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

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...'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 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'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 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