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Earl Marshall

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 2 Cor. 5

May 8, 2019

It has been a few days. I am in the middle of Chemo Round #3 Week. Monday, my hospital day, was long. The “hood” on the chemo drug mixing machine was not working properly so it pushed everything back. My 9:00am appointment turned into a 12:45 pm appointment and we did not get home until about 4:45pm. I think all of that set me back and made Tuesday that much more difficult. I was really out of it all day Tuesday. Today, May 8, I have more energy. Overall the week so far has been similar to previous treatment weeks so I am able to cope. I just don’t like going through it – that is basically it. I don’t enjoy trials.

This week I have been reflecting on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and today I read 2 Corinthians 5. I can’t imagine a more concise chapter on ministry than 2 Corinthians 5. In 5:1-5 the Apostle Paul reminds us that while we are still in this tent, we groan (covering that feeling . . . so get that), being burdened . . . so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. I can relate to that. But note that the conclusion to all of this is NOT to give up but to press on. 5:6 he says, “so we are always of good courage.” 5:8 he says, “yes, we are of good courage.” Why does he say that? In 5:7 he notes that “we walk by faith and not by sight” and in 5:6 because “we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.”

Because of all of this “we make it our aim to please him.” Knowing that we will stand judgment we make it our aim to please him.

This was so timely for me . . . thank you Lord for this reminder that I must make it my aim to please you. No matter how many days I have on this earth and in this body, this tent that is being destroyed, I make it my aim to please you!

So how do I specifically do that? While I am suffering how do I please the Lord? Well there are many ways to do that but the direct application in this chapter is found in 5:11. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others.” The idea behind persuade is convince. This is a strong convicting word. The Apostle Paul picks this theme up again in 5:20 when he says that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Pleasing God has everything to do with persuading others to be reconciled to God. Not that I am able to persuade anyone but there is a conviction that God wants to through me make his appeal. There is no lack of boldness in these words.

Why do we do this? Because of the fear of the Lord and because of the love of Christ that controls us, see 5:14. Even as we suffer our aim is to please the Lord and we do this by convincing others to be reconciled to God through Christ. We have no ability on our own to convince anyone. It is the Holy Spirit that does this. But we act/preach/communicate boldly. We are ambassadors of the King.

None of this is possible without the love of Jesus Christ. 5:21 reminds us that Christ knew no sin, God made him to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. That is amazing love!

So when you and I are suffering be of good courage and make it your aim to please the Lord by persuading others to be reconciled to God. We do this because we fear the Lord and when the love of Christ controls us. We implore others to be reconciled to God and experience in Christ being the righteousness of God.

This is an other-world, kingdom, way of thinking. Oh, to be able to see the daily grind of suffering with these kinds of spiritual eyes.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 4:16-18

On May 4 I realized that I was starting to feel sorry for myself. It was amazing how a little thing like tingling in my finger tips set me off and got me thinking about the worst. I so needed 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 that morning and it is what God gave me for my daily meditation.

So we do not lose heart! There should be no give up or a discouragement that leads to stopping. This is the same idea that Jesus speaks to his disciples about prayer in Luke 18:1. We all have a tendency to get discouraged and give up. There is room for lament for sure. Lament is necessary. But even though our outer self is wasting away and indeed that is happening, to all of us and at different timetables, the question is, “is my inner self being renewed day by day?” Is the outer man so much of my focus that my inner man is not being renewed? There are these moments where I am realizing that the circumstances just take over. How do I see my inner soul renewed every day even when cancer and this treatment seems all pervasive?

I have to recategorize the cancer. It is a light and momentary affliction. Note first that it is an affliction. I am not saying I should ignore the affliction. It is a suffering that does not always feel light nor does it always seem to be momentary. Yet this is how the Apostle Paul categorizes his sufferings. The only way I can recategorize cancer like this is if I see the purpose behind it and the result of it.

I need a reason for my suffering. It is preparing. That word means to have an effort by labour or to achieve. It is used in passages like Romans 4:15; Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Corinthians 9:11; James 1:3. There is a reason for my suffering, for my cancer, and it has to do with preparation. I want to be careful here to not be so trite with suffering. This is not a “suck it up buttercup” statement. Suffering is painful, long, hard and recategorizing it and seeing a reason to it does not negate the pain. It is the miracle of God, however, to be able to experience purpose in the midst of the pain, to experience joy and trust in suffering.

The reason of preparation is a result, an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. This light and momentary affliction is preparing this result. We enter the kingdom of God through suffering. In comparison to the eternal weight of glory my cancer and suffering is a light and momentary affliction. There is no comparison to glory. Again, we enter the kingdom of God through suffering. The glory of the kingdom shines bright. Revelation 21 and 22 is so triumphant that it is beyond words. The image of the lamb shining the glory of God into every corner of the eternal city is too much to comprehend. It is crazy amazing!

Now all of this is not automatic. Just because someone is suffering does not mean that it will automatically produce this result. There is a note of faithfulness in these verses. There is a response that is necessary. How I see is the difference. What my mind and heart are focused on is what is important. We look not at the things that are transient or momentary but on the things that are eternal. So in the midst of the pain and suffering we are called upon to focus our attention not on the momentary but the eternal. My mind and heart need to be focused on the things that God is doing for me now and in the future that are eternal. Things like shaping my character and making me more like his Son and my eternal rest. All of these are motivation to see these verses true in my life.

It comes down to an affirmation of priority – what is of greatest value and what I believe is most important. This is how my inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 1:5-7

It has been a while since I originally read these verses as part of my journey through 2 Corinthians with cancer but they are even more important to me tonight. I am starting to begin to feel the cumulative effects of cancer treatment. I am thankful for how God is faithfully carrying me through the challenge. After my first round I found the rebound of the two weeks after the chemo treatment week to be such that I felt good strength. After my second round the rebound was not as strong and I can now begin to see that this journey may very well be a steady decline. I believe I am up for this with the strength of the Holy Spirit in my life. When I am weak is when God’s strength is on display. I believe that.

Now this is where the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:6 ring true for me. He says that comfort comes when we patiently endure the sufferings. Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church and the suffering that they are going through that is common to Paul’s. I know this is different than my suffering but the applicational principle is true.

Comfort comes when you patiently endure in the suffering!

There is no short pathway to comfort. The kind of comfort that God gives comes through patient endurance in the suffering. There are many forms of comfort. There is the comfort of relief that you get when the struggle is removed. So many of us wish the circumstances that we face could just be gone from our lives. There is the comfort of distraction. Most of us understand that the brokenness that life brings does not just disappear and that is when some look for a temporary comfort through distraction. Looking for anything that can numb the pain or even for a short period of time transport you to another kind of reality. Some turn to abusive behaviours that eventually wear off. There is the comfort of patient endurance. This is the kind of comfort that 2 Corinthians 1:6 is talking about. This is what I long for. This is God’s comfort. This is normally a comfort found in the midst of the pain. I don’t believe that Paul is speaking of comfort as an end to the suffering but I do believe he is speaking to a comfort that is found in the suffering. To share in God’s comfort means to share in the sufferings.

All of this is accessible in our lives when we patiently endure.

I so needed to read that again tonight. No comfort without patient endurance.

Cancer and Thanksgiving

This second round of chemotherapy has been much better than the first. I have felt much better overall but I am struggling with ongoing fatigue. Working, resting, walking is a normal routine for me, all under a careful watch to see how my body is reacting. For the most part things are going well. I did lose my hair. Just before I received round 2 I noticed that my hair was starting to fall out so I just went ahead and got it all shaved off. I was grateful that as my barber said, “I have the right shape of head for the bald look,” who knew?

I continue to struggle with purpose and feeling useful. There are times when I just feel like I am on the bench waiting to get back into the game. This really came into focus when I was not able to be at church or with family on Easter weekend. That was much more difficult than I imagined. I am growing in my appreciation of being with my church family. I am thankful for those who have visited and stayed in touch during my treatment weeks. The ability to be with those I care about and share in a love for Jesus Christ with is a blessed privilege. When it is taken away from you, you realize just how important it is.

In the midst of the emotional waves of ups and downs I am finding myself thankful. It is hard to explain mostly because I know this is not a me thing but a Spirit of God work in my life. On one of my walks this past week I was struck with just being thankful for what God is doing in me while I struggle with enduring in the midst of suffering. So, for the thanksgiving God has placed in my heart I boast in my suffering knowing that God is producing endurance and endurance is producing character and character is developing home (Romans 5:3-5).

Round 3 begins next Monday.

Round 2 and Philippians 4:2-11

Monday April 15 is the start of round two of chemo treatment. I do know what to expect tomorrow morning which is helpful but I am not looking forward to it. I don’t think any round of treatment is going to be comfortable. I am growing in my embracing of the chemo as good for me and my fight against cancer.  I continue to ask God to use chemo as the his means of healing. Asking that this would be his will and all for his glory.

I have been impressed by the Spirit of God to be bold in my prayers. So I am asking God for protection in the midst of the healing. I am also trying to be bold in applying Philippians 4:2-11 to my life. The Apostle Paul says, “rejoice in the Lord.” This is not a random be happy, or always be up/positive but there is a object/subject of rejoicing and it is the Lord. He says, “rejoice in the Lord” – rejoice in who he is, what he has done and what he is doing. He also says, “The Lord is at hand.” The reason I have no need of anxiety tomorrow or any other day after that is because the Lord is at hand, he is near, he is here. I love this picture. The Lord right by my side. This is absolute protection. I can call on him because he is at hand.

Don’t be anxious about “anything.” There are no limits to that word. But in “everything”, I love the fact that there is nothing I need to be anxious about but in the everything of life, again no limits to that word, I am called to do something very specific. Interesting that when things don’t go the way that I want my first response, my tendency, is to fret, complain, feel sorry for myself, or even try to fix the problem that is causing the anxiety. The Apostle Paul says, “by prayer and supplication.” I need to understand the differences between these two words (more homework to be done here). I do see the magnitude of “with thanksgiving.” That is hard, praying in the midst of anxiety with thanksgiving. This gets to the heart of lament. There is clearly room in our prayers to God to bring our questions and frustrations with boldness but there is also trust (Psalm 13). I see thanksgiving as the fruit of trust. It is founded in knowing and believing in the sovereignty of God. It comes from being able to see his hand at work even in the anything and everything of life. It is not hiding from the hard things or even backing away from the questions and fears in the middle of the challenges. But as I trust I can be thankful.

As we let our requests be made known to God then something amazing happens . . . .

PEACE

The peace of Christ guards my heart and mind. This is the battle ground. Cancer is not just a physical struggle it is a battle of the heart and mind. Peace guards when I/we apply Philippians 4:2-11 in our lives. This is awesome truth. This is freedom in life.

Cardiology

When they were prepping me for my cancer treatment they discovered that my heart was not working at a maximum percentage. I can almost hear the good natured sarcastic comments from my friends. Yes, I will admit that the doctor has shown that I do have a heart but that it isn’t working as well as it should. So, today I met my cardiologist and tomorrow I get to do a stress test. Another admission, it has been a while since I ran for more than two minutes straight. Hopefully not because I can’t but basically because I have no desire to run for more than two minutes straight (who really does? 🙂 )

What I loved about my visit today was the greeting in the examination room. Some doctors put their diplomas and certifications on the wall. Not my cardiologist, his room was full of these.

 

I would like to think that I am in good hands.

Update – passed my stress test and there is no structural issues in my heart. That means my arteries are ok.

The puzzle continues.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 1:3-4

1:3

God is blessed. This is a word of worship not a literal understanding that God is blessed but that we are to bless him, worship him. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is my Father. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. It is precisely because of his mercies that I am comforted or comfort is one of his mercies. I so need to know this. In the midst of uncertainty and even fear God is merciful with his comfort.

1:4

How does God comfort us? In all of our affliction is the sphere of his comfort. 1:8 gives a clearer context of what the Apostle Paul is speaking about but I share in the general overtone of this word – in ALL our AFFLICTION.

It is interesting for me to consider how God comforts us in all of our affliction. In this time since I have heard the words “you have cancer” I have found the comfort of God comes from various sources. The Word of God has been a great source of comfort. Being reminded of God’s promises and his character has been life giving for me. The power of lament has also been renewed in my life. I found myself the other night listening to a sermon on healing with tears running down my faith knowing that God can, is able, and the question is ultimately about his will. I like the Apostle Paul wish this thorn could be taken from me. Lamenting, “how long O Lord” has helped me receive comfort for my soul. I am beginning to read Dark Clouds Deep Mercy as a companion to my reading in 2 Corinthians. The second source of God’s comfort in my life has been God’s people. I will never forget the night last week when a small group we were part of five years ago FaceTimed Brenda and I to pray over us. The prayers of faith and the crying out to God on our behalf by those who are old in the faith and those young in the faith have been such a source of encouragement. The food dropped off at our home has been a great comfort. The church staff have been an amazing support and encouragement. God is at work in all of this.

There is no limit to the comfort of God . . . nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The Lord is our shepherd and I shall not want. I am comforted.

In the midst of the cancer is where I will know God’s comfort. The joy, peace and patience I am asking God for will be found in the midst of the affliction. These comforts are not found separate from the affliction but are found in the affliction. I will, no doubt, experience the greatness of God’s comfort as I am afflicted. Indeed there seems little need for comfort apart from the affliction.

Why does God comfort us?

So that I may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction. Paul recognized that his suffering in the faith was so that he would be able to comfort those who were in any affliction. The comfort, although experienced by the apostle and directed to Paul by God, was for the purpose of ministry to others. This cancer experience is full of purpose. I refuse to see this any other way. I must embrace my calling to help others with this. God’s comfort can not stop with me it must extend to others. And the comfort that I extend must be the comfort I received from God. This is so important. No pious platitudes but truly the comfort that God has given to me.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: Introduction

It is not lost on me that persecution and suffering for the faith makes up the context of many of the NT Gospels and epistles. I did not have to choose 2 Corinthians to do this reflection. I could have chosen 1 Peter or The Revelation for that matter. But I have chosen 2 Corinthians because of the personal nature of the book. When I read 2 Corinthians it feels like the Job of the New Testament. Paul is writing throughout 2 Corinthians his personal reflections as he suffers for the sake of the gospel.

I do not pretend to believe that my context, cancer, is identical to the Apostle Paul’s. His suffering is much deeper than mine and is a consequence of his faith and calling. My cancer is a consequence of sin, not personal, and the brokenness of this world. These are two very different things and situations. I do share with the Apostle Paul the pain of circumstances and the reality of facing death. I do acknowledge the same comfort from the same Father. In these things we stand side by side.

I am blessed to walk, then in the Apostle Paul’s footsteps.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer is not an exegetical commentary but a commentary of the intersection of life and the biblical text. It is my hope that this journey will prove to be a catharsis of my soul. I am in no rush to make my way through 2 Corinthians. I am on schedule to complete my cancer treatment some time in July 2019. This will be a long and slow walk through my cancer treatment with 2 Corinthians being my constant companion. I hope it will be a blessing to me and to others who stumble across the content of these posts.

Week Two Update

Week one of the cancer treatment was difficult. The Cancer Team communicated all of the potential side effects ahead of time and thankfully I did not experience all of them. Receiving the treatment in the hospital was actually the easiest part of the first week, minus the bruises I now have on my arms from failed intravenous attempts. The worst part of the week was the latter half of the week after receiving my Neulasta needle. I am grateful for the boost in production of my white blood cell count but I felt just absolutely lousy for most of the week. Weak, nausea, brutal insomnia, inflamed mid-section, what felt like an advanced heart rate at night . . . just crazy. I am looking forward to talking to my doctor about all of this next week as I get ready for Round 2 to begin.

I am in week two. I am affectionately calling it the first week of a two week vacation from my cancer treatment. I don’t take any drugs this week or next and the biggest challenge has been sleep. Every day seems to get a bit better. I am so thankful for that. So far I have been able to keep on working. I am off the treatment weeks but I have been trying to do 5 hour days at the church office. I love the people I work with and getting to interact in decision making and ministry even if at a reduced level. This has been helpful for my spirits.

I am so grateful for the many who have maintained contact with me and are praying for both Brenda and I. We are blessed with the many who care deeply about and for us.

God is answering prayers.

Please pray for the beginning of Round 2 on April 15. This is the hardest thing right now, knowing that I have to go through this again.

A Prayer For The Sick from The Sick

Heavenly Father,

We give you praise because we know that your steadfast love endures forever. We know that there is nothing that separates those of us who are in Christ from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8). Nothing, not even death itself, separates us from your steadfast love.

We give you praise because we know that you are good. You are a stronghold in the day of trouble and you know who takes refuge in you (Nahum 1:7). We pray for those of us who are sick that we will find refuge in you.

We give you praise because we know that you are the Lord who heals. You called yourself the healer in Exodus 15 so we believe that you are the healer.

We trust in you Lord!

We pray for healing. Please Lord, heal us of our sickness for your glory.

Even as we pray for physical healing we pray for a deeper kind of healing.

We pray that we would trust in the goodness of your sovereignty. Help us to know how good your plan and control is.

We ask that you make this time of illness and suffering an opportunity for ministry. As you comfort us in affliction may we be able comfort hose who are in any affliction with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:4). Help us to be ministers of the Gospel to those who are around us.

Please Lord let us experience your grace that is sufficient for us, knowing that your power is made perfect in weakness . . . For the sake of Christ help us to be content with our weakness knowing that when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

We know that this battle is physical but even more it is a battle for our minds and our hearts. Father, help us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2) and put on the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6) as we fight against the enemy – the evil one himself, Satan. Keep us faithful, knowing that he who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

In Jesus name and for your glory,

Amen.

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