Sunday, December 25, 2011

have you room for Christ? - Charles Spurgeon

When all persons of the house of David were driven to Bethlehem, the scanty accommodation of the little town would soon be exhausted. The stall of the ass was the only place where the child could be born. Here, in the stable, was the King of Glory born and in the manner was he laid.

Have you room for Christ?

"Well," says one, "I have room for him, but I am not worthy that he should come to me." Ah! I did not ask about worthiness; have you room for him? "Oh! but I feel it is a place not at all fit for Christ!" Nor was the manger a place fit for him, and yet there was he laid. "Oh! but I have been such a sinner; I feel as if my heart had been a den of beasts and devils!" Well, the manger had been a place where beasts had fed. Have you room for him? Never mind what the past has been; he can forget and forgive. It matters not what even the present state may be if you mourn it. If you have but room for Christ he will come and be thy guest.

'Tis all I ask. Your emptiness, your nothingness, your want of feeling, your want of goodness, your want of grace — all these will be but room for him. Have you room for him? Oh! Spirit of God, lead many to say, "Yes, my heart is ready." Ah! then he will come and dwell with you.

From Charles Spurgeon's No room for Christ in the inn (some language modernised) HT Nancie Guthrie Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus.

image is by at flickr

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the arithmetic of love

Andy, our youngest, graduated from pre-school this week. He also spent a couple of hours with his class and teacher for next year. On the way home, I asked him how it went.

"Miss M is weeeally nice. I love her. She is the best teacher ever in the whole world."

"That's great, honey!"

"I wish she was my mummy."

Stunned silence. "Really?"

"Yes. Because I love you best of everybody in the whole world. And I like her a bit at school, and that would count too."

Ah, the arithmetic of love.

At this point I'm curious - and giggling - so I have to test this theory. "Who would you rather be your mummy, me or Miss M?"

"Miss M!"

"Who would you rather be your teacher, Miss M or me?"


Oh. I guess that's okay then.

Now he's reassuring me, with the kind of bear-hug-to-the-leg that makes you fall over your own feet: "Mummy, I have to hug you all the time because I love you too much!"

I love that he loves his new teacher, and I love even more that he loves me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

reading the whole Bible to our children (4) guest post

Today Fiona gives some fantastic suggestions for practical ways to read the Bible with your kids. This is the final post in a four-part series: see the others here, here and here.

This might all still sound rather daunting! Let me tell you some of the strategies we’ve used to read the Bible to our own children at home on a daily basis.

  • Use different formats at different times and at different ages. Alternate reading through a children’s Bible, and then a book of the full Bible.
  • Illustrate the Bible reading yourself. For a few years, I drew rough figures in a scrapbook each evening. You don’t have to be a very good artist – stick figures will do! (Older children may like to do this themselves.)
  • Get your kids to act out the Bible reading (this was great in books of the Bible where there was lots of fighting!!).
  • Let children read aloud at times.
  • Ask one of more of your children to ask one question about the passage, and to answer a question too.
  • Give each child a sheet of paper and encourage them to draw an illustration to go with the passage.
  • Make a simple worksheet to accompany the reading.
  • Above all, persevere, even when there are evenings when you seem to be doing more yelling than Bible reading (“Quentin, stop touching Hamish! Rufus, would you sit down! Anna, don’t hum now ... Hamish, we’ll find your excursion form later … Rufus, would you SIT DOWN and KEEP STILL!”).

So just do it! Read the whole Bible to your children, and I hope you will feel often the delight and excitement that I feel when my children ask questions or make comments that show a growing understanding of God’s word.

image is by johnb2008 from flickr

Monday, December 19, 2011

reading through the Bible in a year (or two)

I'm doing something I haven't attempted since I was at university, many years ago. I'm reading through the Bible in a year. Make that two years: after twelve months, I'm half way through my Bible reading plan.

There's something exciting about reading the Bible in big gulps. I feel well-fed, like I've been at the richest of banquets all year long. I've discovered long-forgotten treasures, and I've seen familiar verses shine with unexpected colours in their setting. I've been reminded how, verse after verse, chapter after chapter, the Bible tells the same story. I can't wait to turn the pages and watch the history of salvation unfold.

I know you may not be in a season of life where you can read or listen to the Bible in a year - or even two.1 If your circumstances make it difficult, but you're still reading a small amount regularly, then I thank God! But perhaps you can manage more. With the new year approaching, you might like to consider using one of these plans:

Here are six of the best, trialled by me or people I respect.2 (Whichever you choose, you'll find it more meaningful if you read or listen to an introduction to each book as you come to it, especially with tricky books like the prophets.3)

  • My friend Melanie likes the ESV Chronological Bible Reading Plan, where you read a few chapters in one place a day. The chronological order means you can see, for example, how the different psalms fit into Bible history. I'm looking forward to trying this one!

  • Meredith enjoys the ESV Daily Reading Bible plan, where you read in three places a day - Old Testament, New Testament and a Psalm (she talks about her experience in my Bible reading plan, mid-year review and this interview-with-self).

  • Justin Taylor recommends the ESV Study Bible Plan, where you read in four places a day: Psalms and Wisdom, Pentateuch and History, Chronicles and Prophets, Gospels and Epistles (you can even print out four snazzy little bookmarks to mark the places in your Bible!).

  • John Stott faithfully used the M'Cheyne One Year Bible Reading Plan, where you also read in four places a day, chosen to give the big picture of salvation history. He said, "Nothing has helped me more to gain an overview of the Bible, and so of God’s redemptive plan". Don Carson's For the Love of God gives you daily readings to use with this plan.

  • I'm using the NAV Book-at-a-Time Bible Reading Plan, with two readings a day: a short reading from the wisdom books or Isaiah, and a longer reading which swaps between testaments and spreads the gospels through the year. I like the variety and the focus on one book at a time, and it's very forgiving, with twenty-five readings a month; similarly forgiving is the four-places-a-day NAV Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan.

  • A great method to get young Christians started (it got me started) reading through the Bible is the three-year Bible reading plan from Tim LaHaye's How to study the Bible for youself, which is designed to introduce newcomers to regular Bible reading (first year gospels and epistles, second year wisdom and epistles, third year the lot).

Happy reading!

1. When I had babies and toddlers, a shorter passage was all I could handle; I enjoyed using The Daily Reading Bible.
2. If you want to know more about the different plans available, I recommend Justin Taylor's Bible reading plans.
3. Try Mark Dever's book-at-a-time overview sermons, one for every book of the Bible: you can download the audio versions at Capitol Hill Baptist (search: the message) or read the print versions in The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. Another option is to read the introductions to each book in a study Bible or William Dumbrell's The Faith of Israel. Graeme Goldsworthy's Trilogy and According to Plan will help you see how the different bits of the Bible hang together in Jesus.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by jjreade from flickr

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

reading the whole Bible to our children (3) guest post

What attitudes should we bring to the difficult parts of the Bible when we read them with our kids? Fiona answers that question today. You'll find the first part of this series here and the second part here.

So how do we deal with the particularly “difficult” books or passages in practice?

Firstly, don’t be afraid of them. Bear in mind that just because we (adults) find a passage difficult doesn’t mean that our children will find it difficult. They may be untroubled by the ethical issues that crowd our consciousness and the assumptions and prejudices that colour our understanding.

Don’t be afraid of letting your children know that you find some parts of the Bible difficult. God is so much bigger than we are that we should not be surprised when we sometimes find him hard to understand. Encourage our children to ask questions that we may not be able to answer straight away. Being a Christian doesn’t mean knowing all the answers, but it means clinging fast to the answers we do know.

Secondly, don’t be ashamed of the difficult passages. They are still God’s word to us, to teach us, rebuke us, challenge us, and help us grow. Are you worried about frightening children with gruesome stories, or exposing them to sordid sexual sin when they are too young, and thus shattering their innocence? While we need to be sensitive to our children, I am inclined to think that children can cope with more than we give them credit for, and I wonder what is the greater danger: disturbing our children with confronting Bible stories, or giving them an edited, saccharine, weak view of God?

Next, we need to work at understanding God’s word for ourselves, so that we can then communicate it better to our children. Read the Bible for yourself. Dip into some commentaries; read books that teach biblical theology. Even with daily Bible reading at home, you may need to think beforehand about the part of the Bible you will be reading to your children, and how to simplify and explain it.

Teaching God’s word to your children is a great way to learn more about God’s Word yourself! I have often had new insights into the Bible through reading it to my children, both because I have to explain it to them, and also through their comments and questions.

Next week: some practical suggestions for reading the hard bits of the Bible with kids.

image is by johnb2008 from flickr

Monday, December 12, 2011

what I'm reading: the Spirit, Jesus' limelight

If I had to sum up what I believe about the Holy Spirit (apart from the fact that he's a member of the Trinity, and works in our hearts to bring us to Jesus) it would go like this:

  • the Spirit works in our lives through the Bible, the word of God - when we hear it, when he brings it to mind, when we speak it to others

  • the Spirit's role is to point away from himself and to point to Jesus, to bring glory to the Father and the Son

It's the second point that Piper explores in this quote, which I came across while reading Nancy Guthrie's Come Thou Long Expected Jesus in the lead-up to Christmas:

When Jesus promised the Spirit (in John 16:14) he said, "He will glorify me"...The Spirit is shy; he is self-effacing. When we look toward him, he steps back and pushes forward Jesus Christ...

If we look away from Jesus and seek the Spirit and his power directly, we will end up in the mire of our own subjective emotions...Many of use know what it is to crouch on the floor and cry out to the Holy Spirit for joy and power, and experience nothing; but the next day devote ourselves to earnest meditation on the glory of Jesus Christ and be filled with the Spirit...

Christian spiritual experience is not a vague religious emotion. It is an emotion with objective content, and the content is Jesus Christ. The shy member of the Trinity does mighty work, but he never puts himself in the limelight. You might say he is the limelight that puts the attributes of God the Father and the person of Christ into sharp relief.

From John Piper "Conceived by the Holy Spirit" in Nancy Guthrie's Come Thou Long Expected Jesus pages 29-30.

image is by at flickr

Thursday, December 8, 2011

finding a "quiet time" in a mother's life that's far from quiet

Back in the old days, when I had two children, it was pretty easy for me to find time to read the Bible and pray. This seemed a little unfair. Other mums said, "It's so hard to pray and read the Bible! Every time I try, my kids climb all over me! My baby cries! My son wants me! They won't keep quiet long enough for me to pray!" But quiet times were still "quiet" for me.

At six o'clock I woke up, made myself a cup of coffee and a bowl of muesli, and sat on the couch with my Bible.1 The kids were often asleep. If they weren't, they'd watch a DVD for half an hour or (I admit it) an hour.

In winter, it was dark when I woke. I watched the sun rise, reflected in the windows of the university building we can see from our house, turning the curved wall orange against an indigo sky, until the sky lightened and the pale trunks of the gums glowed silver. Of course, it wasn't always idyllic - there were months of pregnancy nausea and early-waking babies - but I picture it through the soft focus of nostalgia.


Fast forward to the present day. My two older children have been joined by a five and eight year old who are, let's say, just a little more demanding than their brother and sister at their age. At six o'clock you'll find me on the couch, legs stretched along its length, Bible in hand and lemon-scented gums in view. My husband is in bed.2 But I'm not alone.

There's a five year old squashed into the tiny space between me and the couch back, begging for warmth and kisses. There's an eight year old seated at my feet playing on his handheld games console. I read the Bible through a barrage of comments - "Look, Mummy, I've beaten the boss!" (don't ask) - and demands for breakfast, for cuddles, for attention.

This, I know, is normality.

I've been feeling squeezed and breathless, as introverts do when they get no time to themselves. I can read the Bible despite the noise (my family call it "ignoring", I call it "concentrating"). But it's hard to pray. Often I give up, go to the computer and check my emails.


There are two things you can be sure of with motherhood (or life, really). The first is that God won't change. The second is that everything else will. Just when you think you've found the one, true solution - the cure for sleepless nights, or disorganization, or prayerlessness - circumstances shift sideways.

What works for me won't work for you. What works for me won't work for me. Babies wake all night, then sleep through, then - surprise! - start waking again. The morning routine runs smoothly, then falls apart. One child loves "alone time"; another craves constant attention. Sometimes there are no quiet moments. Sometimes you have to create them out of nothing.

My friend Heather used to sit in the corridor and pray on the phone with a friend during the morning rush; her grown sons still treasure her example. Nicole and Dave took turns to shut the bedroom door and spend time with God.3 Cathy came up with a plan to make the most of the moments between feeding and settling a newborn - even if, like her friend Carolyn, it meant sticking up Bible verses in the shower. Some mums read a few verses a day with their kids; others ask a friend or husband to read to them; still others listen to the Bible while driving or walking. These are just some things that have worked for some women some of the time.4


Starve me of prayer, and eventually I get desperate (this takes far longer than it should). The other day, I'd had enough. Kids on the couch and all, I closed my eyes, only to be interrupted: "Mummy, look at this!"; "Mummy, I'm hungry!"; "Mummy, mummy, mummy...". For once, I was determined not to give in: "Sssh, boys, I'm praying. Wait till I've finished, then tell me."

Tucked into my invisible prayer-bubble, I felt a little like Susannah Wesley when she threw an apron over her head and quieted her ten children so she could pray. I could shut my children's voices out (almost). I could concentrate (kind of). My gaze shifted from myself to Jesus, and I was able to pray for others too.

The kids learned some helpful lessons. They were reminded, once again, that they're not the centre of the universe. They realized that I'm not always available: there are things more important, even, than their demands. They learned that prayer is worth setting aside time for.

And me? I've found a way to pray that works for me - for now. When that stops working, I'll find another way. There will be days when I don't manage it, but I'm not giving up. Because I need God's strength, my kids need my example, and others need my prayers.

Maybe I'll even get out an apron.

1. This was no great feat of godliness: I love waking early.
2. As so often happens in marriage, my husband and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum. I am an early bird, but he is a night owl.
3. This was sometimes accompanied by the sound of tears on the other side of the door; Nicole got the "first glimpse of the kindness in the cruelty" when their young son went to his room, shut the door, and read his Bible too.
4. I'd love to hear what's worked for you!

This post first appeared in The Briefing today.

image is by bluebirdsandteapots at flickr

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

reading the whole Bible to our children (2) guest post

Here's the second part of Fiona's article about reading the whole Bible with our children. You'll find the first part here.

In particular, I am convinced that reading all of the Bible helps our children (and us!) to understand the reality and seriousness and ugliness of sin. We live in a cultural context which has greatly undermined the idea of sin (it’s not our fault, it’s the fault of our genes/parents/educational system/government/mental illness/etc).

(As an aside, I think reading the Bible is a great tool for sex education! When my son asks, “What is a prostitute?”, my answer can lead to great discussion about the right context for sex, about misuse of God’s good gift, and how sex shouldn’t be used to buy acceptance or money or popularity, but to cement a relationship that already exists. The Bible makes it clear that many people do not obey God’s laws about sex. The Bible gives us a beautiful picture of the beauty of sex and the context (marriage) in which it should be enjoyed; but it also shows us the destructiveness and shamefulness of sexual immorality, as well as God’s forgiveness and restoration of sinners.)

Reading the whole Bible also teaches us about the wrath of God (another unpopular concept today). God is holy and righteous, and thus hates sin and evil. Uncomfortably, the Bible teaches that it is God himself who often brings disaster, on his enemies, or even on his own people (think of the Flood, for example; 2 Kings 17, especially verses 18, 20; Amos 3:2 and chapter 4; Revelation). God is not just our Saviour, but our Judge. God is the one who destroys as well as the one who saves. God is not a weak, benevolent God who wants to be our friend, but a passionate, powerful, majestic, terrifying God. Read the whole Bible, and let your children learn that God is to be feared as well as loved! For example, when we read Lamentations to our children recently, and asked what this book taught us about God, they said things like, “Angry. Punishing. Fierce. Merciful. Keeps his promises to punish as well as save”. These are important theological insights!

My hope is that my own children, those I teach in Sunday School, and those I teach in Scripture classes at school, will understand that God is not someone whom you can take or leave, as it suits you; and that what matters is not so much what you think of God, but what God thinks of you.

Next week Fiona will talk about the practicalities of dealing with the particularly “difficult” books or passages with our children.

image is by johnb2008 from flickr

Monday, December 5, 2011

an interesting quote: why teenage girls are the perfect readers

Here's a brilliant description of why it is that teenage girls are the perfect readers, and why books like Twlight appeal to them:

The salient fact of an adolescent girl's existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she's gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading.
I observe my 13 year old daughter retreating to her room to read and re-read series like Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter, and, most recently, the Goose Girl series, and I remember my own teen years, and what Caitlin Flanagan says makes perfect sense to me - especially because it is no longer possible to abandon myself to reading in quite the same way.

From Caitlin Flanagan's article What Girls Want in The Atlantic HT Karen (thanks, Karen!).

Friday, December 2, 2011

our Jesse Tree

Yesterday was the first of December, and I seem to have missed the date when it comes to starting our Jesse Tree. Every year I fill the little drawers above with a Bible reading on a slip of paper, a few small lollies and a nativity figure, and we open one a day leading up to Christmas. This year, disorganisation got the better of me.

I generally use readings that I came up with - an Old Testament story, a promise or prophecy, and a New Testament reading - but I wanted something different this year. So I sat at the computer last night and looked for some resources.

If you, too, are wondering what to read with your kids leading up to Christmas - and if you are also late organising it! - the best printable resources I found were by Wendy:

They look great, don't they? I think I'll use the first one this year, as it's a little different to what we've done in recent years. Thanks, Wendy!

If you want more ideas for creating a Jesse Tree, check out 168 hours.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

reading the whole Bible to our children (1) guest post

A couple of weeks ago I posted a question for you about reading the Bible with kids - even the hard bits: should we read the gory or sexual bits of the Bible to children? Well, my friend Fiona McLean has taken pity on me and written a response! (You'll also find an interesting discussion in the comments here.) In the first of four posts, Fiona says,

I have some sympathy for this question, because quite a lot of the Bible does seem difficult: boring, irrelevant, confronting, offensive, violent, or sexually explicit. So why am I still convinced that we should not only read all of it ourselves, but also read it to children - our own at home; and other people’s children, in Sunday School, at conferences, and even in Scripture classes at school?

Firstly, if we were to avoid all the “difficult” bits of the Bible, there wouldn’t be much left! This applies to the New Testament as well as the old: think of Jesus, the Warrior King, slaying his enemies (Revelation 19:11-21); or Jesus, at his second coming, “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God” (2 Thessalonians 1:8); or the servant who is “cast into the outer darkness” where there “will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

In fact, someone of our favourite and most comfortable Bible passages may be a lot more “difficult” than we realise, especially if you are only familiar with the sanitised version in children’s Bibles. (Children’s Bibles can be very helpful, but they are not the Bible itself: they are always summaries and paraphrases; they are necessarily selective about what they include; and they are an interpretation.) Noah and the Ark is not just about God saving Noah and his family and lots of cute, cuddly animals, but about the great wickedness of mankind, as a result of which God sent a Flood which drowned every other person and animal (Genesis 6-8). We like the story of the boy Samuel being called by God, but we forget that God called him so that he could pass on the terrible news that Eli’s rebellious sons were under sentence of death from God for their blasphemy and iniquity (1 Samuel 3:11-14). When you tell the story of David and Goliath, do you mention that David cut off Goliath’s head (1 Samuel 17:51)? The story of the Good Samaritan includes a violent attack on a man which nearly killed him, and which left him wounded and half-dead in the street (Luke 10:30). The Prodigal Son squandered his money on prostitutes and reckless living (Luke 15:13). Even the sweet Nativity story, unedited, includes the terrible murder of all the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). The Bible is full of “difficult bits”!

Secondly, I wonder what we mean by “difficult bits” anyway? Do we mean parts that are boring or seem irrelevant? Ideas that don’t fit in with our worldview – that seem harsh, that present God as cruel and vindictive or arbitrary? If so, perhaps it is our worldview that needs to change, our understanding of God that needs to grow to fit the reality of the God who has revealed himself to us.

Thirdly, even without the Bible there are “difficult bits” in life. There is much that is sordid and violent and nasty in the world around us: tsunamis, pornography, child abuse, cancer, infertility. Where is God in all this? Is he absent? Capricious? Vindictive? Powerless? Our children (and ourselves) are going to be exposed to these disturbing and difficult issues through the media, billboards, DVDs, newspapers, and television. As believers, let’s see what God’s perspective is on these things, and grapple with these difficult questions within the framework of a biblical worldview.

This is why, instead of just reading nice, comforting, somewhat insipid children’s Bibles, my husband and I read the whole Bible to our children. We believe and trust that the Bible is God’s word to us, and to our children (e.g. Deuteronomy 29:29). We want our view of God and of ourselves and of our world to be shaped more by God’s Word than by the culture around us.

Tune in next week for Fiona's next thoughts.

image is by johnb2008 from flickr

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

loving people at our school

This is the second of three posts about sharing Jesus with people in your local community; it follows on from praying for our school.

Our local primary school is marvellously multicultural. During the years they've been there, our kids have become best friends with Sikhs from the Punjab, Muslims from Pakistan, and Catholics from Serbia, as well as some fair-dinkum Aussie pagans. At last count, the kids at school trace their recent ancestry to more than 50 countries. In a place like this, mission knocks on your door and asks itself in.

It's not always easy to open that door. The school ground can be a daunting place, even for adults. There are tight groups gathered around picnic tables, chattering clusters and quiet loners, and people from backgrounds very different to your own. Around the edge are women from other cultures, wearing a hijab or salwar kameez: no-one, it seems, wants to talk to someone who looks a little different.

No doubt, to some, this sounds like a wealth of opportunities! To me, it felt scary and overwhelming at first; but I've learned to feel at home here, and I'm learning to love the people around me. I know you can't reduce relationships to a set of principles; but here are some things I've learned along the way.

  • Be friendly to everyone, but focus on a few
    It's important to be friendly to everyone, but it also helps to focus on a few. At the moment there are five women I've made a commitment to pray for and get to know better: women with whom I have strong natural connections or a growing friendship.1 Focusing on a few relationships keeps me from growing lazy; it may help you not to spread yourself too thin.

  • See below the surface
    As I talk with people, I start to see past the differences. I meet women looking for work now their kids are all at school, women hiding a little extra weight under loose garments, women rediscovering their 'faith' - whatever that faith might be. The similarities are a bridge between us; the differences, instead of being obstacles, become opportunities to find out what's important to them and to share what's important to me.

  • Do less to do more
    This year has been my most exciting yet when it comes to getting to know people and chatting about Jesus. I think that's because my husband had long-service leave, so I cut lots of other things out of my life - good things like leading a weekly Bible study and teaching Sunday School. I'll do these things again, because they matter! But it's shown me that sometimes you have to say 'no' to good things in the church so you have time for relationships out of it.

  • Friendship takes time
    I think I expect gospel conversations to come quickly; if they don't, I assume I've failed. I'm learning that relationships take time, at least for me! No doubt some are great at having 'meaningful' conversations early on; but while I let people know I'm a Christian from the start, it takes time for me to feel comfortable in relationships. Opportunities to talk about what people believe often come to me later. Which leads to my next point...

  • Work with your strengths
    God has put me in my friends' lives because I'm the one he wants there. I'm not an extrovert who can handle 30 friendships, but I'm good at slowly building relationships; my outgoing friend is great with those who are confident but not so good with those who are quiet. The women we spend time with are very different - and that's a good thing. She's taught me to think about my interests and strengths and to build on them.

  • Ask people into your home and go into theirs
    When someone invites me in for a cuppa, it’s easy to give them the Aussie cold-shoulder: "Sorry, but I'm too busy." I now allow time so that when people ask me in, I can say "Yes!". Having people over for meals (the pot-luck kind); asking people in when they drop their kids off (remembering a little mess can make them feel comfortable); spending time together in a neutral spot like a park or coffee shop: these are all great ways to grow relationships.

  • Love people and receive their love
    Have you ever taken a meal to someone outside your church? You might feel awkward, but I've discovered people appreciate knowing someone is there for them. I'm often clueless about caring for people - my friend and I laugh about how I offered to look after her kids the first time we met - but thankfully, she liked me rather than wondering if I had evil designs on her children! We've become close friends, and we care for each other in many ways: it's easier to receive someone else's love when they receive yours.

  • Get involved in a local community
    It's not hard for me to meet people, with kids in the local school (that's one reason we sent them there); but what if you don't have much contact with people outside the church? Maybe you could join a sports, craft or book club, do some volunteering (my mum helps a slow learner at the local school), ask your neighbours over for a meal, or just hang out in your front yard. There are people all around us; maybe it's time to start loving them, so that one day we can share the greatest love of all.

  • Love is costly
    None of us always finds it easy to involve people in our lives. It's easier to spend time with those who think like we do; to treat our homes as our refuge and our time as our own. But love is costly. We may need to set aside regular times to spend with people, and make deliberate plans to include them in our lives. If we find this hard, we may have to say to ourselves, "It doesn't matter how you feel. Just get on with it and obey." So often, we'll be glad we did.

These are real relationships, and these are real people: people I'm growing to love. But how can I say I love them unless I'm willing to share the best thing I know with them? I have to grow relationships, but also be willing to risk them; to love people, but to accept that they may reject me. This comes at a cost, but it's full of joy, too: the joy of knowing I'm not ashamed of Jesus, of watching women I love come one step closer to knowing the gospel, of seeing God at work in their lives.

1. How do you choose who to focus on? My friend has chosen some women she "clicks" with and some who are lonely. Another friend, experienced in suffering, is drawn to the broken. One woman I know excels in loving people who are socially awkward. I encourage you to pray, then wait and see who God brings your way.

This post first appeared yesterday at The Briefing.

image is by Adam Jones, Ph.D. at flickr

Monday, November 28, 2011

what I'm reading: congee for the grieving from Emily Post and Joan Didion

If you're not sure how to help someone who's grieving, Joan Didion directs you to the practical wisdom of an earlier time: the chapter on funerals in Emily Post's 1922 Book of Etiquette (which you can read for free on line here). She writes,

The tone, one of unfailing specificity, never flags. The emphasis remains on the practical. The bereaved must be urged to "sit in a sunny room", preferably one with an open fire. Food, but "very little food", may be offered on a tray: tea, coffee, bouillon, a little thin toast, a poached egg. Milk, but only heated milk: "Cold milk is bad for someone who is already overchilled." As for further nourishment, "The cook may suggest something that appeals usually to their taste—but very little should be offered at a time, for although the stomach may be empty, the palate rejects the thought of food, and digestion is never in best order."...

A friend should be left in charge of the house during the funeral. The friend should see that the house is aired and displaced furniture put back where it belongs and a fire lit for the homecoming of the family. "It is also well to prepare a little hot tea or broth," Mrs. Post advised, "and it should be brought them upon their return without their being asked if they would care for it. Those who are in great distress want no food, but if it is handed to them, they will mechanically take it, and something warm to start digestion and stimulate impaired circulation is what they most need."

There is something arresting about the matter-of-fact wisdom here, the instinctive understanding of the physiological disruptions...As I read it, I remember how cold I had been in New York Hospital on the night John died...Mrs. Post would have understood that. She wrote in a world where mourning was still recognized, allowed, not hidden from view...

In the end Emily Post's 1922 etiquette book turned out to be as acute in its apprehension of this other way of death, and as prescriptive in its treatment of grief, as anything else I read. I will not forget the instinctive wisdom of the friend who, every day for those first few weeks, brought me a quart container of scallion-and-ginger congee from Chinatown. Congee I could eat. Congee was all I could eat.
Joan Didion The Year of Magical Thinking 59-60

image is by rickyqi at flickr

Saturday, November 26, 2011

another volcano cake that almost worked

For some reason, it's been a year for volcano cakes in our house. Here's another volcano cake we made that almost worked - and it would have worked perfectly if I read the recipe more carefully! :) It was very easy, and the yummiest birthday cake we've ever made, by a lo-o-o-ong way. This one was for Ben's 11th birthday, and Lizzy helped me make it.

You start with a round chocolate cake (ours is a double gluten free cake from a packet)and 4 litres of ice cream softened a little (about 10 minutes) then shoved into a metal mould - this shape is great if you can get it. Put it in the freezer overnight.Turn the ice cream out on top of the cake (our ice cream is butterscotch mixed with good quality vanilla).Beat 600 ml cream with 1/4 cup cocoa and 2 tbsn icing sugar until it's thick, and spread it over the cake.Chop up lots of chocolate bars (the yummiest is Snickers, but include some Cherry Ripe, Crunchies, Toblerone and anything else you like). This is where we went wrong. I misread the recipe and bought about 400g of mixed chocolate bars instead of (believe it or not) 200g chocolate bars and 1 1/2 kg Rocky Road.Here's our volcano - as you can see, there weren't quite enough chocolate bars to cover it! But it looks good all the same. (You're supposed to pour thick strawberry topping over it, do some complicated thing with sheets of homemade toffee, and put dinosaurs and dessicated coconut mixed with green food colouring around the edge. I got a little lazy here! ;) )Put it back in the freezer to harden up for a few hours (the cream is YUMMY after you've done this). Get it out, stick some sparklers in, light them,
wait for them to go out,then watch it disappear.YUM!

This cake is adapted from the "Volcano Vibes" cake in The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Puritanism: a piety of joy

Today I discovered something exciting - well, exciting to me (and perhaps to no-one else except my mum). The one and only article I wrote about the Puritans is online!1

The Gospel Coalition has published all the old issues of Kategoria, a quarterly journal edited by Kirsten Birkett and put out by Matthias Media from 1996 to 2004.

There, in issue number 10, published wa-a-ay back in 1998, shortly after I finished my PhD and just before my daughter was born, is an article by yours truly:

Puritanism: a piety of joy.

For me, reading it was like visiting an earlier self: a scholarly pre-child self, who had forgotten more about the Puritans than I will ever remember, and who spoke (or wrote, at least) with long footnotes and a knowledgeable tone.

I enjoyed the article. It's not a bad read. You might enjoy it to. You'll find it here, on page 11. Here's a quote to whet your appetite, from the Puritan preacher John Collinges' sermons on the Song of Songs:

Is Jesus Christ precious to you? Is his name to your soul like an ointment poured forth? Is your whole heart filled with the sweet smell of Jesus Christ? Are you ravished with his love? Does the very thinking of Christ ravish your heart? Does the naming of him carry your soul almost above itself in an ecstasy of love? Is he like an apple to your taste, that your mouth is filled with the sweetness of his juice? Are you melted with his love?2.
And if that doesn't puncture your pre-conceptions about the sober-minded, black-hatted, joy-squashing Puritans, nothing will.

I might bring you some more quotes in coming weeks.

1. Thanks, Lionel, for letting me know, and Sandy for drawing his attention to it.
2. John Collinges, Five Lessons for a Christian to Learne, 1650, sermon 1, page 49.

Monday, November 21, 2011

what I'm reading: hiding death and grief from Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking

Something that struck me as I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking was how attitudes to dying and grief have changed. Death once happened at home and touched every household, and every adult was expected to know how to deal with it; now it happens in hospitals, away from public view, and grief is something to be hidden. Joan Didion writes,

Philippe Aries...noted that beginning about 1930 there had been in most Western countries and particularly in the United States a revolution in accepted attitudes towardes death. "Death," he wrote, "so omnipresent in the past that it was familiar, would be effaced, would disappear. It would become shameful and forbidden."

The English social anthropologist Geoffrey Goer, in his 1965 Death, Grief and Mourning, had described this rejection of public mourning as a result of the increasing pressure of a new “ethical duty to enjoy oneself”, a novel “imperative to do nothing which might diminish the enjoyment of others.” In England and the United States, he observed, the contemporary trend was “to treat mourning as a morbid self-indulgence", and to give social admiration to the bereaved who "hide their grief so fully that no one would guess anything had happened.”

One way in which grief gets hidden is that death now occurs largely offstage. In the earlier tradition...the act of dying had not yet been professionalized. It did not typically involve hospitals. Women died in childbirth. Children died of fevers. Cancer was untreatable...The average adult was expected to deal competently, and also sensitively, with its aftermath. When someone dies, I was taught growing up, you bake a ham. You drop it at the house. You go to the funeral.
image is by José Goulão at flickr

Sunday, November 20, 2011

an easy volcano cake that almost worked...

This volcano cake was one of the easiest we've made, and almost one of the most effective...;) Okay, so it looks kinds of pudding-ish. But Thomas and Andy, whose birthday it was, didn't mind!!It's super-easy. Here's how we did it:

We baked a butter cake in a pudding basin,
made some chocolate butter icing,and iced the cake.We made runny red icing,runny orange icing,and runny yellow icing;then poured them on the cake - first red,then orange and yellow.We put some dinosaurs around the sidesand stuck in some sparklers.Voila! One volcano cake!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

a question about reading the Bible with kids – even the hard bits

There was an interesting comment on my post Reading the Bible with kids - even the hard bits.

A mum who’s thinking about how to read the Bible with her family said, “I’d love to see a follow up article about tackling the other types of difficult passages of the Bible – the particularly gory or sexual bits.”

I’ve been giving some thought to this, and I hope to write something in response; but I’m interested to hear your thoughts first, since I think different people will rightly handle this in different ways.

I think there are two important issues:

  • how do we deal with these passages with our own children?

  • how do we deal with these passages with other people’s children, for example, when teaching Sunday School?

What do you think?

You can comment here or at The Briefing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

what I'm reading: Joan Didion The Year of Magical Thinking

When my friend lost her father, she shared with me some books about grief. One of them was The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion's account of the year after her husband died. It's not a Christian book, but it will help you understand what it's like to grieve and may help you when you grieve.

The Year of Magical Thinking is a stunning book, a picture of grief from the inside. It's written with unflinching, sparse language that won't let you look away. The 'magical thinking' in the title refers to the way grief disorders your thinking: how there's an irrational conviction that if you do this, or don't do that, the person you grieve for will be able to return.

Here is an excerpt - a desciption of grief.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined event. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In this version of grief we imagine, the model will be 'healing'. A certain forward momentum will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place...We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. (pages 188-189)

Friday, November 11, 2011

shown up again!

On the rare occasions he steps in to teach Sunday School for me, my husband always shows me up.

After a Sunday School class in which, with little-to-no preparation, Steve managed to incorporate a simple biblical theology ("Jesus is better than Moses") into the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, and entertained the kids with riotous games which they clearly preferred to my quiet crafts, eight-year-old Thomas bounced in the door and declared, "That was the best Sunday School class ever!"

Then, sensitive to my feelings as always, he stopped and added, "Daddy is the best in Sunday School, but you are the best in love, Mummy."

And then, in case I needed a little extra reassurance, "I love you and blankie best! I do, Mummy, I do!"

Well, that's a relief.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

in my weakness, your growth

None of us wants to be the cause of another person's sanctification - at least, not unintentionally - and yet, so often, that is what we are.1

Is this one of the reasons that God allows us to become weak, dependent and forgetful as we grow older? Is it so we can place a necessary burden on those who were once dependent on us: a burden of forbearance and loving care?

Is this one of the reasons we may have to bear chronic illness or long-term disability? Why we may fight depression or suffer from mental disorders? Why we experience unemployment or material need? We may not want to receive others' charity and compassion, but in giving these, they grow into who they should be.

Is this one of the reasons God gives us personalities both winsome and challenging, attractive and off-putting, charming and awkward? Which of us would choose to have a 'difficult' temperament? But it's our unappealing qualities - uncomfortable thought! - that help others learn to love someone who's hard to love.

Is this one of the reasons we're not yet made perfect; one of the reasons that transformation happens so slowly? As we live with imperfect people, we practise forgiveness and forbearance, giving to them what God has far more generously given to us.

Speculation, I know, and raising all kinds of questions about God's sovereignty and our responsibility (yes, I am responsible to grow in godliness, not to persist in my ungodliness because it might help you grow!). In adversity, faith fixes its eyes on Christ and chooses hope, courage and love, not self-centred neediness (Hebrews 12:1-3). But it doesn't do this by a proud denial of need.

My instinct is to conceal my sin, make excuses for my faults, play to my strengths, and deny my dependence. What if, instead, I admitted my weakness, and gratefully accepted your generosity and grace? What if I served, even when the service wasn't perfect? What if, during times of helplessness and need, I practised contentment and received your help with gladness?

We are not strong; we are weak. We are not sinless; we are sinners. In our attitudes towards those who love and bear with us, we can choose to grow in humility, self-forgetfulness and joy. As we do this, we practise something far more significant: an attitude toward God that helps us to humbly receive his grace.

1. This odd little thought popped into my head while I was vacuuming. I suspect it has its roots in some novels I've been reading by the Anglo-Catholic author Elizabeth Goudge. While there's lots about her theology that I don't agree with, I am often encouraged by her moral insights.

This post first appeared in The Briefing yesterday.

image is by SanShoot from flickr

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

a question for you: a book for someone who's grieving

Penny has written in with a question for you:

I just wondered if you or your readers knew of a good christian book I can give a friend? She is in her late twenties and her husband has died. She is a new christian (has no children) and would love a book addressing her situation from a Christian perspective.
Does anyone know of a book Penny could give her friend?

Monday, November 7, 2011

a favourite quote: CS Lewis on "My time is my own"

This quote from CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters has been running round and round my head for some reason.

It's a great reminder that, if Jesus demands nothing more taxing of me than bearing with an irritating visitor, who am I to say no? Yet take away an expected hour of rest or day of relaxation, and I feel hard done by.

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.

It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tete-а-tete with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own.” Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employer’s, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon his chattels. He is also, in theory, committed a total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse. He would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than listening to the conversation of a foolish woman; and he would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said “Now you may go and amuse yourself.” Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realise that he is actually in this situation every day.
CS Lewis The Screwtape Letters

image is by Ingorr from flickr

Thursday, November 3, 2011

what's happening with me

Hi, everyone! I thought it was time I dropped in and let you know how I am.

A week ago, I handed in that big editing job I've been working on for much of this year (it's a training manual for MTS, for those of you who are interested). After months of trying to juggle long working hours with raising 4 children and managing a home (poorly), you can imagine what a relief it is to be able to focus on my real job again!

Why did I do it? To save up for our seven week driving trip to Cairns, which, as you know, we did during Steve's long service leave. It was worth it: we came back refreshed, and with family bonds strengthened, in that vital time when your children are on the edge of becoming teenagers.

Since then, I've run a birthday sleepover for a thirteen-year-old and eight of her friends, dealt with one major health scare (thankfully, it looks like being nothing), and we've all gotten sick. Hmmm. I'm writing this with a sore throat, aching muscles and grainy eyes.

Writing for The Briefing - the only kind of writing I've been doing recently, as no doubt you've noticed! - has been fun but a little demanding, which is one of the reasons I haven't been writing much else. I'd like to get back to those rambly posts about books and our family now that my job has finished, so we'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, I'm playing lots of games of Carcassone with my sick boys, trying to wheedle my newly-teen daughter out of her room so we can spend some time together, and hosting lots of meetings at our house (if 'hosting' isn't too fancy a word for providing some chairs and Tim Tams).

We're having take-away chicken tonight, the gluten-free kind! A satisfying conclusion to a very lazy day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

praying for our school

It all started when my friend Rachel sent an email to Jess, Tanya and me:

I’ve been dwelling on how much I want to see families I meet at pre-school and school become Christians. And the best thing I know to do is pray. I think you all share the same passion – why not pray together? How fun to enjoy seeing God work!
Actually, it started a few months before this, when Jess, who was moving nearby, asked me for advice about local schools. No, it started a year before that, when Tanya came up to me and told me a few families from the local Presbyterian church were thinking of sending their kids to our school so they could get to know local families. Should they? There was a certain amount of strained desperation in my response: “Oh, yes! It’s a great school! Do come…”

Because really, it started eight years ago, when my daughter walked in the school gate carrying her new school bag, and I walked in bursting with enthusiasm. I hosted coffee mornings, invited women over for play-dates, and arrived at school early so I could chat with other mums while we waited for our kids to come out of class. Gradually, over the years, my enthusiasm waned. These days, I invite people over less often. I get to school at the last minute. Often, it’s easier to stand around and not talk to anyone at all.

So I know what it’s like to do it alone. Which is why this year has been such a revelation.

Once a month, Jess, Rachel, Tanya and I get together to pray for the families at our school. Here are some things this weary old sinner has learned from meeting with these eager young women – things I’m hoping will encourage and inspire you as they have me.

  • God is already at work
    All kinds of ‘coincidences’ bring the people we know together. During our first meeting, we discover that one of the mums Jess is getting to know ‘just happens’ to live down the road from Rachel. A woman I’ve befriended ‘just happens’ to have had an in-depth conversation with Tanya on the way out of school, although they have no natural connection. I ‘just happened’ to choose the same pre-school group as Rachel and her friend, even though I didn’t know she was sending her daughter there. God was already at work even before we started praying together!

  • Pray, for God answers prayer
    The week after our first prayer meeting, there’s a flurry of messages as we tell each other how God answered our prayers. We pray that Tanya will run into a woman she hasn’t seen for ages; she sees her on the way out of school the next afternoon. We pray for Jess to have a chance to ask another mum over; she writes, ‘Our meeting today and the Holy Spirit motivated me to have my friend and her kids over this arvo. Thanks!’ I pray for an opportunity to give a Bible to a good friend; the next week, I do. Now I’m praying we can read it together.

  • Get to know people early
    As I watch my friends, I’m reminded how many opportunities come at the start of your child’s schooling – opportunities that slip away as kids grow older and mums start working and become less interested in playgroups and play dates. If you’re a mum or dad and your kids are starting pre-school or school, now is the time to get to know people. I guess the same goes for new arrivals in a suburb, workplace or sporting club: it’s important to get to know people early, and then to work at these relationships in the long term, remembering that friendships take time.

  • Support and encourage each other
    Through our example and words, we inspire each other to ask people around for a meal, invite them in for coffee, initiate conversations we’ve been wanting to have. We learn from each other, discussing what kind of conversational openings might not be appropriate, and what might be more helpful. There’s a feeling of expectation: ‘What will happen this month? What will I have to share next time we pray?’ Again and again, we share our fears and uncertainties, and spur each other on to do all kinds of things we might not have had the courage for if we were doing it alone.

  • Work together, as part of a local community of Christians
    One of the things we do when we get together is to write lists of people we know. Whose children are going to be at pre-school next year? Whose kids are starting school? Who should we look out for? Lots of the women we know bring their kids to the church’s playgroup; Jess invites a mum and dad from the school to a church dinner where they hear the gospel; and soon, we’ll start a regular BBQ so we can get to know each other’s friends. It helps that most of us go to the same local church so we can work together, not apart.

  • Support (don’t envy!) those with gifts
    One of the women I pray with, Rachel, is particularly gifted at talking about her faith. She’s irresistibly friendly, and has already had lots of long conversations with people about what they believe. Whenever we feel uncertain – will so-and-so think I’m ‘stalking’ her if I ask her over again? should I invite so-and-so out for coffee? – she reminds us once again that ‘People love to be loved’. I don’t think I’ll ever be like her, but I can pray for her, support her, learn from her, and involve her in my friends’ lives so she can get to know them too.

  • Don’t lose heart
    When I pray with my friends, the grumpy-old-ladyish part of me sometimes wants to say, ‘When my kids first started school, I was just like you. I felt excited about talking about Jesus, but just wait till you’ve been at it for eight years!’ But I know the truth. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to lose heart. It’s easy to grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9). I’m so grateful that God has put these three women in my life, to encourage me to keep at it. I remind them, and they inspire me, to persevere with hope in the God who changes people’s hearts.
So if you get the chance, get together with a group of Christians and pray for people you know. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. Work together to befriend them. Be encouraged, because God is good, and he has his hand on those around you. Who knows? Maybe he’s at work in their hearts already (Acts 13:48). Because God has some who are his – even at our school.

This post first appeared in The Briefing today.

image is by AndersRuffCustomDesigns at flickr

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Next Story

I'm enjoying Wendy's series on Tim Challies' The Next Story - a book about our relationship with technology and cyber-communication - from her blog Musings (one of the best blogs around):

The Next Story

Monday, October 17, 2011

reading the Bible with kids - even the hard bits

The first chapter of Ezekiel (let’s be honest) is some kind of weird. A wind drives an immense storm cloud from the north; four glowing creatures emerge from the cloud, each with four different faces, with two wings covering their bodies and two spread out, darting to and fro with a sound like roaring waters; wheels within wheels, one for each creature, their rims covered in eyes, move in a straight line wherever the four creatures go; and above the creatures’ wings is an expanse like crystal, surmounted by a sapphire throne on which sits a human figure, glowing like metal in a furnace.

It’s a vivid, startling passage, and the kids’ faces are rapt. Mine too. We read Revelation a year or so ago, and the echoes and allusions are clearer than I’ve ever seen them, so much so that we all pick them up, even our eight year old.

It’s at times like this that I understand why the Puritans called the home a ‘little church’. As we sit here, the four kids and I, listening to my husband Steve read the Bible, it all falls into place. It’s completely casual, and I reckon just about anyone could do it, because all you have to do is to open a Bible, read a passage, and talk about it.

We use the same method my parents used with my brother and me after dinner, back in the day when their Presbyterian church, faithful to its Puritan heritage, taught them that it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach their kids about God. Here’s how we do it:

  • We take it in turns to read a book of the Bible, which leads to some pretty random choices, most recently Revelation, 1 and 2 Samuel, Acts and Ezekiel.
  • We read a chapter a night (the nights when we do it, that is). Mostly the adults read, but sometimes the older children.
  • Each member of the family gets to choose whether to ask or answer a question, even our five year old, whose questions tend to be simple multiple choice: ‘Did Ezekiel see: a. a cloud, b. a mountain, c. a goose?’. If they ask a question, the rest of the family gets to answer it.
  • We pray about what we read.1

See? I told you it was easy. So easy that it doesn't matter who's at our dinner table: we can invite them to join in.2 So easy - and yet so challenging - that it suits our whole family, with ages ranging from five to thirteen to forty-four.3

Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. When it comes to Ezekiel, it helps that Steve wrote some Bible studies on it a few years ago. When we’re confused, we ask him to explain, and he does, not in a preachy way, but just because we’re interested in what it all means. If this takes a little preparation, why shouldn’t parents put this kind of effort into teaching their children; or perhaps open a commentary and find the answers together? But mostly there’s no preparation, just us and the Bible.

We don’t read the Bible together every night. But it happens often enough for our kids to begin to realize that they can read and understand the Bible for themselves. Thomas, who’s eight, started out not really listening or concentrating (his questions were limited to the last verse of the passage or to the fascinating topic of death and destruction - ‘Why did so-and-so die/kill/maim so-and-so?’). These days, he takes in most of the passage and asks or answers intelligent questions.

As we chat about Ezekiel's vision, we nut out some of the weird imagery:

  • the eyes - God sees everything
  • the wheels, like the wheels of a chariot, moving in all directions - God can go anywhere
  • the four faces, each ruler of a different sphere (the man over the creatures, the lion over wild animals, the ox over tame animals, and the eagle over the sky) - God rules everything

  • the 'expanse' - eleven-year-old Ben chips in here and says it means ‘God is above them and better’ and his Dad says, ‘Yep’
  • the glowing figure on the throne - eight-year-old Thomas exclaims, ‘It’s Jesus!’ (see, I told you we've been reading Revelation)4

Now we’re all getting it.

When Ezekiel sees this vision, he's with the exiles in Babylon. We know what that means, because we’re all familiar with the Boney M. song River of Babylon, one of the songs on the retro playlists Steve inflicts on us in the car. He asks what the vision means, and Ben answers, ‘That God is there and that he loves them.’ Spot on!5. God is all-powerful, he sees everything, and he's everywhere, even with the exiles in Babylon. What seemed a bizarre and unsettling vision is now full of comfort.

Steve sums it up with words that haunt me for days: ‘God is there even in the bad things.’

I go away more encouraged than after many church meetings I’ve been to. No, scrap that. This is a church meeting, a gathering of God's people – one that any family or bunch of people can have in their home. All you need is a Bible, and a willingness to open it and ask questions. As you do this, especially if you don't skip the hard bits, you realize that, yes, the Bible is understandable, and anyone can read it. You begin to see how it all fits together. You learn that it's exciting and life-changing. Best of all, you get to know Jesus.

Any family or household can do that!

1. If this method doesn't appeal to you, you'll find some excellent ideas and resources in Sandy Grant's article Bible reading with kids.
2. Although we don't necessarily ask our visitors to jump straight into Ezekiel: when our neighbours shared a meal the other day, we asked if they would mind joining in our after-dinner Bible reading, and read half a chapter of Mark with them. We didn't make them ask or answer questions, although their son volunteered better answers than ours did!
3. That said, our five year old is more in the learning-to-concentrate rather than the taking-everything-in category, so we read a children's Bible with the little ones at bedtime while the older kids and adults do their own Bible notes: not everything is age-transferable!
4. Actually, it's 'the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD' (Ezekiel 1:28); what Thomas is picking up on is how the description of Jesus in Revelation 1:12-16 draws on Old Testament visions of God's glory, such as Ezekiel chapters 1, 9 and 43 and Daniel chapters 7 and 10.
5. Although we're about to learn that God's presence in exile has as much to do with judgement as salvation as we read the first half of Ezekiel, something we could have guessed from the lightning cloud; we'll get to God's salvation in the second half of the book.

This post first appeared in The Briefing last Friday.

image is a detail of Michelangelo's Sistene Chapel ceiling