Meeting in the middle

It’s been more than a week of lockdown. How are you finding things? It’s challenging. It adds strain and stress. We can tend to go a little stir crazy? Confined spaces can add to the tension. Little annoyances can grow and we can get irritated more easily. But there’s also opportunity. Forced change. New ways of doing things. Creative synergies. Playing the hand we’ve been dealt.

As I look at the news, I’m conscious of how well off I am. And so many of my friends. And, to be honest, so many in our country. My friends in New York are facing trauma, the likes of which they haven’t seen since 9/11. My friends in Northern Italy have had their worlds turned inside out and upside down from disease, death, and fear. It will take months to see beyond it, and a lifetime to recover. Many never will. And this isn’t the shanty towns of South Africa, the slums of India, or the garbage dumps of Manila. Industrialised, wealthy, technologically advanced societies are being brought to their knees.

Here in Bonny Hills things are just a little quieter than usual. A few less on the beaches, but perhaps a few more in the surf—isolating in the green room! People are friendly. I heard from a mate, who yesterday lost his job, that he is loving the time with his family, enjoying the kids pulling together and working as a team. He shared about creative street parties from people’s own yards, tin can and string video conferencing, and lots of other fun stuff. He was thankful for the times.

It’s like that isn’t it. Devastation at one end and fresh delights at the other. Horror contrasted with renewed happiness. We are being pushed to rethink what matters matter most. What should we throw away? What should we hang on to? What do we take for granted? And where do we need to offer thanks and gratitude?

On the home front, we are working at our upstairs downstairs routine. Fiona continues to work at the practice. She is also working from home, tackling the challenges of new systems, new technologies, and tele-health. I’ve set up a study-studio, gone a bit zoom crazy, and spent long hours exploring how to pastor a church without leaving the house.

fionadinnerOur son Marcus, came out of quarantine over the weekend and was cleared of having the coronavirus. He returned from Indonesia as the borders were closing and flights were being cancelled. We thank God for the timing. He has now joined me in the house. davedinnerMarcus now helps with the cooking and we deliver the meals downstairs. Last night we met in the middle, sharing dinner together on the stairs. Thanking God for my family.

 

Preparing for church online

austin-distel-gUIJ0YszPig-unsplash copySome of us go regularly to church. Fewer of us think about what we’re going to do when we get there. We’ve been on autopilot for too long. Our current crisis gives us the perfect opportunity to pause and think about what we’re doing, how we do it and, most importantly, why we do it.

Hebrews 10:24-25 gives us the following motivation to turn up to church regularly.

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

These verses are an important challenge to all who think it’s sufficient to be a Christian who keeps to themselves. I hear people say, “I follow Jesus. I don’t need the church.” Problem is, that Jesus leads the church, so we are either following Jesus with his church or we’re really justing heading in our own direction.

Hebrews 10:24-25 is also a challenge to our consumer mindset. We’re used to shopping around to find something that meets my needs, appeals to my likes, or reinforces my interests. The emphasis in these verses is on what you give, not what you get. They promote initiative, looking to serve, and being there for others. “Ask not what your church can do for you. Ask what you can do for your church.”

The challenge of these words lies deeper still. Notice the first sentence. It doesn’t say, “And let us spur one another…”. Rather it says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another…” In simple terms, this means you should pause and think about what you go to church for. Consider how you will contribute. Consider what will be encouraging. Consider who you might encourage, who might be doing it tough, sick, alone, struggling, fearful, anxious, even terrified. Don’t make church about recharging your batteries for the week. Rather, make it about recharging one another’s batteries every week. And if we all do that, then your batteries should stay fully charged.

How will this work? You’ll need to pause and think before you drive off to church. In today’s terms, consider how to make the most of turning up to church online. If your online church tends to be a one-directional download experience, then you will need to consider how you can encourage others at other times and in other ways. And all the more as these days are difficult and dangerous, in spiritual as well as physical ways.

Here are some tips to consider as you prepare for church online:

  1. Tune in properly. Get prepared for church and turn up. Get out of your PJs (especially it you go to afternoon church). Arrange a place to focus on whatever is happening with church. Plan ahead. Will you put it on the TV or large computer screen and sit as a family or couple? Will you wear headphones with a microphone to increase the audio precision? Don’t plan to multitask. Give your time wholly to church for the 40 minutes, an hour, or however long you will be meeting. Don’t multitask. Get off FaceBook, unless that’s where you find your church live feed. Leave the dishes until afterwards. Don’t be surfing the net or checking emails. Most importantly, take a minute before hand to pray that you’ll be able to encourage others and be encouraged yourself.
  2. Participate properly. Have a Bible with you. Look up the Bible reading and references during the talk. Have a notebook and pen and take some notes during the sermon. Download the talk outline if there is one. If there are kids activities, videos, participation exercises, then supervise your children to get involved. Encourage the same habits you’d like to see when we get out of lockdown. If there’s a time for singing, then join in. It might seem a bit awkward, so mute your microphone. You will probably need to anyway, because everyone trying to synchronise singing over the internet just isn’t going to work well. I recently watched the recording of our zoom church from last week and very few people were actually singing. I was the number one culprit. So join in by singing along at home. At least lip sync.
  3. Join a small group. Connecting with others is difficult in larger churches, so it is a great idea to join in a small group for prayer, Bible, mutual encouragement, fun and maybe food. Hopefully, your groups can continue to meet online and connect through Zoom, Skype, or some other platform. If you’re not in a group, then let me urge you to join one. This might well be the best means to put into practice the call of Hebrews 10:24-25 to “not give up meeting together ” but “encouraging one another another”. If your church doesn’t have small groups, then ask your leaders if they will help you get one going, and offer some guidance for what to do when you meet together.
  4. Reach out to people during the week. Don’t wait for the Sunday meeting or online church to come around. Look out for each other. Have one another’s backs. Stay socially connected. Use FaceBook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, FaceTime or some other social media. In fact, did you know smart phones can also be used as phones. That’s smart. There’s never been a better time to call and encourage one another than now. You can even read a bit of Bible together, chat about the message from Sunday, and pray together. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we came out of our COVID isolations better connected than we’ve ever been, just waiting to give each other a holy kiss, a hearty handshake, or a big fat bear hug.
  5. Keep on giving. If you go to a church where you support the ministry by putting money in the plate, then it might seem you’re off the hook now. And times will get tough. For you, for others in church, and also for your ministry staff. So if you can keep giving to support the ministry of your church, please do. The easiest way to do this is by setting up automated transfers from your bank account. Ask your church what they would find most helpful. And be generous.
  6. Come up your own ideas and share them with others.

 

 

Sneak a look at church online

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This is not a post for my friends who are pastors. They’re working overtime thinking about church online. This is for you, whether you go to church or you don’t. This is especially for those who don’t currently belong to a church and might be open to a sneak peak at church while we are all in lockdown. This is the first of a two part blog series. The next one will be focused on how to make the most of church on line for those who go regularly.

What should you look for? What do you have to do?

Confession time. I’ve never been a fan of TV, video, or streaming church. I still bear scars from my days of taxi driving when I’d get home fully-wired in the early hours of a Sunday morning, having driven for 15 hours straight, unable to to sleep, turning the tele on, and there they are. The likes of Jimmy Baker, Benny Hinn, Jimmy Swaggart. Urgh! Talk about cringe. I’m an Aussie—we don’t do that stuff. Not to mention the appalling teaching, false promises, fraud, and corruption.

I’ve never been a fan of people online shopping for church either, whether it’s early morning TV, or podcasting your favourite preacher. It’s tough enough in ministry without having my preaching compared with the likes of the ‘great ones’. I reckon church is about the people. It’s about gathering and connecting. It’s about humility and learning together. It’s about caring for others, meeting needs, spurring each other on, supporting one another in crises, praying for one another. It’s about shared joys, shared grief, shared ministry. It wasn’t meant to be a consumer experience, a form of entertainment, or even a place to get fed or topped up for the week.

Enough ranting. If you’re looking for church now, you can’t drive around, and don’t try the yellow pages. Look online. Google ‘church’. I suggest a few search words will be helpful. Try typing in your location and “church” to start with. God forbid this COVID crisis goes on for ever, and it might just be that you want to stay in touch with the church after it’s over. Hey, you might even recognise some neighbours or make friendships with others in the church community.

I also recommend adding the words “Christian” and “evangelical” to your search box. Don’t take anything for granted. You might be thinking Billy Graham or tele-evangelists when you read the word ‘evangelical’, but in Australia it means something else. It’s a good shorthand for the church being on about Jesus, the Bible, and seeking to shape what they do with God’s will. In other words, it’s about fair-dinkum church versus a whole bunch of other stuff. By contrast, if you were to type in ‘liberal church’ there’s a pretty good chance you wouldn’t get much about Jesus or the Bible at all, so don’t waste your time. It’s probably worth seeing what comes up when you type in “Jesus”, “Bible”, “Prayer”, “Beliefs”, and more.

However, far better than asking Google, is to ask a friend. Do you know someone in a local church? Call them. Ask them about it. See if you can check it out. If they’re not willing to help, or they say “You wouldn’t want to come to my church!”, then take that as a free warning!

Now there are two main ways churches are currently getting organised online. The first is fairly passive from the participants perspective. They livestream or play a recorded ‘service’ from their church website, or FaceBook, or YouTube. There may be some minimal interaction with comments in the sidebar, but you can stay pretty much anonymous.

zoom churchThe second approach is purposefully interactive. This might be a preferred option among smaller churches. but some larger ones have mastered the tech and give a pretty good experience. This is what we’re doing at my local church: Salt Community Church in Bonny Hills, NSW. We use a teleconference program called Zoom. People can log into our church meeting by typing in a meeting ID assigned to our church meeting. It works best from a computer, tablet, or smart phone with a built in camera. People can see you on their screens and you can see them. Our church have loved the experience of everyone seeing each other after a week of isolation.

Now you might be thinking you’d like a more anonymous way of checking out church and the streaming option seems safer. And I guess you can sit back and no one needs to know you’re there. But I suggest another approach. Say you wanted to check out the church and you log into zoom. Someone will need to give you the meeting ID. You can turn off your video, mute your microphone, and only engage with others when you’re ready.

Anyway, if someone has shared this with you, then I hope you will accept their invitation and take the time to check out their church. You won’t need to dress up, you won’t be asked to say or do anything, and you get the opportunity for a sneaky look. Who knows, maybe you’ll love what you see and hear and want to keep coming. And maybe one day you’ll turn up and get to meet the people in person.

Cheers.

Our praying PM

Our leaders are working flat out in their command centres. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. We’re at war. War with a virus. Everyone is being called to high alert. Our way of life is being challenged and changed on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Devastation fills our screens. Predictions and projections are catastrophic beyond comprehension.

My personal conviction is that we need to fall into line, not simply with our government and health authorities, but to care for each other. We need genuine concern for one another. We’ve all had a taste of what happens when people act to protect their own interests—it results in the needy, the elderly, the sick, and the housebound, being unable to buy basic necessities such as toilet paper, sanitiser, disinfectant, and staples like rice and flour. We’ve witnessed the panic buying of gym equipment, freezers and fridges, meats, and now alcohol. I’m just grateful Australia doesn’t have the panic buying of guns, that we see in other places.

We’ve seen some remarkable things in politics recently. Cooperation across ideological and political divides. Working together for the good of our nation. Federal, states, and territories in this together. I believe that a little humility goes a long way. Now is not the time for the narcissists to strut their stuff. Now is the time to model calm, restraint, care, cooperation and love for our fellow humans. Now is the time to acknowledge that we we need help managing ourselves, our families, our communities, our countries, let alone this world with its disasters, diseases, and deaths. I believe that now is the time to call on our Father in heaven. Now is the time to pray. God knows, it can’t hurt can it? If there is a God, and he made this world, and we keep ignoring him and living as though he’s not there, then it doesn’t make sense to ignore him and live as though he’s not there and doesn’t care. Isn’t it more logical to turn back and seek his help? Wouldn’t it be wise to ask his forgiveness? If he’s concerned for the people he has made, and wants our best, and can offer us help, then what do we have to lose by coming back to him? In humility, of course,  and prayerfully dependent.

So, I’m thankful for our leaders. And especially for our Prime Minister, who encouraged us to pray, and who asked us to pray for him and other leaders, as he also prays for us. I’m so grateful to know that we have a prime minister who knows he’s not God, and who humbly prays to the One who is.

Upstairs downstairs

IMG_6393Hello from quarantine. I haven’t been overseas, and I don’t think I’ve been exposed to the virus, but my pre-existing lung condition and daily treatment for lung cancer have put me on high alert. In some ways, I’ve been slow to grasp what is going on here. The practice of distancing is a personal and a public health strategy. It’s not just about stopping me getting sick, it’s about reducing potential channels for the spread of this virus. I tend to be a bit of a social butterfly, often out and about, time in coffee shops, catching up with people, hanging with people from church and at church, and trying to catch up with a couple of mates. Now it’s lock down. I’m not simply at higher risk of illness, but if I kept up my normal social behaviours then I would also be at at risk of becoming a super spreader. So, lockdown it is.

IMG_6391The coronavirus has changed how we live at home. I live upstairs and Fiona lives downstairs. I’m spoilt for comfort in my quarantine. We’ve made a kitchenette and created a ‘flat within the house’ for Fiona. We are keeping strict physical distance. Separate beds, separate bathrooms, separate kitchens, separate entrances. We are using gloves and disinfectants. I cook dinner and leave it on a tray on the stairs for Fiona. It’s already challenging and stressful. But it’s Fiona’s initiative and it’s motivated by love for me.

Fiona is on the medical front line in this war on the virus. Three days a week she drives off to the front line. The rest of the week she is following up on patients, tests, and results. She gowns up with oversized men’s shirts from the op shop. She covers her hair with a shower cap. She puts on gloves and a mask. And she is courageously putting herself at risk for the welfare of patients. Now telemedicine is supplementing car consults and physical distancing. But there are still people walking in with ‘normal’ sicknesses. She is navigating a potential minefield. A handful of patients just haven’t grasped what is at stake and have put medical staff and other patients at risk through their careless or arrogant behaviour.

Please practice careful physical distancing.

It is now estimated that as many as 31% of new COVID-19 infections are being caused as a result of transmission through asymptomatic individuals those who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 but don’t shown signs and symptoms of the disease.

(Nishiura H, Kobayashi T, Suzuki A, et al. Estimation of the asymptomatic ratio of novel coronavirus infections (COVID-19). Int J Infect Dis. 2020.)

90290957_10159478194782067_1672564310645145600_oThis is an especially important aspect of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and reinforces why we need to practice stringent social distancing to flatten the curve.

Please take this seriously. Look at what is happening in Italy, Spain, France, USA. Health workers are now having to choose who will live and die as their medical system is overloaded and broken. It’s catastrophic beyond belief. I pray this won’t happen here. Please don’t take your health for granted and please don’t carelessly put others health at risk. And take a moment to say thank you to the doctors, nurses, and other health workers who are risking their lives for the sake of us all.

 

 

The importance of not practising social distancing

Okay, I know I’m going to get into trouble for that headline. This is too important to send confusing signals. And I agree. I’m getting the message. We’ve got to flatten the curve, stem the flow, stop transmission, practice good hygiene, wash hands, clean surfaces, use hand sanitiser, keep away from cash,  protect our elderly, care about the vulnerable. I get all that. I’m one of the people at risk. And I live with a GP, have kids who are teachers, doctors, social workers, and students. But let’s be clear.

It’s not social distancing we need. It’s physical distancing.

Physical distancing is a strategy to stem the spread of the pandemic. Social distancing creates a mental health risk, amidst a while lot of other problems. We weren’t created to be alone. We need each another. Now more than ever. Fear, anxiety, panic, stress are all around us. We need kindness, calm, consideration, and courtesy.

Yesterday our church was told we can no longer meet on school premises. Like so many churches, we are exploring online strategies, streaming videos of talks, delivering Bible studies via the internet, purchasing hardware, trying out software, and scrambling to know what we’re going to do and how we’ll make it work. We can all play around with technology. We might even be able to make ourselves or our churches look better than we ever have before. But that’s not really the issue.

How we are going to do community? How will we put the ‘one another’ exhortations from the New Testament into practice? How will we stay in touch with one another? How will we identify the needy? How will we encourage the spiritually weary? How will we offer the message of real hope to a world in crisis? How will we pray together and for each other? How will we support one another when we need to keep our distance, when we can’t congregate, or when we need to quarantine or self-isolate.

phoneLet’s do a thought experiment. Take yourself back 30 or 40 years to a world without the internet. There is no Google, no Facebook, no email, no Instagram, no Twitter. How would we manage our current challenges in such times? My first thought is that we’d go back to speaking on the telephone. Remember the telephone! We’d call and say, “How are you doing?” “Is there anything I can do for you?” “Have you got enough toilet paper?” “Can I drop a meal around?” “How are you off for money?” “Are you feeling any better today?” “What can I pray for you?”

We might call one another to pray for each other, or read the Scriptures together, or get some help on a matter, or share ideas on how we can encourage, help and support one another…

1456

I’ve just passed six months of daily chemo. That’s eight tablets a day, four with breakfast and four with dinner, seven days a week, totalling 1456 tablets. A friend recently shared with me that my silence on social media had made her anxious that perhaps I wasn’t doing too well. So I figured that it was time for an update.

Health-wise, I’m doing pretty well, thanks. The chemo seems to be doing a good job of shrinking and keeping the cancer in check. My last scans showed no observable changes. No change is good with this treatment strategy. It means that the drugs are stopping the cancer from progressing. And probably better than that.

IMG_4676I’ve grown use to most of the side-effects. Seems I’m now allergic to sunlight! The drugs make me burn very quickly and I’ve had to invest in hats, long sleeve shirts, and carrying a small pack of sunscreen with me. This has been kind of weird for someone who has just moved to the beach! I’ve been experiencing fluid retention, swelling to the feet, and muscle myalgia, especially in my legs. I’ve put on weight, gained the alectinib belly, and felt rather bloated a lot of the time. Chemo brain has returned and I find myself forgetting things, but what’s really bad is that chemo brain has returned and I find myself forgetting things. My resting heart rate has dropped over 20bpm to the rate of an elite athlete—except I’m not. When it gets really low (mid 40s) I find myself feeling totally smashed. Fatigue is a big issue for me now. But, I’m alive, getting on with life, and the cancer has been dealt a blow for now. Thank you God.

2020 marks a lot of changes and they’re not fully worked out as yet. Technically, I’m unemployed at present. My work with FIEC has finished and I’m waiting for our local church to work out a firm offer for me to pastor with them. My plan is to work with Salt Community Church at Bonny Hills, and run for President of the US in my spare time. (Did I say that chemo brain makes me think weird thoughts?) I’d love to keep active in ministry, take up opportunities for sharing the good news of Jesus, speak on Hope Beyond Cure, and perhaps move into doing some mentoring/coaching of pastors.

I’ve got a few personal goals. Trying to lose 10 kilos—4.8 so far in 2020. Getting back into writing. Travelling the Great Ocean Road with Fiona—in a couple of weeks time. Taking regular days off—something I’ve struggled with the past 3 years. Our son, Marcus, is studying in Indonesia, so we’d also like to pay him a visit sometime this year. I’ve got a few more goals, but I’m not overly ambitious. Mostly, I want to love God, love my family, love my church, love my friends, and share the love of God with others. I’m not awesome at it, but I know God works through my weakness and failures to bring about his good purposes.

In sickness and in health

sandy-millar-YeJWDWeIZho-unsplashThis week Fiona and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. We thank God for bringing us through so many ups and downs, and we keep asking him to help us love each other whatever the future may hold. We don’t have a perfect marriage and we’ve got lots still to learn. But the promises we made weren’t conditional. They weren’t dependent on feelings or good circumstances. We went with the traditional options… you know… better/worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health. I suspect we made these promises without pausing to contemplate very deeply. We just knew we wanted to get married and we wanted to stay married. Still do.

Back then it was…

Richer? Who cares?

Poorer? I doubt it—we were both students.

Better? We’re about to get married. It can only get better, surely?

Worse? I hope not.

Health? Of course, we’re both young and fit and full of life.

Sickness? Everyone gets sick sometimes, don’t they?

Fast forward to 2019 and one promise stands out. Never would we have contemplated what this could mean, what it would mean. “In sickness and in health”.

On any count, the typical annual dose of the flu, occasional colds, a few broken bones, irregular migraines, four caesareans, bouts of labyrinthitis, recovery from a major car accident, and eight years of living with cancer, add up to a lot of time “in sickness”.

And what about all the sicknesses and injuries to our children? More than three months in the NICU, regular injuries from skateboarding, cycling, or rugby, catching the bugs from school friends (sometimes literally). And then there are ageing parents. And mental health struggles. And pregnancy complications. And, and, and.

Let me go out on a limb and say I reckon marriage for us has been at least 1/3 sickness, 2/3 health.

Marriage is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not for casual or temporary affections. Marriage is a covenant to love. It’s about putting your life partner before yourself. It’s about “we will work it out—whatever”. It’s about let’s keep asking God to help us.

It’s about learning to love, actively, showing the initiative, being the first to forgive, killing our selfish pride, overcoming our discontent, and rejoicing in the wonder of growing together in all the ups and downs of life. It’s about a love that grows in patience, and kindness, without envy, boasting or pride. This is a love that isn’t self-seeking, doesn’t get easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, and always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

How can you learn to love like this? Two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Even though he never got married, Jesus shows us the kind of love that will make a marriage work.
  2. You know love when it gets put to the test. Seems like “in sickness” is a challenging place to grow real love.

We have dear friends whose marriages have faced the challenges of better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, more than we will ever know—friends who have no relief from continual pain, perpetual fatigue, aching brokenness, chronic illnesses, and more. Please pray for friends’s marriages, pray for your marriage.

Now it’s time to seek God’s help to practice what I preach.

 

Eight years closer to eternity

rhodi-lopez-Cxpqnzd3Psg-unsplashWe spent this morning at the funeral of a friend’s mum. She died at 64, leaving a husband, 4 kids, 10 grandkids, and so many friends. The church was packed, the overflow was packed, and it was standing room only outside. We’d been to the church before and it was all but empty. I’m talking single figures of regular attenders. Today there were literally hundreds.

Church mattered today. People flooded the building. People engaged with spiritual matters. They prayed the Lord’s Prayer. They recited the 23rd Psalm. Today God was on their agenda.

I thought to myself, “Why are we normally content to mindlessly fill our lives with trivial pursuits?” “Why do we drift toward death, without pausing to consider what life is all about?” “Why does it take the death of someone we know, love, care about, to cause us to stop and think about matters that really matter?”

Today is exactly eight years since my cancer diagnosis. Eight years I never expected. Eight years of lows, highs, and everything in between. Eight years of being personally plugged into my mortality. Eight years of continual reminders that life is brutally short. Eight years of growing, deep conviction about the meaning of life and the purpose of existence.

Is it all blind meaningless chance?

I don’t believe so. I’m persuaded that there is a God behind it all, that he can be known, that he is good, that he gives hope, and that hope is real.

What do you believe?

And why?

Preparing for marriage

IMG_4919
Waiting for the bride

I married a couple yesterday in the beautiful surrounds of the Old Butter Factory at Telegraph Point. God’s timing with the weather was awesome—we had clouds and drizzle then sunshine and storms—all at the right times. It was a thoroughly Christian wedding, pointing to God’s amazing love for us in the gospel of Jesus.

We enjoyed celebrating this day with the beautiful couple—but all the more because we’d spent a number of evenings over the past few months preparing them for marriage. Not simply preparing the wedding—but preparing for marriage. We’d have a meal together and then talk specifically about preparing for married life. More precisely, we’d get the couple talking together about their expectations, hope, fears, and dreams for life together. Fiona and I use the Prepare/Enrich material to gain insights into the couple and assist them to prepare for their life together.

It’s not enough to prepare a great day, we need to be preparing for a lifetime. Two previously single ‘selfish’ individuals need guidance and support with communication, conflict resolution, managing finances, preparing for intimacy and sex, encouraging each other spiritually, and much more.

IMG_0977If you’re looking to get married, then don’t sell yourself short. Don’t put all your focus on making the day just perfect, but take the time to prepare for what comes afterwards. For better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. This is the important stuff. This is the tough stuff. This is where the deep and lasting joy is to be found. This is really what it’s all about. Marriage is for a lifetime together. Isn’t that worth a little serious preparation?

If you’re a pastor or Christian marriage celebrant, what do you do to prepare your engaged couples for marriage? Can I strongly suggest that you take a number of meetings with the couple to focus on what a Christian marriage is all about, and to explore the particulars of building a new family. Have some good books that you can share or give away, such as Married for God by Christopher Ash or What did you expect? by Paul Tripp.

Get trained in using the Prepare material. This gets the couple answering questions separately, collates their answers, and highlights strengths and work areas for their relationship. It gives you real data to work with and it gives them a workbook for now and later on. It moves you someway from idealism and starry-eyed dreams, to realism and areas for growth in relationship. It helps facilitators to pinpoint matters of specific relevance to each couple. Preparing for marriage is hugely important, so don’t sell the couple short. Let me encourage you to get well prepared, so that you can help the engaged couple to be well prepared.

Prepare training is available throughout Australia. Check it out here.

Stepping down

fiecDear friends

I’m letting you know that I will be stepping down as FIEC National Director next year. It’s been a tough decision and a while in the making.

There have been a number of new stressors this year, most significantly declining health. My health problems reached a crisis point in June, when I was trying to function with constant pain, coughing, and breathlessness. Scans and biopsies confirmed that the cancer had been growing in my lungs and pleura. My poor health, fatigue, uncertainties, and stress, are among the factors behind my decision to step down. However, it’s not just the last year—it’s been eight years of living with the effects of lung cancer.

I now have reduced physical, mental, and emotional reserves, and I need to listen to my body and make some changes. While the pain and difficulties of the cancer have been reduced through the treatment, the side effects continue to limit me. I have increased fatigue, need more sleep, and yet often don’t sleep well. My stamina and durability have declined. I am still seeking to discover my new ‘normal’, but I am aware that it must be lesser than the previous normal. While I pray regularly for healing and relief, I must factor in continuing daily chemo for the remainder of my life.

A friend said to me this week, that not only have I had to drive the ship, but I’ve had to build the ship while driving it. It’s had its challenges, but I’d take the opportunity all over again. And I will miss it—that’s for sure.

This is not to say that I intend to stop serving within FIEC. Fiona and I have developed significant and supportive relationships among pastors, wives, and churches. We enjoy being able to offer practical ministry help, mentoring, and encouragement. It’s a joy to partner with churches to spur them on. It’s been a privilege to represent FIEC, as I’ve visited colleges, spoken at conferences, and exercised wider ministry. I will share with you more of our future plans as they become clearer.

I want to thank everyone involved with FIEC for the honour of serving you over the past three years. Thank you for your faith in me as I’ve sought to pioneer this role. It’s been a privilege to serve alongside each of you. I’ve appreciated your support and your fellowship. I’ve loved the opportunity to invest in the FIEC ministry, and to encourage men and women to work together in building God’s kingdom. Visits to churches and our annual conferences have been highlights for me over my time in this role.

As I’ve said, it’s been a tough decision to step down as National Director. I am stepping down from this specific role, not from ministry. I want life to continue to be about the service of God and others, it will just take a different shape. I understand that this will be disappointing news for some—we feel the grief ourselves. We would value your prayers and encouragement at this time of change.

What Ms Castle could have written…

IMG_4761Following Raelene Castle’s letter to Wallabies fans yesterday, where she failed to show any appreciation to the Australian side, this is the letter that I believe would have been more befitting the CEO. This is what she could have written…

Dear Wallabies fans

As we lower the curtain on another World Cup, can I ask you to please join me in thanking so many who’ve worked so hard. It has been a tough campaign and it’s been far more than a few weeks or months. It’s been four years in the making. We expect more and more of our professional players and coaching staff. The competition has become incredibly fierce. The quality of rugby keeps getting better and better. Our teams keep being pushed harder and harder as the game gets tougher and tougher. Join me in thanking everyone involved for their grit and determination during four tough years of international rugby.

Let me begin by expressing gratitude to Michael Cheika and his coaching team. Being a professional coach is often a thankless task. I laud the long hours spent by our coaches, medical staff, and trainers, devoted to maximising every opportunity to put the best prepared team on the paddock every time we play.

Let us express our congratulations and gratitude to Michael Hooper and his team of players. You have represented your country with pride. Sheer guts and determination, game after game, season after season, year after year. And thank you to the players in the squad who haven’t taken the field, or who haven’t seen much game time. We understand how it takes many more than 23 players to win any serious competition, let alone a world cup. Every one of you has played your part. Thank you to the players in Super Rugby, the NRC, and club rugby, for challenging one another, and lifting our standard of competition.

Thank you to those in our team who have endured special hardship to represent our country. To Christian Lealiifano for your inspirational journey back from leukemia to play flyhalf in a World Cup quarter final. To David Pocock, for your difficult journey through injury and rehab, to put your body on the line for one more World Cup campaign. To the unrecognised and unheralded players who have gone above and beyond for our entertainment and joy in this great game.

Many of our players have played their last game for Australia. We want to say thank you for representing us so well on the world stage and to wish you all the best for your futures, both in rugby and beyond.

Our thanks must go further. So, to the wives, partners, parents, children, and extended families of our players and high performance staff, we salute you. Many of you have accepted being temporary widows or orphans to allow your men to reach the heights they have. Thank you for your support, love, and sacrifice.

As we come to the end of another World Cup campaign, there can only be one winning team, and we eagerly look forward to seeing who that will be. We will need to review our own campaign. We will examine our processes, systems, priorities, and strategies. We will review our coaches, high performance staff, and players. We will examine our board, and I will submit to review, in my capacity as CEO of Rugby Australia. There will be changes. There must be. It is only right that we take a long look in the mirror. But, for now, let us not forget to appreciate the men, women, and families who have worked so hard for so long.

With deep appreciation,

Raelene Castle

CEO Rugby Australia

A ride down memory lane

Having cancer often gives me cause for reflection. Sometimes, in grief and melancholy, but other times in joy and delight. I grieved that I would never see grandchildren, and now four of them bring us enormous blessing. I lamented the loss of ministry experience, and God has opened doors that I didn’t even know existed. I’ve learned how easy it is to take life for granted, and God has given me a renewed delight in so many of the simple things in life. Let me reflect on a thread that has been woven through my life.

I’m going to take you on a ride through some back roads of my nostalgia. It’s 40 years since I gained my motorcycle license and rushed out to purchase a second hand, blue Honda CB250. It didn’t go very fast and that wasn’t such a bad thing. It was my first vehicle and it gave me some independence. It took me to school, to friends’ houses, to the rugby, to job interviews, on some weekend rides around the Cotter-Tidbinbilla loop outside Canberra, and it got me praying. Dear God, help me stay alive. In case I don’t make it home tonight, please forgive me for all the bad stuff I did today. 

But I need to go back a few steps.

My introduction to motorbikes began much earlier when I was 9 years old in Tasmania. My best mate, Vaughan, had a Daytona 60 and we’d ride it on his property and on tracks near the Gorge in Launceston. It was awesome to get on a bike that ‘went by itself’. You didn’t have to pedal. You just had to learn how to not fall off and then how to stop. A few of my friends had motorbikes. Me? I didn’t even have a push bike. We lived on a steep hill and bikes were considered far too dangerous.

We moved to Canberra in 1975 and, again, many of my friends had motorbikes. My Grandpa gave me the money for my first bike. It was a Malvern Star Skidstar GT, with twin halogen headlights, 3 speed shift, speedo, and chrome mudguards. The only thing it didn’t have was an engine. Mind you, I did crank it out to 80 km/h going flat out down the road from Mt Ainslie. I wish I still had it—apparently they are collectors’ items.

Some of my mates had trail bikes and they’d ride the fire trails of Mt Majura before they were old enough to get their licenses. It was on one of these, when I was 12 years of age that I rode for the first time on a ‘proper’ motorcycle, with gears and a clutch. My friend, Paul, would double me to the forest and then let me take turns in riding. Once I got the hang of it, I was hooked.

I loved the look and feel of bikes. My Bible study leader rode a WLA war model Harley Davidson. It was camo green, had hand gears, a foot clutch, and was sometimes working. I loved checking it out whenever he rode it to church. My good friend, David, bought himself a Honda CB250 road bike—the same one I was to purchase later from a dealer in Braddon. Another friend from church, Jack, who worked for the Canberra Times, had two Moto Guzzi Californians—and in later years we would go on some long trips together.

My friend Ross, who was a theological student, had some amazing bikes. He’d race them, customise them, drag them, and do outrageous things on them. My favourite was a Yamaha 650 that was semi-chopped, airbrushed, and had the sweetest exhaust sound I’d ever heard. I don’t think I knew what a theological student was. It had something to do with studying the Bible and becoming a minister. My dad was a minister, but he didn’t drag race Kawasaki 1000s!

smithDuring high school I met John Smith and other members of the Gods Squad Christian Motorcycle Club. We had John and other Squad guys visit or stay in our home at different times. I admired their passion for Jesus, their support for the disadvantaged and the marginalised, and their guts in reaching out among outlaw bikers, such as the Hells Angels MC. It was during one of the Squad visits to Canberra that my whole outlook on life changed. I decided that I wanted to work among people, to reach out to those who are doing it tough, to share Jesus with others (and maybe one day to ride a Ducati or a Harley Davidson!) I wanted to quit school immediately and become a youth worker. The problem was I was only 17 and I needed to spend some time growing up and working out my life and faith. I’d grown up in a Christian home, but I needed some independence to work out what I really believed for myself.

cb250That same year I bought the CB250. I’d saved enough to buy the bike through working on a milk run after school. I’m not sure how my mother agreed, but she did. Dad and I went to the shop and I purchased the bike. I bought some boots, gloves, Barbour oilskins, and conceded to buying a bright yellow helmet. I stuck a cross on the back with electrical tape and then I spray painted the helmet metallic blue, leaving a bright yellow cross. I’m not sure why I did it, but it probably had something to do with working out my identity.

daveLater in the same year I got a labouring job in the outer suburbs of Canberra. I’d start work at 7am and decided that I needed a reliable bike to get me to and from our worksites. My next purchase was a burgundy Honda CB400 twin. It was smoother, faster, and leaked less oil than the 250. This was a bike that would take me places—rides along the Kings Highway, up and down the Clyde, camping at North Durras or Burrill Pines. It was powerful enough to carry a load, but laboured a bit when doubling a friend. It would become my means of transport between Canberra and Sydney, where I’d moved to commence a Social Work degree at UNSW.

brotherhoodUniversity gave me the independence I needed to force a crisis of beliefs. I’d left home—would I leave my faith behind, or would I see it grow into maturity? I thank God for surrounding me with friends who were serious about following Jesus. They opened the Bible and expected it to make sense. They saw Jesus as the key to meaning, life, and the future. I learned that I could be forgiven for everything, because the death of Jesus had paid it all. Being Christian wasn’t about being good enough to be accepted by God, it was about God accepting me because Jesus dealt with all my sin on that first Good Friday. During these years I also became loosely involved with the Brotherhood CMC. They were similar to the Gods Squad, based in Sydney’s west, with an outreach to the marginalised. I’d considered applying to become a patched member, but I didn’t go ahead with it, and I realise now that my heart wasn’t in the right place.

new doc 2019-10-01 12.09.34_1They say the ideal bike is the one that is just a bit bigger than the one you’ve got. I’d started to take a couple of my best friends, Fiona and Barry, on rides to different places. Fiona’s brother lived in Wollongong and I’d take her for visits to his family. I’d say, let’s ride to the Gong for a hamburger on Friday nights. The truth is we visited a Christian outreach called ‘The Hamburger Hut’ in Fairymeadow. We’d meet interesting people who surfed, rode bikes, did fun stuff, but significantly wanted to share how good God is. The CB400 soon got replaced by a blue Honda CX500 Shadow. It was a super-comfortable, shaft-driven, V-twin. It was the ideal tourer and was loads of fun in the twists and turns. I’d take it everywhere—to and from Canberra, even in the cold of winter; along the Great Ocean Road; outback NSW to Narrabri and West Wyalong; to and from Wollongong via the Royal National Park.

vf754_1Somewhere along the line the blue CX500 was traded in on a newer black CX500. It was one of the nicest bikes I’ve ridden, but I didn’t keep it long. Fiona and I were getting married, so we opted to replace the bike with a 1974 Corolla and then a Datsun 180B SSS, so that we’d have a vehicle that we could both use. We temporarily swapped our Datsun for a Honda VF750/4 for ‘part two’ of our honeymoon.

After we were married I started working in a Christian ministry apprenticeship based in the Eastern Suburbs around UNSW. Fiona had her medical training to finish and life became a little frantic. I had an ex-police model, white Suzuki 750, with almost no suspension, during this time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter four more years in Sydney and completing theological training, we left to start ministry in Canberra. In the busy years of raising four kids, we decided that I wouldn’t continue riding much, other than occasional times when someone might lend me a bike (or even an OzTrike) while they were away on holidays!

moto moriniAt one point I purchased an ‘almost restored’ Moto Morini 3½. It was a collector’s item and now resides at the National Motorcycle Museum in Nabiac. Now that I’m nearby, I must pay it a visit sometime soon.

120816 HD2A highlight of my motorcycling experience was when Fiona arranged for me to have a Harley for 24 hours as a gift for my 50th birthday. It seems bizarre when I look back on it. I was 9 months into my cancer journey and still pretty weak and frail. Here I was dodging the effects of chemotherapy and Fiona arranged for me to ride a 350 kg Harley Davidson with her on the back. That is trust for you! I marvel that I could even hold the thing up, and we rode it for more than 300km through country NSW.

IMG_0092As my cancer seemed to disappear, and I had no evidence of disease, I considered getting another bike. A good friend gifted me his BMW R1100S. He was very generous and it was such a treat. I remember the feeling of being alive as I started to regain confidence on the bike. But I owned this bike for a little more than two months, before it was stolen from our backyard and we never saw it again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

IMG_3101And, so, to now. We are living in a beachside town, with awesome scenery and some nice roads. Every Sunday we watch a steady stream of bikes going backwards and forwards on the coastal stretch in front of our house. Earlier this year I test rode a Triumph Bonneville T120. It handled nicely, looked great, and sounded awesome. I took Fiona on the back and we explored some country roads.

But there was a problem—the pain I felt afterwards. Fiona didn’t find it very comfortable either. After a few days of riding, my back was in such pain, my ribs were so sore, and I remember saying to Fiona that I must be getting too old to ride. I needed some physio, but the massages just seemed to make it worse. After a dozen sessions trying to get my back and chest right, nothing seemed to work.

It turns out that the problem wasn’t riding motorbikes, nor this particular bike. It was the recurrence of the lung cancer. Tumours had been slowly regrowing in my left lung, and activities like motorcycling caused the pain to flair up. Now that I’m back on treatment again, my pains have all but gone. And I’ve now purchased a bike and I’m loving riding it. A commute to town has become a joy rather than a chore. Fiona has ridden with me. We’ve done a few winding roads, climbed a couple of mountains, and found a café with a view worth lingering over. We’ve been thoroughly drenched in the rain. We’ve enjoyed the sun and the wind. And we’ve done it together, like we did so long ago.

Is it safe? No, it’s not ‘safe’—but we can be and will be careful. We’ll dress safely, stay alert, and look out for trouble. I would like to do an advanced rider’s course. I will assume that we are invisible and take precautions.

Lately, I’ve been praying when I ride—not just for our safety, but I thank God for life and the feeling of being alive. And I pray for others—for some bikers I’ve met, for some neighbours who’ve lost their wives or husband, for my friends with cancer, for our little church at Salt, for my family, for my friends, for some people who are doing it tough right now.

Harley Davidson - CopyWhat motorcycle did I get? Well, let me say, it runs in the family. My grandfather, Dave McDonald, had a Harley before my father was born. Grandpa and Grandma brought my newborn dad home from the hospital in the sidecar in 1935. What can I say? Perhaps I have another genetic mutation!

IMG_4652Last month, I picked up a Harley Davidson. It’s a little more sophisticated than its forbear. It chugs along pretty well. It’s a cruiser, a bike for old blokes. It’s low to the ground and easy to get on and off. It looks good naked (the bike, not me); and it has saddle bags, a comfy seat for Fiona, and a windshield to clip on for longer trips.

It’s opening new opportunities with people, we are making new friends, and I’m getting opportunities to share the love of Jesus with others. There are a few riders in our church, and there seems to be many bikers in our community. I’ve become friends with a Harley rider who is only alive today because of a lung transplant, who knows what it is to be given new life.

Eric Liddell, from Chariots of Fire, said that when he ran he felt God’s pleasure. I can say something pretty similar. Thank you God for the joy of riding.

It’s not a cure, but it is good

IMG_4661My new targeted chemo regime is now in full swing. So much easier than the previous routine of hospital visits, IV chemo, crash for a week, regroup for two weeks, then do it all again. Now it’s just four tablets with breakfast and four with dinner. Instead of a chair in hospital, I can sit on the deck at home.

This week I had my first CT scan since starting treatment and the results are exciting. The drugs are working, the cancer is shrinking, and life is stabilising. The pain has all but disappeared, the coughing has gone, and my breathing is getting easier. There’s increased fatigue, some aches and pains, my heart has slowed down, and my brain has become a bit muddled at times. Latest blood tests show that I am tolerating the impact on my liver and other organs. The breathing is getting easier and I’m keeping fairly active.

Thank you for your concern, your prayers, and your encouragement. I’m very grateful for God’s kindness in giving me a renewed lease on life. God has put a smile on my face and an increased desire to number my days for his sake. It’s not a cure, but it sure is good.

Round 2

This post is by Fiona McDonald. We are in this together.

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Ding. Ding. Ding.

The bell sounds the start of round 2.

This will be a different round from the first round.

Round 1 had seen an unknown featherweight sent into the ring against a known heavy weight—LC.

No one had known why the round had even been scheduled. It was a total mismatch.

There had never been any doubt in the minds of most as to the outcome.

It had just been a warm up round for early spectators to the main event, a small sideshow off to the side.

But as the young featherweight danced around the ring, in his naivety throwing punches that LC hadn’t expected, fighting in a totally unconventional style, this round had gathered the interest of the spectators, both professionals—medical and theological, and amateurs—believers and non-believers.

Much to everyone’s amazement, including the featherweight himself, blows had been delivered that had knocked LC around, causing him to stumble and fall.

The judge’s decision was totally unexpected—the featherweight had won the first round.

But now the bell is ringing for the second round.

It has been a long time since the first round.

The crowd has drifted on to other matches, other things in life.

The featherweight himself has moved on from that first round.

The unexpected win had given new lease to life.

There had been the book written of the experience and talks to encourage others in their unexpected fights with LC’s brothers.

There had been a new job—leading a church in the Stromlo region. Then taking on and shaping the first FIEC national director job. With pastoral ministry to the local, national and even international church.

There had been the fulfilment of bucket list prayers—kid’s graduations; weddings; special birthdays; the joy of four grandchildren; family holidays to beautiful places; joy, beauty, life; celebrating the life God continued to give; celebrating NED.

But there had also been occasional reminders—scanxiety every 3 months; the serious oncologist with somber warnings; the progression of LC in others; and the deaths and funerals of fellow LC and other C brothers and sisters.  Life, and sometimes even breathing were reminders of LC not being far away.

And now the bell sounds for round 2.

Years later…

Some had thought the battle had been won and there would be no round 2.

But the wise, including those in the corner of the featherweight, hadn’t been caught totally unsurprised when LC suddenly scheduled a second round. LC didn’t like losing. His backers didn’t like losing. They’d bided their time before turning up again, hoping to catch the featherweight off guard, untrained, unprepared.

It’s now an older, middleweight who now steps into the ring against LC.

Older, wiser, more tired, still bearing the bruising and scarring from last time.

But not totally unprepared.

Not quite so naïve as last time.

Maybe more skill than last time?

They’ve been working on the left jab, fighting hard, building strategies.

Jab… the research and experimenting with new treatments that has happened in the last 8 years. No longer is the world so scared of LC, or his siblings. Great advances have been made.

Jab… no longer is all LC the same. Now it is understood at the molecular level, cell types and genetic mutations promptly looked for.

Sure, there’s still the discrimination… “you must have been a smoker” and “You get what you deserve”.

Sure, funding for other Cs is still greater… who doesn’t want to help their mum, their girlfriend when they’ve got BC? Which bloke hasn’t come to realise more about PC? Who hasn’t been encouraged to do their poo test when the government sends it out? Which lady hasn’t been cheering that pap smears are now only every 5 years and encouraging their teenage girls and boys to suck it up and have their HPV immunization.

The middle weight is grateful for groups like the Lung Foundation Australia, and for their support, research, and advocacy. He’s got involved. He’s joined the team. He’s been in the papers and on TV.

HIs involvement in Rare Cancers Australia has opened doors to better government understanding and funding.

The middle weight has been glad to be another little voice in the PBS listing of new medications and the need for genetic testing. It’s been a pleasing change from the initial “I’m sorry, we don’t speak with the public” to now being asked to participate in public forums, as a ‘consumer’.

Jab… many LCs are able to be treated more like a ‘chronic disease’ than a ‘death sentence’. It’s still the largest C killer, but things are changing.

Jab… in 2011 research was still deciding that chemo could continue beyond the first four doses to a maintenance regime—something the featherweight had proved in person, with four gruelling years of maintenance chemo to back up his surprise win.

But the glimmers of targeted therapy had been just beyond the featherweight’s reach. Now they are a reality, things have changed.

Jab… the targeted drugs are now first line therapy, and second line therapy and even third line therapy. They are now standard treatment. And they are available to our middleweight combatant. The question is more “which one to use?” rather than desperately trying to get access.

Jab… we’re not alone. Last time the featherweight coach had been desperately researching, desperately trying to find specialists with understanding and experience. Now these people are all in place. They are on our team.

A respiratory physician/oncologist in our neighbouring town of Port Macquarie.

A world class researcher and expert in Melbourne.

Access to the best research through the LC international symposium. Research that comes straight to our email box, rather than having to wade through the internet.

Initially it was the patient experts on the online community, Inspire, and the medical experts who took time to answer on CancerGrace.

But now a specific ALK group—connections in Australia, NZ, Canada, the US. Friends online have become friends in person. Friends we’ve shared our lives with, who’ve stayed with us, and at whose funerals we’ve wept.

Jab… Jab… Jab…

Our technique has certainly improved.

But it was the right-hand knockout punch that caught us as much as our opponent by surprise.

It totally blew us away. LC throwing in the towel. NED being announced and continuing to be announced with successive scans.

The joy and privilege of life granted, the miracle of healing despite the odds and the usually powerless chemotherapy combination.

The knockout punch forged through desperation last time, has now strengthened.

The right-hand cross of trust in God, forged in the battle last time, supported by the reading and writing of books and, most importantly, given its power by people’s prayers.  This punch has continued to be practiced and used and refined.

It’s been humbling to have had so many people say to us over the intervening years that they’ve been praying for us.

David didn’t want you to be uninformed.

You prayed and many have given thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted to us in answer to the prayers of so many. To see prayer—intentional and interventional—makes us more aware than ever that we’re not alone, and we don’t suffer alone or in silence. God had given us the community of the church to care, love, support and pray for each other.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
(2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

It’s been amazing to see God at work in so many ways through this first round.

To know the reality of Romans 8:28 in our lives, and to see the effect flow on into the lives of others.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.

It’s been wonderful to enjoy the peace of Philippians 4:6-7, rather than anxiety.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It’s been a blessing to rejoice in our physical, emotional and spiritual sufferings, and to know the hope that God gives. It’s been a privilege to see God act in mercy, reconciling people to himself.

we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

It’s been a joy to receive comfort from God and to seek to offer real comfort to others, through the comfort we have received, praying with and for them, trying to encourage others to persevere through suffering because the rewards are immense.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It’s been a privilege to continue to minister to God’s people, to hear David preach, to be part of our local churches—Crossroads, Stromlo, and now Salt.

It’s an awesome thought to know that we’re in the plans and purposes of God for our lives. To know that nothing is beyond his control, his knowledge, his reach, his working. To know that our time is in his hands, that he is all powerful and all good, and that he is indeed our Rock and our Redeemer.

The bell rings for round 2.

They had never wanted to enter the ring first round. They wouldn’t have wished it on their worst enemies, and yet it has been a joy and a privilege and something that had brought them closer to God and given new ways to serve others.

The bell rings for round 2.

Slowly the middleweight climbs onto the canvas. The scoffers and jeerers can be heard. The doubters are fearful. The resilient stand grim-faced and determined.

The crowd is expectant.

The bell rings.

The combatants face off, mentally preparing for jab, jab, jab, right cross.

But this round and many others were all won so many years ago.

Jab… the creator and sustainer of the world entered our world as a human being.

Jab… his teaching brought wisdom and understanding of the one true God.

Jab… his miracles pointed out the presence of God in their midst.

Uppercut to the jaw… his crucifixion.

Knockout punch… his resurrection.

The bell rings for round 2.

The combatants step up.

There is confidence and a trusting smile, for we know that Round 2 was won many years before. And even if we lose, yet we win.

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
(Philippians 1:20-24)

And through it all, we keep trusting in our great God—faithful, kind, good, sovereign, loving, and powerful— and we are deeply grateful for those who will pray with us through this next round, comforting, encouraging and spurring us on.

Goodbye NED

I’ve got some news to share and I apologise for the impersonal nature of this communication. Some of you have kindly asked about my health over recent months and I have given partial and non-committal answers. I haven’t been that well, and have undergone many tests and scans and have not had clarity until very recently as to what is going on.

The bottom line is that I’m no longer NED (No Evidence of Disease). My cancer is back. There is clear evidence of cancer growing again in my left lung and pleura. I have suspected this for some time as I have been unable to shake symptoms, such as back and chest pains that have grown more severe, a cough that will not go away, and increasing breathlessness after minor exertion such as walking up the stairs in our house.

IMG_4073It has been a slow and detailed process to reach a confident diagnosis. I’ve had multiple CT scans, a PET scan, blood tests, and a lung biopsy taken under CT. All this has confirmed that the original cancer has progressed in the same area of the left lung and pleura.

The diagnosis was not a surprise, but it has been hard to take. I’ve enjoyed more than three years without chemo and I’ve been enjoying a pretty ‘normal’ life. With a phone call from the oncologist, all that has changed, and I have once again become a cancer patient.

IMG_4166I am very grateful to God for the availability of new drugs that target my cancer sub-type: ALK. When I was first diagnosed, these types of treatments were only just being developed. In fact, Fiona and I both lobbied the PBAC to have these drugs available in Australia and placed on the PBS to make them affordable to people. I have now been on one of these targeted oral chemotherapies for a few weeks. The regime is completely different to my previous four years of intravenous chemo. I take two lots of four tablets every day. The drug is a targeted therapy. It is a new technology, developed since I was first diagnosed. It would have cost us $100ks, but is now available on the PBS for less than $40 a month.

We don’t know whether or how well it will work, but our prayer is that God will use this treatment to give me many more years to come. There is initial evidence that it is doing something as the pains in my chest aren’t as severe, but there is a long road ahead. We know some people who have done really well on this treatment—some who, like me, were given months to live, but have been no evidence of disease or contained disease for years now.

It will take a little while to get used to this new regime and to manage the impact of this treatment. The side effects are becoming more obvious. The main impact so far has been with swelling in my feet and ankles, myalgia in my legs, fatigue, and photosensitivity— hence my new hats! We will need to monitor the impact on heart, liver and kidneys. There will be regular visits to specialists, blood tests, scans, and more. I will need to monitor my energy levels and work out my capacity for various tasks and ministries.

If you are one who prays, then I ask you to pray: for healing; for the treatment to be really effective; for the ability to cope with the ongoing chronic nature of things; for our mental health—that we will trust God and not get too down; for Fiona who has asked for patience; for our love and kindness towards each other as we process life together through different lenses; for our children—who are older now, but have strong memories of last time.

There will be much more to say, we will need encouragement, prayers and support on this journey. We know God is with us, loves us, and will never leave nor forsake us.  God, in his mercy, listened to the prayers of so many in 2011/12 as people pleaded with God to extend my life. My hope is that God will grant me many more years in his service. So please join us in prayer.

Feel free to get in touch, but appreciate that there is a lot going on at the moment and it might take a little while to get back to some of you.

A window of hope for Rugby Australia

sasha-freemind-780719-unsplashDear Rugby Australia

I see a window of hope for our great game. It will take some humble pie. A decision or two will need to be reversed. But you have an opportunity to make rugby great again.

I love rugby. I love the Wallabies. I’ve held the Bledisloe Cup in my hands. I love the Brumbies. I’ve drunk from the 2004 Super 12 trophy. I love local rugby, standing in the driving rain, the sleet, the mud, and the heat, watching my boys compete with all their hearts. I’ve cheered Aussie rugby from my lounge room, the stands, the sidelines, the change room, in Australia and overseas. I’ve supported rugby and rugby has been my reward.

That is why, Rugby Australia, you are breaking my heart. I listen to so many who say they’ve had enough. They don’t care anymore. The politics, the ignorance, the mismanagement, the bullying, the elitism—they’ve had enough. And what can I say? They’ve got a point. But I won’t give up. In fact, I see a window of hope.

71edf81b5810a66b4f3c696b83f0c5a8Rugby Australia, you have made a mess of things, but there is still hope. You just need to own up to a few things. It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants to play rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window. Don’t miss it. Offer an olive branch now. Do it now before rugby league gets the jump. Do it now before he signs overseas. Do it now before our best player misses the World Cup. Do it now because you can and it is the right thing to do.

Be honest. You have made things far worse than they needed to be. You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose. They knew Izzy. They knew what he believes. It’s never been a secret. And they chose to follow him anyway. What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love. You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.

Rugby Australia, you didn’t handle things well. For years you’ve been saying we need to respect our players. All of them. Together with the Rugby Union Players Association, you have provided chaplains, cultural liaison workers, welfare workers and more. Orientation camps for players have included important pieces on the cultural, family, and religious convictions of our Pacific Islanders especially. Now you heavy-handedly ignore them. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to consult with cultural and religious experts, to seek to gain insight and understanding, to work toward future agreement, to learn from the misunderstanding to create a better outcome for all? But you rushed in like a bully in a china shop.

When Andy Friend was the coach of the Brumbies, he once surveyed all his players to discover the most influential people in their lives. A significant number of the players put Jesus Christ, or the Lord, or God as number one. I suspect this result would have been repeated in many of the teams across Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Most of the players who gave these responses were Polynesian. So, what did Andy do? He saw an opportunity to respect his players and further their development. He asked the chaplain to work with him to understand his players better, and to determine how he could support them in their beliefs. He explored how to enable players to live out their beliefs when at home and when on tour. We could do with a lot more of this kind of emotional intelligence among the leaders in our game.

Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and other church school teams? If you are going to lead rugby into the future in Australia, then you need to get back in touch, and there is still time. Please, do it now.

You have painted Izzy into a corner. You demanded that he take down a post. That seems reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes. Why would he be open to having all future posts vetted, but not take down an existing one? Have you thought about that? Have you asked him? Could it be that he sees you asking him to deny his beliefs? Please, lighten up a bit. The nature of social media posts is they are quickly buried and forgotten.

Look to the future, not to the past. Take the opportunity to forge a new future for religious and cultural liaison in rugby. Lead well. Show some grace. Be the sport that unites rather than divides.

Rugby Australia, I plead with you. Do the right thing. Give Israel Folau another chance. Take this window of opportunity to reconnect with Israel and work together for the future of our sport. I, for one, will respect you deeply if you do.

Dave McDonald

National Director, FIEC
Salt Community Church Pastor, Bonny Hills, NSW
Brumbies Chaplain 2003-2017

Just Starting Out: Seven Letters to a New Christian

117888There aren’t too many books you can read, cover to cover, on a flight between Port Macquarie and Sydney, but Just Starting Out: Seven Letters to a New Christian by Al Stewart and Ed Vaughan is one. It’s short, pithy, punchy, and well worth the read. The book has been written for someone who has just become a Christian, to introduce them to some of the basics of the Christian life. They’ve chosen seven topics:

  1. Saved by God
  2. Trusting in God
  3. Living God’s way
  4. Listening to God
  5. Talking to God
  6. Meeting with God’s family
  7. Meeting the world

Each chapter corresponds directly to one of the seven Just for Starters Bible studies that were originally written for people who responded to the call to become Christians at the 1979 Billy Graham Crusades in Australia. These studies are more familiar to an older generation as the 7 Basic Bible Studies. Thousands of university students began Bible studies in their first year by working through these studies, and thousands more new believers have learned the basics of Christian life and doctrine by the same means. I remember these studies as a first year uni student, wondering why no one had taught me this stuff before. It was my introduction to basic Christian discipleship. I’ve since led hundreds of students through these studies, I’ve written talks to go with them, and I even worked them up into an ‘unpublished’ book in 1990! All this to say, I reckon it is so helpful for a new believer to be guided in the basics and not left to flounder around trying to work out how a new Christian is called to live.

So well done Al and Ed, and congratulations Matthias Media. This is an excellent resource. I envisage buying many, getting our church to buy many. God-willing, as we see people becoming Christians, we will pass on these books. Young people coming to grips with how to follow Jesus will find this book simple and clear. Older people, who’ve been around church for ages, but can’t really tell you what matters matter most, will benefit from reading through it. People who are unclear as to whether they are a Christian or merely a church-goer will gain clarity through reading this book. Mature Christians wondering how to get alongside a newby will do well to read this with them.

The style of the book—seven letters from a mature Christian friend, Michael, to a young believer, Dave—is reminiscent of The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. The conversational style is very engaging and carries the reader along. This book covers way more than 7 topics. Gems of wisdom on a range of topics are squeezed onto every page. It’s probably the type of book to read more than once, as I suspect you will pick up new things each time.

The best way to read this book is in tandem with the Just for Starters Bible studies. It’s the Bible bit that’s the most important. So use this book as a stepping stone to discovering more and more from the Scriptures.

Independent churches lack accountability

AccountabilityIndependent churches lack accountability! I’ve been told this for the past 24 years. And it’s true. Independent churches often lack accountability, but so do mainstream denominational churches. You only need to look at the terrifying accounts of greed, sexual immorality, false teaching, abuse, and cover ups within churches, to see the failures of our structures to ensure accountability.

Congregations must do their bit to encourage their churches and leaders to stay on track. Bishops, synods, and assemblies can draw lines and forbid their leaders and churches from transgressing. Codes of conduct, covenants of service, rules and conditions, can all play a part in keeping churches on the straight and narrow. And, ultimately all churches are accountable to God, and pastors and teachers are especially accountable for how they exercise their responsibilities of leadership.

The stark reality is that no rules or structures, authorities or procedures will produce righteousness. Never have and never will. But if you argue for church autonomy and leave it at that, you will be both naïve and dangerous. Let me recommend four processes for increasing accountability in independent (and other) churches.

  1. Keep focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are sinners saved by grace and we are being transformed by God’s Word and Spirit into the fulness of Christ. Churches must keep shining a light on the gospel, preaching the gospel, refocusing their leadership on the gospel, growing their members in the gospel, applying the gospel to conflicts and divisions, setting budgets with gospel priorities, forgiving one another with the grace of the gospel. Literally applying the gospel to everything we teach and do. Accountability comes not through law, but through gospel.
  2. Seek out fellowship with other churches. Don’t stand on your independence from other churches and other leaders. God has called us to be his holy people and to be adopted into his family. We belong to God, and by his Spirit we belong to each other. We gather separately, with distinctive names and quirky cultural expressions, but one day we will be gathered together for all eternity with no divisions. Let that future shape our present experience. Independence is not a Christian trait. We are all dependent on God and one another. Interdependence should be a more accurate description of who we are as Christians and churches.
  3. Invite a number of mature respected Christian leaders to be on a Board of Reference for your church. If you’re a new church plant, then such people can provide credibility and support to your venture. If you’ve been around for a while, they can help you see your blind spots. Such a group doesn’t have governing authority. They primarily offer support, prayer, and advice. You can insert them into your church systems, such that they must be consulted on major matters and have the opportunity to speak into the circumstances. Changing a church’s theological beliefs, sacking or choosing a senior leader, accusations made against a senior leader; these are all issues that shouldn’t be covered up or go unnoticed. Ensuring that an independent voice gets to speak on these and other major matters can provide important checks and balances for churches and their leaders.
  4. Provide for your senior pastor (and potentially all your pastoral staff) to have an external mentor, coach, or pastoral supervisor. Be generous and pay for this if necessary. Invest in your leaders. The Royal Commission into Child Abuse has made recommendations that pastors have professional supervision, and some denominations already have this in place. An informed external perspective can assist leaders to look after their churches, grow their people, and watch themselves more effectively. Seek out someone with experience whom you trust and then make yourself accountable to them as you meet with them regularly. Without honesty, accountability means nothing. So speak the truth, seek help, and invest in your life and doctrine wisely.

How many times do I have to say it?

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Just because I’ve said it, doesn’t mean that you’ve heard it!

If it’s worth saying, then it usually needs to be said more than once and in more than one way. This is my philosophy of communication. We simply can’t assume that if we’ve said something once or written it once, that people have therefore got it.

Take speaking at church for example: When an announcement is made before the whole church, does this mean that everyone has got it? Of course not. On any week there will likely be less than 75% of regulars in attendance. Of these, some will be out with children. One or two could be in the bathroom. Some might be dreaming with other things on their minds. Some might be on their phones—please no! Others could be distracted by children, off with the fairies, or not grasp the importance or significance of the communication.

The same is true of weekly emails or blog posts. I’ve seen some people’s in-boxes. One had 13,000 emails and 1000s unread. Seriously! Some people have no idea how to manage emails. Their in-boxes are so full that they’ve given up looking at anything. Others glaze over the email coming from the same person with roughly the same information week after week. Some spouses forget that they need to pass things on to their other half. Some simply don’t find the time to read them. And some don’t have email.

For these reasons, and others, we need to consider the best ways of communicating things at church. Sometimes this will involve a verbal announcement at church, followed up by a Facebook notice, text, email, blog post, leaflet or something else. Things might need to be repeated over more than one week to increase the likelihood of people hearing the news. At other times we might choose not to say things up front at church, so as to avoid clutter or people thinking they’ve heard it all before. Emails, texts, and Facebook posts are a simple means of getting information out, but they depend on people getting them and reading them, and sometimes they need to be followed up with verbal communication or discussion. Facebook groups can help alert people to things that are happening, as can an up-to-date website. How up to date is your website? Is it still advertising the Christmas service? From 2014??? Sort it out—please!

I want to suggest another means of communication at church which could be a little controversial—good gossip! Spread the word among each other. When I say good gossip, I don’t really mean ‘gossip’. There is absolutely no place for God’s people to be telling stories about one another, putting each other down, grumbling, whinging or complaining. This is why the generation of Moses perished in the wilderness. What I mean is helping to keep each other informed, know what’s happening, and be encouraged in our love and service. So when you see that someone is missing from church, why not give them a call, send them a text, pop them a visit, or message them on Facebook—tell them you’ve missed them and let them know what they might have missed.

For those of you at Salt Church, please be patient with me as I take time to get to know you, work out how things work around here, discover expectations, learn how to become a better listener, and explore good means of communication. And we will work at getting a website up soon.

May God help us to become better communicators.