Thursday, July 31, 2008

50 tools for writers

If you're interested in writing, or want to write more clearly, here's a great book by Roy Peter Clark from The Poynter Institute called Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.

This book is a tool-box stuffed to the brim with 50 suggestions and strategies for writing. There are 4 kinds of writing tools:
  1. Nuts and bolts: strategies for making meaning at word, sentence and paragraph levels.
  2. Special effects: tools of economy, clarity, originiality, and persuasion.
  3. Blueprints: ways of organising and building stories and reports.
  4. Useful habits: routines for living a life of productive writing.

The book takes you on an enjoyable journey from the most basic building blocks of writing, to the big-picture questions of how to plan, order and live with writing.

Some of the rules you'll know, some will challenge you to see things differently. Some stuck in my head: "Shape short writing with wit and polish." Others intrigued me: "Get the name of the dog." Still others inspired me: "Draft a mission statement for your work."

The author suggests you get to know the tools slowly, to give you time to think about them and practise them. But this book is readable and accessible enough to read in one gulp. It's a great introduction to the art of writing.

For a summary of the 50 tools, see the 50 writing tools quick list. If you prefer listening to reading, check out the 50 writing tools podcasts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

prayer for my children

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 121

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

motherhood: a big vision

A mother will delight most in the little baby in front of her when she has a vision of God and a vision of the world that's big enough to admit that this little child has a destiny in front of him or her and might become this or that.

If she is totally circumscribed by her little home—with no vision for the world—then I think her domestic scene is probably going to shrivel up on her. But if she sees it in the wider context of the missionary enterprise, I think every detail of her life can take on a global significance.

I still remember the day I held my first-born week-old son in my arms, and wondered what he would become.

The memory is crystal clear: I was standing in the hallway, cradling him in my arms before I tucked him into bed, and gazing down at his tiny, wrinkled face.

What would this child become? Would he teach the Bible, filling hungry people with God's word? Would he give up the comforts of life in Australia, and go overseas, to help people in desperate need, and share Jesus with those who haven't heard? Would he become a carpenter, a mathematician, or a teacher, speaking of his hope in Christ with those who would listen?

So many possibilities! And me with an entire childhood to love and care for this child, teach him the truth about God, train him in wisdom and righteousness, and inspire him with the vision of a needy world and the joy of knowing the Saviour.

When I pray for my children, I give them up to God, to use as he will in his big saving plan. If they go overseas, I know I won't see them or my grandchildren as often. I know they may be in danger. I can only imagine the immensity of the cost for me and them.

But my children are God's, not mine. I want to encourage them to love God with every fibre of their being, and gladly spend themselves in his service.

Motherhood sometimes feels like the walls are closing in around me. But motherhood is so much bigger than the four walls of this home.

These are my reflections on this post by Nicole. The quote is an excerpt from Piper's answer to the question How can eternity influence a mother's daily tasks?.

image is by juliaf at stock.xchng

Monday, July 28, 2008

quote of the week: God's joy in being God

While we're on the topic of enjoying God, I thought I'd share with you this wonderful quote by John Piper, on how God feels about being God:
How glorious and happy have been the Father and the Son and the Spirit of love flowing between them from all eternity! … God is and always has been an exuberantly happy God. From all eternity, even before there were any human beings to love, God has been overflowingly happy in his love for the Son. He has never been lonely. He has always rejoiced, with overflowing satisfaction, in the glory and the partnership of his Son. The Son of God has always been the landscape of God’s excellencies and the panorama of God’s perfections, so that from all eternity God has beheld, with indescribably satisfaction, the magnificent terrain of his own radiance reflected in the Son.
John Piper The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God 40, 48

Sunday, July 27, 2008

health update: Lizzy

Regular readers may remember how anxious I've been about my daughter Elizabeth's health. She's been tired and ill for a number of months now.

Her blood tests showed she might have coeliac disease like her father, which is an intolerance to gluten. It's a life-long condition, but manageable with a gluten-free diet.

Well, she had a gastroscopy during the school holidays. On our way to Bright, I rang the hospital for the results, and it was confirmed: she does have coeliac disease.

I was relieved that my worst fears hadn't been realised. We're used to coping with this condition, although some of our favourite stir-fry sauces may be inappropriate for Lizzy (aaargh! says the family cook).

But Lizzy is exclaiming in delight right now. She's just discovered she can eat "wheat glucose syrup", the main ingredient in most lollies! Lizzy's weekly trip to the milk-bar to buy a $1.00 packet of lollies is very important to her.

Here's some photos of Lizzy, waiting in the hospital for her gastroscopy ...

recovering afterwards...
and eating one of her last icecream cones.Goodbye icecream cones! Goodbye wheat, rye and barley! And hello gluten free bread, rice crackers, and rice cakes!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

online meanderings: on how (not) to be miserable

When my mind's in a mess, and I'm worried and fearful, or confused and overwhelmed, I love to get away for a couple of hours with a Bible, a journal and a pen.

I write down my problems and tangled thoughts. I pray about them. I look up relevant Bible passages, write them down, and think about them. I wrestle with God and my thoughts on paper. I write down new ways of thinking and living which have come to me as I've prayed and read.

I go away refreshed and comforted, with my thoughts in order, encouraged by God's truth, and equipped to move forward in obedience to him.

While we're on the topic of memorising the Bible, I'm reading through the Psalms at the moment. As I get older, I love the Psalms more and more. I find my own struggles mirrored in their pages. They give words to my feelings, and help me to go on. So I've decided to memorise some of the Psalms. I loved this post by Piper, on what to do when a Psalm is not your situation.

Others who are suffering may find comfort in this post, about God's pruning.

And mothers of new babies, overwhelmed and teary, are reminded here to ask for help. How can you help them? Check out cooking meals for others.

Of course, there's another way forward when you're struggling: you can ignore God's help, and choose to be miserable. Here's a sparkling post on how to be miserable.

Friday, July 25, 2008

enjoying God (1) how God feels about being God

Last term I told you about our Sunday school lessons on the fruit of the Spirit. This term, week by week, I'd like to tell you about a seminar I led recently on enjoyment of God. Here's the first in the series, on how God feels about being God.

Have you ever thought about what life was like for God before he made the angels, human beings, or the universe? Was God lonely? Did he create us because he needed someone to love or glorify him?

No! Father and Son were together forever, delighting in each other with the joy of the Spirit.

Many theologians have pictured the Trinity like this. The Son is the perfect image of God, God's joy-filled view of his own excellencies given form. Father and Son rejoice in each other, and delight to bring each other glory. The Spirit is the love and joy which flow between them.

Which is good news for us. For our joy is the overflow of his. We have joy only because he is a God of joy. All joy, all delight, flow from the happy God.

Here's my favourite word-picture of the joy between Father and Son on the day the "morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). "Wisdom", or God's Son (1 Cor. 1:24), speaks:

The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.
When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the earth or its fields
or any of the dust of the world.
I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was the craftsman at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
Proverbs 8:22-31

Take a minute to rejoice in the boundless joy of God.

I dare to speak of mysteries beyond understanding, but we are given glimpses into these wonders in the Bible. See Isaiah 42:1; Job 38:4-7; John 1:1-4; 17:1, 24; 1 Cor. 15:28; Eph. 1:10; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:16-19; Heb. 1:1-3. There's a good explanation of the theological position I described in Jonathan Edward's essay On The Trinity, or see chapter 1 of John Piper's The Pleasures of God.

The original artwork in this post is by my daughter, Elizabeth Williams, age 9.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


What is your heart given to? The beach? The mountains? The city?

For me it will always be trees: marching rows of golden poplars, bare black branches of ancient elms across the wintry sky, drops of water suspended from the bending twigs of humble garden trees, the yellow mourning veil shrouding the boughs of weeping willows, the blue-green and silvery-grey of the slender gums.

The fairy wonderland of leaves drifting from trees planted in green grass. The sting of cold air on my face, the glop and gurgle of the river, and the rustle of damp leaves beneath my feet.

It was when I was happiest that I longed most…The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from. (C.S.Lewis When we have faces)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the importance of cheerfulness

We've just returned from a glorious week's holiday in Bright.

Those who have been with me from the beginning - hello faithful few! - may remember a particularly whiny post I wrote about staying in a different house than usual for our annual holiday.

Our children felt the same. On the way they whinged, "But I love that other house! Why do we have to stay in a different one? It's not fair!"

Me? I hate change, and I wasn't enjoying anticipating this one. But I was determined my mouth would be full of thankful words. "God has given us this house. He knows what's best for us! It'll be different to the other house, but I'm sure it will be good in its own way. Let's be thankful and cheerful, not whiny!"

The kids were unconvinced. But maybe they'll remember how to be thankful.

And me? My words of thankfulness changed my heart. The unhappiness which would normally overcome me at the sight of a tiny garden, no views, a little lounge room, and new sleeping arrangements (I told you I don't like change!) were replaced with feelings of cheerfulness and hopefulness.

God answered my prayers for renewal and refreshment. I spent many a precious half hour wending my lonely way through green parks beside swift running water, breathing deep of the chilly air, gazing up at bare branches and cloud-topped mountains. My heart is brimming with thankfulness.

Ever noticed how the words you speak make their way into your heart?

oh bright snow

Here's some photos of our week in Bright. For the kids, of course, it was all about snow, tobogganing down it ...

and tasting it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I had two very different morning walks early this year. One cold, one hot, miniatures of an unsettled summer.

The first walk was on a bleak and chilly morning. Leaden clouds moved restlessly across the dreary sky. A single crow flew high and lonely against the grey. Above me towered a dead gum, smooth bark the grey-white of old bones and limbs grotesquely contorted, clutching at the sky with twigs like blackened corpses' fingers. All that was missing to make it a truly cliched portent of doom was a flock of ravens cawing ominously from its branches.

I had just read these words about Jesus and the day he comes to bring judgement:
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)
A day of terror and anguish for many:
They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Revelation 6:16-17)
How frightening must Jesus' anger be, if people would rather have a mountain fall on them than face him!

The second walk was a few days later, under a blazing blue sky. Sweat trickled down my back, promising a sweltering day to come. A gusty north wind carried the acrid odour of a distant bush-fire. Dry leaves skittered rattling across the hot bitumin of the car park, and crested pigeons fled chattering into the shelter of the trees. The air was oppressive, full of the threat of fire.

It reminded me that the safest refuge in the inferno of a bush-fire is the place which has already been burnt black by the flames. When God's anger burns against sin, there is only one safe place: where God's anger has already spent itself. In Jesus, whose pierced hands still recall the day he bore the anguish of the cross in our place, that we might escape.

I know, when God comes in his just judgement against our rebellion, I don't want to be crying for a mountain to hide me. I want to be hiding under the wings of Christ:
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. (Psalm 57:1)
I want to look on the one who was pierced for me, and not mourn, but rejoice.

image is from stock.xchng

Monday, July 21, 2008

J.I.Packer's top 5

J.I.Packer's top 5 books - but he forgot Knowing God.

quote of the week: Christian self-talk?

Psychologists now think the solution to depression is not drugs, but changing the way you think. Or so Dorothy Rowe claimed in an article I was reading the other day.

"Instead of constantly criticising, praise and encourage yourself. You'll need to confront the events that occurred just before you became depressed. You blamed yourself and inadvertently created the prison of depression. There is a key to this prison: accepting and valuing yourself, and accepting the natural uncertainty of life."

Self-talk was around a long time before modern psychology. But the content was a little different: honest wrestling with God about one's despair, and arguing oneself into faith. Read Psalm 42. Read the Puritans. Read Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

And learn to speak God's word into your soul:
I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? … Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.” …

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’ – what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’ – instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.’
The long quote is from Martyn Lloyd-Jones Spiritual Depression pp.20-21. The short quote is from Dorothy Rowe's article in Sunday Life, 29th June 2008; I've taken out some words for readability, but not changed the meaning. The picture is from stock.xchng.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

how do you remember what you read?

Ever have trouble remembering what you read?

I vacillate between pencilling notes all over the pages, which distract me when I re-read the book; and penning notes in a notebook, which I promptly lose. I've started to do it John Piper's way, and I'm loving it.

Here's what I learned from his answer to the question, How do you remember what you read?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

non sequitur

Mummy - Thomas, why are you naked?

Thomas - Because I took my clothes off.


Friday, July 18, 2008

stranger in a strange land

There is a house I walk past on my morning walks.

The bricks are chocolate brown, the cream paint peeling and unmatching. The house stands on a flat parallelogram of over-grown lawn, surrounded by dying plants and untrimmed shrubs. There's a cream vinyl sofa against the side fence near the Hills Hoist.

A family has moved in. The father or grandfather often stands alone outside the house. Brindle-bearded, he wears a large turban. He stands, hands behind back, and stares at the sky, the trees, and surreptitiously at the people passing by. When they approach he turns his back and looks away, up at the sky.

I feel embarrassed when I pass him. He avoids my gaze. Do my clothes offend him? Do women walk past this brazenly, with arms showing, in the land he comes from? Am I supporting stereotypes even thinking such things?

I look down at the pavement. I am trying to be respectful, to lower my eyes in his presence. He looks away.

Stranger in a strange land.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

on self-control during the last days

And another helpful comment on self-control.

This excellent blog post by Mark Baddeley on creation really made me think hard about self-control, and why we should be self-disciplined in our enjoyment of the good things God made.

Like me, he argues that the point of self-control is not ascetic self-denial, but love.

But unlike me, he puts this the context of the last days.

Because we are living in the last days, we don't live for the things of this world, we live for the world to come. Which is why God-forgetful self-indulgence is innapropriate for Christians.

We use and enjoy the things of this world, but we don't serve them, cling to them, or stuff ourselves with them. For we belong to heaven, not to this earth, and that's where our treasure lies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

on self-control, a theology of balance, and the enjoyment of chocolate cake in heaven

I've always been suspicious of theological positions based on "balance," as if you can take two extremes and find the truth mid-way between them. It's never seemed to me particularly Biblical.

The theology of pleasure has two extremes: asceticism, the self-denying rejection of pleasure, and hedonism, the self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure. Neither are suitable for the Christian. But this doesn't mean the correct approach to pleasure is mid-way between them.

So I nodded enthusiastically when I read this comment by Richard Longenecker on Galatians 5:18 in the Word Biblical Commentary on Galatians:

The Christian gospel has to do with a third way of life that is distinct from both nomism and libertinism - not one that takes a middle course between the two, as many try to do in working out a Christian lifestyle on their own, but that is a "highway above them both" (Burton, Galatians, 302). The antidote to license in the Christian life is not laws, but openness to the Spirit and being guided by the Spirit. For being "in Christ" means neither nomism nor libertinism, but a new quality of life based in and directed by the Spirit.
Not legalism or libertinism, but a "highway above them both". Beautifully put!

Our love for God is supposed to be one-eyed and passionate, not measured and balanced. At every moment we throw ourselves body and soul into his service, and the loving service of others. At every moment our choices - what we eat, who we sleep with, how we entertain ouselves - should be guided by his Spirit through his Word.

We enjoy the things of this world with enthusiastic thanksgiving to the Giver. And we deny ourselves the things of this world because our joy in God makes earthly pleasures pale in comparison. Moderation is a useful tool to control our bodily desires, and to help us sit lightly to this world's pleasures. But in some ways moderation is a necessary evil for people on this side of heaven.

In heaven we won't be asking ourselves "Should I eat this piece of chocolate cake?". We'll be too busy swimming in the endless sea of joy in God's presence. And if we enjoy chocolate cake, as perhaps we will, it will be with enthusiastic enjoyment, and with hearts full of thanksgiving for the grace and generosity of God.

I explored these issues more fully in my earlier posts on what self-control means in the Bible here, here and here.
image is by thea0211 at stock.xchng

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Beowulf for boys (and girls)

Hear, and listen well, my friends, and I will tell you a tale that has been told for a thousand years and more. It may be an old story, yet, as you will discover, it troubles and terrifies us now as much as ever it did our ancestors....

So roll back the years now, back to the fifth century after the birth of Christ, and come with me over the sea to the Norse lands we now know as Sweden and Norway and Denmark, to the ancient Viking lands of the Danes and the Geats, the Angles and the Jutes. This will be our here and now, as this tale of courage and cruelty unfolds, as brave Beowulf battles with the forces of darkness, first with that foul fiend Grendel, then with his sea-hag of a mother, and last of all, with the death-dragon of the deep.
The thundering, measured syllables rolled off my tongue as I read to my 9-year-old daughter.

Here's a book to add to your list of adventure story for young boys to inspire noble qualities like courage and kindness. It's a retelling of the saga of Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo, suitable for ages 5-12, depending on interest and maturity.

Morgurgo tells the legend of Beowulf with verve and flair, in the rolling, alliterative style of Old English saga, satisfyingly adapted for children. The pictures and stories are vivid and blood-thirsty enough to hold the attention of the most adventure-hungry boy or girl.

The story is filled with noble qualities: the "kindness and generosity" of that "wise guardian," king Hrothgar; the "strength, courage and firm purpose" of "brave Beowulf," the "enemy of evil;" the valour and trustworthiness of his thanes, faithful followers and companions.

Hints of Christian truth are subtly and skillfully scattered throughout the pages. A poet sings of God's "good creation" which the demonic Grendal seeks to destroy. Warriors pray for God's help before battle, and place their fate in his sovereign hands. Death is faced in confident expectation of the judgement of God which follows. The king warns the victorious Beowulf to refuse pride in his own powers, and to humbly receive victory as God's gift.

In the picture where Beowulf finally lies dead against the "death-dealing dragon" he has killed on behalf of his people, his mighty sword casts the shadow of a cross on the wall.

This is a ripper of a read, and a teaching book too! Don't miss it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

quote of the week: how much should I give?

How much should we give?

Ten percent? Living on this side of the cross, doesn't Jesus' sacrifice call us to a more costly generosity? But doesn't the cross also free us from rules and regulations? Is 10% too much for a struggling family?

Maybe 10% is a good starting point. Certainly it keeps us honest. Sometimes it's an excuse not to be generous enough.

Overflowing love doesn't ask "how much". It sees a need and delights to meet it, even at great cost. It gives with abandon, having experienced God's abandoned giving of his only Son. It is so excited about heaven's treasure, that earth's treasure is joyfully given away.

A wise man once told me to give until it hurts. On paycheck day, his first act was to give money away, before spending money on himself.

Here's what C.S.Lewis has to say:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of 'charities' in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear--fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help.
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

The quote is from chapter 13 of Mere Christianity. The picture is from stock.xcnng.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

when Daddy goes away

Steve went away to a conference a while ago. He's back now. Here's some photos of the kids saying goodbye.

Friday, July 11, 2008

when called to do less than our best

I just spent a week on a conference where I spent many hours minding children while my husband gave some wonderful talks. Yes, I did get a chance to lead a seminar on enjoying God - more about that another time - but mostly I cared for our children.

I won't pretend there weren't many moments when I felt resentful about my lot of wiping snotty noses and comforting a miserable 2-year-old. But what a joy to hear Steve speak on the great truths of the faith, and reflect on how my service helped make this possible!

Here's some posts which reminded me of the beauty of service:

More Like Christ reminded this perfectionist that God may call me to do "less than my best", to serve him in ways which don't seem to use my gifts and training.

The Homemaker's Secret of Fulfilment reminded me of Jesus' promise that we will find ourselves as we lose ourselves in serving others.

Homemaking is not a holding pattern encouraged me to love my children with whole-hearted enthusiasm, not thinking wistfully "When this stage of life is over, then I can ...".

And it holds true for guys, too: One Productive Life tells the moving story of Warfield, whose life was made much smaller by his devoted care for his invalid wife.

angry with God?

"The 4th of July is a different sort of ‘Independence Day’ for me. On July 4, 1995 my multiply-disabled son entered the world and my life came crashing down around me—and would soon include a deep and intense bitterness toward God."

Read the rest here, and learn a little bit about how to live, and support people, through intense suffering and anger with God.

a call to prayer

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 1 Samuel 12:23

A call to repentance and prayer from Gordon at Sola Panel.

responding to anxiety

Do we respond to anxiety by distracting ourselves, or by dealing with our worry before God?

Here's a great post about anxiety from the blog In view of God's mercy called getting rid of distractions. It discusses a book from my want-to-read list, Ed Welch's Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest.

Can you recommend a book you haven't read? If so, can I suggest you read this one if you struggle with anxiety? Ed Welch is consistently good on how to apply the Bible to issues like addiction, depression, people-pleasing, and anxiety.

union with Christ and how it helps me love my husband

The following is an unpublished excerpt from my article "Why I love the doctrine of union with Christ (and how the Puritans helped me to love it)" in the January edition of Ishah. Because they didn't want to deal with the controversial topic of submission in this issue, we agreed to leave out this section, about how union with Christ affects my marriage. But I thought you might like to read it:

Union with Christ helps me to love others for Christ’s sake.

The Puritans helped me to realise that Christ is my first husband, that I share an intimate and unbreakable bond with Him:

Christ calls the day of his espousals [a binding betrothal] the day of the gladness of his heart." The delight of the bridegroom in the day of his espousals is the heights of what an expression of delight can be carried unto. His heart is glad in us, without sorrow. And every day whilst we live is his wedding day.*
Since Christ is my first husband, I love others primarily for His sake, not for theirs.

I don’t love, serve and submit to my husband because he is smarter, wiser, godlier or more capable than me, but because my first husband is Christ, and this is what He demands of me – and my great delight is to love, serve and submit to Him.

Like yours (if you are married) my husband is deeply sinful and fallible, and so am I!

When I feel like I know better than my husband, and the shape of our current life is not meeting my needs, or the shape of our future lives could better be decided by me, I don’t submit because he is smarter or more important than me, but because Christ demands it of me – and I trust Him absolutely to lay down guidelines which protect me, and to care for my deepest needs.

When I am tired and the last thing I feel like doing is serving my husband’s needs above my own, I don’t serve him because he is higher than me and more worthy of my service, but because Christ gave me an example by serving me. I serve because it brings honour to Christ – and He is higher than me and more worthy of my service.

When I feel like hurting my husband for some hurt that he has done to me, I don’t swallow back the angry retort because he deserves my forgiveness, but because Christ died to win the forgiveness I didn't deserve. I forgive because it pleases Christ – and I delight to bring pleasure to Him.

Christ is my first husband, and He died for me to make me his bride. He deserves all my submission, service and love. All I do, in my marriage and in all other relationships, I ultimately do for Him.

* John Owen, Communion With God; he quotes Song of Songs 3:11. I've taken out the "..." for easy reading.

image is from stock.xchng

5 today!

Happy birthday Thomas!

You have never seen anyone so proud to be 5.

Thomas' first words on waking? "I'm 5 today, Mummy! Hooray!"

I will post photos of our birthday celebrations when I have some ...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

on being 4

Our 4-year-old is about to turn 5. But before he does, let's celebrate some moments of 4-ness:

Thomas - I'm 4. My kids are older than me, but I'm older than my baby.

Thomas - I can jump down all the stairs!
Mum- You're a super star!
Thomas - No, I'm not. I'm 4!

Which is better by far.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Atonement, postmodernism, and questions of truth

Ian McEwen's Atonement, like many postmodern novels, questions whether there is a single reality, or many different versions of reality depending on our point of view, and the stories we create to give our lives meaning.

Here's a passage which asks the big questions:
Was everyone else really as alive as she was? For example, did her sister really matter to herself, was she as valuable to herself as Briony was? Was being Cecilia just as vivid an affair as being Briony? Did her sister also have a real self concealed behind a breaking wave, and did she spend time thinking about it, with a finger held up to her face. Did everybody, including her father, Betty, Hardman? If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone's thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone's claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance. But if the answer was no, then Briony was surrounded by machines, intelligent and pleasant enough on the outside, but lacking the bright and private inside feeling she had. This was sinister and lonely, as well as unlikely. For, though it offended her sense of order, she knew it was overwhelmingly probably that everyone else had thoughts like hers. (pp. 35-6)

The moral role of the storyteller is not to describe the battle between good and evil, but to show that every character, every person, has their own perception of reality, their inner story to tell, each as valid and valuable as any other:

She could write the scene three times over, from three points of view; her excitement was in the prospect of freedom, of being delivered from the cumbrous struggle between good and bead, heroes and villains. None of these three was bad, nor were they particularly good. She need not judge. There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive. It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have. (p.40)
And of course, if there is no over-arching narrative, no ultimate reality to which we have access, there are as many versions of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood, as there are people. Post-modernism undermines the false confidence that we can have a single morality or truth without God.

And what of "atonement?" How is it won? I won't give away the story by explaining how. Suffice to say that it is, unsurprisingly, through story.

As is our own. For our atonement was won through the supreme Story of God become man, the Word clothed in human flesh, giving up his life that we might live. But unlike postmodernism, not one of many stories, but the Story; not one of many truths, but the Truth.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Atonement: a perfect story

What a rare privilege it is to fall in love with a new author! Ian McEwen has been writing for years. But I only just discovered his books when I read Atonement.

Many novels, even when I enjoy them, feel like they've been churned out in a hurry. Like fast food, they suit my speedy reading style. Swallowing without chewing.

It's a long time since I've read a book where each word has been chosen with exquisite care, making me want to chew slowly, savouring the taste.

Ian McEwen creates sentences of such grace, they're unforgettable: "The silence in the house was complete - no voices or footfalls from downstairs, no murmurs from the plumbing; in the space between one of the open sash windows a trapped fly had abandoned its struggle, and outside, the liquid birdsong had evaporated in the heat."

Here's his description of a fountain topped with a reproduction of Bernini's Triton:
Of the four dolphins whose tails supported the shell on which the Triton squatted, the one nearest to Cecilia had its wide-open mouth stopped with moss and algae. Its spherical stone eyeballs, as big as apples, were iridescent green. The whole statue had acquired around its northerly surfaces a bluish-green patina, so that from certain approaches, and in low light, the muscle-bound Triton really seemed a hundred leagues under the sea. Bernini's intention must have been for the water to trickle musically from the wide shell with its irregular edges into the basin below. But the pressure was too weak, so that instead the water slid soundlessly down the underside of the shell where opportunistic slime hung in dripping points, like stalactites in a limestone cave. The basin itself was over three feet deep and clear. The bottom was of a pale, creamy stone over which undulating white-edged rectangles of refracted sunlight divided and overlapped. (pp.18, 28)
And here's a paragraph which makes furniture in a room come alive:

The vase she was looking for was on an American cherry-wood table by the French windows which were slightly ajar. Their south-east aspect had permitted parallelograms of morning sunlight to advance across the powder-blue carpet. Her breathing slowed and her desire for a cigarette deepened, but still she hesitated by the door, momentarily held by the perfection of the scene - by the three faded Chesterfields grouped around the almost new Gothic fireplace in which stood a display of wintry sedge, by the unplayed, untuned harpsichord and the unused rosewood music stands, by the heavy velvet curtains, loosely restrained by an orange and blue tasselled rope, framing a partial view of cloudless sky and the yellow and grey mottled terrace where chamomile and feverfew grew between the paving cracks. (p.20)
A room's furnishings, the way the light falls across a carpet, the growth of moss on a stone fountain: Ian McEwen captures them in such rich and evocative detail, I found myself wishing the day he was describing would go on forever.

How could you not love a book like that? Atonement left me with the lingering satisfaction that comes when you have been privileged to hold a work of polished perfection in your hand.

Tomorrow: Atonement, post-modernism, and questions of truth.

Monday, July 7, 2008

quote of the week: words for the troubled soul

Troubled soul, thou art not bound to feel, but thou art bound to arise. God loves thee whether thou feelest or not. … Try not to feel good when thou art not good, but cry to Him who is good. He changes not because thou changest. Nay, he has an especial tenderness of love towards thee for that thou art in the dark and hast no light, and his heart is glad when thou dost arise and say, "I will go to my Father." For he sees thee through all the gloom through which thou canst not see him. Will thou his will. Say to him: "My God, I am very dull and low and hard; but thou art wise and high and tender, and thou art my God. I am thy child. Forsake me not." Then fold the arms of thy faith, and wait in quietness until light goes up in thy darkness. Fold the arms of thy Faith I say, but not of thy Action: bethink thee of something that thou oughtest to do, and go and do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend. Heed not thy feelings: Do thy work.

George MacDonald Unspoken Sermons.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

a 4-year-old reflects on the underworld

How do little kids find out about ghosts? By having big sisters and brothers who talk about them, of course.

When Thomas was only 3, he got in the car, looked at his pale blurry reflection in the window, and said "ghost"!

But Thomas' reflections on ghosts have become much more solid since then:

Thomas (4) - Mummy, why do ghosts always wear blankets on their heads?

photo is from stock.xchng

Saturday, July 5, 2008

me and my big brother

I like to do what he does.
Mmm, this tastes good ...
Yeah, still drinking.
Gotta get those last drops out ...
Aaah, that was good.
Better eat now.
More! More! More!

Friday, July 4, 2008

cooking without complaining

"A woman is considered to be twenty-five years old and ready to marry when she is able to cook without complaining."

Wonderful! Glad to know I'm not the only one who has to bite my tongue not to complain when I'm huddled over a hot stove. Is not complaining a sign of growing up? In my experience, yes. But I'm not there yet.

Going link-happy today, but couldn't resist this quote from Rachael's post about Ekasup cultural village over at storiansmol. Hi Rachael!

on losing a child

Here is a moving post called empty hands and unutterable longings from Ali at something this foggy day. She includes a letter written by one grieving mother to another about the loss of their children, a letter which is heart-breaking but full of hope.

the meaningful work of motherhood

Are you reading this to the background of bickering children, a 2-year old's tantrum, or the sweet smell of a pooey nappy? Feeling fretful about the piled-up dishes, the crumbs scattered over your newly-cleaned floor, and the knot of crumpled washing in your dryer?

If you have any doubt about the eternal significance of the sometimes humdrum work of mothering your children and caring for your home, here's an encouraging post from GirlTalkpost about the lasting value of motherhood.

more thoughts on the meaning of work

Imagine my surprise when I noticed this post on work and the kingdom of God over at Sola Panel, which came out yesterday, on the same day as my own post on the meaning of work!

I found Gavin Perkins' comments on the theology of work interesting and insightful.

Sandy Grant's comment adds a few interesting reflections on the value of work. His thoughts about caring for elderly parents is a great addition to my list of 7 things that give work meaning.

Thanks to Gordo for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

is work meaningless? (3) 7 things that give work meaning

Here's my list of things which give work meaning:

  • Work is a good gift from God for our joy (Gen. 1:28). Like all good gifts from God, we receive it with thanksgiving, bringing glory to God, "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Tim. 6:17). Thanksgiving makes "secular work" into something "holy" (1 Tim. 4:4).
  • After the Fall, work is marred by sin, futility, and discouragement. We honour God by enduring suffering with patience and joy. Paul said to the slave with an unjust boss, "if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God" (1 Pet. 2:20).
  • We work with honesty, integrity, responsibility, cheerfulness, humility, and loving service, glorifying God with our obedience, and attracting people to the gospel by being salt and light in this world. As Gordo commented here, "the bridge won't last but the love that built it will".
  • We work to provide food and shelter for our families. "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8).
  • We work so as not to be a burden on others, like Paul, who said "we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you" (2 Thess. 3:8).
  • We use the money we earn not only to meet our own needs, but to generously and cheerfully care for the needy, help our brothers and sisters in Christ, and further the cause of gospel work (2 Cor. 9). We obey God's command to "do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share" (1 Tim. 6:18).
  • We share the gospel with workmates, people who would otherwise not darken the door of a church, or pick up a Bible, from one end of the year to the other. My mum, who runs her own business, recently discovered this when many long-standing clients showed interest in the gospel. The world needs Christians in it, not in a holy huddle!
Charles Bridges says the Christian's work is a "work of faith". Work is a means of grace to our own souls, and a means of exalting God. Faith "enlivens our work with perpetual cheerfulness".

I'm still feeling my way towards a theology of work. But even if the results of our work decay and disappear, the faithfulness, love and joy with which we work will never fail.

So, bounce out of bed tomorrow, and off to work! And as you build, type, fix, sweep, or heal, remember that your thankfulness makes work "holy", that your loving integrity and patient endurance honour God, that you have the immense privilege of generous giving, and that you are God's beacon in this dark world.

This one's for you, Gordo ;)

image is from stock.xchng

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

is work meaningless? (2) different views of work

I've come across two views of secular work recently.

The first is from Gordo, who argues from Ecclesiastes that secular work is meaningless. It makes sense to me that only gospel work has eternal value, if we're talking about the direct results of our work. For the results of our labour don't last. Bridges fall, bodies decay, homes get dirty again.

My main question, Gordo, is what you do with the fact that Ecclesiastes is written primarily from an "under the sun" perspective: this-worldly wisdom gained through empirical observation. Does God's call to work in Genesis 1 give work meaning in an eternal perspective? I'm looking forward to that longer article on work you promised us, no doubt taking in the broad sweep of the Bible's teaching! (See, now you have to write it.)

The second is, I think, a more traditional Reformed view of work, based on Genesis 1-3. You'll find this clearly presented in A Biblical Understanding of Work by John Loftness from Sovereign Grace Ministries. I don't agree with its assumptions about God's "calling" to different kinds of work. I'm still puzzling over its teaching on the "dignity" of work: that we act as God's image-bearers as we produce and create, and fulfil God's command to "fill and subdue the earth."

If secular work obeys God's command to "fill and subdue the earth", our obedience to this command has eternal value, even if the results of our work disappear through decay and destruction. But some argue that, after the Fall, the command to "fill and subdue" is fulfilled through the work of redemption i.e. preaching the gospel. In which case we obey this command not through secular work, but through sharing the gospel.

Here's some questions I have. How do we obey the command to "fill and subdue" the earth? Does work have dignity because we create and produce as God's image-bearers in the world? Is "meaningful" the same as "eternally significant"? Do the tasks we do when we work - heal, build, empty bins - have meaning because they serve the needs of others, albeit temporal needs? Does the view that secular work is meaningless, and gospel work meaningful, return us to a monastic division between sacred and secular?

As you can see, I have many more questions than answers! If anyone has any ideas, or suggestions of books or articles to read, please tell me.

I'm planning a final post tomorrow on "7 things which make work meaningful".

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

is work meaningless? (1) finding meaning in work

Is work meaningless?

It recently became a real possibility (mercifully a brief one!) that I might have to work 2-3 days a week for financial reasons. Not my first preference! I want to stay home with our children while they are young, and I've always assumed I'll head back into gospel work once they grow up a bit.

I'm still figuring out my theology of work, but it seems to me that only gospel work directly produces things of eternal value. The plumbing you fix, the garbage bin you empty, or the hair you style, will crumble into dust. The court case you win, the building you engineer, or the body you heal, will fade and be forgotten. The house you clean, the nappy you change, or the meal you cook, are chores destined to be repeated endlessly.

So my first thought (and I'm sorry for this, you workers!) was: "What a waste of time! When I could be caring for our children, or teaching people about the Bible, why would I want to spend 2 or 3 days a week doing something with no eternal significance?"

It brought home to me how important it is, for those of us without the great privilege of being in gospel work, to know why we get out of bed in the morning, put on our suits, skirts or overalls, and go to work. How do I get up and go to work every morning? How do I work with joy under God?

During the next couple of days I want to explore this issue further, first with some very different views on work from the Bible, and second with my reflections on "7 things that make work meaningful."