Cancer, Jesus in Scripture

#PartyTimeChumps

The text from our daughter Claire, this week, simply said, “Benign!” followed by “#partytimechumps.” And with that, eight months of cancer concern for our girl ended.

It all started in such a familiar manner: discovery and ultrasound, followed by a second ultrasound two months later.

While she never expressed fear, I know this all weighed heavily on Claire’s mind. We found some notes from a class Claire took. In the midst of the notes, there was some doodling. Do you see the ribbon and BCA?

There was enough concern in the second ultrasound to request authorization for a 3-D mammogram. A few minutes later, the tech informed us everything was fine, and no need to come back until Claire was 40!

Valerie saw the ultrasound results, and there was a jolting flashback to her own ultrasound before her cancer diagnosis. She too was told there was nothing to worry about, and as a result, the cancer wasn’t discovered until it became metastatic and had advanced to Stage 3B.

With Claire, we weren’t going to simply trust a diagnostic method that was anything less than 100% conclusive. This week, after consulting with a surgeon and undergoing  a fine needle aspiration, we knew for sure what we already had believed: Claire did not have cancer!

“What we already believed…”

That phrase is not used lightly, for “belief” is different from hope. There is a substance and weightiness to belief that gives foundation to an outcome. When Valerie was diagnosed after finding an enlarged lymph node, we prayed and felt peace in the midst of waiting for biopsy results, but hope for a desired outcome was all we had.

But now I say that we believed Claire was going to be fine. Maybe it’s not too strong to say we “knew.” What I will describe has changed my walk with God to a degree I’m not sure I can fully convey.

In Deuteronomy 4:9 we read, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”

This drives me! What I (we) saw and experienced during Valerie’s cancer journey impacts us exceedingly! I must not forget! I will not forget. And so we share with our children, and others, the things God revealed to us. And we start with this: knowing God’s will, and living in a place where he can speak to you only comes from relationship; a deep, tight, walk that is nurtured through much time and much communication.

While there are numerous examples of how God spoke to me during Valerie’s treatments, three stand out distinctly. The first was a direct voice, while the other two came from reading scripture. I must add, that even saying God “spoke” causes me to pause. Growing up in the church, there are times I have seen that phrase used in a careless, nonchalant manner. I don’t use that phrase lightly, and it’s only after significant time has passed that I share it now.

About 5 days after Valerie’s diagnosis, a customer asked me how I was. I briefly shared the news and he began to tell me of his wife’s up-and-down journey with cancer. The doctors had surgically removed the cancer, but it had come back. There was surgery after surgery. They were still fighting the cancer several years after it was found. He pointed his finger at me and said, “This is what you have to look forward to.”

I was already dealing with so much fear and anxiety, that as I drove away my heart was crushed. I cried out to God, literally and figuratively, and then I clearly heard a voice say, “THIS IS NOT WHAT I HAVE FOR VALERIE.” And in that moment, I went from complete fear to total peace. So much so that I could not stop weeping in gratitude and thankfulness.

Out of a deep brokenness and a desperation to give all my fear to God, He spoke to me.  Indeed, Valerie has not experienced anything like what my friend went through. I never want to forget that! I cannot.

As dramatic as it was to literally hear God speak, I’m almost more excited when He shows me things in the Word. Again, I’m convinced that one cannot hear the whisper of his voice through all the white noise of our busy lives unless we, without remorse, close down the streams of data, news, and entertainment that each fight with each other over our affections.

This kind of relationship is not one to be picked up and put down at our leisure. It is a relentless pursuit with no finish line. And as I have most recently discovered, I really can live without the elective (and enjoyable) distractions that have consumed me.

I feel free to just be. Life simplified is Him glorified. Peace rules when the clamor fades.

The second time God spoke through His Word was startling. It came as our Pastor was preaching from Nahum. While I was listening, I was really broken inside, praying for Valerie as I sat.

I was asking God to kill the cancer, to remove this alien from her body, and to never let it come back.  And then, there it was…in the middle of the passage (Nahum 1:9) I heard the words, “This trouble will not come a second time! ” It was as if I’d been hit in the back of my head with a lead pipe.

As our Pastor was speaking from the outside, God was speaking on the inside. I didn’t realize until later that the context of the passage had nothing to do with the context of what I heard.

The passage was describing the ultimate destruction of the city of Nineveh, but what I heard were words of peace and healing. In Hebrews 4:12 we read the word of God is alive and active. Nowhere has that been more true for me than in this moment.

It was such a startling moment, I reached over to Valerie’s bible and wrote the date in the margin.

Perhaps the sweetest moment though, was the next time this happened. Valerie was through with all treatments and surgeries. We had several other very significant moments of God speaking to us (one of which is here).

It was the day of her post-treatment scans (full body CT scan, full body MRI and bone scan) and I was scared. In spite of everything I knew and believed, fear gripped me and I felt panicked.

After a year of treatment, the day we had anticipated for so long was finally here. What would all the treatments and all the surgeries result in? Had any cancer escaped to other parts of the body and grabbed a foothold?

As I pondered it all, I felt a strong presence urging me “get in the Word…get in the Word.” The beauty of it all is that I’m on a regular two year bible reading plan, I don’t choose the passage!

So I opened to the day and read:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel!” Psalms 128:1-6

Your wife shall be a fruitful vine… seeing our children’s children! My heart was again filled with gratitude. I couldn’t have randomly turned to such a passage in 1,000 years!

All these points of connection with God have some commonality. They all come out of a deep brokenness of heart and a desperation to hear from the One who holds our future!

So it was several weeks ago, regarding Claire. She won’t know this story until she reads it, but just before the consult with the surgeon, I again had tremendous anxiety and deep fear. It was a PTSD moment, reliving Valerie’s diagnosis all over again.

I wondered what God what was happening: Why? Why again? Why my little girl?

Again, the response “get in the Word.” And I did. This time it was two chapters from Job where Job was, in essence, asking God, “Where are you? I don’t understand all of this!” And then, the answer in the third chapter from my reading that day. From the book of John, chapter 5, I read the story of Jesus healing a man who had been an invalid for 38 years!

I knew what God was telling me: “I am here. I do hear. I’ve got your girl! I am the Healer even when you don’t see me! Don’t forget, the cancer will not come a second time, remember? Trust me. Claire is fine.”

As I was reading without, He was speaking within. Again. I knew! The white noise was gone. His was the only voice I was attentive to.

Are you desperate to hear His voice? Could too much clanging of life keep you from hearing His whisper? Pursue Him relentlessly! Settle for nothing less. His blessing of His presence will overwhelm you! God may not speak to you the same way He spoke to me. But He does speak, if you have ears to hear!

Two days ago was the three year anniversary of Valerie’s diagnosis. She’s just fine too!

I think Claire is right! It’s party time, chumps! 

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Israel, Jesus in Scripture

Whose Land Is It? (Part 3)

A friend recently asked me: “Does a non-covenant keeping people (Israel) have a divine right to the land?” I answered with a brief comment, but maybe I should have asked which covenant he was referring to. Exodus 24 describes the Mosaic Covenant in which the Law is confirmed. The people tell Moses, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (vs 7). And yet the people did not obey.

God foreknew their disobedience and described two different times the children of Israel would be removed from the land. But, as was covered in Part 2,  he also provided assurances that they would be regathered to the Land of Promise.

In Genesis 17:9-14, we read of a different covenant, the Covenant of Circumcision. God told Abraham this was to be an everlasting covenant for both natural born and those brought in through adoption or servanthood, and the descendants of Abraham keep this covenant to this day.

But since the question referred to the Land, the covenant could only be the one found in Genesis 15. Prior to this chapter, God progressively revealed to Abraham the extent of the land he was giving to him and his descendants as an everlasting possession.  

In Genesis 12, the Lord told Abraham “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

In this passage, God promises Abraham a land that will be revealed to him. Abraham leaves with only this vague promise. Further in the chapter, Abraham travels to the land of Canaan and in 12:7, God says, “To your offspring, I will give this land.”‬‬‬‬‬‬

In Chapter 13, God reveals more: “The Lord said to Abraham after Lot had parted from him, ‘Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you‘” (Genesis‬ 13:14-17‬). Abram is told to walk the land, and all that he sees is for him and his descendants. This area includes Hebron, which is a city in Judea and Samaria, the area the world now refers to as the West Bank.

But in Genesis 15, something different happens. The Lord appears to Abraham and promises to protect him and to provide for him. And then Abraham has the chutzpah to remind God that he hasn’t yet given him children. And in an extraordinary exchange, God again promises the land to Abraham and tells him he will take possession of it. But Abraham replies, “how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” (vs 7).

What happens in the following verses is profound and marvelous, and yet the greater church misses it because we don’t understand the historical and cultural context of what is written. God tells Abraham they are going to “cut covenant,” or walk the blood path. This blood path ceremony is one that is still used today in the cultures of the Middle East, but it is an ancient custom that was a common method of ratifying agreements.  

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In the blood path ceremony, covenants were almost always between a greater party and a lesser party. Both parties would agree to the terms and conditions and then animals would be sacrificed to execute the agreement. The animals would be cut in half and arranged opposite each other. The blood from the dead animals would run between the halves and both parties, the greater followed by the lesser, would walk between the animals and through the blood. In doing so, they were vowing fidelity to the agreement and were stating that if they failed to uphold their part of the agreement, they were accepting that they would realize the same fate as the animals through whose blood they had just walked.

Here’s the ceremony described in Genesis 15:

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Genesis‬ 15:7-21‬ NIV)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Abraham brings the animals and arranges them accordingly. Then Abraham fell into a deep sleep and is terrified! Why? Because he realizes what is required of him in walking the blood path, and he recognizes with certainty that there is no way he can meet God’s standard of perfection. He knows he’s a dead man after he walks that path.

Then we understand why God put Abraham in a deep sleep, for Abraham never walks the blood path. Instead, the greater party, Almighty God, as represented by the smoking pot, walks first. This smoking pot symbolizes the Shekinah glory of God as seen throughout scripture. He is the One who set the terms of the covenant. He is the One who promised the land to Abraham and his descendants. He is the One who is effectively saying that if He does not uphold His promise of giving the land to Abraham and his descendants, He will be as these animals are.

Then it’s Abraham’s turn to walk the blood path. But he can’t move. So instead, we see another take his place: a blazing torch, God the Son, Jesus, the Light of the World. God, in an everlasting affirmation of the eternal nature of the promise, took it upon himself to walk both parts of the blood path. And when Abraham and his descendants failed to live up to God’s standards, it was Jesus that was broken, bruised, and sacrificed.

Through this cutting of covenant, God is unconditionally giving Abraham and his descendants the land. God also established another unconditional covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, in which David and his descendants would rule over Israel and David’s house and kingdom would endure forever (vs 16).

And in a foreshadowing of the future, God tells David, “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”( 2 Samuel‬ 7:12-16‬)

This is a dual prophecy, for the Temple was built by Solomon, David’s son. And while Jesus was beaten and flogged, and while the line of David endures eternally through Him, God is also promising David that when his descendants sin, they will be punished, but God’s love for them, and His plan for them will not be taken away.

We see that in a look back at Genesis 15. Jesus was the one who was broken when the descendants of Abraham, and David, sinned.

Aren’t we thankful that Jesus, too, paid the price for us when we couldn’t live up to God’s standard?

God has His own plans and purposes for the descendants of Abraham. We may not always understand what He is doing and accomplishing, and we may not even like or agree with His plan. But His ways are not our ways (as much as we think they should be), and His thoughts are not out thoughts.

Whose Land Is It? (Part 1) is a study of the nation of Israel from 1000 BC to 1948.

Whose Land Is It (Part 2) is an exhaustive look at the scriptures describing two distinctly different separations from the land, each followed by a regathering. 

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Jesus in Scripture

Considering Jesus in the aftermath of ISIS inspired attacks

Even while ISIS summarily executed French citizens and influenced the attack in San Bernardino, Christians were prodded to question their own approach to these horrid events. They wondered how they should respond…how Jesus would respond. Much of the time, the answer to that question evolved from a perception of who they thought Jesus was. However, the response often lacked consistency across the whole of scripture. Neither did the representation consider the fullness of who He was or who He is. Who was Jesus? What do the scriptures proclaim about him?

A recent Facebook post suggested that Jesus was a pacifist. Although one can understand the comment and intent it does pose serious problems as well. To reduce Jesus to a label, often to emphasize a point of view, minimizes his nature. The weightier truth, that Jesus is Deity and one with the Father reveals both the simplicity and complexity of who Jesus is, and it illuminates the interconnectedness of the Father and the Son.

The predominant perception that the world holds of God and Jesus often defaults in terms of cliché: an Old Testament God who exhibits wrath, anger, and judgement and a New Testament Jesus who loves all and passes no judgement except on religious leaders. It’s a bad cop/good cop dichotomy. This view is often, albeit more subtly, found in the Church as well.

Neither of these descriptions accurately portray the picture revealed in scripture. God (the Father) and Jesus (the Son) (alongside the Holy Spirit) embody the Deity (singular) and cannot work independently from each other: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus)” Col 1:19. “For in Christ all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Through Jesus, all of God was made plain. All.

Why does the picture of a God of wrath, judgement, and anger persist? It certainly has no foundation in Jesus, for He mirrors the very nature of the Father.

While Jesus lived among us, the Father simply expressed all of himself through the Son. Jesus, who while on earth lived fully as man, lived a life filled with and sourced by God himself through the Holy Spirit. Again, Jesus visibly manifested all of God’s fullness.

In Jesus then, the Old Testament “God of wrath” is revealed as a God who is indeed “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love“(Neh 9:17). To see who the Father truly is, look to the Son, where the fullness of deity lived.

 The interconnectedness of the Father and the Son goes even deeper still. “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” Colossians1:15; “no one has ever seen God…” John 1:18; “now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible…” 1 Tim 1:17; “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see…” 1 Tim 6:16, etc.

These verses reveal one commonality: God the Father, is spirit invisible, unseen and unseeable. These verses are paramount to our understanding of God, especially regarding the God presented in the Old Testament. From the very beginning of scripture then, a paradox is seemingly presented.

 In Genesis 2-3 for example, The Lord God put Adam in the garden, He brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them, He made Eve as a helpmate for Adam, He talked with Adam and Eve, and they “heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”

The one talked about here, the one who walked and talked with Adam and Eve, could only be Jesus, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ! Scholars refer to this and other similar sightings as Christophanies, a physical appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. No surprise should exist then that Jesus, the author of creation (Col 1:16), was active and present in His creation much in the same way He longs to be active and present in our lives today.

 This phenomenon is not only found in the Garden. In Genesis 18, The Lord and two angels met Abraham and had a meal with him. Not only was this another Christophany, but the Hebrew word used here for “The Lord” is YHWH, the divine name of God! Although the Godhead consists of three persons, God is indeed One! There is no daylight between the Father and the Son. To see one is to know the other.

 Dr. John Walvoord in his book, Jesus Christ Our Lord, makes this statement: “It is safe to assume that every visible manifestation of God in bodily form in the Old Testament is to be identified with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Asher Intrater further explores this theme in his book Who Ate Lunch With Abraham?

 Jesus alludes to his relationship to the Father in John 14:9 when He said to Philip “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”! In John 5:39, Jesus also said “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me!

 The prophet Isaiah illuminates this truth when he writes of his own revelation:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.””Isaiah‬ ‭6:1-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Then Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord say “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” After Isaiah agrees to go and speak for the Lord, the passage goes on to say “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”” Isaiah‬ 6:10.

Who did Isaiah see on the throne? The apostle John asserts the truth in chapter 12 of his gospel: 

“Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere (Isaiah 6:10): “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”

John declares Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him! Isaiah “saw the Lord, high and exalted and on the throne, with the angels singing Holy Holy Holy”! Amazing!

 Jesus wasn’t a pacifist. He is, however, the Prince of Peace. He is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Rider on the White Horse in Revelation 19. Even more important though, in this time where the world seems upside down, where white is black and black is white, where fear wants to press in on all sides, the angels are still singing Holy Holy Holy!

 In this advent season, the babe in the manger is still in on the throne. Jesus is the only God you will ever see. He wants to be your Prince of Peace? Will you let him?

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