Covid-19 isn’t the only big C going around. Do you remember cancer? Yep. It’s still with us. We haven’t found a cure and there is no vaccine.
I was shocked this morning to hear that Tim Keller has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Who is Tim? I’d say he’s one of the most thoughtful, winsome, well read, visionary, author, preacher, and church leaders of our day. If I get fifty people listening to a sermon, then he’ll get upwards of fifty thousand. If we’ve seen a new church started in a neighbouring suburb, then he’s overseen the planting of large churches in major cities all around the globe.
But “Who cares?” says cancer. It doesn’t discriminate. It will take down the rich and famous, the powerful and erudite, the Chinese and the Americans. Cancer is no respecter of persons. It hides in the background, waits until you least expect it, then… pounce! It finds a location, sets up a base, assembles its troops, and plans its attack. Sometimes it fires a few warning shots—a lesion on the skin, a lump in the breast, a cough that doesn’t pass, some blood in the faeces. But more often than not it works secretly, stealthily, silently, scheming its next moves.
Or so it seems. The truth is that cancer is not ‘out there’ to be avoided by social distancing, lockdowns and hand hygiene. It’s inside us, and from us, and part of us, fighting the rest of us. Cancer is like the internal riots we’ve seen recently in the US. Only it’s happening inside us all the time. Damaged cells. Genetic change. Mutations in the chromosomes. Glitches in the DNZ code not picked up by the spellchecker. Cancer is me going rogue and attacking me.
Cancer brings grief, heartache, pain, suffering, and loss. Many, many will pray for Tim Keller. Many prayed for me. I thank you. Please keep praying. Pray also for wives, husbands, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and communities.
On Sunday my heart sank to hear that my good friend Andrew has lymphoma. I will be praying for him, and his family. And I will keep praying for many other friends in the grip of this disease. To live with cancer is to walk in the valley of the shadow of death.
The coronavirus has reminded our world that we are mortal. But I fear that it has only half-reminded us. It’s warned us of the possibility that we will die. We’ve heard that we are all at risk. We must take every precaution. We have to protect the vulnerable. If we don’t, then people will die, and in catastrophic numbers.
All that is true. Well, almost. The deeper reality is that we all walk through the valley of the shadow of death. That is our life. The shadow is ever present. We just choose to ignore it. When coronavirus threatens, it gets harder to ignore. When cancer hits, it becomes almost inescapable.
My networks are filled with people finding it very hard to escape this awful truth. Our cancers won’t let us. Lisa, Paul, Lillian, Corey, Alison, Alastair, Anita, Marilyn, Gary, Paul, Graham, Kim, Rita, Zack, Liam, Stephanie, Vangie, Sam, Wendy, Linnea, John, Natalie, Norman, Colin, Jim, Drew, Janet, Steve, Jack, Peter, Max, Jill, Lachlan… and I could go on. We need these words from the 23rd Psalm.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Jesus said in John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Turn to the good shepherd while you can.