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Trusting Christ with Childhood Cancer

You know those moments that are seared so deeply in your mind you’ll remember every detail forever? Several months ago, I experienced one of those moments.

It was shortly after we’d managed to get the kids down for bed. On a normal night, my wife and I meet in the kitchen; catching eyes and smiling over whatever antics the kids pulled to delay the inevitable end of their day. Then, the house is silent. That silence marks the beginning of mom and dad’s time to read, decompress, and rest up for the next day of fun. But this night would be different.

As I heard my wife’s footsteps I looked up and saw her walk through the doorway to the kitchen. Suddenly she broke; holding up the doctor’s report in her hand. The tears streamed down her face. I pulled her into my arms as she explained, “Something is wrong with Timothy…” Her words hit my heart like a freight train. The “C” word had crossed my mind a few times while we waited for test results on over a dozen suspicious spots that had appeared on our 3-month old son’s body, but nothing prepares you for this moment. After reading through the report, it was real. Timothy, our little guy, has cancer.

On our journey so far,  more answers seem only to lead to more questions. A wave of different emotions come and go, but overall, one thing remains constant — God’s goodness.

I like what Randy Alcorn says in his book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. He writes on page 289, “We define good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.” He goes on to explain something that every person suffering in pain would do well to remember:

As a young Christian I believed that going to Heaven instead of Hell was all that mattered. But as I read the Bible, I saw that to be called according to God’s purpose is to be conformed to the character of Christ. God’s purpose for our suffering is Christlikeness. That is our highest calling. If God answered all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then he would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.

What Randy is saying here is simple to read, but so difficult to do. Yet, it is the perspective a Christian is to have. God grows us, shapes us, sanctifies us, and brings us to the end of ourselves through suffering. All the while molding us into the image of His Son — Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we should be excited about a cancer diagnosis, or hoping our child suffers. But it does mean that we should not be so obsessed with our relief that we miss out on the lessons God teaches us along the way. Suffering brings us closer to God, and through suffering He accomplishes great purposes.

To encourage you as you face trials in your own life, here are 3 ways we can pray as Christians in the midst of pain:

Pray for God to be glorified above all else

You may have heard the story of James Montgomery Boice who got up one Sunday to talk to his church about terminal cancer that left him with only one month to live. Many had asked how they can help and his response was profound:

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles – and he certainly can – is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. But above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet, that’s where God is most glorified. 

Like our faith heroes who have gone long before us, this is a great anchor to all of our prayers for healing and relief.

Pray for healing while submitted to the will of God

Like any parent, we want Timothy to live to be 100, have lots of grandkids for us, and live happily ever after. But the reality is, we may pray for healing now and God’s timing and purposes may be different than our prayer. God is within His divine right to use our son’s for whatever “good” He decides to use it for (Romans 8:28). What if his cancer is used to spark gospel-spreading relationships in the cancer clinic? What if our son dies younger than we’d ever wish? What if our faith is tested beyond anything it’s ever been through? Even through the tears and pain, as Christians, we accept God’s will when it’s all said and done. Just when we want to throw in the towel and say, “That’s crazy!” We do well to remember that’s exactly what Jesus modeled.

As the most righteous man to ever live, and the divine Son of God, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before suffering on the cross. At that moment, He models one of the most vulnerable prayer sessions we witness in the Gospels. Matthew records, “And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

In a day where faith healers put on elaborate shows and posture boastfully; claiming to have the power to rebuke all kinds of cancer, far too many scoff at prayers for “God’s will to be done.” In many circles, praying “Your will be done” kind of prayers are seen as weak faith.

Well, Jesus prayed that way. It’s never a bad idea to model His method and trust God with the results.

Pray for perspective when tempted to pout

I remember walking into one of our first appointments and feel pretty sorry for myself. After a brief wait in the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we heard our name called and walked down the hallway. My pity party was short lived as I caught eyes with a young girl wearing a bandana and sitting with her mom. She was several years older than our son and had obviously been going through chemo. Fast forward to a recent appointment where two mothers were telling my wife that their little ones have chemo on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day. Talk about a shot of perspective. Everyone is going through something. We benefit greatly from reminders like that.

One of the great challenges as Christians is to look beyond our circumstances and maintain an eternal perspective. To put it bluntly, we can often miss opportunities to minister (and mourn) with others because our eyes are fixed on ourselves. No matter how dark a day may seem, we do not suffer in earthly despair as if we have no eternal hope! Furthermore, God has called every one of His followers to be witnesses for the gospel (Acts 1:8). What better way to be a witness than to point people to find comfort in Christ and their Lord and Savior?

Lastly, a word to those who feel like they’re just trying to survive another day, let alone help anyone else: Don’t feel pressure to look perfect when you’re enduring a trial, but do feel pressure (the good kind) to look to Christ. Your anxieties and pain belong at His feet (1 Peter 5:7), and He promises peace beyond human comprehension to those who come to Him with prayerful, thankful, dependent hearts (Philippians 4:6-7).

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Recommended Resources: 

If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God by Joni Eareckson Tada

What Will You Do With Jesus?

In the synoptic Gospels, around the time leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, we find some of the most heart-wrenching literature in all of Scripture. From this brief period of time, a simple question of personal reflection can be drawn out. It’s a question of conviction: what will we do with Jesus?

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all record important aspects of Jesus’ betrayal, denial, trial, and sentencing to death. What was done with Jesus began a short distance from the city of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, up the Mount of Olives, and into the shadows of the Garden of Gethsemane. There, underneath the overhang of olive trees the Lord Jesus’ sweat turned to blood as He accepted the will of God unto death on a cross. It’s there, in those shadows, that you may begin to see things in a way you never have. Men and women from the time of Christ until today have had their opportunity to come face-to-face with the reality of who Jesus is; find church campuses here so you can get closer to God and go on your own religious journey as a Christian.

What will you do with Him?

Judas Betrayed Him

It was an act that we all scoff at with self-righteousness. Surely none of us would stoop to such a low as Judas. That dark night, leading a cohort of weapon-wielding officers, chief priests, and Pharisees (John 18:3), Judas betrayed the God-man who just a short time before had washed his very feet. He sold out the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver. The chief priests got their hands on Jesus. Judas got his blood money. Complimenting John’s gospel, Matthew records Judas’ guilt-ridden effort to redeem himself; throwing the money back at the priests in remorse (Matt. 27:1-5). He never repented; hanging himself in shame.

Peter Denied Him

Against all odds, Jesus told Peter exactly what would happen and it did (John 13:31-38). Without hesitation, and on repeat (3-times), Peter flat out denied the Lord he’d so verbosely defended. The disciple who often was the quickest to speak and the first to jump out of the boat, suddenly stood by firelight in the deafening silence of his own denial of Jesus. Then, the cock crowed (John 18:27) and Peter began to weep (Mark (14:72).

Pilate’s Wife Said, “Avoid Him”

Historical writings name Pontius Pilate’s wife Procla (or Procula).Some view her as a saint while others don’t go so far. Whatever the varying views, Scripture gives only one small piece of evidence as to why she was so hesitant about her husband condemning Christ to death. In Matthew 27:19 she comes to her husband’s side telling him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” In a last-ditch effort, Procla interrupts her husband while he was mid-trial – something that would have been extremely unacceptable – to offer a final warning. Perhaps she had to come to believe that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Or, she was uneasy about Him after her dream. Whatever the case, she thought it was best for her husband to have nothing to do with Him.

Herod Mocked Him

Receiving a hand-off from Pilate, Herod finally got what he wanted. It was a chance to put this Jesus character to the test and see signs and wonders put on display. However, Jesus refused to answer anything that was asked of Him by Herod (Luke 23:9), while throughout the process of questioning the priests and scribes were “accusing Him vehemently” (Luke 23:10). Unsatisfied with the anti-climatic turn of events, Herod made a mockery of Jesus; dressing Him in royal robes and sending Him back to Pilate.

Pilate Sentenced Him

Pilate knew Jesus had done nothing wrong (Luke 23:4), and even tried to wash his hands of the situation (Matt. 27:24). When offered a choice between releasing a known murderer or Jesus, the angry mob demanded the murderer be released and Christ be crucified. Giving in to the incessant pressure of the mob, Pilate handed Jesus over to them. This was the death sentence. The Son of God was condemned to a cross.

Today, we know the story of Jesus did not end in defeat. Long after the grave could not hold Him, we still have access to salvation because of His resurrection power! No, we may not be faced with the exact situational choices as the men and women we read about, but the narrative surrounding the final days of Christ’s life still serves to show us how people respond to Christ in many different ways. For those who desire everlasting peace in heaven, the answer of what to do with Him is quite clear:

We must weep over our sin. Then, going beyond just remorse, guilt, or avoidance, we repent and turn to Him as the sole object of our worship. In doing so, we come to experience the riches of His grace, and peace beyond all comprehension.

What will you do with Jesus?

Embracing God’s Timing as a Pastor-in-Waiting

At times in the early years of training and ministry, you’ll find yourself in the uncomfortable position of waiting. You may be waiting on a ministry opportunity, waiting to complete seminary, or waiting on what you think you’re ready for – but haven’t seen God open the door yet. No matter the tension we feel when waiting on God’s timing in ministry, He has a specific purpose in mind.

We often have the highest view of our own “readiness” for certain aspects of ministry but it is God who has the highest (and most reliable) view of such a thing. He sovereignly places you in seasons of waiting, and releases you from waiting in His own timing. Anybody who has tried to jump the gun on God’s timing for ministry has undoubtedly learned Who knows best. Men of God who are called to lead God’s flock as pastors will be pressed – actually, squeezed – dry of themselves in several ways before being made ready. Seasons of waiting prove to be useful conduits for such a “divine press,” leading to healthy tension for the man as he is emptied of himself.

Waiting is training. Here are three things that waiting does for God’s glory, and our good:

  1. Waiting Teaches Submission

Perhaps there is no greater example of someone who had to wait for what they seemed to be ready for than King David. Gene Edwards, in his book A Tale of Three Kings, writes concerning David’s difficult season sitting under the “mad king,” Saul:

God has a university. It’s a small school. Few enroll; even fewer graduate. Very, very few infeed. God has this school because he does not have broken men and women. Instead, he has several other types of people. He has people who claim to have God’s authority…and don’t – people who claim to be broken…and aren’t. and people who do have God’s authority, but who are mad and unbroken. And he has, regretfully, a great mixture of everything in between. All of these he has in abundance, but broken men and women, hardly at all. In God’s sacred school of submission and brokenness, why are there so few students? Because all the students in this school must suffer much pain.

It is likely most of us are under no “mad king.” How much more can we then happily submit to the process of God’s training through waiting? Submission is quite possibly the ultimate test for a man’s heart because it determines at what level he can be trusted with authority. He that cannot submit to authority will be dangerous with authority. Saul, albeit anointed by God, was used by God to exemplify the kind of leader we can become if we do not learn to submit.

  1. Waiting Teaches Humility

Entitlement is to a pastor what too much candy is to a child who is eager for it – it rots teeth. Or in the pastor’s case, his heart. We’ve all heard the old cliché that good things come to those who wait, but I would argue that waiting should not so much focus on the good things to come, but the process by which those good things come. Let me explain: Waiting allows for training in our craft and cultivates humility for a pastor-in-waiting. It increases discipline. Like a soldier waiting for deployment, a pastor-in-waiting doesn’t sit around day dreaming about the future or talking about what he should/could be if he were given the chance to preach. He embraces his station in the season of waiting and engages in practices that will produce success for his entire calling – and he does this humbly and patiently. He evangelizes the lost. He counsels the hurting. He balances budgets. He sits at the feet of elders. He studies critical doctrines. He learns his blind spots. He deals with marital issues. He confronts sin. He completes his assignments. If you’re a pastor-in-waiting who takes advantage of such seasons, you will be humbly confident when God moves you forward. Humble in that you did not make anything happen – God did. Confident in that God has put you where you are.

  1. Waiting Teaches Suffering

A pastor who has not learned to submit to God’s work through waiting is bound to learn these lessons one way or another. Waiting thickens the skin of man who is destined to suffer in service to Christ. David experienced this as you’ve seen already, and New Testament leaders were not off the hook either. In his letters to Timothy, what does Paul highlight multiple times? That Timothy discipline himself and get ready for suffering and tough times. He said that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). That Timothy was to “be sober in all things” and “endure hardship” (2 Tim. 4:5). And that Timothy should “discipline [himself] for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). A pastor will go through seasons of doubt, despair, attack from both insiders and outsiders, and spiritual assaults from the enemy. He stands firm in suffering because his patience and trust in God were tested and developed in seasons of waiting.

Everybody’s seasons of “waiting” may look different, but the lesson God teaches us is the same: He’s calling the shots, and we can trust Him to work things out for His glory, and our good (Rom. 8:28).

God is Good… All the Time

Think about the best things that have happened to you lately. If you’re a Christian who has received a promotion, a raise, a new car, a bigger home, a newer home, a good report from the doctor, a healthy baby delivered, or that job you’ve always wanted…you’ve probably said these words:

“God is so good!” And you’re absolutely right…He is.

But could there be more to His goodness than just the bright side of your story? It seems like our first response when things are going right is to declare His goodness, but the Bible paints a picture of God’s character of goodness even in the darker times. Was God still good when He allowed Satan to afflict Job with suffering? Was God still good when He didn’t answer Paul’s prayer to remove the torment of Satan via the thorn in the flesh? Now personalize it. Is God still good if you lose your job, lose your home, can’t have a child, or doctor says you have 6 months to live?

It’s a sobering thought that will test the core foundation of how we view God.

God’s goodness is based on His character. Which means that your career advancement and good health are unrelated to whether or not He is good. He is good and He is good all the time – no matter what our circumstances might be.

Consider the following biblical examples of how God’s goodness means more than just good times:

The Example The Extent The Edification
Job (Job 1-3, Job 38-42) Job loses his kids, his health, his wealth and friends; His wife says, “Curse God!” Job experiences a deeper relationship with God, is blessed by God, restored.
Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) A messenger of Satan that torments Paul like a thorn in the flesh. God won’t alleviate his torment. Paul experiences the extravagance of God’s grace and learns that God’s power is perfected in weak people.
The Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) They suffer. The devil is allowed to cast them into prison, yet they must be faithful unto death. They received the crown of life and enter into the eternal glory of God as honored martyrs.
Peter (Luke 22:31-34) Satan asks permission to sift Peter like wheat – is allowed. Denies Jesus and fails Him. Peter is restored, becomes a pillar of strength in the early church. Suffers faithfully; never to deny His Lord again.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. When we search through the pages of Scripture we quickly find that God is good no matter what we’re going through, and that His purposes and methods are beyond what we can comprehend. That doesn’t change the reality of our pain at certain times, but as real as the suffering is, the rewards and blessings for those who remain faithful are monumentally greater – and priceless.

Though God may allow Satan to roam the earth on His leash for a time, there is coming a day when Satan will be bound and cast into the lake of fire for eternity (Rev. 20:1-15). In the grand scheme of things, he is simply a pawn on God’s chess board as He works all things together for His good (Rom. 8:28).

Always remember, God’s allowance of your trials is rooted in love. He loves you so much that He will grow you and sanctify you until eternity, then reward you for being faithful – how good is that?

Enjoy the daily battle in the faith as it is used to test you, shape you, and grow you for the glory of God (Phil. 1:6).

God is good…. all the time.