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Acts 29 Pastor Suffers Well with Cancer

Acts 29 Pastor Suffers Well with Cancer

by Scott Thomas

 

Matt and Lauren Chandler walk with their three kids in their Flower Mound Texas neighborhood. AP Photo

 

When I got an early morning phone call on Thanksgiving while I was still in bed and looking forward to a lazy morning, I was stunned but hopeful. My friend Yancey called me to say that Matt Chandler, an Acts 29 board member and my personal friend, passed out that morning and was rushed to the hospital. Matt was diagnosed with a tumor on the right side of his brain. My normal optimism and my affection for Matt as a person and my deep respect for him as an infectiously charismatic Christian leader dragged me into believing it was going to be okay. But something inside me kept telling me that this wasn't the story that was going to be told.

 

I arrived at the Baylor Hospital in Dallas the morning of Matt's surgery. He greeted me in the preparatory room with his usual charm, "Scotty. C'mon." Donned with a blue surgical cap, he told me stories of other tumor patients and his plans to visit them. He told me how that if you are going to have a tumor, the right side is the side to have it. It encouraged me but I was cautious. I told him a story of how one of his surgical team's family had visited The Village on Sunday for the first time and were blessed. I prayed with him and then joined the rest of the Village pastors and the parents of Lauren and Matt in the private waiting room where Desiring God had graciously provided pastries and coffee. I was blessed by his fellow pastors and I saw in them an authentic trust in a sovereign God who loved Matt regardless of the unpredictable outcome.

 

Days after the surgery, we waited for the pathology report. It seemed to take longer than normal. When news came that he indeed had a malignant tumor, I physically shook and could not think clearly. I immediately called Mark Driscoll, my pastor and Matt's friend, and we consoled each other with seemingly incoherent words as we recognized the impact on his sweet family, a booming church and an entire network that is much better because of his partnership with us. For days afterward, I cried often whenever I thought about Matt. I prayed. I hurt.

 

The author of a beautiful AP article about Matt's condition said, "Chandler is trying to suffer well. He would never ask for such a trial, but in some ways he welcomes this cancer. He says he feels grateful that God has counted him worthy to endure it. He has always preached that God will bring both joy and suffering but is only recently learning to experience the latter."

 

Matt is in the midst of a 6-week aggressive radiation and chemo theapy. He remains upbeat and is preaching powerfully once again. He said in the AP story, "This has not surprised God. He is not in a panic right now trying to figure out what to do with me or this disease." Matt and Lauren struggle with thoughts about the new normal that is now their life. Matt says, "We never felt — still have not felt — betrayed by the Lord or abandoned by the Lord."

 

After hearing the news of his cancer--grade 3 out of 4, Matt said, "Lord, you gave this to me for a reason. Let me run with it and do the best I can with it." John Piper himself experienced cancer and through his life taught Matt how not to waste cancer on anything outside treasuring God. Piper continues to embody how we can theologically rest in suffering as an opportunity to glorify God as we are satisfied in Him regardless of our circumstances. Matt is now showing us what it means to suffer well. "If he suffers well, that might be the most important sermon he's ever preached," said Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church.

 

My thoughts about this have rested in a theology of suffering that I too have learned from Piper and have shared elsewhere. I am reminded of the response of Jesus when his disciples asked Him, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Now, we can get the answer to the reason we are suffering. Why did he deserve this infliction of blindness upon his body? Why does anybody deserve to suffer? Jesus answered them with what I imagine as a look of deep love and compassion for them like a father telling his small children that their grandma died accompanied with careful explanation of her eternal state.  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 6:3) Emphasis mine.

 

I love Matt but I know God loves him more. Father, may your works be displayed brilliantly in Matt Chandler for Your glory and our eventual joy.

 

You can keep up with Matt's progress on The Village Church Pastor's Blog.

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Scott Thomas has served as the President of Acts 29 Network and a Pastor at Mars Hill Church. Scott has been a pastor for 30 years—first as a youth pastor and then as a lead pastor and church planter/church replanter for 16 years.