Light in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (part twenty-seven)

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, KJV)

1As I drove to Church of the Holy Cross in Raleigh early on Sunday morning, July 1, 2012, the word, “Joy!,” suddenly came into my consciousness.  This would not be an unusual word if all that I had on my mind was the worship service I would soon be leading.  After all, I was about to preach on a passage from the gospel of Mark in which Jesus miraculously heals an older woman and raises a dead girl back to life.  I love to preach – and I especially love to preach on healing stories in Scripture.

However, I was also scheduled to undergo surgery the next day to remove a cancerous tumor from my left lung – a tumor of unknown origin – and there were two small tumors in my right lung that would need to be removed in a later surgery.  Yet, I felt joyful that morning on my way to church, although I didn’t realize it until I sensed the Lord speaking the word “joy” to me.  He was the reason for my joy – and all the conviction in my sermon for that morning, about how God delights in healing, helped me to trust that the Lord also had healing for me.  This conviction was a gift from the Holy Spirit and I marveled at the timing of my surgery and my service as a supply priest while my friend, John, was away on vacation.  It was no coincidence that on the day before surgery I would have the great privilege to preach about the authority and power Jesus has to heal – and to claim it for myself.

This pervasive sense of joy was present the next morning also, as I arose at 3:30 am to shower with an anti-bacterial soap formulated for patients about to undergo surgery.  I was continuing to “press in for my healing,” a phrase given to me by the Lord immediately following the news that a recent C/T scan had revealed the presence of a few small suspicious-looking spots in my lungs. I was buoyed by a profound sense that my life was in God’s hands – and that He would see me safely through the surgery – and through whatever lay ahead for me afterwards.

So instead of being fearful and worried about my own welfare, I was blessed to be “careful for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). I even had a sense that the Lord had an assignment for me: to give witness to Him, by my words and demeanor, to all with whom I would come in contact while in the hospital.  This remarkable freedom to be outwardly focused was Continue reading

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Light in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (part twenty-six)

For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory. (Deuteronomy 20:4)

As I walked down my driveway toward the mailbox on the morning of Tuesday, June 26, 2012, I sensed the Lord saying to me, “Victory!”  I paused and looked up toward the sky, waiting to hear if there would be an additional word from the Lord, but I heard nothing further.  Yet, that one word meant everything to me because this was the day on which I would find out whether the tiny cancerous tumors in my lungs were also present elsewhere in my body.  “Victory,” sounded to me like God’s confirmation that the cancer had not spread beyond my lungs — and I held onto that word as Gil and I left our house late that morning and drove over to the UNC Medical Center to meet with Dr. Haithcock, my thoracic oncology surgeon.

Four days prior to this second appointment with Dr. Haithcock I had undergone a series of tests: a PET scan, which is designed to detect the presence of cancer anywhere in a human body (from the neck down), an MRI of my brain, since the PET scan does not include the head, and an assessment of how well my lungs were functioning.  It had been a very long day, especially for Gil, who waited patiently in each of the three waiting rooms, from noon, which is when the first of the tests – the PET scan – began, until 7:30 pm, which is when the MRI was over.

To help pass the time between tests I had brought along a large tote bag containing my Bible, my Greek New Testament and a legal pad so that I could work on my sermon for the following Sunday.  Yet, even with fascinating work to keep my mind occupied, I couldn’t help but wonder what news the tests would reveal.  As I lay on the pallet during the PET scan I had an uneasy feeling that I was about to face a “day of reckoning,” by which my fate would be determined depending upon what showed up on the scan.  In order to turn my mind away from that thought I reminded myself from time to time that my life is in the Lord’s hands, and not in the hands of technicians or doctors or test results.  But I knew that when I met with Dr. Haithcock on the following Tuesday afternoon there could be no escaping whatever news the reports held.

So when that day finally arrived, Gil and I made sure we were on time for the 12:45 pm appointment.  However, we were told by Dr. Haithcock’s receptionist that he was running far behind schedule, so we made ourselves comfortable in the outside waiting area.  At about 1:45 pm, we were invited into a waiting room, and although we expected Dr. Haithcock to enter the room momentarily, that did not occur.  From time to time one of his residents – a gregarious fourth year medical student – would check on us, apologizing profusely for the delay, but there was not much she could do about it.  She knew we were waiting to hear the results of my tests, and she understood that this news was of great importance to me, but hospital policy forbid the disclosure of such information by anyone other than the attending physician.  “Victory,” I kept repeating to myself, “Victory.”

By 3:00 pm, my nerves were beginning to wear thin.  We had been waiting for Dr. Haithcock for over two hours.  Caleb had called on my cell phone several times; he was at home alone, suffering with a stomach virus.  I assured him we would return home as soon as possible, but until we met with my doctor, we had to remain in Chapel Hill.

Finally, at 3:15 pm Continue reading

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Light in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (part twenty-five)

As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld…” (2 Chronicles 20:20)

“Press-in for your healing.”  Those were the words I sensed the Lord speaking to me, just after I received a call from my surgeon telling me there were several suspicious spots on the C/T scan of my lungs.  I held on to those words as I traveled to the church conference in Asheville with my friends Lisa and John, just after receiving the phone call.  I knew in my heart that the miraculous healing the Lord had done the previous December, sparing my facial nerve, and the strong protection He provided while I underwent chemo and radiation therapy in the early months of 2012, could only mean that He would deliver me from whatever presence was in my lungs.  Why would God abandon me now, in light of all that He had done for me so far?  So I chose to believe that the Lord would finish what He began – it was simply a matter of how, not if.  That conviction was a gift from the Holy Spirit and it gave me peace while I was away from home for several days.

Ridgecrest Conference Center, Asheville, North Carolina

Ridgecrest Conference Center, Asheville, North Carolina

But I also realized that there were probably some harrowing times ahead for me – and that in facing them I would need to be absolutely focused upon the Lord, listening for His direction and standing on His word.  So, after I arrived at the Provincial Assembly on the evening of June 6, I took a look at the schedule and I noted that I would have some free time in the afternoon on the following day.  I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me that I should spend that time in prayer and let Him draw up a battle plan for me for whatever lay ahead.  So that next day, as other participants in the Assembly headed off to attend workshops, I returned to my room, found some notebook paper and a pen, and opened my Bible.

As I prayed for guidance, I sensed that I was being led to a passage in Second Chronicles.  So I turned to chapter twenty and read aloud the account of how the Lord defeated the mighty army that had gathered to wage war against King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah.  Years before I had listened to Beth Moore as she taught from this passage – a story which had never come to my attention before – and since then I’ve turned to it several times, using it as a sermon illustration about the importance of offering praise to the Lord in a time of trial.

As I paused after reading the story, it occurred to me that I should review the story again, and this time Continue reading

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