Many of you know I have cancer. I’ve been living with it for 3 years. Most people, when they find out I have cancerUsually say something like, “I’m so sorry.” I appreciate that. I really do. However, cancer has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. These past 3 years HAVE been hard. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything. It all boils down to the sovereignty of God. By that I mean, God really is in control, even when I experience hard things. Especially, when I experience hard things.
Today, I’m just going to tell a few stories. Stories from the life of the man I admired more than any other. Through those stories I’m going to unpack God’s sovereignty in the hard moments of life. If you’re like me, they will encourage you as you face the challenges in your life.
Today, October 19, is my dad’s 102nd birthday. He’s celebrated his last 21 birthdays in heaven.
My dad, Bill Bright was born on a ranch 5 miles outside Coweta, Oklahoma. It was my grandmother’s 7th pregnancy. She had miscarried in her prior pregnancy. She almost lost my dad 3 times. And at one point she nearly died. But she prayed, “God, if you will give me this child, I will give him back to you.”
Many of you are probably thinking, “Isn’t that the same prayer Hannah prayed in 1 Samuel chapter 1? Yes, it is. My grandmother read her Bible every day. I’m sure she was very familiar with that story. On Oct 19, 1921 she safely delivered her 6th child, Bill Bright.
23 years later my dad drove out to Hollywood to make his millions. Like his father and grandfather before him he was an Agnostic and very Ambitious. But that’s not a problem for God.
Driving into L.A. dad picked up a hitchhiker alongside the road. The hitchhiker asked where he was staying. My dad said he didn’t know since this was the first time he’d ever come to California. The hitchhiker invited him to stay with the family he was living with. It just so happened it was the home of Dawson Trotman the founder of the Navigators’ Ministry.
But that’s not all. That night they invited him to go with them to a friend’s birthday party—Dan Fuller. Dan started Fuller Seminary a few years later.
Concidence? I think not.
ON DAY ONE, God arranged for my dad to meet REAL Christians. Men and women who LOVED JESUS, not just MILK TOAST Christians (as my dad would often say). God exposed him to REAL Christianity—on DAY ONE.
The sovereign God was beginning to answer my grandmother’s 23-year-old prayer. As my dad would later say: “My mother’s prayers caught up with me.” That, folks, is what we mean when we say GOD IS SOVEREIGN. God is in control.
STORY: THE COLORADO FLOOD
On July 31, 1976, Colorado experienced a 100-year flood. The BIG THOMPSON CANYON FLOOD.
My mother and all the top women leaders of CCC were gathered at a campground in Big Thompson Canyon. It was just prior to the beginning of CCC’s U.S. staff training conference where all 5,000 U.S. staff were gathering for the week. At 7:30 pm, my mom called my dad to say the police had told everyone a flood was coming and to get to higher ground. My dad, who grew up on the plains of Oklahoma told her to go climb a tree. He had NO idea what was about to occur.
A few minutes later a 20-foot wall of water burst down the canyon destroying over 400 homes & businesses, sweeping away 400 cars and violently ending 144 lives.
My dad spent the night at the makeshift morgue set up in a high school gym, helping to identify the dead bodies, never knowing whether the next body might be his wife. He saw broken body after broken body—eyes forever fixed with terror.
But folks, don’t miss what I am about to say: The faces of our 7 staff women who died in the flood all exuded a peace that only God can give. Even in death, their peaceful faces made an unmistakable statement to everyone in the morgue that night.
The next morning at 8:00 am all 5,000 US staff gathered in Moby Gym at CSU. My dad got up, announced what had happened, and then read Psalm 150. 6 short verses. It begins with “Praise the Lord.” It continues with Praise the Lord in the sanctuary. Praise the Lord with trumpets. And finally it ends with “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
He read those passages still not knowing if his wife was alive or dead. A friend of mine, Wendell Deyo, said it was one of the most significant moments of his life, when he saw my dad praising God in the midst of horrible tragedy.
You can say that God is sovereign, that he’s in control, But that’s what it looks like to EMBRACE the sovereignty of God. The will of God.
Later that day my dad had to call the families of each of the 7 women who died. A friend of mine, Robert Pittenger, was with him as he made the calls. He later told me what happened.
He said that at one point my dad said, “I can’t do this.” Ney Bailey, one of our staff members who was also there, said, “Bill, you have to.” How do you move forward at a moment like that? You must embrace the love and sovereignty of God. You must embrace that God is in control.
One of the women whose parents my dad had to call was Terry Bissing. I had been with her 4 months earlier up at Breckenridge. She was there for a CCC leadership conference. I was there to ski over spring break. She was an excellent skier, So, during her free time she coached me. She was like an older sister. But here’s what she said, “I would be willing to give my life if it would result in my parents coming to know Jesus the way I do.” Through her death God sovereignly granted her prayer.
A prayer like that fully embraces the sovereignty of God. It says, “God, you are in control.”
STORY: KC ‘83
7 years later I was with my dad in Kansas City for a CCC student conference called KC ’83. 17,000 college students showed up. Opening day was December 27th. My dad and I were backstage in the green room waiting for him to go on.
Someone came over and said, “Bill there’s a call for you. It’s about your mother.” My dad took the call. His 93-year-old mother, whom he loved DEARLY, had passed away. Moments later the tears streamed down his face. But what I saw on his face was not just intense grief. I saw overwhelming joy at the same time. I had never seen that before.
How can 2 such contradictory emotions inhabit the same person at the same time? His grief was real. But so was his joy. Folks, the grief was the result of losing his mother. The joy was the result of trusting in a sovereign God.
That’s what EMBRACING God’s sovereignty looks like.
That same year I was with my dad in his office as a reporter for a Christian magazine interviewed him. Most of the questions were pretty much boiler plate. But then the reporter asked, “Dr. Bright, share with me a problem you have that the average Christian can relate to.” My dad replied, “I don’t have any problems.” The reporter responded, “Dr. Bright, let’s not over spiritualize this, we all have problems.”
He then proceeded to ask the question 7 times, in 7 different ways trying to get my dad to admit that he had problems. Finally, my dad leaned forward, looked the reporter directly in the eye and said, “I’m a slave of Jesus. It is not the slave’s responsibility to be successful. The only responsibility of the slave is to do what the Master asks him to do. When you understand that, You also understand that you don’t have problems, You only have opportunities to see the Master work.”
It immediately stuck me like a ton of bricks that that statement did NOT come from my dad’s head, It came from his gut.
God is sovereign. God is in control. Once you fully embrace his sovereignty, your problems transform into opportunities to see Him work.
STORY: BILL CLINTON
9 years later I was with my dad on election night in 1992. The media had just declared Bill Clinton the winner.
Two weeks before the election, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ran an editorial in which they said, “It doesn’t bother us that Bill Clinton is a liar. It doesn’t bother us that Bill Clinton is duplicitous. What bothers us is that it doesn’t seem to bother him.”
All my growing up years I had heard my dad say, “A man is only as good as his word.”
My dad had a razor strap my grandfather gave him. It was about twice the thickness of a regular belt. I knew two things would inevitably earn me an appointment with that razor strap: Lying, and talking back to my mom. The 2 things that most deeply offended my dad were liars and womanizers. Bill Clinton was both.
My dad slid out of his chair that evening, got down on his knees and thanked God that Bill Clinton had been elected President. That’s how you EMBRACE the sovereignty of God.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” How many times over the years did I hear my dad quote that verse.
STORY: PULMONARY FIBROSIS
Fast forward to the year 2,000. My dad had previously been diagnosed with prostate cancer and diabetes. Now the final shoe fell. The doctor said, “Bill you have pulmonary fibrosis. You’re going to choke to death.”
In that moment, my dad responded, “Thank you Lord.” The doctor got upset and said, “I don’t think you understand what I said, you are going to die a horrible death.”
My dad fully understood. But he also fully EMBRACED the sovereignty of God. As he said to me, “For 50 years God has allowed me the privilege of showing others how to live as a Christian. Now I have the privilege of showing others how to die as a Christian.”
For the next 3 years whenever I would ask my dad how he was doing, he would always respond, “I’m rejoicing in the Lord.” Folks, you can ONLY say that if you EMBRACE God’s sovereignty.
But there’s one other part of this story that most people don’t know. He often said he wanted to spend his final years writing and praying. Being permanently attached to an oxygen tank meant he had to quit traveling, and stay home.
For the previous 50 years He’d traveled 80% of the time. But now, because he had to stay home, he was able to focus on two things: Writing & praying. Those final 3 years he wrote 1 book about every 3 months. But he prayed a lot too. I would often walk into his bedroom. He’d be propped up in his bed, fast asleep with his Bible on his lap, head fallen forward and his reading glasses slipped halfway down his nose.
He wasn’t focused on the disease that wracked his body. He was focused on the sovereign God of the universe. That’s how you EMBRACE God’s sovereignty.
A few moments after my dad passed away my 8-year-old son crawled up on the bed next to his grandfather, took his hand and said, “Grandfather, I hope you have fun in heaven.”
My dad had been looking forward to going home to be with the Lord with such EAGER anticipation, that even my 8-year-old son had picked up on it. My dad fully embraced the sovereignty of God.
STORY: MY CANCER
As I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, God BLESSED me with cancer 3 years ago. At first, I didn’t think of it as a blessing. I just thought of it as something I had to go through, trusting God to give me the strength to bear. I didn’t question his will. I was fully resigned to it. And that was the problem. I was NOT not EMBRACING it. Now I see cancer as one of God’s greatest blessings in my life.
3 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. 2-1/2 years ago they operated and said they got it all. But a year ago this month, the doctor said, “You have stage 4 metastatic cancer. We can slow it down, but we can’t cure you.” It was a slow but certain death sentence. From that moment on, I’ve not had a single moment of despair or hopelessness.
Death doesn’t scare me, But don’t get me wrong, I do not like pain. But the difference is, I have chosen to EMBRACE God’s sovereignty. His will.
There are 2 REASONS why I've been able to….
First, in April of last year God and I had a conversation: He said, “Brad, you really BELIEVE in my sovereignty, don’t you?” I said, “Yes Lord, I do.” But then He said, “But….” “But you don’t EMBRACE my sovereignty. You respond more like Eeyore than Tigger.”
OUCH! But God was right.
For those of you who read Winnie the Pooh to your kids you know exactly what I mean. EEYORE was a PESSIMIST, a GRUMPY donkey, who always saw the glass half empty. TIGGER was an extreme OPTIMIST, a BOUNCY tiger, who always saw the glass half full.
God said, “Brad, you often RESIGN yourself to my sovereignty rather than EMBRACING it like my servant Job.” Remember Job in the Bible? He lost ALL his wealth. He lost ALL his children. He lost his health.
But how did he respond? Sitting in ashes he said, “The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” God then said to me, “Brad, I want to give you your heart’s desire. It begins with teaching you to be more like my servant Job.”
I’m your coach. As your coach, it is my responsibility to make you do the things you don’t want to do, so that you may become what you want to become.
I should have clued in that God was getting ready to give me a hard blessing, but I didn’t. Not until the moment the doctor told me I was a dead man walking. Only then did I realize what God had in mind.
The 2nd REASON I’ve been able to EMBRACE God’s sovereignty in the midst of cancer was my dad’s EXAMPLE. He not only modeled for the WORLD what it is like to die as a Christian, he modeled it for his son. As he said 100 times, “I’m rejoicing in the Lord.
Here’s what I know today: God IS sovereign. He never says “Oops!” He never says, “If only I’d seen that coming.” Nothing can happen to me apart from his sovereign will.
Apart from the pain, the hardest part of this process for me is needing to sleep 9-10 hours every night, rather than 6. My dad only slept 3-4 hours a night for 50 years. I thought 6 was a lot. Now I have to sleep 9-10 hours every night in order to function the other 14-15 hours. That feels like such a waste of time. But daily, I have to trust that God never says, “OOPS!”
BTW, 3 months ago the doctor said the cancer in my lymph nodes had pretty much disappeared. He said that what was left was probably benign. The only remaining spot was in my bone. He said he could go after that with high dose radiation.
I’m not out of the woods. I still have cancer. It could metastasize again without warning. But I have chosen to EMBRACE the will of our sovereign God. Whether I live or whether I die, nothing can happen to me apart from His sovereign will. I learned THAT from watching my dad face deep disappointment, facing the deaths of people he loved, and facing his own death.
Folks, when you receive HARD NEWS and can say, “Thank you Lord,” When you can say in your PAIN, “I’m rejoicing in the Lord,” When you can say in your DESPAIR, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” That’s what it means to EMBRACE the will of our sovereign God.
God is the issue — in every issue.