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

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.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

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.

--------------------------------------------------------
 
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.

09 July 2014

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow

I had no idea - none of us did - when I wrote my Winter update on Saturday and mentioned being in a season of caring for our elderly mums, that on Monday my sisters and I would find ourselves standing at a hospital bedside.  My sweet mum passed away peacefully late Monday afternoon with her four daughters at her bedside. She drifted gently away with the words, "Heaven is beautiful" in her ears. 
 

We will sing this hymn at her funeral on Tuesday.  Its words echo all that we have found to be good, true and of comfort this week.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. 
 
     Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!
     Morning by morning new mercies I see;
     All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
     Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
 
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
 
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Words by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm 1866-1960

05 July 2014

Winter update - 2014

Winter garden looking like Spring.

Winter: it is.  We have had some very cold days - cold enough to warrant the English winter-weight woollen coat - and plenty of rain.  Today it seems like spring - and thanks to a dear friend from church who spent two days turning our yard back into a garden - it's looking like spring too.  But there's another big storm forecast for tomorrow.  The gutters and downpipes are ready.  Again.

Drinking: a cup of tea.  Of course.

Eating: a Kit Kat - but just a small one.  Not the enormous one of the Autumn update.

Falling behind: with the Bible reading.  The calendar suggests it's 5th July.  My reading plan indicates it's 20th June.  I may have a chance to do some catch up reading in the next week or two.  And I'm looking forward to it.  This is not an irretrievable situation as yet.

Also reading: nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Since the last update I've read exactly fifteen chapters (approximately one third) of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Miss Elizabeth writes with great elegance.  And I am glad to have this to dip into as time allows.  But time is scarce.

Am officially in: what is known in the trade as a season, hence the modest gains in reading.  As earlier posts this year have alluded, we are busy (and happily so) caring for my mum and my mother in law - both widows and both beset with the ravages of old age.  Most spare moments are now filled sitting with them or doing things for them and that is how it will be for a while.  God provides all we need day by day, sometimes in most miraculous ways.

The Philippians Project: therefore is currently on hold.  Head space is also in short supply.  But watching the tyranny of years at close quarters I am more convinced than ever of the value of getting on with this come a change or at least a settling of the current season.

Amassing: a list of books I'd like to read, come the day.  And wanting to say a big thank you once again to those of you who kindly do your Book Depository shopping via this blog.  I really appreciate it.  (By the way, readers from the US, you can now go to The Book Depository via The Key to the Door because they have changed their system. :-) )

Delighted: to have found the entire three series of "Gilligan's Island" on DVD.  I used to LOVE this show.  It's been fun to watch a few episodes again and our kids are loving them. 

Loving: being a basketball mum.  Both boys are playing competition basketball this year.  They've been doing junior drills and skills and mock games for a few years but we've reached the big comp now.  As my two boys make up a third of our team I thought I'd step up to be the manager, novice as I am.  How hard could it be?  Collect the game money each week, help out if there is an injury.  Oh, and score.  They didn't tell me THAT bit when I signed on.  So I started the season asking my fellow score keeper from the other team, "So tell me, what actually is a one pointer, a two pointer and a three pointer?"  Just as I was getting the hang of the paper and pencil version of scoring...it's not just a matter of keeping a tally of points, you know... they told me it was going electronic.  I've been feeling the synapses connecting all season.  We're currently third on the ladder.  Yay for us!

Bemused: as to how "screen free" in our house morphed into not including television.  Screen free = no computers apparently.  But you can watch as much TV as you like.  How did that happen?  But not anymore.  The screen free police have arrived and we now have Monday to Thursday totally screen free for anyone still legally classified as a youth (except for homework purposes) and it's going really well.  It feels calmer, we get stuff done and we're scoring more shots at basketball because of all the practice that's taking place.  Of course now it's school holidays and I imagine the screen free police are on holiday too...

Enjoyed: the ABC Classic FM "Baroque and Before Top 100 Countdown" a few weeks back.  I was listening mainly in the car, but seemed to be in the car a great deal that week which worked for me.  Interestingly I prefer to perform Classical music.  And for my annual visit to the symphony with a dear friend of mine, I always choose a Romantic programme.  I absolutely cannot wait for this year's outing...Elgar's Cello Concerto and Bruckner's 4th Symphony - I actually can't imagine a better line up than that.  But for driving music it seems to be Baroque - and for one happy week the listening was divine.

Anticipating: Holiday Bible Club.  Next week.  We have two wonderful speakers presenting a wonderful theme - a Bible overview in a little rhyme reminiscent of This is the House that Jack Built.  We have some great craft activities prepared and some fun games ready to play.  I'm praying for a wonderful week with the kids - that their hearts will be drawn to their Father in heaven.  And for fine weather just between 9:15 and 9:45am each day when I'm running crazy outdoor games.  It can rain the rest of time as much as it likes.

Signing off: because it's time to turn "Gilligan's Island" off.  Far too many episodes have been viewed during the writing of this post.  See you in the spring.  And hopefully before.


24 June 2014

A letter to my friend

Dear Deb,

I know I have mentioned this before but every time I pull my slow cooker out of the cupboard I think of you and smile as I remember your public declaration that slow cookers are not for you, coming a week after I got one for my birthday.  I was quite struck by your post, in part because I value what you have to say and also because it followed my efforts of splitting my corner of the facebook community in half as they debated the merits of slow cookers over slow cooking in cast iron - and also the suitability of a slow cooker for a birthday gift.  Well, dear Deb, we are about six months down the track so I thought I would let you know what I think the old slow cooker now.

First up, the slow cooker is not for the most part, in my humble opinion, a time saver.  Where we all I went wrong ten years ago was thinking you could just throw everything in it in the morning, turn it on and come home to a delicious dinner.  That was a recipe for bland, broiled meat.  Blah.

When I use it now I take the time to brown things and get the sauces going.  As I like to cook in bulk where I can, it has taken up to an hour of preparation, frying off and creating at least the beginnings of delicious sauces before I reach that point of lobbing it all into the slow cooker and turning it on. So for the most part I look upon it as an electric casserole dish.  I do like that I can cook a casserole slowly, over eight hours, turning cheap, tough meat into something glorious.  And I like that I can leave it on all day.  One could argue that you can just slow cook like that in the oven or on the stove top.  For me, I don't really like leaving my oven on and unattended all day.  But I don't seem to mind leaving the slow cooker unattended while I leave the house to do other things.  

I got my men to get me a big one in order to do the bulk curries and casseroles.  Consequently it is a big item.  It takes up a lot of room in the cupboard.  It's heavy.  It's a bit unwieldy to clean.  I confess that I do have to pick my time and psych myself up to use it.  But when the time is right, it's a great thing.  I have used it maybe ten times in the last three months.

I've tried soups but I don't think I'll persist with this method for soup preparation.  It takes a very long time for all that liquid to warm up.  I'm happy enough with my big pot and going a bit faster for soup.  I should say though that a friend gave me THE most wonderful pea and ham soup recipe for the slow cooker BUT when I served it up one up one member of the family loved it, one tolerated it and one thought he was being poisoned.  There was quite some theatre.  We haven't had a scene like that at the dinner table in months.  Maybe years.  It was almost worth it.  Almost.  The recipe is not dependent upon a slow cooker.  I could recreate it in my soup pot if I was feeling like some dinner time amusement again some day.  I think my clan prefer the minestrone style of soup.  It may be a texture issue with the blended soups...they're not that keen on pumpkin soup either.

BUT dear Deb there are three recipes that are to die for.  And the lovely Jane has put them all on her blog.  Three recipes that are delicious and have had universal appeal at our dinner table.  Recipes that had me inviting friends over for dinner the first time I cooked them, so confident was I of their potential for dinnertime happiness.

Pulled pork.   I have already given this one the three hip hip hoorays on this blog.  And research indicates that there are recipes out there for doing it from scratch but the bottle of marinade seems to do the trick very nicely.  And this is indeed one recipe where you can just lob the TWO ingredients in, press the button and go.

Lamb's equivalent of pulled pork.  Oh Deb.  This is glorious.  Not cheap.  But it is absolute deliciousness.  It could be done in an oven.  But it works really well in the slow cooker.  I browned the lamb when I made it.  Despite what I said about taking the time to brown things, next time I make this I won't be browning the meat.  And again, like the pulled pork, this is a throw it in and leave it recipe.

The third one is Jane's recipe for beef stroganoff.  It's great for a family dinner with veg or pasta or rice.  It's great for a church feast.  It's great for leftovers, for freezing and for giving away to a family in need.  It's great.

And so to the $64 question.  Given what I know now, would I still get one given my time birthday again?  Well, I think yes.  I would maybe opt for the smaller version next time, although that wouldn't allow for leftovers.  I don't use it all the time.  But when I do I'm pretty sold on it.  Which is in no way meant to pressure you into asking for one for your birthday.  If you don't have a lot of space in your kitchen or you don't like to have an appliance that you only use occasionally I wouldn't get one.  And be warned too - not all recipes for the slow cooker will be as delicious as these three.  I have had some epic fails as well.  I am learning to know what will actually work and won't end up tasting like broiled, bland blahness.  It's not my favourite thing in the kitchen.  But unlike the one I bought ten years ago, I won't be giving this one away.  It has earned its spot in my kitchen.

Hope you are well and that you have great school holidays. 

Love Meredith xx

17 June 2014

Farewell IKEA meatballs

If IKEA sold shares in their company via packets of frozen meatballs I would be well on my way to 50% ownership of the company.  I can't tell you how many times I have trekked to IKEA, grateful for my chest freezer at home, and come away with five bags of them (that's five kilograms' worth thank you very much) to tuck away in the freezer. 

These meatballs have made their way into many kids' dinners for evening church and have been the key ingredient in my standby recipe for when people suddenly turn up for dinner unexpectedly, for those times when a dinner of pasta just has to get its way onto the table in a big hurry or for those moments when I was too tired to cook anything else and there was no bolognese sauce left in the freezer.

BUT...

...earlier this year it seemed that every second recipe I read involved skinning sausages and using the meat therein in interesting ways.  So I got to thinking, what if I exchanged the IKEA meatballs (which I admit did receive some very bad press last year, but let us not speak of such things because my family has eaten a LOT of these meatballs in the last ten years) for the contents of some Italian sausages? 

WELL...

...I was recently heard to say that should a meteorite come hurtling towards the planet (I do believe I have just snitched a line from the movie Julie and Julia) and we have sufficient notice to prepare and eat one last meal, it would be this, with a ridiculously large amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese and a little cracked pepper sprinkled over the top.

My "the meteorite is coming" pasta recipe
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 1-2 teaspoons of Italian herbs
  • 4-6 Italian sausages - skinned
  • 1/2 cup of red cooking wine
  • 700gm bottle of tomato passata
  • Dried pasta - quantity and style as suits your needs
  1. Fry the diced onion, garlic and herbs in some olive oil. 
  2. Add the sausage meat and fry, breaking up the meat as you go.
  3. Add a splash of red cooking wine.
  4. Add a bottle of tomato passata and simmer.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Meanwhile cook up enough pasta for your situation.
  7. When the pasta is cooked, run it through the sauce and serve with parmesan cheese.
The quantities are not exact.  A little more or a little less of this or that works.  And should you need to take anyone to basketball training on a Tuesday afternoon from 5 - 6pm, the sauce can be made before you go.  Just cook and add the pasta when you get home.  Quick, easy and delicious.

Now, what to do with the remaining 3kg of IKEA meatballs in the freezer...

12 June 2014

Encouragement to share what you know

Like attracts like.  So I am pretty sure that you, dear reader, like reading your Bible like me.  That you probably know your way around the whole of the Bible.  That you know Bible reading isn't just a daily exercise one does to tick a box but something we do to deepen our relationship with God.  That the more you read the Bible, the easier it is to understand and the more you understand it, the hungrier you are to read it.

It occurred to me a while ago that rabbiting on about Bible reading here on this blog is probably "preaching to the converted" for the most part.  I like to keep you all ( and myself) encouraged.  But guess what??  I had a light bulb moment a few months ago.  There are people who I sit with in church week after week who find the Bible an enigma. 

Last year I got up in church during the notices section and started flapping my favourite Bible reading plan around - just like I do my virtual flapping around of it periodically on this blog  - explaining the options of doing the full plan or just a part of it (like following along the New Testament readings to start with, to help get into the habit.)  And at various points this year I've got up and given my three suggestions for those who started but ground to a halt or for those who never started and wished they had...
  1. Start from where you left off and don't worry about the dates.  Don't be a slave to the dates.
  2. Start from where you left off, do double readings as you can and soon you will catch up.
  3. Cut your losses and start from today's date.
And in late May, just as the plan approached the section where the Old Testament becomes, shall we say, complicated...1 and 2 Kings...I ran a guided tour of the Old Testament.  It was a simple thing really.  It took an hour and a half over tea, coffee and snacks.

I spent ten minutes going through the contents page of the Old Testament explaining the three different sections and how the genres change, each requiring a different approach to reading.

 
I then spent 40 minutes going through this road map, telling the story of the Old Testament that is covered in the history books.  Explaining how the kingdom splits in two is the key sticking point.

This diagram is from
Gospel and Kingdom: A
 Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament
by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32.
(Published by Paternoster Press in 1982)
 

We had a break for a cup of tea and then I spent the last half hour showing this page from the IVP New Bible Commentary found at the beginning of the section on 1 and 2 Kings - a table of who was king - when and where - during the period of the kings.

 
Finally I gave them my notes from here about how the books of the prophets fit into the chronology of the kings, most of which I had sourced from the Lion Handbook to the Bible - nothing too complicated.  I didn't read through the notes slavishly but just ran through a couple by way of example and left it at that.  (Feel free to lift and use this - or anything else from my blog - if that is helpful.)

I'd been a Christian ten years, struggling my way through the Bible, before I met that roadmap.  What a revelation!  And as long time readers will know, it is only in recent years that I have come to grips with the prophets - and that in only a small way.  But now I've got a handle on that section of the Bible and it's making much more sense.

One of the women who came to the guided tour said that she had been in churches and in and out of the Bible for 60 years and this was the first time she'd had this stuff explained to her.  This isn't a criticism of the preaching she's sat under all these years.  You just don't learn frameworks during church sermons.  That's not what sermons are about.  She left encouraged to press on with the hard but rewarding work of Bible reading.

Maybe you don't know your way around the Old Testament yet.  And if not, these particular posts might be of help.  Maybe you DO know your way around the Old Testament but don't think you could possibly manage to do something like this.  That's fine.  This is not for everyone.  But I'm pretty sure that some of you could do this.  And if that is you, then can I encourage you to have a go at sharing the framework of the Old Testament with those around you.  (Or ask someone you know who could do this sort of thing to do it for you.) 

There will people you know - people who maybe, just maybe, don't read as widely as you might - who don't know how the Bible hangs together and whose lives will be transformed if you give them the basics.  I've been blogging about this sort of thing for years.  It's good to have shared it in person with some of those I meet Sunday by Sunday in church and I'm looking forward to doing it again some other time down the track.

Oh, and by the way, if you aren't using a Bible reading plan but wished you were, the beginning of July is another EXCELLENT entry point for this plan.  And I'll be saying that in church in the next couple of weeks too.

08 June 2014

Age wearies and the years condemn, but there is hope

I've done a lot of observing of and being with the elderly in recent times. And what I've noticed is that there's a lot of grief for the one who grows old. 

The grief of watching your friends die - it's no source of glory to be the one who outlives your peers and it's very hard to be oh so frail as to be unable to attend their funerals.  The loss of one's driver's license.  Didn't downsize in time?  The grief of losing the family home and so many possessions as circumstances impose the downsizing upon you.  The move to a nursing home that reduces one's possessions to the barest minimum.  The grief of loss of capacity - mental and physical.  The grief of the transformation from independent, functioning, dignified member of society to one totally dependent, like a small child, except knowing of a full life lived independently.    

It was never meant to be this way.  But even in this world, broken by sin, God shows His love and mercy.  Very recently it occurred to me that God has timed the grief of aging perfectly - by putting it at the end.  I know that's a perfectly ridiculous statement to make.  Stating the obvious somewhat.  But let me explain. 

When I was pregnant for the first time I spent a lot of those months predictably concerned about what lay at the end.  The delivery.  And yet, by the time I was eight and a half months pregnant (and it seemed to be 40⁰ every day) I was ready to deliver that baby.  God's perfect design.  Six, seven and eight months was too short to be ready.  Nine months (and then ten days overdue) and I was ready.   That's the microcosm.

The big picture is the span of my years filled to the brim with the stuff of life. Learning, living, loving. And coping with suffering as well. I don't live in Eden and Jesus has not yet returned. The world is fallen. And so there is suffering.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Romans 5:1-5

Suffering and grief help me to grow in faith and hope. I hope that I respond with a little more faith and trust in Him with each new grief. I have a lifetime to practice this. And so it occurred to me that God has placed the end of life, so filled with grief and suffering - and there is no way around it...sickness, aging, dying and death are terrible - so that when the span of my years is drawing to its end and I am faced with grief upon grief, I am ready to face it with grace and hope. I observe that you don't get to be a sweet, wise, godly and prayerful old lady (or gentleman) just by being old. It takes a lifetime of sweetness and growing in wisdom, godliness and prayerfulness to bear the grief of old age with grace.  It's not that it's any easier for the sweet ones.  They have learned to bear it well - with hope.

God is good, gracious, kind and wise.  Putting the end at the end was no accident.

All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be...

Search me, O God, and know my heart,
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:16, 23, 24

----------------------------------------------------

Here is a beautiful post from Rebecca at Rebecca Writes - the story of her husband who didn't make it to old age because of cancer, but who had clearly used his life to grow in faith and hope, and passed on a precious gift to his family before Jesus took him Home.

And a beautiful post from my friend Steve at his blog about the need to share the hope we have with those who don't have it, especially those who perhaps didn't get the chance (or take the opportunity) in life to learn and hone hope for themselves or for those who did have it but have forgotten, whose need in the sufferings of old age is just as great.

02 June 2014

Things I've been working on # 2 - Worrying

As well as working on complaining I've also been working on worrying.  I know.  I have all the fun.


Worry.  Concern's evil twin.  I've been working on this one for a L.O.N.G. time.  As I child I lost months of sleep in the lead up to the single, solitary day of each year when we did high jump for sport.  It's humiliating being the tallest in the class (at least I was while I was in primary school) and not even be able to get over the first jump. 

I lost sleep over times tables - particularly that awful game where everyone gets to stand and the teacher fires a times table question at you and if you get it right immediately you can go to recess or resume your seat but if you get it wrong you have to remain standing until the next round.  And the twelves generally, with or without the game.

I lost sleep over the impending end of the world when some careless teacher told us about the planets lining up and of the cataclysmic events that would ensue. Think earthquakes of the ilk of the ground opening up, swallowing you and your house whole and then closing up again.  (I don't think the teacher went that far...my overactive imagination was quick to kick in.) 

Eventually the earthquake apocalypse gave way to the firestorm terror after a terrible video in science about nuclear energy and nuclear bombs.  Then I spent hours lying awake checking for signs of firestorms outside my bedroom window - as a worrier must certainly do when one lives in a weatherboard house. 

I worried about not being able to the recall the theorems I was supposed to have memorised for maths.  And did I mention high jump?

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Matthew 6:25-27

I recall having a conversation with my then new minister when I first became a Christian on the whole subject of worrying.  He told me he had at one time determined that he would not worry and then went THREE WHOLE YEARS without worrying.  In awe, I set about trying to get my worrying under better control, because clearly you could.  And I did.  I have gone long chunks of time through my adult life without worrying.  All thanks be to God.

But there have been chunks of time when I DID worry and last year I noticed that I was losing the battle again.  I found myself worrying about all sorts of things - big (and real things) and small (and of the adult equivalent of the ten seconds it takes to muck up the first high jump and then spend the rest of the sports lesson sitting under the tree...nothing at all sorts of things.)

Worry was a real problem for me last year.  And the irony is not lost on me...the fact that last year I read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges and was so thoroughly convinced by his argument and so thoroughly encouraged by his words. 

Is not worry a patent lack of trust in God?  Ahem...yes.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
Matthew 6:28-30

Unsurprisingly, the worrying did not go away with the new year.  The habit (because it IS just a bad habit) and the sources of my anxieties didn't just disappear with a new calendar on the kitchen wall. But over the year, with God's help, I have found a means of keeping the worry at bay.  It's not about getting more sleep, trying to do some exercise, trying to eat better and consume less caffeine, or even crying out to God more in prayer...although I have been doing more of all of these things and they do all help.  Especially the crying out to God bit.  And it is not about trying out this little theory either, although I have employed these techniques as well, such is my respect for the one who spoke these wise words. 

No, I have been missing something in the equation all along...because I am a long term planner from way back.  The bit I've been missing is the bit about taking one day at a time.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31-34

I worked this out because I reached a point where worry would hit overdrive if I thought too far ahead into the future.  I could keep my anxiety down if I just focused on today but as soon as I looked too much further ahead I would start to worry big time and feelings of panic would come upon me.

I know, I KNOW (she says, hitting her forehead with her hand several times so as to bang the truth in a little further) so well in my head that God gives us what we need for today and that we don't need to worry about tomorrow until tomorrow.  Today we just need to deal with today.  How well I know this in my head.  And this year, because of the way the year is turning out, I am beginning to learn what that means in my heart and my hands as well. 

This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
Matthew 6:9-13


When I pray "Give us today our daily bread"  I am truly learning to ask only for what I need today.  And that is making all the difference.  Just today.  Of course Jesus knew that, otherwise he would have taught us to pray for a week, a month or a year's worth of bread. 

I am slow to learn.  But this year He is teaching me, and undoing the bad habit of a lifetime.  One day at a time.

18 May 2014

Following up on complaining

I tacked two not-quite-throw-away comments onto the end of my post about complaining , one being:

I think I need to be careful about the sorts of questions I ask when chatting with friends.  It is quite easy to ask a question that invites a complaining response.  It is possible to phrase a question in a way that invites a godly response rather than an opportunity to whine and if I ask poor questions I don't serve my brother or sister well. 

And Ellie asked:

Could you possibly give an example of maybe a question phrased that wouldn't invite a godly response compared to a question which would? I'm struggling to think of things that don't sound odd or cheesy.

This is a great question and I appreciate being able to think about it (so thank you, Ellie) because as the title of the original post suggests, this is an area in my own life that I have been working on for a while. 

At the outset I need to say that I am no glittering conversationalist.  In some situations I am shy and awkward.  In others I am overly forthright.  I'd rather listen that speak.  I've improved in the art of conversation over time, but it's not a natural gift.

In basic terms I think what makes a question helpful (or unhelpful) is whether or not it invites a positive response.  So the unhelpful question is...

How is your job/ marriage/ renovation/_______(insert relevant subject matter) going?

That question could be answered in positive terms.  But in the hands of one given to complaining, it's an invitation to open the flood gates.  A better way of putting it might be...

Last time we were chatting you were telling me about ________(insert the relevant subject).  Have things moved forward?  What progress have you made?

Of course that too could invite the negative response, but it might,  just might, let in a crack of sunshine.  My aim (were I concentrating hard enough) would be to get even a small positive utterance in reply, which then gives room to turn the conversation towards God - to give Him thanks for His help and provision and then to steer the conversation towards how God has been at work in the situation and how we/they/I could pray for the next step.

I should also say that the older I get and the more my relationship with God deepens, the more willing I am to be the fool for Christ.  So instead of saying...

How is your job/marriage/renovation/_______(you know what to do) going?

...I am happy just to come out with it and say...

How have you noticed God at work in your job/ marriage/ renovation/ life lately?

In the past I probably would have called that odd or cheesy (if I came out with it too often or used it beyond only very particular conversations or relationships) but these days I don’t really mind if people roll their eyes at me anymore.  I don’t mind being  known as the one who always brings God into the conversation and tries to steer it in an optimistic (read “hopeful”) direction.  I’ll be sensitive about it – but the best conversations are always the ones that bring glory and honour to God.

As I said at the beginning, I am no glittering conversationalist.   I like listening more than I like speaking – and so I do ask a lot of questions.  And I have asked a lot of bad questions in my time – questions that don’t serve my brothers and sisters well as I draw them and myself (because I am quick to follow) into a pattern of complaining.  So thank you Ellie for pushing me along and helping me to think more carefully about this.
 
 

12 May 2014

This is the day

Last Friday was one of those rare days when I actually did my Bible reading first thing in the morning.  Occasionally it happens mid-morning.  Often during the afternoon.  Sometimes last thing before my head meets my pillow.  And sometimes today's reading happens tomorrow.  But last Friday it was first thing, and I believe that was by God's good design.  God had something to show me.  The psalm of the day was Psalm 118 - a psalm that holds a very familiar verse.

This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us be glad and rejoice in it.

 
This verse reminds me of Sundays - and of singing that chorus at church. You've probably got the tune in your head right now.  Whenever I read these words I find I am easily distracted -  singing the song (at least in my head) - and with dear memories of congregational singing in various church settings, the side effect being that I have come to associate this verse with Sundays.

Last Friday God had other plans.  My eyes fell upon this verse.  No tune.  No mind wandering off to churches past.  This time around these words found some traction.

THIS is the day the Lord has made.
 
This is THE day the Lord has made.
 
This is the day that THE LORD HAS MADE.
 
And so REJOICE.  Be GLAD in that.

I reflected upon those very familiar words all through the day (the one that the Lord had made) and it gave added joy and purpose to each of my tasks.  By late afternoon I began to imagine what it would be like to start each and every day aware that it was a day the Lord had made, worthy of joy and full of Kingdom potential.  Because this isn't a verse just for a Sunday chorus.  It's a verse for every day.

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

02 May 2014

Things I've been working on #1 - Complaining

I've been thinking about complaining.  But you'll be glad to know that I'm not going to do it here... because I've already done it elsewhere.

CONVERSATION # 1...
was with my neighbour earlier in the year.  He commented that he hadn't seen me in a while and off I went in a flurry of arm-waving comedy, describing how busy I'd been doing this, that and t'other.  It was funny enough.  Quite theatrical really.  But I walked away from the conversation disgusted with myself, conscious of the fact that most of our conversations together seem to go like that.  He must think I'm a real whinger.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like starts in the universe as you hold out the word of life...
Philippians 2:14-16a

I think there may be three layers of complaining.  The first layer is the out and out whinging, whining and complaining.  The second is less obvious - the complaining veiled in some other guise such as humour.  The listener is spared of the whining, but behind the veil is the backstory of moaning and groaning.  And then there's the third layer that doesn't see the verbal light of day, but stays inside the heart, festering away - and it ought to be dealt with so that it doesn't give rise to bitterness.  Because bitterness has the bad habit of bursting out in all sorts of unpleasant, unfriendly and ungodly ways.

CONVERSATION # 2...
was with a dear godly and gracious friend.  I cannot recall hearing her complain ever.  She is one of those wonderful "when I grow up I want to be like her" souls.  We met one morning a while ago and talked about how life has been and for her, the last six to twelve months have been difficult.  What I heard from our conversation was my friend telling me how life had been.  Yet as our time finished she said, somewhat disappointed in herself, that she had prayed she wouldn't have a complaining spirit during our time together, the implication being that she felt she had complained her way through our morning together. 

It's good not to complain.  Listening to a steady stream of complaining can be agonising.  But somewhere, just somewhere, there has to be a space to say it as it is.  If life is difficult then life is difficult.  To say otherwise is to lie.  There has to be a place where friends who know and love one another can share about the hard things of life and where it isn't heard as complaining but as sharing.

"Do everything without complaining or arguing" is not about being shiny all the time.  There is a space to say it as it is.  So I look to my friend of conversation # 2 who is my benchmark of non-complaining and this is how I see her sharing in a real way that doesn't cross the line to complaining. 

The mechanics:
tone of voice and
body language (no dramatic hand to forehead, arm waving, rolling of eyes or frowny face.)

Then a bit deeper:
choice of words (words that honour the parties involved and moreover, honour God),
quickness of mind (to stop short the tendency to whinge in its tracks when it seeps out) and
choice of audience  (comfort in, dump out works well here, because the space to share the hard things of life is not universal.)

And at its deepest:
prayerful resolve to not complain and
an abiding joy in the Lord sitting at the foundation of whatever life throws at us.  Having a real and mature trust in God and hope of eternal life with Him, front and centre, helps to temper speech and conduct in all circumstances.   

Two other incidentals of complaining that cross my mind, because I have been thinking about this a lot lately...

1.  Complaining is sometimes just a habit.  And then the habit becomes the default position.  But it doesn't have to be like that.

2.  I think I need to be careful about the sorts of questions I ask when chatting with friends.  It is quite easy to ask a question that invites a complaining response.  It is possible to phrase a question in a way that invites a godly response rather than an opportunity to whine and if I ask poor questions I don't serve my brother or sister well. 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 
Ephesians 4:29