Never Assume You Have Tomorrow

by Baptist Press via the Baptist Standard

Ernest Easley shows students a radiation mask from his treatment. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary photo by Derick Wilson.Nothing can take a Christian's life until God has fulfilled His plan for that person's life, Odessa pastor and cancer survivor Ernest Easley told students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"Cancer can't take you, a car accident can't take you. There's absolutely nothing that can take you from here until you have fulfilled the plan and the purposes of God," said Easley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Odessa.

On the other hand, though, "there's absolutely nothing that can keep you here after you have fulfilled the purposes and plans of God," he said, quoting the eighteenth-century evangelist George Whitefield to add, "I am immortal until my work is done."

"Never assume that you have tomorrow," he warned. "It doesn't matter how young you are. It doesn't matter how old you are, how educated you are.

"Don't put off something that needs to be done today," he continued, "Whether it's getting right with God, whether it's getting right with a spouse, whether it's getting right with a friend, whether it's sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with a friend, a neighbor."

Easley spoke as one who has stared death in the face. Eighteen months ago, he was a 40-year-old pastor in the prime of his career. Then he discovered a lump in a lymph node in his neck. A series of examinations and painful biopsies revealed a fast-growing malignant cancer in one lymph node.

Easley remembers when the doctor told him and his wife, Julie, the bad news. "We sat there in his office on Oct. 12 (1998), never dreaming in a million worlds what I was about to hear," he said.

In the next couple of days, his doctor took more biopsies and found Easley's right tonsil was the primary source of the malignancy. The doctor removed the tonsil and a day later recommended a much more invasive surgery: an ear-to-ear incision and removal of every lymph node and all muscle tissue that might be infected. That surgery could have included removal of the pastor's voice box.

Easley sought a second opinion from doctors at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. After seeing seven head-and-neck oncologists, he was given an alternative: forty-four radiation treatments, which would require him to move to Houston.

Scared and confused, Easley and his wife returned home to Odessa to tell their family and the church the news. He likened his situation to that of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:1-6. In the text, Hezekiah was deathly ill and had been told by the prophet Isaiah to " set your house in order, for you shall die. " With much weeping, Hezekiah petitioned God to extend his life, and God did so.

Like Hezekiah, Easley knew he needed to set his house in order, which he did. And like Hezekiah, he prayed and wept.

Before leaving for Houston, Easley went to his backyard, which he called his Gethsemane, to be alone with God. There he raised his hands to God and with tears prayed: "God, I have begged you to maximize my life for you. And God, I know You're aware of what's happening here in my life right now….God, I believe with all my heart there's absolutely nothing that can come to me except what comes through You. And … for that reason, I thank You for this cancer."

"I didn't like it; I didn't understand it, but I thanked Him for the cancer," Easley said. "I said, ‘God, I don't know if I'm going to live or die, but I do know this: I know that I trust you with everything I have."

For a couple of years before his diagnosis, the pastor had been praying for God to "maximize" his life. Armed with that remembrance, he decided to look for a bright side in God's answer to his prayer.

As the doctors laid him on the table for the first treatment in Houston, "I began praising God. I began thanking him for the day, thanking him for saving me."

He continued giving thanks throughout the ten-minute treatments, five days a week, for six weeks.

God granted Hezekiah fifteen more years of life, Easley pointed out, and the king continued to worship God and began to record the word of God.

"What would you do differently if God gave you an extension?" he asked." Would you do anything differently than you are doing right now?"