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

31 December 2009

Was 2009 the Year of Optimism?

The other day I was perusing my notebook and found a list labelled "2009". Here's what was on that list in bold print - and how I went in plain text.

JOBS
Put shelf and mirror up in guest toilet. No. Still on the list.
Smoke alarms in boys' bedrooms. No. But now that we're back into fire season it is on my mind to get onto this again.
Clear out spare room. No.
Sort out the garden. Well, I've made a very small start.

GOALS
Bible reading and prayer.
Being more regular, more thorough, more disciplined...it's a given on any list of goals for any year. Always room for improvement.
Be more deliberate about housework. Mmmmmm...I did sweep the floor under the table where the boys eat a lot.
Read other books - alternating fiction and non fiction. Gave up fiction except during the holidays. Small success with non fiction.
Respond to letters and emails from missionaries by email as soon as the letters have arrived. Alas, no.
Write one encouraging letter per week. Had a good month in May. Otherwise, I did what I vowed I wouldn't do. I let blogging get in the way of letter writing.

Well, at least I have saved myself a job. I don't need to think of any New Year's resolutions for 2010. I can just recycle the list from this year!!!

When I started this blog at the beginning of the year I mentioned that a friend and I had declared 2009 to be The Year of Optimism. Looking at my list of underachievements for the year you might guess that The Year of Optimism didn't live up to its designation.

But no. In fact it has been The Year of Optimism. And I think there are probably three good reasons.

Firstly, my husband and I have been married for eleven year and this has been the first year of our marriage that has been uneventful. This is the first year in eleven years that we were able to stand together, looking out on the horizon of the year ahead at the beginning of the year, without anticipating the death of a parent, the birth of a child, moving house, moving church, leaving a job, swapping from worker to student or student back to worker, a diagnosis of a serious illness, having to make a major decision that was going to be life changing. We were looking at our first ever ordinary year together. Which is not to say that stuff didn't happen. It did. But we were able to face the year more steadily because there was nothing looming when the year started.

Secondly, our youngest boy has been emerging from the toddler years. Joy. We have entered that golden five or so years when both boys are neither toddlers nor teenagers. Which again, is not to say that stuff won't happen. But as a primary school teacher, I know the primary years to be a steady time of a child's life. And we are loving it.

Thirdly, I think in declaring that this year would be the Year of Optimism up front has given me an incentive and a determination to think optimistically. It's a little trick of the mind really, a way of training the brain. Yes, there were times when I felt far from optimistic this year. However for the most part, if I said it was The Year of Optimism then I was determined that I would finish it being able to say that yes, it was The Year of Optimism.

So what of next year? The United Nations has declared it The International Year of Biodiversity - a celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives where the world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth.

I'm going for something much simpler.
2010 - The Year of..
Yes, you'll have to come back tomorrow to find out.

28 December 2009

My Bible Reading Plan for 2010

Ever since I became a Christian I have endeavoured to read through the Bible once a year. I became more convinced of the importance of doing this in 2001 when I took a year off work to do some study at a theological college. While at college the principal commented that he reads through the Bible each year because it is his major tool of the trade. Now I am not the principal of a theological college, although one might argue that being a mother makes you the deputy principal of your own little theological college at home. But whether I am a principal or a mother or anything else, I think it's important to keep reading the Bible in a systematic, organised and disciplined way and my personal preference, at least for daily devotional reading, is to keep sweeping through the Scriptures year by year.

In terms of being systematic and organised, I have used various reading plans, some written by me and some written by others such as:
  • Starting at the beginning and reading through to the end
  • Alternating an OT book with a NT book
  • Systems that get you through the OT once and the NT twice, book by book
  • A plan that did OT book, NT book, a few Psalms, a gospel and then repeating the cycle - designed to read through the gospels many times in order to really get to know Jesus. This one was a two year project.
Now I said that I have endeavoured to read through the Bible each year. Some years have been successful and some have been anything but successful - if the measure is to get to the end of the plan by 31st December each year. There is always benefit, as long as the Scriptures are read but I have certainly floundered these last few years to get all the way through any plan I find or devise. And I always get bogged down in the same spot. Yes, you know which spot it is. Those prophets! And it has become SUCH a problem that I knew I needed to do something drastic about it in the new year.

So I have been praying about an approach to take in 2010. At the time I was praying about this, Jean wrote a post at Equip where she linked to Justin who provided this LIST of Bible reading plans in this post. (I know, too many links there! THE link to follow is probably the one in capital letters. Thank you Jean for finding this really helpful resource. Praising God for you again and again.)
In surveying the possibilities, I have decided to head in a different direction and use THIS reading plan for the year ahead. Rather than go through whole books at a time, it provides a portion of OT, a portion of NT and a Psalm every day and in the year gets through the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice. The OT and NT books are covered in sequential order so it isn't a wacky, all-over-the-place reading system, but it does break up the books each day which means that I won't have to fear wading into the Prophets for weeks and weeks on end, which does my unfit brain and timid heart in every time.
I haven't read the Bible like this in years. I'm looking forward to it. I'll let you know how it goes.

25 December 2009

A Cross from Bethlehem


I was given this small wooden cross about a month ago from another member of a committee on which we both serve. He picked it up while visiting Israel during October. It's made from the wood of an olive tree from Bethlehem. I showed it to our six year old son and explained where it came from.

With eyes as big as saucers he said, “Is Bethlehem real?”
M: Yes.
R: Where is it?
I show him on the map. I thought we had done that before, but maybe not...
M: Didn’t you think Bethlehem was a real place? Did you think it was just a place in a story?
R: I know that everything in the Bible is true, Mummy. Now I know that it is real too.

We have a mad collection of decorations for our Christmas tree. Our tree, when decorated, is no glitzy, department store, colour co-ordinated masterpiece. But it is beautiful to us because nearly every decoration has a story behind it - a Kindergarten craft masterpiece, a gift from a precious friend, a reminder of a special time - and we love to remember each story and give thanks for each special person and occasion behind the decorations as we decorate our tree. This cross from Bethlehem is one of the treasures, with its own special story, that we have added to our tree this year.

Merry Christmas, and may your hearts be filled with joy as you reflect on the One who was sent - a baby born in Bethelehem on that very first Christmas - to be our Saviour. And rejoice.

21 December 2009

More on the Mince Pies

Here are a few more tips for budding mince pie chefs.

1. Unless you are in the habit of making pies during the year, make a small first batch. Making pies once a year is a bit like making pancakes...the first ones are never very good. Best not to use up too much of your delicious home made fruit mince on dud pies.

2. Use an egg wash on the inside of the lids to stick them down and an egg and milk wash on the top of the lids. An egg wash top and bottom is just too...well...egg-y.

3. If you live in the southern hemisphere, they are best cooked first thing in the morning or else in the evening when it isn't so hot. It takes me about an hour in the preparation...and having pastry out on the bench for an hour in the heat just doesn't work. If you must bake in the heat of the afternoon, keep your pastry under a damp tea towel.

4. Trim excess pastry off the edges of the pies before you put them in the oven for the perfect pie.

5. If your fruit mix is nice and juicy, the juice will inevitably bubble out of the air holes during the cooking and run all over your pastry lids. But once the pies are out of the oven and have cooled just a little, you can actually wipe off the juice with a clean damp cloth for near perfect results. And when dusted with icing sugar they'll win awards.

6. For those, such as myself, who use pre-rolled pastry from the supermarket DO NOT use low fat pastry! Even if you have spent an hour lining your pie tins, putting in the mix, putting on the lids and getting them all ready for oven and you check the cooking time on the packet one more time and discover that you mistakenly purchased low fat pastry, even still DO NOT PROCEED hoping that it will all be OK, as I did with my second batch of 24, no less! IT WILL NOT WORK. They will not be nice. Pastry is not meant to be low fat. Low fat pastry cooks into a cardboard-like consistency and is a complete waste of good fruit mince.

With these six tips, along with the right fruit mince, you have everything you need to know to make the real deal. Enjoy.

Garden Update # 8

There hasn't been a whole lot of work on the garden lately. Since the weather warmed up most of my gardening time has been directed at keeping the lawn watered. But there are a couple of little things to report.

Firstly, an addition to the pot plants since the coriander came to its end...


...in the form of a lettuce for summer!


And because it is Christmas, a hydrangea...


...here at my spot for sitting for a quiet moment...


...because like the coriander in the pots, the marigold that used to be on this table didn't make it!

01 December 2009

Real Hope


Some real hope at Christmas - because without Christmas there is no Easter and without Easter we are without hope. This is a beautiful song by Colin Buchanan. The music is gorgeous too but it is deeply refreshing to the read the words as stand alone poetry. Be encouraged this Christmas.

Real Hope

It was a real birth in real stable
In a real dusty Judean town
And a real mother nursed her precious baby
And a bunch of wide-eyed shepherds gathered round
And real angles sang “Glory!”
For real hope was born that day.

I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
For the one who died a real death, for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
And throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope
That my Saviour won for me

It was a real life
He had real friends
He walked shoulder to shoulder with the lost
He wept real tears
For the fallen ones
And he anguished over sin's dreadful cost
And on a real cross he cried, "Forgive them!"
As his real life drained away.

I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
For the one who died a real death, for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
And throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope
That my Saviour won for me

I have real fears
I do real sin
And I hurt the ones I cherish and adore
But the real mercy
Of the true God
Sees the filthy fallen purchased and restored
And I cry "My God - O fill me
With a heart completely yours!"

I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
For the one who died a real death, for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
And throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope
That my Saviour won for me


(And nothing now until Monday. I am onto my once a week with a few exceptions regime until February.)

29 November 2009

A Bit of an Update

I sometimes wonder how I come across in this blog. I know I write about how it would be good to be reading the Bible every day and praying heaps and being nice and kind to everyone and grateful for everything and...

And it would be good to be doing all this and running the perfect household (although I am sure if you looked at the photos here you won't be under any illusions!) and so on and so forth but lest you think I'm showing off and being...

...here's an update on some of the things I said I'd do or try in the course of this blog in recent months and how it has really gone!!

The Garden - well, I think I've been quite honest about the weeds! I did get onto mulching but all those bags of mulch I bought covered about a QUARTER of the area...my conservation of volume is HOPELESS...and I didn't really get back to it after that. That was early October. Having said that, the pots of herbs are doing really well. I think plants in pots are my forte! So if you are thinking of buying me a Christmas present, a big terracot pot would be lovely!!!

The Bible Reading Plan - got off to a great start but I confess I was overcome by the prophets. It's all fantastic and great to learn about the God who judges (and judge He did and judge He will) but I reached a point where, if I didn't change tack, I wasn't going to read the Bible for days at a time because I was so overwhelmed. So that plan was abandoned, I headed back into the New Testament for some refreshment and am looking forward to the Gospels during December. Stay tuned for 2010's plan (and how it goes!)

Praying before answering the door - getting better at doing this. At the very least, certainly pausing to draw breath and open the door smiling. And mostly answering the phone nicely too. Although one day, after about a million calls between 5 and 6pm I did pick up the last call in that series and bark down the phone. It was my dear sister who thinks I am too officious when I answer the phone! That time "officious" would have been a kind description!

Christmas cards - I said in the September post about Christmas that if one started then and wrote two cards a day, one could have 150 cards written before December even arrived. I actually wrote two the next day. And no more until a week ago. We send out an embarrassingly large number of cards so while it might have made it easier to start a bit earlier, it just seems strange writing "Merry Christmas" in September. Just like it is weird to have Christmas decorations out in the shops that early. But don't get me started on that one again...

Reading in general - just 15 minutes a day! It's not much to ask!! I got through both church history books and bits of other books but that too fell in a heap. Maybe next year!

The first thought of the day - the deal here was to try to make one's very first thought of the day one that focuses upon God. It is a marvellous, MARVELLOUS idea but I am wondering if it is next to impossible. I have in mind to email CJ Mahaney and ask him whether he was preaching in exaggerated form so that if we aimed high we might manage to make our second, third or fourth thought of the day one about God. I don't think I have managed a FIRST thought as prescribed. But with some discipline I can get going pretty quickly. A lot depends on how early I get to bed the night before.

West Wing - now, I am having great success here. I haven't missed "The Bill" at all. In fact I watched an episode of "The Bill" while we were on holiday - pretty easy to pick it up again but really, I didn't feel like I needed to make a date to watch the following week's episode. But "West Wing"...loving that! Been watching it since the beginning of July and am well into series three. And wondering where I can access grief counselling against the day I run out of episodes, which at current rate will occur about this time next year.

Toilets - and success here! All thanks to a kind person at church who helped out here. The three toilets are out of the entrance hall and installed where they should be. Yes, we have three toilets in this house!!! And what is better, they all work. What a joy. I started taking photos to blog it but then I pulled myself back into line. A post about toilets? I don't think so!

So to summarise, my life is full of good intention and long lists of things that haven't been ticked off. Which leaves plenty of scope for new year's resolutions!!!

27 November 2009

Christmas Cooking Meme


Food is a great part of Christmas so here is a chance to share your favourite festive recipe. Here are the rules.

1. Link to the person who ‘tagged’ you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Post your favourite Christmas recipe - something tradionally festive or something that has become a tradition in your house.
4. Tag four people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged by commenting on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know the entry is posted on your blog.
7. Post your own Christmas recipe within a week of being tagged to keep this on the move.

And so to get the ball rolling, here is the best home made fruit mince recipe in the world (my Mum's) to put in your own home made, delicious fruit mince pies - or give jars of it away for Christmas presents! You'll never use supermarket fruit mince or buy mince pies ever again.

Mum's Fruit Mince

2 x 350gm packets of mixed fruit (or your mix of sultanas, currants, raisins, glace cherries and other dried fruit)
extra chopped glace cherries (as many as you like - and this is optional)
1 teaspoon spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large green apple - grated
grated rind of one orange
grated rind and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons of melted butter (the recipe used to say 80gm of grated suet. But suet is not readily available and actually, if you know what suet is, butter is probably preferable!)
2 tablespoons (or more) brandy

* Mix it all up and bottle it in sterilised jars. It's best to let it brew for a month or two but I have been known to make it two weeks before Christmas and it still tastes good.
* It's a good idea to tip your jars up every week or so until you use it to mix the liquid through the fruit.
* If you are running late, a little extra brandy perks it up in a hurry!
* This will keep indefinitely in the fridge so if you don't use it all this year, use what is left as a starter to next year's fruit mince.
* This recipe doubles easily and successfully. I made mine last week and tripled it for this year!
* Get new packets of cinnamon, nutmeg and spice. Don't use last year's unfinished spices. They'll just be dust.
* When making the actual pies I use pre-rolled shortcrust pastry and make them in (big and little) muffin trays. Seal the lids with egg and milk, cut a tiny air hole in the lid and glaze the lids with the egg and milk mixture too. Serve pies with a dusting of icing sugar.

So - over to you! I tag Nicole, Sharon, Simone and Rina. Gone in four fairly different directions so we will see where we end up. I'll try to do a wrap up of recipes before Christmas.

25 November 2009

The Month Before Christmas


'Tis the month before Christmas,
And all through this house,
Many things are a-stirring -
Not just that mouse.

So for December this blogger,
Will post once a week,
So that by Christmas day,
She's not screaming, "EEK!!"

And this continues through January,
While we have summer fun,
Because the kids have more joy,
When my computer's not on.

So the day will be Monday,*
That I'll post once a week.
That will be the day.
If you wish, take a peek.

And as Christmas approaches,
And the excitement unfurls,
Remember it's Jesus
Who brings joy to the world.

*There will be the odd exception. Blogger's prerogative.

23 November 2009

Infusing Christmas with Christ for Kids - Practicalities

So, bearing in mind the principles of out-celebrating the secular world, praying about our activities, teaching the truths of the Christmas story repetitively with variety and creating gospel-laden traditions, what are some practical things to do with children to steer them towards the real meaning Christmas when they are surrounded by secular commercialism?

Here are a few things we came up with at the Bible study. But before you read on, may I issue the standard health warning that comes with all lists. Do not attempt to do every item on this list in one year. Nor feel guilty if you do none. And so, to the list...

* Make sure you actually read the Christmas story to them!

* Go to a performance of the nativity if there is a good one near you. Or put on a performance at your church. Or put one on at home - act it out, do it with puppets (you can make a pretty good set of nativity story puppets with popsticks, textas and cloth)...

* Emphasise that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus' birthday. So do some of your own family birthday traditions on Christmas day. A popular one is to have birthday cake on the day...and of course the best time to do this is at breakfast because there is often little opportunity after that!! Cake at breakfast time will surely create a great memory! But if you can't stomach cake for breakfast, it makes a child friendly alternative to pudding if the kids aren't up for that.

* Have a nativity set at home. When the children are young have one that isn't too precious and let the children play with it, act out the story with it and generally engage with it. Our nativity set doesn't have a stable so in the past we have found a cardboard box and made our own - a new one each year - and the quality is gradually improving!

* Look for the nativity scenes set up in shopping centres. Make a point of going and looking at them and talking about them with the children. Be seen in the shops doing this! And send a note of thanks to the manager for including it in the decorations. (Couldn't resist an opportunity to write a letter!)

* Have an advent calendar. There are lots of good ideas popping up at Nicole's blog - she is featuring advent calendars during November. These are good for including daily readings, activities, treats and so on and children LOVE them.

* On advent calendars, if you are a godparent or aunty (or uncle...not sure if any men read this blog!) or grandparent...if you have a special child in your life who is not your son or daughter, make an advent calendar for that child and provide the contents for it every year as your special gift to that child. What a great tradition. How did I think of this idea? Well, I didn't! Our boys' godparents (both boys have the same godparents) did. They gave R the actual calendar with the pockets for his first Christmas and every year they supply the goodies for the pockets. It is a wonderful, wonderful gift. Thanks guys!

* Tap into the great Christmas CDs and DVDs that are available. Have Christmas carols playing in your house and car (the real deal, not Jingle Bells!) Colin Buchanan has a great CD/DVD called "The King of Christmas" and in the Veggie Tales series there are some good Christmas DVDs. I also like their "Easter Carol" DVD which is worth a peek - it goes through the Christmas story at one point, making the point that there would be no Easter without Christmas.

* Presents...
Think about church first, presents second?
Just before opening presents, talk about why we have presents - remembering Jesus birthday and reflecting the gifts the wise men brought. (Always interesting to the think about the gifts of the wise men - gold...something precious, frankincense...incense for worship and myrrh...oil for cleansing used in the embalming process, predicting Jesus death.)
Look at the story of St Nicholas (the origins of that man in the red suit) and observe his emphasis on giving rather than receiving. "The Grinch who Stole Christmas" by Dr Seuss also encourages looking in an outwards direction and thinking about what else is important at Christmas rather than just being greedy for gifts.

* Get the children to make Christmas cards that feature the real meaning of Christmas to give to...their teacher, best friend, grandma, their godparents, someone they know and love, someone you would like them to thank.

What other ideas are there?

20 November 2009

Infusing Christmas with Christ for Kids - the Principles

So, I was talking to a women's Bible study group about kids and Christmas last week. The questions they gave me were...

What are some helpful ways to explain what Christmas is really about to children?
What are some useful traditions?
What are some ways to steer children towards the real meaning of Christmas when they are surrounded by secular commercialism?


I started out by talking about four principles to consider as we seek to put Jesus' birthday at the centre of our Christmas celebrations:-

1. Determine to out-celebrate those in the secular world

Christmas is great. Catching up with family and friends, the presents, the cards in the mail, the food, the decorations...it's all good. But for those who know and love Christ there is so much more. This is the day we celebrate that God sent His Son to earth "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16b). The presents, the tinsel and the food are great and fun (and wonderful for creating terrific memories for our children and ourselves!) but the first Christmas day was an INCREDIBLE moment in history. We have much to celebrate. Those who know and love Christ should determine to out-celebrate what the consumerist world presents as Christmas. On that very first Christmas God sent us His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That's as big as it gets.

To that end, I would say, especially to fellow introverts, choose which invitations to functions you accept during December with wisdom. This may come as a contradiction having just said, "Head out there and out-celebrate the rest of the world!" But read on. There are plenty of Christmas parties to attend and if you dwell in the southern hemisphere, there are all those "winding up the year" events too. And have you noticed the "We must catch up before Christmas" phenomenon? I smile every time some sweet friend says this to us and then invites us over to dinner during December. And then, except in exceptional circumstances, I usually say, "December is kind of busy for us. But January is really slow. Can we catch up some time in January instead?" I want to save my energy - and the energy of my family - to really make use of this gospel-laden month. Maybe I miss out on a few fun opportunities (and now I will probably never ever receive a single invitation to anything in December, having put this comment out there on the internet) - but December is a really good month to accept invitations thoughtfully and intentionally.

2. Pray

Before we do anything we should pray - pray that our children will truly grasp what Christmas is all about and that they will embrace the gospel. This could be a special prayer project for December. And we should pray about each of our endeavours to steer our children towards the real meaning of Christmas as we plan them and put them into action.

3. Teaching is all about repetition with variety

If you ever wanted to be a teacher you will need to know the single most important technique that lies at the heart of this job. Get your content and then present it to the children in as many different ways as your time and creativity will allow. That's it! December give us a great opportunity to take the content of Christmas - the birth of Jesus - and present that story in as many ways as possible.

But the key is repetition with variety. The repetition is vital because it has been found that if you are trying to convince someone of something new and important, it can take between seven and twenty exposures to that information before it is taken on board. The variety caters for different learning styles (visual, aural, tactile), capabilities (concrete vs abstract thinking for example) and works on different parts of the brain.

So present the Christmas story in as many ways as your time and creativity will allow.

4. Traditions are important

When I think of Christmas, my immediate childhood memories centre on decorating the Christmas tree and house, opening presents on Christmas morning, the food... And I guess I remember these things because there was a tradition built up around of each of them.

So if we can develop traditions with our children that have the gospel "trapped" within them, then in years to come, when they reflect on their own childhood recollections of Christmas, they will have a recollection that is infused with Christ. If they are, we pray, still walking with the Lord, this memory will be a warm encouragement to them. If they have wandered, then this will be a gentle prompt. Christmas traditions infused with Christ are powerful. It is well worth spending some time thinking and praying about, planning carefully and implementing Christ-laden Christmas traditions that can occur every year with all the Christmas joy we can muster.

Next time, some practicalities.

18 November 2009

Infusing Christmas with Christ for Kids - The Jesus Storybook Bible

It's official. It is the middle of November and I have turned my mind to Christmas. And thanks be to God, I am excited by the possibilities and not feeling like I am going to drown. Maybe that has something to do with starting six weeks out rather than with only two weeks to go!

In fact I started thinking about Christmas two weeks ago because last week I gave a short talk to a women's Bible study group about kids and Christmas. They gave me these questions as a starting point:

What are some helpful ways to explain what Christmas is really about to children?
What are some useful traditions?
What are some ways to steer children towards the real meaning of Christmas when they are surrounded by secular commercialism?


While I was preparing for this talk I made a wonderful discovery about "The Jesus Storybook Bible" - the subtitle of which is, "Every Story Whispers His Name."


So what's the big discovery?

The format of this children's Bible is such that there are twenty one stories presented from the Old Testament (which "whisper Jesus name") and then the Christmas story is presented in three stories. That makes twenty four stories that will paint an Old Testament backdrop to the birth of Jesus and then tell the story of his birth. Twenty four superb readings to do with our children - one a day - during the month of December leading up to Christmas.

These would make great readings for an advent calendar - just pop a note in each day's pocket which says, "Today's story is..." Or use them as bedtime Bible reading for the month of December or for special stories after breakfast each day during December...

All in an effort to steer our children towards the real meaning of Christmas when they are surrounded by secular commercialism.

Isn't that fantastic! 

14 November 2009

More on Leaning Hard

November's Words of Encouragement was a poem called "Lean Hard." As I said at the time, it's a poem that was shared with me ten or more years ago by a very special friend. And it is a poem I have passed on to others many times. At the beginning of the month I posted it "Source Unknown," exactly as I have shared it so many times, because I didn't know who had penned it. I seem to recall that my friend read it to us from a book about a missionary - and that this missionary didn't seem to know who to ascribe it to either.

But one of life's mysteries has been solved. This very same friend who first shared this piece with me has discovered that it came from the pen of one Octavius Winslow.

And it turns out that it may not actually be a poem - although it reads like poetry - and that there is more to it than was first thought. A search on the internet has turned up a more complete text.

"Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain you."
Psalm 55:22

It is by an act of simple, prayerful faith we transfer our cares and anxieties, our sorrows and needs, to the Lord. Jesus invites you come and lean upon Him, and to lean with all your might upon that arm that balances the universe, and upon that bosom that bled for you upon the soldier's spear! But you doubtingly ask, "Is the Lord able to do this thing for me ?" And thus, while you are debating a matter about which there is not the shadow of a shade of doubt, the burden is crushing your gentle spirit to the dust. And all the while Jesus stands at your side and lovingly says, "Cast your burden upon Me and I will sustain you. I am God Almighty. I bore the load of your sin and condemnation up the steep of Calvary, and the same power of omnipotence, and the same strength of love that bore it all for you then, is prepared to bear your need and sorrow now. Roll it all upon Me! Child of My love! Lean hard! Let Me feel the pressure of your care. I know your burden, child! I shaped it—I poised it in My own hand and made no proportion of its weight to your unaided strength. For even as I laid it on, I said I shall be near, and while she leans on Me, this burden shall be Mine, not hers. So shall I keep My child within the encircling arms of My own love. Here lay it down! Do not fear to impose it on a shoulder which upholds the government of worlds! Yet closer come! You are not near enough! I would embrace your burden, so I might feel My child reposing on My breast. You love Me! I know it. Doubt not, then. But, loving me, lean hard!"


As found at Grace Gems here.

10 November 2009

Finishing Well and Living Well in the Meantime

When my dad was dying, the last lucid conversation we shared was him reliving an event from the times of my childhood.

Just before my husband's dad died, his last utterance was in his native language, not English.

And it seems that in losing one's memory the short term memory is the first thing affected - the long term memory is stronger.

Why am I thinking about these things? Recently a dear man at church asked me if I would put together a file of verses from Scripture so that he could read them to his wife who is now in care with various conditions including dementia. It was a privilege and a huge responsibility. And it got me wondering...

What Scriptures do I want read to me when I move from independence back into the state of dependence that old age or serious ill health may bring?
Will my knowledge of the Bible and my love of God be strong enough that these things will stay with me when all else goes?
What will I default to when my life is drawing to a close?

In thinking about these things it seems to me that we have the opportunity to finish well. But it means work now - but good work - work that will feed and nurture us now as we prepare for the future. It means being steeped in the Word of God - reading the Bible, praying in its truths, memorising key portions. It means laying solid foundations for the future.

And it seems it IS possible to finish well. Be encouraged in reading this:

John Piper recently recounted his father’s unwavering faith, even in his closing years:
Even in his final years of dementia, he rejoiced. In the last month that he was able to keep a journal (April of 2004), he wrote,

“I’ll soon be 86 but I feel strong and my health is good. God has been exceedingly gracious and I am most unworthy of His matchless grace and patience. The Lord is more precious to me the older I get.”

Read that final line again, slowly. What an amazing sentence—even in the midst of dementia, he felt the increasing preciousness of the presence of Christ.*


It is another example of making use of the good times we have to prepare for the harder times that will surely come upon us. And we can do so with good courage. It says in Lamentations 3:22-27:

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself,'The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.'
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young."


And in being busy about laying good, Biblical foundations,we will surely benefit in the meantime. As we grow in years we become set in our ways. Yes, you young things who read blogs...it is true!!! Alas, it is true. Speaking from my position here in the early forties, one does become set in one's ways. I am, after all, the one who took her own nice mug on holidays for those holiday cups of tea! It's a trivial example, but wouldn't it be good, as we become increasingly set in our ways, to become set in Biblical ways. Just as we have the opportunity to finish well, we also have the opportunity to make our default position one that is Biblical.

A friend's mother put it more plainly. She said, "If I lose my mind, the thing I want to stick is Scripture." Me too.

There is work to do...and it will be a joy.
* Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, p. 11 as found on John Piper's Desiring God site.

08 November 2009

Sunday Morning

Here is a door.



This is where we go to church.
And on the door is a frame that displays a treasure.


One of the things it says is,

"Whosoever thou art that enterest this church, leave it not without one prayer to God for thyself, for those who minister and those who worship here. Pray for one another."

Most Sunday mornings I don't even notice the treasure on the door. I can be into my second or third conversation with someone before I even reach the threshold. Or else I am in hot pursuit of the advanced guard - R and N - to make sure they aren't persuading too many kind souls to share lollies with them or bothering (in well intentioned ways) those trying to get ready for the service.

I can go many Sundays without noticing this treasure. But when I am at church mid-week dropping something off, collecting something or doing some chore and I am at the door on my own, I read it. I read it every time because it is worth reading many times and being reminded.

This too inspires me.

It belongs to this building.

05 November 2009

Saturday Night

When I look at a work of art the first thing I notice is the overall picture rather than particular details. When I think back on books I've read, both because I am a big picture sort of person and also because of my hazy memory, I tend to recall an overall impression rather than specific details.

Interestingly though, there is a book that I read maybe ten years ago and from it I often remember one specific sentence. In his autobiography Just as I Am, Christian evangelist Billy Graham quotes his now late wife Ruth as declaring in the early days of their courtship,

"Saturday nights I dedicate to prayer and study, in preparation for the Lord's day."

Billy Graham then writes,

"What kind of a romance could a college man have with a woman who said a thing like that? Dating Ruth Bell had to creative. And I did my best."*

Ruth Bell Graham's declaration that she set aside Saturday evenings to pray and read the Bible in preparation for Sunday sunk into my heart when I read it and it has always stayed with me. It's never raised guilt in me, even though I have only rarely used a Saturday evening like this.

Somehow though it inspires me.

* "Just as I Am" by Billy Graham p. 71

01 November 2009

Lean Hard




Child of My love, lean hard,
And let Me feel the pressure of thy care,
I know thy burden, child; I shaped it,
Poised in Mine own hand, made no proportion
In its weight to thine unaided strength;
For even as I laid it on I said,
"I shall be near, and while she leans on Me,
This burden shall be Mine, not hers;
So shall I keep My child within the circling arms,
Of Mine own love." Here lay it down, nor fear
To impose it on a shoulder which upholds
The government of worlds. Yet closer come,
Thou art not near enough; I would embrace thy care,
So I might feel My child reposing on My breast.
Thou lovest me? I know it. Doubt not, then,
But, loving Me, lean hard.
by Octavius Winslow

29 October 2009

A Good First Impression - The Visual

I'm not the most visually aware person in the world. If something is not right, I am more likely to pick it up by the tone of your voice rather than your appearance - by the dynamics between the people in your home rather than the state of your home. I'm quite a perceptive person, but making use of visual cues is not dominant in my armoury of perception.

However I have learned that this is not so for all people. I have a friend named Helen who is very visually aware. One peek at her blog and you will see why. Helen's world is all about colour and form and balance and beauty. Where my table has battered old placemats and this morning's crumbs from the toast, Helen's table has a quilted table runner and a scented candle burning. Helen is a very grounded, practical person. But the visual impression is important.

And time spent with Helen is rubbing off on me. I realise that even though the visual aspect is not going to feature strongly for me as I form first impressions, this is not so for all people! So maybe we are not creating a good first impression at my place given that when we open the door to you, this is the first thing you will see.


Yep! Three new loos!*
And as you enter and your eyes are averted to the right (having recovered from the initial shock of our indoor water feature) you notice this disaster area...

What a mess! And actually, you don't have to come inside to have your eyes assaulted. Take a look at this "garden bed" right next to our letterbox.


So to show that I am committed to working on this creating a good first impression thing, I am launching a new list in my sidebar...The "Creating a Good Visual First Impression" TO DO List. You can keep an eye on it and see how we are progressing. Mind you, it is lurking quite low on my sidebar at this point, which could cause some to question my commitment to this task...

* Even though the sight of three toilets in our entrance hall is shocking, it does create rather good talking point and it has certainly proved to be a fantastic icebreaker when new people come to visit.

26 October 2009

A Good First Impression - The Relational


Remember the days before computers? Maybe you don't! (If you don't, please don't tell me because that will just make me feel old!) In those days if you were at university you'd work hard at writing out assignments and essays VERY neatly because a good clean assignment created a good first impression on the marker. No, they weren't supposed to mark papers based on presentation - but a marker would be happier about looking at an essay if it didn't look like chicken scrawl. This is the silent power of a good first impression.

We all know about the importance of creating a good first impression. It is widely known that interviewers have often made up their minds about whether or not we will get the job within the first five minutes of the interview. If we get the job then there's that moment we step foot into our new workplace and meet our new colleagues for the first time. And how about the moment when we meet those two particular people...the folk we hope one day will be our parents-in-law? These are the moments in life when we choose our clothes, words and demeanour very carefully.

Those big moments of creating a good first impression fortunately don't come along too often. Just as well - I don't think I could cope with the stress! But there are good first impression moments to be seized upon in every day life too. And making use of them can make a big difference in our relationships.

Here are some daily "first impression" moments that come to mind...

* Greeting my family first thing in the morning.
* Greeting someone who knocks on my door.
* Walking into church on Sunday.
* Entering a room to join a group of friends.
* Answering the telephone. (My dear sister thinks the manner in which I answer the phone is way too officious!)
* Smiling and saying a warm hello to the person who is about to serve you in a shop.
* Greeting my husband when he comes home from work.

There is a bit of theme here - greetings. We set the tone for time spent relating with people in the way we greet them. A greeting marks a fresh start in a new round of interactions. It is a small but significant opportunity to create a new first impression.

At one time I worked with a teacher whose husband frequently collected her from work. I noticed that she always greeted him with a warm, "I'm really pleased to see you" smile. Always. It didn't matter what sort of day it had been. I observed that she would actually prepare herself for this daily after-work greeting. She would see him approach, pause, take a deep breath (especially if it had been a bad day) and prepare her demeanour to ensure that the first contact with her beloved was warm, genuine and loving.

I am not suggesting that we walk about the place with false, plastic smiles on our faces all the time. If things are bad then things are bad. But except for the really patient souls amongst us, don't we weary of the one who greets us with a downcast expression every time or who answers the phone with a sigh every time? We are worn down before we even start.

Back to that teacher. I am sure it wouldn't have been too long into the journey home and she would have been telling her husband about the good, the bad and the ugly of her day. But I am also sure that he would have been ready to listen to her, no matter what she had to say, because she had created a good first impression - a warmth and respect - that invited relationship.

The quality and mutuality of our communications can be greatly enhanced when we start on the right foot...if we create a good first impression...an impression that says something about valuing the relationship. All it takes is pausing to think, taking a deep breath if necessary, smiling and saying hello with some warmth. Just as an interview can go so much better for putting in the preparation to create a good first impression.

By the way, in my final year of university I invested in a Canon portable electric typewriter. It cost me a fortune in the one-use-only disposable ribbon cartridges and as I couldn't touch type at the time, a 3000 word essay took FOREVER to type up. But I'd say there was a good 10% increase in my marks. Nothing like a good first impression, even for an essay!

23 October 2009

Bursting with Thanksgiving


 

To be bursting with thanksgiving is a true witness of the Spirit within us. For the voice of thanksgiving speaks without ceasing of the goodness of God. It claims nothing. It sees no merit in man’s receiving but only in God’s giving. It marvels at his mercy. It is the language of joy because it need look no longer to its own resources.

The Christian rejoicing in this blessing of a thankful heart will have his eyes fixed upon the right person and the right place, Christ at God’s right hand. He cannot be taken up with himself without being immediately reminded that everything he possesses is the gift of God.

From R.C. Lucas, The Message of Colossians and Philemon (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 1980), 93-94

21 October 2009

Some more Holiday Survival Tips

While "The One to Whom I Will Look" was quietly unfolding we had a week away on holidays.
Here's a peek.

This patch of forest was one block away from where we stayed.


As well as forests, there were many beautiful beaches. We went for a swim most afternoons here.


Well, the boys splashed around in the ocean, my husband went in once and otherwise we adults stood at the water's edge, ankle deep, watching the boys...the ocean, straight off the Antarctic in October is no place for me!


We took the boys to a farm for some up close and personal time with all sorts of groovy farm animals.


And one afternoon we walked along a skinny bush track down a valley into the most amazing karri forest. I gave the boys the camera to keep them amused while I just stood there, breathed deeply and marvelled at God's creation.


This trip away helped me to further refine my top ten tips for surviving school holidays, with particulare reference to trips away.

So here are five additional holiday tips when travelling away from home.

1. If booking a holiday house on the computer, don't be tricked by photos on the internet. Some clever photography could potentially make what is in actual fact an average house look amazing!

2. If the holiday house you have chosen has bottled gas for cooking, heating and keeping the showers hot, check that the spare bottle actually has gas in it when you arrive. Give yourself plenty of time to work out a contingency plan before all the gas runs out (on the weekend), especially if the spare bottle is empty and especially if you know the owners of the house are overseas!

3. If you have room in the car (and we did because for the first time in six years we didn't pack a portacot, pram or stroller in the boot!) take your favourite kitchen knives, tea pot, coffee pot and mugs for happy food preparation and lovely moments with good tea and coffee in just the right cup. Holiday house cups are notoriously chunky and that just won't do!!

4. Bring pre-cooked meals. A bit before you leave on holiday, when you cook a lasagna, cook two and freeze one. And a curry. And a meal's worth of bolognese sauce. And a casserole. Take them all with you (frozen and in a good esky) and then you don't have to worry about cooking while you are away. (I didn't actually do this but a friend of mine who has also been on holidays recently did - and if you aren't travelling too far I think this has merit.)

5. And the big budgetting tip...When having lunch at the country town bakery just buy one sausage roll for the two small boys to share. If they eat it all and are still hungry (leaving space for the meringues - and a even an enormous meringue doesn't take up that much room) you can always buy a second sausage roll. Buying them a sausage roll each up front means that you effectively throw away a whole sausage roll between the two of them if a parent doesn't want to eat the leftovers. (And there isn't much to commend a half eaten, cold sausage roll - even to the most seasoned of parents.)

18 September 2009

Computer and General Hardware Update

Well, my computer is dead. We won't be getting it repaired. It's just not an option. A new one has been ordered. I was a bit reluctant to do this - not an item we budgeted for this year - but it will be nice to have a new one all the same. It will be here in about three weeks time. Then there is setting up time. Blog life will be a bit random, as it has been this last couple of weeks, until then.

It has been quite a year for hardware...

The washing machine started leaking. I have worked out that it can still be used (without leaking) if I don't use it on FULL LOAD. That's OK.

The fridge started leaking too. That was repaired when a man came to fix the chest freezer which suddenly stopped working one day. (That was a problem given it was full of frozen casseroles, soups, pasta sauce and bargain priced meat and bread.) He tried to repair it by doing the usual sorts of things a repair man would do and when all was unsuccessful he said, "With this particular brand there is one other thing I can try, which has worked in the past. It is a bit unorthodox and it may break the motor but then the motor isn't working now so you probably have nothing to lose." And so he fixed it by kicking the motor. It is still working and the fridge still seems to be going along OK too.

Then today the microwave died. Just last night I was wondering if any households actually have TWO microwaves. I am sure I could use two microwaves simultaneously most evenings! But tonight I won't be using any. It just doesn't pay to think greedy thoughts.

10 September 2009

It is Worse than I Originally Thought!

Not only is the hard drive on my computer failing, the motherboard is also failing. And the cost to replace both is almost as much as the cost to buy a new computer. So while I can keep blogging on my husband's computer when it is not in use (ie. not as frequently) I am otherwise off-air (ie. NO EMAILING!!!) until further notice (ie. until we work out what to do next.)

Computers - great when they are working, paralysing when they are not.

And this just illustrates rather shockingly to me once again the extent to which we live in a throw-away society. The dying laptop is maybe five years old and it is as good as dead. Mmmm...

09 September 2009

Recipe Tag - Toblerone and Berry Cheesecake

Ally started a recipe meme with an amazing recipe for Pumpkin and Apple Risotto. Nicole tagged me with her Chicken Mikaela recipe and I am delighted both to be tagged and also that Nicole's recipe included cream.

The rules of this meme are:-
1. Choose one ingredient from my recipe and post a recipe using this ingredient on their blog, linking back to the previous blogs that have posted a recipe.
2. Then tag four new people, and we will see how it grows.
3. To keep it exciting please post within a week of receiving the tag.

When I first thought about which recipe to share, I was going to go for the obvious and piggyback on the chicken ingredient with the very delicious Pumpkin and Chicken stirfry. But the inclusion of cream in Nicole's recipe means that I cannot go past...

TOBLERONE AND BERRY CHEESECAKE


1 cup of plain biscuit crumbs
1/3 cup of melted butter
2 x 250gm blocks of philadelphia cheese
2 teaspoons of gelatine dissolved in 1/2 cup of boiling water
3/4 cup of caster sugar
200gm (or more) of melted toblerone
1/2 cup of cream
1 cup of frozen or fresh berries

Mix the biscuits and butter together and press into a 20cm spring form pan. Put in the fridge to set.
Beat the cream cheese until soft.
Add the dissolved gelatine, caster sugar, cream and most of the melted chocolate and blend until smooth.
Pour over the base. Squiggle the last bits of melted chocolate over the top for great effect.
Chill.
When serving, pile the berries on top. (I usually use frozen berries and I don't even bother to defrost them. They look nice coming to the table slightly frosted and have thawed by the time you have served up.)
To go right over the top, serve with cream.

This makes a good sized cheesecake. If you want an ABUNDANT cheesecake then use three blocks of philly cheese and increase the other ingredients by about a half. This recipe is not an exact science so a little more or less of any of the ingredients works. Or double the quantities and use a bigger tin. It's fairly flexible.

Enjoy.

I'm going to tag Sharon, Helen, Mrs Edwards and Matt. Go to it!

05 September 2009

Two Families - One Saviour


It was the funeral this morning for a man from our church. He had been ill and disabled for many years following a car accident and he'd been especially unwell this last year. His death was one that brings with it relief (for him and his family) but also great sorrow.

This morning I stood in the kitchen preparing Saturday morning breakfast dressed a little differently from most Saturday mornings. Instead of the usual Saturday morning attire of jeans and a windcheater, I was in a black skirt, black tights, black shoes, a white shirt, cream jumper and pearls. My husband came in wearing his black suit.

And yet I prepared our usual Saturday morning breakfast - toast with chocolate spread, corn flakes with honey drizzled over the top, meusli with lots of fresh fruit - things we don't necessarily eat during the week because it wouldn't constitute a good start to the day or because it is too slow to prepare or consume in the rush to get to school. And the boys came out of their rooms in their play clothes, excited because they were spending the morning with the family of R's best friend while we were at the funeral. They turned on some music and started to dance while they waited for breakfast.

This morning's choice of dance music? Colin Buchanan's CD Real Hope - track one - "Jesus My Lord" - played four times in a row. Here are the lyrics*.

Jesus my Lord, my God, my all,
Hear me my Saviour when I call.
Hear me and from Your dwelling place,
Pour down the riches of Your grace.

Jesus my Lord,
You I adore,
Oh make me love You more and more.

Jesus what did You find in me,
That you would deal so lovingly?
How great is the joy that You have brought,
So far exceeding hope or thought.

Jesus my Lord,
You I adore,
Oh make me love You more and more.

Jesus if You shall be my song,
To You my heart and soul belong.
All that I have, all that is Thine
And You are my Saviour, You are mine.

Jesus my Lord,
You I adore,
Oh make me love You more and more.
It is an amazingly happy and upbeat song. I love it when we start the day with that song. Even more, I love it when my children choose to start the day with that song.

Today one family started the day knowing they would be laying their their beloved husband and father to rest. Another danced. But both families started the day trusting in Jesus - both confident that Jesus is Lord and that today another saint is with Him in Paradise.

* Lyrics by Henry Collins

01 September 2009

Justification

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

And this is what John Stott says about that wonderful verse in his commentary* from the "Bible Speaks Today" series.

We are 'justified in Christ.' That is, our justification takes place when we are united to Christ by faith. And someone who is united to Christ is never the same person again. Instead, he is changed. It is not just his standing before God which has changed; it is he himself – radically, permanently changed. To talk of his going back to the old life, and even sinning as he pleases, is frankly impossible. He has become a new creation and begun a new life...

...Once we have been united to Christ in His death, our old life is finished; it is ridiculous to suggest that we could ever go back to it. Besides, we have risen to a new life. In one sense, we live this new life through faith in Christ. In another sense, it is not we who live it at all, but Christ who lives it in us. And, living in us, He gives us new desires for holiness, for God, for heaven. It is not that we cannot sin again; we can. But we do not want to. The whole tenor of our life has changed. Everything is different now, because we ourselves are different. See how daringly personal Paul makes it; Christ 'gave himself for me.' 'Christ…lives in me.' No Christian who has grasped these truths could ever seriously contemplate reverting to the old life.

* "The Message of Galatians" by John R. W. Stott BST pp.65-66

22 August 2009

Garden Update # 7

Here are the herbs when they were first put in their pots in the middle of June.


And here they are now. (L-R Coriander, Sage & Thyme, Parsley, Mint and Basil)

The basil is a bit poorly but I think it is just too chilly and wet around here...it's not at all mediterranean at the moment! I have decided to work towards getting another big pot down the track to plant the thyme out by itself. The herbs however are happy and it has been fun to use them in our cooking.

Now here is the big news for the garden this week!


I have sectioned off the end of "the patch" for our produce section. And the four strawberries are in. The boys planted two each.

We have been given some seed potatoes which would do well in the remainder of this section. I quite like the idea of putting them in because they don't have to be buried too deeply but as they grow they will help to penetrate the clay 15cm below. My dilemma is that the boys really want to grow corn - and corn is spectacular to observe as it grows. So the question is, how long is the potato season and will it run into the corn season? That is, if we put potatoes in now, will we miss out on the window for corn?

And here is the confession...


If you look on the other side of the produce section, the weeds are still there! Maybe next week...

20 August 2009

Reflections on Reflections


If you click here it will take you to a link from the Desiring God blog of an interview with John Piper about his devotional Bible reading . Reading the interview is a worthwhile endeavour, if for no other reason, than to catch a beautiful glimpse of a humble heart.

But there is plenty there to encourage and inspire as well. Here are some things that caught my attention.

Firstly, John Piper gives about an hour per day to his quiet time. He reads four chapters of the Bible (four chapters per day will get you through the Bible in a year), taking about twenty minutes. He then prays for twenty to thirty minutes, leaving five to ten minutes per day to memorise Scripture. I don't think I have ever thought of using this particular part of the day to memorise Scripture. But I like the idea.

To memorise Scripture he chooses a verse, reads it ten times and then closing his Bible and/or eyes, says it ten times. "Ten times read, ten times said and you've got it, " he says. The next day he repeats that verse five times (for revision) and then moves onto another verse. I tend to go phrase by phrase throughout the day, adding more on as phrases are mastered. I've recently started trying to memorise some Scripture again and generally aim for two verses a week. I wonder if my brain could do a whole verse at a time and that many a week? There's a challenge to exercise the brain!

Piper also explained why he memorises Scripture - and it is not so that he can boast that he can say the whole of Leviticus from memory. And nor is it to merely exercise his brain. (A personal rebuke slipping in there.) No, he memorises Scripture so that at 3pm, when the good effects of his morning quiet time have worn off, he has Scripture in his heart and mind to keep fighting the good fight. He memorises Scripture so that if he is talking to someone about the things of God and he hasn't got his Bible with him, he can still be sharing from the Word of God. John Piper memorises carefully chosen Scripture for the good of his soul and for the good of the souls around him - not to be clever, to have a fit brain or to boast. John Piper is a humble man.

The other thing that caught my eye was that when he prays for his twenty to thirty minutes, he prays for his family, the church and his soul. Whoa! He prays for his family, the church AND HIS SOUL.

Now, this is not rocket science, but I don't think (at least during these busy days of life with young children) that I pray for my soul. There is much to pray for with my family and the church. Yes, I pray many prayers of confession. I ask for help a great deal. But I don't think I pray for my soul - that I will grow in my knowledge and love of God, in my trust and dependence upon Him - even though I pray this for lots of other people. I think I hope that through my reading, thinking, prayerfulness for others, actions, the need to confess that invariably follows my actions and so on, that my soul will just grow...

Life as one of God's children is such an adventure. There is always something more to consider. And that is good. This interview contains plenty to encourage those new to reading the Bible right through to seasoned readers of the Scriptures. If having a quiet time is a part of your life - or you want it to be - then the few minutes it will take to read this article will be time well spent.

17 August 2009

The Tyranny of Fiction

My reading time is mostly at bed time. I try to read for about fifteen minutes – sometimes it is more and sometimes it is less. In between volumes one and two of The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzales, I read a lovely novel – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.

I noticed (once again - this is not new) that when I am reading non fiction I read for shorter lengths of time. This is not because the subject matter is boring. It just takes more concentration and at the end of the day I run out of steam more quickly. This has the built in benefit of turning out the light and going to sleep in reasonable time for a fresh start in the morning.

Fiction however is easier to read. I read more. The nights become later. Then it becomes harder to get up in the morning. The morning quiet time becomes compromised. In the end I decide to read at length, in part because I can't resist a good plot, but more so just to get the novel finished so that routine and order can be restored.

So there is nothing for it but to make the decision to limit fiction to the times when we are away on holidays…and I know exactly what I am going to read when we go away later in the year…for the next year or two until our boys are bigger/more independent and the days free up a little.

Which feels OK.

As I said, the source of my literary distraction this time was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which is an epistolary novel. No surprises that I would love a novel crafted entirely from letters.

This one is a delight. Set just after World War II, it is the correspondence between Juliet Ashton, a writer from London, and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – and then later between Juliet and her friends in London, as she finds herself in Guernsey meeting the recipients of her earlier letters. It is a gentle, quietly humorous read with gorgeous characters, based on life in German occupied Guernsey during the war.

Here is a glimpse, with some sage advice for would be writers.

Dear Sidney,

Elizabeth's cottage was plainly built for an exalted guest, because it's quite spacious. There is a big sitting room, a bathroom, a larder and a huge kitchen downstairs. There are three bedrooms, and best of all, there are windows everywhere, so the sea air can sweep into every room.

I've shoved a writing table by the biggest window in my sitting room. The only flaw in this arrangement is the constant temptation to go outside and walk over to the cliff edge. The sea and the clouds don’t stay the same for five minutes running and I'm frightened I’ll miss something if I stay inside. When I got up this morning, the sea was full of sun pennies – and now it seems to be covered in lemon scrim. Writers ought to live far inland or next to the city dump if they are ever to get any work done, Or perhaps they need to be stronger-minded than I am.
*

Sadly this is a one-off as the author died just before the book was published. It's well worth a read – I'd highly recommend it – but only if it isn't going to do a mischief to the good routines of your daily life!

* The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer p. 161

13 August 2009

Proverbs 23:12

Another proverb that stood out for me during my recent tour of Proverbs was this one:

Apply your heart to instruction
and your ears to words of knowledge.


Like most proverbs in this part of the Bible, this one contains two small statements and it's worthwhile slowing down the reading process to take note of both parts.

Apply your heart to instruction.

The striking thing here is the instruction to apply our hearts and not our minds to instruction. It is easy for me to become puffed up by knowledge and I am especially mindful of this as I embark upon cultivating a habit of reading again – particularly given the lion's share of my reading list consists of books with respect to growing in my knowledge of the things of God.

What does this look like in practical terms? Some ideas I have thought of include:-

* Making sure that I keep reading the Bible. That means no reading (books or blogs) unless I have read the Bible. This is not a checklist box that I tick each day. This is truly a decision aimed at guarding my heart.
* Choosing texts carefully – given that my reading time is limited, only reading quality texts that come with high and trustworthy recommendations with the aim of growing in my relationship with God.
* Praying as I read and seeking to find the pastoral application from the content.
* Praying against feeling smug about how much I have read, how smart my reading list looks or thinking I am a "full bottle" on any given topic.

"We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God." 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
Apply your ears to words of knowledge.

This is interesting. We live in a noisy world. Television, radio, telephones and of course conversation all fill the silence. It is easy enough to control what we read but it is less easy to guard what crosses our ears. And yet the second half of this proverb instructs us to be careful about what we listen to – to make sure that what we allow ourselves to hear is instructive and edifying.

So how does this work out in practice?

* I guess the obvious one is to set about the task of listening to good material – good sermons, lectures and talks – on a regular basis.
* And listening to good music with good lyrics too. I love hearing our boys sing scripture and good theology from the songs that we listen to particularly as we travel in the car. If it is beneficial for them then it must be beneficial for us too.
* Being careful with our conversations to make sure that they too are edifying.
* Being careful about television and radio content. Which means being prepared to make use of the OFF switch. Silence is better than bad content.

"…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." Philippians 4:8

Two little statements…so much to think about!

11 August 2009

Troubles with Blogger

Does anyone else have a problem with Blogger putting in and taking away spaces between paragraphs at will? It decides to rearrange the spacing - the results of which generally appear only in the published post - and it just will not allow me to change it back. I seem to have a particular problem with this when I put photos in - even when I put the photos in first and then work my text around them. Can anyone give me a handy hint here so that it doesn't take three times as long as it ought to publish a post, not to mention a ton of unnecessary frustration?

Garden Update # 6

Well, the first thing to say is that things really do grow in this garden because take a look here - all five plants are still alive and check out the weeds!


And look at the lovely jonquils that appeared at the base of one of the gum trees in the garden. These are really lovely.


But back to the weeds. Something will need to be done about this! Methinks that would mean weeding! Ah...the realites of gardening are beginning to hit home. But when that is done I have some bags of shredded paper (free from the local library) to spread over the garden bed...

...followed by the mulch!

Next up are the two new plants.

These grow to about 80cms, whereas the other five plants in thus far will grow to about a metre, so these will look nice in the front. They have a diosma-like vibe but I think they'll be less leggy and more abundant in flowers. New plants of course come with the obligatory bag of gypsum!
Finally, the strawberries.


Last week strawberries dropped in price in the supermarket from about $5 down to $2 per punnet and they have been so sweet and delicious. Consequently we have eaten our way through four punnets of them in the last seven days. N and I decided that if strawberries were in season, then strawberry plants were in order. He saw them first actually. This will be our first foray into growing produce. How hard can it be to grow strawberries after all?

The last little bit of garden news is to show off the swing set. We took delivery of this from some dear friends who are moving house. We are the fourth family to have it. And it has been a real hit. Thanks Helen.