Friday, July 30, 2010

words of encouragement from a 6 year old

"I just can't wait! We don't fear death. Others do, but we don't."

- Thomas, 6, talking about heaven.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

women of the Bible (4) Deborah: mother in Israel

Deborah, judge of Israel, is a poster-girl for egalitarianism (see Judges 4-5). She's undoubtedly female, and she's a leader of God's people: a judge who delivers God's rulings, and a prophetess who speaks God's words. Like the other judges, she's used by God to deliver his people when they turn from their idolatry and cry to him for rescue from their enemies. Her husband is virtually absent from her story and, if she had any children, they aren't mentioned. If the New Testament seems to say that women shouldn't teach or have authority in the church, surely Deborah shows that these restrictions are cultural and can be laid aside in our more enlightened society!

It's not that simple. In many ways, Deborah is a reluctant leader. The fact that she's leading Israel seems to be a sign of judgement, an indictment on the men of Israel for failing to take the lead (Isa 3:12). At every point, she honours and supports male leadership; her word from God to Barak is that God has called him to lead the army, and she only reluctantly accompanies him into battle (Judg 4:6-9). The glory for the victory goes to another woman —the treacherous Jael—but this, too, is a judgement on Barak for his unwillingness to lead (Judge 4:9, 17-23). Deborah's example is not so much an encouragement to women to take the lead, but rather a rebuke to men who fail to lead spiritually.

Deborah works in an unusual role in a womanly way. She leads Israel to victory as a woman: she alone, of all the judges, doesn't command the army, but asks Barak to do so (Judg 4:6-7, 10, 14 cf 3:10, 27-29). She prophesies as a woman: while male prophets proclaim God's word publicly, she gives God's word to Barak in private; and while her song of victory is public, it's sung with Barak, not alone (Judg 5:1, Exod 15:1, 20-21 cf 2 Sam 22:1). She judges as a woman: people come to her privately to have their cases decided and to hear the word of God (Judg 4:4-6 cf 2 Kgs 22:14-15). Hers is the charismatic role of a judge, not the settled role of a priest or a king: these ruling and teaching roles are reserved for men (Lev 10:10-11, 1 Sam 8:6, 11-18, 1 Tim 2:12, Tit 1:5-7, 2:3-5).

It's Deborah who gives us the key to understanding her role: she is a mother in Israel (Judg 5:7). You can hear a mother's grief in her sorrow over the suffering of her people (Judg 5:6-8). You can hear a mother's exasperation in her rebuke of the southern tribes who sat by their fires and watched their sheep while their brothers went to war (Judg 5:15-17). You can hear a mother's pride in her praise of the warriors and princes who fought (Judg 5:13-14, 18). You can hear a mother's vehement defence of her children in her blood-thirsty celebration of victory (Judg 5:24-31).

Deborah is no retiring female wimp: she's bravely and strongly committed to God's glory when others have abandoned him; but she never seeks glory for herself (Judg 4:6-15, 23, 5:2-3, 31). I think of female missionaries who teach God's word because there is no-one else to do the job, but who train up men to take their place as leaders and teachers in the church. I think of women married to non-Christian men or lazy Christian men, who take the lead in teaching their children about God, but who pray and long for their husbands to take responsibility for spiritual leadership in the home.

Deborah should make us ask ourselves: do we have a mother's heart for God's people? Do we encourage our Christian brothers and teach our younger Christian sisters? Do we grieve when Christians wander into error and disobedience? Do we rejoice when we see God's people sticking up for the truth, or are we embarrassed and ashamed? Do we get angry when we see Jesus' name dragged through the mud by the adultery and apostasy of Christian leaders? Are we willing to defend God's character and the lives of the innocent, even when everyone around us stays silent?

Let's be women like Deborah: brave, passionate, loving, humble, and fiercely committed to God's people and God's glory.

This article appeared in Sola Panel today.

for tapestry of Deborah and Barak, see Ethiopia Judaica Tapestries

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

not a reason to have children

I was happily reading a lovely little article in Sunday Life a few weeks ago* by a broody man writing about how socially unacceptable it is for men to be broody, when he explained his reason for wanting children:

Having a family would probably be a significant trade-up on my lifestyle.

While I'm all for broodiness and the blessings of having children, it seems to me that this statement has several flaws. Can you spot them?

* Yes, this is a slightly out-of-date post.

image is from Enigam Photo at flickr

Monday, July 26, 2010

what I'm reading: busyness and pleasing people from The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness

Have you ever wanted to say 'No', but said 'Yes'?...

Remember: God does not expect me to do more than I can do. So if we are doing more than we can to meet other people's expectations then we're saying other people's approval matters more to me than God's. We crave their approval or fear their rejection...

The Bible's term for this is 'fear of man'... When we can't say 'No' we fear other people more than we fear God...If you are busy trying to meet other people's expectations then you have made other people your god and saviour...

The answer is to repent of our idolatry and turn to God. We need a big view of God...The fear of liberating because it sets us free from every other fear...Fearing God sets us free from the frantic busyness that is driven by the desire to please others...

We still serve other people. That's why we've been set free (Galatians 5:13)...But we're not enslaved by them. We don't serve them for what they can give us in return - approval, affection, security or whatever. We serve them for Christ's sake...

When people are disappointed in us we need to able to say to God: 'I'm sorry they're disappointed, but it doesn't matter because I've done what you expect of me.'...Your boss may be fearsome. They may be a bully. But they're not bigger than God.

From chapter 8 of Tim Chesters The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness; second two emphases are mine.

image is from Plastic_Bat at flickr

Friday, July 23, 2010

a handy hint for pinata cake makers

If you want to make a pinata cake, read the comments on today's post: apparently if you use a metal bowl, the chocolate slides out easily and you don't need Glad Bake - sounds like a much better solution to me!! There's also a good idea from Mel for turning it into a pirate cake.

a pinata cake for Thomas's 7th birthday

Thomas turned 7 a couple of weeks ago. In the grand tradition of complicated cakes, and due to some parental prodding (I've always wanted to make one) he asked for a pinata cake! It was LOTS of fun.

After a couple of false starts, we got it to work ... it's pretty easy once you know how! I'll tell you how in case you ever decide to make one, so you don't make the mistakes we did.

I bought a chocolate mud cake from the supermarket (the gluten free cake I baked failed) and we piled chocolate coins and lollies on top. (You're supposed to hollow out the top of the cake and pour the lollies in but this didn't seem necessary, and the icing looked too yummy to disturb!)

You have to mould chocolate in a pudding bowl so you can put it over the cake. After one failed attempt to remove the hardened chocolate, I realised that it's best to line the bowl with Glad Bake (use more than we did - or you can just grease the bowl like the recipe says if you're brave) and put the bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes (next time I'll read the instructions!) before you pour the chocolate in. (Check the comments: apparently if you use a metal bowl, the chocolate slides out easily and you don't need Glad Bake - sounds like a much better solution to me!!)

I melted 450 g of chocolate, and poured it into the bowl. You have to swirl it around until it begins to set and evenly coats the sides of the bowl, especially the edges; then stand it until it almost sets; then freeze until it sets completely.

Once the chocolate is completely hard, the instructions say to upend the bowl over the cake and rub the outside of the bowl with a hot cloth, which I did (but don't overdo it or you'll melt the chocolate, like I did the first time!).

Then, with lots of thumping and shaking (no, it didn't just slip neatly from the bowl, despite what the recipe said) the chocolate should demould - SUCCESS!!

Stick some Smarties and M&Ms on the cake and some candles around it with a little more melted chocolate (giant Smarties look better than little ones, but we couldn't find any).

Sing "Happy Birthday", blow out the candles,

then SMASH the cake with a toy hammer!

If at first you don't succeed,

try and try again.

Okay, so maybe you should put the cake in the fridge for a while to get the chocolate REALLY hard before you smash it. Ours squashed rather than smashed! But we had a LOT of fun anyway.

Here's what was left of the cake after everyone ate it *sigh*. Yum!

Happy 7th birthday Thomas!

This cake is from the Australian Women's Weekly cookbook Fantastic Cakes.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

why I need the fruit of the Spirit

I've been praying for the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Here's why I need it.

  • Love: to enable me to put others' needs above my own, even when I'm aching to have my needs met.
  • Joy: to remember God's salvation and blessings when I'm moaning inwardly as I go about my tasks.
  • Peace: for all the times I'm tempted to worry about the future, and so I can encourage my children to be peacemakers.
  • Patience: when I don't think I can bear another request, argument or complaint and I want to scream at my kids to make them stop.
  • Kindness: to help me creatively and generously care for my family and those in need.
  • Goodness: a commitment to doing what's right, even when it would be easier to fudge the boundaries.
  • Faithfulness: to persevere when the days feel long and weary, and I'm tired of putting one step in front of the other.
  • Gentleness: so I'll bite my tongue and speak loving words that build up, not cutting words that tear down.
  • Self-control: without this, no other obedience is possible. I find myself praying for this most of all!

image is from our Sunday school lessons on the fruit of the Spirit

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (5) pleasing people

February 2008. It soon becomes clear that blogging is about the numbers. Every day I check my stats to make sure people are reading, agonise over a negative comment, rejoice over a good one. I want people to read, and I don't want to disappoint anyone: not the people I write for, nor the friends with high hopes for me. Over and over during the next couple of years, I will write in my journal, "I feel trapped": trapped by the expectations of others.

I get too busy when ... I try to please people and live up to their expectations.

What I'm thinking. "I can't bear people not to think well of me! I can't let them down! I can't disappoint people! I have to work hard to earn their respect!"

What I'm learning.
To fear God, not people.
Like most people-pleasers, I started young. I didn't want to disappoint parents who hoped so much for me, and I didn't want to risk the displeasure of teachers by doing the wrong thing. I was one of those kids whose good school reports and respectful demeanor said a lot about my fears. It's no different now. I fear failure; I fear disappointing people; I fear peoples' criticism. In other words, people are bigger in my mind than God. I need a bigger view of God. Slowly but surely, God is changing me so that I fear God more than I fear people.*

To please God, not people.
When I'm tempted to seek praise, or when I'm disturbed by criticism, here's what I tell myself: "It doesn't matter what people think of me". Such a simple statement! But it reminds me that nothing really hangs on people's opinion of me. Instead, I want to seek God's good opinion, and he's pleased not by popularity, but by faithfulness. I'll never be able to do enough to get the praise I seek! But God isn't impressed by my busy achievements, but by love.

All I do, I do for an audience of One.
I once read a book which asked, "Who's in your grandstand?". I know who's in mine! Mentors, parents, friends, editors, readers, those I seek to encourage: there are few sweeter things than receiving their praise, and I work hard to earn it! But there should only be one person in my grandstand: God. His applause alone matters, and he asks no more of me than he enables me to do. I can imagine few joys greater than hearing him say to me one day, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:23).

I'm justified by God not others.
Who do I try to prove myself to? There's me: my own expectations are higher than anyone else's! There's the people who love me: I'd hate to let them down! There's my readers: I used to think they expected a post every day! There's the impartial observers: they're a bit quicker with their criticism, so I work hard to avoid it. I forget that I'm already justified by God, righteous in his eyes because Jesus died for me, and I don't need to prove myself to me or anyone else.

I can make choices which feed the right attitudes.
One of the most significant steps I took, many months ago, was to stop checking my stats more than once a week. I also realised that comparing the popularity of my blog with others only fed my obsession (well, duh!). In the grace of God, I've made many small decisions so I'm not constantly feeding my hunger for people's praise. Perhaps it's a boss's demands, or your parents' hopes, or a mentor's expectations that drives you into over-busyness: ask yourself how you can stop feeding your hunger for their approval.

It's okay to say "no"
Saying "no" can be hard! For me, it's the struggle not to let opportunities slip (and to trust God's timing). For my friend, it's the struggle not to care what others think. We say "yes" when we should say "no" because we don't want to lose face. There have been times when I've had to eat humble pie and pull out of things I've said "yes" to, which is an even harder kind of wisdom. Busyness is not next to godliness, even when everyone at your church is telling you so! You don't stand and fall by their good opinion, but by God's good opinion: and Jesus won that on the cross.

Many of these insights are from chapter 8 of Tim Chesters The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness; the quote is from p. 106.
* The link between fear and people-pleasing became clear to me as I read Ed Welch's When People are Big and God is Small.

images are from Multiple fragments of tissue, chrissuderman and Samanta Decker at flickr; image of graph is from sitemeter

Monday, July 19, 2010

what I'm reading: the blessings of growing old from Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?

I've recently thought that it's God's mercy that we fall apart as we get older. How humbling it is to end one's creaturely life dependent on others, unable to function as we once did, no longer as attractive as we were at our prime. It drives home the point that there is only One whose glory is unalterable. If that lesson didn't sink in when we were young adults, it will certainly sink in later. We might rail against it, we might work hard to hide the effects, but we won't change the immutable fact: "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever" (1 Peter 1:24-25).

Carolyn McCulley Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? 162

image is from Jeff the Trojan at flickr

Friday, July 16, 2010

holiday pics

Here's some more holiday pics for those of you who know our family (and anyone else who wants to see them! :) ).

On our mid-year conference, the kids enjoyed the ropes course most,

and I finished knitting a jumper for Lizzy.

Then it was off to Phillip Island for a family getaway, where we caught some fish,

went for some glorious walks,

and played at the beach, burying Andy,

building sandcastles,

digging pools,

making giant structures out of beachwood,

paddling in the sea,

and enjoying the scenery.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

sisters for those with no sisters

I grew up with one brother and no sisters. I love my brother, and never longed for a sister - unlike my daughter, who loves her three brothers, but has always wanted a twin sister! But I've always wondered what it would be like to have a sister.

I know now. You see, I have many sisters, and they are as dear to me as any sister of blood could be. God is good, and "sets the lonely in families" (Ps 68:6) - not just blood-families, but church families. I look around my church, and I see sisters, brothers, mothers (Mk 3:35, Rom 12:10, 1 Tim 5:1-2, Heb 2:11). God gives fathers to the fatherless, mothers to the motherless, and brothers and sisters to those with no brothers or sisters.

As I've grown to love my sisters in Christ, I've learned that loving begets love. Just like a blood-family, you don't choose your church family. You might choose your church, but you don't choose the mix of personalities in it. A church is not a friendship group, built on mutual liking. A church is a family, and it's only as you love and serve that you come to love the people in it.

Loving begets love. When I don't invest much in others I feel little for them. But when I care for others I grow in love for them. When I teach Sunday School, I become fond even of the kids who are hardest to love. When I encourage the women in my small group, even on mornings when I'd rather stay home and rest, we grow closer together in God.

I have all kinds of sisters now. There's my little sister who is light where I am dark: extrovert to my introvert, she excels in hospitality and has the warmest welcome I've ever seen. There's my big sister who gives me wise advice when I'm confused about which path to take. There's my strong-minded sister who teaches me courage, my generous sister who motivates me to serve, and my struggling sister who inspires me to faithful perseverance.

The other day two of my sisters and I cried together about a mutual sorrow. As we sat side-by-side, disembowelling a box of tissues and comforting each other with prayer and a cup of tea, I realised how precious my sisters have become to me, and I thanked God. I pray for my daughter that one day she will look around and rejoice that although she has three brothers and no sisters, she has many sisters in Christ.

This post appeared on Monday on Sola Panel.

images are from discoodoni and sisidahl at flickr

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

back from holidays

Hello everyone! We're back from holidays, so things should soon return to normal here on in all honesty (as soon as I muster up the energy to write something, that is).

During the last two weeks, we've been away at Summit, the mid-year conference for our university Christian group, then at Phillip Island for a family holiday.

It was great to have a break, because last term was very, very busy. I always read a lot - as you know! - but I outdid myself by reading, in part or in whole, an enormous pile of 30 books on sex and sexual purity, then wrote 2 seminars for our female university graduates.

This was in the midst of ordinary family life, with its seemingly endless succession of appointments (doctor, dentist, haircuts, checking out high schools for Lizzy ... ) and weeks of boys at home with the flu. No wonder if I felt a little discouraged! I can't wait to get back to regular exercise and normal quiet times (ones not dominated by preparation, that is!) this term.

Steve was also busy writing 4 great talks on the love of God for our mid-year conference (you can download them here). He gave the talks 2 times in 7 days - once for our students, once for our graduates - while I watched the kids running around the campsite, prepared and gave my seminar, and packed and unpacked all our belongings 4 times in 9 days as we moved from home to campsite room to room to holiday house!

By the time we got to Phillip Island, I didn't even have the energy to read, which is pretty unusual for me! Instead, I set a personal record by doing 4 1000 piece jigsaws in 4 days, and went for long walks and watched the birds - pelicans, cormorants, Pacific gulls, oyster catchers, skuas - going about their beachy business.

The kids had fun too: they got all goose-pimply paddling in the waves and building sandcastles and elaborate driftwood sculptures, watched fairy penguins scurrying up the beach, went on a glorious walk to the Nobbies blowhole and didn't see the seals, caught and ate rainbow trout (worms on hooks - ugh!), and even visited a slightly bizarre but enjoyable chocolate factory!

God knew what we needed. I'm feeling refreshed and ready to face another term. I've been praying for all the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23) - and I know I'll need every one, as I seek to glorify God during the coming days.

Monday, July 12, 2010

archives: John Piper on idolatry, the essence of evil

"My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer 2:13).

God pictures himself as a mountain spring of clean, cool, life-giving water. The way to glorify a fountain like this is the enjoy the water, and praise the water, and keep coming back to the water, and point other people to the water, and get strength for love from the water, and never, never, never prefer any drink in the world over this water. ... That is how we glorify God, the fountain of living water.

But in Jeremiah's day people tasted the fountain of God's grace and did not like it. So they gave their energies to finding better water, more satisfying water. Not only did God call this effort futile ("broken cisterns that can hold no water"), but he called it evil: "My people have committed two evils." They put God's perfections to the tongue of their souls and disliked what they tasted; then they turned and craved the suicidal cisterns of the world. That double insult to God is the essence of what evil is.

So preferring the pleasures of money or power or fame or sex over the "pleasures ... at [God's] right hand" (Ps 16:11) is not like preferring caramel to hot fudge. It is a great evil. Indeed it is the ultimate meaning of evil. Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil.

from John Piper When I Don't Desire God 33-34 my emphasis

images are by @4. and Paul Ponraj at


Friday, July 9, 2010

archives: it's a bird! it's a plane! no, it's Super Froggy!

We call him "Froggy". He calls himself "Super Froggy".

We say, "Hey Andy, you're cute!" He says, "No I'm not. I'm Super Froggy!"

Super Froggy can jump "vewy, vewy high".

Don't worry: despite appearances, Super Froggy never hurts himself. He's been jumping since he could walk.