What happens when I die?

dieWhat happens when I die? And other questions about heaven, hell and the life to come by Marcus Nodder is another little book in the Questions Christians Ask series by the Good Book Company. Firstly, let me commend Nodder for being willing to share his life with the reader. This is not an academic book, written in ignorance of the pain of death. It’s a book that integrates the promises of God with the experience of death. He begins by reflecting on the death of his dad, and I immediately warmed to the author as one who would empathise with people’s experiences. I am convinced that this should be a vital component of any book that deals with sensitive and painful matters of life and suffering.

Nodder identifies the reality that death is not part of popular conversation and in the developed world we’ve become very adept at avoiding the issue altogether. Yet death intrudes on each of us, and the reality of death confronts us with some uncomfortable truths. I could identify with these words:

If you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, you will need no convincing of this, but for the rest of us Sigmund Freud was onto something when he once wrote: “No-one really believes in his own death”. (p6)

This book takes us to Jesus who knows what lies beyond the grave and, not only that, provides the solution to the problem of death. Jesus broke the power that death holds over people, so that in turning to him and trusting him, we can look forward to life with God beyond death.

The basis for our hope for life beyond death lies in the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The empty tomb; the appearances to various people at various times; the eye-witness testimonies; the circumstantial (even embarrassing ) evidence for the resurrection recorded in the New Testament; the transformation of his followers, many of whom would give their lives rather than change their testimonies; all points to good reasons for trusting God on this matter.

If anyone at any time after the resurrection of Christ had been able to produce Jesus’ body —his corpse—Christianity would have sunk without a trace and that would have been the end of it. But there was no corpse because the body had been raised to life. The empty tomb is a powerful piece of evidence. You can go to the Red Square in Moscow and see Lenin’s embalmed body on public display. Followers of Bruce Lee go to visit his grace in Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery, where the remains of his super-fit body are interred. Followers of Mohammed go on a pilgrimage to the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, where the the prophet is buried. But followers of Jesus Christ going to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem find just an empty grace. (p39-40)

Many important practical and pastoral concerns are addressed in this book’s 94 pages. The author addresses such matters as What will happen to my body?; What will it be like to die?; How do we cope with bereavement?; and What will life be like in eternity? There are also brief answers to questions relating to prayers for the dead, ghosts, cremation versus burial, soul sleep, rewards in heaven, recognising loved ones, what is a soul or spirit, and even whether our pets will join us in the new creation! There is much to consider in this book, and each matter is addressed with appropriate sensitivity.

Nodder writes also of his grandmother dying of cancer. She was in her seventies and ready to go home to be with her Lord. However, she was bothered by well-meaning Christians who couldn’t accept the place of death. The reality is that one day we will all die. It may be tragic and sudden, or it may be slow and peaceful. There will be a day when our organs will cease to function, when there is no more healing to be found in this life. This is God’s will for each of us—for since the fall we are no longer equipped to live forever in this life, and God has something far greater in store for all who trust him. Sadly, there are some Christians doing much damage by their unwillingness to accept this.

Some people by their obsession with healing seem to me to rob Christian souls of their privilege and opportunity to glorify God in the way they die. Instead of a triumphant acceptance of death, as simply one more step in the purposes of God for them, we find instead an hysterical search for healing as if it were quite impossible that it should be God’s will for a Christian to die. Instead of courageous testimony, we find an attitude to death that resembles in many ways the conspiracy of silence and the double-think that we find in the world. It ought not to be so. (p59)

I notice ads on the TV for life insurance, funeral insurance, and leaving a will, a lot more often since I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. They’ve probably all ways been on TV and I haven’t noticed. Perhaps I just watch more TV now! The ads are correct in highlighting the need to make decisions about these matters while we can; but they almost suggest that once these choices are made, we can go back to just getting on with life. It’s not sufficient to consider our death—we need to make plans and preparations beyond death, and this means we need to go to the Bible.

The philosopher, Cicero, said that “to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare ourselves to die.” God says the only way to prepare ourselves is to put our trust in Jesus as our Rescuer and Ruler before we meet him as our Judge. (p61)

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Is forgiveness really free?

forgivenessIs forgiveness really free: And other questions about grace, the law and being saved by Michael Jensen is definitely worth a read. I must admit, however, that I came to the book with a different set of questions and expectations that all had to do with the intricacies of forgiveness—particularly our forgiveness of one another. Fundamentally, this is a book about God’s forgiveness of us. It’s about ‘grace’ and grace is something we all need to be reminded of all the time. Maybe ‘grace’ should have appeared in the title and ‘forgiveness’ dropped to the subtitle. Anyway, I don’t want to be a pedant.

Michael’s aim in writing this book is to help you plunge into a deeper and richer experience of God’s grace, so that it may make a huge difference in your life. (p7) I read this book at the same time as viewing the recent movie Freedom. This is a story about rescuing American slaves to freedom in Canada. There is also a back story throughout of John Newton and the writing of his powerful hymn Amazing Grace. Both the movie and the book warmed my heart.

Some of the book describes my transformation to becoming a believer. For years I was confused and lacked assurance of my standing before God. I needed to focus on the death of Jesus to so as to reject the following erroneous ideas:

God’s grace to us in Christ is not conditional on our performance in any way, or upon taking part in certain rituals, or on our having confessed in precise detail everything we can think of we have done wrong. Those false views of grace only lead to a life filled with guilt, uncertainty and a lack of assurance. (p15)

I loved Michael’s section on Jesus’ crazy economicsIt’s so helpful to be reminded that God’s economy is the economy not of the wage but of the gift. (p24) God gives to those who haven’t earned or deserved anything from him. It comes entirely from the generosity of his heart, not because of any debt or obligation to us for services rendered. But we are also carefully reminded that while the grace of God is free, it is not cheap. The cost is to the giver, not the receiver. It comes at great price—through the death of Jesus Christ for our sins.

Michael includes a pastoral word for those with a tender conscience who are scared that they, or others might fall away and separate themselves from God’s grace. He writes:

The confidence that Hebrews speaks about is not a confidence that we are saved because of some past decision or prayer of commitment; but rather a confidence in God, that also means a right fear of him.

Can grace be taken away? The right answer is not “yes” or “no”, but: God is faithful: cling onto him with all your might. (p46)

Is forgiveness really free? goes on to describe the relationship of the Old Testament law to grace and Christian living; to debunk the challenge that grace is simply a license to sin; to show how grace transforms our lives to make us more like Jesus; and to challenge to our pride that we should need such grace in the first place.

I found this book pointed me back to the important truths of grace from the Scriptures and reminded me that “but for the grace of God go I” goes far beyond a cliche. It’s the foundation of a life lived in the transforming power of God.

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Chemo setback

chemoYesterday I went to hospital for my mid-fortieth chemotherapy treatment. It’s been a long time I’ve been doing this. You know I don’t look forward to it and yesterday was no different. Well, actually it was. I’ve been fighting tooth and jaw pains each day for the past week. It seems that hot and cold foods and chewing set off the pain—and the pain has been extreme. I’ve had to buy two boxes of paracetamol. If only all my drugs were only 4c a tablet instead of $120 a tablet!

I arrived at hospital feeling a little under the weather. Each time I have chemo they test my blood pressure, review blood tests for white cell count and other things, and test my urine for protein. Everything needs to be right for me to proceed. The truth is things are never totally ‘right’ but nothing so far has prevented me from having chemo—until yesterday.

My protein count was much too high, my blood pressure was up, and they were wondering about the tooth situation. So after ringing the oncologist, I was informed that I would be given the Alimta, but I could not have the Avastin. It seems my kidneys need a break from the Avastin, and they were concerned that my teeth scenario might not improve if I was on the drug.

It was a little strange not being able to have Avastin. I didn’t mind the whole experience being over in half the time. But it was another reminder that I’m a patient, that I’m being treated for cancer, that the drugs are extremely powerful with potentially harmful and irreversible side effects. I’m praying that the kidneys and protein in the urine situation will settle down, that there won’t be enduring damage to my kidneys, and that whatever treatment I am able to receive does its job of keeping the cancer at bay.

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Did the devil make me do it?

devilI’m on a roll with these little books. Yesterday, I hid from the rain and cold by reading another edition in front of a raging open fire in our lounge room. Nice! This time it was Mike McKinley’s Did the devil make me do it? And other questions about Satan, demons and evil spirits. I must admit it’s not my normal fireside reading. While I’ve read all the Harry Potter series, I don’t much care for horror thrillers or teenage vampire love stories. So why this book?

Quite simply, because it’s an issue where there’s so much speculation and confusion among Christians. While the Bible speaks unashamedly about these things, it seems that many people are more informed by movies and novels than the Scriptures when it come to the understanding powers of evil.

McKinley acknowledges the polarity of opinions about the devil that exist. C.S. Lewis wrote in his classic book, The Screwtape Letters:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. (quoted on p7)

As a product of our scientific, naturalistic age, my tendency is toward the former. I’m the one who is likely to be taken in by the classic line from the movie, The Usual Suspects:

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

I raise a few eyebrows when I start speaking with friends about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, miracles, resurrection, and the like. But if I start discussing angels, the devil, demons, evil spirits, and spiritual warfare, then people will know I’ve lost it. There are probably many Christians who feel the same.

However, I’ve also met the opposite—Christians who seem totally obsessed with everything to do with evil spirits and the like. They’re forever speaking against, strategising against, incantating against, at war against, some power of evil. Some look for skeletons in the closet of family trees—your great uncle was a mason so you have to be released from the masonic stronghold that oppresses you still. Some suggest that every negative factor in a person’s life has some close connection to demonic forces—the spirit of alcoholism, or addiction, or doubt, or fear.

Did the devil make me do it? is a breath of fresh air. It’s not cynical or dismissive, but neither is it speculative or superstitious. This book directs us to the Bible for our answers. It engages with the text of Scripture to remind us that there is a created being called the devil, and we must take him very seriously. Jesus did. It also encourages us to remember that he is only a created being, and we needn’t be overwhelmed by him. Jesus wasn’t.

The centre-piece of this book isn’t the devil, or the demons, or the havoc they seek to create. It is, in fact, JESUS.  Jesus entered into our world to overcome the power of the devil. He came to destroy the devil’s work, to disarm him, and to rescue people from his influence. Reading any of the gospels reveals how Jesus’ life and ministry was a confrontation with the devil. Examining his crucifixion and resurrection shows the power of his victory over God’s enemy. The way ahead for Christians is to focus on Jesus, not on the enemy of Jesus. It’s to listen to Jesus, not the lies, deceptions, or accusations of the devil.

One of the things I appreciated about this short book, is that the author gets us to reexamine what the Bible teaches on these topics. He quotes and discusses and applies the Word of God. The book itself is an example of how we should address any topic of concern—by examining what God has to say on the matter. Again, and especially for occasional readers, the brevity of this book is a bonus. Yet, it’s also a weakness. There are times when I would like to be pointed to the source of ideas in the book. There are other times where I’d like to be able to explore issues in greater depth than 80 pages will allow.

Perhaps, the publishers could consider adding a Further Reading section in each of these books to help people move from introductory to intermediate study on these topics. They could highlight books they believe to be reliable and helpful. Maybe, they could even consider an index of important Bible passages for further reading and study.

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Can I really trust the Bible?

trust_bibleThis is the second book in the series on Questions Christians Ask that I’ve read during the past week. It’s a new series of books by the Good Book Company in the UK on a range of important topics for Christians and enquirers alike. I’m excited by these books because I think they will help non-readers become readers. We’re told that people are reading less and less in this media and internet age. The danger is that we’re therefore becoming more and more biblically and theologically illiterate. This series of books could be a stepping stone to changing this trend for followers of Jesus. So far I’ve found they’re compact, engaging, easy to read, and deal with real issues.

Barry Cooper’s book, Can I trust the Bible? And other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks is a good introduction to the topics of biblical authorship, authority, reliability, readability and more. The book is framed around three questions…

  1. Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?
  2. Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?
  3. Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?

The premise of the first question is that we need to firstly consider the Bible on its own terms. How does the Old Testament view itself? What perspective does the New Testament offer on the Old? How did Jesus treat the writings of the Old Testament? How did New Testament authors describe each other’s writings? Exploring these questions points to a consensus that the Bible—Old and New Testaments—claimed to be the word of God.

Cooper goes on to describe the connection between God and his word. The analogy is drawn between Jesus, the Word of God, being both human and divine, and the Bible being both human and divine in origin. God works through real people, in real life historical circumstances, with real personalities, writing in different literary genres, to communicate his message to us. The human element doesn’t rule out the divine, not does the divine eliminate the human. As it says in 2 Peter 1:20-21:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

One piece of evidence that confirms for me the reliability of the Bible as the word of God is the fact that it was written by multiple authors over many centuries, without collaboration, and yet maintains an incredibly coherent message. Cooper asks:

What if multiple authors had each written a single page of this little book you’re holding? What if each author wrote in different genres, in different centuries, in different countries, with no “master plan” for them to consult? What is the likelihood that it would make any sense at all? (p38)

Not only is the Bible coherent, but its central theme is consistent. Everything points to Jesus and all things find their fulfilment in him. These are things that the greatest human minds in concert, even with the aid of Doctor Who and time travel, couldn’t conceive.

Scattered throughout this book there are also short answers to a range of contemporary questions. These include:

  • Doesn’t the argument for biblical authority go round in circles?
  • Isn’t the Bible socially, culturally and sexually out of date? Isn’t it just a product of its time?
  • Hasn’t the Bible been used to justify terrible things?
  • Isn’t reported/oral information unreliable?
  • How can I trust the Bible when it has miracles in it?
  • Who’s to say the Qu’ran isn’t also the word of God?
  • If God really wants to speak to us through the Bible, why is some of it so hard to understand?

These are important questions—and there are more. Cooper is to be commended for raising these and addressing them. Bear in mind, this book is very brief. Thus, the answers to these questions are little more than introductions. They’re unlikely to satisfy the person who has stumbled heavily on one or other of these issues, but they do point to the fact that there are answers, and the honest enquirer can certainly look into these questions more deeply.

The final chapter of this book pushes us to be more than observers or students of the Bible. We’re encouraged to put what we read into practice, or to taste the Scriptures. Reading the Bible was never intended to be a merely academic endeavour. God gives his word for our nourishment. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
(Psalm 19:9-10)

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Why did Jesus have to die?

why _jesus_dieOf all the questions that have ever been asked in the history of this universe, this must be one of the most important: Why did Jesus have to die? The little book of this name by Marcus Nodder gets to the very core of what matters matter most.

Other than the golden arches, the cross must be one of the world’s most recognisable and identifiable logos. It goes with church, and Christians, and God, and all that stuff. We know that. But why do Christians focus on the cross—a symbol of torture and capital punishment? It’s the belief that the death of Jesus Christ, by crucifixion, is indispensable and central to Christianity. It is the very means by which we can have a relationship with God at all. It provides the shape and direction for a life lived trusting and serving God.

The aim of Nodder’s book about the death of Jesus is that…

we would understand the cross more deeply, and treasure it more dearly. And that, as a result, we would live increasingly cross-centred and cross-shaped lives, and love and worship more the one who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. (p8)

There are many profoundly important books that have been written on the death of Jesus over the centuries. In recent times books such as Leon Morris’s The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross or John Stott’s classic The Cross stand out. Serious followers of Jesus would do well to engage with these books. But if you’ve never opened a book that discusses the importance of the atoning death of Jesus, then Why did Jesus have to die? is an excellent place to begin.

Rather surprisingly, this book about Jesus begins in the Old rather than the New Testament. We’re invited to explore Isaiah’s wonderful vision of the Most Holy God. It is no simple thing for corrupt human beings to have a relationship with a pure and almighty God. We need to be cleansed for this to be possible. The following chapter invites us to ponder the promises of God to make people right with him—promises given hundreds of years before Jesus, through the prophet Isaiah. This was God’s plan all along to welcome people into his presence through the sacrificial death of his Son.

There is so much more to Jesus’ crucifixion than what we see on the surface. This wasn’t simply one tragic death among many. Jesus willingly gave his life as a substitute for us. He takes the punishment of God for our sins, experiences the full horror of spiritual suffering, so that we might be spared. The ideas of justification, redemption, grace, reconciliation, adoption, and justice are all shown to be more than abstract theological notions. They lie at the heart of the privilege of knowing God and being known by him. And none of this is possible without the death of Jesus.

The book closes with a chapter on how the cross gives our life direction. We don’t simply begin with the death of Jesus and then move on to other things. The Bible reminds us to keep our eyes on the cross always. We’re called to live a sacrificial life following Jesus—to give up our lives for his sake, that we might gain life eternal.

One of the things I especially appreciated about this book is the clarity and simplicity of illustrations helping us to grasp the significance of Jesus’ death. Nodder uses stories, images, and ideas to help us understand the importance of the cross. For some, like myself, who’ve heard about the death of Jesus again and again, this book will offer you a fresh insight into the absolute heart of God’s love. It’s only 92 pages long—so do yourself a favour, pick it up and read it.


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My drug habits

chemoI’ve had some good news these past couple of weeks. Yesterday, I had my 3 months CT scan and nothing had changed. That means I’ve been NED now for 14 months! Perhaps I’ve even begun to take this result for granted, as I forgot to let our kids know straight away. We are very thankful to God for this news and praying that things will stay this way. I’ve now been NED for longer than they expected me to live.

I remain on the chemo-cocktail of Alimta and Avastin every three weeks. These drugs have dealt with the cancer, and could be continuing to keep it from reemerging. I met with a new oncologist registrar today who expressed considerable surprise at the duration that I’ve been on chemo. He indicated that many people simply found it too hard and gave up, preferring to take their chances with the cancer rather than submit to further poison. He wasn’t aware of many patients who’ve had more than a dozen cycles of maintenance chemo. By God’s grace I’ve been able to cope with two and a half years of continuous chemo.

I’ve mentioned various times on this site that I have a mutation called ALK+ that is found in about 3% of the people with my type of lung cancer. There are now two generations of targeted therapies available to treat this mutation-driven cancer. These are typically taken as two tablets a day, every day, and have far less side effects. I haven’t started on any of these drugs as yet, because the chemo has been effective. The theory is that if something is working, then don’t change it. Targeted therapies remain genuine options for the future if the cancer rears it’s ugly head again. Over the past year one of these drugs, called Crizotnib, was being offered to ALK+ patients on a benevolent scheme for $100 a month or $1.67 a tablet. Sadly, this scheme was stopped on 1/7/14 and the cost of the drugs is now $7400 a month or $123 a tablet. Yep, that’s right! $88,800 per year, and if it keeps you alive for five years then you will have parted with $444,000. It will cost over $1million to live for 12 years.

Please pray that this will change. How many people are going to be able to afford that? How many will even earn that much?

Anyway—I have good news. My oncologist discovered that this was about to happen and so he quickly signed me up for the scheme. It remains in place for all who were registered on the scheme prior to 1 July, but unavailable to join after this time! So I now qualify for the $100 a month offer. Thank you God and thank you Mr Oncologist. $100 a month is an excellent insurance policy–even on top of the high costs of chemo–to save having to pay the astronomical amounts they’ve started charging.

If you are a praying person, then I’d covet your continued prayers. Please pray for my continued good health. Please also pray for patience and less anxiety for myself and those around me, because it is hard persisting with the treatment. And please pray that the government will provide subsidies for these brilliant new drugs so that they can be afforded by those who most need them.

Thanks for your support,


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