Archive for June, 2016


So Far So Good

dr-huang-quachI had my final appointment with my first haematologist yesterday, Dr. Hang Quach. She said I’d been ‘very lucky’, and then, I think remembering my job, changed her wording to ‘blessed’. Few people make it this far, she said, often because there is no donor or the cancer relapses before the transplant. Thank you for your prayers and support. God has been very good to us so far. The treatment has gone as well as it possibly could. A massive thank you to Hang, all the doctors involved in my treatment, and the nurses and staff at St Vincent’s. I have been wonderfully looked after by a caring and professional team. Praise God.

Now I transfer over to the care of RMH. The stem cell transplant will begin in late July. It’ll involve 9 days of chemo and full body radiation, followed by the transplant itself, and then months of recovery. The first 5 weeks or so will be in hospital, and then there will be another 9 weeks in an apartment across the road, being closely monitored by the hospital. The stem cells are coming from donated cord blood, which has been frozen and entered into a register. The transplant itself just involves the injection of the stem cells into my bloodstream. But the result of the transplant is that my entire immune system will be eradicated and replaced with a new immune system grown from the stem cells. This means that my entire body will be alien to the new immune system, so I will be on immune suppressing medication until my new immune system adapts. The hope is that the new immune system will adapt to my body, but will hunt out and kill the remaining leukemia cells in me. There is an 85% survival rate and a 60% success rate, but we don’t put our faith in the numbers, but in the God who is in control. Please pray that I’ll stay healthy in the lead up to the transplant, and that it will succeed in curing my cancer.

Reflections on Mark 15:1-20 read the passage

Jesus is brought before the governor, Pontius Pilate. Although we know Jesus spoke to Pilate at length, initially he remained quiet. Mark highlights this to show how Jesus is like the servant of Isaiah 53:7. Mark is hinting again at the substitution that Jesus is about to undergo on the cross – him for us. The same hint comes with Barabbas being released instead of Jesus (15:6-11). Barabbas is a rebel arrested during a rebellion, convicted of murder. The murderer is released and the innocent Jesus (15:14) is condemned. This is another substitution. We are like Barabbas who stands guilty, but Jesus takes our place on the cross.

The mocking and abuse of the soldiers seems especially brutal. It’s hard to know why the whole company of soldiers (15:16) had to be brought together. What had Jesus done to them? Perhaps it was a political thing, or just the venting of frustrated soldiers many miles from home, forced to serve in a hostile powderkeg ready to explode at any moment. Whatever the reason, their mocking ironically highlights Jesus’ true identity. He’s the true king of the Jews, rejected by his own people, but about to die as a substitute for his enemies.

Substitution is an alien idea to our law system. We are used to the guilty party paying the punishment for their own crime. The only exception to this rule is perhaps a fine, which can be paid by anyone. But Jesus pays more than our fine, he is pronounced guilty on our behalf and we are pronounced innocent: all those who put their trust in Jesus and hand their lives over to him. This is the greatest deal in human history. Jesus pays it all, we are pronounced free. This is the marvel of God’s grace. Grace here means free gift. Jesus’ death on the cross buys forgiveness for us, at great cost to him, but free to us. Who would ever dare to try to negotiate such a deal with God? Yet God gives freely to all who ask him. Have you accepted this deal?

 

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Retro macho nerd kissing his biceps isolated on gray backgroundI’ve been home for most of a week now. It’s so good to be home. I still feel amazingly weak. My max push-ups at the moment is 2. Walking upstairs takes my breath away. It feels like all my muscles have wasted while in hospital and anything beyond basic aerobic exercise is too hard. But I just keep ticking away on the exercise front, because I know it can only help, even though I’ll lose it all again when the transplant comes around.

I’ve become obsessed with food. I think it’s a combination of two things: hospital food and my altered taste buds. My taste buds are slowly getting better, but everything still tastes slightly wrong. It’s not helped by having teeth that have become super-sensitive to cold temperatures. All these weird chemo side effects add up to a battle to be content with food.

I’ve been coming into the church office a little bit to potter. It feels good to be back and to help out Rob in some small ways. He’s done such a great job in my absence, and it’s been encouraging to see the church shaping around his strengths, which are different to mine.

It’s funny – when I fill out this blog it makes me feel like I’m back in hospital again! But no more hospital till July.

Reflections on Mark 14:32-50 read the passage

We see such a stark difference between Jesus and his disciples here. Jesus is troubled out of his mind. He’s undone in a way we’ve never seen him. Meanwhile the disciples are as relaxed as they’ve ever been. It’s the opposite of the calming the storm story. Jesus is frantic and the disciples sleep soundly.

Jesus tells them to keep watch – the same word from Mark 13. The day/hour is approaching. But they aren’t lookouts for Judas. They’re to watch and pray that they don’t fall into temptation (v38). They don’t watch and pray, and so they do fall into temptation (v50). Jesus, on the other hand, watches, prays and stands firm in temptation. He will drink the cup of God’s wrath in obedience to his Father’s will (v36).

Mark’s arrest account emphasizes Jesus’ bound condition (v46), so that he has to defuse the situation with his words (v48-49). Once Jesus announces that all this is happening to fulfill Scripture, his disciples give up and flee. Ironically, their hopeless flight fulfills Scripture too.

How easily we fail to watch and pray. How pathetic our knowledge of the Scriptures and our ability to use their light to read our times. But here’s the great news. Jesus never failed like us. He was perfect, even under the weightiest trial. And he knows what it’s like to be tempted, to be abandoned, to suffer injustice, to be in a dark place all alone. This means Jesus was fit to drink the cup on our behalf, that is, as a substitute in his death on the cross for us. For all those who trust in Jesus there is perfect and complete forgiveness. It also means that he sympathizes with us in our weakness, because he’s been there and knows what it’s like. When we do watch and pray, we pray to a God who understands what we’re going through, and loves us more than we can imagine.

Going Home Tomorrow

635926444221469047-1832658135_going-homeAll of a sudden I’m going home tomorrow. After 15 weeks on and off at St Vincent’s here, my counts have bounced back dramatically and I’m heading home, God-willing never to return to this hospital. Of course, that’s just step one. Next step is over at RMH for the transplant, which will be a much bigger step in many ways. The chemo involved in the transplant is a lot more aggressive and I’m told will have much stronger side effects. Other drugs will also bang me around a lot and I’ll be on them for many months. But that’s the next step. Right now, one day at a time, I’m heading home tomorrow. I’ll have a six-week break before starting step two over at RMH. The doctor yesterday said that I’ve been very blessed through these chemo rounds. No really serious complications have occurred and she’s very happy. Thank you to all those who’ve been praying for me during this time. God in his goodness has answered your prayers with a very good run for me so far. Praise God, he is good.

Reflections on Mark 14:12-31 read the passage

This passage has a depth to it that defies a short reflection, so let me offer a short reflection, in no way claiming to plumb the depths on offer here.

My first reflection is the death theme running through here. The Passover lambs are being slaughtered (v12), Jesus will be betrayed (to death), Jesus’ body and blood (less explicitly tied to death in Mark), and the dead shepherd (v27). This night is a solemn night.

The second thing I notice is the hope in this passage. Jesus anticipates the new kingdom (v25). Jesus will rise and go ahead of them into Galilee (v28). Death is not the end.

The third thing I notice is that Jesus is the only hope in this whole mix. Judas will betray Jesus, but he’s not alone. All the disciples will fall away from Jesus, even the most zealous of them, Peter. But Jesus will rise. All hope is found in him alone, not in his followers. So too for us. Hope is not found in our inner strength, ability to endure, faithfulness in the face of adversity, or even our faith. Hope is found in Jesus alone. His conquering of death means that we have new life, the new kingdom. It is Jesus who grants us faith, endurance, patience, forbearance, strength, etc. They are all things that we cultivate, but ultimately their source is Jesus. As we look at this final dark night before Jesus’ death, we look at the one who brings us hope through his sacrificial death for us. As dark nights come our way we don’t look inwardly for strength, but to Jesus, who is our strength, refuge and hope.

And the Answer Is…

This is my last round of chemo before the transplant. Great news. And my counts have started going up, so I could be going home very soon. But I’m a little skeptical that I’m at the end of this cycle yet, since I only just got off the steroids yesterday, which artificially inflate the counts. But the news is good. Not long now till I say a (hopefully) permanent good bye to St Vincent’s.

abouttheprogramIn many ways that’s a joyful idea, but it’s also a sad idea as I’ve got to know the staff and some of the patients well since I’ve been here, and they’ve been terrific. The nurses have taught me heaps about what it looks like to really care for people, not just do your job, and I’ve found that challenging to the way I think and act toward people. There is a team culture here as well among the staff, where they genuinely help each other which has been so impressive, and their professionalism is outstanding. In some ways St V’s has become my second home this year and it is the staff that have made me feel that way. I will miss them. Please join me in thanking God for the news on chemo rounds and also for the amazing staff here at St V’s. Pray that I’ll use my last few days effectively for God’s kingdom.

Reflections on Mark 14:1-11 Read the passage

I’ve heard many good sermons on this passage over the years and even preached one myself, but as I look back at the account of the woman with the perfume I think Mark sets it up to make one strong point.

It’s been pointed out that this passage teaches that Jesus is more important than the poor (v7). That’s true, but I don’t think that gives us licence to neglect the poor, nor do I think it’s the main point of the passage. Others point out that the woman gives something really expensive because she thinks Jesus is worth it. She certainly does that, but I don’t think it’s the main point either.  To work out the main point we need to see the big problem in the story, and how Jesus resolves it.

The big problem is the accusation against the woman by people at the dinner. They start by arguing about the waste among themselves (a years wages – v5), but their arguing eventually spills over into outright rebuke of the woman. The question in this story is, should the woman be rebuked? Has she done something wrong?

Jesus takes the opposite position, the woman has in fact done something good, not something wrong (v6 – The NIV’s use of ‘beautiful’ instead of good is a bit weird and I think hides the point of this passage. NASB uses good, which is the usual translation for the word). So what makes her deed ‘good’ instead of ‘wasteful’? Timing. She has poured expensive perfume over Jesus’ head in preparation for his imminent burial (v8). We just saw in ch 13 that Jesus’ death is imminent (13:14), but she is the only one in the room that gets it. Jews were in the habit of saving up extremely expensive perfume for use in burial preparations. Though not rich, it was considered very important to use the most expensive of perfume mixes once a loved one had died. So her ‘waste’ is justified because she alone sees the timing involved in the dinner – Jesus is going to die soon. She will never be forgotten because, unlike this room filled with self-righteous men, many who’d heard Jesus predict his death three times, who’d just sat through the Olivet Discourse, who could not read the times (13:28), she, with an expensive jar of perfume, knew what was coming next: Jesus’ death.

But how will this happen? Judas will set it off. v10-11 join this link for Mark into the Passover feast. The two dinners are joined by Judas’ betrayal, but both dinners are about Jesus’ immanent death.