Thursday, March 27, 2014

catch up

It's been a while since I let you know how we're going, and how you can pray for us. The year started with me feeling rested and eager to get into things. But life has become more complicated since then. I guess I'll take this one person at a time ...

Steve got ill with what looked like flu 10 days ago. Two days later, he woke with red swelling up the side of his face, and couldn't give his Bible talk - unheard of, this close to the start of the uni year. It turned out to be erisypelas, a rare, serious infection of the skin that required injected penicillin. He's slowly recovering, but please pray for him, as we have some concerns about his ongoing health.
After a good start to the year, I am struggling. Things are better than last year: my anxiety has decreased, and I have learned much about trusting God in suffering. But it hasn't been easy, with sick people in the house, including me - we've had a nasty virus going round - and bearing the load of multiple school and doctor's trips while Steve's ill. I am so grateful to those who have cooked meals, shopped and cared for us - you know who you are!
Lizzy has had a good start to the year. She loves year 10, is doing year 11 Visual Communications, and has a good teacher putting her through her paces in Painting and Drawing. With all that practice, she's becoming very skilled. She is working her way through Couch to 5K with me - she's up to about week 5. See if you can recognise who this is in her portrait:
Ben isn't getting a whole lot better - three days of migraines a week - so it looks like we might have to go back to the pain team at the Children's Hospital. On the other hand, he manages his "everyday" headaches well, has been at school each day for at least 2 hours, and is keeping up with his work. He just started with a physio yesterday and she seems excellent.
Thomas is growing up. There's something I love about age 10 (have I said that before?). He seems a whole lot older, and is keen not to be lumped in with the "little boys" any more. Fair enough! He's learning to serve cheerfully around the house as he grows in responsibility.
Andy is 7, and we have to stop ourselves calling him "cute" (he is, so it's hard). It's lovely still having someone young enough to bounce around and get excited about events like the athletics carnival and multicultural day at school - even when I'm not (it's my 11th year of going, so I'm a little jaded). Here he is, dressed as an Aussie:

So that's life. It hasn't been an easy term. But God is good, and holds us in his hands. I am so thankful for the way he cares for us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

10 things to do while enduring suffering

Ed Welch:

1. Don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Pet. 4:12). The Son suffered, so do those who follow the Son. You will not be spared the sufferings that the world experiences, but you will participate in them, both for the world’s benefit and your own.

2. Live by faith, see the unseen (Heb. 2:2). Normal eyesight is not enough. Your eyes will tell you that God is far away and silent. The truth is that he is close—invisible—but close. He has a unique affection for fellow sufferers. So get help to build up your spiritual vision. Search Scripture. Enlist others to help, to pray, to remind you of the Truth. Ask the God of comfort to comfort you.

3. Suffering will reveal what is really in your heart. It will test you (Jam. 1:2). Where do you turn when tested? Do you turn toward Jesus or turn inward?

4. God is God, you are not (Job 38-42). This is important. Humility and submission before the King can quiet some of your questions.

5. Confess sin. There is nothing new here; it is a regular feature of daily life. Yet it always helps you to see the cross of Jesus more clearly. It is the quickest way to see the persistent and lavish love of God (Heb. 12).

6. Keep an eye out in Scripture for the Suffering Servant. He has entered into your suffering, and you can enter into his. (Isaiah 39-53, John 10-21)

7. Speak honestly and often to the Lord. This is critical. Just speak, groan, have someone read you a psalm and say a weak, “Amen.”

8. Expect to get to know God better while in this wilderness. That is how he usually works with his people (Phil. 3:10-11).

9. Talk to those who have suffered, read their books, listen to them. You are not alone. Insist on being moved with compassion as you hear other stories of suffering.

10. Look ahead. We need spiritual vision for what is happening now and for where the universe is heading. We are on a pilgrimage that ends at the temple of God (Ps. 84).

With thanks to Vitamin Z.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

online meanderings

I need this

The subtle sin of pride - John Piper

How to care for missionaries - A fantastic series by Meredith.

God uses suffering to help kids grow - We have found this to be true.

Ministry to children - Gordon helpfully lowers the bars for parents, and encourages everyone to minister to kids.

The ministry of motherhood and 10 ways for mums to respect their sons 
The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself. Charles Spurgeon

If my friends are with me in a trial, how much more so is Jesus? When I am grateful that others have not forgotten my sorrow, how much more so has Jesus kept me close to his heart? When others have prayed when I no longer knew how, how much more so has Jesus spoken on my behalf (Romans 8:34)? When others have meet needs and brought food and carried burdens, how much more has Jesus promised to carry those loads I just can’t bear (Matthew 11:27-29)? Deb

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Monday, March 24, 2014

what I'm reading: 'first world problems' - have we really suffered?

He had me at "Hello". Or, at least, at the first line:
There is a temptation in writing a book about suffering to romanticize one's struggles or, worse, to insensitively rank and compare trials, as if victimhood were a matter of one-upmanship.

Far too many people have suffered the sort of tragic reversals that I have been spared, and no one but God knows or understand the full extent of another person's pain.

At the same time, people who haven't experienced major setbacks sometimes feel that their hurts are somehow less legitimate or real.
Do you ever feel that? I do.

I sometimes wonder if I have a right to write about suffering. My son has had a chronic illness for 4 years now, and yes, it's hard, but I know there are many worse off than me: the man whose son has cancer, the woman who lost her daughter in an accident.

There's an unspoken agreement, especially among Christians, that we should minimize our pain. "First world problems", we say; or just, "I'm fine, thanks"; or even, "It's been hard, but I'm learning so much." Or others say it to us: "Well, it could be worse". But on the inside it feels pretty bad to us! And we don't always feel like we're moving forward - sometimes it feels like we're going backwards, deeper into pain and confusion. But we don't always admit that. It seems like a failure of faith.

If you've ever felt like that, you'll love this quote from Tullian Tchividjian:
We each have days that couldn't end quickly enough ... The individual factors may be trifling, but the suffering is all too real. Sure, there's not anything particularly dramatic or glamorous about such everyday misfortune, but that does not invalidate it.

When we resist classifying it as suffering, we embrace the misconception that God is interested only in the more tragic situations of our lives. Yet so often the little things are the big things.

I do not mean to trivialize suffering or suggest that broken fingernails are the same as broken hearts. In fact, the intent here is the opposite: to broaden our understanding of suffering in the hopes of being a bit more honest with God and ourselves. ...

Everyone is suffering in some way, today, right now. ... Mary Karr said ...
The most privileged, comfortable person ... from the best family, has already suffered the torments of the damned ... We are all heartbroken.
Religious people in particular have a tough time being honest about their suffering. Occasionally we can even foster an environment of denial ... You might say, "I'm having a bad day, but at least I don't have pancreatic cancer" ... Eventually we'll edit our prayers along these lines ...

The appropriate response to life in this world is grief and pain. In fact, nowhere in the Bible do we find God sanctioning a "suck it up and deal with it" posture toward pain ... Job's unravelling wasn't wrong or sinful; rather, it was emotionally realistic ...

The good news here is that Christianity is in no way a stoic faith. It fundamentally rejects the "stiff upper lip" school of thought ... We live amid devastating brokenness, and the cure for this is nothing less than Jesus dying on the cross for sinners like you and me.

Sean Norris ... describes a life-altering interaction with a professor:
He told us to stop comparing ourselves to others, stop comparing ourselves to people in the third world, to people who are "really suffering." He levelled the playing field and destroyed the categories and false hierarchies I had put myself in. Instead, he told us the truth ... I was pointed back to Jesus Christ and His cross, the one who knows our suffering and chose to suffer in once and for all ...
God is not interested in what you think you should be or feel. He is not interested in the narrative you construct for yourself or that others construct for you. He may even use suffering to deconstruct that narrative.

Rather, he is interested in you, the you who suffers, the you who inflicts suffering on others, the you who hides, the you who has bad days (and good ones). And He meets you where you are.

Quotes are from Tullian Tchividjian's Glorious Ruin, introduction and chapter 3.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

online meanderings

Did I say I wasn't doing any more online meanderings? Let's say less often, not never. Now for some catching up ...

Made for another world - Why this life feels so unsatisfying.

A long obedience in the same direction - When life feels like more of the same.

Women, work, and our crisis of identity - Excellent.

How to write hymn lyrics - Theological writers, take note!

Do we step up to our responsibility to care for kids with absent fathers? - A challenging read.

Church for the outliers - that is, adults with learning disabilities. So very good.

The advantages of singleness and marriage in ministry, from a guy who's done both.

 18 things highly creative people do differently - Now I know why I love daydreaming. Not that I needed an excuse.

For parents
What if "the best years of your life just ... aren't?" - The days are long, but the years are short.

What to do when your teen doesn't want to go to church - Helpful.

He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only. - CS Lewis

God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present. - JI Packer Knowing God

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Monday, March 17, 2014

what I'm reading: what are we holding back?

Have you been holding back?

Are you prepared to accept a lower standard of living so you can serve Jesus? Do you trust God to provide - to give you "all good things" as he promised?* Are you ready for a risky, costly life?

Those are the questions JI Packer asks in this uncomfortable quote from Knowing God:
We know what kind of life Christ calls us to ... But do we live it? Well, look at the churches. Observe the shortage of ministers and missionaries, especially men; the luxury goods in Christian homes; the fund-raising problems of Christian societies; the readiness of Christians in all walks of life to grumble about their salaries; the lack of concern for the old and lonely ...

We are unlike the Christians of New Testament times. Our approach to life is conventional and static; theirs was not. ... By being exuberant, unconventional and uninhibited in living by the gospel they turned their world upside down, but you could not accuse us twentieth-century Christians of doing anything like that.

Why are we so different? Why, compared with them, do we appear as no more than halfway Christians? Whence comes the nervous, dithery, take-no-risks mood that mars so much of our discipleship? Why are we not free enough from fear and anxiety to allow ourselves to go full stretch in following Christ?

One reason, it seems, is that in our heart of hearts we are afraid of the consequences of going the whole way into the Christian life:
  • We shrink from accepting burdens of responsibility for others because we fear we should not have strength to bear them.
  • We shrink from accepting a way of life in which we forfeit material security because we are afraid of being left stranded.
  • We shrink from being meek because we are afraid that if we do not stand up for ourselves we shall be trodden down and victimized, and end up among life's casualties and failures.
  • We shrink from breaking with social conventions in order to serve Christ because we fear that if we did, the established structure of our life would collapse all around us, leaving us without a footing anywhere.
It is these half-conscious fears, this dread of insecurity, rather than any deliberate refusal to face the cost of following Christ, which makes us hold back. We feel that the risks of out-and-out discipleship are too great for us to take ... We are not persuaded of the adequacy of God to provide ...

Let us call a spade a spade. The name of the game we are playing is unbelief, and Paul's 'He will give us all things' stands as an everlasting rebuke to us. ...

One day we shall see that nothing – literally nothing – which could have increased our eternal happiness has been denied us, and that nothing – literally nothing – that could have reduced that happiness has been left with us. What higher assurance do we want than that?  ...

Have you been holding back from a risky, costly course to which you know in your heart God has called you? Hold back no longer. Your God is faithful ... You will never need more than he can supply, and what he supplies ... will always be enough.

* in Romans 8:32.

Quote is from Knowing God 303-309.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

what I'm reading: one reason why we suffer

I can't tell you much about Mike Leake's book Torn to Heal, as I've only read the first chapter. But I can tell you I loved that one.

Yup, I'm reading another book on suffering. Truth is, as well as being encouraged, I want to see what's out there, and what I can recommend to you.

I can tell you this much: Torn to Heal is very short. It's well-written. It came out last year (seems like every writing pastor puts out a book on suffering). That's about it.

Today I want to share a quote that rings true in my experience:
God's promises are seldom small enough to be even slightly believable. At least, until they happen ...Part of the reason God makes huge, outlandish promises is because he made us to crave huge and outlandish things. ...

God promises to satisfy us with the only thing that can - himself. This leaves no room for small promises. A god who makes promises smaller than the vastness of our ultimate desires would be a small god ... But God's promises fully match our best, highest, and innermost desires. ...

The premise of this book is that the Lord, in his goodness, will rip us to shreds if that's what it takes to replace our idols with lasting joy. He will stop at nothing to fully redeem us. He does this by changing our desires. And that is good.

I don't know about you, but I want to keep reading.