Friday, September 27, 2013

online meanderings

Can I tell you about my friend Jesus? - Some reasons I love him.

The God of the ordinary - A very helpful post about miracles, providence, and God's action in the ordinary - one I could have done with over the last year or so.

My new role - An excellent post about why someone without young kids might choose not to work, and use their time well.

Caring for the caregiver - How to care for those who care for the chronically ill, disabled or elderly at home.

The crisis phone call - How should we respond when someone in crisis calls us?

The match - Showing grace to your children in the light of God's grace. Beautiful.

49 observations about preaching from Colin Buchanan, and 8 ways you might be losing people in your sermons.
God has not gone anywhere. Natural means are God’s ordinary way of working in the world and in our lives. Every time a cut heals naturally, God is the ultimate healer. The birth of a baby is not a miracle, but a splendid example of his providence that never fails to fill us with awe. Instead of detracting from God’s sovereignty, natural explanations—especially the more complex ones that display the obvious evidence of God’s design—should provoke wonder at God’s concern, wisdom, and loving involvement in every detail of our lives. Michael Horton

 Chew on one thinker you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch. Austin Kleon

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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

guest post: ideas to help you get praying when you're depressed

As promised in last week's guest post, here are the daily prayers of a pastor who struggles with depression. Katherine Orr says, "I’ve found this really helpful to read through and adapt when it’s too hard to pray my own prayers."  

Praise / Confession
  • All praise to you gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for your glory, holiness, power, love, compassion and faithfulness.
  • “You are my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.” [Psalm 18:2]
  • Thank you for the world you have created, for the way you sustain it.
  • Thank you for your overflowing love and mercy to us in sending Jesus to shed his blood on the cross and be raised in order that I may be cleansed of my sin. Thank you that because of that I can come and talk to you as a dearly loved child of God.
  • Thank you for the truth revealed by your Spirit in the Bible, for your gospel plan for the nations, for your church, for the hope of Christ’s return, and for the glory of your coming kingdom.
  • Thank you that you are unchangingly reliable.
  • Thank you that you are a rock to come back to again and again.
  • Thank you for never giving up on me and for the times when I see glimmers of hope and feel a lightness that reminds me of the hope of life without pain and suffering.
  • “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” [Psalm 139:23-24]

  • Heavenly Father, I trust that I am dearly loved by you, knit together by you and known by you, more intimately than I know myself.
  • I trust that you are “gentle and humble in heart” and that my weary soul finds lasting and perfect rest in you, through Jesus.
  • I trust your Word when it says “You hem me in, behind and before, and you lay your hand on me,” and that “you have engraved me on the palms of your hands.” I am safe with you.
  • I find it hard to understand and accept, but I trust that your grace is sufficient for me, that your power in made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9) and that you will bring glory to yourself through my life.
  • I trust that you will use the Bible to teach and transform me, and that you will hear and answer my prayers. I trust that Your words would be a tonic, good medicine that fights against the distorted thinking that comes with depression.
  • I trust that you will direct me to do the good works you have prepared for me to do with the wisdom, gifts, time, energy and health you have given me, and that you will help me to love and serve others as I’m able.
  • Today I offer myself to you, to serve you and honour you.

  • “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” [Psalm 55:22]
  • Heavenly Father, hear my prayer. All is dark in this valley I’m in. I feel useless, unloved, lost, rejected, tired and without hope. I wonder if this feeling of depression will ever lift. At times, I want to sleep and never wake up again. I have no hope but you. See my tears and hear my prayer, that I may again know joy.
  • Give me delight in you as the greatest treasure of my heart. Keep me desperate for you and acknowledging my full dependence on you in everything whether well or ill.
  • Help me to be discerning when things seem cloudy and vague. Work in me through your Spirit that I might be guided by Your light rather than my darkness.
  • Keep me hoping in you when joy is absent, my strength to fight is gone and I feel abandoned. Keep me trusting in your good purposes and in your wise, strong and loving hands to hold me securely in the palm of your hand. Help me to persevere when I want to give up and to look to what Jesus has done through his life, death and resurrection – forgiving us and giving us a living hope and bringing us into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept for us in heaven. Help me to keep believing this truth and hope objectively, even when my feelings tell me the opposite.
  • Help me to remember that none of my works contribute to pleasing you in a way that will cause you to love me more than you already do. Help me to repent and pray regularly. Help me to make every effort to pursue holiness, and to set my hope fully on the grace to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed.
  • Guard my tongue, and keep me from slander, lies, untruth and from causing unintentional hurt. Please rule my mind, heart, life, listening and speaking.
  • Give me self-discipline in eating, drinking, sleeping and exercising.
  • Help me to value good friends, yet not be too dependent on them. Please help me to be satisfied with your love and acceptance.
  • Help me persevere faithfully to the end in life.

The structure and some of the content of these prayers is thanks to Rev. Peter Adam

online meanderings

Scowling at the angel - A beautifully written testimony to a marriage full of sin and grace.

Courage in the ordinary - "I'm realizing that, for me, being in the house all day with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder than being in a war-torn African village." Encouraging.

Suffering service - I love the analysis of sin and suffering in this article on depression. 

Women need more than Proverbs 31 and Titus 2, they need the gospel context they come in. Some day I want to write a book about this. No, really.

6 reasons to bother with daily Bible reading and prayer "Many days it may seem mundane. But we will be surprised at the cumulative power they have to deepen our love for and awareness of him."

How to respond to the bombing of Christians in Pakistan

Dieting - or grace? - The key to change.

The life-cycle of happiness - Fascinating, if slightly depressing. Care for a spot of mid-life, anyone?
Your sorrow is all known to your loving, compassionate Savior; whose wisdom appointed it, whose love sent it, whose grace sustains it, and who will soothe and strengthen with His tenderest sympathy. - Octavius Winslow

Christians are not called to shuffle the decks with our sin. We don’t assume it’s here to stay. We don’t set up programs and practices to rubber-stamp our sin. We don’t expect our friends to only nod empathetically when we tell them that we spoke unkindly, ate greedily, or watched covetously. Even after we come to faith and our sin debt is fully and gloriously paid, we still have to attack sin. We still have to wake up every morning and fight it. Owen Strachan

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

online meanderings

How does God speak to us today? - An excellent article about guidance and how we hear God's voice.

Wise words about grief - "Pray as you can, and don't try to pray as you can't ... Do not try to hurry your way out of the inner weakness you feel ..." This and more from JI Packer.

How to mourn with parents of stillborn and miscarried children - So very helpful.

12 ways to lie about sexual sin - Evasions, excuses, and why they get us nowhere.

7 simple ways to get into the word - For busy mums and others.

Parenting does not create the child - Parenting: the last bastion of legalism.

Don't cancel that short term mission trip - Got me thinking...

Faith is not blind. Unbelief is blind (John 9:38–41). Jon Bloom

This life therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness;
not health but healing;
not being but becoming;
not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.
The process is not finished, but it is going on.
This is not the end, but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified
- Martin Luther

The constant evasion of emotional experience has created an immaturity which turns all experience into traumatic shocks from which the human being derives no strength or development, but neurosis. Anais Nin

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

what I'm reading: the difference between cause and purpose in the "why?" of suffering

I finished Nancy Guthrie's Holding on to hope a few weeks ago; a book written  after the loss of a daughter while facing the loss of a son.

Now I'm reading Hearing Jesus speak into your sorrow. Written 10 years later, it's perhaps a little less raw and a little more mature, but equally helpful.

Once again, I'd highly recommend this book as suitable to give to someone who's suffering. It's wise, biblical and comforting, a collection of reflections that can be read during your devotions.

So far, chapter 6 - "I have a purpose in your pain" - has been the most helpful chapter, for 4 reasons:
  • it has a clear, biblical explanation of God's sovereignty in suffering (one of the best I've read)
  • it explains why suffering is never punishment for a Christian's sin (I was surprised to find how common and painful the thoughts "I deserve this" and "I did something to cause this" are when you suffer)
  • it lists three truths about God that got Nancy through her suffering (very familiar ones to me)
  • it reframes the question "Why?" (in terms of purpose rather than cause).
It's the last one that stood out for me. Nancy Guthrie says,
Why? is the questions that seems to haunt most people who suffer deeply. In fact, many of us get stuck there. Until we get an acceptable answer to this question, we can't move forward.

In asking why, I think we really have two questions. We want to know what caused the suffering, as well as what purpose there is in it. We want to know what or who is responsible and then figure out if there was any good reason for it. ...

Honestly, I've come to think that looking for a specific answer to the question Why? is mostly an unsatisfying quest.

What we really are in search of is not an explanation but a sense of meaning. We want to know that there is some meaning and purpose in our losses - that they are not random or worthless.

God wants us to stop being stuck on figuring out the cause of our suffering so we can fulfill the purpose he has in our suffering.

What allows us as God's children to endure it is that while it's painful, we're confident it's purposeful. Never punitive. Never random. Never too harsh. Always out of love.
And then she outlines some of God's purpose in our suffering:
What's the purpose? God's desire is that "afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way" (Hebrews 12:11).

God is at work cutting away the dead places and destructive patterns in our lives so we can flourish and grow.

His purpose for your suffering and my suffering is that in the midst of it, we would put the work of God in our lives on display for the world to see.
Of course, there is still much that we won't understand in this life:
Sometimes God, in his goodness, draws back the curtain and shows us; we can see how he is using our loss in our lives or in the lives of those around us.

Other times we have to wait. Certainly we can never expect to see the complete purposes of God in this life.

That is where faith is required -

faith that God is working out all things for the good of those who love him,

faith that the day will come when what we can't see now will become clear,

faith that he will give us the grace we need to put his glory on display for the world to see.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

guess who's coming to dinner

Another writing prompt from my friend Meredith.

I read it, and think - a process that always takes a few weeks with me - "Hmmm... CS Lewis? JRR Tolkien? Marilynne Robinson? ..."

At this point my brain freezes over, and I realise, "Oh my goodness! I'm sitting at a table with a bunch of Intelligent, Knowledgable, Articulate people, of whom I am Completely And Utterly In Awe, and I have Absolutely Nothing To Say!"

And what on earth would I cook? And where's the beautifully set table? And the open fireplace? And the muted lighting?

And is that my kids arguing over a video game - oh, please children, couldn't it at least be a book? - over in the corner?

Performance anxiety about a purely hypothetical situation: a seven-word summary of me.

My mind shies away from this scenario and turns to a plaque that hung on the wall near the dining table when I was a child. A cut-glass rectangle with gothic lettering, it proclaimed:

Christ is the Head of this house,
the Unseen Guest at every meal,
the Silent Listener to every conversation.

Even that gave me some performance anxiety growing up.

But at least Jesus is used to our plain table with its simple food and ordinary conversation. And he's not talking over my head. He's talking to me.

And yes, I know I'm being very unfair to CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien and Marilynne Robinson. To whom I say, "It's not you. It's me."

This was written in response to Meredith's writing prompt.

online meanderings

Is there a place for older women in the church? - Post of the week. Wonderful.

I have seen God's grace in what they are and in what they could otherwise be.

Lay aside the weight of prideful comparison - You'll want to print out the list.

What does it mean to have a calling? - An article about vocation that encouraged me in my many roles.

Burnout - How to recognise it, what to do.

Seeing dragons - Why God gave us imaginations. Tony Reinke.

Parenting: it's never an interruption - A good and challenging read.

Time management skills are stupid - It's about energy, not time.

Why generation Y yuppies are unhappy - Green grass, unicorns and all.

The dispassionate theologian seems a most contradictory person.
- Wendy Alsup

Our life is a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives. It seems that there is no such thing as a clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness . . . But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us. Henri Nouwen

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

suggestions for the depressed Christian

These suggestions for the depressed Christian are from Katherine Orr, who has suffered from depression for many years. She kindly gave me permission to reprint them.*

1. Cry out to God. It sounds simple, but in the numbness, fatigue and oppressiveness of depression, it can actually be quite hard! Sometimes I’ve been able to talk and cry and pour out my feelings to God that way. Other times I’ve written things down, got frustrated, screwed up the paper, started again (or not), or done various bits of artwork to get that expression out. God knows how we’re feeling, but it’s good to get that anguish, confusion and sense of isolation out there. I think Job gives us a good example of crying out in anguish when he says: “When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn… My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope… I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:4,6,11)

2. Wait patiently and know that His grace is sufficient. If crying out to God has seemed hard to do, waiting patiently has seemed almost impossible! And yet, God’s Word tells us to “wait patiently” for him to answer. When I’ve felt desperate for relief, overwhelmed with hopelessness, surrounded by darkness, it’s been hard to believe that His grace is sufficient. But it is. The Bible is full of God’s people who have waited out long periods (decades!) of hardship before being restored or having a promise fulfilled. He never loses control of His plans and He never ceases to love and care for His people. His timing just doesn’t always match up with ours!

3. Keep hold of God’s promises. When I’ve been in the darkest periods, NOTHING has sustained me more that keeping hold of God’s promises from the Bible. Not that this has been any great achievement of my own. In His grace, even when He has felt far away and unreal, God has somehow kept me trusting in him, that He is who He says He is, that He still cares and forgives. This has been an amazing witness to the fact that God holds onto us even when we can’t hold onto him.

4. God understands my pain. Really?! Yup. God, who knew me before time, knit me together in my mother’s womb, and knows every word before my tongue has uttered it, knows what I’m going through. He also has a Son, who has walked in this world, faced all manner of temptation and anguish, and yet remained pure and endured the cross in order to give me hope of eternity through any suffering. Pretty awesome.

5. Try and plan to read something from the Bible each day. I’ve really struggled with this, but have benefitted heaps when I’ve managed it. I’ve realised that when I’m depressed, trying to do a Bible-in-a-Year plan is not in the realistic basket (!), so simple and achievable is the aim. I’m still working out how to do this helpfully. Matthias Media's Daily Reading Bible is my next plan to try, with the passage already written in the book, and pages undated so you don’t feel guilty getting behind if you miss a couple of days… or more… 

6. Write out helpful passages of the Bible. Memorising passages of Scripture has never been a strong suit of mine and through the long years of depression, this certainly hasn’t got any easier! Being regularly reminded of particular passages that encourage me has been really helpful in keeping God’s Word before me though. I’ve got lots of little verses written on post-it notes that have been stuck on the wall around my desk over the last few years. A number of these verses are listed in the list of verses below. Satan wants to take advantage of us when we’re weak so we need to use the truth of His Word to replace the unhelpful stuff that comes in because of mental illness. I’ve also found making a playlist of Christian hymns and songs helpful to play and force myself to hear God’s truth rather than my own gloom.

7. Pray. Again, this is really hard… Often, I’ve found myself saying: “I need to pray… I need to pray…” And then just blankness. A few years ago I was given a copy of the daily prayers of a pastor who struggles with depression and I’ve found this really helpful to read through and adapt when it’s too hard to pray my own prayers.* In the midst of post natal depression, I remember crying beside my sleeping children and using all that was in me to plead that God would keep them safe in His hands – short and through sobs, but probably some of the earnest prayers I’ve ever prayed! In other times when there has been little but a thread of faith, I’ve been overwhelmed and encouraged to remember these words:
The [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
The Spirit prays for us in perfect accordance with God’s will – how amazing!

8. Confess your sin regularly. And KNOW that He has forgiven you. One of the things I’ve found hard to make sense of through mental illness is what in my struggles can be attributed as “the illness” and what as sin. The negativity, lethargy, disinterest and withdrawal from people could be seen as a reflection of my “condition” but I realised in the end that it didn’t matter if I knew exactly how to define it all, God’s Word still tells me to repent and ask God regularly to forgive my sins. I found/find the last two verses of Psalm 139 a really helpful prayer for this.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. (Psalm 130:1–4)

9. Find a Christian friend who will stand by you and keep God’s truth being spoken into your life when you can’t do it for yourself. In my late teens, through a period when I wasn’t able to get to church in any sort of way for months and months, a group of three older women from church used to come around each fortnight or so to pray and read the Bible with me and my Mum in a low-key and unpressured way. To be honest, I didn’t always look forward to them coming as I got anxious about any sort of company, but they loved me so gently, lavishly and faithfully. I will always be grateful to God for these faithful friends keeping God’s truth before us in this regular way.

10. Try and keep some contact with your church. At one point, my Mum started taking me to a mid-week Bible talk at church. I could slip in the back and leave before anyone much noticed. It may not seem like the ideal – arriving late and leaving early (!) – but it got me hearing God’s Word and being with God’s people in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. Over time, I was able to be much more involved, but I’m really grateful that my Mum let me make those quick exits at the start!

11. Get outside into God’s world. Breathing some fresh air, getting some sunshine and going for a walk are all things that have helped in their way – although I still need a prod to do it!

12. Saying Yes and Saying No. As Christians, we’re called to love and serve at a cost to ourselves. I’m not to forget this in depression, but what is costly to me is probably going to look quite different to what is costly love to someone else. It is learning to do these things as we are able and praying for God’s wisdom in this. Sometimes to love best, we need to rest more – and say No to something else. I’ve found it really hard to get the rest I seem to need which is frustrating. Getting the right balance between rest and action can be tricky!

13. Talk with your GP if things aren’t improving. I’ve found it helpful to talk with a trusted Christian friend if I’ve been unsure or worried about a particular suggestion of medication or treatment. Originally I refused medication, but ended up without the choice when I went into a long period of terrifying dissociation. Finding the right medication certainly hasn’t been straightforward or without complications, but I’ve had to learn to trust God with it. Medication or talking therapies aren’t my Saviour – Jesus is! – but they have been helpful in keeping symptoms under control.

* Katherine Orr is from Cornerstone Church in Christchurch, New Zealand.
** I hope to publish these prayers soon.

You may also like to read:
Maddi's post on depression and self-harm
my list of ways to support someone who's depressed

image is from stock.xchng

Monday, September 16, 2013

what I'm reading: in sickness, what should I pray?

Because I believe his plans for me are better than what I could plan for myself, rather than run away from the path he has set before me, I want to run toward it. I don't want to try to change God's mind—his thoughts are perfect. I want to think his thoughts. I don't want to change God's timing—his timing is perfect. I want the grace to accept his timing. I don't want to change God's plan—his plan is perfect. I want to embrace his plan and see how he is glorified through it. I want to submit.
Nancie and David Guthrie lost two babies to Zellweger syndrome, a rare genetic disease. Their second child Hope only lived for six months, and it wasn't an easy life: "These babies are blind, probably deaf, unable to suck, coo, or respond in any intentional way".

Knowing that there was a one in four chance that any other child would have the disease, David underwent a vasectomy; but Nancy became pregnant, and prenatal testing showed that this baby would also die. They lost Gabriel at six months.

You can imagine that they were encouraged to pray for healing. I'm sure they did, and rightly so. But Nancy says - and I think she's right - that there are bigger and better things to pray for.
Often, I see the body of Christ put so much into pursuing God for healing. With great boldness and passion and persistence, we cry out to God, begging for physical healing. And in these prayers, there is often a tiny P.S. added at the end where we say, 'If it be your will.'

But shouldn't we switch that around?

Shouldn't we cry out to God with boldness and passion and persistence in a prayer that says, "God, would you please accomplish your will? Would you give me a willing heart to embrace your plan and your purpose? Would you mold me into a vessel that you can use to accomplish what you have in mind?" And then, perhaps, we could add a tiny P.S. that says, "and if that includes, healing, we will be grateful."

Isn't real faith revealed more through pursuing God and what He wants than by pursuing what I want?

We often hear people talk about the "victorious Christian life." But isn't the life of a Christian really more about bending the knee, humbling ourselves, and taking up a cross?

I don't know what the cross will look like for you. I just know it will require a death to your desires and your dreams to carry it. And it won't be easy.

But I also know that as you die to yourself. God's life will take root and grow within you.

Holding on to Hope 78-81.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

online meanderings

What binds up broken relationships - "We all desperately desire to locate our problems outside ourselves. Our greatest problem is inside of us and the only solution is outside."

26, unmarried, and childless - "Instead of asking me what’s next, ask me what’s now."

6 questions to print out and ask your spouse regularly - I love this idea.

9 lessons in how to break up with someone - An excellent post on a rare topic.

Sleeptide and the motor city - "At night, in the quiet, the hearts of my children lay just a bit more open. And their questions rise with the moon... " Breathtaking.

On the science of introversion and extroversion. - I'm fascinated by studies that show introverts prefer less stimulating environments. That's me.
I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages. Charles Spurgeon

We fear being weak and vulnerable and dependent, yet this is what God desires. God intentionally places us in positions were we must rely only on Him. When we see our weakness and inability to fix or change whatever has befallen us God rejoices! He says, “Yes, now you are getting it!” When your heart begins to look at what God wants to accomplish in the suffering is when you begin to grow wise, and when you let go of the independence and insistence that you can fix it is when we begin to grow and change. Julia Ganschow

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

Andy's lollipop stick

The other day, Andy couldn't think of anything to take for "Show and Tell" at school. So he took a lollipop stick that he found on the floor of the playroom.

I asked him what the class thought, and he said, "They laughed". I'm sure they did.

He told them all about the stick, what games he plays with it, and so on.

And he told them it's been on our floor for a year.

Okay, so his sense of time is a little off (he once said he had a cold for 3 years, when it was more like 3 days). But still.

This is becoming an ongoing theme.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

online meanderings

I didn't love my wife when we got married - A fantastic post on the lies we're sold about love.

When my ministry feels as small as the widow's two coins - Giving our all, even when we're scared, even when it's small.

Gifts or needs? - "Was I operating in a gift of mercy? Or was I operating in a gift of administration? What about healing? Shouldn't I have stopped to consider my spiritual gifts before offering to help?"

Romanticizing adoption - There is no such thing as adoption without suffering, whether it's ours or God's.

How to serve families with disability - "It frequently isn’t the “big things” that are sapping our strength and hope, but the constant little things that wear away at the foundations of our lives."

The introverted mother, her unique problems, and some solutions.

Why bother reading? - "Many evangelicals are suffering from malnourished imaginations. This impedes their ability to live coherently in the world."

On asylum seekers in Australia - A letter from Bishop Eugene Hurley to Tony Abott.
There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings. - Dostoyevsky

I definitely went through a period when I thought I would make the experiment of unbelief, and it lasted several months, and it felt so wrong. It was as if the ceiling of the universe had come down, so that it was just over my head. By attempting not to think in religious terms, the validity of religious terms came rushing back, and from that point on I dreaded the idea of the contracted universe. Marilynne Robinson (part of a great article)

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pride and Prejudice as a vlog and a board book

Last week I finished watching The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. I loved it!

It's a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, retold as a vlog. It came out last year, with 100 three minute episodes released over 50 weeks with lots of extras.

Lydia is unforgettable and very hard not to love; Mary and Charlotte are explored at greater depth than in the book; most of the characters are beautifully cast ... I will say no more.

If you're a Jane Austin fan, give it a go. If you're anything like most of my friends, you won't be able to stop watching it.

(Oh, and look our for Emma - they're bringing it out soon. I can't wait!)

While you're at it, check out this board book. The story of Pride and Prejudice in 10 words. Beautiful.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

when the struggle doesn't end, where is grace?

It took me a while to sort out the gold from this great little post, so I'm giving it to you here:
We like happy endings and success stories, so it's easy to think experiencing triumph is the epitome of the Christian life. The prayers were answered. The sin was conquered. The problem was solved.

But what if He chooses otherwise? What if the battle with sin is lifelong or the circumstances don't change? What if grace not only grants deliverance but gives patient endurance year after year?

Grace may not wear the champion's laurels, but be incognito, dressed in the plain clothes of the long-term struggles of life. God's grace is present and sufficient even when it's hiding in plain sight.

Oh Lord, give me eyes to see!

It's something I've been thinking about a lot recently.

God's grace is for endurance, not for escape. We like to share our success stories, but we also need to share our struggles and the fight to hold on to faith.

That's why I've been writing this series, even though it's sometimes painful.

You can read the rest of the article here. There's lots more gold in it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

online meanderings

God's grace in menopause (and no, that's not a hint). This is excellent, especially the 5 points at the end.

Strength in suffering - What it looks like to boast in Christ's sufficiency. Read it all if you love good writing.

5 lessons learned from a flood - On losing precious papers: "There is great joy in letting them go and trusting that the Creator and Restorer of all things will remember them."

Operation Christmas Child - Yup, it's time. Wendy gives some fantastic hints from someone who's been there, done that. And here's a detailed list of what to put in your box, from someone who works in the box processing centre.

Stop telling everyone how busy you are

Why I'm still not reading "50 shades of grey" - The impact of erotic fiction and pornography.

The entire history of the world on one chart - Amazing. A great teaching aid.
Contentment doesn’t mean I, or my suffering friends, am supposed to muster up a warm glow about all my circumstances, but it does mean that I am to live knowing that I am equipped, through Christ, to deal with them, and more, to do good in them. Ali, reflecting on Wendy Alsup

We want to know God’s will for our lives, especially when it comes to major life-ordering decisions. But interestingly, when we go to the Scripture for insight on discerning His will, we don’t find a lot about things to do, places to go, or people to meet. That’s because God’s will is not so much a place, a job, or a specific mate as it is a heart and a lifestyle. Nancy Leigh Demoss

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

what I'm reading: yes, I can trust him

Maybe you struggle with worry. Maybe you can see it's not getting you anywhere. Maybe you really want to trust God.

Maybe you pray, "Okay, I give up. I can't do it any more. I entrust the future to you."

Maybe you do this unwillingly, with gritted teeth.

You know he's sovereign. You know he's good. You know you're supposed to trust him. And so, knowing but not yet feeling, you give the future into his hands.

Then you read something. Or hear something. Or someone says
something. And suddenly it's okay.

Because now you know that the God who is in control actually cares for you. You knew it before, but now you really know it.

(Of course, you'll have to learn it again. Feelings come and go, but the truth stays the same.)

Here are some words that spoke to me recently. The bits in bold are the bits that jumped straight into my heart.
The King is extravagant. That is the good news for fearful people. Most fears link to our doubts about God's generosity and attention to detail. In response, God freely gives what is costly. And, as the true expert craftsman, he attends to every last detail. (Running Scared 108-9)

The reason we are called to lay up our treasures in heaven [rather than worrying about and pursuing treasures on earth] is because we are his treasures. When you are confident that you are the Father's treasured possession, you are also confident that his loving care will continue forever. (134)

God has not abandoned us any more than he abandoned Job. He never abandons anyone on whom he has set his love; nor does Christ, the good shepherd, ever lost track of his sheep. It is as false as it is irreverent to accuse God of forgetting, or overlooking, or losing interest in, the state and needs of his own people. If you have been resigning yourself to the thought that God has left you high and dry, seem grace to be ashamed of yourself. Such unbelieving pessimism deeply dishonours our great God and Saviour. (Knowing God 98)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

family catch-up (and a few photos)

Okay, so it took me a while to upload some of these photos, which means they're a little out of date. But no worse for that. 
Steve recently had one of those days. The kind of ministry day when you're doing the kind of ministry you really don't like doing. But mostly he loves his job. Our MOLDI (Meaning Of Life Discussed Intelligently) Dinners went well this term: lots of students brought friends along, and there were good discussions. Pray the conversations would continue. (And no, that's not Steve in the picture, but Andy does look a lot like him!)

I have had a much better term than last. Less doctors' visits, lower anxiety levels, and lots of happy hours jogging and swimming and walking and reading. I have to prioritise these things to overcome high stress and anxiety levels, which is a privilege more than a hardship. I also enjoy meeting with a few girls; so this term draws to an end with me very thankful to God.

Lizzy is ... well, it's hard to express the joy I get from having a teenage girl in the house. And they say the teen years are dreadful! Don't believe them. There are challenges, as with all ages; but this is a lovely age. It's great having the opportunity to develop a more "adult" relationship with your children. (The photos are of a "shop" she helped prepare for her little brother Andy.)

Ben is slowly, surely getting a little better. I thought he would run out of energy towards the end of term; but he actually has more cheerfulness and "bounce". It seems that an earlier bedtime (much to his disgust) and our every-day-at-school policy are starting to help him heal. He's missed a lot of Home Economics, so we do that at home.

Thomas just did his first piano exam (preliminary) and very well he did too. My mum recently knitted jumpers for all our kids; Thomas chose this beauty all by himself. That's big-and-little-brother on footy day on the right (you don't get to live in our house and not barrack for Carlton).
Andy is 7 years old, so I'm officially out of the "early childhood" phase. It's a strange feeling, but a good one, saying goodbye to one season of life and welcoming the next one. Here he is doing a science experiment for school and playing in the ocean in his $10.00 Savers wetsuit (we call him "Burgundy Man").

Friday, September 6, 2013

online meanderings

The ache of mortality - Is it just sentimentality, or the sign of something deeper?

Trials, testing, and hope - How hope is tested and proved by trials.

Singleness - Wise reflections.

How to vote as a Christian - Helpful tips from John Dickson.

8 conversation rules - For parties, bores, anyone!

A prayer for the forgotten church of Syria - Read, pray.

"Emotional sins" to raise your kids to avoid - A great list.

20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world - Fascinating.
Teach us to place our happiness in thee,
the blessed God,
never seeking life among the dead things of earth.
Valley of Vision
Tips for sharing Jesus:
1 Say you're a Christian straight away
2 Love the person more than the relationship
3 God talk
4 Pray for your friends and the opportunity to share
5 Memorize Romans 1:16
From my friend Belinda

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

book review: Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond

Some books grow inside you after you've read them. The little book Suffering Well, by Paul Grimmond, is like that.

I finished it a few weeks ago. It's prodded and poked me ever since, getting under my guard, helping me respond to suffering the way God wants me to. It's a bit like the Bible - not always easy, but encouraging in the old sense of "giving courage" - and that's a huge compliment.

Most books on suffering fit one of two categories:
  • they're theodicies - they try to answer our questions about why a good God allows suffering
  • they're experiential - they share stories of suffering and help us know how to respond.
This book explores new territory:
  • it starts with the Bible rather than with our questions and experiences.
God's interests are different to ours. The Bible doesn't answer all our questions, and when it does, it doesn't see things the way we expect. Even the author was surprised by what ended up in his book! He says,
As I began, I thought I knew pretty much what I was going to say. But the more I read the Bible, trying to find the right passages to make the points I thought I needed to make, the more uneasy I felt.
Like a bracing wind, this book blows away our assumptions and invites us to see things from God's perspective.

Suffering Well points out that even the questions we ask are shaped by our culture. Our worldview is influenced by athiests, the story-tellers of our age. If God is dead, we're free to decide what's right and wrong. We reduce morality to "goodness = whatever reduces suffering". So a God who allows suffering must be evil.

But God has an uncomfortable habit of turning our questions back on ourselves. God is God, and we are not. He is in control. When we see suffering, we see the sovereign hand of the God who will one day judge us.* He doesn't need to explain himself to us: we need to explain ourselves to him.

This sounds pretty unsatisfying: shut up and let God be God. But that's not all the Bible tells us. It shows us that God's character is consistent. He will judge justly, which is hugely comforting in a world where people do so much evil. He isn't capricious and cruel, but merciful and good.

Our experiences aren't a reliable guide to God's character: we have to look to Jesus. If God made the world knowing his own Son would suffer and die for us, we can be sure that he is good. When I doubt his goodness, there's one certain place I can look: the cross. This brought me great reassurance.

So much for the Bible's answers to our questions. What about how we respond to suffering?

Once again, Paul Grimmond puts the focus where the Bible does: he begins with two chapters on persecution. I resented this a bit. To be told that I should be willing to suffer more for Christ... well, that's not what someone in pain wants to hear. Yet it's the Bible's message, and I need it, just like every other Christian.

I appreciated the reminder that persecution isn't just physical: it's also rejection, silence, disapproval, and the feeling of being "out of step" with those around us. There's also a great little chapter about some of the more subtle forms of suffering that come with being a Christian, like watching those you love reject the truth.

But what about general suffering? The answer of the New Testament is that God uses suffering us to make us more like Jesus for the sake of his own glory. We're forced to ask ourselves, What will our attitude to suffering be? Will we grow weary and give up? Or will we keep on trusting in God? How will we bring him glory?

God calls us to do three things through our tears:
  • praise God (Job 2:9-10) - tell others of God's goodness, even as we mourn
  • do good (1 Pet 4:19) - respond with grace, even when it's painful
  • wait patiently (1 Thess 1:6-10) – rely on God's timing as we hold on to the hope of heaven.
I found it helpful to have clear, solid, biblical guidelines for how to respond to suffering.

This isn't a perfect book. It's short, and while I'm sure this was part of the brief, since it's part of the Guidebooks for Life series, sometimes I would have liked greater depth. You probably wouldn't give it to someone who was suffering unless they were at the point of being able to think clearly and dispassionately.

Yet it would be a great book to give to a young person to help prepare them for suffering. This is an essential and often overlooked part of teaching and training; as one missionary said, 'We need to teach people to suffer' (153). I also found it personally helpful, old and jaded as I am.

Suffering Well is simple enough to be easily absorbed and remembered, yet profound enough to help us live for God when we suffer. It's not a comfortable book, but it's full of true comfort. It challenged me to dare to suffer for Christ, and when suffering comes, to "trust in God and continue to do good". To suffer well.

*As Paul Grimmond points out, this doesn't mean that we can trace a person's suffering back to their sin, but that general suffering is a result of human sinfulness.

Monday, September 2, 2013

what I'm reading: the unspoken agreement

Right in the middle of her sorrow, having lost one child and knowing she was about to lose another, Nancy Guthrie wrote Holding On To Hope, a collection of short devotional reflections on the book of Job.

I've been reading it every morning after I read the Bible and pray. It's so helpful that I wish I'd had it twelve months ago - but all in God's good timing! It's a great book to give to someone who's suffering.

One of the strangest things about "big" suffering is that it makes you feel like you ought to be exempt from the "small" things. It was good to read this and know I'm not alone. (Nancy has just received a phone call that her son broke his front tooth:)
I took a deep breath and couldn't say anything for a minute. I guess it hit me in the area of my greatest fear - that this wouldn't be our only loss.

That night, as David and I talked about the day, we realized that we had both had an unspoken agreement with God that went something like this: "Fine. We will accept losing Hope and all that that brings. But we don't lose Matt. We don't lose each other. No car accidents. No cancer. No financial collapse. This is it!"

But as we voiced our deepest feelings and fears out loud, we realized that we had to let go of those things too. We needed to trust God with everything we had. We had to open ourselves and say, God, it is all yours to do with as you will! 

Some days I wonder if the letting go is ever going to stop. ...

We tend to think the money in our bank accounts and the possessions we have are ours—that we've earned them. That we deserve them. But the truth is, everything we have is a gift.

Do you think you "deserve" a certain lifestyle, a handsome and loving husband, or beautiful wife and healthy, easy-to-manage children? A high-paying, fulfilling career? What are you holding on to so tightly that you would blame God if he took it away tomorrow? ...

Would you welcome God to have his way with your possessions, your position, the people you love? Would you accept his promise that he can be enough?

Holding on to Hope 21-24 (see the excerpt here)