6. That what awaits me in the world to come is “far better” (Philippians 1:23) than anything here and now.
One spring morning early in my diagnosis, while I was still adjusting to the news, I walked out to get my newspaper. As I stepped outside, I looked around and saw what a beautiful morning it was – a gentle breeze, a beautiful sky, a world coming back to life. I stopped in my tracks and thought, “I don’t want to leave this!”
In an instant, too quickly for me to have thought it, two words came to me: “far better.” I knew they were written by Paul, so I picked up the newspaper, rushed back into the house and found Paul’s distress in Philippians, chapter one. He told the Philippians that he was being pulled two ways. For their sakes, he needed to remain, but – and this is what encourages me – if he could choose, he would go to be with Christ, which is “far better.”
A friend of mine recently shared with me a quote by C.S. Lewis: If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. I know I was made for another world. Paul says that to be “at home in the body” is to be “absent from the Lord.” It is not until we enter the world that awaits every believer that we will finally find ourselves at home.
Joseph Stowell wrote: We think we are in the land of the living, headed for the land of dying, when in reality we are in the land of the dying, headed for the land of the living.
According to Ecclesiastes 7:1, “the day of death (is better) than the day of one’s birth.” When Larry King asked Billy Graham if he feared death, Dr. Graham replied, “I can hardly wait!” I’m with him!
7. That worship and music are powerful forces when facing cancer.
I have always loved times of praise and worship. But with the entrance of cancer, I quickly found that old songs had taken on new power. Almost from the first Sunday after my diagnosis, my soul seemed to be drawn to songs about death and what awaits us beyond it. So many times I have stood in church, moved to tears, by the same hymns that I sang for years with so little understanding.
For instance (“If Ever I Loved Thee”):
I’ll love thee in life; I will love thee in death,
And praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath.
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved thee My Jesus ‘tis now.
The next verse gets even better!
In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright,
And sing with the glittering crown on my brow,
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.
It isn’t just the old hymns that have exerted this new influence in my life. Some of the new ones move me just as powerfully. Hymns like “In Christ Alone”:
No guilt in life; no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from his hand.
‘Til he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
I recently told some men that cancer is the best revival I ever experienced. It has made me more aware of God’s care for me and His perfect plan for my future than anything I have encountered in more than 55 years knowing the Lord.
8. That questions like “Why me?” are the wrong questions.
My pastor asked me if I have ever questioned why this has happened to me. I told him that I haven’t. For one thing, God does not usually tell us why He is doing what He is doing. Oh, we may eventually see parts of the “Why.” But His purposes are not fully seen on this side of Heaven. So, we will probably not get an answer when we ask “Why?”
Second, “Why?” is the wrong question. What we should be asking is, “What does He want me to do now?” When I was a college student, I chose as my life verse Philippians 3:10. That was a great verse. But since last year, I have chosen a new life verse. It is also from Philippians, the first chapter: Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. That is my ambition in light of the cancer I have. I want Christ to be magnified.
Some would say, “But I would prefer to magnify Christ by living, rather than by dying.” I can understand that. But that isn’t what Paul would have chosen, because in the next verse he says, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Gain! Who would not choose “gain?” Let Christ be magnified and let God choose how that will best be done.
I may never know why cancer has been woven into my life. But when I choose to magnify Christ through my cancer, I have nothing to fear.
9. That God’s promises to never leave me are true and precious.
No one knows and loves me like my wife, Dianne. She has already been through so much of this with me. She has held a cool wash cloth to my head while I was vomiting into a commode. She has sat for hours beside me in various chemo treatment rooms, bringing me bottles of water and cranberry juice. She has prayed with me and for me more times than I can count. When she pledged, “’In sickness or in health, ’til death us do part,” she meant it.
But the time will come when death will part us. There will come a time when she will have gone as far as she can go. If it were not for God’s promise to never leave me, I would face that moment with great fear. But, when she cannot be there, He will be.
David said it: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. That promise is pure gold.
Paul said that to be at home in the body is to be absent from the Lord. That doesn’t mean God is not with us in this life. But it does mean we can only know His full, complete presence when we leave this life and stand before Him.
The irony of all this is that, in order for me to know His presence in this life and beyond, He had to die alone. Literally, alone. Even devoid of the comfort of His father’s presence. But, because He died alone, I won’t have to.
10. That many new doors of ministry and growth have been opened for me.
The oncology department and chemo treatment lounges are on the seventh floor of St. Thomas Hospital. There are five recliners in each of four treatment rooms. I was the first one in the room that morning when they brought in a young Black man. He appeared to be in his mid-20s and had dreadlocks down to his shoulders. He had a beautiful smile that lit up the room. His wife and parents were with him. By their conversation, I could tell it was his first chemo. “Did they go over all the side effects with you?” I asked. He assured me they had: diarrhea, constipation, hair loss, pain in the extremities, bleeding gums – enough to scare anyone out of taking chemo. “They told me all that, too. But I’ve only had to deal with one,” I said, pointing to my nearly bald head. Before our treatment time was over, we had learned each other’s names and pledged to pray for one another.
I also try to have a ministry to the doctors who treat me. One of them had just mapped out the seriousness of my cancer, making it clear that I would not survive it. “Do you ever pray with your patients?” I asked. He seemed caught off guard. But then he chuckled, pointed to the crucifix on the wall, and said, “I don’t think they mind us doing that here.” I bowed my head and prayed for him and the others who would be treating me during my time there.
One doctor afforded me few opportunities to witness to him, always seeming to be in a hurry. So, I wrote him a letter. I gave him my testimony and thanked him for his care for me. I hope it will be like seed sown.
And the invitations to speak in churches and at retreats have multiplied since I was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer really opens lots of doors!
But many of the changes have been internal. My prayer life has changed radically. I don’t so much have times of prayer, which had been my practice for years. Rather, I pray as I move through the day. And my prayers are laced with more thanksgiving than before. Praying with my BB
I thank Him when I take a step and feel no pain. I thank Him when I awake to a new day. I thank Him when someone says, “I’m praying for you.” Of course, I pray for others, but in much the same way – sitting in a Kroger parking lot, watching people come and go. I’ll see a young couple and pray, “Lord, keep them faithful and true to each other.” Or I will see a father with a small son, and I will pray, “Lord, make that man a good example for his son to follow.” Every day is filled with calls to pray if we are attuned to them.
If I could go back to May 2008, knowing what I know now, would I choose cancer? I don’t know. But I know that cancer has been one of the richest experiences I ever had. I don’t expect God to heal me; I’m not sure I would want Him to.
Like the three Hebrew children, who stayed in the furnace when their bonds were gone, I find that there is a blessedness to being near the Lord, even in the fire. If this is where God wants me, I am contented to be here – cancer, chemo, and all.
Kathy here. Bert has shown us how to live. Now he's showing us how to die. Next week you'll hear my younger brother, Ricky, tell his story about cancer.
Bert & Dianne Doug & me Ricky & Gwen
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