Monday, October 27, 2014

All your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)

They are HIS waves, whether they break over us,
    Hiding His face in smothering spray and foam;
Or smooth and sparkling, spread a path before us,
    And to our haven bear us safely home.

They are HIS waves, whether for our sure comfort
    He walks across them, stilling all our fear;
Or to our cry there comes no aid nor answer,
    And in the lonely silence none is near.

They are HIS waves, whether we are hard-striving
    Through tempest-driven waves that never cease,
While deep to deep with turmoil loud is calling;
    Or at His word they hush themselves in peace.

They are HIS waves, whether He separates them,
    Making us walk dry ground where seas had flowed;
Or lets tumultuous breakers surge about us,
    Rushing unchecked across our only road.

They are HIS waves, and He directs us through them;
    So He has promised, so His love will do.
Keeping and leading, guiding and upholding,
    To His sure harbor, He will bring us through.

- Annie Johnson Flint

Sunday, October 19, 2014

my times are in your hands

"My times are in your hands" (Psalm 31:5) - two days in a row we received this verse in a card in the mail.

A wonderful reminder that it is God who ordains and numbers our days (Psalm 139:6; Job 14:5) - not, ultimately, illness or health professionals.

Jesus said, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?" (Luke 12:25) - an encouragement against health anxiety.

Our times are in his hands.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

what I'm reading: when all other lights go out

I remember it so clearly. I lay on my front across Steve's hospital bed, and he sat in a chair by a window with a view of a brick wall. A nurse stuck her head round the curtains and said, "You look relaxed, like you're on holiday or something!".

We weren't. We'd just found out what kind of cancer Steve has, and I was reading to him from Tim Keller's Walking with God through pain and suffering.

I haven't been able to read much the last 3 months. But I recently picked up Keller's book again. He explores three aspects of suffering - philosophy, theology, and experience - and suggests you begin with the section most relevant to your circumstances, then go back and read the others.

I started with the section on philosophy and culture (before Steve got ill), skipped to the bit on experience (after we found out Steve has cancer), and am now reading the chapters on theology. The philosophy is fascinating and intellectually satisfying; the theology (so far) sound and clear; the section on experience, deeply encouraging.

It's a rich, wise, nourishing book. I recommend it highly. And it's full of quotable quotes, some by Keller, some collected from others. Here's one that sums up our year so far:
This is a dark world. There are many ways we keep that darkness at bay, but we cannot do it forever. Eventually the lights of our lives - love, health, home, work - will begin to go out. ... The Bible says that Jesus is the light of the world. If you know you are in his love, and that nothing can snatch you out of his hand, and that he is taking you to God's house and God's future - then he can be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out. (123-124)
 Here's one that gives me hope:
At some point, for all eternity, there will be no more unmerited suffering: this present darkness, "the age of evil", will eventually be remembered as a brief flicker at the beginning of human history. Every evil done by the wicked to the innocent will have been avenged, and every tear will have been wiped away. (Peter van Inwagen, quoted p. 117)
And, finally, here's one on the "why" of suffering and the cross:
We do not know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason is not. It cannot be that he does not love us. It cannot be that he does not care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.  He understand us, he has been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually wipe away every tear. Someone might say, "But that's only half an answer to the question "Why?". Yes, but it is the half we need. (121)
I guess you can see why I love this book so much.

Monday, October 6, 2014

to be a soldier

A wonderful Charles Spurgeon quote sent to me by a friend:
Dear believer, do you understand that God may take away your comforts and privileges in order to make you a stronger Christian? Do you see why the Lord always trains His soldiers not by allowing them to lie on beds of ease but by calling them to difficult marches and service?

He makes them wade through streams, swim across rivers, climb steep mountains, and walk many long marches carrying heavy backpacks of sorrow. This is how He develops soldiers—not by dressing them up in fine uniforms to strut at the gates of the barracks or to appear as handsome gentlemen to those who are strolling through the park.

No, God knows that soldiers can only be made in battle and are not developed in times of peace. We may be able to grow the raw materials of which soldiers are made, but turning them into true warriors requires the education brought about by the smell of gunpowder and by fighting in the midst of flying bullets and exploding bombs, not by living through pleasant and peaceful times.

So, dear Christian, could this account for your situation? Is the Lord uncovering your gifts and causing them to grow? Is He developing in you the qualities of a soldier by shoving you into the heat of the battle? Should you not then use every gift and weapon He has given you to become a conqueror?

Friday, October 3, 2014

how we're going

I have started and abandoned this post a few times now. I want to let you know how we are going - those of you who don't already know - but such a huge amount has happened since I wrote about Steve's diagnosis and surgery that it defies fitting into a blog post!

Here it is in miniature:

- 10 weeks ago my husband Steve was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the third and fourth sections of the duodenum (at the top end of the small bowel) after half a year of strange symptoms; it caused a blockage and he became unable to keep down solid food.

The tumour was removed successfully, for which we praise God (the surgeons were surprised at the success of the surgery). It was a stage 3 tumour - it had already spread to the lymph nodes - but there were no visible secondaries or spread to local organs, and the margins were clear.

- Steve spent a very long 5 1/2 weeks in hospital, and I spent much of that time with him while Mum cared for our 4 children at home.

They were strange weeks of shuffling walks down hospital corridors, wheeling him to a sunny courtyard every day (all the doctors say, "Sit in the sun while you recover from surgery"), sitting by Steve's bed while he suffered silently, getting him wet facecloths or blankets, reading the Bible to him and praying, or writing and looking out the window.

Hard days of diagnosis and grief, fear and surgery, tears and nausea; a terrible day when he had a septic shower (due to an infected haematoma) and I thought I would lose him; days of discouragement and slow, slow recovery.

- We have been home for 4 1/2 weeks now. You look forward to escaping hospital, so it's a bit of a shock to discover you have brought all the difficulties home with you. Of course, you knew this would happen, but it's hard all the same.

That said, it is wonderful for Steve to be home and for us to have him home. It has been slow, but his digestive system is gradually recovering from surgery. He can eat a little more, and we are learning to manage the issues caused by whipple-style digestive re-plumbing (for those in the know, he still has his pancreas and stomach, which makes it easier).

- He started chemotherapy - to mop up the remaining cancer cells in his system - 2 weeks ago. He had his second treatment this morning and it went fine. The treatments are in a beautiful new oncology room with a wall of windows looking out into the canopy of a huge oak tree.

He will have 12 treatments, God willing, every 2 weeks for 6 months. Already there have been unpleasant side effects, and they will increase over time. And so the next 6 months are going to be challenging.

The chemo will be followed by scans to check if the cancer has gone. I guess that will be a whole new stage of waiting, praying, hoping and trusting. We are planning a family holiday for after chemo if Steve is well enough.

- Many, many things have changed. Steve lost work, ministry and health. I lost ministry and have taken on the role of a carer to Steve as well as to our chronically ill son. We are at a different church now, just down the street from our house: our old church is too far to travel at the moment.

There is a lot of trauma and grief to process. My health hasn't been good due, I guess, to the stress, but I am beginning to recover. Our kids are doing okay and processing what has happened in their own ways.

It is the most beautiful Spring here in Melbourne. I go for walks and rejoice to see the new leaves of oaks and elms opening against the sky; sit by the lake nearby and listen to music or cry and pray.

We are learning a lot about endurance and persevering in faith, about turning and looking to Jesus, about trusting the Father's plans for our lives and seeking to glorify him. I love and live in the psalms more than ever (psalms 61-63 are my new favourites).

Steve and I are reading John Piper's tiny booklet Don't Waste Your Cancer together in the evenings. At one or two paragraphs a day, it's just about the right length! It's been very helpful and challenging.

We are upheld by many people's prayers, practical support and encouragement. If you have been praying, thank you so much!

And thanks too to our great God who loved us enough to give up his only Son to die for us, who understands suffering from the inside out, and whose love never fails.

For regular updates you can "like" this page on Facebook: Pray for Steve.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

in fear, for his glory

This post is, oh, only about 3 months out of date. But hey, a lot has happened since I wrote it. Anyhow, here it is.

In a month or two I will be giving my first conference talk.

I feel a bit like Paul, if you will allow me to rip a verse out of context: "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling" (1 Cor 2:3).

Except in my case the fear and trembling come from less godly motivations. I want to succeed. I want this event to succeed. I want to impress people. I want them to like, respect, admire me. I could go on - I'm a type A person! My ambitions are boundless! - but I'd embarrass myself (like I already haven't) and you, too.

My gut clenches; my mind hazes over. People say, "You'll be great!" - my mother, who's not at all one-sided, plus a few faithful friends who have far more respect for me than I deserve - and all I can think is, "Now there's further to fall!". I remind myself that it's a small conference among friends; but it doesn't really help.

There's just one thing that helps. It's one of my favourite Bible passages, Philippians 2:1-11. It keeps coming into my head, driven by the Spirit. When I feel the fear welling up, I repeat to myself (and yes, this is pretty much the 1984 version of the NIV, 'cos my brain is stuck there):
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit ...
Selfish ambition. Vain conceit. Sums up the worst of my motivations quite nicely.

And the alternative:
...but in humility consider others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others. You attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Putting others' interests above my own. Valuing them more than myself. Doing this for their sake, not mine.

And then the model, Jesus Christ:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being found in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name ...
This isn't about me. It never was. It's about me laying down my life for the sake of others. And if, in the process, I get cold toes and a wriggly tummy, well, that's a small price to pay.

I just pray I can forget myself and serve others for the sake of Christ. Not for my own glory, but for his:
... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)
For his glory.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

grace-shaped womanhood: my talk on Titus 2

Well, I've done it! My very first conference talk. And I had a lot of fun too. :)

My talk was on Titus 2, and it was at our inaugural T2 Women's Conference. You can listen to it here, along with Belinda Grant's talk from Titus 3:

T2 Women.

Just click on the link under "age into a sage".

Monday, September 8, 2014

this is life now

The days are long and hard. It is not easy to be pulled out of your ordinary life - your work, your ministry, your taken-for-granted health - and put in the middle of every day, all day sickness, on top of the many demands of daily life, sadness, and fear for the future. There is so much loss and so many changes to adjust to, for all of us.

Yet there are also blessings. This beautiful Spring weather. The sunshine. Our love for each other. Those who care and pray for us. God's incredibly comforting word. The knowledge that our Father is in control and he is good. And Jesus, who has walked this path before us and for us.

Thank you for your prayers, friends. Please keep praying for hope and healing.

And if you want regular updates, you can find them at Pray for Steve

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

what's been happening

Hi all! You may remember I told you that Steve was sick during our bi-annual holiday. He continued to get worse after we got home. We found out two weeks ago that he has a rare cancer of the duodenum (upper small bowel).

Three weeks ago, he was admitted to hospital, and since then life has been a surreal procession of tests, waiting for results, and processing the kind of news no one wants to hear. Each piece of news was worse than the last – mass? lymphoma? adenocarcinoma? – until the day we got the good news that the scan showed no visible secondaries.

We grieved together, prayed together, wrote our wills, and told our children.

There have been many hard days: the days when we anxiously waited for results, the days we grieved the bad news, the days we began to think about what that will mean, the days I sat and watched Steve in pain and vomiting endlessly, and now, the slow days of recovery after surgery.

But the hardest day, for me, was the day of Steve’s operation.

The surgeons had no idea what they could do until they opened him up. They thought they would need to do a “whipple” – major surgery involving removal of part of the pancreas and stomach and complicated re-plumbing of the bowel. They feared they would have to do a bypass, leaving the tumour intact and rejoining the bowel around it.

I have never prayed so long and so hard in my life (I am ashamed to say that, but it’s true). I lay in bed – I had no energy to do anything else – and stared out at the rain, and prayed and prayed and prayed.

The surgeon rang at 1.24 pm with the news: they were able to do a duodectomy (removal of part of the duodenum) instead of the larger whipple. They removed the tumour successfully. There were no visible secondaries. I gave my children (all sick at home) a thumbs-up, and we gave thanks to God.

Now Steve is recovering from major surgery, which means nausea and weakness and mental disorientation and pain. I’ve spent most of the last three weeks by his bedside. My mother is looking after our kids, who are coping well – except for Andy, our eight-year-old, who misses his mum.

Already there has been loneliness (it is hard when the person you usually depend for comfort is so sick, at the very time when you need comfort most) and grief and fear. There have been times when I haven’t even wanted to talk to God, and other times when it has been hard to believe he loves us. I am living in the Psalms, and clinging to him as well as I can. Truly I can say that God is my refuge. “I sing in the shelter of his wings” (Psalm 63:7).

We await pathology and oncology and all the ongoing uncertainty that goes with a cancer diagnosis. Soon, we will begin to hear more about statistics and prognoses. I am praying for another 25 years with Steve. I am praying we will trust God whatever he wills for us. It is God who numbers our days, not statistics and prognoses. We are in his loving hands.

I feel afloat on an ocean of prayer. We are surrounded by people who support and help us. I have set up a Facebook page where I post daily prayer points. If you would like to pray with and for us, you can "like" this page: Pray for Steve.

Friday, August 1, 2014

memory of fallen times

To know that
evil is mortal,
that it dies with this earth,
and will fade like a smudge
into brief
memory of fallen times
– if remembered at all,

one must
first feel fast-bound
in strangler-roots,

which takes time,
and strength of all kinds,
harm, and the death of hopes.

Then one must see evil everywhere,
and understand its power,
and fetch,
and stench;
how it sits like a toad
in a stone
inside the soul,
inside the bone.

fall down
of terror, and fear,
and sadness,
bored out for all
who look unblinking into such things.

And run weeping to Jesus,
then flee,
then back, then flee
and back again,
until knowing
no other place to flee.

Only then,
as buds urge through hardwood,
or like brief snatches
of new breeze in spring,
know evil is mortal
and ends with this earth
in future phenomena
of dying and birth,
and will fade like smudge
into brief memory
of fallen times,
if it is remembered
at all.

- David Hastie.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

what I'm reading: walking through suffering

We are facing a very hard time at the moment. I will tell you more about it another time, but please keep us in your prayers.

This morning I read these words in Tim Keller's Walking with God through pain and suffering. They were just what I needed to hear:
Suffering is something that must be walked through. We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair.

Adversity is like a fire that, rather than destroying you, can refine, strengthen, and beautify you, as a forge does with metal ore. The fire "tries" to destroy the metal put into the fire but only succeeds in making it more pure and beautiful. Like fire working on gold, suffering can destroy some things within us and can purify and strengthen other things.

Or not. It depends on our response. The fiery furnace does not automatically make us better. We must recognize, depend on, speak with, and believe in God while in the fire. God himself says that he will be with us, walking beside us in the fire. Knowing him personally while in our affection is the key to becoming stronger rather than weaker in it.

Tim Keller, Walking with God through pain and suffering, 226-9

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

book review: Invest your suffering

Every writing pastor seems to put out a book on two themes. One is marriage. Another is suffering. Judging from the prologues, the process goes something like this: they give a sermon series. It's popular (who isn't interested in these topics?). They turn the series into a book.

It can be hard to know which book on suffering to read, since there are so many. If you were to look over the recently published books on the topic, which one would you choose? I've read a fair few,* and my top pick would definitely be Paul Mallard's unassuming little book Invest Your Suffering. This book is ideal both for those preparing for suffering, and (a harder audience!) for those who are suffering.

I'd never heard of Invest Your Suffering, or of Paul Mallard, when I was asked to review it. I wasn't sure if I had time. I read one chapter in the dentist's waiting room (for me) and others between ongoing doctors' visits (for my chronically ill son). I didn't regret it. It came at a time when I needed it, and it met me in my need.

One of the things I love about Invest Your Suffering is that it doesn't aim for great things. You won't find some clever new theological perspective on suffering (thank goodness!). It's not long and exhaustive (for that, turn to Don Carson or, more recently, Tim Keller). It's readable, honest, and heart-felt. It's really just an exploration of some of the ways God's word meets us when we suffer, from the pen of a pastor long experienced in suffering.

In some ways, this book is a love story. It's about Paul Mallard's wife Edrie, who suffers from a painful and debilitating neurological condition, and the difficult stages of their journey. But it is less about their love - although that shines through the pages - than it is about God's love. Mallard states his goal here:
In the course of this book, we will engage with some of the great Bible passages that have brought light into Edrie's and my darkest moments. (p. 22)
Each chapter opens with a scene from their story and the hard questions it raised for them, then unpacks a truth about God that helped them at this time. This is not a systematic book, but a pastoral and exegetical one. As I read, I felt like I was sitting in Mallard's congregation, listening to him speak; or in his living room, talking with him and his wife.

Invest your suffering opens by inviting us to choose how we will respond to suffering. Will it make us better or bitter? Mallard says, "The right response is a deliberate and reasoned decision to trust" (p. 22), and the rest of his book is an invitation to this "reasoned trust".

The second chapter addresses how we think about our trials. Mallard shows how damaging false views of suffering can be, and how much more deeply a true understanding can help us. If you're looking for a clear, brief, biblical summary of God's sovereignty in suffering - the idea that he is the "first cause", and what that means - you'll find it here. 

Then it's into the body of the book, and the Bible passages and truths that helped Mallard and his wife. Open my copy of the book and you'll find six chapters circled on the contents page. These are the that spoke most deeply to me:
  • trusting God when we can't understand his purposes
  • learning to number our days
  • turning to God when we run out of answers
  • suffering prepares us to minister to others
  • only the cross of Christ helps when we are in emotional or physical pain
  • suffering moves us to long for heaven. 
I hope I've whetted your appetite for more!

When I read books, I hunt for the "gold": quotes that may help me or others. In this book, it was the sentences that made the book sparkle. Here are a few I collected along the way:
Praise God and keep taking the tablets. (p. 32)

We walk by faith, not by explanations. We don't have to understand everything God is doing in order to trust him. (p. 38)

We come to God with our broken hearts, and, without pausing, he continues to conduct the symphony of the stars while sweeping us into his arms and whispering that he loves us and that all is well. (p. 44)

God loves us and is too wise to make mistakes and too kind to cause us unnecessary pain. (p. 48)

Please don't tell me that Christians shouldn't grieve. (p. 56)

God has crushed us so that we can minister out of our pain. (p. 87)

Suffering is the best commentary on God's character, and pain is the finest exposition of his excellencies. We discover more about God's grace when we come to the end of ourselves. You will never know that God is all you need, until God is all you have. (p. 136)

When Edrie wept in the darkness and I wept with her, the Saviour was near, carrying us both on his heart and presenting us to his Father. (p. 152)

The main question we needed to ask was not 'why?' but 'how?'. How can we bring glory to God in the midst of 'attacks' which have all but robbed us of the day? (p. 156)
The book has few faults. I was a little alienated by some of the language (that we can "choose to overcome" and "triumph in the midst" of our pain - although Mallard, if anyone, has a right to say this) and by a couple of the chapters (on giving thanks, and on the benefits of suffering - they felt a little glib to me). Yet the vast majority of the book was sympathetic, sensitive, and open about the agonising questions aroused by suffering.

Here's a typical passage that is worth the price of the book alone:
There was one truth that, for me, stood head and shoulders above the others. It was the fact of the love of God demonstrated in the sacrifice of his Son at Calvary. I lived in the Gospels, and particularly John's Gospel. I read it on my knees. I prayed it. I preached it. As I did these things, Jesus became more and more precious for me. Looking at his love and the suffering he experienced for me helped me to look beyond the apparent meaninglessness of our suffering to see that, at the heart of the Godhead, is a Saviour who knows and feels and sympathizes with our suffering. (p. 149)
Would I recommend this book to those who suffer? Definitely. Not many books are helpful and readable when you're in the furnace. But Mallard's honesty about his pain and doubt, his clarity of thought, and his pastor's heart, make this a good choice for someone who is suffering. By the end you will feel like you have traveled with this godly man and his wife on their hard journey, and drunk deeply with them of the life-giving water of God's word.

* I recently began, and am thoroughly enjoying, Tim Keller's new book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 21, 2014

online meanderings

When God seems silent

Whole house reveal - How to truly makeover a house. Love it!

10 things missionaries won't tell you

4 questions to keep close to your wallet

The perfect family - An honest, haunting story about a family full of needs.

6 ways your phone is changing you

How to understand Revelation - Brilliant!
If you only choose to praise the Lord when you’re healthy, comfortable and enjoying life, you’re going to spend a lot of your existence grumbling and questioning God's love and goodness. Paul Tripp

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to scripture, faith and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated. - Don Carson

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

thoughts on an imperfect holiday

Hi, friends! We're back from 2 weeks' holiday. We spent the first week at a conference for our uni Christian group, and last week at the beach at Apollo Bay.

There were many lovely moments:

- a wild wind blowing spray backwards from the waves
- the golden lights of evening on the harbour
- seeing the world "like a bird does" (as Thomas said) from the lookout
- sampling the best coconut ice cream ever
- jogging and walking along the beach.

Steve was sick throughout our holiday (he's had a rough year). In the end, he had to take anti-nausea medication. He's still sick - he's now on medication for gastritis - but he made it down to the beach a couple of times. I did my best to look after him, and help the kids to have a good holiday.

I used to think holidays had to be perfect. I'd try to capture that mood where body and mind are at peace, and there's nothing to disturb the feeling. It's not something you can get just by wanting, so I spent every holiday in a state of nagging disappointment.

There were also holidays of teary exhaustion because none of my babies ever slept away from home. And the time I fractured a bone in my foot (I was trying to put a piece of tomato down my brother's back at the time, so at least it was in a good cause). And the plague year when I discovered an allergy to midge bites. Yup, holidays aren't perfect.

I have learned to be thankful for imperfect holidays. Watching the kids splash in the freezing water in their wetsuits. Sitting with my daughter in a cafe, both sipping on spiced chai. A family game of Cluedo. I don't care if I'm sitting on a lump of hard sand, or the kids are bickering; I love moments like those.

We're taught to idolise holidays. We post photos of beaches on Facebook - #it'sahardlife - and wait for the "likes!" that hide our friends' envy. We work and save all year for a week at a resort. We're always in search of the perfect experience - the perfect location - the perfect rest. Like all idols, this one is empty and unsatisfying.

Holidays are good. They're a gift of God for our refreshment. They renew us so we can serve him. They give us meaningful time with family and friends. But they're not yet heaven. In this world, they will often be marred by illness and injury and dissatisfaction. They will always, in some way, disappoint.

There's a better holiday coming - a perfect rest - one where there will be no midge bites or arguments or illness. A holiday only hinted at by those rare, perfect holiday moments. A holiday that will never come to an end.

I, for one, can't wait.

Monday, June 30, 2014

online meanderings

Learning to speak to yourself - I once thought that the psalms were sung by a fine choir in God’s throne room. Then I actually read them, and they sounded more like the words a street troubadour who encourages the participation of those around him. Now I find that they are simply spoken and sung everywhere: in the darkness of night, in the early morning, in all the details of everyday life. And there are a handful of psalms in which the psalmists speak to themselves ...

Stop faking spiritual maturity

4 ways to prepare for suffering now - These would top my list too.

4 reasons to sit near the front in church

The pointlessness of unplugging

for young men
Dear single dudes: it's time to man up

Letter to a potential boyfriend  

Growing older should grow faith, so that like Abraham, we look forward to the heavenly country, to the city built by God—the permanent city, the one with foundations (Hebrews 11:10, 13-16)—where we can be forever with our eternal, unchanging, wholly-satisfying Lord. Rebecca Stark

Healing is a good thing, but it remains entirely in God’s hands. We cannot force or demand it and it is not a benefit that we can earn or receive as a reward. Healing is a gift. There is no secret rite that will elicit its appearance, no magic formula that will sway the sovereignty of the giver. God will bless as he sees fit and in accordance with his own counsel and wisdom. Should he choose to bless you with this mercy, receive it with humility, thanksgiving and joyful praise. Should he choose to withhold this mercy, endure with humility, thanksgiving and joyful praise. - Scott Blackwell

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

online meanderings for dads and mums

Our children are our neighbours too

4 lovely pieces of advice for a young dad

Letter to a potential boyfriend - A mum writes to a young man who wants to date her daughter. Awesome.

On daughters and dating - For dads: how to intimidate potential suitors.

Why my family doesn't do sleepovers - This is not the only helpful approach, but it's worth considering.
When we’re exhausted, when we feel the dusty earth of the Calvary road, we can remember that it’s especially then that the life of Jesus is manifested in us (2 Corinthians 4:10). It’s then that Jesus gives us more of himself, proving over and over that he is enough, that he is good, that there is more joy in him than in the grain and wine that abound (Psalm 4:7)—or in the kids who never make messes and the dinner that prepares itself and the schedules that operate seamlessly. He is better. There’s no way a finite, nurturing heart can hold all these things, but Jesus can, Jesus does, Jesus will. - Gloria Furman

I like to think that the amount of water my children waste when they shower is partly made up for by their failure to flush the toilet and remember to brush their teeth. - Deb

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

what I'm reading: wounded but not wasted

I thought there could be no worthy successor to JI Packer's Knowing God to feed my soul this year. I was wrong.

On a Friday morning, sitting under the oak trees outside my favourite cafe, I can't wait to open Tim Chester's The Ordinary Hero.

Here's a favourite quote-within-a-quote:
We should avoid, not a wounded life, says John Piper, but a wasted life ...

Too often, we can't quite lay hold of the treasure of Christ with both hands because we're still clinging to the baubles of this world ...

Piper again:
What a tragic waste when people turn away from the Calvary road of love and suffering. All the riches of the glory of God in Christ are on that road. All the sweetest fellowship with Jesus is there. All the treasures of assurance. All the ecstasies of joy. All the clearest sightings of eternity. All the noblest camaraderie. All the humblest affections. All the most tender acts of forgiving kindness. All the deepest discoveries of God’s Word. All the most earnest prayers. They are all on the Calvary road where Jesus walks with his people. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain. Life on every other road is wasted.

Tim Chester The Ordinary Hero 77, quoting John Piper Don't Waste Your Life 76.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

online meanderings

Get out of your holy huddle - 7 ways to deepen relationships.

When the prospect of pain threatens our pleasure - Thoughtful, encouraging.

Christianity is not a religion of the stiff upper lip - Just read the Psalms.

The day I lost my temper - "More like I found my temper. I found it right where I left it." 

Will she live with us forever - A moving post about a daughter born with Down syndrome.

12 questions to ask before you watch "Game of thrones" (or any show with nudity in it).

A pattern for regular time off, 3 assumptions we must conquer, and 8 ways to say "no" - 3 posts on busyness and burnout.

The 5 stages of biblical repentance - "One of the strangest and most deplorable phenomena I’ve ever encountered in the Christian church is the tendency of many believers to take the side of the abuser in domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault cases, particularly if the abuser is a pastor or leader in the church."

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014

online meanderings

The psalmists' rich view of depression - An interesting article about the psalms, biblical counseling and depression.

What to do on days when sin looks delicious

3 thing things I tell myself when I'm feeling low on patience

When it's time to leave a church - Red lights, green lights, yellow lights.

On the benefits of employing people with disabilities - An inspiring story.

for parents:
Setting up my kids for salvation (or why we can't) 

5 ways to model grace-dependence to our children

An open letter to my daughter-in-law - A great read for mums, especially new ones.
Eternal life is more about a Person than a place. ... That is the treasure you have discovered in the field of this fallen world. Jesus has paid for it all, and it costs you everything you own in this age to have it. Yet it is such a small payment for such an everlasting, never-ending treasure that only a fool would pass it up. The treasure makes all the difference. Jon Bloom

The person of great sacrifice must be the person of little sacrifices ... The big moment of courageous action doesn’t occur in a vacuum, but has behind it tiny moments of simple sacrifice that have been trending that direction all along. In other words, if we can’t wash dishes and change diapers, we shouldn’t kid ourselves with the idea that we’d step in front of a bullet. If we are stingy with our time and money toward those in need, we’ll be stingy with our lives when a gun gets pulled on innocent people. Jonathon Parnell

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

what I'm reading: where else have I to go?

This is one of the saddest and most encouraging things I've read.

It's from Tim Chester's brilliant book (read it! do!) The Ordinary Hero.
In 2007 violence erupted after disputed elections in Kenya. Beth, a Kenyan studying in the UK, and part of The Crowded House, the family of church planting networks to which I belong, emailed me at the time:
This past week I’ve realized that I don’t truly know what God being good, wise, sovereign and faithful means.

I know what it doesn’t mean – it doesn’t mean no suffering in this life. I know that whatever he allows is for his glory and our good. But I also don’t want to be flippant or simply parrot phrases as though I’ve merely learned them by rote.

I talk to my aunt and uncle who are doctors and have hardly slept during the last three days because of the sheer number of people coming in. I want to know what it means to talk to them and then say “God is good”.

Surely any earthly parent would come running at the sound of their baby’s blood-curdling shriek. So I want to be sure I know what I mean by “God is good” when we have prayed and prayed to the soundtrack of the screams of children being burnt, knowing that the stench is getting to heaven and silence is the response.

When I watch on live television people being dragged out of cars and hacked to death, my mind spins – and not because I have wondered if God is sovereign, but because I know he is ...

Life as I’ve known it has changed and will never be the way it was. And a huge chunk of me grieves … I’m not losing faith, for where else have I to go? Whom else have I in heaven but him?

I read through Job today in one sitting and realized that Job had a lot of questions, but God didn’t answer any of them. He only revealed his character and that was enough. Job says, “I had heard of you but now I have seen you.”

And so that’s my prayer: that God would move me from having heard of him to seeing him, and that his comforting, sustaining and sanctifying grace would abound in the gap of hearing and seeing.

Tim Chester The Ordinary Hero 18-19, 22.

Friday, June 13, 2014

online meanderings

Partnering with people in their pain - By a man whose wife lives with chronic pain.

A year that hasn't gone according to plan - More helpful reflections from Jenny.

The extraordinary work of ordinary means - How songs can do their work long after they are sung.

God has timed the grief of aging perfectly

Pastors, you make your own sandwich - A great post about life and ministry.

Learning to be a writer - Very reassuring.

for parents ... and a quote for tired mums
10 toys I don't regret buying

Qualities to teach your kids as they relate as brothers and sisters
'This is the season of boo-boos and spit up and dirt. It’s the season for 10 minute showers, half shaved legs, and one eyed mascara. You will get lonely. And jealous. And maybe sometimes you’ll begrudge your life and wish you had someone else’s. You’ll get frustrated and angry and you’ll want to escape. This will be the most unglamorous and unappreciated time of your life, and sometimes it just totally sucks. That’s ok. But have peace in knowing that this will be the season you look back on longingly. One day, we’ll gladly give up all the friends in the world to have our babies small again. To be able to fit them on our laps and read them stories and go on adventures and eat pancakes at every meal. Kristen

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I have written so little that's personal for a while. I apologize for that - although I'm sure you understand. That's the nature of blogs, to grow and change and shrink with the demands of life (except for those uber-bloggers like Challies that seem to keep it going time without end, amen and hallelujah.).

I've been busy working on a seminar on contentment, and I find that I don't have time and energy to focus on more than one major writing task at a time (again, unlike the uber-bloggers. I have to learn not to aspire in that direction.).

But more significantly, life doesn't allow me much time to write. The mornings are filled with getting kids off to school; the afternoons, school pick-up and chores (days, too); the evenings, time with Steve (see me put first things first! ;) ). I mentor a couple of women, and recently I did a talk at a women's event - fun!

Steve's health has been poor for some months now (he is having tests to find out what's wrong). Ben is home for parts of every day (he is still doing a 2-5 hour school day, which we are gradually extending). The pain team assures us that we are on the right track with his chronic headaches. We all had a nasty flu earlier this term, and we're into our second cold this term.

It hasn't been an easy time for us. If you're a pray-er, please pray for our family, especially for Ben and Steve. Pray that we will use this time of trial well, to grow in patience and endurance and joy.

But thank God, too. Thank him, with me, for freedom from anxiety - such a blessing after last year's intense, ongoing anxiety! Thank him, too, that the bitterness of those first few years when Ben was sick have given way to acceptance and trust and hope and even joy. That's a miracle, friends: to change this stubborn heart of mine.

Thank him for watching over us and loving us and always, always drawing us to himself. And pray that we will be able to face whatever else this year may bring, still trusting in God and living for him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

online meanderings by the numbers

7 (+ 1) benefits of going through hard times

8 baby steps to Christian courage

9 ways to battle the darkness of anxiety and depression

3 things to guard against in the middle years

15 things not to say to someone with a chronic or invisible illness

10 toys I don't regret buying 

5 ways you can hurt your credibility without realising it

what I'm listening to: you can trust that man

It's one of my favourite stories about Jesus.

A woman, who's been bleeding for 12 years, touches the very edge of his cloak, and feels in her body that she's been healed.

He asks, "Who touched me?" She comes trembling, and falls at his feet.

He says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 6:40-56)

In Annabel Nixey's talk about this woman,* she asks, do we really want this woman's faith? Or do we want something more exciting?
Jesus lifts up this woman as an example, and he says, "See her faith." ... Faith is the guts of how we relate to God. ...

The faith that this woman had in this moment, we are to have in every moment.

So what was it? It's that she had empty-handed trust, and that this trust was in Jesus.

This woman came to Jesus with nothing, and she knew it. She was no great achiever. She was a receiver.

But if I'm honest, even when it comes to God, I want to be independent. I want the glamour faith. I want the independent dependence.

There's no such thing! There is simply no such thing.

When you look at this woman trembling in front of Jesus, do you want to be like her? I'm happy to learn from her. I don't know that I want to be like her.

And yet she is the example that Jesus holds up of how to treat him. 
Me too. I'd love the glamour faith, not the broken faith. But only when I'm broken do I learn what it  means to cling to Jesus. Yet my faith is no more perfect than this woman's:
But here's the comfort. This woman is held up as an example of faith, but her faith wasn't perfect.

It was tentative at first. It was wrapped up in the superstition that she had to touch Jesus. Jesus heals her anyway.

Maybe you look at your Christian friends and family, and you longingly think, "I wish I had her faith."

Look at this woman. She didn't have some mysterious quality. She simply trusted in Jesus. 

Maybe you look inside yourself, and maybe you ask yourself, "Do I have faith? Do I have enough faith? Do I have the right kind of faith?"

It wasn't about whether she had perfect faith.

It's about who her faith was in.
Instead of examining my own faith, I am learning to look away from myself and to Jesus:
We need to lift our eyes, look to Jesus, stop the self-analysis, look at Jesus.

Do you trust that man? Because we have even more reasons to trust in Jesus than this woman did.

You can trust that man. He went on to die for his people. Right after this, he raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. Who does that? He went on to punch through death himself in the resurrection. He gave us his Spirit.

And so we know that he is going to come back, and he's going to bring a whole kingdom where there will be no more bleeding. There will be no more need for doctors. There will be no more dying.

We need to lift our eyes and look forward to that kingdom.
I've been wondering what this woman would say to us. I don't think she'd say, "Look at my faith." I do think she'd say, "Look at him!"

Look at Jesus. You can trust that man.

* This is from Annabel Nixey's talk from Equip 2013. I wrote about another talk from this conference - Anna Moss on Mary and Martha - here. I highly recommend these talks. I found them very encouraging.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

online meanderings

That which I did not sow - For the kind of loss you can't speak of, and unexpected growth.

Words for the suffering - "I doubt I would have heard those words if they had come before the tears and the silence. But because they came after those things, I heard them with my heart."

Portrait of down syndrome - A beautiful post about a son and opportunities for people with special needs.

Say the last 2% - Don't leave the main point out of your conversations.

One way to stop worrying

6 lies grads will be told - To which you can add: "You are the cream of society".

for parents:
A ridiculous-sounding affirmation for tired mums by Gloria Furman.

What are we teaching our daughters? - There are more important things than flower arranging and sewing.

I was hunting for resources on helping my son cope with anxiety when I found these: Kids and stress Helping kids cope with stress

for preachers:
Many of the truly great preachers of every era were not people who only read other preachers. Part of what made them great communicators was a facility with language, an understanding that storytelling was at the heart of what moves people. In our own language, they were rich in Shakespeare, full of Milton, well-versed in verses outside the canon. Go beyond the artist/preacher you admire and go their own sources. I think we will all be richer if you do, because you will be richer. SD Smith

You will not be able to extemporize good thinking unless you have been in the habit of thinking and feeding your mind with abundant and nourishing food. Work hard at every available moment. Store your minds very richly, and then, like merchants with crowded warehouses, you will have goods ready for your customers, and having arranged your good things upon the shelves of your mind, you will be able to hand them down at any time without the laborious process of going to market, sorting, folding, and preparing… Take it as a rule without exception, that to be able to overflow spontaneously you must be full. Charles Spurgeon

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

online meanderings

Sexual desire and the single girl - We don't have enough writing and conversation on this topic. A helpful post.

8 ways to comfort the suffering - Beginning with "Show up!".

Missionary died thinking he was a failure; 84 years later thriving churches found hidden in the jungle - Encouragement for when we can't see results.

Don't hide the strangeness of the gospel; embrace it with clarity - Just like Jesus did.

Delicate tastes - "I've come to suspect the gluttony of nice things, or daintiness, lurking in our increasing appreciation for finer cultural goods."

Is looking back to past relationships a good idea? - Here's wisdom.

Same sex attracted? Well, quit whinging - Sounds harsh, but this is actually a helpful read for all of us.

for parents:
When parents don't want to go to church - A great little article that reminds us: our example counts.

Three things teenage daughters wish their fathers knew - The helpful results of an unscientific and very small survey.

Cyber-parenting on Minecraft - A good beginning.
One thing I have learned over the course of our church’s afflictions is that when a saint’s body gives way, their spirit builds up. They get smaller, and God gets bigger, as if their passing is itself a foretaste of the day Christ will put all things in subjection under his feet. And we are not annihilated on that day but redeemed, resurrected, restored. When we die, we get smaller and God gets bigger, that he might be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). Jared Wilson

If anyone is serious about writing (or art in general) it’s important to get beyond what we usually like to call “inspiration.” In fact, that’s the wrong word. That first swell of love we have for a potential work isn’t inspiration, it’s infatuation. And just like in human relationships, once the infatuation fades, the real work of love begins. And it’s in the context of that real work—that work in which you may seem at times to fall out of love with the object of your labor—it’s in that work that real inspiration takes place. And it’s out of that hard labor that a work of art is finally hewn. - Pete Peterson

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

what I'm listening to: Mary, Martha, and Jesus

Have you ever wondered what to make of the story of Mary and Martha?

You can skip the next paragraph if you already know it.

Jesus is at Martha's house. Her sister Mary sits at Jesus' feet, listening to what he has to say. Martha is getting hot and bothered in the kitchen. She marches up to Jesus and says, "Lord, don't you care that I'm doing all the work, while Mary just sits there?" Jesus says, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing matters. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42

Huh? So it's okay for me to do all the work while my sister just sits there? Why is it better for her to sit listening, while I do the serving? Who's going to get all this done if I don't???

Maybe, like me, you feel a little sorry for Martha.

In this brilliant talk by Anna Moss,* she explains that busyness vs. sitting still isn't really the issue. It's that Martha has forgotten who the dinner is all about - who life is all about:
Martha is distracted. She's so distracted that she's forgotten that the dinner is all about Jesus.

She's trying to serve Jesus, but her serving has stopped her even seeing him. It's stopped her relating to him. It's stopped her listening to him.

He's right there in her living room, and she's not seeing him. She's not hearing him.

Instead of being amazed that Jesus, the holy one of God, has come into her home to share a meal with her, she's worried and distracted by sandwiches and dip.
Doesn't that sound familiar? We can be so busy serving Jesus, that we don't even stop to see him:
Maybe you can relate to Martha. You slog away at church, faithfully and consistently, trying to serve, and it just seems that no one notices, or even acknowledges what you're doing. You start feeling resentful, maybe even a bit self-righteous: "I'm the one who's regular and reliable. I'm the one who turns up when others pull out."

Or maybe you persist in your marriage even though it's tough. You work hard with your parents and children. But it feels thankless. You feel unappreciated and overlooked: "Maybe God doesn't care I'm doing all this." Your serving can end up damaging and breaking relationships, rather than blessing and building them.

We end up distracted from Jesus when we try to do it all ourselves.

Have you become distracted? Have you stopped coming to Jesus as the empty, broken person that you are, in daily need of his help and his grace in your life? Have you stopped seeing him as your treasure? As the one that you just can't do without?
It all becomes about me - my schedule, my strength, my achievements - rather than about Jesus:
Sometimes we want to fit Jesus in with our schedule, into where we're comfortable, and into our need to feel competent and in control.

We had our third child last year, and recently I went back to work at my church. I wanted to go back feeling strong and competent, on top of things, and in control. I wanted people to say, "Wow! How do you do it all?". I wanted to serve God from a position of strength; but instead, I felt weak and vulnerable. I didn't want to feel that way.

But let me say this: there is no other way to serve him. He doesn't want us bustling around, self-reliant and self-absorbed. He doesn't want us to give on our terms, in ways that make us look good and feel in control.

When it comes to Jesus, we can't rely on the things we've achieved. We can't rely on our qualifications, or how well our kids are going. We need to respond to him on his terms, not our own. We don't have anything to offer him. We come to him with empty hands.
We don't like to feel needy. But Jesus wants us to receive from him:
It's easy to give people things we want to give them. We want to give Jesus our competency. We want to give him our agenda. We want to show off our abilities.

But what does Jesus want to receive? How does he want to be served? What really communicates our love for him?

He wants to give to us. He wants to determine what's best for our lives. He wants to redirect our hearts, and for us to treasure him more than any plan we've ever made. He wants us to be needy for him.

But being needy doesn't sit comfortably with us most of the time. Personally, I find it easier to stay busy; easier to keep active, and to feel useful.

It's easier to feel needed and useful than to feel needy and broken. It's easier to serve others with our competence, on our terms, in ways that we feel comfortable, than to admit how desperately messy, needy, and weak we really are.
In the end, the story of Martha and Mary isn't really about whether we're busy or not, but about our attitude to Jesus:
You see, at the heart of this story isn't the question, "Are you too busy?". It's a deeper question about our attitude, not so much a question about our activity.

So on the days that you're flat out and really busy; or when you've got time to sit, rest and read your Bible; what matters is that we depend on Jesus. That we choose his agenda, whatever the day. That we choose to trust him, and rely completely on his grace.

When Jesus comes to their house, who's the host? It's not Martha, is it? It's Jesus. It's always his party, not ours. He wants to give, and he wants us to receive.

Martha wants to give him food; but he's the only one who can give the food that really satisfies, the food that will never be taken away. He wants to give us the good portion, the very best of gifts: eternal life.

He wants to set us free from the treadmill of having to achieve and needing to please. He's come to serve.
Our lives are busy, and sometimes we can't avoid this. But even then we can turn to Jesus and receive from him. I was so encouraged by Anna's story of her friend:
We can choose what is better in the midst of all the things going on in our lives.

One of my closest friends is a single mum with four young kids. As you can imagine, there's a whole lot of running around, and not a whole lot of sitting round for her.

She shared with me recently how hard it is to keep trusting Jesus when things just seem so wrong. She often feels overwhelmed, and she wonders how to keep going.

But she said this: "I have to keep trusting Jesus. I've got no where else to go but to him. I have to trust that he's big enough for this. It can be a fight to trust, but I know that he's in control of my life, that he cares for me, and for my children. I often feel so weak, but I'm in his hands."

Things can feel like they're unravelling, but with Jesus, I can keep going. He wants to serve us. He's big enough to give us what we need.

Where else have we to go, but to the feet of Jesus? Choose what is better. Don't miss the mark. Listen to him, and let him serve you.

* This is from Anna Moss's talk from Equip 2013. I highly recommend these talks. I found them very encouraging.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

a kick in the praying pants

I haven't been praying much recently. So this post is for me as much as for you.

Here are some verses that keep nudging at my mind:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Col 4:2)

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Rom 12:12)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18)
Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1
And then, an example:
He is always wrestling in prayer for you. (Col 4:12)    
Now, I know we pray, not because we have to, but because we get to. Prayer is a privilege. It's a gift. It's our response to grace. It's the fruit of a relationship.

We pray because, in Jesus, we can approach God with confidence (Heb 10:19-25). We pray because the God of the universe is our Father (Matt 6:9). We pray, because where else have we to go? (John 6:68) We pray because God is our help and strength (Psalm 46:1).

Yet sometimes what I really need is a kick in the pants. A reminder to get praying, even when I don't feel like it.

Because prayer is not just a gift: it's also hard work, the hard work that responds to grace (Phil 2:12-13). It requires self-discipline and commitment. It struggles and wrestles and perseveres.

Prayer not just a privilege: it's also a responsibility. It's love in action. We do it for others, not just for ourselves.

So that's why I've listed these verses. For me; and for you, in case you, too, need God’s word to give you a kick in the praying pants.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

online meanderings

True kinship - Can you adopt someone into your family? A celibate man writes.

Life is not in my control - A wonderful post by Jenny Kemp.

Grumpiness and irritability - "Maybe you don't vent--you just stew ..."

No one left behind - How easy is it to disappear from your church?

10 good reasons to memorise big chunks of the Bible - Reason 1: Because you have a bad memory. That's enough reasons for me.

Debunking 5 myths about expat life - Ever wondered what it's really like to be a missionary?

For parents
How many children should I have? - I think this is a pretty good answer from the perspective of wisdom.

Soul food for mum - One mum encourages another.
The new greed. We are after so many things, and it's playing out on our phones and iPads and computers as much as it ever has in our material possessions and our bank accounts. Why are we--why am I--checking my phone so often, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram? What exactly are we looking for? Why are we leaving our present reality that God has given us so richly to enjoy to go somewhere else in our mind, a place often called Comparison or Discontent? It's something to think about, because it muddies the waters of what has real value, and because greed's mantra is that we never have enough. Christine Hoover

"Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?" ... My girl and I may be separated for a few days. Or maybe the Lord will decide that I do not return from this trip. But even then, the separation will be short because we know, and we believe, in the words of the poet: “One short sleep past we wake eternally, and death will be no more.” In that day death will be gone, and so too will every painful goodbye. Tim Challies

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

what I'm reading: the smile of God

How do you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus? (Col 3:1-4) Here's one way I do it.

Every year I read one or two books about God's character or the cross. I do this on my mornings off, sitting in a cafe, sipping my spiced chai.

I recently read Knowing God. Finishing the last page was bittersweet. I wondered what I could possibly replace it with.

Then I remembered Tim Chester's The ordinary hero. It's been on my shelf for a while, waiting for an opportunity. I'm 4 chapters in, and loving it.

Here's a bit that spoke to me. It's for anyone who trusts in Jesus:
God doesn't merely tolerate you. In Christ he smiles upon you as a Father ...
Why should we think that God would abandon us when he's already given us his Son? Why should we think there's any limit to his love when he's already given what was most precious to him? ...

You're not made right with God by what you do. You don't do it in the first place, so why suppose you could undo it! ... Perhaps this is the ultimate humiliation. Not only can we not contribute to our salvation; we can't even wreck our salvation. But who cares? ...

Our heavenly Father is not a stern father who needs to be placated by his Son. Maybe your human father was like that. Stern. Distant. Maybe you approached him hesitantly or reluctantly. But your divine Father isn't like that. The Son's actions are the outflow of the Father's love. ...

The Son didn't placate God to make him favourably disposed to us. No, it's the other way round. The work of the Son starts with the love of the Father. ...

God doesn't merely tolerate us. He delights in us. We make him sing for joy (Zeph 3:17) ...

When you look into the face of God, what do you see? Do you see a frown? Do you see a judge? A schoolmaster? Or do you see a smile?

In Christ, God smiles upon us. Who can resist that smile?

Tim Chester The ordinary hero 39-46.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

in the face of evil

Wise words from a missionary who faces unimaginable evil every day because he loves Jesus:
God knows we can endure more than we think we can in his strength. We, on the other hand, have our doubts. Some days the battle just wears us down, and even if we think we can endure another day, we just don't want to.

Suffering is not a new concept; it is just new to us. Scripture addressed these issues long ago. God is by no means unaware of our pain (Ex. 3:7), and he calls us to endure our sufferings and continue in our service to him (2 Tim. 4:5). We know God will not give us more than we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13), and we understand the Lord prepares his servants for battle (Ps. 144:1).

Our doubt, pain, and discomfort do not absolve Christians of our responsibility to spread the saving grace of Christ and show his mercy to the needy. We were never promised lack of pain or suffering, only the unwavering knowledge that the Creator of the universe loves us.

When we struggle with safety and security and still get out of bed every morning to toil in the name of Christ, he receives an extra measure of glory from our labors. How fortunate to experience suffering that results in God's glory, pain that expands God's name, and persecution that points towards heaven!

John Piper said, "This is God's universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world." Indeed, our bodies and souls belong to the Lord. Our worship of Christ includes offering our entire life to God. Our joy comes in service when we obey his commands.

Be it money, comfort, family, or friends, mission work entails sacrifice. God calls us to be willing to give all we have. As with all other Christians, missionaries must die to self, forego personal gain, and submit to Christ. No matter the cost we are called to serve the Lord.

"They gave our Master a crown of thorns," Martin Luther wrote. "Why do we hope for a crown of roses?"
- Mike Pettengill

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

online meanderings

Going grey and that's okay - A fantastic article about beauty, aging, death, and true hope.

The assumption we cannot afford - "I’ve been in church for years, but no one has taught me to study my Bible until now."

Top 10 causes of depression in pastors and how we can help.

6 ways to help a family with a child with autism or other special needs.

You won't waste your life - Could you give your life to making Jesus known in an obscure, rural area?

Love and loss on mothers' day

for parents:
I miss the absurdity - A beautiful post about kids growing older.

10 money lessons to teach your kids

The danger of over-parenting teens - "The truth is that painful lessons in the school of hard knocks are long remembered, but only if the pain is allowed to do its work."

for pastors, service leaders and Christian writers:
Dear well-meaning-Anglo-Saxon-Australian Christians - An important post for pastors and service leaders.

Words to use instead of "points" or "things"
Every single time you sit down to make something, even if you’ve done this for years and know the routine, it feels like you’re starting from scratch. It feels like you have absolutely nothing to offer, nothing new to say, and whatever you’ve managed to get right in the past was just a fluke ... So are we starting from scratch? Yes. And no. Every line in your notebook, every strum of your guitar is an act of faith. But you’ve been here before. Don’t be afraid. Andrew Peterson

Maybe it’s time to start thinking of paper and screens another way: not as an old technology and its inevitable replacement, but as different and complementary interfaces, each stimulating particular modes of thinking. Maybe paper is a technology uniquely suited for imbibing novels and essays and complex narratives, just as screens are for browsing and scanning. Brandon Keim

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it's not about me

A helpful reminder from Staci Eastin that suffering is not just about me.
It makes me nervous when we start surmising apart from Scripture on why God does this to us. I’ve heard many sentences that start with “I think God does this because…” that ended up making us the center of things and not him. ...

God is there where Christians gather in secret for fear of their lives. He’s also there when the nursery staff realizes they’re dealing with a particularly nasty case of rotavirus, and with the Sunday School teacher when the Junior Highers just sit with their arms crossed, scowling at the floor. He’s there when the speaker at the women’s retreat realizes that she’s not only lost her train of thought, she’s lost her place in her notes as well.

Anyone who’s been there comes out of it feeling that he or she knows God just a little bit better, but we’re mistaken when we think it ends with what we’ve learned. It’s about a Holy God, using sinful people to do a thousand little things, but letting those little things add up to a giant demonstration of his wisdom that’s so glorious even the angels are compelled respond with praise that echoes through the universe.

If I try to make that just about me, I make far too little of God.
You can read the rest here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Jesus is our accountant

Jim Douglass:
I remember sitting with a mortgage salesman who was telling us how quickly we could own our home. I then asked him to do the sums again taking into account the money we wanted to give to church, student ministry, overseas mission and child sponsorship. He then told us we couldn’t afford it!

  • Now we are paying our mortgage off at an incredibly slow rate, but we’re supporting our local church.
  • Now we only have one car, but we’re supporting university ministries around Australia.
  • Now our holidays are fairly simple affairs, but we’re supporting overseas mission.
  • Now we’re spending less on restaurants and clothes, but we’re helping the poor in other parts of the world.

Part of me wants more; part of me wants to give my family all the best holidays and experiences. Part of me wants the stuff that other people have.

Recently, my car mechanic gave me the “It’s-getting-old, there’s-not-much-we-can-do” talk. But Vanessa and I agreed that it’s not dead yet.

The truth is I feel the allure of fun family holidays and gadgets and a new car and gadgets and paying off our mortgage and gadgets, but our great accountant helps keep our priorities in perspective.

The gift Jesus gives us is greater than all those things, it’s the gift of contentment and the ability to say no to something good for the sake of something better.
Read the rest here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

my favourite Bible verses for seasons of suffering

A friend asked what Bible verses help me get through times of suffering. She said,
What I need right now is a Romans 8.28 replacement. Maybe I just need verses that remind me that God is good and God is strong. Got any short ones I can repeat over and over?
Here's my response:
There are a few single verses I keep coming back to, like Romans 5:3-4, 8:31-32, 8:35; Galatians 6:8-9; 1 Peter 1:6-7; and little bits of the psalms like Psalm 46:1 and 84:1. But I am not very good with short verses, because I find it easier to remember longer passages.

When I'm going through a time of struggle, I often memorise a psalm for that season; my favourites are 23, 42, 46, 84, 103, 121, 130, 131, 139 and I am always coming back to them (at least the bits I remember!). Many of them are quite short.

Three favourite passages that help me persevere through times of trial are 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Hebrews 12:1-13 and Romans 8:18-39

I love Psalm 73:23-26 and Habakkuk 3:17-19, for they remind me that I could lose everything, and still have all I want in Jesus. "Where else have we to go, since you alone have words of eternal life?" (John 6:68).

I also say these passages over and over: Ephesians 1:3-10 (all spiritual blessings); 1 Peter 1:3-9 (how suffering refines our faith); Romans 5:1-11 (being sure of God's grace).

And there are some passages on anxiety I keep returning to, like the ones in Matthew 6:19-34 and Philippians 4:4-9.

What verses would you add? I'd love to hear from you (and so would my friend, I'm sure).  

For more suggestions, and if you'd like to commit some of these to memory, see my series memorizing the Bible.