Saturday, May 31, 2008

the ways we read

If you got The Age today and love reading books, flick to page 3 of "A2 Culture and Life" and have a squiz at Kate Holden's beautiful piece on the different ways we read books. Here's what she says:

I have just emerged blinking from several glorious months dediated to a single trove of books, Patrick O'Brian's Napoleonic war novels, including Master and Commander, which was adapted into a film by Peter Weir. For week after week after week, enthralled, I learnt and loved the characters as I witnessed them growing older, enduring, exploring and sometimes expiring. What a marvellous experience! Finishing this flowing sequence of novels ... brings me a sense almost of grief. It has been joy to immerse myself so utterly in another world, and to experience the careful development of sublime authorship over 20 books.

By contrast, my friend Beth never approaches a book from start to finish. She's a voracious and astute reader. But Beth likes her reading to be an adventure. She'll open the book near the end; sample a few pages, then flick through to a chapter in the middle, and slowly work her way back and forth around the book until she's satisfied she's got the best flavour of it. ... She starts with Anna Karenina's demise, and works backwards to find out why. A true post-modern girl. ... Life is a rush; quite probably Beth gets just as much - or more - from her gypsy wandering.

I read like Kate, not Beth: doggedly, from start to finish. And I can relate to the feeling of grief which comes at the end of an epic series of novels.

Reading is my favourite and my best. Which is why my most loved romantic comedy will always be You've Got Mail. "So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?"

And I'm going to go and borrow Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander from the library again. Time to get "the wind back in my sails."

dieting and gluttony (5h) John Piper on how eating affects our spiritual lives

Don't worry, I am planning to tie up the loose ends and conclude this series on gluttony, dieting, and honouring God with our eating!

Just a few more quotes to go, addressing an issue we haven't really looked at yet: how eating and physical health impact our spiritual life. Then I want to review a helpful book Hate to Eat, Love to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick on food addiction for those of you who struggle in this area, and conclude by giving you practical applications from my own experience.

So here's some helpful comments by John Piper on how eating can help or hinder our joy in God, from his excellent book When I Don't Desire God. This quote is from a chapter on how things like sleep, food, exercise, music, relationships and beauty affect our physical bodies, and since we are embodied creatures, impact our joy in God. I commend this book and this chapter to you!

The proper or improper use of our bodies can have a huge effect on the way we experience spiritual reality. ... Proper eating and exercising and sleeping has a marked effect on the mind and its ability to process natural beauty and biblical truth.

So the question must be faced: How do we use the created world around us, including our own bodies, to help us fight for joy in God? ... We all make choices about how we sleep and exercise and eat. ... There is no way around the issue. ... Our physical lives will affect our spiritual lives whether we plan it or not. Better to think it through and be intentional. ... Take steps to keep our bodies and minds as fit as we can for spiritual use. ...

Please don't interpret this as a kind of chipper health and happiness regimen. The question is not whether God can reveal himself in precious ways to those who suffer. He can and does. ... The questions is what we should do during times when we can choose our own lifestyle of eating and exercising and resting. In what indirect ways can we improve the ability of our bodies and minds for their partnership in perceiving the glory of God? ...

Sereno Dwight tells us that Jonathan Edwards "carefully observed the effects of the different sorts of food, and selected those which best suited his constitution, and rendered him most fit for mental labour." Thus he abstained from every quantity and kind of food that made him sick or sleepy. Edwards had set this pattern when he was twenty-one years old when he wrote in his diary, "By a sparingness in diet, and eating as much as may be what is light and easy of digestion, I shall doubtless be able to think more clearly, and shall gain time." Hence he was "Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking."

The point here is not to commend the particulars of Edwards's eating habits. The point is that we be intentional about how our eating affects the ability of our body to be a helpful partner in seeing the glory of God. We live in an era of eating disorders. I am not eager to create another one. I commend balance. Put the following two texts beside each other. On the one hand, Paul made food and drink clearly secondary: "The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). But on the other hand, he said, in regard to food, "I will not be enslaved by anything" (1 Cor. 6:12). In the balance of these two truths we can find a way to eat that will provide both the denial and the delight that will fit us for seeing the glory of God in the Word and in the world. ...

Contemporary medical knowledge would include the fact that obesity kills and contributes to dozens of ailments. Not all obesity is self-inflicted. Some medical conditions make it virtually impossible to avoid it. But most of it is self-inflicted, and this kind of self-destruction does not enhance the ability of the body or the mind to see and savour the glory of God in this world, or the glory of Christ who endured the cross by postponing the feast till the age to come (Heb. 12:2).

This quote is from the chapter "How to wield the world in the fight for joy" in John Piper's When I Don't Desire God, pp.201-2.

You can follow the thread on eating, gluttony and dieting here.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Equip book club

Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, the Equip book club is here!!! (I would have told you a couple of weeks back, but I've been a little distracted recently.)

The Equip book club is planned and run by my bloggy friend Nicole, who I met a couple of weeks ago at Equip. What a privilege, to meet my bloggy friend in the flesh!

Like me, you probably struggle to find time to read Christian books. Being part of a book club can encourage you to stay on course with your reading.

The Equip book club has chosen 11 books (one for each month until Equip 2008) which they think Christian women will enjoy reading, thinking, and chatting about. Each month someone writes about a book, and you're invited to respond with comments.

The book for June is Bryson Smith's Faith: A Matter of Trust, so you might want to get reading!

I was thrilled to be asked to contribute. In November I'll be writing about John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, the story of Christian's journey to the Celestial City.

Just to whet your appetite, I'm thinking of writing about the Christian life in terms of "journey," "geography," "battle" (thank to Jenny for these ideas) and the final hurdle, the "river" of death. I'd also love to write about Puritanism and John Bunyan, and review some editions of Pilgrim's Progress for children, but we'll see.

So join us for the ride: a book a month, lots of great posts, a chance to make your own comments, and encouragement from your sisters in Christ to read good books which feed your faith and encourage your joy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

a lesson in kindness

Last week, under the fatherly hand of God, I learned a short, sharp lesson in kindness.

I have dear friends who excel in kindness. As soon as they hear of someone in need, they are there with loving service: making plates of food for a child's party, baby-sitting during a time of stress, cooking meals for someone who's ill.

I easily forget simple acts of kindness. When people share their problems with me, I tend to listen and advise rather than offering practical help. I don't even think of providing such help, and if I do, it often seems too hard for this mother of 4. I say this to my shame.

But last week I learned first hand what it is to go through a difficult time without much help. Not through anyone else's fault! I refused the help that was offered, because of my own pride and inexperience of grief. Like many of us, I prefer independence to the humility of accepting service, and I didn't realise how debilitating grief would be.

I learnt first-hand how important other people's kindness is in helping us deal with the difficult experiences of life. I was reminded that kindness isn't academic, that it has an impact on real people in the real world. I realised that when I fail to offer kindness to someone, I may be increasing their exhaustion and discouragement.

I needed this small rebuke from God! I hope and pray that next time someone tells me about a difficult time they're going through, the first words out of my mouth will be, "Tell me something I can do to help!"

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Superwoman: the Proverbs 31 woman

I've always found the Proverbs 31 woman more than a little intimidating.

Here's a woman who gets up before dawn, provides for an extended household, weaves her family's clothes and bedding, runs a successful business, speculates in farmland, cares for the poor, works far into the night, and earns the praise of husband, children and her community! "Superwoman" indeed.

But I understand her a little better after hearing Claire Smith's "Superwoman" seminar at Equip a couple of weeks ago (sorry it's taken a while to write about it!).

Claire's seminar was so thorough, thoughtful, and heavy with gold, that no blog post can do it justice. A woman after my own heart, she obviously weighed and analysed every word before presenting her thoughts to us.

I thought I'd share some of her insights (you might like to read Proverbs 31:10-31 first):

  • Songs about women were usually about their erotic appeal, not their domestic prowess. But the woman in Proverbs 31 is described in military terms. She's strong, resourceful, energetic, intelligent, independent, productive, and vigourous.

  • The Proverbs 31 woman is rare, like rubies. Worth looking for, you men.

  • But don't expect to find her! She's an historical possibility, but she's also a stereotype, the good version of all the bad versions of women in Proverbs. For Proverbs sees things in black and white. She's not labouring under the burden of grief, a sick child, or a chronic illness (phew!).

  • She's no doormat or lackey. She's a responsible moral agent. Her approach to life is purposeful and thoughtful. She "selects", "considers", "sets about" and "watches over." She is who she decides to be.

  • Yet she's no feminist hero. Her primary sphere is the home. She works outside the home, but only for the benefit of her husband, children and home. She enhances her husband's work by what she does. (I found this very challenging. Do I think of my family or my own satisfaction when choosing what to do outside the home?)

  • She's active in the community, helping the poor and needy. (A question: should ministry and charity ever be at cost to our family? I think it's good for children to learn the cost of discipleship. Our aim is not to make them comfortable. But ministry and charity shouldn't undermine the primary responsibility to support, teach and nurture our family. [1 Tim. 5:8])

  • In her we see the truth that work is not only under God's curse, making it difficult and unrewarding, but also that work is a great blessing from God, which we can enjoy with thanksgiving (Gen. 1:28; Eccles. 3:13). This transformed my thinking about work!

  • She's is one of a long line of women who give wise instruction (Deut. 6:7, Ex. 15:20, 2 Kgs. 22:14; Ac. 21:9; 2 Tim. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 11, 14).
  • She clothes herself beautifully and makes rich coverings for her bed (Prov. 31:22), in contrast to the adulteress, who perfumes her bed and covers it with fine linens (Prov. 7:17-18). Good sex in marriage helps prevent bad sex.
  • Beauty may fade, but the fear of God remains. All that she does flows from her love for, obedience to, and trust in God. The Proverbs 31 woman may seem too good to be true, but like us, she lives under God's grace.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

trusting God with the life of a child

Last Tuesday afternoon, I sat on our back verandah, looked up at the lemon-scented gums, and sobbed. And no, it wasn't about my father-in-law, who died 5 days before, although I've shed many tears for him.

I was crying out to God for the ability to trust him with the life of my only daughter.

Lizzy has been sick for over a month. Sore stomach, a bizarre headache in the back of her head, aching muscles. She's been dragging herself through school and putting herself to bed an hour early every night, as her skin grows whiter and the circles under her eyes more purple.

The doctor examined her and found nothing wrong. "Try these pills (the implication being they probably won't do much) and come back in 2 weeks if she's still sick." One week later and I'd had enough, so the doctor booked her in for a battery of blood tests last Monday.

The final brick in my towering wall of anxiety came when Lizzy's teacher approached me last Tuesday afternoon, obviously worried about the sick, pale little girl struggling to sit through 6 1/2 hours of school every day.

You probably understand the thoughts that go through a parent's mind at times like these. Thoughts you barely dare to name, certainly not to the doctor, for fear they'll think you're an over-anxious parent (which, let's face it, you are). Cancer. Brain cancer. Leukemia.

And if you give in to the impulse to look it up on the internet (I succumbed after a month of anxiety) you get big medical names for your worries, like slow-growing chronic myelogenous leukemia, with symptoms vague enough for any vague set of symptoms.

So I sat on the verandah and cried out my worry and fear to God.

I committed my children to God years ago. I pray,

Keep them safe. Please keep them safe! But do with them as you will. They are yours, you love them more than I do, you know what is best for them. Watch over them, grow them into the people you want them to be, and use their lives for the good of your kingdom. Even at cost to me - or them.

God's preparation for the times when the pit of fear opens before my feet. So I was able to say through my tears "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). I was able to tell God I love him more than anything, more than life itself, more even than the life of my children.

But I was unable to trust him.

I know God isn't capricious. I know he doesn't delight in hurting us. I know he's no cosmic kill-joy. I know "all things work together for good for those who love God," the good of making us more like Christ (Rom. 8:28).

I've said it myself: "He gives us only the suffering that is needful, no more."

But is it really true? Does God give me just enough suffering to make me more like Christ? Is the Christian who suffers more in need of being made like Christ than the one who doesn't? Of course not! So what does it mean to say God gives us only the suffering that is needful?

Is there always a reason for the suffering of God's people? What does it mean to say we may never know the reason? Does it mean there isn't a reason, or that there is a reason, but it may stay hidden in God? And what kinds of reasons does God have for our suffering?

In other words: can I trust God with the life of my only daughter?

Here's how my wise husband answered my questions: Yes, there's always a reason for our suffering, as there was for Job. But no, we won't always know the reason, just as Job didn't. God's reasons aren't limited to making us Christ-like, so there's certainly no direct link between the amount of suffering I experience and my lack of Christ-likeness. All suffering is used by God to make us more like Christ, but he may have other reasons as well.

For there are many reasons for suffering. God's fatherly discipline for things I do wrong. His training ground to produce greater Christ-likeness in me. An encouragement to find comfort and joy in God. The testing and and refining of my faith. Prying my fingers away from holding too tightly to the good things of this world. Increasing my sympathy for another's suffering. The catalyst to lead someone else to Christ.

Above all, I hope suffering will always be an opportunity for God's great and holy name to be glorified in my life.

And I can live with this uncertainty. I like to know the reasons, but I can live without a reason. I can live with the absolute certainty that God loves me and my children more than I will ever know, that he always has a reason for allowing us to suffer, and that the reason may stay hidden in his loving Father's heart.

I can trust my heavenly Father with my life and the lives of my children.

It turned out that Lizzy probably has coeliac disease, like her father: an intolerance to gluten, which means she'll be unable to eat wheat, barley or rye for the rest of her life. Good news, especially for a family already used to coping with this condition! I am already praying God will use this condition to grow her in thankfulness, patience and self-control.

Monday, May 26, 2008

seasons of life and Bible college

Many of you are studying at theology college, or married to people studying at theology college, and I thought you might find this encouraging. Also any mothers among you, or anyone going through any season of life - which I think covers all the readers of this blog.

It's a Q&A from John Piper's How to Fight for Joy conference talks, which I've been listening to on my iPod. Enjoy!

Q. Do you have any practical advice for seminary students dealing with marriage and work and study and ministry - how to get through that, and to keep your affections with God, and not in all these other things?

A. Resolve to live as simply as you can so that you and your wife can work as little as possible and not burn the candle at both ends. Choose a simple apartment, eat simple food, don't eat out very often, don't go to a lot of movies. Keep your life pressured by things that matter: schoolwork, marriage, kids, health - "physical health does a little bit of good" the Bible says (1 Tim. 4:8). That's the first thing. Try to strip away the non-essentials.

And then, within the essentials, put your time with God in a place and a time that is sacred and inviolable. He does not get the dregs, not even after your wife. Meet him in the morning, and if you have to, get up 1/2 hour earlier. Do what George Mueller did. He said, "The first task of my life every morning is to get my heart happy in God, because I'm of no use spiritually to anybody if I can't share the delight that I have in God." Fight that fight. That's more important than assignments, marriage, children, and health. Keep yourself alive in God. When that's in its place, you can be a better husband, and you can be a better father, and you can be a better student.

If you weren't married, I'd say marry the right woman, namely a woman who can do without you for 3 years! (laughs) It does help to have a wonderfully self-resilient wife who says, "This is a season. This is a season."

Whether you're 60 or 16, life is seasons. There's a season with little kids in nappies. There's a nappy season, then there's a pre-school season, then there's a school season. Life is seasons.

And if you take any one season, then it feels like this is all life is going to be. No. Seminary is not the end of life. It's a tough season. Maximise it. Even the hard things. Maximise the hard things in it, for your own sanctification.

Then you'll enter into another kind of hardness afterwards.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

fruit of the Spirit bag tags

And here's the craft Liz and the kids made for their Sunday School lesson on goodness: bag tags with Micah 6:8 on them. The kids wrote their names on the back, cut them out and laminated them to hang on their school bags, to remind them to live for God while they're at school. Clever!

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - goodness

Today the children are looking at the word goodness. The fruit: a banana, of course! Bananas are full of goodness, aren't they?

I'm not leading Sunday School today. A kind friend offered to lead it for me, to give Steve and me time to rest and recover. But let me tell you what I learned about "goodness" as I prepared the lesson, and how I would have taught it.

It took some work to look up all the "goods" and "goodnesses" in the concordance! The Bible word "good" has a huge range of meanings, from "pleasant" to "righteous," as it does in English. Like all the fruit of the Spirit, this quality springs from God, who is "good" and the giver of "good" things to his people.

Those who are "good" imitate God in two ways:
- they are morally upright, doing what is right, fair and just;
- they do good to others, treating them with loving kindess, mercy and generosity.

The children will hear the story of one of the "good" kings of Israel, who did "what was good and right and faithful before the LORD" and "walked in the ways of his father David" (2 Chron. 31:20, 34:2). The story of Josiah, who became king when he was only 8 years old.

Do you remember how, as a teenager, Josiah began to seek God? How he ordered the ruthless destruction of idols and false priests (no pretty Sunday School story this!) and scattered their ground remains over the graves of their worshippers? How he repaired the temple, and restored the worship of the one true God?

Do you remember the glorious and terrible day the scroll of God's Law was discovered lying dusty and neglected in the temple? How Josiah tore his robes and mourned because of God's anger which was coming on his people because they had not followed God's Word?

Do you remember how Josiah read the Book of the Covenant loudly to all the people, and how they repented and pledged themselves to obey God's commands? How they celebrated the forgotten Passover once again?

I think I would have chosen an 8-year old boy from our class, put a paper crown on his head (although Josiah was much older when the law was found) and asked him to read the 10 commandments as Josiah would have to the Israelites.

Not to return the children to law-keeping! But to remind them of the goodness God demands from his people, even after our law-breaking has been paid for by Jesus' death.

The children will talk about how God's Word shows us what is "good": to love others, obey parents and teachers, and refuse to lie, cheat or steal, even when their friends act differently. They'll listen to the Colin Buchanan song "Do not lie, do not steal, do not deceive one another" (Lev. 19:11).

The craft will be a pendant or bag tag, perhaps made from bakeable clay, to hang aroung their necks or on their school bags. To remind them to stay true to God, even when it's hard because it sets them apart from friends and classmates.

I'll leave you with the Bible verse the kids may learn today:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Friday, May 23, 2008

grieving through the eyes of a 4-year-old

We all grieve in our own way.

One of the most challenging things about this week has been answering Thomas' questions about his Poppa's death.

Our children saw their Poppa's body, peacefully laid out in his own bed. I think this was important to give them closure and help them understand the reality of death: that the real Poppa is no longer on this earth, but that he has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.

Here are some of the comments and questions we have heard from Thomas:

- If I touch Poppa's body, will I go to heaven?
- Why isn't Poppa talking to me?
- When Poppa went to heaven, he left his face behind.
- At the big table there will be an empty seat, because of Poppa.
- Is Poppa everywhere?
- No more Poppas in the world now, Mummy.

And Andrew's comment when he saw the powerpoint about David's life at the funeral?

- Poppa. Poppa!

Then, looking around the church:

- Poppa?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - kindness

Last week's Sunday School lesson, unsurprisingly, wasn't quite as well run as usual! A bit like one of those awkward Bible study discussions where you ask all the wrong questions.*

Yet it was an appropriate week to talk about kindness. For my father-in-law David, who went to be with the Lord 3 days before I taught Sunday School, was one of the kindest people I knew.

Many people have shared their stories of David and Audrey's quiet, gentle, practical loving-kindness: a young man who lived with them after moving from the country, a woman who ate many meals in their house while suffering through churchly disapproval after a marriage breakdown, a student who enjoyed David's cooking during many Christian camps hosted at their bush property.

In the mind-numbing tiredness of grief, I found it difficult to prepare last week's lesson, but I won't quickly forget what I learned about kindness: a simple yet profound quality, which forgets self and cares for the needs of others.

I was frantically trying to decide which Bible story to teach, when I noticed how often the word "kindness" appears in the book of Ruth (2:13, 20; 3:10).

And yes! There it was! The story of Ruth, a humble woman who quietly cared for the needs of her mother-in-law Naomi. The story of Boaz, a faithful man who served his God by leaving the left-over gleanings of his harvest for the poor, and who took pity on Ruth and gave her food and protection.

I made one of those "televisions" where you paste pictures from a story on a scroll, roll it onto two sticks inside a box with one side cut out for a "screen", and turn the sticks to show each scene as you tell the story:

The children, appropriately enough, made pictures, letters and cards for people in need: a sponsor child, a sick brother, and, in the case of my son Ben, a grieving grandmother. He drew himself with his arms around her.

I can think of few better ways to honour David's memory than to offer the gift of kindness this week. But this humble man would have asked you instead to "honour God" by being "kind to the needy" as you imitate the "kindness and love of God our Saviour" in Christ Jesus our Lord (Prov. 14:31; Tit. 3:4).

Kindness: a friendly smile, a hospitable meal, an encouraging word, a visit to someone lonely, a gift for someone in need, a meal cooked for a grieving friend (believe me, they need it!). How many ways can you think of to show kindness this week?

*Ever told a bunch of kids how kind Ruth was to marry Boaz (Ruth 3:10) instead of running after all the younger men? Don't bother!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

dying, but not alone

We all grieve in our own way.

This is an excerpt from a Bible talk my husband Steve gave the evening after his father David died. He spoke on 2 Timothy 4:9-22, written by Paul from prison as he faced his own death.

A couple of weeks ago, I remember Steve was a little concerned about writing a talk on this passage, because it's got a lot of "greet so-and-so" and "bring such-and-such" in it!

But in God's perfect timing, it gave Steve a chance to speak of his father's death, and of the comfort we have in Jesus that even in death, we are never alone.

In A.D. 64, under the reign of the emperor Nero, Paul wrote the final words of 2 Timothy, the last surviving words we have from Paul. He writes them knowing his execution is coming very soon. “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.” (2 Tim. 4:6)

Of course this wasn’t the first time Paul had been imprisoned, and faced possible execution. But he knew there would be no acquittal this time.

You can tell a lot about someone by what they’re willing to risk for the sake of the gospel. It would have taken a lot of courage to go and visit the apostle Paul in jail. You would automatically come under suspicion yourself.

You see, we can say that we love Jesus. We can even sing of our love for Jesus. But the real test is what we’re prepared to do, and to risk, because of our love for Jesus.

And so it was when it came to the apostle Paul. What better way to show your love for Jesus and the gospel, then to go and risk everything by standing beside him.

At the first stage of Paul’s trial, he hadn’t gotten a lot of support. Everyone deserted him (v16). He may well have wondered, where are those who really love Jesus? Where are those who are going to stand up for the gospel after I’m gone?

But of course he’s not completely alone. For the Lord is with him (v 17).

My dad has been very, very sick. In fact he died last night.

He said to me last week, although he doesn’t fear what lies beyond death, the hardest thing is that it’s an experience you have to go through alone. Then he corrected himself, and said, of course I’m not alone, for Jesus is with me.

That was Paul’s terrible and yet wonderful experience. Because of that, he was able to stand firm. Even when on trial for his life, Paul is far more concerned with the cause of Christ, and the spread of the gospel, than his own survival. The Lord who rescued him, and forgave him, and restored him to favour. The Lord who delivered Paul through trial and trouble, again and again.

One last time he expects deliverance from his Lord. Except this time, it’s not an earthly deliverance. He knows he’s going to die. But deliverance into the eternal and glorious kingdom.

Friday, May 16, 2008

David

Steve's father David went to be with Jesus at 9.30 last night. It is wonderful for him to be with his Lord, but oh, so sad for us!

Lizzy (9) is quietly sad, in her beautifully calm way. Ben (7) has a special sorrow, because he had a wonderful relationship with his Poppa, in the way grandfathers and grandsons sometimes do. Thomas (4) is asking impossible questions. And Andrew (1) is too little to understand.

Please thank God for David's faithful love for God, his loving service for others, and his sure and certain hope of going to heaven. Praise God that he has gone home at last. Please pray for our family as we grieve for him.

Here are some words David quoted from a few days ago:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8

Thursday, May 15, 2008

aeroplane tracks

Went out on the back verandah, and this is what I saw.

A sunlit sky criss-crossed by aeroplane tracks.

Well, that's what Thomas calls them, anyway.

a tale of two mornings

I thought you might enjoy reading about the minutiae of my morning (and yes, there is a point to this). But if you want to skip straight to the point, or if reading about someone's busy morning will leave you discouraged, feel free to scroll to the end of this post!Here's how my morning was shaping up:
- Get out of bed. Feel tired. Feel discouraged about the number of things I should do today.
- Eat breakfast. Have shower. Get kids ready for the day.
- Think, "What I really want to do is sit at the computer and fiddle around."

Morning 1: what my day might have looked like.
- Go on the computer and fiddle around. Look guilty when Steve gets back from taking the kids to school.
- Get up and do a bit of tidying. My aunt is coming for lunch tomorrow, and the house is a pigsty.
- Make a cup of tea, go on the computer and fiddle around. Or maybe read a book.
- Get up and feel discouraged about the tasks I haven't done. Think about going shopping, but realise I have no shopping list and Steve needs the car in less than an hour.
- Wipe down the bathrooms. Maybe. Put on a load of washing. If I think of it.
- Go on the computer and fiddle around.
- Make lunch. Read a book to Thomas. Feel discouraged about my unproductive morning. Have a nap.
- Go on the computer and fiddle around (it is my computer time, after all).
- Pick the kids up from school.
- Race around tidying, scribble a shopping list, and worry about everything I haven't done.
- Take the kids to gym. Go shopping.
- Get home exhausted, throw the cold things in the fridge, make dinner (barely) and serve it late.
- Leave the wet washing, the shopping bags, and the tidying for tomorrow.

Morning 2: what my morning really looked like.
- Write a list of all the things I should do this morning:
shopping list / renew library books / finances / walk / tidy / clean bathrooms / shop / blog / washing / hang out washing
- Think, "What I really want to do is sit at the computer and fiddle around."
- Force my groaning brain and tired body over to the kitchen bench. Write a shopping list (I hate writing shopping lists). Feel more cheerful.
- Steve takes the kids to school, comes home. Looks after the younger kids while I go for a walk.
- Go for a walk. Think about listening to a talk on my iPod. Pray for myself, Steve and the kids (in that order) instead. Pray that God would make my arms strong for my tasks, like the Proverbs 31 woman Claire Smith spoke about at Equip.
- Come home and, inspired by my prayer for Steve, ask if I can do anything to help. Am shocked at myself. He says no. Am slightly relieved.
- Think, "What I really want to do is sit at the computer and fiddle around."
- Use my strong hands to put a load of washing on instead.
- Go on the computer while the younger kids watch Playschool, but don't fiddle around. Do our finances for the week. Renew library books.
- Cross some tasks off my list. Feel good.
- Hang out the clothes.
- Go out and do our supermarket shopping for the week. Thomas needs to go to the toilet half way around the supermarket.
- Bring the car home just in time for Steve to drive to a lunchtime meeting. Give him a pile of coins for the parking meter.
- Go on the computer and fiddle around. That's what I'm doing now. I should probably be tidying and cleaning the bathrooms, but I wanted to share my morning with you.

the point

I don't tell you this to boast about my productive morning, or to make you feel bad if yours was less productive: you might have needed a quiet morning today.

But I want to share 3 things that can make a difference:
- write a list (don't all women love lists?);
- get started on our tasks even when we feel tired and discouraged;
- pray that God will give us strong arms for our tasks of love and service today.

I realised as I prayed that God makes our arms exactly as strong as they need to be. If yours are laid low by chronic fatigue syndrome, a night looking after sick children, or trouble and sorrow, then that is where God wants you to be right now. Who knows what glory for God and encouragement for others will flow from the situation you are in?

And for the record, I spent the first 2 days of this week sitting around and recovering from my busy weekend. Which was what was needed at that point. But today I just needed to get on with it.

May God make our arms strong for our tasks! (Prov. 31:17)

I'm going to tell you more about Claire Smith's excellent talk on the Proverbs 31 woman just as soon as I get around to it. Or buy the talks from Equip when they become available and listen to it yourself!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

prayer: the smell of freshly baked bread

"When I'm in trouble I ring a friend and pour out my woes, and at the end she inevitably says, 'Have you prayed?'
'Oh, yeah ... '"
(Di Warren, Equip)

Not all that long ago, I realised how reluctant I am to pray. Feeling discouraged by a mountain of unfinished tasks, I ran around trying to fix things, berated myself for my failures, and complained to anyone who would listen. I forgot to pray.

But Di reminded me that instead of planning and worrying and despairing, God invites us to pray.

Carmelina Read, who spoke next, asked us to close our eyes and think about how the word prayer makes us feel (try it now!).* She reminded us that it's not that we have to pray, but that we get to pray. How wonderful that:
  • God listens to our prayers as eagerly as he listened to the prayers of his Son Jesus (Jn. 11:41-42; Gal. 4:6-7);
  • God delights in our prayers: they rise before him like the sweet perfume of incense, the smell of baking bread wafting from the oven, or the delicious fragrance of freshly brewed coffee (Rev. 8:3-4);
  • God catches our prayers up into his sovereign plans, so that the ordinary prayers of ordinary people make a difference (Ex. 32:14; Phil. 1:19; Jam. 5:16-18);
  • Jesus and the Spirit are always praying for us: our prayers are in God's hands (Rom. 8:26-27, 34).
She encouraged us to start small: not to get up at 4:00 and pray for 2 hours, which will lead to a cycle of guilt and failure, but to attempt perhaps 2-5 minutes a day at first.

Which brings us to Tuesday morning, when I was feeling exhausted after a weekend in Sydney, sad about Steve's Dad's illness, and worried about too many commitments. What did I do? I prayed.

It felt odd at first. What could I say to God? "I feel worried?" But as I prayed about my family, my year, and my commitments, anxiety was replaced with God's peace.

Next time you are troubled? Try praying. Your prayers are the smell of freshly baked bread to your heavenly Father.

* Her answer? Guilty. My answers? Frustrated, empty, lonely. I guess God has seemed a long way away recently.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

patience in suffering as we wait

It seems that patience is God's word for my week.

I spent the weekend with good friends in Sydney. On Saturday we went to Equip, where us wide-eyed Melbournians sat surrounded by thousands of women eager to learn how to live as God's daughters.

Ever seen 3,000 women cry simultaneously over the heart-rending stories of 3 women struggling with singleness, the loss of a longed-for baby, and a daughter nearly lost to addiction? No? Well, I didn't either, I was too busy hunting for tissues.

In God's good providence, I pre-posted a blog last Saturday on patience. And the topic of the first talk at Equip was - wait for it - patience. Patience in suffering. Patience as we wait for Jesus' return.

Di Warren spoke on James 5: "Be patient until the Lord's coming" (Jam. 5:7). She spoke with honesty about the patient trust in God required during her own experience of suffering, when her husband was hospitalised after a recent bike accident.

I've been reflecting on the indispensable quality of patience, so I nodded furiously (on the inside, at least) when she said, "Being a Christian means being patient. Intrinsic to the Christian life is patience."

Di reminded us that we live in the now and the not yet, the time between Jesus' first and second coming. We live for God, and we wait. We wait patiently, and in patience we pray. We wait through suffering, when every day feels like an eternity. We wait for our fairytale ending, when what is hard will be gone, and what is good will remain forever.

In patience we pray, we trust, and we wait.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev. 22:20)

I'll tell you more about what I learnt at Equip and during my time in Sydney over the next few days - about prayer, motherhood, and the woman I want to become.

But if you're feeling impatient to find out more, Nicole blogged about Equip today.

patient pot-stands

Here's the patient pot-stands Lizzy (9) and Benny (7) made in Sunday School:

an oasis, showing the water God gave the Israelites in the desert, by Lizzy;

and some quails, manna, and the pear of patience, by Ben.

May they patiently bear the weight of hot pots, and remind us to be "patient in affliction," for years to come!

Monday, May 12, 2008

interview about blogging (4) - blogging and writing

Here's one final excerpt from my interview with Susan about blogging, on a topic I touched on last week: how blogging helps with writing.

How do you decide whether a blog is worth stopping by at and reading?

Can I read past the first sentence without yawning? Does it carry me to the next paragraph, and the next, and the next? Is it well-written, punchy, challenging, and inspiring (it needs to be, like most of us I don’t have much spare time, and online reading is hard work!)? Is it biblically sound? Is it personally encouraging? Is it honest, open and true to life? Does it push my thoughts into helpful new territory? Does it make me want to love God and serve him more passionately?

What advice do you have for people who might want to start blogging?

Think very hard: this is a bigger step than you might realize! Blogging has gone from something I knew nothing about, to an enormous part of my life, very quickly. Know why and for who you write. Realise we’ll be skim-reading, and tell us what you want us to know quickly at the start of each paragraph. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t use long words, don’t try to impress us. Be brief, funny and engaging. Keep it intellectually challenging and grounded in God’s Word, but also personal and deeply-felt: if we want a commentary, we’ll go find one (I know the guys may disagree with me on this one – I love challenging theology, but like most women, I like my theology applied). Don’t preach at us, but tell us what impact God’s Word has on you: that’s enough to make us want to live it too. Love God and others in what you write. Pray about what you write, and pray for those who read it.

Has blogging and reading blogs replaced your other writing?

No, they’ve kick-started it (although I must say, I’m struggling to find time and energy for other writing!). I went from not much writing, to wanting to write, to blogging. One of the reasons I started blogging was to practise writing and get feedback. Other people read the blog and told me I should write more. I’m joining the new Equip book-club blog team as a direct result of my blog, so that’s exciting! And where it goes from there … well, that’s God’s job to figure out, not mine.

How has blogging expanded your world/knowledge/experience?

It’s made me read more – blogs, newspapers, magazines, books. It’s introduced me to many people I would never have met otherwise. I now know how to speak “hotmail.” I wish I knew how to design my own blog.

The rest of Susan's interview with Nicole and me may be found in the current issue of RedWhiteYou. Thanks, Sus, for permission to quote from the interview. Have a look at Nicole's answers, she's a far wiser and more experienced blogger than me!

a cure for self-absorption

How wonderful to go to Equip on Saturday, look around and see over 3,000 women, and be reminded that yes, I am a tiddler in a vast ocean after all!

Blogging feeds self-absorption. I often agonise over my posts (what will people think of me? what if they disagree?), worry about the number of comments or readers (is anyone interested? were people affected by what I wrote?), and try to live up to expectations (am I posting often enough? am I posting too often?).

Nicole was having similar thoughts last week (nice to know I'm not alone): her quote from G.K. Chesterton is a refreshing reminder of the reassuring reality of our smallness.

How gracious of God to use you and me to touch the lives of the eternal creatures who surround us every day.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - patience

Well, it's been a tough one, but I finally thought of a a craft for our Sunday School lesson on patience.

We're making pot-stands, because they stand so patiently bearing the heat of the pot (yes, I know, but you try thinking of a craft which illustrates long-suffering!). White tiles, a verse around the edges, a picture drawn in permanent textas, and voilĂ !

It also took me a long time to think of a Bible story illustrating patience. Abraham and Sarah waiting for their promised son? (We've just done that one.) David and Saul? (Too complicated.) Job? (How do you tell a bunch of kids about a guy whose children all died when a house blew on top of them? Let alone the festering boils, and the dead animals, and the cursing wife, and the unsympathetic comforters. Well, you probably could, but the task was beyond me.)

Then it hit me: why not do a story illustrating impatience? Of course! The Israelites in the wilderness! Travelling through a hot desert for weeks on end, with no water, not enough food, and a God who promised to care for them, whinging, whining and complaining every step of the way.

Sounds like a car trip with young children to me.

Except worse. Picture a sea of 600,000 tents, each with a family outside the door, wailing about all the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic they ate during their glory days as Egyptian slaves. "But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" Ever tried to serve a meal up to children they don't want to eat?

No wonder Moses cried out, "Why have you made me a nursemaid to whiny baby Israel?" (Numbers 11:4-15).

I hadn't realised what a vivid, fast-paced story this was until I came to re-tell it. And it sums up so well the temptations children face every day, when they are hot and tired, or have to wait for their parents, or don't get the meal they want.

Let's pray that we all learn to be patient, cheerful and thankful under life's daily difficulties.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

patience, the forgotten virtue

If you were asked to list the most important Christian virtues, what would you say?

Love. Faith. Joy. Peace. Hope. Maybe compassion, or kindness, or humility.

I'm not sure patience would be near the top of my list. Yet Paul puts it right after the big three: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

No doubt partly because the quarreling Galatians needed a good dose of patience. But also, I'm sure, because patience is more important than we realise.

Patience is such an everyday virtue. It's not trendy, or conspicuous, or attention-seeking. It's a grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it virtue. It's a virtue suited to mothers, or the elderly, or those who serve. It's unlikely to be noticed, or rewarded, or praised.

Yet patience is enormously important in the Bible. It's the first fruit of suffering, and the earliest expression of hope. It's the handmaiden of peace and joy. Without it, love and kindness can't flourish. It makes the greater virtues possible.

Patience silences the querulous mind, so it may be filled with hope and peace. It keeps the mouth of grumbling shut, so words of thanksgiving and praise may come forth. It stills the hands of revenge, so they may act in love and service.

In the Bible, patience is five-fold:*

1. Patience makes us long-suffering when abused by those who have power.
We imitate Jesus, who suffered silently on the cross, sought no revenge, and entrusted himself to the One who judges justly. Like him, we submit to injustice and cruelty with quiet endurance, trusting in the justice and faithfulness of God (2 Thess. 1:6-7; 1 Pet. 2:23, 4:19).

2. Patience makes us slow to anger when provoked by those we have power over.
We imitate God, who declares himself to be "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" (Exod. 34:6; Jam. 1:19). The One who calls us to discipline our children in love rather than anger, bite our tongues when others speak hurtfully, and treat those under our authority with humility and gentleness.

3. Patience gives us the everyday virtue of forbearance with those around us.
It enables us to willingly bear irritating behaviour from family members, quietly tolerate the short-comings of fellow-Christians, and humbly forgive the sins of those we live and work with, remembering how great God's patience and forgiveness is towards us (1 Co. 13:4; Eph. 4:2-3; Col. 3:12-14; 1 Thess. 5:14) .

4. Patience enables us to wait on God.
It helps us to trust God's timetable is best, persevere in prayer, and keep believing his promises, even when hopes remain unfulfilled, prayers go unanswered, and discouragement feels unending (Ps. 40:1-2; Heb. 6:15).

5. Patience helps us to endure and persevere in suffering.
It clothes us with the beautiful qualities of endurance, standing firm in the midst of suffering, and perseverance, going on in the face of affliction. It is woven from deep trust in God's love, knowledge of his purposes for suffering, and undying hope in heaven (Rom. 12:2, 15:4; Col. 1:11; Jam. 5:7-10; Rev. 1:9, 5:10, 13:10, 14:12).

Patience is hard work. It may mean your wants go unnoticed, your rights unfulfilled, your needs unmet. No-one is likely to congratulate you for it. They may not even notice it. But to God, patience is beautiful. And he notices, and rewards those who entrust themselves patiently to him.

*The five meanings of patience are taken from the chapter on patience in Jerry Bridges' The Fruitful Life, which opened my eyes to the complexity of this big Bible word, and which led me to reflection, repentance and prayer.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Child of my love, lean hard

Child of my love, lean hard,
And let Me feel the pressure of thy care,
I know thy burden, child; I shaped it,
Poised in Mine own hand, made no proportion
In its weight to thine unaided strength;
For even as I laid it on I said,
'I shall be near, and when she leans on Me,
This burden shall be Mine not hers;
So shall I keep my child within the circling arms,
Of Mine own love.' Here lay it down, nor fear
To impose it on a shoulder which upholds
The government of worlds. Yet closer come,
Thou art not near enough; I would embrace they care,
So I might feel My child reposing on my breast.
Thou lovest me? I know it. Doubt not, then,
But loving Me, lean hard.

Source unknown.

Thankyou, Heather, for sending this beautiful poem to me. I wanted to share it with you all.

dying or falling asleep?

Steve's Dad is very ill. We spent a blessed time with him yesterday. He told me something remarkable:

When Jesus dies, the Bible calls it "dying."

When Christians die, the Bible calls it "falling asleep."

Jesus died so that death would be as sleep to us, the awakening to a brighter dawn.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? 1 Cor. 15:55

Thursday, May 8, 2008

the bigger the raindrops, the brighter the rainbow

The rain was plopping down in huge, fat drops the other day, and the sky glowed lilac in the late afternoon sun. I stepped out on the back verandah, and this is what I saw.

Those aren't water droplets on the lens: they're raindrops in freeze frame.

The bigger the raindrops, the brighter the rainbow.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-4

Please pray for our family. Steve's Dad is very ill, so there are a few extra large raindrops in our family right now. Praise God that the rainbow of hope shines brightly in his life.

The rainbow fact is from Ben's Freaky Facts book.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

blogging: great practice for writing

One of the great joys for me has been seeing some Christian women I know join the blogging ranks. Here they are:

Sounds familiar. About 6 months ago, a certain blog writer was heard to observe: "I started this blog to reflect on things, to practise writing, and to encourage anyone who got around to reading it" (except I was more long-winded, blogging having now taught me to say things quickly).

The Pilgrim Penguin told me she's "finding blogging harder than I expected. It's quite a restrictive medium. Short doesn't mean easy!!"

Yes! It's much harder to write short than long. But short is exactly what blog posts need to be (and I take this opportunity to apologise for all the long ones).

Reading on screen is more painful and 25% slower than on paper. People tend to scan or skim-read when they're online. So you have to get a reader's attention early, and hold it. Be clear and concise, eloquent and engaging, intriguing and insightful.

And if this sounds beyond you (and let's face it, it's beyond all of us!) blogging's a great way to learn. Nothing like posting every few days to break writer's block and get the juices flowing!

Be yourself. Tell us what you think. Make us laugh. Make us cry.

Blogging demands what all good writing demands, only more so: brevity, clarity, grace and style. It's excellent training for writing. If you can write a blog people want to read, you can write just about anything.

So welcome to the dark side, my bloggy friends. And if you've always wanted to write? Try blogging!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

boys and their ... lightsabers?!

Well, the older kids have been watching Star Wars recently. It seems to have rubbed off on Andrew ...

With thanks to Daniel and photoshop.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - peace

We had a lot of fun learning about peace in Sunday School yesterday. (The fruit? A "piece" of watermelon, of course!)

As I prepared, I realised the Bible speaks of 3 kinds of peace - peace with God, peace with others, and peace within. I decided to focus on the third, the freedom from anxiety which is ours when we trust God to care for us.

For children are anxious and fearful about so many things! Bogey-men, spiders, illness, bullies, death, intruders, the first day at a new school: do you remember how you feared them as a child?

When I was young and afraid of the dark, my mother gave me a placard which rested on my bed-head. Its blue letters said, "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety" (Psalm 4:8). It comforted me when I lay there feeling scared.

So the children and I decorated placards for their rooms, with a choice of verses like this one: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7).

I told the story of how Jesus calmed the storm. Not as some clever allegory about how Jesus calms the storms in our lives, but as the act which drove the disciples to ask in terror: who is this man?

Here's the pictures I drew (upside-down, which explains the wonkinesss!) as I told them the story:

1. Tired after a day of teaching, healing, and casting out demons, Jesus sleeps on a cushion in the front of the boat ...

2.Aaargh! A storm! Jesus sleeps peacefully on, while the disciples shout in fear. (The kids thought they looked like they were singing, but it's supposed to be fear.)
3. Before I drew the disciples' faces, I asked how they would have felt after Jesus calmed the storm. The children's suggestions? Relieved, amazed, happy.They were surprised when they saw the faces of the disciples and realised they were wobbling like jelly from terror!

Why? Because they suddenly realised they were in the presence of the One who can control the wind and the waves.

Jesus, the Lord of Creation, who is more powerful than all our fears, who hears our prayers when we are anxious or afraid, who will guard our hearts and minds with his peace.

the local tradesman cometh

Don't you just love those local handymen who come over and fix your appliances cheaply?

So much better than big organisations which charge a foot and a leg, then inform you that "It's a busy time, and we can't come over for 2 weeks."

Most winters I have repaired sections of our central heating ducting, as it collapsed under the combined pressures of age and poor installation. A dreary, dark, dirty job!

But a cat moved in recently and had kittens on top of a section of ducting, and the repair proved beyond me.

(The whole saga also revealed a new, cannabalistic side to kitten temperament - ever had to remove half a kitten from under a house in front of the admiring gazes of 4 young children? - but that's another story.)

A tradesman called this morning, and outlined in 5 minutes how he can fix our central heating system, which has been working poorly for years: "I'll replace these ducting sections, install a bigger router (or something like that), tape up these holes, and suspend these sections properly, and you'll find it works much better." He obviously understood not everyone has the money to replace their entire central heating system.

Which transformed him from a scruffy guy with unkempt hair, torn pants, and old work boots, into an angel of mercy.

Praise God for the local tradey.

the peace of God #2

Just a note for interested readers: I've looked at a few commentries, and changed the last few paragraphs of my last post - check it out if you want to pin down the meaning of "peace with God" in Philippians 4:4-7.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

the peace of God

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:1-7

This is one of my favourite Bible passages. It's comforted me many times since I committed it to memory, back when I was newly married and anxious about our future (what work would we do? where would we live? how would we eat?).

For the first time, I realised the incredible power of Bible memorisation: if I remembered God's word, I could wield it as a weapon whenever anxiety threatened to overwhelm me, and the Holy Spirit would speak it deep into my heart.

Yet these verses have always puzzled me. What is the "peace of God" Paul talks about? Is it the "peace" Christ's death has won for us, an end to the enmity between God and believers? Or is it more experiential, a sense of "inner peace"?

One of those "light-bulb" moments happened for me as I hunted through a complete concordance for the word "peace" for my Sunday School lesson (nothing like a perfectionistic session of over-preparation to help you know the Bible better).

I realsed the Bible's use of the word "peace" can be neatly sorted into 3 columns:
  • peace between God and people (Rom. 5:1-11);
  • peace as an inner state of trust in God, freeing us from anxiety and fear;
  • peace between people (Israel and the nations, Jew and Gentile, Christians in relation to non-Christians or secular authorities, and Christians with one another).

There weren't many verses about "peace" as freedom from anxiety flowing from trust in God, but there were enough to show me this was an important aspect of the word "peace" in the Bible:

    I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
    You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3
    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Yet the argument in Philippians 4:4-7 is quite complex. What is the "peace of God" which guards our hearts and minds? Most modern commentators argue that "peace of God" isn't inner peace, but God's serenity and salvation, which guard our thoughts, wills and emotions from attack, including the assault of anxiety.*

However it works, of this we can be sure: that as we pray with thanksgiving, God promises to garrison our hearts and minds with his peace, keeping out intruders like anxious thoughts.

May God help us to turn to him in prayer whenever we feel anxious or afraid. And may he guard us with his peace.

My thinking about the 3 meanings of the word "peace", and the practical implications of Phil. 4:4-7, was clarified by Jerry Bridges' The Fruitful Life. There's a lovely explanation and application of these verses in Don Carson's Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians p.110-5. And Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives an intriguing psychological explanation of how God's "peace" guards our hearts and minds in his chapter on worry in Spiritual Depression.

*See F.F.Bruce NIBC commentary on Philippians pp.143-4 and Peter T. O'Brien's NIGTC commentary on The Epistle to the Philippians pp.496-7.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

interview about blogging (3) my blogging life

I chatted with Susan recently about blogging. Here's what life looks like for this blogger:

How do you organise yourself to make sure you have the time to blog and the ideas to post? What would a typical blogging week look like for you?

I had to cut and cut and cut down on blogging time, before it changed from an obsessive activity I did far too much of, to a reasonable part of life. I now blog for an hour a day during the early afternoon, which is a time my family don’t need me, and during the occasional evening my husband is working. I won’t pretend it doesn’t creep outside these times. I don’t blog much on weekends, I’m too busy with my family! As for ideas, I try to do Christian reading for ½ hour a day, listen to Christian talks on my iPod, and we buy newspapers now, to keep the input flowing.

What are the dangers of blogging and being immersed in the online world?

Obsession. Time-wasting. Stealing time, thought and energy from what’s really important: my family. One common criticism of online communication is that it distracts people from “real” relationships. Obviously the online world, like just about anything, can be a distraction and an escape, but it can also be a wonderful medium for maintaining contact with people and encouraging them in personal ways. I make sure I set aside a morning a week to go and visit someone, and another morning to pray with some very dear friends, so it’s not all online!! Plus I’m married and help raise 4 kids: that’s where my head really is. My family and friends keep me grounded.

How do you stop yourself from checking comments too often or managing your blog?

I make little rules for myself – “Don’t check comments until the morning. Only check comments once a day.” – then break them!! It’s important to respond promptly. But if I feel it’s becoming a time-waster or obsessive, I pray about it, repent, and put the brakes on. As for managing the blog: well, editing and re-editing is always a temptation for a perfectionist. Again, I try to limit it to short times each day.

How has blogging impacted on your family life/parenting/Christian faith/relationships?

It’s brought some pretty major godliness issues to the forefront, like how much I value people’s praise more than God’s. It’s helped me think more thoroughly through some issues. It fuels my Christian reading. I’ll be honest: on the family front, it had mainly bad effects until I learnt to keep it under control. It’s been a bumpy ride at times. But my husband told me the other day that he’d read the blog and that it was “quite well written,” which is a family in-joke for “really well written”. So that made me glad.

Look for the rest of the interview in the May issue of RedWhiteYou. Susan interviewed my bloggy friend Nicole from 168 hours as well, so you'll find her answers there too!

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Fruitful Life

I've been reading and praying through a chapter from Jerry Bridges' The Fruitful Life each morning.

I was excited to discover this little book on the fruit of the Spirit, which I thought would help with the Sunday School series I'm writing. I've been a fan of Jerry Bridges since uni days, when I read The Pursuit of Holiness.

Like all Jerry Bridges' books, this one is Biblical, thoughtful, wise, compassionate, and practical. He explores the shades of meaning in some huge Bible words: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

Yesterday I was reading the chapter on joy when these words jumped out at me:

In Luke's account of Jesus' sending out the seventy-two to preach, he says that they returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." Jesus responded, "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (10:17-20). ... Success in ministry comes and goes, but our names are written in heaven forever. ...

Perhaps you don't feel you have much to show for your life. Maybe you haven't written a book, or seen scores come to Christ through your witness, or done anything else that seems significant. But is your name written in heaven? If it is, you have as much reason to rejoice as the most well-known and "successful" Christian. Nothing you or I will ever do can possibly compare with having our names written in heaven. The most humble Christian as well as the most famous Christian stand together on that common ground. (p. 78)

I find it so easy to be tempted to rejoice in the wrong things. When people enjoy my seminar, or a Bible study goes well, or there's lots of readers on my blog, how quick I am to congratulate myself on the success of my ministry!

I don't even realise I'm doing it until a seminar falls flat, or only one person comes to a Bible study, or there are less readers on my blog. Then my disappointment shows I've been rejoicing in my own success, not just the opportunity to encourage others.

Jerry Bridges reminded me that even if I spend my life completely unnoticed - looking after an autistic child or sick parent, caring for my family while my husband is on conferences, living a quiet life of faithful service - but my name is written in heaven, I have as much grounds for rejoicing as the most successful Bible teacher or widely-read Christian author.

Can I encourage you to get hold of Jerry Bridges' The Fruitful Life, and to prayerfully reflect on a chapter or section each day? It will inspire you to love and serve God, and lead you to self-examination, repentance, and prayer.

I'll tell you some more things I've learned from Jerry Bridges' The Fruitful Life as I blog about the fruit of the Spirit in weeks to come.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

PhDs and providence

What a waste of time my 5 years writing a PhD could have been!

I'm not sure why I did a PhD. Probably a hang-over from my private schooling: if you transfer to Arts after 1 year of Medicine, you'd better justify your choice by getting some letters after your name.

I really wanted to go to theology college, but Steve and I couldn't both afford it. So if the government was handing out scholarships, why not study theology disguised as church history?

Such noble goals!

I chose my topic fairly randomly. I couldn't do Reformation history because I didn't know French, German or Latin, not having done any particularly useful subjects during Arts.

But I was chatting with Gordo one memorable day when he suggested: "How about the Puritans? They were the evangelicals of sixteenth century England!" (He was doing a Masters on the Puritans, and as far as I know, is doing it still.)

So the topic "The Puritan quest for enjoyment of God" was born.

A few days ago, I was staring at my over-loaded bookshelf, when I noticed how many of the topics I write and speak about were covered by my PhD:
    - the greatness of God, who created us not from need, but for his glory;
    - the grace of God, who set his love on us before the foundation of the world;
    - the Puritans, who lived for God with passion and purpose;
    - the spiritual marriage between Christ and the church;
    - the inexpressible and glorious joy which is ours in Christ;
    - holiness, fighting the battle against sin in thought, word and deed;
    - spiritual disciplines, like prayer, meditation and soliloquy;
    - psychology, how to respond to issues like depression, anxiety and discouragement;
    - faithful marriage and family life, shaped by God's priorities.
Those 5 years shut away in my study were a brilliant preparation for every minute of motherhood and ministry afterwards.

In God's good providence, nothing is wasted. Not even a casual comment. Not even a mixture of motives. Not even 5 years in the wilderness writing a PhD.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16