Saturday, June 29, 2013

mid-year break

And that, friends, is my last post for a couple of weeks. It's time for my annual mid-year break from all things blogging. See you soon!

a lamington train cake for Andy's 7th birthday

I'm sure you know this one. The easiest cake of all time. I think this is the third time I've made one. Ben asked for this cake for his third and fourth birthdays! Now it's Andy's turn.
So easy to make.
We stuck the wheels on with icing, and used fruit sticks to hold the carriages together.
How to blow out candles when you're recovering from the flu so you don't give it to everyone else: don't blow all over the cake. One piece will do!
Happy 7th birthday, Andy!

Friday, June 28, 2013

online meanderings

"Where is your God?" - When trouble and doubt come, where is God?

Laying aside the weight of self and The pursuit of a Lisa I will like - Two excellent posts about self-absorption and self-esteem

Bosses don't give gold stars and other career advice - A thoroughly helpful post from Carolyn McCulley. Adapted from her coming book.

Mid-life and ministryAvoiding an affair and Solutions for your troubled soul - Three posts for pastors that will speak to everyone else too.

Doubting your doubts - An excellent new blog with lots of great posts about doubt.

Read along with your teenagers - Better than parenting books. Absolutely!
We are sought. And because we are sought, we are found. And only when we are found do we look back and realize just how lost we truly were.  Michael Kelley 
God has Himself become our refuge from Himself. For when God is against you, where else can you turn except to God? When we were running from Him, the only place for us to go was to Him. Michael Kelley

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

still true

I wrote this at the start of the year, looking forward. Half-way through, and it is still true:
I know Jesus will be with me. He is my Lord and Master, my Saviour and Friend. I know I'll dig deeper into his grace and goodness this year, whatever else happens. And knowing that is - or should be! - enough to calm my fears and fill me with hope for the months ahead. For he is very, very good, and knowing him is enough for me.

what to do when kids have flu

I've had two kids home with the flu the last two weeks.

It's been a bit of a trip down memory lane, back to the days when I had kids at home all day to cuddle, read to and play with. Hard work, but lovely!

While he was convalescing, Thomas and I made a jigsaw tablecloth.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

online meanderings

Who am I? - Changing the question "Who am I?" to "Who am I?". A profound post.

Is there a key to godliness? - 1000 solutions to habitual sin. Love it!

How to ask for forgiveness - 4 simple things to remember when you say "sorry".

10 chances to pray and 5 people we should pray for even though we don't want to - Two helpful posts on prayer.

Encouraging group members to serve and Rest and renewal for leaders - Two great posts for leaders.

Young pastor, obscurity is your friend - Why it's good not to have too much ministry success too soon.
Keep digging where the ground is hard. Keep praying for those doing hard yards in hard places. With God, all things are possible. Meredith
Isn't that a crazy idea? Our giving might actually limit our luxuries! John Poitevent

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

a life surrounded by books

I hope I will never have a life that is not surrounded by books, by books that are bound in paper and cloth and glue, such perishable things for ideas that have lasted thousands of years, or just since the most recent Harry Potter. I hope I am always walled in by the very weight and breadth and clumsy, inefficient, antiquated bulk of them, hope that I spend my last days on this Earth arranging and rearranging them on thrones of good, honest pine, oak, and mahogany, because they just feel good in my hands, because I just like to look at their covers, and dream of the promise of the great stories inside.
Rick Bragg

Monday, June 24, 2013

what I'm reading: is it okay to get angry with God?

Is it really okay to express anger at God?

Last week I quoted Joni saying "yes". After all, the Psalm writers do it. When we express our anger to God, it leads us towards him, not away from him into bitterness and despair.

But I need to be careful about the spirit I bring to this. I found this quote fascinating and challenging:
We have manifold references in Scripture to believers bitterly complaining and almost accusing God of unfairness or harshness. We sometimes look at these instances and think, “Well, if Moses can do it, if Job can do it, then it must be my prerogative as a Christian to voice my bitterness and complaints.”

But we need to notice not just the complaints the biblical saints sometimes make, but the responses God gives. Let’s take Job’s complaint as an example. As Job struggled with his afflictions, he found it impossible not to grumble that God would let one as righteous as he was suffer so greatly.
Eventually, however, God answered Job’s complaints with stern words: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (Job 38:2–3).
What did Job say? Did he continue to complain? No. Instead, he declared: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3b, 6). He was severely rebuked for the attitude that he expressed to God.
Likewise, Habakkuk the prophet complained bitterly that God was not being just by allowing wickedness to go unchecked. He demanded an answer from God, and when God gave it, Habakkuk said, “My body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones; and I trembled in myself” (Hab. 3:16a).

It’s vital that we understand prayer in terms of the qualifications that are found throughout the Bible. By considering the scope of the Bible’s teaching on this subject, we may conclude that it is acceptable to bring all our cares to God, including matters that may move us to frustration or anger.
However, we must not come to God in a spirit of complaint or anger against Him, for it is never proper to accuse God of wrongdoing.

From RC Sproul’s The Prayer of the Lord, quoted here.

Image is by Ashley Rose from flickr.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

be happy in God, O my heart

Be happy in God, O my heart, and in nothing but God,
for whatever a man trusts in,
from that he expects happiness.

He who is the ground of thy faith
should be the substance of thy joy.

Whence then comes heaviness and dejection,
when joy is sown in thee,
promised by the Father,
bestowed by the Son,
inwrought by the Holy Spirit,
thine by grace,
thy birthright in believing? ...

Look not below God for happiness;
fall not asleep in Delilah’s lap.

Let God be all in all to thee,
and joy in the fountain that is always full.

From The Valley of Vision, quoted by Georgianne.

...I've got somethin'

This morning I started writing again. Just saying. Joy.

With thanks to Meredith, who reminded me that in Jesus we have much more than "nuffin''": we have everything (Eph 1:3-10).

And that's a joy that nothing can take away.

Friday, June 21, 2013

I've got nuffin'

I'd love to write something, but I've got nuffin'. It's one of those times when life drains your energy and fogs your mind till there's no space left for the happy drifting thoughts that lead to writing. Besides, all my thoughts turn to suffering at the moment (have you noticed?) and I've had about enough of myself writing about myself for now.

Instead, fill my thoughts with Jesus. Fill them with God's Son made flesh. Fill them with his sacrificial days and his poured-out death and his coming back to life. Fill them with the King, ruling at God's right hand. Fill them with the day when he'll return and take us home.

Fill them with God, my shelter and my strength. Fill them with his wise ruling of my days and every moment of my future. Fill them with his love, love that overflows and sings to me despite my unworthiness. Fill them with his strength that helps me endure, and his grace that helps me rejoice.

Then let me go out and serve. Let me lay down my life through these complicated days. Let me fight anxiety and discouragement for his name's same. Let me drink deeply of his forgiveness when I give way to grumpiness and self-pity. Let me somehow, in all that is happening, in the sickness and the tears, bring him glory. Let me bear witness to his goodness.

Let me run this race to the end.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

online meanderings

When my dad loved me at my worst - A great little story about unconditional grace.

A story already told - Beautiful.

Grief and the gospel and A gospel guide through grief - Two helpful posts about Jesus and suffering.

We are all compatibilists at the cross and God's sovereignty: 3 mistakes - Two interesting posts about God's sovereignty and suffering / human responsibility.

Dating to display Jesus - A useful resource.

Praying with children - The first in an ongoing series about how to pray with kids of different ages.

10 books that shaped my theology of suffering - A useful resource from Mike Leake.
Empty hands and unstudied words are always welcome before God. Georgianne
Find a person who has weathered storms rather than avoided them and you will find someone who is wise. Georgianne

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

grief: a line with three points

There's so much to like about Abe Mysenburg's posts grief and the gospel and a gospel guide through grief.

So much wisdom about responding to suffering and sin as we follow Jesus, who also suffered and wept and grieved.

Here's a bit that spoke to me:
Fixating merely on the hard circumstances of life—past or present—is driven by pride. Effectively, we are casting our cares on ourselves. Casting them on God requires humility, an acknowledgement that life is not ultimately about us, but is about Him and His glory. 
The trials of life can cause us to tell our stories with our eyes pointed downward into our cupped hands, looking at our circumstances as if they were an unintelligible pile of garbage. It’s a line with two fixed points—us and our pile of stuff.
The challenge is to humbly bring your pile to the Father, to hold your cupped hands out and lift up your head, gazing not on your circumstances but on the One who is sovereign over them and present in the midst of them. The line becomes a triangle with three points—us, our pile of stuff, and our perfect Father.

Monday, June 17, 2013

what I'm reading: the uncomfortable issue of anger at God

Sometimes when we suffer we feel angry at God. When we feel like this we have a few choices:
  • we can complain about God to others
  • we can give way to bitterness and retreat into despair
  • we can stuff our anger way down deep and put a brave face on it.
The problem with all of these is that they drive us (and others!) further from God. Joni gives us another option:.
When pain lumbers through the front door, squats down in the middle of your life, and makes itself at home day after day, year after year, we can choke. We can crack. We erupt in anger ...
The author of Psalm 88 abruptly stops on a note of resentment .... The words are ugly. Then again, so is life. 
God is big enough to take on anger like this. It doesn't fluster him.
First, he knows stuff happens. He himself said, "In this world you will have trouble." Secondly, he doesn't tiptoe around it ... He wrote the book on suffering. And he invited people like the one who wrote Psalm 88 to be his co-authors. In so doing he invited angry people to air their complaints. ...
We're usually scared to death to talk to God this way. Too often we repress our deep emotions about suffering. We choose the polite route, bottling up our unspeakable feelings toward God hiding behind a religious pretence as we "give it all over to the Lord" too quickly. All we've done is shove the problem to the back burner. ...The fire goes out. Our hearts become cold.
Anger keeps pushing the problems to the front burner ... 
Affliction either warms you up toward spiritual things or turns you cold ... Hate is sometimes closer to love than indifference. And lukewarmness is the only road that never goes to God. There's nothing mediocre about feelings of fury ... Much better than ho-hum half-heartedness. ...
Strong emotions open the door to asking the really hard questions.Does life make sense? Is God good? More to the point, our deep emotions reveal the spiritual direction in which we are moving. Are we moving toward the Almighty or are we moving away from him? Anger properly makes Someone the issue of our suffering rather than something. And that's moving in the right direction. ... 
After all, the people you really get angry with are the ones you trust most deeply. "I am mad as a hornet, God, and I don't understand what you are doing one bit" sounds like the dark side of trust, but it's trust, nonetheless.

Joni Eareckson Tada When God Weeps 149-152.

Friday, June 14, 2013

online meanderings

God's will for your wait 1 and 2 - When life seems to be all about waiting, big or small.

Wrestling with doubt 1 and 2 - A woman with a chronic illness writes about doubt.

The big question of grief - "Who am I now?" Wise and gentle thoughts.

5 notes on dating for the guys - Worth reading and passing on.

When your teen doubts their salvation - Helpful advice and resources.

What atheists look like - “I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

Reaching Muslims with the gospel of God - An interview about Islam.
When it comes to the ongoing work of grace, he is a dissatisfied Redeemer. He won’t forsake the work of his hands until all has been fully restored. Paul Tripp
Father, I have complained about my body when I ought to thank you for it. I have grumbled at its pains and been dissatisfied with its shape. Bring me to a state of shocked wonder at its intricacies, in awe of its marvels. Into a body not dissimilar to mine, and into flesh constituted like mine, you entered, O God, for my salvation. I praise you for it because of and through Jesus Christ. Amen. Georgianne  

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Couch to 5K: reflections

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Mount BaldyIt's raining when I go for my jog today, a slow, steady, not-too-heavy rain that soaks my clothes in minutes. It drips off my hair and freezes my hands and runs down my face like tears.

Tufts of grass make my shoes as wet as my hair, the ground bumpy under my feet. Concrete, tanbark, gravel. The slow curve around the oval. A small respite on the perfectly tailored athletics track. Then back to bumpy ground, and the gradual rise at the end of my 20 minutes.

I've decided not to finish Couch to 5K, at least for the moment. I made it to 25 minutes, but my knees and I have come to a compromise: 20 minutes - about 3K - is enough for now. That way there's enough pep left in my knees for walking, and carrying bags, and climbing stairs, and all the other things I have to do.

Here's the plan. A 20 minute jog a couple of times a week, and a broken-up getting-used-to-running jog with my daughter on the weekends. Plus a lovely long meditative walk once a week, and maybe some weights once I get around to it.

Once or twice a week I swim with my son. He swims for his health (migraines and chronic headaches). I swim for joy. To my vast astonishment, I swam a kilometre yesterday, all 40 laps of it, without much puffing. And I used to do 8 laps and collapse!

So would I recommend Couch to 5K? Most definitely. This particular couch potato - or computer potato - is now fitter and healthier and stronger, and has muscle in places where fat used to be. Even better, running lifts my mood, helping me fight anxiety and discouragement as I care for our chronically ill son.

As I reach the end of my run, damp and dripping, Sara Groves sings through my earphones. Many times I've finished jogging, done some stretches, then sat on my rock and stared at my lake with the words of Like a Lake drifting through my thoughts. This song, along with a few others, has supported me through the last hard months.

Today feels like a new beginning, the start of a new pattern, a new way of being. I'm settling into this fitness plan now, making it part of my life, enjoying its benefits. So it's appropriate that this song plays now, at the end of my 20 minute run.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

what I'm reading: when you love something more than God

I was sitting in my favourite cafe, reading Tim Keller's King's Cross, when I came across one of those passages that picks you apart at the very core:
When you are in spiritual darkness, although you may feel your life is headed in the right direction, you are actually profoundly disoriented.
If anything but God is more important to you, you have a problem with direction. It's impossible to discern where you're going, let alone where you ought to be going. Money, career, love - for a period of time you may feel you have something to live for. But if you actually get the thing you have been seeking, you suddenly realize that it's not big enough for your soul. It doesn't produce its own light.
Also, if you centre on anything but God, you suffer a loss of identity. Your identity will be fragile and insecure, because it's based on the things you centre your life on. It's based on human approval. It's based on how well you perform. You don't really know who you are. In the darkness you can't see yourself.
Moreover, in spiritual darkness you are isolated. You are wrapped up in the things that you're living for, so you're always scared or angry or proud or driven or full of self-pity. As a result, you become isolated from other people. ...
Let me illustrate this personally .... If my preaching and ministry are my ultimate centre and I get criticism, then I'm overcome with insecurity. Or when I fail to perform up to my expectations, I'm devastated. Inordinate guilt churns inside me. In the end I begin to disintegrate. ...
Spiritual darkness - turning away from God, the true light, and making anything more important than him - leads invariably from disorientation to disintegration ... But that trajectory won't stop at the end of our lives ... Being out of the presence of God, who is all light and all truth, means utter darkness and eternal disintegration ...
Jesus' death happened in the dark ... Jesus, the Maker of the world, was being unmade. Jesus was experiencing our judgement day.

Tim Keller, King's Cross, pp. 200-205, bold print mine.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

online meaderings

Caring for a sick wife - Beautiful words, wise thoughts, tears in my eyes.

5 notes on dating for the guys - A helpful post for young men.

Deadly, dull and boring - I learned a lot from this article on teaching the Bible.

One small tip to help you be more productive - Small, but effective.

How can single mothers raise godly young men - 4 helpful suggestions.

Book review: Glimpses of grace - If you're a homemaker, working outside the home or not, this book sounds brilliant.

Thoughts on some difficult passages about women in the Old Testament - Making a note of this one.
The sea of this world interrupts our course, even although we already see where we are headed … Therefore, cling to Christ … He became the one, on which the weak may be borne, and cross the sea of this world and reach their native country; where there will be no need of a ship, for no sea is crossed. – Augustine of Hippo (Tractate 2 on John 6)
When your sermon [or Bible study, or Sunday school lesson] isn't that great, stop allowing your identity to be wrapped up in your performance. So you hit a single. God is still God. You are still you. Philip Nation

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

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

God, I'll do anything, if...

"I'll do anything, Lord, if you just keep me from drowning. Tell me what to do."
That's the prayer of fear-based religion. For many people, that's their view of God. That's how they pray: "Lord, I'll do anything if...". Good people. People in church. Sincere people. "Lord, I'll do anything if you give me this career. Anything if you give me this relationship."
The trouble is that if you pray "Lord, I'll do anything if", you can't do the one thing God wants you to do, which is to love him without any "ifs".
You see, when you pray "Lord, I'll do anything if...", what's on the other side of that? It's your real God. It's what you really look to for security, for significance, for meaning, for hope, for joy. You're trying to use God as a means to that end.
But God will not a means to some other idol. Relationship with God is not a means, but the end we use our means to work towards. God himself is our end.

John Hudson, from his talk on Jonah 1 (you can find it here)