Saturday, April 28, 2012

online meanderings catch-up 2

I'm still catching up on my internet reading. Here are my favourite posts from the last few weeks.

Of sounds and silence - "Christians, do you ever wonder at how often those Jesus helped ignored a command to keep silent about it?" Post of the week! Jeremy Walker HT Sandy.

Living the Aussie dream at church - "To those of you who go to a great church I want to say… maybe it’s time that you left." Another excellent post from one of the best new blogs around. Tim Grant.

Hypocritical leadership - Tempted to trust ministry success not the gospel? "The ministry will make you a far better or a far worse Christian than you would have been otherwise." Tim Keller.

Leadership and entitlement - If you're a leader, do you have a sense of entitlement - or a servant heart? Thomas Rainer HT Vitamin Z.

The brambles and the mud - Discovering new veins of sin. Challies at his best.

Jesus our Navy SEAL - Why Hebrews is 11 is ultimately about Jesus, not the heroes of the faith. "If our eyes should stop on anyone who came before Jesus we have missed the whole point" (Hebrews 11). Sinclair Ferguson. 

One little degree of glory to the next - When change in ourselves and others seems to happen with the speed of a crock-pot. Kerri Seavey.

Like water to a plant - "Husbands, if your wife is a stay-at-home mum or socially isolated, you may be the only source of encouragement she receives on a continual basis." Christine Hoover

Good writing demands - Sacrifice. Focus. Vulnerability. Tension. Skill. A great series of posts. Sandra HT Lisa Writes.

Treasuring God with one finger in the cookie dough - Preaching the gospel to yourself and your kids in the midst of mothering. Gloria Furman.

The everyday question of motherhood - Will I sacrifice? Am I willing to spend and be spent? Christine Hoover.

A wise mum remembers grace - "If you find yourself feeling like a no good, very bad Christian mother, it is good to remind yourself of the depth of God’s deep deep love for you." Sarah HT Nicole.

Reading what and when - How to make time to read. Wendy.

Five reasons to listen to books rather than read them - "Thoroughly good novels at once lift you above the mundane and firmly ground you in it...To experience this while sweeping a floor is special indeed." Cath.

Kitchen table counselling - The cost of helping people with messy sins. "To come alongside someone and to wade into the filth of their sinful choices with the goal of restoration ...will require broad shoulders and a strong back. Counseling is just that hard." Mark Kelly.

Is there an office for pastor's wives? - "Minister's wife" is not a job-description. It "doesn't add any new knobs to the stereo, it just turns up the volume." Jonathon Leeman.

3 ways to crush your inner control freak - Really helpful stuff. Note to controlling self: Print. Meditate. Nathan Bingham.

Don't tweet that sermon - Why not to tweet during sermons. Challies.

Missing missing - Grieving for a wife. "Somehow the more time passes, the farther she is gone, not because I am forgetting her, but because I am remembering her. The great heartbreak is that she is now becoming my past, rather than my ever present." RC Sproul Jr HT Challies.

Militant virtue - She's right: we often define feminine virtues in negative terms (though I'm not sure her positive take is all that positive). Lizzie Jank.

Top ten give-away - Make sure you send Meredith your top five/ten books that you think all Christians should read by May 1. You might even win a free book!

If you'd like to see more links, check out

Thursday, April 26, 2012

my favourite Christian novels (what I'm reading: Tony Reinke's Lit!)

How do you choose what to read? So far, I've talked about two of Tony Reinke's six categories for reading: theology and reading for pleasure. Here's a third: reading to kindle spiritual reflection.

I think it's fantastic that Reinke included this category of reading. It's not one I've thought much about. But it's one that has grown my faith and brought me great joy over the years.

So what does he mean by books that kindle spiritual reflection? Not books about theology or Christian living, but novels and poetry and biography and history: books by Christians that help us reflect deeply on faith, grace, sin, death, and eternal life.

Let's start with novels. Here's a short list of favourite writers whose novels have kindled spiritual reflection in me: CS Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Patricia St. John, Marilynne Robinson, Francine Rivers, Bo Giertz and George MacDonald.

If you recognise the names, you know they're a mixed lot, from evangelical (Francine Rivers) to Anglo-Catholic (Elizabeth Goudge) to universalist (George MacDonald). I read them with discernment. But in different ways they feed my faith, enlarge my joy, deepen my experience of grace, and spur me on to love and obedience.

CS Lewis needs little introduction, except to say this: if you haven't already, read the Narnia series and The Screwtape Letters and his autobiography Surprised by Joy. I also love his Perelandra trilogy (particularly for sci fi and fantasy fans), When we have faces (a Greek myth retold), and The Great Divorce (the theology is unreliable, but the reflections on sin and temptation are profound). What's your favourite CS Lewis novel?

Elizabeth Goudge, author of the children's book The Little White Horse, comes in second place because she is a true encourager to me. My mum used to pick up her novels whenever we went to the second hand bookshop. While I don't agree with everything she writes, I love her books dearly, especially The Dean's Watch. Her characters discover and re-discover faith, learn about suffering and faithfulness, and grow in hope and love. I'm always left with a bunch of quotes I want to meditate on further. I'll share some with you soon!

I grew up reading Patricia St. John, a missionary who wrote lots of Christian classics for children. If you're a Christian parent, make sure you get hold of Treasures of the Snow, The Tanglewood's Secret, Rainbow Garden and Star of Light, especially the first. They will teach your children - and you - huge amounts about the gospel, and they're well-written and absorbing, with strong narratives and likeable characters.

If you're a Christian woman, chances are you've picked up a Francine Rivers book. If you haven't, try Redeeming Love, a novel about a "lost woman" loved by a Christian man, based on the story of Hosea: an allegory of the gospel in the guise of a relatively well told romantic novel. I also love her five short biographies of women from the Bible, A Lineage of Grace, especially the story of Tamar (there's a similar book about men from the Bible called Sons of Encouragement).

I was glad to see Marilynne Robinson on Tony Reinke's list. Her novels are a rare treat: she's only written three, and they're so carefully and thoughtfully written that you have to wait years for each one to come out! My favourite is Gilead, an aging pastor's letter to his young son, with Home close behind (see my summer reading and Meredith's review). These are literary masterpieces from the best-seller lists, as well as novels with thought-provoking Christian content.

Bo Giertz was a recent discovery for me, thanks to Wendy's review of The Hammer of God. This story of three pastors is not an easy read, but it's well worth the effort: it will help you dig more deeply into God's grace as each of these young pastors come to understand it for the first time. The Knights of Rhodes, a historical novel about the crusades, is also a good read in which the main character comes to understand grace more deeply.
George MacDonald was a great influence on CS Lewis, and some of his books for children - The Princess and the Goblin (see this quote) and The Little Princess - have done more than most to encourage me in courageous, trusting holiness. These two books are well worth reading to your children or reading yourself if you love books for young people.

That's my short list of favourite Christian novels that have encouraged me and grown my faith. I'd love to talk about Christian poetry too, but I'll leave that for another day.

What about you? What are your favourite Christian novels that kindle spiritual reflection in you? Tell us about them here.

image is by Sapphireblue at flickr

Friday, April 20, 2012

online meanderings catch-up

Phew! My computer's working again, and I've been catching up on my blog reading, but not so much as before. Sorry, folk, but there's no way I'm reading all 250 blog posts in my reader! In fact, after those unpressured days without a computer, I've decided to sit a little more lightly to blog reading altogether.

That said, I'm still enjoying browsing my favourite blogs. And here are some of my favourites from the last few weeks.

One to one Bible reading - I struggle to know how to read the Bible with people. I found these simple directions very helpful. Meredith.

Devastating grace how sweet the sound - Because grace is amazing it must also be devastating. Justin Buzzard HT Sandy.

Eight principles for dating - Print, read, reflect, pray. And if you struggle with these, seek a godly mentor. Jen Smidt HT Ali.

Your children want you - A must read for mums and possibly-some-time-in-the-future mums. April Perry.

Better than small groups - The author of Growth Groups talks about why it might be better to start a discipleship team than a small group. Great stuff! Col Marshall.

When Facebook is another gospel - "I recreate my image...I recreate my world...I...find approval...This is salvation language. This is gospel language. Facebook – used in this way – is another gospel." Tim Chester.

The littleness of motherhood - The littleness of motherhood. Little decisions, little service, little sins. Not so little after all. Lizzie Jank.

The recipe for a successful pastor - How to choose a pastor: look at his heart. Paul Tripp HT Sandy Grant

The glory of Christ our bottom line as counsellors - Counselling the worst of sexual sinners with the grace of Christ. Jeremy Lelek.

How to read Packer's Knowing God - One of my favourite books of all time, and I never got to the end! Now I know why. Read this, then read the book. Meredith.

Feminine Threads - The story of Christian women throughout history. A fair and balanced review of a book that's sitting on my shelf begging to be read. Wendy.

Pray for me. Listen better. Stay off the porn. - Listening to celebrity preachers - and listening to your own pastor. Tom Cannon.

Among the apostles - Why Junia, "of note among the apostles" (Acts 16:7), is not just a piece in someone's argument, but an inspiration to value the ministries of women. Yay! Lionel Windsor.

After the NIV then what? The NIV. - I've found the NIV accurate at times when the ESV isn't, and far more readable, so I'm with Sandy on this one.

If you'd like to see more links, check out

Thursday, April 19, 2012

when your children are sick

I woke up this morning with a headache. There’s nothing remarkable about that; but as I stood at the bench and gulped down a couple of pain killers, I was reminded of how unpleasant a headache can be, and how easy it is for me to get rid of it.

It’s not so easy for my son. Over the last two years, he’s missed many, many weeks of school due to headaches, tiredness and general all-around blah-ness. We’ve had blood test after blood test: all negative. A few weeks ago I took him to a paediatrician, and she told me it sounds like migraines. They run in the family, but I’ve never seen them like this before. They persist for over a week. His face is pale and his eyes dark. He sits listlessly, wrapped in a blanket. He misses yet more school. And migraines are tricky: there’s no cure, only vague management plans that may or may not work. So we’re not looking at any quick solutions.

This feels all too familiar. Four years ago, I wrote these words about my daughter: “She has been sick for over a month. Sore stomach, a bizarre headache in the back of her head, aching muscles. She’s been dragging herself through school and putting herself to bed an hour early every night, as her skin grows whiter and the circles under her eyes more purple”.1 I checked the Internet, as parents do, and alarmed myself with long words like slow-growing chronic myelogenous leukemia. Blood tests and a gastroscopy revealed a less sinister cause: coeliac disease. It took months on a gluten-free diet – months when she missed yet more school, or went to school teary and sick – before her health was restored.

So why am I telling you this? Because this is normality. It doesn’t feel normal, because kids don’t get sick all that often in our protected Western world. Not very long ago, they would have spent months in bed with the usual childhood diseases: mumps, measles, chicken-pox. Some got polio and were crippled for life. Many died young. They still do, in much of the world. We take vaccinations for granted, and we take healthy children for granted. But health isn’t normal: in this fallen world, sickness and struggle are normal (Gen 3:1-24; Rom 8:18-21). As Christians, we’re not exempt from these things. Indeed, they many come with greater frequency, as God grows us – and our children – into the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:28-30; Heb 12:7-11).

What attitude shall I bring to my children’s suffering? How shall I regard it? After long weeks of sickness, I’m tempted to complain to God and give in to despair. Why me? Why another child? Wasn’t one child with a long-term illness enough? Weren’t two? (I have a third child with ongoing health issues that I haven’t written about here.) In the back of my mind, I’m thankful that God has preserved us, so far, from the terrible suffering that many parents go through – a still-born baby, a child with leukemia, a disabled teenager – but in the forefront of my mind I’m confused, lost and desolate. Yet God is teaching me and my children so many things through these afflictions.

I learn not to expect perfection. What is it about our arrogant Western mindset that makes us expect perfection in our children, our families and ourselves? We assume that our children will be healthy and intelligent; that they’ll excel at school; that they’ll be well-behaved and accomplished. Go down this path, and it leads you to a world too terrible to imagine, where the lives of unborn children are worth nothing unless they are (apparently) perfect. But these are my children, infinitely precious, healthy or not.

I learn patience. The patience that enables me to cheerfully give up my precious solitude for another day home with a sick child. The patience that companions me during long hours in the doctor’s waiting room. The patience that helps me lay aside my plans and sit with my son on the couch, reading a story or playing a game. The patience that waits through many months to find an answer – any answer! – to a child’s worrying symptoms.

I learn to care. I’ve discovered that it’s remarkably easy to distance myself from my children’s pain. I’m tempted to tell them to stop whining and snap out of it. But it only takes a headache, like the one I had this morning, to remind me of how unpleasant pain is and how important it is to weep when my children weep (Rom 12:15) – to give them a cuddle and loving words, and make them as comfortable as I can2 – to turn these long days into precious memories of a mother who was there to comfort, leading them into the knowledge of a greater comfort (2 Cor 1:3-4).

I learn to pray, to bring my confusion and aching questions to God. Shall I refuse to trust him because he hasn’t made life trouble-free for me and our family? Shall I let fear and self-pity grow strong? Shall I pretend that God isn’t in control, that this suffering is caused by something other than him? Or shall I allow it to drive me to God, cast my anxieties on his strong shoulders, and beg him to help me in my unbelief?

I learn trust: the faith that grieves to watch my children suffer, yet somehow trusts God, on their behalf, that he has purposes in their lives that I cannot see. It’s trust in God that carries me through the dark days when I wonder what the next diagnosis will be, and that bleeds through words in my journal:

I can live with this uncertainty. I like to know the reasons, but I can live without a reason. I can live with the absolute certainty that God loves me and my children more than I will ever know, that he always has a reason for allowing us to suffer, and that the reason may stay hidden in his loving Father’s heart. I can trust my heavenly Father with my life and the lives of my children.
I learn to teach my children. I learn to work with, not against, God as he makes them more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-30). I pray with and for them. I help them to practise patience and a cheerful heart. I speak God’s words to them. As I write this, it sounds so much neater than the reality! The truth is that I have to remind myself to make this about more than another day of getting through it. I have to remind myself that kids need loving discipline, even when they're sick. I have to remind myself to give attention to their needs. I have to remember to speak of God’s sovereign purposes and loving care.

I committed my children to God many years ago. I gave him their lives: the lives he once gave to me. If the choices he makes for them are different from what I’d choose for them, I know his decisions are better and his love greater than my own. And if I ever have to face the worst of my fears – if I hear the words from a doctor that bring an end, for a time, to happiness – then I pray that God will help me to say “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). On that day, may I bring him my doubts, cling to him in my grief and trust his goodness. I want to love him more than anything, more than life itself, more even than the lives of my children.

So I go back to another day of getting on with my life and caring for my son at the same time. I ask how he’s feeling. I get him a drink. I do some chores. I check how he’s going. I pray, yet more prayers, that God would restore his health. This is normality. This is life. This is the Christian life. And I will trust my heavenly Father, and encourage my children to do the same.

1.From the post I wrote at the time: Trusting God with the life of a child. ↩
2.I was helped to recover these old-fashioned skills by Edith Shaeffer’s What is a family?: see my post Caring for the sick. ↩

This post appeared first at
The Briefing this morning.

image is by kourtlynlott at flickr

Monday, April 16, 2012

why I read novels (what I'm reading: Tony Reinke's Lit!)

I put myself to bed with a novel every night. I borrow a stack from the library, and work through them one at a time. I always have a novel on the go. Some are worthy, old or modern classics; but mostly they are just for fun.

Sometimes Christians feel guilty about reading novels. Sometimes they should, if the novel encourages unhelpful fantasies, glorifies unbelief or leads them into sin. But there's also a (wonderful, glorious) place for reading novels in the Christian life.

The last of Tony Reinke's six categories for reading is reading for fun. He says,
Christians should not blush when they read for pleasure, for escape, or ‘just for fun’. Provided that this is not a form of escapism – and assuming the book does not glorify sin – the practice is enjoyable and honors God.

Truly, many Christians today measure their reading success with nothing more than a purely utilitarian gauge, either by how many book pages they can burn through, or by the amount of information they expose themselves to in the process. Too often we fail to read simply for pleasure.

...Reading for pleasure does not mean we cannot be educated at the same time. Robert Frost once said that a good poem begins by delighting the reader and ends by bringing wisdom and clarity to the reader’s life. That’s a great way of saying it. …Good literature instructs the reader as it delights the reader, because thoughtful readers are ‘putting together what should never be split – excitement and knowledge, joy and truth, ecstasy and value’.

So sometimes I read just for pleasure. But it’s not an easy pleasure...

Reading is a difficult pleasure because it requires discipline, diligence, and focus. But like in any pleasure, it is a pleasure that can be done for God’s glory.

Tony Reinke Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books page 103-04.

image is by Tololy Tutunai at flickr

Thursday, April 12, 2012

a blip in my blogging

Hi everyone! Just letting you know that a virus has munched up and spat out my computer so you may not hear a lot from me over the next week or so. I'll post when my husband's office is available and I've got something to say...

Love Jean.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

busy service - and a week off

You won't hear much from me on this blog for a week or so. It's school holidays, Easter is coming, and I'm using this time to catch my breath, remember Jesus, spend some time with our family, and get ready for the coming term.

Who said my first term without children at home would be easy? Who was going to take everyone's advice and not start lots of new ministries this year? Who pictured long days at home, sipping a cuppa, reading a book or ten, getting the house ordered and glowing for the first time in its eleven years of being lived in by our family, and catching up with friends? Could that possibly have been - wait a minute - me???

It seems God had other ideas. It's the end of term one, and I find myself:

  • leading a Bible study at the university campus nearby
  • mentoring and praying with two younger women from church
  • meeting with a friend to read a gospel together.

Put like that, it doesn't sound like much. Factor in husband and children and home and parents and church and friends and prayer and writing; plus the difficulties of adjusting to a new life phase and working out how to make it all work; plus some nervous fears - going back to university to do ministry when you're 43 is more challenging than I anticipated, especially when I wasn't anticipating it at all! - and at times it's felt overwhelming.

Yet I'm so very grateful to God for these opportunities. I love this! I love working alongside my husband in university ministry. I love the chance to mentor younger women. I love the fact that my husband and I will soon be leading the first Bible study we've ever led together. Much of this wouldn't have been possible in my previous season of life, and I'm revelling in the chance to do some of these things again.

Do we expect the Christian life to be easy? Or do we expect to be busy in the service of God and others? Sometimes it's time for rest. Sometimes it's time for busy service. Mostly it's time for busy service (Phil 2:17; 2 Thess 3:8-9; 1 Tim 5:9-14; Titus 2:3-5). Not over-busy, nervous, not-trusting, ambitious, being-eaten-up-by-people service (the kind I'm good at). But free, loving, wise, grace-inspired, poured-out-for-people service (the kind I'm learning).

As I turn my thoughts to Easter, these words echo in my mind:

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
Praise God for our suffering and glorified Saviour, who paved the way for us to die with him during this life, then live with him forever. My life belongs to him.

image is from habeebee on flickr

Monday, April 2, 2012

how to choose what to read (what I'm reading: Tony Reinke's Lit!)

"For every one book that you choose to read, you must ignore ten thousand other books simply because you don't have the time" (page 94). So says Tony Reinke in Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books.

He gives some hints. Choose carefully. Decide why you're reading a book before you read it. Don't finish the book if it's not achieving anything. Read bits of some books, and all of other books. Yes, it's true: you don't always have to read all of a book!

How do you choose what to read? At the start of each year, I make a list of books I want to read in particular categories. Tony recommends something similar. Here are his six categories (yours will look different - except the first, I hope):

  1. Reading Scripture - both in big chunks, and small bits for close study

  2. Reading to know and delight in Christ - theological books about Jesus, his cross and resurrection

  3. Reading to kindle spiritual reflection - this can include anything from a book of poems or an autobiography to a Christian novel

  4. Reading to initiate personal change - such books pack the shelves of Christian bookshops, but must be chosen and read with care, or they will lead to legalism or pride: books on Christian living, prayer, anxiety, parenting etc. Choose ones that major on the gospel and biblical truth (e.g. Tim Chester, Ed Welch, Jerry Bridges, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Paul Tripp).

  5. Reading to pursue vocational excellence - business, writing, teaching, studying, homemaking, etc.

  6. Reading to enjoy a good story - yes, it is okay for Christians to read for joy not just usefulness! More about that next week.

Why not go away and write a list of categories you'd like to read in this year? (You can check out mine here here and here.) Then choose some books (you can ask me for ideas, or ask someone you trust). Just make sure you include the Bible and books about Jesus' death and resurrection. And a little something just for fun!

You can comment here.

image is by pamhule at flickr