Antioch News - December 30, 2006

Content Author: 
Reagan, David
Published Date: 
December 30, 2006

Greetings to All,

This is the first real letter I personally have been able to send out since my stay in the hospital, so I am sending it to all who are on my list. Evidently, many people are receiving these second and third hand and that is fine too. I will certainly go into more detail than some of you want and will make more spiritual application than others will want. I appreciate and understand those of you who do not have time or do not take the interest to read the entire letter. But I do want you to know that it comes from my heart in a time of true personal crisis and it seeks to exalt the God who make me.

When I told the cancer doctor, Tuesday a week ago, that I wanted to aggressively attack the sarcoma cancer cells invading my body, how little did I know of what that meant. I know that some of you are wondering why you have not heard more. Simply speaking, I have not felt like sending anything. Also. I have a list of email addresses I send to and my wife and others have other lists. If you had been getting your information from my list, you have received nothing in a week and a half because I have been unable to sit and write coherently.

As I said in an earlier post, my cancer had already spread into other parts of the body. Not only had it accomplished much destruction in the left hip, but tumors had already appeared in both lungs. Since the entire body had been attacked, the only sensible strategy was a medical approach that dealt with the entire body. I know that cancer doctors would probably wince at the coming explanation of my chemo-therapy, but it is what makes sense to me. First, they choose a combination of drugs that are most likely to attack the cancer cells. Second, considering the damage these drugs do to the profitable parts of the body and how powerful others drugs are to deliver the patient from these harmful effects, they in a calculated way bring the patient as close to death without really killing him. Then, they will test in later days to see if their calculations worked--or did not. There is a strong unknowing quality in the entire process.

Now, I am not being critical of those who deal with oncology (the study of cancer). On the contrary, I am amazed at how many factors they are able to deal with simultaneously and the results they are able to achieve. It is as if they are beginning to understand some of the complexities of God Himself. And, I suppose this is the case in any true science. However, though scientists in other fields might be seeking that god-like power of knowing, the oncologist is quickly reminded (perhaps by the next case that walks in) how far he is from this condition. By God's grace, it seems that my doctors and even their nurses are active Christians. It was a real blessing to have my doctor pray with me before I entered the hospital.

Anyway, I had better not get so philosophical. I do not know how long I will feel like writing tonight. The first war is with the cancer in the hip and lungs. To attack that, I received what they called mega-doses of chemo-therapy. This is a level of therapy t hat is only given to people in really bad shape already and with whom the cancer has already spread--what used to be and still often is the curse that kills. In addition, mega-doses of chemo are usually reserved for people who are still in generally good health. Thankfully, I fit that also.

After I had received the chemo-therapy at the hospital and had returned home, I thought I was probably going to go through a few days of not feeling very well and then return to normal. Well, let me tell you (I'm grinning), in many ways the battle had just begun. What the chemo may or may not be doing to my cancer cells I do not know and will not know for a few more weeks (despite some wrong information I gave earlier--Hey, I am a beginner in this warfare). But what happened is that the battle moved to several new fronts:

  1. Nausea - the first battle was the one to keep my food down. This is one of the most universal responses to the chemo, but they said that my reaction was greater than they anticipated. I am starting to get some victory here.
  2. Constipation - No, I am not dwelling here. However, it is more critical than I ever thought that the poisons they put in my system do not get stuck in any one place.
  3. Destruction of lining of entire esophagus: mouth, throat, stomach. It has been a battle in the extreme to eat anything since I have been home from the hospital. Many times it is just as difficult to talk. The entire lining system we have in our bodies that are designed to absorb food has been wrecked. Yet, I must eat if I am to survive. God has been good to get me through this.
  4. Destruction of white blood cells and immunity to disease - This actually peaks several days out of the hospital and I am in the middle of this battle right now. My white blood count was down to 700, a number that means little to me but seems to impress the doctors and nurses. Although I have insurance, one of dangers is that if the treatment I receive is effective, I could run out of coverage before treatment is complete. God, however, is already showing how He is taking care of some things before their time. I will have to take about ten shots to rebuild my white blood cell count (this time) and they cost about $500 per shot. Well, the first ten shots have been donated. God is good.
  5. Pain and new injury to the cancered hip. When I got home from the chemo-therapy treatments, my pain in the hip actually increased. In fact, for about three or four times a day, my hip would go into a time of excruciating pain that did not want to stop. It did not seem to matter how much other medicine had been taken. After talking to the medical people about this, we found that there were several possible causes of this. For one thing, I had slept at home for months in a recliner, but in the hospital I was confined to a bed (the recliner they offered being worse than their bed). The change back to the house may have irritated the hip. However, another possibility was that my hip was just this bad now. The medical people thought it was. The tumor had caused jagged edges in my pelvis and other bones. When I walked on them (even with a cane), I was scraping the remaining muscle and nerves over this bone, creating continued spasms of pain.

This was beginning to make sense to me. Then, they added a third factor. If the chemo-therapy is beginning to be successful in shrinking the tumor (as many of you are praying it is), then the pain is likely to get worse. As the tumor grew, it took the place of the bone and marrow that it consumed. When it shrinks, it will leave nothing to act as a cushion in its place. My increased pain could actually be a sign for hope.

However, what should I do with the pain in the meantime? If I break the bone before the chemo (and eventually, radiation) have time to do their work, then the entire process will be slowed down. It will create a costly detour. Therefore, we decided to do two things. First, I will try to minimize my movement. The less I I move around, the fewer opportunities I have to tear the hip or break something. Second, in order to accomplish this, I will accept higher levels of medication for pain. I had always been of the mindset that we should get off the pain meds as soon as possible in order to avoid addiction of any sort. The needs of this situation have changed my thinking somewhat. The nurse also assured me that addiction only comes to those who take it for the feeling it gives; not to those who take it for pain. Personally, I have not found the feelings I have received from pain medication to match in any way the feelings I have in a good prayer service at Antioch Baptist Church. There is nothing inviting there. In fact, I have already backed off from the level of pain medication I had three or four days ago.

Has it been rough? Sure it has. A few years ago, the treatment that put me in the hospital for five days would have kept the patient in the hospital for 21 days. The nurse told me last night that most people with my levels of chemo would have had to return to the hospital at least once by now. It is just that serious. However, I am also seeking the Lord's face to see what He would teach me during this time. It is easy to think that the continual survival mode that we are forced into would keep us from learning deep lessons from the Lord. Yet I believe it has pleased the Lord to reveal to me the lesson that He has for me in these times of absolute need. I am to learn to receive from the Lord my daily bread.

Shortly after being released from the hospital, the Lord brought me across Exodus 16:4, which states, "Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no." As I read this, I immediately knew that it was my lesson for this time. God wants me to trust Him for my daily bread (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3). As God has blessed the ministry the last few years, I have become more and more obsessed with ideas and planning. What else could we do? Who else could we reach? How else could we train those under our care? What else should I learn? What else could I write? There has been a wonderful urgency about tomorrow.

But there was no equal focus or urgency about today. We knew we needed God and rejoiced that He was the source of the blessings, but He and they were there all the time. We certainly did not seek the Lord's physical provision on a daily sort. There was enough food in the refrigerator and cabinets for a week at least. If one person brought a bit of bad news, then that was fine; the Lord would match and double it with good news in short order. I know this is not the case in many ministries and I do not know why God blessed this one so much--but He did. I figured that it is a part of His providential plan. I had accepted the times of decline and obscurity. I must accept the times of prosperity and try to serve Him in it. And I (I should say we) did. My wife and I and key staff members gave ourselves to the work of the ministry. We addicted ourselves to the ministry of the word and it was glorious.

But in glorying in the work of the Lord, perhaps we failed somewhat to glory in His presence. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2Corinthians 3:18). To become more and more like Him, conformed to His image, by beholding His glory. Though the glory we see is limited, as in a glass, yet it still has the power to transform the person. How does this happen? It works through the "things that work together for good to them that love God" so that by God's providential predestination we might "be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:28-29).

Right now, more than at any time in my adult life, I am having to rely on God for a moment by moment provision of physical help and guidance. I am praying and hoping that I will be able to transfer this lesson spiritually. After I was told that I was doing well, I started feeling kind of good about myself. I had done better than most. Shortly, I found myself in another bit of a crisis. The well time was in question and I might be heading for the hospital yet. I reminded myself that I must give a present, conscious effort to trust in the immediate provision of God. Things began to fall in order again and I later continued on the letter.

I can truly sense the abiding provision of God for me now. I may and will make many mistakes, but He is watching over it all for His good. But I can expect the same level of provision of the grace of God for daily living and Christian ministry--a source of grace we too often ignore. The old-time saints were so poor and needy and yet so fully enabled to do great works for God; the modern saint is so blessed and yet so unable to shoot a spiritual pop-gun for God. This contrast is also often seen between Western Christians and those saints who give their all in oppressed regions of the world. The latter have so few resources but so much power with God.

What is the difference? I think it is to be found in the reliance made on the resources of Christ. Oh, that a few of us modern Christians of the western world might learn to rely fully on the resources of Christ. George Muller, Hudson Taylor, and others, came close by refusing to raise money through men--telling only the Lord of their needs. I do not believe that this is the only answer. But we must seek a way to return to a God-supported ministry and a God-supported Christian life.

Perhaps the growth pattern is best described in a series of songs:

  1. "God Works in a Mysterious Way His Wonders to Perform" - This old hymn by William Cowper exalts the providential working of God in our lives. I do not believe that anyone can understand the fulness of the daily bread given to us by the Lord until they have full confidence that all things will work together for good in their lives as they serve the Lord (Romans 8:28).
  2. "Day by Day" - This hymn emphasizes God's daily provision for our lives. It includes statements like, "He whose heart is kind beyond all measure, sees unto each day what he deems best." Our second lesson is to rely on God for all our daily needs.
  3. "I Need Thee Every Hour" - This hymn shows us that our reliance on God must extend beyond a daily turning to God. Even two or three set times of praying each day is not enough. We must be ready to continually return to the juice of the vine; to gain additional strength as needed.
  4. "Moment by moment, I'm kept in His love; moment by moment, I've life from above; looking to Jesus till glory doth shine; moment by moment; O, Lord, I am thine" - I quoted a longer portion of this old song to get the context. Though some seem to come by this easier than others, most believers struggle here (I know I have). Also, I must add that I am not talking about any sort of sinless perfectionism. This kind of spiritual maturity has been seen by great saints of God who come from many doctrinal perspectives on other issues. This is because it is biblical. Many Puritans and Wesleyans, many Calvinists and Armenians, and others as well have taught the enabling grace of God in the believer. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the well-known dispensationalist, taught the same. We are to abide in the vine (John 15:1-7). This is a real abiding reliance on all things from the Saviour. Though the content of our thoughts change from moment to moment, our reliance upon the Lord, His guidance, and His resources, should remain the same. Any break in this reliance is a break in our fellowship with God and should be corrected immediately. What a blessing it would be if God's people learned to stay in proper communion with their Creator, Saviour, and Lord!
  5. "Jesus I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art; I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart" - In the later years of the ministry of the Chinese missionary Hudson Taylor, he had a great number of missionaries working under his direction. Because of continuing persecution and trials of many kinds, it was not uncommon for him to receive sad or discouraging news from one of the outposts. Those who worked with him said he would often open a letter of this sort and after digesting the news would break out into singing the song mentioned above. When asked about this practice, he explained that that is all he could do at such a time as this. He must fully rest in Jesus and in the joy of who He is. Compare this to the statement of Paul in Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." We must learn that Christ is our very life (Colossians 3:4).

My letter has gone from being a note to epistle length. But this is my letter to everyone. It has taken me almost 24 hours of off-and-on labor to write it. If I had spent this time on individual responses, I would have failed to write many of you. I hope you will forgive my general epistle. The days ahead are yet unknown and uncharted. But the Lord not only holds the compass, He has His hand on the wheel. I can trust Him for eternity. I can trust Him for a year from now. I can trust Him for right now. "Jesus I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art."

David Reagan
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 9:12

If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself: but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.