27 February 2009

Navigating around Kings and Chronicles - Tip One

The first tip for navigating around 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles is to know the basic outline of this material. So what exactly is going on?

Well, in short, the twelve tribes who were descended from the sons of Jacob had settled in the Promised Land as the nation of Israel. And one day they decided they wanted a king to rule over them, just like the surrounding nations who all had kings, instead of having God rule over them. So God gave them a king in Saul from the tribe of Benjamin (which didn't really work out) followed by King David from the tribe of Judah (which did work out) followed by his son King Solomon (who experience mixed fortunes.) Here we have three famous heroes of the Bible.

After Solomon things got a bit sticky. His son Rehoboam succeeded him as king however Jereboam, an enemy of Solomon, muscled in and made life difficult. So the nation of Israel split. What was once one Israel split into two smaller nations.

Rehoboam ruled over two tribes – Judah and Benjamin – because God had promised to preserve the family line of David from Judah. Rehoboam's much reduced kingdom is here after referred to as the Southern Kingdom or Judah. (So from Rehoboam onwards, "Judah" includes Judah PLUS Benjamin, not just the single tribe of Judah! You can see why I got confused 15 years ago!!) And throughout 1 & 2 Kings we read of the rule of 20 leaders from Rehoboam in 931BC to Zedekiah's reign, which ended in 586BC. Each of the rulers came from the same family line, descended from David.

Jeroboam ruled over the other ten tribes. His kingdom is referred to as the Northern Kingdom or Israel. (So from Jeroboam onwards, "Israel" is now the ten tribes, not the whole lot! Trickier and trickier!!) And so throughout 1 & 2 Kings we read again of 20 more leaders, this time in the Northern Kingdom from Jeroboam in 931BC to Hoshea whose reign finished in 722BC. These 20 kings came not from one family line but from four different dynasties.

So 1 & 2 Kings then traces the history of the newly formed Judah (Southern Kingdom) until it fell to Babylon and Israel (Northern Kingdom) until it fell to Assyria. The final blow for trickiness is that the story keeps swapping from Judah to Israel and back again, over and over. And if you didn't understand that you were reading about two different nations (as I didn't 15 years ago) it is next to incomprehensible. But that little key of understanding is the first stage to unlocking this section of the Bible.

24 February 2009

Navigating around Kings and Chronicles

Back here I wrote about finishing up 2 Kings in my morning quiet time. Right now I am working my way through its companion books, 1 & 2 Chronicles. And I have to say that even though I love history, it has been pretty hard work. It is not an easy part of the Bible to read and trying to tackle it, bleary eyed at 6:30am after too many late nights is probably not helping my cause. But I am gradually getting through it.

I have a funny memory of an earlier struggle with this section of the Bible. About fifteen years ago I was studying an Introduction to the Bible course by correspondence through Moore College. At one point it was required that you read through 1 & 2 Kings – and preferably understand what was going on.

I remember spending an entire weekend – early Saturday morning until late Sunday afternoon when it was time to go to church – going through these two books trying to get my head around what was going on. At the time I was just learning how the Bible hangs together and I certainly didn't have the resources (in my head or on my bookshelf) that I now have at my disposal for Bible study, so I just went through it over and over again and gradually got a sense of what was going on.

Ironically I recall going to church that evening and even though we weren't doing this particular bit of the Bible at the time, our minister felt that whatever it was we were covering that evening (sorry Andrew – I don’t remember the exact detail of this particular sermon) necessitated a quick tour of the history of Israel in Biblical times, including a potted history of what took place in 1 & 2 Kings! I remember thinking with a degree of despair that I could have saved myself a lot of blood, sweat and tears if had just waited until 5pm on Sunday to sort it all out!! But of course there is always a benefit for putting in the hard yards.

1 & 2 Kings is tricky, as is 1 & 2 Chronicles! But it is such an important part of the Bible as it provides a significant chunk of Biblical history. It IS tricky. But it is also fascinating and well worth the effort. I have learned a few tricks to help navigate my way round these important but difficult books of the Bible. I'd like to share my four best tips with you over the next four posts.

22 February 2009

Gratitude in the Cheese Aisle

Yesterday while I was doing the grocery shopping I found myself inspecting blocks of cheese before choosing one to put in my trolley. If the block wasn't perfect – a bit knocked about or evidence of an air bubble in the vacuum packaging that could show itself as a patch of mould down the track – I returned it to the fridge and picked up another until I found the right one to purchase.

As I was checking the cheese I caught myself wondering why I was doing it. We go through a kilo block of cheese a week (more or less) in our house and so if I see it on sale for less that $10 a block I tend to stockpile it. But cheese hasn't been on sale for a while and there is none stockpiled away. The cheese I bought yesterday will be gone by next weekend. And hey, if it happened to get a little spot of mould on it, I could just cut it off. Right?

But as I was acting out this absurd little charade in the cheese aisle it did cross my mind how wonderful it is that we have the possibility to purchase the perfect block of cheese. And the perfect piece of meat. And the perfect peach. And the freshest of milk and bread. We are certainly blessed with the abundance available to us in our supermarkets. There are a lot of cranky people in supermarkets. And occasionally I am one of them. But really, walking into a supermarket should inspire praise to God for the blessing of abundant good food there at our fingertips.

It was good to be thankful to God in the cheese aisle yesterday.

16 February 2009

May the Mind of Christ my Saviour

This is one of my favourite hymns. There are so many wonderful themes running through it but I especially love the middle verse because it reminds me to be diligent in "filling up" during the good times so that I am ready and prepared to weather the storms, be they mine or others. But I have sung this one on my own and in church in all seasons - and it is always an encouragement. Enjoy.

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
live in me from day to day,
by His love and power and controlling
all I do and say.

May the Word of God dwell richly
in my heart from hour to hour
so that all may see I triumph
only through His power.

May the peace of God my Father
rule my life in everything,
that I may be calm to comfort
sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me
as the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self-abasing,
this is victory.

May I run the race before me
strong and brace to face the foe,
looking only unto Jesus
as I onward go.
Katie Barclay Wilkinson (1859 - 1928)

13 February 2009

How Much Should we Tell the Children?

This has been a sad and difficult week for Australians as the horror of the Victorian bushfires has unfolded. It has been a major topic of discussion with nearly everyone I have spoken to during the week and it has certainly been prominent (and rightly so) in all forms of news coverage. This week it has been relatively easy to shield our two young boys from too much of the detail because we don't watch the news or tend to buy newspapers. Next week however I suspect it will be a little harder because this tragedy will reach the front covers of the magazines that you can't help but see at the checkout in the supermarket.

How much to tell our kids in times like this is one of those grey areas. There are no hard and fast, black and white answers. For example a child who grows up on a farm is exposed to life and death at a much earlier age that your average city kid. And in this particular stiuation a child whose aunty or grandma has died in the bushfires needs to know much more than my three and five year old boys who live on the other side of the country with no connections to the crisis at all. And certainly we have chosen not to tell our two very much at all because they saw a FESA poster at our local pool earlier this year with a photo of a car on fire (advertising material that had nothing to do with the current situation) and our youngest at least was traumatised by that. We know because he couldn't stop talking about it.
I have been a parent for just under six years but I was primary school teacher for fifteen years before that - so I speak more from my experience as a teacher dealing with children older that our sons. In talking to children about difficult things then I have used two rules of thumb.

The first is to proceed with caution. The bottom line for me is that if the subject matter is something we as adults find difficult and distressing, we can expect that most children will have more trouble coping (even though there may not be immediate, visible signs of this) because they don't have the developmental where-with-all to deal with it. We can see the effects of giving children too much information by observing young children who have had too much unguarded television time and have seen inappropriate movies (and here I could tell you a terrible story about a class I had, half of whom saw "Saving Private Ryan" at the movies when it was on...) or worse still, children who have experienced too much in real life because of dramatic family circumstances.

I have pretty much operated on a "need to know" basis. Obviously someone close to the tragedy needs to know more than our two boys on the other side of the country. If our boys hear about it from other sources (and our son at school did hear about the bushfires in class this week as they prepared for their free dress day yesterday) then more may need to be added. Older children who see the news or newspapers, have internet access and actually take in what they are hearing on the radio will need greater levels of explanation. And certainly talking about such things sensitively for the purposes of being educative is also valid - to teach empathy, generosity, gratitude, reliance upon God and so on.

And my second rule of thumb (which stood me in good stead as a teacher, ensuring I planned to have time for this) is this...the more detail the children receive from us or from other sources about a crisis, the more we need to be available to debrief and to reassure. They will want extra detail, clarification, answers to questions and plenty of reassurance...over and over. My experience has been that this pretty much operates in a directly proportional way. That is, the greater the issue and the greater their knowledge, the more clarification and reassurance will be needed. And this is good because it provides beautiful teaching moments and also beautiful opportunities to love our children.

10 February 2009

The Victorian Bushfires

Like many people here in Australia I have been keeping up with the unfolding events of the Victorian bushfires with deep sadness. I haven't actually seen any news footage – we don't watch the news very often in this house but I have made a point to keep the news off our television screen this week in case one of our boys catches a glimpse. I know they would be traumatised. But I have been keeping up with events via radio news and the internet – and every time I hear a news report it seems that this tragedy just gets worse.

As of this evening there are 181 people confirmed dead with more than 50 still missing, the fires have burnt through more than 3000 square kilometres of land, entire towns have been destroyed with 900 homes razed to the ground and fires are still burning with many communities on high alert.

Yesterday the news readers on the radio seemed barely able to read out the news. Their voices were catching and you could tell their hearts were heavy. The content was largely a dreadful catalogue of events.

Today the content changed a little. Still the updates of events but also stories of people offering to help – various groups and agencies around Australia collecting money and supplies, companies offering to transport goods to Victoria free of charge, governments in Australia and abroad offering assistance. And of course the Red Cross has set up an appeal which, as of this evening, has raised $28 000 000. Much more will be raised because Australians dig deep at times like this.

At the local level, my son came home from school today with a note advising us of a free dress day on Thursday (wear civvies to school rather than school uniform for the day for a gold coin donation) to support the bush fire appeal. I am sure that every child will be at school in free dress on Thursday and that more than gold coins will be collected.

Tomorrow the stories on the radio will change again. The updates will be there. The offers of help will be there. And stories of people's personal experiences will be heard. Stories that will be hard to hear but need to be told to help with the healing. And this will continue.

We grieve and we feel helpless. But we can pray. For those of us who are physically remote from the fires and in no danger, let us make good use of our safety to give time over to praying for those so desperately in need – for those grieving the loss of loved ones, homes (and all that was stored away within their walls), livelihoods and community; for those who have escaped and are numb but will soon start to feel again; for those who are at work tirelessly fighting the fires and tending to the injured and grieving; and for those who will work out how to manage this dreadful situation in the short term and the long term. And let us pray that those deeply affected may turn to the deep comfort found in God who gives real hope when all else is lost. Amen.

07 February 2009

A Great Start to Saturday Morning

I have been reading through 1 and 2 Kings lately. This morning I finished off the last few chapters of 2Kings. These chapters describe the final years of the nation of Judah collapsing under the weight of kings who "did evil in the eyes of the LORD" – the repeating description found throughout 1 and 2 Kings of all the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah. The nation of Israel had already met its demise, being carried into captivity by the Assyrians back in chapter 17. And today I read about the demise of Judah, taken into captivity by the Babylonians.

Not a great start to Saturday morning? Well, actually, yes!!

As I read these sad, sorry chapters I tried to imagine what it might have been like for the people of Judah during those last years and days living under oppressive rulers, in the midst of war and famine, watching the national treasures being pilfered from Solomon's temple and the palaces and ultimately being dragged from their homes into captivity in a foreign land.

It is easy enough to read over these chapters and take in the narrative without thinking about the detail. But when you stop to imagine what it would have been like for an ordinary citizen to live through those times – well, it is horrible.

And throughout these chapters (and in the preceding chapters as Israel came to a similar end) there are verses such as,

The LORD sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him [Jehoiakim, the king of Judah]. He sent them to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by his servants the prophets. (2 Kings 24:2)

These nations were warned and God caused this to happen because they did not heed the warning. Hard verses like this appear several times in these last chapters. How would those involved have responded, knowing that what was happening was in God's hands and perhaps more pointedly, at His command? I imagine most took no comfort at all. Their eyes were so far from God that they may not even have been cognizant of God's hand in their sufferings.

But we know, as we read further along the Bible, that there was a faithful remnant that travelled into Babylon. There must have been ordinary citizens who still loved and obeyed God in the midst of that mayhem and suffering. I wonder, just as we find comfort in God even in the midst of trials, if they too found comfort in seeing God in all His holiness at work, even though it came at such a great and personal price?

It was helpful for me to step into the story this morning and imagine what it would have been like. But I was also blessed and encouraged as I took a step back. Here in these hard chapters we get a glimpse of the immediate from the perspective of God's bigger picture. We see humanity in one particular time and place and at the same time we see God working out His eternal purposes in very clear view.

A great start to Saturday morning? Well, actually, yes!!

06 February 2009

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Sometimes when someone famous is being interviewed or receives an award, they mention a person who has been a positive influence in their life. Very occasionally the person mentioned is a teacher. It is of course every teacher's dream to make a difference in a child's life…to set them on the path to something great. And it is extremely rare for a teacher to actually learn that they have made that kind of difference in the life of a past pupil, as they are generally busy being teachers and not necessarily attending the Academy Awards or the Nobel Prize ceremony.

Well, earlier this week, I experienced this rare and precious moment in a teacher's life. A friend I taught with sent me an article published a couple of weeks ago in the glossy magazine insert of our local Sunday newspaper. Fortunate – because we never read that paper. It was an interview with Sophie Ward – model, writer and (sorry, Sophie) big sister of supermodel Gemma Ward. At one point journalist Claire Davies wrote,

"Ward has been writing stories for most of her life. Google her name and up will pop a reference to her winning a Miss Booker literary prize at the age of eight.

The award came from third grade teacher (Miss Booker) who created her own awards for the books made in her class."

I am that Miss Booker.

Sophie was part of a terrific class and we did many wonderful things in our year together. One activity was to write children's books. It was a big deal. The children worked hard on their stories and then we spent AGES copying them into books and illustrating them. (I did question the amount of class time we ended up devoting to the illustrations!!) When they were all done we invited the parents, the principal and the local newspaper to our book launch, complete with cordial and cheese (given that wine and cheese was completely out of the question!) Lots of the children read out their books and then I awarded the best authors with Booker prizes for literature, drawing from my famous surname at the time. Sophie was a recipient. And Sophie now boasts a publishing company (Paper Castle Press) to her name and has a novel and a children's book both hopefully being released later this year.

It was such a joy to know that Sophie's time in my classroom was special – and the best gift a teacher could ever receive to learn that this was the case. Thank you Sophie and go well with those books.