Thursday, November 5, 2015

Women of the Word: a book for both men and women

We can be a bit lazy when we read the Bible. We open it to random passages. We stick to our favourite books. We stop reading once we’ve found our take-home point for the day. It’s pretty appalling when you stop to think about it: we have God’s very words, yet we sometimes treat them like a collection of inspirational thoughts or a Magic 8 Ball. ...

The other day I sat in a plane and pulled Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word: How to study the Bible with both our hearts and our minds out of my bag. It looked like a short and easy read, and sure enough I’d read the first half by the end of my Melbourne to Sydney flight. I finished the rest the next day, and realized I was holding a gem, and not just for women: this is a brilliant book to help men explore and understand God’s Word too. I highly recommend it, both for personal encouragement and ministry training. ...

You can read the rest at

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

contentment (10) treasure

A man was walking across a cow pasture when his foot hit something. He bent over, rubbed his aching toe, and noticed the corner of a box sticking out of the ground. Curious, he grabbed a stick, dug away the dirt, and opened the lid. His heart thumped as he reached in and felt the solid weight of gold. He glanced around to see if anyone was watching, then covered the box with chunks of turf. He went home and sold everything he had, from the coat on his back to the roof over his children’s heads, and bought the pasture, cows and all. The whole town thought he’d gone crazy. He ended up a richer man than he’d ever been before. (Matt 13:44-46)

We have a great treasure. We have Christ himself! Yet we complain about what we don’t have. We envy those who with more than us. We write bucket lists. We regret what we’ve given away. We wish life had turned out differently. We have enough, but we’re greedy for more. We whinge when things don’t go our way. We worry we don’t have enough stored up for the future. We look back longingly at the things we left behind.

And all the time we tell ourselves that discontent is just a little sin. But we don’t notice how it eats away at our lives, our relationships, our faith. We fail to see the idolatry at its heart, how we have become adulterous lovers and false worshippers, seeking fulfilment apart from God. We abandon his living water and look for satisfaction, security and significance in the leaky wells of this world, then we’re surprised when we are left empty.

If we grasped just how great our blessings are in Christ – how richly he supplies every need, how tenderly he watches over us, how bright our future is with him – would we ever feel like we lack anything? I think we’d be content. More than that, I think that, even in sorrow, we’d rejoice to be found in him.

If you’re anything like me, it won’t be easy to learn this lesson. It won’t be easy to find your contentment in Christ alone. It will be a life-long battle. It will be challenged every time you suffer, every time you fail, every time you notice someone is better off than you. But it’s worth fighting, because it’s a battle to treasure Christ over all.

Contentment isn’t horizontal. It doesn’t come from comparing ourselves with others. It doesn’t come from counting our blessings. It doesn’t come from thinking about those worse off than us. Paul never tells us to be content because we have more than someone else.

Contentment is vertical, not horizontal. It comes from knowing Christ. We will become content when we learn to turn to him every time we feel dissatisfied; when we trust him to care for us; when we value him above everything and everyone else.

We find satisfaction in him, for he alone can fulfil our deepest longings. We are secure in him, for he will never leave us. We have significance in him, not because we have done great things, but because he has done great things for us.

Jesus is the secret of contentment.

I am a long way from learning this. I guess you are too. So let’s pray together that we learn to be content.

You'll find some follow-up questions, and the rest of this series, at TGC Australia

Image: Alton Hoard (British Museum)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

contentment (9) godly discontent

It’s not just contentment that is godly. Discontent can be godly too. In fact, true godliness is always discontented.

There are many things in this life that should make us deeply dissatisfied. We should be dissatisfied with sin. We should be dissatisfied when friends and family don’t know Jesus. We should be dissatisfied when brothers and sisters in Christ drift away from God. The difference between ungodly and godly discontent is that the first is centred on us and our needs, and the second is motivated by love for Christ and others.

It’s also okay to be dissatisfied with suffering ... The Bible is full of grief and pain. Just think about the Psalms ...

We are supposed to be discontent with this life. We are supposed to long for eternity. If we are content with this life – if we don’t long for the next – there is something wrong with our faith ...

Read the rest at TGC Australia.

Monday, October 12, 2015

life in God's waiting room

I’ve been thinking about waiting. The waiting you do when your hopes and dreams have been deferred—again. The waiting you do when you’re offered the opportunity you longed for but have to turn it down—again. The waiting you do when the future is uncertain and your plans can only be tentative and provisional—again.

Waiting, through twelve years of raising young children and five years of our son’s chronic illness, for a time when I can do more of the ministry I love outside the home. Waiting, through my husband’s cancer diagnosis, a six-week hospital stay and half a year of chemotherapy, to be washed up on the shores of not-quite-ordinary life again. Waiting, now, for his medical scans, the fork in the road; one path leading to further treatment, the other to four more years of waiting until we receive the all-clear.

Waiting for the waiting to be over.

So what do I do, here in life’s waiting room? Do I choose escapism? Do I complain and grow resentful? I do both, sometimes. But surely there are better uses of this time.

Here’s how I see it. There are two possible things going on here.

The first is that this isn’t so much a waiting room as God’s training-ground. A hothouse where I’m grown in Christlike character (Jas 1:2-4). A boot-camp to strengthen the muscles of perseverance, humility and hope (Rom 5:3-4; 1 Pet 5:6-11). God’s university, where he teaches me to mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15) and gives me the comfort that I will one day share with others (2 Cor 1:3-7), preparing me for life and ministry.

The second is that this isn’t a waiting room for life; it is life. These hardships may continue for many years. In which case, this isn’t preparation for anything more than the hard slog of patient endurance. And that’s okay. Because if I never get to do the ministries I long for, and just keep encouraging others by trusting God in hardship, that will be sufficient service for a lifetime.

Come to think of it, those aren’t alternatives. They are different perspectives, views of the same reality from opposite sides. Whatever God has in store, this is both training for life and life itself. This is the life God has given us. You don’t stop living just because you are waiting.

So what do I do, here in the waiting room?
  • I fulfil the duties of this time. I may not have chosen them—the doctors’ visits, the extra school trips, the weight of care—but this is the good work God has given me, and I try (and often fail!) to do it cheerfully, patiently and well. 
  • I make the most of the time we have together as a family to build strong relationships as a foundation for whatever may come (I’ve planned more family holidays and weekends with my husband this year). 
  • I train my own mind, and the hearts and minds of our children, to trust God during the trials we face now and the ones we may face in the future. 
  • I remember all those who have waited: for an affliction to end (Ps 27:14), a prayer to be answered (Ps 5:3), a ministry to begin (Exod 7:7), a hope to be fulfilled (1 Sam 1), and (this includes all of us) for Jesus to return (Rev 22:20). I am not alone. 
  • I put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes this means telling myself, “I know you feel lousy, but just do the next thing. It might make you feel a little better, and if it doesn’t, at least you will have finished one more task.” 
  • I pray the prayers of those who wait (e.g. Ps 130), bringing my fear, grief, disappointment and frustration to God, turning to him rather than away from him. 
  • I make plans that assume life will continue the way it is but that allow for uncertainty, then commit these plans into God’s hands (Jas 4:13-15). 
  • I manage my energy levels so I can keep serving: a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, a daily time of rest, and a weekly morning off to read an encouraging book, pray, and reflect on life. 
  • I live the ordinary Christian life wherever we are, from hospital to home (1 Pet 4:19). I read my Bible, pray for others, turn from sin, meet with God’s people, and try to use every opportunity to make Jesus known. 
  • I choose ministries that I can maintain, that use my limited time effectively to meet others’ needs, and that allow for interruptions. It helps if some of these ministries energize me so I can fulfil my primary ministry to our family. 
  • I learn the lessons that waiting teaches me: that we may plan, but God directs our steps (Prov 16:9); that the building of his kingdom doesn’t depend on our usefulness (Ps 127:1-2; 1 Cor 3:7-9); that his grace is sufficient for every day he gives us to face (2 Cor 12:9-10). 
  • I fight to choose contentment, thanksgiving, trust, and joy (1 Thess 5:16-18), remembering that God’s plans for me are better than any I could make for myself.
I don’t want to waste this time in the waiting room. I want to use it, every bit of it. Whether it turns out to be a waiting room or simply the life God has given us, I want to be able to look back and say: I did the work God gave me to do, in his strength and for his glory. And that is more honour than I deserve, and joy and privilege enough for me.

This article first appeared at

Photo credit: Erich Ferdinand

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

contentment (8) getting practical

Hold up your hand. Five fingers, right? Here are five steps we can take next time we notice ourselves becoming discontent, one for each finger to help us remember them easily:

Stop. Think. Turn from. Turn to. Turn out ...

Read the rest at TGC Australia.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

contentment (7) significance

What makes you feel significant? Where does your identity come from? Whose opinion do you value? When do you feel good about yourself? What gives you a sense of worth?

Maybe it’s doing well in your career, staying fit and healthy, or being in a relationship. Maybe it’s your IQ, attractiveness, or creativity. Maybe it’s ministry, being a “good” person, or belonging to a certain church or cultural group. We look to all kinds of things to make ourselves feel worthwhile ...

One of my friends was ill for many months. She lay in bed, stared at the trees outside the window, and felt useless. She couldn’t work, care for others, or even carry out the basic tasks of each day. As she lay there, she learned an important truth: that God loves her just as much when she can’t do anything for him, as he does when she can do things that feel significant.

God doesn’t love us because we have value. We have value because he loves us. ...

You can read the rest at The Gospel Coalition Australia

Monday, September 7, 2015

what personality tests can't do

I love personality tests. That’s not surprising, because people with my personality type enjoy self-analysis.

My husband, on the other hand, dislikes personality tests. Yet he still uses them in ministry training because he appreciates how useful they can be in helping people understand themselves and others a little better.

There’s a lot to be said for personality tests. But, as with any ministry tool, there’s also a lot they can’t do. ...

Read the rest at

Monday, August 24, 2015

contentment (6) security

What makes you feel safe? What makes you feel secure? If you’re not sure, ask yourself another question: What do you most fear losing?

When I found out my husband has cancer, it felt like my whole world was crumbling. When you’re married, you place a lot of your sense of safety in the person you love. And it’s not just our relationship that I fear losing. If the worst should happen, how will I provide for and protect our family? How will I raise our children? How will they cope without a father? These are real questions, but when they fill me with fear, I know I’m looking to other things besides God to keep us safe.

It’s no different if you’re single. Maybe you long for a relationship. Or maybe it’s a high-achieving career that attracts you. Or owning your own home. A young woman once told me she hopes Jesus doesn’t come back until she has a career and is married with children. I get that, because I remember feeling that way myself when I was young. But she longed for it so much that she chose to go out with a non-Christian.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a relationship, a job, or a home – they are good gifts from God. But what happens when they become the source of our security? What if God never gives us these things, or if he takes them away? Will we still hold on to him then? Will we seek them in places or people he doesn’t want us to?

What makes you feel safe? ...

You can read the rest at TGC Australia

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

contentment (5) satisfaction

What brings you joy? What gives you satisfaction? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying God’s good gifts, but how can you tell when a good thing becomes a God-thing? How do you know when you’re looking to something or someone else for contentment, rather than to God?

One way we can tell is to ask ourselves: what happens when we lose something we value? How do we react when our friend gets the job we applied for, our quiet weekend gets disturbed, or we flush our new phone down the toilet? Of course we’ll be disappointed; but do we also react with envy, irritation or self-pity?

Or what about bigger things? How about when we have to live without a relationship we deeply long for? Or when we lose something or someone important to us? Yes, there will be grief and anguish and sorrow, and that is fully appropriate. But will we also give in to bitterness? Will we give way to despair? Will we turn our backs on the God who stole our dreams away?

Watching my son Ben struggle with chronic illness over the last five years has made me ask lots of hard questions ...

You can read the rest at TGC Australia.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

a thought about heaven

Rain drops on a fallen-leaf.I was walking down a path, enjoying the solitude, when I heard a rustling behind me and thought, "There's someone following...". I went on a few steps, uneasy, then turned around.

There was no one there. The rustling I heard was the wind running its fingers through the leaves of an oak, shaking brown leaves from among the green so that they fell slanting like rain.

It was one of those moments when you catch your breath and think, "If the earth can be this lovely, what will heaven be like?".

Where moments like this await us around every corner. Where each moment is free from even a hint of sorrow or fear. Where they slide into each other, moment after sunblown moment, until the years become one long story of joy.

image is by -Reji on

Monday, June 15, 2015

what I'm reading: why God allows evil

I was hunting through some old drafts, looking for something to post on a mostly empty blog (we have been away), when I came across this quote from Tim Keller's Walking with God through pain and suffering. Such an encouragement!
Why could it not be that God allowed evil because it will bring us all to a far greater glory and joy than we would have had otherwise? Isn't it possible that the eventual glory and joy we will know will be infinitely greater than it would have been had there been no evil?

What if that future world will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost? If such is the case, that would truly mean the utter defeat of evil. Evil would not just be an obstacle to our beauty and bliss, but it will have only made it better. Evil would have accomplished the very opposite of what it intended.

How might that come about? At the simplest level, we know that only if there is danger can there be courage. And apart from sin and evil we would never have seen the courage of God, or the astonishing extent of his love, or the glolry of a deity who lays aside his glory and goes to the cross.

For us here in this life, the thought of God's glory is rather remote and abstract. But we must realize that the most rapturous delights you have ever had - in the beauty of a landscape, or in the pleasure of food, or in the fulfillment of a loving embrace - are like dewdrops compared to the bottomless ocean of joy that it will be to see God face-to-face (1 John 3:1-3). That is what we are in for, nothing less.

And according to the Bible, that glorious beauty, and our enjoyment of it, has been immeasurable enhanced by Christ's redemption of us from evil and death ... Because of our fall and redemption, we will achieve a level of intimacy with God that cannot be received any other way ...

And why could it not be that our future glory will actually so "swallow" the evil of the past that in some unimaginable way even the memory of the evil won't darken our hearts but only make us happier? (117-118)

Monday, May 18, 2015

learning to see

Gum tree by mathias shoots analogue, on Flickr
I’ve walked this path for ten years. I’ve looked at this tree a hundred times. I give it a mental nod as I go by, as I would a passing acquaintance. Yet I never really saw it, not till today.

Usually all I notice is the lower trunk, as fat as it is tall, knobbed with burls and fissures. In that strange alchemy of gum trees, the brown trunk gives way to white branches. They drag their weight over the path, crooked arms with broken fingers. A potbellied man warming old bones in the sun.

This morning I see it differently. As I walk towards it, the sun sparkles off foliage and catches my eye, a cockatoo screams from above, and I look up, up, up into branches I didn’t know were there, long pale limbs raised to the sky, leaves flickering in a high breeze. The grace of a dancer, the strength of bone and sinew and toned muscle.

It strikes me that we are like this. Look at us, how we grow worn and weathered. That may be all you see of me, all I see of you. But if we belong to Christ, the high glory of what God is making us into is breathtaking. He is making us to be like his Son!

We see the skin: the teenager’s awkwardness, the middle-aged woman’s closed-off face, the old man’s irrelevance. He sees stumbling attempts at love, endurance of pain, a life’s faithfulness. We see the gouges and scars on the work in progress; he sees the emerging likeness and the finished glory.

Perhaps it’s time we learned to see with new eyes.

 image is by  mathias shoots analogue 

Monday, May 11, 2015

what I'm reading: learning surrender

One of the ways suffering shapes you is that it teaches you peace. It teaches you surrender. It teaches you to trust and accept God's will. It teaches you that his love and grace will always be there, no matter what.

After four years of fighting God over my son's chronic illness - of asking him, "Why?" - of crying out with bitterness, there was a night, etched deep in my memory, when I reached the bottom of the well, that dark place where there's nothing left but surrender. And with that surrender came peace.

And so, when my husband Steve was diagnosed with cancer, there was something in me that accepted it. The day I heard, I felt angry at God - I don't deny it. But it took much less time for me to reach a place of surrender. I have seen God's love in the hardest places. It is strong, and it is real. And so I can submit myself more gladly to his will.

Which is all by way of introduction to this quote, from a women who suffered two miscarriages, and then, years later, another two. Here's what she says:
We tried again and miscarried—my fourth miscarriage during six years of marriage. My response during those days was quite different from the first two. I was sobered. I knew I didn’t have control—I couldn’t make a baby be born—and I was surrendered to that fact.
I was also at peace. I had spent the last few years preparing for another trial, and God’s promise stood true:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4: 6-7).
Surrendering to the Lord, crying out for help, and thanking him for what I did have proved to bring me great peace. God also tells us that the mind set on him will be given peace, because that person trusts the Lord (Is. 26:3). The Lord was faithful to fulfill these promises. I was at peace because he had given me peace. I was at peace because Jesus was enough for me.
Can I encourage you not to be scared of suffering? Yes, it is terrible, and it hurts horribly. But God will be there for you. You may not see it straight away; it may take years for you to see it; but it is true. His will is good. His grace is enough. He walks with us. He shelters us. And nothing and nobody can separate us from his love for us in Jesus. Be at peace.

You can read the full article by Trillia Newbell at Christianity Today.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

contentment (4) the heart of contentment

I once heard an advertisement on the radio. It went like this (you’ll have to imagine the broad Aussie accent):
I want the kids to go to good schools. I want great holidays in exotic places. I want a comfortable retirement for me and the missus. And you know what? I’m making it happen!
I must admit I tuned out at that point, but my guess is he was advertising some kind of investment portfolio.

Do you hear what this guy is saying? He’s convinced he needs three things to be happy:
  • Significance: the kind to be found in good schools and good careers
  • Satisfaction: exotic holidays and unique experiences
  • Security: enough superannuation to guarantee a comfortable retirement.[1]
Money, he thinks, is the key to all these things.

The problem is that, like most of us, he’s looking for contentment in all the wrong places. He’s like God’s people in these words from Jeremiah ... one of the saddest passages in the Bible ...

Read the rest at TGC Australia.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

online meanderings

How to practice a gospel-centred spirituality - So rare to read something this good on spiritual disciplines.

Being a woman in a frightening world - The author does a good job balancing caution and trust.

Loving Chinese migrants - Some great tips.

Waiting to awaken love - On keeping sexual desires in check.

Love in a time of chronic fatigue - With a son who suffers chronic fatigue and finds church hard, I appreciated this post.

Falling in love with Leviticus - 4 things that happen when you study Leviticus for more than 10 years.
Many of us who wouldn't dream of viewing God's Word in a false or distorted way, think nothing of viewing God's world in a false or distorted way. - David Murray

There is an ultimate harvest, a tree of life whose fruit we will taste on the last day when our waiting finally comes to an end with the return of the bridegroom to claim his bride. On that day, our cold and wandering hearts will finally be transformed and made whole. We shall behold the loveliness of his form with our own eyes. On that day, our joy will be complete. Iaian Duguid
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).   

Monday, May 4, 2015

what I'm reading: preparing for death

The day of death is the greatest day that a Christian can ever experience in this world because that is the day he goes home, the day he walks across the threshold, the day he enters the Father's house.
You won't find a shelf labelled "death" at your local Christian bookstore. Have a look, and tell me if I'm wrong. My guess is that you'll find shelves marked "marriage" and "prayer", but probably not a section on dying.

Your local Puritan bookstore (if there was such a thing) would have been different. You'd find plenty of books on marriage and prayer - the Puritans were great practical theologians - but there'd also be a shelf labelled "dying well". And that's not because they were gloomy do-gooders, as the stereotype goes, but because they were wise and happy realists.

We could do with more modern Christian books on death. Not just on the practical aspects of dying or the stages of grief, but on how to "do death well", with faith and hope and courage. Death is something we will all come to. It's scary and overwhelming, and it would be good for us to know how to prepare for it.

And so I'd like to recommend RC Sproul's Surprised by suffering: a book about suffering with a particular focus on death. Despite the topic, it's not dreary or depressing, but joyful and uplifting. I suggest you read it now. Don't save it for the time you need it, when you may not be able to read at all.

To encourage you today, and to whet your appetite for more, here's a brief sample:
We have considered suffering as a vocation. Dare we think of death as a vocation, too? ... Every one of us is called to die ... Sometimes the call comes suddenly and without warning. Sometimes it comes with advance notification. But it comes to all of us. And it comes from God. ...

Because of Christ, death is not final. It is a passage from one world to the next. ...

The valley of the shadow of death is a valley where the sun's rays often seem to be blotted out. To approach it is to tremble. We would prefer to walk around it, to seek a sage bypass. But men and women of faith can enter that valley without fear ...

God will not send us where He refused to go Himself ...

The valley of the shadow of death is not a box canyon. It is a passageway to a better country ... The goal of the vocation of death is heaven itself. But there is no route to heaven except through that valley.

Quotes are from RC Sproul Surprised by suffering 39, 49-56.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

online meanderings

When fear seizes you - "When fear begins to creep in and all the “what-if” situations begin to consume your mind, here are seven things to remember ..."

Is it a sin to moralise the Old Testament? - Yay! to Peter Adam for writing this. About time someone said it.

The greatest gift is God himself - When God doesn't answer prayers for healing, what then?

Gifts and what they teach us - How gifts train us in humility and service.

Indigenous ministry - Now you see it, now you don't.

Do your laundry and engage the issues - Why working hard at home and at work doesn't mean closing your eyes to the world.

5 wise principles gleaned from a life of excellence - A story of cancer and the testimony of a life well lived.
O for a mind and will that need no more to quiet it than to know what is the will of God and our duty, and in every estate therewith to be content. - Richard Baxter

The gospel says, ‘Mourning does not have the final word. Healing does. Joy does.’ - Robert Kelleman
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).   

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

contentment (3) what's so bad about discontent?

Last time we talked about how becoming content isn’t as simple as practising a set of techniques. ... Contentment requires change at the level of our hearts.

But if it’s that hard to be content, why bother trying? What’s so bad about discontent? ... 

Discontent is incredibly destructive. It ruins three things ...

You can read the rest at The Gospel Coalition Australia.

Monday, April 27, 2015

an app to help you pray

Nam Tso 10-09-2007 (6)High in the Himalayas, ropes bend along the mountain paths. They are hung with prayer flags: squares and strips of fabric like colourful handkerchiefs hung out to dry. The flags dance, toss their tails, grow ragged over the years, and scatter prayers and blessings to the winds.

Well, PrayerMate is no prayer flag. It won’t do the praying for you. It’s not a substitute for prayer; it’s a supplement to prayer. But it has been a great help to me in my prayer life ...

You can read the rest at GoThereFor.

Friday, April 24, 2015

contentment (2) the secret

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to feel content. I’d love to feel fulfilled. At peace. Like I’m not missing anything. I’d love to feel satisfied with my life.

And that’s exactly what contentment means. If you look in a modern dictionary, it means “happy” or “satisfied”. The word usually translated “contentment” in the New Testament means “enough”, “sufficiency”, or even “self-sufficiency”. Contentment means to be satisfied with what we have.

In his famous book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs goes a little deeper. He says,
Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to, and delights in, God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.
That’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? Not to want more. Not to complain about our burdens. But to freely and gladly accept what God chooses to give us, at all times and in all places. Now that’s contentment.

But how do you get it? In Philippians 4:2, Paul says he learned the “secret” of being content in every circumstance. What’s the secret, the key that unlocks the door to contentment? Here’s what some people have to say ...

You can read the rest of this article at The Gospel Coalition

Thursday, April 23, 2015

online meanderings

Does Jesus really love me?

God's grace will find you, even in the shadow of death. 

Losing a baby; not losing my faith - A wonderful article.

In every marriage, there is already the seed of divorce - The question is what we will do with the seed.

You are on assignment from God - I like what he says about gifts and humility.

How should writers and editors work together? - As both a writer and an editor, I found this post helpful.
Everything that happens today has been filtered through the loving hand of a loving God. - Michael Kelley

Women are better served when they can admit, and when the men who love and shepherd them acknowledge, how difficult these much loved relationships and places are — and because of that, how hard God’s commands toward these relationships can be for us to obey ... It’s only in the gospel that we can face the hard places of our homes and relationships. - Kim Ransleben
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

contentment (1) at a time like this

A good friend of mine agreed to give talks on a woman’s conference. The topic? Contentment. A few weeks before the conference, she found out she might have breast cancer. She gave the talks anyway.

If you can’t talk about contentment at a time like this, when can you?

Five years ago, my son got sick. The doctor thought it was whooping cough. But instead of getting better, he started getting worse. He was home from school for weeks at a time, and then for months. He was finally diagnosed with chronic daily headaches and migraines complicated by chronic fatigue syndrome. He has learned to manage his condition, but he still suffers daily. His illness prompted me to add the topic of contentment to the teaching schedule for our women’s group.

If you can’t talk about contentment at a time like this, when can you?

Just over a year ago, my husband began to experience strange symptoms. He grew weaker and weaker. Medical tests came up blank. He started vomiting, became unable to keep any food down, and was hospitalised. We found out he had a rare small bowel cancer that couldn’t be picked up in the usual scans. Two months after major surgery and at the beginning of six months of chemotherapy, I was due to give a talk on contentment. I could have cancelled, but something told me there would never be a better time. ...

Read the rest at The Gospel Coalition Australia.

Monday, April 20, 2015

what I'm reading: suffering as vocation

"Suffering is a vocation, a calling from God."

Eight words on the first page of RC Sproul's Surprised by suffering, and I'm stopped in my tracks. I've never heard anyone say that before. I think it's a knowledge Christians lost somewhere along the way. Yet the awareness has been nudging at me for years, and it's good to hear someone say it.

Suffering. It's the calling no one wants. The gift no one asks for. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him" (Phil 1:29). The word "granted" literally means "gifted". But who would want a gift like that?

You know what I thought my life would be like? What I saw as my vocation? How I thought I'd use my gifts? Marriage. Children. An active ministry to women.

Tick to the first two. But the last one has been put on hold more times then I can count. The year my youngest child went back to school, when many women edge their way back into work and ministry outside the home, my oldest son became chronically ill. I spent four years caring for him and, last year, for my husband who has cancer.

Do I resent this? Well, yes, sometimes, when I'm tempted to compare myself with others. But truly, no. My love for my husband and son has deepened. And like many who have suffered, I wouldn't swap what I have learned about God's love for anything. What I used to know in theory, I now know from experience: there really is nothing he will not give us grace to face.

But of course part of me asks: what happened to the life I planned?

Here's what happened: God had better plans for us. Harder and better ones. We run this race in the sight of others. And if we have to make Jesus known through our pain and our tears, then so be it. Because I would rather have this life with him than my carefully planned life without him.

Right now, we're called to the vocation of suffering. It's a high calling, and a hard one. It will drive you away from God, or drive you deeper into his love: there are only two ways about it. If we choose to turn to him, even when it hurts, he will never let us down or let us go.

I was going to tell you more about the book Surprised by Suffering, but my thoughts got stuck on the first page. I'll save the rest for another day. For the moment, this knowledge is enough:

"Suffering is a vocation, a calling from God."

online meanderings

Quiet the fear, do the work - Why sharing our faith is more about courage and hard work than gifts.

Help me face today - Helpful words from Trillia Newbell about fear.

Wrestling with an angel - "My son turns twenty-two tomorrow, and his mom and I will grieve—deeply, silently, secretly, and personally ..."

Sometimes flight is the best fight - Some great insights about how will, emotions and reason fit together as we fight sin.

Why I lost faith in the pro-choice movement and A Christian woman who's had two abortions - Two interesting, honest posts on abortion.

Dear mama of littlies - An encouraging posts for mums with babies and toddlers.
Whatever our individual weaknesses are, they are given to us by God so that we can rest in his grace and rely on his strength. - Christina Fox

We need the example of women teachers. When a woman sees someone who looks like her and sounds like her teaching the Bible with passion and intelligence, she begins to recognize that she, too, can love God with her mind- perhaps beyond what she thought necessary or possible. … We need the perspective of women teachers. A woman teacher will naturally gravitate toward application and examples that are accessible and recognizable to other women….We need the authority of women teachers. A woman can tell other women to stop making idols of their children or spouses in a way a man can’t. A woman can address other women on vanity, pride, submission, and contentment in a way a man can’t - Jen Wilkin, "Women of the word"
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

online meanderings

Brought up in a legalistic church and freed by grace, Wendy Alsup writes about how she is learning to appreciate Proverbs and the law again.

When God's gifts don't come wrapped in pretty bows - The unwelcome gift of suffering.

The dead end of sexual sin - An interesting story with great hints about how to fight sin.

How to love your depressed friend - Truths that help, truths that don't.

Do what you do: just add one or two - A great principle for training.

Have you been touched by the grief of miscarriage? - Here is a book and interview that might be helpful.
Afflictions are often the black folds in which God doth set the jewels of His children’s graces, to make them shine the better. - CH Spurgeon

There comes a moment in the path of suffering when you move from efforts to jettison the weight from your shoulders toward adjusting the weight so you can carry it for the long haul. ... Such weight is impossible to bear if you don't believe in the joy set before us, the destination in eternity that will not disappoint. Wendy Alsup
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter)

Monday, April 13, 2015

an invitation to Entrust Women

Ten year ago, I started dreaming about a conference for Christian women with Melbourne speakers. This May will be the fruition of that dream, with a new one-day conference, Entrust Women. I'd love to see you there!
It will be a great opportunity to meet women from all over Melbourne and Victoria, and to be taught and encouraged from God's word.

I'll speak on God's unlimited love in suffering from Romans 8. Fiona McLean, women's worker at St Judes' Carlton, will speak on God's unlimited love in salvation from Romans 5. And there'll be four seminars to choose from.

Read more and register at Entrust Women.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

online meanderings

Are you finding it hard to read the Bible? - Here are 3 good ways to mix it up a bit.

3 reasons women need good theology - It's a pity we ever doubt it.

Alzheimer's, the brain, and the soul - A fascinating interview with a doctor.

Those who suffer know him better - "If suffering disproves your Christianity, you’ve missed Christianity."

Never sorry enough - When you feel like someone is just not sorry enough.

Mom Enough - This free digital book from Desiring God should be worth reading, given the quality of the writers.
It is better to walk in the dark with God than to walk alone in the light. —The Still Small Voice
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

online meanderings

I will write something soon - in fact, I already have, just waiting for it to appear on other blogs. In the meantime, I'm catching up on months of reading, and finding some gems.

You are dust, not divine - A helpful article about bearing burdens and the Burden Bearer.

When you don't have time to pray - I enjoyed this.

Common grace and common griefs - Helpful for those moments you feel like complaining about the hard stuff of daily life.

My baby's heart stopped beating - A beautiful and thoughtful post.

A letter to young writers/bloggers/speakers - Take time in your twenties and thirties to deeply study God's word. Great advice.

Did Tolkien waste his life? - This is good reading.
When valuable things are taken away from you, you run to what no one or nothing can take away. - Paul David Tripp

I can still believe that a day comes for all of us, however far off it may be, when we shall understand; when these tragedies, that now blacken and darken the very air of heaven for us, will sink into their places in a scheme so august, so magnificent, so joyful, that we shall laugh for wonder and delight. — Arthur Christopher Bacon
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

online meanderings

Bible reading is an art - "The point of learning the little bits of science ... is to be ready to dance when the music begins to play."

Envious? - Here is strong medicine for the soul.

Mums need theology too - And so do the rest of us. 4 brilliant examples of how theology impacts life.

You never marry the right person - An excerpt from Tim Keller's excellent book.

When adoption goes bad - Counting the cost.

What is your exit plan? - How parents create their children's digital history.
O how many pangs you will spare yourselves if you don’t make any beginning in evil. There is evil enough in your own heart for Christ to deal with. You don’t need to burden him with more. - John Piper.

Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy. - Streams in the Desert

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

online meanderings

Okay, so I was never going to do another online meanderings, but I want to remember these posts! So here they are. Just a few from my recent online reading, which I am finally getting back to ...

What not to ask someone who is grieving - A wonderful description of grief, though I think the question, "How are you?", is fine if asked by someone who is truly concerned.

Which promises are for me? - I loved this article on how to read God's promises. So often misused.

Straight talk on trials - What she said.

3 reasons to love the Psalms - One day you will need them.

The introverted pastor's wife - A topic I'm often asked to write about.

The worst ever honeymoon - Need a good belly laugh?
We need to know, in the core of our being, down in the cellar of our souls, that God’s love and approval do not depend on anything we do. The same God who made us from dust knows we are dust, and He redeemed us Himself. We are caught in His arms, caught in His gaze, and there is nothing left for us to prove. There is only God’s love, and the Cross has already proved it. - Elizabeth Trotter

Little faith will bring your souls to Heaven, but great faith will bring Heaven to your souls. — C. H. Spurgeon

Friday, March 13, 2015

straight talk on trials

Straight talk on trials from Lisa Spence. I had to quote this so I wouldn't forget it:
1. How I react to the trial reflects what I really care about. This is an ugly truth, but one worth considering with great soberness. Whether it is a sudden devastation or a lingering irritation, what I value will be exposed by my reactions and most often this will require confession and repentance as I work through the sin and idols that are exposed.

2. The Lord is my only true hope and comfort. This truth is closely related to #1. As my false comforts and selfish desires are exposed, I must rehearse to myself the sufficiency of the Lord. Whatever it is I think I want or need I will find it in the Lord!

3. The Lord was faithful yesterday, He is faithful today, and He will be faithful tomorrow. How easily I forget the countless ways He delivers me and sustains me! Rehearsing His past faithfulness fuels my trust in Him.
You can read the rest here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

this is no tragedy

Someone mentioned on the phone to me recently the death from cancer of a prominent Christian leader in his fifties. She described it as a tragedy. But his death wasn't a tragedy. It was certainly a loss to his family, his friends and to the wider church. But it wasn't a tragedy. It was gain.

Let me tell you what is a tragedy: Someone who gets a good education, secures a well-paid job, buys a house in a nice area, marries and has children, and ensures his children gets a good education, so the cycle can begin again. Someone who treats Christ as a hobby or an insurance against hell. Someone who leaves behind a rusting car and children who've been trained to be self-indulgent. Someone with no gospel legacy. That's the tragedy.

Tim Chester, The Ordinary Hero, 197-198.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

on the path to the cancer ward

There's a chemical smell that hits you on the way to the cancer centre. Some bright spark of an architect put the building's main vents just near the entrance doors. Every time you walk up the path, the smell of chemo hits you. Once you've been to an oncology ward, you don't forget that smell.

Every two weeks, we drive to Steve's appointment in heavy silence. We drag our feet up that path while I try not to breathe in. We sit in the chairs in the hallway; he stares into space while I fight back tears and fight down panic. A nurse calls his name, shows him to a chair: a green vinyl recliner, more suited to watching TV than to having poison pumped into your veins. We wait for the slow drip-drip! drip-drip! of the drugs.

The aim of Steve's chemo is curative. Or so they keep reminding us. I think it's to help us "stay positive". It doesn't help much. Doctors are relatively confident about colorectal tumours, and that's how they're treating Steve's small bowel cancer; but no one knows much about this rare disease.

Except God, of course. He knows every cell in Steve's body, and he is not at the mercy of statistics or uncertain prognoses or rare cancers. And so we fight to trust him.

And it has been a fight. Steve grieves the half-life he's forced to live. From days full of active ministry, to days lying on a couch, watching the cricket, and occasionally playing a game with the kids or getting some shopping or going for a slow walk down the street: it might sound like a holiday, but if so, this is no Hawaii.

The side-effects of chemo - nausea (controlled by steroids that give you sleepnessness instead of vomiting), numbing fatigue, brain-fog, peripheral neuropathy (tingling and numbness in fingers and toes), and a throat spasm that turned out to be a rare reaction to one of the chemicals - are hard to endure and hard to watch.

The last month has been easier for Steve. Two cycles ago they took him off one of the two main chemo drugs (he's still on the most important one) and the symptoms have reduced. He's past the worst of the chemo. Two more treatments, and that's the end for now. He is already easing his way back into work, and is coping well.

There will be further tests over the next few years to check if the cancer has returned. Waiting becomes our new normal, and we try to live as if we're not waiting. The kids go back to school, and I enjoy the space and silence. I begin to do more chores and start work on a talk. We plan a family holiday.

I've discovered that grief travels in three directions: past, present, and future. The trauma of what we've gone through; the struggle to accept our changed lives; fearful anticipation of what is to come. Sadness is like a backpack of rocks you carry around: you forget it for a while, stop and enjoy the view, but always it's there, and there are days when it feels too heavy to bear.

In the dark times, when I can't feel my way, I am often surprised by the strong light of God's word. Here's the passage that has lit my way recently:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:7-1)
Humble yourself under God's hand. Cast your fears on him. Resist Satan's attempts to undermine your faith. Remember you're not alone. Remember this is just for a little while. Remember God will lift you up and restore you and make you strong

To God be the glory. Amen.

If you'd like regular updates on how we're going, you can "like" this page on Facebook: Pray for Steve.