To Go On Living Is Christ
“Because of my boldness, Christ will be exalted in my body, now as always, whether I live or die. For to me, to go on living is Christ, and to die is gain. Now if I go on living in this body, that will produce more results, yet I do not know which I would prefer. Indeed, I cannot decide between the two. I have the desire to leave this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. But for your sake it is better that I remain in this body” (Phil. 1:20-24).
These words were written by the Apostle Paul when he was on “death row” in a Roman prison. He did not know the appointed day of his death, nor even for certain that it would happen. But all evidence pointed in that direction. Statistically, his days were ending.
The implication of Scripture is that from eternity past the days of our lives are set….a time to be born and a time to die. Although there have been instances in Scripture when God altered His calendar for individuals, generally-speaking He has a plan for all of His creation. He is a God of order, and His orderliness flows to even small details.
Sometimes He allows us to have some indication of when we are approaching the last of our days; sometimes He takes us suddenly, without warning. But although we as humans might struggle with the situation, He never is taken by surprise. He remains faithful to His character throughout all the days of our existence; He cannot change.
In the providence of God, 5 days ago I was given a diagnosis of “uterine papillary serous carcinoma.” Statistically, only 1 percent of women with my symptoms have this diagnosis. It is classified as an aggressive cancer that spreads quickly. And it has the worst prognosis of all the uterine cancers, especially if it has already spread. At this point we do not know the “stage” (spreading) of the cancer. This type of papillary serous is automatically given a Stage III (second worst spreading) until proven otherwise. I am scheduled to see the gynecologic oncologist on Monday afternoon (August 10), and surgery is expected soon thereafter. After surgery we will know better the stage of the cancer in my body.
All of this information is from the human side of things; we delight to wallow in statistics, don’t we? But the Truth is that the loving Father to whom I have committed my soul is still in control, and He will continue to perfect that which concerns me.
Let me be very clear: I do not long to live. What I long for is that I be useful for the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. I’m in the same position as the Apostle Paul….I am ready for Heaven, to see His face…but if I can be useful for the Kingdom, to help believers (including my own family) grow strong, to influence others for Jesus, then I am willing and happy to remain on earth a while longer.
This does not mean that tears are not shed. Tears have been shed, and will be shed again. When Paul met with the Ephesian elders and said “good-bye” to them, tears were shed; he knew he would not see them again on earth. When the Lord Jesus was living, He cried; although only one instance of His tears is recorded in detail, the Scriptures call Him “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” When we cry, it is not a demonstration of lack of faith; we do not cry in despair. In the midst of our tears is a certain calm, an undercurrent of rest in His character, a sweetness of spirit that is founded upon His love.
It is our desire that as we walk through this “shadow of death” the Lord Jesus be lifted up and glorified. He will be glorified as we affirm Truth in the midst of difficulty. In the coming weeks/months we expect many days of physical and emotional pain, times of spiritual assault as the Evil One bombards us with falsehoods, hurting comments by spiritually-distracted people, periods of feeling abandoned and alone. But it is our resolve to lay hold on the Truth of the Scriptures, to discipline our minds, to affirm His character – and in that exercise to bring glory to His Name.
Scripture is clear that our lives are not to be lived “under a bushel.” We are to live honest, sincere, open lives of faith. This means vulnerability. We expose ourselves to misunderstanding, to ridicule, to lovelessness, to mockery. But there is no other way to live and still bring glory to the Lord Jesus.
In our culture, high-profile people often “go public” with their medical issues in an attempt to increase awareness and cultural discussion of the medical issue. We are “going public” with my situation in an attempt to increase awareness, not of the medical condition, but of the wonderful Lord Jesus, and to increase discussion of Him and His wonderful salvation.
There is power in prayer. I still do not understand why it is that the Creator of the Universe will bend His will to ours through our prayers, but I do know that He invites us to pray and He delights to hear our heart desires. We have seen Him do marvelous things in Ethiopia because of our prayers. If His Spirit urges you to pray for me and our family, then we welcome your prayers on our behalf. He will guide you in how to pray for us. For ourselves, we are praying 1) that His will be done, for His own glory, 2) that if I can be of more use to the Kingdom, He would allow me to be healed, and 3) that He would fill me with courage to trust Him and His character. In addition to praying for me, please pray for my family (Dave, Nathan/Jessie, Liz/Matthew/boys, parents, siblings), that God will fill them also with courage to trust Him completely with whatever the future brings.
You might be wondering about the work God has given to us in Ethiopia. Until God shows us differently, and puts a complete road-block in the way, we will continue the work. We have always said “This is the Lord’s work,” and it remains His work. If He chooses to set aside one of His workers, then He will raise up another for the work that is needed. Those who have gone with us on our Teams know this: we continue on with the ministry that God has appointed us, regardless of challenges, until God Himself stops us. So I will continue on in the work at hand, and if it is His will to set me aside, then He will raise up another to do that portion of the work that I have been doing. So our trip in December and our taking a Team in July are still on the calendar. We will keep our speaking engagements. We will continue to encourage, counsel, and support the Ethiopian church leadership and the clinic operations. And the funds that have been sent to us for the Ethiopian church will continue to accomplish His purposes for them.
While driving back from the doctor on Tuesday, I was listening to BBN (Bible Broadcasting Network). Each week, this station has a memory verse for all the listeners. The verse for the week was Psalm 95:1: “O Come! Let us sing unto the Lord! Let us make a JOYFUL noise to the rock of our salvation.”
When I returned home, I read the rest of the psalm. Why do we sing to Him? Why do we rejoice in our Rock? Verses 3-5 tell us why: because He is a great God and a great King, because He holds all creation in His hand (even the small deep places…like abdominal cavities), because He is full of strength. Such a wonderful God we serve!
But the climax comes in verse 7. He is OUR God, and we are the people of HIS pasture, and the sheep of HIS hand. We can have a personal relationship with this great, strong, knowledgeable God and King. This is the ultimate reason why we can sing and rejoice!
I am in His pasture, I am His sheep, I am under His care. Because of that, I can sing and be joyful!
Will you sing and be joyful with me? Will you join me in giving glory to His Name, for what He is about to do in and through this cancer situation in the coming weeks/months/years? I hope you know Him personally, and I hope you are learning to trust His character and to rejoice in who He is, no matter the circumstances.
May our Lord be glorified in me, in my family, in the Ethiopia work, and in you!
August 9, 2009