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Notes From The Middle Of The Night

Notes from the middle of the night...

For those of you who wear glasses, you may have had the experience of going to the optometrist to get that new pair of glasses – either your prescription has changed or your lenses have become badly scratched.  Whatever the reason, the optician comes to the table and places the new glasses on your face and all of a sudden, you see much clearer than before.  Cancer is like a new pair of glasses.  I’m sure it’s not just cancer that can serve that purpose; it could be any difficult trial that God uses to reveal greater depths of truth to us than we have known before.  For me now, it’s cancer – being faced with one’s mortality has been like Lasik to my spiritual eyes. I see things that I have not fully seen before.

I see, for example, how many opportunities I may have missed to serve you as an elder.  Sometimes this was due to time, I simply could not attend every funeral, I could not visit every sick room in the hospital, I did not understand the depth of your particular pain because I had not experienced that myself – I haven’t lost a child or a parent, I haven’t miscarried a baby, I haven’t wrestled with the chronic pain of a disease, I haven’t known barrenness, I haven’t known the pain of a difficult marriage or an unfaithful spouse.  But even if my apparent indifference was due to a legitimate schedule conflict, a time constraint, or simply a lack of personal experience with what was going on in your life, there are some basic things I could have done more of – I could have prayed, I could have written, I could have met you for coffee, I could have picked up the phone, I could have texted – I could have walked along side you as you struggled.  Sometimes, by not doing these things, I was simply sinning – in my own selfishness and self absorption. When it wasn’t just my sinful nature at play, a possible legitimate defense for my failings in this area is “I’m only human – I can’t be everywhere at once, I can’t know all there is to know about your particular situation, I’m limited in terms of the influence I can have on the outcome – I can’t bring the dead back to life, I can’t heal a disease, I can’t change how you or your spouse respond to one another.”

But God can.

This is the miracle of the incarnation, God coming to live among us to suffer the pain and travail of the fall in the world He had created.   One of the difficult things associated with this cancer journey is the sense that perhaps the number of my days is not a very big number anymore.  Jesus knew from the start why He had come, He knew how and when He would die, and He knew that when He did, He would bear the weight of the sins of the world.  He knew that for a period of time on the cross, God, His Father would pour out His full wrath on Him.  That full wrath was my deserved eternity in Hell – gone in an instant from my back to His.  He bore my Hell.

Cancer is relatively short lived, worst case scenario it’s for an abbreviated lifetime, but it’s not for eternity.  Sin’s consequence is what is carried for eternity, unless payment is made and that is what Jesus did for me at the cross.  Amazing.

Not only is that amazing, but I need to factor into the equation the Father sending His Son to do this.  God sent His only Son to suffer not only the excruciating death on the cross but the step by step journey to the cross.  Each night, when Jesus laid His head to rest, He knew that the next morning He would be one day closer to a brutal death at the tender age of 33.

I know that you know all this, so why bring it up?  It’s because I want to remind you, to impress upon you, that although I may fail as a human elder, Jesus never does.  He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust, He’s acquainted with grief, He knows the pain of this world, He’s been abandoned by friends, He’s been betrayed, He’s been hungry, He’s been weary, He’s faced the darkest night any of us will ever face, He’s endured torture, and most of all, He’s endured God’s wrath for our sin.
But He did all that a long time ago.  What is He doing now?  He’s “eldering” me but “eldering” me perfectly in ways that I never could, He’s shepherding me – He’s interceding for me, He’s placed His Spirit within me, He’s tenderly carrying me, He’s leading me – sometimes beside still waters, sometimes through the valley of the shadow of death.  He’s healing me, He’s feeding me, He’s sustaining my every breath, He’s sanctifying me, He’s visiting me in the hospital, He’s written to me in His Word, He speaks encouragement to me through the voices of His people, through worship, through preaching.  He’s able to be the perfect elder because He does not need to say “I’m only human” – He can say “I have experienced humanity but I am divine and therefore; I am omnipresent – I am with you always, even unto the end of the age, there is no where you can go that I am not with you.  I am omniscient – I know exactly what you are going through, what you are enduring, why I am putting you through this and what’s on the other side; trust me - I know this.  And finally, I am omnipotent – I can do all things – I can heal whatever disease I choose, I can give you peace that passes human understanding, I can turn the hearts of a king, I can direct a doctor’s scalpel, I can make the blind see, I can make the lame walk, there is nothing that is too difficult for me, do you think my arm is shortened that it cannot save? I am the one and only Savior.

That is where my hope and comfort lies.  Cancer is horrible, diseases are debilitating, but God says, “I will walk with you, the fires will not overtake you, you are my child and I am simply refining you to perfect you and ultimately to bring you home.”  He is the good and perfect Shepherd of my soul.  I’m learning that in new ways now and those lessons, as difficult as they may be, are a good and perfect gift and come from God Himself.  I know that He is the potter and I am the clay.  This year for Christmas, as a symbol, I gave each of the boys a set of tools that a potter would use.  Some are sharp and pointed and can draw blood, some are smooth and gentle, but in the potter’s hands, they are used to turn raw clay into something beautiful.  God is using a sharp tool on me right now – it hurts, but I know that He is making something beautiful with it. He is my Shepherd; He will restore my soul, either in this life or the next.  If you don’t know this Shepherd, you need to – He is the hope of the world, He is all you will ever need but you need Him now, because now is when He will be your advocate, later, He will simply be your just judge.  Call upon him while it is still day, for the night will come when there is no longer an opportunity to call on Him.  Today is the day of salvation.

Grateful for each of you,
Ross Stern