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An Open Letter to Chris Leavell

In the Nick of Time

Dear Chris,

From your father’s email I have learned of your current condition. As I understand it, the melanoma has spread throughout your body. The best your physicians can hope to do is to slow its growth and to lengthen your earthly life a bit. My family and I have been stunned by the speed and extent of this discovery. I can only imagine what you and your family must be facing in this hour.

You’ve had a few days for the clamor to die down and for the reality to sink in. According to the note, while I am writing this letter your physicians are placing the port that will allow you to receive chemical treatments. Those treatments will begin tomorrow. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the toughest hours of your life are right in front of you. Real suffering has begun, and it will end only when the Lord is pleased to bring you into His immediate presence through the death of your body.

These are realities. They remind us that sin has bludgeoned us with a curse and that death assaults us as an enemy. There is nothing pretty or romantic about what you’re going through. It is hard and cruel and, for many people, utterly devastating.

At the risk of presuming upon our friendship, and knowing that I am violating certain social niceties, I wish to write to you publicly. Why? Because, although the cancer is in your body, it is not yours alone. It has brought suffering to your family. It has hurt your friends. What affects you affects many throughout Christ’s body. So before the many I wish to state four verities. Here they are.

First, I thank God that he brought us together in friendship. Genuine friendships are rare gifts. They come to us seldom. In our case, the doing was mainly yours. You knew about me but I did not know about you. You were the one who sought me out and initiated the conversation. Then came one of those moments of discovery about which C. S. Lewis once wrote—those moments when you look at someone else and exclaim, “You, too?”

You have proven yourself to be a true and generous friend. In our relationship you have given more than you have received. Indeed, you have given without thought of receiving. So it is important for me to tell you that you have at least one friend who is standing with you in your affliction. Tell me what you need. I’ll help however I can.

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Second, I rejoice in the work that God has done through you. God has not seen fit to make you a celebrity, but He has given you a ministry. I have observed your pastoral work. I know you to have been a faithful man who has made the most of the gifts that God has given you. You have taught and preached the Scriptures. You have been a shepherd to your people. You have improved your mind and exercised your soul. You have sought to guide the work of God in one of His churches, helping your people to appropriate truth that they might never otherwise have encountered. To the best of your ability, you have built upon the foundation of Christ and you have labored in gold, silver, and precious stones. I celebrate Paul’s words about the pastor who builds this way: “He shall receive a reward.” I believe that these words apply to you. You have labored in obscurity on earth, but you will have the praise of heaven.

Third, I want to remind you that God intends your circumstances for good. This truth sounds terribly clichéd, but it really is important to remember. Granted, your present circumstances are genuinely evil. Death and decay came into the world as part of God’s curse upon sin. Even we who have the first-fruits of the Spirit groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption (the redemption of our bodies at the resurrection). In itself, the affliction is bad.

Nevertheless, this same affliction is intended by God. It did not happen by accident or without God’s knowledge or permission. Instead, God chose these exact circumstances for your life because He intends to do something in and through you.

Please remember that to accomplish His good purpose, God did not even spare His own Son. Why should He then spare us? No, instead of sparing His Son, God delivered Him up for us. On the one hand, God loved us that much—enough to give Christ for us—which means that He loves us enough to give us all things. On the other hand, if the sufferings of Christ were God’s way of doing good, and if Christ was willing to endure the cross because He knew that the suffering would lead to greater joy, then can we not afford to bear a light and momentary affliction in order to gain a far more exceeding weight of glory?

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Chris, God is doing something through your pain. In fact, He is doing many things. He is not only changing you, but also me and everyone else who is touched by your suffering. He is opening and closing doors. He is using you to make provision for goals that He intends to accomplish in the future, perhaps generations hence. Your suffering will not be wasted, nor is it meaningless. You have the liberty to keep rejoicing, right to the end.

Fourth and finally, thank you for your example. Let me quote the words that you wrote to your family and friends.

…[H]ere is the reality. God is good and merciful to those that trust in Him. This news today has brought much tears and sorrow to family and friends. But all this sorrow is temporary. The reality is God has already had the last word on this cancer long before I was born. When Jesus rose from the dead and became the first fruits of the resurrection this cancer was defeated. It torments us for just a short time but soon will be swallowed up by eternal life. Even though it is a time of sorrow, our family is enveloped in peace that only comes to those whose faith and trust rests in the Lord.

Thank you for these words. They are one of the reasons for an open letter. I wish that this paragraph could be written on the heart of every child of God, for what is true of your pain is also true of ours. The decisive battle has already been fought. The victory has already been won. Your melanoma has already been judged. This enemy has been paraded in defeat before the eyes of heaven. Death is swallowed up in victory.

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We shall still pray that God might heal you if that is His will. We shall also pray that you and your family will gain from this experience everything that God wishes to give you. And, as you have requested, we shall pray that God will glorify Himself, giving you and your family unfeigned faith for this hour.

Your brother,

Kevin T. Bauder

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This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Psalm 37
Anna Steele

Let no evil thought distress thee,
Let no fretting grieve thy peace.
Fleeting is this little hour
Til all evil things shall cease.
Fear no bitter fleeting hour,
For all evil things shall cease.

God the Lord is well ordaining
All that harms or grieves thee here.
Fools or fiends may now be reigning:
Trust the Lord and do not fear.
They shall fade like flowers at evening
Nevermore to blossom here.

Now the world may speak thee evil,
Now all evil things befall,
But thy judgment stands forever
With the Lord who judges all:
He shall justify forever
Faith and hope and labors all.

Strife and ills are here ordained us,
All the trials of the blessed:
Though we fall, our God maintains us,
Strengthens us and keeps us fast.
He has destined and ordained us
More than conquerors at last.

They who seek a holy treasure
Shall be granted what they seek:
Heart’s desire beyond all measure,
Peace and gladness of the meek.
Love’s great fire shall pass all measure
And shall beautify the meek.

Glory let us give and blessing
To the Father and the Son
With the Holy Ghost, confessing
Holy threefold love in One:
All creating, all redressing,
God alone while ages run.

© 2015. Poem used under Creative Commons public license.

Kevin T. Bauder

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.

One Response to An Open Letter to Chris Leavell

  1. Kevin, I am Christopher’s aunt, younger sister of Monte, Christopher’s father. I want to say thank you for your – as elequintly stated as you can hope for – letter you posted for Christopher! As I read your letter, I realized you had found the words, the strength, the compassion, and the love that we, his family and friends, feel for Christopher. And for that I AM GRATEFUL! I do not know how to look my nephew in the eye, nor his aching parents, wife and children, and express how I feel!! But upon reading your posting, I am able to rest assured that Christopher now knows all the thoughts running through my mind and most assuredly his family and friends minds. Well done, Kevin. Well done. Blessings to you, Christopher, and all of us that surround Christopher. I really really am grateful for your posting!

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