Wednesday, October 31, 2012

how I feel about teaching the Bible

I seem to be doing more quoting than writing at the moment. Why? Because I'm neck-deep in seminar preparation. Why? Because I love teaching the Bible. Well, kind of...  Right now I can't wait to be on the other side of it.

Lisa puts my feelings into words (and I'm just 2 weeks shy of her 44 years old!):
A couple of weeks ago my friend remarked on her observation of my joy in teaching. "Don't you just love it?" she asked, answering her own question, "I can tell you do." I answered in the affirmative--because I do love it and need it and crave it and enjoy it--but I had to admit that as much as I love it I also sometimes dread it, particularly on a Tuesday morning about an hour out from the start of class when I find myself wavering between excited anticipation, grateful humility, and full blown panic coupled with a slight touch of nausea.

I remember when I used to teach with the zeal of the confident (and dare I say the ignorant?). I was so sure of myself...How I loved the Lord and the Word! I still do, yes, even more so, but my fervour is now tempered by fear.

It's true: even at the ripe old age of 44 the fight against insecurity wages on....

I'm insecure, yes, indeed, and part of that insecurity is borne of a self-focus that convinces me I can't and shouldn't. Funny thing is, those same fears rightly channelled prompt an even greater fear: the fear of the Lord. How small I am before Him and how silly my pretensions to teach His Word in and of my own skill and winsomeness!

Who am I, indeed? More than an ordinary, introverted mum I am a sinner, not merely inadequate to the task but wholly and completely unworthy on my own merit. To teach the Word of God is a fearsome thing and the more I study the Bible, the more I know of the holiness and righteousness of the Lord, the more I see my own sin and inadequacy, the more I shudder before the responsibility of teaching.

I shudder, it's true, but then I step up to the podium and I open my mouth and I know yet again the Lord's grace and faithfulness.

Read the rest here.

online meanderings

Short but very sweet.

What if Jesus is still dead? - Then this, too, is true... David Murray.

How to start a conversation with a Muslim woman - Great advice in a small space. Kate McCord

7 practical steps to cultivate a heart for the lost - This is gold. John Piper summarised by Justin Taylor.

The birds and the bees - Ideas and resources for talking with your kids about the facts of life. A new series by Wendy. Can't recommend this highly enough.

Brothers, we are not professors - Teach people, don't floor them with your knowledge. RC Sproul Jr.
Some people fall asleep during the sermon, and we make fun of them. But in some sense, we always fall asleep during the sermon; we do that every night. Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament is constantly preaching about God. So it is not as though we are ever safe. There is no place you can go to get out of the presence of God. The world is charged with the presence of the living God.
Life in this universe, seen with true faith, is always high liturgy, always bursting with meaning, bursting with the life of the triune God, bursting with power to shape, to break, to mould, to crush, to save. The world is shot through with the glory of God. Toby Sumpter

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

what I'm reading: when marriage runs dry from Tim Keller

If you're wondering why things are a little quiet here at the moment, it's because I'm working hard on a seminar on marriage. Hopefully you'll see the fruits of it on this blog!

In the meantime, here are some encouraging thoughts from Tim Keller on marriage:
In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, forgiving, and helpful…And the more you do that, slowly must surely,…the love you will grow into will be wiser, richer, deeper, less variable. 
Tim Keller The meaning of marriage 104-105

Saturday, October 27, 2012

a rather girly online meanderings (that's not just for girls)

There's something a little chronological about this one. A post for every life stage.

How to fight for your girl's worth when it comes to guys and dating - I printed this out and gave it to my daughter. I'm loving this series. Melissa.

Jenny's (not at all dodgy) advice column: When to get married. - I think this is wonderful advice.

Is my wife's job harder than mine? - A helpful reminder that the value of my work doesn't come from the fact that I work harder than my husband. I don't. The value of my work comes from God. Challies

How motherhood transforms you - Girls, this is worth reading so you know what having kids is like. Nicole, you brought tears to my eyes.

Turn your empty nest into an open nest - What a wonderful vision for the years after kids leave home! Jani Ortlund.

Book review: When your husband is addicted to pornography - An excellent review by Wendy.

Book chat: The Seven Stages of Motherhood - Susie talks about an interesting sounding book.

Book excerpt: Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: Life After Shock by Joni Eareckson.
My wife's life is not one of ease, but one never-ending responsibility. Her life is difficult enough that she has to battle to find joy and meaning in the middle of all of it....Value comes...when she is able to see that what she does is a calling from God, that it is a task that she does before the Lord, for the Lord, and to the Lord. Its value is not in its difficulty, or relative difficulty, but in doing it with joy and doing it for the glory of God. Challies

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

boasting in my weakness

This is just what I needed to read as I prepare yet another seminar that I feel oh, so inadequate to give:
A question that my wife often asks me is, “what does it mean to boast in your weaknesses in this situation?” This is a helpful gospel index for me. My default state is not to boast in my weakness. Its not even to feel neutrally about it. Its to fight it, conceal it, and fear its exposure. But this shows the gospel has not gone down deep enough into my heart and subconscious. As I learn to walk with Christ as my confidence, before God and people, I can relax into my responsibilities – my job, for example, or my studies, or my marriage – and trust that whatever God has called me to, He will enable me to do, and His power will shine through my weaknesses. Its not all up to me. My part is to do my best. Christ will fill in the gaps with His presence and power.
Gavin Ortlund HT Vitamin Z.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I just felt like writing this, so I did

This is one of those times I just feel like writing.

This is what I do when the day has left me weary.

This is what I do when my gnarly thoughts need untangling.

This is what I do when I want to make something beautiful.

This is what I do when I need to talk to myself about God's truth.

This is what I do when I'd like to pass on an interesting thought.

This is what I do when I need a space with no one talking in it.

This is what I do to breathe.

This is what I do,

Even when I have nothing to say,

Even when all I have is this.

image is by Jim Blob Blann at flickr

Monday, October 22, 2012

the solution to discontent

Elisha Galotti:
Discontent has made its way into my heart; it presses heavy, muting the sounds of life, blinding my sight. Discontent came fast and hit hard. My heart has been infected and as I walk, I’m brooding, worrying about things I’m powerless to change, wishing for things He hasn’t given...

The path out of discontentment is not through beholding all that may be good or beautiful in my situation. The path to contentment, after repentance, is remembering who I am in Christ...

Contentment doesn’t come through a sentimental inventory of the blessings in this life...There is no doubt that the blessings in this life, whether it be natural beauty, loving relationships or cozy homes, should produce hearts and words of joyful thanks to the Giver. But if I, like the apostle Paul, can be radically content if it all is stripped away, than awareness of these blessings was never meant to prod me towards contentment.

The good in this world, as beautiful and lovely as it sometimes can be, was never meant to sustain a heart of true contentment. Only Christ Himself can do that.

Read the rest here.

online meanderings

How I forgot the gospel - How "gospel-centred_________" can become just another law to follow - and how the solution is (surprise!) more gospel. Jon Bloom.

Faith, work vocation as a single woman - For single women, a great post about work, hope and trust. 1. Choose to be fully alive. 2. Be fully female. 3. Know the true character of God. Kristin Hansen.

Broken families & Jesus, my brother - When families are broken, there is one family relationship that always holds strong. Cathy.

When crisis changes to chronic - We all respond in a crisis, but what about when it becomes chronic? How to care for those we've forgotten. Macca.

Give someone permission to Get In Your Face - Kimberly Wagner.
Am I wanting to look at Twitter before I look at Jesus? It sounds stupid. That’s how stupid sin is. Every morning there’s war in the Piper household, and it’s not against my family, it’s against me. John Piper

I find myself more and more turning to the Psalms throughout the day when I confront a negative attitude, or I feel sorry for myself. It doesn't magically make my situation resolve itself. What it does is remind me what is true. Kim Shay

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.

my favourite talks by John Piper

I saw this post: Help us pick Piper's best sermons. So I did. Here are my favourites - not that I've listened to many, but these stood out for me.
Which of Piper's sermons do you like best? Tell us in the comments.

Friday, October 19, 2012

online meandering for mums

A special edition of online meanderings for mums, 'cos we need it, and it's been that kind of week around the internet. 

Gospel-centred parenting for real life - "I hear the phrase 'gospel-centered parenting' and I want to crawl into a hole and never come out again. It feels like yet another thing I’m not doing very well." She puts my hesitations into words. Janelle Bradshaw.

A wise mum trust in God - "Before I became a mum, I imagined that I would be a calm and serene mother...". A refreshing article by Sarah Condie.

And the highlight, from Stephen Altrogge's Dear mums, Jesus wants you to chill out:
You don’t have to make homemade bread to be a faithful mum. You don’t have to sew you children’s clothing to be a faithful mum. You don’t have to coupon, buy all organic produce, keep a journal, scrapbook, plant a garden, or make your own babyfood to be a faithful mum. There’s nothing wrong with these things, but they’re also not in your biblical job description.

Your job description is as follows…

Love God.

Love your husband (unless you’re a single mum).

Love your kids. Your job is simply to love your kids with all your exhausted heart, and to teach them to love Jesus. That’s a high calling. Don’t go throwing in other, extraneous things to make your life more difficult…

Don’t compare yourself to other mums. Don’t try to be something God hasn’t called you to be. If the mum blogs are making you feel guilty, stop reading them.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

not "submit!" but Jesus

Luma Simms says what I want to say about submission.
It's easy to tell a woman to submit, or to tell a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church, but it can be excruciating to live out...

In a marriage, there's a lot of submission and a lot of loving that's supposed to be going on. But who wants to serve, who wants to sacrifice, who wants to lay down their life for another? Who wants to humble themselves for the good of another human?

The answer: Jesus Christ...

It is never wise to start with what is required of man. We must start with who God is, proceed to what he has done and only then can we coherently speak to what is required of us. It is at these junctures where we find out just how important it is for us all to understand the doctrine of the trinity.

What brought me to faithful submission to my husband was not a “how to be a better wife” book. It was an understanding of the person and cross work of Christ. It was the gospel being pressed into every corner of my being...

As a woman I already have a Jesus role — the sacrificial gifting of my submission to my husband. Should I try to “grasp” for his “Jesus role?” Should I try to swap my Jesus role for his? To what end? If Jesus being equal with God did not grasp for his equality but instead submitted himself to the plan and will of the Father, should I as my husband's equal “grasp” for mine? How can that possibly transform me into the image of Christ?

To understand any of our roles we first have to understand the Godhead. Only then will any of this stuff make sense. Only then will it be shown that these roles are not cultural or social constructs but part of the warp and weft of objective reality.
Read the rest here.

online meanderings

I'm not busy! - "You must be so busy!" "Sorry for bothering you when you're busy!" I hear this a lot. Next time I'll say, "Read this!", then sign it, "Jean". Challies.

When you don't feel like it, do it anyway - A good little kick in the pants from Karen.

Consider it pure joy - Joy is thinking, not just feeling. Macca.

How can I be sure that God will keep forgiving me? - Dane Ortlund.

Jesus understands loneliness - God's answer to loneliness. Jon Bloom.

Don't just throw a verse at someone who's suffering. - Learn how to use that verse well. David Powlison.

7 reasons to choose not to have children - Christians, on the other hand, are to welcome the stranger - including those pesky, expensive children!

Advent calendars for children - Now's the time to buy them! These are great. Nicole Whitacre.

With a broken heart comes a fractured spirit. While our spirit will heal through the love of Christ, it can stay open. Not an uncomfortable, unhealed open, but cracked nonetheless. Being a broken vessel permits all the love that Jesus puts into us to flow back out again to others — unless, of course, we have allowed ourselves to become scarred. Kelly Stigliano

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


We made a fire today:
piled branches
in a top-heavy heap
and watched
as flames licked and spat and hissed,
roared high above our heads,
flicked their tails in a column of
We had to stand well back,
shield our faces,
dodge falling embers,
evade choking fumes.

And I looked,
and thought,
“It is a dreadful thing
to fall into the hands
of the living God.”

We made a fire today:
it died lower, low,
till leaves vanished,
twigs glimmered,
branches charred,
ash deepened,
coals glowed.
(but not tame)
it invited

And I looked,
and thought,
“His wrath burned out
in the body of his Son,
God becomes

but never safe,
never to be disregarded,
never to be taken lightly,

for our God is
a consuming fire.”

(See Hebrews 10:31; 12:29)

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

parenting teenagers with grace

For parents of teens, a list worth memorizing:
  • The grace to love them when they don’t want to be loved.
  • The grace to love when they are not very loveable.
  • The grace to keep giving when it seems I can never give enough.
  • The grace to keep giving when there’s no giving in return.
  • The grace to forgive when I know the sin will be repeated again…and again.
  • The grace to ask forgiveness even when most of the sin was on the other side...
  • The grace to communicate when there’s no communication in return.
  • The grace to offer help when help is not welcomed.
  • The grace to give advice, when the advice will be rejected...
  • The grace to be resented for my love...
  • The grace to never be told, “Dad you were right and I was wrong.”...
  • The grace to accept that I’ll never be the super-parent I wanted to be and others seem to be.
Read the rest here.

online meanderings

Wishing - "When my soul isn’t panting, and my heart isn’t leaping, and my feet don’t feel like joyously running to Jesus...I hope this encourages you to seek God with your whole heart today, even if your heart feels small." Charlene Nelson.

Why most women hate women's conferences - They don't want fluff, and they don't want bricks wrapped in fluff. Love it! Elyse Fitzpatrick.

Has your small group lost track? - Small group vs. group therapy. Lina Abujamra.

Dear mums - "Your job is simply to love your kids with all your exhausted heart, and to teach them to love Jesus. That’s a high calling. Don’t go throwing in other, extraneous things to make your life more difficult… Don’t compare yourself to other mums. Don’t try to be something God hasn’t called you to be."

Two sides of the counselling coin - A helpful summary of the differences and similarities between biblical and nouthetic counselling. I'm on the biblical "side" in all the ways they mention! Heath Lambert.

Book review: In the Land of Blue Burqas - An eye-opening book that looks well worth a read. Carolyn McCulley.
If you are in your teens or twenties or thirties, consider what you are diligently planting, because when you hit your forties and fifties, a harvest starts rolling in...The things we do, the habits we cultivate day-in and day-out are like seeds. They germinate. They grow, and they produce a crop. So consider what you are planting...What’s sprouting in your field right now? Nancy Ann

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

a quote to stick near my computer

Our aim in communication should be to glorify and please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). The startling truth about speech is that our words either serve to glorify and please Him or they exalt and please ourselves.

Elyse Fitzpatrick Helper by Design 167.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

my favourite minestrone recipe

This is my favourite minestrone recipe. I'm making it today. Some for us, and enough to share.

Why is it so good? The beef and bacon bones (I don't bother with the bacon pieces, and today I'm using a ham hock instead of the bacon bones). 

Simmer them for two hours rather than one, and the meat will fall off the bones.

When you add the tomatoes, add some extra veges (carrot, celery, green beans, cabbage), and away you go.

(You'll find a very similar recipe here.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

online meanderings

The priceless gift of corrective lenses - "'Jesus died for me. What a treasure I must be!'...This idea isn’t in the Bible. Jesus didn’t die to purchase treasures. He died to ransom enemies. We’re not the Pearl of Great Price; Jesus is." Jon Bloom.

Helping kids to read the Bible for themselves - Some great resources and ideas from Nicole.

What I'm learning from my children's mess - "Here is what a girls' shelving unit looks like on Pinterest. Here is the reality of what my girls' room looks like most of the time." I really enjoyed this! Cath.

For married men: 3 ways to nourish and cherish your wife - As my friend Gordo would say, "Good secular advice" - and no worse for that! CJ Mahaney.

A positive book review: Remember the things that matter when hope is hard to find - Second very positive review of this book from someone I respect. The first was by Nicole.

A negative book review: A year of biblical womanhood - Sobering reading. Trillia Newbell.
Old age strips away the screens of decency that we put up for other people...What is left is what we really have: the twisted rottenness of sin, or the strength and beauty of holiness. RVD

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

how we made a 3D cross-section volcano

It's been a long time since I posted a school project. But since the top searches on my blog always lead to our rainforest diorama and atom model, I thought it might be time to post another one! I've been meaning to post this for years: Lizzy's 3D cross-section volcano.

Here's how we made it. We started with a large cardboard tube cut in half, and a flat square box about the size and shape of a large pizza box. I cut an arc in the middle of the box and inserted one end of the cardboard tube, spread a little at the base.
The main body of the volcano was built up using lots of foil
until it looked like this from the top
and this from the side.
The next bit was a little tricky and probably unecessary. We cut away the top of the box in front of the "volcano",
cut the cardboard at the front of the box, folded it back, added another piece of cardboard to join it all together, and fastened them with thick tape

so that the "underground" was included in the cross-section.
Then Lizzy covered our "volcano" with paper mache made out of newspaper and wallpaper paste
until the foil was completely covered;
and covered this with a layer of plain paper mache
until it had a smooth, plain surface.
Once the paper mache was dry, we blocked in the three main colours using poster paint,
then blended the different colours into each other to make it look more natural,
and painted some "lava" overflowing the top.
Here's how it looked from the back.
Lizzy used red cellophane to make the "lava" in the middle of the volcano,
then added cotton wool to make the "smoke".
To finish it off she added a few labels. There you go: a volcano!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

where the true power of the Spirit is seen

David Powlison:

I find myself weary of dramatic hyperbole in descriptions of the ideal Christian life. Extreme! Radical! Passionate! Awesome! Edgy! On fire! Dramatic!

I can understand the emotional appeal of such hyperbole. After all, who wants to live half-baked, mediocre, listless, dull, bland, and boring?! But the opposite of listless is not necessarily all fired up. Our faith contains a wonderfully curious surprise.

For starters, I don’t think many of us are capable of sustaining the adrenaline level. If you did manage to sustain your passion for a week, a year, a decade, it bears pondering whether the wider culture’s obsession with extreme adventure and radically awesome hyperbole might have infiltrated your operating system with a virus. If the passion ebbs, is what really matters lost and gone?

Or does it mean that it’s time to grow up?

Consider the graces that God steadily works to produce in us. They are certainly different from what we naturally gravitate to. In that sense, his purposes are Extreme! Radical! On fire! Exceedingly beyond all you can ask or even imagine! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

But then again, the Holy Spirit seems on fire to produce a life afire with rather unfiery things. His view of what is significant cuts Awesome! down to size (while being the farthest thing from dull). He is forming in you things that are good for the long haul. Good for times when your feelings are marked with pain or loneliness. Good for days or months or years of perplexity and struggle. Good for the small deaths of old age and then for dying. Good for helping others going through the same troubles...We long for dramatic action...But right now we need the good graces to carry us through all that happens until the Day when dramatic finally happens once and for all.

Consider a baker’s dozen of graces that are set on fire with the odd fire of God’s purposes. Ponder each one for a moment.

Constructive candour
Bearing one another’s burdens
Sense of need and weakness
Reliance on another

Not one of these sets off conspicuous fireworks. But these are worth more than anything else you could ever desire. Jesus lived this baker’s dozen of good graces. He is making you into this image.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

this ministry thing

The mornings you can't string two thoughts together even though you have a Bible study to lead in 10 minutes.

The shaking in your limbs when you explain the gospel to a friend, and you don't know how it's possible, but it seems she's beginning to understand.

The realisation, weeks later, that this is going to take time.

The day 10 people come to your Bible study, and there's energy and enthusiasm and laughter in the room.

The day only 2 people come, and you're able to help them far more than you could if there were others there.

The times you drag your feet to yet another meeting when you want to go home, curl up in a ball, and go to sleep.

The hour when a mentoring relationship comes together and you both realise how much you mean to each other and how much you're learning.

The same mentoring relationship coming to an end a week later.

Seeing how differently God's thoughts flow through the mind of a co-worker, and learning to see thing differently yourself.

The hole that's left behind when that friend and co-worker leaves.

Watching people you've trained, years later, serving Jesus faithfully and helping others know and grow in him.

That precious moment when the light dawns in your Christian sister's face and she gets assurance - finally gets it! - for the very first time.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

online meanderings

Why don't I weep for the lost? - How God used Hudson Taylor's love, witness and tears to help save a hardened athiest. Encouraging and challenging. Steve Fuller.

Fighting for your girl's worth - "We cannot convince our daughters that their value isn't measured by their grades, their looks, or their successes until we understand and believe this truth for ourselves." Melissa.

Biblical counselling in Australia - Often misunderstood, but much needed here. Don't write it off; give it a go. I'd love to see this spread in its best and wisest form.

Love is not lost - A woman writes after repeated miscarriage.

We don't do a good job with this - "Every church in Australia makes a statement about people with disabilities, and in one aspect or another it is usually exclusion." Jim Stallard quoted by Dave MacDonald.

Best birthday cake ever!!! - Surprise rainbow cake by Cath.
I set my heart on other things at the expense of cherishing Christ: becoming a “godly” wife and woman, being content in domesticity and doing it well, offering unparalleled hospitality, keeping my children as far away from worldliness as possible, homeschooling because it was the only truly “godly” way of educating children, healthy whole food eating because that meant I was in line with a more “biblical” agrarian type of living, and on and on… you get the picture. I had “gospel amnesia,” big time. Luma Sims

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

why God doesn't just get rid of sin

Do you ever wonder why God doesn't answer your prayers and make you instantly holy? I know I do! If God wants me to obey him - which I know he does - and if it's in his power to make me holy - which I know it is - then why do I still struggle with sin?

There have been times, after a long losing battle with sin, when I've glimpsed the answer: humility. When I "succeed" in my obedience (there's a telling phrase!) I get smug and proud. When I fail, over and over again, it humbles me. I need this, because I'm all too ready to think I can get it right!

Here's another, even better answer. I came across it the other day while preparing a Bible study on Romans. It's by David Seccombe:
Over and over again we are disappointed by our own performance. We pledge our day to God in the morning, pray for grace to overcome all trials, and in the evening look back with shame at nasty words and thoughts, greed, pride, cowardice and so on...We may venture the thought that, if God has withheld the grace of instant sanctification, desperately as most Christian would love to have it, it is because there is a greater gain to be had in the lifetime of struggle with evil to which he commits us...The daily reality of sin causes us again and again to look to our Saviour for forgiveness, and to rest our trust in him that we stand accepted by God ever and only because of his gift.
So why does God let me go on struggling with sin? Here's the answer: grace. I didn't just become a Christian by grace; I live in it every day. When I fail, then fail again, it becomes obvious even to me that I can't depend on my own efforts. I'm driven back to the Saviour. That's what sin does. It drives me away from self-assurance and to the foot of the cross.

(There's an even bigger answer: God's glory, and the glory of his Son - Rom 9:22-24, 1 Cor 15:20-28, Eph 1:3-14 cf. Exod 9:16. But that's a post for another day.)

Quote is from David Seccombe Dust to destiny: Reading Romans today 124-127.

image is by Keoni Cabral from flickr

Friday, October 5, 2012

online meanderings

Four lies that keep us from Jesus: this sin isn't serious enough to take to him; this sin is so bad I can't face him; I'm not sorry enough; I'm not clean enough. I'm writing this list across the inside of my forehead, to use next time I need assurance, or want to teach others about it. Joe Thorn.

Practising fear - A thoughtful post about what it looks like to fear God - and what it looks like not to fear God. This requires slow reflection and repentance. Print, read, reflect. David Mears.

The spreading goodness - The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the church; husbands love wives: that's what authority looks like. A great little post about the nature of headship by Michael Reeves. (And for more on what headship looks like, see Phillip Jensen's Love and subjugation, from his useful recent series.)

Peace is changing sides in the battle - What Christian peace really means: not tranquillity, but... Helpful in understanding Philippians 4:6-7. Tim Chester.

Recommended biographies of Christian women - I love Justin Taylor's lists! Even when it's biographies of Christian women, which I don't usually love, but I'd love to read some of these.
Allah may have his day, while Christians continue to meekly proclaim a nonsensical trinitarian God, a dishonoured, crucified savior, while we love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. All of this is utter foolishness to them, but there is a hidden wisdom to it through which the Spirit of God might quietly work. Nathan Lovell

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

thanksgiving: it's not trivial

“Count your blessings.” “Put a smile on your dial.” “Raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens.” Thanksgiving has always seemed a bit trivial to me, a Hallmark greeting card sentiment next to the lyric poetry of praise.1

Here’s how my (faulty) reasoning goes: Isn’t thanking God for rainbows and puppies a little superficial when I could thank him for big things like salvation? Am I being presumptuous, thanking God for three square meals and more when, not so far away, others go without their daily bread? Shouldn’t my focus be on who God is in himself, not on his gifts to me?

Clearly, I think I’m wiser than God, who leaves me in no doubt that I am to thank him for anything and everything (Eph 5:18-20; 1 Thess 5:16-18). In fact, I’m more foolish than the humblest beast, for even mountains and trees know how to praise their Creator! (Isa 55:12) Stupidity and sin begin at the very point where we refuse to honour and thank the one who made us (Rom 1:21). To be a Christian is to thank the Giver for his gifts. Others should notice we give thanks instead of grumbling!2

Well, I learned my lesson the hard way. Take it from a chronic unthanker: down the end of the path of not-thanking you’ll find the marsh of grumbling, self-pity, discontent, envy, discouragement, misery and fear. This is a lot of bad for a small misstep, but that’s the way of sin. You take a pleasant looking by-path and end up nose-deep in a swamp.3

So I’ve retraced my steps and chosen a new path: the one marked “Thanksgiving”. I’ve been practising thanksgiving as a discipline: in other words, I do it whether I feel like it or not. As soon as woe-is-me thoughts pop into my head – which happens often, as I’m well trained in the art of self-pity – I push them aside with a new thought: “Thank you.”

  • Not “I’m so tired! I’m so busy! I’m so overwhelmed!”, but “Thank you, Father, for the strength to obey even when I feel weak”, and “Thank you for tasks for my hands to do”, and “Thank you for the blessings of work and rest”.
  • Not “Look at all the things that need doing around the house!”, but “Thank you that we have food and shelter”, and “Thank you for the community you’ve put us in”, and ”Thank you for abundant room for family and hospitality and sharing.”
  • Not “Why do I have to make breakfast and school lunches and resolve yet another argument and get the kids’ clothes out and pack their bags and put on a load of washing for the thousandth time when I’m tired and just want to sit down and have a cup of coffee right now!!!”, but “Thank you for this opportunity to serve.”

Thanksgiving isn’t trivial. It’s bigger than roses and song-birds. I suspect that as we get to know Jesus, and travel the path of the cross, our thanksgiving, like our prayers, will grow in size. We’ll thank God not just for small things like healing for a runny nose but for big things like a friend’s growth in Christ.4 But hopefully we never become so super-spiritual, so much wiser than God, that we forget to thank him for the coming of rain and the crunch of an apple (Zech 10:1). We thank the Saviour who rescues us and the Creator who sustains us.5

Thanksgiving is childlike, but it’s not childish. It’s not just for babies and Disney princesses. It’s for times of sorrow, not just when we’re happy (Job 1:21).6 There are moments, even months, when giving thanks feels more like lifting weights than smelling the flowers. When I see my children suffer or face one of those dreary feet-dragging days, thanking God isn’t an easy discipline. It’s tough. It hurts. But it’s good, because God is good, and even the darkest moments come from his loving hands.

What lies along the path of thanksgiving? I can’t tell you much, because I haven’t travelled it for long, but here’s what I’ve found so far: Joy. A new willingness to serve. Trust. Cheerfulness. Eyes lifted from myself to others. Contentment. And did I mention joy?

So next time someone tells me to count my blessings, maybe I’ll do just that. I’ll include all the spiritual blessings I have in Christ (Eph 1:3-14), but I won’t forget the smaller blessings. And then I’ll thank God for them all.

1. This, of course, is a false dichotomy. In the Bible, the words “praise” and “thanksgiving” are often used in parallel (1 Chron 16:4, 8-9; 25:3; 29:10-13; Ezra 3:11; Neh 12:24; Ps 7:17; 28:6-7; 35:18; 69:30;105:1; Lk 17:11-19; 1 Cor 14:16). If there’s a distinction between praise and thanksgiving, it’s not that we “thank” God for his gifts and “praise” him for his attributes, but that “thanksgiving” is God-directed and “praise” is usually other-directed: we proclaim God’s glory to those around us.
2. It’s all over the New Testament: see Eph 5:4, 18-20; Col 1:11-12; 2:6-7; 3:15-17; 4:2; Phil 4:4-6; 1 Thess 5:16-18; 1 Tim 2:1-2; 4:4-5; cf. Heb 13:15; 1 Pet 2:9; James 5:13; Rev 19:1-9.
3. Readers of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress will know where I found my analogy.
4. Here’s a brief list of things we’re encouraged to thank God for in the New Testament: food (Mk 6:41; Ac 27:35; Rom 14:6); healing (Lk 17:11-19); salvation (Rom 7:25; 1 Cor 15:57); people coming to know Jesus and growing in him ((Rom 1:8, 6:17; 1 Cor 1:4; Eph 1:15-16; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2; 2:13; 3:9; 2 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 1:3; Phil 1:4); the opportunity to serve Jesus and make him known (2 Cor 2:14; 1 Tim 1:12); God hearing us when we pray (Jn 11:41); the generosity and prayer of other Christians (Acts 28:15; 2 Cor 9:11-12; Phil 4:10).
5. As I wrote this post, I was struck by how Psalms 103 and 104 open and close with the same words: “Praise the Lord, O my soul!” (NIV). Yet one is filled with spiritual blessings, and the other with physical blessings.
6. See my post Thanking God for suffering.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by Liz Grace at flickr

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

keep pedalling to the end

To understand the Christian life, imagine riding a bicycle in the middle of a two-way street heading up a steep hill. Your job is to keep the bicycle wheels on the yellow line and keep pedalling. If you veer to the left or to the right, with cars zipping past you on both sides, you're road kill. And as you get further up the hill, the forces of gravity and fatigue make pedalling more difficult (so get it out of your head that elderly people go on spiritual cruise control). The challenge continues until the end, and there is no reprieve until we finally arrive home.

Of course, we do veer off the yellow line. Every single day. And when we do, Jesus' victory---the cross, resurrection and pouring out of the Spirit---provides forgiveness and healing. But we are nevertheless called to pedal. When our legs feel shot and we're unable to proceed, we pray for divine strength, and somehow it comes. This is God's promise: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).

From an African missionary quoted by Chris Castaldo. You can read the rest here.

image is by Bichxa at flickr

Monday, October 1, 2012

what I'm reading: Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas

I'm reading Amazing Grace, Eric Metaxas' biography of William Wilberforce, leader of the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Four chapters in, and this book has a different feel to Metaxas' biography of Bonhoeffer. Less cool and measured, it comes across as a little effusive and breathless, but makes up for this in warmth and readability. It's an enjoyable and interesting read.

I was amused to find the quote I want to share with you today pilloried by a fellow blogger! Can't say I blame him: this is one of those purple passages I wouldn't dare write but can happily lose myself in. It describes a conversation with Isaac Milner that led to Wilberforce's conversion to Christianity:
The snowfall was heavy as they crossed the French Alps...The extraordinary felicity of this scene, of these incandescent minds meeting on this subject of eternal things, sailing in their horse-drawn coach through the mountains, seems like something out of a fairy tale, one in which a gnome and a giant on a journey in a sphere of glass and silver discover the Well at the World's End, and drinking a draught therefrom learn the secret meaning at the heart of the universe.
Yes, I know, I know. But there's something about this description that gets to me. Echoes of Tolkien and CS Lewis and a thousand fairy tales.

More down-to-earth, and more wonderful, is Wilberforce's own description of his conversion. At the end of a chapter where we get to watch God's work slowly unfolding in his heart, soon after becoming a Christian, he writes in his diary,
I was out before six, and made the fields my oratory, the sun shining as bright and as warm as at Midsummer. I think my own devotions become more fervent when offered in this way amidst the general chorus, with which all nature seems on such a morning to be swelling the song of praise and thanksgiving. Surely this sabbath, of all others, calls forth these feelings in a supreme degree; a frame of united love and triumph well becomes it, and holy confidence and unrestrained affection.
I can picture him walking across the fields in the early morning, his heart shining with the joy of God's newly-discovered grace.

Quote is from Eric Mataxas Amazing Grace 47-61.

online meanderings

Took me a while to get these together - a bout of food poisoning intervened. Better late then never, and this is a wonderful batch.

A battle I face - An amazing interview with Vaughan Roberts about his struggle with same-sex attraction. It's so good to see a Christian write honestly about this. Lots of helpful advice about how to talk about, live with and respond to this issue.

The common mark of imperfection and Just keep pedalling - Two "can't miss it" posts by fathers about their sons' battle with disability, and what it teaches us about the world, the gospel, and ourselves. Justin Reimer and Chris Castaldo.

Jesus' sovereignty does not keep him from weeping with us - Jesus weeps with us, and weeps so that we will not weep. JD Greear.

Beware the peril that lurks in success - "We are never more vulnerable to sin than when we are successful, admired by others, and prosperous, as King David tragically discovered. Imagine him reflecting on his adultery a year later..." Jon Bloom.

Discipling when you need to be discipled - I found this post so very encouraging. All those times the kids fight and the house is messy - looks like they might be helpful to others after all! Erin Wheeler.

The pendulum swings of life - Good practical wisdom and God's encouragement from cancer sufferer David McDonald.
In discipling women...this is our confidence: not that we have the perfect home and well-behaved children, but that in the muck and mire, God’s Spirit is at work. Erin Wheeler

To see the rest of my links, click here (Facebook) or here.