous people of all ages who have battled and overcome cancer; and on the other hand, there are many who were courageous and have lost the battle. Honestly, I’ve never been so inspired by others in a battle for anything. When death is on the line – anything cancer survivors have to say, is like E.F. Hutton speaking to me – when they talk I listen (1980’s television commercial “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”). I am grateful that Martin Luther did not recant of his teaching of justification by faith in Christ Jesus. There is no greater comfort I have than my security and peace with God the Father through His Son – Jesus Christ. I know that whether I live or die – that I’m justified before God the Father because of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord. I am so grateful for the promise of Jesus related to Him being the pinnacle of truth when He declares to Thomas and the disciples in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”
(2) I thank God for what theologians call “common grace.” Two of the people that have helped me the most since I’ve been diagnosed with cancer are not followers of Christ. And yet, I am so grateful for their advice, wisdom, and compassion in my battle with cancer and all the medical procedures I’ve had to go endure so far. I am grateful for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others who have come alongside me with an expertise in their particular areas in treating cancer. It is a common grace that all truth is God’s truth. The rain falls on the wicked farmer’s and righteous farmer’s crops alike. I am reminded that all people are made in God’s image and though they may not share my passion for Christ and God’s Word – they are special and many share an affinity for objective truth’s and helping their fellow man. Luther was helped by many who were not followers of Christ in helping bring about the Reformation of the church and the Gospel. In the Bible God uses men as wicked as Judas to bring about His purposes.
(3) I am grateful for God’s sovereignty. I know that nothing can happen to me that He does not allow. R.C. Sproul likes to say there is not one single maverick molecule that is not under God’s control. I believe that God can kill my cancer without chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Many family members, and friends, and even Christians I don’t even know, in different parts of the world are praying for me. I feel totally humbled by this outpouring of love. Elders, my mom, and several close friends have anointed me with oil. However, the cancer is still there. As of today I still have cancer that needs to be killed through the means of God’s people praying, medications, radiation and chemotherapy treatment, and the various nutritional cancerous killing foods I’ve been eating and drinking. However, no matter what happens I know that God is sovereign – in control of everything (including my cancer), and that He is good – He will be glorified no matter what becomes of my cancer. Luther was not perfect – as a matter of fact that’s why he was so passionate about the Bible. In God’s sovereignty He raised up a brilliant and yet very bombastic theologian to shake things up in the Church. I don’t claim to be brilliant, nor too bombastic, but I do know that God will bring about good and the glorification of His Son on a much smaller scale in sovereignly using my cancer for His ultimate purposes and plans – and that is extremely comforting. The fact that no one, no thing, no ruler, no nation, no disease – can thwart the sovereign plan of God to bring glory to Himself.
(4) Luther said that suffering helped him understand the Bible, and that without experiencing pain and suffering you can’t be a good theologian. I strive hard to be a good interpreter and teacher, but I totally concur with Luther – suffering makes you a much better theologian. I don’t like suffering or pain any more than anyone else. But I think that the emotional pain that led to physical pain for the advancement of the gospel in Luther’s life was worth it. It was worth it for me, and worth it for you. I’m so glad that I know salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone because Luther’s heritage has been passed down for almost 500 years. Before him it was taught by all of the apostles in the New Testament. It is extremely clear. But nothing good, comes easy, or without a cost. We have the phrase in America – “No pain, no gain.” Without Christ’s suffering and pain on the cross there would be no spiritual gain in any way, shape, or form in our standing with God. I stand amazed at Jesus’ voluntarily leaving His rightful place with the Father and Spirit to come to planet earth to pay the ultimate price and be the one and only sacrifice for our sin. He is able to empathize with our sufferings and weaknesses, and is yet without sin.
Today I stand as Luther did on the truth of justification by faith alone in Jesus; in God’s common grace through the expertise of the doctors and nurses and the medications they will use to kill my cancer; in the sovereign will of God working all things together for my good and His glory; and I’m prepared to suffer because in Christ I know that His sufferings were greater still and for a greater good; no matter what happens – as Luther was able to say “Here I Stand” – I can also stand firmly today 495 years later because of Jesus the Nazarene.
The song below will be going through my mind during radiation and chemotherapy treatment today. It summarizes everything that Luther stood for on October 31, 1517. It is a song that talks about going from darkness to light; sinner to saint; from totally condemned because of my sin to fully redeemed by His righteousness. Why? Because of the amazing plan of the Father to send His Son – the Perfect for the imperfect; the Clean for the unclean; the obedient sacrificial Lamb for the rebellious goat. I hope and pray that the chemotherapy and radiation will do for me in a physical sense what Christ has done for me in a spiritual sense. I pray the cancer will be wiped away as Jesus has washed away all of my sin. Here is the song written by Charles H. Gabriel that summarizes these truths of the Reformation:
“I Stand Amazed in the Presence”
I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.
How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful
Is my Savior’s love for me!
For me it was in the garden
he prayed: “Not my will, but thine.”
He had no tears for own griefs,
But sweat-drops of blood for mine.
In pity angels beheld him,
and came from the world of light
to comfort him in the sorrows
he bore for my soul that night.
He took my sins and my sorrows,
he made them his very own;
he bore the burden to Calvary,
and suffered and died alone.
When with the ransomed in glory
his face I at last shall see,
‘twill be my joy through the ages to sing of his love for me.
Tabletalk (The Monthly Magazine of R.C. Sproul’s – Ligonier Ministries) And Matt Chandler on His Battle with Brain Cancer
Tabletalk: By way of offering a brief introduction of yourself and your family, when was God’s call to serve His people confirmed for you (Matt, cancer free, recently pictured above with his wife Lauren and their three children)?
Matt Chandler: I think my story is a bit strange in that my awareness of God’s call on my life to serve His people was a bit lost in me serving His people. I’ll try and explain that. I was very frustrated with my church experiences heading into college. I loved sharing the gospel and loved the God of the Bible, but it appeared to me (probably my immaturity) that my church and I were seeing different things in the Scriptures. I saw atonement and the fear of the Lord, and at church they were teaching us not to drink beer and not to have sex. To be truthful, I wasn’t drinking beer or having sex, and could see that drunkenness was sinful and that God had a plan for sex in marriage. Yet it appeared to me that those were secondary issues that should be addressed after the atoning work of Christ was communicated and understood. I started teaching at an ecumenical gathering while I was in college and assumed I would finish school, become a good lawyer, and teach Sunday school at the local Baptist church wherever I settled (I was hoping for the West Coast). The Bible study blew up numerically, and we were running around one thousand to fifteen hundred students every week. A young woman from that study asked me when I received the “call of ministry.” I was honestly confused by her question. I thought she was asking if the Baptists had literally called me on the phone and let me teach the Bible study. She clarified her question, and it sent all my dreams and plans into another direction altogether. It was at this time that I came to understand that I wouldn’t be spending my life doing law and teaching Sunday school but rather teaching and leading God’s people into maturity by the Spirit’s power and by the proclamation of the Word.
TT: What counsel would you give to a believer on the day he or she is diagnosed with cancer? How about six months after the diagnosis?
MC: One of God’s big mercies in all of this has been allowing me to pastor a young church. I have done multiple funerals every year I have been here, and only one has been for a person over the age of fifty. I learned very early that people need to have a good grasp of God’s goodness and God’s sovereignty. On the day that a person is diagnosed, I try to encourage them in God’s knowledge — that this hasn’t surprised Him or caught Him off guard. I want to remind them that this isn’t punitive, but rather that God is on the move and He can be trusted. Six months after the diagnosis is harder to answer because cancer can go one of two ways. If the man or woman is still in a real fight, I want to draw his or her attention to Hebrews 11 or the story of Abraham being promised a son or even David being anointed king and then running from Saul for all those years before sitting on the throne. I think it’s important to remind people after the initial shock of diagnosis wears off and the wear and tear of treatment settles in that victory for those who are children of God is guaranteed, although difficulty, pain, and waiting might all be very present.
TT: In what ways has your cancer sanctified you?
MC: It’s made me look long and hard at my motives and has drawn me deeply into God in prayer. I am an excellent studier and researcher, and before all this began, I would say a decent man of prayer; but I learned after they told me I only had two to three years left that I knew much more about God than I actually knew Him. The bulk of my sanctification through this ordeal has been the birth of a deep desire for intimacy with our great God and King.
TT: How do you counsel Christians to face death and disease (both those who are personally facing such crises and those who are currently enjoying robust health)?
MC: I simply have tried to point out that we shouldn’t be surprised by death and disease because the Bible is filled with it. As I stated above, an understanding of God’s goodness and His sovereign power are necessary to cope with life in a fallen world. I want to teach people that life is extremely fragile and that there isn’t a person in our sanctuary or listening to a podcast who can’t have his or her whole world change with a phone call or, as in my case, getting up one morning and getting a cup of coffee. Those are heavy truths, and I know they don’t make for feel-good sermons, but it’s better to know these truths than to pretend it’s not reality.
TT: You’ve written that if you had not heard John Piper’s answer to the question “For whom did Christ die?” at the 1997 Passion conference, you would not have had ground to stand on years later when you heard the words “brain cancer.” How did your understanding of the atonement help you deal with such a devastating diagnosis?
MC: Actually, I think my wife, Lauren, said that in a blog she wrote after my prognosis was given to us. That sermon was significant for both of us because up until that point, I’m not sure we grasped the size and holiness of God. That sermon changed the trajectory of both our lives in that it shifted how we saw God and understood Him.
TT: You’ve also written that there were moments last year when you felt you were “punched in the soul” but that you were reminded nevertheless that the disease with which you’re dealing “isn’t punitive but somehow redemptive.” Could you unpack that a little?
MC: I have been very blessed by God in my life. My cancer has honestly been one of the more difficult things to deal with. Lauren and I have tried to trust the Lord in everything, and when we’ve stepped out in faith He has been beyond gracious to us. People come to hear; they give generously to the church, and almost every “idea” we’ve had God has blessed and grown. I can honestly say that ministry and life were pretty easy for us up until Thanksgiving 2009. After I had the seizure and they found the tumor, I thought it would be like everything else had been — easy and would end well. When I first met my neurosurgeon on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, I was ignorantly and maybe even arrogantly thinking that nothing would come of it and that we would just need to watch this thing and see.
I was caught completely off guard when Dr. Barnett told me that it didn’t look good and that we needed to do surgery immediately. That was one of the first times in my life, if not the first time, that things went “worst-case scenario” on me. The Holy Spirit was quick to remind me of great passages on God’s sovereignty and goodness in difficulty. I thought of Romans 8, Hebrews 11, and several others. I wasn’t being punished with brain cancer because I didn’t tell that guy at the gym about Jesus or because I hadn’t read Piper’s latest book, but rather God was at work. He was doing something, and I could be sure that He loved me and in the end I would have increased joy and He would be glorified. Here we are over a year later and that’s exactly what’s happened.
TT: How has dealing with your disease affected your view of God’s sovereignty (or, how has your view of God’s sovereignty affected how you view your disease)?
MC: (Pictured above Matt on a video update to his church after chemo treatment – having lost his hair – which has since grown back) I believe the Scriptures teach that God is aware of every act at every level of the universe. From a star exploding to the rate at which our planet spins to a cell dividing, He knows. I don’t believe in the end that God gave me cancer, but He certainly could have stopped it and didn’t. So I have to believe like Joseph, John the Baptist, and Paul had to believe when they were in prison — that God is working, and what the enemy means for evil, He will turn to good. There have been multiple occasions when God has used this tremendously. The Associated Press let me preach the gospel in an article that ran worldwide. The story has caught the imagination of the media here in Dallas, and we’ve been able to talk about the atoning work of Christ on TV as well as in newspaper articles. That has led to a ton of men and women surrendering their lives to Christ after wanting to talk with me through their own sufferings. If my life gets “cut short” but we get to see new births in the kingdom, then I don’t feel slighted or robbed in the least.
TT: In the late summer/early fall of 2010, you went to Sudan. How did that trip impact your life?
MC: I was deeply moved by my trip to Sudan. I’ve traveled quite a bit internationally but have never seen anything like it. It isn’t even a Third World country. That’s what they want to be. We are connected with some extremely godly men there, and the opportunities for the advancement of a Christ-centered, biblically-strong faith growing in southern Sudan are very real. On a side note, if I had not been diagnosed with cancer, I would not have been able to make the trip. The original diagnosis had us clear my external speaking schedule and opened that time frame for us to go.
From: Tabletalk Magazine – From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. Interview published on July 1st, 2011.
About Matt Chandler:
Matt Chandler serves as lead pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. He has become a leader in the evangelical world through his ministry at the Village Church, the Acts 29 Church Planting Network, and his teaching at multiple conferences. Matt is known to a wider audience most recently through his faithful witness to Jesus Christ while battling a malignant brain tumor. Chandler is also the author of the teaching series Philippians: To Live Is Christ & to Die Is Gain; and his excellent first book published by Crossway, entitled: The Explicit Gospel.
Answer: “I’m a Pastoral Life Coach”
About the picture above: From the left [me] David P. Craig; in the middle – my uncle Enrique – the brother of my mother – and a faithful disciple and evangelist of Jesus, and on the right, a church member named Jorge. I had just preached on what family relationships from Ephesians 5 :22 -6:4 look like when Christ is at the center of them. It was a tremendous honor to preach in Spanish with several family members present on my mother’s side. My family has a long history of church involvement – planting; preaching; and service in Quilmes – a large city in a suburb of Buenos Aires. I had just returned from a week of training pastors in the Northern part of Argentina – Jujuy; and was about to do some training with some young church leaders at A Christian Camp Facility in Buenos Aires.
In January of 2006 I had returned from a trip to South America to train pastors and missionaries (almost all of them were bi-vocational; in the Province of Jujuy on the Northern Argentinean and Southern Bolivian border. I have been on such trips in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and many times in Argentina (the land of my roots – My parents were born there and I have adopted many of their customs – especially drinking an Argentine tea called “mate;” becoming a soccer fanatic – especially of River Plate and Quilmes, and of course their national team (Messi is the Best!); and loving all foods Argentine – especially “asados” with “entrana” and chorizos; empanadas, bocadillos, tortilla, and gnocchi. I also grew up learning “Castellano” – the Italian sounding Spanish of the Argentines – full of slang – they have a unique word, phrase, or idiom for everything!
Both of my grandfathers were preachers. My dad’s father – John Craig (my youngest son, Johnny aged 16, is named after him) – was a Plymouth Brethren missionary who was born in Belfast, Ireland and spent over 50 years in Argentina and Uruguay planting churches, being an itinerant preacher, and making disciples (I’ve spoken in parts of Argentina where people have told me that my grandfather led them to the Lord and discipled them – it always brings me to tears of joy). John Craig died at the age of 86 and he was still pastoring a church in the Province of Tucuman in Argentina shortly before his promotion to Heaven.
My mom’s dad – Saul Moreira (of Portuguese heritage) was a beloved Bible teacher and expositor of the Bible. Everyone loved to hear “Don Saul” teach – children, co-workers, and the various “Hermanos Libres” churches in and around Quilmes – a large suburb of Buenos Aires La Boca is most famous for the “Boca Juniors Football Club” and the dance known worldwide as the “Tango.”
About the picture above: My Grandfather – Saul Moreira – was one of the project supervisors of the building of the bridge pictured above “Puente Transborador” – built in 1914 is one of the most recognized bridges in all of South America. The Bridge is located in what many consider the heart of Buenos Aires – “La Boca.” The La Boca neighborhood was so named for its position at “the mouth” of the Riachuelo, and its role as the port of call for thousands of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and other European countries in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. It’s within walking distance from of the birth of the “Tango” in El Caminito, and the home of the famous Boca Juniors Football Club).
When I was 17 years old (almost the age of my youngest son) I was a soccer, football, basketball, and baseball FANATIC! On any given day you would see me with a ball in competition depending on the season – I was fiercely seeking a victory in one of these sports. Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Huntington Beach, CA., I was a diehard Laker fan (during the Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird era); a HUGE Dodger fan -during the Dodgers vs. Cincinnati Red Machine; when the St. Louis Rams were the L.A. Rams and played in Anaheim; and the L.A. Galaxy didn’t exist and we had season tickets for the L.A Aztecs. I still vividly recall going to the L.A. Coliseum and witnessing the amazing offensive and defensive skills of some of the best players in world soccer history – Johann Cruyff, Pele, and Franz Beckenbauer.
About the picture above: My room in Huntington Beach in 1975. I was ten years old and already a sports fanatic. Notice the Rams (in L.A. back then) souvenirs on the left and the Los Angeles Dodgers souvenirs on the right. There is a 10th Anniversary Houston “Astrodome” pennant on my desk, and I’m reading a baseball world series magazine from 1975. I still love the Dodgers; wear Hawaiian shirts; but prefer the San Diego Chargers to those “traders” – the St. Louis Rams.
In my junior year of High School I was involved in a serious car accident. My best friend at the time was driving his Jeep and we were cut off by a drunk driver after the first day of baseball season my junior year. My dad and mom were on a business trip in Europe at the time. My older sister and the great staff at the hospital in Fountain Valley took terrific care of me. I suffered numerous broken ribs, bones, and had a lot of stitches in my head. I can remember shaking in bed at the hospital for a week straight and had a migraine headache for the next three months that subsided gradually so I could take catnaps here and there.
It was during that time that I received my calling to the ministry. Up until that year I was dreaming of either being a pro soccer or baseball player. Before the car accident I made my decision to focus on baseball and have a terrific junior season at Liberty Christian High School in Huntington Beach. I had dreamed about being a Los Angeles Dodger with the goal of taking over Bill Russell’s job at shortstop The reality is I was a good baseball player, but not “great.” I think if I had focused on being great at one sport instead of being “good” at four sports – I would have had a chance to make the pros (I ended up playing soccer in college for 3 years in Portland).
About the picture above. From about 1975 to 1980 my family would get about 20-30 games of season tickets during some of the Dodgers best years. The first Dodger game I went to was in 1974 and Ron Cey “The Penguin” hit a home run against the New York Mets to win the game in the 9th inning. I was imediately hooked on the Dodgers.Here is a picture of the “Fabulous Four: Ron Cey – 3B; Davey Lopes – 2B; Bill Russell – SS; and Steve Garvey – 1B.
I missed all of baseball season my junior year. During that summer – I started thinking more seriously about my life. I had been a disciple of Jesus Christ since I was six years old. I always loved the Lord, went to church weekly, loved going to “big church” (my pastor was the well-known Bible expositor – David L. Hocking. I’d rather hear “Pastor Dave” preach the meat of the Word than “watered down” Sunday school lessons designed for children who’d rather play with lincoln logs, than listen to a teacher. From an early age I’ve always loved apologetics and anything to do with the Bible, Theology, the Gospel, and the Church for whom Jesus gave His life.
However, the summer of 1983 was different from any previous summer in my short life. My passion for sports waned, and God gave me a renewed passion to know Him intimately and magnify Jesus in the proclamation of the Gospel. My senior year of high school I didn’t play any sports for the first time since I was six years old. I realized that I was a follower of Christ second, and a sports idolater first. I needed to repent of my sin of “sports idolatry” and was struck by what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”
Up until my junior year of high school I had been a selfish “sports-aholic,” primarily living for the thrill of victory and to avoid the agony of defeat. I had been living for my glory first, and Christ’s second. I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of this rebellious state and moved by the Holy Spirit “to be transformed by the renewing of my mind” (See Romans 12:1-2).
Over the summer I started asking and wrestling with these questions:
“What if I had died in that accident?”
“What have I accomplished in life that will actually last for eternity?”
“What will I do that will last for eternity for the rest of my life?”
“What things will last on into eternity when I die?”
“Why did God create humans for in the first place?”
“How many people do I know that have I never told about Jesus?
There were many more questions like those above. However, my senior year was different. I started going to a Christian Book store called “Pilgrim’s Progress” and started devouring theology books by J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and many others. While all my friends were going on dates and spending money on movies – I was saving money to buy more books. I studied Greek that fall in a discipleship relationship with my Bible professor in High School – he was a Talbot Seminary student at the time (I would eventually earn my Master of Divinity at Talbot in 1991); I started teaching a junior high Sunday school class in my church; I was witnessing to everything that breathed – I even practiced on my cocker spaniel – “Carlitos” and my cat “Jinx.”
Two defining moments happened to me in the summer of 1983. The first was through an evangelist that you’ve probably heard of – Luis Palau. Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Luis Palau have planted more seeds of the Gospel than perhaps all the other evangelists of history combined. Luis Palau was passing through on his way to Los Angeles and came over for dinner one evening. Anyone who has ever eaten my mom’s cooking, would NEVER pass up an opportunity to eat her food! If she were younger (she’s 80 today – and still cooks up a storm), I’m convinced she would have her own show on the Food Network and be more popular than Paula Dean or Giada DeLaurentiis!
About the picture above: Luis Palau has literally preached to more people than anyone in the history of Christianity next to Billy Graham – and he’s done it in perfect Spanish and English. I haven’t heard or seen much of Luis since our days at Multnomah – but I will be forever indebted to Luis for recommending I attend Multnomah University. I received some great training there. However, the best gifts I received were some of my life-long godly friends – who are all comrades in the ministry of the Gospel around the world. Luis Palau’s nephew George Palau, who with his wonderful wife – Stacey – runs an orphanage in Mexico is one of those very close friends. George is one of the greatest servants of Christ I’ve ever known. I have learned much more from him, than I ever will from Luis. Nothing against Luis. But one of the great things about being a Christian is that we all impact one another up close in the context of community – especially when we minister to those who are suffering and in great need. George drove all the way from Mexico yesterday to spend the day with me. I love George, Dave Steele, Eddie Remley, and Mark Wilks, as if they were my very own brothers – and in Christ we are a “band of brothers.”
Luis Palau is one of the few “big name” Christian heroes that I really respect and admire. He is one of the few pastors I know that is the same in his home, as when he is in front of a crowd of 100,000 people. What you see or hear from Luis is what you get. He practices what he preaches, and is quick to repent when he blows it. My parents grew up in the same Plymouth Brethren (“Los Hermanos Liberes”) church as Luis in Quilmes, Argentina and have known him since he was very young.
Getting back to the dinner. My mom made her famous Caesar salad, homemade spinach ravioli with her amazing Osso-Bucco and meat-sauce, and we had her amazing homemade “dulce de batata” for dessert (I remember – because these are three foods I never eat anywhere else – because no one comes close to preparing these items as well as my mom). After this very filling and satisfying meal Luis and I went for a long walk. I picked his brain and remember asking him, “Luis, how do you know if you are being called to the ministry?”
I honestly can’t remember his exact reply. I just remember that he affirmed my calling and recommended that I attend the same college he attended when Ray Stedman (author of the very influential book “Body Life” and, at that time Pastor of the influential Peninsula Bible Church in Northern California) helped bring a young Luis to the United States to be pastorally trained – because he heard Luis preach on a trip to Argentina and saw how gifted he was. Ray Stedman made it possible for Luis Palau to go to Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. The school’s motto was, “If it’s Bible you want, then you want Multnomah”. Luis encouraged me to visit the school and noted and affirmed my passion to know the Word and to make Jesus known.
The second “defining moment” for me came in letting my parents know that I believed and felt overwhelmingly that God was calling me to full-time ministry. God was blessing my teaching, evangelism, and discipleship with youth. I couldn’t imagine doing anything more worthwhile for the rest of my life. I wanted to make my time and life count for what would matter for eternity.
A few days after my walk and talk with Luis Palau, I sat down at approximately 11:30 a.m. at the kitchen table with my mom. My parents are godly people. My dad has worked hard since he was seven years old and he has had several successful businesses in Argentina, England, and the United States. My dad has always been incredibly giving and very involved in ministry. I don’t ever remember getting up in the morning not seeing my dad with an open Bible and drinking mate (Argentine tea). My dad has been an elder and on the Board of several missions around the world. He devours theology, and manifests all the fruit of the Spirit. There is not a single man on the planet that I admire, respect, and desire to be more like than my father. He has been such a good model and such an influence in my life – that I could probably write a whole book on his influence for good in my life.
Meanwhile, getting back to the table with my mom. My dad was working in his office – he added an office to the garage over our Huntington Harbor home, so he didn’t have to drive to Los Angeles anymore. I sat down with my mom and was hesitant to bring up my “calling” for fear that my parents would think I was “loco.” I thought I would share it with my mom first before bringing it up to my dad. My plan up until that summer had been to get a baseball scholarship to a Pac Ten (now Pac 12 or whatever they call it) school, preferably UCLA (Go Bruins! – largely through John Wooden’s influence in my life – his book “They Call Me Coach” was the first book I read from cover-to-cover; John Wooden pictured below)), and to major in Business Administration. I never thought of being anything but a professional athlete – my only difficult decision was I wanted to play all four major USA sports – baseball, football, basketball, and soccer! I’m sure hockey would have been in there too, but nobody except for Canadians knew what that was in the 1980’s – until we won the Olympics in the “Miracle on Ice”!
About the picture above: John Wooden won 10 National Championships as a coach of the UCLA Bruins Basketball team. Wooden had some great players; but he was also able to make great players make other players even better. I think John Wooden (a committed Christ follower) would have been a great pastor as well. He is a perfect model of a life coach – committed to Christ; committed to bringing out the best in individuals; and their teams, churches, and organizations. Everybody wins when they have a good coach. John Wooden was simply the best!
I would literally dream almost every night, and daydream in my classes in school of throwing the over time touchdown pass in the last seconds of the Super Bowl to lead the Rams to victory over the Steelers; hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series before the home crowd in Los Angeles over (who else?) the New York Yankees; shooting a three-point shot in over time to win the NBA championship for the Lakers against the Celtics. I dreamed of taking the Americans all the way to the final in the World Cup and beating Germany, Argentina, or Brazil by scoring a hat trick in bringing the World Cup to the USA for the first time. I even remember in my dreams calling my cousins Ariel and Martin in Argentina to apologize to them for beating their homeland in their favorite sport!
Oh yeah – sorry, sidetracked – back to the table with my mom. When I told my mom about the stirring in my heart, my desire to know the Scriptures, my passion to proclaim Christ, and my desire to attend Multnomah in Portland – she began to sob. I was thinking to myself, “Oh no, now I’m in trouble – there goes the family business.”
My mom came around the table and gave me a big hug and went and got her Bible and read from 1 Samuel 1 – the story of Samuel’s being dedicated to the Lord (I encourage you to read it). She read the entire chapter to me out loud and then after reading the last three verses of chapter 1 and the first 2 verses of chapter where Hannah says and prays the following:
“And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there. And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. “There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 1:26-2:2)…
She came and hugged me, and said that Hannah’s was her story and Samuel’s story was my story. Rachel (my mom) told me that the doctors told her she would never have a child again. She lost two children due to complications between my sister – Miriam – and myself.
I never knew the story of my mom and dad’s loss until this day, at this moment, at the table in our kitchen. In short, my mother had always wanted six children (two of them I will meet for the first time in Heaven one day). I have two brothers – Daniel, 15 years my senior and George, 10 years older than me; and a sister that’s 8 years older than me – Miriam. One child my mom lost was never named (but will have a name that Jesus has given according to Revelation), the other was named Michelle.
My mom went and got my dad from the office and she shared the story of how she prayed that if God gave her another child – she and my dad would dedicate him to the Lord – just as Hannah had dedicated Samuel. Talk about a confirmation! We all wept and prayed, and thanked the Lord for His answers to prayer to my faithful parents prayer to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
About the Picture above: My parents have been the biggest influences on my life spiritually. My dad, Daniel, will be 90 in January; and my mom, Rachel, will be 81. They prayed for me before I was born. They read the Bible to me from the time I was a baby (and still quote it to me on the phone or every time we are together). They are my biggest heroes in life. They are going to be married 64 years on December 4, 2012. My parents have always been my biggest fans, but better than that – they have been huge fans of Jesus, His Church, and the spread of the Gospel around the world. They have had a lot of difficult times financially, physically, and have lost almost all their life-long friends. And yet they always have a smile on their faces and exhibit the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. I love them with such admiration, appreciation, and respect that I will never be able to convey in words. I am a Christian today because of the sovereign election of God in eternity past; and love and follow Jesus because they modeled His love and grace when I was growing up, and continue to do so, to this very day. I can’t think of two people who better model what the Apostle Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Jesus Christ.”
Since that day I have gone on to earn a B.S. (at Multnomah); a M.Div. at Talbot School of Theology; a doctorate and doctoral work in Theology and Pastoral Leadership at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, and Northwest Graduate School in Seattle. I have been a youth and senior pastor in California and Washington State. I have traveled to more than 30 countries on missions trips and training pastors and missionaries. I have discipled dozens of men. My best education was one I never purposely applied for, but have most definitely been “accepted” to. It’s proverbially called “The School of Hard Knocks.” I would concur with the great Reformer Martin Luther who summarized his learning in this way, ““Suffering has made me a better theologian than any book I’ve ever read.” However, I don’t think I’ve seen the tip of the iceberg of what God has entrusted unto me as a steward of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The questions I asked earlier are questions I’m still asking. Having been diagnosed with cancer recently and beginning radiation and chemotherapy in the next week, I pray that God will continue to change me and conform me to His Son. I pray that whether I live another forty-six years, or only have days to live for him – that people will know, see, and hear about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I desire more than anything that all my family members would know and follow Jesus. I firmly believe with the sentiment, “This life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
I have lived a wonderful life. I have been bruised and broken, but not crushed. I am becoming stronger through life’s trials and tribulations. Since the age of seventeen all I’ve ever wanted to do, is know Jesus intimately and make Him known.
This past year I’ve been doing some “life coaching” through a non-profit ministry I established called Vertical Living Ministries. I started this Pastoral ministry with the help of some wonderful people who have sacrificially contributed generously, so that I can make multiplying disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ around the world. I have trained people one-on-one and in small and large groups, discipled men and women, and trained people in Christ-centered living through this ministry.
I originally established Vertical Living MInistries to provide training for leaders in poor countries. We who live in America have access to so many good resources by way of books, conferences, Bible Colleges, and Seminaries. I have been to countries where pastors share one Bible amongst themselves and have absolutely no training or access to any resources whatsoever. However, now with my cancer, I really don’t know where God is calling me. However, I know that I will always be a pastor. I am a shepherd. I have had Jesus shepherd me, and I simply want to find other sheep who will follow hard after the Good Shepherd.
I call myself a Pastoral Coach because I want to encourage Christians to make Christ number one in their lives. I love “life” coaching because I can help disciples of Christ focus on the following nine areas of Christo-centricity. Just as we talk about a Planetary system that’s Helio, and not Geo-centered, I like to think of life functioning best when our lives revolve around, and in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
(1) Spiritually – Your Relationship to God through the Lordship of Jesus Christ. My main focus here is to help people understand the life transforming ramifications of the Gospel in your life: past, present, and future ramifications for today. Most Christians only remember or hold on to their past, or future in Christ and forget how the Gospel needs to be lived out on a daily basis – we are continually learning to repent and grow in our faith with Christ at the center of it all.
(2) Marriage – Your triune covenantal relationship with Christ at the center. Marriages can work for two unbelievers, and even sometimes when an unbeliever is married to an unbeliever. However, it was designed by God to not be a marriage of two, but of three. I help couples to practically make Christ the center of their “solar system” in their marriage.
(3) Family/Parenting – How to be a Christ-centered family and raise Children that love Jesus above all else. For many parents, their children become “idols.”, especially for women. Their identity, security, and significance is oftentimes wrapped up in the performance, success, and behavior of their children. If their children are doing well – they are doing well. However, if a child rebels or is unsuccessful in life – they take it personally, and lose their way. Many “empty nesters” – especially women, become depressed and feel like life is meaningless when their kids move out of the home. I help parents to see that our security and significance needs to be properly placed in submission to the Lordship of Christ. Only God never changes. If we place our security in our kids or anything else – we are in big trouble. In raising our children we are merely short-term stewards of what is rightfully God’s. The greatest thing we can do as parents is to model Christo-centricity for our children. I’m grateful that my parents modeled and taught me daily that the most important thing in life is my relationship with and service unto Jesus.
(4) Vocationally – Your Work in the World and with the Church. Most women have the idolatry of “motherhood.” Most men see their significance and security in their work. Their identity is wrapped up in their position, possessions, and provisions for their families. Well, what happens to the man who loses his job, gets physically incapacitated, or runs into midlife. You’ve been working at a job for 30 years and come to realize that you were climbing the wrong ladder that was leaning up against the wrong wall in your “prime” years? Men and women both have pseudo securities – or what the Bible calls “idolatry.” I try to teach people how to view their talents, passions, skills, abilities, and hobbies as unto the Lord. Ultimately, God is our boss and we will spend the bulk of our lives working – but do we find the pleasure of God in our work? Few things excite me more than seeing businessmen or women shine brightly for the sake of Christ in the context of making a profit that will last for eternity in the lives of others.
(5) Health – Taking care of your body that God will use on this earth until the day of your final glorification. This is one of the most neglected areas for Christians. It’s very easy to get out of balance in what we eat, how we exercise, and being responsible with the stewardship of our bodies. I love what C.S. Lewis says, “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.” In other words, we are dualists. We have an immaterial part of us, and we are housed in a physical body that must be maintained. Sometimes, we can’t control what happens to our bodies (Doctors don’t know how I got cancer). However, even if we have ailments and age, we still need to be responsible in taking care of our bodies as best as we can, so we can serve Jesus as long as we can, and as effectively as we can, while we “house” the soul.
(6) Friendship – Your connections and building bridges with others as you reflect Christ in your community. Too many people are wrapped up in work, family, and get isolated outside of community. I thank God for the emphasis on community by many churches. However, if you want to have friends, you must be a friend. Nobody models this better than Jesus, “a friend of sinners.” Friends are so important – especially in tough times. Having friends and family means the world to me especially when the “going gets tough.” I firmly believe that especially among pastors (health and friendships are two of the most neglected areas in this list of nine – and that it’s what will “do them in” during mid-life or their retirement years).
(7) Financially – Your stewardship of God’s resources. I can honestly say that having to give away or sell more than 6,000 theology books in the past five years, going from a 3,400 square foot house we owned to a 1,600 square foot condo we rent, and having to give away all our pets (four cats and a dog) have been some of the hardest things to go through, but also some of the best. Money and possessions (having control) is a huge idolatry in our culture. Simple is better. Jesus left earth for Heaven literally naked – and so will we. However, are you content with only Him and nothing else? Look at the difference Jesus made two thousand years ago, and is still making today. He owned nothing and left no possessions behind. Nothing “owned” Him. What owns you? I believe that generosity exhibits the nature and character of God perhaps more fully than any other trait. For example, I don’t think it’s coincidence that the most famous verse in the Bible is about the greatest sacrifice and the greatest gift: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Aren’t you glad God is a giver? How about you? I believe that Tim Keller is dead-on here when he says, “Idolatry is just a failure to obey God, It’s setting the whole heart on something besides God… Where your money goes most effortlessly, that’s where your heart really rests.” In my life I’ve found peace and rest not in the economy, but in Jesus alone – and He never changes – satisfaction is truly found when you realize that when God is all you have, He’s all you really need.
(8) Mentoring – Investing in Others Using your unique Skills, Gifting, Talents, Personality, and Passion. I’m forty-six years old and have never really been formally discipled or mentored by anyone. That’s a tragedy of the first order. I firmly believe that every single man and every woman has strengths and skills to teach future generations, but these don’t typically happen without intentionality. I train people to use their unique gifts, passions, abilities, skills, and so forth and pass those on to future generations – with intentionality. It really upsets me to no end to see how self-absorbed we’ve become. We have our I-pads, I-pods, and I-phones, and have become “I-focused”! Don’t get me wrong – I love technology, but for many it’s become an obsession and an idol. We need to become more focused on Jesus and others if we want to make a difference that will last into eternity. I love what Paul says about Jesus in Philippians 2:4-5, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
(9) Discipleship – You’re investing in the Spiritual Growth of other followers and would-be followers of Christ. Nothing gets me more riled up than the lack of lifestyle and intentional discipleship taking place among Christians. Again, without intentionality this just doesn’t happen. I have asked men in their twenties up until their eighties if they have ever been discipled by another man – In thirty years of doing ministry I hear “Never” or “What are you talking about” at least 90% of the time. This is unconscionable! And yet, the great commission is all about “making disciples” of all nations. Are you intentionally making disciples in your circle of influence with your children, friends, neighbors, spouses, family, co-workers, teammates, and fellow students?
It is my prayer and hope to take the baton that has been passed on to me from my godly heritage in these nine areas. I hope that God will use my cancer to further the Gospel. I desire to teach, preach, and live for the glory of Christ while I have breath.
My life verses are 1 Timothy 4:16 where the Apostle Paul says to Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Acts 20:24, where the Apostle Paul proclaims, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus Christ, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
And Romans 8:16-18 & 28-30, where the Apostle Paul declares, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
It’s been about 13 months since I last preached – I haven’t had any invitations. And yet the passion of my soul is to preach the Gospel. Sometimes I feel like a Pastor who is a dinosaur in the 21st century, fast-paced Church. I have tried to get a job in a modern church for the past 13 months – in churches that appear to want CEO’s, not Shepherds; Programs, not Preachers; is more concerned about being politically correct and pragmatic than Theologically correct and Christ-centered. Whether I end up pastoring again in a local church or life coaching, I can’t help but be what I am – dependent on God’s mercy and grace as I battle cancer. Since the age of seventeen all I’ve ever wanted to do, is to know Jesus and to make Him known.
I love Him because He first loved me. I love the gospel and to declare it with my whole heart, mind, and soul. I love to shepherd people – not because I’m a great shepherd, but because I have a Great Shepherd! His name is Jesus! As long as I have breath I will declare Him among the nations. I will serve Him because He came to seek, serve, and save me first. He is my peace, and He is the hope of all nations. He will reign on the Earth again, and I will reign with Him. Until that day, I believe wholeheartedly with these words of Paul David Tripp:
“No matter how great your weakness is, God’s power is greater. No matter how out of control your life is, God’s sovereignty is greater. No matter how alone you may feel, God’s presence is greater. No matter how out of control your life is, God’s provisions are greater. No matter how deep your sin is, God’s grace is deeper. No matter how foolish your foolishness is, God’s wisdom is greater. The same sovereign God who planned the details of your life sent his Son so you would have what you need to face what He willed for you.”
According to the New American Oxford Dictionary a “Pastor” is “one who gives guidance to someone.” A coach is “a tutor who gives private or specialized teaching.” It is my desire to guide people with the experiences and education I’ve received and to teach them of Jesus at the center of all of life. Whether in a local church as a pastor, or in the Church universal as a “pastoral life coach.” I only want to invest in that which matters for eternity. All these years I have preached the Gospel – how one can have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Now as I battle cancer, it is my desire to preach with my life and suffering how to have peace with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Once again I quote from the Apostle Paul,
“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (12 Corinthians 5:14-15).
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8-14).
Sola Scriptura! Sola Fide! Sola Gratia! Solus Christus! Soli Deo Gloria!
(Scripture Alone! Faith Alone! Grace Alone! Christ Alone – To God be the Glory Alone!)
James Montgomery Boice on Faith NOT Seeking Understanding:
“Whether you can see it or not – and often we cannot – everything is being used of God for your good as well as the good of others…This knowledge is by faith. It is not always by sight. But it is nevertheless certain, because it is based on the character of God, who reveals himself to us as both sovereign and benevolent…We are not to be anxious about the unknown future or to fret about it. We are to live in a moment-by-moment dependence upon God.” – excerpt from notes I took from a late 1980’s sermon of Dr. Boice
About Dr. James Montgomery Boice
*Dr. James Montgomery Boice, just 8 weeks after being diagnosed with a fatal liver cancer, died in his sleep on June 15, 2000. The senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, he was a world-famous Bible teacher, author, and statesman for Reformed theology. He informed his congregation of 32 years of his condition on May 7, proclaiming his complete confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness.
In the past 72 years, historic Tenth Presbyterian Church had two senior pastors, Donald Grey Barnhouse and James Montgomery Boice – previous to Dr. Philip Graham Ryken (Currently the President at Wheaton College). Founded in 1828, the church itself predates their tenure by another hundred years. Tenth Presbyterian Church lies in the very heart of the city and today has about 1,200 members.
James Montgomery Boice accepted the position as senior pastor in 1968, and was the teacher of the Bible Study Hour since 1969 and the more recent God’s Word Today broadcast as well. Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Basel, Switzerland. He had written or contributed to nearly 50 books, including Foundations of the Christian Faith, Living by the Book, and exegetical commentaries on Genesis, Psalms, Acts, and Romans.
He was no less involved in the preserving of the fundamentals of the faith than his predecessor, Dr. Barnhouse. In 1985, Boice assumed the presidency of Evangelical Ministries, Inc., the parent organization of the Bible Study Hour, Bible Study Seminars, Bible Studies magazine, and other teaching ministries. In 1997, Evangelical Ministries merged with Christians United for Reformation and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, taking the latter as the new organization’s name, and Dr. Boice assumed the presidency. In 1997, he was a founding member of, and chaired, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.
Of particular concern to Boice was the matter of the church and her relationship to and engagement of society. His recent book, Two Cities, Two Loves, maintains that Christians are citizens of the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven and that they have responsibilities in each. He urged Christians to “participate in secular life rather than merely shoot from the sidelines at secular people.”
His wife, Linda, and three daughters survive Dr. Boice. Characteristic of his ministry was his pushing Christians to commit themselves to staying in one place. He lived what he preached, committing to the church and his downtown neighborhood for 30 years. A gifted pastor and leader, he turned down many attractive opportunities in order to build a sense of permanence and belonging. And he urged his parishioners to do the same.
“Thank God It’s Thanksgiving Everyday – Especially on Thursday’s!”
I have always loved the Thanksgiving Holiday. It’s one of the few times of the year where our very large family can come together from all over the United States and enjoy giving thanks for our many blessings. This year more than likely I’ll be having liquid formula through a feeding tube in my stomach. I already had the G-Tube surgically implanted in my stomach this past week. During chemotherapy and radiation around Thanksgiving time will be a time of great testing for me, when according to my Doctors I will be unable to swallow and chew due to the severity of my treatment for throat and neck cancer. Watching every one I love dearest passing around the turkey with all the trimmings will be something my eyes will enjoy, but not my taste buds. However, I’m good with that. I’m good with whatever comes my way because I can choose whether I’m a “reactor” or a “responder.” Let me explain.
Over the past decade I’ve had eye problems off and on – a cataract surgery and lattice degeneration in both eyes, which required laser surgery to repair numerous tiny little “tears” in the back of my eyes. A few days ago the Eye Doctor discovered I have a Vitreous Detachment and a Vitreous Hemorrhage in my right eye. After seeing a cataract specialist I was referred to another specialist who confirmed these diagnoses. All I know is that it is difficult for me to read, and that I see flashes of light at night, and what looks like a “blob” during the day out of my right eye. The Ophthalmologist thinks it should go away – but for now, I’m hoping and praying the “blob” will clear up.
I have also had an off-and-on battle with “Gout” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon had Gout as well – which makes me feel a little bit better about it – at least I’m in good company). They say Gout is a “rich man’s disease” (well one out of two ain’t bad – and “rich” isn’t the one). The first time I experienced Gout was after coaching one of my daughter’s soccer practices. I remember lying on the bed at night after soccer practice and feeling like someone took my right big toe and pounded it with a hammer as if they were really mad at the nail – and it just so happened my big “toe” represented the nail. It was excruciating. I’ve finally (after years of hopping, limping, and crawling through various “Gout” attacks) resorted to taking medication a few months ago – so far so good. The reality is I get “Gout” not because I’m rich, but because my body is missing an enzyme and therefore I manufacture too much uric acid which builds up “crystals” (more like little torturous demons) in weak areas of the body – joints in the extremities – and inflames them, so that even a bed sheet touching the inflamed joint hurts like you just got stepped on by a really upset “Chuck Norris.”
Today I am on my way to the hospital to get my face fitted for a mask that I will wear for radiation treatment. I will also have a CT-Scan to see if I’m ready to start chemotherapy and radiation for the Stage 3, throat and neck cancer I’ve recently been diagnosed with. God-willing I will begin treatment early next week (the sooner the treatment begins – the better). So what’s with all the grim news? Well, honestly, I truly believe that some tough days are ahead – but they will go a lot better if I have a thankful heart.
I also have learned something about life – We are either coming out of tough times, going through tough times, or about to go through tough times! The good news – is that as Christians we know that God “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13b). Warren W. Wiersbe calls the Christian life a “land of hills and valleys.” We journey from low points to high points and everything in between.
Why Lord? What’s with All the Tough Stuff?
James puts it this way, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). In other words, if you want to lack nothing, be spiritually mature, and satisfied – the only way to do it, is by meeting all kinds of trials with “joy.” Why? Because God designed it that way! If you’ve got a problem with it…He’s got a bigger problem! He took our sin problem head-on and voluntarily. He sent His perfect Son to die in your and my place and exchanged His perfect record of righteousness for your (and my) heinous record of unrighteousness.
I didn’t choose to have a cataract or lattice degeneration in my eyes; Gout, or Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cancer. But, I do know for a fact that God has allowed me to have these ailments, and I can either react to, (negative thinking) or respond to (positive thinking) God’s sovereign will and plans. I know that God works everything out for my good, and more importantly, for His glory. I know that God can heal me if He chooses to do so. I know that He can use medicine and the skill of excellent Physicians, medications, diet, and the prayers of His people to rid me of my cancer if He so desires. I also know, that we live in a fallen world, and one out of one people die. As a pastor I’ve easily performed over 100 funerals, and I’ve also witnessed miraculous healings. However, I do not presume to know what God’s sovereign hidden will happens to be in my cancer. I only know that I must decide whether God is good or evil – and the track record is that I’m very evil, and He is very good – as a matter of fact Perfect and immutably so. Only God is infinitely Wise in His plans. I simply want to trust and obey Him in the midst of this trial.
God is Good and Sovereign:
Lamentations 3:21-26 – But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
Psalm 90:12 – Moses prays, “so teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Proverbs 16:9 – Solomon says, “Man plans His ways, but the LORD determines His steps.”
Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them”– in paraphrase: “All of our days are numbered before one of them came to be.”
Romans 8:18, 28-29, 32 – “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers…He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
In summary: God has given me a certain number of days to suffer and grow in wisdom. He has always been faithful to provide for all my needs. If He didn’t spare His own Son – how could He possibly abandon me now? In the days He entrusts to me I can either react or respond to everything that He allows in my life. He promises that everything that comes my way is ultimately for my good and His glory. Ultimately all of my suffering is not worth comparing with the glories to come. God has predestined and purposed for me in His infinite wisdom and love that through suffering my character would conform to the image of Jesus – so that I would look like His brother – an heir with Christ, adopted into the family of God! God will give me an allotted time known only to Him to make much of Jesus and to bring Him glory – nothing else really matters.
Are You a “Reactor” or a “Responder”?
Here is an example of the difference and importance of “reacting” to circumstances, and “responding” to them: If I begin radiation and chemotherapy on Monday and within a few weeks my tumor shrinks from 7 to 5 cm, and the cancer cells are disappearing – then that’s a positive “response” to the treatment – it’s working! My body is responding to the treatment. If the tumor and cancer cells metastasize to another part of my body and the tumor grows to 8-9 cm then that’s called a “reaction” to the treatment – it’s not working. My body would be “reacting” to the treatment. The treatment will either cause my body to “react,” (negatively) or “respond” (positively) to the treatment. Responding is good. Reacting is bad.
The good news of the gospel is that even when you or I “react” negatively in our thinking, Christ has us covered! Even when you or I “respond” it’s only by His grace that we’re able to respond the way we should. I thank God that my salvation is NOT based on the way I react or respond to everything in life. I thank God that it is solely by repentance and faith – God’s gift to me – sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria – that I’m accepted, adopted, and saved by my beloved Triune God.
I truly believe that we can respond to circumstances by responding by having a greater understanding of the incredible mercy and grace of God in saving us. Read carefully just a sampling of God’s amazing Triune grace and mercy in saving us:
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-5).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4).
For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16).
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
I like the way Pastor David Platt puts it, “Salvation has absolutely nothing to do with human merit and absolutely everything to do with divine mercy.” John MacArthur says it like this, ““There are basically only two kinds of religion in the world: those based on human achievement and those based on divine accomplishment. One says you can earn your way to heaven; the other says you must trust in Jesus Christ alone.” Tullian Tchividijian makes the same point this way, ““The Bible doesn’t tell the story of good people who do great things; it tells the story of great sin that is met with a greater Savior.”
Paul David Tripp writes, ““Because we sin specifically, the gospel intends us to grow in grace specifically…We must emphasize again and again the nowism of the gospel…Jesus didn’t just die for your past and future, He died for you’re here and now! To die for you, Jesus had to first live for you. He lived a perfect life in your place so he would be an acceptable sacrifice for your sin.”
When trials come into our lives in the form of a long traffic light that makes us late for work, an unexpected tax increase, or in the form of a pink slip from our boss, small or large trial – we all have them – where we differ and show what we are made of is in the arena of our character. Character is made in the shade of trials – the inner being. Our character is manifest in the light of the fight. It is in the heat of the hottest fire where the gold is most refined. Gold is never made without heat. Our purity came at a huge cost – the life of the perfect One – crucified (the greatest suffering), buried (the greatest abandonment), risen (the greatest triumph), and coming again (our greatest hope)!
Therefore, I am going to do something I’ve never done before starting this Thursday – Today. I’m going to make it a “Day of Thanks” – no matter what comes my way. I am going to choose to “respond” and not “react” – be positive and not negative – praise God and not whine to Him. I’m going to spend my entire day choosing joy over sorrow, and to focus on the Grandeur of the God of the Gospel.
Thursday’s for me – from this Thursday on – by God’s grace will be a day of responding to God in gratitude and thanks all day long. October 18, 2012 is going to be a day dedicated to Thanksgiving. I will not ask for anything of God. I will spend my day delighting in what He has already done and will continue to do for me. I will choose to delight in His nature and attributes. I will respond to Him by rejoicing in His plans that are ultimately always for His glory and for my good. As a Christian I know that even my suffering has a purpose – I know that behind every pain there is a plan by a loving God who suffered and was in more pain than I’ll ever know, in order to spare me from His wrath that I so rightly deserved. Now all I know is that because of the Triune work and plan of God I will never be punished for my wretched sin – Jesus took care of it, and stated “It is finished” two thousand years ago.
The new normal for me may consist of a lot of pain – but that’s ok because Jesus has been through the greatest pain on my behalf – out of love for the Father and love for me as His adopted heir in the family of God. His goal for me whether He gives me many more years or just a few more days is spelled out clearly by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:1-8,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Today is a Day of Thanksgiving because I’ve been:
(1) Justified by faith (not my works – but the perfect works of Jesus on my behalf);
(2) I have peace with Jesus – He’s not mad at me even though He died for “my” sins;
(3) I stand in grace – undeserved, free, and infinite – accessed solely by faith in Jesus Person and Work on my behalf in his life, death, burial, and resurrection;
(4) I can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God – I will see Him in His perfect glory forever – no blinders and no barriers because I am his child forever;
(5) I can rejoice in my sufferings – because they have purpose – they aren’t by “chance” or “luck” – they are carefully designed by an infinitely wise and loving God to conform me to the image of Jesus;
(6) My character will be produced by endurance, strength, and hope by choosing to respond and not react in the midst of the hardships – because the more I become like Jesus – the more prepared I will be to bring gratitude and glory to Him;
(7) I have God’s love in my heart because He poured it there via the Holy Spirit – no more guilt or shame, because I’m covered by the blood of Christ, and the Spirit has taken up residence in my life forever – never to leave me nor forsake me;
(8) No matter how weak I am – Jesus the risen one who conquered death – who died for my sin – who rose from the dead and will return and reign as King – the righteous for the unrighteous – how can I doubt His love or plans for me;
(9) He can never love me more than he already has demonstrated – for while I was a sinner He died for me. I can never do anything to make Him love me more. So whether I “react” or “respond” because of my repenting of my sins past, present, and future – He’s got me covered by His blood shed for me.
Thursdays from this day forth will be “Days of Thanksgiving.” Not the all-you-can eat Turkey and gravy fests The focus on my prayers will be to be express my gratitude and “respond” to God’s amazing graces in my life. And if He never did another thing for me – only He would be worthy of all of my praise for Who He is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do for His glory and His Eternal Kingdom.
Today I Start with this Simple Prayer of Thanks – “Response”:
“Father thank you for orchestrating my election in eternity past. If you never did anything else than to pick me on your team – adopt me into your family and not make me pay forever for my sin – that would be enough for me to thank you each millisecond for the next billion years. Jesus, thank you for coming after me courageously and unflinchingly receiving the Father’s wrath for my sin – if it were only my sin it would have been brutal enough. But you also took on the sins of the world. You are the Man – there is no one who can be named in the same breath with the name of Jesus. At your name every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that You are Lord. I do so now willingly, with gratitude, humbly, and filled with joy – that you would exchange your righteousness for my righteousness which to you are only as “filthy rags.” Holy Spirit, I am grateful that you regenerated me. You took a dead man with no ability whatsoever to trust in Jesus, and made me alive spiritually. You gave me the gift of faith in the One you pointed me to – the Holy Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – and who took away all my sins – past, present, and future. Thank you Triune God for your plan to save me; your perfect execution to save me in totally fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law; and the reconciliatory requirements in order to forgive me on the basis of the name that above all other names, and You will reign as King forever and ever! – Amen!
I hope that you will join me in committing to making one day a week – it doesn’t have to be a Thursday; the date isn’t as important as your becoming focused on the Gospel – seeking to conform to being more like Jesus. I encourage you to join me in becoming a “responder” to the Gospel and not a “reactor” that doubts the goodness of our loving God. Please join me in giving God the Father, Son, and Spirit the gratitude and glory due Him for the great things He has done – let’s strive to be “responders” to His grace, and not “reactors” because of our foolish idolatries. Soli Deo Gloria!
About Dr. David P. Craig
I am first and foremost a great sinner, saved by an even Greater Savior – Jesus Christ. I have been a pastor for over 23 years and working as a Pastoral Life Coach for the past year. There is nothing I enjoy more than teaching from God’s Word and pointing others to the focal point of the Scriptures and the Universe – it’s all about Jesus. I have no greater passion than to make disciples who make disciples of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Whether I make disciples by teaching large groups, coaching one-on-one, or in discipleship – the formate doesn’t matter to me. I love seeing and experiencing the Spirit of God come upon and transform lives through the power of the Gospel. I love to help people get more balance in their lives by identifying and delivering them from their idolatries and discovering that Jesus is always better than anything else. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife, five outstanding children, two amazing grand sons, and my only claim to fame is that I know where to find lasting satisfaction and joy – and it’s to be found only in knowing Jesus personally and intimately.
“Thank God for Sunday!”
I think the first time I ever heard the phrase, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is Coming!” was from a message that Tony Campolo delivered in Chapel in the mid 1980’s at Multnomah School of the Bible (Now called Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon).
Yesterday, I had a “procedure” a nicer and more sweet sounding term than “surgery” at a hospital in Irvine, CA. I was recently diagnosed with Cancer – Squamous Cell Carcinoma – that started on the back of my tongue and has resulted in a huge mass the size of a lemon in my neck.
I had a “G-tube” inserted in my stomach because doctors and former patients I’ve consulted with say that weeks 3-6 of radiation and chemotherapy will be “brutal” – my throat will hurt “200 times worse than strep throat” (Doctor’s exact words). Also, that I will not be able to eat or drink anything orally during that time because of the pain. I recently talked with a friend of a friend who had the exact same cancer two years ago (and by God’s grace is cancer free now), and he lost 80 pounds during treatment and had the G-tube “procedure” in a weakened state mid-way through treatment. His advice was “get the G-tube NOW!”
So yesterday – with a tube in my nose that went to my stomach and feeling like I was battling in a kick boxing match with Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan I was thinking of the aforementioned phrase by Tony Campolo, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.”
During surgery – I was awake during the “procedure” and in a lot of pain – I tried quoting Bible verses and singing hymns (I can never remember the new songs – only classics like “And Can It Be; “How Great Thou Art”; and “Amazing Grace”); and trying to take my focus off of the pain. Quoting verses or hymns just didn’t seem to work – I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the pain.
So the Holy Spirit began take my focus off of my pain and on to Jesus – what He did for me on the cross 2000 years ago. I visualized the torture He endured – the lashes; the insults; the crown of thorns; suffocating; the blood, sweat, and tears. Ultimately being unrecognizable, forsaken, and dying for my sins. He was perfect and never did anything wrong – and yet He volunteered to endure more torture than I could imagine. I endured what seemed like torture for 45 minutes – and now its done. I didn’t accomplish any atoning work for anyone. Yet His righteousness was imputed to me, and His voluntary sacrifice in payment for my sin were absolutely necessary to make me right with a Holy and perfect God.
Jesus was crucified on a Friday, but rose again on Sunday. I can’t even come close to comparing my “torture” with His. However, I do have a deeper appreciation for what He endured in His 33 years on earth: facing temptation without sinning; completely obeying God the Father in every way; and becoming the “Lamb that was slain” so that He could be my Savior and Lord.
I don’t know what will become of my cancer, I hope and pray that God will take it away. One thing I do know, is that He has already wiped away my sin, and that everything He allows is for my good and ultimately for the Glory of His Son. I hope and pray that God will use my cancer for the furtherance of the glorious Gospel. However, I know that even if I’m silent the rocks will cry out of His glorious works. I know that I am weak and frail and but a mere sinful vessel. I also know that Jesus was weak, suffered, and died in my place, and rose from the dead on Sunday. He is so strong that no one and nothing can defeat Him. Today is Friday. But Sunday is coming! Last time He came as a humble servant. Next time He comes as King!
Today may be a tough day for you my friend. But remember that anyone who comes to Him will not be cast away. Our confession of sin in exchange for His righteousness. We can never earn our salvation – but Jesus has earned the right to be trusted and believed in unto salvation. “The righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.”
Today, I’m doing better, but will continue down a rough road with radiation and chemotherapy ahead. However, I am grateful that because of the righteous life, death, burial, and resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that no matter how many “Friday’s” I will have in this trial – that because of Jesus finished work on the cross, my future hope is that “Sunday is coming!”
Some Scriptures God The Holy Spirit Used To Comfort Me in my Pain:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” – Psalm 22:1
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds 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. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:2-7
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:10-12
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:20-21
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:21-25
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. – 1 Peter 3:17-18
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed…Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name [the name of Christ]. – 1 Peter 4:12-13, 16
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:56-58