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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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

a question for you about reading out loud to kids

A friend asked this question on Facebook:

"Now I've finished reading The Hobbit out loud to my children, what should I read to them next?"

I'd love to hear your ideas.

What are your favourite books for reading out loud?

Tell us here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

CS Lewis on books and reading

This one's for lovers of CS Lewis and books.

Here are CS Lewis' thoughts on novels, the hard work of reading, the benefits of re-reading, and the joy of writing in books.

You'll also find some reflections on Tolkien, Tolstoy, William Morris, George MacDonald, and more.

These quotes are from the letters of CS Lewis to Arthur Greeves.

(And by the way, I love novels. You'll know why I said that in a second...)
The most interesting thing that has happened to me since I last wrote is reading War and Peace ... It has completely changed my view of novels. Hitherto I had always looked on them as rather a dangerous form - I mean dangerous to the health of literature as a whole. I thought that the strong 'narrative lust' - the passionate itch to 'see what happened in the end' - which novels aroused, necessarily injured the taste for other, better, but less irresistible, forms of literary pleasure; and that the growth of novel reading largely explained the deplorable division of readers into low-brow and high-brow - the low being simply those who had learned to expect from books this 'narrative lust', from the time they began to read, and who had thus destroyed in advance their possible taste for better things. I also thought that the intense desire which novels rouse in us for the 'happiness' of the chief characters (no one feels that way about Hamlet or Othello) and the  selfishness with which this happiness is concerned, were thoroughly bad (I mean, if the hero and heroine marry, that is felt to be a happy ending, though everyone else in the story is left miserable: if they don't that is an unhappy ending, though it may mean a much greater good in some other way). Of course I knew there were tragic novels like Hardy's - but somehow they were quite on a different plane from real tragedies. Tolstoy, in this book, has changed all that. (410)
On hard work in reading, light books, and re-reading:
I know well from experience that state of mind in which one wants immediate and certain pleasure from a book, for nothing - i.e. without paying the price of that slight persistence, that almost imperceptible tendency not to go on, which, to be honest, nearly always accompanies the reading of a good book. Not only accompanies by the way, but actually makes part of the pleasure. A little sense of labour is necessary to all perfect pleasure I think. ...When I am in that state of mind I want not so much a grown-up "light" book (to me usually the hardest of all kinds of reading) as a boy's book; - distant lands, strange adventures ... Perhaps re-reading an old friend ... is the best of all. I don't think you re-read enough - I know I do it too (436) much. (10/1/1932 435)
On writing in complex books:
Too enjoy a book like that [Froissart's Chroniques] thoroughly I find I have to treat it as a sort of hobby and set about it seriously. I begin by making a map on one of the end leafs: then I put in a genealogical tree or two. Then I put a running headline at the top of each page: finally I index at the end all the passages I have for any reason underlined. I often wonder ... why so few people make a hobby of their reading in this way. Many an otherwise dull book which I had to read have I enjoyed in this way, with a fine-nibbed pen in my hand: one is making something all the time and a book so read acquires the charm of a toy without losing that of a book. (Feb '32, 438)
On JRR Tolkien,William Morris and George MacDonald:
Since term began I have had a delightful time reading a children's story which Tolkien has just written. I have told of him before: the one man absolutely fitted, if fate had allowed, to be a third in our friendship in the old day, for he also grew up on W. Morris and George Macdonald. Reading his fairy tales has been uncanny - it is so exactly like what we would both have longed to write (or read) in 1916: so that one feels he is not making it up but merely describing the same world into which all three of us have the entry. Whether it is really good (I think it is until the end) is of course another questions: still more, whether it will succeed with modern children. (4/2/33, 449)
On Morris, death and paradise:
If ever you feel inclined to relapse into the mundane point of view - to feel that your book and pipe and chair are enough for happiness - it only needs a page or two of Morris to sting you wide awake into uncontrollable longing and to make you feel that everything is worthless except the hope of finding one of his countries. But if you read any of his romances through you will find the country dull before the end. All he has done is to rouse the desire: but so strongly that you must find the real satisfaction. And then you realise that death is at the root of the whole matter, and why he chose the subject of the Earthly Paradise, and how the true solution is one he never saw. (422)

Friday, October 25, 2013

an ombre cake for Lizzy's 15th birthday

A girl about to turn 15. A grandma keen to help out. Put them together. What do you get?
Ombre cake!

There are two words I never thought I'd see in one sentence. I didn't know such a thing existed until a few weeks ago. In fact, I'd never heard of the word "ombre" until my much-more-fashionable-than-me girl brought the word to my attention in relation to hair styles.

Doesn't it look glorious?
Each layer is a different flavour: vanilla, caramel, choc-caramel, chocolate. They're sandwiched together with caramel, and topped with chocolate cream icing.
My mum used the recipe here and substituted dark brown sugar for brown sugar in the caramel layer, which tasted just like sticky date pudding. That layer alone will inspire a caramel cake soon, it was so yummy.
And here's my girl, 15 years old!! I can hardly believe it. Seems like only yesterday that a plump baby with dark hair and midnight-blue eyes was lying in my arms for the first time.

We sit on the couch together every morning, read our Bibles, and pray. We cook together and talk about life and occasionally *cough* even argue. We're the only two girls in a house full of boys, and we're good mates, and did I mention we're going away for a mother-daughter weekend soon?

So glad God answered my prayers for a daughter - Please? Just one?? - all those years ago.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

online meanderings

I'm a Christian and my house just burned down - A thoughtful piece written after the Blue Mountains fires.

Disappointment by design - Why God built disappointment into creation.

Is chastity possible? - A realistic look at the sexual struggles of singles - and marrieds.

And some numbers ...

10 worldly things Christians do when dating - This is really helpful.

7 arrows for Bible reading - A simple method for reading the Bible that's right up there with the Swedish method and COMA.

4 reasons the gospels could not be legend

9 hints for welcoming people into church

18 things I will not regret doing with my kids

10 very readable books by the Puritans - Start with the Sibbes book at the top - it's brilliant.
Never stop being a student. Morning after morning, bow your head and humbly pray – “Lord, please teach me your way.” Paul Tripp

Every Christian has a redemption story. Whether you are saved from cocaine addiction or a prideful heart, from deep in a prison cell or the comfort of your suburban home, your story is filled with grace. If we can't see the beauty of a redemption story, the problem isn't with the story: the problem is with us. JF Arnold

If we’re honest, we’re all hungry. We’re starving for something to sustain us. If we’re not careful, we easily slip into aims that rob us of life, aims that promise much and ultimately deliver very little — selfish gain, lustful thoughts, godless obsessions, excessive consumption, restless laziness. These aims may be easy and temporarily pleasing, but they only leave us hungrier. What our souls need is God. Marshall Segal

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

how to read a Christian book (2) choosing what to read

Last week I talked about how to get going with Christian reading. But how should you choose what to read? Here are some tips. 

Choose books well, and know when to give up
Tony Reinke calculates that, for every book you read, you ignore 10,000 other books; so choose what you read with care. Feel free to stop reading if a book is doing you no good: a helpful rule is to stop after "100 pages minus your age", as you'll become more discerning with time.1 Get out of your comfort zone, and read a range of books: high and lowbrow; secular and Christian; biographies and letters; non-fiction and fiction; old and modern. If you're not sure what to read, ask a reader you respect for a list of recommendations.

Read several books at once, or stick to one - it's up to you
The world of keen readers is divided into those who read one book at a time and those who read lots at once. Some people find that sticking to one book aids concentration and speed; but I love having several books on the go, because different books work well for different times. There's the novel that puts me to sleep (in a good way). There's the theological book I read when I have a fresh brain and a spare half hour. There's the collection of reflections that demands a cup of tea and a quiet ten minutes. Which brings me to my next point ...

Know why you read - and let the "why" shape the "how"
There are four main reasons I pick up a Christian book, and each demands a different pace and style of reading. Think of these as four parts of a balanced Christian reading diet, with the Bible at the foundation.2 Often, I have a book from each category on the go. I read:
  • to sharpen my thinking. I read carefully, pencil in hand, with my critical hat on. I ask questions of the text, note down the main points, try to work out where the author is going, and compare what I'm reading with other books on the topic. 
  • to drink in the truths of the faith. Every year I try to read at least one book on the cross of Christ or the character of God. I read a chapter on my mornings off, meditatively and receptively, allowing what I read to shape how I think and feel.3
  • to help me live out my faith: for example, books on holiness, evangelism, suffering, work, or relationships. I try to read from a book like this at least once a week and prayerfully apply it to my life.4
  • to deepen reflection. Good devotional books; biographies and autobiographies; collections of letters; wise reflections; fiction and poetry: all have their place, and the best deserve to be savored slowly.5
To use a helpful category of Reinke's, the first and third categories are books that "push you out" into new ways of thinking and living; the second and fourth, books that "pull you in", that you drink in for their own sake.6 It's good to read both kinds.

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

  1. Your reading should also include secular books, both fiction and non-fiction, but that’s beyond the scope of this post. 
  2. Because this style of reading is less critical, you’ll want to take more care with your choices. Favourite books I’ve read in this category include John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, JI Packer’s Knowing God, and Tim Keller’s Jesus the King. 
  3. This is a category you want to be careful about, as there are so many poor Christian living books out there. The best authors in this category are gospel centred writers like Jerry Bridges, Tim Chester, Ed Welch and Elyse Fitzpatrick. See my post The dangers and delights of books about personal change
  4. Some of my favourite authors in this category include Nancy Guthrie and Paul Tripp (devotional books); Naomi Reed (autobiography); CS Lewis (letters); and Marilynne Robinson (fiction). 
  5. Tony Reinke, Lit!, pages 111-112.

online meanderings

Can I really do nothing to make God more pleased with me? - A good answer to a good question.

When life feels overwhelming - A great post for mums and others.

Thankful for those who serve us -  I'll never think of public toilet cleaners the same way again.

Emotions: thinking about what we feel - Why it's okay to feel sad, and how to tell when it becomes problematic.

Scared of being ordinary? - There is meaning in mundane tasks, from budgeting to changing nappies to lunch with a friend.

Tell your daughter she is beautiful

6 questions we should ask ourselves before posting on social media

A concise theology of voluntary, principled book purging - I enjoyed this.
Death is an outrage, an illegitimate boundary. It is nasty and brutish. But the captain of our salvation has burst through that boundary and come out on the other side. His death was agonizing but it could not hold Him. Ours will no doubt be terrible and traumatic. But because of Christ, death will not hold us either. Carl Trueman

The true gift that the best stories give is that they scribble onto children's hearts, though perhaps in whispers and parables, the shape and flow of the Great Narrative, the 'True Myth', into which God's people through Christ are most wondrously woven, and which promises a resolution beyond any imagining. Cath

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Monday, October 21, 2013

highlights from the letters of CS Lewis

Last week I told you about CS Lewis' letters to his childhood friend Arthur Greeves. Here are some brief excerpts.
Whatever you do, never allow yourself to get a neuroses...But it can be avoided. Keep clear of introspection, of brooding, of spiritualism, of everything eccentric. Keep to work and sanity and open air - to the cheerful and the matter of fact side of things. We hold our mental health by a thread: and nothing is worth risking it for. Above all beware of excessive dreaming, of seeing yourself in the centre of a drama, of self pity, and, as far as possible, of fears. (1923)

Beware of holidays. ... I speak feelingly for, having felt it my duty to drop work here and devote myself entirely to holidaying with the others (heaven knows I did it for the best) I am at present suffering from all the spiritual consequences of idleness. (April 1930, 348)

It was horrid to be in a city again. As Field said 'After training ourselves for the last few days to notice everything we have now to train ourselves to notice nothing.' (29/4/30, 353)

I felt that sort of melancholy which comes from going through the same scenes through which you walked with a friend ... Mixed with this melancholy, however, there was the freshness of solitude which itself feels like a friend revisited. (1/6/30, 354)

Now that [my brother] is with us I don't get enough solitude: or so I say to myself in excuse, knowing all the time that what God demands is our solution of the problem set, not of some other problem which he ought to have set: and that what we call hindrances are really the raw material of spiritual life. (24/12/30, 398)

It has done me good to be with him: because while his idea of the good is much lower than mine, he is in so many ways better than I am. I keep on crawling up to the heights and slipping back to the depths: he seems to do neither. There always have been these two types. (10/1/31, 401)

I suppose that when one hears a tale of hideous cruelty anger is quite the wrong reaction, and merely wastes the energy that ought to go in a different direction: perhaps merely dulls the conscience which, if it were awake, would ask us 'Well? What are you doing about it?' (17/1/31, 404)

Delight is a bell that rings as you set your foot on the first step of a new flight of stairs leading upwards. Once you have started climbing you will notice only the hard work: it is when you have reached the landing and catch sight of the new stair that you may expect the bell again. (8/11/31 430)

I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion - which raises its head in every temptation - that there is something else than God - some other country into which He forbids us to trespass - some kind of delight which He 'doesn't appreciate' or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it. The thing just isn't there. Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. (12/9/33, 465)

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own', or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life - the life God is sending one day by day. (20/12/43 499)

Don't imagine I doubt for a moment that what God sends us must be sent in love and will all be for the best if we have grace to use it so. My mind doesn't waver on that point: my feelings sometimes do. (2/7/49, 514)

Perhaps it is a good thing that troubles never come singly. Any one of my present woes would possibly affect me more if it was the only one. At any rate, when life gets very bad (do you find?) a sort of anaesthesia sets in. There is at least a mercy in being always tired: it takes the edge off things. (21/8/57, 544)

If only you and I (or you or I) doesn't go and die before we have a chance to meet! And yet, if we did no doubt there would be some good and loving reason for it. I am (except in bad moods) more convinced of that all the time. We shall meet and be happy together if it is good for us: otherwise not. (5/1/47, 509)
They did meet again. But the final letter in the book, written during his final illness, when his alcoholic brother had "quite deserted" him, makes me cry:
Though I am by no means unhappy I can't help feeling it was rather a pity I did revive in July. I mean, having been glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one's face and know that the whole process must some day be gone through again, and perhaps far less pleasantly! Poor Lazarus! But God knows best.

I am glad you are fairly well. But oh, Arthur, never to see you again! ... (11/9/63)

Friday, October 18, 2013

how we're going

Well, the chronic pain team at the hospital has graduated Ben from their program. I feel in equal parts abandoned and relieved.

Abandoned, because Ben still has a chronic pain condition, and we're on our own now. (We're not, of course. But that's how it feels.)

Relieved, because they obviously think we're on the right track, and we no longer have to do three hour round trips through heavy traffic.
And yes, Ben is making steady progress:
  • our family is going out soon to celebrate that he was at school for at least a couple of hours nearly every day last term, headache and all
  • we were expecting his energy levels to deteriorate by the end of term, but he was actually getting a little better, which suggests this approach is working
  • he recently enjoyed a full day's party with four friends; three months ago he could barely manage two hours with one friend
  • he also did an intense bushwalk; three months ago he could only do 30 minute's flat walk.
On the other hand, Ben only managed two full days last term, and they didn't go brilliantly. We're aiming for two full days a week this term, but we haven't made it yet. Meanwhile, there are lots of school drop-offs and pick-ups and interrupted days. It's never easy to take a child to school when he's in pain.

So it's over to us. Perseverance, daily exercise, perseverance, getting enough sleep, perseverance ... we - or, rather, Ben - have to keep working away at this thing until he is well.

Which he will be. In time. Humanly speaking, and God willing. For most children with this condition, the journey out is as long as the journey in (and that was several years).

If I forget how far we've come, I only have to think back to the bewilderment and desperation of four months ago. These days, I don't burst into tears when I'm in a safe environment and people ask me how I am (though I'm not promising anything). I'm no longer battling high levels of anxiety and panic.

Ben's pain no longer feels like "my issue", something I'm suffering as much as him. This is good for both of us. It means he doesn't bear the burden of my sorrow as well as his own. It means I can see things clearly and support him well. It means he learns, as he must, to manage his health independently.
And what has this all done for Ben? Only God knows. But I've watched him grow in resilience and patience. I've seen his self-awareness and wisdom increase. I've helped him dig deep into the Bible's teaching on suffering, and take from it God's comfort and strength.

He's as tall as me now, thirteen years old, and his voice is as deep as his father's. The outer, visible changes mirror the ones within.

online meanderings

She yelled and called me names - A good read.

The Bible motivates us in many ways - “As important as justification is for the Christian, it’s not meant to be the only prescription in our pursuit of holiness.” Kevin DeYoung.

A ministry particularly suited to stay-at-home mums - Caring for elderly women, and being cared for in return.

Gratitude is not contingent - 'There's a world of difference between my children saying, "I am thankful that you've cooked us this meal and I appreciate it," and my child saying, "Well, at least it's not fish, that would be even worse!" Yet, we sometimes give thanks unwittingly in just such a manner.'

7 unconventional reasons why you absolutely should be reading books - Timely given yesterday's post!

The role of body and spirit in the fight against pornography - Fascinating and helpful.
How you respond to the troubles in your life will go a long way toward whether or not you ever, ever, ever develop courage, ever develop patience, ever develop compassion, ever develop sobriety and humility, ever develop any of those things. Don’t waste your sorrows. Tim Keller

Teenagers are sinners with under-developed frontal cortexes, no matter where you are. Alison

I always felt there were three steps in writing:

The first step, which is the anticipation of writing — wonderful, because there you are with an abstract idea, and you’re quite sure that you can do it, and it’s going to be quite wonderful, and you can visualize all the wonderful sales, the interviews, the reviews; you start to write your Nobel acceptance speech. And so that’s great, because there’s nothing real there, in the anticipation of writing.

Number three is the other end of that, having finished — and that’s a wonderful feeling, because number two is an agony all the way. Norton Juster

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

how to read a Christian book (1) getting going

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's forgetting. Your name. What I did on the weekend. The experiences of last year. Gone, every one.

I used to read Christian books and forget them. In one sense, that's no big deal: we all forget, and it doesn't mean we haven't learned anything. But I also wasn't absorbing what I read: crystallizing the key points, tasting the sweet, going away informed and transformed. That takes a different kind of reading.

Over the years I developed a method of reading that helped me remember what I read. I thought this was idiosyncratic, something that would work only for me, until I read Tony Reinke's Lit!. To my surprise, a number of "my" techniques jumped off the page. If they're good enough for Reinke, they're good enough for me, and they might work for you too.

So here they are: 11 ways to read a Christian book, absorb it, and remember what you read. (If you're an e-book reader, adapt them for the screen; you can highlight and make notes there too.)

Make time for reading
When I had babies and thought I'd never get time to read again, John Piper taught me that if you read for just 15 minutes a day, even if you read slowly, you'll get through 20 books a year. Tim Challies points out that, even if you only read in the bathroom, you can get through a book or two a year. At least that's a start! Carry a book with you (much easier if you have an e-reader) and pull it out when you have a spare moment. Read while you eat lunch. Read in the doctor's waiting room. If you haven't done much reading, start with a book you think you'll enjoy on a topic that interests you.

Learn - or re-learn - to read a book
There's nothing like reading online to ruin your ability to read a book. Reading books can sometimes feel like an outdated skill, something you were forced to do at school and happily gave up once you left. I've noticed that when I do a lot of online reading, my brain learns to skim, to dip in and out, to jump from one idea to another. I don’t take time to think through and apply what I read. My reading becomes fragmented, shallow. To read a book, I have to retrain my brain, to coax it into a slower, more reflective style of reading. The good news is that our brains are very adaptable. We can learn new skills: it just takes practice.

You can read the other 9 tips at The Briefing, or wait for next week - I'll publish it in bits on this blog.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

online meanderings

Keep. On. Praying - "God may answer your 20 years of prayer today."

Tweeting the gospel for sin and suffering - Not "How do people change?" but "How does God change people?"

Evangelism across economic boundaries and Are mercy ministries really a slow death to the soul? - Two excellent posts on reaching out across economic boundaries.

Why we send our kids to the poorest public school and Let's all take a chill pill about public high schooling - "What if I stood up for not only what was good for mine, but was good for all?"

In defence of stay-at-home mums - Excellent.

Real men journal too - and women. Here's why.

Book review: Walking with God through pain and suffering - Joni Eareckson Tada reviews Tim Keller's new book.
The power to create something in your mind is a gift from God. To use that gift of imagination to create or cultivate worry, fear or anxiety is a waste of your God-given creativity. Adam Griffin

I’ve never met Orcs or Ents or Elves — but the feel of it, the sense of a huge past, of lowering danger, of heroic tasks achieved by the most apparently unheroic people, of distance, vastness, strangeness, homeliness (all blended together) is so exactly what living feels like to me. Particularly the heart-breaking quality in the most beautiful places, like Lothlorien. CS Lewis on Tolkien

Jesus is the dictionary in which we look up the meaning of words. Eugene Peterson

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Monday, October 14, 2013

what I'm reading: CS Lewis' letters to Arthur Greeves

I recently read - with great enjoyment! - They Stand Together, CS Lewis' letters to his friend Arthur Greeves.

I spent many a happy hour lying on the couch, cup of tea in hand, browsing the pages, drinking in the descriptions of books and weather and ideas and countryside.

It whetted my appetite to read more collections of letters: such a lovely, meandering, reflective kind of reading.

CS Lewis was 16 when he met Arthur. They lived nearby, and Lewis visited Arthur when he was sick in bed. He saw a copy of Myths of the Norsemen in Arthur's bedroom, and so their life-long friendship began:
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.' (The Four Loves)
The First [Friend] is the alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights. (Surprised by Joy)
When Lewis was 33 he re-read his earlier letters to Arthur. His unfavourable impression of those first letters is similar to my own. The letters get better and better, and deeper and deeper, as Lewis matures and comes to believe, first in God, and finally in Christ. He writes about that moment here:
Thanks for all you say about the letters in general. You see mine with too friendly eyes. To me, as I re-read them, the most striking thing is their egotism: sometimes in the form of priggery, intellectual and even social: often in the form of downright affectation (I seem to be posturing and showing off in every letter): and always in the form of complete absorption in ourselves. I have you to thank that it was at least 'ourselves' and not wholly 'myself'.

I can now honestly say that I envy you the much more artless letters you were writing me in those days: they all had at least the grace of humility and of affection. How ironical that the very things which I was proud of in my letters then should make the reading of them a humiliation to me now!

Don't suppose from this that I have not enjoyed the other aspect of them - the glorious memories they call up.

I think I have got over wishing for the past back again. I look at it this way. The delights of those days were given to lure us into the world of the Spirit, as sexual rapture is there to lead to offspring and family life. They were nuptial ardours. To ask that they should return, or should remain, is like wishing to prolong the honeymoon at an age when a man should rather be interested in the careers of his growing sons.

They have done their work, those days and led on to better things. All the 'homeliness' (which was your chief lesson to me) was the introduction to the Christian virtue of charity or love. ... On the other hand, all the 'strangeness' (which was my lesson to you) has turned out to be only the first step in far deeper mysteries.

How deep I am just now beginning to see: for I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ - in Christianity. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it. (1/10/31 pp.424-5)
It's not easy to get your hands on a copy of They Stand Together, but if you manage it, and you're a CS Lewis fan, you'll enjoy their insights into his life and thought.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

online meandering for parents

A prayer for the worried mum's heart - I prayed along.

What if I screw up my kids? - This sounds familiar!

Private, publichomeschooling - 3 kinds of schooling for your kids (let's discuss this fairly).

The porn-free family - A plan for guarding your kids as they use electronic devices.

Keep technology out of kids' bedrooms - Worth considering.

Chores for kids - I printed this out and stuck it on the fridge.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

online meanderings

God's bright design for your bitter providences - "The secret things are the Lord’s for a very good reason. Trust him with the mystery."

In work we trust -  "What if I don't work? Or don't work at my chosen career? You are seen differently when you work. And it's hard not to buy into that."

Reflections after the death of a spouse and a daughter - "There is a sad sameness to death ..." RC Sproul Jr writes.

Misere and Staring at broccoli - Two lovely bits of writing.

All kinds of gluttons - Food idolatry comes in many forms.

13 top biographies surveyed from 18 scholars - Let the reading begin! 

CS Lewis and more - Dramatized audios from Focus on the Family. We loved the Narnia one. Here are lots more.
It’s hard for envy to hide in a grateful heart. Joe Rigney

God’s curse on the man draws him unwholesomely away from the woman, even as God’s curse on the woman draws her unwholesomely toward the man. This is why most marital counseling sessions are some variation on this theme. Wife: ‘You don’t pay any attention to me.’ Husband: ‘You are too demanding and nag too much.’ God has cursed the marriage relationship with a poisonous desire for control by the woman and a self-absorbed focus outside the relationship by the man. Richard D. Phillips

God has determined that the sufferings of Jesus Christ will be irregularly distributed throughout the church (2 Cor. 1:5). Ed Welch

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

what I'm reading: warning for worriers

Anxiety has been a pretty big issue for me this year.

A few years ago, I read Elyse Fitzpatrick's Overcoming fear, worry and anxiety. I highly recommend it!

This time around I'm reading Ed Welch's Running Scared (it's also excellent). I was struck by this warning to worriers:
When you see worry - and you will see it - be careful.

Worry is focused inward.

It prefers self-protection over trust.

It can hear many encouraging words - even God's words - and stay unmoved.

It can be life-dominating.

It reveals the things that are valuable to you.

It can reveal that you love something more than Jesus. It crowds Jesus out of your life.

And here is some encouragement for worriers:
Your task is not to transform into a superficial, sunny optimist. It is to grow to be an optimist by faith. ...

When we belong to Christ, it will end with joy.

As for me, I want to watch and endure, not worry. I want to be like the night watchmen who are waiting to see first light (Psalm 130).

God is the God of suspense, but it is a suspense that teaches us peace.

He is the God of surprises, but the surprises are always better than we could have dreamed.

I can't put him in a box and assume that he should act according to my time schedule and according to my less sophisticated version of what is good.

I need the mind of Christ. I can do with nothing less.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame. (Heb 12:2)


Quotes are from Ed Welch Running Scared 97, 93.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

online meanderings

A meditation on psalm 84, and some reflections on why a Christian might decide not to date a non-Christian. Challenging, haunting, beautiful.

The corruption of adventure - "Through the crowd of those running the other way comes the simple call from the Bible: 'Stand.'"

Are you a part-time church goer? - You might be surprised...

Can't or won't? - When you feel like you just can't change. Tim Keller at his best.

Finding happiness in menial jobs and 5 encouragements for everyday work - Two great posts for workers.

A biblical approach to beauty? - Avoid "being distractingly unattractive" or pursuing "self-focused attractiveness that distracts." Intriguing.

Fed up with life and ready to write - Great advice about private and public writing.
God’s great love and purposes for us are all worked out in messes in our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, the daily work and dreams of our common lives. God works with us as we are and not as we should be or think we should be. God deals with us where we are and not where we would like to be. Andrew Peterson

Sometimes faith isn’t radical; sometimes it’s just holding on. Sometimes life is just too hard and stuff is too broken. It’s all I can manage just to keep my world from flying to bits, let alone change anyone else’s. Reality is simply clinging to what I know of God, His Son, and His faithfulness, and just not letting go. Sometimes all the radical I can manage is that death grip on faith as I’m tossed to and fro. No, it’s not society-reforming, world-altering, life-changing mission. It’s just how I make it; without it I wouldn’t have a life at all. Barnabus Piper

Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library. Austin Kleon

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

what I'm reading: God's wisdom in our suffering

Do you have a copy of  Knowing God? Is it gathering dust? Is the picture of a sunset on the cover a little faded?

Why not get it off the shelf and read chapter 9, on the wisdom of God? Or read it online here.

It's a little gem I haven't noticed before.

Last week I learned how, even if I never know the cause of suffering, I can always know something of God's purpose.

This week I opened Knowing God and discovered part of God's purpose in suffering.

In chapter 9 Packer talks about Abraham and Jacob and Joseph. He shows how every trial was individually chosen by God to make them into the people he wanted them to be. I read this through twice, I found it so encouraging!

If it's true for them, it's true for me. Packer says,
These things are written for our learning, for the same wisdom orders the Christian's life today.

We should not be taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now.

What do they mean? Simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and he is dealing with us accordingly.

Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humor, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under especially difficult conditions.

Perhaps he has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us.

Perhaps he wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit.

Perhaps his purpose is simply to draw us closer to himself in conscious communion with him; for it is often the case, as all the saints know, that fellowship with the Father and the Son is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross is heaviest.

Or perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which at present we have no inkling.

"He knows the way he taketh", even if for the moment we do not.

We may be frankly bewildered at things that happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our affairs.

Always, and in everything, he is wise: we shall see that hereafter (Job in heaven knows the full reason why he was afflicted, though he never knew it in this life).

Meanwhile, we ought not to hesitate to trust his wisdom, even when he leaves us in the dark.

Whatever further purpose a Christian's troubles may or may not have in equipping him for future service, they will always have at least that purpose which Paul's thorn in the flesh had (2 Cor 5:7-9).

They will have been sent us to make and keep us humble, and to give us a new opportunity of showing forth the power of Christ in our mortal lives.

And do we ever need to know any more about them than that? 

Once Paul saw that his trouble was sent him to enable him to glorify Christ, he accepted it as wisely appointed and even rejoiced in it.

God give us grace, in all our own troubles, to go and do likewise.