Sunday, March 30, 2008

blackout boredom

Now it may be true that people were "enjoying an hour of quiet darkness" during Earth Hour, as the FAQ page claims. It's not that hard to fill one hour once a year.

But what about when the "hour of quiet darkness" becomes more than an hour? When it fills all the hours of every evening? Where would we be without our evening entertainment?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones' observations about "blackout boredom" during World War II suggest that quiet enjoyment would be the last thing on our minds:
And yet perhaps there was never a time in the history of the world when it was so difficult to learn [contentment in all circumstances] ... as it is today. The whole of life is so organized at the present time as to make it almost impossible to live this self-sufficient Christian life. Even in a natural sense we are all so dependent on the things that are being done for us and to us and around and about us, that it has become most difficult to live our own lives. We switch on the wireless or the television and gradually become dependent upon them, and it is the same with our newspapers, our cinemas, our entertainments. The world has organized life for us in every respect and we are becoming dependent upon it. There was a good illustration of that in the early days of the last war when the blackout regulations were described as the 'boredom of the blackout'. People found it almost impossible to spend a succession of nights in their own homes doing nothing. They had become dependent on the cinema, the theatre and various other forms of entertainment, and when these things were suddenly cut off they did not know what to do with themselves - 'the boredom of the blackout'. That is the very antithesis of what Paul is describing here. But increasingly it is becoming the tendency in the life of man today; increasingly we are becoming dependent upon what others are doing for us. It is the very reverse of what Paul is teaching here.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones saw constant entertainment as a spiritual issue, for it makes us dependent on outside circumstances for happiness. Who are we when the TV and computer is turned off? When cinemas and cafes are shut? When the constant barrage of stereo and iPod ceases?

Who are we when we are alone with God?

The quote is from Martyn Lloyd Jones Spiritual Depression pp. 281-2.

lights out

It was earth hour last night, and 24 cities turned off lights and appliances for an hour to reduce climate change.

It's fascinating how many ancient Christian virtues have become trendy again, thanks to environmentalism: self-control (reduce), thrift (re-use), generosity (recycle: where we give old clothes to the poor instead of throwing them away). Although it would be nice if these virtues were practised with a more eternal perspective.

But how odd that turning the lights out has become a moral issue. For this, too, was of concern to Christians half way through last century.

Did you know that Christian moralists were worried about the impact of lights after dark, and constant entertainment, on the spiritual life? Like frogs in water slowly brought to the boil, we have failed to notice how these things affect us, but they were acutely aware of the impact of modernity on the spiritual life.

Here's a satirical poem by Dorothy L. Sayers about the spiritual effects of light after dark:

For an Evening Service

The day that Nature gave is ending,
The hand of Man turns on the light;
We praise thee, Progress, for defending
Our nerves against the dreadful night.

As o'er each continent and island
The switches spread synthetic day,
The noise of mirth is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of toil away.

We thank thee that thy speed incessant
Provides upon this whirling ball
No time to brood on things unpleasant -
No time, in fact, to think at all.

Secure amid the soothing riot
Of crank and sound track, plane and car,
We shall not be condemned to quiet,
Nor left alone with what we are.

By lavish and progressive measures
Our neighbour's wants are all relieved;
We are not called to share his pleasures,
And in his grief we are not grieved.

Thy winged wheels o'erspan the oceans,
Machining out the Standard Man.
Our food, our learning, our emotions
Are processed for us in the can.

All bars of colour, caste and nation
Must yield to movies and the mike;
We need not seek communication,
For thou dost make us all alike.

So be it! let not sleep not slackness
Impede thy Progress, Light sublime;
Nor ever let us glimpse the blackness
That yawns behind the gates of Time.
So here's an idea: let's start a Christian earth hour. Let's turn off the lights and the television, and spend some time praying and meditating on death and eternity.


The poem is from Dorothy L. Sayers The Whimsical Christian pp.6-7.

Friday, March 28, 2008

boys and their monsters

Douglas Wilson has an interesting take on boys and their guns (well, boys and their giants and monsters, anyway). I love what he says about the importance of stories in a boy's (or girl's) life.

I'm giving you a long section to read, but trust me, you'll enjoy it, especially if you love Narnia as much as I do:

    In C.S.Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we are given a good example of a boy who was brought up poorly. Eustace Scrubb had stumbled into a dragon's lair, but he did not know what kind of place it was. "Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon's lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons."

    It is a standing rebuke for us that there are many Christians who have an open sympathy for the "true" books which Eustace read - full of true facts about governments and drains and exports - and who are suspicious of great works of imagination, like the Narnia stories, or The Lord of the Rings, or Treasure Island, because they are "fictional", and therefore suspected of lying. The Bible requires us to be truthful above all things, they tell us, and so we should not tell our sons about dragon-fighting. Our sons need to be strong on drains and weak on dragons. The irony here is that the Bible, the source of all truth, says a lot about dragons and giants, and very little about drains and exports.

    ... [I]f our sons are to be prepared for the world God made, then their imaginations must be fed and nourished with tales about the Red Cross Knight, Jim in the apple barrel, Sam Gamgee carrying Frodo up the mountain, Beowulf tearing off Grendel's arm, and Trumpkin fighting for Aslan while still not believing in him. This type of story is not allowed by Scripture; this type of story is required by Scripture. The Bible cannot be read rightly without creating a deep impulse to tell stories which carry the scriptural truth about the kind of war we are in down through the ages. ... [T]he gospel is the story of a dragon-fight. ... [D]ragon-lore is truer than therapy-speak. ...

    With this said, let's turn to a few particular suggestions. As we do, we will perhaps be accused of recommending escapist literature. This is quite right: we should want our sons to escape from all arrogant Enlightenment conceits. Left alone, they will grow up in a modernist dungeon, well-lit with pale green flourescent light. If someone comes along and hands them a key that will get them out, someone will warn them, in dire tones. "Careful. Keys are escapist."

    And I do not see how I can finish this chapter without being autobiographical. I grew up in Narnia and Archenland and as a boy, considered myself as much an Archenlander as an American. All my sympathies and sentiments were there, and I still cannot read about Shasta's run toward his unknown home without being affected by it. It does no good to tell me that Narnia does not actually exist, because Puddleglum speaks for me here. He would rather live as a free Narnian, even if there is no Narnia, than to acquiesce in the belief that a dank cave was all there was to the world. This was deep loyalty, loyalty in the bones, not neo-orthodoxy. A boy could do far worse than have an allegiance to a nonexistant king. He might grow up, as kids today do, without any loyalties at all. This was not frivolous daydreaming; it was hardheaded realism, and by leading me into these books my father equipped me for things as they really are in this world.

    I did not get to Middle Earth until high school, but I saw to it that my children were introduced to The Lord of the Rings much earlier than I had been. ...

    Virtues were made lovely to me through these stories. Trumpkin did not believe in Aslan, but volunteered to go on a mission that made sense only if Aslan existed. He went because he knew the difference between giving advice and taking orders. "You've had my advice, and now it's the time for orders." And I have known what true faithfulness and loyalty were since then. Too often Christian parents simply seek to make the rightness of virtue apparent to their sons. But that is the easy part. The difficulty lies in making virtue altogether lovely, which is what happens in the right kind of story. ...

    In this kind of literature, nobility was stirred up in the small things and was exalted in the great things. When the time came for great deeds, whether the enemy was Smaug, or Sauron, or the Witch, or Long John Silver, or the dragon that St. George killed, these stories were ready to do what Scripture commands us to do. "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8).

    Christians are a race of dragon-fighters. Our sons are born to this. Someone ought to tell them.

Highlights mine; Douglas Wilson Future Men pp.101-2, 104-7.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

boys and their guns

There are many views on boys and their guns. Should we allow our boys to play with toy guns? Or, if not guns, should we allow them to play with pretend swords? What about water pistols (they are a kind of gun, after all)?

I probably wouldn't buy my child a toy gun. But I'm happy to allow Thomas to pretend to destroy the world. For in a modern, Western world where there are few opportunities for boys to express their aggression and high spirits, Steve and I are not going to stop them using their imaginations to act out stories, even if they involve imaginary violence. And perhaps they will confront some imaginary fears, and practise some qualities like courage, along the way.

We would change this if real violence was a problem for our sons. And maybe living in certain parts of the world would make us re-think our position. But our boys are generally gentle, and even our 4-year-old can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. We just make sure they're gentle with other children, and perhaps don't point their toy guns at other people.

Besides, have you ever tried to stop a boy playing with guns? One of the mothers I know outlawed toy guns (and fair enough, toy guns are absent from my to-buy list, too, although we do have a very small plastic one and some pretend swords in our dress-up box) and they discovered that their curved wooden train-track pieces made perfect guns.

And if you do outlaw toy guns, don't forget about chameleons. Thomas once told me he was going to "kill the whole house" with one of those.

boys destroy

Thomas is playing at his friend Jack's house.

Thomas - We're going to destroy the whole world!
Jack - Yes, let's play that! Let's kill the whole world!

Thomas and Jack run outside, screaming.

5 minutes later Jenny and I go outside to check on our boys. We find them rolling lemons (which they're not supposed to pick) under the gate and onto the road.

Jean and Jenny - Boys, boys, stop that! Stop rolling lemons onto the road!
Thomas - Jack was the one who told me what to do. And I did it. (shades of Adam and Eve)
Jean - Well, you're not allowed to pick lemons, and you're not allowed to roll them under the gate.
Thomas - But we have to destroy the whole world! We have to destroy the cars!
Jean - We don't mind you pretending to destroy things, but don't roll lemons at the cars. Find something else to destroy. But don't use anything hard, don't pick lemons, don't throw things, and be gentle.

We go back inside.

5 minutes later we go back outside to see Thomas suspiciously carrying a lemon.

Jean - Thomas, why are you carrying a lemon?
Thomas - (indignantly) But we picked the lemons when Aunty Jenny wasn't watching!
Jean - Well, even when we can't see you, you're still not supposed to pick lemons. God can see you even when we can't. (always time for a sententious piece of theology)
Thomas - But we want to kill the whole world! What can we use to destroy things?
Jean - Let's find something soft that you can use to kill things. But not people, only things.
Thomas - Look! A piece of chalk! We'll use that to kill things! Look! (he draws on the concrete, giggling)
Jean - Ok, then, you can use that. But be gentle.

We go back inside.

5 minutes later we go back outside to find Thomas and Jack throwing dirt into the garage.

Thomas and Jack - We're destroying the garage!
Jean and Jenny - But you're not supposed to throw dirt into the garage!

Thomas and Jack are given brooms and helped to sweep up the garage. We go back inside.

5 minutes later we go back outside.

Jean - It's time to go now, Thomas. Did you have fun?
Thomas - (triumphantly) Well, Mummy, we didn't destroy the whole world, but at least we destroyed the garage!
Jean - Yes, very good honey, let's go home now.

You learn to be very unflappable when parenting boys.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

to the great writers of the past

"To the memory of JOHN OWEN who has wakened hope for many in the darkness of perfectionistic despair."

Having written a PhD on John Owen, and loving the Puritans as I do, not to mention being a perfectionist to the core, I was delighted to find this dedication in John Piper's When the darkness will not lift, which I picked off the shelf this morning hoping it might help with my ongoing coming-and-froing now-you-see-it-now-you-don't state of discouragement.

Speaking of books, if you look at the right of my blog, you'll see a new book list. Here are the books I'm planning to use this year to explore issues like godly womanhood, discouragement, honouring God with our thoughts and emotions, people-pleasing, self-control, and parenting.

A hint about some of the topics you can expect posts on in the months ahead!!

Right now I'm reading Edward T. Welch's When people are big and God is small and John Piper's When the darkness will not lift (which is based on the last chapter in When I don't desire God, which I might have a look at too). You might like to read them along with me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

resources for teaching children (2): children's Bibles

"Of the making of many children's Bibles there is no end, and much study wearies the body" (Eccles. 12:12, paraphrase). That's pretty much how I feel after investigating lots of children's Bibles for this post.

It's a far cry from my childhood, when the only children's Bible we had was an enormous tome written in old-fashioned prose. (I suspect it might have been The Golden Children's Bible, still a decent choice for a kids' Bible.) Apart from that we read adults' Bibles and discussed them with our parents during family Bible time. I don't think it did us any harm.

That said, modern parents should be very grateful for the huge number of excellent resources available to us. Obviously we want to expose our kids to the Bible. We want them to get to know the Bible stories. We want to read them Bible stories in a format they can understand and relate to.

Here are some good Bibles for different age groups (I've chosen a few key stories to test them out. Do they skip over God's judgement during the flood and the passover? Do they tell the story of Jonah to the end? Do they tackle difficult subjects like the sacrifice of Isaac? How do they handle Jesus' death?).
  • 1 year olds: the God loves me Bible, probably the only Bible I've seen that has stories short and simple enough for babies. Each page ends with "... and God loves you", which is a pretty good repetitive phrase to get into a 1-year old's head. Ours fell apart we read it so often!
  • 2 year olds: The Toddler's Bible. The stories are simple and short enough for tiny attention spans, with clear, colourful pictures. The theology is simple but clear: the story about Jesus' death has an excellent gospel explanation, for example.
  • 2-5 year olds: The Rhyme Bible Storybook. This would never be the only Bible you buy, as it's told entirely in rhyme, but it's a great second Bible for a young child, and good fun for reader and listener. This has been read a lot in our family: our kids all adored it.
  • 3-5 year olds, great for 3s: The Beginner's Bible. An excellent choice for a very young audience. The sentences are short and clear, and the illustrations simple and cartoon-like. Like most kids' Bibles, it's a little coy about the flood, but tells the full story of God's judgement on Egypt, and explains the cross really well.
  • 3-5 year olds, great for 4s: The Lion First Bible. This is particularly fun to read, and the illustrations are well-drawn and appealing. It doesn't come clean on exactly what happened during the flood and the passover, but includes a lot of stories for a kid's Bible, not skipping past uncomfortable bits like the sacrifice of Isaac. The quality of the writing makes it a good choice.
  • 4-6 year olds: Read With Me Bible. One of my personal favourites, this uses a simplified text of the NIrV, so it's a great introduction to the language and phrases of an adult's Bible. It's highly readable, tells the full story of the flood and the passover, includes a good range of stories, and has bold comic-book style pictures that appeal to our kids and make me smile.
  • 4-7 year olds: First Bible Stories. Well-written, comprehensive and true to the Bible, this is a reliable choice for a kids' Bible. It doesn't avoid the topic of God's judgement, and it takes Jonah's story right to the end (now that's unusual for a children's Bible), but it skips the sacrifice of Isaac. The illustrations are appealing, and my kids especially liked the detailed borders.
  • 4-10 year olds: The Lion Day-By-Day Bible. Here's that rare thing: a kids' Bible that is both comprehensive and simply written. It retells much more of the Bible than most kids' Bibles, doesn't miss the scary bits, and actually covers the whole story of Jonah! The readings (one for each day of the year) are short and well-told, and the illustrations are gorgeous. (My friend Deb tells me the Old Testament is much better than the New in this version.)
  • 6-12 year olds: The Gospel Story Bible. I'm reading this to our kids at the moment, and we're enjoying it, especially the discussion questions that open each story. The writing is quite dense and the ideas challenging, so it's more suited to older children; but it's highly accurate and detailed, which is refreshing. Each story ends with a paragraph showing how it's fulfilled by Jesus. The pictures are eye-catching.
  • 8-12 year olds: The DK Illustrated Family Bible. This accompanies an excerpted version of the NIV 1984 text with lots of geographical, historical and archeological facts. It will appeal to a child with an inquiring mind, and it's a great way to get an older child reading an adult version of the Bible for themselves. 
And (fanfare) here are my favourite children's Bibles. They're not only beautifully told and illustrated, they also show how every story points to Jesus and fits into the big Bible story.* I'd suggest you buy both of these, but since they're quite interpretative, you may also want a more straightforward children's Bible such as the Read With Me Bible, depending on your preferences and the ages of your kids.
  • 5-10 year olds: The Jesus Storybook Bible. Every Bible story finishes with a couple of paragraphs explaining how it points to Jesus. The exquisite illustrations are far beyond the normal standard for children's Bibles, and the writing is dynamic and appealing. For good and ill, the repeated idea in this Bible is the "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of God".
  • 4-8 year olds: The Big Picture Story Bible. Instead of concentrating on individual stories, this Bible gives the overall story of God's saving plan - "God's people in God's place under God's rule" - cleverly using pictures and words to show how it is fulfilled by Jesus. I like the way this Bible subtly hints at some important theological concepts along the way, like the creation of the world by God's word. It's engagingly told, brilliantly illustrated, and big enough to read to a group.
By the time they're reading independently, your kids will need a proper Bible. You may choose to give them an adult's Bible. But if you'd like them to use a simpler Bible for their own reading, some decent choices include:
  • the Good News Bible, a simple adult's translation
  • the NIrV - a good transition to the NIV, with short, clipped sentences perfect for reading out loud; we use this during our family Bible readings
  • the International Children's Bible, the children's edition of the NCV - the only Bible I'm aware of translated specifically for children from the original texts. This version may be preferred by families who read the ESV for its accuracy and thoroughness.

* The potential theological pitfalls and advantages of these two Bibles are explored in detail here.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as children's Bibles are concerned. You may have a completely different favourite that you use in your family. If so, share it with us in the comments, and tell us what you like about it!

In coming posts on this topic we'll be looking at resources for Sunday School, teaching kids Biblical theology, Christian biography for kids, and ... you'll have to wait and see.

Follow the thread on resources for teaching children here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

dieting and gluttony (5c) Richard Gibson on gluttony

Richard Gibson gives helpful suggestions about how to speak against gluttony in an age obsessed equally with food and weight-loss (apologies to those who read this before I rearranged my blog).
Make sure you check out the italicised quote from Anthony Compollo below: it's a fantastic reminder not to demonise obesity when we speak against gluttony.
Food is the new sex ... Just a case of dressing up glutton as glam ...? Or are we in the midst of a culinary revolution ...? Just think, with the eroticisation of the humble meal, we can look forward to a new era of food-abuse, people eating but never being satisfied, families shattered by addictions, and more lonely men, eating alone in front of flickering computers. An era where gluttony will come into its own. ...

Intriguingly, in a culture that increasingly refuses to disapprove of people's sexual preferences and behaviour, diet and body-shape has become a moral issue. Barkow observes: 'Food is a class marker because being overweight shows that you are immoral, you're overindulging, you lack willpower, you lack self-control.'

It could be that our culture already regards, at least implicitly, gluttony as the most sinful and deadliest of the traditional seven. ... Reality programs with chillingly ironic titles, like Biggest Loser, thrive. In our culture, there are few bigger losers than the obese, those who lack the will-power to change. ...

Ordinarily, this would be too good an opportunity for Christian commentators to pass up. Rarely do traditional categories of sin and such widely recognised social epidemics pass so closely to each other in their orbits. ... Here, surely, is the opportunity to dust off traditional discussions of gluttony ... in order to offer a searching critique of a sin, a sin finally being recognised as deadly and sinful.

This would represent a revolution for 'gluttony'; a significant tarting up of what is, traditionally, the dowdiest and least convincing of the moral failures. ...

[But there] continue to be a number of biblical and practical reasons that should discourage Christian commentators from rushing to eagerly to join the rising contemporary chorus against overeating and obesity. ...[Jesus enjoyed food; food can't render us unclean; the created order is good; the feast is a biblical image for the kingdom.]

Too often in the past, attacks on the glutton have glibly assumed that the corollary of gluttony is excessive weight. In this sense, the glutton has been the most visible of the seven deadly sinners. Sadly, Christian speakers and writers, who should be more aware of the consequences of the fallen world for such neat correlation, have fallen into this trap. To his credit, Anthony Campolo records his shame after preaching against gluttony:

Of the sermons I wish I had never preached, none elicits more regret than a sermon on gluttony ... The cruelty was not apparent to me at the time. When I preached the sermon, I was convinced that the obesity of those in the congregation was due to a lack of willpower on their part and a decision to let themselves go physically ... I had no understanding of the complex factors contributing to a problem which afflicts so many.

Conversely, Christians must guard against conspiring with one of the false gods of our age, and inflicting harm on another group: ... [those with] eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Tragically, Christian preachers and authors ... unwittingly feed these terrible disorders with titles like Pray Your Weight Away, More of Jesus Less of Me, Help Lord - the Devil Wants Me Fat! and Thin, Trim and Triumphant. No-one can afford to write on the dangers of gluttony without taking into account the horrors of anorexia and bulimia, lest careless comments add to the difficulty of dealing with them. If it seems to be irresponsible not to target overeating in a culture that is eating itself to death, it needs to be remembered that many are also dieting themselves to death.

Highlights mine; Richard Gibson "Clement on Gluttony" in Still deadly: ancient cures for the seven sins pp.67-73.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

habits of highly effective Christians

Oooh, I am so excited about this link. More Girltalk stuff, this time a huge pile of excellent posts on the topic of the highly effective woman (yes, guys, you should read them too). Kind of appropriate in light of my recent disorganisation.

Here are some posts that caught my eye on a brief skim through (I must make the time to read them properly some time): the 5:00 club (crazy but strangely compelling), carefully considering our relationships (fantastic for lazy and over-enthusiastic relaters), keeping one resolution (a helpful way to look at New Year's resolutions), and do your best (I was absolutely inspired by this one).

And to keep us free from legalism and dependent on God's grace as we grow in self-discipline, chase up the links in ending where we began.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Do you ever feel like a juggler with every ball you're trying to keep in the air lying broken on the ground?

Thomas was late to pre-school twice this week, because I'm still forgetting what time it starts. I didn't go to Lizzy and Ben's Easter hat parade. We have barely visited Steve's family recently, although his father is ill. I missed one friend's birthday celebrations because I forgot, and didn't buy another friend her birthday gift because, well, I forgot. Every time I see Ben's shoes I'm reminded he's been needing new runners for a month, and every time I pick up my handbag I see the vacuum cleaner bag box I placed strategically near it a couple of weeks ago to remind me to go and buy more vacuum cleaner bags. The kids need new clothes. I need new clothes. I just had to ring Lizzy's friend's mum and disappoint her 9-year-old daughter, cancelling a visit to McDonald's after gym class today because I've double-booked a family Easter celebration (I only remembered the trip to McDonald's half-way through the phone-call). And I never offered to bring a salad for my busy, tired, anxious mother to help with the Easter meal she's preparing tonight.

Put it down to exhaustion, worry, stress, an over-busy start to the year, weeks of extremely hot weather, the fluey bug which has been going round our family, my own aching tiredness this past week ... and yes, there are reasons. But I can't shake off the feeling that I'm a terrible person, that I'm a disaster as a wife, mother, friend, daughter, daughter-in-law, and child of God.

* * * * *

That's what I wrote yesterday. I didn't post it, because though I spent some of the morning crying over the balls I've dropped, I had absolutely nothing meaningful to say about it. But I'm posting it today to let you know you're not alone, if you ever feel like this.

I did realise one thing: how reluctant I am to pray. Simply to pray.

How dearly I love to solve my (and others') problems, to find a spiritual technique which will bring me (and others) comfort. How often Christianity (for me) is just another self-help program. A sop to my pride. A step on the road to perfection.

How helpless I feel when I can't fix things any more!

But when reading the Bible doesn't seem to get past my eyeballs, and I can't lift my mind to God's truth even when I try, and I don't want to talk to my husband or ring a Christian friend because I feel like I've already worn out their ears with my problems, there's only one thing left: prayer.

And it doesn't need to be meaningful, or uplifting, or immediately comforting. It doesn't need to solve anything. It doesn't need to feel like it pierces the ceiling.

It is what it is: a chance to tell my heavenly Father I feel completely lousy, to cry out my discouragement to him, and to beg him for help, as his people have done through all the generations:

    Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. (Psalm 31:9)

A bending of the knee, an acknowledgement of my need, a place to turn first not last. A Person to turn to. An end to all my pride, programs and perfectionism. Not poetry, not ecstasy, not an opiate. The meat and bread of the spiritual life: petition.


* * * * *

Is Easter Friday an innapropriate day for a post like this? Maybe. Maybe not.

Except I slept in this morning until the incredibly late time of 7.18 (the kids are staying at Grandma's) and thought into the blessed silence: isn't it amazing that the gritty reality of the cross took place a couple of thousand years ago?

The real, dark, God-forsaken day that God's only Son called out in anguish to a silent heaven:

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)
The day he cried out to skies of brass. The day he plunged into death and hell itself. The day when the resurrection felt like an eternity and a universe away.

A day as real as today.


Thank you, Father, for the gift of your dear Son into our disappointing, frustrating, messy world. Thank you that he died for me in a world dark with your rejection. Thank you that he was forsaken by you instead of me, so I can speak to you as my own dear Father.

Thankyou that he died to bring me the gift of prayer.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

resources for teaching children (1): systematic theology for kids

I think we often underestimate children.

We feed them Bible stories with the uncomfortable bits taken out (the flood minus God's judgement), tell them pretty stories about the donkey in the stable (and completely miss the point of the Christmas story), and avoid big theological concepts because they're too difficult or disturbing (atonement, hell, incarnation, sovereignty).

If you read my blog you'll be aware of one reason I think children are capable of more: my son Thomas, who at 4 years old asks questions like "Does forever mean it never stops?" "If God is everywhere is he right here?" "Can God do everything at the same time?" and "Where was I before God made me in Mummy's tummy?".

Despite the parent's tendency to find genius in their children, I don't think he's particularly unusual.

I am incredibly grateful that my parents read even the hard parts of the Bible to my brother and me, and talked freely about grace, judgement and God's sovereignty. As a result, these concepts always seemed natural to me. Even when, as a young adult, I toyed with abandoning convictions like predestination, they were there to welcome me back when I learned them for myself from the Bible, fitting like a second skin.

So Steve and I don't just read children's Bibles to our kids, we also read them books of systematic theology. No, I don't mean John Calvin, I mean age-appropriate books.

Our favourite is Leading little ones to God, which we're reading during our weekly family Bible times at the moment. It includes 86 devotions on everything from God's attributes to repentance and faith. It's still as reliable and engaging as when my parents read it to me, and our whole family enjoys it.

Someone awesome is a beautifully written and illustrated book which not only teaches, but inspires awe and praise. It answers questions like "Can I see God?", "Why doesn't God talk to me out loud?" and "Why did God make us? Was he lonely?". It's led to some great family discussions and prayers. (Skip the page on the end times, or better still, discuss it with your kids!)

We'd like to try Training hearts, training minds, a series of family devotions based on the Shorter Catechism, and teach our kids some of the catechism as well as Bible verses. My Christian life has echoed to the refrain of the first answer I learned as a child: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever."

We also want to read Bruce Ware's Big Truths for Young Hearts to our children when they're a bit older. This is on my shelf, and it's a fantastic resource for teaching theology to pre-teens and teens, with short chapters and questions for discussion on topics from creation to predestination and the Trinity. What a find!

Someone also gave us a little gem of a book for preschoolers called My God is so big. I dug it out of our shelves yesterday and I'll be reading it to Thomas soon. Perhaps it will help answer some of those wonderful questions he's been asking.

Children have big questions, and they need big answers. Let's not sell them short!

Any other suggestions are welcome - just add a comment.

Expect a follow-up post about teaching theology in Sunday School: I want to tell you about some excellent material I've come across, and some I'm working on.

And I want to reflect further on, and share some resources for, teaching kids Biblical theology, Bible stories, Christian biography, and ... well, you'll have to wait and see!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

dieting and gluttony (5b) C.S.Lewis on gluttony

Our next quote on food and gluttony is taken from C.S.Lewis' The screwtape letters, in which the senior devil Screwtape advises the junior devil Wormwood on how to tempt humans (sorry to those who read this the other day before I rearranged my blog!).

C.S.Lewis shows how the gluttony of excess has been replaced by the more subtle gluttony of delicacy, and how this often takes different forms among men and women:


The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient's mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished - one day, I hope, will be - to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small.

But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. ... She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile "Oh, please, please ... all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast."

You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before he, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance ...; in reality ... the particular shade of delicacy to which we have enslaved her is offended by the sight of more food than she happens to want.

The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be guaged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. ... Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled. ...

Now your patient is his mother's son. ... Being a male, he is not so likely to be caught by the "All I want" camouflage. Men are best turned into gluttons with the help of their vanity. They ought to be made to think themselves very knowing about food, to pique themselves on having found the only restaurant in the town where steaks are really "properly" cooked. What begins as vanity can then be gradually turned into habit. But, however you approach it, the great thing is to bring him into the state in which the denial of any one indulgence - it matters not which, champagne or tea, sole colbert or cigarettes - "puts him out," for them his charity, justice, and obedience are all at your mercy.

Mere excess in food is much less valuable than delicacy. Its chief use is as a kind of artillery preparation for attacks on chastity [and I would add other areas of godliness, but that's a topic for another day] ...

Your affectionate uncle
Highlight mine; this quote is taken from chapter 17 of C.S.Lewis' The screwtape letters.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

brothers and sisters

I was sitting in church last Sunday, feeling sick (I had some fluey thing), sitting up the back fanning myself with a program (it was well over 30 degrees in there), and observing everyone vaguely through a cloud of dizzy achiness.

Thoughts drifted through my head: hmmm, that hawaiian shirt is awfully bright ... that is one cute baby ... there's that old guy again, he's lovely, but boy can he talk, I hope he doesn't corner me after the service ... how can anyone look so beautiful when they're 8 months pregnant? ... I think the drummer's got his timing a bit off today ... those new people look intellectual and stand-offish, wonder what they're making of the sermon on God's judgement? ... I like those shoes, but I couldn't walk in them ...

Suddenly it occurred to me, as the hawaiin-shirted guy walked past me for the third time: hey, he's my brother! (which is not a reference to a popular music ballad, wikipedia notwithstanding).

I might not know his name (even though he comes every week), I might not be all that keen on his taste in polyester, but we're both part of God's very large family, and he's as close to me as the brother I grew up with for 18 years.

Which means what? That I should treat him as well as I treat my own brother? I guess it depends how well I treat my brother. And I have no doubt that I, like most of us, could do better at that.

But I can't imagine a close family member in hospital or prison, and me not visiting; sick or depressed, and me not praying; in need of food or shelter, and me not helping to provide it; celebrating a great event, and me not rejoicing.

Which means I have a lot of thinking to do about how I treat the other members of my family.

Luther on visions

I'm going link-happy at the moment. Here's another one, from Gordo this time, a fascinating insight into Luther's response when he saw a vision.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Piper on reading and writing

Knew there was a reason I love reading and writing so much (not that I need an excuse). And why there'll always be a need for more good Christian books to speak God's truth into the heart of each new generation.

Thanks, friend Jenny, for this link! And so say all of us.

artist in training

Here is our darling boy, drawing spirals and circles all over himself and the table with a pale pink lipstick. Well, I was proud of him, anyway!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

nah, scrap that

Nah, scrap what I said in my last post.

Having consulted the huge audience of one reader amongst you (chosen at random from the vast numbers who commented on the Os Guiness quote - thankyou Heather), and having dug around in the dim recesses of my mind regarding copyright laws (something about 1 chapter out of 10 or less?), I am planning to bring you those quotes I promised on food, gluttony and dieting ... but I will spread them out to prevent boredom. So expect them here and there during the next few weeks! I'll reflect on them in a few weeks' time.

And if you think I'm indecisive, well, yes, I am. Sometimes. I think.

boring you witless

I had the terrible feeling at 9.30 last night that not only was I boring you witless, I was probably breaking numerous rules of copyright with all those long quotes on gluttony.

So I've left the quote by Os Guiness in my blog, since its excellence makes it worth repeating at length, and also because it's from an obscure out-of-print book.

Some time later this week, I hope to tell you briefly what I learnt from all the other authors I've read about food, dieting and gluttony, and you can go and look them up yourselves if you want to read more.

I've just ordered a book of essays by Dorothy L. Sayers, including a well-known essay on the "other 6 deadly sins", so it will be interesting to see what she has to say. Then there's C.S.Lewis, Richard Gibson, Graham Tomlin and Henry Fairlie on gluttony, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Jerry Bridges on self-control.

A veritable feast! So to speak.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

dieting and gluttony (5a) Os Guiness on gluttony

Here, as promised, is one of the things I've read about food, gluttony, dieting and self-control recently.

This one's by Os Guiness, insightful and challenging as always. He argues that the modern obsession with food and dieting is actually gluttony, a gluttony of delicacy rather than a gluttony of excess.

Have a read and tell me what you think:

Gluttony ... is often treated as the least serious of the seven sins. Just as avarice idolizes possessions and lust sex, so gluttony idolizes food. It lifts it out of its place and distorts both food and eating. Thus, unlike a gourmet who enjoys and appreciates food, a traditional glutton enjoys eating, almost regardless of its taste, beauty, or the company shared. Whereas the gourmet savours, the traditional glutton devours. Gluttons "make pigs of themselves" by reducing all food to the level of slop. ...

Yet [we don't take] ... traditional gluttony seriously ... [because of] our modern self-congratulation on our disapproval of obesity and our newfound dedication to health, fitness, and dieting. Our gods, it seems, are not our bellies but our flat abdominal muscles ...

[G]luttony is often treated as a relatively harmless overindulgence in whatever we long for. Ironically, the word "sinful" is playfully applied to eating dessert more readily than to any other behaviour or attitude in contemporary English. ...

But both the origins and consequences of gluttony are more serious than that. Dedicated to the gratification of appetite, gluttony grows from and leads to a terrible emptiness that--no matter how much we stuff ourselves--is never satisfied. People overeat to compensate for emotional emptiness, but the overeating never compensates. The belly is stuffed, but the heart is hollow. Like all addictions, gluttony deceives. ...

In the medieval view, there were five ways of sinning by gluttony--eating and drinking too soon, too expensively, too much too eagerly, and with too much fuss. ... Thus ... modern gluttony ... can also be traced in the fanatical modern devotion to dieting, health foods, and drug taking. In a society in which cookbooks outsell the Bible by something like ten to one, food and diets have been given a time and place that are gluttonous. ...

The gluttony of excess is tied to a culture of scarcity just as the gluttony of delicacy is tied to a culture of abundance ... The reason is that in a culture of scarcity food was for most people the only accessible luxury ... For most of the West, the shift from scarcity to abundance happened in the nineteenth century. It was paralleled by an accompanying shift from the gluttony of excess to the gluttony of delicacy. As modern people, we may not admire indulgence and obesity, but we have a thousand polite words to cover our fussing over food. ...

Where food was once simply a matter of human sustenance, enjoyment, and sharing, it is now laden with myriad forms of "food guilt." How was it produced (on pesticide-ridden factory farms by exploited factory farmhands)? How is it marketed (in non-biodegradable garbage-creating containers)? What will be its consequences (depleted resources/increased heart attacks/thickened midriffs and hips)? ...

One writer notes, "It's not unusual at all to hear a woman wail, 'I was so bad today,' only to follow this dramatic statement with a seemingly tame admission like 'I ate two doughnuts and a bag of Cheetos." The traditional moral categories of "good" and "bad" are applied less often to "what comes out of" a person, as in words or deeds, than to "what goes in." ...

Though the modern tragedy of eating disorders is utterly distinct from the gluttony of delicacy, there is a link. The myth of the "perfectly thin female" that feeds the gluttony of delicacy is one factor ... in eating disorders, which are today nearly epidemic on college campuses. ... The approximate recovery time for anorexia sufferers is seven years, and the death rate twenty percent--the highest of any mental disorder. ...

The tragedy of such illnesses is perhaps the predictable outcome of a culture preoccupied with external image--and food as a means of controlling it. ... Obsession with various forms of non-eating is trendy, but just as gluttonous as obsession with eating--especially to Christian believers whose anticipated joy in a heavenly banquet will surely be oblivious to whether the bread has butter or margarine on it and the milk is 98 percent fat-free.

Since this book is hard to find, I've given you a good long quote. The highlights are mine. It's from Steering through chaos pp. 211-215.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

a 4-year old ponders his place in the universe

Thomas has bitten his square of cheese all around the edges and is holding it out for my inspection.

Jean - That cheese looks like Australia!

Thomas breaks off a corner of cheese and puts it where Tasmania would be.

Thomas - NOW it looks like Australia.

Jean- Well, so it does.

Thomas - I'm certain that Africa is a long way away from our house.

Jean - Yes, it is.

Thomas - And Jupiter is even furver away! It's even in space!!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

judges with evil thoughts

I've been listening to a sermon by Don Carson called "How to think about money," on 1 Timothy 6:3-19. I was particularly challenged by what he said about the danger of wanting material things:

The fact of the matter is that we eventually get into some pattern of one-upmanship, of wanting more. It becomes part of our self-identity, doesn’t it? As soon as we are identified with what we possess, then our ultimate delight is not being identified as forgiven sinners, God’s children.

Our ultimate delight is being identified as belonging to a certain economic social stratum.

The thing is so subtle, isn’t it, even when we think we’re beating it. You start off and you’re really content to have that beat-up, rattle-trap 15-year-old rust-bucket of a Chevrolet. But somewhere along the line you have the money for an Audi or a BMW and then without in any sense trying to be condescending or arrogant, it’s just so easy to pull up at a stop-sign and see a rust-bucket of a Chevrolet next to you and think that you’re a little better. Or you fly economy class and then you get bumped up to business class and you feel just a wee bit of pity for those people back in the cattle-car.

Isn’t that right? Our self-identity begins to get connected with these things. And it’s at every level, isn’t it? It’s painful, so sinful are we. Instead of being justified by grace through faith before God, we’re justified, at least in part, in our own eyes, in the eyes of those around us, by how well we’re doing.

What he said reminded me of this passage:

    My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
I am deeply ashamed of the attitudes these words brought to light in me.

I have a fairly privileged background. Not incredibly wealthy, just somewhere in the spectrum of the educated middle class.

I went to a public primary school, a private high school, and a respected university, where I completed a year of Medicine (as expected when you get good marks at a private school) before transferring to Arts, which sounded far more interesting. Arts eventually turned into a history PhD, which means that I have the dubious privilege of calling myself "Doctor" (although I don't very often) and of potentially regarding myself as better educated than most of the humans on this planet.

What I gained from my private high school - besides a safe and secure environment, an unfamiliarity with boys, and the ability to pass exams with flying colours - was a subtle and enduring snobbery.

I always thought I'd managed to avoid this. I compared myself with some of my friends, who clearly looked down on those who were less well-educated ("They really can't talk at the same level, can they?").

But is it possible to be uninfluenced by 6 formative years in a school which prides itself so highly on its test scores? Where virtually the only non-white faces were from North East Asia? Where you regularly hear snide remarks about the moccasin-wearing bogans of Melbourne's working-class suburbs?

I didn't realise how deeply I'd been influenced by my background - and this is where it gets embarrassing, so bear with me - until Steve and I bought a house in a "working class" suburb 7 years ago.

Suddenly, I was standing in the play ground of the local school, waiting for my children to come out of class, surrounded by women from a different background to my own. It was hard not to subtly look down on them, or feel intimidated by them, on the superficial basis of accents, hairstyles, clothing. I found myself grasping for topics of conversation, and hiding the fact that I'd ever heard of a PhD, let alone done one.

My discomfort has faded with time. I've made lots of friends, and have discovered what I knew theoretically all along: that we are all much the same under the skin. Some mothers are cliquey, others stand-offish, and others kind and friendly, it doesn't matter what suburb they come from.

(And while writing this, I've become aware of a more subtle kind of snobbery: the reverse snobbery which takes pride in our relatively low status, which subtly despises those who are wealthy and socially sophisticated, people who make me feel uncomfortable by their refined tones, aloof manner and polished etiquette.)

How easy it is to become a "judge with evil thoughts"! To treat people differently on the basis of wealth, education, social position. To avoid someone just because they don't look like the kind of person I could relate to. To despise people at the most unacknowledged level, with the kinds of attitudes we would be deeply ashamed of sharing with anyone else.

God help me to regard every person as they are: an eternal creature of immense value made in his image, with a desperate need for forgiveness and relationship with him, and the infinite potential to become a beloved and joyous child of God.

Monday, March 10, 2008

on blogging

I've just been wiling away a lonely hour (Steve is editing a talk) re-reading my blog.

It's good to know that not everything I've written has been trash.

And it's good to know that some of it was.

I find myself in equal parts humbled and encouraged.

And on that note, I think I'll go to bed.

not-so-slow food

While we're on the subject of food, let me tell you about my friend Susan's beautiful blog. She and her husband are committed to the idea of slow food, taking time and care to prepare the food they eat.

Her delicious-looking blog shows bread dough kneaded on a board, home-baked goodies gorgeously displayed on pretty cake stands at a school fete, cafe latte in a glass accompanied with home-made biscotti.

Like us, they have 6mouths2feed, but they do it in style.

In our house, we're more into not-so-slow food: cereal from a box, home brand crackers, instant coffee, and ice-cream from a tub. We do make our own popcorn and porridge, the kids cook muffins (from a packet) for their lunchboxes, Lizzy loves to make a meal or dessert each week, and I create almost all our meals from scratch - take away is too expensive and unhealthy to be indulged in often. But our menu is more traditional than gourmet.

And I confess that many of our meals come straight out of a well-stocked freezer.

I often cook in bulk and freeze meal-sized portions in those 700 ml freezer containers you can buy cheaply at the supermarket. I developed this habit preparing for morning sickness and early babyhood. I do love a deep chest freezer overflowing with home-cooked frozen meals!! It makes life a lot easier for this mother of 4.

Here's my (non) recipe for bulk bolognaise sauce (like Sus, I prefer to cook without a recipe, although she does it with more panache):

Jean's spag bog
- splash of oil for the pot
- at least 3 kg beef mince (the most I ever cooked in one go was 6 kg)
- about 3 large carrots, 3 celery sticks and 3 onions for every 1 kg of mince, chopped fairly small
- a large can of tomatoes for every 2 kg or so (I roughly chop the tomatoes if they're whole)
- extra tomato paste if the sauce doesn't look tomato-y enough, or if I've run out of cans of tomatoes
- lots of red wine, beef stock, mixed herbs, Worcestershire sauce, and pepper to taste
- lots of chopped garlic (if I get around to it)

1. Brown the mince in a small amount of oil in an extremely large pot.
2. Throw in the other ingredients (sometimes I fry off the veges first; when Lizzy was averse to veges I fried them in a big pot in a little oil until they were soft and pureed them before adding them to the mince. Never puree the meat!! I tried this once and it was a huge mistake. Think sludge.).
3. Bring to the boil and simmer slowly for hours and hours.
4. Cool it in the fridge overnight, then skim off the fat.
5. Put in freezer containers and freeze (I once worked out that 6 kg mince fills at least 18 700 ml containers).
The main secret to bulk cooking is always to add a lot more flavouring - stock powder, sauce, herbs, pepper etc. - than you think you will need. Allow time to bring a huge pot to the boil, and for many hours of long, slow simmering. It's worth it: just think of all those busy, grumpy late afternoons it will saves you cooking from scratch!

And here are the easy speedy meals we make with our spag bog sauce (1 700 ml container per meal):

  1. spaghetti bolognaise (well, duh!)
  2. "giant pasta" - a fun variant on lasagna - cook extra large pasta, mix it with spag bog sauce in a lasagna dish, top with grated cheese, and bake in the oven until it browns.
  3. shepherd's pie - actually, I think it's really cottage pie, but we call it shepherd's pie - put spag bog sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish, top with a large pot of mashed potato, put grated cheese on top, bake until hot and browned.
  4. chili con carne - fry 1 chopped red capsicum in small amount olive oil, add spag bog sauce, 1 can drained, rinsed kidney beans, garlic, chili, cumin and coriander powder; cook until capsicum is soft; serve with pasta, cous cous or rice.
  5. tacos / burritos - in tacos or tortillas with salad and chili sauce
  6. lasagna - layer spag bog sauce with lasagna noodles, cheese or cheese sauce, and top with grated cheese; cook until pasta cooked and top browned.
  7. spaghetti casserole - in a lasagna dish layer 1. spaghetti noodles, 2. spag bog sauce, 3. spaghetti noodles, 4. ricotta / defrosted frozen spinach / grated cheese / egg mixed together, 5. spaghetti noddles, 6. passata (Italian tomato pasta sauce) and 7. grated cheese; bake until browned.

And that's some not-so-slow food from the kitchen of Jean. ;)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

dieting and gluttony (4c) God's words on food: moderation, idolatry, and self-control

...continued from yesterday...

When we eat, we should avoid the two extremes of strict self-denial and self-indulgence. So perhaps we're to seek a middle path: the way of moderation.

But moderation is not an end in itself, as if once you've found the perfect balance between over- and under-eating you've found true holiness. The ideal of the "golden mean" is more Greek than Christian. We are meant to love God immoderately! Our passion for God may lead to feasting (for example, to celebrate God's salvation, or the joy of a wedding) or fasting (practised by God's people during times of repentance, mourning, and fervent prayer).*

Yet moderation can be a useful practical aid as we seek to serve God and others in our eating.

The practice of moderation may help you escape the perils of gluttony - ill health, lethargy, poverty - none of which aid loving service. It may lessen the hold of food if you frequently turn to it for comfort. It may help you not to be enslaved by food. It may enable you to sit loose to the pleasure of food, so that you can do without it cheerfully. In other words, it may stop food becoming an idol.

So how can you tell if food has become an idol for you? Here are some useful questions to ask yourself (I have adapted these from the excellent chapter on pleasure in Packer's Laid-Back Religion, and you could replace "eating" with just about anything which may be an idol for you):

    - what is the motivation of my eating? Do I depend on it regularly for emotional comfort?
    - what is the outcome of my eating? Is it wasteful or harmful to me or others?
    - how hard do I chase after food? Can I do without it cheerfully? Do I know when to stop?
    - what kind of behaviour does my eating produce?
    - how much of my thoughts, energy, money and conversation does food (or dieting) absorb?
    - does eating prompt me to heedless self-indulgence, or to praise and thanksgiving?
If you answered "yes" to many of these questions, eating may be an idol for you. This is where self-control comes in. It is the fruit of God's Spirit to help us avoid sin, particularly sins of the body, in this case, serving food as an idol. Self-controlled eating is a refusal to use our bodies to pursue the pleasures of food without thought for God or others.

As we control our eating rather than allowing it to control us, we will learn to turn to God for comfort instead of food. We will be freed from the constant drive to eat, so we can make better decisions about how our eating affects those around us. We may have more energy for loving service. We may even have more money or food to give to those who are truly hungry.

Food will become what it is meant to be: fuel for the enthusiastic service of God and others, an opportunity for generosity and hospitality, and the gracious gift of God to enjoy with thanksgiving, as we hunger for the far greater things of eternity.

Let's serve not the gift, but the Giver.

In the next couple of posts on this topic, we'll discover what some writers, far wiser than me, have to say about food and gluttony. Then we'll explore the implications of the Bible's teaching on food for the practice of dieting.

You can follow the thread on dieting here.

* The small print: feasting and fasting
For examples of feasting see Deut. 16, Neh. 8:10, Est. 9:20-22, Jn. 2:1-11, Rev. 19:9; and fasting see 1 Sam. 7:6, 2 Sam. 1:12, 12:16, Is. 58, Matt.6:16-18, 9:14-17, Acts 13:2-3, 14:23.

I don't feel qualified to say a lot about feasting and fasting. But I noticed that the last references to fasting in the Bible are in Acts (13:2-3, 14:23), making me wonder if this is more a Jewish/Jewish-Christian practice than a Christian one, but I need to explore this issue further.

And on feasting I was intrigued that when the Israelites were encouraged to celebrate the reading of God's law with "choice food and sweet drinks", they were told to share food with those who had none (Neh. 8:10, cf. feasting and gifts to the poor in Est. 9:20-22). Which is exactly what was
not happening at the Lord's Supper in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:17-33).

So there may be appropriate times for what we might call "godly indulgence", though even then we should observe sensible limits - but we must avoid selfish indulgence with no thought for the needs of others.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

dieting and gluttony (4b) God's words on food: self-denial and self-indulgence

...continued from yesterday...

In our eating, as with all our pleasures, there are two equal and opposite pit-falls to avoid.

The first pit-fall is asceticism - extreme self-denial of bodily pleasures as an aid to spiritual purity. Paul makes it clear that this is the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1-5) and is worse than useless for overcoming sensual indulgence.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the
body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Colossians 2:20-23
Self-control isn't an end in itself, as if every time you refuse a piece of chocolate cake you're being godly. If self-control helps you to achieve a proud indifference to food, it isn't godly.

Self-control is not the refusal of the pleasures of the body, but the refusal of the sins of the body (Rom. 6:11-13, 8:13, 12:1, 1 Thess. 4:3-8). We shouldn't refuse pleasures because they are pleasurable, but because they are unloving, self-indulgent or idolatrous.

Does this have implications for dieting? I'm not sure, except to say that legalistic guidelines, or periods of strict self-denial, may be a poor way to achieve long-term godly self-control.

The second and opposite pit-fall in enjoying God's good gifts is hedonism - the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure's sake. This is self-indulgent idolatry, a worship of something else besides God. It's love of the world rather than love of God. It puts ourselves and our pleasures firmly at the centre of the universe.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes ot from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17, and see Lk. 8:14, 1 Cor. 7:29-31)
There are many ways of turning food into an idol. Gluttony, delicacy or fussiness, and a devotion to fine dining, may all be signs of food idolatry. Obsessive dieting can also become an idol.

Food makes a particularly pointless idol: in the mouth, through the body, out the other end, and into the toilet (sorry about that, but Jesus said it first - Matt. 6:17). How foolish and shameful to live to serve our stomach, which is headed for death (Deut. 32:15, 1 Cor. 6:13, Phil. 3:19). Better to hunger and thirst for things that last into eternity: for God's Word, for righteousness, for peace and joy (Is. 55, Matt. 4:4, 6:6, Jn. 4:23, 6:27, Rom. 14:17).

Luxurious or excessive eating is not only idolatrous, but unloving, for it ignores the needs of the hungry. It's short-sighted, for like pigs, we are only fattening ourselves for the day of slaughter, when God will judge us for our selfish indulgence (Jam. 5:5).

Gluttony is also unwise. Proverbs pulls no punches here: gluttony produces poverty and drowsiness (23:20-21), vomit (25:16), disgrace (28:7) and, oddly, gullibility (eat with someone, be influenced by someone? - 23:2). Eating sensibly is a wise way to stay healthy (1 sTim. 4:8, 5:23).

Over-eating can make us ill and lethargic (trust me, I know) and perhaps even poor. We may have less energy for loving and serving others. If you find it hard to concentrate when you listen to sermons, read the Bible or pray, have a close look at what and when you eat.

In our eating, as with all our pleasures, there are two opposite pit-falls to avoid: self-denying refusal of pleasure, which may look like godliness but doesn't really help us overcome the sins of the body; and selfish indulgence, which is idolatrous, unloving, short-sighted, and unwise. be continued tomorrow...

You can follow the thread on dieting here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

dieting and gluttony (4a) God's words on food: grace and giving

The very first thing God tells us about food is that it's his wonderful gift to us (Gen. 1:29, 9:3). It's right to enjoy food with enthusiastic thanksgiving to God. Like every pleasure, eating is meant to move us to praise.

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Jesus was known for his cheerful eating and drinking, and was accused of being a glutton and drunkard (Matt. 11:16-19, John 2:1-11). It's good to "eat, drink and be glad" as long as we don't forget God (Ecc. 8:15 c.f. 12:13, and see Ps. 104:15; Prov. 18:19-21, Acts 14:17).

That's all very well, I hear you say. But what should we eat? When should we eat? How much should we eat?

Sorry to disillusion you, but unless you want to give up your faith right now, and live under the Old Testament law with its restrictions and regulations, you won't find specific answers to these questions in the Bible (despite what some Christian dieting books will tell you).

As Christians we live under grace, not law. We're made right with God on the basis of faith in Christ, not on the basis of what we do. We are free to eat what we like - clean and unclean food (Matt. 15:1-20, Mk. 7:1-22, Acts 20:9-23, Heb. 9:10) or, to use modern categories, "good" and "bad" food.

But this is not freedom without responsibilities:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbour as yourself." Galatians 5:13-14

We mustn't use our freedom to indulge ourselves, to pursue pleasure without restriction. Free to eat, we shouldn't to be controlled by food. We are to use our freedom to serve one another in love (1 Cor. 6:12-13, 10:23-11:1, 11:17-34, and see Rom. 14).

So when we eat, we should ask ourselves these questions: does my eating glorify God? Does it benefit those around me?

The Bible has so many great things to say about food and eating, it will take us a few days to cover them (don't worry, I've written all the posts, you won't have to wait 3 weeks like last time!). See you soon!

You can follow the thread on dieting here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

just because it's cute

Here's a picture of Andrew's photo smile. You can see that at 20 months he has already learned to do a big cheesy grin for the camera! Amazing what you can learn when you have 3 older siblings to copy.

This post was inspired by my bloggy friend Nicole, who posted some just because they're cute pictures of her little girl Elsie saying "cheese" on her blog.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

this weight I'm carrying

I have been feeling down recently.

I'm on my morning walk. I have dragged my feet to this rock, and am sitting here writing this in a tiny notebook, next to a lake with a rippled blue surface and visiting wood ducks and herons. The beauty is the furthest thing from my mind: it doesn't even touch the way I'm feeling.

I hesitate to call this feeling "depression" because I know clinical depression is far worse than this. I can get out of bed in the morning. I am aware of the cool breeze on my face, and the soft, deep blue of today's sky - although, like inadequate pain medication, they only take the edge off. When I pray, I can feel God's nearness - the skies haven't turned to brass, and my prayers don't feel like they're echoing off an empty heaven.

But my insides feel like a medicine ball which I am doomed to carry around with me. A wide band of over-tight elastic seems to press around my chest. I find it difficult to breathe - in, out, in, out, each breath meets the resistance of the weight I'm carrying.

I can identify some of the reasons for what I'm feeling. I'm over-tired and over-wrought after months of blogging, writing, dreaming, planning and raising 4 children. I've repented (repeatedly) of people-pleasing, of trying to live up to others' expectations and hopes for me, of the over-conscientiousness and perfectionism which will make me read what I'm writing 10 times before I post it.

But the weight remains, heavy and suffocating.

I know this is normal. While only (only!) 5-8% of people will experience clinical depression in their lifetime, the kind which often requires medical treatment, most of us will experience this heaviness from time to time.

It's part of life, a normal reaction to stress, loss, tiredness. It comes and goes: sometimes it's with us for an hour, sometimes for a week. Sometimes it persists for months on end, like the mild post-natal depression after my second baby, when I cried for an hour every afternoon and barely made it through each day.

I know Jesus probably felt like this too. If it's part of the normal human condition - this sadness, this melancholy, this heaviness - then he experienced it with us. He stayed up nights praying desperately for his Father's comfort and direction. He felt every temptation as we do - the idolatry of human need, the pull of expectation, the siren-call of human praise. He dragged his feet through days of tiredness and discouragement.

Somehow, the fact that my Lord in heaven knows exactly how I feel is intensely comforting.

And now I will drag my feet home again. As I open the door, all 4 children will probably have a fight to settle, a hurt to comfort, or a need to fill. There's cooking to be done, piano lessons to be given, family Bible time to sit through (sorry - I mean enjoy). I will do these things as cheerfully as I can, because it's my job and I love my family. I know from experience that I may feel some small comfort in the hard labour.

I will keep forcing myself through the motions of love and responsibility until the day - maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month - when happiness becomes a normal state again, rather than a fragile surface like thin ice, which I press on gingerly to see if it will give way.

I will go on knowing that Jesus went on, that he battled exhaustion and despair, that he put one step in front of the other, spoke one more word to the demanding crowds, escaped in a boat and found the crowds still waiting, called out to his Father on a night lonely with cold stars, went back and kept on loving. All in the knowledge that the day would come when he would plumb the ultimate depths of sadness and endure his Father's abandonment on the cross for our sake.

Meanwhile, I will try not to treat my children's demands as interruptions, or this sadness as a burden, for sadness is God's blessed gift to grow me in love, patience, trust and hope. Sadness is not something to be rejected, but something to be embraced, for in its fire my faith grows stronger and I become more like my Lord.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16

There's a very helpful chapter on depression and how to respond to it in Peter Brain's Going the distance. He distinguishes between endogenous depression, which is biological, often requires medical treatment, and affects perhaps 5-8% of the population; and exogenous depression, which is a reaction to loss (and I would add stress, tiredness, hormones, etc.), which responds to support, sleep or counselling, and which affects all of us often.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

God and hormones

Here's a fantastic blog by a mother and her three grown daughters about living as a woman for God. It will help you to think God's thoughts after him in the middle of life's demands and heartaches.

I have been enjoying this thread about preparing for and dealing with hormonal times of life - pregnancy, breastfeeding, PND, PMS. It's great to see God's truth applied to such a universal and specific problem for women, with such wise and detailed practical advice.

It will help you during any season of life when you're overcome by your emotions and are struggling to keep on as a Christian, and it will point you in the direction of some wonderful resources and books.