Sicks Pax

“Causing you to hunger…”

Posted in Chris,Coping with Cancer,Scripture by sicks on March 20, 2008

Here are two words, which do you prefer?
Suffering, or Glory?

None of us want suffering in our lives, right? But it’s remarkable how intertwined these two concepts are in scripture.

Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (Lk 24:26)

Jesus was explaining to the confused disciples that his death was not a deviation from God’s plan, although it was contrary to their plans. They thought they were getting a Messiah king who would overthrow Roman oppression and lead them back the glorious days of David and Solomon.

Instead, they got a guy who touched lepers, spoke to adulterous Samaritan women and ate with the rejects of society. Then, he was executed with a couple of criminals. No wonder they were bummed out on Easter morning.

We, too, would prefer glory to suffering, but scripture repeatedly tells us that you can’t have one without the other. Think of Joseph–sold into slavery, imprisoned wrongly, but eventually running all of Egypt. Think about Ruth and Naomi. And Hosea’s cheating wife Gomer, who brought into the home children that weren’t his. And King David hiding in caves from his own murderous son. And the Egyptian first born, slain while the Jewish children slept.

And those 40 years in the desert. Talk about suffering. But it was suffering that God brought upon them for a purpose. Note that God caused them to hunger, for two reasons:

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut 8:3)

His reasons were 1) To humble them, to shake them out of their self-reliance and make them fully dependent upon God. And 2) To teach them that they needed more than bread to live, more than material resources. That a glorious life is one lived in full reliance upon the Creator.

Sometimes we need to suffer to remember this, to be made helpless enough to seek divine assistance. But he loves us enough to cause our hunger, our suffering. Because that’s when we see the glory of the One who suffered everything, so that we can endure hardship in the secure knowledge that we are safe in his loving hand. Safer and more loved than we ever knew before the suffering came along.



Dealing with Fear

Posted in Chris,Scripture by sicks on February 28, 2008

A week after Sara was diagnosed with cancer, she woke me in the middle of the night, sobbing and trembling, overcome by fear as she cried out to me: “I don’t want to die!”

The reality of having cancer was bad enough, but uncertainty about the future has been one of her fiercest battles during this journey.

Where can you look, when the present is full of bad news, and the future looks even worse? I think Psalm 77 may have some answers. It was written by Asaph, a man appointed by King David to lead worship before the Ark of the Covenant. He was a performer and a worship leader, he sang and played instruments as a part of his ministry in the tabernacle (1Chr 15)

He was also the composer and publisher of psalms. He wrote 12 psalms himself, and he collected and distributed King David’s music (1 Chr 16:7-37).

So, we have this important man doing “kingdom work” every day of his life. He is close with King David, and his job is to sing, write and play music to the Lord. You might think he’d be a happy man without many problems, right?

Clearly not. Look again at how the psalm opens:

1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.

Just like Sara, Asaph was having trouble sleeping at night because of his problems. We don’t know what he is going through, perhaps an illness, or a rebellious teenager. Whatever it is, he is really distraught.

3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?

In his distress and sleepless anxiety, he begins to doubt God. This Levite priest, this man who sings the praises of God each day of his life, he questions whether God can or will help him. “Will the Lord reject me forever?” he wonders. “Is this situation ever going to get better? Has God’s unfailing love vanished forever?” Look at that. Has his unfailing love failed? He acknowledges God’s great character, and doubts it—all in the same breath.

And then he starts to blame himself, and doubt God’s compassion for him.

9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Maybe God’s mercy has run out. Or he is too busy and doesn’t notice that I’m suffering down here. Or, maybe God is there, but he won’t help me. He has forgiven me so many times for so many things, maybe I pushed him too far the other day. Maybe he’s dropped me from his list. Maybe it’s all my fault.

Asaph is struggling. Today is confusing him. It’s difficult. And tomorrow is scary. For some people, tomorrow is terrifying, wondering if your child is going to get things right, what the lab results are going to say, or where the next meal is going to come from.

So where can you go when you are overwhelmed with anxiety? A lot of the people I encounter in my work struggle with addictions—alcohol, drugs, bad relationships. Disappointment and anxiety trigger relapses into bad habits. Folks who are addicted to something have a habit of seeking comfort there, so when life gets hard and things don’t go right, that is where they instinctively turn.

Where do you turn? This time, at least, Asaph doesn’t turn to food, alcohol or another false comfort—he looks to the past. Lost in his anxiety, the past is the only concrete thing Asaph can cling to. He begins preaching—to himself.

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Asaph appeals to “the years of the right hand of the most High.” I love that. He ponders God’s right hand—the hand of action. He thinks about that hand that created the universe, that crafted human beings, that parted the Red Sea. He forces himself to remember what God has done.

Asaph doesn’t understand today, and tomorrow is scary, so he reviews what has happened to God’s people in the past. Notice that in verses 1-9 it’s always I, me and my. He is consumed by his problems and focused on himself. But from verse 10 on, he turns his thoughts from himself to God, and God’s faithfulness to all his people, not just Asaph.

Asaph doesn’t just remember these past events, he meditates on them. To meditate is to contemplate deeply and continuously, to ponder. You may think of a Buddhist monk, sitting cross legged and chanting a mantra. But the purpose of Eastern meditation is to empty your mind, while Godly meditation is filling your mind with the truth of God. True meditation is a spiritual discipline, when you marinate your mind in the Word of God, when you float in His Living Water and let it wash over you. When you do that, the anxiety and fear that consumed you are pushed to the corners of your mind, and put in perspective.

Sara has been devouring scripture like never before, and has said repeatedly that God’s Word is the one thing sustaining her during this trial.

12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Asaph is forcing himself to stop thinking about his present problems, and focus instead on God’s past deeds.

13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

Asaph tells himself about God’s character, and his faithfulness. He preaches the truth to himself.

Preaching to yourself is not whistling in the dark. It isn’t mustering up the courage to get through a tough time, or pretending things aren’t as bad as they are. It isn’t a self-help, and it isn’t just some cliché about God being good and nice. “Oh don’t worry, God will take care of everything.” Oh, good. You’re right. I’ll stop worrying now.

It is more than that. It is intentionally turning your thoughts from your circumstances and pressing concerns, and thinking instead about the character and faithfulness of God. It is meditating on his good works in history, so you can understand the present and future more clearly.

For more on this idea of looking up at Christ instead of down at your circumstances, download Tom Holliday’s sermon from Feb. 24.

Thanks for being with us on this journey. It means more than you know.


Will God Heal?

Posted in Chris,Coping with Cancer,Scripture by sicks on February 24, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, Sara was reading Psalm 103, and asked for my opinion on a verse:

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits–

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases

“Can I take this as a promise that God will heal me?” Sara asked. Good question. In our doubt and fear and anxiety, scripture has been a great encouragement. God’s promises mean a lot when everything else is shaking loose. But what to make of Sara’s question?

Particularly challenging for us was the memory of a dear friend, father of two young children, full-time in ministry to college students, cherished by his wife…well, he died of cancer about 3 years ago. If the Lord could take him, why not Sara? And if this young man died, what do we make of “heals all your diseases“? That didn’t seem to hold true in our friend’s case. What do these words mean in Sara’s case?

I’ve come to a few conclusions. First, this psalm was written by David. He had experienced God’s healing when he was very sick. (Psalm 30.) He knew that God was capable of healing. That’s conclusion #1 — with David we follow a God who can heal.

But he doesn’t always heal. David’s first-born died. (2 Samuel 12:13-25) Our friend died. So, why, we ask, does it say God “heals all your diseases“? Here’s an interesting thing I learned: when you find sweeping, grandiose promises like this in the Old Testament, promises that go far beyond human experience or capability, then you are being pointed to Christ. David spoke about God from first-hand knowledge, but he also spoke of things he didn’t fully understand. David wrote of his descendant Jesus who would come to forgive all our sins, and heal all our diseases. Christ’s suffering and victory mean that we will one day live in perfect bodies that will never be sick, will never perish. That’s conclusion #2. Although our friend did not receive physical healing in this life, he now dwells in perfect painless peace forever.

Does Psalm 103 tell us anything about Sara, her cancer and her prognosis? No. It wasn’t written about her. It was written about the God who can, does and will heal. As we face the uncertainty of battling cancer, and are threatened by doubt and fear, God’s Word is providing us with solid rocks of Truth to depend upon.


Surgery Scheduled for Feb 12

Posted in Cancer,Sara,Scripture by sicks on February 8, 2008

I am scheduled to have my mastectomy on Tuesday, Feb. 12th at Fairfax Hospital. They will also perform reconstruction during that surgery, and look at my lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread there. Last week, the general surgeon felt my lymph nodes under left my arm and did not like what he felt, which sent me into shock and then 12 hours of fear that the cancer has spread.

Many of you have been so wonderful to ask what you can do to help. Right now, what we need is prayer. Later, when I am going through chemo and radiation, I’m sure I will take many of you up on your generous offer to help with the kids. I have been battling a lot of fear, especially since yesterday’s appointment. I have received wonderful counsel from wise believers and from God’s Word. I am clinging to the Father like I never have before. I realize that I need him each moment to get through this. I first need your prayers for peace in this storm of fears about the future. I so desire to live this life God gave me and want to see my children get older and am scared about all of that. I know that the Lord’s peace is possible because it comes from the Prince of Peace, and that Jesus desperately wants to offer me this blessed gift. There are times I have it and times that my fears take over. I also would desire that you pray that the Lord would heal me—even now before my surgery and subsequent treatments. To that end, please pray that the cancer would be contained in the left breast and that it hasn’t gotten out. Lastly, I want the Lord to be seen for who He is in all of this—that his glory would shine. I desire to meet with the Father and see His face through all of this, and I know I have already seen his face and heard his words through much of your godly counsel. He is indeed holding me and my family. I know this will be a difficult year but I also know that God is good and that He will be with me and that there will be blessings along the way.

I have found great comfort in Isaiah 43:

1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.

4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.

5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;

Lastly, thanks to many of you for your calls, e-mails and cards. They have been very comforting. If I don’t talk to you or write you back, know that I appreciate all of your advances but am unable to get back to each of you. Thank you for walking with me and Chris in all of this. We know we are not alone. We so appreciate your prayers and offer to help. We love you.

Resting in His mighty hand, Sara

Don’t Waste Your Cancer

Posted in Cancer,Chris,Scripture by sicks on February 6, 2008

Amazing and challenging article here about dealing with cancer, and reconciling such a difficult thing with the fact that God is good. The authors, John Piper and David Powlinson, wrote these thoughts after being diagnosed with cancer themselves.

2 Corinthians 1:9: “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

John Piper writes: “The aim of God in your cancer (among a thousand other good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him.”

God’s sovereignty is tough to stomach at times, but if he isn’t sovereign over all things (including Sara’s cancer) then he’s not really worth trusting, is he?