Decluttering the inbox

No Junk Mail copyI’ve spent much of the past couple of days in bed due to my three weekly chemo malaise and I feel like I’ve achieved something worthwhile—I’ve decluttered my inbox. More than simply getting hundreds of emails down to a small handful, I’ve systematically unsubscribed to dozens of regular newsletters, blogs, advertisements, and junk that fill my box every day. I have no idea how I ended up collecting many of these emails. Some were an impulse click. Some were a good idea at the time, but are no longer relevant. One or two I’ve changed the frequency from daily to weekly or monthly. People keep telling us that too much information—which often corresponds to too many emails—can’t be be doing us any good. I’m looking forward to a simpler eLife!

Posted in Christian living, Stress and burnout | 2 Comments

My cancer, my future, my request…

xalkoriI love what this man and these people are doing. He has my cancer, my mutation, and my needs for affordable treatments. Many need this drug more than me, and have no possible means to afford it. We need the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to support people who would benefit so much by this drug Xalkori (Crizotnib) targeted therapy. Currently it costs around $90,000 per year. Please click on the image above to watch, and then share this hope-filled video with others.

Posted in Journey with Cancer | 2 Comments

A long legacy of caravanning

Yesterday I received this reflection from my father, who turns eighty next birthday, on his experience of life in caravans. I thought some of you might be interested in his reflections…

From time to time in recent years I have written of our movement through the stages of life—the marked changes that occur from time to time in our health, or work, or the circumstances that shape the course of our life.

This week there has occurred another change; this one effectively marking the end of an era in my life. In fact, the era of which I write is almost as long as my life. I write, of course, of my caravan experiences which have been brought to a close by the sale of our caravan of the last ten years.

I do not remember the beginning of my life with caravans but a photograph of my brother, Graeme, and me indicates that those first experiences began before I was four years old. The first caravan was a home-made foldaway unit built onto a trailer by my father. Towed behind our 1928 Chrysler Royal motor car, it was the pre-cursor of today’s Camper Trailer. Its facilities were the most basic and our caravan park was but a clearing in the bush or a space among the dunes beside the sea. I know not how we fitted into the caravan or how we would have fared in the inclement weather which surely came our way from time to time. My memories of this early period are sparse, but they mark the beginning of a life time of holidays in which we took our home with us behind the car.

In the late 1940s, “after the war”, my father purchased the first of several caravans which would become the base of family holidays over many years. Each one of plywood construction, each slightly larger and having a little more comfort and convenience than the previous one, they enabled us to travel further afield. The cars changed, too. The Chrysler was replaced by a 1934 Plymouth Fluid Drive, which I later purchased as my first car and re-named ‘Esmerelda’. Then in 1953 came Dad’s first new car, the Ford Customline. Our holidays took us to many parts of Victoria—along the coast east and west of Melbourne, to inland cities and towns and along the Murray River. Interstate and around Australia caravanning was still in the future for most people. For us, Victoria had much to offer and we returned often to the beaches and surf and the forest country along The Great Ocean Road.

Caravan1The second phase of the caravan experience is easy to identify. It began on 25 February 1961 when Ruth and I set off on our honeymoon, driving the Customline and towing the streamlined ‘Don’ caravan. It began dramatically when a shattered windscreen on our second day prevented us reaching our intended destination. The only parking available was at the local football ground, and the only facilities were the open-to-the-skies change rooms and their cold showers. Although this was not Ruth’s introduction to the caravan, as she had accompanied our family on several occasions, it surely was a cool introduction to marriage.

That journey took us along the unsealed Princes Highway through Gippsland and the NSW south coast to Sydney and Palm Beach where we spent an idyllic week near the Barrenjoey Lighthouse with views to both Pittwater and the Pacific Ocean. Our return was via Canberra where we spent several days exploring the still young National Capital, little knowing that fourteen years later it would become the home for our family during a very significant period of our lives. Coincidentally, exploring the centre of Canberra known as Civic, we happened on a Canberra Day event—the commissioning of the new Ethos Fountain in Civic Square.

For several years, family holidays followed a familiar pattern. Travelling from Tasmania (King Island or Longford) to the mainland, we would borrow car and caravan and head for such places as Echuca or Mildura, Philip Island or Western Victoria. Thus another generation of McDonalds was being introduced to the caravan experience.

Eventually, it was time for phase three. In 1970, whilst at Longford, we purchased from a Launceston caravan hire business, which had fallen on hard times, our own caravan, a heavy 16 feet long, 8 feet wide Millard with high flat roof. With caravan in tow behind our HR Holden station-wagon, canvas annexe and stretcher beds for the children, many accessories stowed away, and three children in the back seat, we visited much of Tasmania and enjoyed many summer holidays near the sand dunes and beaches of St Helens.  They were happy days.

There was one near disaster with that caravan. On 5 January 1975, we left our Launceston home for the last time, to travel to Devonport where the ferry, Empress of Australia, would take us to Melbourne for some holiday time before travelling on to Canberra and the Reid Methodist Church. A tyre on the heavily-laden caravan blew out just a short distance from Launceston and without a replacement tyre we could not continue. It was Sunday afternoon and shops and garages in Tasmania were not open for business. Eventually we found the owner of a small garage who was able to open his workshop and fit a replacement tyre for us. Resuming our journey, the caravan was wandering a bit behind the car. A policeman stopped us, commented on the erratic driving, warned us to take care and allowed us to continue. We arrived at Devonport just in time to be the last vehicle to join the ferry, but too late to enjoy the picnic with the many friends who had travelled to Devonport to farewell us. One of those friends noticed that the replacement tyre did not match its partner.

Sadly, a real disaster occurred that night, just a few hours into our Bass Strait crossing. News travelled through the ferry that the bulk ore ship Lake Illawarra, had collided with the Tasman Bridge, linking western and eastern shores of the Derwent River at Hobart, sinking immediately and causing a major portion of the bridge to fall. Many lives were lost and the life of the City of Hobart and its citizens was affected for long time. That date is deeply etched in our memory.

Now mainland residents, our family holidays and occasional travels took us further afield. The summer family holiday was always at the coast—Pambula Beach, Bateau Bay, and Nambucca Heads. After ten years, it was time to replace the Millard which, though very spacious, had felt somewhat like a brick wall being towed behind the car. We replaced it with a lower-profile Viscount pop-top. Later again, the Viscount gave way to a Golf pop-top. With these lighter vans we not only continued our summer holiday bookings, but travelled throughout NSW, learning much of the history and geography, and building a photographic record that now fills many albums. These caravans were frequently our home as occasionally we crossed borders into Queensland or South Australia, or travelled by various routes to Melbourne to visit family and friends.

Caravan2In 2004, it was farewell to the Golf and welcome to our first ‘new’ caravan, a Jayco Heritage pop-top. The government’s pension bonus and an extraordinarily generous trade-in on the Golf enabled us to up-grade just one more time. (The story of that purchase is itself remarkable and may become the subject of some later writing.) No longer was there need of space for family members, though the beachside holiday tradition continued at Shoal Bay on Port Stephens; and visitors were always welcomed. There were dreams of travelling further afield, including particularly the Flinders Ranges and other parts of South Australia, but some health issues for both Ruth and me, and other circumstances caused the postponement, and eventually, the setting aside of those dreams.

In recent years, the caravan travelled less, but in fact was used more. It was the occasional extra bedroom if the number of visitors stretched beyond the resources of our small home at Valley Heights. It was a private space where Norman would meet and talk with colleagues or people who sought his counsel. It was the prayer room for many years where Ruth met regularly and prayed with several women in our community.

The realization that we would not use the caravan again for holiday or travelling was hard to accept and our initial attempts to sell were unsuccessful; so the caravan came with us to our new home. The night and day after our arrival here, the area experienced a ‘one in one hundred year’ storm with much local damage. The caravan suffered serious water damage, via a broken seal in the roof. Repair work has taken many months, covered by insurance, and now the caravan has passed to a new owner.

For the writer, the caravan experience era has spanned a lifetime; for Ruth it has been a part of our life together. For me, it is an experience I have embraced with joy and enthusiasm; for Ruth, probably less so as the caravan still carries with it many of the familiar duties of domestic life. It just puts them in a more confined space. But the caravans have enabled us and our families to enjoy holidays that would not otherwise have been possible, to tour and visit parts of our country we would not otherwise have seen and to enjoy a freedom that is different from that of many holiday environments.

photoPerhaps for Ruth and me it is the end of an era. Family holidays have found different expressions in the next generation. Heather and her family enjoy the Canadian cottage by the lake. Stephen and his family enjoy erecting their tents in remote places. The caravan experience lives on as David and Fiona and their family have continued to enjoy the sand and surf of the coast, as well as exploring the vast outback of Australia on their several safaris. Their Ultimate Xplor Camper is more directly a descendent of the home-built fold-away caravan with which I was introduced to the caravan experience. Perhaps the era of the McDonald caravan experience has not ended, after all.

Posted in Family | 4 Comments

Serious hope for Adam

hope-beyond-cure

A review of Hope Beyond Cure by Adam Scott, first posted by Dave Miers

“It’s actually very serious.”

That was the last thing I wanted to hear from the doctors treating me.

An MRI had apparently revealed a large arterial tear in my neck and the consensus was that I’d probably had a stroke.  It all started feeling very serious.  I was 28 years old, laying in a hospital bed, surrounded by pensioners who were apparently healthier than I was – go figure!

It was the first time in my life that someone spoke candidly and clinically with me about the reality of dying and it was terrifying. I’d always expected dying to be a future, far-off, unfortunate but inevitable reality, but someone with more authority on the subject was telling me that perhaps my presumptions were wrong.

That’s probably why I’ve appreciated reading Hope Beyond Cure by David McDonald as much as I have. It’s a book written by a pastor who was humble enough to admit that facing death can be terrifying and perhaps our presumptions are wrong.

The opening chapters recount the events leading up to his cancer diagnosis and the emotional turmoil that followed. He talks openly about how the insidious nature of his illness filled him with fear, doubt and hopelessness. It’s a gutting and incredibly humble way to start a book about hope: in the context of a terminal illness.

Given how raw and real the book begins, you’re left with the impression that the kind of hope it’s going to dish up is going to have to be robust enough to withstand a daunting prognosis and remain relevant in the face of death. That’s not an easy task given that hope has become synonymous with wishful thinking in our culture.

For example, Ben Folds sings a song called Picture Window that talks about hope that’s cruel and inappropriate in the context of a terminal illness. He sings:

“you know what hope is,
hope is a bastard,
hope is a liar, a cheat and tease,
hope comes near you, kick it’s backside,
got no place in days like these”

Hope Beyond Cure engages with the kind of false hope that Ben Folds sings about and exposes a few of our favourite places to find it. Whether it’s in medicine, positive thinking or relationships, David gently points out that they all leave us exposed and each can be the very thing that Ben Folds describes: a liar, a cheat and a tease. They’re false hopes because none of them can promise to endure in the face of death.

Off the back of that David argues that we need something solid to anchor hope in. Because death is a serious business, we need a equally serious hope – not wishful thinking or clutching at straws. We need a serious hope that aims even higher than a cure for the illnesses that will ultimately take us, a hope that will flavour life and endure in the face of death. That’s the kind of hope that David ends up introducing when he talks about Jesus.

Hope in Jesus isn’t cruelly inappropriate wishful thinking. It’s all the things false hope isn’t: true, trustworthy and reliable. It doesn’t become inappropriate or irrelevant when we’re facing death, and because of that, hope in Jesus is worth having.

Towards the end of the book David writes this:

“I have no idea how many days, weeks or months I have before me – few of us do. Our times are in God’s hands and he alone knows when they will come to an end. But we don’t need to fear that day. In the resurrection of Jesus, God has taken away the sting of death. As Paul reminds us:

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

In the years that followed my injury, I’ve had countless scans. Apparently, there’s no longer any evidence of that terrifying time. I’m really glad about that, but the truth is one day something else is going to break and the wheels will fall off. That’s why I’m so thankful that real, authentic, robust hope is what I have – it’s what we need to endure in the face of death and to flavour life in the here and now.

Hope Beyond Cure says that hope is found in Jesus and I couldn’t agree more.

Posted in Books, Journey with Cancer | 2 Comments

Stabletalk

MembershipI’ve been asked by the Brumbies CEO to contribute a regular piece to their in-house newsletter. This is my first contribution:

In my first contribution, I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve picked up from a book by Patrick Lencioni called The Five Dysfunctions of Team. This is one of the best books I’ve read on teamwork and I think it has much to offer our organisation, both on the team and admin sides.

The five dysfunctions can be summarised as follows:

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust 

This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict 

Teams that are lacking trust are unable to engage in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment 

Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees disgruntled.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability 

When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results 

Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.

I raise these insights not because I think the Brumbies suffer badly from these dysfunctions, but so we can be vigilant in not allowing them to sabotage our efforts and prevent good results. It’s worth asking ourselves once or twice a season whether any of these dysfunctions are raising their ugly heads. We pride ourselves on being family at the Brumbies, but even families can develop bad patterns of relating to one another. Every season our family changes. Even one new member makes a difference to the whole. This coming season we will have new coaches, management, admin staff, and players. So let’s work to develop trust among each another, so that we’re not afraid of constructive conflict, we build commitment, we increase accountability, and we achieve great results.

Posted in Books, Leadership | Leave a comment

Is God anti-gay?

gayChristians have bad press when it comes to homosexuality. This hasn’t been helped by the bigotry and hatred of the Westboro Baptists in the United States and their appalling website godhatesfagsdotcom. The assumption by many is that all Christians are homophobic and therefore God must be anti-gay. The reality is the opposite—John 3:16 famously declares…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

By extension, this also means…

For God so loved gay people that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Sam Allberry’s little book, Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction is an excellent guide to this issue. It’s not shaped by politics, sensationalism, or right-wing ideologies. It’s not seeking to ride the trends of culture or church opinion. This book is an attempt to seek the mind of God honestly and sensitively from the Bible.

Allberry writes with sympathy for the matters at hand. He discloses to his readers that his own sexual orientation is homosexual. However, he does not presume to speak for everyone for whom homosexuality is an issue. As a Christian, and minister of a church, this has caused him to grapple seriously both with Scripture and it’s application in his life. He prefers not to describe himself as ‘gay’ but rather as ‘someone who experiences same-sex attraction’. He writes:

But describing myself like this is a way for me to recognise that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but they are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality. (p8-9)

Allberry explains that the way to understand homosexuality is to view it against the backdrop of God’s good purposes for gender and sexuality. We need to understand what it means to be made in God’s image, to understand one-flesh union in marriage, and to explore God’s reasons for the gift of sex. We must also recognise that in our fallen world there will be many temptations to live alternatively to God’s ways. Some of these pressures come from the outside, others come from within us. We will all face trials and temptations of different kinds—this doesn’t mean we blame our DNA or upbringing or culture, but that we seek God’s help to trust and follow him.

While acknowledging that God’s design for sex as outlined in the Bible is heterosexual, within a loving and faithful marriage relationship, this doesn’t mean that God is anti-gay. It is, however, a significant call to trust God when our preferences and passions don’t align with his. Allbery reminds Christians who are attracted to persons of the same sex, that they should take the opportunity to talk to God about it—about our confusion or distress, our temptations, or our failings and sins. He reminds us that particular feelings do not disqualify or define us as Christians. All Christians struggle with a multitude of feelings and temptations. What matters is how we respond to these things. We are also reminded that Christians need to be willing to support one another in these matters.

Sadly, many churches do not engage well with matters of sexuality, and especially with homosexuality. Many people with same sex attraction have felt deep rejection at the hands of Christians. There is much for our churches to change in how we engage with people whom God clearly loves.

Allbery offers helpful advice to Christians in engaging with people who are homosexual in orientation. He prefers to start at the centre and work outwards, rather than start at the edge and work in. The matter of sexuality is not of first importance. Jesus’ death and resurrection take centre stage. This is where God is most fully revealed. It shows his heart towards all people.

This is what I most want people to know—for people to be bowled over by the God of the cross and resurrection. And, once gripped by this, to help them think through what trusting in this God will involve—what will need to be given over to him, including our messed up sexuality.

But I want the conversation to take place in the context of the gospel, rather than start with their sexuality and try to get from there to the gospel … So when a gay couple start coming to my church, my priority for them is the same as for anyone else: to hear the gospel and to experience the welcome of a Christian community. (p63-64)

I found this book to be very helpful in understanding issues of same-sex attraction from the perspective of the Bible. It is written with warmth, insight and compassion. It upholds the dignity of all people, and it demonstrates the depths of God’s love for all, regardless of sexual orientation or anything else. I commend it especially to Christian people wanting to understand the mind and heart of God in todays cultural climate.

Posted in Books, Christian living, Pastoral ministry | 1 Comment

How will the world end?

world_endThe beauty of a couple of interstate bus trips and a return flight to Brisbane over the past couple of weeks, is that I’ve been able to find time to do some more reading. And the brief books from the Questions Christians Ask series have been ideal travel reading—far better than most stuff you pick up at the airport bookstores!

How will the world end? And other questions about the last things and the second coming of Christ by Jeramie Rinne takes us into some hotly debated topics among Christians. We are very good at dividing over millennial positions, the meaning of world events, identification of the anti-Christ, when the end will happen, and more. Careful reading of the Bible is paramount to understand God’s intentions in these matters.

The book starts by affirming that the end of the world will arrive according to God’s design and purpose. It won’t be the result of arbitrary forces of the universe, nor the inescapable consequence of human failure to care for our planet.

The problem facing the human race is not that it’s on a collision course with an asteroid. Our problem is far worse: we are on a collision course with a holy God who is coming to judge a sinful world. (p13)

God has promised to address our sin and rebellion and to bring us to account. In fact, we could not describe God as ‘good’ if he was to ignore sin and tolerate evil forever. His judgment reveals that he cares about this world that he has made and the people within it. Though we don’t know when, God promises that he has set a day when he will judge this world through his Son. This is the day when Jesus will return.

Rinne discusses what will happen before this day when Jesus returns to judge the world. He does so with special reference to Matthew 24. We are warned that there will be false messiahs; many who oppose Jesus; wars and disasters; persecution of Jesus’ followers; wickedness and evil; growth in the gospel. These things are not the end—but they are signs that the end is on the way. The overwhelming testimony of the New Testament is that we are in the Last Days now. Not because we live in 2014 when there is evidence of these things all around us—this has been true of every age since Jesus first spoken these words. Jesus came to inaugurate the last days and he will bring them to an end when he returns.

A chapter of this book is devoted to helping Christians understand and navigate the various millennial perspectives that arise from Revelation 20. This provides a clear and helpful introduction to people’s thoughts on this matter. He concludes the chapter saying:

It’s probably all too much to hope that this chapter would clear up all the questions. But I hope that it did at least three things:

  1. I trust this chapter lifted you above the trees to see the forest.
  2. I pray this section increased your humility and patience toward others with different views.
  3. I hope this chapter increased your appetite to learn more about God’s word.

As your mind works to make sense of the details, may your heart swell with excitement that our Lord is returning! (p65)

How will the world end? draws heavily on the book of Revelation to make it’s case. However, I am always a little cautious about going to Revelation as the primary place to build my theological understanding. My rule of thumb tends to be ‘check my theology of Revelation with what I can verify clearly from the rest of Scripture’. Having said this, I do believe that Rinne handles Revelation faithfully and clearly.

From Revelation 20 we’re reminded that when Jesus returns to judge there will be ‘the books’ and the ‘book’. The ‘books’ will contain a record of our thoughts, words, and deeds. These will provide the incontrovertible evidence that God’s judgment is fully-informed, just and true. There is no hope for anyone in these books. It is the ‘book’ that offers hope. This is the Lamb’s book of life—what matters is whether our names are recorded in this book. The book of life reveals all who have trusted not in our deeds, but only in the sacrificial death of Jesus in our place. Is your name in this book?

For those not listed in the Lamb’s book of life the future is very grim. Images of hell and judgment speak of an everlasting judgment on all who reject God’s offer of rescue through Jesus. It is impossible for us to appreciate the magnitude, or indeed the rightness, of God’s judgment because we don’t have any sense of the gravity of our crime. (p76).

The closing chapter explores how we should live as we wait for Jesus’ return. He starts with the basics—because Jesus is returning to judge, we need to turn from our sins and put our trust in Jesus now. As we trust in Jesus, he doesn’t merely save us from our sins, but his grace transforms us and teaches us to live godly, Christ-like lives while we wait (Titus 2:11-14). We are urged to pray (1 Peter 4:7) and encourage one another to pray. We’re to remember our calling to take the good news of Jesus to all nations. As this world is passing we should not be too attached to stuff (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). We should remember that whatever trials and suffering we will face in this life, they are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

It is far too easy for us to live our lives stuck in the moment, to assume this life is all we’ve got, to lose sight of the end that is coming. This book is an important corrective.

Posted in Books, Christian living | 1 Comment