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