Monday, February 25, 2013

online meanderings

Yep, it's been a while. And no, I'm not planning to do these super regularly any more. But I'd still like to keep track of some of the good links I come across, for your sake and mine. Here's a batch from the last few months of catch-up reading.

Do you know your neighbour's names? - This is challenging, helpfully so.

The greeters - 5 ways to make visitors feel welcome to your church

How do I give my kids the edge? - Not what you might expect... but very helpful. It's good to see Jenny writing for Growing Faith.

Evangelism as a mum - Completely inspiring: an idea for helping others get to know Jesus.

How could God command genocide in the Old Testament? - Helpful reflections by Justin Taylor.

Nothing ever just "slackens off" unless you actually do something about it and Keep a lazy diary - Wisdom from Deb and Meredith.
I bought some joy, but then I dropped it down the stairs. If my idol can be destroyed by falling down a flight of stairs, I probably ought to aim a little bit higher. I need to elevate my joy to something bigger, something better, and something higher. Challies

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

what's the point of marriage? (2) marriage looks upward: John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage

The ultimate thing we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory. That is, it exists to display God… The highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display.1
“What is marriage for?” asks John Piper in This Momentary Marriage. He answers that marriage doesn’t primarily look inward to the wellbeing of the relationship, nor even outward to the good of society or the world.2 Its ultimate movement is upward, for it was made to display the love between Christ and his people (Gen 2:18-25 cf. Eph 5:21-33). As we keep covenant with our spouse, serve them in love, and give them grace, we tell “the truth about God’s covenant with us in Jesus Christ”.3 This is a vital perspective on marriage, and I’m glad Piper devoted a book to it; as his wife Noel says, “You cannot say too often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church”.4

I always enjoy Piper’s lyricism and logic, but his books can sometimes be a little daunting. Not this one! It’s a short and easy read, and while it emphasizes eternal realities, it’s very practical. I particularly enjoyed chapter four, on forgiveness and forbearance and how to bend God’s grace towards one’s spouse; and chapter eight, on submission, which gave me a vision for the strong faith at the heart of biblical womanhood; and chapter nine, about the great truths displayed uniquely by singleness.

The book is a little meandering, but there are gems in the tangents. For example, the chapter on hospitality includes wise pastoral advice encouraging married and single people to share their lives. I won’t be the only one who differs from Piper on divorce and remarriage, and I would have liked to ask further questions about issues like the duty of procreation, but these are small quibbles.

So would I recommend This Momentary Marriage? Yes. It’s a great starting-point for understanding how both marriage and singleness display eternal realities, and what one’s role in this should be. It’s also rich food for mature marriages; my husband and I read it together and were helped to love each other better. But I wouldn’t stop here. To explore the marriage relationship more deeply, I’d turn to a book by American pastor and theologian Timothy Keller....

I'll tell you about Keller's book next week, or you can read about it in my full article The Briefing.

1. John Piper, This Momentary Marriage, Crossway, Wheaton, 2009, p. 25.
2. ibid., pp. 177-8.
3. ibid., pp. 25-26.
4. ibid., p. 42.

Friday, February 22, 2013

thoughts on suffering

Some very helpful (and brief!) thoughts on suffering from The Proclamation Trust.
  1. God is infinitely sovereign and kind, even in the midst of difficulty when it doesn't seem like it. 
  2. God is the only One who is control of my life and to desire control is, in effect, to desire to be God. 
  3. To be conformed to Christ who was bruised, necessitates being bruised ourselves. 
  4. It is a good thing to consider [one's own] death. 
  5. It is good not to cross bridges until you have to cross them. 
  6. Physical illness is part of a much bigger spiritual battle. 
  7. God is more interested in building character than giving us explanations. 
  8. The local church is a wonderful instrument in the Redeemer's hands. 
  9. Above all else, guard your heart. 
  10. The weight of glory far outweighs any number of momentary afflictions.
Might cut these out and stick them over my sink.

(These are from late last year - I'm still catching up on my blog reading - but no worse for that.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

choosing a school (2) how we did it

Choosing a school  is a huge decision - and a scary one! I'm often asked how we did it.

Here are the steps I go through when choosing a school.

1. I visit the local schools
  • I call in advance and ask for a tour.
  • I ask to visit on a normal school day (not an open day, when everything and everyone has been prepared!).
  • The principal is incredibly important in shaping a school's culture. Make a time to get to know them. Bonus points if they take you on the tour.
(Do this well ahead of time - a year, two years. You want time to think.)

2. My goal is to observe and get a "feel" for the school. 
As I look around, I ask myself questions like these:
  • do the kids look happy? Are they engaged and interested? Are they polite and well-behaved? Are they friendly? Do they smile and make eye contact?
  • how do the kids talk to the teachers? How do the teachers talk to the kids? What about the principal? I was very impressed when our principal greeted the kids we ran into by name, and they responded enthusiastically.
  • how does the school see itself? e.g. as a professional environment with lots of programs (nice but not necessary) or as a community school with lots of local involvement (this ticks the boxes for me)
It's amazing how much you can pick up about the "feel" of a school from a single visit, and how accurate this generally proves to be. (If you're not good at "feel", maybe take someone with you who is.)

3. I ask lots of questions. 
I write them down on a sheet and ask them all, even if it's tiring! Questions like:
  • what would you say if someone asked you, "Why should I send my kids to this school?" 
  • how do you handle discipline issues? Bullying?
  • how do you cater for kids at both ends of the learning spectrum?
  • how would you feel about a Christian group running at lunchtime?
  • etc etc etc... 
You can find lists of questions like this online. Print them out, add your own, and take them along. Never be embarrassed to ask!

Oh, and don't set too much store by local rumours.
You'll hear all kinds. Listen, but make up your own mind. You know your kids and what you're looking for!

Now it's over to you. How did you choose your kids' school? Any other suggestions?

Tell us here.

Next time I'll give you some examples.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Couch to 5K: anyone want to join me?

I just finished my first 20 minute jog ever! It's week 6 of Couch to 5K.

At the end of this post, I'm going to invite you to join me.
I swore I'd never jog, but this being the year of more exercise, I gave it a go, using the iPhone app. And - surprise! - I love it.

My legs are a little tired (I've just had a week's break due to illness). But the rest of me feels just fine.

Better than fine. Fantastic!
  • I feel fitter (well, duh). Healthier. Stronger. 
  • It's exhilarating. I feel happier. Less anxious. 
  • My posture is better. I get less tired walking, or even standing. 
  • I've rediscovered my waist, and (oddly) my biceps.
  • My heart and lungs are stronger. As I jog longer distances, I can feel my breathing deepening and slowing down.
  • I even feel the heat of this very hot summer less!

And (did I mention this?) it's actually FUN! Yes, hard - there have been weeks when I thought, "I'll stop right here" - but fun.

Couch to 5K is a very well-designed program.

Every time I go off-program - take it more slowly, or double up on a day - I realise I was actually ready for the next step.

Sometimes you feel like you can't go any further, but on the whole you make slow, steady progress, and surprise yourself with how good you feel.

So does anyone want to join me?

Let me know in the comments if you'd like to do Couch to 5K. Tell me when you want to start. 

And I'll post a little diary of my experience each week to accompany you along the way.

image is by Ed Yourdon at flickr

Monday, February 18, 2013

what’s the point of marriage? (1) introduction

Last year I read lots of books on marriage! I reviewed three of them for The Briefing. Here's what I found.

There’s nothing like a bunch of marriage books to make your head spin. Mostly I avoid them—too many guilt-producing suggestions about the ‘must-dos’ of a relationship—but I’ve been writing a seminar on the topic, so it was time to hit the books.

What I found intrigued me. There’s little agreement amongst respected theologians about the why of marriage. They agree on the what—marriage is a life-long covenant between a man and a woman—and if you’re interested in the how, just head for the groaning shelf of your nearest Christian bookshop. But the how is just an empty handful of rules and tips without the why to give it shape and meaning.

So why did God make marriage? Traditionally, marriage was seen as having three purposes. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer says,

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord…

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication…

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other…1

Children, sexual purity, and mutual help. These are biblical goals, and a helpful corrective to our romance-saturated view of marriage—but you can sense they all point to a greater goal. Christopher Ash says, “We need one unifying purpose of God to hold our thinking together.2 What, ultimately, is marriage for?

In my reading, there were three books on marriage that I thought came closest to answering this question: John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage, Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, and Christopher Ash’s Married for God.They look in different directions to find the purpose of marriage—one upward, one inward, and one outward. Let’s consider them in turn...

You can read the rest at The Briefing.

1. Phillip Jensen gives a helpful perspective on how these goals have changed over time in ‘The Devolution of Marriage’ at
2. Christopher Ash, Married for God, InterVarsity Press, Nottingham, 2007, p. 31.

Friday, February 15, 2013

a gluten free pie that really works

Lizzy made this beautiful gluten free pie last night and it actually worked! No way I would have tried it - I don't make pastry, let alone gluten free pastry - but Lizzy is an enthuasiastic cook.

So we hunted up these instructions from The Art of Gluten-Free Baking. They explain it all, even for baking dummies like me. It's actually easier to make than normal pastry - the instructions tell you why.

(We took out the sugar and added a bit of salt to make a savoury crust. Oh, and forget the fancy flours - we used a standard mixed gluten free flour - though this may change how much water you need.)

And away she went:
 We blind-baked the base using the white casserole dish in the picture above to weigh it down (it tells you how here).

I made the filling from this chicken and leek pie recipe. (Cut down the butter and maybe use milk instead of cream, plus some cornflour to thicken. Oh, and I added a little white wine, whole-seed mustard, plenty of garlic and chicken stock for flavouring.)

We added the top layer, painted it with egg, and pierced it in a few places. I pinched the edges (funny how these old skills come back to you) and Lizzy added a heart for Valentine's Day. Then into the oven.

Here it is. The chicken and leek filling was sensational, and the pastry worked a treat.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

reading Leviticus

I’m reading the Bible through, chronologically this time. I’ve just got to Leviticus: the shoal that’s wrecked a million Bible reading plans (at least, it did mine when I was a teenager). Once again, as I read this hard part of God’s word, it seeps into my skin and reshapes my insides.

There’s something beautiful about Leviticus. Sometimes, like those 3D pictures, you have to blur your eyes to see it. As you persevere through the bewildering details (split hooves? a sore with white hairs in it? two materials woven into one?) you begin to sense the outlines. Laws that protect life and relationships. Laws that forbid detestable practices and depraved worship. Laws that uphold justice and provide for the poor.1

There’s also something terrifying about Leviticus. It opens with sacrifice upon sacrifice, described in brain-numbing detail. (As I read, I feel my mind glaze over. I pull my attention back to the page.) Blood must be shed, atonement made. For in the midst of his wayward people God has put up his tent, his palace. Infinite in size, the universe his footstool, he rules from a hidden, golden throne.

To serve such a God comes at enormous cost. The disabled are excluded from the priesthood, those with discharges can’t enter God’s tent, and the diseased live outside the camp (Lev 13:1-15:33, 21:16-23). There is food that cannot be eaten, first-born and first-fruits set aside, the best of the herd given in offering (Lev 11:1-47, 22:17-25, 23:9-14, 27:26). Everything is affected: the shape of the year, mourning for the dead, a woman’s period (Lev 15:1-33, 19:28, 23:1-44). Every moment repeats,
You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. (Lev 19:2).
Who can live up to such a law? Who can live up to such a God? Who among us has never endangered or slandered his neighbour (Lev 19:16)? Who has never lied or stolen (Lev 19:11)? Who has never sinned unintentionally, habitually, without even noticing (Lev 4:1-6:7)? Who doesn’t put her own needs before others (Lev 19:18)? Who doesn’t allow what he loves to steal his heart from God (Lev 19:4)?

Repetitive, relentless, Leviticus drives the point home: God is holy, made of different stuff from us. To be his people, we must be holy, set apart, pure, clean, all the things we cannot and will never be.

It’s easy to forget the gospel. We’re told to be gospel-minded and gospel-hearted, but it slips away from me, time after time. I feel secure because I’m not doing a bad job of things today. I slide into despair because I can’t live up to the pathetic standards I set myself. I think of Jesus’ death, and it seems an irrelevance, a song once loved but now forgotten, wiped from my iTunes list.

Leviticus won’t let me forget. Like a dark sky that makes the morning shine more brightly, it reminds me that the gospel means something. That this holy God can’t be approached by someone like me. There’s no hope that I could waltz into his presence. What’s in store is not a welcome but a fire (Lev 10:1-20).

Leviticus helps me to see. It’s scattered with stars, small pictures of the dawn. When Jesus comes, he keeps every one of those pesky laws. He touches those who are unclean and – how this should surprise us! – they become clean (Matt 8:1-4 cf. Lev 5:2-3). He carries the sacrifice of himself and walks boldly into God’s heavenly tent, where he offers priestly prayers for our forgiveness (Heb 7:23-28, 9:11-10:25). He does what I can’t do, and I dare take it for granted, let my eyes glaze over, let it slip away.

I’m half-way through Leviticus when I take a walk along the beach. Waves pound the shore after a storm, reminding me that the Creator of all this is holy, different beyond knowing. To glance at him is to be incinerated by his glory. Even the smallest of sins keeps me from him, and sin runs through me like veins in a rock.

I taste the word “Father” on my tongue, and all at once it feels like a miracle. I barely dare say it, even as I know I must say it. For this – this passage into the throne room, this invitation to speak with God, this unchanging welcome – this is the privilege that Jesus won for me.

1. This became clear to me as I was reading Leviticus chapters 18-20. The other references are from chapters 11, 13 and 19:19.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by natematias at flickr

Monday, February 11, 2013

choosing a school (1) why our kids go to local schools

Sometimes I'm asked about our children's schools:
  • What kind of school did we choose (local, Christian, private, homeschooling)? Why?
  • How did we choose our kids' schools?
Today I'll answer the first question; next time, the second.

We send our kids to local schools, both primary and secondary.

We want to be part of our local community. We want to get to know local families, share our lives with them, pray for them, and chat with them about what we believe.

We want our children to learn to live in a non-Christian world. We want to equip them to relate to and reach out to their classmates, who are from all kinds of backgrounds and religions. We want to talk with our kids about the issues raised by secular philosophies and practices.

We have friends we greatly respect who school their kids differently, and I can see the advantages. Given different circumstances, we'd make a different decision. But local is our preference.

You might also like to read
Here are some great posts about why other families went local:

Now it's over to you. What kind of schooling did you choose? Why? 

Tell us here. 

Next time I'll talk about how we chose our kids' particular schools.

image is by UGArdener at flickr

Monday, February 4, 2013

what I'm reading: Tim Keller, inferiority complexes, and King's Cross

I've been reading Tim Keller's King's Cross for nearly a year, and I'm only 8 chapters in. Who says I'm a fast reader?

Some books need to be read slowly. Savoured, one chapter at a time.

Once a month or so, on my rare mornings off, I sit on a verandah outside my favourite cafe, overlooked by oak trees, sipping a spiced chai, reflecting and writing and staring into space.

And I read a single chapter of King's Cross - Tim Keller's exploration of the life of Jesus - and drink in every word.

I forget the gospel so quickly, but this book brings me back to the living water time after time.

Last Friday I recognised myself in these words:
See, there are two ways to fail to let Jesus be your Saviour. One is by being too proud, having a superiority complex—not to accept his challenge. But the other is through an inferiority complex—being so self-absorbed that you say, “I’m just so awful that God can’t love me.” That is, not to accept his offer.
I can be in either camp, depending on the day! But the second comes to me more naturally - and is harder to recognise.

So I love John Newton's words to a depressed man, quoted by Keller:
You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness. Well, you cannot be too aware of the inward and inbred evils you complain of, but you may be (indeed you are) improperly controlled and affected by them.
You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. You, then, not only express a low opinion of yourself (which is right!) but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer, which is wrong.
You complain about sin, but when we examine your complaints, they are so full of self-righteousness, unbelief, pride, and impatience that they are little better than the worst evils you complain of!
Keller concludes,
Approach Jesus boldly, with rightless assertiveness [I love that phrase!]...Take up both the offer and challenge of God's infinite mercy.
I'm learning to do just that.

Quotes are from Tim Keller, King's Cross, 90-91.

Friday, February 1, 2013

starting school

Here they are, all ready to start school.

Lizzy, beginning year 9, wondering if she will make friends in her electives, looking forward to subjects like Design and Food Tech, already missing the holidays, learning what it means to be a Christian, ready to live for Jesus at school.

Ben, starting secondary school, a little apprehensive about making friends and migraines (he got one half-way through the first day of school), but "energised" (his word) by the thought of this brave new world where he gets to study science, history and geography.

Thomas, all set for grade 4, looking forward to having his best friend in his class again, constantly surprising me with his affectionate, considerate, helpful nature.

Andy, heading into grade 1, so cute with those two front teeth missing, facing school with his special brand of independence, determination, thoughtfulness, and friendliness.

I love the various stages of our children's lives. I'm enjoying (though a little exhausted by!) the in-depth 10 o'clock chats with adolescents, and the way their minds are unfolding and their faith growing. I revel in the cuddles and morning nestling of the little ones, knowing they will grow up all too soon.

We make our way through worries and tantrums and whinging and arguments. We face sickness and doubts and rebellion and repentance. We teach the Bible and try to model godliness (and often model complaining and grumpiness instead) and pray, pray, pray for our children - so many prayers!

They are growing, and they are growing well. And for that I give thanks.