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My Christian life: A pastor with brain cancer finds true strength

A blog written by a pastor during his struggle with brain cancer reveals where his—and our—true strength lies.

“In August 2018, I was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.”

That’s how Paul Brug, first a parish pastor and then a teacher and coach at Shoreland Lutheran High School, Kenosha, Wis., started his blog named “Nothing can separate.” In this blog, Paul shared his reflections on God’s grace and promises as he battled cancer. He died April 20, 2020, at the age of 48. Here are a few of his posts.

Sept. 2, 2018—On being strong

“You got this.” “You’re the strongest person I know.” “You’re such an inspiration.”

Many of you have said things like this to me over the past few weeks. And I appreciate it. I really do. If God is glorified in my response to cancer, I am humbly grateful for that.

At the same time, though, these statements make me feel a little uncomfortable. First of all, like everyone else, I have fallen short—often way, way short—of living God’s way, glorifying him, and showing love to the people around me. God doesn’t owe it to me to cure my cancer. He doesn’t owe me anything. Actually, it’s the other way around. I owe him, and I haven’t come close to giving him what he deserves.

And it’s not as if I am perfectly strong in every way all the time. This whole thing is a roller coaster for me just as much as it is for anyone else. In fact, I think it ironically can be discouraging to think that you have to be strong and positive all the time. It’s an impossibly high standard to live up to for weak human beings.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the importance of a positive attitude. As a coach, I understand how important it is for athletes to believe that they can be successful. . . .

But there are limitations to what a positive attitude can do. If God calls me home to heaven through this cancer, it won’t be because I wasn’t strong enough or positive enough or because he doesn’t care. And if God extends my life, it won’t be because I was better or stronger or prayed harder than someone else. It will be because he is loving and merciful and uses all things for our good.

I’m not stronger than cancer, and I can’t make the cancer go away simply by the power of my will. But I know Someone who can. And any strength, hope, or comfort I have has to come from him.

It has been my job to teach students about God’s love and grace every day at Shoreland Lutheran High School. My involvement with football and wrestling gives the chance to keep reminding young men what it means to live your life knowing that you are a redeemed child of God. Those very things that I keep talking to them about every day in class and devotions—the promises of God—are the things I kept thinking about in the hospital and that bring me strength, hope, and comfort.

So if I have the appearance of “being strong,” it’s not really anything special about me. It’s because I have had an extraordinary chance to talk and think about God’s love and promises in Jesus Christ, day after day, year after year. And that’s God’s work, not mine.

Since I went into the hospital, I’ve thought a lot about the story of the Roman centurion in Luke 7:1-10. He is someone you would call a “strong person.” He was a Roman respected by his Jewish neighbors. Even Jesus himself would eventually go on to say, “I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

When his highly valued servant was sick and dying, the centurion and the people around him turned to Jesus for help. The elders who went to Jesus on his behalf pleaded earnestly, “This man deserves to have you do this because he loves our nation and has built our synogogue.”

But the centurion would have none of that. And that’s where, to me, it gets interesting. Here the centurion reveals the source of his strength. Hint: It wasn’t in being a good, generous, godly person (which, at least according to the people around him, he was). Instead, he sent friends to Jesus with a message: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But you say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

His strength came from this: He recognized who was weak (himself) and who was strong (Jesus). He didn’t expect Jesus to heal his servant or think that he deserved it. But he knew enough about Jesus’ love not to be afraid to ask him for help. And he knew enough about Jesus’ power to make a big request: “Say the word, and my servant will be healed.” He didn’t need Jesus to make a big show of it or even come to his house. Just a word from him would do.

I don’t presume to compare myself to the centurion, but I certainly ask God to help me pray like him. I don’t expect Jesus to heal me or think that he owes it to me, but I know he has the power just to “say the word” and do whatever pleases him. And more important, I know he still cares. I know he loves me, my family, and all of you because he gave his life for us.

And he even invites me to ask (Matthew 7:7). So I do: “Lord, I don’t deserve even to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and your servant will be healed.”

That’s a prayer I’ve been praying a lot. I invite you to pray it too.

April 22, 2019, The day after Easter—cancer can never win

Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate proof that cancer can never win. No matter what it may do to my body or abilities, it cannot take away the love of God shown on the cross of Christ or the forgiveness he won for me there.

No matter how long my battle with cancer goes, it will not end with cancer winning. No matter what cancer does to my earthly life, it cannot rob me of heaven or the gift of eternal life Jesus won for me.

Paul Brug and family
Paul and Jody Brug and their family. Featured photo at top: Paul and Jody Brug on their 25th anniversary in June 2019 with their children: (left to right) Caitlin, Amanda, Zach, and Natalie.

Jesus promises: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25).

His resurrection proves that these promises are certain and true because the One who promises is the One who conquered death.

Cancer can never win. Christ is risen!

April 22, 2020—Nothing can separate

Written by Caitlin Brug, Paul’s eldest daughter

About four months ago, my family received some bad news: Dad’s cancer was spreading. As I sat down with him, he asked me one of the most difficult questions I’ve faced in my life: “If God calls me home to heaven, can you write a conclusion post for this blog for me?” I couldn’t hold back the tears, but I told him I would. . . .

Sadly, that day has come. Dad was called home to heaven on April 20, 2020, after ten days of home hospice care. Those ten days were some of the hardest but also the most joyful days for our family. We knew we were going to lose him, but we sat by him. We held him. We sang to him and told him stories and memories. Most of all, we told him how much we loved him.

Paul Brug and family
(Left) The Brug family on a winter trip to Florida. (Right) Paul and his parents, John and Irene Brug, on Paul’s last birthday, March 2, 2020. John Brug edited Paul’s book and writes in the forward: “Though Paul’s battle is over now, we hope that preserving this journal will allow Paul to continue to provide help, encouragement, and inspiration to others.”

Like Dad’s entire fight against cancer—and everything else he did in life—he gave us 100 percent of everything he had. . . . Glioblastoma was a battle, and Dad faced it head on, knowing he was strong and that he had God and his family on his side the entire way.

Watching Dad fight cancer was devastating. This was the man who couldn’t sit still. Who played with us for hours in the backyard. Who belonged in a classroom, nurturing young minds academically and spiritually and on the wrestling mat shaping athletes by setting an example of tenacity and strength. Seeing him become unable to do the things he loved most agonized our entire family. But as Dad inevitably always did, he taught us a lesson. A lesson about strength in the face of adversity. A lesson about pure, strong faith. Dad never gave up on his Savior, not even when everything in life seemed unfair. When Dad was tempted to ask, “Why me, God?” he asked for prayers instead. . . .

One of Dad’s favorite verses was Romans 8:38,39: “I am the convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That was the verse he turned to when he wanted to ask why. My family and I have been asking why a lot recently, but Dad’s faith is the example we should remember. There were times when he was sad and afraid and angry, for good reason, but he clung to the message that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I know that he is experiencing God’s love firsthand in heaven right now.

Read more from Paul Brug’s blog in his book Nothing Can Separate. Find it on amazon.com

Watch a memorial video featuring Paul Brug and quotes from Nothing Can Separate.

Authors: Paul Brug and Caitlin Brug
Volume 111, Number 04
Issue: April 2024

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This entry is part 1 of 51 in the series my christian life

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