Serendipity or God works in mysterious ways

God works in mysterious ways.

q400A fortnight ago I boarded a plane for Sydney in order to speak at the Managers Conference for Koorong Books. They wanted me to speak devotionally and to share about Hope Beyond Cure. My plans had been to shut my eyes and add a little sleep after what had been a very busy fortnight in New Zealand. But it wasn’t to be.

The woman in the seat beside me asked what I would be doing in Sydney. I replied that I was planning to speak at a conference about ‘How to find hope in the face of a terminal diagnosis’. At this she choked up, and began to share with me that her husband had died only weeks before. Her grief was palpable as she described the heartache and devastation on her family.

She asked my how I came to be speaking on this topic and I shared that I’d received a terminal lung cancer diagnosis a few years back. We talked for a while and shared a connection through the heaviness of our conversation. I wanted to be able to offer her a copy of my book, but I didn’t have one with me. Why would I? I was off to Koorong Books!

As the flight continued, we talked through many shared experiences. I told her of my struggle with cancer and also the challenges to my faith in God. As I described the context of my circumstances, something clicked for her, and she asked me whether I had written a book.

“Yes”, I said.

“Is it just a small book?”

“With a black cover?”

“With a picture of someone in a tunnel?”

“Yep, that’s it”, I said.

When hearing of her husband’s diagnosis, her aunt had sent her a copy of Hope Beyond Cure, which she then read to her husband each day in hospital. They both found it encouraging and hope-filling. She said that she wasn’t religious, but something deep struck a chord with them.

She wept at the serendipity of sitting beside me in the plane. Who’d have thought? What were the chances? She asked if we could get a photo together to show her aunt. She lives in Victoria, but her aunt lives close to us and works in the local Op Shop. I’ve since popped into the Op Shop, met her aunt, and thanked her for sending the book.

I continue to thank God that this book is helping people. And I thank him for connecting the two of us on the plane.

Returning to the scene

IMG_8551It’s been an anxious week as I’ve anticipated returning to the exact place and the same event where I first noticed the symptoms of my cancer. It was the Geneva Push church planting conference and I was speaking on leadership, church planting, and the vision to reach Australia with the good news of Jesus. It was the end of November in 2011 that I climbed the three flights of stairs at Scots Church in Melbourne, stopping on each landing, completely breathless, not knowing that within a few days I’d be in hospital fighting for my life.

Fast forward six and a half years and here I am at Scots Church, speaking on ministry, team work, and persevering as a Christian, and listening to others teach about the urgency of sharing the message of Jesus with those around us. I walked the same stairs to get to lunch today, pausing on each landing and reflecting on the amazing kindness of God. Wow! Who’d have thought I’d be remission? But more than this, I mean the wonder that God cares so much as to reach out to us, send his Son to die for us, welcome us into his family, gather us together in unity, transform his children into the likeness of Jesus, and equip us to work together to build something that will last for eternity—the church of God. Not human institutions, but the gathering together of people belonging to him.

We’ve been reminded once again that God’s vision for this world is to restore broken relationships. Primarily our broken relationships as sinners to a holy God, but also our relationships with one another. In days where the church seems out of touch and past its use by date, we are encouraged to understand our world, to listen to others, to show kindness, love, and patience, as we seek every opportunity to share the amazing news of Jesus Christ. No, not religion—Jesus!

davemaccaIt’s a joy and honour to be able to gather with men and women, young and old, to spur each other on to reach Australia with the life transforming, eternally consequential message of Jesus. People are getting jaded by the endless cycle of meaninglessness promoted by our society. People are searching for meaning. Surely there has to be more that work, sleep, eat, over and over again. Or are we just caught up in an endless Groundhog Day?

Our scientific materialism has ripped us off. It can’t deliver answers to the questions that matter most. It doesn’t offer meaning or purpose. It leaves us rudderless, lost, and unsatisfied. No, the truth is there is much more to life. The transcendent, living, almighty God has entered our world in Jesus Christ. Jesus has shown us what it really means to be human. He’s taught us what life is all about. More than this, by giving his life for us, and through rising from the dead, he has placed God within reach. He’s made peace with God possible. He’s gathering people to himself. He’s planting, growing, and building churches—gatherings of weak, ordinary, forgiven people. People who deserve nothing but are given everything. That is such good news.

Thank you God for bringing me back—not simply to Scots Church and another church planting conference—but to you, to Jesus, to your family, to a certain hope for all eternity.

Do you need an echocardiogram?

echoThis morning I had an echocardiogram. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I until this morning. It’s basically an ultrasound of the heart. This is one of a number of health checks I’ve had in recent months. Since it’s six years since I was diagnosed with cancer, and two years since I’ve had chemo, and since we’re planning on moving cities, we thought it wise to book in for a major service or two. So far, I’ve had the cameras in both ends and seen some of the damage chemo has left behind. I’ve managed to take on another ‘C’ disease—well developed coeliac. So we’ve had a pantry purge and I’ve started to become one of those difficult people who is always asking what’s in the food I’ve been given. I’ve had lung function tests and discovered that despite the beating my lungs have taken I’m sitting on the low end of average for a bloke my age. My bone density has been checked and I’m osteopaenic. Don’t know that word either? Well, it’s much better than osteoporosis and osteopathetic. I’ve even spoken to my first specialist, a lung physician, who was willing to explore another ‘C’ word—cure. I liked the sound of that one, but we can’t ever know for sure.

Back to the echocardiogram. They were checking the health of my heart. Occasional atrial fibrillation or arrhythmia. I’ve had it a few times over the years and I’ve usually been able to explain it away. But then the heart is one organ to take seriously. It was behaving itself today, but there was something a little remarkable. The echo showed that my heart has become somewhat hardened. The muscle has thickened. Probable causes are high blood pressure and insufficient exercise. Yes, I know what to do. More exercise, get the heart working a bit more. And slow down, relax, rest, recreate, de-stress. In other words, I mustn’t harden my heart any more than it is.

As I walked away from the cardiologist this morning, I remembered having heard something like this before:

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:

‘Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.’

Hebrews 3:12-15 NIV

I need to pay attention to my heart. This muscle is indispensable to my continued welfare and existence. I can’t do without it.

But, more importantly, I must also pay attention to my spiritual ‘heart’—the centre of my being, my values, my conscience, my choices, my priorities. God is calling me to listen to his voice. Not some mystical connection found in solitary introspection, but his message of good news focusing on Jesus. The good news is that Jesus is the only one to live for, the one who deserves everything, including my complete allegiance. He has given his life for me, to rescue me from the futility and judgment that comes from living for myself.

When God reminds me of this fact, I mustn’t harden my heart against him. When my will aches for independence, when I simply want to do my own thing, when I’m tempted to despair, when I’m feeling that God is remote or irrelevant, then I mustn’t harden my heart. When the world around me is shouting that there is no God, and when consumerism keeps luring me to live myself, then I must listen to the true word of God. The voice that reminds me that my heart will never be satisfied until it finds its rest in God.

And I urge you too to listen to God. Take a look at your spiritual echocardiogram, get your spiritual heart checked, while you still can. Good heart health is smart and spiritual heart health matters even more.

6 AD

You know I’m a Christian, right? So BC and AD to me reflect the most significant events in human history: BC—before Christ and AD—anno domini (in the year of the Lord). It makes perfect sense to me to divide our calendars at this point.

So it is with humble respect that I claim another BC and AD hinge point in my own life. BC—before cancer and AD—after diagnosis. And today I reach 6AD. Today is my six year survival mark. It’s exactly six years since my friends ushered me from the coffee shop to the cancer journey. On 2nd December 2011 I was admitted to hospital and today I begin my seventh year of life AD.

IMG_7390Yesterday I had the privilege of catching up with the same blokes who cared for me on that first day. As we have done every year, we drank coffee (or chai lattes and hot chocolates—we’re getting older), we shared stories, and we prayed for each other. Much has happened in this time. So much has changed. But the goodness of God remains. As I drove home, I found myself singing (yes, truly—and I believe I was even in tune!)

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come
’tis has brought me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home

There have been so many dangers, toils and snares, and I am so conscious of God’s grace in all of them. God’s abundant kindness and mercy astound me. All of my bucket list prayers have been answered. I’m not supposed to be here—the doctors said so. And yet God has given me more days in this life to sing his praise.

But, you know, it’s not about me. The original BC-AD divide leaves my personal experience deep in its wake. The coming of Jesus Christ offers us forgiveness, life, and reconciliation. The sting of death has been removed. Hopelessness and despair have been replaced by joy and assurance. I can look forward in confident anticipation to an eternity with my saviour, not because of anything on my part. No, it’s all of grace, amazing grace. The same grace that transformed John Newtown, and William Wilberforce, and millions of others throughout the centuries. And you too can know this grace.

Five Years

IMG_0542I lay alone in my hospital bed, the words and music of David Bowie filling my headphones…

Pushing through the market square,
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
We had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us,
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet,
Then I knew he was not lying

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

Five years
Five years
Five years
Five years

I wept to the music. Five years seemed so far away. A future I would never experience. A very remote possibility at best.

I’m listening to it again now. Bowie has gone. Another lost to cancer.

Five years is a landmark for those with cancer. We measure the statistics for five year survival. Early detection increases the odds. Isolating the cancer and effective surgery seem the keys to success. Sadly, many cancers are detected late. Symptoms go unrecognised. Patients and doctors assume there must be a simple explanation. It’s only a cough. You’re probably just tired. Don’t make things worse by worrying about it. You’re just unfit. The blood tests seemed good. The x-ray didn’t show anything. You’ll be over it in no time.

Lung cancer is too often diagnosed too late. Many of the symptoms resemble a common cold or flu. And, if you don’t smoke, then why would you even contemplate the idea of lung cancerLate diagnosis takes options off the table. If it has already spread, then surgery is normally not an option. A stage IV diagnosis is considered terminal. Metastatic (spread to other organs) lung cancer requires a chemical strategy, but it’s not considered curative. Until very recently this was only chemotherapy but, in many cases, this is now moving to targeted drugs that work on the cancer at the genetic level. Another frontier is immunotherapy that strengthens the body’s own defence system to attack the cancer. Combinations of strategies are being tested. Cure, however, still seems a long way away.

In many ways five years is merely arbitrary, simply a number—like a cricketer who reaches a century, 100 runs. Statistics are only descriptors of what has been, not predictors of what will be. Nevertheless, five years is five years. It’s five years of life. It must not be taken for granted.

Cancer.org lists the five year life expectancy for non-small cell lung cancer. This is my particular cancer type. This is what people like me are told they can expect. It’s not pretty.

  • The 5-year survival rate for people with stage IA NSCLC is about 49%. For people with stage IB NSCLC, the 5-year survival rate is about 45%.
  • For stage IIA cancer, the 5-year survival rate is about 30%. For stage IIB cancer, the survival rate is about 31%.
  • The 5-year survival rate for stage IIIA NSCLC is about 14%. For stage IIIB cancers the survival rate is about 5%.
  • NSCLC that has spread to other parts of the body is often hard to treat. Metastatic, or stage IV NSCLC, has a 5-year survival rate of about 1%. Still, there are often many treatment options available for people with this stage of cancer.

So, you see, five years was a lifetime away. Five years was out of reach. Five years was a dream and a prayer.

Today marks FIVE YEARS since I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with stage IV NSCLC. FIVE YEARS. FIVE YEARS. FIVE YEARS.

I remain NED (no evidence of disease).

It’s a year since I last had chemo.

IMG_2721Time to say “Thank you”.

I thank God for giving me life, forgiveness, a relationship with him, and the real hope of eternity. I thank God for giving me purpose in life.

I thank God for my beautiful wife—who researched options, sought the best care, stuck by my side, urged me on, watched over our family, worked hard to pay for my medical costs, prayed for me, and kept on going even while everything hurt her so much.

I thank God for my awesome children and daughters-in-law. I thank God that he upheld them in the brutal reality of their dad having ‘incurable’ cancer.

I thank God for my two beautiful little grandsons. Boys I never expected to meet, who bring me such joy.

I thank God for my father and mother, for their prayers, visits, phone calls, and compassionate support, while facing many difficulties themselves.

I thank God for my family and friends, who have suffered alongside my suffering and rejoiced in my progress and healing.

I thank God for my church, and my other church, and praying people everywhere who have taken the time to ask God to heal me and help me. It blows my mind.

I thank God for my oncologists, my nurses, my surgeon, my exercise physiologist, my acupuncturist, and my many helpers.

I thank God for my cancer buddies. Some I’ve shared with face to face, some who have not lived to see five years, some I only know through Facebook. I thank God for their friendship, their generosity, their tenacity, their compassion, their faith, and their hope.

I thank God for giving me Hope Beyond Cure and then giving me time to share this with others.

I thank God for my five years!

And, dear God, please can I have some more.

Hope when your child has cancer

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 10.45.28 AMThis interview by Dominic Steele with his friend, Andrew Barry, is deeply moving and profoundly encouraging. Andrew’s son has very serious cancer. His situation has moved me to pray for him regularly. In this heartfelt chat Andrew talks about suffering, marriage, family life, work, treatment, salvation and what it means to have an eternal perspective. Take the time to watch it all and grab the tissues! Click on this link to watch the conversation.

Two massive questions faced by those with cancer

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 2.31.57 PMSince receiving my cancer diagnosis, many have assumed that my big questions are “Why?” and “What?” Why am I going through this? Why did God let it happen? What did I do to deserve it? What could I have done to prevent it? What specifically caused it?

The truth is that I haven’t been too obsessed with either of these questions. I’ve been more impacted by the questions “Where?” and “Who?” More particularly… “Where am I?” and “Who am I?”

Where am I?

When cancer hits, life shifts course. The journey changes for the worst. Our plans are detoured, deferred, or destroyed. We feel confused and disoriented, out of control and sometimes totally lost. We’re not where we want to be. We’ve got things to do, places to see, people to meet, tasks to complete, dreams to be realised. But we discover our course has shifted and we might never find our way back.

There is a blessing to be found when we discover we’re lost. It’s time to take a look at the GPS. Time to get our bearings. The truth is, we’ve never been in control and our destinations have never been certain.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.  (Proverbs 16:9)

I need to let go of the belief that I can make my life happen the way I want. I need to humble myself before God and recognise that it’s his overall plan that will prevail. I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow, but I can know the One who does. I can rest secure in the knowledge that my detours and diversions can never separate me from the love of God.

…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:39)

Who am I?

So much of our identity is tied to what we do and what we hope to do. Our jobs, hobbies, relationships, achievements, physical prowess, intellectual acumen, brushes with fame—they all make us into somebody. Yesterday I heard Usain Bolt say that winning the Olympic 100 metres three times in a row will make him immortal. If only!

Cancer can strip us of all that makes us who we are. Our dreams are destroyed and our hopes are dashed. Sickness keeps us from the very things on which we pin our identities. Who am I if I’m no longer an athlete, a lover, a worker, a success? Am I stuck being a patient, an object of sympathy, a statistic? Is my identity now shaped by my disease? Am I a victim, a survivor, a success, or a failure? It’s no wonder confusion reigns.

Again, there is blessing to be found in the moment of crisis. I need to be reminded that I’m not the sum total of what I think, own, achieve, say, or hope for. My identity isn’t something that I need to build for myself. God has made me in his image to reflect his glory. He has redeemed me through the death of his Son to be adopted as his child. I am richly blessed in Christ. God has given his Holy Spirit as a guarantee of a deep personal relationship with him and a glorious eternal future.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  (Romans 8:16-17)

Cancer cannot take this away from me. My identity is to be found in God, not in my circumstances. So long as I look to my circumstances, I will remain confused and lost. Far better that I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Don’t fear the questions. Only look to God for the answers.