“I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”
— Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor
As preachers, we are subject to the same vices as others. We have a natural tendency to overlook the present and put off for tomorrow what we should do today. Often, that has crept in and directed my preaching. I have thought, “Today I will preach this way and tomorrow I will preach that way.” But of course, we are not promised tomorrow. We only get to preach today! If this very day is our one last chance, would we preach differently? What if we preached as if our life depended on it, as if we were to stand before the justice seat immediately afterward and give an account? What if we pleaded with sinners and pleaded the case for evangelical faith? If we spoke as dying men to dying men?
Today I stand ready and I long for that opportunity again. You see, I was a preacher for about 10 years, but I have suffered with a recent diagnosis and it is only with much difficulty that I am writing to you now. After months of what I assumed were headaches and migraines due to stress, an MRI discovered a mass on my brain October 20, 2019—a lime sized tumor in the left frontal lobe of my brain, located in the area that controls speech. I underwent a 5 hour long awake craniotomy to remove as much of the tumor as possible. The surgeon did an exceptional job and was able to resect 95-100% of the tumor. He closely monitored my speech throughout the procedure, but the swelling and trauma of surgery left me, for the time being, conversationally impaired. The surgeons had given me forewarning that I was facing the possibility of being unable to speak at all. So, although it might not be as eloquent, it is a real blessing that I am able to speak today. But that’s not it!
In the course of time, a very long four weeks to be exact, the pathology report came back and suggested that my tumor was what we never imagined but feared all along—that dreaded “C” word—cancer. I had a Grade 3 Anaplastic Oligodendroglioma, a rare and fairly aggressive form of brain cancer. Because of the nature of my tumor, treatment was scheduled to begin as soon as we could come up with the best possible plan of action. It didn’t take long to realize we were headed to MD Anderson in Houston. We packed up the whole family, even bringing along a grandmother for an extra set of hands. After meeting with the oncologist and radiation specialist there we knew we were in the right place. For the following six weeks, we were Texas residents as I received my thirty rounds of radiation. Thankfully, the Lord was gracious to me and I suffered very minimal side effects during the treatment. I am currently waiting for a follow up MRI before beginning chemotherapy. If I tolerate it well, I will complete 6 cycles of chemo over approximately nine months. My journey has been long and yet there is a longer road that lays ahead. October 27th was my last time in the pulpit before my surgery and I pray the Lord will grant me many more opportunities to preach.
Throughout this entire process, my elders have been so patience and understanding, telling me, “Take as much time as you need.” I know I am not ready to ascend that sacred pulpit yet. Like the surgery and radiation, I am faced once again with the unknown side effects that lay ahead with the chemotherapy. But I ask myself, “What if I get the chance to preach again?” If I stepped into the pulpit and preached as a dying man to dying men, how remarkable that would be! You know that’s what we all are anyway. We are all dying preachers preaching to a dying audience. Perhaps you could be driving, and a car could suddenly swerve and hit you. Perhaps you could suffer an aneurism or heart failure and suddenly have a heart attack without anyone knowing. Or perhaps you could suffer from persecution in some different portion of the world and Christ could call you home in an instant.
I don’t say this to cause you alarm, but I speak this way in order that you might take pause from your busy world. I say this so that you might sense, in a very real way, that you might be preaching for the very last time. I say this so that you might do as the Psalmist says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12).
If I get another chance, I firmly resolve to preach in such a way—as a dying man to dying men. You are not promised tomorrow either, so I believe it would be wise for you to make that resolution as well. Preach in such a way that if tomorrow you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, you could glory; that you might say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me” (Phil. 1:21–22).