Monday, May 28, 2012

this day with God: a book spine poem by Jenny

My friend Jenny sent me this book spine poem.

Pride and prejudice,
The inheritance of loss,
Girl in hyacinth blue.
Recapture the wonder,
Keep a quiet heart,
Turning points.
The hunger games,
Love and respect,
Sheet music,
This day with God.

Ah, yes! How well I know it! The small struggles and beauties of a day with God.

For more book spine poems written in response to my meme, see Meredith, Ali and Ali, and Erin - and check out Ben, who beat us to it.

If you'd like to see your own poem on this blog, send a photo and a written version to this address.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

online meanderings: life and not-life, the back-to-front gospels, grieving with God, and more

Top five posts 
The day I took Matthias Media's money to the casino - Such a great post about life and not-life. Ian Carmichael.

Our refuge and strength in times of grieving - God is our refuge, our strength and our help in grief. A beautiful post from Paul Tautges HT Biblical Counselling Coalition

Reading the gospels from back to front - When a spoiler is a good thing. Yes, your favourite character dies - and that's the point. Todd Brewer HT The Briefing.

Seeing God's hand in our daily hardships - A new series on suffering and what it produces in us: the 7 Es. Excellent reflections on Romans 8: 28. Robert Jones.

An interview with JI Packer - So much good stuff here! I especially like what he say about the Puritans (4.12) and his advice to those setting out in a life of ministry (12.10). It's not ecclesiology that matters, but going deep in Scripture truth and life. (Note to self: re-read John Owen's "Mortification of sin".)

Quotes of the week
"Let the measure of God's grace to you in the cross of Christ be the measure of your grace to your spouse." - You can't say this enough Piper quoted by Jonathon Parnell.

"The Bible is the true Facebook, the book in which we see God’s face. Prayer is the ultimate instant messaging. The church is the real social network." You can't say this enough Tim Chester.

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention." How to read a book Alan Jacobs on Francis Bacon.

"There is someone wrong on the Internet. It’s probably you. Log off, hug your kids, kiss your wife, and go get some of His rest. The world will not only be there when you get back, it will have been made better." Something is wrong on the Internet RC Sproul Jr.

Seven more great posts
A prayer for those who lie awake at night worrying - "Sunrise has yet to happen, yet I’m already looking forward to moonrise. Thank you for freeing me from the pressure of pretending otherwise..." Scotty Smith HT Biblical Counselling Coalition

Thus saith the Lord - How God speaks to us today. Meredith.

How Zephaniah helps us feel the glad love of God - God rejoices over his people with singing. Jonathon Parnell on one of the most mind-blowing verses in the Bible. 

How to sabotage an introverted pastor - Don't use your introversion as an excuse. Screwtape and the introverted pastor. Jared Wilson.

How to start at your new church - Make a commitment. Throw yourself into things. Serve. Love. Kevin deYoung HT Challies.

How God can use your anxiety for good and 8 reasons why my anxiety is pointless and foolish - Two "opposing" posts on anxiety. Anxiety is sin. It is also, often, suffering (not sure I'd go with the "disorder" language but this is a huge struggle for some). In both sin and suffering, let's turn to God and keep serving him. Laura Ortberg Turner and Justin Taylor.

For mothers
Mummy wars in the local church: a parable - "Two mothers woke up and opened their Bibles to pray, one a perfect mother and the other a not-so-perfect mother..." Gloria Furman.

Competitive mothering - I was a bit dubious about a guy writing this but it's gold. Let me boast only in the cross. Challies.

Mummy wars - Are you mum enough? Is God enough? Rachel Pieh Jones.

For parents and teachers
Who's that adult in my car? - Welcoming teenagers into the family - and into your conversations. Jodie McNeill.

Classical school reading list - Reading lists for kids of all ages (and why not adults too?). A great resource for parents and teachers. Justin Taylor.

Feeding people
Cooking in a pie cooker - More fun cooking from Jane. Anyone tried cooking gluten free pies in a pie maker?

Dealing with the lunchbox wars - A great idea from Sus.

Living with technology
Dancing on the edge of finished - I need to learn how to do this. When work bleeds into life. Seth Godin HT Challies.

Taming Facebook - A good summary of the pros and cons of Facebook from Nicole. 

Are you neglecting your kids [or others] because of your smartphone? - Or your iPad, or your computer screen, or your... Sobering stuff. Erin Andersson.

Reading and writing
10 quick tips for writing well - Worth printing out and sticking up somewhere. Greg Bailey via Nathan Bingham via Challies.

Interviewing the ProBlogger - Be missional in your blogging. Interesting idea! I'd like to think more about this. An interview with Darren Rowse by Challies.

9 books on reading and writing - 9 books on reading and writing. Love it.

If you want more links, or want to see my links as I read them, check out

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

why you shouldn’t memorize Bible verses

Well, actually, you should. But I got your attention, didn’t I? And I want to suggest there is something even better than memorizing Bible verses. Here it is: memorizing Bible passages.

I can almost hear you sigh. Who wants to be told they should memorize more of the Bible? If you’re anything like me, you tried to learn some Bible verses once, and you’ve forgotten them all, except a few stray words. And now I’m telling you that you should learn whole passages?

Yes, I am; but it’s not really a case of “should”. The Bible never tells me that I have to memorize this much this way. Memorizing Bible passages (and even whole books) isn’t really work to me. It’s joy. And that’s from someone with a terrible memory, even at my sparkling best. I did the bulk of my Bible memorization while I was a brain-dead sleep-deprived baby-toting mum. I’ve been doing this for years now: years of revelling in the best words in the world. I’m not asking you to take up a difficult duty, but inviting you to a feast (Psalm 119:103).

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are easier to learn. They stick in your head in a way that individual Bible verses are never likely to – at least if your brain is anything like mine. That’s because they come with meaning attached. They come with context, and meaning opening like a flower, and movement and mystery and structure and poetry and – did I mention meaning? They’re not just stray bits of information floating around an overloaded mind.

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are more useful to remember. Instead of a single nail, they give you a shelf to rest your thoughts on. Instead of a dot point, they give you an argument to wend your way through. Instead of a hut, they give you a mansion where you can lay your anxieties down to rest. They give you expressions for your praise and poetry for your laments and words for your encouragement. They give you food for reflection and prayer when you can’t sleep or when you’re going for a walk or when you’re waiting for the bus.

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are a lot more fun to recall, so you’ll recall them a lot. Because they’re full of meaning and sweetness, you’ll call them to mind again and again; and this will drive them so deeply into your heart that you will never forget them. You’ll do most of your memorizing when you’re not memorizing, just recalling your favourite passages, in the same way that you remember a special place, your greatest experience, or the face of a lover or a friend.

Have I convinced you? Have I even begun to convince you? I hope so. Because this is the first in a series. Next time, I’ll talk about the what of Bible memorization (which passages would be good to learn first?); then the how of Bible memorization (how on earth do I get those passages into my sluggish brain?); and, finally, the why of Bible memorization (what’s the point of all this anyway?). If going from what to how to why sounds a little backwards, yes, it is. But you’ve heard it often enough around the other way around. So I thought I’d shake things up a bit.

Why passages, not just verses? Because God has invited us to a feast. Let’s not stop at the hors d’oeuvres.

What’s your experience (if any) of Scripture memorization? How well do you remember what you learned? And how do you feel when you hear the words “Bible memorization”:

a) jumping for joy (I can’t wait!)
b) yawning widely (I’ve heard this before)
c) bewildered (No-one does that any more!)
d) guilty and anxious (I know I should, but it all sounds too hard.)?

Be honest!

This post first appeared at The Briefing.
image is by chefranden at flickr

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

book spine poetry: hoping for something better

Speaking of poetry, have you heard of  book spine poetry? My friend Kath introduced me to the concept. You can see some examples here.

Just for fun, here's my very own book spine poem (the first book is the heading). How many of the titles and authors do you recognize?

hoping for something better

Until the day break
The scent of water
The hollow hills
The endless steppe
The remains of the day
The last battle
Cry, the beloved country
How long, O Lord?
Till we have faces.

Create your own book spine poem, send a picture to my email address, and you might see it on this blog. I can't wait to see what you come up with!

If you're a blogger, here's a challenge. I'm starting a meme. Here are the rules (free free to ignore them):

  • Create a book spine poem (examples here).
  • Take a picture.
  • Post it on your blog.
  • Link back to this post.
  • Tag another blogger, or two, or ten.

I'm tagging my poetry and/or book loving friends
Ali, NicoleMeredithCathyWendySusGordoMaddiLeila and Bek.

Have fun!

Monday, May 21, 2012

so you want to write good

Want to know how I write a blog post? Want to write one yourself? Here's how.
1. Know what you’re trying to say.

2. Never assume your audience knows what you’re trying to say.

3. Find a creative way to approach / introduce what you’re trying to say.

4.  Write an initial draft quickly.

5. Be a great revisor.

6. Get rid of unnecessary words.

7. Maintain an active voice.

8. Use simple sentences. “Simple sentences are beautiful.”

9. Let it rest. “Sleep on it.”

10. Let it go. “Let it do its job, for good or bad.”
Those were editor Greg Bailey's ten tips for writing, shamelessly poached quoted by me.

Good to know I'm on the right track. Though I still have worlds to learn! And the longer I write, the more I know just how much.

HT Tim Challies

Saturday, May 19, 2012

online meanderings: a strong gospel, ministry and family, the cross and motherhood, and more

Quote of the week. "Don’t believe the lie that struggling always to obey God is a worse lot in life than disobeying him with peace...Go to the cross for as long as it takes to die." From What is better? by Jared Wilson HT Vitamin Z.

Best new blog. Food that serves. Yes, I know I mentioned it last week, but in case you missed it, this blog is chock-full of ideas for hospitality cooking. With thanks to Jane.

Top five posts.
The gospel is big enough to fight for itself - Not clever arguments, but the gospel. Share it over and over and over. You never know when it will break through. Jonathon Parnell.

He must increase but I must decrease - "Our role is not our reward. Jesus is our reward." Learning from John the Baptist. A beautiful post by one of my favourite bloggers, Jon Bloom.

Your ministry is not your identity - "I will either get my identity vertically, from who I am in Christ, or I will shop for it horizontally." "You are most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you realize you desperately need every truth you could give to another." A must-read for anyone in ministry from the ever-excellent Paul Tripp.

Embracing the biblical tension between family and church ministry - One of the best posts I've read on ministry and family, this post argues that the tension is healthy. "Ministry requires a life of joyful sacrifice, and our families have been called to share in that sacrifice." David Sunday.

Mothers, flee to the cross - "May my voice urge them on, my hands pull them forward as we run together. Faster, faster, hurry to the refuge of the cross." When you are not your children's refuge, but the storm in their lives. Rachel Pieh Jones.

And seven more.
On faith and doubt - This article about doubt reminds me of what helped me through my own time of questioning the faith: reading the gospel of Mark. Now I know why. Martin Ayers.

Community on a mission with a depth of intimacy - Turning the focus of small groups outward increases community inward. "We tend to form our lasting friendships through shared experiences, shared time, and shared mission." Logan Gentry HT Vitamin Z.

Reading through the prophets - I love Meredith's approach to reading the Bible - especially those tricky prophets.

Do not allow me success that exceeds my sanctification - "God is good and wise to give me the level of success he has given; in fact, he has done well to not give me any more." A helpful conclusion to a series on envy by Challies.

A letter to a 12 year old girl about the eternal destiny of those who have not head the gospel - This question came up in my Bible study a couple of weeks ago. I'm going to print out this simple, clear answer from John Piper and share it with my group.

6 things adoption has taught me - "What if God’s will for our life is found wherever someone’s need and our ability intersect?"

4 reasons to remember your creator in your youth - For young people and those who work with them. Why my husband and I are in university ministry: these are energetic, sensitive, teachable, dangerous years. I wish he'd offered more gospel-centred solutions, though! David Murray HT Challies.

For women.
When mothers day isn't a celebration, God knows. - An encouraging little post by Noel Piper. HT Ali.

An open letter to pastors (A non mom speaks about Mothers Day) - "To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you. To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you..." Read the rest. For women and their pastors. Amy.

For mothers.
Satan's desire for mothers - Why you shouldn't believe the lie that you are too good for mothering, or that mothering is too good for you. (Check out the interesting riff on "saved through childbearing": 1 Tim 2:13.) Julian Freeman HT Challies.

Motherhood. Raising arrows for the Father's hand. - "God does not share our sentimental view of motherhood...God does not tell us to desire the blessing of children because their cheerful voices will make our houses feel cozy. He tells us to desire children who will contend with the enemy in the gate." Rachel Jankovic.

For parents, kids and their teachers.
Making little evangelists - Raising kids to talk about Jesus with their friends. Some good suggestions for Sunday School teachers and parents from Belinda.

Teaching kids about God: Getting kids to multitask - A great tip for helping kids concentrate in Sunday School and Scripture classes at school. Meredith.

Children and the internet - How to help your children navigate through the joys and risks of the internet. Karen Beilharz.

A Christian classical school reading list for grades 1-34-5 and 7-8 - Some really helpful reading lists for kids, home-schooled or otherwise. Justin Taylor.

Books, writing, random facts and fun.
God's good design - A review of Claire Smith's new book on biblical womanhood. This book is fantastic and more accessible than the "big blue brick". If I wanted to discuss complementarianism with someone from the Bible, this is the book I'd use.

Marilynne Robinson - One of my all-time favourite authors writes about how you can talk about unfashionable obsessions in your writing as long as the writing is good. And hers is good - very good. (And she's working on a new novel! Woo hoo!)

Internal time - Is it better to wake up early? Why do teenagers sleep in? How do sleep cycles affect our productivity? Why are you so tired? I found this fascinating. Maria Papova.

She didn't find the joke very funny - Just one more reason I'm glad my mum taught me to laugh at myself: I'll know what to do if this happens to me.

If you want more links, or want to see my links as I read them, check out

Thursday, May 17, 2012

guest post: reflections on motherhood

Today I'm leaving you in the capable hands of my friend Ali, who wrote this wonderful piece about motherhood (it's based on a talk she gave for Mothers Day last Sunday).

My journey in becoming a mother was a profound catalyst for my coming out of who I thought I was and, in a sense, my undoing.

I had always lived most of my life in my head. I was very cerebral. It was easy for me to skip meals because I was caught up in a book or work. Now all of a sudden my body was taken over by this little baby and the physicality of motherhood became a bigger and bigger reality. The kids have earthed me. My needs were given the lowest priority. My life now revolved around this little person who was dependent on me every moment of every day (and every night!). And that has now stretched into four little people who are jumping all over my body (from within and without) and relying on me to look after their physical and emotional needs. I've had to embrace so much more of life than I once did. I can't be a spectator anymore. I've had to get my hands dirty in the mess of life.

I remember one of the first lessons I learnt from motherhood was how selfish I was. Eden was not a great sleeper and I was inexperienced and unsure of myself. I was prepared and happy to get up to him once or twice during the night, but I resented being on call all the time. This was not the docile baby I had imagined! He kept crying for me and I felt this internal struggle between his needs and my needs. I knew I could project a loving mother image on the outside but here was my baby crying for me and in my heart I just didn't want to go to him.

It made me realize how frail and human I was. How much I needed to depend on something or someone stronger than me to be able to pour myself out into these children. Otherwise I would grow in resentment and be living on empty. I was not capable of unconditional love on my own.

Today, motherhood is either spurned or idolized. There are the celebrity mothers with their well dressed kids, eating organic food and saying their kids are their first priority. Or there are the career women who see children as an impediment to happiness and self fulfillment. And of course there are all sorts of shades in between. Motherhood is not as clear cut as people would like to have you believe.

Motherhood is confused. The mummy wars happen in every mothers group or blog space. There are fights over the best ways to raise kids. Over sleeping, feeding, schooling...any thing you can think of. The Time's front cover just highlighted this recently.

Motherhood doesn't just bring out our most tender and nurturing side. It brings out our judgmentalism and self centredness. I never knew becoming a mum was stepping into a battlefield of opinions and rights and wrongs about how to be the 'perfect mother'.

But what does God think? God created it. He values families. He values mothers. He holds mothers in high esteem. But families aren't the be all and end all. He is. Being a mother hasn't completed me. It is an amazing privilege and a joy but it's another way that God shows me that he is who truly completes me. It is God who gives me worth.

The kids are my gifts of sanctification. They know how to push my buttons; how to embarrass me and expose my idols. God uses them regularly to show me my need for him and my pathetic attempts to gain glory in my own strength. They parrot back to me wisdom from God I'd taught them when I don't want to hear it. They tell me I'm yelling all the time when I'm pushing them because I've crammed my days too full and I don't want to look bad. But they are also gifts of healing and grace. They see when I am sad and know when to give me a cuddle at just the right time. They tell me I look beautiful when I've just put on a dress or lipstick. They say I should go on master chef if I've cooked them toast and eggs. They tell me they love me and forgive me even though I've been harsh with them all day.

I have been profoundly blessed by having my four children and I love them beyond words. But I know that the love we share is only a glimpse of the amazing love that is found in God.

Becoming a mother has made it all the more clear to me the very best and worst of being human. It's shown me that we are a broken image of God and that by connecting with him we find our completeness and our hope for redemption.

He is my refuge when I fail my family yet again, or when they fail me.

When motherhood undoes me; it is God who remakes me.

image is by Gerald Yuvallos at flickr

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

learning to enjoy Christian poetry (what I'm reading: Lit! and A sacrifice of praise)

When I say the word "poetry", how do you feel? Be honest!

I'm sure some of you love poetry. Some of you probably find it boring or bewildering. But perhaps you're like me: you'd like to like poetry, but you don't know quite how to read it or where to start. I'm thinking of you as I write today.

I love reading, but I've always found it hard to appreciate poetry. I read too fast, and it's difficult to slow down and let the words sink in. That's starting to change, thanks to bloggers like Ali and Nicole. I've also been inspired by Tony Reinke's encouragement to read Christian poetry to kindle spiritual reflection.

One of the few things my son Ben wants to do when he has a migraine  is to listen to me read, so once or twice we've read poems together. Some are from our old copy of The Norton anthology of poetry, others from A sacrifice of praise, an anthology of Christian poetry. If you want to get to know and appreciate Christian poetry, this is a wonderful place to start (I bought it Reinke's recommendation in Lit!, the book I've been blogging through recently).

Where do you turn when you want to read a Christian poem to your son? My first choice was God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), an English Catholic poet. This poem echoes uncannily in my mind, no doubt because my mum used to quote from it, especially the last two lines: she was an English teacher, and is far more poetry-buffish than me.

Like every poem, if you want to enjoy this, try reading it slowly and out loud. Read it again. Read it to someone else. Let the images sing to you of how God's glory still shines from his crushed and broken world. I want to commit this poem to memory so, next time I watch the sun rise over our back verandah, I'll remember how, in and after darkness, "the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings".

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

online meanderings: writing to encourage, my goal for my children, the art of the surprise visit, and other stuff

15 tips on blogging from John Newton - I think this is perhaps the most wonderful post I've read on how to write for the encouragement of others. Tony Reinke.

You do not belong to your children, you belong to Christ - This is gold. "It is because I have lived at the two extremes of neglecting family, and making family my idol, that I can say some of the hard things I’m going to say..." The importance of neglecting your children for Christ. Really. Luma HT Challies.

This changes everything - What's my goal for my children? That in humility they might serve, putting others' needs before their own. Like Jesus. Phil 2:1-11. Bob.

The art of the surprise visit - Drop in on a friend. The art of the impromptu visit. Great stuff from the ever-inspiring Cathy.

Food that serves - Ideas for hospitality - and family - cooking. This looks like a fantastic and very usable website! With thanks to Jane.

A herniated disc, a three-year-old's suffering and the love of the Father - A beautiful post about a son's suffering, and what it taught his father about the love of the Father when we suffer. HT Challies.

Six simple ways to avoid burnout - Seven signs of burnout and six ways to avoid it. This infographic is a fantastic resource. I especially like the point about green space! Shared by David Murray.

I could never do that: A look at the counselling you do every day - We are all counsellors, in all our relationships, every day. And we are all in the counselling room with others. We may not have the answers, but we know where to point people. Eliza Huie.

The quotable Elizabeth - part 1 and part 2 - I enjoyed this two-part interview with a pastor's wife, especially what she says about reading the Bible and praying when you have young kids, the iron in submission, and the importance of being kind to your children. (And the bit about coffee shops and naps. A kindred spirit!)

Church in creche - Is creche just non-church, fill-in-time-while-others-hear-the-sermon, or is it more? Brilliant stuff. Thanks, Nicole.

Why family time is part of a pastor's job description - "All Christians need to consider family time important, but for the pastor there is more at stake. Churches should recognize this and should never allow leaders to neglect family for the sake of the ministry." Clint Archer.

Saddling your emotions - I like the simple, practical suggestions here for managing your emotions. Changing locations, having a sleep, looking out for the early signs: all tips I've learned over the years. Hayley Satrom.

Is your gospel big enough? - "Is my gospel big enough to account for a man who three times denied that he knew the Lord?...Is it big enough to allow a man like this to be a leader in the church?" This made me think. Challies.

You don't have to obey (sin, that is) - "Sinful passions can be denied, and ruthlessly...When you deny yourself, don’t try rationalizing with your fallen self. You already know your weak spots too well." Jon Bloom.

When you identify a sin in your life - Getting serious about sin. This series on John Owen's Overcoming sin and temptation is life-changing. Really.

Leave it to the imagination - Is reading scary stuff in a book the same as watching it in a movie? Should I let my kids watch it? This post doesn't give answers, but helpfully teases out the issues. Barnabus Piper HT Vitamin Z.

Mothers' day and the infertile - On mother's day, "infertile women, and their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows." A helpful reminder - although I'm not sure about the solution. Russell Moore.

The top 5 things introverts dread about church - Not that we should necessarily stop doing them - they can be helpful to pull introverts like me out of our shell - but it's good for leaders to be mindful of how introverts feel. Chelsey Doring HT Challies.

Why read fiction? An interview with Russell Moore - Why read fiction? What is appropriate for Christians to read? When should / shouldn't I recommend a book to others? I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Russell Moore. Challies.

Why men should read more fiction - This is a fascinating post! I never realised fiction was so useful in teaching empathy and a "theory of mind" - essentials for healthy relationships, more common in women than in men. Brett and Kate McKay.

Money and missionaries: how much? - You'll find some interesting thoughts from Vanuatu missionary Rachael about the living standards for missionaries in her comment on this post by Tom Richards.

Should Christianity be more masculine? - An interesting take on an increasingly common idea. "Jesus and his buddies were 'dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes." Real Christian men like Jesus and Paul "are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.' Seriously?" Michael S. Horton.

The downside of cohabiting before marriage - Good to hear this discussion in a secular paper: The New York Times. Meg Jay HT Challies.

Loneliness: A substitution fantasy gone wrong - An excellent secular article about how online relationships are a poor substitute for real ones. An interesting article from The Age. Sarah Berry HT Natalie.

My new book - I'd like to read this: Twelve Types: A Collection of Mini-Biographies by G.K. Chesterton. Love Chesterton. Love the idea of mini-biographies. A great way to start with biography reading! Cathy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies

I don’t usually read Christian books during our summer vacation. I take a couple away with me, worthy inclusions in a tottering pile of books, but my hand reaches for the novels and the Christian books remain untouched. But last summer was different. I picked up Tim Challies’s The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, skimmed the first few pages, and enjoyed them so much that I read it cover-to-cover in a few days.

It’s hard to think of anyone better equipped than Tim Challies to write a book about the impact of technology on the Christian life. He’s a husband, father, and pastor; a web designer by trade; and a popular evangelical blogger (at Living a life interrupted by the ‘beep’, in the glow of the latest iDevice, he began to suspect his technologies owned him as much as he owned them. The Next Story is the fruit of his reflections. Its goal is to enable us to live in the “sweet spot” where practice, theory and theology overlap, helping us to use technology in a way that’s thoughtful and biblically informed.

The title of The Next Story refers to the fact that a new digital era has just begun, and we don’t yet know what ‘the next story’ will look like. Challies encourages us not to reject technology, for it’s a good gift of God, but also to use it carefully, for it’s a powerful enabler of our idols. He warns that technology tends to become “mythic”, so that we assume it always existed and no longer examine it critically. Yet each new technology carries hidden ideologies that impact how we live and view the world. From oral transmission, to the written word, to the printed word, to the telegraph, to the television, to the internet… with each leap forward in the way we communicate and entertain ourselves, power shifts, society morphs, and even our brains change shape. Challies encourages us to “talk to our tech”, to question its impact and use it with “disciplined discernment”.

 In the second, longer part of the book, Challies gets practical, riffing on six themes that help us think through the effect of technology on our lives. With each issue, he digs deep into the Bible and the impact of technology and recommends a course of godly action. Here are some of the many challenges I took away:

  • Communication: Do I value online relationships with people I’ll never meet over relationships in my family, church and community? 
  • Mediation/identity: Have I begun to feel more comfortable with mediated communication—emails, text messages, Twitter—than with face-to-face communication? 
  • Distraction: How much do I depend on the constant interruptions of emails, Facebook comments and text messages to make me feel important and valued? 
  • Information: Is my mind so flooded with small, constant snippets of information that I am overwhelmed, unable to read and reflect deeply? 
  • Truth/authority: Do I seek knowledge from true experts, or are my knowledge and beliefs crowd-sourced? 
  • Visibility and privacy: Would I be willing to make my web history public? How careful am I about what I write, view and make public online?

I particularly appreciated the questions for reflection at the end of each chapter; they helped me examine my own use of technology and led me to repentance and prayer.

There were a few points where I would have loved to ask some further questions of Challies. His use of the Bible was spot-on when it came to wisdom issues, but, while I appreciated the way he unpacked big theological ideas and applied them to the digital world, the links weren’t always clear to me. He also made some interesting points I’d love to see further fleshed out. Yes, the medium shapes the message, but what’s the real impact of the fact that we view preachers on screens, follow sermon outlines on PowerPoint, sing hymns from projected words, and read the Bible on electronic devices? And while I appreciated his detailed reflections on the negative impact of technology, I was surprised that a man who uses his blog so well for God’s glory didn’t spend more time on how to use the opportunities provided by technology to grow God’s kingdom.1

I thoroughly enjoyed The Next Story. Challies is an able thinker and writer: the history he describes is fascinating, the philosophy stimulating, and the theological and pastoral reflections insightful and challenging. I needed the lessons this book brought me, and I went away inspired and equipped to use technology in a more thoughtful and godly way. I encourage you to read it slowly and allow it to examine and shape you.

1. John Piper’s post Why and how I am tweeting is a good example of such a reflection. ↩

This post first appeared at The Briefing today.

Monday, May 7, 2012

the danger and delights of books about personal change (what I'm reading: Tony Reinke's Lit!)

In his wonderful book Lit!, Tony Reinke gives us six categories for reading. So far, we've looked at three of them: theologyreading for pleasure, and reading to kindle spiritual reflection.

His fourth category - the one we'll look at today - is reading to initiate personal change. He says,
In this category I slide down into the muddy trenches of life. These are the books for battle, the sharp weapons for putting off sin and putting on righteousness. These books help me confront and defeat personal sin and unbelief. They help me to honor God in my role as a husband and as a parent...This reading category forces me to think proactively about personal growth and to determine where in my life I need to focus my attention. Carefully selected books will set the pace for focused and long-term change. 
If you go to a Christian bookshop, you'll find heaps of books in this category. Christian living, marriage, parenthood, overcoming worry, learning to pray: who doesn't want to know about these things? It's easy to be motivated to read books like this, because they promise to answer our felt needs. Yet such books can be dangerous:
How each writer approaches these topics can be wise and biblically informed – or not. And due to the spiritual dangers associated with these practical books, readers should choose them very carefully. 
What are the dangers of such books? They easily slide into legalism. "Ten rules for personal change!" "A proven method for praying!" "What you need to do to be a godly wife and mother!" The assumption is that if you follow the author's particular program, you'll be able to change. The result, more often than not, is discouragement if you fail to live up to the "rules", or pride if you manage to keep them:
I have seen wisely chosen books transform marriages, free sinners, and gladden grumblers. I have seen poorly chosen books feed a person’s doubt, entrench a soul in legalism, and ignite a heart with self-righteousness.  
If, like me, you're a perfectionist and a rule-keeper, you'll need to be even more careful: books which are helpful for others may not be helpful for you, unless you read them with great care. So how do you choose books to initiate personal change? One place to start is to ask someone you trust, who knows you well, and who can be your reading guide:
Specific recommendations are often best discovered under the guidance of a wise and well-read pastor who knows you.
If you're searching for a book on a particular topic, look for books that are gospel-centred. Books that start with God's grace, rather than a set of rules for change. Books from writers you know will take this approach.

Here are a few authors who write about practical issues whose books are radically gospel-centred: Tim Chester, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Ed Welch, Philip Jensen, Jerry Bridges, John Piper, David Powlison, Tim Keller, Josh Harris, CJ Mahaney and Paul Tripp. They've written books on everything from personal change to depression to sexual purity to marriage and parenting.

If you want to find a gospel-centred book on a particular topic, please ask me in the comments (click here). This is a hobby-horse of mine, so chances are I've read or know of something. And if I don't, I'll ask someone who does!

Quotes are from Tony Reinke's Lit! pages 99-100.

image is by Brett Jordan from flickr

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Andy, the incarnation, and The Big Picture Story Bible

I've just re-read The Big Picture Story Bible to my boys Andy (5) and Thomas (8). The three of us really enjoyed it this time around. (You can now get it as an iBook, but we're not that technologically literate, and wouldn't this make it the "little screen Bible" not the "big picture Bible"? There's something about those big glossy pages...)

I love the way The Big Picture Story Bible tells the whole story of the Bible in a small space. It's like The Jesus Storybook Bible on steroids. It misses a lot of details - my boys were in fits of giggles over how it moves from one generation to the next ("and then Isaac...and then Jacob...and then Joseph..."). But it gives a far better, more Christ-centred overview of salvation history than I had until I read Graham Goldsworthy's Gospel and Kingdom as an adult, and you can use other children's bibles to fill in the details.

All this is by way of introduction. What I really want to share today is the delightful way that theology makes its way into a child's head. I was reading the Christmas story in The Big Picture Story Bible, when Andy stopped me and started pointing at the pictures and telling me the story himself:
They went in there, and they said, "There's no room in there. There's no room in there." And so they had to sleep in the stable.
And then, as he realised the full import of what was happening:
So God sended himself into the world!
And then, as we read the story of Jesus' baptism:
Jesus was God's best beloved!
It just goes to show how much theology children are capable of understanding if you just give them the chance.

Friday, May 4, 2012

online meanderings: help with hospitality, depression, idolatry, conversation and other stuff

Making it real - Excuses not to offer hospitality? Here are some great solutions and ideas to make it easy. Thanks, Sus!

Fighting the unholy trinity
 - Time for some JC Ryle. Food for the soul, weapons for the fight.

A prayer for serving our friends who struggle with depression - A helpful theological and pastoral guide to depression in a very small space. Scotty Smith HT Sandy.

That idol that you love doesn't love you back - Control. Approval. Comfort. Power. What's your flavour, and why are you so tired and unhappy? Justin Buzzard HT Challies.

The flight from conversation - Turn off your devices. Look someone in the eye. Talk. Listen. Converse. Here's how - and why. Sherry Turkle.

How to steady yourself in the age of compulsive mobility - "Gaze upon what is to come, and hold fast today." Jonathon Parnell.

The key to Christian growth - "Growing up, I was trained to think the way Christians grow is from experience to experience." Timmy Brister HT Vitamin Z.

I'm so glad that it's me! - "Somewhere in our discussions about boundaries, stress, suitability, workaholism, and rest, we’ve lost sight of the fact that Christian Ministry actually rocks!" Belinda.

Confessions of a recovering perfectionist - From one recovering perfectionist (Christine Hoover) to another (me).

Stop your cheatin' ways - Sleep. You know you need it. (Warning: this is not for mums with bubs, but for people who choose to skimp on sleep.)

3 simple ways to encourage your pastor - RC Sproul Jr HT Challies.

Compassion fatigue - "Pastors, caregivers, sensitive souls, bring your compassion fatigue to the ever- and always-compassionate Christ." David Murray.

8 reasons why my anxiety is pointless and foolish - Good ones, from the Bible. Justin Taylor.

Anxiety, worry and fear - There's an excellent article by Ed Welch in this online issue of Australian Presbyterian.

Being happy with the mother I am rather than the one I thought I would be - I, too, have had to struggle with being the mother I am, not the mother I thought I would be. Her family sounds a lot like ours! Jenny.

Heart guarding and other ways to whitewash a tomb - Single? Female? Know someone who is? Here's a brilliant post about guarding your heart. Rebekah.

Christian girls in a sexy world - A good article for teens (and others) about loving guys by the way we dress. Fiona Dewhurst HT Jodie and Mandy.

Prayer journalling for your husband and children - Praying through Scripture for your husband and children. Some great ideas here. Kim Campbell.

How I pray for my sons - A great model for thoughtful, biblical praying for our children. Greg.

5 reasons why I quit Facebook - A convicting and helpful article. Robbing Burger.

No, you are not "running late", you are rude and selfish - Why it's important to show up on time - in our relationships and at church. HT Sandy

What kind of blogger am I? - A great post from Lisa Writes about finding a focus for a blog.

Proverbs for Christian bloggers: Don't pick a fight that isn't yours - Have you ever wondered whether to get involved in a comment war online? Is it worth the time? Use this checklist to decide. Mike Leake.

And some books to add to my list:

Historical fiction on the New Testament world written by scholars - Justin Taylor.

Ten great biographies - I've been wanting to read more biography. I might start here. Challies.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

devoted to ministry and prayer

You know those times when you read a Bible passage so familiar that you barely see it any more? Then a word or phrase jumps out at you, your perspective shifts, and you see it clearly. It’s like those 3D puzzles where the picture suddenly comes into focus.

I’ve been leading some studies on Acts. We’re given an idyllic picture of the first Christians two times over, just in case we didn’t get it the first time (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37). They prayed. They listened to the apostles’ teaching. They ate together. They sold their possessions and cared for those among them who were in need. Ananias and Sapphira spoil the picture a little (Acts 5:1-11), but the general impression is of harmonious fellowship.

Then we come to the sixth chapter of Acts, and suddenly things aren’t so rosy. One bunch of Christians is neglecting another in the distribution of food. The twelve apostles solve the problem by appointing seven deacons to oversee the process. But it’s the reason for this that really caught my attention:
And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:2-4)
There are two things that struck me about these verses. The first is how much I’d like to say, next time I’m asked to cook for a church event, or five o’clock approaches and I have to pull together a meal for my family, “I’m sorry, I can’t serve tables, I have to devote myself to the ministry of the word.” (You’ll be glad to know I haven’t given into the temptation yet; after all, cooking is one of my responsibilities, and these days I even enjoy it.) The second is that, when God called the apostles to spread the news about Jesus (Acts 1:8), they saw this as involving two main tasks: prayer and the ministry of the word. They even mentioned prayer first.

You only have to look at the letters of Paul, that apostle “untimely born” (1 Cor 15:8), to see it’s true. He prays for all the Christians he can, including those he’s never met. He prays for their knowledge of God, their growth in the faith, their endurance in suffering. He does this every day, night and day, always, constantly, continually, ceaselessly, without stopping, whenever he thinks of them (Rom 1:9-10; Eph 1:15-23, 3:14-21; Phil 1:3-11; Col 1:3, 9-14; 1 Thess 1:2, 3:10; 2 Thess 1:11-12; 2 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 1:3; Philem 1:4-7). Of all of us, surely Paul could say, “I’m sorry, I’ve got more important things to do than to pray. God has called me to the ministry of the word” (Acts 9:15; 1 Tim 2:7). He had enough to do, what with preaching and tent-making and living in peoples’ homes as an itinerant evangelist (Acts 18:3; 1 Thess 2:9). Yet it’s clear that he spent much time in prayer, and not just any old prayer. For Paul, praying wasn’t the last item on a to-do list he never quite got through: it was heartfelt, strenuous, unremitting work (1 Thess 3:10 cf Col 4:12).

What about us? How do our priorities compare to Paul’s? We may be “ministers of the word” or we may serve in other ways, but do we pray for those we teach and serve? Do I pray for my children as well as teach them the truth about God, or am I too busy cooking and cleaning and heading off tantrums? Does the average pastor give focussed time to praying for the people in his congregation, or is he too busy writing sermons, visiting people and running church events? What about Bible study leaders, Sunday school teachers, and youth group leaders? What about the rest of us, to whom God has given the responsibility of speaking his word into each others’ lives (Col 3:16)? What about those with ministries of evangelism or giving or leading (Rom 12:4-7; 1 Pet 4:10-11)? Do we pray? Are we devoted to prayer? Or do we say, by our actions and choices, that it’s really us running the show, growing Christians into maturity, helping our friends to know Jesus? We can do it without God, thank you very much! We don’t need help! People’s hearts are in our hands, to be changed by us – aren’t they? Well, aren’t they?

Lest we think that sweaty, struggling, unceasing prayer is only for important people like apostles, Paul holds us to a similar standard. Our prayers are to be four kinds of “all”:  all the time, all kinds of prayerwith all perseverance, for all believers (Eph 6:18). But how can we possibly pray in “everything”, “steadfastly”, “without ceasing”? (Phil 4:6; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17 cf. 1 Tim 2:1; Luke 18:1) Clearly, we can’t pray consciously at every moment. But we can fall asleep and lie awake at night and get up in the morning and shower and love our babies and go to work and drive home and wait in traffic and walk in the door with prayer never far from our minds and our lips. We can pray our worries and our joys and our anger and our tears. We can keep praying for people even when our prayers seem to go unanswered. In some ways, prayer is as natural as breathing: the first expression of our thoughts and the first outlet for our emotions. But prayer is also earnest, dedicated labour, requiring attention and organisation and perseverance and, for most of us, the commitment to pray, with God’s help, for certain people at regular, planned times; not in obedience to a rule, but in the love that flows from God’s grace.1

There will be seasons of life when long disciplined prayers are out of the question – for example, when we’re depressed or chronically ill or during the baby years – but we can still get into the habit of praying brief prayers whenever and however and for whoever. Perhaps we can stick the names of people to pray for on the wall or write them on a bookmark, associate prayers for particular people with different daily chores, or make a commitment to pray for people when we go on Facebook or before we spend time together or after we chat on the phone. We don’t have to pray in long blocks; we can pause to pray for a shorter time here and there throughout the day. When we’re really struggling to pray, we can ask others to pray with and for us. There’s no need to wait until we’ve got our act together, or we’re in the right frame of mind, or we have a clear time and space: our Father is there, ready to hear us, and all we need do is speak to him about the mess and the people and the need.

I know. You’ve heard it before. Prayer matters. God listens to the prayers of his people (Prov 15:29; 1 Pet 3:12; 1 Jn 5:14-15). He works powerfully when we pray (James 5:16-18). He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20 NIV). We say we know this. But I wonder how many of us, as we think about our Christian service, should write these two words on our hearts and minds, our diaries and calendars, and our Bibles and bathroom mirrors:

  • ministry (or service: ministry just means service)
  • prayer.

How would this change our priorities and shape the way we use our time?

  1. I have a list of people that I gradually pray through over a number of days, as well as some individuals that I try to pray for daily (the beauty of this method is that it doesn’t matter if I skip a day); others use prayer cards or a journal or a diary. The key, I’ve found, is finding a simple, flexible method of organisation that works for you.

This post first appeared at The Briefing

image is by notsogoodphotography from flickr

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Elizabeth Goudge and The Dean's Watch (what I'm reading: Christian novels)

Why should we always want a light? He chose darkness for us, darkness of the womb and of the stable, darkness in the garden, darkness on the cross and in the grave. The Dean's Watch
Last week I told you about one of my favourite Christian novelists: Elizabeth Goudge, an Anglo-Catholic English writer popular during the middle part of the last century. Her father was a minister and her mother an invalid, and she grew up in the cathedral towns of Wells and Ely, to some extent cut off from the outside world - which explains the idyllic setting of many of her boooks. Her novels are mostly little known now, except for her children's book The Little White Horse.

Why do I like Elizabeth Goudge? Her books draw me into another world. They are imbued with a sense of God and the wonder of his creation, salvation and providence. They spur me on to self-denying love, courage in suffering, faithfulness in relationships, discipline in obedience, and joy in God's world. Her writing can be sentimental and theologically tenuous, but it's also lyrical and full of spiritual insight. I finish her novels with quotes and ideas I want to reflect on further - like this one - and with that little *sigh* of regret that comes at the end of a good book.

Her books aren't easy to find,* but if you do manage to track them down, here are my favourites. The Dean's Watch, which you might be able to get hold of as part of the City of Bells trilogy, is probably the closest to "classic" among her books; the cathedral dean at the heart of the book is discussed in Leland Ryken's Pastors in the Classics. I also love The Rosemary Tree, The Castle on the Hill, and the Eliot trilogy: Bird in the Tree, The Heart of the Family and Pilgrim's Inn. There are a few you might not want to bother with, like The Middle Window. If you're into novels on a more epic scale, try Green Dolphin Country. 

Here's a taste of Elizabeth Goudge: three quotes from The Dean's Watch about a man who claims not to believe in God, but who can't quite deny the reflections of God's glory in the world and people around him.
He was a convinced but hardworked rationalist, always hard at it re-convincing himself of his convictions. During his bad times this was not difficult, but during his good times the bright shards on the floor of the world had a trick of turning into shining pools that reflected something.
He was abruptly conscious of something that suddenly lit up his darkness as though a shutter had swung back, then closed again, leaving a picture illumined small and bright against the darkness of his mind. Tall silver towers lifted up against the cloudless blue sky above, old houses with crooked roofs and gables gathered about the market place that was filled to the brim with a dazzle of golden sunshine. In the gold a running child with yellow hair, glinting and gay, and an old man as gay as she was, forgetful of himself. Chimes rang out far up in the blue sky. Half-past-twelve. Other bells answered as though ringing in another world. ...The small bright picture faded from Isaac's mind but he had it somewhere. ... And others, equally imperishable, small and precious as little pictures painted within a great gold letter in an illuminated manuscript. Sometimes he would fancy that strung together they would have been a sort of speech telling him something.

That sky was enough to make a man imagine anything, it was in itself so unbelievable.

That's pages 112 then 19, 166-7 and 304 in my water-marked and dog-eared copy of The Dean's Watch.

* Try abebooks, an excellent online source for second hand books.