Monday, December 23, 2013

end of year wrap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

online meanderings

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

The world groans at Christmas - Sad and beautiful.

15 ways to bless missionaries this Christmas without paying postage

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

5 things to tell your teenager about porn

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

online meanderings

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

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

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

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

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

7 ways social media makes pastoring more difficult

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

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

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

just one thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can't even give him that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord, give us this zeal.

Quoted in JI Packer Knowing God 196.

Friday, December 13, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

online meanderings

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

Singleness and coupledom - Making one another feel at home. 

Living with the loss of a loved one

Loving young people seeking asylum

The road to apostasy - How to recognise it.

3 marks of righteous anger

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

teenagers and the internet

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

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

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

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

online meanderings

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

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

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

12 reasons to pray Scripture - Love!

The 4 promises of forgiveness - More love!

5 steps to adultery prevention - Yet more love!

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

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JI Packer Knowing God 137, 140, 141

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

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

Here's a question for you from my friend Meredith

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

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

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

I'd love to hear what others do.

Please comment here.

online meanderings

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

Not legalists or libertarians, but free to be slaves

10 times it's wise to hold your tongue

Why we should sing songs of lament every week in church

15 ways to avoid burnout in ministry

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

what I'm reading: the ethics of elfland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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