Tuesday, May 31, 2011

women of the Bible (8) the Shunnamite woman: emptied to be filled

I'm sure you’ve met her. She's polite, poised and polished. She talks in correct and considered sentences, but rarely about herself; certainly never about anything intimate. You won't see her at a loss. You can (barely!) imagine her in tears, but only when no-one's looking. If she has worries or grief, they are well hidden. Her house is immaculate, her job responsible, her hospitality faultless. She's strong, capable, and generous.

I'm sure you know him. He's a powerful preacher. His books are bought and his sermons downloaded all over the globe. Hundreds of thousands read his blog, follow him on Twitter, and like him on Facebook. He's godly, persuasive, and charming. If he's evangelical, he's a powerful preacher; if he's charismatic, he's a prophet and miracle-worker.

When I read the story of the Shunnamite woman in 2 Kgs 4, it's people like this that I see.

There she is: a wealthy benefactor. She provides food for God’s prophet Elisha and builds him a room of his own. When he wants to reward her, she refuses. She proclaims her independence: “I dwell among my own people” (2 Kgs 4:13). When he offers the one thing she lacks—a child—she recoils, afraid of disappointment and grief (2 Kings 4:16, 28). Other barren women may plead with God, or give way to bitterness (1 Sam 1, Gen 18:10-15); she stays remote, untouchable, holding her familiar sorrow close. She's the giver, not the one given to.

There he is: a powerful prophet. He proclaims God's words. He wields God's power. At his passing, oil jars fill themselves, poisoned pots become pure, and a few loaves feed one hundred men (2 Kgs 4). When the Shunnamite woman refuses his gift of a son, he grants her one anyway. He's the giver, and he won't be denied.

In a crisis, she keeps her head. Things turn out just as she feared: her son dies in her arms. Even then, she doesn't lose her tight control. She carries her son's body upstairs, lays it on the prophet's bed, and asks a servant to fetch her a donkey. When her husband asks what's wrong, she says, “All is well”. When the prophet’s servant asks what’s wrong, she says, “All is well”. Only when she reaches Elisha does she fall on her face and pour out her bitter grief: “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, 'Do not deceive me?” (2 Kgs 4:23, 26, 28).

Driven to her knees, she cries out; no longer a patron, she's a petitioner.

In a crisis, Elisha knows what to do. He recognises her distress, and moves into action: he sends his staff with his servant, telling him to run and lay it on the boy's face. Only the woman's insistence drives Elisha to the boy’s side (2 Kgs 4:30). On the way, the servant returns to tell them that Elisha's prescription hasn't worked. The child is still dead.

Driven to his knees, Elisha prays—the only time he's said to do so in this chapter of miracles.

And God answers. He responds to the mother's cry and the prophet's prayer. As Elisha lays himself out on the cold body, God breathes warm life back into the boy, and restores him to his mother. Not Elisha, not the Shunnamite woman, but God, alone, is exalted (Isa 42:8).

Irresistibly, inexorably, God drives us to our knees, but he humbles only to raise up. He won't let us hide forever behind our careful defences. He tunnels under our walls and breaks down our strong towers. He strips us of our disguises and pursues us down every escape route. He erodes our pride and undermines our self-sufficiency, so that we will, finally, come empty-handed to be filled by him.

This post first appeared yesterday at Sola Panel.

first image is by melisdramatic at flickr

Monday, May 30, 2011

what I'm reading: how I feel about rain from A Year in the Valley

You need a tin roof for rain. Tiles muffle it, make the rain just something that happens out of doors. You're part of the rain under a tin roof. You can't speak over the noise in a good downpour but who'd want to; you're at the window watching the water washing over the paving. The world is grey and what colour remains is changed - strange olive colours, almost-colours, faded under the cloth of rain.

When I was a child I walked in the rain. I still do when I'm by myself, when the rain is right for walking, steady rain, not the sheeting sort that blinds you, not the lightning sort.

Misty rain is lovely, a world of white around you, or the steady rain that seems to part before you, that drums around you, isolating you from the world more than a few metres away. You can believe that frogs come down in rain, like mushrooms or wireworms inching over the wet grass; that mud spontaneously generates, that trees turn silver and the light turns pale.

After the rain is as strange as the time before it - a clarity as great as the oppression earlier. The light is gold suddenly and the sky deep blue and you can see the green swelling even though you know it's impossible and the air smells like a child that has had its hair washed and you feel like dancing with the grass.

From Jackie French's A Year in the Valley page 272.

image is by Gerard :-[ from flickr

Friday, May 27, 2011

deja vu

Echoes of last week's conversation...

Thomas: I love going to church! It's good to go to Sunday School and learn about Jesus, isn't it, Mummy?

Andy: I hate going to church!

Mum: I thought you liked going to Sunday School, Andy.

Andy: Well, yes, I do like Sunday School (implying that it's all the rest - whatever that may be - that he hates...)

Thomas: When I go to church, I like learning about Jesus, and eating, and wrestling!

The earnest and eager-to-please meets the honest and outspoken? Who knows - only time will tell. Cute, all the same (at least to mums and grandmas) - although it does make you wonder what's to come! Ah, the manifold joys of parenting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

housework has a 'work' in it

It's funny how the me of the past can surprise and challenge the me of the present.

Usually, I regard the me of the past with a little disdain. Haven't I moved from there? Was I really so worried about that issue? Oh, please!

But sometimes the me of the past floors me with her (my?) wisdom - a wisdom I lost somewhere along the way. This happened to me recently when a friend sent a suggestion for a blog post:

I remember when I was first home with my first child, that you helped me greatly by suggesting that I work at the housework consistently through the day with a few breaks rather than completing a job and then stopping.
I said what??? And (embarrassingly) how seldom have I lived up to this since? Of course, there's nothing magical about my then-approach to housework, but it's a helpful pattern.

But it's what my friend added next that really helped me:

I have found it much better for my mood to see the house and kids as
something I work at all day not just when a need arises.
Now that's helpful.

It's relatively easy to work when you're at work. The boss is watching, there are people around, and you'll eventually get fired if the job's not done. There are clear expectations, clear tasks, and clear achievements.

It's not so easy with housework. You have to be self-disciplined and self-motivated (or visitor-motivated). No-one cheers you on. You do it, then do it all over again the next day - and the next.

Like all work in this fallen world, housework can feel like unrewarding drudgery. Probably more so, because (or so the voices in our heads tell us) who wants to be a housewife these days? Shouldn't my husband be doing as much as I am? Isn't there something more meaningful I could be doing with my time?

So we swap anecdotes about how little we do, boast about how much our husbands do, squeeze housework into increasingly smaller portions of time, and look down on our house-obsessed friends. I know, I've done it. (And yes, while you can turn housework into an idol, my tendency is to go too far the other way.)

So I like what my friend says. I like the idea of treating this wifing / mothering / housework thing as my job, not an annoying intrusion into work, ministry and relaxation. Because this is my work (or part of it, anyway). This matters. This is valuable. This requires generosity, self-discipline, grace - and a pair of strong arms (Prov 31:17).

Thanks, friend, for the reminder that housework has a 'work' in it.

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy:
a tale of two mornings
cleanliness is not next to godliness

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Year in the Valley: book review

Blue smoke sifting across the valley, a high blue sky, and a fluffy wombat sleeping stomach upward among the lavender...
I'm enjoying reading Jackie French's A Year in the Valley. I discovered Jackie when hunting through the Premier's Reading Challenge list for books for my 12-year-old daughter to read. I liked the look of the titles (the list for years 7-8 is excellent), borrowed some from the library, and found in Jackie a great children's author (I especially liked They Came On Viking Ships, one of her historical novels for older children).

A Year in the Valley is Jackie's diary of a year in Araluen, New South Wales. It's a story of wombats adopted and peaches relished and skies observed. It's the story of a place, and the people who shape it and who are shaped by it. It brims with life: bums damp on logs, creeks brown with wombat poo, randy echidnas. There's no over-arching story: just a ramble with Jackie through her days and her home.

One of the reasons I like Jackie's A Year in the Valley is that it's essence of my mum-in-law. Both Jackie and my mum-in-law live in the Australian bush and grow their own fruit, veges and herbs. Their lives revolve around the seasons. They watch the rain gauge, mindful of the threat of floods, drought and bushfire. They keep chooks, ducks and geese. They excel in herb lore, cooking and making preserves. They delight in using the imperfect offerings of the garden which taste so much better than 'perfect' products from the supermarket: sun-warmed berries, poo-spotted eggs, blemished fruit, misshapen tomatoes, old-fashioned varieties of cucumber, caterpillar-nibbled greens.

Every few pages there's a recipe, for everything from peach fool to heart's-ease handcream. I have to admit I probably won't make any of the recipes (no home-grown peaches here, for one thing - although I do have a soft spot for soup, so I might attempt the carrot broth) but I loved reading them - and I'm not usually a cook-book kind of girl. The recipes are so intricately and intimately described that reading them is almost as good as eating the results.

If you want to read a book that is unpretentious and homey and good - a book with language so rich that you can taste it, so earthy that you can feel the soil under your hands - a book that is perfect for holiday reading, but also perfect for escaping the daily grind - if you want to read a book like that, you'll love this one.

Monday, May 23, 2011

what I'm listening to: last night's sermon

Last night our pastor John spoke on Exodus 12. I was so struck by something he said that I opened my journal and wrote it down:

To be free from Jesus' rule is to be a slave to sin.
To be a slave to Jesus is to be free.
If you want the longer version - it's beautiful! - here it is (from John's notes):
We who follow Jesus owe him our very lives
he bought us out of the death we deserved at the cost of his life
so that we are owned by him, body and soul.

Freedom is being your own boss, we want to think,
running life your own way -
but wait a minute, that's what sin is -
and when we seek to be independent from God, we become a slave to sin.

True freedom only comes in Christ
by being a slave to him
by being owned by him
because that's what we were made for,
and living the life you were designed and made for is what freedom is -
just as the fish only has freedom in the water,
the tram only has freedom on the tracks,
so we are only truly free being owned by Jesus -

and being owned by Jesus means we no longer have the right to live as we please
but rather we live to please our owner and master.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

how big is the Bible?

We were sitting around the dinner table, lazily contemplating not bothering to read the Bible, when 7-year-old Thomas piped up and 4-year-old Andy responded.

Thomas (enthusiastically): 'Can we read the Bible tonight? I love God's word!'

Andy (bemused): 'I don't like reading the Bible.'

Thomas (concerned):'If you don't like the Bible, that means you don't like God! It means you don't like Jesus!'

Andy (upset): 'I do like God! I do like Jesus!'

Mum (reassuringly): 'It's okay, Thomas, the Bible is a very big book and Andy is a very small boy.'

Andy (indignantly): 'I am so bigger than the Bible!'

Thursday, May 19, 2011

out of my misery

I was sitting in a car-park on the corner of two busy roads, waiting for my family (they'd been to the footy) so I could pick them up on the way to church. I was absorbed in my tiredness and discouragement, staring unseeing through the windscreen at the dull late-afternoon sky.

At the same moment, two things happened: the western sky glowed gold as the sun broke through the clouds, and these words sang out from the car stereo -

The heavens shake, the mountains quake
And crumble to the sea
The oceans roar because the Lord
Is reigning sovereignly
And those who trust in You
Will never be afraid
Those who trust in You will not be moved.
Just like that, my self-absorption was punctured and I was reminded (again!) how much greater God is than me.

I get so caught up in my miseries and small concerns.

He goes on, dwelling in unapproachable light, ruling and sustaining all creation, and every passing thought in every human heart is laid bare before his eyes.

My life is for his glory.

My story is part of his bigger story.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

The song I was listening to was God is our refuge from Sovereign Grace's Psalms.

image is by Uncle Jerry in Golden Valley, AZ from flickr

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

sharing Jesus with women from other cultures - hospitality

You may recall I once asked you a question (that Deb asked me) about sharing Jesus with women from other cultures. If you look at the comments, you'll find lots of very helpful suggestions about inviting women from other cultures into your home.

Well, Deb - and anyone else who's interested in offering hospitality to people from other cultures - you'll love these posts! They wrap up Nicole's series on hospitality at in tandem:

an interview with Rachael about Vanuatu
thoughts from Slovenia
thoughts from Chile


Monday, May 16, 2011

what I'm reading: being the perfect woman from From Fear to Freedom

Rose Marie writes about the pressure women feel to live up to the standard for perfect womanhood. She begins by talking about women from the southern US.

Record building for these women meant living for the approval of family, church, and community. Always trying to look good is a terrible burden to bear. The problem is that your conscience condemns you because you must do everything perfectly. You mentally make a list of how to be the perfect wife, mother, or daughter. If you do fairly well, then you become the judge of those who don't make it according to your lists. If you don't measure up, you either try harder or give up...

What had happened to these southern upper-class women? They were heirs to a tradition that values courtesy, authority, the family, and the church. Their social life was conditioned by an emphasis on outward performance and appearance...They were tying to be perfectly moral, perfectly dressed, perfect mothers, and perfect housekeepers. ...People pleasing had become an enormous burden for these women...They saw that the end of this awful struggle is a righteousness bought for them by Christ...

These church women were different in so many ways from the non-Christian women in our northeastern part of the U.S. I was surprised how these traditional family women were so much like the women dedicated to their 'liberation'. Both sorts seemed to me to be entangled in a web of rules. It's just that these women were mentally burdened by the old rules while the women's liberationists are loaded down with the new rules...

An oppressive load of guilt can come on the conscience if the deeper needs of the heart are not met by a powerful Christ.
From Fear to Freedom, 102-104.

image is by Canine Girl at flickr

Saturday, May 14, 2011

family catch-up: Ben

Ben is 10 now, and shooting up fast. In many ways, he's a lot like me. He lovesscientific exploration,family,imagining (wrapped up in his favourite blanket),soft toys (he has a bedtime roster to make sure none is left out - just like me as a child),wrestling with his cousins (and anyone else who's willing),setting up elaborate scenarios for stop-gap photography,animals of any kind,and (always) reading, reading, reading.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

how do kids understand who God is? - wrap up

I've been enjoying this discussion about how kids understand who God is - thanks, everyone! Here's my own answer to the question 'How do kids understand who God is?', with a little help from my friends.

1. We don't talk down to kids (although we talk as simply and clearly as possible). We tell them what they - and we - don't really understand, but which we know is true because God's word, the Bible, tells us so: for example, that God is a spirit (he's invisible, but he's real and he's everywhere); that he's the 'Trinity', one God in three persons; that he loved us enough to send his Son to die in our place ... And then, as they grow, they grow into our answers (but never to completely understand them, and that's good too).

2. Isn't it the same with lots of things we tell our kids? We tell them the world is round and wherever you stand on it, you're standing the right way up - something my 7 year old is completely confused about and asks me about all the time!!! We tell them many things we know are true and they (and we) don't fully understand. You don't need to completely understand something to know it and trust it, often because you trust the source it came from (which leads to my next answer...).

3. The very best answer for anyone is always one that takes them back to Jesus and the Bible, because that's where we want to direct our attention. In the end, we trust and serve God not because we understand him, but because we see him clearly in his Son (his life, death and resurrection) and in the Bible (his revealed word about himself). That's where all of us, Christian or non-Christian, adult or child, come to know and trust in God. Which is why we open the Bible with our kids and introduce them to Jesus, who is bigger than we will ever understand.

4. None of this would mean much without our example, as our friend from Tasmania wrote:

As preschoolers (my experience so far!) I think my kids realise that I believe God is real, so they do too. My two-year-old talks to God because I do. My four-year-old is excited that Jesus is alive because I am. They don't really understand - but of course I don't really understand either. He is someone we don't see, but who loves us. We talk about God because He is a part of our lives. And we answer their questions as best we can.
5. Bec pointed out something I hadn't thought of before: not only do we set a good example for our children by our lives, but we embody truth for them. Kids learn in concrete ways. They learn about God's fatherhood as they experience human fatherhood. They learn about the marriage between Christ and the church as they observe our marriage. They learn about grace as they experience a relationship of grace with us.

6. In the end, as Gordon said, the problem isn't one of understanding (for we will never fully comprehend our great God) but of hearts that reject his truth. Only God's grace can open our children's hearts and help them to know and trust in him. So we lead our kids to God's word, we explain his truth to them, we live out our faith before them - but, most importantly, we pray for them.

Lots of helpful answers! Thanks, friends.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From Fear to Freedom: book review

Give up your success-and-failure patterns. Seek grace in Christ, humbly and honestly. Understand that a conviction of sin does not make you neurotic, but rather it spells the beginning of the end for neurosis. After all, what is a neurotic? Simply a hurting person who is closed off to criticism in any form and yet engages in the most intense, destructive self criticism that produces neither hope nor help. What a marvelous relief God’s grace in Christ offers. I had been totally criticized, and at the same time I was completely forgiven. As I rested in the work of another, my heart was at peace with God; and for the first time, I felt at peace with myself.
I read this quote in Of First Importance and knew I'd like to read From Fear to Freedom. Neurotic? Yes. Addicted to success? Yes. Not at peace with myself? Yes. Helped by the gospel? Yes, please! So I ordered a copy from The Book Depository and eagerly looked out for a cardboard-wrapped parcel in the letter box.

From Fear to Freedom is a short and easy read. It's a woman's story of her inner landscape: her upbringing by parents who valued order and morality; her own moral successes: a Christian marriage, well-brought-up children, and a busy hospitality ministry; how it fell apart, leaving her doubting and fearful; and how God rescued her.

Rose Marie contrasts two ways to live: as an orphan or as God's child. The orphan doesn't feel loved except when she meets her own and others' expectations (something women are particularly prone to!). Her life is filled with joyless duty. When things go wrong, she sees herself as a victim, blames others, and withdraws into anger and self-condemnation.

The daughter knows she's loved, perfect in God's sight. She has come face-to-face with her own helplessness, and knows only God can rescue her: her righteousness comes from him, not from obeying rules or keeping up appearances. So she's free from guilt and bitterness, free to forgive and relate honestly, free to risk herself in God's service.

It's good - although at times a little unsettling! - to see the old-fashioned gospel (drawn from Martin Luther's Introduction to his Commentary on Galatians) applied to 'modern' issues like neuroticism, victim mentality and blame-shifting. People haven't changed, and neither has God's word. The solution to anxiety, guilt and people-pleasing isn't, ultimately, counselling or a psychological theory: it's the gospel of grace.

This book isn't perfect. Rose Marie talks about a few things I was uncomfortable with, like the power of inherited sin through the generations, and spiritual warfare using certain forms of prayer. At these points the book tends to be 'gospel-plus'. You'll need to read with discernment.

Still, I recommend this book. It will help you find your way out of the orphan mindset into the freedom of a son or daughter of God.

Monday, May 9, 2011

what I'm reading: some great quotes from Wolf Hall

Here are a few final quotes from Wolf Hall to whet your appetite.
It opens brutally:
'So now get up.'
Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.
Blood from the gash on his head—which was his father's first effort—is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded; but if he squints sideways, with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father's boot is unraveling. The twine has sprung clear of the leather, and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened another cut.
continues gloriously:
He remembers one night in summer when the footballers had stood silent, looking up. It was dusk. The note from a single recorder wavered in the air, thin and piercing. A blackbird picked up the note, and sang from a bush by the water gate. A boatman whistled back from the river.
and includes insights like this (the 'king' is Henry VIII, pining for Anne Boleyn).
After dark the king is sick with love. He is melancholy, sometimes unreachable. He drinks and sleeps heavily, sleeps alone; he wakes, and because he is a strong man and a young man still he is optimistic, clear-headed, ready for a new day. In daylight, his cause is hopeful.
Oh, for the glories of youthful sleep!

From Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, pages 3, 116, 120.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

how do kids understand who God is? - Gordon's answer

Yesterday I asked, 'How do kids learn about God? How do they understand who God is?'.

Here's a very helpful response from my friend Gordon:
I reckon the main problem is that we see understanding of God as a matter of comprehension rather than repentance.

If comprehension is the issue, then not only do children have a problem but so do grown-ups. Who is God? How may he be known? What does it mean to follow him? The answers to those questions fall into the category of either

(a) impossible to answer satisfactorily for anyone operating with a human mind, which would be most of us.

(b) easy to comprehend but impossible to accept on account of our status as individuals dead in our sins.

Once we realize that the real issue is sin, and that the only way to overcome this is by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the resurrection of Christ, then the answer becomes 'by grace'—with the only proviso being that we make sure that we are using simple words that little kids can understand, like 'dad', 'God is the boss', 'sin' 'I'm sorry' and 'you're forgiven'.
Add your own ideas here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

how do kids understand who God is? - a question for you

One of the best things about blogging is the great questions people ask.

A mum from Tasmania read my post about 4-year-old Andy's conversations about God. She passed on this question from a friend:

'But how do kids learn about God? How do they understand who he is?'
What do you think? Can you help me answer her?

Just click here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

why we don't have a clothes dryer

Last week my daughter, who was searching for a dry top to wear, asked me why we don't have a clothes dryer (it broke last year, and we chose not to replace it - which, by the way, causes little inconvenience). I'd usually say, "We can't afford it", but I answered, "Because we choose to give money away." I was inspired by what I'd just read at in tandem:

Chester issues a challenge to think about having less. This may mean choosing to work less hours or not take the promotion, in order to have more time outside of work. It may be choosing the smaller house over the larger one, so that we don’t have to work so hard to pay for that larger mortgage. It may mean no longer reading “Better Homes and Gardens” or similar, and learning to be satisfied with the home that you have.

I think this is something that those of us in ministry should be striving to model. Consumerism is so rife we hardly notice it anymore. But we need to find ways to model it that are honest. If people think we have less because we cannot afford it, we are sending the wrong message. Ministers (at least those in the Western world) are generally not poor, we are paid enough to live on (and often much more than that). We need to be able to explain why we choose to spend less on some things, it’s a choice. Most ministry families who cry “poor me” have little understanding of true poverty.
Yep, I needed to hear that, and so did my daughter. Thanks, Wendy.

From Wendy's post The Busy Christian...chapter 11.

image is by DanielleCM at flickr