The garden, the curtain, and the cross

(This post is by another member of my family, Sharon, who used this material with our three grandsons)

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This Easter Sunday morning our family, with our three boys aged 6, 4 and 2, finished The Garden, The Curtain and the Cross Easter Calendar. This is a 15 day family activity program. Each morning for the last 15 days our family has dug into God’s word together. Each family ‘devotion’ takes about 10 minutes. They creatively take us from creation, through the early Old Testament, to the crucifixion of Jesus, and finally to the book of Revelation. The activities are based on a children’s picture book of the same name.

The devotional material is probably aimed at a family with children a little older than ours—primary school-aged children and older. However, even our 4 year old was able to grasp the main concepts and came away challenged in his faith. The pack comes with a booklet of devotions to follow each day from the Sunday 2 weeks before Easter and an “advent” style calendar with 15 flaps to open revealing a picture related to each days study.

Each devotion starts with prayer and a question to get you thinking about the topic. A passage from the Bible is followed by questions about the passage and its application. The material has a guide for how to pray in response to each passage of the Bible, which I found really useful with my young family, as they are still learning to pray. Each day includes a ‘Let’s think a little more’ section, in which the main theme is explored further. We found the main content enough for our family so didn’t use this section.

I particularly loved the way the material walked you through the Bible, clearly showing God’s rescue plan and the reason it was needed. It places a big emphasis on the ‘Keep Out’ sign (angels with swords) that God placed at the Garden of Eden. It then draws a strong link to the curtain ‘Keep Out’ sign at God’s dwelling place in Israel, the temple. Finally, this is torn in two at Jesus’ death on the Cross. The way it explains these symbols, combining them with the pictures in the ‘Advent-style’ calendar worked really well for my boys. My 4 year old was able to remember and explain what the curtain meant for God’s people and how it being torn showed that we were allowed access to God through Jesus once again.

My favourite was day 6, when the solution to the problem of sin was covered. The Israelites needed a sacrificial swap to give them access to the Most Holy Place in the temple, a once a year sacrifice of two goats—one that is killed and one that is sent away— for their sins. The discussion questions and conversation that followed with my boys saw them really grasp their need for a swap and how great it is that Jesus has done this once and for all.

I am already looking forward to revisiting these devotions next year.

Postscript

Whether you’re reading this over Easter, Christmas, the school holidays, a COVID-19 lockdown, or any time really… this is a great resource for families. The Good Book Company are currently making available some related free resources. Download these while you can, and watch a video by the authors explaining why they have made this.

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Easter morning

(This post is by Fiona)

Easter Morning

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Tired, drawn, tear stained faces
tread sadly the predawn path
heavy stone
heavy hearts
grief

Confusion
flickering fear
hope
he’s not here
has he risen?

Faces turn toward the risen son
tears dried
fresh breath inspired
new life
hope
joy
he’s not here
HE IS RISEN
Christ, Saviour, King

Go quickly
feet running swiftly
tell the others
hope
he’s not dead
HE IS RISEN

Go
tell the good news
of salvation
to the disciples
to your neighbours, friends
to the sad, lonely, outcast, hopeless
to the world,
on swift, beautiful feet

Go
Tell the good news
HE IS RISEN
sins forgiven
death defeated
Jesus is King.
HOPE
JOY
LIFE

He will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 25:8)

My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.
(Isaiah 26:19)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die
(John 11:25)

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
(Romans 8:34)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 
(1 Peter 1:3-4)

Easter exhaustion

(This post is by Fiona)

It’s Good Friday morning

Pastors are exhausted trying to make the technology work so that church can go ahead.

Wives are exhausted trying to support husbands, while also trying to make technology and life work for them, their friends, their kids, their neighbours…

Mums are exhausted from home-schooling in the midst of already busy lives, and now there’s all the holidays to fill.

Those with work are exhausted by all the craziness, dealing with anxious people, dealing with angry and frustrated customers, dealing with the extra stresses, demands and worries in the workplace.

Kids are exhausted from cranky mums, stressed dads, quarrelling siblings, who want what they have, who destroy what they’ve built, who…

Mums and dads are exhausted from trying to hold it all together when they’re not sure why it’s happening, when it will end, and the overwhelming fear of sickness, and even death.

People are exhausted as they try to stretch finances, adjust budgets, apply for payments.

Lonely people are even more lonely and isolated (though some are discovering the generosity of others).

The elderly are exhausted from their fears. This virus seems to be targeting them. They feel a burden on others.

The news from overseas is overwhelming. The numbers beyond comprehension, too awful to comprehend.

Governments are beginning to play the blame game.

There seems to be sharing of resources, but at a price.

The news from home is full of complaints and blame and accusations. What about me?

It’s full of pleas for people to be sensible — just not me, not on my holidays.

Police are exhausted, and frustrated, and angry at the carelessness of people.

Health care workers are exhausted from the anxiety of what might be coming, of resources already used up, of people who cough on them…

It’s Good Friday morning

The disciples are exhausted. They couldn’t stay awake to pray. Their sleep in the garden was fitful.

Jesus looks exhausted. Praying, sweating, agonising all night.

But now there’s calmness and purposefulness in his face as he rouses the disciples once more.

Judas has figured out how to stretch his budget. The coins jingle in his pocket as he leads the soldiers and kisses Jesus on the cheek.

The hastily-convened court is chaotic, noisy, disordered. Accusations fly. Blame is pointed. Frustration and anger boil over. Clever plotting by the manipulative ones seems to sway the crowd. Someone has to pay to save their way of life, their rule.

Peter is devastated and deeply ashamed by his betrayal. But what else could he do? He didn’t want to stand where Jesus did. He could smell the anger and bloodlust. He was sickened by the smell of his own fear.

Pilate is exhausted by this rabble of Jewish religious rulers. Why can’t they just sort things out themselves and leave him alone?

The rabble are frenzied, whipped into fury. Someone will pay.

The soldiers are exhausted. It’s another rotten day in this forsaken Roman outpost. They’d rather be at home with their families.

They may as well have some fun. Whipping, spitting, cursing, mocking. At least there’s his clothing to divide.

Jesus is exhausted.

Simon of Cyrene is co-opted to bear the burden. “What did I do to deserve this? In the wrong place at wrong time. Poor bugger, he looks done in. God, I hope they don’t crucify me as well!”

Spitting, jeering, laughing, mocking, scorning, pushing, shoving.

The women are exhausted from their mourning.

Jesus is exhausted.

God had abandoned him.

Isolated.

Alone.

Struggling to breathe.

Still thinking of others. “John, take care of my mother.” “Father forgive them.” “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.”

Exhausted, alone, abandoned, dead.

It’s Good Friday morning

I’m exhausted, but thankful. Profoundly thankful for a Saviour who understands me, cares for me, loves me.

Thank you Lord Jesus for shedding your blood for me.

We do not have a saviour who is unable to sympathise with our weakness. We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.

He himself, bore our sins in his body, on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.

Enter the throne room with confidence to receive mercy and to find grace to help us in our time of need.

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he knows and cares for you.

Meeting in the middle

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In sickness and in health

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

Back then it was…

Richer? Who cares?

Poorer? I doubt it—we were both students.

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

Worse? I hope not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Round 2

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

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Ding. Ding. Ding.

The bell sounds the start of round 2.

This will be a different round from the first round.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But now the bell is ringing for the second round.

It has been a long time since the first round.

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

The featherweight himself has moved on from that first round.

The unexpected win had given new lease to life.

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

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

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

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

And now the bell sounds for round 2.

Years later…

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

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

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

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

But not totally unprepared.

Not quite so naïve as last time.

Maybe more skill than last time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A world class researcher and expert in Melbourne.

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

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

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

Jab… Jab… Jab…

Our technique has certainly improved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

David didn’t want you to be uninformed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bell rings for round 2.

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

The bell rings for round 2.

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

The crowd is expectant.

The bell rings.

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

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

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

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

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

Uppercut to the jaw… his crucifixion.

Knockout punch… his resurrection.

The bell rings for round 2.

The combatants step up.

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

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

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

More changes ahead

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I find it hard to sit still. I’m sure if ADD had been a diagnosis in 1967, then I would have been labelled. All my school reports said something along the lines of “He would do better if he stopped talking and concentrated more on his work…” Not to mention all those sitting close to me would have done better too.

But just when we were thinking that life would stabilise here in Bonny Hills, another change comes along. This year I’m taking on the role of Pastor at Salt Community Church. Salt meets between Bonny’s and Lake Cathie in the local primary school. This Saturday at 5pm (yes our church gets in early!) I will commence this role, as I begin preaching through 1 Peter on the theme Make Your Life Count. Tonight, Fiona and I are meeting with some of the leaders to talk ‘church’ and do some preparation together.

My role at Salt will be part-time, as I am continuing with the role of National Director of FIEC. It will mean a bit less travel than the past two years, but that is needed anyway. Together with Dean, Jim, Fiona, and our executive, I will seek to provide good leadership, support, and direction to our Fellowship. I will need to work smarter, not harder, as they say!

I am excited about regular preaching and pastoral ministry in the local context, as I have a growing passion for God’s work in the Bonny Hills area. It will be nice to have the rhythm of regular preaching to keep me growing in God’s word. I also hope that it will keep me fresh and add a new dimension in relating to pastors in my work as National Director.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been involved in some mentoring, ministry coaching, and professional supervision of pastors and Christian leaders. Most of this synchronises nicely with the FIEC role. This year I’m up-skilling by taking on some supervised training in Christian mentoring. Last week Fiona, Dean Ingham, and I, all took the first intensive in a course at SMBC aimed at improving the manner in which we support, equip, and encourage growth in other leaders.

While we miss our friends from 28 years in Canberra, we are enjoying living on the Mid North Coast. It’s a joy to wake up to the sun and the surf. We love being nearer some of our kids and grandkids, and we are eagerly anticipating the birth of another grandchild in a few weeks. The year is filling up already and we will need God’s help. If you are in the business of talking to God and praying for others, we’d value your prayers for 2019. Please pray that God will equip us to serve him competently and faithfully. And ask God to help us walk the line of going out on a limb for him, while looking after ourselves at the same time.