Sunday, November 30, 2008

the little people inside (1)

The Brainwaves are, as we all know, little people who introduce us to inventions, the world, and the mysteries of the human body. But did you know there are actually little people living inside us? Richard Walker's How the Incredible Human Body Works has convinced our Thomas (5) that there are little people running around inside his body.

Thomas - Mummy, there are little people inside me, aren't there?
Mummy - No, honey, there aren't any little people inside you.
Thomas - Yes there are, the book says so!

I think I've got some explaining to do.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nancy Leigh DeMoss on ministry outside the home

The first place that [a woman] works is in her home. Until she has cared for the needs of her home, she has not got the right to go out and tend to the needs elsewhere. The core, the central place of her ministry, of her work is out of her home. ...

But what does that mean for us as women today? Well, I have looked into the eyes of women and listened to the stories of women who are so busy serving God outside of their own homes that it’s obvious by the condition of their health, or the condition of their husband, their marriage, their children, that they have neglected the first things: their priorities in their home. ...

Your good works ought to first be done at home. Ministering to the needs of your family. Then as God gives you time, opportunity, available resources, or in a different season of life, to take those gifts and those abilities and expand them, as we’ll see the Proverbs 31 woman does, outside of your own home.
If you want to read more see the full transcript at Revive Our Hearts.

image available at AllPosters

Friday, November 28, 2008

online meanderings: balancing ministry inside and outside the home

I love this timely reminder from Amy that a woman's highest calling is not to be a wife and mother - worth remembering as we chat about homemaking!

All women should NOT aspire to be a wife and mother. Instead, all women should aspire to present their bodies a living sacrifice to the Lord. God is glorified in us when we are satisfied with His will for our lives. This is why some marry, some stay single, some have children, and some are barren. Glorify God in your present circumstance, the one you are in right now, not in a future marriage that may or may not happen. ... The one who loves the Lord with her whole heart, soul, and mind—she is the one who pleases God. This is the good news– that no matter who you are, what you’re doing, or where you’re at—that faith in God and the work of His son Jesus Christ pleases Him. ... Being a wife and mother is a good and noble thing, but it is not the highest thing.
Homemaking is part of God's big vision for the world. A big vision which has a profound impact on our mothering and homemaking, and on how we use home and motherhood as a basis for reaching out to others (see Nicole's current series on missional motherhood). As women working in a small sphere, let's never forget the big picture:

These particular instructions to women in Titus 2:3-5 are meant to sail on an ocean of general instruction given in the Bible for all of us as Christians: without an awareness of that big ocean of the Bible's teaching about Jesus and the kingdom of God, the Titus 2 boat can end up bobbing around harmlessly and inoffensively in the backyard swimming pool of suburban materialism, going nowhere.
As for me, I seem to have stunned you all into silence with my question yesterday about the balance between ministry inside and outside the home! Actually, I think those of you with something to say, who like to say things on line (which isn't all of you, I know that, and I've heard from some of you in person) have already said it, and very well too. Have a look at these wonderful responses to the question of the balance between homemaking and ministry from Bec and Valeri.

Anyone else with ideas to add, please go for it - I'd love to hear from you. I'd particularly like to hear any personal stories of how it looks in practice for you, whatever your situation! At this time of year, we're all making plans for next year, so it's a good time to be thinking through these issues.

The end of our journey through Pilgrim's Progress

If you ever visit the Australian National Gallery of Victoria at Federation Square in Melbourne, look for the painting Bunyan in Prison by George Follingsby. It's not always on display, but I know I'll be hunting for it next time I'm there. It's ironic that one of the most compelling pictures of the great English preacher John Bunyan is here in Melbourne, Australia, near the Yarra River and behind the crazy-crackled modern facade of Federation Square: but there it is! ...

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

biblical womanhood (7) being kind and doing good

Our houses ... should be pleasant havens for our husbands and children, sanctuaries where we offer care and hospitality to other Christians, and gateways from which we extend the gospel to family, friends, and neighbours ... We should be renowned for good works at home, in our churches, and extending into our communities. (Carolyn Mahaney Feminine Appeal pp.114, 128)

This week and next week, I'd like to reflect on how to balance ministry inside and outside the home (yes, I know it's a massive issue, so share your thoughts with me! - and yes, my friend, I'm addressing your question at last).

I thought I'd start by telling you how the word kind in Titus 2:3-5 opened this particular can of worms for me.

It seems to me that teaching on homemaking can sometimes put home and family on a pedestal, to the neglect of the wider church and world. I felt this occasionally with Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal (I liked Nicole's comments here) although I love how she interweaves good works inside and outside the home in the quote above.

This concentrated focus on home and family concerns me particularly as we come to the word kind.

You see, the word kind in Titus 2:3-5 is from the Greek word agathos. In 89 out of the 102 times it appears in the New Testament, it's translated good. In 2 of these examples, it's describing the good deeds women do, for people outside as well as inside the home (Ac. 11:24; 1 Tim. 5:10). Over and over again, including in Titus, Christians are encouraged to abound in good deeds (Tit 1:16; 2:12-14 and e.g. 2 Cor. 9:8; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10; 2 Thess 2:17; 2 Tim 2:21; 2 Tim 3:17; 3 Jn 1:11).

It would surprise me, given all this, if the word kind or good in Titus 2:5 doesn't have a wider focus than the home.

But maybe this wider focus is only for older women. Young women are told to "to marry, to have children," and "to manage their homes" (1 Tim. 5:14). A woman over 60, on the other hand, should be "well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good (agathos) deeds" (1 Tim. 5:10), like Dorcas, who's "always doing good (agathos) and helping the poor" (9:36).

Are young women to be devoted solely to home duties, then as their children become independent, to devote themselves to good works outside the home?

The Proverbs 31 woman, however, famously does it all: she helps her husband, cares for her children, dispenses wise counsel, manages an extended household, makes clothes and linens, oversees servants, runs a thriving home business, speculates in land, plants vineyards, and cares for the poor. But this is an idealised picture, and I assume a woman won't do all of these at once during every season of life (or ever!).

And what about Jesus' statement that "anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me", and "anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me"? Of course, this doesn't negate our responsibility to care for home and family (1 Tim. 5:8), which is the main way we serve Christ if we're wives and mothers. But the radical demands of the gospel will still have an impact on us and our families.

So I'm left with some questions. It's clear that the first priority of a godly wife and mother is to love her husband and children, and manage her home. But it seems that a godly woman will also be known for her good deeds outside the home. I assume that the balance between ministry inside and outside the home will differ according to the season of life a woman finds herself in, but that "kindness" or "good deeds" will always reach out as well as in.

What do you think? How do you prioritise homemaking, and still reach out to people with the gospel, serve in your church, and care for the needy in your community? Should you be expected to do any of these things while you've got young children? Or should you wait until they're all grown up and you have time on your hands? Do you think ministry should only be done when it "blesses" your family? Or will ministry always involve cost for your husband and children? Have you seen any good, or bad, examples of balancing ministry and homemaking in practice? How do you balance ministry inside and outside the home? How are you planning to do this next year?

Perhaps you could give me your ideas today, and I'll give you mine next week.

images are from stock.xchng

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress: the River of Death

Have you ever walked with someone through death? I have, although only a very small part of the way. I will always be grateful for the honesty of this godly man, because he didn't white-wash his experience with platitudes or empty confidence. He spoke openly of his grief at leaving this world, his fear of the unknown, and his loneliness at facing the loneliest journey of all. He also shared his confidence of going to heaven. His grandchildren will never forget the day he told them that only trust in Jesus can comfort us when we're dying. He died well as he had lived well.

That experience did away with two (incompatible!) assumptions about death for me. The first is that death is too terrifying to be spoken of or imagined: it's easy to live in a state of denial when we're so well protected from death in our society. The second is that death is easy for Christians: even when you're confident of going to heaven, death can still be scary, ugly, and lonely. But how much less lonely when we know that the One we have loved and known all our lives is waiting to welcome us!

Death was closer in the 17th century. John Bunyan lost his first wife, his beloved pastor, his unborn baby, and his darling 13 year old daughter Mary, within 4 years. ... As a pastor, he sat by death-beds and walked with many to the brink of death. ... Dying well was part of living well for the Puritans. ...

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

an interview with me

Today my interview appeared on Sola Panel. You might like to have a read. Here's how it starts:

Jean, how did you come to Christ?

It's not an exciting story, but in some ways, it's the most exciting of all! Like Timothy, I knew the Bible from infancy (2 Tim 3:15). I was brought up by faithful, godly parents who read the Bible and prayed with us, who trained us to live God's way, who talked about Jesus during the day (Deut 6:6-7), and who loved, disciplined and cared for us. They never talked down to us, and were always willing to discuss difficult doctrines like the Trinity, predestination and judgement, as well as God's love and grace. I have no idea why we prefer dramatic conversion stories to the profound blessing of being brought up in a godly home where we're faithfully taught God's word; this is just as great a miracle! ...

Read the rest at Sola Panel today.

Troubled Christians in Pilgrim's Progress Part II

All the King's subjects are not champions; nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war ... Is it meet to think a little child should handle Goliath as David did? Or that there should be the strength of an ox in a wren? Some are strong, some weak; some have great faith, some little.

We've all known good-hearted, troubled Christians. Let's be honest, we're all troubled and broken in some way. Spiritually troubled: uncertain of our salvation, prone to introspection and guilt, or disturbed by feelings of God's absence. Emotionally troubled: battling addictions, anxiety or depression, hurt by relationships, or socially fearful and awkward. Intellectually troubled: confused about the truth, struggling with doubts, or mentally incapacitated. Physically troubled: sick and exhausted, in pain or chronically ill, or homeless and poor.

It's easy to neglect those who are deeply troubled - I know, I have done it myself, to my shame. To avoid their uncomfortable company and disturbing doubts and wounds we can't easily heal and sorrows unresponsive to comfort and difficult questions and unsettled hearts. Perhaps we talk mainly to our friends at social gatherings, ignore certain phone calls, or minister only to the eager and enthusiastic. After all, it's simpler to overlook those who absorb our energy and attention, don't fit into our visions for mission and church growth, or aren't easily helped to grow and change.

No Puritan pastor worth his salt neglected troubled Christians. Where we might refer a "difficult case" to a counsellor, Puritan pastors willingly carried the burden of counselling those who were troubled, sensitively and bracingly bringing God's truth to bear on their problems. I wish I could tell you all the Puritans' sane and sensible advice about spiritual desertion, doubts of assurance, and depression, but that will have to wait for another day. Instead, let's take a look at the many "weak" Christians in Pilgrim's Progress, and how we are encouraged to care for them. ...

Read the rest at EQUIP book club.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunday School - Proverbs (6) friendship

How do you choose your friends? Someone I feel comfortable with. Someone who talks about themselves, but not all the time. Someone with a similar background to me. Attractive. Interesting. Good listener. Fun. We just click. We enjoy each other's company. We're alike. We're different. There can be all kinds of reasons for choosing friends.

Perhaps you don't think much about how to choose your friends. Perhaps your friends chose you. Perhaps life chose your friends for you. The only person who really took the time to get to know you at church. People in a similar stage of life to yours. The members of the small group you got put into.

Maybe you don't have many friends. Maybe you're not sure to go about making friends, let alone how to choose them. I can feel myself getting into a much bigger topic than this Sunday School lesson was meant to address!

The truth is, I've never thought about friendship as a topic the Bible talks much about. I've seen friends as one of those incidental blessings, like food or sunshine. I've chosen my friends with care, but mainly because I warm to them. Because they're keen Christians, yes, but also because I like them.

So it surprised me to see how much God has to say about friends in Proverbs. At the same time, I've been writing on Pilgrim's Progress, and there it is again: Christian chooses his fellow-travellers with such care! Some encourage him and keep him on the path to heaven. Others subtly try to lead him astray. Friends matter.

A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Prov. 12:26)

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 18:24)

So what kinds of friends does God think we should avoid? Friends who are evil, who hate, who hurt others, who are violent, who make trouble, who lead us into sin. Foolish people. Fair weather friends, here today and gone when we're in trouble. Friends who make fun of others, who say hurtful things, who hide their dislike with flattery, who get angry, who tell others when we've mistreated them, who lie, who boast of gifts they don't give, who gossip. Friends who talk too much. (Proverbs 10:12; 11:12; 13:20; 15:4; 16:29; 17:9; 20:19; 22:24-25; 24:1-2; 25:14, 19; 27:5-6)

And what kinds of friends does God encourage us to choose? Wise friends who make us wiser. Friends with a kind word when we're sad, who weep when we weep, whose words bring healing. Friends who control their tongues, who can keep a secret. Friends who give honest advice, who rebuke us when we need it. Friends who are faithful when trouble comes. Friends who forgive. (Proverbs 10:12; 11:12; 13:20; 15:4; 17:17; 27:5-6, 9, 20)

Can I encourage you to have a good look at your friendships? Take time to think about your friends, whether they make you wiser, whether they are trustworthy and kind, whether they are willing to give you wise advice and loving rebuke, whether they support you in trouble, whether they weep with you and bring you joy, whether they help you to love and obey God.

And if you don't have any good or godly friends, how do you go about making them? A huge topic, of course, far too big for a blog post which is supposed to be about Sunday School! Just let me suggest one thing: while it's hard to ask "Will you be my friend?" when you're over 6 years old, you can still be deliberate as you go about developing friendships.

Have a look around your church or community, for people your gender and around your age who don't already have lots of friends, who would be the kind of good friend God describes in Proverbs. Sit near them and start a conversation; ask them over; go out for coffee. Or ask them to be your prayer partner: it's amazing how many good friendships grow this way. Be a friend like the Proverbs good friend. And while you're at it, don't forget to pray for the great blessing of a good and godly friend.

I guess I'd better shut up and tell you about Sunday School. I didn't think of it at the time, but I was reflecting yesterday on how helpful an introductory activity would have been. Perhaps one of those trust exercises, where you pair up the kids, and blindfold one in each pair, while the other child leads the blindfolded child around, then you swap blindfolds. An excellent lead in to a discussion about how friends lead us into and out of trouble, and how important trustworthiness is in friends.

I printed out the verses listed above in an easy-to-use translation and a large print, and the children stuck them on two A3 sized cut-outs of people, one "good friend" and one "bad friend". They decided where to paste the verses, then decorated their people to look mean and kind. If you ask me, they both look a bit scary:

This would be a great study to do with teenagers, wouldn't it? At a time of life when friends become so important and influential, but when peers can be so mean and nasty, how helpful it would be to have guidance about how to choose friends with wisdom and confidence!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Nancy Leigh DeMoss on homemaking

One of the things you’ll notice as we get into this passage [Proverbs 31] is that the standard of godliness we’re looking at here is not a picture of a woman who becomes a religious hermit. Now, she does need to spend time alone with God to become a godly woman, but she doesn’t spend most of her time alone. She comes out of that room, she comes out of that place, and lives out that walk and that relationship with God and that devotion to God, lives it out in the laboratory of life. In the nitty-gritty, day-in and day-out of life.

I remember talking to one woman who was so excited about what God was doing in her quiet time, and she was just loving being in the Word and praying. She was saying, “I could spend hours every day doing this.” But as we began to talk, I realized there were some major issues in her marriage.

I began to explore how could this woman have such a devotion for God and a heart for God, how could she have such problems in her marriage and with her children, and other stuff started to come out. Then I realized here was a woman who was defining spirituality as her devotional life. Her husband, understandably, was not impressed.

He wanted some food. He wanted to be able to see through the clutter in the house. He wanted her to live out her spirituality in her home, and that’s really what this passage addresses.

Now, that doesn’t mean — and we’ll see in this passage - that there is no other place that a woman works. But the first place that she works is in her home. Until she has cared for the needs of her home, she has not got the right to go out and tend to the needs elsewhere. The core, the central place of her ministry, of her work is out of her home.
If you want to read more see the full transcript at Revive Our Hearts

Discussing Pilgrim's Progress in small groups

A few weeks ago, one of our pastors discovered I'm writing on Pilgrim's Progress. With a gleam in his eye, he pulled out a heavy spiral-bound A4 volume, and placed it in my hands. I found myself holding the most readable and accurate modern English translation of Pilgrim's Progress Part I I've come across, by John Musselman of The Jackson Institute. ...

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

boys and their ... oh, whatever

Appearances to the contrary, Thomas (5) is not a particularly violent child. But you wouldn’t know it when you hear his performance poetry. The other day he was playing menacing “chords” on the piano, with a voice-over which went something like this:

"Burn – slash – treefall – poison – sword – gun – lava – rock – slime – hit – punch – kick – fire – electricity – slash – destroy … "

Boys. Different from girls from birth.

Friday, November 21, 2008

drafts in your inbox

I'm having a bit of trouble with my publishing at the moment! So if you get a couple of posts in your reader called something like "biblical womanhood (7) good deeds", they're an early draft for next week's posts. At least you get a sneak preview! Just ignore them, delete them, or skip down to my post "The women in Pilgrim's Progress II". Or you could help me write them if you like.

The women in Pilgrim's Progress II

I love strong women. I think they are magnificent testimonies to Christ. Because ... they are combining things that the world can’t explain. They’re combining a sweet, tender, kind, loving, submissive, feminine beauty with this massive steel in their backs and theology in their brain. (John Piper, group discussion from T4G'08 HT Writing and Living)

In Pilgrim's Progress II, Christiana follows her husband on pilgrimage. With her travel her handmaid Mercy, Ruth to her Naomi, and her four sons, eager to tread in their father's footsteps. The garrulous village women try to prevent them leaving, mock them after they've gone, and quickly forget them in gossip about their flirtations. But Christiana and Mercy press on, confident that "the bitter must come before the sweet, and that also will make the sweet the sweeter". ...

One of my favourite scenes in Pilgrim's Progress is where Christiana braves the lions (persecution) and Giant Grim (the power of the state) on the neglected path to the Palace Beautiful (the persecuted church). She echoes Deborah, judge of Israel: "Though the highways have been unoccupied heretofore, and though the travellers have been made in times past to walk through by-paths, it must not be so now I am risen, now I am risen a mother in Israel" (Jud. 5:7). What a woman! ...

How beautiful the godly woman, and how lovely her graces! Her mouth gives wise instruction, her spirit is filled with a quiet trust, her heart is tender and humble, her hands overflow with mercy, her limbs are strong. Courageous, she dares to walk between lions and travel through the Valley of the Shadow. A mother in Israel, she nurtures and teaches the young. To be a woman like this is my heart's desire: and I hope yours, too. "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Prov. 31:30).

What have you learned from the women in John Bunyan's life and Pilgrim's Progress? Would others describe you as a "strong woman": not bossy or overbearing, but gentle, humble in heart and quiet in spirit, with an inner core of strength which comes from trusting in Christ? If young and single, are you so in love with your Lord that no lesser love will do? If older and experienced, are you a "spiritual mother" to the women around you? Which womanly grace would you most like to grow in? Ask God to help you become the woman he wants you to be.

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

online meanderings: homemaking

"I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified."
(Susannah Wesley HT GirlTalk Dealing with distraction)

There have been some great posts and series on homemaking in the blogosphere recently. I'll tell you about the ones on the importance and practicalities of homemaking today; next week, I'm excited to be sharing with you some posts that go a bit deeper into homemaking and the gospel, and the balance between homemaking and outside ministry.

As always, I suggest you start with Nicole's truly excellent discussion of the difference between home working and home worship in her EQUIP book club post on chapter 6 of Feminine Appeal. In some ways, I fell like saying "amen!" and leaving you with her!

GirlTalk has just finished a series on homemaking, and while I wonder if they occasionally fall into the "home worship" category Nicole warns against, you'll still find lots of gems, like Where home is, Homemaking is not a hindrance, Homemaking is not a holding pattern, The homemaker's secret of fulfilment, The single women as homemaker, Dealing with distraction, and The way home.

I've written quite a bit about the significance of homemaking and motherhood - see motherhood: a big vision where I reflect on Piper's How can eternity influence a mother's daily tasks, my summary of Claire Smith's talk Superwoman: the Proverbs 31 woman (a talk which very helpfully addresses the issue of paid work and homemaking), my talk jean williams on motherhood, online meanderings: the high calling of motherhood, and coming home.

If you need help with time management, see the GirlTalk series The highly effective woman, Jess' practical tips for balancing your time as a large family, and Nicole's helpful reminder of the fallibility of our plans in If the Lord wills.

If it's books you're after, check out GirlTalk's suggestions about homemaking books and Nicole's review of Edith Shaeffer's The hidden art of homemaking.

If you'd like to listen to some talks on the topic of homemaking, try Carolyn Mahaney's Being busy at home. Yesterday, I heard an excellent radio show by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, A godly woman's work, an excerpt from her talk series The Counter-cultural Woman: A Fresh Look at Proverbs 31. She starts by saying,
I don’t like it when I hear people say to a woman, “Do you work?” Now I know what they probably mean is, “Do you have a job that pays you a paycheck outside of your home?” But the fact is any woman who is a godly woman, a wife and a mother, works. And a godly woman works hard.
Amen to that!

homemaking again ...

A few more points occurred to me as I was ferrying the kids around, and doing my supermarket shopping (homemaking multi-tasking) yesterday. I've added them in to the previous post (with apologies to those who receive them twice). I'm sure there is much more to be said! I'll keep thinking ...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

biblical womanhood (6b) homemaking

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the obstacles to homemaking: valuing paid work above working at home; being at home but not "busy" at home; and doing other ministries at the expense of home and family.

I know there's a lot more to be said about being a "home worker", but I'm leaving some of it until next week, because I want to reflect on how homemaking and "good deeds" (next week's topic) fit together. The truth is, I'm pretty confused about this issue myself, and I'm still trying to work out how it applies to my life.

In the meantime, here's a few preliminary thoughts on what homemaking is all about. Very hazy and unformed! But I hope you find them useful. I'd welcome anyone's comments or suggestions.

  • Homemaking, along with helping our husbands and bringing up our children, is our primary responsibility if we are married with children (Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Tim. 5:14; Tit. 2:3-5). We'll be involved in other ministries as time and the seasons of life permit (and often our home and family will form the basis of these ministries) but home and family should be the focus of our time and energy (more about this next week).
  • Homemaking is not home worship. It's possible to prioritise family and home to such an extent that it's not good for us, our husbands, children, church or community (we've all known self-absorbed couples and families, and women obsessed with making their homes beautiful). Jesus is the one we worship, and marriage, family and home are temporary, not eternal (Matt. 10-37-39; 22:30).
  • Homemaking is hard work. We're called to be "home workers" not "yummy mummies" (Titus 2:3-5). The Proverbs 31 woman is never idle: she gets up before the sun, goes to bed after the sun, and "sets about her work vigorously" in between (Prov. 31:13-18).
  • Homemaking is about managing a home - literally, being a "home ruler" (1 Tim. 5:14). It's a position of authority and responsibility, requiring skill, intelligence, self-discipline, organisation, training, and energy. It means overseeing and managing all the matters relating to the home. You don't need to ask your husband for advice about every tiny thing! It's your job to make decisions and oversee operations.
  • Homemaking is a multi-skilled profession. The Proverbs 31 woman cares for her husband and children, provides food, clothes and bed linens from scratch, contributes to the family income, and manages an extended household. For you, homemaking might involve managing finances, fixing things around the house, shopping, planning, cooking, cleaning, mending, organising the calendar: the possibilities are endless!
  • Homemaking doesn't exclude or elevate paid work. The Proverbs 31 woman contributes to the family income through making clothes and selling them, trading, buying fields, and planting vineyards. But her home and family come first: she works for their sake, not her own self-fulfilment, and she doesn't work at the expense of her home and family.
  • Homemaking is about people. The place serves the people, not the other way around. Your husband's preferences, your children's happiness, the mood of a home, whether it's welcoming to visitors, whether people feel comfortable there: these are all more important than a shining floor or a well-ordered drawer (unless these are important to the happiness and smooth functioning of the family).
  • Homemaking will look different for everyone. We all bring our own distinctive personality, preferences, skills and gifts to the job. Some delight in baked goodies, others in choosing paint colours; some prefer neatness, others comfortable clutter; some excel in financial management, others in quilting; some are married to men who like to cook, others to men who don't know one end of a broom from the other: as long as we love and serve the people who live in and visit our home, let's rejoice in our differences.
  • Full-time homemaking isn't always possible, even when we would prefer it. I'm not sure a couple doing two full-time jobs to afford a more affluent lifestyle is a good reason for not giving more time to homemaking! But a husband who is sick or unemployed, a wife who is unable to do physically demanding tasks, relational breakdown or single parenting, may mean a woman needs to work full-time, or a husband to fulfil many homemaking responsibilities. Let's not judge others, especially when we don't understand their situation.
How does this apply to single women without dependent children? I'm not sure. You'll hear some people say that single women should focus on preparing for marriage and home, or on nurturing other people's children and creating a home. I'm not convinced, although I'd like to think about this more! The advantage of staying single is to have more time to serve Jesus, although this will be done in a distinctively feminine way. Older widows (over 60) were to teach younger women (spiritual motherhood), and to devote themselves to good deeds, such as hospitality (from a home!), service in the church (while supporting male leadership), and caring for the poor (at the time, this often meant using feminine skills involved in making clothes) - 1 Cor. 7:34; Tit. 2:3-5; 1 Tim. 5:9-10; Ac. 9:36-41. What do you think?"

Next week, we'll be looking at the "good deeds" women are called to do. I'd like to think more about how to balance caring for our families and ministry outside the home during the different seasons of our lives. It's a huge topic, so feel free to jump in now and tell me if you have any thoughts!

image is from stock.xchng

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

biblical womanhood (6a) busy at home

I was walking the kids in to school when I bumped into the mother of my son Ben's best friend. We don't know each other well, so we talked about our lives and what we do. Inevitably, the question came up: "Do you work?"

This from a mother who works nightshift as a hospital nurse 3 nights a week and dayshift 2 days a week, as well as running one of those homes where, the instant you visit, you're welcomed into a clean house and plied with home-made delicacies.

I responded the way I always do: "No ... I don't work ... I'm at home full-time with children ... we have 4 children, so it keeps me busy (insert sheepish giggle from me)". Awkward silence. End of conversation.

It's a scenario every one of us who cares for our home and family full-time can identify with, isn't it? So why do we feel so embarrassed?I'm leading a women's book club on Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal. There are discussion questions in the back of the book, and at the end of the first study, the group is given some homework: go home and ask your husband which of the Titus 2:3-5 qualities he thinks you most need to grow in.

Two husbands gave the same answer: "To be busy at home". But when I followed up what they meant, they were said with a quite different emphasis: "To be busy at home." "To be busy at home."

One mum finds it hard to be at home on her own. She's an extrovert, so she gets a bit down when she's alone. She likes to be out at the park or the shops, small children in tow. I remember reading an anecdote from Elizabeth George A Woman after God's own Heart about how she asked her husband for advice on time-management, and he suggested she go out one day a week rather than every day. He didn't say so, but she was grounded!

The other mum is like me: she feels more comfortable being at home. But it's what she does while she's there that's the issue. We all know how easy it is to be at home, but not to be busy. Homemaking is demanding, unlike those 1950's images of happy housewives: you have to be organised, hard-working, motivated and self-disciplined. Yesterday morning, I was downloading some talks to help prepare this series on biblical womanhood, dashing downstairs to my husband's office computer and upstairs to get the kids ready for school, throwing instructions at the kids - "Is your bag packed? Have you put your breakfast bowl away?" - and questions and encouragement to my husband - "Would you like me to make you lunch? I'll pray for your meeting today!" - as I ran past.

At 10 to 9, latest possible leaving time, I was still loading a talk onto my iPod and doing some last-minute unecessary sorting of my iTunes index, when my daughter yelled, "Mum! It's time to go! We'll be late for school!"

I remember another occasion, not all that long ago, when I was working on a blog late in the afternoon, and Lizzy called out, "Mummy! I think you'd better go and get dinner now!"

There's nothing like my 10 year old daughter reminding me of my responsibilities to fill me with shame about the times I neglect my family for "ministry", and the bad example I sometimes set my daughter of how to be a homemaker.
Paid work, a trip to the shops, ministry: good things in themselves, they can all distract us from our responsibility to be "home workers".

Sorry to anyone who got this post in draft form in their reader last Monday!

The women in John Bunyan's life (part 2) Elizabeth Bunyan

How I love the women in my church who stand when everything around their soul gives way! Oh, how the grace and the glory of God shines off of their lives! I've been there 28 years. I've walked through a lot of dark valleys with them, and I've buried a lot of children. [God's purpose for men and women] doesn't lead to wimpy womanhood, but it does lead to ... true womanhood. (John Piper, The ultimate meaning of true womanhood)
Elizabeth was only 19 when she married 31 year old John, a year after his first wife died. She became step-mother to four children, the oldest one blind. She was pregnant one year after their marriage, but the shock of John's arrest drove her into premature labour, and her baby died. Grieving, inexperienced, and lonely, she was left to raise John's four children during the twelve years he was in prison.

When I heard her story, I couldn't help wondering how she felt. Left to bring up the young family of a man she had recently married, weak and in pain after 8 days labour, her baby lost and her husband in prison because he was unwilling to stop preaching the gospel - was she tempted to bitterness, complaining or resentment? Did whispered thoughts go through her head - "He was only asked to stop preaching, not to deny his faith ... he doesn't really love me ... God has abandoned me ... "?

Instead, she stood bravely before a hostile courtroom, pleaded for her husband's freedom, and defended his right to preach the gospel. I'll tell you the story in her own words, as she told it to John, for every word shines with a fierce intelligence, courage and grace ...

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sunday School - Proverbs (5) using money wisely

I've been struggling a bit teaching Proverbs. The group are a bit young, I discovered, to do a traditional Bible study, where you look up Bible verses and write them down: and believe me, there are a lot of verses in Proverbs!

So I was glad to hand our lesson on money over to my friend Liz - and even gladder to see that she came up with a great way to teach Proverbs, which we'll be using in weeks to come!

I gave poor Liz a long list of verses on how to use money wisely. As I looked up verse after verse, I was struck again by how incredibly practical Proverbs is. It includes all the everyday advice about money you would give to a child or adult: don't be lazy, save your money, don't spend it all at once, don't be greedy, avoid debt, be honest and generous.

But Proverbs also puts money in the big picture of God's creation and salvation: money is a great blessing, but far less valuable than wisdom or love. Better to have enough, but not too much, and serve God faithfully with what you have.

Liz had the great idea of making a chart, which the kids helped to complete, and which they proudly stuck up on the noticeboard for everyone at church to see. She printed out the verses I gave her in a large font. She used an A4 sheet as the radius of a circle, and cut out a quarter circle from 4 colourful A3 sheets:

Each quarter was given a title, and the children decided where to stick each of the verses:
1. Money is a blessing. The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. (Proverbs 10:22)
2. Better than money. Wisdom (16:16), justice (16:8), a good reputation (22:1), peace (17:1), love (15:17).
3. What to do and what not to do. Don't get into debt (22:26-27), don't be a workaholic (23:4), don't be lazy (10:4), be honest in your work (11:1), save slowly(13:11), don't be greedy (28:20), don't trust in your money (11:28), be generous to the poor (11:24-25), give to God's work (3:9-10).
4. In conclusion. "...give me neither poverty nor riches..." (30:7-9)

The children drew pictures, cut them out, and stuck them on the chart to decorate it. Voila! One chart on God's teaching about money in Proverbs.

When my children and I had our own little Sunday School class on this topic, which was much less successful than Liz's (we were away that weekend), we started it with a game of Giant's Treasure (the adult stands with their back a good distance from the children, with a "treasure" behind them, and the children have to sneak up and grab the treasure, while the adult turns around unexpectedly and sends those who are moving back to the start). In the chest, if I'd been organised enough, I would have put some money cut out of shiny gold and silver card with "wisdom", "love", "peace", and the other "better than money" blessings on the back, and a few lollies to make it fun! A good icebreaker.

To sum it all up, here's one of my favourite Bible passages of all time, and a great one to learn and to pray:

Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonour the name of my God.
Proverbs 30:7-9


Monday, November 17, 2008

The women in John Bunyan's life (part 1)

When you dream about being a strong woman what should you dream? ... Women, young girls, dream of being so confident in God, and who you are in God as the daughter of the king of the universe, and what he has done for you and promises to do for you and be for you in Jesus Christ, that you fear nothing but God and laugh at the time to come - no matter what it holds. (John Piper, Christian Men and Women are Strengthened by the Gospel
I want to tell you the story of some strong women. I want to tell you the story of a woman who helped win her godless husband for Christ, some women so captured by God's grace that joy shone from every word they spoke, a blind girl who faithfully served her imprisoned father every day, and a woman who fought bravely for the gospel even when it cost her baby's life and her husband's freedom. I want to tell you the story of some women whose grace, love and courage still speak to us across the centuries.

I'm declaring this to be women's week in our Pilgrim's Progress series. Today I'll share three stories of women in John Bunyan's life, on Wednesday I'll tell you the inspiring story of Elizabeth Bunyan, and on Friday we'll chat about Christiana and Mercy from Pilgrim's Progress Part II . Let's begin with three stories from John Bunyan's autobiography ...

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

a hoax

As some of you may have suspected, the quote in Saturday's post was a hoax, as Tom pointed out to me - but what a good one! I guess it really was too good (bad!) to be true. But I'll still be giving it to young brides to read to show them exactly what not to do ...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

how to play jojar

The kids' cousins recently gave them the fold-up chair in this photo. For some reason, Andrew calls it "jojar". The two youngest boys love to fold themselves up inside it. This is called "playing jojar". Here's how it goes:

I want to play jojar.

No, I want to play jojar.

I want to play jojar.

No, I want to play jojar.

Repeat indefinitely, with volume increasing.

Until Mummy says,

Take it in turns to play jojar.

or, Why can't you both play jojar?

Renewed fighting is usually the result of this plan of attack.

It's my turn to play jojar!


It's my turn to play jojar!

You get the idea.

turning 40

It was my 40th birthday last Friday, and we're celebrating it today - I would have written about it 2 days ago, but I had nothing significant to say! I thought I'd better out myself today. ;)

Only one thing: God has been faithful to me so far, more faithful than I could ever have imagined, and I trust him to be faithful to the end.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

some advice to ignore on marital sex

Instruction and Advice for the Young Bride
On the Conduct and Procedure of the Intimate and Personal Relationships of the Marriage State for the Greater Spiritual Sanctity of this Blessed Sacrament and the Glory of God

by Ruth Smythers, beloved wife of The Reverend L.D. Smythers, Pastor of the Arcadian Methodist Church of the Eastern Regional Conference

Published in the year of our Lord 1894, Spiritual Guidance Press
To the sensitive young woman who has had the benefits of proper upbringing, the wedding day is, ironically, both the happiest and most terrifying day of her life. On the positive side, there is the wedding itself, in which the bride is the central attraction in a beautiful and inspiring ceremony, symbolizing her triumph in securing a male to provide for all her needs for the rest of her life.

On the negative side, there is the wedding night, during which the bride must pay the piper, so to speak, by facing for the first time the terrible experience of sex. At this point, dear reader, let me concede one shocking truth. Some young women actually anticipate the wedding night ordeal with curiosity and pleasure! Beware such an attitude! A selfish and sensual husband can easily take advantage of such a bride. One cardinal rule of marriage should never be forgotten: GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDGINGLY. Otherwise what could have been a proper marriage could become an orgy of sexual lust.

On the other hand, the bride's terror need not be extreme. While sex is at best revolting and at worse rather painful, it has to be endured, and has been by women since the beginning of time, but it is compensated for by the monogamous home and by the children produced through it.

It is useless, in most cases, for the bride to prevail upon the groom to forego the sexual initiation. While the ideal husband would be one who would approach his bride only at her request and only for the purpose of begetting offspring, such nobility and unselfishness cannot be expected from the average man. Most men, if not denied, would demand sex almost every day. The wise bride will permit a maximum of two brief sexual experiences weekly during the first months of marriage. As time goes by she should make every effort to reduce this frequency. Feigned illness, sleepiness, and headaches are among the wife's best friends in this matter. Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove very effective, if used in the late evening about an hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction. Clever wives are ever on the alert for new and better methods of denying and discouraging the amorous overtures of the husband. A good wife should expect to have reduced sexual contacts to once a week by the end of the first year of marriage and to once a month by the end of the fifth year of marriage.

By their tenth anniversary many wives have managed to complete their child bearing and have achieved the ultimate goal of terminating all sexual contacts with the husband. By this time she can depend upon his love for the children and social pressures to hold the husband in the home.
Apparently it's a hoax (thankyou Tom!) but this quote still had me giggling when I heard it in Carolyn Mahaney 's talk Being Pure. I think I'd give it to a bride-to-be - if you do nothing it says, and everything it says not to do, you should be right!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress: how to become a giant slayer

In this combat no man can imagine, unless he had seen and heard, as I did, what yelling and hideous roaring Apollyon made all the time of the fight; he spake like a dragon: and on the other side, what sighs and groans burst from Christian’s heart.
Do you think of yourself as a warrior? Have you realised this is exactly what God wants you to be? Every day, God calls you and me to a battle against sin, the world, and Satan. He calls us to fight the good fight, demolish falsehood, take every thought captive, stand our ground, resist the devil, overcome the world, guard ourselves and the gospel, battle our sinful desires, even shed our blood (1 Tim. 6:2; 2 Cor. 10:5; Eph. 6:13; Jam. 4:7; 1 Jn. 5:4-5; Lk. 12:15; 2 Tim. 1:14; Jam. 4:1; Heb. 12:4). Here is his charge: "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be [wo]men of courage; be strong" (1 Cor. 16:3).

There are many battles I fight daily. I battle sinful desires: gossip and bitterness, gluttony and covetousness, anger and complaining, laziness and self-absorption, anxiety and discouragement. I battle the world: magazines which produce dissatisfaction, advertising which tempts to over-spending, TV shows which promote life free from restrictive morals. I battle Satan: his whispered thoughts of temptation, worry, doubt and despair. Sometimes I win a decisive battle, only to have to take up my weapons again. ...

May we ... use well the weapons God has given us:
  • remember God is on our side, mightier than the most powerful and numerous enemy
  • stand our ground and keep fighting, however long the battle and whatever the cost
  • pray (Eph. 6:18) - it's not noticeable, but prayer is essential to every victory in Pilgrim's Progress. The children's versions usually leave it out, so add it back in if you're reading to a child!
  • put on our armour - truth, righteousness, readiness, salvation (Eph. 6:10-20)
  • carry our shield, answering all Satan's accusations with the death of Christ (Eph. 6:16)
  • wield our sword (Eph. 6:17) - read, reflect on, remember, and recall the Bible
  • hide the key of promise in our heart - memorise the Bible (Ps. 119:11)
  • seek the companionship and encouragement of other Christians
  • use the world - exercise, rest, healthy eating, the beauty of creation - to battle discouragement
  • when all else fails, pray, trust, keep doing our duty, and wait for the day God will restore his light
With such great weapons at our disposal, let's not give up in the day of battle! Let’s wake each morning, put on our armour, polish our shield, sharpen our sword, and hide the key of promise in our pocket. Let's get ready for the fight, and battle on through the long days and nights, confident that we can overcome through him who gives us strength.

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

the armour of God: standing firm in the day of Satan's fury

I recently listened - for the second time, it was so good! - to Don Carson's The Christian in Complete Armour, a talk on Ephesians 6:10-20.

We hear a lot about "spiritual warfare" these days, much of it unhelpful, so we sometimes avoid thinking about the subject at all. Which is a great pity, for it's always been an important evangelical (and Bible) theme: you only have to read the Puritans to see that. I've been thinking of writing a seminar on spiritual warfare, so I thought I'd see what "the Don" has to say.

Here's what I learned:

1. God is a warrior

The Old Testament often pictures God as a warrior (Isa. 32:14; Hab. 3; Ps. 35), and his servants as his troops in need of his strength (Ps. 18, 28, 39).

I've never thought of God as a warrior. How did I miss this important Bible theme? God is the warrior who defeated the enemies of Israel, who overcame Satan through Jesus' death, and who will one day bring all earthly and heavenly powers under his Son.

2. Know your enemy, for the war you are in is vast and subtle

The battles we fight often seem trivial: a hurtful comment from someone at church, an argumentative child, a besetting sin. But behind them lies a greater Enemy, who loves to sew division, bitterness, and division.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:12)
Jesus has already won the victory over Satan through his death (Lk. 10:18; Eph. 1:18-23, 3:10-11), but we wait for his victory to be complete (1 Cor. 15:25). The ugliest fighting in any war happens between D-day and V-day, after it's clear who's going to win. Satan has beeen cast out of heaven, yet this is the time of his fury, when the fiercest battles are fought (Rev. 12:12). Our job is to stand our ground until the final blow is struck.

3. Know your equipment, for the weapons you use are astonishing and effective

Here's something I didn't know: almost every bit of the armour in Ephesians 6 is worn by Messiah-King in the Old Testament (Isa. 11:4b-5; 59:17; 52:7). You'll understand the armour better if you're familiar with its Old Testament background, and the armour worn by Roman soldiers when Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians.

  • The belt of truth (Isa. 11:5)
    The belt held up the lower garments of the Roman soldier, so they were ready to run and fight. "Truth" here means "faithfulness". Without a faithful, true and reliable character, our ministry will be undermined: you only have to look at some of the tele-evangelists to see that.

  • The breastplate of righteousness (Isa. 11:5)
    The breastplate protects the vital organs. We will die on the battlefield if we don't live lives of righteousness. Like Joseph, we should say of every sin, "How can I do this great evil?" (Gen. 39:9). This attitude will protect us against all kinds of temptations.

  • Feet fitted with the gospel of peace
    We're like the messenger who ran across the mountains, bringing news of God's victory and peace to Jerusalem (Isa. 52:7-10), but we carry a far greater message of peace. We overcome Satan by "the word of our testimony" (Rev. 12:11). Are we ready to answer questions about our faith? Don says, "If you've got through a whole year and never once explained the gospel - God help you!" Ouch.

  • The shield of faith
    This was a full-body wooden shield, covered in thick hide soaked in water, so that the shield wouldn't catch fire when arrows with lighted pitch-bags were shot at it. Satan is overcome by the "blood of the lamb" (Rev. 12:11). When Satan accuses us, we must be ready to appeal, not to the greatness of our faith, but to its object, Jesus. And we must come to know God so well, that we are prepared to trust him in the day of suffering.

  • The helmet of salvation
    The salvation Jesus won on the cross is the source and foundation of our protection against Satan.

  • The sword of the Spirit
    Our only offensive weapon is the Bible, made effective by the Spirit. Which is why I'm never going to stop encouraging you to read, memorise and meditate on the Bible!
images are from stock.xchng and flickr

Thursday, November 13, 2008

biblical womanhood (5b) purity: loving your husband sexually

Are you in love with your husband? Not, Do you love him? I know you do. He has been around a long time, and you're used to him. He is the father of your children. But are you in love with him? How long has it been since your heart really squeezed when you looked at him? ... Why is it you have forgotten the things that attracted you to him at first? ...

Your husband needs to be told that you love him, that he is attractive to you. By the grace of God, I want you to start changing your thought pattern. Tomorrow morning, get your eyes off the toaster or the baby bottles long enough to LOOK at him. Don't you see the way his coat fits his shoulders? Look at his hands. Do you remember when just to look at his strong hands made your heart lift? Well, LOOk at him and remember. Then loose your tongue and tell him you love him.

Will you ask the Lord to give you a sentimental, romantic, physical, in-love kind of love for your husband? He will do this. (Shirley Rice, quoted in Ed Wheat, Love Life for Every Married Couple, quoted in Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal pp.41-42)

I honestly can't remember an evening I've laughed more. We were at a conference, and I was part of a small group of women gathered around a table, having the kind of coversation which only a group of women can have. People who walked past looked at us oddly, wondering what all the laughter was about, but we didn't enlighten them.

The centre of hilarity was a woman who told us (and I have no idea how the topic came up!) that she and her husband have sex every night. EVERY NIGHT! We could hardly believe what we were hearing. Most of us thought that married couples have sex, I don't know, maybe once or twice a week. What was going on here?

Amidst the astonished laughter, there were lots of questions: "Why? How did that happen? Tell us more! Your husband must be very happy!"

She explained, "That's what I thought you were supposed to do. I thought that all married couples have sex every night. So that's what we've always done."

That was the night it dawned on me - and the other women at the table - that what the world tells us - that unless both partners really want it, passionately, right now, sex is an imposition or something close to rape - is nonsense.

That was the night I stopped believing the world's lie that sex isn't loving unless both partners are in the mood. The lie that if you have sex because your husband wants to, when you don't, you're suppressing your feelings, and he is oppressing you, using you to satisfy mere bodily needs. The lie that making love from a sense of duty is unloving.

That was the night I realised that sex is one of the main ways a woman loves her husband. That instead of feeling reluctant and resentful when one of you is in the mood and the other isn't, this is an opportunity for unselfish, loving, joyful, enthusiastic self-giving. That sex is one of the ways a woman cares for her husband, protects his purity, builds his confidence, increases his happiness, and encourages intimacy in their relationship.

That was also the night that I realised the importance of Carolyn Mahaney's A's (not that I'd heard of them yet!) - being Available, Anticipatory, Attentive, Attractive, Aggressive (i.e. eager), Adventurous and (I added this one) Affectionate. Dressing the way your husband likes, sitting close to him when you watch TV, planning for the evening, organising dates and nights away: these are all ways you can love your husband physically.

There was one other thing I learnt that night: that women can encourage one another to love their husbands physically. Not by sharing private stories, or gossiping about intimate details, but by keeping each other accountable. If you're good friends with a Christian woman, or mentoring a younger woman, take the time to ask if she is loving her husband sexually. Pray for one another, encourage one another, and be accountable to one another. This is one of the ways you protect and honour your friends' marriages.

One last thing: there were a lot of happy husbands, and a lot of blessed marriages, after that conference!

Carolyn Mahaney's A's are from chapter 5 in Feminine Appeal and from her talk Being Pure. There's a great discussion of this chapter and these issues in Nicole's EQUIP book club post, and 55(!) really excellent posts on the subject - including times when the wife wants it and the husband doesn't - by Jess at Making Home.

images are from stock.xchng

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress: journey through a varied landscape

This book will make a traveller of thee,
If by its counsel thous wilt ruled be;
It will direct thee to the Holy Land,
If thou wilt its directions understand.
John Bunyan is inviting you on a journey. It’s a pilgrimage from a City doomed to Destruction to a City of Glory. Along the way, you’ll face giants, fiends, lions and robbers. You’ll be tempted to leave the stony path for softer pastures. You’ll meet people who try to turn you from the way. You’ll face hunger, thirst, weariness, even death. There will be times of rest and refreshment, but also times of doubt and despair. Are you ready to travel the straight and narrow path?

God also invites us on a journey. Like Abraham and Moses, we are nomads travelling through an inhospitable land to a fair country we have been promised but never seen. We flee Satan's country for a new and better land, a heavenly City prepared by God. We are “aliens and strangers”, “sojourners and exiles”, “strangers and pilgrims on this earth" (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11 – NIV, ESV, Geneva). God calls us to turn our backs on all that is dear to us, and to run, like Christian, with fingers in our ears and faces towards heaven.

Do you think of your Christian life as a journey? People talk about their "spiritual journey", but it's often a fuzzy-minded way of saying "You have your journey, I have mine". We've forgotten the Bible's idea of the Christian life as a pilgrimage through an alien landscape, beset by troubles and trials, ever tempted to stray from the true path. We have much to learn from Pilgrim's Progress. ...

Old Honest sums it up beautifully:

It happens to us as it happens to wayfaring men: sometimes our way is clean, sometimes foul; sometimes up hill, sometimes down hill; we are seldom at a certainty. The wind is not always on our backs, nor is every one a friend that we meet with in the way.

Here's what I've learnt from Pilgrim's Progress. I've learnt that no time lasts forever: that times of difficulty are followed by times of rest, and times of refreshment with new trials. I've been warned not to leave the path for an easier way, the promise of safety, or the lure of pleasure. I've been reminded not to put down my roots in pleasant places, and be lulled to sleep by comfort and happiness. I'll choose my travelling companions with care. I'll keep my Guide-book close, and consult it often. I'm determined to travel on days of sunshine, and days when I struggle against the wind. I'm travelling a pilgrim's path, and with God's help, I'll make it to the end. "The bitter must come before the sweet, and that also will make the sweet the sweeter".

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

biblical womanhood (5a) purity and lust

A few years ago, I was in a remote part of the world, alone with the owner of an idyllic island. As the days went by, he became more attentive and more attractive. It was an extremely pleasant sensation. I was enjoying myself greatly. My work required me to be there and my head insisted that I was above temptation. But I'm not. The Bible tells me so.

Consequently I knew I must leave urgently. I did. By the grace of God, I didn't commit adultery. Not then and not yet. But, it's there in my heart biding its time. Jesus said that makes me as bad as the worst offender. Happily, because I have always been taught that I am capable of adultery, I've always been on my guard against it. After all, it doesn't start when you jump into bed with your lover, but months, years earlier, when you tell yourself that your friend understands you better than your spouse. (story retold in Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal, p.87)

When I was 6, I fell in love for the first time, with a lion, Aslan. When I was 8, I fell in love with a horse, the Silver Brumby. When I was 10, I fell in love with a human, Aragorn. In each case, there was a worshipful inner homage to their nobility, courage and gentleness, which I recall with great clarity. When I was 13, with the first stirrings of puberty, I fell in love with Tom Burlinson in The Man From Snowy River: a less spiritual, more visceral attraction.

And there, in miniature, were the seeds of female lust: 90% personality and 10% physicality (no doubt the proportion is reversed for many men). Which of us hasn't read a book, followed a TV series, or watched a movie, and felt our heart beat faster at the sight of a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Knightly? (I know, I'm going a bit Jane Austen here, but we all understand the pull of the costume drama.) It requires no great level of physical attractiveness: give us a man with strength, sensitivity and good dress sense (ok, now I'm being silly - aren't I??) and we are lost.

We may not think of this as "lust", because it doesn't fit the male stereotype. But to allow our emotions to be drawn to a strong, sensitive character in a TV show, and our minds to play with the idea of a man who would understand and care for us, is no less lustful than a man desiring a woman's body. And, of course, the unstated implication is always there (for those of us who are married) - surely this man would listen to me, sympathise with me, and love me better than my husband.

Women's thoughts also often fit more recognisably into the category of "lust". Women, not just men, watch pornography, fantasise about sex scenes, and admire the bodies of those they're not married to. In these days of equality, advertising images play lingeringly over the male as well as the female form: women are being trained in the school of lust.

I think it's time women stopped talking as if impure thoughts are a "male" problem. The result of this is that women become too embarrassed to talk about their struggles openly, because they expect others to be shocked and horrified, so they never seek help and counsel from other women. They feel completely alone, struggling with a problem that no other woman - surely! - has ever struggled with, instead of a temptation which is "common to [wo]man" (1 Cor. 10:13). Unadvised and uncounselled, women fall ripe from the tree into the open hands of lust.

Let's borrow a few weapons from the male armoury. I asked my husband how he counsels guys who are struggling with these issues, and here's some of his suggestions:

  • Be accountable to someone you trust (guys often use Covenant Eyes). A godly older woman is likely to be completely unshocked when you tell her about your problem.

  • Pray for the person you're attracted to. This will help you think of them as a real person in need of God's grace, not an object of desire.

  • Replace impure thoughts with God's word (nothing like a Bible passage repeated in the head to drive unhelpful thoughts far away!).

  • Fight tough and smart. Flee temptation. Avoid situations, books and shows which you find tempting (Matt. 5:27-30).

  • If you're married, learn to be satisfied with your partner (Prov. 5:19). Work on those tender thoughts we talked about recently.

  • Be wise. Being alone in a room with a man who's not your husband, even if it's for something "spiritual" like prayer or counsel, is likely to damage your reputation, and lead you both into danger.

  • Don't think you're above temptation. The women whose story heads this post is an absolute inspiration: she admitted adultery was possible for any of us, and ran away as fast as she could.

  • Be ruthless. Don't entertain those intruding thoughts for a second, however pleasurable they might be. Be holy, as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16).

  • Realise that emotional closeness, especially for women, is the first step to physical closeness. Don't commit emotional adultery. Avoid intimate conversation with a man you think is a "good listener". Reserve your closest friendship for your husband.

  • Don't flirt. It's easy to do this in subtle ways: through immodest dress, intimate conversation, and inviting smiles. Be aware of the impact of your behaviour on yourself and others.

  • Help your husband with his own temptations. Pray for his purity. Dress attractively, organise nights away, be physically affectionate: these things help him to see you as a sexual person, not just a "wife" or "mum", and help his thoughts not to stray to others. Forgive him when he fails, remembering that you are also guilty of sexual sin.

  • If you're married, keep each other satisfied sexually (more about that later this week).

I'd love to hear from anyone who has some other good ideas about how to battle lust, both for single and married people.

some images are from stock.xchng

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Puritans: pilgrims and warriors

What do you think of when you hear the word “Puritan”? Gloomy men in black clothes and black, peaked hats with buckles, and their wives in white head scarves and demure dresses? Strait-laced kill-joys, opposed to dancing, theatre, and sport?

Maybe it’s vaguer for you than that. Maybe you think of the word “puritanical”, which the Online Dictionary says is “usually disparaging”, meaning “strict in moral or religious outlook”, with synonyms like “severe, disapproving, stuffy, fanatical, bigoted, prim, narrow-minded, prudish, strait-laced, rigorous, proper”. Not exactly an attractive portrait, is it? ...

Let me give you a different picture. The Puritans were our forbears, the evangelicals of 16th and 17th England, who wanted to reform the English church further. Their clothes were normal, and often brightly coloured; they opposed many things we would also oppose, like bear-baiting and gambling; and they moved organs from churches into their homes, where they enjoyed music and dancing. ...

But the Puritans have an immense amount to teach us. Here are some of the things we can learn from them: ...

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.