Tuesday, June 30, 2009

from the archives: 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. 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.


Monday, June 29, 2009

archives: galaxies without number

Do you ever wonder why we are so small and the universe is so enormous?

This glorious photograph was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. It's from the Hubble Deep Field, an image of a small region of space about a thirteeth of a Full Moon wide. Almost 3,000 galaxies were found in this tiny patch of sky, including those dots and spirals of light in the photograph above!

Which brought new meaning for me to this post by John Piper, where he talks about why God's universe is so enormous, and humankind, the crown of his creation, so very small:
The heavens are not designed to declare the glory of man. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). ... Man must reside on tiny planet earth in a seemingly infinite universe. ... Only God is infinite. The universe is declaring that. Pretty well.
We might be the pinnacle of creation, but we're not the point of it. The point of creation is God's glory, and the glory of his Son.

The universe is not really about us at all. It's about God, and the glory of his Son. God made all things through and for his Son, who will one day wrap it all up and give it back to his Father for his glory (Jn 17:1-5, 1 Cor 15:20-28, Col 1:15-20). Which is why we were made too.

Glory be to the God who shaped astoundingly beautiful galaxies without number, including this galaxy where our tiny planet spins at one edge. Who made this universe so much huger and more wonderful than we can ever imagine.

Our universe is a fitting witness to the glory of its Creator, who is ever beyond our ability to comprehend, but who overwhelms our minds and moves our hearts with His glory.


Image reproduced with thanks to NASA and STScI.


Friday, June 26, 2009

The temptations of ministry: The three Ps

Just over a year ago, I started this blog. I was full of enthusiasm and daring—the kind of enthusiasm that only comes from an almost complete ignorance of the project you're about to embark upon. I guessed it would be a great opportunity for ministry. What I didn't anticipate is how God would use this new ministry to perform surgery on my heart.

I suspect my experience isn't unique. I suspect that many men and women in ministry—whether paid or unpaid, part-time or full-time—discover uncomfortable truths about themselves. What I learned was that I'm often motivated less by love and a passion for the gospel, and more by what I've come to call the three Ps:

  • pride
  • perfectionism
  • people-pleasing

Read the rest at Sola Panel.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sunday School - the law and sacrifices (9) covenant

"What on earth is a covenant? I should know, but I'm not sure!"

That's what I was thinking as I came to the last of our Sunday School lessons on the law and sacrifices. It was clear I was going to have to talk about the place of the law in the old and new covenants, but I didn't know how!

A lot of Bible reading and a little bit of commentary reading (the most useful book was Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology) and the idea of covenant became clear:

a covenant is an agreement between two people and groups where they make promises to each other.
Simple! Even kids are familiar with a modern form of covenant: marriage, where 2 people promise to be faithful for life.

Things are a bit more complicated when it comes to God and people. After all, we're not equal partners! God initiates the covenant. God decides the terms of the covenant. We can accept or reject his covenant, but that's it.

God's covenant begins with grace. God chose one man, Abraham, promised him land, people and blessing, and Abraham gained these blessings through faith (Gen 12:1-8, 15:1-21). God set his love on Abraham's descendants not because they were great or good, but simply because he loved them (Deut 7:7-11, 9:4-6, 10:14-16). He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and led them through the desert to Mount Sinai:

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exod 19:4-5
At Mount Sinai, God and his people made covenant promises to each other:

God - You will be my people and I will be your God if you obey my commands. (Exod 6:7, Lev 26:12, Deut 28:9, 26:16-19)
Israel - We will worship God only and obey his commands. (Exod 19:7, 24:3, 6, Deut 26:16-19)
I told the children how God made a covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, renewed it on the plains of Moab just before they entered the Promised Land, and renewed it once again in the Promised Land. (Exod 19-24, Deut 26:15-32:47, Josh 8:30-35)

It was a lot of fun, because I used duplo (you could use lego or wooden blocks) and a cardboard model of the ark of the covenant (an extra from our tabernacle model). Here's how it went:

At Mount Sinai, God made a covenant with his people. He promised that they would be his special people and he would be their God. They promised to obey him. Moses sacrificed some animals and sprinkled blood on the people and the altar. (That's Mount Sinai in the picture, not a pyramid; and that's Moses with an altar and sacrificial bull. We don't have any duplo in ancient Israelite costumes!)

God wrote the 10 commandments on 2 tablets of stone, and Moses put them in the ark of the covenant (although at this stage it was only a wooden box!) as a record of the commands they had to obey.

After 40 years more wandering through the desert, the people were on the plains of Moab (to the east of the Jordan). Moses was about to die, and the people were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses preached the longest sermon of all time: the book of Deuteronomy. The people once again renewed the covenant with God. Moses wrote the laws of God on a scroll and it was placed near the ark of the covenant.

Moses told the people what to do after Joshua led them into the Promised Land: how to renew the covenant again. He told them to go to 2 mountains: Mount Ebal and Mount Gerezim (probably near Shechem, near the Jordan River). Joshua was to write out the laws of God on 2 stones covered in plaster and set them up on Mount Ebal. He was to build an altar and offer sacrifices to God.

The 12 tribes of Israel were divided into 2 groups of 6 tribes. Half stood on the slopes of Mount Ebal and half on the slopes of Mount Gerezim, facing the ark of the covenant between them.

Joshua turned to the group in front of Mount Ebal. He told them all the curses which God said would come on the people if they disobeyed God's law. Their crops would die from disease and lack of rain. Their bodies would become sick and diseased. Their enemies would defeat them in battle, and take them away to be slaves in foreign lands.

Joshua turned to the group in front of Mount Gerezim. He told them all the blessings which God said would come on the people if they obeyed God's law. Their crops and animals would flourish. They would enjoy long, healthy lives. They would defeat their enemies in battle.

I asked the children, "Can laws written on stone or in a book change our hearts?" They answered "No".

The terrible reality, as Moses made perfectly clear, was that God's people would rebel against God. They would be taken away to foreign lands to be slaves. But God promised that even there, if they cried out to God, he would forgive them, bring them back to the Promised Land, and bless them (Deut 30:1-10, 31:14-18). Which is exactly what happened!

How much better is the new covenant! When Jesus died, God took away all the curses of the law and put them on Jesus:
Christ set us free from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Gal 3:13
When we put our trust in Jesus, we receive all the blessings of God:

God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Eph 1:3
We no longer need a law written on stone, for God has written his law on our hearts: "I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezek 36:26)

The time is coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant ...
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
(Jer 31:31, 33 cf Heb 8:6-13)
Curses removed. Blessings given. No more laws written on stone, but a heart of flesh which loves to serve God. How glad we should be that we live on this side of the cross!

Here's the last page of our books: pink for our hearts with God's law written on them.

That concludes my Sunday School series on the law and sacrifices, although I'll show you a picture of our completed books soon. I hope you've enjoyed it! If you'd like to see or use my Sunday School material on the law and sacrifices, Romans, or the fruit of the Spirit, please contact me.

plans for in all honesty

It's nearly school holidays here in Victoria. I'm going to take a couple of weeks off blogging. During that time you can expect some of my old favourites from this blog, mostly from the middle of last year, popping up again. I hope you enjoy them!

I've got a few ideas for next term. I'm sure I won't cover all these topics, but this is what's been floating around in my head:

  • a series on how God changes us - I'm leading a seminar on this soon. It's based on Tim Chester's great book You Can Change. You might like to get hold of a copy and read along with me. If you've already read it, maybe you could read Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart as we discuss this topic. Or you could read Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp's How People Change.
  • reviews of some of these books and, hopefully, Jerry Bridges' The Discipline of Grace - I'm also planning to read some books about mentoring, so they might make their way here some time!
  • resources for parents: books for mothers to use as they disciple their daughters, books for pre-teen and teen girls (we'll come to boys when mine grow up a bit!), and books which help you to talk about sex with your children
  • what I've learned from Proverbs about marriage, sex and godly womanhood
  • a post or two on pride - one about how we should feel about our gifts and achievements, and one about Jesus
  • posts on random things like coping with sleep deprivation and busy periods of life, and helping your child deal with anxiety
  • "how I ..." posts: how I use 15 minutes, how I clean my house in an hour, how I plan my menu, and how I remember what I've read, among others!
  • interesting questions which have been sent to me by readers: one on childcare, and one on marriage to non-Christians
  • I'd like to start putting a quote up each week again - with a focus on grace
  • and some fun posts too!
Tell me if there's anything else you'd like to see discussed on this blog. You can send questions to me here. I don't promise to be able to answer them, but I'll do my best!

It would be great if you could grab a copy of Tim Chester's You Can Change, Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart or Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp's How People Change and read along with me next term.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

the blessing of unpaid work

Every now and then I take a step back from all the chaotic busyness of my life and reflect on the blessing of unpaid work.

Not everyone has this privilege - someone has to earn money to provide food and shelter, and one day that someone might be me - but what a privilege it is!

I care for my husband and our home and children, not because someone pays me, but because it's my joyful service to God and my family.

I encourage others in the Christian life through teaching and writing and praying, not because someone pays me, but because I love to share God's incredible grace and truth with others.

I have been richly blessed!

So next time you ball yet another pair of socks, or get up early to pray for friends and family, or work hard at preparing a Bible study, take a moment to stop and thank God for the blessing of unpaid work.

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

a frog pond cake for Andrew's 3rd birthday

Our 2 year old, Andrew, turns 3 today! His nickname is "Froggy" because he jumps around the house so much. He asked for a "froggy cake", so we made a frog pond cake. It turned out well and was very easy. Here it is:

Here's how we made the cake. We made some blue jelly and put in in the fridge to set.

We lined and greased a cake tin.

We made the cake using a gluten free packet cake mix.

Licking the spatula is, of course, an essential part of the operation!

The cake's ready!

We levelled the top with a sharp knife.

We scooped out a frog pond with a spoon (I wish we'd made the pond a bit bigger).

We made some green butter icing.

We iced the cake around the pond.

We mashed the blue jelly and put it in the pond.

We kneaded green food colouring into royal icing, rolled it out, cut circles, and cut small triangles out of the circles to make lilly pads.

We kneaded yellow food colouring into royal icing, rolled it out, and cut some flower petal shapes.

We arranged the lilly pads and flower in our jelly pond.

We put some small plastic frogs on the lilly pads.

Voila! One froggy cake.

(And, of course, we made some frog-in-the-pond to go with the cake.)

Happy 3rd birthday Andy!

Monday, June 22, 2009

the fear of the LORD (5) what it means to me

It's time (finally!) to wrap up my series on the fear of God. What I thought would take a couple of weeks has taken a whole term!! I've talked about:

I admit I'm still not particularly happy with my definition:

To fear the LORD is to take seriously his awesome majesty, limitless power, absolute holiness, dreadful judgement, glorious salvation and gracious forgiveness, and so to submit to him as the one true God, with trust, love, worship, honour, service and obedience.
"Take seriously" - it's pretty feeble, isn't it? The truth is, I ran through a list of alternatives - "respect", "don't forget", "be mindful of" - and none quite summed up the complex emotions, attitudes and actions that I've come to see make up the fear of God.

So what is the fear of God?

In fact, now I come to look at it, it encompasses all five of the "contradictory definitions" I outlined right at the start of this series! I wasn't expecting that!

Thinking about the fear of God has had a profound impact on me.

  • It's helped me not to fear. Did you know that the most common command in the Bible is "do not fear"? I'm naturally a people-fearer: I don't speak about Jesus for fear of what people will think of me. I've been struck by how often the Bible tells us to fear God instead of evil and disaster, people and nations, or idols and false gods. I've been inspired to fear God more than I fear people.
  • It's reminded me to to take God's judgement seriously. Even though Jesus keeps me safe from eternal judgement, if I put up with sin in my life, I can expect God's fatherly discipline. I also need to be aware that one day I'll have to give an account for every impure thought and cowardly silence. I need to get serious about holiness!
  • It's inspired me to pray regularly that I will grow in the fear of God: a prayer God delights in and promises to answer! After all, the fear of God brings great blessings: wisdom, mercy, long life, protection, goodness, deliverance and salvation.
  • It's filled my heart with trembling joy. The words rejoice with trembling sum up how the fear of God feels to me. I find myself praising God with an extra degree of joy and awe!

How has thinking about the fear of God affected you?

images are from { karen} and .sweetcaroline http://www.flickr.com/

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sunday School - the law and sacrifices (8) special days

We had a feast last week at Sunday School. It was very popular lesson!

So far this term, we've talked about God's special people, God's special place and God's special animals. This week, we talked about God's special times.

I never realised how many special days were set apart for God every year. I found it fascinating learning about the Hebrew calendar, with its seasonal holidays, harvest offerings, and days of repentance and celebration.

  • Did you know there were 2 main seasons of feasts - the first in late Spring and early Summer, during the barley and grain harvests, and the second in Autumn, after the fruit and vegetable harvests?
  • Did you know the people went to the tabernacle 3 times a year to bring offerings - the first sheaf from the barley harvest at Firstfruits around the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, 2 loaves of bread made from wheat during the Feast of Harvest, and fruit during the Feast of Ingathering? (Exod 23:14-17)
  • Did you know there were days of rest every 7th day (on the Sabbath), years of rest every 7th year (when the land lay fallow, Hebrew slaves were freed and debts were cancelled) and a Year of Jubilee every 49th year (when land which had been sold was returned to its original Hebrew owners)? (Exod 3:10-12, 31:12-17, Deut 15:1-18, Lev 25:1-7, 20-22, Lev 25:8-54)
  • Did you know that every new month started with the new moon, and that on this day there was a new moon festival with special sacrifices? (Nu 8:11-15)
As I talked about the year's festivals, I stuck pictures around a Hebrew calendar on a poster, to show when the special days were:

The first festival season was during late Spring and early Summer, and included:

  • Passover, when the people ate roast lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs to remember how they painted blood from a lamb on their doorposts so that God would "pass over" their houses when he killed the first born sons of the Egyptians (Exod 12-13, Nu 9:1-14, Lev 23:4-8, Nu 28:16-25, Deut 16:1-8)
  • the Feast of Unleavened Bread during the week following Passover, when they remembered how they ate unleavened bread during the escape from Egypt since there was no time to wait for bread to rise (Exod 12-13 etc)
  • the Day of Firstfruits, soon after Passover, when they took a sheaf of barley to the tabernacle to thank God for the barley harvest (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:9-14, Nu 28:26-31)
  • the Feast of Harvest or Weeks (exactly 7 weeks after Firstfruits), when they took 2 loaves to the tabernacle to thank God for the wheat harvest (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:15-22, Nu 28:26-31, Deut 16:9-12, 20)
There was a gap until Autumn, when there was another festival season:

  • the Day of Trumpets, on the 1st day of the 7th month, when trumpets were blown (Lev 23:23-25, Nu 29:1-6)
  • the Day of Atonement, 10 days later, which we learned about last week (Lev 16, 23:26-34, Nu 29:7-10)
  • the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles, 5 days later, perhaps the most enjoyable feast of all, at least for kids! The people lived in tents made out of branches for 7 days, to remember how they lived in tents in the wilderness on the journey to the Promised Land. They waved palm branches and branches in the air, and took an offering from the harvest to the tabernacle to thank God for the fruit and vegetable harvests (pomegranates, grapes, olives, figs, walnuts, vegetables) (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:33-44, Nu 29:12-40, Deut 16:13-17).
As I described each festival I put food on a platter (unleavened bread, loaves, grains of barley and fruit - grapes, dried figs and olives) and the kids had great fun tasting and munching the goodies (I looked for a pomegranate, but they don't seem to be available at the moment!):
This lesson would be a great chance to celebrate a Passover meal or build a house made of branches if you had time and space!

The New Testament is quite clear: now that Jesus has come, we don't have to have special days anymore (Col 2:16-17, Gal 4:8-10, Rom 14:5-8).

To his people, God said

You must observe my Sabbaths. …Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. … Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD. (Exod 31:13, 23:14, 17)
But to us he says,

Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col 2:16-17)
We stuck pictures on our poster to show how the special days were the shadow and Jesus the reality they were pointing towards.

Jesus is our Passover lamb who died in our place at the time of Passover (1 Cor 5:7). He rose from the dead, the Firstfruits of all who will live forever because they trust in him (1 Cor 15:20-28). He sent his Spirit at Pentecost, the Feast of Harvest (Acts 2). His death opened the way into the presence of God and fulfilled the promise of the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest took blood and went into God's presence (Heb 10:19-22). The days of rest pointed forward to the true rest we will have in eternity because Jesus died for us (Heb 4, Matt 11:28-30).

"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves" (Heb 10:1). The special days were the shadow. Jesus is the reality. Let's rejoice in him!
Next week is our final lesson! We'll be talking about the old and new covenants, and how God's law is now written on our hearts.

If you would like to see or use my Sunday School lessons on the law and sacrifices, Romans or the Fruit of the Spirit, please contact me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

modern life and the transition to parenthood

In this month's Melbourne's Child (and I assume Sydney's Child and Perth's Child and ...) there were some fascinating observations about the transition from being a married couple to a married couple with kids.

It's interesting to see secular professionals reflecting on the stresses which come from the myriad choices in modern life, from putting off kids until you're established in a career, from rejecting traditional male and female roles, and from the devaluing of motherhood.

Dr Ingrid Sturmey ... thinks that the choices we now have in life contribute to a couple's struggle over the transition to parenthood. "... A couple might be committed to the idea of each other following the individual paths of their careers, but not to the idea of having children. ... People often set up relationships as leisure-time companions, where they have fun together and have sex. They don't necessarily do it with the idea of becoming a family; whereas in the past, people mostly didn't have sex until they got married, and they would choose a partner who would be a good parent." ...

[L]ots of couples reach the seven to eight-year mark of having fun, travelling, working on their separate careers, and then the woman feels ready to start a family and the man is not sure. "The relationships gets stressed because you have to choose the next stage, whereas in the past you didn't have to choose." Then it becomes about competing priorities.

Couples don't want to lose their freedom, and tension stems from how they are going to manage to keep up their lifestyle, with everyone trying to optimise all aspects of their life: career, family, and their own interests. And in most people's life, it doesn't all fit; something has to give. Sacrificing desired areas of our lives breeds resentment, especially if we perceive that we have sacrificed more than our partner.

Sturmey says, "When children come along, it's almost like couples who are used to getting on together as companion-lovers, or emotional-sexual friends are suddenly transformed into parents with the idea that they are responsible for raising a generation. Now that raises questions: 'Who is going to be responsible? Who is going to look after the child and who is going to continue the lifestyle they want?'

"It might work fine to say, 'we don't follow traditional roles' when there are just two of you and you head off for a ski weekend and both pack, and both cook a later dinner when you get home or get takeaway. But when it comes to who gets up at night to the baby, to breastfeeding, and who is going to give up their career moving forwards, then the model where neither member of the couple plays a traditional role doesn't work.

"Mostly, the woman has to go back into a dependent role and lose her professional edge. Mostly she withdraws to some degree from her career and her life as it was. As she copes with this - even if she loves having children - she has to change profoundly and some of her values and choices might have to change."

Maternal and child-health nurse Jeandanielle Evans agrees. "The transition to parenthood has really changed over the past 10 years. The average age of a first-time mum is now 30, and they come to motherhood having had a career, responsibilities and their own money. Most families have had two wages.

"Then when they suddenly have this little bundle which they have dreamed about forever, everything changes: they are suddenly down to one wage and the mum has a huge transition to motherhood because although she loves being a mother, society doesn't see being a mother as highly valuable or any great skill. So she has this massive transition to 'Is this who I am now? Is this what my life is?'"

It's enough to make you wonder if having kids young and traditional roles are such bad things after all!

Susan White From Partners to Parents in Melbourne's Child June 2009

image is from stock.xchng

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

how I (try to) control my use of technology

I've talked about how technology tempts us to neglect rest and relationships and I've shared some links on the the temptations of technology and the temptations of blogging and facebook.

These issues have been going round and round my head ever since I started blogging! I soon realised that while blogging encourages me and others, it also tempts me to neglect my responsibilities, to care too much about what other people think of me, and to think too much about myself.

I re-assess how and when to blog and use technology all the time. There are days when blogging fits neatly into my life, and days when everything bends under the strain. There are days when I set sensible limits, and days when I'm foolish and use my time poorly. There are days when I look to God and his grace for my identity, and days when I worry about whether people are reading and what they think. I have to keep repenting and fixing my eyes on Jesus.

I'm gradually learning to blog while making sure it doesn't take over my life and emotions. Here's some of my guidelines, which I don't follow religiously:

  • no computer after the kids get home from school (this one's flexible, but I keep coming back to it as the best way to keep time free for children and home!)
  • no computer in the evenings unless Steve is working (I stick to this one pretty well)
  • no blogging on weekends - this time is for family, rest and reading! (ditto)
  • I try - not always successfully! - to limit blogging to an hour or so after lunch
  • I check messages during a few discreet times every day, and try not to check when I need to give my attention to something else soon (it's surprising how "checking a few emails" can turn into "writing a few long messages")
  • I don't check the stats on my blog more than once a week so I don't get obsessed with how many people are reading
  • I don't check or notice other bloggers' stats or popularity or interest in me at all if I can help it! The moment I do, I start playing the comparison game
  • I take holidays from blogging (thanks Rachael for reminding me of this!) - at the moment, a couple of weeks mid-year and over Christmas - yes, I'm due one soon, so you can expect another archives series in a week or so!

and other technologies:

  • I don't read many blogs - those I do read, I read through Nicole's shared items about once a week, to make the process quicker (thanks, Nic!)
  • I don't use facebook much at all, except to keep in touch with people
  • if I haven't prayed in the morning, I don't take my iPod on my walk
  • if I'm tired out, I don't listen to Christian talks in the car
These guidelines help me to exercise self-discipline, remind me to love the people around me, and keep me from exposing myself to unnecessary temptation (Gal 5:22-25, 6:7-8, Matt 5:29-30); but external guidelines only take you so far. More important than all these guidelines is fixing my eyes on Jesus.

Unless I'm secure in God's love and grace, I'll look to people for security, identity and hope. Only as the beauty and grace of Christ capture my heart will I be more interested in loving others than in what they think of me.

Like everything else, blogging is just so many clanging cymbals unless it's done out of love and for the glory of Jesus.

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

some questions about spiritual disciplines

I've been asked to lead a seminar on spiritual disciplines for a woman's day at my old church. Carmelina Read will be speaking and I can't wait to meet her in person!

I'll be talking about Bible reading, prayer and encouragement, why we find them so hard, and how to make them part of a busy life: how to use 30 minutes, 15 minutes or even 5 minutes to spend time with God. I'll probably talk a bit about other "spiritual disciplines" like meditation, memorisation, reading Christian books, enjoying God's world, and acts of service.

I'd love you to be part of this by giving me your ideas. The seminar will probably also inspire a series on spiritual disciplines on this blog, so start thinking. You can only make it better!

It's over to you:

1. What are the main obstacles which get in the way of you reading the Bible or praying? (They could be external e.g. distractions or internal e.g. guilt.)

2. How have you found reading your Bible and praying has changed during different seasons of life?

3. Have you got any hints about how to read the Bible and pray when life is busy and stressful? (e.g. where, when, how long, useful resources)

4. How important is the encouragement of other Christians to you? How do you make sure this stays part of your life?

Thanks for your input!

image is from Heart Windows Art at Flickr

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jerry Bridges on the fear of God (2)

Here's some highlights from a fantastic interview with Jerry Bridges about the fear of God from Matthias Media's The Longing. He reflects on why Christians should fear God and how to grow in the fear of God.

If Christianity is essentially a personal relationship with God, why should believers fear Him? Isn't God safe to be around if you are a Christian?

It all depends. It might be safe to be around a nuclear reactor in some circumstances; but it can be dangerous in others. I don't think we should ever be afraid of God in the sense of being afraid of something wild and unpredictable like a tornado or of a sadistic bully who terrorizes his victims. It's not that kind of fear. God is not irrational or malicious. In fact, the passage which I often use to teach the fear of God is Exodus 14:31. There we read that when the people saw what God had done to the army of Egypt, they feared the Lord and put their trust in Him”. So to fear God is to be in awe of God. It means to know God as the sovereign, all-powerful One.

Perhaps a good working-definition of the fear of God is something like this: to truly fear God means to be in awe of God's being and character as well as in awe of what He has done for us in Christ. When you put these two ideas together, you have an absolutely sovereign Creator of the universe who punishes those who resist Him, and yet loves us and sends His Son to die in our place. Surely that's good reason to fear or reverence Him. ...

Why is it that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? Why not the love of God?

Because I believe that the fear of the Lord is the most fundamental attitude that we can have toward God. In fact, in my own prayer life I have several Bible verses that I pray over frequently. I have them in what I call 'priority-order'. The most important is marked #1, the second #2, and so forth. The one that comes at the top of the list is Psalm 86: 11: “Give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your Name”. Having a deep reverence for God is absolutely fundamental as I read my Bible. I mean, is it ever possible to overestimate the importance of God? I think the question answers itself. Our responsibility is to remain continually in awe of God. We must reverence Him for who He is and what He has done for us in Christ.

Once you have established your respect or reverence for God, then your next priority is to grasp the love of God. That's number two in my mind. ...

Is the fear of God a proper motive to which we can appeal in stimulating Christian growth and ministry?

Oh, absolutely! Again, to me it's primary and fundamental. We must start with a reverence for who God is. This is why I strongly urge people to read through the whole Bible every year. We need to be constantly saturating our minds in God. You can't think about God in the Old Testament without being struck by His awesome sovereignty and holiness. Think, for example, of how He crushes the Assyrian army in Isaiah 37. He strikes 185,000 of them dead in one night without firing a shot. Now that's awesome. The more you read of biblical history the more you think, “Wow, this God plays for keeps”. We need to cultivate this mindset because this is reality. This is how the real world works; God visits His judgement upon His enemies sooner or later.

Christians need to know this deep in their souls. Even though we know that our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ and that we are perfectly righteous in Him, we must never forget that we cannot fool around with God. He treats sin seriously. A man I once knew said: “I know that having lustful thoughts for women is wrong, but God will forgive me”. This man hadn't realized what it means to fear God. ...

If fear is such an essential part of our spiritual experience, how do we cultivate that ‘awestruck’ attitude that Bible says we ought to have?

Well, I would suggest three things. First of all, I think we should pray like the Psalmist who asked the Lord, “Give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your Name” (Ps 86:11) and then claim the promise of Jeremiah 32:40 where God says, “I will inspire them to fear Me”. Say to the Lord, “O God, You have put this fear in my heart. Please cause it to grow.” Ask the Lord to help you to grow in reverence.

Second, I think that we need to read the Old Testament frequently if we want to grow in the fear of God. Even if we can't participate firsthand in God's great acts of power like the parting of the Red Sea, we can still re-live them by sharing in the original story. They took place in time and space. They were real events and we can share in them.

Third, another profitable course would be to read some great books on the nature of God. Here I am thinking of A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of GOD and The Idea of the Holy. Another good book is The Holiness of God by RC Sproul. Sproul's great strength is that he has devoted his whole ministry to emphasizing the holiness and awesomeness of God. ... These are the sort of books that drive people to their knees.

from The fear of God: Talking with Jerry Bridges, highlights mine

image is from flickr.com

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sunday School - the law and sacrifices (7) the Day of Atonement

The priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Heb 9:6-7).

Going near God is not something you want to do carelessly.

After Aaron was set apart as high priest, fire came from the presence of God and burned up everything on the altar: the fire of God's approval. Soon afterwards, Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu approached God their own way rather than God's way, and fire came from the presence of God and burned them up: the fire of God's judgement. (Lev 9-10)

Going near God is not something you want to do carelessly.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't have wanted to be in Aaron's shoes (or rather, Aaron's bare feet) on the Day of Atonement.

This was the day when the man who had seen God burn up 2 of his 4 sons had to go into the Most Holy Place. He had to go behind the curtain which must have seemed like an impenetrable barrier the other 364 days of the year.

Going near God is not something you want to do carelessly.

Why was it necessary? Why did Aaron need to go into God's presence at all? Why not stay on the other side of the curtain?

However careful the priests and people were, it was inevitable that some would become unclean without realising it and take that uncleanness into the temple. However many sacrifices were offered, the sins of priests and people mounted up over a year.

Once a year, the tabernacle, right in to the Most Holy Place, had to be cleansed from the built-up sin and uncleanness of the Israelites, so that the holy God could continue to live among his people.

God gave exact instructions about the Day of Atonement. Aaron had to be careful about what he wore, what he brought with him into the Most Holy Place, what he did, and most of all, what he saw.

Going near God is not something you want to do carelessly.

We told the story of the Day of Atonement from Leviticus 16 as a drama. Here's how it went:

On the day the high priest went into the Most Holy Place, he didn't dress like a king. You can't go into God's presence saying, "Look at me! I'm so good! I'm a king!". On the day the high priest went into the Most Holy Place, he dressed like a slave. He washed himself and dressed like a servant, in plain white tunic, plain white sash, and plain white turban.

He took a bull, put his hands on its head, and killed it. It was a sin offering for the sin and uncleanness of himself and the priests. He put some of its blood in a bowl. He put some of the coals from the altar into a censer, or fire-pan. He sprinkled incense on top of the coals, so that when he went into the Most Holy Place the smoke would rise up and he wouldn't see God's glory and die.

He went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled blood on the lid of the ark - God's throne - and in front of the ark 7 times. The blood cleansed the Most Holy Place from the sin and uncleanness of himself and the priests.

He came out. He took 2 goats. He cast lots for the 2 goats - perhaps by taking 2 coloured stones out of an urn - to decide which was the sacrificial goat and which the scapegoat.

He killed the sacrificial goat as a sin offering for the sins and uncleanness of the people. He put some of its blood in a bowl. He put some of the coals from the altar into a censer, or fire-pan. He sprinkled incense on top of the coals, so that when he went into the Most Holy Place the smoke would rise up and he wouldn't see God's glory and die.

He went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled blood on the lid of the ark - God's throne - and in front of the ark 7 times. The blood cleansed the Most Holy Place from the sin and uncleanness of the people.

He came out and sprinkled blood on the Holy Place and the altar. The whole tabernacle was now cleansed from the sin and uncleanness of priests and people.

He put his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed - told God about - the sins of the people. A man took the scapegoat away into the desert. It carried the sin and uncleanness of the people away with it into the desert.

The high priest put on his normal, kingly clothes. He took 2 rams and sacrificed them as burnt offerings for the sin and uncleanness of priests and people.

Now the tabernacle was cleansed from the sins and uncleanness of priests and people for a whole year. Now the holy God could continue to live in the tabernacle among his people.

One day there was a far greater Day of Atonement. This was the day when Jesus died, and took away all our sins and uncleanness for all time. On that day, something amazing happened: the curtain in front of the Most Holy Place tore from top to bottom.

The way was opened into God's presence for anyone who trusts in Jesus. We can pray anytime, any where. One day we will walk straight into God's presence and stay there forever.

The way is open. We don't need to be scared about going near God. The way is open. Jesus died, and the curtain is torn in two. The way is open.

Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19-22)

The way is open. Come!

Here's the page for our book this week. Yellow for the glory of going in to God's presence.

If you'd like to see my Sunday School material on the law and sacrifices, the fruit of the Spirit, Proverbs or Romans, please contact me.

image of the Holy Place is from Music of the Bible