Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas ... and goodbye for now

Hi everyone! Just letting you know that I probably won't be writing much for a month or so. Summer is here and it's time for a break with my family.

May God help you to rejoice in his gift of Jesus this Christmas. Here's a quote from JI Packer to help you do just that:
It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word became flesh’ (Jn. 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation. JI Packer
image is by mufan96 at flickr

Thursday, December 20, 2012

a son for sacrifice

It’s nearly Christmas. My children read stories about lambs and donkeys visiting a baby, but the story I’m up to my Bible reading plan shows the season in a different light…

How strange Genesis 22 has always seemed to me. Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? What kind of Father asks another father to kill his child? Did Sarah know what was going to happen as her husband and son left that day? What psychological scars did Isaac carry into adulthood? (A very modern question, I know.)

What did it cost Abraham to take each step on that three-day journey? Did he stare at the knife as he cut branches for the fire, thinking about what else it would soon cut? What thoughts ran through his mind as he reassured Isaac that God would supply the sacrifice, knowing he had supplied it in the boy who walked by his side?

I picture them trudging up the mountain. They’re at the top, and the wind whines in their ears. Isaac watches his father lay stones for an altar, place branches on the top. Perhaps Abraham lays the last branches slowly, one by one, making time for a reprieve, a last-minute escape clause. It doesn’t come. The sky is steely, silent.

I don’t know how a father binds his son. I don’t know how he lays him on an altar. I don’t know how heavy the knife feels in his hand. I don’t know how faith brings itself to such a pass.

Does the boy close his eyes against the sight of the knife? Does he turn his head away? Does he fight the bonds? Does he cry, or moan, or whimper?

We’re told that Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead (Heb 11:19). He’s no longer the man who lied about his wife, who slept with a maidservant, who laughed at the impossibility of a child (Gen 12:10-20; 16:1-4; 17:17). By this time he knows something of the God who keeps his promises against all odds.

I don’t know if knowing this makes it any easier.

The sky booms. Words echo. He knows this voice. He has heard it before:
“Abraham, Abraham!”

“Here I am.”

“Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:11-12)
There’s a rustling noise, a “Bleat!” from a bush. Startled, Abraham looks behind him. Was it there before? How did he miss it? A ram in a thicket, caught by the horns, struggling as if it already knows its role in this drama.

The knife cuts, but instead of flesh, it cuts through rope. Isaac rubs sore arms. Abraham seizes the ram, binds its legs, throws it on the altar, slices its throat. They watch blood run down the sides of the altar, smell flesh burning, and tremble to think of the blood that came so close to flowing. A father receives his son back from death (Heb 11:19).

No small family drama, this. No psychological tragedy. No theatre played out for the amusement of the gods.

What was lying there was a boy, yes. A man’s only son, his one hope for family and future. But what lay on the altar that day was also the son of the promise, the seed of a great nation, the hope of world-wide blessing. For from this boy would come a son, and from him a son, and from him a son, and yet more sons, until the One and Only Son came into the world. God made visible. Salvation clothed in flesh. Hope in human form.

What God asks of Abraham, he gives himself. Once again, a father offers up his only son. But this time there is no reprieve, no last-minute escape clause. The sky is unbroken by a voice. Instead, darkness gathers, and the full weight of a father’s anger descends. A cross instead of an altar. Nails instead of a knife. A Lamb instead of a ram. Blood thick on the ground. A voice whispering, “Father?”. A life given so that others may live.

Three days later, the Father receives his Son back from death.

And suddenly the story of Abraham and Isaac doesn’t seem so strange, but inevitable, a line drawing for the future to fill in.

1. Yes, he did have another son, Ishmael, but Isaac was his only legitimate son by marriage, the son of God's promise, his "only son" according to Genesis 22:12.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by Rembrandt: The sacrifice of Isaac (detail)

Monday, December 17, 2012

online meanderings: books to read

I keep meaning to post something about my favourite reads for the year, but haven't had time yet. So I've collected a few book recommendations for you instead.

Heading Home by Naomi Reed (reviewed here by Macca). I just finished this, and I loved it.

Tony Reinke's top 12 Christian books of 2012 - There's something here for everyone.

An Atheist Philosopher’s Book of the Year (by a Christian) and a Christian Theologian’s Book of the Year (by an Unbeliever) - Fascinating. Justin Taylor.

Biblical counselling book recommendations - A bunch of books on a number of issues: anxiety, addictions, depression, etc etc etc...

Four great picture books that will help you talk to your kids about God - Macca.

Holding on to hope by Nancie Guthrie. Sounds like a wonderful book for those who are suffering. Reviewed by Macca.

If you read only one book on culture, read this one - Tim Keller.

Fearfully and wonderfully made by Megan Best. On my To Buy list.

Making the most of the Bible by John Chapman. Macca.

Oh, and for the record, my favourite read of the year was Tony Reinke's Lit!.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

online meanderings

Sorry I haven't been writing much recently. Blame it on pre-Christmas busyness - why is it that teeth and cars always need to be fixed in the lead-up to Christmas? - and in the meantime enjoy these posts by people more organised than me.

Gospel reminders anyone can do - Many years ago I developed a test of all ministry principles and practices. It’s called the “Does it work for a single parent mother of 3 young kids?” test. Mark Lauterbach.

Why you're still here - When life is painful and you wonder why God doesn't just take you home. Joe Thorn.

Don't just see me as someone who's suffered - Wise advice about how to treat those who have suffered - and what we can learn from them. RC Sproul.

Custom-make your own conference - I love this idea. I wouldn't mind getting together with some of the women doing Titus 2 things around Australia! Macca.

More gospel centred than thou - "God knew exactly what he was doing when he put indicatives AND imperatives in Scripture, when he used words like 'fight,' and 'strive,' and 'put to death' in the New Testament. He knew what 'therefore” meant too."  Mark Lauterbach.

How many gifts are enough? - Brilliant ideas for limiting Christmas spending and serving others at Christmas. Wish I'd read this when we first had kids. Shawn Mazelin.
Our Christmas gifts shouldn’t just travel on a two-way street so givers and receivers can delight in one another; they should travel on a one-way street so that the needy may be helped, being imparted to those who may not be able to give in return. Miroslav Volf

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Monday, December 10, 2012

what I'm reading: the problem with busyness

Ouch! This sounds a little too familiar:
We all have our besetting sins and predictable issues. Mine has been busyness. When it comes time for me to share everyone expects to hear how I have too much to do and don’t know what to cut out of my life.
(If it sounds familiar to you, you'll appreciate these great posts from Kevin DeYoung: Three dangers of being crazy busy: part 1, part 2 and part 3.)

It's already time to start planning for next year. Which is why I'm posting here - in full - this quote from Zack Eswine, which I discovered Justin Taylor's blog. It's a reminder to me - and to you.
First, we can only be at one place at one time, which means that Jesus will teach most of us to live a local life.
We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God.

Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us...

Second, we cannot do everything that needs to be done, which means that Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix.

We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try.

Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory...

Third, we are unable to know everyone or everything, which means that Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient.

Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are.

Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one....

Ask yourself this question: Which are you more tempted to pretend that you are: an everywhere-for-all, a fix-it-all, or a know-it-all? What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?...

Jesus invites everywhere-for-alls, fix-it-alls, and know-it-alls to the cross, the empty tomb, and the throne of his grace for their time of need.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

online meanderings for pastors and teachers

Three liberating limitations in ministry - A wonderful little post, worth reading every word. Zack Eswine.

A 3-part plan for pastoral ministry - 1. Study God’s word. 2. Do it. 3. Teach it to his people. "A failure in any one of those three areas will prove disastrous over the long haul." Michael McKinley.

Disarm your hearers - Anticipate logical, emotional and practical resistance. Good advice for Bible teachers. David Murray.

4 reasons men don't read books and how pastors can help. Tony Reinke.

3 common areas of neglect in a pastor's life - I'm not a pastor, but I found this convicting. Brian Croft.

10 questions about preaching answered by Tim Chester. There are lots of good insights in this interview.

6 tips on how to deliver a conference paper - Not that I'm ever likely to. But I like this. Fred Sanders with Justin Taylor.
"Always repeat the first sentence of a new point three times,” said Dave. “But all that repeating will make my talk too long,” I replied. “Exactly,” said Dave. “Unless you take out all the stuff that shouldn’t be there, you’re delivering good essays instead of good sermons.” Dave Richie

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

mothers reflect on the love of God

I loved these beautiful reflections on the love of God from mothers.

Sharon Hodde Miller
The amazing thing about my love for my son is how purely illogical it is. My love was instant and unconditional even though I had no history on which to base it. I loved my son before I really knew him. I loved my son before he could ever do anything to earn my love. In fact, I loved my son in spite of the many ways he inconveniences me. I love him in spite of the physical pain I endured on his account. I love him in spite of the sacrifices he requires me to make every day. I love him even though he is unable to reciprocate my love.
My son has done nothing to deserve my love. He is loved simply because he is my son. And each night as I cradle him in my arms and wonder at how much I love him, I can’t help but think about God’s same love for us.
Motherly love is, in a sense, illogical. But it is that character of motherly love that mirrors the love of God.    
Hayley Satrom
God’s attention to His children is stronger than that of a mother to her infant child. As a new mother, I can tell you that that might be the highest level of attention imaginable!...
I give her what she needs, not always what she wants, and my intention is never to harm her but to help her. How much more, then, can we be confident that God will tend to us in the way that is best for our good and His glory’s sake too. 
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you! ~Isaiah 49:15 

online meanderings

The beauty of faithful suffering - "Soft peach fuzz graces the top of her head. She is the most beautiful woman I know..." Melissa Kruger.

5 signs you glorify self - Paul Tripp.

10 common mistakes we make in difficult relationships - Brief and good. Lina Abujamra.

How to keep going through pain - Disciplines help, even when they feel empty. Sinclair Ferguson.

Journey with cancer - Macca reflects on what he's learned this year. I felt like I was learning alongside him as I read.

Bake biscuits can be a response to God's grace - An interesting response to all the "grace means we don't have to feel bad as mums" posts. Rachel Jankovic.

Teens actually want and need limits on their behaviour. - "In early adolescence, it's fair to say at any given moment, 'I can look at your computer; I can look at your phone.' " William West.

Are we playing God? - Modern medicine: how should we regard it as Christians? A helpful article. Megan Best.
Of all I love about God—and there is a lot I could list!—this is very near the top, that he chooses such unlikely people to benefit from his gifts and his grace. He lifts up those who know they are unworthy and brings down those who consider themselves most worthy. He passes over so many of the brilliant and rich and powerful, and instead bestows his grace on the lost and the least.  Challies

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

why I read my children stories

I stood under my favourite oak trees today and stared upwards, heavy dark branches reaching with improbable lightness into the blue of the sky. For a moment I was far from here, in the Enchanted Wood or Narnia or Middle Earth.*

It was a windy morning. I closed my eyes and listened to the "Wisha-wisha-wisha" of the leaves and almost, for a second, convinced myself that when I opened them I'd see or hear ... Something. A white glimmer as Moonface peered around a branch. A faun stepping between the trunks, umbrella raised and arms full of parcels. A lantern's glow and the far-off singing of the Elves.

I opened my eyes and smiled. Nothing. And yet, everything: the touch of enchantment lingering in the air, the hint of another world, the leaves repeating words on the edge of hearing. I know what they whisper - they speak of the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-6) - and a childhood filled with story helped me to hear it.

That's the beauty of stories. They hold the promise that there is something deeper. A wardrobe is not just a wardrobe, but the door to another place. Trees are not just trees, but the outliers of a land we belong to but have never seen. The sound of wind in the trees is not just an accident of air currents moving against the ear drums, but the signature of the King who rules this country.

That's why I give my children stories. I want their imaginations to grow tough and strong. I want them to long for another place. I want them to sense the beauty of hope and sacrifice. I want them to taste the flavour of God in this world. I want them to aspire to the love that risks all for a friend, the courage to confront dragons, and the perseverance to see this hard journey through to the end.

My children don’t just read the stories I read as a child. This is a new age and it has new stories – ones that I enjoy discovering with my children. But as long as I can read them the good old stories, as long as their own stories speak to them of courage and love and sacrifice, and as long as they know the One True Story, I am glad. I hope that one day, like me, they'll be grateful for a mother who gave them stories.

* Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree series, CS Lewis' Narnia, and JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, for those of you who didn't grow up with stories.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

illustration is by Pauline Baynes

Monday, December 3, 2012

online meanderings for parents

Collected over a few weeks, these aren't necessarily up-to-date - but they're good.

Raising a family of missional disciples - I love this idea, and there are some good suggestions here. Zachary Veron.

Children's Bible reading plan - David Murray posts these weekly. Brief, simple, clear: they're a useful resource.

A wise mum understands the impact of her words - This is very helpful - and convicting. Sarah Condie.

"It's not fair!" - When and why a parent needs to be an impartial judge. Jonathon Holt.

How to give kids a healthy view of sex and purity (besides "the talk"). I especially like the first of these. Brad Hambrick.

From Virtue to Vanity (and Values) - How the goals of adolescent girls have changed (and some good advice for the rest of us). Annabel Nixey.

Tips on how to prepare teenagers for situations where others may misuse alcohol - A useful set of conversation starters. Helen Splarn.
The measure of productivity, as a parent, is not necessarily in how many items I can cross of my "To Do" list, important as those items may be. As a parent, the measure of ultimate fruitfulness is often when I seek the grace to grind the pace to a halt, and rather than rushing through the moment to complete a specific task, instead pause, looking into the eyes and hearts of my little people. Elisha Galotti

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Christmas is coming ... aaargh!

Haven't put up our tree yet.

Haven't got out our advent calendar yet.

Three days behind on our Christmas reading and counting.

Good thing celebrating Jesus' birth doesn't depend on my organisational skills!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

a plea to writers

A timely word for writers from Shona Murray:
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the plethora of wonderful Christian books out there? You know you long to learn more about the Lord, but your brain gets frazzled as you check out this book, that book and the next one. Not only that, but you perhaps feel guilty, because some of these long and learned volumes of great godly men just seem out of reach as you try to get the odd nugget here and there for your soul at the end of a weary day.

I do! I would define my problem in two ways:

1. I am a creature of my generation

More and more, I long for simplicity of thought and expression...I long to grasp the point, without having to meander my way through flowery word gardens.

I know there are gems in the old books, rich gems, but by the time I get around the flowery long sentences, I am weary.

You see, my generation and those younger even more so live in the age of sound bites, bullet points and the simplest of English.

2. I cannot see the wood for the trees.

In a world full of stuff and clutter, I long for less clutter and that goes for writing style. Sometimes I...have read a book on a great subject of spiritual importance, but by the end of the chapter, there have been so many “heads” and “subheads” that I wonder if I still have my own head. I can’t remember what I read several pages back. Again, I spotted some great gems, but now they are gone, as if fallen into a bag with a hole at the bottom...

A plea

In a day of much spiritual shallowness, there is a crying need for Christian books which have the spiritual weight of the past and reverence the Word of God, but in contemporary language...

Here is a plea to the many talented Reformed Christian authors out there.

Do you want to reach this generation? Do you want them to not just buy books, but read them?...

Give us the great spiritual gems of the past, but in contemporary English that our generation can understand. Many lives will be changed.

Christ Himself was the greatest example of how to communicate these truths simply.

"And the common people heard Him gladly..." Mark 12:3
Read the rest here.

online meanderings

God is invisible - Ed Welch brings glorious meaning to a well-known truth, and teaches us how to meditate on truths about God.

Strangers in the world - An old creed brimming with wisdom about how to live "in the world, but not of it". Justin Taylor.

How to help the hurting - Words of deep wisdom about suffering. I'm reading Job, and this is in direct contrast to his so-called comforters! Nancie Guthrie.

In defence of young marriage -  Wise thoughts from my friend Maddison, who is both young and getting married soon. Brought tears to my eyes.

What understanding a person's culture can't tell you - I have found this so true as I get to know women from other cultures: every individual is (2) unique (2) part of a common humanity. Tim Chester.

Childlessness - "That’s how childlessness hits me, in surprise attacks." A beautiful post by a childless woman.  Erin Straza.

A plea to writers (and some simple commentaries) - If you write, read this. If you read, read this. A plea for simple, clear writing - and some simple, clear books. Shona.

Book review: Heading home - by Naomi Reed. I read this, then bought 2 copies: 1 for me, 1 for a friend.

Book review: Fearfully and wonderfully made by Megan Best. On my To Buy list.
Sometimes we see people struggling and we want them to come so quickly to resolution, to figure everything out. The truth is, as we minister to others, we do want them to come to resolution, we do want them to come to some peace, figuring things out. But sometimes I think we are in a much bigger hurry than God is Himself. What a gift it is to others to be willing to sit—not forever, but at least for a while. To just go, “Wow, this is hard isn’t it?” 
Don’t think tears are the problem. Tears are a gift that God gives us to help wash away the deep pain that we feel and experience from living life in the brokenness of this world. There are some things worth crying about. There are some people worth crying about. Nancie Guthrie

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