Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart
October 30, 2015 Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Synopsis: In this message, Pastor Cam announces and then describes his faith journey in facing a recent diagnosis of cancer. He shares how God used the Scripture (Philippians 1:21) to remind him that in spite of life’s complications it is still fundamentally simple. The answer to two basic questions (both found in this verse) help keep the big picture in focus.
Today is a baptism Friday. Often in the past on these Fridays, I have preached a message related to baptism and its significance. But this time, as you will know if you were here, I preached that message a couple weeks ago in preparation for this Friday. I can now see God’s sovereign providence in leading me to do that, because, unknown to me at the time, God had a different message that he wants me to preach today.
Let me introduce it by asking this question. Is your life simple or is it complicated? I think we would probably all be pretty quick to answer that life tends to be very complicated. That is certainly the way our life seemed to be right now as we move into the final throes of our transition and departure from Abu Dhabi. All the normal decisions and the complications of packing and shipping and extracting ourselves from our life here. And then, in addition, all the complications of remembering the details for turning over the ministry here to new leadership. It all was seeming rather overwhelming in its complexities.
Then something happened that at first seemed to make everything immensely more complicated. But at the same time, through the new circumstances I was facing, God took me back to passages of Scripture and messages I have preached in the past. He challenged me to practice what I preach. The passages and messages he has been bringing to my mind have reminded me that life is actually very simple.
I recognize that I probably seem to be talking in riddles. So let me explain my context. Some of you have noticed me limping and know that I have been experiencing some pain in my back and left hip. I ignored it for a while, but when it didn’t get better, I went to a doctor who ordered x-rays and then an MRI. I was expecting some kind of diagnosis like a slipped disc or a pinched nerve or something like that. I had the MRI done on Wednesday, Oct. 14th. One week later, on Wednesday, Oct. 21st I was sitting in the office of another doctor with a definite diagnosis. I have a form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma.
I know that there is a significant shock value to those words. I have had 10 days to process them, and they still have a considerable shock value. But I have hit you with the bad news and I want to hasten to give you some good news. With recent advances in medicine, this kind of cancer is very treatable. Also in the “good news” column, the diagnosis has been made quite early. Of all the possible symptoms, I have none of them apart from the pain in my back. While they have not yet found a way to cure the disease, they have found ways to control it with minimal side effects, and to allow patients to lead almost normal lives. Even the pain I have been experiencing should disappear with treatment. As the doctor said, “If you are going to have cancer, this is a good kind of cancer to have.”
We have also experienced amazing evidences of God providence and care. I am usually the last person to go to a doctor for something as insignificant as a little back pain. But I went. And from the time I sat down with the first doctor, it was clear that we were being guided by God’s divine providence. On one particular day, we walked from one office to another, finding empty waiting rooms and doctors sitting in their offices, almost like they were waiting there just to see me. Tests were ordered, results came back – all sooner than predicted. And so far, all has been covered by our UAE insurance. If this had all happened in another month or two, we would have been traveling without access to any of what we has been available to us here. At present, the doctor says we should be able to continue with our plans even while I begin the initial treatments.
But with all the “good news”, I will be the first to admit that hearing that I have cancer is still taking some getting used to. It seems like a huge new “complication” in a life that already seemed full of complications. So what did I mean earlier when I said that God is using it to remind me that life is really very simple?
Several of the Scriptures God has been using to minister to me during these days are found in one of my favorite books of the Bible; the Book of Philippians.
Life was pretty complicated for Paul when he wrote this letter. He was in prison in Rome. He was awaiting trial. He didn’t know if he was going to live or die. His life was complicated! But as I read through this letter, I find that for Paul, life really wasn’t complicated. It was simple. Oh, the details were complicated. But Paul had the big picture well and truly focused. And that big picture was really very simple.
He expresses this clearly by boiling life down to its most basic components in Philippians 1:21. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
For Paul, life was simple because he knew the answer to two basic questions. The first is: What is my life for? The second question is: What comes after? It seems to me that if we have a clear answer to those two questions, then suddenly life becomes very simple.
What is my life for?
Paul’s answer to that question is found in the first half of the verse: For to me to live is Christ
For Paul, life was all about Christ. From the life changing day on the Damascus road when he was confronted by the risen Lord, Jesus was front and center in his life. All else was secondary. Knowing him, walking with him, obeying him, serving him. For to me to live is Christ.
No matter what life dishes up, this doesn’t change. I think we have an expansion of what Paul means when he says “to live is Christ” in verse 20: as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body.
“That Christ will be honored in my body.” The word “honored” means to magnify or to make large; to honor highly. That is what my life is for. It is “for Christ”; it is to make him large, to exalt him, to cause him to be honored and to be praised. That has been my desire since I gave my life to Christ as a young boy. It has been my desire during my 25 years as pastor of ECC. It continues to be my desire; to magnify Christ “in my body”, as long as I live in this body. Cancer doesn’t change that. That is what this body is for; that is what living is for. To bring honor to Christ by serving him and by displaying his character in my words, actions and relationships. That is my eager expectation and my hope, that my faith will not fail now, but that with all courage Christ will be honored in my body “whether by life or by death.”
That brings me to my next point; the second “simplifying” question. What comes after? Here again, Paul had a very simple and clear answer: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Paul expounds on what he means by that in the following sentence:
If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Paul did not fear death. In fact he looked forward to it. Those verses describe the Christian view of death and eternity in a nutshell. For the Christian, to die is gain. For the Christian, to die means “to depart and be with Christ.” The word for “depart” is an interesting one. Soldiers used it to mean “to take down your tent and move on.” Sailors used it meaning to loose the ship’s mooring ropes before setting sail. So death is a departure, a leaving. But for the believer, it is also a destination: “To be with Christ…for that is far better.”
It is sometimes said, “You are not really ready to live until you are ready to die.” I think there is a lot of truth in that statement. Can we truly answer the question, “What is life for?” until we know the answer to the question, “What comes after?” Surely the answers to these two questions will be intricately entwined in our hearts, minds, and emotions. Only when we are confident of what comes after death will we be free to truly invest our life in the things which really matter.
Cancer and questions about life and death and health and life expectancy bring all of this out of the realm of the theoretical and make it very close and personal. What is life really for? What does come after? Is the Bible really true? Do I truly believe what I have preached here at ECC for 25 years? And I stand before you today to answer “Yes! I do believe!” And because I believe, life didn’t get more complicated last week. It actually became simpler. Because cancer or any life-threatening disease or circumstance cannot defeat me. You see, I win either way. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. To live will provide more opportunities to serve the Lord and to glorify him, and I will welcome that. To die – well, that is to depart and be with Christ, which is even better; far better.
A man by the name of Richard Baxter captured the simplicity of it all in this poem:
Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live.
To love and serve thee is my share
And this thy grace must give.
If life be long I will be glad
That I may long obey.
If short, then why should I be sad
To rise to endless day?
Well, as I said there are a couple of my messages and Scriptures that God has been using to minister to me during these days. The other one I want to share is actually a blending of Old Testament and New Testament passages. And the common themes that bind them together are the themes of trust and peace.
The first Old Testament passage is found in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
I have a favorite coffee mug at home. It was a birthday gift a couple years ago from Rick and Teresa LeMonnier, good friends and longtime members of this church. On one side it has just a single word: TRUST. On the other side is the verse Psalm 91:2: God is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust! During the last year, I have often found myself reaching for that mug whenever I have been facing a challenging day. During the last week, I’ve been reaching for it every morning. The word trust can be both a noun and a verb. In Proverbs it is a verb. In fact it is a command. The Hebrew word for trust carries the idea of placing confidence in something or leaning on something. One commentator gives the meaning as “hanging confidently.”
The picture that the word brings to my mind is that of a rock climber working his way up a sheer cliff. Carefully he establishes and tests each handhold or foothold. But to advance up the face of the cliff, there comes the moment when he must let go of his previous handhold and “hang confidently” on the next one. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” That’s the hard part isn’t it? We want to lean on our own understanding, and to figure things out for ourselves. God commands us: Trust me.
What is the result of this kind of trust? A second Old Testament passage is found in the Book of Isaiah: Isaiah 26:3-4 reads this way in the NIV:
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.
The word for peace here is the Hebrew word, “shalom”. “Shalom” and its related words are among the most important theological words in the Old Testament. “Shalom” occurs over 250 times in 213 separate verses. It is most commonly translated “peace” in the English translations. But it means much more than the absence of war or conflict. Completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment, and deep contentment are all included in this word.
The translation “perfect peace” is a valiant effort to render a Hebrew idiom into English. What the Hebrew has actually done is simply repeat the word “shalom” for special emphasis. You will keep in peace, peace the one whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you. Peace, peace. Peace squared. Perfect peace. Peace in the face of cancer. Peace in the face of all of life’s difficulties. Isaiah is addressing God himself. “You, O Lord, will keep him in perfect peace.” The word “keep” means to preserve, maintain, protect. God himself will protect us and keep us in a state of perfect peace when our mind is steadfast, trusting in him.
The next verse takes this promise and turns it once again into a command. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal. Verse 4 is a short verse, but it packs a real punch. In the NIV it is 14 words long. But in Hebrew, it is only 8 words long. And three of those words are devoted to the object of our trust. In the original text it is a 3 time repetition of the name “Yahweh”, the special memorial name for God. Then there is the metaphor of Yahweh as a Rock; something permanent, secure and unmovable. That is four of our eight words. What else is there? There are two different words with essentially the same meaning: eternal and forever. In addition to the causative word “for” there is only one word left. It is in the imperative or command form. It is the word “trust”, the same word as verse 3: “hang confidently on”. And that is the whole verse. We could roughly translate this: “Hang confidently forever onto Yahweh, Yahweh, Yahweh, the eternal Rock.” If we do that, he promises to protect us and preserve us in a state of “shalom, shalom.” Perfect peace.
Now I want to connect this with another verse that also talks about peace. This one in the New Testament in Philippians 4:6-7:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
How do we “hang confidently” onto Yahweh? We do it by turning our anxieties into prayer. When we turn our anxieties into prayer, God turns our prayers into peace. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” “Perfect peace.” This peace will guard our hearts and minds. I like that picture. The word “guard” is used of posting a guard or standing watch. The peace of God will stand guard duty over our hearts and minds. It is a wonderful promise.
So, on one level my life has become considerably more complicated in the last couple weeks. But on another level, it has become very simple. It is simple because I know the answer to the two questions: What is life for? What comes after? And I am focusing on obeying this simple command and turning my anxieties into prayer and trusting in the Lord. He is a good God. He is a loving God. He is a powerful God. He is also an infinitely wise God. He knows exactly what he’s doing and why he is doing it. I don’t have to figure it all out. I don’t have to know the future. All I have to do is trust him.
An old Gospel song has also been running through my mind during these days. The title of the song is: I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.
The words of the chorus go like this:
Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand.
But I know who holds tomorrow, And I know who holds my hand.
Trust keeps life simple.
By the way, when I say life has become very simple, I am not saying that it is “easy.” In fact it remains very hard. And because of that, Esther Ruth and I covet your prayers. You may have noticed that Paul did the same with the Philippians in chapter 1:19: for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.
Specifically, how would we ask you to pray? Of course I would like to be healed and to live a long and symptom free life. But at a deeper level, I would ask you to pray the same thing that Paul requested in verse 20: as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
I would paraphrase that prayer in these words: “Pray that God would give me the degree of health and the length of life that will enable me to bring the greatest honor to the name of Jesus.”
And now we have some additional personal requests to make of you for these last few weeks together. I know I have hit you with a very heavy and emotionally charged message this morning. You will need time to process it. I cannot ask you not to be sad. I cannot ask you not to cry, as I have cried. But I do ask that somehow, as much as possible, we try to put this to one side. I do not want these last few weeks to be about illness. Don’t treat me like an invalid. I don’t feel sick. In fact, I feel fine. I should continue to feel fine. I want you to join me in these last few weeks to celebrate what God has done here at ECC during the last 25 years. I want it to be a time of praise to God, for he has done great things! In short, during these next 3 weeks, I want us to look back with thanksgiving and praise.
And then we would ask that you join us in looking forward with hope. The physical prognosis is hopeful. But that is not where our hope comes from as followers of Jesus. Our hope is not in doctors or medicines. It is not even in miracles of healing. Our hope extends far beyond this life. Our hope is an eternal hope.
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
- Would you describe your life as “simple” or “complicated”? Why?
- Read Philippians 1:21 and discuss how knowing the answer to the two questions (What is life for? What comes after?) helps keep life simple.
- In the message, Pastor Cam draws a distinction between something being “simple” and being “easy”. Discuss the difference.
- Spend some time in prayer for the Arensens.