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Some thoughts on cancer and job loss and trusting God

Some thoughts on cancer and job loss and trusting God

I know that’s kind of a depressing headline, but it’s something I’ve been experienced within the last five years. Of the two, I think cancer is preferable. But it’s not that cancer is easier (there’s nothing easy about it), but that losing a job that you’ve had for seventeen years is a real gut punch – cancer is merely less of a gut punch.

In both cases, there were no precipitating causes. I was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue – I’ve never smoked, dipped, or chewed tobacco and never drank alcohol (the two main causes). My job was teaching Bible and History at a Christian school – seems like a sure thing, doesn’t it (as long as I don’t do something to get fired, which I didn’t). But against all the odds, I got cancer and I got canned.

One of the reasons cancer is easier is that there’s no one really to blame, at least no one that you know physically, in person. Theologically, some would want to blame God, but I can’t do that because I’ve been teaching Bible Doctrine for the last seventeen years and I know that God is good, and therefore not to blame. I could blame Adam, since his sin is the cause of all misery, sickness, and death, but he’s been dead for a long time. Then you could switch back and try blaming God again because you think He could have stopped it, but didn’t. Then you sit around wondering why. I’ve always told my students that when you ask God a “why” question, the answer is always that it’s His secret will that He doesn’t reveal to us. So you might not ever know or find out and you just have to trust God, because (again, just to remind you) He’s good. So you gradually come to terms with God’s will and trust Him because of His goodness (and power and knowledge).

But a job loss is something entirely different – there are people to blame! Especially if the boss is an unpleasant fellow. You really feel that you have some sort of justification for your feelings of betrayal, your wanting some revenge, and that everyone needs to know something has gone horribly wrong! Why? Why? Why? For some reason, the “why” answer about God’s secret will just isn’t as satisfying when you start to think about losing your income, your insurance, and your ministry, and that certain people have messed it up. But satisfying or not, it’s still the right answer.

What’s really bothered me through both of these events is how easy it was to trust God when my life and health were at risk as opposed to trusting God when my income was at risk. Or how it was easier to trust God for healing as opposed to trusting God to find another job.

One of the books that I’ve been reading lately that has helped a little is Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God. Here’s what he says on page 174:

We may think we have true Christian love until someone offends us or treats us unjustly. Then we may begin to see anger and resentment well up within us. We may conclude we have learned about genuine Christian joy until our lives are shattered by an unexpected calamity or grievous disappointment. Adversities spoil our peace and sorely try our patience. God uses those difficulties to reveal to us our need to grow, so that we will reach out to Him to change us more and more into the likeness of His Son.

And then this on the next page:

It is not the adversity considered in itself that is to be the ground of our joy. Rather, it is the expectation of the results, the development of our character, that should cause us to rejoice in adversity. God does not ask us to rejoice because we have lost a job, or a loved one has been stricken with cancer, or a child has been born with an incurable birth defect. But He does tell us to rejoice because we believe He is in control of those circumstances and is at work through them for our ultimate good.

There it is – two of the three major fears that we all dread are what I’ve gone through in the last five years and it’s the same answer that I’ve been teaching for the last seventeen years. A Puritan author somewhere in my reading talked about real adversity being a major wound and not a just a small scratch. It’s not easy, not easy at all.

I remember at one point in my cancer treatment thinking, “This is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done.” Four and a half years later, I lose my job (which I really loved and really thought God had called me to do) and I’m thinking, “THIS is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” Perhaps my memory has failed me, but perhaps not.

As I write this, I’m still in search of a job, so I can’t give a “happily ever after” ending. At least not yet. Trust continues to alternate with discouragement, but the still small voice of hope keeps coming through. And that what faith and trust are all about, even when you get cancer and even when you lose your job.

John Owen on mortification of sin

John Owen on mortification of sin

The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.

Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.

The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work.

Who can say that he had ever any thing to do with God or for God, that indwelling sin had not a hand in the corrupting of what he did? And this trade will it drive more or less all our days. If, then, sin will be always acting, if we be not always mortifying, we are lost creatures. He that stands still and suffers his enemies to double blows upon him without resistance, will undoubtedly be conquered in the issue. If sin be subtle, watchful, strong, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we be slothful, negligent, foolish, in proceeding to the ruin thereof, can we expect a comfortable event? There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so whilst we live in this world.

There is not the best saint in the world but, if he should give over this duty, would fall into as many cursed sins as ever any did of his kind.

The contest is for our lives and souls. Not to be daily employing the Spirit and new nature for the mortifying of sin, is to neglect that excellent succour which God hath given us against our greatest enemy. If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. His graces, as well as his gifts, are bestowed on us to use, exercise, and trade with. Not to be daily mortifying sin, is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who hath furnished us with a principle of doing it.

Where sin, through the neglect of mortification, gets a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul, Ps. xxxi. 10, li. 8, and makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die, Ps. xxxviii. 3-5, so that he cannot look up, Ps. xl. 12, Isa. xxxiii. 24; and when poor creatures will take blow after blow, wound after wound, foil after foil, and never rouse up themselves to a vigorous opposition, can they expect any thing but to be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and that their souls should bleed to death? 2 John 8. Indeed, it is a sad thing to consider the fearful issues of this neglect, which lie under our eyes every day.

Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who doth not kill sin in this way takes no steps towards his journey’s end.

The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. When a man hath confirmed his imagination to such an apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins, that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Neither is there a greater evidence of a false and rotten heart in the world than to drive such a trade.

The primary purpose of the Church

The primary purpose of the Church

I would lay it down as a basic proposition that the primary task of the Church is not to educate man, is not to heal him physically or psychologically, it is not to make him happy. I will go further; it is not even to make him good. These are things that accompany salvation; and when the Church performs her true task she does incidentally educate men and give them knowledge and information, she does bring them happiness, she does make them good and better than they were. But my point is that those are not her primary objectives. Her primary purpose is not any of these; it is rather to put man into the right relationship with God, to reconcile man to God. This really does need to be emphasised at the present time, because this, it seems to me, is the essence of the modern fallacy. It has come into the Church and it is influencing the thinking of many in the Church—this notion that the business of the Church is to make people happy, or to integrate their lives, or to relieve their circumstances and improve their conditions.

 

– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

John Newton on Matthew 11:25

John Newton on Matthew 11:25

Though the things of nearest consequence to you are in the Bible, and you should read it over and over till you commit the whole book to your memory; yet you will not understand, or discern the truth as it is in Jesus, unless the Lord the Spirit shows it to you. The dispensation of truth is in his hand; and without him all the fancied advantages of superior capacity, learning, criticism, and books will prove as useless as spectacles to the blind. The great encouragement is, that this infallible Spirit, so necessary to guide us in the way of peace, is promised to all who sincerely ask it.

 

 

Excerpts from The Bruised Reed

Excerpts from The Bruised Reed

It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and intractable are our hearts.

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, in which more is meant than spoken, for he will not only not break nor quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals.

Shall we think there is more mercy in ourselves than in God, who plants the affection of mercy in us?

It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell.

– Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed