Archive for May, 2016

Off to RMH

Today’s the big day where I find out if I have to do another cycle of chemo before the transplant. It’s the difference between getting a two week or six week break in treatment. I’m keen for the six week break, but it’s up to the doctor, not me. I couldn’t sleep after 3:30am this morning, thanks to the continuing affects of taking steroids, but everything else is ticking along swimmingly.

41nw8fgnzjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_I find myself reading a book I’m struggling to continue to justify reading, as it’s not what I thought it would be at all. The book is He Came Down From Heaven by Douglas McCready, which I bought years ago because it was on the 4th year Moore College reading list. I thought it would be about the incarnation of Jesus, but I probably should have read the front cover first. Usually my pride would rule out giving up on a book, ever, but in this instance, after 268 pages I feel compelled to put it away, safe in the knowledge that the 50 pages remaining in the book will still be on my bookshelf should I ever need them. Needless to say I won’t write a review for this book, but feel free to ask me about it if by some act of God it’s spine is staring at you from your own bookshelf.

Reflections on Mark 13:14-37 read the passage

Where 13:1-13 was for us and the twelve, v14-37 is Jesus teaching the twelve about events soon to unfold,which we get to overhear. This may sound outrageous (unless you read my previous blog entries on Matt 26), but let me explain.

We can work out when Jesus is talking about from v30:

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

A generation extends to about 40 years at most, which puts the outer boundary for these events to within 40 years of AD 33. That means the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 is within the limits, but any interpretation of these events as describing the great tribulation before Jesus returns is ruled out.

So we then go back to the next major issue to work out, what is the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ in v14? This is a quote from Daniel 11:31, where the temple sanctuary will be desecrated and regular sacrifices in the temple suspended. Two possible events in our timeframe window could fit this description. One is the destruction of the temple in AD 70, the other is Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus described himself as the temple (John 2:21). The destruction of Jesus body on the cross could also be considered a desecration of the temple. So which would it be? v19 provides us with a vital clue:

because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

The distress caused by the abomination will be unequaled in all human history: past, present and future. Can we really say that about the destruction of the temple in AD 70? Worse than the flood of Noah? Than Sodom and Gomorrah? Than the Babylonian siege and destruction of Jerusalem? I suggest not. But the death of the creator of the universe by his own creatures? I think that’s a much better candidate. Jesus’ death then is the answer to the disciples question back in 13:4 “what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” Though there’s a 40 year gap, Jesus’ death is the sign that the destruction of the temple is coming.

If it is Jesus’ death, then what do we make of v14-23? I think Jesus is talking about the time between his arrest and his resurrection. Though the language far exceeds what happened, the over-the-top language helps us feel the emotion of the time. It is a time that God cuts deliberately short, though, for the sake of the elect (v20), the cowering disciples in the room in Bethany.

v24-25 talk about the events at Jesus’ death – the supernatural darkness and earthquake. Though the details don’t line up perfectly, again the over-the-top language alerts us to the cosmic significance of the event.

v26-27 the coming of the Son of Man, quoting Daniel 7:13-14, is Jesus going to his Father in heaven – the ascension, which caps off Jesus’ death and resurrection. He goes to sit at his Father’s right hand where he receives all glory, dominion and power. Peter talks about this fact in Acts 2, where the sending of the Holy Spirit is the proof that it has occurred. The sending of the angels (the same word can just mean human messengers) is the proclaiming of the gospel to all nations (13:10).

v32-37 Jesus returns to careful instruction for the twelve about how to handle the next few days. There are two powerful links between chapters 13 and 14. First, the instruction to ‘keep watch’ is a word in the original that appears three times in this chapter (13:34,35,37) and three times in chapter 14 (14:34,37,38), in the Garden of Gethsemane. It appears nowhere else in Mark’s Gospel. That’s a pretty strong connection, but it’s not the only one. The second connection is 13:35

whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

This is the exact timing that sets out the scenes in chapter 14

  • evening: v17-31 Passover meal
  • midnight: v32-52 Garden of Gethsemane
  • rooster crows: v53-72 Trial at high priest’s house (particularly v72)
  • dawn: 15:1 and following

So I contend that v14-37 are talking about the events recorded in the rest of Mark’s Gospel, not the destruction of Jerusalem and not a future tribulation. Does that mean that they’re not much value to us? Not at all. These verses give us a strong sense of the seriousness of Jesus’ death. It is a cosmic event unparalleled in the history of creation, never to be eclipsed, even when Jesus returns. We easily write off the disciples as cowards, and Mark invites us to do just that in the way he tells the story, but there is a real sense in which they were left alone and in great peril. Thank God that he kept that time short.


Romping Along on Roids

chili-oil-recipe-7After sabotaging myself with chilly (it turns out that was the cause of my bowel cramps) and having my bowels go into massive revolt for two days, things came good. I had my last bag of chemo for this round on Saturday night and have been living off enough steroids everyday to make Arnie blush. The result is that I feel great and energetic everyday, but have trouble sleeping at night. My counts continue to go down and I expect that there’s at least another week left in hospital. Tomorrow I head across to RMH to talk to the transplant doctor, and will probably find out if I’ll be doing a another round of chemo before the transplant in July. I’m keen for this to be the last so that I get a good break before the transplant, but ultimately the decision lies with him.

Reflections on Mark 13:1-13 read the passage

We find ourselves back at the Olivet Discourse, which I looked at previously in Matthew’s Gospel and perhaps didn’t come out all that clear on how to understand it. I think it’s more straightforward in Mark’s Gospel.

The question put to Jesus by Peter, James, John and Andrew has two parts: 1) when will these things happen? 2) what will be the sign they’re about to happen? (v4) The ‘these things’ is the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus begins by ignoring their question. Instead he says ‘watch’ (v5) and ‘watch yourselves’ (v9). He talks instead about the nature of the time between now and ‘the end’. Notice Jesus isn’t saying that the temple will be destroyed at ‘the end’ (perhaps an assumption of the disciples in asking their question). The end for Christians is when Jesus returns (hinted at in v6).

This is the nature of the days that we live in now. We see much of what is talked about in the book of Acts, but we see them all through church history and we see them in the world today. The level of persecution varies greatly, and is far severer in other countries than Australia, but we also see the winds of change in this country, as tolerance to Christian beliefs is waning.We need to watch ourselves, just like Jesus’ disciples. Expect that there will be official persecution. Expect that there will be persecution by your own family members. Expect that there will be major world events that will destabilise life as we know it. Watch yourself and don’t be afraid. God is with us, even giving us the words we need when the time comes. And in the midst of this turmoil and uncertainty? Preach the gospel. Be a witness to others (v9), because this is the time for the gospel to go out to the whole world (v10). This is not the time to cocoon ourselves in fear, but to stand firm until the end (v13).

There’s a lot of talk about the Safe Schools program and how that will transform Victorian schools into places that bully Christian kids. I think this is probably a likely outcome. But should we abandon public education as a result? Many raise the flag of homeschooling as the answer, and it may well be that we end up with no choice but to pull our kids out. But what about teaching our kids to stand up to persecution and endure it? While we may have not faced this challenge in our time, it’s no service to our kids to teach them that Jesus’ words cannot be trusted and we must cocoon ourselves safe from the bullies who persecute us on account of Jesus’ name.

In French Quebec in the sixties the Catholic Church operated the state school system. They marginalised protestants by refusing to let them into their French-speaking school system, forcing them into English-speaking private schooling. This created a cultural barrier to the gospel that hindered evangelism for many years. If we abandon the public system in Victoria we risk two things: 1)the loss of a Christian voice in the local school community, which is a key source of community in the fractured Australian society in which we live. 2)a further cultural barrier between our grown-up kids and their peers in the community – imagine a whole generation of public school educated children who’ve never had a Christian friend… We have freedom in Christ to educate our kids as we choose, but our choices will have profound impacts on our ability to connect with and evangelise our community, and ought not to be taken lightly.


Then Things Changed

I had a blog all typed out yesterday, but the internet died and I lost it. So I won’t be retyping it here. But let me give you the headlines: three good days of feeling good and getting out of the hospital.

But last night things changed. I got a low-grade fever and have spent most of the day in bed. Every time I eat I get massive bowel cramps and end up on the toilet. The doctors aren’t sure whether it’s related to chemo side effects or an infection. I guess we’ll find out in the next few days. Meanwhile I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck and have been taking things very easy.

Reflections on Mark 11:12-33 read the passage

I don’t have a lot of stamina, so let me give you the headlines and feel free to respond back in comments for more, or just google it yourself.

On the surface we have here the account of a random tree-curser, with an uncontrollable temper, who spouts faith powered miracle teachings. Let me suggest that this surface reading misunderstands what Jesus is doing here.

The fig tree is the first clue. It is the national symbol of Israel (think boxing kangaroo for Australia). Jesus curses the fig tree as a symbolic curse of Israel and the old covenant.

The temple is the second clue. In cleansing the temple Jesus curses it as the centrepiece for God’s future plans and purposes. The OT law is now obsolete.

This presents a problem for the twelve Jews following Jesus. If the OT law is now obsolete, how will man approach God? Jesus says – by faith. Directly. Not through the temple.

This is day 4 for chemo for me and I’ll be disconnected from the pumping machine some time tonight, all going well. A strange day for me today. No visitors, but still felt quite busy. There’s a wonderful nurse on the ward who’s very fired up for Jesus. She’s been talking to another patient (C) and asked me to come and talk with her. That led to a conversation for about an hour in the morning and probably more in the coming days. I was moved into a new room after an infection was discovered in another patient. I had a room mate for a few hours and then he was moved on because he possibly had an infection I needed to be protected from as well. By the afternoon I was tired and had a nap to catch up on the poor sleep I’ve had since coming into hospital. A strange day. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be allowed out for the day, the first time disconnected from my pumping machine since Wednesday. Please pray for C, that God would open her eyes to the truth of the gospel as she reads through the book of John.

Reflections on Mark 10:1-31 Read the Passage

A massive passage so my comments will be brief.

v1-12 Two things strike me here. The first is for those who say Jesus is silent on same sex marriage. Jesus very clearly defines marriage here between a man and a woman (v6-8). Incidentally he also weighs in against radical gender theory in embracing the maleness and femaleness of creation, particularly expressed in marriage. But if it’s important for marriage then that suggests our maleness and femaleness is a part of who we were created, not something that we transcend by selecting for ourselves a preferred gender to identify ourselves by. In the Bible identity is a wonderful gift given to us by God, not something we create as an expression of our self-rule.

The second thing that strikes me is that Jesus says that every marriage is created by God. ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ (10:9) Marriage is not just an agreement or contract that humans enter into. It is a one flesh relationship that God creates. Therefore divorce is not something we enter into lightly, and in most cases should be avoided at cost. It is always a tragedy (a reality our society now knows too well by experience).

v13-16. Entering the kingdom like a child is not about being as ignorant of theology as possible. The child is dependent on it’s parents, and is humble, low down on the pecking order in ancient society. We too must depend on God to enter the kingdom, and so be humble.

v17-31. This story teaches us our utter dependence on God if we want to enter the kingdom. The rich man comes to Jesus wanting to know how he can inherit the kingdom by his good works. Jesus shows that he has idolatry issues with money. He points out that the rich, who were generally considered to be the moral, hardworking members of society in the ancient world, would find it hardest to enter the kingdom, an idea that shocks the disciples. But Jesus shows them where the hope is: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). God will save us. We must depend (have faith) on him and be humble, not trusting in being good people, but trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection.


Back in the Ward

I came back into the ward on Monday and started chemo last night. Straight into a window seat, praise God. It’s starting to feel like a second home, which I don’t know is a good thing or bad thing. I catch up with some of the staff and also some of the patients. Some patients are on their death beds, some have gone home for a rest from chemo. The ward is a mixture of hope and grief.

They found some ‘blasts’ in my blood, which are immature white blood cells, which caused some concern for the doctors. One of the possible causes for blasts is active leukemia back in my bone marrow. I had a bone marrow biopsy two days ago and the results came back clear. I’m still in remission. It turns out the blasts were a good sign, a healthy bone marrow with aggressive regrowth following the last round of chemo.

Begarelli SculptureBecause of the delay between coming in and starting chemo I got to go out yesterday on some day leave with Simone. We went to chinatown (Little Bourke St) for some Japanese soup, the State Library, some coffee on Lonsdale St and another session at the NGV. (How can it be the National Gallery of Victoria?) I’ve included a picture of my favourite sculpture in the gallery. I’m not usually into sculpture, but this terra cotta sculpture about one foot wide by Begarrelli from around 1500 caught my attention because of the intense emotion and action that he captures in it. I personally haven’t found a sculpture like it. It’s three women consoling Mary after Jesus’ death.

I got just over a week at home, which allowed me to get to church twice. A great privilege. I improved slowly through the week. I felt quite weak and unwell at the start but was feeling quite strong by the end. It was good to spend time with the kids and particularly to hear them repeating to me the excellent teaching from their mother about my cancer, that perhaps God wants me in hospital because people in hospital need to hear about Jesus too. Praise God for a mature and supportive wife! Please pray that I live out this opportunity before me.

Reflections on Mark 9:14-29 Read the Passage

This passage seems to be about power and faith. The word for power or ability appears four times in the passage (v22,23,28,29) and the word for strength once (v18). The disciples didn’t have the power and the man asks Jesus to help if he might have the power. On the surface this looks like a faith healing passage. If those involved had enough faith then God would grant them the power. Closer investigation suggests otherwise.

Jesus takes issue with the man’s use of the word ‘if’ (v22,23). Perhaps he was giving Jesus an out clause given the failure of his disciples (v18). But Jesus will not allow such doubt. If the man is going to call on Jesus to act and show compassion he will be challenged to believe the corresponding things about who Jesus is. Jesus is God and wields the power of God. We’ve only just seen in the first half of the chapter Jesus’ divine glory displayed on the mountain.Now we see Jesus’ divine glory displayed in healing the boy of the demon.

Later on the disciples ask why they couldn’t drive out the demon (v28). Jesus’ response sounds like a technique issue – you must use the technique of prayer. But this interpretation is directly contradicted by the technique Jesus himself used. He didn’t pray, he just commanded (v25). So clearly for Jesus, this demon doesn’t come out by prayer. The real issue is the source of the power. The power belongs to God, so ask God in prayer to drive out the demon. So far from teaching faith healing, it teaches radical dependence on God in prayer. We pray to God, not naming and claiming, demanding that God do our bidding, and displaying an intensity of faith that then allows God’s healing power to flow. We pray to God as our heavenly Father, asking him to act if it’s his good plan to do so. We believe that God has the power to heal and does so when he chooses to. Even in the face of demonic possession we come to our knees and ask God to act, not relying on spiritual techniques that suggest the power lies in us.

The symptoms of demon possession sound very much like epilepsy. Some have suggested that it’s not really a demon possession issue at all but epilepsy. I think this point is moot. Jesus didn’t come to teach the crowds correct medical and demonic identifications. He came to seek and save the lost. He healed the boy of his malady, whether demonic or medical, immediately and powerfully. This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a demon and it doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as demon possession, but just mental illness. We mustn’t let our personal experience decide what we will and won’t believe

666 And All That

9078738Can you think of an entry level book on eschatology (the study of end things) pitched at your average church goer? I can think of only one: 666 And All That by John Dickson and Greg Clarke. That alone makes this a worthwhile book. In fact having only finished this book yesterday I’ve already handed it on to one of the nurses in the hospital. It was dead easy to lend. Eschatology is one of those subjects that most people are curious about and some people are obsessed with. So I want to offer some reflections on this book without actually having my copy of the book here by my side. But hopefully chemo brain has not completely frazzled my memory.

John Dickson and Greg Clarke have written an easy to read book that covers all the basics of eschatology. They talk about Jesus’ return, heaven, hell, judgement and a whole heap of other issues. Generally they handle things very well, in an accessible way. If I have a gripe with the book, and I do have a little one, it’s that they angle the book more toward non-Christians at the expense of people who’ve been sucked into some of the dodgy eschatology floating around, particularly dispensationalism. One of the longest sustained arguments in the book relates to speculating that God could save people through Jesus without them hearing the gospel. This seems a bizarre decision to me. I guess they’re aiming at an apologetic for the exclusive nature of the gospel, but they chew through a lot of pages in the process, for what is at the end of the day speculation. On the other hand they deal with the mark of the devil in a few cursory sentences and the millennial views in about a paragraph or two. I doubt many non-Christians are going to pick up a book on eschatology. The title of the book suggests inside knowledge of the Bible and the hot button issues. It’s too bad they didn’t pitch the rest of the book along the same lines.

So in the end what can I say? This book sits in a niche and as such is without peer as far as I’m aware. It does the job admirably even if I think the execution is not perfect. I suspect that those who are sold out on dispensationalism will not be persuaded by this book, but at least it will raise some issues for them. This book is most effective for the evangelical who’s curious about eschatology. It wades through some of the Christian ‘myths’ and straightforwardly sets out the key elements of eschatology. For that reason I highly recommend it for your average church goer. Unless of course someone knows another book that does the same thing…

needlelesionsNo it’s not a pub in Fitzroy, it’s how I feel having lost my PICC last Thursday. Every day has seen at least one new needle. I’ve discovered that I’m hard to canulate. Two canulas have been put in after 9 attempts (one using an ultrasound machine). There’s a couple of veins which have been accessed at least six times for blood tests and so have a little trail of red dots that run down the vein. I hope I don’t get pulled up by the cops when I go home. They’ll assume I’ve been injecting the hard stuff.

After twelve days of neutropenia my counts have finally come back. They still need to give me a lumbar puncture, so they’re waiting now for my platelets to increase before they put a needle in my lower back. I’ll then go home the next day. They won’t put a PICC in until next round, so I keep getting jabbed with needles every day. I’ve become more directive about which veins to go for, as I’m over having nurses digging around on the back of my hands finding nothing except nerve endings and cartilage. It certainly makes you appreciate having a PICC.

My transplant date has been set now for 20 July. The delayed date means I’ll get two more rounds of chemo: 3a and 3b. We went across to the Royal Melbourne Hospital yesterday and saw the new ward, had another appointment with the haematologist and talked to the transplant coordinator. Most of our questions have been answered. It’s hard to say how it feels. They’ve been adamant that it’s much harder than the chemo regime I’ve done so far and that I’ll feel run down and miserable for many months. I think I’m probably still living in denial of that reality and hoping that I’ll bounce back quicker than most. God knows how I’ll go. Perhaps it’s all part of his plans to teach me humility and patience.

Reflections on Mark 7:24-37 Read the passage

Jesus leaves Jewish territory and goes into the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon. There a woman comes and asks for help with her daughter (7:26). Jesus’ response, though sounding harsh, highlights the Jewish nature of the Messiah (the children represent Jews and the dogs, Gentiles). Surprisingly the woman identifies the wider expectations of the Messiah, and Jesus rewards her by healing her daughter. The kingdom is for more than Jews, it is for all tribes, nations and people groups. Today, two millennia later, there are still unreached people groups. According to the Joshua Project, there is still 42% of the world population in unreached people groups. There’s some great prayer resources available on the Joshua Project website. Why not add prayer for an unreached people group to your prayer routine?

The healing of the deaf mute does double service. It shows another healing of Jesus, but also symbolically suggests that the disciples are starting to get it. Earlier in the chapter Jesus asks them, ‘Are you so dull?’ (7:18), but by the next chapter they’ve worked out who Jesus is (8:29). Finally the disciples are beginning to see who Jesus is, and listen to what he says. It is not that the disciples aren’t very smart. It’s because their hearts were hard (6:52). God is opening their eyes. Everyone needs their eyes opened by God to see Jesus. Though we call on all to respond, only those whom God is at work in will be saved. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to enliven dead flesh and bring new birth. Praise God that in his grace this is something he loves to do. What does this mean for us? For those seeking Jesus, ask and you shall receive, seek and you’ll find, knock and the door will be opened to you (Matt 7:7). For those with friends and family who don’t know Jesus, pray that God will save them, and pray for opportunities to speak to them about Jesus. Then look for and take those opportunities. Because it’s the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring about new birth in Jesus, even our weak and feeble attempts at evangelism can be used by him to bring people from death to life.