Thursday, September 29, 2011

are holidays Christian?

You might remember a post I wrote some time ago about Tim Chester's argument that holidays aren't biblical. Here's some further thoughts I wrote for The Briefing.

There's a certain amount of discomfort in Christian circles when it comes to annual leave and long service leave - or any kind of extended holiday, for that matter. The workaholics and type-A personalities amongst us (I'm putting my hand up now) can be even more uncomfortable about taking holidays. Perhaps they're right.

Aren't these the last days, when our task - to tell the world about Jesus - is a matter of desperate urgency? Shouldn't we be spending our time and money on gospel ministry, not on luxurious holidays-for-self? Haven't most people, across the world and until the fairly recent past, had to do without annual leave? Doesn't the Bible, as some argue, give us a pattern of six days' work and one day's rest, not overwork for most of the year and 'binge resting' during one's annual leave?1

Yes, yes, yes, and...well, a qualified yes. While I agree that laziness and overwork are thoroughly unbiblical, and 'binge resting' doesn't sound much better, my husband and I are convinced that extended leave and holidays can be very, very good things. So much so, that we've just celebrated Steve's long service leave with a seven week driving trip from Melbourne to Cairns. Not very luxurious, and perhaps not even particularly restful (picture 7000 kms in a car with four children), but a great break all the same!

Why do I think holidays and extended leave are biblical? Here are six reasons, ranging from anecdotal to theological.

  1. If you're anything like us, after working hard for many months or years, extended rest is a very welcome gift of God.
    Yes, I know that most people throughout history and across the world have had to do without annual and long service leave. They are not necessities of life, any more than owning a car or living near a local park; but this doesn't make them bad things. A year ago, my husband was looking wilted after eleven years in an exhausting ministry job, and I was worn out after eleven years of raising young children. Long service leave has done us a world of good, and we thank God for his timely gift (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

  2. Rest is biblical.
    Rest shows that I believe I'm not the God and Savior of the universe: God is, and I can trust him to run the world and continue his work while I rest. Rest shows that I live in God's grace, rather than needing to prove myself, meet others' expectations or give my life meaning through work. Rest shows that I acknowledge my humanness, my dependence and my need: that while God doesn't need rest, I'm a creature, and I do (Psalm 121:4; 127:2). Rest shows that I know life isn't about work, but about glorifying God in all I do, while I work and while I rest.2

  3. Extended times of rest are biblical.
    It's sometimes argued that, while we're not under the Old Testament law, the wise biblical pattern expressed in Genesis 2:1-2 and the Sabbath commandment is six days of work and one day of rest. I agree. But there were also extended times of rest in the Old Testament calendar: regular annual celebrations in which workers downed tools and traveled to the temple, and (seldom observed) seventh year rests and forty-ninth year Jubilees, when the land and its people rested from their labor.3 I'm not arguing that we need to keep special days any more (Galatians 4:8-11; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 10:1) but if the Sabbath gives us a wise principle for weekly rest, why not the Old Testament pattern of longer rests as well?4

  4. Rest (including more extended periods of rest) helps us to avoid burnout and stay in for the long haul.
    I have to admit that I don't like the term 'self care'. But, in the end, rest is not about self care: it's about other-person care.5 If it's true, for example, that up to 50% of pastors leave pastoral ministry within the first five years, many due to burnout, then it's important to take steps to prevent this. My husband is no workaholic - he's much better than me at regular weekly rest - but after more than ten years' work as a ministry leader who spares others the extra load, he badly needed time to refuel and revive so he can keep serving for the next ten years.

  5. Rest helps our relationships.
    During times of rest, marriages can be built and family life strengthened in a way that's not always possible during the busyness of life. My friend Heather encouraged me (and our experience on our recent holiday confirmed it):

    In the long run Steve & the kids (and eventually the grandkids) will always be your primary ministry so take some time out to ensure that those relationships develop a strength and solidity that will last through the teen years and into adulthood. Our LSL time was always a precious memory for our kids, and many of the experiences laid down during this period were foundational in holding together the open communication with our kids we enjoyed into the teen years and even now.
  6. Rest helps us to pour ourselves out in God's service.
    There are times of life when we give out (hopefully most of life!) and times of life when we take in so we can serve, such as during theological study, conferences, study leave or holidays. During such times we regroup, reflect, renew ('the three Rs') as we prepare prayerfully for the future. Rest doesn't necessarily show a failure to 'pour ourselves out' for the gospel; used wisely, it fills us so that we can 'pour out' all the more, working hard in God's service to the end (Philippians 2:17 cf. Romans 12:11; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13).

Are holidays Christian? Well, it depends. If we spend too much on self-indulgent, luxurious vacations, then no (James 5:5). If we overwork all year to save up for a few weeks' leave, then no. If we live for leisure as if it were the goal of life, then no. But if we work hard in God's service and rest wisely and regularly, then yes, holidays can be a very good gift of God. Like all gifts of God received with thanksgiving and used for his glory, they become truly 'holy' days, not in the old sense of special religious days, but in the sense of a creation gift 'made holy' by the word and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

What do you think?

1. See Tim Chester, The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness, pages 29-30. I must add that I agree with most of what he says here, and this is probably the only bit of this excellent book that I have any disagreement with!
2. See the book just mentioned and my series
busyness and burnout.
3. See my post
Sunday School: The Law and Sacrifices - Special Days for a more detailed overview.
4. The hole in my argument is that the Sabbath is established in Genesis 2:2-3 as a creation principle while the annual religious festivals aren't; but both are spoken of in the same breath in Colossians 2:16-17, and both show that regular breaks from work are neither a modern phenomenon nor an unbiblical one.
5. Thanks, Honoria Lau, for pointing this out to me.
6. See Grant Bickerton's article
Stressors of pastors and leaders.

image is by andrewmalone from flickr

Monday, September 26, 2011

5 books that changed who I am (4) early 30s

Marriage, motherhood, and the books that changed me...

(4) early 30s - godly womanhood
Looking back on the early years of marriage and motherhood, I was almost completely clueless! I got married when I was 21, and became a mum when I was one month off 30. In my late teens I'd become convinced that God gives men and women complementary roles (thanks largely to Piper and Grudem's Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), but I had little idea of how to live this out in our home.

As a new mum, I gradually realised that my focus needed to shift from formal ministries outside the home (which I had to lay aside for a few years) to loving my husband, teaching and training our children, and caring for our home. The book that helped me most with this was Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal (the first book I blogged through). She introduced me to Titus 2:3-5 and God's call to love husband and children, care for our home, serve people in our church and community, and teach and encourage younger women.

Runners up: Elizabeth George's A Woman After God's Own Heart (not because it's the best but because it was the first book like this I read, so it had an enormous impact on me) and Sharon James God's Design for Women (because it's perhaps the best).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

household management - a helpful reminder

As we think about all those handy household tips, here's a helpful hint from Deb about how not to get overwhelmed by them all.

I think the biggest help to me has been building routines. Slowly. When I've attempted to become wonderful at housekeeping overnight, I've fallen in a heap because I can't mantain the level of energy all the time. But adding one extra thing in at a time over a long period of time has been good. I now always put on a load of washing every morning while the kids are doing the last minute scramble to get out the door to school. Done and waiting for me to hang out mid-morning. I now always wipe down the stove top after I wash the dishes. I used to leave it until it really needed doing (and long after sometimes!). Now I do it without thinking and it's not a chore because I'm used to it. I think good home managers have probably learnt to build certain tasks into habits so that it no longer feels so burdensome - it's just what they do. I have a lot more routines I need to get going though!
image is by Aunty Cookie from flickr

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Sometimes I feel so unlovely.

Sometimes it rises up and sickens me: the horror of my lovelessness, the ugliness of my self-absorption, the scandal of my greed. How God hates my impurity and despises my pride and abhors my complaining (Psalm 26:5; Proverbs 6:16-19; 1 Cor 10:10; Ephesians 5:5).

I’m left gasping for breath, as if the possibility of God's love has been sucked from the air. My sudden self-awareness squeezes out any sense of God's grace. Stripped of my defences, I'm naked, ashamed, exposed.

The fact that I'm so stunned by this view of myself shows how seldom I see the truth. How, at some level, I believe God loves me because he finds my personality winsome and my potential impressive. Because he rates my performance at least above a pass mark. Because I'm, well, lovable.

This is, to put it mildly, an entire tip-full of garbage.

When I see my unloveliness, I see more clearly than I usually do. The rose-colored glasses are shattered, the make-up scrubbed off, the mirror wiped clean.

I am unlovely. That’s precisely the point.

God loves the unlovable. Jesus died for the unlovely. It's the blind who see, the leprous who are healed, the lost who are found. It's the guilty who are forgiven. (Matthew 11:2-6, Mark 2:13-17, Luke 15:1-32, 18:9-14) Full of the illusion of my loveliness, I'm bereft of grace. Emptied of myself, I'm ready to be filled.

Unlovely, I am loved.

This article first appeared at The Briefing yesterday.

image is by gogoloopie at flickr

Monday, September 19, 2011

5 books that changed who I am (3) mid 20s

More on the books that changed who I am...

3. mid-20s - learning to enjoy God
All that thinking, and perhaps I still needed to learn to enjoy God. I'd become convinced us evangelicals were great at thinking about God, but not always so good at godly emotions: things like fear and sorrow and, above all, joy. Surely the truth should shape every part of us, including our emotions!

Oddly enough, I learnt about joy during what you'd expect to be a very dry season: while studying for my PhD (lots of microfilm and dusty library catalogues). I learnt it at the feet of the Puritans, especially as I read John Owen's Communion with God. Over many memorable days, Owen fed me with the unchanging facts of union with Christ, taught me (wonder of wonders) that God delights in me, and invited me to enjoy the many facets of communion with Christ. I blogged about what I learnt here.

Runners up: John Piper Desiring God, CS Lewis Surprised by Joy, and Mike Raiter Stirrings of the Soul (later to be joined by Piper's When I Don't Desire God, which helped me fight for joy during tougher times).

Which books have helped you to rejoice in God? Tell us here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

household management (5) tidying and cleaning

Now for something a little less complicated than budgeting (although to look at my house today you wouldn't think so): keeping the house clean and tidy. With thanks to everyone who shared their ideas.

  • To keep the house tidy, 'pick up 5' whenever you get home or have a spare moment. Get into the habit of putting a few things away as you go from room to room. Don't let yourself start a 'hot spot' - a pile of junk to be put away another time - instead, when you pick something up, carry the job through to completion (an opened envelope, a school notice, a dropped toy). Tell me if you ever manage this.

  • The key to tidiness is de-cluttering: having less stuff. Go clockwise around the room and pick up 5 things to throw or give away. Repeat. Repeat again. Then take that bag to the bin or op-shop straight away. (I'm hopeless at this - a natural hoarder! - but I'm starting to discover the joy in getting rid of stuff.)

  • Make cleaning fun. Put on some music and dance your way through the jobs. Or get a headset on your phone and chat to a friend (I'm so much more productive when I'm talking to someone!). Or hand your toddler a broom and get them involved. Take a moment to bask in the cleanliness once you've done - very motivating!

  • You can give your house a basic clean in about an hour: I know, I do it most weeks (floors, bathrooms and toilets). Keep everything in one place - cleaning products, sponges etc. - and create a routine that works for you and that you can move through without thinking. For this weekly clean, you don't need to be too thorough, just do the important bits...but the rest also needs to be done, so...

  • Add 10 minutes to your weekly cleaning (or grab any spare 10 minutes you have) and do one extra job e.g. wash some windows, clean out the fridge, de-cobweb the ceilings, wipe down the walls. Keep a list of these jobs as you notice them for a spare moment when you can't think what to do next. Living in a place more than 5 years makes you realise that spring cleaning really does need to happen!

  • Get the kids involved. Use chore lists to encourage kids to do daily jobs like dishes. Set aside an hour or two on Saturday mornings when the whole family does chores around the house and yard. (I've written quite a lot about chores and kids.)

  • If you want a more thorough guide to planning chores, check out FlyLady or Motivated Moms.

  • What about you? Any ideas for keeping on top of the mess? Share them here.

    You can follow this series here.

    image is by Aunty Cookie from flickr

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    5 books that changed who I am (2) young adulthood

    You might remember that before I went away, I started blogging through this meme, from the lovely Nic, about the books which changed who I am. It was supposed to be one post; since I'm a rambler, I turned it into several. Here's the second.

    2. early adulthood - learning to think with God
    During my late teens and early 20s my theological foundations were firmed up: what I believe about Jesus, the Bible, God's sovereignty, womanhood, and all kinds of other things. This happened through Bible reading and conversations and prayer - and, yes, books, so it's hard to pick one that changed me most!

    I'll go with JI Packer's Knowing God. I must have read the first few chapters a dozen times (and never quite made it to the end of the book!). Packer taught me that knowing God is more than knowing about God, showed me how to meditate on God's truth until it shapes my mind and feelings, and helped me get to know our great God.

    Runners up: John Stott The Cross of Christ, Don Carson How Long O Lord, Graham Goldsworthy Gospel and Kingdom, JC Ryle Holiness, and John Piper and Wayne Grudem Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

    What about you? Which books have shaped the way you think? Tell us here.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    the idols of a parent

    There’s nothing like parenting to reveal your true values.

    My 12-year-old daughter started secondary school this year. It’s an anxious time for any parent. Your mind fills with questions: will she settle well into her new school? How will she cope with the extra homework? Will she make good friends? Will she make any friends?

    During the first few months of the school year, I found myself passionately wanting the oddest things (and talking about them passionately to my husband, who will confirm that I became just a tad neurotic). It seems I want my daughter to:

    • be popular (I want people to like her) but not too popular (I don't want her to be overly influenced by her peers)

    • get all her work done, on time, to a high standard (I don't want her - or, more tellingly, me - to lose face)

    • dress trendily (I don't want her to look daggy) but not too trendily (I don't want her to be a fashion victim)

    • be friendly to the unpopular kids (I want her to be kind) but not too friendly (I don't want her to be unpopular by association)

    • keep to a high(ish) standard in her piano practice (I want her to be accomplished, but I'm not one of those pushy mothers)

    • be upfront about her faith (I want her to stand up for Jesus) but not too upfront (I don't want the other kids to think she's weird)

    • be happy at school (I don't want her to be unhappy) but no so happy that she hates being at home (I want her to love me as much as ever)

    • go to church even when it’s not fun (I want her to learn to serve) but also to have fun there (I don’t want her to hate church)1

    Sorry about all the double negatives; but the truth is, there are a lot of bad(?) things I don’t want for her. Especially, it seems, unpopularity (probably because I was a bit of a dag myself, and hated it; like most parents, I visit my own disappointments on my children).

    These desires lead to all kinds of strange behaviour. Like constant, nagging reminders about homework and music practice. Like asking my daughter if she needs more fashionable clothes (gulp!) and exploring the trendy teen stores a week before she goes to camp. Like frequent, irritating questions about her friendships. Like talking a lot, in front of her, about whether our church serves her needs.

    After all this, there’s no doubt in either of our minds about what matters to me.

    So what matters to me? What am I communicating to my daughter are the significant things in life? It seems these things are far more important to me than I realized:

    • popularity

    • trendiness (where did that come from?!)

    • academic success

    • impressing people

    • achievement

    • happiness

    • having your needs met.

    Some of these goals look innocent enough. Who wouldn’t want happiness and academic success for their children? But without me noticing, these goals grow bigger than God. I worry and nag. I spend more than I should (and teach my daughter to do the same). I get angry and impatient. I talk about things that don’t matter. I try to shape my daughter to my desires. Our relationship, predictably enough, suffers; and her godliness suffers too.

    Acceptance. Achievement. A good education. What I want for my children, I want for me.

    As so often in parenting, it’s time for repentance. It’s time to confess my idolatry to my daughter. It’s time for some honest conversations about what really matters: serving rather than being served, valuing inner more than outer beauty, caring for others even if you lose face, choosing friends wisely, pursuing godliness over success, and standing up for Jesus even when it makes you unpopular.

    1. When my daughter was younger the idols were a little different: the approval of parenting experts, a child whose behavior impresses others, an ‘educational’ toy collection – just to name a few. (And a good night's sleep, of course.)

    This post first appeared on The Briefing today.

    image is by mermay19 from flickr

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    for grandmothers who look after their grandchildren

    I keep bumping into grandparents at school and pre-school who are dropping off or picking up their grandchildren. Often they have a weary look! The reason for this becomes clear as we chat.

    One bent-over elderly woman raises her two spunky, energetic granddaughters full-time because her daughter isn't capable of caring for them.

    One woman who looks to be in her fifties or sixties has 5 (yes, 5!) grandchildren aged 5-16 living at her house - and I can tell you, the 5 year old is a handful!

    One woman (and this is a composite) cares for her grandchildren 1/3/5/7 days a week (not excluding weekends) because her daughter/son(s) and son-in-law/daughter-in-law(s) work part/full-time.

    They've raised one generation, and they're helping to raise another. They're older and tireder this time around. They probably weren't expecting this. But they do it out of love for their grandchildren - and sometimes from a sense of desperation (who else will do it if they don't?) - driven by the changing patterns of society, and by their children's choices, desires and/or needs.

    I was encouraged this morning to read this blog post, addressed from one godly woman in this situation to other women in this situation:

    Nana Nanny.


    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    a new venture for me

    I want to let you know about an exciting new venture for me. Have a look at this new website (or new version of an old website) - just click on the image -

    - and you'll see my photo, mercifully small, in the middle near the top. Yes, that is me, although you might need a magnifying glass to see me if you're on your iPhone! :)

    You probably already know I write for the Australian evangelical magazine The Briefing
    and what used to be their blog, Sola Panel. Well, they have a new website (the same address as the old one minus the '.au'), a new blog and a new online magazine (the print version of The Briefing will only come out every 2 months from now on).

    They asked me to be one of their 5 blog writers (the others are all guys, 2 in Australia, 1 in the UK, and 1 in the US) and in a moment of flattered optimism (actually, after a few weeks' praying and talking about it) I said 'yes'. It feels very strange being the 'female blogger' on their website, so pray for me and tell me if I go off track! I'd like to know if what I write is encouraging for women (and men) who read.

    What all that means for this blog, I'm not sure. It will certainly keep me writing at least one vaguely interesting post a week! I'm planning to keep in all honesty going for now, at least until the end of the year, when I'll do my annual (bi-annual? quadruple-annual?) re-think.

    Although I'm realising that less self-absorbed re-thinking of what I'm doing, and more loving and serving others, might be helpful. In one sense, it doesn't matter what particular ministry I do, as long as I make Jesus known.

    May God give you and me love and wisdom so that, in whatever ways God gives us, we can encourage one another to grow into the fullness of Christ.

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    home again

    Home again! Here we are, back in Melbourne after a 7-week trip up the East coast of Australia, driving over 7000 kms from Melbourne to Cairns and back again.

    We pulled a camper-trailer (one of those things that folds out into a tent) behind a 4-wheel drive, stayed with friends and camped, did lots of driving and saw lots of scenery, and visited some amazingly beautiful places. It was great to get physically and mentally away from everything for a couple of months.

    Best of all was spending so much time together as a family. It was difficult at times - family arguments are embarrassing when you're only a canvas-wall away from other campers! - but I think we know each other better and appreciate one another more, which is especially helpful with our older children so close to becoming teenagers.

    If you're interested, our itinerary looked like this:

    Lakes Entrance (1 night of very windy camping)
    Eden (2 nights of windy, cold camping at lovely Twofold Bay)
    Canberra (3 nights in a house; we loved Canberra, especially the War Memorial, where we could have spent a whole day)
    Sydney (4 nights staying with some very dear friends; highlights: Botany Bay, the ferry from Circular Key to Manly, and the view across the grand old Rocks to the Harbour Bridge and Opera House at sunset)
    Narromine (2 nights at my aunt and uncle's cotton and wheat farm near Dubbo, chasing kangaroos in the ute and learning how cotton grows)
    Armidale (where I was born - 1 night amongst the old houses and older trees)
    Brunswick Heads (8 nights at my aunt's house in one of my favourite childhood holiday spots; we swam in the river and at the white sand beach, visited the theme parks, and watched dolphins surf the sunset waves at the most westerly point in Australia near Byron Bay lighthouse)
    Rainbow Beach (4 nights camping - that's the rainbow cliffs in the photo above; we took a ferry to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, where we saw wild dingoes scarily close, and did some hilarious track and glorious beach 4-wheel driving)
    The Caves (1 night; the only rain we saw for a month, and some interesting caves)
    Airlie Beach (3 nights; peaceful moments swimming in the lagoon, looking up at palm trees and across to the boats in the bay and the Whitsunday islands)
    Cairns (7 nights and the best time of all; we rode across the mountains in a gondala, swam with a giant turtle at the Great Barrier Reef, and camped with our backs to the rainforest, with bush turkeys underfoot and butterflies overhead)
    Magnetic Island (5 nights off the coast of Townsville; a magical place where we swam in the quiet bays, fed the rock wallabies and rainbow lorikeets, and did a little bushwalking)

    At which point my husband Steve got sick and we hurried home, stopping for a repeat visit to some very rainy theme parks and a few hours in Canberra before turning into our driveway at 2 o'clock during a cold, dark Melbourne night.

    We're all sick now, so you can pray for us. But after all that camping, mountains of unpacking, and a few out-of-body days readjusting to ordinary life, it's good to be back in the comfort and routines of home.