Monday, January 30, 2012

what I'm reading: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

One of my favourite authors is Alexander McCall Smith. His books are amongst the few that I put on hold as soon as they appear in the library. He writes three series, and I love them all: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, The Sunday Philosophy Club, and 44 Scotland Street. Tell me which is your favourite!

Alexander McCall Smith writes with a wry sense of humour, an eye for people and their peculiarities, a warmhearted wisdom, and a sense of place, whether he's describing Botswana or Edinburgh. His books are not a hard read, more a gentle meander. They suit me just fine!

Here's a description of heaven, and the heavens, from the latest book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Not a Christian vision of heaven, but beautiful nonetheless.

It was a good time for sitting together, Mma Ramotswer felt, and it was not necessary to say anything. That evening, the sky was all but white with stars, filled with acres and acres of constellations, right down to the horizon. She had learned the names of some of these clusters when she was younger, but had forgotten most of them now, apart from the Southern Cross, which could be seen hanging over the sky towards Lobatse, a pointer to the distant Cape and its cold waters. And the Milky Way was there too - she had always been able to identify that, like a swirl of milk in an ocean of dark tea. As a girl she had imagined the Milky Way was the curtain of heaven, a notion she had been sorry to abandon as she had grown up. But she would not abandon a belief in heaven itself, wherever that might be, because she felt that if she gave that up then there would be very little left. Heaven may not turn out to be the place of her imagining, she conceded - the place envisaged in the old Botswana stories, a place inhabited by gentle white cattle, with sweet breath - but it would surely be something not too unlike that, at least in the way it felt; a place where late people would be given all that they had lacked on this earth - those who had had nothing would find they had everything the human heart could desire.

From Alexander McCall Smith The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party pages 135-136.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

online meanderings - friendship, life, socks and other stuff

This week, I was encouraged in my Christian life,

On reading the word of God - Ally gives a wonderful summary of, and link to, a talk on Psalm 119:1-40 about why we should read the Bible. Pure gold!

Putting the "Christian" in Christian friendship - "To make their welfare of higher interest than our own." A description of Christian friendship by Jonathon Parnell from Romans 15:2.

Don't be afraid to pray whatever it takes - Jon Bloom says, "we should plead for the discipline" that helps us to grow.

and helped in my marriage.

Don't take it from me: Reasons you should not marry an unbeliever - Kathy Keller, wife of Tim Keller, gives some helpful suggestions for counselling Christians who are considering marrying unbelievers.

A picture perfect marriage I, II and III - A great mini-series by Challies on marriage. To husbands: "Do you have that picture in your mind, of your bride, your wife, standing there before the Lord, washed clean of every trace of sin? Fix that in your mind because God calls you to help her get there!" (See also Mutual submission, on Ephesians 5:18-21.)

I read some great answers to serious questions about pornography,

Should I marry a man with pornography struggles? - An excellent answer to a difficult question from Russell Moore - and a great description of godly manhood. HT Challies

You just caught your son in [viewing] porn. What do you do? - A very helpful article by Rick Thomas about what to do if you discover, for example, that your teenage son has been sneaking out of bed to view porn. HT Challies.

and was reminded that life is worth fighting for.

Five things we can do for the unborn - John Piper: "If you could see each little handiwork of God and what it looks like when it is being crushed or poisoned or starved, you would say, this can't be happening! Civilized people do not do this! The children will not be saved and God's work will not be reverenced without an act of sustained sympathetic imagination. Otherwise it is out of sight, out of mind — just like Dachau, Buchenwald, Belsen, and Auschwitz. It just couldn't be happening. And so we act as if it isn't."

The child fashion model with down syndrome - Amazing - and wonderful. By Joe Carter.

The authentic feminism of Melinda Tankard Rice, Sisterhood beware - silencing ideas silences protest, Why being Christian gets you crucified - Three articles defending anti-porn, pro-life activist Melinda Tankard Rice against the abuse she has suffered for her views. HT Nicole

I was inspired by a moving story,

Bittersweet - Amy's post about her sister's lost fight with breast cancer and about our very good God, who answers prayer.

intrigued by a helpful new series,

How to stay Christian in seminary - A new series about how not to end up at theology college less Christ-centred than when you started.

and amused and comforted about my "failures" in memory and motherhood.

Wordsmithy (book review) - "The fact that you can’t remember things doesn’t mean that you haven’t been shaped by them." Well, that's a relief! A quote from Douglas Wilson's Wordsmithy, a book on writing reviewed by Challies.

I get a kind of guilty pleasure from reading about the so-called "failures" of other mums. Not sure if I should! But I identified with these: Amy's A thirsty person shouldn't drink salt water (I loved the bits about the sock drawer and sleeping in school uniform!) and Jenny's If I was a proper mother (I, too, feel great pressure to shop at Aldi and markets - and, instead, guiltily do a one-stop-shop at Coles).

Finally, I was reminded why the cross was necessary.

God, man and the atonement - "When...we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell–deserving sinners’, then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before." From John Stott's The Cross of Christ, quoted in Of First Importance

Thursday, January 26, 2012

a better country

Readers from Melbourne will probably guess this was written a couple of days ago, at the end of a heat wave. But today seemed a good time to post it: it's Australia Day. For all who feel at home where they live - and for those who don't.

It's been breathlessly hot for days. At night, it's hard to sleep: we have to choose whether to close the window and swelter in the stuffy room, or open it to invite in the occasional puff of air and the mosquitoes.

Last night we opened the window and risked the mosquitoes. As I leaned on the window sill and savoured the cooling air, I heard a munching noise from our persimmon tree. I could see leaves moving, and glimpse a furry face in the gloom. I shone a torch in its direction, and sure enough, there was a fat old possum, munching on a green persimmon. I'm not sure how he can bear it! I've tasted a persimmon far riper than the ones on our tree, and it shrivelled my tongue.

The possum is an old friend. As I sit on the couch and sip my morning coffee, there he is, regular as clockwork, trundling along the fence. He's twice the size of a small cat and twice as heavy as a large one, solid with muscle and fat. I'm not sure how he can move his bulk along the narrow fence. He waddles, balancing himself with a thick, fuzzy tail, and the leaves of the persimmon tremble as he disappears behind them. I don't know where he sleeps during the day, but it can't be far away.

Last night his eyes gleamed red in the torchlight. I said a mental "Goodnight" and retreated to the wrinkled sheets of the bed. When the night's this hot, I don't sleep deeply: I doze, half-waking to the heavy scent of eucalyptus oil hanging in the still air. I breathe it in, and the mosquitoes don't seem to matter.

Like so many generations of Australian children, I grew up on the literature of Britain. The oaks of Narnia and the elms of Middle Earth marched across my imagination, and the grey-green eucalypts of Australia didn't quite measure up. This wasn't helped by the cutesy gumnuts Snugglepot and Cuddlepie or the unlikely antics of Blinky Bill: Australian children's literature hadn't yet come of age. Hopefully, it will be different for my own children, thanks to authors like Alison Lester and John Marsden; but I'm only starting to feel like I belong here.

This morning I sat on our back veranda and listened to the dawn chorus. Which makes it sound far more ethereal than it is! No robins or thrushes here. Not even the Australian equivalent, the unearthly carolling of the magpies or the gurgling of the kookaburras; instead, the gums behind our house explode every morning with a flurry of buttercup-and-white feathers and the screeching of the cockatoos. They prance up and down, display their crests, jostle for position, play king-of-the-branch, and goggle at me with reptilian eyes.

There's a pause in the cacophony, and a quiet breeze rustles the wattle leaves. The cool change is coming. And suddenly, I know it: this is my place. My country. For a little while.

To live in one place and long for another is good training: you learn to long for heaven. To live in a place and love it is a different kind of training: it gives you a foretaste of what is to come. Because however at home I feel here, this isn't my homeland. I belong to a better country. In Jesus, I have finally found the way home.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-15 NIV)

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by jjreade from flickr

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

from link to link to link to...

From my friend Honoria's Facebook page:

read Jean Williams' blog, which tags Justin Taylor's post, which quotes David Powlison, commenting on B. B. Warfield's sermon, saying it's...

The Most Riveting Description of the Goal of Christian Living I’ve Ever Read
Now I know why I had so much trouble with that link.


Monday, January 23, 2012

what I'm reading: how prayer is like marriage from JI Packer's Praying

Oh, for goodness sake! I keep forgetting to post my Monday quote! Hopefully it will get easier once the kids are back at school...

Here's the quote I meant to post earlier this morning. It's by JI Packer, and it's on prayer: a bit of a theme in my reading at the moment. Which is a bit ironic, since I just realised I haven't prayed yet today: I got distracted by making the boys' breakfasts.

Our praying should be a regular routine...similar to the way that wise couples who live busy lives plan the time of day when they are going to talk about how the day has gone and just enjoy being together... It is like scheduling an afternoon where husband and wife will go for a walk together; where nobody will interfere, since there is a lot of stuff that they need to go over together and much they have to do for refreshing their relationship to each other. There is endless benefit to be gained from a regularly scheduled appointment for your time alone with your Lord and from planning ahead some of the ground that you will cover when you and he are alone together.

From JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom Praying: Finding our way through duty to delight pages 14-15.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

online meanderings - resolutions, praying with kids, unexciting sermons, and other stuff

I don't do a lot of online reading. Usually, I stick to a few favourite blogs. But this year, I'd like to try reading a bit more widely, and share the fruits of my labour with you (with apologies to Nicole, who already does a great job of this!).

Here are some of the most encouraging posts I've read this last week (although some have been on the internet for longer than that!). There are a few extra this week because I'm catching up.

Praying for your children - Ever wondered what to pray with your children? I love this prayer for boys - a great summary of godly manhood! - from Darrin Patrick.

How to get more Scripture - Jess gives some helpful suggestions for mums who struggle to find time to read the Bible.

Resolved by the grace of God - Burk Parsons explains how to make your New Year's resolutions sensible, dependent, humble and Christ-centred. HT Sandy.

Read the Bible in a year - Rachael talks about the thematic Bible reading plan she's using - the same one my mum is using on her iPhone YouVersion app! It looks so good I want to try it myself.

On doing ordinary things - Challies explains why not every sermon can be exciting; read this next time you feel like whining (listeners) or giving up (preachers).

10 years on - Jenny talks about why 10 years of being a minister's wife makes you less judgemental.

Into the light- Carolyn McCulley shares a sobering story about why we shouldn't hide our sin from one another.

Healthy sexuality - Challies' very useful list of good books on sexuality.

Grace-motivated dieting - Mike Cosper talks about dieting, and how to know when it is - or isn't -gospel-centred.

Mercy Teams - Ali explains why short term missions are worth it. HT Challies

Finally, three great quotes shared by Justin Taylor. Here are some teasers (click on the link for the rest):

How to Influence a Younger Christian - Don Carson: “Do you ever say to a young Christian, ‘Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!’ If you never do, you are unbiblical".

Packer: Why we should meditate on the four gospels more than any other book - JI Packer: "Some Christians seem to prefer the epistles as if this were a mark of growing up spiritually; but really this attitude is a very bad sign."

The most riveting description of the goal of Christian living I've ever read - BB Warfield:" We cannot be self-consciously self-forgetful, selfishly unselfish." Why holiness is about love, not self-improvement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A statement of purpose for the new year

I'm no great fan of New Year's resolutions: quite the reverse. For a perfectionist like me, resolutions often come unstuck, resulting in legalism, guilt and (once I fail to live up to them) a spectacular throwing-off of the reins. Change becomes about meeting my standards rather than responding to the God who forgives and transforms me.1

Once I realised this, I stopped making resolutions. But this year, I tentatively stuck my foot in the waters of the New Year's resolution once again. My resolutions aren't vows. They're not promises. In fact, they're not really resolutions (I don't have enough confidence in myself for that!). They're prayerful commitments, shaped by the Bible: a description of the life I want to live as a woman who's received God's grace (Titus 2:3-5, 11-14; 1 Tim 5:10).

Here are my eight resolutions - my statements of purpose for the new year.
  1. To keep Jesus at the centre. To seek his glory instead of my own, to receive his grace instead of wallowing in my guilt, to trust in his greatness instead of being overcome by anxiety, and to rejoice in his goodness instead of giving in to self-pity.2 To keep my eyes fixed on Jesus so I don't grow weary in doing good (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV).

  2. To invest time in keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus. To give the first part of my day to God's word and prayer, even when I really need to get something else done. To read more faith-encouraging books than faith-destroying books. To have a go at memorizing a book of the Bible.3

  3. To put my primary responsibilities first. To love, help and care for my husband. To love, teach and train my children, especially my daughter, showing her what it means to be a woman of God. To be faithful and purposeful in caring for our parents. To care for our home, not giving in to laziness or neglect.

  4. To serve my brothers and sisters in Christ. To love and encourage younger women without worrying about what they think of me. To think less about whether our church serves my needs and more about how I can serve others and help them grow. To give time to the Christian friends and prayer partners that God has given me.

  5. To do good in our community. To chat about Jesus every chance I get, with gentleness, honesty and courage, trusting God to work in people's hearts. To love, not counting the cost. To engage in people's lives, not retreat. To keep an open home.

  6. To be prayerful, loving and brave in my writing and speaking, using them to glorify Jesus and encourage others. To make sure that online life - blogs, Facebook, Twitter, emails - don't steal time that belongs to face-to-face relationships. To treat these things as a useful servant, not a master.

  7. To care for my body and health so I can serve Jesus more energetically. To trust God in times when my health, or my family's health, gives way.

  8. To look to God's grace, because I know that all of these things are beyond me.

I'd love to hear some of your resolutions - at least those that are suitable for public ears and encouraging to others!

1. For a helpful perspective, see David Powlison on New Year's Resolutions.
2. See chapter 5 of Tim Chester's You Can Change.
3. Colossians, if you're curious! A great book for keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by danielmoyle from flickr

Monday, January 16, 2012

what I'm reading: come messy (Paul Miller on prayer)

So often I feel like I have to fix myself before I pray. I have to stop worrying. I have to calm down. I have to concentrate. I have to make sure I have enough uninterrupted time. I have to psyche myself up, get into the proper mental state.

We're trying to become spiritual, to get it right. We know we don't need to clean up our act to become a Christian, but when it comes to praying, we forget that...Private, personal prayer is one of the last bastions of legalism.
Prayer becomes performance - something I'm ill-equipped for - instead of a pouring out of my need. I've forgotten the gospel. I've forgotten grace. I've forgotten that prayer is a little child coming to her Father. I've forgotten to come messy:

Jesus does not say ‘Come to me, all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.’ No, Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says ‘Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28) The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.

Paul Miller A praying life pages 30-32

image is by ushtey at flickr