Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A New Cancer: Lymphoma and Faith

So I have cancer one more time.

Based on what my doctor said, it's an easier one this time. I doubt lymphoma is always less dangerous than leukemia, but in my case, it is. This is Little League compared to the Big League version of leukemia I had.

I get to face chemo at home, here in Memphis with my brothers and sisters, though the final authorities on my treatment will be the stem cell transplant team at Vanderbilt in Nashville.

How Should I React?

Hearts are tricky. We have to guard our heart because out of it come the wellsprings of life, but we cannot trust it. Without the daily exhortation of the saints, the craftiness of sin will disguise bad as good and make our hearts unmalleable.

For me, cancer has been the great revealer. Leukemia answered questions about my heart that nothing else could have. Do I believe what I teach, that it is far better to depart and be with the King, or will I shrink in terror when death comes near? As it turns out, physical death came and breathed in my face, and I smiled at him. He found nothing in me, and he went his way.

I told people that if they were faithful in the little things, that if they bit their lip when they wanted to insult, that if they gave way when they wanted to step forward, that if they eschewed glory rather than pursuing it, that all the little acts of faithfulness would give them strength for the big acts of faithfulness.

I repeated Amy Carmichael's words: "In acceptance lieth peace." I repeated Watchman Nee's teaching that the circumstances that come to us are God's chisel, molding us to fit precisely into his eternal temple.

But I had no way of knowing whether I believed those words until I was writhing in pain on a hospital bed, in honest gratefulness that I might be delivered from my soft American ways and be a soldier in God's kingdom.

So here comes the chisel again, shaping the hardness of my heart to the power of his will, making me fit into the stones that surround me in the wall of the temple of God.

Such chiseling, shaping, and smoothing does not come by prayer or discipline. It comes by troubles and suffering.

Mia Hamm, the great women's soccer player, once said that the image of a champion is not holding a trophy aloft, but bent over, gasping for breath, and drenched in sweat long after everyone else has gone home.

The picture of the faithful saint does not consist of the sweat of labor, but of songs through tears and cries of praise in the midst of groaning. It is joy in suffering, and as Paul and Silas proved, that joy and those songs shake the earth and set the captives free.

We don't have to make the best of the suffering that comes our way. It already is the best. We just need to embrace it.

"May all who come behind us find us faithful."—Steve Green.

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