Monday, June 30, 2008

song for the discouraged

Give to the winds thy fears

Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms,
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time; so shall this night
Soon end in joyous day.

Still heavy is thy heart?
Still sinks thy spirit down?
Cast off the world, let fear depart
Bid every care begone.

What though Thou rulest not;
Yet heaven, and earth, and hell
Proclaim, God sitteth on the throne,
And ruleth all things well.

And whatsoe’er Thou will’st,
Thou dost, O King of kings;
What Thine unerring wisdom chose,
Thy power to being brings.

Leave to His sovereign sway
To choose and to command;
So shalt thou, wondering, own that way,
How wise, how strong this hand.

Far, far above thy thought,
His counsel shall appear,
When fully He the work hath wrought,
That caused thy needless fear.

Thou seest our weakness, Lord;
Our hearts are known to Thee;
O lift Thou up the sinking hand,
Confirm the feeble knee!

Let us in life, in death,
Thy steadfast truth declare,
And publish with our latest breath
Thy love and guardian care.

Words: Paul Gerhardt, 1656. Music: William Walter, 1894. Listen to the tune here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

shopoholism runs rampant

We're buying more clothes than ever before, and prices are falling. Each year, Australian women buy, on average, 56 garments, while the average bloke buys 29. If you're under 30, you'd typically buy double that number, according to the Council of Textile & Fashion Industries of Australia. ...

Even when times are hard, we buy clothes. ...

The human cost is enormous. ... Sweatshop workers in many Asian countries endure long hours, poor working conditions and low wages, sometimes as little as 18 cents an hour.

... Fast fashion leaves a damaging footprint in each step of its increasingly short life - from the pesticides used on the cotton fields, to the carbon emissions and toxic chemicals created during production, to the 1.88 million tonnes of unwanted clothing sent to landfill each year - and that's just in Britain.

... Elsie says, "I just look for cheap stuff because, as soon as you buy one thing that's supposed to be the latest thing, a new thing comes out that you have to go and buy".
Not to mention the moral impact of idolatrous vanity, or the selfishness of spending hundreds of dollars on clothes when billions are starving, or haven't heard the gospel. Oh, dear.

Quote is from M magazine in The Sunday Age.

a 4-year-old talks about death, heaven and some very big numbers

Thomas (4), as you know, is fascinated by heaven, eternity, and big numbers. Here's some questions he's had for me this year:

about the end of the world and multi-coloured sprinkles:

Thomas - Will the world finish in 100s and 1000s of years or so?

about the seasons and eternity:

Thomas - What comes after summer? ... after autumn? ... after winter? ... after spring?
Jean - They go on and on until the end of the world then they stop.
Thomas - But forever never stops, Mummy!

about a seedy, run-down dive of a place lit with anti-drug flourescent lighting:

Thomas - Is that the heaven-home?

about tidying up:

Jean - Thomas, put away your blankie.
Thomas - (contrarily) No, I love my blankie. I'm only going to put it away when I go to heaven.

about a piece of artwork he wanted to throw out and I wanted to keep:

Thomas - (pleadingly) Do I have to keep it until I go to heaven? Do I have to keep it forever?

about death and eternity:

Thomas - When I got too old, I be in heaven and I be there forever. When I die, forever starts.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

12 sins we blame on others

If you're anything like me, this one will make you laugh, recognise yourself, and repent, all at once: 12 sins we blame on others.

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - our banner

I thought you might like to see the finished results of our Sunday School series on the fruit of the Spirit.

Here is the big felt banner we added a fruit to each week:

Here is Lizzy's small banner. Artistically minded as always, you know it's hers from the decorative embellishments.

And here is Ben's small banner. Accurate as always, he's written out the verse in full, right down to the "But" at the start, and listed the fruit of the Spirit down one side, and the fruit of the tree down the other. Only the numbers are embellished: Ben is a mathematician to the core.
So it's al over! And I breathe a sigh of relief at not having to prepare a Sunday School lesson every Friday morning. But I learnt a lot about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and I hope the kids (and you) did too!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nicole's links

There are far too many great blogs out there for me to read. Which is why I use this fantastic service by Nicole over at 168 hours.

If you want a guide through the bloggy world, check out the "from other blogs" section in the right hand column of Nicole's blog. She keeps track of dozens of blogs, and links to some of the best posts here.

Click on her links regularly, and you'll save heaps of time, and be introduced to some of the best posts in the Christian bloggy world.

And if I link to another blog post? Chances are I found out about it over at Nicole's.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

on honesty (2) 7 ways honesty can be helpful

When is honesty helpful? Here's a few ideas:

  1. When it undercuts pride and hypocrisy. Some of us don't talk about our sin enough, as a self-protective strategy. We may need to learn to share our struggles with others.

  2. When it is a request for counsel or prayer from a wise, trustworthy Christian. We won't get far in the Christian life without the help of other Christians to encourage and pray for us. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (Jam. 5:16).

  3. When it comes in the context of teaching and encouraging others, during a talk, small group or one-to-one. For example, if we're discipling someone who struggles with sexual temptation, it can be helpful to share our own temptations (in a non-salacious way) and how God has helped us overcome them.

  4. When it glorifies God's grace. Speaking of our sin and weakness can shine a spotlight onto God's grace and power. "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses" (2 Cor. 12:9, see ch. 10-12).

  5. When it brings comfort to those who feel alone. Knowing that someone else suffers from depression or anxiety, or finds it hard to pray, can take away the loneliness of suffering and sin. Of course, on its own this is not enough: we need to lead them to the One who comforts and helps.

  6. When it helps others to open up about their struggles so we can teach, encourage and pray for them. Our honesty helps others to be honest, which can be very valuable if it gives us an opportunity to minister to them. But we mustn't manipulate people into being vulnerable. An invitation to honesty should always be in the context of a loving relationship.

  7. When it helps theology become real and winsome. If I tell you that God is sovereign over suffering, it's an interesting - and maybe offensive - idea. If I share how God's sovereignty has comforted me in my own sorrow, it becomes real to you, and you're less likely to reject it without thought. My experience gives God's truth wings into your heart.
Honesty is not an end in itself. It's a stepping stone to encouragement, an invitation to prayer, and a celebration of God's grace.

I've realised that I sometimes get stuck at honesty in my relationships. It's time for the next step.

To talk not only about how difficult I sometimes find my children's behaviour, but also how I try to discipline my kids consistently and fairly. To speak not only of my prayerlessness, but also of how God is teaching me to pray. To share my sorrow and anxiety, but also the way God meets me in my deepest needs.

Honesty is not an end, it's a beginning.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

on honesty (1) is honesty all it's cracked up to be?

Is honesty always helpful?

You'll know by now that I value honesty (my blog's title might be a giveaway). Early on, I explained why I think honesty is important. One of my aims for my blog is to be honest about my sins and sorrows, in order to encourage you when you struggle, and to show God's grace in my weakness.

So Simone's comments about honesty and Honoria and Simone's discussion challenged my thinking (thanks, girls!).

Women, particularly, use honesty to sympathise, comfort and feel better about themselves. Most women (and men?) will be familiar with conversations like this one:
I shouted at my son today! Aren't I terrible?
Me too! I said ... !
Oh, you should have seen me the other day!
I feel so much better now that I know you lose your temper too.
After a conversation like that, I feel better because I know others are as bad as I am. And I feel affirmed because you've heard the worst about me and haven't rejected me.

But this is not where the Bible directs us for comfort. We're not comforted because we're no worse than others, or because they accept us. In comparison with God's perfect standards, we are black as black. We're comforted because we're forgiven sinners who are deeply loved by God.

Is honesty a Christian virtue? No, of course not (unless you mean the negative virtue of not lying or stealing). Honesty is a neutral quality. On the one hand, it can be an excuse for gossip, slander, or complaining, or a vehicle for bitter, angry, or careless words. On the other hand, it can be a starting point for encouragement.

When we practise honesty, we need to ask ourselves:
  • What is my motivation?
  • Is it appropriate?
  • Is it loving?
  • Is it helpful?
Is honesty helpful? Tomorrow I'd like to share 7 ways honesty helps.

Image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Andrew turns 2

Here's some photos of Andrew on his 2nd birthday, which we celebrated last night:
Andrew with Thomas, Ben, Lizzy and a picture of the cake he chose (Andy likes moons, or at least he likes saying the word "moon," which is much the same thing when you're 1);

Andrew licking the beater and giggling while Ben tickles him;

Andrew and his moon cake;

Andrew and his presents, which his brothers and sister bought with their pocket money (the big one's from Mum and Dad);

Andrew and his brothers opening his presents (the orange giraffe, which Andy christened "Rabbit," was lovingly chosen by Ben);

Andrew playing with his new lego animals;

Andrew blowing out his 2 candles.

another hint for developing self-control

Something I wanted to add to my post on practical hints for developing self-control and never did, from Pulpit Magazine:

Practice self-denial. Learn to say no to your feelings. Learn to do what you know to be right even if you don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes it’s even beneficial to deny yourself things that are acceptable to have, like a doughnut in the morning or dessert after dinner. Exercising such self-restraint helps you develop the habit of keeping other things under control. Cultivating discipline in the physical realm will help you become disciplined in your spiritual life.
It's point no. 6 from a list of tips for self-discipline. The other 6 points are worth a look too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

short daggers: memory verses for the battle against anxiety

At the root of every wrong attitude there is unbelief. Anxiety, fear, regret, despondancy, doubt: all have unbelief as their tap-root.

But what great trees they are! What spreading branches they have! How many sinful fruit they bear!

I've been listening to a series of talks called Battling Unbelief, which I recommended in my post lessons from the Psalms. In these talks, Piper cuts the root of unbelief at the foot of trees like pride, envy, lust, covetousness, shame, and anxiety.

His cutting edge? The sword of the Bible (Eph. 6:17). Piper suggests we need both long swords (large sections of the Bible) and short daggers (single verses). In other words, memorise the Bible! Then you will have it with you in your daily battle with unbelief.

Here's some useful memory verses, short daggers to add to your arsenal in the battle against anxiety:
When I am anxious about my ministry, wondering whether it is fruitful, I attack the unbelief that's beneath that anxiety by going to Isaiah 55:11, where it says "My Word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

And when I become anxious that I might be too weak to get through a morning, or to get through a week, I go to 2 Corinthians 12:9, and I take my stand and do warfare with the sword of "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." And I go back to Deuteronomy 33:25, and I take that little dagger: "your strength will equal your days."

And when I'm anxious about decisions that I have to make, or that we have to make as a church, I steady my hand with "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you" (Ps. 32:8).

And when I'm anxious about facing opponents, people that might be opposed to me, I do battle against that unbelief with Romans 8:31, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

And when I'm anxious about getting sick, I steady my hand with "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us" (Rom. 4:4-5).

And when I'm scared that I might die, and wonder what death would hold for me, I steady my hand with Romans 14:7-8: "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord."

And when I'm anxious, finally, that I might make shipwreck of faith, that some sin might rise and get control of my heart, and that I might fall away from God, I steady my hand with Philippians 1:6, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus," or over in Hebrews 7:25, where it says " he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

Take up the Book, pray for the Spirit, and do battle against unbelief as the tap-root of anxiety. And remember the promise of Proverbs 21:31, "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD."
The quote is from Piper's sermon Battling the Unbelief of Anxiety, highlights mine; I have included Bible references and used the NIV version - sorry ESV readers, but I've memorised too much of the NIV to stop using it now!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

a 4-year-old reflects on God's omnipresence

I still remember how amazed I was as a child by the idea of God's omnipresence. I used to look around the room and imagine how God was in every part of it. Thomas clearly takes after his mother in this regard!

He is doing his best to teach his younger brother that God is everywhere:

Thomas (4) to Andrew(1) - God is on your head. God is on my head. God is over there.

And trying hard to understand it himself:

Thomas - (overheard while in the toilet) Oh, I keep bumping into God. Oh, God's over there. Oh, God's on my head. Oh, God's inside. Oh, God's here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

And asking his parents impossible questions about it:

Thomas - Everything and everyone is feeling God, aren't they?
Daddy - Well, yes, but they might not know they are.
Thomas - Everything and everyone is touching God, aren't they?

God's omnipresence is a wondrous and confusing concept for a 4-year-old. And for an adult too, now I stop to think about it.

resources for those struggling with addiction

Here's two resources for those struggling with addiction:

  • the Bible talk on addiction in this series on the Psalms from Covenant Life Church, which I recommended here. (So far I've only heard the talk on depression, which was thought-provoking and life-changing, though I need to think about it further. Thanks Susie for reminding me me of the sermon on addiction in her comment on my post on self-control.)
Book and sermon are based on Biblical counselling principles, which you'll see in the writings coming from the Christian Counselling and Educational Foundation, represented by David Powlison, Timothy Lane, Edward Welch and Paul Tripp. More about that another time!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

choices shape character

Yesterday I wrote about self-control, how every decision we make is important in shaping our habits, and therefore our character.

Here's what C.S.Lewis wrote about the importance of choices and how they change us:

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

C.S.Lewis Mere Christianity

Piper's book list

And while we're on the topic of book lists, here's one you really shouldn't miss.

self-control and bossiness

And more on self-control: this time an insightful and encouraging blog post called How I fight bossiness from Noel Piper, author of Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God.

Friday, June 20, 2008

15 things God has taught me about self-control

We could all do with more self-control.

Perhaps you battle your temper daily, indulge in too much TV or novel reading, or are regularly tempted to look at pornography. Perhaps you have lost control of your spending, give in to gossip or slander, or sleep too long each night. Perhaps you seek comfort regularly in something other than God, whether alcohol, food, or caffeine.

Just last week, I taught my Sunday School class about self-control. My new year's resolution was to grow in self-control and self-discipline. You may also remember my earler post on what self-control means in the Bible. God has taught me a lot about self-control when it comes to spending, eating, and computer use. It's a slow, hard battle, but it no longer feels like a losing one.

I though I'd share some small things I've learned about self-control:

  1. Expect the first week when you're "kicking the habit" to feel completely impossible. Maybe you've been eating for comfort for years, or rushing to check your inbox every spare moment. It's become like a drug for you, and your body and mind miss it when it's not there. You'll feel acutely uncomfortable every time you say "no" for a few days ... or weeks!
  2. Expect this to be followed by a rush of victory to the head. At some point (many points!) you'll think "I've nailed it!" You'll go into a shop, sure you can resist this time; or buy a block of chocolate, believing you can limit yourself to a couple of pieces each day. Ha! You're a better person than me if you can over-confidently expose yourself to temptation and win.
  3. If at all possible, cut temptation off at the root. "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away" (Matt. 5:29). Pornography? Use Covenant Eyes. Shopping? Only shop when absolutely necessary; avoid sales; take a detailed list, even for sock shopping; shop with someone else.
  4. The struggle will get easier ... then it won't. You'll get sick of fighting the same battle day after day. The novelty will wear off. You'll start to wonder what the point is. Some weeks will feel easy, some impossible. A time of sickness or sorrow may plunge you back into the thick of it again. Don't give up!
  5. Remember that self-control in one area spreads to other areas. Eating or sleeping too much may seem insignificant. It isn't. Self-control has muscles: practise in one area, and your muscles get stronger for other battles.
  6. Habits are like animals, they grow with every tiny tidbit. When you feed a habit, however insignificantly, it grows in power. Choose to feed a good habit, not a bad one, and watch it grow.
  7. Don't be a legalist! Rules breed despair. When you don't keep rules, it's easy to think "I'm hopeless!" so you give in and fail spectacularly. Instead, think "Oh, well, I stuffed up today, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying again tomorrow." Sensible, flexible self-discipline, which bends when necessary, is more useful than rules, as I discovered here.
  8. Instead, remember the law of love (Rom. 13:10). I find it helpful to ask at each point, "What would be a loving decision to make right now? Would eating this / buying this / reading this benefit my family and those around me?"
  9. When you fail (which you will, often!) remember you are already perfect in God's eyes. He forgives you ... and forgives you ... and forgives you again. His Son died for you. Don't throw that back in his face! Weep, enjoy his grace, get up, and go on. Learn to live in the centre of his grace.
  10. Get some weapons for the fight! Memorise relevant Bible passages and verses. Repeat whenever necessary.
  11. Pray. It is God's Spirit who enables you to obey! Pray daily for God's help in the particular area you struggle with.
  12. Don't fight alone. Ask another Christian to help you fight. Call them once a week for an update. Be honest with them. Ask them to pray with you, and for you.
  13. Make sensible use of the world's resources. Exercise, go for a walk, take a cold shower. Whatever it takes, within reason.
  14. The temptation won't go away. This life is a battle. Expect it to last to the end. But expect joy along the way, too! What a joy it is to discover God's grace in our sin, God's power in our weakness, and God's comfort in our discouragement.
  15. It's never too late to learn to exercise self-control. I struggled despairingly with over-spending for more than 15 years. If God can help me to begin to overcome this problem, he can help you.
If you have serious physical addictions to alcohol or drugs, the issues will be more complex. An excellent book to read is Edward Welch's Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave which gives a Biblical view on how to overcome addictions. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

some books to read before you die

Here's a wonderful reading list. Four of them changed my life too:

J.I.Packer Knowing God
John Stott The Cross of Christ
J.C.Ryle Holiness
John Piper When I Don't Desire God

I haven't read the other four, but on that recommendation I think I will!

Here's some other Christian books which have had a profound impact on me:

Don Carson How Long O Lord
Martyn Lloyd-Jones Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure
John Owen Of Communion with God
Richard Baxter The Saint's Everlasting Rest
C.S.Lewis The Screwtape Letters

Happy reading!

the single gal speaks

It's been a bumper week over at Honoria's blog! I especially enjoyed her posts on singleness and dying well.

I heard Honoria quoted in a conversation with a mutual friend the other day. A question for you single gals to ask yourselves the next time opportunity comes knocking:

"Is he worth giving up singleness for?"

Honoria gives you lots of reasons why the answer might be "no".

God gives you his reasons in 1 Corinthians 7.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - self-control

On Sunday we learnt about the final fruit of the Spirit: self-control. I chose an apple for self-control because it's tough, and it takes strength to say "no" to temptation.

Self-control is the iron in obedience. It's the strong walls which protect us from sin. It gives godliness its backbone. Without self-control, we are floppy, easily influenced, vulnerable. With self-control, we learn to deny our sinful desires, and to use our thoughts, words and actions to serve God.

The children and I talked about what temptation means (wanting to do the wrong thing, or other people wanting you to do the wrong thing) and what self-control means (saying "no" to temptation).

I showed the kids four props: a magic plate which produces any food you like on demand, a magic wand which gives you the power to do anything, a treasure chest full of gold coins, and a crown. I asked, "What would you say if someone offered you these?" and "Would it be easy to say 'no' to them?"

Then I shared the story of Jesus, who resisted exactly these temptations at the outset of his ministry. Who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, and was tempted by Satan to use his powers for his own ends, to turn stones into bread. Who responded with the words, "'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4).

Who was taken by Satan to the highest point of the temple, and challenged to jump down so that everyone would see God's rescue. Who chose instead to obey God's Word, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Matt. 4:7). Who chose the path of weakness and service instead of attracting followers by showing off his powers.

Who was taken by Satan to a high mountain, and offered all the peoples and riches of the world if only he would worship him. Who obeyed God's command to "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only" (Matt. 4:10). Who refused to establish an earthly kingdom, choosing instead to die on the cross that we might live.

The kids knew the story of Jesus' temptation well, and enjoyed capping me at every point ("And then Jesus said ...!"). We talked about the times we might need to exercise self-control: when tempted to be greedy, to hit someone or speak angrily, to look at inappropriate TV shows or internet sites, to lie or take something that's not ours.

"Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control" (Prov. 25:28). Our craft was a door-hanger, a way to say "Keep out!", the child's version of the city wall. On one side was "Stop! Think! Obey!" in traffic-light formation, and on the other side the verse "Let us be alert and self-controlled" (1 Thess. 5:6).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

in memory of David

Here's a beautiful poem by John Piper which he wrote about his father-in-law after he died. It spoke so clearly to me about my father-in-law David, who died a month ago yesterday. And about the strong trees and shelters each of us, you and me, can become for others if we allow God to shape and grow us. Take the time to read it. You won't regret it.

time to cheat my blog

Here's an old post by Josh Harris called time to cheat my blog. I've read it before, but it spoke as clearly to me now as it did then, and I think I need to read it regularly. So I'm posting a link it here!

It's not just for people who blog, but for any of us who let email / computer / work / etc. creep into our times with family and friends. Have a read! You might be as challenged as I was.

Monday, June 16, 2008

the desert tribes will bow before him

He will rule from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The desert tribes will bow before him...

All kings will bow down to him
and all nations will serve him.
(Ps. 72:8-9, 11)

Have you ever had your vision of God and his world expanded?

We live in such a small world: a world of consumer goods, plentiful food, and climate controlled houses. We keep the rest of the world at the safe distance of the evening news.

Yesterday, at our church, our friends spoke of their vision to share Jesus with the desert tribes. They have been captured by God's promise that the "desert tribes will bow before him."

The desert tribes will bow before Jesus, not just because he is powerful, but because he is a king of compassion and mercy:

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.

He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.

He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
(Ps. 72:12-14)

The tribe they are going to nomads who live in grass-mat tents on the sand. They heard the story of Jesus only once, and were so captured by it that they promised to build a tent for the messenger if he returned. At the age of 8, our friend, who grew up near this tribe, volunteered to be that messenger.

We forget that the "desert tribes" were the first to become God's people. That he called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, wanderers in the desert, and made them his own. The culture of the Old Testament stories will be deeply familiar to this tribe.

A huge proportion of people groups who haven't heard the gospel are desert tribes. Our friends are small parts of a big dream: that all nations will hear the story of Jesus and receive blessing.

All nations will be blessed through him,
and they will call him blessed.

Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,
who alone does marvelous deeds.

Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.
(Ps. 72:17-19)

The desert gazelle can go its entire life without drinking, for it gets enough water from the dry desert plants it eats. If God can create such a remarkable animal to thrive in this inhospitable land, surely he can raise a church for himself in the desert.

This is a summary of the talk our friend gave last night. If you're interested in supporting our friends, please email me.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

a 4-year-old talks about what he's learning at Sunday School

Jean - What did you learn about at Sunday School today, Thomas?

Thomas - The Tower of Bubble.

Jean - Oh, you mean the Tower of Babel.

Thomas - (indignantly) No, the Tower of Bubble!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

comfort in the face of death

I'm pinching this quote from Irish Calvinist - I hope they don't mind! - because I found it so encouraging. Charles Spurgeon is supposed to have said it to his friend J.W. Harrald as he faced death.

Ah! the bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. I can hear their trampings now as they traverse the great arches of the bridge of salvation. They come by their thousands, by their myriads; e’er since the day when Christ first entered into His glory, they come, and yet never a stone has sprung in that mighty bridge. Some have been the chief of sinners, and some have come at the very last of their days, but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support; it will bear me over as it has borne them.
This quote is from The Forgotten Spurgeon, p.164.

Friday, June 13, 2008

a day of small idols

It's my island bench! I've always wanted one! It's mine. Mine!

The new kitchen goes nearly the whole length of the house. There was this little deck, you see, and it was always hot because the sun shone straight on it. So we filled it in and made this huge kitchen. With room for my island bench.

It's my island bench! I've always wanted one. It cost a lot, that island bench.

My mother-in-law wanted to make gnocchi on it. Gnocchi! Can you believe that? You know, the potato has to be really hot. Then you make those little things, then they dry and you have to scrape them off the bench. Scrape them!!! Off my bench! I don't think so. I'm not letting anyone make gnocchi on my island bench.

It's my island bench. I'm not making biscuits on there! It cost a lot, my island bench.

Listener: So what surface does it have?

It's laminate. But really good laminate, y'know? Like if you saw it, it's really good laminate.

It's my island bench. Mine, I tell you! I've always wanted one! It's mine.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was standing near a group of school mums, waiting for our kids to come out of school, when I overheard this one-sided conversation. It reminded me vividly of the woman clinging forever to a smothering love for her son:

No one has the right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to his face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine for ever and ever.

This woman is one of the empty souls in C.S.Lewis' The Great Divorce, going into eternity holding desperately to the one thing they can't give up. Endlessly tormented by an attachment they hate but fear to lose. Dwindling to a soul that is "nearly nothing ... shrunk, shut up in itself." Like the grumbler who becomes a grumble:

"The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble ."

"But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?"

"It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticising it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine."

Have we become so small that our hearts can be won by a plasma television or an island bench? With souls made for the worship of the infinite God, will we give them instead to the worship of a secure nest-egg, an attitude of bitterness, or a nice house in a good suburb? Have we become so small, so nearly nothing?

What will we cling to, screaming that we can't let go, as we are dragged into eternity?

How much better to give up the small joys of this world for an infinite and everlasting joy. To spend eternity endlessly satisfied by the only One who can fulfil every desire of every corner of our hearts. With Jesus, who fills us with "joy in his presence, with eternal pleasures at his right hand" (Ps. 16:11).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

praying in hope

I am writing this with tears of joy in my eyes. My friend's mother has become a Christian! How wonderful that her faithful prayers for her mum have been answered, and we will spend eternity together rejoicing in Jesus!

Often I forget to pray for people to become Christians. Or I pray, because I know I'm supposed to, but not with any great hope or passion. Mentally, I've put them in the "too hard" basket, which is where I would have put this girl's mum.

But God's Spirit is powerful. He convicts our hard hearts of sin, and opens our blind eyes to the beauty of Jesus. How dare I question his love, power and willingness to save?

I have been given renewed hope to pray. To pray for my neighbours, my relatives, my hairdresser. To pray for the mums I chat with at school and kinder. To pray that our conversations would include many opportunities to speak about my hope in Jesus. To pray for patience to listen, courage to speak, and the words to say.

To pray, knowing that we have a great God who answers prayer, who delights to save unlikely people like you and me.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. ... Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2, 5-6

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - gentleness

Gentleness n. - soft and mild; not harsh or stern or severe; having or showing a kindly or tender nature; quiet and soothing.

We had a very ungentle lesson about gentleness! Very unpeachlike (a peach was chosen as our fruit-of-the-week for its softness).

Our example of gentleness was Jesus, who said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matt. 11:28-30
Jesus could have entered Jerusalem on a war-horse and claimed kingship with the help of legions of angels, but came "gentle and riding on a donkey," an animal of peace (Zech. 9:9). He blessed children, spoke tenderly to the sick, and welcomed the humble in heart. He suffered silently when he was insulted, whipped and nailed to a cross, and called his followers to do the same.

In our Sunday School class, heavily weighted with boys, I discovered the truth of what Jerry Bridges says about the unpopularity of gentleness:

We pray for patience, we pray for love, we pray for purity and self-control. But who of us ever prays for the grace of gentleness? ... I suspect that of all the character traits of godliness, gentleness will be the least appealing to many male readers. For some reasons we seem to have difficulty believing that manliness and gentleness can be part of the same personality. Men often want to see gentleness in their mothers and wives, but not in themselves. The macho image of the non-Christian male world has a tendency to rub off, even on us.*
Our boys thought "meek" meant "weak," and wanted to be "strong" rather than "gentle." They didn't realise that gentleness is born of power rather than weakness, and true strength clothes itself in gentleness.

To keep things interesting, I invented a game called "King of the World." Each child received an envelope with a question printed on the outside, like "If you were the king of the world, how would you travel?" Inside each envelope was a verse about Jesus. Here's how our discussion went:

    Q. If you were the king of the world, what would you do to someone who hit you, or tried to kill you?
    A. Gleeful suggestions involving machine gun fire, atomic bombs, and spaceships with assorted alien weaponry.

    Q. If you were the king of the world, what kind of followers would you want?
    A. Gangsters (with torture chambers), armies full of soldiers, robots to turn my enemies into pancakes so I can eat them.

    Q. If you were the king of the world, what would you do if snotty little children / pesky crowds bothered you?
    A. Shoot them, drop bombs on them, tell them to get lost.
You get the idea.

Which caused much laughter, and should have been a marvellous lead-in to my teaching about Jesus and gentleness, except reading out lots of verses wasn't the way to go! Too long and wordy.

If I was to teach this lesson again, I would choose 4-6 significant examples of gentleness during the life of Jesus - his rules for his followers, his treatment of children and sick people, the entry into Jerusalem, his death for us - and showed the children a picture of each (a set of those felt figures would have been nice!) as we talked about how they showed gentleness.

But the children did enjoy making critters out of pom-poms, pipe-cleaners, felt pieces and goggly eyes. Although the boys were a little disgusted to discover the creatures had to be "gentle"! I think they would have preferred claws and fangs dripping with blood.

While they worked, we talked about whether Jesus is weak or strong (they agreed he was strong, so at least he's a hero to them!) and about how it takes strength to be gentle (not sure they got that one, but I tried).

So here's an idea for this week, especially for those guys amongst you who think gentleness is effeminate. Read a gospel, and look at the ways Jesus is tough on the self-righteous, but gentle in speech and act towards the weak and sinful. Perhaps we, too, will learn to "be completely humble and gentle; ... patient, bearing with one another in love" (Eph. 4:2).

* Jerry Bridges, The Fruitful Life, pp.141, 148

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

finding joy when the seasons of life don't end

Life is seasons. Part of wisdom is learning to live within the seasons God gives us. When we're young, we may picture our lives like this: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, marriage, children, middle-age, empty nest, grandchildren, retirement, old age.

But what do we do when a season of life doesn't end? When singleness, childlessness, an unhappy relationship, chronic sickness, a disabled child's dependence, or a spouse's mental illness, go on and on? When we're stuck in one of the difficult seasons of life?

When young, blonde, sweet-as-they-come Sarah caught Bill's eye, she thought it was the beginning of happily ever after. Sarah revelled in her role as wife and homemaker. She enjoyed cooking and decorating. She loved hanging out, playing games, and laughing with her husband. And she looked forward to what she assumed would be the next season of her life: motherhood.

But the season of motherhood never came for Sarah. It was many years before she realised that it probably never would. Soon after they were married, Bill began suffering severe and debilitating fatigue, weakness, and headaches. After a while he could no longer work. Sarah - this woman who wanted nothing more than to be at home - became the sole breadwinner. Years of doctors, experimental treatments, and special diets availed nothing. Bill only got worse - so sick that he often was unable to leave the house. Finally, Bill and Sarah were forced to move from the church and friends they loved so that they could live in a location that offered a better quality of life for Bill. Gradually, Sarah realised that they would never have a family. This was not the life she had planned. It wasn't what she wanted. She felt stuck in a season that wouldn't end.

Like Sarah, none of us would choose "a time to weep," or "a time to mourn," or a time of sickness - a lifetime of sickness. This isn't what Sarah chose. But it's what God chose for Sarah. Here, inside this truth, Sarah found joy.

No, Bill didn't get better. She didn't become a mother. She still lived far away from dear friends. Yet she came to realise that this life - one she hadn't planned for herself - was the very life God had planned for her. God had designed this long, unexpected, unwelcome season so that Sarah could best glorify him. He had allowed this trial so that he could show his goodness and mercy to Sarah in totally unexpected ways. Sarah found joy when she came to rest in the truth that God orders our seasons.

If you were to meet Sarah, her joy would be immediately obvious. It's a deep joy, infused with peace. And it displays itself in a genuine care for others and continual expressions of gratefulness to God. To be around Sarah is to catch a glimpse of the love and goodness of Christ. Sarah isn't just surviving. She's truly thriving, growing, and rejoicing in the season God has ordained.

This quote made me profoundly grateful (for the first time!) for the passing seasons of life. Even for children who grow out of babyhood - something I usually regard with clinging nostalgia. How hard it would be to care for a perpetually dependent child! What a joy that children grow and change, and yes, even leave the nest.

In a world marred by sin and suffering, it's a blessing that seasons end. That life-long pain, a difficult marriage, or a struggle with besetting sin, are finite. In such a world, even death is not just a grief and a horror, but a safeguard and a release. God puts limits on human happiness, but also on human suffering. They are not forever.

Knowing that seasons pass helps us not to not to cling to happy times, as if youth, or marriage, or children, were the end of our existence. It helps us look beyond earthly joys to what is everlasting. To hold them lightly, and give them up to God when it is time.

Knowing that seasons pass helps us not to despair in dark times, when tears and tasks seem relentless and unceasing. It helps us remember that their end is ordained by God, and his timing is perfect. That "weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (Ps. 30:5). That all seasons end in unending joy for those who trust in Jesus.

God give us strength to serve him in all the seasons of our life, that we may be those who serve him with joy.

The quote is from Shopping for Time: How to Do it All and Not Be Overwhelmed by Carolyn Mahaney and daughters, pp.22-23. Names have been changed to suit an Australian audience.

Monday, June 9, 2008

good night prayers

It's late, I'm exhausted, and I'm ending this day by stealing this post from Gordo, two prayers before you sleep:

Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord;
and by Thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of Thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Be present, O merciful God,
and protect us through the silent hours of this night,
so that we, who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world,
may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

how boys see women

Ben (7) and I were discussing the purple shadows people get around their eyes when they're tired.

He said,

"I've seen women sometimes with blue around their eyes.

When they wear eye-polish."

why God made mums

My Mum sent me this. It made me laugh. I'm sending it to you.


Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions:

Why did God make mothers?
1. She's the only one who knows where the sticky tape is.
2. Mostly to clean the house.
3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?
1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.
3. God made my Mum just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of ?
1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
2. They had to get their start from men's bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

Why did God give you your mother and not some other Mum?
1. We're related.
2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people's Mums like me.

What kind of little girl was your Mum?
1. My Mum has always been my Mum and none of that other stuff
2. I don't know because I wasn't there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
3. They say she used to be nice.

What did Mum need to know about Dad before she married him?
1. His last name.
2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your Mum marry your Dad?
1. My Dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mum eats a lot.
2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
3. My Grandma says that Mum didn't have her thinking cap on.

Who's the boss at your house?
1. Mum doesn't want to be boss, but she has to because dad's such a goof ball.
2. Mum. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
3. I guess Mum is, but only because she has a lot more to do than Dad.

What's the difference between Mums & Dads?
1. Mums work at work and work at home and Dads just go to work at work.
2. Mums know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
3. Dads are taller & stronger, but Mums have all the real power 'cause that's who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend's.
4. Mums have magic - they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your Mum do in her spare time?
1. Mothers don't do spare time.
2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your Mum perfect?
1. On the inside she's already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
2. Diet. You know, her hair. I'd diet, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your Mum, what would it be?
1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I'd get rid of that.
2. I'd make my Mum smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.
3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

loaded language

Notice a certain bias in the language?
The Anglican Church faces a modern Great Schism, with gay-tolerant Christians on one side and radical "Bible-believers" on the other. And at the forefront of the hardliners is Australia's outspoken evangelist Peter Jensen.
I assume he means "evangelical."

This is the lead-in to David Marr's article "The archbishop says no" in today's Good Weekend magazine, which accompanies The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Empases mine.

children and death

I've added another point to my post on grieving and helping those who grieve. For those who've already read yesterday's post, here it is:

  • Allow children to see the body, if it's appropriate and they're willing. They need to understand that while the body is left behind, the person has gone; to accept the reality of death, and to say goodbye. They may be upset, but it will give you a chance to comfort them, and talk about their fears. Our children have been privileged to see both birth and death: I hope this helps them appreciate the wonder and gravity of life, and to comfort others in the years ahead.

Friday, June 6, 2008

dying, grieving and helping those who grieve

I know that losing a father-in-law, even one as dearly loved as David, is small on the Richter scale of grief compared to losing a spouse or child. I am vastly inexperienced in grief. “I write for the unlearned on things about which I am unlearned myself."*

That being said, I've learnt lots about grief during the last few weeks. I know how inept I've always felt in the face of other people's grief. So I thought I'd share the little I've learned with you.

For the dying or those supporting someone who is dying

  • I am incredibly grateful that David, in his wisdom, talked openly and honestly about his coming death, and his hope of heaven, with each member of his family. He encouraged his grandchildren not to be afraid of death, but to put their trust in Christ, who brings hope beyond death. If God grants you the time before you die, follow his example!
  • There are some things I wish I'd said the week before David died, but didn't because I assumed I'd see him again, or because I didn't want to presume too much. Don't put off saying what should be said until it's too late.
  • Here are some things you might want to talk about: fear of dying, the dying person's state before God, how they are feeling, preferences for the funeral, long-term arrangements, family disharmonies which need to be smoothed over, your love for each other.
  • Be ready with the comforting promises of God's Word: some of the encouragement people gave David was so beautiful! One woman compared death to birth, with Jesus as the midwife. We fear the unknown, but death is like coming out from a small world into a larger, brighter one.
  • Realise that the dying may say things which come from a place of fear, grief and doubt. Sit with them, value their honesty, and listen. But don't forget afterwards that these may be words for the wind said in a time of darkness. It's still hard for me to grasp, but what David is experiencing now in heaven is far more glorious and joyous than what he left behind.
Dealing with death

  • Don't be afraid to see the body if appropriate. I refused this with my grandmothers, but was so glad I saw David's body. (And what a service is given by those who lay someone out peacefully!) It was much less traumatic than I expected. It gave us all closure. It was a wonderful chance to say goodbye, helped me realise David is no longer with us, and brought home the fact that he's now with God in heaven.
  • Allow children to see the body, if it's appropriate and they're willing. They need to understand that while the body is left behind, the person has gone; to accept the reality of death, and to say goodbye. They may be upset, but it will give you a chance to comfort them, and talk about their fears. Our children have been privileged to see both birth and death: I hope this will help them to understand the wonder and gravity of life, and to comfort others in the years ahead.

For those who grieve

  • Expect complete and utter exhaustion. The week after David died was as draining as the week after a baby has been born, a week with the flu, or a week with morning sickness. No doubt a spouse's or child's death, or an unexpected loss, would be unimaginably more debilitating.
  • Accept every offer of help. If no-one offers, ask! Don't be proud, or assume it will be easy. Even if you feel ok one day, you may not the next. You can't do this alone.
  • Remember everyone grieves differently. You may want to talk, or sit quietly; to be alone, or with others. You may feel nothing, or intense sorrow, and that's ok.
  • Give those close to you time and space to grieve, and allow them to grieve in their own way. I asked my mother to look after our children for a weekend, to give Steve a chance to recover.
  • Be wise and take some time off. A very sensible member of our family took a week's break from work to reflect and recover. (Others may cope better if they keep on with normal life.)
  • Don't forget the comfort of God's Word. I felt completely numb towards God for a few days, until 1 Peter 1:3-9 popped into my head, and God's truth found its comforting way into my heart again. You might be too discouraged to speak words of encouragement to yourself: allow God's Word to speak them to you.
For those supporting someone who is grieving

  • Do you see someone at church or work who's just lost someone? Approach them, don't be a coward! It's important to have the person who died acknowledged. Even if it's hard to talk about, silence is harder to bear. Say something simple, like "I'm sorry to hear of your loss." If you know them better, move on to "How are you?" and let them be the guide to how much they tell you. Don't be embarrassed by tears: chances are they aren't. (And please acknowledge lost babies to grieving parents as the years go on: it must be so hard when the life of a child seems to have been forgotten!)
  • Give practical help. Be gently insistent about helping, even if it's not accepted (within reason)! If they're like me, they might not realise how much they will need it. Babysit their kids the first couple of days after someone dies, to give them quiet space to cry and reflect. Take meals around, help with the washing, clean the house: it's incredibly hard to get daily jobs done when you're tired and sad.
  • Cards, letters, SMS, message, email - it's beautiful to hear from people after someone has died. It's probably better than a phone call: they're getting far too many difficult phone calls right now. When you write, say you're sorry, tell them you're praying, describe something you appreciated about the person who died, remind them you're there if they need to talk.
  • If you know what it's like to grieve, tell them what you found hard. One of the most comforting emails I received was from a friend who told me, "The hardest thing is not being able to continue a human relationship with the person who's died." Yes! She put words to what I was feeling.
  • Go to the funeral. It meant an immense amount having people from our church and my own dear friends there!
  • Pray and read the Bible with the person who's grieving, or write them a message with a Bible passage, hymn or poem. Give them God's comfort, which they might be struggling to find for themselves.

Please add your own suggestions to the comments!

Other helpful links: What has the loss of your father taught you about ministering to the dying? and How can I magnify God with my death?.

* C.S.Lewis Reflections on the Psalms.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

lessons from the Psalms: the battle-field of the human heart

How do we turn a cave into a tunnel? How can faith win the battle against unbelief, on a day dark with despondancy, worry or fear? How will we learn to declare, when despair threatens to snuff out every last ray of light:

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:36).

The lesson of Jesus' life and the lesson of the Psalms is this: every cave that you're in—wandering along, feeling the rocks, stumbling, stepping, bumping your head—every cave that you are in is a tunnel that opens into glory. It opens into a day like today in Heaven, with the sun shining, and the grass green, and the waters flowing—as long as you don’t sit down in the cave and blow out the candle of faith.*
I want to tell you about two sermon series being preached at the moment in two great churches. Both are on the Psalms and how they address the struggles, thoughts and feelings of the human heart.

I'll be downloading them. Partly because I'm writing a seminar on this topic. Partly because it fascinates me. Partly because my heart is as dark, and my mind and emotions as unruly as yours.

Here they are:

Psalms: Thinking and Feeling with God by John Piper
topics: songs that shape the heart and mind; spiritual depression in the psalms; to be continued ...

Psalms from Covenant Life Church, where Josh Harris is the senior pastor
topics: the lonely / addicted / depressed / guilty / suffering / bitter / aging; to be continued ...

And while we're at it, check out this 20 year old series by John Piper, still well worth the listening:

Battling unbelief by John Piper
topics: battling unbelief at Bethlehem; battling the unbelief of anxiety / misplaced shame / regret / covetousness / lust / envy / bitterness / impatience / despondancy / a haughty spirit

* John Piper's Battling the Unbelief of Despondency


"I've been thinking about it a lot lately, more than anything else really. Fiona's mum died, and she and I had been friends for twenty five years, and so I think about it, and her."

Thankyou, Gordo, for expressing my feelings about David exactly.

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

But it hurts all the same.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

C.J. Mahaney on sleep

Let's assume you live for 75 years. If so, you spend about 25 of them sleeping! What does God have to say about the 1/3 of our lives we spend asleep?

I love my sleep. I need a nap every afternoon to make me a reasonable human being. So this post by my fellow afternoon napper caught my eye. She writes about C.J.Mahaney's talk on sleep. It's fantastic to see a modern preacher dealing with the topic of sleep!

Christians in past centuries gave clear teaching on sleep. The Puritans encouraged Christians, before they slept, to repent of the day's sins, give thanks for the day's mercies, and pray for God's preservation during sleep. They told people to meditate on sleep as an image of death, and the sheets as their winding clothes!

C.J., clearly influenced by the Puritans, has 3 important things to say about sleep:
  1. Sleep is a daily gift from God. If we neglect sleep for "anxious toil" our health and mood will suffer (Ps. 127:1-2). (Not an excuse for laziness - Prov. 20:13).
  2. Sleep is a daily reminder of our dependence on God. God could have made us with no need for sleep. Sleep reminds us that we are creatures, not the Creator, who "neither slumbers nor sleeps" (Ps. 121:3-4).
  3. Sleep is a daily opportunity to examine our hearts. The 15-20 minutes it may take to fall sleep, is a great time to examine our hearts, repent of the day's sinful attitudes and behaviour, and thank God for his forgiveness in Christ (Ps. 4:4).
A spiritual solution for insomnia?
C.J. suggests if we find it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep soundly, we should look at primary, spiritual issues before secondary, physical issues (although these may be involved). When we can't sleep, we should ask:
  • Do I depend on, and trust in God? David slept sweetly even when pursued by murderous enemies (Ps. 3:1-6). I know that fear of intruders, anxiety about the future, and proud workaholism (as if God can't do his job while I sleep!) all stop me sleeping.
  • Am I walking in wisdom and obedience? God's Word tells us that if we walk in wisdom, our sleep will be sweet (Prov. 3:21-24). Examining our hearts, and seeking God's forgiveness, can help us to sleep soundly.

Concluding meditation
Here's a wonderful meditation on sleep as a picture of our absolute dependence on God's grace. A great final reflection for the day!

Each night sleep is a picture and parable of what it means to be a Christian. Each night sleep is a very small, but real, act of faith. Each night I lay my full weight in a relaxed state on the bed, trusting that structure to support me. I am completely relaxed. There is no fear or concern. There is no effort on my part. I make no contribution to the support I am experiencing. Something else is holding me. And through the night, Someone else is sustaining me. And this is a picture of what it's like to be a Christian.

I pray that we would all sleep sweetly and refreshingly tonight, with souls stilled and quieted, like trusting children in the arms of God (Ps. 131).

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - faithfulness

Yesterday at Sunday School we talked about faithfulness. The fruit was a cherry, shaped like a circle, which has no beginning and no end. Like faithfulness, which never fails.

Preparing this week's lesson was itself a lesson in faithfulness. I'm really struggling through this 11-week Sunday School series, with my father-in-law's death and my daughter's illness. Finding time week-by-week to write a Sunday School lesson, and digging deep for the energy to lead it, has tested my faithfulness to the limit.

I also learned how God graciously rewards faithfulness. Last Friday I sat down to read Daniel in weariness and discouragement, but by the end of the 12th chapter, my head was wiser, my heart more joyful, and my will stirred to greater obedience. I'd forgotten how the effort of faithful preparation, of plumbing deep into God's Word, is more than rewarded by the deep satisfaction it brings.

I was gripped and inspired by the story of God's faithful servant Daniel. What an amazing example of faithfulness!

    - He stayed faithful to God, worshipping and praying only to him, even when the likely result was death by lion. He prayed 3 times a day, and wept for the sins of his people.
    - He stayed faithful to God's Word, refusing to be defiled by food from the king's table. It would have taken courage to risk the king's displeasure, and to stand out in a hostile and pagan environment.
    - He stayed faithful to his responsibilities. He was wise, hard-working and trustworthy, so that not just one but two kings put him over their kingdom.
Even his worst enemies could find nothing against him, except his service to God. "They could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, 'We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God'" (Dan. 6:4). Would our enemies be able to say this of us?

Daniel's story reminded me that we should be known for our faithfulness to God. At school and work, are we open about our faith in Jesus? We should be known for our faithfulness to God's Word. Are our lives distinct from those around us? We should be known for our faithfulness in our responsibilities. Do we avoid sloppy work, unfulfilled promises, and unfinished tasks?

Great lessons for children! To let their friends know they love Jesus, even if they face rejection. To be absolutely honest, whatever the temptations to lie or steal. To do their work and tasks reliably and well.

I told the story of Daniel using finger puppets and some plastic lions. Pity that the "handsome" Daniel had two pink tufts of hair sticking out of the sides of his head, but you can't have everything!

After church yesterday the children were proudly wearing the friendship bands they plaited at Sunday School. The boys were particularly taken by the idea that you wear them until they fall off (parents and teachers permitting!) to remind you to stay faithful to the end. Others were wearing wrist bands printed with this verse:
Fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Joshua 24:14

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I took Steve out for his 41st birthday last night. Our first date night in months!

We wandered along Lygon Street, Carlton, accosted by every spruiker outside every restaurant (BTW if your church is training their welcome team, take them for a walk along Lygon Street on a Saturday evening, and encourage them to copy the spruikers!). We had dinner in an unpretentious curry house, to suit Steve's unpretentious personality.

Then on to Imax to see U23D, the 3D cinematic version of the U2 Vertigo tour. What a buzz! Exuberant, energetic, and exhilerating, it made me nostalgic for my uni years, whose soundtrack was The Joshua Tree.

Slightly bizarre, too, watching simultaneously from an arena full of screaming, dancing Argentinians, and an uptight, button-lipped cinema full of Elton John lookalikes in over-sized plastic 3D glasses.

U23D puts you right in the heart of the action, unavoidably aware of the sweat on Bono's neck and the furrows on Larry Mullen Jr's brow (which definitely weren't there when I was at uni). At one point I could have reached up and touched Bono's virtual hand (I didn't, of course, being one of an audience of middle-aged Melbournians).

I loved it. But I also found it slightly disturbing. And not just for the apparent universalism of the coexist headband and mantra "Jesus, Jew, Mohammed is true." (Or was it simply a call for peace: "Jesus, Jew, Mohammed - it's true, all sons of Abraham?" Search me! Certainly I think most people would assume Bono was saying all religions are the same.)

What really bothered me, oddly enough, was that the concert was strangely reminiscent of heaven: thousands upon thousands of people filled with ecstatic joy, raising their arms, and (literally) prostrating themselves before their rock gods. It reminded me that people are naturally fitted for worship. It made me wonder how a man receives such overwhelming adulation yet remains aware that he is only a man.

And it left me with an important question: will there be moshing in heaven?