Tuesday, April 30, 2013

online meanderings

The man I thought was dead - A beautiful, moving post from Philip Jensen.

Four lies about introverts - Best thing on the topic I've read. And uncannily like me.

3 ways the gospel changes marriage - A great little post.

3 lies pornography tells you, including this: confessing your struggle will cost too much.

A severe mercy - I was encouraged by the reminder that suffering displays God's glory.

9 signs of a workaholic pastor and 10 tips for getting the balance right with kids and food - Jenny at her sparkling best.

Top 300 online counselling resources - Anxiety, addictions, burnout, depression, eating disorders, sexual sin, etc... A great resource from David Murray.
You don’t find out He’s your refuge until you’ve had to flee to Him for refuge — until you become a refugee. Georgianne
Children will run from law and they’ll run from grace. The ones who run from law rarely come back. But the ones who run from grace always come back. Grace draws its own back home. Tullian Tchividjian

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

yet another interview with moi

Because I blog, I occasionally get asked to do an interview. Here's one I did for a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who is doing an assignment on media and Christianity and something-or-other (can't remember now!). 

Some of this will be familiar to many of you, but others might enjoy finding out a bit more about my background and what I do from day to day. (It's at times like these that the narcissism of blogging comes to the fore.)

I've picked 11 questions.

1. Briefly describe how you became a Christian.

I was brought up in a Christian home and can’t remember a time I wasn’t a Christian – although I can remember “becoming” a Christian lots of times, until a lady on a beach mission explained to me that you only have to do it once!!

I went through a time of doubt in my late teens, and wrestled with questions like, “Is the Bible true? Is Jesus really who he said he was?”. One day, having established that the New Testament is trustworthy, I sat down and read the gospel of Mark cover-to-cover and realised that, yes, Jesus is everything he said he was – God, Lord, Saviour – and that I never want to be apart from him.

2. What does your average week look like?

I spend the majority of my time caring for our kids and running our home. We have a son with a chronic illness, so that takes up much of my time and energy at the moment. I cook, clean, wash clothes, drive the kids around, and so on...

One morning a week is spent doing student ministry at the university campus nearby; one afternoon and one morning, I try to spend time with mums from school; Thursday evenings we host a church Bible study in our home; Sunday afternoons I’m often in town doing women’s ministry at our church; then we have Sunday evening church and the school week starts again.

Writing - for my own blog and for The Briefing - fits into some of the gaps in my timetable, mostly on weekdays, in the mornings after the school run and in the early afternoon.

3. For how long has your life looked like this?

My oldest daughter is 14, so I’ve been a mum for a long time. Before that I did a PhD in church history and was the female staff worker in our university Christian group. During my years as a mum, I did more or less ministry outside the home depending on the ages and stages of my kids – at first I could do a little, but with 3 and then 4 kids I couldn’t do much at all!

I started writing when my youngest son was 1 or 2, when I started to have some extra time and energy on my hands. As the kids have grown, the time I’ve had for ministry outside the home has gradually increased.

4. What motivated you to start writing your blog? Was there a single significant influence?

I think I was just keen to get back into ministry outside the home after many years raising small children. Blogging was something I could do from home, while caring for my youngest son. I’ve always loved reading, reflecting, teaching, and even, to some extent, writing. Once I started, my passion for the last one surprised me!

5. What do you personally gain from blogging / writing / reading?

It brings me great joy. It gets me into the “zone”, that wonderful place where the words flow onto the screen. It gives me relaxation and a release from all the practical, everyday duties of running a home. I’m an introvert, so when I read and write, it’s time away from other people. I love this time when I can focus on one task rather than trying endlessly to multitask and cope with the demands of four very different children.

I love the sense of achievement that comes with blogging. I tend to be a task-oriented perfectionist, and there’s not many chances to finish a task when you run a home - the clothes need washing again, the kids need to be fed again in a few hours - so I love the way you can write something and then polish it until it says exactly what you want it to say.

I also love the process of reading - reflecting - writing, filling my mind with the Bible and with other people’s reflections until I get my head around an issue and have something to say about it, then expressing that as clearly as I can.

So blogging is a perfect fit for me and gives me great satisfaction and rest.

6. In what ways does your Christian faith help you in your life, or to deal with particular issues you are concerned about?

In what ways doesn’t it? Jesus is the answer to every longing, every quest for truth, every despair. Every issue I grapple with, I bring to the Bible, and wrestle with God’s word until I have some understanding of what he wants to say. Every personal struggle, every grief and anxiety, finds its answer in God, so I bring it to him and struggle with him in prayer and read his word and ask for his help until there’s some connect between his truth and the way I feel.

7. Was your family important in developing or stimulating your interest in what you do?

My parents are committed, active Christians who read the Bible with my brother and me regularly and taught us about God. My father was a maths lecturer who taught me to think clearly and logically. My mother was an English teacher who fed us books and more books, taught me to love language, and helped train me to write.

So yes, they had a huge impact in turning me into a blogger – although none of us knew it at the time. When I was a teenager, computers were the size of a photocopier, and we certainly hadn’t heard of the Internet or blogging! And I had no plans to “be a writer”. My love for writing surprised me quite late in life!

8. What were your early religious/spiritual experiences? How significant was this in forming your beliefs these days?

My parents never skirted around difficult issues, the kind that adults struggle to understand. So I never felt like there were “too-hard” issues that you couldn’t discuss and come to understand by reading God’s word. I haven’t strayed too far from what they taught me – they were reformed in their understanding of Christianity, and so am I. They taught me to be rigorous in my thinking, which helps me not to be sloppy when I write.

There was also an intense time as a teenager when I, as you might say, “fell in love with God”. That had a big impact later when I chose the topic for my PhD – “The Puritan experience of enjoyment of God”. Part of my motivation as I write is to help reformed evangelicals like me, who can be a little cerebral, to allow ourselves to “feel” as well as believe the truth; to let God’s amazing truth have its full impact on us, heart and mind.

9. How important do you think your work is in relation to the issue you are working on?

I am a small fish in a very big Internet pond. Not quite so big in Christian circles though! Quite a few people read what I write. But this doesn't make me important. Jesus is important, I’m not. And we tend to blow up our importance in our own minds, don’t we?

I went through a mini mid-life crisis when I wanted my name to be remembered beyond the grave. Now I’m just happy if, in God’s mercy, I’m able to encourage someone to persevere in the faith, build them up in God’s truth, help them grow into Christian maturity, and, most wonderfully, help someone come to Christ.

10. How important is the media (in general) or the type of media you use (e.g. blogger)?

Important in what way? Blogging is certainly wide-reaching – or, at least, it has the potential to be, I’m sure much of what bloggers write disappears into the void, never to be read by anyone outside their own small circle. But it has the power to reach into people’s everyday reading, into homes across the globe, into countries closed to the gospel. So yes, it has the potential to be very powerful.

11. Can the media change people? If so, how? Or how does it not change people?

People are changed – really changed, from the inside out – when God’s truth makes its way into their hearts and wins them away from their false gods and idols to trust in Jesus and live for him. The media can help do this in the way any words can do this: through God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16-17), as we speak the truth in love into each others’ lives (Eph 4:15).

When I write, I think of the reader on the other end of what I write. I try to love them, to not write what is harsh or unloving, to write what will be helpful to them as they read. I try to write as well as I can because God’s truth makes its way more easily into people’s hearts if it’s clothed in well-crafted language. If any of this changes people, it will be because God, in his grace, has used his Word, through my words, to change their hearts.

So no, on its own the media can’t change people. But yes, it can change people, because God can work through it, as one person speaks his truth to another person. It can happen when non-Christians write true words about the world, or people, or beauty, or horror, or sin. It can happen when Christians write true words about the gospel, or life, or sorrow, or creation. It only changes people by God’s grace.

Monday, April 29, 2013

what I'm reading: When God Weeps - part 2 - the "why" of suffering

Last time I wrote about Joni Eareckson Tada's When God Weeps, I was very enthusiastic!

I'd just finished the first section, about God's character - his joy, his suffering, his sovereignty - and how these relate to the horror of suffering. I loved this, with only a slight qualification: the language about God's sovereignty isn't always as strong as the Bible demands.

I've now finished the second section, about the "why" of suffering. It took me a little longer to get my head around it. Joni's strong, emotional language is both a strength and weakness: it moves and shocks and comforts, but at times clouds logic and touches on the mystical. But I read and re-read and re-re-read it, and ultimately found it a very helpful summary of some of the "why"s of suffering.*

What are the "why"s of suffering? I like the way Joni divides her answer into 3 parts:
  • Suffering is for others. The answer to "Why does God still want me here?" is "For the sake of others" (Phil 1:22-24). As others watch us trust God through suffering, they are inspired to endure patiently, challenged to take God seriously, and moved to love those who suffer. Our suffering also brings glory to God as we praise him in the midst of pain (I would have liked to hear more about this one!).
  • Suffering is for me, to grow my character. Just as Jesus "learned obedience" through suffering and was fitted to be our Saviour (Heb 2:10; 5:8), so God uses suffering, individually tailored to me, to chisel away sin and pride and to make me holy. I can bemoan or boast or bitterly resign myself to suffering, or I can submit to the Sculptor's hand as he remakes me into the beautiful image of his Son.
But knowing these things is not enough. A list of answers may help when you're not suffering, but in the midst of suffering, you don't just want answers: you want a Someone. And so Joni comes to her third reason:
  • Suffering increases our intimacy with God. As we share in Christ's suffering, we experience fellowship with him and come to know him more deeply (Phil 3:8-10). Suffering brings us to the foot of the cross. It helps us die to self. It strips us of sin and ambition and pride. It empties us of ourselves, that we may be filled with Christ. "The greatest good suffering can do for me is to increase my capacity for God." Like Joni, I wouldn't swap this for anything!
I'd love to bring you a quote that makes this last point better than I can, but this post is long enough, so I'll leave that for next week.

In the meantime, I encourage you to read When God Weeps if you have questions about suffering.

* With a few cautious qualifications over Joni's discussion of angels and demons, and the mysticism of some of her language about union with God.

Friday, April 26, 2013

the many "why"s of suffering

Here's a fantastic quote from Don Carson about the "why" of suffering - and about all the "why"s we will never know, even when we think we've found the "why".

With thanks to Peter Adam, who noticed that I was writing a series on suffering, and who sent this article to my friend Andy Prideaux so he could send it to me....
In any suffering, or in any other event for that matter, God is doubtless doing many things, perhaps thousands of things, millions of things, even if we can only detect two or three or a handful.
A godly woman in her middle years is diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer. What is God doing? My little brain can imagine several possibilities. At one level, he may be providentially allowing the effluents of the Fall to take their course, a constant reminder that it is appointed to all of us to die, and then face judgement (Heb 9:27). He may be preparing her for eternity: it is a great grace to know when you are going to die, and prepare for it. He may be shocking her 20-something son, who is living his life indifferent to the gospel, to prod him into self-examination and repentance. He may use her testimony about the joy of the Lord even in the midst of suffering to call another of her children into vocational ministry. He may be using her as a way to teach people in her church what it looks like to "die well," anticipating several other deaths in the next two years. He may be teaching her minister-husband to slow down and care about his family, and in principle other people, instead of being endlessly busy with "the ministry." He may be sparing her from living long enough to witness the moral destruction of her daughter. Her funeral may be the means by which several of her unconverted relatives, for whom she has been praying, will come to faith — conversions for which she would happily give her life. Perhaps one of those converts will become a Christian pastor of rare gift whose ministry of proclamation will touch thousands. Perhaps she is hiding some deep bitterness and hate in her life, and God is using this means to confront her.
I've barely started a list of possible things God may be doing, and I have a small brain. What does the omniscient God think he is doing? In other words, sometimes we have to cover our mouths and confess, in faith, that we cannot possibly grasp all that God is doing when someone suffers. So why should we think in antithetical terms about how God must be doing this but not that, when in reality he may be doing this and that and that, and that and. . . ? But he is trustworthy; we know that, for he sent his Son to suffer on our behalf. 
You can read the rest here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

God’s gifts in suffering (2) suffering reminds us that we are part of this fallen world

flickr: ulisse albiati
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:22-23)
Deep down, in some hidden part of me, I think I’m exempt. I’m convinced that life isn’t meant to be this hard. That God owes me healing. That he owes my son relief. That the fact that I pray, “Heal my son!”, and he wakes up sick, calls God’s goodness into question.

I am astonished! dismayed! horrified! that God hasn’t stepped in and taken this away.

It shows how little I believed God when he told me suffering would come (1 Pet 4:12-13). That this life would sometimes feel long and weary (Eccles 1:1-11 cf. Gal 6:9; 2 Thess 3:13; Heb 12:3, 5). That those who follow God will get sick and not always be healed and will one day die (Acts 9:37; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Phil 2:26-27; 2 Tim 4:20).

That suffering actually hurts (Heb 12:11). That life in this fallen world will make us groan and sigh and weep (Ps 6:6-7, 90:9; 2 Cor 5:2-4). That the pattern of the Christian life is suffering then glory (Rom 8:18; 1 Pet 5:1). I believed all this in theory, but suffering rubs my face in the truth.

It also shows how myopic my vision is, how loveless my perspective, how self-absorbed my heart. I know, at some theoretical level, that people are suffering agonisingly across the world. I’ve watched the news. I’ve read the stories. Seemingly, other people’s suffering fits with my faith just fine.

But when suffering touches me and mine, it’s a different story. Suffering is a blunt instrument battering faith on the head. My faith reels. And the suffering of others begin to sweep in on me, to mean something to me.

We are part of this fallen, frightening world (Rom 8:18-25). We belong to those around us. When I suffer, it drives me to feel this, to pray with tears, to love. I realise I’m part of this place, and this is good.

It’s good that Christians aren’t exempt from the suffering of those around us. It’s good that we share it. Otherwise, how can we reach out to those around us? How can I weep with those who weep, unless I know what it is to weep (Rom 12:15)? How can I help the weak, unless I know myself to be weak?

This post first appeared at The Briefing

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Couch to 5K: week 5

Week five
There are three different workouts for this week. They are as follows:Running to Paradise
Workout 1: a brisk 5-minute walk, then 5 minutes of running, 3 minutes of walking, 5 minutes of running, 3 minutes of walking, 5 minutes of running.
Jane: How's the running going this week? I had a few bad nights sleep in a row so didn't run again until this morning - Level 5 run #1. It was actually ok. Still enjoying it, though it's not easy.
Jean: I missed lots of days too because so busy, planning to do Level 5 run #1 this morning but it's 37 degrees here so we'll see...
The 37 degree heat adds a big degree of difficulty but I'm okay this time.
Jean: DONE! Hot. Sweaty (didn't post that word on Facebook TMI!). Tired. The next two days look completely impossible, especially the 20 min jog. It's like falling: never look down. Aaaargh!!!!!
Jane: Well done - and in such heat too!
There's something very earthy about jogging. My face gets unbecomingly red, sweat runs down my back, and I gulp for air. The sharp scent of exertion fills my nostrils (and hopefully not other people's). When I get home, I badly need a shower.

I'm usually a thinker and an observer, lost in my own head, losing touch with things around me. But now I can feel every muscle and tendon stretching and striving. I love the way jogging gets me out of my head and into my body.

It helps that there's a drink to be had during my run. I stop at a bubbler half-way through, to put water on my face and neck and gulp some down.

For the rest of this very hot day I discover another benefit of jogging: I don't feel the heat. Sweating no longer seems like an enemy, but a friend.

Workout 2: a brisk 5-minute walk, then 8 minutes of running, 5 minutes of walking, 8 minutes of running.

The app doesn't work all that well, and I find myself doing 10 minutes instead of 8 - and I don't even notice! I can't believe what my body is newly capable of.

As I reach the end of the 10 minutes, it's as if my breathing begins to slow down. My lungs feel like a pair of bellows, puffing in-and-out, in-and-out. My body moves more smoothly than it has in years.

I come home brimming with feel-good-endorphins. It's like that joyous, free-floating feeling after a swim. I'm hooked.

Workout 3: a brisk 5-minute walk, then 20 minutes of running, with no walking.
Jane: Can't quite believe it, Jean - I just ran 20 mins - 3k!!
Jean: Well done Jane! I'm not feeling well so had to pause just before the 20 min run...my max so far is 10 minutes...but well done you!
Jane: Yes that was me last week and it set me back quite a few days. I actually wasn't at all sure I could do it, but Jess was right - she said to trust the program. I do feel great, and surprisingly, it didn't feel too hard until just at the end. Very pleased that I'm back to four shorter runs next time before trying to pull that off every time I go!
Jean: How do you feel? (I feel like the torturer from The Princess Bride - "It's for posterity, so be honest"...) 
Jane: Yeah the 20 min run was good. It felt difficult, but not too difficult. As always the last 2 minutes are just sheer grit and effort. I think that is just how it is - getting comfortable with feeling like it's hard.
Then, after I do the 20 minute run,
Jean: Yes, that last couple of minutes was a challenge! Normally I find the first part of the run hard, so those double runs killed me. But this time I was bounding after the gate: nothing like a week of rest!
And I realise:
  • the first few minutes of jogging are the hardest. Then my legs and lungs settle into it, I hit my rhythm, and it's (almost) a joy.
  • my app said, way back in week 2, "Breathe deeply and find a good breathing tempo to avoid getting out of breath". Now it makes sense.
  • a long run leaves you with a completely different feeling to a short one. It's worth persisting. I feel like I'm floating on air.

It's the end of week 5, and I can't believe how good I feel.

How did you find week 5 of Couch to 5K?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

the long pain of grief

John Piper writes about the long pain of grief to a parent grieving the loss of a child:
This loss and sorrow is all so fresh. I hesitate to tread into the tender place and speak. But since you ask, I pray that God would help me say something helpful...

God’s crucial word on grieving well is 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Yours is a grieving with hope. Theirs is a grieving without hope. That is the key difference. There is no talk of not grieving. That would be like suggesting to a woman who just lost her arm that she not cry, because it would be put back on in the resurrection. It hurts! That's why we cry. It hurts.

And amputation is a good analogy. Because unlike a bullet wound, when the amputation heals, the arm is still gone. So the hurt of grief is different from the hurt of other wounds. There is the pain of the severing, and then the relentless pain of the gone-ness. The countless might-have-beens. Those too hurt. Each new remembered one is a new blow on the tender place where the arm was. So grieving is like and unlike other pain.

There is a paradox in the way God is honoured through hope-filled grief. One might think that the only way he could be honoured would be to cry less or get over the ache more quickly. That might show that your confidence is in the good that God is and the good that he does. Yes. It might. And some people are wired emotionally to experience God that way. I would not join those who say, “O they are just in denial.”

But there is another way God is honoured in our grieving. When we taste the loss so deeply because we loved so deeply and treasured God’s gift — and God in his gift — so passionately that the loss cuts the deeper and the longer, and yet in and through the depths and the lengths of sorrow we never let go of God, and feel him never letting go of us — in that longer sorrow he is also greatly honoured, because the length of it reveals the magnitude of our sense of loss for which we do not forsake God. At every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to him not away from him. And therefore the length of it is a way of showing him to be ever-present, enduringly sufficient.

So trust him deeply and let your heart be your guide whether you honour him one way or the other. Everyone is different. Beware of blaming your husband, or he you, for moving into or out of grief at different paces. It is so personal. And what you may find is that the one who seemed to recover more quickly will weep the more deeply in ten years. You just don’t know now, and it is good not to judge.

May God make your grieving a bittersweet experience of communion with Jesus. Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). So he knows what it is to go with you there.

We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize. He was tested in every way as we are — including loss.

You can read the rest here.

online meanderings

Q: Who has the worst chance of surviving a prisoner of war camp?

A: An optimist!

Optimism and faith in a POW camp - A post about tough, realistic faith.

What Gosnell and the gospel mean to the brave - I rarely post anything on abortion, because it's not the place I want to start a discussion about my faith, but this is different. This is grace and the gospel and a gift.

Tear-stained words of a mother - This heart-breaking post asks the question: when someone else's son or daughter has a mental illness, how do we respond?

How sovereign is God? - A handy list of Bible verses and a great Spurgeon quote from Justin Taylor. (And a little deja vu from my own post Just how sovereign is God?)

Book review: Being a cancer patient's carer: A guide - Macca reviews what sounds like an excellent book.
Is safe the most important thing for my kids to be? The answer is clearly no. The Christian life is not a safe life. It is a call to live counter-culturally and to willingly engage in battles that are big and costly.  Erin Davis
All injustice will be punished, either in Jesus’s wounds or by his sword. Marshall Segal

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

what I'm listening to: how not to win the anxiety Olympics

If you, like me, could win the anxiety Olympics, you'll love this quote.

It's from a talk our pastor, John Diacos, gave a couple of weeks ago, from his series Freedom from fear.

I love the way he defines "anxiety" and distinguishes it from "fear".

Here's a nourishing, encouraging, very readable chunk from his talk, which is online here.
We are not in control.

Our fear betrays us. It tells us we are not in control. We are finite, and the world around us is unpredictable. We are not self-reliant. We are not capable of tackling the universe alone. We can't stop undesirable events from occurring.

Not wanting to be afraid or out of control, we look for solutions.

Most of us start by simply trying harder. We like to think of ourselves as capable of handling any and every eventuality, if only we pursue the right strategy or simply try harder. And so we attempt to consider every eventuality, take the necessary precautions, mentally rehearse the details, so we’ll be ready when the time comes.
At its best, we call this "forward planning". Otherwise, we call it "anxiety" or "worry". For anxiety is when we try to anticipate the future. Anxiety is us trying harder to be ready for our fears, and not being sure that we can.

Some of us worry a lot - personally I could represent Australia at the anxiety Olympics! - and others not so much; but all of us worry.

Hear what our anxiety says. It reflects our suspicion that we can overcome anything, meet any challenge, if only we try harder. Maybe if we ponder long enough, anticipate and plan, prepare more, then maybe we will be able to master any threat. Anxiety holds out the hope that we can regain control.
This is why those of us who worry hold onto anxiety so stubbornly. This is why anxiety can be so resistant to correction by reason or facts.
We will do anything to control our fear. We so desperately want to deny our human limitations, that instead of admitting that the world is beyond our control, we give ourselves over to being obsessed with anxiety.
And anxiety can become paralysing, because we’re thinking so far ahead, anticipating every possible problem, that we’re afraid to act at all.

But the fundamental problem with our anxiety is that the world is too big for us. We cannot control everything no matter how hard we try. 
Anticipating and preparing for the future is prudent, but so is recognising when you can't control your circumstances, that none of us can control what happens next, and that we need help.

So at some point we reach out to someone else - someone who can help us deal with our fears, overcome our obstacles. Some of us, stubbornly independent, put that off as long as possible. Others of us are quicker to admit we are not self-sufficient.

It's extraordinary how much it helps simply to share your worries with another, even if all they do is listen and sympathise. It soothes our fears simply to know that we’re not alone.

But the best solution of all is someone who can deal with our anxieties by giving us real help that makes things okay. Someone who can take on the source of our fear and deal effectively with it so we don’t need to worry any more.
Other people can help us, but other people are just like us: they are limited in what they can do. Sometimes they’re simply unreliable: they have their own things going on, they let us down. Sometimes the problem is outside their power: no one can prevent you from being rejected or hurt by other people. Doctors can’t cure every disease or stop death.
On our own we are finite, limited, not in control. If we’re going to be able to successfully deal with fear and anxiety, we need someone who can really help, who is actually in control.

The God who is on control of all things can be relied upon. He wants to relieve us of our anxieties: "Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He invites us to bring all of our fears, all of our worries, to him in prayer (Phil 4:4-7).

The first step in dealing with our fear is to admit we need help - and what a wonderful relief to be able to acknowledge the truth! - that, yes, I am finite. I am rightly fearful of the world around me, because I am not in control. I need the help of the God who is in control.

This is the essence of prayer. It's why we can find it difficult to pray, because prayer is an admission that we are not self-sufficient or in control. Prayer is seeking God’s help because he is in control.

And the great news is that God is not bothered by our requests. God doesn’t reluctantly help us (Luke 18:1-8). God welcomes our prayers. He loves to help his people. He wants us to give all our fears to him, so that we no longer have to worry about them, for he will take care of them.

And this means that we are no longer alone.

One of the features of anxiety is that it is inward-looking and isolating. We worry and turn over issues repeatedly in our mind searching for a solution because we assume that we have to solve the problem ourselves.
Being able to approach God in prayer means that we are not alone. God is with us. God is for his people, and not just to sympathise. God promises to help us, to relieve our anxieties and fears.
Being able to approach God in prayer is where the solution to fear and anxiety starts.
God will one day rescue us from all that we fear. In the meantime, he reorients our perspective. He realigns our values so we see what is important and what isn’t. He shows us that sometimes what we fear is actually trivial, and what we value and love is unimportant. 
The more we trust God, the more we are liberated from the fear that controls us. This won’t be instantaneous. It will take time to learn to trust in someone other than yourself; to change your priorities and what you value.
God enables us to face our fears and worries by showing they are really nothing when we are God’s beloved people.
He changes us so that we value and love what is truly valuable: the eternal things that only God can give us, and that we can never lose.

Friday, April 19, 2013

what suffering cannot do

What cancer - or any suffering - cannot do:

It cannot cripple God’s love
It cannot shatter hope
It cannot corrode faith
It cannot destroy peace
It cannot kill friendship
It cannot shut out memories
It cannot silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot steal eternal life
It cannot conquer the spirit

From the book What cancer cannot do.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

God's gifts in suffering (1) Introduction

flickr: Sadness by SashaW
Suffering. You don't know it till it's grabbed you by the neck and held you down for weeks, months, even years.

It drives out every subterfuge and scours out every illusion. It chases you into every corner and steals every illusion of control. It empties you of every vanity and robs you of every trace of self-reliance.

If you're stubborn like me, this takes some time. Your brain chases its tail, trying to invent reasons, explanations, answers. Your faith wilts and staggers. You doubt, question, beg. You cling to your strength. You don't quite let yourself cry. You say, "Help me, God", but what you mean is "Do what I want. Get rid of this! Now!". And when he doesn't, doubt sweeps in, dark and hovering.

Then the day comes when you wake up and know you can't do it any more. There are no excuses left. There are no explanations. There are no illusions. There's just you and God and sorrow.

I wake at 5 o'clock. For the first time in months, I weep until my eyes are puffy and red. There have been tears before, but not like this. I whimper into the dark, "I can't do this any more. I just can't do this!" All of me has been reduced, like stock in a pan, to a single cry.

And in that moment, at the bottom of the well, I begin to feel it: solid ground.

In the weeks ahead, in one sense, nothing changes. My son, after three years of increasing illness, is still sick. He wakes, every day, to pain. We find out that he has a chronic condition, and there's some clarity and a sense of purpose. There's also ongoing grief.

In another sense, everything changes. God's goodness is no longer a theory I struggle to believe, an equation that doesn't quite add up, a sentence I can't parse. Instead, it becomes real, tangible, precious. He is there, so close I swear I could reach out and touch him. Something in me lightens and lifts its face to his light.

I look back over the long months and begin to see how this has changed me. All of the Bible's words about suffering, that for so long sounded like ill-tuned bells in my ears, heard with gritted teeth and small appreciation, suddenly ring with a true chime, and I wonder that I was deaf to them before.

Today's post is the first in a series. I want to share the ways God is using suffering to transform me. I want to take his promises and clothe them in flesh. I want to talk about truths I couldn't have talked about a year ago, truths that only now speak to me. This is my testimony, my act of thanksgiving. For God is good, even and especially when we suffer, even when we can't see it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Couch to 5K: week 4

Week four
Begin with a brisk 5-minute walk, then 3 minutes of running, 90 seconds of walking, 5 minutes of running, 2½ minutes of walking, 3 minutes of running, 90 seconds of walking, 5 minutes of running.
running up that hill
The first day of week 4 is completely horrible. We're at my mother-in-law's place in the country, and the road near her house is hills! hills! hills!

For the first time, I can't make it through my run. I struggle through the first 3 minutes, puffing and panting up a slope. I have to stop half-way through the 5 minute run: there's not enough breath left.

The final 3 minutes is a little easier - downhill, and I've found my pace - but I finish with the conviction that this is it for me. It's going to be 3 minute runs for the rest of my life. Which I guess is better than no running at all.

Jane and I share our sorrows:
Jane: So the first run of Level 4 was a bit of a step up! 
Jean: Oh yes. Nearly died. Good to hear I'm not the only one.. My friend who goes to the gym says longer times / distances are always much harder. Hmmm... Didn't help that there were hills where I was staying.
Taking a few days off and might restart at last step of level 3... Telling myself any level is better than none. 
We could write a blog post about this!
Jane: Yes, I nearly died too. I do agree with you - any level is better than none. I'm telling myself if I just do Level 3, 3 times per week for the year, I'll still be doing awesome exercise! 
The hills make it tricky. I do the same circuit every day (strangely comforting) but there's a pretty big hill right in the middle of the last 5 minute run right now!
Jess tells me via text that we'll be surprised that we can do it if we just keep going ...!
Am imagining what a blog about this might say... "Can't believe we're able to write this post because we thought Couch to 5K had killed us..." xxx
Jean: PS still a bit dubious about what Jess said. And as for keeping going... *puff, puff*
Jane: Yes, I had a little worried chuckle when she said that too! At least for the time being I will try to keep going. Time will tell!
The next time I run - and yes, I do push on - it's a little easier.

By the third time, it's all starting to fall into place. The adrenaline rush returns. I feel capable and grounded and strong. Who knew that inside this bookish, library-ish person there was a jogger?
Jane: Just did the level 4 run for the second time - once again it nearly killed me, but it was a tad easier...
Jean: I did it for the 3rd time yesterday and FINALLY felt like I'd gotten the point. It was hard but, remarkably, FUN! And the first two of week 4 were so horrible, and I didn't enjoy level 3 much either...
First time I've felt energised by all this jogging stuff for a while. Pretty sore last night. But I'm feeling so much stronger and fitter: walking, climbing stairs (no puffing!), even standing are easier. A lot firmer around the middle. Better posture. More energy. Stronger.
All that "inner core" stuff is true after all! And it's good for the mind too: I feel happier, more confident, and less anxious.
I sound like an evangelist! I feel like writing a (very boring) post about the benefits of exercise...
No doubt I'll hate it again next week.
And I realise:
  • the first day of the week might feel completely impossible, but it will get easier
  • exercise is packed full of unlikely benefits, and I'm starting to see them
  • my body is capable of so much more than I thought it was.  

It's the end of week 4, and, after a few tough weeks, I'm enjoying running again

How did you find week 4 of Couch to 5K?

online meanderings

Why we shouldn't settle for God's unconditional love - God's love is better than unconditional. David Powlison. 

The right time God - "Don’t mistake God’s patience for His indifference...His timing is right...Thank God He is not swayed by my complaints."

Double dangers: maximising and minimising mental illness - David Murray continues a fascinating series on the dangers of "illness" and "sin" categories when we speak about issues like depression.

How to interview a missionary in church - From a missionary (she ought to know!).

Teenagers want their parents around (but will never admit it) - So very true. Be prepared for work as hard as the baby years - in a good way.

Suffering, ministry, pride, tears and repentance - An honest, helpful post by Macca.
I dare say the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Charles Spurgeon
All of this real, messy, stinky, painful, joyful and plain-old ordinary life is under God's care. Deb

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

the very good job of motherhood

Traffic lightsMotherhood involves a lot of driving for me at the moment.

Yesterday, I drove to Ben's school four times. Each trip, there and back, took at least half an hour. The morning trip, through traffic and a detour around local roadworks, took an hour. The last trip included an hour at the local doctor's.

All this driving was necessary to get Ben, who suffers from chronic headaches, to and from school so he could get through his first day of term 2. (He had a wonderful day, by the way, headache and all; praise God for his answer to prayer!)

Ben, being the sensitive child he is, apologised for taking up so much of my time; and I, being the good mother I am ;), answered, "Don't worry, darling, I don't mind at all."

Except, of course, part of me does mind. I mind the frustrations of driving through traffic. I mind the hours I could be doing something else. I needed to be reminded why this is something I shouldn't mind.

So, to myself as much as to my son, I said, "Benny, this is my job. If I was working in an office, I'd be driving, running errands, and they'd be much more pointless than this. You are my job. You and Lizzy and Thomas and Andy are my job. The house is my job. Helping your dad is my job. That's why I don't do paid work at the moment, so I can do this job."

My words spoke to me. They shifted my perspective. They reminded me that, yes, I have a job, and it's an important one, and one that I love.

And yes, I'd like more time to do ministry outside the home (at the moment, I'm limited to a frustratingly inadequate half-day a week). And yes, I'm aware that one day, soon, I might need to start working for part of the week and earn some extra money. But right now, especially with Ben so sick, this is my full-time job.

This is my job. It's a good job: helping Steve, caring for our kids, managing our home. Let me never forget that! Let me never forget how much I would miss it if I didn't get to do this. Let me never forget that, in doing this ministry-at-home, I love and serve Jesus.

Next time I'm stuck in traffic, driving my kids to or from school, I'll try to remember that.

Monday, April 15, 2013

what I'm reading: When God Weeps - part 1 - God's character in suffering

I am reading the most wonderful book - Joni Eareckson Tada and Stephen Estes' When God Weeps - and wondering why no one recommended it to me sooner.

Maybe God was saving it for this time. I'm so glad he did!

When I suffer, I need someone to weep with me. I need, at least at some level, to understand. I don't need evasions and empty words, but comfort and true hope.

So far (I've only read the first section) this book gives me these in abundance:
  • It's beautifully written in colourful, fresh prose that surprises and moves me with God's truth (you'll love this retelling of Jesus' death).
  • It's honest about just how bad suffering can be. It doesn't pretend things are better than they are, but weeps with those who weep.
  • It's full of true, tested comfort because it's written by someone deeply experienced in suffering: quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada.
  • It's thoughtful and biblical. Co-author Stephen Estes handles the difficult doctrine of God's loving and sovereign purpose in suffering with clarity and accuracy.

Here's a quote I read, and knew immediately I would post. Every word spoke deep into my need.
First, despite Christ's compassionate death for our sins, God's plan - not plan B or C or D, but his plan - calls for all Christians to suffer, sometimes intensely. To encourage us, he may write some light moments into the script of our lives - he may include adventure or romance. An amusing situation will get us chuckling, and an occasional twist of plot may delight us to tears, for God loves to give. But without fail, some scenes are going to break your heart, some of your favourite characters will die, and the movie may end earlier than you wish.

Second, God's plan is specific ... He screens the trials that come to each of us - allowing only those that accomplish his good plan, because he takes no joy in human agony. These trials aren't evenly distributed from person to person. This can discourage us, for we aren't privy to his reasons. But in God's wisdom and love, every trial in a Christian's life is ordained from eternity past, custom-made for that believer's eternal good, even when it doesn't seem like it. Nothing happens by accident... not even tragedy... not even sins committed against us.

Third, the core of his plan is to rescue us from our sins ... God cares most - not about making us comfortable - but about teaching us to hate our sins, grow spiritually, and love him. To do this, he gives us salvation's benefits only gradually, sometimes painfully gradually. In other words, he lets us continue to feel much of sin's sting while we are headed for heaven. This constantly reminds us of what we're being delivered from, exposing sin for the poison it is. Thus evil (suffering) is turned on it's head to defeat evil (sin) - all to the praise of God's wisdom.

Last, every sorrow we taste will one day prove to be the best possible thing that could have happened. We will thank God endlessly in heaven for the trials he sent us here. This is not Disneyland - it is truth.

Quote is from Joni Eareckson Tada and Stephen Estes' When God Weeps p. 56, emphases in bold mine.

Friday, April 12, 2013

mental illness, depression, and self-harm

My friend wrote a beautiful, brave, thoughtful piece about her battle with mental illness. It's so helpful that I decided to share it here with her permission. Here's what she says:
At my wedding last month, everybody in my life saw my arms exposed, many for the first time. They, like other parts of my body, bear slivery silver lines all over them - scars that speak of my history.

Now that it's out there, ... rather than it being this awkward shameful thing, I want to talk, and break the stigma a little. I also want to share some reflections on my condition that may be helpful to others who find themselves in a similar situation.
I have an extensive history of battling with mental illness, and it is not over...I don't know if it ever will be in this life. It is something the doctors believe I was born with - problems in my brain. I've battled with my mental condition for as long as I can remember.

My condition is always there...lurking...waiting to rear its ugly head. And sometimes I feel like that is all I do: wait. When things are good I live in wait of the next episode, and when things are bad I am just struggling to get to the next day, the next moment; waiting for it to end.

I struggle with severe depression, self-harm, and suicidal tendencies. I have, by the grace of God alone, made it through many plans to kill myself. These days I am on medication and in very regular therapy with my psychologist and psychiatrist, and ... I am able to function, and for that I am unceasingly thankful, but the condition is still a part of my life.

There is a lot of confusion about mental illness. People think it's just a cry for attention, or an inability to take control of your thoughts or emotions...true mental illness is more than this. It's not just being a bit sad or needing a break. At my worst I have been unable to do anything...not just less motivated, but lying in bed not having eaten, showered or cleaned anything for a week...wanting to die. Not reading. Not watching movies. Not dozing peacefully. Just lying there, in mental anguish.

Depression is hard work, and it is a pit ...

There are as many different stories of depression as there are people who have experienced it. Some depression is related to problems in life. Some of it is about negative thinking. Some of it is self-centred, and other times it is completely rational in light of circumstances. For me, however, depression is an anomaly. 
When I sought help, the concern was that I was a positive-thinking person who was in fantastic life circumstances, yet I was still depressed. The problem for me is that my thoughts, circumstances and emotions do not line up. ... One of the key roles of my medication is to put my mind back in control of my emotions. When I think negative things, I feel bad. When I think positive things, I feel good. Normal. It doesn't always accomplish this, but that is the idea. A lot of the time it does a pretty good job of it.

One of the things I've had to rectify within myself is the place of depression, and mental health issues in general, within a Christian worldview. I do personally believe that most problems, including most manifestations of depression, are best treated with Biblical counselling by mature Christians. The Gospel is the balm for all our wounds. 
Yet in my circumstances there is nothing to counsel. My thinking is sound. My circumstances are great. What to do there? And to answer that question I considered other mental illnesses. Nobody would suggest treating bipolar or schizophrenia with Biblical counselling alone. There clearly are illnesses of the mind which are not about sinful thinking. In my case, the doctors were convinced that it was this sort of physiological condition we are dealing with. 
I decided, after examining my heart and my thinking carefully to look for sinful patterns (of course my thinking isn't perfect...but there are no patterns of harmful thinking, and it does not seem to be tied to my depression) I decided to trust the doctors and try medication. This confirmed things the most for me. 
The medication dealt with the problems in my brain and dramatically improved things extremely quickly. Normally they just free up a person to work on what needs to be changed, but in my case the doctors see it as just enabling me to go about my life less hampered by my condition. The fact that they did this so well, they took to confirm their suspicions. Again, I decided to trust them on that.

This has proved best for me. Normally I would be very very cautious about jumping to medication for mental illness; we are an over-medicated society. However, when I was fearing for my life at my own hands I was prepared to try anything: and the doctors proved trustworthy. I don't say this to advocate medication or suggest that anyone else should go on meds.

The key things I have been carefully meditating upon throughout the treatment of my condition are these:
Jesus is my Saviour: Medication, and the medical field, are not. While medication helps me get through my life, I know that the answers to every problem of this world lie with Christ. I don't take medication to mask problems or 'save me' in any sense. I don't go to secular psychologists and psychiatrists expecting them to have the deepest answers for the problems of this world.

Mental illness is an illness that needs to be treated. ... Mental illness is tricky, and medication is not always the answer, but in some cases it is necessary and vital.

God is in control of my suffering. I fully believe that God has allowed me to struggle with mental illness for a reason ... I believe that He is using it to make me more like Christ. I don't seek secular help to outrun this or try to outsmart God. He is also in control of how well my medication works on any given days. I still have to deal with my condition daily, and trust His grace for each moment.   
Good things come from my suffering. I have learnt many lessons from my mental health struggles that could not have been more effectively taught. One of the most important is this: I am utterly dependent on Christ. ... Mental illness takes the bottom out of your world. There is no room left for trusting yourself. This sends me to the foot of the Cross daily. We all rely on God's grace to make it through the day - but when I'm in bed unable to get up, or battling suicidal ideations, it becomes abundantly clear just how much I rely on Him. I rely on His strength for every breath.
Not everything is a result of my mental condition. One of the things I, as a mentally ill person, must carefully guard against, is the tendency to excuse every sin in my heart, mind, and behaviour as a by-product of my illness. I am a sinful being, and that is not my brain's fault....it is my fault. I am a rebellious sinner by nature, and Jesus paid for that on the cross.
Thus, as I examine my life and reflect on my illness, I need to remain diligent in guarding against sin...and when I see it in my life, repenting and working to eliminate it by God's grace. Excusing it or telling myself I can't help it is lazy and dishonest. I need to ask God to show me where there is sin in my heart, and to distinguish that from the fruit of my condition.

One day I will be free from the pain my mental illness causes me. As a Christian, I have the assurance of eternity ahead of me. This "light and momentary affliction" will pass by, and I will slip into endless peace and joy present with Christ forever. When life seems unbearable, and it often does, I need to remind myself of the radiance of God's glory, and the promises of my future secure with Him. That puts things here in perspective.

So that is my story I suppose, and the things I'm learning from the experience. I am thankful for my struggles, and the way God is using them in my life and heart. It is by no means easy. Every day is an exhausting battle - but such is life. So much good is coming from it that what else can I do but rest in His strength and rejoice.

If you are reading this, and you are struggling with depression, self harm, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, bipolar, an eating disorder, or any other form of mental illness, please do not be afraid to seek help, and do not be afraid to speak out. Maybe start by sending me an email and we can chat?

Thank you, Maddi.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

online meanderings

If dead men don't rise, our faith is pointless and pitiful.

The atheist's dilemma - "I tried to face down an overwhelming body of evidence, as well as the living God." A fascinating read.

The joys of thankless serving - I just discovered this great blog from a good Melbourne church.

Fatigue - How to cope, hot to be godly. I rediscovered this great post the other day. Macca.

Living with cancer - This 6 minute video encouraged me.

How to make time to think deeply - Read; write; drive; walk; shower; stare; organise... (Plus two helpful posts on busyness: The fine art of selection and Jealousy and regret.)
A prayerless person is a disaster waiting to happen. Don Carson

Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. Charles Spurgeon

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Couch to 5K: week 3

Week three
Begin with a brisk 5-minute walk, then two repetitions of 90 seconds of running, 90 seconds of walking, 3 minutes of running, 3 minutes of walking.


I'm not sure I can run for 3 minutes, and sure enough, the first day is tough. It doesn't help that there's a strong head wind. And it's raining. Running along the beach suddenly isn't so appealing.

After all that, my phone runs out of charge and my run fails to record. So I have to repeat it. Which means that this week, I'll do this run four times rather than three.

That doesn't sound like such a bad idea. After all, if 3 minutes is this hard, how on earth am I going to move up to 5?

So I do two runs along the beach, and we drive home from our holiday, back to pavements and dry summer grass. And I do two more runs, and the last one is super-easy, and I realise I was ready for the next week after all.

The app's annoying me. It's not super-reliable: sometimes the trainer's calm voice tells you to stop jogging, but sometimes it forgets, so I have to check my iPhone as I run. Plus these fiddly little runs are starting to bug me.

I'm so excited about all this running that when I get back to my computer, I announce it on Facebook: "I'm up to week 4 of Couch to 5K"! I get a few "Likes!" and a private Facebook message from my friend Jane*. She says,
I'm up to week 3 of couch to 5k too! Loving it! Loving the apps that allow you to use your own music! I will think of you tomorrow when I go for my next run xxx
That's when our virtual running partnership starts. And that's when I realise,
  • it's much easier with two. Run with a friend if you can. Or at least with a virtual friend. 
  • some days will be harder than others. It's windy, it's hot, or it's rainy. You're just tired out for some reason. Don't worry, you haven't lost it. Next time will be better.
  • when you're struggling, and the next week looks impossible, don't worry: you're more ready than you realise. Don't slow down. Don't repeat a run. Trust the program.

I'm not loving Couch to 5K at the moment. The adrenaline rush has gone. But I'm determined to stick at this...

How did you find week 3 of Couch to 5K?

* Jane blogs at the excellent foodthatserves.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

little acts of kindness

Macca writes about how little acts of kindness help people who suffer in big ways:
Sometimes people’s problems don’t go away. Bereavement and loss. Chronic pain or fatigue. Depression or anxiety. The serious illness, such as cancer. It may seem like there isn’t much we can do.

But, let me encourage you to think again. Maybe there’s something you could offer that would just make things a little easier. In fact, it might make all the difference in the world. It could be as simple as popping over for a cup of tea. Maybe you could offer to read the Bible with them or pray for them. If you offer anything, please make sure you follow up on it.

Little things show that you are still thinking of them. They indicate that you care. They demonstrate commitment. They’re not hard to do. Little acts of kindness can make a very big impact.

I thank God for the little things that people have done for us. For the gifts, the visits, the calls, the practical help, the messages. And the prayers. A little prayer to our awesome God is a kindness of huge proportions. Thank you.
You can read the rest here.

online meanderings

Living in the valley for now - This transformed my view of psalms 22, 23 and 24, and gave me hope as I live in the valley.

Are you getting stuck? - What to do when you feel stuck in your or others' suffering.

Leading church while leading your family - "Your church can get another pastor, but your kids can’t get another dad."

Questions about suicide and Christians - David Murray writes about suicide and mental illness after the death of Rick Warren’s 27-year-old son (and see Justin Taylor and Walt Mueller).

Living singly for God - How singleness can be a gift, even when we don't want it.

Read aloud books - A great list of books to read aloud to your kids. Deb.

7 Deadly Myths and 3 Inspired Truths About Book Editing - I learned a lot from this post.
Glance over at your Bible. Think what you’ve been through with God in those pages...Think how thankful you are that God wrote something you can hold to your chest, rocking back and forth, when your heart is shattered and your sight too blurred to read. Every Bible is the Word of God, but with no ears to hear it, hearts to love it, or hands to warm themselves by the fire of it, man is tragically lost to it. Beth Moore

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

what I'm reading: when worry comes from a need to control from King's Cross

I came across this quote while reading Tim Keller's King's Cross the other day, and found it profoundly helpful. It reminded me that my worry - including my worry about those dear to me - is so often rooted in a need to control:
At some level, your normal assumptions, your pride and your egotistical way of thinking, are blinding you to the truth.
One prime example of this is worry. Naturally, if you love people, you're going to worry about them.
But do you know where constant worry comes from? It's rooted in an arrogance that assumes, I know the way my life has to go, and God's not getting it right.
Real humility means to relax.
One of the hardest things for me is trusting God about things that I have absolutely no control over. Usually, when I worry, the first thing I do is try to fix things. But there are some things you just can't fix.

My son's ongoing illness is one thing I can't fix. God has ripped the reins out of my hands. Yes, I can take my son to (lots and lots of) doctors; I can structure his days and care for his needs; I can talk to his teachers about how to care for him - but nothing I do can make him better.

Sometimes it feels like God has been whispering - no, shouting! (I'm a little hard of hearing) - in my ears, over and over, for years now, as I've loved and raised my children: "You aren't the one in control - I AM!"

I don't find this easy to hear. I'm stubborn. I like to be in control. I worry, I struggle, I fight. But then I give up and give my son up to God. I don't do this by choice. God has left me with no other choice.

I guess God, in his severe mercy, sometimes lets these things into our lives to remind us that, ultimately, we really have very little control at all. All we can do is give up our striving and pray and trust him. And that is HARD.

But if God is all that we believe he is - if he is all that we can see he is in Jesus - if he is love, and power, and compassion, and wisdom, and sovereignty, and grace - then we can give up our striving, our worry, and rest in him, knowing that he wants what is best, both for us and for those we love.

Quote is from Tim Keller King's Cross 147.

Friday, April 5, 2013

with the Lord forever on the other side of cancer

My friend Bronwyn Chin died last Sunday. It was Easter Day, the day we celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead, which seemed so fitting! For Bronwyn was always full of joy in her Saviour, and this was the day she joined him in life on the other side of death.

I only met Bronwyn last year, when I was blessed to be in a prayer group with her at a weekend conference. She was alarmingly skinny, with what she called "rock chic" hair; but she was still full of enthusiasm and laughter! We prayed for her neighbours, whom she invited over regularly so she could talk with them about Jesus. I was inspired by how she served God with all her small reserves of energy.

The day I heard the news I discovered that jogging when you're crying isn't easy. I couldn't stop thinking about and praying through tears for her husband Richard and their four children. My heart is heavy for them because I know that grief is hard. That aching absence always feels so final, even when you know it's not.

Today I'm re-reading a wonderful article Bronwyn wrote last year. It's called Thank God for the gift of cancer. In it she writes,
So I thank God for this gift of cancer because he is good and he is using it for his purposes. The plans of the Lord are perfect even if I don’t know the reasons for everything. All I know is that soon I will be with the Lord forever because Jesus alone has saved me through his death and resurrection.
I hope to see you all there!
 I'd love to encourage you to read the rest here.

online meanderings

8 steps to bringing pastors and their wives out of isolation - An important read.

How to create opportunities for people to speak in church - I love this. Thanks, Macca!

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle - A beautiful post.

Complaining God's way: Helping people give voice to their suffering - Useful thoughts on the psalms of lament.

When our ministry grows slowly, or doesn't seem to grow at all - Wise reflections from a church planter on trusting God when revival doesn't come.

10 practical tips for visiting parents with a new baby - You need to know this, especially #10. (A couple more: Give parents and siblings attention, not just the baby. Bring a gift for siblings, not just the baby.)

See how He loves us? While we were yet sinners Christ died! Behold the cross of Christ! See your sin and your utter depravity. See His mercy and His grace. Lisa Spence

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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

a reflection on twelve years in Pakistan

When I was a child, I thought of missionaries as super-spiritual, going places I'd never dare go, with more courage than I'd ever have. That's just one reason I love this beautiful poem by my friend Jenny, a missionary in Pakistan.*

A Reflection on Twelve years in Pakistan

Striving, surviving, thriving -
yet not quite the outward-bound,
ever-moving, onwards and upwards
imagined adventure.
Rather, each year taken on
its own flavour, layer upon layer
and nothing remains constant,
only the unsettling uncertainty
of what tomorrow could be.
I’ve felt
none of the perfectionism,
none of the spiritual giantism,
that I mistakenly expected.
It’s been slow – oh, so slow -
to come to pass
and yet has passed too soon,
with some gain; not without pain.
Much is veiled and dimly lit,
the secret workings of the Spirit,
who alone has been faithfully
persevering, pruning, working
in this barren soil, his toil.
His wondrous grace and tender mercy
never ceases.
And this brings peace, his peace alone,
so we continue striving, keep surviving
and be sure of His work thriving.

* I've added a few paragraph breaks for ease of online reading - apologies, friend!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Couch to 5K: week 2

Week two
Begin with a brisk 5-minute walk, then alternate 90 seconds of running with 2 minutes of walking, for a total of 20 minutes.

Beach Runner

Week 2 of Couch to 5K isn't that much of a stretch. Yes, my legs want to stop at 1 minute. And yes, it's hard to get that extra 30 seconds out of my puffing body. But that first exhilaration hasn't worn off - not yet.

I discover the joy of running at the beach. We're on holidays, and nothing beats this: a straight stretch of sand, long waves to my right, running past holiday makers and dogs and fishermen.

One day, I go jogging with my daughter. That doesn't work out so well. She's faster than me, but she doesn't see the fun in this. We get back and I ask, "Do you want to do that again?", and she answers, "Not really."

My (sporty) sister-in-law looks at my outfit and says, "You're jogging in jeans?" Well, yes, I am. I didn't want to invest in running clothes until I found out if this program would stick. And better 3/4 jeans than nothing.

I think she's kind of impressed that her non-jogging sister-in-law is willing to give this a go, though. She's sidelined with a sore hip, so we've swapped roles this year: the sporty and the not-so-sporty.

I notice with amusement that, when I run past someone, I speed up to impress them. Then I can barely make it to the end of my 90 seconds. The penalty of vanity.

I reach the end of the beach - can't believe I've made it! Normally I wouldn't even attempt to walk this far! - and pause to watch the waves curling and the seagulls curving overhead. Then I turn and jog-walk-jog-walk back to our holiday house.

And I realise...
  • running at the beach is completely, utterly glorious. Wish I could do it all the time.
  • it would help if I had proper jogging clothes, but ordinary clothes will do for now - although I'll learn soon enough that running in your old cross-trainers is perhaps not the best idea.
  • my app tells me, "Don't go too fast. It's about distance and intervals, not speed." Clearly it knows the way I'm tempted.

It's the end of the second week, and I'm still enjoying this.

How did you find week 2 of Couch to 5K?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

God can pick sense out of a confused prayer: Richard Sibbes

Do you ever feel weak? (Yes!) Do you ever feel like you don't know how to pray? (Double yes!) Or like your prayers are weak and distracted and wavering? (Oh, yes!)

I've never forgotten Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed. It's one of a few lasting memories from my Puritan study days: words that stick in your mind and sing to your heart long after you've laid down the book.

PrayerHere it is, quoted by Challies:
A Christian complains he cannot pray.
"Oh, I am troubled with so many distracting thoughts, and never more than now!"
But has he put into your heart a desire to pray? Then he will hear the desires of his own Spirit in you.
"We do not know what to pray for as we ought" (nor how to do anything else as we ought), but the Spirit helps our infirmities with "groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26)..."My sighing is not hidden from you" (Psa. 38:9).
God can pick sense out of a confused prayer...
Sometimes a Christian has such confused thoughts that he can say nothing but, as a child, cries, "O Father", not able to express what he needs...These stirrings of spirit touch the heart of God and melt him into compassion towards us...
"Oh, but is it possible", thinks the misgiving heart, "that so holy a God should accept such a prayer?" Yes, he will accept that which is his own, and pardon that which is ours...
Look at the promises: "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you" (Psa. 50:15). "Ask, and it shall be given to you" (Matt. 7:7).
God accepts our prayers, though weak, because we are his own children, and they come from his own Spirit; because they are according to his own will; and because they are offered in Christ’s mediation, and he takes them, and mingles them with his own incense (Rev. 8:3).

There is never a holy sigh, never a tear we shed, which is lost.
And as every grace increases by exercise of itself, so does the grace of prayer. By prayer we learn to pray. So, likewise, we should take heed of a spirit of discouragement in all other holy duties, since we have so gracious a Saviour.
Pray as we are able, hear as we are able, strive as we are able, do as we are able, according to the measure of grace received. God in Christ will cast a gracious eye upon that which is his own...

Let us not be cruel to ourselves when Christ is thus gracious.
There is a certain meekness of spirit whereby we yield thanks to God for any ability at all, and rest quiet with the measure of grace received, seeing it is God’s good pleasure it should be so...
When, with faithful endeavor, we come short of what we would be, and short of what others are, then know for our comfort, Christ will not quench the smoking flax.

You can read the rest here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

words from my friend

What Jesus did on the cross is simply so amazing. With all that was coming down on him in that final week and those final hours he could have said 'enough!' and got down from the cross and walked away, but He didn't. He stayed. For us. And if He did that then He fully loves us and He is fully in control. Of these truths I know you are convinced, and I am so thankful that He has you all in His precious loving hands.

From my friend Natalie.

online meanderings

A theatre called holy week - When God breaks into his own narrative, it's time to sit up and take notice.

Who will teach the women who want to be taught? - We need women who have been trained to teach others. "Brothers, they should not be a threat to you." Amen.

Why Christians should read fiction - Love this! (And see Christian fantasy - why it works, and why it doesn't work.)

My spouse doesn't meet my needs - The kind of expectations it's good to have of your spouse - and of yourself.

Why not to grumble about church in front of your kids - Love the way this post breaks into Bible.

Lessons from a year-long spending fast - Been there, done that, and found some of the same benefits.

In what areas do we need to find contentment? - A list that will search your heart.
When Jesus makes a trusting saint wait in pain, his reasons are only love. God only ordains his child's deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal (Romans 8:18). Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can. So in your anguish of soul, hear Jesus ask with strong affection, “Do you believe this?” Jon Bloom

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