The Advance of the Gospel Through Suffering

As a pastor I sit in a privileged perch. My vocation affords me the opportunity to see the impact of one life on an entire church.

About a year ago Eric Miller was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Now, at the age of 61, he is counting his time on earth not in weeks or months, but hours. Short of a miracle, Eric will breath his last breath at Bellingham’s Hospice House.

Eric has suffered. Even with all of the benefits of modern medicine and the constant care of family and friends, Eric has been called by God to persevere under affliction. And he has — beautifully.

I am seeing first-hand how one man’s faith is serving to advance the gospel.

Eric is not in denial. From the beginning he has understood the gravity of his diagnosis. But Jesus, not cancer, was going to have the final word in Eric’s life. And Eric’s testimony to God’s grace in Christ is sounding forth even as I type.

What I am watching unfold at Immanuel is not unlike what happened in the apostle Paul’s day when he saw the gospel advance through his chains:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1:12-14).

Just as Paul’s suffering in chains “served to advance the gospel . . . throughout the whole imperial guard,” so Eric Miller’s cancer is serving to advance the gospel among us. I see it in the encouragement cards I have the privilege of hand-delivering and in the tears cried on his behalf. I hear about it in the various conversations I have with church members and in the prayer meetings I frequent. A whole church is being emboldened in the faith because of one man’s faithfulness through suffering.

Perhaps the advance of the gospel through Eric’s life is seen most brilliantly in a recent email I received from a church member who is out of town for an extended period of time. Here’s an excerpt:

Hi Pastor Mike: Wanted to let you know how we feel a little bit closer to home by listening to your sermons on line. Listened last to the topic of the mission of the Church, and how you stressed the importance of discipleship, and further, to be fishers of men. I loved it! (and needed it). . . . and Lord, help me to be more like Eric Miller, but more, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the sermon referred to above I invoked Eric’s faithfulness through suffering as a model of discipleship. I pointed to him as an example worthy of emulation. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). I’m watching an entire church strive to be imitators of Eric, as he is of Christ.

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One Response to The Advance of the Gospel Through Suffering

  1. SusannaG says:

    Soon we’ll all be together around God’s Forever Table in his big, big House. We love you, Eric!

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