Tuesday, March 30, 2010

women of the Bible (1b) Eve - temptation and the garden

All our temptations are garden temptations.

I don't usually talk much about gardening when I lead Bible studies, but recently during our study on Genesis 3, I asked, “What does the Garden of Eden show us about God?”

The answer? God is abundantly generous. He didn't give Adam and Eve a dry loaf and a cup of water; he gave them a beautiful garden brimming with varied, wonderful fruitful plants to eat and enjoy (Gen 2:9).

And what was God's word to the people he'd made? “Eat! Eat freely from every tree in the garden!”* There was only one tree they weren't to eat from, and that was “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:16-17). In other words, the only thing they weren't to do was to rip God's authority away from him, and decide good and evil for themselves.

But that's not the way Eve saw it.

“Did God really say ...?”, said the serpent. You can hear the unstated question: “What was God thinking?! Why is he withholding this good thing from you?” (Gen 3:1).

What's Eve's answer? “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Gen 3:2-3**). She changes God's generous “We are free to eat fruit from any tree”, to the grudging “We may eat fruit from the trees”. She changes God's protective command—“You must not eat”—to the restrictive: “You must not touch”. And as for “you will die”, “No you won't”, whispers the serpent's lie (Gen 3:4-5).

God gives us good things, but we want the one thing he hasn't given us. God gives us guidelines, but we fence them around with legalistic restrictions. God warns us, but we repress his warnings. God is lavishly generous, but we see him as grudging.

Driving home from the Bible study, it occurred to me that I imitate my mother Eve every time I sin. God gives me so many good things. But I can't see his generosity. All I can see is the thing he hasn't given me.

He gives me the precious ministry of teaching and training our children; I want the glory of a more public, recognized ministry! He gives me food and possessions; I want more than is good for me—more than we can afford! He gives me a secure home and a loving family; I want a husband who treats me like that woman's husband, children who act more like that woman's children and a beautiful house like that woman's house!

In the back of my mind, God is a grudging tyrant who is trying to keep good things from me. The result is foolish idolatry, unwise decisions and grumpy service. The result is discontent, envy, despondency, anger, anxiety and fear. The result is broken relationships and shame.

God is no grudging tyrant; God is abundantly generous. God isn't trying to keep good things from me. In all that happens, God wants only my good (Rom 8:28-30). God isn't trying to restrict my happiness; God's ways are good ways.

Next time I'm tempted, Lord, help me to see things the way they really are!

* The NIV says “freely”; the ESV says “surely”. In the original, it's the emphatically generous “eating you do eat”.

** Gordon Wenham observes that Eve changes God's words—“You may freely eat of every garden tree”—to the less generous “We may eat of the fruit ...” (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1: Genesis 1-15, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1987, p. 73).

This article first appeared in Sola Panel.

images are from claudmay and Mysserli at flickr, and stock.xchng

Monday, March 29, 2010

what I'm reading: caring for the sick from Edith Shaeffer's What is a family?

Edith Shaeffer has truly been an older women to me while my son Ben has been ill. Her chapter "A Shelter in the Time of Storm" in What is a Family? has taught me how to care for a sick child, and reminded me that I can only do my best in the midst of life's demands - very comforting when I feel inadequate! Here's what she says about the enormous significance of caring for the sick.

For some people the memory of illness carries with it the memory of loving care, cool hands stroking the forehead, sponge baths in bed, clean sheets under a hot chin, lovely-flavoured drinks, alcohol back rubs, medicine given methodically by the clock, flowers near the bed, curtains drawn when fever is hurting the eyes, soft singing of a mother’s or father’s voice during a sleepless night. ...

What is a family? A family is a well-regulated hospital, a nursing home, a shelter in time of physical need ... A family should be a training place for growing human beings to know how to care. ...

When illness hits we should remember that this period of time is part of the whole of life. This is not just a non-time to be shoved aside, but a portion of time that counts. ... The opportunity to do something practical about making you family remember their sicknesses with a feeling that yours was the "best hospital in the world" ... gives purpose to some of the drudgery of changing beds, struggling with bedpans, cleaning up the sickroom floor, or thinking up something comforting to do. ...

So nobody has cared for you? Well, you can begin to start a long line of people caring for people. Isn't that a worthy part of your career?

There is never a series of little packages of time given to you in life labeled: TIME FOR AN ILLNESS, TIME FOR A WEDDING, TIME FOR A DEATH ... You can't face the sickness, the operations, the broken arms and legs, the serious diseases, the disasters, or even the headaches, unless you realize there is never a convenient time set aside for joy or sorrow, protected by neat little walls so that the two things will not mingle and spoil each other. ... Life has to go on, and we can only do the best we can in the melange ...

A family should be a place where comfort is experienced and understood, so that the people are prepared to give comfort to others.

from chapter 5, "A Shelter in the Time of Storm", in Edith Schaeffer's What is a Family?

image is from painting by J. Bond Francisco photographed by freeparking at flickr

Friday, March 26, 2010

to be loved best of all

Thomas had grandparent's day at school on Tuesday. And which grandparent did he want at school? His mum!

He traced around my hand and drew the members of our family on the five fingers. He's the yellow one sharing the middle finger with Lizzy. I'm the green one on the thumb.

Thankfully, round and green with an orange head is not the way Thomas sees me. Last year he said to me,

"Mummy, not all the other mummies look so beautiful like you."

Awww. It's good to know that, at least for a few short years, Thomas will think I'm the beautifullest and love me best of all!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Come weary saints

Life has been a bit tough recently. It's nearly the end of term 1, and I'm weary: weary of illness, weary of the ministries I'm rightly responsible for (and some I'm not!), weary of my sins and struggles, weary of the mess and chaos of life. No unusual state in this fallen world!

Last Christmas my brother gave me Come Weary Saints, a Sovereign Grace album (yes, another one!). I pulled it out of its plastic wrapping a month ago. Perfect, providential timing! It's been a great support to me during these weary weeks.

Here's the lyrics of Joy in my morning, my favourite song on the album. Every time I hear it, however glum and tired I'm feeling, it lifts my eyes to Jesus, the only true rest for the weary, and renews my joy.

Joy in My Morning

When darkness falls
Temptations call
And all around me seems undone
You hear my pleas
Supply my needs
And tell me of Your wondrous love

You are the joy in my morning
You’re my song of praise
Just like the new day dawning
Flooding my world with grace

Though trials come
And every one
Can take me further from Your truth
You calm my fears
Dry all my tears
And draw me closer, Lord, to You

You are the joy in my morning
You’re my song of praise
Just like the new day dawning
Flooding my world with grace

In You there’s no shadow of turning
Constant in all Your ways
You’re growing my faith and I’m learning to lean
On You all of my days

You are the joy in my morning
You’re my song of praise
Just like the new day dawning
Flooding my world with grace

Words and music by Peter Gagnon.

You can listen to it

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

the lost art of caring for the sick

One of the womanly skills I think we've lost since the advent of vaccinations is the art of caring for the sick.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of times I was ill. We had a special bell, a lady with wide skirts, that sat on the bed-side table, ready to call Mum. Propped up in bed, we'd play with special toys from a box that came out only when we were sick. While convalescing, it was a treat to emerge from the bedroom, lie on the couch and watch TV. Mum always seemed to know what to do: a glass thermometer tucked under the tongue (no digital thermometers back then!), special foods, a cool cloth on the forehead, carefully tucked sheets, a soothing hand.

Our 9 year old son, Ben, has been very sick. He's missed nearly half of his first school term. He has a relentless bone-shaking cough that lasts all day and far into the night. I've tried every remedy, old and new, from sage and thyme tea to cough suppressants. On one memorable occasion I hunted through the internet and produced a warm drink of honey, ginger and turmeric! It's been an anxious and exhausting time, listening to that awful cough and feeling so terribly helpless.

On our third doctor's visit, the doctor gave a possible diagnosis: whooping cough. I also had whooping cough as a child, even though I was immunised. So you'd think I'd recognise it, except that in Ben's case, there's no "whoop" in his cough. Apparently this is common in the days of vaccinations.

What's really struck me while Ben has been sick is how much better I could be at caring for him. I offer Ben a warm drink then forget it, distracted by the clothes that need folding. I run around ferrying kids to school and myself to Bible study, and fire off the occasional "How are you, honey?". In these days of ready-to-watch DVDs, there's little need for special games and stories (and Ben's had little energy for them). I used to keep a box of toys in the cupboard for times of illness, but my children were so rarely sick that the toys came out for everyday play.

I wonder if we're losing an entire skill set: the art of nursing the sick. My friend Jenny suggested I read the chapter on caring for the sick in Edith Shaeffer's What is a Family?. It's like a window into another time. She talks about things I have no experience with, like sponge baths, bedpans, and alcohol rubs. She's writing in an era when you could expect every child to be home for months with illnesses like measles, mumps or yes, whooping cough. Today, this kind of illness comes as a shock.

And there's the rub: it's unusual for children to be seriously ill these days. It's one of the blessings of modern medicine, but it also means I don't know what to do. I'm not great at neatly folded sheets, beautifully arranged trays of food, and comforting home treatments. I'm better at wrinkled sheets, a mug of lemon and honey, and a cuddle. I've done my best, but I've got a huge amount to learn.

So I'd love to hear your ideas. What do you remember about being ill as a child? How do you care for sick people in your family? How do you entertain sick children? How do you make illness memorable, not just for its discomfort, but for comforting care?

images are from Holtsman, freeparking and theirhistory at flickr

Monday, March 22, 2010

what I've been reading: what I feel vs what is real from CJ Mahaney's The Cross Centred Life

It's a common theme on this blog: talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself. Here it is again, put beautifully by CJ Mahaney. I was particularly interested in the idea that introspection is a common temptation for evangelicals.

We can either listen to ourselves and our constantly changing feelings about our circumstances, or we can talk to ourselves about the unchanging truth of who God is and what He's accomplished for us at the cross.

Far too often we choose to passively listen to ourselves. We sit back and let our view of God and life be shaped by our constantly shifing feelings about our ever-changing circumstances. ...

Sinclair Ferguson has noted, "The evangelical orientation is inward and subjective. We are far better at looking inward than we are at looking outward. Instead, we need to expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ." ...

Think about this. How often in a typical day do you take an internal inventory in an effort to evaluate how you're doing? How often do you assess a situation by examining how you feel about it? How often do you make mental reference to how you feel, as opposed to what you know?

Don't listen to yourself; talk to yourself: Begin your day and at numerous points throughout the day expend your energies "admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ."

CJ Mahaney The Cross Centered Life 48-51

image is from stock.xchng

Friday, March 19, 2010


We call it a "piggy-front".

Here it is, demonstrated by Andy and Lizzy.

But cuddles are more fun!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

women of the Bible (1a) Eve - a suitable helper

In our Bible study we're doing a series from The Good Book Company called Women of Faith about women in the Old Testament. I'm learning so much that every week I'm inspired to come home and writing a blog post! Here's what I wrote about Eve after our very first study.

You might like to read Genesis 1-2 before you read this post. Grab a piece of paper and note down some answers to the question, "What do the first two chapters of Genesis teach us about women?" You might like to tell us what you discover.

My women's small group had a great Bible study the other day. We're doing a series called Women of Faith, about women in the Old Testament, and we started in the obvious place: with Eve.

We asked the question, "What does Genesis 1-2 teach us about women?"*

The main thing that stood out for us was that Eve was made to be Adam's suitable helper as he worked in the garden. Marriage isn't primarily about intimacy, but about partnership in God's work.

I know I'm made to be a helper, but I'd forgotten that God specifically calls me to help my husband in his work. I was reminded of this recently when I listened to a fantastic set of talks by Phillip Jensen and Carmelina Read called Marriage Matters (from EQUIP Ministry Wives 2008).

My husband Steve and I used to work side-by-side in university ministry. But like many mothers, as I've become absorbed in raising our children, my focus has diverged from my husband's. I forget that God calls me to help Steve in his work, which for us means his ministry. I’ve realised that I need to get my head out of my own separate ministry plans and into a future where we work together in God's kingdom.

It will look different for you. The nature of my "help" is influenced by many things, such as

  • the kind of work my husband does
  • our ministry gifts
  • the needs of our church and community
  • the season of life we're in
  • my husband's personality and preferences.
So, for one woman in my small group, "helping" means being open to her husband's suggestion to do more hospitality, even though she's an introvert. It's the opposite for me. While we regularly have meetings and visitors in our home, mostly Steve is tired after ministering to people all day and needs a place of quiet retreat. My friend’s husband, on the other hand, gets home and wants to talk everything through with his wife.

Lots of us mentioned that we tend to become so absorbed in our own need for our husbands' help, that we forget all about helping them!

I gave my group some homework: to go home and ask their husbands for one way they could help them better, especially in their work. If you're married, you might like to ask your husband the same question!

* We came up with a long list. Women, like men, are made in God's image: we're equal but different (Gen 1:26-28). Male headship is shown in lots of ways: for example, the term "man" is used for both men and women (Gen 1:27), Eve is made from and for Adam (Gen 2:20-22), Adam names Eve (Gen 2:23), and God approaches Adam first and calls him to account for "listening" to his wife and eating the fruit (Gen 3:9-11, 17). But they are also equal: she is his perfect companion, suitable for him (Gen 2:20-25). In Genesis 3, the created order is reversed and the "helper" role undermined: an animal (the serpent) leads the woman who leads the man into sin. The woman's focus is relational (Gen 2:20-25 cf Gen 3:16). We decided it was all summed up by the words "suitable helper" (Gen 2:20).

This article will appear on in tandem, that wonderful blog for ministry wives, on Friday (all going well!) so you could say that it appears here by permission. :)

image is from Lawrence OP at flickr

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

the fear of God: a great definition by Tim Chester

I've just come across a great definition of the fear of God by Tim Chester.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might remember my series on the fear of God. I think this definition is a wonderful summary (I've just added one word!).

The answer to the fear of man is fear of God. We need a big view of God. To fear God is to respect, worship, trust, [love], and submit to him. It’s the proper response to his glory, holiness, power, love, goodness and wrath. The fear of the Lord is recognizing that he is so awesome, powerful, holy and good that we should serve and worship him more than anything or anyone.

The appearances of God are often described in the Bible in terms of brightness, fire and brilliance. ... God wraps majesty and splendour around him like a cloak (Ps 93:1). The fear of God for the Christian no longer involves terror. He is our Father and we come before him with confidence through the mediation of Christ (Heb 4:14-16). But we can never get chummy or complacent with him. He remains a consuming fire.

This is a combined quote from Tim Chester's You Can Change 92-93 and The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness 104-5 (the last sentence in the first paragraph is taken from the second).

image is from flickr.com

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

busyness, stress and the grace of God (2) seasons

It's September 2007. I'm sitting in the living room with two of my dearest friends. Our youngest children are no longer babies, and our minds turn to the future, to the world beyond our front doors. What do Christian women need? How can we encourage them? Together we dream about the next season of life. The possibilities run around my head until one morning I wake up with a newly-minted idea: start a blog! After that, who knows? Writing? Seminars? Conferences? They're only a dream away.

I get too busy when I ... forget which season I'm in.

What I was thinking. "I'm starting on a new season of life. I'll have more time now. It's time for dreaming! What exciting new ministries can I get involved in?"

What I'm learning.
1. You can't hurry seasons.
Women's lives, even more than men's, are divided into seasons. Each season takes as long as it needs to, and you can't move onto the next until it's over. Older women are always telling me how short this season with young children will be, and that there will be more time for new ministries in the next. I'll take that on faith: it doesn't feel that way to me! But I'm learning to be patient and content with this season; to rejoice in its unique possibilities and responsibilities; and to trust God with the slowness of the next season's coming. Why would I hurry this precious season?

2. It's easy to underestimate a new season's demands.
Looking back, there was a remarkable lack of wisdom in my timing. Four children, with the youngest barely a year old, is hardly the time for grand plans about lots of new ministries! (Yes, I am glad I started this blog, but what came next is another story ...). It's the same when your youngest child starts school: many women throw themselves into work and ministry, without realising how demanding the next season of life will be. Which leads to my next point ...

3. At the start of a new season, take time to recover and reflect. Here's some excellent advice I've heard: when your youngest child goes to school, have a quiet year before filling in your "extra" time. Until you've lived in the next season, you won't know how demanding it is. And I'll need time to recover after 13 exhausting years at home with young children. Take time to rest and reflect, and step cautiously into new ministries, knowing they'll expand to fill more time than you expect. (This isn't an excuse for laziness or selfishness, but a reminder for those of us who eagerly say "yes" to everything to take care.)

4. Leave room for relationships - and the unexpected.
Women's lives tend to be focused on relationships. That's good and appropriate, but it means our plans will be frequently interrupted. I have a friend in her 50s who works in ministry. Every year of the last 3 years, she's had to cut down her working hours because of unexpected demands: a cancer scare, a dying father-in-law, a sick son in another state, a new grandchild with serious health issues, her husband's change of job. Leave room for relationships. Leave room for the unexpected. Keep your diary lazy. You can always fill your spare time later!

5. Put each season's first things first.
During the season I'm in, my first responsibility after helping my husband is to teach and train our kids; and after that, to serve in our church and reach out to our community. When I take on lots of public ministries, it undermines health and rest, and drains my energy for those God gives me to love. It's okay for outside ministry to put pressure on our family from time to time - that's part of the cost of serving Jesus - but when I'm constantly neglecting my relationships it's time to repent, cut down, and ask God to help me serve him faithfully in the season I'm in. (If you want to think more about this, see my series balancing homemaking and ministry.)

6. God never changes, even when seasons do.
The changeableness of seasons can make us feel unsettled and uncertain. But our security doesn't come from a settled life: it comes from God. Through seasons of grief, seasons of exhaustion, and even seasons which don't seem to end, our God is always faithful, and his sovereign grace and loving kindness don't change.

What do you think? How does being aware of our season of life help us to serve God faithfully, without becoming too busy and neglecting the important things? Are you caring for the people you need to care for in the season you're in?

images are from visuallegedanken, joiseyshowaa and ToniVC at http://www.flickr.com/; image of door with windows is from http://www.sxc.hu/

Monday, March 15, 2010

what I'm reading: the heart of busyness from Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness

The book which has done most to help me unpack my busyness - why I get too busy, how to tell if I'm too busy, and what to do about my busyness - is Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness (reviewed by Nicole here).

The most helpful thing Tim Chester does in his book is to talk about the why of busyness: the lies we believe which make us overly busy. Here's what he says about busyness, how to tell if it's a problem, and how over-busyness reveals our hearts.

There's nothing wrong with being busy. The truth is most of us like being busy ... Busyness itself is not a problem. In anybody's life there will be periods of intense activity. The problem comes when we are persistently over-busy. If you life doesn't reflect the biblical pattern of work and rest then something is wrong ...

If God doesn't expect me to do more than I can, the key question to ask ourselves is: Why am I trying to do more than I can? ...

I want to suggest that much, perhaps most, of the pressure to be busy comes from within. ... At the heart of our busyness is our heart. We're busy because we're working hard to meet the desires of our hearts. ...

Think about what that might mean for your busyness. Do you ever think your busyness is inevitable, unavoidable or appropriate? I want to suggest that it may be none of those things. It may be that your heart is deceiving you. ...

The test you need to apply to your busyness is this: if it produces bad fruit then it reflects the evil desires of your heart. ... If your health, marriage, friendships, Christian service or relationship with God is suffering because of your busyness then you need to address the idols in your life. You need to identify the desires of your heart that make you try to do more than God expects of you.

That's exactly what I want to do during the first posts of my new series on busyness: to talk about the lies behind my, and perhaps your, busyness. What are the idols of your heart which drive you to do more than God expects from you?

Excerpts are from Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness pp. 35, 78-84.

Friday, March 12, 2010

family life

Here's a few pictures of family life over the last few months.

Andy made a playdough spider.

Thomas learned to rollerblade.

Lizzy squeezed LOTS of orange juice.

Ben blew some very big bubbles.

Lizzy planted some herbs for a school project (and for Mum!).

Andy and Mum built a space rocket taller than him.

Lizzy made yet another cubby for the little kids.

Thomas received a school award.

Andy painted his hands and made hand prints.

Ben created something mysterious out of magnetix.

And Ben, Lizzy and Andy made a home for snails, slugs and bugs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

woman to woman (2) the purpose of women's ministry

Here's the next instalment from my article about women's ministry to women. Let's keep the conversation going! Have a read and tell me about the ministry of women to women in your church. Does it have a clear direction? Does it look like Titus 2:3-5? Why or why not?

Women's ministries often struggle with a lack of clear direction. Even in churches without an organized women's ministry, it can be hard for women to know how to encourage other women. What we need is a clear direction—a simple aim to keep in mind. Here's an excellent place to start:

Older women* likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)
These verses give shape and purpose to women's ministry, whether formal or informal. They give us a clear statement of purpose: older women are to teach and train young women how to live as Christian women.

Unless older women take responsibility for teaching young women, it probably won't happen. Paul encourages Titus to teach every group in the church—older men, young men, older women, slaves—every group except for young women! Teaching and training young women in godly womanhood is primarily the responsibility of older women, not the pastor or male elders of a church. It's vital that women and women's ministries don't lose sight of this goal.

Have a look around your church. Are older women teaching and training younger women? Are women being equipped and encouraged to mentor women? Are relationships flourishing between women of different ages? Sadly, these are the very things that aren't happening in many churches.

* Who are the ‘older women’? It's clear from 1 Timothy 5:1-16 that Paul probably had in mind women beyond child-bearing age. The reason the advice in Titus 2:3-5 for younger women focuses so strongly on married women with children is that the vast majority of young women in the first century would have been married, and Paul intended for this to be so (1 Tim 5:11-15). But Titus 2:3-5 is relevant to all women: we're all ‘older’ women in relation to women younger in age and the faith, and we all have a responsibility to teach and encourage them.

You can read the rest of the article at The Briefing.

image is from Davidoff at flickr

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kids@church/Click: Some great material for your childrens Sunday School

I teach Sunday School for children regularly, but I don't always have the time and energy to write my own lessons. So last year I found myself in the market for Sunday School material.

Thanks to a friend trawling through the shelves at a Christian bookshop, what I discovered was kids@church, put out by Youthworks in conjunction with CEP. (In Britain, it's published as Click by The Good Book Company). I suspect that lots of churches in Sydney are familiar with this material, but many other churches aren't.

kids@church is a complete nine-year Sunday School syllabus for preschool and primary school children. It consists of Serious Play (which is for children aged 3 to 5), Adventure (which is for children aged 5 to 7) and Over the Top (which is for for children aged 8 to 11. This is the one I tested). For each age group, there's 12 sets of 10 lessons—one set for each school term—which cover the big story of Scripture in three years. Each term's lessons can be purchased separately, with no pesky subscriptions. In a single term, you'll need one reasonably priced teacher's manual (which includes 10 lesson plans, visual aids and a child's component) and enough child's components (take-home booklets) for your group.

During term 4 last year, I taught Ephesians and Revelation to our Sunday School using Preparing for Jesus' Coming, an Over the Top booklet for children aged 8 to 11. Here's what I liked about kids@church:

  • It's thoroughly biblical. The exegesis is excellent. (There was only one lesson out of 10 that I had quibbles with.) It's been written and edited by a panel that includes respected names like Kirsten Birkett.
  • It teaches the Bible in a clear and interesting way. I occasionally added to a Bible teaching time that I thought could be a little more interesting (for example, I ‘drew’ the story of Saul on the road to Damascus), but mostly this was unnecessary.
  • It covers the full story of the Bible. If you were to run this material from year to year, the children would get a good overview of the Bible story and how it all hangs together, and then you would review this as they moved from age group to age group.
  • It deals with parts of the Bible that Sunday School material often avoids. I chose the lessons on Ephesians and Revelation for this very reason! Most Sunday School material focuses on Bible narrative, but avoids the theologically dense parts of Scripture. I want to teach children how to handle all of the Bible. I want to teach them sound doctrine, not just Bible stories.
  • It tackles challenging theological issues, while staying sensitive to children's level of understanding. For example, the lesson on Ephesians 1:3-14 talks clearly about what it means to be ‘chosen’ (predestined) by God to be part of his family.
  • It teaches memory verses well. I was very impressed with the variety of methods used to teach memory verses, and I'll be using these methods in future!
  • It's engaging. Games, treasure hunts, posters, dramas, crafts, murals, maps—I was very impressed by the range of activities at the start of each lesson, which are designed to grab the children's attention and introduce the lessons' themes. It was good to have several activities to choose from. In each lesson, there's also an excellent list of suggested songs from well-known kids' CDs related to the lesson's theme.
  • It's age-appropriate. I found the material for eight to 11-year-olds to be well pitched to this age group. This is typical; I'm currently using some other CEP material for a range of ages (Kids Plus) and it's carefully and cleverly adapted to different stages of understanding.
  • It's well-organized and easy to use. It took me a week or so to get used to the layout (as with all new material!), but I soon found it clear, easy to follow, and suitable for teaching from and referring to during the class. The list of ‘gear’ to take each week was helpful, and the ‘photocopiables’ were well-designed and easy to reproduce.
There wasn't much about kids@church that I didn't like. But here are a few small complaints:

  • The visual aids (mainly posters) are small and not particularly impressive. (I found the picture of the risen Christ off-putting!) We often chose to create our own posters together instead.
  • The take-home booklets: the children found these small black and white booklets a little boring. However, it was good to have something for them to work on at the end of each lesson that they could take home at the end of term.
  • A lack of craft ideas: only one lesson included traditional Sunday School crafts. Even if we didn't use them each week, it would have been good to have some more ideas for crafts at the end of each lesson.
  • The Bible translation used is the CEV (Contemporary English Version). While this is a matter of preference, I find the International Children's Bible/New Century Version to be more reliable, if a little less readable.
I'll be using kids@church again! While I wouldn't want to use one Sunday School syllabus all the time (I think the children and teachers would get a little bored!), kids@church would be at the top of my list if I was looking for a single syllabus. With it, I'd be confident that our children were learning the complete story of the Bible in a doctrinally sound and interesting way. Because each set of 10 lessons stands on its own, you can also teach kids@church for a single term, as I did.

If you're looking for Sunday School material that is biblical, theologically sound, clear, usable, engaging and fun for kids, kids@church is well worth a look!

This article was first published yesterday at Sola Panel.

Monday, March 8, 2010

what I've been reading: burn out vs rust out from Peter Brain's Going the Distance

Robert Murray McCheyne, at the end of his short life, said,

God gave me the gospel and a horse. I've killed the horse, so I can no longer preach the gospel. (He was speaking of his body.)

Christmas Evans says,

I'd rather burn out than rust out in the service of the Lord.

James Berkeley responds,

I admire the bravado. It sounds dedicated, bold, and stirring. However, when I view the burnt-outs and the almost burnt-outs who lie by the ecclesiastical road, the glory fails to reach me. I see pain and waste and unfinished service. Is there not a third alternative to either burning out or rusting out? In Acts 20:24, Paul stated, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me". Herein lies the model I choose to follow. I want neither to burn out nor rust out. I want to finish the race.

These quotes are from Peter Brain's Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry pp. 10, 20; emphases mine.

Friday, March 5, 2010

from my back verandah: the joy of cockatoos

On summer evenings, when my husband and I watch a DVD, we have to shut the windows or turn up the volume. Outside, the sulphur-crested cockatoos are coming home to roost in the lemon-scented gums behind our house.

They wheel and circle, screeching, as they descend from the sky. They fly in flocks, screeching, from one tree to another. They cling to the branches and raise their yellow crests, screeching, as they argue over the best roosts.

In the morning, as the sky lightens, they stretch their wings, utter an experimental squawk or two, then wake the dawn, screeching. They rise into the air, lemon-tinted wings catching the sun, screeching. They race one another to the day's food source, somewhere north-east of here, still screeching.

I love the cockatoos. I love their squat white bodies and ridiculous yellow crests and knobbly grey feet and beady intelligent eyes. I love their abandoned playfulness and complete lack of self-consciousness and swaggering confidence. I love their joy.

They remind me that God was playful when he made the world. He didn't just make serious, imposing, beautiful animals like tigers and whales. He made ridiculous animals: elephants with their sagging skin, chameleons with their rotating eyes, cockatoos with their throaty screams.

The cockatoos remind me that God made the world, in part, for the sheer joy of it - his joy, the joy of his Son, our joy, the joy of every creature. We don't see it that way now, with the world shattered and broken (Rom 8:18-22). But one day that perfect playfulness will be restored. One day every creature will romp together in his new creation (Isa 65:25).

The happy screeches of the cockatoos, shattering the evening serenity, scattering the morning stillness, remind me to lift my eyes from my all-too-serious preoccupations and remember, if only for a moment, that we were all made for joy.

images are by SouthernAnt and Valley Guy from flickr

Thursday, March 4, 2010

inner beauty and the style icon

I read the saddest, most discouraging article the other day.

It was called Age Perfect and it was in Sunday Life magazine, which comes to our house via The Age newspaper, and to yours, perhaps, via The Sydney Morning Herald. It followed hot on the heels of a recent article about "cougars", older women who ooze sex appeal, most often seen on the arms of younger men.

"Age perfect" should have been an encouraging article. It's about (it claims) inner beauty. It's about how older women are the new style icons. So long pushed out of the way by young, nubile teens and 20-somethings, 40 is now the new 20. Older women have won our admiration for their ...

Wisdom? Life-experience? Character? No. Here's why older women (that is, 40 or 50 year olds) have won our hearts:

  • Demi Moore (47) was spotted at 41 "sporting a body as hard as the surfboard she was carrying by her side"; her younger husband, Ashton Kutcher, 32, exclaimed on Twitter, "'Watching my wife steam my suit while wearing a bikini. I love God!'" Oh, and she wears "Donna Karan, Michael Kors or Roland Mouret ... Or Versace".
  • Gail Elliott (fashion designer) says, "'I know my body better. I feel proud of it. Being happy with yourself makes you confident, which makes you happy.' ... Elliott believes that by 40, most women know how to work it."
  • Michelle Obama (46) "is a knockout, sure, ... but it's the all-round package that has the world mesmerised: her elegance, sophistication and intellect. Stuff it takes years to acquire. ... To top it off, she can dress."
  • Collette Dinnigan (fashion designer, 44) says, "Dress for your body shape and what you know works; classic accessories always add a twist ... When you feel good, you look good. Confidence is sexy."

  • Jennifer Aniston (41) "gets about in cut-off denims on days off and chic minis at premieres." Helena Christensen (41), is "Always elegant and chic, not radical or trying to change her body." Elle Macpherson (46), "still working her trademark string bikini and cowboy hat", has a "wonderful personal style and always looks great."
These "older women" are 40 or 50 but look much younger. They've been able to "ward off ageing", not with Botox or cosmetic surgery (or so the article claims - although it admits that some of its heroines have probably resorted to surgery) but with "lifestyle choices" - "time to exercise", "organic food", the ability to dress for one's body shape, designer fashion, and, in Jennifer Keate's case, "her mother's time-trusted facial exercises".

The article concludes with some words about "inner beauty":

'It's about how you take care of yourself; it's about inner beauty.' ... For once, self-love is more alluring than tits and teeth. Inner beauty is yours for the taking. If you just bide your time.

And here's me thinking that inner beauty is all about a quiet spirit which trusts in God! (1 Pet 3:3-4) Apparently it's really about self-confidence, caring for yourself, and self-love. And, of course, youthful looks, diet, exercise, a sculpted figure, and designer clothes. So, at the age of 41, here's what I have to aspire to (and a standard I, like most women, have no hope of meeting): a toned body, a designer wardrobe, and the kind of ethereal beauty which ages well.

Give me God's dream for the older women: a woman respected not for her style and well-preserved sex appeal, but for her wisdom, godly character, years of faithful service, and trust in Jesus (1 Tim 5:9-10). I'll take a few wrinkles, some saggy skin, and a dream like that any day.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Prov 31:30)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (1) introduction

"Funny, perceptive and inspirational, this is the adventure of a lifetime, proving that the modern woman can have it all: a high-flying career, a wonderful family life and New York". (from a book blurb quoted in supermum)
She's living the dream. She has her career. She has her family. She has (wait for it ...) New York. Well, you and I might not have New York, but let's add something else in there: ministry. Career, family, ministry - oh, and leisure. It sounds like a modern Christian woman's ideal life, doesn't it?

Except somewhere along the way, this view of life just isn't possible. Something has to give. It might be ministry, it might be family, it might be career, it might be leisure; but you can't pour 4 time-intensive roles into a single life and expect no cracks to show.

I haven't attempted the career bit since having kids (for most mothers this starts when their kids are all at school, although not for me if I can help it - more about that another day!) but I've certainly attempted far too much ministry outside the home while raising 4 young children. I know how that feels and what it costs.

I find busyness very tempting. It's hard just to keep on top of the tasks which are part of daily life - cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, buying groceries, getting the kids to school on time - but when I'm not doing a lot more than this, I feel like a failure. Other women are achieving so much more! So I add another activity to the tottering pile.

Over-busyness is sometimes unavoidable - for example, for single mums, or mums with very young children - but it's usually driven by our choices and desires.

  • We want to prove ourselves, to gain others' respect, to meet their expectations.
  • We want to make sure that our life has some significance.
  • We want to achieve as much as that woman over there.
  • We're frightened of wasting the precious years.
  • We don't know how to say "no", or how to disappoint people.
  • We only feel significant when we're busy, working hard, and getting things done.
  • The busyness creeps up without us noticing, and we don't know how to stop.
Two years ago I found myself at the start of a new season. My youngest child was fresh out of babyhood, and we weren't planning to have any more. I found myself with a few spare moments, a heart full of dreams, and what felt like hundreds of beckoning opportunities.

During the coming weeks I'd like to tell you the story of what happened next, and what I learned about busyness, stress and the grace of God.

image is by hansvandenberg at flickr

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

woman to woman (1) answering the call of Titus 2

I've just published my manifesto. Okay, maybe that's too grandiose a term, but that's what it feels like!

If my life has a purpose - well, a purpose beyond serving Christ as I love my husband and children, care for people in my church and community, and reach out to neighbours and friends (which is about as much purpose as anyone needs!) - then it's summed up in an article I just wrote for The Briefing.

Here are the opening paragraphs. I might publish some other excerpts during the coming weeks, because I think it would be great if we could reflect together on women's ministry to women. So tell me your thoughts!

My friend and I were visiting another friend's church, enduring that uncomfortable time after the service when you stand around, a cup of lukewarm tea in one hand and an Arnott's biscuit in the other, feeling like you have the word ‘visitor’ tattooed across your forehead and waiting for someone to approach you to make awkward conversation.

But the woman who approached us quickly put us at ease. She was white-haired, bright-eyed and vivacious, and she asked us, “Is this your first time here?” with sincerity and warmth, as if she really wanted to know the answer. We basked in her interest.

As we chatted, it became apparent that here was an older woman who hadn't lost interest in younger women. She told us that she went to the young people's evening service as well as the morning service just so she could spend time with young women and encourage them in their faith.

As my friend and I reflected on the conversation later, we realized the same thought had run through both our minds: “She is the woman I want to become”.

I'd love to hear your comments and reflections. Have you ever met a woman like this? What kind of impact did she have on you?

You can read the rest of the article at The Briefing.

image is from stock.xchng

Monday, March 1, 2010

another quote about condemnation and the cross

Violet capped yesterday's quote (which I posted on Sunday instead of Monday by accident!) with a wonderful quote of her own.

She says, "Milton Vincent in 'A Gospel Primer for Christians' addressed this issue in a way that really helped me. He writes,

'As long as I am stricken with the guilt of my sins, I will be captive to them, and will often find myself re-committing the very sins about which I feel most guilty. The Devil is well aware of this fact; he knows that if he can keep me tormented by sin's guilt, he can dominate me with sin's power.

'The gospel, however, slays sin at this root point and thereby nullifies sin's power over me. The forgiveness of God, made known to me through the gospel, liberates me from sin's power because it liberates me first from its guilt; and preaching such forgiveness to myself is a practical way of putting the gospel into operation as a nullifier of sin's power in my life.'"

Thanks, Violet! That's so true. When I keep wallowing in the guilt of my sin, I don't change. I'm so overwhelmed by my sin that I give up before I even start. But when I truly realise that I'm forgiven, it changes everything. It gives me motivation and hope to overcome my sin.

I'm reminded me of a similar quote from Tim Chester's You Can Change:

You will cleanse no sin from your life that you have not first recognized as being pardoned through the cross. ... If you don't see your sin as completely pardoned, then your affections, desires and motives will be wrong. You will aim to prove yourself. Your focus will be the consequences of your sin rather than hating the sin itself and desiring God in its place. (p.33)

As I preach the gospel to myself, and come to know in every fibre of my being that I'm forgiven, I stop wallowing in my guilt, and start obeying in the freedom and hope of God's grace.