‘Beyond the Big C: Hope in the face of death’ by Jeremy Marshall

Beyond the Big C by Jeremy Marshall, 10 Publishing, 2019. £3.99 at 10 of Those (£1.75 each if you buy 10 copies).

Of course unbeknown to Jeremy there would be a new Big C in town, no longer is it Cancer but Coronavirus. Cancer has been (temporarily) usurped. I’ve always known Cancer as the Big C. (My Mum died of cancer, my sister-in-law died of cancer, and my wife died of cancer) Even with massive leaps forward in treatment and diagnosis I think most people would still see it like that. A cancer diagnosis is a solemn thing.

As for the book, I started reading it in bed one evening and finished it the next morning. It’s a very short book – 70 pages. No chapters but lots of helpful headings throughout. His honesty at the shock diagnosis and the fears he had, are, I think, really helpful. I thought his honesty was, and is refreshing. Non believers out there aren’t stupid and can detect insincerity at ten paces so it’s much better to be honest.

A strong and vibrant faith is not incompatible with being afraid. I’ve seen it. We don’t want to be afraid but it’s a powerful emotion. Here’s a successful man, a very capable man whose world is changed completely. What he finds is that Christ is right there with him in his suffering. I know what cancer treatment involves, having seen what my wife went through, and it isn’t pleasant!

Just a brief quote from page 45:

I long for my suffering friends to know that God has entered this sad, fallen, sinful world and he meets us right in the midst of our grief and sorrow.’

‘What we can offer – as well as compassion to those suffering from cancer or other terminal diseases – is the one thing that the world craves above all things: hope in the face of death. I love to tell people how the Lord has, by his death, defeated death.’

That does not mean having cancer for a Christian is a barrel of laughs – it isn’t. It’s tough. Really tough.

I like the way he challenges non-believers but without being aggressive or condescending. This is a great little book to give away or maybe leave (COVID regulations permitting) in a dentist or doctors waiting room. You probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that, but it’s a thought.

The Day Sue Died – 5 years today.

Today is a day like any other. Except it isn’t quite like any other, it has a certain poignancy to it. Five years ago today my beloved Sue died – my wife for 32 years. My recurring diary entry for today says ‘The day Sue died and my world collapsed.’ It certainly felt like it had collapsed. Death will touch all of our lives, sometimes as a quiet intruder, sometimes as a violent house invasion. However it comes, it leaves a mark. Sometimes it’s a trail of destruction.

When someone precious dies, you don’t get over it or move on. (How I hate those most unhelpful and cruel phrases). You don’t forget but you can move forward. Sue didn’t want me to mope around but to enjoy my life. I did do plenty of moping around but with help from dear friends and our three children I have moved forward.

The biggest help in my life – and the cause of all the helps – is my God and Saviour. In the providence of God He has provided Sandra (herself a widow) complete with her family – who incidentally I love very much.

The Grace of God is a very wonderful and very real thing.

Sue hadn’t been gone long and life without her was really hard. I remember going to a History Lecture (as I do) and a remarried widow there said to me ‘Mike, it might not seem like it just now, but it does get easier.’ No, it didn’t seem like it at the time. But after 5 years, I can tell you, that for me, it has got easier. But I know for some that it hasn’t got easier at all. Each day is really really tough. Frankly, I don’t know what to say, but if I were with you I’d give you a big hug and say nothing. And probably cry with you. The Lord has brought you this far. Look up and see Christ seated on His throne. And if you aren’t a Christian perhaps for the first time look up for His help. If you are a Christian, as hard as it is, keep looking up.

So today, again, I raise my Ebenezer and say ‘Hitherto has The Lord helped me.’

Kind author and ground of my hope.
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow:
my glad Ebenezer set up,
and own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
wherein my defence Thou hast proved;
nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
a sinner so signally loved!
(Augustus Montague Toplady, 1740-78)
It would have been Sue’s birthday on Wednesday and for the last four years my daughter and I have gone out for the day. This year will be slightly different because of you know what. So we’re thinking to stay local and have a meal together and that will be nice. It will be a happy time. Some sadness, but happy too.

Jesus: The Great Physician

Not sure why this came to mind but I remember going to see the Oncologist back in January 2015 with my wife Sue. She had been given the all clear of a previous cancer and although I’ve no idea why, as the treatment was quite brutal, we were hopeful she would come through the treatment. Not so the second time. Again, I’ve no idea why, other than a feeling, but I remember well that we were not expecting good news. This time we did not have high expectations. Rather the opposite.

Then the meeting came. The doctor had all his notes, tests, and scan results. The news was not good. Sue was not expected to see Christmas. She didn’t. By November 23rd she was with Christ which is far better.

The doctor was the expert, he had been monitoring her condition for some time. He had all the expertise, the training, all the knowledge and all the test results. With heavy hearts we accepted the diagnosis, and the prognosis. Sue had to face the reality of leaving this world. As we all must sooner or later. I very clearly recall the drive home.

We go to the doctor and for the most part we accept the diagnosis: no matter how bad. The doctors usually know what they are doing.

But when faced with the diagnosis, and prognosis of Jesus the Great Physician we ignore it, laugh about it, mock Him, and resolutely refuse to believe it is true. You know the diagnosis. You, like me, and everyone else are sinners. We are fallen. We are under the judgement of a Holy God. The prognosis is eternal ruin.

Why O why, when the one who knows absolutely everything about you in all its sordid detail, your hopes and fears, your failures, all the self-righteousness, and every facet of your life you choose to ignore him? In Sue’s case the doctor could only offer another 6 months and that after a very severe and brutal round of cancer treatment. (Incidentally, Sue opted for palliative care only). The Lord Jesus is able to offer what the oncologist or any other doctor cannot.

The Son of God, The Lord Jesus Christ offers you Eternal Life, the Forgiveness of sins, Peace with God and you reject his offer out of hand. Even when The Lord Jesus bore the Cross instead of sinners, when ‘His blood can make the foulest clean’: still you reject him. This is a blindness, a madness even that only God can cure. Call upon him to have mercy upon you. Ask him to open your eyes. Turn in repentance and faith towards the Son of God, Jesus, the friend of sinners. Jesus, The Great Physician!

 

Four Christian Books & Booklets on Grieving

There are many many Christian books and booklets on grieving. Some are more helpful than others. I was given seven to review. Having read them I’ve ended with the four below. These are my thoughts.

Reviewing them is difficult because grieving is such an individual thing but most of us are going to go through this process sooner or later to some degree or another. There is no getting round that. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that the grieving person needs friends that know them well. This came out in one of the books:

“After my tragedy, a lot of people wanted to minister to me, and in some cases they were people I didn’t know well. But this just isn’t the time to be making new friends. It’s a time you want to be surrounded by the people you are already close with.” For All Who Grieve, p. 89 & 90.

Booklets can be quite helpful, especially if you don’t know what to say. They let us express our sorrow for the grieving person without having to say anything. Just don’t keep asking them if they’ve read the one you gave them as if it’s the most important one of all. It isn’t. They might never read it but they’ll still appreciate it and remember the kindness.

People mean well. But they don’t always say or do helpful things. Booklets are the same. They won’t all be suitable for everyone and it may be that a combination of books or booklets will be most helpful. No one book can say it all. If you are going to give someone that’s grieving a book then make sure you read it first. For example, I’d appreciate the kindness, but giving me something that was full of things I didn’t believe wouldn’t be helpful, I’d only find it annoying. But then, it might provoke useful thought. There you go. Is there a right or wrong – no idea. Just try not to batter people.

The reality of church life means there will be Christians at various stages of grief. That is true of any church and is true where I’m a member. Death doesn’t come in a neat packaged order. You don’t have to be old to ‘go the way of all the earth’ as Joshua said and is shown so well in ‘For All Who Grieve.’ So there is wisdom in preparing for what all of us will eventually experience. Nothing, apart from God himself, can prepare us for it. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it and just stoically get on with life. No, we are Christians, so we can and should prepare as best we can with the resources God has given us. These, and books like them can help us. There’s a lot of doctrine in the following books. So don’t let anyone tell you doctrine is of no practical use! Here are the four books then, in no particular order.


‘How Can I Grieve to God’s Glory?’ by Ryan M. McGraw, Reformation Heritage Books, 2019. (£2.50) This little booklet of 28 pages is based on Lamentations ch 3 where the sin of Israel has brought judgement. Because of Adam’s sin, and our own sin, we live in a fallen world. But on page 4 it’s not clear if it’s a specific personal sin that causes the death of a loved one. This could, I think, have been phrased differently. It was unhelpful and I nearly didn’t read on. However, by the end I thought the booklet had many good points and in several places is very helpful. For example,

‘Like him (Jeremiah) Christians must walk by faith in their grief (Lam. 3:19-38). We are thinking and believing Christians, and how we think and what we meditate on during our trials largely determines how we bear them by faith in Christ.’ p.9.

Another good point is that the author doesn’t shy away from God’s Sovereignty. If The Lord is truly Lord of all, He’s Lord of what’s happening to us, including the death of our loved ones. This is an important point. The booklet is doctrinally correct but some might think it lacks warmth. That said, it is very well worth reading. There’s a lot in this that we need to hear but in the wrong hands it could be used as a cudgel.

The grieving believer needs these truths but like some medicines they need to be administered with care. I would recommend reading this, but with caution. Would I give it to someone in the depths of grief? I’m not sure.


‘Grief: Finding Hope Again’ by Paul David Tripp, New Growth Press, 2010. (£3.99) This booklet by Paul Tripp is helpful and is the shortest at 24 pages. And short can be really helpful. I would have no problem giving this to a Christian. He’s quite straight, but is perhaps a little more compassionate. For example, this sort of honesty is good to bear in mind,

‘Whether death results from a sudden accident or a long illness, it catches us unprepared. Death is so deeply emotional and stunningly final that there is nothing you can do ahead of time to sail through your moment of loss.’ p. 5.

There are some good, but brief, strategies for dealing with the peculiar temptations grief brings with it. It doesn’t go into much depth, so that alone could be helpful when your grief-stricken brain isn’t working correctly. This booklet is a good place to start.


‘Grief: Walking with Jesus’, Bob Kellemen, P & R Publishing, 2018. (£7.99) This is a 31 day devotional reading plan.

I struggled at first with this book but then I warmed to it. I wasn’t overly keen on some aspects but by the end I was personally glad to have read it, and thought how useful it could be. It’s real and warm but also challenging. I could see it helping to maintain or establish a regular time in the scriptures. I would have no problem giving this away. The three studies each on Lazarus and Gethsemane for example were excellent. At the end of each reading there are items for reflection or things to do. For some, in the midst of raw grief, giving them stuff to do too soon might not be helpful. But then, for others, maybe they need to stop for a few minutes to reflect. It really helps to know the person.

‘Grief is a journey. But you and I know that it’s not a straight line from one point to another. The messy, mixed-up journey of grief that zigs and zags from hills to valleys, from valleys to hills, is not a nice, neat process.’  P.17.

This is the sort of honesty that is so helpful because there isn’t a magic bullet that suddenly makes everything well. There just isn’t. But The Lord Jesus is with us in it. No matter how messy it gets.

One reading was on justice and at first it seemed strange for that to be in here. But if the death of your loved one came about through medical incompetence or violence or a myriad of other issues the desire for justice is understandably going to be very strong. And it might be just to peruse it. The author doesn’t by-pass these emotions but we are helped and challenged to deal with them by bringing them to the Lord.

When is the best time to give it to someone in the midst of their grief? I don’t know. It wouldn’t do any harm even if they didn’t get round to reading it until some time later.

One other use for this could be to read it through as a group or even as a church.


‘For All Who Grieve: Navigating the Valley of Sorrow and Loss’ by Colin S. Smith, 10 Publishing, 2020. (£9.99) Hardback 140 pages. This last one is the longest and looked formidable. Would I have tackled it in the midst of grief? I don’t know. But the text is easy to read with breaks and headings and text boxes that keep it from becoming just a wall of text. I opened it with a bit of trepidation and I was hooked. I didn’t want to put it down.

This book is also based on the book of Lamentations. He (the author) was called out to a couple whose son was suddenly killed and from this he started a group that met to discuss together their grief – some from 18 years previous. The book is made up of shared experiences (testimonies) of (mainly) couples from the group with comments and exposition after each testimony by the author.

The six chapter titles are TEARS, TALK, GUILT, GRIEVANCE, HOPE & HEALING with a Postscript and an Appendix on ‘Children who die in infancy. (The testimonies are mostly about the death of children – one of 27 days.) After each chapter there’s a page of ‘Questions for Reflection and Discussion.’ Scary. There is raw honesty here. We don’t get all our questions answered and even after many years the grief is still painful. I found it helpful. The testimony to the love and faithfulness of God is wonderful. Christ really is the answer. But it’s through many many tears. The chapter on ‘Grievance’ is actually about having a grievance with God. The care of God is unbelievable. So amazing!

‘Why did God breathe out a book filled with complaints and grievances against Himself? Surely it is because He wants us to bring our grievance to Him’ p. 76.

One section in the Grievance chapter is on ‘Did God Cause This or Did He Just Let it Happen?’ The book tackles hard questions.

Would a ‘sharing’ group like this work in every church? I don’t know. Would it work in our church in the UK? Again, I don’t know. I do think ministers and elders should read it though. Or if you want to try and understand grief then you should read it. I found it refreshing and encouraging.

It’s a book with great heartache and sadness but it’s not a gloomy book. There’s grief and there’s hope together.

I highly recommend this book.


There are some topics that are interesting to read but may have little relevance to our lives. Death and grieving isn’t one of them. Frankly, it could do us all a lot of good to read books like these in order to further prepare us and our churches for the difficult days ahead that will surely come.

Death, Suffering and The Compassion of Jesus

I’ve been going through nearly 200 unpublished draft posts. I came across this one and decided to post it. The draft was dated 30th October 2015. That’s about a month before Sue died. I pray this will be of some help as you read this.


It’s easy to read the Scriptures and miss so much of their richness. Although commentators are useful and wonderful gifts to the Church they don’t always tell everything that’s happening in a passage of the Bible. A case in point is when the disciples come to tell Jesus that John the Baptist had died. The passage is from Matthew 14: 1-12. Thinking of verse 12:

‘And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.’

It had never occured to me before, but why did Jesus withdraw to a lonely place?

‘Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.’ Mat 14:13

Various views might be that His time was not yet, or that if we fill in the narrative from the other Gospels there are a few things happening. The Disciples come back from their evangelistic mission exclaiming how  the spirits are subject to them and that many have been healed. But could it be that Jesus is grieving the loss of His friend and cousin John.

Could Jesus have prevented the death of John. Of course. Jesus could have brought down a fiery judgement upon the head of that wicked man Herod. But He didn’t. What then about the executioner who upon delivering the fateful blow was only obeying orders. Could Jesus have delivered John from the axeman. Of course. What about Herodias and her wicked mother? Could Jesus have foiled their terrible conspiracy to silence righteous John? Of course.

Even in the light of the knowledge that King Jesus could have prevented all, yet permitted all, nevertheless, Jesus grieved over the death of John the preacher of righteousness. Suffering, is often cited as the achilles heal of the Christian faith. But is it really an achilles heel? As Jesus telescopes down history to the final judgement when Herod and all those responsible for the death of John will face another judgement. On that last day the friend of sinners will be the Judge on His throne. We may know it now, but then, it will be seen by all that Jesus does all things well.

‘And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”’ Mark 7:37

 

The Arrogance of Man & The Mercy of God.

The Coronavirus is upon us. I regularly monitor and to keep up to date with its progress via a statistics page. It’s a world event. Hardly a country is untouched. President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson have made their pronouncements and promises to end the progress of the virus. I admit that that is eventually what will happen – perhaps. But it won’t be because man has conquered an unseen enemy. It certainly won’t be because of any world leader. The only reason the progress of the virus will be halted is down entirely to the grace of God. That’s right. The Grace of God. Searching for a Vaccine is right and helping to limit its progress is something we all need to do. That’s the responsible thing to do. And we all play our part, however small. There is no inconsistency with the sovereignty and power of God and our acting responsibly.

A friend emailed me the other day and suggested Boris call for the Nation to beseech God to stay his hand in judgment. Will that happen? Unlikely. In the event the virus is stopped, a vaccine found and lives are saved – does that mean people are no longer going to die? No. It simply means people will die by another means. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (the final judgment)…) The message is that we will all die by some means. We die because we are sinners. As sinners we live a fallen world. The Coronavirus shouts that reality to us. Are we listening?

Where did the virus originate? Many speculate the answer to that. I’ve no doubt many Christians will answer by saying the virus has been sent by God as judgment as my friend suggested. Maybe so.

‘There is no question in the Hebrew or NT mind that plagues are part of the judgment God sends to individuals, families, and nations. God himself threatens to send plagues to the Israelites in proportion to their sins (Lv 26:21) and takes full responsibility for the Egyptian plagues (Jos 24:5). The OT plagues demonstrated God’s control over the processes of nature just as do Christ’s miracles in the NT.’

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Plague. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 1698–1699). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Is the Coronavirus a judgement from God then. It’s a question we should ask.

If it is a judgment, the Virus is also a mercy.

Psa 101:1 A Psalm of David. ‘I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. (AV)’

Not only a judgment but a mercy. How can a virus that is killing thousands be a mercy?

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

The mercy is that it causes us to look up. That is to look to God for deliverance. Yet man in rebellion towards his creator will look anywhere rather than look to God for deliverance. The message to ancient Israel comes down the centuries to us in our modern technological proud arrogant age. That message is to repent and call upon The Lord for mercy and salvation.

Eze 18:31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
Eze 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.

It was the message of The Lord Jesus. It’s still his message through his church:

Mar 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,
Mar 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Will you look up. Never mind what others will say. Will you call upon God for salvation through Christ? Will you receive the mercy offered by a Gracious God?

Christians are caught up in the present Coronavirus. We don’t get a free pass. But there’s a difference. Because the gospel ‘…. has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2Ti 1:10)….’

Maybe the Virus will eventually disappear. But the concern you have for what will happen when you die will also disappear. But the fact of your own death will not. The abolition of death is only for those whose faith and trust is in The Lord Jesus Christ. Will you trust Christ? Will you repent and believe the Gospel?

The Dead can do Nothing

On Saturday evening at Ebenezer’s 50th Church anniversary weekend; Dr Eryl Davies gave a most striking illustration on Eph 2:1  ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.’

It went something like this:

‘Some of you,’ he said, ‘have stood over the body of a loved one, maybe you were crying, but no matter how much you wanted that loved one to be alive, they are dead.’

And they stay dead.

It’s an extremely powerful image. I’ve stood over the bodies of several dead loved ones. I can tell you, it’s a sobering experience. So his illustration wasn’t lost on me, or on others.

The point he went on to make is that only the Spirit of God can bring life to the sinner. The Bible speaks very plainly that spiritually by nature we are dead. The problem is that unbelievers think they are very much alive.

The Apostle Paul goes on to say that ‘we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:3)’ That is the position of the person without Christ. All seems well and Christians appear to be the most foolish people on earth. The reality is very different. Unbelievers are described in a variety of ways. Dead, darkened in their understanding, blind, ignorant, hard-hearted and many more. In other words, it’s a hopeless situation. There is no flicker of life.

Those of us that are Christians recognise that description because it describes where we were. (Our redemption is not yet complete. We know we have black hearts.) What happened?

Eph 2:4  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

Eph 2:5  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

God stepped in. There’s no room for pride or any sense of achievement.

Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Eph 2:9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

So how does a dead person, a walking dead person, become alive? Well, he certainly doesn’t do it to himself as the above illustration so clearly demonstrates. God does it. God makes us alive and grants the gift of repentance and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ. And He normally works through something similar to what you have just read. That is, the proclamation of the Gospel. This is why it is SO important to be in a church where the Gospel of the grace of a God in Christ is regularly preached.

How can you become alive? Or how can you be saved? Read how this happened to a hardened jailer in the 1st Century.

Act 16:29  And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

Act 16:30  Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Act 16:31  And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Or as Jesus Himself put it:

Mar 1:15 …. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Go to The House of Mourning

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth (or house of pleasure NIV & NASB) (Ecc 7:4).

These words come at the end of a short passage that puts before us two quite distinct attitudes of the heart.

Ecc 7:1  A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.
Ecc 7:2  It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
Ecc 7:3  Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
Ecc 7:4  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Most people perhaps view these verses as utter folly: which is quite ironic considering Ecclesiastes is contrasting folly and wisdom throughout. In verse 4 it speaks about the heart. The heart is in the house of mourning or the house of mirth or pleasure. Verse two does speak of an activity – going somewhere. To put it in the language of today we’re either going to a funeral or going down the pub. As you well know, in our culture, one tends to foolishly follow the other.

As you get older you go to more funerals. In fact, I’m going to one on Tuesday. These often aren’t places we would normally choose to attend. But the writer doesn’t say that; he says out of the two it’s better to go to the house of mourning. Faced with this stark choice how many of us would choose to attend a funeral. But here Solomon (the author), tells us what we all know, namely, that ‘death is the destiny of everyone.’ And just this morning, the news came that a member of the church here experienced that very destiny. Yes, death will come upon us all. Solomon doesn’t say don’t go to the house of pleasure. He says it’s better, or wiser, to be in the house of mourning. I’m quite sure the funeral I will attend on Tuesday will be followed by refreshments: where there is an opportunity to apply Solomon’s counsel and ‘lay it (death) to heart.’ It’s not wrong to celebrate, a wedding or birth for example. But if the two (celebration or mourning) were set side by side, Solomon tells us it would be better, more profitable that is, to be in the house of mourning.

Why is it better to go to the house of mourning? We most clearly see ‘the end of all mankind.’ We see our own end. We see the ruin that sin has caused. When our first parents disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit, their disobedience plunged our whole world, and everyone that was to be born, into death. They brought the judgment of God upon the whole world. We see this. We know this. We see the frailty of the human condition. We see the very best and very worst of people die. There it is, placed before us in stark reality – our end. Solomon says, the living, us, will lay it to heart. That is, take it seriously. To consider it. To think deeply about it. To consider our end. But so often we are far too quick to be down the Pub. There is sorrow. Of course, there is sorrow and sadness. But we shouldn’t be so quick to drown out the opportunity to ‘lay it to heart.’ It’s understandable to drown out our sorrows, but it’s folly to drown out the reality of our end. It is especially the height of folly to drown out the voice of God. It is folly to ignore The Gospel.

From the house of mourning, we learn something. From the house of feasting, we learn very little. But if we aren’t actually in the house of mourning, according to Solomon that’s where our heart needs to be. Because that’s wise. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. What does it mean though for our hearts to be in the ‘house of mourning.’ It must surely mean we are conscious of our mortality and that we must depart this life. It means we are conscious that we must meet God and stand before His judgment seat. As Paul says: …. we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10).’ The Scripture tells us ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Pro 9:10).’ The mind of the one whose heart is in the house of mourning contemplates Eternal Realities. We come into the world as sinners under the Judgement of God. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:3 we are ‘by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’

We are born in the house of feasting without a thought of God, or of Christ or of Eternal Realities. One reality is this: found in 1 Cor 2:14;

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The need is to not be natural but spiritual. But we are born ‘dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1).’ What we need is life. Ironically, we find out about true life by going to the house of mourning. But here in the house of mourning, we also find the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died that we might have life. So Jesus says:

Joh 10:10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Joh 10:11  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The Good Shepherd (Jesus) says:

Mat 11:28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Will you come to Him?

In Memoriam – Sue Iliff 1955 – 2015

Picture: Aberystwyth 2008.

Three years ago today Sue, my wife of 32 years went to be with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I have absolutely no doubts about where she is, so she isn’t lost. She has joined that happy holy Blood Bought throng to praise God without the burden of a sinful nature. I hesitate to say she has died and I still balk at saying j have lost her.

I’m thankful to my friend Pastor Robert Briggs. He told me three years ago that ‘my own personal walk with God would get me through.’ He was absolutely right. Not that I take credit, but rather give glory to the keeping power of Christ.

I have a small group of friends that have stuck by me over the years. I’m thankful for them.

And I give thanks to God for my children, grandchildren, and family and for Sandra.

My testimony is that God has been utterly faithful and has continued to bless me, unworthy as I am, over these past three years. He has kept me and has preserved me. His Mercy’s are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness Lord to me!

The fact is we will ALL leave this life and enter eternity. That eternity will be a world of unutterable joy with Christ or a world of unutterable misery without Christ, again in the presence of Christ, but Christ the Judge. As Joshua said ‘…. choose this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15.

This hymn came to my mind this morning about the death of Sue and for every Christian.

It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.

It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake, in glorious repose,
To spend eternal years.

It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty.

It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust
And rise, on strong exulting wing
To live among the just.

Jesus, Thou Prince of Life,
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife
To reign with Thee on high.

H. A. Cesar Malan, 1787 – 1864 (?).
Translated by: George W. Bethune, 1805 – 62 (?).

‘Grieving, Hope and Solace’ by Al Martin – A Review

I recommended ‘Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a loved one dies In Christ‘ by Al Martin two years ago (almost to the day) but that was only on reading the first chapter. At long last, I have finished it. When I first started the book the grieving was still quite raw. It’s taken me these two years to read it maybe because I completely entered into the author’s own experience.

I don’t think on a practical level, for me, it’s quite as helpful as the book by James White. Al Martin’s book though is answering a different question. The book is focused on dealing with the bereavement of a spouse and is asking ‘What happens to a Christian loved one when they die?’ He not only answers that question but shows the relevance of that knowledge to the here and now for the grieving spouse.

The book (my copy) was first published by Cruciform Press in 2011 and written several years after his wife died, based on a series of sermons he preached soon after she died. It’s a short book at just 116 pages as this usually needs to be. it’s easy to read with short chapters with several headings for each chapter. There are only a few endnotes but with lots of scripture references throughout. It’s divided into Four Parts with a total of 13 Chapters plus a preface. Although there’s a lot of theology I definitely entered into his grief. It touched a lot of nerves for me. I’m grateful for that.

My copy is full of notes, underlining and asterisks. I can only mention a few things. The reality of his grief is evident. He doesn’t hide it. This paragraph from page 21 I thought was very helpful.

‘The idea here is not that if we truly obey these verses, we will no longer suffer the pain of loss. In my best efforts to fix my thoughts on the things above, I still felt the pain of my wife’s absence. Rather, in the midst of our grief (Italics are his) – which can be painful, sorrowful, lengthy, and at times even debilitating – the kind of grieving that brings glory to God nevertheless includes a grace-motivated determination, in obedience to these verses, to direct our thoughts to the things above. This both glorifies God and helps to ease – not eliminate – the pain and sorrow of our grief.’ (The verses he is referring to are Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3: 1-2.)

Then this from page 95 & 96:

Few things more quickly and effectively snap some of the shackles that bind us to this world than does the death of a dearly loved one. Tenderly holding their lifeless form in our arms, or wistfully looking as they lie in a coffin, such experiences become powerful voices. These voices call out, urging us to obtain the wisdom that alone can enable us to live as those who “number our days.”

There are three sections in Chapter 10 (God’s Purposes In Us Through This Death) that I noted by writing Vital!!! Couldn’t be overstated!

The headings are: We Have Opportunity to Grow in Fellowship (page 93). For this, I had in mind some very special people who helped immensely during Sue’s illness and after she had died. Also: The Word of God comes more Vividly Alive (page 94). This is so true. The Scripture becomes alive in a completely new and fresh way. And: We Become More Heavenly Minded (page 94). Heaven is close.

There’s an extremely poignant paragraph at the beginning of that chapter where I wrote the following in the margin: I have no doubt about this. This was upon my mind very early on. However, it made me feel responsible for her death. I realise I’m not. But even so…. This is the paragraph I was responding to:

‘When a servant of God prays from the heart, “Lord, do whatever you need to do to me and in me to make me a better shepherd of your people,” we have no idea how God will answer. For me, such a prayer was answered in part by God’s severe mercy in taking Marilyn from me. (page 85)’

A severe mercy. Indeed so. I’m not a shepherd but God will sanctify His people. In all honesty, as I’m writing this and looking through the book at my notes and underlinings I realise how helpful the book has been. It helps enormously to have your own experience confirmed. Not everyone can enter into it with you but this author, for me, has done that. And for that, I’m truly thankful. I’m sure he will do that for others. Not for everyone, but it will help some. Maybe it will help you.

The only parts of the book I found unhelpful and that jarred with my own experience is how perfect his wife was through her illness right up until her death. Sue wasn’t like that, and yet I think for all her struggles with dying she displayed the grace of God in a way that wouldn’t have been possible had she been so perfect. Obviously, I can’t criticise Al Martin’s wife Marilyn for dying so well (by the grace of God in that way). My note in the book reads: ‘We must not make these things the norm, wonderful though it is.‘ I’m glad that was her testimony. I just don’t think that is the experience of most people. As Christians, we don’t want to admit how hard dying is. Death is the final enemy. And it is horrible. Really horrible. So in Sue’s dying, I saw a paradox. I saw how hard it was for us both, especially for her, and yet I saw the grace of God displayed through her in a truly remarkable manner. That glorified God I believe.

The book closes with a Gospel message that tells it straight but points to the only hope. That hope is found in The Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who has conquered death.

I still recommend the book. I do wonder about the recommendations that come on the cover with this type of book. Do they know anything of what the author is talking about? I think the answer is often, no they don’t. That’s just my opinion, as all this is. There is so much in the book, not a word is wasted. Ministers of the Gospel ought to read it as they are going to encounter grief in their people. The book will help prepare you. Grief is such a personal thing. I’m not sure it would be the first book I’d reach for to give to a grieving spouse, but then it depends who it’s for. It’s not a touchy-feely book, but it is real. Above all, we need the reality of Christ and His Word and His presence. This book by God’s grace will help. Order it from your local Bookshop.

I’d love the opportunity to speak with the author.