Ten Years Cancer Free & Still Learning

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This month marks a decade since I finished treatment for head and neck cancer. By God’s grace I remain cancer free. I have remarked to others more times than I can recount a single thought: “Cancer is a terribly effective tutor.” Here are several lessons I learned through the healing journey and continue to learn as the Lord kindly gives me length of days.

  • One, the actual moment of a believer’s death is a terribly significant matter in the heart of God (Psalm 116:15).
  • Two, illness is a form of suffering which God uses to train us in holiness (Psalm 119:71).
  • Three, God’s grace is sufficient to sustain even when healing is delayed or doesn’t come at all (2 Cor. 12:9).
  • Four, one’s capacity to comfort others in their affliction increases significantly to the degree one has experienced comfort from God in something similar (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
  • Five, dying is gain for the believer, but remaining alive to serve others is better for them in God’s providence (Phil. 1:21-26).
  • Six, God sees the tears and hears the prayers of His people when they cry out to Him (2 Kings 20:5).
  • Seven, joy doesn’t depend on circumstances but rather on the filling of the Spirit which focuses on giving thanks in all things (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
  • Eight, true worth comes from who we are in Christ, not what we can or cannot do for Him (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • Nine, prosperity and adversity both come from God and require different responses in faith (Ecc. 7:14).
  • And, ten, life is a vapor, faster than a weaver’s shuttle, requiring one to live every moment’s anticipation of the future governed by a careful “if the Lord wills” (James 4:13-15; Job 7:6).

These lessons and more I have learned and continue to learn as I live one more day cancer free to the praise of His glorious grace.

BONHOEFFERS MORNING PRAYER

Dietrich BonhoefferNew Year’s Day, 2015. Time to reflect back in hopes of moving forward.
2014 started miserably with death in January. Grief took up an unwelcome residence in our household. Lesson learned? The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).
The year peaked sweetly with blessing in July. Twin grand kids. It doesn’t get much better. Lesson learned? There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). 
We crash dived hard with sickness in December. Cancer again. But this time attacking the queen. Lesson learned? Being learned? Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4).
Why must it be so hard? How does one press on into another year when the first Friday will bring another doctor’s visit and the prospect of more bad news?
Turn everlastingly Godward.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. Imprisoned in Nazi Germany for opposing Hitler’s Third Reich, he wrote his famous treatise, Letters from PrisonIt proved a great comfort to me time and again when I read it during my cancer journey in 2005. A friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Bonhoeffer’s Morning Prayer (see below). The German pastor read it to his fellow prisoners that Christmas morning in 1943. My friend wrote a note with it expressing his hope it would strengthen me and Nancy in, as he put it, “this latest chapter in your life.”
It did. It does. Thanks, Mike.
May it do the same for you, dear reader, whatever 2015 brings to your household.
MORNING PRAYER
Christmas, 1943
God, to you I call early in the morning.
Help me pray
And gather my thoughts to yourself
I cannot do it alone.
In me it is dark,
But with you is the light;
I am lonely, but you forsake me not;
I am faint-hearted, but with you is help;
I am restless, but with you is peace;
In me is bitterness, but with you is patience;
I do not understand my way, but
You know the way for me.
Father in Heaven,
Praise and thanks
Be yours for the night’s rest.
Praise and thanks be your for the new day.
Praise and thanks be yours for all your kindness
And faithfulness in my past life.
You have shown me much good,
Let me now receive from your hand
What is hard (emphasis mine).
You will not lay upon me
More than I can bear.
For your children you let all things
Serve for the best.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And miserable, captive and forsaken as I am.
You know every need of humans,
You remain with me
When no man stands by me,
You forget me not and seek me,
You will that I recognize you
And turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow,
Help me!
Holy Spirit,
Give me the faith that rescues me from
Despair, addictions, and vice,
Give me the love for God and humans,
That destroys all hate and bitterness,
Give me the hope that frees me from
Fear and despondency.
Holy, merciful God,
My Creator and my Savior,
My Judge and my Deliverer,
You know me and everything I do.
You hate and punish evil in this world
And in the next with no respect of persons;
You forgive sins for the one
Who asks sincerely;
You love good and reward it on this
Earth with a good conscience
And in the world to come
With the crown of righteousness.
Before you I think of all my loved ones,
And of my fellow prisoners, and of all those
Who do their hard service in this house.
Lord, have mercy!
Grant me freedom again,
And let me so live in the present
That I can live responsibly
Before humans.
Lord, whatever else this day brings—
May your name be praised!
Amen.

 

39 Years, 39 Lessons

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On December 21st of this year, my bride and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. Since then I’ve pondered reasons why, by God’s grace, we’ve survived, even thrived all these years. I wondered if I could articulate as many lessons learned or being learned as years. Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Believe the gospel for yourself AND about your spouse.
  2. Love your spouse more by loving him/her less than Jesus.
  3. Believe the best of your spouse as a saint.
  4. Suspect the worst of yourself as a sinner.
  5. Repent of sin quickly.
  6. Use the words “Will you forgive me?”
  7. Use the words “Of course I forgive you.”
  8. Forgive 70 x 7.
  9. Patience, patience, patience.
  10. Listen attentively.
  11. Ask questions to draw out the heart.
  12. Avoid judging with broad-sweeping statements; speak the truth in love.
  13. Peacemake, don’t peacebreak, or peacefake.
  14. Get mediation help/counseling if necessary.
  15. Prize oneness highly.
  16. Wait until you’re on the same page the bigger the decision.
  17. Pray for one another.
  18. Pray with one another.
  19. Read the Bible together.
  20. Read good books on marriage and other topics together.
  21. Limit TV and other forms of digital entertainment time.
  22. Converse with one another.
  23. Defer to one another –  A LOT.
  24. Kiss each other good morning, goodbye, hello, and good night.
  25. Go to bed at the same time.
  26. Give conjugal rights freely.
  27. Go to church together.
  28. Be a part of a gospel community together (small group).
  29. Serve others inside and outside the church together.
  30. Practice hospitality.
  31. Keep good boundaries with extended family and in-laws.
  32. Never demean one another in front of others.
  33. Never raise your voice to one another.
  34. Share everything together.
  35. Eliminate the “D” word from your vocabulary altogether.
  36. Stay in touch with each other throughout the day, especially when travelling apart.
  37. Date each other; take walks together.
  38. Get away from the normal routine together, if and when you can.
  39. Always look for the next lesson God will teach you.

Two Most Important Lessons

I love the interviews each month near the end of every Tabletalk magazine.

This month features a conversation with apologist Ravi Zacharias, president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, an organization with offices in Canada, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates,and the United States. He is internationally known as a Christian apologist and has addressed thousands of people worldwide, including students and professors from numerous colleges and universities. Dr. Zacharias is the host of a weekly radio program, Let My People Think, and serves as senior research fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University. Among his many books are Can Man Live Without God?, Deliver Us from Evil, Walking From East to West, and Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality.

When someone asks a person with that kind of track record in fruitfulness to name the two most important lessons he has learned in a lifetime of ministry, I get interested real fast in the answer.

Here’s what he said:

The hardest lessons I’ve learned are, one, how important it is to have the right people around you, and two, to learn to face criticism and opposition (oftentimes from those who should be more understanding) without allowing it to sidetrack you from your closeness to the Lord and His call. When you’re doing very little, nobody will bother you. But when you are making an impact, the Enemy of our souls finds ready emissaries to take aim at you. It goes with the calling. Keep close to the Lord and don’t let the critics dent your calling that a gracious and sovereign God has shaped.

Good counsel on both counts. The rest of the article is worth reading as well. You can access it here.