Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We Are Sabbath, Part III: Cancer and the Sabbath

Guest post by Travis Claybrooks

A black guy, his Mexican wife, two niños, and a blaxican baby – that was us moving to Shelton, Nebraska. Needless to say, we were a bit concerned about the future of our “social” life, moving to the heartland of America. As it’s turned out, the good folks in Shelton are some of the best folks we’ve ever known.

About a week or two after we moved here, Karin, one of the pillars of the community came over to introduce herself. Karin is just about one of the most genuine and friendly people you’ll ever know. Over the past year or so she has proven to be a loyal friend – and I mean loyal!

On one of her weekly visits, Karin began to share a rather bitter experience in her life. The tears overflowed her eyes and flooded her face as she told us of her father, Dwight, and his battle with liver cancer. Dwight had been told six months before that he only had about 3-6 months to live since the cancer had metastasized from his bile duct to his liver. It was painfully clear that she was grieving the inevitable. Not having dealt with cancer in our immediate or even extended family, we did our best to comfort her.

Several weeks later, Karin came over to invite us to Dwight’s birthday party. “We’re having fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, corn bread, and a big birthday cake,” she beamed. Now how could a brotha turn down a buffet line-up like that?! Gabriella and I had never met Dwight and thought this would be a fun time to share, especially since he was battling cancer.


As you probably know, cancer is simply a bunch of useless cells that grow and reproduce uncontrollably. Cancer begins when the DNA in one single solitary cell gets damaged from something like radiation (x-rays, sunlight, etc.) or chemical exposure (nicotine or others chemicals present in our foods).

Here are a few other notable facts about cancer that are useful for our conversation:

  • Cancer cells do not die like normal cells. Instead, they actually stimulate the body to grow blood vessels around themselves resulting in uncontrollable growth, both in size and number.
  • Sometimes the cells from a cancerous tumor will break off, travel through the bloodstream to another part of the body, and start another tumor. When this happens we say the cancer has metastasized.
  • Cancer cells have absolutely no function that supports life in the body.
We had a great time at Dwight’s birthday party. As Dwight opened cards and read them aloud one after another, tears began to flow down that rather stoic face of his. Children of his all the way down to the 4th generation were there. There was a sense that this birthday was somehow more special than all of the other 79 before. He had greeted and even shaken hands with his own mortality. He knew the end was near. Yet, he seemed to be especially thankful to be celebrating a birthday he thought he’d never live to see. Dwight passed away on July 19 of this year. I’m sure I’ll see you again my friend.

The Heart of the Matter

Sabbath. When Adam sinned, the perfection he bore from the hand of his Father was lost. Adam’s decision at that tree brought with it consequences that would alter his perfect DNA in ways that I’m sure he could never have imagined. As descendants of Adam we have inherited this dysfunctional DNA. We call it sin, but in the daily life of all of us it’s really a cancer with some of the following characteristics:
  • The nature of sin is that it doesn’t die simply by trying hard to get rid of it. Instead, it takes the best of what we are and feeds off of it until we are consumed from within.
  • Once sin takes root and gets established in one area of our lives, it has the capacity to break off and spread to other areas of our lives. It can metastasize!
  • Sin has absolutely no function that supports life.
Thank you Jesus for the Chemotherapy of Calvary and the Radiation Therapy of the Resurrection!!! These events have given us birthdays that we should have never seen. Because of them, Jesus is able to systemically destroy the cancer of sin within us, burning away each and every rampaging bit of guilt that accompanies it.

It is in this sense that Sabbath takes on a whole new meaning that is not at all unrelated to the original purpose of Sabbath. As we discussed in Part II, God established Sabbath as a weekly celebration of the birth of his son Adam; a weekly celebration of his spiritual, mental, physical, and social perfection; a weekly celebration of the relationship between a Father and a son. Though all of this was lost in one moment, through Jesus it is all restored. Jesus has made that relationship and that perfection a reality for us again – not of our own power but by the power of the Creator.

And so, Sabbath today is very much like Dwight’s last birthday party. It's about celebrating a life that we should have never had. It now has a special meaning in addition to the original. It’s a celebration not only of the original creation but of a return to that original creation.

Personal Reflection

I have not embraced the above meaning as a Sabbath keeper. I have understood it intellectually, but have never incorporated it into that 24 hour period from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. Because I fail so miserably in dealing with the sin problem in my personal life, I have at times found myself loosing hope of ever returning to that original creation.

Simultaneously, I sometimes give up on that relationship with my Father because I feel ashamed of those failures. I have recently become resentful of Sabbath keeping the way I’ve always done it. Here’s why. I’ve discovered that my Father has implanted in me a very strong desire to be the way He originally created me and Sabbath keeping as usual doesn’t really address that. In fact, it has buried that desire under the rubbish of churchianity and religiosity, impostors of real and true Christianity. I don’t feel that I have entered into the “rest” that has been prepared for me.

In Part IV, I will explore Paul’s thoughts about entering into that Sabbath rest found in Hebrews 4 as well as Jesus’ thoughts about the same – “Come unto me…”


Travis, and his wife Gabriella, are the founders of of an exciting wellness ministry in Nebraska.  You may contact him via his Facebook profile. This article was originally posted on Facebook here.