Monday, December 23, 2013

end of year wrap

Yes, I know, it's not the end of the year. But it feels like it. And I'm about to have my annual break from blogging.

This morning I reflected on the miracle of the Lord of the universe becoming a tiny baby. How good he is, that he comes to us who need him!

Here are some final catch-ups, for those who want to know how we are:

Steve has given me comfort and strength this year. He looks forward to a well-earned break from work, starting tomorrow. We'll explore our beloved Melbourne for a few weeks; then Steve returns to work, and the rest of us holiday with my parents by the beach.

I am gasping for air after the busiest pre-Christmas I remember. I finish this hard year cheerful and hopeful, for which I thank God. The women at church came here for a chocolate fountain the other evening, and I'm so excited about our plans for next year.

Lizzy is 15. I love her zest for life and the maturity of her faith. Next year she's in year 10. She'll do a year 11 subject in graphic design, and work experience at a pre-school - which tells you something about her interests and gifts.

Ben is 13, cheerful and strong and trusting in Jesus, thanks be to God. He had migraines nearly every second day this term, but made it to a few hours of school every day. His current interest is Howard Shore's music for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Thomas is 10, growing in maturity and responsibility. Like Lizzy, he's an extrovert, and brings affection and fun to our family. He and Ben have become great mates, and play endless imaginative games together.

Andy is 7 and cute as a button (sorry, Andy, I mean "cool"). He builds Lego every spare moment, happy in his own company; but is also full of love and laughter, and we have the most fascinating conversations.

None of this matters a bit without Jesus. He is the meaning of our life and the purpose of our days. Let's not forget him this Christmas.

That's a wrap, folk. Have a blessed Christmas, and I'll be back sometime in the new year.

online meanderings

Jesus is not a snuggie - You and I will never be the same.

The world groans at Christmas - Sad and beautiful.

15 ways to bless missionaries this Christmas without paying postage

Sanctification through infertility - "The Lord loved me enough to break me."

5 things to tell your teenager about porn

My preferred way to read the Bible - This is well worth a read.

The year of no complaining - If you’re a leader in a church, 2014 can be a complaint free year. Here’s all you have to do.

Christ Jesus, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Phil 2:6-11)

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

online meanderings

How grief became my friend - The other day I was grieving all the things Ben misses out on. Then I read this.

Let us adore him - In which a bunch of pagan magicians (so much for the wise men!) bow down and worship.

7 messages in the meals - Now it's your turn, to give or to receive.

You can be hospitable even with little - "Your guests might not remember your space, but they will surely remember your care."

How often do you really show up at church? and 8 ways to stop going to church

7 ways social media makes pastoring more difficult

How to talk about yourself in a godly way -
If someone after talking with me is more interested and excited in being with me than with Jesus, then I am no longer functioning as an ambassador of Christ, but of myself. On the other hand, if in sharing myself, someone is more drawn to want to be with Jesus, then I’ve shared well. Bill Smith

The grace of God will visit you in uncomfortable forms. Difficulty in your life is not a sign that God's hand is too short, nor is it a sign that his ears are too dull. Rather, it's a sign of his love. God will wrap his arms around you and bring you through difficulty to make you more like him. Uncomfortable grace is at work to free you from you. Ed Welch

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter)

Monday, December 16, 2013

just one thing

I think of this year - I think of next year! - and I am torn in a thousand different directions.

So many of my works for God, or for others, are, in part, socially acceptable covers for self-love.

I help others so they will think well of me. I write of God's greatness so people will think I am great. I obey so I can think well of myself.

That is the depth of my self-deception and my self-worship.

God asks just one thing: that I love him before all else. And one more thing: that I love others before myself.

He gave up his only Son to win me, and all he asks is my faithful love in return.

And I can't even give him that.

As I go into the new year, I find myself asking for just one thing - a rare quality. Won't you join me?

JC Ryle describes it here:
Zeal is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which is not natural to man. It is a desire which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted.

This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a man, that it impels him to make any sacrifice–to go through any trouble–to deny himself to any amount–to suffer, to work, to labor, to toil, to spend himself and be spent, and even to die–if only he can please God and honor Christ.

A zealous man is preeminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, strong, uncompromising, meticulous, wholehearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God.

Whether he lives, or whether he dies–whether he has health, or whether he has sickness–whether he is rich, or whether he is poor–whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offense–whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish–whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise–whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame–for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all.

He burns for one thing, and that one thing is to please God and to advance Gods glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he does not care–he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God has appointed him.

Such an one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, and work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray. Yes: if he is only a pauper, on a perpetual bed of sickness, he will make the activity of sin around him slow to a standstill, by continually interceding against it. If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done.

This is what I mean when I speak of zeal in religion.

Lord, give us this zeal.

Quoted in JI Packer Knowing God 196.

Friday, December 13, 2013

why I'll never come up with the perfect set of advent readings (and what we do instead)

This year, by accident and attrition, I discovered the perfect set of advent reading for our house. It's called - wait for it! -

"Read a passage about Jesus
a few nights a week". 

It was going to be so much better. The number of times I've tried to create a perfect set of advent readings!

I draw up columns. I list passages. I sort them into different kinds of readings: the big-story-of-the-Bible kind. The prophecies-pictures-and-names-of-Jesus kind. The nativity-story kind.

Then, overwhelmed by the number of passages, the necessity of making dozens of choices, and my own perfectionism - I always want to include everything! I'm terrible at making decisions! I'll never get it right! - I give up.

So there will be no perfect set of advent readings coming from me. Instead, use Wendy's or Meredith's. They are very good.

Or you can do what I do. Because the truth is, no 24-day reading plan ever works for us.

My husband is always away for parts of December. Like every other Australian university ministry wife widow, the time leading up to Christmas brims with the usual chaos (right now I'm drowning in it) plus an absent husband. If anyone is going to do advent readings when he's away, it's me. He's back; but last week, they didn't even happen.

Ever tried to catch up on 10 passages at once? We never do make it to Jesus' birth in time for Christmas. We're left hanging, somewhere between prophecy and fulfillment.

So here's what we're doing this year.

After dinner, we grab the Bible. We find a prophecy about the coming of Jesus. We read it. We briefly discuss it. We pray.

On another night, it might be the opening chapters of Matthew or Luke. We read it. We talk about seeing God's promises in action. We pray.

And that wonderful wooden advent calendar I bought years ago? Once, I looked for all kinds of candy-ish goodness to stuff into those tiny cupboards, but I've discovered that mini packs of Mentos fit (almost) perfectly. Boring, but easy. And that's all. No print-outs of advent readings curled inside this year.

Defeated by advent calendar readings, and all the trimmings of a Homemaker 101 Christmas, we do it our way.

online meanderings

The power of continuing to show up - When you wake up doubting, just show up.

Singleness and coupledom - Making one another feel at home. 

Living with the loss of a loved one

Loving young people seeking asylum

The road to apostasy - How to recognise it.

3 marks of righteous anger

A teenage girl, the internet, and me - Wise and fair-minded.
So quiet and still and peaceful is the town, it’s hard to capture on a blog, a place where most of us read so quickly. So imagine for a moment a slower pace and quieter place. No iPods, no headphones, no surround sound. No jets, no traffic, no trains, no ambulances racing down streets. In perfect stillness, we witness a silent invasion, like a storm of chicken-feather snowflakes twisting silently to the ground, carpeting the dirty world in brilliant holiness.

When the Savior draws close, there’s no time to clean up the mess of sin. He comes, not to place crisply wrapped boxes around a cleanly decorated tree. No. The Holy One lands unexpected in the middle of the stench of our lives. Tony Reinke

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter). 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

teenagers and the internet

As a parent, you go into the teen years thinking there are exact rules: give kids this. Don't do that. Then you discover that it's so much more - well, human - than that.

There's a simplicity in "one size fits all". But that's not how God works in the human heart. And it doesn't work that well in relationships either.

So I love Jenny's 5 points about parenting teenagers when it comes to technology:
  1. It's good to have a high horse to make parenting judgements from. 
  2. It's good to get down from the high horse occasionally to show that you think your child is an actual person.
  3. It's good to keep on top of technology. 
  4.  It's good to keep talking to your kids. 
  5. It's good to acknowledge that you won't know everything that's going on, because when things go wrong you aren't a hopeless parent. 

I've talked a bit about how we work it out in the comments on her post. You might want to head over there and add your thoughts.

online meanderings

Scowling at the angel - One of those reads you can lose yourself in.

Teach me the patience of an unanswered prayer - Choosing trust rather than numbness.

6 questions to ask before you share the gospel - This is really good.

12 reasons to pray Scripture - Love!

The 4 promises of forgiveness - More love!

5 steps to adultery prevention - Yet more love!

The prosperity gospel in my own heart - How do I react when things go wrong?
Welcome, friend, to the world of the chronic thorn in the flesh. It may be cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, or glaucoma. It may be a long-term financial burden, caring for a disabled loved one, or any number of lingering struggles. The main characteristic of it is that it isn’t going away, and it seems like something that is going to keep you from doing the things for the Lord you thought you would do. But really, it does the exact opposite. As Satan harasses you with it, God opens your eyes to your utter dependence on Him in a way you didn’t fully grasp before. And then, in HIS strength when you have absolutely none of your own, He accomplishes things that you never thought possible. Wendy Alsup

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter)

Monday, December 9, 2013

what I'm reading: God will never again know perfect and unmixed happiness until he has brought us home

The love of God is no fitful, fluctuating thing, as human love is. It is a spontaneous determination of God's whole being, an attitude freely chosen and firmly fixed.

God loves creatures who have become unlovely and (one would have thought) unloveable. There was nothing whatever in the objects of his love to call it forth; nothing in us could attract or prompt it.

The love of God is free, spontaneous, unevoked, uncaused. God loves people because he has chosen to love them, and no reason for his love can be given save his own sovereign good pleasure.

Through setting his love on human beings God has voluntarily bound up his own final happiness with theirs. God's happiness will not be complete till all his beloved ones are finally out of trouble.

He has set his love upon particular sinners, and this means that, by his own free voluntary choice, he will not know perfect and unmixed happiness again till he has brought every one of them to heaven.

He has in effect resolved that henceforth for all eternity his happiness shall be conditional upon ours.

Thus God saves, not only for his glory, but also for his gladness.

JI Packer Knowing God 137, 140, 141

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

a question for you - what do you do with kids at Sunday School on Christmas day?

Here's a question for you from my friend Meredith

She asks,
I'm wondering if anyone out there has some good ideas of things to do with kids at church on Christmas morning - not for a kids' talk in church but an activity to do with them when they go to their "Sunday School" space. 

It's not the easiest time. Often the kids are tired after a late "I couldn't get to sleep" night and an excited early start. Some have opened their presents and want to get back home to them and others have to wait until after church and so want it all to go very quickly. 

I'd be interested to hear what others have done (or what they have noticed their kids were doing while they were in church) on this day. The last couple of years I have made simple Christmas decorations - one to take home and put on the tree and one to give to someone in the congregation. 

I'd love to hear what others do.

Please comment here.

online meanderings

Beauty in barrenness - When the longing for a baby isn't met.

Not legalists or libertarians, but free to be slaves

10 times it's wise to hold your tongue

Why we should sing songs of lament every week in church

15 ways to avoid burnout in ministry

"My ministry is harder than yours" and other lies we tell - Is it harder working with the poor or with the rich?

How to review a book - A useful guide from Challies.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be our default mode of conversation. Lionel Windsor

Today, if you want to do a little introspection, then don’t start with the heart; it might just be lying to you. Start with the tongue. Continue with the wallet. Then move onto the gospel where we will find the only true power to not change our words or our spending habits, but the heart that is behind them both. Tony Reinke

Most people will forget me, and that’s okay. But a few people will remember me, and I want to make sure I leave behind the right kind of memories. Stephen Altrogge

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter)

Monday, December 2, 2013

what I'm reading: the ethics of elfland

The fairy tales rounded in me two convictions; first, that this world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful; second, that before this wildness and delight one may well be modest and submit to the queerest limitations of so queer a kindness.
Fairy tales teach us amazement and gratitude. So said Chesterton. I think he's right.

The world should astound and delight us. It doesn't have to be the way it is. The sun's rising, the green of leaves: every day they should break upon us with with fresh astonishment.

That was the first lesson from fairytales. Here's the second:
The second great principle of the fairy philosophy is that the vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.

In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited.

An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

Such, it seemed, was the joy of man, either in elfland or on earth; the happiness depended on not doing something which you could at any moment do and which, very often, it was not obvious why you should not do. 
Here's how he applies this principle to sex:
I give one ethical instance to show my meaning. I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself.

Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman.

To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it.

Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

a thought that didn't make it into yesterday's post

Yesterday's post was a doozy (now there's a word spell check doesn't know - apparently it should be d oozy).

It was hard to think through, hard to write, hard to pull together into something readable and not completely yawn inducing. And I'm still not sure I succeeded at that (no, I'm not looking for reassurance).

Anyhow, I cut a paragraph out (below). Interesting thoughts, but the post was already too long, and I wasn't sure if
  • anyone else was asking the questions I was 
  • I was on the right track
  • any readers I still had would be lost in my mental tangle.

Here's the paragraph that didn't make it in. If you're interested, it belongs in yesterday's post after the second paragraph.

When the Bible doesn't give the guarantee you want, other Christians might. Perhaps they suggest God will heal you if you have enough faith, or (more subtly) if you pray the right kind of prayer. And then there are Christian truisms that promise a limit to pain: "God will only give us as much suffering as is necessary." There's something true and good about this statement. As one man put it, "God is too kind to cause us unnecessary pain."1 But necessary for what? To help us grow? That's what I've always assumed; but it's not in the Bible. Wouldn't this mean that the godliest Christians would suffer less, because they don't need to grow as much? (Jesus won't allow this - see Luke 13:1-5.) Aren't there other reasons for suffering besides my personal growth? (Yes, like God's glory, or to fit us for service - look at John 9:1-3 and 2 Cor 1:3-5.)

Happy to hear your thoughts on the whole "God doesn't cause more pain than is necessary" thing. Just click here and comment away.

1. Paul Mallard, Invest your suffering, 48.

online meanderings

A profile of Christian courage - The story of one woman's suffering and faith.

5 things to do before leaving your church - for members and for pastors - Excellent.

From laziness to diligence - How to spot laziness: look for signs of neglect.

10 times it's wise to hold your tongue - You might want to print this out.

Why we should sing songs of lament, in church, even when we're not lamenting - Love this!

Social media and mission - How to use social media effectively.

How I review a book - A useful guide from Challies.
Are books your shell collection? If your library doesn’t lead you to a deeper affection for Jesus, then it’s as useless as a collection of shells. Mike Leake

What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket. Today, if you want to do a little introspection, then don’t start with the heart; it might just be lying to you. Start with the tongue. Continue with the wallet. Then move onto the gospel where we will find the only true power to not change our words or our spending habits, but the heart that is behind them both. Tony Reinke

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God’s gifts in suffering (6) God gives us strength to endure, not escape

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
I know what I want. I told God so today. I’d like a guarantee that things are going to get better. We’ve reached the end of this particular time of suffering. Happiness is on the other side of the door, knocking. But the days go by, and, yes, things do get better – my son learns to manage his condition, my sorrow and bewilderment retreat – but life is still draining and difficult. Tears are never far away. We’re not yet in the land where leaves heal sorrow (Rev 22:1-4).

Maybe I’ll find the guarantee I want in the Bible. Here’s a promise that sounds like a talisman against pain: “If you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you” (Psalm 91:9-10 NIV). But what does it mean? There are other psalms that lament the fact that harm does come to God’s people.1 Kidner says of this promise, “This is a statement of exact, minute providence, not a charm against adversity”.2 Every moment, God provides for us, or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it. God’s people are surrounded by walls of protection. Nothing can truly harm us in the places that matter. But this isn’t a guarantee that we will experience no pain. It’s a promise that everything that comes to us, including our trials, is part of God’s fatherly, detailed care. Our Father will keep us safe, and he will keep us to the end.3

The truth is that God doesn’t promise certain limits to suffering. He doesn’t guarantee personal happiness. He doesn’t ensure our escape from pain. His people are often crushed beyond measure: the Bible makes that abundantly clear.4 Here are some guarantees God’s word does give us:
  • Suffering will come, but we will also share in Christ’s glory (1 Peter 4:12-13).
  • All that happens will be for our good, to make us more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-30).
  • Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love (Rom 8:38-39).
  • He won’t let us be tempted – that is, tested – beyond what we can bear, but will provide a way for us to endure it (1 Cor 10:13).
  • He will give us all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3)
  • In our weakness, he will give us strength (2 Cor 12:9-10 cf 2 Cor 4:7-12; Phil 4:11-13; Col 1:11-14).
The last one intrigues me, because it doesn’t feel true in my experience. I once asked my husband why, if God gives us strength, I still feel so weak. He explained that it’s not freedom from weakness that God usually gives, but strength in weakness – the strength to keep obeying and serving even when I feel tired and overwhelmed and like I can’t go on. If God made me strong, all people would see was my strength, and I would become proud. But when he enables me to endure even when I am weak, people can see that the strength is from him, and I am made humble and dependent. He gets the glory, not me.

Paul knew this paradoxical truth from the inside out. When he begged God to take away the thorn in his flesh, Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). The point isn’t that Paul rose above his pain: the point is that he was still weak, but Christ gave him strength to stand firm and press on. Paul was no triumphant victor over suffering: he was a man who feared and trembled, who was whipped and stoned and hungry, who was imprisoned and deserted by his friends (1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 11:23-29; 2 Tim 4:16). He said of his time in Asia,
We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself … But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8-9)
Paul felt his weakness deeply. He knew exactly where his strength came from.

I’d like God’s power. I’d love to feel strong. But be careful what you ask for. Here is Paul’s prayer for power: "May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy" (Col 1:9). The strength to endure patiently: it doesn’t sound all that powerful, and we don’t greatly value it. Who would choose the quality of patient endurance? Who wouldn’t rather have victory over pain? We want the success story, the inspirational tale of goals achieved and obstacles overcome. Yet patient endurance is highly valued by God: just do a word search and see how often it’s mentioned in the Bible (e.g. 2 Cor 1:6; Col 1:11; 2 Tim 2:12; Heb 12:3; 1 Pet 2:19-20; Rev 2:3, 13:10). He demanded it of Moses and Job and Jeremiah. He demanded it of Stephen and Peter and John. He demands it of our persecuted brothers and sisters. He demands it of us.

So what’s the secret? Where can we get endurance, this quality of such great value? How does God produce it in us? I hesitate to say it, but here’s the thing: he does it through suffering (James 1:2-4). It’s by standing firm that we learn to stand. It’s by enduring that we learn to endure. Our spiritual muscles grow strong through use. It never feels like it at the time: I was horrified at how short-tempered I could be when sleep deprivation and babies came into my life. It was only later that I realized I was responding to difficulties with a greater degree of patience, perseverance, and even, finally, hope. (I’ve still got a long way to go before I respond with joy – see Romans 5:3-4)

So this is what I pray for: not a guarantee of happiness, but the strength to endure. The strength to go on when I feel like I can’t take another step. The strength to trust when I am filled with doubt and fear. The strength to stand firm when everything in me is crying out to give in. The strength to bear my responsibilities cheerfully and well, not with bitterness or grumbling resignation. The strength to rejoice, even as I mourn. The strength to seek God’s face, to find my security in him:
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:2)

1. You only have to flip the numbers of psalm 37 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” – to get psalm 73 – “All in vain have I kept my heart clean…all the day long I have been stricken”.
2. Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 333; and see John Piper’s post on psalm 91. Other helpful insights can be found in the commentaries on the psalms by John Goldingay (Baker Commentary) and Willem VanGemeren (Expositor’s Bible Commentary).
3. On God’s fatherly care, see Matthew 6:19-34 and Romans 8:28-39, and compare Luke 21:16 and 21:18. On our eternal security, see John 10:28 and Phil 1:6.
4. See Paul Mallard, Invest your suffering, p. 80.

Monday, November 25, 2013

what I'm reading: 25 writers on suffering

Be still my soul is another fantastic collection of reflections on suffering by Nancy Guthrie (I've also written about Holding on to hope and Hearing Jesus speak into your sorrow).

What I love about these books is the way you can read just a short section and go away encouraged. This is important when you're struggling and can't face a long, theologically dense book.

This time Nancy Guthrie has done the collecting rather than the writing. Be still my soul includes short reflections by 25 writers, from Martin Luther to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Corrie ten Boom.

So far, my favourite reflection is by Os Guiness. (How I love his books! He deserves to be more widely read.) He understands anguish, and he knows the only ground for hope. I'll let the master wordsmith speak for himself.
Suffering is the most acute trial that faith can face, and the questions it raises are the sharpest, the most insistent, and the most damaging that faith will meet.

Can faith bear the pain and still trust God, suspending judgment and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgments must be made?

To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is worst of all. Yet that is the suicidal submission that faith’s suspension of judgment seems to involve.

We suffer, we look up, we cry out, we pray, we tear our hearts out, but there is no answer. The heavens are brass, the gates are locked, the phone is busy, and in the ringing nothingness of silence we wonder if God was ever there.

If the Christian’s faith is to be itself and let God be God at such times, it must suspend judgment and say, “Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you.”

The test of suffering reveals whether our "knowing why" is an irreducible bedrock conviction grounded in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, or whether our faith is resting to any degree on what is not bedrock but sand.

We do not know why, but we know why we trust God who knows why.

For the Christian, the cry of Jesus, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" will always have depths of meaning that the human mind can never fathom. But one thing at least it means. None of us can sink so low that God has not gone lower still.

When we see Jesus on the cross we can come to trust God with an unutterable trust that never for a moment considers he will not stand by us in our sufferings.

online meanderings

God's bucket list  :-)

Success in ministry is dangerous, accountability doesn't work, and other thoughts on falling from grace - An important read for pastors and others.

What can happen when you love those who hate you? - Such an inspiring story. Paul Tripp.

How to read the Bible every day - Some good suggestions.

Responding to anxiety and panic - A lot of this sounds familiar - especially the "blinders". Very necessary.

7 signs your church is effectively reaching unchurched people - Most of them sound like bad things, so this is worth reading.

Some lies people tell you about infant sleep - Wish I'd read this, oh, about 15 years ago. (Although I think there's a lot to be said for lots of infant settling strategies - just don't expect them to "solve" every baby's sleeplessness.)
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. - Wendy Mass

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian "improving" literature. You'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant. Neil Gaiman

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).   

Saturday, November 23, 2013

God gives the growth (a reflection on 17 years)

Seventeen years ago, I walked into the chaplaincy office at a university in Melbourne.

I'd just been given a job: the first staffworker at a very young Christian university group. There was a chaplain (male), a part-time staffworker (me), 5 committed members, an old chaplaincy building, and a few rooms that were ours for the booking. Those were our resources.

At our main meetings, we'd get 20 people, maybe 30 on a good day. I might be exaggerating the numbers. I remember the hard work of sitting next to strangers and welcoming them and following them up.

I mentored 3 girls in those first years. A year or two later, the chaplain left, and my husband took over the ministry. Six months later, I left to have the first of 4 children, and the work slowly grew.

That was then.

This is now.

Last Saturday, I walked into our annual dinner. My husband, Steve, was supposed to be there - he leads the ministry, after all - but he was home and voiceless with the flu. I took my two oldest children instead. We had trouble finding the venue, so we arrived late, hot-faced and sore-footed.

I munched on my entree and listened to Peter Adam speak about Jesus the Word of God, and the wonder that is university student groups still standing up for the truth when so many evangelical groups have fallen by the wayside.

There were a few tears in the eyes of our staffworkers - I'm sure I saw them! - as they said goodbye, one at a time, to a bunch of shaggy-haired (male) and well-dressed (female) graduates, who have served so well while they've been with us these few years.

A young man spoke about how he's learned to stand up for his faith. A young women talked about how she's learned to put God's kingdom before her own. We farewelled a student who came to Christ and was baptized last year, now headed back to her own country.

Seated at the tables were 150 people: students, parents, supporters. More on the waiting list, who couldn't fit in the room (we'd better book a bigger venue next year). When I got home, I asked Steve how many people are involved in the group this year, and he told me it's about 120. A bit of a contrast to the tiny group we started with 17 years ago.

And it's not just the numbers.

What I saw last Saturday were two men - my husband's co-workers - leading the meeting in his absence, and doing it seamlessly. Two men my husband helped to train. It was good to know that, under God, we have more than replaced ourselves. It felt like a glimpse of the future: one day, when we leave, the work will go on.

Their wives sat at the tables, faithful women who were also part of our ministry. One of them was among the first 3 women I mentored. Now they help their husbands, offer hospitality to students, pass on their wisdom to younger women, and teach and train their children. Another generation raised to know Jesus.

I looked around and saw many others we taught and trained. One couple planted a church last year. A few lead ministries in other churches. Lots study at theology colleges. Some serve in overseas mission. Many share their faith in the workplace. Most serve God in local churches, using skills picked up at uni.

God's work goes out, to times and places we will never see.

My husband works hard, and comes home tired. He's not one to see beyond the place he's in. Yet on Saturday night I was given a glimpse of the God-given impact of the ministry we've poured ourselves into. It's not always easy to see it, here at home, here on the support team; but last week I saw it. I have seldom been more encouraged.

Others planted, we watered, but God gives the growth (1 Cor 3:6). Praise be to him.

Friday, November 22, 2013

online meanderings

If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18 year old you? Wonderful wisdom from RC Sproul.

Responding to regret - If you tend to regret things you or others did, you'll love this.

We are far too easily displeased - Grumbling vs. gratitude. I needed this one.

Responding to the divorced - Churches can be very bad at this. A helpful post from a divorced Christian.

4 questions to ask your money - Post these on the inside of your skull.

Don't raise good kids - It's so important that we, and our kids, see them as sinners.

John Piper's five points and A book on definite atonement - I think limited atonement is often misunderstood. Here are two posts, and a book, on that theme.
Christianity means change is possible. Deep, fundamental change. It is possible to become tender-hearted when once you were callous and insensitive. It is possible to stop being dominated by bitterness and anger. It is possible to become a loving person no matter what your background has been.

The Bible assumes that God is the decisive factor in making us what we should be. With wonderful bluntness the Bible says, “Put away malice and be tender-hearted.” It does not say, “If you can…” or, “If your parents were tender-hearted to you…” or, “If you weren’t terribly wronged or abused…” It says simply, “Be tender-hearted.”

This is wonderfully freeing. It frees us from the terrible fatalism that says change is impossible. It frees from mechanistic views that make our backgrounds our destinies. John Piper

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

I love these 6 children's books, and you might too

I read a lot of kids' books. Our shelves are filled with classics, relics from my childhood. Sometimes I like a new book enough to buy it. Here are some recent favourites I added to our shelves.
Glenda Millard's The naming of Tishkin Silk is the first of seven books about a whimsical family that loves and creates and welcomes strangers and is full of tenderness and joy and loss and celebration. I received the whole Kingdom of Silk series as a gift and plan to keep reading and re-reading them and handing them on to my kids. Beautifully illustrated by Stephen Michael King. For ages 8 and up.
The dragonfly pool is my favourite of Eva Ibbotson's books. It starts in an eccentric English boarding school and ends up at a folk-dancing festival in Europe, where courageous Tally befriends prince Karil, defies Hitler and escapes war-torn Europe (as you do). Funny and fast-paced with a touch of stillness. For ages 8 and up.
Rebecca Stead's When you reach me is a perfectly crafted mystery inspired by Ursula Le Guin's A Wrinkle in Time. It opens with a fist to the stomach and a shattered friendship, continues with a series of hand-written notes that seem to come from the future, and ends with...well, you'll have to read to find out. This Newberry award winner is a page-turner that lives on your memory long after the final page. For ages 9 and up.
Rebecca Stead's First light is written with the same deft touch and sense of unfolding mystery as When you reach me. Instead of the gritty streets of Manhattan, this book is set in the haunting landscape of Greenland, where a scientist's son meets a girl from a hidden world and helps her rescue her people from a coming catastrophe. For ages 9 and up.
If I told you Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book was about a boy growing up with ghosts in a graveyard, mentored by a vampire, encountering ghouls, and escaping the man who murdered his parents, you might doubt its suitability for children. But don't be fooled. It's a warm and witty book about growing up, and the ending leaves you with that sense of mingled loss and satisfaction that all the best books do. For ages 9 (depending on your child's sensitivity) and up.
RJ Palacio's Wonder is the story of a boy with a severe facial deformity who goes to a public school for the first time, and the growing relationships between him and the other children. Real, heart-warming, thought-provoking: it's everything you want in a book. You'll love this even if you don't usually read kids' books. For ages 10 to adult.

What about you? Have you read any good children's chapter books recently? Tell us in the comments.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

online meanderings

On losing a daughter - If you read nothing else today, read this.

The real truth about boring men and the women who live with them - And then read this.

Gospel-centred sex - There's much food for thought in this article.

Too spiritual to need much sleep? - This will make you think again.

Judging parents - Why we do it, how to deal with it. 

A brief introduction to the Psalms - I'm printing this out and putting it in my Bible.

5 reasons not to provide a feedback form - and a better way.
The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived - not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner. It is for today we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow. Elisabeth Elliot

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. "If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand. Neil Gaiman

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

what I'm reading: lessons from fairy tales

Do you love stories? Do you love fairy tales?

The Little Mermaid. The Snow Queen. The Princess and the Goblin. Narnia. The Hobbit. These are some of the stories that shaped my childhood. They formed my sensibilities and filled my dreams. They still do.

In chapter 4 of Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes about fairy tales, what they taught him as a child, and how much better and deeper and more lasting these truths are than the harsh doctrines of modern philosophy.

I'd love to quote so much of this chapter. Perhaps I will, in weeks to come. But for today, here's just one bit that made me smile and say, "Yes".
We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough.

A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales—because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him.

This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

We have all read in scientific books, and, indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is.

Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; but thou shalt not know thyself.

We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are.

All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.

I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

online meanderings

10 words - A profound, brave piece about infertility.

A "good girl" (or not-so-good girl) wrestles with the gospel - Story of my life.

Must I read my Bible every day? - A little post about the difference between faith-based duty and legalism.

Writing mysteries - 4 disciplines at the heart of one writer's daily rituals.

18 things I will not regret doing with my husband - The series continues ...

Modesty matters - "Modesty is a virtue that shows love to others and brings glory to God through appropriate dress." Helpful.

Advice for email - "Think through your thoughts. Then boil them down to five sentences."
CS Lewis didn’t read newspapers.
He never wore a watch.
He never learned to type.
He did not own or drive a car.
He cared nothing about cutting a good appearance and wore the same old clothes until they were threadbare.
He was incredibly free from the addicting powers of the present moment.
John Piper

If you have any life left, dream like you never have. I met a missionary who was a math major in college, spent part of his life in the military, most of it as an aviation engineer, then got a seminary degree, moved to Ethiopia to teach theology, and now, at age 67, is beginning a PhD program in church history while he teaches. Does this inspire any 60-somethings out there? John Piper

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

how to read a Christian book (5) finishing up

Today we finish up. 

Don't you hate losing your favourite quotes? And forgetting the books you read? 

Here's how to keep a record, and how to share what you read.

Store the gold
John Piper says, “It is sentences that change my life, not books.” It’s a good idea to store these golden passages so you can find them again. Here are two ways to keep track of the best bits of a book:
  • on a blank page at the back of the book, when you come to a quote you want to remember, note down the page number, describe the content in a few words, and give it a little asterisk or “Q” for quote. (I do this on the same page where I keep a list of topics or key passages.)
  • store your favorite quotes in one place. You can do this in a computer file or electronic device under various topics, in a written journal, or on a blog. It doesn’t matter, as long as you can find the quotes later on.7
Keep a record of what you read
Allow a few days, or a week, for the book to settle into your mind and life. Then sit down and write a brief impression of it in the front page of the book, a computer file, or your journal. (It’s helpful to keep a record of all the books you read, at least by author and title, and perhaps by rating.) Include a summary; what you thought; good points and bad; and who it might be suitable for. Sometimes writing this kind of review is the only way I can get a book clear in my head.

Share what you read
Now it’s time to recommend the book (if it deserves a recommendation!) to others. You might like to share your impression of the book in a small group, on Facebook or in a blog. If you don’t like reading alone, why not join a reading group, or ask a friend if they would like to read a book along with you and get together to discuss it. Don’t hoard books: share them freely, and accept you’ll lose a few along the way.
Why not grab a book, make yourself a cup of tea, sit down in a comfortable chair, and get reading? You’ll be all the richer for it.

You can find the other posts in this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4. Or read the whole thing at The Briefing.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

online meanderings

The kind of father he is - A beautiful post about a broken castle, a hurt dad, and a bigger kind of father.

Weakness is one of our core values - Amen.

To older men: please don't retire entirely - We need you more than ever.

10 love challenges for all of us.

3 women talk about their struggle with pornography - A sobering reminder of how google, or a friend's conversation, can lead to this.

5 reasons to write in your books - Told you so!
To be one person one moment: lost. Then to be another person the next moment: found. It is the difference, as the saying really does go, between night and day. Outwardly I seemed the same, but inwardly everything had changed. I went to the window and watched the birth of the dawn. Everything, every thing appeared in this better light, this brighter light. Carolyn Weber

We’re not actually in danger of working too hard. We simply work hard at things in the wrong proportions. If you work eighty hours a week and never see your kids and never talk to your wife, people may call you a workaholic. And no doubt you’re putting a lot of effort into your career. But you may not be working very hard at being a dad or being a husband or being a man after God’s own heart. Kevin DeYoung

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Monday, November 11, 2013

what I'm reading: a huge and heroic sanity

Two years ago, I started Chesterton's Orthodoxy, the account of one man's journey to the Catholic faith.

I read the introduction and the second chapter. I wrote about it here and here and here.

And then I stopped. (Or did I get part-way through the third chapter? I don't recall, but a few vague jottings in the margins confirm it.)

The other day I picked it up again. I'm reading it during my *cough* bathroom breaks.

There's much I don't agree with in Chesterton's theology, but I am in awe of his depth of insight and power of expression.

In chapter 3 Chesterton writes about the emptiness of modern philosophy: "Every man who will not have softening of the heart must at last have softening of the brain."

Here's my favourite quote from this chapter. If you like, you can skip straight to the glorious paragraph at the end.
Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them.

I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret.

And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We know that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow.

Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing.

It was impossible that the thought should not cross my mind that she and her faith had perhaps some secret of moral unity and utility that has been lost. And with that thought came a larger one, and the colossal figure of her Master had also crossed the theatre of my thoughts.

There is a huge and heroic sanity of which moderns can only collect fragments. There is a giant of whom we see only the lopped arms and legs walking about. They have torn the soul of Christ into silly strips, labeled egoism and altruism, and they are equally puzzled by His insane magnificence and His insane meekness. They have parted His garments among them, for His vesture they have cast lots; though the coat was without seam woven from the top throughout.

Friday, November 8, 2013

online meanderings for parents

Parents are responsible to teach their kids about God

Why it's important for parents to require obedience of their children.

3 steps closer to patient parenting

The idols of a mother's heart

Let kids be bored

When you feel like a failure as a parent

The safe place for our kids' shameful questions
She wondered if the time and energy she invested in her husband and children would make a difference. At times she got discouraged because so much of what she did seemed to go unnoticed and unappreciated. “Is it worth it?” she often wondered. “Is there something better I could do with my time?”

It was during one of those moments of questioning that she heard the still small voice of her heavenly Father speak to her heart. “You are a wife and mother because this is what I have called you to be. Much of what you do is hidden from the public eye – but I notice. Most of what you give is done without praise – but I am your reward.”

“Your husband cannot be the man I have called him to be without your support. Your influence upon him is greater than you think and more powerful than you will ever know. I bless him through your service and honor him through your love.”

"Your children are precious to Me, even more precious than they are to you. I have entrusted them to your care to raise for Me. What you invest in them is an offering to Me. You may never be in the public spotlight, but your obedience shines as a bright light before Me. Continue on. Remember, you are My servant. Do all to please Me.” Roy Lessin

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

how to read a Christian book (4) remembering what you read

You can read a book, forget it, and still benefit from it. We're shaped by books without even realising it.

Still, it used to frustrate me that I read Christian books and couldn't get them clear in my head (last week's post) or remember much about them (today's post).

So here it is: how to remember what you read.

Summarize (the key to memory)
For me, this was the breakthrough in remembering what I read. I used to write long summaries in the back of my books; this never worked, as they were unwieldy, and I never looked at them again. Instead, here's what I learned to do (it's worth the few minutes it takes):
  • summarize each chapter at the head of the chapter.
    Once you reach the end of a chapter, flick through it again and get it clear in your head. Turn to the top of the chapter, and in the small space given you (keeping you brief and to the point) write a few sentences, or a list of points, that outline the chapter. This will help you recall what you read, and provide a summary next time you look at it.
  • write the main point of each chapter on the contents page.
    Now turn to the contents page. In a few words, next to or under the title of each chapter, note the chapter's main point (this should be what stood out for you). Asterisk your favorite chapters. Now you've got an outline of the book's key points and best chapters should you come back to it.
  • create your own index at the end of the book. On a blank page at the back of the book, you might like to write a list of topics; next to each topic, note down page references as you come to them. Alternatively, list significant passages with page numbers as you go along. When you want to locate a passage in a book, this will be your personal index.

That's it! Next time I'll talk about how to keep track of your favourite quotes and the books you read.

You can read my other tips at The Briefing, or wait for next week - I'll continue to publish this article as a series on my blog.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

online meanderings

When something you see or read makes you discontent ... Stop, Look, Think.

7 issues we need to address in our youth groups - with some important additions in the comments.

Are all affairs alike? - Here are 6 types. Some are easier to recognise than others, and they're not all physical.

18 things I will not regret doing with my wife

Are you a dripping tap? - 5 ways to turn nagging into encouragement.

Home and family - A fascinating look at the social conditions that gave rise to the modern home and family, and the implications for church and evangelism.

Book review: The ministry of a messy house - I have to get me a copy.
We humans, with our deep-seated pretensions to being gods, are endlessly preoccupied with worrying and tinkering with matters of salvation as if we were in charge of it. But we are not. God carries out the work of salvation; not, to be sure, without our participation, but it is God’s work done in God’s way. Eugene H. Peterson 

It may feel a bit insincere to give thanks under certain circumstances, perhaps even manipulative. But we counsel and train our hearts by such steps of obedience. Nancy Leigh DeMoss

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).

Monday, November 4, 2013

what I'm reading: the signal-box, the driver's seat ... and wisdom

Question: What's the difference between watching trains from a signal-box and learning to drive?
Answer: The difference between true and false wisdom.

I'm reading JI Packer's Knowing God, and loving it. Every chapter throws up tasty truths to feed on (that analogy didn't quite work - ugh!).

Here is what Packer has to say about true wisdom. Once again, it's a rebuke to those of us prone to unhealthy introspection, who always try to find the "why?" in everything that happens, who give way to bitterness when we can't understand.

Instead, true wisdom is realistic, sane and strong. It doesn't think too hard about the "why". It trusts God. It gets on with life. It does its work. It enjoys this world. So says Ecclesiastes - and JI Packer:
If you stand at the end of a platform on York station, you can watch a constant succession of engine and train movements. But you will only be able to form a very rough and general idea of the overall plan.

If, however, you are privileged enough to be taken by one of the high-ups into the signal-box, you will be able to look at the whole situation through the eyes of those who control it.

The mistake that is commonly made is to suppose that the gift of wisdom consists in a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us.

People feel that if they were really walking close to God, so that he could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would, so to speak, find themselves in the signal-box.

Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place.

Christian suffering from depression, physical, mental or spiritual (note, these are three different things!) may drive themselves almost crazy with this kind of futile enquiry. For it is futile: make no mistake about that.

What does it mean for God to give us wisdom?

It is like being taught to drive. You do not ask yourself why the road should narrow or screw itself into a dog-leg wiggle, just where it does, not why that van should be parked where it is, nor why the river in front shoudl hug the crown of the road so lovingly; you simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself.

To live wisely, you have to be clear-sighted and realistic - ruthlessly so - in looking at life as it is.

Among the seven deadly sins of medieval lore was sloth (acedia) - a state of hard-bitten, joyless apathy of spirit.

Live in the present, and enjoy it thoroughly; present pleasures are God's good gifts. Seek grace to work hard at whatever life calls you to do, and enjoy your work as you do it. Leave to God its issues; let him measure its ultimate worth.

We can trust him and rejoice in him, even when we cannot discern his path.

From chapter 10 of JI Packer Knowing God.

Friday, November 1, 2013

a visit means more than a text

One of the things I admire about my mother is that she gets involved in other people's lives.

Now that she doesn't have children at home, and is working less, on her way to retirement, she could use her extra time for herself. Instead, she uses much of it for others.

She helps out at the local primary school. She looks after an elderly lady in a local nursing home. She cares for her brothers and sisters. She visits the sick.

She's like those older women - the Bible calls them "widows" (which my mum is not, but I think it's a similar stage of life) - who use their time and energy to serve (1 Tim 5:9-10; Acts 9:36-42). I hope to be like her one day.

Here's a story that encouraged me to get involved too.

It's about a friend of my mum's who lives a long way from her family.

Mum had just received a message from her friend to say her sister had died.

My mother wasn't far away: she was driving near her friend's house. It would have been easy to send a text and go home.

But that's not what she did.

She went and sat with her friend that morning. She hugged her and listened and shared her sorrow.

Her friend said,

"You know, there were lots of people who sent their sympathy via emails and text messages. But you came. You visited.

"That meant more to me than all of those texts put together."

In these days of emails and texts and instant messaging, it's so easy to contact someone and think we've done what needs to be done.

But I hope, next time I'm in a situation like this, that I remember: a visit means more than a text.

If we can, we just need to be there.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

how to read a Christian book (3) taking in what you read (clue: you'll need a pencil)

So you've made time to read and chosen a book. But now you have a problem.

If you're anything like me, you read books and the words  flow in your eyes and fall out your ears, never to be seen again.

Here's how I learned to absorb what I read. Clue: you'll need a pencil.

Get an overview
When you first open a book, start by getting an overview. What does it look like, feel like, smell like? (Yes, it matters: you'll be spending quite a while here!) Open it. Read a few sentences. Read the chapter headings. Flick through the book (or scan it on your e-reader) and notice how it's laid out. Maybe skip to the last page and read it. Read the introduction or first chapter, and find the key sentence: the one that tells you what the author is trying to do (grab your pencil, and write "sum" or "aim" in the margin). Now you're ready to go.

Write in your books (the key to absorbing what you read)
Always read with a pencil in hand (unless you're using an e-reader, in which case highlight and make notes electronically). I like push-up pencils best: the fine line means you can make your notes neat and small. Keep an eraser handy. There are three main things I mark as I read:
  • key sentences and paragraphs. When a passage stands out or adds to the argument, or is particularly helpful or memorable, I use a variety of markings depending on its significance: underline or double underline; a single or double line down the outside of the paragraph; an asterisk or circled asterisk in the margin; a box around the paragraph. That way I can see at a glance the bits I want to come back to. (Post-it notes are another good way to mark significant passages.)
  • the flow of the argument. As I read, I try to follow the author's thought and indicate the main points with a number or word in the margin. The logic is clearer in some books than others: sometimes the only obvious structure is the one you provide. If the argument is hard to follow, you might like to write the main points at the head of each page. It can also be helpful to circle a few key words in a paragraph to highlight definitions and contrasts.
  • questions and comments. If I have a question, the argument is unclear, or I disagree, I put a question mark in the margin and note down the issue. Sometimes it will be answered later in the chapter or book. If not, I might make a note of it in the front of the book.

You can read my other tips at The Briefing, or wait for next week - I'll continue to publish this article as a series on my blog.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

online meanderings

Lives destroyed - The horrific effects of sin, and 10 helps against it.

Hospitality vs. entertaining - "True hospitality is sacrificial, uncomfortable, and does not seek to impress others. Secular entertaining is a terrible bondage." Great reading.

Sermon illustrations are unnecessary - Sounds like my husband's preaching. Love it! (The post, and his preaching.)

For girls, on your secret sexual sin and Handling the guilt - Tim and Aileen Chester write about masturbation.

Homeschool blindspots - A (very good) homeschooling mother recommended this one. It made me sad. I'm sure you could write one for public and Christian schoolers too ...

Dealing with menopause - "I've clung to Him like never before through this crazy, mixed-up, hormones-out-of-whack season."

9 ways to become a more boring writer (funny and original) and How to write less badly (intriguing, especially the opening paragraphs)

If the word of the Wall Street Journal or World Magazine or Wired Magazine or David Brooks or David Letterman or David McCullough, or John Mayer or John Steinbeck or John Paul II or John Calvin or Richard Dawkins or Richard Branson or Richard Baxter or Bono or Bach or blogs (even this one) dwells in you more richly than the word of Christ, you’re poor.

You don’t need to be in the know.

You don’t need to be admired among the literati. You don’t need to be well traveled or well read. You don’t need to know how many Twitter followers Taylor Swift has. You don’t need to be politically articulate, or up on the mommy blogs or the young, restless and reformed buzz. You don’t need to see the movie. You don’t need to read the novel. You don’t need to look hip. Jon Bloom

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