Grumpy Day

It was raining yesterday, so I took the time to read Grumpy Day by Stephanie Carmichael and Jessica Green. To be honest, I didn’t make much time – just as long as it takes to read a children’s book. I’ve never written a book review longer than the book so, if I don’t want to set a precedent, I’d better keep this to less than 671 words!

I got hold of Grumpy Day because my wife has them. Actually, so I do and so do my kids and so do most people I know! This is a book we’ll put aside to read the grandkids one day, when we need to help them deal with their blues. The words and pictures are beautiful. I reckon it’ll connect well with younger children, but I should probably borrow some kids to test it out. It tells the story of things not working out for three siblings. Two of the problems can be solved simply by the creative mum. But the last is out of her hands – she can’t stop the rain. What she does is broaden her boy’s perspective on why God sends rain, helps him understand he’s not at the centre of the universe, and helps him to speak to God about his problems and feelings. I think this makes it a pretty helpful parenting manual!

On the parenting front, the inside cover helpfully suggests ways the book can be used. There are suggestions of Bible verses that reveal the foundations for the main theme of the book. You can read these to the children, preferably from a simple translation. The book can be used as a springboard to discuss things further with the kids. It offers an opportunity to talk about praying, and to model simply speaking with God and letting him know their needs. You might even want to take things further by doing some drawing, taking photographs, or making up a rhyme or song about things related to the story.

A book like this doesn’t take long to read, and I suggest it’s worth reading a children’s book before you read it to your kids or give it away to others. Not all so called ‘Christian’ children’s books are helpful. Some leave the false impression that in order to be a Christian you need to be a good person. They don’t have God at the centre, and they’re not consistent with the gospel of Jesus. While this book doesn’t actually mention Jesus, I believe it is faithful to the Bible.

Here’s where I have one suggestion. It would be helpful to mention Jesus, because I think it’s important for children to hear, from their youngest days, that Jesus is the way we have a relationship with God. There are probably ways that Jesus’ name could appear in this book without making dramatic changes.

I like this book. 480 words – enough said!

Our miracle baby

This has been a big weekend. I’ve spent much of the day talking with people about our wonderful friend, Chappo, who went home to be with the Lord last night. We’ve just returned from the ‘Shine a Light on Lung Cancer’ vigil at Parliament House, where I got to speak about my experiences with the disease. Today, November 17, is International Lung Cancer Awareness Day.  And I’ve just discovered that today is also World Prematurity Day.

Our family has a very special affinity with premature babies. We’ve recently been praying for a little boy called Noah who was born extremely premature. It’s a tough journey for baby and parents and it’s been a joy to see this little boy slowly growing stronger and eventually heading home from hospital. The reason for our special interest in premature babies goes back to the birth of our third child, 16 years ago. Our daughter was unexpectedly and dramatically born 14 weeks premature. Here’s a letter that we shared with people praying for our daughter in December of 1996…

As 1996 began, we knew this year would be a big one, but we weren’t prepared for just how big. Without a doubt the biggest thing in our lives this year – or should that be the smallest – has been the arrival of Grace Alyssa. Here’s a brief history…

September 30 – we were enjoying a much needed rest on the beach at Coffs Harbour. October 1 began with Fiona going into labour. We hurried to Coffs Hospital, not sure what would happen – but certainly not expecting a baby yet. The doctor told us our baby would be born that day and if he or she lived, we could expect a massive catalogue of complications. In a state of shock I contacted a few friends and family and asked them to pray. A newborn emergency transfer team (NETS) flew up from Sydney and arrived about 1pm. At 2.55pm Grace was born by caesarean section, weighing only 900 grams. The NETS team took charge and attached Grace to every piece of machinery you could imagine. After she was stabilised Fiona and Grace flew to Canberra Hospital and Grace was admitted to the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU). My boys and I stayed overnight with friends in Coffs before driving to Canberra the next day. Day one in a nutshell.

Grace is now 79 days old and has spent her whole life in intensive care. We have visited her every day and grown very attached to her. But the past 11 weeks have been a roller coaster we could never have imagined. She’s had major dramas with her heart, her lungs, and her gut. She has suffered major infections causing serious setbacks. She’s had three air ambulance rides. We’ve spent time at the Children’s Hospital in Westmead. We’ve done a few thousand extra kilometres in our car. There’ve been many times when we thought she was going to die. We’ve experienced the excitement of taking a step forward only to suffer the heartache of slipping three steps backwards. We’ve seen other babies die in the ward around us and wondered if Grace would be next. We’ve watched the joy of parents taking their little ones home and prayed for the day when that’d be us. About five hours every day is taken up with Fiona expressing milk and spending time with Grace. It’s been a long haul so far.

Grace has come a long way. Sometimes we’ve felt silly reporting on Grace because a few hours later the information has been wrong. It has been very much a day to day, hour by hour, journey so far. But the big picture is getting better. Grace is now approaching her expected birth date, 7th January. She’s grown to 2 kilos, is breathing well and drinking breast milk via a tube into the stomach. She no longer seems quite so fragile and vulnerable. We rejoice at the progress she’s made. We hope she’ll come through with no lasting problems. But our journey will in some ways get harder still. Fiona will have to step up the travel as they attempt to establish breast feeding, and then eventually we’ll have to cope with bringing her home and all the changes there. Please keep praying for us, sometimes it all seems a bit much.

In all this we’ve seen God at work. We thank Him for the joy of our little girl. We thank Him for the medical expertise, expensive equipment, and care that Grace has been privileged to receive. We thank Him for the love and support of family, and friends at church and in other places. We thank Him for the many hundreds of individuals and groups all over the world who have spent time praying for Grace. We feel we have the most blessed little girl in the world!

This was more than 16 years ago. Then she was tiny and vulnerable – now she’s strong and healthy. Sadly, for many parents, the outcomes of their stories aren’t as happy as ours. The Miracle Baby Foundation reports that in Australia each year approximately 25,000 babies are born premature and up to 1000 babies lose their fight for life. We thank God for the care and support of the NICU, then and now. We thank God for our miracle baby.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.  (Psalm 139:13-16)

Chappo’s gain

John Charles Chapman
23 July 1930 – 16 November 2012
being with Christ is better by far

I received news earlier this evening that John Chapman was not expected to live much longer. He was in ICU, his breathing was shallow, and he was no longer responding to people around him. I wanted to call and tell him that we loved him, to thank him for his kindness, generosity, love and prayers. I wanted to thank him again for writing to our youngest son, encouraging him to read his Bible, sending him books, praying for him. I wanted to tell him what a huge influence he’d had on my life and so many others. As I spoke with a friend at the hospital, I asked if he would read Chappo Psalm 62, so that he would be reminded again that his God is all powerful and all loving.

At 9.15 this evening Chappo departed to be with his Lord and Saviour. This was the occasion he’d been looking forward to since he was a teenager. This was the hope that Chappo had shared with all who’d listen. Chappo loved explaining to people that Jesus had given his life to pay for their sins and offer forgiveness. He’d share how God had raised Jesus from the dead, and how he was now the Lord of this universe. He’d passionately plead with people to consider how they’d been treating God, to turn and seek forgiveness, and to hand over control of their lives to Jesus.

What a privilege to have known Chappo as a brother and friend, and I look forward to catching up with him one day in heaven. In fact, as we spoke with each other (both in hospital) nearly a year ago, I think I said that maybe I’d make it there before him. It wasn’t to be.

John Chapman gave up his life tonight. But he’d given up his life daily for the last 57 or so years. He gave up his life in the service of God and others. For Chappo, to live was to serve Christ, and to die was to be in the presence of Christ. He kept on serving Christ to the very end, sharing his faith, encouraging others, preaching in the last few weeks, and publishing his latest book. It’s been better for us that Chappo has lived! And now it’s Chappo’s gain. He’s where he truly belongs – not because he was a great man, but because he has a great Saviour. The words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians truly describe how Chappo lived and died…

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)

I miss Chappo already. My heart is heavy. There’s sadness and tears. And yet, I also feel joy because God has completed the work he began in my brother. Thank you God.

Thank you God for bringing us into Chappo’s life and he into ours.

Thank you God  for Chappo’s gruelling sermon deconstructions and critiques.

Thank you God for the huge encouragement I received after preaching at Sydney University, when Chappo came up to me and said, “If I wasn’t a Christian already, I’d have become one immediately after that talk!”

Thank you God that Chappo kept our family in his prayer diary for the past 24 years – and that he prayed!

Thank you God for Chappo’s prayers for Fiona and our family after the accident.

Thank you God that each time he got up at night to go to the toilet, he’d pray for me and his other ‘oncology friends’!

Thank you God that Chappo would write and ring up, just to offer a word of encouragement – even though he had the worst phone manner of anyone!

Thank you God that Chappo preached at our first ever Crossroads Christian Church service and many more after that.

Thank you God for letting me and many of my friends and family share my 50th birthday with Chappo this year.

Thank you God for placing it on Chappo’s heart to write and encourage my son.

Thank you God for Chappo’s passion for preaching Christ.

Thank you God for changing people’s hearts as they came to know Christ through Chappo’s preaching and writing.

But mostly, thank you God that you have removed the sting of death, that you’ve prepared a place for Chappo, and that he’s now free from sickness and suffering, and enjoying your presence forever and ever.

The key to resolving conflict

I’m not much of a fan of conflict – especially when it involves me. I don’t like causing it and I don’t like being on the receiving end of it. Give me peace and harmony any day! But conflict happens. We disagree, we argue, we get defensive, we sulk, we blow up in anger, we grow resentful, we wallow in bitterness. It’s a death cycle for relationships and it’s way too common.

As I look back over my life, I can see the damage caused by conflict with others. Good friendships gone bad. Working relationships broken down. Tensions with relatives. Relationships strained and awkward.

Most of the conflicts were nothing at first. A word here or there. An oversight. Simple misunderstandings. Unmet expectations. Assumptions. Nothing to worry about. It’ll be all right. Things will blow over.

But they don’t blow over. They stay, and they grow, and we feed them. The small problem gets bigger and bigger and, before too long, we have an unresolvable crisis. Judgments have been made. We become entrenched in our position. They in their position. Neither of us will budge. We appoint blame and demand the other change. Apologies are empty, we’ve heard it all before, there’s no hope, the relationship’s over.

Conflict hurts. We know the pain. We live with the scars. Couples, families, homes, workplaces, teams, schools, churches. It doesn’t matter where. Conflict is far too common and we keep failing to overcome it. So what hope is there?

In my experience there is one key to resolving conflict. It’s very simple to understand, but so hard to put into practice. It’s not a technique. It’s not a set of words or exercises. It doesn’t require counselling or courts to make it happen. It needs something much more profound – a change of heart.

The key to resolving conflict is forgiveness.

forgive-bible-quotesThat’s what it takes. So simple, yet so difficult. To forgive means to count the cost, to absorb the hurt, to no longer hold it against them. To forgive means to cancel the debt, to let go of your pride, to release your bitterness. To forgive means to value the other person, to seek the relationship, to work for reconciliation. That simple! That impossible!!

What really stands in the way of resolving conflicts is me! I’d prefer to stand on my rights, to demand an apology, to wallow in my self-pity or pride. I’m the problem and, left to my own resources, I’m a problem I can’t fix!

But… God can. The power to forgive comes from forgiveness received. As I recognise how much God has forgiven me through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, so I become more able to forgive others. God has wiped my slate fully clean. He’s forgiven me all my selfish thoughts, words and actions. He’s washed me cleaner than snow. He’s removed a debt that I could never repay.

I need to be constantly reminded of the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of me. The enormous cost that he paid to remove the conflict between us. God is the ultimate peacemaker. He’s the awesome reconciler. He’s the author of forgiveness. As I begin to appreciate how much I’ve been forgiven, what could be too much for me to forgive others? And God doesn’t leave me to try and become a forgiving person on my own, relying on my own strength and resources. He pours out his Holy Spirit to bring peace into our lives and relationships.

It’s worth remembering this story that Jesus told:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Hopefully, you too are outraged by the response of the servant. He’d been forgiven 10,000 bags of gold and he can’t even bring himself to forgive 100 silver coins. Wow!

Of course, there’s a sting in this tale. If we’ve received forgiveness from God for every selfish thing we’ve ever done, then how can we not forgive others the petty grievances we so willingly cling on to. Perspective please!

God wants us to enjoy peaceful relationships. Firstly, with him, and he calls us to put our trust in Jesus so that we can receive his forgiveness. Secondly, with each other, and he expects us to keep the forgiveness going. Don’t give in to conflict. It’ll destroy relationships and it’ll ultimately destroy your soul. If you need forgiveness, then please seek it. Otherwise, please humble yourself and be willing to offer forgiveness to others.

50 not out – thank God!

photo[1]Had my birthday on Sunday. 50 not out! To be honest, late last year I seriously doubted I’d see this day. As the news of cancer hit us like a tsunami… as we sat drawing up my will… as I talked seriously with some of my kids about life without their dad… as I collapsed in the x-ray room, unable to breathe or support my own weight… as I struggled to think about all the things Fiona would need to know… as my whole life seemingly passed before my eyes, with people travelling from everywhere to see me… I didn’t hold a lot of hope of seeing my 50th birthday.

But God has been very kind, and I not only reached my birthday, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was cool to be bombarded by facebook messages, emails, cards and greetings from friends all over the world. It was a great joy to share an afternoon in our backyard with a number of our friends. Fiona was awesome, she had gone to so much trouble to give me a special day – and it was! Our church sang Happy Birthday to me and gave me an incredible cake! It was a fun day. 🙂

In fact, this has been a special weekend in other ways as well. Saturday night was the annual Brumbies Presentation Dinner – a black tie affair! I couldn’t remember ever wearing a dinner suit before and I thank the two men who offered me all the bits and pieces I needed. It felt kind of cool to be all dressed up like James Bond for a night, with a pretty girl on my arm! The dinner is a night to celebrate the season and give awards to the best players. Over the years some of the best players I’ve ever seen have taken out the awards. Notably George Smith winning Players’ Player on 9 separate occasions!

awardThe shock of the evening was the announcement that I’d won an award – Best Left Right Out of the Team! No, I was given the Garry Quinlivan Service Award in recognition of service to the Brumbies. It’s an absolute honour to receive this award named after Quinzo. He’s a living legend at the Brumbies, having given his everything in serving the players since the club began. It’s been my privilege to serve as their chaplain for ten seasons. Most of the time my efforts are well hidden, behind the scenes. I don’t do it for money or recognition, but it was lovely to receive this show of appreciation.

Some weeks back I asked Marcus, our lead pastor, if I could preach on this Sunday. “But it’s your birthday”, he said. “What would you want to preach on your birthday for?! You’d better check with Fiona, and your oncologist!” I count it a special gift from God to have been able to preach from the Bible at church on my birthday. I debated whether I should, because I didn’t want to do it for my sake, just because I like preaching. But deep down I wanted to be able to share God’s word with those I love. It’s the greatest gift I had to offer them.

I love teaching God’s word to others and I love sharing in people’s lives, so it was a delight to look at this part of the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 especially stands out:

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

These words are an encouragement to me to make a priority of both truth and relationships. It’s hopeless to be a preacher who is doctrinaire and disinterested in people. It’s dangerous to be a people-pleaser who is cavalier with the truth. Genuine knowledge of God shows itself in real love for people. Real love for people will be shaped and guided by the truth. Real love leads to humbly making the truth known to others.

God’s love, revealed in the gift of Jesus Christ, is the truth that keeps me going. It’s a message of hope and life and a future beyond death itself. I know it will seem to some as wishful thinking or religious superstition. But I ask you to give the message about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection your serious consideration. If it’s true, then you have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.

I don’t know how many more birthdays I’m likely to see. I do pray there’ll be many more to come, but the message of Jesus gives me hope beyond birthdays. These words by John Newton express what I believe and where my hope lies:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Will I be the biggest loser?

My 13 year old is concerned that I should be more active, drinking less coffee, not snacking on chocolate, and shedding the kilos. He is now well trained as a ‘personal trainer’ after watching just about every episode of The Biggest Loser. Hence, he thought he’d write a fully integrated program for me, and then make sure I stick to it! I’ve attached it here, just in case it might be of benefit to any of you too!

Preparing for a wedding, or a marriage?

I’m taking my 45th wedding today. Or, as I like to put it, today I’ll be marrying my 46th woman… and my 45th man! You should be able to figure it out :). It’s a beautiful Canberra Autumn day, the sun is shining, it’s not too cold, and the wedding is happening in a park by the lake. Fantastic!

The service is planned, music selected, talk written, prayers organised, vows crafted, certificates prepared, poem orchestrated, and Bible readings chosen. I’ve had my shave, selected my tie, ironed my shirt (actually my wife did that!), arranged my suit, got my notes, register, certificates, Bible, L plates (props!)… ready to go… licensed to marry!

People love weddings. The beauty, the pageantry, the joy, the love, the tears. They are very special occasions. So much time, money, and effort goes into making this special day one to remember for a life time. And why not? This is a huge day.

But herein lies a problem. I think people often have a blind spot when it comes to weddings. Let’s compare how much goes into preparing for the wedding day with how much goes into preparing for the years of marriage that follow. Tens of thousands of dollars on the wedding and reception. Every waking hour for months stressing over the reception arrangements. Fittings for dresses and suits. Pouring over wedding catalogues. The agony of culling guest lists and organising seating arrangements. Getting the flowers just right. Choosing the best photographer (and later discovering they rule the day). Hours at the hairdressers. Trying to please the mother and the mother in law. The weight-loss program, so as to look fabulous on the day, to fit in that dress, or that suit. All that, and much more, just for ONE day!

And what about preparing for the marriage? “What do you mean?”, I hear some say. What I mean is, preparing to transition from being single to being married. Learning about yourselves, and each other, and what you would like to make of your marriage. Learning to communicate. Working out good ways to resolve conflict. Discussing your families of origin. How you want to rewrite the script and do things differently. Exploring your views on children, how many, and how soon, parenting strategies, roles and responsibilities. Discussing issues of intimacy and sex. Sharing your fears, hopes, dreams, expectations.

How much time is put into laying a foundation for a lifetime together? What is the rock that you will build your marriage on? Do you share the same spiritual convictions? Who will matter most in the marriage? Will it be you, or will you put your partner first, or will both of you seek to put God first? These are big issues, and they surely matter much more than matching the groomsmen’s ties to the bridesmaids dresses?!

As I prepare for another wedding, my prayer for the couple is that they will be prepared for their marriage. I will be encouraging them to…

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others (each other) 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.  (Philippians 2:3-5)

Looking to Jesus offers the best hope that a marriage can have. My marriage, my children’s marriages, my friends marriages, the couple whom I will marry today. Jesus is to be our foundation and rock. He is to be the model for the husband, for me, as he lays down his life for his bride, the church, his people.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…  (Ephesians 5:25)

What a challenge this is! If only I, and other husbands, would take this to heart. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. And so I should keep praying:

Dear God, please help me to love Fiona, as Jesus has loved me. Help me to overcome my selfishness, my pride, my impatience, my greed, my laziness. Please empower me to care for the beautiful wife that you have entrusted to my care. Please strengthen me to show love, to be loving, to love from the heart. Please enable me to minister to my wife, not for what I can get, but always to give and to bless. Please enrich our marriage and keep us growing together, until death do we part.

Looking back through my marriage register is a bitter sweet experience. So much history, and such a mixture of emotions. It mixes the tears of joy and the tears of broken hearts. One couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Many marriages going strong. But some of them have broken apart. Some have been parted by death. Others fractured by unfaithfulness. Some might say they have drifted from their foundations. Maybe one or two might wish they had worried less about the wedding and put more into preparing for the marriage.

Every time I take a wedding it causes me to pause, reflect, and consider my own. Not the wedding so much – that was nearly 29 years ago – but the marriage. I’m praying for 29 more years together! If we make that it will be a miracle, and I’m not just referring to God removing the cancer from my body. It will mean God continuing to work in both our hearts, to keep us looking to Jesus, and putting each other before ourselves.

Please God, may it be so!