Thursday, September 30, 2010

a letter from Meredith

Here's another great way for women to encourage women: letter-writing.

I was tidying the enormous pile of papers near my phone recently (including an alarmingly large number of forms I haven't filled in) when I found a letter from Meredith, written 6 months before she started blogging in January 2009. I also found a plastic packet full of cards and letters sent after my father-in-law died.

It seemed an appropriate (re)discovery, since Meredith's letter says she'd decided not to start a blog so she could use her spare moments to write letters (a decision she revised a few months later) and since she's just written her last blog post so she can get on with writing letters.

Letters. They're an increasingly uncommon way to encourage people, but they're more meaningful than an email and more personal than a blog. They show someone has made the effort to put pen to paper, and I've seen again and again how they bring comfort and encouragement during times of hardship or grief.

Near the end of Meredith's letter she wrote out the words to this wonderful hymn by Horatio Bonar (1808-1889):

Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be;
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.

Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy rest.

I dare not choose my lot;
I would not, if I might;
Choose Thou for me, my God,
So I shall walk aright.

Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.

Choose Thou for me my friends,
My sickness or my health;
Choose Thou my cares for me
My poverty or wealth.

The kingdom that I seek
Is Thine: so let the way
That leads to it be Thine,
Else I must surely stray.

Not mine, not mine the choice
In things or great or small;
Be Thou my Guide, my Strength
My Wisdom, and my All.

Keep writing, Meredith!

image is from a.drian at flickr

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

further thoughts on patience

Thank you Simone for your thoughts on godliness at home with kids, which I found to be a wonderful follow-up (intentional or not!) to my post growing in patience.

It's good to be reminded (and very timely given yesterday's post on change) that there are things we can do to make patience easier, like

  • change our expectations of home (it's not just a place to put our feet up, but a place to serve)
  • avoid temptation when we can (some simple organisational changes certainly would have made my impatient week easier!)
  • aim for godliness in all of life (like joy) and godliness in one small area will follow (like patience)
  • inject fun and freshness into life when possible
  • enjoy God's good gift of home.

And I love this poem too. :)

Thanks, Simone.

image is from Mrs. W. at flickr

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

how we change (11) strategies that support change

Remember that long-lost series on change? No, I haven't forgotten it! We were working through Tim Chester's You Can Change. Now we come to chapter 8: strategies that reinforce faith and repentance (and yes, I'll try to finish the series by the end of the year if you want to read along!).

A few years ago, I planted a lemon tree. By now, it should have produced its first fruit. But it's a stunted, sad excuse for a tree. It's rarely watered and never fed, and it's shoulder-deep in weeds.

The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Gal 6:8)

Change is like my tree. It grows in the soil of the Spirit-changed heart, from the roots of faith and repentance. But it only thrives when you water it and pluck the weeds. Temptation and harmful influences are two weeds that stunt change; God's word, prayer, Christian community, service, and (surprisingly) suffering, all feed change and help it grow.

Tim Chester says,

Not sowing to sin = saying "no" to whatever strengthens my sinful desires = reinforcing repentance.

Sowing to the Spirit = saying "yes" to whatever strengthens my Spirit-inspired desires = reinforcing faith.

But wait a minute. Isn't change about grace, not rules? To grow, do we have to forbid pubs, parties, and popular movies? Do we have to practice certain disciplines: 30 minutes' prayer and Bible reading every day? Of course not! Dos and don'ts can't change our hearts. So how do these things fit into change?

Sowing to the Spirit (watering change).

The longer I'm a Christian, the more I realise that things like prayer and Bible reading aren't a matter of rules, but a natural response to God's grace. It's hard to imagine a relationship with God that doesn't include listening to his voice (the Bible), seeking his help (prayer), encouraging his people (Christian community), and reaching out to others (service and evangelism).

I think of these things not as "spiritual disciplines" (as if there's a set of disciplines I do to gain God's blessing) but as outworkings of faith that grow my faith. Yes, doing them requires discipline; but I don't do them to get close to God, or to get God's grace - I have these already! I do them because I love Jesus, and long to grow deeper into his grace.

Not sowing to the sinful nature (weeding change).

It's the same with things that provoke or strengthen sinful desires. What matters is not whether a certain practice is "forbidden", but the impact it has on me. I'd be crazy to do anything that jeopardises my growth. If a book fills my mind with impure images, why read it? If a certain place leads me into sin, why go there? Am I trying to be wiser than Jesus, who said to cut temptation out of my life? (Matt 5:29-30 cf 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22)

As Chester says, we'll want to be aware of two things: places, people or things that provoke sinful desires by exposing us to temptation, perhaps because they appeal to our particular weaknesses; and places, people or things that strengthen sinful desires by influencing us, perhaps by subtly shaping how we think.

Some practical steps to take.

How do I make these guidelines personal? Here are two suggestions. (When I'm struggling, I do this as well as the kind of heart-work we've already talked about).

1. Take a close look at when you're tempted. What mood are you in? Where are you? What are you doing? What have you been viewing or reading? Write a list of situations, people,* places and things that it may be helpful for you to avoid.

2. Think about how to support change. Are there some Bible passages you could memorise? Would it help if you got more sleep and exercise? Is there someone you can call or text when you're tempted? Write a list of positive steps to take to support godly attitudes and actions.

Here are some examples from my own life:
- impatience and irritability: I try to get enough sleep
- gluttony: I don't buy food that is a weakness for me
- introspection: I find ways to serve others
- poor time management: I pray about my day before it begins
- perfectionism: I keep accountable to good friends
- shopaholism: I stay away from shops when I can
- anxiety: I've memorised verses about God's loving sovereignty.

Of course, none of these things replaces dealing with the deep-seated unbelief and idols of my heart. Only God's grace, working through faith and repentance, changes me on the inside. But doing these things feeds my faith, buys me time, starves sin, and supports my repentance.

If I want the tree of change to grow, it may be time to pull out some weeds and do some watering.

*I'm not saying we should avoid all the people that rub us up the wrong way, or we'd have to live on a desert island! People help us grow as we learn to love them. But we may need to stop spending time with a friend who consistently leads us into sin.

Today's post is based on chapter 8 of Tim Chester's You Can Change.

images are by GasBombGirl, Kit Keat, ashley.adcox and Flying House Studios at flickr

Monday, September 27, 2010

what I'm reading: give up your small ambitions from The Trellis and the Vine

Last week I told you how The Trellis and the Vine has encouraged me to be a "disciple-making disciple" whoever I'm with and wherever I am. Here are some words that particularly challenged me.

The authority of Jesus is not limited in any respect. He is the Lord and Master of my street, my neighbours, my suburb, my workmates, my family, my city, my nation - and yes, the whole world. We would not ever want to stop sending out missionaries to preach the gospel in places where it is yet to be heard, but we must also see disciple-making as our central task in our homes and neighbourhoods and churches...

We speak God's word to someone, and the Spirit enables a response...It can happen over the back fence, over dinner, or over morning tea at church. It can happen in a pulpit or on a patio...

The radicalism of this demand often feels a world away from the ordinariness of our normal Christian habits and customs. We go to church, where we sing a few songs, try to concentrate on the prayers, and hear a sermon. We chat to people afterwards, and then go home for a normal week of work or study or whatever it is that we do, in time to come again next week. We might read our Bible and pray during the week. We may even attend a small group. But would someone observing from outside say: "Look: there is someone who has abandoned his life to Jesus Christ and his mission?"...

We naturally shrink from the radical nature of this challenge. It replaces our comfortable, cosy vision of the 'nice Christian life' with a call for all Christians to devote their lives to making disciples of Jesus.

Quotes are from The Trellis and the Vine 13, 39, 43, 154.

image is from stock.xchng

Friday, September 24, 2010

10 more things that make me happy

Last Friday I posted 10 things that make me happy. Here, for good measure, are 10 (slightly more frivolous) things that make me happy - including a few lists for you list-lovers!

1. Chocolate, plain or with something crunchy in it.

2. Driving on the open road, especially on the way to holidays. Holidays.

3. Coming home after a busy day, and the way the feel of the house changes when Steve comes home too.

4. Icecream air: the silence and stillness that rests on a house when it's quiet and uncluttered and empty.

5. Listening to a favourite Christian CD on my car stereo (current favs: Sovereign Grace Come Weary Saints and Jars of Clay The Long Fall Back to Earth; best driving songs: Jars of Clay Scenic Route and REM Find the River).

6. A beautiful big park with lots of grass, huge old trees, a river or lake and a path to walk along. Japanese gardens. Old trees. Avenues of old trees.

7. Watching a favourite DVD series with my husband in the evenings (West Wing, Firefly, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Buffy, Northern Exposure, Veronica Mars, Pride and Prejudice and Life on Mars, just to name a few) especially when we get take away curry and have an unofficial date night.

8. When my 4 year old kisses and cuddles me and says "I love you. I like you." and makes me say it back.

9. Reading a book when I can't bear to reach the end, including just about anything by JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Paul Gallico and Alexander McCall Smith; most of Tamora Pierce and JK Rowling; plus lots and lots of other books and authors I'll tell you about some time.

10. The sunny, cool, still days of Autumn.

image is by jpctalbot at flickr

Thursday, September 23, 2010

guest post: Deb on the book club that's not a book club

How do you encourage other women when you don't have much time? Here's a brilliant idea from Deb: the book club that's not a book club. You could easily run something similar at your church - because it doesn't take much running at all.

Is it a regular book club? No. It all started, funnily enough, after reading your blog.

I was reading a lot about ministry and family, and some of your posts about balancing ministry and family in particular. I was also reading posts from your blog and EQUIP books about Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal.

I was ordering the book when I thought to myself, "I'm going to read this book anyway. Why not see if anyone else wants to read it too?" I thought I'd end up meeting with two people [many more came!]. I made it a one-off meeting because that's all I felt I could reasonably commit to and I thought people would be more likely to join in if it was only a single meeting time too.

This is my plan [she's done this twice now]: if I'm going to read a book I think might have wider appeal, and if it's not too soon after I've invited people to join in with the last book, I send around an email to every woman in the church directory (even if I don't know them!) and invite them to join in.

I make it clear that it's a general invite, and if they're not interested to just press delete and forget about it. So no pressure. I offer to do the ordering for them if they want, or they can chase their own copy.

I have given myself a couple of rules about the books I choose to share:

(1) It's a book I haven't read before. I don't want to start going down the path of reading a book and then thinking, "Now, the women in my church have a real problem in this area and I think they ought to all read this book." I'm working on "the plank in my own eye" principle. I try to do some firm investigating into the book to check that it's not going to have dodgy theology but that's not too hard to do.

(2) It's a book I'm going to read anyway. That links into the first rule - not choosing books because you think they are going "fix" other people - and also means that if no one, or only two, people want to join in, it's no big deal to me. I was going to read the book anyway. So I don't worry too much about the book selection in the sense of trying to find a book that the maximum number of women in the congregation will enjoy. I just pick a book I'm going to appreciate, and learn from, and go from there.

So that all flowed from the idea of balancing ministry and family. With a young family, I'm not up to much external ministry at present. But if I think about extending what I already do as an individual to include other people, I can manage to be involved in God's work without driving myself into the ground.

images are from Landahlauts and chelmsfordpubliclibrary at flickr

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

some poems from Ali

If you like poetry even just a very little bit, you'll enjoy these three poems from Ali:

The Trees are Down
In the Fields
No Road

When it comes to poetry, I am a bear of little brain, but I love these poems (we must have similar taste, which is probably no great compliment to Ali!). I especially love the poem about the cutting down of trees, which reminds me of Tolkien and Robert Frost.

I've just added Ali's blog to the (very very short list) of blogs on my task bar (if yours isn't on there, it's not that I'm not reading it, it's just that these are the ones I check more regularly at the moment).

Thanks, Ali.

no more key to the door

A very sad day but I totally get it, Meredith! Thank you so much for all the thoughtful, godly reflections, and for your example of godliness in knowing when it's time to stop.

Respectable Sins

I have been very much encouraged and challenged by these blessedly short, clear blog posts by Nicole over at in tandem on the book Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges.

I encourage you to click on the following links if you struggle with:
anxiety and frustration
lack of self-control
impatience and irritability
anger, resentment, bitterness, holding a grudge, hostility and strife
envy, jealousy, competitiveness and control
sins of the tongue - gossip, slander, critical speech

Have I missed anyone?!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

growing in patience

Did I tell you I want to grow in patience? Well. Here's the thing.

Last week was one of those weeks. Every night I slept badly, and woke achy with tiredness.

On Tuesday I was standing in the shower, enjoying the first peaceful minutes of a difficult morning, when one of my children came in and informed me, "So-and-so did this to me!". One minute later, another child came in and told me, "I can't find such-and-such!". One minute later, another child came in and said, "So-and-so and so-and-so are fighting!". Each time, my response was a little more shaded with impatience.

By now, I was clinging to the pitiful remnants of my peaceful 5 minutes, standing with my face in the towel, fighting back tears and praying desperately that I would be patient if another child interrupted me. They did. I wasn't. They got the full force of my slowly-building frustration: "I'm in the shower and what do you expect me to do and I'll deal with it when I get out and please just leave me alone!".

God grows me by showing me my weakness.

Last week was one of those weeks. The children fought in the car all the way home from school, and filled the hours till dinnertime with whining, tantrums and bickering. (They are lovely kids. Really. But very human.)

On Tuesday afternoon my tired and hungry son swung into that state where every sentence is a whining demand for this, that and the other, interspersed with hysterical crying. I gritted my teeth and bore it as long as possible, then slammed the microwave door on his cup of warm (as demanded) milk.

The lights went out. The power went off. I ran outside to flick the switch on the fuse board, then back inside to discover that, sure enough, the microwave was blank and unresponsive. My adult tantrum resulted in the (rather expensive) purchase of a new microwave the next day.

God grows me through his fatherly discipline.

Last week was one of those weeks. I was preparing a Bible study on a particularly hard passage, and my quiet times turned into extended battles with difficult verses, which nudged the morning routine out of shape and stole my attention from the kids (contributing, I'm sure, to their bearish behaviour).

On Thursday I slept poorly (again), led Bible study (in a somewhat zombie-like state), picked up the (still arguing) kids from school, and got home prickly with exhaustion, praying that God would help me to be patient with my children. For that one afternoon, I responded with patience.

God grows me by giving me grace.

This is me. This is reality. This is God growing me in patience in the midst of life,

  • as he shows me my weakness
  • through his fatherly discipline
  • by giving me grace.

Welcome to the coalface.

The only way to grow in patience is to walk a path where patience is required.
- Naomi Reed

images are from mdanys, depinniped, noobaru and Mrs. W. at flickr

Monday, September 20, 2010

what I'm reading: The Trellis and the Vine

I've just finished The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. And yes, it really does live up to all the hoo-hah. Any Christian leader would do well to read it; but it's a book for the rest of us too.

Most churches would be undone and remade by this book. It encourages us to stop focussing on programs (committees, events, budgets - the 'trellis') and, instead, to focus on growing people (the 'vine'):

...most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ.

Pastors, then, become less service-leaders and managers, and more preachers and trainers. Steve and I have been running with this model for a long time, and we've seen the benefits, as people we've trained have gone on to grow their own disciple-making ministries.

So far so good. But I'm no pastor, so it's the implications of this book for "ordinary" Christians that really got to me. If the book has a central message for people like me, it's this:

The real work of God is people work - the prayer­ful speaking of his word by one person to another...To be a disciple is to be a disciple maker.

This I can do. I don't need a special "call" to ministry: I'm already called by God to be a disciple-making disciple, as I prayerfully speak God's word into the lives of neighbours, co-workers, family and friends. This is a call that demands no less of me than it does of a pastor or missionary:

It is time to say goodbye to our small and self-oriented ambitions, and to abandon ourselves to the cause of Christ and his gospel.

It's a call that will take everything I am and everything I have.

Quotes are from The Trellis and the Vine pp 17; 27, 43; 38.

Friday, September 17, 2010

10 things that make me happy

I was tagged by the lovely Meredith for this meme. Here are 10 things that make me happy.

1. Sitting in a cafe all on my own, sipping a mug of spiced chai latte, and writing in my journal.

2. Going out for morning tea or dinner with my husband and talking about how we're really going.

3. Having a day off and spending it with my kids.

4. Digging deep into God's word until it digs deep into me.

5. Chatting with a good friend for as many hours as possible.

6. Curling up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a good book.

7. Walking on a cool, sunny day, thinking, dreaming and praying, as I watch the light through the trees, the mist over the mountains, or the waves crashing on the beach.

8. Writing when I'm "in the zone" and it's all coming together.

9. Bringing my anxieties and hurts to God in prayer.

10. Teaching the Bible to a group of women. What a joy!

It's hard to think of anyone to tag who hasn't been tagged already, but here goes: BG and Honoria.

image is from stock.xchng

Thursday, September 16, 2010

brought low and raised high at the Belgrave Heights Women's Convention

I didn't expect much from the Belgrave Heights Women's Convention. This, by the way, is a confession. It's good to be discerning, but arrogant to think I have nothing to learn from Christians who may be from a different background to me. Not having heard of Jenny Salt or Lisa Watson, I wasn't sure what to expect.

I spent the first song repenting. Singing of God's greatness, and repenting of my pride. For God is so much bigger than me and my small patch of the world. Creator, Ruler, Saviour, he works in places I've never heard of, through people I don't know, in ways unfamiliar to me. Pride, of all sins, is the most abhorrent to him, and I felt dirty, ugly and ashamed.

The rest of the day I sat at Jesus' feet. Jenny and Lisa spoke on the gospels of Matthew and John, inviting us to join the crowds around Jesus as he touched and healed a leper, forgave a paraplegic, cast out demons, raised the dead, and preached the good news of the kingdom, as the blessings of the cross worked backwards and forwards to a day when there will be no more mourning, sickness or death.

Reading the gospels is a perilous undertaking. Jesus doesn't fit into our comfortable categories. He offers forgiveness when we want healing; he welcomes cheats and confidence tricksters; he demands that we give up even our families to follow him. To spend a day with Jesus is terrifying and wonderful, overwhelming and captivating, confronting and comforting.

By the end of the day Jesus had taken me apart and put me back together again. A little less sure of myself, a little more sure of him. A little less overwhelmed by my sin, a little more overcome by his grace. A little less secure in myself, a little more secure in him. A little less fearful of losing myself, a little more willing to pay any cost as long as he is glorified.

It was great spending a day getting to know new friends and catching up with old friends. It was good, as always, to hear from some of you how my writing encourages you. But it was best to hear God's word taught by women who humbled me with their wisdom, faithfulness and love for their Saviour. At the end of the day, I found myself lining up to buy their talks so I could listen to them again.

I have - oh! - so very, very much to learn.

You can get hold of Jenny and Lisa's talks here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

so much better

As you may know by now, I read 2 magazines: Sunday Life and Good Weekend, which come with our newspaper. The other morning I woke up and (on some strange impulse) grabbed the nearest magazine before I picked up my Bible. I read about

  • the couple who pledged to create themselves "by the grace of God and Goddess" into "soul partners", who "felt the polarity with all the starving people in the world" as they waited hungrily for their meals in an expensive restaurant (oh, dear)
  • the blog where men and women share stories of losing their virginity, and the emptiness of most of the stories (apparently, first-time sex is often a let-down, which is unsurprising when it's reduced to a rite of passage with a stranger)
  • the sadomasochism and lesbianism which have become an inseparable part of many pop videos, thanks to Lady Gaga's "extremely empowered" sexual aesthetic (apparently great news for women, who are no longer sex objects shaped by men but are freed...for this?!).

Feeling a little revolted, I put down the magazines. I looked out the window at the gum trees, listened to the birds chattering, watched the sunrise lighting up a nearby building, and soaked in the spaciousness and stillness. I picked up my Bible and turned to 1 Peter. After all that sordid, empty reading, God's word was like a well of clear water. As Peter says, have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you...The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled...
(1 Peter 4:1-11)

Sometimes the world seems dangerously attractive, with its promises of freedom and pleasure. But when you look deeper, what you see is emptiness and foulness. It's hard to believe that I'm ever attracted by the ways of this world, for they have nothing to offer me. Against this sordid backdrop, it's clearer than ever that God's ways are wholesome, good, loving and true.

images are by en.en from flickr and from stock.xchng

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (6) escape and addiction

February 2008. Only a few months in, it's clear that blogging is highly addictive. Here, no-one needs their nappy changed. No-one bugs me for a snack. No-one fights over who hit who first. When I'm exhausted after a day's housework, am I not entitled to some rest? I sit at the computer, do my best to ignore the sound of children squabbling, and scold anyone who interrupts me. Dinner is late again.

I get too busy when ... work becomes an escape and an addiction.

What I'm learning.
You can't escape your life.

This house and these kids aren't going anywhere, and my husband still needs me (praise God!). My children do need to spend time with their mother, and the truth is I'm longing to take them to the park - when I let myself. There will be times when outside ministry mean that I can't spend as much time with my kids as I like; but there are also times when I do more than I should, and neglect my family. Guilt and exhaustion are the inevitable result.

Life is not about fulfilment: it's about love.
Work is a wonderful escape (for those of us who are workaholics blessed with a fulfilling job): it promises respect, adult conversation, and tasks which seem more meaningful than menial. Ministry is even better: you can salve your conscience while doing it (it's God's work, after all!). But life isn't about my fulfilment; it's about glorifying God in the context he puts me in: my family, church family and community. When work becomes a way to escape my responsibilities, it's time to repent of self-centredness and serve others in love.

Adrenalin is addictive.
It was Christian psychologist Arch Hart who helped me to understand what's happening when I escape into work and ministry. He taught me that busyness can be as addictive as drugs or alcohol (and it's a lot more respectable!) because we become dependent on the adrenalin high which comes with stress. This explains the emotional crash after a major project or mild depression at the start of a holiday: my body is adjusting to the lack of adrenalin. Adrenalin is meant to help us cope with emergencies; it's bad for us when we depend on it to get through everyday life.

Remember the four As: arrogance, addiction, aloneness, adultery. A study of secular leaders identified these 4 stages in aberrant behaviour: arrogant independence where I make my own rules; an adventurous addiction to the excitement of work or ministry; aloneness and perhaps depression as I cut myself off from others; and adultery (or other forms of comfort) to medicate the profound loss of joy in work or ministry.* Reading about these stages was a wake-up call for me, and may help you identify the danger signs of over-busyness.

Don't feed your addiction to work, pressure or busyness.
If you don't feed an addiction, it will shrink rather than grow. I've come up with some simple guidelines to stop me escaping into the wonderful world of writing: for example, no computer for 24 hours on the weekends, or during afternoons and evenings when I'm needed by my family. The exact guidelines differ from month to month (it's about love, not legalism!) but they help me avoid the temptation to escape into ministry or work.

Break work-addiction by resting.
Times of busyness are supposed to be followed by times of rest and recovery. If I feel nervous, guilty or depressed when I take time off, it's a good sign I'm addicted to adrenalin. There's a cure: learn to rest (easier said than done!). I now take a day off a week and a few weeks off each year to recover and spend concentrated time with my family. I try to intersperse ministry demands - a seminar, an article, a talk - with times of rest to give my body and mind time to recover. I still have to force myself to rest, and remind myself it's godly, but I'm getting there!

God is my refuge.
This is easy to remember in theory, but hard in practice! If you're anything like me, when you're tired, bored or anxious, you turn to anything but God: food, relaxation, relationships, entertainment, work, or even putting off work (which, of course, makes you busier in the long run). Addiction is idolatry: it's seeking from other things what we should be seeking from God. But God is our refuge. He alone can give us the comfort, rest and joy we seek.

*From a study of secular leaders, cited in a lecture series by Arch Hart, quoted in Peter Brain's Going the Distance 58-59.

This post is based on chapter 10 of Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness with insights from Arch Hart's Adrenaline and Stress and Peter Brain's Going the Distance. If procrastination or thriving on pressure is your problem, you'll find these issues explored in greater detail in Chester's chapter.

images are from Federico_Morando 2, Manic Toys, adrian acediscovery, and alancleaver_2000 at flickr

Monday, September 13, 2010

what I'm reading: guest post from Deb about doing ministry when your options are limited

Well, it's not so much what I'm reading, as what Deb's reading. Thanks again, Deb, for some helpful words on ministry! She's speaking particularly to mums, but what she says is relevant to anyone who struggles to find time for ministry.

I think once you have children, you often have to get creative about ministry. When you are childless, the ministry options are much more open. You can be flexible about hours and no one but you is demanding an account of your time. Add a spouse, and then some kids, and the ministry options start to shrink. Or at least the old options that you've spent some years building up your skills in tend to be rubbed out for a season.

I came across a quote in Grudem's Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood once and it has often sprung into my mind in the years since I've had children. It is this:

With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.

I've found that particularly encouraging since I've had small children and felt locked out of ministries I might have been involved in had I still been young and free from responsibilities. There's a whole world out there starving for Christ! Find a bit of it to work on and get going! There's plenty of work to be done - find something that moves your heart and throw yourself into proclaiming Jesus in whatever way is required.

We don't all have to be doing the same thing. In fact, God has made each of us different for that reason and created us with good works already planned out. I ought to think about what I can do and the people I know who need to hear about Christ and move in that direction with as much energy as I can muster.

The quote is from the Danvers Statement from The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

images are from stock.xchng

Friday, September 10, 2010

more about chores and other stuff

If there's one thing I'm lazy about, it's chores. And no, I don't mean doing them myself (although I can be lazy about that too), I mean getting the kids to do them. It's always easier to do them myself, especially when I'm busy and tired.

Last week, I shared my chores chart. You might also remember last year's discussion about kids and chores which I wrapped up here. So where are we at, 16 months later?

Well, I'm still not incredibly consistent about chores, but our kids are learning to do them, and they're even learning to do them cheerfully. Which can only be a good thing. Here's what I've learned about chores this year:

  • There are "just because you're in the family" chores, and organised chores. The first are spontaneous chores everyone has to do (like helping get ready for visitors). The second are an area of responsibility you give a certain child (like vacuuming or weeding). It's good to have both kinds.
  • There are chores kids like, and chores kids hate. Lizzy loves cooking and hates messy dishes: she has to help with both. Ben loves reading to his little brother and hates putting out the compost: he has to do both. Good preparation for life!
  • Some chores are about your stuff ("Put away your clothes") and others are about other people's stuff ("Put away your little brother's toys"). "It's not mine" is not a valid excuse.
  • It's hard to get chores going at first (expect lots of complaining if your kids are anything like mine!) but it gets easier as they get used to doing them. It's worth working through the pain.
  • I've asked around, and what's struck me is how different families do chores in very different ways. Some are highly organised, some haphazard; some depend on parental requests, others on kids remembering; some reward chores with pocket money, others with time to play; some do chores independently, others as a family. I'm not sure it matters, as long as kids are learning to help out around the house.
  • Different methods have different advantages. It's better to do something which works for you than to aim for perfection and do nothing.
  • The more experienced a parent you are, the more deaf you become to complaining and excuses. Bring it on!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

guest post: Deb on when convenient ministry is good ministry

Last week I posted Deb's confessions on how I want ministry to be - that is, convenient - something I'm sure you can all relate to. Here are some further reflections from Deb, about when convenient ministry is good ministry. I particularly like point 4, but there are lots of gems here! You might like to add your own ideas.

I stand by the thought that I have very sinful attitudes towards ministry at times. However, on the flip side, there are some not-sinful reasons for looking for convenient ministries too. Convenient ministry can be a good thing when:

1. It expresses well the gifts God has given me. I'm not a big fan of "finding your spiritual gifts" - I think most of the time you should just muck in with whatever kingdom work needs doing rather than worrying about whether it fits some spiritual gift inventory you once went through - but it is still true that we are different from each other and have God-given talents in particular areas for the building up of his kingdom. Often a ministry will seem more "convenient" or pleasurable because it is something God's given us a talent for.

2. It allows me to do more ministry. If it can be fitted in well to your daily functioning, it's likely to mean you can do it more often or be freed up to do other things as well.

3. It is convenient because it's about sharing my life. Using your whole life as ministry is great, and if your ministry is convenient because you are seeking to share your everyday life with fellow believers and reach out to outsiders, then that is good ministry. My problem with this has always been that I thought I had to share my life in ways that other people feel comfortable with but that drive me crazy. For example, I think I would find having an "open house" approach to hospitality extremely difficult. I'm not a touchy-feeling-go-with-the-flow kind of person. Some of that is no doubt sinful. But at least for the present time, I'm thinking about ways I can share my life that fit with the flow of my personality, not against it.

4. It means I will do something rather than nothing. If you don't have time to run a 12-week course, do something more convenient. Do something, rather than nothing. I think churches should do "somethings" more often. Little churches burn out their people running weekly or monthly events. Do something more convenient: run a once-a-term women's night. Run a really great youth group night six times a year. Have a one day children's outreach program in the school holidays with everyone in the church helping instead of trying to find volunteers to do it for a whole week.

5. I genuinely want to be there. I've been involved in plenty of ministries that I did grudgingly out of duty. And sometimes you should go out of your comfort zone. And sometimes there are jobs that aren't attractive that we just need to do. And sometimes once you plunge into it, it gets better. But I've tended to see ministry as only happening when I was taking on some kind of burden. And the worst of that is when it has involved caring for people. That's a horrible attitude to take into ministry but I've been pretty fake about "loving" people plenty of times. I need to ask God to change my attitude but perhaps too I need to think better about what kind of task I'm taking on. Maybe I could be reaching out to the other women in my church in a way that I'd genuinely enjoy rather than swallowing it up like a bitter pill.

image is from ingu1963 at flickr

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

in celebration of female friendship

I enjoyed Mia's article "When Girl Meets Girl" in Sunday Life on the weekend (you can read it here). It's about how, when you're married or in a relationship, you can't date guys (well, fair enough!) but how it can be just as much fun to date girls (in a platonic sense, that is).

While it's not really "dating", it's true that there's something about a new female friendship that feels a bit like falling in love: exhilarating and a little scary. An evening with a girlfriend, or a group of girlfriends, can be a lot of fun. Best of all is time spent with a good old friend, where you know each other inside out, but still have more to learn.

When I go out with a female friend, my (very supportive and happy to look after the children) husband calls it "escaping back to singleness" (which was so long ago I'd have to squint to see it) but it's not really. It's just the joy of getting to know a new friend or re-connecting with an old friend, far from the world of dirty socks and crumby carpets and rumpled beds.

Female friendship are easy because, let's face it, we don't have to navigate past all the landmines which litter male-female communication. There are no romantic complications, and we get each other with less explaining. We can talk over and under and around and through a problem without boring anyone, and no-one tries to "fix it" and tell us we should just stop worrying.

Nothing can replace an evening out with my lovely man, and nothing's better than a good talk where he takes that finely honed male logic and gently cuts through my anxieties. But it's also good to talk around and around an issue with a girlfriend, to get a woman's perspective and sympathy, and just to chat and pray with my besties.

It's true that female friendships can be complicated by ugly realities like gossip, envy, clinginess and oversharing. But female friendships can also be loving, rich and selfless. At their very best, they help us to be all that God wants us to be.

So let's stop for a moment and celebrate female friendships, old and new. Because - praise God! - female friendship can be very, very good.

image is from lanuiop at flickr

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

women of the Bible (5) Hannah and the God of the nobody

Hannah is a nobody, the insignificant wife of an insignificant member of an insignificant tribe. Compared to Eve, mother of all living; Sarah, mother of God's people; or Deborah, judge of Israel—who is she? Just a barren women loved by her husband but jeered at by a younger, fruitful wife (1 Sam 1:1-8).

Hannah is a nobody, a humble woman who pours out her private grief to God so fervently that high priest Eli thinks she's drunk. She prays not for show, but silently, out of her anguish and bitterness of soul (1 Sam 1:10-16). She begs God to ‘look’ and ‘remember’ her sorrow using words that are much too big for her, words that recall what he's done for the nation Israel (1 Sam 1:11 cf. Exod 2:24-25, 3:7-8; Deut 26:7-8).

Hannah is a nobody, but she's faithful in a time when even the high priest's family has fallen into wickedness (1 Sam 2:12-17). She keeps her promise—if God will only ‘give’ her a son, she will ‘give’ him back to God (1 Sam 1:11)—when she hands Samuel over to live and serve in the temple although he's only a toddler. Every year she's reminded of her sacrifice as she sews a robe, a little bigger than the last, and takes it to her son (1 Sam 1:21-28, 2:18-20).

Hannah is a nobody, but her small story is caught up in a bigger story. At the end of the book of Judges, all is chaos and disorder, for “there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud 21:25). The birth of Samuel changes all that. The last and greatest judge, Samuel calls Israel to turn from idols back to God, and oversees the anointing of Saul, the first king of Israel, and of David, Israel's greatest king.

Hannah is a nobody, and that's the point. At first reading, her song of thanksgiving for God's gift of a son seems a little over-the-top:

My heart exults in the LORD … My mouth derides my enemies … The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength … The LORD … brings low and he exalts … he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed. (1 Sam 2:1-10)

Look closer, and it's clear that this is not just Hannah's song. It's the song of a God who rescues his people, who humbles the proud and exalts the humble, men and women like Hannah. It's a song for a son who will be used by God to help bring about his saving plan. Most remarkably, in a time when Israel has no king, it's a song which prophesies the coming of God's ‘anointed’, his ‘messiah’, his king.

Hannah is a nobody, like another nobody who echoes Hannah's song of thanksgiving for the gift of a son:

My soul magnifies the Lord … for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant … He has scattered the proud … and exalted those of humble estate … He has helped his servant Israel. (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary, mother of Jesus, is also the insignificant wife of an insignificant member of an insignificant tribe. Like Hannah, she sings of the God who humbles the proud and exalts the humble. She too is given a son she will give back to God at great personal sacrifice (Luke 2:35), a son who will grow up to fulfil God's saving plan and rescue God's people. Indeed, the story has come full circle, for Mary's son is the very one promised in Hannah's song: Jesus, great David's greater son, God's anointed, his messiah-king.

Hannah is a nobody, and so are we. Like Hannah, we have nothing to bring to God but our need. It's not the proudly self-sufficient but the broken and contrite in heart, those who realize they are nobody, who receive God's gift of salvation won through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ps 51:17; Matt 5:1-12; Luke 18:9-14; 1 Cor 1:18-31). The gospel shows that God's character hasn't changed: he is still the one who humbles the proud and exalts the humble, the God of the nobody.

This post first appeared on Sola Panel yesterday.

Monday, September 6, 2010

what I'm reading: some great Australian novels (including a good choice for a book club)

I've read a few great Australian novels this year.

The first was Kate Grenville's The Secret River, which I noticed on Nic's 2010 reading list. It's the kind of novel reviewers call "powerful", and it certainly packs a punch: it's about emancipated convict William Thornhill, his wife Sal, and the bloody choices he makes to keep the land he will hand down to his children. I confess I don't usually read books about Australia's history, but this gloriously written book won me over. I was fascinated by the descriptions of London and Sydney during the early nineteenth century.

Another Australian author I've enjoyed this year is Alex Miller, recommended by my sister-in-law, who was spot-on when she told me that his great skill is his evocative description of place.

Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country is about the relationship between Anabelle Beck, who flees her shattered marriage in Melbourne and escapes to her childhood home in tropical northern Queensland, and Bo Rennie of the Jengga tribe, as they explore their origins together. This haunting book drew me deep into the broken landscape of the stone country.

Alex Miller's Conditions of Faith is again about a woman who flees Melbourne (what's going on here?!). History graduate Emily Stanton marries a Scottish engineer and goes to live with him in Paris during the 1920s. I found this book more interesting than The Stone Country, and it doesn't feel so Australian: its flavour is taken from France and Tunisia.

I was intrigued by how Emily frees herself from the traditional roles of wife and mother as she revisits the story of Christian martyr Perpetua. This would be a fantastic choice for a book club made up of Christians and non-Christians, because in Emily's eyes, Perpetua isn't a Christian martyr (for how could any woman give up her child and die for some myth of eternal life?) but a liberated woman whose story was rewritten by early Christian apologist Tertullion. What a great chance to talk about the reality of eternal life and the way it affects our choices as women!

I'll conclude with a few quotes from Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country to whet your appetite:

She remembered him, the hollow space of his absence in her heart now. To love a person, then, is to love him forever. (183)

...intuition, that delicate mode of thoughts in which the spirit of fantasy is partner to the certainty of an inner logic. (169)

Behind her in the kitchen, Matthew and Trace were doing the washing up, laughing and teasing each other, as if they played at domesticity, delicate and light in their approach; a game they might yet hope to abandon without pain. (85)

Memory, intuition, young love: they are described with such tender precision that these quotes all made it into my reading journal.

Friday, September 3, 2010

our chart of chores and other weekly stuff

Kids come with all kinds of things to be remembered. Notices, excursions, play dates, father's day stalls, sports days: you name it, I'll forget it. Kids also need training in household chores. Here's me in the middle of it all, feeling guilty about everything I've forgotten and the training I haven't done.

This year, 11 years into parenting, I've finally found a system for keeping track of weekly events and chores which works well for our family - most of the time. It sits on our fridge and looks like this:

The pretty colours make me want to look at it, and the colour coding makes it easy to read. I used to have a separate chart for each child, but all those bits of paper floating around the fridge made me crazy, and no-one ever looked at them. So I've given each child a colour, and put all the kids on one chart.

Our chart includes nearly everything that happens week-by-week in our house: chores, homework tasks, sports days - all the things I usually forget completely. It's become a habit to glance at it every morning, and I forget a lot less share times and library days now (although I did forget Thomas' library books yesterday, and I'll often ignore a chore or 3, so it's far from infallible!).

Still, our chart keeps me honest, keeps chores on my mental map, and reminds me of things that would otherwise go forgotten. It's a system I plan to keep using.

What's your system for remembering chores and other stuff?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

when Titus 2 gets down and dirty: how to lead a mums' Bible study in the middle of a creche (2) the leading bit

You've baby-proofed the house. You've put a child-friendly DVD on the television. You've set out some tempting toys, and placed morning tea on the pint-sized table. You retreat into the next room, leaving the door open, and pick up your Bibles.

What next? How do you lead a Bible study with a group of mums when you'll be interrupted every 5 minutes? Here's 9 things I've learned (much of this applies to any Bible study):

  • Allow time for chatting, but start on time. We meet at 10.00 for a 10.30 start. This gives women time to arrive and chat (nothing like motherhood to mess with your ability to get out the door!) but means we have enough time to do a Bible study and pray before lunch, even with interruptions.
  • Have the courage to lead. This is especially important when everyone's struggling to concentrate! Keep the discussion on track, draw women out, and sum up as you go. It can be helpful for everyone's addled brains if you stop asking questions and do some "teaching" here and there.
  • Be very, very clear. With everyone's attention wandering, make the steps of your study very clear: "Today we'll be covering...", "So far we've learned...", "As so-and-so said...", "Now we're going to look at...", "The three main points are...". Summarise as you go, and again at the end. List women's responses to a question (note them down if it helps). Conclude with a few clear application points. When you get home, send an email to remind everyone what you learned.
  • Focus on people not the task. If I get through my elaborately prepared study and women go away overwhelmed and confused, I've achieved nothing. Go with the flow, get a feel for where people are at, be flexible as you deal with disturbances, and ensure women are cared for during the week.
  • Pause for interruptions, but don't go too long. If a woman (or 3) needs to leave the room to change a nappy or check on the kids, don't worry: just pause the study for a few minutes, or keep it going and summarise when they return. Keep your study to under an hour: if you go too long, the kids will lose patience and the mums will lose concentration.
  • Don't expect too much. I've never forgotten the week I was part of the group. Sure enough, I found my mind slipping sideways! It gave me great sympathy for those who sit and try to concentrate every week, and helped me understand how much to expect.
  • Have confidence in God's word when everything falls apart. Sometimes we can't get our mummy brains into gear. Sometimes we can barely hear through the wall of noise (I once broke into a shout just to be heard!). It doesn't matter. When God's people meet around God's word - even if we only hear a small part of it! - he's there with us (Matt 18:20), and his word is powerful and effective (Isa 55:11, Heb 4:12). He'll make sure we hear what we need to hear.
  • Pray. Serve everyone by leading the prayer time after the Bible study, even if it means doing all the praying yourself. Ask for one prayer point and one way each person wants to change in response to the study, write them down, then pray. Pray for the women in your group before you lead the study. Pray for them on the way home. Pray.
  • Laugh. You'll need it.
images are from PeteSuze and Nongbri Family Pix at flickr

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ben Pfahlert on sharing Jesus with your friends

Here's another post I just had to link to: my mate Ben's 10 in 2, where he gives some great ideas for sharing Jesus with the people in your life.

It's very timely given the fantastic conversation we've been having on this blog about sharing Jesus with women from other cultures! If you'd like to follow or join in the conversation, check out the comments here - there are some really helpful suggestions.

Top 10 Tips for Sleep Deprived Prayer by Jennie Baddeley

Here's a fantastic post about prayer for anyone who's not getting enough sleep: Top 10 Tips for Sleep Deprived Prayer by Jennie Baddeley.

archives: 15 things God has taught me about self-control

One of the best things about blogging is that the "you" of the past gets to encourage the "you" of the present. Sometimes when I read an old post, I've forgotten the wisdom God taught me back then, and it encourages me all over again!

This happened the other day when I noticed a link to my posts on self-control over at in tandem (thanks Nicole!). I clicked on it, out of interest to see what I wrote about this topic, and discovered these practical tips on self-control. I found them helpful, so I'm sharing them with you.

We could all do with more self-control.

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

Here are some small things I've learned about self-control:

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

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

If you have serious physical addictions to alcohol or drugs, the issues will be more complex. An excellent book to read is Edward Welch's Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave which gives a Biblical view on how to overcome addictions. I highly recommend it!

image is by allison marisa from flickr