Don’t waste your sport

dont-waste-your-sports

I’ve always loved sport. Playing it, watching it, watching my kids play, cheering on my favourite team or athlete. Sport is one of the great pleasures God has given us to enjoy. Playing sport keeps us healthy, entertained, connected with others. But like so many of God’s wonderful gifts, we can get into trouble when we start to replace the giver with his gift. If my passion for rugby, or fishing, or golf, or cycling began to overtake my passion for my wife, then I’m sure you’d agree that I’d developed a big problem. My worry is that we can do this with God and not even notice.

Last year I picked up a helpful little book called Don’t waste your sports, by an American author called C.J. Mahaney. Yes, I am a fan of small books! I’d like to spotlight this book for a few reasons. It addresses the young person feeling their way in the world of sport and grappling with their identity and self-esteem. It has wise words for parents about how we encourage and shape our kid’s lives and values. It will challenge the elite athlete with their aspirations and goals.

As a ‘would have been/could have been’ sports person, as a father of some very capable athletes, and as a chaplain to elite sports people for over a decade – I’ve found this booklet to make a wise contribution to an issue we rarely consider. Mahaney introduces his booklet with these words:

Athletes, this booklet is for you. Parents and discussion leaders, this booklet is also for you. It’s for anyone who wants to learn, or help others to learn, about what it means to let a right knowledge of God shape the way we practice and play our sports.

Sport seems to be able to bring out the best and the worst in people. One of the most moving images I’ve seen in sport was a paralympic race when a competitor fell, the others stopped, picked him up and they all finished the race together, arm in arm. Of course, this is contrasted with an arrogant pride that we see in some of the most highly paid and acclaimed sports people.

It’s important for us to remember that God is our creator, we are his creatures, and he has given us his good creation to enjoy responsibly. This booklet is anchored on a Bible verse that puts our lives into perspective.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Whether it’s cricket, tennis, basketball, motor racing, rugby, swimming, athletics, surfing, soccer, AFL, darts… each of them is a gift from God. They can be enjoyed and used to bring honour and glory to God, or they can be used to replace God and to seek to bring honour and glory to us. These are the extremes.

This booklet offers helpful direction to those wanting to honour God with their sport. We should start by thanking God for his gifts and the opportunities he gives us. Thank him for the fun it brings, the rest, the refreshment, the opportunity to keep in good health, and the joy it brings to ourselves and others.

Humility is the key to glorifying God with our sport. Mahaney suggests what this might look like on the field:

The humble athlete recognises his limitation.
The humble athlete welcomes correction and critique from coaches and teammates.
The humble athlete acknowledges the contributions of others.
The humble athlete is gracious in defeat and modest in victory.
The humble athlete honours his coach.
The humble athlete respects officials.
The humble athlete gives glory for all his athletic accomplishment to God.

I’ve noticed that Aussies can be rather cynical of Christians in sport. We don’t quite know how to respond when a South Pacific team kneels down to pray after a game, or when a rugby player points to heaven when he’s scored a try, or when a winning athlete thanks God during an interview with the press. But this booklet is talking about more than the public displays of faith in God. It’s about addressing our hearts, who we are, what we are living for, who and what matters most. When we lose touch with God we go searching for replacements and, where I come from, sport is a prime candidate.

So, don’t waste your sport. Recognise God’s gift to you, thank him for it, and seek to play, watch, support and use your sport in a way that honours him.

Beyond the darkness

I spent Tuesday in hospital getting my final ‘full-dose’ chemo treatment. Apparently, limiting this treatment to 4 cycles is the optimum and, if the cancer is not advancing, then they intend to keep me on a 3 weekly ‘maintenance’ chemo plan. This is supposed to reduce the impact of side effects, while preventing the cancer from growing or spreading further. The medical expectation is that the cancer will grow again at some point, and then I will be offered other options. We are hoping to be able to access a specially targeted drug, called Crizotinib, which is showing very good results in people with my specific cancer mutation. This should be available if there is evidence that the tumour is growing again – a bit of a Catch 22 really! But all this lies ahead of us.

This morning I received an email from a good friend overseas. In fact, he sent it three times, so I am guessing he really wanted me to take notice! This is part of what he wrote…

The comment you sent to me via Facebook about dark times and tears made me realize the deep personal struggle you are going through. Just wanted to encourage you to dip into that more as you write, because it counts for a lot. My feeling is that most people live in that realm, whether they have cancer or not. While the analogy doesn’t directly apply, I think it conveys the point: life is more Daily Telegraph than Sydney Morning Herald… or worse still!

I’ve been reflecting on this a bit. My desire is not to continually focus on myself as I write this blog. But I am seeking to be a blessing to others and that means being honest about the ups and downs. Not that everything needs to get said, and not that everything should be revealed in a public forum, but I will share a bit about the dark times.

On my first day in hospital, hearing that I likely had cancer a was huge thing. No one wants to hear the words tumour or cancer, and certainly not about themselves or someone they love. Tears welled up instantly, feelings of massive loss, fears for my kids, and my wife… they all flooded in. Seeing the tears in the eyes of my family and the friends who came to visit added to the pain. We were dealing with a bombshell and it was so hard.

My time in hospital was supposed to be pretty straightforward. Drain the fluid, be out in a few days. I even remember telling our church staff that I should be right to speak the following weekend! But it didn’t go to my plan. I got sicker and weaker. Instead of my health improving, I just seemed to go backwards. At times I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom, or adjust my posture in bed. It was an effort to breath, painful to yawn and cough (let alone sneeze), and hard to talk with people when hooked up to oxygen. My digestive organs decided to shut up shop and 10 days of constipation resulted in violent vomiting. Immediately after one vomiting episode I was taken for a chest x-ray (why it had to be right then I do not know!) where I collapsed, resulting in an emergency team rushing to my aid. I started to think I wasn’t going to make it out of hospital.

My ignorance of medical things also added to my fears. On one occasion I saw my chest x-rays while they were being processed. I only had one functioning lung – the other had collapsed! I honestly thought, this meant I didn’t have much hope. For some reason, I assumed that I needed two good lungs to be able to breathe. Fiona set me straight on this and also pushed me to work hard on breathing exercises to get the lung re-inflated!

On one occasion they changed my drugs and this led to hallucinations. I don’t think I’d experienced this before. Dreams that you can’t turn off, even with your eyes wide open. It was a long, lonely, scary night being faced with weird and frightening experiences coming one after another.

Perhaps, the hardest experience in hospital was my first contact with the oncologist and his team. Up until their visit, things had focused pretty much exclusively on the surgery and the chest drains, and I hadn’t had to think too much about the cancer. This changed dramatically, as I was quickly told that that my cancer was incurable. I didn’t understand why they weren’t offering me hope of a cure (or for that matter why I needed to be told this on a first consult and without Fiona present), but this news was devastating!

Being faced with my mortality has led to some very sad times. In my weakness, sometimes I have become sullen, grumpy, melancholic, perhaps even depressed. I’ve often grieved what I may never be able to do, the loss of time with family and friends, not being able to do a lot of the fun things people do with their kids, or thinking of life events I may never be a part of. There have been times when I’ve felt a burden and useless, and thoughts have turned to thinking people would be better off without me. I’ve been reduced to tears – uncontrollable sobbing, overwhelmed, sometimes crying out in agony, God please help me! Fiona has been fantastic at urging and helping me not to slide into self-obsession or depression. And I’ve asked a couple of friends to keep an eye on me too.

I don’t want to go on and on in this vein but I must say that there’ve been some times when the struggle has been deeply spiritual. God has seemed very remote. His plans and purposes for me have been very unclear. I’ve had days where I’ve seriously questioned his existence, or the truthfulness of the gospel message. Does God love me, care for me? Can I trust him with my life, my death, my future, my family? Isn’t it a bit weird to base my confidence on the Bible, written so many hundreds of years ago? Did Jesus live? Was he crucified? Did he actually rise again from the dead? Is he alive today? Such ideas can seem pretty weak and foolish, and not exactly a confident platform to stake my life on.

I’ve found myself going back to the Bible and reading things over again. I’ve looked at interviews with leading historians and Biblical scholars. I’ve weighed up some of the critiques and arguments of sceptics and naysayers. And I’ve searched my heart. And in doing this, I’ve been encouraged to keep trusting in God and his promises.

Over the years a few Bible verses have spoken to me in the midst my struggles and doubts. Let me share a couple. The first is the response of a father, hoping that Jesus can help his son, where he says in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I’ve often identified with this man. Those who’ve told me it’s the strength, or otherwise, of my faith that will determine whether God will act (or even can act) need to reread this verse and see Jesus’ compassion in response to the man’s wavering. It’s not my faith that compels God to act. Rather it is God’s faithfulness to his character and promises that leads me to keep trusting in him.

Another part of the Bible I’ve found helpful comes from an incident after the resurrection. Jesus had recently appeared to many of his followers, but Thomas wasn’t with them, and he was unpersuaded that Jesus had really been raised from the dead. We read of this in John 20:24-29.

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said,“Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Hence, Thomas becomes the disciple famous for doubting. Maybe you can relate to this too. But it’s the next comment from Jesus that has always given me encouragement and hope. Jesus understood it was hard for Thomas to be persuaded, but he also acknowledged that it would be hard for all who came after him. We sometimes say seeing is believing, but when we’re dealing with history before cameras and video, it becomes more a case of reading or hearing is believing. This doesn’t make it less true, it just means that our evidence is in a different form to that offered to Thomas. We get it as a record from the first eye, ear and hand witnesses, that has been recorded and passed on to us. Just because I wasn’t there doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

29 Jesus said to him,“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I’ve also gone back over some of the Psalms from the Old Testament. Many of these are are open and honest accounts of people who are struggling to trust God in their difficult circumstances. Sometimes they question and challenge God. Sometimes they plead with God to do something about their circumstances. Sometimes they call for justice or mercy from God. What has struck me personally is that the writers are not afraid to let God know their thoughts and feelings, even when they are unhappy with God. They grapple with their struggles, but then they remind us of the way forward. Hope is not ultimately found in improving their condition or circumstances, but by resting in the trustworthy promises of God.

Soon after I became aware of my cancer a friend encouraged me to read over Psalm 62 again. I take heart from what this part of the Bible teaches us about God. It honestly shows the writer overwhelmed by how God appears to be standing back and allowing him to suffer, and yet it takes us back to the character of a God who can be trusted because he is both strong and loving. Have a read…

1 My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

3 How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
4 They fully intend to topple him
from his lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

9 Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion
or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

11 One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong, 
12 and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
according to what he has done.

If God were strong but not loving, then he would be nothing less than a danger to everyone. If he were loving but not strong, then he could offer us sentiment but no help. The Bible affirms he is both strong and loving, infinitely so, and it is here that we find our true hope. I need look nowhere else. My experience of God is that he is both strong and loving. And I see this most clearly and persuasively in the death and resurrection of Jesus, where he paid the cost for my rebellion and offered me life for eternity.

When all else fails

You’ve probably heard the saying “When all else fails, pray!” I’ve heard it said many times and I’ve even seen it printed on a bumper sticker. What a stupid idea it is! If prayer works, if we can actually speak to the God of this universe, if he cares for us and desires to give us what we need, then why wouldn’t we do it first? Why make it a last resort? Why ignore prayer until we’ve exhausted all our other options?

And of course, if prayer doesn’t work, if we’re just speaking into the air, if it’s nothing more that mystical wishful thinking, then why bother praying at all? We may as well use our time more productively.

So how do we know if prayer is of any use? Does God hear our prayers, does he care about our requests, and does he respond to the things we ask? The answer to this doesn’t lie simply in my (or your) personal experiences. To be honest, for me, sometimes it seems like God does hear and respond, and at other times he seems awfully silent. Rather, the answer is to be found by looking at what we know about Jesus. Jesus believed in prayer, and he made a priority of praying. I take it that no one knows God better than Jesus, so he’s worth observing on this matter.

Firstly, Jesus, himself prayed to God. In his life on earth he was dependent upon his Father in heaven. When he was absolutely flat out and people were demanding more and more of his time, he took time out to pray.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

Secondly, Jesus showed his dependence upon God by praying at key times in his life and ministry.

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles. (Luke 6:12-13)

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:41-43)

Thirdly, Jesus spent time praying for others.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:32)

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20)

Finally, as Jesus came to the climax of his life and mission, as he faced crucifixion and then hung upon the cross, he prayed.

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:39-42)

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34)

Jesus called out with a loud voice,“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

These examples show us that Jesus believed that prayer was real and important. He knew  God, the Father, more intimately than any of us and he spoke with him and depended upon him. Prayer, for Jesus, was not always getting what he wanted, but humbly submitting to the will of his Father, even in the face of his own death upon the cross.

What’s more, he encouraged his followers to pray, and to pray with humility.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8)

Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, providing them with a model that focused on the will of God.

This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Jesus reminds us that God can be trusted to give us what is genuinely good for us, in answer to our prayers. We may not get the answer we want, but we can trust God to give us what we need.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

I have learned to trust Jesus, especially on the matter of relating to God. For this reason, I will continue to pray, bringing my requests before my Father in heaven.

In recent times I have been moved to pray more for others. I’ve been asking God to work in the lives of family and friends, and even complete strangers. To comfort and encourage people. To heal people or take away their pain. To make himself known to people, to break through their cynicism, or to answer their questions or doubts. I’ve been challenged and encouraged to pray that God will bring honour upon himself in the way he deals with me and others. And I’m learning, day by day, to trust that his answers will be the best ones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese last few months, I have been deeply humbled to know that so many have been praying for me and my family. People we’ve never even met from all over the world have been interceding for us. We don’t deserve this attention. But then, God wants to hear these prayers, even more than we are prepared to ask them. So please continue to pray.

And if you’re not persuaded there is a God, or that you can have a relationship with him, or that he hears our prayers, or that he wants what is truly best for you… I recommend you pray… just start talking! And check out the evidence in the Bible, starting with biographies of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

God, if you’re there, then please make yourself clear to me. If you can hear me, then please let me know. Please answer my doubts. Please help me to know the truth about Jesus, about myself, and how I can have a real relationship with you.

Who’s holding the umbrella?

As a ministry apprentice in the mid 80s, I was introduced to the idea of ‘holding the umbrella’ for others to do ministry. My pastor modelled this idea in his own leadership. His desire was not only to see people trained, but also to create opportunities for them to exercise their gifts and talents in serving God. This he did over many years with literally hundreds of people. I have sought to emulate this in my ministry.

Around this time I was given a copy of a book by Bill Yaeger called Who’s holding the umbrella? My friend, who gave me this book, had visited Yaeger’s church, seen his ministry in action, and described the man as “a cross between General Patton and Bill Cosby”. The book shows him to be a no-nonsense, hard-core leader, who has a deep commitment to people. It remains one of the most helpful and influential books that I’ve read on the topic of leadership. Written in 1984, it’s now been out of print for sometime. However, you can still find used copies of Yaeger’s book online, and its well worth your time and money to get hold of one. Most of the language throughout the book is masculine, but so much of his wisdom is equally applicable for men and women serving God in ministry roles.

Yaeger’s thesis for leadership is that it is doesn’t require a particular personality type to be done well. But rather it is born of conviction – quiet qualities that burn like a ‘fire in the soul’. He introduces the idea of the umbrella man as:

… a term I use for the leader who gives himself to the ministry of Christ in such a way that he equips believers and provides abundant opportunities for them to serve. His ministry is spread out like a canopy or protective umbrella, under which others can grow and flourish – and eventually become leaders themselves. (pages 20-21)

The outline for leadership in this book is anchored in the teaching of the Bible, and the leader is called to make the Bible central to all he does. He is to be a servant who puts others before themselves. He is to be a shepherd who oversees and protects. He is to be an equipper who provides for and makes room for the ministry of others. As he does this, Yaeger doesn’t believe that he will ever work himself out of a job. Rather, his umbrella will just keep getting bigger and his opportunities for service will keep increasing.

Unlike a lot of newer books on leadership in the church, Yaeger does not assume the content of ministry. He emphasises the importance of Word ministry, leading through preaching and teaching. He establishes priorities, beginning with equipping every member of the church to be able to witness to the saving work of Jesus. He focuses on discipleship, that means teaching, equipping and training people to be able to use their gifts in service. He determines how they should use their staff, program and facilities to achieve their vision and goals. He also works out how to deal with decay, removing the things that are crippling the church.

Yaeger is not afraid to ask hard questions of leaders. Are they accountable and to whom?   Is he responsible and does he act responsibly? Can he handle authority without becoming authoritarian? He talks about the strength of humility and the importance of principled rather than expedient leadership. Leadership should be inspirational, leading by example:

When you have to get men into a tough situation, you can’t send them there, but you can take them there.

Selecting suitable leaders is an important task for the umbrella man. Seek out motivated people, with proven godliness and spiritual maturity. Prospective leaders should be emotionally stable, servants not prima donnas, and not have critical spirits. They should have the gifts and abilities required to lead others in their area of ministry. He spotlights the following list of requirements for Christian leader effectiveness, and each of them are worth exploring further:

  1. faithfulness
  2. availability
  3. teachability
  4. self-motivation
  5. industry
  6. innovation
  7. productivity
  8. like-mindedness
  9. interaction
  10. seasoning
  11. stewardship
  12. devotion
  13. camaraderie

Yaeger is a strong advocate of standing by and supporting your leaders. The good umbrella man will be prepared to back up his leaders. He stresses that workers need to know that their tasks are worth doing. They should be respected so that they are encouraged to serve with dignity and joy. A word of appreciation and recognition is a breath of life. Communication is an absolute necessity for staff  and leadership relationships, and this needs to start with the leader. Regular meetings are essential for people to stay connected, and he identifies the value of teams getting away together regularly for what he calls staff attacks (he doesn’t like the idea of retreats)!

These days many books have a very short shelf life. Some of them are such rubbish that they don’t deserve to stick around. This book is different. It combines the wisdom of the Bible with the practical experience of a leader seeking to lead others faithfully. Whether you are a Christian leader starting out, or a seasoned senior pastor, its well worth a read. See if you can track yourself down a copy.

On my way to heaven

Have you ever been given a gift by someone you’ve only just met? Last year my friend and colleague in Christian ministry was given two copies of the same book by a person they didn’t know. It was a short book written by the guy’s recently deceased minister, Mark Ashton. The book was called On my way to heaven. My friend had no idea why he was being given one copy of this book, let alone two! That is, until he returned to Australia and a few days later discovered that I had been diagnosed with a ‘terminal’ cancer. He realised, in God’s providence, that he’d been given a copy for me too!

This is another little book that punches well above its weight. It’s only 24 pages long, and printed in large type. (Makes it easier for me to keep reading and reviewing books!) I would assume that the title of this of this book will be very confronting to many. Either because it presents us again with our mortality. Or, perhaps, because it seems so presumptuous – how can anyone be sure they are headed for heaven? Isn’t this is an arrogant claim?

On this latter point, the answer is very clear in the Bible. A Christian is not a religious person, trusting in their moral performance to be offered a place in heaven. Rather a Christian is one who has received forgiveness from God for having ignored him or pushed him away. This forgiveness is a completely free gift from God, that can be received by all who put their trust in Jesus to lead them and rescue them from God’s judgment. The New Testament makes it clear that the death and resurrection of Jesus, events that took place in human history, have a direct bearing on you and me today. Jesus died to pay the cost for our rejection of God, and God raised him to life to destroy the power that death has over us. A Christian is not a ‘self-righteous’ person, but one who has been given a pardon by God.

On the former point, Mark Ashton wants to do exactly this – get us to think seriously about where we’re headed. The one thing we can be assured of in this life is that one day it will come to an end. It may be later, or it may be sooner than we’d like. But it will happen. It often surprises me how much time and energy people (including me) spend distracting themselves with the unimportant and the trivial. We get all focused on ourselves, our hobbies, our bits and pieces, our aspirations for wealth or achievement or recognition, and we give little or no time to considering the profound question of what happens when we die. Please, if you you are avoiding this question – don’t! It’s too important!

Ashton was diagnosed with an incurable cancer of the gall bladder in 2008, informed that he had only months to live, and he passed away in 2010 at the age of 62. His book offers us a window into his thinking, his struggles and his faith over the final months of his life. I was deeply moved as I read how he faced death as a Christian believer.

The core of this book is Ashton’s conviction that resurrection awaits him. This is the basis of his hope and it is grounded in the evidence of the early witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. He does not dread death, or seek to extend his life at all costs, but rather sees resurrection as a prospect to be welcomed.

He doesn’t gloss over the hardship of sickness. Throughout his life he, like most of us, expected to recover from whatever sickness or injury he experienced. He’d rest up until he got better. But he came to know that he wasn’t going to get better, the cancer wasn’t going to go away, and that he was dying day by day. This is something I’ve also been coming to grips with. Physical pleasures such as eating, exercising, or resting, no longer offered the enjoyment they once did. He came to appreciate that they were God’s gift for a time, but not for all time. His love, affection, and appreciation for his wife and family was deepened over this time, but be also came to grasp that relationship with God gave meaning to them all.

Ashton is honest about his failures and foibles in life. He gently points out that funeral eulogies rarely present an honest picture of the person’s life. They end up magnifying the good points and excluding the bad (and maybe this is appropriate). But he leaves us in no doubt that he wants to be remembered not as a flawless saint, but as a forgiven sinner.   God enabled Mark Ashton to be focused on others as he faced his final days. This is his prayer:

It is my prayer for my family and friends, that my death will be for them all a great strengthening and clarifying of their relationship with Jesus. Amen. (p24)

I agree!

Don’t waste your cancer

I mentioned to a friend at the Oxygen conference last year that my father had cancer and was receiving treatment. He then asked if I’d read a little booklet by John Piper called Don’t waste your cancer. I hadn’t heard of it and, to be honest, I found the idea of the book a bit too intense. Maybe he picked up on this because soon after the conference he made contact with me to apologise if he’d been insensitive in speaking of it.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I also had cancer growing inside me. I don’t think I’d even begun to put myself into my father’s shoes, to understand what he was going through. ‘Cancer’ was just a word – mind you a scary word. If I’d got hold of Piper’s book and given it to my father back then, it would have been rather academic, simply passing on the ideas of someone else. Of course, things are very different now. I’ve read the book, and passed it on ‘carefully’ to one or two others, including my dad (who is now in remission).

This was the first book that I read after being released from hospital – helped by the fact that it is only 15 pages long! It crams 11 chapters into its tiny size, but each one packs a punch, and really needs to be considered slowly and carefully. I don’t think this is a book for everyone. It’s useful and true, but I think to make the most of this book, you need to have begun to experience something of the pain and tragedy that gives rise to it. This is a booklet for Christians with cancer or some other serious condition, for their families and carers, for Christian doctors or medical staff, for pastors, and for people who want to seriously encourage those struggling with their suffering in a context of faith.

Let me offer you a snapshot of the booklet by outlining the title of each chapter:

We waste our cancer…

  1. if we don’t hear in our groanings the hope-filled labor pains of a fallen world.
  2. if we do not believe it is designed for us by God.
  3. if we believe it is a curse and not a gift.
  4. if we seek comfort from our odds rather than from God.
  5. if we refuse to think about death.
  6. if we think that “beating” our cancer is staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
  7. if we spend too much time reading about our cancer and not enough time reading about God
  8. if we let it drive us into solitude instead of deepen our relationships with manifest affection.
  9. if we grieve as those who have no hope.
  10. if we treat our sin as casually as before.
  11. if we fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and the glory of Christ.

In some ways I’m not ready to review this book. I’m still working through each of the points. It’s one thing to give intellectual assent to an idea and another thing altogether to live it out. But I have come to appreciate the tough love in many of these reflections.

God has been pushing me to look forward to heaven. When life is so good here and now, it is hard to consider eternity with him as something better. He has been helping me to move through the pain and grief, to focus less on myself, and to appreciate him and all that he’s given me. God has been helping me to love what is good and hate what is evil, even as I see it in my own heart. I’m realising more and more that my hope lies not in medical advances, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus. I’m reminded that grief is normal, appropriate and healthy, but that I can grieve with a hope grounded in God’s promises.

The five dysfunctions of a team

My wife thought that my last book review was a bit random in a blog that had focused so far on our personal journey! But my plan is to include diversity and focus on a range of issues. In particular, I’m keen to spotlight books on a range of topics that I believe will be helpful to others. As I’ve spent nearly all my working life as a church pastor, I hope to review a number of books on topics such as ministry, leadership, teamwork, theology, church and the like.

One of the most readable and helpful books I’ve found on the topic of teamwork is Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A leadership fable. I read the book cover to cover in one sitting at my favourite coffee shop. In fact, I remember wishing that all books were written like this one. Hook you in with a story, keep you wanting to know what happens next, develop the key points throughout the story, and then summarise the theory at the end. More importantly, I was hooked because I could see myself in the story. I could relate each of his points to our staff teamwork (or lack thereof). I knew that this was a book that I would keep buying and giving others to read. I got hold of a video of Lencioni teaching on the topic and we had a staff retreat to discuss our teamwork. I purchased the workbook and have used it in team contexts. I’ve given the book to rugby players and coaches, pastors, headmasters, CEOs and other team leaders. And I’ve recently ordered the Manga version!

The easiest way to summarise the content is by quoting from a brief article on Lencioni’s own website:

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 on trust are incapable of engaging 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, particularly star 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.

As our staff team explored these ideas together we recognised each of these dysfunctions in varying degrees. We wouldn’t have said that we lacked trust in each other, but the fact that we avoided conflict showed we did. We’d describe ourselves as a team, but in some ways we were functioning as a bunch of individuals who got together now and again. It would often take forever for us to make changes or implement ideas, and yet we’d claim to be focused on getting things done.

This book has been around for a few years now and my guess is that many of you will have read it and found it helpful. But if you haven’t got into it, then let me give it a rap by sharing a few stories.

A senior pastor friend was sharing with me about how his staff team was fragmented, with one person in particular only interested in his own agenda. Everyone was uncomfortable with the dynamic that had set in, but no one knew how to address it. I sent my friend a DVD of Lencioni speaking on this topic and a copy of the book. The team watched the video and it was like having a consultant critique the team, and highlight the dysfunctional behaviour. The book then offered a framework for moving forward.

Another friend heads up an international software company. To describe the employees as a team is probably pushing it because the people don’t spend much physical time together. Some of them do, and a couple of them were creating chaos by refusing to communicate with each other. My friend was required to fly across to the other side of the world to resolve a spat between highly intelligent professional people who were refusing to talk with each other! So I gave him a copy of the book to read on the plane. He found it gave him a framework to tackle the issues and break the impasse.

Sometime back we were interviewing people for a job as an associate pastor. I stressed that team work was important to us, and asked each applicant to take a look at the Five Dysfunctions and discuss them with me. I was determined to find a team player. One of the applicants seemed very unimpressed with the model and I chose not to offer him the job. Interestingly, he got another job, but quickly decided that he didn’t really want to be a part of that team and went off on his own.

Our church is somewhat complicated. We have multiple congregations, various age-specific ministries, dozens of leaders, small groups, and a large staff team. Team work is vital. A challenge to us has always been engaging the staff and key leaders together in team work when the focus in on areas outside their direct responsibility. This book, and another by Lencioni called Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, has been so helpful in drawing people together. It has reminded us that a win in the youth area is a win for the whole church. A struggle to ‘connect’ people into the church community has a direct bearing on every other area of church life. Everything is connected and you need a strong team to make it work. Lencioni kept pushing us to value each member of the team.

Teamwork is something that ought to be a hallmark of a church, or a ministry staff. And yet sadly, many of us know too well the pain of relationship breakdowns, competition for resources, and clashes of vision and priorities (our church included). I recommend getting a dose of Lencioni!

Of course, the best of this wisdom is but a pale reflection of the teaching of the Bible on teamwork. God has called people into relationship with each other, to be part of a body, a community, a team. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12:24-27:

24 … God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Journey with cancer DV 20 Mar 2012

Dear family and friends,

Today is day 14 of my 3rd chemo cycle. The cycle starts with a day in hospital attached to a drip with nasty chemicals being pumped into the body. Then a roller coaster for the next 3 weeks, before you do it all over again. In theory, and based on previous cycles, I should be feeling pretty good and getting back into a semblance of normal life. But here is the problem – patterns, statistics, predictions, and even past experience, do not determine the future.

I ‘should’ be out and about, busy with work, and getting back into some gentle exercise. Instead, I’m lying in bed (with a laptop) trying to get rid of a chest infection and praying it doesn’t develop into anything worse. In fact, the past couple of days have made me rather fearful – fearful that I would end up in hospital again with pneumonia, fearful that I might compromise the chemo, fearful that something worse might happen.

Fiona reminded me last night that these things can often be two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes even the other way round for a while. I would do well to keep putting into practice the word of God that I believe:

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

We are being reminded again and again that only God knows what’s around the bend and he calls us to trust him. There is a Latin phrase, deo volente, or DV, which means ‘God willing’. In days gone by it was common for Christian people to use these words as they spoke of their plans. You don’t hear it much these days, but I’ve begun using it more and more as I appreciate that it is God who is working out his good plans and purposes. In fact, this whole experience of getting cancer has highlighted how much I am not in control of my life and circumstances.

Back in December everything pointed to us moving to Darwin to begin the second major chapter of our lives. We had people on board with us, support structures and finances in place, a house to move into, kids enrolled in schools, tenants for our house in Canberra, a successor in my role at church, belongings in transit, and excited about the future. And then… a visit to the hospital changed everything. These verses from the Bible came to mind very powerfully:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4:13-15)

My life has been given to me by God. He calls me to make plans and to consider the circumstances and to do things wisely. But he also calls me to act with humility, to know that I belong to him, and that I can rely on him to do what is in my very best interests. Even when I would prefer things not to be happening! We’ve been learning this more and more.

But does this mean that all our preparations last year were going against God’s will, that somehow we were being disobedient and straying off the path? No, I don’t believe so. Our desire was to contribute to growing followers of Jesus in the Northern Territory. This desire was placed in our hearts by God and as we read the Bible we were reminded that this is pleasing to God. We sought wise council from many, and took years to come to our decision as a family. There was and is a big need, and we were drawn to respond. That need continues to exist and we pray that our passions to move north will be filled by others, or yet that I will be healed and one day serve God in that place, DV.

So is it possible to see the hand of God in what has happened? Absolutely. God has been at work in our hearts and minds, moving us to depend upon him more deeply than ever before. He has encouraged us, and literally thousands of others to pray. He has raised questions in the minds of friends that have nudged them to consider what we believe about God. He has deepened our empathy and love for people suffering under similar and worse circumstances. He has used our words to encourage others far and wide in their own struggles. He has caused us to appreciate our family and friends and church all the more. He has reminded us to number our days.

We can see God’s kindness in many of the details. My cancer was discovered because a doctor friend had the awareness to rush me to hospital when I complained of numbness and breathlessness. It was a time when all our family were at home. I had finished my final series of preaching at church. The church had already gone through a careful process of choosing my successor. It didn’t happen while we were on the road to Darwin. We still had our home in Canberra to move back into. Our friends have taken extraordinary care of us. Our church has continued to provide for us, and have welcomed my continued ministry among them. We’re receiving top shelf medical attention. I’m even allowed a tv in the bedroom! And there is so much more!

Let me tell you about the weekend just gone. It was a special time for our family (only we missed Matt). Fiona and Grace both entered large teams in the Cancer Council’s Relay for Life. They set up camp at the AIS athletics track and walked for 24 hours to raise money and awareness for cancer research and support. I wasn’t that keen to go – who wants to be surrounded by people with cancer? But the relay had a carnival vibe about it, with music, dancing, stalls, fancy dress, and lots of people having fun in the sunshine (& rain). Some ran lap after lap, others walked as best they could. I did a few laps at different times of the day, and must have been the slowest walker on the track each time.

FamilyThe first lap was exclusively for people who had cancer (either now or previously) and for carers. I wore a sash saying ‘survivor’ and members of my family wore sashes saying ‘carer’. It seemed strange to wear the sash, as though I should’ve had to go into remission to ‘deserve’ it. But, I have cancer, I am alive – so I guess I’m a survivor! As we walked the lap it was very moving to be clapped by hundreds of people lining the track, including many friends in Grace and Fiona’s teams. I shed a few tears that I kept well hidden behind my sunglasses! I was glad that I’d gone along.

We joined in another event on Saturday – a commissioning for friends of ours, Klaus and Grace & MorphJudith and family, who are heading overseas. As we were making our plans to plant a church in Darwin, they were planning further afield in Germany. It was a thrill to share with them as they count down the days to leaving. Klaus is German, and it is his great passion for his kin to know the good news of eternal life. As one friend reminded me on later, we had two celebrations over the weekend – one of life here and now, and the other of life for all eternity. Our prayer is that people will value their lives here and now, but not so much as to ignore God’s wonderful invitation of life forever with him. Some people seem to think that Christian faith is ‘life-denying’. Our experience is the exact opposite. Jesus came so that we might have life in all its fulness – now and forever.

Thank you again for your encouragement and support. The chemo roller coaster is a tough one, but made much easier in the knowledge that people are praying and helping us in so many ways. There is one cycle to go and we don’t know the plan after that. It could be more of the same, or part thereof. It could be something radically different. Our desire is for the treatment to completely destroy this cancer, and for us to be able to make new plans for a life beyond cancer, deo volente.

With love,

Dave (and Fiona)

A complaint is a gift

complaintAs a church pastor, I can tell you there are few things more discouraging than complaints. We tend to feel under attack and immediately break into defence mode. “How dare they criticise my preaching!” “What would you know about the pressures of trying to organise and run a church?!” “They complain about us not being friendly, but they don’t make an effort!” “It’s not my fault!!!” Maybe we could do with a fresh perspective.

A complaint is a gift, written by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller, is a helpful challenge to rethink complaints. I read the first edition of this book over a decade ago and found it liberating and empowering. Since this time the forum for complaints has gone ballistic. A tweet, facebook comment, or blog post can destroy a product or business. Word-of-mouth can go viral, quickly becoming ‘world-of-mouth’ in a matter of minutes – just witness the current Koni video. The second edition of this book (2007) takes account of these kind of changes, incorporates ‘complaints’ and feedback from the first edition, brings us up to date, and introduces suggestions about how to make complaints, how not take them personally, and how to use the internet constructively.

What is a complaint? Fundamentally, it is a statement about expectations that have not been met. But more importantly, it is an opportunity for the organisation, business, or church in our case, to make some helpful changes. This book calls upon us to redefine complaints as gifts. This will require us to separate the message from the medium. We must distance the content of the complaint from the emotion of being blamed. In other words, we shouldn’t take things so personally!

This will mean gaining empathy for the disappointed people and rethinking how complaints can help us to move forward as a church. The very fact that they made the effort to complain indicates some level of commitment to us. Many will only grumble to others or simply walk away. We’d do well to put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine that what they are complaining about had happened to you. How would you react? What would need to happen for you to be satisfied?

This book warns against a strategy of reducing the number of complaints. Complaints can be avoided by closing down lines of communication. But all this does is bury problems and maintain the poor state of affairs. Instead, we need to create opportunities for feedback. We can do surveys from time to time, but they will never adequately reflect the levels of dissatisfaction. Such people are unlikely to wait for the next survey to air their complaints. Maybe they’ve already walked away in frustration.

Churches, like businesses, depend heavily on word-of-mouth advertising. The way we handle complaints will work for or against us. People are much more likely to believe a friendly recommendation than formal advertising. If we handle complaints well it can be a powerful source of positive word-of-mouth. On the other hand, the more dissatisfied people become, the more likely they are to spread bad news. I couldn’t tell you many times we’ve had people turn up at our church, saying things like “I used to go to… but I left there because…” And I’m sure there are plenty who’ve left our church, headed elsewhere, and told a similar story. So much movement and pain could probably have been avoided if we’d done a better job of listening to complaints.

While written with the business sector in mind, this book has value to a much wider audience. The issues raised are relevant for personal relationships, resolving conflict, and improving communication. At a time when people are craving connection, pleading to be heard and understood, churches and their leaders would do well to take notice. While some will read the book and be motivated by the desire to increase profits, pastors should read it with a regard to people’s souls.

A complaint is a gift (2nd ed.) is divided into three parts.

The first part, Complaints: Lifeline to the customer, examines the strategy for developing a positive mindset toward those who complain. It helps us to understand what is going on when someone complains, and how they are likely to respond when they are not satisfied.

The second part, Putting the complaint as a gift strategy into practice, focuses on how to handle complaints well. It develops an 8 step gift formula for keeping our words and actions consistent with our beliefs that the complaint is a gift:

  1. Say “thankyou.”
  2. Explain why you appreciate the complaint.
  3. Apologise for the mistake.
  4. Promise to do something about the problem immediately.
  5. Ask for necessary information.
  6. Correct the mistake – promptly.
  7. Check customer satisfaction.
  8. Prevent future mistakes.

The final part, Dishing it out and taking it in: the personal side of complaints, is new to this edition. It is a helpful addition, broadening the scope and value of this way of thinking into other areas of life. There is good stuff here for strengthening marriages and other personal relationships.

This is probably not a book that many church leaders would think to add to their libraries. You probably wouldn’t buy it to help resolve conflict with your neighbour or a work colleague. I doubt you’d be impressed if I recommended it for strengthening your relationships with your spouse or children. However, this book offers practical help for all these scenarios.

Of course, there is another book that has contained this wisdom and more for centuries. It hasn’t been revised or improved, but then it doesn’t need to be. Check out these gems:

He who listens to a life giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. Proverbs 15:31

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise. Proverbs 15:12

Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trust in the LORD. Proverbs 16:20

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

However, it’s not just the head that needs to change, it’s our hearts. The temptation is often there to take things personally out of pride, or to get defensive because we want to look good before others, or to blame others because we don’t want to confront our own selfishness. What we really need is for God to renovate our hearts and minds, to transform us from the inside out. When you read the gospels about Jesus, you can see how he modelled and taught that genuine humility is the key to relationship with others. Christians have a special reason to listen and respond well to others. As it says in Philippians 2:

1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

High points of marriage?

Some time back, Fiona and I attended a marriage enrichment workshop with other couples from our church. We were all encouraged to graph the high points and low points of our marriages. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly the point of the exercise. Perhaps it was to remind some of us that there have been highs as well as lows!

Well, I was thinking about this again recently, and there are three experiences in our relationship that stand out above all the others. They’ve drawn us closer together as a couple, we’ve come to appreciate each other more deeply, and they have enriched our relationship beyond all expectation. And they’ve each been hard – harder than we would have imagined we could bear.

The first took place 15 years ago. We’d just planted a new church, moved into a new house, and Fiona was expecting our third child. We decided to grab a holiday to catch our breath a few months before our baby was due. We were camping in a tent up the coast, and the next thing we knew our daughter was born – at 26 weeks, weighing 900 grams, and not much bigger than a can of coke. She spent the next three months in neo-natal intensive care and we made two or more trips to the hospital everyday. On many occasions we weren’t sure if she was going to make it. The social workers told us that events like this can damage marriages, pull couples apart and often result in divorce. It was hard – SO hard. But for us, it drew us together and deepened our love for each other.

The second experience is more recent. We were travelling on our long service leave, having just experienced the breathtaking wonder of the Kimberley and the Pilbara regions. Travelling across a remote cattle-station, we suddenly found ourselves – 4wd and camper – sideways, out of control, and rolling like a dice. The scene was awful. Our 12 year old had been thrown from the vehicle, my wife was badly hurt, and we were so far from anywhere or anyone. After ambulances, flying doctor, cross-continent travel, two surgeries and a shoulder replacement for Fiona, our family returned home with everyone alive and mending. It’s still hard to relive the experience of the accident. And the rehab and struggles continue for Fiona. But there is no doubt these experiences enriched our marriage, and our family. Petty conflicts, annoying habits and foibles, concerns for ‘possessions over people’ – were shown to be so stupid, so insignificant. We treasured each other, and thanked God that we still had each other. And realised that we needed to keep looking after each other.

The last situation is happening now. It’s been documented already in this blog. We were only days from leaving Canberra to start over in the Northern Territory. We’d been planning, building a team, getting excited and exciting others, and getting ready to begin a new church with a fresh vision in Palmerston. And then, out of the blue, no warning, no preparation – we discover that I have cancer, and all our plans go out the window. Hospital, sickness, surgery, weakness, fear, grief, sadness, tears, panic, and more. Let me say, in all truth, that I have never loved my wife as well as I should. But the last three months have helped me to see what a precious jewel she really is. She has been my deepest friend, carer, lover, pray-er, advocate, nurse, doctor, organiser, empathiser, researcher, communicator, caring mother to our children… and so so much more. And I know she too has been hurting so deeply at times. The journey has a long way to go, but I thank God that we journey together.

Why do I share these three high points? Not so that we can plan for things to go wrong and then reap some magical benefits from our suffering. We can’t and don’t plan these things. But we have both learned, and it’s been confirmed through our experiences, that God works through our weaknesses and struggles. He gives us grace when we so desperately need it. He enables us to experience real joy in the midst of suffering. Not a superficial happiness, but a deeply contented joy that is not dependent on our circumstances.

Fiona and I have never been very good at reading the Bible together as a couple. But over the last three months we have done this quite a bit. I’d like to quote a few verses that have taken on a greater significance for us recently. Firstly, from 2 Corinthians 1:8-11:

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. 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 favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

And from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

…but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The key thing in each of our experiences is that God has been at work. In the darkest of hours, God has always been there. He has picked us up, and carried us, and cared for us. He has reminded us of the foolish arrogance of thinking that we can do better on our own. He has taught us humility and patience, and these are among the hardest lessons to learn. (And we’re still in preschool in these matters!) God has given us a unity in our relationship – not by focusing on ourselves and our own needs, nor by simply focusing on each other, but profoundly by getting us both to focus on him.

Dave

Journey with cancer 13 Mar 2012

I just noticed that I have a problem! I’ve started to define myself as a cancer patient. Sometimes, with exotic pride… “I have a rare genetic mutation that is driving the cancer.” Sometimes, just the mundane… “I’m sick of being sick all the time.” Sometimes, in boring detail… “Let me tell you the latest side effects of the chemo!” Sometimes, in self pity… “Why is this happening to me?”

The truth is, this way of thinking is a lie and a trap. Always has been. I know that I’m not the sum total of my upbringing, career choices, sporting successes, travels, relationships, accumulated possessions or circumstances. My significance can’t be measured by wealth, or wisdom, or health, or the lack thereof. I believe God has made me for a purpose. Not to wallow in self-pity or be puffed up with pride, but to look outwards to others, to consider others more important than myself, and to put other’s needs before my own. God has shown me how to do that, in Jesus who had everything but incredibly sacrificed it all for you and me. It’s not easy, but please God, help me to remember that it’s not about me.

Dave

Naked God

naked_godIt seems winter has come early this year! I spent most of yesterday in front of our open fire reading Martin Ayers’ book Naked God. I’d had a few people recommend it, and I’ve been on the lookout for good books to give friends who are interested in finding out more about what genuine Christianity is all about. I found this a very readable and helpful book, and enjoyed reading it in a couple of sittings. If you are keen to begin exploring Christianity, without getting lost or distracted by all the junk that often gets added, then this book is a good starting point.

A quote from the book explains the title and the aim of the book:

In his famous book and TV series, The Naked Chef, it wasn’t Jamie Oliver who was naked, it was the food. Jamie Oliver succeeded in stripping down the food to its bare but glorious essentials.

And that’s what we need to do with God. We need to look at the evidence and find out what it uncovers. We need to strip away any false ideas we’ve developed from our culture or background, and reveal the truth. This is the truth about God, exposed. This is Naked God.

Martin Ayers begins by arguing a case for why the God question really matters at all. He does this by first considering the alternative – a world where there is no God – and what this means for our day to day lives. He probes the implications for meaning, purpose, freedom, morality, life and death. In the first part of the book he explores where atheism leads, drawing upon some of the claims of Richard Dawkins and others. His aim here is not to prove whether atheism is true or not, but simply to highlight the real implications of holding to this view of the world and the difficulties associated with seeking to live with a consistently ‘naturalistic’ way of life.

The second part of Naked God focuses heavily on the historical person of Jesus. He defends this approach by highlighting the extraordinary life, teaching, and impact of Jesus. This focuses ultimately on Jesus’ unique claims to be, quite literally, God among us. His untimely death at a young age by crucifixion, and the claims by his followers that he had been raised from death, are shown to be the linchpin in understanding Jesus and his relevance for us. In doing this, he tackles problems people may have with the reliability of the New Testament, the transmission of manuscripts, and the claims to uniqueness over against other world religions. While this is a relatively brief book, the arguments are well made and references to more substantial works are offered to the serious researcher. Ayers also addresses the ‘gut reactions’ many have against Christianity, such as its perceived social regressiveness, or the taking away of personal freedom, or the appalling track record of many who claim to be followers of Jesus.

The final section of the book speaks to the reader in a more personal way. Ayers explores the barriers we have to really knowing God. Importantly, he demonstrates that religious self-righteousness is just as big a blockage to relating to God as the choice by many to ignore God and shut him out of their lives. However, the book takes us beyond the problems and difficulties that stand in the way of knowing God, and invites us to take hold of what God is offering. And this is a genuine personal relationship with the One who made us. This relationship is shown to be a step into reality, not an escape into wishful thinking or myths and legends. It makes a big difference to life now, and beyond the shadows of death into eternity.

Journey with cancer 1 Mar 2012

Dear family and friends

Once again, it is with deep gratitude for your prayers and love that we start this letter. You’re prayers have been answered in 3 ways:

1. We are so aware that it is your prayers that are continuing to sustain us in relatively good spirits and in complete confidence in God.

Taking David to chemo was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – like taking the kids for vaccination, but far worse. You know it’s good for them, but the pain inflicted! We understand those who go into denial. It would have been so much nicer to have stayed on holidays at Burrill Pines. We loved being there for our few days as we find it one of God’s most beautiful peaceful places on the south coast.

Taking him 3 weeks later for the second time was no easier, knowing from experience, not just fear, what lay ahead. It doesn’t sound that bad: he sits in a chair for five hours while they put bags of fluids into his arm. First time he watched movies, second time he had a chat with his neighbour. For the first 24 hours he feels okay. After that he starts feeling poisoned, which he has been. Without going into graphic detail, it messes up his stomach, gives him headaches, skin rashes, aches, fatigue and more, making him feel like he’s got a bad dose of the flu with trouble sleeping. By day 10 he’s starting to feel less toxic, and starts regaining the weight he’s lost.

Friends have been tempting him with all sorts of treats: ginger beer, coffee, chocolate slice, chinese herbs and acupuncture, ‘words with friends’, walks, books to read, movies to watch, sermons to listen to, good conversation. When he’s sick, we feel like we’re holding our breath, wondering if this poisoning is worth it. When he starts feeling better, and starts doing more, it’s hard to believe he’s got cancer, except when there’s an abrupt reminder because of pain, or blood test, scan due, visit to oncologist etc. Today he’s preparing a sermon for this Sunday – a commissioning service for Marcus that had been planned for December last year! But next Thursday preparing a sermon will be an impossibility, as the chemo cycle starts again.

Answer to prayer no 2:

Monday he had a progress scan. After 6 weeks of holding our breath – no wonder I was looking blue and feeling dizzy – the scan has shown that the tumour has shrunk from 26 mm to 18mm (such a small, little nasty).

After visiting our oncologist today, it means we continue with this particular course of standard chemotherapy (carboplatinum, alimpta, avastin for those who want to know – the latter two being current state of the art treatment) for another two cycles of one day on a drip every three weeks. We’ll then have another progress scan, and consider our maintenance options.

Our oncologist didn’t encourage us to breathe easy, so I guess we’ll be holding our breath again. However, praise God for His gracious answer thus far, and read on, for what gives us more hope…

Amazing answer to prayer no 3:

We asked you early on pray that David might have one of 2 receptors. The EGFR, which is now routinely tested for, was negative. It was always unlikely because it is most prevalent in younger Asian women. But we have discovered David is ALK positive! (And thank God we asked for this to be tested because it’s not routine to test). This is a rare (3-5%) genetic mutation that is the driver behind David’s cancer, ie. causing the cells to grow out of control. Just why this ALK gene has flipped itself upside down and fused where it shouldn’t have, is still not yet known.

This mutation was only discovered in 2007 and is still under investigation. There are new drugs, still being tested which aim to turn this driver off, which have been showing some very positive results since they first started trialling it in 2008. They’re up to phase 3 of the trials now, answering the very questions that we’re asking: which treatment is more effective? Unfortunately we were not able to be included in this trial, but our treatment is very similar and will allow us to, hopefully, use the new drug Crizotinib to kick the driver out when David’s cancer stops responding to the standard chemotherapy.

This new drug is not a cure either, but results seem to show that it can work more effectively and for longer before resistance builds up. This is also being studied, along with another even newer drug which is just starting to be trialled in the US and England (but not Australia, tho the director of the pharmaceutical company was just lovely when I emailed him.)

For those who want to understand more fully than this simple explanation see a link sent by a kind oncologist in Melbourne. He’s the Aussie speaking in the video.

http://www.oncologytube.com/index.php?page=videos&section=view&vid_id=102199

And just praise God with us for scientists who are so clever! I’ve always agreed with whoever said that science was thinking God’s thoughts after Him. It must be so exciting to be on the cutting edge of science like this and hopeful for us being potentially on the cutting edge of new designer drugs.

All this means, God willing, that though not medically curable, David’s cancer might be able to be managed for significantly longer than we were previously given hope for. We’ve been inspired by stories on a cancer forum of the survival of those on Crizotinib and the more normal lifestyle that can be lived.

Praise God for this hope and pray it is realised: longer life for His glory, as described in Phil 1: 19-26 (and take note of the challenge to you, dear reader of verses 27-30.) We’ve enjoyed reading Philippians as a family recently. 1:21 points out the win/win situation we find ourselves in; 2: 1-11 has been the inspiration for my life; 2:14 is a great verse to quote to squabbling kids; Phil 3:7-14 is inspirational for our circumstances now; and 4:4-8 continues to be a great source of challenge and comfort. The peace I feel can only be the precious gift of God to me in this time, in answer to your prayers.

We’ve also enjoyed reading some good books: ‘Suffering Well’ by Paul Grimmond helps us reflect on where is God in all this, and ‘Naked God’ by Martin Ayers is a good read for sceptics.

But we also hurt for those around us who’re also suffering. There are a number of close friends with medical conditions, whom we pray for regularly. We’d like to encourage you to think about who you know that might be struggling with serious illness, and uphold them to God. Please also pray for David, for opportunities David has to share his faith and hope. Pray that we will continue to serve our church family in their grief and joys. And pray for me as I seek to care for my patients, in their sickness and the trials of life.

We are so thankful to our church, Crossroads, for their care for us. David had the opportunity to speak for 15 mins or so at a special church family meeting on Monday night. He shared his appreciation of being able to serve the church as senior pastor these past 16 year. He thanked many whom he’d worked with. He shared of the shock and heartache of being diagnosed with cancer, the time in hospital, the struggles, facing his own mortality and more. The pastoral staff and the elders specifically prayed for David to be healed and to honour God with his life.

David has also been welcomed to continue serving in ministry at Crossroads as he is able. He is excited to be able to speak this weekend. Obviously he is going through a bit of an identity crisis (not too badly!) as his life has been so focused on ministry leadership for so long. He has been thinking of writing a blog or something, but hasn’t got anything off the ground yet. [My letters are getting it launched for him!] The Brumbies have also welcomed David back as team chaplain. They have been very supportive of David and our family over the past 3 months, and it was great to be able to go to a game together again last week. Jake White has welcomed David’s involvement with the team and he is hoping to have a positive impact on the lives of many. He had the opportunity to share with the whole squad recently.

Our children continue to be an amazing source of joy and encouragement. Their visits and calls. The joy of conversation and praying together. Their sports, musicals, friends, youth group, activities, and their faith and struggles. Even organising a team of teenagers to raise money for cancer research through the Cancer Council “Relay for Life”.

Thank you all for your love, and remember God loves you more than you could ever imagine.

Love Fiona (and Dave)

Journey with cancer 19 Jan 2012

Dear family and friends

Thank you so much for all your prayers concerning David. We’ve felt so supported by your love and concern for us from all around the world. It’s just been amazing to see the world wide church in action. A great testimony at this time! We know your prayers have been answered as we’ve continued to deal calmly (well most of the time!) with all that’s been happening and have continued to trust God (not without tears) through it all. The frustration of last week has been overcome within a week (as opposed to the initial four we were quoted) as we’ve seen God at work through His people.

We are very grateful to God for the provision of a Christian oncologist, and friend of a friend, becoming our friend when we needed one most. He’s been amazingly kind and generous with his time and has been communicating on our behalf with specialists down here. We are also grateful to God for our Canberra oncologist. He’s a very intelligent man and knows his stuff.

Unfortunately, the receptor test has come back negative. I knew I wasn’t married to a 40 year old, non-smoking Asian female (the category of people who mainly have this receptor!) but it was worth asking God for. This means that we don’t get to use specific designer drugs, but are left with a more general approach. David will start chemotherapy next Wednesday, after boosting his red blood cells with a week of Vitamin B and folic acid. We’ll be using drugs that appear, from research, to give the best outcome, with least side effects and best quality of life. Praise God, that he has given people such intelligence, that they can research and come up with such drugs with great criteria like that!

Whilst this last week has been very hard, and yesterday it was suddenly very much all in our faces again, we have been so grateful to God for His provisions for our family and His amazing timing. Yesterday, in all the stress, a friend randomly dropped around a gluten free orange cake just half and hour before David’s mum, a celiac, dropped in. Just wonderful!

The other great news from the extended McDonald clan, was that David’s dad’s cancer has been declared to be in total remission after his 6 cycles of chemotherapy were completed just before Christmas. It was great to see him looking stronger yesterday, than when he was down for the ‘not the farewell prayer meeting’. Thank God with us, because Norman having cancer, had weighed heavily on us leaving to go north.

Our kids have returned home. Grace having had a wonderful time at summer school, and Marcus had a great time on beach mission (thanks Old Bar team) and holiday with our friends the Elkingtons. We’re now heading down the coast for a few days of brief holiday with our family and extended family before the chemo begins. Our church have got into the habit of coming with us to Burrill Pines. We can’t not share the most fabulous God-given peaceful place around!

Pray we’ll have good times with all our kids both this next week and into the future. Pray that despite the stress, team McDonald will work together well, loving and caring for each other, able to talk, laugh, share, cry, question together, but always trusting in God and his amazing love and care of us, and witnessing to that in our lives. Please pray for our kids as they have to grow up fast, and for us as we remember they’re still kids.

Whilst the battle ahead is daunting, it’s a relief to be finally doing something to fight the cancer.

Thank God for his armour (Ephesians 6) and pray we’ll be “putting it on” (as Colin Buchanan and my supa club kids sing so enthusiastically) every day. Sing the Dambusters hymn with us: Psalm 46. Please pray that David will have the energy, strength and trust in God to face what’s ahead, and that the side effects will be kept to a minimum and can be dealt with. Pray that we will finally have some routine, structure, clarity, as to what each day might hold, whilst being glad and rejoicing for each new day, praising God for his new mercies each morning, and being flexible so as to cope with all the unexpected things that will come our way. Pray for conversations with old friends, current friends and new friends as we head into a new world and join a new community, that we’ll continue to share with joy of the One who loves us and holds us in the palm of His hand.

Thank you for all your cards, texts, fb messages, emails, phonecalls, presents, and presence. Please keep them coming, as they are such an encouragement to us. David is someone who is energised by catching up with people. It doesn’t matter if you’re worried that you don’t know what to say, no one does! I cant say to David, “I know what you’re going through” because I DON’T and most of you probably don’t either. If you’re worried that you’ll wear him out, or that he’ll have too many visitors, then just pop in briefly – though sometimes David is up for ‘a chat’! He hasn’t gone back on coffee yet, but will happily make you one. You can always give a call before you come to check it’s ok.

Once again, we can’t thank you and God enough for all your support and encouragement.

Love and prayers

Fiona (and David)

Journey with cancer 11 Jan 2012

Dear friends and family,

As many of you were aware, we visited the oncologist today. Unfortunately the receptor test, that we were waiting the results for today, was inconclusive, so further samples have been sent off to try and obtain a definitive result. Again, it will be a 2-3 week wait. Please pray for patience as we wait (again). There is good cause to wait, as targeted chemo with specific designer drugs will give better outcomes, and works better if not used after general chemotherapy. In the meantime we live in limbo land, with our brains in suspended animation.

Well no, not really. It was very special to have David go to church on Christmas Day, although it exhausted him. We had a wonderful family lunch provided by friends in our beautiful backyard. It was special to be together and to remember that Jesus is truly with us. If you missed out on a good Christmas service then can I recommend the carols from St Andrew’s Cathedral. The message was awesome, as was the music. Hearing an old friend sing ‘Immanuel, Our God is with us’ had me in tears (& still does).

Our container of goods arrived back on Tuesday 3rd. Many wonderful friends helped unpack and reset up in a day. What took us 6 weeks to carefully pack, only took our friends 6 hours to get back in place! It was a bit bizarre to see the truck being unloaded by the same men who had loaded it 5 weeks before. I think our goods enjoyed the break! The dog was certainly confused but happy. The house is the same yet different, as we’ve taken the opportunity to repaint, and rearrange kids rooms and the studies. They say change is as good as a holiday.

Actually, after David’s PET scan, (where, no, they didn’t find any unwanted pets) we did escape for a holiday down at Moruya Heads to a flat belonging to good friends. David’s rehab program continued with good food, good rest, but now also the benefit of sun, sand, walks and fishing! Many small fish were kissed and thrown back. His swimming was excluded on basis of healing wounds, infection risk, and the wind-chill factor. It was a great relaxing, refreshing time alone together: 3rd honeymoon, as we felt too young to be empty-nesters just yet. The bizarreness of our life was contrasted with the bizarreness of Sam Tyler’s life as we enjoyed watching the BBC series ‘Life on Mars’.

We enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation, the great tastes of his creation and reading his word together: specifically 2 Corinthians, where we’re reminded of the temporary nature of this life compared to the wonders of eternity. David said he was beginning to grasp this contrast more strongly.  2 Corinthians 1:3-11 has always been a favourite with me.

We are also very grateful to friends for the lovely holidays our kids have enjoyed. Matt and Marcus had a great time at Old Bar beach mission, where both had great opportunities to share the gospel and encourage and be encouraged in their Christian faith. Grace is enjoying Summer school, and Luke and Sharon had a wonderful camping trip at Gerringong, before plunging back into summer swim schools this week.

There’s plenty to do in the meantime, with studies and books to be arranged, cards and letters to be answered, more rehab to increase David’s strength for the fight to come and perhaps even our annual holiday with our church family down at Burrill Pines. Who knows, there might even be a school of salmon passing through to inspire the recovery!

It has been bitter sweet to farewell and hear from those who’ve gone to Darwin without us. Please continue to pray for Northern Australia, and for beautiful feet to take the gospel to those who haven’t heard or responded yet and to encourage those who labour so hard in such isolated and hard areas.

If you’re inspired by the fact that it’s 100 yrs since people first walked to the South Pole, then please google ‘Humpty Dumpty South Pole Expedition’ to check out our friend Rob’s trek to the Pole, raising money for the Humpty Dumpty children’s foundation. It sounds even more scary than waiting for chemotherapy.

Thank you for your continued prayers in this waiting period. In part it feels like we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, as we wait for the medical system to lumber forward. However, we know we have God who is able to do the impossible, with the improbable, and so we continue to trust in Him, because there’s nowhere and no one else to turn to.

Fiona (& Dave)

Journey with cancer 22 Dec 2011

Dear family & friends

It’s not quite official, but barring any further complications David should be out of hospital and home with us for Christmas. Not quite God with us, but another beautiful gift from Him.

Thank you so much for all your prayers from around Canberra, Sydney, Australia, the world. Our God is indeed the God of all the nations. The imagery in Revelation of all God’s people gathered around His throne in praise and prayer is very true. Whilst God does not enjoy our circumstances I think He must be overjoyed with the barrage – battering – of prayer he has received on our behalf!

Thank you too for all the bible verses, kind messages, thoughtful acts: food related, emotional and practical that have inundated us. We have felt very loved and very blessed. Our kids have been well cared for with breaks away from the stress. Thank you.

The repeat procedure, done late Thurs night has been successful, and not complicated by infection, re-accumulation of fluid or collapse of his lung. Xray today will help confirm that the pleurodesis (sticking his lung to the chest wall) has been mostly successful, and hopefully the build up of fluid again shouldn’t be an issue.

His pain has been more under control, though David now has a new benchmark of 10/10 for pain. The second drain came out yesterday evening. We still await the results of the receptor tests, but at least have met the oncologist and have a follow up appointment with him sometime mid Jan.

CT scans have so far shown there is no spread beyond the pleura. We had a bone scan and are awaiting results. We’re also waiting to have a PET scan.

Thank God for all the positive news so far after the initial shock, and continue to pray it will be receptor positive so that more specific targeted chemotherapy can be used.

(It’s easy to type all this, but it’s still just so unbelievable and ridiculous!)

The plan will be to get him home, get him some decent rest, some good food, fresh air, and a rehab of exercise to rebuild his strength (physical, emotional) and muscle tone.

Pray for these things, but also for patience, love and gentleness with each other and with our children in the day to day. Pray we can enjoy the moments, laugh over the ridiculous and have fun together.

Underneath the drama of the last 3 weeks is the realisation, that this was only the preliminary round, and there is still the real fight to come. We feel punch drunk from this round, so please pray we can build up strength and resilience for what is to come. There have been constant irritating reminders that we live in a fallen world affected by sin and sinful people.

However the armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) has stood firm. The cardboard versions I made with my kids in Supa club just this last term, wouldn’t have! But I can attest that the shield of faith is a wonderful thing to hide behind and has remained dent free, despite the battering. I know that God doesn’t allow us more than we can bear, though sometimes I wasn’t sure I could cope with another turn of the screw! We’ve needed the full armour of God and we thank you for your prayers in this. We thank God that we’ve seen his word proclaimed in ours and other people’s lives. God’s word will not come back empty handed.

We’ve also seen the amazing love people are capable of, inspired by God, but also just random acts from total strangers. It is so amazing to see God at work in the people He has made and to feel so loved and cared for.

Whilst I’ve been very conscious of Hebrews 12 (the author was not wrong in verse 11), I am glad to be loved by God and experiencing and hoping to continue the harvest of righteousness and peace. Philippians 4:7 continues to prove true, especially if I don’t get anxious, panicky or cranky, but pray and rejoice!

However for David, Romans 5:1-11 has been important, along with many other great passages. We can thank God for teaching us perseverance and building character in us, but mostly we are so grateful for the hope of the gospel, the certain hope of forgiveness through Jesus’ death, and the certain hope of eternal life with God.

At this time of year when Immanuel, God with us, is proclaimed, please take hold of the message of hope and reconciliation, not only with God, but also with each other. As one friend wrote to me: “You don’t know what a wonderful person you have near until you are on the brink of losing them.”

David’s ministry can be summed up by 2 Corinthians 5:13-15. What Focal Point hasn’t included a talk from this passage?! Be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2) and to each other.

Once again, thank you soooooooooo much for all your wonderful prayers and support. Enjoy your families and friends this Christmas. Continue to practice random acts of kindness, as you don’t know whose life you’re going to bless!

Please pray 1 Peter 4:19 for us.

Love, gratitude and prayers

Fiona (and David)

P.S.  We heard at 3pm yesterday that there was a  70% chance our container might have been coming back to today, but then a couple of hours later we heard that due to floods in Darwin, it’s wont be back until next Thursday. Gotta laugh. Also puts earthly treasures in perspective. Praise God that he has worked a miracle with defence housing and friends of ours have been allowed to move into the place we’d be living in Darwin!

God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.

Journey with cancer 12 Dec 2011

Dear friends and family

Thank you so much for all the prayers, love, offers of support offered and given. We have felt overwhelmingly loved and cared for. Thank God for his love, expressed not only in the hope of the gospel but also through the love of people. Our friends and work colleagues have just been amazing in their love and support, as have our brothers and sisters at church. And we thank God for our amazing children and their love.

While it is frustrating not to be able to ‘do something’, your prayers have sustained us all in a state of God-given peace and calmness. Philippians 4:7 is very real, so I know that Philippians 4:4-6 is true. The prayers of the saints are powerful. I’m beginning to think one of the purposes of our family is to get people praying!

The news that David does not have mesothelioma was a big relief. However, David does have a primary lung cancer (not the smoking related one) which has spread to the pleura, the lining of the lung, causing the fluid build up around his lung. At the surgery last Monday, he not only had biopsies done, but treatment to try and prevent the fluid building up again, called a pleurodesis. The surgery knocked him around with subsequent infection, reaction to the procedure, re-accumulation of fluid, and the collapse of his left lung. The need for pain medication has subsequently caused problems with his gut and made it hard to eat and drink.

Despite all this he has worked hard at trying to do his breathing, coughing, walking exercises, with tubes in his veins, a chest tube with drain, and an oxygen mask – quite a procession!

Unfortunately, there has been a reacummulation of the fluid, with the chest tube not draining properly. On Tuesday he will have the fluid drained via a small needle. Hopefully that will reveal some treatable cause for why the chest tube drain isn’t working. If not, then he might have to have repeat surgery. Obviously, that is not what we would wish. Please pray that tomorrow’s simple procedure will resolve the issue. We would just like him out of hospital and home. David does not enjoy the long nights in hospital. Pray he would cling to Jesus, and that appropriate bible verses would comfort him. Pray he can rely on God’s strength to get him (& us) through each day.

We now must wait 2 weeks for very specific testing to be done on the biopsies, to determine which course of chemotherapy will be most useful. Please pray it will be a receptor positive cancer as that has special designer chemotherapy that will be more effective. (God understands!) Hopefully we will get to talk to the oncologists in the meantime so as to have greater understanding. Please pray we do so.

Chemotherapy will probably not be initiated until January some time, and not before there is healing of the surgery site. Please pray we get an oncologist who is a good communicator. Thank God for our surgeon, Dr Tharion, who is a very caring man.

Please continue to pray for a miracle. Both our youngest children are miracles in their own way, so we know God is able. We don’t doubt His amazing love for us or His ability to do what is best for all of us. Pray God will give us patience, trust in Him, love for each other, and gratitude for all that is being done for us. Thank God for the opportunities David has had to share Jesus with friends. Pray that we, and you, will have many more. Thank God for the encouragement of friends. (There’s not one of ‘Job’s friends’ among the lot of you!) We thank God for all who have helped, are continuing to, and will continue to look after our children.

Thank God for His word, and that so many of you have sent us encouragement from it. We have been able to read God’s word together as a family and pray. Psalm 102 was one particularly apt passage a friend referred us to that led to good discussion with our younger two. We encourage you to keep reading God’s word, or to begin if it’s not something you usually do.

Although it’s only been a week and a half, in that short space of time we’ve had to change our thinking from Darwin to Canberra. We’ve had to come to terms with David, fit and healthy, now having a life threatening illness. We’ve all had to grieve for the change of plans and adapt to God’s perfect plans, hanging on to him in the somewhat difficult, challenging journey ahead. (James 1:2-12)

Love from Fiona (and Dave)

Journey with cancer 6 Dec 2011

Dear family and friends,

I’m sorry that you are receiving this news electronically. I wish that I could speak to you all personally, but in this age of instant communication I would prefer that you heard the news from us, rather than by the grapevine.

As many of you are aware, David was admitted to hospital last Friday with chest pain it was discovered that he had a large volume of fluid around his left lung: Cause?

Monday afternoon he had a VATS, where a camera was inserted into his left chest cavity and biopsy samples taken. Visually it was seen that David has cancer, involving his left lung and his left pleura or lining of the inside of the chest cavity. He was treated so the fluid won’t accumulate again.

Later this week, when the biopsy samples have been looked at, we will know whether it is mesothelioma of the pleura or a primary lung cancer. Either way it is surgically inoperable and we will now be referred to oncology to receive chemo &/or radiotherapy treatment, appropriate to the type of cancer it is. He will also have further scans to see if it has spread anywhere else.

This is a great shock to us all, given the lack of symptoms and our plans to move to Darwin. However, we can praise God for His timing, that we are still in Canberra, amongst friends and within our church family.

Thank you for your generosity, support, love, meals, and beautiful gifts. Whilst it looks like we might not make it to Darwin, please pray that our vision and David’s opportunity to communicate at various conferences will have spurred on others to take up the challenge of church planting in Darwin. Much groundwork has been done that people could build on.

In the meantime, please pray for us as a family as we adjust to this new path. Pray especially for our children, as that is what concerns David and I most. Pray that we will be able to love and care for each other, and continue to trust in the God who cares for us, who has our best interests at heart (Romans 8:28) and who has things under control, even when it seems to be out of control (Hebrews 11:1). Pray that we will continue to honour His name and bring glory to Him. Pray for the miracle of healing. That’s what we want, so please ask God. And please pray for contentment with the answer.

Please entrust David to His will, care and mercy (Nahum 1:7). Thank him for the hope of heaven (Revelation 21:3-4) and the joy and assurance of our salvation (Hebrews 10:19-25) and the comfort of his presence  (2 Timothy 4: 17-18).

Thank God for efficient, wise, caring medical staff and pray we will continue to receive prompt, efficient, wise, caring treatment as we proceed with oncology. Pray that we will be able to continue to witness to God’s love with all the new people we encounter.

We thank God for all of you, for your friendship and fellowship.

Praise God that Crossroads has a new senior pastor, chosen without the angst of this new situation. Please pray for Marcus in his first, challenging senior pastoral role as he cares for his mentor, brother, and friend. Pray for his family with this extra burden in taking on the new job.

Please pray and care for each other.  Let God know how you feel (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Let this episode in Crossroads life be to His praise and glory, and let our church be known for its love to the saints and to outsiders.

Thank you for your ongoing love and support (Psalm 23:4).

Love and prayers

Fiona (and Dave)

Macarisms

What are macarisms? And why have I called this blog by that name?

The silly answer is that people call me Macca and these are going to be things that I want  to communicate! But the deeper answer lies in the meaning of the word. It is simply an English version of an ancient Greek word meaning ‘blessing’ or ‘to be blessed’. There are various forms of this word in the New Testament, the most famous being Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5): Blessed are the the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the merciful… and so on. The specific word ‘macarism’ is found in Romans 4:6-8:

David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness (macarism) of the one whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.

My desire for this blog is that people will be blessed as they read and think about life. My hope is to help people to reflect on the good life, to stop and consider what’s really worth having.