A little “state of the blog” seems to be in order right now.
I have added a video to the ‘about’ page. I’m hoping I can start something video related but we’ll see how things go. Here is the video:
Regarding my health, for those interested, I met with doctors in Toronto this week and I won’t be proceeding with a stem-cell transplant for my Leukemia at this time. The risks greatly outweigh the benefits right now. The chance of death would be 1 in 3 to 1 in 2. And if I did survive I could end up with another disease anyway. Not doing the transplant now is great since the procedure is awful. It’s like bringing you to the point of death and then relying on a donor’s stem-cells to bring you back to life with no guarantee that it will work. Keep in mind many have had successful transplants, but this is my scenario based on my cytogenetics and the donor match that was found. A transplant could still happen if I relapse.
Am I going to continue my John studies on here? Yes. I’ve been tired recovering from chemo but I hope to pick things up soon!
Upon writing the post, Suffering as a Gift, I realized I hadn’t spent a lot of time talking exactly about how suffering was a gift, which really should have been the case since that was the title. I spent more time talking about how my theology prepared me to suffer well as a precursor to seeing it as a gift. Thanks to a helpful commenter, I’m reminded to address more specifically exactly how I have seen suffering to be a gift. The other thing I want to tackle is how it can even be appropriate to talk about it as a gift and whether, as the commenter objected to, that view means we do nothing to allieviate suffering. It’s a reasonable objection but one that I think doesn’t hold. I’ll address that in a subsequent post.
In this post I want to quickly highlight exactly how I’ve seen my “suffering” with cancer to be a gift. I list them here in 5 points with short commentary.
1) In my marriage.
A proper perspective is key and my wife and I have been drawn closer together through this time. It is easy to drift in life but when you get news that one of you has cancer and may die, you appreciate each other differently, I think. We had a great marriage as a foundation prior to my diagnosis in December, but our bond to each other has been driven so much deeper and has caused us to have to rely on God’s grace and mercy in new and deeper ways. Will my wife be okay if I die? I know she will be greatly grieved, but she has an even greater hope that will sustain her. And I have to trust that she will be okay because she is in Christ.
2) In my parenting.
Again this comes down to perspective. Not knowing whether or not my son will grow up with a dad has helped me to be more intentional about spending time with him and thinking through what I want to leave to him should I pass away. Primarily what I want to leave to him is intangible but I’m working on it now: knowing that he had a father who loved him and walked faithfully with God as a pointer to an even greater Father, God himself. More tangibly I’m going to write a letter that exhorts him to pursue Christ and shares whatever wisdom I have gleaned in my life thus far. I’ve also taken a few more opportunities to get my books signed by the authors/scholars that wrote them to pass on to my son!
3) In my community.
The church community around us has been amazing to our family through this trial. They have walked with us the whole way and ensured that we would be supported in any way we needed. It has taught us about grace, mercy, compassion and community in amazing ways that I’m so thankful for. It has helped me to become less selfish as a result.
4) Hope in resurrection made more vivid.
Death used to seem so far off in many ways. Any one of us is deceived if we think it certainly is since none of us knows how long we have to live. But being faced with it in tangible ways has brought to light a deeper hope in the resurrection, or, as N.T. Wright says, in life after life after death (not a typo). Our ultimate home is not an ethereal place of clouds and harp music. It is a tangible remade earth where we will forever be in the presence of our God and King. Knock on the desk or the computer in front of you. Hit your feet on the ground. Look out at the clouds in the sky. It will be more real and certainly nothing less than what you just perceived with your senses in this exercise. Thinking through the realistic nature of the future heavens/earth helps my excitement for it and hope in the midst of this current cursed earth.
5) Perseverance, maturity, completeness.
I quoted James 1:2-4 in my first post. Again it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (TNIV). Without claiming any attaining of perfection (believe me!) I have found my trust in God to be matured through the perseverance that this trial has produced. If you are currently in Christ, no explanation will be needed as to how wonderful it is to grow in maturity and the knowledge of the Lord. We were made for him. We were made to be his image bearers. Getting caught up in this brings meaning and completeness to our very purpose on this earth.
This is perhaps only a sampling of the gifts.
But I get that these are seen as gifts because of my Christian worldview (And this is at least one portion of an apologetic for the Christian worldview in how it handles suffering unlike so many other worldviews). That was a major point of my first post: it was my theology that prepared me to see the time of trial as a gift. Does this outlook then mean I am complacent about rectifying suffering? By no means. That will be the topic of my next post.
Since being diagnosed with cancer in December my wife and I have been on the receiving end of a lot of generosity. Our church family has been wonderful as have our blood family, relatives, and friends.
The result of being on the receiving end of such generosity has been to make me desire to be more generous myself. I’m fairly certain that I’ve shed more tears as a result of people’s generosity than I have from the cancer situation itself. I did nothing to deserve anyone’s generosity and so it hits me emotionally every time.
By God’s grace this isn’t a debtors ethic that I’m carrying around. That is, I don’t feel I have to pay people back because they have paid me with something. Rather, the grace of others toward me has shown me how beautiful it is to give and has made me want to be that way toward others.
And isn’t that how it’s supposed to be with our relationship with God? His grace toward us is not license to sin further or seek to pay him back – as though God needs anything from us! It compels us and transforms us to love him more and obey out of a joyful and glad heart rather than through strict requirement.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. – Paul, Romans 6:1-4 (TNIV).
Today I turn 28.
In the last number of years, especially as a Christian, even though I “knew” in the back of my mind that none of us is guaranteed a long life, I didn’t think much about dying young.
But, when I was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia in December, it only took a day for me to accept that very real possibility. At that point I didn’t know if I would make it to my 28th birthday. I subsequently went into remission (doesn’t equal cured) from the chemotherapy but I still don’t know if I have any more birthdays. Regardless, I see this cancer as a gift.
The reason, I believe, that I was able to come around on the news within a day was this: my theology prepared me for it. What do I mean by that? I mean that I had an understanding of a holy and righteous God, of a sinful human race, of a cursed world, and of a Saviour who bridged the gap between God and us and our world. And, by God’s grace I trusted in the Saviour, Jesus, to carry me and my family through this. It wasn’t a real shock then when I was told I had cancer. Sure I cried with my wife when I first got a phone call about the possibility, but I knew that I wasn’t exempt from the pains of this world.
Allow me to flesh out this theology for you a bit. Three aspects bear special mention.
1) The Current State of the World
Though God created this world perfect and good, we humans rebelled against God, seeking to be gods ourselves. A righteous and holy God rightfully placed this world under a curse in response. Dare we get away with treason? So, death entered into the world. Our relationship with the One who made us was broken.
Cancer exists now. Hatred exists now. Selfishness exists now. This world is a mess.
As such, I’m not surprised I have cancer. I’m a part of this world and not exempt from its pains.
“The creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20).
But only knowing this makes me a realist without hope.
But God hasn’t left us alone. Though we could not fix the relationship between God and us (after all, we’re the rebels!), God continued to act in history to redeem a people for himself. In the Garden he made the first promise that he would reverse the effects of the curse (Genesis 3:15). He entered into covenant with Abraham, promising that from his seed he would bless the nations (Genesis 13:15; Galatians 3:16). He gave the law to Moses to direct the ways of his people, a grace in itself (Exodus; John 1:16). He gave the sacrificial system to show that sin required the shedding of blood (Leviticus). He set David upon the throne of Israel, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). His people continued to fight him and so they were exiled for a time in punishment (see the Prophets). But God continued to speak of and promise redemption. Isaiah, the 8th c. B.C. prophet, spoke of the coming exiles for God’s people but also promised that after that would come one who would suffer and justify many (Isaiah 53:11) and bear “the sin of many, and [make] intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). The stage was set.
Then the ultimate act of mercy and grace that was continually promised happened: he sent his Son to die for us. Though you and I deserved his righteous judgment, Jesus was born in the flesh to take our sin upon himself. Two thousand years ago, this Jesus decisively conquered sin and death by being brutally crucified. He satisfied God’s righteous wrath. The wrath you and I deserved (see Romans 3:21-26). And through this he transforms the hearts of men and women to once again honour their Maker.
In the face of suffering I can rejoice that I have received new life in Christ.
“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But, a skeptic might argue, “positive thinking people” get through this too. But “positive thinking” doesn’t change reality. There is no future hope in positive thinking since without Christ the best one can hope for is non-existence at death. But with Christ there is future hope.
3) Consummation and Glorification
One day God will totally and completely bring to consummation what he has already begun: the reverse of the curse and our return to Eden (Revelation 21-22). He will completely remake this earth and we who accept what Jesus has done for us will forever be in his presence. He will glorify us with him (Romans 8:30). This is what we were made for. But even now we can know God, the relationship has been restored.
This is hope, grounded in the cross and resurrection of Christ and the promises of that God for what is still ahead.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
The question this poses to all of us is this: How will you respond to this? Will you give your Maker his due? Or will you keep fighting him, denying his work in Jesus all the while living in his world?
Suffering is a Gift
That’s the theology and message I believed before my diagnosis, and the theology and message I believe now. By God’s grace it changes everything. This Jesus, my Saviour, is completely trustworthy and deserving of full adoration and worship. He is completely sufficient. I know this first hand. And I know this through these trials: painful procedures, feeling unhealthy, getting sick with no immune system, facing the possibility of death, etc.
So, in light of my cancer and knowledge of this fallen world, I listen to and commend to you the words of James, the brother of Jesus: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-5, TNIV).
I know that Jesus is sufficient for all things and this trial is for my good.
It is pure joy. This suffering is a gift. It is for my joy and yours.
The subtitle here is important since without it this would be a fairly easy post.
The reason I’m studying what I’m studying (biblical studies/New Testament with especial focus in Greek and linguistics – and I mean informally right now) is simple: because I feel called of God to study and teach the Word and these items I’m especially passionate about. That’s an easy question for me. Why these disciplines are important can be highlighted another time.
But the subtitle adds something I haven’t yet brought up on this blog. I have cancer.
On December 23, 2011 (yes, the Friday before Christmas), I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. How close to death I was, only God knows (but likely a few weeks). The chemotherapy started two days after Christmas and managed to put me into remission by the end of January (less than 5% leukemic cells in my bone marrow) and I remain in remission right now, going through cycles of chemotherapy while I await a match for a stem-cell transplant. The day to day is currently easier than it was in January, but it still has its challenges. The doctors are treating me with the intention of curing me.
I have had outlets for talking about what I’m going through. I mainly used Facebook to share the gospel through my illness in late December and onward. I purposely decided to start the blog without mentioning it at first and the reason for the blog was to exercise my gifts in teaching since I can’t commit to teaching in the church setting at the moment when I don’t know if I’ll be in the hospital or not on any given week. I can’t really plan much more than a week to two weeks ahead; somethings I can’t plan a few days ahead. But blogging can be done from the hospital or at home, easy enough.
That’s actually preamble to what I wanted to talk about, though it gives the necessary background since most of the readers won’t have heard it yet.
So, in light of my cancer, why do I continue to read linguistics and Greek grammar books? In light of the possibility that I don’t have long to live (and I don’t know what God’s plan actually is) why am I not running the streets telling everyone about Jesus and only reading the Bible?
Well, I am reading the Bible lots (both in English and in Greek) and I’m trying to use the gift God has given me (yes, cancer has been a gift) to glorify him and share Jesus through it to as many as will listen. I have been doing that on my Facebook, through my church, and other things like TV interviews and the like. Bringing glory to God is my number one goal and purpose in this time of cancer.
But, I haven’t stopped reading linguistics and Greek grammatical material. Why not? Well if I knew I only had a few months to live I would probably at least drop the mind boggling linguistics books! But I find that even in the face of death, I want to continue to grow in my knowledge of the Word and that requires continuing to understand the language of the Word. For that reason I continue to study these disciplines and apply them to the Bible. I’ve seen my knowledge of Jesus grow immensely in this time and I want to get to know him better and better and proclaim him better to those around me. For these reasons it seems reasonable to continue reading what I’m reading. That’s not everyone’s path but I believe it is mine.
Now that I’ve broken the ice with this post, I may write a bit on how my theology of suffering prepared me for this time, how this cancer has been a gift to our family, and things like that. And in the midst of this, I want to continue to try to share what I’m learning about the Word and teach it to those who will listen, so that, in the words of the apostle John, “you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing may have life in his name.”