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Fridays with Phil

Life, family and unshakeable faith

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Death, where is your sting?

My mate, Bruce. 27/07/1955 - 11/09/2014
My mate, Bruce. 27/07/1955 – 11/09/2014

On Tuesday, I officiated the funeral of one of my best mates and a fellow pastor, Bruce.

I also closely witnessed his last few weeks on this earth.

What struck me most in those last days was Bruce’s assurance of heaven and eternity. Each time I asked him “how are you in here mate?” pointing to my head, or “how are you in here mate?” pointing to my heart, he would answer “it’s all good buddy!”

And it truly was – he had a tremendous peace and unwavering faith.

I remember sitting there with him contemplating the terminal illness Bruce had and hoping other people I loved didn’t have to face what he was facing. I realise now we all have what he had: mortality.

Most people live this life like it will never end and prepare for the next life like it will never begin, but it comes to all of us whether we prepare or not.

We are all terminal but we are also all eternal.

This life on earth is short so we need to make it count by being present, by loving, being grateful for the little things, and forgiving. Talk to people about what matters, not what is the matter with life.

Bruce taught me that “this side” is so fragile and short and because of that, it is so precious.  Like many valuable things, life’s value is derived from the fact it is in limited supply.

Whether you like to think about it or not, we are all living in temporary accommodation, our skin gets a little more creased and our hair a little more grey or a little less full stop. It’s a confronting reminder that sooner or later, we will all be evicted from our bodies.

The question this raises is, what’s on the other side?

I appreciate that it’s hard for us to imagine the other side.

Some people just decide that there is nothing over there. But you do have to wonder why the rumours of the other side stay so persistent.

And so the human race wonders.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ has defeated the sting or darkness of death so that we can have real life today and eternal life on “the other side”. I believe that God has made a way for us to be with Him forever through faith in Jesus Christ.

From this side, for us, death can be a time of sorrow, loss and of separation. But from the other side, for people like Bruce, it is a time of release, reunion, rest and reward. It is the beginning of a bright new eternal life.

Heaven is a reality where there is no pain, no tears, and no sorrow. Gone will be the nights filled with terror, fear and violence. Hunger and thirst, not even a memory. Heaven will be a place of endless joy.

A little girl was taking an evening walk with her father.   She looked up at the starry night sky and said, “Oh, Daddy, if the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what must the right side be like!”

This one’s for you buddy, my mate Bruce, on the other side.

Phil

The God I never knew

I wonder how many times God has intervened in my life without me realising it.

I am sure I live unaware of God’s provision, protection and help in my life.

Just as God asks us to do acts of kindness without the big fanfare of public recognition, God is always doing things on our behalf that He doesn’t let us in on. His kindness is at work constantly.

I think of the bible passage in Acts 9:1-5 which speaks about Paul on his way to arrest and execute Christians. The Bible says in verse 3, “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.”

While Paul was on his way to harm these people, he is instead arrested by Christ’s love and his life is changed.

My thoughts are towards the ones who didn’t know the danger they were in as Paul was on his way, and “near to them” to destroy them.   Because God intervened, they were saved from harm.

I also think of the Israelite people who suffered persecution from the Egyptians, described in the book of Exodus.

Even while they were suffering and praying for deliverance, God was working and preparing Moses as a child to be the answer to their prayers and they didn’t even know God was already at work.

I think of my life, still walking around with MND more than a year after doctors said I shouldn’t be able to. I think of the time in Zanzibar that my limbs cramped and my friend swam out to rescue me from drowning. I think of the time in Auckland when I came off my scooter, breaking my scapula and narrowly missing being run over by a truck– and I’m sure you have similar stories.

Maybe that’s why pride is so dangerous: it ignores the fact that God is working behind the scenes. It fails to give him credit for the less visible signs of His grace and goodness. It takes the wins on its own merit.

Even though I am proud of what I can see tangibly around me, I am convinced that I am also unaware of the extent of God’s grace that has helped me and caused me to succeed.

I may never know the number of times God has intervened and rescued me.

So once you are finished thanking God for those things in your life that you can see, remember to thank him for the things that you can’t. Be thankful for the unseen hand of God’s presence always making a way.

Never give up on trusting God to come through for you even when it seems too late. Trust His timing in all things. While there is hope, there is life. God is always working on your behalf for your good.

Phil

What would a complaint-free day look like?

Easy not to complain when here with my beautiful wife and family last week.
Easy not to complain when here with my beautiful wife and family last week.

What would a complaint-free day look like?

A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence.
After 10 years his superior called him and asked him, “do you have anything to say?”
The monk replied “food bad.”
After another 10 years the monk again had the opportunity to voice his thoughts.
He said, “bed hard.”
Another 10 years passed by and again he was called in before his superior.
When asked if he had anything to say, he said, “I quit.”
“It doesn’t surprise me a bit, you’ve done nothing but complain ever since you arrived.”

Would you be able to get through this day without complaining, either to yourself or to others?  What would a complaint free-day look like?

Complaining is an energy killer and it can be the catalyst for an unhappy day.  So, a complaint free-day would, at a minimum, be a happier day and a more energetic day.

Often the most difficult part of learning how to handle complaining is recognising it in yourself.  If someone recorded you for a week, what would it reveal about your speech?  How much time do you spend griping, grumbling, complaining, arguing, and saying “life stinks”?

Complaining is a habit.  Habits are only broken by replacement with something else. Take out the negative complaining and replace it with positive speaking.  Steve Penny, a good mate, says “happy people don’t have the best of everything, they make the best of everything”.  Happy people replace whinging altogether.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstancesfor this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”   You cannot always be thankfulfor the circumstances, but you can be thankful in them.  God has a good pattern and He fits even the bad things in our lives into that pattern for good.

There are some things in your marriage that you don’t like, things in your business, habits in yourself, your spouse, your children, or your boss. But I believe there are also some things in those situations and people that you could learn to be thankful for. Consider writing down one thing to be thankful for in your boss, spouse, children, teacher.

There are challenges we all face, but the way you look at your challenges determines your attitude.   Look for God’s fingerprint in your circumstances.  Because God is working all things out for good in your life, the good that you’re going to get out of whatever you’re going through will be much more long lasting than the problem.

For those of you who are going through real challenges today, I’m not saying ignore them.  What I’m saying is that in the midst of great challenge, living complaint-free can give you the necessary energy you need to make itthrough and strengthen your ability to fight.

Could today be your day to give complaint-free a go?

Phil

Heaven, healing and the in between

My neurologist just put me through my least favourite range of tests since being diagnosed with MND / ALS.

These electromyogram and nerve conduction tests are gruelling and painful.

They involve the signals to and from my muscles and brain being measured by using electric shock.

Other treatments, like the 3 hour immunoglobulin infusions I have once a month, are a breeze in comparison.

Light exercise to boost my happy endorphins, a drug for MND / ALS patients called “rilutek” said to increase life expectancy by 3-6 months, juicing for breakfast, and  a cocktail of about 40 vitamins I have self-prescribed through my own research have all become a regular part of my life.

Taking it deeper, daily I pray and believe for Jesus’ life, light and love to flow through my body, bringing life to my motor neurons.

I read my Bible and meditate on God’s word and His presence in my life, bringing my mind into a place of peace, not worry.

Why do I do all this stuff? 

Why do I fight this disease with medicines and subject my body to research? Why do I hang my hope on the life-giving power of God’s word?

It’s because I believe in the power of prayer and the word of God that brings life and transforms.

I also believe that God has blessed man with wisdom and knowledge to appropriate healing through medicine.

Is there a tension between me doing what I can and believing God for a miracle?

Yes, there is a tension and for the Christian living in a fallen world: there always will be.

I personally walk the line between doing what I can in the natural, and believing God to do what He can in the supernatural.

They are not mutually exclusive.

We don’t disqualify God from intervening in our situation by relying on man’s advancement in medicine.

I believe God is at work in a number of ways in sickness and health through:

  • the supernatural intervention of Gods miraculous power
    (e.g. defying doctor’s predictions and seeing a medical turnaround. like people healed from cancer);
  • the process of regeneration in our body that has been created by God
    (e.g. the body healing itself from scrapes and bruises);
  • medicines and medical advancements of our time, a gift of God’s wisdom and knowledge to man
    (e.g. antibiotics to treat an infection, or radiation to treat cancer); and
  • the comfort and wonder of one day entering heaven and eternity, a place God has prepared with no sickness or sorrow
    (e.g. death of our physical body causing us to pass from this life to the next).

All are expressions of God’s love, care and kindness towards a world that will continue to struggle against sickness and disease.

If you are sick today, I would encourage you to do whatever is available for you to do as provided by God through medical advancement and trust God to do what only He can do.

This will bring you great peace.

Phil

Me and one of the legends from our MND / ALS small group
Me and one of the legends from our MND / ALS small group

Time to have your best year yet

I love watches.  I enjoy browsing the latest styles and checking antique shops for special designs.

The challenge of a watch is that it is circular, giving you the illusion that if you wait long enough this time will come around again.

The reality is that time is linear, in so much as it is more of a straight ongoing line, and it only moves forward, it does not stop and it does not replay.

As we are swept into this new year, time is something on many of our minds: we look back and we look forwards. But do we pause long enough to look at right now, this moment, this minute?

John Lennon wrote the lyrics:
“Before you cross the street take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

In the same vain, Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

In order to embrace this moment, I think we do need to stare time in the face, including what has been and what may come.

In one sense, we need to let go of the time that has passed, let bygones be bygones. In another sense, the past is not dead at all – it has shaped us and made us, to a certain degree, who we are. We must deal with the past effectively if we are to live in the present happily.

We should also take time to dream, consider and prepare for the possibilities of what the future may hold. The future can give us hope for a better tomorrow and the possibility for change, if we are careful about the time that can be planned.

Time that is now

Today is all we have: “now” is the acceptable time. Although we live in this present reality, are we attentive to this present moment?

One of the byproducts of being given a shortened life expectancy is that you try and slow time down by savouring experiences.  It makes you increasingly aware of the 1,440 minutes allocated to each of us per day.  I think I am now more present in the moment, taste my meals, listen more carefully and experience the beauty of the moment.

It’s the difference between just eating a strawberry, and tasting a strawberry.  I encourage you to taste the strawberries this 2014!

To have a successful new year, simply string together a chain of successful months.  To have a successful month, string together a chain of successful hours: a chain of “now” moments.  For now is the time:

  • to apologise
  • to forgive
  • to make a change
  • to give thanks
  • to encourage
  • to pray
  • to choose love

The best thing that we can do to honour our past and prepare for our future is to live with everything we have in the present. This is your “Now” moment!

Phil

Watching the fireworks at Nelson Bay New Year's Eve. My friend Bruce to the left and Lenore to the right.
Watching the fireworks at Nelson Bay New Year’s Eve. My friend Bruce to the left and Lenore to the right.

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