18 February 2019

The Happiness Project

One day Gretchen Rubin was sitting on a bus musing about happiness.  Questions running around her mind like...

Am I happy?
What makes me happy?
Am I as happy as I could be?
What could I do to be happier?
What is happiness anyway?

And so she set out on a year long project, focussing on a different area of life each month such as  energy levels, marriage, work, parenthood, leisure, friendship and money. She spent a month on each topic - reading widely, critically analysing her own life in that area, choosing one or two resolutions to keep (complete with star charts and working on the basis that it takes twenty one days to form a habit) - to see if and how these things had an impact on her happiness. Along the way she recorded her journey and then pulled it altogether into The Happiness Project.

I was invited to read this book along with other teachers at the school where I do my relief teaching work as part of a push to improve happiness and wellbeing amongst the staff.

Criticisms first.

Firstly, up front and not so much a criticism as statement of fact, this is not a Christian book and from a Christian point of view it's pretty much a giant box of bandaids.  Certainly there are things we can do streamline our lives that will make things better or easier (and therefore probably make us happier) but in any case happiness here and now is not the Christian's ultimate goal.  God graciously gives me many good blessings and there is much happiness in my life but ultimately my joy and contentment (close cousins to happiness) are founded firmly in the Lord, with a clear-eyed focus on what is ahead rather than what is happening right now. 

Secondly, after I had finished reading it I went and read quite a few reviews because I was curious as to how others might have found it.  Some absolutely LOVED this book.  Others were dismissive.  It is after all a #firstworldproblem.
 
I think it's a book you either love or hate, and my theory is that where you fall will depend pretty much on where you stand with making new year's resolutions.  If you are one of the NYR naysayers then back your way out of the room and run away fast.  This book is not for you. 

As for me, I love the new year.   I love the fresh start. I love ripping the plastic off  my new diary, enjoying for a brief moment the look of all those empty pages, wondering at the prospect of what will fill them and then getting into the planning, preparing and dreaming. I love January because I also celebrate my birthday fairly early up so it's all new - a new year, a new age, a clean slate.  And I think making new year's resolutions is great.  For the record I broke my principal NYR  for 2019 by 14th January...and that's okay.

Right at the end of the book she says,

I'd noticed idly that a lot of people use the term "goal" instead of "resolution," and one day in December, it struck me that this difference was in fact significant.  You hit a goal, you keep a resolution.

Once you hit a goal - I'm going to run a marathon (not really, I'm just using that as an example) - it's done.  But you keep going with a resolution - keep it, break it, run away from it, come back and have another go, hope by the end of the year it you are a little bit further along the track than you were at the beginning.  Goals are finite but there is an ongoingness to resolutions.  And so I persist with my principal resolution for 2019.  It's like the work of growing in godliness.

While I found myself sometimes exhausted reading what Rubin got through month after month as she explored, resolved, read, refined and practiced, all while maintaining house, home, family and a job, I really like the principle she set out of having a new resolution each month.  Twelve new year's days.  Twelve chances to try and tighten things up.  Twelve different areas to focus on.  Or twelve new chances to work on the one area.  All motivated by turning over the calendar to a fresh start at the beginning of each month. 

For all that I've said, good and critical, I really enjoyed this book - it's a great summer holiday start of the year read. Rubin has a very engaging writing style and she move through lots of topics and ideas within each chapter without getting bogged down (except maybe the chapter on decluttering.)  She's read widely and quotes all sorts of interesting, fascinating things along the way.  The depth and breadth of her reading is quite amazing and she's very skilled at dropping lovely little morsels all through her writing.  The chapters (one for each month) operate reasonably discretely so if you aren't interested in a particular month's focus, you can skip it and move on quite successfully.  And of course it is steeped in growing gratitude.

There was one very pleasing morsel that I noticed near the end of the book.  Slightly Foxed.  If you love books and England, you might just want to click on that link.

It's a fun book and I'm expecting to return to it next summer.

14 February 2019

Why you shouldn't stop blogging

This blog is slowly bursting back into life.  Can you put "slowly" and "bursting" next to each other in the one sentence?  Anyway, there are definite signs of life.

It stopped for grief.  The ramping up of care for my elderly mum and mother-in-law, their deaths nine months apart, and the sadness and weariness of the grief that followed left me with little energy but to get through what needed to be done and then lay on the sofa near the north facing window that catches the warm afternoon sun.  Sometimes I just lay there and stared into space and sometimes I watched something gentle on the television, which later turned into a bit of a habit and the watching of five of the six series of Downton Abbey in fairly quick succession...eventually leading to needing to DO SOMETHING alongside watching TV but nothing too taxing = learning to crochet. And wait somewhat impatiently for series six of Downton Abbey to screen in real time.  [Confession: As it screened elsewhere in the world before it reached Australia I shamelessly read synopses of all the episodes on the Internet before it hit our screens!]

Watching DVDs + crocheting blankets = no reading.

And so it stopped for lack of things to say.  I stopped reading, apart from the Bible, and then at some point there was a return to the voracious consumption of novels during school holidays, but nothing meatier than that. I really had nothing much to say.  Eventually though I'd watched enough Downton Abbey, crocheted enough blankets, read enough novels and took a restoring long service leave trip with my family to Europe - and found myself in the world of paid work.

And so it stopped for lack of time to write because between a couple of part time (albeit casual but reasonably regular) jobs, church commitments and house and home (including the new development of complicated but gloriously wonderful teenagers), there was little brain space for thinking creatively let alone time or energy to write anything down. 

But sometime last year I found myself missing the writing process and my mind beginning to observe the world in sentences and paragraphs once again.  My updates on Facebook were getting (ridiculously) longer.  The front page of our Christmas letter was more of a blog post than a family update.  And just how many paragraphs can you add to your photos on Instagram??

As this was unfolding Tim Challies wrote a lovely series on blogging.  Serendipitously, on my birthday he published a post (called "Why you shouldn't stop blogging") that warmly encouraged small time blogging and celebrated, among other things, the opportunity to build relationships and be an encouragement in that space.  Which, apart from the gentle art of writing, is the very thing I love about blogging.

As I haven't been paying such close attention in recent years, it passed my gaze that while we were away on holidays in January my blog quietly turned ten.  I can hardly stage a loud and grand celebration given it lay dormant for a few of those years - and loud and grand isn't my style in any case - but I think a small cupcake with jellytots and sparklers is definitely in order.  (Picture nabbed unashamedly from the Internet here.) 

While I've been away I have forgotten how to do a few things.  I tried to reply to a comment someone left (COMMENTS!!! I haven't even checked for comments in ages and sweetly, there were a few waiting patiently for me) and ended up replying anonymously because I couldn't work out how to comment on my own blog.  Also I am vaguely wondering about crossing over to Wordpress (are you allowed to mention that on Blogger??), taking the best of what I have here with me.  Things to work out, relearn and muse over.  In the meantime I have a small list of books I am looking forward to reading, a few ideas to write about and I'm encouraged by Tim Challies to stop fussing about the big, spectacular, silver bullet, polished posts and to just write. Which is exactly what I did this evening.

09 January 2019

Reading 1 and 2 Peter

From Gospel and Kingdom
by Graeme Goldsworthy
There was a breathtaking moment, having been a Christian for almost ten years, and then I did my first study of a Bible overview.  Prior to that I'd read through the Bible numerous times, been regular at Bible studies and sat under some pretty good preachers.  And then WOW! - I saw how this whole beautiful book held together and wondered where I'd been for the last ten years. 

Since then I have been big on helping others have that same WOW moment which serves, among other things, to keep daily Bible reading rich and exciting.  Come to any Bible study or reading group of mine or even a Sunday School lesson and there won't be too many weeks go past when I don't pull out this road map of the Bible or some other similar timeline and probably a Bible atlas as well, just so that we know where we are geographically, politically and chronologically.  A basic knowledge of this stuff brings the Bible alive.

Last year a couple of my groups wanted to read through Peter's epistles.  Before we tackled the letters we went BIG on context, spending several weeks getting to know Peter by working through as much of his life story as is recorded in the Bible.  Many of Peter's adventures are mentioned across each of the gospels so in choosing passages I endeavoured to choose the rendering that provided the most detail about Peter.  Of course the Bible is Jesus' story, not Peter's, but it was a surprisingly rich journey getting to know Peter the man, which then informed our reading of his letters beautifully.

So without further ado, here are the Peter passages we read before reading his letters.  It's a great reading project.  Maybe a fun summer holiday adventure.  You won't be sorry.  

Luke 5: 1-11   Jesus calls his disciples
Mark 1: 29-34   Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law
Luke 6: 12-16   Choosing the twelve
Matthew 14: 22-36   Jesus walks on the water
Mark 5: 21-43   Jesus raises the dead girl
John 6: 60-71   You have the words of eternal life
Matthew 16: 13-20   Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah
Mark 8: 31-33   Jesus predicts His death
Luke 9: 28-36   The transfiguration
Matthew 17: 24-27   Jesus pays the temple tax
John 13   Washing the disciples' feet and Jesus predicting Peter's denials
Matthew 26: 36-38   Peter at Gethsemane
John 18: 1-14   Jesus arrested
Matthew 26: 69-75  Peter's denials
Luke 24: 1-10   Peter runs to the tomb
John 21: 1-25   Jesus reinstates Peter

...and then for a BIG Peter finish, read Acts 1-15.  My groups, both having studied Acts in recent times, did the abridged version of...

Acts 1-3  After Jesus' ascension and then onto Pentecost
Acts 10   Cornelius
Acts 12   Peter in prison
Acts 15   Peter and Paul sort themselves out

Good to note also as you venture into his letters that Peter was near the end of his life and ministry when he wrote them.

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body,  because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.                                                            2Peter 1: 12-15

He brings all of his passion, energy, loyalty and faith to bear as he pastors and exhorts those in his sphere to press on in Jesus, and passes the baton to the next generation.  It's really great reading.

04 January 2019

Adaptations from our 2018 Christmas letter - being grateful



Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.                                                                           1Thessalonians 5:16-18
Gratitude is something I think about a great deal.  I try to give thanks to God for my day as the night settles in on its fifteen hours of activity. I know that practising daily gratitude is a means of shifting oneself out of a funk through noting what is good and looking outwards.  Any chance I have at school, I set up classes with gratitude journals and I wear a pendant with the word GRATEFUL on it most days, especially when I am working.  A friend of mine – a champion of gratitude – ran a December of Gratitude challenge on social media, recording daily points of gratitude each day.  How many things each day?  The number corresponded with the date (one thing on the first, two things on the second, three things on the third…) which meant that by Christmas Eve there were 300 things to be grateful for right there. 

At one point last year there was a series of celebrity deaths, one after the other.  I was strangely and inexplicably moved when TV chef Anthony Bourdain took his own life in June.  I hardly know why. I’ve only watched a few of his shows and always thought him a cynical and sad sort of soul.  After he died the accolades flew in from all corners of the globe and I found myself wondering  that if he’d known how highly he was regarded and revered, whether he might yet be still cooking, eating and travelling his way around the world.
At the end of the school year I wrote twenty thank you cards for our boys’ high school teachers - quite lengthy messages (because far be it from me to keep it short) - and was specific about what the boys appreciated and what we were grateful for in each teacher.  One of our sons came home and told us that his English teacher said he’d almost wept when he read his card.  Primary school teachers are lavished upon at the end of each year.  High school teachers seem to get nothing yet their work is hard, and we’re so very grateful for the ways they pour into our boys’ lives.
We feel gratitude all the time but we’re not necessarily quick to express it.  Paul, in the Bible, told the Christians in Thessalonica to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances – upwards to God and outwards to those who love, serve and move us.  Even when life seems tough, challenging or sad, we can always thank God that He has all things in hand and that He will see all things made right in His perfect love, timing, wisdom and way - made sure and secure at the most important moment in history in the events of Easter.  And so at Christmas we give thanks to God for the birth of Immanuel – God with us – whose life, death and resurrection at Easter is the greatest gift we will ever receive.
Christmas is such a good time for this as we write our letters and cards, buy our gifts and catch up with all sorts of people.  And maybe it is a good time to kick start a habit into the new year of not just thinking or feeling grateful but saying it, writing it, texting it, giving it the thumbs up or a smile or a hug – specifically, often, at times unexpected, every time we feel gratitude stirring. Small actions can have a big impact - small brave steps in a big, difficult world. 

 

29 December 2018

Getting ready for 2019


Tim Challies posted a great article just before Christmas - Ten Suggestions for your Personal Devotions in 2019.   It's a great post - both for the encouragement to actively plan out a Bible reading strategy for the coming year and with it, some very helpful suggestions.

Since September 2017 I have been involved in this Bible Reading Challenge.  It's a nine month challenge, covering the northern hemisphere academic year, and in God's providence I stumbled upon it at the beginning of the challenge, right at a moment when I was really floundering in my personal Bible reading.  It was the perfect kick start. 

There's lots to love about this plan.  There's a women's and men's version - same plan but different graphics.  It gets you through the whole Bible in nine months and the sympathy in the pairings of readings is truly inspiring.  You can print off a plan to tuck in your Bible or it can be read through various Apps.  There's a Facebook group that's very encouraging - as people chip in their observations and ask their questions about different texts - and you can sign up for weekly emails too.  So much to keep you encouraged and it's wonderful to read along, knowing that thousands of others worldwide are reading and praying over the same passage on the same day.  Sundays are kept free and there are catch up days - and what's not to love about a catch up day?

They backed up this plan with a three month plan over the northern hemisphere summer which went through all of the New Testament, which I found a lovely thing to do through our winter.  And then the plan started all over again, with some tweaks, this last September for another nine months. 

For reasons good and not so good I have lost my rhythm with the plan this second time around so Tim Challies' post has come at a good time for me as I prayerfully make my plans for 2019.

So 2019 is looking a bit like this...

1. I am going to use this Five Day Bible Reading Plan - through the Bible in a year, five days of readings per week, loosely chronological.  I haven't used this one before and have been keen to give it a go.  
2.  I'm also going to work through Isaiah with a commentary.  I'm going to set aside an hour a week to do this - one chapter per week during school time and two hours per week in the holidays to catch up the extra chapters.  I'm planning on using Alec Motyer's commentary in the Tyndale series, unless someone has a better suggestion.  Feel free to chip in if you have any thoughts.
3.  I have set my older Sunday School kids a daily challenge - copying out a verse a day into a blank book, covering a different theme each month. January's theme is JOY.  I purchased this program from here.  The benefits for the kids includes getting them all over the Bible and seeing God's constancy through His story.  And it's always a good thing to slow the reading pace right down to writing speed.  (Side benefit: I will have tiny, daily - or as many days as I can manage - calligraphy session.)

"The new year is coming, and I, for one, am beginning to think about how I’m going to do my daily devotions in 2019. I know that for me to be consistent, I need to put some plans in place." - Tim Challies

18 October 2018

Hellooooooooooooooo!

Hellooooooooooooooo!

It's been two and a bit years since I've put up a post here, with sparse offerings prior to that.  My blog, along with so many of my blog's peers, has been lying dormant, so I'm not sure if there's anyone really out there any more.  But if this post has somehow miraculously found its way to you, HELLOOOOOOOOO. 💜💚💙

Why the return?  Mainly because I have a couple of lists of useful Bible readings I've done with Bible study groups during the year and I'm not great at keeping a record of such things.  I lose (throw away) bits of paper and my filing of things on computers is pretty hopeless, whereas I can locate things on this blog.  So the need to save a couple of documents has spurred me on.

But to get started with, what's been going on these last two or three years?  I've...

...wandered back into the world of paid work - a bit of relief teaching, two or three days per term of training up volunteers to deliver Scripture lessons in government schools and at one stage, I spent the school hours of a day per week in an office.  I've never had an office job before.  Hard as it is some days, I find I like the light and movement of the classroom better.

...got my teaching license reinstated.  That was quite an effort.

...grown a few flowers and vegies (and also weeds everywhere and couch grass rampaging our flowerbeds.)

 

...read lots of books.  Especially novels.  Lovely.  Much Bible reading by myself and with others and various commentaries for Bible study preparation but not many weighty tomes in the last couple of years. 

...crocheted a few rugs.

 

 
 
  
...transitioned both our boys into high school.  This is a surprisingly big transition for parents as well as their children but I am happy to say that I'm loving these teenage years.
 
...read the Bible using this reading plan.  It's refreshingly great to start a reading plan in the middle of September rather than the 1st January.  I'm on the second run through with this one and loving it.  The pairings of readings are absolutely genius.  It's very possibly the best reading plan I've ever used.  So much to say about this one - and about my ongoing delight in reading the whole Bible through every year.  There may be a post in that.
 
...beaten a well worn track to the orthodontist's office, via the bank.  But let me tell you, six weekly trips to an orthodontist at a location far, far away from home with a teenager are worth their weight in gold and orthodontic paraphernalia for unrushed time in the car to chat.  The hidden blessing of crooked teeth.

...travelled with my family to Europe when my husband took long service leave.  Eight glorious weeks.  Yes,  I know. 





 
 ...turned 50.  How did that happen??  But guess what?  It's okay.  In fact, it's great.  I'm liking this decade a lot.

...celebrated 20 years of marriage.  Yay us!

...taken to taking photos of the beach and beds of tulips (not my tulips...these are to be found at the Botanical Garden near our house.)

 
 
...become a basketball mum again after a hiatus of two or three years.  Learning how to score again. 

...watched quite a lot of movies at the cinema, catering to my inner introvert.

...and mastered a few new recipes and conquered scones, having been scarred at high school with a very low mark for cooking because my scones were crooked. 


And of course there is all the normal and good stuff to be found in the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly cycles of life.  Life is goodly full.  We'll see how this return to blogging thing goes. 

03 April 2016

How is your Bible reading going?

 
Long time readers of this blog will know that my preferred style of Bible reading is to follow a reading plan and endeavor to read right through the Bible each year.  Of course there are lots of different ways to read the Bible besides the annual read through model.  There's focusing in on a particular book and reading it multiple times over a month or more and really digging deep. Or reading a section slowly and thoroughly with the aid of a commentary.  Maybe following a theme or topic through the Bible. Reading in and around Sunday's sermon passage leading up to or following your time at church.  Small snippets. Large chunks. Random chunks.  Daily reading.  Weekly reading.  Random reading. 

How is your Bible reading going?  I ask because I want to encourage you with all my heart to keep persevering in the good work of growing in your relationship with God through His Word.  Here's why.

During the last three or four days I have heard news of various people in sudden and deep crisis. A couple of them are known to me personally. The others are known through friends and so I ache because my friends ache. Yesterday morning, unable to sleep, I gave in to my restlessness and got up to pray and read the Bible. I thought I would start with my daily reading and then maybe head over to one of Paul's letters or maybe some Psalms...some of those soft places to fall. 

My reading for the day included a passage from Deuteronomy and the stoning of Stephen in Acts. Deuteronomy and the stoning of Stephen would not be your typical "go to" passages in times of trouble. And yet they were such a comfort as I read about God promising through word and demonstration that He would be faithful, loving and sovereign in the lives of His people forever and then the example of a man, so certain of his faith in God that he stood firm through utter horror, spoke truth and prayed not for his own release but that God would forgive those stoning him to death and finally, that tender release from God at the end of his life.  

Comfort and courage.

The more I read the Bible the more I learn about God and about being one of His children - and the more I find comfort and courage in some of the most unexpected places of this big book.  There are certainly many "go to" passages in times of trouble or despair but the more I get to know all of God's Word, the more I see what I know to be true about God - His love, mercy, faithfulness, patience, justice, wisdom, sovereignty, holiness - in every page and so I can receive comfort and courage not just from the "go to" passages but also from simply reading the next bit and being reminded afresh of God and His good promises. 

If your Bible reading has fallen into a bit of a hole, or you never really got started, please let me encourage you to open your Bible and get going again.  Please don't be overwhelmed or think, "I could never get my Bible reading to that point."  I have a long way to go myself but in God's mercy and kindness I have got to this point by simply opening up the Bible on as many days of the year as I can and reading the next bit.  Every year is better than the one before.  And there is much joy in this lifelong project, most especially in the deepening of your relationship with God.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:67-69
 

12 February 2016

Getting a bit more out of your Bible reading

Have you ever found yourself in certain parts of the Old Testament and wondered to your yourself, "Who actually are those Moabites?"  And while we're thinking about this, who are the Ammonites, the Amorites, the Jebusites, the Edomites - even the Canaanites - and countless other groups of people who never seem to be favourably disposed towards Israel and whose names end in "-ite"? 

There are some passages in Genesis that are hard to read because they contain lengthy lists of long names of people and places that are foreign to the eye and hard to pronounce and maybe, just maybe, we skip over them.  But in doing so we miss out.  As it happens these passages are rich with background information.

For example, imagine if you knew that Ham - he was the son of Noah who looked upon his father's nakedness (a big no no) and then gloated about it (worse and worse) - was the father of Cush, Egypt, Put and (wait for it) Canaan?

And then we find that...

Cush and his descendants pushed into and built up Babylon (one big enemy) and Assyria (big enemy number two) and among other achievements, built the city of Nineveh.  (Remember Jonah??)

Egypt's descendants (there's quite a list of them) include the Kasluhites from whom (wait for it) the Philistines (thinking of Goliath here) came.

And Canaan...well Canaan was the father of Sidon and of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites and various others, all of whom gave Israel a hard time during the times of Joshua.  That is, all the little nations that occupied the Promised Land.

All of that lot is just from the family line of Ham, son of Noah.  The son who did not honour his father.

Doesn't just even knowing that change the way you read a whole lot of the Old Testament?

And then there are the Moabites and the Ammonites.  They gave Israel quite a bit of grief.  Well, remember Lot?  After he escaped from Sodom with his wife (who was then turned to pillar of salt...but that's another story) and his two daughters, the three of them lived in the mountains because he was afraid to stay in Zoar.  (Let's not worry about Zoar at this point.  The main point is that they were hidden away in the mountains.)  The girls quickly worked out that there were no prospects for furthering the family line so they (ghastly bit) made their father drunk and took turns to sleep with him and both had a child.  Those children were Moab (father of the Moabites) and Ben-Ammi (father of the Ammonites.)  That changes the way you read about Moab and Ammon.

Edom.  The father of the Edomites was Edom (no surprises there), otherwise known as Esau - the twin brother of Jacob.  Now if you know the story of Jacob and Esau then you won't be surprised that every time the nation of Israel asked the Edomites for a favour the Edomites said no, in fairly strong terms.

I haven't even mentioned the Midianites, the Ishmaelites and a host of others.  But virtually every nation and people group the Israelites encounter as they make their way towards Jesus get a mention in Genesis.  And knowing the backstory of each of these people groups gives depth and understanding to the narrative.

Here are the key passages...

Genesis 9:18 - 29
Genesis 10
Genesis 15:17 - 21
Genesis 19:30 - 38
Genesis 21: 8 - 20
Genesis 25: 1 - 4
Genesis 25: 12 -18
Genesis 36

Take an hour to read over the words of those passages (including all of those hard to pronounce words) and see how many names and places and people groups you recognise.  It probably will take an hour but this is an investment for the future.  And be in awe all over again of our Sovereign and loving God who has planned all things and is in loving control of all things.

02 February 2016

Great games for groups

I'm about to go semi-public on this so let it be know that you first heard it here.

Take one large tarpaulin and set out a grid on it with electricians' tape.  Just like this...


My one worked out to be 10 by 7 squares but it's not imperative to have those dimensions.  It's back and knee breaking work but worth it because then you can play...

Giant Connect Four

Equipment: 
The grid.  Two or more sets of disposable plastic plates - each set needs to be a different colour and I have had four sets successfully on the go with large groups.

The basic game:
The teams take turns to put a plate anywhere on the grid.
The aim is to get four plates in a row - horizontal, vertical or diagonal - while blocking the other teams' attempts at doing the same.  Plates can be placed anywhere on the grid.




Variations:
Make it three in a row with younger children.
The actual game of "Connect Four" is played vertically and coins drop to the lowest level.  With older children pretend that gravity is involved and work from the baseline, building the puzzle up, rather than placing the plates anywhere on the grid.

The Maze Game

Equipment: 
The grid.  A small copy of the grid with a trail marked from one side to the other - kept out of view from the children.  A whistle.

 
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(This is a sample trail.  Make the trails as simple or complex as is appropriate for the group.)

The basic game:
The aim of the game is to step, square by square, from one side of the grid to the other.  The children take turns.  If they step into a square and it's on the pathway then there is no sound and they are free to take another step - vertical or horizontal.  If they step off the track the leader blows the whistle and the child is out.  The next child tries to retrace the footsteps and get a bit further along the track.  The winner is the one who gets right across the grid following the path.  The leader can tell them where the starting square is...or not.

Variation:
Play in teams.  The children still take turns, team by team, but during their turn they will get some assistance from their fellow team members.

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These games have been thoroughly tested and loved by Sunday School, Youth Group, after school Kids Club and Holiday Bible Club groups, a school class and a group of adults over the last twelve months.

Yours to use.  You're very welcome.
 

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.

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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