Wow!

I’m overjoyed at the reach and impact Hope Beyond Cure is having, and how God is using this book to give people—all sorts of people—real and lasting hope. I received this message from a friend last week. The names have been changed…

Hi Dave,

Spoke to a friend of mine who works at the Catholic Aged Care facility. She noticed your book on Sister Mary’s desk and asked her about it (Sister Mary is the chaplain). Sister Mary raved about it, apparently it has been passed around to all the old nuns and priests, many of whom are terminally ill. She explained to Robyn, my friend, that many are afraid of death because they are afraid that they have not done enough good works to get to heaven. They have been so excited about the book that they can have assurance of eternal life. A number of the nuns have given up the struggle to live and died peacefully after reading the book, thankful that finally they can be sure of being with their heavenly father! All I can say in response to this is WOW. Robyn is going to ask Sister Mary to write to you.

Your sister in Christ

Is God’s love unconditional?

Wire Rim Glasses ca. 2002I believe if I asked many of my friends whether they thought that God’s love is unconditional, I’d get a mix of responses.

There would be some who’d say, ‘No way!’ They believe that God is the ‘ultimate in condition-imposing beings’. He sets the standards, sets them way too high, and then delights in marking everyone down. This is the God of ‘Do nots’—just look at the ten commandments, then add the hundreds of other laws. This is the God who delights in judgement.

Others would say, ‘No way!’ because they believe that God is all about setting the bar low enough that people can meet it. God rewards the basically good, the religious, the moral, the upright, the disciplined, the churchy, those who aren’t perfect but never cross the ‘line’.

And then there’d be those who’d say, ‘Yes of course!’ God welcomes everybody unconditionally. David Powlison argues that most people think unconditional love means it simply doesn’t matter what they think, believe or do.

Deep down you’re okay; God accepts you as you are. God smiles on you even if you don’t jump through any hoops. You have intrinsic worth. God accepts you, warts and all. You can relax, bask in his smile, and let the basically good, real you emerge. (Seeing with new eyes, p169)

Such diversity of perspectives about God; such confusion about what God wants, how God relates; such contrast in what love means and how it works. How can this be overcome? Is there a path to clarity? Are there answers and can they be known? I say, ‘Yes!’ The Bible cuts through our subjectivity. It does so by spotlighting the significance of the events of Go0d Friday.

This Easter we’re reminded again of the awesome love of God. I want the world to know this love, to embrace it, and live by it. I want people to understand that I don’t preach a message of salvation by works or religion or discipline or ritual or moral goodness. The Christian message is one of acceptance and freedom and mercy and grace. But I need to be careful, lest this message is misunderstood.

God isn’t wet and wimpy, vague and valueless, tepid and tolerant, affirming and all-accepting. The God who demands nothing, ultimately offers nothing. This is a God who can be ignored as irrelevant.

By contrast the true God, revealed through his Word, is loving in a way that is costly and courageous, vigorous and complex, effective and transforming. This love can only be understood in the light of the death of Jesus Christ. There is no better day to search intently into this love of God than Good Friday. On this day, we learn that God’s love is not strictly unconditional.

While it’s true that God’s love does not depend upon what you do, it very much depends on what Jesus Christ did for you. In that sense it is highly conditional. It cost Jesus his life.

… unconditional love? No, something much better, something costly and hard and generous. (Seeing with new eyes, p168)

I’m praying that this Easter we are provoked, troubled, comforted, inspired, and transformed by the love of God.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

When it’s good to get bad news

bad-newsI used to think that bad news was always bad news. How could it be anything else? But I see things differently now. Sometimes we need to hear bad news to have any chance of hearing good news. My cancer is a case in point.

The bad news: you have cancer.
More bad news: you have a non-small cell lung cancer.
Still more bad news: there is a tumour on the left lung and it has spread.
Even more bad news: you have an ALK+ mutation that is driving the cancer.

No one wants the news they have cancer. It’s always bad news. But the bad news pointed the way to hope. Subsequent bad news provided a specific pathway to hope. It has been indispensable to treating the cancer accurately. My diagnosis and my subsequent prognosis were seriously bad news that I needed to hear.

I know people who have not wanted to know what’s wrong with them. They’ve had cancer, but have not been willing to have it accurately diagnosed. Some have endured the wrong treatment. Others have avoided dealing with it until it’s been too late, and nothing could be done to help them. Some have died from cancer, when an early diagnosis would have saved them.

It’s the same when it comes to God. We don’t want to hear the bad news. We don’t like to hear that we’ve pushed God aside, that we prefer to live independently, that God will hold us to account, and we’re facing God’s judgment. This is bad news, it’s uncomfortable, it’s distasteful, and we’d prefer not to hear it.

I’ve discovered that it’s good to hear this bad news. We need an accurate diagnosis of our rejection of God. We need an accurate prognosis of the consequences of our rejection. The bad news prepares the way for hope. Unless we understand our desperate state before God, then we will not understand what God has done to turn things around. The bad news of our independence and judgment prepares us to hear the good news—the gospel—of hope through Jesus Christ. There’s hope for a renewed relationship with God in this life and beyond. God has the cure. It’s freely available.

Don’t ignore the bad news. It can help you to hear and grasp the good news that God wants you to enjoy.

Bad news
Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us,
Good news
God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
(Romans 3:23-24 from The Message, my headings)

Good news

firstI’ve been overwhelmed by the encouragement I’ve received over the past couple of days. Since posting about my wonderful scan results I’ve received so many Facebook, email, phone, and face to face greetings. So many have expressed their gratitude to God for his kindness.

On Thursday I was able to speak to the Brumbies after they were presented with their jerseys at the Captain’s run. They encouraged me with their enthusiasm for my news. Some shared my thanks to God and others simply expressed what @#%! great news it was. Each in their own way!

I also had the privilege of sharing my news at church yesterday morning. One person tearfully hugged me, saying their family had prayed for me every day of the past eighteen months. This is very humbling. I didn’t deserve it, but so many have pleaded with God for my healing. One little boy was so excited to hear my news that he’d told his school principal! Some hugged me so strongly I was worried my weak lung might cave in!

Last night I spoke of my excellent medical outcomes again. I was introduced with the words: ‘Macca has some great news to tell us.’ It hit me that I should share the best news I have. So I did. I spoke of the news that around 2000 years ago, Jesus died by crucifixion and then rose from the dead, so that all who trust him could have hope of new life for eternity. This is by far the greatest news. And then I spoke of my scan results, and people clapped.

Let me remind you that my hope is not ultimately in NED or remission or cure. My hope is beyond cure. It’s in the news that matters most:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NIV)

Faith, hope and tears

The shortest verse in the Bible is filled with empathy. Jesus, the author of life, understands what it feels like to experience grief and loss when a loved one dies. It hurts. It aches. We cry tears of sadness. We grieve in death. There’s a time for mourning, a time for weeping. As it says in John 11:35…

Jesus wept.

Some might question whether it’s necessary or appropriate for Christians to mourn the loss of a fellow believer. Don’t we believe they’ll be raised? Aren’t we confident they’re now with Jesus? Doesn’t our faith in eternal life make such sorrow out of place? Surely, a Christian funeral should be a celebration, not a time of grief and sadness?

Look again at John 11:35…

Jesus wept.

Jesus believed in resurrection. In fact he spoke of himself as the resurrection and the life. He knew that his good friend Lazarus would be raised from the dead. He knew, because he would raise him!

And yet, John 11:35…

Jesus wept.

If you’ve experienced the loss of someone you love, let the tears flow. Jesus did.

Easter Sunday and new life for Bronwyn

emptytombEaster Sunday. Resurrection Sunday. The day Jesus Christ rose from the grave and first appeared to his disciples. The first day of the week. The first day of a new life, a glorious future, for all eternity, with the God of all grace. What a day! Then and now.

chins2For you, Bronwyn, a day of glorious change. Like a butterfly, transformed from a caterpillar, only far more beautiful. All that was damaged and dying has been resurrected in wonder and joy. Weakness has been raised in power. The perishable has clothed itself with the imperishable. The earthly has been replaced with the heavenly. The mortal with immortality. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The sting of death has been taken away.

You now dwell with your God and Father. You are his precious child. Your tears have been wiped away. Your cancer has gone. You are suffering no longer.

Nothing could separate you from the love of Christ. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, could separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You are now with Christ, which is better by far.

You are loved. You are missed. Your husband, your children, your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You inspired so many with your kindness and love. Your joy in the midst of sorrow. Your fighting spirit. Your love for your family. Your patient endurance in the face of suffering. Your concern for others. Your testimony to Jesus. Your passion for God’s glory. Your strong hope of life in God.

Bronwyn, you have shown us faith and hope and love in the face of death. We thank you. We miss you.

Fact or fantasy

You head to the local library looking for a book to read over the long weekend. Something with drama, mystery, intrigue, torture, murder. You want to read about some allegations of grave robbery, insider plots, religious corruption, political power plays. And you’re keen to spice it up with some angels and demons, astrology, ghostly appearances, the spiritual underworld, ancient signs, the dead coming to life, and claims to divinity. “Where will I find something?” you ask.

matthewThe librarian brings you a book. It’s a little bit dusty. Doesn”t get borrowed too often. You look at the cover and it says Holy Bible. She opens it for you and points to The Gospel of Matthew. Where did she get it from? Is this Fact or Fantasy? Is it found in Fiction or Non-fiction? Is it History or Legend? Biography or Novel? Was it next to Harry Potter and The Twilight series, or was it down with The Works of Josephus and Suetonius?

What do you think?

Reading these requirements sounds like we’re dealing with fiction and fantasy, not history and reality. This is the kind of stuff you find in airport novels, B grade movies, low rating TV dramas. It’s not the kind of book you take seriously. Or is it?

I can tell you most people don’t. Even in many churches. The last 100 years or more has seen embarrassed churchy people talking these things down. Bishops denying that Jesus was born to a virgin. Theologians writing books claiming that Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead. It’s just his idea that lives on and that’s what we mean by resurrection. Many will say, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. The ideas are nice, they’re moral, they’re a good story, they’re nice for children. And hey, we get a few public holidays, so don’t worry about it!

Let me be open with you. Unless this is non-fiction, historical, factual, and continues to have relevance, then I’ve backed a complete loser. I’ve invested all my hopes, plans, priorities, aspirations, on this being truth. When I discovered that I had a terminal illness, the weight of these issues became enormous. I experienced doubts, fears, and confusion. I had big questions. Real questions, not just theoretical or ideological questions. They were intense, existential, of utmost significance. I engaged in investigation and reinvestigation. I had bet my life on this. Is it true?

I hadn’t just staked my future on this being real. I’d been living my life on the basis that it is. I’d been teaching that this book explains life. I’d been calling others to take it seriously. I’d been an advocate, an ambassador, a preacher of these things. Was I a fraud? Inadvertently even? Am I mistaken? Some say it doesn’t matter. I say it does!

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, one of the first Christian preachers had this to say about the substance of the events described in the gospels:

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

This is not just the idea of Christ living on, keeping his memory alive, but his physical bodily resurrection. Real death followed by real coming back to life. If it didn’t happen then there’s no point me trusting that it did or trying to persuade people that it still matters.

15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.

If these things are simply one big misunderstanding then the early Christians were guilty of perjuring themselves. They were liars, perpetuating myths about Jesus, brainwashing people with ridiculous notions. And therefore I’m guilty of doing much the same thing. Gullible, deluded, or just plain deceptive.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

When it comes to death – and let me tell you this is something that I take very seriously – I believe what happens afterwards really matters. If there is a God, and he takes me seriously, and I’m asked to give an account for how I’ve treated Him, then my only hope is in Christ dealing with my sins in his body on the cross. No point claiming I’ve been good. I haven’t. No point backing my religious behaviour. It’s pathetic. My hope is only in Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. If this didn’t happen, then I don’t have a leg to stand on before God.

18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.

There’s no hope for countless people who’ve already gone to their grave believing in Jesus. And what about those who’ve done so at gun point, who’ve been burned alive, crucified upside down, or thrown to lions? When all they had to do was change their minds! Recant! All they had to say was “No, I don’t really believe it!” They could have lived.

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

What a waste! Why would you spend your life living for a fiction, trying to persuade others. It’s really pretty sad! In fact, we may as well take these words seriously…

32 If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

That’s right. No point wasting my life on God, Jesus, hoping for resurrection, and a life beyond the grave. May as well simply focus on and enjoy what I’ve got now, because that’s all there is, and it’s not going to last that long.

What do I believe? I believe in the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I believe in the ongoing significance of these events. I believe that my sin against God has been dealt with and that I have real hope for all eternity. As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

I believe the evidence needs to be considered carefully. Weighed up seriously. These events make sense of promises written centuries before. They tie in so well with the words of the Bible that predicted them happening. When these words were first written, it was less that a generation after the events described. There were people alive who claimed to be eye-witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. You could question and cross examine them.

Cephas (Peter) had spent so long with Jesus, he was hardly likely to be mistaken. The twelve weren’t expecting him to appear. They were cowering in a room, in fear of their lives, after Jesus was killed. Five hundred people claimed to have seen Jesus on one occasion. You can’t explain this as mass hallucinations. And you could have asked some of them about who and what they saw. James, the brother of Jesus, would have been hard to convince. Not to mention Thomas, who wouldn’t believe without physical evidence. And Paul (or Saul as he used to be known) was so persuaded of the resurrection that he went from imprisoning Christians to joining them in prison. I understand a few lawyers would love this quality of evidence.

And then there’s the circumstantial evidence. How do you explain the missing body? The empty tomb? The wrong tomb? Surely, they’d just go to the next one. The authorities stole the body? All they had to do to stop the early Christians was produce it. The disciples stole the body and pulled off a conspiracy? Likely! A pathetic bunch of eleven cowards overthrowing imperial guards and then perpetuating lies that they go on to die for? Surely, at least one would have cracked to save himself!

There are many more pieces to the puzzle. Lot’s more circumstances to consider carefully. They keep pointing me to the conclusion that the accounts of Jesus are non-fiction, factual, historical records of real events. And these events are worth staking your life on.

This Easter, please consider.