Sunday, March 31, 2013

the horror of death, and death's undoing: thoughts for Easter Sunday

Brad Williams Easter is Coming:
As Death haunts us, stalks us, and undoes us and all whom we love, Easter carries us...

If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we should quit Christianity...All the Christian’s hopes centre on whether or not Jesus really did take up His life three days after He laid it down. Easter helps us to remember this thing, this one amazing thing that we believe Jesus did: He beat death...
Death is out there, stalking us like a predator...And if Christ is not risen, then we can never be rid of it...We are all just dust if Jesus is not risen from the dead.

But the resurrection is more than that. It is more than just the assurance of being reunited with our loved ones in Christ. It changes everything. It changes the entire paradigm of life.
If Jesus is risen, then God is real. The universe is not just a massive piece of beautiful but cold space. It is the handiwork of an all-powerful God who happens to be our Father, a Father who sent His Son to save us and make us children. A Father who insured that His children would never die, but would live to see a thousand million sun rises, and maybe a thousand million galaxies. Maybe more.
It means this current life is a blip, a passing shadow, a mist on the grass before noon. Nothing I suffer here is worthy to be compared to the things I will see after the grave has to give me up to life forever...

I hate death...Death is an enemy; a cruel thief that steals the people we love. This isn’t the way that it should be, and the hope of Christ allows me to imagine a world, a reality, where death has been struck a mortal blow itself. 
Death is dying, it is now thrashing like an enraged and weakening beast...But its rage is futile, for if Christ is risen, then death must surrender all its spoils at a single command...Death itself will be judged, as will all the world. All of this is true if Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.

Christians have put all their eggs in this one basket, and where else can we go? Jesus has beaten death; He lay in the ground three days, stone cold dead, and then He rose to tell the tale. And now He beckons to the world, “Follow me, and you too will never die.”

Our resurrection day is coming; we will meet the Master of Life and Death.
You can read the rest here.

Friday, March 29, 2013

because of Easter, suffering isn't senseless

Milky Way / Via Láctea My mum sent me this quote from King's Cross - I've turned her into a Tim Keller fan! - and I read it myself and shared it with my son.

It's for all of you, especially those who suffer, on this Good Friday.
Christianity is the only religious faith that says that God himself actually suffered, actually cried out in suffering.
Now what good is that?… God came into the world and suffered and died on the cross in order to save us. It is the ultimate proof of his love for us.

When you suffer, you may be completely in the dark about the reason for your own suffering. It may seem as senseless to you as Jesus’s suffering seemed to the disciples. But the cross tells you what the reason isn’t.

It can’t be that God doesn’t love you; it can’t be that he has no plan for you. It can’t be that he has abandoned you.

Jesus was abandoned, and paid for our sins, so that God the Father would never abandon you. The cross proves that he loves you and understands what it means to suffer. It also demonstrates that God can be working in your life even when it seems like there is no rhyme or reason to what is happening…
If you look at the cross you can no longer go through suffering in the same way….

[This] passage from The Lord of the Rings...comes near the end of the third book, when evil and darkness seem overwhelming. Here is what Tolkien tells us about the thoughts of Sam:
Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the though pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach…Now, for a moment, his own fate…ceased to trouble him…Putting away all fear, he cast himself into a deep, untroubled sleep.
Because of Jesus’ death, evil is a passing thing – a shadow. There is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach because evil feel into the heart of Jesus. The only darkness that could have destroyed us forever fell into his heart…
It is going to be all right.

From King's Cross 170-171.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

watching your child suffer - and trusting God

It hasn't been easy watching my son suffer, but I am learning to trust God's good work in his life. This post by Persis spoke deeply to me:
God never promised His children an easy life. Jesus told his disciples "In the world you will have tribulation." (John 16:33)...But what about our children?
We can't keep them in a safe little bubble forever. They will feel the effects of sin just like the rest of us. If they have come to faith in Christ, they will not be exempt from the suffering of the people of God. 
So if we can't protect them, perhaps God will intervene. The situation will be reversed and it will be a win-win for everybody. The trial will end, and God will get the glory.
But sometimes our prayers are answered very differently. He chooses to glorify Himself in their perseverance instead of their deliverance.
This is harder to watch than going through yourself. My natural instinct is to step in and save my daughter from those heart-level hurts, but I can't shield her from hard providences.
God loves her too well to let her rest on her mom's faith. I can tell her of my Ebenezers, but He wants her to plant her own and say, "hitherto the Lord has helped me." (1 Sam. 7:12)
Lessons about His goodness, sovereignty, and unfailing love can't be learned by osmosis but can only be learned first hand and often in the valley. Don't we want our children to say, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you." (Job 42:5)?
So I will still pray with her, for her, and strive to give godly practical counsel. I will point her to what God has said about Himself in His Word. But I'm learning to let go and entrust her in greater ways to her Father's care.
I'm just her mum and her sister-in-Christ. I'm not supposed to be her saviour. She already has one, and His name is Jesus.  

Read the rest here.

an update on how we're going

So how is Ben, I hear you ask (some of you literally)? And how am I?

Well, Tuesday - two weeks ago - was a turning-point, both in what was happening inside me (more about that another day) and with Ben. I think that's why I felt ready to publish a cry of hopelessness, which waited in the wings for weeks.

At that point Ben had been sick for over a month with constant headaches (it's not the first time: last year, he missed both a term and a month of school). Some days it was a migraine, so severe that he could only lie in a darkened room; other days, a headache far worse than what you or I might call a "bad headache". He stayed home from school and bore it with silent resignation.

Not easy to watch when you're a mother.

Every night I'd lie awake and pray, over and over, "Please heal him, Lord. Please let him be better in the morning." Every morning I'd wake up and think, "Maybe this morning he'll be better" - then I'd look in his eyes and see the shadow of a headache. Every day I'd sink a little deeper into discouragement.

Until that Tuesday, when he woke with a worse migraine than usual, and I rang his paediatrician and said, in essence, "We've had enough. Do something!" And she sent us to the hospital and all my Facebook friends prayed and we found ourselves in the emergency department (that's it in the picture above). And I sat in a chair in a little room and watched a drip running into Ben's arm and enjoyed the silence (rest! peace! It's a little sad, but I have a soft spot for hospitals).

While we were there, Ben was interrogated and examined by no less than 3 doctors. We saw one of the top paediatric neurologists - something that wasn't supposed to happen, Ben's chart didn't ask for it, but someone (providentially!) stuffed up along the line - and Ben got a new diagnosis and a new medication.

So what's his diagnosis? Chronic daily headaches (you can google it) as well as migraines.

Hearing that your child has a chronic condition isn't easy. I've shed many tears of shock and grief during the last two weeks. But it's also a relief. Why? How can it be comforting to discover your son is chronically ill?

Because we now have an explanation for why Ben's headaches haven't gone away. We know what to expect. We know what to do. I don't feel so helpless. I don't wake up every morning wondering if his headache has gone away in the night (although we will keep praying that it does) only to have my hopes dashed.

We know that progress will probably be slow. We know what Ben needs: a clear structure to his days, as much school as possible, good stress management, and daily exercise. We don't wake up wondering if he should go to school: we just help him to lead as normal a life as possible.

Every morning he gets his uniform on and I pack him into the car (no more time spent second-guessing his condition and wondering if he's well enough). Every morning my husband walks our younger boys to school (no more trying to do it all by myself). Most lunchtimes I get a call from the school asking me to pick him up, and he comes home quiet and pale.

And yes, he's in pain. And yes, it's hard for him to concentrate. And yes, he usually can't last the day. But he makes it through the first four hours of school, and he loves learning, and he has good friends and amazing teachers, and the year 7 coordinator and his mentor give him constant, attentive care. I am so thankful for these things.

Our paediatrician called us "A family in crisis", and she's right. But we're also pulling together, perhaps more than we ever have. My husband takes Ben swimming. I take him for walks. We pray and talk and, even, laugh. I'm so grateful for a husband who puts his needs aside to care for us at the end of every long day.

Now that I know what to expect, I also know what I need to get through this: the support of my family, my neighbour, my friends. Rest, exercise, an emptier timetable. Plenty of Bible and prayer. And the joy of having people like you say to me, "I'm thinking of you. How can I help? How can I pray?" That means the world to me.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Couch to 5K - week 1

Week one
Begin with a brisk 5-minute walk, then alternate 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking, for a total of 20 minutes.

I'm no jogger (dodgy knees, not athletic enough, walking is for me). Yet here I am, jogging, feet thudding through the parkland near our house.

Not sure what brought this on! A hand-me-down iPhone from my mum? An article about apps like Couch to 5K? The slow-burning realisation that, when I break briefly into a run during my walks, I actually enjoy it?

Mostly, it's because I made just one resolution for 2013: to get more exercise. I spent 2012 in front of the computer - at least that's how it felt - and I'm fed up with that well-padded, lethargic, energy-less me. So here I am, jogging.

I'm surprised to find that it's fun. It's hard, yes. A whole minute! And then another one! And then another! It doesn't sound like much, but my legs and lungs aren't used to this, and they're soon complaining.

But I get home, and I'm hot and puffed, and I sit next to my husband - so far the trajectory of this has been 1K to couch, not couch to 5K - and I'm smiling from ear to ear. All those promised endorphins have kicked in and I'm exhilarated and energised.

I learn a few things this first week:
  • don't jog in 40 degree heat. Yup, I tried it. And came as close to heat stroke as I never want to be again.
  • it's not a good idea to run on a full stomach. Eat breakfast, then wait an hour, then jog. Or jog first. Otherwise you'll be sluggish and slow.
  • boppy music makes a great jogging companion. It puts a spring in your step. Later on, I'll find I can listen to slower music; but right now, I need the bop.
  • the occasional stitch in the side is to be expected. They go away soon. Or at least they did for me.
That's the end of the first week. And so far I'm loving it.

How did you find week 1 of Couch to 5K? Tell us here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

what's the point of marriage (5) conclusion: the three colours of marriage

When I was six, I had a book that seemed like magic. Each page had two line drawings printed on top of each other. Seen together, the two images looked like a mess. But at the back of the book were sheets of translucent red and green plastic. When you folded them over the images, two pictures sprang to life in turn. An egg hatched into a chicken. Tadpoles turned into frogs. A puppy grew into a dog.

Reading three books on marriage has been a bit like that. Marriage is a complex and mysterious thing. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish its contours through the mess on the page. But viewed through a different colour—as a mirror of the divine marriage, a spiritual friendship, or a partnership of service—it shines with a different light.

So what is marriage for? I started by arguing that one, overall goal would be more helpful than the three traditional goals for marriage. Yet we are still left with three goals, looking in three directions:

  • Marriage looks upward—its purpose is to display God’s glory by presenting a picture of the covenant between Christ and the church. 
  • Marriage looks inward—its purpose is spiritual friendship leading to holiness, as husband and wife partner each other on the journey to glory.
  • Marriage looks outward—its purpose is to serve God in partnership as we rule and care for his world and make Jesus known. 

It would be neat and satisfying to conclude this article by pointing at a goal and saying ‘that one’, but I can’t. I suspect the Bible’s teaching on marriage is so richly textured that it can sustain all three. And I think they’re in the right order: marriage should first be God-directed, then characterized by faithful love and joyful intimacy (Deut 24:5), and then, if it’s not to become insular and selfish, pour itself out in loving service.1

Marriage looks upward, inward, and outward. Like a three-legged stool, if it lacks a leg it will stumble and fall. Yet ultimately marriage looks forward, to the day when our small marriages will be swallowed up by a greater one. For marriage is a temporary permanence, a life-long bond that draws its final breath only when we do. As we step into eternity, all the purposes of marriage will find their end in Christ. And so I give the final words to John Piper:
Marriage… is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short… Very soon the shadow will give way to Reality. The partial will pass into the Perfect. The foretaste will lead to the Banquet. The troubled path will end in Paradise. A hundred candle-lit evenings will come to their consummation in the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this momentary marriage will be swallowed up by Life. Christ will be all and in all. And the purpose of marriage will be complete.2

You can read the rest of this article at The Briefing.

1. A useful workbook to help couples put the three together is Tim Chester’s Gospel-Centered Marriage.
2. Piper, This Momentary Marriage, p. 178.

Monday, March 25, 2013

what I'm reading: praying for the world from A Call to Spiritual Reformation

Do you only pray for people you know, or do you pray for people you've never met?

Two days ago I read this, and it challenged me to pray more widely:
We must ask ourselves how extensive our own praying is.
Do all our petitions revolve around our own families and churches, our own cherished but rather small circle of friends?
Of course, we are primarily responsible for praying for our own circle. If we do not pray for our own circle, who will?
But if that is the farthest reach of our prayers, we become parochial, introverted. Our prayers may be an index of how small and self-centred our world is.

Of course, we cannot pray for all believers everywhere, except in the most general ways.
But it will do us good to fasten on reports of Christians in several parts of the world we have never visited, find out what we can about them, and learn to intercede with God on their behalf.
Not only is this an important expression of the fellowship of the church, it is a critical discipline that will enlarge our horizons, increase our ministry, and help us to become world Christians.
The parts of the world that I have determined to pray for are Pakistan, India and parts of Northern Africa, since God has brought many people into our lives from these places, both Christians and unbelievers.

There are other places I pray for, but these are the main ones I'd like to focus on - a lot more than I do now!

What parts of the world are you praying for?

The quote is from Don Carson's A Call to Spiritual Reformation p. 98.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

online meanderings

10 big daily reminders - "I wake up lost every morning..." Another glorious list to print out and stick up somewhere you'll see it often (along with 9 reasons you can face anything, which I quoted here).

Dear sufferer, do not harden your heart - Searching questions I'm asking myself, and helpful questions to ask those who suffer (though I'm not sure I'd ask the first one!).

How to mentor a growth group leader - A fantastic resource from Macca. I'm printing this out. There's lots more to read in this ongoing series, Resources for growth group leaders

Making the most of singleness and Sanctification in the season of singleness - Two of the best posts I've read on singleness, one on how it can be a "gift" even if you don't think you have the gift, and the other on tackling issues of identity, self-centredness and secrecy.

Helping children deal with death - and why you should buy guinea pigs. Not sure I'll be doing that bit...

Jesus said we have to die to ourselves to follow him (Mark 8:34-37). Sometimes it’s dramatic. Sometimes it comes at great cost, and sometimes people are encouraged. Most of the time, though, we die to ourselves quite privately. So privately, in fact, that even those closest to us don’t know. We die to ourselves by keeping our mouths shut, forgiving others when they slight us, and moving on. Staci Eastin

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Couch to 5K - hints and tips

* Please leave a comment if you're planning to start Couch to 5K (or similar), are half-way through it, or have done it before.

* Just click here and let us know where you're up to and how you're finding it!

* And no, you don't need a Smartphone - a watch and this program will do.

* Next week, I'd like to start my jogging diary, as promised here (as long as my knees are still holding up... :) ).

*In the meantime, here are some hints and tips from friends who've gone before.

   A Brand New Day

Jess -
  • One tip is to keep stretching afterwards. Even if you don't need it to prevent soreness, it still prevents injuries and back issues. I've noticed my hamstrings are tighter than they have ever been and it's just the running so I need to just keep working at stretching them. 
  • Tanya and I found signing up for a fun run very motivating to train for a longer distance. 
  • Having a friend to run with is probably the main reason I've kept going regularly. 
Tanya -
  • I would emphasise the importance of moving up levels despite it being hard. It's the main way you see improvement, and your body can actually cope, even if your head thinks it can't. 
  • In terms of pace/speed: if you are getting way too breathless, slow right right down, even if it's slower than walking pace. As long as you keep jogging you are challenging your body and will see improvement. You can always work on getting faster later. The rest in between runs helps.
  • Runs after very little sleep are harder but manageable. Early nights make for an easier run : ) Jess and I both notice how much harder the run is if we've had too many late nights. 
  • It really is a luxury having someone to keep you getting up and going consistently. I think encourage people to find a friend, if possible, and begin it together like we did. Not only does it help physically but can be wonderful bonding experience.
  • You'll be surprised that you can do it if you just keep going.
Jane -
  • "Hard but not too hard": that phrase sums up my whole experience. I've found it quite addictive, setting myself a difficult challenge and then finding I can actually do it. 
  • I've also found Jess' advice helpful - to "trust the program" when feeling scared the next increase would be too hard. There were times when I really wouldn't have given the next challenge a go had that not been ringing in my ears.
Me - 
  • Stick to the program, especially in those moments when you think you can't move to the next step. When I paused and re-did a step, I realised I was actually ready for more. 
  • If you can, run somewhere beautiful - it helps a lot! The best course is not too hilly, with gentle curves.
  • Put something boppy on your MP3 player (if you have one). It will make you feel more energetic, and it'll be a lot more fun.
  • I've been sidelined with a sore knee for the last few weeks, probably because I took a week off and then jumped straight into my first 20 minute run. Here's what I learned:
    • get a decent pair of running shoes
    • do a set of stretches after you run (it helps prevent muscle tightening and injury)
    • if you take a break (e.g. due to illness) you might want to go back a few steps
    • if your knees start to get sore, don't push through it: rest and ease back into running s-l-o-w-l-y 
    • seek professional help if needed.
  • My daughter's self-defence teacher told her: Stay safe. Run with just one ear-bud in, so you can hear what's happening around you. Don't run in a place or at times that are too isolated.
Three final thoughts -
  • Jogging is FUN! Who knew? Exhilarating, energising, and a great work-out. 
  • I'd never done more than a minute's jogging before. I was astonished to discover how capable my body is. You can do it!
  • The program works! I feel like Master Yoda: "Trust - the - program."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

9 reasons you can face anything

God's infallible promises. I'd like to print these out and stick them over my sink, to remind me when I feel sad and weak.

  1. I will meet all your needs according to my riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
  2. My power will be made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  3. I will strengthen you and help you and hold you up with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
  4. I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
  5. I will not let any testing befall you for which I do not give you grace to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  6. I will take the sting away from your death with the blood of my son (1 Corinthians 15:55f).
  7. I will raise you from the dead imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:52).
  8. I will transform your lowly body to be like my glorious body, by the power that enables me even to subject all things to myself (Philippians 3:21).
  9. I will do this without fail because I am absolutely sovereign over everything and therefore, I can do all things, and no purpose of mine can be thwarted (Job 42:2).

online meanderings

Prayer: A great place to begin biblical counselling - How to make prayer for each other real.

What is God's will for my life? (1) and (2) - Maybe we need to stop asking and start following. David Platt.

Depression - Helpful thoughts for those who suffer and those who care for them.

Deb recommends some children's Bibles - A great list.

Disciple your daughter - not just women outside your family. - Always glad to be reminded of this.

Chronic pain and the Christian life - I'm finding this a tricky balance for my son:  "Pain sufferers tend either to do too much (creating more pain) or withdraw even further (creating more emotional distress)."
Yes, you do receive incomparable blessings when you come to Jesus. But we must also hear that true Christian faith is built on denial of ourselves. This is why some folks have such a hard time hearing the gospel. We think, “God is love, and if God is love then he wouldn’t ask me to do something I don’t want to do.” But what good news is this?
The good news is that God is going to give us more than we could ask or imagine. But the reality of Christianity is that it only comes by a cross. Unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, it does not bear fruit.

When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die.

That he might truly live.

Kevin Deyoung

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

what's the point of marriage? (4) marriage looks outward: Christopher Ash Married for God

The whole business of marriage… [is] the loving joyful service of God, as we look outward from our marriages and as couples seek to care for God’s world together… This is delight with a shared purpose, intimacy with a common goal, and companionship in a task that stretches beyond the boundaries of the couple themselves… proclaiming Jesus Christ is at the forefront of that service.1
“What is the point of marriage?” asks British theologian Christopher Ash. He sums up his answer with the motto “sex in the service of God” (where sex stands in for the whole marriage relationship).

We often assume that marriage was God’s cure for Adam’s loneliness, but Ash argues that fellowship with others is the Bible’s solution for loneliness. The context of Genesis 2 shows that Adam’s real problem was that the job of ruling and caring for God’s world was “too big for him to do on his own”. That’s why God gave him “‘a helper’ rather than ‘a companion’”—that is, “one who works alongside so that both together can do a task”.

The joyful one-flesh intimacy at the heart of marriage is the centre out of which this loving service flows. The focus of marriage, then, is not inward but outward, on the task that the man and woman and their children do together in God’s world. Marriage is for service.

This is a revolutionary idea. When I first read Married for God, it clarified my thinking and helped me see my marriage as a partnership for God’s service. The work of a scholar, this book has a clear structure. After establishing marriage’s central purpose, Ash devotes a chapter to each of the three traditional goals of marriage, showing how they serve this purpose. At points I found his arguments a little reductionistic—is marriage really not part of God’s provision to meet our needs?3—but his book is a helpful corrective to relationally-obsessed, self-centred views of marriage.

Ash not only has a keen mind, but also a pastor’s heart. He begins by addressing the guilt and sexual baggage we carry into marriage, and his view of marriage isn’t coldly task-oriented but warmly relational. The three chapters that stood out for me were on sex and intimacy, the marriage institution, and the faithfulness at the heart of marriage. An odd collection! But I love the way they show how covenant-keeping puts walls around a marriage, providing a safe place for love and delight to flourish, and then puts doors and windows in these walls, so that love overflows to others and welcomes them in.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. It deserves to be more widely read. It’s so unique and timely that I’d almost set it as required reading for those considering marriage. Its teaching on loneliness is helpful for singles, and I can think of no better book to give married couples a clear mission, turning them from unhealthy introspection to joyful, side-by-side, gospel-centred, grace-driven service.

You can read my full article at The Briefing.

1. Ash, Married for God, pp. 33, 37, 44.
2. ibid., p. 36.
3. ibid., p. 39.

Monday, March 18, 2013

although I am in the wilderness

Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness
it is not all briars and barrenness.
I have bread from heaven, streams from the rock,
light by day, fire by night,
thy dwelling place and thy mercy seat.
I am sometimes discouraged by the way,
but though winding and trying it is safe and short.

From "The Valley of Vision".

HT Georgianne

free music

I am loving listening to Josh Garrels at the moment - beautiful, layered, textured music - and so far like what I've heard from Page CXVI and The Autumn Film.

And you can download all their music for free if you do it before the 28th of March!

Just click here for Josh Garrels.


And click here for Page CXVI and The Autumn Film...
Exciting news!!! PageCXVI and The Autumn Film are still celebrating 7 years of music by giving away their entire discography from both their projects Page CXVI and The Autumn Film*. Noisetrade has partnered with them for our March Jubilee Giveaway! They are thrilled and honored to work with an outstanding team of people who care deeply about music. If you have not already downloaded their 74 song, 11 album, 2 band giveaway please please visit their giveaway on Noisetrade now! 
*They had to leave out a few songs due to copyright/royalty issues, but are all available on iTunes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

a cry of hopelessness

What I've written here is not all that can be said about suffering: far from it. But I've published it, somewhat hesitantly, because I think suffering will drive all of us to this point sooner or later.

I sit there stony-faced, staring out the windscreen, driving in automatic, lips pressed together. I’ve had enough. I don’t want it any more: this struggle and these doubts and these unanswered prayers. I’ve had enough. It’s been a long week – a long year! – and there’s nothing left. I’ve had enough.

My 12-year-old son sits next to me. He’s not used to this grim silence, but I don’t have it in me to make conversation. He glances at me, and I can feel the question in his gaze. Finally, in a small voice, he asks me, “Why are you sad, Mummy? You look so sad. I don’t like it when you’re sad.”

Guilt rises to the surface and overflows. I apologise. I tell him it’s not his fault (it’s not), other things besides his circumstances are making me sad (they are), he didn’t cause this (he didn’t). But part of me doesn’t care. Part of me feels like hitting out. I’ve had enough.

We’re on the way to school to pick up some homework sheets. He’s missed nearly a week of school. Four weeks into secondary school, and already his year is disrupted. It’s a particularly bad migraine this time, and there’s no predicting how long his headaches will last.1 A day? A week? A month? A term? We’ve seen them all.

Over three years he’s been sick now, and counting. Over three years I’ve prayed. Prayed and watched. Prayed and hoped. Prayed and given up hope. Prayed and seen whole weeks of his life go past, given over to pain. Prayed and felt the sick discouragement creep in, quicker each time, when I see him ill – again.

I’ve tried to convince myself I can see a purpose to all this. Sometimes I can. When he’s well I can. When I see his courage and patience and trust, sometimes I can. But then he gets sick and his childhood slips away and it’s hard to hold on to hope. Doubt nibbles at the edges of my faith: What is God doing? Does he care? Is he even real?

You tell me (“you” being the voice of a dozen books and talks) to cry out to God, to bring my questions and confusion to him.2 God’s word tells me this. I tell myself this. But sometimes I don’t want to pray. I don’t want to tell God how I feel. I’m sick of saying the words. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes I’ve had enough.

There are not always neat answers. Maybe there will be this time, maybe there won’t. Job never had an answer – or, at least, not one that was revealed to him. The writer of Psalm 88 had no answers, and he wrote the only Psalm that is utterly despairing, without a hint of hope.

How grateful I am that God included Psalm 88 in the Bible! There are others that teach me how to fight for hope when I am discouraged (e.g. Psalm 13, 42, 130), but this psalm tells me that sometimes it is okay just to cry out. At least the psalmist knows who to cry out to. His lament is the measure of his faith:
O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you… O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:1, 14)
I might not have hope. Sometimes all I have is a handful of ashes, the crumbled remnants of my faith. But I do have words. I have God’s own words. He doesn’t pretend this is okay. He doesn’t pretend it makes sense. He puts the words of the psalmist in my mouth, and invites me to speak them.

And when I can’t speak – when my mouth won’t shape the words – I know that God’s Son and Spirit speak for me (Rom 8:26-27, 34). I know that once, on a cross, there was One who made the psalms of lament his own, so that, one day, we will no longer have to speak them (Psalm 22:1-2). I know that he is still my hope, even when I can’t see it.

There are times when all I can do is cry out.

There are times when I can’t cry out, but I know Someone is crying out for me.

Lord, give me the strength to at least cry out.

1. Our son suffers from migraines and Chronic Daily Headaches – which means he gets debilitating headaches regularly, sometimes for weeks at a time. It's over two weeks since I wrote this, and the headaches are continuing, but we've had some new medical advice and are realising that we will have to start managing this as a chronic condition.
2. I wrote about some of these talks here.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

Monday, March 11, 2013

give me a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace

This is one of the beautiful quotes from one of my favourite newly-discovered blogs, Georgianne

O changeless God,

Under the conviction of thy Spirit I learn that
the more I do, the worse I am,
the more I know, the less I know,
the more holiness I have, the more sinful I am,
the more I love, the more there is to love...

My mind is a bucket without a bottom,
always at the gospel-well but never holding water.

My conscience is without conviction or contrition,
with nothing to repent of.

My will is without power of decision or resolution.

My heart is without affection,
and full of leaks.

My memory has no retention,
so I forget easily the lessons learned,
and thy truths seep away.

Give me a broken heart that yet carries home
the water of grace.

From The Valley of Vision.

online meanderings

That moment when... - "Would she stay or would she go?" Beautiful.

What is God's will for my life? - "God's will is not intended to be found; it is intended to be followed." Amen.

Bono interveiw: grace over karma - Amazing.

Can you preach expositional sermons in poor, uneducated areas of the world? - From a housing estates ministry. I found this fascinating.

The beauty and usefulness of the elderly Christian - "You still have work to do for Him. Your witness is not over yet..." So encouraging.

Family times with God - Good suggestions from the ever-helpful Christine Jensen.

If when you become a Christian you write a big red “LOSS” across all the things in the world except Christ, then when Christ calls you to forfeit some of those things, it is not strange or unexpected. The pain and the sorrow may be great. The tears may be many, as they were for Jesus in Gethsemane. But we will be prepared. We will know that the value of Christ surpasses all the things the world can offer and that in losing them we gain more of Christ. John Piper

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

Friday, March 8, 2013

that moment when...

It's my first day at university, and I'm at an orientation event for a Christian group. I sit in a plastic chair listening to a bespectacled guy speaking on the topic "Good people make God vomit", which intrigues me more than a little. One year later, I give up my medical course and start an arts degree. I've found my vocation: I want to work with uni students, to teach young women about Jesus. Twenty-five years later, kids growing up, I walk back into uni to lead a girls' Bible study, and the past ripples through my mind. I love this as much as ever.

That moment when the world spins...

At that very first meeting, up the back of the room, I notice this guy. He's sitting frog-like, cross-legged on a table, brown legs clad in 80's-style brightly patterned shorts. As girls do, I register: yep, he's cute. His hair is short, his eyes blue. He laughs, head thrown back, and his laughter echoes across the room. Four years later, and we're a cliché: the cautious early days, the Christian uni romance, the all-too-long engagement. We're married, setting up home in a tiny flat filled with the noise of passing trains. Twenty-five years on, and our home is bigger, bursting at the scenes, and our marriage so much more than it used to be.

That moment when the world spins on its axis...

A few weeks into uni, I notice this girl at our Christian group. She has long, dark hair, and there's something about her. She has a quiet presence and a listening ear. She's thoughtful and reflective. She's funny. In my usual deliberate way, I decide I'd like to be friends with her. I sit nearby. We chat. The years pass, and another friend joins us to pray. Together, we live through it all: the free-and-easy uni days, marriage and children, suffering. We uncurl dozens of curly topics. We share and discuss hundreds of books. We weep and laugh and pray. Twenty-five years later, it's hard to imagine travelling this journey alone.

That moment when the world spins on its axis, and everything shifts around you...

I've been at uni for a year or so, and I'm chock-full of doubts. Do I believe what my parents told me? Is Christianity real? I delve into books and beg God for help and ask questions of anyone willing to listen. Piece by piece, I build the intellectual scaffolding that will support my adult faith, but it's not enough. One day, I open the gospel of Mark. I try to read like I've never read this before. The guy on the page speaks and dies and rises. He won't let me off the hook and he fills every corner of longing and his love can't be denied. There will still be doubts, but life without him is unimaginable.

That moment when the world spins on its axis, and everything shifts around you, and life...

My long uni days nearly over, I get the news we've been waiting for: I'm pregnant. On my way to tell my husband, walking the straight path by the cemetery, I'm floating, feet treading air. And my daughter is born and three sons come later and it's everything we hoped for and harder than I ever knew. It's sleepless nights and sacrifice. It's dreams laid aside and dreams fulfilled, noise till you can't bear it and chaos over the edge of patience. It's repetitive labour and a thousand sparkling memories. It's a small hand in mine and a child's ardent kisses and a teenager who's become a friend.

That moment when the world spins on its axis, and everything shifts around you, and life will never be the same again.

This was written in response to Meredith's Prompted to write.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

online meanderings

God's promise for the disappointed - When you're feeling disappointed with God.

6 types of selfishness that Jesus came to kill - A helpful, thought-provoking list.

How to be mentored without a mentor - and how to mentor younger women when you don't have much time.

10 top books on death and grieving - A useful resource.

A helper not a hand-brake - Ignore the spelling ("brake" not "break") and enjoy this article about being a helper in marriage.

Porn: the battle women face and Shame on top of shame - Women struggle with porn and masturbation too.
Just think about that word “afterlife.” It assumes eternity is an endless postlude to where the action really happens. It’s “after.”...Instead let’s start thinking of this little puff of time, the next eighty or so years, as what it is: the pre-life. Russell Moore

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

choosing a school (3) an example

Why we rejected some schools
We visited a few secondary schools with new buildings and a nice paint job, but here are some things I observed:
  • the kids looked disengaged and miserable. There were no smiles or greetings as we entered the classroom, just sullen looks. 
  • the principal - yes, the principal! - talked disrespectfully to one of the kids, and she responded in kind (a debate over something she wasn't supposed to be doing). 
  • when I asked, "Why should we send our children to your school", the principal looked blank, then came up with "New buildings". Hmmm...
  • the discipline seemed to be lacking: there was uncontrolled rowdiness in one class; and when I asked about the bullying policy, there was no talk about consequences.
  • there was clearly little effort to enforce the uniform policy. This is really no big deal, but it may show they've run out of energy for the small issues.
  • when I asked about Christian groups, I was told, quite belligerently, "No, we're a secular school." That's fine - of course they are. But to have an antagonistic attitude to religious groups is another thing.
  • at one school, there was no academic program: it focusses on the "tech" end of things. I really like that, but it's not suitable for our kids.

Why we chose our kids' secondary school
It has old buildings and is in need of a new coat of paint, but here are some things I noticed:
  • the kids smile at you. They're polite. They look happy and engaged.
  • the principal thoroughly impressed me. He loves his school, and he's totally committed to making it the best it can be. He's warm and well-liked but also a good disciplinarian.
  • there's a clearly stated chain of consequences for discipline matters
  • there's an academic program, but the school has a great "tech" program too. There's no exclusive effort to get only the "smarties" along to raise the school's score.
  • most of the teachers I've met have been enthusiastic and engaging. (In any school there are some poor teachers, but lots of good ones shows they're getting their employment policy right.)
  • when I asked about Christian groups, I discovered there's a chaplain at the school, and they're open to churches running groups at lunchtime (in fact, there's one starting soon). There are lots of Christian teachers: not something I ever expected, but a bonus, and at least the school doesn't feel anti-Christian.
  • I love the range of facilities and subjects: animals in the science room, hospitality kitchen, vege garden, automotive and tech programs, great music faculty, etc... Not essential but attractive all the same.
  • my daughter walked in and instantly felt at home. That clinched it for me!

Lots of question, close observation, and getting a "feel" for the school: that's how we did it.
I know parents have different methods, but this worked well for us.

What was your experience of choosing a school for your kids? 

Tell us here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

what I'm reading: a call to prayer from How Long O Lord

Do you ever feel like there's not much point praying? Or that there's not much point praying persistently, fervently, and at length?

I do. I found this deeply challenging. It's from Don Carson's How Long O Lord.
There are some Christians who think that intercessory prayer is likely to be successful in proportion to its length, fervency, intensity, volume, and high-mindedness, that individual conversions or even wide-scale revival can be had for the asking, and that the key to successful praying is badgering God into doing what he otherwise would not be willing to do.

There are other Christians who...cannot quite see what the point of prolonged intercessory prayer is at all. They know, of course, they should engage in prayer...But...they find it easier to make sense of Jesus’ injunction not to let our prayers rabbit on and on under the assumption we will be heard because of our many words (Matt. 6:7), than to imitate Jesus’ example in praying right through the night (Luke 6:12)....

The false prophets of Israel are denounced in these terms: “You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD” (Ezek. 13:5)...They have not interceded with God on behalf of the nation...So judgement threatens:
I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezek. 22:30-31)
This is remarkable. God seeks out believers who will pray in this intercessory way. He expects to be pleaded with along these lines...

The responsibility of his people to pray rests heavily upon them.

Monday, March 4, 2013

what's the point of marriage? (3) marriage looks inward: Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage

Marriage is a friendship… Friendship is a deep oneness that develops as two people, speaking the truth in love to each other, journey together to the same horizon. Spiritual friendship is the greatest journey of all, because the horizon is so high and far, yet sure—it is nothing less than “the day of Jesus Christ” and what we will be like when we finally see him face-to-face… What, then, is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.1
“What is marriage for?” asks Timothy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage. He devotes chapter four to the answer: marriage is “a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be”.2 Marriage was God’s solution to loneliness: he made the woman to be Adam’s ’ezer, his ‘helper-companion’ (Gen 2:18) or ‘best friend’ (Prov 2:17), a theme Keller traces through the Bible (Song 5:16; Mal 2:14). Yet this is not friendship as an end in itself. Just as Christ sacrificed himself for his bride, the church, to make her holy (Eph 5:26), so husband and wife help each other become the people God made them to be.

The focus on marriage as friendship is this book’s strength, but also, at times, its weakness. There’s excellent advice on choosing a spouse—close friendship trumps romantic attraction—but the emphasis on the ‘secret thread’ or ‘mythos’ shared by true friends risks creating a new kind of ‘compatibility’ and discontentment in marriage.9 Yet this is more than balanced out by Keller’s realistic, biblical portrait of marriage as a covenant between two sinners, characterized by self-giving, truth-speaking, grace-fuelled love, even when you feel like you are loving a stranger.

Reading Keller is like reading the best of novels: you get caught up in the words while receiving rich food for the soul. Chapter after chapter covers useful ground: the first engages with our culture’s self-defeating romantic idealism; the second reminds us that only the gospel empowers love; and the third focuses on marriage’s heart, the faithful love that acts when it doesn’t feel yet grows through holiness into happiness. Kathy Keller’s chapter on headship and submission is a joy to read, and I appreciated her careful analysis of the difficult topics of gender and work. I was intrigued by the idea that marriage reflects the “dance of the Trinity” with its mutual self-giving love, and inspired by the way both husbands and wives are encouraged to take on the ‘Jesus role’ in marriage (Eph 5:21-33 cf. 1 Cor 11:3; Phil 2:1-11; 1 Pet 2:21-3:7).

I can see myself recommending this book again and again. It’s a gift to pastors and counselors, and single people will value its practical advice on dating and choosing a spouse. It will help engaged couples to lay a firm foundation for marriage, and married couples to build a strong relationship of mutual love. But to keep marriage from becoming insular, I’d suggest another book to be read in tandem with Keller’s.

I'll tell you about Christopher Ash's book next week, or you can read about it in my full article at The Briefing.

1. Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2011, pp. 110, 116-117, 120.
2. ibid., pp. 15-16.
3. bid., pp.124-126 cf. 112-114.