I’ve said this before, but I continue to marvel at how God prepares his people for suffering by giving them truth in advance.
When I became Heritage’s youth pastor in 2004, the name of the youth group had already been established: L3inC. That enigmatic, unpronouncable appellation summarizes the central truths which my predecessor (and then I) sought to emphasize: Living, Loving, and Lasting in Christ.
In God’s providence, I took the name L3inC and made it a four-year teaching outline. We spent one year on what it means to live in Christ, focusing on the blessings of our union with him. Another year centered on loving in Christ, with special emphasis on the two great commandments, the Decalogue, and 1 Corinthians 13. In 2006-07, I directed the teens’ attention to the doctrine of perseverance (i.e., lasting in Christ). Who knows how many times I told them, “How you finish is more important than how you start”? This past year we meditated on Christ himself. Although I initially intended to treat Christology in a systematic-theology fashion, I felt compelled to lead the youth group through the book of Hebrews, an epistle that inspires believers to persevere precisely on the basis of Christ’s character and work. So now for almost two years God has been nailing down the necessity of endurance in my heart. What a gracious Sovereign to ordain it to be so!
Not only that, but God continues to fortify my heart with truth through others. In particular, the Spirit has used the sermons of two friends to direct my attention to him. They are both rich meditations for those who are suffering–and for those who will.
1. On March 10, 2007, our church hosted the 121 Conference, a one-day gathering for teenagers to contemplate God (Ecc. 12.1). The theme for the 2007 conference was God of Mercy. While all three messages were blessed of the Lord, the second session was particularly instructive for me. Brad Baugham, pastor of Emmanuel Bible Church, spoke on the mercy of God in suffering from the book of Habakkuk. Kimberly and I had both listened to Brad’s exposition multiple times, well before I was diagnosed with cancer. Here’s a sampling of his message:
It is as if Habakkuk is saying, “God, we deserve mercy because we’re not as bad as they are. And since you’re holy, you have to punish [their] sin, because they are the greater sinners.” This is a very dangerous argument and one that almost all of us have employed at one time or another. We’ve all thought this: “I deserve better than this.” Have you felt that way? One of the reasons that we struggle to see suffering as being merciful is because we think we deserve mercy. . . . We think we actually deserve mercy, and we demand mercy, and we are actually shocked when God treats us like sinners.
2. June 29, 2008 was the day that my cancer was announced to our congregation. That day, our pastor, Dan Brooks, paused his current series in order to address Christian suffering. Turning our attention to 2 Corinthians 12, he spoke on Christ’s sufficient grace and achieving power. The following section was particularly poignant for me:
So now we begin to understand these weaknesses for what they are designed to do in God’s larger scheme. The weakness is not the player on the stage or the star performer, as it were, that the weakness should receive all the attention. But rather, it becomes the platform on which Christ displays his achieving power and turns all eyes and attention to him.
Because my soul is satisfied to know his love will never fail.
Because God is granting our family great joy in him and one another. We relished our time last weekend with Kimberly’s family. My parents arrived in town Thursday to spend a week with us. How gracious the Lord is to give us time with our loved ones!
Because God is granting comparatively minimal side effects. Fatigue has been the biggest issue to date.
Because God showed himself to be gracious and merciful through the wedding last Saturday.
That God’s blessing would rest on the youth group mission team that left for Mexico yesterday. Chemotherapy has made my presence with the team impossible. We sent the team of 36 off late yesterday afternoon. May God use the ten-day trip to grow their love for and joy in Christ, to draw unbelievers successfully to himself, and to bring glory to his own name.
That the Spirit would be at work in my heart as I prepare to preach tomorrow morning at Heritage.
That God would grant persevering grace to our family. He continues to carry us along, and we are absolutely dependent on him.