Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

22 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'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.

08 August 2009

The Story of Christianity Volume One by Justo Gonzales

When we study the life and work of past generations, and when we interpret it, we are doing history. But we must remember that future generations will read about our times as past history. In that sense, like it or not, both by our action and by our inaction, we are making history. This is both an exhilarating opportunity and an awesome responsibility, and it demands that we do history in order to be able to make it more faithfully.
(The Story of Christianity Volume One by Justo Gonzales p. xvii)

Now, if you happen to be looking for a good church history book to read, may I recommend "The Story of Christianity" by Justo Gonzales? This work is in two volumes. The first volume covers the early church to the dawn of the reformation – about 1500 years. The second volume picks up just before the reformation and continues on to present times – about 500 years. I have recently finished re-reading the first volume and am looking forward to getting started on the second, particularly as we celebrate Calvin's 500th birthday this year!

Gonzales writes in an eminently readable style - almost like reading a novel. In fact, it is almost as though you are sitting down with him and having a chat over a cup of tea. And the chapters are short – so if like me you are having a go at finding 15 minutes a day to do some substantial reading, short chapters work!

One feature of his writing that I love is the repeated use of the phrase, "To really understand what was going on you need to put your feet in the shoes of…" You would expect this sentence to be finished with the name of one of the greats of church history – a natural assumption for one reading church history from a Christian perspective. But surprisingly, this sentence is usually completed with the name of the opposing party which is in fact very helpful - to consider for example the impact of the Christian onslaught in its very early months upon long, long, long held traditions. You begin to understand why the persecutions broke out in the first place – which is not to condone them. Although Christian through and through, Gonzales' use of this writing technique among other things results in a very even handed presentation of events.

The maps and tables throughout are excellent. There are a few photographs scattered throughout, some of which to my mind, are not all that relevant. Other glossier overviews of church history do have better photos but for readability, Gonzales' rendering of events is second to none. And I believe that it truly is Gonzales' deepest hope in penning these volumes that we will make history in a more faithful manner by studying past church history, and thus reading these books is both educative and pastoral.

So, I'm off now to read the second volume!

06 August 2009

Five Reasons Why I Like to Read Church History

I love history. And it won't be any surprise that church history is of particular interest to me. Here are five reasons why.

1. The first time I read through an overview of the history of the church (2000 years thus far) my overwhelming thought was, "It is a miracle that the church has survived." As much as the church has been carried along, under God, by faithful men and women, so also have other men and women done their best to see its undoing. Were the church a human construct, it simply wouldn't have survived. The church is truly God's church. To read church history is to see evidence that God is sovereign. And that is a great blessing. Praise be to God.

2. Reading about periods of time when Christians were persecuted is a painful exercise. But the fact remains, there were large chunks of time when Christians endured horrendous persecution for their faith. I am reminded that by God's grace I live in a time and place where persecution is not an issue and I'm inspired to make good use of the peace I enjoy to grow in my relationship with God, to see others come to know Him, to help bring those who know Him to maturity and to pray for those who do not enjoy the freedoms I enjoy – who are enduring persecution even now as I sit here and type.

3. As I take part in a church service it is helpful to discover that many elements of the service were hard fought for in order to get them as right (that is, not heretical) as humanly possible. The words and actions that I am tempted to take for granted each have a history of their own and when I know where these elements have come from and why I am saying and doing the things I do in church, my understanding and appreciation of what happens in church each week is greatly heightened.

4. Church history is, in part, about twenty centuries of theologians working hard to keep the bar high, straight and true. I am thankful to God for their work. And I am thankful to God for our 21st century theologians who are working hard to do the same thing and who will be in the history books in fifty and a hundred years time. Good leaders and good theologians need our constant prayer.

5. Church history is also about the ordinary people. It is fascinating to read how ordinary people reacted to the big events of each century. And exciting to realise that we too are the ordinary people reacting to the big events of our times. Justo Gonzales says in the introduction of "The Story of Christianity Volume One",

When we study the life and work of past generations, and when we interpret it, we are doing history. But we must remember that future generations will read about our times as past history. In that sense, like it or not, both by our action and by our inaction, we are making history. This is both an exhilarating opportunity and an awesome responsibility, and it demands that we do history in order to be able to make it more faithfully.
If you love Jesus, reading through the history of the church at least once in your lifetime will be time well spent. If you haven't done any study in church history, be encouraged to have a tilt. It won't be time wasted.

02 August 2009

Proverbs 14:26

I have recently finished reading through Proverbs. In amongst the multitudes of proverbs recorded within its 31 chapters, three stood out especially. The first one was Proverbs 14:26.

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress,
and for his children it will be a refuge.

This is
and then wonderful all over again.

What an amazing thing to live life with confidence and hope as though within the protection of a secure fortress because we fear* the LORD. And even more beautiful that we provide a refuge for our children because of our strong confidence** in the Lord.

I saved writing about this proverb until now. This weekend marks the first anniversary of Jesus taking a friend of mine home. Her death, from a brain aneurysm at age 49, was completely unexpected. I hadn't seen a lot of her in recent years as she lived with her family on a farm in the town of my second teaching posting. But during that era of my life I passed many happy hours in her home and in her company.

I remember at the time often thinking what a great wife and mother she was. It is significant that I should have noticed this about her because at the time I was in my early twenties, there were no prospects of marriage (and therefore children) for me, I had only been a Christian a very few years and I had done very little thinking about the role of wife and mother. And yet even though these things were not even remotely on my radar, she really stood out spectacularly as a beautiful wife and mother.

At one point during her funeral their minister looked squarely at her three children (in their mid and late teens and one in her early twenties) and said words to the effect of , "In the midst of your immense sorrow, don't ever be tempted to question God's goodness in this." And then he said it again. Kindly and gently but with conviction. And those three dear children all nodded. Not a polite nod to appease the minister. A nod that said with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength that they trusted that this dreadful tragedy in their lives was in God's control. They were not angry or bitter towards God.

Their parents fear/ed the Lord and provided their children with a secure fortress which truly was their refuge in the hour of their greatest need.

How I praised God and continue to do so for this beautiful couple, one here on earth and one with her heavenly Father, who have modelled to me Proverbs 14:26 – whose model made an impact upon me even before I was thinking about such things for my own life. And how I pray that our children will grow up just as securely anchored in their knowledge and love of God – that they will hold fast in the Lord no matter what storms may come upon them.

Her death is still a shock in many ways but God clearly called her home. In His eyes her work was done.

One of the other proverbs that stood out for me during this recent read through was Proverbs 19:21.

Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.

That too seems appropriate for me this weekend. I'll save the other one for another time.

* Go here for a really good definition of "fear of the Lord" by Jean Williams.
** Go
here to read a great article about Proverbs 14:26 by John Piper.

01 August 2009

Words of Encouragement - Spiritual Disciplines

I have read Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes many times. In fact, I used to read it once a year and each year I would be affirmed and encouraged by certain chapters and receive a hearty rebuke from others. Each year the affirmation and the rebukes shifted around the different chapters as my circumstances changed.

"Spiritual disciplines" is a bit of a loaded phrase. It fills some with delight, it causes others to roll their eyes, it causes many to cross the line from grace to works and plunges the perfectionist and the legalist to despair. But this book is beautifully written – firmly founded in the grace of God, in the saving work of Christ and not in our own feeble attempts and endeavours. It is not about working our way to salvation. It is about seeing our relationship with God grow.

The following paragraph is from the first chapter and it is the first thing I have underlined in a book (except my Bible which is growing in underlinings with each passing day!) since I left university. For one whose primary love language is acts of service and who therefore often veers towards works and not grace and who could veer towards legalism if left to her own devices, I have found this framing of the spiritual disciplines powerfully helpful. To my fellow would be (or should I say, don't want to be) legalists, I hope you find these words an encouragement.

Many of us think of spiritual discipline in terms of 'living the letter of the Law' or as a series of draconian rules that no-one could possible live up to. Such legalism seems to us a path to frustration and spiritual death. But true discipline is a far cry from legalism – thank God! The difference lies in motivation: Legalism is self-centred; discipline is God-centred. The legalistic heart says, 'I will do this thing to gain merit with God.' The disciplined heart says, 'I will do this because I love God and I want to please Him.' The true heart of discipline is relationship – a relationship with God.

Whether you are a legalist or not, I highly recommend this whole book – if you are a woman. And if you are man lurking here (welcome!) Barbara's husband Kent has written the companion volume Disciplines of a Godly Man. And Disciplines of a Godly Family is also an excellent read. So something for everyone!!

Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes page 14