It’s Terminal

In the Hospital Sick Male Patient Sleeps on the Bed. Heart Rate Monitor Equipment is on His Finger.

I was a trainee GP sat in the living room of an elderly couple. They were in their 80s. I was 60 years their junior and equipped with the peculiar overconfidence that is the unique possession of the newly qualified. What I knew, but he didn’t, was that he had an inoperable stomach cancer. My task was to explain the diagnosis and tell him he was dying.

I was, of course, anticipating a difficult conversation. What I hadn’t expected was that, when we got to it, the word death would get physically stuck in my throat. I stammered and stuttered and, somehow, we muddled on through. Death, it turned out, was very much easier to talk about in a Bible study than with a man who was actually dying.

The d-word

Ten years as a doctor and 20 as a pastor has meant lot of d-word conversations – what lessons have I learnt? First, every situation is different. And our support of those facing death must reflect that. We’d do well to learn from Jesus. Arriving in Bethany after the death of Lazarus in John 11, Jesus meets Lazarus’s two sisters in turn. Both have faced exactly the same bereavement. And both speak exactly the same words – ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. Yet Jesus’s response to each couldn’t be more different. Martha gets a little theology (John 11:23-27). Mary gets emotions and tears (John 11:33-35). Different people really do need different things and Jesus, the master-counsellor, knew that.

So, if you want principles, then here is one: be very suspicious of articles that tell you how to talk to those facing death! Attend to the person who is dying. Let them guide the style and pace of any conversation. A no-nonsense, no punches pulled, conversation that worked really well with one person may be an utter disaster with the next.

Opening the Bible

We should certainly overcome our inhibitions and talk about death, but we should do so at their pace. There is plenty of scripture to turn to. The Psalms will be particularly helpful: the experience of mingled fear and hope in Psalm 61 or 63 or the resounding confidence of Psalm 103 or 121. From the New Testament we might turn to passages that speak of resurrection hope (Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 15; Hebrews 13:20-21) or the many words of hope spoken by Jesus himself (eg John 4:13-14; 11:25; 14:1-6). But always turn to scripture in a way that opens up conversations, rather than shuts them down. Beware doctrinal declarations that function as a kind of intellectual defence against the realities of pain and suffering. Let’s face it: a dispassionate reading of 1 Corinthians 15 is generally a lot less demanding than sharing pain and weeping real tears. But that’s what we are called to.

Six tips

But with all that said, here are six things which (depending on your role and relationship to the dying person) may be worth remembering:

1. Facilitate conversations: are there others among their family and friends they would really like to talk to and can you help them achieve that? Or would they like help in talking to health professionals and getting information? Could you offer to go with them to an appointment?

2. Is there unfinished business? A broken friendship to restore? A family hurt to forgive? A confession to make? Death often raises such issues.

3. Are there messages to leave behind? A parent might write letters or record messages for their children to receive on their 18th birthday. A parent with very young children might record some personal memories or leave mementos to help their children to know them.

4. Have they spoken about financial arrangements? It’s surprising how often everyone assumes someone else will deal with this, and in the end no one does.

5. Has someone helped them think about end-of-life care? Or funeral arrangements? You may not be the right person to do this, but don’t assume those questions have been discussed.

6. And last, but very obviously not least, what questions do they have about the provision of Christ and how do they want to think those things through? Arranging to read the Bible together regularly is often much better than a one-off blitz! It usually takes time (and trust) for questions to emerge.

So, after 30 years, does the d-word still stick in my throat? Yes, it does. And I hope it always will. For if that stops happening, it will mean I have begun to forget the pain of the person in front of me and begun to detach myself from it. And that won’t do, because, to adapt the title of an excellent book, ‘Brothers and sisters, we are not professionals’.

More about Biblical Counselling UK is available at or you can contact them at or c/o Christ Church, Christchurch Street, Cambridge CB1 1HT

Held captive for Christ

COUNTING THE COST: Kidnapped in the Niger Delta
By David & Shirley Donovan
Christian Focus. 220 pages. £9.99
ISBN 978 1 527 103 061
Buy online from Amazon

countingcostDavid and Shirley Donovan, medical missionaries in the Niger Delta, were living for Christ. Doing vital work in a dangerously volatile part of the world, they had already left all to Him. But on 13 October 2017 the cost of so doing was taken to a new level.

This is the gripping account of a kidnapping. It is outrageous, terrifying, and the writing is graphic. You can smell the swamp, hear the jungle insects. If you have ever mused in your armchair with your slippers on and a mug of tea in your hand what it is like to be taken hostage by a bunch of murderous, drug-taking thugs with absolutely no scruples, this story will take you there – so be careful with that tea. Or if you have ever tried to find the words to pray for brothers and sisters in captivity for Christ’s sake, this book will show you how.

This book has two enthralling stories. The first concerns the facts about the kidnapping and the experience of being a hostage. But the second is the inner story of what was going on in the hearts and minds of those taken captive. The experience made these brave believers question many things and engage in some deep heart struggles. They write: ‘For so many, faith remains a cerebral assent to an intellectual theology. Lying exhausted and soaked upon this remote, hidden platform with men of no moral compass and with no way out, and intellectual understanding of the claims of Jesus Christ simply will not do.’

They discovered, as we all must, that living for Christ means changing on the inside. They found that unforgiveness was ‘a burden they could not carry’, and they struggled and learned to consciously every day ‘put down the sin of hatred’. They found ways to surprise their captors with compassion and hope. They who had given up so much for Christ faced squarely the question ‘Is Christ enough?’ Salutary questions for us all.

Abkhazia: Beacon of light


War-torn Abkhazia, a partially recognised republic of Georgia, has seen a number of children coming to Christ in recent months.

Many in the area are involved with crime and suicide attempts are frequent. Children also live under the spiritual oppression of the pagan traditions. In such conditions, the teenage club at the church is a beacon of light for teenagers in the town. It is a place for children to develop, learn new things, and spend quality time together.

A team of OM students have partnered in the mission work there. They formed friendships with the children and organised children’s ministry twice a week.

One local child was ten-year-old Tamila,* who got very curious. Sometimes she took a Bible and sat next to the students. She was perplexed by a book without pictures.

After prayer one evening, Tamila suddenly whispered: ‘I really want to be like you, be a Christian. What should I do for it?’

The students shared the gospel and suggested she pray. Tamila called on God: ‘I know that Jesus loves me so much, and died for my sins.’

Now Tamila likes to read the Bible with the students one-on-one. It has become the most important and precious thing for her. She takes it everywhere.

One day Tamila left her jacket at the church, and when her mother came to pick it up, she said: ‘My daughter has several jackets, and there is a Bible in each of them.’

* name changed.

Relativity and Reality


We live in the age of relativism. It may not have started in 1919, but it certainly received a big fillip in that year.

It’s 100 years since the first experimental evidence confirmed Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and somehow, to the popular mind, that gave the signal that all of life is relative.

Special and General

Einstein Special Theory, published in 1905, uncovered the link between mass and energy. But his General Theory gave us a new way of seeing space and time. In particular it implied that the geometry of the universe is distorted by mass. On 29 May 1919, Arthur Eddington observed a solar eclipse from the small island of Principe, off the coast of West Africa. He took photographs which, he claimed after months of painstaking deliberation, showed that light from the distant Hyades cluster of stars, had been bent on passing the sun by 1.70 seconds of arc.

This was announced at a joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society at Burlington House, Piccadilly, the following November. Sir Frank Dyson, the Astronomer Royal, concluded: ‘After a careful study of the [photographic] plates I am prepared to say that there can be no doubt that they confirm Einstein’s prediction.’ The announcement changed more than science. Back in April this year the first composite photo of a black hole was unveiled by scientists, bringing further proof of Einstein’s theory.

God and Einstein

Though Einstein did not believe in God, he was sceptical of atheism. He would speak of the Creator as ‘the eternal riddle-setter’. He wrote of his own ‘rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection’.1One has to reflect that it seems enormously strange that we humans who have supposedly only recently evolved by chance from the primeval sludge are able to understand and appreciate such things!

And here is something else worth reflecting on. The gravitational physicist Charles Misner comments on Einstein like this: ‘I do see the design of the universe as an essentially religious question. One should have respect and awe for the whole business. It’s very magnificent… In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organised religion although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what preachers said about God and felt they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty [in the cosmos] than they ever imagined and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that religions he had run across did not have a proper respect for the author of the universe.’2 There’s a challenge to our ‘seeker friendly’ churches.


Essential to Einstein’s approach was his recognition of our limitations as human beings. He adopted what might be called ‘observational democracy’. He realised that, as observers, no one could say that their vantage point in viewing some event is automatically superior to everyone else’s. Our observations are ‘relative’. But, though this may be true of observations, it is not true when it comes to scientific laws. After all, Einstein’s great quest was to uncover rules that are universally true.

Nevertheless, the idea of relativism seemed to gain credence with the experimental results of 1919. ‘At the beginning of the 1920s the belief began to circulate for the first time at the popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly, but perhaps inevitably, relativity had become confused with relativism.’3

After 100 years of relativism, in a world where everything is becoming ‘trans’ and nothing is certain, we are looking into a black hole which is sucking the light out of society. Let’s hope someone, somewhere recognises there has been a mix-up before humanity itself is pulled beyond the event horizon.

John Benton is en’s former Managing Editor and Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy,


1. Einstein’s Greatest Mistake, by David Bodanis, Abacus, 2016, p29
2. American Institute of Physics, Oral History Interviews
3. A History of the Modern World, by Paul Johnson, Weidenfeld, 1983, p4

Last word: favouritism

Super granddad

Picture it. It’s Sunday 10.25am and the service is about to start. You hear muffled voices from the welcome team, you turn around, and you notice someone new. What do you do?

Well, first, you use your eyes… and you judge this visitor. What’s their age? What nationality might they be? What do their clothes say? Do they have a wedding ring on their finger, or young children by their feet? We all use our eyes to make such judgements. Are such judgements sensible or sinful?

What James actually says

When the apostle James replays a similar scenario in the first century (James 2:1-4), he says: ‘Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?’ However, James is not telling Christians to see no difference in those who arrive – to have Sundays services in the dark (if necessary) or to ensure everyone looks the same (like a cult). We judge with our eyes to see important differences in one another. We then use those judgements to make special provision for some. For example, to the deaf or the disabled we really do need to say: ‘Here is a good seat for you.’ (James 2:3) It’s also worth noting at this juncture that James is not shaming the church for having some poorer church members and some richer church members. If anything, the

diversity in James 2:2 is quite admirable. Evidently there wasn’t one service for city bankers, one service for the working class, one service for students, one service for young families, one service for artsy millen-nials, etc. They gathered as one church. The rich perhaps arrived in suit and tie, the poor farmhands perhaps in muddy overalls, but they were one church.

Yet, evil was prevalent in this gathering, and it may have invaded our churches too. For when favouritism and discrimination occur because we have judged with the eyes of the world, we sin.

What we say

Certainly, in an age of such political correctness many of us would never dream of saying to the poor: ‘You sit on the floor’ (James 2:3). The media teaches us to revile such blatant injustice. But, honestly, who do you gravitate towards at church? Who do you make sure is not on their own at tea and coffee? Who is your secret MVP (Most Valuable Player)? Living in Kew, I sometimes wonder what I’d do if neighbouring biologist David Attenborough, or bubbly sports journalist Gabby Logan walked in.

Alternatively, who are you less excited to see walking in at 10.25am? What if a single parent walked in with four loud children? What about someone who is working class or upper class? What about someone who struggled to speak English? What if an awkward old man with learning difficulties dropped in (above)? Favouritism, sadly, still lurks in our minds and we are prone to judging with the eyes of the world. I see it in myself.

What I actually did

Indeed, last year, I confess I did a James 2. It was Thursday night at the end of midweek Bible study and an American man pitched up. It was already late and I was tired. I wasn’t too interested in having a long conversation. But after revealing that I lived in America for a few years, he asked me whether I liked American football. Rather brusquely, I told him I preferred watching rugby. He told me he preferred playing American football. I joked: ‘So will you be playing at Wembley on Sunday?’ He replied, ‘Yes, I’m Austin Carr, I’m the wide receiver for New Orleans Saints.’

At which point, I not only felt embarrassed, but suddenly less tired. I was happy to chat with him. I prayed with him. I practically begged him to let me drive him to his hotel. I moved stuff from the front seat of my car – ‘Here’s a good seat for you, Austin!’ I took a picture with him. I posted it on Instagram. ‘New Orleans Saints wide receiver, Austin Carr, turns up for Bible study.’ ‘That is Awesome!’, a jealous pastor replied. But it wasn’t awesome. For if Austin had been an inarticulate octogenarian I wouldn’t have: chatted, prayed, chauffeured, and Instragrammed him.

Godly motives may rest behind such favouritism. We long to see friends and neighbours becoming Christians, so we get excited when people they admire gather with us and we ensure that those people are welcomed well. However, we must remember that favourites in the world’s eyes, are often not favourites in God’s eyes (1 Samuel 16:7). Besides, James couldn’t be clearer – believers don’t do that. Real faith doesn’t show favouritism.

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London

Presbyterian planting


It’s not exactly revival when it comes to Presbyterianism in England but there are real encouragements. Two denominations, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales (EPCEW), and the International Presbyterian Church (IPC), both faithful, are small but growing.

EPCEW has 17 congregations in England and Wales, while the IPC has 12 churches in England and Scotland. Here are two recent encouragements.

Planting in Oxford…

On 30 September 2018, Oxford Evangelical Presbyterian Church began its first worship services in the heart of the city. Andy Young, who moved to Oxford from Naunton Lane Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Cheltenham with his family to plant the church, reports:

‘The first several months have been marked by God’s goodness: the use of a beautiful chapel in the heart of the city, 30-40 attending our morning services and 15-25 our evening, 10-15 coming along to our midweek student events, the core group growing, and one or two conversions. We can only give God all the glory. Yet there is much to do. We are praying for God to add to our core group, to make us more financially stable, and to draw sinners to Christ through us.’

… and now in Sunderland

On Easter Sunday this year, Sunderland Presbyterian Church began its first services. This was the culmination of a couple of years of work, headed up by The Revd Nathan Hilton, in gathering a core group and leading regular Bible studies. This daughter church of Gateshead Presbyterian has seen a good number come along to the first services, including several locals. Do pray for the Lord to establish this work in the coming months and to see the light of the gospel spread in Sunderland.

From 18–20 June, Ealing IPC will be holding the Catalyst Conference. The theme this year is Our Great and Living God. Speakers include Kevin DeYoung, Andrew Randall and Sinclair Ferguson.