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

22 September 2015

Hope and Comfort

Sometimes when someone dies you just know they have gone Home to glory.  Other times though you find yourself floundering somewhere between doubt and dread, fearing that they may not have put their faith in Christ - even faith as small as a mustard seed.

Uncertainty and fear add to the already heavy weight of grief.  And it all serves to remind us that death is wrong.   When Jesus wept for Lazarus it seems it wasn't just for the lost relationship, but weeping over the state of things.  It was never meant to be this way.  Death is a hard place.

I've thought about all of this a great deal over recent years and my thoughts have been tested.  What I have found, in the face of death, is that there are two things that bring me enormous comfort, no matter what the circumstances.

The first thing is this.  We are made in the image of God.  One of the things this means is that we are made to be in relationship with Him.  Every single human being ever.  I see evidence of this most clearly when someone is thrown into crisis, especially sudden crisis.  So often in those moments the person's immediate response is to cry out to God in prayer, even when they've never prayed in their life and they don't really know what they're doing.  Or else they seek out the prayers of someone who prays.  It's like we are all microchipped to God and when the need most hits we are drawn Home to our Father in heaven.  It's the strongest magnetic pull in the universe. 

And as God is "not wanting anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentence" (2 Peter 3:9) I wonder that God maybe responds in grace and mercy to those cries Home in the greatest of all crises - as one is facing their own death. 

Sometimes we see the evidence of God's mercy in the lives of those around us over many years and we know, in death, that they are going Home.  Sometimes in God's great kindness we might see His grace and mercy in someone's last days or hours - a kindness more for our own benefit and comfort.  And I wonder if there are times when we may not be aware of God, mercifully at work even when all communication between the one dying and the outside world has all but shut down. 

The Bible is clear.  God wants all to turn to Him.  But not everyone will take up this most precious of invitations.  While on this earth we don't get to know ultimately who will take up this invitation and who won't.  But I think there is more hope than we sometimes apprehend because God has made every single one of us to be drawn to Him and has done all that we need through Jesus' work on the cross in order to take hold of His invitation of eternal life with Him - even only with mustard seed sized faith in a final moment.  There is hope, and that is comfort enough.

The other source of comfort then is this.  God's ways are perfect.  All things happen in His perfect, loving and sovereign timing and wisdom.  So when someone dies we can be confident that whatever has happened, it will have happened in God's perfect will and wisdom.  I trust God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  (Well, I try to.)  And so I trust Him to get it right in every single instance and circumstance.  Whatever has happened, when someone dies, it will have happened as God willed it to be.  More than anything I might hope for in all my human weakness, I trust God.  And that is the deepest comfort in the world.  I will still be sad.  Death is a hard place.  But I will be comforted by the God of all comfort whose ways are always right. 

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
  When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
  “It is well, it is well with my soul!”
(Horatio Gates Spafford) 

13 September 2015

How to Walk into Church

When friends move and they’re in the serious business of finding themselves a new church I always pray that they will find a church where they will be well ministered to AND where they can minister well, because going to church isn’t just about receiving. It is very much about giving as well. 

If you are someone who wants to do church well – or wants to know how to do church well – can I commend a fantastic little book to you called “How to Walk into Church” by Tony Payne.  It’s 64 pages and it took me about half an hour to read.  Thirty well spent minutes.

This little book is an encouragement to:-

*  Go to church and go regularly.  The very act of turning up every week is an enormous encouragement.

One of the most important acts of love and encouragement we can all engage in is the powerful encouragement of just being there – because every time I walk into church I am wearing a metaphorical t-shirt that says, “God is important to me, and you are important to me.”  And on the back it says, “And that’s why I wouldn’t dream of missing this.”  Similarly, when we stay away for no good reason one week out of three (or more), we send the opposite message. 
Page 37

*  Prepare for church by praying – about who you will sit next to, about a good conversation you might have before church or afterwards over coffee (and there some excellent, God honouring conversation starters mentioned in chapter six) – and also by reading and thinking through the Bible passage to be covered in advance.

*  Determine to participate actively during the service – standing and singing with joy, bringing your own Bible to follow the readings and listening actively to the sermon by taking notes, making good eye contact with the minister, nodding in agreement or giving an encouraging and warm smile at an appropriate moment.

*  Be on the lookout for ways to serve – fill in for someone who’s rostered on for something but didn’t make it, get the person who has a coughing fit a glass of water, open the window if it feels hot and stuffy.  Be the meerkat on guard and look for opportunities to be a blessing.

Our aim at church should be to build up and encourage other people – rather than thinking about how much we’re getting out of it or whether we’ve had a chance to exercise our gifts.  Love does not insist on its own way or press its own claims.  It is not obsessed with its own enjoyment or convenience.  Love does not complain or grumble, or stay home in bed because it couldn’t be bothered.  Love seeks the good of the other – patiently, kindly, truthfully, joyfully, constantly. 
Page 31

Who should read this book?  If you go to church, no matter how well (or otherwise) you walk in that church door, you should read this book.  It is such an encouragement to godliness.  Even better, because going to church is a group activity after all, is to read it with a group from church – maybe your Bible study group – so that you can encourage each other in the ministry of walking into church well. 

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 
Hebrews 10:24-25

04 August 2015

Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax

"What are you reading Mum?" asked one son.
"It's a horror story," I replied.

"Boys Adrift" by Leonard Sax is a study into the growing problem of unmotivated teenage boys who grow up to be underachieving young men who fail to launch, have no aspirations and aren't interested in leading functional, productive lives.  Sounds like a fun holiday read?  Well, it wasn't that much fun to read really.  But terror turned to thinking and discussing as soon as I had read the last page and I continue to ponder the issues.

Sax looks at five areas that he thinks is contributing to the problem of boys adrift.
1. An education system that doesn't suit boys.
2. Computer games.  (The book was written in 2009.  I think you could safely broaden this out to cyber addiction in general, although there are some specifics attached to gaming.)
3. The effects of medications prescribed for ADHD. 
4. Changes to the male body wrought by modern life - chemicals, plastics and so on.   The evidence Sax has collected suggests that the male body is affected more than the female body.
5. A bundle of things including a growing shortage of good male role models, a devaluation of masculinity, no real rites of passage for boys coupled with too many trophies along the way and parental failure to show a little tough love (like mothers still doing the washing for their 30-somethings who still live at home).

He provides a very in depth study into each of these areas and all five stand independent of each other.   That is, one is not the cause of another. 

I really like this book because it reads real.  It's not all neat and tidy.  The author doesn't present each problem and then offer a five point plan on how to fix it.  There are some solutions and ideas along the way but this is very much a work in progress and he is really just raising flags.

What is terrifying then is that in some instances there are no solutions, not for an individual family anyway.  Some of the problems raised are systemic issues that are just too big, and so in some senses the solutions lie in working out how to live, work and problem solve alongside these issues that aren't going away anytime soon.    

While he did suggest on at least a couple of occasions that some of the issues or consequences reaped were beyond solving, I think it's worth noting that since 2009 there has been huge research done on brain plasticity.  More things are reversible than we previously ever imagined.  It would be interesting to see how his thinking has developed.  And as a Christian and without being all silly about it, I believe that there is plenty that we can change through a growing, maturing, prayferful faith. Granted, Sax is not writing this study from a Christian perspective.

Anyway, not a fun book but an important one I think.  It is written thoughtfully and soberly.  Sax has not set out to give anyone nightmares.  This is all about education and awareness.  I thought it was helpful.  Who else might find it useful?  Parents of boys.  Teachers.  Youth group leaders and folk in university ministry.  Observers of rapid sociological change. 

Now, I'm off to teach a couple of boys to use the washing machine.  :-)  Nah, just kidding.  I'm off to make a cup of tea.

02 August 2015

The Minor Prophets

Speaking of the Minor Prophets, if you are looking for a resource to help you get into the last twelve books of the Old Testament then "The Minor Prophets" by Jack P. Lewis is the book for you. This book has been around for a while but wait...wait...WAIT!  Don't switch off.  Because I have just read some reviews of this book and lots of them said words to the effect of, "Still one of the best guidebooks to the Minor Prophets."

Not that I had to read the reviews to find out about this book.  I have just used it in preparation for Monday evenings and have studied it two or three times in the past during similar tilts through this section of the Bible.  And I often refer to it during my personal reading of the Minor Prophets when it gets to that point in the plan.

Why?  Because it's short, concise and supremely useful.  There is a chapter, each one no more than ten pages, for each prophet.  Every chapter includes some general information about the prophet, where he fits into biblical history and dating as can best be determined (and where there is some debate Lewis outlines the possibilities.)  There is a general overview of the book, a structure and some commentary on significant sections, key concepts and on some of the trickier bits than cannot be left unexplained.  It's detailed but not technical.  You can read it and reasonably speedily.  Towards the end of each chapter Lewis mentions where each prophet is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament and brings the reader back to Jesus.  And every chapter finishes with a short set of astute study questions. 

I don't think this book is in print anymore which is a huge shame but a quick search shows that there are still plenty of copies to found here and there.  And if you are serious about learning not just to understand but to love this part of the Bible then this is THE book for you.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19:7-11

28 July 2015

The Monday evening Bible reading group

Last night the Monday Evening Bible Reading Group came to the end of an adventure we embarked upon last November - reading through all of the Minor Prophets.  This group works on the One to One Bible Reading model, except that it isn't one-to-one.  At present there are seven of us.  The intention is to get together and read the Bible.  There aren't a set of prepared study questions.  We just read between one and five chapters each time we meet and after  each chapter discussions loosely fit around the three questions, "What made you go WOW?", "What made you go WHAT?" and "So what does that have to do with us?"  We don't specifically ask those questions anymore.  That has just become the natural flow of our discussions.

This style of reading models that it isn't necessary to understand every single detail.  The aim is to get enough meaning on this read through to give the courage to read it again some other time and hopefully glean a little more understanding.  It's about building joy in the Word and building in a diligence to read ALL of the Word.

I should add that I did do some preparation before we met, which is not part of the model, but the Minor Prophets make so much more sense with a bit of background knowledge

So the Minor Prophets are done.  In the past we have done Luke followed by Acts.  Last year we did the bookends - Genesis and Revelation.  Both of these are wonderful Bible reading projects.  A couple of other interesting projects would be to read Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi altogether or to take the Chronological Bible Reading Plan and read through the Samuels, Kings and Chronicles with a good number of the Psalms and some of the Wisdom Literature inserted along the way as best placed as we can - to get the more poetic writings sitting in their historical context.  That would be a HUGE project - it's about three months worth on the plan!! - but it would be amazing.

But for now, on Monday evenings, we are heading off in a different direction.  We are set to read through all the epistles from Romans to Jude, which should keep us busy for a few months.

24 July 2015

She did it!

The Everyday Gratitude Diary for 2016 is fully funded which means it is going ahead.  Hooray!  And the Pozible funding is still open until the end of July which gives everyone the opportunity (if you were thinking about it but didn't get around to it) to pre-order a diary that includes free shipping and a small donation to The Black Dog Institute.  I haven't met Rebecca but she is fast becoming one of those people who fall into that lovely category of "blogging buddy" who I'd love to meet in the future.  But for now I am grateful to God that lots of people have got behind her on this project which is so worthwhile at so many levels. 

23 July 2015

Some help for tackling the book of Ezekiel

I've been toughing my way through Ezekiel recently.  It's a tough book about tough times.  Ezekiel knew some very hard times.  He lived through the siege and sacking of Jerusalem and was carried off into exile by the Babylonians.  (Reading through Jeremiah gives a clear picture of just how horrible it would have been to have lived through that time.)  And Ezekiel - God's messenger to His people in exile - was deeply, deeply aware and heavily burdened by the blackness of sin. 

So many of the pictures and messages recorded in the book of Ezekiel are largely of pain and hardship.  There is clear judgment for God's people who have persisted in their sin and turned their backs on the One who loves them.  There is clear judgment for the nations who have scorned God's people. And then there are the natural consequences of bad decisions.  It is hard reading.

And yet, the words "Sovereign Lord" are mentioned over 200 times throughout the book.  This is what the Sovereign Lord says.  This is what the Sovereign Lord will do.  This is what the Sovereign Lord is doing.  In all the hardship, confusion and grief, God is present and with a purpose.  Natural consequence is fair and God's judgment is righteous.  And that righteousness and purpose is borne out in a second phrase that appears time and time again - "Then they will know that I am the Lord."  And so the book of Ezekiel, in all that is tough, is filled with hope because for all who cry out and turn to the God who loves them, there is the promise of restoration and peace for all eternity.

Ezekiel presents a snapshot of a particular time in the history of God's people.  It's also a timeless message for all people - God's very good creation - through all of history because even though the details are different, the reality is much the same.  But back to the book and how to get into it...there is hope through God's sovereignty, love and righteousness to be found on every page of Ezekiel - and looking for that will assist in the very worthwhile work of persevering through the pages of this book for deep insight into times past, present and future.

21 July 2015

Winter update - 2015

Completely missed: the autumn update.  Autumn was mainly taken up with my mother-in-law's final illness and passing away.  I spent many hours with her particularly in her last month and shed many tears for not one but two mothers when our boys' last grandparent went Home to be with Jesus.   

Thereafter: I felt compelled to do some homely stuff.  So we installed some raised garden beds and I have been growing vegies.


Seedlings, good soil and some rain will do the trick.  It's not very hard.  Well, not in winter.  Summer may be a different matter. 

I did hear the good advice of planting out one bed with all the things you are likely to use every three weeks so that the harvest is staggered.  That makes very good sense.  Because in a few weeks, if all continues to go to plan, we will have a colossal beetroot stash.  So once the winter vegies are in I might give that system a go.

While the vegies were busy growing: I pressed on with the crochet project.  The want to crochet came to me at just the right time.  I didn't realise it but I have needed to sit and rest a while and it has been so nice to sit and create something beautiful, and while hands are occupied in this gentle work, to pray.

If you look closely you'll see it's pretty rustic really - and that's just the front.  The back, with all the finishing off...well, let's just say I'm not going to win first prize at the local agricultural show.  (Might enter my beetroots instead!)  But it has been a restoring thing to do.
There is a pattern in all of that, believe it or not.  It's on the diagonal.

And one of my sons, bless him, has suggested that I ought not to leave it out on the sofa when it is finished because all the babies and toddlers that come to visit during the week might ruin it.  So he has offered to keep it on his bed.  And I think I might just take him up on his sweet offer.

While crocheting: I often think of Psalm 139:13 which says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb."  As I have made this blanket every inch of wool has passed through my fingers on its way to being crafted into a granny square, which gives me a warm sense of wonder and awe at God's personal love for us.  Amazing.

Reading: well, there's an interesting story.  I read and read and read and read for months on end.  Got to the end of one book and started in on the next one straight away.  I worked my way through an impressive list of titles - all fiction and even during term time (!!) - and then I read "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver and it stopped me in my tracks.  I was so moved by it that I couldn't pick up another book.  For days.  So I picked up a crochet hook in earnest and haven't really read anything else apart from the (real) Bible since then. 

But I am recently emerged from a very busy season (we just had our annual five day Holiday Bible Club and this year I was administrating it as well as running games and craft activities) and am thinking it is time to get reading again.  I have a couple of books by Allan Chapple and a couple by Jerry Bridges that I am keen to read and I have two books about teenagers on the list as well.  So reading it seems is set to recommence.

Fringe update:  "It was already getting annoyingly long and I think I will past the truly annoying stage in five to ten weeks at current rate of growth," said I at the beginning of February.  I'm not one to spend hours gazing at myself in the mirror but oh, it has been a long and awkward six months.  Two weeks ago I figured it had finally grown into something you might dare to call a hairstyle.  So if I ever mention that I'm thinking of cutting in a fringe again you must take me in hand and tell me, "No."  Be firm.

In other news:  I have ventured back into the world of paid work in a small way.  When I made the decision back here to not work it came down to this...

"As a Christian, how do I best use the time now given to me to serve God, my family and my community, bearing in mind my own capacities and circumstances?  It's not a question anyone else can answer for me.  Nor is it one I can answer for anyone else.  But that is the big question."

And I have asked the same question in deciding to put my name down at our local school for some relief teaching.  It came down to a Kingdom decision rather than a bank account one.  So I did a few days here and there and not long after I found myself with a one-day-a-week fixed position until the end of the year in a year 4/5 room. It's lovely being back in the classroom actually.  And middle primary is just the bees knees.

However...I can see that trying to get full registration back is going to be quite an exercise...

Loved: series five of Downtown Abbey.  I waited impatiently for it to come out on DVD and then devoured it almost whole.  I guess it will be a year before the next instalment.  Waiting, waiting... I'm glad they are finishing at series six though.  It is good not to push these things too long or too hard.

Was also waiting impatiently: for all your advice on mobile phones.  But you all just wanted me to work it out on my own, I know.  Well I think one of the statements I made, more than the others, and my slow cooker have helped me come a mind on the issue.  More on that later.

Nearing the end: of the minor prophets with the Monday evening Bible reading group.  Wow!  It has been a wonderful adventure.  If you want to know about God in all of His mighty power, holiness, righteousness, mercy, compassion, love and sovereignty then this is the part of the Bible for you.  Breathtaking.

Also recently: had a ramble through Philippians again.  It has been a while since I was there.  And the desire to memorise this book has been rekindled.  Does anyone want to join in with me?

Very excited: to be following the Everyday Gratitude project.  As I write this, the project has 10 days to go and is close to 80% funded.  I hope it happens.

Fresh back: from a five day holiday by the seaside. 

Nothing nicer than a winter holiday by the sea.  Feeling refreshed, a few goals for the next six months set in place and all ready for the second half of the year.  I hope you are too.

12 July 2015

Everyday Gratitude

If you have been reading this blog for a while there are a couple of things you may have picked up about me. 

Firstly, I like to keep the comings and goings of daily life in a paper diary.  And the best format for me is A5, a week to a page so that I can see the whole week in one sweep (and as I have mentioned before, if I find I need more diary room for planning out my days than what is offered by a page for a week  I figure I need to reassess my life, not my diary format) and room for a TO DO list.

Secondly, you would know that I am pretty keen on the idea of gratitude.  I've blogged about it plenty over the years and gave the whole of April this year over to practicing the art.  I first discovered the power of gratitude when I was at university, fell into a slump and finally pulled myself out of it after setting myself the task of writing down two things I was grateful for at the end of each day - even if all I could muster was that the sun came up and the sky was blue .  I was amazed at how quickly my mood shifted.

So I have been absolutely delighted to discover someone who has launched a project that combines these two loves of mine. 

The Everyday Gratitude Diary is a crowdfunded project developed by a lovely person named Rebecca who has also worked out the power of gratitude in every day life.  And she has created a diary for 2016 that seamlessly moves gratitude into the rough and tumble of daily life.  It's a magnificent idea and it's going to be a beautiful diary.  I've pledged my support, and in doing so, will receive a few copies - Christmas gifts for our older godchildren, a gift for a friend or two and one for me.  
Read about it here.  You can follow along on Facebook here.  Pledges have to be in by the end of July.  And 5% of profits will be given to the Black Dog Institute.  It doesn't get better than that.
Go for it.

08 July 2015

Which century to live in?

My flip phone (aka dinosaur phone and dumb phone) is in the death throes.
Some days I think I should get myself technologically up to date.
Some days I think my flip phone has all I need in a mobile phone.
Some days I think having a smart phone would be fun.
Some days I think I don't want all the stuff a smart phone offers at my fingertips.
Some days I think having the answers at my fingertips would be useful.
Some days I think having a flip phone resonates with living simply.
Some days I think I am disadvantaged not having a smart phone.
Some days I wonder why I am making such a big deal of this.
Most days, these days, I know I'm going to need a make a decision soon because there are not many more days left for my flip phone.

11 May 2015

Keep your head and pray. With hope.

"The end of all things is near.  Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." 
1 Peter 4:7

I read this verse yesterday.  It reminds me to keep my head, to keep praying and do both with hope and purpose.  Blessed reminders with a couple of busy months on the horizon. 

02 May 2015

Feeling grateful

I came across this quote at the end of March and decided to dedicate April to giving it a go.  I threw the concept up onto Facebook and not too many moments later #gratefulapril was a thing.  So it's been pretty quiet here because there have been daily moments of gratitude happening on Facebook instead.

Over the month I found myself variously grateful for...

The Word of God.
Jesus' death and resurrection.
The gift of prayer and the gift of my prayer triplet.
Long weekends.
Schools, educational opportunities and holidays.
New ministries starting up at church.
Family, friends and neighbours.  Specifically neighbours who intentionally planted their lemon tree right up close to our fence so that we could share their lemons.
The abundance we enjoy.
Music and books.
Art and history.

I wasn't sure about doing the daily thing on Facebook to begin with, because I didn't want it to become a month of zoning in on one thing each day.  The intention was to practice gratitude continuously throughout the day. 

But it ended up being an excellent discipline.  Many days, as I grew in my capacity for thankfulness, it was hard to choose one thing.  That was a good problem to have.  But as with any life in any month, some days were hard.  And on those days it was good to have to dig deep and redeem God's goodness in daily life.

It was such a good exercise that I have decided to keep going.  Not on Facebook though.  The community aspect was very encouraging, at times moving and often lots of fun however I think it would become boring and tedious for others in time and of course it led to considerable time wasting.   So I'm taking away the "Face" and just recording one or two things that I'm grateful for each day in a book.

On the good days I hope this practice will remind me to be grateful for ALL the good things (moreover, to give expression to that gratitude, which is the very thing that gives this quote legs) and on the harder days to be reminded that even so, we have much for which to thank God.

01 April 2015

Grateful April

I don't know who Sue Fitzmaurice is but it doesn't really matter.  I think what she says is right.  I recall when I was at university and for a time the world wasn't looking all that bright.  I decided I would finish the day listing three things I was grateful for, even if two of them were that the sun came up and the sky was blue, every single day.  It took little more than a week to shift me out of my mood.  And as I recall, I was in quite a mood, so that was a fairly quick turn around.

There are lots of ways to express gratitude. 
Write it down.
Say thank you - spoken words, written words, a hug, a gift, a smile.
Return an act of service or pay it forward.
Show respect.
Find contentment, even in the small things.
Shake off discontentment by searching for the good in the moment. 
Praise God.

Will you join me?