Monday, October 3, 2011

Take That, Cancer!

I sure get weary of burying my friends. A week ago I spoke at the funeral of David Martin. David and his wife Debbie were part of our church family for three years or so before work took them to the Dallas area. We continued to stay connected via email.

And when David was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor a year and some months ago, we exchanged some of the richest email correspondence of my ministry. David sharing his heart; me trying to encourage him; me in my health telling David that God is with us in suffering; David on the frontline of suffering confirming for me that it’s true. I saved most of that correspondence and am very glad I did. Even though David didn’t want the tumor, he certainly embraced his condition and searched for God in the midst of it like a miner searches for gold. And David hit the mother lode. Did he waver in his faith from time to time? Yes, on rare occasions, but never for very long. He just kept leaning into Jesus and found Him in every twist and turn of his disease.

A few months ago I shared with David a poetic expression that was supposedly read at the funeral of a military chaplain who had died from cancer. Here it is: Cancer is so limited... It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith. It cannot take away peace. It cannot destroy confidence. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot invade the soul. It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot quench the Spirit. It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I had hoped to encourage David, but again he encouraged me. He sent me back a response in which he wrote his own reflection on cancer …

It’s not about the cancer; it's about the glance, or touch on the shoulder by a friend who leans forward and says "I have been thinking about you and praying for you, I love you brother.”

It's not about the cancer; it's about the concerned look/expression of a frightened family member and the comfort they experience as we all learn to hope more fully in God.

It's not about the cancer; it's about your spouse, your son, your daughter or sibling, and the pain they endure and the challenges they experience as they walk with you on this journey.

It's not about the cancer; It's about relationships—past, present and future.

It's not about the cancer; it's about living life. It's about loving life. It's about God and His glory.

It's not about the cancer; it's about magnifying the person and name of Jesus Christ—to Whom be glory, forever and ever, Amen.

See what I mean? David leaned into Jesus. Though he also wrote about his moments of anxiety and fear, he always found his way back into the peace and comfort of Jesus. And not long before the disease robbed him of the ability to concentrate or type an email, David sent me this: “God is so beautiful lately. I’m beginning to understand why Pentecostals whoop and holler.” That was David.

So it was David in one corner and cancer in the other. They traded punches in the middle of the ring for more than a year. David fought valiantly. In his corner stood family and friends, doctors and nurses, who cheered him on and tended his wounds at the end of each round. Yet in spite of the courage and faith with which David fought the battle, cancer finally took him down to the grave. The evidence suggests that cancer won the battle—his death certificate will say as much. But don’t believe that evidence. It’s tainted. It’s tainted by shortsightedness that sees life as a fixed continuum between birth and death. It’s tainted by a cynicism that believes cancer is king and death is final.

But against that evidence is the Scripture—a lot of Scripture—like this one from the apostle Paul who knew much about suffering: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though we’re wasting away on the outside, we’re being renewed every day on the inside. For our light and momentary troubles are preparing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal. And we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house in the heavens, not built by human hands."

David believed that with all his heart. He knew Jesus was with him in the battle—the same Jesus who suffered and died and was raised from dead on the third day; the same Jesus who is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the one who was dead but is alive forevermore; the same Jesus who holds the keys to death and the grave, who is with us and who is for us, and who is the resurrection and the life. David did cancer with Jesus. I so wish God had chosen to heal him this side of eternity, but for reasons known only to God, He healed David with the healing from which he will never be sick again. That’s why cancer didn’t win and why cancer doesn’t get the last word on David—God does, heaven does, life does.

So take that, cancer! You knocked David down, but you cannot knock him out! And even more, you will be knocked out in the end. And as you lay beaten and crushed on the mat, David and a host of other believers you’ve victimized over the centuries will raise their hands in victory and praise to the God who will finally set all things right.

1 comment:

  1. John, thank you for this beautiful tribute to a friend. I praise God that he is now in heaven and truly healed.