Dear friends and family,
It's times like these that words are insufficient. They are insufficient to express our gratitutde and they are insufficient to express the thoughts of our hearts. But I will try to do both. I wanted to say two things in this e-mail: first, to give you an update about my physical condition and second, to share what is on my heart spiritually.
At 11:52pm on Friday June 4th, I had a grand mal seizure, complete with shaking, babbling and rigidity. Christina quickly realized what was happening, and responded like a true ER doctor, stabilizing me and making sure I was safe. When I awoke 15 minutes later, I had no recollection of what had happened. We rode into UNC hospital in an ambulance and were taken to the Emergency Department. What we expected to be a routine, pro forma CT scan instead revealed two lesions in my cerebellum/occipital lobe. An MRI later Saturday morning confirmed the presence of a 5 cm mass penetrating my tentorium, the tough lining which separates the two lobes. We were shocked. I had been having some minor headaches, which we attributed to the stress of moving, but had no other major symptoms. On Monday, I had an extended brain surgery to remove the tumor. After several days in the surgical ICU and the neuro ward, I am now at home where I am recovering slowly but happily surrounded by relatives, friends, and lots of delicious homemade food. The tumor is highly atypical and has been sent to some outside specialists at Washington University for pathological analysis, which will determine my future course of treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy are both likely, but the prognosis is still unsure.
Obviously, our first thoughts were of the possibility of immanent death. Christina and I have been married eight wonderful years, and I cannot imagine what my life would have been without her. Adrian arrived fifteen months ago and only increased our joy. He is bubbly, happy, playful. My dreams are full of teaching him and guiding him as he navigates a wondrous, confusing, and difficult world. Baby #2 (a girl) will arrive in early October. Our life was full to overflowing and was full of plans for the future. This brain cancer suddenly changed everything.
But really, the brain cancer changed nothing and that's the second and primary point of this e-mail. As many of you know, I became a Christian in graduate school, sometime after meeting Christina. Like many faith journeys, my path was long, confusing, and traumatic. I didn't know where it would end. I didn't even know that it had begun. But looking back, I can see so clearly that the story of my life is the story of a passionate, holy, perfect God seeking a lost sheep who desperately wanted to remain unfound. I'm writing this e-mail to you now because I love all of you. I have no idea how much longer I have with you, and I want to share with you what is most important to me and now has an added urgency that I cannot ignore. I beg you all to read this e-mail and take it to heart.
The main hope of this letter is a simple one and can be simply stated: take Jesus seriously. I can't make you a Christian. I can't convince you to turn to Jesus for forgiveness of sins, for mercy, for love, for grace, for fellowship in life and in death. But I hope to convince you to take him seriously. It is so easy to take the broad road: to see Jesus as one more great and noble sage along the path of history. It is so easy to dismiss Jesus, to ignore him, to smile faintly and wander away. But that is not a valid response. Reject him if you must. Despise him. Flout him. Curse him. But at least listen to him. At least hear what he has to say. Please don't take my word for it. Go to the Bible and read what He Himself said. Listen to Him.
Everyone seems to have a special place in their heart for Jesus, and how can we not? How can we look at this historial figure, what he taught, what he did, and not be moved? One of the blessings of my experience with apologetics is that I am fully convinced by the archaeological and documentary evidenece of the histiorical accuracy of the New Testament accounts. Through my conversations with atheists and through my own research, I have become more and more convinced that in the Bible we have the real words and real deeds of a real man. We read teaching like "Love your enemies" and "bless those who curse you" and we are melted. No one ever spoke like this man. We see a man of love, touching lepers, lifting up widows and orphans, reaching out to the outcasts and the dispised, and our hearts break. This is the life that we ought to be living. This is the love and gentleness that we know deep inside is right. All our concerns about career and money and sports and entertainment are exposed as superficial trash. Here is the real and the good. Here is life as it should be lived.
But here the tendency to muzzle Jesus becomes almost unbearable. Yes, he is a man of love and compassion. Yes, he is gentle and good. But he calls us wholly, simply, and completely to Himself. Come to me, he says. I must be more important than your job, your mother, your family, or your children. I must be more important than your health, your safety, yes even your own life. I must be your everything. And this is where we falter. Jesus never claims to be one way among many. He claims to be the way. He does not claim to be one hope. He claims to be our only hope. He says that we are either his disciples or we are lost. We are either for him or against him. He says we must either worship Him as our Lord and God or crucify him as a madman. There is no middle way.
The sad, almost unbearable truth that we all need to hear and that Jesus tells us is that we are sinners. We have rejected God. We have substituted all sorts of things in His place: family, career, money, success, sex, country, pogress, our own moral goodness, our own moral sufficiency, our religious attainment. And the tremendous distaster and misery that is human history is this story of idloatry written cosmically as we worship created things instead of our Creator. If our sin were not so great, then we would not need so great a salvation. If our fundamental problem were superficial then it could be cured by therapy or self-esteem or good deeds. But our sin is great beyond reckoning. The offense of our rebellion is dragging us all down into hell and will one day do exactly that. Jesus comes to us and says: I am your only hope.
What we could not and cannot do for ourselves, Jesus can do for us. He lived a life of perfect love for God and He forfeited that life for us. He offers salvation to us as a free gift. Not as a reward for our merit - we don't have any. Not as recompense for our good deeds - we have none. But purely out of his mercy to the undeserving. This is Jesus' message. He calls us completely to Himself and He offers Himself completely to us. He was betrayed and flogged and whipped and crucified and killed and raised to life on the third day all for our salvation. This is what is so offensive to us and what will utterly transform our lives if we accept it. It is either true or false. He demands our complete love, our total devotion, our comprehensive worship. This man is either the God to whom we owe absolutely everything or the devil himself. Either this is God come to rescue us, or this is a Liar. There is no other alternative.
Again, my aim is not to convert you. My aim is not even that you would accept my words or the words of some particular church or denomination. The church is certainly full of error and hypocrisy. I am certainly full of error and hypocrisy. I just want you to listen to Jesus. Read what he said. Take Him seriously. Open up the Bible and listen to Him. It really has nothing to do with me. I know many of you admire my faith and have complimented me on my courage. I count these things as dung. It is not the quality or quantity of my faith that matters, but the object of my faith. Either my sins are forgiven and I will live for all eternity with the God who has forgiven me, or Jesus is a liar. Either Jesus is able to save me to the uttermost, or Christianity is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind. The truth matters. I thank God for this tumor because it has forced me to see him as he truly is, as my greatest treasure and my only real hope.
My prayer is of course for life. For my wife to have a husband and my children to have a father. But even deeper is my desire that God would rescue all of you, that He would make Himself your treasure and that we could rejoice together not just for a few years but for all eternity. You all know me. I would be overjoyed to talk to you, to converse with you, to try to answer your questions. But ultimately, it is not me you have to deal with. I will be here and fighting as long as God gives me the strength and I would love to hear from any of you. But again, it's Jesus himself who is pleading with you.
Please consider what I've said in this letter. We don't get many moments of honesty in this life, but this is one of them. As I've already said, I love you all and will love you all as long as I live.
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