Eavesdropping On Two Non-Christian Deathbeds

In the past week, two articles have given insights into how non-Christians face death, especially what thoughts they have as they look back on their past and look ahead to whatever may lie ahead.

A Good Doctor Dying a Good Death

The first one is Dr Oliver Sacks, a Jewish intellectual, a homosexual, at times an atheist, and “a great chronicler of medical oddities.” His posthumous volume Gratitude, written in the last year of his life and published in November, contains four essays on the theme of “What comes next?” In A Good Doctor Dying a Good Death, Jeremy Lott selects poignant extracts that read like a hopeless version of Ecclesiastes.

When contemplating his 80th birthday in relatively good health he said that he found it hard to take mortality too seriously:

“I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize that it is almost over.”

When he received his terminal diagnoses he wrote:

“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.” He decided to take stock, to write, to travel, to spend time with friends and loved ones, and to tune out anything “inessential” including NewsHour, politics, and global warming.

Towards the end of the book Sacks is “weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer” and still puzzling out “what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life.” His last words:

“I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

My Experience With Lymphoma

In this lengthy article, Harvard professor, Steven Kelman, also Jewish, shares some of the lessons about how he navigated the ups and downs of a life-changing diagnosis. What surprised him most was that he did not fall apart in connection with my diagnosis or treatment.

The strangest feature, not only of those first days but for much of the year that followed, was how preternaturally calm I felt. I am amazed I did not fall apart in connection with my initial diagnosis or the months of treatment that followed.

But it also revealed a darker side.

I also confronted less-flattering things about myself, including not having paid enough attention to friends or neighbors, and not doing enough volunteering. Both were related to obsession with work. I needed to decide how, if at all, I would change my life in what would I hoped would be my post-cancer world.

Part of this was the result of experiencing the kindness of friends.

There is no greater cliché about how people react to serious illness than to note how it makes one appreciate the importance of friends. But clichés become clichés for a reason. I would not say that before getting sick I ignored my friends, but, obsessed with work, I didn’t give them the attention they should have received….The only times I became tearful during these months came when I cried tears of joy in response to the kindness of friends and colleagues.

Some weeks after successful stem-cell treatment, Kelman is now cautiously beginning to look forward and planning on doing some of the good works he promised to do when in hospital:

I had done some volunteering before my illness, but not enough. When I got sick, volunteers from my synagogue often drove me to the hospital; I told myself that if I got better, I would volunteer for the synagogue’s cancer driving activity; three weeks ago, I called to sign up. I also will be speaking with a church in Cambridge about helping an immigrant child who doesn’t speak English at home. 

Contrast and Questions

When I read these articles I was struck by the contrast with so many Christian deathbeds that I’ve been present at. Yes, some Christians do look back with regret on parts of their lives, but they also know that all their sins, failings, shortcomings are covered with the blood of Christ. What a difference that makes to a person’s peace when dying. They don’t need to live longer to make up for the past with more good works in the future. Their record is clear, their conscience is clean.

I’m also intrigued by both men’s resolve to spend more time with friends and loved ones. That should be a warning to us all not to wait until it’s too late to cultivate and cherish such relationships.

And what do we make of Kelman’s preternatural calm? He explains part of it by the busyness of the treatments not giving him much time to think. But there was more to it than that. Clearly it wasn’t a calm built on Christian peace. Was it built on ignorance of what truly lay ahead? Was it God’s common grace to a man who had not sought or found God’s saving grace? Was it the Devil giving a false peace?

Lastly, when Dr Sacks said, “I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize that it is almost over,” I couldn’t help think that the dying Christian can say, “I often feel that life is about to end, only to realize that it’s really just about to begin.” It’s too late for Dr. Sacks, but I hope and pray that Dr. Kelman will find the friend of sinners and the peace of Christ.

Check Out


A special edition of Check out devoted to some recent posts at my Dad’s blog at rightwithgod.net. Food for the soul at the click of your mouse.

The Greatest Miracle of All
“There is no doubt that the creation of the human nature of Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary was the greatest miracle of all. There is nothing to compare with it. Indeed, it is not just a miracle, but an amazing intervention by God in the history of the world.”

Conceived in the Womb of a Sinner, yet without Sin.
“The birth of Jesus, which we make so much of at this time of year is a distorted emphasis. The birth itself was completely normal and natural.”

Another Year Begins.
A call to believers to run the race set before them by God.

The Big Issue for the Unbeliever for 2016
“There is nothing in this life more important than getting right with God, while we have opportunity.”

Redeeming the Time
An excellent reminder as the first month of 2016 starts to slip behind us.

Walking Carefully
“God is intensely, even fastidiously, interested in the way His child is living. There are many aspects to this. Today we will look at one of these aspects: Walking carefully.”

Kindle Deals

Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World by Ajith Fernando ($3.99)

H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. by Brad Lomenick ($3.99)

New Atheism: A Survival Guide by Graham Veale ($2.99)

New Book

History: A Student’s Guide (Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition) by Nathan A. Finn ($11.99)

12 Church Enemies

Every pastor will eventually have to face enemies within the church, people who are dedicated to damage and even destroy them. As these enemies have a range of motives and methods, and can be deadly if not recognized early, here’s a selection of the kinds of enemies that can be found in many churches (some belong to more than one category – some belong to all!)

Open Enemies: They are in-your-face, out-and-out, no-holds-barred, to-the-death enemies.

Secret Enemies: They undermine you and oppose you behind your back, in secret, in private conversations.

Procedural Enemies: They use ecclesiastical rules and procedure to tie you in knots, to obstruct you, to stymie proposals, to humiliate you in front of others.

Voting Enemies: They reserve their opposition for church courts and congregational meetings. No matter what you propose, they are against it. You could propose that “This Church believes in breathing” and you know you’ll have one vote in the “No” column.

Wounded Enemies: You crossed swords with them a few years ago, maybe a doctrinal argument or the discipline of a family member. Those wounds have never healed and now they are just waiting for the right time to exact vengeance.

Financial Enemies: There will almost always be somebody who thinks the pastor is earning too much or spending too much. Although these enemies are often some of the wealthier members, they love to cut the pastor’s salary or benefits.

Doctrinal Enemies: They oppose what you teach and use every opportunity to attack it and to spread the opposite message.

Liturgical Enemies: They like your doctrine but oppose the content or style of worship. They aren’t called “worship wars” for nothing.

Prove-me-right Enemies: They voted to call another pastor but lost. Now they’re just longing for you to fail so that they can be proven right.

Deserved Enemies: You wronged someone, you humiliated someone, you broke a promise to someone, you acted foolishly towards someone, you annoyed someone. Now they hate you. Your sin brought it upon you. You deserve to have these enemies. You earned them.

Campaigning Enemies: Not satisfied with being enemies on their own, they recruit others to their side and build an army of enmity.

Surprising Enemies: One minister told me that the couple who welcomed him and his family most at the beginning were the same ones at the vanguard of driving them out of the ministry some years later. They smothered them with love at first, then tried to smother them at the last.

Smiling Enemies: They rarely stop to talk with you, but simply flash an extra-stretch smile as they pass you. Their dagger eyes tell the true story.

I’m sure there are other enemies you can think of, but regardless of how many they are or what kind they are, we must respond in the same way — fury, retaliation, vengeance, imprecations, anathemas, fire and brimstone, waterboarding, and anything else that will cause them maximum pain for maximum time.

Eh, not quite.

“Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44-45).

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Having Trouble in Ministry? Just Face it. Literally
“I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full-time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), ‘Is it always like this?’ To which they lovingly responded, ‘It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.’ This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.”

Yes, Your Pastor Needs a Sabbatical
“Focused, intentional rest doesn’t come easy, because we have become addicted to productivity. Our inability to faithfully rest is due to a number of things, yet at the top of the list is an unhealthy drive to perform, control, and produce. The affects are that we can slowly begin to forget that God can keep things going without us.”

30 Pieces of Advice for the New Wife
This sweet post is from a 3-month-old wife. If you’ve been married for more than a few years or have kids, you’ll have a good laugh at the beautiful ideals!

Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God (Coming Soon!)
An upcoming book from Tim Challies and Josh Byers. “In this book, we have made the deepest truths of the Bible accessible in a way that can be seen and understood by a visual generation. We have prepared what we see as a theology of the Christian life, a book that explains the ‘now what?’ of living as a Christian. It is ideal for the new or seasoned believer.”

The Great Ebook Battle of 2016
Ebooks or print? Which do you prefer?

Handwriting Helps You Learn – Business Insider
“Typing is fast. Handwriting is slow. Weirdly, that’s precisely why handwriting is better suited to learning.”

Kindle Books

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin ($4.99)

The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Brian and Cara Croft ($3.99)

The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism by D. A. Carson ($3.99)

A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering
by Michael S. Horton ($3.99)

New Children’s Book

God’s Servant Job: A Poem with a Promise by Douglas Bond ($4.99 Kindle, $9.99 Paperback)


From Ivy League to Furniture Maker

A New Gold Standard For Seminaries

My oldest son, Allan, is off to US Marine boot camp in a couple of weeks. On Saturday, he persuaded us all to watch a PBS documentary on the US Marine training. I thought it would scare me witless and reduce Shona to tears. Instead, it was inspiring and encouraging, especially the part about the Officer Candidates School. In one section, Col. Robert Chase, Jr., Commanding Officer, Officer Candidates School, said this:

My job is to screen and evaluate potential candidates for being officers in the marine corps. I made a promise to every marine I’ve served with over 33 years that no one will walk across that grinder to graduate that I would not want to lead my son or my daughter. Simple as that. If I would not trust them with my child, I will not trust them with yours.

As the father of someone going in at the lowest rung, I found that comforting; but also challenging.

Because if that’s the standard for US Marine Officer Candidates School, should it not also be the standard of every Seminary training officers for the Church of Christ? Perhaps Faculties, Boards of Trustees, denominations, and federations should adopt that simple gold standard.

We will not let any student graduate that we would not want to lead our sons or our daughters. Simple as that. If we would not trust them with our own children’s souls, we will not trust them with yours. 

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Why Your Stubborn Kid Will Probably Be A Wildly Successful Adult
Well here’s some hope for the battle (just make sure your kids don’t read this one): “A study found that kids who ignored both rules and their parents grew up to earn higher salaries.”

Roe v. Wade — Abortion Won the Day, but Sooner or Later That Day Will End
You’ll need to steel yourself to read this, but the good news is that this author is now pro-life:

Twenty years ago, someone told me that, if the names of all those lost babies were inscribed on a wall, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the wall would have to stretch for 50 miles. It’s 20 years later now, and that wall would have to stretch twice as far. But no names could be written on it; those babies had no names. 

Women Manage The Home Better Than Men Do
Cows eat grass as well. This from a stay-at-home Dad:

This job is really hard, and our wives have always made it look effortless. When working full-time, men leave the house for at least 40 hours a week and, in that time, our wives are civilizing the kids, feeding us all, and keeping the house organized. When our kids call for mom they are not trying to undermine dad. They’re just calling for an expert.

Clarifications for Christ Centered Preaching
“When speaking about Christ-centered exposition, let’s make sure we are including the following six clarifications. ”

10 Things Pastors Will Think about as They Preach this Weekend
“I’ve preached most Sundays since April of 1981. You’d assume by now that I could simply focus on nothing but the Word when I’m preaching, but I still think about other things at the same time. Here are some of those things that I – and, I suspect, many other pastors – think about”

Prayer Societies
“How can we overcome obstacles and help stir one another up in prayer? One means I have learned from others and used over the years, with last night being the most recent, is to introduce the idea of Prayer Societies.”

Kindle Books

A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir by Collin Hansen $3.99. This is a hugely encouraging book.

The Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family, and the Digital World by Tim Challies $3.99.

PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace $3.99. A modern re-presentation of the doctrines of grace.


Memory Capacity Of Our Brains 10 Times What Was Previously Believed, Equal To Entire Internet
“The memory capacity of our brains may be 10 times what was previously believed, say scientists who’ve gained important insights into the size and extent of our neural connections.” This is a perfect graphical commentary on Psalm 139:14.