Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

09 December 2014

Christmas gifts

I finished the Christmas shopping today.  Yay.  It's been a pretty gentle process this year.  Last night I spoke about Christmas presents at a gingerbread house event at church.  What follows is what I said.  If you are preparing talks for kids or grown ups this Christmas and any of this is remotely useful, swipe away.


I know, just from being in the shops this last week, that buying presents is an important part of Christmas for many people. 

There’s a spectrum for Christmas present shopping.  At one end there are those who have bought and wrapped everything by 1st October.  At the other end are those who for various reasons put the shopping off and off and off – it’s a bit like playing chicken – seeing how long you can put it off until you absolutely have to force yourself out into the shops.  These people are out doing the lot on 23rd and 24th December.  I did that once.  It was horrible.  And expensive.

Why the emphasis on gifts?

I’m guessing you will know a little of the story about the first Christmas. 

A young lady was visited by an angel who told her that she had been chosen to be the mother of God’s Son.  Mary.  She was engaged to Joseph.

Towards the end of her pregnancy the emperor of the day called a census, not because the government wanted to make future plans for building schools, hospitals and aged care facilities.  It was all to do with power – about being the biggest empire, about knowing just how many loyal subjects you have.  So Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth, where they lived, to Bethlehem (about 130km), because in those days the census didn’t come to you – you went to it.  You went to the town of your birth and signed yourself in. 

As most of Israel was on the move because of the census there was little accommodation to be found.  Joseph and Mary couldn’t find a room in an inn, but they were given lodgings in a stable.  And Jesus - whose name means Saviour - was  born .

I’m guessing you will know that God didn’t announce the birth of his Son by sending out a text message or putting it up on Facebook or even putting a notice in the newspaper.

He sent his messengers – angels.  And this is where the story gets very interesting.

Who got to hear the news first?  You know how you have to let certain people know first...there is a bit of an order to these sorts of things.  Well God sent his angels to tell some shepherds.  They were the first to know.  They were told, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.  Today in Bethlehem a Saviour has been born to you.”

You may know that bit of the story.  You've probably seen it on Christmas cards.  But did you know that in those days shepherds were social outcasts?  No-one spoke to shepherds or paid them any attention.  They lived outside the city walls, looking after the sheep.  So what is God doing telling these total nobodies about the birth of His Son?  Why are they the first to hear?

God is saying that he sent His Son Jesus for all people.  Maybe you think you aren’t worthy to be loved by God.  If that is you, take heart from the shepherds.  They were the complete outsiders of society.  And God told them about Jesus first.

The other birth announcement was via a star, seen by wise men who travelled in from the east.  They came to worship Jesus and brought gifts.  And this is where we start to get the idea about Christmas gifts.

What were the first ever Christmas presents?  No teddy bear, blankets and toys for this boy.  Jesus’ gifts were gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold, like now, was a precious metal and generally only in the hands of kings.  It tells us that Jesus is royal.  He is a king.  Indeed he is described in the Bible as the King of kings.

Frankincense.  It’s a form of incense, easily available these days.  But back in day it was rare and used only by priests.  In fact only by the most important priest.  He was called the high priest. 
 
If you had done something wrong before God you would take an animal (a lamb or a dove for example) to the priest who would sacrifice it before God to pay for the wrongdoing and so make right again your relationship with God.  

The gift of frankincense tells us that Jesus is like a priest.  In fact he is called the great high priest and in dying on the cross at Easter he did away with needing to take animals to be sacrificed at the temple.  Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for all our wrongdoings and so restoring our relationship with God. 

And finally myrrh – a perfumed oil – again, reasonably available these days but back in Jesus' day it was rare and precious.  And it was used as an embalming oil - and used only to embalm royalty.  It shows us that Jesus' death would be significant.  Highly important. 

Strange gifts - but they were gifts that show us what Jesus was all about. 

Jesus – the Son of God - born a baby to grow into a man in order to die on the cross to take the punishment for all our wrongdoings but who was raised to life again and reigns, the King of kings, with God in heaven.

You may sometimes wonder about this business of Christmas presents.  They probably had their origins in the three gifts from the wise men.  But in all the writing of lists and checking them twice, of shopping and wrapping and giving, take a little time and remember that God has given us the best gift we could ever hope to receive. 

There is a Bible verse that says, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

That is why we celebrate Christmas.  So in the midst of all the presents, pause to remember the greatest gift that was ever given.  Jesus.

29 November 2014

Stationary or stationery

By the way, do you know the trick to working out whether it is stationary or stationery?

stAtionEry   is   pApEr
 
A useful mnemonic for those who need to know, my fellow fans of paper and pen.

Stationery joy

Today I unwrapped my new diary for next year.  It's the same as last year's, but royal blue instead of cornflower blue. 

The specs: A5, a week to a page on the left hand side, a page for notes and lists on the right hand side, ribbon to mark the page, loads of blank paper at the back, hard cover, pocket in the back, elastic doo-dad to hold it all together.

It does away with the need for a second book for lists, which had previously done away with a thousand pieces of paper on the kitchen bench, in the bag, on the floor, on the bedside table... 

Not cheap.  You could get multiple Collins diaries from the newsagent for the price of this one.  But it is worth every cent.

A page to a week is perfect for me.  I need to be able to see the whole week ahead - it helps me to plan for seven sensible and manageable days at a time.  There is enough room to record an event for the morning, one for the afternoon before school finishes, one for the afternoon after school finishes and one for the evening - four events per day if so needed.  And if I need more room than this for planning out my days I figure I need to reassess my life, not my diary format.

23 November 2014

Relearning thankfulness

I'm pretty sure I haven't read anything from the pen of GK Chesterton, but I stumbled upon this quote doing the rounds a little while ago and I love it.  And it's personally helpful as I find myself emerging from a time when thankfulness has not been my strong card, at least not in some quarters, and discovering I need to relearn the art.

You say grace before meals.  Alright.
But I say grace before the concert and the opera,
and grace before the play and pantomime,
and grace before I open a book,
and grace before sketching, painting, swimming,
fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing
and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

G. K. Chesterton

20 November 2014

Today's two discoveries


# 1  If you want to use the joyfully expanded version of the Made by Joel nativity scene but want to save card and also time at the photocopier it is possible, with some cutting and pasting old school style (you know, scissors and glue), to fit everything from the three sheets onto two pages.

# 2 The bypass feeder on the photocopier actually takes a small stack of card and feeds it in all by itself.  You don't have to hand feed every single one of the 140 sheets of card individually.  That gets the job done in about a billionth of the time it takes to hand feed individual sheets and then press the copy button 140 times.

Good times.

17 November 2014

New stuff for Sunday School. Well, new to me.

Speaking of new things I'm loving, I stumbled upon an online Sunday School curriculum called Kids' Sunday School Place.  I was looking around for a few lessons about the Bible - 66 books, two sections, different genres, good for training and making wise and so on - and came upon this site in my search. 

Kids' Sunday School Place offers a number of complete units online for free - some from each of their range of Old Testament, New Testament, topical and special occasions categories.  If you want to access all of the units there is an annual membership of $US39, which seems a pretty small price to pay. 

I haven't looked right through the site yet but what I have surveyed - and trialled - has been superb.  Great lessons which include good introductory activities, a fantastic little Bible study (I'm a big proponent of getting kids to look up real verses in the real Bible at Sunday School), follow up activities including work sheets, games, practical activities and crafts (usually a couple of substantial activities to choose from) and good back up materials including all the necessary blackline masters. 

I've just finished the "about the Bible" unit and in a week or two will head into some of their Christmas lessons.  Very happy.  I like their approach.  A lot.

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Now speaking of Christmas, and Sunday School, here is the most amazing thing.  A cardboard cut out nativity scene. 


I used this in Sunday School last year and am taking it to my Scripture classes this year.  It does require a bit of patience to hand feed endless sheets of card through the photocopier...but so worth the investment in time.

You can get the original nativity scene or the joyfully expanded nativity scene and even the travel size nativity scene.

And when you are done with Christmas there are loads of other cool things to be found on this site to keep small (and big) people amused for hours.

15 November 2014

Empty Hands


Love, love, loving this CD.  A crowdfunded project, Empty Hands is a CD of songs written for congregational singing.  The words are deep and brilliant and the music is amazing.  I love every one of the eleven songs and can't wait to be singing them all at church.  We've got two down, nine to go.

A couple of the songs will take a little more teaching than the rest but they're all perfect for congregations, right down to considerate pitch and speed.  Any congregation that can manoeuvre its way around Getty/Townend repertoire will eat these songs up for breakfast.  With great joy.

There is one extra test when we're considering new songs for church.  The congregation that will be taking on these songs is somewhat starved of musicians.  So most weeks you will find us singing along to recorded music.  No live musicians for us.  We've learned how to sing along to recorded music and it works well enough most weeks.   When I am listening out for new songs I'm also listening out for recordings that that we can sing to.  This CD ticks that box as well.  Every track.  Very happy.

Not needing new songs at church but just after a new and uplifting CD.  This is your one.

The CD is available for people like me who have yet to learn how to navigate iTunes but you can also find it in all the usual digital locations.  There are more details, including how to get yourself a copy here.

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While on the topic of music, does anyone know of a recorded version (for the above mentioned musicianless congregation) of Matt Redman's "Blessed be your Name" that will be suitable for our needs?  There seems to be plenty of versions about the place but they are too high, too low, with too much improvisation, too many long long instrumental bits (there's probably a fancy word for that) between verses, too much harmony and not enough tune...  Any suggestions?

30 October 2014

Thankfulness

 
Most merciful Father, we humbly thank you
for all your gifts so freely bestowed on us.
For life and health and safety, for power to work and leisure to rest,
and for all that is beautiful in creation and in the lives of men,
we praise and glorify your holy name.
But, above all, we thank you
for your spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus our Lord,
for the means of grace,
and for the hope of glory.
Fill our hearts with all joy and peace in believing;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen
 
(From An Australian Prayer Book p.36)
 

29 October 2014

Spring update - 2014


Spring: came early this year, if hayfever is the indicator, which hit unusually early in August this time around.  Ah well.  The flowers have been pretty.

Reading: the Bible from my plan again.  It is good to be back in the swing of things again.  I am currently in Jeremiah and at the end of Romans, heading into the Pauline epistles - happy days.  


Anticipating: reading Lila  by Marilynne Robinson.  I keep seeing its gorgeous cover all over the bits of the Internet I frequent and wanting to get straight into it.  But I'm saving it for the summer.  I've ordered a copy though and it's on the way. 

In anticipation: I'm reading Ms Robinson's Gilead by way of preparation.  I know.  It's fiction and it's term time.  Apart from the things I need to read for study and preparation purposes I don't seem to be able to quite settle into anything at the moment.  My concentration span seems to have eroded in recent times.

Watching: Downton Abbey.  Have I mentioned how much I love Downton Abbey?  Oh yes, I have.  Got all the way through it, took a couple of weeks off and watched it through again.  And have just started it again, this time with my husband in tow.  Yay!  I still don't like Thomas the Footman.  Or Sir Richard Carlisle for that matter.  Wondering, wondering when series five is coming to Australia. 

Also wondering: if there is a link between the eroded reading concentration span thing and watching DVDs all the time...

Experiencing: life with without a dishwasher.  I'd never had one until kind friends bought us one about seven years ago and it has been a faithful friend in the kitchen since then - a time saver and a means of keeping the kitchen bench tidy during the day.  But a few weeks ago a strong wind blew a tree onto a power line around the corner taking the power out for about six hours and with it, our dishwasher.  We haven't been having lots of people over for meals of late - must get back into that - so it hasn't been a real drama.  But it will be worth replacing down the track. #firstworldproblem

Filled in: the calendar for the next two months.  Filled it up quite comprehensively.  I feel thankful to God for the full lives we have, for energy and health to do all that we need to do, for the great community we are glad to call home and that I don't feel overwhelmed as I survey the coming weeks.  One day at a time has been a good lesson to learn.

In the very early stages: of preparing a talk for a gingerbread house event at church.  Have you ever wondered about the significance of the gifts the wise men gave to Jesus?  That's the line I'm following.

Better go: and attend to today.  And dear reader, may you know how richly God has already blessed you as you travel through your day today.

24 October 2014

I'm planning to read the Bible next year...

...and I already have in mind the plan I am planning to use.  You may think next year is too far away to be making such plans. 

But if perchance you have big plans for your Bible reading in 2015 here's my tip for the day.  Start now.  Today.  I don't mean starting your 2015 reading plan today - although if you did you could certainly get well ahead and avoid the need for catching up later on if things don't go quite to plan...  No, I mean start reading the Bible today.  Because research shows (actually, I have no empirical data to back this up) that if the Bible reading habit isn't there, doing all that New Year's resolution stuff probably isn't going to help beyond January.  So start today, form the habit and be up and running by the beginning of the new year.

Want some reading ideas to see you through to January? 

You could read one or more of the gospels in the lead up to Christmas.  John plus one of the others is always a good combo. 
Reading Luke and Acts - one running on from the other - is a great project. 
Or read John, the letters of John and Revelation.  Being familiar with the language and themes of John adds an extra layer of richness when you tackle Revelation
An interesting Old Testament project is to read Ezra and Nehemiah (the history books covering the return from the exile) with (and this is the bit that makes it super interesting) their accompanying prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi - the  last bit of Old Testament action before all goes quiet leading up to Jesus.
And if you need some Psalms, numbers 90 to 100 are pressed down, shaken together and running over (Lk 6:38) with adoration, grace, joy and pastoral care.

Go well.  The best book to read is the Bible.

05 October 2014

Understanding, appreciation and the source of all joy

We seem often to forget that salvation [through Christ] from sin and eternal destruction is a blessing of such magnitude that we should rejoice even if God never blessed us in any other way.

That quote was in my last post and its words just keep running through my head.  It encourages me to apprehend the significance of Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and reminds me to be to be abundantly grateful for everything else in this life.  These are good words.


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The quote is from Roger Ellsworth in They Echoed the Voice of God: Reflections on the Minor Prophets from his chapter on Habakkuk with addition from me. 

03 October 2014

Bookends and the minor prophets

On most Monday evenings I will be found in the front room of our house with two really gorgeous women, cups of tea at the ready, reading the Bible à la One to One Bible Reading.  We've been doing this for a few years, on and off.  This year we set ourselves what in hindsight has been an absolutely marvelous plan.  We decided to read the bookends of the Bible - Genesis and Revelation - and then work our way through the minor prophets. 

Given some basic understanding of what happens in between these books, reading the bookends really does provide the grand sweep of the big picture of God's loving plan for His creation. We have been amazed time and time again at God's amazing mercy, grace and love for His people and at the rate of about three chapters per week, we will read the final three chapters of Revelation in a week's time.

Tacking the minor prophets on the end was a bit random.  We just decided it would be good to do a closer reading of these neglected little books.  That was it.  But it turns out that having looked closely at what happened right at the beginning in Genesis and then understanding what is happening now (and what we need to do about it) and what will happen when Jesus comes again in Revelation provides the perfect backdrop for reading the minor prophets - books that are full of warnings to repent before the coming judgment and words about the glory and the horror of the Last Day.  We couldn't be better prepared for the old minor prophets.

Are you looking for an interesting reading project?  This is it.  And as much as I LOVE my Bible reading plan it is good to read the first chapter of Genesis at a time other than 1st January.  Sometimes fresh eyes are helpful.

I've started doing a bit of pre-reading for the minors and found these great words from They Echoed the Voice of God: Reflections on the Minor Prophets by Roger Ellsworth on dear old Habakkuk.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17,18

Here is a vital question for each of us to consider:  Do we draw our happiness from our circumstances or from the Lord? 

We can surely see the importance of this question.  If we insist on finding our happiness in our circumstances, our lives will be like rollercoasters.  We will be happy one moment and sad the next.  Why?  Because our circumstances are constantly changing.


But if we find our happiness in the Lord, we will always be happy.  The Lord never changes.

I would probably change the word "happy" for "joy" in at least a couple of places - a minor detail.  And later in the same chapter...

We seem often to forget that salvation from sin and eternal destruction is a blessing of such magnitude that we should rejoice even if God never blessed us in any other way.

Now that is something to ponder.

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Speaking of Revelation, did I mention two weeks ago that I would do a prize draw for a copy of A Gospel Pageant and that I would announce a winner a week ago?  Oops!  The number of those in the draw was small.  Two.  And as it happens I have three left over copies of the book.  So Sarah and Wendy, a copy each coming your way at some stage soon.  




16 September 2014

A Gospel Pageant by Allan Chapple

When a teacher covers a subject frequently and thoughtfully their "script" becomes well honed.  They learn what is necessary to include and what can be left out.  Where an anecdote by example is helpful or superfluous...even if it is a ripping good yarn.  Their teaching starts to look more like poetry and less like a novel.  Every word counts.  And when this experienced, well thought out teacher distils their script into a book - and they're in possession of good writing skills - you know you are in possession of gold.

Allan Chapple is that teacher and his book A Gospel Pageant:  A Reader's Guide to the Book of Revelation is one of those books of gold.

WAIT!!  STOP!!!  DON'T GO AWAY!!! 

I haven't written a post in ages.  Please stay.  I know, I KNOW...Revelation.  I know.  Truly I do.  But please don't click on that cross or swipe me aside.  Really.

I have a friend who jokes (I think) about not reading anything in the Bible after James because anything after that and it's just getting way too close to Revelation.  It's funny.  (Well, it's funny if he's joking.)

And yet, I sympathise.  After some bad teaching on Revelation (including bad, bad, BAD movies at the mid-week Bible study group) pretty early on in my Christian life I have been scarred for life.  Even though I have since sat under some very good teaching on Revelation I cannot shake the knot that immediately forms in my stomach at the very mention of the book.  Someone suggests we study Revelation in Bible study - inward groan.  I get up to Revelation in my reading plan - oh no.  A post comes up on Revelation - I am reaching for my mouse ready to move on to something else.  I know.

But this year Revelation did come up as a topic for mid-week Bible study.  So this year I have taken A Gospel Pageant off the shelf to read.  I've read it four times in the last few weeks.  And I'm not finished with it yet.

If you are after a  sensible, thorough,  consistent, thought-through and ultimately not-scary coverage of Revelation then this book is for you.  It undoes our tendency to latch onto a particular part of Revelation without giving thought to the greater context - an approach which often ends up in a scary distorted interpretation. A Gospel Pageant is not about cracking codes and understanding the minutae of the book but about how to read Revelation as a coherent whole in all of its gloriousness and terribleness, reflecting the fact as learned from the rest of the Bible that the Last Day will be both terrible and glorious.

A Gospel Pageant provides the tools for a confident reading of Revelation.  As a result of reading this book alongside Revelation my view of Jesus has been magnified.  I am encouraged and spurred on to strain towards heaven and flee from hell, to strive for godliness and scarper from sin.  This book gives a well founded urgency to prayerful personal godliness, evangelism and discipleship.  It is both instructive and pastoral. 

Unfortunately the scars of my poor introduction to Revelation run deep.  I suspect I am not alone.  I know that in a year's time I will get up to Revelation in my reading plan and my heart will sink again.  It is a deep set default position which will mess with my memory and will mean that I won't retain all the details of this book.  But at 85 eminently readable pages - the fruit of many years of teaching to finely hone the script - this will now remain my handy companion when I reach the last book of the Bible until such time as the old Revelation scars have healed.

It is currently out of print but there are still a few copies floating around the Internet so I would say get yourself a copy while you still can, keep your eyes peeled for when the reprint happens or you could leave a comment here to go into a draw to win a copy - because as it happens I have a spare. Think of it as a reward for not clicking off this post when you read the word "Revelation" at the beginning and for persisting to the end.  I'll draw out a winner at the end of next week.

[Thank you to those of you do your Book Depository shopping via this blog, the proceeds of which help to fund book giveaways like this.] 

10 September 2014

God's Kingdom will prevail

This world can be very daunting and discouraging for the believer.  It can be fierce in its hostility and seductive in its duplicity.  Either way, it can be difficult to resist.  But John's vision of judgment tells us that evil does not have the last word.  No matter how powerful and destructive it is, no matter how pervasive and successful it is, in the end sin will be overthrown.  The kingdom of the world will not last (Rev 11:15).  God will triumph.  His kingdom will prevail. 

From A Gospel Pageant: A Reader's Guide to the Book of Revelation by Allan Chapple, page 69.

30 July 2014

Another winter update - and probably no more till spring

Mum's funeral: was lovely. Really beautiful. Service, words, music, flowers, photos, family and special friends - all perfect. Since then there have been busy days, quiet days, good days, sad days, days of doing paperwork, days of doing not much at all. It depends on the day.

Enormously thankful: for many kind messages sent to us via various media and especially for many, many prayers. The best prayer that made this introvert's heart sing, and gave good courage for what was required, was for strength to do all the meeting and greeting and the facing of the masses.  This prayer in particular was and continues to be powerfully helpful.  A good one to remember for others down the track.

Decided: to cut and run on the Bible reading plan. At the last winter update the calendar date was the 5th July and I was up to the 20th June on the reading plan. It's now the 30th July and I am still up to the 20th June on the plan. Life has not been without the Bible. At times I have been falling into my soft spots. At other times I haven't opened the cover but drawn from what is locked away in my heart and mind. But it is time. A couple of days ago I was resolved to do double readings and gradually get caught up. Last night I decided that the 2nd August looks like a good re-entry point on the plan. In the meantime I'll read a few favourites until Saturday. One day of readings per day is enough at the moment.

Reading: a few other bits and pieces.  North and South is trundling along slowly but nicely.  One son asked, "So who's your favourite author?  Ms A or Liz G?"  Just beginning to nibble slowly slowly at a couple of other books - one in preparation for some upcoming Bible studies and one to finish where I left off a while ago.

Watching: Downton Abbey. It's wonderful.  (Except for Thomas the Footman.)  Where have I been?  Oh yes...hiding in the West Wing.  So glad to have found my way to Downton.  Good viewing for evenings on the sofa under a blanket with a cup of tea. 

Signing off: just for a little while.  There are things to do, quiet time to be had and my head is uncustomarily woolly.  I expect it will clear in time.  See you in the Spring.