Cancer: Six Years and Counting

imageI wrote this from my hospital bed the day after I was diagnosed with cancer.  Each Memorial Day I remember many battles that I never fought.  I didn’t really fight this one either.  The Lord fought it for me.  Thankful to be here.

“Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it?” (Isa 10.15a)

It is difficult to find balance in life without an understanding that God is always good to His children. I garner comfort from the fact that not everything is left to chance or the sheer willpower of human ingenuity and exertion.

On one hand, I would find myself fairly miserable if everything found its end on the temporal plains; on the other hand, in times of great prosperity, I am tempted to forget God and grow overly confident in the very abilities He Himself has given me. So, whether in adversity or prosperity, the tendency is to presume upon God.

The Assyrian emperor Sennacherib is the epitome of one who thinks too highly of himself and his abilities. God greatly humbled this man’s army by sending a single angel to destroy 185,000 of his men. When Sennacherib returned home after the defeat, he was killed by his two sons.

As Christians we face a powerful enemy that thinks too highly of himself. He resembles Sennacherib because he himself infused the emperor with his own deceitful power. Yet God used this evil emperor’s actions to punish his own children. God has even allowed our own persecution, infused by satanic energy, to accomplish corrective and purifying measures in us. God allows illness like cancer to accomplish the same purpose.

During the time in which Sennacherib ruled, he was greatly feared because he was a well-used pawn of the devil. However, Sennacherib was a deluded man. He thought that he moved under the power and wisdom of none other than himself. This is why pride is so unbecoming when found in a believer. It is devastating to think of times when as an ax I boasted against the very One who chopped away with such a blunt and dull instrument! A realization of my need of Him sharpens my ability to serve Him. Apart from this knowledge, I face the great tragedy of presuming upon God.

Sennacherib was used of God to accomplish His will, but in a single night he was left devastated by an unseen enemy. When what we deem ‘good’ and ‘bad’ comes our way in life, it is always good to recognize the hand of God. I am relatively certain Sennacherib never did. That’s what makes his life such a tragedy.

God has allowed it all for our good. He gives and takes away; nonetheless, blessed be His name. If we are given the pleasant meadow of success, we must acknowledge the hand of God. If we are given the treacherous mountain paths, we still must acknowledge His hand behind it.

I would gladly take the trial of the siege Jerusalem faced over the temporal triumph of an evil emperor. There is great spiritual benefit in every adversity we face. We just need ears to hear and eyes to see. We stumble and struggle, but when we enter into an eternal relationship together as a church with our Lord Jesus Christ, we see the true end of man. I’d take that struggle over blissfully moving forward in life unaware of the pending judgment ahead of me.

I need not ask the question, “Is this cancer a good thing or a bad thing?” It’s all good! Why? Because God is using it to draw me to Himself. I’m hopeful that He will even use my illness to draw others closer to one another and closer to Him. If we fix our sights on the below things, will not God send what is needed to help us clearly see above things once again? Yes, if He loves us, He will.

Pray that the Lord would continue to prune away, that I might bring forth even more fruit whether by life or by death. Even though He slay me, still I will trust in Him.

Yesterday, was a very good day. I was thankful to spend a few precious hours with Sue and for all the visits and encouragements along the way. My headaches returned, but the attentive nurses watch out for me here. The Koehlers provided a wonderful home-cooked meal. I spent a good hour and a half talking to Tim Kinnicutt during the evening. The doctor prescribed a sleeping medication, and I slept through the whole night for the first time in a long time!

Today, I met with Dr. Kengla. She is my oncologist. Sue, Pastor Mincy, and Bryce Ellsworth were all present at the meeting. I learned that I have grade one/stage four follicular lymphoma. The grade number indicates that I have a cancer that has been slowly progressing through my body. The stage number indicates that the cancer is throughout my lymphatic system and in the bone marrow as well. The good news is that it is not present in the brain stem or spinal column.

According to my doctor, this cancer responds best to a combination of a human antibody/protein named Retuxin and traditional chemotherapy – a drug called Bendamustine. I will begin treatment early Thursday morning. Obviously, there will be side effects to this regimen (fever, chills, tightness in the chest, hair loss and vomiting).

I will need to go through four to six rounds of chemotherapy at a rate of once per month. This means four to six months of chemotherapy followed up by testing and observation. It is possible that it could extend to eight months. It is also possible that the cancer will reappear and treatment will need to begin anew. It is also possible that my cancer would transform into a more serious form of lymphatic cancer.

My return to ministry will be limited. Even my contact with others must be limited because of the risk of infection. I will need to be careful about what I eat and work hard at building exercise into my life. I will also need get second opinions from the Kaiser in Vallejo and possibly Stanford.

Please pray for the headaches to dissipate. They have continued into this evening. I had a test in the afternoon to provide a baseline reading going into chemotherapy. Pray as well that I would weather the treatment in good stead.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Oesterwind

You Cannot Do What God Has Done

Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”  But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to imagebring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach)… (Romans 10.5-8)

The end and goal of the law is a righteous standing before God by faith. Christ is that end and goal. Moses wrote about the righteousness which is of the Law in Leviticus 18.5. You just have to do the Law and live by the Law in order to have the righteousness of God. The problem is that no one does. But the Law had another component:

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” (Deuteronomy 30.11-14)

Moses emphasizes the heart in this passage. Loving obedience comes from a trusting heart. Pleasing God is not beyond Israel’s reach according to Moses. God required faith. Israel cannot think that they can ascend into heaven and bring Christ down to earth to save His people. Israel cannot think that they are good enough to raise up Christ the Messiah from the dead. God had already done these things. They just needed to accept them in their heart. The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.

The Abundance of Everything

We certainly love God for who He is, but we also love God for what He gives.  It’s never advisable to think only in terms of the abstract in theology.  It may sound pious to say that we simply love God for who He is and not what He gives, but such piety will not stand in the face of Scripture.  We arPsalm 103.3e grateful daily for all of God’s benefits.  We serve Him with joy and gladness for the abundance of everything (Deuteronomy 28.47).

Who He Is

God is merciful, gracious, and steadfast.  The extension of God’s mercy teaches us that we deserve nothing but His wrath.  The extension of His grace indicates that He watches over us and delights in giving us good gifts we will never deserve.  His steadfastness helps us to realize that He will always be present and never neglect us.  The mercy, grace, and steadfastness of the LORD are realities which spur active service.

What He Gives

The response and worship of God’s children ought to be personal, committed, and continual.  David writes, “Bless the LORD, O my soul” (Psalm 103.1).  We owe a debt that we cannot possibly pay.  Even if we are struggling to make ends meet, we are better off.  The richest of men who know nothing of God’s gifts live is spiritual squalor.  This drives commitment to obey the LORD’s primary command:  Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He forgives, heals redeems, crowns, and satisfies.  Therefore we continually bless and praise Him.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:

Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103.1-5

We are reluctant to bless the LORD because it doesn’t feel genuine.  The reason this is true is that we fail to remind ourselves of His character and all His daily benefits.  There is no greater joy for the Christian to be genuinely and continually committed to his God.  Be thankful for who He is and what He gives.