“You have cancer.”
These words strike fear in the heart and consume enormous amounts of emotional energy, draining the reservoir without providing a replenishing intake. Within a few hours or days of hearing the pronouncement, physical exhaustion emerges with a weariness that has roots deep inside the person. Loretta and I know this to be true, as we have lived it. Death came calling at our door.
This is the story of our personal journey in a battle against a formidable adversary — cancer. We share our personal struggles and reveal emotional upheavals that came as a result of harmful advice given to us by well-intentioned people, as you will see later in the story. Our children share what it was like for them to have their mother’s body invaded by cancer and how they dealt with thoughts of her impending death.
We share things that were helpful as well as those that hindered us all during this time in the life of our family. We have tried to be vi
vulnerable and open, yet remain positive and encouraging about the medically verified healing that Loretta experienced after her breast cancer had metastasized to her ribs. A few years later, our world was rocked a second time when a different type of cancer was found in her hip joint. How does this fit into our understanding of God and the Bible?
As pastors, we desire to help people understand that God’s presence is with us in sickness and chaos. We also want to demonstrate how one’s faith and trust can grow through the intimacy of a personal relationship with Christ, coupled with a saturation of biblical promises. Much that has passed as the Christian ministry of healing is heartless, mindless, and hurtful in its exploitation of people when they are most vulnerable. Healing scriptures are often wrapped in religious jargon rich in emotion but poor in theology. This warps the scriptural intent, offers a false hope to the unsuspecting and vulnerable, and often results in the destruction of lives and the plundering of the spiritual and material well-being of good people.
The opposite of this is a frozen theology of healing that overreacts to the popular excesses, and confines healing only to the days of the twelve apostles. Wrong thinking about healing has become an albatross around the neck of the believer and robs people of experiencing healing through the ministry of the local church. We have experiential, as well as biblical, proof that God heals today, and we attempt to strike a balance between these two extremes. Our goal is to avoid formulas and simply share the practical insights that helped sustain us and move us forward in our faith in God’s promises for healing, while heeding medical procedures and advice. Our conviction is that healing is a ministry of the local church.vii
We begin by sharing about our early days of knowing Christ and how we met on the streets of New York City while working with a ministry to drug addicts called Teen Challenge. We then walk through the story of how this disease, coupled with the traumas of pastoral ministry, almost brought death to Loretta as well as to the ministry. We battled through many emotion-laden memories in writing these pages. Woven throughout are incidents and experiences that illustrate how God worked in our lives.
We share our answers to the barrage of fears and questions we had: “Why, God? Is there sin in our lives? How can God allow sickness and disaster in a world He created and loves? This is not fair!” Our treatment of these topics is not exhaustive, but we present answers that calmed our fears and satisfied our queries. Everything we had ever preached or taught was now being called into play for practical use and living.
The verses and biblical stories that grounded our faith are shared. A recurring theme of the book is that faith is not a frenzied emotion without intellectual moorings to ground it. Faith is relational, not a substance that is injected into the bloodstream or dropped out of heaven through some spiritual IV. Faith and trust find their anchor in the character and integrity of God, nurtured by the conduit of God’s Word in the context of an interpersonal relationship with Him.
Jesus is known and believed by many to be a prophet; for instance, He is mentioned 72 times in the Koran. We have found that from the moment of our conception in the womb, God has a specific plan for each one’s life — a plan that cannot be fully realized until Jesus transforms us for the journey each has been designed to live. viii
There is no other name but Jesus whereby we are saved and healed (see Acts 4:12). From my vantage point on the platform, I often observed Loretta with her arms lifted in worship and praise to God . . . and in pain. This was especially meaningful when the chorus, No Other Name, was being sung. The words to that chorus are reprinted here: