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)

Hope beyond cure

‘Cancer free to no hope in less than two weeks.’

This was the headline to the post I read on a cancer forum yesterday. How could things change so quickly? The truth is, they hadn’t. There’d been a bad case of miscommunication.

I browse these forums from time to time. I can’t do it daily. I find it too sad, too overwhelming. People are sick, confused, powerless, dying, and so often lacking in hope. Every day there are desperate cries of anguish. There are pleas for prayer. There’s the outpouring of grief. Sometimes there’s an explosion of anger at the merciless killer, cancer.

As I read the headline above, it clarified in my mind what it is that I so want to communicate. It’s what I’m praying my book will achieve. My goal is to offer hope beyond cure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% pro-cure. I want my cancer to completely disappear. I pray that it will and I pray the same for others. I’m excited by medical advances and new discoveries. I absolutely love hearing that someone with cancer has no evidence of disease anymore. I love the hope that comes with this pronouncement. In a sense, life can begin again. A new chapter with a new outlook.

Yet when the prognosis is bad, when all attempts at medical intervention have been exhausted, when prayers have not been answered as we might wish… what then? Is there hope still? Or has all hope been exhausted?

Is cure the ultimate hope for those of us with cancer? Is this what we hope for beyond all else? I don’t know really. I haven’t asked enough people. My guess, is that we have a range of hopes. But I’m concerned if the hope of a cure for cancer is where we stop.

What happens if we are cured? We go back to life. Not as normal. More likely as radically changed people. But then we’re likely to get sick again. It could be the recurrence of cancer. It may be something else altogether. We may recover and we might keep recovering, but there will come a day when we won’t. Death will catch up with each of us eventually.

What then of hope? Is it a meaningless platitude? Was Nietzsche right when he wrote…

In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.

Or is there hope yet for those facing death? This is such an important question and yet so often it doesn’t get asked. We become so consumed with life here and now, that we don’t pause to consider the inevitability of our death. I may not have cancer when I die, but I will still die. Is there hope for me? Is there hope for any of us?

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:18-19)

God’s Word tells me that the answer is YES! There is hope beyond death and it’s found in Jesus Christ. I long for people to know the certainty of this hope. This is a hope that stands on the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If Jesus is alive today, then there is hope beyond cure. There is hope beyond death.

What cancer cannot do

cancercannotdoPeople with cancer desperately need hope. They need a hope that’s real, that they can hold on to. They need reason to keep on going. They need inspiration to focus on what really matters. They need encouragement not to be overwhelmed by their circumstances. They need the cancer to get smaller and God to get bigger. If not physically, then at least in their hearts and minds.

Why do I say these things? Because I know them to be true in my own experience. Hope is the power to live and to live well. Lack of hope leads to despair and destruction. If we have genuine hope to offer people, then we have a life-enhancing medicine to share. This little book is such medicine.

What Cancer Cannot Do is designed to be given as a gift to someone who needs it. The inside cover has a page where you can write your and your friend’s names, much like a gift card. It’s an attractive book, full of colour. But the true beauty is found in the words. The book is divided into sections with the following perspectives on cancer:

It cannot cripple God’s love
It cannot shatter hope
It cannot corrode faith
It cannot destroy peace
It cannot kill friendship
It cannot shut out memories
It cannot silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot steal eternal life
It cannot conquer the spirit

These are words from the hearts of people who have journeyed with cancer. They offer encouragement and hope. They highlight the limitations of cancer. They share people’s stories. Stories of faith and hope and love making a real difference to people’s experience. Every one of the stories concludes with three or four poignant verses from the Bible. Each one is short and engaging. It’s ideal for people who are weak and weary and struggling to concentrate for any length of time. It includes wonderful testimonies like this:

Even if doctors were unable to control the spread of my bone cancer, even if I died, I would still have God’s love and I would spend eternity with him. (p113)

If you know someone who is doing it tough, who is struggling with cancer, who needs some encouragement, and won’t mind you offering the perspective of Christians, then why not get a copy of this little book to give to them? And just so you know, I’ve got a copy already!

Fatigue

fatigueI’ve gone from sleeping 6-7 hours a night for years and years, to needing more than 9 hours a night. Some nights I need 11 or 12 and still wake up feeling tired. This on top of occasional nanna naps in the afternoons. It takes a huge effort in the mornings to open the eyelids and if I don’t get a shower and a coffee then I probably spend the first hour of every day sleep-walking.

No doubt it’s another effect of the chemo and, maybe, the high blood pressure caused by the chemo. It comes with its aches and pains, inability to concentrate, and the frustrations that go with both. I think it’s given me some small insight into how chronic fatigue sufferers might feel. Friends of mine have been struggling with fatigue for years and years. Some have given up any hope of life ever being different. Some are barely able to lift themselves from the bed, and time with family and friends leaves them exhausted. It’s difficult to know how to offer support sometimes, because a visit or phone call can deplete their already limited energy. One friend told me it takes days to recover from half an hour with a well-meaning visitor.

There’s also the difficulty of an illness that people can’t see and very few understand. Just go to bed earlier. Start exercising more. Change your diet. Snap out of it. It’s all in your head. I reckon you’re making it all up. This is some of the helpful advice that people get given. And then there’s often the person with the success story. My friend visited this specialist, started on that diet, discovered acupuncture, went to such and such healing service, moved to the beach… and now everything’s ok.

The reality of this life is that sickness, sadness, and suffering are all part of our experience. We ache and groan as we long for things to be better. But the truth is that things don’t always improve. More often than not they get worse. Old age sees our breakdown and decline. We don’t heal as quickly, illnesses become more complicated, some things become permanent. Our body struggles to recover, our mind isn’t what it used to be, and our spirit eventually loses the will to live. Sometimes it seems like life is one long tragedy. It might start well for some, but it always seems to end badly.

What a pessimistic post! Is this what fatigue does to me?! Let me presume to share a few thoughts with those of you who are struggling with fatigue.

Don’t give up hope. Maybe there will be a change for the better just over the horizon. Perhaps someone will understand what’s causing it. Maybe there is something that will help, even a cure. Keep looking, keep on trying. Pray. Talk to God. Ask God to take away your pain and suffering. Ask friends to pray for you or with you.

When everything feels dark and hopeless, cry out. Let your family and friends know how much it hurts. Ask for help, comfort, love, kindness. And call out to God. Your Father in heaven knows what you need. Maybe God wants you to depend more on him. If it’s not his intention to take away your suffering at this time, then ask him to help you trust in his grace. Ask him to strengthen your trust in his goodness. Ask him to help you draw near to him for comfort, even if he seems so remote.

Are there things you can do in your fatigue? Do your energy levels let you get up from time to time? How can you best fill that time? Is it your family who needs you most? Are you able to encourage others in your weakness? Can you spend time praying for other people? Can you make a list of things that you can do when you’re down and others when you’re up? Have you asked how God can use you in your frailty? Maybe you could brainstorm some ideas or chat to others about this.

But don’t compare yourself with others. “At least there are people who are suffering more than me!” How does that help, really? “Why do I suffer so much when those around me do whatever they please?” Self-pity, jealousy, anger, bitterness will only make things worse. There is one who is well acquainted with suffering, who understands what you are going through, who can help. His name is Jesus. He was betrayed, rejected, beaten, ridiculed, and crucified. He took the punishment we deserve in his body and paid the price. He endured all this in confident hope that God would raise him from the grave, as the first fruits for all who would follow after him.

Focus your hope on the future. Not just for this life, but for eternity. Keep your eyes on Jesus and remember the promise of a day with no more pain, suffering, fatigue or death. As your earthly body decays remember that God has in store a new, complete, and perfect body for all who trust in him. There is hope. God guarantees it!

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
(2 Corinthians 5:1-4)

Journey with Cancer 2 Dec 2012 – What a year!

tilleysTwelve months ago today, I was catching up with good friends in a coffee shop near home. We do it once a year, at roughly the same time, and we’ve been doing it for years. These guys come from Melbourne, Wollongong, Brisbane, Perth, and Canberra. We talk about what’s been going on, we share our plans for the future, and we spend some time praying for each other. Once a year means it’s pretty special and I look forward to our catch ups as a highlight.

As we drank our coffees and shared our news, I knew that something was wrong. I had a pain in my chest and between my shoulder blades. My left arm seemed to be going numb. My left leg didn’t feel right, either. I’d been putting up with it for a while, not wanting to break up our time together, but I couldn’t keep ignoring it. I wasn’t imagining things – something was wrong.

Half an hour later I was in hospital – query heart attack. ECG seemed normal, and nothing on the x-ray, but the CT scan showed that things weren’t right. There was a massive build up of fluid around my left lung and it was suggested that I could have a tumour. Mesothelioma produces symptoms like this and so can lung cancers. Over two litres of fluid were drained out of the pleural cavity. It was almost certainly cancer and it didn’t look good. But how? I hadn’t been a smoker. I couldn’t think that I’d been exposed to asbestos. What was happening?

That was Friday, 2nd December 2011, and a year has now passed. What a year it’s been! I consider this an anniversary of sorts. One year of ‘consciously’ living with cancer. They said that I’d probably had the cancer for more than three years previously, without being aware of it. Now it was making it’s presence felt. Now it was changing, shaping, directing, and even shortening my life. Something the size of a ping pong ball had grown, ruptured, spread, damaged and contaminated me. Stage IV inoperable non-small cell lung cancer. This foreign growth was turning my mid-life into an end-of-life crisis. Or so it seemed. The oncologist said it couldn’t be removed or cured. I’d probably see the next Christmas, but he didn’t offer anything more. My health crashed, my weight disappeared, my life seemed to be fading before my eyes. Many times we doubted that I’d live long at all.

That was a year ago and I’m still living with cancer! While I loathe the cancer, and I’d dearly love God to take it away, I thank God earnestly for the life he’s given me. How amazing to live! I no longer take living for granted. In fact, I don’t take breathing for granted any more. I can’t make assumptions about tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Each day, every breath, is a gift from God. I’ve been reminded of what the Scriptures say:

[God] himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:25)

Over this past year, God has been teaching me many things. A big one – and there’s much more to learn yet – is humility. God’s humbled me deeply, to trust in him rather than in myself and my resources and abilities. I’d been such an activist in so many ways. Set me a challenge and I’d have a crack. I tended to know my capabilities and I’d trust them. I’d say that I trusted God, but I suspect that I was often simply relying on myself. I’d make plans, get busy, forget to pray, work harder, and then call out to God if I was desperate. God has shown me that I can do nothing without him, and for this I thank him.

God has taught me to treasure people more. He’s shown me how much I value my family. He’s deepened my love and appreciation for my wife. He’s given me great delight in my children. He’s enabled me to enjoy renewed relationships where they were once strained. He’s brought new people into my life. He’s encouraged me with the love, support, and generosity of many friends. He’s given me opportunity to bless others and to be blessed by them. Thank you God!

God has renewed my desire to know him better. He’s reminded me that he’s the ultimate source of wisdom, and that I must know him before I can truly know myself. He’s gifted me with time to read and reflect and write, and a thirst to do this more and more. In writing, God has caused me to think and learn and articulate. He’s opened my eyes to see the amazing truths of his Word in new ways. He’s given me new understanding. He’s strengthened my delight and confidence in him.

God has taught me to lift my horizons. It’s so easy to be consumed by the things of life. Many of our lives are so comfortable, that it’s hard to imagine wanting for anything else. Many of us enjoy heaven here on earth – or so we think. God has burst this bubble. He’s reminded me that life is short. There’s so much more to life than the trivia that fills so much of our time. God has pushed me to focus on things that’ll make an impact for eternity. He’s lifted my heart and mind, to find my hope in him for eternity, and not in the fleeting things of this life.

Most of all, God has been teaching me to keep my faith in Jesus Christ. Every promise God has made, he has answered positively in Jesus. God has shown himself to be totally trustworthy. I’ve been tempted to doubt this – looking at my circumstances, wondering why, struggling for answers – but God keeps bringing me back to Jesus. God knows my weaknesses. He’s heard my cries. He’s seen my tears. And he keeps pointing me to his Son. Jesus is the proof that God is for me. Jesus is the evidence that God loves me. Jesus’ death is the reason God accepts me. Jesus’ resurrection is my hope for eternity.

I know these things more clearly today than I did a year ago, and for this I thank God. My great desire for my friends and family is that they might know these things too – but without getting cancer or facing difficult trials. To misquote John Lennon, “All I am saying is give God a chance!”

My prayer is that God will deepen my faith in him, my hope in eternity, and my love for others. And I would love to pray the same for you.

Suffering well

I’ve got vague memories of reading this book back in January/February this year. This isn’t a slight on the book, because I’ve only got vague memories of doing anything in that period! The early cancer months are something of a blur. Last week I read Suffering Well: the predictable surprise of Christian suffering by Paul Grimmond (again?). It’s a topic I felt I understood pretty well. The suffering bit anyway. Not so sure about the well. It was natural that I’d gravitate towards a book like this, as I’ve felt the last couple of years have been shaped by suffering of many kinds. A life-threatening car accident, cancer, serious illness in hospital, having our dreams of ministry in Darwin dashed. So what is God doing? What am I to learn?

The title sounds like an oxymoron – predictable surprise. And I think it is. It comes as a surprise only if we don’t grasp God’s word on this topic. If we soak ourselves in the Scriptures then there is something very predictable about suffering. God tells us to expect suffering. We live in a world subjected to futility and frustration. It’s been that way ever since the first man and woman decided to try and live without God.

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  (Romans 8:20-22)

And there’s a specific suffering for those who are following Jesus. We’re warned to expect that we will suffer and be persecuted for our allegiance to Jesus.

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,  (Philippians 1:29)

 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,  (2 Timothy 3:12)

Suffering Well begins by highlighting the prevailing views about suffering and God in Western society. This is the cultural environment in which we experience suffering and it’s the tape that plays in our heads as we grapple with understanding our experiences. It goes something like this:

In our brave new world, suffering means that God is immoral and that Christians are immoral. Our only hope is a world freed from the Christian God, in which humanity invents its own understanding of right and wrong, guided by reason alone.  (p28)

Grimmond calls us to think from the Bible’s perspective about human suffering. He shows that the way to handle suffering well is to see through God’s eyes and to follow Jesus, whatever comes our way.

This book isn’t a theodicy, but it does show us God’s character in the face of suffering. We’re reminded that God is God and doesn’t have to give an account to us. However, God is revealed as a God of justice and a God of mercy. He can be trusted even when we have no specific explanation for our difficult circumstances. God’s character is shown most clearly in his willingness to personally embrace the suffering of our world. God became one of us and experienced the problems of injustice, sickness, death, persecution and betrayal. Jesus took on human sinfulness and paid the ultimate price on the cross, that God might offer us free forgiveness. These famous words reveal a God who can be trusted, even with suffering:

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)

This books focuses on showing that the New Testament has more to say about suffering for Jesus, than it does with discussing cancer, AIDs, warfare and famine. I found this confronting, as I often find myself focusing more on my sickness than on how I’m being treated as a follower of Jesus. Like many modern Christians, I’m tempted to say that I haven’t experienced much specific Christian suffering or persecution. But the big questions are, ‘What might keep me from persevering as a follower of Jesus?’ ‘Where are the threats to my faith?’ It’s worth contemplating carefully these words:

The great danger for Christians living in the West, is not physical death at the hands of persecutors, but the slow, spiritual death of a thousand tiny compromises, crouched at our door waiting to devour us.  (p97)

Sickness, suffering and death are the realities of our world. Christians will continue to be reviled because they trust in a persecuted, suffering Saviour. The key to suffering well is to keep our eyes focused upon Jesus. He’s the one who died for our sin and who was raised to life to be the ruler of God’s new creation. In Jesus, there is genuine hope for the future – hope for our futures – a future free from all suffering. For those trusting in Jesus, nothing can separate us from sharing in the fulfilment of this hope.

This book pushed me to refocus my thinking about suffering. It said it would – and it succeeded! There are a couple of issues I’d like to see explored further. The first is the link between general suffering in this world and the impact this can have on continuing to trust Jesus. My experience was that the weakness of my body, being confronted by my own mortality, and the feelings of grief and depression, all contributed to a personal crisis of faith in the early months of this year. The second issue is the question of links between specific sin and suffering. I confess to being unsatisfied with most explanations of James 5 and the links between sin, confession and healing, but these can be explored further on another occasion.

Overall, I found this a helpful book. It is full of Scripture and it models the way we should seek to live – by listening to God’s word. It calls us to look to Jesus, to follow him come what may, and to trust God in life and in death.

Whenever suffering comes along – of whatever kind – the right way to deal with it lies in staying true to Christ.  (p112)

You can find this book at Matthias Media.

The garden in the window

  photo[1]  photo

As I lie in bed
I see through my window
our garden of delight
greens and pinks
reds and purples.

Today
drops of water
beading on branches
the sound of rain
trickling through leaves.

Tomorrow
blossom will fall
leaves will wither
beauty will fade.
and death will come.

Long ago
another garden
unlike any other
harmony and perfection
the gift of God.

Generously given
so quickly lost
we knew better
than to listen to God
and now it’s gone.

Through another window
the promise of God
a garden to come
a city of joy
a reason for hope.

The Son will return
coming through clouds
restoring the earth
healing the broken
fulfilling our hope.

Turn to the Son
he gave his life
in exchange for yours
hope for the contrite
of a future redeemed.

Remember the things that matter when hope is hard to find

RememberGood friends of ours sent us this book in the mail. I know they’re good friends because they sent such a good book! It truly is a gem. This is a book to read slowly. I didn’t – but I will! Take it a chapter at a time. Maybe read it more than once. Pause, reflect, write notes, meditate and pray.

Rhonda Watson has motor neurone disease (MND) and has lost her ability to speak, along with other physical functions. In the midst of her loss and grief she turns her heart to the Word of God. Not in any superficial or trite sense, but grappling with the ambiguities and complexities of life. Like so many of the Psalms, she cries out at the pain, she fights to maintain her trust in God, and she finds consolation in the character and promises of God. I found that I could identify with many of the author’s feelings and experiences, and I was encouraged by her honesty as she struggled to find answers and hope in God. My heart was warmed as I read Remember and these words from the foreword ring true:

Rhonda Watson writes with the sensitivity of a tender heart, tested in the furnace of trial, and the wisdom of someone who has learned to depend utterly on God for her daily portion of strength. I greatly appreciate the combination of the subjective – her own feelings and experience – and the objective truths of the Scriptures.  (p7)

The author follows the advice of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression where he stresses the importance of talking to ourselves, instead of simply allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us. There are so many voices telling us what to think and feel and do, and sometimes the worst one to listen to is our own! It’s so much more helpful to listen to God’s voice and allow him to speak into our lives. God offers us true perspective and we do well to remind ourselves of God, who he is, what he has done, and what he promises to do.

Each chapter of Remember takes us on a journey of hope with the author. She grapples with the issues faced by those who are suffering and she turns our hearts and minds to the wonder and freedom found only in God. This is no simple exercise. It requires honesty, humility, and trust. We’re called to open our Bibles and prayerfully take God at his word. This book helps us through this process and encourages us to make our own responses in each of the following areas.

1. Beauty and ugliness

In a society obsessed with body image, it can be very difficult for those with chronic illness and disability. Instead of being overwhelmed by the ugliness of our situation or measuring ourselves by others, we are encouraged to look to Jesus who reveals the beauty of God. Jesus takes the ugliness of our sin and replaces it with his beautiful righteousness.

2. Silence and speech

Watson had spent her life speaking. She was a teacher, trainer, and educator. She mourns her inability to read books to her grandchildren or enjoy conversation with family and friends. And yet she writes:

I look forward to the day when, with healed tongue, I will sing and praise my Saviour. On that day my silence will be over.  (p37)

3. Fear and trust

Fear
Took me by the throat today
Shook me till
My bones rattled

Chased me
Relentless and cold
Insidious, mocking
Chased me all day

I could have stood my ground
But I ran
So fear
Grew stronger

I was captured
In the end
Quaking and fallen
Curled on the ground in shame

(Rhonda Watson, 2009. p63-64)

We’re encouraged to overcome our fears by turning to God who can be trusted. God is our mighty, sovereign, and loving Saviour. He calls us, as his beloved children, to trust him.

4. Thankfulness and bitterness

I found this chapter full of challenges. It’s so easy to feel that this world owes us something and to grow bitter at lost opportunities or unrealised potential through a disabling disease. Drawing on Oswald Chambers, Watson writes of the challenge to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. I might think that I should be doing extraordinary things for God, when he simply calls me to do ordinary things in an exceptional way – his way, for his glory, not mine! When I’m reminded of God’s extraordinary grace in Jesus Christ, it moves me toward thankfulness instead of wallowing in bitterness.

5. Joy and grief

Acceptance of grief is part of the journey toward joy.  (p107)

We don’t need to deny or suppress grief in order to experience joy. The Psalms give expression to a range of human emotions. They acknowledge and give voice to our pain, disappointment and grief. They show that it’s okay to cry out to God, to express our doubts, worries and fears. And they shine a light on the path to joy that can only be found in God himself. Joy is not be found in our circumstances, but through trusting our loving Father in Heaven despite our circumstances.

6. Delight and despair

In times of suffering it is so easy to give in to despair, to give up hope. Perhaps, we now view ourselves as unproductive and worthless. Watson speaks of two choices for how we think and act…

Choice 1: I am worthless, I don’t know why God would inflict this useless suffering on me, I give up, I will turn my face to the wall and surrender to these feelings of despair.
Choice 2: This is tough going, it’s hard to hold on to a sense of worth, but nevertheless I will commit my way to God, I will attune my desires to his ways, I will trust him, and I will seek to delight him.  (p132-133)

7. Awake or asleep?

Chronic illness can lead to sleepiness. Not simply staying in bed, but drifting aimlessly and passing the time with mindless distractions. Some of this is necessary, but failure to navigate can lead to shipwreck. We can slide into self-pity and resentment or drift into despair. We need awakening to how God sees us, our circumstances and this world we live in. Watson offers this prayer:

Our Heavenly Father,
Help us to stay awake.
We grow drowsy and distracted as we wait for you,
At times our hearts are loaded down with sadness and struggle.
By your Spirit, strengthen us,
By your Word, nourish us,
Keep us longing for our true home,
Forever with you.  (p160)

8. Life and death

Everyone one of us is going to die. This is our lot, but that doesn’t make it okay. Death wasn’t part of the good world that God created and it’s right to rage against it. It’s not a natural part of life and shouldn’t be viewed as such. Death sucks!

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  (Romans 8:22-24)

Many of us go through life ignoring death. Those with chronic and terminal illnesses probably feel it’s presence more acutely. We groan along with the creation at the pain it causes. And we groan not in despair, but with hope and longing. Jesus in his death and resurrection has conquered death’s power over us. God has promised that he will abolish death and restore the creation, and we long for that day. We are meant for life, not death. Watson writes:

…there are two ways of looking at this day. Either I am dying of MND, or I am living with MND. There is a simple but profound difference between these two perspectives. One is death, one is life. The choice is: Which perspective will I accept for myself today?  (p166).

And so I will pray:

Please God, help me to choose life.

I thank God that he has used Rhonda Watson to write this honest and inspirational book. My only regret is that the cover has a feminine look about it! This is for blokes just as much as women. It’s a gutsy message. Remember is a book for all people, not simply those with illness of some form or other. We will all experience the struggles of faith in the face of suffering and temptations. This book calls us to remember the things that matter when hope is hard to find.

Counting my blessings

I’m about to preach to myself. In fact, I’m about to preach at myself. Every now and then I need a good talking to, and now is one of those times. Listen if you want. But if you don’t want to hear what I’m going to say to myself, then just stop reading!

I’m not happy. My breathing is uncomfortable. The pain in my chest cuts like a knife… especially when I cough or sneeze. Yawning hurts like crazy. My joints ache, my head hurts, my stomach complains, my skin flakes, my rashes burn, my nose bleeds, my mood changes, my patience runs thin, as does my hair, and yet, I am blessed!

IMG_0947How many people in our world or throughout history have had anything like the medical care that I take for granted? The drugs I’m given are the products of years of research, and millions of dollars of investment, from some of the smartest minds in the world. And they work. They attack the cancer, they shrink the tumours, and they destroy the bad cells. It hurts, and I hate it, but it’s a good thing. And I’m blessed to have such amazing treatment available!

I have specialists and GPs (one very special one!) and nurses who care for me. I have a family who loves me and watches over me. I have friends who call, write, visit, or support in practical ways. There must be so many who suffer alone, without care, without compassion and without hope. I do feel somewhat lonely and sad, but deep down I know that I’m blessed to experience the care and love of so many.

It might not seem like it, and I know that I can so easily forget it, but the reality is that I’m truly blessed. I have a hope that comes, not from anything medicine or people can offer, but from the trustworthy promises of God. In Jesus Christ, God has forgiven my selfish independence and accepted me as his own child. He has started my life over again, and assured me that nothing can separate me from his love. Nothing! As it says in Romans…

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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 8:35-39)

This is the reality of my blessing. It’s incomparable. It’s astonishing. It’s undeserved. And it’s available!

As I preach to myself, so I pray…

Heavenly Father,
Let me see things as they truly are.
Let me not be blinded by my selfishness.
Let me hold fast to the Your Word.
Let me count my blessings.
Amen

Making the most of the rest of your life

John Chapman, or Chappo as we like to call him, is one of my heroes. Back in 1989 I had the privilege of being trained by Chappo to become a preacher. He’s a master communicator, one of the best preachers I’ve heard, and he also knows how to share his craft with others. He’d give his young apprentices, including yours truly, what we affectionately called ‘the blow torch to the belly’. If he didn’t like your talk, he’d tell you! And then he’d deconstruct and reconstruct the talk, and eventually it would morph into a much better one. It wasn’t always pleasant, but he worked hard with us, and on us, because he was passionate about what we were doing. Our job was to communicate, clearly and truthfully, the importance of Jesus Christ. Chappo’s job was to make sure we did it well.

John is now well into his 80s and he remains just as committed to communicating the good news about Jesus. He doesn’t do as much preaching these days, but he still makes the most of his opportunities. Making the most of the rest of your life is Chappo practising what he preaches. This is a book about Chappo’s favourite topic – Jesus!

It’s taken me a while to pull this book off my shelf and read it. I shouldn’t have waited so long, because it’s a great book and it took me less than an hour to read the whole thing. I’d assumed it was only for old people, and that wasn’t me! But the key thing about being ‘old’ is not your age. It’s being forced to accept your mortality. Getting older means you don’t have as long to live anymore. I’m not that old (I haven’t hit 50 yet), but God has certainly confronted me with my mortality recently. Chappo writes:

Life in a retirement village has been a new experience for me. The paper man comes every morning at 4.30am and the ambulance at 9.15am. Sometimes it brings people home, but not always. Your mortality presses in.  (p9)

There’s nothing morbid about this book. Chappo has a cheeky sense of humour and it comes through in his writing. He writes with clarity and energy, and this is a book brimming with life and hope. Greater hope than you could ever imagine. A hope that motivates Chappo to write and share with others… while he still can, and while we can still read it (and it is printed in large type)!

You may think it is strange that I’m writing about making the most of the rest of our lives. Humanly speaking, I don’t have all that much left. The average male in Australia lives for 79 years. That doesn’t leave me much time.

On the other hand, if there is life after death, if eternity is really eternity and I have the greater bulk of my life to look forward to, then it makes all the difference.  (p9)

For Chappo, life beyond the grave is far more than wishful thinking. It’s the promise of God. He bases his confidence in the words of the Bible, and the historical person of Jesus. It’s the death and the resurrection of Jesus that provides the hope of resurrection beyond death for others. This is not the cartoon-like picture of someone in a white dress hanging out in the clouds playing a harp. Nor is it the idea of a disembodied soul floating around in heaven. It’s the hope of having a resurrected body, living in a new creation, made by God. Perhaps this still sounds a little weird, but I reckon it’s worth an hour of your time reading Making the most of the rest of your life to begin an investigation. If it’s not true then I guarantee you’ve still spent a better hour than anyone watching Biggest Loser. If it is true, then you’d be the biggest loser if you didn’t bother to check it out.

The guts of the book are spent describing who Jesus is, and what he said and did. Chappo takes us through Mark’s Gospel, explaining, illustrating, and applying as he goes. He has the knack of showing how Jesus makes sense of everything in the Bible and how he impacts life here and now. I’d recommend reading the book first, and then getting hold of a Bible and reading over Mark’s Gospel for yourself. Perhaps you could read the relevant section in Mark’s Gospel and then compare it with what Chappo writes in the book.

Chappo’s aim with this book is to persuade people to put their trust in Jesus, and to do this before it’s too late. He addresses some of the reasons and excuses we might have that prevent us from taking such a step. And he offers a prayer – some words we might want to borrow – to let God know if we decide to put our lives in his hands. Finally, he shares a few tips for people who’ve made the decision to go with Jesus.

So who’s this book for? It’s for you, if you want to get to the heart of the Christian message. Read it for yourself. Discuss it with friends. Buy one for your grandparents. Share it with friends in the retirement village or nursing home. Get a copy for your kids – that’s right – it’s only 50 or so pages, it’s large easy-to-read type, and it explains Christianity so clearly. It’s a great book for anyone really!

I’d like to recommend it to another group of people as well. If you’re a novice preacher, if you want to communicate the Bible well to others, if you need help becoming less boring, clearer, and more relevant in your ministry… then read this book! Making the most of the rest of your life is a great example of how to connect the ancient text of the Bible with real life and real people today. Grab a copy and read it!

Patience

Patience has never been my strong suit. You’ve probably heard about the person who prays, “Lord make me patient, and do it now!” How does God answer that one?!

I just want to be better… now! I want to get off the chemo and onto drugs that don’t hurt… now! I want to be fit again… to run, lift weights, throw a football, climb stairs easily, catch waves, join my friends on bike rides… NOW!

The family are off being active and I’m just climbing out of bed after a nanna nap! Do I take panadol for the chest pain, the sore head, and the aches in my joints? Or do I hop back into bed and hope it will go away? Do I push through the pain barriers? Or do I rest and let the body catch up? I’ll tell you, there are no easy answers.

Most of my life I’ve maintained a reasonable level of fitness. Running, swimming, walking, riding, lifting. I’ve never been a top class athlete, but I’ve never felt disabled either. That is, until now. And I don’t like it!

This year I’d planned to be active, really active. I was going to be a barra fishing, pig shooting, motorbike riding, four-wheel driving, pastor in the NT! We were looking forward to a physical, outdoors lifestyle. And now I’m stuck inside, hiding from the cold, unable to shake a cold. So what on earth does God have to teach me?

Patience… I’m a slow learner! And I usually have to learn the hard way. There’s lots I need to learn, but patience has to be right up there.

I need to be reminded that this world is not the way God intends it to be. I’m not the way God intends me to be. It’s not how things started, and it’s not how they’ll finish. God has big plans and he’s not done yet. The Apostle Paul reflects on the chaos and suffering he sees in this world and he helps us to get things back in perspective – God’s perspective.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  (Romans 8:18-25)

I don’t have to be satisfied with how things are… because God is ok with me longing for things to be better. I don’t have to pretend that the world really is wonderful… because God reminds me that it’s been subjected to frustration. There’s no point putting on a brave face and doing all I can to improve my lot… because God has put into place his plan to renew all things. So what does he ask of me?

To put my hope in him, and to wait, patiently.