Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bettina Arndt on sex

It's interesting to see a secular article in a secular newspaper saying the same things about sex which some Christians (and, more importantly, God - thanks for the reminder, Carmelina!) have been saying for years. Here's what Bettina Arndt has to say:

[A] woman on a mothering website ... suggests that women put sex on the to-do list ... Hang on a moment. Isn't that suggesting that women just do it? That sometimes they have sex when they are not in the mood? The very suggestion runs into a massive ideological roadblock. Women's right to say "no" has been enshrined in our cultural history for nearly 50 years. It was one of the outstanding achievement of the women's movement to outlaw rape in marriage and teach women to resist unwanted advances. But it simply hasn't worked to have a couple's sex life hinge on the fragile, feeble female libido. The right to say "no" needs to give way to saying "yes" more often. ...

The case is best made by a letter I received ... "If sex is mutual, when both people want it, that's wonderful. If one partner wants sex and the other doesn't but offers it as a gift, that too is pretty darned good. But my first wife regularly refused, complaining about my unreasonable demands. Sometimes she begrudgingly complied, which made me feel like a thief, as if I had stolen something that was not rightfully mine. Sex was rarely mutual and never a gift. ...

"Rose, my second wife of seven years, has a demanding job as a manager. Nevertheless, she has never said 'no'. She has never used the headache defence, never been too tired. Always, she makes sex a gift if she is not in the mood herself. Often she find herself enjoying the moment. She does this because she cares about me, about my feelings and my needs. In my case, I'm sure you can guess the outcomes. If I notice Rose is run down and tired, seldom will I reach for her, other than to give her a cuddle. If she is not well, I look after her, tuck her into bed and either read or veg out in front of the TV ... I am far from the perfect husband, but I do love and care for her, not because I am a wonderful bloke, but because her so very obvious caring for me can lead to little else other than reciprocity."

Sam makes it sound simple. But it seems extraordinary that sex is treated so differently from all the other ways in which a loving couple cater to each other's needs and desires. We are willing to go out of our way to do other things to please each other - cooking his favourite meal, sitting through repeats of her beloved television show. Why, then, are we so ungenerous when it comes to "making love", the ultimate expression of that mutual caring?

You'll find the rest of the article, an excerpt from Bettina Arndt The Sex Diaries, in today's Good Weekend.

Saturday blogging?

Just to let you know, like Sundays, I'll no longer be writing posts every Saturday (today's was unplanned!).

Friday, February 27, 2009

another gun?!

Oh yes, another gun is created from an educational toy by our 5 year old son Thomas (who, despite appearances, is a gentle, affectionate child). From this:to this:And yes, that's the first thing Thomas made with this new toy. Having got that out of his system, he deigned to put some cogs together.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Alfie top 5

A few of us were having a bit of a guessing game in the comments here about which of the Alfie and Annie Rose books by Shirley Hughes are in my top 5. It turns out that one of my top 5 Alfie books, Dogger, isn't actually an Alfie book at all, but I had no trouble coming up with 5 others. I could keep going - top 10, top 15, top 20 (are there that many Alfie books?) - but these are the 5 which create storytime magic for me. Here they are:

Alfie Gets in First
This was the first Alfie book Shirley Hughes wrote. Alfie is horrified to find himself locked in the house with his mum and sister outside. All the passersby try to rescue him, but he eventually (and proudly) rescues himself. It's a beautifully crafted book: on many of the pages, the left hand picture shows what's happening outside the house, while the right hand picture shows what's happening inside the house. A lively story with a subtle message about one preschooler's independence and courage.

A Journey to the North Pole from Alfie Weather
How I love stories (as I've said before) which celebrate a child's imagination! Here's another. The story and pictures have two layers: what's happening in real life, and what's happening in Alfie and Annie Rose's imagination. Shut in during a wet and cold day, they bravely explore Grandma's house until they reach the North Pole in the freezing attic. This is the first story in Alfie Weather, the most beautifully produced of all the Alfie books.

Winter Stars from Alfie Weather
This is from the same Alfie collection. It's a story, as you might guess, about stars: stars scattered across the walls and ceiling from the night light, star-shaped cookie cutters in Grandma's kitchen, stars crackling in the ice underfoot during a night time stroll, and stars sprayed across the sky viewed from the safety of Daddy's arms. The simplest of stories, it's absolutely arresting visually.

Bonting from The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook
I've already told you why I love this one!

Rhymes for Annie Rose
These poems are a glorious celebration of ordinary life: building cubbies, splashing through puddles, washing clothes, meeting cows, learning to count. Some, like The Knobbly Tree, have entered our family folklore, quoted every time we see a hollow tree. Others, like Footprints and One Winter Evening, send shivers down my spine every time I read them. These poems are simple enough to read to a 2 year old, but adults will also enjoy reading them over and over again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

take 5

When I tuck my 10 year old daughter Elizabeth in at night, the last thing I do is pray with her.

I pray that she will come to know Jesus' love more and more. I pray that she will become as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. Often, I pray that God will give her courage to tell her friends about Jesus.

A couple of weeks ago, she had to bring 5 things to school to share with her class. Each object was supposed to reveal something about her. Last year, I suggested she take in a Bible, but she was reluctant, and I didn't want to force her, since I thought this had to come from her.

This year she took in a book to show she loves reading, some crayons to show she loves drawing, a Nintendo DS game, and her gym costume: a potted summary of her interests.

She also took in a Bible. Even though she felt nervous, she told her class she's a Christian.

It's wonderful to see God answering my prayers for my daughter. How faithful he is to answer the prayers of his people! So often I doubt him, and wonder if he's really working in my children's hearts, but it's clear he's been slowly and silently changing Elizabeth, helping her to live courageously for him.

I've been encouraged to keep praying for my children with confidence, for God is good.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

better than resolutions

You might remember that I had no time to write New Year's resolutions this year. As a result, they've been gathering in my head for weeks, like dustballs in a neglected corner.

Excercise more. Eat less. Read the Bible every day. Pray. Spend more time with school mums. Spend relaxed time daily with my kids. Limit my computer use. Limit my blogging time. Spend relaxed time with my husband. Communicate well with my husband. Have monthly date nights with my husband. Read a book about homemaking. Organise my home. Organise my time. Organise my life. Pray with friends. Keep on top of my spending. Read books, lots of books. Research topics, lots of topics. Give my 2 year old time to dawdle as we walk to school. Memorise bits of the Bible. Memorise bits of the Bible with my kids. Read a book about grace. Work really hard at enjoying grace. Floss.

As you can see, I'm the queen of resolutions. Some I've started, and some I'll probably never start, which is just as well with some of them. But I'd give all these resolutions away, if God would answer for me this one prayer from a woman's diary, written over 150 years ago:

Precious Christ, I come with a large request for 1842: it is that You would be the "Alpha and Omega" of it. Do You not say, "Ask what I shall give you?" Yourself, Lord! You have most blessedly given Yourself to me. But I find sweet liberty to entreat more unfolding, revealing, and opening of Your glorious person, amazing work, and matchless love, than I have yet had; and more losing and treading down of SELF, too--that I may be lost in Your fullness, and forgotten and forsaken in Your soul-absorbing glories.

Oh! raise me higher, draw me nearer, that I may daily die, and You live in me more manifestly. I just give myself to You, to live on You, to live in You, to live for You, more and more than heretofore, and that by the power of the Spirit resting on me. I humbly ask that mine may be a large and still-increasing portion; that, under fresh anointing, You, most lovely Jesus, may be more fully known, more loved, more served; for it is to You the Holy Spirit leads, of You He testifies.

Oh, do make this a large, rich, full year! You being increasingly honoured in me, and I increasingly lost in You, and made an increasing blessing to Your dear people. An Ebenezer for past mercies befits me; large and magnificent have been Your bestowments; bountiful and constant Your favors to me--a poor worthless nothing! "Bless the Lord, O my soul--and all that is within me, bless His holy name!"
Thanks Dianna, who sent this resolution in to this blog on New Year's Day.

images are from stock.xchng

Monday, February 23, 2009

Proverbs (3) wisdom: what is it good for?

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young-
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance-
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Prov 1:1-7)
What is wisdom?
Is your brain is full of facts but you're hopeless at relating to people? Do you know your Bible well but struggle to be godly? Are you trying to decide which job to choose or who to marry? Do you have kids and want to know how to teach them? Would you like more insight into people and situations? Wisdom covers all areas: discipline, understanding, insight, prudence, knowledge, discretion, discernment, and guidance.

Who is wisdom for?
There are 3 kinds of people in Proverbs: the wise, the simple, and the fool. Proverbs makes the wise wiser, and gives the simple wisdom. Only fools are beyond the reach of wisdom, because they've rejected her invitation (Prov 1:20-33). We've all known fools, people who refuse to listen to advice or teaching; and we've all known people who are simple, ignorant but eager to learn. I know which I'd rather be. But when I close my ears to rebuke or instruction, I'm a fool (13:1).

How did Proverbs come about?
It's called "The proverbs of Solomon", but Proverbs has several authors: Solomon, the wise, Agur son of Jakeh, and King Lemuel's mum (Prov 10:1, 25:1, 22:17, 30:1, 31:1). Solomon, who "spoke 3000 proverbs" (1 Kgs 4:32), probably wrote some and collected others from sayings handed down through generations, since this is how proverbs usually come about.

Can you have wisdom without God?
Wisdom happens as people use their minds to reflect on God's world. But true wisdom doesn't happen independently from God. For this is God's world, made in accord with his wisdom. True wisdom means living in the way we were created to live.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Prov 9:10)
Non-Christian wisdom looks wise - and there's a lot of truth in it, for we've been given good minds by God to make sense of the world - but it ultimately proves empty. True wisdom comes about as God's redeemed people reflect on God's world in the light of God's word.

Why Solomon?
That's why the time wasn't ripe for the full expression of wisdom until Solomon arrived on the scene. God's promises to Abraham were fulfilled: God's people lived in God's place under God's rule. God had redeemed his people from slavery in Egypt, and he dwelt with them in the temple. The people had God's word: the history of salvation and the law.

Now was the time to reflect on how to serve God faithfully in the nitty gritty of everyday life: business relationships, marriage and parenting, sleeping and buying and eating. Now was the time for God's wise king to rule and judge with God's wisdom, and to share wisdom with his people (1 Kgs 3, 4:29-34). Now was the time for the blessing of wisdom to spread from God's people to other nations (Gen 22:15-18; 1 Kgs 10:1-13).

What about us?
In Solomon, we see the forerunner of a far wiser king: King Jesus, who exercises a greater rule with a greater wisdom (Isa 11:1-3; Matt 12:38-43). If wisdom begins with fearing God, then it also begins with loving and serving King Jesus.

Let's get wise!

This is a summary of a Bible study I led just over a week ago. Next week, I'd like to share with you what we learned last week about the fear of God.

images are from stock.xchng

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday blogging no more

I've been trying to figure out exactly how much blogging is going to fit into my life this year, on top of family and ministry responsibilities, and I've decided to stop posting on Sundays. I thought you might like to know the reason for the sudden silence!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

the humble burt

Ok, so this is kind of gross, but funny all the same. It's the kind of conversation a mother and her 2 year old have at the nappy change table.

"Did you do a poo?"

"I not poo-ey. I burt! I burted, Mummy!"

I'll let you figure that one out.

Friday, February 20, 2009

CJ Mahaney on pride

Why does God hate pride so passionately?

Here's why: Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him.

Charles Bridges once noted how pride lifts up one's heart against God and "contends for supremacy" with Him. ...

For purposes of personal confession, I began adopting this definition of pride a few years ago after I came to realize that, to some degree, I'd grown unaffected by pride in my life. Though I was still confessing pride, I knew I wasn't sufficiently convicted of it. So rather than just confessing to God that "I was proud in that situation" ... I learned to say instead, "Lord, in that moment, with that attitude and that action, I was contending for supremacy with You. That's what it was all about. Forgive me." ... This practice increased a weight of conviction in my heart about the seriousness of this sin.

Pride takes innumerable forms but has only one end: self-glorification. That's the motive and ultimate purpose of pride - to rob God of legitimate glory and to pursue self-glorification, contending for supremacy with Him. The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive.

No wonder God opposes pride. No wonder he hates pride. Let that truth sink into your thinking.

From CJ Mahaney Humility: True Greatness 30-31, emphasis in original.

image is from stock.xchng

Thursday, February 19, 2009

pride (3) this welcome pain

Long ago, in the distant days when I had no children, I burnt my hand quite badly. I was at a campsite with one of those iron wood-burning heaters that stands away from the wall, and in a moment of absent-mindedness, I rested my hand on top of it. I grabbed a jug of cold water and plunged my hand into it, holding it there for half an hour or more. It didn’t do much to ease the pain.

When I went to bed that night, my hand was still throbbing. I lay there and tried to ignore the pain, coming and going, coming and going, but it was impossible. Until I decided that instead of resisting the pain, I was going to accept it. Oddly enough, this made it easier to bear. As each wave of pain came, instead of gritting my teeth, I let it flow through me. I fell asleep.

Growing more like Jesus hurts. God’s fatherly discipline is not pleasant, but painful (Heb 12:7-10). Perseverance, character and hope come only through suffering (Romans 5:3-4). The trials which refine our faith bring grief (1 Pet 1:3-9). The suffering which makes us more like Christ is real.

I’m learning that there are two ways to react to the pain of growing in Christ. You can thrust the pain away quickly, like an over-hot saucepan, or you can hold it firmly to yourself, like a sword spitting sparks on a grindstone. If you do the first, you’ll escape with minor burns, but they’ll persist for days, throbbing and ugly. If you do the second, you’ll be sharpened like a sword, made fit and useful for the service of the King.

So it is with the pain which God uses to help us grow: you can push it away, or endure it patiently and even with joy, knowing that suffering makes you more like Christ.

Here’s what I wrote to a friend in the first weeks after God showed me the ugliness of my pride:

God opening this area of sin to me was a thoroughly unpleasant shock at first, and my first instinct was to run and hide! But I want to welcome rather than to run from this struggle and pain, … for it’s how God is growing me in unexpected ways - opening up areas of sin I was completely oblivious too, humbling me, helping me to accept and even welcome criticism, helping me to serve others more self-forgetfully. A slow battle and a long one, but worth it, because it’s God who works in me! And so wisely and gently (although it feels like the surgeon’s knife) for he knows exactly how much and what kind of fatherly discipline I need, and leavens it with encouragement.

You won’t accept the pain of Christian growth unless you truly hate the sin. Why would someone who doesn’t see the full danger of a cancer submit themselves to the surgeon’s knife? But if God shows you the ugliness of your sin - whether it's pride, bitterness, self-pity, or greed - you’ll be only too glad to submit yourself to his painful discipline.

I have looked my pride full in the face, and seen its ugliness. CJ Mahaney calls it "cosmic plagiarism", stealing God's glory for myself. I hate it. I'm disgusted by it. I'd do just about anything to get rid of it. And so, instead of running from the painful failures which strip away my pride, I find myself welcoming them.

If someone touches your arm with something which burns you, the natural reaction is to pull away. But if they're a doctor, and they are cauterising a wound or burning away a growth, you'll hold your arm still. It won't hurt any less, but you'll gladly endure the pain, because it brings healing.

Oddly enough, as I view the pain differently, I feel it differently. Instead of something repellent, festering, unpleasant, it becomes clean, sharp, wholesome. It still hurts. But I welcome each wave of pain, knowing the humility it's producing in me.

Like gold purified in a crucible - like a tree pruned to make it more fruitful – like a lance to a boil - like a sword sharpened against a stone - like the pain of childbirth - like sand at the heart of a pearl - I hold this pain close. This is a pain I want. This is a pain I need.

It’s there to teach me something: about my sin, about my unbelief, about my heart. About God’s truth, which is so much bigger than my wrong beliefs. About how small I am, how insignificant peoples’ treatment of me. About how much I still need God's grace. It's there to grow Christ in me.

I'm starting to understand why Paul rejoiced in his suffering, which protected him from pride, and magnified God's power and grace:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)

images are from stock.xchng

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Proverbs (2b) of slogans, speeding and smashes

In what's turning out to be a very Proverb-y week, I realised after re-reading Monday's post that I might have made it sound like I don't think God's word is always true. Of course it is!

I wrote, "Proverbs aren't true in any and every situation." Yes, that's right, and you'll find a statement like this in most books and articles on Proverbs - but proverbs are true descriptions of what life generally looks like, which is exactly what they are meant to be.*

How about the proverb "A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother" (10:1)? Well, yes, most parents rejoice in wise children, but not all. Proverbs tell us how things usually work in God's well-ordered world; but in a world disordered by sin, things don't always work out this way.

A woman in my Bible study put it this way (I think she was quoting David Walter): "Proverbs are the TAC ads of the Bible". TAC ads, for those outside Victoria, are advertisements from the Transport Accident Commission, which often show, quite gruesomely, the results of drink driving or speeding.

Here's a TAC "proverb": Don't fool yourself, speed kills. Slogans like this are true as general statements, but they're not true in every specific situation. Speeding will often lead to accidents, but not always. Pick a chapter of proverbs at random, and you'll find lots of similar statements, like "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labour" (Prov 12:24).

You could also say, "Proverbs aren't applicable to any and every situation." One proverb tells us that money is a great blessing, another that it can lead our hearts away from God (10:22, 30:7-8). One proverb advises us to give freely, and another to save our money carefully (Prov 11:24, 21:20). Wisdom is the art of knowing which you need to hear, and which to apply when.

Proverbs are God's true word showing us how to live wisely in God's good world. The consequences Proverbs outlines won't always happen: the righteous aren't always rewarded in this world, and the foolish aren't always punished. But a life lived wisely in God's service will generally bring blessing in this world, and will certainly bring glory to God now, and blessing in eternity.

* See, for example, the excellent article On Answering a Fool by Tim Chester.

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I have a rock where I go

I have a rock where I go
When there's too many people,
I have a rock where I go
Where no one can be;
I have a rock where I go,
Where nobody ever says "No";
Where nobody ever says anything--so
There is no-one but me.*

I'm on my morning walk, listening to a talk on my iPod.

I tread the impersonal suburban footpaths. I swish through dry grass under river red gums. I trudge through the car park and along the track around the oval. I come, breathless and sweaty, hot muscles twitching, shoes covered in seeds, to my rock.

It's just any old rock. It's one of those ordinary lumpy greyish brownish rocks used by landscapers that are supposed to make a landscape look natural but don't. It's just the right height for sitting, with a comfortable concave top. It's shaded by a youthful eucalypt and overlooks a small lake fringed with reeds.

I turn off my iPod and sit.

My ears soak up the silence and my eyes soak up the sunlight and my skin soaks up the shade. I watch blue herons stalking through the reeds, cormorants with outspread wings like right-way-up daytime bats, and wood ducks bobbing about in their homely fashion.

Here, in this rare moment of stillness, this mother of 4 prays for the day that's about to begin. I think about the coming responsibilities - the supermarket shop planned for that morning, the blog post I'm working on, school pick-up and time with children in the afternoon, dinner preparation, relaxation with a tired husband in the evening - and pray about each one.

I ask God to give me energy when I'm tired, patience when I'm irritable, and joy when I'm discouraged. I pray that he will help me to use my time well. I pray that I'll respond cheerfully when people interrupt my carefully laid plans. I ask him to give me strong arms for my tasks (Prov 31:17).

Some people start the day with a 'to do' list. Sometimes I do, mostly I don't. It's during this 5 minutes on my rock that I plan my day, prepare myself for its competing demands, and pray for God's grace in every moment.

It's time to go. My husband is minding our 2 year old at home, and I'd better get back so he can start his own work for the day. I sigh, stand up, turn on the iPod, and get my briefly rested muscles back into action.

I walk away from my rock just a little more ready to serve with energy, to love with self-forgetfulness, and to work with a willing heart.

* Changed just a little from A.A.Milne's poem "Solitude" in Now We Are Six.

images are from stock.xchng

Monday, February 16, 2009

Proverbs (2a) too many cooks make light work

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
"Look before you leap."
"A stitch in time saves nine."

Proverbs are funny things, aren't they? Handed down from person to person, they're a kind of folk wisdom, observations about how things work best.

But how do you reconcile these:

"Too many cooks spoil the broth."
"Many hands make light work."

Aren't they saying just the opposite? Or these:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Prov 26:4-5)
Did you know that Proverbs was nearly left out of the Jewish canon because these two proverbs seem to contradict each other?

Proverbs are observations about how things usually happen in God's world. Most proverbs aren't universal laws or promises, true in any and every situation. It takes wisdom to know how and when to apply them: when to answer a fool, and when not to. Proverbs can be dangerous when misapplied:

Like a lame man's legs that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. ...
Like a thornbush in a drunkard's hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. (Prov 26:9)
Most proverbs aren't universal truths, although it's tempting to treat them this way. "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Prov 22:6). Does this mean that if you raise your kids well, they're guaranteed to become Christians? I know people I greatly respect who hold this view, but I can't read the proverb this way, given the nature of Proverbs. What it's saying is that an adult will generally follow the path of the teaching and training they received as a child: a great encouragement for parents, but not a promise.

In Proverbs you'll find:

  • observations, sometimes detached from morality - "A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds." (17:8)
  • moral observations - "A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice." (17:23)
  • common sense - "Seldom set foot in your neighbour's house - too much of you, and he will hate you." (25:17)
  • consequences - "A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing." (20:4)
  • comparisons - "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." (15:17)
  • good advice - "Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house." (24:7)
  • truths about God - "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." (16:9)
God provides the framework for wise decisions in the Bible, but he doesn't do the thinking for us. We have to work out how to live wisely in the nitty gritty of everyday life. Wisdom is the ability to make good and godly decisions in every ordinary moment of every ordinary day. Proverbs are memorable sayings which help us do that.

Wisdom, anyone?

image is from stock.xchng

Sunday, February 15, 2009

growing a dinosaur

One of our most popular stocking fillers last Christmas (it seems a long time ago now!) was a dinosaur egg. You put the egg in water, a dinosaur hatches out, and it grows and grows and grows, like the fish in that wonderful children's book A Fish Out of Water. You can't tell which dinosaur will hatch out, but God was very kind to give Thomas his favourite: the fearsome T-Rex. Here it is, hatching,
bursting out of the egg,half way there,and all grown up - if a little lopsided.Fun!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Shepherd Song

The Valley of Humiliation (humility) is a place of terror for those who are proud. But the Valley bears another, smiling face for the humble in heart. In this green vale Jesus spent his days, the gentle pilgrim Mercy rejoices to tread, and the poor and lowly gladly dwell. Here the shepherd boy sings his famous words:

He that is down needs fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride:
He that is humble, ever shall
Have God to be his guide.

I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much:
And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
Because thou savest such.

Fullness to such a burden is
That go on pilgrimage:
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age.

from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress Part II

image is from Flickr

Responding to the fires

With a few small changes - including some practical suggestions about how to express compassion, and a link to Nicole's helpful post on talking to kids about disaster - here's my post on responding to the fires over at Sola Panel, where they published it as a response to what's been happening here in Victoria.

Friday, February 13, 2009

pride (2) the Valley of Humiliation

In my first post on pride, I told you how God used a series of reminders about pride to get my attention, and then a series of ministry failures to confront me with my pride. In today's post I'd like to talk about the link between suffering and humility.

Until late last year, I couldn’t understood what valleys have to do with pride.

I sang these words with no awareness of how deeply I needed a valley:

When You lead me to the Valley of Vision
I can see You in the heights
And though my humbling wouldn’t be my decision
It’s here Your glory shines so bright
So let me learn that the cross precedes the crown
To be low is to be high
That the Valley’s where You make me more like Christ.
In the Valley

I looked at Cathy’s blog: "It is never comfortable circumstances that teach us humility. It is the painful and disappointing things." Huh? I still wasn't getting it.

I read Pilgrim's Progress and watched Christian, so eager to prove himself better than his fellow pilgrims, stumble down into the Valley of Humiliation (Humility). But it was only on my second or third reading that I noticed it was pride which made the Valley such a dreadful place for him. In the Valley he comes to Forgetful Green, forgets where his gifts and graces come from, and is forced to fight demonic Apollyon. The Valley brings him face to face with his pride.

The Valley of Humiliation is a picture of those times in our lives when circumstances like illness, poverty, or failure bring us low. There are two ways to react to the Valley: the meek enjoy sweet communion with God here, but the proud find it to be a place of terror. The Valley divides people. It shows us who we are. It brings joy to the humble, and humbles the proud.

What's the connection between suffering and humility? As long as things are going well for me - as long as I am wealthy, powerful, intelligent, beautiful, respected, healthy, outwardly godly, or successful - it becomes terrifyingly easy for me to forget God and his grace, and to become smug and self-confident.

We don't even realise we're doing it. But gradually, we stop depending on God in prayer, we become subtly critical of others, and we take our privileges for granted. We accept praise for our achievements with an assumed humility so carefully judged that we fool even ourselves.

It takes suffering to tear the mask away. Failure reveals our dependence on success and praise. Depression shows we're not quite as well-adjusted as we've always assumed. Sorrow shatters our smug self-reliance. Poverty exposes our helplessness. A long struggle with a besetting sin teaches us our need for grace. Such experiences drive home the lesson that I can't make it on my own, that I'm not strong enough, that I'm dependent on Another.

Only those who are proud need fear a fall. For God "opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (Jam 4:6).

images are from stock.xchng

Thursday, February 12, 2009

online meanderings: The Best Book Co-op

Today I want to point you in the direction of another blog, called The Best Book Co-op. In this blog, Cathy McKay generously gives us the fruit of her thorough, thoughtful, personal study of God's word. On occasion, she's said things which have dug so deeply into me that I've printed them out so I can reflect on them further.

Really, this blog is not about Cathy at all, although she humbly shares her struggles in it - it's about God and his word. It's written by a woman who clearly loves God's word and loves sharing its riches with others. It's one of the most self-effacing blogs I've ever read. It's just Cathy opening up the Bible with us, so that God's Spirit can speak his word more powerfully into our hearts.

This blog would be a wonderful aid for your daily Bible reading! If you're struggling to keep your Bible reading fresh, why not print out Cathy's reflections on James or the Psalms, or read them on line, and open up God's word with her.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

the fires: how shall we respond?

Every morning I wake up and it's ok, until with a dull thud it comes back to me. Image after image of people who died in the fires. Rows of army tents with homeless people staying in them. Entire communities which have been wiped out.

My friend whose parents lost their house. A family known to me who died in their car. A school child who lost her parents and sister.

How can we respond to a tragedy like this? I've been thinking about this ever since I heard the news. How have you responded? Here's some of the ways I'm trying to respond:

  • Grieve. One of the wonderful things about God's word is that it doesn't pretend disaster isn't disaster. It doesn't supply easy, bandaid answers, as Job's friends found out. It's right to grieve. It's right to lament. It's right to ask God "why?", if that's what's in our hearts. God is big enough for our pain and questions.
  • Express compassion. If I know people who are grieving, I can grieve with them. I can walk with them through their grief. I can "mourn with those who mourn" (Rom 12:14). If nothing else, at least I can send a card, or say "I'm so sorry". But true compassion doesn't stop with words. It reaches out with practical help and generous giving (Jam 2:15-16). Meals, a place to stay, household items, the loan of a car, money: I know people helping in many different ways. How I give depends on what I have and my relationship to those in need.
  • Rethink my priorities. When I woke up last Monday, I lay and thought about what it would be like to lose our home: not so much the bricks and mortar, but irreplaceable small treasures like photos, the children's artwork, precious objects handed down from my parents. One day all this will be taken from me as surely as it has from those who've lost their homes. Do I value these things too highly (Matt 6:19-21; Luke 12:13-21)? Our old TV is pretty awful, and we were going to buy a new one. That doesn't seem so important now.
  • Teach my children. Our children have watched the news with us during the last few days, so they know what's been happening. We've talked with them about suffering and how to understand it. We've encouraged them to be generous with their pocket money. We've prayed with them. I was helped by Nicole's suggestions about how to talk with kids about disaster.
  • Be prepared to speak (1 Pet 3:15-16). In Melbourne at the moment, every second conversation is about the fire. It's hard to know how to speak about Jesus in a situation like this, because it's not the time to present a theology of suffering. Perhaps I could speak of Christian friends whose hope for a home in heaven comforts them after losing their home. Perhaps, if my friend is asking "why?", I could acknowledge my own uncertainty, and how I've learned to trust God when I can't understand, because I've seen the immensity of his love in the death of his Son. I would love to hear your ideas about what to say.
  • Take refuge in Christ. Tragedy is a terrible warning sign of the even more terrible judgement to come (Rev 8-11, Mark 13, Luke 13:1-5). In a bushfire, the only safe place is that which has already been burned by the flames. When God brings his just judgement again our rejection of him, the only safe place is Jesus, who took God's judgement on himself. May what's happened drive us and others to Christ.
  • Pray. Our church has encouraged us to pray:
  1. for comfort and support for those who have lost family and property
  2. for the provision of housing and food and schooling to those in need
  3. praise and strength for those who continue to fight the fires
  4. thanks for the preservation of so many people who escaped
  5. that God will bring good from this including improved procedures for future fires
  6. and that all who escaped from the flames will recognise the need to also escape from judgement by reconciling with God in Christ
I thank God that his word gives us words of lament for times like this. That it gives us a heart and hands to reach out in compassion. That it gives us hope for a home which can't be destroyed (John 14:1-4) and hope for a day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev 21:4). I thank God that those who trust in Jesus know that, whatever and whoever else we lose, we cannot lose him.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Proverbs (1) the getting of wisdom

Do you want more wisdom? In what areas of life would you like to be wiser?

Last Thursday I asked a group of women in which areas they'd like more wisdom, and they answered "Parenting. Money management. Time management." I'm sure you've got your own list. As I get older and life becomes more complicated, my list gets longer and longer.

Who wouldn't want wisdom? For wisdom is incredibly precious:

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.
Prov 3:13-18)
Power, protection, pleasure, profit, preciousness, peace: all these are the qualities of wisdom. No wonder we're told to "look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure", even if the search for wisdom should "cost all you have" (Prov 2:4, 4:7).

The getting of wisdom is no easy task. It takes passion and commitment. So precious is wisdom, it will cost all we have. (As I write, it occurs to me that these words sound awfully familiar: see Matt 13:44-46 & Prov 4:7).

Where can wisdom be found? That's the question I'll be asking during the next few weeks. I don't know about you, but if wisdom is that amazing, I can't wait to discover how to get it!

This is a quick summary of what we did during our first Bible study on Proverbs last Thursday. Each week, I'd like to share with you what we learn. This first discussion was just an appetite whetter - but what an appetite it gave me for wisdom! I hope you feel the same.

Monday, February 9, 2009

we pray and we grieve

The parents of one of the women in my Bible study barely escaped with their lives and lost their home in Saturday's fires.

For those of you who are overseas and praying for us, this is what their community looks like now. Here's an article which describes what's been happening.

Many hundreds of people have lost their homes, and the death toll is over 100 and climbing. We pray for those who've lost homes and loved ones, and we grieve with those who grieve.

Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
Because of my loud groaning
I am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof. ...
I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears ...
My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
(excerpt from Psalm 102)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

a terrible day

Yesterday was a terrible day for Victorians, and the fires continue. We know people who have probably lost homes and livelihoods; we also know towns which have been almost completely destroyed. Please pray with us.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ed Welch on grace

Do you ever think that your sins are too bad, and that forgiveness for those sins requires you to get your act together first? If so, you don’t fear God. You are minimizing his forgiveness. You are acting as though his forgiveness is ordinary, just like that of any person or make-believe god. In contrast, the fear of the Lord leads us to believe that when God makes promises too good to be true, they are indeed true.

Ed Welch, Running Scared (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 195.

HT Of First Importance

Friday, February 6, 2009

book quiz revisited

You've all been very clever and guessed all the children's books in this quiz except number 4 - "He heard Fillyjonk's shrill little voice in the garden; she had found the Hemulen."

Can anyone guess which book the sentence is from? Here's a clue: it's something to do with this picture, the country Finland, and my birth month.

If you still can't get it, I obviously need to introduce you all to a wonderful series of children's books!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

a story of school holidays and supermarkets

I was standing in the supermarket aisle, of all places, enjoying the silence.

It was one of those supermarkets with all the shivery refridgerated aisles up one end, the popular grocery aisles in the middle, and the deserted househood goods aisles right down the end. As I wheeled my trolley to and fro through the store, it grew warmer and darker, until I was standing in the unromantic surroundings of the toilet paper aisle, the only sound my 2 year old son Andy chatting away to me. Ah! The silence! No need to filter out all those layers of noise! I stood there and breathed deeply. Not quite a peaceful mountainside with the stillness broken only by the sound of birdsong, but it felt like it to me.

School holidays have just ended, and with them the constant, battering noise and demands of 4 bored children cooped up in a hot house (we've just had the longest, hottest heat wave in Melbourne since 1908).

I usually love school holidays. I love my children gathered around me, like ducklings safely clustered around a mother duck. I love the comfortable chaos and the noisy games and the quiet hours snatched with children who are so often away at school. But I didn't enjoy the 6 week school holidays which just ended.

By the end of the holidays, I had great sympathy for all those mothers who long for their children's return to school. Too many children whining, "I'm bored, Mummy! What can I do? Think of something for me to do!". Too many loud arguments: "He said ... ! She said ... ! She won't let me play! He won't leave me alone!". Too many never-ending needs for discipline and entertainment and food.

The worst moment was when I went supermarket shopping with the 4 children (yes, another supermarket story!) and had to threaten to go home and punish them after 1 minute because they were being so disruptive and disobedient. A new low point in my parenting experience.

Most of this was due to the fact that Steve was sick and I was worn out from looking after 4 kids on my own (I have new admiration for single mums, especially mums with boys!). But I think I could have done some things differently. Here's how I'd like to change things during our next school holidays:

  • less screen time. I realised near the end of the holidays that the kids were grumpy partly because they were having too much TV and computer time. During term time, I limit their screen time to 30 minutes a day. But during the school holidays, screen time gradually crept up, leaving grumpy bored children in its wake.
  • more planned activities. My children generally get along well, inventing games and playing happily together, so I'm happy to let them fill the hours enjoying each other's company. (Don't misunderstand me, there's plenty of times things don't run so smoothly in our house!) I don't normally need to come up with holiday amusements, so perhaps I've become a little lazy.
  • extend the kids' learning. I've bought books like Hands-On Science, full of experiments for my science-loving son, and Teaching Art With Books Kids Love, full of art activities for my craft-loving daughter, but we rarely have time for them. The school holidays would be a wonderful chance to do these together.
  • maintain daily routines. During holidays, it's easy to let the usual daily routines slip: Bible reading, piano lessons, breakfast together. It's good to take time away from normal routines to rest and relax, but a bit more structure in the day would help prevent the loose-endish holiday blues.
  • keep doing the good stuff. There are lots of things I want to keep doing, like day trips, time with grandparents, and spending individual time with each of my children.
I've just found some excellent suggestions for school holidays on the internet, so it might be time to do some browsing!

Do you have any other suggestions for making school holidays happy, productive and relaxing? I'd love to hear about them!

images are from stock.xchng

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

children's books quiz: book meme

Here's a quiz for all you fellow book lovers, especially if you love children's books. I thought it was time for Nicole's book meme, given the recent bookish nature of this blog. I've made it easier by taking all the clues from this list of my favourite children's books.

Here's the rules:
- Take 10 books, and transcribe the 5th sentence from page 56.
- Make sure that at least 5 books are fiction, provide 5 hints, and pass the meme on to 6 other bloggers.

Here are the sentences. See if you can guess which books they come from. If you've read the books in question, it should be very easy!

1. From the very beginning Madame took an interest in Posy.

2. The goblins began to sing, or croak, keeping time with the flap of their flat feet on the stone, and shaking their prisoners as well.

3. "She catches flies and sucks their blood."

4. He heard Fillyjonk's shrill little voice in the garden; she had found the Hemulen.

5. For days Pa hauled logs.

6. Copses, dells, quarries and all hidden places, which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves and their secrets pathetically, and seemed to ask him to overlook their shabby poverty for a while, till they could riot in rich masquerade as before, and trick and entice him with the old deceoptions.

7. She said it stiffly because she was not used to thanking people or noticing that they did things for her.

8. Peter whistled.

9. The big dyeing job was done twice a year at the hairdresser's, but every month or so in between, Mrs Wormwood used to freshen it up by giving it a rinse in the washbasin with something called PLATINUM BLONDE HAIR-DYE EXTRA STRONG.

10. "That means that we can't possibly tell you because you're a native ... a nice native, of course."

I've already given you the only hint you'll need: all the books are children's books from this list. I've cheated a bit: when the 5th sentence was impossibly difficult or completely obvious, I'll admit to choosing sentence no. 4 or no. 7. If you need help - which I doubt! - I'll give you another clue.

Put your guesses in the comments, and happy guessing!

I'm not going to tag anyone, but if any other bloggers want to have a go - Honoria or Sandra, or Belinda, or anyone else I've fogotten - tell me and I'll see if I can solve yours!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

pride (1) God gets my attention

When God can't get your attention through quiet whispers, sometimes he takes up a hammer. With precisely placed blows - a Bible passage, a friend's words, a magazine picked up and glanced at - he drives the point home. And when that’s not enough, he wields the sledge hammer of painful experience.

It gradually dawned on me late last year that the same word was popping up everywhere, as unmissable as those huge red-on-yellow billboards shouting “SEX!” beside the freeway. Except all my signposts were reading “pride”.

I read Pilgrim's Progress and watched Christian stumble because of his pride. I flicked through The Briefing and discovered a review of CJ Mahaney's Humility: True Greatness. I clicked on Cathy's blog and read words which laid my heart bare: "My bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are shown when other Christian women get a 'ministry opportunity' that I don't."

As if God knew this relentless repetition wouldn't be enough, a series of painful failures showed me the full ugliness of my pride. Like a surgeon who knows exactly where to cut, God relentlessly plunged his scalpel in just as far as it needed to go.

I’ve struggled with pride before. When I was young and confident of my godliness, I prayed a dangerous prayer: “Lord, teach me humility”. What followed was a drawn-out battle with sin which undermined my self-satisfaction. I vowed never to pray for humility again.

But God still hadn’t dealt with my pride in achievement.

It's not surprising that success matters to me. I lapped up the praise of loving parents, I went to a high-achieving private school, and I chose a prestigious uni course. On the first day, our lecturer called us “the cream of society”. (I transferred to Arts soon afterwards, but that’s another story!) No wonder that I expect to succeed. It's pretty ugly when you write it down, isn't it?

The ugliness wasn't apparent to me. When you’re succeeding you can fool even yourself with your assumed humility. You accept praise with just the right measure of self-deprecating gratitude. You feel oh, so humbly grateful for the gifts God has given you.

It took a series of failures, in a ministry I expected to succeed in, to reveal myself to me. Each one felt like a kick in the stomach. Horrified at the strength of my emotions, I prayed the prayer I vowed never to pray again: “Lord, teach me humility”.

One final painful and petty experience of failure, coming just in time for Christmas, and it was as if God prised opened a manhole into my heart, and I could see the pride within, like a festering black pit seething with worms.

God spares us this view of our sin most of the time. But occasionally he shows us the way he sees our hearts. God has made his views on pride very clear: "The LORD detests all the proud at heart" (Prov 16:5).

Thank God that, although my sin is greater than I will ever know, his grace is greater still.

This is the first in a series on what God has been teaching me about pride. Next time, I'd like to talk about the connection between humility and suffering.

images are from stock.xchng

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thomas' first day at school

It was Thomas' first day at school. After some reluctance during the holidays, the first thing he said today was, "I can't wait to go to school, Mummy!" He had a great day, praise God.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

school holidays at our house

It's the last days of school holidays here in Victoria. I haven't enjoyed them as much as usual, because with Steve so sick I've been looking after 4 kids on my own - settling arguments, entertaining kids, and doing all the normal home tasks. But we've still had lots of fun. Here's some pictures.

On day 1 of the holidays Lizzy organised a competition to vote for the top 3 activities, and came up with a play schedule.

There was a little too much screen time, until Mum put her foot down.
The entire living room became a cubby on several occasions (or a real-life computer game, if the boys had any say in it).

The children made slime and a lovely mess!
Lizzy organised a craft program for the boys, making caterpillars out of egg cartons.
The Christmas toys came out of their boxes.
The highlight? A new cousin. So cute!
Back to school tomorrow, and back to the school routine for me. *sigh*