Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Yesterday I listened to conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham tell her audience of a serious decision she must make in the next week. It has to do with whether to undergo chemotherapy to treat the breast cancer she was recently diagnosed with. One of today's morning shows reported that 36-year-old Australian pop star Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer this week. Of course, we don't have to turn on the television or radio to hear of another victim of this ravaging disease in one of its multitudinous forms. Cancer doesn't only afflict high-profile people. If cancer has not yet intruded upon your life or the life of someone you love, it most likely will - an unpleasant though realistic thought.
Two weeks ago I attended one of the quarterly pastors' roundtable discussions hosted by the local Biblical Counseling Center. The guest speaker was Judy Asti, author of A Spiritual Journey Through Breast Cancer. In 1998 Judy was diagnosed with level 3 (out of 4) breast cancer. The following year she underwent aggressive chemotherapy, radiation treatments, a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. She introduced her talk with the following statistics from the National Cancer Institute:
  • More than 1,400,000 NEW cases of cancer (all kinds) will be diagnosed this year in the U.S.
  • One in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
  • One in 2 men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
  • An estimated 213,000 NEW cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year.
  • 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
  • More than 41,000 patients will likely die of breast cancer.
  • At today's rate, 1 in 7 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
These numbers dramatically made the point Judy was trying to get across. Cancer will, in some way, affect the lives of everyone in our congregations. The focal point of her talk was how churches can effectively serve cancer patients and their families. She and her husband Pierre, who works at the Center, spoke with evident fondness and appreciation for the church family that rallied around them through dark and uncertain times. Judy described cancer as "a ride of terror" and said that for many Christian patients the most prominent fear is not that of death but of what the disease will to do them and of what will happen to their family if they die. Judy called the period following diagnosis and during treatment "a time of heightened spiritual awareness" in which one must confront issues like God's sovereignty, mortality, and the evaluation of one's life. Listening to her was not only informative. It was faith-nurturing. I heartily commend her book to you if cancer has become a part of your life.
One of the points Judy made is that the American church has an anemic, if not non-existent, theology of suffering. Years ago I heard John Piper give a series of lectures (which, if you're familiar with Piper, are really sermons by another name) on suffering in the life of the pastor and his people. I don't recall the exact quote but he said something about his desire to teach his people to so know God that when they are called upon to suffer, they do so well to His glory. I know the widow of a man who died of cancer. She's told me of how his faith bore much fruit in his dying days, of how he grew more bold in telling others about Christ. She also told me of his firm assurance that even in this God had a purpose and was to be trusted. His wife and adult children were left with the memory of their beloved husband and father dying in faith and suffering well. What a legacy. I pray that I may so know the Lord and that I can be instrumental in others so knowing Him.
"Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" is a minor-key hymn in a church that prefers a strict diet of major-key choruses but it is a song that must be sung if we are to be faithful to our Lord and of benefit to His people.

1 comment:

Brittany said...

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