Sunday, August 31, 2008

a 5-year old lives up to his middle name

Thomas' middle name is Luther. Which is very appropriate. For it was Luther who said, "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly." Here's a typical conversation:

Ben (7) - Mum, Thomas hit me!

Thomas (5) - (indignantly) No I didn't, I punched him!

Here's a conversation we had a couple of weeks ago:

Thomas - Mummy, I'm not going to do anything bad today.

Mum - Ok, you try and we'll see how you go with that.

10 minutes and several acts of naughtiness later:

Mum - Thomas, so how's it going? Have you managed not to do anything bad yet?

Thomas - No, Mummy (with a self-deprecating grin).

Mum - Well, honey, I've never gone through a day without doing anything bad either. Which is why we both need Jesus to die for us.

And just to show the lesson sank in, a week later:

Thomas - (gleefully) Mummy, you will be naughty every day!

Mum - (tongue in cheek) Thomas, it's good to see you're developing a robust understanding of your mother's sinfulness.

Moral of the story: never teach a child something you are unwilling for them to teach back to you.

And later that day ...

Mum - Thomas, do you remember the day you said you would do nothing bad?

Thomas - Ye-es.

Mum - Did you manage to do nothing bad?

Thomas - No. That was a lie!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

evangelicals, emotions and embarrassment

Reformed evangelicals often seem a little embarrassed about expressing emotion. Other forms of Christianity have other weaknesses, including an over-emphasis on emotion, but this is ours.

So while we're on the topic of feelings, here's a fantastic quote from Mike Raiter about evangelicalism:

Haven’t you ever wondered…why we make more of what we believe than whom we trust? We are in love with the gospel, but feel a little uncomfortable with Jesus… It is gospel, gospel, gospel, but where is Jesus? … Sometimes, evangelical Christians talk about their faith as if it is essentially a creed we subscribe to, rather than a person we belong to…You could easily get the impression that the chief end of man is to “read the Bible and study it forever”…

We sing to one another the most sublime and thrilling truths imaginable. Yet, so often, we do so with little fervour or evident intellectual or emotional engagement…It is tragic to hear sermons on, say, the seriousness of sin, the majesty of Jesus, the assurance of salvation, the expectation of glory, delivered with all the passion one might show in giving street directions to a passing motorist… I expect that we will sing in heaven because our first response on beholding the glory of God will not be to break up into discussion groups, but to break out into adoration and praise.

Mike Raiter Stirrings of the Soul 228-30, 247.

weekend blogging revisited

And yes, I do realise this is the weekend, but I'm having trouble fitting everything into 5 days. Expect mostly light posts on weekends - quotes, family life - and some random days off.

Friday, August 29, 2008

enjoying God (6) do I really have to feel it?

"Why do you keep going on and on about joy?", I hear you ask. "Just how important are feelings anyway?"

Faith isn't a feeling. When I fly in an aeroplane, I'm putting my faith in the pilot, but I don't feel anything about him one way or the other. Do I?

Obedience isn't a feeling. The whole point of obedience is that I obey God however I feel. Don't I?

Well, yes and no. Feelings come and go. They're not particularly reliable. When I put my faith in Christ, I may not feel anything much. But it's hard to imagine a drowning man grabbing the hand of his rescuer without joy! Peter assumes faith brings joy "that is inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8).

And there will be times when I obey without joy. Times when, feeling nothing, I pray, love, or serve. But obedience isn't better when it's done through gritted teeth. In some ways, I honour God more when I obey with joy because I love to bring him glory.

It's a bit like marriage. Marriage is a fact, not a feeling, and I stay married however I feel about it. I can choose to love my husband even when I don't feel loving. But a healthy marriage will include feelings. I may tell my husband "I love him" from a sense of duty. But my husband is more honoured if I say it not just from duty, but because I really feel he is precious to me.

If I'm not feeling anything about God - even though he sent his only Son to die for me! - there's something wrong. This "wrongness" may be out of my control (illness, depression, mood). But more often than not, it's the result of unbelief, patterns of disobedience, or choices I've made.

Maybe I've cherished my moods, until I'm permanently stuck in anxiety, bitterness or despair. Maybe I've been unwise about caring for my body, and lack of sleep and exercise have plunged me into discouragement. Maybe I've neglected the Bible, prayer, or obedience, so it's no wonder I no longer feel joy in God.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who insisted truth mattered more than emotion, still saw feelings as essential to true Christianity: “If you and I have never been moved by our feelings, well, we had better examine the foundations again.” J.I.Packer described the Christian life as like a 3-legged stool: doctrine, practice, and experience. If you lack one, the stool won't support your weight very well.

Feelings come from faith, not faith from feelings. We begin with truth, not with feelings (Rom. 12:1-2). On their own, feelings don't tell us much (2 Cor. 7:10). They're not accurate indicators of the health of our relationship with God. Their intensity and expression depend on personality, health, upbringing, and a host of other factors.

But feelings will generally accompany a healthy and lively faith.

For how can we receive such a great salvation without joy? How can we see God send his own Son to die for us without tears in our eyes? How can we not sing to such a God with hearts overflowing with thanks and praise?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote is from Spiritual Depression, p.110; J.I.Packer comment is from Rediscovering Holiness, p.61; images are from stock.xchng.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Caution: Parenting book. Read with care. (Part 1)

Recipe for one parenting book
Take one favourite and fashionable parenting philosophy.
Add 10 sets of 10 steps, five guarantees and six dire warnings.
Mix with one heaped tablespoon each of anxiety, fear and uncertainty.
Sprinkle with Bible verses and/or psychological studies.
Decorate with a cover shot of a perfect family. Top with a catchy title.
Done when it leaves a lingering taste of self-doubt.
Serve with lashings of guilt or pride.

I have far too many parenting books on my shelves. I have even read some of them. Like many educated parents, my motto is “When in doubt, research”.

I try not to read parenting books too often for, while some brim with biblical principles and wise advice, others should come with a health warning: “May produce unnecessary guilt and even despair in susceptible readers”. ...

... to read the rest, head over to Sola Panel

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

meditation on a morning walk

I haven't been to this park for some time, and the familiar trees and green curves of the hills welcome me. Like a friend seen after a long absence, my eyes trace the well-known features with delight.

In front of me walk two women in red, with a dog on a lead about as red as a dog gets. Normally I would find them disturbing, a blot on the purity of the landscape, like the red graffiti on the white bark of the gums. Today nothing can dampen my mood.

I look down, and the gravel moves with soothing rhythm under my feet. I look up, and the gnarled branches of oaks tell their long, slow tale of years. I look, at fat white eucalypts shedding strings of brown bark, at lichen-yellowed trees in their winter bareness, at peppermint gums clambering up the hillside.

I look.

The stillness is shattered by a passing gaggle of gabbling middle-aged women. A woman with electric blue eyeshadow and yellow curls shrills at the quiet-faced woman next to her, "I tell you, it was so peaceful, there was not a sound! Not a sound, I tell you! It was so peaceful!" I smile at the contrast between content and delivery.

A foam-freckled brown creek rushes alongside, through the unkempt loveliness of overgrown banks, scattered with haphazard piles of upended branches. Messy wattles and dead trees stand knee-deep in dandelions, thistles and clover. Bridal creeper spreads its glossy leaves impartially over logs, stones and shrubs, turning them into mysterious lumpy mounds.

I look. I think.

My reflections are interrupted by a bald man walking three dogs, crowded to the far side of the path on short leads. Two gangly youths pass by, regarding me with challenging stares, their hair gelled into bleach-tipped spines like twin echidnas. A teenager on his way to the local high school, meek faced and crew-cut neat, hurries past clutching a take-away coffee in a brown paper cup.

The smell of the onion grass is strong. A small rabbit regards me solemnly. The sky sheds tufts of white cloud. My muscles bunch and stretch, bunch and stretch. A train passes in glimpses through a tangle of trees. The air tips my nose with cold. Two shaggy ponies graze on an steep angle of field. Lemon-fringed cockatoos scream their wild, whooping calls overhead.

I look. I think. I pray.

The silence returns, and my thoughts turn to You: the One who shaped every twig as a tiny paean of praise, the one who sent his Son to die on ugly dead wood like this, the One who reaches out to all these people, holy interruptions in my walk, my thoughts, my days.

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

a 5-year old asks if he can start over

Thomas (5) - Mummy, do you ever wish the world would start again?

Mummy (39) - No. Why, do you?

Thomas - Yes, so all the good things can happen again.

Mummy - What kinds of good things?

Thomas - Like shows and lolly bags and stuff.

Mummy - But they'll keep on happening, Thomas.

Thomas - Not if life stops.

At which point Thomas and I break for a meaningful discussion about how heaven is better than 1000 shows and 10,000 lolly bags.

Monday, August 25, 2008

John Piper on sewing and reaping joy

Last Friday I wrote about how God both commands and gives joy.

I love the way Piper explains how command and gift fit together (maybe with 1 Corinthians 3 in mind):

We are like farmers. They plow the field and plant the seed and cut away weeds and scare away crows, but they do not make the crop grow, God does. He sends rain and sunshine and brings to maturity the hidden life of the seed. We have our part. But it is not coercive or controlling. And there will be times when the crops fail.

In obedience to God’s Word we should fight to walk in the paths where he has promised his blessings. But when and how they come is God’s to decide, not ours. If they delay, we trust the wisdom of our Father’s timing, and we wait. In this way joy remains a gift, while we wait patiently in the field of obedience and fight against the weeds and the crows and the rodents.

Here is where joy will come. Here is where Christ will reveal himself (John 14:21). But that revelation and that joy will come when and how Christ chooses. It is a gift.

I would add that not only the growth is God's gift, but also the plowing, planting, and weeding, for they are done through us by his Spirit. We work because he works in us (Phil. 2:13-14).

But how helpful to remember that, having sought God with heart, soul, mind and strength, we may have to wait for the day of joy to return. We can't expect joy in God if we don't seek it through the means he has provided: but having sought, we trust, and we wait.

Quote is from Piper When I Don't Desire God 42; image from stock.xchng.

Friday, August 22, 2008

enjoying God (5) is joy a command or a gift?

It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can. (C.S.Lewis)

Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is (C.S.Lewis)

Well, which is it? Is joy a command or a gift?

How can you possibly command someone to be happy? It would be wonderful if our emotions were under our control: "Stop being sad! Go on, be happy right now!" Certainly, you wouldn't say to a discouraged friend, "Snap out of it. Time to be happy."

But God clearly commands us to be joyful, as if it's something we can choose:

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:5)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)
Be joyful always. (1 Thess. 5:16)
How wonderful if you could give joy as a gift! If you could say to your discouraged friend, "Here's a nice parcel of joy, just for you", and watch them open it. If you could keep a pot of happiness on your shelf, and open it whenever you felt the need.

Joy is God's gift to us. In the midst of severe suffering, the Thessalonians received salvation with "the joy given by the Holy Spirit". (1 Thess. 1:6). And David, crushed by guilt, cries out to God to "restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12).

How is this possible? Is the Bible trying to have it both ways? How can joy be both a command and a gift?

Command and gift?
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit: but we are to "keep in step" with the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). How do these things go together?

Years ago I was trying to puzzle out the problem of our responsibility and God's sovereignty. I came to love these two verses so much, that they were among the first I memorised:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Phil. 2:12-13)
We work out our salvation - but why? Because God works in us to "will and to act according to his good purpose". We can't even want to obey God unless he gives us a new will. We can't obey unless he helps us to obey. We work hard, confident that God is at work in us.

Command and gift
Every part of the pursuit of joy is from God. He makes us want to pursue joy in him. He enables us to pursue joy. And if the battle for joy is a hard, back-breaking fight, then he is the one who fights in us and through us. We fight with every ounce of strength that is in us. But we fight with his strength.

We fight against discouragement, doubt, apathy, anxiety, all the different faces of unbelief. We fight to find satisfaction in God, rather than in earthly things. We fight with the weapons God has given us: his Word, prayer, faith, obedience. We can't turn on joy like a tap, but we can create the conditions in which joy will flourish. We fight for joy.

Having fought for joy, feelings of joy are not in our command. We may do everything we can, and joy may still seem to be absent. For in the end, joy is a gift from God. The day of joy is in God's hands.

We fight, and we wait.

image of Moses by Mickelodeon at Flickr; other images from stock.xchng

weekend blogging?

I'm following Nicole's excellent example and sticking to weekday blogging from now on.

I love blogging 7 days a week, but it's difficult to keep up when I have other writing or teaching to manage. As you know, I've been thinking hard about the place of blogging in my life. For the sake of my husband and children, I've decided to stop blogging most weekends.

I'd say "goodbye until Monday", but I've got today's post to publish first ... after that, see you Monday!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

losing parents: all grown up, but newly alone

It all came back to me the other day.

We arrived at church to discover our minister wasn't there. His mother had died the night before. Only 3 months ago, almost to the day, we were rung at 9.30 with the news that Steve's father had died. It's impossible to forget the night we went to say goodbye.

It doesn't matter if you're all grown up, losing a parent is a terribly sad experience. It's easy to underestimate the significance of losing parents as an adult.

There's the normal sorrow of loss and grief. The empty chair he always sat in. The renewed pain when you see something she created, or planted, or loved. The mornings you wake up and remember, shockingly, again, what you have lost.

But when a parent dies, you lose more than the person you love.

You're losing your childhood. Someone who can answer the question, "What was I like when I was 5 years old?" Someone who remembers your grandma's house. Someone who loves you in the irrational, doting way of a parent, who embarrasses you by boasting of your accomplishments, and who still thinks you are beautiful, wrinkles and all.

You're losing a generation of memories and insights. What was it like when your parents were young? What did it feel like to live through World War II? The way clothes look after they've been through a mangle. Bottles of milk beside the front door, waiting for the milk van. The horse-drawn dunny cart.

You're losing a wealth of wisdom. How do you make Anzacs the traditional way? Pancakes with soured milk? Lancashire Hotpot? How do you change the washer on a tap? What did your mum do when her babies wouldn't sleep? Did she ever worry you wouldn't turn out ok?

You're losing your children's grandparents. Someone who can tell them stories about what you were like as a child. Someone your children can turn to as teenagers, when you just don't get it. Someone who won't have to pretend to be fascinated when you talk endlessly about your child's first steps.

I'm not sure you really grow up until you lose both your parents.

It's not just parents you're losing, but someone older than you, someone ultimately responsible, someone you can depend on. A father who will be there the day you run out of money. A mother who will come and stay when you've just had a baby, and are trying to juggle 3 older children, a home, and mastitis.

You stand on the precipice of a terrifying independence.

There are all kinds of ways to lose parents. We may move far away, so that phonecalls are rare, and regular visits out of the question. We may lose parents to Alzheimer's or cancer, and have to watch them slowly drift away, body and mind. Our relationship with them may be damaged, seemingly beyond repair. Maybe they're still alive, and we've been living without them for a long time.

When we lose our parents, there is one comfort: God has not left us as orphans. He will always be our Father.

There was a wonderful article about adults losing their parents, and the deep impact it has, in the Good Weekend a couple of months ago. I should have kept a copy. Did anyone cut it out and keep it? And if so, can you send me a copy? I would love to read it again!

Image is from stock.xchg

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

a new look

No, you're not imagining things, I've given my blog a new look - or tried to, anyway! There are still a few kinks to iron out. Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

4 ways sex helps your husband

Four reasons to love your husband by caring for his physical needs: it increases his

  • confidence in family, ministry, and work;
  • closeness to and communication with you;
  • contentment with life and his marriage;
  • commitment to sexual purity.
And guys, here's a hint: it works in reverse for women. If you nurture qualities like your wife's confidence and contentment, she will find it much easier and more enjoyable to initiate and respond to physical closeness.

This was taken partly from what people told me about the talks by Philip Jenson and Caremelina Read at Equip ministry wives, and partly from conversations with men and women.

Monday, August 18, 2008

John Piper's IOUS

Before I read the Bible in the morning, and often when I'm tempted during the day, I pray Piper's IOUS.

It's one of the most helpful prayers I've come across. It's easy to remember. It turns my thoughts and desires from earthly things to God. Through this prayer, God has ignited my heart with longing for his word, and kept me from sin.

Here it is (if you're unsure what any of the verses mean, check out the quote below):

I—Incline "Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain." (Psalm 119:36)
O—Open "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." (Psalm 119:18)
U—Unite "Unite my heart to fear your name." (Psalm 86:11)
S—Satisfy "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." (Psalm 90:14)

I—(Incline!) The first thing my soul needs is an inclination toward God and his Word. Without that, nothing else will happen of any value in my life. I must want to know God and read his Word and draw near to him. Where does that “want to” come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 119:36 teaches us to pray, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Very simply we ask God to take our hearts, which are more inclined to breakfast and the newspaper, and change that inclination. We are asking that God create desires that are not there.

O—(Open!) Next I need to have the eyes of my heart opened so that when my inclination leads me to the Word, I see what is really there, and not just my own ideas. Who opens the eyes of the heart? God does. So Psalm 119:18 teaches us to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” So many times we read the Bible and see nothing wonderful. Its reading does not produce joy. So what can we do? We can cry to God: “Open the eyes of my heart, O Lord, to see what it says about you as wonderful.”

U—(Unite!) Then I am concerned that my heart is badly fragmented. Parts of it are inclined, and parts of it are not. Parts see wonder, and parts say, “That’s not so wonderful.” What I long for is a united heart where all the parts say a joyful Yes! to what God reveals in his Word. Where does that wholeness and unity come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 86:11 teaches us to pray, “Unite my heart to fear your name.”

S—(Satisfy!) What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of his Spirit in answer to my prayers is for my heart to be satisfied with God and not with the world. Where does that satisfaction come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 90:14 teaches us to pray, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

Quote is from John Piper's When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy pp.151-2

Sunday, August 17, 2008

ebony and ivory

Every day, my son Ben (7) runs out of school laughing and chatting, hand-in-hand with his best friend, a boy from India. Ben is very pale and his friend is very dark, so it's ebony and ivory - beautiful!

I had a chat with Ben's friend's mum the other day. Here's what she said, in her pretty broken accent:

"My son says Ben is very good. He says Ben is very intelligent and prays all the time."

Not sure exactly what impression that made!! But amusing all the same.

image is from stock.xchng

tender love

Note to self: rolling your eyes when the third child in a row asks you to get them them some toast is not displaying tender love.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

theological reading online?

Bec asked an excellent follow-up question to last Thursday's post (I think I've got this right): does anyone know of daily reflections by good theologians you can get sent to your email or blog reader?

She says, "I've found that's the best way for me to do Bible reading regularly at the moment, so perhaps that's a good way to do further reading as well".

She suggested one: daily readings by Charles Spurgeon at Morning and Evening.

There are many websites which will send you a Christian quote daily. I subscribe to Of First Importance, where they send you a thoughtful quote about the gospel, and there are others out there, like Christian Quote. I'm sure I've seen some sites which will send you quotes from specific writers like C.S.Lewis, although I don't have the URLs at my fingertips.

But I did a quick internet search and couldn't find exactly what she's looking for.

Does anyone know of any other daily reflections by great theological writers you can get sent to your email or blog reader? Please add them to the comments.

online meanderings: the blog olympics

Here are the top posts of the week. Well, the ones I've read, anyway. You'll notice some are much older than last week. But I read them for the first time last week, so they're my posts of the week.

First, second and third place-getters are right at the end, so like the most nail-biting Olympic event, you'll have to read this post right through to find my favourites. Gotcha.

Since it's the Beijing Olympics, let's begin with this sobering and timely reminder of the persecution of Christians in China, and a fantastic post on how to pray for persecuted Christians.

There's an excellent discussion of the importance of interpreting the Bible carefully when you teach Sunday School in hermeneutics and children's curriculum.

And we're reminded why iPods are no substitute for church in computerised church.

Now here's one with staying power: this was the week Honoria's blog turned 1. She's celebrated the day with a book of lists of her year's blogging. Happy birthday Honoria.

Gavin Perkins at Sola Panel mused on how new will the new creation be, an excellent follow-up (or foundation) for his earlier post on work and the kingdom of God. I found it very helpful for my own thinking about work.

Coming up on the inside lane is this helpful reminder that marriage is not the ultimate relationship, and a post about the kind of marriage you'll want to avoid.

We're now at third place, with a wonderful reflection by John Piper on the morning I heard the voice of God.

In second place is joy comes with the morning, a moving testimony from Joni Eareckson about joy in suffering. “I find it so poignant that finally at the point when I do have the use of my arms to wipe away my own tears, I won’t have to, because God will.”

First place (drum roll please) goes to Nicole's the same earth, a sobering reminder of our own mortality. May we learn to number our days, and use well our brief time on this earth:

You turn men back to dust,
saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men."
You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning-
though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90:3, 5-6, 10-12)

With thanks to Gordon's shared items and Nicole's shared items: they work hard trawling the internet, and I take base advantage every week.

Sola Panel: sola men no more

Have you noticed that the first post by a woman appeared on Sola Panel this week?

Nicole pipped me to the post (no pun intended) with we are poorly dressed, where she discusses how to reconcile the "poorly dressed" Paul with the beautifully clothed woman in Proverbs 31. It's such an important question - what does our dress communicate to those around us? - and I look forward to hearing her next post on the issue.

If you look at the contributers list on Sola Panel, you might recognise another familiar name and mugshot. Not that I've posted anything yet. Working on it, working on it ...

Friday, August 15, 2008

enjoying God (4) how much joy can I have now?

It's an odd in-between time we live in.

When Jesus died on the cross, he dealt the death-blow to sorrow, sin and Satan. But we wait for the day when Jesus' victory is complete, and sorrow, sin and Satan are no more.

This has huge implications for our experience of joy during this life.

The word enjoyment can be used in two ways: to possess or have a right to something, or to feel delight in something.* In the first sense, our enjoyment of God is already complete. In the second sense, it won't be complete until heaven.

We already enjoy, or possess, "every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). We're as intimate with God as we will ever be. We're at peace with God. We're righteous in his sight. We can walk straight into God's presence. Heaven is our country. (Rom. 5:1-11; 8; Eph. 1:3-14; 2:6-7; Hebrews 10:19-23)

We don't have to jump through any spiritual hoops to union with Christ. There's no "first class" in the Christian life, no special kind of Christian with more significant experiences of God. We can’t “come into God’s presence”, “draw near to God”, or “get closer to God” - we're already there.

Enjoyment of God is already ours.

But we don't always feel delight, for we wait for fullness of joy. Joy during this life is interrupted and imperfect. At times, we may feel no conscious enjoyment of God at all. Joy is interrupted by depression, doubt, and discouragement. It's disturbed by sin, sickness, and sorrow.

We look forward to the day when we will see God face to face. On that day, we will finally be like him, for we will see him as he is. We will stand with thousands upon thousands before his throne, praising him. He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Joy will be our all.

We shouldn't expect uninterrupted enjoyment of God now, but we long and look forward to it. We taste its first fruits. Even now we "rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory" (1 Pet. 1:8).

Joy is ours, and joy yet to come.

*See definition of enjoyment in The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

Image is from stock.xchng.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

theological reading for mums and other busy people

I believe many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand. (C.S.Lewis, introduction to Athanasius' On the incarnation.)

"Ok, Dr. Lewis, I agree with everything you say (apart from the pipe). I was moved to joy and praise more often during the hard theological slog of my PhD, than by any light devotional reading since.

"But I'm a mum. I lost my brain to hormones, I can't sit down without a child climbing over me, and my eyes are grainy with exhaustion. I'm happy if I can read 4 consecutive verses of the Bible, let alone a book of theology."

Or so I would have said just a year ago.

Bookworm that I am, I read virtually no Christian books - besides ones on parenting - during my years with very young children. That's starting to change as they grow older. But here's a secret I wish I knew 9 years ago: regular theological reading is possible for mothers of young children.

There are theological books tailor made for mums and other busy people. Not light devotional books, but real theology by real theologians. I discovered this in a moment of divine serendipity, when I thought I'd ordered one book by John Piper, and a different one arrived in the post.

Here it is: John Piper's A Godward Life: Savouring the Supremacy of God in all of Life, a collection of short daily readings. It only takes 5 minutes a day, so it hasn't been any great stretch to add it to my morning routine! But it lifts my eyes to God and filled my mind with his truth.

And here's another one: Philip Jensen's By God's Word: 60 Reflections for Living in God's World. A friend of mine was given this collection of thoughtful essays by one of the best Bible teachers I've heard. I've dipped into it, and it looks excellent.

I did a quick search on Amazon, and here's some collections of short excerpts from theological giants: John Calvin, Day by Day with John Calvin; William Gurnell, The Christian in Complete Armour; J.C.Ryle, Day by Day with J.C.Ryle; Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening; Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Walking with God Day by Day: 365 Daily Devotional Selections; C.S.Lewis, A Year with Lewis: Daily Readings from his Classic Works and C.S.Lewis: Readings for Meditation and Reflection.

Or you could take a great Christian classic and read a few pages each day: perhaps a book about the character of God like J.I. Packer's Knowing God or John Piper's The Pleasures of God, or a book on Christian living like J.C. Ryle's Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots or Jerry Bridges' The Pursuit of Holiness.

John Piper says if you read slowly for 15 minutes a day, you'll get through 10 Christian books in a year. To mothers with babies, 15 minutes of reading probably sounds like a dream of a different life. But even 5 minutes a day will get you through 3 books a year. That's 3 more than I've read most years since being pregnant with my first child.

Light devotional reading is fast food, quickly digested and unsatisfying. Good theology is low GI food, slowly and steadily nourishing mind and heart throughout the day.

Why should mums and other busy people live without it?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

cheerful service

My moral compass did one of those small about-faces last Monday.

It was one of those times when there's a task to be done, and some doubt about who's going to do it: you or your husband (or housemate, or friend, or colleague, or fellow church member).

This was a marital grey area: taking the kids to school. Most of the household tasks come with a label attached - my job, his job - but this one's up for negotiation. Monday morning, it fell to me.

I was driving the kids to school, grumbling away in my mind: "Why should I have to do this? There's so much traffic! It'll take me forever to get back! I've got people coming over, and I need to clean the house! I could be cleaning the house right now!"

I dropped the kids and turned the car for home, when it occurred to me (I'm a bit slow) that I could adopt a different attitude.

I could replace one internal monologue with another: "Steve's working hard at the moment, he's stressed and tired, and here's a small way I can help him."

Not much, I know. But better by far. For with this attitude I honour God, who calls me to cheerful and loving service.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

hell: too hard to believe?

I was enjoying an excellent Bible talk by our minister John on something completely unrelated, when my mind did a flip-flop, and I realised: it's the whole deal with God.

If I believe the Bible is God's word, and God speaks the truth, and nothing but the truth, then I have to believe even the bits of the Bible I'm uncomfortable with.

If I'm uncomfortable with the idea of hell (which I am) then that's my problem, not God's.

Do I trust God to be wiser than me? (Answer: yes.) Do I believe God speaks the truth in his word? (Answer: yes.) Do I know God is absolutely just, perfectly good, completely loving? (Answer: yes.) Do I trust God to have understood all the ins and outs of how something like hell can be just, fair and loving, even when it doesn't make sense to me? (Answer: yes.)

Do I believe that my loving Father, who sent his only Son to die on the cross, and suffer the agonies of hell for me, did this capriciously, unlovingly, or unnecessarily? (Answer: no way.)

So how can I possible think I'm justified in holding my own opinion about what's right, and my preferences for what's comfortable, and my feelings about what's acceptable, above God's love, goodness, and wisdom? How dare I prefer my wisdom to his?

Then why do I hold back part of my mind in reservation when it comes to believing in hell?

What else am I holding in reservation? In what areas am I saying to God "I will believe your word if it says ... , but not if it says ... ?" How am I saying to God "I am wiser / fairer / more loving than you?"

What parts of the Bible do I find it too hard to accept?

Questions worth asking.

Further reading on hell (and I admit here and now I have avoided this topic and only skim-read these excellent-looking posts - sorry my fellow bloggers!) include Gordo's posts on hell and Honoria's posts on hell. Here's an article by J.I.Packer on annihilationism and some helpful-looking links and articles on annihilationism and hell. I should do some more reading on this topic, but I don't want to.

Monday, August 11, 2008

C.S.Lewis on the pursuit of happiness

Here's one of my favourite C.S.Lewis quotes. He puts so beautifully what I wrote in last Friday's post, is it ok to seek happiness? If you can't be bothered reading both paragraphs, skip to the second: it's a gem.

If you asked twenty men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to the desire.

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C.S.Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Sunday, August 10, 2008

the never-ending birthday

Thomas had the rare distinction of having a birthday during our mid-year student conference, half way through the school holidays. As a result, his birthday celebrations have been spread out over nearly a month. Here's some photos of the various events:

Celebration 1: mid-year conference
Now THERE'S a good present! Thomas clutches his block of chocolate, a gift from the students at our mid-year conference.Celebration 2: family birthday at Bright
For family celebrations we buy a supermarket cake and the kids decorate it with lollies. As you can see, this one's completely untouched by human feet:Thomas demonstrates the unique "ffff" blowing style.Thomas' birthday meal of choice: fish and chips. What child could ask for more?Celebration 3: fun with friends at the museum
The easiest, least expensive, most fun party we've ever had! The highlight was watching the scary tyrannosaurus projected on the wall:Thomas' birthday spread:Thomas blowing out the candles on his "proper" cake, a clock cake he chose months ago:Celebration 4: pre-school
At pre-school the cake is made from playdough, in whatever colour they're using that week - Thomas scored grey!The highlight? Handing out lolly bags to your classmates:
And eating them yourself, of course.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

online meanderings: internet dot-to-dot

Want to play a game of internet dot-to-dot? You have to get from one completely unrelated post to another, and show how they connect. Well, you don't have to, but it's fun, so here goes. Hopefully you'll find some posts worth reading along the way:

Let's start with my own post about the Faithful Writer conference. I was interested to read Tony Payne's comments on the conference, about the different issues facing Christian and non-Christian writers. And here's a great summary by Trevor Carney of his serminar about writing for children.

While I was at last Saturday's conference, my friends Emma and Nicole were at the Equip Ministry Wives' Conference, listening to some wonderful talks by Philip Jenson and Carmelina Read. Nicole (who I had a lovely time catching up with in Sydney!) tells you about the day, and how to get hold of the talks, here.

One person who often makes insightful comments about Nicole's posts is Cathy, who's started a new blog: here's what she says about how not to read the Bible. Perhaps Cathy can take note of Tony's advice about how to be lazy and blog at the same time. He's discovered a secret you'll have noticed I make use of in my own blog.

One way we're all going to be lazy during the next couple of weeks is to watch the Olympics. Gordo reminds us not to watch mindlessly, but to remember the sufferings of Christians in China, and pray for them as we watch.

And while we're being lazy, others are missing work for reasons not under their control. Here's a post about how 700 employees of Starbucks lost their jobs, which leads nicely into this link on unemployment and the idolatry of work.

The worship of work is perhaps a particular temptation for men. Here's some other advice for men: J.C.Ryle on 5 dangers for young men, J.I.Packer's on 4 things young Christian leaders need to learn, and John Piper on being careful about what your eyes see.

From John Piper to his wife Noel, who tells her own story in a fascinating series of interviews. For some reason, I found it very encouraging to discover that they are ordinary people who often have very ordinary conversations over dinner!

Not long ago, I reviewed Noel Piper's Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God, a collection of 5 short biographies of Christian women. They're reading it over at Equip book club this month. Take a look at my bloggy friend Nicole's excellent suggestions about how to read Christian biography.

To bring John Piper and biography together, what an encouraging read this is on the biography of three flawed saints! One of whom is Augustine, whose comments on happiness could have come straight out of yesterday's post on happiness.

And while we're on the topic of flawed saints, aren't we all? I conclude with a prayer to see as much of my sin as I can bear, and to know God's grace.

image is from stock.xchng

Friday, August 8, 2008

enjoying God (3) is it ok to seek happiness?

Is it ok to want to be happy? Doesn't everyone want to be happy? Blaise Pascal said:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. (Pascal’s Pensees)
It's no different for Christians. The Bible is unembarrassed in its appeal to our desire for happiness: it warns us of everlasting sorrow if we reject Jesus, and attracts us with the promise of everlasting happiness.

Like everyone else, Christians seek happiness. But unlike everyone else, we're convinced that we will only find true happiness in Jesus. Becoming a Christian is an act of joy (Acts 16:34; 1 Pet. 1:8):

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matt 13:44-46)
This is no stoic refusal of happiness! This man isn't dragging his feet, reluctantly giving up the things he loves. Here's a guy so delighted to have found a treasure without price, that in his joy, he runs as fast as he can to sell all he owns so that he can buy it.

People don't become Christians just because they're convinced of the truth of Christianity, or the goodness of the Christian life. They are captured by the joy of knowing Christ. They know that only God can satisfy the deepest desires of the human soul.

So is it right to seek happiness? Yes, if we seek it in God. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism goes like this:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
We don't seek happiness as an end in itself, a certain set of emotions, or an empty experience. If that were the case, we might as well seek happiness in alcohol, or a sunset, or our favourite food. In the end, it's not happiness we seek, but God and his glory. And in glorifying him, we find our deepest joy.

Pursuing joy in God is no easy thing. It involves service, suffering, and sacrifice. It will cost all that we have. But paradoxically, in giving up all other joys to follow Jesus, we find joy beyond price and without measure.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

thirsty for church???

There's nothing like a churchly-drought to make you appreciate church.

Thirteen weeks teaching Sunday School during the longest term of the year - thirteen long, hard, enthralling weeks - left me feeling dry, parched, dehydrated, and thirsty to hear God's word preached.

You can listen to Bible talks on iPod, you can read Christian books, you can browse encouraging blogs, but there's nothing like meeting with other Christians!

I know, I know, it doesn't always feel like that. Often it feels boring, repetitive, difficult. Often you sit there fiddling with your hair, bemoaning the stain on your pants, and wondering why the person in front of you chose that hairstyle. Often - especially if you're a mum - a crying baby scatters your attention, or your hormone-fuddled brain keeps skittering off topic.

Often familiarity makes me forget what an amazing thing it is to sit there, week after week, surrounded by God's people receiving God's word.

Here's the profound conclusion of this dehydrated desert-wanderer: church is good. It's good to meet with God's people. It's good to encourage each other in song. It's good to pray together. It's good to hear God's word faithfully taught.

Next time you're in church, why not take a moment to appreciate the miracle.

n.b. "church" in the bible isn't a building, it's people. God's people meeting together to encourage each other. In case you were wondering.

BTW your minister is doing a hard job with little thanks. Give him some noddies.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I am not scared of flying

I am not scared of flying.

Blithely confident, I know this awkward, over-weighted cylinder can rise on slender tip-tilted wings and the invisible laws of so-and-so and such-and-such and rise, dandelion-puff light, into the unseen air.

I am not scared of flying.

We are pushed back into our seats, and - there! - that breathless moment when all the laws of gravity dissolve and we lift, lift to become that distant, silver form hanging suspended, moving with grave slowness across the sky, like a thought of adventure to the watchers on their tiny squares of suburban lawn below.

I am not scared of flying.

I crane my neck and press my cheek to the glass to inspect the wing and count the engines (One? Only one? What if one should fail?) and watch the orange lights of my city shrink to become the ragged outline of the bay. One of those lights is mine, my home, with my family behind lighted glass, my children, my sick child is there, somewhere in those fading lights is there, and - what if that single engine should fail?

I am not scared of flying.

There is time for boredom, and popping ears, and boredom, and the looping advertisements on the small square of screen, and boredom, and "what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency", and boredom, and fiddling with the light overhead, and boredom, and peeking at my seat-mate's sudoku, and boredom, and -

I am not scared of flying.

We tilt at a precarious angle over an invisible line and begin the slow slide down into the inverted star-field of a new city. Then - once! twice! - the plane leaps and the lights swing - up! down! - like coloured lights seen from a fairground ride, this is fun, this is a fairground ride, look! a ferry, look! a bridge, look! a lighted bouquet of towers, a spinning lighted bouquet of flowers, I can do this.

I am not scared of flying.

But the wind heaves beneath us, and the bucking plane shudders and twitches its metal skin, and we descend and speed past the quietly housed planes in their airport hangars only to rise again, and there is no reassuring message from the pilot, and we loop out over the ocean and circle around and descend again, and I press my face to the cool shaking side of the plane and close my eyes and take brief sickening glimpses of that swinging upside-down star-field and close them more tightly and cling to the seat in front and count slow breathes through the tightening band around my chest and hear loud retching in the seat behind and pray fragments of prayers and feel my bloodless face cold and finally, with a crunching, inevitable finality, we land, thank God we land, somewhere people are clapping and we land, but I can't move, my legs won't move me, my shaking legs won't move me.

I am not scared of flying.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

the day I failed writing school

I failed writing school.

Last Saturday I went to The Faithful Writer conference. Mark Treddinick, whose book The Little Red Writing Book is the reason I flew to Sydney, spoke on "Writing: A practice of faith and doubt", and winsomely reminded me to replace every cliche with my own words. My bloggy friend Nicole's dad, Trevor Cairney, led a seminar on "Writing for children", which made me want to write all the children's books waiting in my mental wings.

But in the middle of the day we were given an hour and a half to write a short piece for a workshop, knowing that a few would be chosen for (gentle) public feedback by Mark.

Do you think this blogger, used to writing short posts every day, could perform this simple task?

Unfamiliar surroundings. Unfilled pages. An uncomfortable block of stone for a perch. Writer's block. Words that won't come together. Performance anxiety. One topic started, and re-started, and re-re-started, and re-re-re-started, and abandoned. Other people walking past holding their finished pieces. Another topic started and - finally! - it's all coming together and I walk back to the hall and I'm standing at the table frantically scribbling and ...

"We've finished reading your pieces. Go into lunch now, and we'll discuss some afterwards".

Oh, bummer.

Tomorrow: the piece that didn't quite make it, with (I admit it!) a little judicious editing, and more information about my trip to Sydney than you ever needed or wanted. I should add that I edited my travelling companion, the lovely Sandra, out of this story: in her company, the trip was anything but boring.

Monday, August 4, 2008

C.S.Lewis doesn't realise, but he's talking about motherhood

Who would have thought a confirmed bachelor (well, yes, he did get married when he was older, but you know what I mean) could teach you about motherhood? But that's exactly what C.S.Lewis does here.

Like Lewis, I could happily spend my days in an ivory tower, book spread in front of me and pen in hand. But motherhood mercifully preserves me from my own selfishness.

Motherhood drags me from my computer and my books, and fills me with the bigger vision of pouring God's truth into a child's heart. It keeps me busy washing floors, wiping bottoms, and cleaning snotty noses. It keeps me performing the lowliest servant's tasks.

Which is just where I need to be.

Something Lewis discovered (in other terms) many years ago:

We now settled into a routine which has ever since served in my mind as an archetype, so that what I still mean when I speak of a "normal" day (and lament that normal days are so rare) is a day of the Bookham pattern. For if I could please myself I would always live as I lived there. I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. A step or so out of doors for a pint of beer would not do quite so well; for a man does not want to drink alone and if you meet a friend in the taproom the break is likely to be extended beyond its ten minutes. At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it s a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the utdoor world; and talking leads almost invevitably to smoking, and then farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned. ... The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude... For eating and reading are two pleasure that combine admirably. Of course not all books are suitable for mealtime reading. It would be a kind of blasphemy to read poetry at table. What one wants is a gossipy, formless book which can be opened anywhere... At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies (and at Bookham I had none) there is no reason why you should ever be in bed later than eleven. But when is a man to write his letters? You forget that I am describing the happy life I led with Kirk or the ideal life I would live now if I could. And it is an essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman's knock. Such is my ideal, and such then, (almost) was the reality, of "settled, calm, Epicurean life." It is no doubt for my own good that I have been so generally prevented from leading it, for it is a life almost entirely selfish.
From C.S.Lewis Surprised by Joy; emphasis mine.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

boys and their guns (2)

Two guns, designed by Thomas and his friend Jack. Thomas' has "four buttons and two shooters" and Jack's is "invisible and can turn around and shoot in four directions at once".

Another educational toy, designed for creative and open-ended play, succumbs to nefarious purposes ...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

an end to blogging?

I look at Nicole's blog,
and what do I see?
A blog post like this one
staring at me!
(Jean, last Tuesday,
after I wrote this post)

Nicole's not the only one who's been taking time to reflect on the place of blogging in her life, the organisation of her afternoon, and the cooking of dinner. Sounds remarkably like my own reflections during our recent holiday! And we've come to very similar conclusions.

Like Nicole, I came up with a less demanding weekly plan for my blog (noticed any changes?). I also re-committed myself to keep off the computer after the kids get home from school. This is so:
  1. I can give the children my full attention when they walk in the door, provide a healthy afternoon tea, and spend "special time" with each child, reading a book or playing a game.

  2. I can get "odd jobs" done during the times they're playing happily (when I would often rush to the computer) e.g. folding washing, tidying a messy corner, making phonecalls.

  3. I can get dinner on the table by 6.00 sharp (something which has definitely been suffering!).
Which has an important flow-on effect: there's time to read the Bible with the kids after dinner (we've been doing this a couple of times a week, but it's happening much more often now).

Nicole and I are not the only ones mulling over the place of blogging in our lives. I find myself very aware of the faithful women who have recently closed the cellar door and cleared the fog on their blogs, so they can devote more time to the things which really matter. And the men who choose to cheat their blog and avoid distracting themselves to death so they can care for their families.

So is it time for me to end all the honesty? I don't think so. In God's good providence, I have found a ministry which (when I'm being self-disciplined!) fits well around the needs of my family, enables me to joyfully use any gifts God may have given me, is a wonderful way to stay in touch with and encourage the women who've been part of our university ministry, and seems to help others.

So here I am! And I'll be here for some time to come, God willing, as long as you keep reading. But I'll continue to re-evaluate the purpose of this blog, the energy I give to it, and whether it's time to put an end to blogging.

image is from stock.xchng

Friday, August 1, 2008

enjoying God (2) how God feels about you

It was an unlikely moment for a spiritual revelation.

I was in my mid-twenties, sitting at an oak desk, pencil in hand, heater at my feet, ploughing through John Owen's Communion with God for my PhD.

John Owen was one of the most famous Puritan writers and teachers - he was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell and preacher to his armies - but he's not exactly known for his scintillating writing style. Words like "difficult", "dry", and "dense" spring to mind.

I had 13 thick volumes of his collected works to get through, plus another 6 volumes of his commentary on Hebrews (I never did read that!), and it was slow, painstaking work.

But today I was becoming increasingly excited about what I was reading - the wonders of communion with God - when a Bible verse upped and hit me in the face:

The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Rejoice? With singing? I'd never read about a God like that before. Here's what John Owen had to say:

His heart is glad in us, without sorrow. And every day while we live is his wedding-day…The thoughts of communion with the saints were the joy of his heart from eternity. (p.25 of vol.2 of the Works of John Owen)
Huh? You mean God doesn't love me a little reluctantly? After all, he has to love me, now that Jesus has died for me. And I know my life's a bit of a mess. I keep trying to do what he wants, but failing. I know he's patient, and forgiving, but surely he has to work at it? Surely there are days he gets fed-up with me, and wants out?

Maybe that verse is a one-off? But no, here it is again:

The LORD will take delight in you ... as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)
And again, and again, and again (Deut. 7:6-8; Psalm 35:27, 149:4; Proverbs 11:20, 12:22; Isaiah 5:7,62:4-5; 65:17-9; Jeremiah 31:20, 32:41).

God rejoices in his people. A joy so profound, it can only be compared to the delight of a bridegroom in his beautiful bride on their wedding night. A joy so exuberant, it can only be expressed through singing, shouting, and dancing. A joy so boundless, that we will swim in the ocean of his delight for all eternity, and never come to the end of it.