Friday, October 29, 2010

prayers for personality types

Have you ever done a Myers Briggs personality test? In the very first post I wrote for this blog, I shared the profoundly important discovery that I'm an INFJ.

Apart from the opportunity to make some very lovely INFJ friends, and the occasional fleeting meditation on how I like my interior and exterior worlds to match, this knowledge hasn't meant a huge amount to me.

But I laughed when my INFJ friend Sandra sent me a link to these Myers Briggs prayers.

Here's my prayer:

"Lord, help me to not be a perfectionist.
(Did I spell that correctly?)"

Here's the prayer for my husband, who's an INTJ:

"Lord, keep me open to other’s ideas,
WRONG though they may be."

If you know either of us, you're chuckling right now!

image is from Las Valley 702 at flickr

Thursday, October 28, 2010

women of the Bible (6) Abigail: when wisdom marries folly

If there's ever been a mismatch, it was the union of Nabal and Abigail (1 Samuel 25). You can almost see the announcement: “Stupid, stubborn, surly skinflint marries brainy, brave, benevolent beauty”. It's as if the characters of Folly and Wisdom stepped out of the pages of Proverbs and got hitched. Those TV advertisements with the clever wife rolling her eyes over her bumbling husband have nothing on this!

What can we learn from their ill-fated union? How can I be Wisdom rather than Folly? And what do I do if I'm Wisdom married to Folly?

Let's start with the Fool. His name, ‘Nabal’, means fool. In case we miss the point, we're told (by his wife, no less!) “as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him“ (25:25). His is an Isaiah 32:6 personality typing:

For the fool speaks folly,
and his heart is busy with iniquity,
to practice ungodliness,
to utter error concerning the LORD,
to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied,
and to deprive the thirsty of drink.

Nabal is the ridiculously wealthy owner of “three thousand sheep and a thousand goats” (1 Sam 25:2), yet he refuses David's request to feed his 600 hungry men, even though they protected his flocks in the wilderness and it's a time of feasting. Oblivious to the fact that David's band of far-from-merry men are about to kill him, he stuffs his face with a “a feast in his house, like the feast of a king”, his heart “merry within him, for he was very drunk” (25:36). All the threads of evil in 1 Samuel merge in Nabal: he is ‘worthless’ like the sons of Eli (2:12), arrogant like the rich in Hannah's song (2:3-8), and power-hungry like King Saul. He's doomed.

What about Wisdom? She matches her actions to the demands of the moment. When her servants tell her David's men are coming to murder the men of her household, Abigail loads some donkeys with a small snack from her pantry—“two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep … and five seahs of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs”—saddles up her donkey, and gallops off (can you gallop on a donkey?). There's a tense moment as she rides into a ravine and finds hundreds of armed, angry men descending it. Leaping off her donkey, casting herself at David's feet, she begs him not to bring blood-guilt on himself by taking revenge on her fool of a husband. Wisdom receives its reward when she wins David's heart.

Folly and Wisdom indeed. But it's not just qualities like godlessness and generosity that set Nabal and Abigail apart; ultimately, it's their attitude to David. Nabal doesn't just feast like Saul, he thinks like Saul:

Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where? (25:10-11 cf 17:55, 22:7-8)

Nabal sees David as a nobody, a rebellious servant, and pretends to have never heard of him, although all Israel knows his name (18:16, 30). But Abigail sees beyond the desert wanderer to God's anointed, victorious king:

For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD … And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel … then remember your servant. (25:28-31)

It's a statement of astounding faith. Besides Samuel, only two insignificant women discern the truth about David. Hannah was the first to speak of God's coming king (2:10); Abigail, the first to predict his ‘lasting dynasty’ (25:28 NIV). No-one else would foresee this until Nathan prophesied of King David that God would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:13)—a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

What about us? What do we do if, like Abigail, we are Wisdom married to Folly? For wives, there's a time when submission to our husband must be laid aside:* when it conflicts with our greater submission to God's anointed king (Eph 5:22-33). A husband who's violent to children, who encourages us to lie or cheat, who doesn't pray much (so why should we?)—above all, a husband who rejects Jesus—there are times when we need the courage and wisdom of Abigail, to protect our children, to disobey when this means not sinning, to stay faithful but take a different path (1 Peter 3:1-7): to choose wisdom, not folly.

Which will we choose? Will we choose stupidity or shrewdness, cowardice or courage, greed or goodness? More importantly, what attitude will we have to God's chosen king? Folly sees God's anointed as a nobody, to be mocked, ignored and mistreated. Wisdom perceives in God's anointed, the humble and crucified Christ, the very power and wisdom of God:

Where is the one who is wise? … Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:20-25 cf Ps 2, Col 2:2-3).

This is wisdom: to see in Jesus the hidden wisdom and knowledge of God (Col 2:2-3).

* What exactly do I mean by this? I discuss it with Claire Smith in the comments at Sola Panel.

This article first appeared in Sola Panel yesterday.

images are from journal of Shalom; Salim Photography; unknown; and kissabug at flickr

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Romans 12:1-2 (1) in view of God's mercy

A month ago, I prayed a dangerous prayer: that God would make me single-hearted. I prayed desperately, with tears, all too aware of how double-hearted I am, how I want Jesus' glory but also my own. I prayed nervously, because this is the kind of prayer God delights to answer, and it's not always comfortable.

Three days later, God answered my prayer as I sat in an echoey hall and listened to a talk on
Romans 12:1-2 by Steve Chong at MTS Challenge Victoria. I've already told you one of the results: how I'm taking a break from blogging so I can work out how best to serve God and make Jesus known.

But how did I arrive at this decision? In 4 short parts, during the next 4 weeks, I'd like to tell you about the impact the talk had on me, one phrase from
Romans 12:1-2 at a time. Here's part 1.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

"in view of God's mercy"

We are not do-ers. We are receivers. We receive therefore we do. Everything we do, we do in view of God's mercy.

There are 2 things that are true of Christian service:

  • service is always responding to what God has done
  • service is always joining in on what God is doing.

Service is a bit like catching a wave. Surfing isn't about paddling as hard as you can. It's about getting in the right position to catch the wave when it comes. In the same way, service isn't about working as hard as I can to get it all done. It's about getting my heart ready for God to use me.

There's an incredible pull to make ministry all about me. My Bible talk, my small group, my mentoring relationship, my blog. But service isn't about me. It's about God.

I serve others in response to God's mercy to me in Jesus.

images is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (8) perfectionism

August 2008. Perfectionism: it's the sin I've never wanted to face up to, but I can no longer avoid it. When I'm working on something, it drives me to read every book and Bible reference, address every issue, and check everything a hundred times. It's the heart of my busyness and the hardest thing for me to shake.

I get too busy when ... I pursue perfection and completeness.

What I was thinking. "I have to get it right. What if they notice I make a mistake? I need to cover everything. I can't miss anything important. I have to work hard. I have to stay at the top of my game. I can't face not being perfect."

What I'm learning.
Perfection is an idol.
I've never forgotten the day I asked a mentor about a sin I had battled for years, consumed by guilt and failure. She pointed the spotlight on a different issue: "If Jesus was speaking to you, I think he'd say you need to repent of your perfectionism." We all have an idol that goes deep to the heart of us: perhaps for you it's pleasure or peace, but for me it's perfection. I've discovered that perfectionism and workaholism go hand-in-hand, because perfection is an ever-receding goal. It takes everything you pour into it and still asks for more.

Perfectionism is pride.
The same mentor pointed out to me recently that perfectionism is arrogance. Who am I to think I can get things exactly right? Why do I imagine the world will fall apart if I don't? If I miss something when I teach others, will those who listen fail to grow? Of course not! Perfection isn't really about helping others: it's about making me feel better about myself. It's about avoiding criticism. It's about that wonderful (and fleeting) feeling of completeness when I get something right. God alone is perfect: not me.

Perfection is already mine.
God has given me the perfection of his Son. Because Jesus bore all my sins and failures on the cross, I am perfect in God's sight, pure and free from blame. I find it so hard to wrap my head around this! But it's true: my sins are forgiven, and the good things I do (so marred by sin!) are washed clean and presented to God without flaw. When I pursue perfection, I deny that Jesus has already won it for me. I act as if his righteousness isn't enough. I try to prove myself to the One who has clothed me in the perfection of his Son. Over and over, I need to preach the gospel to myself again.

The 20/80 rule.
Here's a great little observation from Tim Chester: we spend 20% of our effort on 80% of what we do, and 80% of our effort on 20% of what we do. I have to admit I'm still pursuing the 20%! But I remember the 20/80 rule when I obsess about getting something exactly right.

Plan before I start, and stop when it's still imperfect.
Once I'm in the middle of a project (or a decision, or a responsibility) it gets its teeth into me and it's hard to stop. There's always more I could do! I need to plan carefully before I start: what I want to do, how long I want to spend on it, how much time to give to each part. I'm realising that, at whatever point I stop, I could always have done some things better. I'm still learning (slowly), but each time I start something new, I work a little smarter.

The answer to perfectionism is grace.
During the last few years, I've discovered just one cure for perfectionism: the grace of God. As I begin to see that nothing I do can change his grace - that it will never let me go, however often and terribly I fail - perfectionism loosens its grip on me. I know I'll battle perfectionism until the day I die, but God is growing me deeper into his grace. My sin is greater than I will ever know, but God's grace is greater still.

images are by Nomad Photography, rachel_titiriga, tabogarcia and Jules.K at flickr

Monday, October 25, 2010

what I'm reading: some great parenting advice from our school newsletter

One of the (many) surprising things about parenting is how easy it is to argue with your kids. Before you have kids, it looks so simple. You ask your child to do something. They disobey. You discipline them. They obey.

That's before the clever comebacks start. "It's not fair!" "You love him more than me!" "You always think it's my fault!" "Why are you always cross?" "Why do I have to do it? Just tell me why, Mummy!" Emotional manipulation dressed up as ... well, as emotional manipulation (but it works, because it's aimed at your weakest points, guilt and self-doubt).

Before you know it, you're arguing back. "Of course I love you!" "I'm not cross. At least I wasn't until you started arguing!" "It is so fair." (At this point your grammar, like your temper, is deteriorating.) The argument escalates into 10 exhausting minutes of "You said" - "I said", and all your images of competent parenting end up on the cutting room floor.

Which is why I love this parenting advice from, of all places, our school newsletter's hints on parenting (which I normally resent for its superior, PC tones). This advice is supposed to be about boys; but I think it's mums and girls, with their verbal dexterity, who need to hear this most of all.

Repeat demands quietly without getting into arguments. This is called the 'broken record' technique and differs from nagging in that you just repeat the instruction quietly, rather than embellishing upon the theme. It's more effective and a lot less exhausting!

Never get into a 'whodunnit' battle. So, don't get into a battle about the truth; just jump to the consequence. State what the problem is then get them to fix/clear it up.

Another technique is 'fogging'. Agree with comments and then instruct e.g. when your child is doing homework and gets distracted saying, 'I like this song', respond with 'Yes, now back to your reading.'

My loving, good authority is the way my children learn about God's loving, good authority.

Quote is based on advice from Dr Ian Lillico, Churchill Fellow and author.

image is from TheeErin at flickr

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lizzy's 12th birthday

I spent the night before Lizzy's 12th birthday party praying it wouldn't rain. Every morning for a week Lizzy had checked the forecast: cold and wet. On the day of the party I woke to the sound of rain, and we watched the clouds come and go all morning.

We were going rock-climbing! Well, we were if it didn't rain. We arrived at the Latrobe University Sports Centre under cloudy skies - tightened the complicated straps on our rock-climbing harnesses - looked out the glass doors - and, with perfect timing, the rain began.

We started to remove our harnesses, then took a vote and decided to wait 5 minutes to see if the rain would stop. It did. We got in half-an-hour's glorious rock climbing and then, sure enough, the heavens opened. No matter! Cake time; pool time; and 10 tired children made their way home, one to open presents and the rest to suck lollipops.

Here are some photos. (The cake, by the way, was very easy to make: a cardboard tube pushed into the middle of a high round cake; some icing, lollies and long-stemmed lollipops; and there you go!)

Happy 12th birthday Lizzy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

how we change (12) supporting each other

I often think of change as a solo effort. I change by examining my heart and filling my mind with God's truth and growing my faith and practising my repentance.

But change isn't something I do on my own. Change happens in the community of God's people. It happens as we speak the truth in love to each other (Eph 4:15, 29). It happens as, together, we grow into a community which displays the likeness of Christ.

The church is a better place for change than a therapy group, a counsellor's office or a retreat centre.
Here are four things I've found help me change in community.

1. Be honest about your sin.

Sin thrives on secrecy. The most stubborn sins are the ones no-one sees: self-pitying thoughts; harsh words behind closed doors; things we do to escape. But sin isn't meant to be kept private. God says, "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other" (Jam 5:16).

When we hide our sin, we cut ourselves off from encouragement, accountability and prayer. It's a vicious cycle, because when we keep silent, others keep silent too. Everyone assumes everyone else has it together, and we feel defeated, isolated and ashamed. "You don't have to tell everyone. But tell someone."

I love honesty, but I've learned the hard way that it must be helpful. Only tell others about your sin when it's loving and won't lead them astray. “Tell everyone you struggle; tell some people what you’re struggling with.” Confession is better upwards or sideways than downwards: confess to a mature Christian, not a young Christian.

When I feel too embarrassed to tell anyone about my sin, I remember God's words: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to [wo]man" (1 Cor 10:13). In my experience, mature Christian women welcome honesty and are eager to help me fight sin. A little embarrassment is worth it if it helps me change!

2. Seek accountability.

I have two friends I can count on to ask me the hard questions. When we get together, we ask each other, "How's your prayer life going? Are you loving your husband sexually? What about that sin I know you struggle with?" We don't gossip, but we do talk honestly and encourage one another. We've agreed to SMS each other to pray during times of temptation.

If you struggle in a particular way, seek out a mature Christian, tell them the details of your sin, and ask for their advice and prayer. Give them permission to ask the hard questions - often! Organise to call or text them the moment you're tempted so they can pray for you.

3. Speak the truth and accept it from others.

How do you respond when someone tells you about their sin? Too often, I make light of it. "You think that's bad? You should have heard me the other day!" "Yeah, we all do that." "That sounds really hard!" We can be great at sympathy, but not so good at speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

When someone tells me about their sin, it's important not to play it down. I find it helpful to talk about how God has helped me with a similar sin. When possible, I ask about when they struggle and what lies and desires drive their sin, work out some practical strategies, pray for them, and follow up on the conversation later - and always, always, give them God's grace.

And if someone rebukes me, I'm learning not to laugh or shrug it off, but to listen with a humble heart. Even if their criticism is wrong, there's probably some truth in it. I pray about it and, if they're right, repent.

4. Be part of an honest community.

Christians can be very good at pretending. It's easy to look around your church and think everyone else has it together. No wonder messed-up, broken people don't feel at home there! I love Chester's concept of church: a messy place full of broken people who are open about their struggles.

What if my church isn't like this? I can't change anyone else, but I can change me! Maybe after the service when someone asks how I am, I can talk about my struggle with impatience. Maybe during my next small group I can confess the discontent I've been battling. Maybe I can phone someone and ask them to pray for me when I'm tempted to impurity. If I'm more open, it will help others to be more open too.

Have you got any other ideas? How does the community of God's people help us to change? Have you told a mature Christian about the sin you're struggling with? What's one step you could take to seek help from other Christians as you battle sin?

Quotes and ideas are from chapter 8 of Tim Chester's You Can Change; final quote is from Chester Captured by a Better Vision 120.

images are from stock.xchng and from ShaZ Ni, rocket ship, lanuiop and Andrew Kirkley at flickr

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

in times of change

I wrote this back in May this year. I'm not sure why I didn't post it. I remember feeling a little unsure about its value to others. But it seems helpful to me now, and it encourages me as my life continues to change, so here it is.

The other day we took our kids to the local park and let two helium balloons, which the kids had given me for mothers' day, drift into the sky. The pale blue balloon soon disappeared behind the trees, but the yellow one twisted and turned on the high winds, growing smaller and smaller until it became a shining dot in the late afternoon sun, winked, and vanished.

As I watched the balloons disappear, I felt like they were carrying a season of life away with them. I've been checking out high schools for my 11 year old daughter, the same daughter I remember sitting with for hours as a 2-year-old, reading picture book after picture book. Every time I look at my 3-year-old, I'm reminded that in a couple of years he will go to school, and I'll be alone during the day - something I long for and dread in equal measure - and that a year or so after that, there will be no more small children at our house.

This is a time of change for me. I'm uncertain about the future. I don't know what shape life will take in a year, or 3 years, or 5. You don't realise how dependent you are on a carefully sculpted future until it's no longer certain.

My sister in Christ reminded me the other day that God doesn't change. The God I pray to is exactly the same God as the one who spoke the world into being - who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush - who watched his Son die on a cross. She talked about how, sometimes when she's praying, she thinks of this and can't wrap her mind around it.

Like a balloon unattached, I'm floating, drifting. Unsettled, afraid. But I remind myself that my certainty doesn't rest in the things around me. My certainty is anchored in Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, unchanging, praying for me before the throne (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25).

Whatever else gives way, he is certain.

image is from incurable_hippie at flickr

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

biblical womanhood: did I get the balance right? (2)

Last week I posted the beginning of this email exchange between Loretta and me about my article Woman to woman: Answering the call of Titus 2. Thanks to those who shared their thoughts. Here's the rest of it, starting with my reply to Loretta. Tell me what you think!

Dear Loretta,

Do you know, I think you're right, and if I could go back and rewrite the second paragraph in the biblical womanhood section, I would! I’d keep the emphasis of the article on Titus 2:3-5 – these are the clearest verses in the Bible about what women should teach to women – but I think you’re right about the overall tone of the biblical womanhood section. I do think the qualifications need to be there (although the sentence on work was originally in a footnote) but I agree that I should have talked more strongly about the positive content of teaching on biblical womanhood. Ah, well, that’s the nature of writing: you do your best, but it’s never perfect!

Now, as to your question about examples of teaching which (unintentionally) encourage “home idolatry”: I’ve listened to a lot of talks and read a lot of books about godly womanhood coming out of America, and while they've been of immense help to me and I think Australian Christians have a huge amount to learn from them (especially about the practical implications of biblical womanhood), there's sometimes a tendency to make single women feel like their whole life should be a preparation for marriage and motherhood. I find this very disturbing. There’s also a tendency for married women to be encouraged to create a beautiful home, which I think smacks more of materialistic Western culture than of Christianity. I don’t need to be encouraged to idolise my home: I’m already tempted to do this!

I’m not sure you’re right when you say, "If you are married, then there's nothing more valuable than motherhood" – not that I think you’ll disagree with me once I explain. There are childless women who desperately long for children; and if you’re married with children, marriage is your primary human relationship before motherhood. But even marriage doesn’t come first. The same thing is of first importance (1 Cor 15:3) for mums as for any other Christian: God’s kingdom and the glory of Jesus.

For married women with young children, the focus of this service will be husband, children and home. But if I make motherhood the central value of my life then I risk making my children central, and loving my family more than God (which Jesus warns us against - Lk 14:26). For example, I might not become a missionary because of the risk to my kids, or I might use my focus on home as an excuse not to do ministries that make me uncomfortable. For me, the temptation is the opposite – to do too much ministry at the expense of my family. I think it depends on our personalities and on the tendencies of the Christian culture we live in. (I tried to nut out some of these issues in my posts on balancing homemaking and ministry. You might enjoy the extended discussion in the comments!)

Thanks for your constructive feedback. It’s very helpful to me, and will help me to write and teach about this more clearly in future.

In Christ,


Dear Jean,

The third and fourth paragraph in your email really clarified for me a woman's priorities. I'm just trying to make sure I really understand this: Can you look at the following paragraph and tell me if you agree, and how I can refine my logic better?

For all women our priority is God's kingdom and Jesus' glory. This expresses itself in different ways according to our stage in life. For those who are married, we are to focus on submitting to our husbands and [if we have children] raising godly offspring. Not saying that these are the only things you are ever to do with your life, but these are important things that married women can do in service of God. The purpose of raising your up godly offspring is so that you as a family can serve others. So it wouldn't make sense that you be so absorbed in family life that you neglect those outside your family, because the purpose of your family is to serve God by serving each other and also those very people. Also, it would make sense to become missionaries and take your kids to a dangerous/backward place to live because that could be useful in teaching your kids how you can love others and desire their salvation so much that you are willing to sacrifice comfort and friends.

In Christ


Dear Loretta,

I think your paragraph is spot-on.

In Christ,

Once again, I'd love to hear your thoughts: about biblical womanhood, about my article, or about "household idolatry".

images are from James Paterson Art and 'karen' at flickr

Monday, October 18, 2010

what I'm reading: busyness and making things better from The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness

Are you a sympathetic person who sees someone in trouble and has to help? A problem-solver who sees something wrong and has to fix it? A visionary who sees things need to change and has to do something about it?

Many of us think if we just work hard enough, we can do everything that needs to be done. It's one of the quickest routes to over-busyness and burnout. Tim Chester says,

One of the lies that drives our busyness is the belief that we can do everything and solve every problem - it is just a matter of squeezing it all in. The reality is that we are finite. Only God is infinite...

People who get work out of perspective do so because deep down they believe that 'God either cannot or will not provide' and that therefore they themselves must do so...

'I'm busy because people need me.' It's another version of 'I'm busy because otherwise things get out of control.' If I'm not active then things will get out of control in someone else's life...We shouldn't over-estimate ourselves - we are not indispensable. We like to think we can solve every problem, but we cannot...

Don't get me wrong. We have a responsibility to serve God and love other people... We are to be poured out in service. We are to give until there is nothing left to give. But then we stop. We cannot and should not do more than we can. God doesn't expect it of us. We are not saviours. He alone is the Saviour...

We trust God for our concerns and obey God in our responsibility. Don't take responsibility for those things you should leave to God. You'll end up playing god. And God is a much better God than you are! You will soon burn yourself out...Many years ago I said, "Lord, I'll do the work and you do the worrying."

This quote is from chapter 9 of Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness.

image is from Sarah G... at flickr

Friday, October 15, 2010

happy blog-day, and a break from blogging

It's that time again: my bloggy birthday (well, it's tomorrow, but I don't post on weekends, and I doubt you read then either). Three years into blogging, and I enjoy it as much as ever: putting my thoughts into words, writing about what God has taught me, and being encouraged and challenged by you.

It has its downside. The pressure (self-imposed) to produce something, the times I realise (whoops!) I forgot to write tomorrow's post, the time taken from other things, the vulnerability and uncertainty, the temptation to compare my blog with others: it's a cost worth paying, but only if this is worth doing.

Where am I at, 3 years into blogging? I heard a talk on Romans 12:1-2 recently (I'll tell you about it soon) which laid it on the line for me. I want to respond to God's mercy by giving myself to him as a living sacrifice, to bring him glory and make his Son known.

I'd like to make wise plans for the next 5 or 10 years so that I use my time, energy and gifts to glorify Jesus. Will this include blogging? I don't know. But I do know I need some time away from blogging to pray and find out.

After 12 years of raising young kids and 3 years of new ministries, I'm exhausted. So next year I'll share my husband's long service leave (which has been 12 years coming). I'll settle my oldest child into high school and my youngest into preschool, take a long family holiday, and build strong relationships for the teen years. I'll regroup, reflect and renew (the 3 Rs, as my friend puts it).

I'm planning to blog until the end of this year, God willing, then stop for a while - maybe 3 months, maybe 6 months. I'll pray about whether this is the best use of my time and energy, or if there's something else I should do. I have so many dreams and ideas, but who knows what God has in mind?

Taking time off is scary for a doer like me, and slowing down is already making me feel a little empty - which just shows how deeply I take my worth from what I do! But I'm not a doer, I'm a receiver of God's love and grace.

I'm praying that during my months of not-doing, God will teach me I don't need to achieve, get things right or prove myself, because Jesus has done it all for me. Only then will I be able to serve, not so I can feel worthwhile, but "in view of God's mercy" - his astounding, undeserved, unchanging grace to me in Jesus.

In the meantime, until the end of the year, I'll still be here, blogging. Happy blog-day!

images are from soapylovedeb and hyku from flickr

Thursday, October 14, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (7) needs

2008: a year of activism. I dream of changing things. I dream of talks, articles, books. I travel to see what's happening in women's ministry. I meet women with the kind of impact I dream of having. One day, I sit in an auditorium and realise that, of these 3000 women, perhaps 5 have heard my name. I rejoice in my smallness, and in the hugeness of the God who changes lives.

I get too busy when ... I think I'm the one who has to solve problems, change things and meet people's needs.

What I was thinking. "People need encouragement. They need teaching. They need support. If I just work hard enough, I can do what needs to be done. If I don't, who will? Things will get out of control without me. Everything depends on me."

What I'm learning.
I'm not the one who meets needs - God is.
I'm called to bear others' burdens (Gal 6:2). I'm called to serve those around me (Gal 5:13). I'm called to share the good news of Jesus (1 Pet 3:15-16). But ultimately, I'm not the need-meeter: God is. If I say "yes" to every need because I think it all depends on me or because I think no-one else will, I'll be pulled in a thousand different directions, doing nothing well. Instead, may I prayerfully prioritise the things I say "yes" to, and trust God with the rest. People don't need me - they need God.

God is the Saviour, not me.
How arrogant it is to think that I am the one who changes people! Yes, I have a responsibility to love others and speak God's truth. But if I look around my church and community and think things need to change and I'm the one to change them, I'm in danger of putting myself at the centre. I'm not the Saviour: God is. I'm not the one who changes hearts: God is. I'm not indispensable: God is. It's good to do what I can, then stop and rest, trusting God to do his work in people's lives. My responsibility is to serve, not to save.

God is the Ruler, not me.
Even as I say this, I find it a little hard to believe. Doesn't God see how many problems need solving? Why does he let things get so out of hand? Perhaps if I step in, things will get better. It's that kind of thinking which gets me into trouble. Yes, I need to love and serve. Yes, God's sovereignty doesn't let me off the hook. But if I'm running around frantically trying to fix everything, then I've forgotten that God is the wise Ruler of his world. I'm finite; he is infinite. He is big and good enough to provide. I can rest in his sovereign love.

God is working, even when I can't see it.
During the last few years I've seen how God is working in places and people I've never heard of. It's easy to stand arrogantly over people thinking I'm the one who has something to offer. But there are many faithful women teaching and encouraging their sisters in Christ. If I can help them to do this, what a privilege! But it doesn't depend on me. We're a team, each with our own roles and responsibilities, and God is working even when I can't see it.

My responsibility, God's responsibility, their responsibility.
It's natural for me to carry others' burdens. I worry when women are struggling. I get frustrated when they don't grow the way I want them to. I'm weighed down by their grief. These are all signs that I'm bearing burdens that don't belong to me. A wise friend suggested that I write down 3 things - my responsibility, God's responsibility, and others' responsibility - then do the first and pray about the rest. When I'm burdened by others' needs, what a relief it is to bring their burdens to God in prayer!

In writing this, I've been encouraged and challenged by chapter 9 of Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness.

First and last images are by Bjorn1101 and Crystl from flickr; others are from stock.xchng.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

biblical womanhood: did I get the balance right? (1)

Soon after my article Woman to woman: Answering the call of Titus 2 appeared in The Briefing, I received an email from Loretta reflecting on what I'd said about biblical womanhood. I wrote back, she wrote back, and it turned into an interesting and helpful exchange. Here's the first part of it, edited for brevity and clarity. I know some of you have been wanting to read this, so please tell me what you think!

Dear editor,

I’m not sure who the warnings against ‘household idolatry’ are targeted at (‘Woman to woman: Answering the call of Titus 2’), but for us younger women in our twenties, it is the idolatry of materialism that hinders us from the wholehearted application of Titus 2:3-5. We are under great pressure to establish fulfilling careers, earn lots of money, travel the world and live in luxury – and all this at the expense of staying at home to raise godly offspring.

Therefore, it would be great if older women could encourage us younger wives and mothers to find value in being busy at home and loving our children. It’s not glorious, the pay is dismal and overtime is a given, but what could be more important than training children to know and love the Lord? Rather than avoiding children until the last possible moment, we should seek to welcome as many as we can into our lives.

Motherhood may be tedious, exhausting and demeaning, but, as Titus 2:3-5 shows, it is also eternally worthwhile.



Dear Loretta,

I agree with you that young women, especially in our society, need to hear older women encouraging them to be whole-hearted as they love and help their husbands, teach and train their children, and stay committed to home and family. I agree that motherhood is a high calling. That's why, in my article, I said that home and family is “where her primary focus lies” for the young married woman with children, and that work should never undermine this. Motherhood is, indeed, “eternally worthwhile”, as you say – praise God!

The warnings against “household idolatry” in my article were directed at a certain kind of teaching on Titus 2:3-5 which idolises family and home so that single or childless women are made to feel that they are waiting for the significant part of their lives to start, and married women with children may become so focussed on their homes (in itself a good thing!) that they forget about serving in the church and reaching out to non-Christians in the community. I thought that both tendencies – the tendency to neglect home and family for career, and the tendency to idolise home and family – needed to be addressed.

I hope that clarifies things! Feel free to write back if you’d like to talk more about this.

In Christ,


Dear Jean,

Thanks for your reply. I read through your blog articles and I agree with everything you say about motherhood.

I was wondering whether you can give me a few examples of people who use Titus 2:3-5 to promote the idolising of the home, such that single women feel left out? Would it be, for example, if people say things like, "There's nothing more valuable than motherhood"? Whereas what they should say is, "If you are married, then there's nothing more valuable than motherhood", because those who are not married can devote themselves to doing lots and lots of word ministry (a la 1 Cor 7:34-35). Are there any other examples of people/books that promote 'household idolatry'??

While I totally agree with what you said in the article, my first impression when I read the third section was that there were heaps of warnings against the misuse of Titus 2 but not much on how Titus 2 can apply to the lives of women. And that I found a bit unsatisfying, given the title of your article. And all these qualifications, I think, undermined your support for Titus 2:3-5. Your article used Titus 2 to prove that older women should teach younger women, and went into that in detail, but it didn't flesh out the more important part of the passage, which is the content of what the older women are to teach.

Argh I hope these thoughts made sense. Thank you for reading and thanks for all those blog posts that you sent me.



I think she's got a point. What do you think? Did I get the balance right? (Don't feel like you have to defend me: I found myself agreeing with much of what Loretta says, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.)

I'll share my response, and the rest of our emails, soon.

images are from DianthusMoon, nep and catface 3 at flickr

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

when the Bible gets too hard

What do you do when you get to a bit of the Bible you don't understand? When a Bible passage makes you feel uncomfortable?

I know what I do: I tend to avoid those bits of the Bible. Sometimes I ignore particular verses, sometimes I try not to think about certain passages, sometimes I even keep away from whole books. It's like a painful tooth; you learn to stop biting on it after a while.

The problem with ignoring a painful tooth, of course, is that the pain gets worse and starts eating away at you. When I ignore part of the Bible, it doesn't ignore me. It bothers and bugs me, nudges and nags me, until it gets my attention. When I don't want to examine part of the Bible, it's time for the Bible to start examining me.

Which is why I found these words from John Piper and Phillip Jensen so challenging and helpful:

If you only read things after which you said “duh!” you'd stop reading in a hurry, because you already know and feel the way you should. But if you start bumping into things that are weird or strange, then you'd better live there. You'd better camp there until your brain and your heart get shaped by the strange things.1

I love puzzling over difficult parts of the Bible. I love it, for the difficulty is in my head, not on the page, and puzzling over these difficulties gives me an opportunity to change the way I think.2

When I find part of the Bible hard to accept, it's not the Bible which needs to change, it's me. If I come to part of the Bible I don't like, I've learned to spend time there: to read it over and over, think about it, read about it, talk about it, or, best of all, teach it, until my attitudes shift and God's word shapes me.

When I do this, something unexpected happens: the Bible passage I used to avoid becomes one of my favourites. It's the hard parts of God's word that expand my understanding of God, challenge me to more costly discipleship, and lead me into unanticipated joys. The difficult bits of the Bible open God to me, and open my life to God, in ways I could never have foreseen.

1 From the audio version of John Piper's sermon Thinking and feeling with God: A broken and contrite heart God will not despise.

2 Phillip Jensen's ‘Problems with the text’ from So long and thanks for all the fellowship.

This post appeared on Sola Panel last week (and somehow got missed by yours truly - thanks, Kath, for reminding me about it! :) ).

image is by Jamelah at flickr

Monday, October 11, 2010

what I'm reading: when our hopes are disappointed from The Briefing

Here's a wonderful reminder, from a woman battling long-term illness, that when life goes in a different direction to what we expected - when we struggle with broken dreams and disappointed hopes - when we're in the middle of a difficult season that doesn't seem to end - God is still faithfully working in our lives for his glory.

I had so many plans, hopes and dreams for my days on this earth, but I'm learning I'm to surrender even these to God. I thought I had good plans, but God's promise is that his plans are best. He's reminding me that the main purpose of my life isn't to necessarily do all these things (though I would greatly enjoy that!), it's to bring glory to my creator and Saviour, whatever my life looks like. My hopes and dreams seem distant, and often even dead, but God's work of shaping me into Jesus' likeness has been made even more alive by this trial (1 Pet 1:6-7). May I accept that he is the one that chooses how he will use me for his glory. I need to want for my life what God wants for my life (Matt 6:9-10), even when that means missing out on things I deeply desire, and to learn that there are more important things than what I think will make me happy or successful.

From the Briefing article "Giving up your life" by Rachel Pettett, who has suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 3 years.

image is by sweethardt from flickr

Friday, October 8, 2010

more cute stuff

It's time for more cute stuff. Here are some sayings I've collected from Thomas and Andy during the last 12 months.

When Andy was 3 and saw a cat:

"Do you push a button to make it go?"

Thomas (6) earlier this year.

"I want to be bigger because it looks a bit cool when you can see the ground from up high."

A conversation with Thomas after my husband led Sunday School.

"Is Daddy a better Sunday School teacher than Mummy?"

"Only a little inch better. Only a dotted inch better. Only one dot better."

I realised later he thinks an inch is a millimetre. So that's okay.

Andy (4) earlier this year, sitting in the car and holding a large stick.

"Mummy, I want to break my window."

"You're not allowed to break your window!"

"Well, then, when I get home, I will poke the wall."


"I will make a new way to go out."

Thomas (7) when he saw a little girl with an artificial leg.

"What's that?"

"It's an artificial leg. She only has one leg, so they've made her another leg to walk on."

"Is she real?"

And my personal favourite, from when Thomas was 6:

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


Thursday, October 7, 2010

woman to woman (4c) a Titus 2 curriculum: biblical womanhood

God has given us an important role in the lives of younger women: to teach and train them in godly womanhood (Titus 2:3-5). We've seen how this can happen in all kinds of ways, like young mums' Bible studies, book clubs, and letter-writing. But what are we to teach? So far, we've talked about the gospel and sound doctrine; today, I talk about biblical womanhood (a huge topic you can read more about in this series).

3. Biblical womanhood

Women also need to hear about God's glorious plan for womanhood. Manhood and womanhood were not an afterthought in God's design for humanity. From the moment of creation, God made us male and female, equal before God, with different roles and responsibilities. The woman was made to be the man's ‘helper’, serving God in light of the created order (Gen 1-3, 1 Tim 2:11-15).

Titus 2:3-5 spells out what this looks like in the life of a young, married woman with children. She is to love her husband and children, stay pure and self-controlled, manage her home and practise kindness, and be submissive to her husband. This isn't an exhaustive list, nor does it mean that a married woman shouldn't do paid work outside the home, as long as this supports, rather than undermines, her commitment to home and family (cf. Prov 31). But it does show where her primary focus lies.

Yet we must be careful not to use Titus 2:3-5 to encourage women to idolize home and family. As Nicole Starling says,

These particular instructions to women in Titus 2:3-5 are meant to sail on an ocean of general instruction given in the Bible for all of us as Christians: without an awareness of that big ocean of the Bible's teaching about Jesus and the kingdom of God, the Titus 2 boat can end up bobbing around harmlessly and inoffensively in the backyard swimming pool of suburban materialism, going nowhere.2

Much teaching on Titus 2:3-5 subtly encourages household idolatry. Singleness becomes a waiting room for marriage, rather than an opportunity to serve Christ with undivided attention (1 Cor 7:32-35), and the family home becomes an end in itself, rather than a place to reach out to others.3

But Titus 2:3-5 encourages young women not only to ‘work at home’ but also to be “kind”.4 In 1 Timothy 5:9-10, the word ‘kind’ is linked to many good deeds of godly women—not just bringing up children, but also showing hospitality, serving Christians, and caring for the needy. A godly woman's home is not only a secure refuge, but also a base for loving, serving and reaching out to others.

2 Nicole Starling, ‘Transformed by Titus 2’, 1 September 2008,

3 Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal (Crossway, Wheaton, 2004), the best book I've read on Titus 2:3-5, occasionally has this tendency.

4 ‘Agathos’, the Greek word for ‘kind’ in Titus 2:5, is almost always translated ‘good’ in the ESV and NIV, and is used frequently in Titus for the ‘good deeds’ characteristic of Christians responding to God's grace (see Titus 1:8, 16, 2:5, 3:1).

image is from stock.xchng

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

women bible life

Today I want to share with you, not a blog-post, but a blog (for the second time!): Cathy's blog, with the new name women bible life. If you haven't already put it in your reader, or on your email list, or however it is that you read blogs, I encourage you to.

Cathy's blog is thoughtful, humble, biblical, interesting, godly, readable, and always, always encouraging.

Here are a few recent posts I've enjoyed:

You'll also find some interesting discussions about:

Happy browsing!

PS. I'm not trying to make you proud, Cathy, or to pressure you to write more good stuff (I know how that works!), I'm just grateful to God for his work through you, however much you feel able to write.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

giving thanks for work and rest (the end of the school holidays)

School holidays. Ours have just finished; you might be half way through yours, if you're a mum in another state of Australia. If you're not a mum, you'll have your own times of weekly and annual rest.

By the end of term I'm hanging out for the holidays. I start each term with energy to do the extras: catch up with friends, make dentist appointments, organise play dates. At term's end I'm dragging my feet through the hours, longing for a lazy day and a morning when I won't have to get the kids out the door at 8.45.

By the end of school holidays, I'm looking forward to the routine of term-time: making lunches, driving the kids to school, and coming home to a quiet house with just one child in it. We're running low on cereal, there are dust bunnies in the corners, and I've had enough noise and chaos to last me for a while. On the first day of term, it feels good to pack up the toys and get out the vacuum cleaner.

Isn't it good that God gives us times of work and times of rest? Isn't it good to work hard each week then take a day's rest, and exchange months of work for a few weeks' rest? Today I'm thanking God for school holidays and term time; for the work-rest pattern of my days.

image is from Thomas Hawk at flickr

Monday, October 4, 2010

what I'm reading: John Stott on sowing to the flesh

I love this quote from John Stott. It sums up everything I said in my post on change the other day (at least about not sowing to sin) and says it much better than I could!

To ‘sow to the flesh’ is to pander to it, to cosset, cuddle and stroke it, instead of crucifying it … Every time we allow our mind to harbour a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh. Some Christians sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness.

quoted in chapter 8 of Tim Chester's You Can Change

image is by IRRI Images 2 from flickr

Friday, October 1, 2010

a spooky castle cake for Ben's 10th birthday

Here's the castle cake we made for Ben's 10th birthday.

It's supposed to be dark purply-blue with yellow windows, but ours is teal blue with white windows. Oh well, you can't have everything! Still, it looked pretty spooky. Here's how we did it.

We sticky-taped glad bake into a cone-shaped piping bag, filled it with melted chocolate, and made chocolate spiders.

Lizzy's looked good, but mine looked more like defective scorpions!

We piped white chocolate into shapes we'd drawn on glad bake for the castle windows (7 2x3 cm and 5 3x5.5 cm windows).

The windows were supposed to be yellow, but we discovered too late that you can't colour white chocolate with water-based food colouring (duh!), you need oil-based or powdered food-colouring.

We baked three round gluten free cakes

cut one of them into a smaller circle, cut a small jam roll in half, and arranged them like this with a wooden bamboo stick holding them all together.

We made lots of teal-coloured butter icing (to stop the icing curdling, leave the milk out of the recipe, add the food-colouring, and only then add any milk needed to get the desired consistency). If we'd had powdered or oil-based colouring, I suspect it would have been easier to get a vivid, deep purply blue, but we had to make do with teal.

Of course, the best bit about making icing is licking the beaters.

Here's the cake, iced and decorated with chocolate shapes, mint sticks, Toblerone triangles, cotton-wool spider webs and a cardboard cone (sorry, I seem to have lost some photos of the decorating process, but it wasn't too tricky).

The cake looked pretty spectacular with candles in the dark.

Smoking, and spookier than ever!

This cake was adapted from Australian Women's Weekly Kid's Birthday Cakes.