Friday, March 30, 2012

online meanderings - why youth stay in church, investing in small things, doing one thing at a time, and other stuff

A new, simplified online meandering. All my favourites. There is still plenty here! (I'm not good at cutting down.) Hope you find this random list helpful.

Why youth stay in church when they grow up - A must-read for every mum, dad, pastor and youth group leader. Helpful in light of this discussion. John Nielson.

The mathematics of the soils - I needed to hear this! "When I'm in a stage of life where so much of my time is spent serving Jesus in small, unseen ways within my family it is wonderful to remember the power of God that can multiply small seeds and make a big harvest." Nicole.

The magic of doing one thing at a time - I set aside some time to read this - while doing nothing else - and found it very helpful. Tony Schwartz HT Vitamin Z

A labour of love - Carolyn McCulley is writing a new book about women and work. I can't wait!

If you were a missionary, how would you live your life differently? - You already are, so live it where you are. Erik HT Vitamin Z

Listen to a gospel all the way through - What a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours! Jess.

How to destroy your marriage - "At the end of the day, I gave heart service to my time at seminary, but only lip service to Ephesians 5, and it cost me my marriage."

Wasted depression - "Depression should not be wasted." A beautiful, helpful post. Thistletown Baptist HT Challies.

The simple message - "We who love theology, we who take joy in diving into the deep waters of the person and work of God, we need to be so careful, lest we make the message more difficult than it needs to be, lest we forget the simple word that we believed in." Challies.

What pastors do the other 167 hours of the week - "Pastors live under the whip of their flock’s expectations, their own goals of productivity, and their Lord’s standard of excellence."Spare a thought - and a prayer - for your pastor. Clint Archer.

Workaholism - Helpful stuff - though I'm not entirely convinced by the 40 hour week thing. Where does that leave pastors (even the non-workaholic kind) and the rest of us as we work hard for Jesus? Challies.

Motherhood is application - "We take what we believe about God and the gospel and faith and life, and we apply it in the places that seem too little for it." Rachel Jankovic.

Motherhood is a calling - "Everywhere you go, people want to talk about your children. Why you shouldn't have had them, how you could have prevented them, and why they would never do what you have done. They want to make sure you know that you won't be smiling anymore when they are teenagers. All this at the grocery store, in line, while your children listen." Rachel Jankovic (again!).

Make room for suffering - "Visit rural Uganda and tell me with straight face that God wants us to experience a life of ease and wealth, that he’s concerned about what kind of car we drive." - Joel Miller HT Vitamin Z.

Why fairies are better than goblins - Best giggle of the week. Rachael.

If you'd like to see more links, check out my Facebook page or my Twitter feed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

a letter to my readers...

To all my lovely readers,

As you know, I've been trying something new on in all honesty: linking to some of the blog posts I read and enjoy each week in my online meanderings. This is a 6-month experiment, the question(s) of the moment being, "How long can I keep this up? Will it drive me completely crazy?? Just how long does 6 months take???"

Well, it's only 2 months in, and it's driving me just a le-e-e-etle crazy (can you tell?). I'm a black-and-white person, and I find it hard to do things by halves. When I see "57 unread posts" in my RSS folder, what do I do? I read (*cough* skim *cough*) them all!!! Not good for my mental health - or for my poor neglected family. (Actually, they're not neglected, but it is doing my head in.)

So here's Stage 2 of The Grand Linking Experiment. I've pared down my RSS folder and put the must-reads at the top: blogs by friends, women's blogs I love, and some from the wider blogosphere. I'm going to post the links I like on Facebook and Twitter, and put just my favourites in my online meanderings (yes, Jean, you can do it!).

What does this mean for you? If you want to see the blog posts I like, here's how. Just click on one of these links, and like/follow me there:

I post links on Facebook and Twitter most days. I'd love to have you join the conversation. Can't wait to see you there!

Love Jean. xxx

image is by MrBG from flickr

Monday, March 26, 2012

why women should read more theology (what I'm reading: Tony Reinke's Lit!)

Do you find it easy, or hard, to read books? Either way, this one's for you.

Top of the list of books I've read recently is Tony Reinke's Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. I'm an avid reader, and I learned heaps about what and how to read. If you struggle to read, I suspect you'll find this book even more helpful.

Maybe you want to read more, but don't know where to start. Maybe you love books, but your reading feels a little aimless. Reinke covers it all, first with a great theology of books, then with a whole heap of practical tips about how to choose and read books.

This week I've chosen a quote that encourages women to read theological books about Jesus. Next week, I'll go for the other end of the scale, and share something about why we should read novels. Just so you can't say I've left anything - or anyone - out!

Theologically weighty books about Christ are essential for the soul—for men and women. And although women purchase the majority of books released by Christian publishers, women are far less likely to read theological books, writes counselor and author Elyse Fitzpatrick. In her 2003 evaluation of the Christian publishing industry, she writes, “Many women are intimidated by the thought of studying something that is ‘theological’ in nature. They are afraid of being bored, looking foolish, becoming unattractive to men, or becoming divisive.”...

She confronts women who would rather read only novels as a way to escape personal disappointments, and who read these books to “build fantasy castles filled with knights on white steeds who will come to rescue her from her mundane, stressful, empty, or disappointing life.” Rather, she offers this challenge: “Let’s become known as a generation of women who delight in, tremble before, receive counsel from, drink, devour, digest, muse upon, and absolutely cherish God and the truth that He’s revealed about Himself and about ourselves. Let’s not worry about whether we look dumb or too smart.”...

If women commit to reading books of solid theology, their knowledge of Christ will grow..."This is the most delightful pursuit any woman could ever know."
(And who should you read? Reinke suggests, among others, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathon Edwards, John Owen, JI Packer, Don Carson, John Stott, John Piper and CH Mahaney. On the topic of Christ, I'd add Tim Chester and Tim Keller. A good place to start is John Stott's The Cross of Christ and Tim Keller's King's Cross - or how about this one, which I haven't read, but it's by The Don, and that's all the recommendation I need: Don Carson's Scandalous: The cross and resurrection of Jesus.)

Quote is from Tony Reinke Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books pages 96-97.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

of Autumn, apples, and urban myths

Kids are way better than scientists and inventors when it comes to observing new facts about the world. Move over, Isaac Newton and Steve Jobs, it's my turn to discover something! My 5-year-old son, Andy, has come up with his own theory about Autumn:

"Mum, it's Autumn now! That's when the fruit fall from the trees! And then the birds eat them!"

"Well, yes, I guess that's right, although normally it's the leaves... "
So now I have an image in my mind of fruit falling from the trees all at once, like Newton with his apple. Must have been Autumn when he discovered the Universal Law of Gravity.

(Did you know, by the way, that Isaac Newton was an unpleasant man, constantly fighting with his colleagues and seeking to discredit them? Something I discovered from one of my son's science books the other day.)

(And he wasn't really hit on the head by an apple, although it's possible he did discover the law of gravitation in an orchard. And no, it wasn't an apple that Adam and Eve ate either.)

They do say that more people are killed by falling coconuts than by sharks.* Might be a good idea to stay out from under the trees right about now. Unless you're in the Northern hemisphere, of course, in which case it's Spring, the season for eating lemony flowers** - or so says my son.

* This, of course, is probably another urban myth.
** That is, flowers from the lemon clover.

image is by at flickr

Friday, March 23, 2012

online meanderings - the making of good wine, receiving criticism, marriage is for losers and other stuff

This week, my top picks were

God loves good wine - The other day my suffering friend was asked by an atheist, who was in tears, "How can your God be so tough on you?". Here, perhaps, is part of the answer: the best wine grows in the poorest conditions. And my friend is good wine. Jon Bloom.

How to receive criticism part 1 - It made me laugh and taught me heaps about responding to criticism. Stephen Altrogge.

Marriage is for losers - "If marriage is going to work, it needs to become a contest to see which spouse is going to lose the most...Losing becomes a way of life, a competition to see who can listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most." Kelly Flanagan HT Challies.

I was challenged by

Who you are when no one except your family is looking - Why you can never just 'be yourself' - even at home. "The barometer of character is best read within the four walls of the home...'It will never be lawful simply to 'be ourselves' until 'ourselves' have become sons of God.'" Great stuff from Cath (and CS Lewis).

The humble apostle - Why Paul's humblest words were "Imitate me." "'Pride can look like arrogant self-confidence, or it can look like timid self-pity. Real humility is courageous un-self-consciousness.'" Challies quoting Jared Wilson.

Gracious candor: A tutorial in speaking the truth in love - Another great post from the biblical counselling folk. Heath Lambert.

I was helped by

Ask personal questions - "You have a beautiful Saviour to offer to those sitting across from you clothed in disgrace and wrapped in shame...Don’t miss the opportunity to provide hope by settling for vague statements when you counsel." Amy Baker.

Complementarian decision making as a couple - Headship and submission when it comes to decision-making. A great description of how it looks in practice. Wayne Grudem.

Creativity, excellence and patience - How long does it take to get good at something like writing? "I didn’t reach out to Gary Smith until I actually had something good for him to read. And you know how long that took me, after college? Six years, that’s how long." Ira Glass with Justin Taylor.

I was encouraged by

A mother's prayer - "I know that God is eager to answer this simple, desperate, prayer on behalf of this helpless, happy, mother." I haven't just adopted two children from Ethiopia, but this still sounds a lot like me. Nicole Whitaker.

Providence is sweet - A beautiful post about the gift of a Bible in your own language. Phil Johnson HT Challies.

Tell me the story one more time - A wonderful death-bed story. Challies.

I was informed by

Facebook security for children - None of our children are on Facebook yet, but once they are, I'll be referring to this very helpful guide. Kellie.

An interview with Daniel B Wallace on the New Testament manuscripts - Why we can trust the New Testament. Justin Taylor.

Why we have to go back to a 40-hour week to keep our sanity - " Every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul." Sara Robinson HT Gordon Cheng.

I was sobered by

Do you think I'm pretty? - "Daddy, tell your daughter every day she is beautiful and loved by you and the Lord. If you don’t, she will not know how to discern sincere love from lust. Don’t let her find her compliments on Facebook–they need to come from you!" Kellie.

Why we should blame God - "It’s easier in moments of direct your sorrow, disappointment, and anger at Satan or a broken world or random occurrence...but if we do, we are robbing God..." I just can't get enough of this author! Michael Kelley.

Should I divorce if I'm miserable? - A good answer from Russell D Moore. HT Challies.

I was intrigued by

The already and not yet of hell - Why become a Christian? Because not just heaven, but hell, reach back into this life. Interesting stuff. Dave Dorr.

Facebook's 'dark side': Study finds link to socially aggressive narcissism - "Researchers have established a direct link between the number of friends you have on Facebook and the degree to which you are a "socially disruptive" narcissist." Damien Pearse HT Tim Chester.

Three issues with smartphones in church - Some helpful observations about using electronic devices in church. John Dyer.

I appreciated

Baby shower sermonette - Worth reading if you're about to have a baby. And what a great thing to do at a baby shower! Cathy.

Calling all songwriters - I'm no song-writer, but sounds like good advice to me. Can you do one for blog-writers, Rachael? (Just don't say that blog posts have to be shorter than this one.)

What I've learned about blogging after writing more than 1,000 posts - "I’ve had times when I felt creative and the posts flowed—and times when I couldn’t string two sentences together." Amen to all that. Michael Hyatt HT Vitamin Z.

I loved these quotes

The kingdom of providence - "He sees when you are in danger by temptation, and casts in a hinder it. He sees when you are sad, and orders reviving providence, to refresh you. He sees when corruptions prevail, and orders humbling providence to purge them." Take it from a 40 year old believer: he does. John Flavel - Of First Importance.

What it means to be a pilgrim - "Pilgrims have not arrived...They are not exactly sure what their destination city will be like; they are driven by a promise...Yet unlike tourists, they are on their way to a settled place and every point along the way is a landmark toward that destination." Michael Horton quoted by Justin Taylor.

I now want to read

Easter readings - Some great readings for families at Easter. Wendy.

A cold day in Hades (In which Tom Cannon blogs. So there.) - And when Tom speaks, I listen. I used to work with the guy. He's wise, even if he is, in his own words, a "curmudgeon".

Pastors in the classics by Leland Ryken - Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Elizabeth George's The Dean's Watch, Bo Giertz The Hammer of God: three favourites, and counting. I'd love a look at this book! Justin Taylor.

I was puzzled by

A conversation on gospel-centred discipleship - More puzzling stuff on guidance, this time from Gospel Centred Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson. Justin Taylor.

Spiritual disciplines handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun - Can't remember where I saw the link, but I know it was from a blogger I respect. And yes, there is some helpful stuff in this book. But it concerns me to see it mixed up with mystical practices, then recommended on the back cover by Tim Keller.

and these made me smile

Children's book spot: Elizabeth Enright - One of my favourite series for children! Worth looking out for.

A lovely second-hand find - So very beautiful. Ali is fast turning me into a poetry lover...

Country road - *Sigh* Buttercup yellow grass, black road across the landscape...these photos bring back one day on our 7-week journey up the East coast of Australia last year. Unforgettable. Thanks, Susie.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

following the fearful apostle

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. (1 Cor 2:3 NIV)

These words startle and comfort me. They remind me that the apostle Paul felt like I do. He was weak. He feared. He trembled.1 This is exactly how I feel:

  • before I read the Bible with friends. What will they think of Jesus? What will they think of his outrageous claims? What will they think of me?

  • before I lead a Bible study. Who will turn up? How will the discussion go? Will they want to come back next week?

  • before I visit women from other cultures or religions. Will I be able to enter their world? Will I trangress some unspoken cultural law? How can I share the love of Jesus with them?

  • before I go out for coffee with a friend. Will I get any opportunities to talk about my faith? Will I have the boldness to take them? Will I know what to say?
I love doing these things, and I love the people I do them with. I bring my fears to God (Phil 4:4-7, 1 Pet 5:6-7), and my worry lessens as my trust and confidence grow.2 But I still feel anxious. I’ve come to accept this – the apprehension that builds over several days, the wakeful hours in the night, the butterflies’ wings tickling my stomach – as part of the cost of living for Jesus (Rom 12:1). Feeling a little nervous is a small price to pay for helping people get to know him.

In all this, Paul is my example. For while he trembled and feared, he never let it stop him talking about Jesus. Instead, he boasted in his weakness because it highlighted Christ’s strength (2 Cor 12:9-10). He became all things to all people, so that by all means he might save some (1 Cor 9:22). He asked people to pray that he wouldn’t give way to fear (Eph 6:18-20). He set his mind on the goodness of God and the love of Christ that would never leave him (Rom 8:18-39). He revelled in the chance to share in Jesus’ suffering (Col 1:24). Why? Because he was compelled by the love of Christ to live not for himself, but for the one who died for him (2 Cor 5:14-15 NIV).

I’ll probably never have as much reason as Paul to fear. I don’t expect to be thrown into prison, shipwrecked, flogged, beaten with rods or pelted with stones (2 Cor 11:23-33). If his troubles were ‘light and momentary’, mine are a speck on the face of eternity. Still, I’m tempted to choose an easier path. So I say to myself, with Paul:

…we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)
With God’s help, I’ll follow Paul’s example, fears and all.

1. See also 2 Cor 2:4, 7:5, 11:28-29; Gal 4:11; 1 Thess 3:5.
2. This is not the place to develop a theology of anxiety, but if you’re interested, see Ed Welch’s excellent Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest.

This post first appeared in The Briefing today.

image is by Rakesh Rocky at flickr

Monday, March 19, 2012

what I'm reading: Eva Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea

I've just come across a great children's author: Eva Ibbotson. She's British, and writes for children of upper primary age, but she's also written some books for young adults (I haven't tried these yet). She was 85 when she died in October last year, so perhaps I should be using the past tense - but it's hard to do that with an author who's still new to you.

She's a skilful and sparkling writer. Her heroines and heroes are likeable and original, and display great qualities like loyalty and courage. Their stories begin in ordinary places like British boarding schools of the best story-book kind, but end up in far-off locations like Austria and the Amazon, where they escape from deliciously villainous villains, stage daring rescues, and explore mysterious places. Here are two of my favourite passages from Journey to the River Sea:

'Come along, it's time we opened my trunk.'

Miss Minton had been poor all her life. She had no trinkets, no personal possessions; her employers underpaid her when they paid her at all - but her trunk was an Aladdin's cave. There were travel books and fairy tales, novels and dictionaries and collections of poetry...

'How did you get them all?' Maia asked wonderingly. 'How did you manage?'

Miss Minton shrugged.

'If you want something enough you usually get it. But you have to take what goes with it,' - and she pointed to her shabby blouse and mended skirt.

I learned some wisdom from that quote. And this one:

'I have looked after some truly dreadful children in my time and it was easy not to get fond of them. After all, a governess is not a mother. But Maia...well, I'm afraid I grew to love her. And that meant I began to think what I would do if she was my child.'

'And you would let her-' began Mr Murray.

But Miss Minton stopped him. 'I would let her... have adventures. I would let her... choose her path. It would be hard... it was hard... but I would do it. Oh, not completely, of course. Some things have to go on. Cleaning one's teeth, arithmetic. But Maia fell in love with the Amazon. It happens. The place was for her - and the people. Of course there was some danger, but there is danger everywhere. Two years ago, in this school, there was an outbreak of typhus and three girls died. Children are knocked down and killed by horses every week, here in these streets.' She broke off, gathering her thoughts. 'When she was travelling and exploring... and finding her songs Maia wasn't just happy; she was... herself. I think something broke in Maia when her parents died, and out there it was healed. Perhaps I'm mad...but I think children must lead big lives... if it is in them to do so.'

From Journey to the River Sea pages 49, 294.

Friday, March 16, 2012

online meanderings - tiredness in motherhood, disciplining daughters, tweeting for God's glory and other stuff

This week, my top picks were

Spent, but gladly spent - "The difference between [bitterly, resignedly, self-pityingly] 'spent' and 'gladly spent' is at least partly the difference between being 'eaten alive' by your children and pouring out your life for them." How I needed this! Nicole.

Mothering styles - How to make mothering - or life - work for your personality type. Fantastic ideas for re-energising so you can go back to serving. Love it! Thank, Rachel.

On misreading daughters - The importance of really listening when it comes to disciplining girls. "You cannot fire off an answer to whatever seems to be happening...without seeing where they feel threatened...And to do that, you need to find out first." Lizzie Jank.

I was encouraged by

On parenting a pre-teen and the survival thereof - Yeah, I didn't believe it either - until I had a pre-teen. A brief, tough stage. "It is for us to hang on, to stand strong, to remain firm, and to love our kids as they make the hard transition from child to teenager." Lisa.

What I noticed while watching my friend - "She uses Mondays as a "reset" day" - just like me! The rest isn't much like me at all. Some helpful ideas for being "busy around the home". Jess.

Forgiveness for mums who fail - 'Nuff said. Robert Jones.

I loved

Earth's crammed with heaven - Ali helps me to fall in love with Christian poetry - like this stunning poem by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning.

Dads, sing like you mean it because your kids are watching you - "My father was a wonderfully eccentric man...When he would catch me looking at him he would simply 'lock-eyes' with me and sing all the louder while he broadened his grin to match proportion with his pleasure." Keith McCracken.

Hanging in the balance - The difficulty of balancing life and commitments as a mum. Sounds uncomfortably familiar. Thanks for the honesty, Bek!

I enjoyed

Just how big is God and just how small are we? - "Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendours and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel..." Justin Taylor quotes from JB Phillips.

Be a real husband and dad (while you're studying theology) - "Way too much is at stake with our families right now to just go through the motions while we prepare ourselves for some future ministry." Jonathon Parnell.

Serving up Tweets - "What I aim another person being able to click in and click out quickly, with maximum benefit to their souls....I want to ask little of them, and add much to them." Tony Reinke interviews Ray Ortland.

I appreciated

Confessions from a recovering pride addict - "Cancer chewed her up and spit her out right there on the hospital bed...She was dying — really dying — and I’m worried about looking stupid and thinking of ways to not cry...Compassion is always the right thing to do, even if you fumble when you do it." Amy.

There is hope - "Parents of kids with autism are under a terrific amount of stress. Many of these children don't sleep at night. They wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, and one of the parents has to get up, because they need constant supervision." God's hope in a hopeless situation. Greg Lucas HT Challies

Contentment - "From this distance, all the annoying bits have fallen away like dross...I think contentment is the art of looking at the present the way you look at the past and the future." Rebekah.

I was informed by

The mistakes of Phillip Jensen - A fantastic interview, especially the last paragraph. " no career move...for someone who wants an easy life or a nice life...You are following the crucified one."

Preaching: to Tweet or not to Tweet - Should we tweet during sermons? An interesting post by Sandy, and an interesting discussion in the comments, contributed to somewhat inanely by moi (knitting, anyone?).

Is it God-centred to praise people?; Moving from fuzzy platitudes to concrete praise; Praising others is not optional - The when, why and how of praising people. Sam Crabtree.

I'd now like to read

Isaiah by the day: A new devotional translation by Alec Motyer - I'm reading Isaiah at the moment, and this looks good. HT Challies.

Sex, dating and relationships: A fresh approach by Gerald Hiestand and Jay S. Thomas - Looks like it would be a promising addition to books about this subject on my shelf. HT Challies.

and this made me giggle.

15 grammar goofs that make you look silly - Grammar the easy way. You know you need it. CopyBlogger HT Vitamin Z.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

staying energised as a mum whatever your personality type

Two days ago I asked: how do you cope if you're a parent and an introvert? After you responded, I realised that coping can be just as hard when you're an extrovert, cooped up at home all day - but that the solutions will be different.

My friend Rachel send me a wonderful link for mothers (and others) that I wish I'd read 13 years ago. She wrote,

Jean, have you checked out They have this cool energy plan. It comes up with a list of ways you can be energised according to each of your four Myers Briggs letters. I love it!
Whether you're a mum or not, take the quiz (or this one if you're not a mum): it's well worth it. It will help you understand your mothering style: why you relate to your kids the way you do. Best of all, mum or not, it will give you four ways to refuel, to keep your energy for the long haul.

If you're wondering, I'm an INFJ, which makes me a 'know thyself' mum: 'I believe the joy of motherhood is self-discovery—for them and for me.' My self-care plan shows that I'm re-energised by time alone; time for reflection; a break from others' needs; and structure. Quadruple whammy. And I thought it was just because I was an introvert...

What's your type? What have you learned about your mothering style and how to stay energised in mothering? I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

a question for those of you who are parents and introverts

A friend of mine with young children commented on Facebook, "Today it is hard to be a parent & an introvert."

I responded, "Oh, yes, if walls could tell!!" (I meant "talk", of course, but I'm always getting my sayings mixed up.)

She asked, "What do you do to cope, Jean?"

Here's my (edited) response about my years at home with young children,

What didn't I do, do you mean? What I should have done - and didn't - was to take Carolyn Mahaney's excellent advice and my husband's offer and go away on my own for a day or two a few times a year (once my babies were old enough). What I did do, that helped, was to get up early to spend some time with God (not possible with babies when you're exhausted) and/or went for a walk to pray a little later while my husband minded the kids, had a nanny nap in the early afternoon while the kids slept or watched a DVD, and spent a morning on my own once a week (when I could) at a local park to sip a chai latte, write in my journal, go for a walk and pray.
Do you have any other suggestions for my friend - and for me?

Please share them here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

when suffering doesn't make sense (what I'm reading: Mark Dever on Job)

I don't know if it's age. I don't know if it's experience. What I do know is that the Old Testament book of Job means so much more to me this time around. I read it in big gulps; the only way, I'm realising, that Job can be read.

You can't tame Job: reading it is like watching a Shakespearean play, the language flowing over you as the tragedy plays out in grand gestures. You enter the court-room of heaven, are repelled by Job's open sores, cling with him to the shreds of his faith. You're left face-down, gob-smacked by God's glory.

When I get to the end of Job, I pick up Mark Dever's The Message of the Old Testament, and he drives the point of Job's story hard into my heart:

Demanding that suffering have a reason and meaning that fits within the narrow scope of our human understanding prejudices the explanation that can be given...When we fail to recognize our limitations, it's like deciding that because our own car radio is not picking up any radio broadcasts, then there must be no radio stations sending out a broadcast anywhere. But why assume that? Is that the only possible explanation?...The book of Job teaches us that we do not possess all the facts.

At times, God does graciously allow us to see how He has used a difficult situation for our good. And surely we should thank Him for the consolation such moments of understanding afford. But there is danger in assuming that He must give us such understanding...The only one who is worthy of our trust is not ourselves; nor is it our own clever ability to figure out life's knotty questions; it is God Himself...

Your very suffering can exquisitely display the glory of God as you serve and worship him in a way that simply defies the world's comprehension and abilities. If you, Christian, are presently enduring a season of suffering, it may be that God is sitting in heaven right now and saying to the heavenly host about him, "Have you considered my servant?" and then pointing to you...

We often suffer. We sometimes understand. And by God‟s grace, we can always trust.

Mark Dever's The Message of the Old Testament, pages 474, 478-9.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

raising a hand

In one of those lovely glimpses you get into a child's character during parent-teacher interviews, Ben's teacher told me he has to work really hard during class discussions not to look at Ben - who inevitably has his hand up - while he encourages one of the other 25 kids to answer the question.

He says it reminds him of Martin in The Simpsons. It reminds me of Hermione in Harry Potter. Nerds of the world - and fellow Hermione fans - unite!

Friday, March 9, 2012

online meanderings - kids @ church, why we don't know the future, sexual sin in the ministry, and other stuff

This week, my top picks were

Making the transition from children's ministry to church - Fantastic advice about adults relating to kids at church; the transition from Sunday School to church; and the place of youth groups in the growth of faith. Meredith.

Why God doesn't tell you everything - "Sometimes I’ve wondered why God doesn’t reveal the specific plan He has for all of our lives...Maybe the specifics of how we will become more like Christ over a lifetime would be too much to handle...God gives us the big picture of our future. And it’s glorious!...But He chooses not to fill in all the details for us. And that’s a good thing." Trevin Wax

Sexual sin in the ministry -"One missions agency told me that 80% of their applicants voluntarily indicate a struggle with pornography, resulting in staff shortages on the field." I was horrified - and encouraged - by this post calling pastors to "come into the light" and deal with sexual sin. Harry Shaumburg.

I was challenged by

The Christian life is not safe - "Our God isn’t safe, but he is good. Why then do so many of us live such safe lives?" Challies.

Better church: The why and how of running Sunday meetings - "It is really beyond irony to be spending our Sunday mornings in a funk because the church meeting is not edifying." "If you’re going to make a start by improving just one thing about your Sunday meetings, improve your meeting leaders." Tony Payne.

Hidden in the heart - "Tech gurus tell us that no longer do we remember information, we remember where to find it...Alongside such brain-wastage goes an inability to concentrate, an attention span that is degenerating to a point which might make a goldfish wince." Jeremy Walker.

I was encouraged by

Jesus weak and tempted - "The point is not, 'Go and copy Jesus and resist temptation.' The point is give up, own up and throw yourself on Jesus.' Jesus is beyond comparison. He is supremely wonderful. Come and trust him for forgiveness." Spot on, Cathy, and deeply encouraging.

Raising kids to be Christian adults - The secret to raising kids? You know you want it. "Show that Jesus matters more than anything." An oldy but, oh, such a goody. Cathy HT Rebecca

Don't focus on your strengths - "Our gifts are not so much our identity as our offering. And since God has given us these gifts, he’s not obliged to always put us in places where we can use them fully." Jon Bloom.

I was informed by

Facebook makes us miserable - I'd have to agree with this one. "Facebook makes me believe, even stronger, in the value of the local church, in the value of true, deep fellowship, or genuine community." An oldy but a goody revived by Challies.

City life for kids - My friend Susie responds to my Kathy Keller link. And here she reflects on the benefits of bringing up kids in the country.

The Bible and birth control part 2 - Should Christians take the pill? I agree with Challies on this one.

I was disturbed - helpfully - by

When is porn actionable? - Troubling, but worth a read. When does a husband's use of pornography call for divorce? And when is a wife complicit? Douglas Wilson.

Isn't porn harmless? - "Porn is much more than an individual decision—it is part of a system that preys on women and children, and its viewers are participating in, contributing to, and being shaped by that destructive, enslaving system." Justin Holcomb.

I now want to read

Working it out - Smashing the world's view of work - At last! MTS has a blog! I'll be reading along. Ben kicks off with an interesting article about doing less work so we can do our real work.

God's good design: What the Bible really says about men and women - "Claire Smith’s long and deep engagement with the Bible’s teaching on men and women is at last published for the benefit of all." Yay! I gotta get me one! Mark Thompson.

Wednesdays were pretty normal - "For me, I think the day Joshua was diagnosed was the day I actually became an adult. Up until then, I had the luxury to sort of play at life...But when Joshua was sick, it brought an incredible seriousness to life - to marriage, to parenting, to work, really everything." An interview with Michael Kelley by Vitamin Z about this book.

and I enjoyed

8 myths about China today - "If you're not confused than you simply haven't been paying attention." HT Justin Taylor.

Preschoolers' busy bank: painting rocks - I always did love a painted rock. A great kids' craft. Cath.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wanted: more church invaders

A few years ago, our family of six left a congregation full of parents with young children, and joined a church made up mostly of university students.1 This wasn’t an ideological statement on our part: it was simply because my husband works in university ministry, and that’s where we needed to be at the time. But it’s made me aware of some of the benefits and costs of going to church with people from a different age and stage from your own.

It’s easy to spend your entire life going to church with people just like you. Many of us start out in our parent’s church: a place, perhaps, with lots of other kids and teenagers. We graduate to a university church (that’s what my husband and I did), to a worker’s service, to a family service (ditto), to a congregation full of empty-nesters and, finally, retirees. It’s not so simple for those who are single, childless, or divorced; but that’s how it works a lot of the time. Even churches with mixed-age congregations find they tend to become homogeneous: for example, families with young children often attend church in the morning, while young adults go in the evening.2

Then there are the ‘church invaders’, people who make a deliberate decision to go to church with people who aren’t like them. I’ve met some of them: an energetic lady in her 60s who goes along to the youth service so she can show an interest in young people. A woman in her early 20s who attends a church where she’s the only person under 40, because she believes older and younger Christians need each other. A childless woman great at relating to kids, who gives her time to reaching out to children and their parents. A couple with older children who feel a little out of place in a congregation full of younger families, but who go to provide encouragement, support and wisdom.

So what is it like, crossing the frontiers? I won’t deny that I found it hard at first, going to a university church. I worried about my children growing up without lots of Christian kids their own age. I worried that no-one would want to talk to me - after all, what 20-year-old wants to hang out with a 40-something woman surrounded by noisy children? My instinct was to retreat to the back of the church, serve supper, feed my kids, and talk to the few women my age: to leave the boundaries between age groups uncrossed and unchallenged.

I’d love to claim some great godliness that helped me overcome this self-absorption, but I can’t. What happened was that, one memorable morning, I prayed about my attitude to church, and God’s Spirit convicted me that I was acting like a spoiled child: self-centred, self-conscious, self-pitying. Too wrapped up in myself to love those around me. Too concerned about what people thought of me to be concerned about them. Too obsessed with my own needs to consider the needs of others. I wept, repented, and asked for God’s help to start again.

In God’s very good timing – how often he brings us to the end of ourselves before he brings about a change in our circumstances! – the women in our church got together the following week. Older, younger, student, graduate, mother, teenager: we laughed and ate and swapped our stories. We met again, and talked about how we could better encourage each other. We met again, read Titus 2:3-5, and saw how God wants older and younger women to be involved in each other’s lives. Soon, I’ll start meeting regularly with two younger women to read the Bible and pray. It’s no coincidence that, at the very point I stopped worrying about whether I belonged, I felt a sense of belonging.

I’m beginning to see how important it is that I’m here, right now, in this church, being encouraged by and encouraging these particular women. In a few years time, when they get married and have kids, or wonder if they’ll stay single, or start out in work and ministry, I hope I’ll be beside them, helping them find the way into mature Christian womanhood. I look back to when I was a student going to a university church, and I’m deeply grateful to the older single people, couples and families who came along, modelled the Christian life for us, and taught and trained us in godliness. There’s a richness of encouragement that happens between Christians of different ages and stages that’s beautiful to see.

What about our kids? Is it fair to them, going to a church with only a few other children and teenagers?3 Our two younger boys are loved and cared for by a bunch of enthusiastic young people who enjoy having them around, and who are learning to lead as they teach them in Sunday School. Our older son enjoys hanging out with the godly young men who surround him. Our teenage daughter is excited about being mentored by a lovely young Christian woman. Our marriage and family are a lived-out, messy, week-by-week example for many who never experienced a Christian family growing up. In the end, it’s not the patterns of church that matter to us and our children: what matters is that the gospel is taught, and they are loved and prayed for by the members of our church family.

Not everyone is built to be a church invader. We know many Christians – single workers, couples with young children, retirees – who do their best ministry loving and serving people in a similar situation to their own. We’ve advised others, who find it hard to get to church at all, to go to a church that’s designed for their needs. But even if you don’t invade a church, do invade people’s lives. Be aware of the unseen boundaries that cross churches: old and young, married and single, privileged and disadvantaged, we’re all part of the body of Christ (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). Think about who might feel in the minority, even if they hide it well. Invest time in younger Christians, and seek out the wisdom of older Christians. Invite people who are different from you into your life.

But perhaps you are built to be a church invader. Maybe you’re an older person who’s good at relating to young people, a member of a family who would like to reach out to single workers, or a young person who’s never seen a Christian marriage in action. If that’s the case, why not choose a church where you don’t naturally belong? Why not choose a church, not because it meets your needs, but because it needs you? Why not make a home for others in a place that feels far from home? Why not become a church invader? We’d love to have you along!

1. Actually, there were a couple of moves along the way, but I’m simplifying the story for the sake of clarity.
2. I don’t want to comment on which approach to church is best: homogeneous or heterogeneous. I think there are benefits to both approaches.
3. I’m often questioned about this. I was recently helped by an alternate point of view, offered by Kathy Keller in Why the city is a wonderful place to raise children.

This post was first published at The Briefing today.

image is by The Arches from flickr

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

what church and place should I raise my kids in?

How do you choose a church and place to raise your children? There was an interesting discussion on my Facebook wall about this quote, which came from an article about the benefits of raising kids in urban areas:

I have often said that the best thing you can do for your teenage children is not to have them in a great big youth group (of other teens as clueless and confused as themselves), but to have lots of young adult, cool, ardently believing friends. - Kathy Keller Why the city is a wonderful place to raise children
Here's what people said (with names removed). Please add your thoughts to the discussion.

M said, "Thanks for drawing my attention to this post. Encouraging at SO many levels."

T said, "Lots of cool, young adults the best thing you can do for your kids? As someone who has spent the majority of his ministry ministering to 'cool, young adults' - even the 'ardently believing' kind - and raised three kids to near adulthood...well...I'm not so sure Jean."

I said, "Yes, it probably depends on the 'cool, young adults'!! I think she's got a point, though. There's a prevalent myth in Christian circles that your kids won't turn out as Christian adults if they don't hang around with lots of Christian teens when they're teens."

T replied, "Both models, when offered up as panaceas, are myths. Give me a Christian community that loves, accepts and prays for my kids. Couldn't care less how young, cool or urban they are. The bigger issue is the flattering of certain demographics. Don't know about Australia but the American evangelical world is swimming in that right now."

M said, "I'm loving this conversation. Please keep talking! I think 'Give me a Christian community that loves, accepts and prays for my kids' is probably key here. But I think Kathy Keller provides a good corrective to 'Gospel + youth group = children growing up to be Christian adults.' But as you say, T, we need to make sure we don't just put something else in the Gospel + _________ blank space."

I said, "In Australia, it's the youth group paradigm that I hear all the time, and that's what caught my eye about what Kathy said - that, just possibly, there might be other ways to raise Christian kids. But I think you're right: what matters is that it's a 'Christian community that loves, accepts and prays for my kids', whatever the demographic. I find that a huge relief, because I've been told over and over that what matters is that our kids go to a family church with a big youth group (or else...).

"And on the suburban vs. urban issue - yes, again I agree; but once again, what Kathy is doing is countering a paradigm I'm all too familiar with: 'You have to bring up your kids in a nice suburb and send them to nice schools (or else...)'. Again, good to hear someone saying you can actually make Christian parenting work in a different kind of environment! Our suburb is neither 'urban' nor 'nice', but we are teaching and training our kids to live for Jesus in this place - and, I hope, in any place they may live in years to come."

L said, "Don't they see sin in the backwaters of Melbourne Suburbia? I just have to walk out of my front door to see selfishness, envy, lust and lawlessness: empty bourbon and coke cans strewn on my nature strip, rude neighbours, speeding, reckless cars on the way to and from work. I can go to church in my own suburb if I want to see adultery, unfaithfulness, greed, gossip and slander. Why waste petrol? I'm just sayin'."

I said, "Yeah, true! Or country Victoria will do it for you nicely as well. Although the 'sin' and the results of it in broken lives are more obvious in some areas than others, and Christian parents tend to avoid these places and live in the 'nice' suburbs. And I posted it 'cos I liked the bit about youth group..."

S said, "Jean, I would love to have the pros & con conversation about youth group. I am not convinced another program is going to disciple, encourage and challenge my kids. The stats of kids who are still Christians post youth group days is pretty discouraging."

JA said, "Well, one of my kids' friends from school became a Christian last night at a youth group thing. I'm happy they go to youth group and the young adults who lead are great role models."

G said, "What sort of youth group would they have had in Thessalonica? If they are so important, why aren't they mentioned more in the Pauline epistles or, really, anywhere? You could maybe stretch 1 Cor 15:33 to talk about peer group pressure. Parenting, however, gets spoken of a lot."

I said, "G, It occurs to me that, even though youth groups aren't mentioned in the Bible, neither are Bible studies or even church 'services' in the modern sense. What you say is a helpful corrective. But it doesn't mean that we can't create structures to teach and encourage God's people, including youth groups: just that they're not essential and shouldn't be treated as such.

"S and JA, I'm sure it can work out well for kids either way. I went to a very good church with few young people and a very bad youth group - you can guess which one helped me! But there are good youth groups out there and I'm more than happy for my kids to go. My problem is when a church with a certain demographic is made to seem essential to raising Christian kids - which it often is in pointed questions I'm asked about the church we take our family to."

G said, "Tangential I know, but so are many of the questions around raising kids as Christians, including whether the location is urban or not."

I said, "I gets lots of those kinds of pointed questions too *sigh*."

G said, "Shame."

And V said - in perhaps the most helpful comment of all -

What is a 'family church'? We wouldn't say a married couple who cannot have children are less family for the absence of children. Churches can vary greatly in their demographics, but it is relationship with Christ that makes the family.

I've never attended youth group, having become a Christian at 18 in a small church only two other young adults. As a new Christian, I was in a bible study with the spectrum of ages. I was taught, accepted and prayed for (not always perfectly). I have a friend who came to the church and to know Jesus through an invitation to largish youth group as a young teen. Both are acts of God's sovereign grace, the same sovereign grace that I pray is/will bring my children to know Jesus. How it will look in terms of place, people circumstance I don't know.

As a parent, I do have a responsibility and desire to make wise decisions by my children, but I suspect that decisions concerning our choice of church, school and neighbourhood can loom larger than they really are. The harder things I find are daily issues of living my life in relationship with Christ before my children, training, commitment to and love for other believers etc...
Continue the conversation here.

image is by AllStarsYouth at flickr

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

organising my day with the help of Jerry Seinfeld

I don't usually like organisational tips. They bring out the worst in me. I find myself frantically trying to live up to them, falling in a heap, then abandoning all hope and all efforts to be organised in future.

But something about this simple little organisational tip appealed to me: How Seinfeld's productivity secret fixed my procrastination problem. It's really, really simple:

  1. Choose your goals. Pick three things you'd like to be doing more regularly. Later, you can add a fourth.

  2. Set daily minimums for each goal. Decide on a manageable daily goal: for example, exercise for at least 15 minutes.

  3. Set some boundaries. You might decide, for example, that sick days and vacation days are exempt.

  4. Keep a record. Every day, you put a red X on a calendar when you achieve each of your goals. The aim is not to break the chain of Xs.

    (I say "Phooey!" to that last one - I don't need that amount of pressure! - but I do like the idea of aiming for a small amount of something every day).

So here are my four goals (just put "at least..." in front of the times):

  • 15 minutes prayer (I'm not that keen on treating prayer as a daily chore, but I do want to set aside time for it, so on it goes!)

  • 15-30 minutes exercise (walk, weights - not that I've got the second going yet this year)

  • 15 minutes household management (an extra job, on top of the weekly cleaning, like wiping down the kitchen cupboards, decluttering a drawer, or getting something fixed around the place)

  • 15 minutes reading a Christian book (something I love, but often forget)

The good thing about this is that, instead of thinking "I can't exercise/pray/clean now, I missed the time for that", I think, "I haven't done that yet today, why not do it now?"

I don't expect to do all these things every day. I'm not keeping track on a calendar. But they're on my mental checklist. It means I get around to them more often. And that can only be a good thing.

HT Take Your Vitamin Z

Monday, March 5, 2012

who should I marry?

How do you choose who to marry? Or who to go out with? Or who to run away from very, very fast? Here's some advice that's stood the test of time from JC Ryle: do they help you upwards?

Remember this in choosing a husband or wife, if you are unmarried. It is not enough that your eye is pleased,—that your tastes are met,—that your mind finds congeniality,—that there is amiability and affection,—that there is a comfortable home for life. There needs something more than this. There is a life yet to come. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be helped upwards, or dragged... downwards by the union you are planning?—Will it be made more heavenly, or more earthly,—drawn nearer to Christ, or to the world?—Will its religion grow in vigour, or will it decay? I pray you, by all your hopes of glory, allow this to enter into your calculations. Think, as old Baxter said, and think, and think, and think again, before you commit yourself. “Be not unequally yoked.” (2 Cor. vi. 14.) Matrimony is nowhere named among the means of conversion. Remember Lot’s choice.
JC Ryle Holiness HT Lil' Leila Lee

image is by madmetal from flickr

Saturday, March 3, 2012

so what team are we on exactly?

The other night I was reading the story of the plagues in Egypt to Thomas (eight) and Andy (five), using the The Big Picture Storybook Bible - which, by the way, we're loving this time around - when Andy declared, in a tone of great surprise,

"You mean the Israelites were on the good team?!?!?Add Image

I always thought they were on the bad team!!!"

Well, we have been reading Ezekiel. So he's either been listening better, or worse, than I thought.

Friday, March 2, 2012

online meanderings: from the mouth of an athiest, better than youth groups, hearing the voice of God, and other stuff

This week, my top picks were these: one by an atheist, and two by Christians.

Is it true? That is the ultimate question - "As an unbeliever my sympathies are with fundamentalists...If a faith is true it must have the most profound consequences for a man and for mankind." Matthew Paris via Vitamin Z.

Why the city is a wonderful place to raise children - "I have often said that the best thing you can do for your teenage children is not to have them in a great big youth group (of other teens as clueless and confused as themselves), but to have lots of young adult, cool, ardently believing friends." Thanks, Kathy Keller.

How do we hear the voice of Jesus? - Now there's a post on how we hear the voice of Jesus that I thoroughly agree with! John Piper. (See also This morning I heard the voice of God. Thanks, David McKay!)

I was encouraged by

Getting sharing your faith on the radar - How to get out there, meet people in the community and share your faith. Great, manageable ideas from Tim Grant. Thanks, bro'!

Gospel-centred living part 3 - "She doesn’t see what she has done as 'giving up work' and, in fact, eschews such terminology. In her mind she hasn’t given up anything, but gained things in loving and serving her Church family." The story of a godly woman.

Honesty - "Have you ever stared at your blank Facebook status update box and felt inept...nothing witting, engaging or thrilling was coming to mind." Thanks, Susie, for an honest expression of what we all sometimes feel - and for pointing us in the right direction.

I was challenged by

When is indecision loveless and sinful - "Have you ever been paralyzed with indecision? I have. It is not a good trait of leadership...'To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love.'" Piper on Bonhoeffer.

Lessons in forgiveness - How to say "Sorry" - and receive it. I have something to learn here when it comes to saying sorry to my children. Challies.

Don't assume - “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1)...After all the necessary qualifications, we must not mute this important command." Read this great list.

I was helped and informed by

Food Tidings - A fantastic website to help you organise a meal roster. HT Nicole.

Forty year old light on how to translate "Son of God" for Muslims - "The potential misunderstanding of 'Son of God' was there from the beginning. The remedy for it was not the rejection of the term. The remedy was the New Testament itself." Piper on Packer.

Did you also know? - Find the repeated sentence: a great key to understanding books of the Bible! Excellent stuff from Meredith.

I was pleased to read

Why incarnational ministry is not the best terminology - It's about time someone said so. Eckhard Schnabel quoted by Justin Taylor.

Heaven's simple logic -"When it comes to praying for spouses, wives outpray husbands by a landslide." Sorry, guys, but he said it, not me. Andrew Case.

Home education paradox - Cathy shatters a few homeschooling stereotypes.

I now want to read these books

Susan Hunt's Prayers of the Bible and Paul David Tripp's Forever - thanks to Challies' Reviews I didn't write

Michael Haykin's The Reformers and Puritans as Spiritual Mentors - thanks to Justin Taylor

and these made me giggle.

Lutheran insulter - "Click the link and Martin Luther will insult you. You know you want to." Challies.

Why study the book of Numbers?